While his Padawan had gotten better at waking up at a decent time since taking him on, Qui-Gon Jinn still greeted the day far earlier than his apprentice. Before Obi-Wan stumbled sleepily out of his room and into the fresher, Qui-Gon managed to handle all morning correspondence, meditate, go through his morning ablutions, reserve sparring time and rooms for them, brew tea, and have breakfast on the table. Obi-Wan usually sat in his chair just as Qui-Gon set down the plates. It didn’t mean Obi-Wan shirked his share of culinary duties. To show his gratitude for being allowed to sleep later than sunrise, Obi-Wan took it upon himself to prepare either lunch or dinner, depending on which meal they partook at home. The unspoken arrangement proved routine and comfortable between them.
Besides, Qui-Gon knew Obi-Wan ate this way. His apprentice trained hard and focused on his studies to the point of personal neglect. It may have taken Qui-Gon several years to both recognize this tendency in Obi-Wan and come up with a way to quietly correct it, but it worked. His share made sure Obi-Wan ate in the morning, and with Obi-Wan’s fierce devotion to his duties, Obi-Wan never failed to make sure his Master ate in the evening. Unless either of them were confined to the Healers Wing following a mission, but that could not be helped.
The sound of the two teacups on the table jarred him from his thoughts. He’d brewed two cups of tea. Qui-Gon’s peaceful mood drifted away like the steam into the air when he remembered that Obi-Wan wouldn’t be coming to his place at the table today. He wouldn’t groggily collapse into the chair and reach for the tea as he still tried to rub sleepiness from his eyes. Obi-Wan wasn’t there. For the first time since Qui-Gon had taken him as his Padawan, Obi-Wan wasn’t there.
Qui-Gon drew an unsteady breath as emotions slammed into him, as their quarters shrank around him, constricting him, suffocating him in the silence. He lifted his comlink from his belt and called his closest and dearest friend. “Tahl.”
She answered immediately. “Qui-Gon?”
He found a smile for her, knowing she would hear the difference in his voice even if she could not see him. Friends since their crèche days, their affection and support of one another had not wavered. There had been fights and bouts of disapproval of the other’s actions, but they stayed true to each other, even if one of them had a tendency to irritate the Council repeatedly and unapologetically.
“Would you like to join me for tea?” he asked, hoping she wouldn’t somehow detect the real reason for this particular call.
Tahl did not hesitate in her reply. “Of course. Have you eaten yet?”
“Don’t! I’ll be right there.” She disconnected before he had a chance to respond. He took the steaming teas and put them in the warmer until she arrived. Best to keep the illusion up that he’d made the tea specifically for her and not for his absent Padawan.
She arrived in record time. Their quarters were not exactly close to each other, but it typically took her longer than that to arrive. She let herself in. Qui-Gon’s eyebrows rose in interest at the pair of bowls she carried. “How did you have time to pick that up from the Dining Hall?”
She bit her lip, unable to come up with a witty response quickly. “I didn’t.”
She’d done the same thing as Qui-Gon. He smiled to himself sadly. Turning to fetch the tea, he called back to her. “Sit down. I’ll be right there.”
When he’d arrived and set her teacup in front of her, she inhaled the aroma of the tea and then raised her head. “Not my usual flavor, Qui-Gon.”
He sipped the tea to buy himself some time. That was when he actually looked at the breakfast she’d brought. Rice mixed with a light broth and seasoned with various mild herbs and dried flakes of seaweed. He chuckled into his tea. “Not that I do not appreciate breakfast, but this is more to your Padawan’s taste, isn’t it?”
Tahl lowered her tea and folded both hands around the cup. “Just as this tea is more to your Padawan’s taste.” She grew somber. “I was actually going to com you but you beat me to it by about fifteen seconds.”
“It’s alright,” he said, picking up the pair of sticks she’d brought for their meal. “I’m glad you’re here.”
They ate in silence. Halfway through, Tahl broke that silence. “They’ll be fine, Qui-Gon.”
Qui-Gon put the sticks down. “I know they will. It’s just—”
“You’ve gotten used to Obi-Wan as your shadow since he was twelve.” He nodded. Tahl smiled sympathetically. “I understand.” Qui-Gon nodded again and sipped at his cooling tea. They resumed eating, the silence descending again between them.
“I’m glad Bant is with him,” Qui-Gon said quietly as he placed the sticks across the rim of the bowl, finished with the meal.
Tahl swallowed her last mouthful of rice. “I’m happy Obi-Wan is with her, too.” Qui-Gon stared miserably into his tea. “They’ll protect each other. You know that as much as I do.”
Qui-Gon sighed, licked his lips, and shook his head, deep in thought. When he looked at her, the suspicious shine of held-back tears shone in his eyes. “When did our Padawans grow up?”
Tears stung her eyes at his open vulnerability. She reached across the table and covered his massive hand with her smaller one. “When we were trying to raise them the best way we knew how.”
Qui-Gon inhaled unevenly. He shifted his hand beneath hers until they were palm to palm and curled his fingers around hers. As the remnants of their tea cooled between them, they took comfort and strength from one another, quietly anticipating the return of their Padawans from their first mission without their masters. They served as each other’s anchors for those endless fifteen days.