torch, October-December 1999

Disclaimer: this is not the way it will eventually happen. Thanks to Yahtzee for support and constructive criticism, elynross for commas and good advice, Nonie for encouragement, Anne for intelligent feedback and C for words and for being her sweet sarcastic self. :-) All errors are mine, mine, mine. Do not archive this story without permission.

Whispers, remains

"You're not going outside again?"

Obi-Wan turned, one hand on the tent flap, to look back at Daris, who was kneeling in a tangle of blankets and covers, trying to turn them into a makeshift bed. "I need some fresh air."

"Don't be too long," Daris looked as though he regretted the words as soon as they were out.

Obi-Wan looked down, tucking his hair back behind one ear, as though he were thinking about it, and then looked back up again, ashamed at the pretence. "Don't wait up for me," he said softly and ducked out before he could see any answer to that in Daris' worried honey-colored eyes.

He tugged his hood up and wandered off towards the center of the camp, safely anonymous wearing robes and shadows, taking care not to stumble on any tent lines, and not to think about what he was walking away from.

Sometimes he thought of his heart as a hibernating animal, sleeping dreamlessly deep in the cave of his chest. It had been a long winter, and there were no signs of spring.

Frosted grass crackled under his boots. It was a cold night, cold and dark. There were so few stars here, only distant glimmers in the sky, and down in this hidden valley on a desolate planet at the edge of the galaxy, the last fire was going out. He tucked his hands into his sleeves and sat down on a log, staring at what was left, watching the glow of red and orange turn to grey and fade into ashes. Around him the camp was settling in for the night, growing quiet. There would be peace, he could stay out here all night and meditate.

The coward's way out, he told himself softly, watching his breath cloud and then fade away. Don't think, meditate. Don't think about where you are and what you'll be doing come morning. Don't think about who you are—

Even if he had known who he was. He had been so many things. Identities collected like shells on a beach, treated roughly, broken one by one. Student, teacher, object lesson. Padawan, knight, master, failure. Diplomat, peacekeeper, general, refugee. Now he was a lonely man sitting in the dark, wearing the robes of the order that had raised him and trained him over the uniform of an army he had led to defeat, sifting through the fragments of his past in the hope that they still held something of value. The night was eerily silent. He could hear his own heart beat. If he found something, would he even recognize it any more?

He had been so many things, too many things, but not a lover, never that, no matter what his body had done over the years. Thinking of Daris waiting in the tent, he felt sadness and a kind of tired shame. Daris was trying so hard to love him. It wasn't Daris' fault that love was nearly impossible to see in the darkness that had fallen over the universe. It wasn't Daris' fault that love had died the silent death of things unacknowledged and unspoken, many years ago, in a lightsaber battle on Naboo.

There was a rustle, the clack of a stick on hard ground, and then he had company on his log. They shared the silence and the stars. The force hummed faintly between them, the gentle resonance of friendship and respect dimmed by fatigue.

"Lose, we will." Yoda's voice was only an echo of itself, distant, fading. "Forgotten, we will be, Obi-Wan."

He sighed. "Is that all that's left? Is that the future you see?" It was as though he could see his words written in the fine white mist of breath, for just a moment. "Then we may as well not attack tomorrow. Dead, we will be, Master Yoda. As dead as—" Breaking off, he stared at the invisible treeline beyond the camp.

A short dry rattle that might have been a laugh or a cough. "Miss him you do, hmm?" Trust Yoda to hear every unspoken word in the conversation. "So do I."

Obi-Wan pushed his hood back and turned a little sideways, studying Yoda, taking in the slumped posture and the drooping ears. He wanted to say many things — that Qui-Gon had been wrong, that this was all Qui-Gon's fault, that he wished he had died instead, on that day, rather than having to live to see the end of an era and the ruin of every hope. Instead he found himself saying, unexpectedly, "I'm glad he didn't have to go through this."

"There is no death," Yoda reminded him with the barest flick of an ear-tip.

"Only the force," Obi-Wan said with a sigh. "Do you think he's ghosting around out there somewhere, then," he waved a hand at the faint few stars, "watching us?"

It wasn't a new thought, but he had never been able to make himself believe it. Touching the force, he had never felt any uncanny closeness, any echo of his master's once so familiar presence. Nothing. From the moment of Qui-Gon's death, there had been absolute silence in a part of Obi-Wan's mind, in a part of his soul.

"No," Yoda said, an unexpectedly short and simple answer.

Obi-Wan nodded. "Good," he said, and it came out more harshly than he'd thought. "I'd hate to think I could be facing an angry spirit ready to tell me off for all I did wrong in training the chosen one."

"Think you that things would have been different if Qui-Gon had lived?" Yoda thumped his stick against the log, half-heartedly. "There was darkness in the boy. Sensed it from the beginning, I did."

It was an old argument, and Obi-Wan was used to finding himself on either side of it depending on where it got started, defending Qui-Gon's beliefs, defending his own fears, or just thinking helplessly about predestination, about free will, about the force.

"Always in motion, the future is," he said, with an edge to it, and Yoda looked at him and pursed his mouth in disagreeing agreement. Such an old argument, they could distill down to a few sentences what might once have taken up the best part of an hour; could argue each other's side with ease.

Now Yoda opened one small hand as if releasing something into the cold night air, letting this particular discussion go. This was the wrong night for it. This might be the last night for both of them. "Live in the present we must," Yoda said. "Qui-Gon would tell us so." He rapped Obi-Wan's knee with his cane. "What is in your present, hmmm?"

Darkness, Obi-Wan thought, watching the sky, feeling the night lie heavy over him. The moment, the present, seemed nothing but a needle-sharp balancing point between the regrets of the past and the dangers of the future. The things he had never done, the things he would have to do. On the verge of being swept away by worries, by might-have-beens, he breathed deeply and tried again.

And saw, when his inner vision cleared, a pale silver-furred face, troubled honey-yellow eyes.

"Bruises," he said, and rubbed at his knee. "I thought I would stay up and meditate tonight..."

Yoda shook his head. "Need rest, you do."

"It feels wrong to sleep when—"

"Rest," another bruise was added to his collection. "Give orders you can, but follow them, you cannot! Go to your tent."

"Yes, master," he murmured, and touched Yoda's shoulder lightly before getting to his feet. The fire had gone out; the chill of the night tasted sharp on his tongue. Obi-Wan sent a tendril of force to cocoon the old master against the cold, and walked off along the row of tents. He hoped everyone was wrapped up warmly tonight, in thermal blankets, in the force, in each others' arms.

In the distance the forest whispered, the creak and shush of wind playing through bare branches. Obi-Wan reached his tent and stood outside it for a moment, aware of the entire encampment spread out around him, every living soul singing a quiet force song. Alive for now, alive until the next day, when they would be led into battle yet again. He'd never thought of himself as a leader. Somehow, he'd just found himself in that position, stepping in to do something that needed to be done. And tomorrow he would do it again. But tonight—

He ducked his head and went inside. The tent was dimly lit by an orange glowcone set on top of a box of supplies. Daris was curled up in the nest of bedclothes, strands of white hair spilling out over a khaki blanket. Obi-Wan tied the tent flap securely shut to keep the wind out and shrugged out of his robe. The air was warmer here than outside, at least: the glowcone gave a little heat as well as light. Unhooking his lightsaber, he laid it down next to Daris'. He folded the robe and put it over a rickety camp chair, and turned his head to find Daris awake and watching him.

Obi-Wan went on undressing, pulling off his uniform tunic, unbuckling his boots. He was folding his trousers when Daris said, quietly, "I thought you weren't coming back."

Naked now, skin pebbled with cold-shivers, Obi-Wan turned to kneel by the makeshift bed and tug at an edge of the covers. They parted for him, and he slipped inside, into the warmth, into Daris' arms. Obi-Wan rubbed his cheek against velvet-soft fur and sighed. "I'm sorry." With his head resting on Daris' shoulder, he could feel the underlying tension. "I've been a little preoccupied lately."

"Yes," Daris agreed, even as he began to stroke Obi-Wan's hair, carding through it with long fingers. "Sometimes I don't know if you're really there, no matter how close you are."

Obi-Wan, knowing exactly what Daris meant, closed his eyes in guilt, and then opened them again. This time was too short to waste on silent self-recriminations. He had a moment, and he was going to live in it. Twisting his neck, he kissed Daris' pointed chin, the corner of his mouth, and then Daris turned his head and their mouths met, gently at first. Obi-Wan ran his hand down Daris' side, careful not to disarrange the blankets. He loved the sensation of short fur brushing his palm.

Sliding his hand over the narrow hip, he stroked his fingertips over the short tail, the dimple above it. Daris growled into his mouth. They writhed against each other, small, controlled movements, kissing and kissing. "I'm here," Obi-Wan whispered. Here and warm and excited, as Daris rubbed at his nipples. "I'm here."

It had been a long time, he realized, a long time since he had allowed himself to simply exist in the luxury of touch, and a long time since the two of them had touched like this. Daris was beautiful under his hands, all sleek fur and wiry muscles, and openly, generously eager. Obi-Wan sank into the heat of that eagerness and felt his own desire unfold to match it. Slow thrusts, hardness against hardness; no room for acrobatics in this makeshift bed. Obi-Wan buried his face in Daris' shoulder and breathed in deeply, musk and excitement. When they shifted and warm air rose from under the blankets he could smell himself, too, a sharper and more acrid scent, somehow more insistent.

Daris slipped lower, licking at Obi-Wan's chest. The raspy touch made him shiver, and at the same time he began to relax, willing himself to be there for Daris, present and touchable. It did feel good, the warm wet tongue, and the hands stroking his thighs, and the subtle caress that ran down his spine. He felt wrapped up in an almost tangible sense of caring, a pleasant mix of lust and affection. It was holding him, sheltering him more warmly than the blankets did. Suspended in the moment, in the sensation of Daris stroking him and teasing him into desire, he felt almost safe. A feeling that had been familiar once, then forgotten. Lips moving lower over his abdomen, hands stroking, careful rasp of claws up the inside of his leg, fingers tickling the small of his back—

Obi-Wan gasped. Safe and sheltered. That touch. It was as thinly fleeting as the starlight outside, yet it was unmistakable. He clenched his eyes shut, slammed his mind shut, felt every muscle tense up. It wasn't possible. It was the last thing he had expected. He felt Daris grow still, felt a hand on his stomach, rubbing in a small comforting circle. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I'm sorry." The connection had broken like a frost-stiffened stalk of grass. Obi-Wan felt shaken down to his bones.

Rustle of bedclothes and Daris moved up to lie along him, wrapping around him, holding him close. "You don't want to do this."

Slowly, Obi-Wan opened his eyes. He saw nothing but the dimly lit tent, Daris' eyes, full of equal amounts understanding and hurt. He lifted a hand to stroke Daris' silky hair. "I do. I just—" There was no way he could explain it. How could he explain the presence of a dead man? "I'm sorry," he repeated, and kissed Daris again, willing himself to feel nothing but the sweetness of that kiss and the desire it woke in him.

He did want to do this, felt himself responding swiftly to the kiss, his body picking up where it had left off, ready to be pleased. And the pleasure, once again, acted like a drug on his overstrained nerves. He was shivery, needy, uncharacteristically passive. Clinging to Daris until his hands were peeled away, until he was held down as Daris stroked and scratched him, one hand teasing his nipples, the other stroking the back of his knees. Raspy tongue at the top of his thigh, moving in closer to where he wanted it. He wanted to move, to reciprocate.

And then he felt it again, that touch, the brush of something that wasn't there. Obi-Wan cursed under his breath.

Invisible kisses on the back of his neck. A single finger dancing down his spine. He shook his head in denial, then gasped as Daris began to lick at his erection with the lightest and most delicate of strokes. No. No, not real. Not the hands, those other hands, stroking him, and not the teeth grazing the back of his thigh. Not the tongue working its way up, not the fingers spreading him wider, and at the same time Daris sucked him in, raspy heat and wetness, and he whimpered. Shook his head again, because he had to move, because this felt too good and it couldn't be happening.

There was no tongue licking and stabbing at him, no thick finger pressing inside, opening him up, making his hips jerk forward so that he was pushed deeply into Daris' hot mouth. There was nothing; after so many years, he wasn't feeling that familiar presence again, and certainly not like this. Green forcefire ran along his every nerve as the finger that wasn't there was joined by a second one. Obi-Wan clenched a hand into Daris' hair and felt a purr roll along the length of his cock. Not happening. If the force were truly moving in these currents, surely Daris would feel it too, would protest.

It felt so good. The deep suction, and that stroking inside. He rocked back and forth between the sensations, until something changed. There was a different pressure and he was stretched, impaled, oh

Not happening, his mind whispered, dazed. So many years of silence, of pain, when a single touch would have made all the difference, and now he got this, not happening, the warmth all along his back like that of a lover pressed close, not there. Obi-Wan cried out and pushed back, taking more of the thick hardness that wasn't pressing into him, was shoved forward by a deep thrust, fell into a compelling rhythm. He grasped Daris' head and felt an answering grip on his hip; Daris growled, moaned in pleasure as Obi-Wan fucked his mouth.

Throwing his head back, he could almost feel it resting on a broad shoulder. Could almost feel silky hair, longer than his own, falling forward over his throat. Obi-Wan made a desperate sound, half pain, and closed his eyes, giving himself over to what was happening, opening up to it. Daris, a smooth silvery glow, and a big shaft thrusting in over and over to claim him; the sweet heat of Daris' mouth sucking him in, and the strength and comfort of a mental touch he'd thought was lost to him forever.

"Yes," accepting it all, "yes, yes..."

He gave up control and let them take him, moaned as he was rocked between sensations. Filled, completely filled by force and pleasure. Fucked and sucked and loving every moment of it. His fingers would not give up their death grip on Daris' hair, but he angled his hand to rub his thumb around the rim of a sensitive ear, got a scrape of teeth like wicked lightning in return. When he tightened his muscles around the cock that was, wasn't, was sliding into him, there was a flare of response, and a deeper, harder thrust.

Tension built between them. Obi-Wan could feel it twining around him, silver and green, stroking him everywhere, inside and out. He was shuddering, his breath coming in short helpless gasps. Someone tugged at his nipples, someone stroked his balls, someone moaned, cried out. They wound around him, he wound around them, all tangled up and shaking with the pressure.

Yes, yes, his mind still babbled, yes, more, please, because there could not be enough of this, even as his nervous system overloaded and he was swept up on a wave of sensation so intense that everything went white. He clung to them, and then he was coming, and they were coming too, dragged along with him into the wildness of release, an explosion like nothing else he'd ever felt, orgasm of the soul as well as the body.

Yes — yes — oh, Qui-Gon

Coming down was like dying. Obi-Wan sobbed quietly. He knew it was wrong, and had almost managed to stop it by the time Daris recovered and crawled up to hold him. Soft kiss on his cheek, a husky whisper, "That was good." He could smell his own seed on Daris' breath.

"Yes." His voice wasn't as shaky as he'd thought it would be. "Daris, did you feel — in the force—"

Daris drew back to look at him. "Did I feel what in the force?" There was a glimmer of humor in the slanted eyes. "I felt you. You went off like a star going nova."

"You didn't feel anything else? Anything — besides us."

"No." Daris' eyes went sharp, and then a little distant; Obi-Wan could feel the stirrings as Daris traced the force currents. "Nothing. Do you think someone was eavesdropping?" More seriously, "You don't think we've been discovered?"

Obi-Wan shook his head and pulled Daris close, and they curled up together in their warm nest of blankets, shifting arms and legs, not getting quite comfortable. The glowcone seemed to burn more dimly now, and the tent was full of shadows. Outside the blankets, the temperature had dropped even more. Wind sang through the tent lines, strumming them like the strings of a discordant harp. After a while, Daris fell asleep. Obi-Wan lay still, looking up at the slanting roof of the tent, his mind a careful blank.

Daris didn't snore, but his sleeping breaths were loud and regular. Obi-Wan counted them for a while. He ran a finger along the edge of a blanket, feeling each coarse thread beneath his fingertip. He rested his cheek against the top of Daris' head and listened to the night.

Towards dawn, the wind died down again.

Obi-Wan moved slowly out of Daris' arms and got up, channeling a little force for warmth as he got dressed. He clipped the saber to his belt, pulled up the hood of his robe and slipped out of the tent. It was still dark outside and he went towards the treeline, stopping to relieve himself once he'd entered the woods.

In there, under the bare black branches, he couldn't even see any stars. Everything was silent and unfathomable and he had a sudden flash of something close to vertigo, feeling the planet beneath his feet swirl through space, a tiny drop of blue-green life against the vast blackness of the universe. So small. And he himself smaller still, utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Ready to lead the last of the Jedi towards whatever awaited them.

Perhaps his mind had made up a dream for him, something he'd wanted, something he'd needed. Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a long moment and opened them again. His heart might have played tricks on him, but his body was convinced it had been real. He felt numb inside, unable to choose between possibilities, unwilling to know the truth. He didn't know who he was, but in that moment, he knew that whatever the real answer was, he was a liar, deceiving himself, deceiving another. One more identity to add to the list. He wished he could strip himself down, find the self closest to the bone.

But there was no time for that now. Come morning, he'd do what he had to do. And if the force ever touched him again with invisible hands... he'd take what he could get. It had been a long winter.

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