Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi ran a shaky hand through his auburn locks as he stood leaned against the door jamb of his former Master's room, watching silently as the older man slept.
The Jedi Council had urgently recalled him from a mission, desperate for help with Qui-Gon Jinn who they believed was wavering on the edge of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan was astonished to receive their comm, but he was not at all shocked to hear of his Master's condition. Barely a month had passed since Anakin Skywalker, the youngest of Qui-Gon's former Padawans, had taken his own life mid-battle after revealing himself as a Sith. The Jedi Master had been there; he'd been part of the fight and had no choice but to watch as the terrible event unfolded. Traumatized and heartbroken, Qui-Gon had hidden himself away, unwilling to speak to anyone as he, once again, sank into the darkness of depression. Obi-Wan was the first person the devastated man had allowed into his apartment and even then he had done so reluctantly, with an unimpressed scowl on his face.
Knowing better than to try and coax his Master to talk when he was in such a dark mood, the Knight hadn’t bothered with words. There was nothing he could say that would help the tall Jedi's heart heal any faster, so instead of trying to counsel he did what was needed. Silently, he'd made the dead-eyed Master tea and sandwiches, then glared until most of it was gone. With a hand on the man's shoulder, he'd led him to the 'fresher where he left him to have what must have been his first shower in days. He wordlessly remade Qui-Gon's bed and cleared away the numerous empty liquor bottles that he found around the room. And, when the older Jedi finally reappeared, he pressed a steady hand into his back, guiding him across the room until he was laying down under the crisp sheets.
“Sleep, Master,” he ordered, his tenor both firm and gentle, as he turned out the bedside lamp. It was the first thing he'd said since arriving, and the use of the honorific tore a sob from the man’s throat. The sharp sound made him squeeze his eyes shut as grief surged in his chest.
“Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon rasped. The devastation, guilt and sorrow evident in the man’s broken baritone threatened to pull him down into dark, tainted depths where his Master had been left to dwell for far too long.
“Sleep!” Obi-Wan barked hurriedly, loading the word with a strong Force suggestion that quickly dragged the exhausted man into a dreamless slumber. The Knight then stumbled to the doorway, fighting away tears.
The news of Anakin's death had hit him just as hard as it had his old Master. The bright young man and he had grown close over the years; their friendship beginning with a shared distaste for their Master’s cooking and ending with a desperate need for each other’s words, touch and love. In some ways, they knew each other better than anyone... but in other ways, they didn’t know each other at all.
The circumstances of Anakin’s death had come as a terrible shock. The High Council had waited until he returned to the Temple to tell him the horrible details, watching his reactions with a critical eye, probably wondering if he had known something. Obi-Wan had been the only one to keep in contact with the young man after he had left the Order to live a different life with Padme Amidala, the young Senator of Naboo. But, as he had informed Council, a few comm calls snuck in between back-to-back missions was hardly going to enlighten him to his friend’s mental state. How and why Anakin had fallen to the Dark Side was as much a mystery to him as it was everyone else.
Pulling away from the door with a sigh, he walked into the kitchen and promptly turned on the kettle. Picking out a generic, ceramic mug from the cupboard that hung above the bench, he placed it on the counter next to the rumbling appliance as he waited for the sharp whistle. As he stared down into it, he decided that its emptiness was all too like how he felt in a galaxy without his friend. Then he swallowed nervously as a memory flashed before his eyes of them standing in that very kitchen, cleaning up after one of the so dubbed "family" dinners that Qui-Gon hosted after Anakin was knighted.
"Another mission -- so soon?" Obi-Wan questioned, his eyes darting over to where Anakin's Padawan was asleep on the couch.
"I thought you would be glad to get rid of me," Anakin teased.
"Don't be ridiculous, Anakin, you know I enjoy your company," he shot back.
The former Knight’s bright smile flashed before his eyes and suddenly his cheeks were damp with tears. Shaking his head and running a sleeve across his face, he let the piercing hiss of the kettle steal away his memories, returning to the here and now, where his focus belonged. He wasn’t brought back to lose himself in his own despair; he was here to pull his Master out of his. It was yet another mission. Not as formal as the ones he had thrown himself into after he had watched Anakin leave, but just as important.
The Order couldn’t afford to lose another Jedi to the dark, and he wasn’t sure he could survive losing anyone else he cared for. The Clone Wars had taken so much from them. So many Jedi had fallen, so many civilian lives lost… so many clones. The galaxy stank of death and pain and suffering, and he no longer knew how to keep it at bay. The fighting had stolen that strength, along with so much of what he believed in, of what the Order believed in. It had made them the ultimate hypocrisy, warriors for peace, which threatened to shatter his home at its core.
It shouldn't be possible. With all the years behind it and all those who supported it, the Order should be stronger than it was. Unfortunately its foundations were already weakened by a sprawling spider web of hairline cracks that had remained unseen for far too long. There was no blame to lay. They weren't so easy to spot.
Not unless you knew Anakin Skywalker.
The now passed former Jedi was what Master Windu called a shatterpoint in the Order. He was a weak spot that even more fractures spread from, winding and weaving their way through the Temple, threatening to bring it crashing down. It was never his intention, and certainly not his fault.
Anakin was brought to the Order at an age considered too old, wielding unmatched power too easily and labeled the prophesied 'Chosen One' too soon. It had been too much for the Temple-raised Jedi to cope with, and ultimately became too much for Anakin.
"I can't be here anymore, Obi-Wan!"
Blinking out of his thoughts and memories, Obi-Wan slowly realized the boiled water had cooled, and the bottom of his mug was still as dry and empty as it had been when he pulled it from the cupboard. He let out a small sigh. The blanks and blurs of time happened a lot when he was at home. There were too many triggers in the Temple. On missions he could forget. They hadn’t been permitted to partner too often, especially after the war started, as they were needed on separate fronts. Though, strangely, they were often on leave in the Temple concurrently, thus it was here that the shadows and echoes of what was haunted him.
Obi-Wan had tears streaming down his face from laughing as he looked up from Qui-Gon's and his half-made teas at the Knight who was stood on the opposite side of Qui-Gon's bench. "Only you could accidentally poison yourself, Anakin!"
"You guys are being so unfair. I mean, how was I supposed to know that there wasn't supposed to be blue granules in the tea? I don't like the stuff, and it's not like either of you let me make yours..."
Taking a long breath in, he forced himself to focus and glanced around, once again taking in the disgraceful state of the apartment with disgust. The tables were cluttered with bottles, half-full tea cups, and dusty, untouched data pads. The ground was strewn with clothes that hadn’t made it to the laundry and shoes that hadn’t made it to the cupboard. Plates with half-eaten, unhealthy snacks sat forgotten and festering on the lounge and side tables and the once vibrant potted plants were withering, long forgotten.
Foregoing the tea, he resigned himself to the mindless task of cleaning, hoping it would exhaust him to the point that he too could fall into a dreamless sleep.
Obi-Wan awoke the next morning to light and warmth streaming across his face through the cracks in the vertical blinds that dressed the apartment's large windows. Stretching himself out on the couch like a lothcat (he hadn’t been able to bring himself to sleep in Anakin’s old bed, even though it had once been his own), he groaned at the sharp pain that flared in his neck and back. While his Master's couch was vastly more comfortable than some of the other places he had slept recently, his body wasn't thanking him for spending yet another night away from his bed.
“You’re awake." Qui-Gon's voice rang out, abruptly interrupting his thoughts.
The words startled him so much that he fell off the couch. A loud "oomph" escaped his lips as he landed awkwardly on the floor.
The silence that followed was eerie; it wasn’t that long ago that his folly would have, at the very least, brought a quiet chuckle to the older man’s lips. “I am,” he grunted into the plush carpet. Pushing himself up with muscled arms, he knelt, sitting back on his heels.
Obi-Wan raised his gaze to meet his old Master’s, dutifully taking in the improvements in the Jedi’s appearance; fading bags under his midnight blue eyes, brushed and braided long hair, and the better color of his skin. Yet, he was certain it would still take time before the man resurfaced, which was to be expected, no matter what the Masters thought.
The tall Master was standing in the kitchen, meticulously brewing two cups of tea. It was so normal that Obi-Wan could have tricked himself that everything was as it should be... if not for the agony that whispered behind his Master's shields and the utter sadness that lingered in the apartment.
“How--” Obi-Wan stopped abruptly, knowing it wasn’t the right question. “Are you feeling any better?” he asked instead, using the couch to drag himself up to his feet. He didn’t need to say anything, but the silence was starting to bother him. Since Anakin had become Qui-Gon’s apprentice, the apartment had been loud. Whenever he visited, even after Anakin had risen to Knight, the place was bustling with energy, noise and life.
There was a long pause before Qui-Gon replied, leaving Obi-Wan to watch as the man dropped lemon into their tea, then slid one mug across the island bench, wordlessly asking Obi-Wan to join him.
“I don’t feel worse, which is an improvement,” he admitted quietly.
Obi-Wan canted his head to the side, noticing a wariness in his Masters eyes he had never seen before, something that seemed out of place, even considering the circumstances. “I’m glad,” he said honestly.
The taller man frowned and took a long sip of his tea, all the while staring at him with a look a deep contemplation on his face. “Are you?”
Obi-Wan’s brow furrowed. “Of course I am,” he replied, startled by the question. There was a long pause before he gave into his curiosity. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You loved him,” stated Qui-Gon matter-of-factly, as he lifted his cup to his lips.
Obi-Wan blinked. "Love" wasn't a word often used by the Jedi, even if it was felt, and he certainly never expected to hear it from his Master's mouth. “Well, yes. He was my best friend,” Obi-Wan pointed out, feeling utterly confused, and a little wary. They had never told Qui-Gon... He was sure Anakin had never said... Shaking his head he guessed at other reasons why his Master was suddenly acting so out of character and added, “I don’t blame you, if that’s what is worrying you. An--Anakin. He made his own choices.”
A growl ripped from his Master’s throat, and he found himself taking a step back, putting more space between him and the Jedi Master. Without thought, his eyes slipped to Master’s hip where he was relieved to find the man was unarmed.
“I don’t need a weapon to hurt people,” the older Jedi snarled bitterly, catching his gaze.
Obi-Wan considered Qui-Gon’s tormented midnight eyes for a long moment, wondering if he was too late. Fear twisted mercilessly in his stomach at the thought of having to fight the man who had raised him, the man who was his Father in all but name. “Master--”
“Don’t call me that!” Qui-Gon snapped at him. “I don’t deserv--”
“Don’t you dare,” Obi-Wan hissed, cutting in as an old anger suddenly took hold of him. “Don’t you dare do to me what you did to Feemor! Not after our start. Not now, not in Anakin’s name!”
The silence that followed felt like ice, not only bitterly cold, but frozen, nothing moving but the slow second hand on the ancient chrono-meter that hung on Qui-Gon’s wall. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, waiting for the man to strike him. It wasn’t something that Qui-Gon had ever done, unlike other Masters he had never used pain as a punishment, but he could almost taste the larger Jedi’s desire to hurt him now. Thankfully, it never came and when he dared to open his eyes again the weary man had a hand across his own face and tears were rolling down his cheeks.
“Oh, Qui-Gon,” he sighed, choosing not to tempt fate by using his title. He rounded the bench and approached carefully, then pulled his Master into a hug.
It was… odd.
Qui-Gon was not at all tactile when it came to displays of affection. Actually, displays of affection were a rarity, and were often so subtle they were easy to miss. Coupled with the fact that he could easily be blind to other people’s feelings, it wasn’t surprising that Obi-Wan had spent most of his apprenticeship and much his Knighthood wondering if the man cared for him at all. It wasn’t until recently, not long after Anakin left the Order, when he had been feeling particularly needy, that he had dared to straight out ask the man. The shocked “Of course, Obi-Wan!” made him wish he had found the courage years ago.
“I wish you’d told me,” Qui-Gon said quietly.
Obi-Wan frowned. “Told you what?”
Qui-Gon sighed sadly. “You honestly haven’t watched them yet,” he muttered, and Obi-Wan could feel his relief, and his frustration. Though, he didn’t understand what he had - or hadn’t - done to cause such a mix.
Qui-Gon took hold of his shoulders and pulled back, holding him in front of him as he searched his face with his eyes. Sighing again, the man looked down. “You need to go back to your apartment, Obi-Wan,” he told him, his voice breaking.
Obi-Wan stared at Qui-Gon blankly for a moment, before hurt burned through his chest. Once again, he wasn’t wanted. Not even after the help he had given so freely. Nodding, he dropped his gaze to the ground. “I-I apologize for the intrusion then, Master." It came out colder than he meant it too, but maybe he could be allowed this moment of caring for himself first.
“No- Obi-Wan, you've got it wrong. Just… You’ll understand once you have seen them. You are welcome here if you wish to see me afterwards… Padawan.” Obi-Wan’s brow creased as the man led him towards the door. “My advice to you is to get some rest first, because there is little sleep to be had after you start,” he added regretfully.
Qui-Gon’s hand left his shoulder as he exited the apartment, and by the time he had turned to ask what his former Master meant he found the door closed, the name plaque, which read “Jinn” glaring at him, reminding him of his place.
Shaking his head, he set off towards his own apartment wondering what in the blazes was going on.
It didn't take Obi-Wan long to get back, but as he opened the door he remembered why he preferred to be away. Returning to his quarters was anything but comforting. The air was cold and stale, and the layer of dust that had settled over everything made his eyes water and his nose twitch. Plus, everything reminded him of what was missing.
Ghosts of memories appeared before his eyes, reminding him of those treasured times when the small apartment felt like home, when it was a place filled with love and laughter. His gaze wandered around the room, until it landed on the enduring, spiky succulent on the bookshelf that Ahsoka, Anakin's Padawan, had once put on Anakin’s seat beginning a prank war between the two that had lasted two hilarious months. Tacked to the side, just above the plant, was the triangular flag from an underground pod race that Anakin had dragged him out to watch. It was where, hidden among the roaring crowd, the younger man had first kissed him. He closed his eyes briefly as he was overwhelmed by the memory of the charged atmosphere, the excitement and dismay that echoed in the Force, the smell of exhaust fumes mingling with vinegary fast food and cheap perfume... the feel of that warm mouth on his own...
“An-Anakin!” he gasped, eyes blown and cheeks flushed.
Anakin cracked a grin, his hands still on the sides of Obi-Wan's face. “That was even better than I thought it would be!"
Forcing himself to breathe as his chest seized, he blinked his eyes open, to find himself looking at his infamous favorite teacup which was painstakingly glued back together by an apologetic Anakin. Above that, on the highest shelf was an old photo that rested against a row of books. It was of Queen Amidala, young Anakin and himself on Naboo during the peace celebration.
“Do you think we could be friends now? Or am I still too dangerous?” Anakin asked him, while they waited for Qui-Gon.
“Well, technically we’re brothers now… so I suppose I will just have to keep you in line, hm," he teased as he mussed blonde locks.
Obi-Wan wrapped his arms around himself tightly as he fought the urge to walk to the nearest console and list himself as available for missions. This was why he didn’t come home. This was why he had taken mission after mission since Anakin left the Order. He couldn’t stand it here before, but now - now! - it was worse! Before he had been running on a log in the middle of a shallow pool, now he was in the middle of the ocean and he had stopped, and there was nowhere to go but down.
A sudden bang in the distance - a door slamming up the hall - snapped him back to reality. The wispy memories vanished leaving him alone and trembling, standing in the middle of his apartment. One deep breath after another steadied his hands as he painstakingly broke his promise to Anakin once again.
“ ...you promised me you wouldn’t let this go, that you would feel this no matter what…”
Trying not to feel guilty, he gave the emotion to the Force, watching it float away like a bunch of blue balloons that had torn themselves from the small hands of a child.
As his awareness sharpened he moved, silently chiding himself for standing aimlessly for so long. He walked into his kitchen, which was just a bench and series of cupboards tucked into the back corner of the small, rectangular living space. It was missing the large island bench the Master-Padawan suites boasted but the earthy coloring and the stone bench top was the same as the one in the apartment where his Master lived.
After a brief look in the cooler and pantry, he decided he wasn’t hungry and settled with munching on a bland ration bar, but only because his Medic had threatened to go to Vokara Che if he got any thinner. There wasn’t much time for eating on the battlefront, and he would often put aside his hunger. But he had to admit it wasn't the only reason; lately, he simply did not feel hungry.
A single glance at the door across the way was enough for him to decide not to enter the bedroom; he didn't want to have to break his promise twice in one night and the memories there would probably break him. Instead, he chose to drop onto to his couch and sink down in the cushions that, despite being newer, weren’t nearly as comfortable as Qui-Gon’s.
The Knight was pulling off his second boot when it caught his eye. Sitting on his small kitchen table, was a neatly wrapped box. Curious, he stood up and slowly approached it. With the enemies that he had, it could be anything and it wasn’t worth taking any risks. Carefully he probed it with the Force, hoping to get some sort of indication- then abruptly froze when he sensed a whisper of Anakin’s Force presence on it.
Caution flew out the window and he hurriedly tore it open. There was no letter or card, just nine tiny circular disks and a small, slotted mechanical device that he had never seen before, but it looked as though it could play the-. Obi-Wan gasped and almost dropped the device when a holo of Anakin came to life in his hands after he pushed a disc into the slot. The projection of the handsome Knight, stared at him for a moment, then it - no - he spoke.
“Hi... not what you were expecting? I guess I can’t blame you for that. Doesn’t change that it’s me, Anakin Skywalker, the former Jedi who passed into the Force just the other day. So get a snack, settle in, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life and, more importantly, why I decided to end it.
"And if you’re one of the lucky recipients of the holovids, then you are one of the reasons why.”
Obi-Wan did drop the player this time, and as it landed on the table a small compartment cracked open, releasing its battery. He stared at the now silent device, as he slowly lowered himself into the cold, unforgiving seat that sat next to his table. His chest was so tight that he just. Couldn’t. Breathe. His stomach twisted into knots and his head just hurt with the effort he was putting in to understand why? What had he done? They had ended things amicably hadn’t they? They were still friends the last time they had spoken, weren’t they?
His hand hovered over the device for a long moment before he put it back together, trembling fingers struggling to get the battery in place. Then, he squeezed his eyes closed and listened to the familiar tones of his friend.
“I won’t tell you which recording you’re on, but if you received the box then your name will pop up, I promise. The rules are as follows. One: you listen. Two: you pass it on. That’s it, pretty simple huh? Once you’ve listened to all the discs, put them back in the box and pass it on to the next person. You, number nine, can take the box to your pick of the nine Corellian Hells.
“In case you’re thinking of breaking the rules, you should know that I have left a copy of the vids with a trusted person who has been instructed to release them to the Jedi, the Senate, and to the Republic in a very public way. This wasn’t one of my usual plans. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. I’m not making this up as I go. So, don’t take me for granted."
The holo of Anakin seemed to look straight into his eyes when he firmly added, “Not again.”