There was a disturbance in the cantina today.
All Ben wanted was to drink his drink and watch the endless vids of Empire propaganda- white suited men marching in unison following their silent leader in black- over and over and over again. Worlds burned and were subjugated while they marched and marched and crowds cheered. This was his penance. The alcohol was his reward. Once a week. Once a week he could wallow and watch the galaxy burn around him. No one paid him any mind; he was seemingly harmless, an aging and greying human of average size in an old brown cloak.
Today he felt something, a hint of presence in the Force, of familiarity with an underlying whiff of comfort. Terrified, he left his drink and scurried out the back, hoping nobody noticed. Ben leaned against the wall of the cantina, gasping, facing the alley beyond. He didn’t want this. Didn’t want to remember. Not now. Not today.
This had happened before, but his visitors had all been ghosts. He was, as he would always be, utterly alone but always haunted.
This time, however, Ben was not alone in the alley and his companion wasn’t a ghost. Leaner and more worn than Ben had ever seen him, he’d cut off his braids and shaved his head, but his eyes were still warm and brown. There was grey showing in his stubble. He’d used some kind of paint to cover his tattoos, but Ben could see a hint of gold peeking through.
Ben approached him and touched his shoulder, wanting verification of what his eyes and the Force was telling him. He was real, as real as the sand and dirt griming his cloak and caught in the creases by his eyes.
“Quinlan Vos. Of all the people who I ever thought would find me, I should have expected it would be you,” Ben said, voice dry and somewhat cracked with disuse. He didn’t even have to speak to order his whiskey, not anymore.
Quinlan answered with a half-hearted salute. “Glad to be predictable.”
Ben remembered posters and bounty hunters and the Empire and most importantly, Luke. “You can’t stay here. It’s not safe for you to be here.” Ben wasn’t sure exactly what he was saying, his voice full of dust and rust. The only beings he talked to were the banthas.
Quinlan leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. “Safe for who? It’s not safe for me anywhere. Or you. I’ve seen the wanted posters.”
“You have to go.” One eccentric hermit did not raise attention. Two strange hermits might.
He raised a brow. “Do I? Believe it or not Kenobi, I didn’t come to this hellhole looking for you.”
“Why did you?”
“Because I’m on the run. I’ll be running until there’s no place left to hide.” He scuffed at the ground with a weather worn boot. His clothes were burnt and frayed. “Sorry you found this spot first. I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore.”
“What?” Ben had drunk a little too much whiskey and it was very hot.
“Running.” Quinlan had despair written in every line of his lean body. He was nearly drooping with it. Gone was his once frenetic energy.
Ben felt the old familiar grief returning, the one he had pushed into the back of his mind. “You can’t give up.”
“Why not? I can only sabotage so much of the Empire’s shit on my own.”
Ben smiled a little. Here was a hint of his old Quin. “I don’t know my friend; you were quite a master of sabotage in our day.”
“Maybe. Now I’m worn out.”
“I know. I am too,” Ben said, taking Quinlan’s hand in his own. It was warm and bony and calloused and felt so familiar. Ben was so lonely, so lost. A part of him yearned for companionship, for comfort, longed for tenderness and a talk with an old friend. He was struck with the sudden realization of how much he craved a kind touch on his bare skin.
“Come back with me,” he said on impulse. “Come back to my house.”
They walked in companionable silence to the outskirts of town, where his speeder was parked. Quinlan hopped up behind him, putting his arms around his waist and resting his chin on his shoulder. The close, friendly contact of another human, once taken for granted, was novel. Ben couldn’t get enough of it. His heart ached, ripping open old wounds, tearing scabs and blisters. He had been numb for so long. For years.
The ride to the Jundland Wastes was uneventful, nothing but sand and barren desert as dried up as he felt. They arrived at his little house, with its little vaporator and its stone walls and dismounted. The banthas were lowing in the distance, glad to see their human had arrived.
“You live here?” Quinlan asked, looking around.
“I live here. Since… Since it all ended,” he led Quin inside. “You can sit on that chest or the bed, if you’d like.”
Quin grabbed his shoulders and turned him so they faced each other. “Let me look at you.”
“There’s not much to see.” He generally avoided looking at himself, though he knew his hair and beard were half auburn half grey and that the sun had not been overly kind.
“I dunno Obi, I always liked the way you looked,” Quin said, pulling him down to sit beside him on the bed.
How long had it been since anyone had called him his true name, let alone a diminutive of it? He turned to Quin and wiped the paint off his face with his thumb, then leaned against him, still reveling in the contact of another living being.
They rested against each other, both relishing the touch. “I didn’t know where you’d gone to. I didn’t even know you were alive. You’ve always been good at hiding,” Quinlan said.
“I could say the same about you.”
Quin took one of Ben’s hands in his own and rubbed the back of it with his thumb. “Why are you here anyway? There’s got to be a reason. It can’t be a coincidence that you’d come back to where you found him.”
Ben sighed. “There is, but I can’t tell you now.”
Quinlan took that statement with equanimity. “I bet there is. You always had your secrets. I won’t pester you about it.”
“That’s a first.”
“I know you miss him. I miss Aayla. I felt her go. She was such a good Jedi. I didn’t deserve her,” Quin said, bereft.
‘You could never understand what I felt. I can’t bear to tell you’, Ben thought, but kept it to himself. It wasn’t entirely true. “I’m so sorry, Quin.”
Ben found himself almost jealous. If only it was that simple. If only his apprentice had died quietly in the service of the galaxy, shot in the back by a clone instead of the terrible reality that had driven Ben to the desert with an infant.
Maybe he would tell Quinlan, tell him everything, but not yet. Words, once so easy for him, were so hard to come by. He’d forgotten their fluency and rhythm, how to manipulate them into something meaningful. He’d died a little too, at least the best parts of him.
Quinlan gave his cheek a soft, gentle kiss. “I can tell it’s complicated, Obi. You don’t have to talk about it. You can tell me when you want to, or not at all.”
“Thank you,” Obi-Wan said, glad they had come to an understanding as only old friends could. He got up and poured them some whisky, handing Quin a mug.
“I’m happy just to be here with you, even if it’s just for a little while. I don’t think I have much longer. The fight in me is gone,” Quin took a sip of his whiskey and continued on, studying the amber liquid. “I won’t go easy though. Just have to think of a way to go out with a bang.”
If it wasn’t for Luke, Obi-Wan would have felt the same. It broke his heart, but he couldn’t fault his friend. One hunted, aging Jedi could do so little except join the Force.
“Quin please…” he whispered, placing his hand on his neck, feeling the warmth of his gritty skin and the sharp bones of his spine, stroking his hand upwards over his shaved scalp.
“Please stay with me tonight. Stay with me,” Obi-Wan said, pulling him close, wrapping his arms around him, feeling the rhythm of his breath. All they had left to give each other was some comfort. If it meant one night shared in the darkness, one night that wasn’t so bitterly lonely, he would take it and remember it always.
Maybe it would be longer, but he knew Quin wouldn’t stay forever. There was nothing but impermanence here, the sand dunes shifting and rock spires crumbling. Quinlan wasn’t one that could live in solitude amongst the banthas and the stars; he would itch for action, for purpose and there wasn’t any here, just wind and sand.
Here in the dunes, Obi-Wan would take whatever he could get. He would take a night, a day, a month, a year. “Stay as long as you like.”