Chapter TwoThe smell of bacta was the first thing that struck Qui-Gon as he woke. That alone told him that he was in the Healer's wing. Again.
Though he couldn't recall the reason for being here yet. The memory danced away from him, refusing to be captured by his waking thoughts. But his left shoulder was sore and he had a splitting headache. A knot at the back of his skull throbbed unmercifully.
Well, what ever had happened, he was here and alive at least, that was the important thing. His memory would come to him in its own time. He wouldn't waste time worrying about it.
With a mental sigh Qui-Gon began to wade through his unconsciousness towards the light of the waking world. No doubt he would find a certain starving and sleep deprived Padawan sitting by his bedside as he always did.
He found it odd that he could not sense Obi-Wan as he woke. His mind was strangely. . . empty but Qui-Gon could put that down to the fact that he did not yet know the extent of his injuries. He might be weaker than he thought.
Not that he would let the healers know that.
Finally, fighting against the lead weights that seemed to want to hold them closed, he managed to open his eyes and found himself looking up at the familiar view of a stark white ceiling.
He gave a slight smile. Nothing ever changed here. The healers really ought to think about repainting, it did get tedious waking up to the same plain white tiles.
But that was not the important thing at the moment.
Slowly Qui-Gon turned his head to the side, letting his eyes fall to the seat next to the bed.
And froze. The faint smile he had been forming falling unused on his lips.
For the chair was empty.
Instead his eyes came to rest on those of the ward's head healer standing just to the side.
The healer gave a sad smile. "Qui-Gon. How are you feeling?"
"Sore. But otherwise I'm fine." That said Qui-Gon let his eyes fall once more to the empty chair. "Where's Obi-Wan? Did you finally resort to sedating him this time? Or did you have Mace lock him in our quarters?"
The healer's expression faltered. "Qui-Gon?"
"Obi-Wan. You must have done something drastic for him not to be here—" Qui-Gon cut himself off as he saw the healer sink into the vacant seat and place a shaky hand over his mouth. "Talan, what's wrong?"
"Qui-Gon, what," the healer swallowed, "what is the last thing you remember before waking up here?"
Qui-Gon frowned at the question but started to answer. Doing his best to gather together the pieces of his ragged memory, he closed his eyes. "I was accompanying Obi-Wan to the landing platform. We were waiting for the Senator to arrive. . ." Qui-Gon trailed off as the memories started to come back more easily. He remembered the waiting, about teasing Obi-Wan for his nerves and regretting how close his Padawan was to taking his Trails. He remembered Senator Belar and their meeting, remembered exchanging the parting words with Obi-Wan and watching until he too had disappeared aboard the transport before turning and walking away himself.
And then. . .
Qui-Gon's memory ignited. Bursting into flames behind the darkness of his eyes. He was turning. Running. The ground shook beneath his lurching feet. Pain, heat and anguish was all he could feel. Explosions, light and fire were all he could see.
Qui-Gon's eyes snapped open. He found himself unable to breathe as if all the air was sucked from the room. , his senses flailed out wildly for his Padawan. But there was nothing. Just a yawning emptiness in his mind where Obi-Wan had once been.
Talan saw the flames branded in Qui-Gon's eyes and answered the anguished gaze now boring into his own. "There was a bomb," he said. "No one yet knows the reason for the attack, but an explosive was planted somewhere upon the senator's transport. The whole ship was destroyed. There-" the voice faltered. "There were no survivors."
Qui-Gon buried his face in his hands, denying with his very being what he was hearing and remembering. Trying repeatedly to get past the emptiness he felt to reach his Padawan. He had to be there somewhere. Had to be!
But the healer kept up his nightmare speech. And Qui-Gon had not the strength to shut him out. Talan gathered his shaky composure. "You were found near the wreckage, unconscious and badly burned. Once it was safe to move you you were brought back here to the Temple. I'm sorry, Qui-Gon."
He reached into his robe and withdrew a blackened object. "This was all that could be found. Understand that many were burned beyond recognition, few have been identified. But there was only one Jedi aboard." Talan placed the object upon the bedside table. "I think you should have this."
Qui-Gon stared at the object with numb eyes.
It was the charred remains of a lightsaber.
Tears began to slide down Qui-Gon's face. Raw and unhindered. With a trembling hand he lifted the scorched cylinder.
The metal was cold beneath his fingertips as he gently wiped away some of the soot marring the once shiny surface. The ministrations confirmed what he already knew. Qui-Gon choked back a sob as the confirmation was burned into his heart.
The saber was Obi-Wan's. If he were blind he would know it.
Qui-Gon clutched the blackened hilt to his constricted chest and wrapped his numb fingers about it. The very centre of his world was gone and now the rest of it was collapsing into the vacuum that it had created. His body began to tremble from the force of the shock.
Forgotten, Talan began to retreat, there was nothing more he could say or do that would help. The Master now needed time to come to terms with what had happened. Time and space.
Turning he walked from the room, leaving Qui-Gon alone with his grief and all that remained of his Padawan.
Three days went by but Qui-Gon barely noticed, he just lay staring at the floor or the wall with no real awareness of the passage of time.
He wasn't even aware that his body was healing against his will. But by the fourth day the healers declared that he was well enough to leave their care.
But Qui-Gon did not wish to leave. He did not want to face the Temple outside. The memories it held. The sympathetic looks.
Even the healer's wing seemed to hold too many memories.
Qui-Gon had steadfastly kept his gaze away from the empty chair beside his bed. If he looked at it he feared he would crack and lose the mask of composure he had so struggled to build over these past days. He would not let them see him brake down again.
And if he couldn't face a chair, how could he return to their— to his quarters.
At first the healers relented out of sympathy but as the days rolled on they decided that enough was enough and that it was time Qui-Gon faced the world outside. Accepting his loss like any Jedi would. There was no death.
And so Qui-Gon now faced the doors that would release him into the Temple beyond.
Even now he hesitated. His trembling palm hovering uncertainly over the lock. But he could not put it off any longer. As the healers had said, he was a Jedi. It was time to start acting like one.
Drawing a deep breath into reluctant lungs, Qui-Gon palmed the door open. And with his entire being screaming beneath a skin of composure he stepped into the passageway beyond.
It was mid-afternoon and the Temple corridors were busy. Everything looked familiar and as it should. Except to Qui-Gon's eyes nothing would ever be the same again. All the beauty was diminished, the soul taken away.
He resented the normality around him. How dare life go on as if nothing had happened. As if Obi-Wan had not been stolen away from him in a pointless attack. But of course it did no matter what he wished.
Knights strolled by going about their daily business. Carefree younglings rushed past on the way to their next classes, laughing and gaming joyfully, evading for the moment the stern looks of their Masters.
And it seemed that every where he looked, every place he saw held some memory of Obi-Wan. There. A window where they had once stood together, watching the sun set after surviving a particularly dangerous mission, just savouring the gift of being alive. And there. A place where Obi-Wan had greeted him after he had been away on a long solo assignment.
He could almost see his Padawan there now. Blue-green eyes lit with that understated joy at seeing his Master safely returned.
So strong was that sight in Qui-Gon's mind that every thing else seemed to fade away for a moment and he found himself taking an unconscious step forward—
Qui-Gon flinched and blinked. Trembling he came back to himself. His hungry sight cleared and the space before him was as cold and empty as it had ever been. His Padawan was not there. And never would be again.
Qui-Gon could take it no longer. Ignoring the speaker and regardless of the stares he drew, he pulled his hood down over his face so that it prevented him from seeing anything but the ground upon which he forced his feet to walk.
Over the next days Qui-Gon haunted the Temple like a lost spirit. Day and night.
Pointless and meaningless hours spent in blank, empty existence. Minute after minute in which he could find nothing to do but grieve for Obi-Wan and count off the minutes that he had spent without him.
Existing, merely existing. Mourning so deeply he was barely taking care of himself
He didn't dare return to his quarters. Or sleep. Flames lurked behind his closed lids waiting to strike. And a voice, crying out for him until it was cut dead. A voice he would have given his own life to save.
A voice he had failed. And because of that he would never hear it again.
Why had he not foreseen something? Done something different. Kept Obi-Wan back for a moment longer. Run faster.
He tortured himself ruthlessly with these questions. Thrusting himself onto the sharpened knife of his own guilt, because it was preferable to all the other shards of pain he was feeling.
Worst of all was that Obi-Wan had known. His Padawan had told him that he felt something was amiss. But he had not really paid attention. He had still let him go. Now Obi-Wan was dead, his body reduced to ash and dust. Like Qui-Gon's own heart. Both lost to the same inferno.
A choked sob escaped his throat. Qui-Gon had never needed anything as much as he needed Obi-Wan, here, now. But he was not there.
Another sob hitched in Qui-Gon's throat as he remembered the excruciating moment when he had felt his Padawan's life-force torn from him, the harsh rupturing of their bond, the emptiness that had replaced the profound connection he and Obi-Wan had shared. Gone. Forever.
And so Qui-Gon wandered. Existing. Merely existing and not caring where he ended up.
Finally in an hour close to dawn, two days since he had left the healers, Qui-Gon found himself standing next to a long arched window overlooking the city below. Wearily he leaned against it, distantly welcoming the cool glass against his tired face. Outside the endless Coruscant traffic streamed past and the hypnotic lights mesmerized his hollowed eyes.
Maybe it was his weariness that made him less alert or maybe it was the numb void he had fallen into. But for whatever reason, the soft touch to his shoulder made him start. He had not been aware of any approach.
Qui-Gon kept his eyes on the view outside, hoping the other Master would take the hint and leave. He did not want company.
No such luck.
"Qui-Gon." The tone gained a bite of command.
Slowly Qui-Gon turned his gaze on the council member. Lifeless eyes settled on the dark face half hidden by shadows.
Whatever Mace had expected, what he actually saw appeared to shock him. "You look terrible."
Qui-Gon's smile was bitter. "Surprised?"
Mace chose not to answer. Instead he moved to the window so he could look out with Qui-Gon. "I am sorry about Obi-Wan," he said after a moment. "His death came as a great shock and is a terrible loss to the Jedi. I know Yoda always saw a great deal in him. He will be sorely missed."
Qui-Gon closed his eyes to shield against the tears. Sorely missed? Was that all? When Qui-Gon had a gaping wound inside him so big he wasn't sure he could survive it.
Mace watched him carefully. "Have you been back to your quarters since you left the healer's wing."
Mace sighed. "You need to rest, Qui-Gon. The Council is very concerned for your well being. Go back to your quarters."
Qui-Gon wanted to retort that he didn't care what the council thought. "I can't—"
"Why?" Mace pried. "Because it will remind you of Obi-Wan?"
Heart laid bare, Qui-Gon hung his head and Mace had his answer.
"Then go back and remember, Qui-Gon. You can't go on like this. I'm sure Obi-Wan would not want you to look back in pain. He would not want to see you like this. Wandering the halls gnawing on your grief and regret. He would want you to be happy."
Anger flared inside Qui-Gon and he wanted to snap back, to ask how he could possibly be happy now that Obi-Wan was gone.
But Mace did not allow him to start. "Go home, Qui-Gon," he ordered. "You cannot run forever." With that he strode smartly away before Qui-Gon could react.
Hours later Qui-Gon found that his treacherous feet had indeed brought him home to his quarters. He stopped and stared at the door for a long time. He was not ready to enter.
He was angry at Mace for insisting that he return. He could not take the emptiness he would find within. Without Obi-Wan the rooms would be just a shell, robbed of life.
But underneath all the broiling emotion he knew the Council Member was right.
He could not run forever.
Steeling his heart, Qui-Gon opened the door.
The morning sun was streaming though the far window, bathing everything in what should have been a warm, welcoming light. But to Qui-Gon it was a harsh light, a mocking light, there to highlight everything he did not wish to see with a cruel sharpness.
At this point he almost retreated. Almost turned and left. But somehow he stopped himself.
Gathering the courage that had seen him through a thousand hardships Qui-Gon stepped inside.
And instantly regretted it.
The sight was worse than he had ever imagined.
Nine years of memories with Obi-Wan seemed to seep from the very pores of the room. Memories of tears and laughter, of welcome and farewell, of joys and sorrows all playing out in a terrible dance before his mind's eye.
And worst of all he realised that he had not cleared up after the morning that they had left for the transport. The plates from their breakfast still stood upon the table. The last breakfast Obi-Wan had ever made. Two mugs were still set out by the kettle. And there on the floor lay two cushions.
The very cushions that Obi-Wan had thrown at him on the morning of their parting.
Qui-Gon began to shake. He missed his Padawan so much it physically hurt.
He was glad of the tears that now blurred his vision. Every gleaming shard of his shattered soul bleeding from his eyes to block out the sight that was killing him as surely as if someone had driven a saber through his heart.
The shaking got worst until he lost the last shred of control he had fought for and he collapsed to his knees upon the floor. Obi-Wan's last cry echoed through him. Calling for him. And he would never get there.
It was too much to bare and he began to keen his loss to the emptiness.
Anyone listening to those raw cries would not have thought they listened to the voice of a Jedi Master or the voice of a hardened warrior, but rather to that of a broken man.
A broken man who had forever lost his best friend.