The first thing Obi-Wan Kenobi did when he woke up in the Halls of Healing was cry.
This was, apparently, an alarming reaction to waking up because the Healer that came in to check on him panicked and his Master (his Master) began shouting. Obi-Wan was crying too hard to really concentrate on what was happening around him, but he could feel them - all ten thousand of them - bright and alive in the Force and nothing else in that moment was more important. When his Master (alivealivealive) quite literally took matters into his own hands and bundled Obi-Wan up against his chest, despite distant protests from the Healer, Obi-Wan could only bury his face in his Master’s tunics and breathe as the sobs shook him apart.
Please let this be real, he begged silently. Please give me this one thing.
His sobs calmed slowly and Obi-Wan was grateful that his Master did not seem inclined to put him down. Obi-Wan’s hands were clenched so tightly in his Master’s old familiar robe that he doubted he’d be able to convince them to let go. He stayed where he was, ear pressed up against his Master’s chest to listen to his heartbeat, unable to stem the flow of tears. He shuddered when his Master ran the fingers of one hand through the short hairs at the back of his neck to try to soothe him. Obi-Wan could hear soft, insistent questions in his Master’s voice now that the Healer had disappeared, but he couldn’t bring himself to puzzle out the words.
When Obi-Wan woke a second time, he opened his eyes to the sight of his old room - the one in the quarters he had shared with his Master so long ago. He reached out with senses, free to stretch in a way he hadn’t in decades, to brush up against the green, living light of Qui-Gon Jinn. His Master was asleep on the couch in the common area, probably after having paced himself to exhaustion at his Padawan’s unusual state. Obi-Wan smiled sadly to himself, then sighed and sat up. As much as he’d love to linger, he had things to do.
The second thing Obi-Wan Kenobi did when he woke up was take stock of his assets.
Obi-Wan silently moved from his old bedroom across the hall to the fresher and indulged in the luxury of a water shower. He counted the scars he could see and felt for the ones he couldn’t. The gash across his left hip from the mission after his sixteenth birthday was there, but the burn on his arm from the CoCo Town bombing in his eighteenth year was missing. He examined his young face in the mirror and shaved, moving slowly through the motions. At this age, his facial hair had come in fine and blond, which had only made him appear younger.
Obi-Wan dressed silently, mournfully bypassing the Padawan tunics and pulling on simple brown trousers and a worn grey shirt. He slipped on an older pair of boots - the ones that Qui-Gon would have been telling him to get rid of for months because they were just about worn through. Obi-Wan frowned, trying to remember all the small places where he’d left credit chips, and rooted around in drawers and pockets to pool his meager resources onto his narrow desk. A handful of credit chips, a small knife, a pocket lamp, a lightsaber. He retrieved three datapads from under the bed and added them to his tally.
“Well,” he said softly to the empty room. “It’s not much, but it’ll have to do.”
Moving quickly, Obi-Wan pocketed everything except the lightsaber and wiped all three datapads clear to the factory settings. He tucked one into the back pocket of his trousers when the process was complete, then turned to the other two. On one, he typed out a quick message apologizing for his absence and asking for his Master not to follow him for a few days. Obi-Wan didn’t hesitate in fabricating details of a vision to encourage Qui-Gon’s patience. It wasn’t much - wasn’t nearly what he would have wanted to say upfront - but it would keep anyone from following him for a little while.
On the second datapad, he programmed in one of the quick encryption codes his Padawan had developed while stuck in remedial classes in those first few years together. It wasn’t one of the stronger ones. This one could still be sliced by someone with enough experience, but it would take enough time that it would serve as an additional decoy if Qui-Gon let his own impatience get the better of him.
Obi-Wan let out a breath as the program finished compiling, opened up a document, and wrote down everything he could from off the top of his head. It wasn’t pretty or organized - or necessarily coherent, he thought with self-deprecating humour, but he needed to get this done. It wouldn’t excuse what he was going to do and it wouldn’t help his case when the consequences caught up to him, but it would be an explanation. Qui-Gon, at least, was owed that much. He put the second datapad in the bottom drawer of his desk, under a stack of disorganized flimsy notes left over from his last semester of classes, where it would be found later when they’d search his room.
Only one thing left to do, Obi-Wan thought with a pang. He couldn’t dally any longer. Hesitation risked discovery and he couldn’t allow that. He ran a hand over his Padawan braid for the last time, held up the small knife, and severed it with a quick snip. Obi-Wan tied off the severed end with a spare tie and coiled up the braid in the palm of his hand. It looked so small on its own and it should have been longer, but it would be Qui-Gon’s to keep this time around and Obi-Wan could not regret that. He wrapped it around the hilt of his lightsaber and tucked them both into the bottom drawer with the second data pad. The drawer closed with a soft and final click.
Obi-Wan only paused in common area to watch Qui-Gon Jinn sleep for a brief moment before turning and leaving their quarters for the last time.
The third thing Obi-Wan did after he woke up took longer than he had anticipated.
It was easy enough to set up his first identity. Dacob Calwell had graduated from his general education classes a year early and was an eager candidate for the Coruscant Youth Legislative Education Program to get some experience before he applied to university to study law. His application had detailed that he had come to Coruscant on his own and was working full time to support himself, so special dispensation had been made to allow him to do the majority of the coursework on his own time from home. The program required laughingly little personal information for their records, easily forged, but Obi-Wan supposed that the recruiters were more concerned with falsified test scores than a home address or ident number.
The second identity had proved more difficult. Obi-Wan’s return to youth made it challenging to establish a reputation. The unsavory types of the under levels didn’t trust his smooth face and good looks, often mistaking him for their entertainment instead of their business contact. He’d considered wearing a mask, but only a few days in the under levels proved that it would have been more trouble than his own face. A mask without a reputation to back it up was a costly invitation to prove how good you were.
It was a strange twist in the will of the Force that Obi-Wan happened upon Dex in those early days. Dex was still burgling and slicing as his primary sources of income, but it pleased Obi-Wan to see that the besalisk still had a penchant for lost causes and a willingness to help. Running jobs with Dex for a couple of weeks gave Obi-Wan the in he needed for his contacts to start taking him seriously. As an added bonus, it also got him some free meals before he was making enough credits on his own.
It should have worried him that it was so easy to slip into this role, but it didn’t. Obi-Wan wondered if it was the effects of the War or of spending so many years among Tatooine’s disreputable inhabitants that made this so easy. The Rako Hardeen role had been a hardship all those years ago. Or maybe, he considered, it’s easy because no one cares who I am or why I’m doing this. In the dark nights when he had nothing left to do but wait and think, Obi-Wan also conceded that he might just be too jaded for these things to matter so much anymore.
It took a few months to save up enough credits to procure what he needed and grow his hair out enough that he wouldn’t immediately be flagged on the Senate security cameras if his Master was looking for him.
The fourth thing Obi-Wan Kenobi did after he woke up… well. It went like this.
Dacob Calwell needed to interview three elected officials in different departments of government for an assignment on governmental budgeting and how it determined policy priority. He contacted the secretary of his first interviewee to arrange a meeting, dressed himself in smart new clothes when the day came, and arrived at the Senate building just a little bit late to keep up the appearance of an overachieving and overworked student. Obi-Wan had needed to use a smidge of a mind trick at the security desk, but getting into the Senate building was easy enough.
The secretary smiled when he approached the desk, feigning being a little out of breath and already apologizing. She found it charming and buzzed him in with a suggestion to take a moment in the east office break room after the interview if his nerves were still getting the better of him. One of the transcriptionists routinely baked for the office and she’d save him something if there was anything left from that morning. Obi-Wan waited until she was down the hall and turning a corner before he took a deep breath, checked his shields, and palmed the door open.
First-term Senator Sheev Palpatine looked up from a holo-display, smiled, and gestured him in to sit on one of the chairs in front of his desk. Obi-Wan felt cold to his bones, but he kept up his outward act of excitement and nervousness, shaking the Senator’s dry hand and babbling enthusiastically. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an old Muun idly sitting at a small table off to the side and sifting through flimsiplast documents in a work case as he wheezed through a transpirator mask.
“I hope you don’t mind our guest, my boy,” Palpatine said lightly, glancing over at the other occupant in the room. “Magister Damask is an old friend of mine from the Intergalactic Banking Clan. I thought he might provide some interesting input for your assignment.”
Obi-Wan thanked the Senator for his consideration and thanked the Magister for this opportunity. Internally, he was a little annoyed that there would be a witness, but he couldn’t turn back now. He ineffectively rustled through his pack, talking excited nonsense about his experiences in the youth program and apologizing for his lack of organization. Obi-Wan held up his left hand in triumph, clutching what appeared to be an audio recorder that he’d pretended to have lost in the bottom of his bag, and with the other, he brought up a disruptor pistol.
Obi-Wan opened fire on the Senator without hesitation, face still and unblinking as bolt after bolt hit their mark. For a brief moment, Palpatine’s face snarled into that evil, familiar thing and the man tried to gather his Darkness to retaliate, but Obi-Wan had surprised him and batted away the hastily gathered energy. There was only so much damage a human body could take and, after less than a minute, Palpatine writhed back into his chair screaming as he died.
Obi-Wan waited, end of the pistol smoking, for the inevitable surge of Dark energy. He braced for the stench of it and deflected the wave to pass around where he stood when it surged outwards. When the body was still and lifeless at last, Obi-Wan tilted his head, smirked, and fired one last shot into its stinking face. It was a petty thing to do, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
“Well,” came the muffled, nasally voice of Magister Damask. “That is impressive.”
Obi-Wan tried to turn to face Damask, but a wave of the Force seized him and held him in place. He tried to move his right arm to turn on the Muun, but the Force gripped him tightly. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Damask stood slowly, yellow eyes glowing with Dark corruption.
“Such a shame,” Damask sighed, approaching the cooling corpse. “There was much potential in this one. He was becoming a sound strategist. Clumsy still, but... improving.” Obi-Wan responded only by narrowing his eyes as Damask turned towards him.The Muun hacked out a coughing laugh and waved a hand. The corpse toppled sideways out of the chair with a thump, disappearing from Obi-Wan’s vision. Damask sat down in its place, face shadowed and presence looming. Obi-Wan tugged his right arm again against the invisible restraints and he sensed the Sith’s smirk.
“I’m afraid that won’t do. You are not going anywhere,” the Muun said, leaning back. “Tell me, Jedi, why did you kill him? You’ve put considerable effort into it.”
“Oh, it seemed the thing to do,” Obi-Wan said, feeling the slight tug of compulsion against his shields. It was a gentle thing, barely there, but Damask did not know that Obi-Wan would recognize it. He let it coax out his surface thoughts, layering his true mind under well-practiced defenses. “He’s hurt people. I wanted to stop him.”
“And what did he do to you? That seemed… personal,” Damask purred behind his mask. That tug pulled again.
“He hurt my family,” Obi-Wan said, voice harsh. “He deserved worse for what he did to them.”
“That sounds an awful lot like revenge, young one.” Damask hummed, considering. “Perhaps you’d be better suited to… an alternative education.”
“Over my dead body,” Obi-Wan smirked. He kept his eyes staring straight at the Sith, but he relaxed his shoulders and let his mind settle into a shallow meditation. Damask leaned forward, confusion leaking into the Force, and Obi-Wan slammed his mental and physical energy into releasing the hold on his right arm. When Damask laughed and focused his energy on preventing the disruptor from firing, Obi-Wan felt the Darkness slip just enough for his left hand to squeeze the fake audio recorder in his grip.
There was a click and Obi-Wan closed his eyes.
The first thing Obi-Wan Kenobi did when he woke up was choke on the chemical smell of the medical facility. He slurred a curse and spent an embarrassingly long time clearing the fogginess from his head. The monitors beeped steadily, which was reassuring, but his perception remained indistinct on his left side, except for the intense burning in his arm. He grit his teeth against the pain and turned his head slowly, conscious of an unusual pulling in his skin along his face and neck.
Obi-Wan didn’t know why he was surprised. The detonator would have created a massive explosion. Anakin had only successfully pulled off the maneuver once with a frag grenade and he’d had to replace the plating on his right hand. Obi-Wan laughed, lungs protesting with a cough, because his left arm now ended just above where the elbow should have been - a mirror image of his former Padawan.
Obi-Wan lost a bit of time after that. Eventually, a nurse was escorted into the room by a Judicial guard. The nurse told him he’d lost most of the hearing and sight on his left side, but that the burn scars on that side may heal up better than their estimates due to his young age. The Judicial guard just tightened the binder cuff on his right wrist to the bed rail. After that, he lay in silence for a long time.
Two days later, Obi-Wan received a visitor.
“You’re not who I expected,” Obi-Wan blurted in surprise, cursing his painkillers for his bluntness.
“The Council felt that I would be the more diplomatic choice,” Plo Koon said, voice calm and gentle. He’d only been recently appointed to the High Council, which meant that Padawan Kenobi would not have interacted with him much yet.
“Ah. Yes. Everyone else is rather….”
“Indeed.” Plo agreed, bringing a chair to Obi-Wan’s right side and sitting down. “The Senate and Judicial are making a lot of noise about the Order’s inability to monitor its own members.”
“And how much trouble am I in?” Obi-Wan asked. Plo paused, hesitant. “I know it’s bad. I knew the consequences when I acted. I’d just like to know what to expect next.”
“Judicial is still investigating. They’ll want to speak to you soon, but there was some anomalous evidence found on the scene.”
Plo nodded. “Yes. And since you left yours behind at the Temple, that raises some questions that need answering.”
“Hmm. Did Qui-Gon find the datapad in the bottom drawer?”
“He had the Archivists slice the encryption after the first week of your disappearance. A copy has been submitted to Judicial as evidence, but I do not know if it will help you.”
“Have you read it?”
“Yes,” Plo hesitated again. “There was a vote to renounce you from the Order, but given your history with visions and the… content of the document, the majority decided that you would keep your title until it is determined if there is evidence indicating that Sheev Palpatine and Hego Damask were… Sith.”
Obi-Wan opened his mouth to speak, but Plo held up a hand. “The Council of Shadows was also notified and are working with Judicial in their investigation. If there is another Apprentice, they will find him, but as it stands now...” Plo’s expression changed behind his mask - regret, frustration - and his shoulders drooped. “As it stands, you are to be tried as an adult for premeditated murder on two counts and for felony charges for an attack on a Republic government building. Your status as a Jedi Padawan and any possible evidence of Darkside use will prevent you from receiving the death penalty, but you will be going to prison for a very long time.”
Obi-Wan let out a breath, leaned back into his pillows, and closed his eyes. It wasn’t good news, but it was a relief to hear that neither the Council nor Judicial were fumbling blindly in the wake of his deeds.
“And-” he hesitated, swallowing hard. “And how is Qui-Gon?” Obi-Wan heard Plo shift uncomfortably and when he opened his eyes, Plo looked away.
“He is… not himself.”
“I’m sorry. If I thought I could stop the Sith any other way-” Obi-Wan’s voice hitched and he grit his teeth against a sob to keep speaking. “I would have spared him this, if I could. If I am sorry for anything, I am sorry for hurting him this way.”
“I will tell him. Is there anything I can do for you, Padawan Kenobi?”
“No,” Obi-Wan said, settling in a defeated acceptance. “Thank you.”
Prison was…. it was prison.
Time passed. Inmates came and went. Some were intimidated by his reputation and left him alone. Some heard that they were assigned the same block as the infamous Kenobi and took that as a challenge. Obi-Wan almost laughed himself into a fit when Cad Bane had been thrown into the cell across from his a few years in.
Obi-Wan had to learn quickly to compensate for his injuries. He meditated as best he could with the inhibitor on. He was grateful that it was an older model, muffling his access to the Force rather than cutting it off entirely. He could still use what was left of his senses to “see” a blow coming from his left when he wouldn’t otherwise be able to sense anything in his blind spot, but deep meditation and healing trances were beyond his reach.
The stump of his arm was slow to heal and Obi-Wan found himself adapting to its loss more slowly than his other injuries. He was clumsy and fumbling in a way that reminded him sharply of his Initiate years after that first memorable growth spurt. Obi-Wan regretted not being more understanding of his Padawan’s frustration when adapting to his amputation. It took almost ten years of good behaviour and his lawyer pestering Judicial before he was eligible for a prosthetic replacement and, if he was honest, it wasn’t a very good replacement.
Obi-Wan Kenobi just… existed. He had no ambition or direction. He declined any voluntary rehabilitation programs and attended any mandatory ones with lackluster participation. He wouldn’t be goaded into a gang or into the sporadic attempts at rioting. Obi-Wan knew he puzzled both the guards and the other inmates, but there was nothing left for him to do. He had accomplished the only true goal he’d had since he was twenty-five and he had lost everything doing so. Twice.
After thirty years, Obi-Wan’s lawyer began appealing for an early release. He was surprised to find that Judicial was willing to consider it and, after testimony from his mandated therapists and a selection of correctional officers, his sentence was reduced and a release date was scheduled. Obi-Wan drifted through the start of his reintegration therapy is a shocked daze. He didn't know what he was supposed to do.
Even more surprising still was the summons to a visitation room two weeks before his scheduled release. He didn’t have an appointment with his lawyer and he’d stopped receiving social visits within the first year of his incarceration. For the first time in years, Obi-Wan felt the cold curling of nervousness in his gut as he was led down the corridor to the assigned room and firmly guided into the chair bolted to the floor. He barely felt the stun cuffs on his wrists being secured to the table and the ones on his ankles being secured to the ring on the floor. Obi-Wan didn’t even flinch at the customary check of the inhibitor collar; he stayed focused on the door across from the table.
The door opened with a soft sound and Anakin Skywalker walked into the room.
Obi-Wan felt tears on his face before he recovered from the gut-punch of shock. Anakin. Anakin as he had never been in Obi-Wan’s previous life. His face was older than Obi-Wan had ever had a chance to see and his frame was more relaxed than battle-lean. The scar over his eye was missing and both his bare hands were flesh and blood. He was nervous, Obi-Wan noted, but not the keen nervousness of a trained soldier in danger - just the normal uneasiness of facing something unknown. Anakin approached the table warily and sat down, eyes glancing at the guards. When he was ready, he propped his forearms up onto the cold durasteel table and spoke.
“Hi.” Anakin winced in that way that showed he clearly meant to start with something else and Obi-Wan bit back a sob at an action so familiar as the man forged ahead. “My name is Anakin Skywalker.”
“I know,” Obi-Wan said hoarsely, when he could find his voice.
“I know. I mean, I know you know. I mean -” Anakin sighed and stopped himself. “I’m not doing this right.”
“You’re doing fine,” Obi-Wan said with a rusty laugh. Anakin groaned.
“No, I’m not. I’m not doing this right at all. I planned this all out, you know. I had a plan. I knew what I was going to say and everything. I mean, not everything obviously, because I just found out about you last week-”
“The Republic civics curriculum has gotten bad,” Obi-Wan couldn’t help interrupting with a chuckle.
“No, I knew who you were,” Anakin said, blinking away his surprise. No one expected a murderer to crack harmless jokes. “I think every kid from here to Wild Space knows about… what you did. Last week I found out who you were to me.”
Obi-Wan didn’t know what to say to that. Anakin huffed, looked away, and ran a nervous hand through his hair.
“Let me just-” Anakin turned back to Obi-Wan and Obi-Wan waited, silent. “I was born in Hutt space, which… you know already. When I was really little, a man came to free us - my mom and me. I don’t really remember much, but I’ve always known that I was lucky that we got out. When I was four, Mom brought me to the Jedi Temple to be tested for training. And when I was eleven, Master Qui-Gon Jinn took me on as his Padawan.”
Anakin paused in his story and Obi-Wan was grateful for it. The thick mire of grief that his Master’s name evoked threatened to pull him under. His chest ached with it. His Master had never come to see him in prison and Obi-Wan didn’t blame him in the slightest. He took several deep breaths to try to calm himself again and wiped at the fresh tears on his face.
“I’m sorry, I can go-”
“No, please. I’d like to know,” Obi-Wan said, voice just above a whisper.
“I left the Order before I was Knighted,” Anakin said. “I don’t regret it. I found someone and chose to leave so I could marry the love of my life. I don’t think I was far off from a Knighting, but… it wasn’t the life that I wanted after I met Padme. I’m a pilot now. It’s a good job for me. I get to choose the work and I fly for the Order sometimes, so I’m still around to pester my old Master. Show him holos of my kids and stuff. You know.” Anakin shrugged with one shoulder and grinned a little.
“You have kids?” Obi-Wan asked, blinking back memories of Luke and Leia from his other life.
“Yeah. Twins.” Anakin’s voice was soft and loving.
“They must be a handful.”
“You have no idea,” Anakin laughed. “Wouldn’t trade them for the world, though.”
“So why are you here talking to me? I’m sure you’d much rather be home.” Obi-Wan was not sure he wanted to hear the answer. He was enjoying this time - enjoying seeing the man his Padawan could have become if the universe had let him - but he was unused to being happy and was waiting for the other shoe to drop. The way Anakin steeled himself to answer the question did not reassure him.
“Last week, Qui-Gon commed me while I was in the area and said he needed to talk to me about something important. I don’t think I’ve ever flown so fast in my life. He wouldn’t say anything over the comms and he’s you know, getting older, so I was worried. He’s fine, by the way -” Obi-Wan let out a relieved breath at the reassurance. “His knees are about ready to quit on him, which he won’t stop complaining to me about, but he’s fine.”
“He wanted to talk about me,” Obi-Wan said. Anakin nodded.
“He talked about a lot of things - about Xanatos, about Master Uvain, about you… especially about you. He told me about what you knew about the future. The alternate future now, I guess. And how he came to free me and Mom because of it. And how you were supposed to take me as a Padawan, but he taught me because you couldn’t.”
“That’s awfully… personal. For him, I mean,” Obi-Wan said, surprised.
“He’s been seeing a Mind Healer for a while. We kind of… blew up at each other during my apprenticeship. Figured a couple of Mind Healers might be less painful than pulling ceramic shrapnel out of our feet every time we started throwing dishes. I got him to agree to go if I had to go. Begrudgingly.”
“Ah.” Obi-Wan couldn’t help the small smile on his face. “Of course.”
“Anyway, I wanted to meet you and say thanks. For telling Qui-Gon where to find me. I have all the good things in my life because you did that.”
“You don’t need to thank me, Anakin. You deserve to be happy. You always have.” Obi-Wan swallowed against the lump in his throat.
“So now it’s my turn to help you.”
“No, listen,” Anakin interrupted. “This isn’t- I just want to help. We’re like... Padawan-brothers. Or something. And family is supposed to help. And you don’t have anywhere to go when you get out of here.”
Obi-Wan moved to lean back in his chair and pinch the bridge of his nose in a habitual movement in response to Anakin’s ideas, but the cuffs on his wrists halted him halfway through. He huffed in frustration.
“So you’re just going to bring a murderer home with you? I’m sure your wife will be thrilled to have me anywhere near your children,” Obi-Wan scoffed.
“By the rains, is this what you’re like? No, I’m not bringing you home. I’m not stupid. We’ve only just met! I have an apartment here on Coruscant. I use it as a crash pad after long Core jobs. No one’s gonna be using it when you get out and you need somewhere to stay until you figure stuff out.”
“Oh. That’s generous of you.” Obi-Wan felt his frustration fizzle out into gratitude. Anakin snorted.
“Not that generous. It’s a shithole.” They both laughed and it felt good to be laughing again. “But I’d like for you to meet my family some day. I have a good feeling about it. Maybe a long time from now. I don’t know, but I want to know who you are, not just what the news says. Not everyone has forgotten that the men you killed were Darksiders and had covered up horrible things.”
“Thank you.” Obi-Wan breathed the words more than spoke them. Anakin reached out over across the table, ignoring how the guards all stepped forward, and clasped Obi-Wan’s hands. He could only feel the warmth of Anakin’s skin with one of them, but a warmth that he’d not felt in ages slowly seeped into his heart.
Hope, he thought.
Obi-Wan thought it was strange that being released from prison was more exhausting and humiliating than going to prison in the first place. He hadn’t expected the intrusive body search or the rough medical scans as part of his outtake records. He hadn’t expected the shame of having the inhibitor removed in the presence of other prisoners, who had laughed and jeered as tears streamed down his face and he screamed at the sudden onslaught of input rushing past shields that had long since crumbled away. The prison hadn’t even bothered to keep the clothes he’d worn on his way in and he had to wait, naked, for one of the guards to search the pile of clothing “donated” to the Republic by dead inmates for something that might fit. Obi-Wan had to wear boots a size too small and clothes two sizes too big when he made his last stop at the final guard station inside the building itself to pick up the flimsiplast envelope that Anakin had left for him.
There was a tram stop four blocks west and two levels down from the prison complex. Obi-Wan choked back the surge of emotion when he opened the envelope and found a note with an address, door codes, a battered tram schedule with the routes to the apartment messily circled, and a handful of credits to cover the fares. His hands shook when he slotted credits into tram collection ports and he felt chilled when other passengers bustled into his blind spot. His skin felt tight at the feeling of all those swirling emotions smoothing up against his weak, unpracticed shielding. By the time Obi-Wan reached his last stop and took the last turbolift down to a dingy grey building just outside the business district’s sprawling public spaceport, his entire body was tingling unpleasantly. Everything was so different and just the same, the sky, cramped transport, open sidewalks, bumped shoulders, too much toomuchtoomuchtoomuch.
The apartment door closed behind him with a hiss and the universe quieted. Shielding, Obi-Wan realized. Enough to muffle out the bustling minds in the spaceport, but not enough to cut off the room from the Force. Of course, he thought. Anakin had always been too open and too influenced by the emotions of those around him. Anakin would have had to erect some kind of shielding in a place like this if he’d expected to find any true rest here. Obi-Wan took a deep breath -
- and froze, eyes wide. Obi-Wan noticed the light falling across the threadbare carpet from out of a narrow doorway. He could see a conservator through the door frame and the shadow cast by the figure moving stiffly in when must be the small kitchen. He could feel the change in the air from the steam whistling from a kettle and the achingly familiar scent of dried tea leaves. The voice, though - that voice - eclipsed everything else. Obi-Wan hadn’t heard that voice in a lifetime, but he would recognize it anywhere. He couldn’t breathe while the other occupant waited for a response. Faint sounds of spoons clinking and water pouring padded the silence.
“Ani, I thought you were supposed to be playing courier out in the Mid Rim. Do you want -”
Obi-Wan couldn’t move as Qui-Gon Jinn limped out of the doorway, steaming mug in one hand. He could barely hear over the loud thudding of his heart. There was his Master, alive and older than he’d ever had the chance to be before. Qui-Gon’s hair was fully grey now and cut shorter than Obi-Wan had ever seen it, save the one holo he’d found of his Master’s Padawan days. His Master used a cane now and Obi-Wan saw his hand tighten on the handle of it as he walked into the room. There were more lines in Qui-Gon’s face, but his piercing eyes were exactly the same.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and tried to focus on getting air into his lungs again. He heard his Master move forward, slowly, and the clink as the older man put his mug down on the low table in the center of the room. Obi-Wan’s hands wouldn’t stop shaking, so he backed into the door behind him and pressed them flat against the warm durasteel.
“Anakin came to see me two weeks ago.” Obi-Wan’s voice was shaking. “He offered his apartment as temporary lodgings.”
“Of course he did,” Qui-Gon muttered with a fond, exasperated sigh.
“I can leave-”
“Obi-Wan. Look at me, please.”
Obi-Wan’s eyes opened automatically at the command. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Obi-Wan couldn’t read the expression on Qui-Gon’s face or the intent behind his searching gaze, so he held still and waited. Qui-Gon let out a breath, one hand coming up to scrub at his face tiredly.
“Sit, Obi-Wan. Have some tea. I’ll make another cup.”
While Qui-Gon limped back into the kitchen, Obi-Wan cautiously sat down on the end of the worn sofa closest to him and wrapped his right hand around the hot mug. The smell of the tea was familiar and comforting. He could feel the tense muscles in his shoulders relax slightly. He was relieved to find that he didn’t quite tense back up again when Qui-Gon re-entered the living space with another steaming mug or when Qui-Gon lowered himself onto the other end of the couch. If Obi-Wan was better at deluding himself, this would feel almost normal.
“You know,” Qui-Gon said conversationally after a sip of his tea, “I’m fairly sure that Anakin neglected to tell me he’d offered this place to you on purpose.”
“Do you often drop by when he’s not here?” Obi-Wan stared straight ahead at the drab grey wall, but he let his voice lilt in that teasing way he’d cultivated raising Anakin. He wasn’t sure his humour would be welcome, but if Qui-Gon was going to pretend that this was a normal conversation, then Obi-Wan would play along.
“More often than I think my Mind Healer would prefer,” Qui-Gon said deliberately lightly. “It gives me space without being… empty.” Obi-Wan noticed that Qui-Gon was fiddling with his mug in an unusually obvious display of nervousness.
“I used to do the same,” Obi-Wan offered. Qui-Gon turned to look at him sharply. Obi-Wan glanced over with a quirk of a grin and continued, “The War was well underway when Anakin was Knighted and we spent more time on battleships in the Outer Rim than we did at the Temple. He didn’t see a point in moving out if we weren’t going to be there most of the time, but I had duties at the Temple that he didn’t. I used to meditate in his room after particularly trying Council meetings.”
Qui-Gon snorted and Obi-Wan hummed in vague agreement. They lapsed into silence. Obi-Wan had relaxed enough that the sensors in his left hand stopped picking up the slight nervous tremor that was still present in his right hand, so he moved to cup his mug with both hands without the embarrassment of having his metal fingers clattering against the ceramic. He felt more than saw his Master deliberately relax into the couch. It was a familiar move that Obi-Wan recognized as a precursor to difficult conversation. He remained quiet when Qui-Gon put down his mug and took a breath to speak.
“I'm sorry, Obi-Wan,” he said, voice heavy. Obi-Wan turned to look at him fully, surprised. His Master looked old, then, sadness and regret lining his face. He looked like Obi-Wan had back on Tatooine when he had managed to catch glimpses of his reflection in the Bestine shop windows.
“Master, you have nothing to apologize for,” he said softly.
“Of course I do, Obi-Wan. I failed you. Please. Let me finish,” he said when Obi-Wan opened his mouth to disagree. “The Mind Healers have made it painfully clear to me that I have a habit of blaming others when things go wrong without examining my own role in those events. And Mace has made it his personal mission tell me repeatedly that I also never listen when these things are pointed out to me. I took Xanatos’ Fall so personally and let it control me for so long because he had forced me to look at my own failings, but I had blamed his faults on others for years. I did what my own Master always did and just… removed myself from the situation without changing my behaviour.”
Obi-Wan took a few calming breaths when Qui-Gon paused. This… didn’t feel real. This Qui-Gon Jinn had acted and spoke just as he had in Obi-Wan’s memories until this moment and the dissonance between the two was almost dizzying. Obi-Wan awkwardly put his mug down on the table just for something to do with his hands.
“After your trial… Well, your friend Bant tracked me down to yell at me for being such a blind fool.”
“Oh Bant.” Obi-Wan’s memories of Bant were hazy with age and he had somehow forgotten just how protective of him she had been.
“She was right. It took me a very long time to realize it. Of all of us, Bant knew you best. I would shift the blame and she knew that you would always take that blame on yourself, even if it wasn’t your fault. I denied you your apprenticeship because I blamed your anger instead of seeing my fear. I blamed you over and over again for things that were not your fault. I hurt you.”
“By the stars, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon said. To Obi-Wan’s surprise, his Master shifted over on the old couch and pulled him into a hug. Obi-Wan stiffened in shock, blinking back tears, but soon relaxed into the hold. “If it weren’t for my Force-damned knees, I’d be on the ground begging for your forgiveness. You ruined your life to save the galaxy and instead of helping you, I spent years isolating myself and blaming you for my broken heart. I should have gone to see you. I should have done anything other than run away. I’m so, so sorry, my Padawan.”
Obi-Wan brought both arms up for a tight grip on his Master, ducking his head down to bury his face in the man’s tunic.
“If my forgiveness is what you need, Master, then you have it. You will always have it,” Obi-Wan said wetly. After a breath, he pulled back, hastily wiping at his tears. Qui-Gon cautiously lifted a hand and traced the edge of the scarring on the left side of his face. Obi-Wan felt a gentle nudge through the Force along their withered training bond and Obi-Wan answered it, light and hopeful.
“I may need it again after I strangle Anakin,” Qui-Gon deadpanned and Obi-Wan laughed harder than he had in years.