"The dark is generous, and it is patient, and it always wins – but in the heart of its strength lies weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back. Love is more than a candle. Love can ignite the stars."
Matthew Stover, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
Six months after Mustafar, Obi-Wan walks out into the desert with the express purpose of losing himself.
When his hut is out of sight, and the sands are so bright they blur into the sky and surround him with light, he strips out of his tunic; sets it under a stone; sits, bows his head, and asks the Force to keep him suspended there, timeless, peaceful. To protect him from the suns, from the sand and winds.
To protect him from himself.
He has never been more powerful. In solitude, his communion with the Force has taken on a fury which even he, having marinated in myth since childhood, finds supernatural. With no one to speak to, no one to listen to, no one to counsel or fight for or find or kill, his reserves of strength have no outlet. He lives and breathes the Force; he draws it from the water he farms from the ground until it evaporates; he can block out the sun, send raiders scattering, suggest with a whisper that the planet spare him its scourges, and watch night fall at his will.
But there is only one thing he wants, with all the certainty and single-mindedness he will allow himself; only one being he permits himself to think of and desire and call to, and that one will not come.
Obi-Wan has lost track of time – minutes, hours, days, it makes no difference once he has stopped taking note of the months – when this one settles into the sand beside him, heralded by the soft folds of cloth settling in the dirt, the negligible scuff of a boot, the slightest creak of joints and sighs.
“That sunburn will not be a good look on you,” Qui-Gon says, and Obi-Wan breathes out the Force as though he is a cask of wine uncorked, bleeding out his relief as he opens his eyes.
Qui-Gon has not changed. Obi-Wan didn’t know what he had expected: not this, though, not this utter stasis, as though it were but a moment ago when Darth Maul’s lightsaber took what was his. Every line on Qui-Gon’s face, every stray hair swayed by the wind, every callus on his folded hands exists as it was seared into Obi-Wan’s mind in that time a world away in Theed. It makes Obi-Wan feel not young again, not as if he has been taken back to that place, but old – keenly aware of how he himself has changed, of the sweat running down between his shoulderblades, the careless and dangerous waste of water in this place where water is life.
“I wasn’t aware you cared what I looked like,” he croaks, when he has found his voice, and Qui-Gon smiles, patient and warm; something in Obi-Wan’s chest constricts.
“On the contrary,” his master says, settling more comfortably into his cross-legged seat in the shifting sands. “I find your current appearance most interesting. I expected your face to have changed, of course – but I find seeing you without your braid most disconcerting. Whatever was Master Yoda thinking of?”
In different circumstances, Obi-Wan would have been glad, ecstatic even, at the return of the banter he has craved for so long; he finds himself, however, incapable of anything but outburst. “I buried it,” he mutters bluntly. “With your ashes.”
Qui-Gon holds his gaze, and does not blink. The Force stutters and skips, and Obi-Wan sways where he sits.
“What took you so long? What has changed?” he asks eventually, and Qui-Gon sighs, burrowing his hands deeper into his sleeves.
“I do not know. Though I travel with it, the Force has not revealed all its secrets to me. It keeps much to itself – chiefly the art of timekeeping.” There is something wry in Qui-Gon’s tone, but regret, deeper, and a hesitation which Obi-Wan knows is for him, knows that it is he who controls this interaction between them by the dubious virtue of being still alive and corporal.
“Will you come back?”
“Yes,” Qui-Gon says instantly, and Obi-Wan clings to that truth, feels it resonate deep within his essence. Somehow and somewhere he recognizes that this is miraculous, this is unbelievable, this is a gift and a privilege that he is privy to, though as he searches for words in which to reply he finds himself mildly concerned with his greed, his want, his determination to grasp onto this hope and call it his and his alone.
He is exhausted, suddenly; to sleep, to fade away and cling to this as a last memory, seems to feel like the only thing he is capable of. His eyes drift closed; he senses and hears, rather than sees, Qui-Gon’s smile.
There is the feather-touch, then, of skin against his chapped lips; of fingers on his hand, tamping slowly around his pulse.
Ghosts cannot touch.
“Ah,” Obi-Wan murmurs; sadness floods through him with the driving force of a sandstorm. “This is a dream.”
“Yes.” Qui-Gon’s grip tightens on his wrist, with all the warmth and strength of the unreal. “But do not fear, my dear padawan. I have found you, now.”
Obi-Wan wakes in the desert with the worst sunburn he will ever have in his life, still in his pose of meditation, sand swirling up into eddies as it half-buries his limbs.
It takes him an hour to crawl back to the hut, skin cracking and bleeding red-raw. He sleeps for a week without pause.
Fic title from Spenser’s Amoretti, Sonnet 85:
THE world that cannot deeme of worthy things,
when I doe praise her, say I doe but flatter:
so does the Cuckow, when the Mauis sings,
begin his witlesse note apace to clatter.
But they that skill not of so heauenly matter,
all that they know not, enuy or admyre,
rather then enuy let them wonder at her,
but not to deeme of her desert aspyre.
Deepe in the closet of my parts entyre,
her worth is written with a golden quill:
that me with heauenly fury doth inspire,
and my glad mouth with her sweet prayses fill.
Which when as fame in her shrill trump shal thunder
let the world chose to enuy or to wonder.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
When Obi-Wan wakes, Qui-Gon is across the room telling the Force to make him a pot of strongly tannic tea which he can smell from deep in the pile of blankets he’d subconsciously buried himself in to protect himself against the freezing desert nights. It is easy, suddenly, to distinguish between the dream-world and the living; though Qui-Gon’s feet have every appearance of touching the ground, and his hands their own embodiment around the steaming clay mug, there is no actual contact made. The ghost seems to hover, occupying space but not inhabiting it; it is simultaneously disconcerting and heartening for the fact that he is here, Qui-Gon is here and Obi-Wan can speak to him, and they will speak for a long time.
His master turns as Obi-Wan hauls himself slowly out from under the covers; he smiles, and Obi-Wan breathes in deep. “I sensed you waking,” Qui-Gon says - he sits, then, on one of the two rickety chairs at Obi-Wan’s table, and waits. “You were always a loud sleeper.”
One of his many faults, Obi-Wan thinks, which he acknowledges with a hoarse laugh; it brings him back to mornings when he’d stumble out into their shared quarters to find himself always half an hour behind his Master in terms of being prepared for a day of work in the Temple, and being smiled at for some indiscretion he was never aware of. He’s been conscious for a long time of his talking in his sleep; of fighting battles, of belying the supposed calm a Jedi Knight is supposed to draw around them in even the most unguarded of moments.
He has grown used, since he arrived on Tatooine, to the fact that no one would be likely to comment on his unsettled, irregular routines again. It is unexpected, this sudden stab of loss; the recognition that the last person to have teased him about it was Anakin.
“I see you’ve found your way round the kitchen,” he says, unsure of what else he is capable of saying, as he yawns and stretches his way to the other chair. “Which is a minor miracle, frankly.”
“It is an ingenious setup,” Qui-Gon replies, nodding towards the tubes and flashing lights of the evaporator as it deposits its precious distillations into the cistern on the other side of the room. “And whatever you might remember of me, Padawan, my ability to boil water was never, I do not think, in doubt.”
Obi-Wan sticks his nose into the mug, inhales, and thinks that he might go back to sleep. It is an unusual impulse, but one which seems entirely natural in the face of his current conundrum. “What do we do now?”
“I have no idea.” Qui-Gon folds his arms in that oh-so-familiar pose of slight defensiveness he used so often in situations where he was ever so minutely at a loss; it is not a sign of weakness per se, but to those who know him, as obvious a tell as he will display. “Master Yoda intimated that I was to teach you this strange art of mine as I have taught him, but I find myself reluctant.” He tilts his head, and his hands tighten inside his elbows. “I have no intention of considering the eventuality of your death.”
“Thank you,” Obi-Wan says, and finds himself giggling. It is all so absurd.
“Strange,” he sighs, when he has regained control over himself. The Force has wrapped itself around him, smelling of Qui-Gon and pasts twenty years gone, and he feels no rebuke from it at his helplessness. “I find that I have no idea what to talk to you about, if not that. I hardly think picking up where we left off is possible.”
“Fair enough.” Qui-Gon pauses, and then smiles. “Six months before that, perhaps?”
And suddenly, that makes it easy.
Over the course of a week, he shows Qui-Gon how the evaporator works, for something to do; they walk a few hours into the desert in each direction, spying on Jawa colonies and a group of Tusken raiders who have settled into the depths of a canyon. After one of these long wanders, they stand for a while on a ridge above the Lars homestead, and Qui-Gon asks no questions.
Obi-Wan finds himself talking of things gone and beings dead as though they are alive and present, and finds things to be easier that way. He charts the stars at night - it is so dark in the desert that they hover close, so close that as they sit on the sloping roof of the hut that he feels he could pluck them down into the palm of his hand - without acknowledging that he knows and has fought and grieved on the planets which orbit each of them, and finds it simple.
Mace would find this so very dull, he thinks once. Yoda would wilt in the heat, and grumble and grouse and hit things with his stick until he was loaded onto the nearest space-capable pod.
After ten days, when Qui-Gon is he knows not where - he catches glimpses of the ghost fading out of the corner of his eyes sometimes, though his Force-presence remains - Obi-Wan finds himself crying as he falls asleep. Silly, he thinks vaguely - stupid, to cry when the evaporator had farmed little that day and would not be able to rehydrate him properly in the morning. Silly, that he should cry with no noise, or shaking, or knowledge as to why it was happening.
He opens his eyes slowly to the sensation of cloth beneath his cheek, and Qui-Gon’s love, and decides that being a dreamer, and an uneasy sleeper, has its virtues after all.
He would prefer his dreams to be more - unique, for want of a better word. He thinks Qui-Gon would understand his need to know what is real and what is not; to be able to tell himself that he was awake or unconscious and keep himself from slipping further from the world based on more evidence than his sense of touch alone. But it is worth it, he soon finds - worth it for the press of dry palms on his own (Padme, he thinks - Padme’s hands were dry and cool, not the heavily-perfumed and soft appendages one would have expected of a Senator and former Queen), worth it for the calm grip on the back of his neck which speaks of the certainty of companionship in the aftermath of a crisis (Anakin was always familiar with him, the common Jedi closeness and informality of a boy who has grown up since infancy with a keen awareness of his body’s place in the Force).
He opens his eyes, and there is only Qui-Gon with him in the silence of the hut, with a sandstorm raging outside which, Obi-Wan knows, exists in this dream-world to remind him of the potential of his turmoil, and remind him where and with whom the protection of his soul lies.
“This is a dream,” he sighs for the second time, and Qui-Gon’s low chuckle tells him that the reluctance and false complaint in his tone isn’t fooling either of them.
“My dear Padawan,” Qui-Gon says, and Obi-Wan closes his eyes against the sensation of long fingers sliding into his hair. “Always you decided that you were the one who had to survive, and to suffer. Did you never imagine that your efforts to save everyone would be too much of a burden?”
“Never,” Obi-Wan murmurs, and feels the truth of it hit him in the gut; the self-knowledge that survival is a double-edged sword. “I would feel incomplete if I had not tried.”
“You do not need to try, anymore,” Qui-Gon says. His grip tightens, and Obi-Wan lifts a hand, clutches it around Qui-Gon’s forearm to keep himself steady. “You are allowed to think of what you might need, Obi-Wan, as well as what your essence wants.”
“You ask me to deny what I am?”
“Never,” Qui-Gon says, and he kisses Obi-Wan gently, surrounding them both with a curtain of grey-shot hair. “Only to recognize that these worlds you live in have offered you something different, and new. And that in some respects, at least, you have already triumphed.”
“The Force brought you back to me,” Obi-Wan says thickly. “It was none of my doing.”
“Was it not?”
For the first time in a very long time - longer, even, than the why of Anakin, which in the end, had been eminently clear - Obi-Wan finds he has no answer.
Obi-Wan keeps a commlink in one corner of the hut; when he first arrived there he had decided he would spare the power, and the spiritual strength, to turn it on to check for messages only once each week. The pattern is typical enough of far-flung and remote farmers who tune in only to check for news of sales and markets; its anonymous registration protects him as much as his remoteness. He could not bring himself, however, to set himself a regular time to switch it on: once a week, was his only rule, and so sometimes he waits until the last possible moment of his allotted time; other times, some surge of impatience persuades him to do it twice in as many days, and then the wait until his next allowed contact with the galaxy must be even longer.
Qui-Gon is outside, watching the suns rise, when he types in his access code to find a message waiting, and he sits down carefully to brace himself. When Bail Organa’s face flickers into being before him, he has to hit pause immediately, before the Senator’s mouth even opens to speak, and he just stares.
He’s not quite sure how he thinks Bail looks. Tired, certainly; upset, perhaps. Whatever it is the little hologram has to say, Obi-Wan knows, suddenly, as the Force whispers it to him in fluttered alarm, that it will destroy something he has been trying to build.
“This is a message for General Kenobi,” Bail says, when he finally presses play, and that is nearly enough to break him right at the start. “I hope this message reaches you with all speed, for your own safety. There is a small Imperial fleet on its way to patrol above Tatooine as part of the Emperor’s efforts to check all systems for remaining Jedi and complete the work of Order 66. It is said his new apprentice, Darth Vader, travels with the Destroyers. If you are still on Tatooine, I advise you to hide yourself with all speed. You know better than I what precautions you must take to protect your life and erase your presence.”
A pause, and Bail’s face softens. “Our daughter is strong and well,” he adds. “She has her mother’s eyes.”
The hologram winks out, and Obi-Wan presses his face into his hands, pushes hard enough that sparks explode behind his eyes. “Bail, you fool,” he whispers. Surely my name cannot be so precious to you that you must risk everything by speaking it aloud.
The message is a day old. He has hours, at most.
Qui-Gon does not follow him as he hurries out of the hut, pulling on his cloak and boots; the weight of his lightsaber on his belt feels heavy and unfamiliar. “Are you leaving?”
“No. I must get the boy.”
“Ah,” Qui-Gon says, and nods. “His presence in the Force is strong. You think it will attract the Sith?”
“I’d rather not find out,” Obi-Wan calls - he has started to jog, as heatwaves start to rise from the sand. “I’ll be back soon.”
Even with the assistance of the Force, it takes him most of the morning to get to the Lars farm. The home complex is deserted; Owen out with the evaporators, perhaps, and Beru only Force knows where. Obi-Wan cannot spare the energy to be fully aware of every humming machine, droid, and strange domestic pet - he is attracted only by the beacon that is Luke, the pure, curious, giggling happiness of a seven-month-old child unaware of his importance.
The Force guides him to a dark, cool inner room - the baby is there, cooing, putting his toes in his mouth. He looks at Obi-Wan curiously, and is totally unperturbed by being lifted from his handmade, neat little crib; he startles only when Obi-Wan does, as Beru appears suddenly at the wide sandstone door, eyes wide and mouth gaping.
“What are you doing?” she gasps, hovering as though she has not quite recognized the Jedi and doesn’t know whether she is in danger or not, and Obi-Wan spares a moment to recognize how insane, indeed, he must look.
“He’s in danger, Beru,” he says softly. “I can protect him, and you, but only if I take him away from here.”
“He’s not even fully weaned,” she says eventually, quiet and small. “You’re sure it’s the only way?”
“I am. You must give me what he needs.” Her shaky nod leads to a few minutes of frantic packing, of milk and protein packets and what water she can spare shoved into bags; he stops her, finally, at the door into the courtyard, grabs her arm with his free hand while the other cradles his precious burden.
“If they come here, say nothing,” he says. “Think nothing. Do you understand me?”
Her gulp is full of fear, but he knows she is strong; you have to be, to grow up here, to live in this place. “I think so. Be careful. Bring him back to us.”
Luke stays quiet for most of the trip back, though the heat makes him fuss. In truth, Obi-Wan might have hoped for more of a distraction, more of a problem to deal with to make him not think about what he knows he must do. It makes his feet stumble and his breath catch; he refuses to think of Qui-Gon, to think of anything but the welfare of the child, but finds himself trembling. He has rarely, he realizes, been so afraid. Even drawing his lightsaber on Mustafar had been less petrifying, for at least then he’d been promised the certainty of resolution.
He is half an hour away from the hut when the painfully bright blue sky acquires some new daytime stars; the Destroyers, dropping out of hyperspace and into orbit, bringing the Dark with them. Obi-Wan slows to a walk, clutches Luke closer, sweat beading on his face; calming his breath, he closes his eyes, and, since it doesn’t matter now, sends a tiny tendril of the Force upwards, concealing himself as something naive and unthinking, a helpless little curiosity. If he does it correctly the approaching Sith will think him nothing more than a weakly broadcasting and unaware Force-sensitive. So it proves, and -
For a moment, his knees give out beneath him, and he has to flail out a hand to catch himself from falling, to make sure the child is not harmed. “No,” he groans - it rips out of him, it hurts, it feels like the last thing he might ever say. No.
Vader. Who gave him that name? Was it the Emperor? Was it Anakin’s choice?
No. Not Anakin, now, but his signature in the Force is so close, so twisted, so wrong.
Obi-Wan regathers his burden, presses the now-hiccuping Luke, close to crying, to his chest, and staggers on.
Qui-Gon is waiting for him outside the hut when he arrives, his face creased into a frown. “You must not,” he says, as soon as Obi-Wan is in earshot, panting and looking up again at the approaching ships. “Obi-Wan. Padawan. You must not do it.”
“Protecting Luke will be easy enough,” Obi-Wan says roughly as he shoulders his way into the hut. He keeps a deep chest on one side of his sleeping quarters, made of real wood, that he bargained out of a merchant in Mos Eisley; with its lid propped open, emptied and refilled with blankets, it makes a comfortable enough nest for Luke, who settles into it with a happy little gurgle. “Once I cloak him from the Force, he is too young to unknowingly reveal himself.”
“Do not do this.” There is fortitude in Qui-Gon’s tone, with no fear whatsoever that he will be able to persuade Obi-Wan out of what he has planned. It is a great service Qui-Gon does him in that moment, Obi-Wan knows; to imply that he has faith that Obi-Wan will not destroy himself. “You may never find your way back.”
“He will find me,” Obi-Wan shoots back, as he strips out of his cloak and shoves his furniture to the walls; he will need open space for this, space into which to writhe and shake and scream. “If he detects even the smallest part of me, he will know, and he will come.”
“Obi-Wan.” There is a hand on his shoulder, and it stops him dead. His mind whirls between the real and the unreal.
“Do not worry,” Qui-Gon says, turning him so they are face-to-face; Obi-Wan can feel it now, how Qui-Gon’s Force signature has flared impossibly bright, impossibly strong, creating the sensation of solid flesh.
“You are awake, dear one,” Qui-Gon continues, barely audible. “Come back to me.”
Obi-Wan laughs, and sinks down onto his knees; above him, Qui-Gon’s presence, exhausted by its effort, flickers out of existence. “I will try.” I promise you that much, at least.
As he settles lower, his head falling forward and his eyes sliding shut, he can hear Yoda’s inevitable rebuke. This is the last bit of comfort, of safety, he will allow himself. It is not quite enough.
Cloaking Luke is, as he expected, easy. The boy’s luminescence winks out with nary a whisper, and the baby makes no sound. He is asleep in the folds of Obi-Wan’s spare tunics, huddled close, Obi-Wan thinks fancifully, to some essence of his father’s.
He reaches down within himself, then, seeking that same light. It is hard to pick out just one node of the Force, at first - he has grown so used, over the months and years and decades, to its presence in each and every one of his veins and cells that to seek its single source feels like blasphemy. He finds it eventually, though, hovering somewhere in his chest; he doesn’t allow himself to appreciate the irony of how close it sits to his heart.
He gathers its threads, clutches them together into one place. Slowly, it withdraws and consolidates; slowly it abandons his limbs, too slowly, making him more and more aware of how little time he has left. But it is there, finally, tight in his grip, and for the first time since he realized what he had to do, he finds himself unready.
Obi-Wan severs the Force from him, excises it, cuts it from his very soul and tells it, in no uncertain terms, that it no longer owns him. Perhaps he even says these words, or screams them: he is screaming, certainly, screaming into the desert and darkness, and is glad when that darkness claims him.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
When Obi-Wan regains consciousness there is a sandstorm raging outside, leaking through the tatty doors and shutters, and everything hurts.
He has bitten through his lip; his scalp aches and his eyes sting from self-inflicted scratches and tearing of hair. His first attempt to roll over produces nothing more than a fit of shaking.
It’s so quiet. Cold, too, he realizes, though he can still see the sun filtering through the blowing sand; he is freezing, and alone, and he can feel nothing. No Force, no warmth of life or being, nothing but a terrified self-awareness of disconnection, of severance.
Somewhere in the flittering shadows as the desert light is blocked and freed, there is a low wail, and Obi-Wan groans, tries again to right himself, and succeeds in slumping onto his side and getting a trembling hand underneath him. Luke, he thinks - Luke needs him. Luke knows nothing of the Force, nothing of Obi-Wan’s helplessness, of the destruction of a lifetime.
This is something he can do, he thinks - something he must, and that thought, as it echoes and ricochets around his empty mind, promises some sort of redemption. It takes three tries to lever himself up onto his knees; he crawls, unashamed and staggering, across the floor rather than trying and surely failing to stand, over to the makeshift cradle where Luke is standing wobbily on his tiny feet, his hands gripping the edge of the trunk and lifting wet eyes up to Obi-Wan in mute astonishment.
“Hello, little one,” Obi-Wan croaks. Something drips down his chin, and he takes a moment to wipe ineffectually at the blood caked around his mouth. “Hungry, are you?”
It is the work of a few minutes to lift the child out, fumble into Beru’s bag for a bottle, and ease himself down into a corner with Luke in his lap and happily feeding. The baby is warm, at least, a firebrand under Obi-Wan’s freezing hands, and exhaustion, weakness, creeps up on him quickly. He is slumping, he knows; folding into himself, collapsing inwards, incapable.
Was it really possible that his dependence on the Force had been this integral, this essential?
Not dependence, a soft and weakening voice in his head whispers: symbiosis. But the thought has been planted, treacherous and yet wise, and as Luke pushes the empty bottle away from his mouth and back into Obi-Wan’s hand he can only sigh.
“We’re a right pair, aren’t we,” he murmurs, and Luke burps sulkily into his shoulder.
They doze that way for some time, but when Obi-Wan rouses himself again he feels no less unstable, no warmer, no stronger. He puts Luke down to sleep, covers him, wavers finally to his feet and leans heavily into the doorway to peer out into the roaring sand.
Walk out into it, his mind whispers. At least you’ll feel something.
Without the aid of the Force, his emotions tear at him, changing direction so quickly that he instantly loses track of any reason for their being. Fear sweeps over him, paralyzes his breath, and it hurts - his thoughts twist this way and that searching for that previously ever-present calm which would re-open his lungs without fail, and find nothing, and for a while he loses track of time.
He must not fall asleep again, he realizes, when his vision clears and his limbs begin to feel less like water. In his current state, his dreams promise only destruction.
By midnight, he has recovered enough bodily strength to draw some water from the evaporator and wash his face and hands clear of the detritus of his ordeal; the cracked mirror in his small ‘fresher shows him that his eyes are red-rimmed and puffy, his skin dry and starting to turn towards that look everyone on Tatooine acquires eventually, of living flesh turning to leather. He looks small, Obi-Wan realizes; as though the Force had occupied breadth of muscle and the marrow of his bones, and his rejection of it has stripped him of half of his weight.
Some General, he thinks wearily.
He counts the hours. Eighteen hours afterwards, it is morning again, and Luke is awake, and Obi-Wan is watching him meander curiously around the hut and concentrating on thinking, and feeling, nothing.
It is curiously difficult. For in the place of the emptiness the Force has left behind everything he has spent so long finessing, shaping, repressing, and encouraging about himself has mutated, shifted and flooded his mind. There is enough of his self-discipline left to recognize them, but not enough, never enough, to control them. Fear he recognizes, and is ever-present. Anxiety. Insecurity. Weakness. Failure.
Failure circles, preys on him, prods him mercilessly with talons and teeth.
Luke has found a protein bar out of Beru’s bag; he sticks the end of it in his mouth, considers, and spits it messily back out. His crawl has a charming waddle to it, which Obi-Wan perceives, hazily, making its way towards him - he is dangerously close to slipping under, he knows, where shades and shadows await. Luke’s little hands knot into his trousers, then, take his weight, and his chin comes to rest on Obi-Wan’s knee.
“I can’t imagine what you want, my dear,” Obi-Wan murmurs. He lays a hand on Luke’s head, where soft hair is growing in infant curls, and tries to take comfort in his charge’s warmth; despite himself, his eyes slide closed. “I’m afraid I don’t know any lullabies.”
There is lava-flow rock under his feet, smoldering hot and crumbling black.
“There,” says Qui-Gon, and his hand points down below, to the flash of blue lightsabers through the steam, the river of lava. “You waited. Why did you wait?”
Obi-Wan stares. He can feel his hair matted on his forehead, the cramps in his hands from the exertion of too long a duel. “You’re not Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon cannot be here.”
“No,” the Qui-Gon says affably. He has Obi-Wan’s own eyes, and speaks in Obi-Wan’s voice. “The question remains, my young Padawan. Why did you wait?”
“Stop,” Obi-Wan begs himself, begs this impostor of himself in Qui-Gon’s shape. “Spare me this, please - ”
“You waited,” his voice says again, and it rings out everywhere, as though Mustafar itself is speaking. Far below, the Sith is approaching, and Jedi Master General Obi-Wan Kenobi waits, his lightsaber lowered at his side, open, quiet, already grieving.
“Padawan.” It is Qui-Gon’s eyes, suddenly, Qui-Gon’s voice - some memory of Obi-Wan’s coming to his rescue. “Did you truly believe that he would accept any of your offers of return?”
“I hoped,” Obi-Wan breathes. The Sith attacks once more, and General Kenobi comes on guard at the last moment to defend himself.
“Ah yes, you always hope.” Qui-Gon has vanished, and only his own voice remains. “You will always protest your hope. But you abandoned it.”
General Kenobi launches through the air and takes the high ground.
“Liar,” the dream hisses.
Obi-Wan wakes with a start, and rushes into the sandstorm to vomit out his disgust. He has not allowed himself to be physically ill, he vaguely realizes as he wobbles back inside, covered in dust, since the night of Qui-Gon’s pyre.
On the third night after he fetches Luke, the sandstorm finally subsides. Obi-Wan has slept for not more than five hours in that time. When he walks slowly outside, the Imperial Destroyers are still looping lazily across the sky every half an hour in their orbits.
He sits and waits, counting the minutes between each disappearance and reappearance of the pinpricks of light. The rhythm of them, slow and regular, ironically provides him with the first creeping sense of serenity he has felt since the severance.
He had never been aware, he thinks idly, of just how much the Force had given him. To live with it, he had recognized as a gift. To be allowed to access its power, its grace, its forgiveness, was a privilege. But it is only now, in its absence, that he realizes how much it had maintained, how much it had healed and protected him from all that would have broken him.
He wonders, briefly, whether the savagery of his self-castigation is the Force’s conscious punishment for his desertion. He banishes this idea quickly, as calmly as he can, telling himself that no, it is only a very different species of the Force that would treat him as an enemy, and that his weakness is of his own making. How, then, he wonders wearily, to recuperate any sense of balance in the face of every one of his flaws, lying flayed and bloody before him?
Liar. It has become a litany, its power diminishing with every repetition, but still hard enough to wound. If you truly had hope, you would have died for it.
Hush, something that sounds like Qui-Gon, like Padme, murmurs. He seizes on Padme, on the memory of her face, of her intelligence and unconscious understanding. Tell us - what is it you lived for?
“For what may come,” he says out loud. The flatness of the desert swallows his words, and provides no echo. “I lived that I may continue to hope.”
Jedi, Padme whispers, loving and assured, and there, that is what he has been searching for, that uncertain truth that the Force did not define what a Jedi was.
Obi-Wan stares out across the desert, and, for the first time since Mustafar, resolves to continue living.
On the fifth morning, the specks that are the Destroyers disappear over the horizon and do not return. Obi-Wan kneels in his doorway and waits for two hours, barely breathing, and finally gets up to go to the commlink.
Bail’s eyes flare wide at the sight of him, to which Obi-Wan offers a rueful grin. The scab on his lip pulls and cracks.
“By all the gods,” Bail breathes. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Obi-Wan says firmly, and, to his credit, Bail’s expression does not change. He always did have the strongest poker face in the Senate. “Luke is safe, and so am I. I will be taking him home today.”
“I hear Darth Vader is in a terrible rage,” Organa says, and Obi-Wan’s hands clench. He still cannot stand this - the vagaries and uncontrollable reflexes of his body to emotional stimuli exhaust him. “He found nothing on Tatooine, but he has sent troops to neighboring systems to continue the search. I would advise you to remain cautious.”
“I won’t be in touch with anyone for some time, rest assured,” Obi-Wan says, weariness seeping into his bones. “You - Bail, you must not contact me again, not by name. Force’s sake, all they would need to do is analyze your comm records - ”
“I have made my choices, Obi-Wan,” Bail says quietly; with his hands in the sleeves of his robes, he could for all the world be delivering a report to the Emperor himself, so calm is is face. “As have you, I can see. I honor your sacrifice.”
Obi-Wan cannot help but smile at his recognition of such a kindred spirit - closer, perhaps, than he had ever suspected. “I’m not finished yet, Bail. And I know you are not.”
“We understand each other perfectly,” Bail says. They both switch off their comms without feeling the need to say farewell.
He arrives at the Lars homestead just before sunset, bouncing Luke on his shoulders. The child’s happy shrieks bring Beru hurrying out from underground, and the relief and joy on her face almost make it all seem worth it.
“You look terrible,” she says in a rush, apologizing to him with her eyes as her face cannot help but focus all of her happiness on the wriggling bundle in her arms. “Was - is he - ”
“He’s fine,” Obi-Wan assures her. Night is falling fast, but he feels no desire to stay. “And so will you be.”
The words feel foreign on his tongue without the certainty that foresight used to give him, but he says them, nonetheless. He is unsure whether it is a sign of progress that he has learned to dissemble his former self.
Halfway home, bathed in the triple light of crescent moons, Obi-Wan tells himself that tonight he will sleep, and he will not dream; and that in the morning, there is work to begin.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Obi-Wan’s reacquaintance with his body takes the better part of a week. After ten hours of mercifully dreamless, deadening sleep, he finds his eyes gummed with sand and his feet unsteady; his fingers are stiff and his back cracks as he rises. He moves his table and chairs back to their proper places; strips out of his tunics and lets them fall in a crumpled pile on the floor of the fresher. Once he steps out into the sun, his tan bleaches and fades; his eyes ache, the wind tangles his hair on his forehead, and he feels very small.
The stretches and movements of his katas come to him as though from very far away. He hesitates, balanced on one leg and wobbling, for up to a minute before some sort of weakened muscle memory rescues him and prompts him into the next position. He retains enough of a memory of propriety to know when his back is too bowed, his stance too narrow; he is also painfully aware of how incapable he is of correction. It feels like an age before his left knee gives out beneath him and he collapses into his exhaustion, but when he drags himself back indoors it has been barely two hours. The remainder of the long Tatooine day stretches out like a complex taunt.
For the first time since it was placed in his hand as a youngling, his lightsaber feels… clumsy. That it still fits his hand shocks him; his arm no longer feels strong enough to support its weight. The possibility that it could be a danger to him rather than to anyone but him had never entered his mind, but now it rather seems an inevitability; it takes hours before any confidence in his ability to hold the bright beam upright without it wavering and threatening harm returns.
The physical weakness lasts several days before Obi-Wan notices any change. He is glad of his surroundings, ironically, now - he is glad of the tasteless food, of the purity of the water, of the relentless heat, for they make focusing on nothing beyond himself that much easier. He is even glad of the silence - up to a point.
“If you could see me now,” he says once, out loud, while his madly-trembling arms hold him in a handstand on a dune behind the hut. It’s only once he crashes down onto his head and lies, panting, on his face, that it occurs to him that, no doubt, Qui-Gon can. The grief of not being able to say the same renders him immobile for half a day.
His dreams are fragmentary; his thoughts, when he is awake, foretell neither prescience nor certainty. The realization that his hopes and plans are nothing but acts of unsupported imagination strikes him as terrifying at first, and shortly thereafter, wondrous. As does the rediscovery of his strength: after too long spent aware of his weakness, the day when he wakes quickly, feels no pain when he goes through his exercises, and barely blinks at the glare of the sun comes as a blessed relief.
Obi-Wan packs away his Jedi robes in the Mos Eisley trunk, replacing them with the tough leather tunic and leggings he had bought when he first arrived on the planet, armoring himself with hide and straps already well-scored by sands and wind. It is early evening when he stands in the hut for a moment, relishing the silence - he has come to recognize different shades of it in the empty echo chamber the Force left behind, and with the evaporator switched off this is where it exists in its purest distillation - before shutting and sealing the door and setting off into the Wastes.
For the first two days and nights, he has no real direction. He reminds himself of the intricacies of the galaxy, dredges up what he remembers of drills as a child where he was expected to navigate by something more essential than the readout on a datapad or nav computer. He turns north, then south; five hours this way, three the next. He does not care when he sleeps; there are caves whenever he needs them, and so time loses its meaning. The stars are almost as painfully brilliant as the sun.
Is this what it is like, he wonders once - is this what normality is?
For most of his life, to exist solely as himself was a future entirely unthinkable. He had always thought that to be this alone could only mean being bereft.
But this is - this is Beru. This is Bail. This is Lars, and this is every child not yet made aware of their place in the universe. As much pain as it brings him for the fact of his loss, how could he mourn this understanding?
He finds the weight of these thoughts exhausting; on the third day of his journey, curled into the warmth of a dying fire and with his pack of supplies lightening, Obi-Wan finally pulls up a map on his handheld datapad, peers at the flickering, cracked screen, and picks a destination where, even in his reduced state, he could be of use.
At first, he’s not entirely sure what the big fuss is. In fact, in the light of dawn, the sheer size and heft of Jabba the Hutt’s palace falls only just short of being awe-inspiring. He crouches on the cliffs, drinks the last of his water, and just stares. Without Force-enhancement, he cannot begin to imagine what might have happened here, or to whom - but he also cannot imagine that this place was always tainted by slugs and slavers. It reminds him of the Coruscant Temple if considered alone, without the surrounding cityscape; the wind speaks of quiet chants and contemplations.
For such a supposed hub of crime, Jabba’s environs are surprisingly serene. It is noon, and Obi-Wan’s newly-treacherous skin has started to sweat, by the time a convoy appears over the horizon from the direction of Mos Espa. With his pack on his back and his lightsaber between his teeth, the descent of the cliff-face takes Obi-Wan more than an hour; by the time his thick boots thud back onto solid ground the bedraggled line of slaves are only a few hundred yards from the enormous gate.
The hum of the lightsaber sounds so loud to him that it surely must give him away, but the Gamorrean guards don’t even turn. To cut into their flesh requires more effort than he has ever known - it requires force, it requires conscious intent that he now lacks, though he has no idea whether this is a result of the loss of the Force or the fact that he is no longer a General. One of the female slaves screams; dust kicks into his eyes, and he shouts and finds himself cursing at the pain of it.
The word sith has never before carried so little weight.
He stumbles and falls, and a big porcine fist closes around his throat - but if there is something else he has recently re-learned it is that even the smallest act of resistance, given the proper tools, can do damage, and so, even blind and choking, all it takes is a turn of his wrist and the lightsaber does the rest.
The gathered slaves shuffle and retreat nervously as he spits and splutters the desert out of him. By the time he can see again, two of the men have raised their fists; another, however, reaches out his hand to Obi-Wan and hauls him to his feet. They are human, men and women all, and two stripling, bony-jointed children clinging to their mothers; he finds he cannot speak, and instead merely points, following them with faltering steps as they hurry to hide beyond the boulders at the foot of the cliff. All is quiet; the gate does not open. The Mighty Jabba is either unconcerned about the loss of so paltry a shipment, or something more integral - luck? Obi-Wan nearly laughs, for he had never before believed in it - is on their side.
“Will you sell us?” one of the women asks, as Obi-Wan stumbles into their makeshift shelter, finally deactivating his lightsaber. “You don’t look like a slaver.”
“I’m not.” His voice is hoarse and cracked, unfamiliar to his own ears - probably, Obi-Wan realizes, because he has not used it in weeks. “Have you been implanted yet?”
“No, thank the gods,” one of the men murmurs. He is a big, rangy man, underfed but strong; his long unbound hair reminds Obi-Wan of too many things. He reaches out a hand, clasps Obi-Wan around the wrist. “What may we call you?”
Obi-Wan finds himself staring at the ground. “You first,” he says, dreamily, to buy himself time.
“Qi-Tar,” the man says, and around him, mutters begin as the others add their own names as Obi-Wan remembers that he owns only one name, and it no longer fits him.
Initiate, Youngling, Padawan, Knight, Master, Councillor, General, Outlaw; he has spent his life, it seems, defined more by his titles than his being. Without the Republic, he is none of them; without the Force, he is no longer Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“Ben,” he says simply, and finds he rather likes it.
He can do nothing more for them, and tells them as much - they do him the honor of believing him, and keeping a close rein on the curiosity he can see in their eyes. The two children, in particular, cast longing looks back at Obi-Wan’s lightsaber as they trail away into the dunes with their hands clasped firmly within their mothers’. Climbing back up the cliff-face takes the rest of the day, and nearly finishes him.
It is only as he lies at the top in the last light of dusk, gasping, that the elation of what he has done sweeps through him. The force of it makes him laugh - laughter, real laughter, uncomplicated and wrenching, coughing out the last of the sand and resonating with the throbbing of his scratched palms.
How much of this I could do, he thinks giddily. How much more I could do -
He breathes out, closes his eyes, and turns his face to the suns. “Please,” he rasps. “Forgive me.”
Not for myself, but for others. Please. I am here. Take me back.
The Force does not answer.
Obi-Wan waits on the clifftop, hoping against hope, for the whole night and nearly half a day before thirst drives him to his feet and then westward towards Mos Espa. In all that time, there is no activity on the canyon floor below; no sound, no living creature, nothing but the punishment of the sun. He is already weak from dehydration when he rises; two hours after he begins to walk, the hallucinations and mirages begin.
It is Bail who walks with him first, and Obi-Wan feels only regret that this means the Force is still absent - for Bail has no ghost, has no signature in that great cosmic entity, can only exist as he does in Obi-Wan’s mind. The senator takes to the sands with lightness of foot and a straight-backed dignity that draws all the more contrast with Obi-Wan’s shuffling pace, and the filth of pulverized rock.
Whenever he turns to look at them, he loses sight of his companions. After an hour, he finally thinks of something to say to Bail - I’m sorry, he plan to murmur, that your wife thinks only of lost friends when she sees your daughter’s face - but the Senator from Alderaan is not there, and never was.
He walks with Padme, he walks with Mace. Mace is whole when Obi-Wan catches glimpses of him, which he knows is not right; Padme is crying, which seems all too real until her tears manifest themselves in an oasis. He plunges a hand into its basin, reaching for water, desperate for it, and finds himself clutching only granite sand. Yoda’s feet make small scuffing sounds against rocks and pebbles as the landscape changes from dunes to jagged mazes and back again.
There is an itch, he realizes, at the back of his head - perhaps he sustained more damage than he had thought in the scuffle at Jabba’s palace, perhaps he is hurt. It feels like the stretch of dried blood over a scab, radiating outwards. He scratches idly through his hair as the sun reaches its zenith, but feels nothing on his skin. The sensation remains, however, needling at him like the remnant of an important thought long gone or something crucial he has forgotten. It reminds him of that nagging feeling of dread whenever he was too long parted from Anakin during the war.
Anakin does not walk with him, for which he is pathetically relieved; when he finally drags himself into the outskirts of Mos Taike, whose existence he had forgotten but is now unbelievably glad of, it is nearly dusk and it takes him an hour to lift his head long enough from the table in his run-down cantina to eat anything after the relief of the water, water, he had poured over himself with no regard for the squawk of the Toydarian who had sold it to him demanding his credits before he wasted his precious commodity.
He sleeps outside, huddling in his leathers against the wind. His dreams, such as they are, are fractured and meaningless. The itch at the back of his head spreads and deepens; the press of fingers at his temples and the nape of his neck does nothing to stop its prickling pain.
The next day, he turns his steps towards home. It’s an odd thought, to realize that that is what the little hut in the Jundland Wastes is to him now - but it’s all he has, and apparently all he will ever have, and he clings to the memory of it as though it is a beacon. It will take him more than a day to get there - and he will allow himself, he decides, to think of nothing until he gets back. No plans, no regrets, no memories: he will take these twelve hours to mourn, and be glad of it, for if he brings this solitude across his threshold he might as well have given up when he first arrived on the planet.
He takes shelter in a wrecked cargo ship in the dunes for the hours when the sun is at its height before moving on. It is starting to set, and his legs are starting to tire, when a sudden, white-hot bolt of pain shrieks through his mind and sends him stumbling to the ground.
His lightsaber is in his hand and illuminated before he even has to think about it. The desert, as he staggers upright again and turns to look back in the direction he came from, is empty. He is alone.
The pain diffuses, leaving in its wake the sort of hazy aura Obi-Wan has experienced only a very few times in his life - it feels like waking up in the care of the Healers at the Corscant Temple, like he has been dragged back from some brink. He breathes in sharply - that hurts, too, and brings with it the sensation that the air he has drawn into his lungs is burning him from the inside out.
“Hello?” he asks, completely uncertain, and something swirls, making sand dance in front of his eyes, a miniature whirlwind. If it were not so beautiful, he would be afraid of it sweeping forward and tearing into his eyes, into his skin. The air in his chest turns molten.
Emotion, yet peace.
The agony in his head intensifies: it has the sudden, blinding, cauterizing feel of a lightsaber burn, but its corrosion restores.
Ignorance, yet knowledge.
The wind lifts his arm: he can feel every inch of his lightsaber as though it is an extension of his flesh. An outline of it throbs visibly in the sand below, light casting shadow.
Passion, yet serenity.
Obi-Wan never thought he could feel this much: something assuages his grief and reminds him of the perspective of the many - something transforms his hesitation into joy. How is this possible, so quickly, so kindly?
Chaos, yet harmony.
Light floods through his limbs. It is as though he has swallowed both of Tatooine’s suns, and been obliterated by them.
Death, yet the Force.
When he opens his eyes, he has regained his name. Obi-Wan Kenobi stands on a dune above a canyon on Tatooine, deep in the Wastes, and looks down, and sees a Hutt transport skimming across the desert below - sees the five guards on the deck and the ten more below, the thirty-four terrified future slaves trapped in the fetid cargo holds. Their hearts beat brightly, frantically, luminously.
“Thank you,” Obi-Wan says simply, and leaps. He has never before, he knows, felt quite so giddy at the sensation of flying. The Force catches him gladly - it sings at the reformation of their bond as it steadies him as he drops into the canyon; it laughs with gladness when he lands, rolls over his shoulder, and slashes the deckboard cannon in half.
With the guards dispatched – he lifts his hand and they fall, some into injury and others into sleep, but none into death, for he is tired of it - he takes the controls of the skiff and pilots it down into the shade of the canyon wall. He raises the hatches to the decks below with another gentle wave of his fingers; he leaves them open, and the ship quiet, and the joy of rescue to the unknown men and women below. By the time they begin to struggle upwards, cautious and unbelieving, into the sun he is already far away, running, glorying in how the Force can turn even Tatooine beautiful.
Time becomes malleable; it streaks and twists. It is overwhelming, all of it, the enhancement of senses long-dulled, the restoration of muscles long wasted, the rejuvenation of a mind so long empty. Obi-Wan is about to burst, about to become the Force itself, his body a mere vessel for its grace.
It feels inevitable, therefore, that just as his hut comes into view, the Force tells him that it, and he, must rest, or the strength of their reunion will overpower him. He finds himself whining something wordless as its presence in his veins subsides; its subsiding into a quiet hum rather than a flood brings exhaustion roaring in its wake.
“No,” he croaks, just as he is reaching out for the handle of the door, feeling his feet slow and his eyes start to drift closed. “Not yet - ”
When he wrenches the door open, Qui-Gon is there, standing calm and welcoming in the darkness with sand eddying around his feet.
“Obi-Wan.” It is his voice, Qui-Gon’s voice, not some figment of Obi-Wan’s imagination; he finds, abruptly, that he cannot speak. His heart is too full.
He drops his pack, walks as steadily as he can past his Master and to the corner where his life-giving evaporator has lain dormant. His hands shake as he turns it on, attempting to calm himself with the resumption of routine.
“I thought it was punishing me,” he says eventually, still not facing Qui-Gon; he wants to weep, briefly, but the miraculous ease with which he turns it away turns this impulse quickly into joy. “And I would have deserved it.”
“Never,” says Qui-Gon, as though he had never left. This is, perhaps, the greatest gift of reunion he will ever receive - to continue on as though he is still the same. It is something to aspire to. “You have never been other than deserving, my dear Padawan.”
Obi-Wan does turn, then, and everything he is must cry out with what he wants, because Qui-Gon moves so fast that their Force signatures are entwined before Obi-Wan can draw in any breath with which to speak. Not that he’s doing much speaking, then, because Qui-Gon’s arms sweep him up as though he’s a child, crushing him into his chest and trapping Obi-Wan’s hands between them, his mouth descending to tear searchingly at Obi-Wan’s chapped lips. Obi-Wan feels carried away by a current, his head cradled and his feet stumbling; they move together, knock over a chair, his back hits the table and together they fall -
Obi-Wan wakes with a start, his eyes flying open wide. He is flat on his back on his crooked little bed, staring up at the ceiling of the hut, his heart hammering in his chest.
This is a dream, he remembers, and gulps, trying to dissipate the harshness of his breath, his fingers clutching white-knuckled at the bedframe.
And then he turns his head, and sees that his chairs lie toppled on the duracrete floor; the table is skewed, pushed out of its place. The door is still open - the evaporator hums and clicks.
Obi-Wan smiles so wide it is painful, and turns back over to return to his dream.
When he wakes the next morning, he packs the tough, dusty leather coat away and dresses in his tunics again; the planes and folds of them are so familiar, recalling other times and places. It takes him a few hours to set the hut and its environs in order - he digs out sand where it has obscured some of the evaporator’s cables and pipes, checks that the commlink still works (it holds no messages, and for the first time he is unperturbed by its potential); he checks his food supplies, makes plans to buy more, charts a date and time for a more leisurely and considered trip east to Mos Eisley. In the afternoon, he performs kata after kata, and they feel effortless, as though the desert has consciously adopted the role of training salle and the suns direct his meditation.
Returning, tired and content, he finds Qui-Gon’s ghost waiting outside with his hands quiet in his sleeves, his glowing outline making clear his reality. Obi-Wan, remembering a different reality entirely, cannot help but grin, and the answering smile on Qui-Gon’s face confirms his suspicion that these different shades of both of them are one and the same.
“So,” he says, wiping his sandy hands on his tunics as he approaches. “I do believe you have something to start teaching me.”
“Yes,” Qui-Gon answers, with a brief bow of his head - it is a mark of respect from Master to Master, one that Obi-Wan takes unexpectedly to heart. “I have no desire to lose you again. If you will have me, I will invite you into this eternity.”
“I will,” Obi-Wan says.
He ducks through the door and takes a deep breath. There is no Death, only Hope, he thinks, and accepts his fate.
Thank you for reading! Couldn't have asked for a better welcome for my first-ever SW fic. If it's of any interest, my major musical inspiration (I often write with it) for this was Alexandre Desplat's main theme for The Imitation Game.
Chapter 6: Coda: Illustrations
My dear friend and creative colleague JakartaInn (agarthanguide on Tumblr) painted three gorgeous portraits of Obi-Wan in the world of this fic while I was writing it; I figured it was high time to share them on AO3! Each is linked to a full-size version and to where they were posted on Tumblr if you want to reblog them there.