Always two there are. No more. No less.
“hegtshoo!” he rubbed at his nose through the handkerchief miserably. Qui-Gon had been counting on shaking the cold before his Padawan's return but it didn't look like such would happen. Still, a trip to the healers would certainly hurt no one. He dragged himself from the warm nest of covers he'd made his home for two days. Though tired and groggy, he didn't much feel like a shower of any kind and instead poked around to find his clothing. As he did so, he thought to check his messages. Lo and behold, there was one from his Padawan. Dressed in undergarments only, he leaned over to play it. The dawning of his lightest tunic then a thicker was lit by the light of his student's holographic image.
The light beams of Obi-Wan danced as the young man shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he tended to do sometimes when talking into these machines. He would have to have a discussion with Obi-Wan about that. First came a respectful bow, then the words. “The negotiations went well, as I've mentioned before. I've been enjoying my days on the beaches, Master. But looking forward to a vacation after this vacation!” he laughed lightly. “I'll be arriving near lunchtime. May the force be with you.” The transmission cut as the young man was giving a second bow.
“Add with you,” Qui-Gon murmured. Though they had been apart a standard week, he hadn't missed the boy so much as when he had become ill. While he hated to show his weakness in it, he longed for more companionship than his console and a few good books had offered. Still, he knew how succeptable Obi-Wan was to the slightest illness and really had hoped not to pass it on to the young man. They were a bad pair for that, though it was one of the reasons they connected so well. They were so alike—too much alike. Jedi, by nature, were armored emotionally and physically through the force. Yet Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were among the few prone to catching the sniffles.
Dressed finally, he made his way wearily over to the healing dome, taking a seat in the front of the empty waiting room. Though he understood well the importance of being there, it was not a place he was particularly fond of. The room was cold, sterile, with attempts of pictures hanging to cover the walls. The scenes were of distant planets, possibly thought to allow waiters time to reflect upon their homes, travels, dreams. It did little to comfort Qui-Gon in his current state, however.
“Master Qui-Gon?” came a familiar voice and from the hallway came a thin, frazzled man.
Qui-Gon fought to hide his smile and keep his words light and friendly. “Tala… id's beed a while! Sniffle.”
The man nodded, putting down a few books and rummaging through some chips on the desk. “Years. Still catching these colds, I see?”
Sheepishly nodding to admit it, Qui-Gon rubbed at his nose. His own training had been more mobile than the academy could call for, but from time to time he had run into others. And on more than one occasion Tala had been the apprentice to look after him when ill. “Bore thad ever. Perhabs I'b regressig?”
Laughter. “Qui-Gon, a Jedi with your wisdom, insight and experience could never be more than that. Come with me and we'll fix you up.”
With a thankful nod he pushed himself out of the seat and trudged behind the man to the examination quarters.
“Getting enough rest and fluids?”
Another nod, a sniffle, and a pair of eyes darting around to look for a container of handkerchiefs. “Tala… “
The healer was scribbling on the pad absent-mindedly. “Mmm-hmmm?”
A hand went before his face and the Master Jedi's noble voice whispered with embarrassment. “I forgod a hadky add… hehgehh…gahh…I'b afraid I'b godda have do… ehhh…”
Tala's dark green eyes looked up in concern, then he quickly retrieved a handkerchief and tossed it at his patient quite nonchalantly. “Go right ahead, buddy.”
“geh-Ihshah! hehTsah! ehhh… ehhIehtchah!” He'd given up all nobility around Tala years ago and was glad he had no need to bother with his image or containing them. “hehIshhhhh!”
“Goodness, that sounded like a wet one.” Tala remarked, his eyes moving from paper to his instruments. This was nothing but normality and he hated when Qui-Gon mused upon embarrassment. They knew each other far too well to care for such masks. “Arnup'tchow,” he said, brining over a few things and an extra handkerchief. It was a blessing he'd learned many years back on Asi Six. Loosely translated, it meant 'bless your nose' and originated from a culture very wise in the ways of medicine. Unlike many civilizations which first thought of the sneeze as an act of evil, they saw it to be a spiritual experience, relaxing and helping to expel anything harmful. They regarded the sneeze as a wonderful doing and thus thanked the nose for its happening each time.
“Thags,” Qui-Gon replied miserably as his nose began to run again.
“You sure you've been getting enough rest? You seem quite fatigued and miserable.”
In truth, it was not simply Qui-Gon's eyes that drooped. His normally noble, Master appearance was completely discarded. If not for the smooth actions and pulled-back hair, one might have taken him for the most normal of men. His slouched in place, cheeks pale, nose flushed, motions slow. He nodded groggily and sniffled into the cloth. “Quite biserable frob dis code.” And from missing Obi-Wan, but he was hardly going to mention that. “Cad'd you sbeed this ub?”
Tala nodded, patting Qui-Gon on the back, then placing a palm on his forehead. “I'll do my best. Would a story help to pass the time?” He really did look miserable, and Tala was certain the man would much rather be in his bed than being half-naked and poked at in a cold room. “Would you like that?”
Qui-Gon looked up with a half smile. “Yes please.”
“All right. Lift your hands up so I can get these clothes off you… there we go. That's good.” He folded the tunic and set it aside. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there lived a wise old Jedi master. For many years off and on he had spent his time with the council, but he was most at home in the swamplands where he had been born, hundreds of years ago.”
“ehhh-hihShah! hectishh! Sniff!”
“Arnup'tchow, Qui-Gon. Where was I… ah yes. Many learners stopped to wish him well on their travels, and to learn what they could while they fed off his generosity and hospitality. Qui-Gon, open your mouth for me… thank you…” He peered inside, inspected his nose, eyes, ears, all the while keeping one hand on the Jedi's chest to feel him. He continued his story. “One day, a young Padawan made the journey alone, a foolish thing to do as his talent for landing was not as great as that for flying. He and his plane went face down in the byre. About that time, another young student happened by on his way from dodging some air raiders. He had little of value but they would have easily shoved him into the vastness of space and taken his shop for spare parts than naught. The atmosphere was bumpy and this young man, too, lost control, finding himself nose-down in the mud. Lie on your back for a minute, please.” Taking his hand off the chest, he pulled the man's hair back into usual style, fastening it neatly to get it out of his way. Then he ran two hands down the sides of the strong Master's face, fingers walking the man's smooth skin. They rested at his chin, feeling for the--
“Ah!” Qui-Gon winced and pulled back instinctively.
“Sorry. This hurts, I take it?”
A rough, “yes.”
“And this?” he tried the sides of the man's neck.
Another, “yes. Sniffle, sniffle.”
“Swollen lymph nodes. But I sense no fever, which is a good sign.” He placed his hand upon the man's chest again and sent a small healing meditation through. It was not much, and the connection very weak, but it was enough to close the Jedi Master's eyes and help him relax while he continued the examination and story. “The young Padawan pulled himself from the wreak of his ship only to find his neighbor doing the same but with a great deal more difficulty. Tears ran from the other's eyes and one free hand was slapped upon his hip. Not knowing him, the first approached warily. Yet he noticed the man was having difficulty and kindly called out, 'You up there! Do you need assistance?' The student nodded, letting out a pitiful moan as his legs gave way and he tumbled forward off the ship and into the bog. The Padawan rushed over, pulling the man to dryer banks. 'Where does it hurt?' he asked. 'My leg!' the other moaned, tears cleaning splashes of mud from his face. 'Have…you ever set a bone before?' The Padawan had seen it done once, but admitted to not knowing how. Qui-Gon? Do you need a hanky? You look as if you're going—“
“eghehtcha! eehhh… hehIhhtchah! eeiiihhshhhh!”
“Arnup'tchow again.” He took the spare one he'd brought over and rubbed the man's nose for him, carefully wiping the upper lip and moustache dry. “Luckily,” the healer began again, trying to distract his patient from any ensuing misery or embarrassment. “The hurt boy had studied some and talked the man through the process. How he would know when it was in, what the kickback of the joint popping would feel like, and how it was imperative, no matter how much screaming might be necessary. The Padawan, with shaking hands, wasn't too sure about it. But seeing the hurting of the stranger, he knew he must do something. 'Shall I tell you a story to distract you?' The young man nodded vigorously, tears of pain washing his face cleaner than it had even before the fall. So the Padawan began recounting on of his Master's greatest adventures. Somewhere within, he went for it, throwing all his strength into the action, setting it perfectly. The intense pain and yell lasted only a moment, but he knew he could not put any pressure on it, let alone reach home on his own. But first thing was first. 'Thank you,' he whispered, wiping tears away. The Padawan smiled and patted his back. 'Wish it had not hurt so much.' Then he held out his hand. 'I'm a Jedi Padawan. My name is Qui-Gon Jinn.' The other lad took the hand and grasped it as many of the young ones do at the academy, as if in secret greeting. 'Studying healing,' he replied. 'I'm Tala D'Marke.' The Padawan smiled. 'I'll help you stand and get to Master Yoda's. We can decide what to do with the ships and how to get home then.' So the two hobbled slowly to where their meager powers promised they'd find the Jedi Master, all the while with Tala hanging off Qui-Gon helplessly for support but neither man seemed to mind too much.”
“I'd dever realized exagtly how buge adother hubad beig cad weigh,” Qui-Gon snuffled with a laugh. “Bud I'b glad I could helb. Sniff!”
“And now let me return the favor,” Tala said, helping the man sit up and redress. “Some herbal medicine for you. I need you to take one every six hours with tea and meditate upon your health beforehand. I realize you're tired and sniffley, so just do the best you can with your powers of concentration. All right?”
He nodded. “Thag you, Tala.”
“Come back and see me in three days or if it gets any worse… or if you just need someone to talk to.”
“Sniff! Thag you.” He got up and was helped down the hallway towards his quarters. He'd wanted to present himself as well to Obi-Wan, but at the very least he wanted to be awake. But after the small trip, he felt quite tired. He wrapped up in a warm blanket as some tea heated, then held it warmly to his chest as he let himself slip into a deep routine meditation. He started off slow on peace, then worked to focus it on his state of health.
It broke after not too long for a strong sensation to fill his head. It was the rush of a bond he had been without for a week now. Back in reality once more, his nose began to tickle and he welcome the sneezes now, before his student was there to witness them. “eehhh… eehh-hehh… heh…Heptshah!” he sneezed weakly, freely. “hehiiihehhshoo! hiheashhh! eehhTichshhhh! Sniff!” He honked his nose a minute until it was blown to full capacity and the tickle was most definitely in hibernation once more. Then he allowed himself a few large gulps of the healing tea. The reuniting sensation grew strong and stronger, until he heard a warning knock on the door. “Cub id!” he called out around the warm tea as he let it slide down his throat to warm and soothe him.
The door slid open and in came Obi-Wan hauling two large bags of clothing, supplies, and other regional goods from the sector. “You should have seen those beaches, Master. Some of the most… Oh Master!” his face fell at the sight that met him.
Qui-Gon smiled sheepishly as he peaked out of the blankets. “Welcob hobe?”
Obi-Wan picked up his fallen smile and slowly settled on the bed beside Qui-Gon. He knew his master very rarely showed his illnesses if he could at all help it. Even a bad head cold equated to nothing more than an occasional sniffle and frequent trips to the rest room for privacy. So it was quite a shock to see the man look so bad. He reached over to pat the man's leg. “Are you quite ill, Master?”
He sniffed strongly to give a clearer response. “Nay, Padawan. I ab sniff! More tired than anything else. Please sniff, tell me all about your trip.”
“Oh no you don't,” Obi-Wan said with a laugh. “You're not going to change the subject that easily. Have you been to see a healer yet?”
“Dis bordig- sniff! SNIFF! –this morning.”
Silence a moment, then Obi-Wan blurted out, “And?”
Qui-Gon picked up his nearingly empty mug as a medicinal reference. “Id's jusd a code sniff id by dose. I'll be fide. Dothig for you to worry aboud.”
His student eyed him warily, but gave in to reason. He knew his Master may hide private things from time to time, but would never lie to him, especially not in maters as great as health. “All right then. I can tell you all about my adventures over dinner. Right now I must finish up a few reports and unpack. And you,” he said, taking the now empty mug from Qui-Gon and setting it aside, “you should have a rest. After all, a Jedi's body is like the temple… right?”
Laughing, the elder Jedi nodded and let his Padawan tuck him under the covers. The lad was always so affectionate after they'd been separated for so long. At times he wondered how much of his presence was as an instructor and how much as a father. As usual, his pondering amounted to no conclusion before he drifted off into a warm, comforting sleep to the sound of Obi-Wan moving about their adjoining rooms.
* * *
“And you should have seen some of the beauty of these beaches the last night! It was almost painful to pack up knowing I'd leave such pleasures behind.”
Qui-Gon nodded, pushing the Olorian eggs around on his plate in and out of the pools of syrup.
Obi-Wan motioned to one of the attendants that he'd like the bill and it was brought over quickly. Obi-Wan could sense how glad his Master was to be out of their stuffy rooms, but he could also sense the man's discomfort at his illness. His Master never liked to seem weak, especially in public, so Obi-Wan had insisted upon a corner table. They could be out of the room and yet be private to speak. When the attendant brought the bill around, Qui-Gon went for it out of habit. It was his place to pay. But Obi-Wan grabbed for it. “I still have credits left over from the trip and I've eaten the most here. Look, you've barely touched your meal.”
Qui-Gon nodded, rubbing at his nose. There was truth in the words, and he hardly had the energy to sit upright, let alone polish off a full meal or argue over a few republic credits.
“Come, Master. We should get you back to…”
“eehhhIhsh! hetshum! heptshah! uhhTISHH! Ugh… SNIFF! SNIFF!” Obi-Wan offered his handkerchief but Qui-Gon shook it off, pulling out his own and burying his nose therein for a moment. “ehh-uptchum! hehTxmph! ehthum!”
“Bless you, Master.”
Qui-Gon groggily nodded, stuffy and beyond clear thought. He tried to muster a thank you, “Dag… ehhh…” he sunk deeper in his chair, hoping no one would be watching the embarrassing display. “ehhTchum! Efffah! Hectshoo!” When his head bobbed back up finally, his eyes were bleary and his nose running.
Obi-Wan extended the handkerchief again and Qui-Gon, again, pushed away the offer. “Master, it's clean. Please take it.”
//No thank you. I don't want it, really.// Shaking his head no, Qui-Gon blew his nose into his again. “I'll be fide, Obi-Wad. SNIFF!”
“Come, let us retire.” He led his weary master through the corridors and passageways back to their quarters. Halfway, Obi-Wan found that his teacher was leaning on him more and more with each and every step. The man must be in misery.
“ehhh…” the pre-sneeze-ness came over him and he froze in place as he dug for his handkerchief. Obi-Wan kept a hand on his back in reassurance. “heh-eptcha! ketchum! ahiihshmm! sniff…oh force…”
Obi-Wan politely pulled out his handkerchief and this time pushed it on the man. “You need it. You know you do.”
//I have my own. I'll be fine, Padawan.//
Not believing him for a second, “you need to blow your nose badly. Please take it, Master.”
Timidly, he accepted, and cleared his nose quite copiously until he took a deep breath of relief.
“Pressure down a little?”
A nod. Just as timidly as he had taken it, he tired to hand it back.
“Keep it for now. Quite all right.”
With a stuffy thank you, they continued on to their quarters.
“Master Jinn!” they heard a pleasant voice behind them exclaim.
Qui-Gon recognized it at once and thought of sending a mental distress call to Obi-Wan. Maybe the boy could shake off his visitor. But anything sent would be intercepted easily so he refrained and turned with a smile. “Sniff! Master Ming. sniff, sniff!”
She was a beautiful Jedi Master, with long, straight black hair she wore down to hide half her face in mystery. Her looks, though partially hidden, were still stunning. Warm, dark eyes with seemingly bottomless depths; full, rich, red lips; a small, pugish nose the perfect size for her face. She crossed her arms over her chest in a pout. “Where's my hello kiss?”
With a push on Obi-Wan's back he commanded, “Padawan, go kiss the beautiful woman for me.”
Obi-Wan stumbled forward, finding himself face-to-face with the stranger. Politely, he leaned in and pecked her cheek, then retreated to a step behind his Master.
“Having your student do the dirty work for you? Tisk, tisk Master Jinn.”
Qui-Gon shook his head. “Only wishing sniff for my student to have the pleasure of your acquaintance. Sniff! How are you this eve?”
“Well, Qui-Gon. I am well. You on the other hand… are the first sick Jedi I have ever laid eyes upon.”
“Just a bit of a cold and a tickle sniff in my nose. Wouldn't be the sniff first time.”
“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Obi-Wan stated formally, extending his hand on cue.
“Master Gin-Tu Ming. Obi-Wan Kenobi…” she muddled the name around in her head. “Obi… Kenobi… Ken-obi… Obi Ken… Ben… Benny. There we have it. Benny. That didn't take long.”
Obi-Wan stared, confused.
Qui-Gon rubbed at his nose suddenly, violently, managing to dissuade the tickle. “It's a long story,” Qui-Gon explained when he could. “But she has her names sniff for us all.”
“Oh really?” Intriguing. “What is yours, Master?”
Master Ming opened her mouth to blurt it out when Qui-Gon stopped her. “Dod't you dare!”
She laughed. “As you wish…”
Obi-Wan had a sense that his Master was less than comfortable, especially with his illness. So he said what he thought would be good. “I wish we could stay and talk, but we really should get going. I've not had any training today and the night approaches.”
She nodded. “Always one for following the rules and standards aren't you? Good boy. I hope to see you in the council one day. Good luck, Benny. And feel better… Master Jinn.”
Rubbing his nose roughly to contain the tickles, he replied with “Bay the force be with you.”
“And nice to meet you,” Obi-Wan added as she left. After a few sneezes and more blows on the gratefully cleaner handkerchief, they continued back.
Qui-Gon was more that relieved to reach it and hide safely behind its doors. He prepared a full bath for him as his Master went for his dresser drawers.
//Master, your bath is ready,// he called out through their bond as he wasn't quite sure in which room Qui-Gon was.
The Jedi Master entered slowly in bathrobe only, but carrying his nightshirt. //Thank you, Obi-Wan.//
“See you when you get out. Have a good bath.”
Obi-Wan took the time to finish unpacking and revise his reports before sending them to his Master for inspection then submission. The talks had gone well, and he felt honored to have been a mere spectator there. While he missed his Master in presence and support, he had to admit how nice it was to be trusted alone at a task or two.
“eehhIgsh! ahiiishh!” his sneezes were heard echoing from the bathroom. Obi-Wan shook his head with a smile. Poor Qui-Gon with the sneezes.
//Padawan, I need—//
//—to get…get me a hah—//
Obi-Wan interrupted the man's attempts. The man couldn't think, let alone speak with his sneezes coming on like that. “Yes, Master. I'll be in at once with a hanky.”
When the young man entered, he found his Master still lounging in the tub, a hand cupping his nose. He fell forward with another double, “ehtcshh! Heptshishh!” looking desperately to Obi-Wan for assistance. Obi-Wan handed over the cloth and patted the man's head as he blew violently, wiping his nose, hand, upper lip and moustache. //Thank you, Padawan. I'm so sorry you must see me like this.//
Obi-Wan shook his head. //You cannot help catching cold, and cannot help coming down with the sneezes in the middle of your bath.// He left a second one on the edge of the tub. “Please, enjoy the rest of your bath, my Master.” He left with a slight bow.
Qui-Gon emerged quite a bit later, his nose running from the warmth of the bathroom. He yawned as he settled onto bed for night meditation. While it was not uncommon for the two to share meditation time and increase their bond, Obi-Wan sensed that tonight they would both be flying solo. “Do you need anything before I retire?” he thought to ask.
A sniffle, then an obviously reluctant nod. “Could you ged be a tea? Id's beed sigs hours sidce I last toog sub bedicide…”
“Of course. Take your time and meditate. I'll bring it to you when it's done.”
Obi-Wan set to retrieval and preparation in the next room, trying to keep things quiet. He succeeded in as much as he could control. But the kettle whistled before he could get to it, and he dropped a spoon in getting to it before it broke his Master's concentration. When he went to pick up the spoon, his shoulder bumped the counter, sending the tea mug flying into the air. Jedi reflexes helped him turn and catch it before the crash and break, but he landed with a thump and an un-suppressible groan on the hard floor.
“Id's all right. I'b dode adyway, Obi-Wad,” Qui-Gon called out, his voice muffled by what Obi-Wan was sure was a handkerchief. Picking himself up and dusting himself off, he quickly finished making the tea, choosing one with a rich flavor his Master would be able to taste even through his stuffed nose, and also with a soft, soothing power that would help his Master sleep this night. Obi-Wan brought the tea over and sat down on the bed to help prop this Master up in comfort. Qui-Gon added the medicine, stirred, and settled back into his blankets and pillows. “Dags sniff, SNIFF! You dod't have to take care of be, you dow. I udderstad you've had a log trib add brobably wadt to be id bed.”
Obi-Wan smiled, amused. “You take care of me when I'm sick. Long trip or not.”
“But that's sniff differedt. I…” Obi-Wan knew the words he wanted to use but couldn't. Qui-Gon was the teacher, the master, the father figure. He was the protector, the defender, the righter of all wrongs inside and out. It was his place to take care of Obi-Wan, not the other way around. And Qui-Gon knew he must look. Pale, sickly, helpless, weak. He never wanted his student to think less of him, even upon such things he could not control as the sniffles. But all he could manage to say was, “I dod't wadt you catchig dis frub be.”
Obi-Wan shook his head. What would he do with him? “Hardly a concern of mine, given the circumstances. Come, Master, lie down and close your eyes.”
He turned in bed, sniffing as the position adjustment played with his nose. The tickles began again and he brought his hand up in a fist, hovering just before his nose. “heh… hehshah! uptshah! eehhggtshh! Heh-gxst!” he managed, sniffling strongly after, which made him cough.
Obi-Wan surveyed the situation, then gave his suggestion. “Move your pillows together and then onto my lap. That will get your head up and help you to breathe much more easily.”
He laughed. “Don't 'Badawad' me. You know very well that you've done it for me when I was ill and that it helps tremendously.” Master Jinn still seemed to need some convincing, so Obi-Wan pulled out once more of his Master's tricks. “I'll even tell you a story until you fall to sleep.”
Qui-Gon smiled back, rubbing at his nose. “I taught you well. All right, you wid dis ode.” After a bit of rearranging and adjustment, he fell deeply into his pillows, cradled in comfort by one of Obi-Wan's arms.
“Close your eyes,” the young Jedi whispered, stroking the man's head gently, soothingly with his other arm's hand. “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”