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Constellations Reveal Themselves One Star at a Time

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The blatant apology visible on Quinlan Vos' flickering holoimage should have made Obi-Wan Kenobi more suspicious. "I can't believe you're roping me into this."

"What else can I do, Obi-Wan?" The Kiffar shrugged helplessly as he paced back and forth. "You're my only hope."

"You could start by not dumping your undercover investigations on me at the very last second," retorted Obi-Wan, frowning. "Your timing is pretty karking questionable, Quin."

Quinlan snorted. "Now I know it's serious when you start swearing out loud."

"Quinlan." Obi-Wan crossed his arms over his chest. "You are making my life difficult."

"I don't have a choice!" Throwing up his hands in frustration, Quinlan blew out a deep breath.

"We all have the choice to take a Padawan," sniped Obi-Wan. "That's the entire basis of our whole education system. You"—he stabbed his finger at the affronted holoprojection—"chose to take an apprentice six hours before your scheduled, long-term undercover mission, and now you're dumping the assignment on me."

"Only because I know you're short this kind of mission before they finally deem you a senior Knight," replied Quinlan, projecting far more cheer than Obi-Wan thought he should be given the circumstances. "You get the credit and the promotion, I get the joys of apprenticing, Aayla gets a Master instead of aging out, everyone wins!"

"Six hours, Quin!"

"It was the will of the Force!" Quinlan cried in desperation. He started to pace, and his image flickered as the recording system lagged. "Wait 'til you meet her, she's adorable and terrifying. Her hands—her hands are tiny, Obi-Wan, I mean she's practically pocket-sized and she'll need an itty bitty lightsaber, and I'm afraid I'll lose her the first time we go out in a crowd—"

"Quinlan!" snapped Obi-Wan in an attempt to stop the babbling that was bordering on hysteria.

"What?"

"Did the Council approve my standing in for you?"

Finally standing still long enough for the holoimaging equipment to catch up, the small image of Quinlan coalesced into sharp focus. "Oh. Yes. Master Yoda seemed particularly pleased that I recommended you. Everything's dotted and crossed." The yellow stripe across his face twitched once. "I trust you on this one. I know it's not your usual mission, Obi-Wan, but…" He cocked his head in an odd expression of compassion.

"But what?" sighed the redhead.

"You've been out in the wilderness for five years. People are starting to forget what you look like. Maybe it would do you good to stick around somewhere for longer than a week. Remember what planetary gravity and fresh air and sunlight feel like, you know?"

There was a note of concern in the Kiffar's voice that grated on Obi-Wan; he pursed his lips in annoyance. "Send your prep notes and the mission brief. You caught me before we completely bypassed the system."

Quinlan grinned, his features bright with relief. "I owe you, Obi-Wan."

"Yes, you do," retorted Obi-Wan. "Oh, and Quin?"

"Yeah?"

"Congratulations on the Padawan. At the bare minimum, keep her alive so I can meet her when I get back." The comm system beeped in warning. "We're about to hit EM interference—"

The transmission cut out as Quinlan laughed, leaving Obi-Wan standing in the dark comms room. He dragged his hands down his face, scratching at his beard, and let his shoulders slump. Why was it impossible to say no to Quinlan Vos? "More fool me," Obi-Wan muttered as the computer screen flashed with new documents, and he flicked through the mission brief.

Jedi anthropologists, who had been studying local Force sensitive, pre-hyperdrive population, were missing. That was concerning, having partnered Jedi disappear from an undercover research operation. At least it was unlikely they had left the planet. Obi-Wan skimmed over the rest of the brief, his tired eyes tracking words with difficulty. When he reached the bottom of the document, he frowned and shook his head, then scrolled back over the text once more. He skimmed through Quinlan's scant prep notes.

He swore in Huttese and pinched the bridge of his nose in anticipation of the oncoming headache. At no point did anyone mention who his mission partner was going to be.

 

The coordinates placed his tiny landing shuttle in a small clearing amongst tall coniferous trees. Obi-Wan clambered out of the cramped craft, fussing with the canvas bag slung over his shoulder. Quinlan's sparse notes had, at least, provided some of the arrival procedure, and he mentally rehearsed it: after the craft auto-returned to the ship, follow the game trail for ten kilometres, proceed due west for another three until he found the village. His mission partner was supposed to meet him there.

After a very long walk.

Hitching his bag a little higher, Obi-Wan stepped onto the narrow track worn over the years by local wildlife. As he moved beneath the canopy, the Force brushed over him gently—not in warning, but as though he was supposed to pay attention. He paused. The forest floor, piled thickly with fallen needles, absorbed noise; the birdcalls seemed muted. Obi-Wan could hear his own heart beating in his chest, and he took a deep breath. Cool air thrumming with the green tinge of living plants and the soft currents of the wind filled him, and for a melancholy moment, he thought of Qui-Gon.

As Obi-Wan had been absent from the Temple for half a decade after his hasty knighting on Naboo, so Qui-Gon had thrown himself into endless missions—but only after a very public thrashing by the High Council for the actions that nearly got him killed by the Sith. Obi-Wan had already spent a year away when a chance encounter with Bant had revealed the gory details. Forbidden from taking another apprentice for a decade and mandated to have a supervisory mission partner for at least a year, the just-healed Qui-Gon Jinn had once again played the maverick by renouncing his title of Jedi Master; when the Council had refused to accept, he had threatened to leave the Order altogether.

So where Master Jinn had been the preferred Jedi for difficult and complex negotiations in high Coruscanti circles, Knight Jinn broke up slavery rings in the Outer Rim. Usually with his lightsaber. According to scuttlebutt, the Council continued to throw mission partners at him, all of whom returned and swore never to work with him again.

Obi-Wan sighed, trying to brush away the feelings that always crept up on him when he thought about his old Master. Five years of solving kidnappings and organized crime and local political disputes with no downtime had still not been enough to purge Obi-Wan’s love for the man.

But he was a Jedi Knight now. Love was a luxury he could not have, least of all for someone who could never love him back.

He cleared his throat and tried not to notice the satisfying feel of real earth beneath his soles.

 

As the single sun set, it threw long, spindly shadows across the fields. Obi-Wan walked in a narrow alley, topped on both sides by grain plants taller than he was. His feet were tired, his muscles protesting the sudden pull of real gravity after so much time spent standing on artificial gravity plating. He debated pulling out his compass to check his heading when the grain field ended abruptly. The dirt beneath his feet was dry and dusty, pounded hard by boots and draft animals, and he found himself staring at a cluster of wooden buildings with thatched roofs. He squinted in the fading light, trying to catch the details of the group of adults who had paused in their work to watch him warily—

Suddenly, he was engulfed in a tight embrace. Obi-Wan struggled, his first instinct to fight taking over, but an oh-so-familiar voice rumbled in his ear as the strong smells of tea and sunshine flooded his senses. An ache gripped his heart—

"Obi-Wan? Please don't take this the wrong way, but what the kriffing hells are you doing here?"

Stunned, Obi-Wan slowly raised his arms and rested them awkwardly against Qui-Gon Jinn's back. "What am I doing here? What are you doing here?" hissed Obi-Wan against the taller man's neck.

"I'm on an undercover mission," Qui-Gon replied with whispered bemusement. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm your mission partner," said Obi-Wan. "Quinlan backed out."

Qui-Gon squeezed Obi-Wan once before untangling himself from the Knight, but as he moved away, he grabbed Obi-Wan's hand. The feeling of warm skin against his palm was almost electric; Obi-Wan could not help his sharp inhale. Qui-Gon waved with his free hand towards the others, but through his smile, he murmured, "They're going to separate us now. They won't hurt you in any way. Just go along with it. I'll join you as soon as I can."

"I'm going to kill Quin," muttered Obi-Wan. "Straight up murder."

Qui-Gon snorted a laugh. "Why?"

"Because he didn't mention you," Obi-Wan replied quickly as the locals approached. Qui-Gon's expression shifted for the briefest of moments, almost as though he were stunned, before he replaced his smile for the villagers.

 

True to Qui-Gon's word, Obi-Wan was not harmed. Chivvied along by a group of white-haired women, laughing and chattering amongst themselves, he was herded into an unassuming timber building. The rough floor planks inside were swept clean, and the deep fireplace kept the air overly warm. In the middle of the room, a polished copper bathtub, big enough for a man to drown himself in, sat waiting. Steam curled above the tub.

The smallest of the women, bent back and lined face speaking of a life spent working in the sun, looked up at him with a toothy grin. "Well?"

"Well what?" he replied automatically, and the women laughed.

"They bathe fully dressed where you're from?" asked the old woman.

"Ah." Obi-Wan glanced around at his audience, and the old woman snorted.

"Shy, eh?" She rolled her eyes. "Nothing none of us haven't seen before. Between us I think we have twenty-five children."

"Twenty-six, Vina," corrected the woman stuffing a log beneath the enormous kettle hanging in the fireplace.

"Right, Sigal, my apologies," replied Vina. "But if you're truly protecting your virtue, sweet boy, there's a screen in the corner. Towel's on the stool behind it."

"Er, thanks." Obi-Wan ducked behind a screen woven from dried grass with more than a little relief. Another titter of laughter followed him. He sat on the stool and ran his fingers through his hair, trying to take stock for just a moment.

Something about this place felt strange. He did not sense any immediate danger, but neither could he sense the women in the room beyond a very faint indication that they existed. Even nulls appeared stronger in the Force than these people. In that part of his existence where he kept constant tabs on the Force, all he found was a low-level buzzing.

Vina's gravelly voice interrupted him. "The water's not getting any warmer, child."

Maybe it was his growing concern about the Force here. Maybe it was the overwhelming surprise of finding Qui-Gon here, or maybe it was the fresh air and sunlight. Obi-Wan poked his head around the screen and retorted, "I have a beard."

"And it is delightful, but you're still a boy until you're married," cackled Vina. "Now hurry up and get in the tub. You don't want to catch a chill."

While bathing with an audience of elderly women was not his preferred method, the offer of soaking his bones in a tall tub of hot water was too tempting. Obi-Wan shucked his clothes and tugged off his boots, wrapped the towel around his hips, and ducked around the screen. The women studiously and mercifully looked away as he slipped into the bath. Vina grabbed his towel before it fell onto the floor.

A sigh of pleasure escaped him as the water enveloped him. Vina perched on a stool next to the tub and angled her body away from him to give him some privacy. "Soap?" She held out a round cake of yellow soap without looking at him. The floral notes were strong and unfamiliar.

"Can I have a minute?" he asked, a little more plaintively than he had intended. The hot water was a blessing from the Force; he could not actually remember the last time he had had the luxury of an actual bath.

"Of course, child," Vina replied with a little smile. "Qui-Gon wouldn't tell us the name of his intended."

"Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"Welcome to Meadow's Edge, Obi-Wan Kenobi," Vina said. "We are honoured that you would make the journey to be married here."

Obi-Wan ducked his head under the water to give himself a moment to think. Godsdamnit, Quinlan you asshole, how do you function without mission notes? When he emerged, he wiped the rivulets out of his eyes and replied, "It is an honour to be here for such an important ceremony."

That seemed to be the correct answer. The women hummed in agreement. "So," he said casually, plucking the soap from Vina's weathered palm, "I've never been married before."

Around him, the women erupted into laughter. "You don't say," Vina replied dryly, then scoffed. "You don't need me to explain sex, do you? The last time I had to do that, I think I scared the poor girl into celibacy."

It was assumed that he and Qui-Gon would be—the heat rising on his cheeks was from the hot water, surely. "Ah, no, thank you," he said primly. Sigal snickered behind her hand. "I was just wondering how marriage ceremonies differ here from my home."

"I'm sure it's pretty similar." Vina waved her hand in front of her dismissively. "The elders say the words, you drink from the cup, you and your partner tell a story, then we all get to eat and drink and dance for the rest of the night. You don't have to wait too much longer, don't worry. Finish your bath. Antha over there will help you put on your new clothes, then all you need to do is wait." The elderly woman reached out and patted him gently on the head. "Today is the day you become whole, darling boy. You need not be so anxious."

Obi-Wan lathered the bar of soap and began to wash, wishing he could wash away the thoughts churning in his mind along with that odd lack of feeling in the Force.

 

****

 

He sat alone, nerves increasingly jangled, for quite some time until the sound of voices outside caught his attention. Obi-Wan pressed his eye to a crack in the door and watched as Qui-Gon slipped around the bath hut, only to come face to face with the door guard.  Stooped and round, the man Vina had introduced as Linos looked at the former Master with a raised eyebrow. Qui-Gon sighed. "Oh, come on, Linos, please? I need to speak to him."

"Like I haven't heard that one before," Linos croaked, tapping his walking stick on the stones half-hidden in the ground. "You unmarried children all think you're so original."

"Linos, it's very important," Qui-Gon pressed.

"You get to kiss him after the ceremony."

Qui-Gon sighed. "I'll spend a week on lambing duty for you."

"That's not until the spring!" protested the old man, scratching his patchy beard.

"Two weeks."

Linos snorted and glanced at the door. "Five minutes. I suppose you can't get into too much trouble in five minutes."

Qui-Gon's reply was drier than dust. "I've previously managed to hold things together for five minutes."

Rolling his eyes, Linos opened the door. "When I open this again I expect everyone to be fully dressed."

Obi-Wan dashed back to the stool by the fire and arranged himself on it as though he had been there the entire time. As Qui-Gon slipped over the threshold, Obi-Wan turned to watch him with a small smile playing upon his lips. "Hello there."

With a smile, Qui-Gon stepped closer. "Hi."

"You're looking well, Qui-Gon," noted Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon huffed with slight amusement. "The last time I saw you, you were barely out of the bacta tank, so I must say, the improvement is heartening."

It was true; Obi-Wan ignored his heart beating faster as he took in the sight of his former Master. He had let his hair grow a bit longer, and the edges of his temples had gone completely silver, and his skin held the bronze tinge of too much time in the sun. Clad in a plain, roughly-spun tunic and leggings with a pair of boots that had seen better days, Qui-Gon Jinn looked more like a farmer than he did a Jedi. He did, however, look pleased to see Obi-Wan.

"You look spacebound," Qui-Gon said softly.

Obi-Wan ducked his head uncomfortably. The words were true, but he had managed five years without anyone noticing his too-pale skin and dark circles under his eyes. "I only have a few minutes. I had to bribe your ceremonial guard."

"They have particularly hardened gaolers here," noted Obi-Wan wryly. "That wasn't in Quinlan's briefing notes."

"So how is it you're here instead of him?"

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. "He took an apprentice at the last minute and literally begged me to take his place. I stepped in for him only a few hours before I arrived here."

Qui-Gon stilled, watching Obi-Wan with a sharp gaze for a long moment, before humming. "I see. Did Knight Vos have notes on what will happen next?"

"No, and believe me, he's getting an earful when I see him. I can't understand how he's still alive, frankly, given his godsawful prep materials."

At this information, Qui-Gon shifted ever so slightly from one foot to the other--a nervous tell he rarely let loose. Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at him expectantly. "What don't I know?"

"Adults are expected to be married here," Qui-Gon explained in a rush, barely making eye contact. "I've been here for three months and they haven't fully accepted me because my partner isn't with me, but now that you're here, we go through the ceremony. We live together, we keep the illusion of happy matrimony, find our missing Jedi, maybe take some field notes to get back into the Council's less terrible graces, and in six months our evac shuttle meets us in the clearing."

Obi-Wan shifted in surprise. "That wasn't in the brief."

"I'm sorry," Qui-Gon said. "It's not an easy cover."

“No, it’s not.” Showing his affection, outwardly and publicly, for the man he loved would be easy. Pretending it was not real in the moments when they were alone—that would be the difficult task. "But it's fine," Obi-Wan reassured him with a dismissive wave. "Easier that we're not strangers, I suppose."

"Let me know if you have any problems?" Qui-Gon said, sounding purely professional.

"I don't foresee any, but I've never been married before, have I?" He shot the older man a grin, and Qui-Gon chuckled.

"I have missed you, Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan smiled up at him, biting back a bit of frustration. With their Padawan bond severed long ago, Obi-Wan did not have an immediate sense of what the other man was feeling. "I've missed you, too. What's this about a story?"

"This place carries an oral tradition to keep their history. We will be expected to tell a story tonight."

"What kind of story?" asked Obi-Wan a little dubiously.

Hesitant, Qui-Gon cleared his throat. "A story about finding your other half." He paused, then added, "To be married here is to be a complete person."

Obi-Wan said nothing, but he stroked the beard on his chin and stared into the fire in contemplation. What could he say? There was no backing out now. A light tap on the door interrupted their silence, and Linos poked his head around the door. "Time's up," he warned, casting a suspicious eye over the pair.

"I'll see you soon," Qui-Gon said, a little louder than necessary. He stepped close to Obi-Wan and dropped a kiss on the crown of his head. Obi-Wan stiffened under the unexpected touch, and Qui-Gon retreated with apology in his eyes.

Obi-Wan hopped off the stool and seized Qui-Gon's hand, tugging him close. He stretched up on his toes and laid a gentle kiss on Qui-Gon's cheek. "He's still watching us," whispered Obi-Wan before settling back on his perch.

From the door, Linos grunted in wry approval. "That's enough of that."

Qui-Gon fled the bath hut without a backwards glance. Obi-Wan watched him go with the smell of tea and soap in his nostrils.

 

****

 

Two moons orbited this world, both painted in shades of dusky red. With twilight upon the village, the moons crowned the sky like jewels hanging in the fabric of space. Obi-Wan let himself be led to the large green space where, it would seem, the entire population of the village waited with noisy enthusiasm. Weddings, apparently, were the highlight of society here, and not even babes in arms missed the occasion. Vina's hand was firmly entrenched in the crook of his elbow as they walked slowly towards the gathered crowd. She reached over and patted his arm. "You'll be fine, child," she told him firmly. "Remember to breathe, or you'll pass out."

"Thanks for the helpful hint," replied Obi-Wan with a smile. He liked the old woman already.

"Same advice applies for later on this evening," she said slyly, sending Obi-Wan into a choking cough of surprise.

"Noted," he managed to reply.

The crowd, with each adult holding a lantern or lit taper, parted for them. Vina led Obi-Wan to a circle of fist-sized stones arranged in the grass. In the soft, flickering light, Obi-Wan lifted his gaze and found his mouth instantly dry. Qui-Gon stood in the circle, watching him with those piercing blue eyes and an inscrutable expression. Dressed in a fine linen shirt and dark green leggings that matched Obi-Wan's outfit, Qui-Gon wore a wide woven sash, intricately knotted in a mirror of the one the old women had tied for Obi-Wan, around his waist. His silver and brown hair had been pulled back into a single braid that draped over his shoulder. Someone had placed a garland of flowers in a riot of colours around his neck.

Obi-Wan had forgotten how beautiful the man was.

Another garland appeared as if by magic, and anonymous hands flipped it over Obi-Wan's head and settled it against his chest. The unfamiliar but sweet perfume of the flowers bore strong resemblance to the yellow soap. Vina extricated her hand from Obi-Wan's elbow and gave him a gentle shove in Qui-Gon's direction. Obi-Wan stumbled over a stone; Qui-Gon reached out and grabbed his arms to keep him upright. Teasing laughter rippled over the crowd. "Thanks," Obi-Wan whispered.

"Any time," replied Qui-Gon, but his hand slid down Obi-Wan's arm until he entwined their fingers. The lightsaber calluses on Qui-Gon's fingertips were rough against the back of Obi-Wan's hand.

Vina and Linos, flanked by the women who had supervised his bath and another handful of elderly men, made a semi-circle around the Jedi. She began to speak, but everything seemed fade away as Qui-Gon reached for Obi-Wan's other hand. Obi-Wan's world tightened into two points of contact, skin on skin, and the intense gaze of Qui-Gon Jinn, unreadable. He drank from a fine pottery cup that Qui-Gon held, letting the cool water soothe his dry throat, then held the same cup to Qui-Gon's lips.

Vina poked him in the arm suddenly. "Your story?" she prompted in a quiet undertone.

Overwhelmed by Qui-Gon's full attention and the feeling of their fingers laced together and the loud static of the Force vibrating his bones, Obi-Wan opened his mouth and lied. "I met Qui-Gon on a day that was otherwise completely unremarkable," he said. "He had come to my home in his travels, and the moment I saw him, I knew he was the other half of me, and he knew I was the other half of him."

Qui-Gon's lips tightened minutely in his otherwise perfectly calm mask, but then he smiled brightly. "I asked Obi-Wan to marry me under a blossoming tree in spring. The white petals fell upon us like the softest rain, and when he said yes, the leaves on the tree shook as if in applause."

The crowd gasped and murmured to themselves in delight at his details. Vina, however, surveyed them with narrowed eyes for a moment before speaking. "Then as the eldest of us all, we proclaim Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi to be one heart. May your days together be long and joyous," she intoned, then gazed at them expectantly.

Qui-Gon, bless the Force for one of them knowing what the kriff was going on, stepped into Obi-Wan's space and slowly bent his head. Obi-Wan ignored the tight knot of anticipation in his belly, reminding himself that this was all an act, none of it was real, he did not just marry Qui-Gon and their impending kiss did not mean a single damned thing—

Qui-Gon's lips were soft and supple, his palm cupped Obi-Wan's cheek, and Obi-Wan Kenobi thought that if he were to be struck dead at this moment, at least he would be happy.

Chapter Text

Their first act as newlyweds was to kick off the dancing. Qui-Gon had attended exactly one wedding since arriving on-planet, and had an extremely basic idea of what their dance entailed: wild whirling until the rest of the guests took pity on the couple and joined in. Obi-Wan's hand, firmly entrenched in his own, should have been grounding, a reminder that he was not alone in this, but he felt the steady pulse of his former apprentice against the skin of his palm and he wanted more .

The sight of Obi-Wan Kenobi, copper haired and draped with flowers, limned in candlelight, had burned itself in Qui-Gon's mind to be remembered and savoured until his dying day.

For the first time in five years, he almost felt happy. He had spent those five years running from one mission to the next, freeing slaves in a desperate attempt to push out the numbness that had taken over him after Naboo. With Obi-Wan churning through his wilderness years with barely an appearance in-Temple and Anakin taken as an apprentice by Yaddle, Qui-Gon had found himself recovering from his injury alone. The Council's disciplinary actions had only compounded his feelings of being untethered; giving up his Mastership in a fit of pique was not his life's high point. But now—now he had Obi-Wan's fingers twined in his, and he could pretend that this charade was truth.

The younger man glanced at him with shining grey eyes. Gods, Qui-Gon had missed him. "They're waiting," Obi-Wan murmured with a twitch of his eyebrow.

Qui-Gon nodded, but he was so entranced with Obi-Wan's eyes that he could not move. They seemed darker than they used to, but maybe it was just the light—

The first chord struck on the stringed instrument favoured here, spurring Qui-Gon into action. He grabbed Obi-Wan by the waist, splaying his large hand against the hard muscles of the Knight's back, lifted their joined hands up, and pulled him into a spiralling step.

Their Jedi reflexes kept them upright, at least. Qui-Gon's sloppy footwork made a mess of the dance. A broad grin appeared on Obi-Wan's face, tugging at his neatly trimmed beard—little gods, that beard —as they managed to spin together without stepping on each other's boots. The frenetic music, loud and boisterous, increased in tempo again and again. Qui-Gon pulled Obi-Wan a little closer just to hang onto him. Gripping Qui-Gon's shoulder more tightly, Obi-Wan leaned in. Faster and faster they turned, reaching dizzying speed, until the music cut out with a final triumphant note. The crowd broke into wild applause as the pair stumbled to a surprised halt.

The music struck up again as other people began to dance, and cups were pressed into the newlyweds' hands by sly young men. The rest of the evening was a blur of introductions and congratulations, punctuated by endless cups of wine and sometimes something stronger. Obi-Wan never refused an offering of drink or food, and by midnight he seemed pleasantly buzzed. Unable to sneak away quite yet, Qui-Gon led him to someone's quilt laid out atop the grass and insisted they sit.

They settled cross-legged on the quilt, still accepting congratulations from the curious villagers who wanted to meet Qui-Gon's mysterious new husband. Obi-Wan's knee bumped up against Qui-Gon's every time the Knight leaned forward to shake someone's hand. Distracted, Qui-Gon did not register the conversation Obi-Wan was having with the blacksmith until he caught his name.

Obi-Wan slipped his arm around Qui-Gon's waist, tugging him a touch closer, and gazed at him with an expression of such loving devotion that Qui-Gon had to swallow hard and remind himself it was an act. "Qui-Gon had to wait a long time for me," Obi-Wan was saying. "I hope I'm worth it."

Obi-Wan Kenobi was a far better actor than Qui-Gon had ever given him credit for.

A little girl, no more than six, marched up to them and crossed her arms over her chest. Qui-Gon smiled at her. "Yes, Helwen?"

"I didn't get to see you kiss," protested the girl, flipping her dark braid over her shoulder. "I was all the way in the back, and I couldn't see anything except people's legs, and it's not fair that everyone else got to see it but not me."

Qui-Gon had to grin at the girl's pout, while Obi-Wan hid a snort of laughter behind his hand. "What should we do about it, then?" asked Obi-Wan, looking deeply amused.

Helwen's eyes narrowed as she fluttered her hands together in response. Qui-Gon hesitated, but Obi-Wan's inhibitions were obviously lowered. The redhead winked at the girl. "Your wish is my command, little Helwen, on this auspicious day."

Before Qui-Gon's better judgement could react, Obi-Wan snaked his arm around Qui-Gon's neck and tugged him closer. His grey eyes held a glint of something—uncertainty?—before he gently bumped his forehead against Qui-Gon's brow. "It's okay," Obi-Wan whispered. It was not quite a question.

"It's okay," murmured Qui-Gon, giving himself permission to dive head-first into his cover.

Qui-Gon closed his eyes as Obi-Wan pressed his lips against Qui-Gon's mouth. For a brief second, it was a replay of the chaste embrace that had sealed their marriage, but then Obi-Wan shifted a little closer and gently captured Qui-Gon's bottom lip between his teeth. Surprised, Qui-Gon dug his fingers into the flesh of Obi-Wan's hip; Obi-Wan grinned against his mouth before pulling away and settling back down on the quilt.

Helwen, on the other hand, seemed unimpressed. She scoffed at them and tore off after a group of whooping children darting towards the table laden with food. Obi-Wan watched her go with a bark of laughter. "Everyone's a critic."

Maybe it was the taste of wine on his lips, or maybe it was the thrill running down his spine, or maybe it was the sheer joy of having Obi-Wan Kenobi back in his life. Qui-Gon burst into laughter.  For the first time in years, Qui-Gon let himself really laugh, without care or decorum holding him back. Obi-Wan joined in, and soon they were two giggling fools leaning against each other to stay upright. Qui-Gon's hand did not stray from Obi-Wan's hip; with tiny circles of his thumb, he soothed any previous hurt he might have caused.

Vina appeared, arms crossed over her chest in such an uncanny mirror of Helwen that Qui-Gon covered a snort of laughter with a cough. Obi-Wan dissolved into a fit of giggles once more. "Take him home, Qui-Gon," she ordered with no little exasperation. "Any more wine and you'll have to pour him into bed."

"I am not that drunk," protested Obi-Wan. He paused. With a sinking feeling, Qui-Gon watched an odd expression flicker over Obi-Wan's face, followed by confusion and a tiny hint of panic. So his suspicions about this planet might have merit.

Qui-Gon nodded at Vina and said mildly, "I'm not going to argue."

"Hmph." The old woman rolled her eyes and wandered away.

"I am that drunk," Obi-Wan admitted in an undertone. "I-I can't fix it."

"It's okay," replied Qui-Gon reassuringly.

"Why can't I fix it?" he hissed, but Qui-Gon laid his finger against his own lips.

"In private, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon told him. He scrambled to his feet, offering his hands to help Obi-Wan up.

Once he was standing, if not entirely stable, Obi-Wan grimaced. "I've drunk pirates under a table," Obi-Wan said, clearly annoyed, as Qui-Gon led him carefully by the hand through the crowd.

"I know," Qui-Gon said, smiling in acknowledgement of the villager's well-wishes and occasional rowdy catcalls. "Your liver is known in three systems, and I had to endure a talking-to by Yarael Poof about my lack of supervision of my adult Padawan."

"We needed the bail money."

Qui-Gon paused briefly and glanced at him fondly. What had he ever done to earn this loyalty from such a good man? " I needed the bail money," he said quietly.

"Therefore we needed it," Obi-Wan amended, and Qui-Gon's heart skipped a beat. Gods, he loved him.

Obi-Wan's palm was warm against his, and Qui-Gon had a difficult time focussing on anything but the younger man's pulse thrumming in counterpoint to his own. They meandered away from the celebration as Qui-Gon led him into a tiny building. The wooden planks, chinked with mud and grass, did a mediocre job of keeping out the elements and did nothing to keep in the heat. The door creaked open on heavy, primitive hinges. "Home sweet home," announced Qui-Gon wryly.

"It's awfully dark," replied Obi-Wan.

"I'll light the fire."

Qui-Gon led him inside, unwilling to let go of his hand, and guided the Knight to sit on the edge of a wool-and-grass-stuffed mattress atop a simple wooden frame. Obi-Wan swayed slightly, frowning. "Why can't I purge my system? I keep trying, but it's not working. It's like the Force is slipping out of reach."

Qui-Gon moved to the hearth and dug around with the metal poker to uncover the remaining ember. "The Force works … oddly, here," he said as he stirred ash away from the glowing bit of white wood. "Or, I should say, it's not as balanced as it should be."

"What are you on about?"

Blowing on the ember, Qui-Gon managed to coax a flame to life on a long piece of kindling. "I have a theory about this place," he began. "I can't prove it."

"Go on," drawled Obi-Wan as he tugged off his boots and tossed them carelessly towards the door. Qui-Gon winced; the poor Knight was truly soused.

"Have you ever heard of the legend of Mortis?"

"Nope." He popped the "p."

"Really?" Qui-Gon glanced over his shoulder to look at Obi-Wan in surprise. The strengthening firelight cast the Knight's features in gold. The copper threads of his hair and beard glinted as he shrugged and motioned for Qui-Gon to continue. Qui-Gon added some more kindling while keeping an eye on his mission partner. "It's an ancient tale, kept in whispers and only named in texts without further elaboration. The story speaks of a thinning of the barriers between the physical world and the Force. Were Mortis to find a Jedi, they could surrender to the Unifying Force, alter the galaxy—and be consumed."

"A planet would seek out a Jedi?" repeated Obi-Wan, a furrow of disbelief appearing between his brows.

"No one ever said Mortis is a planet," Qui-Gon replied in a low voice. "It defies definition."

The wry twist of Obi-Wan's lips spoke volumes. "The Force works in mysterious ways?"

"It's just a legend."

"But you think that this planet is similar?"

With a shrug, Qui-Gon added a split log onto the growing fire. "Not exactly, no. I don't know yet. All I can tell you is that the Living Force is stronger here than any place I've ever travelled. It overshadows everything." His voice dropped to a low rumble as he admitted, "I can feel the bones of the earth here, Obi-Wan, and the earth can feel me."

Obi-Wan was studying him intently, and his next question reminded Qui-Gon how much easier this mission would have been with Quinlan Vos as his partner. "Is that why I can't sense you other than you exist? You're so shielded that I didn't even sense you before you … accosted me." He added a little smile to soothe the accusation. "You've never been so quiet in the Force before."

Sighing, Qui-Gon rose from the hearth and stared into the dancing flames. "It's constant, and it's overwhelming. My affinity for the Living Force was always a boon, and now it feels like it wants to swallow me whole," he said softly. "If I keep my shields tight, I can hold onto myself."

"And to me, it's like static," said Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon glanced at him curiously. "It's been there since I landed, and now it would seem that I can't manipulate the Force properly."

Qui-Gon tapped his fingers against his lips. "You've always been strong with the Unifying Force. Perhaps the sheer power of the Living Force here is affecting your abilities."

"That's not how the Force works!" protested Obi-Wan in frustration. "The Force is balance, Qui-Gon."

Shrugging, Qui-Gon replied, "Not here, it's not."

A shiver ran through Obi-Wan, but he covered his obvious discomfort by slapping his hands on his knees. "Well, I guess I can look forward to a truly epic hangover tomorrow morning."

Qui-Gon snorted. "Do you really think I would let you suffer like that?"

"Punishment for past sins," replied Obi-Wan. His words were starting to slur.

Sinking down on the mattress next to Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon sighed softly. Of the two of them, the only one with past sins was Qui-Gon, and yet the younger man still carried burdens that did not belong to him. "Close your eyes."

Obi-Wan scoffed in annoyance. "I haven't done this in over fifteen years," he grumbled. "I shouldn't need help like a junior Padawan."

"Surely your pride can take the hit to prevent a splitting headache in the morning," Qui-Gon teased. "Close your eyes, Obi-Wan."

Muttering, Obi-Wan did as he was told. Qui-Gon raised his fingertips and rested them gently against Obi-Wan's temples. He had not exaggerated about the Living Force here; beneath his fingertips, Qui-Gon could feel Obi-Wan's pulse, the heat of his skin, the shining presence that was Obi-Wan in the Force—and beyond that, the threads of life that connected the man to the spiralling dance of the universe. That was why the shields were necessary here. The siren song of the Force beckoned, whispering at him that there was nothing keeping him here, that he could shed his physical form and join eternity. Qui-Gon hitched his shields a little more tightly as he brushed the thinnest tendril of the Force over his former apprentice.

When Obi-Wan finally opened his eyes, he was completely sober. His gaze settled intently on Qui-Gon, a tiny smile on his lips. "Thanks," he whispered.

Qui-Gon brushed his thumb against Obi-Wan's cheek before he could stop himself. "Dirt," he blurted, dropping his hands instantly and glancing away.

Rising from the bed, Obi-Wan spoke, his voice back to the clipped sounds of Coruscant. "You take the bed. I'll sleep on the floor."

Of course. It was all an act. They were not actually married, and Obi-Wan was a consummate professional. They had shared beds before, usually on cramped transports where there was no other option or even floor space, but Obi-Wan was a Knight now, used to solo missions and privacy. For the past few hours, Qui-Gon had been secretly looking forward to the opportunity to wake up next to him, but of course Obi-Wan was right to suggest the distance. "Obi-Wan—"

"How often do you get a mission where the bed actually fits you? You can stretch all the way out and not wake up with a sore neck or cramped legs," said Obi-Wan jovially as he opened the wooden chest and dug around for extra blankets.

Qui-Gon watched him, unable to think of a single decent argument against the plan, as Obi-Wan arranged a nest of quilts and blankets on the woven rug covering the floorboards. His former Padawan was a stubborn man, almost as stubborn as Qui-Gon himself, and it was clear he would not be dissuaded. Swallowing his sigh, Qui-Gon said softly, "If you insist, Obi-Wan."

"I do," replied Obi-Wan firmly. "But I'm stealing a pillow."

Qui-Gon handed him one of the goose feather pillows without a word. Obi-Wan set it at the head of his floor nest and glanced around at their humble shelter. "I guess married couples don't need much privacy?" he mused as he set to stripping off his sash and tunic and hanging them on pegs on the wall.

The firelight gave Obi-Wan's skin a warm glow that Qui-Gon knew did not really exist thanks to years spent on space transports. A smattering of scars decorated Obi-Wan's muscled back, including a few new ones that Qui-Gon had never seen before. Qui-Gon idly mused what it might be like to trace constellations of freckles with his fingers, or his tongue—

Obi-Wan turned, and Qui-Gon dropped his gaze and pulled off his boots with more force than necessary as the younger man settled onto the floor. Qui-Gon should have changed into his sleeping clothes, but instead he kept his tunic and leggings on as he crawled into bed. "I'll tend the fire overnight. You don't have to worry about it," he said to the ceiling.

From the floor, Obi-Wan's protest was immediate. "I can—"

"It's your first night here. Get some sleep. We can argue over chores in the morning."

He heard, rather than saw, the sly smile. "Yes, Master."

The immediate, old reply of imp was on the tip of his tongue before he remembered that Obi-Wan was not his apprentice anymore. Obi-Wan was a Jedi Knight, in tasting distance of his promotion to Senior Knight, and Qui-Gon had to treat him as such. Maybe it would help their relationship survive this charade. "Good night, Obi-Wan."

"What progress have you made on our missing Jedi?" Obi-Wan said instead.

"Very little," replied Qui-Gon with a frustrated sigh. "I've spent most of my energy just trying to keep my cover. I suspect answers may be easier now that I'm considered an adult."

Outside, a riot of voices hooted as they passed the Jedi's door, calling out a few lewd recommendations before stumbling away to find their own beds. Qui-Gon heard Obi-Wan exhale a little more forcefully than usual. "Obi-Wan—"

"Good night, Qui-Gon." In the dim, flickering light, Qui-Gon lay in the half-empty bed and listened to the sound of Obi-Wan's breathing. Once, it had been a soothing rhythm that had lulled him to sleep on many missions. Now Qui-Gon watched the long shadows play on the ceiling and wondered if this mission would destroy any chance of having that closeness again.

 

The dawn woke Qui-Gon, as it always did on any planet they visited; the swell of morning light woke the earth and growing things in a crescendo that he could not ignore—though on this planet, ignoring the currents of the Living Force would be an impossible task, so he settled for checking his shielding and managing to stay tethered to his physical body. He lay, still and silent, listening to Obi-Wan's deep, even breathing. Carefully, he shifted until he could peek over the edge of the bed. Obi-Wan was curled beneath layers of blankets with only his face peeking out.

Even pale and a little pinched with long-term mild dehydration from space travel, the man was gorgeous. Gone was the baby-faced young man who had stood by his side and been his better sense. In his place was a Jedi Knight who had been away long enough that they had to get to know each other all over again; Qui-Gon had to wonder if the man wanted to rebuild their friendship at all.

The fact that it was even a question was entirely Qui-Gon's fault. After the disastrous mission to Naboo, the rift between them—put there by Qui-Gon himself—had been almost tangible. Spending less than an hour a day outside a bacta tank had not let Qui-Gon chase down his newly-Knighted apprentice before the Council assigned Obi-Wan to his first mission. Between endless physical therapy and skill retests to prove he was still field-worthy, Qui-Gon had penned a letter; with words made clumsy with emotion, he had tried to explain his actions before begging forgiveness. It had been too overwhelming, too impossible, to send a recorded transmission without his voice giving out on him.

Obi-Wan had never replied. Qui-Gon ached to ask him about it. Maybe he could, once this mission was over.

A sharp rap at the door caught him off-guard. He leaned over the edge of the bed and gently pressed his hand against Obi-Wan's bare shoulder the same moment the Knight snapped open his eyes, instantly alert. Qui-Gon put his finger to his lips. "Get in the bed," he whispered. "I'll answer the door."

Nodding, Obi-Wan gathered his messy nest of blankets and dumped them into the middle of the mattress. As Qui-Gon slipped out of bed, he held the quilt edge up so Obi-Wan could take his place. With the blankets bunched around his hips, bare-chested and sleep-mussed, Obi-Wan looked positively satisfied .

Qui-Gon tamped down the flare of desire that ran through him and yanked open the door wide enough to poke his head out. "You remember we got married last night, yes?" he said crankily.

Anuli and her husband Jaska, the young neighbouring couple whose wedding Qui-Gon had attended shortly after his arrival, stood with their arms linked at the elbow. "Which is why we waited so long to call you to breakfast," she said teasingly. Her golden curls glinted in the morning sunlight.

"Put some clothes on and put the rest of us out of our misery," added Jaska. His smile turned smug. "Besides, you must be hungry after all that—"

"Alright, Jaska," Qui-Gon cut him off. "We'll be out in a minute."

As Qui-Gon shifted to close the door, both of the visitors peered around him with unsuccessful subtlety. Anuli wiggled her fingers at Obi-Wan, then laughed. "One minute, Anuli," repeated Qui-Gon before shutting the door more firmly than necessary.

A blush decorated Obi-Wan's cheeks above his beard, and Force , how Qui-Gon wished he had been the one to put it there. The shirtless Knight cleared his throat. "Now what?"

"Now we suffer a plethora of teasing and ribald jokes before someone sets us to work," replied Qui-Gon as he plucked a set of clean clothes from the pegs on the wall and tossed them at Obi-Wan. "I hope these fit. I had to give your measurements by memory."

Obi-Wan pulled the thin woollen tunic over his head. "What about the mission?"

"We have to go slowly," replied Qui-Gon. "The people here have to trust us. We can't just demand what happened; it will look suspicious, especially since you only arrived yesterday."

With a sigh, Obi-Wan examined his leggings. "I can't even argue with you, thanks to Quinlan. I yield to your more informed judgement. Just please tell me we aren't going to spend our entire time here harvesting crops."

Qui-Gon winced. "Well…"

Chapter Text

Getting out of the large, communal meal with his dignity intact placed high on Obi-Wan's list of life achievements. Vina had watched him the entire time, slowly eating her cooked grains with a perfectly innocent smile that deepened every time he blushed.

Qui-Gon, of course, played the part like a veteran actor. "Yes, he's beautiful when he blushes," rumbled the former Master, then ducked in to press a quick peck against Obi-Wan's heated cheek before sipping his cup of tea.

Obi-Wan did not taste a single bite of his meal.

After the dishes had been cleared and the newlyweds excused from other work for the day, Anuli led the Jedi to their garden allotment and stood, arms akimbo and lips pursed in disapproval at the overgrown patch of earth. "I can't believe it's been left like this," she groused, grabbing a weedy vine that had twined its way around a stake and yanking it out of the ground. "Someone should have taken it over when Yarim and Hansa vanished. The vegetables have been crowded out."

Both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon jerked their heads up at the names of the missing Jedi. They exchanged a glance, with Obi-Wan nodding minutely at his mission partner. "Vanished? What happened to them?" Qui-Gon asked the young woman, sounding innocently curious.

She shrugged and sighed. "They said they were going to visit the river, and they never came back. We all warned them to stay away, of course—it's dangerous in the spring, with all the runoff, but they went anyway."

"Did anyone go to look for them?" Obi-Wan asked, carefully keeping his tone as one who was casually interested.

"Of course," replied Anuli, stooping to pull another handful of weeds. "Nobody found anything."

Qui-Gon quirked an eyebrow at Obi-Wan, who recognized the expression to mean a lead to investigate . Obi-Wan nodded and turned his attention back to Anuli, who was pointing out jagged-edged plants growing abundantly in the little plot. "See those? When you pull those out, make sure you get the roots, too, or that's all you'll have growing in here."

"Yes, ma'am," replied Obi-Wan with a cheeky grin. "I was almost a farmer, you know."

She snorted and jabbed her thumb at Qui-Gon. "And now you're married to one, so what does that make you?"

Obi-Wan lifted his gaze to Qui-Gon, who stood in the midday sun with his hair pulled back in a tail beneath a ridiculous woven straw hat that shaded his face. Relaxed, leaning against his long-handled spade, he looked more content than Obi-Wan had ever seen him. Impulsively, Obi-Wan stood on his toes and kissed the corner of Qui-Gon's mouth. Beneath his lips, Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon hesitate, but then the older man bent his head to return a proper kiss. Obi-Wan snaked his arm around Qui-Gon's waist and tangled his other hand in silvering strands of hair while Qui-Gon hummed enthusiastically and swiped his tongue against Obi-Wan's lips. The sensation, intimate and unexpected, sent a thrill down Obi-Wan's spine.

Behind them, Anuli coughed deliberately. Unable to help himself, Obi-Wan pressed one last kiss against Qui-Gon's soft, smiling lips. "I guess that makes me outstanding in my field," he said with a grin.

Qui-Gon's blue eyes danced, but as Obi-Wan trailed his fingers down the older man's chest, that gaze shifted from amusement to smouldering heat. That look made promises that would never be kept behind closed doors.

Pretending that his heart was not hammering against his ribs, Obi-Wan turned back to Anuli.

She smirked at them both. "I'll leave you to it."

Once she was out of earshot, Obi-Wan surveyed the garden with a moue of displeasure. "There was a reason I was so desperate for you to apprentice me," he joked. "I hate weeding."

When Qui-Gon did not reply, he glanced at the older man.

The smouldering heat had vanished; Qui-Gon was staring at him with a devastated expression, as though Obi-Wan had ripped out his heart. Obi-Wan stepped closer and rested his hand on Qui-Gon's arm in concern. "What is it? What have I said?"

"I'm sorry," Qui-Gon whispered. "I'm so sorry I put you through that."

Obi-Wan had never expected an apology, and after a decade of Qui-Gon showing his care and loyalty to his apprentice with actions rather than words, he had thought he would never need one—but then Anakin had happened, and the Sith had happened. This simple sudden apology mended something deep and cracked inside himself.

He took a deep breath and slowly moved into Qui-Gon's space. Wrapping his arms around the taller man, he said softly, "Thank you."

Qui-Gon pulled off his hat and rested his forehead against the side of Obi-Wan's head. As he relaxed into Obi-Wan's embrace, he lifted his hands and splayed them across Obi-Wan's back; Obi-Wan shifted into him and tightened his hold. The feeling of holding Qui-Gon, and being held in return, was utterly blissful. Obi-Wan smelled tea and sunlight and the salt of Qui-Gon's skin, and he suppressed a shudder of pleasure. Qui-Gon's hands flexed against the muscles of his back. Between Qui-Gon's duracrete shields and the Force being utterly useless to him here, Obi-Wan had no idea what the man was feeling. He took a chance. Obi-Wan turned his head and pressed a kiss to Qui-Gon's cheek before stepping out of his arms.

An odd silence descended on them as they set to work. Qui-Gon had the focussed expression he had when he was thinking at lightspeed, and Obi-Wan was utterly distracted by the ghosts of Qui-Gon's hands brushing against his spine. Everything else might be a lie, but that had been real, between and for them alone. Obi-Wan tried to keep the smile from his lips as he ripped squat, glossy-leaved weeds out of the ground.

As their pile of weeds grew, the sun beat down upon them with late summer brutality. Obi-Wan sat back on his heels, wiping sweat out of his eyes. A hat sailed through the air and landed in front of him.

"You need this more than I do," Qui-Gon told him.

"I'll be nothing but freckles in a week," replied Obi-Wan as he jammed the straw hat on his head. Qui-Gon's expression shifted for a fleeting moment before returning to an amused smile. "What?"

Qui-Gon shook his head and yanked up another weed. "I dislike weeding, too," he said, "but it's not the reason you think."

"The dirty, sweaty, unending reason?"

"I don't like snuffing out life just because we've decreed it shouldn't grow in a certain place. It seems very un-Jedi-like."

"I never thought of it that way," said Obi-Wan, brushing his hands over his next victim. "But I admit I haven't had much time for philosophy lately." Perhaps now was a good time to pry; the Force was still being spectacularly unhelpful. "I dare say neither have you."

Qui-Gon hesitated, not looking up from his patch of garden, but instead of answering, he just hummed something noncommittal and kept working.

Damn. The next weed was freed from the ground with far more force than was necessary.

 

****

 

No kata could prepare the body for a long day of work under the full sun. Obi-Wan was aware of his muscles in a way that suggested they would ache in the morning, and he felt as though the sun had sapped every ounce of energy from his body. He felt the sunburn rising on his cheeks and neck, hot and tight. They meandered through the village after latemeal, greeting their passing neighbours.

Qui-Gon waved at a group of children out playing for the last few minutes before the sun sank below the horizon. "Natural gravity getting you down?" he asked mildly, and Obi-Wan groaned.

"I can't believe I married a man who makes puns," he announced dramatically, earning him a rumbling laugh that brought a tired smile to his face. Making Qui-Gon laugh might be his new daily goal. "I'm the wordplay one. You can't usurp my position."

"Would the prospect of bathing help make amends?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan breathed emphatically. "That tub is a delight. I'm taking it when we leave."

"The tub is for weddings, unfortunately," replied Qui-Gon. Without warning, he grabbed Obi-Wan's hand. "Come with me."

Too tired to argue and too content to give up the opportunity to feel Qui-Gon's fingers laced with his, Obi-Wan followed obediently. They cut through Meadow's Edge along a well-worn path until the squat buildings were behind them and the fields opened before them. The day was dying in glorious colour; orange and pink clouds blazed against the greying sky.

"What do you make of Anuli's story about our anthropologists?" asked Obi-Wan, making sure his voice did not carry beyond Qui-Gon's ears. "They may be scientists, but they're still trained Jedi. How do they get swept away in a flood? Especially if they were warned beforehand?"

"It's certainly concerning," replied Qui-Gon with a frown, "although none of us is immune to the effects of nature. It's not impossible that they were caught by flood waters, but I admit I'm as skeptical as you in this. I don't think she was lying, but I don't dare lower my shields to find out for certain."

Obi-Wan grimaced. "And I'm basically Force-blind until we get out of here, so I guess we get to play CorSec detective husbands. We should get our own holodrama."

The snort of laughter bubbling from Qui-Gon became a strangled noise of surprise as they followed a bend in the path that opened abruptly onto the grassy banks of a small stream, already occupied by several adult couples. Qui-Gon's entire hand tensed against Obi-Wan's palm. "What is it?" murmured Obi-Wan as he waved with friendly cheer to the bathers beckoning them.

"I have a particularly obvious scar that I can't easily explain away," replied Qui-Gon through clenched teeth. "Usually there isn't anyone here after the sun sets."

Of course. A place with primitive medical care would never have a survivor of a brutal impalement, caused by a lightstaff or otherwise. Obi-Wan did not need the Force to feel Qui-Gon's discomfort. "We can come back," said Obi-Wan softly.

"That would look suspicious," retorted Qui-Gon. "These people aren't generally shy."

A familiar voice rang out. "We don't bite, you know," Anuli teased, her head poking out of the water. The surface reflected the fading light with hundreds of little ripples.

"Maybe not you," replied Jaska as he swam up behind his new wife and dragged her into an embrace. Her shriek echoed off the rocks piled against the edges of the water; the stream had been dammed with rocks just below the flow on both ends, letting water circulate in the small bend before moving along the stream bed and creating a perfect spot to bathe or play.

Next to Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon had gone perfectly still. In the slow dusk, Obi-Wan could see the tiny tells of tension at the corners of his lips and eyes. "Do you trust me?" he whispered, an idea forming in his mind.

Qui-Gon squeezed Obi-Wan's hand, surprise in his eyes. "With my life."

"Where is it deepest? I want to dive," Obi-Wan called out to the villagers, who all motioned to the end of the basin closest to the downstream dam. He made a beeline for the shore, tugging Qui-Gon along, then pointed at a section of rocks that humanoid hands had pieced together like a puzzle to make a flat sitting area. "Have a seat. I have a good plan."

With a vague expression of bewilderment, Qui-Gon did as he was instructed while Obi-Wan pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it on the rocks. Despite what Vina might think, he had grown up in a communal living environment. Given enough warning and less of a clothed audience, he had no problem being naked in front of others. He tugged off his boots and shimmied out of his trousers, carefully not looking at Qui-Gon, then arched his back and arms to dive into the water.

The sun had spent all summer warming the water. Obi-Wan grinned as he surfaced, pleased by the comfortable temperature. He swam back to Qui-Gon and grabbed onto the rocks. "Boots," he ordered, motioning for Qui-Gon to stretch out his legs. Obi-Wan pulled each boot off and dramatically tossed it onto the shore to the amused laughter of the villagers, then peeled Qui-Gon's socks from his feet and laid them on the rocks. "There. Now put your feet in. The water's lovely."

Qui-Gon was watching him with a hint of suspicion, but did as he was told after rolling up his pant legs to his knees. Obi-Wan smiled at him and pushed away from the rocks to swim a few lengths of the deeper part of the basin. He might not be able to feel the Force properly, but the water reminded him of the great pool in the Room of a Thousand Fountains.

A small yellow projectile slammed into his shoulder. "Sorry!" called Anuli with a wince. "Soap!"

"Next time, warn a fellow," replied Obi-Wan, grabbing the cake of soap. The flowery aroma flooded his memory with the sight of Qui-Gon waiting to be married. He sighed softly to himself and began to scrub dirt and sweat from his body.

"Aren't you going to get in, Qui-Gon?" asked a young woman that Obi-Wan remembered seeing at the wedding before all the wine.

"I haven't decided, Meera," he replied lightly, swirling his feet in the water.

"Your new husband might have something to say about it," said Jaska with a laugh.

There was his opening. Obi-Wan swam to Qui-Gon and insinuated himself between the older man's knees. "Oh, I have something to say," said Obi-Wan, loud enough for his voice to carry. More quietly, he added, "Trust me." He rested his hands on Qui-Gon's thighs and in one swift splash, pulled himself out of the water enough to plant a firm kiss against Qui-Gon's mouth. Qui-Gon's arms wrapped around him to keep Obi-Wan from sliding away; for a brief, delightful moment that sent an electric thrill up Obi-Wan's spine, Qui-Gon's hand slid perilously close to Obi-Wan's buttocks.

Obi-Wan grinned against Qui-Gon's lips and hauled them both backwards into the water.

With half his hair escaped from the knot at the back of his neck and still clothed, Qui-Gon emerged looking flustered and indignant. Good-natured laughter from their fellow bathers echoed off the rocks while Obi-Wan put on his most innocent face. "Well, it was a plan."

Even without a warning from the Force, he should have expected the sudden tsunami that hit his face a heartbeat later.

 

****

 

The moons were rising as Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon walked back to their temporary home in companionable silence, Qui-Gon dripping all the way and Obi-Wan carrying the other man's boots in apology. The air had chilled since sunset, warning of the coming change of season. Once they were safely behind their door, Obi-Wan set to building up the fire while Qui-Gon fished a bit of towelling out of the linen chest. "We'll bathe after dark next time," said Obi-Wan, shooting Qui-Gon another apologetic half-smile.

"At least my shirt's cleaner," replied Qui-Gon wryly as he pulled the shirt over his head and hung it up to dry, then tugged on a dry tunic. In the growing firelight, Obi-Wan caught a glimpse of the purplish-red scars left by the Zabrak's lightstaff. Mirrored front and back, each scar was stretched skin with perfectly round edges that spoke of instant cauterization. Despite the years that had passed, the flesh looked angry; Obi-Wan flinched involuntarily.

Qui-Gon saw. "It doesn't hurt, usually," he said quietly. "Master Che surgically removed a handful of nerve endings that refused to calm down about a year ago. Now it just aches if it's going to rain." Obi-Wan opened his mouth to say something—anything—but Qui-Gon offered him a fleeting, tight-lipped smile. "I'm fine, Obi-Wan. They wouldn't have cleared me for field work if I wasn't."

An end to the conversation if Obi-Wan had ever heard one; Qui-Gon's hunched shoulders and set of his jaw screamed defensiveness. Nodding, Obi-Wan rose from the hearth and gingerly removed his shirt. "I know a Jedi who won't be fine," he grumbled, hissing as the fabric brushed against the back of his neck. "I'm truly going to kill Quinlan Vos. Give a man six hours and no prep notes … kriffing bantha's arse. I didn't even have a chance to replenish my basic mission supplies, like sunscreen."

"Here," Qui-Gon said mildly. "Turn around."

Years of obedience gave automaticity to Obi-Wan's movements; he spun on his heel and bent his neck to give Qui-Gon a better look. "I'm burnt to a crisp. I can feel it." He could not keep the frustration out of his voice. "And I can't even use the Force to heal myself."

"Let me," murmured Qui-Gon.

Tired, sore, and frustrated in more ways than one, Obi-Wan snapped, "I don't know if I can make it through this mission."

"This isn't the worst situation we've been in," replied Qui-Gon gently.

Obi-Wan whirled to face him. "Being here is intolerable."

Qui-Gon flinched at his words as if Obi-Wan had slapped him.

Obi-Wan instantly regretted his lack of restraint and attempted to explain. "I can't feel the Force properly. It's almost as bad as being in an inhibitor. I can't tell if people are being dishonest, or if they're hiding something from us. How am I supposed to do my job?"

Slowly, Qui-Gon reached for Obi-Wan's shoulders and squeezed. His fingers were warm against Obi-Wan's bare skin, and Obi-Wan fought the urge to lean into the touch. "We will get through this mission, Obi-Wan. Together. Just like we always do." He offered Obi-Wan a hopeful quirk of his lips. "I'm your partner, and you can rely on me."

He could not feel the reassurance that Qui-Gon was no doubt echoing in the Force, but Obi-Wan did feel the gentle pressure of the taller man's hands. With a deep, steadying breath, Obi-Wan nodded. "You're right."

Qui-Gon squeezed Obi-Wan's shoulders again before dropping his hands. "May I heal your sunburn?"

"Please, though I don't know if I deserve it after tonight."

"Then you'll owe me." A true grin crossed Qui-Gon's face. Obi-Wan fought a shiver at the unintentional innuendo and managed a laugh instead. "Turn around."

He turned once more and winced as Qui-Gon's fingers brushed against the angry skin of Obi-Wan's neck.

The wave of healing was like being plunged into ice water and he gasped at the shock. He had been on the receiving end of Qui-Gon's meagre healing abilities before; this time, Obi-Wan tingled from the tips of his ears to his fingers and toes instead of merely feeling the relief on his skin. He opened his jaw to stretch his face and found the unpleasant heat and swelling gone. His body no longer ached, and he sighed with grateful relief. "Oh, that's much better. You didn't have to heal my muscles, too, but thank you, Qui-Gon."

The warmth of Qui-Gon's hand vanished from his neck as Obi-Wan turned to face the older man. His former Master looked slightly stunned. "It wasn't on purpose," Qui-Gon said, bewildered. "You may not feel the Force, but every time I use it, I feel like it's going to swallow me whole. Like it wants to use me."

They stared at each other with nothing but the sounds of a crackling fire breaking the silence. Finally, Obi-Wan ran a hand through his hair with a huff of laughter that held no amusement. "Aren't we a pair?" he said wryly.

"Indeed," replied Qui-Gon. His bright blue gaze did not leave Obi-Wan's face until Qui-Gon shook his head slightly. "Bedtime, I think."

"Farming's harder work than I gave it credit for," quipped Obi-Wan, stripping off his clothes and pulling on a pair of sleep pants. He studiously did not look over at Qui-Gon while the other man did the same. "I'll take fire picket tonight."

Qui-Gon's voice was small as he settled into the bed with his back to Obi-Wan. "Sleep well."

"Good night, Qui-Gon," replied Obi-Wan as he bundled himself in his quilts on the floor.

Chapter Text

The crop of freckles that now dusted Obi-Wan's nose and cheeks were like constellations on his skin. In the fortnight since he had arrived, Qui-Gon had watched as each day brought new, brown pinpricks to the young man's fair face like stars appearing in the night sky as dusk fell. The hat seemed to make no difference; every night Qui-Gon would gently shrug off Obi-Wan's frustrated grumbles and brush his fingertips along the overheated pink skin of the Knight's neck. There were freckles there, too, just begging to be traced—

"Qui-Gon?" Obi-Wan squinted at him in the bright midday sun. He pulled off his woven hat and wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. "What is it?"

It's you. Qui-Gon shook his head. "Just thinking," he said quickly, stabbing his spade into the earth of their garden plot.

Two weeks of this awful charade, and every time they touched, it made his heart soar and crack at the same time. Every adoring look that Obi-Wan turned upon him, every kiss carefully staged for public consumption—it all made Qui-Gon want to scream to the heavens about how unfair this bloody mission was. Obi-Wan seemed so at ease with the lies that Qui-Gon almost believed it when the younger man spoke about how much they loved each other.

But every night, Obi-Wan slept on the floor, intent on keeping the professional distance that Qui-Gon should have demanded from himself as a seasoned field Jedi.

"You have the same look as Master Windu when he can't get any sparring in," Obi-Wan remarked as he pressed tiny seeds into the earth. "Credit for your thoughts?"

"I was thinking that once the bulk of the harvest is finished, we should take a walk to the forest and see if our friends left us any clues in the forest," Qui-Gon said in a low voice, taking refuge in the easy discussion of their actual mission. "There is supposed to be a cache at the edge of the trees for field observations, but I never had the chance to slip away before your arrival, and currently our absence would be noticed."

Nodding, Obi-Wan pinched more seeds out of the coarse bag on the dirt next to him. "I agree—"

The squawking interruption of a large, white fowl running with its wings outstretched through the garden surprised them both. It turned its long neck and opened its orange bill to hiss aggressively at Obi-Wan before waddling away at a rapid clip.

Obi-Wan raised his eyebrow and said dryly, "You know what I like about space? There are no geese in space."

A moment later, Helwen skidded to a stop next to Qui-Gon. The little girl's dark brown hair hung around her shoulders in a tangled mess and her eyes were wild. "Did you see Lagle?" she demanded, a little out of breath.

"Who's that?" asked Obi-Wan.

Helwen made a blustery noise in the back of her throat. "The goose!" she cried. "The big kids gave me the job to keep him on the grass because they hate him and he ran away and he won't listen to me and it's true what Papa says, Lagle's a big assho—"

"Helwen," Qui-Gon interrupted her increasingly shrill tirade with a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Do you need help?"

"Yes!" she pleaded while Obi-Wan hid his smile by pressing his chin into his shoulder. "The big kids said that if I don't get him back, they'll send me to be plucked and roasted for dinner instead!"

Obi-Wan's face calmed, and he raised his eyes to the little girl. "Why don't we let Qui-Gon go fetch that awful bird? He's really good with strays," he said seriously, though his eyes twinkled. "You can stay here and help me plant all this chard. What do you say?"

Helwen's dark eyes flicked from Obi-Wan up to Qui-Gon and back. "Okay," she said with palpable relief. A thought occurred to her, and she added solemnly, "Don't try to pick him up. He'll bite."

Qui-Gon smiled at her. "You'll be pleased to know this is not my first time herding water fowl."

"That's a story I want to hear later," Obi-Wan said instantly, grinning.

Before Qui-Gon could hurry after the escaped goose, Helwen caught his hand and squeezed it. "Thank you, Qui-Gon," she said with a grateful smile.

The considering look in Obi-Wan's eyes stole his breath.

 

****

 

Helwen was correct; the goose was an asshole. Qui-Gon managed to herd the damned hissing bird away from the grain silo and back towards the village green with only two bites on his hands for his trouble. He left Lagle under the care of the older children, adding a Jedi Masterly mini-lecture on performing the duties one is given instead of delegating to inappropriate people, then made his way back to the garden plot.

Qui-Gon heard Obi-Wan and Helwen talking before rounding the corner of the house closest to the plots. "They're really mean sometimes," the girl said.

"Sometimes children are mean because they're learning how to behave and haven't mastered kindness," Obi-Wan replied, "and sometimes they're mean because they've been taught to behave that way."

"Someone was mean to you?"

A pause. "Yes. When I was younger, about twelve, there was a boy who tried to destroy my life. He hurt me, and he hurt my friend Bant."

"Mama says I should tell an adult if someone tries to hurt me. Did you tell an adult?"

"I did," said Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon could hear the carefully concealed disappointment in the Knight's voice, and guilt rushed through him.

Helwen, however, sounded enthralled by his story. "So what happened? Did the boy get in trouble?"

"The boy was never punished. The adults I asked to help me—well, they didn't believe me."

Qui-Gon's heart plummeted. After all these years, how much Obi-Wan had needed someone, anyone—for Force sake, Obi-Wan had needed him —to trust and how badly Qui-Gon had failed him was as much a knife to the heart now as it had been when he penned that damned letter.

The letter that Obi-Wan had never answered.

Outrage made Helwen's voice rise in pitch. "Why not?"

"Lots of reasons," said Obi-Wan, "and most of them were not because of me. It's hard to understand that the world doesn't revolve around you when you're little. It's easier to see things in hindsight, but sometimes it doesn't make the hurt go away entirely."

"What does that mean?"

Obi-Wan sighed. "I'm not entirely sure, Helwen, but mostly it means that adults aren't perfect."

"I knew that." Qui-Gon almost heard her eye-roll.

Obi-Wan chuckled. "Then next time those kids are picking on you, walk away. Getting into a fight won't help. Trust me on that one."

A brief silence descended. Qui-Gon turned the corner and leaned up against the house to watch them. The Knight and the girl worked side by side, hands black with earth as they poked seeds into a long, thin row.

Qui-Gon wondered if Obi-Wan would take a Padawan once he earned his promotion to senior Knight. A flurry of warring emotions stirred in Qui-Gon's heart. Obi-Wan would make a wonderful master for the lucky child he chose. The Knight was filled with kindness, compassion, and wisdom, with no little humour. Obi-Wan had the good grace to take the volatility of a child in his stride.

Qui-Gon Jinn had failed Obi-Wan Kenobi in these things, and he was ashamed.

"Did you find Lagle?" Helwen's voice cut through his increasingly dark thoughts. "Qui-Gon?"

Nodding, Qui-Gon forced a smile. "He's back where he belongs. And he only bit me twice."

"Thank you!" The girl hopped up from the ground and ran full-tilt to hug Qui-Gon around the waist.

"You're very welcome," replied Qui-Gon, patting her dark hair. "Now, off you go, hmm?"

The girl stepped back and shook her head seriously. "I have to finish helping Obi-Wan. He's slow at this, and we'll all starve."

A sputter of indignant laughter erupted from Obi-Wan. "Just for that, you can dig the next trench," he told her, handing her a hand trowel.

She stuck her tongue out at him and began dragging the end of the tool in the dirt. Qui-Gon picked up his spade and helped her, his mind full of heavy regret.

 

****

 

Solving the goose catastrophe had earned Qui-Gon a new best friend. Helwen insisted on sitting between the Jedi at dinner, teaching them the intricate and fluid rules of the new game she had invented the week before Obi-Wan arrived. Qui-Gon paid close attention, asking questions at the correct moments while Obi-Wan kept glancing at him with a textbook adoring look. The girl was a perfect distraction, and Qui-Gon embraced the opportunity to not think about what he needed to do.

Dinner ran long, with an elder holding everyone hostage with a long and involved fable about a goatherd, and the sun had set by the time Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan strolled towards their temporary home. Obi-Wan laced their fingers together as they walked. The warmth of his skin was only half a relief; Qui-Gon wished he could drop his shields enough to know what the other man was feeling. The Force, always waiting here to overwhelm him, demanded purchase within him, and Qui-Gon ignored it.

Obi-Wan bumped Qui-Gon's arm with his shoulder. "What is it with you and wayward children?" he teased gently. "They find you like moths to a flame."

The stars were coming out, clear and true in the night sky. "I wanted to be the Crèchemaster when I was a Padawan," Qui-Gon said, his voice quiet.

Obi-Wan stared at him in obvious surprise. "I never knew that."

"I love children. They're like whirlwinds of the Living Force," replied Qui-Gon wistfully, and Obi-Wan squeezed their fingers together a little more tightly.

"What happened? How did Qui-Gon Jinn go from future crechemaster to renowned diplomat?"

Qui-Gon could not stop the bitter twist of his lips. "I made the mistake of telling Master Dooku about my ambitions—or, as he saw it, my lack thereof. He was appalled that his apprentice would set his sights on anything other than becoming a Consular. He convinced me that my potential would be wasted holding babies and drying tears and teaching pushfeather for the rest of my career. I seem to remember Dooku also using the words 'too soft-hearted' and 'in danger of becoming attached.'"

"The crechemasters are vital to the Order," said Obi-Wan quietly, reaching over with his free hand to brush Qui-Gon's knuckles. The contact was meant to be soothing, but Qui-Gon's skin tingled with electricity.

He bit his tongue to get himself under control. "As long as they aren't Dooku's apprentices."

"And given what I've seen of the galaxy these past few years, I could think of worse things than being gentle and empathetic," Obi-Wan told him, rubbing soothing circles against the back of Qui-Gon's hand. Qui-Gon wished the circles would never stop. "It was unfair of him to convince you otherwise."

"Perhaps."

"I promise that I only ever wanted to be a Guardian," said Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon wanted to smile at the hint of irreverence in the Knight's voice, but he could not. "I think you did a pretty good job with that."

All the little gods, have pity . Qui-Gon loosened his grip of Obi-Wan's fingers and pushed open the door of their humble home, unable to speak over the growing lump in his throat. The wide streak of stubborn loyalty that Obi-Wan had held for Qui-Gon for years was still there, undeserved.

Qui-Gon hurried his routine and climbed into bed, ignoring Obi-Wan's concerned looks. Heart hammering in his chest, Qui-Gon tried to keep his breathing even. He listened to Obi-Wan settle the fire for the night and climb into his floor nest.

After counting to sixty in his head, Qui-Gon spoke just loud enough to be heard over the popping of the fire. He stared at the ceiling; he could not bear to watch Obi-Wan's face for this confession. "When Xanatos Fell, it broke me. I lost myself. The person I was before—he doesn't exist anymore. That person wanted to teach a dozen Padawans. That was going to be my life's work—raising a brood of Jedi who weren't afraid to challenge the Council. If I couldn't be the crèchemaster, then at least I could die surrounded by an army of Padawans and grand-Padawans and maybe even great-grand-Padawans."

From the floor, Obi-Wan inhaled sharply but did not speak. Qui-Gon was grateful; he needed to say these things that he had never admitted to his apprentice—or, in truth, to anyone.

"I didn't see his Fall coming, and if I'm being truly honest, I should have. I should have been a better teacher, or followed the rules more strictly, or just paid more attention to what was going on in front of me, but I didn't, and suddenly I was a pariah. I was the Master whose apprentice embraced the dark side. My fault in the entire matter was the sole topic of the rumour mill in addition to the formal investigation. I fled as soon as I was cleared of wrong-doing.

"I spent years on missions, barely stopping at the Temple, refusing mission partners and lying to everyone—including myself—that I was fine. There were more than a few dark times when I wished that a particularly aggressive set of negotiations would put me out of my misery."

Saying it out loud was like stripping his soul bare. Obi-Wan was silent, and for the first time Qui-Gon was almost glad he could not sense what the other man was feeling.

"That's the person you met on your birthday—a barely functioning shard of a man. I didn't see your potential. I only saw my failure reflected in your eyes. I was a coward, not a Jedi, and you paid the price for my weakness. I am truly sorry."

Qui-Gon fell silent. The fire crackled in the hearth, the only sound in the entire room. He ached to listen to what the Force had to whisper to him, but he did not dare thin his shields here, and especially not when he was not perfectly composed. The silence stretched for so long that Qui-Gon wondered if Obi-Wan had fallen asleep.

"Xanatos chose the dark side, and he kept choosing it in the face of offered help. You are not responsible for his choices, Qui." Obi-Wan's voice was so soft that Qui-Gon strained to hear it. "I forgave you a long time ago when I agreed to be your apprentice. Maybe it's time you forgave yourself."

The rustle of quilts and shifting of floorboards punctuated the silence. Qui-Gon lay in the half-empty bed and stared at the ceiling long after Obi-Wan's breathing turned slow and shallow.

 

****

 

A tense silence settled between them as they woke and dressed in the grey dawn. Qui-Gon had slept fitfully, his dreams haunted by Xanatos branding himself, and this morning his scars ached. It would rain later today. Qui-Gon wondered as he flexed his feet into his boots what exactly Obi-Wan was thinking, then wondered what exactly he had been thinking, confessing in the night about his dark years after Xan? He had wanted to finally tell Obi-Wan that he had not truly meant to reject him all those years ago, that his actions spoke of unbearable hurt—

And Obi-Wan had already forgiven him. Simply. Calmly. As if Qui-Gon should have already known that the matter was closed.

As Qui-Gon reached for the door handle, Obi-Wan cleared his throat. The Knight stepped close and took Qui-Gon's hands in his. "I wish I could have met the man you were," he said softly, brushing his thumbs over the peaks and valleys of Qui-Gon's knuckles, "but I wouldn't change the friend standing in front of me now." A soft grunt of amusement escaped Obi-Wan's lips. "You're not perfect, Qui, and neither am I. You're also not broken, and you're not a coward."

Qui-Gon struggled to glance up from where Obi-Wan's hands cradled his, but when he did, those grey eyes were too bright, too earnest, too truthful. Slowly, Obi-Wan leaned in and pressed his lips against Qui-Gon's cheek.

Who moved first was a mystery.

This charade had led to kisses, but this was different. Qui-Gon tugged Obi-Wan against him; the feeling of the younger man against him was thrilling, grounding, desperate. As Qui-Gon moved his mouth, seeking and replying, he suddenly felt fingers in his hair. The tip of Obi-Wan's tongue swiped at Qui-Gon's upper lip, teasing. Qui-Gon's hands slid over the Knight's hips, lower—

Obi-Wan's mouth stilled beneath Qui-Gon's lips.

Shocked back to his senses, Qui-Gon stepped back, flustered.

Things had gone too far.

You idiot, Jinn .

A spectacular blush rose beneath Obi-Wan's freckles, but he seemed calm and collected as he opened the door and said, "Breakfast?"

Hanging on to his last shred of Jedi dignity, Qui-Gon rolled back his shoulders and walked out the door as if his mind was not still short-circuiting over the heat of Obi-Wan's mouth.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan was quite certain that no one had ever died from frustration, but everyone had always said that Obi-Wan Kenobi was persistent.

Obi-Wan had been under the influence of a Force inhibitor device in the past, in a training simulation as a Padawan to demonstrate what it felt like to be cut off from the Force. This long-term blunting of his normal senses, this deprivation of his connection with the universe, however—it set him on edge. He could not meditate beyond a basic calming of his mind that kept him from outward irritability.

Every time he closed his eyes, he was kissing Qui-Gon and Qui-Gon was kissing back. The feeling of Qui-Gon's hand on Obi-Wan's hip and the taste of the older man's lips had crystallized with perfect clarity in his memory. It flooded his senses in every quiet moment, giving Obi-Wan no peace or reprieve. Had Qui-Gon not pulled away when he did… Obi-Wan was not entirely certain he would have been able to stop.

There was a gaping maw in the very core of him, and dangerously, he was filling it with Qui-Gon while telling himself it was for the sake of the mission.

Obi-Wan was worried that Qui-Gon would notice. He was terrified that the older man would call him out, full of concerned eyes and perfectly professional words while crushing the last bit of hope Obi-Wan had of ever broaching the subject of his feelings.

So while the memory of Qui-Gon's lips drove him to distraction, Obi-Wan avoided his mission partner. Luckily, the arrival of the grain harvest season kept everyone on their feet and constantly busy; for a week, Obi-Wan ducked into the fields with a scythe immediately after breakfast and did not take note of anyone else until the sun was going down. The villagers praised his efficiency, clapping him on the back and calling out to Qui-Gon at the dinner table that he had married a truly spectacular young man.

On the tenth day of his brilliant plan of working himself to death, Obi-Wan nearly fell asleep in a bowl of stew. He jerked upright as Qui-Gon caught him.

There were those damned concerned eyes. Kriff .

Qui-Gon squeezed Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Are you alright?" he murmured quietly. The heat of Qui-Gon's hand bled through the fabric of Obi-Wan's tunic; it felt divine.

Managing a smile that added to his exhaustion, Obi-Wan replied loudly enough for his immediate tablemates to hear. "Everything's fine, my love."

 

Everything was not fine.

Obi-Wan stood at the foot of the garden plot, arms crossed aggressively across his chest. The long rows of seeds had become tiny sprouts—for about a week. The winter crop drooped and shrivelled, green promises of bounty withered in the earth. He hissed a Hutt expletive under his breath.

"This is not good." Obi-Wan jumped at the sound of Helwen's serious voice. He had not heard the girl coming, and he still was not used to not sensing people before they showed up.

"Thanks, Helwen. I wasn't entirely sure that I had somehow killed everything here, but now I am," he replied dryly.

The little girl mimicked Obi-Wan's stance and cast a disappointed glare at the dying plants. "Your whole garden is terrible."

"Noted."

"Can I help you pull it out?" offered Helwen, her big dark eyes turning on him.

"You don't have another task to do?"

A sly smile crossed her wide mouth. "If I'm helping you, no one will give me a worse job."

He barked a laugh. "You are wise beyond your years, little one. If you fetch a hoe, I'll keep you employed until dinner."

"Deal." Helwen sped away towards the large storage shed that housed the communal tools.

Obi-Wan turned his attention back to the pitiful garden, only to startle again at a new voice. Blasted Force gods, but that was irritating.

"Your garden is dying," Vina declared. Her silver hair glinted in the sun as she approached him.

"So it would seem," replied Obi-Wan. "I never had much of a green thumb."

The old woman seemed suddenly absorbed in adjusting the light knitted shawl on her shoulders as she spoke. "How's married life?" she asked, as if asking about the weather.

"Lovely," Obi-Wan replied, hoping he sounded genuine. "We're very happy."

She did not look at him. "Have you heard the story of Petrus and Aalis?" Before he could answer, Vina ploughed on. "They were of one heart, and beloved of their friends and family. The day of their wedding, they were given an apple orchard as a gift from their parents. In the spring, as her belly swelled with child, the orchard bloomed so profusely that the white petals fell like snow in a blizzard."

"That's a beautiful image," remarked Obi-Wan.

"Don't interrupt," chided Vina. "And so in the harvest season, Petrus and Aalis had so much fruit that the entire village came out to help pick the branches clean. Their love was toasted by all with cider the whole winter. For five seasons, the orchard provided for everyone. No one went hungry.

"But in the sixth year, their eldest child drowned in the river; a tragedy and warning tale of its own. Petrus and Aalis, so enveloped in their grief, stopped talking to each other. They no longer saw the other half of their heart. Anger, and sadness, and fear crept into the broken places between them, and the orchard outside withered. Blossoms fell overnight, carpeting the earth with flowers that would never become fruit. The trees sickened and died. Come the harvest, not a single apple was picked from that entire field of trees."

Vina fell silent, and they gazed at the dying garden together. The moment stretched into awkwardness, and Obi-Wan finally stroked his beard. "Well, I don't have any children," he said helplessly.

Vina's head slowly turned, eyebrows raised in an expression that clearly wondered if Obi-Wan was an idiot. "Your marriage feeds the earth," she said slowly. "What do they teach children in that village of yours, anyway?"

"Calisthenics," quipped Obi-Wan even as his mind turned over her words. If the Living Force was particularly powerful here, would it stand to reason that the lifeforces of the inhabitants of this world existed in some kind of symbiotic relationship with the planet's other natural cycles? Had the Jedi anthropologists noticed this? Was this something the Jedi already knew about except for him because of Quinlan kriffing Vos ?

He breathed out, trying to lose the irritation flaring up inside him. Beside him, Vina was peering at him curiously. "I'm fine," he assured her.

The old woman grunted, unconvinced, and left him to his dead vegetables.

*

The sun was on its way to the horizon, throwing long shadows, when Qui-Gon found Obi-Wan and Helwen at work in the garden patch—or, more accurately, Obi-Wan turning over earth while Helwen bluntly pointed out the spots he had missed and drew intricate pictures in the dirt with her fingers.

"You're being awfully hard on Obi-Wan," remarked Qui-Gon as he stood over the girl.

Helwen shrugged. "Someone's gotta teach him," she said, standing and brushing her hands on her skirt. "Is it dinner time yet?"

"I think Veer is about to ring the bell," replied Qui-Gon. "Go wash up."

Helwen ran off without a backward glance, leaving the Jedi alone. Obi-Wan swallowed hard and covered the movement by wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "I should do the same," said Obi-Wan, stepping out of the tilled earth.

Qui-Gon reached out and grabbed Obi-Wan's hand. "Wait."

Obi-Wan lifted his gaze and watched the tip of Qui-Gon's tongue peek out to moisten his lips.

"I haven't seen you much lately," Qui-Gon began, and panic chimed in Obi-Wan's head.

"I think we should go check out the rendezvous site tonight," Obi-Wan blurted, unable to keep his composure with the feeling of Qui-Gon's thumb gently brushing against his knuckles.

A flicker of surprise crossed Qui-Gon's features, and his hand slid out of Obi-Wan's. "There's a celebration of the harvest tonight. It should be easy enough to sneak away, but it's a long walk in the dark."

A pang of loss at Qui-Gon's touch spurred Obi-Wan to give the other man a smile. "I'll bring the lantern."

The amused quirk of Qui-Gon's lips and silent huff of laughter eased tension in Obi-Wan he had not recognized. "What happened here?" asked Qui-Gon, peering at the now-bare garden plot.

Obi-Wan shrugged. "I'm a terrible farmer, apparently," he replied, knowing that suggesting their fake marriage was responsible for killing tiny seedlings would hurt Qui-Gon's heart. "Maybe we should just plant a cover crop for the time being."

"You've never been terrible at anything, Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon softly. "You always put your whole self into anything you do."

Yes, he did, including falling even harder in love with Qui-Gon Jinn, which was why this damned mission was becoming more difficult by the day.

"I think you're forgetting my final grade in philosophies of the Living Force," Obi-Wan replied dryly, hoping to elicit a laugh and calm the heart thrumming within his chest.

"I seem to remember you were recovering from a concussion and insisted on writing the exam anyway," said Qui-Gon. A fond smile played over his lips. "I believe my point still stands."

"I half-assed my way through History of Jedi Literature."

"You and every other non-Archivist in the Order."

The name slipped out, plaintive and teasing. "Qui …"

"You keep calling me that." Had Obi-Wan taken a step forward? The older man suddenly seemed closer, his voice a rumbling murmur. "I like it. No one's ever given me a nickname."

Obi-Wan's fingers tingled as his mouth dried. He had to say something—anything—to get away before he did something epically stupid, like rise up on his tiptoes and plant his lips against Qui-Gon's and promise to call him Qui for the rest of their days.

The dinner bell, sharp and tinny, broke the quivering string of tension keeping Obi-Wan frozen in place.

He chuckled, trying to hide his nervousness. "Now I really need to wash up. I'll catch you in a minute."

"Very well," said Qui-Gon softly as Obi-Wan ducked around his former Master in search of a basin of water, a scrap of soap, and a few minutes to get ahold of himself again.

During the meal, Vina's sharp eyes never wavered from Obi-Wan. The old woman ate methodically, shredding bread rolls with her fingers, and answered questions when asked of her without her gaze flickering from the Jedi. Obi-Wan could not feel the Force, but he could feel her stare.

He clearly had not been as convincing as he thought he had been, and now their cover was in jeopardy.

As the meal wore on, Obi-Wan let his fingers drift over Qui-Gon's bare wrist. The other Jedi smiled at the touch, though he did not take his attention from Helwen's recounting of her vast experience in agriculture and how she had used that knowledge to educate Obi-Wan, the world's worst farmer.

Vina was still staring.

Obi-Wan shifted a little closer to Qui-Gon, letting their legs brush together more firmly. As he pretended to listen carefully to a neighbouring conversation about the night's festivities, Obi-Wan let his hand settle lightly on Qui-Gon's thigh—too high to be a friendly pat on the knee, and just low enough to be appropriate in public. Beneath his fingers, he felt Qui-Gon startle minutely. Automatically, Obi-Wan brushed his thumb in a soothing, apologetic circle.

Qui-Gon glanced at him, still smiling but with a tiny expression of curiosity hidden in the depths of his blue eyes. Later , Obi-Wan mouthed. Qui-Gon's smile widened in acknowledgement before he turned back to Helwen.

A moment later, Qui-Gon's hand slid under the table and brushed against Obi-Wan's thigh. He squeezed once, a bewildering motion that was both breathtakingly intimate and perfectly professional in this charade. Obi-Wan spent the rest of the meal not tasting his food, but rather arguing with himself about how much he wanted Qui-Gon's fingers to creep upwards and pretending that Vina was not cataloguing every move he made.

*

Anuli and Jaska pounced on the Jedi as they left the dining hall. "Come sit with us," insisted Anuli. "I brought our biggest quilt; there's room for all of us."

"That's very kind," Qui-Gon told her, "but I wanted to go for a walk first with Obi-Wan."

"He was going to show me a few new places," added Obi-Wan, reaching for Qui-Gon's hand and twining their fingers together. The heat of Qui-Gon's palm against his still set his heart beating faster.

Anuli exchanged a knowing glance with her husband and stifled a giggle. "Of course," Jaska said. "When you get back, you're still welcome to join us."

"Thank you for the offer," Qui-Gon said with a nod of his head.

"Have fun," called Anuli slyly as the Jedi walked towards the edge of the village, hand in hand.

The sun, half-buried in the horizon, cast long shadows and painted the cut fields with fading orange light. The forest loomed in the distance, a dark smudge. Finally without the constant stress of people sneaking up on him or watching his every move, Obi-Wan allowed himself to relax. The evening air cooled his skin, but his fingers were warm in Qui-Gon's hand. He should let go, put some distance between them.

Obi-Wan did not let go.

They walked in companionable silence as the sun continued its descent. As the light shifted to grey, Qui-Gon glanced at him. "You did bring the lantern?"

From his pocket, Obi-Wan produced a Jedi-issue flashlight, compact and far more efficient than a burning wick. "Something better. I remembered it was sitting in the bottom of my bag."

"Risky, having that here," chided Qui-Gon, "but I can't say I'm not happy to have it."

"Blame Quinlan," retorted Obi-Wan. "Gods know I do. I think I'll have to make a list just so I don't forget anything when I see him next."

"Promise me you'll ream him out in public."

"Why?"

Qui-Gon smirked. "Because surely it will prove to be highly entertaining. I might sell tickets."

"I'll give you advance warning and we'll split the profits," replied Obi-Wan with a grin.

"Done."

The light was fading, giving Obi-Wan the opportunity to settle his gaze on Qui-Gon longer than he should. The older man held his head high, content and peaceful. His lips tugged upwards. The slight breeze tugged the ends of his long, silvering hair, and Qui-Gon closed his eyes and turned his face to catch the wind. He was beautiful. He was happy.

Qui-Gon Jinn being happy was worth the agony of this mission.

The stars slowly appeared in the evening sky along with the moons, both perfectly round and full. The nocturnal birds and tiny creatures started to wake, stirring the long grass that filled the spaces between fields and filling the quiet air with calls, both soft and raucous. Qui-Gon huffed a laugh at a particularly loud and odd birdcall.

"You like it here," Obi-Wan said.

"I've been to worse places," answered Qui-Gon. "I think I'd like it better if I didn't have the constant feeling that the Force wants to swallow me whole."

"I wish I could feel the Force again," admitted Obi-Wan softly, and the fingers between his suddenly squeezed more tightly. "It's one thing to know theoretically how it will affect you, or to practice wearing an inhibitor for an hour in a classroom."

"It's quite another to have the Force behaving in ways you never expected or experienced. It can be terrible," Qui-Gon said, his voice sounding far away, as though he was considering something beyond their conversation. Suddenly, he shook his head and pointed ahead. "There. Just inside the trees, there should be a large tree stump off the path. It's hollow; the anthropologists were supposed to use it as a cache for their data."

Reluctantly, Obi-Wan slid his fingers out of Qui-Gon's grasp and flicked on the flashlight. Beneath the trees, the moonlight was dappled. The Jedi's boots were quiet on the thick carpet of decaying leaves as they left the trail and hunted for their target. Obi-Wan moved the beam of light slowly from side to side, searching carefully as he moved under the trees.

"Here, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon waved him over, crouched against the bole of a fallen tree. "See?"

The stump had not been cut by human hands, but held jagged edges that spoke of the natural break of a dead deciduous tree. Obi-Wan held the light while Qui-Gon trailed his fingers against the roughly textured bark, seeking the catch. "Ah!" he said with soft triumph as a clever panel came away in his hand.

A hollow lay behind the panel, and Obi-Wan ducked his head to peer inside. A flimsi journal, bound in leather, sat waiting. "Flimsi?" asked Obi-Wan as Qui-Gon withdrew the journal.

"They didn't want to contaminate anything with tech," replied Qui-Gon, his brows drawn together as he thumbed open the book. "You know how anthropologists are."

"Paranoid?" replied Obi-Wan with a wiggle of his flashlight, earning him a grin from the other man.

"Quite."

"So, what do we have? Anything useful?" Obi-Wan settled next to Qui-Gon and held the flashlight so they could read the cramped notes together.

"Let's find out."

They knelt together and read. Obi-Wan ignored the damp seeping into his knees as he scanned the blocky handwriting, humming occasionally in agreement when Qui-Gon poised his finger to flip the page. The anthropologists had played the same part as the Knights—a married couple starting out on their own, come from a nearby village for the adventure of it all.

Qui-Gon blew out a breath. "Both of them had a strong connection to the Living Force," he noted.

"On guard, then."

Qui-Gon nodded once. "Constantly. They would have to be."

Obi-Wan pointed at a line in the middle of the page. "Here. They keep mentioning investigating this river. That's not the swimming stream."

"No, I think they're referring to the big river. The stream feeds into the river at some point. I've never been there. So they wanted to check out the river, and some rock formations, based on local legend that might refer to the Force." Qui-Gon turned the page to find it blank.

"That's it?"

Qui-Gon thumbed through the rest of the pages, all of which were blank. "That's it. Last entry, dated just after their last check-in transmission to the Council. They went missing after this."

A loud snap echoed through the trees. Obi-Wan snapped off the flashlight, then cursed under his breath as his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness. The owls fell silent as a woman giggled.

Against Obi-Wan's ear, Qui-Gon's breath was hot. "Anuli, I think."

A man's voice murmured. "Jaska," whispered Obi-Wan.

"Did you hear something?" asked Anuli, her voice carrying in the dark. His eyes had adjusted enough to make out the gentle glow of a lantern illuminating the young couple. They stood on the path, glued to each other from the neck down even as they peered into the shadows of the forest.

"The notebook," breathed Obi-Wan. They could not be caught with a strange alphabet and flimsi.

Qui-Gon seized Obi-Wan around the waist and tugged him into the older man's lap. Cutting off a yelp of surprise, Obi-Wan shifted to catch his balance and found himself straddling Qui-Gon's thighs. Qui-Gon's left arm settled around Obi-Wan's hips while he stuffed the notebook under his tunic.

"Who's there?" demanded Jaska from the path.

"Give me the flashlight," Qui-Gon ordered, his mouth against the shell of Obi-Wan's ear. His beard tickled, leaving Obi-Wan fighting the urge to shudder at the sensation. Obi-Wan pressed the tech into Qui-Gon's hand and let his head rest in the crook of Qui-Gon's neck. If they were going to be caught, he may as well put on a good show.

Qui-Gon's skin was hot against Obi-Wan's cheek. Unable to stop himself, Obi-Wan nuzzled closer, inhaling the scent of summer sun and dust motes and salt that clung to Qui-Gon's long hair. His hand crept up Qui-Gon's chest, skimming over the edge of the hidden notebook and trailing around the other man's neck. Obi-Wan buried his fingers in Qui-Gon's hair, massaging and stroking his scalp.

Qui-Gon's grip tightened, pulling Obi-Wan closer, and he let out a barely audible gasp against Obi-Wan's earlobe.

A wave of panic struck the Knight. He had gone too far, finally. Obi-Wan hesitated, freezing like a wild animal caught in bright light.

"It's okay." He felt, more than heard, Qui-Gon's whisper against his jaw. "It's okay."

Obi-Wan relaxed, settling his lips against Qui-Gon's neck. It would be so easy to start kissing that sun-darkened skin and never stop. Qui-Gon's fingers wandered up and down the column of Obi-Wan's spine; Obi-Wan squirmed at the tickle and inadvertently ground his hips forward.

Beneath him, Qui-Gon was hard as a rock.

"Obi-Wan, is that you?" Anuli called. Obi-Wan wanted to damn the woman to every Sith hell. "I can see your hair."

A strangled noise escaped his mouth, muffled by Qui-Gon's collarbone. Obi-Wan straightened his back and threw a glare over his shoulder that did not need any embellishment to look authentic. "Yes, it's me. Go away."

Jaska held up the lantern as if a different angle would somehow illuminate the forest. "Oh. Ah, what are you doing all the way out here?"

Qui-Gon leaned around Obi-Wan and said in his driest voice, "Going for a walk."

A fit of giggles overtook Anuli, and she covered her mouth with her hand for a moment to gain control. "We're so sorry. I didn't realize anyone else, ah, walked out here. We'll go back."

"Wait. We may as well come back with you," said Obi-Wan with a sigh. In an undertone to Qui-Gon, he added, "Less suspicious."

Qui-Gon hummed an agreement.

Peeling himself out of Qui-Gon's lap left him cold and aching. He stepped away and faced the trees, quickly adjusting his erection so it was less noticeable, then made his way to the waiting villagers. Anuli's gaze flicked over him, clearly taking note of his dirty knees and mussed state, and Obi-Wan fought to contain his blush. When Qui-Gon joined them, there was no sign of the notebook, but his hair was a mess.

Obi-Wan had done that. Gods , how he wanted to do it again. "Shall we?" he said instead, his voice sounding rough even to his own ears.

"Where's your lantern?" asked Jaska with a little frown.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan exchanged a look. A tiny smile played over Qui-Gon's lips. "Whoops," the older man said with a shrug.

Anuli's snort of laughter broke the tension, and the two couples meandered out of the forest—one pair happily hand in hand, the other carefully not touching at all.

Chapter Text

Begging off the party was impossible. Qui-Gon ducked out of cups of wine at every turn, making lame excuses that earned him hearty laughs and teasing comments about wanting to hole up in his bed with his new husband.

If only that were an option and the anthropologists' journal was not trapped in the waistband of his pants, digging warningly into the skin of his back.

He ended up holding a hammered metal cup, filled to the brim with dark liquid that was decidedly stronger than wine, just to stop the constant offers. The bonfire in the middle of the green threw swirling sparks into the air as sap exploded with the heat. A few folks had brought out their stringed instruments; they played fast-paced tunes while the children banged sticks together in off-tempo percussion. On the edge of the green, also holding a full cup, Obi-Wan stood and watched the gathering with a guarded expression. The light caught the colour of his hair, crowning the Knight with fire.

Qui-Gon swallowed hard as both the image of Obi-Wan wreathed in flowers and the feeling of Obi-Wan sitting in his lap in the dark forest, brushing against Qui-Gon's hard cock assailed his memory. He took a sip of his drink and instantly regretted the burn of rotgut on his tongue.

Obi-Wan was not watching the entire scene. The Knight's eyes moved slowly, as if charting one single person. Qui-Gon followed the line of his gaze and found Vina at the end—and the old woman was watching Obi-Wan back while carrying on a lively conversation.

What was that all about?

Obi-Wan gave him a wide smile as Qui-Gon approached, though the light in his eyes remained guarded. "Why are you watching Vina, and why is she watching you?" murmured Qui-Gon.

"Because," Obi-Wan said quietly, reaching for Qui-Gon's hand and pressing his lips against the rough knuckles, "I think she suspects our marriage isn't real."

The lines of Obi-Wan's body screamed tension. His fingers were cold against Qui-Gon's palm. The younger man was suffering here; Qui-Gon could only imagine how Obi-Wan was coping with the absence of the Force, and the strain of faking affection surely did not make the situation easier.

Oh, sweet Force, what if Obi-Wan had felt Qui-Gon's arousal? What if the younger man was embarrassed, or desperate to get out of this mission because of it?

Trying not to stare at his mission partner, Qui-Gon glanced at Obi-Wan's face for the slight tightening of his mouth and eyes that always indicated his displeasure—and found nothing. Obi-Wan looked tired, yes, perhaps frustrated due to his lack of connection with the Force on this odd planet, but he did not seem angry.

Qui-Gon desperately wanted to see the other man smile. "Would you dance with me, then?" He should have added to keep our cover , but he could not bring himself to lie.

Surprise flickered over Obi-Wan's freckled face. "Yes."

Qui-Gon plucked the drink from Obi-Wan's hand and placed both of their cups on the ground. Obi-Wan watched him with the tiny frown that telegraphed a coming question, and Qui-Gon stalled him by brushing a stubborn lock of hair out of the younger man's face. "Come along, love," he murmured. There might have been someone in earshot to warrant the endearment, but Qui-Gon did not check before it slipped off his tongue.

Obediently, Obi-Wan let Qui-Gon tug him along to the flat bit of trampled grass that served as a dance floor. "I don't think I know this one," admitted the Knight with a rueful half-smile.

"Stay off my toes and I'll handle the rest," replied Qui-Gon, widening his grin at the sight of Obi-Wan's true smile.

"You might regret that," Obi-Wan teased.

The jaunty opening notes of the tune drowned out Qui-Gon's reply. He grabbed Obi-Wan by the waist with both hands and spun him around, eliciting startled laughter from the redhead. The other couples whirling alongside them covered the Jedi's poor dance form and lack of familiarity with the steps.

The world narrowed. Despite his durasteel shields, the comforting spark of Obi-Wan's presence in the Force bled through in that moment. Qui-Gon's entire focus became Obi-Wan: the feel of his back muscles shifting beneath Qui-Gon's hands, the tiny field of freckles decorating his nose and cheeks, the shine of his grey eyes as they crinkled with laughter, the grace of his body despite the unfamiliar steps, the angle of his chin as he tilted his face closer to Qui-Gon—

The music ended abruptly with a final, triumphant note.

Qui-Gon had Obi-Wan in his arms and he never wanted to let go. The Knight was breathing only a touch faster and made no move to step out of Qui-Gon's embrace. The joyous grin faded to the impudent smile that Qui-Gon loved best. "Certainly more fun than ambassadorial galas," said Obi-Wan softly.

"You have to follow the steps," replied Qui-Gon, "or there could be an incident."

"We should be assigned to more parties where there's rotgut and fiddles," Obi-Wan mused.

We . Did that mean Obi-Wan wanted to keep working together, even after this blasted mission?

"Obi-Wan?"

The impish gleam in Obi-Wan's eyes was enchanting. "Yes, Qui?"

"Oi! Qui-Gon, if you're gonna canoodle, get out of the way!" someone in the band shouted good-naturedly, shocking Qui-Gon back to his surroundings. A ripple of laughter followed them as Obi-Wan grabbed Qui-Gon's hand and pulled him away from the dance floor and back to their abandoned drinks.

"What were you going to—ah!" A yawn overcame Obi-Wan, and he made a frustrated noise behind his hand. Upon closer inspection, the Knight had dark circles under his eyes; Qui-Gon wondered how much of a physical toll the oddness of the Force was truly having on the younger man.

"Why don't you go get some sleep?" suggested Qui-Gon softly, letting his palm rest against Obi-Wan's jaw. "I'll make the social rounds for both of us."

The way Obi-Wan sagged under his touch spoke volumes to how exhausted the Knight was. "Are you sure?" he replied.

"I'm sure. Go on."

Obi-Wan nodded, which brushed his beard against the sensitive skin of Qui-Gon's palm. "Good night, then." His eyes flicked over Qui-Gon's shoulder. "She's still watching."

"Then we give her a show," rumbled Qui-Gon, hiding his regret with a smile. Kissing Obi-Wan should be done in private, slowly and thoroughly.

A wry smile tugged at Obi-Wan's lips, and Qui-Gon ducked in to smooth it away. Obi-Wan stilled for a moment, then his mouth moved against Qui-Gon's.

The faint taste of wine went straight to Qui-Gon's head; he fought the urge to gather Obi-Wan up and never let him go. Those clever fingers scraped against Qui-Gon's scalp, and he hummed in pleasure against Obi-Wan's lips before he could stop himself.

Someone whistled and jeered at them. Obi-Wan immediately pulled back, flush high on his freckled cheeks. "Good night," he murmured, dashing away before Qui-Gon could stop him.

Play the part, Jinn . He whirled and snapped at the chorus of hecklers, "See, you scared him off," which earned him delighted laughter.

As Qui-Gon bent down to retrieve the cups waiting at his feet, a pair of sturdy shoes filled his field of vision. He straightened to find Vina staring at him with her arms folded over her bosom.

"Go after him."

He raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"I suppose that makes you both idiots," she muttered, grabbing the cup of rotgut from Qui-Gon's hand and wandering away.

Qui-Gon watched her go, wondering who the other idiot might be, and slowly drained the wine from Obi-Wan's cup.

 

The sounds of music and voices talking over each other faded as Qui-Gon slipped away from the party. He needed to meditate, to take an hour and centre himself, find some perspective on this mission that was rapidly wearing on his self-control. He did not dare; anything more than the barest calming techniques seemed to call the vast undertow of the Force that existed on this planet. He wanted peace, but the Force's siren song was dangerous here.

He could hang on. The mission required it. Obi-Wan, bereft of the Force where Qui-Gon accessed it at his peril, needed a stable mission partner, and Qui-Gon was a Jedi Master—in practice, if no longer in name.

As Qui-Gon approached their tiny house, he noticed the shutters were partially open, spilling dim light from the hearth into the desolate space separating the dwelling from the neighbours. He moved to the window, intending to close the shutters and keep out the large-winged moths that fluttered in the dark, and glanced inside.

Obi-Wan lay in his nest of blankets on the floor, back to the window. The quilt bunched around his hips, revealing the elegant curve of his spine and the pale swath of skin marred with smooth scars. Qui-Gon's fingertips twitched as he imagined what it would feel like to trace the muscles and bones—

A sigh, soft and urgent and needy , cut through Qui-Gon's reverie.

Startled, Qui-Gon pressed himself against the side of the building, out of sight of the window. He had managed to avoid walking in on his Padawan for years , only to do it now , when they were both adults—

He should walk away.

His head rolled back to rest against the house as he closed his eyes in frustration. Without his sight, his hearing took over; Obi-Wan's breathing hitched and fabric shifted, and the faint slip of flesh against flesh was not Qui-Gon's imagination running wild. He bit his lip as his own cock sprang to life, pressing uncomfortably against the fabric of his trousers.

He should walk away, but he stood rooted to that spot, unable to think clearly about anything but Obi-Wan and the noises he was making.

Obi-Wan was panting.

Qui-Gon grimaced and freed his cock, already wet at the tip and eager for the attention. This was not the time for slow and enjoyable; he stroked himself hard, squeezing the base with his other hand. He held his breath, desperate not to make any noise. As Obi-Wan made muffled keening noises, Qui-Gon's balls drew up towards his body in anticipation. He rubbed himself harder, gritting his teeth against the hot, pleasurable drag of his palm and wondering what Obi-Wan looked like when he came.

He could know, if he just peeked in the window.

Obi-Wan groaned with finality. Frozen in place, Qui-Gon also shuddered with his release. He curled forward, unable to enjoy the trembling muscles and pounding heart and tingling warmth of his orgasm as shame flooded him. He should have walked away—

From inside, a single, plaintive whisper hit him harder than any blow. "Qui."

He managed to tuck himself away before his legs gave out under him. Sliding against the rough wall, Qui-Gon dropped heavily onto the patchy grass. He rested his forehead against his bent knee and swallowed a wild noise. The sound of Obi-Wan's voice, hoarse and soft and full of longing , burned into his mind.

What the kriff was that? The fool in him allowed a brief moment of thrilled hope. Maybe this was it—his dream of Obi-Wan returning his feelings finally coalescing into reality. Maybe this mission had cast Qui-Gon in a different light to his former apprentice, as a man, an equal, instead of a teacher—

An old man, disgraced in the eyes of the Jedi Council and unfit for teaching or unsupervised diplomatic missions, too angry to accept his consequences like a Jedi Master, too weak to stand on his own, too scared of losing Obi-Wan for good.

He had poured out his heart onto flimsi, desperate to explain his actions and begging forgiveness, but Obi-Wan had never responded.

He had to know. He had to ask, gather every scrap of his courage and uncover the final consequences of his actions.

Make as clean a break as he could.

Qui-Gon's breath hitched as he dragged his hands over his face. Objectively, he knew he was unbalanced, but it felt impossible to cling to that knowledge. At the edges of his shields, the Force sang its constant call, beckoning him to become one with the universe.

He swallowed roughly and pushed himself off the ground.

 

Obi-Wan was snuggled beneath his blankets, his fingers curled next to his face, relaxed in sleep. Part of Qui-Gon tensed in disappointment, while the scraps of courage he had gathered evaporated with an cowardly sense of relief. Silently, Qui-Gon slipped off his boots and readied himself for bed. He peeled the leather journal away from his spine with a moue of disgust and placed it on the linens box, then pulled his tunic over his head. As his hands skimmed to the waistband of his trousers, he retrieved Obi-Wan's flashlight from his pocket.

He could not leave that where someone might find it.

Obi-Wan's worn travel bag waited in the corner of the room, and Qui-Gon placed it on the end of the bed. Slowly, not wanting to disturb his sleeping partner, Qui-Gon unzipped the canvas. A few articles of clothing not suitable for the village lay inside, haphazardly unfolded as if Obi-Wan had rifled through them. Qui-Gon pushed the fabric to one side to hide the tech at the bottom.

A flimsi envelope lay beneath the clothing.

Creased in several places with four worn corners, the flimsi had seen better days. Qui-Gon reached into the bag and ran his finger over his own handwriting spelling out Obi-Wan's name. A water spot, dark like sapir tea, marred the last letter. Unable to stop himself, Qui-Gon slowly flipped the envelope over.

The seal was intact.

Obi-Wan had indeed received Qui-Gon's unusual missive, but had never opened it.

With shaking hands, Qui-Gon replaced the clothing over the envelope. He left the flashlight under a shirt and returned the bag to the corner. Careful to stay quiet, he climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling.

What did it mean, for Obi-Wan to not open such odd correspondence as an actual flimsi letter? Surely the Knight recognized Qui-Gon's handwriting…

But if Obi-Wan had not wanted to read what Qui-Gon had to say, maybe Qui-Gon had read too much into their interactions on this mission. This was just another mission, necessary for Obi-Wan to earn his promotion, and he was playing his part beautifully.

Qui-Gon stared at the thatch above him until exhaustion claimed him.

 

****

 

He had been to hundreds of planets, but the smells of Naboo would stay with him forever. The fresh scent of green things mixed with the dry dust of stone and the metallic tang of weathered copper roofs, with an underlying mysterious hint that spoke of the unique atmospheric mix but reminded Qui-Gon of a peculiar salty candy he had tried once as a youngling. All of this, of course, underpinned the intense ozone smell deep inside the Theed generator complex, made sharper still by the four clashing 'saber blades.

Jedi lightsabers, properly constructed, did not have an odour of their own. Shorts in the power circuits were acrid like burning plasteel, of course, and plasma burning any other material generated unpleasant smells of scorching or melting. The Sith's lightstaff, however—

It smelled like death, and it was inescapable.

Qui-Gon followed the fight, knowing he could not do anything but witness even as his heart pounded against his ribs. The Zabrak, so fierce that Qui-Gon wondered if he had any concept of mortality, was a blur of black and red. His sickly yellow eyes glowed as he kicked out viciously.

Qui-Gon—the one with the lightsaber, the Master full of hubris and the thrum of battle—toppled over the side of the catwalk. Obi-Wan rushed to fill the gap, holding his own against the Sith with the power and grace he always carried as the Zabrak drew him in.

Obi-Wan fought, heading towards the shielded corridor, and Qui-Gon followed.

The Zabrak baited the Padawan, pretending to retreat as Obi-Wan pressed forward, but both fighters jumped apart as the ray shields snapped into place. Qui-Gon turned his head and watched his younger self, reeling from a likely concussion, struggle to catch up with his Padawan and slide to a halt in front of the ray shield.

"Obi-Wan, wait for me," urged Master Qui-Gon.

Obi-Wan's concentration never wavered from the Sith, who bared his sharp teeth and slammed the blade of his lightstaff against the shield.

Qui-Gon could smell death. He always did.

The shields completed their cycle, and the battle resumed in earnest. Obi-Wan and the Sith moved so quickly that Qui-Gon could barely register their individual movements; all he saw was bright blue and hateful red meeting over and over again while Master Qui-Gon, disoriented and frantic to reach his apprentice, darted through the corridor. The long-haired Jedi skidded, 'saber hilt in hand and wearing desperate frustration like a cloak, stopping just as the final ray shield cut him off from the fight.

Qui-Gon wanted to look away. He knew what happened next; he had seen it countless times, replayed against the inside of his eyelids.

The Zabrak executed a perfect feint, and Obi-Wan fell for it.

The lightstaff hilt slammed into Obi-Wan's face, stunning him.

A red plasma blade bloomed in Obi-Wan's back, killing him.

Master Qui-Gon Jinn howled in rage, and the Sith smiled.

The shield flickered off, and the towering Jedi struck, merciless and cold, using the Force to call Obi-Wan's 'saber. The Zabrak never stood a chance—how could he, when a Jedi broke the rules of combat? As Qui-Gon's green blade held the Sith for a split second, the hilt of Obi-Wan's 'saber flew across the Zabrak's body.

The Sith collapsed in two neat piles while both Qui-Gons raced to Obi-Wan's still form.

"No, no, no," gasped the Master, gathering his apprentice into his arms. "Obi-Wan, stay with me."

Obi-Wan could barely keep his eyes open. Qui-Gon stood over them, unable to look away, and was struck with how young Obi-Wan looked; missing the beard and the confidence of a few years of Knighthood, his dying Padawan was nothing short of devastatingly vulnerable.

"I'm sorry, Master," whispered Obi-Wan. His breaths were short and choppy and limited in number.

Qui-Gon had counted, once. Fifteen breaths.

"No, don't apologize, my dear one," replied Master Qui-Gon. A tear streaked down his cheek and disappeared into his beard.

Obi-Wan reached up with a shaky hand to wipe it away. "I can hear the Force. It's singing."

Master Qui-Gon swallowed a sob and held Obi-Wan tightly against his chest. "Stay with me, a little longer."

"It's beautiful," sighed Obi-Wan. "I'll miss you, Qui-Gon."

"Obi-Wan—" Master Qui-Gon pressed his forehead against the young man's. His shoulders heaved as sobs wracked his body. "I don't know what to do without you."

A tiny smile appeared, dimpling his cheeks. "Live," Obi-Wan replied.

Fifteen.

The distinction between the two Qui-Gons blurred, and he howled.

Chapter Text

An agonized scream jolted Obi-Wan out of sleep. Instantly, he was on his feet, hands reaching for a lightsaber that was not there. The fire had died down, but in the faint orange glow, he could make out Qui-Gon, still asleep, howling. Obi-Wan perched on the bed and pressed his hand into Qui-Gon's bare shoulder. "Qui," he said in a low voice. "Qui, wake up."

The older man awoke with a strangled gasp, crushing Obi-Wan's wrist with an iron grip. With a wince, Obi-Wan leaned closer and spoke in a calm voice. "Qui-Gon, it's me, Obi-Wan. You're safe, it's just a dream—"

"Obi-Wan?" His voice, so small, so broken, hurt Obi-Wan's heart. "That's you?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it's me." Gently, he pried Qui-Gon's fingers loose and held them in his hand. Qui-Gon's large, callused hand trembled. Obi-Wan reached out and ran his palm over Qui-Gon's head, smoothing strands of hair out of the other man's face. "You were screaming."

A hitching gasp, then again, "Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon's fingers squeezed Obi-Wan's palm, searching and desperate in the dark.

Without a second thought, Obi-Wan lay down next to the other man. He tucked his chin against the crown of Qui-Gon's head and slipped his arms around his former Master. In the circle of Obi-Wan's embrace, Qui-Gon shivered; Obi-Wan traced concentric patterns on the skin of Qui-Gon's back, hoping to soothe him. His fingertips brushed over the silky smooth divot of scar tissue left by the Zabrak, and he forced away the vivid memory of holding Qui-Gon on Naboo, willing him to stay alive.

"I'm here," he whispered into Qui-Gon's hair. "I'm right here."

The reply was so quiet that Obi-Wan thought he imagined it until his nerves registered the feeling of Qui-Gon's lips tickling his throat. "Please don't leave me."

Obi-Wan inhaled sharply. "Never."

He should not make promises he might not be able to keep, promises that bordered on speaking his heart aloud and came perilously close to attachment.

But in the dark, curled around the man he loved and inhaling the smells of sunshine and salt and what passed for tea on this planet, Obi-Wan had choice opinions on the Jedi Code that he would never admit. He held Qui-Gon more tightly, smoothing endless patterns with his fingers as the other man's breathing slowly evened out. Emboldened by the shadows of night, Obi-Wan pressed a lingering kiss against Qui-Gon's brow.

"I'll always be right here," he murmured against nightmare-dampened skin before slipping back into sleep.

 

Unused to sharing a bed, Obi-Wan woke well before dawn when Qui-Gon twitched in his sleep. Lying next to Qui-Gon, arm slung over the other man's ribs and nose buried in silvering hair, Obi-Wan allowed himself a moment of contented peace. It was a nice way to wake up.

Except this mission was still active and he was not sure how Qui-Gon would react to having Obi-Wan in his bed. Qui-Gon might not remember the nightmare and would have questions as to why his mission partner was curled up beside him. With regret, Obi-Wan moved his sleep-heavy limbs and crawled back into his cold, hard bed on the floor.

Not for the first time, Obi-Wan cursed his own stupid adherence to the dictates of duty.

****

Bright sun seeping under the door and through the half-open shutters woke him. He bolted upright as his brain caught up to what must be the late hour—

"Good morning," said Qui-Gon. He sat, fully dressed and crosslegged on the bed, holding the journal open against his knee. There was something in his voice that caught Obi-Wan's attention. He sounded soft and—hesitant? His piercing blue eyes did not quite meet Obi-Wan's gaze.

"You should have woken me," groaned Obi-Wan as he stretched the complaining muscles of his back.

"I didn't have the heart," replied Qui-Gon with a half-smile.

The pause between them stretched until it seemed awkward. Obi-Wan decided not to bring up last night—any of it. The entire evening had been a disaster of sexual tension, and he had only been able to calm down enough to sleep after a quick, emotionally unsatisfying orgasm. Unable to ground himself long enough to sort out any of his feelings, Obi-Wan balled everything up and shoved it to the back of his mind in favour of focusing on the mission.

"What did we miss?" he asked, motioning to the journal as he hunted for his clothes.

"Something fascinating," replied Qui-Gon. "I believe our predecessors were investigating a vergence of the Force."

Obi-Wan frowned. "Not a person," he stated, and Qui-Gon shook his head.

"Finding another would be beyond a coincidence," said Qui-Gon softly. A brief moment of jealous relief at not hearing him say Anakin's name washed over Obi-Wan. "No, the notes indicate a place. They had difficulty getting information from the locals, but they suspected the rocks by the river."

"That's where they disappeared, ostensibly. It would be worth poking around." Obi-Wan tugged his tunic over his head. "We should go today."

"I could tell everyone you're feeling ill," mused Qui-Gon. "The lie-in would help sell the story."

Obi-Wan shot him a grin. "Ready to be a Jedi again?"

Qui-Gon chuckled and tossed him the journal. "Pack that. I'll be back in a few minutes."

****

The quickest way to the big river was to follow the stream. The thin trees, stretching their branches over the narrow stream bed, dropped yellowed leaves that raced downstream. The leaves caught on water-worn rocks and swirled in tiny whirlpools, breaking the dance of sunlight on the water. Unfamiliar birds called to each other in the canopy, loud and strong to be heard over the rush of water. The air held enough warmth for comfort, but warned of the fast approaching winter.

Obi-Wan glanced next to him and once again found a contented Qui-Gon Jinn, seemingly holding no turmoil from last night save for the dark circles beneath his eyes. The older man had braided his hair that morning, muttering about keeping everything out of his blasted face. The silvering strands curled over Qui-Gon's shoulder, glinting in the sunlight, and Obi-Wan wondered what it would be like to undo the plait and hold all that hair in his hands, or what sound Qui-Gon would make if Obi-Wan tugged on the braid—

He stumbled over an exposed tree root, and Qui-Gon grabbed his elbow to keep him from tumbling into the stream. "What were you thinking so hard about?" teased Qui-Gon.

Obi-Wan bit the side of his tongue to keep his focus off the unwitting entendre. "The Force," he lied. "What we might find."

Qui-Gon let go of Obi-Wan's elbow and continued walking. "It's possible there's a nexus of the Living Force here."

"I've never heard of a nexus of specifically one aspect of the Force," replied Obi-Wan.

"That's because it doesn't exist," said Qui-Gon with surprising lightness. At Obi-Wan's curious frown, Qui-Gon grinned. "Or at least, no one's documented one."

The way his eyebrow quirked, the slight bend of his body towards Obi-Wan—"You have a secret, Qui, and you're dying to tell me," Obi-Wan said with slow realization. "You've seen something like this before."

"Maybe," replied Qui-Gon. His voice became soft, his expression almost reverent. "I still don't know if it was real."

"Tell me," Obi-Wan urged, punctuating his request by running his pinkie against the side of Qui-Gon's palm.

"I think I found the Wellspring of Life," breathed Qui-Gon.

Stunned at the notion that his former Master had found the birthplace of all life in the universe, Obi-Wan's jaw dropped. "What? When?"

"I don't remember. It happened, but when I try to fix on the exact moment, it's like … it's like it had always happened, like it's a seminal moment of my life and has no beginning and no end." The birds fell silent, and the forest was eerily quiet. "I was given knowledge."

As one, they stopped walking. Obi-Wan faced his former Master. "What knowledge?"

A pained expression flitted over Qui-Gon's face. "I don't know . It's like it's locked in my mind somewhere, ready for the right moment, but the right moment hasn't come yet." He shook his head as if to clear it, and continued walking. "I have no frame of reference to really dissect the experience, other than that place was the Living Force. This planet isn't on the same scale, at all, but the way the Force behaves here…?"

“That’s… that’s extraordinary, Qui. I don’t even know what to say. It sounds like you’ve been given a great gift from the Force--”

“A gift I can’t open yet?” said Qui-Gon wryly. “I hope I don’t have to wait my entire life to find out what it is.”

The words struck Obi-Wan oddly, ringing with a faint echo of truthful premonition that he did not want to examine further. He suppressed a shiver. “Well, I can’t say I’m enjoying this particular nexus. I’ve never the Force disappear on me while on Coruscant.”

"This isn't the nexus on Coruscant," Qui-Gon answered with a shrug.

"So state your hypothesis," retorted Obi-Wan in an echo of Qui-Gon himself as a teaching Master.

"Imp," chuckled Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan's heart skipped a beat at the fondness in Qui-Gon's old term of endearment. "Of all the Jedi in the Order, I'm considered one of the, if not the , strongest in affinity with the Living Force."

"And you've had to shield yourself from it here."

"Whereas your talents lie in the Unified Force, and suddenly your abilities have essentially vanished. Mix that with other Jedi who have, for all the locals know, vanished without a trace, and I would say we have a decent argument for, well…" Qui-Gon made a helpless gesture.

"Weird Force shit," supplied Obi-Wan irreverently.

"Quite, Knight Kenobi." Qui-Gon's eyes sparkled with delight. "And a vergence qualifies."

Obi-Wan hated to bring up their mission cover, but Qui-Gon needed the information. "Vina told me an interesting story the other day. It would seem the locals believe their personal relationships, marriages and such, directly affect the way their crops grow."

A thoughtful look crossed Qui-Gon's face. "Fascinating. Perhaps there's a symbiosis between the people here and the planet that's far more in tune than most other places."

"I can't tell if the people here are Force-sensitive or not," admitted Obi-Wan.

"Honestly, I can't either," said Qui-Gon. At Obi-Wan's surprised glance, he added, "It's not because of my shields. They don't feel like nulls, but they don't feel like Force-sensitives, either."

"That's—"

"More weird Force shit?" supplied Qui-Gon with a smile.

"I think that'll be the title of my mission report," said Obi-Wan, earning him laughter from his partner.

****

The sun had reached its apex when Qui-Gon suggested they sit. Obi-Wan opened his mouth to protest, only to be interrupted by his growling stomach. "Okay, we'll sit," he muttered, sprawling on a patch of soft moss and letting his bag slide off his shoulder.

"Here." Qui-Gon offered him a fabric-wrapped package from his own bag. "For my poor sick husband."

Obi-Wan untied the knotted corners and peeled back the thin fabric to find slices of buttered bread and root vegetables. "How much farther to the river?" he asked as he folded a slice of bread in half.

Balancing his own meal on his knee, Qui-Gon fished the journal out of his bag and flipped through a few pages. "According to this, we should be almost there. Another kilometre, maybe?"

They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes. Obi-Wan tilted his face up, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his skin and the sound of water bubbling over the rocks.

"Obi-Wan."

"Hmm?" Obi-Wan glanced at the other man to find him sitting crosslegged, staring at the water with an air of deep unease.

"I need to ask you something." Qui-Gon's throat bobbed as he swallowed. "I sent you a letter. After Naboo, after they'd tossed you out into the galaxy."

Every muscle in Obi-Wan's body stilled. He had wondered if Qui-Gon would ever gather himself up to ask.

"It was silly to send an actual flimsi letter, it might not have even made it to you, but—"

With a light touch on Qui-Gon's knee, Obi-Wan stopped him. Digging to the bottom of his bag, past the hat and extra clothing and flashlight, Obi-Wan retrieved the worn envelope. He held it in his hands like a precious treasure. "Yes, I got it," he said softly.

Qui-Gon's voice was barely a whisper. "And?"

"I didn't open it." He turned the letter over and over in his hands, mimicking the countless hours spent wondering at the contents. The flimsi was battered, but the seal held tight.

"But you kept it."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I kept it, but I didn't open it," he said, "because I want to know what you have to say." He deliberately turned to Qui-Gon and held out the flimsi. When Qui-Gon twisted his body towards him, Obi-Wan gazed at him intently. "Whatever this says, Qui, I want you to say to me. Face to face."

Qui-Gon's hands shook minutely as he took the letter. "I don't know if I can do that yet."

Obi-Wan had never before heard his former Master sound afraid in the light of day. Without a curtain of hair to conceal his profile, Qui-Gon's bowed head and downturned mouth were plain. The sight hurt Obi-Wan's heart.

Recklessly uncaring of the consequences, Obi-Wan leaned in and laid a tiny kiss on Qui-Gon's cheek. The miserable countenance of the other man turned to surprise. "I'll wait, for as long as it takes," Obi-Wan told him, settling back down to finish his meal and pointedly looking out at the stream in an effort to ignore the blush rising on his cheeks.

 

The stream made a sharp turn and the forest gave way to a wide riverbank covered in tall grass with fluffy seed heads. The big river, as the villagers called it, spanned only about fifty metres and appeared to have a slow, lazy current. On the opposite bank, however, there were no trees; a sea of grass waved in the gentle breeze, marred only by a low cluster of boulders too far away for Obi-Wan to see detail.

Next to him, Qui-Gon grunted in surprise. "What is it?" asked Obi-Wan.

"The Force," replied Qui-Gon faintly. "I can hear it, even through my shields."

Obi-Wan stretched out and grimaced when he still felt nothing except static. "Just you," he informed the other Jedi.

"How do we get across?" The young, high voice startled both Jedi, though Qui-Gon seemed better at hiding it. Helwen poked her head around a tree and skipped towards them. "You know there's no bridge, right?"

"Helwen, what are you doing here?" asked Obi-Wan, irritation bleeding into his tone at having been surprised again . How had the girl kept so quiet? "Did you follow us all the way out here?"

She peered up at him, dark eyes accusing. "You don't look sick."

Qui-Gon shifted, pulling himself up to his full height, and Obi-Wan was suddenly reminded of every lecture he had endured during his apprenticeship. "Helwen, you are not supposed to be out this far without supervision. The rules are there for your protection. You could get lost out here, or trip and fall in the water," Qui-Gon told her.

"You were here," she replied by way of explanation.

Qui-Gon glared at her. "We did not know you were there and as such were not appropriate guardians. Does anyone know where you are?"

Helwen's silence spoke volumes as she looked everywhere but at Qui-Gon. "I just wanted to come with you," she muttered.

Obi-Wan, taking pity on the girl, knelt down. "Next time you want to join us, just ask."

"Okay," sighed Helwen. "So how are we gonna cross the river?"

"We aren't," Qui-Gon told her. "We are taking you home before your parents think you've been eaten by wolves."

The light shifted as clouds moved across the sun. The wind picked up suddenly, raising gooseflesh along Obi-Wan's arms. "Sooner rather than later, I think," Obi-Wan added.

Helwen flicked her eyes up to the sky. "Maybe it'll snow!" she said hopefully. "Are you better at making snowpeople than farming, Obi-Wan?"

Qui-Gon broke his authoritarian stance by covering a snort of laughter with his hand. Obi-Wan rolled his eyes.

****

It was nearly dark by the time the Jedi delivered Helwen back to her panicked parents, who alternated between yelling at their daughter and hugging her tightly, then hugged both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon with grateful abandon. The Jedi managed to excuse themselves from the fray and headed home.

The wind had increased in intensity throughout the day, bringing dark, heavy clouds that promised precipitation. Obi-Wan cast a critical eye at the sky. "I hope Helwen was joking about snow."

"I have the feeling the seasons shift quickly here," replied Qui-Gon.

"Intuition or hearsay?" asked Obi-Wan.

"Observation," Qui-Gon said, holding out his hand flat. A single white snowflake landed in the middle of his palm and melted instantly.

"I did not expect the six year old to be the local meteorologist," quipped Obi-Wan, grinning when Qui-Gon laughed.

The wind nearly pushed them through their door with a scant swirl of snowflakes. Obi-Wan checked the latch on the shutters while Qui-Gon closed the door securely. "Do you think Helwen was listening to our conversation?" asked Qui-Gon as he hung up his bag.

"I suppose it's possible," replied Obi-Wan. He stooped next to the hearth and stirred the ashes with the metal poker, searching for the buried coal. "That could be problematic, but I'd rather not go looking for trouble, or have to undercut her by lying."

Qui-Gon hummed in agreement. Obi-Wan ignored the sounds of the other man changing into a set of sleep clothes and crowed in triumph when he found the glowing ember at the bottom of the ashes. "I'd like to set her on Master Yoda, though," Obi-Wan said with a chuckle.

"Most younglings her age aren't quite as blunt," agreed Qui-Gon. "Maybe you should introduce her to Quinlan Vos first, in retribution for this mission."

Obi-Wan carefully set the kindling in the hearth. "I don't regret being here with you," he said to the fireplace. With a breath to calm his nerves, he glanced over his shoulder at Qui-Gon. "This place is making me crazy, but I'm happy you're here."

Barefoot and perched on the edge of the bed, Qui-Gon blinked at him slowly. "I'm happy you're here, too, Obi-Wan," he said quietly, his lips tugging upwards in a soft smile. "The sun's been good for you."

"If you like freckles," quipped Obi-Wan with a self-deprecating snort. He blew on the ember until it glowed orange long enough to catch the thin pieces of dry kindling. When the fire seemed adequate, Obi-Wan quickly changed into a clean pair of sleep pants and dove into his nest alongside the bed. "'Night, Qui."

"Sleep well," murmured Qui-Gon.

****

The fire had died out. Obi-Wan woke, teeth chattering, and discovered his toes, fingers, and nose were disconcertingly numb. Cold tendrils of air curled through the gaps in the floorboards and around the door, making his nest on the floor feel more like a bed of ice. He shifted, curling his body tightly and breathing on his fingers in a vain attempt to gain some feeling.

From the bed, Qui-Gon's soft, sleepy voice said, "Come to bed before you freeze to death."

Automatically, Obi-Wan replied, "I'm fine, really." He was not fine, and the invitation to join Qui-Gon in the bed was dangerous and oh-so-tempting.

"Stop bein' so bloody stubborn and get in here," murmured Qui-Gon. The slurred way his accent became more pronounced whilst half-asleep was something Obi-Wan had never heard before, and he filed it away on his list of things he adored about Qui-Gon Jinn. "I won' bite."

Sleeping on the floor was like camping on Hoth. One night in the same bed would not jeopardize his ability to stay professional. They had shared beds before, on past missions where the accommodations had been less than generous—

Except now Obi-Wan was no longer an apprentice, and now he knew exactly what Qui-Gon's lips tasted like—and how hard his cock could be, even if that had only been an autonomic reaction.

Maybe it was the lack of meditation, maybe it was the aching need for something beyond professionalism.

Kriff it.

He was not going to freeze his balls off for this mission. Obi-Wan scrambled up with his pillow, wincing at the numbness of his toes. Qui-Gon shifted over in the bed, eyes closed, and lifted the corner of the blankets in invitation. The already warm bed was blissful, and Obi-Wan settled back on his pillow with a deep, relieved sigh. His hips delighted in the soft support of the wool-stuffed mattress.

A slow smile crossed Qui-Gon's sleepy features. "You never needed t'be cold," he murmured. "You always coulda been here wi' me."

Yesterday's braid had come partially undone, and thick tendrils of silvering hair fanned out on Qui-Gon's pillow. Obi-Wan fought the urge to tuck a wayward strand behind Qui-Gon's ear, then did it anyway. Cold fingers brushed against the shell of Qui-Gon's ear, and the older man shivered at the touch. "You're colder than Ilum," mumbled Qui-Gon, reaching out and wrapping his large hands around Obi-Wan's numb fingers. "Better."

As Qui-Gon drifted back to sleep, his grip on Obi-Wan's hands slackened. Obi-Wan turned his back to Qui-Gon and flexed his toes slowly, trying to warm them, and startled when Qui-Gon's calves suddenly trapped Obi-Wan's icicle feet. Obi-Wan bit off a yelp of surprise. "You—"

"Go to sleep," Qui-Gon grumbled insistently.

Heat radiated off Qui-Gon; the man was like twin suns when he slept. Snuggling deeper under the covers until his nose disappeared, Obi-Wan closed his eyes. If he moved just a bit closer to the other man, who could blame him for being cold?

"Obi," sighed Qui-Gon. His breath tickled the back of Obi-Wan's neck. "It says sorry."

Obi-Wan hummed inquisitively as the warmth of the bed beckoned him back to sleep.

"The letter. Says sorry. For ev'rythin'."

Instantly, Obi-Wan twisted his shoulders so he could look at Qui-Gon. "What do you mean, 'everything?'" he whispered.

But Qui-Gon was asleep, breathing in even, shallow breaths.

Chapter Text

On the anniversary of his Knighting, Obi-Wan nearly cried with joy when he caught sight of Bant Eerin waiting in the doorway of the CorSec field office. The Mon Calamari, newly Knighted and tagging along with a dusty old Jedi on Search, giggled delightedly when Obi-Wan stepped in to kiss her cheek. She seized him around the middle and squeezed him so hard his ribs creaked; Obi-Wan grinned and announced they were going out.

Sighing happily a few hours later, Bant licked the back of her dessert spoon. "This was a good idea."

"Sometimes I have those," Obi-Wan quipped, dragging his finger through the last smear of whipped cream from his plate and popping it into his mouth, diplomatic manners be damned.

Bant chuckled, but her large, silver eyes rolled to glance behind her—her nervous tell since she was little. Obi-Wan set his napkin on the table and fixed her with an even, prodding gaze. "So are you going to tell me, or do I have to guess?"

"Obi…"

He pinned her with a raised eyebrow. "Bantling."

"It's about Qui-Gon," she admitted hesitantly.

Straightening instantly, he leaned forward. "Is he okay? Is he hurt?"

"No," Bant said quickly, shaking her head, "no, he's not hurt. He's actually off the injured list, so that's good news."

"That is good news. It's been a year." Obi-Wan allowed himself a tiny sigh of relief, but the other possibility overwhelmed him: Qui-Gon had finally gotten his way and taken Anakin as his apprentice. He forced himself to unclench his teeth. He did not harbour ill-will towards the boy, who not long after Obi-Wan's Knighting had transmitted a short, halting thank-you letter for helping secure Anakin's freedom from slavery. Qui-Gon's stubbornness on the matter, however—it grated, long after it should have.

"Mmhmm," agreed Bant. The fake cheer and shifty set of her shoulders spoke volumes.

Obi-Wan narrowed his eyes at her. "Except it's not. What's he got himself into now? Don't tell me—they asked him to join the Council?" Easier to joke about that than admit his petty jealousy.

"Er, no." Diplomatic work had not been Bant's focus, and it showed. She wiggled in her seat uncomfortably, and a faint, embarrassed blush darkened her pink skin. Her next words rushed out. "He's been censured for behaviour unbecoming of a Jedi Master and using poor judgement in the course of a mission and is required to have a supervisory mission partner—"

" What? "

"—And he's forbidden from taking a new apprentice for years ."

Sinking his face into his palms, Obi-Wan groaned. He had always known something like this would happen. Throughout his entire apprenticeship, Obi-Wan had warned Qui-Gon that his loose interpretation of things like rules and common sense would get him in trouble. It would seem that nearly dying on Naboo at the hands of a Zabrak Sith instead of calling for backup had been the last straw for the Council.

"Master Qui-Gon must be chewing rocks," muttered Obi-Wan as he lifted his head. He scraped his fingers along the new beard growing on his jaw before forcing himself to drop his hand. It would not do to develop a nervous tell of his own.

Another person would have dismissed Bant's tiny movement.

"Sith hells, Bant, what else? Spit it out before I die of old age."

"He's not a Master anymore."

"What?! Bant!" At his outburst, other patrons turned to frown at him. Propriety struggled over disbelief and barely won. He lowered his voice to a hiss. "There's no possible grounds to demote him."

"The Council didn't demote him, Obi," she said gently. From her belt pouch, she produced a handheld holoprojector. "Siri sent me this. She's taken it upon herself to keep me informed about all Temple gossip, whether I want it or not."

"Bant." He did not know if he was warning or pleading.

She switched on the holoplayer.

In the middle of the rickety table, between the empty wine glasses and the fake flowers stuffed into a dusty vase, the tiny blue figure of Qui-Gon Jinn wearing formal robes winked into existence. "The Council leaves me with only one choice. I hereby relinquish my rank of Master of the Jedi Order. I surrender all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges bestowed upon me as a Jedi Master. I will serve the Order as a humble Knight, or I will not serve at all."

Obi-Wan's heart dropped into his churning stomach. He recognized the stubborn set of Qui-Gon's jaw, the challenging tilt of his chin. Qui-Gon was deadly serious in this, and nothing—or no one—would convince him to reconsider.

This was Qui-Gon Jinn backed into a corner. The next step involved lightsabers.

And in his stubbornness and wounded pride, he had repudiated his Padawans. With one impulsive, bantha-headed move, Qui-Gon had announced to the entire Order that Obi-Wan Kenobi, new Knight with his entire promising career ahead of him, had suspect training from a damaged lineage.

Obi-Wan pressed his teeth together and released his anger into the Force the best he could.

For Force's sake, Xanatos had turned to the dark side and Qui-Gon had never felt it necessary to publicly and formally renounce him. But to give up his mastership only a year after Obi-Wan's Knighting? That hurt.

More than he could ever admit.

"People are talking," he said, sounding far away to his own ears. He did not say about me , and Bant, sweet, perceptive creature that she was, did not add it for him.

"They haven't stopped ," she admitted reluctantly.

"Is-is he okay?" There was so much in those three words that he wanted Bant to understand. Obi-Wan had to know if Qui-Gon was falling apart. As a Knight in his wilderness years, there was little chance Obi-Wan would be allowed to return to the Temple, but by the Force, he would do his damnedest to keep the man he loved from crumbling.

"I don't know," replied Bant, her voice soft, "but I checked the mission rota before I left Coruscant. The Council sent him on a circuit of the Montross system with Knight Celz about a month ago and he hasn't been back. Yet."

"They're punishing him for this." Obi-Wan gestured at the still holo of his former Master. The tightness around the other man's eyes, a hollowness to his cheeks, made him want to reach out and smooth the tension away—after yelling at him for a good long while about all of this, since Obi-Wan was no longer his apprentice.

Bant frowned and leaned towards him. "He deserves it," she said heatedly. "He's acting like a selfish youngling, not a Jedi. His actions on Naboo nearly got him and you both killed, and he took a youngling into a war zone instead of trusting the Council not to send a little boy back into slavery . He gambled with Anakin's life instead of doing something sensible, like sending an encrypted transmission for assistance or funds. He took on the Sith with only you as his backup!"

Obi-Wan opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again. Deep down, past the valiant and sometimes lovelorn part of him that would defend Qui-Gon to his last breath, he agreed with Bant. Of course there had been extenuating circumstances during the Naboo mission. Every mission had extenuating circumstances, otherwise Jedi would not be involved. There had been something about the Naboo mission—the plight of the Naboo, the supernova in the Force that was Anakin, the dark distortion that Obi-Wan now knew had been the Sith—that had distracted Qui-Gon, pushed him beyond his own logic and sense and driven him to ignore Obi-Wan's protests.

Tapping his fingers on the cheap tablecloth, Obi-Wan could not meet his friend's gaze. "Is that the general consensus?"

"Yes, although there are some who feel the Council was too lenient in allowing him to stay a Jedi at all," Bant replied.

A wry, mirthless chuckle answered her. "There are always a handful of those, no matter what he does."

He wanted to fly to the Montross system and throttle Qui-Gon, except as a junior Knight on a tight Council leash, Qui-Gon Jinn was not his problem.

Except that he loved Qui-Gon Jinn with all his heart, making the other man always Obi-Wan Kenobi's problem.

With a sigh, he bowed his head to his friend. "Thank you, Bant, for letting me know about this."

"Er, one more thing?" Obi-Wan braced himself for the next disastrous piece of gossip, but the other Jedi withdrew a flimsi envelope from the folds of her tunic. "This is for you. The Comms Master asked me to get it to you since I was headed your way."

Hesitantly, Obi-Wan took the envelope. The flimsi was thick and dry, smooth and unfamiliar beneath fingertips used to datapads and computer terminals. Thin, elegant handwriting proclaimed his name in black ink.

Qui-Gon's handwriting.

Why in karking Sith hells had he written an actual letter, instead of just sending a transmission? Curiosity burned in him as his mind sped through the possible contents. An explanation for this insanity? Justification for attempting to take Anakin as an apprentice? A declaration of love?

He scoffed at that last, impossible thought and stuffed the envelope into his own tunics. Bant gazed at him with naked inquisitiveness, but always a good friend, she did not pester him to open it. Turning a smile on his friend, he asked, "Shall I walk you back to your ship?"

"Are you going to pay, too?"

"I am a gentleman, Bant, so yes, even though it'll clear out my entire stipend for the month," he teased her.

They bantered all the way back to the docking facility, but the letter was like an impossible weight against his ribs. That night he sat on his tiny bed, holding the envelope in his hands, turning it over and over, wondering and dreading what the words inside said. Once he read them, they could not be unread.

Around midnight he stuffed the envelope into his bag. Whatever Qui-Gon had written, Obi-Wan deserved to hear it in person. If his heart was going to break for good, it would not be by ink.

 

****

 

Heart thudding with the memory of meeting Bant on Corellia replaying in his dreams, Obi-Wan inhaled sharply as he woke. The scents of strange tea and salt greeted him in the first gleam of dawn.

Tucked under Qui-Gon's chin, nose pressed against the older man's neck, Obi-Wan basked in the warmth surrounding him. Qui-Gon held him by the waist, arm heavy with sleep, while Obi-Wan's leg had insinuated itself dangerously between Qui-Gon's knees. They were impossibly and intimately entwined.

He should move, gently extricate himself and roll over—

He felt Qui-Gon's soft, pleased hum, then Qui-Gon's strong arm curled around him further, making Obi-Wan's heart skip a beat. "See? You didn't need to be cold," said Qui-Gon, sleep-soft and hushed.

With the dream barely faded, the words came before Obi-Wan could think better of them. "What did you mean by 'everything?'"

Qui-Gon tensed, immediately awake. He drew back, and in the dim light, Obi-Wan saw uncertainty flicker over his features. For a moment, Obi-Wan thought Qui-Gon would dodge the question, but in a testament to his courage, Qui-Gon rumbled, "I meant everything. Every apology I needed to beg of you, I wrote in that letter. For what I did to you in the Council meeting. For putting distance between us. For being so selfish that I didn't send you for your Trials sooner."

"For repudiating me in front of the Council after I'd been Knighted?" Years ago, after Corellia, that question would have been sharper, merciless and full of hurt unbecoming of a Jedi. Now, Obi-Wan just wanted the answer he believed was coming. He needed honesty between them in the middle of this charade of a mission.

Qui-Gon's eyes widened. "I would never…" Watching the exact moment of his realization squeezed Obi-Wan's heart uncomfortably. The older Jedi shut his eyes and shuddered. "Oh, gods, Obi-Wan. None of that was about you."

"Then tell me why you did it," urged Obi-Wan in a whisper. "Look at me, Qui, and tell me."

"I was angry."

The admission, quiet and stark, startled Obi-Wan. All of this for a moment of anger?

Qui-Gon's blue eyes, muted in sadness and the dim light, fluttered open and fixed upon Obi-Wan. "I was so angry. I felt as if nothing in my life was under my control anymore. The galaxy had moved on while I spent a year forgotten in the Halls of Healing. I was weak and I let my anger rule me in a moment when I needed to be humble and accept the consequences of my actions, and I am so sorry that I did not consider that my failure had repercussions for you."

"Were you angry when you tried to take Anakin as your apprentice?"

Slowly, Qui-Gon shook his head. "No, Obi-Wan. I was terrified. I've never been more terrified in my life."

"Qui—"

"I had a vision, from the Force," admitted Qui-Gon. "Before Naboo."

"You told me you've never had visions," replied Obi-Wan, frowning.

"It was the first and hopefully only." Even now, years removed from the event, Obi-Wan could hear a faint tremble in Qui-Gon's voice. Pieces of understanding were falling into place, cemented together with sympathy. The first Force visions of Obi-Wan's life had been acutely frightening even though he could only remember vague, unsettling feelings and jagged images. Vivid, however, was the memory of Qui-Gon stroking his hair to lull him back to sleep and singing a Alderaanian lullaby in a low, slightly off-key voice.

Obi-Wan reached up and brushed a lock of hair out of Qui-Gon's face. "You watched me have visions for years. Why didn't you talk to me about it?"

"Because it made my blood run cold. Not even my Trials terrified me that much," Qui-Gon said, barely a whisper. "I thought I needed to handle it on my own. I was a Jedi Master. I was supposed to be in control, not making poor decisions based on my emotions. I was supposed to be strong."

Obi-Wan trailed his thumb over Qui-Gon's cheek. "Asking for help is being strong," he chided him gently. "And if you really thought I was ready for my Trials, you could have trusted me with this."

"You were ready long before Naboo," Qui-Gon told him with a sad smile. "I never planned on throwing you towards Knighthood like I did. When I saw the possibility of my vision coming true, I completely and utterly panicked in the middle of that Council meeting. I had to change the future the Force showed me, because it was too terrible to allow."

Softly, Obi-Wan cupped Qui-Gon's jaw. "Can you tell me what you saw?"

Closing his eyes and inhaling sharply, Qui-Gon shook his head. "No," he breathed.

"Always in motion, the future is," quoted Obi-Wan, even as Qui-Gon's words soothed that hidden knot of anger he had never been able to release into the Force, no matter how hard he had tried. This—the irrational behaviour, the sudden distance between them during the Naboo mission—he could understand. Though Obi-Wan felt unsettled at what could have possibly upset Qui-Gon to such a degree, he would not press Qui-Gon to tell him about the vision; there were a handful of his own visions that Obi-Wan would not want to dredge up again for anyone. "So you tried to change it."

"I panicked, and I hurt you," Qui-Gon retorted insistently. "And then in my anger I hurt you again. I've done nothing but give you reasons to despise me."

The note in his voice hit Obi-Wan hard. The other man truly believed Obi-Wan should harbour no fondness for him. He stroked his hand over Qui-Gon's hair. "We're not perfect, remember? I could never despise you. I'm sorry I couldn't be there for you when you were recovering. It sounds like you needed someone, and that someone should have been me," Obi-Wan said softly.

Qui-Gon's arm tightened against Obi-Wan's hip. "You were doing your duty," replied Qui-Gon hoarsely. "A new Knight should be out gallivanting around the galaxy, not worrying about his old Master's un-Jedi-like behaviour."

"Maybe not," Obi-Wan said, trailing his fingers against silvering beard in a desperate attempt to soothe away some of the pain on Qui-Gon's face, "but I worried anyway."

Qui-Gon gave a little sigh, pressing his jaw against Obi-Wan's hand. "What did I ever do to deserve such a loyal friend?" The older man's lips twitched with a self-deprecating half-smile. "I don't know why you put up with me."

Exasperation filled him. Impatience, desperation, and longing followed. Waiting was no longer an option, and he moved in time with his heart. Obi-Wan shifted forward until he pressed his forehead against Qui-Gon's and brushed their noses together. "Why do you think, Qui?" he breathed.

A few heartbeats passed as Qui-Gon became perfectly still. Then his nose slid along Obi-Wan's cheek, and when he spoke, Obi-Wan felt the tickle of Qui-Gon's beard against his lips. "I think perhaps I've been very stupid."

"I think we've both been stupid," breathed Obi-Wan in agreement, eyes fluttering closed as he captured Qui-Gon's mouth with his own.

It was not the first time they had kissed, no thanks to this ridiculous mission, but this—the two of them, unwitnessed and intentional and real—filled Obi-Wan's heart with joy and no little relief. Sparks ran through his nerves and down to his fingers as he tangled them in Qui-Gon's braid. When Qui-Gon flicked the tip of his tongue over Obi-Wan's bottom lip, he opened his mouth in reply and drowned in searing, delicious heat between them.

The world narrowed to nothing but Qui-Gon in his arms. Needing more contact, Obi-Wan danced his fingers of one hand beneath the hem of Qui-Gon's sleep shirt and massaged the heel of his hand into the warm skin and taut muscles while his other hand slipped up to tug on Qui-Gon's braid, earning him a sharp, needy moan against his mouth. Qui-Gon nipped at the swollen, delicate skin of Obi-Wan's lip. Grinning against Qui-Gon's mouth, Obi-Wan tugged on the braid again. As Qui-Gon growled, low in his throat, Obi-Wan kissed his way down Qui-Gon's neck, taunting and teasing the thin skin with teeth and tongue.

Qui-Gon's pulse hammered wildly beneath Obi-Wan's lips, and Obi-Wan's cock strained insistently; the haggard breathing, the blood rushing through Qui-Gon's body? That was because of him .

Qui-Gon wrapped his arms around Obi-Wan, erasing any space between them. The feeling of Qui-Gon's hard cock trapped against Obi-Wan's thigh—close but not close enough —made him dizzy. His hand wandered beneath the hem of Qui-Gon's sleep pants, tracing insistent patterns against dangerous skin. Qui-Gon, nibbling on Obi-Wan's earlobe, whined, hot and urgent and breathy.

Obi-Wan needed more—more contact, more skin, more weight on top of him to keep him from floating away. He slid his leg up, brushing gently and deliberately against Qui-Gon's balls, and rolled onto his back, tugging insistently on Qui-Gon's waist. Obediently, Qui-Gon settled his weight against Obi-Wan. He drew a hot line of open-mouthed kisses against Obi-Wan's clavicle, and Obi-Wan's hips bucked upwards, seeking delicious friction, and Qui-Gon groaned in frustration.

"Obi-Wan." The way he said it, perfectly out of breath, made Obi-Wan's cock twitch. In reply, Qui-Gon let more weight settle against Obi-Wan and pressed his erection into Obi-Wan's thigh. "Obi-Wan."

"Hmm?" The braid had to go. Obi-Wan needed to hold all that hair in his hands, run it through his fingers, kiss it all.

"We need to slow down," rumbled Qui-Gon, voice heavy with regret.

Instantly, Obi-Wan stilled and carefully lowered his hands to the bed.

Qui-Gon pushed his torso up so he could look Obi-Wan in the eyes. "It's not because I don't want this."

The longing in his brilliant blue eyes, a little brighter in the slow dawn, stole Obi-Wan's breath. He reached up and traced his fingertips over Qui-Gon's forehead, the broken nose, the swollen lips. For the first time since this bloody mission began, Obi-Wan could read Qui-Gon's expression like a report. "The mission comes first," replied Obi-Wan, swallowing a sigh. Of course, it had to.

"I don't want anything to sully your record." Qui-Gon nuzzled against Obi-Wan's fingers, following the touch like sunflowers aching for the sun.

A wry laugh bubbled from Obi-Wan's lips. "I know I'll care eventually, but right now I'm cursing your good judgement."

Qui-Gon buried his face into the pillow next to Obi-Wan's head and laughed, shaking and gasping for breath. Obi-Wan chuckled, rubbing soothing stripes up and down Qui-Gon's ribs as the other man came down from his sudden burst of mania.

"No one has ever cursed my good judgement," he said, grinning, as he rolled off Obi-Wan and lay next to him.

For a few moments, Obi-Wan breathed deeply until he had all his body parts back under control. Acutely aware of their new boundary, he shifted a little closer so they could share a pillow. "Surely snuggling won't kill the mission or sully my virtue?"

"Imp. Come here." Qui-Gon pulled Obi-Wan against him and kissed him languidly.

When they parted, Obi-Wan wove their fingers together and placed a kiss on Qui-Gon's thumb. "This…this isn't a whim for me," Obi-Wan said seriously.

"Oh, my Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon sighed. "It's not for me, either."

"When this mission is over—"

"When this mission is over," agreed Qui-Gon softly. "The Council has been pestering me to find a working partner. You'll be a senior Knight soon, if I've heard correctly."

A sly smile crept over Obi-Wan's face. "I've heard that you've been making Knights cry and now no one wants to work with you."

"One. One Knight cried—out of frustration, I might add, not because I terrorized him."

"Was there a reason you alienated all the mission-ready Knights in the Temple, or were you teaching the Council a lesson?" teased Obi-Wan as he pressed his lips to Qui-Gon's wrist. He might not be able to feel the Force, but he could enjoy the feeling of his love's lifeforce pulsing against his mouth.

Qui-Gon's silence caught Obi-Wan's attention, and when he glanced up from their joined hands, he found the other man gazing at him with unchecked adoration. "Because none of them were you," said Qui-Gon simply.

Unprepared for exquisite sincerity, Obi-Wan could not find his voice. He had waited so long to hear words like those, worked so hard to bury that longing in favour of successful missions and perfect adherence to the Code. Silently, he nestled his head in the hollow between Qui-Gon's shoulder and neck and let his lips graze against the skin there. Despite the growing light, the sound of Qui-Gon's heartbeat lulled Obi-Wan back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Having Obi-Wan Kenobi in his arms, lips kiss-swollen and parted slightly in his slumber, was new and utterly thrilling. Unable to sleep again, Qui-Gon listened to the younger man's shallow breaths in counterpoint to the whistling wind and thanked all the little Force gods for Obi-Wan's courage—in asking questions Qui-Gon could not evade, and by being the first to cross the gulf between them.

He could get very used to kissing Obi-Wan Kenobi now that he knew Obi-Wan was kissing back.

Light crept in under the door and through the cracks in the shutters. The thrum of dawn ensured Qui-Gon would not go back to sleep, no matter how much he wanted to curl up next to his redheaded Knight. Depending on what he found outside, weather-wise, perhaps he could convince Obi-Wan to stay snuggled in bed with bread and tea. Careful to not wake the younger man, Qui-Gon slowly extricated himself from the bed and dressed, shivering in the chilly air. After a moment of debate, he shrugged into his cloak. It might raise a few eyebrows, but at least he would be warm. He could rebuild the fire when he returned.

The frost only deepened as he stepped outside. The snow had fallen overnight, blanketing the village, and when Qui-Gon closed the door behind him, a gust of wind tore at him. Swirls of snowflakes danced violently in the gaps between houses. The clouds above were grey and flat all the way to the horizon. Without a shovel, Qui-Gon resigned himself to trudge through the drifting snow towards the hall.

Instead of the merry atmosphere of breaking fast he expected, Qui-Gon walked into a flurry of frantic activity. People were shouting over each other and dashing around tables. Flicking his eyes over the frenzy, Qui-Gon caught sight of a familiar face and sidled up to his neighbour. "Anuli, what's going on?"

She raised her eyebrow at him. "You may have noticed it snowed," she said dryly as she wrapped up her yarn around the shaft of her drop spindle.

"Yes?"

"Did marriage addle your brains? It's not supposed to snow for another two months. Everyone's, well…" She nodded her head at the room. "Panicking. The elders are trying to decide how to placate the weather, while everyone else is grumbling about who's responsible."

Confused, he opened his mouth to ask for clarification about how someone could be responsible for the weather but was interrupted by Helwen's father, Elvar, bursting into the hall, wild-eyed and not wearing a coat. "She's missing," he announced, panting.

Qui-Gon's heart clenched. He asked the question he already knew the answer to. "Who?"

"Helwen," Elvar replied, wiping melted snowflakes from his cheeks. "I put her to bed last night and this morning she was gone. Her red coat's missing, too."

So how are we gonna cross the river? Helwen's little voice echoed in Qui-Gon's ears. The girl had been so curious, so eager to follow the Jedi on their adventure, and Qui-Gon had not done anything to discourage her from going back out again.

He approached Elvar and clapped him on the shoulder. "I'll go after her. I think I know where she went," Qui-Gon told him in a low voice.

"All the footprints have been covered over," argued Elvar.

"Stay here in case she comes back to the village," Qui-Gon told him, allowing his voice to carry the authority of a Jedi Master.

"I'm coming with you," Elvar protested.

Qui-Gon shook his head. "You're not even wearing a coat. I'll be back."

Before anyone could protest, Qui-Gon pulled his hood over his face and darted out of the hall, singularly focused on finding Helwen before she froze to death.

The birds, grumpy at the sudden change of season, were quiet as Qui-Gon tramped along the streambank, tripping over tree roots buried in snow in his haste. Every few minutes he paused, searching and listening carefully past the bubbling water for any tiny noise that could be the girl. Nothing—no footprints, no sounds.

At the back of his mind, the Force beckoned.

If he allowed himself to reach out, he might find the girl faster.

The wind howled through the trees, rattling flash-frozen leaves and pelting Qui-Gon's face with stinging snow. The Force sang ominously, beckoning for him to join the universe—constant, unrelenting.

Gritting his teeth, Qui-Gon tightened his cloak around him and trod forward along the bank, calling Helwen's name.

 

Qui-Gon travelled the entire route he and Obi-Wan had taken without any sign of Helwen. Doubt had started to creep in, along with the realization that Qui-Gon had taken off without giving any warning to his mission partner, without leaving even a note explaining where he had gone to Obi-Wan, who was likely waking up to an empty bed and having some sudden reservations. He would apologize to Obi-Wan, find creative ways to make it up to him—after he had found the charming girl who always sat next to him at dinner to tell him the rules of her games and worked Obi-Wan like a tiny overseer. He had to find her and keep her safe.

The severe face of Master Dooku swam up from his memories, unbidden and unwelcome.

Too soft-hearted and prone to attachment, indeed.

Kriff it .

The stream turned to join the big river, and Qui-Gon looked across the water and stopped in amazement, shin-deep in snow. On the opposite bank, not a single flake of snow marred the landscape. The tall, fluffy grass swayed in a gentle breeze. Birds chased each other, swooping and diving through the air. The morning sun shone, lighting the flat grasslands in gold and bronze.

As he scanned the scene with a deep frown, a flash of red caught his attention. On the bank, partially hidden in the grass, sat a lump of reddish fabric. A child's coat, casually tossed aside.

He cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered. "Helwen!"

No echo returned, and no answer, either. He ignored the thought that she had fallen in the water and been swept away as he surveyed the distance between the riverbanks. Risking the swim and returning to the village sopping wet could kill him, Jedi or not.

He would have to jump.

He would have to use the Force.

Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master in all but name, stilled his body and dropped into a light, focused calm in the space of a few breaths. The Force greeted him, too eager, too insistent, as he touched the barest thread of power through a crack in his duracrete shields. The bones of the earth moved for him, creaking beneath his feet.

He snapped open his eyes to find himself standing in waist-high grass, facing the snowy forest on the other side of the river.

Qui-Gon had not jumped.

There was no time to consider it--there was a little girl to be found.

The red-tinged heap waited at his feet. He stooped, picking up the rough wool coat and shaking it out. It belonged to Helwen; Qui-Gon knew as soon as his fingers touched the fabric. As he tucked it into the pocket inside his cloak, a flash of movement caught the corner of his eye.

"Helwen?" he called, turning to follow.

The landscape held only birds, skimming over the tufts of grass, and the rock formations in the distance. The sun beat against his face, hot and merciless, and he shrugged out of his cloak.

Someone was calling his name. Qui-Gon's feet moved towards the sound, and the Force urged him on.

The song in his head overwhelmed everything else by the time he reached the rocks. He staggered into the circle of stones, each smooth rock triple his own height, and sank to his knees in the soft dirt. The call, beckoning and seductive, pressed down on him.

He heard the stars and felt the currents of the universe. Beneath his fingers, clenched in the soil, he could feel the essence of every life on the planet. Light and shadow, joy and grief, perfectly balanced despite the machinations of sentients, settled over his skin, and beyond that, peace.

The Force beckoned, and Qui-Gon closed his eyes.

 

****

 

With a hand-knitted cap jammed over his ears and Jaska's ill-fitting wool coat scratching the back of his neck, Obi-Wan darted through the forest and struggled to let go of his anger.

Of all the kriffing, bantha-brained, stupid ideas

The wind was at his back as though it wanted to spur him on. Most of Qui-Gon's footprints had filled in with snow, but every few meters Obi-Wan spotted the telltale indentations. With every new bootprint, he moved a little faster, until he finally came upon the river, sweating despite the cold.

"What the kriff?" he breathed. The snowstorm stopped at the edge of the river, leaving the other bank a perfect picture of dry autumn.

The unmistakeable brown of Qui-Gon's cloak, caught on a clump of grass, fluttered in the breeze. Obi-Wan swallowed a lump of anxiety and forced himself to think clearly. The cloak only meant that Qui-Gon had crossed the river, which meant Obi-Wan needed to do the same.

The Force had been uncooperative--to understate things--this entire mission, but--

He had to get across. Helwen's life, and perhaps Qui-Gon's, might depend on it.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes, breathing and focusing inwards on his own heartbeat, as he gained awareness of his own self. Calm. Serene, even with the wind howling at him, Obi-Wan reached out, seeking the familiar connection that had eluded him this entire mission.

Static, again. But in his need, Obi-Wan dove into that static and called with every spark of his being.

A tiny thread of the Force pulsed against his mental fingers, and he seized it without a second thought.

Obi-Wan landed on the river bank, knees bent to absorb the shock. The sun beat down on him, suddenly merciless, and he shaded his eyes to survey this side of the river. Grass and flat land was unbroken save for the rock formation. He stooped to pluck the thick wool cloak from the ground. Once again, Obi-Wan reached out, hoping to catch a hint of Qui-Gon's presence, but that brief connection with the Force had vanished.

Ignoring the heat and the snow melting in his hair, Obi-Wan began to run.

 

The rock formation was perfectly circular, as though the smooth grey stones had been placed with mathematical care. Obi-Wan slipped in between two stones and dropped to his knees in front of Qui-Gon, who sat in perfect stillness as if he were meditating. The older man's breaths came too slowly.

"Qui?" Obi-Wan breathed, reaching out to take Qui-Gon's hand.

The world slanted sideways.

When he opened his eyes, Obi-Wan could not stop the sharp inhale of surprise. No longer in a grassy field surrounded by stones, he stood on a cold, bare catwalk--a place he knew all too well and never wanted to see again.

The Theed generator complex on Naboo. Hard bands of iron wrapped around his chest and squeezed. Blood rushed in his ears.

In the distance, the sound of lightsabers clashing over and over echoed against the high, smooth walls. Obi-Wan's hand instantly brushed against his hip, seeking the weapon that was not there. The corruption that was the Zabrak rippled over his skin in an unfamiliar way; to him, the Sith had felt like ice on his spine.

"What is this?" he said aloud.

"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon was suddenly next to him. The older Jedi looked thin and weary. "How can you be here? You're fighting the Sith."

A deep frown turned down Obi-Wan's mouth. "This happened a long time ago. It's over."

Qui-Gon shook his head. "This? No, this never happened. I made sure of it."

Confused, Obi-Wan looked around. It was the generator complex, certainly…but the light was wrong. The smell, sharp plasma and ozone, was not quite the way he remembered it. There was a peculiar blurriness in the lines of the walls and catwalks—peculiar and deeply familiar.

Obi-Wan turned to face Qui-Gon. "This is your vision."

"Yes," said Qui-Gon, eyes full of helpless dread. "You shouldn't have to see it."

"You shouldn't keep this to yourself." Setting his mouth in a grim line, Obi-Wan reached out and clasped Qui-Gon's hand with fierce determination. The other man's hand was too warm, too solid, for the memory of a vision. Unease coiled in Obi-Wan’s belly.  "You're not alone, Qui. Show me."

Qui-Gon exhaled, long and quiet, before nodding once.

Together, they strode forward towards the sounds of battle.

The Jedi and the Sith whirled together in a mortal dance. Clenching his teeth, Obi-Wan catalogued the movements as if watching his younger self battling the tattooed Zabrak was an exercise in 'saber combat critique rather than a vivid replay of fighting for his life. Obi-Wan's muscles twitched, remembering the strain and the sheer brute force the Sith used to slam his lightstaff against Obi-Wan's weapon. A power conduit exploded, hot and blinding. Obi-Wan tensed, anticipating the rough kick that had sent him tumbling off the catwalk.

Master Qui-Gon took the blow to the chest instead and disappeared over the edge of the walkway.

"That didn't happen," noted Obi-Wan softly. "I was the one who fell."

Qui-Gon was silent.

Together, they watched as Padawan Kenobi chased after the Zabrak, falling into the bottleneck trap of the plasma shields and skidding to a halt as the shields activated. The Zabrak snarled at the Jedi apprentice.

Master Qui-Gon, looking worse for wear and struggling for speed, called to his Padawan from the mouth of the corridor. "Obi-Wan, wait for me."

Focused on the enemy and sinking into a battle meditation, the apprentice did not acknowledge his master. The Sith bounced the red blade of his weapon against the ray shield. The smell of ozone intensified, mixed with an underlying scent of freshly turned earth and the tang of blood, and it turned Obi-Wan's stomach. Dread, heavy and suffocating, hung in the air. Obi-Wan, unable to take his eyes off the scene, squeezed Qui-Gon's hand. "What is that smell?"

"Death," replied Qui-Gon evenly. "It's not like that for you?"

Obi-Wan shivered and shook his head. "No."

The shields snapped off. Obi-Wan and the Zabrak became blurs of bright blue and deep red, of Jedi tan and Sith black, as they delved closer to the melting pit. Master Qui-Gon darted down the corridor, singed hair flying behind him and 'saber hilt clutched in his hand. He skidded to a halt as the final ray shield prevented him from joining the fight once more, and Obi-Wan felt frustration and worry and a hard knot of fear that did not belong to him.

"Please don't look," Qui-Gon said softly, but did not turn his head from the scene unfolding in front of them.

"If you have to watch it," replied Obi-Wan with grim determination, "then so do I."

The Zabrak executed a perfect feint, and Padawan Kenobi fell for it.

The lightstaff hilt slammed into Padawan Kenobi's face, stunning him.

A red plasma blade bloomed out of Padawan Kenobi's back, killing him.

Master Qui-Gon Jinn howled in rage, and the Sith smiled, toothy and mocking.

The shield flickered off, and Obi-Wan only caught the final fight in his peripheral vision; he could not tear his eyes away from his younger self, curled in on himself in his old cream Padawan uniform. Twin blades, green and blue, slashed across Obi-Wan's vision. The Zabrak, neatly cut in half, fell to the floor.

Qui-Gon's grip on Obi-Wan's hand loosened.

Dropping to the floor, Master Qui-Gon gathered his apprentice into his arms and begged him to stay alive.

In Obi-Wan's own memory, Qui-Gon was heavy in his arms. Every sensation of that moment came flooding back: the ragged, rapid breathing through ruined lungs vibrating against his chest, the silky strands of hair against his wrist, the comforting smell of sapir overwhelmed by burnt fabric and singed flesh and hair. The brush of his Master's finger against his cheek burned like a brand. Desperation, as real now as it had been years ago, welled up in him, and he struggled to stay on his feet.

Atop his own traumatic memory settled other emotions—bone-deep failure and shame paired with the kind of wild grief that made Obi-Wan want to rip out his heart just to stop feeling.

Those did not belong to him.

Qui-Gon, tight-lipped and wan, circled the pair huddled on the floor.

"I can hear the Force. It's singing," murmured the apprentice.

Master Qui-Gon made a choked noise in the back of his throat and gathered up Padawan Kenobi more tightly. "Stay with me, a little longer."

"This is what terrified you?" Obi-Wan asked. He swallowed roughly. "Me dying?"

"Obi-Wan—" Master Qui-Gon pressed his forehead against the young man's. His shoulders heaved as sobs wracked his body. "I don't know what to do without you."

"Yes," admitted Qui-Gon, hoarse and raw. "Losing you would mean losing myself."

It felt like Obi-Wan's heart was breaking. How different would his life have been if Qui-Gon had died on Naboo? How could he have gone through the first years of his Knighthood, wearing grief like a cloak?

"So you almost got yourself killed instead?" cried Obi-Wan, aghast. "Little gods, how could you think that trading your life for mine was a better solution?"

"I would trade my life for yours a thousand times," murmured Qui-Gon. "Watching you die was unacceptable."

Struck speechless at the sheer sincerity in Qui-Gon's voice, Obi-Wan stepped closer to the older man. An odd feeling, like the pull of a magnet, washed over Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon staggered as if he felt it, too.

"I can hear the Force. It's singing to me, the same way it did when you held me in Theed." Qui-Gon's voice sounded far away. His shoulders slumped like he was giving up a great burden. "It's calling."

Padawan Kenobi exhaled his final breath, and Obi-Wan struck, seizing Qui-Gon by the shoulders. "Qui-Gon Jinn, you are going to stay here with me. You are not joining the Force today. You are going to wake up out of this kriffing vision, right now, do you hear me?"

Qui-Gon's eyes were filled with stars. "It's begging me," he whispered.

" I'm begging you!" shouted Obi-Wan, shaking him. "The Force can wait until you're one hundred and fifty and surrounded by an army of Council-baiting Padawans and grand-Padawans and great-grand-Padawans, remember?"

Beneath his fingers, Qui-Gon seemed to thin .

Frantic, the words tumbled out of Obi-Wan's mouth. "Godsdamnit, Qui-Gon, you can't leave me. I'm your husband! "

 

****

 

Qui-Gon blinked.

The churning left in his heart by the vision evaporated as his senses returned. The sun was low on the horizon, setting the sky orange and pink and casting long shadows in the middle of the stone circle. The light breeze, cool and warning of impending night, carried the sweet smell of sun-dried grass. Insects hummed and the birds called their last before settling in their ground nests. For the first time since he had arrived on this planet, the Force waited patiently, whispering of the life around him instead of beckoning him deeper.

One whisper, absent from him for too long, coalesced into a familiar Force signature: Obi-Wan kneeling opposite him, his hands firmly, almost painfully, gripping Qui-Gon's shoulders.

As Qui-Gon watched, his former Padawan snapped his eyes open, blue blazes to match the fiery glint of his copper hair. Freckled from too much sun, aggrieved jaw clenched, brow furrowed in anger, Obi-Wan Kenobi was the most beautiful thing Qui-Gon had ever seen. The Force swirled around him with irritation and affection and no little fear.

And he had called himself Qui-Gon's husband.

Qui-Gon could not have stopped his smile even if he had wanted to.

Obi-Wan's tone was delightfully waspish. "Stop smiling at me like that; I'm going to keep yelling at you! Let's get one thing straight: you do not sacrifice yourself for me, ever. You don't get to make that decision without talking to me about it first. I don't care if we're in the middle of a 'saber fight with a Sith or hanging off a cliff—we talk about things now, and I don't care if you think that's inconvenient."

Qui-Gon kept smiling.

"And I can't believe you were just going to up and become one with the Force because it strongly suggested you do so," continued Obi-Wan, his frown deepening. "I mean, you've done some extremely questionable things in the past, and just because I didn't protest too much at the time doesn't mean I didn't want to yell at you then, but apprentices don't yell at their masters—even though clearly you need to be yelled at on a frequent, regular basis—"

"Does my husband qualify for that job?" asked Qui-Gon mildly.

Obi-Wan shook him slightly, exasperated. "Don't try to change the subject, I'm bloody well mad at you, Qui-Gon Jinn—"

Qui-Gon waited and was not disappointed.

Obi-Wan slowly closed his mouth as a deep blush rose over his cheeks. "I-I don't know why I said that," he said lamely.

With his courage bolstered by the comforting reassurance of the Force, Qui-Gon leaned forward until his lips were nearly touching Obi-Wan's mouth. "I do."

The fingers squeezing his shoulders relaxed as Obi-Wan closed the hairsbreadth distance between them with an edge of desperate relief. Their noses bumped and teeth clashed, and Qui-Gon pulled Obi-Wan into his lap. Qui-Gon hummed in pleasure as Obi-Wan tangled his fingers in Qui-Gon's hair, then gasped when Obi-Wan's teeth seized Qui-Gon's bottom lip.

A woman cleared her throat.

The two men practically leapt apart, both reaching for 'sabers that were not there.

Vina leaned against a stone, arms crossed over her chest and wearing an unimpressed expression. "Just keep your clothes on and we can talk," she said drily.

Another familiar voice laughed. "We could have waited five more minutes," Anuli pointed out. She appeared next to Vina, mouth twitching with a poorly-concealed smile. In the pink-tinged light of the setting sun, Qui-Gon noted the beginning swell of Anuli's belly.

"Five more minutes and we'd be talking to naked bottoms," retorted Vina.

"Ew." From behind Vina, Helwen stepped into the stone circle, looking perfectly safe and well-groomed.

Relief filled Qui-Gon's heart, quickly replaced with guarded confusion. "Helwen, you're alright?"

"Of course," she replied, stooping down to draw in the dirt.

"What's going on?" demanded Obi-Wan, scrambling to his feet.

Vina smiled, wry and mysterious. "You tell me, Jedi Knight."

Qui-Gon pushed himself off the ground and stood next to Obi-Wan, shifting his feet in the earth in a subtle defensive stance. "You know what we are?"

"Hard not to," replied Anuli with a shrug. "Besides, no one else is nosy enough to come here. You don't see any Matukai or Baran Do poking around other people's homes."

Only decades spent as a diplomat to the most sensitive disputes enabled Qui-Gon to conceal his bone-deep shock beneath his most neutral face. How did these planet-bound farmers know about the Jedi, or any other Force-wielders for that matter? "We meant no offense. We were curious about your culture, and we only wished to learn of your ways."

"No, that was the other ones," interjected Helwen without looking up from her drawing.

"The Jedi who were here before us," confirmed Obi-Wan with a hint of wariness while Qui-Gon could feel his utter bewilderment in the Force. "They disappeared, and we were sent to find them."

Vina, Anuli, and Helwen shared a look. Vina's expression softened slightly as Helwen brushed her hand over the dirt, covering her picture. "They're here with us," Vina said.

"You don't need to worry about them," added Anuli in a reassuring tone.

"We need to know what happened to them," Qui-Gon insisted. "Please."

Helwen dragged her finger along the ground, then cocked her head as if listening to a silent voice. "They say that they're happy, Qui-Gon, and that they made their choice."

The hairs on the back of Qui-Gon's neck stood on end at the girl's words. Next to him, Obi-Wan tensed, and Vina sighed in exasperation. "How can we make you understand?" muttered the old woman. "What is it the the Jedi say?"

"'I am one with the Force, and the Force will guide me,'" replied Helwen obediently. She paused, finger in the air, and added, "The Guardians of the Whills say, 'I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.' I like that one better."

"Your peers are one with the Force," Anuli said. "They chose to shed their physical bodies. You will not find them on this plane of existence, Jedi."

The Force chimed in agreement in Qui-Gon's head, confirming the truth of her statement.

"We were investigating a vergence in the Force," Qui-Gon said. "This place, this planet, it's unique. Special."

"Yes, it is," Vina agreed. "Which is why you are going to leave—"

"And never return," added Anuli, still sounding pleasant as if they were discussing the weather.

"Our ship isn't scheduled for—" Obi-Wan began, but Vina cut him off.

"Your ship will be here in the morning."

Qui-Gon furrowed his brow. "How is that possible? We're not supposed to leave until the spring."

A sudden cackle echoed off the rocks like a whipcrack. "Time has no meaning in the Force," Vina said.

"They're linear, remember?" Helwen admonished the old woman. "They don't understand."

Qui-Gon took a step forward, then another, until he could crouch down next to Helwen. "You're right. We don't understand."

The little girl shot him a too-knowing smile. "You will, one day, Qui-Gon Jinn. And you, Obi-Wan Kenobi," she added, winking at the dumbfounded Knight.

Anuli held out her hand. "It's time to go," she told Helwen.

Wiping her hands on her dress, Helwen pecked a clumsy kiss against Qui-Gon's cheek. "I'll see you soon, but it'll be longer for you," she whispered before dashing over to hug Obi-Wan around the middle. As she stepped back, she said, "I think you'll be a better farmer now."

Helwen took Anuli's fingers and grabbed Vina's hand, and together, the trio took a step backwards into the stone and disappeared.

Obi-Wan moved first; he leapt forward and pressed his hand against the stone. "Qui, look."

The light was fading. Qui-Gon rose and joined the Knight, who traced his fingers over the surface of the rock with frantic curiosity. A linear image was carved in bas relief on the stone face: an old woman, a woman with a belly swollen with child, and a young girl. Their arms stretched in different directions. The lines suggested the features of Vina, Anuli, and Helwen, but there was a powerful timelessness to their contours.

Obi-Wan had a wildness around his eyes that matched the agitation he bled into the Force. "What were they?" he breathed.

Qui-Gon stepped back and motioned to the ground. In the patch of bare earth was the perfect drawing of a convor, wings outstretched in flight and long tail sweeping outwards. "The Force," Qui-Gon replied reverently. "Avatars of the Force, I think."

Obi-Wan turned towards Qui-Gon, and suddenly stilled. An odd expression flickered over his features, then his body noticeably relaxed. A slow smile played across his lips. "I can feel it again."

The sight of the Knight, naked joy at being reconnected to the Force glittering in his eyes, chased all thoughts of philosophy and logic from Qui-Gon's mind.

He reached for Obi-Wan's hand and drew the younger man into the centre of the stone circle. "I owe you a great debt, my Obi-Wan," he rumbled, cupping Obi-Wan's jaw. The bristles tickled his palm. "You kept me from losing myself."

Obi-Wan pursed his lips, but his eyes spoke of mirth. "I should still be upset with you."

"But?" prompted Qui-Gon, letting his forehead rest against Obi-Wan's brow.

"But I can feel the Force again, and I can feel you, too--you're not shielding."

Qui-Gon paused, and realized Obi-Wan was correct. The duracrete shields he had held for the entire mission had vanished, and opening himself up to the siren song of the Force had left him with only the most basic protection of his mind; he was an open book, and as Qui-Gon reached out with his feelings, he discovered Obi-Wan was the same.

He could almost taste Obi-Wan's love for him, and it was intoxicating.

"The Living Force," Qui-Gon whispered, "is not the same as the Unifying Force. It is everywhere there is life. It witnesses our creation and our death. To know the Living Force is to live in the moment, for until we become part of the Force, all we are is a series of moments.

"This could be a moment for us, my Obi-Wan, shared between us and the Force in this sacred place."

Obi-Wan exhaled softly. "Show me what it is to live in the moment, Qui."

Slowly, Qui-Gon captured Obi-Wan's lips in a gentle, reverent kiss. As their mouths met, the Force resonated like a single low note plucked on a string. Obi-Wan's pulse thrummed beneath Qui-Gon's fingers, steadily increasing. In the Force, Obi-Wan was taut with anticipation and a fine filament of arousal that grew hotter with every passing second. Unable to stop his soft, answering groan, Qui-Gon trailed his hands down Obi-Wan's back and slipped them up under the ill-fitting jacket.

Obi-Wan smiled against Qui-Gon's mouth and took the hint. He shrugged out of the jacket and let it fall to the ground, then pulled away long enough to tug his tunic over his head. Even in the dimming light of dusk, the spate of freckles adorning the Knight's pale shoulders begged for attention. Qui-Gon settled his index finger against Obi-Wan's collarbone. He traced the connecting lines he had been imagining for weeks, then followed them by hot, open-mouthed kisses atop the constellations he had drawn. One of Obi-Wan's hands tugged on Qui-Gon's hip, urging him closer, while the other tangled itself in the heavy threads of Qui-Gon's long hair.

As Qui-Gon swirled his tongue against Obi-Wan's clavicle, the Knight hummed. "What are you writing?" Obi-Wan whispered.

It seemed wrong to speak more loudly here. "Eryon the Burning Snake," he breathed into Obi-Wan's skin, "and the Great Draigon." Qui-Gon licked his way across Obi-Wan's shoulder, then back again. "The Goblet, the Wraith."

He suckled at the spot where Obi-Wan's neck sloped into his shoulder. "The Starbird."

Obi-Wan shivered.

The air was heavy and still, holding possibility like an impending thunderstorm. Qui-Gon kissed his way down Obi-Wan's chest, running his fingers through the reddish hair he found there. He ran his mouth over each nipple, teasing and soothing with his tongue only to scrape the delicate flesh with his teeth; Obi-Wan's fingers tightened in his hair, warning and encouraging, and Qui-Gon's cock jumped at the sensation. With deliberate slowness, Qui-Gon nibbled his way down Obi-Wan's ribs and to the waistband on his trousers. He settled his hands on Obi-Wan's hips and glanced up, waiting.

Slightly out of breath and pupils wide and dark, Obi-Wan gazed down at him. As their eyes met, the Force hummed again, and this time, Qui-Gon wondered if he imagined the vibration around them. His thumbs caressed tiny swaths of Obi-Wan's hard stomach. Obi-Wan nodded, broadcasting eager anticipation in the Force more loudly than if he had spoken.

Qui-Gon slid the fabric down over Obi-Wan's hips, carefully freeing an impressively hard cock, and lifted each foot in turn to rid the Knight of his boots and stockings. On his knees in front of this beautiful man was exactly where Qui-Gon Jinn wanted to be. He settled back for a moment to admire the view of pale skin, kissed by the sun where his sleeves had been rolled up. He was allowed to touch, now, and the thought made him a little dizzy.

Impatient, Obi-Wan stretched his arms above his head with an impish smile. Qui-Gon laughed softly and nudged the other man's feet apart with his knee. A groan, yearning and encouraging, escaped Obi-Wan's throat as Qui-Gon licked and kissed his way from one bare knee to the other—avoiding the eagerly twitching member in between.

"Tease," gasped Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon suddenly had ten fingers burrowing through his hair.

Qui-Gon grinned, then wrapped his lips around Obi-Wan's cock.

The noise Obi-Wan made was perfect. Qui-Gon tried not to smile as he sucked and, with one hand, teased the other man's balls. The heavy weight on his tongue, salty and smooth, had Qui-Gon's own cock straining against his trousers. Obi-Wan's fingers massaged his scalp, occasionally tugging gently on his hair and sending sparks down Qui-Gon's spine. Qui-Gon responded with a hum of enthusiasm, which earned him a new burst of saltiness on his tongue.

Obi-Wan stilled, and Qui-Gon immediately lifted his head to check on the Knight. Flushed and panting, Obi-Wan was gorgeous . "You're wearing too many clothes," Obi-Wan whispered, then gave one gentle tug of Qui-Gon's hair. "Come here."

Qui-Gon stood with only a little regret at no longer having Obi-Wan's cock in his mouth. His redheaded lover, impish and adoring and serious, pulled Qui-Gon in for a long kiss; their tongues met and slid against each other in a heady dance before they broke to catch their breath. Qui-Gon's blood buzzed in his ears as he removed his shirt. Obi-Wan performed the same reverent action of unlacing Qui-Gon's boots and peeling down trousers and socks.

The air was warm. Qui-Gon stood, naked and aching with desire, as Obi-Wan took his time. The Knight brushed his hands through Qui-Gon's chest hair. He traced his fingers over the smooth circle of scar tissue left by the Sith and kissed it as if in thanks. Blunt fingernails scratched gently down Qui-Gon's ribs as Obi-Wan knelt before him and took pity; he wrapped one hand around the base of Qui-Gon's cock and licked a hot stripe against the underside. Qui-Gon's knees almost buckled at the feeling of Obi-Wan's mouth—swirling, sucking, flicking. His balls felt hot and heavy, striving for more.

"Obi-Wan," he groaned.

The Knight hummed inquisitively around Qui-Gon's cock. It made Qui-Gon's toes curl. Obi-Wan pulled off of him with a soft pop and stroked Qui-Gon's hip as he stood up.

Qui-Gon darted in for a kiss, tasting both himself and Obi-Wan. "Together," he breathed.

Obi-Wan smiled against Qui-Gon's cheek and stepped back. He stooped down and shook out Qui-Gon's cloak, which settled obediently on the ground. Qui-Gon sat down first, legs taking up most of the real estate. Before Obi-Wan could protest the lack of space for him, Qui-Gon grabbed him around the middle and hauled the younger man into his lap.

"Sneaky," whispered Obi-Wan against Qui-Gon's ear.

As he worried Qui-Gon's earlobe with his teeth, Obi-Wan settled both knees around Qui-Gon's hips and wiggled in Qui-Gon's lap. The weight of Obi-Wan's body against Qui-Gon's thighs was exquisite. Qui-Gon ran his hands up Obi-Wan's legs and squeezed his firm buttocks. Obi-Wan pressed his forehead against Qui-Gon's brow before stealing a kiss, and Qui-Gon pulled the younger man against him.

Their cocks slid against one another, and Obi-Wan gasped into Qui-Gon's mouth. Qui-Gon squeezed again, dragging them together with maddening slowness. The feel of Obi-Wan, hard and slick, sliding along his own cock and prodding his stomach urged him on. His hands gripped more tightly, urging Obi-Wan closer, faster. Obi-Wan kissed him—tongue and teeth and an edge of desperation—and snaked a hand between their bodies to grip both of them together in his palm.

Qui-Gon saw stars. Obi-Wan stroked, firm and fast, keeping their lengths pressed together with perfect friction. Qui-Gon wanted more.

The air vibrated against his skin, echoed in the Force.

He kept one hand on Obi-Wan's buttock, still pulling rhythmically, and wrapped the other around them below Obi-Wan's hand. Gripping more tightly than the Knight, he followed the same motion; Obi-Wan's head lolled onto Qui-Gon's shoulder as he keened with increasing volume. The sound of his lover sparked tightening in Qui-Gon's balls; he squeezed their cocks, relishing the drag of their combined palms on aroused flesh, and hissed wordlessly against Obi-Wan's ear.

The Force sang as the Jedi came together, echoing against the rocks, thrumming through the bones of the earth and the blood of the two men holding on to each other like lifelines.

Qui-Gon could stretch out and connect with every living being on this planet, listen to their own song of life, bask in their existence—he could, but Obi-Wan was in his arms, panting against his neck, and he was everything . Qui-Gon dwelled on the feeling of Obi-Wan's heart pounding, of Obi-Wan's gasping breath against his skin, of Obi-Wan's body weighing on his thighs and pressing against his chest.

And in his mind, he heard Obi-Wan's voice, tinged with awe. :That was incredible. The life here—I felt it all. Is this how you feel the Force?:

:No, this was different,: said Qui-Gon. :Special.:

As if he had just realized he had not spoken aloud, Obi-Wan's face became a lovely map of emotion, from surprise to delight.

:I haven't heard you in here for a long time,: replied Qui-Gon, heart bursting at the familiar feeling of Obi-Wan, warm and content, nestled in his mind. He was not entirely sure what it meant, to have this connection suddenly reappear—or was it a new one?—but he could meditate on that later. He peppered the Knight's face with tiny kisses. :I've missed you so much, my Obi-Wan. Do you know how much I love you?:

A slow, beatific smile crossed Obi-Wan's face. His eyes fluttered closed as Qui-Gon kept kissing him. :About as much as I love you.:

Chapter Text

As the sun rose, the Jedi rose from their shared meditation and respectfully took their leave of the stone circle. Together, they walked back to the village to fetch their belongings.

As Obi-Wan passed the boundary of the village, he stopped, frowning. It was empty. Too empty. "Do you sense that, too?"

Next to him, Qui-Gon paused, cocking his head slightly. "Yes."

The village was deserted. Every speck of snow had vanished, leaving the settlement as dry and dusty as expected for late autumn. Obi-Wan saw no movement, from people or animals, as they walked to their house. Automatically, he stood guard at the door while Qui-Gon ducked inside and returned with their belongings. Unwilling to speak aloud, Obi-Wan fell into step with the other man as they headed to their rendezvous point.

:This is very weird,: noted Obi-Wan. A shiver ran down his spine, and he fought the urge to quicken his pace.

:Weird is putting it lightly,: Qui-Gon replied. His large fingers brushed against Obi-Wan's pinkie, and Obi-Wan caught Qui-Gon's hand in his. Their fingers remained entwined until they boarded the landing shuttle.

 

Once aboard the Republic light freighter Bendu-Nar , Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon shoehorned themselves into the cockpit to supervise the pilot.

"I'm just setting our course to Coruscant," the Rishii told them. "You can set yourselves up in the back. I'm afraid there's only one bunk for the two of you."

Obi-Wan fought hard to keep a smile off his face. "Not a problem, Captain."

The pilot's emerald green crest feathers twitched. "I know I'm not supposed to ask, but it sure is mysterious to pick up a landing craft in the middle of open space," she said casually.

"Open space?" repeated Qui-Gon, his brow furrowing.

Obi-Wan leaned forward to get a better look out the main viewport. A field of tiny stars twinkling against the blackness of space greeted him. The bright blue and green planet they had left behind—there was no sign of it.

Next to him, Qui-Gon pressed against Obi-Wan's shoulder to check the ship's position. "We should be looking right at it," he murmured.

"How does an entire planet just disappear?" Even as he said the words, the Force bubbled inside him. The sound swelled in his head, truly pleased and teasing rather than ominous, almost sounding like—

Like Vina, Anuli, and Helwen were laughing at them.

 

****

 

Spring in the Room of a Thousand Fountains was a riot of colours and perfume, reminding the Jedi that chaos could be expected and celebrated within the confines of order. A little smile tugged on Obi-Wan's lips as drew out the slip of flimsi from his pocket.

Meet me beneath the flowering magnol tree at 1800. -Q

The Coruscant sun, slowly sinking towards the horizon, splashed the roof's sky-illusion with vivid pink and brilliant orange and cast the features of the rapidly-approaching Qui-Gon Jinn with perfect illumination. Obi-Wan lifted his hand to wiggle his fingers at his lover, but Qui-Gon's returning smile was strained.

Dressed in carefully-settled tunics and robe and sporting a fishtail braid that ran from the crown of his head to settle over his chest, Qui-Gon appeared to be the epitome of a calm, collected Jedi. Even the little knot in Obi-Wan's mind where Qui-Gon resided seemed to be blank—

Except that smile spoke volumes.

"What's wrong?" asked Obi-Wan, taking Qui-Gon's hand and pulling him off the path to stand under the gnarled branches of the tree. The heady, sweet smell of the waxy flowers clung to them like a cloud.

"Nothing's wrong, exactly," Qui-Gon rumbled, glancing over each shoulder as if afraid of being watched.

"Then why are you being shifty, Qui-Gon Jinn?"

Qui-Gon slowly licked his lips, then met Obi-Wan's suspicion with an intense but nervous gaze. "I don't like to be made a liar," began Qui-Gon. He shook his head to forestall the question forming on Obi-Wan's lips. "I once told an entire village that I asked you to marry me under a blossoming tree in spring, so here I am."

Obi-Wan's heart leapt into his throat, and at the sight of Qui-Gon's bright blue eyes, humbly begging for the answer, he swallowed roughly. "And I said yes, so here I am."

The breeze in the Room of a Thousand Fountains had not been programmed to activate that night, but it rushed through the flowers of the magnol tree, filling the air with white petals and shaking the leaves as if in joyous applause.