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Cut Me Open (Before I Hurt You First)

Chapter Text

 

It’s on one of Obi-Wan’s first missions as a Padawan that he first notices it.

 

His Master’s hands are careful with the small knife digging into the chunk of wood he holds. One of Qui-Gon’s many odd talents, Obi-Wan thinks distractedly, as he watches him from across the campfire. 

 

He has tried his best to get to know his Master, to look past the impassive front of the perfect Jedi Master he presents to the world. Over the year and a half he has spent at Qui-Gon’s side, Obi-Wan has found his endeavour to be harder than he had anticipated. 

 

Qui-Gon is decidedly stubborn in any and all aspects of his life, whether that be in defiance of the Council, or brewing caff in a pot meant for tea. And Obi-Wan has learned that stubbornness extended to how much of himself he revealed to others, too.

 

The slow, deliberate movements of Qui-Gon’s knife cutting at the wood speak of another kind of persistence. Head bowed over the work in his lap, Qui-Gon carves delicately around knots and cracks in the wood. This had been the first block of wood he had picked off the forest floor, cracked and splintering at the ends, and even as the wood proved fragile and difficult to work with, Qui-Gon had not cast it aside for a block that was better-suited to carving.

 

Obi-Wan can’t hear the slicing of the wood grain over the sounds of the dark forest and the crackling of the fire, but as he looks on, he imagines it echoes the motions of his Master’s careful hands.

 

---

 

It had been too dark to see what his Master was carving over the fire that night, and Obi-Wan had not dared to ask. In the early years of his apprenticeship, he learns that the front Qui-Gon presents to the world extends to his Padawan, too.

 

That his Master keeps his heart hidden away is telling in itself. It is the way of one who has suffered and vowed to never be brought down by his own heart again. If he does not hold out his hand, there is nothing for darkness to clutch and tear at.

 

It’s Qui-Gon against the universe, and Obi-Wan has the misfortune of existing as another being. He would not be privy to vulnerability.

 

---

 

As the years pass, Obi-Wan learns more of his Master’s ways. The languages he speaks, how he likes his tea, how many times Obi-Wan can stumble on a kata before his Master clucks his tongue and corrects his stance with his hands.

 

The first is unavoidable. Years of diplomatic missions meant Obi-Wan has discreetly catalogued each language he hears rolling off his Master’s tongue. Something out in the open for anyone’s eyes.

 

The second is a kindness. A piece of information dangled in front of him for the sake of familiarity. The teacher letting his student roam his quarters and prepare the tea. It is normal. Expected.

 

The third is a necessity. Obi-Wan has long ago learned the ways in which his Master prefers to teach. Demonstrations lead to observations lead to corrections. Rinse and repeat, a kata in its own way that has burnt itself into Obi-Wan’s memory.

 

But none of those are trust

 

The little things Qui-Gon carves in the night on missions and never brings back with him are somehow too dangerous for Obi-Wan to know.

 

---

 

He figures it’s one of Qui-Gon’s quirks, a skill he has picked up from locals while wandering the villages on some backwater planet on a solo mission. 

 

He probably struck up a conversation with a farmer’s wife or an old carpenter, always on the hunt for stories and legends. A gesture of thanks, a knife lesson the only thing someone could offer him for his services.

 

Obi-Wan finds no satisfactory answer as for why Qui-Gon would leave his creations behind, however.

 

Perhaps he doesn’t have the time to finish them, and discards the half-shaped blocks when Jedi business demands his attention in the morning.

 

Perhaps it is meant to be meaningful, a secret never to be seen again by its creator, losing its significance as soon as Qui-Gon turns away.

 

Perhaps it is the will of the Living Force that Obi-Wan cannot decipher as clearly as his Master. Leave what you take, dust to dust. A piece of the world that would not be separated from the forest floor of its motherland.

 

Or perhaps his Master is just bad at carving, and none of his creations are worth keeping after he has entertained himself for the evening.

 

But Obi-Wan looks once more at his Master’s reverent form under yet another alien night sky, and knows the last explanation to be impossible. Those hands could split the wood in half, and each piece would somehow still be whole by virtue of existing near Qui-Gon Jinn.

 

---

 

Another mission, another night spent under the stars. The long-cooled remnants of a wildfire are their only company where there is no home for the forest life to dwell anymore.

 

Obi-Wan does not need to strain to hear the scraping of a knife on wood. There is no rustle of life here, and no trees left to announce the wind through their branches. It’s warm enough to forgo a fire, and so his Master is sat near the tent, carving by the light of the two moons hung in the sky.

 

It’s not enough light for anyone to risk using a sharp knife, but Qui-Gon is determined, and he is careful.

 

The assurance of his movements are his mistake. The wood gives way, and Qui-Gon flinches as the knife slices his palm. He refuses Obi-Wan’s offer to help clean the cut, and goes to retrieve the bacta in the tent.

 

He leaves the knife on the ground, but takes the wood block with him.

 

He cannot trust it, Obi-Wan thinks. Whatever Living Force was left in the charred piece of wood had not deigned to warn Qui-Gon. Or had not been enough. No matter the care, time and skill Qui-Gon had put into molding the wood, it had still hurt him.

 

Am I a risk he takes? Something for him to mold and carve into the perfect Jedi, at the expense of his own flesh? The thought comes unbidden, and he feels dread, without knowing why.

 

Obi-Wan watches his Master sit back down besides the tent. He wonders what pain trusting had caused Qui-Gon for him to take such care tending to the privacy of his mind. The same care he takes wiping the soot from the cut that sliced his hand open.

 

There is no sign of the wood Qui-Gon had been working on.

 

A Padawan is a piece of wood his Master is risking himself for. Qui-Gon idly comments on the negotiations that took place that morning, and Obi-Wan pushes his questions far from mind.

Chapter Text

 

Obi-Wan thinks of himself like that charred piece of wood, sometimes. He trains, and he works, and he does not fail, because failure is the knife slicing through his Master’s trusting palm. 

 

He often comes back from the archives late at night, but the creases of worry on his Master’s face are more easily wiped away than the bleeding cut of a failed Padawan. He comes in second on an AstroNav exam, and he tries harder.

 

---

 

Other times, Obi-Wan thinks he resembles the cracked piece of branch his Master had picked up on that first mission years ago. Difficult to work with. Knotted. Inadequate. 

 

He thanks the Force for Qui-Gon’s obstinacy. No other Master would have tried carving the cracked branch in the creche, preferring the solid blocks of smooth wood they saw in his classmates. Obi-Wan had had to convince Qui-Gon he was worth carving into, and now he tries his best to hold himself together so the crack would not split him in two and ruin his Master’s careful work.

 

His Master likes him more now, after all, even if it’s not quite trust . Jedi do not have families, no parents or children, but they do have Masters and Padawans, and that’s a kind of family all of its own. Qui-Gon is Obi-Wan’s Master, his lineage, not quite a father but not just a teacher, either. He thinks of all the ways his Master cares for him, and feels warmth seep into his bones. He desperately wants to be worthy of the crinkles at the corners of Qui-Gon’s smiling eyes. 

 

---

 

Accidentally, he learns of the Padawan who sliced through Qui-Gon’s hand. Xanathos, a promising young apprentice who had turned to darkness and left his Master bleeding and cautious.

 

He thinks of Qui-Gon’s reticence at taking Obi-Wan as his Padawan. If a promising young apprentice had hurt him so, he was right in fearing the pain a mediocre one could bring. Qui-Gon’s good heart had pitied the young boy left behind on Bandomeer that no Master wanted, and Obi-Wan would not allow himself to betray the man who had given him a chance.

 

He remembers the fear tinting Qui-Gon’s every move around him in his early apprenticeship. How he kept himself away, giving instruction and teachings at a safe distance from his heart. How the ice between them had slowly melted until Qui-Gon no longer saw his fallen apprentice’s reflection when he looked at the air between them. There is no more fear in Qui-Gon’s eyes, and Obi-Wan often lies awake, thinking of all he might do wrong to bring it back.

 

And so he sets his own course to make sure he does everything right.

 

He trains until there are blisters in the crook of his thumb from his saber despite years of calluses. He walks up the spires to fail to meditate more often than his aching legs tell him he should. He stays in the archives until his eyes burn, and Master Nu kicks him out and tells him to get some sleep. The headaches of a long night’s study don’t really ever go away anymore.

 

Obi-Wan is eighteen, and his body feels ancient.

 

He thinks he can feel the crack in himself the other Masters were avoiding. He doesn’t know how much longer he can keep himself from splintering.

 

---

 

There are smaller things Obi-Wan thinks need fixing. His training is one thing, but a diplomat like Qui-Gon Jinn has a reputation to uphold. Not that the man himself considers his appearance wholly important, Obi-Wan thinks with a snort. He is sure that without him there to keep the rooms tidy, Qui-Gon would live in his mess until Master Windu would visit him and tell him to get his ass to cleaning.

 

“It’s not mess,” Qui-Gon states every time he catches a disapproving look from his Padawan. “chaos is the natural state of things.” And he takes on this wise old look, that Obi-Wan fully knows is a load of shit. There’s a spark in his eye, a twinkle of mirth, and they both know he’s just waiting for Obi-Wan to take the bait.

 

And Obi-Wan does, every time. He looks to wherever his Master stands, pretends to look around to assess the state of things. “I doubt the will of the Living Force extends to the dishes in the sink, Master,” He answers cheekily. And there’s a bubbling warmth in his chest when his Master fakes a long-suffering sigh, and walks to the kitchen to wash the dishes. The quirk of Qui-Gon’s lips betrays his amusement, and Obi-Wan thinks this might be love. The warmth and comfort of pretending to be annoyed with each other, knowing full well the dishes in the sink really don’t matter at all.

 

And it’s that much worse when he gets a scolding from a teacher, again, for giving a smartass answer in class. Because he’s reminded, once again, that he’s not the perfect apprentice. He knows his Master will hear of this incident and likely will not care, simply asking whether Obi-Wan’s response was at least funny.

 

But his behaviour is a reflection of Qui-Gon’s teaching ability, to the Council at least. Obi-Wan knows they and his Master are often in disagreement. And while he is under Qui-Gon’s protection right now, there will come a time when he will have to confer with the council alone, with nothing but his own skills and words to back him up. Qui-Gon can be a good Jedi despite the Council’s disapproval, because his abilities greatly outweigh his insolence. They need him, and they trust him, and so he has the freedom to disagree. But Obi-Wan doesn’t have his Master’s skills to prove his worth. When the Council will have to weigh his attitude against his skill, he knows they will not so easily forgive him.

 

He would not have the Council think Qui-Gon a poor teacher, and he would certainly not sabotage his own knighthood by being impertinent. 

 

If he is to be on a quest to become the perfect Padawan, then he must first appear so, despite his traitorous thoughts. He had been too hot-headed for other Masters, but now he is learning to tamper down his heat. After all, he doesn’t think many of his future employers and charges will appreciate having a Jedi who talks back to his superiors.

 

The same snappy backtalk that has gotten him in trouble with his teachers many times, but that his own Master seems to delight in. 

 

He once again counts himself incredibly lucky to have gained a Master so gentle in his teachings, who never scolds nor berates, but who softly guides instead. Arguing is unbecoming of a Padawan, especially with such authority as their own Master, so Obi-Wan has worked with great difficulty to milden his words and hold his tongue. 

 

A Jedi should release irritation and passion to the Force, and every forced Yes Master, Understood Master, and I apologize, Master is easier every time the words leave his mouth.

 

The odd look Qui-Gon gives him the first few times his apprentice visibly holds back his thoughts aren’t the pride Obi-Wan has been looking for.

 

But he has promised himself that he would sand down his harsh edges, and with time his sharp wits will hopefully mollify into the smooth repartee of a negotiator. 

 

He wonders at the carvings less and less, these days. When a stray question pops up in his mind, he is quick to shove it away. His Master’s secrets are not his to keep. All he is meant to do is be better, and his curiosity has gotten him into enough trouble already.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan works himself to the bone for weeks, and it gets harder to avoid his Master’s concern. The blisters have become too obvious to miss, so Obi-Wan has taken to wearing gloves to train, to soften the friction of the hilt on the bacta strips wrapped around his hand. He rarely takes the gloves off anymore, and never in front of others. It helps with the pain, but Qui-Gon had frowned when he’d first seen them. 

 

His study sessions late into the night have taken a toll on his sleep schedule. He often wakes after only a few hours of sleep, eyes aching and limbs heavy, unable to fall back asleep even if he feels exhausted. 

 

When his performance in school begins to slip, he starts taking short naps in-between classes, tucked into an alcove or in a nook in the gardens. He does better. He hates himself for needing it.

 

He is rarely seen without a thermal bottle of caff these days. It keeps him alert in class, and he manages well in training despite the tremors of his hands, so he convinces himself it’s not so bad that it makes him eat less. He’s a little thinner than he was, but the loose Jedi robes conceal it well, so at least he doesn’t need to worry about any of his friends mother-henning him.

 

Obi-Wan’s goal is perfection, so he never lets his appearance slip like his sleep schedule or appetite have. He knows that this is how he’s managed to stave off Qui-Gon’s concern for so long. How can anything be wrong if his Padawan robes are as crisply pressed as ever, and his braid neatly plaited and tied?

 

---

 

One morning, Obi-Wan wakes up nearly late for his morning group meditation. In his hurry to catch up, he forgets the concealer he usually paints on to cover the evidence of his late-night sessions in the archives.

 

“Late night?” His Master asks, a slight furrow in his brow. The ‘again’ sits unspoken on his tongue. He doesn’t need to say it out loud; they’ve had this same interaction many times before. Qui-Gon is quite clear in his disapproval of Obi-Wan’s study habits, and says so often.

 

Obi-Wan mumbles something or other about a project due next week, and rushes out to class. He doesn’t quite remember what he’d said, once he sits down in Galactic History, but he does remember the odd cocktail of emotions rising in his chest. He never liked disapproval, but… When his Master disapproves of something out of care for Obi-Wan, it’s more difficult than it should be to convince himself not to do it again, just for the sake of reassurance. 

 

---

 

Things have been fine, lately. No more slipping away than usual, although his habits certainly haven’t gotten any better. His thoughts wander to the carvings again, for the first time in weeks. He never could let go of the complex little metaphor he’d created to categorize his failures.

 

Obi-Wan is pouring the second pot of caff that morning into his bottle, and then it hits him.

 

 Everything his master had carved on missions had been left behind. He’d thought of it before, but it had never really registered that it would mean him as well.

 

His hands are already shaking, and the leather gloves are not meant to handle things delicately. The handle of the pot catches on the cuff, and the boiling hot liquid splashes past the bottle, straight onto his exposed wrist.

 

He drops the pot on the counter with a thud, hissing. Kriff the damned leather.

 

“Padawan, is all well?” Qui-Gon’s voice comes, concerned, from the other end of the living room. Obi-Wan startles and turns, clutching his burnt wrist. In his hurry, he had not noticed Qui-Gon tending to the plants near the window.

 

“Um—,” He stutters, taken off-guard. “Yes, everything is fine. I just— I just— I suppose I wasn’t paying attention, is all.” 

 

His heart is hammering in his chest. He wants to turn away and wipe the mess before it runs down the side of the cabinets, but Qui-Gon is watching him silently, his mouth tight. His eyes go to the burnt wrist, and Obi-Wan realizes he’s still holding onto it. 

 

He lets his arm drop like the burn is mild enough not to warrant attention. It’s a fat lie, but It’s not too difficult. His temples ache far worse than the burn anyway. He blinks and there’s a sting behind his eyes that he’s definitely too old to be able to justify. He ducks his head away and turns to busy himself with the spill. Force, if he were to cry in front of his Master at this age, he’s not sure he could survive the humiliation. Or the disappointment on Qui-Gon’s face.

 

And there it is again, the uncertainty. The knowing-but-not-quite-knowing that Qui-Gon wouldn’t begrudge him a justified outburst. Obi-Wan knows his Master is too kind to be anything but understanding, but it seems his anxiety hasn’t quite come to the same conclusion. His thoughts are swirling, spiralling out of control like they used to when he was a nearly grown-out Initiate staring at the dark ceiling of the dorms.

 

Don’t leave me behind. I swear I’ll be good.

 

The counter is a mess. He’s wiping down the caff as fast as possible, probably suspiciously so, and once again his Master’s presence makes him jump when it suddenly appears at his back. He’s half-aware, between thoughts, that he’s trembling.

 

I’m trying so hard. Please, I’ll be better.

 

His head is spinning. Keep busy, he thinks. The thoughts are coming out of nowhere, and it’s all he can do to keep his stinging eyes from tearing up. Get to work and they’ll go away.

 

Obi-Wan is vigorously scrubbing at the counter with a rag, when a hand stills his movements.

 

“Should you not tend to your injury first?” Qui-Gon asks, his tone soft. And Obi-Wan feels even guiltier for basking in it.

 

He doesn’t think the pain hurts that badly compared to the rest of him. He doesn’t want to alarm Qui-Gon, though, so he plays the card of the thoughtful Padawan.

 

“I wouldn’t want— Well, I’d have to scrape it off if it dries there,” he answers. It’s a cheap excuse and he knows it. At least his mind has settled into a kind of fragile uneasiness for now.

 

Qui-Gon tuts and releases his hand. Obi-Wan thinks he’s going to let him be, but instead he gently grabs Obi-Wan’s burnt wrist. 

 

"You care far too little for your own health, my Obi-Wan," he murmurs, carefully examining the burn.

 

The way Qui-Gon says his name makes the thoughts back away a little further. His Master cares for him now. Shouldn’t that be enough? All Padawans are left on their own eventually.

 

Qui-Gon takes the time to treat Obi-Wan’s burn, despite his protests. He arrives late to class and brushes off his teacher’s disapproving look. Obi-Wan can’t bring himself to care. His chest still feels tight with fear that he tries and fails to release into the Force.

 

The crack in him is spreading deeper by the day, but he will keep himself whole to preserve the warmth in his Master's voice. No amount of begging would keep him at Qui-Gon’s side, so he’ll make sure to be kept in his memory at least. Qui-Gon cares, for now, and Obi-Wan won’t fail him.

 

---

 

For a few days, he tries to take care of himself a little better when his Master is looking. Qui-Gon smiles more easily when Obi-Wan comes home at a reasonable hour and actually eats breakfast, and so he tries his best to eat a few bites of oatmeal in the morning. 

 

His Master doesn’t need to know about the extra data chips he’s stored with weeks’ worth of extra work to do at night by the light of his desk. Or that he hasn’t exactly given up his punishing training sessions, simply broken them up to avoid suspicion.

 

He hurts, but all is well. Qui-Gon is pleased, and Obi-Wan thinks he is as close to carving himself to perfection as he ever has been.

Chapter Text

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.

 

Oh.

 

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.