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Sound The Abyss With Bitter End In Hand

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Quinlan finds him in the Room of a Thousand Fountains, staring out at one of the shimmering pools with its singing fountain, and pretending to be at peace. “Master Jinn.”

Qui-Gon rises and bows—a stiff and uncomfortable process, as he has been sitting motionless for a very long time. The movement is, nevertheless, deep enough to convey the respect of a Master to an accomplished Knight, which Quinlan Vos is most certainly proving himself to be.

A brief shadow flits across the Knight’s expression, quickly caught and boxed away, but it is enough. Qui-Gon Jinn already knows that he does not bear good news.

Qui-Gon’s heart plummets into his stomach, never to return. He doesn’t really hear anything Vos says, after that. There is an apology in there, somewhere. Were he able, Qui-Gon would reassure him—tell him that it wasn’t Quinlan’s fault that his mission partner went missing; nor was there any sense in apologising to his mission partner’s former Master, for losing him or for being unable to bring him home. But the world has fallen away, and Qui-Gon stands, cold and hollowed out, not really listening to anything Quinlan says.

He’s pulled from his spiralling and ever-darkening thoughts when Quinlan reaches into his robe and holds out a lightsaber to him. Absently, Qui-Gon reaches for it, noting its clean and simple lines, the utilitarian design. There is no mistaking this lightsaber for anything but what it is—a weapon—but it is an elegant weapon nonetheless. He doesn’t remember ever seeing it before.

The moment he feels the weight of it across his palm, however, it is no longer unfamiliar. The sense of it strikes him like lightning.

“Why?” Qui-Gon asks, genuinely puzzled.

It’s not that he doesn’t want this; wouldn’t want every last piece of himself that Obi-Wan Kenobi left behind, every piece he’d poured so much of his being into. Particularly something so intimate as Obi-Wan’s lightsaber, which all but sings with his Force signature.

It just seems odd that Quinlan would want to give it to him.

Quinlan, however, seems to understand the unspoken confusion. He shrugs. “Just felt right, is all,” he says, and doesn’t elaborate. Then, with barely another word, he’s gone, and Qui-Gon Jinn is left alone again in the Room of a Thousand Fountains.

This was one of Obi-Wan’s favourite places, once.

And just like that, suddenly, Qui-Gon can’t breathe; he can’t sit still here and pretend to a calm he does not feel—will never feel, while his heart claws its way up his throat, out of his chest; while his Padawan is lost somewhere in the vast nothingness of space, perhaps forever. Qui-Gon squeezes his eyes shut and curls forward, some voice trapped inside of him keening in pain at a loss he thought he’d never live to feel again.

He can’t stay here. He has to—he has to go. Any mission on the fringes of known space will do.

 

*               *               *

 

Qui-Gon stares at the lightsaber in his hand, strokes over the controls with a gentle thumb. Over the years, it had been well cared for, only a light scattering of fine scratches on the casing to indicate regular use—not just ornamental weaponry. Its owner had even taken time to polish those fine scratches.

Obi-Wan has been missing for seven months—missing,  Qui-Gon’s mind insists, not dead.  Qui-Gon hasn’t seen his Padawan in nearly two years, but the Force sense of him will be forever unmistakable, and the lightsaber holds Obi-Wan’s presence still.

His Padawan is lost somewhere out there in this wide expanse of emptiness, and Qui-Gon would give anything to bring him back, but there is nothing, nothing, nothing.

He glances out the viewport at the streaking stars, the cold of hyperspace threatening to creep inside his bones and take up residence there regardless of how much of his travel time he spends in meditation. Qui-Gon has never been in the habit of pondering the horror that is this infinite expanse of vacuum, radiation, and dust; to pass through it is inevitable in the galactic scheme of things, and the many worlds he’s seen in all his years of service to the Order have left him with a treasure-trove of experience he wouldn’t part with at any cost.

But while the fate of Obi-Wan Kenobi remains uncertain, Qui-Gon will never be at peace, and he knows it.

 


 

Qui-Gon Jinn has often successfully mediated and negotiated under less than ideal conditions: under fire, in the jungle, in the mud, in captivity, with lightsaber, blaster, and—when the situation calls for it—nearly even with open threat. On occasion, Qui-Gon finds himself thrown into situations he has no background on, no data for. Sometimes, he finds himself reassigned to old successes. Or old failures, as the case may be.

Tholatin is such an assignment—though the past failures here are hardly ones that even Qui-Gon Jinn can hoist up onto his broad shoulders. Last time, he had the misfortune to step into a revolution. Now, nearly a decade and a half later, there isn’t one, thankfully—though there are certainly grounds for it. Qui-Gon is hardly in a better mindset now than he was fifteen years ago, but he supposes that the fact that he feels anything at all—even if that feeling is bone-deep, jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding irritation—is some kind of an improvement over the hollowed, simple act of existing  that he’s been engaged in for the last few months.

Things still move quickly on Tholatin: within two days Qui-Gon is surrounded by listening devices and beset by piss-poor assassination attempts. Then he discovers the Chiss. Tholatin is, apparently, Republic-claimed territory in Chiss Ascendancy space.

This mission is one of those rare occasions when Qui-Gon would simply rather hand over the disputed territory and have done with. Fortunately, the representative of the Chiss Ascendancy is willing to consider a slightly different approach.

The Commander of the Springhawk  is a young officer, with a sharp eye and sharper mind, willing to be flexible where his Ascendancy would be far less likely to approve. Qui-Gon’s suggestion of dual membership for Tholatin is well-received, then very carefully vetted and negotiated.

Then the Commander watches as Qui-Gon talks rings around three committees, and fifteen subcommittees. He bypasses the Chancellor on the strength of an old clause that allows a neighbouring system and trading partner to sponsor Tholatin’s entry into the Republic. That is a stroke of sheer good fortune, because he couldn’t stand the thought of seeing that grandfatherly face and listening to his unctuous purring.

“Your Republic structure is intriguing, Master Jedi,” Commander Mitth’raw’nuruodo says, with a smile Qui-Gon has no idea how to parse. “So many committees for so many things. How do you ever get anything done?”

Qui-Gon feels more than a little of a bitter echo to those words in his heart. As a general rule, he keeps his sarcasm caught back behind his teeth. In this very specific situation, however, Qui-Gon finds that he can’t bring himself to care.

“Proper delegation and distribution of tasks,” he says, as blandly as possible, “is the key to the Republic's smooth and efficient function.”

To his surprise, the Chiss Commander laughs. “Ah, I understand, I think. Very well.”

In the last few days, alternating between puzzling his way through the Chiss language and attempting to wrap his mind around relevant Chiss and Republic legislature, Qui-Gon has gained some not-insignificant insight into the Chiss Ascendancy—or perhaps more accurately, Commander Mitth’raw’nuruodo’s place in it. The Commander is both a young man with a chip on his shoulder and fiercely devoted to defending the Ascendancy, and he chafes under the limitations placed on him that—he feels—are unwise.

Some days, Qui-Gon misses Obi-Wan more than others; his former Padawan would enjoy debating this man. He would be far quicker to learn Chiss than Qui-Gon, too. Qui-Gon’s abilities may be unparalleled in Shyriiwook—and Obi-Wan used to tease him mercilessly for it, citing that and Qui-Gon’s height as proof of his Wookiee ancestry—but the Chiss language is even less suited to his throat.

Qui-Gon lingers on Tholatin another few days, observing their final vote on a representative and Primary. The Commander keeps himself out of sight, but he also takes an interest in the proceedings. Qui-Gon suspects that, as much as he has learned of the Ascendancy through the Commander, Mitth’raw’nuruodo has learned of the Republic from Qui-Gon himself.

Qui-Gon hopes  the Tholates are the lesser contributors to that impression. But then, he cannot honestly say that many worlds petitioning to join the Republic come without their oddities. And by oddities, Qui-Gon wishes he didn’t mean ‘questionable ideas of sentient rights’ quite so often. Irritating as the Tholates are, their intrigues are also—quite literally—child’s play, in the grand scheme of the Republic.

“You travel to Coruscant, yes?” Mitth’raw’nuruodo asks politely.

“Yes.” Qui-Gon glances over at him, wondering what prompted the question.

“In a gesture of good faith to the Republic,” the Commander says, immediately snagging Qui-Gon’s attention, “the Chiss would like to return one of your citizens to you.”

Qui-Gon raises an eyebrow. “Who?”

The Commander tips his head. “We were unable to find out much beyond the fact of his citizenship. Some days ago our patrols came across a group of pirates moving into our system, and neutralised them. In the course of boarding their ships, our officers discovered they’d taken several captives.”

“I… see.” Qui-Gon suddenly feels as though his spine had been replaced with ice. “The other captives?”

“Most are from small communities mainly based here in what your maps call Wild Space. They will be returned to their homes,” Mitth’raw’nuruodo replies smoothly. “We have no reason to keep them in custody, unless they wish it.”

Or have no home to go to,  Qui-Gon fills in for himself. That this condition is even offered, he gathers, is a personal undertaking of the Commander’s. After all, given the Ascendancy’s position on patrols and defence, the Springhawk  should never have engaged the pirates in the first place.

“Our thanks, Commander Mitth’raw’nuruodo,” Qui-Gon says.

“My friends call me Thrawn, Master Jedi,” the Commander says with a faint smile.

Qui-Gon bows, and smiles for the first time in perhaps a full year. “My friends call me Qui-Gon,” he offers.

They agree to transfer the rescued captive off-planet, in orbit over Tholatin. Thus, a few days later find Qui-Gon standing at the hatch and waiting for the Chiss ship to dock. Qui-Gon studies the seals and the controls—the ceiling, for Force’s sake, if only it will keep his mind off the thought of who it is that he is about to take custody of and what state they are in. He doesn’t precisely have a ‘bad feeling’ about them, as Obi-Wan would have said, but something in the Force seems unsettled, discordant—plaintive. Qui-Gon distracts himself by wondering who got themselves stranded on these far fringes of space. A smuggler, a spacer, an explorer perhaps. Maybe something happened to Outbound Flight.

He shakes himself off mentally. Whatever chain of thought he takes, the ending must, apparently, be morbid.

On the other side of the hatch comes the distinct groaning and knocking of another ship’s docking port coming into alignment. Qui-Gon sighs, and prepares himself to greet the rescue; the infirmary is on standby, ready for what Qui-Gon suspects will be a more-than-usually-involved medical evaluation. If Qui-Gon read the Commander correctly, it might very well be even more serious than what the resources and personnel on this vessel can handle. He’d requested the Council send a Judicial transport with a medical team, and he’d been lucky that there was one in the region at all.

The hatch opens. Across the connecting space of the two joined airlocks, in the poor lighting, Qui-Gon can barely see the Human or the Chiss with him, but he can see that the Chiss have given their guest a uniform. The man is pale, and bearded. The beard has been trimmed, but his hair is a bit too long, and it falls forward in lank strands to cover his face. In the harsh lighting, the man’s skin seems ghost-white, and his hair might’ve been red on a better day, but for the fact that Qui-Gon can tell it is brittle.

The man walks forward, ushered half the way by the Commander at his elbow, but he seems stable enough. Thank goodness for that, Qui-Gon thinks, because there would be no way he could fit his bulk in that narrow tube without making the other man feel trapped.

Thrawn stops midway, though his hand hovers supportively under the man’s elbow for another two uncomfortable steps before he is, at least symbolically, in Qui-Gon’s custody.

It’s when the man is nearly across that a terrible foreboding floods Qui-Gon’s mind. He knows  this man, and half of him is begging for this to be—anything; a lie, false hope, a trick, a moment of weakness. Qui-Gon feels as though his expensive, infallible mechanical heart has stuttered to a halt, and his one artificial lung has stopped working. He casts a look back at Thrawn, whose expression tightens in swiftly-reasoned understanding. He bows slightly, a military-stiff but respectful gesture, and turns back to his ship—to give Qui-Gon privacy, perhaps, by effecting his own departure as soon as possible.

When he finally sets foot fully onto Republic territory, when the Chiss have sealed the hatch on their end behind him—only then does Qui-Gon dare— “Obi-Wan?”

Instantly, the man’s head comes up, his body tense as a coiled spring. He is no longer a prisoner, but the fire in his eyes is wild and harsh and feral, ready to lash out if need be—and it breaks Qui-Gon’s heart, because this is  Obi-Wan, his Padawan, his Knight. In all his years, Qui-Gon could never  mistake those eyes.

He doesn’t get a chance to say much else; that final shock of adrenaline must have burned through the last of Obi-Wan’s reserves. Qui-Gon catches the man as he tips dangerously forward, arms hooked under Obi-Wan’s and comm already in hand. He jabs the call button with a trembling thumb and shouts for the medics, but he may as well be drowning on dry land as he focuses only on the too-light weight in his hold.

 


 

It’s become a longstanding habit, to carry Obi-Wan’s lightsaber with him on every mission, everywhere he goes. Not to use, for Qui-Gon has never really been one for Jar’Kai. Sometimes Qui-Gon brushes his hand over the hilt to reassure himself that it’s still there. More and more often, Qui-Gon takes it out when he meditates. Obi-Wan’s presence still sings in the blade, and after all this time, Qui-Gon feels comforted by it.

He should return it, though, to its rightful owner. Its owner, who is currently in the infirmary, in the care of Judicial medics. Qui-Gon truly regrets not asking the Council to dispatch a Healer, but he doubts it would have made much of a difference—only taken longer to get them here. Much as Qui-Gon believes Thrawn had done the best in his ability, he knows Thrawn also has limited resources, especially where Human physiology is concerned.

Qui-Gon squeezes his eyes shut and inhales sharply, runs a thumb over the smooth casing that lies cool and heavy in his hand. He tries reminding himself that Obi-Wan is here, Obi-Wan is alive, and that is all that matters. No matter what follows, that will be enough.

Part of him, however, is very well aware that that is not quite true.

Qui-Gon picks himself up from his bunk, ties together the shell of himself that feels a little more whole since his former Padawan has been found, alive, and forces himself to walk down to the infirmary. The medics had asked him to leave, assured him they’d comm him when their patient was stable. They had, some fifteen minutes ago. Qui-Gon scoffs weakly at himself—fifteen minutes spent waffling over returning property that was never his to keep. Agonising over giving back a vital part of a Jedi’s armour.

Hesitating over giving up the one thing that has served as a comfort to him in the months since Quinlan had handed him something that was never his to have, knowing that its owner would have every right to refuse to ever speak to him again.

It goes worse than he’d thought, and not in the way he’d imagined.

Obi-Wan is perched on a biobed, never one for staying still for very long, but from the look of him he wouldn’t be able to get very far. He is still wearing most of the Chiss uniform; the collar comes up almost to his jaw, and the sharp line of it highlights his jawline. The black cloth is a stark contrast to his skin and hair, and the elegant cut of it hides a great deal, but Qui-Gon isn’t blind. At another time, the look of it would be flattering, but Obi-Wan’s cheeks are far too hollow, and his eyes have a feverish glint to them. He is thin, so thin, and the cast of his skin is even paler in the unforgiving medbay lights.

And there is a hint of scarring at his wrist that Qui-Gon can see, and it brings him up short.

Obi-Wan looks over at him, hearing the awkward sound of a Jedi Master caught in midstep. He turns himself slightly, folds his hands in his lap, and gives Qui-Gon a small, wan smile, one that tries to convey something happier than what he really feels.

Qui-Gon’s throat tightens, painfully, and he tries to swallow back the rising tide of grief and regret. He forces himself to cross the rest of the way, then holds out his burden before it can carry him under.

“This,” he clears his throat, “I thought you would want it back.”

Obi-Wan looks down at the lightsaber in his hand, face going suddenly blank. He reaches out, brushes his fingers along the hilt, then takes it gingerly, as though he’s not entirely sure what to do with it.

"Why do you have it?"

Qui-Gon is very nearly taken aback by the sharpness in the question—the suspicion, almost. "Quinlan brought it back," he says, a bit lamely. "He—it was all he could find of you."

"And he gave it to you."

There is something dangerously flat about that tone. It makes some part of Qui-Gon quail and shrink away; he cannot bring himself to look up again, to try to read that drawn and closed-off face.

He doesn't think he could, anyway.

"I'm sorry," he says, a damning, horrible rasp in his voice. He turns and leaves the infirmary without looking back.

Qui-Gon is certain that nothing he's done in his life had ever looked more like fleeing.

 


 

Obi-Wan stands before the Council for the first time in months, and feels completely detached from all of it. His report is succinct—perfunctory, even, but there isn’t all that much to tell. He misstepped, got himself captured by pirates, was made an example of. He’s already replayed his mistake in his head several hundred times, all in the first few days of his capture.

After that, time got a little… insignificant. Most things did.

He’s not sure how he can still serve the Order after this, and says so.

“Where would you go?” Master Windu asks him, not unkindly.

A wave of bitter, bitter irony washes over him as he opens his mouth to answer, “I’ll be a farmer, Master Windu. Send me to the AgriCorps.”

Stoic though Master Windu may be, somewhere behind that Council mask is a deeply buried flinch.

“So eager are you, to leave us, hmm?”

Obi-Wan just barely restrains himself from gritting his teeth. Please,  he thinks. The last thing he needs is Master Yoda trying to change his mind.

“To Chandrila, we will send you, yes,” the troll says. “Six months you will spend there, with Mind Healer sessions. If feel that to the AgriCorps you must go, even then, then stay on Chandrila, you shall. Be glad to have you, their AgriCorps will.

“Be glad to have you, we also will.”

Obi-Wan blinks once. There has got to be a catch. Though, six months with a Mind Healer is trouble enough—not that Obi-Wan is about to deny that he needs it.

Nothing else is forthcoming, however.

He could refuse. He could turn away from this Council now, and walk through the Chamber doors, and find himself a place on Coruscant, or anywhere really. He doesn’t have to defer to them at all.

Practicality insists he stay for the Mind Healer, if nothing else. The rest—the decision to leave—that can wait.

Obi-Wan bows. “Thank you, Master Yoda.”

Part of him, the part that doesn’t give a whit about practicality and still, somehow, stubbornly knows how to hope—that part has been in utter revolt since the moment he opened his mouth and spoke of the AgriCorps. It halts him and forces his heart against his ribs in a hard knock just as he leaves the Council Chamber.

Qui-Gon Jinn stands in the antechamber, looking out at the Coruscanti skyline. The sunset bathes him in its rich colours, picks out the deep bronze in his hair and turns the silver strands a sparkling gold. There are more lines on Qui-Gon’s face that Obi-Wan can see: there’s a new edge line at the corner of his mouth, and the fine lines around his eyes have multiplied. They looked so beautiful when he laughed. The memory of those deep blue eyes suddenly traps Obi-Wan’s breath in his throat. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen anything so beautiful.

He hasn’t seen Qui-Gon since the man brought him his lightsaber, in the ship’s medbay. Since the man bolted, Obi-Wan thinks to himself wryly, and spent the rest of hyperspace avoiding him. Obi-Wan doesn’t understand that at all; he still can’t imagine what Qui-Gon could possibly have been apologising for. He would have tracked the Master down and pulled the answer out of him, but the medics didn’t allow Obi-Wan to wander out of the infirmary.

He’s missed  this man, more than he can say.

Qui-Gon starts, realising that he’s being observed—an uncharacteristic lapse for Obi-Wan’s Master—and turns around. Obi-Wan can’t read his expression: so many different things pass over it in rapid succession, before Qui-Gon regains control and smooths it over to a neutral mask. His eyes are far from neutral, though.

“Knight Kenobi,” Qui-Gon offers with a respectful bow, and it twists something in Obi-Wan all over again.

He’s not a Knight. He’s barely a Jedi. And he has absolutely no control over his expression, apparently, because suddenly Qui-Gon looks worried—kark.  Obi-Wan can’t—he can’t handle that, not right now.

“Master Jinn,” he returns smoothly, slipping his hands into his sleeves and bowing in reply.

There’s a flicker of hurt, now, in Qui-Gon’s expressive eyes—at the formality and the perceived distance, no doubt. Obi-Wan ignores it. Not that it’s any better than the concern that came before, but it’s not—it won’t pry him apart like Qui-Gon’s warmth threatens to.

He wants  it to. He can’t stand it.

Obi-Wan clears his throat. “The Council has seen fit to order me to a six-month retreat,” he says.

Qui-Gon nods. “Good,” the man says faintly, as though he can’t think of anything at all to say. Strange, to see the premier diplomat of the Order at a loss for words.

Something perverse coils in Obi-Wan’s chest, hot and prickling. He wants to crack that mask apart, to reach in and find the man he knows  must be in there somewhere.

“That is,” Obi-Wan adds—before he can stop himself, and half his mind is screaming in protest and calling him ten times a fool—“they wish me to postpone my decision to leave the Order for six months, while I attend sessions with Mind Healers and talk them to death.”

Qui-Gon looks shell-shocked, eyes wide and face pale. Broken mask, indeed. Obi-Wan hates the fact that something in him crows with triumph.

Qui-Gon looks like he’s about to say something—but at the other end of the antechamber the lift doors open, and Quinlan stalks out, heading straight for Obi-Wan; then the Council Padawan appears out of nowhere and calls Master Jinn in to see the Council. The moment is irreparably broken and scattered across all of Coruscant, Obi-Wan thinks bitterly. Qui-Gon seems torn between the two interruptions—staring at Quinlan with an unreadable expression, glancing back at the Council Padawan as he would at a less-than-perfect escape route.

The Jedi Master lowers his head, and says quietly, “May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan.”

Oh, he was wrong after all. This, this  is the thing that will break him: Qui-Gon’s acceptance of the fact that his apprentice would willingly throw his teachings to all the twelve winds. The resignation  in his voice, in every inch of the man’s impressive height and the sunken curve of his shoulders, cuts Obi-Wan deeper than he thought possible.

Something in Obi-Wan struggles, cries out, shakes the proverbial bars, but all he can do is watch as the man turns his back and walks away, trying to look like he isn’t in a hurry to leave. Obi-Wan wants to shout after him, wants to pick a fight; wants to shake the Jedi Master so hard his teeth rattle and demand to know why Qui-Gon hadn’t pushed back.

He stands, paralyzed, and stares into the man’s wake. He barely even registers Quin’s gentle grasp on his shoulder, not even when the Council Chamber doors close on the sight of Qui-Gon’s bowed back. Eventually, Quin turns him around and coaxes him along to the lifts, and back to Quin’s quarters because he refuses to leave Obi-Wan alone, but Obi-Wan has no memory of this. He is only aware of what he has somehow lost.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padawan to Qui-Gon Jinn, has known the man for nearly a decade. He’s seen Qui-Gon ill, wounded, grieving, guilty, wrathful, and shamed, but he’s never seen him so completely broken. His Master, who would always rise to any challenge placed before him, even in the form of a moody, heartsick Padawan—that Master Jinn is nowhere to be found.

He is a Knight of the Order; has been, three years now, and Qui-Gon Jinn is not his Master anymore. But more than anything else, at this moment, Obi-Wan misses that man the most: the implacable calm that would meet his every invective like some unshakeable mountain, would tend to every injury with large, gentle hands, and enfold him in the serenity he sorely missed and could not find his own way back to.

It hurts to see Qui-Gon so broken when Obi-Wan can barely hold enough of himself together. But Obi-Wan is long numb to pain, and in its place there is only anger.

 


 

The Temple on Chandrila is a beautiful, peaceful place, set in—and into—the mountains and surrounded, for miles, by forest. It is thus fairly secluded, most easily approached by air, but Qui-Gon notes almost upon landing that the Temple is not at all isolated from the local population. There are well-tended routes and footpaths into the nearby settlements, and a great many people not dressed in Jedi tunics or robes who come and go as they need.

Despite the overall size of the Temple, there are quite few Jedi in it. Most are Archivists—dyed-in-the-wool, and they spend the better part of their time in and about the Library. There are quite a few Corps members, either casually dressed or in uniform. There are more Healers than Qui-Gon has ever seen in one place—he can tell them apart by the fact that their tabards are a distinctive rich green. The visiting Jedi are obvious, and Qui-Gon is as obvious as any of them: they keep to themselves, for the most part, and observe their surroundings with a faintly shell-shocked expression.

This Temple is very different from Coruscant, and—Qui-Gon is willing to bet on it—from Corellia, too.

Perhaps some Jedi find common ground in this bizarre shift from what they are accustomed to; Qui-Gon has no interest in finding common ground with anybody. Granted, he has been ordered here specifically to the medical facilities, and he would like very much to be anywhere else, for the moment. The pre-surgery checks and tests are extensive, and exhausting, and Qui-Gon would much rather hide in the Archives and bury himself in the texts afterwards than talk with people.

He certainly isn’t interested in finding common ground among fellow patients. Or, he would be—with one of them.

But Qui-Gon has been—not hiding,  exactly. Although, in as small a Temple as this, it would not be completely inaccurate to say that two people could only avoid each other for so long by putting some effort into it. Particularly as their quarters are on nearly opposite ends of the same hall. Qui-Gon doesn’t exactly duck out of sight whenever he sees a hint of copper hair out of the corner of his eye. He just tends to alter course whenever he gets the sense of one Obi-Wan Kenobi somewhere nearby.

Or he has been, but in the last few hours Obi-Wan has been shielding rather heavily. Which should be hint enough that this strange dance is drawing to a close.

Of course it is. In spectacular fashion, with a robed figure appearing on the edge of Qui-Gon’s vision as he sits and prods at the mostly untouched dinner on his plate.

“Did they send you here to keep an eye on me?” Obi-Wan asks, deceptively mild.

Qui-Gon dares to glance up, if only furtively. “Are you plotting an escape?” he counters, raising an eyebrow.

Obi-Wan opens his mouth for a fast retort, but hesitates, as if to consider the possibility. “Hadn’t thought of it, actually.”

“Mm. Well, if you do, please take me with you. I am, of course, willing to provide any assistance,” Qui-Gon adds, and turns back to his meal, which he didn’t have any intention of tasting even before this strange encounter.

Obi-Wan hovers a moment longer at the edge of his vision, as if trying to decide whether it’s best to leave after all. Finally he sits down, a bit abruptly. The move startles Qui-Gon, though he doesn’t show it. This is almost the longest conversation they’ve had since Obi-Wan’s return, and it makes Qui-Gon more and more nervous with every passing second—afraid that he’ll say something wrong, break this prickly détente of theirs. A détente that hangs only on the fact that they’ve been avoiding each other since they’d arrived, anyway.

“Then why are you here?” Obi-Wan asks him. There’s something blunt—suspicious, in his manner if not his tone.

Qui-Gon sighs. “I've been ordered here,” he says, “for reconstructive surgery. Cloned tissue replacement, mostly.”

Obi-Wan blinks. “I thought—”

The silence stretches out for another few interminable seconds; it makes the hairs on Qui-Gon’s neck stand up with an unpleasant prickle. He glances up again, and finds the young Knight looking strangely unmoored, as though whatever had been driving his questions had abruptly gone off-track..

Naboo’s healthcare policies define a rather narrow margin wherein Healers may make use of cloned tissues to replace what their patients have lost: the probability of survival must be anywhere between thirty and fifty percent.

Qui-Gon’s prognosis was not within that margin.

Artificial, mechanical replacements are not unsatisfactory, per se.  Over the course of many years—before bacta came back into galactic circulation and before cloned tissue became a viable, widely available alternative (barring certain legal complications)—artificial replacements had been refined to the point that they nearly replicated organic tissue function. But, alas, the rejection rate is still an eventual one hundred percent—only the time frame varies. The necessary immunosuppressive therapy, even at the maintenance dose, severely constrains the number of systems to which an individual—particularly a Jedi diplomat—can be deployed, never mind the type of missions. Even with those restrictions, it’s a serious risk.

It’s been three years since Naboo, and Qui-Gon’s replacements are still in nearly ideal working order. As a general rule, however, it is recommended—especially for active service personnel, like Jedi or Judicial—to replace artificial organs with cloned tissue within a year.

From the look on Obi-Wan’s face, he is as familiar with all of this information as Qui-Gon himself, and has been for about as long.

“My first assignment after Naboo,” Obi-Wan finally says, “I asked your Healer. I wanted to know what would happen to you while I was away. When I left, they told me those procedures were scheduled in six months. I wanted to be there for it,” Obi-Wan says quietly, and there’s something, a softening perhaps, in his voice.

Qui-Gon refuses the to acknowledge the flutter that voice and those words stir in his heart—as if telling himself that there couldn’t possibly be one makes any difference. He shrugs. “There was a problem at the cloning facility. Another legal battle to permit distribution of cloned organs in Republic space,” Qui-Gon scoffs faintly at his dinner, “something about putting pressure on the system for resisting passage of some bill or other.”

It had seemed appropriately ironic then, that the Coruscant-bound, premier negotiator of the Order be assigned to work with the Ithorian Senator, to persuade him to come around to the Republic’s terms. It was a dirty move. It was also the Senate’s misfortune that the Jedi whose assistance they’d requested for these negotiations was indeed the best: Qui-Gon hadn’t neglected to read the full text of the bill. He’d also, against all odds, succeeded in renegotiating it in the Ithorians’ favour.

But the damage was done: there was a long line of backordered cloned tissues for all sorts of procedures, and Qui-Gon’s status was not urgent.

“I never had it rescheduled,” Qui-Gon admits. “Until now. Council’s orders.”

“Thank the Force.”

The relief in those words is palpable, and staggering. It draws Qui-Gon’s wide eyes back up to Obi-Wan’s face.

His former Padawan  looks more than a little disturbed now, hand clenching white-knuckled on the edge of the table at intervals. “Why did you put it off so long?”

“After you went missing, after Quinlan went looking and couldn’t find you—” Qui-Gon shakes his head, shamed. “I saw no point in it.”

I saw no point in it, without you.

He isn’t telling the complete truth, though Qui-Gon doesn’t think his Padawan needs to hear it. No—he doesn’t want  Obi-Wan to hear it; it’s a weakness all his own, and Obi-Wan has already seen it in him, and suffered for it, after both Xan’s death and Tahl’s.

Qui-Gon would have avoided the surgeries—permanently—even after Obi-Wan’s return. When Obi-Wan looked at him with that cold and dead expression, to Qui-Gon he seemed more a ghost than the man he’d seen his Padawan grow into. It had seemed to him, then, that this was not his Padawan at all—Obi-Wan was lost, still, somewhere in the depths of Wild Space, but this thing, this shade could not be him.

Qui-Gon had hated the thought. He’d hated himself,  for not having gone off to find Obi-Wan when he went missing. As if he could have searched the planet, the system, and then the galaxy, better than Quinlan Vos.

Perhaps more than that, Qui-Gon had felt that he was certainly the last person who could bring Obi-Wan back from whatever shadow-world he’d been lost to. Better leave that to Quinlan, Qui-Gon had thought, bitter jealousy curling briefly in his veins, before he banished the unworthy thought altogether. Fool of an old man, as if I could ever have dared to hope…

In the end, the esteemed Council had taken the decision out of his hands and ordered Qui-Gon to the Temple of Healing. He supposes it was some relief to them that he hadn’t challenged their decision. In truth, Qui-Gon would have taken any order given to him. If he’d gotten a mission, he would simply have fallen back into old ways, waiting for a negotiation to go spectacularly wrong and take him with it.

Then again, that option is still there; it is always there, and will be, when he leaves this place. The Temple of Healing is simply a stop-gap.

Obi-Wan stares at him.  That edge, that sense of suspicion, is gone, but the desolation Qui-Gon sees instead is almost worse. “You never said,” he whispers, and it nearly breaks Qui-Gon apart.

No, stop-gaps be damned. Qui-Gon hasn’t seen that look on Obi-Wan's face save once in his life, and he won’t be responsible for putting it there again, not willingly.

Qui-Gon’s missions take much from him; often, as a representative of the Republic, a Jedi serves as a focus for the people’s hate and ire, and Qui-Gon—as a representative of the Republic—takes it as his due. It’s easy to forget, and to blur the line sometimes, but Qui-Gon knows better than to allow that. In all his career, only one mission has come so perilously close to tearing his soul apart.

It appears they both live with reminders of Naboo hanging over their heads.

He tries a smile, and it feels nearly like something brand-new. “You are here now,” he says quietly. And perhaps he has found the right words for once, as something in Obi-Wan’s presence seems to—relax. Qui-Gon will take any tiny victories he can get.

 


 

There are so many missed chances between them. Qui-Gon was never at Obi-Wan’s Knighting; Obi-Wan could not stay, to help Qui-Gon through his recovery. Qui-Gon hadn’t expected Obi-Wan would come to see him after completing his first mission, and had botched the reunion beyond—he’d thought—all repair.

Obi-Wan came to see him again, afterwards, and they’d had… words. Words Qui-Gon doesn’t want to recall: he deserved everything Obi-Wan had thrown at him; but Qui-Gon allowed his anger to take hold, and his retort had been deliberately cruel. There are few things the Jedi Master regrets in his life even half as much as what he had said to his former Padawan that night—and what he had left unsaid.

There is so much unsaid that Qui-Gon never knows where to begin. He could have filled datapads, after Obi-Wan went missing. Sometimes he’d attempted to write letters, the feeling of a stylus in his hand and its friction on flimsi a part of a meditation that tore into his heart to shreds with grief and regret. The process was sometimes cathartic, but not a single one of those attempts had ever taken the form of a letter, and somehow that seems important now. Part of Qui-Gon wants to arrange his thoughts neatly, in a careful series of entries, explanations, and long-owed apologies. Instead, more often than not, Qui-Gon watches them spill free from his treacherous mouth, laying him open before the man who holds his heart at his mercy.

But Obi-Wan never reacts in the way Qui-Gon expects him to; certainly not in the way Qui-Gon believes he deserves.

 


 

The balcony at the end of their hall has become their neutral meeting ground, it seems. Qui-Gon marvels at how little it took just to get this far, just for them to speak again on equal, if not completely unfrosted terms.

Obi-Wan drags his fingers through the cold, shimmering raindrops on their table, and darts a glance at Qui-Gon sideways. Qui-Gon nearly voices his frustration when that brief look flits away, leaving him feeling strangely bereft—isolated, like Obi-Wan is still holding himself at arm’s length from his former Master.

But, Qui-Gon reflects, this lack of trust is merely a consequence of all the ways he’s hurt this man. He mulls over that fact for a long moment before Obi-Wan finally breaks their silence.

“I was angry,” Obi-Wan admits, “I thought I was angry at you.”

Qui-Gon snorts, a bitter little smile breaking through his heartsickness. “I’ve done plenty to deserve it.”

“No.”

There is no hesitation in it, a flat denial that makes Qui-Gon tear his eyes from the beautiful, rain-wet, fog-shrouded forest and look over at Obi-Wan again.

Obi-Wan’s lips are a pale thin line, his expression pained. “I—no. When I came back, I wanted… I needed my Master. But he was nowhere to be found. You were hurting, and I hated it, hated that I couldn’t fix it. I,” he laughs, a near-silent, breathy broken chuckle, “I hated that I was the one who’d hurt you. The things I said—”

“You were right, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon whispers softly.

But his former Padawan shakes his head emphatically, jaw set in that stubborn line he knows and loves so dearly. “I was not. Qui-Gon, we were neither of us at our best before Naboo; after—” Obi-Wan breaks off, and shakes his head. “I’d nearly lost you. I allowed my fear to govern me, and I lashed out at you. Then, like a coward, I was so desperate for any excuse to avoid you that I took my first mission assignment at random and left without saying goodbye. I did not truly expect to be welcome when I returned. Really, I shouldn’t have been surprised when you refused me as a partner,” Obi-Wan smiled, a wry, small, self-deprecating thing.

Qui-Gon blinks. “I did not refuse you, Obi-Wan. I refused a partnership because you deserved better than being saddled with your old Master.”

“Saddled,” Obi-Wan echoes, looking faintly stunned. “Whatever gave you the idea that you would be a burden?”

“I was barely recovered, and had no chance of being cleared for duty for perhaps another year. The Council had me wrangling Senate committees. I was too tired even to contemplate strangling every bureaucrat in sight, and certainly in no shape to run them down in the halls. You would have been all but chained to the Temple,” Qui-Gon reasoned, patiently.

“That’s no reason to refuse, and you know it,” Obi-Wan says in mild reproach. “It’s not like you asked. You didn’t tell me any of this, and you didn’t ask if I would be willing to take those assignments for a year.”

Qui-Gon can’t help a soft huff. “A waste of your skills.”

Obi-Wan ignores him. “You would have recovered, eventually,” he says. “Perhaps faster, if someone was there for you.”

“You should never have had to be there for me, look after me,” Qui-Gon shoots back, sharper than he’d intended. “That was my responsibility to you, Padawan.

Obi-Wan eyes him warily. “It was never a burden, Qui-Gon. Not once. It was… I wanted to be there for you. Truly.”

“But it wasn’t a duty you should ever have had to perform,” Qui-Gon insists, growing frustrated.

“We helped each other.” Obi-Wan, confused and a touch hurt, is watching him from across the table. The gap between them feels like it’s growing wider every second, threatening to crack them apart again.

“No, my Padawan.” Qui-Gon sighs, and drops his gaze to the tabletop again. “That is not what I meant. It was my duty as a Master to protect you, yet I failed you in that more than once. I refused you when I should have believed you. I left you behind despite my duty of care.”

“That was a long time ago,” Obi-Wan points out quietly.

“New Apsolon was not so very long ago.” Qui-Gon senses Obi-Wan’s protest from across the table and looks up, stopping him before he can say a word. “There was no reason for you to stay with someone who had failed you so badly and often, and certainly not after I’d done so again, on Naboo.

“You are—and always were—exceptional, Obi-Wan, and for that I can take no credit, because you came to me that way. There is a core of goodness and devotion to you, a streak of compassion I repeatedly failed to see. You should not have had to fight your way back to my side, not ever,” Qui-Gon adds softly, “but I left you no choice. I never did.”

He sighs and leans back in his chair, feeling a great weight sink through his bones, leaving exhaustion in its wake. “You’ve made your sorry Master so proud, Obi-Wan; but all your successes have been in spite of me.”

Obi-Wan is still watching him with a shuttered expression. “And what of the fact that I am—‘headstrong’, I believe you said? Stubborn and reckless, utterly unconcerned for my own safety?”

“As am I,” Qui-Gon concedes, with a faintly crooked smile. “I had to teach you something.”

“Fuck you, Jinn,” Obi-Wan Kenobi says, voice oddly toneless, faintly prickling yet devoid of anything like ire. “If you cannot take credit for my successes, then you dare not take on my faults, as well.”

Qui-Gon stares at him, nonplussed. He peers at that stony expression, searching for the slightest chink—anything, anywhere. What he finds, finally, is the barest trace of humour in his Padawan’s eyes, and that only because Obi-Wan is fighting a losing battle to hide it with every passing second.

Qui-Gon feels the corner of his mouth twitch upward, and Obi-Wan’s control bursts into a cascade of shimmering, mirthful sparks. Some wall inside him crumbles at the sight, and Qui-Gon has the sense of crashing relief, like a massive tidal wave.

There you are,  he thinks. His heart stutters and begins to beat anew, for what feels like the first time in three years.

Moments later, when the laughter bubbles away, Obi-Wan draws a finger under the corner of one eye. “Sorry, sorry,” he says. “Couldn’t resist.”

Qui-Gon smiles back at him. “No, Obi-Wan—thank you. You certainly drove home the point,” he admits, not unkindly.

For some reason, his words have yet again the opposite of the intended effect. Obi-Wan’s expression twists. “I’m—I’m sorry, I need to—” He rises sharply from his seat, then stops, and Qui-Gon feels it when he pulls the Force around him for serenity. “Your pardon, Master Jinn, I'm afraid I have an appointment.”

The faint tremor in his voice startles Qui-Gon. But much as he would like to reach out across the space between, to open his arms to his Padawan and hold him until the overwhelming emotion passes, whatever it may be—he can’t. Obi-Wan isn’t his Padawan anymore, and the young Knight does not need, or want, his former Master’s comfort.

As it is, Qui-Gon barely has time to rise before Obi-Wan turns and hurries away. He stands and watches the younger man leave with a pinch in his chest. Qui-Gon doesn’t see him at dinner, either, and Obi-Wan doesn’t come to the balcony again later that evening.

So, that night, Qui-Gon finds himself at loose ends, and goes wandering in the Temple’s library without looking at the shelves. The smell of old leather and solid, woven paper—not flimsi—is balm enough to his overextended nerves. When he raises his eyes next, he discovers he’s in the poetry section, of all places.

Qui-Gon pulls a dusty, slender old book from the shelf at random, and lets it fall open across his palm. It’s a little like looking to the Force for answers to questions he hasn’t even asked: sometimes the Force provides. Though, this time, Qui-Gon can’t tell what it had meant to say.  

  

I walked in the brilliance of a long-drawn night,
feet leaving tracks on the shifting sands
that erased my name from histories
but held something more ancient for me to see
in the palm of the ocean’s hand.
The stories of lives of ancient mountains,
chipped to dust. The stories of saltwater creatures’ shells
worn to a powdered salt. Maybe one day
in a million years it’ll hold a story of you
in the palm of its hand, and me, a galaxy away.

 

On impulse, though, he searches the database for the author’s name and walks away with a new set of files saved to his datareader.

The next morning, before breakfast, Qui-Gon wanders over to their spot listlessly with a cup of tea in hand, not really hoping to find his company. He starts at the sight that greets him, nearly spilling the precious liquid. A bleary-eyed Obi-Wan Kenobi is already there, leaning forward on his elbows over the wide railing and gazing into the grey clouded dawn over the treetops.

Qui-Gon pauses at the door, unsure if his presence would be welcomed. He slept fitfully last night, dreaming of shadows and cruel laughter, and twisted faces without any name. He suspects his—former—Padawan hasn’t slept at all.

“Please, don’t do that,” Obi-Wan says, voice a little heavier, a little less sure than it was before.

Qui-Gon blinks at him, then carefully moves to take his favoured seat. “Do what?”

Obi-Wan looks—uneasy, but determined. “Don’t… it’s a point of some pride to me, that I was able to help my Master. That we could help each other. Please don’t take away what comfort, what pride, I took from that—on the grounds that I should never have had to do it.”

Obi-Wan eyes him warily before he continues, while Qui-Gon tries to make his mind put the words together with their meaning.

“You’re right,” Obi-Wan adds, “but you have a tendency to forget that that is not all of you. You went to the Mind Healers after Xanatos, and Tahl, and it helped. What other arguments we had, we typically resolved without much issue—and they were usually disagreements based on a difference in breadth of experience, I might add,” Obi-Wan smiles wryly, “as is the rule between the student and the Master.”

Qui-Gon echoes the grin faintly. “That you should never have had to deal with—the aftermath—of Tahl’s death, of that broken pair-bond… that is only part of the problem. After all, no Master is perfect, and that kind of psychic damage is almost an inevitable part of the sort of work we do. But I was afraid that if you knew, if you understood all the responsibilities that my Coruscant-bound existence entailed, you would have agreed to it regardless of whether it was the right move. That you would have done it out of obligation to your old Master, rather than out your duty to the Order.”

Obi-Wan visibly bristles at the suggestion, and Qui-Gon raises a placating hand before his former Padawan can take him apart with a precise killing-stroke of a retort.

“Obi-Wan, you have always worked exceptionally hard to please your superiors. When you were comfortable enough in our partnership, that element became secondary, but it did not vanish. You have put a great deal of effort into proving yourself before the Council, and small wonder; they never acknowledged your successes while you were my Padawan, because you were overshadowed by the Maverick and his unorthodox methods.”

Qui-Gon sighs deeply, and leans back into the depths of his chair. “You have—you are wonderfully kind and compassionate, but you throw everything of yourself into what you do. That is not a bad thing in itself, but it is easy to lose sight of one’s own wellbeing.”

Obi-Wan snorts. “You’re one to talk.”

“Exactly.” That seems to get the younger man’s attention. “But it is a matter of context. I could have so easily fallen back on the role of your Master, but that was no longer my right. It would have been—taking advantage, Obi-Wan; of you, and of your kindness.”

Obi-Wan’s scowl is a barely-there shadow on his face, but Qui-Gon feels a touch of resentful heat licking at the Force like a small flame. “If you believe you would have been taking advantage of me,” Obi-Wan says tightly, “then that is more your problem than mine.”

“Perhaps,” Qui-Gon agrees, and can see that his reply surprises the other man. “But can you truly tell me that you would not have fallen back on old habits, then, if I’d asked you to stay? That you would not have deferred to me the way you had as a Padawan?”

The glare Obi-Wan gives him is mutinous, but eloquent in its own way. Obi-Wan shakes his head and looks out over the trees, mulling that over. After a moment, though, he sighs. “I don’t know,” he says. “It’s not really as though I’d ever been particularly deferential. But I… I was to find a partner for future missions, and we’d always made an excellent team. There was no one else. You and I, we were barely in-Temple. My agemates were never trained for the sort of missions we took. I suppose I would eventually be assigned a partner and we’d work it out on the fly, but—well. We always worked well together. I suppose I thought we would work out new boundaries as we went along.”

Qui-Gon sighs. “We probably would, at that. But you needed to learn the measure of your own skills either way.” He huffs into his morning cup of tea, then. “Though, to the comment on your agemates’ skills—I’m almost certain Vos would disagree.”

Obi-Wan turns to look at him, one eyebrow raised in polite disbelief. “Quin? The man is walking property damage waiting to happen.”

“And you are far more subtle, certainly,” Qui-Gon agrees. “You two are good for each other.”

There’s a hint of a devilish glimmer in Obi-Wan’s eye at that. “I can’t decide whether that was sincere or not.”

Qui-Gon snorts. “The latter statement was quite sincere, I assure you.”

“What a pity for Quinlan, then, that my interests do not lie in permanently serving as his damage control,” Obi-Wan says.

Qui-Gon blinks at him, not quite daring to draw the logical conclusion from that sentence. “Really.”

“Really, no interest whatsoever.” Obi-Wan’s knowing grin grows a little wider, and a little more wicked. “And what of your former statement?”

Qui-Gon shrugs and buries his face in the relative safety of his tea, certain that he is blushing. “I haven’t decided yet,” he retorts from there.

Obi-Wan laughs—laughs at Qui-Gon’s teasing the way he always has, and for the first time since their quarrel. The sound is sparkling bright, and a balm to Qui-Gon’s treacherous heart.

 


 

Things are easier between them, for a while. Qui-Gon finds that Obi-Wan spends more time in his company—not just on that balcony they’ve claimed. First Obi-Wan joins him in the archives, then asks Qui-Gon to join him for katas in the Temple’s smaller, private training areas. Qui-Gon helps him, while he can. His Healers have given the all-clear for the procedure—it’s the cloned organs that are still in development, and will be, for the next ten or so. Obi-Wan suitably distracts him from that prospect; once he recovers enough stamina and muscle mass, he fights with such a brilliant ferocity that it takes Qui-Gon’s breath away, in more ways than one. Obi-Wan is beautiful, all fire and grace. Qui-Gon had always been aware of his potential, but he’d never imagined he would get a chance to see it unfold before him in such a form.

Afterwards, Qui-Gon accompanies him to the gardens to meditate, or simply for a casual stroll. On days when something clearly weighs heavy on Obi-Wan’s mind, Qui-Gon sometimes coaxes him out to the village for a distraction.

It’s on one of the days when Obi-Wan’s manner is light, but a bit distant, that Qui-Gon asks a question he probably shouldn’t have voiced. It escapes him before he knows what he is going to say, and he is too shocked to even curse himself for a failure as a diplomat.

“Will you tell me about the scars?”

Qui-Gon hasn’t dared to ask that question in months. Not when he’d caught glimpses of them, at Obi-Wan’s wrists, the collar-like band around his neck that his tunics can’t hide when he leans over to peer at a plant in the gardens.

They’re sitting in one of the larger Temple gardens now, at the bank of a secluded pool. It’s quiet here, in the sense that there is little sentient foot-traffic nearby, and the trees and bushes insulate them from the Temple’s quotidien noise. The wildlife, on the other hand, is very vocal, and largely fearless.

Obi-Wan is silent for a long, long moment, but he doesn’t refuse to answer outright. Even the incessant trilling of local birds pauses in that time, as if the garden itself stops to hold its breath while Obi-Wan sits, eyes closed, and focuses on the long-familiar meditative pattern of breathing. Qui-Gon certainly feels the urge to match him in this, but cannot: his pulse quickens, his breath comes shallow. The midday silence feels stifling. He shouldn’t have asked, and he is about to curse himself to the end of the galaxy and back.

The birds start trilling their raucous mating calls again.

Finally, Obi-Wan clears his throat, and begins to speak. “We were assigned, Quin and I, to track down the ends of a sentient trafficking ring,” Obi-Wan says softly. “They were a new presence, and the local government didn’t have the means to find out who they were. Well-connected, I suppose. Quin was—we got ourselves split up.”

Qui-Gon reaches over and takes his hand, grasps it tightly—a distraction, something to ground Obi-Wan in the present moment. His mouth has gone dry, and his vision is blurry. “Your neck?” he asks, voice so small it’s a wonder Obi-Wan hears him.

Obi-Wan’s lips thin, and he quirks an eyebrow. “Force Inhibitor. How else do you control a Jedi?”

At least, Qui-Gon thinks, that explains why the bond between them went dead-silent all those years ago; and, of course, why Quinlan couldn’t find him. Even before Knight Vos’s return, Qui-Gon had known something was horribly wrong. But he’d always held out hope that Obi-Wan was alive.

“They made an example of me,” Obi-Wan goes on, with that same thread of bitter humour. “Finally managed to find a grown, trained Force user they could overpower. And take out all their pent-up hatred on.”

“Padawan.”  The title tears its way out of Qui-Gon’s chest on a wave of grief and pain. There is nothing in the world that he wouldn’t have done, nothing he wouldn’t have given, to spare his Padawan— this, and he never even had the chance to give it.

Obi-Wan glances up at him, a touch alarmed. “Qui-Gon?”

He reaches up and brushes tears from Qui-Gon’s face with gentle fingers and soft tunic sleeve. Qui-Gon hadn’t even noticed them.

“I’m all right, you know,” Obi-Wan says softly.

Qui-Gon swallows. “I’m not,” he manages, his voice not much more than a ruined whisper.

Obi-Wan smiles—a small, sad thing that could tear Qui-Gon apart more surely than anything else between them. “My Master,” Obi-Wan whispers back. “I’ve missed you.”

It’s a small and tentative thing, the jerky little movement that Qui-Gon makes, but it’s enough—enough that Obi-Wan understands what he’d intended, and moves into the offered embrace. Qui-Gon, for his part, buries his face in his Padawan’s shoulder and sinks into the feeling of the man’s arms around him.

It feels, just a little bit, like coming home.

 


 

Obi-Wan finds Qui-Gon early the next morning, already in loose-fitting, soft clothes. He’d been vaguely aware of the approaching date of Qui-Gon’s—procedure—but it’s the sight of him in those clothes that drives it home, and drives the air from his lungs.

Medical-issue, in this Temple, is completely unlike anything Obi-Wan has ever seen in any medcenter. It’s soft and comforting, and the look on Qui-Gon’s face as he watches the slow sunrise makes Obi-Wan bury his hands deep in his sleeves. He wants to reach out, to wrap his arms around the other man, bury his face in Qui-Gon’s back and just—breathe the man in.

He is certain the gesture will be unwelcome, though; and besides, he can be just as happy here, leaning in the entryway and watching Qui-Gon’s face. The Master’s hair is braided back, sharpening his features—but the look of him is yet soft-edged and sleep-warm, like something out of Obi-Wan’s best dreams. He hasn’t had many of those, lately, so the last thing he wants is to disturb this tableau in particular.

Qui-Gon, of course, does it for him. He turns and smiles at Obi-Wan, and, after a moment’s hesitation, tentatively beckons him over. There is a hint of doubt in his eyes that wraps around Obi-Wan’s heart and twists. So Obi-Wan lets his feet carry him forward. Qui-Gon tucks his former Padawan right against his side, and sighs. Obi-Wan feels tears spring to his eyes, and he does his best to hide them, turning his head into Qui-Gon’s shoulder and squeezing them shut for a long moment.

Obi-Wan would not willingly admit it for the world, not now, but he is afraid. Yes, the surgery is rated as fairly low-risk—now that Qui-Gon is no longer fighting for his life—and the cloned tissues carry a low risk of rejection. But it worries him still. He thinks of the scar on Qui-Gon’s chest and wraps his arms around the bulk of the man, as if that could shield him from all the world’s ills.

Qui-Gon says nothing; simply holds him close, and that is far more reassuring than any words could be in this moment.

Obi-Wan stays with Qui-Gon for as long as he can, accompanies him as far as he is permitted—as far as the intake area, even, and then he hovers a few extra moments at the door.

And then he drifts.

He paces the Temple, almost as though he’s decided to measure its size by his steps. But his feet lead him right back to Qui-Gon’s door—of course they do.

Qui-Gon had tentatively, carefully asked him, a few days ago, if Obi-Wan had trouble sleeping. He’d danced around a true answer, but Qui-Gon—ever perceptive, ever decisive where his Padawan’s health was concerned—had keyed him into the lock on his quarters. Obi-Wan hadn’t really wanted to protest; and in turn he’d done the same, and keyed Qui-Gon into his own rooms, under cover of teasing and easy humour.

Or perhaps not so easy, because he’d definitely seen Qui-Gon blush. To this moment, though, Obi-Wan has no idea what he’d said to get that reaction.

Qui-Gon’s rooms are like him. That’s a surprise. It isn’t as though these rooms are furnished individually to suit their temporary occupants; but perhaps the Quartermaster has some sense for who will be occupying the guest quarters, and places them accordingly. This—a room with potted plants breathing in every corner, whispering their quiet and peaceful tales—this is bliss. Obi-Wan senses that, while not closed off from the rest of the Temple by any measure, here, Qui-Gon allows himself to unfurl, like a red-purple barka plant opening its leaves to the sun.

Obi-Wan sets aside the feeling that he is invading something private—something intimate, even. After all, Qui-Gon was the one to grant him entry. Any time,  he had said, for needs great or small.

This need is, perhaps, one that Qui-Gon would call quite small, Obi-Wan thinks ruefully. A small service for him, to ease a keening, clawing, hungry need for Obi-Wan. He crosses the small anteroom, with its tiny but serviceable kitchen, its small table fit for a quiet dinner company of up to three guests and modest sitting area on the other side. Through there, past the small ‘fresher, is the Master’s bedroom.

Obi-Wan stops, and smiles, amused. Now he knows for certain that the Quartermaster’s perpetually sly look is not for nothing.

The bed is large enough to be fit for a Wookiee, though most Wooks have a strong preference for hammocks. But for injuries of all kinds, beds would be more suitable, so the existence of a bed of this size is no great mystery or overindulgence. Besides, it suits a tall Jedi Master far better. A tall Jedi Master with Wookiee ancestry,  Obi-Wan thinks, and smirks.

This room feels more like him. It eases something in Obi-Wan the way being held in Qui-Gon’s arms does. Almost.

A datapad lying almost carelessly on the corner of the nightstand catches Obi-Wan’s attention, and he smiles, thinking of his former Master’s admonishments about reading in bed and well into the night. You know I won’t be able to wake you in the morning, Padawan; neither your books nor your studies will run away from you, Padawan.  Followed, in the morning, by a resigned sigh and a suppressed grin that still managed to turn up in the corner of his mouth, no matter how much Qui-Gon fought it.

Obi-Wan is seized with a strange and sudden need to know, to share in whatever Qui-Gon was reading. Intrusive, again, but so far beyond an ordinary, resistable temptation. He sits gingerly on the edge of the bed and picks up the ‘pad, thumbs it on.

The display wakes, and shows him a poem that Qui-Gon has bookmarked. 

 

Come back soon!
I’ve made dinner for two again,
gorged myself on grief for what could not be salvaged
of this feast. Wilted salad leaves,
and crushed cherries,
all your favourites that I myself cannot eat.
Would that we shared more of our tastes—
but alas. You breathe fire;
left alone, my fare is woefully bland.

 

Obi-Wan doesn’t know what to make of that at all, but something wraps around his heart and tugs.  He sighs, and puts the datapad back exactly as it was; a deliberate repetition of something that had been done carelessly. It looks better that way, he decides, than if he’d aligned it to the corner or the edge.

He doesn’t want to move. He doesn’t want to leave here. The Healers promised to comm him when Qui-Gon was in Recovery. Obi-Wan sighs, and curls up on the bed, dragging a pillow over to himself. He buries his face in it, breathing in Qui-Gon’s scent and thinking he’s been rather a fool.

 


 

Waking from general anaesthesia is one of the least enjoyable experiences of Qui-Gon’s life, but—alas, not nearly as an infrequent as he would like. The scent-taste of bacta he can almost tolerate; the after-effects of the anaesthesia, however, usually include a sensation akin to sleep paralysis—and this time is no exception. With the fresh oxygen vent some kind soul had left blowing cold air directly into his face, Qui-Gon finds his situation doubly unpleasant, and struggles—in vain—to free an arm from his sluggish body’s bind and at least plaster a hand over his face, if he can’t reach up to change the angle of the damn thing.

That, however, is the moment he becomes conscious of the fact that his arm isn’t just sluggish—but pinned against him. The weight, whatever it is, shifts with a faint murmur, and Qui-Gon freezes. He tries to open his eyes instead.

The brilliant copper that he sees first explains quite a bit. Obi-Wan has, apparently, fallen asleep on his forearm, and Qui-Gon can’t fight a slow and sappy smile at this discovery. It’s almost enough to distract from the annoying damned vent. Qui-Gon all but holds his breath, unwilling to wake the man, and goes to work on his other arm.

He’s not as successful at staying quiet as he would like. Obi-Wan stirs again, makes that soft noise that has Qui-Gon’s heart nearly bursting out of his chest with warmth and fondness, and lifts his head, blinking blearily in the room’s harsh light. He looks right at Qui-Gon for a few seconds before he realises Qui-Gon is looking back at him.

“You’re awake!” Obi-Wan whispers, voice thick and sleep-rough. One hand, still uncoordinated and warm—nearly burning—pats awkwardly at Qui-Gon’s shoulder, and Qui-Gon smiles.

“Obi-Wan,” he says, or tries to.

Obi-Wan frowns and shakes his head at him earnestly, reaching over to rest fingers over his lips. “Not a word out of you,” he rasps back, brows drawing together in an expression that tries to be stern, but is, instead, entirely too sleepy to manage it.

Obi-Wan pokes at the controls on the biobed, raising it slowly and not very far—far enough to change the angle of the cold air blowing in his face and direct it right into his eyes, unfortunately, but Obi-Wan notices and snaps the vent off. Qui-Gon gives him a grateful little smile, and resigns himself to being fussed over as Obi-Wan prods at the call button for the Healers and starts looking about for water or ice chips.

Always on the move,  Qui-Gon thinks fondly, and gets a faint glare for it, along with the message that his shields are a bit less than thorough. He can’t really be bothered to care, though, as he drifts in and out of consciousness, constantly reassured by the shining presence that is Obi-Wan Kenobi at the edge of his senses, and the low murmur of Obi-Wan’s voice.

Obi-Wan reads to him from his datapad, which Obi-Wan somehow has with him—that’s interesting. Qui-Gon could have sworn he’d left it in his rooms, and even had time to regret that decision, waiting for the Healers to take him in. Obi-Wan doesn’t read the poetry, though, Qui-Gon notes—and he remembers that was what he’d been reading last. But that’s all right. His Padawan was never really one for poetry, though his own, when he wrote it, was simply breathtaking.

Qui-Gon wishes he could stay in this moment forever, in the peace and safety of having Obi-Wan near. It makes for a lovely dream, while he is rather definitively off duty and recuperating, effectively detached from reality in a haze of some very good drugs. The passage of time loses all meaning as he drifts.

Obi-Wan eventually stops reading with a sigh, and sets the datapad aside. “That’s probably enough philosophy for today.”

Qui-Gon hums in agreement—surprising him, perhaps, because Obi-Wan turns a wide but startled smile on him.

“Hello there,” he says softly.

Qui-Gon grins back at him, feeling more alert than he has in—he doesn’t really know, actually. “Hello.”

At least he has enough of himself back by now to speak in almost-complete sentences.

Obi-Wan does most of the talking anyway. He tells Qui-Gon the latest of the Temple gossip, mutters dire things about the Healers’ attempts to dislodge him from his spot in this room, and praises the food—surprisingly. But then, the Chandrilan Temple’s refectory offerings have been far better than anything the Coruscant Temple could ever cook up. It must be the work of the AgriCorps techs, Qui-Gon guesses.

“I love your braid,” Obi-Wan says, playing with the end of the silvering length of it in his hand, running the bound tail through his fingers. The rest of it is getting rather messy now, and Qui-Gon’s scalp feels the way it does when he hasn’t touched his hair in a few days—not quite itchy, but odd, hair lying too flat and too close to his skin.

Qui-Gon smiles wryly. “A pity I won’t be able to take care of it for a little while. I almost cut it all off, that year after Naboo.”

Obi-Wan’s fingers fall still. “How did you—” He stops, shakes his head. “Never mind. I’ll—take care of it for you?” he offers, sounding hesitant. “If you like.”

Qui-Gon blinks at him slowly. “I…” He’s never seen Obi-Wan quite so diffident about anything. “That would be a kindness,” he says finally.

He has no idea how to say that he would love nothing more than for Obi-Wan to braid his hair whenever he likes, for the rest of their lives.

 


 

Qui-Gon doesn’t sleep well. He hasn’t, actually, since Naboo, but in the last few months he’s well and truly come to laugh at his former Master’s admonition that “Jedi do not dream.” Perhaps Yan Dooku does not. Qui-Gon’s dreams are nebulous and dark and full of a remembered agony that he has never experienced in all his life.

No, Qui-Gon thinks, that’s not quite true. He remembers Tholatin. He thought he’d long since laid those memories to rest.

While Obi-Wan had been with him in Recovery, Qui-Gon’s dreams were not so dire; and the drugs, he thinks, must have helped as well. The first night after he is allowed to return to his own quarters, though, Qui-Gon almost dreads sleeping. So he fights it. He reads until his eyes are tired—until that one bird under his window starts singing at third hour—for all he knows that rest would serve him better.

Then he hears the quiet chime of his door, and lets the datapad fall into his lap, a little surprised—and yet, not really. “Come in,” he says, too softly for his visitor to hear. The door slides open anyway. A moment later—just enough time to cross the small living space, past the kitchen and the small table and a smallish couch and an armchair—Obi-Wan appears in the doorway of his dimly lit bedroom. He stops there, and stares at Qui-Gon as though across a generous breach.

The space between them, filled with so many pained silences and broken things, seems smaller than it had before, at least.

“I didn’t know you had lenses,” Obi-Wan says at last.

“Oh—” He'd forgotten about that, in fact. “Only for when I’m tired,” Qui-Gon admits, reaching up to take them off. “They’re not very strong.”

And they’re light and rimless, and if he were to fall asleep on them he’d probably bend completely out of alignment.

“Ah,” says Obi-Wan, and not much else.

Qui-Gon peers at him with tired eyes, finds him fuzzy-shaped and softened. “Are you all right?”

Obi-Wan says nothing, only shakes his head slightly. That much, Qui-Gon can still see; it’s the minute tics and tightened lines that he is missing, and the thought fills him with nearly irrational panic—how could it be that he could miss such an eloquent part of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s expression? Unconscionable. He shouldn’t have taken the lenses off, though his eyes burn.

The silence stretches between them, much like it did before, when they had no idea how to reach out save to talk their way around each other. Qui-Gon doesn’t want that.

“I can’t sleep,” Qui-Gon admits. Before he can stop himself, he stretches out one hand—a tentative, undemanding offer, “care to keep me company?”

A heartbeat, another—Qui-Gon doesn’t notice precisely when Obi-Wan steps forward, but between one breath and the next the younger man crosses to the opposite side of Qui-Gon's bed. He stops, as if uncertain of his welcome. Qui-Gon hasn’t taken his eyes off him, projecting calm and reassurance—as if Obi-Wan was just another of his skittish strays.

“I have—nightmares.” Obi-Wan nearly stammers in his admission. “You don’t get much rest as it is, you’ll have even less with me.”

Qui-Gon sighs, and smiles gently. “Grant me the privilege of guarding my Padawan’s dreams, Obi-Wan, the way I used to do. I find that I have missed it.”

Obi-Wan raises a slow, incredulous eyebrow, but seems to concede without further protest, slipping his robe from his shoulders and laying it across a nearby chair. “They can’t have been a particularly pleasant experience.”

“The dreams were hardly my focus,” Qui-Gon murmurs, watching Obi-Wan slide under the covers beside him. He winds an arm around the Knight’s shoulders as Obi-Wan nestles closer.

“Oh?” Obi-Wan angles his head to look up at Qui-Gon, rather than peer into his datapad.

“You were,” Qui-Gon says simply. He settles in to read to him, the way he used to on his Padawan’s worst nights.

Qui-Gon is surprised to find that he does sleep that night. He’s even more surprised to find that Obi-Wan is still there in the morning, curled against him and nestled under his arm.

Qui-Gon rubs sleep from his eyes with one hand, surprised to find that his lenses are not on his face, and looks over to the nightstand in confusion. The datapad is there, and the lenses rest neatly on top. Qui-Gon smiles, and thinks that perhaps Obi-Wan woke in the night to find him nodding off, and rescued them from a probable crisis.

Unbidden, the last poem he remembers reading comes to his mind:  

  

My home is less a place than a time
when one morning I’ll wake offensively early
to the quiet patter of rain, make breakfast
—not just for myself, at last—and brew tea
and we’ll sit, looking out on the forest morning,
wrapped in each other’s warmth
and this sheltering mist, the breath of the sea.

 

Qui-Gon sighs, breathing in the cool morning air that drifts in through the window he left just a slight bit ajar, and nestles back into the covers against his companion. Morning can wait. He’ll savour this closeness while he can.

 


 

The Chandrilan Temple is not the best-known of the Order’s satellites, and certainly not among the best-funded. They have always traded with the locals, because that was their best option for survival, but they gave back a great deal in services. Whoever runs the Temple’s financial system here is certainly shrewd: with time, the Chandrilan Temple has been able to expand, to become one of the best medical facilities planetside. It hosts a branch of the Agricorps that is prolific, if not very large. It is an archive, a school, and a university; it is a school that trains Force-Adepts who were too old to be Jedi-trained, and many of those children are former slaves.

Qui-Gon sits in on those lessons, a casual observer who sometimes assists. The children are a delight, most of them as warm and affectionate as crèchelings and Initiates, if not more so. Most of them don’t live in-Temple: they come up from the village for a few hours in a day, for standard education with a bit of additional training in control of the Force.

The more Qui-Gon observes his surroundings, the more inclined he is to think that this is exactly what the Jedi were always meant for. But to be assigned here, to give up his usual crop of missions…

Right after Naboo Qui-Gon might truly have balked at the idea that he could never again raise his ‘saber. He takes pride as much in his skill in the art of fighting as he does in diplomacy, and as a rule his fighting and his diplomacy have always gone hand-in-hand; it’s a fact of the nature of missions he’s given, much as he would prefer it to be otherwise. He feels the insistent pull of that mad life and always will—because he does enjoy it. But this peace, this quiet place, steeped in the riot of surrounding life and focused singly on the planet this Temple is based on—

One day, Qui-Gon thinks, when he’s far too old to raise a ‘saber and far too likely to attempt it facing a Senate committee, he would like to be assigned to such a place. To sink into the flow of the Living Force, to care for the people right under his wing, to watch them flourish and grow.

Well, he thinks wryly, if he lives that long.

And yet it still takes him by surprise, when Obi-Wan expresses the same wish as he had when Qui-Gon last saw him in the Coruscant Temple. To stay with the AgriCorps, here, at the end of his Council-mandated six months with Healers.

Obi-Wan is wry and fond and teasing. “Sorry to be wasting all your dedicated lessons, Master.”

Qui-Gon frowns and waves the teasing words out of the air between them. “It’s not a waste, and never will be. Whatever you do, you will always find a use for it.” He does his best to ignore the sting he feels at the look of surprise on Obi-Wan’s face.

“It just—” Qui-Gon cuts himself off with a frustrated sigh. He’s not certain he has any right to say what he was about to, and he bites down on the impulse, hard.

Until a warm hand reaches across the table and covers his gently. He looks up, into Obi-Wan’s calm, unoffended face, into his eyes.

“Qui-Gon, I promise to at least listen to whatever you have to say. Though I will also reserve the right to wipe the salle with you afterwards.”

Qui-Gon snorts. “Oh? You’ll be waiting a while yet to cash in that debt.”

“No worries,” Obi-Wan replies easily. There’s an edge of mischief in there somewhere, but it’s the hint of some sort of future that makes Qui-Gon’s heart skip a beat.

He swallows, and glances down at their joined hands, to turn his over and curl gentle fingers around Obi-Wan’s palm.

“There is something you’re not telling me, and you do not have to,” Qui-Gon says softly, carefully not meeting Obi-Wan's gaze as he speaks. “But I fear the fact of your unwillingness to return to the Order is rooted in those nightmares, and not because you truly believe the AgriCorps is your place.”

Obi-Wan’s hand twitches in his.

Carefully, quietly, Qui-Gon continues. “The longer I live, the more inclined I am to think that one may serve the Force in any capacity, in any place—barring certain very particular Moments, perhaps. I am certain you will find your place here, if you wish it. But I would not have you make that choice out of fear, or perhaps despair.”

Obi-Wan is silent for a long moment, but his hand rests in Qui-Gon’s, while the Master breathes and hopes he has damaged nothing irreparably.

Obi-Wan sighs, finally breaking the silence. “I would really rather not think about the fact that you’re probably right.”

Qui-Gon smiles—saddened, but also relieved. “I'd really rather not be.”

Obi-Wan shrugs, and flashes him a crooked grin. “I’m sure the Mind Healers are getting tired of me dancing around the issue, anyway.”

Would that he had never spoken. That night, Qui-Gon learns exactly what lurks in Obi-Wan’s nightmares, and it’s more horrible than he ever dared to imagine.

 


 

Obi-Wan wakes up screaming, in a cold sweat and held in someone’s arms. Someone who doesn’t hold him tight enough to restrain, someone who broadcasts safety, Force-deep calm—Qui-Gon.

There’s an ache in his chest and he feels as though he’s run for miles. In his hands he feels the echo of snapping bone, popping vertebrae, pedicles and processes—as if he’s only just twisted some miserable pirate’s neck and smashed another’s head against the door—

Obi-Wan’s blood runs cold. He scrambles, twists around in Qui-Gon’s arms and grasps for every part of the man he can reach, checking for damage of any kind, be it bruise or broken bone. Qui-Gon doesn’t fight him, doesn’t restrain him, only mutters quiet reassurances that he’s fine, it’s safe, it’s all right, Obi-Wan is not there now, not anymore.

“I wanted to die,” Obi-Wan gasps out, voice hoarse and rusty. He tries to muffle the words in Qui-Gon’s shoulder, but Qui-Gon hears them anyway. Of course he does: Qui-Gon Jinn would never accept such words from his Padawan, Obi-Wan reflects wryly, because this failing is one the man is all too familiar with himself.

But instead of the expected reproach, Qui-Gon simply pulls Obi-Wan more firmly against his chest.

“Obi-Wan,” he murmurs, burying his nose in Obi-Wan’s hair—pushing a few loose strands back over his ear—and breathing evenly. Too evenly: the inhale-hold-release pattern betrays Qui-Gon’s agitation as much as his thundering heart does. Qui-Gon’s broad, warm palms smooth slow circles over Obi-Wan’s back, and the touch is undeservedly gentle, impossibly soothing. Obi-Wan squeezes his eyes shut against a wave of guilt.

“Obi-Wan.”

That voice will not, cannot,  be ignored, he knows.

“You were trapped, without weapon or backup or any chance of extraction. You knew within hours, if not seconds, that there was no escape for you—” A thumb brushes, butterfly-soft, under the thick scar that circles Obi-Wan’s neck. “Cut off from the Force, unable to call for help. That you held out for so long—”

His voice wavers, and Obi-Wan feels Qui-Gon press his forehead into the ridge of his shoulder—hard. Qui-Gon’s arms tighten around him for a brief moment, and the heat of Qui-Gon’s breath ghosts over his shoulder blade in a gasp that might be a silent sob.

Qui-Gon Jinn, undone like this—it doesn’t bear thinking about.

“I could never blame you for wanting it all to end,” Qui-Gon murmurs quietly, unevenly. “Never. In its own way, it would even have made a final, spiteful ‘fuck you’—that you ended it on your terms, and not theirs. However, I find myself horribly, selfishly grateful, that you held out as long as you did and came back to me, my Padawan, my Obi-Wan,” he adds, in a heart-wrenchingly gentle, graveled whisper.

Obi-Wan lets the man rock him gently, lets him run gentle fingers through his hair and murmur soft and wordless reassurances until the dawn creeps in. Even then, Qui-Gon makes use of the Temple’s comms system to ask someone to bring up breakfast, and he coaxes Obi-Wan through two cups of tea and a bit of toast before he is willing to let him go.

Obi-Wan, however, doesn’t want to leave.

“Then stay,” Qui-Gon says, smiling softly. So he does.

It’s another few days and a grueling session with a Mind Healer—who, bless them, prescribed sleeping pills that could knock out a rancor, ‘for variety’s sake’ as Obi-Wan had quipped—before Obi-Wan can revisit that nightmare, and the things his Master had said. Obi-Wan all but lives in Qui-Gon’s quarters now, and Qui-Gon is patient as ever, but Obi-Wan can see the tells, the tiny worrylines, the apprehensive flickering glances that haven’t quite faded like the dreams had.

“I suppose you were right,” Obi-Wan says, finally, over dinner in Qui-Gon's quarters. Qui-Gon raises a questioning eyebrow, but Obi-Wan knows he is well aware of where this conversation is headed—just looking for confirmation that Obi-Wan truly wants to go down this path. “That I was… thinking of leaving the Order out of fear, as you said, or despair. Thinking I had faltered in my commitment to the Order… and to the Force.”

“Well,” Qui-Gon sighs. “My words notwithstanding—because I am certainly not unbiased, where you are concerned,” he admits wryly, “that isn’t necessarily the only factor that played into your wish to leave. The choice is still yours to make.”

Obi-Wan tilts his head to one side, regarding his Master with some curiosity. “And that would not be a disappointment for you? To lose another apprentice?”

Qui-Gon looks a touch uneasy at that. “You could never be a disappointment to me, Obi-Wan. But…” He glances up, a fleeting, almost wistful look. “I would miss you. Very much.”

Obi-Wan’s breath catches at that look, at those quiet words. “I love you,” he says.

It bursts out of him, impulsive, and he can’t catch the words back. Perhaps this confession was helped along by the ale he tried for once—and he suspects that those sleeping pills must have had some augmenting effect on it, to boot.

Qui-Gon stares back across the table at him, thunderstruck.

“Ah,” Obi-Wan says, and chuckles. “Sorry—that’s not—you don’t have to say anything.”

Qui-Gon, however, leans forward and reaches across the table. Obi-Wan allows it, allows Qui-Gon to take his hand, to stroke his thumb gently across Obi-Wan’s wrist.

But then Qui-Gon raises his hand and brushes a kiss over his knuckles. “Then I won’t say anything,” he offers with a sly little smile, and turns Obi-Wan's hand over to press a kiss into his palm, “if you don’t want me to.”

Obi-Wan’s heart stutters.  “And if I do?”

Qui-Gon is making the slow trek from Obi-Wan’s palm to the inside of his wrist. “Then I will say,” he murmurs into Obi-Wan's skin, “that I love you, and that I have missed you terribly.”

The rush of heat conjured by those word, that voice, the feeling of those lips on sensitive skin has Obi-Wan shivering.

Qui-Gon grins at him, and tugs gently at his fingers. “Come sit with me, love.”

Which is how Obi-Wan finds himself sitting in Qui-Gon’s arms, the man’s chin hooked over his shoulder, and Qui-Gon’s hands studying his—examining each finger, each knuckle, each bone as if it were something infinitely precious. Obi-Wan could stay in this moment forever, held close by the person dearest to him in all the world. He’s almost afraid to let go, lest Qui-Gon vanish from his life again.

A quiet hint of mind-touch probes gently at the shields on Obi-Wan’s end of the old training bond. They hadn’t unwound it at Obi-Wan’s Knighting. They hadn’t even unwound it after that awful row they’d had—after Obi-Wan’s first mission. He’d simply crafted tight, durasteel shields, and left it at that. It never occurred to Obi-Wan to drop them—he’d forgotten they were there. He’s not sure he could drop them now, without assistance; without a reminder that there was still a bond beyond them, it’s been silent so long.

Qui-Gon’s probe is not obtrusive, much as the man himself could never be. It’s a polite, questing touch, and it promises warmth, a forgotten feeling of completeness.

Obi-Wan grasps at it without a second thought.

Old paths light up instantly, like they’d never really been abandoned—and it doesn’t stop there. What was once an uncommonly close training bond seems to double back and reach deeper . He doesn’t just feel Qui-Gon’s presence, curled warm and comfortable in his mind—he feels…

Safe. Wrapped in the sense of contentment, of belonging.

Well,  Obi-Wan offers, shyly pleased. Hello there.

Qui-Gon laughs, smothering the sound in heavy fabric of Obi-Wan’s robe. Never do anything by halves, hm?  the man teases. He is, however, careful to make sure Obi-Wan senses just how delighted he is by this development, which soothes a nascent worry before it can grow from spark to flame.

What, are you complaining?  Obi-Wan teases him—or tries to. It does a poor job of covering his nerves. Bonds do change with time—with context, one might say. Their bond hasn’t been active in at least two years, and now this?

The arms around his waist tighten just a little, and Qui-Gon shakes his head. Not a bit of it. We’ve all but been living in each other’s heads these last tens.

That is certainly true. They’ve hashed out old wounds and wrongs, and spoken to each other more in six tens than—Obi-Wan suspects—in the last six months of his apprenticeship. He sighs and lets the tension in his shoulders bleed away slowly, breathes it out.

“Hells, if I’d known Jedi could talk their way into a bond…” he mutters.

I’m only pleased we didn’t talk ourselves into breaking one.  The thought echoes between them, shot through with old fear, a keen awareness of things nearly lost. Qui-Gon’s words, both ones he did not want Obi-Wan to hear and ones he did not want to hide.

Obi-Wan sighs and curls his hands around the Jedi Master’s. It’s all right,  he whispers back words of comfort, soothing that ache the only way he can, it’s all right, it’s over, I’m here now, I love you, I love you, I love you…

 


 

It’s another few days before the Healers remove the last of Qui-Gon’s physical restrictions—while issuing a strenuous admonition against pushing too far, too fast. Not that Qui-Gon is about to: lifted restrictions or not, his practice with a lightsaber is still both deliberate and abbreviated, and Obi-Wan watches him like a Mandalorian shriekhawk. For all that Obi-Wan jokes that he’s making up for lost time and missed opportunities, Qui-Gon still feels an echo of loss in the words. He does his best to soothe that ache by complying, and letting his former Padawan fuss over him as much as he needs without arguing.

Besides… it’s actually quite pleasant, to be the center of Obi-Wan’s focus.

No, pleasant isn’t the word for it. It’s not enough of a word for the soaring-melting-humbling  feeling Qui-Gon gets at every possessive splay of one hand on the small of his back as they walk; or at the casual contact, ordinary as anything—Obi-Wan leaning into his side when they sit together, in the gardens or the archives or in the refectory.

Or for the rush of heat that fires down to Qui-Gon’s toes when Obi-Wan tugs him into a secluded corner of the garden with a devilish look in his eyes, and kisses him breathless.

Days of this, until every touch is a sweet torment for them both.

One might think it would be a relief to finally be free to bring this game to a close. It is not. If anything it only ratchets the tension higher, and Qui-Gon hadn’t even thought that achievable.  It occurs to him, though, that he still fears the possibility of rejection; that this contact still seems somehow safer than—anything more. It’s almost a ridiculous idea, given that Qui-Gon finds himself thinking of it one restless night with his beloved curled against him and sleeping peacefully in his arms.

He wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Obi-Wan feels the same. But Obi-Wan held his heart long before this moment.

It takes a day to ship a package from Coruscant to Chandrila, another day for internal Temple distribution. It almost took a day to convince Kimal to ship it for him without giving up any details, but Qui-Gon is certain the man knows what he’s up to anyway.

It gets a little ridiculous when the Quartermaster of the Chandrilan Temple himself brings him the package. “It’s not every day we take delivery of a shielded box, you know,” the Nikto sniffs pointedly.

Thank you,  Master Di,” Qui-Gon says. He wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to do this anyway, but Obi-Wan is in the room behind him, and he’s certainly caught the thread of irritation that Qui-Gon just barely held back. There’s a feeling of amused curiosity along their bond, a bit of good-natured teasing laughter at Qui-Gon’s expense—that’s fine. There’s really no point in pretending the box—the shielded  box—is nothing important.

So he sets it on the table in front of Obi-Wan. It’s a small thing, square, two inches to a side. Obi-Wan eyes it as though it may bite, which draws a chuckle from Qui-Gon.

Well, then again, perhaps it might.

“What is it?” Obi-Wan asks.

Qui-Gon shrugs, and offers, “You could open it and see for yourself?”

“I could,” Obi-Wan agrees, “but is there anything you’d like to tell me, by way of warning? Or introduction?”

Now that’s a thought.

Qui-Gon hesitates, but only for a brief moment. “I rebuilt my lightsaber, after Naboo. For one thing, one of the focus crystals had shattered, and for another, it wasn’t really—I wasn’t really the same fighter, after that. I had a year of difficult recovery, and even then—I had to change the way I fought. Endurance over offensive—well, you know. You’ve worked Soresu into your fighting style, too.”

Obi-Wan nods.

“The crystals didn’t seem quite right anymore, either,” Qui-Gon goes on. “Kimal introduced me to a set of chatty Adegans. But I kept mine, from before.”

Obi-Wan raises an eyebrow and looks down at the box in front of him, then gingerly lifts it and clicks open the shielded lock. “These are—?”

“They are,” Qui-Gon confirms. Inside that box are three emerald-green lightsaber crystals, set carefully in soft velvet. It’s a wonder none of them cracked or even shattered, after that last fight they’d seen.

“I’ve always told you, as long as I can remember, that your lightsaber is your life. Those are the crystals from the weapon with which you saved mine,” Qui-Gon says, and smiles wryly. “Bit of a clumsy metaphor, I’m afraid.”

The words surprise a startled laugh out of the other man. “Clumsy, hells. That’s probably the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Probably?” Qui-Gon tries for a tone of mock offense, but can’t quite manage it over his shrilling nerves.

Obi-Wan looks up, eyes glimmering. “Definitely.” He watches Qui-Gon for a moment, then puts down the box and closes it gently; rises from his seat and slides into Qui-Gon’s lap. “But I don’t have anything for you,” he says, looking into Qui-God’s upturned face as though memorising every line of it.

Qui-Gon rests his fingers over Obi-Wan’s lips. “No. That you are here is gift enough, my Obi-Wan.”

Qui-Gon never imagined it was possible to be kissed within an inch of his life, but of course Obi-Wan would be the one to prove him wrong.

They sit for long moments, sharing breath and heat and quiet devoted murmurs. There has never been any greater bliss, Qui-Gon thinks, than feeling the warm, soft corner of his mind that is his bond with Obi-Wan sink into the very depths of him, anchor itself tight and pulse in time with Qui-Gon’s heart. Feeling this, with Obi-Wan in his arms, with Obi-Wan’s lips on his, Obi-Wan’s fingers sinking mercilessly into his braid and taking it apart. And then, by all the gods, Obi-Wan pulls it back—perhaps accidentally—and Qui-Gon can’t hold back the broken noise it tears out of him, nor stop his hips from thrusting upward. Obi-Wan grins at him wickedly and sinks back into the kiss, deliberately settling his weight more firmly against him so that there is no mistaking his intentions.

It feels like an eternity later, when Obi-Wan lays a careful hand over Qui-Gon’s breastbone, lets it stray lower a bit to cover the place where the scar is. “Still hurting?”

Qui-Gon shakes his head, just a little. “Tender, but—not painful.” True, raising his arms is an effort yet, and he tires more quickly than he’s used to, but the worst recovery in his life was years ago, and this is nothing like that.

And Obi-Wan is with him, now; his mind whispers softly on the edges of Qui-Gon’s own, thoughts interweaving, flickering between them. There is no little amount of awe, of gentle affection, wonderment, and love singing from them both, where their minds meet.

“I’ll be careful,” Obi-Wan whispers against his lips, and Qui-Gon smiles.

“I know you will, love,” he whispers back, and dives into the kiss to end all discussion.

Of necessity, it is slow and gentle between them. Obi-Wan slides out of his lap and guides him back to the bed, until Qui-Gon feels the edge against the back of his knees. His partner—his lover —slips warm, calloused hands under Qui-Gon’s tunic, and the prickling drag of rough skin up Qui-Gon’s sides makes him shiver. When those fingers gently count his ribs as if each bone were worth its weight in gold, Qui-Gon cannot help the keening sound he makes.

Obi-Wan sinks down to kneel at Qui-Gon’s feet then, and nuzzles at his stomach, brushes kisses and barely-there licks over his skin. Qui-Gon tries to hold his breath, tries not to shiver at the ticklish touch—and Obi-Wan stops, settling back on his heels to look up at him.

“You really should remember to breathe, you know,” Obi-Wan says, such mischief in his eyes that Qui-Gon feels his cock twitch, and shudders at the promises that look makes.

Or perhaps it’s the fact that Obi-Wan’s thumbs give up on tracing circles over his hipbones and wander nearer his waistband, then under it, into dangerous territory and sensitive skin. The scrape of calluses leaves trails of fire in their wake, and it’s all Qui-Gon can do not to shiver.

Obi-Wan rises, gently feathers another kiss near Qui-Gon’s scar, where he still feels something; the sensation—the contrast, between the nothing and the something —is so intense that Qui-Gon barely bites back a whimper. Obi-Wan’s grin grows wide and wicked. “Don’t hold back, now. I want to hear you,” he whispers, and draws his hands away.

Not for long: Obi-Wan’s nimble fingers undo the fastenings of his tunic and he nudges the fabric back off of Qui-Gon’s shoulders. His eyes are sharp, intent—watching. Watching how Qui-Gon leans into every touch and purposely pressing his hands wide, his touch lingering. One hand slips to the back of Qui-Gon’s neck, and those clever fingers slide into his hair again, massaging at his scalp, and it’s pure bliss. He would purr, if he knew how.

Perhaps, Qui-Gon thinks, Obi-Wan is wary of causing him pain, and this study is simply a precaution, the reason for this intense focus. But it is the pleasure of having someone touch him like this—careful and deliberate and slow, the air between them heavy with intent—that drives Qui-Gon to distraction. He almost wants to tell Obi-Wan that the pain wouldn’t matter, would always be secondary to the heat in that gaze and the feel of Obi-Wan’s hands on his skin; after all, he trusts Obi-Wan implicitly, with his life, his mind, his body and his heart. But the more coherent, more realistic part of him that hasn’t yet checked out of existence, is still aware of the fact that it wouldn’t be a good idea to ignore the warnings that tell him of the limitations of his body, so Qui-Gon lets that impulse go.

Instead he focuses on Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan takes great pleasure in unwrapping the layers in his way, though there are fewer of them than usual, in deference to Qui-Gon’s healing body. He takes his time, trailing kisses along Qui-Gon’s collarbones; changing course and lingering over his nipples; following his sternum down to his navel, teasing with warm breath and quick, tiny, catlike licks. Obi-Wan’s fingers hook into the waistband of his leggings and undo the fastenings. He kneels again as he slowly works down the cloth, inch by inch, tracing newly-revealed skin with his lips. Qui-Gon focuses on the sensation—warm breath, teeth trailing over the point of his hip and kisses across his thigh, marking old scars and sending sparks along his nerves. He shivers, and Obi-Wan glances up at him, reaches up to press his fingertips gently into Qui-Gon’s hips.

“Sit,” he whispers, and Qui-Gon does.

It’s utterly unfair, though, that he’s already dispatched Qui-Gon’s clothes but his own are still in perfect, practiced folds. At least Obi-Wan doesn’t resist when Qui-Gon tugs him forward and nudges him to stand between his knees.

Unlike Qui-Gon, he’s wrapped in the full uniform—belt, sash, layer upon layer of tunic. Qui-Gon unwraps the sash carefully, then takes the time to wind it back neatly into a perfect coil.

“Going to make me wait, are you,” Obi-Wan murmurs, the teasing lilt in his words in stark contrast to the almost hungry light in his eyes.

Qui-Gon swallows carefully. “Had to wait for this until the Healers lifted physical restrictions. You’ll manage.”

Obi-Wan laughs, and sinks his hands into Qui-Gon’s hair to tug it back gently. The soft sting of it pulls a gasp from him.

The only complication, of course, is that Qui-Gon cannot lift his arms to remove Obi-Wan’s tunics—a problem his lover solves quite simply, by settling into Qui-Gon’s lap. And though he allows Qui-Go to slips his hands under his undertunic and push up the fabric while he nibbles at Obi-Wan’s neck and at the soft skin behind his ear, Obi-Wan pulls the shirt over his head himself.

The scars on Obi-Wan’s body draw Qui-Gon’s attention. Perhaps Qui-Gon allows them to distract him for too long a moment, because Obi-Wan tenses, almost ready to tug his shirt back on and bolt. But Qui-Gon doesn’t let him: he draws gentle fingertips down the center of Obi-Wan’s chest and follows the trail back up with his mouth; drags his hands up Obi-Wan’s thighs, pressing in with his thumbs along the inside seam of his leggings. Obi-Wan’s breath stutters, and his eyes fall closed. Qui-Gon leans forward to press a kiss to the join of the man’s neck and shoulder. A kiss, a bite—gentle, then tightening harder and harder and sucking—until Obi-Wan whimpers. Qui-Gon lets go only when Obi-Wan’s hips involuntarily jerk forward in his lap, and he chuckles, nuzzling at Obi-Wan’s chest, his hands stroking up and down the small of Obi-Wan’s back.

Qui-Gon brings one hand up to rub a thumb at the mark he’s made—faintly pink yet, but what a colourful thing it will be, in a few hours—and hums, unreasonably smug. Obi-Wan’s arms wrap tight around his shoulders.

It’s a goal for another day, he thinks, to spend time on each one of Obi-Wan’s scars, to learn each one with lips and teeth and tongue. He wants gods, does he want—but he can’t, yet. All he can do is curse the limitations of his body and let Obi-Wan take him apart until he can’t remember he had them. The way Obi-Wan is now nibbling at the rim of his ear, he’s caught the thought, and wholeheartedly agrees with him.

It’s almost unbearable, how much attention Obi-Wan devotes to his ears, his neck; how he feathers light kisses over Qui-Gon’s face, but just barely his lips, teasing. Desperate times, Qui-Gon thinks to himself. He manages to slip his hand into Obi-Wan’s leggings unnoticed, and close it tight around the man’s cock.

It gets him a stutter of Obi-Wan’s hips, and a long and low and broken sound, besides; one that, Qui-Gon thinks, will feature in his dreams for years to come.

“Not fair,” Obi-Wan whimpers, eyes squeezed shut.

“No?” Qui-Gon grins, and lets him go—to an utterly ragged noise of protest. “How would you like to even the odds, then?”

Obi-Wan can’t speak for a solid moment. When he finally opens his eyes, the fire in them scorches Qui-Gon to the bone. Obi-Wan slides back, rises from Qui-Gon’s lap with a predatory curve to his spine. “Get under the covers,” he growls, shoving down his leggings, and Qui-Gon can do nothing but comply.

Obi-Wan pushes him back into the pillows as he straddles Qui-Gon’s hips, and does his leisurely track over Qui-Gon’s body again—from his shoulders down to knee and calf, this time, and back up the other leg, and then across Qui-Gon’s stomach again—

“Obi-Wan.”

“Hmm?”

Qui-Gon shouldn’t have looked up. The sight of Obi-Wan’s face—gods. “That is not evening the odds.”

“No,” Obi-Wan grins back at him. Then his gaze softens. “You’re beautiful, Qui. And you have all this skin here, all of you—I want to touch every part of you, kiss you—”

“Later,” Qui-Gon growls, “when I can take just as much time with you.”

Obi-Wan shakes his head, grin wider still, and runs teasing, ticklish fingers up Qui-Gon’s flanks. “No, on the contrary; ‘later’, you will be able to fight back. Now you’re stuck with me.”

“Oh for Force’s sake, Obi-Wan!” Qui-Gon nearly shouts, frustrated but laughing. “You can tie me down later if you feel so strongly about it, but please, please—oh—

Qui-Gon wonders, vaguely, if he should have said a word about restraints. Pretty soon he loses all ability to wonder about anything at all, though. His attention is devoted entirely to the mouth on his cock: licking, sucking, tongue dancing at that sensitive spot just under the head of his cock. Obi-Wan lets him go with a faint pop  that has him shuddering and gasping, and turns his attention to his balls.

Obi-Wan pulls sounds out of him that Qui-Gon doesn’t remember making in all his life, and the imp revels in it. He plays Qui-Gon like a virtuoso, teasing with breath and tongue from root to tip and fondling his balls, completely ignoring any of Qui-Gon’s attempts to distract or stop him.

Takes him apart, spins him out, and leaves him gasping.

Qui-Gon comes back to himself, panting, to find Obi-Wan leaning over him on one elbow. “Still with me?”

It takes two or three attempts before he can form words. “Always,” Qui-Gon gasps out.

He winds his fingers into Obi-Wan’s copper hair, and gives it a gentle downward tug, coaxes the man to lie against him as Qui-Gon devotes every last shred of his attention to his lover. His limbs feel heavy as it is, but that seems less important than the warm skin pressed against his, by the erection pressed against his thigh. Qui-Gon smiles into the kiss, and draws his fingertips, slow and light, down Obi-Wan’s spine, then over his hip, and between them to take him in hand.

The thin and reedy noise he gets for it is extremely gratifying. Qui-Gon thinks of the other noises he wants to hear from Obi-Wan; thinks of the way he’s just been undone himself, and wonders what it would be like to go to his knees for this man, how he would taste. Wonders what it would be like to sink into his body, or to feel Obi-Wan inside him. Obi-Wan cries out and shoves himself forward in one jerky motion, and freezes, mouth falling open on harsh, jagged breaths.

Qui-Gon groans, feeling warmth spill over his hip, watching Obi-Wan’s face as he comes. He’s of a mind to curse his body’s weakness, as it’s pulling him into a faint doze. Obi-Wan drops his head to Qui-Gon’s pillow, panting against his shoulder.

“You fiend,” Obi-Wan mutters into his neck and kissing at it in light, breathless pecks. “Teasing me like that.”

“What—” Ah,  Qui-Gon realises sheepishly. He hadn’t meant to send that.

“Oh, it’s all right,” Obi-Wan drawls. “Such delightful promises, I’ll definitely hold you to them.” He grins and falls back to his side of the bed with a contented sigh.

“You can hold me to whatever you like,” Qui-Gon mutters, and revels in the shiver that runs through his lover’s body.

He’s drifting on the edge of consciousness when Qui-Gon’s ears catch a soft murmur from his bedmate: 

 

 

In your heart lies a span of forever
with reality eating away at the ends
and memory burning the bridges.


Let me in for a second, 
to unravel eternities
trapped within instants.

   

Qui-Gon raises his head and tugs the pillow under his shoulder to prop himself up carefully, to look over at Obi-Wan in wonder. “How do you know that?”

Obi-Wan smiles abstractly at the ceiling. “One of your bookmarked entries, from that collection of poetry you have on your reader. I’m sorry,” he adds, sobering, opening his eyes to direct a rueful look at Qui-Gon, “I read it while you were in surgery. I missed you,” Obi-Wan whispers, and the lingering anxiety from that day thrums through the Force like a soft, barely-there note on a string.

Qui-Gon sighs, and leans in to touch the tip of his nose to Obi-Wan’s, running his fingers through the silky copper strands. “My library is always open to you,” he says softly. “Everything I am is yours, though I haven’t very much to give.”

Obi-Wan is still looking at him with that odd, slightly befuddled smile. “You know what I still don’t understand…” He swallows, and Qui-Gon’s eyes catch on the elegant line of his throat. “You had my lightsaber, when you found me.”

Qui-Gon feels his brow furrowing in confusion. “Quinlan brought it back.”

“And gave it to you—that makes sense,” Obi-Wan agrees.

That’s a surprise. “It does? I would have thought… ”

Qui-Gon finds Obi-Wan looking at him in askance.

“I thought he would have kept it,” Qui-Gon clarifies. “You two had always been—close.”

“Close,” echoes Obi-Wan, still a touch bemused. “Quin and I, ah, had a—mutually beneficial arrangement,” he says, consonants crystal clear in a way that betrays a touch of nervousness. “Our hearts lay elsewhere, but the object of our affections was, for both of us, quite unattainable.”

Qui-Gon’s heart leaps up into his throat. How long, then, had he—?

There’s a rough, awkward few seconds when Qui-Gon doesn’t know what to say, and Obi-Wan seems uncertain of whether he should continue. But eventually he forges on.

“Quinlan gave the lightsaber to you,” Obi-Wan continues, “but that doesn’t quite explain why you had it when you found me.”

Of course, Qui-Gon thinks, his brilliant Padawan never asks the easy questions. “I could not let you go,” he admits. “No one could sense you, but my mind insisted that you were alive, and the Force told me the same. Even when they recalled Vos, I was convinced you were out there still. That lightsaber—” Qui-Gon’s voice shakes, and he takes a moment to breathe. “It felt like you, looked like something you would build. Beautiful, simple; deadly. I—it was a comfort.”

Obi-Wan shuts his eyes and exhales sharply, like it’s been punched out of him. “I’m sor—”

“Don’t,” Qui-Gon cuts in, but can’t make his voice sharp. He’s far too grateful to have this man in his life at all. “Don’t apologise for things you can’t control.”

Obi-Wan gives him a small, poignant smile, and presses a kiss to Qui-Gon’s shoulder, then nestles against him. It’s a fundamental thing: a claiming, Obi-Wan declaring with every thread of his being that he has come home; that Qui-Gon is so much a part of him that Obi-Wan trusts him with his soul.

And yet the question still remains… “Obi-Wan?”

A sleepy hum answers him, warm and gentle and oh-so-tempting.

“How long have you known—how long have you loved me?”

“Always,” Obi-Wan answers without hesitation, “without beginning or end.”

Qui-Gon turns his head to stare into wide-open, wide-awake, brilliant green eyes.

“Everything that is important to me, you are,” Obi-Wan affirms, low and earnest, and Qui-Gon feels his eyes prickle with unbidden tears.

He shakes his head at the look of worry that immediately spreads over Obi-Wan’s face. “Sorry, love,” Qui-Gon says, voice choked and rough. “I—you—”

His throat clicks as he swallows around the lump in it. “Come back here,” he rasps, cradling Obi-Wan’s head in his hands and diving into another long and all-consuming kiss—lingering discomfort be damned. He puts everything into that kiss, all that he cannot yet say, pours it into the way he draws his hands down Obi-Wan’s shoulders and his flanks and kneads at his muscles. There is no feeling more heady that Obi-Wan melting against him, wrapping a leg around Qui-Gon’s body to press them even closer together.

 


 

They spend most of their last day of leave in the gardens, lingering there well into the evening hours. Night finds them sitting on Qui-Gon’s cloak, stargazing. For Padawan Kenobi, this was once an exercise in learning what certain stars—navigational markers—looked like from different ends of the galaxy. Sometimes Qui-Gon told him tales from local myths, while mapping the constellations out for him. Later, they’d turned it into a sort of game, drawing shapes in the sky and making up constellations of their own.

Now they sit silently, pressed close together like there is nothing else in the world. Obi-Wan basks in it, turns his face into the fall of Qui-Gon’s hair and breathes. “I’ll miss this place,” he says quietly.

Beside him, Qui-Gon goes still. “Not staying, then?”

Obi-Wan just barely manages to suppress a grin, and shrugs. “Not much of a farmer, I’m afraid.”

Qui-Gon snorts, and presses a kiss to the top of his head. “Not sure I believe you. My plants have been looking happier since you moved in.”

“Just your plants?”

An arm drapes heavily across his shoulders and pulls him closer, Qui-Gon’s half-growl a deep rumble under his ear. “Imp,” Qui-Gon mutters. “You make me happy. You, your awful humour, your terrible puns, your sharp elbows in the morning.”

Obi-Wan laughs. “You snore,” he teases.

He is fully prepared for a tussle, and enjoys every minute of it. It’s become more and more of a game, as Qui-Gon regains strength and mobility. Obi-Wan doesn’t give easily, but within minutes Qui-Gon has him down on his back and leans over him in the dark, long hair whispering over his shoulders. Obi-Wan wants to sink his hands into it, but can’t, the way Qui-Gon has his wrists pinned above his head, so he settles for turning his face into the silky strands.

It has the delightful side-effect of baring his neck to Qui-Gon.

“I must admit, though,” Qui-Gon says, voice dark like smoke, dipping down to kiss and nip at the offered skin, “that I very much like this place. It’s what the Order was once, a very long time ago; what it should be.”

Qui-Gon nudges aside his tunics, and nibbles at Obi-Wan’s collarbone. Obi-Wan pulls in a sharp breath of the clear and sweet night air, and feels his spine go liquid. He wants to laugh. That ridiculously seductive voice wraps around words that fly in the face of the Jedi philosophy Obi-Wan remembers learning—not, however, the philosophy that he understands from his time as Qui-Gon’s apprentice. It’s a beautifully spoken heresy, and like any perfect temptation, it rings true.

“Maybe we could— ah! ” he gasps as Qui-Gon’s teeth unerringly find a particularly sensitive spot. “Qui-Gon—”

“Quiet,” Qui-Gon rumbles, and grinds his hips down against Obi-Wan. “Wouldn’t want anyone to come looking, hmm?”

“They’re all asleep,” Obi-Wan hisses back, caught between hysterical laughter and shameless, aching need. “ Qui—

“Shh… All the more reason to come and see what all the fuss is.”

The “fuss” certainly takes an interesting turn when Qui-Gon lets go of Obi-Wan’s hands to get at his tunics, but Obi-Wan discovers he still can’t move them. “Bastard,” he hisses half-heartedly, feeling the cool night air against his skin, the sharp contrast of hot mouth, tickling hair, and quick, wicked teeth.

Qui-Gon knows all of his body now, even in the dark. He knows every sensitive spot, has discovered some Obi-Wan never knew about, knows the shape of every single scar. His hands slip under Obi-Wan’s back to map them out again gingerly—the delicacy of it sends a searing thrill through him.

Then Qui-Gon’s warm, callused hands leave his sides and come back to Obi-Wan’s wrists, drag them down level with his hips. Obi-Wan keens; for some strange reason, it was easier to stay quiet with his hands above his head. Qui-Gon pauses, barely an inch away from Obi-Wan’s cock, and glances back up at him. “Do remember to stay quiet, love.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes fly wide open, but he has no time nor chance to protest before Qui-Gon takes him in.

“You’re fine, ” Obi-Wan grumbles, words punctuated by desperate gasps, “I’ll definitely have you tied up next, you utter wretch.

Qui-Gon laughs, the bastard, and it’s all Obi-Wan can do to keep from crying out loud and thrusting up into that hellishly amazing mouth. Instead he throws his head back, clamps his jaws tight, and thinks up the most creative litany of obscenities he can manage.

The stars seem to stand out in sharp relief, razor-bright in a velvet sky. The cries of nocturnals birds and grow fuzzy in Obi-Wan’s ears, while the chime of the nearby fountain gains crystalline clarity. Obi-Wan can hear the laboured rasp of his breathing, and it seems far too loud; but it pales in comparison to the utterly obscene noises from Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan thinks, frantically, that it’s horribly unfair he’s the only one who has to stay quiet.  

Obi-Wan almost cries out—almost loses his grip on reality, too—when Qui-Gon lets him go just as he’s on the edge. He hisses through his teeth and swears viciously, all but throwing it down their link. “If,” he rasps, “you want this game to last, if you want me to keep quiet—”

Qui-Gon moves up on his elbows, silencing him far more effectively with the light brush of loose cloth against him. Obi-Wan shivers almost convulsively. “What was that?” Qui-Gon asks, a devilish smirk on his face.

“Free my hands,”  Obi-Wan grits out.

Qui-Gon obliges him.

The moment he is free to move, Obi-Wan buries one hand in Qui-Gon’s hair and drags the man down into a crushing kiss, reaching between them to shove Qui-Gon’s leggings away blindly. Qui-Gon pulls back only enough not to draw blood, bats Obi-Wan's fumbling hand away and does it himself, then takes them both in hand. Obi-Wan moans, low and punched-out, into the man’s mouth, and feels Qui-Gon’s cock twitch hard against his.

It doesn’t take long after that. Qui-Gon comes, hard, with a deep, rumbling groan that he pours into Obi-Wan’s very soul. The irregular rhythm sends Obi-Wan over the edge almost immediately after, gasping for breath. Qui-Gon collapses against him—carefully, but still enough to jar a startled huff out of his captive pillow.

Qui-Gon buries his face in Obi-Wan’s neck and goes right back to kissing and licking there, which, in Obi-Wan’s current state, feels like hot sparks on his skin. He’s oversensitive, yes, but he can’t bring himself to tell Qui-Gon to stop, it feels so good. There are hands on his skin again, running in slow, smooth circles, soothing overstimulated nerves.

Long moments later, there’s a warm puff of air under Obi-Wan’s ear, and another rumble in the body lying against his producing such a sensation that nearly makes him jerk.

“I find myself wishing that our Temple were a bit more like this one,” Qui-Gon says. His voice resonates in Obi-Wan’s body and mind. His mouth is right below Obi-Wan’s ear, and it feels so perfectly intimate.

“Mm, there I agree with you. And they have the best Healers in the Republic.”

Qui-Gon sighs, and comes up on his elbows again, his mouth a flat line and his eyes glimmering. “Says something about our lives that your first thought is of the Healers.”

“No,” says Obi-Wan, and reaches out to trace his fingertips over Qui-Gon’s brow. “You look… better. Than before. This place agrees with you.”

“You, too.” Qui-Gon turns his face into Obi-Wan’s palm, nuzzles at his wrist. “I’ve never been so tempted to shirk duty in my life as when I saw you here, up to your elbows in tea plants.”

“You? Shirk duty?” Obi-Wan shakes his head in disbelief. The very idea seems laughable.

Although, perhaps not quite so laughable.

“I’ve… thought about it. You’d fit here, with the younglings.”

“I fit, dear one, any place that you are,” Qui-Gon says softly, nuzzling Obi-Wan’s skin. “But there is something about this place…”

Obi-Wan stares, entranced; there is laughter in Qui-Gon’s eyes, and—in daylight—his skin is a healthier colour. Serenity twines around the deep core of strength in him—serenity that had been missing from his Force presence for… far longer than Obi-Wan thinks either of them had realized. “Qui-Gon…”

Qui-Gon looks down at him, smiling, before he tilts his head in question.

And it runs across Obi-Wan’s mind again, what Qui-Gon had said about this place, this Temple, being what the Jedi Order should truly have been, about the possibility of serving the Force in any place… A slow, sly smile spreads over Obi-Wan’s face, as even the Force seems to sing in approval. “I have a wonderful, dangerous, Council-baiting idea.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The pneumatic hiss covered much of the noisy activity on the landing pad. Qui-Gon stood at the top of the boarding ramp and eyed the mid-morning buzz with a tired grin, feeling his muscles loosen. Cool mountain air rushed into the ship—refreshing after days of canned travel, and weeks spent on a polluted world besides.

“Welcome home, Master Jinn!”

“Hello, Ruthi,” Qui-Gon smiled at the tech who’d walked over to check his ship and travel gear in. “How’s your sister?”

“Oh, she’s fine,” Ruthi drawled, her smile wide and proud. “Driving the crèchemasters wild.”

Qui-Gon snorted. “Little hellion. And you, how are you doing?”

She shrugged. “Same old, never found a circuit I couldn’t rewire. Master Di says he’ll promote me to ship maintenance soon.”

“While grumbling about having to kit you out for it, no doubt.”

“Exactly!”

Qui-Gon chuckled, watching as the bouncy Togruta tucked herself under the belly of his shuttle to check its condition.

“Had any issues with her?” Ruthi called out before he could turn to leave.

“No, don’t think so. Artie said diagnostics all came back fine.”

Ruthi stuck her head back out from under the ship. “Ar-who?”

Qui-Gon rolled his eyes fondly at the astromech only just now trundling down the ramp—a friendly R3 unit who’d put up with Qui-Gon’s antics and generally awful piloting with the sort of patience few organics could muster. “Artie. He insisted.”

Ruthi blinked. “Another stray? You’re picking up mechanicals now?”

“He insisted,” Qui-Gon said again.

Which was certainly true: Artie had been collecting data for a CorSec operative who’d gone missing over a month before Qui-Gon’s arrival on Tallis IX. The operative might have gone missing, but the droid went largely unnoticed. For Qui-Gon, the data Artie had collected over the space of two months had been priceless, though it had taken some convincing to get Artie to fork it over.

Ruthi sighed, pressing her lips together in a thin line. “All right, I guess. They’ll want him checked out, though.”

Qui-Gon nodded just as Artie bumped up against his leg with a questioning hoot, and rested a comforting hand on the droid’s dome. “They want to make sure you don’t have anything malicious hidden in those bottomless databanks of yours,” he explained quietly.

The droid issued an offended buzz, but it was followed by a resigned warble all the same. [Logical,] was all he said.

“A truly stirring assessment, thank you,” Qui-Gon replied. Artie seemed to prefer a certain degree of sass.

Ruthi just stared. “You’re really weird.”

Qui-Gon couldn’t hold back a startled snort. “Oh, now you tell me.”

She shrugged. “Well, you are. Anyway, your ship’s computer says it’s fine, and I didn’t see any hull damage when you landed. Thanks for keeping her in one piece, Artie!”

“Oi!” Qui-Gon recoiled in mock offense while the little astromech tittered binary laughter at his side. “Oh, you’ll do just fine, then, the two of you. Don’t burn down the Temple without me.”

The Togruta grinned, wide and sharp and predatory. “Yep!”

Qui-Gon simply shook his head and turned around, heading for the Temple itself. He had more pressing matters to attend to. Like a certain bond, a warm knot in his mind humming with welcome.

He and Obi-Wan were rarely separated for missions these days; it was a well-acknowledged fact—if begrudgingly so—that they worked best as a team, and their partnership yielded unparalleled results. On this occasion, they’d still been assigned the same mission—but while Qui-Gon was on Tallis IX, Obi-Wan had been working the CorSec ranks, shaking out corrupt intermediaries like overripe fruit from a tree.

Qui-Gon missed his Lifemate. He wanted to wrap his arms around the man, breathe in that long-missed scent, press soft kisses to Obi-Wan’s neck and ear and temple. Make tea for him and treat him to his favourite biscuits, stay wrapped around him the whole night.

So, of course, it was the exact right time for the whole Temple to get in his way.

“Master Jinn!”

He hadn’t even reached the hangar bay exit. Qui-Gon sighed, and turned around with obvious reluctance. “Master Di?”

The Nikto was staring at him, expressionless. “You’re overdue,” he said flatly.

“For…?”

“You haven’t reported in, and you’ve yet to set up a post-mission medical checkup. That’s what the admin droids are for, Jinn.” Indeed, there was one at Di’s elbow, looking rather despondent and droopy. “Don’t ignore my droids, Jinn, they take it personally.”

“Do you come down here to hover over every returning Master or just me?” Qui-Gon asked, with a crooked smile to soften his words—no sense getting on the Quartermaster’s bad side.

Ima-Gun huffed. “No, just you. And Kenobi—you’re both terrible about that sort of thing.”

“The moment either of us reports in, the Council puts everything aside and calls us in for a report,” Qui-Gon complained, only half-bitter.

Ever since they’d declared their relationship to the Council, their work had been continuously scrutinised and re-evaluated. “Attachment” had been such a danger to the rest of the Jedi on Coruscant that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had gotten themselves exiled to the Chandrilan satellite. Which was really what Obi-Wan had been angling for all along—he’d even presented their “exile” to the Council as an alternative posting. They were still assigned the same type of missions, but were officially based in a Temple with better medical facilities, and Mind Healers more accustomed to handling Jedi “with a… more complicated mission set,” as Obi-Wan had put it.

It still rankled, especially at moments like these. “I haven’t even seen Obi-Wan yet.”

For a moment the Quartermaster simply stared at him. Then he softened, sighing quietly. “I can keep your arrival out of the main database for another hour or so. But first— ” he gestured pointedly at the droid.

Qui-Gon gave up and nodded. The droid immediately perked up and whizzed over to him, beeping a cheerful, bubbly welcome. Ima-Gun watched him check in, then keyed in his own code to instruct the droid to sit on that information. “As of this moment, you have exactly one hour. Go and find your Lifemate, Jinn. He got in yesterday and told the Council to collectively stuff their heads in an incinerator before shutting down the transmission.”

Ah, so they were both overdue for a reaming-out by the Council. “Noted,” Qui-Gon said, unable to hold back a grin.

The key to getting through the Temple without being stopped, Qui-Gon thought, was not to hurry—at least not too obviously. At the very least it was a theory, one he hadn’t tested yet, and one that he desperately hoped would carry him through. He was even willing to bypass his quarters entirely, rather than make the detour to drop off his pack.

His comm buzzed, and he reached for it automatically, thumbing it on before he could think better of it. “Jinn.”

“Qui-Gon! It’s good to hear from you!”

Qui-Gon bit back a curse and tried not to roll his eyes. “Hello, Jax. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Are you in Temple? You promised me a spar, and, well, there are three of us here—we could really use another to complete the pairs.”

“Sorry, Jax, my ship’s not in yet,” Qui-Gon lied smoothly. Then again, it wasn’t exactly a lie, since he had the Quartermaster on his side. “Maybe next time.” Maybe next time I’ll smear you across the salle wall, Qui-Gon thought, with a vehemence the man hadn’t really earned.

“Ah, all right. When do you get in?”

“Later today,” Qui-Gon hedged, “why?”

“Well, I was thinking we could put off the spar…”

“No!” Qui-Gon winced, “No, that’s—very kind of you, Jax, but I’ve had a long trip, and the Healers will be after me—next time, my friend.”

“Oh… all—all right then, if you’re sure…”

“I’m sure. Thank you, Jax.” Qui-Gon cut off the frequency and exhaled sharply. “Well, that’s fine, then. Now I just have to avoid the salles for the rest of the day.”

Something that sounded suspiciously like a mouse droid squeaked a warning at him and Qui-Gon stopped short, seconds from stepping on the unfortunate mechanical. “Hello, little one. Are you lost?”

The droid replied with a string of offended squeaks that sounded suspiciously like an expletive-laced [I’m not little], then took a wide curve and started smacking itself into Qui-Gon’s boot, launching on an angry tirade about messy Wookiees tracking mud out of the gardens and through the Temple hallways.

“I don’t think I’m the ‘large shaggy Wookiee’ you’re looking for,” Qui-Gon said, but decided that it would be safer to simply remove himself from the situation, especially now that the little thing wasn’t underfoot.

Apparently he’d thought wrong, because it followed after him and continued tapping at his heels as he walked.

“Your persistence is flattering,” Qui-Gon told it, “but I’m really not the one you’re looking for. I just got back from a mission, and most definitely haven’t been to the gardens in weeks.”

The droid stopped to process that—for about the time it took Qui-Gon to put five steps between them. Then, with a nearly ear-splitting shriek, it took off after him again, this time accusing him of tracking extra-planetary dirt all over the carpets it was supposed to be keeping clean.

“Oh, sweet Force,” Qui-Gon grumbled. He would never admit to running from cleaning droids, certainly not if asked point-blank, but this was something that called for taking the stairs, lifts be damned.

He got as far as three steps up before the shrill and accusing squall of [Don’t you walk away from me!] stopped him in his tracks. He sighed, and turned around.

“Look—what is your designation?”

The droid chirped at him.

“M-O. Listen: I just got back from a long mission and I almost missed my bondmate’s birthday. For the third year in a row. I would be very, very grateful to you if we could finish this conversation at a later time.”

The little droid whirred thoughtfully. [You wish to celebrate the activation day of your… linked module? Integrated coupling unit?]

“Yes, very much.”

M-O buzzed some more—as if it needed more than a microsecond to make up its processor-mind. Qui-Gon knew how fast those things were; the pauses were exclusively for drama.

[Please remove your boots,] M-O beeped finally. [Then you may go.]

Qui-Gon blinked, shook his head as if to clear it, then decided that retreat was the better part of valour and bent down to undo the buckles. He certainly didn’t try his luck going back down the stairs, though that would have been the more direct route to the gardens. At that point, Qui-Gon had thanked the little mouse droid and ventured up to his quarters after all, for a change of boots and clothing—to avoid any more quarrelsome cleaner droids in the halls.

At least the fact that Qui-Gon had stopped to drop off his bag in their quarters meant he could take out the hermetic-sealed package of Obi-Wan’s favourite biscuits, and place it in the center of the tea tray. He left it sitting on the kitchen table in readiness, right between the container of Sapir and their battered teapot.

For just a moment Qui-Gon stopped, and breathed. The plants rustled quietly around him in welcome, and he smiled. Happy little things—he ran his fingers over the fronds of a nearby fern, laughing in nearly childish delight as it seemed to reach for him.

“Missed me, did you,” he murmured. “I’m afraid I can’t stay, I need to find Obi-Wan. But we’ll be back shortly.”

The fern straightened out, unoffended.

“Easier with you than any mouse droid,” Qui-Gon remarked, amused.

The route to the gardens took him past the Archives, and thankfully still nowhere near the salles. Qui-Gon was just beginning to catch the scent of green things, feel the riot of life just downstairs, when someone snagged his sleeve. He turned, cutting remark at his teeth, to find a harried looking Archivist at his elbow.

Qui-Gon took a deep breath. He acknowledged the red prickling cloud of irritation that had gathered around him, and dismissed it with a sharp shove. The Archivist’s eyes went wide, but to her credit she didn’t quail.

“Master Etran, how can I be of service?”

“Please get your Master out of the restricted section,” Etran said without preamble. “He’s been in there for days and I’m not sure he’s eaten.”

Qui-Gon sighed. “It can’t wait another two hours?” he asked plaintively.

He knew, of course, that two hours was a conservative estimate. The Council would deal with Obi-Wan and himself at their leisure, and after that the two of them certainly wouldn’t want anything to do with the rest of the Temple. There was no sense putting this off, even if Qui-Gon had absolutely no doubt that his Master could take care of himself.

Etran gave him a surprisingly sympathetic look. “If I could budge him, I would, Master Jinn. I’ve tried logic; the only remaining option is guilt.”

Qui-Gon snorted, but felt his resolve dwindling all the same. “You may find he is quite resistant to that one, but by all means, if you insist.”

With a casual shrug, Etran smoothly guided him around to the restricted section. “Always worth a try. Padawans tend to have a certain advantage in that department.”

“I truly hope you’re right,” muttered Qui-Gon. From experience, he knew that if this worked at all, it might take a very long time.

Dooku had been given a private study room to work in. The texts he’d requested were neatly arranged on the long backlit table in some system known to Dooku alone, and he sat hunched over one intimidatingly-proportioned tome, engrossed.

He looked much as he ever did. As far as Qui-Gon was concerned, this was not a promising sign.

“Ah! Padawan, come look at this,” was Dooku’s friendly, if distracted, greeting.

Qui-Gon definitely didn’t roll his eyes. “Yes, Master.” He drew closer and purposely hovered over his former Master’s shoulder. “What am I looking at?”

“Look at this—” Dooku drew a finger over marginalia on the page, with an amazed smile. “Three different Sith languages, highly structured, with clear delineations between the classes—social positions—of those who were permitted to use them.”

Qui-Gon slowly raised an eyebrow. “Ye-es?”

“This is… this note, and every one like it, is a hopeless, uneducated— incoherent —hodgepodge of all three!” Dooku laughed, and Qui-Gon suddenly wasn’t sure if it was true amusement or hysteria.

“Which… means?” Qui-Gon prompted carefully.

“And look at this!” Dooku had gone back to poring over the text. “Here, see? This sentence structure is completely backwards. Not to mention, they ought to be using the High Sith language for description of such rituals.”

Qui-Gon briefly contemplated the ceiling. “So?”

“So?” Dooku repeated—incredulous, but at least he was finally looking up at him. “So, Padawan! It’s fake!

Once again, Qui-Gon couldn’t decide if he was looking at joy, triumph, or desperation. “How long have you been down here?”

Dooku was studying the text again, delicately lifting the page. “Hmm…?”

Qui-Gon figured he may as well try a different tack. “If it’s a fake, why are you still working with it?”

“Well, it’s the most consistent one I’ve seen, so far,” Dooku explained. “It was quite convincing, actually, except for a few irregularities in chemical composition of the ink, and a distinct lack of toxins—”

Gods, he really shouldn’t have asked; Qui-Gon could feel the precious seconds slipping through his fingers. Guilt, he thought, and Padawans. “Master.”

“Hm?”

“Do you have any idea what day it is?”

Dooku blinked up at him. “I don’t believe so. Would you be so kind as to enlighten me, Padawan mine, as to what day it could possibly be?”

Qui-Gon grit his teeth. He took a deep, slow breath, held for it a count of five, and released it. “It’s my bondmate’s birthday.”

Dooku instantly brightened and sat up straight—at which moment Qui-Gon regretted ever mentioning it and stifled a heartfelt groan. “My Grandpadawan’s birthday! Yes, you’re right! I’d better—”

“No.” Qui-Gon held up a hand. “No, you will not. I have not seen my bondmate in over a month. At this precise moment you will remove yourself from the Archives. You will apologise to Master Etran for worrying her; you will then take yourself back to your quarters, eat, and sleep. You may then spring whatever celebration you have in mind on him tomorrow, but tonight, Master, is for me.”

“I hardly think you’re one to be setting demands in this situation, Padawan,” Dooku said, with a bemused smile on his face, “but if you insist—”

“Oh, I do—”

“Very well. Then I will apologise, as you said, to Master Etran. And tomorrow, I’ll tell your bondmate about that time you—”

“Whatever you like,” Qui-Gon growled, “but please, just not today.”

He had the keen sense that his former Master was trying not to laugh at him, but Qui-Gon was well past caring. He would surely pay for this tomorrow in embarrassment, but that also didn’t matter, because his bondmate would be with him, and Qui-Gon was long used to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s good-natured teasing laughter. All that remained, once he’d set Master Etran upon Dooku, was to escape to the gardens and find his bondmate in their favourite spot: by the pool with the fountain, in a small clearing among the jumbled tropical vines and trees and bushes. Just, Qui-Gon told himself, a few more steps.

Obi-Wan was right where he had expected, standing casually at the edge of the pool, running a string of meditation beads through his fingers. Qui-Gon paused a moment, just to take in the peaceful vision. But there was a pinch at the corner of Obi-Wan’s eye, and he didn’t turn to look at Qui-Gon, lost in some contemplation of his own. That called for a distraction.

Qui-Gon closed the last of the distance between them, letting the shields over their bond unfurl just as he came close enough to hook his chin over Obi-Wan’s shoulder and wrap his arms around him. “Happy birthday, love,” he murmured.

Obi-Wan relaxed against him with a happy sigh, tension bleeding away from him like a dam released. “What kept you?”

Qui-Gon hid his face in Obi-Wan’s shoulder and muffled a groan in the cloth of his robe. “Master Di and his battalion of admin droids. A starry-eyed Knight with a serious case of hero worship. Another angry droid. Your grandmaster apparently needed rescuing from the Archives.”

“Dooku?” Qui-Gon could almost hear the barely-leashed laughter in Obi-Wan’s voice. “Oh dear. Did Master Etran get worried about him starving again?”

Qui-Gon hummed thoughtfully, nosing into Obi-Wan’s hair. “I’m starting to think he likes the attention.”

Obi-Wan snorted. “Oh, probably. He got to see you, after all.”

“Ah.” Qui-Gon winced. “And invited himself over for tomorrow.”

“Did he.”

“To tell embarrassing stories about me, I believe it was.”

“Oh. Well, that’s all right, then.” Obi-Wan reached up to run his hand up and down Qui-Gon’s arms, and turned to press a kiss to his bondmate’s temple. “I’m glad you made it.”

Qui-Gon was just about to reply when he felt the breath knocked out of him. He let go of Obi-Wan and stumbled sideways, trying to figuring out what the hells had just happened.

“I see you’ve acquired a growth,” Obi-Wan said cheerfully.

“Ahsoka!” Qui-Gon twisted around to eye the Togruta who’d wrapped herself around him. “Hello, Little One. How did you find out I was back?”

The girl giggled and showed off her sharp-toothed grin. “Ruthi commed the crèche and told us you were back.”

“She did, did she,” Qui-Gon said, with a growing feeling that the situation had slipped away from him entirely, and he’d failed to notice exactly when. Obi-Wan was watching him with a considering expression that Qui-Gon had no idea what to make of. “So the whole Temple now knows I’m here, I take it.”

Ahsoka peered at him. “Oh. Were you hiding? You weren’t doing a very good job of it.”

Obi-Wan couldn’t quite hold back a surprised laugh. Qui-Gon shot him the most pathetic pleading look that he could muster.

“Then there’s only one solution,” Obi-Wan said with some chagrin. “I’d better take Master Jinn back to our quarters and hide him there. Obviously he needs assistance.”

Ahsoka perked up. “Can I come too?”

Absolutely not. Qui-Gon just barely caught back a quick frown. “I’d take you with me, but I’ve already been scolded about spreading foreign contaminants around the Temple,” he teased.

“Scolded,” Obi-Wan echoed with interest.

“By a mouse droid.”

“M-O!” Ahsoka exclaimed, releasing her death grip on Qui-Gon’s waist and bouncing aside. “Skyguy’s been looking all over for him!”

“Skyguy.” Qui-Gon raised a curious eyebrow.

“Yeah! He said he was worried a Wookiee might step on it!”

“Can’t imagine why,” Qui-Gon said, earning a sharp look from Obi-Wan.

“Where’d you see it?”

“Down the hall by the stairs, young one,” Qui-Gon told her, and watched as she zipped after the wayward thing. “Well, that’s one problem solved. And how is Plo’s Padawan?”

Obi-Wan sighed. “Anakin Skywalker is training to become a crèchemaster,” he explained, “and serving his last practical rotation before his Trials here, in the Chandrila Temple crèche. By all accounts, he’s doing quite well, actually. He’s certainly managed to weaponise chaos in the form of children and cranky droids.”

Qui-Gon laughed. “I see.” He tugged Obi-Wan close again and pressed his lips to the man’s temple. “Let's go home, hm? I brought biscuits. Your favourites.”

Obi-Wan huffed. “You bought cake for my birthday at that Chandrila City street stand when I was sixteen. We both got food poisoning.”

Qui-Gon grinned and curled an arm around his shoulders as they started off back to their quarters. “You know, that was probably the water we half-drowned in. But it was a very good cake.”

“And when I was eighteen I got Ithorian itching lice from that throw—”

“We’d stayed at that horrible inn, don’t forget. And the Temple droids rescued the blanket, in the end.”

“That’s entirely beside the point, and I wasn’t finished. You got me a rock on my twenty-sixth, Jinn, and you missed the last two—”

“It was a very pretty rock, Obi-Wan.”

“And we’re about to get a summons from the bloody Council.”

“Not for another half hour.” Obi-Wan peered up at him curiously. “Master Di delayed my landing status by an hour,” Qui-Gon explained.

Obi-Wan was not quite appeased by that information. “Half an hour is not enough time for the things I have in mind,” he grumbled.

“It is, however, enough time for tea and biscuits,” Qui-Gon pointed out, then bent his head to murmur in Obi-Wan’s ear. “If the esteemed Council haven’t tried sticking their heads in an incinerator yet,” Qui-Gon said softly, “they deserve another chance to rectify their oversight. We’re unavailable. Our reports are submitted, there’s no way they could have read them yet.”

Obi-Wan laughed and shoved at him gently. “All right, you win,” he drawled. “ Just tea. Then the Council, and then comes everything else.”

Qui-Gon hummed, pure contentment finally spreading through him in a slow wave. “Just one thing.”

“Hm?”

“You couldn’t have waited for me to be there when you told them to get stuffed?”

Obi-Wan snorted, then dissolved into giddy laughter.