To Old Friends



     It's not a dangerous situation, simply an uncomfortable one. Most would even use the word taboo. And aside from losing a patient or delivering a misdiagnosis, it's one of the greatest fears for a doctor to get sick. Under normal circumstances, it's simple to hide and many doctors go to great lengths to do so. I once knew a medical officer who would sneak into his own office at night to administer treatments to himself so that his patients wouldn't suspect anything. But out here in the middle of space, it's not so easy to conceal the sneezes and sniffles. On the station, you see the same people over and over again, day after day. On the station, rumors spread in a matter of seconds, even faster than germs. On the station, there's nowhere you can go to get away from everything. So when the station's one and only medic comes down with the sniffles... they echo through the metal halls much too loudly.


     "ehhh... hehh......HIPSH! hehh...KUSHH!" directed fully into the crook of my arm. It seemed the best option since I had no tissues at hand and the sneezes had come upon me so suddenly.


     Unfortunately, they had not gone unnoticed. "You sound terrible, Dr. D. Got that cold that's going around?"


     Looking up from the spoon spinning in my bowl of porridge, to the waitress, "Yeah. It's passing, though." I've never been sure whether Lola is a particularly nosy individual, or whether her persistent questions were due to her boredom from being stuck in the station's meal center all day. Normally, I take it with a grain of salt, and smile through them. But sick, I didn't much feel like dealing with her, especially not on the topic of my health. Normally I would correct her as well; I despised being called a Doctor. But sick, I didn't have the energy, and it was close enough anyway.


     She laughed, looking me over with a critical eye. "Passing slowly. You look absolutely awful. It's a shame you aren't in bed, setting a better example for your patients, Doctor." Clucking her tongue on the roof of her mouth, she shook her head, refilled my cup of coffee, and headed back behind the meal center counter.


     Sniffling, I rubbed my finger under my nose and turned my attention back to my cooling breakfast. If I could have been in bed, I guarantee I would have been. But my quarters were connected to sickbay and if I had to stay there most of the day to work anyway, I wasn't about to spend the rest of my day there for all my patients to hear my sneezes. Besides, even sick I still needed to eat.


My hand moved to the back of my neck, rubbing the aching muscles there. I smiled, thinking back to a similar action from a few days earlier... and the reason I had this blasted cold in my nose in the first place. "ehhh-Hipsh!"

* *      *



"How very good to see you again!" Tala D'Marke wrapped his arms around the man, hugging tightly both in affection and in exaggerated humor. Truth be told, he'd been a bit apprehensive about the meeting and he wanted to get off on the right foot from the start.


     The Jedi Padawan hugged back. "Good to..." then quickly pulled away, "hold on... think I'm going to... to sneeze... yep..." his mouth opened wide, and his eyes closed tightly. He cupped a hand over his nose and mouth, turned almost all the way around, and bent in half. "uhhhEhhshh! eehhhHishh! uhhhHeshh!" He gave a single sniff and turned back as if nothing had transpired. "Excuse me. Now, as I was saying, it's so good to see you again, as well. How've you been?"


     Tala nodded. "Very well. Excited about your visit. Means a lot that the Jedi council would send their most promising Padawan learner out to see me on this matter."


     With a laugh, "You flatter me. You know this is practically a vacation trip."


     "Do they know that?"


     "What they don't know won't hurt them."


     "You never did follow the orders of the council to the letter."


     Another laugh. "Look who's talking!" A year back, that might have reduced Tala to angry sobs, but now they were able to joke about it.


     "Come on, Qui-Gon. You'll never have seen a space station before. Let me show you around and give you a tour of my medical center."


     Qui-Gon Jinn cleared his throat and rubbed his wrist beneath his nose. "I, uh, might need the special tour of it, actually." His eyes were soft, hinting.


     Tala softened as well, switching immediately from friend mode to healer mode. He felt the man's forehead, cheeks, and looked into his eyes with a warm rush of energy. "Sure, Qui-Gon." Clapping him on the back. "Let me take your bag and we'll head over that way. Now here is the south hallway system... and this way to the main bridge..."





A Good Hour Later...


     "ehhh... heh...heh-eehhhhhh..." he wavered. The Jedi Padawan looked stressed, worried, as he cupped a hand over his nose and mouth.


     "It's okay. Just let it out, buddy," Tala said absent-mindedly around the pen in his mouth as he stared at a medical reader.


     Qui-Gon wasn't too sure he wanted to just then. He'd been doing a fair amount of sneezing already, and he hated for Tala to hear so much from him. "ehhh..." he shrunk back, willing the sneeze away.


     Tala looked up at him with a sly grin. "Qui-Gon Jinn, really. You think a Padawan like you would have enough courage to sneeze in front of a healer."


     With a rather sheepish smile of his own, Qui-Gon relaxed and, "heh...ehhHUSHH! EhhhKichhoo! EhhTu-UHHSHH!" He sneezed into his cupped hand wetly.




     "Thanks... sniff, sniff! Any word on what I have?"


     Not answering, Tala took a look into Qui-Gon's ears with an instrument. "Open wide a moment."


     Qui-Gon did, pulling back after a few seconds with a wet sniffle, a short gasp, and a double directed into his shoulder. "ehhHISHH! uhhhHishhh! Eh-HUCHHO!"


     "Arnup'tchow, Qui-Gon." Tala handed over a handkerchief and put down the instrument. "I'll need to listen to your breathing to make sure nothing's settled in your chest."


     Qui-Gon undid his belt and pulled his tunic out from his pants, pulling it up a few inches. He shivered as the cold of the sterile room pressed against his bare skin. "Will this do?"


     Tala wasn't too keen on this, but made do, pushing the reader pad up as far as he could on Qui-Gon's chest. "Close enough. Now, take a deep breath and hold it for me."


     He obeyed, drawing a deep breath, which made him cough. He pulled back and coughed, his body shaking with spasms as he held a hand over his face.


     "Good try. Now, just a little softer, k? Take care of yourself, don't hurt yourself." He readjusted the pad. "Give me another deep breath."


     Following the advice, Qui-Gon took a deep breath slowly, waited a moment, then let it out.


     "There we go! Good, good. Another?"


     He repeated it another few times before Tala removed the pad and inspected the readings there on. "Looks good. It's just a cold, as you suspected. Not a lot I can do for you, I'm afraid... some medicinal tea and rest are all I can suggest. I'm sorry."


     Busy re-tucking his shirt, Qui-Gon sniffled. "It's ok..."


     "You're welcome to stay here in the med center if you're worried about it."


     With a shrug, he sneezed once more, "ehhhIhhshhh!" and wiped his hand off with the hanky. Qui-Gon hopped down from the exam bed. "I'll be all... all right... uhh-HUCH!"


     "Arnup'tchow, Qui-Gon. Come on, let's finish the tour up with your quarters then."


     They made some semblance of small talk as they walked down to the guest quarters. "So... a Jedi Padawan to Master Yoda... I almost envy you, Qui-Gon. You have such good in you... "


     With a sniffle, "As do you, Tala. And talent enough to be the single medic of an entire space station. You have accomplishments that outweigh mine. Besides, Yoda can be a tough Master to obey..." Withdrawing a handkerchief from the inner pocket of his robes, he covered the lower half of his countenance completely. "ehhhIhhshhh! HehKishhh! Sniffle, sniffle." He cleared his throat, tucking the cloth away. "Especially when sick. He gives me this horrible pink sniffle, sniffle, syrup stuff that I can barely choke down and hits my head with his stick if I fall asleep when I sniff, sniff, shouldn't."


     "Well, I certainly won't bonk you on the head. But you will need to take some herbal tea... which might be a little easier to swallow."


     Qui-Gon nodded as they reached his quarters and he pressed his hand against the panel to let the door swing open. "Yes, Doc. Anything you say... ehhh..." He put down his bag and collapsed on the couch with a strong, "ehHISHH! EhhChishh!" He gave a deep sigh. "Force, I feel awful!"


     "Arnup'tchow. You look so bad I'll forgive you that doctor remark." Tala settled on the couch beside him, quietly, softly. "Poor Qui-Gon. I'm amazed you were able to travel with such a cold. You must feel miserable."


     With another yawn and a firm blow of his nose, "I do. The whole time over, my ears were popping from the pressure changes." He sniffed and gave a snort. "I still don't think they've completely cleared. So... what plans of yours am I ruining by being sick?"


     "Well," Tala said, standing up again, "I guess this rules out hanging out at the bar and picking up hot women." Talking while Qui-Gon laughed, "Let me make you some tea and get you a blanket and we'll just sit and talk and enjoy being back together then, all right?"


     With a nod, and a rub to his nose, Qui-Gon agreed.


     "And you just sit back, relax and sneeze if you have to while I take care of you. Just like I used to at the Academy."


     With a knowing smile, Qui-Gon agreed to this as well. He knew very well Tala had depended on him as much as he had on Tala. He doubted if the young healer could have made it past the second week of training without his help. They used to be the best of friends... funny how everything can change in a matter of hours. "ehhhhh... heh..." he rubbed his nose, hoping to hold off the sneezes.


     "You know, it's better not to hold those in."


     Qui-Gon ignored this statement, rubbing some more at his nose. "ehhh... heh..."


     "Come on, Jedi," Tala said with a sigh, a mischievous grin, and a soft punch in the arm. "Sneeze!"


     With a smile of his own, Qui-Gon decided to attempt to keep it in as much as possible. He pinched his nose closed and took a deep breath, puffing his cheeks and held it in.


     "Ohhhh... playing like that, hmmm?" Tala gave a great grin, held up his hands, wiggling his fingers, then pounced, tickling.


     Qui-Gon burst out with laughter, pulling back, wriggling, twisting on the couch as then man attacked his belly and underarms. "Stop!" he cried out between laughs, eyes tearing over from so much of it. "Ok, ok! I'll heh-eehhhh...sneh... sneeze!"


Tala backed off instantly in reward, sitting back on the couch with a smile.


Unable to do anything to keep them back, Qui-Gon held a fist in front of his face. "ehhKishhh! huhhhCHishhh! uuhhhhKetchooo!" He gave a wet sniffle and rubbed his knuckles beneath his nose.


"Now, I don't want you feeling shy around me. I'm your friend and a healer and I've seen far more sneezes than you can imagine. You're sick and if your nose tells you it needs to sneeze, I want you to listen and obey. You got it?"


     Qui-Gon nodded, withdrawing his handkerchief, using the corner to wipe the tears from his eyes, then giving a definitive honk into it. "Got it."


     After threatening another tickling session with a last wiggle of his fingers, he rose. "Let me get that tea for you now and we'll discuss the matter at hand." He returned with two cups, one for himself and one for Qui-Gon. "So... why are you here? I haven't been able to get a definite word from any of your kind."


     Qui-Gon smiled. "Simply put, we want a medical ship staffed with the very best. And that means you, Tala."


     The healer sat back, grinning, but said nothing.


     "Did you hear what I--"


     "Sure I heard. I just want to hear it again."


     "They want a good medical ship to travel the universe and respond to emergencies. And they want the best crew on it."


     With a pleased sigh. "And they want me."


     Qui-Gon nodded. "They want you."


     "They banish me from the academy for being who I am... then they want me to work for them because--"


     Ignoring the first part of his statement to respond to the second, "Because you're the best and they know it."


     Skeptically, "And you say you didn't have anything to do with it?"


     Qui-Gon shrugged and sniffed. "Master Yoda suggested you before I could. It wasn't my place to present names... but I lost no time in defending you when decisions came up in council. Of course Master Sio had the most to say."


     Tala got suddenly quiet, approaching his next question timidly. "How... how is Master Sio doing?"


     "He's all right. You two don't keep in touch I take it?"


     Shaking his head. "I think it was too painful for him. And... I needed a clean break." He hung his head. "Can you tell him I'm sorry?"


     Qui-Gon reached over and gave him a pat on his thigh. "He... knows... ehhhKishhh! HuhhhHISHH! Sniff, sniff!"




     "Thanks... that's a nice blessing. Where's it from?"


     "Asi Six. Isn't it cute? Loosely translated, it means 'bless your nose'."


     Qui-Gon sniffed. "Why is that?"


     "The culture is very wise the ways of medicine," Tala explained. "Master Sio always said it was the first place I should go to learn about healing. The blessing is basically to thank your nose for sneezing since a sneeze does so much good."


     "Well, right now, I'd just be happy if my nose did less good."


     "Keep drinking that tea and you should be feeling a little better. It'll take the edge off. Now, tell me what you've been up to this last year."


     Qui-Gon nodded. "Well... I'll be taking my challenge tests soon... ehhh..." he held his handkerchief up. "Sorry... think I'm... going to... ehhh... snee... sneeze... ehhhHUSHH! EhhhKISSHH!"


     "Ar--" but he had no time to finish.


     "ehhhKISHH! ehhhKushhooo! Hekushhhhh!" he sneezed again, out of breath by now. "hehhKUMPHH! AhhhCHISHH!"


     Tala reached over, patting his friend on the back till he'd finished the small fit. When it was over, he guided the handkerchief to Qui-Gon's nose with a firm grip. "Give it a good blow." The Jedi Padawan obeyed weakly. Benevolently, Tala then raised the mug of tea to Qui-Gon's lips. "Drink a few mouthfuls now, please" Qui-Gon pushed it away with a stuffy, wet sniffle. "No, I know you're all stuffed and don't feel like it, but trust me." Qui-Gon again obeyed, and then relaxed in his seat with a relieved sigh.


     Amazed, wiggling his nose as a smile spread over his face, "That actually--"


     "Makes you feel better. I know. It's not stopping the sneezes, don't get too comfortable. It's just trying to clear your head. It will wear off in a few sec--"


     "hehKUSHHH!" he sneezed so suddenly that he hadn't time to cover his nose and mouth, snapping forward in his seat. Luckily, his Jedi senses kept him balanced enough not to spill any of the tea, but he did mumble a soft, ashamed, "Do excuse me..." as he sat up sniffling.


     "See? Keep drinking and you'll start feeling better soon." Looking at his friend, cold, almost shivering beneath the robes, looking pale and sickly, Tala gave a sigh. The man could barely go a sentence without sneezing. And now he was intent upon drinking the tea constantly to hold back that tickle in his nose. "I seems I am a better candidate for relating a story at present. Why don't I tell of my experiences now and we'll save yours to when your cold deems it more appropriate."


     Still sipping, Qui-Gon gave a strong nod of agreement in that.


     "Good. Then it's settled." He sighed, pulling his legs up onto the couch to sit cross-legged. "After I left the academy, I drifted a bit. I hopped some carriers and freight ships, I daresay most of the time they knew I was on board. Though, my presence was allowed in most cases I assume because of my Jedi-like appearance of short hair and the robes. I made no corrections toward that assumption, I admit." He run his hand over the back of his neck, feeling the long, rough scar that remained as a reminder of his banishment. With a sigh, he continued, "Anyway, I visited dozens of systems, and learned quite a lot more healing techniques than I knew existed. It was a troubling time, trying to find exactly where I fit into this universe as a person, and as a healer. All the time I kept those last words of yours close at heart."


     Qui-Gon, still sipping, managed a smile. "It was difficult for me, too. Losing my oldest friend there." A twinge of sadness laid thick in his words. He remembered well those words he'd spoken to Tala as they parted at the academy. 'Once in a while, we lose Jedi to the forces of darkness. Never before have we lost one to those of goodness.'


     "You never lost me..." Tala said with soft remorse of his own. "I just lost myself for a while."


     Silence followed as the two men had their own private moments of reflection.


     Qui-Gon's nose began to tickle a bit, as he finished the last gulp the tea had to offer him. Regardless, it was not a sneeze but a yawn that escaped him, breaking them both from their pensiveness.


     "Have you finished the tea then, Qui-Gon?"


     Setting the mug down on the table before the couch, he gave a nod. Another yawn fell upon him, and he directed this one into the back of his hand. "I'm sorry. I suddenly got so... sleepy."


     "Have you reached the bottom of your cup?"


     Qui-Gon nodded, his eyelids drooping with another yawn.


     "Then the medicine's kicking it." He took Qui-Gon's elbow and stood the man up. "When you reach the bottom of the cup, you know it's time to end for the night. Come, I'll get you to your bed before you fall asleep right here." He walked Qui-Gon over to the bed and pulled the covers down. "Good night, Qui-Gon. It's nice to have you around again."


     Qui-Gon managed to nod while yawning again, his eyes closed completely by now. His body moved slowly, bringing his arms and legs up on to the bed. He instinctively reached for a pillow on the other side of the bed, brining it to his chest and hugging it to his body as he curled around it. His face nuzzled into the pillows and his breathing slowed. Tala gently brought the covers back up.


     "Good night my friend."


The Next Morning...


     Qui-Gon hovered in the doorway, looking in to see Tala sitting on a long couch, cross-legged, eyes closed in relaxation, his hands folded in his lap. He looked peaceful, relaxed, contented. This seemed a life Tala was meant for... would he really be interested in giving it up? Giving up a stable home? Giving up predictability and comfort? Perhaps Qui-Gon was making a mistake in his visit. He looked Tala up and down, as if it would help him decide.


     Then his nose started to tickle again as it slightly ran. He rubbed it, not wanting to sniff or sneeze or give off any sound at all, lest break the man's meditation.


     Tala's voice broke the silence and the Jedi Padawan's thoughts. "Warm and strong. I'd know the aura of Qui-Gon Ginn anywhere." Tala had not opened his eyes, but a large smile had broken on his face. "And what was it that I'd told that Qui-Gon about sneezing?" He opened his eyes, seeing Qui-Gon struggle to hold back a sneeze with two fingers beneath a wrinkling nose. "Do you happen to remember?"


     "I did't... ehhh... hehh..." Qui-Gon pulled out his handkerchief and covered up. "hehh...huhEhhhshhh! HehKishhh! hehChishh!"




     Recovering with a blow into the dry cloth of a fresh handkerchief, "I did't wadt to disturb your beditatiod..." He added, "It's dice to dow you still beditate."


     "After ten-something years, it's a hard thing to give up even if I'd wanted to, which I don't." Tala patted the patch of couch beside him invitingly. "I assume you've already had your morning meditation if you're up and about, but would you care to join me as I finish mine?"


     In truth, he was hoping for such an invitation. It had been years since he and Tala had shared a room and morning meditations together. He remembered how empty those meditations had seemed when Tala had left. Hesitantly, "If you dod't bide if I habbed to sdeeze."


     "Course not. Besides, I won't be long."


     Qui-Gon took a spot on the couch in the corner, settling into the cushions to get comfortable enough to fall into a light meditative state. But his nose ran, and he sniffled so constantly that he finally gave up and held a hanky to his nose until Tala was finished.


     The medic broke out with a deep, satisfying sigh. "Ah, nothing so good in the morning, is there?"


     Qui-Gon grinned. "I cad thig of a few thigs, truthfully."


     Tala laughed. "I bet you can." He switched into healer mode without warning, feeling Qui-Gon's forehead, then massaging the spots beneath his ears, by his jaw. Then he eased Qui-Gon's mouth open, took a look, and felt the forehead once more. "You sound much worse this morning. How'd you sleep? And how're you feeling?"


     "Did't get buch sleeb at all, only a few hours just after you left. Add I feel biserable."


     "Mmm hmm. Bit of a fever to boot. You warm enough? I know those robes can be drafty."


     With a shrug, "I'b warb edough."


     "Mmm hmm." He stood and strode over to the small cupboard by the sink on the other side of the room. He withdrew a mug, spoon, tea bag, and two small containers. After filling the mug with water, he popped it into a panel in the wall and punched a few controls. "This should warm you sufficiently." When it was done heating, he took it out, added a pinch of the powder from one container, the tea bag, and a good helping of the contents of the other container. Stirring, he handed it to Qui-Gon. "Drink up; I've added sugar already. I need to attend some of my patients and I have an appointment in an hour. If you need me, the button over there on the side of my desk calls me from anywhere in the med center. I want you to curl up on the couch with a good book," he tossed a data pad over to the side of the couch he'd been on, "and I want you to read and drink and nurse your cold until you feel like taking a nap. And then I want you to sleep. I'll be back as soon as I'm able. Got it?"


     Qui-Gon nodded, surprised at the sweet taste of the tea. "Got it." He sniffed and brought his legs up beside him on the couch. "Thanks, Tala."


     The healer took the blanket from the back of the couch and draped it over his friend. "No problem. Feel better now." He left his office, heading across the sickbay to the beds of the two patients he was keeping there for observation.






Around Lunchtime...


     "Ah, I see the young Jedi Padawan is awake! Have a good sleep? How are you feeling?" Tala's hand instinctively went for the man's forehead.


     Qui-Gon sat patiently, reading from the data pad. "A little better. What are you usig to dock be out like that? It's idcredible."


     "To knock you out? Crushed Ryanth root. It's good for three or four absolutely solid hours of sleep. But the nice thing is, it doesn't make you tired unless you already are. It just speeds it along and makes them restful hours. Restful Rhinovirus Ryanth Root, that's what they say on the second moon of Mallip." He strode to his desk and shuffled through a few data pads. "Don't worry. It's perfectly safe. No adverse side effects. So..." he stretched his arms into the air with a sigh. "I'm ready for some lunch. You up to the food court if we find a corner table out of the way?"


     Qui-Gon shrugged. "I'b ok if you are. Lead the way."


     They made more small talk on the way over, Tala telling what a normal sort of day was for him. Waking, meditating, quick breakfast over chart reviews, then seeing patients until mid-afternoon. Then he'd call for lunch and do some writing in the afternoon around patient arrivals. Then dinner and bed. Then he proceeded to explain that the majority of his days were not normal. There were sudden accidents, or new arrivals of ships that had to be quarantined and tested. But there was always very little in the way of real medical emergences to hold his interest. "Not that I want any such emergencies... and not that I don't mind the lack of excitement at times. But some stimulation in my field wouldn't hurt."


     "Udderstad..." Qui-Gon snuffled through his handkerchief as they walked into the food center of the station. There were a dozen booths all selling different types of food, and a hundred-some tables amongst them. "So... I'b goig to sit dowd here," Qui-Gon quickly found an empty table by the wall and held out a small data pad. "I have a hadful of rebublig credits Baster Yoda allowed be to tage frub by savigs for the trib. You dow by tastes... get be subthig you thig I'd like."


     But Tala wouldn't hear of it. "I'll get you food if you want, but I'm not taking your money. Food is taken from my pay directly here on the station at a half of the cost. Besides, most venders here don't take republic credits. They have to be traded in at the bank for station credits." He refrained from mentioning that the ways Qui-Gon and the other Jedi knew were already slowly being phased out in some parts of the galaxy.


     Qui-Gon gave up the fight and sat back to observe the life of the place. At the table nearest to him was a pair of Kel Dors eating what seemed to be some sort of green mush. He's never seen his friend Plo Koon at the Jedi academy eat such a dish buts these seemed to be enjoying it quite a lot. Across the room sat a small group of Quermian. With their necks so long, Qui-Gon wondered how easily they could get the food from their plates to their mouths without spilling. A jumble of rat-like creatures with giant ears and tails so long they reached the floor from their chairs, sat at another table, howling with laughter and throwing food at one another. A few bits that made it past their companions landed beside the next table, where a Spiraloot couple sat staring dreamily into each other's set of eight eyes. And beside them was Tala with a tray filled of food and drink walking slowly toward him with his eyes down at the ground.


     All at once, Tala stopped in his tracks, staring open-mouthed at the man at the counter of a food booth. Qui-Gon strained, but couldn't quite hear what was happening. He did know that Tala looked extremely angry about something.


     A dish of soup fell to the floor and smashed to pieces. "Raymond Blath! What are you doing on that foot?"


     The man rolled his eyes. "Doc, I--"


"No excuses!" He grabbed the man's arm and pulled him so he was putting on weight on his left side. The man instinctively raised his foot in the air. Tala sighed. "How long has your foot been in pain?"


"Five days now."


"How long did I say it should take to heal?"


"Two days."


"So how long did I tell you to stay off that foot?"


"Three days."


"And how long has it been?"


"One day, but--" he said, looking down at the floor.


     Tala didn't let him get that far. "Where are the crutches?"


     Raymond apparently knew when he'd been beaten. "Back at my room."


     "Go get them now."


     "But Doc, I--"


     "My name is not Doc. It's Tala. And I don't want to hear any excuses! Now do I have to freeze your station credits right this instant so you have no reason to go anywhere on that foot," he held up a small data pad. "Or will you go get your crutches and keep your weight off your foot?"


     Raymond had no choice but to give in. "All right, all right. I'll go."


     "Good lad." Tala watched the man hop away, leaning on the wall for support.


     Tala shook his head, smiling, then returned to a booth for some replacement soup. When he got back to the table he started with an apology. "Sorry it took so long, Qui, I had a bit of a spill and needed to go back for--"


     Qui-Gon, busy rubbing the sneezes out of his nose with his handkerchief, interrupted. "I saw, it's ok. Thags for the food." He dug in, not realizing how hungry he was until just then. "So, how was your day?"


     Tala sighed and jumped right in. "Rather dull. I made the usual rounds. Had a few patients. Some had appointments, others were walk-ins. Oh, I treated a patient with a sprained wrist," Tala said between bites.


     One thing Qui-Gon always admired about Tala as a healer was how he spoke of his patients as people rather than ailments. With most doctors it was 'Did you hear about my nine-thirty burst appendix?' or 'I saw a punctured lung come in this morning in surgery.' But then again, Tala wasn't like most doctors. Perhaps that was one reason why he preferred to be called a healer or a medic.


     Continuing, "He's a brilliant paler horn player here for a concert tomorrow night. He's part of the Bermial Orchestra- they're supposed to be the best in the galaxy. If you're feeling up to it tomorrow night... I'd really hate for you to be in town but miss them."


     Qui-Gon, blowing on his spoonful of soup to cool it, nodded. "I'd like that a lot. Although..." he took a sip then the whole spoonful. "All I have are these robes..."


     "I have tons of spare things if you want to borrow."


     "Baybe, sniff, sniff!"


     "We'll see how you feel tomorrow night then." Tala took a bite of his sandwhich quickly before it could crawl off his plate. "So, your sneezing seems to be dying down a little."


     "ehhchoo! Huhh! Hetchoo!"


     "Arnup'tchow. Seems I spoke altogether too soon." He raised an eyebrow in Qui-Gon's direction.


     Qui-Gon, with handkerchief already unfurled, blew his nose in reply. Between blows, he looked down at the table, and happened a glance at Tala's sandwich. "I thig it's tryig to escabe," he snuffled, speech muffled beneath the folds. He pointed down at the sandwich.


     Tala made a grab and caught it as its little celery legs left the edge of the table. "Ha ha!" he exclaimed in triumph. "Got him!" He finished it off in a few healthy bites. "A bit more exciting than the stuff they serve at the academy cafeteria, don't you think?" Before Qui-Gon could reply, "Incidentally, the food and cultural, er, speciesial diversity here is one of the reasons I chose to settle here. And at the time, it felt like such an adventure!"


     "But ehhh... hehKushh! EhhhChishh! Excuse be, sniff, sniff! But dot ad advedture addybore?"


     With a shrug, "In a way it is... I don't know. I really love this place, and my job here is wonderful. But I never really feel that I'm making a difference."


     "Add this shib... well, it was your idea id the first blace."


     Tala nodded, staring into the bottom of his mug as if it were suddenly very interesting. "Yes, it was. It was my baby." He gave a sigh. "But the station here accepts me. Me, a Jedi dropout--"


     "Tala!" he sounded sharp, stern and almost angry.


     Angrily back, "Do you have any idea what that walk was like Qui-Gon? Leaving what felt like my family for as long as I could remember? Being removed, released, rejected, ejected, evicted, expelled- do you know what I did for days afterward, Qui-Gon?"


     The young Padawan made no reply. He was rather scared of doing so, of even breathing wrong at this point.


     "I learned every word I could in every language that meant 'to be kicked out.' My favorite is 'refilorm.' It's from Asial Seven and means 'forcefully removed from one's only paradise.'" He dropped the mug onto the table in emphasis. "But they accept me here. They respect me. They need me."


     Qui-Gon was silent, trying to find the right words that would not hurt his friend. He had intended to present the proposition then return to the council with the good news of Tala as head medical officer. He hadn't counted on needing to persuade Tala. "The galaxy deeds you, too, Tala." He rubbed his fingers under his nose, thinking this a fairly inopportune time to sneeze. But the tickle stayed so he pulled out his handkerchief and turned to his side. "ehh... hehKISHH! EhhHITCH! HhuuuhhhhKushhoo!"


     "Arnup'tchow." Tala softened instantly, reaching over and patting Qui-Gon's arm. "My apologies. I didn't mean to... here... while you're... " he sighed, shaking his head with a smile. "Come on, let's get some ice cream cones and take a walk on the south end. Maybe by the gardens or the pool?"


     With a smile to match, "Souds great, Tala."





In the Gardens, the ice cream eaten...


     "So thed I took a trib to... to Bal...! HuhhhChoo! Ehchoo!"




     "Sniff, sniff. Balentine."


     "Ohhh. Did Yoda let you enjoy the beaches at all?"


     He nodded. "I was allow... ehhh... HehKESH!" He fell forward strongly with a snap, soon followed by more, "uhhhCHISHH! HUCHH!"


     "Arnup'tchow." Tala reached over and felt Qui-Gon's forehead. Concerned, "Let's head back towards your room. I can feel that some bed rest and another cup of tea might be of great need."


     Through sniffles. "I'b all right, really. This isd't ode of those colds where I deed to stay id bed all the tibe..." Winded all of a sudden, the Jedi padawan stopped.


     Soft and soothingly, "Whether it is or not, I think I've pushed you a little too much this afternoon. I'm the healer and I can sense things, and I say you could use a few hours in bed with some tea, nursing that cold and fever." Tala led the way back and Qui-Gon made no further attempts at protesting, aside from stopping once or twice from a few extended attacks of sneezes.


     Once at Qui-Gon's guest quarters, Tala made his way straight to the kitchenette to boil water, then marched Qui-Gon right to bed.


     "Tala, I'b berfectly cabable of--"


     "Of course you are," Tala said, pulling the robe over his friend's head. "But let me do it anyway." Qui-Gon noted the kind, gentle touch and decided to let the man take care of him. It had been a long while since his last tough cold, and it had been an even longer while since someone had cared for him in such a way. He led Qui-Gon to bed, pulled off his boots, and pulled down the covers.


     Qui-Gon winced and gave a slight moan.


     "You feeling what I sensed now?"


     Qui-Gon nodded, realizing how very glad he was to be getting into bed.


     "You just rest. I'll--"


     "ehhHISHOO! Oh... ihhh... ehhhCHOO!" he sneezed weakly, without covering his nose as he usually did.


     "Arnup'tchow." Tala rubbed Qui-Gon's head, the soft hedge-hot cut was the cut of a padawan and unfamiliar to him. He had to admit, it didn't suit Qui-Gon too well. "It's okay, you'll feel better soon."


     Not sure whether he believed his friend, Qui-Gon curled up in bed, hugging the blankets to his chest. "I did't..."


     "I know. You had a full day and it's catching up to you now. I could sense it before it hit, that's all; your fever was getting a little higher as well."


     "You cad read be so well... eved with by blocks up."


     Tala shrugged. "We've been friends since we were old enough to pilot our own ships, Qui-Gon. Though given my unfortunate crash when we met, I suppose you were the better pilot even then. I know you well enough without your walls of protection. Which," he added with a kind smile, "You know better to have around your friend and healer, hmm?"


     There was no time for an explanation as more sneezes came about. "ehhHish! HuhChoo!" rolling into his pillows this time to muffle the sound.


     "Arnup'tchow." Tala tucked the blankets around him tightly. Then he answered the kettle's whistle and returned to a sneezey Qui-Gon with a cup of tea. "Sit up and take a drink. I'll tell you a story if you like."


     Letting his friend prop him up in bed, he accepted the tea and put up with Tala wiping his nose for him. "You dow, I cad wibe by own ehh... heh..." he desperately looked about, wavering on the verge of a sneeze.


     Tala came to the rescue, steadying Qui-Gon with a hand on his back, holding a handkerchief up to his nose with the other hand, and using his skills to take the mug and levitate it in the air so it would not spill. "There you go, Buddy."


     "ehhKITCH! HuhIShhh! EhhhHishh! kehhCHISHH! Sniff, sniff!" He sniffed strongly a few more times, then, "hehshoo! Ihhh... ehhhChishoo! HehCHISHH!"


     "Arnup'tchow!" Tala exclaimed when his friend had finished. "Now here, drink up and don't stop or you'll get the sneezes again. Oh, and give it quick blow, too."


     Following the advice, the Jedi padawan gave his nose a blow, then took the mug of tea from where it hung in the air and continued to drink.


     "There you go. Now, for a story, hmm? How about a short one from my travels. On a remote area of Abra there's a smile tribe who have this notion that the ground is too sacred for them to step upon. Their houses are built in the trees, and they swing to and fro on vines. When they must be on the ground, then walk on poles or to run, they roll logs. What's so remarkable is that their favorite foods are the rodents from the ground. They catch them not in traps as you might think is easiest, but with birds. They first catch the birds by swinging through the air and reaching out their arms. Then, they train these birds who already have the grace of flying among the trees and near the undergrowth. They use these birds to hunt and catch the ground animals. Because of this, the whole population is nocturnal, making swinging through the trees in pitch black extra challenging.


     Qui-Gon yawned, closing his eyes and putting the cup on the bed. Tala picked it up and eased Qui-Gon back into a lying down position to sleep. "You call me at the med center as soon as you wake up, promise?"


     With another yawn, Qui-Gon nodded. "I will."


     "Sleep tight. Call me."


     The padawan's heavy breathing was his only reply.





Evening in the Medical Center...


     The communications panel light blinked as a soft series of tones pierced the air. Tala was hovering over a patient, administering a follow-up examination. It was in fact to a humanoid named Shella who was on the station for a few weeks to intercept interstellar deliveries. She had come in a few days before with very little voice at all and some heavy coughing and sneezing. It seemed a cold was making its way through the station, something Tala hated to admit. He liked seeing everyone healthy, as boring as that made his life. "Please excuse me for a brief moment, Shella," he apologized. When the patient gave a nod, he walked to the nearest com panel. "Healer Tala here."


     "Tala? It's Qui-God. Ub, you asked be to--"


     "Yes," he interrupted before Qui-Gon had a chance to tire his voice out any further. "I'm with a patient and if you give me another half an hour I'll be with you. Can you hand there that long?"


     There was a pause, then the sound of two muffled sneezes. Then Qui-Gon again spoke. "Of course. I'll sniff, sniff, be right here."


     "Good. Take care of those sniffles. Tala out."





Later Evening in the Medical Center


     With one last glance around the center to be sure his patients who remained were all right for the evening with the medical droid helpers, he headed into his office to wrap up some last things for the day. When he entered, he found the place in utter disarray. Books were strewn about to cover the floor and medpads were broken into and torn apart. His desk was toppled over, and his chair was overturned and left on the wrong side of the office. The couch was left unusable, not just overturned but with each curve, pad, and cushion ripped into. He only had a moment to observe before a black gloved hand grasped his throat tightly as another grabbed his arms at the wrists and held them to his back.


     "Where," came a harsh, raspy, perhaps disguised voice, "is Minuto's disk?"


     Tala remained as calm as possible, not struggling in the least. He emptied his mind of all thought as if slipping into the first stages of meditation before answering. In actuality, he was putting up his block in case the intruder had any powers of telepathy. "I have no idea what you are talking about."


     With a roar, "Don't be foolish D'Marke! You had a patient in here yesterday by the name of Minuto, yes?"


     Calmly, with as little expression as possible, "Certainly. The Cabrian with the stab wounds."


     "He nearly died and thinking he might, he confessed the whereabouts of the disk, yes?"


     Quickly, "No. He said nothing at all of the sort. The man was brought in, and I healed the wounds. Then when his blood was replenished and his fever dropped to normal, I released him this morning. That is all I know."


     Cold breath filled his ear, ruffled his hair. "We know he confided in you!"


     Remaining ever so calm, "I tell you, he did not."


     The voice growled and Tala felt a strong punch to the stomach, then his whole body was thrown to the floor. His face landed on part of a book, digging into his cheek bone. Several forceful kicks to his stomach later, and Tala was doubled in half with pain on the floor. "Where is the disk?!" came the same gruff roar.


     Tala, winded and wincing, looked up to see a rather large, burly figure dressed in black aside from slits at his eyes and mouth. Perfect. This was his attacker's mistake. He fixed his eyes upon his attacker's yellow ones. "I know of no such disk."


     A pause, as if he were considering this. Then, "You know of no such disk."


     Tala's heart gave a leap. It had worked! "You will leave me alone and look elsewhere."


     A nod. "I will leave you alone and look elsewhere."


     Tala sighed. "Good day."


     "Good day." And the intruder was gone. After calling the space station authorities as well as a cleanup crew, and after applying a cream to the growing bruise on his face, Tala, still a little shaken, headed out towards Qui-Gon's place.






At Qui Gon's Quarters that Night...


     Tala rang the buzzer a second time. "Yes?" came a groggy voice as the door finally opened.


     "Hi, it's me. Can I come in?"


     With a nod from the occupant who was presently directing a yawn into his sleeve, the door swung open. The Jedi padawan looked perfectly terrible. He was pale with bags under very tired, bloodshot eyes. In one hand he clutched a bunch of used handkerchief. He wore his sleep clothes which were thin silk and hung loosely over his frame. Still, he studied Tala a moment then made a move immediately toward his light saber. "Are you all right? Who hit you?"


     Giving a nod, "Nothing I couldn't handle. I'm fine now, don't you worry about me." He patted Qui-Gon on the back and eased the light saber back onto its place on the table. "Now, I've brought lots of food, and a few holovids so we can stay in and just relax tonight. Sound all right?"


     With a blow of his nose, a sniffle, a shiver, and a nod, Qui-Gon agreed. He made for the couch but Tala stopped him. "First, you stay warm. If I'm dragging my best friend out of his sick bed, he's going to be warm." Tala took a thick blanket from the bed and wrapped it around his friend's shoulders. "I'm going to make some hot chocolate for us both. You get comfy on the couch and pick out a video." Tala ruffled Qui-Gon's hair affectionately then headed toward the kitchen area. "Hey Qui, remember when we roasted marshmallows over the burner in the science lab?" Healer Tala was the king of mindless chit-chat; it helped to take one's mind off one's ailments.


     Laughing, "Or when we bassed the first set of iditiate tests add wedt out to barty add all the girls dadced with us because we were so cute?"


     "Heh, heh, yeah. Or when we used to practice dueling with the O'Mally twins on the catwalk?"


     "I still see Fiora O'Bally frob tibe to tibe for duelig."


     "Oh, and how is she doing?"


     "Very well. Baster Kardosh took her as badawad... sniff, sniff... excuse be a bobedt... godda... ehh... hehh... ihhh... ketchoo! Uhhhushh! Hishh! Ketchh! Tishoo! Uhh... ehhhpishhoo! Ehhtchoo! EhhHushh! Ehh... hehh..." he panted into the handkerchief, attempting to get the last sneeze out.




     Qui-Gon sighed as the sensation died down. He sniffled and blew his nose until Tala came from the kitchen with dinner. "Picked a vid yet have you?"


     Qui-Gon held up the selection. "Lots of artsy advedture filbs here."


     "Into them lately. Make for some interesting discussion." He stuck the disk into the machine and settles onto the other side of the couch with a plate of noodles and sauce and the hot chocolate. "Besides, these got good reviews and I know you don't get to see many at the academy."


     "Thags," he snuffled, nibbling on his dinner.


     Tala reached over, giving another reassuring pat and snuck a feel at Qui-Gon's forehead while there. "Still a bit warm but getting better. You feeling sniffley and all still I take it?"


     Qui-Gon nodded. "Got a lot of sleep today, before ludch add thed after. But sniff, sniff," he rubbed a finger under his nose. "But still sdeezig." He took a sip of hot chocolate and smiled, settling back into the blanket for warmth. "ehh... hehCHOO! UhhIhhshh!"






Tala chuckled. "Arnup'tchow. Blow your nose Buddy and we'll start the vid."


     Qui-Gon smiled and followed orders, digging into some dinner and nursing the warm cup of hot chocolate. The video started presently, and after finishing dinner, he found himself completely engulfed in the directing art and plot line of the adventure film.


     Pausing the vid for a moment, "Cold?" Tala the healer had noticed the series of shivers Qui-Gon had been doing. He put his hand to Qui-Gon's cheek and forehead. "Hmmm?"


     Realizing it himself, Qui-Gon nodded. "A lit... ehhKushhoo! Heh... hehh... ehhCHISHA! epTCHA! Sniff, sniff! A little."


     "Arnup'tchow. Well I'm cold, too." Tala closed his eyes and in a moment, a thick blanket and a pillow came floating out from the bedroom. His eyes still closed, his hand reached out for them and the moment fingers touched fabric, the items went limp and Tala let out a relieved sigh. "That was more that I've done in a long while," he admitted. He wrapped part around his shoulders and put the pillow on his lap. Then held the rather large remains of the blanket up with his arm. "Come on over and stretch out." He took Qui-Gon's mug and, finding it drained, set it aside. Qui-Gon, taking his blanket with him, lay down on the couch with his head in Tala's lap. He leaned back slightly against Tala, pulling the folds of his blanket around him. Tala laid the extra part of the new blanket around Qui-Gon and rubbed his arm until the slight shivering stopped for good. "Better, Buddy?"


     The sick Jedi Padawan nodded. "Thags."


     "Sure." He un-paused and the two resumed watching.







     Tala burst out laughing at the characters on screen. It wasn't a particularly funny movie, but so far the scene had been getting worse and worse for the characters involved. However, he noticed his friend did not laugh; on the contrary, he made no sound or movement. "You didn't find that funny?" Tala asked, recovering with laughter.


     There was no answer.


     "Qui-Gon?" he leaned forward slowly, cautiously, to peer down. What he found, was a Jedi Padawan whose eyes were closed and whose mouth was open to keep from breathing through a stuffy nose and emitting snores. Tala smiled at the situation. "I should have guessed." He thought a moment, first dimming the sound, then trying to slip out from under Qui-Gon. With no luck. He then decided to simply turn off the vid and attempt to get up and go.


     But as soon as the button was pressed which zapped the 3-d screen off and filled the room completely with pitch darkness, Qui-Gon snapped awake. The Padawan was quite sensitive to things, and the sudden change in atmosphere about him had jerked him awake. He was startled, jumpy, groggy, and disconcerted. "Wha?" he sat up, eyes snapping back and forth.


     "Shhh, it's ok, just turned it off. I'll help you over to bed now--"


     He shook his head in protest. "Do," he lay back down, snuffling into the pillow. "But the vid back od."


     "Qui-Gon, you're tired. You're exhausted. You should--"


     "I've sbedt the whole day... heh...hehIHHKshh! Sniff, sniff! in bed. Add I... ehhKishhh! hehSHH! keep sdeezig, sniff, sniff! add rollig aroud id bisery tryig to sleeb. But here, I cad fall asleeb. Ehh...hehhKESHH! ehhTishh! huh... huhIhhshoo! Sniff, sniff! I'm so cobfortable with you. Blease let be stay here a while loger?"


     He sounded so very pathetic, sneezing every two words. And he looked so very pitiful, rolling into the pillow and shaking as the strong sneezes came at him. He looked so very miserable that Tala had not the heart to refuse. "Sure. I'm not tired yet. I'll stay and watch the vids until you want to go to bed."


     A sigh of relief was uttered, followed by a few sniffles, and Qui-Gon rolled over onto his other side, facing Tala's stomach, with his back to the movie. He pulled the folds of blanket to his chest, rubbing them against his chin and cheek as his head sunk deeply into the pillow. He sniffed, eyes closing with fatigue. Tala stroked his arm and side soothingly. Qui-Gon sniffed again, this time with tired yawn.


     Tala restarted the movie, and the room lit again dimly from the holographic projections. It started right at the next joke, and Tala contained his laughter, assuming the man was on his way toward falling asleep.


     "ehhIhhshh! huhh... ehhhhhhh...uhhhhChishhhhoo! Phishhoo!" he sneezed strongly, mostly on the blanket which he had pulled up to his nose. He then sniffed strongly and rubbed his face into the pillow with a few light sniffles.


     It was clear that it may take a while for the man to fall back to sleep. Taking a fresh handkerchief out, Tala rubbed the man's nose for him. "You just relax and I'll take care of you, ok?"


     His eyes pulling open, Qui-Gon looked as if he may protest. But then they snapped shut again as his breath hitched and his body tensed. "ehhhKetchh! IhhhEhhshoo! ehhPhishoo! Sniff, sniff!"


     Tala rubbed the nose again rather nonchalantly, keeping his eyes on the holovid.


     "Tala, you dod't--"


     "Hush, hush, Jedi Padawan. You lie there and rest. And you let me do my thing."


     Qui-Gon sighed. "I'b dot goig to get back to sleeb. I'b... ehh... sdeeehhh... hehIhhshh! Hehshhhoo! Sniff, sniff! I'b sdeezig too buch."


     Gently, Tala held the handkerchief up to Qui-Gon's nose and mouth. He closed his eyes a moment then spoke decidedly, "Twelve should do it." He laid a finger very gently on the bridge of Qui-Gon's nose.


     Suddenly, Qui-Gon's body went stiff with immediacy and panic. He was thrown forward with one mighty, "ehhHISHHHOO!" and following that came, "heh... hehKisshh! uhhhChishho! EhhChishh! ehhKish! uhh...uhhIhhshh! ehhChisho! Ehshhhh! Ehshhhah!" Qui-Gon was starting to go weak as they came one after another. He barely had time to gasp for breath between each sneeze. Tala braced him, holding a hand on his back for support. "uhhKishh! eeehhhHishhh! Uhhh...ehhhh...iiihhhhhEAHSHOO!"


     Qui-Gon stopped, frozen in pace, wheezing stuffily into the handkerchief. "There we go. Arnup'tchow. Now blow." After one strong blow, Tala refolded the hanky and set it up again. When Qui-Gon had finished, he hugged the blankets up against him again. "Feel a little less sneezey?"


     Nodding in amazement, Qui-Gon yawned.


     Tala continued to keep his hand on Qui-Gon's back, now rubbing it up and down softly. "Goodnight."


     And Qui-Gon, slipping back into sleep, made no reply at all.

The Next Morning...


     "Open your mouth... now say 'ahhh'... very good. Looks like that sore throat cleared up all right. Relax a moment, will you?"


     The woman Tala was examining closed her eyes and relaxed.


     Tala closed his own, reaching out to her. "Yes, looks like it's gone but you need to keep taking those herbs today and tomorrow. You have enough?"


     She nodded. "Yes, thank you, Healer Tala."


     "You're welcome." He helped her down from the examination table. "Say hello to Rich and the two little ones for me."


     "I certainly will. Coming to the concert tonight, too?"


     "Wouldn't miss it. See you there. And keep taking those herbs!"


     She laughed. "I will." She left with a soft thank you and a kiss. Tala sighed and made a note on the nearby datapad.


     "With batiedts like that, it's a woder you're eved codsiderig our offer."


     Tala looked over at the doorway to see Qui-Gon standing a bit taller than he had been the night before. "Hey! Look who's feeling better! Good morning ex-roomie!"


     Smiling at the fact that Tala could still look upon the situation happily, Qui-Gon gave a bit of a wave. "You were at by place late. Sniff, sniff! Surbrised you'll callig it a good bordig at all."


     "No, I'm calling it a good morning, not a good bordig." Tala snuffed a yawn into his shoulder as he punched a few buttons into a chart and rearranged his instruments. "I'm a bit tired. Nothing out of the ordinary."


     "Well, dod't ware yourself out od by accout. Dod't wadt you to catch this frob be."


     Tala shook his head. "You forget my friend, I was a Jedi initiative and a healer. I have the same strong antibodies as all, er, most of the Jedi do."


     With a strong, purposeful sniff, "Bost Jedi..." Qui-Gon stayed in the doorway but Tala walked to him. "But dot be."


     Tala jogged over, catching Qui-Gon in a bear hug, then managing to twist the man into a headlock. "No, not you. But we loved that about you Qui."


     Qui-Gon broke free with laughter of his own. "How I catch colds so buch?"


     Tala laughed, shaking his head. "No, of course not. How you're not like most Jedi. You're special, Buddy. You'll sit on the high council one day and we all know it."


     "ehh... heh... hihshoo! HehKeshoo!"


     "With or without the sneezes. Here, take one of these handkerchiefs and blow your nose. Your own must be sopping wet by now. Your nose looks all chapped. Would you like something for that? I can find some of that cream from Omocron. Or perhaps--"


     "Healer Tala!" Qui-Gon exclaimed, snapping the man's mouth shut. "Ode secod you're by fried. The dext, you're by over-protective bedic." He clapped Tala on the back. "I'll be all right. You dod't deed to take care of be at every secod."


     A smile stayed on the healer's face. "I'm sorry. I just want you feeling well again. And you are in Healer Tala's arena," he gestured around at the medical center.


     Qui-Gon nodded. "Well, thags to both Talas, I'b feeling better. Sniff, sniff! At least, bostly. Still got the sdeezes."


     "yeah, I no--"


     "ehhIhhshh! Ehhhshoo!"


     "--ticed. Arnup'tchow. Would you like some lunch in about an hour?"


     "Sure. That'll give be a chadce to fidish that book you gave be to read yesterday bordig."


     "Oh!" Tala ran his hand through his hair nervously. "You liked it then? You didn't mention anything and I didn't want to ask..."


     "Well, it seebs you just did. Add yes I really liked it. Is it yours thed? I thought I recogdized a few lides, but the style is quite differedt. Very bature."


     Tala looked worried still, a look Qui-Gon recognized from many moons ago. "Bature?"


     "Advadced, develobed... ub..." Seeing that Tala was still confused, he closed his eyes tightly and projected, //Mature.//


     Tala jumped back a foot in surprise. "Very good! When did you learn telepathy?"


     "Odly a few bodths ago. Still dod't have the hag of it quite yet."


     "On the contrary, it sounded good to me. You really got my heart going. Warn me next time Mr.Big shot Jedi Padawan!"


     Laughing. "Sorry. Addyway, what have I told you about blagerizig frob yourself?"


     With a sigh, "I know, but I'm not published yet really--"


     "You will be."


     "And by reader base is limited to just a few people."


     "But we few dod't like readig the sabe lides over add over sniff, sniff!"


     "I'll work on it. But... you liked it then?" wringing his hands nervously.


     "So far, it's fascidatig. Uhh... hold od for adother secod blease... heh... ihh... hehKishh!" he managed to muffled these in the fresh handkerchief. "ehhchishh! Humumphh!"


     "Arnup'tchow. Well," patting Qui-Gon on the back, "I'll catch you in my office in an hour or so. Feel free to raid the cabinets for whatever wasn't destroyed last night. Keep those fluids going. And enjoy the reading material."


     "I will. Thags. See you sood."


     A nod as they parted ways.





Back at the Food Center in an Hour or So...


     "I've been thinking more about the offer, Qui-Gon."


     "Good. IhhhHehshh! EhhTchoo!" he sprayed his hand then wiped it on the side of his robes. "Excuse be."




     "So have you reached addy codclusiods?"


     He heaved a deep sigh. "Do you see that couple over there? I can tell you their names and each and every ailment they've ever had in their lives." He pointed indiscreetly across the food court to a couple with intertwining antennas. "And that family over there..." he pointed over to a large family who had to move three tables together to seat them all. "See that little one? I helped to bring her into this universe. And the twins both had some sort of minor rash last week that the mother was fussing over. Took me an hour to calm her down." He looked around. "That Minital over there... he broke an arm in a docking mishap a year ago. And he was down with a flu bug last week as well. It was going around the docking staff, still is. Arnup'tchow, Qui-Gon." The Padawan had sneezed a double. Tala continued, "Twenty-six of them in all, making dockings here slow and causing lots of back-ups. I had a time trying to find some fast recovery methods. It's not so hard with Jedi because herbs go straight to strengthening your system and your methods of meditation are self-healing. But Minitals and some of the other tough species it's almost impossible because their bodies reject anything that could be helpful and you can forget about meditation altogether! They won't stand for it." He looked about. "And it's not just medical, either. I know the name of his first love, and the name of his last. I know that her favorite food is cookies with mint icing, and that that lad lives in cabin E2842." With a second sigh, "The point is Qui-Gon, their lives are in my hands. I've grown to know these people. I've learned to care about them as I care for them."


     Qui-Gon was silent a short while, wisely contemplating his next words. From what he was hearing and sensing, this was not to be good news. "What, thed, is your decisiod?"


     Tala shook his head. "At one time, I wanted the adventure. To travel, to help. But then I felt the desire to settle down and find a life for myself in one place."


     "Sniff, sniff! Add dow?"


     "And now... I'm just not sure. This is the chance of a lifetime, for past dreams to become reality. Qui-Gon, you've been my best friend since you set my broken leg in the swamp all those years back. What I'm saying is, I know it's been a while but you know me better than I know myself. What do you think I should do?"


     Qui-Gon stepped back a moment, forgetting why he was there at all. "Tala, I caddot bake this decisiod for you, you dow that. But if I were you... I'd take this obbortudity. I would. I dow you love it here, add they love you. But the Jedi council would not have taked the effort to bake this a reality if they did't believe it would chadge thousads of lives. Sniff, sniff! Add... ehhh..." he quickly took the necessary measures. "ehhhIhhshh! HehHichh!" After a few quick blow to alleviate initial congestion, he continues, "The truth is, fidig sobeode good edough to be chief bedical officer is a difficult job. They selected you for a reasod. They believe id you. They deed you."


     Tala looked around again at the tables. "I know. And you must believe, I do want to do this. But my station..."


     "Look, Tala, healers cobe add go. Sobe are good, others are't. Sniff, sniff, sniff! They'll rebeber the good odes. Add you'd be able to stick around log edough to traid your reblacebedt. They'll be taked care of here. Sniiiiff!"


     With a sigh. "I'll have some stipulations. The staffing, the regulations, the sickbay, the supplies, my quarters--"


     "Adythig you say. Sniff, sniff! 'Scuse be..." He gave his nose a few wet blows to attempt to halt the sniffling.


     "Anything I..."


     "They want you for chief bedic, Tala. You're id charge of everythig. They told be addythig you wadted, it's yours." He handed over a golden disk. "Record your statebedt, add addythig else you deed to say. Add give it back sniff, sniff, todight. Sniff, sniff! Sniff!"


     Almost-shaking fingers took the disk from Qui-Gon, tucking it into his cloaks securely. It had been so long since he had touched a disk from the council. Not since the details of his removal had arrived at their door and Qui-Gon had passed it on to him. He felt the cold metal sit heavy and firm in his breast pocket as if were trying to get as close to his heart as possible. Was it vibrating with the beats of his heart or was it trying to drown out those beats? "I need to get back," Tala said quickly, hopping up from his seat. "I'll be at your quarters early with a suit or two for you to try on."


     Startled by the sudden action of a friend who had barely touched his meal, Qui-Gon could only nod. He attempted to reach out to the man but found nothing but the highest and thickest of walls awaiting him. Failing this outreach, he replied, "Oh, certainly. I shall see you later tonight then."


     With a nod, Tala was gone, leaving a confused Qui-Gon. He had seen Tala being the best friend and Healer these last two days. And now he was the same cold, standoffish man that he had turned into since he'd gotten news of his banishment. Qui-Gon's stomach flipped and he suddenly felt very ill. It was true that the Jedi wanted him and needed him. And it was certainly Tala's nature to never refuse someone in need. Perhaps Tala did not want the Jedi. Which meant Qui-Gon had imparted the wrong sort of advice that Tala was trustingly following. In that case, his visit had been a much worse decision than he had counted upon. He quickly finished up his drink and took the remainder of his meal back to his quarters in case he might like it later when he did not feel so sick to his stomach.

Deliberations in the Med Center...


     Tala's fingers caressed the smooth metal of the circular disk. He could see the lines of data that were filled with his holographic image, his words. How easy it would be to snap the disk in half and stay where he was, safe. 'These peoples need me...' he told himself, drumming the slender fingers of his other hand on the counter of his desk. 'Who am I kidding?' he answered himself angrily. 'I know very well that's only an excuse. I'm damned that I lied to Qui-Gon with it. Years trying to forget that walk away... years trying to forget I had any hope of being a Jedi Healer... years trying to forget how much Qui-Gon always believed in me.' The disk hit the desk light as he turned it over and over, the light flashing in his eyes as if perhaps making him blind for brief instants would allow him to see better. His past, his present, his future. 'It's easy to wish Qui-Gon had never come, but I don't think either of us finds that as the problem. But the pain...the Jedi...'


     "Healer Tala?" came a small voice from the doorway.


     Tala shoved the disk into the top drawer of the desk and turned to see a small boy clutching a stuffed Ewok by the ear. He sniffed and smiled. His hair was blond with bright blue streaks running through it, his face covered in blue freckles. "Hi Jamie, where's your Mother?"


     "Mommy and Daddy are at work."


     "Ah... what are you doing running around the station alone, then?" It was a safe station, but it took only a second to remember the danger that had confronted Tala at exactly that spot only the day before.


     "I'm not," he answered softly. "I just came straight here." He held the stuffed bear up by the ear. "Elwin was feeling sick." The boy rubbed his own nose with another sniffle. "Mommy always said go to the medical center if I needed medical help."


     Now Tala understood. "Ohhh... all right, very good of you to follow your mother's advice. Come on over here and we'll have a look, all right?"


     The boy hesitated a moment.


     Tala spoke as softly and kindly as he knew how, "Is Elwin scared?"


     The boy nodded.


     "It's all right to be scared." Images flashed through Tala's head. Cries, screams, terrified faces. A Jedi Master holding him by the collar of his tunic. The sharp ripping of fabric. Blood, death, grief-stricken faces. And that little golden disk. And the walk down the hallway towards the ship which would take him far, far away from his home, his dreams, never to return. He snapped back as suddenly as he had gone. "But Elwin has a brave friend like you with him. He knows you won't let anything happen to him, Right?"


     The boy nodded. "Right."


     Tala patted his lap and helped the boy jump up on it. Then he gently took Elwin and put him on the edge of the desk as if it were an examination table. "Jamie, can I tell you secret?"


     "Sure!" he nodded, rubbing at his nose.


     "I've never examined an Ewok before."


     The little boy's eyes grew wide. "Never?"


     "No, never. The problem is, they aren't very trusting. The only ones they trust are their friends- none would ever let me near enough. So... I don't think Elwin's going to let me examine him. But I do have an idea. I can show you what to do, then you can examine him for me."


     A pensive expression passed over the boy's face, as if it took much more consideration that it sounded. "All right."


     "Good!" Tala exclaimed, turning the boy so he sat sideways on his lap, facing the desk. "Now, first thing is to ask the patient what is wrong."


     Little Jamie leaned close with his ear to the bear's mouth. "He says his throat is scratchy and his nose is all runny."


     "Hmmmm... has he been sneezing and coughing?"


     A nod.


     "All right. Let's check to see if he has a temperature then. You need to put the back of your hand on his forehead just like this," he did so with Jamie, "and see if he feels really warm."


     Jamie did as told, taking his hand down. "No, not warm, just furry."


     "Ah, that's good for Ewoks! Now, let's do a closer inspection. Here, I'm looking at your eyes closely to see if they look normal. Looking in your ears to make sure there's no ear infection. Looking up your nose, and... open your mouth? Looking at your throat to see if it's really red which is a sure sign of a bad sore throat. Can you do that with Elwin?"


     A nod. "Sure." He spent a few moments looking at the eyes, ears and nose of the little stuffed Ewok. "He doesn't want to open his mouth."


     "Hmmm..." Tala opened a drawer of his desk and withdrew three pieces of hard candy. "Give him a piece of candy- Ewoks love sweet candy. I'm just sorry I don't have any chocolate. And since Elwin's having one, I'm going to have one as well. Would you like a piece of candy, too, Jamie?"


     Jamie nodded vigorously, taking two pieces in his tiny little hand. The slightly larger of the two pieces he popped into his mouth, the other he pretended to feed to Elwin, leaving it behind the bear on the desk, out of view. He turned back, "Yeah, his throat is red."


     "Ok, now we want to check to see if his lymph nodes are swollen."


     "What are those?"


     "Those... " Tala gently ran his fingers against the boy's face, "are little places in your body where germs are caught so your body can fight them. When Elwin is healthy, they're little. So if Elwin isn't feeling well, chances are that there are cold or flu germs in his body and you'll be able to tell if spots here... and here... are a easy to feel like bumps."


     Jamie imitated Tala's movements, turning back with a, "Yes they are swollen."


     "Poor Elwin!" Tala said softly. "He's been such a good boy though. Don't worry, it's nothing serious, I think it's just a cold. Lots of people on the station have one right now. It's pretty minor and there's some medication you can take to feel better. Ok?"


     Jamie nodded, taking Elwin down from the counter and hugging him with a reassuring word or two. Then the boy froze with a scared look on his face, eyes closed. "ehhhkkishh!" he sneezed freely.




     The little boy was sniffling, his nose running. "What's that word?"


     Tala, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket, explained. "It's what people on Asia Six say when others sneeze. Just like 'Blesses' or 'Bless you.'"


     "Wow. Sniff, sniff, sniff! You've been everywhere, haven't you?"


     "I've been to many places. It's a big galaxy out there."


     The little boy froze again, bending forward a moment with a second sneeze. "ahh-keshhh!"


     "Arnup'tchow," Tala repeated. "You're not catching Elwin's cold now, are you?"


     Little Jamie shrugged, looking down so as not to make eye contact with the healer.


     "Well, don't worry. Ewoks don't cover their noses when they sneeze. And you're such a good lad to take care of him. I shouldn't wonder if you happen to catch cold from him."


     Jamie was rubbing at his nose messily and Tala raided the handkerchief. "Here, let me show you how to help Elwin blow his nose." He gripped the boy's nose loosely through the hanky. "Give a light blow out your nose." The boy obeyed. "Again." And again. "Very good." Tala folded the handkerchief in half and showered Jamie how to hold it. Following the advice, Jamie put the handkerchief to Elwin's nose.


     "He says that feels better," Jamie reported.


     "Good. I'm glad to hear it." He helped the boy down. "Now, I want you to do something for me and Elwin, all right? I want you to go back to your room and tuck Elwin into your bed. Now, he might be scared and need his friend, so you should get into bed and take a nap with him to make sure he's ok. Make sure he stays warm and comfy and help him blow his nose when he needs it. And I want you to have him drink lots of juice to help him feel better. What's your favorite kind of juice?"


     The boy thought a moment. "Orange-pineapple-rola juice."


     "Perfect! That just happens to be an Ewok's favorite!"


     The boy giggled.


     "So he'll be ok?"


     "Oh, quite. You've helped him so much today. Good of you to come over when he told you he wasn't feeling well."


     Jamie beamed happily, a great smile on his face. "I want to be a healer just like you when I grow up. I want to make everyone in the galaxy feel better when they're sick. Even Ewoks."


     Kindly, "You have demonstrated some good skills today. You'll make an excellent healer one day." Tala went on, "Although I can't give you an medicine right now because you're not old enough, but you are definitely much braver than many grown-ups who've come in her with colds. I'll give your mother a call and have her bring some medicine home for you and Elwin, all right?"


     Jamie nodded with a proud smile. "Thanks Healer Tala."


     "You're welcome. You take care of your friend now, all right? You know, my best friend is sick with a cold right now, too."



     Jamie cocked his head. "You should be taking care of him. He needs... you... ahhh-chishh!"


     "Arnup'tchow. Thanks, I think will. Now I want you to go straight home and help Elwin into bed."


     "I will." The boy left, beaming with happiness and cradling the stuffed Ewok in his arms.


     After putting aside another small container of herbs at the front counter and giving instructions and names to the droids, he returned to his office. Tala quickly pulled out a station directory and looked up little Jamie's mother's work number. It rang, then was picked up. "Madam Naroff?"




     "This is Healer Tala. Good afternoon."


     "Good afternoon to you, too. Is there something wrong?" Just like a mother.


     "Your son Jamie was just here. He came by because he wasn't feeling well and I did a small examination. Seems he's coming down with a bit of a cold. It's the same thing that's going around the station. He'll be all right in a matter of days. He's a smart, brave little lad. He just needs to stay warm and get lots of rest and drink lots of fluids. However, I've left a week-long dose of herbs you can mix into tea for him and Elwin."


     "Oh thank you so much, Healer! I'll pick the medicine up on my way home from work. Thank you for taking care of him. Wait... Elwin Ewok?"


     "Elwin has a cold, too, according to Jamie. But don't worry, Jamie's a good lad. He's taking good care of his friend." In a moment Tala had Qui-Gon in mind. Tucking his friend into bed, preparing tea, wiping nose... He suddenly felt terrible about how cold he'd acted at lunch, walking out on his friend. Perhaps Qui-Gon understood.


     With a laugh. "All right. Thank you so much. I'll let you know how he's doing."


     "Thank you. Good day Madam Naroff." He ended transmission and sat back at his desk. After a moment of thought, he grabbed the disk from the drawer and headed straight to Qui-Gon's quarters.




     He rang the buzzer with urgency, the disk burning a hole in his pocket. Tala leaned on the wall, chest heaving, out of breath from the run over. He rang the buzzer again.


     The door opened slowly. "Tala? It's still early yet..."


     "I know," Tala invited himself in, shutting the door for Qui-Gon behind. "I apologize for my behavior at lunch." He took a deep sigh. "When I was kicked out of the academy, it took me a long time to be sure what was right for me. If I did indeed understand myself as well as I thought, and better than the masters. I never expected to actually be back there, working with the Jedi once more. I..." how could he possibly make Qui-Gon understand. He held the disk out, his hand shaking.


     Qui-Gon took the disk then, looking at his worried, unsure, confused old friend, he opened his arms for an embrace. Tala fell into them for a tight, warm hug. At that moment, he realized Qui-Gon understood as much now as when he'd said those words years ago, 'Once in a while, we lose Jedi to the forces of darkness. Never before have we lost one to those of goodness.'

Back at Qui-Gon's Quarters


     "You look quite debonair, Jedi Padawan."


     Qui-Gon, turning, examined himself in the full length mirror. "You thik? I've dever word a suit before..." The suit was the perfect size for him, squaring his shoulders and running in perfect curves and creases over his body. It was a dark, navy blue that was set off by black shoes and his brown hair.


     "It's perfect on you. Now, the finishing touches..." he handed over three handkerchiefs. "One for your breast pocket, try not to use it. It's for show. Another for your back pocket, and the third you can slip up your sleeve for discrete movements if you need to sneeze really badly or whatnot."


     Qui-Gon took them a little sheepishly. "I ab sorry for beig sick... sniff, sniff, add deedig you to watch over be like this."


     Tala shook his head. "You're my friend, Qui-Gon. You think I mind taking care of you? It is, you forget, my job. But to care for a friend such as you, it is my pleasure."


     "Speakig of... ehh... sdee... ehhh...ehhIhhshoo! hehh..Ketchhoo!"


     "Arnup'tchow." He reached over with his own hanky and rubbed Qui-Gon's nose for him. The man protested a moment, but Tala was convincing with a quick tickle to the stomach. He finished with a sly smile. "You know, if you'd told me years ago we'd be here like this now I could have taken your head off."


     "Well thed," Qui-Gon said, picking up his and his friend's coats and heading toward the door. "Thed I'b glad I dod't have by Baster's ability for seeig the future. Or you'd be goig to see this codcert sniff, sniff, with a Jedi Badawan a foot shorter."


     "My luck then."


     "ehhh... ihhhhKishhh! Hehh-ahshhhhoo! ehhhhKISHHOO! Ehh-Ihhhhshhhh!"


     "Then again," he rubbed Qui-Gon's nose again, instinctively. "Without a head you'd certainly catch less head colds..." he laughed. "Hmmm... wish they hadn't taken and burnt my light saber..."


     "Ha ha!" Qui-Gon replied, eyebrow raised and a sneer on his face.


     "Aww, you know I'm just joking," Tala said, punching Qui-Gon in the arm. "And I'd wrestle you to the ground if it didn't mean another ironing to my best suit."


     "How very logical," Qui-Gon replied, punching back with a laugh. "Cobe od. Let's leave before you figure out there are a dozed ways you could take by head off."


     "Kill the Jedi Council's most promising padawan? Not likely, even for the darkest sith in history." And with that, the two friends set off for the concert.






     The presentation hall had been converted into a musical auditorium, with beams of rainbow-colored light shooting from circles on the floor, reacting to sound. They were twitching and fluttering in brightness and color from the loud conversations in the hall. The stage was sectioned off with a black velvet curtain and looked to be on hover pads. Tala headed toward the middle, finding two seats together on the isle. "In case you need to leave suddenly," Tala explained. Then the healer directed his attention to what he always directed his attention towards- the inhabitants of the room. After a cursory look about, he turned to Qui-Gon, "Twelve people here with head colds, another 3 with the flu, and seven who may be on the way soon. I don't think you have anything to worry about."


     Before Qui-Gon could reply, a rather skinny, tall, green creature Qui-Gon could not identify came up the isle and squatted down beside Tala. "Hey Doc--" he had a rather thick, rolling accent of some sort.


     "--Healer--" Tala replied snappishly.


     "--Healer... I don't feel so well..."


     Tala repressed a sigh and felt the man's forehead, cheeks, and side of his face. With the same list he'd repeated tenfold that day alone, "Sneezing, coughing, sore throat, stomach queasy, aching?"


     "Um... sneezing, coughing... pretty tired..."


     "I bet. It's a cold bug that's been going 'round the station here for a week."


     The creature raised one hand in the air, a finger up to motion a pause. Then two hands raised and covered his nose and mouth. "Hextt! Exgstt! Uffgstt!" It then paused and gave a series of harsh coughs into a fourth, fisted hand.


     Tala withdrew a handkerchief and handed it over with some pity. "Arnup'tchow."


The creature seemed most pleased at the item and went to work blowing his nose.


"You feel up to sitting here in this cold auditorium for three hours listening to soft music while you try not to sniffle and sneeze and cough and try to stay awake?"


     The creature shook his head. "I feel miserable..."


     With a nod, "Good answer."


     "But actually, I only came by because I'd heard you would be here tonight."


     Tala laughed. "All right then." He patted the man on his very thin back. "I want you to go back to your quarters and get under the covers with a hot, crisp cup of Arcanian tea. If you still feel badly tomorrow morning, come by my office and I'll see what I can do for you. But the best thing you can do for yourself is to rest and relax and stay warm. Understand?"


     It nodded back. "Thanks Doc, er, Healer." Still clutching the handkerchief as if it were a great prize, he walked slowly out the closest exit.


     Tala sighed, sitting back in his chair and shaking his head.


     "With the way you bictured this, do ode would wadt to stay."


     Tala laughed. "Well, I'm not letting you out of it so easy. Don't worry, it's not half as bad as I made it sound and you know it."


     Again, before Qui-Gon could reply, "Healer Tala?"

     Tala looked over to see a woman walking towards him, her arm wrapped around her stomach in pain, her face a pale white. "Stomach flu," he said instantly and pointed. "Nearest restroom is down the hall if you need it. Go home and go to bed, sip water and call me tomorrow morning if you still hurt." He patted her on the back and sent her on her way as he rose in his seat. "How many of you," he announced rather loudly, "are here just for some medical advice because you heard I was attending the concert?"


     About seven or eight hands went up.


     With a sigh, he mumbled, "This station is full of rumors."


     "This bady would show ub if it were odly a rubor?" Qui-Gon whispered back with a laugh.


Tala continued louder, "I want those of you who feel sick and did not come for the music to go straight home and get into bed. If you're looking for a duty suspension or still feel sick in the morning, come by my office. Otherwise, if there's an emergency, go to the med center and the droids will be able to help you. I'm here to enjoy the concert, not dispense free medical advice. Is everyone clear? Straight back to your quarters and into bed."


     More than seven or eight, what seemed like several dozen in fact, stood up and filed down the isles toward the exits. Tala sat back down with a shake of his head in disbelief.


     Qui-Gon was chuckling. "Are you always this bobular at social evedts, Tala?"


     "Only when there's a cold and flu epidemic running rampant through the station it seems. Damn the big mouths on this station. But you've got to love them, you know? They're all sick and want someone looking after them. It's nice to know they turn to me."


     Qui-Gon, struggling to rub a sneezey feeling out of his nose, made no immediate reply.


     The concert started on time with the dimming of the main house lights and the curtain about the stage rolling back to reveal the players. There was a large mass of them, their instruments shiny and large and at the ready. "hehKISHH! EhhhIHHSHHH! EhhhTISHOO!" This time, it was not Qui-Gon. Tala noticed a Malian two rows in front of them who was recovering from sneezes into his sleeve. As the music started and the stage began to spin and levitate into the air, Tala sat back in his seat, sure this was going to be an extremely long concert.


     The Bermial Orchestra very much lived up to their reputation, giving an excellent concert. The music was pure and emotionally stirring. With the additional light show and the orchestra spinning and swaying back and forth with the notes, it was extraordinarily inspiring. From what Tala could sense from the man to his right, Qui-Gon was enjoying himself quite a lot. Tala, on the other hand, was preoccupied with every sniffle and sneeze that rang through the place, as any respectable medic might be. At first, it wasn't too distracting at all. Later he became worried that this might mean more people infected, which meant more suffering. But by the end, he simply felt compelled to help those who weren't feeling well. Qui-Gon was certainly not excluded from this lot as very soft sniffles resulted in dabs at his nose from the secret hanky down his sleeve, as well as a few well-timed sneezes muffled there as well. Regardless, Qui-Gon was enjoying the music and movement of the concert, certain that the mere mention of it would be enough to justify three days there to Master Yoda.




     Tala had been staring at a young woman near the front who'd been coughing quite a bit and was just now being offered a drink of water from an attendee nearby. He turned to Qui-Gon. "Yes, sorry..."


     "The codcert's over." Qui-Gon felt like an idiot for stating the obvious, but he could tell that his friend had not noticed.


     Blushing slightly, Tala rose. They both stretched and picked up their coats. Tala led them through the packed isles out, noting the abundance of coughing and sneezing that was being done now that the auditorium was noisy again. He would have to remember to put some of those medicinal cough drops out for the droids to distribute. And also put in for a new order of--


     "Tala!" Qui-Gon laughed, slapping his friend on the back.


     "Oh... uh, sorry. What were you saying?" Tala looked over again, realizing the padawan had been speaking.


     With an amused sigh, Qui-Gon repeated the question. "Where are we off to dow?"


     Tala smiled. "I've two places for you to see. Come, we'll get milkshakes on the way."






     Minutes later found them hovering over a standing table in the heart of a thick crowd of all sorts of creatures. "This used to be my favorite place on the station," Tala admitted, taking a sip of the orange-pineapple-rola milkshake he'd been craving since his talk with little Jamie that afternoon.


     "ehhh... uhhhKISHHH! EhhCHISHH! ehhHISHHOO!" Qui-Gon sneezed into the folds of handkerchief that he had palmed after storing it in his sleeve. He felt absolutely no need to restrain them because of the excessive noise. He did, however, feel abnormally sneezey, even for a lad with a cold, perhaps the result of restraining so many tickles during the concert. He leaned on the table for support with one bent arm, and kept his other to his nose and mouth as he snapped forward again and again. "ehh-uhHISHH! EhhhChishhhoo! ahhhIhhhshhh! ehhhKishhhoo!" Qui-Gon blew his nose copiously.


     Sipping his drink, Tala waited patiently for Qui-Gon's sneezing to subside. Then he smiled and repeated. "I say, this used to be my favorite place on the station."


     "What?!" Qui-Gon shouted, straining to hear over the commotion.


     "This used to be my favorite place on the station!" the healer repeated, yelling loudly this time. Qui-Gon nodded with understanding, so he continued. "Made me feel good to be around so many people! I'd felt alone for so long. I could still feel the force, rushing inside of me, but I was alone with it... and not to be a Jedi. Never to be one with those powers and feelings I'd been trained to rely so heavily upon. Alone."


     Qui-Gon nodded in sympathy.


     "Here though, I didn't have to listen to the force. And I wouldn't feel so alone. Always something going on!" It was true. There was a gambling table which was simple packed with players shouting and throwing chips about. Nearby was also a very large bar of some sort serving drinks of bright, exotic colors in giant pitchers. Animals of some sort scurried around on the floor, noticed only as blurs of fur and warm fuzz against one's leg. There was also a large simulator contraption that whirred, tossed and turned with screams from its inhabitants. On one side, a band was pitching out a fast dance tune and a great mass of individuals were dancing, swinging and singing. On the other side there was another band, this one cold, blue and techno with artistic, stiff dancers in cages and chains and blue puffs of smoke rising from the stage and instruments.


     "It's the very center of the station!" Tala continued. "Not a window or free square foot of space in sight!"


     "I doticed!" Qui-Gon shouted back, suddenly bursting into coughs from the strain and quickly dousing the fit with another sip of his milkshake.


     Tala tugged Qui-Gon's sleeve. "Follow me." He guided Qui-Gon's hand to his shoulder so he wouldn't lose his friend in the crowd.






     "And here's the other place I wanted to show you," Tala said with a sigh as he leaned against the banister of the deck. It faced a large, twenty-foot high window staring out into the vastness of empty space. "That little beige dot out there... can you see it?" He pointed.


     Qui-Gon squinted, trying his best, but all he saw were the stars. "Sorry... I dod't..."


     "It's ok... I think I only see it because I know it's there." With another sigh. "That's where it happened, Qui-Gon. The crash... and spinning around that tiny little speck of light of a star is Coruscant... and the Imperial City... and the Jedi Temple... and my banishment."


     Softly, with a light, comforting hand on Tala's shoulder, "Blease tell be, ehhIhhshh! heh-chishhh! sniff, sniff, what habbeded?" He dabbed his nose with the handkerchief, then excused himself for a few light blows.


     Tala turned from the gaze at the stars to Qui-Gon. "You mean no one ever told you?"


     The Jedi Padawan, still tending to his runny nose, shook his head no.


     "I felt sure that at least Master Sio would have... no?" He ran a hand through his hair. "All right then." He looked back at the stars. "I guess it's my place then." A few silent moments passed full of anticipation and tension. Then, Tala took a deep, full breath and began.


     "I am a healer. You've known that about me for as long as you've known me. It takes a certain kind to be a Jedi healer and I had that, though many don't. So when it happened, you cannot possibly imagine the pain. It was if a hundred thousand voices cried out just for me to help them, sending me every hurt, every fear. It doubled me right over, and made Master Sio grab hold of a nearby chair for support.


     "You know I was on probation... that late night in the library when I should have been in the initiate dormitory. But they never thought I would defy them so much as I did. From the instant after I felt that pain, I knew I had to help. There was no choice in my mind- there was incredible suffering so close to me and I could not turn away when people needed me. It was as if they spoke right to me with their cries. And with every moment that passed, the pleading grew more and more. I could feel them, their pain, their hearts, and their losses. I don't know if you've ever had the opportunity to sense someone dying, but it's an experience I would never wish on anyone. To be close and intimate with another, to feel their energy course through you, then a sudden, piercing, stabbing, freezing pain rushes through each cell, and then perfect silence. It is a feeling that fills you so completely that you will never forget it. There were so many deaths in those first moments that it was constant and continual. I was rolling on the floor in pain, and all I could think was that I needed to help them.


     "I was passing by the council chambers, and I knew I couldn't just burst in, but the pain was too intense, it was controlling my body and my sense of duty. Master Sio grabbed me by the collar of my tunic. 'A ship crashed into the side of a planet,' he explained. 'Jedi will send supplies when it is decided safe but it is a matter that the Jedi are not allowed to be involved in.' I heard words like 'Hutt' and 'Fall of the Jedi ways' and all sorts of other words that he was trying to use to make me understand. But all I could understand were the pains, the cries, the urging that was torturing my sense of justice and morality. I couldn't just stay there and not help. I couldn't.


     "I tore away from him, and was stopped by several of the Masters. They tried to tell me I could help when the situation died down. They threatened my career of course. They tried to make the consequences as clear as possible. One of them even pulled out a light saber. But I did not listen. I couldn't. The cries were too loud, the agony, the suffering. I am a healer. I had to help. So I broke away, I commandeered a shuttle, and headed to the planet. "


     At this, Tala paused, closing his eyes for a long moment. "Even as a writer, I could never describe what I found there so clearly as for anyone to understand fully. There wasn't just one dying person, or ten, or a hundred or a thousand. But a hundred thousand of a half million wounded. Too many. Too many to ignore."


He opened his eyes, looking back at that little beige dot that only he could see. "My instincts simply kicked in, that's what it was. There were maybe twenty or thirty medics on the scene, a few of whom were injured themselves from fallen debris. I did what I could. I pulled bodies out of rubble, I cut others open and massaged hearts. I severed legs with my light saber, I bandaged wounds with the hems of my robes, I held bodies spitting blood into my face as they died in my arms with their only family already dead and unable to mourn. Oh, but the mourning... the screams, the cries were incredible. The blood was washed from my face by my own tears and sweat as I lost one and moved onto the next. I chose as quickly as possible, saving a life while a handful died around me, screaming, begging, and pleading for me to help them. And each time, that piercing pain through my body. But I couldn't stop for it. I don't know how many I saved that day... ten, a hundred, I have no way of knowing. But I know that there was no end to it all. The more I helped, the more were brought. There was no order, just the dead and dying everywhere. And all the while, I knew that with every life I saved, it meant my removal from my only home. The more I helped, the more I knew I would be scolded. And every time I used my light saber to sever a trapped limb or cut a hole in a wall because of the screams inside I realized it might indeed be the last time I would ever use it.


"Several suns set and rose before I succumbed to sleep. I managed to find an empty corner of a medical ship that was only half covered in blood and dirt and I managed to block the immediate cries while I fell asleep. It felt like minutes, but I'm sure it was at least an hour until I woke. I woke to a medic pulling me to my feet and begging me to help hold down a patient on a table while he opened the man's stomach and removed a large piece of metal. Those eyes... I was so tired but those eyes... I will never forget the terror in them as that scream echoed against the metal of the ship. He had not been anesthetized for there was none left.


     "Master Sio is the one who found me days later, crying over a dead body I'd spent two hours trying to save while all around him died. I have never been so emotional or exhausted, and I fell into his arms with tears and yells of my own. I was young, Qui-Gon." He gave a sigh. "I was too young to see what I saw. I was too young to have done what I did. I know why they wanted to stop me. But I couldn't have listened. And in the years after, though I hated myself for not listening, and though I was haunted asleep and awake by every cry and each and every death, I would not have done it differently.


     "And that was what hurt the most when they banished me. When they stripped me of my weapon, and my robes, and my honor when I knew I had more courage and honor than they ever would. When they made me walk down that hall in shame, never to return to my home because of breaking their rules and disobeying their views, when I knew in my heart that what I did helped people and was the right thing to do. Yes, it was traumatic, and yes, it was not something someone of my age should have seen. But they had no idea of the extent of pain it had caused me and would have caused me even if I had not helped.


     "So I cruised the galaxy, looking for meaning and answers. Going everywhere I could. And when it came down to it, I am a healer. I've always been a healer. A healer first, before a Jedi."


     His voice was even softer than before now. "This is my favorite place in the station now. When I first came, I avoided this side of the station, taking the long ways around whenever possible. It used to scare me to death to see that beige dot... and that little white star where I lived the only part of my life I could remember. But now... I'm at peace with it all, Qui. The screams in my dreams stopped. And that smell of death has pulled itself from my nose. And those images... they aren't all I think about when I look out this window any more. The force... it is magic, it is strong, it is love, it is everything in this world that is important and good altogether... but it doesn't mean that everything that is good must be one with the force."


     Qui-Gon was silent. Very silent.


     The healer turned to the Jedi Padawan, tears in his eyes. "Do you understand now, Qui?"


     With a soft nod and open arms, Qui-Gon replied, "Every word. Is it too late to tell you I'b broud of you add thig you did the right thig?" In answer, Tala leaned over and fell into the embrace willingly, his now flowing tears buried in the collar of his own suit on his friend's back. Qui-Gon ran his hand up and down Tala's back as comfortingly as possible. "Shhh... it's all right."


     "I dow," came the muffled reply from Qui-Gon's shoulder. There was a loud sniff, then he continued. "I had to follow my heart. I didn't care what happened to me when I made that decision. I had to do what I thought was right."


     "You did, Tala," said the man who had empathy for all living things.


     "Not according to the Jedi Council."


     "They did't udderstad you thed. Add they do dow."


     Tala broke away, running his sleeve under his eyes to wipe away the tears. Qui-Gon shook his head and pulled the handkerchief out of his back pocket, rubbing the tear trails away for him. Tala sniffed and put on a weak smile, "And you always understood me."


     "Hey," Qui-Gon said with an innocent shrug, "What are good frieds for?"


     Tala shrugged back. "For the kind of advice that kept an ex-Jedi initiate going these last few years. No one else could ever know me as well as you do, Qui-Gon Jinn."


     Qui-Gon smiled, holding up his milkshake. "To old frieds."


     Smiling back and clunking his glass in a toast, "to old friends." It was that clunk of friendship that seemed to echo against the large window for the duration of their presence there.

At the docking bay the next morning...


     "I'm sorry to have to go so soon," Qui-Gon said as Tala walked him across the long rows of ships to his small transport shuttle that would be returning to Coruscant. "And I'm sorry I spent my whole visit here sick." He rubbed at his nose with one hand, while the other carried his baggage.


     "I'm glad you're feeling better, that's all." He smiled. "Thanks for coming. You... do have the disk?" he asked nervously.


     "Of course. Oh wait..." he pulled a handkerchief from his robes and held it up and at the ready. "ehhhh..." he panted into it, eyes narrowing, then closing altogether. "hehKishhh! ehhhIshhh! ehhhChishooo!"


     "Arnup'tchow, my friend." He handed over two fresh handkerchiefs. "Just in case the trip is longer than you might expect. You do look considerably better, though." This was true, for Qui-Gon's eyes were bright, his face with normal, soft peach tints. His nose, though red around the end was doing a fair less amount of sniffling and sneezing, and the resulting congestion was so little that his speech was back to normal.


     "You did an excellent job taking care of me." It was small talk. He hated small talk, especially with Tala. But after last night, there was little else to say. But he took a deep breath and let that little else spill through, "You know you would have made a fine--"


     Nodding, "I know. And no, I don't blame them any longer. Not even Master Sio."


     "Two minutes to take-off," a man said as he walked by and slapped Qui-Gon on the back.


     "Sure," Qui-Gon said, and both friends felt a natural reaction to speed up their goodbye.


     "You take care, all right? And get enough rest to take care of that cold."


     Qui-Gon nodded. "I will. And you take care of the station... and look for a replacement, too."


     "I will."


     They embraced lightly, kissing each other's cheek in formal goodbye as they had done when last they parted company at the academy. Qui-Gon started into the ship through the side door when he turned and looked Tala over a minute. "We'll see each other again soon."


     With a nod, "I know, I can sense it, too. You be safe, my friend."


     "And you, mine." He raised his hand in a wave goodbye as the hatch door slowly closed in front of him.


     Tala stood and watched the take off as the shuttle headed out towards that little white speck of light he knew was the sun of Coruscant. Then he turned with a sigh, suddenly feeling quite empty. It was a feeling he was nearly compelled to visit the station's center to quench. That is, until a member of the docking crew, feverish and shivering, stumbled his way. With a smile and a sense of duty, he wrapped his own healer's robes around the man's shoulders and put his arm around him to escort the man to the med center.



*      *      *


     Hard to imagine that was almost a week ago. I came down with the cold the day after the goodbye and due to this blasted epidemic of germs I wasn't able much sleep, which is probably why it's with me still. It's made for a few embarrassing, hypocritical moments. I've even threatened to suspend my own duty hours if I didn't start listening to my own advice. But when it all comes down to it, I am a healer. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health.

     "ehh- hehIPSH! HEPHSH!" I rubbed my nose against my sleeve; at this point, I would have much preferred to be 'in health'. Picking up my dishes and depositing them in the receptacles, I then headed back to the med center. "ehh...ehhhHISH! hehhh...hehIHHshh! EKSHH!" I had a rather long line of patients waiting to be poked, prodded and diagnosed upon my return. While the medical droids were busy evaluating them, I knew it would still be a long afternoon. "hehhIHSHH! ehhKISHH! heh...ehhhh...hehCHISHH!" My sleeve was growing too wet for my liking, and I hadn't had time to send my robes to be cleaned what with the constant intake of patients and the research involved in finding replacements. "ehhh...hehh..." I lifted my other arm this time, my cold, red, sore nose being pushed into the velvet. "ehhhhIIPPHHHCHAH!"


     "Healer Tala," came a soft voice to my left.


     I stopped, realizing I hadn't made it more than a few feet down the hall. Looking down, I found little Jamie's face smiling up at me. "Good day Jabie," I snuffled, lowering my arm and sniffing strongly to get rid of congestion in lieu of a good, hefty blow of my nose. As wonderful as the lad was, I really would have preferred to be left alone. I was tired and congested and tired and stressed and tired and sick and tired as well. Perhaps a few stern words would do the trick. "What did I tell you about wadderig the statiod alode?" Annoyed at how stuffy I sounded, I rubbed my nose on my sleeve and snuffled into it a few times strongly.


     Jamie nodded. "I'm not. I was just going to get some soup and crackers for Mommy cuz she caught what I... what Elwin had." He reached up and took my hand in his before I could react. "But first, you need to be in bed."


     He was cute; I'd give him that. But he had no idea the amount of work that lay ahead of me that day. Besides, I certainly knew what was best for myself. I laughed. "It's ok, Jamie. I'm a Healer; I can take care of myself."


     Shaking his head, "If you could, you'd be in bed with someone to bring you soup like I am with Mommy. Come on, to bed with you."


     He was full of energy and seemed adamant, so I allowed the boy to pull me along towards the med center, but still protested. "Look, Jamie, I cannot go to bed. I have work to do. There are people that count on me and need me..."


     "Right now, all you need is bed and some juice." The boy skipped along, his little legs unable to keep up with my quick-paced walking.


     And then, that familiar, tickly feeling in my nose was back. I turned to the side, sneezing freely, strongly, and unfortunately wetly. "ehhhIHSH! heehhKESH!"


     "And a hanky," he added with a giggle. "Arnup'tchow, Healer Tala."


     It was, I think, the first time anyone had ever said that to me. And after a few weeks of my saying in almost constantly, it was a very welcome change. He led me into my quarters and straight to the bed before I knew it. And I felt my whole body pull me down, urging me to rest. And for a man who's entire future had rested on the following of his instincts, I simply gave in and obeyed. As the station's sick healer, I realized that if I didn't get over this, I wouldn't be much of a healer at all. And I was getting a little tired of the medical droid alert lights going off whenever I sneezed near one. Taking comfort in the pillows and blankets, I curled up in bed, surrounded by warmth. "Tell ode of the bedical droids I'll be takig a little sleeb," I managed, eyes already closed, mouth opening wide with a strong yawn.


     The boy agreed. "I will. Sleep well, Healer Tala."


     With another yawn, I nodded. "Thags Jabie."


     "You're welcome. Friends take care of each other when they're sick. Sweet dreams..." I believe that's all he said. Whether it was or not, that's the last I heard as I drifted straight to sleep, thinking of this cold as a trifle if it was the sacrifice needed in getting to see my oldest and dearest friend again.