DISCLAIMER: I own nothing of the Star Wars Universe, concept, or characters, and pay homage to the Great Flanneled one for his vast creative powers. I own the characters I have created, as far as they do not infringe upon his rights, or the rights of other writers of material in the Star Wars Universe. No copyright infringement is intended and I do not profit from this work. I'll put them back when I'm done, George, honest.

I awoke in something of a fog, and sighed as I sat in meditation and tried to go over the previous days' events. Yesterday had not been a good day overall, though there had been some less-than-awful moments. First I'd had found out that Qui-Gon had indeed been poisoned with a Sith drug to give him such horrible pain, perhaps even the one that had nearly killed me. That told me that whoever it was, he was still out there. Then I'd found that while I had been helping Qui-Gon that one of my dearest little Padawan friends, Obi-Wan Kenobi, had been beaten to within an inch of his life by a Zabrak boy who would one day almost certainly become Darth Maul – and the Council had let his mother, the Matron, take him away from the Temple, most likely to the Sith.

And worse, there was nothing, absolutely nothing I could do.

I'd had something of a meltdown – maybe it was more properly what Master Bodreau had called it, a tantrum. It was hard to tell. I had drawn a severe reprimand for my behavior, and I supposed I deserved it, at least to Master Bodreau's mind. I don't know if that was why I'd gotten the Sex Ed class assignment or whether they were actually increasing my responsibility because they thought I would be a good teacher.

Come on, Kyle -- don't be paranoid. Everyone does that class sooner or later, even Grenne said so; you were next on the list. And maybe I would be okay after all. What was not to like about a gaggle of pre-teen Padawans? They were for the most part sweet, well-behaved kids, who might need a bit of love. Hey, I could do that. I hoped. I guessed that teaching would necessitate some examinations of my own attitudes toward the subject, but that was to be expected from teaching anything. If I'd discovered anything in my short tenure here, it was that a teacher always learns as much as the students.

When I was finished with the class and my evenings' activities, I decided to do some more physical conditioning on the hope that I could get some sleep that way. After running myself into the ground the evening before, I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. Mercifully, the dreams had not been memorable.

I stumbled into the 'fresher when the alarm chime rang, and Slan followed me in. I was sore all over, and it took me a few moments under the water to wake up. I suppose that could be forgiven after the day I'd had yesterday. I felt better after the shower and some stretches and a kata to get the blood started and my mind centered for meditation. I had a good laugh at Slan trying to do the kata with me and falling over. I needed the laugh too.

/Lyn feel better? / He asked, as I scratched his belly. He was giggling too.

"I always feel better with you around, pal. Thank you. It's almost time to meet Master Bodreau for breakfast. I have a feeling it could be rough. Do you want to stay here?"

/Come with Lyn! See Master Qui! /

"Well, he's in Bacta now, but you can if you like. If Obi-Wan is still there, he'll be glad to see you."

So, we got some food from the Commissary and went to Master Bodreau's apartment on schedule. I was amazed that it was pretty much the normal morning meeting; he evidently felt that the reprimand the day before was sufficient. I had classes that morning, and he would remain on duty at the Infirmary that day. I learned that Obi-Wan was to be discharged after a final exam and a session with Master Shi'in. We meditated together that morning for a bit.

"Belinda, I understand you're having a problem with one of the Senior Healer Padawans, Silloq Riijs," he said, after we came out of meditation. "Master P'n'ru has spoken to me about it twice in the past few weeks."

I was surprised by the seeming change in direction our conversation had taken. I had to think about how to phrase my answer.

"Master, I believe it's something of a personality problem," I said, slowly. It was hard to admit to anyone how much the little SOB got to me. "We don't get along. I do my best to shut up and soldier when he's around, but I can't seem to please him. I have to admit, he just rubs me the wrong way, and I him, it seems. I – often behave badly in response to him, I seem to allow myself to be pulled down to his level. That shames me, and I become angry. You know that I have a temper, and I must work hard to control it. I just don't understand why he treats me the way he does," I continued, "and why he gets under my skin the way he does. I can only try to stay clear of him."

"That is difficult when you have classes in common, and you work together. He has said that you do not know your place, and are disrespectful to him."

I lowered my eyes, embarrassed. "If my place around him is to be a droid or a servant girl and kiss his – erm, boots, then no, Master. I do not know my place."

He cocked a lekku at me, seemingly distressed. "Does he treat you that way, Belinda?" he asked, shocked.

"It seems like it to me, Master. I realize that may not be so in reality. I may be too sensitive to him. He knows all the buttons to push to manipulate me. I have to be less – willing to cooperate. Until I am, I am vulnerable to him, and it's a waste of energy and time."

"Ah. You will encounter people like this in your life, Padawan. Perhaps it would do you some good to do a bit of research on the world Silloq came from, and his place in it. It will give you some insight into his behavior, and perhaps into yours as well. You come from a much less stratified society than the one on Nantor. There are hereditary classes and ranks that have been static on that world for hundreds of years, and it is a peaceful and productive society, no matter what you may think of it. Suspend your judgment and evaluate him as a member of that society, a minor noble, a young man who is not a warrior. And then, you must meditate on your place as Padawan for two hours, and we will discuss it in the morning."

Two hours? I turned my face off and squelched a sigh. At least it wasn't another reprimand or punishment. He honestly did want me to understand Silloq better, and to know, essentially, where he got his attitude, and to cope with it in a more adult way. So did I, so this wasn't as onerous as it seemed. And he didn't say I had to do it with him, or in any sort of specific place, so I could do it when and where I wanted. That was a break. I nodded.

"Very well, Master, I will do that. And thank you – I appreciate that you believe me about how Silloq treats me. He's quite careful about when he does or says things; he's very clever. That kind of intelligence most likely serves him well in other situations, but it drives me out of my mind – I see it as dishonesty and manipulation. I know I have to learn to deal with all people, whether I like them or not. I will do my best."

He patted my hand. "I know, Belinda... Oh, there is one more thing. Master Jinn will come out of Bacta this afternoon; he is doing very well. I will attend to his hygiene, of course, but will you be willing to wash his hair? You have more experience in that field than I."

"Of course, Master, I'd be glad to – will I have to marry him…?"

He chuckled. "No, I don't think that's necessary, Padawan."

"Shucks." At that we both laughed. Master Bodreau habitually left hair care to me when it was necessary, since Twi'leks have none, anywhere. Several months before, a prince of a planet new to the Republic had been brought to the Healers after he'd been seriously wounded in a scuffle with some pirates on the way in. They'd managed to save him after some pretty fancy gyrations with Bacta and such, and, as usual, Master Bodreau had asked me to wash his hair when he came out of the bath. It was long and thick and black, and I'd found the appropriate products and done the job. It had taken considerable time.

When I had returned a bit later with his lunch, the Prince had been awake. I did him a courtesy and set his tray in front of him, averting my eyes from his face as I had been instructed.

"Did I gather correctly from Master Bodreau, that you did my hair?"

"Yes, Your Highness. I hope it is to your liking." I had an uneasy feeling… I could sense him surveying me possessively. I felt like the main dish at dinner.

"Yes, as are you. Quite a royal gift from the Jedi. I did not expect such."

Gift? Uh-oh… "Your Highness?" I recall wondering why I wasn't squeaking like a rusty hinge. This is not good.

"You may look upon me, Belinda," he said. He took my hand and with the other lifted my chin to look me over carefully, probably examining my teeth. He was actually quite a handsome man in a primitive way; even primitive to me. He put me in mind of – oh, who was it, I was forgetting – the guy who played Wolverine, Hugh Jackman. Certainly he was no strain on the eyes. "I will be leaving this place today. Be ready to attend me, wife."

Wife? Oh, no, oh, bad… I was suddenly short of breath. I put on a poker face, and thought fast, thanking Qui-Gon for the thousandth time for teaching me to center quickly.

"Allow me to speak with my Master, and inform him of your plans, milord," I'd replied, managing not to stutter somehow. "I must – take my leave of him." Or figure out something really fast… how do I get into these things?

"Very well," he replied expansively. "I will expect you shortly." He smiled suggestively. "I am looking forward to this night."

Yeah, dream on, pal. You're not that good-looking…

I did him another courtesy and backed out, then took off down the hall to Master Bodreau's office, only to find Master Windu with him, just out of Bacta and healing trance after the mission that had brought us the Prince. He was conversing animatedly with Master Bodreau and they both seemed quite disturbed.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, Masters, but –"

"No, Padawan, you were the subject of the conversation. It seems I owe you a deep apology. We did not know of this culture's – marriage customs."

"I guess we didn't," I said. "I hope this doesn't happen often."

"It is almost unheard of," Master Windu replied, seemingly more than a bit flustered. I'd never seen him even mildly perturbed. "I am very sorry, Belinda. I had not transmitted my report when I was injured."

"That explains it. It would be rather hard to give the information when you're flat on your back in Bacta, Master Windu. This is a rather sticky situation, though," I replied. "It's nice to be appreciated and all, but this guy just isn't my type."

"I can imagine," Master Bodreau said, dryly. "I will speak with him."

"As will I," Master Windu said, smiling grimly.

I sighed. I could feel the testosterone level in the room rising. Damn. We just got the guy fixed, for the love of the Force. Are we going to mess him up again?

Either one of the men could take the Prince apart without breaking a sweat. However, my job right now was to lay low and keep my mouth shut, as the look from Master Bodreau plainly said. Let the big boys handle it. I did. Never let it be said that I wasn't a quick study.

The monitor was still set to the Prince's suite when I looked at it, and I was quickly treated to a demonstration of the Jedi Mind Trick gone very wrong.

The Prince leapt out of bed with a roar, and went to attack them with the (wickedly sharp) ceremonial knife at his bedside table. Faster than I could gasp, Master Bodreau had one shoulder and Windu had the knife in one hand and the Prince's other shoulder in the other, and had kicked the Prince's feet out from under him to shove him back onto the bed. Master Bodreau put a hand on the Prince's head and upped the power on the Mind Trick.

"Relax," he said. The Prince stopped struggling and fell asleep.

"My," Master Bodreau said mildly, looking over at Mace. "That didn't go well at all."

"No," Mace replied. "He is Force-Sensitive to some extent. It runs in the ruling family."

"Ah. That does complicate things a bit." That's my Master of Understatement. If it hadn't been for the fact that I was the stakes, it would have been hilarious. As it was I had to stifle a snort for fear that the transmitter was on as well.

Things actually went downhill from that for a short time, with the Prince, upon awakening, demanding an immediate duel of honor with Master Windu. Master Windu accepted – with the proviso that the duel would be to first blood or until the other yielded. That seemed to mollify the Prince. I'm sure Master Windu figured he could take the Prince down without injuring him. Otherwise, there was no negotiating with the guy, he was as stubborn as a mule. He was determined to take me with him for his harem.

Mace, of course, won the duel handily with what looked to be a bastard sword, especially fitted with a force shield to prevent serious injury. He wasn't even breathing hard. Then the Prince collapsed again, and we found out what had been the matter all along – one of the painkillers we had used had a marked and long lasting hallucinogenic effect on their race, and he was evidently a bit unstable to begin with. When we finally got the poor fellow back on the right track, he was most embarrassed, and apologized quite extravagantly to both Master Windu and myself. Determined to learn from the general snafu, I had asked for some catch-up tutoring on cultural matters. That was when I had started the lessons with Master Dooku.

So, after my classes were over, I went down to Stores and got the equivalent of a shampoo kit for Qui-Gon. I put some conditioner in too, because even though Bacta was evidently good for hair, it was hell to get out. Mine was certainly growing quickly, though. I had to admit, I loved Qui-Gon's hair. It was gorgeous, almost a surprise on such a big, imposing man. Washing it wouldn't be a chore. I would definitely enjoy it, as a matter of fact.

When I got to the Infirmary, Obi-Wan was in an examining room being checked out. I waited outside and when he came out I was tackled, as he threw his arms around my waist with a shining smile. "Lyn! I feel much better now. I'm going to talk with Master Shi'in."

"Wonderful, Obi-Wan," I said, dropping to sit on my heels. I hugged him and kissed his cheek. "You were very brave and wise. You'll be a wonderful Knight someday, all you have to do is remember that, and to listen to what the Force tells you. You should be proud."

He colored a bit, shyly. I smiled at him. "Thank you," he said. "And thank you for helping me… what is that?"

"Oh, that's a shampoo kit for Master Jinn. He just got out of Bacta, and I have to wash his hair so it isn't all sticky and yucky. Master Bodreau doesn't have hair, so I handle that, mostly."

"I see. You really like Master Jinn, don't you?"

"I really do," I said. "I admire him, and he's been very, very kind to me. He saved my life many times."

"He's a Jedi, he does things like that."

"Of course. But he's my friend, too. He's a very good friend."

He nodded. "Good. I'll see you later, maybe."

"Of course, Obi-Wan. You don't want to be late. Have fun with Master Shi'in."

"I will! 'Bye!" He careened off. He looked comfortable and flexible again, like a normal child, and more exuberant than he'd seemed for a while. That was a relief. Master Shi'in was reputedly wonderful with children; I hoped that she could help with the trauma. She'd certainly done well with me.

I went to Qui-Gon's new room and found him resting in trance, seemingly calm. He wore a blank expression instead of his usual peaceful one. I wondered if that was a side effect of the medication, and resolved to keep an eye on him. With the help of the lift droid (gotta love lift droids… ), I got him maneuvered to the end of the bed and filled the basin with water.

It was a horrible mess. The sticky stuff had dried and clumped his hair together like bad hair gel, with the awful smell clinging to it as well. It took repeated rinsing with the solvent just to get most of it out of his hair, and then I had to wash the rest of the dirt, gunk, and nameless other things from the heavy thick strands. I gently massaged his head, neck, and scalp as I did it, following my senses to work out the stiffness and knots as I ran my fingers over the tight spots. I found it very pleasant just to touch him, and hopefully give him some comfort. As I worked, I hummed the tune to an old bawdy folksong I knew. I finally was able to comb the conditioner through his hair, rinse once again until the water ran clear, and put his hair in a braid so it wouldn't tangle. Now he didn't smell like Bacta anymore, and he felt better too, as far as I could tell. I took the readings and brought them to Master Bodreau.

"Very good," he said.

"I need to go to self-defense class soon. Is there anything else, Master?"

"No, Padawan, that will do."

"Thank you, sir."

So I went to get beaten on at self-defense. On the way, Silloq saw me with my bag over my shoulder, returning the shampoo kit for recycling.

"Ah, Kyle, there you are. Now I know why Bodreau chose you as a Padawan, it's puzzled me all year. Finally found a job fit for you, eh? Five hundred more hours and you can be an apprentice hairdresser on Nantor… if you can pass the exam. Well, you can always be a Licensed Escort if not. No written tests there, and I'll put in a good word for you – for a price." He made a rude gesture.

Lort and Grenne laughed loudly, putting a brave front on what seemed to make them uncomfortable. It was farther than he'd ever gone before, downright insulting to both me and my Master. I had to count to twenty in four languages, and still couldn't swallow my reply. At least I didn't slug him.

"Certainly, your Grace," I said, sketching a bow and salaam. He was a Royal of Nantor, and didn't hesitate to let me know that he considered me lower than a snake's navel in comparison. He was, however, a very minor Royal, and didn't like that fact mentioned. "Shall I make an appointment? You'll have to wash your hair before coronation."

He turned crimson with an angry flush that radiated the heat of anger for a foot around him, and the Padawan behind the counter snorted. Silloq's hair invariably looked lank, stringy, and dirty. It was smelly and we all assumed it was just a custom of his planet, because the pomade had a stench all its own. Rumor had it, though, that he used the stinky stuff to avoid losing his hair. His hairline looked like male pattern baldness would win the battle soon, so I wondered if it might be so.

Damn my temper, anyway. He got me. Damn! That was childish. No wonder Master Bodreau wanted me to meditate on my place. He's a senior Padawan and I'm not. I have to at least act like I respect him, and be civil. If he's a jerk, he can be a jerk without my help. I was ashamed of myself. I escaped as fast as I decently could, and went to my self-defense class, using every exercise I knew to calm myself on the way.

I'd moved from the six-year-olds to taking class with Padawans in their early teens, learning what looked a lot like aikido to my inexperienced eye. They still whomped me on a regular basis, but I was learning to hold my own. And I could always use a dirty trick when needed. That was not only allowed, but actually encouraged. The instruction rotated throughout the Masters and Knights who were present at the Temple. Now, it was Master Windu, and he was a good teacher. He was the one who encouraged dirty tricks, and taught us how to counter them as well. I actually liked it, it was fun to see Mace and the class itself was enjoyable in a rather masochistic way. Today I beat up a practice droid rather thoroughly, imagining it to be Silloq. I had to stop; it wasn't helping at all but making it worse.

"Padawan?" Master Windu asked. "Are you all right?"

"I'm sorry, Master, I have anger to release, and the droid has about had it." I sighed. "I still need a lot of work on my temper."

He nodded. "I see. We all have our challenges, Belinda," he said gently. "Do as you must."

"Thank you, Master Windu." I was able to come back to the class after ten minutes of meditation, but I was disturbed that I had been so angry with Silloq. He wasn't worth it.

Master Windu took me aside as I came from the shower and changing room after class was over. I almost expected a rebuke, but was startled at the question.

"How is Qui-Gon?" he asked. I wondered how he got his information, but I knew that he and Qui-Gon were friends. Of course he'd be concerned. Duh… Get over yourself, Kyle.

"He came out of Bacta today, Master – I believe he is still in trance. He's on the mend."

"Good to hear. I've heard you did well."

I shrugged. After that afternoon's display and my temper in class, I didn't feel like I was doing well.

"I had to. I'm glad it worked out. You know how it is, Master. How's Jax?"

He smiled. "He's growing like a weed, it's amazing. They grow up so fast. He's doing very well in lightsabre drills. Perhaps I can have Qui-Gon teach him a few things if he's to be here for a while. It's a good thing to learn from different sword masters, and Qui-Gon is the best."

"You do quite well, Master, at least with a longsword. No slouch, certainly."

"And how have your studies progressed?" He asked, smiling.

"I don't think I'm liable to cause an interstellar incident anymore," I replied, with a sigh. At least as long as I can keep a lid on my temper, anyway… "And the Prince stopped apologizing a month and a half ago."

He chuckled. "Oh, dear, he took that long?"

"I got a very nice message once a week for that time, yes, and some lovely gifts as well. Didn't you? I believe it was his first-wife that made him send them. I certainly wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of that woman."

"Indeed not. She's intimidating."

"To you? Now, that's impressive. Well, Master, I'll give your regards to Master Jinn when he wakes up, perhaps you could come to see him."

"I will certainly do that. Take care, Belinda. May the Force be with you."

I bowed. "And with you, Master. Good day."

Well, couldn't put it off anymore. I had been assigned research and a meditation on my place as a Padawan, and I had to do it, now. I'd promised. I got a quick bite to eat and went to the office to find Slan playing with the comm.

"Hey, buddy, did you have dinner?"

/Master Bodreau fed me Qualla fruit! It was yummy! /

"Sounds good to me. I brought you a nut butter sandwich, too, would you like it?"

He grinned and snatched it away from me when I offered. So help me, I didn't know where he put it. I got him some milk and called up some material on the comm about Nantor, making sure to get visuals and sociological information as well.

It was fascinating. Over eleven hundred years before, Nantor had been in the midst of violent religious, class-based, and cultural civil wars, and had then been targeted for invasion by an insectoid race that reminded me of the bugs in Starship Troopers. One of the factions had been somewhat wiser than the others, and had figured out that the invader race posed a far greater threat to the planet than the internecine warfare. With help from some very resourceful Jedi who were sent to aid the planet, this faction leader, an ancestor of Silloq's, had managed to ally the feuding clans under his rule. Rather like the Afghanis, they decided that they'd work together against an invading outsider. Unlike the Afghanis, the people decided that after a few decades of unified effort which lifted their culture from barely spacefaring to extremely advanced, strong, and efficient, they'd keep the unified government and work out the bumps as well as they could. I had to assume that the decision was helped along by the Jedi in charge of the mission, one Mical Onasi by name.

Because of the length of the war and the great number of casualties, clones had been employed as soldiers and other functionaries. After the war they were unwelcome in society, and they'd become a traveling people, somewhat like the Romany who were among my ancestors. They formed an underclass as they were released from service, and some were more de-programmable than others. Often the Vagabonds had been violent and without manners or morals. Most of them were not fertile, but the ones who were bred without regard for custom or morality – and there were clones made specifically for breeding, where women of the upper classes were rendered infertile by nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, or mere convenience. One might think of it as the ultimate wet nurse.

Put all this in a time frame similar to the gap between when the time the Silk Road was opened to bring Eastern spices and the Romany to the primitive medieval culture of Europe, to the twenty-first century. This was documented history, films and other media survived of the founding family, which would in due time spawn Silloq as something of an afterthought.

The culture was odd, almost unnatural to my eye. Even though the danger was almost gone from the poisons in the environment left by the ancient wars, it was still often the case that the wealthy left reproduction to clones, and raised the children themselves. After they'd given birth to the required number of children, the clones were often put to death in a perfectly legal manner, except for the few lucky ones who were sold as servants or used as sex workers. Some escaped and formed the nucleus of the current Vagabond culture, outcasts who lived in the shadows and in the large areas of the planet still thought poisoned, haunted, and polluted by the wars. There they often farmed and lead peaceful and productive lives; there was even record of one or two Force Sensitives found in the "wastes". (No doubt that had burned some noble's rear end...) Vagabonds who were caught in or near "civilized areas" were used in forced labor (read "concentration") camps, essentially imprisoned and enslaved.

Silloq's family still ruled the planet. They were incredibly wealthy, and very occasionally one of them showed talent in the Force, though none had enough talent to be Jedi, and they refused to send their children to be in the Agri-Corps. The theory was that the genetic damage from the ancient conflicts had greatly attenuated Force-Sensitivity. That made Silloq a sport of sorts. He had talent in the Force that might have made him a Jedi if he'd been identified early enough.

He was technically a bastard son, which made him half-caste as well, though his mother's family was wealthy. When he had been identified as being strong in the Force, his wayward father had promptly adopted him. This had caused some considerable trouble with his father's wife, who didn't fancy having another woman's son preferred to her own children. Even though the environment was much friendlier here, he was something of a fish out of water. He had done his best to adapt to the egalitarian society of the Jedi, but I guessed that even that had its limit.

Of course, the family history was larger than life, larger than anyone could be. They were tall, handsome men and lovely women; genetic engineering and other cosmetic techniques saw to that. Silloq was short and quite homely, mostly from the frowning bitterness that often marred his face. Finally I understood his low self-esteem. For a start, in his family men never lost their hair; it turned white, almost overnight, when they hit the century mark or so. I suspected that that transition was often chemically assisted. Men were warriors; it was the women who healed if there were any talented ones. It was a harsh, strictly stratified society, where centuries of peace, prosperity and custom had made their class structure as solid as the stone that built their cities, almost medieval in its static nature.

If Silloq had been anything other than talented in the Force, he would have been ignored, unacknowledged and next to unmarriageable… which was a harsh thing at best for that culture, where bloodlines were all. Many younger or illegitimate sons went off-planet to find wives and fortune. Perhaps he would have had to as well, and might have been happier for it. So here he was, a bastard son who was in a lower caste position, deserted and alone in the Jedi Temple because they wouldn't allow him to live in the way to which he felt entitled. Along comes a woman who is proud to be the descendant of Traveling people, who has aptitude in areas where he doesn't, and moves up in the ranks twice or three times as quickly as he can because she's had prior training and some talent. He was nearly 30, and had been in the Temple since he was 17. He'd never been considered for Jedi training because of his age, and since his family wouldn't accept Agri-Corps training no matter how useful his skill would be on his world, he had gone to the Healers.

This was Silloq's breeding ground. He had been taught to see women as property, a means to reproduction. In his caste, men and women didn't even usually live together when married, but stayed in their family Houses. The whole thing was scary. He saw people like me as a threat to him, to his way of life. That could ruin your whole day.

This did not make me like him much more than I did, even so. Why was he still in the Temple at all if he was that miserable? I knew that nobody had to like me, and I also knew that it was inevitable that some would not, and that I wouldn't like everyone either. What bothered me, though, was that it wasn't even honest dislike that he showed – he was sneaky. He never harassed me or teased me when other Masters were there. As a matter of fact, his worst displays of temper and cruelty were when we were alone, a situation that I now avoided as much as I could. I despised liars, and he was an expert.

He did have talent and a heart, though; I'd seen him smile with joy when he eased the suffering of a baby withdrawing from his mother's addiction to Zonko, a street drug on the lower levels that seemed to be a cross between the painkilling of heroin and the stimulation of cocaine, but that suspended all judgment and thought. There was good and kindness in him, just, seemingly, not for me. I'd had to work to get past that and see the precious soul beneath – and now, even if I had a bit of understanding of his situation, it seemed I'd have to work harder.

Well, didn't that help? Not much, really, but it did give me a lot to think about. That would have to do. Let's get to it.

"Hey, buddy," I said to Slan, "do you want to come with me to the garden to meditate? Maybe we can sit in the tree."

/Sit in the tree? Sure! / He loved to do that, so he scrambled onto my shoulder.

The tree was an old one, with many low, comfortable branches. She was friendly and the Living Force was strong in her. I found sitting in a crook of one of her branches to be comforting when life had been trying, and she was kind enough to welcome me when I came to visit her. She reminded me of a tree in Quantico I'd loved as a small child. She didn't seem to mind that, nor the fact that not many of the Padawans sensed her the same way I did.

Sure enough, the garden was empty at this hour. I climbed up to my favorite perch, and Slan with me, and we thanked her for her hospitality before we started our contemplation. I figured it was only polite. I set my inner timer to remember when I had to leave for the evening, and settled into meditation. Releasing the feelings that had come up since the night before felt good. I hoped to find a reason for all this chaos.

Why did Silloq treat me this way? I wouldn't talk to a criminal the way he addressed me. I asked the question and opened myself for some sort of answer. If it had worked for Obi-Wan, perhaps the Force would favor me with an answer as well. When it came, I was flabbergasted.

It was my very existence that offended him. The mere fact that I was alive, that I was there, angered him.

What!? With an effort, I brought myself back to center and opened myself to calm. This guy was a neurotic mess. Why did my existence offend him? Maybe it was the way I looked, my attitude. Well, I supposed it was inevitable that it happened occasionally, and he did do well with children. Perhaps I'd have to keep an eye on Junie. She didn't have much use for the creep, but who knows what he might try. I'd seen him looking at her like a wolf on a lamb, more than once. Luckily, she was pretty strong-willed. Probably why we got along so well, we both knew what we wanted. I snorted at the overblown speculations. Junie was most likely more capable of defending herself than I was. I was distracting myself rather than dealing with the problem at hand. Score one for the monkey mind. Back to the drawing board. I was still missing something, some pieces of information I needed to understand this situation. It was maddening.

Don't get paranoid, Kyle, I thought. But then again, even paranoids have enemies…

I was so disturbed by the speculations, however wild, that I had to pull out the big guns to release my anger. I got down off the tree, thanked her, and went to a column of the garden's dome, and gently put my hands against the smooth stone, and bowed my head in the beginning of the Arch of Peace meditation. Qui-Gon had taught it to me one day when I had been especially trying to him, and he'd probably needed it himself. Always it had worked when every other method failed, and now I could set my concerns for myself and for Junie aside as I slowly partook of the calm and peace of the meditation, and was able to give up my disgust, anger, and indignation to the river of peace flowing all around. It felt good to just be, restful. It made up for a lot of lost sleep and upset.

I had been at it for an hour or so when I sensed distress from a very strange quarter – Qui-Gon. At the same time, Slan poked my neck with his cold damp nose and started making little mewling, peeping noises like an upset kitten, and I came back to reality abruptly.

/Master Qui, something wrong… /

"Yeah, I can feel it too, buddy. Let's go see."

Since speed seemed to be needed, I took off at a dead flat run toward the Healer's Wing, Slan clutching my tunics with a death grip. He was a heavier load than he used to be. I sent a message to Master Bodreau along our bond, praying he wouldn't be asleep or otherwise occupied. Thankfully, I could feel his response and concern. He'd be on his way.

/Go fast, go fast! / Didn't know Slan was such a speed demon. When I got to the Infirmary, I found out why. Qui-Gon was up and dressed, but deadly pale and looking not at all himself, and holding his activated lightsabre, which threw a poison green light in the dimness of the lobby of the clinic.

I could sense that he was disoriented and confused -- What could do that to a Jedi? I wondered again. I planted myself in front of him; arms folded across my chest, I gave him my very best 'don't mess with the head-nurse' glare.

"Master Jinn, may I ask where you're going?"

The senior Padawans who were in charge, Silloq and Lort, were quailing in the corners, wondering what to do. I'm sure they weren't happy that I saw them, especially Silloq – but hey, I'd sure be cowering if someone like Qui-Gon brandished a lightsabre at me. I might be toast myself, but I was trusting him to recognize me and relax his vigilance for long enough to be coaxed back to bed for some rest, which he most desperately needed. I sent another, more desperate message along my link to Master Bodreau, and even tried one to Master Dooku on the off chance that he might respond to his Padawan's distress.

Qui-Gon focused on me with difficulty, and smiled a bit as he powered down his lightsabre. "Belinda. I am called – called to Council. I must go."

I stepped forward. "Certainly, Master Jinn. But I am sure that they can consider another matter until Master Bodreau clears you to leave the Infirmary. He'll be here shortly."

"Padawan, I must –"

I took his hand, and finally managed to make the connection I was striving for. Perhaps now he would hear me.

Qui-Gon, it's me, Lyn. You're still sick, love; you need to heal. Stay with us, now. The rest is a bad dream. You must rest and be well. He was swaying now, still confused and not thinking clearly, trying to push the fog away.

Then I felt the other presence arrive behind me, and heard the soft, silky voice of Master Dooku, full of deep affection. I suddenly had tears of relief in my eyes. He'd listen to his Master. Thank the gods and all the stars, and the Force, too.

"Belinda is right, my dear Padawan. This is delirium. Leave it, and be with us now."

I could feel that the words were not the force of his communication, and knew now why Master Dooku was so highly esteemed as a negotiator and keeper of the peace. I could feel his love for Qui-Gon in the words and see it in the smile that gentled the severe planes of his face in such a startling way. He reached his hand out, and suddenly Qui-Gon looked very young and very vulnerable.

"Master?" he asked softly.

"Yes, it is I," he said, gently taking Qui-Gon's other hand and deactivating the 'sabre. "Be at peace, Qui-Gon. Heal and be well."

Qui-Gon swayed once more and then he fainted into my arms. I held him close for a moment and staggered before I could call the Force to aid me – even as thin as he was he weighed close to ninety kilos – and Master Dooku got a shoulder up under him. I took the other one and we marched him back to bed.

"Do you often have this effect on men, Belinda?" Master Dooku asked, smiling.

I rolled my eyes. "It's a gift," I replied, as I helped lay Qui-Gon down and began to pull his boots off. At that, he laughed, looking as relieved as I felt.

"We'll have to inform the Council, then," he replied. "Seriously – you've done well, Padawan. I was afraid he'd do himself or someone else injury."

"So was I, Master. Thank you, I couldn't have done that without your help."

"Perhaps not yet," he said, "but soon enough. You've learned much."

"And people keep telling me I'm working too hard." I sighed, and smoothed the loose wisps of Qui-Gon's hair back from his face. "Thanks, Master Dooku. I wonder what could have made him so confused?"

"It is a late effect of the drug," Master Dooku said. "It acts upon the kinesthetic sense."

Yes, that makes all kinds of sense. "That would be very confusing, then," I said, "especially to someone like Qui-Gon. He's always so – there. Grounded. I know, I'm not making sense."

"No, it makes excellent sense, Belinda. His connection to the Force is impeded by these feelings of disorientation. It will take concentration to overcome them."

"Can we help him, or is this just a matter of time?"

"Master Bodreau has been working on it. I'm sure he will have something when he arrives."

I nodded, doing my best to make Qui-Gon comfortable. He was shivering, now looking shocky. He began to be restless as I went to get him another coverlet or two from a warmer to wrap around the elegant feet and legs that were, as usual, longer than the bedding, and I could feel his disorientation again. I hurried back and swaddled the warm soft material over his lower body and took his hand again, and sat next to him.

Hang on to me, if you like, Qui-Gon. I'm here, so is Master Dooku. Stay with us, you'll be all right.

He relaxed at that, but would not turn loose my hand. It must have helped to know where he ended and someone else began. Master Bodreau came in about then, and took in the scene. He smiled and nodded as Slan clambered off my shoulder and onto Qui-Gon's neck, and snuggled, purring loudly.

Master Bodreau did indeed have a treatment in mind, and administered it after conferring with Master Dooku for a few moments. I stayed with Qui-Gon because I felt the distress when I moved away.

"Looks like you're elected to stay with him, Padawan," Master Bodreau said. "He'll rest soon, you can leave when he settles."

"Yes, Master," I said. "I'll stay here as long as he needs me."

That was a foregone conclusion.