Qui Gon stared at him, an affectionate expression on his face.
"Obi." He reached out and placed his hand on his old apprentice's shoulder. "It's been a while."
Obi Wan nodded, wondering why seeing his Master alive didn't feel so…strange. It felt normal, as though he had never passed on to the other side; as though he had spent every last second since his death right next to his apprentice.
"Yes…it has," was all he could say.
They began to walk, and as they did the whiteness around them melted away bit by bit to reveal their quarters.
Finally, after several long minutes of silence, Obi broke it and said, "It is good to see you again, Master, but…but why have you come back? Why now? Why…well, why not before when you had first passed on?"
Qui Gon shook his head.
"I honestly don't know. I do know, however, that I have been trying to reach you for quite some time…"
Obi Wan looked up at the older man in shock.
"You have? But if that's so, then why have I not heard you?"
Qui Gon simply shrugged and gave him a look that he was familiar with. It said, You're a smart young man. Figure it out. Obi spoke his thoughts out loud, needing to hear them to make proper sense of them, and to figure out why he hadn't heard his master trying to call to him.
"Well…I have been distraught. Ever since your death, my focus has not been what it once was. I have felt…off balance. Not in proper tune with the force. Of course," he added, trying to rationalize, "Both Master Yoda and Master Windu have said that that is to be expected…"
Qui Gon said nothing, shrugging his shoulders.
That meant, You're not thinking it through, Padawan.
He had spent his entire life around this man, and even as a spirit…or whatever he may be, he could still read his body language fluently.
Obi let out a frustrated huff of air and slid his hands into the opposite sleeves, so focused that he did not noticed the amused smile that crossed his Master's lips at the sight. His Padawan had been doing that gesture for years; he did it whenever he needed to think, and it was positively endearing.
The new Jedi Knight scoured his thoughts and memories of the past few weeks, trying to figure out what he had missed…
…and then he remembered something just from earlier that very day…
…Elsa gently squeezed his hand and in an uncharacteristic gesture, he firmly grasped it and ran down the corridor, ignoring the looks of the passersby, a faint tingling on the back of his neck.
It felt as though Master Qui Gon was still alive…watching; his eyes filled with light humor, smiling in approval, even though he shook his head at their juvenile actions. And something lingered in the back of his mind. His Master's voice, reassuring, and he felt as though he could hear him saying, "I am here, Obi Wan…I am here, waiting…"
But he shook it off, knowing that his Master was gone…
And he looked up at his old Master.
"You were there…" he said, his tone filled with wonder and amazement. "What I felt wasn't imagined…it was real. You were there!"
Qui Gon nodded, both of them slowing to a stop, their walk obviously finished, and he placed his hand on his old Padawan's shoulder once more, catching his eyes and holding his gaze, glad that he was finally being seen.
"Yes. I was."
They stood there, holding each other's gaze, and then Obi Wan dropped his eyes at the same time his Master dropped his hand from his shoulder, to which Qui Gon asked, "Obi Wan? What is troubling you?"
How easily his Master could still read him. Yes, something was troubling him, but he was ashamed to admit it.
He took a deep breath and then finally said, "Master Yoda and Master Windu also said other things, Master. About…about why I did not see you after you had…died. And…I'm afraid that they might be true, though I sorely wish that they weren't."
"What did they say?"
Qui Gon's voice was soft and not in the least bit accusing, and the words fell from Obi's lips.
"Master Yoda said that our bond was strong, but it that it was…tempestuous." A faint smile appeared on the corner of Qui Gon's lips, but, unseen by Obi Wan, Obi continued. "And Master Windu said…well, implied, that our bond was never truly as strong as it should have been. That you had not lingered because it was…weak. Because I was…weak."
The words fell flat on the air, and Qui Gon gently said, "Obi Wan. Look at me."
His Master then said something that he'd never expected to hear.
"They may be Masters of the force, but they are not always aware of the truth behind everything. Obi, our bond was deep…very deep. More so than is common with Masters and Padawans." He paused and gave him an inscrutable look and then continued. "While you were young, I was a sage old uncle to you. But, as you grew, so did our friendship…and our relationship."
He reached over and gently brushed his hair where Obi Wan's braid had once been, his fingers lingering.
"You were never a son to me, but you were never just another Padawan, either…you were simply Obi Wan. And our relationship…well, let's just say that it was…unconventional?"
Obi Wan chuckled and Qui Gon continued.
"Over the last year protecting the Queen, I grew to see you in a way that is probably not considered proper by any means. And I am not in the least bit surprised by the fact that neither Master Windu nor Master Yoda saw, or anticipated, this change in our relationship. And still, even after I have passed, they do not see it."
At this, Obi Wan looked slightly puzzled and Qui Gon explained it in the most honest of terms.
"I grew to love you, Obi…as a man would normally fall in love with a woman. Instead, however, it seems you were the one to capture my heart and affection…"
Hearing this, Obi's mouth gaped for a second, and then snapped shut, his hand coming up to it, his fingers resting against his lips. It was obvious to his Master that he was trying to reconcile the feelings that his Master had had for him when he'd been alive. Qui Gon would gladly give him all of the time that he needed.
Obi Wan turned away, noticing for a brief second that in their walk they had walked through their quarters…into Qui Gon's old sleeping chambers.
The room distracted him as it looked the same as it did when he was awake and not…wherever he was at the moment.
He couldn't believe what Qui Gon had just told him.
His Master loved him. And he didn't simply love him as a Master would towards his Padawan, or even as a friend, but as something more. And what made it all the more confusing was that his Master was dead. Gone. Into the Force. And yet Obi Wan found himself hoping against hope that somehow he could change that so that Qui Gon could be with him. That thought, however, made him realize his own feelings towards his Master.
When had this happened? And how had he not noticed it?
He glanced back at Qui Gon who had moved to the side of the 'room' and was gently running a hand over the spherical stone on the end table. It had been a gift from Obi on his birthday the previous year, and he'd kept by his bedside ever since.
As Obi Wan stared, he felt a surge of emotion in his chest.
He saw the soft, nostalgic smile on his Master's face as he looked at the present and gently lifted it in his hand, and then realized…
…he wanted him to look at him that way. With that affection, with that smile that seemed to glow in his eyes even when the rest of his face remained silent…with love. He wanted to be on the receiving end of it and wanted to return it, as well.
Oh, force…he was in love with him as well.