He supposes he should’ve seen it coming. For all the wisdom Qui-Gon apparently sees in him, Obi-Wan feels like the stupidest man this side of the Galaxy. Or Coruscant, at least.
He doesn’t know what was fogging his mind this whole time. In retrospect, of course his body wouldn’t have been able to handle mistreatment forever. Of course he wouldn’t be able to hide it for long.
Now he lies on a bed in the Halls of Healing after receiving one of Master Che’s legendary lectures about the foolishness of improper self-care. He’s never been on the receiving end of one of those before, but now he understands the sheepish look on Qui-Gon’s face the last time he’d injured himself by negligence on a mission. Vokara Che could manage to make even a bloodthirsty Tarc feel guilty for skipping a meal.
The white lights of the small room are too bright, making Obi-Wan’s vision blurry and his head ache, but he knows if he closes his eyes he’ll fall back asleep.
The pounding in his head is the same as it's been for weeks, but at least he doesn’t feel quite as dizzy as he did when he’d woken up. The anxious weight pressing down on his chest is new, however.
A cowardly part of him wants to fall back into unconsciousness and avoid the conversation he knows is coming. Master Che had alerted Qui-Gon of his Padawan keeling over from exhaustion in the middle of class, and was no doubt updating him on exactly how he had ended up this way. Malnutrition. Caffeine drop. Training exhaustion. Lack of sleep.
He can’t hear the conversation going on on the other side of the door, but he’s certain of the outcome. He tries to piece together some pathetic excuse to tell his Master when he inevitably questions him, but he’s too light headed to think. He resorts to fiddling with the IV cord hanging off his arm instead, and waits.
The door finally slides open, and Qui-Gon walks in with a grim look on his face.
Obi-Wan rushes to sit up, heart skipping a beat, and that’s apparently a mistake. A wave of nausea hits him, sending the room spinning. Black spots eat away at the edges of his vision, and he slumps back on the pillows, eyes screwed shut and chest heaving.
A cool hand is soothingly brushing over his heated temple, and he realizes Qui-Gon has walked over to him. The touch is patient, and Obi-Wan basks in the comfort of it for a few more seconds than strictly necessary. His head settles, dizziness ebbing away enough for him to steady his breathing.
He opens his eyes to find the lights dimmed, and Qui-Gon’s concerned face hovering over him.
“Padawan,” Qui-Gon starts, hesitant. Here comes his due reckoning.
The weight on Obi-Wan’s chest settles in his stomach. Qui-Gon’s tone is as patient as always, but there’s an edge of weariness to it.
The apprehension Obi-Wan felt about the oncoming lecture is replaced by a cold wave of guilt. Somehow the disappointment in his Master’s voice was worse than any anger he might’ve expressed.
Is it disappointment, though? He’s worked himself in a frenzy over so much lately, he can’t quite tell what disappointment doesn’t look like anymore. Anger would’ve hurt less, though, that much he knows.
Probably because Obi-Wan can’t even imagine the words ‘Qui-Gon’ and ‘anger’ in the same sentence. Qui-Gon Jinn is well-known in the order for being a kind, patient Master to his Padawans, despite his own rebellious nature.
Obi-Wan has tried his best to be worthy of it. Worthy of his Master’s lessons when he could’ve chosen any other better-skilled, level-headed Padawan.
Worthy of the affection that bleeds through Qui-Gon’s Force signature despite the scar left behind by another.
Qui-Gon is speaking to him, goes on about irresponsibility and proper amounts of food and sleep, and not anger but disappointment — And the nails Obi-Wan had hammered into his heart to hold himself together finally snap under the weight of it.
The crack splits him in half.
He barely registers the shock on Qui-Gon’s face when the first tears roll down his Padawan’s cheeks.
He gasps, lungs trying to take in too much and too little air at once, and the heaving of his chest makes his empty stomach churn. He curls into himself, and his Master’s alarmed questioning makes it so much worse.
“Padawan?” A hand at Obi-Wan’s nape. “Obi-Wan! What— Are you in pain? Obi-Wan!”
He curls on his side, the line in his arm tugging painfully at his skin. Qui-Gon strokes his head, movements a little too frantic to be as soothing as he probably intends them to be.
The tugging of the needle in his arm eases, as Qui-Gon pulls the IV closer to the bed. Obi-Wan can distantly hear Qui-Gon speaking to him over his gasping, heaving sobs, but there’s not enough space between his swirling thoughts to formulate an answer.
Qui-Gon alternates between asking what’s wrong and murmuring reassurances, and he sounds so utterly lost that Obi-Wan would’ve been baffled to hear it under normal circumstances.
“Shhh, it’s alright Padawan. You’re alright,” Qui-Gon assures him, movements growing softer as the initial shock subsides.
It’s long minutes of murmuring and comforting before Obi-Wan finally starts to calm.
His sobs are slowly subsiding at his Master’s comforting tone, and he registers the desperate way Qui-Gon’s thumbs are rubbing circles into his arm and neck. The tickle of long hair at his nose and the press of warm lips on his hair finally wind him down.
Obi-Wan has never known his Master to show such open affection, but now he is leaning on the bed, hunched over to embrace his apprentice. Another kiss is pressed against his hair, and Obi-Wan feels a balm of warmth settle around his split-open heart.
His head is pounding worse than before, his eyes feel swollen and burning, and he’s sure his wet sniffling is leaving a sizable damp spot on the sheets.
But his Master carefully sits him up to avoid pulling at his line, tucks him into his chest, half-settled against the pillows, and something in Obi-Wan’s soul settles.
Obi-Wan is far past the point of caring about appearances, so he turns his face into his Master’s robes and breathes. He feels Qui-Gon’s pleased hum against his ear, and the weight of his Master’s cheek settling atop his head.
It’s long minutes still before Qui-Gon speaks again, cheek still resting on his apprentice’s head.
“This is not just about the lecture, isn’t it?” Qui-Gon asks, his voice low, as if to avoid startling him.
Obi-Wan feels cracked open, too raw to even attempt his usual evasions. Whatever comes out of his mouth is exactly what his exhausted brain is thinking.
“No, it— it isn’t. Not just that,” he answers, weakly.
Qui-Gon gives a weary sigh. “Have I given you reason to distrust me?”
The very idea would normally be enough for Obi-Wan to scoff impudently. Qui-Gon has been nothing but heartwarmingly, heart-wrenchingly good to him.
“You’ve done nothing wrong, Master,” he assures him. This is the strongest his voice has been since he woke up. Because it’s the one thing in his life he can be absolutely certain of.
“Evidently I have, if you’ve ended up in such a state. You’ve been miserable enough to make yourself sick.”
It takes Obi-Wan a few moments to gather his courage. It occurs to him that he could just lie, and Qui-Gon would believe him. He’s gotten rather good at it this past year.
But worry emanates from Qui-Gon despite the soothing tone of his words, and Obi-Wan can’t quite bring himself to cause him more distress than he already has. His Master is as patient as ever. Obi-Wan owes him the truth about how low his apprentice has sunk.
He shifts his head slightly so his words aren’t quite as muffled.
“I just… I just wanted to be perfect, that’s all,” he admits, thickly. “And I couldn’t even handle that.”
He knows his Master well enough to know the crease between his brows has returned, even in his current position.
“And neglecting your health is perfection?” Qui-Gon asks, quizzically. There’s an edge of dread peeking through his tone, as if he’s trying to stifle it with patience but fearing something Obi-Wan cannot understand.
“No, perfection is—” And Obi-Wan knows whatever drugs he’s been given are still fogging his mind, because he’s vowed never to admit the silly allegory he’s created to justify his pain. “Perfection is a Padawan without cracks. Smooth.”
There’s a beat of confusion from Qui-Gon.
“What do you mean, cracks?” he prods. “How can someone have cracks?”
And Obi-Wan’s gone and dug himself into a sizeable hole, because now he has to explain it. He’s grateful his Master can’t see his face where his heated cheek is tucked against Qui-Gon’s chest.
“Like wood,” he answers with a slight wince. “Like the carvings you leave behind on missions. They have cracks when the wood’s bad, and then— then they don’t really fit what you want them to be.”
Qui-Gon doesn’t answer for a few beats. Obi-Wan hopes he understands his half thought-out ramblings, but also kind of hopes he doesn’t. He wants to be understood without the fear of being known . Wants Qui-Gon to understand his words without seeing how they affect him.
“People aren’t made of wood, my Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon answers, like it’s that easy.
Obi-Wan’s throat itches with the need to explain himself, and the soreness from dehydration doesn’t help.
The small spark that’s left of Obi-Wan’s days as an opinionated Initiate wants to argue back. To explain that of course they’re not, Master, it’s a metaphor , to feel his chest heat at the sheer daring of countering one of Qui-Gon’s well-crafted counter-arguments with a quip of his own.
“I know, Master,” he answers instead.
He doesn’t offer any other explanation, and the silence that follows tells him this wasn’t the answer Qui-Gon was looking for. It’s unnerving. The comfort of being tucked against his Master’s chest mixes strangely with the awkwardness that settles in the room, and he kind of wants to pull away, if only so his actions match the mood.
It’s warm, though, and he feels cared for like he hasn’t in a while. Embarrassment it is, then. I guess I’ll have to make the mood fit the actions instead.
This is fine. If a piece of his razor-sharp fantasy is what it takes to stay exactly where he is, then he’ll bare his whole soul if he has to.
“I thought the carvings you made and left behind on missions kind of fit with how people are. There’s good wood that can be made into beautiful things easily. And then there’s the rest ,” he pauses, ashamed. “There’s the bad wood, that’s cracked and damaged and hard to work with. You can’t make something worthwhile out of a—” his voice wavers in agitation. Almost anger. “a kriffed up , worthless chunk of tree rotting on the forest floor.”
Obi-Wan struggles to control his breathing. He’s just so tired and irritated and almost angry like a Jedi shouldn’t be. And he knows Qui-Gon is disappointed, will surely push him away, will berate him for holding on to such childish—
But Qui-Gon is pulling him closer, wrapping both arms firmly around him, as if sensing his train of thought and wanting to prove him wrong. Ever the strong, stubborn maverick of a Master Obi-Wan has always known. Defying expectations.
“Oh, my Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon breathes against his hair. “you’re not worthless.”
Because of course Qui-Gon would know exactly what Obi-Wan means without him saying it. He’s always taken his Padawan’s anger gracefully. With quiet recognition and guidance.
There is grief soaking into the Force around Qui-Gon, but his words ring true. If it isn't Obi-Wan’s failure that saddens his Master, then what does? He feels another pass of a hand on his back, and a tightening of the arms around him.
Affection. Care. Grief. Obi-Wan goes completely still. They colour the air around Qui-Gon, but the grief has a distinct air of guilt. His Master thinks of himself like Obi-Wan sees his own failure.
Qui-Gon feels guilty.
As if sensing Obi-Wan’s realization, Qui-Gon sighs.
“I am deeply sorry, Padawan,” he says, voice thick with emotion, “that I did not convince you of your worth earlier. You are worth far more to me than you know, and the fact that you do not know it is an inexcusable failure of mine.”
Obi-Wan feels warmth return to his limbs, creeping up to his chest and for once, staying there. He shouldn’t wish for Qui-Gon to feel guilty, but… He can’t deny how good it feels to hear his Master admit to caring. The quiet little spark of life in his chest is heating him up from the inside again.
And he sort of hates himself for needing that reassurance. Of course he knew Qui-Gon cared all along. He’s not oblivious to the banter, the jokes, the quiet comfort they take in each other’s steady presence. He just sort of thought he was cared for like a particularly well-loved pair of boots. Not— not this. Whatever this is.The kind of love he’s already familiar with through all their years together, but that he hasn’t exactly let himself think about.
Maybe their inevitable parting doesn’t have to be a goodbye. Maybe it can be a warm smile and a promise to stop by for tea after a mission. Maybe—
Maybe it won’t be so bad, to be on his own. Because he can see more clearly, now, that he’ll have someone to return to.
Qui-Gon hums, as if in agreement, and Obi-Wan’s face heats. his shields must be in worse shape than he realized. But there’s a trickle of fond amusement in the Force, a wave of affection so strong it quells any embarrassment in his body.
Qui-Gon arranges them so they’re leaning back against the pillows, Obi-Wan tucked against his side, partially draped over him. His head comes back to rest under his Master’s chin. The ache of his earlier tears still stings his eyelids, and he desperately tries to resist the weight of sleep pulling at his eyes again.
But blinking his eyes open every time they close gets harder by the second, and when Qui-Gon’s rumbling voice tells him to Just sleep, Padawan, he relaxes into his Master’s hold with a sigh and lets go. He doesn’t know what will become of the carving of his soul, but for once he can push back the thought and let his exhausted body rest. Qui-Gon will take care of him.