(Q’ayla wraps herself up in her Jedi robe and leaves her room, walking to the lift and taking it to the lower level. Arriving at Irsin’s door, she taps against it a few times)
(Irsin sits up from where he was looking over some security schematics of the praxeum)
Q’ayla? Come on in.
(He gets up and moves to get water for the two of them as she comes inside. As the door opens, Q’ayla enters and moves up behind Irsin, gliding her robed arms around his waist in a hug. She leans her head against his back)
What are you up to? How are you feeling?
(He smiles when she reaches him and leans back slightly against her)
Just going over the security diagrams of the praxeum. Trying to finalize the plan for where to setup the cameras we can get working. Other than that I’m fine. I can’t help but feel that this summit is a trap, though. I don’t know how, but it makes my shoulders itch.
There are so many things that can go wrong… failure of security systems despite our best efforts; betrayal from a clanmother or someone connected to a clanmother; or just the simple fact that these women don’t seem to get along with each other, even if it means saving their entire culture. We’re taking a big risk with this clanmeet, but what choice do we really have?
And Q’aleane wants me in there with her during the whole thing. What am I going to do— I’m no diplomat. I’d much rather be working security with you. You don’t know how lucky you are…
(Irsin chuckles at mention of his “luck”)
Indeed how lucky am I to be fitting in nicely in their social hierarchy. I get to mind the doors, and make sure the adults aren’t disturbed while they’re having their meetings…
Sorry, that isn’t fair to you. I know you aren’t always patient with these people either. But don’t forget your own talents here. Just because you are not the coldly rational negotiator that your sister is doesn’t mean you don’t hold sway. These people are, whatever else you want to say about them, passionate people. Your sister will make sense to them. You will touch their hearts and make them listen.
(At Irsin’s first comment, Q’ayla’s arms gently let go of him and she takes a couple of steps back, folding her arms across her chest)
You really think I can do that? In the condition I’ve been in these past few days? What makes you think I can even keep my cool long enough once the pointless bickering starts? I’ll be excusing myself every five minutes in there, and that will just make Q’aleane looks foolish in front of them. I’m confident that I can help us all get out of this mess— on the battlefield. In that conference room…
(She shakes her head slowly and looks down)
Honestly? I think you’re stronger than you think you are. In here…
(He touches his chest)
…You are as strong as anyone I know. But you are afraid of that strength. My way may not work for you, but you have the strength to find your own, to walk the path of having emotions without letting them control you. In the end, I think you can do anything you set yourself to do.
(She smiles up at him then, but it’s a sad sort of smile)
I know you do, Irsin. Sometimes, it’s what keeps me going…
(She trails off from there, and she can’t seem to keep looking at him. Irsin reaches out and gently lifts her chin to look at her)
You have nothing to be ashamed of. Can the one who is raised in a desert be expected to know how to swim? Give yourself some time. You will find your way. You always do, and this will be no different.
Thank you… but you don’t have to say all of that…
(She seems to become more uncomfortable at those words; she takes Irsin’s hand in hers and moves it from her chin down, letting it go. She looks at him still, but even with her visor on, her face has a look of… almost guilt. Irsin seems to hesitate before responding, then seems to nod to himself)
Why… why are you guilty? What could make you feel guilty?
(Q’ayla deflates a little, her hands gently wringing together and then rubbing up her arms, almost as a reflection of what Irsin senses inside)
I’m not sure I want to say. I’m… I’m worried about what might happen. I don’t want you to think I’m ungrateful.
(Irsin seems confused, and there’s a stab of confusion and almost panic in the bond)
Q’ayla, what are you talking about?
(Q’ayla lets out a trembled sigh, and after a few moments, continues)
I love you, Irsin. You know that, right? Now that we share a bond in the Force, you can feel it whenever you’d like. And… I’ve spent some time the past few days feeling through our bond. Times when we’re apart, times when we’re working, and times when we are together. In all those moments… whenever I close off my body and feel you with my mind…
…there is always so much rage, Irsin.
(Her lips parse, briefly, and she tilts her head up slightly before continuing)
I’m new at all this. You’re the first person I’ve ever loved, Irisn. So maybe I’m just acting stupid… in which case please forgive me… But I just don’t understand. I can’t. How can you be with me… kiss me… sleep next to me… and yet feel all this rage inside yourself? I thought…
(She sniffles hard)
I thought you were giving up on all of that. I thought that things were getting better now that—
(She sniffles again; her hands move from her elbows to her hips, and her posture switches to one of frustration)
Dammit… stop crying, Q’ayla.
(Irsin takes a short step back when she says she doesn’t understand, and seems to stand very still as she finishes)
I… I don’t know what to tell you Q’ayla.
I am who I am.
You have given me more reason for hope than I can ever remember having. Even before the Sith, when I was a child learning from the Imperial Knights, my dreams were haunted by thoughts of revenge for my parents…
It’s all I’ve ever had. At least all that was ever real and solid. If I wasn’t angry about it all… if I wasn’t furious at all that’s happened, what would I have to keep me going? What would there have been to keep me getting back to my feet? Only now have I seen that there are other emotions with power. Other emotions that can drive a person to be more than they should be. But I can’t change overnight. It’s like trying to learn to breathe water sometimes, it seems impossible to see how I can get there, even if I can accept that others do it all the time.
I… I am not the nice person you think I am. I am cruel, and harsh, and I have little patience for fools. I have been worn down, sanded until that was all that was left. But I am someone else when I am with you— or, at least, I want to be. I find myself doing things because I think it would make you happy, and for no other reason. Perhaps that is enough. Perhaps that is how someone becomes a better person, because it will make someone else happy. I don’t know. But… underneath it all I don’t feel any different, except towards you and your sister. I don’t trust anyone else.
I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry I’m not a better man… All I can say is I want to be, even if I don’t know how.
(As Irsin speaks, Q’ayla’s posture changes; at first, she maintains her frustrated stance, but as he continues, her hands slip down and fall to her sides, and she continues to stare at him as though there is nothing else. From under the rim of her visor, he can see tears sliding down her cheeks, but she doesn’t make any noise – it’s silence beyond the sound of his voice. When he finishes, she stands there for a moment, and then walks to him again, brings her arms up and wraps them around his neck, and lays her head against his chest, trying to keep her visor from digging into him. For several more moments, there is just silence)
Irsin… I… I’m sorry.
I just get confused sometimes… this is all so new to me. Please don’t think that I mistrust you, or don’t believe in you. I do. I don’t mean to judge you, love. It’s not fitting for a Jedi to do so, even one as messed up as me. I’m just trying to understand how these emotions— particularly the ones I haven’t had experience with, and that includes both love and rage— how they interact and live together like this. I’ve always had an impression of love, but it’s only ever been theoretical… something born from dreams and stories… it’s never had to pass any kind of test or trial. It’s simply been my own foolish, naive ideal. And it’s not fair to you that I impose that ideal on you. So I’m sorry for that.
(Her voice begins to crack a little)
And I’m sorry that I criticized how you’ve dealt with your mother and father. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose family the way you have. But I think I know that I would be just like you if it ever did happen. I would live with a very different kind of purpose. It was cruel of me to judge you differently, as though that realization wasn’t in my mind. I didn’t know, though… that you do things only to make me happy. What things, I wonder…
(Irsin only looks down at this, shaking his head slightly; noticing his silence, she continues)
I guess it doesn’t really matter. But what I will say is this: I want you to be yourself, Irsin.
(She looks up at him intently)
I don’t want you to do things simply to appease me. I love you. Don’t you remember? It wasn’t that long ago. We were standing on a turbolift in the Academy. I was noticing that holo-mask of yours, and asking you questions about who you were. Already— even then, I felt somehow drawn to you. And you didn’t do anything to please me then. You were just you. Just Irsin. What was it you said?
“I am cruel, and harsh, and I have little patience for fools.” You know who that reminds me of, especially recently?
(A sly smile cross her lips, though her expression remains just as intense and intent)
It sounds like me. And yet, here you are. You stay by my side, no matter what I do. No matter how I spurn you and Q’aleane in whatever crazy situation we find ourselves in. I want to be that person for you too, Irsin. You’ve spent too much of your life hiding— hiding to fit in, hiding to survive, hiding to find vengeance. With me, you don’t need to hide. I love you, and I want to know that when I’m with you, I’m with you. Not whatever you think will make me happy.
You. Do you understand?
(Irsin seems to nod slowly, if almost imperceptibly. Through the bond Q’ayla can feel acceptance and the panic seeping away, but something else, something too small to quite make out lingers beneath the surface)
I understand. You had every right to question me, so don’t feel bad about doing so. I am… not what I appear. I have made that a habit of long practice. It is only fair that at this point you have a right to ask more than what I show on the surface. But I will try to show more of how I feel, at least to you. Beyond that I’m not sure I can offer more.
Would you like water now?
(He says the last with a small twist to his mouth, and there’s almost a hint of mirth in his tone. Q’ayla lets out a sharp breath against the tears on her face, and she nods into his chest)
Yeah, that would be great.
(She lets go of him and moves to sit on the edge of his bed)
You said, “Perhaps it is enough… to make someone else happy.” I don’t think so. When you’re around other people, or out there in the galaxy, away from our time together, you may not want to show people the real you. The galaxy is filled with so much evil – conscious or not – and there are only too many ways that you could get hurt. You know that, and even I, as a Jedi sworn to bring peace, know that. And I absolutely won’t tell you how to live your life. It isn’t my place. But when we’re together, I want you to think about something…
The bond that we’re secured between us, it connects us and it… extends us one into the other. We can sense our emotional states as though they were something always with us. We become closer than ever. When I reach into my mind and think on how you’re feeling, you become a part of me in a way that words can’t adequately describe. And as each day passes like this, I feel you more and more as an extension of myself— intertwined, deep in my core. So when we’re together, just the two of us like this, I want you to feel like you can open up however much you’d like to. If you want to vent, or rage, or cry, or just talk about anything and everything, then just do that.
Being yourself, and knowing that I accept you just as you are and just as you will be— that’s how you become a “better” person. I know that because you’ve done it for me all along.
(Irsin seems almost pensive in response to this… almost like it’s a perspective he had never considered)
I… will think on this. It’s not a way of thinking I’m used to. But I will try. So enough about me… how are you doing? Your encounter with Yevra seemed to have left you quite… unsettled. And yet the two of you seem to have found some kind of common ground again.
(Q’ayla tucks her legs up onto the bed and crosses them, bringing her robe around her in almost a protective way; the change of topic seems to have altered her as well)
I don’t know…
I’m still really upset about the conversation we had the other day. How easily she was able to disregard my life story over this most recent action in the Spirit World. It’s a wonder I ever thought I’d be able to convince the Council of anything, seeing how it went with Yevra. She’s been affected by Dathomir too, she’s still a Padawan, and yet… and yet I’m nothing but the second coming of Darth Vader to her!
And maybe I am… Or maybe I will be.
I know that Yevra loathes me, but… maybe our shared purpose in finding her master and dealing with the Nightsisters has made her shift that loathing to the back burner. For now, I’m “damaged goods,” but I’m still useful. We’ll see what happens when we rescue Master Darach and secure the planet.
(She bows her head a little, drawing the robe even tighter against her. Irsin grunts slightly)
Listen, it’s worth considering here… perhaps her reaction to you was as it was because she’s been affected by Dathomir. Perhaps she is quick to judge you as a way of feeling better about the thoughts in her own head, or as an excuse to herself perhaps. If she decides you are headed down a path that is wrong, then her steps on the same path aren’t so bad suddenly. It could very easily be a rationalization. That’s no excuse, certainly, for an apprentice to judge a full member…
(Q’ayla feels a flash of annoyance when he says that, as though Yevra ought to be disciplined)
But perhaps she doesn’t really hate you. Maybe she’s just afraid and she has decided you’re the scapegoat of her fear. Young ones often externalize their emotions onto others…
Maybe you’re right. I have been trying to reconnect with her, despite how I’m sure she feels about me now. I thought things went well at the praxeum, what did you think?
They seemed to go well. Mostly she seemed happy just to be doing something. She even talked to me a little, which is unusual.
Yeah… Q’aleane mentioned the other morning that things between you and Yevra didn’t seem to be going well. Despite my protestations, she said she doesn’t trust you, and I think she’s suspicious of our relationship and what it’s “doing” to me. But then just getting her doing something seemed to change her attitude… Gods, I hope I wasn’t that confusing at her age…
I think all young people are confusing, even to themselves. But truthfully I care little about her or how she sees me, except insofar as it affects you. When this is done we will likely never see her again.
(Q’ayla nods slowly to herself, her head still down)
You’re probably right. She’ll go back to the Jedi, and we’ll…
I’m not going to go back, am I?
(Irsin takes a small breath)
No, I don’t think so. At this point, it doesn’t seem to me that it would do you or them any good. They will be even less understanding than they were with Alema. And you… much as they will always be something important to you, the symbol of the Jedi in your mind was always better and truer than the real thing. In many ways, it is their failure to live up to your image of them that has led us to this crossroads. But we will build something real.
(She keeps slowly nodding throughout, running a hand up through her hair at the end)
I hope so. I hope whatever this power inside me is, it doesn’t exact too high a price. I want to do this thing with you and Q’aleane— find a “middle path,” if that’s even possible. But I’m not even sure the Master Holocron will recognize me once we leave Dathomir. You two will have to fill me in, I guess.
(She spares another sad smile)
It will be worth it if we all make it out alive.
(Irsin smiles wryly)
If the Holocron won’t speak to you, what makes you think it will speak to me? I’m further along the path than you. And I too made my bargain with the Fanged God. Besides, is it not a Jedi belief that anyone can be redeemed? Was not even Skywalker himself redeemed in the end? The path to the Dark Side, as you have shown me, need not be permanent. This is a mire we can dig out of together if we must.
Well, yes, Anakin Skywalker was redeemed in the end… at the cost of his life. I hope that’s not what it takes, though.
I do hate the idea of just leaving the Jedi without meeting with them, though. It makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. Like why shouldn’t I be able to go to them on my own terms and tell them how I’ve changed? Especially for Master Tahl and Master Ang. Those two especially, though each for different reasons.
(She shrugs with resignation)
And you must hate how I keep harping on this— I mean, you left the Sith. Just left. Whether or not you planned to go back, you must have known that there was a possibility that you’d never go back there. Wasn’t there anyone… else there for you? Maybe an instructor, or fellow Saber? Maybe I impose unfairly on the Sith, but after getting to know you, I find it hard to believe that there weren’t others that didn’t simply tow the line and completely lose themselves…
Were there others I respected? Of course. Not everyone is purely bloodthirsty. But everyone, everyone is looking for power, and temporary alliances and conveniences aside, nothing stands in the way of that. My instructor… you’ve met him. Certainly I interacted with other masters, but he was my teacher. He’s who I answered to… and you saw how that turned out. For you, the individuals you engaged with were friends and mentors, not just tests. I can… sympathize with that even if I can’t empathize.
But the truth of the matter is that the Council would hardly let you go if they knew half of what we’re after out here, never mind your association with me. If you feel the need to speak to the individuals whom you’re close to before you leave them… I can’t fault you for that. But don’t do it on Taris. Ask them to come to you. Talk to them somewhere where there aren’t a hundred Jedi waiting for something to do around the corner. I hope they listen and give you their best wishes but… if they don’t, if Alema is only the tip of the iceberg for them, then you’ll be safe. And that’s what’s important.
Do you think they would? Meet me somewhere else, that is? I’m not sure— it’s not like the both don’t have other responsibilities. And what if things didn’t go well? What then… what would happen? Gods, I don’t even want to think about that…
I wish I could just leave, with no loose ends, and no feelings of responsibility. I don’t want to say I envy you for the connection you had to the Sith, but…
(She shakes her head)
I think if they see you in half the good light you see them they would meet you if you asked. Didn’t Q’aleane’s teacher meet her when she asked? When we found the Holocron? I think they would have to listen.
Master Vantai? Yeah, he came to meet with us, but I’m not sure what his exact role is. I know he’s a diplomat, but maybe he was in-between missions? I’m sure Master Tahl has been assigned a new Padawan, maybe even more than one. And Master Ang is the Ossus Battlemaster, so it’s not like he can just leave whenever he wants.
(She sighs with exasperation)
No… it just won’t work. I have to either go back, or… it’ll just be a message sent. Without any honor whatsoever…
Honor? Isn’t that taking it a little far? They have left you in the cold, tried to break you down to fit their mold, and have demonstrated their willingness to disregard those who refuse to go along. While I accept certain individuals aren’t all like that, the organization is, and you owe them nothing for that. You are who you are. And you don’t need to apologize to anyone for it. Especially not them.
But isn’t that exactly what we’re planning to do? Just disregard them because they don’t go along with… well, I don’t even know, because we only have one grey holocron! I have no idea what it is that’s waiting for us at the end, and I’m planning to just disregard these men who have taught me so much. Just because the Council may not treat me with honor, doesn’t mean no one in the Order will. Nor does it mean I should abandon mine to spite them!
(She removes her visor, throwing it onto the bed, and rubs her hands over her eyes, taking ordered, deep breaths. Irsin takes a deep breath along with her – she can feel his frustration rising through the bond, but his voice comes out measured and even)
Listen Q’ayla… I don’t see it as abandoning them to go our own way. In my eyes it’s a natural thing. When children grow up, do they not strike out on their own if their world view differs from their parents? This doesn’t mean they hate their parents or think they are worthless. Just that they need to find their own path. That’s all I’m asking you to do. If I could be sure the Jedi would listen to you, and let you go with well wishes, I wouldn’t hinder you going home at all to say farewell and that you wished to follow your own path. But their track record as far as I’ve seen is not good on this. Maybe someday they will see the value in what we seek: an option that is inclusive instead of exclusive. A path where disenfranchised members of both orders can find meaning and purpose, and a place to build a new life without being told they are wrong.
I don’t think that’s dishonorable.
(She keeps rubbing her face for several more seconds, and then her hands drift back to her lap, and she looks up at Irsin— her eyes still changed by the experience in the Spirit Realm. After a while, she nods, but again there’s resignation)
Sacrifices have to be made. It’s true… I know you’re right. I just… there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to let go, Irsin. Still, even after all of this. I can’t convince that part of me— maybe it’s my Jedi “persona”… heh… But I can’t convince that part of me to let go.
Why is this so hard? I can see where the Order has failed me, and failed many others. Objectively, I can see it. And yet…
I feel so stupid… and weak, and hopeless. It seems like no matter how many times you or Q’aleane talk to me about this, I just can’t shake it.
(Irsin sits down next to her, pulls her into a hug, and holds her for a moment in silence)
I know it’s hard. But you’re not alone, and this isn’t something you have to face by yourself. Just keep talking about it. We’ll be here for you.
(Q’ayla allows herself to melt into Irsin’s arms)
How can you say all those awful things about yourself when you’re so wonderful to me…
You always know just what to say to me. It makes me feel like we can face anything and come out on top. It’s incredible… you’re incredible. I wish I could help you half as much as you help me.
(Playfully, she pushes a fist against his side)
But you’ve got to open up more first…
(Irsin chuckles slightly)
I will try, but I make no promises. This secret keeping machine has a lot of programming to undo! I’m glad you are feeling better. So… assuming we succeed with the summit. What then? Do we have any idea what our next move is?
(Q’ayla’s fist smooths down against his side, and she begins absentmindedly tracing patterns against him with a finger)
Well, it’s hard to say without knowing the outcome of the summit. Ideally, we’d be able to convince these clanmothers to unite their warriors against the Nightsisters. Which would give us two things: First, an army. Admittedly, a small army, but it’s better than four of us. And second, we have Yevra. With her new crown-thingy. If it actually works, then we should be able to find Master Darach. I don’t know if he’s actually behind all of this, what with him seemingly possessed by the Nightsisters, but even so, we have to rescue him. I’m not a master of tactics— in fact, you’re probably better at this than I am… but I’d say if we can use the Dathomiri army to draw out the majority of the Nightsister forces, a smaller group could go with Yevra, find Master Darach and, hopefully, their base of operations. If their forces are spread thin, we might be able to cut off the mynock’s head and end it all right there.
But that’s just a guess. And without knowing how the clanmothers will react to the summit, it’s not even a very good one. But you asked.
(She smiles warmly, nuzzling her face into his chest. Squeezing her tighter, he says)
Heh, fair enough. It’s the best plan I’ve heard yet at any rate. At least it’s a plan. Now we just need a way to go toe-to-toe with a shaman. Especially since everything we’ve seen suggests that we, as we currently are, have no hope in hell. But maybe our bargains will be enough… maybe not. I’d rather not rely on “hope” in that regard, though. Something specifically designed to allow us to level the playing field would be welcome. Like if we could talk one of the other aspects out of their reverie long enough to empower their own shaman.
Well, that’s where I’m hoping my inner “power” comes in. Though I’ll admit, I have no idea what it is that I’ll be able to do. I’ve thought about a couple of things, but I really don’t know if I could actually do any of them. Not without years of training, at least… and we don’t have years. But maybe I underestimate Bogan… he is a god, after all—
Wait. You don’t actually want to go back into the Spirit Realm, do you?
(She tenses up a little, but in the bond, there’s only a slight sense of worry)
Never mind how you’d get back there, because I was hoping Q’aleane might keep herself conscious for one whole day but… I’m not sure I’d want to go back. I didn’t like who I was in there. And until my bargain has played out, I’m not entirely sure I made the right call with that, either. Or the fact that you made one too…
I don’t know if I’m the right person to go back, honestly. Maybe in time that will become clearer. But the more I think about it, the more I think someone needs to get through to either the Tree or the Tower, or we will simply be outclassed. We shall see though… I’m not sure if any of us is the right person honestly. I’d rather it be someone of this world, who could help defend it from this kind of thing after we’re gone.
Lords I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if I’m over-thinking these things.
What do you mean, over-thinking? What is it?
I don’t know. Sometimes I just catch myself thinking about after we leave this planet. And I wonder why I should care. Except for your mission here, and the potential presence of a holocron, we’d never have come here. And this planet would have found its way, or not, without us. Why do we have to try and fix it for them?
(Q’ayla tilts her head up slightly, trying to look at Irsin’s face. She brings one of her hands up and begins gently tracing the tattoo on his cheek)
I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Especially after we left the Wind Song village. I mean, at this point, rescuing Master Darach is my primary goal here. We need to get him back, and we need to get him and Yevra off Dathomir and back to the Jedi. I don’t think we can do anything about restoring Jedi presence at the praxeum now. Not until this is all over, and the Jedi will need to send others to finish the deal. We’re fighting for our survival now. But also… I mean… isn’t this what we’re going to be doing after we leave Dathomir?
Finding the grey holocrons is all well and good, but what do we do with them afterwards?
Finding any kind of “middle path” is going to involve coming into conflict with established orders and all of the problems and baggage they carry. And that’s what’s going on here on Dathomir. The cycle that eliminates and then resurrects the Nightsisters exists because of a fundamental… well, I don’t want to say problem… with Dathomiri culture. Exiling witches who don’t conform to their society only creates these problems, and the problems continue to escalate until now armies of the dead are running loose! Maybe I’m wrong… maybe all we’re intended to do is find the information and collect it for someone else down the road to use… but if we’re actually supposed to bring about real change in the galaxy, we’re going to be in the thick of things – both good and bad – when it comes to the Force traditions that are out there. And not only the Sith and Jedi.
Am I making any sense? And please, don’t stop talking… I don’t have all – or any – of the answers here…
(Irsin nods slowly)
No you’re right. We’re going to keep rubbing up against these things. But I think we just need to remember there are only three of us, and we can’t do everything on our own. If the Force itself is gearing up for some kind of battle for dominance, then these situations will keep happening, and it’s not our responsibility to save the galaxy from itself.
Anyway… enough of that for now. Do you want to help me go over the layout I’m planning for our work on the camera systems tomorrow? I could use another set of eyes to make sure I’m not missing anything.
Absolutely! I hope I’ve been a help these past couple of days— all this engineering stuff is actually pretty fun!
(She – very slowly – lets go of Irsin, traipsing her finger off of his cheek, and then untucks her legs and stands up from the bed)
Lead on, love.
(He smiles and, standing, turns to the computer display to start going over his plan, although he quickly seems to forget that she doesn’t have as much background as he does and starts using a lot of words and phrases that go over her head. Although initially, Q’ayla is able to keep up with Irsin, it’s clear after a few minutes that she still has a ways to go with all this engineering and security planning stuff. She continues to give input when asked; and, although she does need quite a few things clarified, overall, being around Irsin like this and having something to keep her mind off of the coming days is well worth it.)