|Balking At a Winter Wonderland
By Darth Ishtar
|Qui-Gon was still asleep, even after Obi-Wan had administered the temperature reading, but Obi-Wan didn't dare to move from his Master's side.
It was not so much the fact that his Master needed tending, though that was certainly the case. It was the fact that he had no idea how to explain to Jemmiah how much trouble they were in.
She was no stranger to illness and death, that was certain. She had seen more atrocities in her eleven years than he could imagine seeing in five lifetimes, most recently in the sickening act of seeing her friends slaughtered as punishment for her escape. She had subsequently become so ill herself that it was uncertain if she would live or die.
Jemmiah was unnaturally capable of coping with the horrifying.
What he was afraid of now, however, was letting her know that Qui-Gon was seriously ill and they could do nothing but inadequately nursemaid him until help arrived.
The fever was the least of their problems, even though Qui-Gon's body temperature was much higher than it should have been. His cough, the medscanner that Qui-Gon had solicitously tucked into his daypack indicated, was an indication of a severe lung infection. There were medications that could be administered for that, but if his condition worsened, he would need emergency care that two juveniles could simply not provide.
Qui-Gon mumbled in his sleep, turning away from Obi-Wan, but did not rouse any further than that. Sighing, Obi-Wan reached over to the medpack that Qui-Gon kept at hand and found the recommended medications.
"Master," he whispered.
Qui-Gon muttered something distinctly Corellian that he must have learned from Jemmiah or Dex on one of their bad days.
"Master, I'm sorry to wake you," he said a little more loudly, "but you're quite ill and I need you to take this medicine."
"Sith take you," Qui-Gon muttered.
"I'm sure they will," Obi-Wan assured him, "but this will make you feel better."
Obediently, Qui-Gon rolled onto his back and groped awkwardly for the tablets in his apprentice's hand. He managed to locate his mouth somehow, then swallowed with obvious difficulty.
"Anything else, Mother?" he muttered.
Between iced vanilla and the ability to crack a joke, Qui-Gon was starting to frighten him.
"Sleep," Obi-Wan suggested. "I'll look in on you in a few hours, but if you require anything further..."
Qui-Gon's snore cut him off pointedly.
Rising, Obi-Wan descended the staircase to find Jemmiah pacing and wringing her hands in a passable impression of Evla. Her foot-bandage was dragging behind her, obviously forgotten.
"If he caught wind of what you'd done," Obi-Wan said with a wry grin, "you'd be polishing silverware in the refectory for weeks."
She turned a paradoxically adorable glower on him that somehow lightened his spirits. "Tell me what's going on," she demanded, "or I'll lodge that medscanner in your nostril."
"Nothing to worry about," he lied. "He does have a fever and a cough, but I've given him medicine for both. Until then, we can only wait."
"He's not going to die?" she pressed.
A flicker of worry must have passed over his features, since she immediately blanched the color of curdled milk. "I knew it!" she shrilled. "What's happening to him?"
"Nothing!" he protested. "I just inherited his worrywart tendencies."
She apparently could swallow that with more ease than the other lies, so a bit of color returned to her cheeks and he reached over to ruffle her hair.
"Now, about that iced vanilla."
She snorted indelicately. "Sure, Quiggy's dying and you're thinking with your stomach!"
"He's not dying!" he snapped, perhaps a little too hastily. "I just don't want the pair of us moping around until he's feeling better."
She sighed theatrically, letting her folded arms drop to her sides. "You're right," she conceded, "but iced vanilla in a blizzard?"
"I have a better idea," he suggested. "We have some jula juice in the fridge and with a healthy scoop of iced vanilla..."
"Jula fizz?" she said eagerly. "Ben, you might have half a wit in there after all!"
She scampered off to the fridge, rooting with all the enthusiasm of a starving Wookiee through the contents.
She was agreeing with him and had the appetite of a rancor. It was hard to tell who was behaving more strangely of his companions.
There was no improvement during the night, but on the other hand, Qui-Gon's cough became more severe and his breathing became shallow with a pronounced wheeze. The medscanner's only helpful advice was "consult a medic if symptoms persist."
They didn't say how long the symptoms had to persist. So far, they had been evidently severe for sixteen hours and Obi-Wan was running out of ideas.
It wasn't so much a matter of ways to treat Qui-Gon as ways to keep Jemmiah entertained without wandering out of doors.
She had gone through the entire pad of sketching paper, two readerchips and a holovid before passing out on the repulsorcouch and, thankfully, she had not roused in four hours, but he found himself unable to sleep and unable to think of a single thing to do once she awoke again.
If he could just stay up a little longer, he would break through the barrier of fatigue into the state of being that he usually only experienced during exams. He could break through to the state where it didn't matter if he was asleep or alert. He would function the same.
Mounting the stairs once more, he was dismayed to hear the cough, more severe than he could remember and he quickened his pace.
Qui-Gon was half-propped up on his elbows, coughing violently into a wad of tissues so thick that he might have been the cause of mass deforestation on Kashyyyk.
"Get away," he snarled hoarsely. "I'm an ill man and I'm in no mood to be lectured."
Obi-Wan stopped dead in his tracks, taken aback by the ferocity of his gentle Master's tone. There was no hint in that voice of the man who worried needlessly over Jemmiah or stayed up past midnight to help with his Padawan's exam review.
"Master," he repeated in a whisper.
Qui-Gon's eyes rolled back in his head, but he remained conscious. "Water," he pleaded.
Obi-Wan hastened to the 'fresher to fill the bottle that he had placed within arm's reach of his Master the night before.
As soon as the lights came on, however, he found himself frozen in shock.
The bottle had seemed strangely heavier than it should have been when empty and the crimson evidence of the reason why stained parts of the bottle.
"If the patient begins to cough up bloody mucus or large amounts of blood, contact emergency help immediately for transportation to a fully-equipped medcenter."
He turned, squinting at the pile of tissues that lay forgotten in Qui-Gon's hand.
The stained pile of tissues.
A curse of his own people rose to his lips, repeated over and over again as he rinsed away the evidence of this escalation and filled the water bottle to the top again.
He tiptoed back to Qui-Gon's side, half-expecting him to be asleep again, but his eye, darkened by anger and a delirious hostility, was staring at Obi-Wan.
"'M going to die, aren't I," he growled.
"Of course not," Obi-Wan protested, pressing the bottle to Qui-Gon's lips so he could ingest some liquids. "We're doing everything we can..."
"Of course I'm going to die," Qui-Gon sneered. "I have a half-wit half-man nursemaiding me who can't mind his own manners, much less look after a dying man and a runt of a girl..."
Obi-Wan withdrew the bottle hastily and set it on the nightstand, turning away before he could hear any more.
"DON'T YOU WALK AWAY FROM ME, YOU SITHSPAWNED COWARD!" Qui-Gon roared. "If you walk away now, you're no better..."
Obi-Wan shut the door to block out the sound, but this only served to enrage the sickness even more.
"You're a failure!" Qui-Gon screamed after him. "A disgrace to the Jedi."
It was a good thing that Jemmiah was still asleep--having a nervous breakdown in front of an eleven-year-old girl was never a good thing.
Instead, he rounded the bend in the stairs to find Jemmiah fully awake and staring in horror at the ceiling. Her skin was washed out by the grey, pre-dawn light.
"Don't worry," he stammered.
"He's sick," Jemmiah blurted. "He's really sick and he's not going to get better..."
Crossing to her side, Obi-Wan gathered into as tight an embrace as he could manage. Her breath was hot and trembling against his tunic, as querulous as her voice, but she did not resist the hug.
"It always gets worse before the improvement starts," he reasoned.
"But his fever's not better," she protested against him, voice muffled by worry and the fabric, "and he's starting to go 'round the twist..."
"Much like I did when I got the Florizan Flu two months ago," Obi-Wan reminded.
That, at least, seemed to amuse her slightly and her breath steadied.
Pulling away, he offered a slight smile. "He'll be fine," he insisted. "Go get something to eat and I'll contact An-Paj, just to be safe."
If anything could calm her, the mention of the one man she could trust to solve all problems would. She wasn't quite calmed, but at least she didn't look so ashen.
"I'll make some flapcakes," she offered.
He nodded, too breathless with worry to respond in any other way. Instead of encouraging her, however, it drained a bit of the color from her cheeks once more.
"Ben?" she said solicitously.
"What?" he said quickly.
"You're not happy about food," she said quietly. "Are you dying, too?"
The commlink reception was being eliminated almost completely by the blizzard, so making a call to An-Paj proved to be impossible, but the weather report that they had managed to find that morning said that it should be over by nightfall.
At least Qui-Gon had been peacefully asleep when Obi-Wan returned to check his condition. The fever was no better, but no worse and he hadn't seemed to cough in the last few hours, so that seemed to be progress.
Abruptly, however, he awoke to a shriek that preceded a loud thud. His eyes sought out Jemmiah immediately, but she was nowhere to be found.
Abruptly, his mind registered the fact that Qui-Gon's vocal cords could never have produced a scream like that.
He scrambled to his feet, taking the stairs two at a time until he reached the second story. Wrenching the door open, he caught Jemmiah as she stumbled back and pushed her out of the line of fire.
Qui-Gon was out of bed, lurching towards him with a murderous look in his eyes. "You couldn't handle me yourself," he hissed, "so you thought you'd send an ill-bred child of the brothels to calm me down. A worthless..."
Without thinking, Obi-Wan lunged forward, shoving Qui-Gon with all the strength that he had. He would never hit his Master, especially not in a weakened state, but some things were beyond reason.
Qui-Gon's hands scrabbled for purchase on Obi-Wan's tunic as he went down, ripping it down the front.
"Ylegmai," he bellowed the curse. "I should never have taken you as my padawan…"
For once, Obi-Wan was beginning to agree with him.
Qui-Gon lunged back to his feet, hands outstretched once more as Obi-Wan backed through the door. "You are unworthy of my training!" he continued relentlessly. "I don't trust you…"
The final howl as Obi-Wan slammed the door in his face was just as distressing as anything else he had screamed at them. "I don't trust any of you!"
Jemmiah stood stock-still outside the door, her face snow-white beneath an angry red weal that had plastered itself across her cheek and eye. It was quickly darkening and swelling.
"Get downstairs," he pleaded.
She didn't need any more urging, but he had no idea how she could manage to see her way down the case, since they were both blinded by stunned tears.
"We have to get him out of here," she called, voice cracking with the effort of being heard. "We have to get out of here before he decides he wants to kill us both..."
Suddenly, clarity returned to his thoughts and he descended the stairs as if he were the living dead.
"I won't let that happen," he said fervently. "As soon as the storm clears up, I need you to go outside, as far as it takes to find a signal..."
"I'm not leaving you here with him!" she protested. "I was just trying to bring him Snordle to make him feel better..."
So that was what Qui-Gon had tried to hurl at him as he left.
"I know," he said patiently. "I know, but he doesn't know what he's doing and I think that I can keep him calm with the Force..."
"You also thought he would get better," she reminded quietly.
A pang of something a lot stronger than guilt went through him at that statement as he regarded her blackened eye. "I know," he admitted, "but sometimes, even I'm wrong."
"And if you're wrong this time?" she challenged.
"It won't matter," he gave the empty reassurance. "By the time he proves me wrong, help will be on its way."
Fortunately for the both of them, it was mid-afternoon when the blizzard tapered into showers and then stopped. This time, Jemmiah had no arguments about dressing like a complete ski shop, which suggested how grave the situation was. Her good eye was still visible beneath the knit cap, but she was no longer looking reproachful.
She simply looked as though she would have hugged the life out of him if she could have moved her arms, so he did the job for her.
"Just keep the comm channel open and as soon as you hear a tone, start talking," he instructed in the general direction of her muffed ear. "It shouldn't be far."
She nodded bravely, then rubbed her cap against his nose, which was either an attempt to kiss his cheek or head-butt him. Either way, it was good to see a bit of Jemmiah still in her.
Opening the door to the frigid night, he watched her toddle down the stairs to the snow-covered yard.
"And don't take any of that off until you're back here," he called as a weak parting shot.
She gestured either in acknowledgment or profanity, then disappeared into the trees.
It was fortunate that she was no longer in sight, since he could no longer keep himself from tears.
He couldn't believe it was dark already.
Obi-Wan had harbored some absurd hope that night would be delayed by some compassionate side of the Force, since he was worried enough about Jemmiah without her being stranded in the midnight wilderness. Instead, the time seemed to pass too quickly.
There were few noises coming from upstairs, since Qui-Gon had managed to rage himself into an exhausted stupor, but Obi-Wan had not dared to enter the room since Jemmiah had left.
That was perfectly fine by medical standards, since the last dose of medication had been fairly strong. In addition, the ability of this cabin to carry sound had annoyed him at first, but now that it was able to let him know if Qui-Gon was still breathing without having to enter the room, he found himself absurdly and acutely grateful for that initial source of irritation.
The fact of the matter was, however, that the time had come to administer more medication. He could certainly neglect it, but in Qui-Gon's weakened state, that kind of negligence could prove fatal. Much as he feared for what would happen if he entered again, his nature could not allow him to let his Master die because of something for which he could not be held accountable.
The only thing to be done was to try and calm Qui-Gon with the Force before attempting to head into the battle zone.
Consulting the medscanner, he prepared the appropriate antibiotics and medications, but on second thought, entered a request for information on sedatives. Certainly a tranquilizer of sorts would be helpful to his ailing Master, since the thrashing and violence could only exacerbate the situation.
The least he could do was try.
When he entered the request, however, the report was underlined in red with a preliminary caveat that made the rest of the report completely pointless.
Sedatives strongly discouraged. In this state, tranquilizing agents may disrupt pulmonary functions further and cause death.
This was just perfect.
The Force was best called upon when the Jedi was calm and at peace and he hadn’t been either of those things in the last twenty-four hours. If Qui-Gon were in his right mind, he would tell his doubting apprentice to meditate himself into serenity, but if he followed his Master’s familiar advice, Obi-Wan ran a very good risk of letting him die.
Simply put, this was a no-win situation of the highest caliber.
Yet, it seemed entirely selfish to worry about a few broken teeth or a cracked rib when his Master was coughing blood, the closest thing he’d ever have to a sister was wandering in the frozen wilderness and not a single person at the Temple had any idea what was happening to them all. It simply gave him the impression that he had his priorities wrong.
Taking a long, slow breath, he let his mind settle into a more calm state. Qui-Gon had not made any movements other than breathing in the last half hour. Chances were that he had finally calmed down enough to sleep.
Obi-Wan would just have to screw up his courage and tend to him, no matter how much of a beating he took for his efforts.
He palmed the phials of medication and mounted the stairs slowly, avoiding the spots that creaked as if he were a naughty Padawan trying to sneak out for a night of reveling.
At the top of the staircase, he paused for breath, listening carefully. The wheezing breath was still going on, but there was no movement within. With any luck, there wouldn’t be any before he left the room once more.
He opened a link to Qui-Gon, tentatively brushing his mind with his own. There was no response, but nor was there hostility. It was, at least, at a good sign.
He opened the door quietly and peered around it. Qui-Gon was still on his side, the pile of tissues forgotten on the floor. Instead, he’d pulled a wad of the sheet in range of his mouth, but that section thankfully seemed to be relatively unstained. Even more encouraging was the fact that, just below Qui-Gon’s elbow, he could make out the yellow form of a plastiduck.
All-purpose duck indeed.
Jemmiah would be happy about that, if he ever got the chance to tell her.
Stop being morose! She’s probably on her way back with An-Paj by now!
Qui-Gon did not stir as he approached, so he set the medications on the nightstand and settled into a crouch. Since it was dangerous to awaken Qui-Gon, he had selected the ones that could be administered by hypodermic. The first of these he prepared quickly, then located one of the veins on his Master’s arm and slid the needle into the blood vessel.
Still no response. This was easier than he thought.
Withdrawing the needle, he set it aside and retrieved the second hypodermic. He had administered the injection and was about to withdraw the needle when a low growl made him look up.
Qui-Gon’s eyes, dark with the same mad anger that had forced Obi-Wan to send an eleven-year-old girl into the wilderness. Before Obi-Wan could react, the arm that he had been injecting swung out, hitting him squarely in the chest. The needle snapped off and he dropped the stunted hypodermic in shock.
“What have you done with her?” Qui-Gon bellowed. “She’s not here—I can sense it.”
“She’s gone for help,” Obi-Wan stammered. “You’re gravely ill…”
“I don’t care if I’m dead!” Qui-Gon snarled. “You have sent her out there to die!”
He was pinpointing Obi-Wan’s fears all too well, but Obi-Wan had to force himself to remember that none of this was particularly rational thought.
“The storm’s stopped…”
“Has it?” Qui-Gon countered. “How do you know that it’ll remain that way?”
Another low blow.
“Why didn’t you go with her, you festering pile of…”
“I thought I could stay here and tend to you so we wouldn’t return to find you in serious troub…”
Qui-Gon’s laugh was harsh and bitter, mocking without remorse. “What made you think that you’re special?” he scoffed. “You’ve betrayed me.”
“I’ve done nothing but keep you alive,” Obi-Wan shouted. “I should think that would earn me some gratitude.”
“Why?” Qui-Gon demanded. “You’ve never been grateful for the years I’ve spent enduring your stupidity and your laziness. You’ve never given me any reason to be proud of you or to even think of acknowledging you as something worthy of the title of Jedi.”
“As if you’d know the difference!” Obi-Wan shot back.
Immediately, he found himself thrown against the door. He slid to the floor, gasping for breath, but instead of approaching again, he groped for the door handle.
“Retreating again like the coward you are,” Qui-Gon sneered. “Don’t bother to let me live. I’d rather die than be faced…”
Obi-Wan was through the door before he could finish his sentence. Thankfully, bereft of an audience, Qui-Gon fell silent.
He could only hope that Jemmiah was having more success with her efforts.