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Speaker of Valaeanath

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 The last time Obi-Wan Kenobi heard a voice, it was Asajj Ventress, telling him she was going to leave him in the dark to die.  She had been true to her word, but first she had given him back all five of his senses, making his trip through her fortress into yet one more torture.  A MagnaGuard droid had carted him down a long, dank, dark hallway.  The reek of despair had assaulted his nose, along with the scent of unwashed bodies.  The cries of others, trapped and tortured, had assailed his ears and kindled anger in his heart–anger at her, for her cruelty, and anger at himself, for being helpless to stop any of it.  He didn’t speak, though.  He’d gotten used to keeping his jaw clamped shut, refusing to give Ventress the satisfaction of knowing she’d caused him pain.

The droid had hung him from a curved hook that jutted from the ceiling, and the binders around his wrists had cut into him with cruel, dull edges.  Ventress had smiled at him without joy, and her fingers had brushed his lips before she spoke her finals words, the last sounds he would ever hear.  Then sharp hooks had flexed in his back, digging further into his skin, just before utter darkness swallowed him.   

She left him without sight or sound, mute, unable to even scent the air.  Left him without the Force.

The hope of rescue died after a time.  Hope of any sort died once he realized that while he didn’t feel thirst, he was starving.  Slow starvation was bad enough; that he’d dealt with before, and it was trying, at best.  Starving while blind in all senses of the word, helpless and very much alone, was a fate that he would never have wished on anyone.

His sanity was slipping, for there were only so many times he could run the same stories through his head, the same songs and memories and regrets, before it all began to blur together.  More than once he jerked his head up, certain that he’d heard voices and the echoes of blasterfire that meant rescue.  Then he would drift again, too weary to fight for consciousness, and he would dream in stark, vivid colors that didn’t seem real.  It got worse when he began hallucinating that he was being touched, because that was his only sense remaining, and it was much harder to remember that it was a lie.  Sometimes he thought Anakin was speaking to him, or Garen or Siri, the latter of which had freaked him out because Siri had died three months ago.

Then there was change.  He felt firm pressure on his neck just before the binders around his wrists released.  Someone caught him before he could fall, cradling his weakened body.  He tried not to believe it, at first, and drove his nails into the palm of his hand until he felt warm blood run down his wrist.  He was still being carried, could feel the sharp vibration of each step his bearer took.  Either it was real, or he’d lost the fight and had utterly cracked.

After a time he felt the warmth of sunlight on his skin, the touch of a breeze, and began to believe that just maybe he’d been rescued, after all.  He recognized the feel of the plate armor standard among the clone troops, and wondered which division had come to liberate Ventress’ prison.  He hoped that 17 was still alive to be rescued.

Things were looking up.

Yet the silence, his blindness, continued, unabated.  He was starting to grow concerned.  Shouldn’t someone have figured out by now that he had a very large, very pressing problem, and it needed to be dealt with?

He was sat down on unyielding metal.  The vibration of plating underneath his hands told him he was in a ship.  Later, a steady thrum through those same plates told him that they were in hyperspace.  He breathed a sigh of relief and curled up in a corner of the strange ship’s hold, nibbling on a ration bar that had been pressed into his hand.  He hoped it was a ration bar, anyway.  The shape was right, the texture on his tongue familiar, and it soothed his raging hunger.

Occasionally there was a touch to his shoulder, and the wall he was leaning against vibrated in a faint sort of way that he guessed to be the echo of voices.  He was elated and aggravated by turns; he had no idea what anyone was saying, and therefore had no idea of how to respond.

Obi-Wan started reaching out for hands, pressing with his fingertips in a certain way that was a greeting in a silent language he had been taught as a Padawan.  Those had been lessons he’d loved, when there was no sound in their quarters, and the only thing he’d needed to concentrate on was the feel of Qui-Gon’s fingers speaking to the palm of his hand.  The lesson had never been needed, but he had not forgotten.  After the pyre, it had remained one of his more treasured memories.

No one responded to his greeting, which didn’t surprise him.  None of the clones would have been taught the language, even if Jango Fett had known it.

He dozed, off and on, his dreams full of more colors and loud, cacophonic sounds as his mind tried desperately to compensate for the lack of sensory input.  At one point he dreamed that the Sith from Naboo had joined forces with Dooku, as they took turns flaying his skin from his body with a set of matched vibroblades.

He awoke with a start, his jaw clamped shut to keep from screaming, to discover he was being carried once more.  Not plate armor, this time, but cloth, and he brushed his fingers up the fabric, reaching for a face that he might recognize by touch.

A hand grasped his fingers, squeezing in what was possibly reassurance.  Obi-Wan frowned and tried the greeting again.  Another squeeze, but no actual language.  Dammit.

He encountered the hands of what felt like five different beings, and with each one he tried the greeting, and got nowhere.  He was placed on something soft and long enough to support his entire body, most likely an exam bed.  He skipped the greeting and started pressing ‘Help!’ into palms with near-manic intensity.

When he felt the tip of a cold injector touched the skin of his forearm, he fought back.  Drugs were the last thing he needed.  Ventress had probably fed him enough, during her torture sessions, to stock a pharmaceutical lab.

He was overpowered by many hands, and the sharp pain of the injection made him want to scream.  He opened his mouth, teeth bared, and wept when no sound would emerge.  Help me! he screamed, his mental voice ringing in his own head.  For gods’ sake, help me!

Sometime later he found himself resting in what he knew to be a bed, and was grateful to find he hadn’t been strapped in place.  He explored with his hands, found at least three lines in his arm, feeding him Force knew what.  He was muzzy-headed, so there had to be a sedative involved.  Just what he bloody well needed.  His clothes were gone, replaced by the thin, soft material of medical-issue garments.  If he’d had any sense of time and place left before his rescue, it was certainly gone now.

The bed’s metal frame could pick up vibrations from the floor, so he was prepared when the sensation became stronger, and there was a touch on his shoulder.  Obi-Wan reached up and clasped his hand around the newcomer’s arm.  The hand on his shoulder squeezed in reaction.  Yes, yes, he wanted to scream.  He tried nodding, and whoever had been touching him wrenched out of his grip, the vibrations quickly going distant.  Fetching someone, he surmised, biting his lip.  Please let it be someone useful.

The fetched being turned out to be Master Yoda.  He knew this when Yoda touched him.  The Master’s hand was unmistakable: three gnarled, thick fingers tipped by claws, soft and gentle with the children, harsh when the situation demanded it.  He pressed the greeting eagerly into Yoda’s palm, hoping against hope…

There was a pause, and Yoda repeated the sign on Obi-Wan’s palm.  He wanted to weep with relief, but Yoda was tricky, because Yoda was also frighteningly intelligent, and he had to be sure.  He signed ‘Help!’ onto the ancient Master’s tiny palm, and waited.

Yoda pressed the sign for ‘Help!’ into his palm.  Repetition, not recognition.  Obi-Wan dropped his head back onto the bed, trying to choke down bitter despair.  Qui-Gon Jinn, only you would teach me a language that not even Master Yoda knows! he thought, blinking back furious tears.  Obi-Wan knew how to cure his problem, knew exactly what it was being caused by, and he couldn’t tell anyone.

Yoda’s hand came to rest on his forehead, and he closed his eyes more out of habit than any real need to.  The view was the same, regardless.

The next time he woke up, he was in a new room.  He discovered this by carefully standing up from the new bed he’d been placed in (different sheets, softer mattress) and walking across the room with cautious steps.  He found the wall with his hands, and frowned; it was padded.  Padded.  He wasn’t sure if this meant he was thought insane, or if the room was simply the only thing available.  The Healer halls had been overcrowded for some time now with wounded Jedi and clones alike.  Medical droids had become a necessity, for there weren’t enough Healers to deal with the massive amount of patients in the Temple’s care.

Obi-Wan followed the wall, which turned into a corner, whose wall led to another corner.  He found a metal door that must have led out, but it wouldn’t respond to his touch.

After he finished exploring, he sat down in a corner of the new room and thought seriously about breaking everything he could get his hands on.  There was a partially walled ’fresher with a toilet, and he’d felt the taps for a sink and shower, but they didn’t respond to his touch.  There were keycard slots next to each faucet handle for activation.  It seemed he wasn’t allowed to drown himself. 

Aside from the bed bolted to the floor, there was a plastic chair and nothing else.  They hadn’t even left him a datapad, something he might have typed a message on if he could have puzzled out the keys, found the right program.  Hell, he hadn’t even found a blasted toothbrush.

The lack of technology, of basic amenities, combined with the padded walls and locked door, left a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach.  The room was feeling much more like someone’s intentional choice instead of a necessity.

He was locked in a square room, alone, trapped.  For a moment he flashed on those long-ago silent language lessons with his Master and had to resist the urge to crush the memory, seized by irrational anger that the lesson had turned out to be useless after all.  What good was it doing him?

His only hope was that someone would figure out what the thing on his back really was, and get it the hell off.  He snorted, leaned his head back against the padded wall, and tried not to think about the fact that it was likely no one ever would.

Time passed in an interminable crawl, and Obi-Wan began to wonder if it was possible to die of boredom.  He’d never thought it to be an option before, but in his case, it was starting to seem likely.  The lack of four senses and the Force was bad enough, but not having anything to occupy his mind except silent darkness was starting to wear on him.  There was nothing to capture his interest.  Food had no taste, and except for ration bars, there was very little he could identify by texture alone.  He was never allowed out of the room, which chafed and irritated him and made him want to pound on the floor with his fists.  Did they think he would try to escape their clutches?  Where the fuck would he go?  He supposed it was for his own safety, but he longed for a new feel against his skin instead of the faint stir of recycled air that never varied in temperature.

At first, he received most of his treatment from the medical droids, though this seemed to center around bringing him meals and liquids and occasionally jabbing his arm with more injections.  Obi-Wan tolerated this for awhile.  Then he dreamed of the MagnaGuard droids, and woke up to the feel of metal under his hands as he ripped some poor, unfortunate medical droid apart.  After that, no one but living beings approached him, and he liked it much better that way.  His fingers could recognize the feel of raw silk and Jedi tunics and tell him that he was among allies, if not friends.

He wasn’t brain-dead, but it had become obvious that he was being treated that way.  Any physical interaction he initiated was met with reassuring hand squeezes and shoulder squeezes and attempts to steer him around the room on forced jaunts.  I exercise just fine on my own, thank you, he wanted to growl.  Not that it was easy when your living area was twenty steps wide.  Sometimes he cooperated with the enforced exercise.  Other times he dug in his heels as unfamiliar hands tried to push him in circles around the room.

He wanted a data pad.  He wanted a pencil.  Hell, he’d take a fucking crayon.  But those objects were never given to him, and his attempts at motioning for them with his hands either weren’t understood or no one was looking at him during the times he tried.  Each failed attempt left him swearing and filled with the fierce desire to try to put his head through one of the padded walls.  Though after the droid’s destruction, perhaps they’d decided that even a crayon could be a weapon if you stabbed someone hard enough.

At least he was allowed to shower on his own, once he’d tried his best to bite the person who’d attempted to wash his genitals without permission.  He wasn’t given a razor, and he didn’t want anyone near him with a blade when he had no awareness of what they planned to do with it.  His hair had grown long enough again to brush his shoulders, and his beard was an unruly mess.  He finger-combed it and frowned and then had to refrain from giggling when he realized that he’d found the best Council meeting avoidance method, ever.

Sometimes he wondered how he was still sane.  Other times he was uncertain, because his dreams and his time awake were starting to blend together again.  A hand on his shoulder was the only thing he now assumed to be real, because it was one of the only things he hadn’t hallucinated yet.  He imagined entire situations of speech and language breakthroughs, woke up writing nonsense on the floor with his fingers, barricaded himself under the bed while sleeping.   During a fit of rage against an enemy that didn’t exist, he destroyed the plastic chair.  When his consciousness returned, his hands and arms were burning, and he slid his fingertips along skin that was slick with blood.  Someone must have noticed; a short time later a Healer with cool skin and deft hands had spread a soothing gel over the cuts and gouges, bandaging him from elbow to fingertip.

He had never been this alone, this adrift, in his life.  Out of desperation he meditated, gaining a semblance of calm even if he couldn’t touch the Force.  With nothing more than pure stubbornness, he managed to stop the worst of the hallucinations from taking over his mind.  Insanity might have been fun, or at least less boring, but it wasn’t going to convince anyone of his mental stability, either.

He slept more and more often, if only because his senses hadn’t abandoned him while he was unconscious.  The problem was that his dreams had become downright unpleasant, with sick, warped colors and eerie sounds that made his blood run cold.  He smelled only the rot of dying plants or dead bodies, and at one point he woke up from a nightmare of yanking out his own tongue because he just wanted to stop tasting blood.

His favorite spot, when he wasn’t sleeping, had become the corner across from his bed where the chair had once resided.  If he was paying attention, he could tell from the rush of air that the door had been opened.  Sometimes this was followed by the vibration of footsteps; sometimes not, and the times when it was not he was hard-pressed to keep from shaking, because he had no idea what that meant.

Yoda stopped by on occasion, and would run his gentle hands through Obi-Wan’s hair, soothing him.  It was a battle not to cry when the old Master left him.  There were other visitors, ones who did not perform Healer tasks, but he had no idea as to their identities.  He’d once thought that his sense of touch was so accurate, so sure, but now he knew that his other senses had aided his recognition.

He was in the corner, half-dozing, when he noticed the now-familiar vibration of heavy footsteps.  Someone visited him every day whose hand felt the same, and he suspected that it was Anakin.  He tried hard not to wonder how his Padawan was doing with his studies, or who had been assigned as his new Master.  Obi-Wan was in no condition to teach him, and he hated that, because it meant he was breaking his promise.

He frowned; there were two sets of footsteps today.  Odd.  The vibrations ceased, and warm weight touched his shoulder.  It was Obi-Wan’s new greeting ritual, one he both welcomed and despised.  He reached up and touched the hand on his shoulder and recognized the feel—the daily hand.  Anakin.  He squeezed his eyes shut and lowered his head, hoping that his Padawan would understand the regret inherent in the gesture.

The hand on his shoulder squeezed and went away, replaced by a larger hand.  Obi-Wan lifted his head, curious; by now he’d learned the size, weight, and feel of all the hands that came to see him.  This one was new.

He touched the sleeve of a tunic, found soft material, and tracked back down towards himself.  He touched warm skin and ran his fingertips across long fingers, marked by the calluses that only intense lightsaber use left behind.  Another Jedi, then.  Humanoid male, if the size of the hand was any indication.

For a moment he didn’t want to even try communicating, considering the raging frustration that filled him with every failure.  Still, this was a new, unknown hand, and at this point the only thing he had left to lose was another few bits of sanity.

Obi-Wan grasped the hand and removed it from his shoulder, turning it over; the man let Obi-Wan control the motion, neither resisting nor moving.  The palm Obi-Wan touched was large, just as callused as the fingers.  Plenty of room for lettering.  He signed ‘Help me!’ onto unfamiliar skin, and wished, just this once…

‘How?’

He froze.  No.  He was wrong, had to be wrong.  It was a coincidence, fueled by his intense desire to communicate with someone, anyone.

Except that the message was repeated, pressed into his palm with gentle yet insistent fingertips.  ‘How can I help you?’

Obi-Wan went from calm and bored to hyperventilating in the space of a heartbeat.  The only thing he could think of to sign in response was, ‘You understand me you understand me you understand me!’

His hand was gripped, and a thumb brushed a circle against the back of his hand.  Calm.  Right.  Calm.  Sure.  He’d only been blind and deaf and alone and slowly going crazy for who knew how long.  But who the fuck cared?  Calm!  He was crying and trying very hard not to shake himself to pieces.  If he started shaking, he was mute again.  ‘Get it off!’ he signed fiercely.

‘Get what off?’ the words came, soft, patient presses, drags, and circles against his skin.

‘Wait.’  There was a repetitive vibration going on.  ‘Tell Anakin to stop jumping up and down.’  Names had to be done letter by letter, for there was no standard for them in this language, and it took him a moment to finish signing.

Obi-Wan dropped the strange hand, with no idea of whether his message would be passed along, and struggled to take off the loose medical-issue shirt.  They had to have noticed it, had to at least have thought it a strange addition to his body.

Obi-Wan reached out blindly, and those large hands found his again.  He tapped on that broad palm, making himself breathe, to be calm as had been requested.  ‘Can you see it?’ he asked, and bent over, exposing his back.

There was a distinct pause, the man’s fingers stilled against his skin.  ‘Healers say it was a very well done tattoo.  You don’t strike me as the type.’

Obi-Wan let loose a silent growl as he straightened up.  No damned wonder it had gone unnoticed, if that’s what they thought it was!  ‘It’s not a tattoo,’ he signed back, angry and pressing hard into the man’s skin.  ‘It’s an inhibitor!’  Fuck-all, but why didn’t this language have swearing?

The answering press was just as fierce.  ‘What!’

‘An inhibitor! Ventress put it there.  Worse than one that’s just for the Force.’  He signed the next part quickly, too agitated to bother with complete statements.  ‘Cuts me off from all but touch.  Can’t see, hear, smell, speak.  No Force.  Food’s boring.  Bonded with my skin.  Hurt.’

It was a long time before he received a new message, but he didn’t care.  At last, at last, there was someone who knew that he was trapped!

There must have been talking, discussions.  More footsteps came.  Obi-Wan blinked and rubbed his eyes, trying to halt the flow of relieved tears.  He felt around for his shirt, wiping his face as best he could. 

Speech came again, gentle and like a blessing from the Force.  ‘Master Windu is here.  Healer Offee.  Anakin stopped jumping up and down.’  Obi-Wan smiled, the first time he could remember doing so since he’d been taken from Rattatak.  ‘Going to help you stand up.  They want to look at your back.’

Obi-Wan nodded, and one of those large hands slipped under his elbow, helping him get to his feet.  It was a good thing, too.  The rush of emotion had left him more wobbly than he’d expected, and his knees buckled once before he could convince his legs to support his weight.  He was turned; two different sets of hands explored his back, and when they touched the inhibitor he couldn’t feel the brush of fingertips any longer.  That might be important.  He signed that to his mysterious new friend, who replied with a basic ‘message received.’

He started counting in his head, making a vague attempt at tracking how long they were discussing the tattoo-like inhibitor on his back.  He made it to four hundred when there was a massive spike of burning agony that raced down his spine, lighting up his entire body with fire.  He threw his head back, a silent scream tearing its way out of his throat.

The pain stopped, and he slumped forward, too relieved to care if he fell or not.  Hands caught him, lowering him back down so that he was resting on his knees.  The fingertips touched his palm.  ‘Are you all right?’

Obi-Wan nodded, pretty sure that anything else was beyond him at the moment.  When he could stop shaking, he sat up, staring at nothing and hating it.  His mystery friend never let go of his hand, and Obi-Wan was grateful for the contact.

‘Healer apologizes.  She tried to remove it.  It seems to have defensive capability.’

For a moment he stopped breathing, seized by a horrible thought.  He forced himself to ask the question, pressing against the man’s skin with unsteady touches.  ‘Am I going to be stuck with this thing for the rest of my life?’

‘No!’ was the insistent, immediate response.  ‘We will find a way.  Anakin wants to hug you.  All right?’

He nodded again, and found himself with an armful of overgrown Padawan.  Anakin hugged him so hard it made his ribs ache, and Obi-Wan didn’t care in the slightest.  He wrapped his arms around the man’s lean frame and buried his face in Anakin’s tunics.

He was let go, after a time, and the handspeech resumed.  ‘Have to go.  Will be back soon.’

Every single bit of relief and comfort he’d felt in the past few minutes evaporated in an instant.  No! he shouted, and lunged forward, striking his nose hard against something solid.  Sparks of pain exploded in front of his eyes.  He collapsed to the floor, clutched his nose in both hands, and to his intense shame, burst into mute, harsh sobs.

Someone pried one of his hands free, and it took him a few minutes to realize that he was being spoken to.  ‘What’s wrong?’ he felt again.  The man’s thumb was rubbing a soothing, constant circle against the back of Obi-Wan’s hand.

He tried his best to calm himself again, gasping in breaths that made his chest ache.  He struggled to cobble together a response.  ‘Alone.  In my head.  Too long.  Please stay.  Don’t know why I’m not crazy yet.  Please stay.  Don’t care if you use my hand to talk about hoverball scores.  Just not alone.  Please, not alone.’

Obi-Wan’s hand was gripped, strong and warm and reassuring.  Then speech resumed.  ‘I will stay.’

He smiled, letting his head thump back down on the floor.  The relief he felt was like a flood of euphoria.  Message received.  Gods, message received.  ‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome,’ he felt.  ‘Let the Healer fix your nose.’

Obi-Wan made a face, but allowed himself to be pulled back up to a sitting position.  Healer Offee’s slender hands touched his face; there was a disconcerting sliding sensation as she repaired the damage.  The tingle he associated with Force-healing was not present.  ‘Can’t feel it,’ he sighed, not really thinking about what he was signing.

‘Nose?’

‘The Force.  Miss it,’ Obi-Wan replied.  He felt drained and exhausted, which surprised him.  There wasn’t a lot he could do in this room that made him tired, but he was certainly tired now.  He thought about the broad palm that was currently his only means of contact with the rest of the galaxy.  ‘What’s your name?’

He didn’t miss the hesitation that marked the response.  ‘Not supposed to tell you.  Was thought dead until recently, and the shock…  Well.  You know Healers.’

Obi-Wan scowled.  He did indeed know Healers, and there were plenty of friends he’d mourned for since the war began.  Maybe if he’d been more prone to touching people, he’d recognize the shape and feel of the hand that was speaking to him.  ‘Went MIA in the war, did you?’

‘Something like that.’

Obi-Wan shook his head.  ‘Would not be the first time.  I keep telling the Council that they shouldn’t mark any of us deceased until they find the body.’

Fingers smacked his palm lightly three times—laughter.  ‘They had you on the deceased list, too.’

‘Then we have something in common,’ Obi-Wan signed.

He felt the vibration of footsteps leaving the room, but the hand touching him never moved.  He’d spoken the truth, not given Obi-Wan false reassurance, which made him glad.  ‘So, you like hoverball, then?’ was signed into his palm.

‘Can’t stand it,’ Obi-Wan signed back, and all at once he was laughing, and tears were burning his eyes again, running down his face, soaking into his beard.  He must look like a disaster.  ‘But if you like it, I’ll talk about it.  I’ll talk about anything.’

‘I have no love for hoverball,’ Obi-Wan felt.  ‘Pick something else.’

‘Tell me that my apprentice has been feeding himself.  I haven’t seen Anakin in months.’

Laughter against his palm again.  ‘He’s certainly growing like it.  Tall.  Shoddy braid maintenance, too.’

That made him smile.  He leaned forward, resting his head on the strange man’s knee in silent thank-you.  A hand came down on the back of his head.  He felt warmth on his neck, the gentle brush of fingers, and closed his eyes.

Obi-Wan woke up to find himself lying down, the sheets kicked to the foot of the bed.  He sat up, and every hope crumbled.  A dream, that was all it had been.  A dream caused by his own desperation.  It wasn’t the first time that had happened, but this one was the most detailed he’d experienced so far.  

It was a long time before he could force himself to move.

He was sitting in the corner again, his head resting on his knees, when that large hand came down on his shoulder.  He jerked his head up in surprise, not sure whether he was about to scream or cry in relief.

Fingertips spoke to his palm:  ‘What are you sitting here for?’

He signed back, ‘Thought I had dreamed everything.  Was wondering if it was possible to drown myself in the toilet.’

‘That is the most disgusting suicide method I have ever heard.’

He grinned, feeling a fine tremor run through his body.  He wasn’t lost, not anymore, and the Force had given him someone to converse with who had, gods bless it, a sense of humor.  ‘Almost drowned in the mud last year.  Toilet can’t be that much worse.’

‘That would be Durge, the bounty hunter?  The one Anakin tossed into a sun?’

Obi-Wan breathed out a silent laugh.  ‘Yes.  Been reading up on me, have you?’

‘It was thought best.  Anakin has been telling me stories.  In return, I’ve been trying to teach him the Valaeanath language.’

So that was the name of the handspeech they were using.  It would seem Obi-Wan had remembered every part of those lessons except for that one detail.  ‘How’s he doing?’

‘He’s terrible!’ the stranger signed, followed by three palm strikes of laughter.  ‘I think R2-D2 would have a better chance of teaching him binary.’

He laughed again, and felt a touch of nostalgia mixed with discomfort.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so willing to laugh.  ‘You have not heard them whistle at each other, then.  I think he’s halfway there.’

The thought of hearing left him feeling like there was a gaping hole in his midsection, and his smile died.  He missed sounds.  He missed the light.  He missed his life, violent though it had been.  ‘Do they know how to get it off?’

The man gripped both of his hands, and there was the touch of a forehead resting on his own for a brief moment.  The contact made his lips part in surprise.  ‘Not yet.  They are working on it.  No one will give up on you.  Healer Offee is here.  She wishes to speak to you.’

Obi-Wan sat there, letting the man continue to press speech into his palm.  There were scans to be performed, and the Healers would need to exercise caution.  Healer Offee believed that the inhibitor had grafted itself to his nervous system.  They would try to trigger removal in any way they could, but the process would be difficult, and possibly painful.

Obi-Wan nodded and signed back, feeling foolish and childlike as he did so.  ‘Don’t care about pain.  Will you stay with me?  I don’t want to…’  He clenched his jaw and tried again.  ‘Don’t want to go through this, not knowing what’s happening.’

Both of his hands were squeezed before the fingertips returned.  ‘It has been arranged that I will stay in here with you.  Now that they know you’re not catatonic—’

‘What!’ Obi-Wan pressed the word into the man’s skin, outraged.

A thumb circled the back of his hand again.  ‘They had no way of knowing any different.  They are going to treat you like you’re a person living in a private room, not a patient, but to do that, someone needs to be with you who can communicate with.  No one will enter without having to announce themselves first, and you have the right to turn visitors away, if you wish.’

Privacy.  It was a nice thought, but as far as Obi-Wan was concerned, the more visitors, the better.  Being alone was hell.  ‘You will be here all the time?  Truly?’

‘Unless there is a pressing matter that needs my attention, yes.  And considering I have no pressing matters at the moment, save your recovery, you are stuck with me.  The Healer wishes to know if you are ready for the first scan.’

The more scans, the better, he thought.  ‘Tell her yes.  I’m ready.  I want this thing off.’

Hours later (he thought) he wasn’t so sure his declaration about pain was a good idea.  The scans had not hurt—the machines had fascinating vibrations that had led to him wanting to be as still as possible, the better to feel them against his bare skin.  The Force-scans had just been boring.  He couldn’t participate in any part of the process, couldn’t feel them, and the Healers had required him not to sign.

His back had been poked and prodded, and between prods he’d been questioned by Master Windu and Healer Offee about what had happened on Rattatak.

‘Torture,’ he’d signed back, aggravated.  What, did they think Ventress had kidnapped him to her homeworld for a blasted tea party?  ‘Wanted to know about fleet movements.  17 and I called her naughty names instead.  She didn’t like that very much.’

He learned Alpha-17 had survived, staged a jailbreak, and radioed for help. Ventress had been driven off by the invading clone army.  They’d recovered quite a few other prisoners of war, three Jedi and several non-clone volunteers among them. 

Obi-Wan grinned.  ‘Someone promote that man.’

‘Already been done, but 17 is apparently complaining that he wants his commanding officer back,’ was signed into his palm.  ‘Also, Mace says that you have a backlog of Council reports to complete.’

He scowled.  Bloody Council seat.  ‘Can I quit yet?’

‘He says No.’

What happened next had tried every fiber of his being.  If he’d thought that the inhibitor attaching itself had been painful, or yesterday’s spike had been bad, he was wrong.  Oh, so wrong.  Every time they tried manipulating the inhibitor, it sent new waves of torment through his body.  He clung to the sides of the examination bed, his jaw clenched, and tried not to scream.  Each time after, his companion would brush gentle fingers through his hair, trying to soothe him, but all it did was make him want to whimper in distress.

‘Do you want to stop?’ was signed into his palm at some point.  By that time his eyes and nose were streaming, his jaw ached, and his stomach muscles were a wall of exhausted misery.  Maybe he’d started screaming, after all.

Yes, he’d wanted to cry.  By the Force, yes!  Then he gathered all of his willpower and shook his head.  ‘Don’t stop.  Want it gone.’

His body had given out before his stubbornness; he’d passed out from the pain.  Now, he was in the shower in his little square room, sitting on the floor with his arms wrapped around his knees.  The hot water pouring down onto his head and back was helping to warm him, but he couldn’t stop shaking.

Nothing they had tried had worked.  Nothing.  He was chewing on his lip and praying to the Force that the machine-based scans would reveal a secret, some hidden trigger that would make the damned thing let go.

The water stopped falling, and that warm, broad palm came down to rest on his bare shoulder, announcing the man’s presence.  The hand went away, and a soft towel settled onto his skin as his mystery companion began working to squeeze water out of his hair.  Obi-Wan couldn’t remember the last time someone had done this for him, couldn’t remember the last time he would have wanted it.  It might have been humiliating, having a stranger guide him out of the shower, help him into a pair of sleep pants, but he was far too tired, too worn, to care.

Obi-Wan was guided to his bed, and his toe bumped against a soft bundle that had been shoved out of the way underneath the frame.  He guessed that it was going to be his companion’s bed, and felt a brief flare of guilt that he pushed aside.  There wasn’t space in his little room for a second bed, and he wasn’t so stupid as to not realize that he needed the help…and he craved the company, craved the touch of language with bone-thrumming intensity. 

His hand was taken, gently, and a message was pressed and swirled onto his palm.  The stranger had the same graceful ease with the language that Qui-Gon had once shown him, a deft touch that Obi-Wan had never mastered.  ‘Why don’t we get rid of some of this hair?  You’re turning into a bush.’

He nodded tiredly, and then there was nothing he had to do but feel.  The cold metal of scissors rested against his skin, letting him recognize the intent, before there were minor tugs and pulls that told him his beard was getting shorter.  Then something cool and soothing was applied to his cheeks with deft fingertips, and he grabbed hold of one of those hands.  ‘You’re getting rid of all of it?’ he signed.

‘If you are that fond of it, you can grow it back.’

He frowned.  ‘Keeping me shaved is a lot harder than keeping me trimmed.’

There was a long pause that confused him, followed by an answer that surprised him.  ‘I wanted to see your face again.’

Again?  Obi-Wan knew his brow was furrowed—he’d thought the Healers were just being overly cautious.  ‘All right,’ he signed, bewildered.

Slow, careful passes of a blade slid over his cheeks and jaw and throat, and when his skin was exposed to the air the sensation was cold and unfamiliar.  He’d last shaved everything off…five years ago?  Longer?  He couldn’t remember.  His lip quirked as he wondered how much he’d aged underneath all of that hair.

When the shaving was done, a warm, wet cloth washed away the mess, and then a question was pressed into his palm.  ‘Did I miss anything?’

He raised an eyebrow, but obligingly touched his face with his fingertips.  Odd.  Smooth skin, traces of firm lines at the corners of his mouth.  A faint indentation on his jaw marked where Durge had once kicked him, and another line on his cheek evidenced where a vibroblade had gotten past his guard.  No hint of bristle remained, though by morning that little problem would solve itself.

‘Feel naked,’ he signed, smiling.

Laughter was signed against his palm.  ‘Not done yet,’ was the response, and then Obi-Wan closed his eyes and sighed in bliss as he felt the teeth of a comb start working through his hair.  The comb paused in its journey through the tangled wreck that was no doubt waiting for it, and his palm was touched again.  ‘Lie down on your stomach,’ he felt.  ‘I’ll comb your hair, and you can pass out.’

He smiled again. That was one of the best ideas he’d heard in years.

 

*         *          *          *

     

He was facing Dooku, exhausted from days of not sleeping.  Anakin had run ahead, as always, and this time Obi-Wan paid for it—the feel of the lightsaber jammed through his leg was agony, but he didn’t even have the strength to scream.

Dooku became Grievous, who bashed him in the chest and sent him flying.  He landed hard, feeling sharp prods in his chest from the ribs that had just broken.

Then he was with Ventress, who hit him again and again with a Force pike because he refused to speak to her, to give her even the remotest hint that he might be close to breaking.  She handed him off to Durge and then he was in muddy water, staring up at the emotionless visage of the bounty hunter.  The heavy weight of the bounty hunter’s boot on his chest pinned him, and no matter how much he fought to free himself there was no air, no way to breathe let me up let me up let me up!

He gasped for air, coming awake and struggling blindly against the arms that were holding him.  He fought and punched and kicked and if the angle had been right he would have bitten the Sith hells out of whoever had him imprisoned!

His enemy was larger, and not helplessly blind, and before he knew it Obi-Wan was pinned, unable to do anything except gasp in reaction and anger.  Then his hand was grasped firmly, though he felt no hint of skin, and swatted.  Force-grip, Force-swat.

Awareness came back in a rush.  Oh, fuck.  Oh, no, please no…

His companion was signing a message into his hand.  ‘You fight like a Rancor!  Are you done beating me up now?’

He squeezed his eyes shut, guilt and despair welling up.  ‘I’m sorry,’ he signed, when the hands pinning his arms in place released him.  ‘Please don’t leave!’

He felt a rush of air against his neck.  A sigh, perhaps?  ‘Won’t leave because you had a nightmare.  Might invest in body armor, though.’

The teasing nature of the statement, combined with the thumb that brushed the skin on the back of his hand, made Obi-Wan smile, his relief a near-palpable thing.  ‘I’m sorry,’ he signed again.

The weight on him disappeared, but then the mattress dipped, and he realized that his companion had settled down next to him.  Obi-Wan rolled over, and their hands found each other in the unceasing darkness.

‘Tell me about your dream.’

So he did, using the Valaeanath, pressing and drawing and touching to speak of what he’d dreamed of, of how much pain he’d endured in one form or another since the war began.  He told his companion how much he hated that his and Anakin’s faces seemed to be at the forefront of the propaganda stream, and about how he wished he’d bolted from the room before letting Mace and Yoda and Mundi and Shaak Ti convince him to accept that damned Council seat.  While he signed all of this into one hand, the man’s other hand was resting on his shoulder, his fingertips rubbing soothing circles against Obi-Wan’s bare skin.

‘You carry a heavy burden,’ his companion pressed into his palm, when Obi-Wan ran out of things to complain about.

He shook his head.  ‘I only do what’s asked of me.’

Even without the Force, he got the distinct impression that the other man was frowning at him.  ‘It’s all right to say no, sometimes.’

Obi-Wan felt a whisper of the old grief.  ‘My Master never did.’

Laughter against his palm.  ‘Perhaps someone should have given him the same advice.’  The hand on his shoulder went away, only to settle onto Obi-Wan’s cheek, gentle and warm, thumb brushing the edge of his cheekbone.  Obi-Wan’s hand was lifted, and before he realized what was happening, a kiss was being pressed into his palm.

He gasped; the touch was like a jolt of electricity, sending a thrum of desire through him the likes of which he hadn’t felt in years.  He hadn’t gotten that hard, that fast, since he was a teenager.

If there were lights on in the room, then the tenting of his thin pants would be unmistakable.  Obi-Wan jerked his hand away, knowing he was blushing, and tried to scoot towards the far side of the bed.

He was caught, words pressed into his palm.  ‘What’s wrong?’

He bit his lip.  Even that innocent touch was setting him off now, and he was on the verge of trembling in reaction.  ‘Sorry,’ he signed, still trying to pull his hand free.

‘Why?’

That made him angry.  ‘Don’t ask me stupid questions,’ Obi-Wan pressed firmly.

‘I’m sorry.  Do you want me to go?’

That made him pause, because he didn’t want that, not in the slightest.  In fact, the thought of those large hands, gracefully touching him in the only language he could understand, was enough to make every part of him burn.  A leisurely wank in the shower would have been a safe alternative, but the ’fresher didn’t even have a fucking door.

His palm was touched again, and there was no mistaking the tentativeness of his companion’s handspeech.  ‘I think you’re beautiful.’

He shook his head again, feeling his eyes burn.  This wasn’t fair, it was absolutely not fair, and by the Force, he was falling in love with someone he only knew by touch.  He was falling for someone he’d known for two days.

His negation, his lack of response, must have sent a clearer message than he meant.  ‘I will go,’ he felt.

No!  He grabbed hold of those large, capable hands, holding on for his life, for his sanity.  ‘Don’t go,’ he signed.  ‘Please stay.  Not sure if I want you because you’re you, or because you’re the only connection I have.’

‘You want me?’ was quickly signed onto his palm.

Obi-Wan plastered the most sarcastic expression onto his face that he could manage.  ‘Isn’t it obvious?’

He felt a hand ghost down his chest, pause at his waist, and then… He arched back in reaction, because even that hesitant touch felt so damned good it was almost pain.  He flung his uncertainty into the winds, not caring anymore.

Still there was hesitation on his companion’s part, but there were some languages more primitive and yet more useful than Valaeanath.  Obi-Wan grabbed the hand that had touched him, pressed both their hands against his cock, and let loose a silent groan of pleasure.

His free hand was grabbed, and a shaky message was pressed into his palm.  ‘You.  Oh, gods.  You.’

He smiled; incoherency achieved.  He grabbed his companion’s other hand, effectively silencing them both.  No more talking.

There was definite agreement there, because he suddenly found himself swallowed by a fierce kiss.  Oh, this was good, this was better than good, he thought, as strong hands touched him, firebrands against his skin.  Obi-Wan ran his fingers through the short, messy hair on his companion’s head, touched the soft skin of his neck.  The chest pressed against his own was vibrating with a near-constant purr of pleasure.

Lips peppered his face with soft kisses, and he felt the rasp of several days’ worth of stubble against his skin, and thrust his cock against a sharp hipbone while seeking…

He wrapped his fingers around the generous cock he found, squeezing, and there was a sharp burst of surprised air across his lips before he was devoured once more.  The hand on his cock disappeared; he felt a brief flare of disappointment before he realized that his companion was yanking at the waistband of his pants.

Such a good idea, Obi-Wan thought, and for the first time since Rattatak he was no longer dwelling on the lack of sound or sight or the Force.  There was only sensation on his skin, and he was going up like a bonfire, because those talented, talkative hands were overwhelming him, overpowering him, and it was searing bliss.

One of those large, wonderful hands gripped his ass and pulled them even closer together.  He sighed his agreement, hissing in delighted pleasure as their cocks brushed and slid together, both of them so slick and wet it was like they’d come already.  Obi-Wan wrapped his arms around his companion as their hips rocked together, enjoying the feel of bare skin, touched by a hint of sweat, and there was harsh breathing against the skin of his neck just before sharp teeth bit down just so…

It was not enough; it was too much.  So close, so close.  He closed his eyes and pushed against that wonderful cock, rocking faster, needing to come, needing to feel

The pace became frantic, slick skin on skin sliding together faster and faster, their hips pressed together.  It was the feel of lips brushing the column of his throat that pushed him over the edge, mouth open in a silent cry as release tore through him.

The lips against his throat were moving, speaking words he couldn’t hear, and a moment later his companion shuddered and came, spilling more warmth between them.  Obi-Wan, shaking and gasping for breath, pressed their foreheads together.  I love you, he thought, as his lips were captured once more in a kiss that was slow and gentle and incredible, such was the depth it seemed to have.  I love you, and I don’t even know who you are.

He woke up alone again, but this time he knew he hadn’t been dreaming.  Obi-Wan had managed to fall asleep in his newfound lover’s arms, his head pillowed on a chest that had only a faint line of hair running down the center.  He’d been brushing his fingers through that slight trail, bemused and awed and thinking that his life was rather fucked up.

His hands touched cloth that didn’t match the sheets, and he explored until he realized it was a shirt, folded up, with a pair of leggings underneath.  Definitely not standard-issue medical garb, he thought, smiling.

A hand he knew touched his shoulder, then found his hand.  ‘Good morning.  Thought you might like to feel less like an inmate and more like a person.’

‘Thank you,’ Obi-Wan signed back, pulling the shirt over his head.  It fit, if a touch loosely, and he wondered if it was one of his own.  The leggings fit the same way, which made him certain that it was his clothing.  He must have lost more weight in Ventress’s care than he’d realized if nothing fit right, especially after endless days of tasteless ration bars and mystery food.

A mug that was warm to the touch was pressed into one hand, the identity scribed into his palm.  ‘Tea.  I know you can’t taste it, but it serves many purposes.’

Obi-Wan grinned.  Tea!  Wonderful hands, and he understood the necessity of tea!  Oh, he was doomed.  There was nothing to taste, but the hot liquid felt good in his mouth, and slid down his throat with soothing ease.

He shook his head at himself and tried not to snicker.  One bit of intimacy and his mind had already gone right to dirty jokes and intimations.  ‘Thank you,’ he signed, and realized he couldn’t stop smiling.

‘You seem happy.’

He nodded.  ‘I can’t remember the last time I felt this happy.’  He hadn’t expected to find anything to be happy about, given his situation, and yet he was.  Ridiculously so.

There was a pause, and he sipped his tea, waiting for speech.  ‘Anakin does not make you happy?’

Obi-Wan tilted his head and signed the message into the waiting palm.  ‘Well, yes, but I don’t have sex with Anakin.’

His hand was gripped, shaken, and then laughter was tapped against his palm.  ‘Good point.’

When the tea and a morning ration bar were gone, another tasteless breakfast was over with, and Obi-Wan was bloody well ready for something new.  ‘Any updates?’

‘Not yet.  I have a surprise for you.’

That caught his interest; there was not a lot you could do to surprise a blind, deaf, and mute man.  ‘What is it?’

‘Lie down on the floor and wait.  You’ll find out.’

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow, but he dropped from the bed down onto the floor and rolled onto his back, curious.  He could feel the echo of his companion’s footsteps as they faded.  Then he couldn’t feel that because he was being overloaded by a new, oscillating beat.  It vibrated against his skin in rhythm, time and again, with sharper pulses mixed in.

Music.  His companion was playing music.  Loud music, to create this kind of resonance.  He grinned, delighted, and began tapping his fingers in time.  That lasted a whole five beats before he lifted his head in surprise.  He knew this song.

His hand was gripped, bringing him speech and information.  ‘Anakin said you liked this band, so I liberated a sound system.  Think we might be traumatizing the locals.’

He breathed out a laugh.  ‘This is wonderful!’ he pressed.

His companion settled down next to him, pillowing his head on Obi-Wan’s shoulder.  Obi-Wan enjoyed the first set, his lips moving as he remembered snatches of lyrics.  He was surprised to discover that he was almost completely relaxed, a state he hadn’t been able to attain, meditation or not, since the war began.

The sixth song, one he remembered as a weird ballad about a woman who was trying to court a ghost, was interrupted without warning.  They both sat up, Obi-Wan reaching for his companion’s hand.  His palm was touched first.  ‘Think I’m in trouble.’

‘I’ll protect you, then,’ Obi-Wan pressed back, amused.

He waited, patient, as his companion was no doubt being read the riot act by a Healer or a Council member.  His second guess proved to be correct.  ‘Master Windu doesn’t like Bitter Trip.’

‘How sad.’

Obi-Wan stood up when a hand tugged on his elbow.  ‘Anakin is here, too.  Healer Offee.  Master Yoda.  Senator Amidala,’ was spelled out onto his palm.

Another hand, Anakin’s hand, gripped his, pressing a very crude version of Valaeanath into his skin.  ‘Hi, Master.’

That was good enough for Obi-Wan.  He reached out, found his Padawan’s tunics, and pulled him close.  ‘Good job,’ he sent back, then squeezed Anakin’s hand. 

Anakin was better and faster at using the individual letters of the alphabet.  ‘Padmé’s here.  Wanted to see you.’

Obi-Wan put the words together and then nodded his understanding.  Slender fingers and a palm marked by blaster calluses touched his hand next; he squeezed her fingers before drawing her in for a hug.  There was a telltale bump at her midsection.  He grinned and pressed a message for Padmé into his companion’s hand.  ‘That didn’t take very long.’

He only had to wait a few seconds before Padmé swatted him on the back of the head.  ‘She says that you’re too cheeky for your own good.  Yoda is in front of you.’

Obi-Wan knelt, not sure what he expected, but Yoda had plans.  His hand was taken, turned palm up, before claws touched him and traced a new message into his skin.  ‘Sorry, I am.’

He squeezed his eyes shut, for a moment fearing that he was going to cry.  His companion had been sharing the Valaeanath with more than just Anakin, it seemed.  ‘Not your fault,’ he pressed.

‘Hmmph,’ Yoda spelled out, to Obi-Wan’s amusement.  ‘News we have.’

News?  It must be big, if it warranted the presence of Padawan, his Padawan’s lover, two Council members, and a Healer.  He stood up and waited, his hands held by Anakin and his companion.

It didn’t take long, and hesitation was like a whisper across his skin.  ‘They say that they have exhausted every avenue.  There is only one option left.’

He frowned.  ‘What is it?’

‘Surgery,’ his companion pressed, and Anakin squeezed his hand in reassurance.

Surgery?  What was the big deal, then?  ‘Fine.  Get it off me!’ he insisted.

‘Wait.  Details.’  Fingers tapped against his palm once, pause, twice, pause, three times.  Not laughter, but a holding pattern.  Obi-Wan waited, trying not to twitch with impatience.  If Anakin kept squeezing his fingers that tightly, he was going to lose the feeling in his left hand.

‘Healer thinks they can find the inhibitor grafts and sever them, yes.  Surgery followed by at least forty-eight hours in a bacta tank.  But!’ the last word was pressed with ferocious intensity.  ‘Concern is that the inhibitor is programmed to kill the wearer if removed.  Estimated chance of surviving surgery is thirty percent.  Chance of death increases if inhibitor causes problems.’

Thirty percent chance of survival.  He swallowed.  Considering what the inhibitor had done to him when the Healers were trying to get it off before, he estimated the chance of his survival was more like ten percent, if not less.

He felt numb.  Ventress may well have killed him, after all.

‘Obi-Wan?’ he felt, Anakin pressing the letters into his skin.

Obi-Wan shook his head, pressed ‘Wait,’ into his companion’s palm, and then freed his hands.  He walked to the bed, stopping when his shin bumped into the frame, and turned around, pacing back across the room, his arms crossed, chewing on his knuckle as he went.  It wasn’t like he hadn’t faced odds like this before, but battle and surgery were two different things.

He kept pacing and thinking, counting his steps to keep from hitting the wall or the bed frame again, turning as he needed to.  He could say no.  He had someone who understood him, who seemed to like spending time with him.  He could get the hell out of this room, learn the pattern of his quarters, and figure out how to live his life by touch alone.

He sighed, his breath sliding past his fingers.  Anakin would have to have a new Master.  He’d never be able to see or hear the child Padmé was pregnant with.  He’d never know what his new lover looked like.  Would he ever even be certain that he was loved in return, or would he only be a caretaker’s burden?  There would always be things that Obi-Wan would not be able to do for himself, or for anyone else.

Never to hear a sound, see the stars, experience the taste of something new.  Never again would he feel the soothing rush and calm joy of the Force.

He stopped pacing, stopped counting.  If he said no, then his life became nothing but steps counted from one obstacle to the next.  There were probably beings out there who could live with that, and be content.

He wasn’t one of them.

He half-turned and realized that he’d lost track of where the other people were in the room.  He lifted his hand and tilted it from side to side in the air.  In answer, his companion, his speaker of Valaeanath, sent two short, sharp vibrations through the floor with his foot, allowing Obi-Wan to focus his blind gaze in the right direction.  He nodded at those gathered, his lips pressed together in what had to be a grim line.

His hand was taken, and the long, capable fingers that pressed into his palm were trembling.  ‘You’re certain?’

Yes.  ‘Certain,’ he pressed back, making sure his handspeech was firm.

‘When?  Healer says it’s your choice.’

Obi-Wan drew in a deep breath and let it out, trying to release his anxiety with it.  If he waited, if he dwelled on what was to come, he’d never go through with the surgery, and that wasn’t acceptable.  ‘Tomorrow.’

Visitors came and went during the day, and he always wanted them to come in.  He didn’t have many friends left after two years of galactic war, but Garen had flown in from the front lines to see him.  His friend held him and buried his face against Obi-Wan’s neck, and they stood like that for a long time, just breathing together.  He and Garen had known each other since their earliest days in the creche.  They didn’t really need words anymore.

Padmé and Anakin spent the most time in his room, sharing a few stories that he’d missed via his companion’s quick handspeech.  Anakin, it seemed, was taking after his Master and defying the Council.  He’d refused to return to the front lines, insisting that his place was with Obi-Wan.

Bail Organa had staved off the potential scandal of Padmé’s ‘hidden’ pregnancy by congratulating her during a session of the Senate.  Quinlan Vos had returned from his undercover mission among the Confederates with one of Dooku’s lightsabers and a foul disposition that only his former Padawan, Aayla, could soothe.

Obi-Wan asked if they had given any thought to baby names.  Anakin haltingly told him that Padmé was pregnant with twins, and they had no idea what to name either of them.

‘Tell them that if I die, and they name those kids Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, I will come back from the dead just to beat them with a stick,’ he signed, amused, and was baffled when the fingers touching his palm went utterly still.

‘Look, if anyone’s allowed to make jokes about dying, it’s the person who might be dying,’ he added, frustrated and annoyed.

‘Why your Master’s name?’

‘I don’t know, maybe because we were the two people who made sure Anakin didn’t grow up in a sandbox?’  It was hard to sound sardonic through handspeech, but he managed it.

That message must have been passed on; a moment later he received a very indignant, ‘Hey!’ from Anakin’s fingertips.

His last visitor was Yoda.  The tiny Master sat with Obi-Wan for awhile, thumping his gimer stick against the floor in time to the rhythm of one of Bitter Trip’s songs, which made him laugh so hard his stomach hurt.  When Yoda rose to depart he gave Obi-Wan a surprisingly strong hug and a gentle tap on the forehead with his clawed fingertip.  Then Yoda pressed the datapad that Obi-Wan had requested into his hands.

Silence surrounded him after Yoda left, no hint of any vibrations, and for a moment his heart seized in his chest.  Was he alone in this room again?

Warm weight settled down on his shoulder, and he closed his eyes.  No, he’d never be able to survive living the rest of his life like this, not when a few minutes alone now left him on the verge of panic.  He reached out for his companion’s hand.  ‘I need your help.’

‘Certainly.  What is it?’

Obi-Wan hesitated, fluttering nerves in his stomach.  ‘I haven’t updated my will in several years.’

His fingers were squeezed painfully together, then his hand was dropped, and a kiss was planted on his forehead.  The datapad was taken from him before he received a new message.  ‘Tell me.’

He’d memorized his will the last time he wrote it, so he didn’t need to have his companion translate it for him.  Half of the things he was bequeathing had to be filed under new names, for the original recipients were dead.  Even then it was a short list, since most of the contents of his quarters would be going to Anakin.

The most important change, he saved for last.  ‘I know Anakin has been in limbo since I returned, but he’ll need a Master.  I don’t want him dumped in just anyone’s lap.  Not a lot of Jedi understand my Padawan as it is.’

‘I think he’s a wonderful student,’ his companion signed back, and Obi-Wan smiled.

‘I know.  He seems to work well with you.  That’s why…if I don’t survive tomorrow, I want you to finish his training.’

Without warning he was engulfed in a strong embrace, his companion’s face pressed against Obi-Wan’s shoulder.  He was shaking his head in negation, and Obi-Wan brushed his fingers through his lover’s soft, messy hair before taking his hand.  ‘Please.  I trust you.’

Another headshake, and words were pressed into Obi-Wan’s skin.  ‘You don’t even know my name.’

‘I know that you care about my Padawan.  I know that you…care about me,’ Obi-Wan replied, his stomach fluttering again.  He had to admit, he hoped it was something more than simple caring.  ‘What else do I need?’

The weight on his shoulder lifted, and soft lips molded against his in a sweet kiss while words were pressed into his palm.  ‘I’ll do it, but you are not dying tomorrow!’

May the Force be with me, then, Obi-Wan thought.  ‘One more thing.’

‘Anything.’

There was promise implicit in that single word, and his breath caught.  ‘I don’t have a lot of personal items.  But I do have something to give you, something that has never been claimed by anyone else.’

‘What is it?’ his companion asked.

Obi-Wan smiled, feeling sad, foolish, and sentimental, all at once.  He pressed the two words onto his companion’s palm with gentle fingertips.  ‘My love.’

They spent the night together again, and Obi-Wan took great pains to remember every single moment, wanting something to carry with him into the Force if he went to sleep tomorrow and never woke up.

They did what they could, considering there was a serious lack of lube in the room.  When his cock was engulfed in hot, tight heat, an agile tongue dancing underneath the sensitive head, he cried out in silence and felt tears run from the corners of his eyes, soaking his hair.

He returned the favor, enjoying the feel of the heavy weight on his tongue, but was unable to stop the bitter thought:  I can’t taste anything.  I can’t smell what this is like.  He almost broke in that moment, torn open in a way Asajj Ventress would never have been able to accomplish with her threats and her blades.

They lay together for what felt like hours afterward, neither of them in the mood for rest, and when Obi-Wan brushed his fingers down his lover’s face he found that his skin was wet with tears.

 

*         *          *          *

 

Obi-Wan winced as cold antiseptic was sponged onto his upper back, cleansing the area of his body that was about to be sliced open.  He was wearing nothing but a pair of standard-issue medical pants, and he had the irrational desire to have his lightsaber clutched in his hand.

He couldn’t fight this battle with a lightsaber, though, and nerves fluttered in his stomach, and his head swam, and damn Ventress, anyway.  If Obi-Wan ever saw her again, he was going to let Anakin kill the bitch.

You are in serious need of meditation, he told himself, taking deep, careful breaths to keep his emotions under control.  Think positive.  You are going to climb out of that bacta tank in two days, and meditate, and feel a lot fucking better.

Anakin picked up his hand.  ‘Ready, Master?’ he signed, rough but translatable.

Obi-Wan nodded, and his Padawan led him forward, out of the antechamber and into the operating theatre.  He knew this because the temperature dropped at least twenty degrees, and he shivered as his bare feet came down on the cold floor.

Then his other hand was taken, and long, gentle fingers entwined with his own for a brief moment.  Together, Anakin and his companion helped Obi-Wan to lay face-down on a bed, and someone pulled up a blanket to warm him.  He closed his eyes, brushing his nose against soft sheeting, and focused on breathing.  He could do this.  He was not going to panic.

His hair was gathered up and bound into a tail, pinned out of the way.  He winced at the feel of cold electrodes being pressed to his body.  Three different cuffs were wrapped around his right arm to measure his vital signs before his arm was stretched out, perpendicular to his side, and strapped down onto something firm.  They did the same with his left arm, leaving only his hands free.

Force.  They might have warned him that they were going to damn-near cut off his ability to communicate!

His hands were taken again, Anakin on his left, his companion on his right.  ‘Heart rate is in the triple digits.  Healers advise you to calm down.’

He sputtered nervous, silent laughter and turned his head, resting his cheek on the bed.  He could move just enough to tap his fingers against that broad palm.  ‘This is calm.’

‘Could have fooled me.  They’re ready to begin.  Are you?’

He took a deep breath, released it, and then nodded.  ‘Ready,’ he signed, which was probably the biggest lie he’d ever told in his life.

He felt the mask come down over his mouth and nose.  He’d been told to breathe normally, and he took an experimental breath.  Cold air filled his sinuses, and he grimaced before taking another cautious breath.  Oh, he was not looking forward to this…

Anakin was touching his palm.  ‘Not leaving you, Master.’

The last thing he felt was one final message pressed into his skin.  ‘I love you, Obi-Wan.  Come back to me.’

 

*    *          *          *

 

There was a tree in a garden, but the garden was empty of everything else.  The tree was covered in white flowers, a mark of springtime, but the breeze that stirred them felt like summer.  He circled it, curious as to why there was a flowering tree in an empty summer garden, insisting it was spring.

As he watched, black tendrils started wrapping around the tree, and where those tendrils touched, the flowers died.  Petals began raining to the ground like snow.

As the ground at his feet grew whiter, and the tree struggled for life against the black threads, he heard words, faint and faraway.

Speed it up, Barriss, this is getting bad.

Keep calm, people.  We planned for this.

Oh, gods.  Those hooks are alive and wiggling, aren’t they?

Shut up and let me work!  Almost done.  Sitari?

Getting there, Boss.

Convulsions, stats are dropping.  That thing is fighting back.

Cardiac arrest, Barriss—it’s shutting him down.  We’re going to lose him.

Not if I have anything to say about it, Jax.

Anakin’s voice:  Master, please!  You can do this!

He listened, heard more shouts, accompanied by the shrill beeping of multiple alarms.  That’s not good, he thought.

Obi-Wan.

He tilted his head, surprised.  That was a voice he knew, that he remembered so well…and if he was hearing it, then he was really in trouble.

Obi-Wan, I know you can hear me.

He smiled.  Qui-Gon.

There you are, he heard, and for a moment he felt like he was being caressed by soft laughter.  Listen to me, Obi-Wan:  You have to fight it.  You are not going to let this thing kill you.

I get a choice? he asked, amused.

Grievous, Durge, Ventress, Dooku, the Sith—none of them could beat you.  Are you going to let an inhibitor succeed where they failed?

Well.  When phrased that way, it did seem like a really stupid way to die.  He turned his attention back to those black threads.  There were only a few flowers left, and the tree had dropped some of its branches, too.  Not acceptable.

Obi-Wan grabbed hold of the closest black thread, ripping it free.  It writhed in his hands, seeking to twine around his wrist, to drain his life.  No, I don’t think so, he said, and burned it to dust with a thought.  He did the same with the next one, and the next, working his way through each vile, black thing, his hands covered in dark ash.

It took him a moment to realize that he could feel the Force; it was the fire that burned through the dark tendrils, and joy surged within him.  You don’t win, he snarled, tearing the last of the tendrils off the tree.  This is my life, and I want.  It.  Back!

 

*    *          *          *

 

Consciousness returned slowly, and with it, the groggy, pleased awareness that he was still alive.  Alive was good.

He felt warmth near his ear, the ghost of a breath.  “Master?” Anakin whispered, the sound like a barrage against his senses.  “Can you hear me?”

“Not…so loud,” he croaked, not bothering to open his eyes.  If his bloody ears were that sensitive…

His request for quiet was disregarded, and instead he was subjected to a cacophony of joyful shouting and swearing.  He groaned and lifted shaking hands, plastering them over his ears.  It took Obi-Wan a long, muddled moment to realize that he’d spoken, that he’d heard.

“All right you lot, shut up!” a voice yelled, managing to silence the din.  “In fact, clear out of here and leave my patient alone!”

He heard shuffling feet and the whisper of moving cloth before another warm body leaned close, and his Force-sense recognized the distinct aura of a Healer.  “Sensitive hearing, Obi-Wan?” she murmured, and he felt cool fingertips touch his temple.

“Hi, Barriss,” he whispered, grateful that she was quieter than his Padawan.  “Everything’s too loud.”

“I can do something about that,” she said, and he felt warmth and tingling, and the harsh sounds that had been attacking his ears became softer, and muscles Obi-Wan didn’t realize had tensed began to relax.  He lowered his arms in relief.  “Now then:  Can you smell anything?”

He sniffed.  “Bacta.”

“And what do you taste?”

“Bacta,” he repeated, grinning.  Normally, he hated bacta, but to taste anything, even the sticky-sweet aftertaste of the healing glop in the back of his throat, was wonderful.

“And how does your back feel?” she asked, sounding amused.

“Itchy.”

“Good.  Wiggle those fingers for me.”  He obliged.  “And the toes?”  He wiggled his toes, and then Barriss started touching him at various points on his body.

“Stop poking me,” he muttered, wincing when she found a ticklish spot.

 “Excellent.  You’re doing very well, Obi-Wan.  I’m going to check your eyes, and then Anakin needs to speak to you again.  All right?”

“Spiffy,” he replied, relaxing even further as more of that tingling, healing energy danced across his eyes.  There was pain there that he hadn’t noticed before, and with her touch it vanished.

Anakin returned, recognizable by sense and by the warm hand that gripped his own.  “So, there’s something we haven’t been able to tell you, and uh…well.  It’s sort of an odd situation, and you just have to trust that we’ve confirmed through every means possible that it is him…”

Obi-Wan snorted.  The Temple rumor mills were probably saying similar things about his own demise and recovery.  “Stop dithering and tell me.”

“I’ll let him tell you,” Anakin said, and he could hear amusement in his Padawan’s voice.

Before he could ask, his right hand was being picked up by a much larger hand that he knew well, and a soft kiss was pressed against his palm.  “Open your eyes, Obi-Wan.”

He gasped, his eyes flying open, and nothing was in focus.  He swore under his breath and blinked until his vision began to clear.  He could see Anakin, wearing a broad grin, almost dancing in place.  And…

His heart leapt up and lodged itself somewhere in the vicinity of his throat, and refused to budge.  “Qui-Gon,” he whispered.

Short, messy hair, the same blend of silver and pale brown Obi-Wan remembered.  He was clean-shaven, which was strange, but his eyes—Qui-Gon’s eyes, sparkling cerulean blue—he would know anywhere.  There was a faint half-smile lurking at the corner of Qui-Gon’s mouth, and the rise of an eyebrow on that expressive face had always spoken volumes.

“Really?” Obi-Wan asked, his voice faint.

Qui-Gon smiled, and one word was gently pressed into the palm of his hand.  ‘Really.’

“Oh,” he said, too stunned to think of anything else.

“Is that all right?” Qui-Gon asked, looking hesitant.

“Yeah.”  A surprising amount of relief flashed in Qui-Gon’s eyes at his answer.  Obi-Wan swallowed.  “Anakin, go tell Barriss that I want to go outside.”

Anakin gave him a startled look.  “She’s not going to like that very much, Master.”

“Tell her if she says no that I’m going anyway.”

“Right,” Anakin grinned.  “What are you going to do, crawl?”

“Yes, with great dignity,” Obi-Wan retorted.

Barriss was fetched, and the Healer put up a token protest until she saw the look on his face.  “All right, but you’re not walking, and you’re not going without your escort service, here,” she said, motioning at Anakin and Qui-Gon.  Then her indigo gaze softened.  “If you do well for the next six hours, I’ll allow you to return to your quarters tonight, as long as you’re kept under supervision.  I imagine you’ve missed them.”

His eyes watered, and he blinked back tears.  The thought of sleeping in his own bed, in his own quarters, without being trapped in stumbling darkness…  “Thank you.”

Obi-Wan balked at the mention of a hoverchair, so Qui-Gon carried him.  He rested his head against that broad chest, and even through the bacta he knew the scent of the man, no matter how long it had been since they had parted.  If he’d had even just one of his senses aside from touch, he would have known of his companion’s identity from the start. 

“You cut your hair,” he said, because he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Gentle vibration against his chest, Qui-Gon’s soft laughter in his ears.  “I’m trying not to stand out, and I looked quite distinctive with all of that hair.”

That made him curious, but they were in a public hall, and it seemed wisest not to ask further questions.  Instead he looked around, enjoying the fact that he could feel again.  He identified individuals by sight and presence, stared at the line of tiles and etchings on the walls, could hear footsteps drop sharply or softly against the floor, the soft slide of cloth, the murmur of voices.  If Obi-Wan had ever taken any of it for granted, he sure as hell never would again.

Several passing Jedi smiled (or expressed the equivalent) when they saw him.  It was the Padawans who weren’t afraid to speak to him, who expressed their pleasure that he was doing well.

“You seem to be quite popular with the younger ones,” Qui-Gon murmured, stepping through the archway that led into the garden closest to the Healers’ halls.

“That’s because he swears a lot,” Anakin said, momentarily resting his hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder, grinning.  “They learn the best new language from him.”

Obi-Wan pointed to a quiet, more private part of the garden, and together they got him settled onto the ground.  He rested on his knees, Qui-Gon to his left, Anakin to his right, and for a time he contented himself with existing, feeling the breeze ruffle his hair, letting Coruscant’s sun warm his skin.  There were birds chirping in the distance, and from a garden on another level he heard a group of Initiates laughing.  The distant sound of ships and speeders reached his ears, the occasional electrical boom of broadcasted advertising.  He could smell green things, cut grass, the headier scent of flowering trees, and rich earth.  Water was close, a wet, mineral scent, and if he focused he could just hear it trickling along the rocks.

Obi-Wan opened his eyes and color was everywhere, many hues of green, gray and brown and red stone, tree bark in various colors, faint blue sky, and sunlight shining on skin and cloth and plants.  Anakin was in his usual darker brown tunics, a glint of silver from the lightsaber on his belt, shining blonde hair and skin that was still marked by the twin suns of Tatooine.  Qui-Gon, his hair ruffled by the breeze, wearing the beige tunics and darker leggings he’d always preferred.  His face, even without the beard, looked exactly the same—as if he’d not aged at all in the past twelve years.

Qui-Gon had his eyes closed, but not for meditation.  He was merely being patient, waiting.  For what, Obi-Wan had no idea.

He touched the hand resting on his right knee.  Anakin?

His Padawan was as perceptive as ever.  Wanting some time alone with Master Qui-Gon, Master?

He smiled.  If you don’t mind.  I know you and I have a lot of catching up to do, but I…

Hey, I can be patient while you two make out.

Obi-Wan scowled, glaring at him.  Impudent Padawan.  There’s not going to be any sex right now.  Mental breakdown of moving parts, perhaps.

Anakin smiled.  Which, of course, we cannot allow the Padawan to see, he said, his mental tone full of teasing warmth.  I’ll bring Padmé by our quarters later.  We’ll see you there.  She wants to hug you and then thwap you again for the pregnancy comment.

I didn’t say it before:  Congratulations, Anakin.  You’re going to be a wonderful father.

Anakin’s eyes glimmered with suspicious moisture.  “Thank you, Master,” he whispered, pulling Obi-Wan into a hug.  Obi-Wan breathed in the clean scent of his Padawan, touched by the slight tang of oil and metal that never seemed to wash off, a side-effect of Anakin Skywalker’s love affair with machinery.

Anakin released him and climbed to his feet, smiling.  “See you this evening, Master Qui-Gon,” he said, taking his leave.

Neither of them spoke for a few minutes, but Obi-Wan had learned to be as reticent as his former teacher, and he could wait until he figured out what in the hell he was going to talk about.

To his surprise, Qui-Gon broke the silence first.  “So,” he said.

“So,” Obi-Wan repeated.  Then he smiled.  “Something like that, huh?”

Qui-Gon tilted his head, looking as if he was fighting a smile as well.  “Something like that, yes.”

“I seem to recall that in your case, unlike mine, we had a body for the pyre,” Obi-Wan said, and though he struggled to say the words calmly, his voice still wobbled.

“So I heard,” Qui-Gon nodded, lips twisting in a brief flare of distaste.  “There’s quite a story, there.  Would you like me to tell you?”

Obi-Wan felt something welling up in his chest, a harsh knot of emotion, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to start crying or laughing.  Possibly both.  “Yes, but not yet,” he said, and reached for Qui-Gon’s hand.

Their fingers twined together, a gesture he’d known for a short time and yet it had become a vital part of his life.  With that touch, the hard knot in his chest burst free.  Tears streamed from his eyes, and when Qui-Gon’s strong arms wrapped around him, so familiar, so wanted, he sobbed brokenly for the time he’d been lost, afraid he was going to live in utter silence and darkness alone for the rest of his life.

“Not anymore,” Qui-Gon murmured against his hair, low and soothing.  “You’re not trapped in that place any longer.”

He nodded, his chest aching as he wrestled with purging the horror and loneliness.  He reached for the Force and it was there, lighting up all of the dark places, driving out doubt and despair and the hatred he’d inadvertently nursed for Asajj Ventress.  In that moment he felt like he could breathe again, unfettered.  He wrapped the peace of the Force around himself, then wrapped his arms around the companion who’d found him trapped in hell, and kindly carried him out.

He’d prayed to the Force, and the Force had sent him Qui-Gon Jinn, his speaker of Valaeanath.  Thank you, thank you, he repeated, a mantra from his soul.  Thank you.

 

*         *          *          *

 

“The last memory I have of you, twelve years ago, was the evening we spoke on the balcony when Anakin was being tested by the Council,” Qui-Gon said.

Qui-Gon was sitting on the couch in the quarters that had once been his.  Obi-Wan’s head was pillowed on Qui-Gon’s lap, and he was stretched out on the couch, bare feet propped up on the armrest.  Padmé was in a nearby chair, slumped back, her hands resting on her belly.  Anakin was sprawled on the floor next to her feet.

Don’t defy the Council, Master, not again.

Obi-Wan nodded, rueful.  “I remember.”

Qui-Gon smiled and continued.  “When we parted, still waiting to be recalled, I decided to go down to the Archives.  If Mace was going to be difficult, I wanted to have something in my hands to convince him with, and one of the Prophecy translations seemed like a good idea.  In a way, I was trying to do as my distraught Padawan was urging me, attempting to sway the Council with logic instead of stubbornness.”

“Yes, because that usually works so well,” Anakin muttered, and Padmé grinned.

“When I made it down to that level, I remember thinking that it seemed darker than usual, as if there had been a power failure.  Then there was a sharp pain, here,” he said, touching the back of his neck.  “And that was the last thing I was aware of until a little over two months ago.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes widened.  He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but it had been nothing like this.  He clamped his jaw shut so that he wouldn’t interrupt with unnecessary questions.

To his surprise, it was Anakin who took up the tale.  “We had just finished evacuating Jabiim.  I was…I was a mess, Obi-Wan.  I thought I’d felt your death.”

“That was when Ventress put the inhibitor on,” Obi-Wan said, and had to repress a shudder.  He’d been lying in the flaming wreckage of the AT-AT, aware of multiple bodies around him, and of Alpha-17’s soft groan of pain.  Something had landed across his hips when the walker went down, pinning him in place.  He’d been dizzy, which meant he’d also taken a blow to the head.  Ventress had found him before he could recover, and half of his senses had been lost to him with a single, pained scream.

Qui-Gon’s fingers began carding through his hair, accompanied by a whisper of soothing peace.  He sighed; Anakin spoke again.  “I got a communication from Master Windu.  He said Quinlan had found something in one of Dooku’s hidden repositories while scouting on Raxus Prime, and the tech was beyond them.  I guess I must have impressed Master Windu at some point, because I was the first person he contacted to try to figure things out.  At first, I didn’t want to go—I told him what had happened to you.  He was shocked,” Anakin said, as if, before that, he hadn’t realized Mace Windu truly cared about the other Jedi he served with.

“He told me to come to Raxus Prime anyway, since there was nothing else that I could do.  There was no way to go back to Jabiim to search for your body.  The Separatists have completely overrun the sector.”

For a moment, Obi-Wan tried to care about the fact that they had lost so much ground, and then gave up.  He was months behind on the current tactical situation.  If he wanted to catch up, he’d need more than just the state of Jabiim.

“The technology that Quinlan had found turned out to be three stasis pods, the most advanced any of us had ever seen,” Anakin said, looking troubled.  “There was nothing on them to indicate who produced them, so someone out there is keeping a tight lid on what they’re capable of building.  Artoo and I worked on interpreting the data for several days before I figured out how to operate them.

“The first two pods’ occupants were deceased.  According to the status logs, one of the pods had malfunctioned.  When we opened it, we found Master Sifo-Dyas’ body.  The other had been intentionally disabled.  That one held Komari Vosa, Dooku’s last Padawan.”

“And you were in the third,” Obi-Wan surmised, looking up at Qui-Gon, who nodded.

“Imagine our surprise when we opened the pod to find him,” Anakin said, shaking his head.  “Master Windu thought we’d found a clone that Dooku created; we sure have enough of them running around the galaxy lately.  Instead…well, we realized soon enough that it was the other way around.”

“I woke up with a splitting headache,” Qui-Gon said, reaching for one of Obi-Wan’s hands and gripping his fingers tightly.  “I found Mace, a man I thought I recognized as Knight Vos, and one unfamiliar adult Padawan looking at me in disbelief.  Worse, I couldn’t sense you anywhere, and the air… I knew right away that I was no longer on Coruscant, that something was very wrong.”

“Master Windu demanded to know what Master Qui-Gon’s name was. Master Qui-Gon looked up at him and said, ‘Have you no respect for the recently hungover?’” Anakin quoted in a very good imitation of Qui-Gon’s lilting accent.

“I was very confused when I heard Quinlan say, ‘That doesn’t sound like a decanted clone to me,’” Qui-Gon admitted.  “I wanted to know what the hell was going on, where I was.”

“So I introduced myself,” Anakin said, looking apologetic.  “He didn’t believe me, not at first.  He asked for you.”

“Anakin told me that you were dead,” Qui-Gon whispered, and there was pained grief in his voice.  “It didn’t seem—nothing seemed real.  I had no conscious recollection of the time between that sharp pain and waking up on Raxus Prime; it was like seconds had passed, not years.  I couldn’t…I couldn’t fathom any of it.  Anakin was suddenly an adult Padawan, you had been his Master, the Republic was fighting a galactic war against Dooku, and I was told that I’d died on Naboo.”

“I knew he was really Qui-Gon Jinn,” Anakin said, reaching up to take his wife’s hand.  “I could feel it in the Force, and after meditating on it, Master Windu and Quinlan agreed with me.  But we went to Polis Massa and did the genetic testing, just to be sure.  Then they dumped Master Qui-Gon in a bacta tank, since twelve years of suspended animation hadn’t treated him very well.”

Anakin shook his head.  “I was sent back to the Temple, even though I wanted to stay, but Master Windu decided that the Council needed to have the opportunity to figure out if I should be assigned a new Master, or left to flounder with the rest of the orphans for awhile.  I just…I guess they weren’t sure what to do with me, or maybe they were going to hand me over to Master Qui-Gon when he was ready, but they never sent me back out to the front.  I spent most of the time with Padmé, instead.”

“Whereas I spent most of the intervening time in the medical center, learning about the last twelve years, and generally just existing in a state of shock,” Qui-Gon said.  “Mace would check in every few days, and we pieced together what must have happened.  Considering the excellent likeness, similar skills and abilities, and, ah, personality, Mace believes that Dooku must have created, programmed, and trained a clone of me.  That evening outside of the Archives is when the clone was left in my place, and it was the clone that died on Naboo.”

Qui-Gon hesitated.  “We believe, we think, that those three stasis pods held the last three beings in the galaxy that my former Master cared about.  In a very strange sort of way, I think he was trying to protect us from the war he knew was coming.”

“A decomposing clone of Komari Vosa was discovered on one of the moons of Bogden about two weeks after the stasis pods were found,” Anakin added.  “If Master Sifo-Dyas was also cloned, we haven’t found him yet.”

Obi-Wan considered the shocking amount of information that had just been dumped on his head, staring up at Qui-Gon.  A clone, programmed by Dooku himself, designed to replace his Master.  He thought about that last disastrous meeting with the Council, his Master’s harsh words, the return trip to Naboo, and started to chuckle.

“What?” Qui-Gon said, nudging him, that half-smile making an appearance.  “What’s so funny?”

“It just explains so much,” Obi-Wan said, continuing to laugh.  “I couldn’t get you to listen to me, and you were being such an ass!

Qui-Gon smiled.  “Mace did imply as much, yes.  I’m sorry, Obi-Wan.”

“I’m not,” Obi-Wan said, squeezing Qui-Gon’s hand.  “It wasn’t you.”  He grinned, feeling as if a heavy weight had just been lifted from his shoulders.  He’d carried the guilt from the events of Naboo, the agonized pain of losing his Master, for twelve years, and at last he could let it go.  “It wasn’t you.”

“I felt much the same when I received a call from Anakin, saying that you had been found during the raid on Rattatak, that they’d brought you to Coruscant and put you in a bacta tank.  I made the trip here as soon as the next supply pilot came through, and chafed at every single delay.  I wanted to see you, the one person I hoped would be able to help ground me in the now instead of what was.  When I arrived, fifteen days later, I was told that you had been tortured and starved.  No one could sense your presence in the Force, and thus believed you were catatonic, that you had no awareness left.”

“Bah,” grumbled Obi-Wan.  That diagnosis still annoyed him.

“I’d seen recent holos,” Qui-Gon said, “and knew what you looked like.  Still, you were a bit rough.  I watched you for several minutes, sitting alone in that room, and thought that you didn’t seem catatonic.  I could see your eyes, and there was awareness there, and a great deal of frustration.”  He smiled.  “I didn’t expect you to remember the Valaeanath.”

‘Why wouldn’t I have?’ Obi-Wan signed into the broad palm, and Qui-Gon’s smile widened.

‘And I will forever be grateful that you did,’ Qui-Gon pressed back.

‘Me, too.’

Maybe they gazed at each other a touch too long, because Anakin climbed to his feet, a smug grin on his face.  “I think we’ll be off for the night, Master, if you don’t mind.”

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow.  “Don’t you live here, Padawan?”

Anakin nodded, helping Padmé up.  “Well, usually, yeah.  But I thought you guys might like some privacy, and Padmé won’t sleep in my room.”

“Not until he cleans out the droid graveyard,” Padmé said in a wry voice.  “Don’t worry, Obi-Wan.  I’ll bring him back in the morning.”

Obi-Wan was tempted to roll his eyes.  “Good night, both of you.  Try to remember to sleep!” he yelled at the closing door.

Qui-Gon had a thoughtful look on his face.  “So, Mister Lives-By-the-Code—”

Obi-Wan swatted him, which only made Qui-Gon smile.

“I see you have no trouble allowing Anakin to break the Padawan attachment clause.  And a slew of other rules, if I’m remembering correctly.”

Obi-Wan snorted.  “Well, your former Padawan grew up quickly when he had a Padawan of his own dumped in his lap.  It was either that, or lose my mind.  I chose to adapt.  When Anakin came to me last year and admitted he’d fallen in love with the former Queen-turned-Senator of Naboo, I think I was more or less prepared.”

“They were making eyes at each other when they were children,” Qui-Gon pointed out, amused.  “I’m not surprised that things turned out this way.”

“Anakin was concerned that he would get in trouble for marrying her.  I told him not to get married, then.  They could always worry about that later.”  Obi-Wan smiled.  “Seemed to clear up a lot of problems before they had the chance to start.”

“I’m surprised they haven’t Knighted him yet,” Qui-Gon mused.  “He’s certainly capable enough.”

Obi-Wan frowned.  “The Council did that to me after Naboo.  I’d hate to see Anakin thrown into a similar situation, especially with children in his future.”  He paused.  “Though really, raising Force-sensitive infants is Trial enough for anyone.  Now all I need is for Chancellor Palpatine to stop dragging Anakin into politics, and I’ll be happy.”

Qui-Gon nodded, but he was glancing around the main room, taking in the objects that still decorated the walls, the row of books that were resting along the back of the desk.  There was a mystified look on his face.

“Something wrong?” Obi-Wan asked, yawning and stretching.  His back was starting to itch again.  Stupid inhibitor.  Wonderful, wonderful bacta.

“Did you get rid of anything of mine?” Qui-Gon asked, looking down at him quizzically.

He smiled.  “Told you that I wasn’t much of a stuff person.  I didn’t really see the point in getting rid of anything; if I’d cleared the shelves, Anakin would have just filled everything with parts, and I would have found myself living in a junk shop.  I did take some items out of the bedroom, but they’re just in storage.”  He turned his head, nuzzling against the soft cloth of the shirt Qui-Gon was wearing, enjoying the feel of warmth radiating from beneath.  “And I liked everything where it was.  Reminded me of you.”

Qui-Gon’s warm, clever fingers began caressing his face.  “Did you need the reminders of me so much, then?” he murmured.

Obi-Wan recalled the grief that had dogged his steps, the empty, aching feeling in his chest when he remembered the feel of life fleeing what he’d thought had been his Master’s body.  “Sometimes,” he whispered.  “I won’t say that I was desperately in love with you or anything, but I missed you very much.  You were…you were a very integral part of my life, far beyond the relationship we had as teacher and student.  I’d been meditating on asking you if I could be assigned as your working partner after my Knighting, trying to be certain that I wanted it for the right reasons and not because I wasn’t ready to let go of being your apprentice.”

“I suppose you never got the chance to ask,” Qui-Gon sighed.  “I’ve missed so much of your life, of Anakin’s life.  Some mornings I still wake up and realize I don’t know what to do with myself.  But,” he said, noticing the yawn that Obi-Wan couldn’t repress, “I do believe you need rest.”

“Rest is boring,” Obi-Wan muttered, not really in the mood to move.  “I’d rather listen to you.”

“Plenty of time for that,” he chuckled, helping Obi-Wan to sit up before scooping him up off of the couch, carrying Obi-Wan to the bedroom.  “My identity hasn’t been restored yet, thus I have nowhere in particular to go.”

Obi-Wan sighed as he was settled into his own bed, far more comfortable than anything medical.  Qui-Gon smiled at him.  “Good night, Obi-Wan,” he said, and rose to go.

“Wait,” he called, baffled.  “Where are you going?”

Qui-Gon half-turned, and even in the glow of the bedside lamp Obi-Wan could see the hesitation that marked the gesture.  “I thought I’d sleep on the couch, so that you wouldn’t be disturbed.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Obi-Wan replied, confused and hurt.  “This is your bed.”

Qui-Gon shook his head.  “Hasn’t been mine for a long time.  And I didn’t want to…to pressure you into anything.”

Oh.  Obi-Wan mouthed the word, realization sweeping over him.  “Qui-Gon, I was certain of my feelings when I knew you only by touch.  All I wanted was to be able to see your face, to feel your presence.  Now get in this bed or I’m going to throw something at you.”

Qui-Gon sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled off his boots, a delighted smile on his face.  “Yes, Master Kenobi.”

“That’s weird,” Obi-Wan said, waiting and watching with an appreciative eye as Qui-Gon stripped down to his leggings.  “I suppose I never expected to hear you call me that, even before Naboo.”

Qui-Gon crawled on all fours up the bed to join him, and if Obi-Wan hadn’t been exhausted, the predatory nature of it would have left him breathless with anticipation.  “And yet, I always expected to call you that one day,” Qui-Gon said, lying down next to him and staring into his eyes.  “There was not a doubt in my mind.”

“Yes, but you are far less cynical than I am.”  Obi-Wan scooted over and pressed himself against Qui-Gon’s chest, tucking his head under Qui-Gon’s chin.  The covers were pulled up over them both, and Qui-Gon’s strong, warm arms wrapped around him, holding him close.

Qui-Gon pressed a kiss into his hair.  “Go to sleep, Obi-Wan.  I love you.”

“Love you,” he murmured the words against Qui-Gon’s skin, and was asleep in the next heartbeat.

The next morning Obi-Wan woke up to the sounds of Qui-Gon rummaging in the kitchen, and felt a brief flare of nostalgia.  There had been so many mornings during his apprenticeship when he’d awoken in just the same way.

Of course, back then he’d had no thought of sleeping with Qui-Gon Jinn.

He grinned and rolled out of bed and onto the floor, settling onto his knees in a patch of warm sunlight that was streaming in through the window.  He enjoyed the first real meditation he’d had in months, letting himself drift in the currents of the Force.  The impromptu pseudo-meditation in the garden yesterday had helped, but there was nothing like losing himself this way, letting the energy and vitality of the Force fill his senses.

He came back to himself gradually, aware of the fact that he needed food, tea, a shower, and sex—not necessarily in that order, but Barriss Offee would read him the riot act if he tried anything naughty before she cleared him.  He stretched his arms over his head, relishing in the feel of blood rushing through his veins, of the sunlight warming his skin.  He took a deep breath and found tea in the air, along with citrus and sugar and bread and hot cooking elements.

His stomach took notice and announced in no uncertain terms that it was sick of ration bars, thank you very much.  He stood up, relieved to find that he was wobbly-kneed but not much worse off, and changed into clean clothing before making a beeline for the kitchen.

Qui-Gon was nursing a cup of tea, engrossed in a datapad.  He looked up and smiled at Obi-Wan, who settled into a chair at the table with a relieved sigh.  The muscles in his legs were trembling with exertion from the short walk, which meant he wasn’t near as recovered as he might have wished.  “Good morning,” Qui-Gon greeted him, which triggered the nostalgia button again right before Obi-Wan was kissed with gentle enthusiasm.

“Mmm.  Best morning greeting I’ve had in a long time,” Obi-Wan replied.  “Is there tea and food involved?”

In answer Qui-Gon got up, pulling down a mug and the sweetener from an overhead cabinet.  “Now that I have to worry about it, do you still take your tea the same way?”

“Half as much,” Obi-Wan replied, and realized he was staring at Qui-Gon, pouring tea and adding sweetener, digging for plates and silverware, with a sappy, besotted smile.  He also noticed, to his intense amusement, that every cabinet in the kitchen was standing open.

Qui-Gon must have sensed the nature of his thoughts.  “Couldn’t find a blasted thing,” he explained, placing several different fruits and a piece of fresh sweetbread onto a plate.  Anakin must have restocked the cold-store and the pantry, because Obi-Wan certainly hadn’t been home to do it, not for at least six months.  He imagined the cold-store was a nightmare to clean out.  “I have to admit, it was sort of a relief,” Qui-Gon said.  “If the kitchen had been exactly the same, I might have had to wonder about you.”

He grinned.  “More efficient use of the space,” he teased.  “Less clutter.”

Then he had tea and food, and the only thing he cared to concentrate on was taste and scent, the bloom of flavor across his tongue.  Eating without awareness of those things had been no fun at all, and there had been times when he’d needed to force himself to consume whatever he’d been given.

He was on his third cup of tea, enjoying the mild rush of caffeine hitting his system, when the door chime sounded.  They both stared at each other.  “You do it,” Obi-Wan said, grinning.

Qui-Gon laughed, shaking his head.  “Come in!”

Mace Windu walked into the kitchen a moment later, carrying two folders, a faint look of amusement on his face.  “Good morning.”

“Morning, Mace.  Tea?” Qui-Gon offered, before glancing at Obi-Wan with a teasing smile.  Obi-Wan tried hard not to chuckle; they were both used to being the master of the same domain, and working out the kinks of who was responsible for what was going to be fun.

“No, thank you,” Mace said, placing both folders down on the table.  “I only stopped by to drop this off.  Congratulations, you two—you’re alive again.”  He slid one folder over to Obi-Wan, and the other he gave to Qui-Gon.  “Try not to make a habit of this, because it was a pain in the ass to restore your identities.”

“You make it sound like I waltzed off for twelve years on purpose,” Qui-Gon said lightly, pretending to be absorbed by the contents of his folder.

“Hmm.  Or that we took the AT-AT down on purpose,” Obi-Wan added, checking the spelling on his identification card.  The last time he’d needed to replace it, the bureau had gotten his name backwards.  “I was on fire, you know.”

Mace sighed and shook his head.  “I’d forgotten what the two of you were like when you’re both on the same wavelength.  It’s going to be ten times worse now, isn’t it?”

They looked up at the same time, their eyes meeting over the tops of the folders.  “Probably,” Qui-Gon said, smiling.

“Very likely,” Obi-Wan confirmed, taking a nonchalant sip of tea.

“Very funny,” said Mace, his stern expression momentarily replaced by a broad grin.  “Damn, but I’m glad you’re here.  We need you.  We need both of you.”

Obi-Wan’s smile faded.  There was still a war on, and he wasn’t looking forward to returning to it.

Mace rested his hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder for a brief moment.  “I’m going to lean on the rest of the Council and make sure that Qui-Gon isn’t sent out before you’re ready to join him.  The two of you made too good of a team before to separate you now, and Anakin needs your guidance if he’s going to be Knighted within the next year.  Maybe with the three of you on the front lines together, we can start gaining back the ground we’ve lost.”

Obi-Wan blinked, shocked by the unexpected news.  He hadn’t even given a thought to his and Qui-Gon’s possible separation, and now he wouldn’t need to, and the thought of Knighting Anakin within the year filled him with fierce pride.  “Thank you, Mace.”

Mace nodded.  “Your chair is waiting for you when you’re ready to reclaim it, Councilor.”

Obi-Wan’s good mood diminished somewhat, he glared at Mace. “I quit.  Find someone else.”

Mace grinned again.  Qui-Gon’s shoulders were shaking with silent laughter.  “Not until you finish that backlog of reports, Master Kenobi.”

“Yes, but you keep handing me more of the damned things!”

“Imagine that,” Mace said, his innocent visage and tone not fooling Obi-Wan a bit.  He glanced at Qui-Gon.  “Did he throw anything at you?”

Qui-Gon gave the other Master an annoyed look.  “Go away, Mace.”

The door chime sounded again, nothing but a precursor to Anakin barging in and yelling, “Good morning!  Garen followed me all the way here.  Artoo tried zapping him to fend him off, but he won’t go!”

“Get this tin can out of my way, then!”

Obi-Wan listened with a wide smile as Anakin and Garen and Artoo squabbled good-naturedly, accompanied by Mace telling them to stop blocking the damned door.  He took hold of Qui-Gon’s hand, resting his fingers against that broad, beloved palm.

Qui-Gon took his other hand and spoke to him with gentle, deft touches to his skin.  ‘Are you happy, love?’

Obi-Wan grinned.  ‘Don’t ask me stupid questions.’

 

Epilogue:

 

Obi-Wan touches everything. 

I don’t think he’s actually aware of how much he still relies on his hands, and considering how often he’s touching me, I am in no hurry to enlighten him.  If he stands near me, I know it won’t be long before I feel the warmth of his skin on some part of my body.

When it’s not touch, it’s his eyes, darting around, taking in the entirety of his surroundings with each step he takes.  I love watching this, catching the shift in color between blue and green depending on what he thinks of what he’s seen.  We meander through the Temple gardens often, not yet concerned about anything but existing together.  He’s quiet during these walks, but when we’re in the safety of our quarters, he speaks about almost anything that crosses his mind, sharing his voice with myself and Anakin, sometimes with Garen Muln or Padmé Amidala.  There is a fascinating blend of humor and insight I can take from these times, and I can’t help but notice that my always-brilliant Padawan has developed a frightening intelligence.  I’m beginning to see the General that the Council and the Republic are relying on, and that makes me proud and yet saddens me; the frustrated outpouring he’d signed into my hand has made me well aware of the fact that he does not enjoy the burden of so many responsibilities pressing down on him.

That first night, I slept in my own bed for the first time in twelve years.  I wouldn’t have cared about reclaiming it, but Obi-Wan had insisted, and I felt joy in knowing that he was sleeping without nightmares, cradled in the circle of my arms. 

Barriss Offee cleared him for return to light duty a few days afterward, and that evening, Anakin grinned at me and told me he was going to play it safe and sleep elsewhere for the night.  Obi-Wan, overhearing, had then taken great pleasure in literally shoving his laughing Padawan out the door.

We made love with the lights on, and Obi-Wan took great pains in cataloguing my body with every sense that he had.  It was odd and enlightening and gratifying, to be treated thus; I traced my hands and fingertips over every line of his body, relishing the feel of every shiver, every tremble, and it was Obi-Wan’s turn to murmur unknown nonsense against my skin.  There was no lack of lube this time, and I learned the inside of his body with my fingers, both of us by this point gasping and straining for the rush of completion.

“Hurry up,” Obi-Wan demanded in a harsh whisper.

“What happened to all of those lessons in patience?” I asked, wiggling my fingers just so and making his eyes roll back.

In answer he’d simply grabbed my cock, squeezing and teasing the head, and I decided that in certain circumstances, patience was overrated.  When I slipped into him, muscles clamped down on me with agonizing pleasure, and it was like rediscovering a part of myself I’d never known to be lost.

Later, when we were lying together in an exhausted heap, he started to chuckle.  “One would think that I would have recognized that nose of yours,” he said, and I pressed my face into his chest and laughed as his hands found their way into my hair.

I don’t think I’ll be growing my hair out again anytime soon.  I enjoy the feel of his touch, teasing and caressing, far too much.

Obi-Wan had to build another lightsaber, as his was lost to Ventress, but before he did so, he led me down to the Archives.  There, he waged war against Jocasta Nu, reclaiming my own lightsaber from the collection.

“Why the hell was my lightsaber in the Archives?” I asked, running my thumb down the hilt.  If my senses weren’t mistaken, it was in desperate need of a new power cell.

“First blade to kill a Sith in a thousand years,” Obi-Wan said, linking his arm through mine as we walked to the nearest lift.

I raised an eyebrow.  “If I recall correctly, you’re the one who struck the killing blow,” I said, remembering how I’d felt when I read that part of Obi-Wan’s file.  The creature had nearly done me in on Tatooine as it was; knowing that Obi-Wan had survived a duel alone against the Sith had filled me with mingled horror and pride.

“My lightsaber was, ah, lost to a melting pit,” he said.  I resolved to ask Yoda about the duel later, sensing it was not one of Obi-Wan’s favorite subjects to speak of.

His relationship with Anakin is a fascinating thing to observe, and often they seem far more like brothers than teacher and student.  Perhaps that was what Anakin needed, at least from Obi-Wan, because it seems to work well for them.  When Obi-Wan’s new lightsaber was complete, Anakin challenged him to a duel, Jar’Kai versus Obi-Wan’s blend of Soresu and Ataru.

“The last time you tried that, you almost lost an arm, Padawan,” Obi-Wan said in a mildly reproving voice, but he was already shedding his robe.

“I’ve been practicing,” Anakin claimed, starting to grin.

Mace, Garen, and Ki-Adi Mundi wandered into the combat arena as Obi-Wan and Anakin finished warming up.  They joined me with what passed for haste among Jedi Masters, apparently just as curious as I was to witness this particular duel.

Garen slumped down on the bleacher next to me, lighting up a long tabbac stick and ignoring Mace’s glare of disapproval.  “You’re gonna love this,” the young Master reassured me.

I was not disappointed; I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed lightsaber blades moving that fast, that furiously, in my life.  Not only was Obi-Wan holding his own, he was advancing against Anakin, despite the Jar’Kai’s technical superiority.  Anakin didn’t seem surprised, but he didn’t give up, either, and both opponents were radiating fierce joy in the Force.

A feint and a twist, and one of Anakin’s lightsabers went flying.  “Aw, Sith!” he grumbled, flipping backwards and reaching out his hand to reclaim it.  Before he could do so, Obi-Wan was on him, his lightsaber blade at Anakin’s throat.

“I win,” he said cheerfully.

“Dammit!” sputtered Anakin, laughing.

“Want to give them a go, Master Jinn?” Master Mundi asked me, and I could swear the man was grinning under that giant mustache of his.

“Hell no,” I retorted, still awed.

“He’s faster than before,” Mace murmured in my ear.  “Even beyond the speed and accuracy he’s achieved in the past year.”

I could only nod in response.

The Confederacy began pushing against the front lines in earnest, and I was drafted into joining Council meetings.  Obi-Wan and Mace insisted that my outside point of view might give me insight, the ability to point out something that had been missed.  I wasn’t certain about that, but seeing Obi-Wan in a Council seat, the voice of cool logic and innovative ideas when tempers began to fray, filled me with pride.

Then there was no more avoiding it; the three of us were given orders to report to the front.  I packed a bag in silence, frowning, and wondered what use I was going to be.  This was not my strength.

“Join the club,” Obi-Wan murmured, pressing himself against my back, his head resting against my shoulder.  “I’m not looking forward to this any more than you are.  Anakin’s afraid he’s going to miss the birth of his children.”

I nodded, sighed, and attempted to smile.  “Then I suppose we’ll just have to end this war before the due date, won’t we?”

Obi-Wan snorted laughter into my tunics.  “Yes, Master Jinn, that’s exactly what we’ll have to do.  Take a good look at our quarters, though, because it’s likely we won’t see home for a while.”

I turned around and hugged him, kissing him and nibbling at his lip.  Obi-Wan purred in my arms.  “My home is wherever you are.”

 

—End

Begun May 5th, 2010 and finished on May 8th, 2010.