"The dark is generous, and it is patient, and it always wins – but in the heart of its strength lies weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back. Love is more than a candle. Love can ignite the stars."
Matthew Stover, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
Six months after Mustafar, Obi-Wan walks out into the desert with the express purpose of losing himself.
When his hut is out of sight, and the sands are so bright they blur into the sky and surround him with light, he strips out of his tunic; sets it under a stone; sits, bows his head, and asks the Force to keep him suspended there, timeless, peaceful. To protect him from the suns, from the sand and winds.
To protect him from himself.
He has never been more powerful. In solitude, his communion with the Force has taken on a fury which even he, having marinated in myth since childhood, finds supernatural. With no one to speak to, no one to listen to, no one to counsel or fight for or find or kill, his reserves of strength have no outlet. He lives and breathes the Force; he draws it from the water he farms from the ground until it evaporates; he can block out the sun, send raiders scattering, suggest with a whisper that the planet spare him its scourges, and watch night fall at his will.
But there is only one thing he wants, with all the certainty and single-mindedness he will allow himself; only one being he permits himself to think of and desire and call to, and that one will not come.
Obi-Wan has lost track of time – minutes, hours, days, it makes no difference once he has stopped taking note of the months – when this one settles into the sand beside him, heralded by the soft folds of cloth settling in the dirt, the negligible scuff of a boot, the slightest creak of joints and sighs.
“That sunburn will not be a good look on you,” Qui-Gon says, and Obi-Wan breathes out the Force as though he is a cask of wine uncorked, bleeding out his relief as he opens his eyes.
Qui-Gon has not changed. Obi-Wan didn’t know what he had expected: not this, though, not this utter stasis, as though it were but a moment ago when Darth Maul’s lightsaber took what was his. Every line on Qui-Gon’s face, every stray hair swayed by the wind, every callus on his folded hands exists as it was seared into Obi-Wan’s mind in that time a world away in Theed. It makes Obi-Wan feel not young again, not as if he has been taken back to that place, but old – keenly aware of how he himself has changed, of the sweat running down between his shoulderblades, the careless and dangerous waste of water in this place where water is life.
“I wasn’t aware you cared what I looked like,” he croaks, when he has found his voice, and Qui-Gon smiles, patient and warm; something in Obi-Wan’s chest constricts.
“On the contrary,” his master says, settling more comfortably into his cross-legged seat in the shifting sands. “I find your current appearance most interesting. I expected your face to have changed, of course – but I find seeing you without your braid most disconcerting. Whatever was Master Yoda thinking of?”
In different circumstances, Obi-Wan would have been glad, ecstatic even, at the return of the banter he has craved for so long; he finds himself, however, incapable of anything but outburst. “I buried it,” he mutters bluntly. “With your ashes.”
Qui-Gon holds his gaze, and does not blink. The Force stutters and skips, and Obi-Wan sways where he sits.
“What took you so long? What has changed?” he asks eventually, and Qui-Gon sighs, burrowing his hands deeper into his sleeves.
“I do not know. Though I travel with it, the Force has not revealed all its secrets to me. It keeps much to itself – chiefly the art of timekeeping.” There is something wry in Qui-Gon’s tone, but regret, deeper, and a hesitation which Obi-Wan knows is for him, knows that it is he who controls this interaction between them by the dubious virtue of being still alive and corporal.
“Will you come back?”
“Yes,” Qui-Gon says instantly, and Obi-Wan clings to that truth, feels it resonate deep within his essence. Somehow and somewhere he recognizes that this is miraculous, this is unbelievable, this is a gift and a privilege that he is privy to, though as he searches for words in which to reply he finds himself mildly concerned with his greed, his want, his determination to grasp onto this hope and call it his and his alone.
He is exhausted, suddenly; to sleep, to fade away and cling to this as a last memory, seems to feel like the only thing he is capable of. His eyes drift closed; he senses and hears, rather than sees, Qui-Gon’s smile.
There is the feather-touch, then, of skin against his chapped lips; of fingers on his hand, tamping slowly around his pulse.
Ghosts cannot touch.
“Ah,” Obi-Wan murmurs; sadness floods through him with the driving force of a sandstorm. “This is a dream.”
“Yes.” Qui-Gon’s grip tightens on his wrist, with all the warmth and strength of the unreal. “But do not fear, my dear padawan. I have found you, now.”
Obi-Wan wakes in the desert with the worst sunburn he will ever have in his life, still in his pose of meditation, sand swirling up into eddies as it half-buries his limbs.
It takes him an hour to crawl back to the hut, skin cracking and bleeding red-raw. He sleeps for a week without pause.