The first thing Qui-Gon became aware of was the low pulse of monitors. Then the scent of the Halls of Healing.
He dragged heavy eyelids open to find Vokara leaning over him, eyes wide with surprise.
“Welcome back, Master Jinn,” she murmured, Ryloth whispering through her voice.
Qui-Gon swallowed, his mouth feeling like it hadn't had contact with water in years. “Why am I not dead?”
“You had a committed and selfless Padawan.”
For a moment he simply blinked, and then alarm spiked through him. “I had ?”
“Easy,” the Twi'lek soothed. “You were in a coma and we didn't know when, or if, you would awaken. It was unfair to make him wait, so he was knighted.”
The fear eased into pride mixed with an ache that he hadn't been there to see it. “Oh.” He swallowed against the knives in his throat. “He deserved it.”
“You don't have to speak,” Vokara assured him. “It's been some time, so give your body a chance to adjust to being awake.”
“Months, Qui-Gon. Almost a year.”
He was too tired to feel much about the discovery. “Obi-Wan healed me? I thought for sure I was going to die.”
“You would have. To be honest, until you just opened your eyes, I wasn't sure the end result was going to be much different.”
His lip quirked up. “You're always honest, Vokara.”
Her eyes saddened, tension drawing lines around them.
“Did my knight take Anakin as his Padawan?” Qui-Gon asked the question, though he didn't need to. Obi-Wan had promised, and Obi-Wan always came through for him—
That drove all exhaustion from his mind. “ No ?”
“He didn't have what it took to do so.”
He betrayed my trust because he didn't think he was worthy of it? What kind of banthakark was that—
Displeasure flooded Vokara's face. “Perhaps concern would be more appropriate, than assuming he'd failed you.”
“He gave me his word— ”
“He gave you his mind. ”
They glared at one another.
The anger made it take a moment before her word choice sank in. “What?”
“I'm surprised you haven't sensed him yet. He hasn't left your side once. ”
“He should have been out there training Anakin,” Qui-Gon grumbled, plumbing his depths for the effort needed to stretch out with the Force, since he couldn't sit up to look around.
It ended up fairly pointless, all things considered.
“You picked a poor time to bring that up,” Qui-Gon scoffed. “Obi-Wan isn't here. If you think I'd mistake the child in the corner for my knight—”
At Vokara's expression, Qui-Gon's voice stuttered.
He gave you his mind, is what she'd said .
Qui-Gon struggled to sit up, but couldn't make his body obey him.
“Qui-Gon, he didn't betray you.” The anger had drained away from Vokara, leaving her looking grieved. “He had every intention of keeping his promise. But his gift is not healing. Your wound was far too severe for his slight affinity.”
“I told him it was too late, so he wouldn't try something foolish — ”
Vokara shook her head, her lekku swaying. “He's a Jedi first and foremost, Qui-Gon. He would give whatever it took of himself to save a life. Because he would be the only one harmed, he was willing to endure anything for that end. And because he loved you, there was no hint of remorse as he did.”
“I have to see— ”
Vokara left his side. Qui-Gon could hear her voice, now gentle, murmur, “Obi-Wan? Obi-Wan, can you look at me, sweetheart?”
Qui-Gon tried to recall ever having heard this woman use that form of endearment. Ever.
“Master is awake.”
There was a quickening in the faint signature—
No, not faint. Scattered. Roused from its torpor, Qui-Gon could see it now. The sculpture of Obi-Wan's mind smashed, the pieces hovering as a cohesive unit, but none of the bits connecting together.
He could sense pain, confusion, fear—
And such love.
It was love, pure, selfless, bright as a summer's dawn holding what was left of this tortured creature together.
Qui-Gon's throat closed, and it had nothing to do with months without drinking water.
Slow, cautious footsteps sounded against the floor, Vokara murmuring encouragement the whole way.
Obi-Wan reached the bedside, his gaze fixed on Qui-Gon's toes, and not budging an inch.
Qui-Gon took in the sight of him. Neat as always, his robes perfectly cut, the seams falling right where they should on his shoulders, the tabbards not hanging too long, the belt cinched just right. Obi-Wan had always taken such care with his clothing.
Qui-Gon's lightsaber hung on his belt, but where Qui-Gon expected his braid to be missing, it still hung, and the short tail at the back of his head was still in its binding.
He wanted to ask Vokara, but was afraid to. There was something so fragile about the young man.
He saved me... but at what cost to himself?
Blue eyes slowly, so slowly, shifted to his face, as if afraid—
No, no, don't be afraid, Qui-Gon's heart broke.
Surprise touched Obi-Wan's quiet face as he found eyes looking back into his own. “Master,” he breathed.
Qui-Gon fought another battle with his body, and this time won, holding shaking arms out.
Obi-Wan crumpled against him, allowing the once-strong arms to hold him as tight as they could.
Qui-Gon couldn't breathe, he couldn't believe this was all that was left of his bright, so clever Obi-Wan.
“How did he make it through the Trials?” Qui-Gon choked, horrified that Obi-Wan wasn't even paying attention to his words, simply the familiar tone of his voice. Obi-Wan's soul was lighting up like a Life Day greeting droid.
It wouldn't matter what I said, Qui-Gon realized.
“The Trials have always been about heart. Not brain,” Vokara chided. “Obi-Wan gave himself for the good of someone else. It's as Jedi as you can get.”
“He should have let me go, ” Qui-Gon groaned. “ That would have been Jedi too. I told him to. I'd lived my life, his was just beginning— ”
Obi-Wan stumbled away, looking distressed. He looked up to Vokara, eyes brokenhearted—
“Master,” he whispered, anguished.
And he didn't mean her.
“He senses your reproach,” Vokara hissed. “He thinks you are displeased with him.”
There was something ugly in the Healer's eyes, aimed for Qui-Gon, and he could feel it.
It joined the frustration he felt towards himself for having brought this precious child— oh, the accuracy of the endearment hurt now— pain.
There was a step in the door, and then Obi-Wan flew out of sight.
Qui-Gon tried again to sit up, and this time Vokara assisted him.
He saw Feemor in the doorway, Obi-Wan held tight in his arms as his younger Legacy Brother clung to him, shuddering.
“Easy,” Feemor soothed, his Force signature carefully comforting. “Easy.”
Qui-Gon struggled with his own expression in the Force, attempting to shape it into something Obi-Wan could find comfort in, but his heart was too broken, there was too much anger—
“Get him out of here,” Vokara ordered, still a sky with gentle clouds in the Force.
There was definitely a durasteel she was concealing from the fragile child-knight.
Feemor tried to draw him into the hallway, but Obi-Wan screeched, planting his hands against the older man's chest and pushing away, deceptive strength in his wiry frame.
He would. Not. Leave.
“Control yourself, Qui-Gon,” Vokara urged. “It's the least that you owe him.”
True. It's true. I have no right to burden him with something he can't understand— something he would read as disapproval—
Qui-Gon drew in a deep breath, allowed Obi-Wan's near-silent whimpers flow around him—
He sensed Feemor reaching out to his former master, holding out stable comfort.
Why didn't I turn to him before? Qui-Gon wondered. He'd wandered for years, lost by Xanatos...
But I had a beautiful knight here, who desperately wanted to help.
For the first time, Qui-Gon allowed him to.
He could sense Feemor's surprise, then the knight's struggle against suspicious moisture in his eyes.
I shut him out for too long.
Feemor had been knighted, and then Qui-Gon had focused only on Xanatos, nearly flinging the older one aside in favor of the Force-talented, exuberant newcomer.
I think I hurt him.
Inch by careful inch Qui-Gon quieted his spirit enough to ease the pain in Obi-Wan's mind.
When he opened his eyes, he found tearful ones peering at him again.
“I'm not angry,” Qui-Gon soothed, swallowing the grief. “Please come back.”
He could see the tiny flares in Obi-Wan's mind in response. His words triggered old pathways—
But all of the roads met at shattered angles, one thing did not lead to another, and all of the little impulses found themselves lost in the hopeless mess.
He recognized the words, but could draw no conclusions. Could make sense of none of it.
Force forgive me.
Obi-Wan turned away, moving to sit in his chair again, feet drawn up to rest the heels on the edge of the seat, cradling his knees in his arms. He hid his face in them and began to rock.
His Force signature folded in on itself, as if the effort to keep it up had grown too much, and if Qui-Gon closed his eyes, he could swear there was a small child occupying that corner of the room.
Feemor and Vokara exchanged concerned glances, and then Feemor moved to Qui-Gon's side.
“You're awake.” He tried to smile, but there was a tremble in it. “We weren't sure you'd come back to us.”
“ Always, ” Obi-Wan spoke up without looking up or stilling.
Feemor swallowed hard. “It's good to hear your voice again. I missed you.”
How had Qui-Gon not missed him ?
What am I?
He tried to find words, but they escaped him.
“I know.” Feemor looked away, gave a firm nod, and patted his shoulder. “I know.” He turned to Vokara, and in his shame, Qui-Gon allowed it. “I will notify the Council, though I'm sure they felt Obi-Wan.”
“Of course they did.” Vokara's eyes strayed to Qui-Gon's face. “He's the heartbeat of the Temple.”
“I'll bring Anakin to see him later.”
Vokara gave him a quick nod. “Return to him. He must be out of his mind with worry.”
“Or halfway here by now,” was Feemor's wry response. He glanced back at Qui-Gon. “Heal, my friend.”
Feemor paused before Obi-Wan, running a gentle hand over the auburn hair. “You needed him to wake up. He did. He's here when we need him.”
Obi-Wan showed no sign of having heard, not even in the Force.
Feemor walked away.
“Always,” Obi-Wan muttered. “Always. Always.”
His voice trailed into a whisper, mingled grief and hope.