Bail moved away to give them privacy, lying down on his back in the grass, staring up at the sky and remembering the first time Obi-Wan had come to Alderaan. One afternoon they had lain together in the grass, and that had led to…well, in a way it had led them to where they were here and now. Closing his eyes, he could almost feel Obi-Wan touching him again, fiery lips and warm hands against his cool skin. Bail shuddered again in delicious memory, then opened his eyes, looking at the bright clouds overhead. How long ago had that been? Five years? That was plenty long enough. More than enough, really.
He watched the clouds as they skittered across the sky. There was nothing before him but open, endless expanse. A bright curtain of blue, behind which hid an infinite number of stars and worlds and people, many of them with far more troubles than Bail. He was blessed, and he knew it. A loving family, an endless parade of friends from all walks of life, meaningful work that he enjoyed, a homeworld he adored. Obi-Wan, like a shining gem in his life. And now Anakin, the little brother he had always wanted. He was wealthy in all the ways that truly mattered. He was happy, even now. Everything was fine. More than fine, it was good.
He lay in the grass for a timeless eternity, feeling his happiness, and his grief, too. Look at the sky, watch the clouds. Breathe out the sadness, breathe in joy, a variation of the meditation Obi-Wan had once taught him. Let it go. We cannot hold on to anything. We must open our hands. Only then can we receive what life gives us. He spread his hands out on the grass, palm up. If he fell, he fell. If he caught something, he would be ready. The sky above him was clear and bright, like a smile, full of promise.
Without warning a little bundle wrapped in beige leaped on his stomach, forcing the air out of his lungs with a loud, "Oof!"
"Are you asleep, manu-bai?" Anakin asked, his tears dried and all but forgotten.
"I was," Bail wheezed. "Then you fell out of the sky."
Another face appeared within Bail's circle of vision. "Have a care, Anakin," Obi-Wan scolded. "Don't hurt him."
Anakin lay across Bail, elbows digging into his chest. "Did I hurt you?"
"Let's just say it's a good thing I haven't eaten lunch yet."
"Oh, sorry," Anakin offered. "So – are we gonna eat lunch now?"
Bail laughed, sitting up and gathering the boy into a tight hug. "Anywhere you want to go, ti-bai!"
Anakin happily returned the hug, wrapping his arms around Bail's neck. He was still enough affected by his earlier bout of emotion to welcome Bail's display of affection. "You pick someplace. You always pick good stuff."
Bail hesitated. He could suggest something, but it would just be a place to eat. Why not give it meaning? Why not make it into a way to remember the man both Obi-Wan and Anakin missed so much? Neither of them would suggest it on their own, but Bail could suggest it for them. It was a small sacrifice for him to make, and by now he was getting good at it.
He glanced up at Obi-Wan. "How about we find something that Qui-Gon would have liked?" Anything for you, my Bendu. I'll give you anything you ever ask, no matter what it costs me.
"An excellent idea," Obi-Wan answered with a smile, and his pleasure at the suggestion warmed Bail's heart. "I know just the place."
He took them to a small café fronting one of the canals, where they found a table next to the water. Anakin leaned on the back of his chair watching for silver fish, prompting Obi-Wan to keep a close eye on him lest he tip over and fall in. With a lacy canopy of trees for shade and a cool breeze coming from the river, it was an ideal dining spot. Obi-Wan told stories about the times he and Qui-Gon had dined at this same café, on those rare occasions when they had visited Alderaan together. Anakin piped up with tales of Qui-Gon's brief stay on Tatooine, how he had run circles around Watto, charmed his mother and amazed all his friends. He also recounted the Master's battle on Tatooine with the Sith, with rather too much zeal for Obi-Wan's taste, reminding him of the latter duel, but he permitted Anakin his hero-worship of Qui-Gon. It eased his soul to hear his Master raved about with such enthusiasm. Even Bail shared his few tales of Qui-Gon, though in five years of acquaintance he scarcely knew the Master better than Anakin did.
In the afternoon they returned home to swim, thereby rounding out what Anakin would consider a perfect day. They kept him in the river long enough to wear him out thoroughly, so by dinnertime he could scarcely stay awake long enough to tell Papa Vil and Mimi all about his holiday.
"Did you enjoy the gardens?" Mimi asked.
"It was rugged!" Anakin gushed, his enthusiasm temporarily overriding his sleepiness. "So many plants. I never saw so many kinds in my life! I liked those yellow flowers best. They tasted good."
Mimi shook her head at her son. "Bail!"
"What?" Bail protested, affecting innocence. "Why are you looking at me?" All three of the adults gave him a reproving look. With a sheepish grin, he shrugged, "All right. Stupid question."
"And we played on the grass!" Anakin interjected, bringing the center of attention back to himself. "So much grass, all over the place. You never saw so much grass. And Master taught me how to do a back-flip off the dock. Here, I mean. And I saw fish in the river. I mean, where we ate lunch."
Anakin prattled on and on, even as his eyelids began to droop and his words were punctuated with yawns. When he became all but unintelligible, Obi-Wan finally stopped him. "I think it's time you went to bed, Padawan."
Anakin's sleepy eyes almost woke up as on principle he protested, "But it's so early!"
"No argument," Obi-Wan stated firmly. "I'll help put you to bed."
"I'm not a baby," Anakin grumbled.
A month ago their exchange would have been tense, challenging, even hostile, but all that was gone. Their argument was more of a teasing display. Obi-Wan would order, but he would do so with affection. Anakin would complain, but he would obey. They were no longer two people bound together despite their will. They were a pair, a team. A master and an apprentice.
Anakin went in turn to each of the Organas, bestowing hugs and kisses on them, before moving to Obi-Wan's chair. He hesitated a moment, then threw his arms around the Jedi's neck. Obi-Wan wrapped his arms around the boy, hugging him tightly, then drew back, ruffling his hair. "You'd better redo your braid before you go to bed," he counseled. "It's a mess from the swim, and if you sleep with it like that, it will become so tangled we'll have to cut it off in the morning, and that just won't do at all."
"You do it," Anakin prompted.
Obi-Wan looked over at Bail with an impish smile. "I don't suppose by any chance you have a comb on you?"
"Now why would you think that?" Bail retorted as he produced one from his pocket.
The family watched in silence as Obi-Wan undid Anakin's braid and carefully smoothed out the tangles, and all the time Anakin's eyes never left Obi-Wan's face. Nor, for that matter, did Bail's. He couldn't help but be reminded of a time once when Obi-Wan had woven a braid for him. But he could no longer resent Anakin's presence. The boy needed Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan, in turn, needed Anakin. Bail did not resent that at all.
Obi-Wan rewove the braid, then handed the bead to Anakin. "Don't lose it."
Anakin clutched the bead tightly in his fist. "I won't, Master." He hesitated again, then stood on his toes and quickly kissed Obi-Wan's cheek, the kiss he could no longer give to his mother.
Obi-Wan smiled and rested his hand briefly on the top of Anakin's head. Qui-Gon's gesture. "Good night, Padawan."
With a final wave to the Organas, Anakin left for bed.
For a moment, no one said anything, strangely moved by such an ordinary little exchange. At last Bail broke the silence. "It seems we get our choli early tonight." He stood and stretched, gesturing in invitation to Obi-Wan. "Shall we?"
The young men stood, bidding the elder Organas good night. They fetched their choli from the kitchen and returned to Bail's room. As they settled on the couch, Bail teased, "Do you have any idea how cute you are when you're being parental?"
Obi-Wan gave him an affectionate glare. "I think that's the first time I've seen that boy completely worn out."
"I'm not surprised," Bail remarked. "Swimming always puts me to sleep, too."
Obi-Wan arched an eyebrow at
him. "You had better not nod off. You realize we actually have the whole
evening to ourselves?"
"In that case, I'll do my best to stay awake."
"Oh, I'll make sure you do," Obi-Wan answered, and Bail felt an eager little thrill, almost like old times. He permitted himself a moment of nostalgia before setting it resolutely aside.
Obi-Wan leaned forward and set his mug on the table, his expression turning serious. He ran his hand along the smooth edge of the table, stroking the wood. "I want to thank you," he said at last, not looking up. "For letting us come here. For being so good to Anakin, and so patient with me."
His eyes rose to meet Bail's. In the half-light of the room, they appeared strangely dark. Bail feared he would be drawn into their depths and never escape. Without the braid, without his padawan tail, with his eyes so dark and deep, Bail almost couldn't recognize him. He shifted awkwardly on the couch. "Don't be ridiculous," he dismissed.
"No, really, Bail." Obi-Wan hesitated. "It was a lot to ask of you. I've been moody and preoccupied." He bit his lip and looked away, breaking the spell.
Bail didn't want this. Why should he be thanked for being a friend? Obi-Wan's gratitude disturbed him. "You've been through a lot lately," he offered, hoping to deflect Obi-Wan's thanks.
For a long moment Obi-Wan remained silent. Then slowly, as if he had to struggle to find the words, he said, "I confess it has been difficult for me. We are supposed to be prepared for death, but…." He trailed off, and Bail feared he might start to cry, but he did not. When he looked up again at Bail, his eyes were bright but dry. "What you did last night, Bail – I really needed that. Things were so stressful between us those last few days, and we never had time to talk about it. I know he never intended to hurt me, but it did hurt. It felt like rejection. I know I should be able to deal with it, but…."
Bail reached out and lay a comforting hand on Obi-Wan's knee. "You may be a Jedi, but you're human first. There are some things we can always stand to hear one more time. I merely said what Qui-Gon would have told you if he could."
"I know," Obi-wan said with a little smile that made Bail's heart ache. "I truly believe it." He raised his hand to cup Bail's cheek, thumb brushing softly over Bail's cheekbone.
Bail held perfectly still, letting go of any expectation, just receiving the touch. Only a touch, but it was still good. He focused on the sensations, fixing this moment in his memory, the warmth of Obi-Wan's hand, the rough scrape of his calloused thumb across Bail's skin. So amazing, that one little gesture could hold so much meaning. He smiled.
Obi-Wan's lips twitched in an answering grin. "I think it's high time I thanked you properly for your hospitality, your Highness."
Bail's smile vanished. Obi-Wan leaned in close, but Bail drew back. "You don't have to do this," he hastily mumbled.
Obi-Wan blinked in confusion. "What?"
Bail retreated further back along the couch. "Really, I'm not expecting anything."
"Expecting?" Obi-Wan echoed. "What do you mean?"
"Things have changed. I know that. They can't go on the way they did before."
Now it was Obi-Wan's turn to
lean back, his eyes clouded with confusion.
"And why not?"
Obi-Wan's obtuseness was beginning to irritate Bail. Why did he pretend like he didn't know? "You have Anakin now," he pointed out, dodging the issue.
Shaking his head, Obi-Wan laughed. "What does that have to do with it? Honestly, Bail, I know he's been sleeping with me lately, but he's only nine years old. He's my padawan, not my boyfriend. There's no need for you to be jealous."
It sounded so absurd when Obi-Wan said it like that. Bail bowed his head, feeling very foolish, but he couldn't help it. "I'm not jealous," he feebly protested.
Obi-Wan frowned, suppressing a twinge of irritation. "Look, I'm sorry I didn't show up here ready to jump into bed with you. I've been through a lot lately. It sort of kills the libido."
"I know that," Bail interrupted.
Obi-Wan hesitated, studying
him closely. "Then why do you think my
feelings would have changed?"
"I don't think they've changed," Bail murmured, avoiding Obi-Wan's inquiring gaze. "But he isn't here anymore to insist you go out with me."
For the space of a heartbeat, Obi-Wan froze. Then he exploded in unexpected anger. "I don't believe it! It's not Anakin you're jealous of, it's Qui-Gon! How many times do we have to go over this? Why do you think I came here, of all places?"
Still not looking at him, Bail whispered, "Because you have nowhere else to go."
"You still think you're my second choice." Obi-Wan grabbed Bail's chin, forcing the Prince to look at him. "What do I have to do to convince you that I really do love you? What will it take for you to believe me?"
Bail wrenched his chin free of Obi-Wan's grip. He didn't know how to answer. He didn't know why he couldn't believe it. He just couldn't, no matter how much his heart desired it.
Slowly Obi-Wan shook his head. Bail glanced back at him and saw a fierce expression in the Jedi's eyes. "No," Obi-Wan pronounced. "I don't think I need to convince you. After all we've been through, I'm not the one who needs to prove myself. I think you need to convince me."
Bail stared at him wide-eyed, too stunned to contradict. This didn't seem right, somehow. After all, he wasn't the one who had always professed undying love for another. And yet Obi-Wan's demand gave Bail a bizarre sense of hope. After all, Obi-Wan had asked so little of him in their five years together. Proving his love for Obi-Wan would be easy, but… "How?"
Obi-Wan took a deep breath and held it for a moment, his expression determined. Then he released the breath and said, "You always told me that even though you were going out with other people, I was your Number One. You even wanted to get some stupid tattoo of my name at one point, as if that would prove anything to me. Well, I want to be your only one." He paused uncertainly. "I want you to give up your other lovers."
Bail froze. Of all the things Obi-Wan might ever have asked of him, somehow this was the last thing Bail had expected. In truth, ever since his ordeal on Ithgar he'd all but given up other lovers anyway. Casual sex had lost its appeal. But he had never told Obi-Wan that.
It was strange, really. Back in the beginning, neither of them had been looking for a relationship. They had embarked on an affair that they hadn't expected would last long. And now here they were, five years later. They had been through a lot together, and yet after all this time they still had so much trouble talking about it. Pathetic, really, if you thought about it. But so what? Feeling a little giddy, Bail said, "I was beginning to think you'd never ask."
Obi-Wan frowned slightly, getting that little crease between his eyebrows that Bail loved so much. "I was rather hoping I wouldn't have to."
"I know." Bail grinned. He was starting to feel very happy. "Sorry about that."
"So…." Obi-Wan hesitated. "Will you?"
"Of course," Bail replied, wrapping his arms around Obi-Wan's neck. "All you ever had to do was ask."
Obi-Wan's arms slid around Bail's waist. "I guess we're both rather silly, aren't we?"
"I'll say," Bail agreed, leaning in for a kiss. But before their lips could meet, he pulled back again. "If I'm going to give up something, I think it's only fair you should grant me something in return."
Cautiously, Obi-Wan asked, "What?"
"Since you're going to be my one and only, I want that tattoo. I want to bear your mark forever." He pointed to the inside of his right wrist, tapping with his finger. "Right here. O-B-1. My one and Obi."
Obi-Wan paused. The issue of that tattoo had come up after one of their arguments, not entirely unlike this one, except Obi-Wan had been the insecure one that time, jealous of Bail's other lovers. Bail had offered to get a tattoo, making some absurd claim that it would prove Obi-Wan was his Number One. Tattoos had suddenly become fashionable among Coruscant's trendsetters, and Obi-Wan had stoutly refused, saying he didn't want his name to become a sort of bizarre cosmetic. In truth it had seemed too permanent at the time, a commitment he had not been willing to make. But he was ready now. "All right," he relented, "but only if you agree to stop making those stupid puns."
Bail beamed. "Whatever you say, Obi-wonderful." He laughed against Obi-Wan's cheek. "Obi-mine."
"Stop that," Obi-Wan grumbled, putting on a show of offense, but his arms tightened around Bail's waist. "Well, if you're going to mutilate yourself with some ridiculous tattoo, I suppose I should get one, too. But not on my wrist. Some place a little less visible."
Bail's lips curled into a sly smile. "Some place only I will ever see?"
"Well," Obi-Wan smirked, "you and the healers."
Bail laughed in delight, all the sorrows of the past few weeks finally lifting like the morning fog. "Seeing as how you cut off the braid that was my love token, it's only right you should get a tattoo in exchange."
They leaned toward each other, ready for their kiss now. It was long overdue, but it was all the sweeter for the wait.
And just like that, things were mended between them. The door that had closed opened once more. Joy fell out of the sky, as it had on that gray afternoon five years ago. Still uncertain, still tentative in many ways. They probably hadn't learned as much as they should have over the past half-decade, but they had managed to learn a few things, such as the fact that life could be full of tragedy. The injustice of an abused child. A people starved and oppressed for others' financial gain. Loved ones dying unexpectedly. Harsh words one could never take back.
Hearts bleed and weep and grieve, but the greatest miracle is that they can also mend. They can love again. That which has unraveled can be rewoven.
Author's note: Thanks to everyone who took the time review. I appreciate it, and I'm glad you enjoyed the story!