The Jabberwalk

Obi-Wan slouched in the seat, counting the moments until the presentation was through. However many there were left, they were still too many. He felt terrible, nose running, nostrils tickling, throat parched, head cloudy. It felt as though he'd been there for ages and there was no way he would make it through much more.

"Now we shall take a brief intermission before we start the second quarter."

His ears perked up but his heart grumbled, and he went straight for Master Windu.

The wise Master spotted him when he was a few paces away still, turning and forcing the young man to stop and bow politely. The Master initiated, "Ah, Padawan Kenobi. How are you enjoying the presentations?"

Obi-Wan cleared his throat. "Very well. Only... would it be so impolite to ask to be excused from the rest?"

Master Windu narrowed his eyes. "You are not enjoying it?"

"I find it very intriguing and inspiring, but I am feeling a bit under the weather at present."

"Are you?" He looked at him carefully. "Indeed. Perhaps you should show yourself to the healers?"

Obi-Wan nodded, rubbing at his nose to restrain a strong tickle. "I, uh... Are you certain it will be all right for me to leave?"

He nodded, placing a hand on the young man's shoulder. "Certain. I shall stop by your quarters and fill you in."

"Thank you. But I will be in Qui-Gon's room. I always sleep there when he is off world; makes me feel closer to him." He rubbed again at his nose, then cupped a hand over the lower half of his countenance.

"Padawan Kenobi?"

Holding up a finger to signal that he would be all right in a moment, he turned and "ehhHishh! eehhKichh! " He rubbed at his nose. "Pardon me."

"Get yourself to the healing center and do not worry of missing the rest. Just feel better." He patted his shoulder once and then lowered his hand. "May the force be with you."

"And may it be with you." He collected his things and headed out quickly. Qui-Gon's room was on the way between the conference room and the healing dome, so he dropped off his things and picked up a datapad novel he'd been meaning to read. It was an odd tale that had been circling the galaxy and beyond. It would make fine reading for the wait.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi?"

Obi-Wan looked up, sniffling as the medical droid beeped and flashed in front of him. "Right here."

The droid beeped and turned. "Come with me."

Obi-Wan put the pad down and followed the droid down the hall and into a room.

"Wait here, please. The medic will be in soon. Please remove your robe."

With a shiver, Obi-Wan obeyed. He lay down on the table, closing his eyes, glad to be resting finally.

Within what seemed like minutes to the drowsy Padawan, a healer burst into the room, full of smiles and boisterous assumptions. "Hello Obi-Wan! Nice to finally meet you! Wish it could be under better circumstances. The report you gave the meddroid says you have a cold, hmm? I'll see what I can do about that."

Obi-Wan looked up, then sat up. The healer was skinny, and rather frazzled-looking. His hair was short but unkempt. His nose thin and long, cheekbones high, eyes a dull brown, but otherwise he could pass for handsome. But there was just something about him... odd and unique. "Hello..."

"I am Tala, a good friend of Qui-Gon's. Perhaps he's mentioned me?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. Immediately he wasn't too sure he liked this man. What did he mean by good friend, anyway? "No sniff he hasn't."

He looked almost hurt, but then shrugged. "Ah well, we go way back. I've heard quite a lot about you." He reached out to feel the man's forehead but Obi-Wan, startled, pulled back at the movement. Tala laughed. "I can't help you if I'm not able to touch you. Understand?"

Obi-Wan nodded reluctantly, rubbing a finger under his nose. "You just sniff, sniff, startled me is all."

"Oh, I'm sorry." He reached out slowly and touched his forehead as lightly as possible. "I'll try to be slower." He picked up a small light stick and turned it on. "Now, I'm going to shine this into your mouth, nose, ears and eyes to look at them."

Obi-Wan grumbled, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "You do not have to treat me like a baby."

Tala smiled, shaking his head. "I just can't win with you, can I?" He looked into his ears and eyes. Meanwhile, he spoke absentmindedly to pass the time. "I always have to treat Qui-Gon like a baby. That poor guy, always coming down with something; he's too sensitive. Seems you have a lot in common with him in that department, hmm?" When he got to Obi-Wan's nose, the lad intentionally sniffed. Tala shot him a stern look with a raised eyebrow.

"What? I had to sniff, that tickled my nose." To prove the fact, Obi-Wan rubbed his nose a few times, then lowered his hand as he felt the sensation rush through him. "ehhChishh! ehhhKeshhoo! "

Tala raised an eyebrow again and reached over to the cabinet where the spare handkerchiefs were. "I'd appreciate if you tried to cover up a little when you sneeze, if you can." He attempted to lighten the mood. "You've got some great sneezes there, just don't want them all over me and my examination room, all right?"

Obi-Wan grumbled, taking a handkerchief and immediately blowing his nose as strongly and loudly as possible, passing easily for an out-of-tune Paler Horn.

Tala checked his mouth next, shining in his light. "How does your throat feel?"

Shrugging. "Like a throat." He forced a cough right in the healer's face.

Tala clicked his light off and put it down on the counter with a loud clunk. "That's it. Look, Obi-Wan, I cannot help you if you insist upon being so rude to me." He put aside the datapad record and hopped up onto the counter beside Obi-Wan to converse with him as frankly as possible. "So what's wrong?"

Obi-Wan remained distant, cold. "Nothing."

"Nothing? You're just rude for no reason?"

The Padawan gave a shrug.

Tala sighed. "If you think you're the first Jedi to catch a head cold while his master's off world, you're sadly mistaken. If you think you're the first one to come in here with an attitude problem, you're wrong. No one likes being sick, and no one likes being here. But you're here for a reason and it's my job to make you feel better. Not just to help your cold but you. Not one of my patients has ever left angry and I certainly don't want Qui-Gon's Padawan learner to be the first. Now," he hopped back down, putting his hands on Obi-Wan's thighs. "Must I resort to tickling, or are you going to give me a cooperative smile?"

Rolling his eyes, Obi-Wan gave him a smile.

"Ah, that's much better." He pulled out a stethoscope and tugged just a little at the man's shirt. "Can you untuck for me?"

It was Obi-Wan's turn to raise an eyebrow, but he obeyed, pulling folds of his tunic out from his pants. The healer slid a hand underneath. "Breathe in deeply, please." Obi-Wan did and Tala moved the instrument. "Again, please... and again... and again..." When he was done, he pulled his hand out and patted Obi-Wan on the back. "Good, sound a little congested, but it hasn't moved to your lungs."

He reached up slowly and felt the man's neck from below the ears down to the base. "May I...?" He held his hand up, just inches from Obi-Wan's heart.

Obi-Wan nodded, closing his eyes and lowering his guard just halfway to let the man sense him. The feeling felt warm and comforting, and honestly quite good. When it ended, he wished that it would continue, but was not about to admit it.

"It's just a head cold right now," Tala said, collecting a small packet of herbs. "But looks like it's spreading to your ears. If they start hurting even in the least, I want you to come in and see me again. Otherwise, a little of this in tea or lemon water every four to six hours until you're done with it, whether you feel better or not."

Obi-Wan's face was long again, his mouth open, his breathing shallow. "ihhEhshh! hepTchoo! hehEhhshh! " he sneezed freely, but to the side.

Tala raised a handkerchief to the young man's face but he pulled away, taking up the hanky with a rough jerk and blowing his nose on his own. Tala chose not to argue the point and instead patted the man's leg lightly. "Arnup'tchow."

Obi-Wan's brow furrowed. "Pardon me?"

"It's a sort of blessing. Qui-Gon always thought it was kinda cute."

He would. Wait... what was that supposed to mean?

"Anyway, I want you to get into bed and have a good rest. Keep yourself warm and be sure to drink enough fluids to keep your throat feeling... like a throat as you put it. And tonight you and I are going to have dinner. My treat."

"No thank you," he mumbled, hopping down, tucking in his tunic, and pulling his robe on.

Tala continued as if he hadn't heard the man. "I'll bring over some food since you should stay in bed and not in a drafty cafeteria." He flashed a charming smile.

With a sigh, "I said no thank you." All he wanted to do was crawl under the covers and not wake up until Qui-Gon returned.

"Great, I'll be there at seven then."

"No, I--"

"Yes?" He looked so sweet and innocent, cocking his head to the side and blinking.

Obi-Wan sighed again. "All right. sniff, sniff ." He headed back to Qui-Gon's room, going straight for the com panel. He contacted Qui-Gon, and only seconds later, it was answered. Qui-Gon's holographic image appeared in front of him with a smile.

"Hello, Padawan. Everything all right?"

Obi-Wan wasn't quite sure what to say about Tala... or about things in general.

Receiving no answer, Qui-Gon continued, "How were the presentations today?"

Obi-Wan sniffed. "I stayed for the morning, but Master Windu excused me for most as I'm not feeling too well."

Qui-Gon's face dropped. "Oh Padawan... I am so sorry! What is wrong?"

He shook his head. "Just a head cold... "

"Have you been to see a healer yet?"

With a nod, "Just came back... " he bit his lip. "Saw a healer named Tala--"

"Oh! Really? Terrific. Isn't he a sweetheart?"

Obi-Wan coughed; he hadn't quite expected that enthusiastic of a response. He held a fist up to his mouth to finish coughing, then left it there as he mumbled a response with breathy, pre-sneeze gasps. "Um, perhaps... hehh... ehhIhhshh! ehhKishh!"

Quickly, his Master replied. "Bless you. I'll be home in two days."

Obi-Wan rubbed his nose, looking up with a spark of alarm in his eyes. "But sniff, sniff, the council wanted you there for at least a week longer!"

"My Padawan is sick, you couldn't keep me here a second longer. And you know how well I follow the council's advise."

He smiled, knowingly. "But Master, sniff, sniff, really, I'll be fine. Sniff, sniff!"

Shaking his head, "I'll finish up everything here and get it cleared, worry not, Padawan. Now, I want you to change for bed and curl up under the blankets with some tea, promise me?"

A nod.

"Feel better, Obi-Wan. Don't let the cold get to be too much for you; keep fighting it." He laughed, "Oh, and watch out for Tala."

Obi-Wan wanted to ask what he meant by that, but nodded again instead. "I will." The transmission ended and Obi-Wan trudged into the bedroom, changing into sleep pants and taking the blanket from the bed. He wrapped it around his shoulders and prepared some tea in the kitchen. Then he stretched out on the couch in the main room with a box of tissues and his datapad. Before he'd even finished the cup, he was asleep.

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Fubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

The door buzzer rang while Obi-Wan was in the middle of blowing his nose. He sniffled and balled up the tissue. "Come in!" he yelled, not feeling at all like getting up off the couch to answer it.

Tala entered, boxes in his arms, a smile on his face. "Looking good, Obi-Wan. I brought a humidifier to moisten the air, it's always so dry in here, and I know Qui-Gon complained of it as well. This will help you breathe."

Obi-Wan sniffed and watched as the man helped himself to a plug and the counters. "How'd you sniff, sniff, know I was here?"

Tala, unphased at the implications of the question, shrugged. "You're Qui-Gon's Padawan... why wouldn't you be here?" He started taking food out of the boxes. "So what do you feel like having? I brought some soup and materials for sandwiches."

"I am not... not too hung... ehhh hehIhhshh! eehhSheoo! iiiehhChishh! "

"Arnup'tchow!" He put a pot on the stove. "I'll just make you soup then." The preparation was minimal, and soon he was just standing and stirring. "So, Obi-Wan, how're you feeling?"

He sniffled, and pulled the blanket tighter around himself. "Sick."

Tala nodded, turning off the burner and pouring the soup into bowls. "I'm sorry. Wish I could do more." He poured a tall glass of juice and put everything for Obi-Wan onto a tray. Bringing it over along with a trashcan. "Dinner is served, Sir," he joked, helping the man sit up straight, then placing the tray on Obi-Wan's lap. He retrieved his own, moving the chair behind the desk out to sit in it across from Obi-Wan. Closing his eyes, he focused his powers on the tissues spread out around the couch. One by one, they levitated into the trashcan with seemingly little effort.

Obi-Wan coughed to stifle a laugh. "Am I supposed to be impressed?"

Tala laughed. "At a bowl of soup and a trashcan of tissues? I'd be surprised if you were! I'm a healer, Obi-Wan. I'm no Jedi Knight."

"That's for certain!" Obi-Wan tested the soup, finding it to be absolutely delicious, despite his wishes. The more he ate, the hungrier he seemed to get.

To break the silence as Obi-Wan devoured his soup, Tala attempted to start another discussion. "So how's the soup anyway?"

He nodded and bit his lip with a reluctant, "Not too bad."

"Not a bit of a problem. If Qui-Gon heard I didn't treat his Padawan well he'd probably kill me."

Despite himself, Obi-Wan laughed. "He can be rather... rahhhhuh... ehhHihshh! eehptchh! ehhKeshhh! sniff! uh... sniff, sniff, rather protective."

"Arnup'tchow. Hey Buddy, how 'bout some ice cream for desert?"

Buddy? His throat was feeling a little hot. "That sniff, sniff , would be nice."

"Great!" He hopped up, taking away the dirty dishes as he went back to the kitchen. "You know, Obi-Wan, that's the first time you've been even remotely civil to me?"

Obi-Wan blew his nose to hide a weak smile. "Don't let it sniff go to your head."

"I won't. Here you go." He handed over a bowl of ice cream.

Obi-Wan dug in with a smile. "Strawberry-Vanilla... this is my favorite."

"I know," Tala said between spoonfulls. "It was in your records."

Confused, Obi-Wan gave him a look.

"You had your tonsils out when you were eight. Qui-Gon made sure it was noted in your chart so no one brought you the wrong thing when you woke up."

Obi-Wan laughed. Sounded like something Qui-Gon would worry over. "So I suppose you were..."

He laughed back. "Here then? No, I was on a medical ship for twelve years. I've only been stationed here for two."

"Am I supposed to be won over by this? You peaking through my records for the last ehhh... heh... last twenty year... years... ehhHISHH! ehhCheoo! "

Tala sighed, mumbling, "I knew the good attitude was too good to last. I ran a search on ice cream in your files on a hunch, actually."

"Likely st... story." As his breath wavered, Obi-Wan took up another few tissues. His nose was stuffed, and he longed to blow it, but the tickles were so great that he knew the sneezes were inevitable. He covered his nose and melted back into the pillow and blanket. "ehhhh... ehhHichh! ehPtchh! huhhKeshh! hehShoo! " He blew his nose copiously, closing his eyes.

"Arnup'tchow. Do you have a headache, Buddy?"

He nodded slightly. "What's it to you?"

Tala sighed. "It's my job, that's what." He stood and set Obi-Wan's bowl to the side. "Scoot over a notch, for me?" Obi-Wan moved over and Tala sat at the very edge of the couch. "Just close your eyes and relax. Think about something soft and warm and quiet." He placed two fingers each on Obi-Wan's temples, rubbing in gentle circles.

Obi-Wan felt a warm, soothing wave pass through his forehead to the back of his neck, leaving soft prickles behind.

"Obi-Wan," Tala whispered. "Can you let your guard down just a little?"

Obi-Wan hesitated. His emotions, his passion, his strength...

"Just a little, Obi-Wan," his voice was a low hug in itself, warming him to comfort. "I promise not to go far."

Relectantly, the young Padawan did give in. He felt the warmth in his head increase with sudden intensity, then back away. Tala cut off the bond and took his hands down.

"Feel any better?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "It's completely gone." He blew his nose again, looking up to find the man staring at him in expectation. So he sighed and gave up a soft, "Thank you."

Tala took the compliment and let it in but kept it light so as not to offend the lad. "Not a problem. It's my job." He stood up, collecting the ice cream dishes. "You, ah, want me to tuck you into bed or anything?"

Obi-Wan snorted a laugh. "Nay! I think not!"

"I guess I'll see you around then."

Obi-Wan nodded, relieved to see him leaving at last. "Good night."

"G'night. Feel better."

As soon as the man was gone, there was another buzz at the door. Obi-Wan sighed. Had the healer forgotten something? "Come in!" There was no response. Obi-Wan waited, then another buzz sounded. With a sigh, Obi-Wan pulled himself up, blanket around his shoulders, and opened the door.

Master Windu stood there, straight and dignified and looking a bit shocked to see Obi-Wan like this. "Padawan Kenobi... you look... more than just under the weather."

Obi-Wan nodded, rubbing tissues against his runny nose to make himself a bit more presentable. "I know. Thank you for excusing me this morning."

Handing over the datapad, "Here are the notes, if you're up to reviewing them. I am to presume you will be absent at the meeting tomorrow as well?"

"Actually... hehh... I was still... plehh... ehhIhhshh! ehhChishh! hehHihshh! ehhChishh! sniff, sniff, planning upon attending. ehhHishh! ehhChoo! ehhCheoo! Sniiiiff! Excuse be just a bobedt, blease." He turned, blowing his nose, folding the tissues in half and blowing again until he felt better.

"Get a good sleep then."

"I will, thank you sniff, sniff, for the notes." He closed the door behind and collapsed onto the couch. He didn't feel like reading the notes, and he certainly didn't feel like waking early for the meeting the next morning. In fact, he almost wished the medic were back to get him a warm tea before bed. Once he realized it, he immediately shook the thought out of his head, replacing the desire with one for Qui-Gon. With a sigh, he stood and paddled into the kitchen, sniffling and leaning against the counter in fatigue. He made the tea, mixing in another spoonful of the herbs. Then he headed into the bedroom, sliding into bed and letting his head sink into the pillow. He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes to smell Qui-Gon. He almost felt the man's arms around him as he snuggled into bed... but just almost.

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

"I dod't wadt to get ub, Qui-God!"

The alarm continued, and he finally rolled over in bed to turn it off and was struck with the realization that Qui-Gon wasn't home. Worse yet, that he had an early morning meeting to get to. He sighed, getting up and dragging himself to the kitchen to make another pot of tea, then to the bathroom while the water boiled. He didn't especially feel up to a shower, to he washed his face with a cloth and brushed his hair and teeth, and gave himself a close shave, made difficult by his tickling nose and constant need to sniff back the runs.

He sat down on the side of the tub, rubbing at his nose with the back of his hand. It was remarkable how tired he still was and how very little the sleep had helped his cold. In fact, he felt considerably worse. His head was stuffed, his nose was runny, and his throat was... well, feeling less like a throat and more a dull ache. "ehhHetcho! hehEishh! ihhHishhh!" He took a deep breath and sniffled as his knuckles rubbed against his nose. Obi-Wan reached over and turned on the water, then pulled off his shirt. Not feeling up to a shower of any kind or a bath for that matter, he ran a towel under the warm water to soak. Then he dabbed it against his chest, ran it under his arms and against the back of his neck. He let it linger on his face, the damp warmth soaking into him, clearing his pores, freeing his stuffiness. Suddenly his breath caught and his body tightened. His grip tightened around the towel as his body shook with a chill and then pulled back on its own to throw him forward. "ehChuphh! Hufffff! Chephhh-uhh... " he pulled his head up out of the cloth, blinking. There was another there that just didn't want to come out. The tickling was strong, the urge almost maddening, but the sensation had backed down to a sharp tickling in his nose that he could feel race through his body. He tried forcing it, panting with his tongue half hanging out. He caught a glimpse of his desperation in the mirror and couldn't help a laugh or two. He wished Qui-Gon were there to go to the meeting instead, and to hold him and laugh with him, and tell him he'd feel better soon.

It was a frustrating feeling, this illness. Aside from the obvious physical discomforts, a whirlwind of emotional problems were busy plaguing him. It was not so much that he desired QuiGon's affections, it was that he was used to the man's fatherly over-indulgence. He despised being fussed over but loved when Qui-Gon fussed, and to simply not have the option was tearing him up. Not to mention Tala was as friendly as a pain in the rump. On top of it, was a cold that was growing increasingly worse, past an annoyance. His head was fogged with congestion that settled mainly upon his nose in constant tickles and itches and runs; he couldn't stop them and he couldn't control them.

All at once, his body lurched forward with a sneeze. In as much as he could, he tried to contain it, not having time to reach for the towel. His mouth tried to stay closed, his lips pressed tightly, his teeth clenched. The sneeze sprayed forward with a wet result, however hindered by his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth and his teeth. "hiiiishhhhttt! " Obi-Wan slumped, miserable at the result, and rubbed his nose with a finger to alleviate the residual tickling. With a light sigh, he returned to change into proper clothes and then hurried off to the meeting.

He received a nod from Master Windu as he settled into his seat at the far end of the meeting hall. The soft seat of the chair enveloped him, and he did his best to melt comfortably into it so as not to be noticed. "eehhh... " His nose tickled fiercely, and he resorted to letting his handkerchief rest on his thigh for easy access. "ehhIhshh! heh-Keshh! " Obi-Wan pulled his datpad out as the updates started. The council began to discuss the general affairs of balancing the tasks of the Jedi Knights, then moved to the subject of recent political affairs and the role of the Jedi in the sector. Obi-Wan was finding it difficult to stay awake, despite the task of taking notes. Perhaps asleep his nose would stop tickling? A short nap couldn't hurt...

"Padawan Kenobi?"

Naught followed but a room full of an uneasy silence. All eyes tured upon him to see the young man's form hunched forward, head to the side and down so his chin hit his chest. He was deep into sleep.

Yoda raised his stick halfway as he called over in annoyance, "Awaken Qui-Gon's Padawan, will you Jedi Elboo?"

The Jedi in question was sitting in front of the lad, as Obi-Wan sat on the isle and the seat directly beside him was Qui-Gon's. He turned and laid a gentle hand on the dozing Jedi Padawan.

Overly startled at the touch, Obi-Wan woke with a stuffy snort and jumped in his seat, snapping to attention. He coughed to try to cover the sound and looked around with embarrassment, realizing that they were all waiting upon him. Master Yoda, especially, was looking rather cross. Obi-Wan fumbled for words, an explanation or at least an apology. Instead, the closest thing was a weak, "ehh-chushh! eehhhhHihshoo! sniff, sniff! " He rubbed at his nose with the handkerchief then cleared his throat. "A billiod pardods." He bowed his head, waiting to hear what had been asked of him.

Master Windu cleared his throat. "Padawan Kenobi is a bit under the weather. To restate, he was asked if there has been any word from Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn regarding the conference he is currently moderating."

"Ah," he took the time to put down his data pad and stand, as formed his answer as quickly as possible. "I heard from hib sniff, sniff, him last night. The codfrece is proceedig dicely add sniff, sniff, he will be subbitting a formal request to returd earl..." he rubbed his palm against his nose but found that the tickles were too strong. For a moment, he tried to continue, "ear... " but his breath caught and his body tensed. His eyes closed and his voice raised in desperation, "Ex-scuse-ehhh... ehhhHishh! ihhHihshhoo! " He rubbed his nose in his handkerchief, needing badly to blow it but not daring to do so. Obi-Wan cleaned his appearance and sniffled his voice clear. "Excuse me."

One of the council members nodded. "When we receive it, we shall discuss and evaluate it. If things are going as well as his word says, there should be no problem in his returning ahead of schedule."

Master Windu continued. "Is there anything else you find it necessary to report?"

Shaking his head and ignoring the strong tickling in his nose. He raised his hand and tried to look as casual as possible as he held a loose fist up, pressing against his nostrils to quench the tickling. "Do, sniff, sniff, No, nothehh... nothing else."

"Thank you Padawan Kenobi."

Obi-Wan bowed and quickly sat down and melted into the seat, hand over his nose and mouth which he quickly replaced with his handkerchief. He was about to clear his nose a bit when the sneezey feeling came over him once again. Keeping the handkerchief hard against his nose, he turned his head to the side, aiming towards his shoulder to further conceal his ailment. "huhMuff! humff! umfihh! heh-ummff!" He shook his head back and forth slightly while the handkerchief was held steady, to rub at his nose. Then he folded the handkerchief in half and held it in one hand while he pressed his other flat against it and the hanky to drown out noise. "shhnngxxtshhh... ehhh... " he waivered, his hand pulling off and shaking slightly as the pressure and force came back over him. "ehh... hegfff! ahMefff!" Without opening his eyes, his eyebrows sank with concentration as he blew once more. "heh-sngxxstt. " It was short, but it did the trick. When he pulled his eyes open at last, he noticed the silence at once. All eyes once again rested upon him. Obi-Wan sniffled and cleared his throat for a soft, "Excuse me."

And meeting continued.

Obi-Wan sighed, shaking his head in disbelief.

Jedi Elboo turned around, giving him a sympathetic smile. 'Are you all right?' he mouthed.

Nodding, he rubbed at his nose. 'Just a cold.' He sniffed and added. 'Getting worse by the moment.'

The Jedi elder reached up and patted him on the leg. 'Hang in there. The meeting will be through soon.'

He nodded back respectfully.

Jedi Elboo was indeed correct, and the meeting ended soon thereafter. Obi-Wan waited for most of them to leave by way of the doors at the front of the room as to draw much less attention to himself. He collected his things and followed them out, navigating the halls with a hand to his nose as it ran and tickled. The more it did so, the faster he walked, until the sneezey sensation took the lad over completely. He found a small alcove and ducked in, forehead to the wall, fist up to his nose. "ehhHushho! ehehhhhHishhh! uuhh-Ketchoo! herashhhoo! iihhhChishh!" He gasped for breath, his head spinning, and sniffled to find his nose stuffed and the simple act tickling it more. "heh-eeehhh.. yiiihhh... yehhh-hehh... HEHshhh! heptchuh! huhhshishhoo! hehKeshhh! " His hand was soaked, his nose dripping, his eyes running. And quickly, the sneezes settled back into his nose. He panted in desperation, burying his nose in his long, thick sleeve.

A clean handkerchief was unfurled in his face and, though a bit startled, he grabbed for it quickly with a muffled, "Thaahhh... ehhHitchum! ehhTchuff! Huhchuff! heh-Ihhhhh!" His nose full and overflowing, he gave a timid blow into it, not especially pleased at taking advantage of the kindness, but he simply couldn't present himself otherwise. Even a smiple thank you could have caused another onslaught of sneezes, or a dreadful, stuffed mess at the worst. As soon as Obi-Wan had caught his breath and cleared his nose, he looked up to find himself looking straight into the face of a softly smiling Tala. "Oh, sniff, Force! sniff, sniff. sniff, sniiiffff. What are you doig here?"

"Arnup'tchow, Obi-Wan."

The Padawan harshly pushed the handkerchief back with a grumble. It was bad enough that he had to lose control in public at all, not to mention in front of another, but why did it have to be Tala? Obi-Wan pushed past and continued down the hal at a moderate pace.

Calmly, the healer took the cloth, careful to fold it without touching its select areas. As he kept up with Obi-Wan, he discreatly discarded it into a disposal unit. "Well, I was out calling on a few patients. Perhaps a better question is what are you doing out of bed, hmm?"

Obi-Wan grumbled, "I had a sniffle meetig with the coucil mebbers this mord. Thag you so much for midig your owd busidess." He quickened his pace.

Walking beside him, Tala adjusted his pace to match. "You should be resting in bed."

"Where do you think I'm going?" He was nearly running by now with Tala jogging casually alongside. It was idiotic, he knew, but the point had to be made to the persistent, overbearing well-doer.

When they arrived at Qui-Gon's room, Obi-Wan fell against the soor to catch his breath and Tala took the opportunity to probe him. "So how's the cold?"

Obi-Wan shot him a look but answered none the less. "Terrible wheeze thags."

Tala reached over, gently cupping his hands over the young man's ears. "And your ears?"

Obi-Wan sniffed and pulled back. He wasn't too fond of unwelcome affections, there were none as unwelcome as this mysterious man who claimed an equally mysterious spot in Qui-Gon's life and heart. Sure he seemed nice on the surface, but his intentions? And relations with his master? He had been told to watch out, and that he would do. "They're fide."

Tala nodded, doubting the lad wouldn't admit to it, even if he were on death's door. "Well, I was just out visiting patients who aren't feeling so fine. Seems this bug's going around the place quickly. Lots of sniffles in noses and aches in ears." He touched Obi-Wan's forehead briefly. It was cool. "You come see me if they start bothering you, promise?"

Obi-Wan sighed with a nod. If it got the man to leave, he'd agree to anything. He opened the doorway and crossed inside.

Tala flashed a smile. "Sure you don't want to be tucked in?"

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes at the offer. "Not by you."

He smiled, "Come on, I know you don't have a mean bone in your body, Kid."

"I'll break every ode of yours if you ask to tuck be id agaid."

Shaking his head. "Feel better."

He rolled his eyes as he shut the door, leaving him in silence as the reply.

The Padawan pulled a blanket from the couch around himself as he checked the messages-- only one short one from Qui-Gon telling him the arrangements for his return had been made and for him to feel better.

"Odly if you were here," he whispered, taking another tissue box to bed. He curled up around a pillow with the box beside him and tried to get comfortable enough to sleep.

But his nose was being a stuffed annoyance. No matter how he lay, it either ran freely or hurt from sinus pressure. Even propping himself up so that he was sitting and blowing his nose an absorbent amount didn't help either. So he sat there, head to the side, trying to relax as he sniffled and snorted and rubbed at the pesky thing. "ehhhachhah! Ehhhishhooo!" sneezing freely into the moist air. He had to admit, Tala's machine was doing an excellent job. What was it about this man that the simple mention fo Qui-Gon's name through his lips put him so ill at ease? That made him so short and irritable. "ehhIhhshhoo! heahshh! eeeiiihhshoo! hihSheoo! " A handful of tissues rubbed his nose, hurting the rough spots but caressing the rest. He closed his eyes tightly, wishing it all away, every annoying sniffle, every strong blow, every wet sneeze.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

Obi-Wan hung in the doorway, sniffling, clinging to the door jam for support. A medical droid rolled over to him slowly, giving him a chance to back out. The night had been horrible, tossing and turning and sweating with chills. He was sure he must have a temperature, and could see Qui-Gon's worried look, and feel the kind hand on his forehead. His Master would have wanted him to be looked after. But he wasn't about to see Tala. It wasn't until this morning that his ear began hurting, a little, then a lot. Then his other ear began to hurt him. Reluctantly, he knew he couldn't shake it without some help. So there he was, sick, hurting, and needful. The ice planet Hoth, the deserts of Arithia, the infected swamps of Tapica Four, any place in the universe would have been preferred to Tala's lair. He closed his eyes as a shot of pain hit his ear, and his head, growing fuzzy. He hesitated a moment, but made the decision to remain.

"State your name and malady."

He cleared his throat. "Obi-Wad Kedobi, add I'b-ehh... ehhhChishh! heptchuh! I ehhh sniff heh deed to ihhh see Healer Tala, blease. eehhhHihshh! "

It's metallic voice answered back, "The requested healer is unavailable at the present time. Please state your malady and the first available healer will see you at his or her earliest convenience."

Obi-Wan rubbed at his nose, then his ear. "Well, I..."

"Please state your malady." If there were a way for a droid to sound annoyed, that was it.

Obi-Wan paused, his hand rubbing his nose, then his neck nervously. "I just deed sniff, sniff... "


He looked up to see Tala standing in the hallway, pen in his mouth, a tray of somethings in his arms. He put down the things and went to him, lying a hand on his shoulder. "What are you doing here? Out of bed?"

The droid answered. "The patient has not specified a malady."

Tala smiled, patting the machine. "I'll take care of this. Go help Healer Donovan with the samples, please." Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Obi-Wan sniffling and rubbing at his ear. Tala sighed, putting his hand on Obi-Wan's back. "Come, there's an empty room."

Obi-Wan took a few unsteady steps, then leaned on the man with a whimper.

"Shhh, it's all right. I'll take care of you, buddy." He guided Obi-Wan to a room and helped him hop up onto the table. The young man grabbed his hand, looking for support.

"You... you said heh... if by ears started ehhh! to-" he held a finger under his nose. "-to hihh- hurt add... add..."

Tala spoke softly, "Just let it come out. Don't fight it. The sneezes will come whether you want them or not."

Obi-Wan's face screwed up and he pulled back, letting them out, "ehhh IhhShhh! eehhChishh! huhIhhshh! "

Tala rubbed a handkerchief against the man's nose. "Now blow."

Obi-Wan obeyed, then rubbed his hand under his nose. "I am ehhh... "

"Gonna sneeze 'gain. Go for it. Take this." He thrust a handkerchief into Obi-Wan's hand and lifted it to his nose for him. "And cover your nose. I'm going to check your ears out. Got it?"

Obi-Wan nodded, mouth open, panting. "huhh..HUHKeshhh! huhhihhhChhoo! huhhSheoo! huh huh-ehhKushh! "

"Arnup'tchow." The man had just missed the handkerchief, but the effort had been enough to reward him for. He put the instruments down and picked up a reader, sticking the tip in Obi-Wan's ear. "You hanging in there?"

Obi-Wan sniffed. "Yeah," softly, and he would have preferred to nod but didn't want to disrupt Tala's examination.

Tala gave a laugh. In a mocking voice, "I'll hang you up to dry! or Hang it all! Come on, I know you've got a zinger in there somewhere to insult me, hmm?" He entered some things into the data pad and looked over at the Padawan, expecting a reply.

He rubbed at his nose with his knuckles, then the back of his hand weakly.

A hand pressed against Obi-Wan's forehead. "Not so tough when you're really sick, Hmmm?"

Obi-Wan shook his head, then leaned forward, putting his head on Tala's shoulder and whimpering softly.

"Now, now, you'll be all right. It's an ear infection and a fever on top of the sneezes, that'll all. But you'll be all right. I'll get you some medicine, then home and into a nice, warm bed."

A medical droid entered with a small cup of green liquid, which Tala took and forced upon the young man. "Here, take this- the whole thing until it's gone. You'll need some every twelve hours so I'll be by your room around nine." He rubbed Obi-Wan's nose for him as the lad concentrated on drinking the concoction. When he was finally done, Tala helped him down. "Come on, back to bed."

The young Padawan swayed a moment, closing his eyes and latching onto Tala's arm for security. "I'b hehh... hehIHhhshh! sniff! I'b sorry to bother you like this."

"Arnup'tchow. Come on, Buddy." He put his arm around the young man and walked him back.

He helped him into bed, then watched as the young man struggled to get the covers untangled and rearranged and up over him. Obi-Wan looked up at him, his eyes begging for help.

Tala sat down on the edge of the bed. "You gonna break my bones if I help you?"

Obi-Wan gave a weak smile. "You dow I do dot have a bead bode id by body."

With a nod, he straightened out the blankets and pulled them up to the man's waist. Then he plumped the pillows and looked down at the pale face, red nose. He caressed the young Padawan's cheek, pushed his braid back and out of the way, then stroked the runny nose to soothe it with his skills. "You know Qui-Gon and I weren't... well... it's not what you thought. We're just friends, Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan nodded, rolling over to his side to face Tala. "I ab sorry for how I've beed to you."

"S'okay, Buddy. Not the first time a patient has been irritable, and it won't be the last. Will you be all right if I go?"

He hesitated, then shook his head. "ehhh... iihhhHISHH! sniff! sniff! Cad sniff, sniff! Cad you stay udtil I fall asleeb?"

"Is that what Qui-Gon does?"

He nodded, eyes closing, face going slack, his body tensing. He drew a sharp breath and directed them towards the pillow. "ehhhIhhshh! iehhChishh! ehhhHishoo! "

"Arnup'tchow. All right. If you're clear on this, it's is me staying."

Snuffling, "That is why I asked."

A smile broke on Tala's face. "Come 'ere." He patted his lap and helped the lad move over with the pillows. "Just until you fall asleep then."

"Thag you... ehhh... "

Tala put his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder to steady him.

"iihhHishh! eehhh... ehhHishooo! heptcheoo! huhchushh! "

"Arnup'tchow, lad." He rubbed the man's arm to soothe him finally into sleep.

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

Tala sat down on the bed, looking down at the snoring, pale Padawan learner. He put his hand down on Obi-Wan's arm and shook gently. "Wake up..." Obi-Wan swatted him away with a grunt and fell back to sleep. Tala felt his forehead. Warm, but certainly cooler than it had been. "Obi-Wan... medicine time. Wake up, lad."

The young Padawan stirred reluctantly, then opened his eyes, waking with a few stuffy sniffles.

Tala lifted the cup to his lips for him. "Drink up, then I'll make you some dinner and a milkshake."

Nodding, he grimaced and drank it down. Then fell back against the pillows. "Did I really sleeb the whole day?" He rubbed at his nose, breath hitching.

"Sure did. You all right?"

He nodded again. "Feels like adother sdeeze cobig od. But... kida stuck. huh... sniff... "

"Wanna sneeze?"

Obi-Wan seemed concentrated on the sneeze, panting, leaning into it, trying to ease it out.

Tala touched his nose gently, one finger on each side, against the nostrils. He sent a soft wave of tingling over.

Obi-Wan pulled back, cupping both hands over his nose and mouth as his nostrils flared, his soft, curving nose wrinkling with the sensation. "Hitchoo! eehhhhIhhshoo! itchahh! "

Tala handed over some tissues from the box. "Arnup'tchow."

"Thags sniff, sniff, for the sniff helb."

"Anytime, not a problem. It's my job." He pulled the covers up to his waist to tuck him in tightly. "Now, you sit right there and stay warm and I'll get you some dinner."

Obi-Wan struggled to get up, shaking his head. "I cad't eat id bed. Qui-Gon would kill be."

So he escorted the Padawan back to the couch, keeping him covered and supplied with water and tissues. Tala returned minutes later with trays for them both. He settled on the floor in front of the couch to keep an eye on Obi-Wan but still give him a respectful distance. "How're your ears feeling?" he asked, after giving Obi-Wan a chance to dig into the meal.

"A bit blocked ub add ehhh... ehhh... huhKeshh! hehCHishh! sniff, addd hurts a little."

"Any better than it was this morning?"

He shrugged. "Maybe a little. It is sniff, sniff, difficult to tell."

There was silence for a while, as the two men ate. Obi-Wan was exceptionally hungry which, with a fever, meant either a good sign or that the man was absolutely starving. Tala was the one to break the silence, noticing the datapad on the table by the couch. "So whatcha reading?"

A shrug. "A strange novel. About a girl who falls through a worbhole, sniff, sniff, and sniff, sniff, thed walks through a birror sniff, sniff, sniff, to fide herself id a ladd that's sniff, sniff, a gabe of BidgJudg."

Tala passed him a few tissues. "Your nose needs a few good blows there." He resisted doing it for Obi-Wan, though the lad seemed to struggle weakly a moment before the tissues were in place. "So, you're reading Alice in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass."

He raised an eyebrow. "You have read theb?"

"You could say that."

"I just did."

Tala laughed, putting down his sandwich for safety. "Yes, I've read it. In fact, I wrote it."

"You wrote this? It's..."

Laughing, he nodded. "Messed up. I know. That was the point. But haven't you ever felt like Alice? Traveling through the stars to new worlds, meeting new cultures. The struggle of good, logic, reason, and childish naiveté against a breed of evil, or confusingly foreign ideals." He realized he was rambling and quickly brought it to a close. "Anyway, it's anonymous in hopes that it's somewhat unspeciesist, and that perhaps one day it will travel throughout many galaxies, being picked up and read and related to."

Obi-Wan nodded. "Baybe you cad read a little to be whed you're dode?"

"Your wish is my command." They finished eating and rearranged themselves, with Obi-Wan lying on the couch, head on two pillows, which rested in Tala's lap. Obi-Wan curled up into a ball, clutching folds of a blanket and hugging them to his chest.

"ehhh... "

Tala pressed a few tissues to his nose for him, saying softly, "Just relax and let me take care of you."

"yyiiihh..." he panted a moment, tensing up and pulling back, "IHHshhh! huhSheooo! hitchh! ehhhChichh! iihhhh... " the sneeze backed down. Frustrated, he sniffed harshly.

"Arnup'tchow." Tala swabbed his nose, and held the tissues ready for blows.

The Padawan looked up, sniffling. "Tala?"

"Aye lad?"

"Are you goig to tell Qui-God how... ub.... rude I was to you?"

Tala caressed his cheek. "Of course not."

Obi-Wan sighed. He fought so hard to gain his Master's acceptance, and he had been perfectly dreadful to the man.

"You were sick, and confused... I understand."

"I ab sniff, sniff, sorry you dow."

"I know, lad." He picked up the datapad. "Ah, you left off at the flower garden. Shall I read to you?"

He nodded. "I'd like that."

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

The door slid open slowly and Qui-Gon entered, shutting it behind so as not to wake Obi-Wan with sound or the bright beams of light from the corridor. As the Jedi Master put down his bags, he smiled at the sight before him. Obi-Wan was stretched out on the couch, head on Tala's lap. Tala was groggy, but still awake, running his hand from the Padawan's forehead and over the short buzzed hair of his head. He smiled, looking up at Qui-Gon in greeting.

Qui-Gon went to them, sitting on the arm of the couch beside Tala. "How is the little one doing?"

Tala smiled, a hand over his mouth as he yawned. "Not too well, but getting better. Fever down, ear infection still, constant sneezes. He'll be glad to see you home."

Qui-Gon patted the healer on the shoulder. "Thanks for looking after him for me."

With a laugh, softly, "As if I had any choice? You called me what, ten times a day to make sure he was all right? More?"

Qui-Gon restrained his own laughter. "I am sorry... I worry. He didn't give you any problems did he?"

Looking down at the peaceful face. The soft cleft of the chin, the smooth curves of his cheek, the redness on his curved nose, the relaxed look he gave with closed eyes, the bits of stubble lining the bottom half of his countenance. Slowly, Tala shook his head. "He was a perfect angel."

Sighing, "Thanks again, Tala. I owe you one."

"Of course you don't! Now take your Padawan to bed and care for him. I'll send some medicine over at nine tomorrow morning. And the packet of herbs on the counter is for his tea every 4-6 hours as he's awake."

Qui-Gon nodded and bent down beside the couch. He stroked Obi-Wan's cheek gently. //Padawan, mine, I am returned.//

Obi-Wan's eyes fluttered open, and his face lit with a smile of recognition. He wrapped his arms around Qui-Gon instantly. The warmth of the force coarsed through them and between them and it was once again as if they had not been parted.

Tala rose, giving him over and patting Qui-Gon on the back. Quietly, he tiptoed out on eggshells so as not to disturb them. When he got to the door, Obi-Wan called out his name. The healer turned, eyebrows raised in question. "Hmmmm?"

Softly. "Thag you."

Tala gave him a respectful nod. "Not a problem lad. Feel better now." With a smile, he left the Master and Learner to reacquaint.

Qui-Gon gave Obi-Wan a tight hug. "Tell me the truth, how do you feel?"

Obi-Wan sniffled and put his head on Qui-Gon's shoulder. "Dot good. Sdiffley add Sdeezey add achey add... add... I'b so glad you're hobe."

Qui-Gon pulled back, running his fingers from Obi-Wan's forehead down the side of his face, savoring the familiar curves of his Padawan. //Shall we go to bed?//

He cocked his head. //Must I move?//

Laughing, Qui-Gon shook his head. //Nay, Padawan. I shall lie with you here until you fall to sleep then carry you to bed as we did when you were young, aye?//

With a childish smile, "I ab ehhh... ehhhHISHhhh! ehhhChishh! sniff, sniff I ab so glad you're hobe, Baster."

Qui-Gon took his hand gently, running his thumb over the smooth, long fingers. "I'm glad to be back, Padawan. Now rest, my lad. I'll be right here."

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.