Title: To be a Master
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Star Wars, many years before TPM
Characters: Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn, Healer Tala D'Marke
Rating: G
Spoilers: Hints at the eventual downfall of Xan but nothing else
Disclaimer: I love Star Wars, but I did not create it, nor do I receive money for playing with the fandom like this. I did create Healer Tala, but again, it's not my universe and I don't get a cent for this.

Summary: The Aesculapius, the Jedi's medical ship that was Tala's idea returns to Coruscant for the first time since its departure. Since the lads last saw each other, Tala has served five years exploring the galaxy and saving lives, and Qui-Gon has passed his final tests to become a full Jedi. Here, the two meet up. Qui wrestles with the decision of taking on a padawan learner.



To be a Master


     Qui-Gon straightened his robes in the mirror impatiently for the fifth time. With a sigh, he stormed over to his com panel. "Rizza, at what time did the Aesculapius dock?"


     There was a pause, then a buzzed reply from the docking station, "two standard hours now."


     Thick fingers swept over the panel as he muttered, "Thank you." His fingers then ran over the top of his head, the hair inches in length all around and flowing back in a stream out of his face. Everything had felt out of place all day, and this was simply making it worse. It was the first docking of the Jedi's medical ship on home world, which meant a triumphant celebration banquet that Qui-Gon had somehow been put in charge of by Yoda who had not ceased to deliver orders to the Jedi as if the two were still Master and Padawan. But Qui-Gon had been most excited at the ship's arrival because of the friend the ship carried, Tala D'Marke, his old roommate at the academy and perhaps dearest of his friends from that time. He'd planned for weeks to meet the ship on the docking pad but a prerecorded transmission from Tala that morning had instructed him not to; it also inferred that Tala would make contact as soon as they'd arrived and settled.


     It had been two hours already, and still no call of any sort. Qui-Gon sensed something wrong indeed, but the specifics were being hidden well from him. Where was Tala? Why hadn't there been contact yet? 'If something is wrong,' Qui-Gon reasoned to himself. 'Tala and the others would probably be at the healing dome, seeing as they are healers.' In a single flowing movement, he grabbed his robe, pulled it over himself and closed the door behind him on his way out.


     The snow coming down was wet and cold, the sort of snow that is useless for building snowmen but not thick enough to impede any ships from going about their business. It chilled Qui-Gon as he hurried out of the halls and across the straightaway to the soft white glow of the healing dome.


     Only seconds after he had stepped out, his arm was pulled by a man passing by, who stopped him in his tracks with a frown. "Jedi Jinn... you didn't reply. It's been nearly five days."


     Qui-Gon sighed, snow falling upon his face as he looked up at the green-faced, orange-haired man. "I have been busy with the reception, Master Gou-Rine" he fibbed, trying to block that fact from the man who could undoubtedly tell. His nose was running from the cold, and he rubbed it, putting effort and concentration into that feeling alone.


     The man only smiled back knowingly, cocking his head to the side. "We want your decision in two days time, no later or we'll not be able to give you an assignment if you wanted one." He paused, reaching over and patting Qui-Gon on the head through the robe's hood. "We do want you to take on a Padawan learner, Qui-Gon. If you wish it..."


     It was getting colder by the minute, and he was not a step closer to locating Tala. "What I wish is to be indoors where it is warm, Gou-Rine." Better not to give an answer in haste, especially one he'd been avoiding for seasons now. Before, they had hinted, they had prodded... but now they were asking, almost begging. He sighed, "But I will give you my decision in time."


     Satisfied, the man gave a bit of a bow. "That is all I ask, Jedi Jinn. Oh, and if you see Yulip, tell him he owes me money for the races. He should knew better than to make a bet with a Jedi Master."


     All that Qui-Gon was focusing on was getting to the dome. He'd be warm and able to dry off, and he'd hug Tala and begin to hear all about the travels. "Yes Master. May the force be with you."


     "And with you, Qui-Gon."


     Qui-Gon hurried along, leaving the man behind, staring up at the traffic in the city skies. "Force!" he grumbled when he was well out of hearing distance. "All week I've avoided him." As excited he was at the prospect of taking on a Padawan learner, and as pleased he was that the council had so much visible faith in his abilities, something in the force was holding him back. It was not immediate, it simply lingered in the future, just out of reach, just out of sight. Something, he knew, would go terribly wrong no matter which way he decided. And the force seemed hesitant to show him the correct path. Or perhaps he was having trouble blocking out his fixation with this terrible thing in order to listen closely to what the force was telling him. Either way, he was hesitant to make the decision and he certainly didn't want to deal with it now, in the cold and the snow.


It was truly a short walk, but Qui-Gon was soaked by the time he stepped inside the dome. He pulled off his robe and rubbed his hand furiously up and down one arm, then cupped his hand over his nose and mouth. Eyes slowly closed, body pulled back with a deep breath, then swayed forward, "ah-Ehshoo!" He pulled a handkerchief out from his back pocket. Sniffling, he gave his nose a bit of a wipe, then tucked it away again. He ran his hand through his hair again, and folded his soggy robe over one arm.


     A medical droid greeted him at the entrance, "Please state your name and malady."


     Qui-Gon smirked. This was the first time he'd ever been there not to be examined. "I'm looking for Healer Tala D'Marke who--"


     "The requested healer is not stationed here. He currently serves upon the Jedi medical ship Aesculapius." The droid's lights seemed to blink impatiently at him.


     Well, that was certainly no help. What to do now? A healer passing from one room to the next caught Qui-Gon's eye, and he raised his hand to gain attention, exclaiming, "Master Arnoch!"


     The Jedi master raised his head from his datapad, putting on a smile. "Why, Qui-Gon! You look so much older than last we spoke. How are you, lad?"


     "Very well," Qui-Gon replied. Master Arnoch happened to look a bit older than Qui-Gon remembered, too. Well aged, like a fine wine. Thick white hair circling his head, bushy white brows, kind violet eyes. "And yourself?" He wanted to ask about Tala immediately, but knew he couldn't be so impolite as that.


     The master, fortunately, knew better. "Fine, lad. I had Tala move the bags and supplies of our crew to their quarters. I thought it best he stay out of the way--"


     Grinning, "Thank you! May the force be with you!" he bounced excitedly.


     The aged master nodded. "And with you, young Jedi."


     Qui-Gon dashed off toward the visitor quarters, shivering once as he pulled the wet robe over himself, and again when he was back in the wet snow. It was coming down now more like a cold rain mixed with hail. Nothing hurt falling, but it soaked into the robe, into his tunic, into his skin, freezing. He was shivering constantly by the time he reached the visitors' quarters. They were nothing so lovely as the sparse normal quarters devoted to the Jedi. A few rooms were reserved for dignified ambassadors, royalty, senate leaders. But the rest were run down stone rooms with wooden pallets and running water, all molded together so that as a unit they wouldn't look so bad.


Inside the hallway, out of the snow, Qui-Gon stripped off his robe again, wringing it out and folding it over his arm. Then he found a heat vent on the wall and squatted down in front of it. His nose was running again and he gave it a good blow and wipe. He was beginning to grow a moustache and certainly did not want to appear unkempt in front of Tala. Of course the man had seen him at his worst, but that was hardly the point. It had been years since they had seen each other, and longer yet since the ex-Jedi student had been forced to leave Coruscant. Qui-Gon rubbed his hands together and flapped the folds of his tunic in the warm air to dry it. Meanwhile, he scanned the area for the familiar sense of Tala, and found it just a few doors down. Things were certainly starting to go right. Feeling sufficiently warmed, he sniffed his nose clear and straightened, heading straight over to room V56 and buzzing hello.


     He waited a while. Then a while longer. He buzzed again. And waited. He hesitated to call out Tala's name, in case he'd made a mistake in whose room it was. But it was minutes before the door finally opened.


     Just as Qui-Gon had sensed, it was Tala. But he looked awful. Normally, he had an awkward, gangly, geeky sort of look about him. Tall, lanky, features too big for his face. But he had strong eyes, a sweet smile, and a sense of devoted caring which got him through any wall a patient might put up. Normally, he was not the most handsome or the most charming. But today... today he looked awful. His face was pale, his eyes looked tired. He was dressed in an over-sized green Jedi healer robe which fell over his form loosely. He held a balled up tissue in one hand, and his other hand was inside the sleeve, the cuff hanging over. Qui-Gon blinked away a look of surprise, "You look awful, Tala."


     He smiled, looking down at the ground as he bid the man come in. "Have't seed sniff, sniff, each other id five years add that's the best you could do sniff for a hello?"


     Qui-Gon smiled back, a bit embarrassed, then reached out and patted him on the back shoulder blade. "It's so good to see you again, Tala."


     "Thadks, sniff, sniff, Qui. Sniff! Good to see you, too." He rubbed a finger beneath his sniffley nose and then pulled back. "Please excuse..." his breathing ran quick. "Thidk I've got to...to...hehh--" he turned, moving both hands up, palms pressed together, with his nose, mouth, and the tissue in between. His hands and face were hidden almost entirely by the long, cumbersome sleeves as his breath caught and he bent forward. "--Ehshoo! heehh-Ehktchoo!" He gathered his breath but lingered in place a moment. "Excuse be."


     Qui-Gon quietly shut the door behind, leaving the room dank and dark but private. "Arnup'tchow," he whispered softly, with concern. "Sick, Tala? You?"


     Tala nodded, presently blowing his nose. "Sick, ideed," he answered, lowering his hands with a sigh. "I ab sorry for not codtactidg you sooder. I was hobidg by health would ibrove buch bore--"


     With a laugh, and a pat on the shoulder "Tala, I can't understand half of what you're saying!"


     The man dabbed the tissue at his nose, then rubbed his forehead. "I'b sorry."


     Shrugging, "Don't be. Come, sit down a little and we'll talk. You look like you're going to fall over from fatigue."


     "Heh," he chuckled, allowing the Jedi to pull him to a crate to sit. "You ared't far off there."


     They sat down on a crate, the whole room was filled with them. Crates of medical supplies, of standard issue blankets and pillows, bedpans and pills, bioreaders and pads, books and papers. Tala sat on one side, leaning against the wall for support, his arm, shoulder, waist and side of head all up against it. He sat cross-legged, his other hand with tissue in it resting in the space between his body and his bent legs. He sighed, closing his eyes.


     //Better, yes?// Qui-Gon's tone was comforting, warming, soothing.


     Nodding, Tala agreed. "Yes."


     "Good." He reached out and took Tala's hand, holding it gently. "Now, blow your nose, cough, and speak slowly."


     The healer, blushing, did just that. "I was sayig that I hobed--"




     A nod yes. "I hobed that I would be rid of this head cold before seeig you agaid."


     Qui-Gon brought his legs up in front of him, knees bent, legs crossed, his arms wrapping around them. "As I recall on our last visit with each other, I was the one with a cold. We seem to have bad luck at this."


     "Bad luck," Tala repeated in agreement. "But I am glad to see you. It's beed so lodg!"


     "Yes, so long," Qui-Gon said. "Many changes."


     At this, Tala grinned. "Yes! You, a Jedi!" He squeezed the man's hand. "So broud of you whed I heard the dews! Little Qui, a real, full Jedi!"


     There were few people in this world who could have gotten away with calling him anything remotely similar to 'Little Qui' but Tala was indeed one. "Thank you."


     "Of course I dew you would do it," he continued, looking so happy. "You have such rebarkable..." he stopped short, cupping his tissue hand over his nose and mouth. He pulled his other away just in time. "ehhhKetchah! hehhhEhshooo! Ektchah!!"


     "Arnup'tchow," Qui returned, watching the man struggle. "Do you not have a hanky?"


     Tala shrugged, sniffling. "It's backed id a box subwhere." Then he blew his nose again, softly, as the tissue was dying.


     "Packed somewhere?" Qui-Gon attempted to decipher.


     The healer nodded, looking miserable.


     Qui-Gon offered his own, of course with the warning, "It's just slightly used, I'm afraid."


     But Tala grabbed hold immediately, rubbing his nose dry quite thankfully. "There's dothig," he said in between blows, "sniff, sniff! There's sniff, sniff, nothing so bad sniff, as a Healer with a head cold and no hanky."


     Qui-Gon smiled. "Keep it. So..." he stretched his legs out, over the edge of the crate, and sat back against the wall. "These are your quarters here?"


     He nodded, rubbing his nose. He stood and walked over to the other corner where a few boxes sat around a make-shift nest, a few standard issue blankets and pillows tangled on the floor. "I was takig a dap... sniff, sniff. Oh, excuse be agaid..." he cupped his hands over the lower portion of his face. "ehhh-Ehshhh! hheh-Hetch-uhh! ehhhEhtchhh! Sniff, sniff!" And blew his nose a half dozen times while Qui-Gon patiently looked on. "I was napping when you came. Not very comfortable, but at least it's dry and warm. The environmental controls seem to keep things nicely regulated here. The ship was freezing coming in, so Master Arnoch lent me his robe." He held his arms up, the large sleeves flopping against the thin, bony arms. "I don't think it suits me... but it keeps me warm enough."


     Qui-Gon smiled. Years ago, it was still a sensitive subject, but now Tala treated it as if banishment from the academy were simply commonplace. "No, Tala. That shade of green was never your color." He stood was well, making a sweeping gesture with his hand. "Come, I'll show you around. There have been many changes in the last few years. And we'll get a bite to eat for lunch. There's a reception for you all tonight, I'm sure you know." He paused, stuffing his hands into the front pouch pockets of the robe. "Uh, as long as you feel up to it?" How sick was the man feeling? How much was he hiding?


     Tala forced a cough to clear his throat. "I'd be delighted, Qui-Gon. As lodg as by sdeezig doesd't bother... bother you?" he quickly backed away a step or two, raising the handkerchief. "ehh-Ekeshh! Heh-Heshooo! Sniff sniff! Speakig of theb... Sniff, sniff, sniff! Excuse be!" He gave his nose a few short blows.


     "Tala, it's been five years since we've talked face to face. If you feel well enough, a few sneezes don't bother me in the least."


     "Good," Tala said with a meek smile, rubbing his nose. "Because I defiditely have the sdeezes today... ehh... heh-Ihhhhshh! hehh-Ehshh!"


     "Arnup'tchow," Qui-Gon blessed him again as the two headed to the door.


     After dabbing his nose and clearing his throat, "I believe that's my line?"


     Qui-Gon gave a light, innocent shrug. "I've always thought it was cute. Besides, bet you've never had anyone bless you the way you bless everyone else?"


     Smiling, "Hardly anyone." He clapped his friend on the back in thank you and closed the door behind them.


*                      *                      *


     The afternoon went better than Qui-Gon had expected it to, considering his friend's poor health. They'd seen quite a few key spots of the city, including taking a small shuttle past most of the taller skyscrapers and just past the council's tower which had been a somewhat healing experience for Tala after all the negativity that had occurred there for him. He had grown up as a prospective Jedi, and had known no other life than the Jedi ways and the ways of healing. It was only fitting that even after banishment he still have the Jedi as coworkers and friends. They had ended their talks early so that Qui-Gon would have time to finish preparations for the banquet. Tala took the opportunity to take a warm bath and unclog his sinuses a bit.


     The banquet itself was going remarkably well. Just the right mix of music and food. Everyone was mingling well, with small talk in a few places and deeper conversations in most others. Qui-Gon had a chance to apologize to Master Arnoch for their briefly-ended conversation earlier, and he also got another suggestive lecture from Yoda about becoming a Master. It had not been long since he and Yoda had become peers rather than Master and Padawan, and it was still an odd feeling to hear Yoda speaking so casually without direct orders or instructions. "Fear change you do not. Fear responsibility you do not. You fear the idea of fearing these, I think. Live with such an unprecedented fear you should not."


     Qui-Gon knew Yoda was right, that the only reason he was reluctant at all was the odd feeling he had whenever he considered opening himself up to a student as a master. Odd because it was new... but odd because there was some sort of problem that would arise. But he had no idea what would go wrong, and it was pointless to fear something he did not know. It was pointless to fear at all when the force was with him. The force would always show him what to do. But it had not yet told him to take on a Padawan now.


     Shaking the thoughts from the front of his mind, Qui-Gon decided to find Tala. He hadn't seen the man at all that evening, and was eager to continue to catch up. The banquet hall was large to accommodate all the Jedi from initiates to council members, as well as the crew of The Aesculapius though there were only nine of those, not counting droids. Everyone wore formal attire, robes in most cases which were large and bulky, and the crowds were busiest around the buffet tables. So Qui-Gon began in the front, scanning outward and moving slowly. He sensed the man was there somewhere, but things were cloudy and there were so many Jedi's speaking telepathically that he was certain Tala with limited abilities would not be able to hear him from afar.


     It was nearly half an hour later when Tala finally located his healer friend. Tala was sitting in a corner chair, half hidden by a plant. His elbow was propped up on the arm, his head on his hand there. His legs were pulled up on the chair, bent and curled, and he looked cold in a mere dress shirt, tight slacks, and boots. Qui-Gon bent down beside the chair, a hand on Tala's shoulder to steady him. //Tala. Wake up. I'm going to take you to bed, Tala.//


     Tala stirred, snapping awake in a panicked moment.


     //It's all right, it's Qui-Gon.// He made eye contact with his friend. //You fell asleep here at the banquet.//


     Tala nodded, a sneezey expression passing over his face. He quickly raised a dark handkerchief which matched his outfit to his mouth and nose. "heh-ehhhhshhhh! Ehhh.. Iheshhoo!"


     "Arnup'tchow." Qui-Gon reached over with the back of his hand and felt Tala's cheeks and then forehead. //You've got a fever. You need to be in bed.//


     Tala nodded, rubbing the side of his hand beneath his nose and shivering slightly. He reached out a hand and Qui-Gon gripped his arm, and pulled him up with a hand on his back. Tala leaned against Qui-Gon as the man wrapped an arm around his waist. He took a few steps toward the exit, then stopped, turning around. "Baster Ardoch..."


     Qui-Gon located the man across the room. "He's fine. Talking with Yoda."


     Tala cupped a hand over his nose and mouth quickly. "ehh-Ihshoo! hetchuh!"


     Qui-Gon tried again to guide the man out, but Tala protested, shaking his head, sniffling madly. "Baster Ardoch... I deed to... he deeds to rest... I'll talk to Baster Yo... Yoda... ehhh..." He rubbed and wiggled his nose, trying to get rid of the tickle. "ehhhh..." he looked confused, desperate, weak. And people were starting to notice.


     Qui-Gon pulled Tala against him, his friend's face against the shoulder and front of his robes. Then he wrapped his arm around, to hide the thin man's form as much as he could in the extra folds of cloth. "Go ahead and sneeze. I've got you."


     Giving in, Tala shook his head, but sneezed. "ehh-Effshhh! Heh-Ahshhh!" The sneezes took quite a lot out of him, and he fell weakly into Qui-Gon's ready arms.


     Qui-Gon closed his eyes and did a rudimentary, brief but effective sweep of the man. //You must get to bed right now. You're running a terribly high temperature and you're going to be sneezing and coughing much more in a minute. You know very well Master Arnoch can handle himself. Whatever it is, I am certain he would rather wish you recovering in bed rather than fighting a cold in the middle of a banquet hall.//


     Tala pulled back, looking up at Qui-Gon, who was just a little taller than he was. "Take be back to by quarters?"


     Qui-Gon nodded, leading the man out and down the halls, with his friend leaning on him and sniffling constantly. They made it down and over to the visitor's section in no time, and Qui-Gon made sure Tala was safely in his quarters before he relaxed again.



*                      *                      *


     It was late into the night when the buzzing roused Qui-Gon from his dreams. He stumbled across the room wearing thick sleep pants and a thin tunic which hung off his frame, exposing his chest to the cold night air. He knew it was Tala before he even opened the door, but it was still a bit of a surprise to see the man standing there when he opened it.


     Tala looked much more awful than he had earlier that day. His usually messed hair was tangled and dripping, hanging straight down the sides of his head. His face was a pale white, save red cheeks and nose, and eyes a bloodshot red to match. He was still wearing the clothes from the banquet, having not changed for bed. But now he had a gray blanket draped over his shoulders which he clutched to his chest as he shivered. He blinked, then began, "Qui--"


     "Come in." Qui-Gon did not allow him the courtesy of finishing, immediately pulling him inside and closing the door behind, bolting it shut. "Come in where it's warm." He pulled the soaking wet blanket off his friend, depositing it in a heap by the door with his damp robe. Tala looked like a drowned rat, a skinny, sniffley, sick drowned rat who seemed very much to need a friend and "a change of clothes will help. Stay right here, OK?" he spoke softly, and the man had no choice but to obey, standing, dripping, sniffling.


     Tala tried his best to explain his presence. "The roob sniff, sniff, flooded add sniff the heat circuits were dabaged. Sniff! Sniff! Sniff! It's wet add sniff  freezig id dere. Sniff, sniff!"


In the dark, Qui-Gon fumbled around, brining back some sleep pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a few extra handkerchiefs.  "Well, it's dry and warm in here."


     "I sniff, sniff! I did't dow sniff! where else to go. Sniff! Sniff! Baster Ardoch would't wake. I was so cold, Qui."


     "Shhhh," Qui-Gon hushed as he attempted to guide his lethargic friend out of his soaked garments and into the dry ones. He knew Tala was telling only a half truth in this, but this was not the time to confront him. He rubbed Tala's face and nose dry and wrapped the thick, downy comforter from his own bed around Tala. Then he walked Tala to the couch and forced him to take a seat.


     Tala melted into the blanket, pulling it tight around himself and over his head like a hood. He shivered but sighed as the warmth washed through him.


     "There now, better, yes?"


     "Yes," Tala answered, moving under the blanket to get a handkerchief up in time. His face fell with the soft, weak expression of dreaded expectation. The handkerchief hung in front a moment, ready and waiting. Then the two met as Tala was tossed forward. "ehh-heshhh! Ihh-Cetchhh! Hehhh-Ehshoo!"


     "Arnup'tchow," Qui-Gon whispered, heading towards the lamp. "Shade your eyes, lights." He flipped the lights on, and the small lamp filled the dark room with a meager yellow glow. Then he headed into the kitchenette, turning the light on there as well, though it was still dim in the room. "Tea, Tala?"


     Tala nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, yes blease!" and blew his nose. Then he pulled the blanket up over the lower portion of his face, sniffling, only his eyes exposed now. "I ab sorry to idcodvediedce you so late." He looked terribly guilty about it all, too.


     Qui-Gon returned moments later with two steaming cups of tea. He sat on the couch beside Tala and handed the tea over carefully. "Not at all. I was having trouble sleeping myself." No need to make the man feel scared, sick and guilty.


     "Liar," Tala called him, sipping the tea and holding it close, letting the steam warm him. "You were fast asleeb add... add... dreab... ig... Qui... I'b godd sdeeze" he waved his hand in front of his face, "agaid..." and he reached for the handkerchief. He held his tea out a foot in front and tried to brace himself. "ehhh-Heshh! Ehh-Ehshoo! heh-Chushhoo!" He sniffled, rubbing at his nose and with the handkerchief blotted the drops of tea spilt on the comforter. Then he mumbled a soft, shamed, "DO excuse be," before blowing his nose again and again.


     "More than excused my friend. How are you feeling tonight? No better than when I left you?"


     He shook his head. "Worse, I'b afraid." He rubbed his nose with his wrist. "Very sdeezey. Add by fever's bakig everything fuzzy. I ab id your quarters, ared't I?"


     Qui-Gon nodded, feeling a little more concerned with the man's health than whatever brought him there. "If you were your healer, then, what would you tell yourself to do? Medicines? Sleep? Meditations?"


     Tala sniffled, closing his eyes. "I could use all of the above, I thig."


     Qui-Gon got up, patting his friend on the head. "Then let's take it one at a time." He ducked back to the stove and poured another cup of tea. Meanwhile he did his best to draw a peaceful circle around their room, blocking out all worries and distractions. Blocking out anyone who may have been harmful. With the tea in one hand, he helped Tala stand back up. "Relax and come to bed."


     Tala sniffled, shaking his head. "Dot your bed... you'll get sick, Qui... I'll sleeb od de... couch... " he raised his hand to his face. "ehh-Ehshhh! heh-Keshoo! Ehhh-Ehshoo!"


     "You're sick and sneezey and you need a good rest. You're sleeping in my bed until you're well and that's final." He pushed the sniffling man along, taking the comforter off, helping him under the sheets, then pulling all the blankets up around him.


     "ehh-Heshhh! Ah-Chishh! Ehh-Chishoo!"


     Qui-Gon smiled, rubbing the man's nose dry with a fresh handkerchief. "Arnup'tchow." He then thrust the tea over. "Here, drink and relax. Feel the..." he trailed off, biting his lip.


     "The force," Tala answered in a whisper. "You can say it, Qui-Gon. Just because I was badished does't bead I dod't have bidi-chloriads." He paused, looking Qui-Gon over. "You've your owd lightsaber dow."


     Nodding at the hint, Qui-Gon reached over to the bed stand and picked it up, handing it with care and respect. "I don't wear it to bed, but it's nearby if I need it." He raised an eyebrow. "It's near enough."


     Appeased, Tala took a few sips of the tea. Suddenly, he pulled back, burying his nose in the crook of his elbow, against the dry sleeve. "ehh-Ehhshooo! ehhChishh! heh-Kechh! Heh-ehhshhh! heh-ehhh...ehh-Ihhshhh! ehh-Chishhoo! Ehh-Heshoo!"


     "Arnup'tchow!" Qui-Gon exclaimed, providing his skill in rubbing the nose dry yet again. "Didn't notice the taste of your own remedy?"


     Sniffling, "Crushed Ryanth Root?"


     Qui-Gon nodded affirmatively. "I always keep a little around. You know how I can't seem to help catching colds so often."


     "Hobe you dod't... catch bide," he snuffled between sips. "I ab sorry... for stobbig id... like this."


     Qui-Gon sat down on the edge of the bed, a hand towel in hand. He began to gently dry the man's hair and continued to send a comforting vibe into the air. "Not a problem, my friend. I'll get you a cool washcloth for your forehead when your hair is dried. And I'll stay here at your side until you fall asleep. And then my lightsaber and I will only be as far as the couch." The brown hair was black from being wet, and slowly returned to its normal shade as Qui-Gon rubbed it dry. No sense in going to bed with wet hair, that wouldn't help him at all.


     Tala yawned, setting down an empty cup, struggling to keep his eyes open. "Thadk you, by friedd...sniff, sniff! You're so carig add devoted. You'll be a good Jedi Baster ode day."


     Qui-Gon was a bit taken aback. Hesitantly, "How...?"


     He smiled, giving a second yawn, rolling to his side and curling up halfway beneath the covers. "I've dowd you for as log as I cad rebeber, Qui. I cad tell whed subethig's bothering you."


     Distant, thoughtful, Qui-Gon looked not down at his friend but across the room. "I sense something will go wrong if I become a Master."


     "You wadt to hear subethig goig wrodg? A devoted, lovig Baster who gives his life for his outcast studedt, who dedies--" he stopped to cough and blow his nose, continuing on sounding a little clearer through the congestion. "A master who denies his own fagile health to fulfill his dejected student's dreams, who would rather die than give up on his student, who would rather die than see another conveniently take his place. And he would rather come back and fight the council head-on through the night without rest until he's able to continue to serve his place. And when it's all said and done, Qui-Gon, he'll be remembered for the lives he saved, for the love he gave, for the devotion and loyalty and the self sacrifice a Master should have... not for the fact that ultimately, his decision not only killed him but wronged him." He yawned again, closing his eyes. "Things go wrong in this life, Qui-Gon. Things go wrong that seemed to be within your control to correct. But if you follow the purity of the force, even goodness can come out of something gone wrong." He yawned again. "I must sleep."


     Qui-Gon, blinking back tears, nodded. He patted Tala on the shoulder tenderly. "Sleep well."


     "Thadks... sniff, sniff... you will be a good Jedi Baster, Qui-God." And with a final yawn, Tala was back to sleep.


*                      *                      *


     Tala slept through breakfast, late into the morning, and early into the afternoon. A few stopped by to see him, including Master Arnoch himself. But Qui-Gon wouldn't let a soul disturb his sleeping friend. The fever had broken in the night, and Qui-Gon could sense peaceful dream after dream coming upon the snoring healer like healing waves of the force.


     Master Yoda, when questioned, had admitted to the council being responsible for displacing the man from the room last night... with perhaps a bit too much force. A fight among Jedi Masters was no place for a sick, Jedi-rejected man. He also admitted, quite reluctantly, that the council was again aligned with Master Arnoch's decision to remain on The Aesculapius for the duration of his life, however brief that might be, and however many problems that might present should he die with the ship far from Coruscant. In the end, it came down to the high Jedi Master denying not just his health but his position; that's what it took for him to remain.


     And Qui-Gon countered the admissions with the only thing he could offer, an agreement to take on a Padawan Learner, and face whatever would come of it. The bad along with the good.


     Qui-Gon settled back down on the bed beside Tala, arms akimbo with hands beneath his head. He stared up at the ceiling with a smile, realizing that his friend, though removed from the Jedi academy while still young, though bereft of serious training, though haven never taken the final test, was more acquainted with the Jedi ways than he would ever be. He sighed, feeling the force call out to him, welcoming him into his new decision with warmth and assurance. The Jedi closed his eyes, attuning his breaths with those of his snoring friend, letting them slow to the breathing patterns of sleep. His mind cleared, his heart slowed, his body relaxed. And as he drifted off to sleep, he called out a soft //Thank you//  to Tala.


     Perhaps it was only in dream, or perhaps in a moment of shared dreamscape itself, but whatever it was, Qui-Gon swore he heard his friend answer //May the force be with you always.//