(There is a knock at Q’ayla’s door)
Q’ayla? You out of the refresher?
(Irsin can hear faint noise coming from beyond her door, which suddenly fades. After a few more moments…)
Is that you, Irsin? Yeah, come on in – I’m just finishing up.
(The door opens into her darkened room; Irsin, used to turning the lights on himself flips the switch on his way in)
How are you doing?
(The door to her refresher is open a crack; after another minute, Q’ayla emerges, rustling a towel through her hair. She is dressed in a black tanktop and matching shorts, and in this outfit, the pale condition of her skin is even more striking, though she appears to be acting normally)
Much better after that shower. Between getting sucked into another realm, and waking up covered in slurry, I needed one.
(She finishes drying her hair, tossing the towel back into the refresher, then turns and walks towards her desk, taking up her veil before heading over to Irsin)
How are you feeling?
(Irsin stares a little uncomfortably at her too-pale skin. It’s not much but it’s just long enough to be noticeable)
Me? I’m fine, I suppose. The whole experience was very surreal. I think under the right circumstances I could believe we all just had a shared dream. Still there are… signs… that something real happened to us. But I think that in truth the least strange part of the experience, for me, was the creature we ran into at the end. I wonder if that might not be so for you and your sister.
(She’s just finishing adjusting her veil into place when she reaches him, bringing her arms up and around his neck, she hugs him)
What do you mean? I will freely admit that encountering one of my gods was unexpected, but I guess looking back on it, it wouldn’t be that strange to encounter deities in a place like that.
I mean more… the nature of the encounter, not the audience.
(Irsin disentangles himself from her arms, not forcefully or bitterly, but just slowly steps away and turns to the side)
For me he is an old presence. Not something new to understand. He and I understood each other long ago. I may never have faced him in precisely that manner. But we exchanged nothing that was new between us, even if the reasons differ.
(She lets her arms drop slowly as her gaze follows him)
Well yes… I suppose it was something new for me. I won’t speak for Q’aleane, but as far as I know, her too. It was… terrifying. Overwhelming in a way. But…
…in a way, I think I did the right thing.
You’re angry with me, though, aren’t you?
(Irsin turns towards her. His expression is hard, as though steeling himself, but there is no anger in it)
Angry? No, I’m not angry.
I’m… sad. And I’m sorry.
I wanted to protect you from this. I wanted to believe you could get in touch with your emotions and understand them, work with them, without following the same path I walked. I wanted better for you.
Now I fear I’ve been a fool.
(Q’ayla tilts her head to the side)
Why would you say that? You’re not a fool…
Irsin, it’s me. I’m still Q’ayla. I’m still not exactly sure how my… deal with him will manifest… But I don’t feel any different. I just feel like I’ve been given an opportunity. One that reinforces what I’ve been feeling about my place in the galaxy. You’re the one who thought I’d be better off outside the Jedi Order. Now… well, now that’s inevitable. I still intend to go to Taris but… I’m not sure Q’aleane will let me go anymore. Not after this. And I can sense that there’s something different about my aura in the Force. I just can’t put a finger on it yet. Anyways, talking with him— with Bogan, I felt as though my beliefs growing up had been validated, and that the Jedi were wrong. And that he has given me this opportunity… in the moment, it just felt right, despite everything else.
(She takes the few steps that bring her to him again)
Please don’t be sad, Irsin. I still love you.
(He can’t seem to help himself from smiling, if slightly, and looks down at her)
I know that, I do. I just fear what dealing with the Fanged One will do to you. He might seem like an aspect of your beliefs made manifest, but it’s never so simple with him. He takes whatever angle he can.
I hope I’m wrong…I really do.
I hope this is a fresh start for you, and you can show me the way to live like I’ve always believed we could. Neither Sith nor Jedi, but something more – something greater. Just don’t let him get to you ok? Just show him he’s bitten off more than he thinks.
(She smiles slightly, but as he talks, she begins to look away)
So then… I’m the fool, right?
You don’t believe me, about what I saw? You—
(he looks startled, confused)
I just… He always weaves so many layers, so many webs. It’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s that I fear his… usage of truth to make us feel some things which aren’t exactly so. He rarely comes out and lies. He doesn’t have to.
Does…does that make sense?
(She shakes her head, slowly)
I… don’t know…Yes?
Oh, of course it does. I—
I just want to help. I want purpose, and I want to be able to be myself. And…
…I want to love you. He can’t give these to me, he said so himself. But he can give me strength… strength no Jedi has… to find it for myself. I don’t want to be a Sith— I mean, come on, do I look like Sith material to you?
I just want to be me.
(He looks confused when she says she wants to love him. Through the fledgling bond she can feel a tug of fear and uncertainty)
You… want… to? I don’t understand. Did you ask him to help you love me?
(Her head whips to face him again)
(She seems to focus for just a moment, then her head starts quick, light shakes)
Oh no… no,no,no.
I’m just saying that I want the freedom to live how I choose. I want to be myself, and not what others want me to be. And I want to be with you. I want the freedom to love you without restriction, and without restraint. I don’t need his help to love you, Irsin. Although…
…I did ask him not to bargain with you.
(She tilts her head down, as though waiting for a rebuke; Irsin laughs. Not a small chuckle, but a full on guffaw)
Yes well, if you hadn’t tried that I’d have truly thought you were lost. We both tried that, and failed I might add. He’s not one for anyone telling him what he can and cannot have… I suppose perhaps that’s why he understood your request so well.
(Irsin says this last musingly)
At any rate, it’s a good thing you don’t want to be Sith. You’d be running the place inside a week, and I’m not sure anyone could stop you.
(Q’ayla lets out an incredulous gasp)
Well what’s that supposed that mean?!
(Her grin is one of pure impish curiosity. Irsin grins and catches her in a hug, spinning her around so her back is against his chest and her arms are pinned under his wrapped around her)
It means, that not I, nor anyone, including the Fanged One himself could stand between you and what you wanted. Not now. Not ever. And I love you for it.
(Q’ayla lets out what amounts to half light-laugh, half light-scream, then she starts fully laughing as Irsin spins her around)
Hahaha— I love you too!
And I love that you believe in me.
(As her laughing begins to dwindle, she allows herself to remain in his arms)
I have to ask though… well, a couple of things, actually…
First… why were you looking at me so uncomfortably when you first came in? I mean, other than for my crazy wet hair…
(Irsin is quiet for a time, as if not wanting to spoil the moment they are having)
Q’ayla… have you… looked in the mirror since we got back?
(She shakes her head)
Not really, no… why?
(He reaches down and lifts one of her arms up so she can look at it)
I apologize if this seems ignorant but, can you see the color of your skin? Would you notice if it was different than normal?
(She stares at her arm quizzically)
…well, I mean, not as such. Not the way you see color. I see auras in the Force. I mean, yeah, I guess different colors give off different shades the same way that the living Force does… but it’s not exactly like what you see.
(She keeps staring at her arm)
…my aura seems to be, well, darker than before…
…is something wrong with my skin?
(Irsin sighs slightly, as if he’s forcing himself to say what he would rather not)
It’s pale. Unnaturally pale.
Pale in the way that some people get when they spend long enough touching the Dark Side. It happened while we were in that… place, and you lost your temper. I thought it would go back to how it was when we returned.
It’s part of why I was so fearful of how much influence he obtained over you. Physical manifestations like that can happen at any time for different people. But… it is still a sign.
(Q’ayla begins trembling, and though only slightly, Irsin can feel it against his chest)
…I’m not angry anymore. I’m so happy right now. Being here with you. All I had to do in there was calm down, and it would go away. It would go away, right? And I am calmed down now. I apologized to Q’aleane, and to you.
I’m not angry anymore…
(Through the bond she feels a stab of worry, and more strongly than anything a feeling of protectiveness, like someone who just wants to make the fear go away)
I know you’re not love. I know. But we’re not in a place of thought anymore. You have been touched by him. And sooner or later he leaves his mark. Don’t let that fact slow down the feeling of purpose you’ve found. Just be aware of it, and it can’t control you.
(She doesn’t stop trembling)
…leaves his mark…
But— I can’t stay like this! They’ll know… the Council will know… Yev—
Yevra will know!
(Her breathing is starting to quicken)
Everyone will know! They’ll think I’ve… fallen. That I’m evil! What will they do…
What will they do to me…?
(She head starts shaking quickly in short bursts)
It’s just strength… I’m not evil. No… Irsin— what else? What else happened to me?
(In her state, she moves out of his embrace and turns to him)
Is it just my skin?!
Q’ayla— Q’AYLA! Slow down.
It’s going to be okay. I promise.
Most don’t know what it means, and out of context even those who know won’t understand. I watched it happen, I knew what it meant. Most will just think you look paler than usual. They don’t know what you’ve been through, they don’t understand— and they don’t have to. It’s not their business.
You’re not evil. You’re not. You have another perspective now. One you didn’t before, not really. It doesn’t make you evil. Look at me. I have been walking in his shadow for half my life, and all it took to pull me back from the brink was someone to believe in me. You will never lose that. Ever.
And nobody, NOBODY will ever lay a hand on you. No. One. Not unless you allow. Not Ever.
(Irsin’s grip on her hands tightens fiercely, almost to the point of hurting)
Not as long as I breathe.
(She winces slightly at the strength of his grip, and he can see her lips trembling as she continues)
But they won’t care about ‘why,’ Irsin…
Only that I’m not like them anymore…
How will I be able to explain it to them?
I’m not evil— I’m not Sith. I’m just a girl… someone who has lost years to them. How can I ever explain it now? Like you said… Bogan has touched me. He’s laid a hand on me. And now all the people in my life will look at me differently. Because of how I look… even you, Irsin. I saw how you looked at me…
(She starts to sniffle hard; continuing to tremble, she reaches a hand up under her veil and rubs at one of her eyes. Her other hand comes up and rubs at the other eye, and after a few moments, she simply reaches around and unties the cloth, removing it so that she can get at her face more easily)
Even you look at me differently…
…am I not… attractive to you anymore?
(Catching her in an embrace he suddenly presses his lips to hers, trying to will her to feel his love, his acceptance, his desperate need for her to feel wanted. Miraculously to him, through the bond she does feel it. In waves like gold veins streaking through the usually tightly controlled knot of his emotions. When he finally lifts his head from hers, after what seems an age, he looks deep in her eyes)
(She looks up at him deeply – breathless from their embrace – and the sight is a bit of a shock for Irsin. Tears still well up in her clouded eyes, but the change in them is unmistakable: streaks of red, orange, and yellow swirl slowly around the vacant orbs. Patterns both new and familiar to Irsin; Q’ayla again seems not to notice)
(Refusing to let the swirling colors affect him, Irsin ignores them. On top of the rest it seems small, and the struggle he’s engaged in now seems nearly as serious as when she held a lightsaber to her breast)
Q’ayla, don’t doubt. Not me…
I was sad. I worry about you. I will always worry about you – no matter how strong you are,
I will always worry.
I love you.
Even if you wanted to you couldn’t be free of me… not now. I can feel you love. And you can feel me. We’re stuck, like it or not. And no matter what happens, no matter what light-blinded fools might think, we – we – will keep on.
(She’s still crying a bit, so when she smiles, it looks slightly pained, but her words betray it)
Now… you’re sounding like me.
That was the second thing I was going to ask you about.
I’ve been trying to keep it in the back in my mind… and not use it—
I know it must be really weird for you. I mean, I’ve lived with something like this all my life. And especially—
—especially after everything I’ve been saying about Q’aleane… I didn’t want you to feel like you’d lost your privacy…
(He looks startled)
You… you were born like this? I thought it must have been something that grew… over time… I never…
Listen. Truth be told it scares the bantha dung out of me, but not because of you. I just… I’m afraid.
(He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes for a moment)
I’m. Afraid. I haven’t set down roots… not really… since the Knights, and that didn’t end as I’d hoped. The next time I tried it went almost as poorly. You’re different, I know you are, and we’ve talked about it many times. But I’ve been on the run for what seems my whole life, and the only thing that’s kept me alive is my anonymity, my ability to hide— to disappear.
I…can’t ever do that again. And it scares me. But I don’t want you to hide it from yourself. It’s not like your sister’s, at least not yet. You’re not looking at my thoughts, through my eyes, you can just feel me. If I can’t trust my feelings with you… who can I trust them with?
(Through the bond she can tell this is extremely hard for him. He is being sincere, but he’s forcing down an ambient sense of panic, and whenever it seems about to burst out, he looks at her and those veins of gold seem to surge and drown it out. She moves to him again, wrapping her arms up and around his neck once more; moving up onto her tip-toes, she brings his head down against her chest, holding him)
You’re the one who’s always telling me it’s okay to be afraid… and you’re right, it is. I’ll probably never know what your life was truly like before we met. The best I can remember is a bounty hunter who deigned to help a Jedi. I don’t know what it’s like to have to disappear at any given moment. I’ve hidden in plain sight before, pretending to be someone I’m not, but nothing like what you’re describing. My wish for you is that you’ll never have to disappear again.
But I can’t promise that to you, Irsin.
If what you’re saying is true, and I do look… the way I look now… the Jedi may not be so understanding about our leaving. We… may have to run. But unless something happens to me on Taris… we’ll be running together. And… don’t worry about the link we share now. I can only feel your emotions, I can’t use it to locate you or anything like that. It’s more like what Q’aleane and I shared before this new bond emerged. So… if you ever feel like running away, I won’t be able to find you like that. I know this is hard for you, opening up to someone. I’m so happy that you trust me enough to do it. If I’m lucky, I’ll live in such a way that you never have to regret doing so. For now, though, don’t worry. I can… show you how to move the link around in your mind, so that you can focus on it more or less. It’ll take time, but I’m sure you’ll pick it up.
(She learns her face down, kissing the back of his head gently)
It’s okay, Irsin…
(He is rigid in her arms at first, allowing himself to be moved but in a very controlled way. In time, as she speaks, though, he softens and folds into her embrace. By the end she can feel his arms around her back)
I’ll go anywhere, as long as it’s with you. But…
(He pulls away slightly and looks up at her)
Why run? I know you’ve tried to explain before… but why go back at all? What do you feel you owe these people that would make you put yourself in harms way for them just to say goodbye? After all you’re doing here for them, all you’re going through. Why do you owe them anything? These people who you say will all but mob you on sight, without a shred of evidence of wrongdoing, of anything other than perhaps you’ve seen that which to them is taboo? No crime other than a different perspective, and you’re practically afraid for your life for how they’ll react. Why do they deserve this loyalty?
(When Q’ayla’s eyes look into Irsin’s, he can see a deep sadness pass over them, mirrored in the bond they now share)
Because they’ve been like family to me. A second family. My parents raised me, but only to a point. The Jedi have had a hand in creating the woman I am now for almost twenty years. I can’t ignore that, no matter what they might do. What would you have me do, Irsin? Run? Send a letter, as Q’aleane plans to? How would that lack of respect make me any better than that which I fear may come to me if I go back? Shouldn’t I live with more honor than that? More respect for those that have shaped me – no matter how… misguided they have been at times…
And… there is a part of me that still feels like I’m failing them.
Even though my perspectives are changing, and my understandings and emotions with them… I can’t help it. Part of me wants their approval. Always has. Now I’ll likely never get it. Not ever again. No matter what I do here. They’ll look at me, and sense my aura, and they’ll believe everything I might say is tainted and twisted… that I’m twisted.
If I’m lucky, they’ll just try to … re-educate me. If they think I’m not so far gone. I know that’s a possibility… as is locking me up or killing me. And yet…
…I still have to go, Irsin.
(Her eyes haven’t moved from his)
I’m probably not explaining it right again… I’m sorry.
Q’ayla, listen to what you’re saying and line it up against the things you’ve been saying recently. You feel alive and full of purpose. You feel like you can finally, after all these years, be yourself. You feel joy, and love, and happiness.
And then you speak of the Jedi— and it’s all sacrifice, and duty, and trying to please people who want you to be someone other than who you are. Who will look down their noses because you didn’t do good their way, because you’re someone they don’t understand. And so they will react from a place of fear and try to “fix” you or remove you. I ask you… how is living a lie to survive, seeking approval from those who won’t tolerate any deviation from their will, any different than living as a Sith?
What makes them different?
(Her mouth hangs open a bit as he finishes; silent tears fall from her cheeks)
I… don’t know.
I don’t know.
You must think I’m crazy. I can’t explain it any better, Irsin. Maybe I am crazy… I’d say one difference is that the Jedi don’t do scars, but, well, you’ve seen my back. They definitely don’t do the tattoos though…
(She seems to be trying to deflect with her humor, but through the bond, Irsin can feel that he’s struck a nerve in pointing out how alike the Sith and Jedi are)
Which isn’t to say I don’t like your tattoos…
(He folds her into his arms)
It’s okay, I won’t push any more right now. Just… think about it. I won’t get off this rock only to lose you to them. I won’t.
(He just holds her)
I may have to adjust my plans… if my skin stays like this… and who knows what else will happen here before it’s over…
(She sounds a bit defeated)
But as long as I’m with you, I’ll make it. It might hurt not going back, but…
Well… it might just not be possible anymore. Do you think my skin will stay like this, Irsin? Is it to be the mark I bear forever?
I don’t know. I have experienced other signs myself over time. But I’ve never crawled back from the path long enough to find out if it’s reversible. But I believe if there is a way, you will find it, or we’ll find it together. I promise.
(She nods into his chest)
And if it never goes away, then I have to make sure that it was worth something. I need to figure out how to use what I’ve been given… use it to help us here, and then out there, once we’re off this rock. I was going to go get the Master Holocron and talk with Vergere and Bastila to see if they might be of assistance…
…but I find that I’m really tired all of a sudden. That, and I’m not sure the Master Holocron will even work for me anymore…
Do you have something you need to take care of? Your hacking software? If not, I’d be grateful to keep your arms around me while I sleep. So much has happened… and today’s not even half over…
I do have more to do… but I suspect the best thing for us both right now is a little rest. We’ve done quite a lot in the past two hours. And we have a lot yet to do once the ship can fly. Let’s get some rest.
(She looks up at him, smiling warmly)
Just a few hours, though, okay?
(She turns and moves out of his embrace, heading towards her bed, and tossing her veil on the bed-side table)
I’ll ask the ship to turn on the lights in a bit.
(He keys in a command on the console that he uses in his own room, and moves to follow Q’ayla towards the bed)
I’ll make sure you wake up.
(And he flips off the lights)