"Well, I think she'll be way more comfortable in there than on that sad little couch."
Qui-Gon had to bite back a grin at the mock offense that played out on Obi-Wan's face.
"I'm sorry, what was that? I thought this was your very favorite couch in the entire galaxy."
"What? I never said that," Anakin scoffed, grinning as he plopped down on said couch beside his Master. "I mean, it's not really easy on the eyes."
"You just don't remember because you were in a… fragile state of mind. Or need I remind you of the way you hugged it, got down on your knees and nearly propo—"
"Okay, okay!" And Anakin actually clamped a hand over Obi-Wan's mouth, which his Master instantly pushed away. "So, I'd had a few drinks that night, so what?"
"A few? Anakin you were—"
"A marvelous angel, like always. Thank you."
Qui-Gon couldn't hold back the quiet chuckle that brushed past his lips. Oh, how he'd missed this—and they hadn't even been back a full standard rotation yet.
"Well, all that to say, Ahsoka's passed out like a rock on my bed, so…" He looked hopefully at Obi-Wan.
"Anakin, you're not stealing my bed again. And whatever gave you the impression that rocks sleep?"
"You know what I meant."
The corners of Obi-Wan's eyes crinkled, betraying his good nature. "I know. Don't worry, Anakin, you won't have to sleep on the couch tonight."
"Good. Now!" Clapping his hands together, Anakin fixed the two Masters with a sly expression, one Qui-Gon had come to fear. "Who's up for another round of sabacc?"
Qui-Gon's groan was underlined by Obi-Wan's.
"What? I thought you guys loved sabacc!"
"We did," Obi-Wan corrected. "That was before you drove it into the ground."
"Hey, I could easily go wake Ahsoka up and we could play—"
"Don't. You. Dare."
At Obi-Wan's stern look, Anakin backed down. "Fine, fine! Well, what do you want to do?"
"Sleep?" Obi-Wan offered.
"Wait! Stop the presses!" Anakin exclaimed, grasping Obi-Wan's arm with one hand and gesturing to his fake audience with the other.
Qui-Gon didn't miss the slight flinch that jarred his Padawan's frame at the sudden touch. Oh, Obi-Wan…
"You've heard it here, folks! Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi actually wants to sleep!"
Jerking away, Obi-Wan pretended to look affronted. "Whatever gave you the idea that I don't like sleep?"
Anakin shrugged, an impish grin claiming his lips. "Probably that same thing that gave me the idea about the rocks."
"Honestly, you're impossible."
"Thanks. That means so much coming from you."
"All right," Qui-Gon began, loath as he was to interrupt the playful banter. "Obi-Wan is right, I think you both should get some sleep."
"You don't have to tell me twice," Anakin said with a yawn. "But, despite any love you claim I have for this couch, it's not the best nighttime companion."
"Well, why don't you go snuggle with Ahsoka?" Obi-Wan suggested dryly.
"On second thought, the couch is wonderful." Then, leaning closer to Qui-Gon, Anakin whispered, "She kicks."
Obi-Wan snorted. "And you don't?"
"Hey! That was when I was a kid! And I haven't exactly come crawling into your bed for comfort since I was like twelve."
"Fifteen at the latest."
"I did not."
"Oh, come now, Anakin, of course you did."
"Well, I don't anymore, okay?"
Heaving a sigh, Obi-Wan stood, albeit slowly. Painfully. "So, the couch it is, then?"
In answer, Anakin collapsed onto the couch, wincing as his bruised body sunk into the worn material.
Qui-Gon caught sight of the worried expression that flashed across Obi-Wan's face. But only for a second. Before Anakin had even turned his attention back to the Masters, the auburn Jedi's face had gone neutral once again.
"Feeling old yet?" Obi-Wan quipped, lips quirking.
"Not on your life, old man."
At the sound of Qui-Gon's throat clearing, the two young Jedi whipped their heads around. "As humorous as it is to stand here and watch you debate your oh-so-ancient ages, might I remind you that you were both headed off to bed?"
"Right," Obi-Wan said, cheeks flushing slightly. "Well,"—And Qui-Gon knew this part of the scene by heart: the part in which his former Padawan tried to convince him they would all be just fine that evening by themselves—"I'm sure you're tired as well, Master."
"And let me guess," Qui-Gon broke in with a knowing look, "you don't need me to stay with either of you overnight?"
"We're not children anymore," came the soft reply.
Really? Were you not just acting like Younglings not two minutes ago?
"Of course not." Qui-Gon studied his Padawan's hard for a moment. "You're sure you'll be all right?"
"We'll call you if we need anything," Anakin said seriously before Obi-Wan could even open his mouth.
"Good. I'm holding you to that."
"Hey, you can trust me." But even as he said it, Anakin shot a slightly concerned glance at Obi-Wan.
"I know." I know.
It wasn't until Obi-Wan gave a small nod that Qui-Gon felt at peace about leaving them. Well, more at peace than he had before. Which wasn't saying much.
Even before he was out the door, he heard the banter start up again at full force.
"Of course I know that rocks don't sleep, Master. It's just an expression!"
"Is it? It sounds to me like something you just thought up on the spot."
"If I was gonna think up something like that, it'd sound a lot more clever. I mean, whoever heard of a sleeping rock?"
"I don't know, you tell me."
"Master, come on…"
Chuckling, Qui-Gon forced himself to keep walking. How desperately he wanted to go back there, to wrap them in his arms and never let go.
But they need space. Space and time. Time to heal.
And they were both just a comm call away. Or perhaps I'll sense something's wrong before they can even pick up their comlinks.
However, this was negative thinking, and Qui-Gon had determined to view this entire situation in a positive light. They will get better.
Still, the lonely walk to his own quarters felt very wrong. As if he would be making the return journey again—and very soon.
"The Order is weak and we will help break it…"
The wicked curl of her lips was one he was sure he would never forget.
"Teach this Jedi his place."
It wasn't a suggestion—it was a command.
His feet had transformed to pure durasteel by the time he reached the arena.
He clutched the whip tightly in his hand, willing it to break in half. The brute force only seemed to make it grow larger.
"Prove to me you are a slaver! Swing that whip or die beside him!"
Those are some lousy options…
But he had to, he could hear Obi-Wan hissing at him, ordering him to do it, to swing the whip. Because if he didn't, they were all in trouble.
It would be his inaction that would endanger them all.
But he couldn't—he wouldn't.
"Whip the Jedi!"
"Swing that whip!"
Don't you all understand?
"Swing that whip or die…"
Then I'm a dead man walking.
Because I won't…
And yet, he felt his arm fly back behind his head.
Felt the horror as it swung back down.
Heard the sharp crack of electrowhip against flesh.
And where Obi-Wan had once hissed at him to do it, to keep their cover intact because the very heart of the mission depended on it, he was now screaming at him—begging him—to stop. Stop!
And yet, he couldn't. Try as he might, his arm continued to swing, and with it, the whip.
Once a slaver, now the slaver master. Isn't that how life goes?
The hunted becomes the hunter?
This isn't me!
It's always been you!
Always! And it will be you! You're no better than the filthy slavers who—
Gasping for air, Anakin shot up and promptly lost his balance, tumbling off the couch in a tangle of arms and blankets.
It took several moments of squeezing his eyes shut and opening them again for the young Jedi Knight to realize it was all only a dream.
Just a dream… It was just a…
Just a nightmare.
He shuddered, then listened.
A sigh of relief escaped his lips. He hadn't woken anyone. Ahsoka needs to sleep.
So do you, he could almost hear his Master scold.
With shaky arms, Anakin pushed himself off the ground, and with wobbly legs, he made the short trek to the kitchen.
A late night snack would help calm his nerves. Only, everything he laid eyes on only made his stomach churn with a nausea he couldn't shake.
All right, don't panic. You've had nightmares before and you've been fine.
How have I been fine? What did I do to make it better?
Vaped if he knew.
For a long minute, Anakin just stood there, his eyes flicking between the fridge, the couch, and Obi-Wan's door.
He squeezed his eyes shut again. No.
"Anakin! Stop! Stop, this isn't you!"
His feet were guiding him into Obi-Wan's room before he could even finish chasing the last vestiges of the nightmare from his mind.
The familiar feel of slipping beneath his former Master's covers had an instant calming effect and Anakin couldn't help but sigh in relief.
"Anakin?" Obi-Wan's voice sounded far too clear for someone who was supposed to have been sleeping for three hours, at least. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah…" Anakin pulled the blankets closer to his chin. "Yeah, of course. What makes you think I'm not?"
Obi-Wan turned fully on his side, giving Anakin all his attention, as well as a knowing look. "Well, you are in my bed. I thought you'd grown out of that, or so you've said."
"Yeah," Anakin whispered, mentally cursing the way his voice shook. "I thought so too."
At this confession, Obi-Wan's eyes visibly softened. "Anakin?"
"It was…" Anakin ran a hand over his weary face. "It was just a nightmare."
"Oh." Obi-Wan shifted, and for a moment, neither of them spoke. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"All right," Obi-Wan whispered. "Well, if you change your mind, I'm always here."
And he so badly wanted to talk to Obi-Wan, to tell him everything. To vent about his dream, about that kriffing mission.
To just talk.
But his tongue felt like durasteel and he didn't trust his lips to form the right words.
"I just—" And as he'd expected, the words caught in his throat, nearly choking him. "I can't—" Anakin swallowed. "Obi-Wan, I'm sorry. It all went so wrong and I couldn't… I didn't know how to stop it."
"I broke my cover and doomed us all, but I couldn't—" The sound of his choked sob was muffled by the fistful of blankets he'd pressed tightly to his lips. I couldn't swing that whip, Master.
"You did what you had to do," Obi-Wan softly pressed, his voice the essence of calm.
"Did I? Did I really, Obi-Wan? Because the last time I checked, things could've gone a lot better back there! I broke cover and jeopardized the mission. I put everyone in danger all because I—" Anakin sucked in breath and lowered his voice to a near whisper. "Because I couldn't hurt you… And now you're hurting with a pain greater than that of any whip."
"Anakin…" And he could've sworn Obi-Wan's voice was shaking too. "You never would've been put in such a compromising position had I not… Well, had I not gotten myself captured."
Anakin started at this, looking at his old Master in a new light.
"I thought I could rescue Governor Roshti," Obi-Wan continued. "You should've seen him… He was—I couldn't leave him there. Someone spotted us. And I wasn't holding on… Blast, why wasn't I holding on? Well, you know what happened after that."
"Yeah," Anakin mumbled, suddenly finding the ceiling very interesting. "I guess we both messed up, didn't we?"
"True," Obi-Wan admitted, "but we also rescued the colonists. We came out victorious in the end, and while it might not feel like we did yet, it will. It will if we give it time."
"Do you really believe that?"
Anakin held his breath.
"No," Obi-Wan replied, his voice so quiet, Anakin could barely hear him.
It wasn't the answer he'd been expecting, but it was the one he needed.
Because Obi-Wan was being vulnerable—a very rare occurrence reserved only for the most devastating of times.
Well, if this Zygerrian mission wasn't devastating, I don't know what is.
And yet, he could think of a handful of horrific ordeals he'd been through personally that trumped everything the Zygerrians had thrown at them.
Anakin waited on baited breath for his friend to continue, but was met with silence alone.
"No, Anakin," Obi-Wan repeated, his voice unusually hoarse. "I don't believe it. Not yet, anyway. But I will. I promise you, we will…"
Obi-Wan just nodded.
"When?" Anakin croaked.
His brother shrugged ever-so-slightly. "When I grow more accustomed to the idea, I suppose."
Now, it was Anakin's turn to nod. Right. And how long will that take?
"As long as it takes, my very young Padawan," Obi-Wan replied softly, a knowing smirk tugging at his lips.
Anakin rolled his eyes, but he was beyond grateful for Obi-Wan's attempt at friendly banter, poor as it had been.
"All right." Anakin sighed and curled closer to his Master, closer to comfort. "'As long as it takes,' it is, then."
With a small sigh of his own, Obi-Wan closed his eyes, but Anakin knew the Jedi Master wouldn't fall asleep for awhile.
Not until he's certain I'm asleep.
Anakin smirked. Just like old times…
Only, he wasn't twelve anymore—or fifteen, as Obi-Wan insisted.
And yet, he found he still needed the comfort of his Master, the calm reassurance Obi-Wan never failed to provide.
Even when he's hurting, too.
Well, two can play at that game, Master.
With the subtlest of movements, Anakin slipped his hand into Obi-Wan's and gave it a light, reassuring squeeze.
I'm not going anywhere, Master. Not until we've beaten this.
Not until victory is truly won.
I promise… And he watched as Obi-Wan's features slowly relaxed at the gentle touch. I'll always be here for you.
As he closed his own eyes, Anakin found sleep before it could find him. And this time, there were no nightmares.
However, he did recall catching a glimpse of Master Qui-Gon hovering just beyond the doorway. But to this day, Anakin still can't be sure if that picture came from his dreams or had been his reality.
He liked to believe it was his reality.
Because no matter what happened, they would always have someone watching over them.
Someone to save them.
And they would heal from this.
I promise, Master.
We're not alone.
Thank you to everyone who waited so patiently for this story to come to a close! Especially during that long hiatus I hadn't expected myself to take! Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed and if there are any other Clone Wars arcs into which you'd like to see me insert Qui-Gon, just drop your ideas in the comments! Thanks again, dear readers!