His first thought when he felt the presence – as foreign as it was familiar, burning in the Force – was that all was lost. If Vader was here, he must have found out about Luke, and any hope for the Galaxy's future was to be snuffed out. But then Qui-Gon whispered to him through the Force: He will not discover the boy; too much doubt remains by Shmi Skywalker's grave.
The assurance ringed with truth through the Unifying Force, and it was enough to lift Obi-Wan's spirits despite the ever-approaching miasma of Vader's presence. He had little doubt that Vader was here to kill him – revenge for any number of betrayals, both perceived and real. In truth, there was a part of him that would gladly give the Sith Lord his life. Penance, for failing him. And a desire for freedom from a world where Anakin Skywalker no longer existed. It was a childish, selfish impulse, he knew – he had a responsibility to remain alive for Luke's sake, and ultimately the Galaxy's. And he had yet to complete his training with Qui Gon; if he died now, he would not be able to find transcendence in the Cosmic Force.
It was his attachment to Anakin that still held him back. The irony of this was not lost on him.
Indeed, with Vader so nearby, he could scarcely ignore that emptiness that had been gnawing away at him since he'd fled from their fight on Mustafar. Since the realization that the person he had loved most in the galaxy – in defiance of the code to which he had dedicated his life – was lost to him forever. He had always known that he was to be by Anakin's side when he died, and he couldn't find in himself to mind that this would mean dying by his hand. Or at least, by the hand of the man who wore his face.
It was good enough, in the end.
He didn't turn around when he heard Vader's heavy footfalls on the sandstone floor of his abode, struck for a moment by their familiarity. If he were the sort to indulge in fanciful daydreams, he could perhaps allow himself to imagine that they were back in the quarters they had shared in the Temple.
But Obi-Wan was not the sort to indulge in such fantasies.
"May I offer you something to drink, Darth?" he asked, tone casual. "I have some very nice water from a local farm, if you're interested. My own vaporator has been rather unreliable lately."
"These are the Jundland Wastes; there's no such thing as a "local farm" out here." Vader's voice was deep and artificial, filtered through a vocabulator, but the inflection was as familiar as his footsteps.
"I suppose it all depends on your point-of-view," Obi-Wan countered, finally turning around. "I consider anything that can be reached on Eopie-back in a single day to be "local"."
Of course, Obi-Wan knew about the mask that Vader wore to conceal his previous identity from the public. It was clearly inspired by ancient Sith battle droids, sleek and black and menacing. And yet, Obi-Wan found it oddly comforting that Vader wore it now. Better to see the mask than the golden eyes of a Sith Lord staring out from Anakin's face.
"I must admit that I'm surprised at you, old man," said Vader, advancing forward a few more steps. "Living as a hermit on this useless dustheap is about the last thing I expected you to do. You certainly can't rebuild your precious Order out of sand."
Obi-Wan's lips quirked upward. "One must let go of one's attachments in the face of a reality that does not allow for them, even if one is not a Jedi."
"For someone who's always claimed to distrust politicians, you're very good at speaking like one," said Vader. "You can save your Jedi platitudes for your non-existent disciples; I'm fully aware that this is all a self-indulgent attempt at penance."
Obi-Wan sighed. "Shall we not cut to the chase? I know I have my lightsaber lying around here somewhere, though I fear I'm rather out of practice."
Vader let out a sound that was probably meant to resemble a laugh. "I didn't come here to put you out of your misery, old man. If you want to commit suicide that badly, you can swallow your Jedi pride and do it yourself."
"...I suppose I really am that transparent," said Obi-Wan, smiling ruefully. "Well then: if you're not here to kill me, I daresay I'm at a loss."
"I'm not saying that I'm never going to kill you." Vader held out a black-gloved hand, palm-up. "But not just yet. For now, I want you to come with me."
"And if I refuse?"
"You won't," said Vader. "Because you realize that being a hermit is pretty much the same wherever you are, and you're only going to cause needless suffering by defying me."
Obi-Wan understood that the threat was real, even if it was incredibly vague. In truth, he had no intention of resisting – not while Luke was only a few hundred kilometers away, and the danger of his discovery rose with every second that Vader remained on Tataooine – but it had felt only right to make a token effort.
He sighed again. "Yes, you're quite right." Quirking a brow, he said, "Shall we go, then?"
Vader said nothing, but turned to leave, his black cape billowing behind him. It was all quite melodramatic.
Obi-Wan followed diligently.
The flight to wherever it was that they were going was a silent one, with Obi-Wan stuck in a make-shift brig. It was a small vessel – certainly far, far smaller than the ships Vader now commanded on a regular basis. Vader was clearly not doing this with his Master's approval.
Obi-Wan used the time to meditate, trying his best to release his emotions into the Force. Qui-Gon spoke to him only briefly, perhaps to reassure him that he was not bound by the confines of a single planet.
You must let go of this attachment, Obi-Wan. So long as it persists, you will never be free.
The words were true, of course, but not very helpful. Other images came to him through the Force: of Vader, hunting those few Jedi who remained. And, from his own memories, he saw Vader cutting down the younglings. Using the Force to choke the life out of Padme.
Each one was like a knife being jammed into his heart.
Obi-Wan didn't know how long their journey was, but it seemed like a very long time before Vader came to let down the shield that separated Obi-Wan from the rest of the ship. The silence between them was tense, but Obi-Wan did nothing to break it. There was nothing of value to say to the Sith Lord, and many useless things to say that would lead down a path that Obi-Wan wished to avoid.
Obi-Wan allowed himself to be distracted by the lush beauty that surrounded them. The poorly-maintained path was flanked by a multitude of trees with thin, feather-like leaves, in hues of red and green and orange. Their drooping branches formed a canopy above their heads, sunlight filtering through to make dappled patterns upon the ground. Condensation from the leaves occasionally dripped down to tickle the exposed skin of his face, as if mocking the shoddy vaporator that Obi-Wan had stopped trying to repair more than two years prior.
Obi-Wan had grown very fond of the desert's stark beauty, but he could admit that this was a welcome change of pace.
They eventually arrived at a large but otherwise modest house, no doubt constructed fairly recently due to the lack of overgrowth encroaching on its walls. The architecture reminded Obi-Wan of the houses he'd seen in Theed.
The interior – though luxurious compared to the hovel he'd inhabited for years – wasn't especially immodest either. Spacious, with comfortable-looking but utilitarian furniture. Most striking to Obi-Wan were the droid parts stacked neatly on a table against the back wall of the living room. The sight was all-too familiar, and he couldn't look at it for very long.
Vader lead him up a staircase and into a bedroom, then gestured to a semi-transparent door. "The 'fresher is there. Go wash off the sand."
Obi-Wan complied without comment. There was a large bathtub along with a shower, and he decided that he was going to indulge himself. It had been so long since he'd bathed in actual water, and Vader hadn't specified that he be quick.
He stripped off his tattered clothing when the bathtub had filled, descending into the scalding water with a soft sigh. It was too hot, but he didn't care. He lay his head back against the smooth white tile and closed his eyes.
For a moment, he thought he must be dreaming, feeling the softness beneath him as Anakin's face hovered above. He reached up to touch that face, half expecting his hand to pass through his dear friend as if he were a hologram. But his fingers connected with warm, solid flesh, and Obi-Wan felt his eyes burning.
"Anakin," he said, almost choking on the name, before reality came crashing in and he remembered where he was. He let his arm drop back down and took a deep breath, trying in vain the release his emotions into the Force.
"You fell asleep in the water," said Vader. If he was angry about being called by his old name, it wasn't evident in his tone. "Your head was almost completely submerged by the time I decided to see what the hell you were doing."
Obi-Wan managed a small, sardonic smile. "A very dignified death, to be sure." His voice sounded as threadbare and ragged as the clothing he'd discarded in the 'fresher. It was at that point he realized he was naked, and shivered. "I don't suppose you have something clean for me to wear."
Vader didn't answer for a moment, his eyes trailing down the length of Obi-Wan's body. They were blue, Obi-Wan noted, even as he tensed under the scrutiny. It was a look he was familiar with, from back when he and Anakin had shared living quarters in the latter part of Anakin's apprenticeship. It was...appreciative. Obi-Wan pushed himself upright and said, "If you wish to humiliate me, there are far more interesting ways to go about it than keeping me naked."
That earned him a smirk. "I only wanted to see if a few years of desert living had taken their toll yet," he said. "As I recall, you used to be very insistent about having patience."
"I'm rather cold," Obi-Wan replied, matter-of-factly.
Vader quirked his brows, but walked over to a chest of drawers built into the wall. He pulled out some simple-looking clothing and tossed them to Obi-Wan: brown trousers and an off-white tunic, like something he would've worn under his robes back at the Temple. Obi-Wan pulled them on gratefully.
"I have some business to attend to," said Vader. "Get some rest while I'm gone."
'Don't try to escape,' went without saying.
Vader was gone for two days, leaving Obi-Wan to stew over what might happen next. He meditated; he ate; he watched the holonet; he even trained in the dojo he'd found beside the living room. But all of it was underscored by the tension of uncertainty.
To make matters worse, Qui-Gon had fallen silent.
All in all, he had a very bad feeling about this.
Once or twice, he considered fleeing the house on one of the many speeders and swoop bikes he'd found at the back of the property, but his instincts screamed against it. Vader had certainly not left any means of leaving the planet, and he would do himself no good getting lost in an unfamiliar wilderness.
So he waited with the patience befitting a Jedi Master, and found himself longing for the desert.
There was only the one bed, though it could admittedly fit three people comfortably, and it was there that Vader greeted Obi-Wan when he returned. Obi-Wan was reading one of the datapads he'd found on a nearby shelf – one of the few that didn't contain blueprints and technical language that Obi-Wan could only vaguely understand.
"Found something interesting?" It was Anakin's voice, unfiltered by the mask, and Obi-Wan responded automatically.
"It wouldn't be my first choice, but the mining operations on Gorse are far more engaging than I would have initially thought."
Vader strode forward and plucked the pad from his hands, then levitated it back to the shelf. "You look better," he said.
"What a relief," Obi-Wan replied dryly. "Now perhaps you can enlighten me as to why I'm still alive."
Vader sat down on the bed, looking at Obi-Wan very intently. "I could ask you the same question."
Obi-Wan frowned, genuinely taken-aback. "I'm not sure what you mean by that."
"When we were fighting on Mustafar, you could've killed me. I wasn't thinking clearly; at that moment when you pushed me away, you could've just as easily pierced my heart with your lightsaber." His eyes were very blue indeed. "But instead you chose to flee. Why?"
Obi-Wan ran a hand through his hair. "You know the answer already."
There was a surge of emotion in the Force, so intense that it left Obi-Wan reeling, and Vader was suddenly much closer than Obi-Wan was ready to deal with. "Is that why you've hidden from me all these years?" he snarled, yellow seeping into his irises like oil into water. "Is that why you chose your pathetic martyrdom?"
Obi-Wan glared back, unintimidated. "Tell me, Darth: does you Master know that you're keeping me here?"
"It doesn't matter if he does," said Vader, nostrils flaring. "At this point, he's only alive as long as he's of use to me."
"Given the care you've taken to choose such an isolated planet, I don't think you're entirely confident of that."
Vader's gaze was predatory. "It's unwise to underestimate me, Obi-Wan. I've become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."
It was the first time Vader had said his name since they'd been reunited, Obi-Wan realized with a jolt. The thought was a sobering one. "Of that, I have no doubt," he said softly, and looked down at his hands. But at what cost? He didn't add.
"Yes, I suppose you never really did doubt my abilities," said Vader, his voice softening as well. But it was the quiet of a serpent about to strike, the Dark Side still burning in the Force. "Only my judgment." He reached forward with his flesh hand and grasped Obi-Wan's chin, lifting his head in a mockery of tenderness. "You and Padme never really saw me as anything more than a simple-minded child, too powerful for his own good."
Obi-Wan smiled in spite of himself. "Truthfully, we had never really discussed it. But supposing we had such a consensus, would you say that we were wrong?"
"No," said Vader, releasing his chin. "You weren't. But things have changed." He leaned in closer still. "I'm definitely not a child anymore."
That, Obi-Wan couldn't argue with. Vader's face was still smooth and handsome, but he had lost much of his youthful softness. He looked like a man, now – dangerous and beautiful. "You still haven't answered my question," he said.
"Because I don't need to, Obi-Wan: you know the answer already."
And then Vader was kissing him, insistent and hungry, his longing like a burning pillar in the Force. His hands – flesh and synthskin-covered-durasteel – trailed down Obi-Wan's sides, and he used the Force to push Obi-Wan back against the plush pillows behind them.
And Obi-Wan kissed back, because it was everything he had dared not want. Everything he had denied himself, only to fail anyway. He had been alone for so long.
Vader broke the kiss, and brought his flesh hand up to cup the side of Obi-Wan's face. His eyes were even more yellow than before.
"Is this how easily you give up your martyrdom?" he asked. "My hands are dripping in the blood of the Jedi, and yet you're going to let me touch you like this."
"Am I?" said Obi-Wan, not quite sure himself if the question was sincere.
"Yes," said Vader, and kissed him again.
Qui-Gon's words echoed in his mind, even as he allowed the kiss to continue. Even as he reached out to pull Vader closer.
You must let go of this attachment, Obi-Wan. So long as it persists, you will never be free.
But for now, that was alright. Luke was safe, and some vestige of Anakin still cared for him. For now, he would allow himself this one indulgence.
He was so very tired of being alone.