A/N: I've split this chapter towards the end, for plot reasons. So it's not 9,400 words like last time, but it is about 6,500. Have fun.
Oh, and you might want to check out the latest three chapters of Silent Measures (I put up two more between the last TSS update and this one) for some more Huei development between the last arc and this one.
Dexter Jettster is wiping down the counter after the last of his usual dinner crowd have ducked back out into the CoCo Town night when the door is pushed open, hard.
"A bit late for dinner, ain'tcha? But come in and make yaself comfortable," Dex calls, without looking up.
When he does, he finds himself face-to-face with a frowning Korun Jedi.
If a Besalisk could startle, Dex certainly does. "For stars' sake, warn an old Besalisk like meself," he gargles, clapping a gargantuan hand over his heart.
"You are Dexter Jettster," the Jedi says, dark eyes flashing.
"Qui-Gon's friend, yeah," Dex replies. "And you are, Master Jedi?"
"Ah, Qui-Gon's mentioned ya! We're both friends 'f his, then–"
"There was a Togruta boy here," Mace cuts him off. "Mid-to-late teens. Gold head-stripes."
"Young Mister Ezhno stepped outside 'bout 'alf an hour ago t'wait for you," Dex says. "'E seemed a bit jittery."
Mace scrutinises him for a long while, brown eyes unreadable. "Ezhno is not outside. Or anywhere in the general vicinity. I have swept the area."
"That ain't right," Dex mutters. "'E was dead set on meetin' you. Said somethin' 'bout there bein' a breakthrough in information of some sort."
"What information?" Mace's voice drops further, into a growl rumbles like thunder.
"'E didn' want to say in front of me. Looked frightened outta 'is wits, though. Speakin' of which," – Dex leans closer, even though the diner is nearly empty – "You're aware I do…information gatherin', on the side?"
Mace doesn't even blink. "Qui-Gon has mentioned it before, yes."
Dex nods. "Well, I couldn't help but notice that Ezhno had a fresh tattoo on his arm. Nearly hidden by his sleeve. Took me a moment, but I recognized it."
Mace watches, impassive.
"It was the Howling Sarlacc," Dex murmurs in the throaty half-warble that is a Besalisk whisper. "The mark of the Cruorven. Half the underground's afire about it."
Mace does not react for a long moment. When he next speaks, his voice has lowered even further. "You are sure," he says.
"Then I would ask you to…make enquires, where you can. The Order will conduct our own search, as well. We must find him."
"Will do. Is young Ezhno in any trouble? 'E seems mighty young to be a contact for the Order."
Mace has already half-turned to go, but when he turns, his dark eyes are ablaze.
"No," he says, quietly. "He is not a contact."
Dex frowns. "Then–"
"He is one of our charges. As such, we are responsible for him." Mace inclines his head. "I will brief Qui-Gon on this development. Contact him should you have new intel."
Dex opens his mouth, but the tall Korun has already slipped out into the Coruscant night.
"Blast it," Dex mutters, as he turns towards the back room, and the comm unit there.
The High Jedi Council rarely convenes at such a late hour – but it is even rarer for Mace Windu to call for a meeting on such urgent terms, and so cryptically.
When the twelve chairs are filled and the door is shut, Yoda turns to his former padawan. "Begin now, we will. Why assembled us here, have you?"
Outwardly, Mace Windu does not exude anything other than his usual calm power; but there is something in the way the stormclouds of his Force-signature are curled in on themselves that suggests urgency.
"I do not know if my fellow Councillors remember one of our young Wards of the Order, Ezhno."
Dooku had been lounging against the plush red curve of his seat, but at the name, he straightens, eyes glittering. "The Togruta boy," he offers. "From the academy on Ventrux."
"Yes," Mace says. "He contacted me approximately four hours previous, by comm-text. I was in conference with the Chancellor, and as such I did not take notice of the message until two hours after it was sent." He pauses. "That was my mistake. When I arrived at the specified location, he was gone. Most likely not of his own volition."
"Vaht has the boy gotten himself into?" Even Piell grumbles, though his single eye watches Mace, sharply.
"It seems that he inadvertently came into contact with the organization known as The Cruorven," Mace continues. "A trusted contact of ours saw him with the Howling Sarlacc freshly tattooed on his person."
A murmur rises among the assembled masters.
"Sure we are that the Cruorven, it was?" Yaddle interjects, heavy-lidded eyes sorrowful.
Dooku taps one long finger against his lips. "Can you be sure he did not join them willingly?"
Mace gives the newest member of the Council a cool stare. "I know Ezhno well. He was clear enough in his message that he had found something of importance, such that he needed to inform me immediately. He also seemed sufficiently frightened. If anything, I would have commended his astuteness in contacting me."
"We must search for him," Ki-Adi-Mundi says, gravely. The only father among the assembled Council, he treasures children nearly as much as Yoda does.
Adi Gallia spares the rest of the Council a quick glance before speaking. "Perhaps we will glean insight from those Cruorven we have already apprehended. What has been done to those responsible for the Senate incursion?"
"Those below the age of sixteen – a significant number – have been moved to the appropriate correctional facilities," Mace reports. "I have advised the Chancellor against it, but it seems that much of the Senate wishes to try those aged between sixteen and adulthood as full-fledged adults."
"I doubt the Chancellor will be able to do much to counter that motion," Plo Koon rumbles. "A pity."
"Indeed," Yoda mutters, ears drooping slightly. "Saddening, it is."
"Preliminary investigations suggest that most of them do not know much beyond the codename of a single contact," Mace continues. "We will be hard-pressed to learn much from them."
"And the leader?" Dooku inquires.
"He might know more, but he is still in questioning."
"And vaht of young Ezhno?" Even Piell suggests. "His friends?"
"I doubt Padawans Kenobi and Tori will know anything," Mace says, even as Dooku's fingers twitch against a metal armrest at the name. "However…"
"Ah," Even Piell grins, fearsomely. "Padawan Vos."
"Yes. He might divulge useful information. For the moment…" Mace pauses. "Plo. I hand the search for our young ward over to you."
Plo Koon inclines his head.
"Then dismissed, this Council is," Yoda harrumphs. "Meditate, we all must. News we might have, in the morning."
There is an assembled "Yes, Master," and then softly-spoken conversations start up as the Council members rise.
Dooku remains seated for a long moment, dark eyes glimmering at the stylised lotus that blooms at the centre of the chamber floor.
Obi-Wan grits his teeth as his lightsaber is nearly wrenched out of his hand.
There is a terrific clashing of blades as he wrenches his azure blade out of its lock with his opponent's silver shoto; but the shoto slips around the longer 'saber as though it runs on a rail around the plasma bar, trapping it, and Obi-Wan hurriedly ducks under the sapphire blade that scythes towards his head.
Huei's face sports a fierce grin as he withdraws his primary 'saber from its missed strike and uses his left hand to curve his secondary blade still further around Obi-Wan's single lightsaber; there is a spitting howl as silver and blue skid against one another, hissing ozone.
Obi-Wan calms the thudding of his pulse in his ears, and listens for the Force. Like the tumbling notes that fall into the Force when he plays his stone flute, there is a melody here, hidden, in the pace of Huei's footwork and the hum of their lightsabers. Obi-Wan simply needs to…anticipate it.
He alters the angle of his 'saber – straining against the opposing magnetic field of Huei's blade – and hurls his weight behind the elbow of his sword-arm, blade screeching as it slides across Huei's shoto, almost to the hilt.
The Nautolan padawan grunts as Obi-Wan's elbow sinks into his stomach, but the next moment he has shifted minutely, twisting to the side, and his shoto halts a finger-breadth from the side of Obi-Wan's neck.
"I win," Huei pants, white teeth glinting as he smiles widely.
A pause, where the Force seems to chuckle.
There is a tapping of something solid against the soft underside of Huei's chin.
Obi-Wan's Force-signature is a suppressed swirl of delight.
Huei frowns as he focuses his hearing. Belatedly, he realises he can only hear the steady, at-rest hum of two 'sabers.
Both his own.
Huei barks a laugh as he pieces it together.
Obi-Wan has his lightsaber pressed to the underside of Huei's chin. The smallest movement of Obi-Wan's thumb, and Huei would be short a brainstem.
"You would still lose your head," Huei protests as he deactivates his 'sabers, taking a step back.
There is a clink as Obi-Wan snaps his lightsaber back onto his belt. His Force-signature is all easy amusement.
"As if," Huei mutters good-naturedly as he follows Obi-Wan's Force-signature back to the bench at the wall. "I wager I'd move faster."
As always, there is no answer, though Obi-Wan radiates polite incredulity. Huei is sure that if he could see his friend, there would be a snark-filled grin on that otherwise collected face.
But conversation is difficult – it always is – so they lapse into their usual comfortable silence.
Huei accepts the canteen Obi-Wan taps against his fingers, and wonders if there is any way the two of them could ever hold a conversation without the presence of a console that could display typed words in raised Aurebesh. Obi-Wan's usual method of writing on flimsy is inapplicable in the case of Huei, and as skilled as Huei is in reading others' Force-signatures, there is something wanting in their daily interactions.
They cannot go to the archives every time there is an important conversation to be had. It is simply not practical.
For example, Obi-Wan's Force-signature has been a trifle…dim, since yesterday. But without a console at his fingertips, Huei cannot enter into a long conversation with Obi-Wan about it – the most Huei knows is that there had been a master-padawan quarrel of some sort, the day before. Obi-Wan had brushed it off, and Huei could not press for an answer.
But there must be something very wrong for Obi-Wan to turn up at Huei's door early in the morning, itching for a sparring session.
His musings are interrupted when a towel collides softly with his face.
Huei uses his free hand to grab the offending towel and whip it in the general direction it came from. The smack of towel against cloth and the screech of the bench as Obi-Wan jerks back, though, is worth it.
The best of friends, of course, do not necessarily need to speak to understand each other.
He chuckles. There is a soft wheezing sound from his right, which means Obi-Wan is laughing, too.
A cold star climbs up over the horizon of Huei's awareness.
His laugh catches in his throat.
The Force tilts towards this new point like gravity bending towards the impossibly heavy depths of a neutron star, skewing the world towards it, tumbling down a well with sides too slippery to grasp.
Huei slams down shutters over his mind like secondary blast-shields over a hangar floor, shutting out gravity, light, darkness, everything except his own thoughts.
Not as attuned to this particular star as his friend is, Obi-Wan's Force signature only stutters as he senses Huei's change. And then he too seems to realise what is coming, and flings up shields like a battle station taken by surprise.
But then the neutron star is upon them, and both padawans slip into its circle of influence, asteroids pulled from their assigned paths. The air grows heavy with its weight, pressing down on their heads.
They rise from the bench together, sweaty hands folded in opposite sleeves, and bow as one.
Obi-Wan's muted presence turns to Huei for a moment in the Force, as if in question.
Huei shakes his head, and jerks his chin in the general direction of the door.
There is a rustle as cloak and canteen are lifted off the bench, and then Obi-Wan's quiet footsteps fade down the corridor.
In the strained heaviness that remains, Huei does a quick sweep of his shields to confirm they are secure, and then inclines his head once more.
"Master Dooku," he intones. Perfect. Emotionless.
"Padawan Tori," the silk-smooth voice replies. Somewhat less silken than Huei remembers, but perhaps that is only a fault of memory, and not anything…particular.
Huei waits, fingers clasped in his sleeves to hide their shaking. Outwardly, he knows he shows nothing but calm patience. Or so he hopes.
There is a long silence. Such a complete and utter lack of sound that Huei wonders for a moment if the thudding of the air 'cyclers in the ceiling are in his head, or if that is his pulse, tumbling and ragged in his throat.
"I am pleased to hear you have recovered as much as you have," Dooku begins. It is not a question. Not even really a statement. It simply…is.
"Thank you, Master Dooku." Huei is glad for the emotional buffer of the extra word; likewise, he would never have thought he would have been so relieved to hear his own surname.
When his former master speaks again, his voice is nowhere near as smooth or restrained as it once was. "Are you…" The sentence hangs there. Unfinished.
Huei holds his tongue, face wiped carefully blank, and continues to wait.
He will not speak unless spoken to. But not for the reason he used to do so.
Dooku clears his throat. It is cultured. Exact. "Are you well?" he says.
Huei cannot quite mask his little jerk of surprise at that. "You have heard from the healers, Master Dooku," he replies. "I am as well as I can ever hope to be. I am fortunate in that regard."
"No," Dooku murmurs. "Are you…have you kept up with your forms? Your studies?"
"Master Ner'iah has been a very good teacher," Huei answers. "I have been able to continue with my lightsaberwork, with some adaptations."
The Force hovers oddly, as though Huei's answer is insufficient. Or perhaps it was Dooku's question, and not the answer at all.
"I see," Dooku says, quietly. And then suddenly: "You've grown."
Huei cannot think of a reply to that, so he remains silent. He has a sudden, inexplicable longing to have sight returned to him for a few moments, just to see his former master's face again. If he himself had indeed grown, then does his former master have more silver hairs than he did before? Are there more lines on his face now, or are his eyes still as steely as Huei remembers them?
A tugging on the master-padawan bond at the back of his mind.
Huei swivels towards the new Force-presence that coalesces on the fringe of his awareness.
Dooku seems startled at Huei's movement for a moment, before his Force-signature flares as he sends out questing tendrils.
Feemor Ner'iah's familiar steps echo as he enters the training room, and the bond thickens into a torrent. Huei answers the unspoken question presented to him with a flicker of assurance.
"Master Dooku," Feemor says, and Huei has to physically block off his shock. Feemor's voice is pleasant, yes, but it holds a tinge of steel that Huei has not heard in it before.
"Master Ner'iah," Dooku replies.
A tense rustle as both masters bow to each other.
"Huei," Feemor says, after a moment, "If you could wait in the corridor, I would like a moment alone to speak with Master Dooku."
Huei pauses for an instant, but then he bows to Dooku again, collects his equipment, and moves carefully out into the corridor.
Alone in the cool, 'cycled air of the training room with Dooku opposite, Feemor waves the door shut.
"Master Dooku," Feemor says as he turns back towards his grandmaster. "I had heard you returned."
"It has been a long year in the field," Dooku replies, sharp eyes watching Feemor's every move.
A pause. Neither of them seems to want to continue with the pleasantries.
"Have you encountered any difficulties?" Dooku inquires. His tone is light, unaffected. He could be asking what selection of teas there might be at an upscale restaurant.
Feemor replies with nothing but the truth. "Huei is severe on those he deems to be corrupt, at times. But those sentients are usually not wholly undeserving. He is far more kind. And I would never call him cruel."
Another pause. Longer.
"There are times I forget you trained Qui-Gon," Feemor says, distantly.
"Surprising, though not unexpected. It has been decades, and we all of us are no longer young, grandpadawan," Dooku replies, evenly.
Feemor looks him dead in the eye. "In this past year I have discovered many things, grandmaster," he says, calmly. "I have discovered the wealth of talent, joy, and fortitude that is my new padawan. And in teaching Huei, I have come to respect Qui-Gon more with each day that passes."
Dooku's dark-eyed gaze rests on him for a long moment.
Then: "I am glad," Dooku says. "I wish you continued success."
Feemor does not thank him.
Dooku strides towards the door, but before it opens, he turns, minutely.
"I thank you for caring for him," he says, without any inflection whatsoever. "You have…a remarkable bond." His shields are drawn so tight he is almost a shadow in the Force.
And then he is gone, and Huei's Force-presence flares a little in the hallway before settling again.
Feemor pauses for a moment, to centre himself.
Huei might find it a little difficult to make friends – Obi-Wan is certainly his closest – and there might be…points of argument…regarding his preferred methods, at times, but he is Feemor's apprentice. And Feemor will teach him gladly.
Feemor takes a long, measured breath, and goes to join his padawan.
The sheet of flimsy rustles as it is adjusted for the third time in as many minutes.
Ben-Avi scowls down at his desk and reads the sentence again. It is useless; words stubbornly refuse to be translated into meaning. A whole morning's work, crawling past at the pace of a juvenile duracrete slug.
He pushes back from the table with a muttered imprecation and scrubs at his face with ink-stained hands.
The creak of the opening door startles him out of his headache, almost. Ben-Avi is still not used to the old-style wooden door, with real hinges – though that is not something to be thought about at the moment, not with nearly two metres of very tall Queen, warrior, and wife towering over you.
"Aleph, dear," Ben-Avi acknowledges. And then: "Where's Kifi?"
Alephi watches him. Her arms are loose at her sides, but he knows that they barely need to twitch before they can have knives for fingers and swords for nails.
But her short swords are securely sheathed at her back – for the moment, at least.
"The Chancellor indicated he would like to show her the Senate gardens on his daily mid-morning walk," she says, impassively. "I know Finis well enough that I deemed it acceptable. We should have twenty minutes before Kifi returns. I thought that sufficient time for us to hold a logical conversation. We are both adults, are we not?" That last part is accompanied with a sharp narrowing of her dark-edged eyes.
"I see," Ben-Avi says. Rising, he crosses over to the next room, and takes a seat on one of the formal sofas there. Alephi lowers herself onto the seat opposite.
The low caf-table between them could be a gulf light-years wide.
"I think," Alephi says, after a moment, "I shall let you attempt to explain yourself first. There is always a twisted logic to every action taken, no matter how illogical it might seem from a third-party perspective. I did not ask you to explain yourself yesterday precisely because I thought you could do with the half-day to stew yourself into quietude again."
Ben-Avi meets his wife's gaze steadily, though with no little shame. "I shall begin with an apology," he says, calmly. "I hope my actions will be a little more understandable after I explain the events that occurred beforehand, but this does not excuse them completely. I am sorry."
Alephi nods slowly, lips softening a little out of their hard line, and gestures at him to continue.
"While you were meeting the Chancellor yesterday, I asked Obi-Wan a question." Here Ben-Avi pauses. "I asked him what level he has reached in sign-language."
"I see," Alephi murmurs. "I take it that he then expressed that he had no training in it whatsoever."
"He didn't know what it was, Aleph."
"I had wondered," Alephi whispers. "I had assumed the flimsy in his belt was for people he was unfamiliar with. But when he met Master Jinn in the hangar, I…speculated that my previous assumption was incorrect."
"We knew that the Core worlds have their prejudices." Ben-Avi glances about the plush chamber, with its decadent décor and its soft fabrics. "In a world of wealth, there tend to be more and more methods to aid those with disabilities. Not a bad thing by itself, unless the simpler means of aid are then phased out completely by a tendency to forcibly change what people don't necessarily want to." He sighs, allowing his head to rest on the back of the couch for a moment.
"We knew Coruscant would be the worst of all," Alephi says, quietly.
"We didn't think it would extend to the Jedi Order." The words catch in Ben-Avi's throat. "I didn't think it would. And so when I heard, I simply couldn't…" He halts, mid-sentence, and puffs out a short breath.
"Did Master Jinn express regret when you brought up the matter with him?"
"No, he…" Ben-Avi's stops, and a contemplative look passes over his features. "I think he did," he says, slowly. "I asked how often Obi-Wan initiated conversations instead of responding when spoken to. That seemed to give him pause."
"Then you have already done what you could, at that time," Alephi muses. "Though I cannot say how much of that was undone when you two then decided to have the equivalent of an alpha-rancor duel."
A passing aircar reflects the mid-morning sun across her face in a bright flash of light, glimmering through her brown irises like gold shot through warm earth. Ben-Avi tilts his head and wonders, in this short moment, if there was ever a more fitting metaphor for her: humble queen, strong nobility.
"What?" she says. "You're staring."
"You're beautiful." Ben-Avi supposes he could have phrased it better, but after seventeen years of marriage, he knows the value of candor and simplicity.
She narrows those humbly noble eyes at him. "Ahem," she coughs, pointedly, even as the corners of her lips twitch, minutely.
"Oh. Yes," Ben-Avi continues. "I believe it was partly guilt that caused me to lose control as I did. I was adamant that giving up Obi-Wan to the Jedi was the best thing to do for him."
"At the time, I too thought it was the best decision," Alephi sighs. "And I stand by it, even now. I knew he would never understand that part of himself if he stayed with us. The Jedi that came to speak with us explained it well – those who remain untrained are easily preyed upon by less-honourable Force-users."
"But you at least considered other alternatives," Ben-Avi counters. "We could have taken him to Jedha every half-year, as you said."
"We concluded that wasn't feasible, and you know it," Alephi growls, an edge rising in her voice. "He was strong enough as a toddler. Six-month gaps could not possibly help his tutelage."
"I think we might have managed," Ben-Avi mutters. "If we only–"
"Enough," Alephi says, sharply. She closes her eyes, for a moment. "We are not doing this again," she murmurs, softly, pressing fingers to temples "I have experienced over a decade of it. Let us not reverse roles on whether we should have given him up, and quarrel again. I am exhausted enough as is; two years is not enough of a reprieve."
There is hardly a sound here, in this receiving-room. The transparisteel is too thick for the roar of repulsors in the skylanes outside to filter in. There is only the soft tick-tick of the antique chrono in the next room, ever-steady, never-ceasing.
Ben-Avi stands, slowly, and crosses over to his wife. She does not protest when he sits next to her, or when he wraps an arm around her shoulders and presses a kiss to her forehead.
"We have Kifi," he murmurs into her hair.
"We have Kifi," she agrees, softly, leaning into his shoulder. "I had thought it impossible, after so many years."
The sunlight is warm, and the room quiet.
"Obi-Wan is a better man than I am," Ben-Avi declares, quietly.
"Then Master Jinn has taught him well." Alephi breathes a sigh. "For all his faults."
"I may have an idea," Ben-Avi says. "One that doesn't involve punching the starlights out of Master Jinn's head, though I can't deny that a part of me still wishes to do so."
"Ah, and here we have my logical, capable husband," Alephi says, dryly, taking his hand.
"And my noble, admirable Queen," Ben-Avi returns.
"Pish-posh. Tell me, my loyal subject, what is your idea?"
"I'm going to offer to teach Obi-Wan and his friends sign-language," Ben-Avi says. A wry grin crosses his face. "I'll teach Master Jinn, too, if he's amenable to it. We didn't keep up with our practice of sign-language for years to be unable to communicate with our son when we finally meet him."
In response, Alephi simply kisses his cheek.
Coruscant Prime's fading light turns the towers of Coruscant into a many-pillared sundial when Tahl Uvain ascends the last flight of stairs to the Temple roof.
She cannot quite suppress a sigh as she flashes her ID chip to a Temple guard, and is waved towards a guard-box overhanging the Temple's western wall. Sniper duty is the bane of every ranking Jedi Master's active duty – a night of inevitably dull, mind-numbing crowd-watching, only alleviated by company if the Jedi assigned to the same guard-box is a friendly acquaintance. The necessity to stay vigilant, Force-senses attuned for the slightest disturbance, only adds the surety of a headache come morning.
With the number of masters present in the Temple in recent centuries, the once-weekly duty after the last Sith war has since been reduced to once every six months; still, even the most patient of masters can be heard grumbling about it on duty night.
It does not help that Tahl goes to sniper duty on this night with a troubled mind – she has not been able to locate Qui-Gon for a full evening and a day. It is unlike him to ignore her comm-calls so.
She had sought out Obi-Wan, but had been waylaid by her own apprentice; even Bant had only vague impressions of a quarrel, an incident in the Temple receiving-rooms late in the previous afternoon.
The guard-box opens to the swipe of her ID chip.
And there, facing the Temple Plaza, framed in the fiery, daily death of Coruscant's sun, is her friend Qui-Gon Jinn.
Tahl halts on the threshold of the box itself. "And where in Sith-spawned stars have you been all day?" she says, lightly. "I've been running myself ragged looking for you, Qui."
Qui-Gon does not turn around, or make a sound.
She steps up next to him, and leans her elbows on the balustrade. "Qui," she says, narrowing her eyes at him.
He does not respond. His eyes, fixed on Coruscant Prime's tumbling flames, seem moist.
He takes a breath, and turns to her. "You've always been here to listen to me when I make a fool of myself," he says, bluntly.
She notes that those are tears in his eyes.
"Did someone die?" she asks, as blunt as he was. If that is what has happened, it is better to get the harsh news over with and move on to comfort.
"No," Qui-Gon almost laughs at her question – more of a bark than anything. "In the past day, though – almost a full twenty-four hours, now – I've come to realise I have made far more mistakes than my pride would admit."
Tahl searches his face. "I am listening," she says.
"Are you aware of something called sign-language?"
Tahl tilts her head. "I recall the phrase from a communications textbook, I think. I don't remember what exactly it is; I don't think it was mentioned in detail. But then again, you took very different courses than I did in our senior apprenticeship days."
"I have spent most of today in the Archives," Qui-Gon says, staring down at his hands, which clench and unclench on the railing before him. "I have searched for this sign-language in the history of our Republic. And I have discovered a horror too unspeakable for words."
Tahl places slim fingers over Qui-Gon's white-knuckled hand. It takes a minute or two, but eventaully Qui-Gon's fingers relaxes out of the tight fist. His hand rotates, and clasps hers.
"Galactic sign language used to be exactly that: a language," Qui-Gon murmurs. "It was not as widely known as other languages, or even Ryl – though Ryl was the most similar. But it was required learning for every healer. It was a language that allowed communication fully by hand-motions, with facilitated by facial expressions and body language at times."
"Oh," Tahl says. Then: "Oh."
"Since the advent of the neural-implantated vocabulator nearly a full millennia ago, Galactic sign language has been largely eliminated," Qui-Gon says, voice tight. "Until–"
"Until its existence is barely taught at all," Tahl murmurs, shock flickering in her green-gold eyes.
"There are other variations," Qui-Gon amends. "Non-Basic sign-languages, originated from worlds beyond the Core, where technology is more expensive, and the populations less wealthy. But Galactic Sign language is now nearly only preserved in holovolumes. I doubt even the Temple healers are able to sign."
"How did you come to know this?" Tahl whispers.
As this, he turns away. "I met Obi-Wan's parents yesterday."
Tahl waits for him to elaborate. When he does not, she closes her eyes, briefly. "I take it the meeting went poorly."
Qui-Gon swallows audibly – his throat must be extremely dry. "Very."
Tahl hands him a ration of water, wordlessly.
"I lost my temper."
"Hm," Tahl murmurs, smiling. "You're going to have to specify how badly."
Qui-Gon gazes at his right boot. "I may have nearly punched Obi-Wan's father in the face."
"You what?" Tahl gasps, aghast.
He glances at her quickly, and averts his eyes again. "To be fair, he was going to punch me first."
"Qui. We are no longer younglings. You no longer punch Mace when he says something unsavoury about your character. He no longer punches you back, either. So this is not a simple loss of temper." She leans towards him, growling. "What did you say to him, Qui?"
"I insinuated Obi-Wan was not his son."
Tahl does not have a reply to that; she stares at him. Her hand tightens around his. He winces.
"Then he – quite rightly – said that Obi-Wan was not my son, either." A shadow of pain crosses Qui-Gon's face.
"And then you two decided to deck it out."
"I wasn't a decision–" Qui-Gon's face freezes, and then collapses. "No. It was," he murmurs. "I decided, in that moment, that I would rather indulge my anger than master myself."
"I notice a distinct lack of bruising on your stupidly straight nose," Tahl says. "I gather you did not truly come to blows."
"Obi-Wan must have sensed my disquiet. He jumped between us."
"My sentiment exactly," Qui-Gon says, a trifle miserably.
"Did you speak with Obi-Wan afterwards?"
"No. He left me kneeling in the garden. I have not sought him out since."
"Astonishing," Tahl murmurs, releasing Qui-Gon's hand. "It was only two days ago that I had to traipse through what seemed like the entirety of the Temple to get you two to shake hands like younglings and be friends again, but you seem to have regressed to a worse place than even that, now."
Qui-Gon opens and shuts his hand a few times, surreptitiously, to get the blood flowing again.
A short chime rings somewhere above their heads, signaling the start of their sniper shift.
Both masters activate their lightsabers in opposite hands – Qui-Gon's in his right, and Tahl's in her left – and lean obediently over the railing, sweeping their gazes over the Processional Way and the Temple Plaza beyond.
The last sliver of Coruscant Prime glides below the horizon, and Coruscant's forest of artificial lights are thrown into sharp relief.
"Tomorrow I will accompany Obi-Wan when he goes for his Senate attachment, myself," Qui-Gon says, slowly. "I will apologise. And express my earnest intention to learn."
A pause, as the nighttime revelry of the Temple Plaza filters up towards them.
"And I will also apologise to Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon adds, hoarsely, "for failing him."
"We shall apologise together," Tahl says, sliding her free hand over Qui-Gon's again. "I have perhaps more excuse, but it is not enough."
A moment of quiet. The Force hums gently, steadily, like the lightsabers at their side.
"We may have to take this issue before the Council," Qui-Gon warns, leaning forward to squint at a kerfuffle at the edge of the plaza.
A wicked smile spreads on Tahl's face, curved in the bright viridian of their lightsabers, emerald and sea-blue. "I will go with you," she says.
"Mace won't know what hit him," Qui-Gon comments.
"Speaking of which, do you think he's behind this?"
"Behind what?" Qui-Gon says as his thumb brushes over her knuckles. He is still staring intently at the scuffle in the distance; it is doubtful if he even noticed the motion of his own fingers.
"Putting us on sniper duty together," Tahl says softly, watching not the wide boulevard below, or the plaza in the distance, but the wider thumb that moves over the back of her hand.
Qui-Gon's hand stills.
"Mace is not cruel," he says, quite calmly. "He pairs up friends as much as possible, I would think."
A pause. "Indeed." And then, suddenly: "What did you think of Obi-Wan's parents?"
"I did not see them in the best of situations," Qui-Gon responds. Perhaps he is relieved at the change of subject; his hand twitches once under Tahl's, and then relaxes. "They seemed to care very much for each other; his father certainly revered his wife not only as a life-partner but as queen of his star-system. Obi-Wan's mother could command legions with a baby in her arms, and not look any stranger for it."
"She must have been a sight to behold, then, when she saw what had happened," Tahl says.
"Indeed she was," Qui-Gon murmurs. "She reminded me of you, somewhat."
"Regal," Qui-Gon says, eyes fixed on the distant plaza lights. "Terrifying."
"…and beautiful," Qui-Gon says, so softly it is barely audible. "You, more so."
The Force glimmers and crescendos, before dipping into a soft trough, as though the stars breathe a slow sigh.
"I am sorry," Qui-Gon says, nothing more than a quiet susurration of air. He lets his hand fall back to his side.
Tahl slips her hand off the railing, and finds Qui-Gon's fingers again, in the windswept folds of his cloak. "No, don't be," she whispers.
Qui-Gon's fingers tremble like hers, in shared grief, as he returns her grasp.
She edges a half-step closer, and tilts her head so it leans on his shoulder. After a moment, his head tilts too, to rest upon hers. Her ochre-brown curls brush against Qui-Gon's long, chestnut mane.
The glow of their lightsabers wreathe their feet as a forest meets the sea, and meld into viridian below their clasped hands.
Qui-Gon returns to his and Obi-Wan's quarters when the morning bell rings, slightly bleary-eyed from lack of sleep but with a determined stride. He will set things right with his padawan, and then have a well-deserved nap. He notes with some amusement that it has now been two full days since he slept at all.
But when the door slides open, he finds the apartment empty– but there is a cup of Sapir kept hot on a warm-plate on the table, with a scrap of flimsy beside it reading Master Qui-Gon.
Something as warm and smooth as the tea on the table rises up inside his chest, at the sight.
Qui-Gon has just taken his first sip when his comlink chimes.
"Jinn," he says, keying open the channel.
"Qui-Gon." Mace's voice is tight. "Get on the holonet. Now."
Tea forgotten, Qui-Gon moves quickly to a corner of the living area. "What am I looking for?" he says as he flicks open the holoscreen.
"Any news channel."
Galactic Holovision is the first Qui-Gon selects; a smartly-dressed Twi'Lek news anchor materialises in green. At the lower edge of the screen, a wide row of scrolling text reads:
BREAKING: JEDI HEROES OF THE SENATE INCURSION NAMED.
Qui-Gon tears his eyes away from this revelation just as the anchor's words register to his ears.
"An source from the Senate, who does not wish to be named, has confirmed that one of the Jedi apprentices involved – fourteen-year-old Obi-Wan Kenobi – is in fact Crown Prince to the system of Stewjon. His highness Jedi Kenobi is currently serving a joint Jedi-Senate internship under his father Ben-Avi Kenobi, First Duke of Stewjon and the newly-elected Republic Cultural Minister."
"Oh, stars," Qui-Gon mutters.
His comm squawks.
"Find Obi-Wan and get him to the Council chamber now," Mace is saying. He sounds, for the moment, very weary. "There's something else I need to tell you both."
"Ezhno. I would prefer to wait until Obi-Wan is here to say the rest."
"Noted," Qui-Gon growls.
As he empties the cup of tea into the sink and flings his cloak around his shoulders again on his way out, he wonders absently when his head will be able to hit his pillow again.
In all likelihood, not for another two days at least.
He pushes this from his mind, and keys his padawan's comm frequency.
A/N: Qui-Gon will be severely sleep deprived for most of the rest of the arc. Also, as my twin mentioned upon reading this chapter, this is the first time Obi-Wan's had no more than a cameo in a chapter, and he's the main character!
Leave a review if you like, and thank you so much to everyone who's been reviewing this and my other works!