Obi-Wan woke abruptly with a splitting headache and a feeling of gentle regret. He kept his eyes shut tight and reached out into the Force, taking solace in the familiar ebb and flow, the cool presence wrapping itself around him.
He was lying in his bunk on the Negotiator, pressed up against the wall, Cody's bulk lying beside him, their shoulders pressed together. It was nice, he thought absently. Warm. They were both clothed so clearly nothing inappropriate had occurred – not that he thought for a second that Cody would have tolerated any kind of advances on his part while he was so impaired. It wasn't the first time he'd woken up with Cody beside him. The clones were culturally extremely tactile, seeking and giving comfort through touch. There had been times when Cody, responsible and conscious of his rank and responsibilities, hadn't wanted his brothers to see his fears and uncertainties and sometimes, somewhere along the line, he'd come to Obi-Wan instead. And, sometimes, in spite of his words to the contrary, he was certain that Cody's true purpose was to offer comfort, not just receive it.
For the moment he lay still, wondering whether he could just keep his eyes closed and drift back to sleep. But then he heard Cody tapping at a datapad and immediately felt a rush of guilt. “I hope you haven't been working all night.”
“Not at all,” Cody replied, seemingly not even a little surprised that Obi-Wan was awake. No doubt he'd noticed a change in his breathing or something. “Matter of fact I only woke up myself a while ago. Figured I'd let you sleep as long as you could. How are you feeling?”
“Ah, not quite at my best, I admit.” He had opened his eyes now and Cody was looking down at him appraisingly.
At his answer he nodded and reached out to the side before offering Obi-Wan a glass of cloudy, fizzing liquid. “Got Rex to get this from Kix last night. Figured you might want it. And no, I didn't say it was for you, though Rex would have figured it out. He won't say anything though.”
Right, Rex had been there last night as well. He remembered. “Thank you, Cody,” he said, sitting up and taking his medicine obediently. It tasted foul but he knew that his head and stomach would thank him for it. “About last night...” he started awkwardly, when the liquid was gone and there was nothing else to immediately distract himself with.
“How much do you remember?”
He thought for a moment about feigning amnesia but immediately decided against it. Drinking to forget was one thing, drinking to the point of actually forgetting would make him a liability and be one more thing for Cody to worry about and he really didn't need any more of those. “All of it, I'm afraid.” He gave what he hoped was a disarming smile. “I distinctly remember saying a couple of things that Anakin will no doubt be seeking an explanation for. And while I'm slightly muddled as to just what point in the conversation you arrived, I rather expect I owe you some explanations as well.”
Cody was shaking his head before he'd even finished speaking. “You don't owe me anything, Obi-Wan. I'm here if you need to talk but you don't have to.”
The use of his first name was strangely calming. He liked to think that he and Cody were friends, but they were also both workaholics who took comfort in formality. “Well. Thank you. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go and freshen up a little. Please don't feel you need to stay. I really didn't intend for you to waste your leave babysitting me.”
He took long enough to feel a little more human and to lose the taste of rot from the back of his throat, but when he stepped back in, dressed in a fresh tunic and leggings, Cody was still there, sitting on the sofa in front of a pile of datapads, a couple of bowls of cereal and a platter of fresh fruit.
“I arranged for some breakfast,” he said calmly.
For a moment Obi-Wan stood, struggling to articulate just how much he didn't deserve Cody, but before he could find the words Cody gestured him over with a datapad. “The quartermaster finished the audit last night. There was a bit of a panic earlier, looked like we'd lost twenty crates of grenades, but it turned out they'd just been stored in the hobby room by mistake. Hopefully this isn't related to Elsewhere trying to take up juggling again.”
He smiled as he sat down. “Maybe once he can manage to keep five apples up for more than a couple of minutes...”
Cody gave him a look. “No. No grenade juggling. Not ever. That's where I'm drawing a line and I am perfectly willing to make it a fleet-wide order.”
Chuckling as he grabbed a pear and a datapad, he set himself to approving medical requisitions, shaking his head immediately. Unfortunately they were going to need more bacta than that if they were heading into the conflict on Ishetar.
Time passed by quickly, the two of them talking easily as they worked through the first stages of the resupply. Obi-Wan was surprised to realise that an hour had gone by and while they'd been working he'd eaten all his cereal and half of the fruit. Thinking back he wasn't even sure if he'd eaten anything yesterday. That wasn't good.
He sighed and put the datapad down, rubbing his eyes frustratedly, trying to push back the familiar feelings of guilt and shame. Trying to focus on what was important. “Did you have a chance to talk to anyone from the 321 st ?”
Cody laid down his datapad. “Yes, I met a few of them yesterday afternoon – before the rumours started flying that they were on permanent stand-down. Your investigation was successful, I take it.”
He winced, remembering Nataya's fear and misery. “For a given value of success, yes.”
There was silence for a moment. “He did it. He hurt his commander.” The shock was clear in Cody's voice.
Obi-Wan just nodded, not willing to say the words again. He noticed the tremor in his hands and carefully laid them flat against his thighs. “We're absorbing the 321st into the 3rd System Army. I thought we could rearrange them, the 108th and the 216th into two attack battalions. They're going to need support – counselling, perhaps. They may well have excellent reasons not to trust Jedi. We're going to need to make sure their commanders are fully briefed – and completely visible. They need to know someone is on their side.”
“We'll take care of them.” He paused a moment. “Commander Nataya...if she's able, I suspect they'll want to see her.”
That made sense. He should have thought of that himself. “I'm meeting with her in a few hours. I can certainly ask her.”
“You're meeting her again?” Cody paused for a moment, laying down his pad. “What's she like?”
“She's very bright. Very driven. Earnest. She wants to help everyone and she hasn't quite learned yet that she can't.” He smiled to himself. Even with everything that had happened to her Nataya had remained endearingly hopeful.
Cody was looking at him, his brow furrowed.
“Do we need to start talking about how to fit a Jedi commander into the battalion?”
He took a sharp breath. “No. Definitely not.”
“You like her,” Cody pointed out. “And she's going to need a new Master, right?”
“Not necessarily,” he protested. “Master Krin is going to be assessed, both by the Council and the mindhealers. He might be able to finish her training.”
The look Cody gave him was both patient and shrewd. “But you don't want him to.”
“No. No, I don't,” he admitted. “He hurt her. And I find that even though I am supposed to believe in the possibility that anyone can redeem themselves I can't imagine anything he could do that could make me comfortable moving past that.” Qui-Gon had promised him more than once that things would change, that he would be more attentive. Both times he had struck him he had sworn it would never, ever happen again. He closed his eyes for a long moment. “But I will not see her taken away from one Master too broken and blinded by this war to take care of her only to give her to another with the same problem.”
There was a long moment of silence broken by Cody swearing vehemently. “You would never hurt a youngling.”
“Deliberately? I certainly hope not. But Cody, we both know that I struggle to take care of myself some days. I am certainly in no position to care for a padawan.” He glanced meaningfully down at the breakfast that Cody had brought him. “This is hardly the first time that the thoughtfulness of you or one of your brothers has been the only reason I've remembered to eat.”
Cody reached out a hand and grasped his wrist, squeezing lightly. “There's nothing wrong with needing a bit of help.”
“No,” he said, in spite of the shame inside. “But nor does it make one prime child-raising material.” He tried to smile. “I do try. But I'm afraid I often fail. I apologise for burdening you all.”
There was another long moment of silence. “If it helps, you're not the only one.”
He turned sharply to look at Cody.
“Not me,” Cody reassured, on catching his eye. “But some of my brothers...on Kamino calorie intake was very strictly controlled but it was still one of the easiest areas to get around. So eating or not eating became about control or defiance for some of us. And then once we left and we weren't so completely monitored, well, that brought a whole new series of problems. The point is, you're not a burden, we're just including you in the protocols we've figured out for ourselves. It's why even the shiniest trooper will shove a ration pack at you when you're going over something.” He nodded down to the datapads. “You eat better when you eat while you're working.”
He did. Taking time out to eat when there were so many things that had to be done made him feel guilty and anxious and that made it very difficult to choke food down. “I had no idea that was a problem among the troops. If any of them need anything - “
“ - the medics would come to you,” Cody told him. “You nearly always take the ration bars when they're offered which is why the medics haven't talked to you.”
There was a question implicit in Cody's words. He sighed and stroked his beard. “You are aware, I'm sure, that a Jedi can use the Force to go for long periods without water, food or sleep?” Cody nodded, a slight hint of disapproval on his face, so Obi-Wan continued. “Used properly it is a perfectly legitimate – and safe – practice.”
Cody was always quick on the uptake. “Are you saying you use it improperly?”
He sighed again. This was the first time he had ever actually told anyone this. The healers had taken care of telling the Council, with his permission of course, and while his friends - and Anakin - were aware he'd had some issues he had chosen not to burden them with the details. “When I use it consciously I am very careful to use it properly. The problem is all too often I use it without knowing.”
“I don't follow.”
“It's not a technique that we teach to the young,” he explained. “It can be extremely unhealthy for those still growing. But when I was much younger I was involved in a war for six months. There were no Jedi around, my fellow soldiers were my age or younger. Children. Supplies were often short and I found that I could go longer than the others without eating without suffering ill effects, so I frequently gave my share to the younger ones. After that it became something of a reflex, I'm afraid. I pushed feelings of hunger, thirst, exhaustion and pain aside with the Force so readily and so often that eventually my body would do it automatically before I even consciously registered the sensations.”
Cody stared at him. “You mean you don't feel hunger?”
“More than that.” He screwed his eyes shut for a second, pressing his thumb and forefinger into the bridge of his nose. “The first solo mission I had after I was knighted lasted three weeks. It was complex, constantly threatening to spill over into violence, although in the end the situation was resolved peacefully. I was pleased. And then on my return to the Temple I blacked out as soon as I had finished meeting with the Council. Apparently for those three weeks I just – hadn't eaten. The thought of food had never crossed my mind because I'd been unconsciously using the Force to influence my consciousness. Like the mind trick but on myself.” That was what the healers had eventually figured out. At the time all that had really mattered to him had been Anakin crying at his bedside, begging not to be left alone. “That was the first time anyone including myself was aware of the problem and while I have been working on it ever since I admit I find myself backsliding these days.”
“The Force can do that?” Cody's face was grim. “That's kind of terrifying.”
He shrugged. “Technically I'm doing it. But yes, I admit it is.” After all these years he was used to it, but that first realisation that his mind was betraying him in such a way – and using the Force to do it, no less – had been truly awful. He was ashamed to admit it but it had always been easier to cope when he was taking care of someone else. He had never failed to take care of Anakin, and in so doing had generally managed to take care of himself. It was when he was on his own that he struggled most. “Part of my regular meditation involves checking in on my physical state to help me remember basic self-care. It's a routine the healers helped me develop.”
Cody looked somewhat appeased at the mention of the healers. “That's good. But if you need help, if you find yourself..backsliding...or whatever, please let me know. I can help you.”
“I'll try,” he promised.
There was a moment while Cody nodded a few times, as though busy compartmentalising what he'd heard. “So you said this had been going on since you were a youngling? And your Master never noticed?”
He simply shook his head and shrugged. There had always been many other matters vying for Qui-Gon's attention.
Cody nodded as well and left well enough alone. “But you don't think Commander Nataya is going through the same thing?”
“Not as far as I can tell,” he said, wincing slightly at the thought. “And the healers know what to look for now. I believe Healer Orenes wrote a paper on me to enter into the Archives which is, I suppose, a kind of distinction.”
“Hardly the only one you've earned,” Cody said with a snort.
He gave a meaningless smile.
“Sir...Obi-Wan...this doesn't change anything about you, and it certainly doesn't mean you aren't fit to look after a padawan.”
“Maybe some time in the future,`” he allowed. “Maybe after the war. But not now, Cody. I was raised by a Master who could never put me first. I won't do that to anyone else.”
Cody reached out and took his hand, squeezing tightly before letting go. “Who knows? Maybe the war will end tomorrow.”
“Maybe it will.” He said the words but he didn't mean them. When he closed his eyes he could never see peace ahead of them. But Cody was here and they could make the best of this moment here and now. He wasn't alone; he had friends who were willing to help him. He wasn't going to let any of them down.
He took Cody's hand again. “Thank you.”
He and Cody managed to get some more work done in companionable silence before Anakin landed on the Negotiator, his Force presence a familiar tangle of anxiety, angst and determination. No overt anger at least, that was something. He wasn’t sure precisely what it was that Anakin wanted to talk about but at least he wasn’t in trouble with his padawan for betraying his master’s memory.
He gave Cody a small smile. “Anakin is on his way. I suspect you probably want to be somewhere else.”
“If that’s what you want, Obi-Wan,” Cody said, already moving to gather up his datapads.
“Yes, I think it would be best. I suspect this conversation is going to be fraught.”
Cody paused and looked at him. “If you need an out, comm me. I’m good at plausible excuses.”
“I’m sure you are. Thank you, Cody. For everything.”
“It’s what friends are for. Right?”
It was only moments after Cody had left that Anakin stood hesitating outside his door. With a wave of his hand he opened it, not wanting to draw this out any longer than he had to.
“Good morning, Master,” Anakin walked in holding a sealed heated flask and a box from the little tea shop he was fond of. “I brought breakfast.”
“Good morning, Anakin,” he said with a smile, his heart melting slightly at the thoughtfulness. Too often these days they seemed to only communicate by fighting – either with each other or against the world.
Anakin came over to sit next to him and gazed sheepishly at the left over plates from the meal he had shared with Cody. “Oh. I guess I’d expected to catch you earlier at the Temple. Sorry.”
“No matter. I’m happy you thought of me. And I admit I may have missed dinner yesterday, so perhaps a snack wouldn’t go amiss.”
With a sharp glance at him, Anakin stood abruptly and stalked over towards the teacups. It was the set he’d made Obi-Wan years ago, and for a long moment, to Obi-Wan’s bewilderment, he stood holding one of the cups, gazing down at the dark blue and gold swirl. “You stayed here last night.”
“You asked Cody to take you home.”
He frowned, confused and a little concerned. “Anakin, if you’re thinking anything improper, I can assure you – “
“What? No!" Anakin pulled a dramatic face. "No, I wasn’t thinking anything improper, and don't worry, I made sure that the Council wasn’t thinking anything like that either.”
Oh, Force. At some point he was going to need to find out the details of that conversation. Preferably before Depa started teasing him about it. “Then I’m afraid I don’t quite see where you’re going with this.”
“We were on Coruscant. And you went home. And this,” he gestured wildly around the little cabin, the teacup still in his hand. “Is home.”
Ah. “These past few years I’ve spent rather longer here than in my rooms at the Temple,” he said carefully.
“I know,” Anakin said, walking back over to the sofa and laying two teacups down, towering over Obi-Wan and still somehow seeming like he was looking up to him. “I went to your rooms this morning. Obi-Wan, they’re still practically bare. I’m not even sure you’ve unpacked. If my code hadn’t let me in I wouldn’t have been sure I had the right room. I couldn’t even feel a hint of your Force presence.”
He sighed. “Oh, Anakin.”
“Sometimes I’m afraid that we’re going to lose you to this war,” he said in a rush, like he’d been holding onto the words for a long time. “You’re the best General there is, and I know we need you but I also know how much you hate it. Sometimes I think that you’re going to lose yourself in clever tactics and strategising and forget how to come home to me…us.”
“I’m honestly not sure what I can do about that,” he admitted. “I’m not sure what you want me to say.”
“I’m not sure either. It’s just…I can’t remember the last time I spoke to you without the war coming up, or without knowing that at least half your attention was out there, or focused on paperwork or orders or something. I’m glad you went out last night, even if I’d rather if it was with me rather than with the Council,” His mouth twisted into an expression of distaste. “But even then I get the impression you were drinking ‘cause you were miserable rather than for fun.”
Ah. So now they were talking about last night. “Last night was an aberration. I’d had a somewhat difficult day.”
“I just want you to relax for once.” He opened the flask and poured out two cups of tea.“Please. If there’s anything I can do to help you…” He pressed the cup into Obi-Wan’s hands.
He took it and the scent of warm, heavy spices hit him immediately. One of his favourite blends. “I admit I’ve never been good at asking for help.”
“I know,” Anakin said, busying himself with his own cup, and adding a truly appalling amount of honey. “I used to think it was because you were too stuffy to admit when you needed it.” He didn’t say what he thought now. "I didn't know Qui-Gon. Not really, I know that. But he freed me from slavery and he talked to me like a person, and he believed in me maybe even more than Mom did. And he died a hero and later you told me stories....I thought he was everything a Jedi was supposed to be." He was breathing hard, staring down into his tea.
"He was a good man and an excellent Jedi," Obi-Wan said truthfully.
Tea spilled over the table. "But he wasn't, was he? Because if he was really a good man, if he was a good Master, then the thought of him raising me wouldn't make you feel like that."
"Anakin - "
" - he raised you!" Anakin shouted, his face red and blotchy. And then, quieter. "He hurt you, didn't he? You were a child in his care and he hurt you."
He didn't know what to say and he reached out to the Force, begging for comfort, for calm, for answers. Instantly, and to his surprise he felt Anakin's force presence answer, pushing up against him, wrapping around him like the warmth of twin suns.
"I'm sorry," Anakin said, quieter still. "I shouldn't have shouted. It's just...he hurt you. And I keep thinking of things I've said over the years...I hurt you. And I didn't mean to. And I'm sorry. And I won't ever mention him or any of this again if you don't want me to, I just wanted you to know I'm sorry."
Taking a long sip of tea, he considered, his mind whirling. The offer was tempting. But right now Anakin was thinking the worst and that wasn't fair to Qui-Gon's memory. "You have to understand," he said at last. "Qui-Gon was a good man and an excellent Jedi - "
" - Obi-Wan - "
He held up a hand. " - please let me speak, Anakin. He was both of those things. But he was not prepared to be a Master. When I first met him being saddled with a padawan was the very last thing he wanted."
"Were you assigned to him then?" Anakin asked, drawing his ridiculously long legs up onto the sofa. "Like me and Ahsoka?"
"No," he said, with a flat chuckle. "It would be truer to say that circumstances, and my own peculiar stubbornness, assigned us together. There was a rather hectic situation on Bandomeer after I had already been sent away from the Temple. In the end he was too good a man to turn me away again, even though I know he wanted to."
Anakin stared at him incredulously. “He still didn't want you? But you're you.” He gestured at Obi-Wan somewhat grandly, like he was some kind of prize. “No, that can't be right. Once he got to know you he must have wanted you really.”
Obi-Wan smiled gently. “We shared a natural Force bond almost immediately.” He tapped the side of his head meaningfully. “When I say he didn't want me that's not just my impression. It's how he felt. But he felt he was duty bound to train me and he tried to do his best by me.”
“But he hurt you,” Anakin said again as though nothing else mattered. “Even if he didn't want you he should never have made you feel like he didn't want you. That's just cruel. But...it can't just be that. I mean, that's bad enough, but that wasn't all you were feeling last night.”
He sighed and let his head drop forwards into his hands. “Do you remember,” he said, knowing his voice was muffled but letting his meaning carry forwards through their own Force bond. “When you became Ahsoka's Master you had to read and sign an agreement about how you would treat her.”
“Yes, of course. It was just basic stuff.”
“Yes. Well, there was nothing like that when Qui-Gon first took me on. The Council introduced it during the latter stages of my apprenticeship.”
He could practically hear Anakin's teeth grinding. “You mean the Council introduced it because of your apprenticeship. Don't you?”
“Mace had to fight half the Council to get it introduced. There was a lot of resistance from the old guard. Masters thought that having specific rules about the treatment of their students was insulting – that they didn't need to be told to make sure their padawans were fed and cared for and their injuries treated. That was just obvious.” He lifted his head and smiled but still didn't turn to look at Anakin. “Qui-Gon never was a fan of what's obvious.”
He felt Anakin's rage burning white hot in the Force.
“Calm yourself,” he said, broadcasting reassurance and serenity. “It was all a long time ago and it was never as basd as all that. You know I'm fine.”
“How could he do that?” Anakin demanded in a low voice. “If I had the chance I'd - “
“ - he's dead, Anakin. And I have put it all behind me for the most part. But yes, what I said last night was the truth. I would never have let him be entrusted with another child's well-being.”
“How could you even have prevented it?”
He rubbed at his beard and spoke reluctantly. “There were situations that arose during our time together that had I raised them with the Council even long after the fact would have been enough to put a stop to that. And no, Anakin, I have no intention of discussing them further. Qui-Gon was a good man who made many mistakes in his life. Let that be enough.”
Anakin was staring at him, brow furrowed. “You didn't deserve that. You didn't deserve any of that.”
He took a deep breath. “No. No, I didn't.” The words were sincere. These days most of the time he even believed them.
“May I hug you, Master?”
Without saying anything he simply opened his arms and let Anakin rush towards him. The hug lasted a long time. Longer than any time he could remember Anakin hugging him since he was a teenager. And right alongside it was Anakin's Force presence, wrapped around him protectively, lovingly. It brought a lump to his throat, and even after Anakin finally pulled away he didn't trust himself to speak for several minutes.
“There was something else I wanted to say about last night,” Anakin said eventually. “Not about Qui-Gon. Or...sort of about Qui-Gon? More about you and me.”
He nodded and waited patiently.
“I've never been good with words. Not like you are. It's not just that I say the wrong thing, sometimes it's obvious to me what I mean and I don't get that people are reacting to what I say, not what my intentions were.” He took a deep breath and pulled his hand through his hair roughly. “Last night I said that Qui-Gon should have been my Master – and I know I've said that before – to you – but the way everyone reacted, I don't think – I mean, I saw the way Master Windu was looking at me...” He looked at Obi-Wan helplessly. “I realise now that what I was saying could sound like I meant that I wanted Qui-Gon instead of you – maybe even that I wanted you to die in his place!”
He actually chuckled slightly. He had been getting worried. “Anakin, I promise even at my lowest I've never truly considered that you might secretly want me dead.”
“Well, good,” Anakin said, but he didn't look completely reassured. “But it's not just that. It's...you shouldn't have been my Master. You know that right?”
It had been a long couple of days and his emotions were still raw – he couldn't completely suppress the flinch.
“No! Not like that,” Anakin blurted out, shaking his head frantically. “I'm saying it wrong again, just let me...” He stood up and paced around as much as the cramped quarters allowed. Obi-Wan watched him and waited, still confused, still hurting but hopeful. Finally Anakin turned back towards him. “I heard a rumour that Knight Muln is considering taking on a padawan.”
That was news to him, though he hadn't had a chance to so much as talk to Garen in months. “Well, it's about time,” he said, blinking at the abrupt change in subject. “He's been knighted well over a decade now.”
“Actually, that's well within the average time for a knight to take their first padawan,” Anakin said. “I looked it up. Only about ten percent of knights take on a padawan within the first few years of them being knighted, and that's mostly exceptional circumstances, like with Vos and Aayla.”
He supposed he'd known that on some level. But he'd been waiting a long time to have a chance to repay Garen for his 'kind' help in raising Anakin. Let's see how he liked trying to persuade a sugared up, overexcited youngling that it was bedtime.
“And there's only one Jedi in all the Order's recorded history who took on a padawan the same day they were knighted,” Anakin added meaningfully.
He winced. “I was young and ill-prepared. I know I was arrogant to think I was ready to be a master, and if that - “
“ - don't you dare apologise!” Anakin exclaimed, rushing forwards and crouching down in front of him, grabbing his hand. “It wasn't arrogance at all. I needed you, and you stepped up, because that's what you always do. It's who you are. But you were young, and you should have had a chance to be your own man, to figure out who you were and who you wanted to be, and it's my fault you didn't get that.”
“Anakin.” He covered Anakin's hand with his own and gave a gentle squeeze. “I wanted to be your master. It was an honour and my pleasure. I've always known who I wanted to be; a Jedi knight. Qui-Gon's padawan. Your master. And even if that wasn't the case it would never have been your fault. And I'm so sorry if anything I ever did or said made you feel otherwise.”
“Not anything you said,” Anakin muttered, turning his face away.
Something else occurred to him. “Anakin, you're younger now than I was then, and you have a padawan. Are you feeling overwhelmed?” He'd thought Anakin and Ahsoka were doing well now, but maybe he had missed something.
“No – well, yes, but I wouldn't ever want to lose her. Snips is great and I wouldn't give her up for anything, but I definitely wasn't ready for a padawan and I wouldn't have gone looking for one if the Council didn't assign her to me. And we both know that was because they were worried you were my only real connection in the Order. They wanted to make sure I didn't go completely off the rails if our bickering ever got too much.”
Or if Obi-Wan died, but neither of them had to mention that. He smiled. “Personally I think it was more about Yoda's persistent belief that all problems in this lineage can be solved with more grandpadawans for him.”
Anakin looked at him, brow furrowed. “You and Qui-Gon?”
He nodded. “I believe Yoda had been trying to persuade Qui-Gon to take another padawan for years. I was simply the one that stuck. And by my understanding he was trying to persuade Dooku to take on a student right up until he left the Order.”
“Well I'm glad that didn't happen,” Anakin said, pulling a face. “Ventress is bad enough.” He sat back down. “Anyway, we've gotten away from the point. I just wanted to explain – yes, when I was a kid I did used to imagine that Qui-Gon was my Master instead of you, but that wasn't ever because I didn't want you. Or, well, sometimes it would be because I was a stupid kid and I'd tell myself that Qui-Gon would let me stay up all night to watch the Grand Rally, or that Qui-Gon wouldn't make me do the extra credit assignment for Etiquette, and that Qui-Gon would take me on all his missions...”
Obi-Wan couldn't help but give a soft huff. “Oh, he would have, believe me. It's up to the Master to decide what the Padawan is ready for and Qui-Gon was a great believer in learning from experience.” And in not being held back by any burden such as his padawan. “I believe I still hold the record for the most time spent in the healing halls for any junior padawan.”
“Oh.” Anakin licked his lips. “Well. Back then I imagined that Qui-Gon would be the perfect Master. And while you were on missions I would daydream that he would be there, teaching me all the basics, and then you'd come home and it would be different because you wouldn't be in charge. We'd be more like equals, and we'd have fun together all the time, like when you took me for icecream, or when you helped me reprogram the mouse droids to follow Vos around, and you'd tell me stories and,” he paused, grimacing. “And you wouldn't have been so sad and stern all the time. You would have been my brother.”
“I am your brother,” he said softly.
“I know.” Anakin leaned against his shoulder. “But you're the brother who raised me, and sometimes...often, I just...well. You know what I'm like with authority figures. Sometimes you just get mixed up in all that and I resent you even though you're you.”
He was aware of Anakin's resentment, but he hadn't realised that it was something Anakin was actually struggling with. He'd thought – well. He'd thought it was understandable. “Anakin,” he began. “I'm saying this as your brother who cares about you, not your Master or a Councilmember. Maybe you should think about going and talking to one of the mindhealers about this. I will always listen to you but I don't know how much help I can be.”
The tension beside him was papable and for a moment he was certain that Anakin was going to lose his temper and stalk off the way he had many times before. But instead he pursed his lips and nodded a couple of times. “Alright. Maybe I will. If you do too – and actually talk to them, about Qui-Gon and what he did to you, and about the war and everything.”
“I believe therapy is generally considered ineffective if one has to be coerced into it,” he pointed out, and as Anakin's face darkened, he smiled. “No, I had been thinking I should go back myself. Though to be perfectly honest I have no idea where I'm going to find the time.”
“I'll try if you will,” Anakin said, vaguely threateningly. “No, really, Obi-Wan, are you okay? Are we okay?”
He took a deep breath. “I do believe we're going to be.”
“Master Kenobi!” Nataya's delight on seeing him was evident, both in the Force and on her face as she waved at him across the garden. “You came!”
“I told you I would see you today,” he said as he gave her a bow, letting his own fond affection shine through.
“Yes, but I thought you might be shipped out, or might be caught up in other things,” she explained, slightly bashful. “I know how busy you are.”
“I still have a couple of days in the Temple,” he told her. “And even once I've left, if you wish to talk to me please feel free to comm me. I won't always be available, but I'll always try to get back to you when I can. I promise.”
“Thank you. For everything I mean.” She hesitated for a moment, chewing on her lip before pulling her hand out from behind her back to reveal the woodcarving she had been working on yesterday. “Here. I wanted you to have this. Only if you want it, I mean.”
It was an incredibly detailed carving of a hawk in flight and he felt his breath catch as he took it in his hands. The Force sang through it, capturing feelings of loss and longing, but above all of hope. “It's beautiful,” he said fervently. “Thank you, Nataya. I will treasure this. You have a rare gift.”
She blushed and looked aside. “It's nothing. Just a hobby.” Her stomach rumbled loudly.
He chuckled. “Why don't we go and have some lunch, padawan? You can introduce me to your friends.”
“Of course, Master,” she said, her eyes sparkling.
He felt lighter than he had in a long time. And when the Negotiator left orbit the little wooden hawk took pride of place in his quarters right alongside Anakin's tea set.