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Pretty-Petaled Death

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Obi-Wan is very, very young when he joins the Jedi Order. Tiny and fragile-looking, he’s surprisingly resilient. But perhaps it is not so surprising considering his homeworld.

Before the Jedi find him. Before he coos in worry and lifts a fallen hatchling back into its nest far beyond where he should be able to reach (revealing how he has always gotten the cookies from the very top cupboard). Before all this and the pain and worry and hardship he must endure the moment he steps foot into the Temple—

Before this, his mother tucks him into bed and slips over the blankets to curl about him and run her fingers through his soft-ginger hair. “I am going to tell you a story, my darling. It is a sad one, but one all Stewjoni must hear.”

Obi-Wan peers up at her with sleep-soft, stormy eyes and lifts a hand to pat her cheek, murmuring in concern.

His mother doesn’t know how her youngest son always knows how she’s feeling (and sometimes it frightens her, but only in the way that she’ll never be able to protect him from the cruelty of the world), but he does. Taking his chubby little hand in hers she curls her fingers about his and kisses the back of it.

“It is all right, my sweetling. It will be all right.” Tears sting her eyes and she cannot help but rest his hand over the flushed-green flower embroidered on his shirt collar. “I just want to protect you, my dear one. I want you to know why you must not give your heart to another. Not unless they love you back. You are far too precious to lose to pretty-petaled death.”

It is unfortunate that years afterwards, Obi-Wan can only remember a few things about his life before the Order: The warmth of a hand brushing across his forehead, laughter as he eats fruit in a grassy field, the glimpse of a broad smile.

It is even more unfortunate that he can only recall a few hazy words said in a tear-slick voice. Some distant warning about love and flowers of death. He cannot help the wary way he regards beautiful-bright flowers, even if his friends laugh at him. Sometimes he scrunches his nose and thinks as hard as he can about a distant night and a sad, sad voice telling him not to- not to…

But he eventually dismisses it as nothing important.

So, despite his mother’s all-consuming love for her precious child. Despite the tale she told him and despite the way he cried himself to sleep afterwards, half in ill-understood grief and half in terrified confusion—

It does not save Obi-Wan Kenobi from his fate.

-:-

When Obi-Wan is thirteen he falls in love with a girl with hair as bright as freshly-spilt blood. Her name is Cerasi and she loves him back. His heart beats with her every breath and with every blink another person dies on her home planet and Obi-Wan being thirteen and hopelessly (foolishly) in love, doesn’t know how to cope. Focuses on the all-consuming need to do right. Tells his master he’s leaving the Jedi Order, his place is here, he needs to help these people fight their war.

Qui-Gon leaves.

It ends in blood and death and a hopeless rage that withers into hot-bright despair when he holds a broken Cerasi in his arms and watches her gasp her last, bloody breath.

He returns to the Jedi Order. Thinks: bright coloured things are not safe. They sing pretty but ruin you in the end.

So when he falls in love with Siri Tachi next, he knows how it will end, what with her fire-bright spirit and sunlit hair. Quiet words are exchanged on a quiet night when both their masters are asleep. She loves him back. This is also no surprise. They understand what must be done. There is no place for love in the Jedi Order. Not the type of love they feel for one another. So with knowing dark eyes they embrace once and leave their love behind.

When Obi-Wan is older and wiser (but not yet wise), he spends a year on Mandalore with a girl who matches him word for word, sky-blue eyes sparking in challenge. Her hair is pale-gold and her bright presence casts a shadow on the violence about them. He knows how this will end before it even begins.

By the end of the year they are more in love than they have ever been. But Satine does not love him enough to leave her world, not when it still needs her. Not when Obi-Wan is still a Jedi, and she will not ask Obi-Wan to leave his makeshift family again.

He is achingly grateful even though it pains him almost more than he can bear. For a week afterwards he swears he can smell the cloying scent of Vormur flowers on his breath. The lovely blooms that Satine specially loved. The scent eventually fades and he writes it off as foolish attachment and regretful memory.

When he is twenty-one he is on a mission with his master. It is not a particularly unusual mission. There are many deceitful words (not on their end), and unfortunate misunderstandings (nothing that couldn’t be helped but such is the way of things), and a lot of running while avoiding blaster fire. None of this is unusual. What is, is the way Obi-Wan’s lungs labour far sooner than they should. Gasping for breath, he flips over a stairwell and directs the flow of the Force to his lungs. It alleviates the tightness in his lungs, but not for long.

By the time they have found a place to hide Obi-Wan’s gasps are painful and dry. He hacks and feels as if he has swigged a bottle of perfume. Qui-Gon rests his gentle, giant hand between his shoulder blades and soothes the trembling there as Obi-Wan curls in on himself.

“Obi-Wan, are you sick?”

It takes a full minute for Obi-Wan to answer, and when he does he spits to get the cloying taste out of his mouth and discretely wipes his tongue on the rough fabric of his sleeve. “I do not think so, Master. Just- perhaps it is the climate. It does not agree with my lungs.”

The planet is rather humid. The damp air sticking to their foreheads and filling their lungs with wet heat.

There’s concern in Qui-Gon’s eyes as he frowns. Then he nods, slow. “Still, I would rather you kept an eye on it, just in case. If it worsens, please tell me, Obi-Wan.”

Damningly, Obi-Wan’s heart flutters, rapid against his ribs and gentle between his lungs. Even so, a resigned chill quivers along his spine, because he knows he could never tell Qui-Gon. Some small and terrible part of him still feels like that young boy who nearly didn’t become a Jedi because nobody wanted him, least of all Qui-Gon Jinn. And that same part of him wraps its hands about his throat and whispers in his ear:

“No.”

So Obi-Wan flashes Qui-Gon a reassuring smile and says, “I will, Master. Do not worry.”

And that thing in his mind settles down and releases its grip as it sighs in relief.

As long as there is nothing wrong with me, he will keep me by his side.

Even if he does not want me.

-:-

But before Obi-Wan’s breaths rattle is distress, and before he has ever even heard of a man called Qui-Gon Jinn—

His mother smooths her hand over his forehead and leans in close on a night where he will not even remember the most important things.

“Oh, my Obi-Wan,” says his mother as she presses a dry-lipped kiss to his temple. “You must listen carefully to what I have to say.”

Tiny Obi-Wan stares up at her with those tempest eyes of his. “Yes, mama,” he says, ever the dutiful child.

“We have ever been known as the blossoming planet. Though many believe it is because of the flowers that swathe our hills and speckle our every street, this is not so. The rest of the galaxy may not know the true reason, but the Stewjoni never forget.”

She quiets for a moment, lost in thought as she absentmindedly curls her fingers through her youngest child’s hair. Then her eyes clear and focus on the flowers painted along her son’s ceiling.

“There is a belief, my son, that all flowers in the galaxy originate on Stewjon, for every flower you can possibly imagine grows somewhere on our planet, either spread across our hills or tucked safe in a mountain crag.” She traces the flower on her son’s sleepshirt collar with a reverent finger.

“Each Clan has a family flower. Ours is the green daisy.” Her fingers slip up to her throat to smooth over the skin there in absent memory. “They are beautiful, innocent flowers that bloom only for others. They sleep, closed and safe, until they feel the heat and breath of another, and then…they bloom the deepest, dazzling green.”

She’s roused from her thoughts by a tug at her elbow. She peers down at her son to see him pointing towards his bedside dresser where, nestled in a bone-white vase, is a soft clutch of tiny green flowers.

“Yes, dear one. Our flower.”

Little Obi grins up at her with mismatched baby teeth, cheeks flushed with pride.

“It is said that the first Stewjoni were born from flowers, each blossoming from their own unique roots. The founder of House Kenobi blossomed from a green daisy, like these.”

Obi-Wan’s gaze darts back to the flowers, eyes wide with wonder. “So small,” he murmurs.

His mother laughs and tucks him closer. “Yes, dear one. But who ever said small could not be mighty, as well?”

-:-

Over the next few months, Obi-Wan’s breathing worsens, though not by much. It is all too easy to keep it from his Master who is far too preoccupied by his own frustrations with the Council. Qui-Gon will not tell Obi-Wan what he disagrees with the Council about now, which is unusual because typically Qui-Gon finds some solace in discussing such matters with Obi-Wan, teaching his young Padawan to not simply obey all orders.

But Obi-Wan catches his Master watching him every so often. Silent, solemn, an unreadable look in his eye.

Obi-Wan is too concerned with his own problems to question it much.

With what free time he does have, he spends it longer in meditation, in morning and evening katas, in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. He thinks if he hones his body well enough the weakness in his lungs will fade. Perhaps if he directs the flow of the Force into his breaths and the veins in his lungs and the beating of his heart the shortness of his breath will not matter.

There is a perpetual taste of perfume on his tongue.

The first time he coughs pretty-pink petals is months afterwards. They’re on yet another mission and Obi-Wan has just fallen many metres to the jungle floor. Luckily, the lush undergrowth has softened his fall. With Qui-Gon’s muffled alarm running along their partially open bond, he rolls over, groaning, and coughs up the petals on his tongue. They’re soft and stick to the insides of his cheeks. He stares as they flutter to the ground to lie amidst the vibrant undergrowth.

Their delicate soft pink is at odds with the clashing violent purples and reds and oranges of the flowers surrounding him. But Obi-Wan figures he must have landed in a plant face first. His lungs burn more than normal, but when he coughs a few more times the pain alleviates.

Urgency pulses along his training bond and he scrambles up, chancing a glance beneath him for the flower he must have accidentally gotten a face-full of.

There’s nothing but the pink petals that fell from his own mouth.

Frowning, Obi-Wan stares for a moment longer. But at the pulse of need to go my Padawan need to leave nownownow, Obi-Wan leaps up into the branches of the tree he fell from, memory of the pink petals fleeting and lost as he and Qui-Gon escape their captors through the jungles of this hot planet.

-:-

“I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this,” Obi-Wan’s mother tell him, smile soft and secret. “But I was the one who courted your father.”

Little Obi-Wan gasps, eyes wide with delight as his tiny hands cover his mouth. “No!” he hisses, mouth curling in mirth.

“Yes,” his mother tells him, tweaking his nose, smile widening when he giggles. “I left him little bouquets of green daisies ringed with his Clan’s blueblossoms on his windowsill every night. When he opened his windows to greet the rising sun, the flowers would bloom at his smile and furl into his touch. When he married I took him into our family.”

“Ooh,” Obi-Wan coos, eyes bright with images of flowers at dawn.

“But when I courted him, I already knew he loved me,” his mother says, smile dimming. “He’d already given me permission to touch his Clan’s flowers. Here on Stewjon, we tell people we love them as soon as we know we do. We do not want each other to suffer in silence. It is a painful way to live…” she trails off. Breathes. “A painful way to die.”

Obi-Wan stares up at her, eyes now wide with worry, tiny fingers curling into his mother’s sleeve.

“Love is a wondrous thing, my child. But it is great and terrible, too. As are flowers. Beautiful, but fleeting. Soft, but with thorns hidden beneath.”

-:-

A week after the jungle mission, Obi-Wan is in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. With Bant and Reeft by his side, they move through their katas in a kind of content relaxation. Birds chirp in the trees and the small waterfall behind them burbles softly. It’s the first time in months they’ve had time to spend together. It would be better if Garen and Quinlan and Siri were here, too. But at least with Bant and Reeft Obi-Wan is guaranteed peace, instead of having to anticipate any pranks they might be caught up in otherwise.

Sweeping his leg and shifting his balance, the tightness of his lungs suddenly comes to the forefront of his mind instead of lingering on the fringes of his awareness. He frowns, falters in a leap, but gathers his composure again. Focuses on spreading the warmth and security of the Force through his limbs and into his every breath.

But as the minutes pass, the tickling in the back of his throat becomes nigh on unbearable, the trembling of his lungs impossible to ignore.

He stumbles mid-pose and staggers towards the pond beside them. Dropping to his knees, Obi-Wan is vaguely aware of the startled confusion of his friends. But he is more preoccupied with dipping spasming fingers into the pool and lifting cupped hands filled with water to his mouth. He gulps the water, trying to soothe the itch in his breast and throat. Coughs. Drinks again. Hacks up water and soft-pink things that, through watery eyes, look like bits of his own organs.

“Obi-Wan?!”

Hands soothe across his spine and cup the back of his head.

He doubles over with the force of his coughs, tears burning his eyes as soft things brush against the insides of his throat and mouth and curl against his tongue to stick along his teeth. He spits and chokes and after what seems like ages there is no lingering soft-itch in his throat. His lungs still shudder and clench around things no longer there, but his throat is clear and he can finally breathe again.

“Obi-Wan…? What is this?”

Obi-Wan straightens and meets Bant’s silver-bright eyes. In her palm lays several long, soft-pink petals. Reeft hovers over her shoulder, face creased with confused horror.

“I—” Obi-Wan gulps, heartbeat drumming in his temple. “I don’t know.”

-:-

“Once, long ago,” his mother begins, eyes caught on the painted flowers above. “Before we knew what love can do to a person, there were two boys, Olika and Ati-Lin, and a girl named Quo-méi.”

Little Obi-Wan squirms against her, taking in the soft-sad lines of her face.

“They were all childhood friends of different Clans. They spent their days running through the hills and swimming in the icy water that gathered at the foot of the mountains. But one day Ati-Lin’s family was offered a place on the other side of the mountains. They were poorer, see? And even though their neighbors were happy to help, they wanted to forge their own path. The other side of the mountains offered more opportunities than their own little village did. So Ati-Lin was forced to leave the only home he’d ever known and say goodbye to his dearest friends.”

“No,” Obi-Wan gasps, eyes already filled with tears.

“I’m sorry, little one.” His mother kisses his soft cheeks. “Sometimes we are forced to do things we do not want to for the sake of our family.”

Her youngest son fervently shakes his head and tucks his face into her shoulder, dampening her collar with every tear-speckled blink.

“Before Ati-Lin left, he and Olika and Quo-méi cried as you do now. They did not want Ati-Lin to leave. Ati-Lin saw his friends’ sadness and was angry that his friends would not even be left with a reminder of him, since he knew his family’s gardens would wither and die without their care. So the night before he left for the mountains, Ati-Lin gave his two friends several seeds each.

“‘These are to remember me by,’ he told them. ‘So you do not forget. Nurture and let them grow. Someday I will return to you. But until then, keep this little piece of me.’”

-:-

Obi-Wan somehow convinces Bant not to drag him to the Halls of Healing. Reeft hovers over him, fretting, but lets it go. They trust Obi-Wan to know what’s best for himself.

This is not the kind of trust they should place in their dear friend.

But they do not know that.

Not yet.

Obi-Wan shuts himself in his room and quietly panics, locking away his end of the training bond, as well. It is a simple thing, something he has long practiced so his Master does not come up with more reasons to dismiss him as an apprentice.

He knows what happened to Xanatos. By now he also knows what happened to Qui-Gon’s first apprentice, Feemor, when Xanatos failed his Master. Obi-Wan does not want his beloved Master to renounce him like he did Feemor. Does not want Qui-Gon to be reminded of the early days when the older man did not even want Obi-Wan for company despite everything the boy did to prove himself.

By the time Qui-Gon has returned to their apartment, Obi-Wan has convinced himself that the tightness in his chest will go away, that the curious flower petals mean nothing, and that any panic he feels can be released into the Force.

Qui-Gon does not notice any change, just heads straight for the tea cupboard and begins to brew a new pot.

Days later Obi-Wan has realized he cannot ignore the constant tickle in the back of his throat. Cannot ignore the same way his lungs labour after katas and spars. Realizes that it is perhaps not all in his mind when he tastes a fragrance on his tongue.

Qui-Gon leaves for a short solo mission. Obi-Wan would usually worry that something will happen without being there to protect his Master, but instead Obi-Wan takes the opportunity to stand naked in the ‘fresher without worry that his Master will interrupt.

Obi-Wan leans towards the mirror, gapes wide, peers in. There’s nothing there but pink, normal flesh. He frowns, uses two fingers to pry open his mouth as far as it will go and leans closer. There’s nothing but the velvet curve of his cheeks, bleached-white teeth, trembling tongue, the dark inside of his throat. He breathes deep. Once, twice. Feels the cool air caress his throat and gush into his lungs where it trembles and flutters oddly, then comes out sweet on his tongue.

Letting go of his lips, he probes with the tips of his fingers along the underside of his jaw. Feels the softness harden into the shell of his windpipe then give way to soft again. He trails gentle fingers down along his throat, feeling his pulse tremble in his fingertips. He presses harder when he reaches his chest. Continues to breathe deep as his fingers explore and attempt to find oddities.

Frustration throbs in his temple when he feels nothing but the faint, odd rattling in his lungs, inaudible to all but him. Anxiety builds as he thinks of Qui-Gon. Kind, weary Qui-Gon who never wanted another apprentice but took him anyway. Qui-Gon who has become so dear, Obi-Wan does not know what he’d do without him.

His heart clenches painful in his chest and his throat tightens with shameful tears. Within the next few minutes he is coughing and hacking and throwing up handfuls of fluttering pink petals into the ‘fresher sink.

He stares at the soft-pink mess through blurred eyes, feeling as if he’s coughed up his own bleeding heart.

Stares.

And does not utter a word when Qui-Gon returns several days later. Just gives his Master a relieved, weary smile, and carries on.

-:-

Obi-Wan’s mother runs her hands through her small son’s hair. Revels in its softness. Knows this story is too much for him while he is still so young, and yet something tells her that if she does not do it now, he will never hear it.

And so she continues.

“That same night Quo-méi went to bed with a heavy heart. But she tucked the seeds safe beneath her pillow to plant the next morning in the light of day. Olika, however…” She frowns, sorrow aching in her bones.

“Olika could not wait. Grief overcame him and when Ati-Lin returned to his home for his last night’s rest in the village, Olika stumbled through the streets to the hills. He wished to spend the night with only the seeds and the hills as witness to his tears. He made it to the foothills of the mountains, seeds clutched tight and safe in his fist. He made it that far, before the darkness of the night betrayed him. With only the dim light of the moons to light his way, Olika tripped on a hidden rock and fell.

“In his panic and surprise, Olika jerked his hand up to protect the seeds. But when he hit the ground he cried out and his hand spasmed open in pain. A few seeds sailed from his hand to fall amidst the grass and, on his sharp inhale, he breathed another in.

“Olika’s eyes flew wide open in shock, twin moons burned through the darkness of the night. He coughed and choked on the seed, sputtering on gasped air. But by the time he gained his bearings the seed had found its way into his lungs.

“Olika stared into the palm of his hand, horrified, all memory of choking forgotten. Only one seed remained. Tiny and cracked in his palm.

“‘No,’ Olika whispered, hoarse. ‘No!’

“His lungs trembled around the seed as he rooted through the grass for the lost seeds. But in the night he could not make out their tiny, dark bodies. Even after hours of searching, he did not find them.

“He returned to his home just before dawn, fingers bloody and bruised, feet and heart aching. A single seed still clutched in his hand and another lodged in his lung, forgotten.

“Tears still dampened his cheeks. He could not tell Ati-Lin what happened. Not after his friend gave him something so precious. But…

“Olika looked at the seed in his palm. He still had one left.”

-:-

Months pass. Then a year. Two. Obi-Wan’s lungs grow heavy with a weight that, despite everything, does not feel foreign. Unwanted yes, but not strange.

It is easy to dismiss his friends’ concerns when they so rarely see each other. A Padawan’s life is a busy one, and even though he misses them something fierce, he’s grateful he doesn’t have to explain what he doesn’t understand.

Secretly, he looks up diseases and flowers on his downtime. But nothing can explain how his lungs constrict and the way he chokes on petals every few days. Not even the extensive Jedi Archives provides an answer and, as Jocasta Nu is always so fond of saying:

If it is not in the Archives, then it does not exist at all.

It is not a natural illness, he comes to understand. Not something as utterly unusual as this. If it is not in the Archives…Obi-Wan thinks that whatever afflicts him must be something of his own doing. Perhaps a punishment for a wrong he’s committed. Some righteous judgement inflicted upon him by the Force. Perhaps he isn’t meant to be a Jedi. Perhaps…

His eyes catch on Qui-Gon’s broad shoulders, on the way his long coarse hair falls over his shoulder. Lingers on the way his crooked nose scrunches when he laughs, the silhouette his body becomes against bright light.

Perhaps Obi-Wan is being punished because he is attached. Because he cannot help but fall in love with the man who has saved his life over and over again. The man who treats him with such gentleness and care. The man who chose him when no one else would.

But Qui-Gon is someone who cannot love him back. Obi-Wan rather suspects the man has only ever had eyes for his childhood friend Tahl, and when she died, it was as if Qui-Gon had nothing else to live for.

But somehow, somehow the man rallied and even if he is not the same and will never, ever be the same man Obi-Wan first met and came to know and love…Obi-Wan cannot help but love him still. It is an ever-lingering ache in his heart he doubts he’ll ever be able to shake.

And he could never tell Qui-Gon. Not only because of the Code, but because he could not add even more heartbreak to his Master’s life.

He manages to keep both his affection for his Master and the illness from Qui-Gon. Whatever this illness is, it’s easier to manage than any other one might be. There’s no blood to hide, no pallor of his skin, not even a fever. Just the labouring of his lungs and if he uses the Force to aid his breathing it alleviates the pain just a bit.

Even the petals are easy enough to hide. He’s come to recognize when an attack is coming on. There’s a particular rasping in his throat, a hiccup in his lungs as they sag heavier. Every time he manages to excuse himself in time. He finds a secluded place to gag and hack and cough. When he manages to spit out all the petals, he gathers them up to tip into a trash chute, or scatter among the bushes, or stuff into his pockets for later disposal.

Sometimes he saves one for himself. Leaves it tucked into his pocket until late at night with only the moon for company. When it’s late enough that no one will disturb him, he slips it out, cups it in his palm, runs his fingers over the soft, fragile length. It’s silky and fluttering. Thin as a hair, bruising easily. A delicate pink, the barest blush. A few of them hinge on yellow, like a gentle dawn.

By morning he throws the petal away. It’s always too bruised to bear looking at by then, veins dark and spidery, near grotesque.

He still does not know what flower the petals belong to.

-:-

Little Obi-Wan yawns then scrubs his eyes, determined to stay awake. His mother smiles fondly down at him as he stares up at her, rapt.

“Olika took the seed to his family garden. To the little plot that all Clan children are given. A little bit of earth to call their own that no one else can touch.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes sparkle and one little arm shoots up. “I’ve one!” he cries. “I got flow’s an’- an’ f’uits!”

His mother laughs and taps his nose. “That you do, my dear one.”

Squirming in delight, Obi-Wan settles against his mother’s shoulder and watches how her face creases.

“Well, Olika took the seed to his own patch of earth. He knew if the flower was going to grow anywhere, it would be there. And oh, did he want it to grow. He could not touch Ati-Lin’s family’s plots. It was against Clan law. You could not touch another’s garden unless given explicit permission. It is one of the most intimate acts of trust.”

“Still law!” Obi-Wan pipes up. “No touch flowers.”

His mother ruffles his hair. “Yes, Obi-Wan. You are absolutely right, my smart boy. You can’t touch flowers unless they’re in your family’s garden or in the wild.”

Obi-Wan beams, tiny chest puffing in pride.

“Olika knew if his friend’s flower would be safe anywhere, it would be there, where Olika could nurture and tend to it every day. So he dug one hand into the soft earth, nestled the seed into the tiny pocket his fingers gouged and pillowed the dirt atop.

“By the time Ati-Lin’s family was ready to leave the village, the seed was well watered and settled into Olika’s little plot. But before Ati-Lin left, Quo-méi and Olika met him once more. Unknowingly, the two friends shared the same thought and presented Ati-Lin with their own seeds, nestled in tiny packages for Ati-Lin to keep safe until he could plant a new garden.

“‘So you can keep a little of home with you wherever you go,’ Quo-méi told him.

“‘So you- you always know we love you,’ Olika said, desperately not thinking about the lone seed in his garden.

“Ati-Lin stared in shock at the tiny packages, then threw his arms about his dear friends. ‘Thank you!’ he cried, tears running down his cheeks. ‘Thank you.’

“When Ati-Lin left, it was with a heavy heart. But the two bundles tucked safe against his breast warmed the beating of his heart and made its terrible weight bearable.

“When he left, Olika went back to his garden to crouch by the tiny patch of bare dirt.

“When he left, Quo-méi returned to her bedroom to gather her own seeds. Then she stepped outside to plant them along the front of her house under the brightness of the sun.”

-:-

By the time Naboo happens…

By that time, Obi-Wan retches whole flowers every night, choking on soft-petaled dawn and terrified out of his mind.

He’s resigned himself to death, by this point. No matter what he does his lungs are a constant shudder of tight pain and the Force is not enough. His training bond with his Master is almost completely closed off, and not only by his own doing. These past few months especially, Qui-Gon has been distant. Returning from Council meetings with frustration lining his shoulders and tightening the purse of his lips. Whenever he looks at Obi-Wan, he just looks so terribly sad.

Obi-Wan almost fears that Qui-Gon knows. But if the older man did, Obi-Wan knows he would say something. Do something. Not just shut himself away and become practically a stranger in Obi-Wan’s eyes.

But then Naboo happens, and…then Tatooine.

Qui-Gon returns to the ship with a boy. He’s small and ghastly thin but with hair as golden as the twin suns above and eyes as clear as the skies they are cradled in.

Obi-Wan takes one look at the boy, and—

And.

He is reminded of laughter in fields with sweet plum soft and juicy in his mouth. Of gentle hands brushed across his forehead. Of a broad smile, and—

Do not trust that everything bright and beautiful is good.

He thinks of Satine, of Siri, of their bright blonde hair and pale blue eyes— of the scarlet of Cerasi’s hair and the blood of that terrible creature’s skin. The creature that nearly killed his Qui-Gon on the sands far below.

Danger, he thinks. This boy is dangerous.

When Qui-Gon as good as renounces him in front of the Council like he has always feared, he knows. With the brilliant star that is the boy’s presence. With his lungs labouring and breaths tasting of sweet things—

Obi-Wan is as good as dead.

-:-

“Years passed,” Obi-Wan’s mother continues, fingers still threaded through her son’s hair. “Olika and Quo-méi grew even closer, both mourning the loss of their friend, and with their loving care Ati-Lin’s flowers grew.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes are like twin moons in his face, large and luminous. “Even Olika?” he murmurs, voice awed.

His mother smiles. “Yes, even Olika’s. Every day and every night he would return to the seed, nurturing it as it grew into a delicate seedling, then strengthened and blossomed into a beautiful, glowing orange and blue flower.”

Brows furrowing, little Obi-Wan purses his lips in thought. “I don’ know tha’ one,” he mutters, slightly petulant.

Sighing, his mother leans in to press a kiss to his creased brow. “No, you wouldn’t little one. No Stewjoni Clan claims Ati-Lin’s flower. Olika and Quo-méi’s flowers also stay unclaimed. They are too sacred and sad for us to grow and nurture ourselves so we let them grow where they may.”

Obi-Wan’s chubby little hands worry at the blanket draped over him. “Wha’ flow’s?”

“Quo-méi’s is the myscosia. It has finger-length pink petals and white beaded pistils. They’re very hardy and not much can kill them. Olika’s though, his is the sunblossom. They’re tiny little golden things that can be used to treat poison. But they’re extremely delicate and die very easily. They grow where the sun is brightest.”

Obi-Wan scrunches his little nose in thought. “I seen them. The pink ones all o’er. No sunb’ossoms though.”

His mother runs a hand over his cheek, pride filling her. Her youngest son is already so knowledgeable. She just knows he’ll grow into someone the entire Kenobi Clan will be so, so proud to call one of their own. “That’s right, Obi-Wan. Quo-méi’s flowers are all over Stewjon. Olika’s only grow in the plains where nothing can disturb them.”

“Wha’ abou’ the other flow’? A- Ad- Ati-Lin’s?” Obi-Wan’s unpracticed tongue fumbles over the name, brow and noses scrunched in effort.

His mother is torn between the flush of strong love for her son and the despair that he’ll now know the terrible truth of flowers. The terrible truth that not all that is bright and beautiful is good.

“They are called the lyris, for they call to us both through sight and—” She swallows hard. “If you’re foolish enough to eat one, through dreams.”

Obi-Wan frowns. “Why eat flow’s?”

“Oh, sweet thing.” She holds him close. “Some people and animals eat flowers because they are good for you, and filling. But it is because of Olika that no Stewjoni will ever eat a flower, even if they are starved.”

-:-

Then Naboo actually happens, and Obi-Wan is holding Qui-Gon’s lifeless body in his arms and choking up flower after flower. Long, delicate petals fill his lungs and tickle his throat and slide along his tongue like dead things even though they flush pink with life. At first Obi-Wan doesn’t realize what is happening because he is too busy choking on tears and wailing his heart out, his Master’s skin slowly cooling against his own. But then he begins to notice the soft browns and creams and vivid red disappearing as pink swallows his vision.

He stares down, horror chilling his rage-hot limbs until he feels like nothing but brittle bone. New-dawn petals fall from his lips to brush Qui-Gon’s cheeks and tumble down the curve of his Master’s throat to curl on his still, blood-soaked breast.

Obi-Wan cannot stand the thought of these- these tainted things touching his Master. Violating him, even though his body and spirit have already been ravaged both by that bygone creature and Obi-Wan’s shameful tears.

So he turns away, lets Qui-Gon’s body slip from his lap and tries to steady the flow, lifting his hands to clamp over his mouth. Only now does he realize the convulsing of his breast and the lack of breath is not from tears alone. Petals spill from between his fingers, beautiful and wretched and Obi-Wan hates hates hates.

He clamps his palms tight over his mouth, fingers digging into his cheeks, nails biting until they draw blood. His mouth fills with softness and bitter-sweet things and all he can smell is a fragrance that makes him want to retch.

But the flowers continue to fill his lungs and his throat and his mouth until he can feel them push at the very back of his nose, can feel them heavy in his stomach. He curls into himself, forehead pressed against the cool floor, tears spilling unending from his burning eyes as his heart stutters erratically against his broken-brittle ribs and spasming, dying lungs.

Maybe I’ll die like this, he thinks. Maybe I’ll die by my Master’s side as I always hoped I would. Maybe even in death I can be with him and be free of this torment.

But as his vision blackens, as his fingers twitch and claw and his lungs shudder in regret within his numb, numb body, his Master’s last words filter through the tumult of flowers and into his slow, aching brain.

Obi-Wan, promise me you will train the boy.

He- is the Chosen One. He will bring Balance. Train him.

And Obi-Wan—

Obi-Wan could never refuse his Master anything. Not when he loves him so.

Cramped fingers manage to unclench, manage to let go- and he retches flower after flower after flower until there is a soft-petaled sea of new-dawn about him and he can breathe through the shuddering and tightness of his lungs.

Tears still leak down his clammy cheeks, convincing a stray petal or two to stick.

Throat raw, tongue heavy, stomach a spasming knot in his gut, Obi-Wan shuffles to brush the fluttered flowers away from Qui-Gon’s body. So they cannot touch him. Then Obi-Wan thinks:

I cannot let anyone see this.

And so he crawls on his knees, trembling hands shoving at velvet-soft flowers until they’re cupped awkwardly in his palms, brushing against his arms and elbows. He shoves at them until they tumble one after another into the pit, following the Sith’s desecrated body into the forsaken darkness below.

When he leaves the chamber with Qui-Gon’s body clutched in his arms, there is not a single flush of colour left behind. Nothing, except for the smear of cold blood where his Master’s body had lain.

By then, Obi-Wan is too numb to cry.

-:-

“Why? Wha’ happened?” Obi-Wan has always been a curious child. His mother wishes she can spare him this, but she can’t. Not if she wants her son to understand. Not if she wants her son to live.

“You must understand, my son,” she says, soft. “Olika did not remember the seed that now laid in his lungs. He was too overcome with grief to do much at all besides save the one seed he had left. So the seed lay dormant in his lungs for years, nurtured by the warmth of his own body.”

Obi-Wan stares up at her with wide stormy eyes, and his mother finds she cannot continue that line of the story. Not yet. She needs to gather herself first. It is too soon for that particular heartbreak.

“But,” she says, “we are getting ahead of ourselves.”

Obi-Wan pouts, but does not interrupt. He trusts his mother will explain eventually.

“Years passed and Olika and Quo-méi became even dearer friends. But Olika could never tell Quo-méi that he lost the seeds in his foolishness and despair. So when she asked him why there was only one in his garden when her own seeds flourished, he told her the ground in his little plot must not have been as forgiving. That little creatures must have come in the night and stolen them to eat.

“‘But,’ he said, ‘there is still one.’

“His friend looked at him with disappointment, but did not offer one of her own flourishing bunch because she felt as protective of her own flowers as a mother would a child. Besides, the flowers were not hers to give. She could not understand how her friend could have lost what Ati-Lin had entrusted to them. Could not understand how her kind and gentle friend could have failed so.

“But she did not comment, and neither brought it up again.”

-:-

The next day Obi-Wan is still numb numb numb but Anakin needs him and the night before the boy fell asleep crying against him.

Obi-Wan hasn’t been able to look at Qui-Gon’s body. Not since a stray Handmaiden found him with his Master’s body in his arms and led the way to the healer’s. Once there, Obi-Wan laid Qui-Gon down on a bed in the far corner, carefully arranged his robes, gently arranged the man’s hands on his stomach. Ran his hands through his hair. Let himself revel in its coarseness one last time as he smoothed the hair about his shoulders. Stroked the backs of his fingers across Qui-Gon’s brow, the pads of his fingers down his cheek, bristles tickling. Ran a finger down the bridge of his crooked nose. Kissed Qui-Gon’s brow, sickening sweetness on his breath.

Turned. Left to find Anakin.

And didn’t look back.

The Council will be arriving later that afternoon for Qui-Gon’s…for his Master’s funeral. And the Celebration the following day. The Naboo believe that your body must be cremated within two days in order for your spirit to reconnect with the life force of the planet. It is not dissimilar to Jedi funeral rites, and Obi-Wan knows Qui-Gon would have both admired the tradition for its likeness to the Living Force, and wanted to honour it. So Obi-Wan has no objections.

This night is for mourning, and the next day is for the celebration of triumph and new beginnings.

But Obi-Wan needs to inform Queen Amidala that the Council will be arriving by mid-afternoon, so he leaves Anakin in the care of a kind-eyed Handmaiden and goes in search of the Queen.

He finds her in her private rooms. For a moment he thinks he won’t be allowed in, as Captain Panaka guards the door and only has room for pity and a disconcerting shrewdness in his eyes. But with a quick word through his comm, Obi-Wan is let in.

A Handmaiden meets him, blonde and tenacious, and leads him deeper into the maze of rooms until they reach a final set of doors. Obi-Wan bows his head in respect before they’ve even fully stepped inside.

“Your Highness,” he begins, then actually lifts his head. “I—”

All breath is stolen from his aching lungs, leaving only a hollow, heavy emptiness that eats away at his numb breast. There is a saccharine taste heavy on his tongue, heady and devastating.

“Wh-what is that?” he manages, words nearly choked.

“Padawan Kenobi?” Queen Amidala’s voice is, as ever, professional. But concern colours it nonetheless. “What do you mean?”

Because Obi-Wan can’t take his eyes off the soft, fluttered petals cascading like a new dawn from the young girl’s shoulders. He knows those colours. Knows the way they fade into each other, the way the petals curl and lay against one another.

Knows their scent, even though there is none in the room.

“Those- those flowers.”

Amidala peers down at her dress from atop the stool she stands on. A seamstress diligently pins the last of the petals along the long, trailing hem. “I’m surprised you recognized them as such.” She turns a curious eye back to Obi-Wan. “Though perhaps I should not be, considering how observant you Jedi are.” She smiles, delicate and deliberate, but slightly nostalgic.

“It’s called the Morning flower. They grow in my hometown and bloom only once every eighty-eight years. My people believe this time is meant to be celebrated. It’s a flower of new beginnings, heralding the end of an old generation and the start of a new. It gives us a chance to remember our history even as we work towards a brighter future. It so happens this is the year of blooming and the start of a new eighty-eighth cycle. Considering everything that has happened…” She trails off, expression apologetic. “I deemed it appropriate.”

“Of course,” Obi-Wan says faintly. “It’s…it’s very fitting.”

Amidala raises a regal brow. “I believe you had something to tell me?”

“Y-yes.” Obi-Wan clears his throat, but the cloying taste sticks to the back of it like a sickness. “The Council will be arriving by mid-afternoon. They’ll contact me again once they come into orbit.”

“Thank you, Kenobi. It is very kind of your Council to come.”

Obi-Wan bites the inside of his cheek and bows low in order to hide the expression twisting his face. “I believe they think it their duty, Your Highness.”

“Yes.” The young Queen’s voice is solemn. “Perhaps it is.”

When Obi-Wan leaves he doesn’t quite see what’s in front of him. All he cares about is finding someplace to be alone, someplace to- to—

He finds it in an empty corner of the palace, hidden between pillars and cradled by carefully trimmed trees. There, he sinks to the ground. Shoulders shaking, hand clamped over his mouth, he sinks into the burning of his lungs, his eyes, the hysteria trembling up his throat along with soft, soft petals that once more spill past his lips in great, gulping hiccups.

Tears don’t come, though the rest of his body certainly weeps and grieves.

He doesn’t know what to think.

About anything.

-:-

“Wha’ abou’ Ati-Lin?” little Obi-Wan asks, face earnest and concerned.

His mother’s heart swells even as it breaks just a little bit. Her little boy is such a caring child. She hopes with everything she has that heart will never be broken and his kind soul never tarnished.

“Well, it took several weeks for Ati-Lin’s family to pass the mountains safely,” she says. “When they got there, it did not take long to set up in their new home as Ati-Lin’s father had gone ahead to get things ready.

“But when they did arrive, Ati-Lin felt so out of place. The other side of the mountains was cooler and darker. Craggy and barren compared to the sunlit, rolling hills of the home he’d been forced to leave behind. But there was a small city rich with opportunity and the mines to provide work for Ati-Lin’s family. So Ati-Lin settled down with his family, carefully cultivated a little plot of ground for his friends’ seeds and planted them.”

Little Obi-Wan clutches her arm. “Di’ they g’ow? The flow’s?”

His mother sighs. “Quo-méi’s did grow, yes. I told you mycosia are tough, right? They can even withstand the snow if their soil is right for their roots. But Olika’s sunblossoms…Only a few broke the surface of the earth, and even then they were so weak and small. Ati-Lin was ashamed. Frightened and ashamed. He believed it was his fault the flowers did not grow. That he did not till the soil enough, or give them enough nutrients or enough water. He was afraid if he was not there to tend to the flowers night and day he would come back after school or wake in the morning to find them withered and dead.”

Her son bites his lip. “The col’,” he murmurs. “No’ his faul’. It…it was the cold.”

“Yes, Obi-Wan,” his mother murmurs back. “My bright, bright child. It was not Ati-Lin’s fault. Back then they did know all the secrets of flowers as we do now. They did not know how to build a greenhouse for the most delicate of blossoms, for the ones who cannot simply grow on their own.”

“So sad…” Obi-Wan does not bite back his tears. “Ati-Lin di’n’t know.”

“No, dear one.” His mother strokes his cheek and presses yet another kiss to his head. “Ati-Lin did not know. So when winter came the flowers went to sleep, and when it passed, Olika’s sunblossoms did not rise again.”

-:-

Yoda takes one look at him and knows.

It isn’t until evening nears, the sun heavy and low in the pink sky, that the Council can conduct their own business without the involvement of the Queen or the Chancellor. The old Master ushers Anakin away to speak with the other Council members while he steals off with Obi-Wan.

Yoda urges Obi-Wan into an empty elaborate room, tall windows reaching high to let in the light of the approaching dusk. All in all, it is a room much like any other in the Theed Royal Palace, but at least it is smaller.

Obi-Wan glances out at the soft dying of the afternoon. Qui-Gon’s cremation is in just a couple of hours. It’ll take place just as dusk fades into night, under the light of the sacred Naboo moons.

There are stray petals tucked into Obi-Wan’s pockets and it feels as if they burn holes through the fabric. But when Obi-Wan hooks a finger into the fabric to brush against one, all he feels is its dull warmth, heated by his own body.

Yoda lets out a weary sigh. “Oh, my Great-grand Padawan. Seen this coming, I should have.”

Obi-Wan frowns, then kneels before his Great-grand Master. His ribs twinge as his lungs press against them, heavy and swollen. His heart stutters just the slightest.

“Warned us, your mother did.” Yoda’s voice is soft and weary and he does not meet Obi-Wan’s eye. “Told us of what might happen.”

A chill trembles down his spine. “Wh-what do you mean?” Suddenly it’s much more difficult to breath. He feels something soft press against the back of his throat, sweetness on his tongue.

Yoda’s gaze is focused somewhere outside. Perhaps on the sinking sun or the whisp-soft clouds. “An ancient affliction of the Stewjoni, it is. When one loves another, but that love is not returned, grow in their lungs, flowers will. Flowers that symbolize their loved one, they are. Die you will, if left untreated.”

The numbness that has settled in his brittle bones since Qui-Gon fell to that sickening crimson blade spreads like frost until he is frozen to the floor. Every breath is a terrible, trembling twist in his breast.

“Why—” Obi-Wan labours to speak, “did you not- tell…me?”

Yoda still does not look at him. “Supposed to love, Jedi are not.”

Unbearable shame shudders through him, forcing him to hunch over as his lungs quake and petals fall into his curled palm, then an entire flower. And another. Tears blur his vision for the first time since yesterday, scorching down his cheeks.

I’m sorry, he doesn’t manage to say. I’m sorry. I never should have been a Jedi. Qui-Gon was right not to want another Padawan. You should have given up on me. Left me to the Agricorps. Left me to die alone. Then this mess might not have happened. Qui-Gon might not have died. Anakin would have someone capable to train him. Not me. Not a screw-up like me.

“Heard of a procedure, I have,” Yoda continues, voice still quiet. Eyes still trained on anything other than Obi-Wan. “Remove the flowers in your lungs, it will. However…”

“What…?” Obi-Wan croaks, staring at the flowers crumpled in his hands, tumbling down between his shaking fingers.

“Remove your feelings, it also will.”

Ice stabs Obi-Wan’s already weakly beating heart. “Wh-what do you mean…?” he asks, words croaked amidst soft petals.

“Linked, the flowers are, to your feelings of love. Once gone, your love for Qui-Gon, disappear too it will.”

“No…!” The word punches from Obi-Wan’s breast, along with another handful of flowers. “No… Please…”

“Die you will, if go through this, you do not. That Qui-Gon is dead, matters not. Feel your pain, I do, and your love. Project it, help you cannot. Fear I do, your love will not fade, until kill you, it does. Remove the flowers, you must.”

The thought of- of not loving Qui-Gon is worse than anything he could ever imagine. The thought that the way he adores the fall of his Master’s coarse hair about his shoulders, the fond exasperation when Qui-Gon got that twinkle in his eye, the way he- he cannot help but think about Qui-Gon’s large calloused hands. His broad shoulders. His kind, kind heart. The way Qui-Gon cannot help but dote on any lost lifeform, especially the pathetic ones. Like him. He cannot- he cannot bear to think that all of that can just- can just be stolen from him. And in such a simple way.

It’s unnatural. It’s abhorrent. It’s- it’s—

It’s the only way he’ll survive.

The only way he’ll be able to fulfill his promise to Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon whom he loves more than anything. Qui-Gon who he’ll do anything for.

He shudders at the thought. Wants to retch. Wants to scream and cry and wail his heart out to please no don’t take this from me too.

But- this is for Qui-Gon. He needs to train Anakin for Qui-Gon.

And he never could refuse Qui-Gon anything. Not when he loves him so.

“…Okay,” he finally says, barely audible, breath strangled around the Morning flowers in his lungs. “Okay.”

-:-

“They died?” little Obi-Wan croaks, incredulous. “The flow’s died,” he sobs. Her son has always been especially sensitive to death ever since his favourite sister, her eldest daughter, died last year. He’d sobbed out that he’d felt her die, that he knew she was dead dead dead.

It’d been incredibly disconcerting, and so, so much more painful than her daughter’s death would have been otherwise. But it was a bone sickness that could not be cured, and they’d been expecting it for a while. So Obi-Wan’s mother held her son as he sobbed and quaked and whimpered why why.

It’s a question that his mother often asks herself, too.

(and when he does things like this- when he just knows what she’s thinking or where her husband is or- or says he feels the death of his beloved sister— she wonders why does her precious child must be burdened so. Why does it have to be this way?)

(she is so afraid for him)

(but she does her best to keep her hopes up)

(she does her best to think everything will be okay)

“Yes, sweetling,” she manages to say, holding him close. “They died. Ati-Lin spent days waiting with bated breath for the flowers to once again pop out from the soil. But while the mycosia bloomed bright and beautiful, the sunblossoms did not. And eventually Ati-Lin had to accept that they never would. He was filled with so much guilt. He cried himself to sleep every night for weeks.”

“Like Olika,” he hiccups.

“Yes, like Olika he felt he had failed his friend.”

She wonders, briefly, if she should save this story for another night. Already her dear, sensitive son is incredibly upset.

But no.

That feeling that she must tell him now, that it is either now or never, tickles in the back of her thoughts and she swallows hard.

“But Ati-Lin still had Quo-méi’s precious flowers and, with a guilty and determined heart, he decided he would put all his effort into nurturing the blossoms she had given him.”

-:-

The less said about Qui-Gon’s funeral the better.

But Obi-Wan does tuck his severed braid beneath his Master’s stiff fingers. Slips a few damning petals beneath his cold palms, too.

The Council has granted him Knighthood. Has allowed him to train Anakin despite Yoda’s reservations.

He watches Qui-Gon’s body burn to ash and feels his soul crumble along with it.

This is a sacred tradition of the Naboo. Surrounded by mourners, the dead are cremated in the small Funeral Temple on the outskirts of Theed. Afterwards, those closest to the deceased throw the ashes from the bridge connecting the Temple and the Livet Tower, which holds the Eternal Flame, into the Solleu River below. The ashes mix with the water before plunging down the cliff into the froth below, thus returned to the earth.

Obi-Wan is- was closest to Qui-Gon, so he goes first.

The ash is still warm against his palm. Soft and grainy. It slips from between his fingertips into the darkness below as the stars twinkle above, the sacred moons steady luminous beings in the velvet sky. Obi-Wan tastes nothing but flowers and grief on his tongue.

Anakin hovers by his side, glancing into the heavy ceramic bowl where- where Qui-Gon lays.

A bitter smile stretches across Obi-Wan’s face and he lowers the bowl in offering. Anakin glances up at him, all nerves and wary hope. Then a brilliant, watery smile blossoms across the young boy’s face and he reaches in with a clumsy hand to carefully scoop up some ash. Obi-Wan helps him clamber up so he can reach over the rail and release his precious handful to the wind and water below.

Each Council member takes a small handful of ash, and then it is Obi-Wan’s duty to finish the rest.

He can barely feel his heart beating in his aching breast.

That night before bed Obi-Wan carefully snips Anakin’s hair short and does not cry when he plaits a stubby braid behind the boy’s ear. Anakin falls asleep with tears glistening on his cheeks and a smile warming his face.

Obi-Wan does not sleep at all.

The next day is the Celebration and…Obi-Wan labours through it. He feels brittle, as if any touch could shatter him apart. His lungs ache, swollen between his clawed ribs, heart beating frantically even as he offers a steadying hand on young Anakin’s shoulder. Everyone is bright and happy and laughing and they eat and drink well into the night.

Obi-Wan very carefully avoids looking at Queen Amidala’s flowing gown. Soft and radiant like a shy, new dawn.

“Wait until Coruscant, we will,” Yoda murmurs to him sometime that night. “Briefed the Head Healer, I have. Proceed with the surgery, we will, once there.”

Obi-Wan doesn’t say a word, just nods, soothing the Force through his body so he can just breathe.

In the end, the procedure doesn’t even take a full day. As Anakin is led through a Temple tour, Obi-Wan lays down in a private room, clinging to the heavy, horrible love trapped in his breast. As the Head Healer brushes a hand over his brow and pinches a needle in the crook of his arm, he thinks with some desperation:

I love you, Qui-Gon. I do. And I would have loved you until death if I could. But I’m doing this for you. All for you.

His eyes slip closed.

When he wakes, Anakin is just finishing his tour, a bundle of excited awe and trepidation.

When he wakes, there are crumpled petals and twisted stems on the table by his side. The Healer gathers them into a bundle, new-dawn streaked with bright, viscous red. She pays no mind to him as she carries the bundle out to dump down the nearest hazard waste chute, where they’ll be burned to ash.

When he wakes, Obi-Wan can breathe freely for the first time in years, though a lingering ache twinges in his breast.

When he wakes, Obi-Wan does not love Qui-Gon.

He cries, though he’s no longer sure why.

-:-

“Everyone took notice of Ati-Lin’s growing obsession with Quo-méi’s flowers. Of course his parents saw. But even as they worried, they smiled, amused by what they believed was young love that would soon fade away.

“But Ati-Lin was a beautiful boy, and so everyone took notice of him. The children at his new school clamoured for his attention, greedy for his affection. While Ati-Lin freely gave his friendship, as he was such a bright and sociable child, nothing was more important than the flowers he was left to nurture.”

Obi-Wan frowns through his remaining tears. “Happy?” he wants to know, almost insistent as he leans into his mother. “Was Ati-Lin happy?”

Oh, her sweet, sweet boy. So concerned with others while he has nary a thought for himself.

She smiles sadly. “In a way he was. He had many new friends and his parents loved him and earned more than they ever had before. He could explore his new home to his heart’s content, venturing deep into the city or high into the foothills of the mountains. And he had Quo-méi’s flowers, of course. He had everything he could ask for. But it was not true happiness. He still thought of his dear friends and the home he’d been forced to leave behind. He still thought with aching guilt of the seeds he could not grow.”

Little Obi-Wan twists the blanket between his hands, fretting.

“All of his new friends grew jealous of Quo-méi’s beautiful blossoms, for they knew it was a sacred thing Ati-Lin did, caring for his friend’s flowers. None of their own Clans had blossoms as resilient or lovely as hers. They knew if it stormed Ati-Lin would forget all previous plans in order to scurry home and make sure Quo-méi’s precious flowers were all right. But in all honesty, Ati-Lin needn’t have bothered.”

“Why?” her son wants to know, utterly rapt in the tale.

Smile widening, she taps his nose with a gentle finger. “Because Quo-méi’s flowers were tough. As the years passed and Ati-Lin grew into a capable and even more beautiful young man, the flowers doubled in number every year until his family’s gardens practically overflowed with the elegant pink and white blossoms. They’d even spread throughout the city, their seeds carried on the wind and in tiny creatures’ mouths. The people of the city were left in awe of the beautiful spread of Quo-méi’s flowers, and Ati-Lin took pride in it.”   

“So…” Obi-Wan’s little face scrunches in confusion. “Why so worried? If the flo’ws were okay?”

His mother sighs. “Because Ati-Lin was afraid. He thought that if he was not there to care for the flowers, they would die just like Olika’s did. And even though everyone in the city knew Quo-méi’s flowers could withstand even the fiercest storm, Ati-Lin would not let himself believe it, so consumed by fear he was.”

-:-

Years pass and Obi-Wan becomes used to the aching, empty place in his breast where Qui-Gon should be. Where his own feelings should be. He lives in quiet agony, barely letting himself think that it isn’t really living at all.

To distract himself from the disconcerting wrongness, Obi-Wan throws himself into being a proper Jedi, a proper Master. He dedicates himself to doing right by Anakin and becoming someone no one would ever doubt is anything less than perfect (though he knows he is far from such). Never can he let himself become as weak as he was when he suffered from flowers growing in his lungs.

He can’t.

Anakin needs him.

(and even if he doesn’t feel that same all-consuming obligation to fulfill Qui-Gon’s final wish, that all-consuming painful love— he’ll do it simply because of how dear Anakin has become)

(his star-bright child)

So the years pass and Obi-Wan learns to ignore the wrongness trembling just beneath the surface and the fear that he’ll fall in love again and sometimes, sometimes he wonders why he was ever born at all, why it seems he was meant to suffer.

He can only be thankful that Anakin shares no Stewjoni blood, because the boy loves so fiercely and deeply it sometimes terrifies Obi-Wan.

So it really is no surprise that the boy- he falls in love with Padmé.

The boy’s so nervous when they’re assigned guard duty for the Senator. Obi-Wan is torn between laughter and tears. He doesn’t want Anakin’s heart to be broken. Doesn’t want the boy to have to choose between duty and love and doesn’t want his dear Padawan to be completely ruined by it.

He’s nervous about leaving Anakin with Padmé. But he trusts his Padawan no matter how reckless he may be, and he trusts Padmé’s judgment and maturity. So he leaves them and trusts they’ll be all right and at least out of the mess he’s found himself in.

Because there’s Kamino and Jango Fett and the clones and oh Force.

Oh Force.

(he wants to retch— how could anyone even think to breed these poor men like livestock? Like some sort of disposable commodity?)

Then he meets his Grandmaster for the first time.

“It is a great pity that our paths never crossed before, Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon always spoke very highly of you,” Dooku says, an odd sort of regret colouring his voice as he stands before Obi-Wan. His next words almost break, and even if the man is an infuriating swathe of cool propriety, there is true heartbreak aching in the Force about him. “I wish he were still alive. I could use his help right now.”

Obi-Wan wants to snarl. Because what right did this man have to Qui-Gon? When he abandoned his Master to deal with Xanatos’ Fall on his own? When he didn’t even bother to come to Qui-Gon’s funeral or check to see how his Grandpadawan was doing after his Master’s gruesome death?

How dare he still feel affection, still feel love for Qui-Gon when Obi-Wan can’t even feel a single thing but a gaping, ragged hole in his breast where Qui-Gon should be but isn’t because Obi-Wan can’t love him anymore.

Because Obi-Wan, he doesn’t- he isn’t even sure he knows what love is. He doesn’t long for his dead Master. Doesn’t think of him with fondness. Doesn’t even remember the way the Morning flowers tasted on his tongue or even how they smelled.

He can’t remember how his heart used to skip at Qui-Gon’s smile, though he knows it did.

There’s just—

Nothing.

And that’s more wretched than anything he can possibly think of.

If this is what love is, he doesn’t want it.

And Dooku has no right to love the man he abandoned so cruelly all those years ago.

So he says, “Qui-Gon Jinn would never join you,” and everything promptly derails from there.

By the end of it all Dooku has escaped, there’s a blasted hole scorched right through his thigh and femoral artery. If he moves the charred flesh might break and bleed him out. And of course there’s the strip of flesh burned right down to the bone of his arm. But none of that compares to—

Oh, Anakin.

His dear Anakin.

Obi-Wan has failed him, for the boy has both lost an arm and now his heart to the foolish girl in his arms. And he can’t tell the boy to give her up, he just can’t. Not when Anakin loves her so. Not when Obi-Wan has loved and lost and now does not even remember what it feels like to love (but if there is anything that comes close it is Anakin, his Anakin). He cannot take that from his Padawan, so he’ll just have to trust the couple to work it out themselves as he watches from the sidelines and helps as best he can.

Obi-Wan thinks he’s never hated himself more.

But that’s not quite true, because many months later after the war has begun and Obi-Wan has taken more lives than saved any—

Obi-Wan wakes up with tiny, pale-gold flowers soft and delicate on his tongue and he knows—

There is no saving him.

-:-

“Now, I told you Ati-Lin was a beautiful boy, did I not?” his mother says, trying not to frown.

“Yes, mama,” her little boy murmurs, nodding.

“Well, he was also very, very bright. By the time he was all grown up many people in the city wanted to employ him. He had an eye for business and a charm that reeled everyone in. But there was one man in particular who wanted Ati-Lin’s talents all to himself. He thought he might convince Ati-Lin to join his company and then maybe, if he was lucky enough, he could marry Ati-Lin. His name was Pellano, and he ran the largest business in town.”

Little Obi-Wan frowns. “Wha’ he do?”

“Well, sweetling, Pellano ran a trading company. He swindled people out of their money but no one thought to accuse him of anything because he seemed like a kind man.”

Obi-Wan pouts, tiny hands balling into fists. “Tha’s mean!”

“Yes, it is,” his mother agrees. “But he did as he liked because people went along with it. That is very important to remember, my Obi-Wan. Do not believe everything someone says, for they may not be telling the truth.”

Her son’s brow scrunches in thought, then he peers up at her with seemingly innocent eyes. “So I don’ haf to eat veggies?”

Startled laughter bursts from her lips. Leaning forward to peck his brow and pinch his cheek, his mother grins. “Now don’t get cheeky with me, little one. They are good for you.”

Her precious son giggles into his palms, hiding a smile between pudgy fingers. After long, dear moments of laughter, little Obi-Wan snuggles against her and sighs in content. “Wha’ happened?”

This time, his mother does frown. “Well, Pellano thought he might try to befriend Ati-Lin first.”

-:-

Obi-Wan refuses to have the surgery again. He feels terrible and wrong enough after the first one that he cannot bear to go through it again. So, he figures either the war will kill him or his love for Anakin will.

It’s almost comforting, knowing he won’t be long for this world.

But every reckless stunt Anakin pulls and every injury his dear friend gets, Obi-Wan must fight back the clawing, sweet-tasting panic from completely overwhelming him. He can’t- he can’t lose Anakin. Can’t lose someone he loves again.

Luckily, the war and his men are an easy distraction whenever Anakin is not involved.

Obi-Wan is determined to see as many of the clones through the war as he can. It’s the least he can do considering they never asked to fight in the first place, and because Obi-Wan is the one who found them and ultimately brought them into this whole mess.

And honestly, Obi-Wan can’t help but adore his men. Each one shines so brilliantly and so differently in the Force. But you don’t need to be Force-sensitive to realize how precious they are. He can’t understand why anyone thinks they’re no better than droids.

They’re an unexpected support. They care so much for their brothers and once they figure out that Obi-Wan will do his best to never leave any of them behind, they pull him into their fold and fuss over him like they would any youngling.

Cody is a constant presence at his shoulder, giving him strength and dependable advice. Waxer and Boil melt his heart when they save little Numa, and their antics never fail to brighten the bleak war. Every death is a heavy blow.

He loves that the 212th and the 501st share a kinship as he and Anakin do.

It should be no surprise that they realize something’s wrong with him.

The flowers’ progression seems to be a slow one. Slow enough that he has a few years left before they completely consume him. But they do affect his breathing and he tires more quickly than he should. There are very few days of rest during war, and even fewer for Generals like Obi-Wan who are in demand and plastered all over the Holonet. When he isn’t in meetings he’s pouring over intel and maps and strategizing. When he isn’t strategizing he’s on the battlefield doing his damned best to save more people than he kills (though it is a hopeless endeavor that hardens his heart until he can barely believe he has the capacity to love at all).

All throughout this he feeds the strength of the Force into his body, so he can keep going. Keep standing, fighting, thinking straight.

It takes a toll.

The constant use of the Force wears down his body and his mind. On the worst days his grasp of the Force is tenuous. Even reaching out to it takes so much effort he can barely concentrate on his surroundings. Then once he brushes against it, it’s like trying to keep hold of a cloud. It just wisps past his fingers.

Sometimes others notice. Like when he doesn’t quite make a jump. Or when a Force suggestion slips over a hostile’s mind like water, not even making a difference. Or when he doesn’t notice a blaster aimed at his back.

But everyone’s exhausted from the war, so more often than not it’s easy to brush off other Jedi. Even Anakin. His dear friend is so easily distracted.

It’s his men he worries about deceiving. Because no matter what, they are tenacious and caring and don’t miss a single thing.

They’re also ridiculously protective of Obi-Wan.

At least one of them tries to stay by his side during battle. They all seem to think it’s their personal duty to feed and water him like some sort of pet. He knows that Cody even keeps Rex updated on Obi-Wan, and sometimes Rex passes that information onto Anakin, much to Obi-Wan’s dismay. But he supposes that’s fair because Cody updates Obi-Wan on how Anakin and Ahsoka are really doing. Rex does not bother to sugar-coat their conditions.

Whenever Obi-Wan continues to breathe heavily even after the battle has long ended, Cody discreetly steers him towards the medic tent. Obi-Wan waves it away, making his excuses, and manages to escape.

Things like this happen several more times. Each time one of his men, usually Cody, steps close, offers a supporting shoulder, and helps him limp over to the nearest clear flat surface. So he can sit, lay down, breathe. The 212th’s Chief medical officer, Laser-eye, fusses over him constantly, but Obi-Wan is skilled in the method of Distract and Escape. Even Kix hovers over him a few times, grumbling.

The Second Battle of Geonosis is one of the worst battles in this campaign. His ship is hit. Crashes. Something breaks with a sickening snap somewhere in Obi-Wan’s side, as several other somethings definitely bend completely the wrong way. Things press harsh against his organs, scrape against his ribs. Suddenly it is all that much harder to breathe through the dust and despair as one by one his men flicker in the Force and die. Leaving only Obi-Wan and Trapper to lay amongst the dead.

And that’s another thing. There is something…odd about the flowers that grow in Obi-Wan’s lungs. On the worst of days his lungs…rattle. When Obi-Wan focuses deep inside himself, he can feel the hard edge of tiny things that grow and grow with every passing month. So not only are there tiny golden flowers growing inside himself, there’s something…else.

That something else makes itself very apparent during Geonosis. Obi-Wan can hardly breathe. Maybe only one of his lungs is working. He’s not sure. He only knows he can’t even force himself to stand. Only lets himself slump as worry and tightly controlled fear tremble around his men as they eye him. Hand him their spare rations, a drink of water.

But Cody doesn’t say anything, even though Obi-Wan knows the man desperately wants to. They both know there’s no point. Not until they make it out of this battle alive.

And they do.

That’s when…that’s when Obi-Wan has no choice but to give in.

That’s when his men find out.

“What- General. What is this…?” Cody manages to choke out through his overwhelming confusion and horror.

There on the datapad Laser-eye holds is a scan of Obi-Wan’s torso. You can see the broken (now set) ribs, the punctured (but now healing) organs. The faint surgery scars. The scattering of tiny flowers intermixed with the occasional larger one. The masses of jangling pods.

“It…” Laser-eye starts, clearly bewildered yet grim. “As far as I can tell you’re in a symbiotic relationship with the plants, except I don’t know what you even get out of it. So maybe it’s- more like a virus? I’ve never- I’ve never seen anything like it. The flowers feed off of your body, getting all the nutrients and water they need. But they’re—” He gulps. Stares down at the pad in his hands.

“General Kenobi, they’re going to kill you. They aren’t going to stop growing. Already they take up thirty percent of your lungs. Surely you must have noticed? When I was repairing the tearing to your lungs I noticed some old surgery scars. Have you had the flowers removed before? If so I can—”

“No.”

Both Cody and Laser-eye startle. Obi-Wan knows his voice was too harsh, too wrecked.

“I- I did have a procedure before. But I can’t do it again. If I did, it would kill me.” Kill my soul.

Laser-eye frowns, brows furrowed almost painfully. Cody is a rigid being of grief and denial beside him.

“Perhaps if I could see the notes for your original surgery? It isn’t in your medical file. Maybe I could talk with the—”

“No,” Obi-Wan bites out. “This is non-negotiable, Captain. I can’t have another surgery again. I’ve made my peace with it.”

(he’s told himself this over and over and over. It’s become so integral to Obi-Wan’s being by this point that it doesn’t even feel like a lie anymore)

“Does- does General Skywalker know…?” Cody chokes out, voice tight.

Obi-Wan can’t look at him. “No. He does not. And you will not tell him either. Do not force me to make it an order, Commander.”

There’s a moment of tense silence.

“I…took some samples,” Laser-eye begins, cautious. “While I was repairing the damage from your battle. The majority of the flowers in your lungs are driss flowers, native to Tatooine. They- they also produce pods, which mainly attribute to your trouble breathing. When your ship crashed they tore through one of your lungs.”

Obi-Wan purses his lips, sitting as stiffly as he can in the Medbay bed. Then- “Wait. You said…’the majority of the flowers?’”

Laser-eye nods. “Yes, General. There is another invasive plant in your body. It’s the one that did the most damage to your lungs during the crash. The thorns of the Malreaux rose are quite sharp.”

Obi-Wan blinks, speechless for a moment. “The- Malreaux rose…?”

“Yes, sir. They’re from the planet Vjun.” Laser-eye moves over to a side table and picks up a tray with several small metal dishes. He moves back to their side and lets them peer into the tray. One dish holds a tiny golden flower. Another a small, brown gourd. The third has several black petals that vaguely glisten scarlet in the light.

Obi-Wan has only ever coughed up tiny golden flowers. Never- never anything that looks as ominous as…as this. Because it does look ominous. Soft and noxious. Almost bloody. There- there shouldn’t be any other flowers in his lungs. The Tatooine ones make sense. They’re Anakin’s.

But he’s not in love with anyone else.

Not even close.

So why…?

“These are the samples I took. I- frankly, sir. Besides the fact that I have no idea how you even have flowers growing in your lungs, I have no idea how you’re even still standing. General, as your Chief medical officer, I need you to tell me what you know about your condition. I won’t be able to help you otherwise.”

Obi-Wan forces his hand to stay limp and not clutch at the sheets in frustration. “You cannot help me, Captain.”

“I can and I will, sir.”

“Captain—”

“General, shut up and listen to the man.”

Obi-Wan jerks, head whipping up to stare at Cody. His Commander glares at him with such quiet fury that Obi-Wan flinches.

“I trust a medical professional more than I do you about your own health, General. Even if whatever this is— even if it’s incurable, there still must be some way to help you until there’s nothing more we can do. I will not stand by and watch you just suffer in silence like you usually do.” Cody’s eyes glint harshly. “It’s not just for your own sake, General, but for your men’s, as well. We rely on you. We can’t have someone leading us who’s a liability.”

Obi-Wan swallows back hot tears. Because it’s true. He knows it’s true. And he knows Cody’s saying it because he cares for his brothers…and for Obi-Wan.

“You’re right,” Obi-Wan croaks. “I’m- I’m sorry, Cody. Laser-eye. You’re right. I’ll tell you as much as I can.”

He won’t tell them what it’s caused by. Not really. Just that it’s genetic, not uncommon on his homeworld. He won’t mention anything about love. Or Anakin. Or how he prefers death to living without those feelings for his dear friend.

-:-

“Pellano knew that the one thing that truly grasped Ati-Lin’s attention were the flowers he cared for. So Pellano approached Ati-Lin and complimented Quo-méi’s flowers.”

Little Obi-Wan frowns. “Tha’s it?”

His mother shakes her head. “No, little one. Nearly everyone spoke about the mycosia with admiration and envy, for the flowers made the city all that much more beautiful. In fact, it’s the reason why we encourage flowers to grow where they may. But what Pellano did that was so different, was to compliment Ati-Lin’s own skill for making the flowers so beautiful. For caring for them for so long despite what everyone said.

“‘You are the reason why these flowers bloom so brilliantly. Without you, they’d be nothing,’ Pellano told Ati-Lin. ‘Without you this city would not be so beautiful.’”

Her son shakes his head. “Tha’s no’ true. The flow’s are strong. They’d grow withou’ Ati-Lin.”

“Yes, my smart child,” his mother says. “You are right. I did tell you the flowers were strong. Everyone knew this. Pellano knew this. But Ati-Lin would not believe it, because he was still so afraid that without his tender care they would wither and die just like Olika’s.”

Her son’s brow furrows. “Then why did Pellano lie?”

“Because, my son, sometimes people lie to get what they want.”

-:-

It gets…not easier after that. Not more bearable. But…it certainly is something else. Now that people know. Now that the loyal men at his back know more about him than even Anakin does.

Laser-eye actually has a temporary solution. Every so often, when the fighting calms down and Obi-Wan can spare an extra day and hand off his duties to Cody (which is still rare and few in between, though Cody sometimes makes sure Obi-Wan has a free day), Obi-Wan goes to the Medbay.

Laser-eye carefully explained the procedure to Obi-Wan. He would cut into Obi-Wan’s lungs and trim back the flowers every so often, remove the gourds and thorns that threaten to ruin his insides completely. It won’t stop Obi-Wan from dying, but it will slow the process down.

At first frightened that doing such would severe his love for Anakin, Obi-Wan refused. But after much cajoling and research on Obi-Wan’s part, he came to the conclusion that as long as the roots stayed undisturbed he’d be fine. He coughs up flowers at a ridiculous rate, anyways. He hardly understands this connection between the flowers and his body, but he knows that at least this will help slow this disease.

He’s willing if it will help his performance in the field.

If it will help him save his men.

If it will give him more time with Anakin.

Now he goes to Laser-eye with hardly a fuss.

Of course, despite attempting to keep it secret, the rest of his men find out.

The surgery is extremely invasive and leaves Obi-Wan exhausted and aching after every one. It’s easy enough for his men to discover a pattern. Obi-Wan disappears for a day or two when the fighting calms down. He comes back distracted and visibly making an effort to appear perfectly fine despite the shakiness of his movements and the smudged shadows beneath his eyes. Though Obi-Wan tries to be as covert as possible, he is spotted a few times leaving or entering the Medbay.

His men who are so bright and quick and caring figure it out far quicker than Obi-Wan would like.

They never say anything to his face, but it’s easy to see the change in their demeanor. There’s always at least one hovering at his shoulder, making sure he rests when he can and quietly offering spare ration bars. Though Obi-Wan has a tendency of losing the clone during battle, forging ahead to whirl and slice his way through the enemy, there’s always at least one small squad who determinedly dogs his steps. They do their best to cover his blind spots and take out any approaching droids before they can even get near enough to possibly hurt him.

He doesn’t have the heart to ask them to stop.

Watching Waxer frown and open his mouth as Obi-Wan pant for breath through the tangle of flowers in his lungs—Watching as Boil put a hand on his partner’s shoulder and silently shake his head, lips pursed tight and eyes dark— Watching as Waxer glances at his partner, then back at Obi-Wan with suspiciously bright eyes only to close his mouth and wordlessly offer a canteen—

Things like that make Obi-Wan realize that he can’t be reckless anymore. Not when his men care so much. Not when they worry in silence and don’t even ask for any reassurances that he’ll be all right, that they’ll be all right. Not when they’re putting themselves in harm’s way to keep him safe only for him to dart out into danger again.

Laser-eye’s doing his best to treat Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan knows that after many concerned questioning from the 212th, Cody has quietly divulged to his men what he thought was necessary to know. Cody hasn’t even told Rex, one of his closest friends. Rex would tell Anakin if he knew, and then Anakin…

Obi-Wan has never been so grateful towards someone in his life. He doesn’t know what he’d do without Cody. The man is incredibly reliable and absolutely discreet and loyal. Always ready to provide support both on the battlefield and off, Cody is the Commander and the perfect friend. He’s even become one of Obi-Wan’s closest friends. Obi-Wan has no idea how he can be so lucky or what he’s done for Cody to want to be friends, but he’d rather not question it if it keeps Cody by his side.

He wishes he could do more for his friend instead of making him worry all of the time. But maybe he’ll be able to repay the man after all this war and madness is done and over with.

Sometimes Obi-Wan thinks…Sometimes he thinks it would be so much easier if he fell in love with someone else. Someone like Cody.

On those truly awful nights when blood and gore flash across his vision every time he closes his eyes and there’s the booming echo of cannons and artillery fire ringing in his ears— On those nights after Anakin has barely escaped death and doesn’t seem to care much beyond keeping Padmé and Ahsoka and his own men safe—

Obi-Wan lays quiet in the darkness, staring sightless up at the ceiling. With every breath his lungs rattle faintly. Sometimes it’s difficult to breathe, even just laying on his back and not moving at all.

On those nights, he thinks of his men. Thinks of how kind and courageous they are. How terrified they are of losing their brothers. Thinks of how he can’t even believe there is such a war with such senseless death, and yet he can’t imagine his life without the 212th. Can’t imagine his life without Cody and that man’s quiet support. His small, confident smile.

He wonders about the second flower in his lungs. After every surgery he peers at those strange petals laying in their metal bowls. So dark a scarlet they look nearly black. He still has no idea why they grow alongside the Tatooine ones. He’s never coughed any up, but recently there’s been this odd bitterness at the end of every breath.

On those nights, Obi-Wan lays quietly in the dark and doesn’t get any sleep at all.

The flowers taste sickly sweet on his tongue, a strange bitterness threatening to chase away their cloying scent.

-:-

“Tha’s…” Little Obi-Wan’s brows furrow. “Tha’s not right. You shouldn’ lie even if you’re scared you broke the cookie jar.”

His mother laughs helplessly into his soft hair. “You are right, dear one. Except for—”

“—when gran’s baking,” Obi-Wan recites dutifully. “Even if it’s super yucky. Gotta say it tastes good.”

Smiling fondly, pride warm in her belly, his mother taps his nose and watches as a smile blooms across his cheeks. “Exactly.”

“So wha’ did Pellano do after?”

His mother hums mildly. “Well, he then told Ati-Lin that he was worried about the mycosia growing outside his own home. He said they’d been looking sickly lately and he was worried they’d die without Ati-Lin’s help. Ati-Lin could not resist, not with that overwhelming worry he’d been carrying with him since Olika’s flowers died.”

Little Obi-Wan stays silent, but his fingers curl into his mother’s sleeve.

“So when Ati-Lin reaches Pellano’s grand home he immediately focused on the scattered flowers across the front gardens, even peeking out of tucked in corners on the building itself. They indeed looked sick, wilting. Panic overcame Ati-Lin and he rushed to begin examining the flowers. But what he didn’t know was that Pellano had purposefully poisoned the mycosia. He’d been careful not to affect his own family flowers, the black lily. So while his blooms grew tall and spread like terrible dead stars, the mycosia withered away, weak in the face of Pellano’s cunning and cruelty.”

Her little Obi-Wan trembled in fury and despair. “You never do that!” he cried, distress clear in his voice. “Flow’s are special!” He scrunched his nose, trying to remember the right word, the one that has been said over and over all his life. “Sacred,” he says oh so carefully, voice so fervent.

“I know, sweet one,” his mother sighs. “I know. But Pellano did not care. He knew that Ati-Lin would do his best to protect the mycosia, and so he did a terrible thing.”

“No.” There are tears in Obi-Wan’s eyes. “No,” he repeats, voice cracked.

Flowers are so sacred to the Stewjoni. All offworlders are always so surprised by how much they’re revered and how they’ve shaped society on their planet. But how can you not when you believe that your ancestors were born from them? When your own body even invites their growth with your sorrow and love? When even so many years and years later both plant and body remember Olika’s grief?

His mother continues on, taking one small hand in her own. But she knows it won’t do much to comfort him. “Ati-Lin then became obsessed with the mysterious illness plaguing the mycosia in front of Pellano’s home. He researched causes and cures. Compared healthy plants with the ailing. Everyday he devoted more time than usual to the flowers.

“Pellano took this opportunity to strike up a friendship with Ati-Lin. He crouched beside Ati-Lin as the young man kneeled in the mud, studying the frail flowers. He pretended to help research, even calling in a few favours to gain access to rare books. Pellano did his best to distract Ati-Lin with chatter about life in the city, his own business, and while Ati-Lin did have some interesting thoughts and perspectives, he was mainly occupied with the flowers.”

“Good,” Obi-Wan bites out, rare spite in his voice.

His mother grins. She knows he’s going to be a little spit-fire when he grows up. Sweet and caring, but with a bite of cunning and righteous fury.

“But soon Pellano became tired of Ati-Lin’s obsession with the flowers.  Nothing he did could distract or interest Ati-Lin for long. Ati-Lin was always far more interested in trying a new treatment than discussing whether he was interested in helping Pellano run his trading company. He grew more enraged every time Ati-Lin brushed him off.

“So Pellano did his own research, called in a few more favours, and poisoned the mycosia in Ati-Lin’s own little plot of land.”

Little Obi-Wan actually jerks upright at this, fury trembling in his limbs. He opens his mouth, but he can’t speak through his own anger. His mother props up on her elbow and pulls him close. He buries his face in the curve of his throat, furious hot tears leaking onto the collar of her nightgown.

If touching someone’s family flowers without permission is appalling, and touching someone’s gifted flowers is even worse— then deliberately harming someone’s gifted flowers in their own sacred spot of land—

It is the vilest thing of all.

It is a breach of trust, of sanctity. It’s sullying and demeaning the most revered form of love and respect. A violation of the worst kind.

Perhaps offworlders will never understand it, but all Stewjoni are raised to have an intimate knowledge of their history and traditions. Even those who question their traditions have respect for them, especially for flowers.

“Ati-Lin was devastated. He had no idea how his own precious blossoms he’d been taking care of for years could possibly suddenly be on the verge of dying. Maybe he wasn’t paying enough attention to them. Maybe he just—

“Maybe he wasn’t good enough.”

Silently, Obi-Wan shakes his head, forehead rubbing softly against her skin. She threads her fingers through his hair soothingly.

“But then Pellano said that his own research had turned up something. He’d found a cure that heal the flowers and even get them to bloom more brilliantly than before. Ati-Lin was overwhelmed. With tears in his eyes he thanked Pellano and asked if there was anything he possibly do in return to repay his new friend.

“Pellano smiled and said he wouldn’t mind if Ati-Lin joined his company as his right-hand man.”

-:-

Obi-Wan…Obi-Wan is— He’s—

The 501st are at the Temple. They’re shooting at him, armour splattered with blood. He can’t see Rex. Doesn’t want to know where Rex is. Not really. Not when- when—

Somewhere off to his right Yoda flings his lightsaber. The glowing green blade goes right through a clone’s breast and sticks.

Obi-Wan chokes on his own breath as he deflects more blasterfire. Reaches out to fling a clone into a pillar. Watches them fall.

Like he did.

That terrible cannon shot and the shriek of the varactyl echoes in his ears. It rings painfully along with the screams of dying Jedi reverberating through the Force. It hits him low in the gut. The space between his ribs is already nearly numb. He fights for breath as he thinks of- of his men—

Of Cody.

Because Cody- Cody did that.

It can’t have been anyone else.

Cody had just given him back his lightsaber, given Obi-Wan one of his small, relieved smiles that everything was going okay, that the dropped lightsaber didn’t mean Obi-Wan was dead. There was that particular gleam on Cody’s eyes that meant after this battle he was going to shove Obi-Wan into bed and tuck him in to make sure he got a good’s night rest before pushing him into the Medbay for surgery the next day.

Dear Force, did Obi-Wan love his men.

But then—

Then—

Then all 501st left at the Temple are down, and Obi-Wan knows most of them aren’t going to live to see the next sunrise.

There are children strewn across the halls like ragdolls. Jedi Knights and Masters and Padawans bloodied and broken.

Obi-Wan can’t—

Can’t think of the 501st and why they might be here.

Without Ana—

No.

No.

The flowers rattle in his lungs and Yoda doesn’t even notice because he’s too busy staring at the younglings crumpled at their feet. There’s an overwhelming bitter taste on his tongue that’s been growing more heady and revolting since Utapau.

Quietly, Obi-Wan slips into a room as Yoda examines a blaster-ridden Master. He can’t bear to look at the Padawans slumped in the corner, a few younglings huddled between them. All dead. Instead, he stumbles against the wall and steadies himself there with a shaking hand. He gags as something presses against the back of his throat, acidic and cloyingly sweet. His lungs spasm and he gags again, nostrils filling with a putrid scent that has nothing to do with the bodies in the room.

Shuddering, he doubles over and hacks harshly. It feels as if something is clawing up his throat, tearing his insides ragged and bloody. His mouth fills with flowers and bile and he squeezes his eyes shut tight because he can’t look, can’t look—

When he opens them again there are tiny, tattered golden flowers spilling from his quaking fingers. But in the centre of his palm is a single, bloody-black flower. Ominous and velvety, it sits accusingly in his hand, as terrifying and dark as a black hole.

Obi-Wan stares at it wordlessly. Unable to even really think. Something hot and wet trickles from the corner of his mouth. Numb, he lets the dark flower slip from his palm and tumble to the floor. It lands quietly with its petals spread wide in a bed of tattered golden flowers. Lifting his hand to his lips, he wipes away the dripping wetness. His fingers come away smeared scarlet.

Copper tangs beneath the bitter sweetness on his tongue.

Dumbly he thinks that the brilliant scarlet is a good sign. If it was clotted and dark that would be bad. Bad enough for Laser-eye and Cody to go white and quiet.

He leaves the room, his only witness the younglings slumped in the corner, their faces still tight and desperate even in death.

No one escaped the carnage of the Temple. But both Yoda and he think that despite the aching thunder of death and despair in the Force, they might be able to prevent the last few surviving Jedi from dying. If there are any.

Obi-Wan can’t let himself think that they’ve all been slaughtered.

He can’t.

Not when Anakin has defied the screaming odds so many times, laughing and snarling in the face of such a terrible end.

But after he’s recalibrated the code to warn any remaining Jedi to stay away, he can’t help himself. There’s this niggling in his breast. Something whispering beneath the chaos of the Force. Barely audible, not at all comprehensible. It tingles along the rage boiling just below chilling numbness.

Who could have possible done this?

Yoda said someone with a lightsaber did this. Could it have been one of his Jedi brothers or sisters?

No. No it couldn’t have been. None of them would have turned. They couldn’t have. It must have been the Sith. It- it must have—

With the clones—

Obi-Wan doesn’t really understand anything. Doesn’t understand what’s going on or why or how it could possibly have happened.

Why did the clones- his men- his brothers

Why did the Temple—

Why—

So he pauses. Heads to the security console. “Wait, Master.” He doesn’t understand how he sounds so composed, but maybe it’s the numbness. “There is something I must know.”

“If into the security recordings you go, only pain you will find.”

The flowers in his lungs tremble. He breathes out bittersweet breath. Copper stings the back of his throat. “I must know the truth, Master.”

He flicks on the recording.

-:-

“Over the next few months,” Obi-Wan’s mother continues, “the mycosia grew even more beautiful than before. Ati-Lin could not believe his good fortune in finding such a wonderful friend as Pellano. The work at the trading company was even rewarding, working both his mind and his body. He grew closer to Pellano, grew more proficient in the workings of the company.”

Little Obi-Wan clenches his tiny hands into trembling fists.

“Slowly, Pellano even began to court Ati-Lin. The young man was unsure, but flattered. He’d never thought of anyone that way before. The closest he could think of were Olika and Quo-méi, both of whom were like a bittersweet ache in his breast. So he tentatively accepted Pellano’s kind gifts and words.”

Little Obi-Wan silently shakes his head again, more tears leaking onto her collar.

“But then one day when Ati-Lin was tending to his private garden, he discovered something that filled his heart with rage and betrayal.”

Obi-Wan stills, holding his breath.

“The mycosia that had grown so beautifully with Pellano’s cure were actually rotten on the inside.”

-:-

He can’t do this he can’t do this he can’t do this he can’t—

Obi-Wan’s hands tighten around the yoke of his speeder until he can’t feel his fingers. Until they look like bone.

When he’d turned towards Yoda, after he’d shut off that- that- recording—

The old Master’s eyes had been so old, so sorrowful.

So accusing.

He’d not looked surprised at all.

“Destroy the Sith, we must,” he’d said.

Well of course, that had been their mission all along, so why- why—

This is Obi-Wan’s punishment.

This is his punishment for loving when Jedi are not supposed to.

This is his punishment for not seeing the signs, for not noticing, not—

“Send me to kill the Emperor.” Let me kill him for what he has done. “I will not kill Anakin.” I never could. I never will. I love him I love him I love him.

“To fight this Lord Sidious, strong enough, you are not.”

I can. I will be. This rage and sorrow in my heart is enough to destroy and consume and how dare that man hurt Anakin? I would destroy a thousand stars and a thousand more just to- to—

“He is like my brother.” Yoda’s eyes darkened. He saw through Obi-Wan the last time he loved, and this time he sees through him again. So why didn’t he say anything before? “I cannot do it.” My heart would not let me.

“Twisted by the Dark Side, young Skywalker has become. The boy you trained, gone he is, consumed by Darth Vader.”

He can’t be gone though, Obi-Wan thinks now. He can’t be. My Anakin must still be in there somewhere.

Desperately he’d said, “I do not know where the Emperor has sent him. I do not know where to look.” Do not make me look for him, he’d not said. Do not make me do this. This is worse than tearing the flowers and their roots from my lungs. Worse than stealing my love for Qui-Gon away from me.

Worse than anything.

But then Yoda had peered back over his shoulder, expression so- so—

“Use your feelings Obi-Wan, and find him you will.”

No, Obi-Wan never should have become a Jedi.

Speaking with Padmé is even more awful than facing his Great-Grandmaster.

His speeder hovers idle at the edge of her balcony as Padmé acts as if Obi-Wan is mad for even suggesting Anakin could turn to the Dark Side. And he must be mad, because in no sane universe would Anakin do such terrible things as he has done.

Obi-Wan hasn’t seen Padmé in person for a few months. He’d heard that she was pregnant. Heard the speculation about who the father must be.

But Obi-Wan has always known.

It couldn’t be any more obvious.

Or as painful.

He can barely tell her that he saw Anakin (how could it have been Anakin?) killing younglings on a recording. Especially now that Anakin is going to be a father. Anakin has always loved children, has always believed they should be protected at all costs. It’s part of the reason why having Ahsoka as an apprentice was so difficult for him. Why it was even more difficult when she left.

(you should never have been a Jedi¸ something whispers cruelly in his ear, never ever ever)

“Padmé,” Obi-Wan pleads, breathless. The sharp acid in his mouth lolls over his tongue as his lungs tremble. “I must find him.”

Padmé turns to him, her lovely face grief-stricken and flushed with disbelief. Her watery eyes dart over his face. “You’re going to kill him, aren’t you?”

For a few terrible moments Obi-Wan can’t breathe, can’t speak. Because that’s what Yoda wants him to do. That’s what the safety of the Republic calls for. That’s what the slain Jedi and broken younglings deserve.

But it’s something Obi-Wan will never be able to deliver.

So Obi-Wan swallows and clenches his jaw, nearly shaking. He can’t let Padmé know how much he loves Anakin. He doesn’t know how she would take the thought on top of every other terrible thing that has happened today. She can’t know that if Anakin didn’t love Padmé so much, Obi-Wan might have—

Well, he’s not quite sure what he would have done.

“He has become a very great threat,” is what he ends up saying.

But of course Padmé won’t tell him anything. Not when she loves Anakin as much as she does.

Obi-Wan rather doubts he’d do anything differently if he was in her place.

(sometimes Obi-Wan wonders who loves Anakin more: himself or Padmé?)

(in the end he can’t answer that question, because Jedi aren’t supposed to love at all)

He leaves her. There’s a terrible, desperate plan forming in his head and he needs her to believe he’s gone to look elsewhere. But before he leaves he pauses. Looks over his shoulder, then turns to face her but can’t quite make his feet shift all the way to face her straight on. Traitorously his shoulders hunch and he can’t even imagine what his face must look like.

“Anakin is the father, isn’t he?”

Padmé’s look is pained and defiant, then she ducks her head. He’s not sure if it’s in shame or with a grace intended to save her pride.

Obi-Wan stares at her for a moment longer.

“I’m so sorry.”

Sorry for not seeing this coming. Sorry for loving your husband. Sorry for not preventing this. Sorry for everything Anakin has done and what I am about to do.

He leaves.

-:-

“At first Ati-Lin thought the rot might just be the strange sickness returned. But he carefully checked each flower in his garden and found each rotting. Terror and betrayal plaguing his heart, he secretly visited Pellano’s home.”

“They’re rotten, too,” little Obi-Wan whispers into his mother’s throat. His tiny fingers curl into her nightgown, needing to hold onto something other than himself.

“You’re right, young one,” his mother murmurs. “All the mycosia that had been sick were rotten on the inside, too. Desperate, Ati-Lin thought maybe it was something plaguing all the mycosia in the city, but when he checked more flowers along the streets they were as healthy as could be.”

Obi-Wan whuffles a little sigh and shifts.

“Confused, Ati-Lin went to confront Pellano. But the older man claimed to not know anything. He said it must be Ati-Lin’s fault, that Ati-Lin must not have been attentive enough. But Ati-Lin did not believe him. Only the flowers that had been given Pellano’s cure had blossomed more brilliantly yet rotted on the inside. Furious, Ati-Lin did the only thing he could think to do in his rage:

“He attacked Pellano.”

-:-

Obi-Wan stows away on Padmé’s ship. He knew that she’d immediately go to her husband, to either confirm his safety or betrayal.

When they land it’s on Mustafar, a wretched, fiery planet that burns despair and rage on the edges on his very being, threatening to catch alight and consume him completely. Padmé rushes down the ramp and he takes care to huddle just beyond the ship’s entrance, desperately hoping that he will not be needed. That somehow, somehow, the security recording was wrong. That even if it wasn’t Padmé can bring Anakin back from whatever dark place he has fallen.

Because Anakin loves Padmé more than anything, and Anakin would never hurt her.

He strains his ears to listen, but he can barely make out any words over the hiss and spit of the lava outside.

He can hardly believe the words he does hear. That Anakin believes he can overthrow the Chancellor and run the galaxy himself. That the Jedi turned against him, that the Jedi failed him.

But, Obi-Wan thinks, maybe we did. I certainly did. I failed him. If I was better it wouldn’t be like this. It wouldn’t—

But then a desperation and sharp, deep despair trembles against his senses, flushing hot with hopelessness and he hears:

“I don’t know you anymore. Anakin, you’re breaking my heart. You’re going down a path I can’t follow.”

“Because of Obi-Wan.”

Something breaks within him.

He stands.

“Because of what you’ve done. What you plan to do!”

He steps onto the head of the ramp, spreads his stance wide because, because if he doesn’t at least act confident now, then- then he isn’t sure what he’d do because he doesn’t know what to do Anakin please—

Anakin looks up at him. Meets his eyes.

The rage and betrayal that twists his face is so terrifying that for one moment Obi-Wan wishes he was dead so he didn’t have to see it on his dearest friend’s face.

(but Obi-Wan wishes he was dead so often it’s hardly anything out of the ordinary)

“Stop!” Padmé cries and Obi-Wan can feel the turmoil of the children in her belly, feeding off her desperation. “Stop now! Come back! I love you!”

“LIAR!” Anakin screams, something dark and terrible twisting about him.

Obi-Wan starts down the ramp. He’s so brittle he fears each step may shatter him.

“You’re with him! You brought him here to kill me!” Anakin’s voice is so rough and broken he hardly even sounds like him. Then he lifts his hand and begins to choke Padmé.

(oh)

(something heady settles in his stomach, sinks its claws into the back of his throat and breathes wretched breath into his mouth)

(it is not Padmé I love, Obi-Wan doesn’t say, it is you)

(except…I’m not quite sure it is you any longer)

“Let her go, Anakin!” Obi-Wan barely manages to demand. Because this is Padmé. Padmé whom Anakin loves with every fibre of his being. Padmé whom Anakin would never hurt. Not his Anakin.

Never.

He can’t let Anakin destroy the one good thing left in this galaxy.

“Let. Her. Go.”

Miraculously, Anakin does let her go. But she does not get up again. The life within her belly flickers and something twists and strangles about his heart as he looks at her. The breath in his lungs stutters and he barely manages to not throw up flower after flower right then and there.

“You turned her against me!”

Obi-Wan has never heard anything quite so terrible.

“You have done that yourself.” Obi-Wan bites out, fury ripping through him like nothing he’s ever felt before. The flowers ripple in his lungs, thorns barely scraping and gourds rattling.

“You will not take her from me!” Anakin snarls, pacing like a rabid animal. The Force about him is so twisted and aching that Obi-Wan can feel it snap and scald against him.

This can’t be his Anakin.

It can’t be.

This is beyond anything he can fix.

(because he’s not good enough he’s never been good enough)

“Your anger and your lust for power have already done that.” He lets his cloak slip form his shoulders and pool at his feet. He knows with a certainty that makes him want to wail and scream his heart out how this will end.

He begins to circle Anakin. “You have allowed this…Dark Lord to twist your mind until now…” Bitterness floods his mouth. “Until now you’ve become the very thing you swore to destroy.”

Anakin mirrors him, moving towards the ship. “Don’t lecture me, Obi-Wan. I see through the lies of the Jedi. I do not fear the Dark Side as you do.”

Terror trembles through his gut as he kneels to touch Padmé’s face, to make sure—

“I have brought peace, freedom, justice and security to my new Empire!”

She is alive. If just. The life within her pulses with a surety that makes Obi-Wan more grateful than he has ever felt.

But if it was Anakin that did this—

He is far too gone for Obi-Wan to reach him.

Far too gone.

Then what Anakin says registers.

“Your new Empire?” He wants to laugh at the absurdity of it. At the absurdity of everything about this situation.

How is this even real?

“Don’t make me kill you.”

This can’t be his Anakin.

But then again, Anakin has really never been his, has he?

That last thread of composure snaps.

Anakin, my allegiance is to the Republic, to Democracy!”

“If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.”

The breath is stolen from his lungs.

This isn’t Anakin.

Not anymore.

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” He unhooks his lightsaber. “I will do what I must.”

(even if it will kill me)

“You will try.”

-:-

“Pellano was furious,” Obi-Wan’s mother murmurs against his hair. “How dare Ati-Lin attack him? If this is what Ati-Lin was truly like Pellano didn’t care that he’d spent so long trying to get into Ati-Lin’s good graces. He wanted Ati-Lin out of his city. There was no way he could salvage the situation now, anyway.”

“Stupid Pellano,” her son mutters against her throat.

She grins faintly. “Pellano’s guards ran Ati-Lin out of the city and into the mountains. He didn’t even have time to stop home lest he be caught and killed. So Ati-Lin ran and ran and ran until the sun faded beyond the peaks and the stars began to sprinkle along the sky. By then the guards had given up and left him to die alone.”

Little Obi-Wan jerks in her hold and lifts his face to meet her eye. “He didn’t die, did he?!” His small round face scrunches in horror.

She shakes her head. “No, he didn’t. Ati-Lin remembered how his family had survived in the mountains on the trek towards the city, and he remembered how to forage from his time living in the hills with Olika and Quo-méi.”

Her son’s brows are still furrowed so sharply she worries it will give him a headache.

“When Ati-Lin finally collapsed in the nearest small cave he drew his knees close to his chest and wondered what he’d do next. To be honest he’d never really had a plan. Nothing beyond staying with his family and caring for the mycosia, and then working for Pellano.”

Obi-Wan leans in close to her. “Wha’ about Olika and Quo-méi? Can’t he go back to them?”

Her smile widens. “You’re so clever, Obi-Wan. That’s exactly what Ati-Lin realized. He’d never really thought he could go back to them, not after his family left. But suddenly he realized he could do whatever he wanted, now that he could no longer go back to the city where his mycosia had spread and grown so beautifully.

“He could go back to Olika. Back to Quo-méi.”

-:-

Obi-Wan doesn’t understand how it got to this point.

He doesn’t understand anything at all.

Anakin, this Sith, believes that the Jedi plotted to take over. He believes that the Jedi are evil.

Obi-Wan has failed him.

Everything is Obi-Wan’s fault.

(he is responsible for absolutely everything)

He makes that final leap back over the sizzling lava and onto land. His body aches but he can barely feel it past the numbness and the turmoil that threatens to choke him.

“It’s over, Anakin!” Obi-Wan tries one more time. Desperate and bleeding in his very soul. Because surely, surely something must be able to end this madness. “I have the high ground!”

Anakin peers up at him with shadowed eyes, everything about him warped and hateful, mad beyond anything Obi-Wan can understand. “You underestimate my power,” he snarls, voice barely recognizable.

Please.

No.

“Don’t try it.”

Anakin leaps up screaming, a whirl of fury and insanity. In those short moments, Obi-Wan sees perfectly how he must stop this Sith. Sees the one opening that he must take advantage of.

Mou kei, something cruel and dead whispers in his mind. Something that doesn’t feel like him at all. His lungs spasm and a horrific bitterness floods his mouth.

He takes that opening.

Anakin’s remaining limbs are severed from his body.

He tumbles quiet to the ground and down the slope, skidding to a stop just before the edge of the lava. Obi-Wan breathes out the last sweet breath he’ll ever taste.

Anakin. Or- or not Anakin. This creature. This- this Sith groans, edging on a wail as he thrashes helplessly. His cries are animal-like, barely human. Grotesque. He lifts his head, lips parted in a silent snarl. His eyes meet Obi-Wan’s and between one breath and the next those Tatooine-sky-blue eyes fade into a sickly yellow edged with bloody red.

Anakin is gone.

Obi-Wan wants to die.

“You were the Chosen One!” he screams, wrecked and broken beyond anything that can possibly be repaired. “It was said you would destroy the Sith not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in Darkness!”

He struggles to breathe through the smoke and his own tears, the awful heaviness of his lungs.

Leaning down, he numbly picks up Anakin’s lightsaber. He’s told Anakin so many times not to lose it, and here he is—

He steps up the hill, aching and deaddeaddead inside. Stops. Turns back. Watches as that creature struggles to crawl up to him only to slip back with every single desperate movement.

“I HATE YOU!” it screams, ghastly and otherworldly, like something straight out of the worst of nightmares.

The words echo around his head. It takes longer than he’d like to catch his breath. To speak past the bile and flowers in his throat.

You were my brother, Anakin,” he says, because there’s no way he can say anything else. “I loved you!” Because you are not the man I fell in love with. You are a creature I don’t recognize. Something twisted and hateful, as terrifying as you are terrible.

I might as well be dead.

The creature is far too close to the lava. Something catches alight and hungry flames snake up the creature’s legs. It screams and writhes in Anakin’s body, reaching out to Obi-Wan.

He can’t—

He can’t—

Even twisted and burning it looks like Anakin.

And still Obi-Wan cannot kill him.

Steps stuttering and unsteady, Obi-Wan stumbles away, heart constricted and choking on the flowers that threaten to smother him.

He walks away with that creature’s terrible screams ringing in his ears.

He throws up black flower after bloody-black flower as soon as he reaches the landing platform.

-:-

“Ati-Lin stumbled through the mountains. It had been so long he could barely remember which way to go and sometimes he feared he’d never find his old home. But the thought of his friends kept him going until he came across the first flower, glowing brilliantly in the night along a mountainside.”

Obi-Wan frowns. “What flow’?”

His mother smiles a sad smile that Obi-Wan doesn’t understand. “It was Ati-Lin’s own flower, the lyris.”

-:-

Padmé’s lost the will to live.

It’s not—

It’s not that Obi-Wan doesn’t understand, because he does. Oh Force, he does. He does he does he does—

But—

The babies. The twins.

They need someone.

So even if he wants to die. Even if he just wants everything to be over, he can’t.

They need him.

He stands next to her, not daring to even hold her hand because he knows if she wouldn’t accept it, and he thinks if he offered he’d—

He’s not sure.

He’s still numb. It’s spread from his heart and creeped through his ribs to curl about his limbs and settle heavy in his throat.

Holding Luke and then Leia in his arms sparks something faint and warm in his breast. It tingles in his fingers and it’s all he can do not to cry.

Watching Padmé gasp for breath, like Anakin’s own tiny Tatooine flowers fill her every breath, Obi-Wan knows:

Sometimes love is not enough.

And what a terrible truth that is.

And yet…

With her last breaths she struggles to say, “Obi-Wan…There’s good in him…I know. I know there’s…still…”

As Luke cries, his distress clear in the Force, Obi-Wan labours to breathe through the heaviness in his breast. The tiny body writhes in his arms and he takes care not to clutch him too tight for fear of hurting him. Hurting Anakin’s child.

Little Luke.

Padmé lays limp on the table, all life lost. Anakin is gone, and their children wail their hearts out in this cold room on a lonely, little asteroid.

Obi-Wan wishes he was free to do the same.

-:-

“The lyris?!” little Obi-Wan gasps. “How?!”

“Well,” his mother begins, “do you remember when Olika dropped all those seeds in the foothills? They took root and spread over the years, trickling into the mountains like their own swathe of stars.”

Obi-Wan gapes up at her. “B-but— Did no one notice?! Olika was so sad! And- and Ati-Lin thought the flow’s would die without help!”

His mother smooths the hair at his temple. “Olika didn’t visit the foothills again. He was too ashamed of losing the seeds. Those who did know about the lyris there thought it was because of Quo-méi since her own lyris had blossomed so beautifully. They thought her devotion to caring for Ati-Lin’s flowers must have helped them spread.”

Obi-Wan’s little face scrunches in distress. “They’re wrong.”

His mother nods. “They were wrong, but they did not know that. And Ati-Lin when he saw those flowers in the mountains…Well, because he’d been so obsessed with Quo-méi’s flowers he thought that what happened to him must have happened to Quo-méi. He saw those flowers and thought: She loves me. She loves me and she’s leading me home.”

Gripping her nightgown tight, her son shakes his head. “Olika,” he whines. “It was Olika.

His mother strokes his cheek, tears burning her eyes, the old hurt still aching in her breast even years after she first heard this story. “You’re right, my dear. Olika loved Ati-Lin so strongly that even without his presence they grew. Plants are closely in tune with our feelings, see? So many people think all they do is grow, but the Stewjoni know better. Flowers can tell when we’re sad, when we’re happy. They can even tell when we’re in love. It’s why Stewjon is such a beautiful planet. The florae know we care for and respect them. We all share this planet together. Even if the first Stewjoni weren’t born from flowers, we still all share the same lifeblood. We’re still all made from stardust, my son. Everything in this galaxy is connected.”

Something pulses deep within little Obi-Wan’s breast. Something that rings right and true.

-:-

It’s more difficult than he would like to hand baby Luke over to Beru Whitesun Lars. But her joy overwhelms the dread he feels in her, so he leaves Anakin’s child with them. Leaves his only true reason for living.

Except—

Except Qui-Gon.

He isn’t sure how he felt when Yoda first uttered that name. Isn’t sure why his lungs spasmed and his joints locked as he opened to say—

Well, more than Qui-Gon’s name.

He knows it will take a while to properly communicate with his old Master, and then a while still for his Master to teach him how to become a Force ghost is what Yoda called it.

He loathes the idea, though he’d never admit it. Why finally give into the peace of death only to be brought back and have to deal with all the pain life brings? What’s the point?

But then he thinks of Luke. Leia. Their last hope. If something happens to Obi-Wan and they need him…he’ll have to find his way back to them, no matter the cost.

So the first thing he does is find a doctor willing to do the occasional, discreet surgery. Someone who won’t talk no matter what.

He coughs up several bloody-black flowers on the way back to Mos Eisley, but it is nothing new by now. He’s thrown up so many blackened flowers since Mustafar he’s numb to it. Used to their sickly, bitter taste, their terrifying visage. Every golden driss flower that spills from his mouth is withered and tattered, flecked with bright blood.

He hates himself because now he knows. That black rose is for Anakin, too. For the monster that grew and fed upon his dearest friend. The monster that murdered him.

But how can they grow within him? When that monster isn’t truly Anakin?

How can he still love him, even after everything?

-:-

“Ati-Lin followed the path of glowing blossoms through the mountains. With each step towards his home his love for Quo-méi grew, as did his faith in her. Of course, he thought, of course she is the one to lead me home. What would I do without her?”

“But…” Obi-Wan starts only for his mother to gently hush him.

“I know, sweet child. I know. But you must listen. This is very important, do you understand? You must remember this story, my love. You must.”

Little Obi-Wan can only nod.

(but of course he won’t remember)

(he is too young to understand)

(if only his mother knew)

(she might have insisted that the Jedi who found her son listen to the story first before taking him away)

(but maybe even then it wouldn’t have helped)

(because Jedi are not supposed to love)

-:-

Qui-Gon’s ghost finally appears a few years later. They’ve been long years, full of pain and contemplation. Guilt and endless sorrow. Obi-Wan hardly thinks he’s any wiser, not in the way he should be. But he knows the small signs that tell of a sandstorm before the horizon even blackens with its fury. Knows how to pitch his voice to shriek a Krayt dragon’s call. Knows how to calm stray bantha calves and coax water from the air and into a vaporator.

He knows that if he leaves his face exposed to the twin suns he’ll age so quickly no one will ever recognize him.

Already wrinkles crease his cheeks and his hair has begun to streak silver.

He’s barely past forty but it suits him just fine.

When he sees little Luke running along sand flats whooping with joy, it makes everything just a bit more bearable.

The surgeries are difficult, though. No one on an Outer Rim planet has enough money for the best equipment, and Obi-Wan does not want to be in Jabba the Hutt’s debt. So he makes due. He changes doctors twice. The first became too suspicious and the second died in a cantina brawl. The scarring weakens him with every procedure, so he tries not to do it very often. He becomes used to the ragged feeling of thorns pricking his lungs. The driss gourds feel natural when rattling with his every breath. If he had the energy to dance he might laugh at the music his body would make.

But as it is, he doesn’t have much energy at all.

He uses what energy he has to try to communicate with Qui-Gon, watch over Luke and fight off any Tuskens who become a bit too bloodthirsty.

He has an odd relationship with them. The Tuskens.

They’re…different. If Obi-Wan was living another life he might have tried to understand them, maybe even befriend them. But it is a bit too much for his broken heart.

It doesn’t take too long for the Tuskens to realize the surrounding area is under Obi-Wan’s protection.

Once, after defending the Lars Homestead one of the Tuskens lingers behind. Obi-Wan keeps his stance, lightsaber raised, wary as he tries to keep his breath even.

“You are the one who leaves flowers,” the Tusken garbles in their strange language.

Fingers tightening on his hilt, Obi-Wan doesn’t say anything in return.

The Tusken does not step closer, but they do not leave. “The sickness grows within you,” they rasp. “One day the death in your breath will strangle that outlander heart of yours.” A strange laugh trembles from their covered lips. “The sands do not care who you are, and it will claim you just as it does everyone else.”

They raise their arm high, fingers spread as they point towards the twin suns above. “The brothers will bleach your bones star-bright before they’re lost and buried in the sands.” They raise their other arm to thrust their gaderffii at him. “You are a good warrior. We respect you even if you do not belong here.”

The Tusken steps away towards their patiently waiting bantha. “Take care not to lose yourself completely before then, Flower Spitter.”

After then, the Tusken Raiders usually leave the surrounding area alone. At least, they leave the Lars completely alone.

That night Qui-Gon comes to him.

Obi-Wan sits cross-legged in the sands outside his hut. Three moons drift above him, their light casts a silver glow on the sweeping dunes below. If Obi-Wan thinks hard enough, he can make himself believe it’s an ocean.

At first he doesn’t notice Qui-Gon, his old Master’s glimmering form blending into the swathes of stars and bulging moons above.

“Obi-Wan,” his Master whispers, voice as gentle as a breeze. As if he’s afraid he’ll break the quiet refuge of the night. “Oh, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan startles, a gasp stolen from his aching lungs. “Master,” he croaks.

Qui-Gon stands before him, looking as regal as he ever did. Eyes so awfully sad.

“You left me,” Obi-Wan rasps, that old ache in his breast returning ten-fold. Some odd emotion long-forgotten (long-stolen), rises like a ghost in his throat. “You left, and I had to live on.”

Within a breath Qui-Gon kneels before Obi-Wan, hands hovering over his own. Obi-Wan can’t feel them. He never will. Qui-Gon Jinn is dead and will remain so for the rest of time.

“Oh, my dear Padawan,” his Master murmurs, grief pitching his voice low. “If only I had told you. If only…” His eyes slant to the side, ashamed. Obi-Wan has never known his Master to be ashamed.

“What do you…?”

“I loved you.” Qui-Gon’s face crumples. “I love you still. It is why I pulled away those last few years. I was…I was afraid of taking advantage. Afraid you did not feel the same. Afraid of letting you go to grow on your own. I did not want you leaving me.” Qui-Gon looks back up at him, so sorrowful. “I am a selfish man, Obi-Wan. I never deserved your love.”

Brokenly, Obi-Wan laughs. The sound scrapes his throat raw and sounds rather mad. It echoes in the night. “Oh, Qui-Gon. You are too little, too late.”

He can’t even cry.

His feelings for Qui-Gon were stolen too long ago.

-:-

“Now, I told you that Olika and Quo-méi had become dear, dear friends, did I not?” little Obi-Wan’s mother asks.

Obi-Wan nods fervently. “Yes, mama. You did.”

“Well, while Ati-Lin had grown up, so did Olika and Quo-méi. They grew so close that they thought they might even be in love. Yet Ati-Lin still lingered in the backs of their minds. His laughter, his smile, his wonderful caring nature and enthusiasm. They could not forget him.

“So, when Ati-Lin stumbled out of the mountains in the middle of the night and found his family’s flowers glowing brilliantly along the front of Quo-méi’s, he knocked on her door. When she answered, they were both so overwhelmed with love and relief that they kissed each other.

“By the next morning when Olika found them, Quo-méi and Ati-Lin were so wrapped around one another that they hardly noticed him.”

-:-

“Why do you not just have the flowers removed?” Qui-Gon questions him once. Actually, that’s not true. His Master has asked him this many a time, and ever time Obi-Wan gives the same answer:

“Because I will die without them. Maybe not in body, but in my soul.” Obi-Wan stares off across the sand dunes, hood pooled about his shoulders. The twin suns hover above, their radiation aging his face beyond recognition. “They are the last piece of him I have. They are a reminder.” Of my failures. Of my love. Why I’m here on this planet dying a slow death.

But you are dead even with them, Qui-Gon does not say.

Obi-Wan hears regardless.

“Where do those feelings go, I wonder,” he says mildly. The sands burn golden. The sunlit flowers within his lungs continue to wither as the blackened roses tangle more stubbornly. “When the flowers and their roots are removed from my body.” He half turns towards Qui-Gon, smile brittle and broken, a faded thing.

“When I die, will my love for you return?”

-:-

“Ati-Lin was still ashamed that he lost Olika’s flowers, and Olika was ashamed that he lost Ati-Lin’s. Neither spoke of the grief in their hearts. Ati-Lin fixated on Quo-méi instead. He believed her love and his devotion for her had brought him home back into Quo-méi’s arms. Quo-méi was only too happy to believe as Ati-Lin did. She knew that her flowers had flourished while Olika’s did not. And she had her dear childhood friend back, a beautiful, ridiculously charming young man who quickly stole her heart.”

“But Olika…” little Obi-Wan whispers. “Wha’ about…”

His mother’s face twists in grief. “Olika saw how happy Ati-Lin and Quo-méi were. He could not shatter that happiness, not even if he was grieving. However, with each passing day his feelings for Ati-Lin grew stronger and stronger until he knew there was no denying it. He was in love with Ati-Lin.”

“So…?” her son insists, brows furrowed. “Wha’ happened?”

His mother closes her eyes. “The seed within his lungs began to grow.”

-:-

Obi-Wan knows there must be something wrong with him. For the flowers to still grow in his lungs. It is far too difficult to ignore the bloody-black roses that fall from his lips and rip ragged holes in his lungs with their thorns. The gourds wither and harden, rattling with every step he takes.

Then again, the flowers continued to grow even after Qui-Gon’s death. So maybe it isn’t that monster Obi-Wan loves. Maybe it isn’t that imposter that plagues his heart.

Even so, Obi-Wan knows there’s been something wrong with him from the start.

-:-

Little Obi-Wan’s nose scrunches. “Why?”

His mother sighs. “You know that flowers can feel our emotions, and even respond to our touch like our Clan’s green daisy. Well, when Ati-Lin’s seed sensed Olika’s overwhelming love and grief it latched onto it, and began to grow in sympathy, feeding off Olika’s emotions. We don’t quite understand it. Perhaps we never will. But our bodies are well-matched with plants and can easily become their hosts. It’s why all our graveyards are beautiful gardens.” She sighs again, long and deep.

“Our souls remember Olika’s suffering and love, and our Clan flowers remember the same.”

“Was—” Obi-Wan swallows hard, eyes wet with tears. “Was it like…Was Olika sick?”

His mother knows he’s thinking of his departed sister.

“Yes, Obi-Wan,” she whispers, voice hoarse. “Yes, it was.”

It’s so easy to tell that her son does his best not to cry. Even so, tears drip down his cheeks.

“The flowers grew within him, and while they flourished he did not. He became short of breath, achy. With each passing day his sorrow grew along with the flowers’ strength. It became difficult to do everyday tasks and he did not know why there was a constant sweetness on his tongue.”

His mother’s brows furrow, lips pursed in anguish. “But that was not the worst of it. Ati-Lin’s family flower was poisonous when eaten. It would make you giddy at the oddest of times, and then haunt your dreams with horrifying visions.” Things like disembodied eyes and bloody teeth, she does not say. Her son is far too young for that.

“When Olika began to cough up glowing blue and orange petals he became frightened. Before then he believed it to be a simple illness, something that would go away with time. But when he began to cough up the flowers…Well, he knew it was something more. Something far worse.”

“Wha’ did he do?” Obi-Wan whispers, words trembling in his throat.

“His friends and family were worried. Even though he tried to keep it a secret, it was impossible not to notice the shadows beneath his eyes and the trembling in his limbs. He could barely walk to Quo-méi’s house without stopping to rest because his lungs were heaving so hard. Certainly, it was impossible to ignore his screams at night. He did his best to hide the flowers that fell from his lips, but there were stray petals everywhere.

“He eventually went to the village’s doctor. But not until he was throwing up flowers every night, nearly delirious with terrifying nightmares and barely able to stand because of the pain.

“Unfortunately for him, most of the villagers had realized he was in love with Ati-Lin. Olika was the kind of person that no matter how hard he tried, he wore his heart on his sleeve. But equally as unfortunately, neither Ati-Lin nor Quo-méi had noticed. They were too in love with one another. Maybe if they had noticed, Olika wouldn’t have…” She trails off, sorrow twisting in her gut.

Obi-Wan’s tiny fists shake as they tug at her nightgown. “Wouldn’ what?

“Maybe he wouldn’t have suffered so. Maybe he wouldn’t have let the doctor remove the flowers from his lungs when the older man discovered them.”

Her son frowns. “Was it bad? For the flow’s to go?”

“Yes,” his mother whispers, “and no.”

Her son clutches at her, confusion twisting his young face.

“While Olika’s family waited for the doctor to remove the mysterious flowers from Olika’s body, Ati-Lin and Quo-méi huddled together in a corner, worry eating at their hearts. Back then, surgery as big as this was dangerous and sometimes people lost their lives. But Olika didn’t have much choice at this point.

“‘What if he dies?’ Ati-Lin whispered, clutching his beloved’s hand. 'What if we lose him? I only just got him back.’

“Quo-méi buried her face in his shoulder. ‘He is my oldest and dearest friend. I don’t want to lose him either.’

“One of Olika’s little brothers overheard this. He, like most everyone in the village, knew Olika was in love with Ati-Lin and had once been almost in love with Quo-méi. Furious and feeling as if Olika’s dearest friends were acting selfishly when they did not even know how Olika felt, he stood and approached them, face twisted with rage.

“‘You don’t even know,’ he snarled, much to the young couple’s startled confusion. ‘Do you know how devoted Olika is to caring for Ati-Lin’s flower, even after you’ve returned? Do you know how upset he was when he realized he only had one flower left? I’ve thought long and hard about it and I don’t think the other flowers died. Olika cared too much. He wouldn’t just let that happen.’ Olika’s little brother sneered at Ati-Lin’s shocked expression.

“‘I’ve heard your sappy whispering about how Quo-méi’s love for you caused her flowers to grow and spread into the mountains and guide you home. Well, if they had spread, don’t you think there’d be more in the village? Because the only lyris here are in front of your house and in Olika’s garden. And Olika’s got only one flower so I think he must have planted the rest in the hills, where you all used to spend your time.’

“Ati-Lin and Quo-méi stared wordlessly at the boy, a terrible horror dawning.

“‘Olika is in love with you, Ati-Lin,’ Olika’s little brother spit. ‘Only, he cares for you both so much that he doesn’t dare say anything. I’m sick and tired of seeing my brother suffer only for you two to live on obliviously in bliss.’

“His little brother began to cry, angry and hurt. ‘I won’t have him die without you knowing. I won’t. My brother is kind and good and you’ve hurt him.’

“Ati-Lin and Quo-méi stared at one another, shocked and horrified, both remembering a time when they might have been in love with Olika. Both wondering if they could love him still.

“‘Maybe…’ Ati-Lin began, then swallowed nervously. ‘Maybe we should…speak with him when he wakes up.’

“‘Quo-méi nodded tearily and squeezes his hand. ‘Okay,’ she whispered. ‘We can do that.’

“But what no one knew was that when the last lyris root was removed from Olika’s lungs, he would no longer love Ati-Lin, for the flowers had entwined with his love so thoroughly that by removing the blossoms it was like removing a part of Olika himself. Like removing Ati-Lin from his heart.”

Little Obi-Wan cries openly now, eyes red-rimmed and nose dripping. He tilts into her and tucks his head back into the curve of his neck. She runs a hand down his spine. Feels the way he quakes against her.

“No’ fair,” he wails brokenly. “Tha’s no’- it’s not fair.

“I know, little one,” his mother murmurs into his soft-ginger hair. “I know…Which is why—” She swallows and grips him more tightly. “Which is why you must always tell someone you love them, so you have a chance of your feelings returned. You must remember, my son. Remember. Do not give your heart away to someone who will not love you back.”

Obi-Wan’s mother presses her cheek against the top of his head. Hot tears slide down her nose and into his hair. “I will not lose you to pretty-petaled death.”

(and she doesn’t)

(she loses him to the Jedi, instead)

-:-

The last few days of Obi-Wan’s life are a whirlwind, even though his body is so, so slow. And aching. The roots have grown so heavy in his lungs that he can barely breathe, barely eat. He knows he’s at the end of his days even though Qui-Gon will not admit it, not even in death. Not even late at night when they sit beneath the stars and Obi-Wan can barely breathe.

He’s vomited bloody-black roses every night for months. The old gourds rattle in his breast, tucked behind his sternum. It is a rare occasion when he sees a stray driss flower fall from his mouth like a dying star.

He doesn’t dare hope to read into it.

When Luke asks about his father Obi-Wan tells him the only truth that he’s told himself over and over again every day for nineteen years. Because he can’t believe anything else.

“A young Jedi named Darth Vader was a pupil of mine until he turned evil and helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father.”

When he faces Darth Vader for the last time, the creature that once called itself Anakin, he almost feels…relieved.

Somehow, he knows this is it.

The flowers tremble with his every breath, their bitter taste so familiar on his tongue. He’s had nineteen years to get used to their acrid scent. He steps forward and the gourds rattle.

Darth Vader stalks towards him. “I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but a learner, now I am the Master.”

He almost laughs. It’s every bit as absurd as their last meeting. Every bit as terrible.

“Only a Master of evil, Darth.”

He refuses to call this creature by Anakin’s name. Refuses to acknowledge that once this hideous thing of Darkness used to be the man he loved.

(whom you still love, something traitorous hisses in the back of his mind)

“Your powers are weak, old man,” Darth Vader taunts. But it’s true, and Obi-Wan knows it. He’s just delaying the inevitable. Desperately hoping that Anakin’s children will pull through and escape.

“You can’t win, Darth.” Then, echoing something Qui-Gon once mentioned to him upon the moonlit sand of Tatooine, he says, “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Even if all he wants is to be done with it all. He knows he still has more work to do.

Something spikes against his senses, dark and familiar. Almost like grief. “You should not have come back.”

Something else flickers along his edges. Luke and Leia. Twins suns against his faded soul. He glances over into the hanger where Luke stares at him, horror stretched taught across his too young face.

This is it.

He turns his gaze back to Darth Vader. Inexplicably, the corner of his mouth quirks up.

This is it.

He lets out one last shaky, bitter breath. Lifts his blade. Closes his eyes.

He doesn’t even feel the red-spitting blade.

-:-

As the fugitive ship escapes, Darth Vader stares down at the pile left at his feet. So like his old Master, dramatically discarding his cloaks wherever he goes.

But…

Darth Vader tentatively reaches out again, boot falling just short of prodding at the fabric. His breathing is harsh in his ears, something he’ll never grow used to, no matter how long he’s been trapped in his suit.

A strange terror grips his heart as he stares down at the sea of bloody-black blossoms where Obi-Wan used to stand. They’re same exact shade as his lightsaber’s reflection in his armour. He thinks he’s seen them somewhere before. Maybe Vjun.

Something odd tightens in his battered breast. The image of Obi-Wan bursting into bloody-black flowers as he slices through his old Master’s shoulders won’t leave his mind’s eye. No matter how much he blinks. It’s burned into the backs of his eyelids.

Fury bubbles up his throat, frustration burning in the pit of his stomach. He kicks at the heap of flowers, watches them fling through the air like stray, dead shooting stars.

Freezes.

His withered heart stutters between his caged ribs.

There rests a tiny, golden flower revealed by his own vexation. Its soft petals spread across the black of the roses. It’s so bright against them that it looks like a brilliant star in the night sky. Perhaps the first of the evening or the last of the dawn. Battered but resolute.

Breath-taking, and oh so painful.

It looks…

Darth Vader tilts his head.

It looks so familiar.