Actions

Work Header

Caffeinated Consciousness

Chapter Text

Messing Around

Chapter Track: "Us and Them" - Pink Floyd

 

It was 5:45 PM when Joaquin Gonzalez - or Qui-Gon, as he'd been called since his youth - was finally done... at least with anything he had to do on campus. The fifty-nine-year-old environmental sciences professor still had papers to grade, but that didn't have to be done here.

Qui-Gon was a creature of habit, and one of his usual routines was to visit Mountains of the Moon, a combination coffeehouse and hookah lounge, a few blocks away from the college. He was more of a tea drinker than a coffee drinker, but Mountains of the Moon had a great selection of tea, and he liked the atmosphere - Indian sari fabrics hung on the walls, displays of African sculptures, and framed pictures and autographs of various rock stars from the 1960s and 1970s, like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. Plus, the coffeehouse itself was named after a Grateful Dead song. It was a nice touch in 2018; Qui-Gon and one of his colleagues, Nicolae Dooku, who taught ancient history, were both products of the hippie era and lamented that kids these days forgot what real singing sounded like, with their Vocaloid and their Autotune. There wasn't much they had in common, otherwise, apart from both being transplants from the UK and being Bernie Sanders supporters.

Qui-Gon got in his yellow electric-converted vintage VW van and put on the classic rock station on his way to the coffeehouse. "Us and Them" by Pink Floyd was playing, and he found himself singing along. Winter was just beginning to thaw, but he still drove slowly and carefully, even when a driver behind him rode on his tail and beeped. The song was almost over when Qui-Gon pulled into the coffeehouse parking lot, and he waited until the end to shut off the engine and get out of the van, bringing his briefcase with him.

Qui-Gon sat at his usual table, which was near a grove of bonsai trees and an indoor waterfall. The coffeehouse was a bit crowded at this hour, but he was set on getting his tea. After he'd been waiting for close to five minutes, a barista approached his table. It wasn't one of the regulars Qui-Gon was used to seeing - he looked new. Painfully new.

He was also one of the most gorgeous specimens of male that Qui-Gon had ever laid eyes on. Short auburn hair, full beard, piercing blue eyes. Unfortunately dressed like a hipster, wearing a black scarf indoors, over a grey apron with the purple knotwork crescent moon and faux-illuminated-Celtic font logo of Mountains of the Moon, paisley mauve shirt with a plain black vest, and skinny jeans. The baristas all wore their own clothing instead of uniforms, but they had those aprons, and the name tags. This one said OBI.

Obi looked very much like he didn't want to be there. "What can I get for you?" he asked in a flat tone of voice.

"I'll have the citrus mint green tea," Qui-Gon said.

Obi nodded, jotted it down on a notepad, and walked off. When he did, Qui-Gon opened his briefcase and took out the stack of papers he needed to start grading. He wasn't really in the mood for it, but the papers weren't going to grade themselves, and there were a lot of them, so he had to start now. The coffeehouse was crowded enough that he waited awhile, and got deeply engrossed in his work, so much that he didn't notice when the barista came back...

...and accidentally made a mess all over the papers as he put the tea down.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Qui-Gon heard himself say - usually mild-mannered, not prone to lashing out, but this was a disaster.

"Oh, fuck, I'm sorry," the barista said, taking out napkins from his apron pocket, trying to wipe up the mess.

Qui-Gon spread out the wet papers and blotted them as best as he could, but already the ink was starting to streak. This was one of his worst nightmares come true. "Bloody hell."

"I'm sorry." The barista reached to blot the papers and Qui-Gon swatted his hands away, because rubbing at the wrong angle would streak the ink even more. "I'm so, so sorry."

There was barely any liquid left in the cup. Qui-Gon leaned back in his chair, facepalmed, and made dying whale noises. Then he realized some of the tea had dripped off the table onto his chinos, making him look like he wet his pants. The dying whale noises intensified.

Their eyes met. The barista looked genuinely terrified, and Qui-Gon forced himself to calm down and take a few deep breaths - this was just an accident, accidents happened. "I'm sorry," the barista said again.

"You've said that." Qui-Gon nodded.

"It's my first day." The barista looked down and ran a nervous hand through his hair. "I..." He swallowed hard.

Qui-Gon looked at the near-ruined papers, and sighed deeply.

The barista took off, and Qui-Gon desperately wanted to get out of there, just pack things up and go home, but he had to let these soggy papers dry before he put them back in his briefcase. He looked at them again - at least he could make out enough words to be able to guess anything that was too smudged, but this was ridiculously unprofessional, and it was his own damn fault for having them anywhere near liquid.

Qui-Gon had his face in his hands when the barista came back, alerting Qui-Gon to his presence with a clear of the throat. Qui-Gon peeked through his hands and saw the barista had another cup of tea, as well as a plate of two blueberry scones.

"On the house," he said, and set them down gently on the opposite end of the table.

That was good customer service, a nice save. Qui-Gon liked to thank his baristas by name, and as he pulled the cup and plate closer to him, he nodded and said, "Thank you, Odie."

The barista gave him a look that could peel paint off walls, and Qui-Gon then looked at his name tag and saw OBI again, and felt ashamed. Why did my brain turn that into Odie. What the fuck.

"Enjoy," Obi snapped in a way that very much suggested he did not want Qui-Gon to enjoy, and then he walked off again.

Qui-Gon felt like an ass - this had to be the young man's worst first day on a job anywhere - and it haunted him as he re-absorbed himself in grading papers. When he had finished his tea and scones and the papers were dry enough to safely go back in the briefcase, he went up to the counter to pay. Ahsoka, a young Indian-American woman who attended the college and worked at the coffeehouse part-time, handled his money, and when she gave him back his change he lingered. "Is Odie around? I'd like to hand him a tip personally."

Qui-Gon immediately facepalmed, and wanted to dissolve into the floor when he saw Obi's face peek out from the kitchen area behind the counter, glaring. HIS NAME IS NOT ODIE, he screamed at himself internally.

Obi stepped out, and Qui-Gon handed him a twenty, which was far more than the cost of his tea. Obi looked at it in disbelief.

"You tried," Qui-Gon said, patted Obi on the shoulder, and then hurried out of there.

It was dark now, the moon was out, and on a night like this Qui-Gon often liked to take a detour to drive through the park, appreciating the moonlight on the pond. But today he just went straight home. His green-eyed black cat, Fernando, greeted him at the door, acting like he hadn't seen Qui-Gon in fifty years. Qui-Gon went to the kitchen to feed him, Fernando trotting behind him meowing all the way, and once that was done, he heated up leftovers for himself.

But he didn't have much of an appetite, still feeling stressed out from the experience at the coffeehouse. And after dinner, when he changed from his rainbow tie-dye T-shirt, black tie with rainbow smiley faces on it, and chinos, into a set of soft, comfy red plaid flannel pajamas, he still felt keyed up. He took out the weighted blanket he used on days like this and wrapped himself in it as he took the papers back out of his briefcase and commenced to grade them. He managed to get through them all, and was tired enough to go right to bed when he was done, after brushing his teeth and his long, greying brown hair, where he kept some tied back and wore the rest down.

He did his usual routine of pausing at the framed picture of his late wife Tahlia, an African-American who'd been killed by a drunk driver five years and two months ago. He and Tahl were both pansexual and had an open marriage, though with their busy schedules as professors this was more in theory than in practice. He still missed Tahl with every fiber of his being, especially on days like today, when she would have responded to his stress with a foot rub and playing with his hair and making jokes and snuggling him.

He was tired of being alone, but he couldn't fathom how to change it. His prospects were limited locally in this small college town, and social networking to try to meet someone over the Internet was confusing and frightening to him.

He kissed his fingertips and pressed them to the frame, remembering Tahl. Love you, babe. He was spiritual, not religious, and believed she was probably in some kind of afterlife, and maybe they'd get another life together. Maybe they were still together in parallel universes. Those thoughts comforted him, most of the time, but tonight he was just sad. He didn't want to wait for another lifetime to find happiness again, and at fifty-nine years old it was increasingly feeling like that was all he could hope for.

Fernando hopped on the bed after he crawled in, and Qui-Gon pet the cat, soothed by the sound of Fernando's purrs. It was starting to rain, and that, too, helped lull him to sleep, glad this clusterfuck of a day was over.

Chapter Text

 

I Could Never Get the Hang of Thursdays

Chapter Track: "Happy" - Pharrell Williams





Qui-Gon was woken up just before his alarm, by Fernando climbing on him, stepping on his sternum, and meowing. Fernando batted his face, and then changed position - his back paws now on Qui-Gon's sternum - and the first sight Qui-Gon saw upon opening his bleary eyes was the cat's butthole.

"Thanks, Fernando, I really fucking needed to see that."

Fernando meowed more insistently, walking down as Qui-Gon sat up. Fernando got off the bed and walked towards the bedroom door and then paused there, giving Qui-Gon a look with another louder meow like he was saying Come on.

"Yes, I know it's been 84 years since you've had food." Qui-Gon yawned and stretched, and shut off his alarm, before stumbling out to the kitchen.

Today was one of those kinds of days in March where it wasn't quite winter but wasn't quite spring yet, still chilly enough that it was a good day for wrapping up in blankets and going back to sleep. Of course Qui-Gon couldn't do that, because it was Thursday and he had classes to teach, as well as a faculty meeting today.

After he fed the cat, he had his own breakfast, watching the news and wishing he hadn't, and then he showered, brushed his teeth, and changed into his usual teaching attire - a tie-dye T-shirt, chinos, and a funky tie. Today was neon Grateful Dead bears.

But his outfit contrasted with his mood, unusually dark. He'd dreamed about Tahl, and then there was the surprise cat butthole in his face, and the news was depressing, and the weather was dismal. As he drove to the college campus, he allowed himself an indulgence in modern music, putting on "Happy" by Pharrell Williams to try to change his mood, a song he usually liked. But it had also been a song that came out in the last months of Tahl's life - she was a big fan of Pharrell's, and they used to dance around the house together to that song. That was the last thing he needed today, and the day hadn't even started yet.

Qui-Gon pulled into the parking lot at the same time as he saw Dooku's black Jaguar. He got out and saw Dooku climb out on one side, with Sören Sigurdsson on the other side. In his mid-thirties, the Icelandic expat was the youngest professor on the faculty, teaching 2D studio art. Sören was also one of the most popular professors on campus, and had a high chili pepper rating on Rate My Professor before the peppers were abandoned. He had a warm, friendly, easygoing manner that was in direct contrast to the aloof, reserved, cold and critical Dooku. Dooku was all serious business all the time - tenured, and had been given tenure fairly young. Their personality differences were evident in the way they dressed as well - even though the college had a relaxed dress code, Dooku was wearing his usual suit and tie, while Sören wore a sweater vest and khakis, and had zero gauge plugs in his ears; Qui-Gon knew from summer months that there were sleeve tattoos hidden by today's long sleeves. 

And yet the two had an odd friendship - Dooku drove Sören to and from work.

"Good morning, young Qui-Gon," Dooku said.

Anyone else who was only ten years younger would bristle, but Qui-Gon had once been Dooku's student, when Dooku was himself a new professor and the youngest on faculty, the same position Sören was in now.

Sören waved, while drinking a steaming cup of coffee. "Mornin'," he said.

Qui-Gon politely waved to both of them and hurried into the building - it was drizzling.

Qui-Gon spent an hour checking e-mail, before his first class of the day started. After the class was over, there was lunch, then it was time for the faculty meeting. This was a full faculty meeting rather than just the departments, with the dean, Jocasta Newman, giving her quarterly reminder of "mission" and "identity". Qui-Gon sat as far away from her as possible, taking a seat in back next to Sören who had brought a notebook ostensibly for taking notes on the meeting, but Qui-Gon knew from past experience Sören doodled during meetings.

Today Jocasta was going around the room asking different professors what the concepts of "mission" and "identity" meant to them. Qui-Gon hoped desperately he wouldn't be called on. Then he noticed Sören was doodling a dickbutt, and he tried very, very hard not to laugh - it was what he needed on a day like today. Sören saw him watching and gave a sly grin.

It was time for Dooku to speak, and as he had opinions, he began to monologue. Soon, Sören was modifying the dickbutt with Dooku's facial hair and thick eyebrows, and made a speech bubble that said "AS YOU KNOW..." Qui-Gon made a noise, and everyone in the room looked at the back of the room. Qui-Gon immediately bit his hand, shaking with silent laughter. Sören blinked slowly, making an innocent face that wasn't innocent at all.

"Oh good, Professor Gonzalez." Jocasta clasped her hands together, giving Qui-Gon a look like a hawk about to swoop down on its prey. "I was hoping you'd weigh in on this subject, since you have such a good rapport with your students, a good pulse on the community here."

"Er." Qui-Gon shifted nervously in his seat.

Dooku's lips quirked slightly, and then he shot Sören a look, as if he knew what Sören had been doing without having to be told. Sören grinned at him.

"I wasn't finished," Dooku said, then. He cleared his throat and began the second leg of his monologue. "As you know..."

Good save. Thank you, Teach.

Dooku's speech took up most of the rest of the time, and the last fifteen minutes were addressed by Professor Depa Billaba, who taught philosophy. She was quiet most of the time, but long-winded when she had something to say. When she was done, it was time for the faculty meeting to adjourn. Qui-Gon was never so grateful in his life to be done with a meeting.

Qui-Gon had his second class of the day after the meeting, and then he met with a few of his students to advise them. After that, he could go home, though his work wasn't quite done.

It was still drizzling and windy when Qui-Gon got in his VW van. He opted to stop at Mountains of the Moon and get some tea.

Obi was there again, wearing a flannel shirt, skinny jeans, and a grey beanie. Qui-Gon sat in his usual spot near the bonsai grove and read one of his research books as he waited, every now and again looking up at the pretty younger man who had caught his eye yesterday, even though they'd mutually made asses of themselves.

Qui-Gon noticed Obi seemed ill at ease. It was true that very few people liked retail or food service jobs, and usually took them out of necessity, but Obi seemed even more than most to be badly suited for this job. He spoke in a near-monotone, didn't make eye contact, and when he brought out drinks he was a bit clumsy in his movements. A few of Qui-Gon's best students were on the autistic spectrum and had similar traits, and Qui-Gon offhandedly wondered if this was the case with Obi as well.

Why do I even care? He's just a random barista at the coffeeshop I frequent.

A very handsome barista.

Stop that.

Qui-Gon sat up when Obi finally came over to him. "Hello again," Qui-Gon said.

"Hello there... Garfield."

"Garfield?"

Obi looked up, while not quite looking at him. "You kept calling me Odie yesterday, so..."

"Yes, I'm sorry about that. Sometimes when I feel nervous my tongue gets tangled."

"OK, Garfield."

Qui-Gon grinned. Obi briefly met his eyes, grinning back - the way those bright blue eyes danced made Qui-Gon's heart skip a beat.

"What'll it be?" Obi asked, looking away again.

"Er." Qui-Gon had to think for a moment. He could barely think, barely breathe. "The citrus ginger green tea."

Obi nodded, marking it down. "Be a few minutes."

Citrus ginger, eh? Qui-Gon facepalmed, flushing as he watched Obi's bubble butt as he walked off.

Obi was fairly prompt with bringing back the tea, and Qui-Gon muttered his thanks, self-conscious and trying to re-absorb in his book.

Qui-Gon only stayed long enough to finish his tea, as he had more research to do when he got home and it would take up most of the evening. But as he got up and put his overcoat back on, he smiled, thinking of Obi's "Garfield" comeback. Between that and Sören's dickbutt doodle, he was in less of a foul mood than he was earlier. Still not in a great mood, but it was something.

Qui-Gon went to the counter to pay, and Ahsoka took his money. Like before, Obi wasn't waiting tables now, and Qui-Gon asked, "Obi waited on me and I'd like to give him his tip...?"

"He's on break," Ahsoka said. "Probably out back."

Qui-Gon cringed, not knowing why anyone would want to sit outside on this dismal day - even he, as a lover of nature. But he still went around to the back of the coffeeshop, and found Obi sitting on a bench by himself.

Obi was vaping.

Obi noticed Qui-Gon approaching, and gave him a wary look before his eyes shifted again. Qui-Gon pulled a bill out of his wallet. "Here," he said.

Obi took it and said, "Thanks."

Qui-Gon couldn't resist, and put a hand on his hip. "You know, that's bad for you."

Their eyes met briefly, and Obi said, "You're not my father." He looked away again, a set in his jaw.

"No. But it doesn't change the fact that you're endangering your health."

"Thanks. Now piss off."

Qui-Gon sighed, and shuffled off.

Once he was at home, and working on his research, he kept finding himself distracted by thoughts of the encounter behind the coffeeshop. Though he was generally a well-liked professor, he sometimes had surly students, and usually knew to not take their attitudes personally, let it roll off like water from a duck's back. He didn't know why Obi telling him to piss off bothered him so much, and feeling like he was being irrational bothered him.

Fernando hopped up to sit next to him on the couch, and eventually commandeered Qui-Gon's lap, making him put down his work to take a short break. "At least you like me," Qui-Gon said, stroking his fur.

Chapter Text

A Friend In Need

Chapter Track: "City Rain" - Tor Lundvall




On Saturday there was a downpour, which was common enough in the Pacific Northwest this time of year. Even though Qui-Gon had been living here for over three decades, and in the rainy UK before that, he still didn't like being out in the wet.

Tahl had been the complete opposite, and he thought of her as he went to the supermarket for his weekly shopping run, feeling the familiar ache as he saw her favorite foods, thought of the way they traded off cooking duties, going out of their way to make each other things they liked, feeding each other like newlyweds many years after they were an old married couple. Qui-Gon wondered if the rain had been bothering him so much lately precisely because Tahl would have enjoyed it, splashing in puddles like a big kid, wanting to go to the park to watch the ducks and geese take advantage of the best weather for worms.

Qui-Gon was glad he had papers to grade and research to go over this weekend, something to distract himself. He felt lost in his grief on the drive home, wanting to cry for no reason.

Then out of the corner of his eye, he saw a familiar face, standing out at a bus stop in the pouring rain, looking like a drowned rat.

Qui-Gon pulled over and rolled the window down. "Do you need a ride?"

Obi blinked, as if he didn't recognize him at first. Then he swallowed hard and said, "Nah, I'm fine. The bus is coming in..." He checked his phone. "Ten minutes."

"That's too long. Get in."

Obi folded his arms. "I don't accept rides from strangers."

"I'm not a stranger. Please let me drive you where you need to go."

Obi hesitated, then he came around the back of the van and got in on the passenger's side. He gave Qui-Gon a look, and then looked straight ahead.

"Where are we going?" Qui-Gon asked.

"To my apartment. It's off Stark."

That was a bit of a drive across town, and was decidedly in the low-rent district, or "Methville" as some of the locals snidely referred to it - even though this was a college town, there was still crime and some homelessness here. It was in the opposite direction of where Qui-Gon was going, and he had perishables in the back. But he'd offered, and he knew Obi would have at least two bus transfers to get home, out in the rain. He'd catch his death.

Qui-Gon began driving. "Why are you all the way up here on a Saturday?"

"I went to the library." Obi patted his backpack. "I needed, I don't know, something to read."

Qui-Gon couldn't fault him for that. He smiled. "Ah, you read books."

"...Yeah?"

"I'm more used to people your age not bothering with 'dead trees' anymore. Call me old fashioned, but a tablet doesn't replace the feel or smell of an old book."

"Are you going to tell me to get off your lawn next?"

Qui-Gon chuckled. "No." Then he gave Obi a more serious look. "I am going to tell you that you should probably dry off. I have a towel in one of the storage cabinets behind you, you're welcome to use it."

"Who the hell keeps a towel in their van?"

"You never know when one might come in handy." Qui-Gon couldn't resist. "I always know where my towel is."

A pause. "Wow, you're a real hoopy frood."

Qui-Gon laughed out loud. Obi laughed too, which was a good sign; Qui-Gon had felt stung the other day, and this put him at ease. He doesn't hate me. Like he should even care, but he did.

"I don't want to get up while we're moving," Obi said.

"I was just going to ask you if you wanted to hit a drive-thru or anything."

"I don't have a whole lot of money -"

"I'll pay."

Obi gave him a suspicious look. "Why are you being so nice to me?"

Qui-Gon looked at him, the wary blue eyes, the way the stern expression didn't make him threatening at all but instead rather adorable, like a kitten trying to attack a toy. "Can't people be decent to other people without there being an ulterior motive?"

"In 2018? No, not really."

"Well, there's no ulterior motive. If you're hungry, let me get you something to eat."

Obi decided on a Wendy's, which wasn't the healthiest choice, but then Qui-Gon had suggested a drive-thru and that was what was around. Qui-Gon pulled into the parking lot after they got the food and after Obi toweled off first, then he ate. Qui-Gon himself had a lemonade, trying not to watch with concern as Obi tore into bacon cheeseburgers like he hadn't been eating for awhile. Trying and failing.

After Obi ate, they got back on the road, and a moment later Obi said, "Do you mind if I vape? I'm kind of having a nic fit. I'll open the window so you don't have to breathe it."

Qui-Gon sighed. "I do, but I'll let you, thank you for asking first."

Obi rolled down the window and started vaping. Qui-Gon tried to keep his eyes on the road, but he kept looking over at Obi. They weren't terribly far from the destination now, just a few more minutes. The greenery was getting more sparse, and there were more industrial buildings around. They passed by a street corner with a couple of tarps on it, homeless people camped out. There would be more under the bridge they were about to pass through.

"This is none of my business," Qui-Gon finally said, "but why?"

"Why what?"

Qui-Gon gestured with a nod at the vape. "Why that. Weren't you raised with all the anti-smoking messages that the government flooded your generation with?"

Obi frowned, and then he said, "I need something to do with my hands."

In the final few minutes of the ride, Qui-Gon did indeed notice the nervous energy, Obi gently rocking back and forth in his seat, hands twitching, sliding around. He tried to not make it obvious he was observing, but he couldn't stop looking at the younger man with his bright blue eyes, messy auburn hair and thick auburn beard, in a beret, scarf, flannel shirt and skinny jeans, still looking somehow like a model, more attractive than he had any business being.

They were on Stark. "Keep going," Obi said.

He was in a cul-de-sac off Stark, a rundown, weatherbeaten duplex in a row of similar sad-looking duplex apartments. There was a beat up, rusty pickup truck with a Florida license plate outside the duplex where Obi pointed to.

"That's me," Obi said.

"That's not your vehicle, I take it."

"That's my roommate's." Obi looked at the time. "He's probably still sleeping. He sleeps in on the weekends."

"Roommate?"

Obi raised an eyebrow. "Yes, roommate. He has a girlfriend. She works at the shop, actually."

"Ahsoka?"

Obi nodded. "She got me the job there."

"I see."

"Anyway..." Obi grabbed his backpack. "Thank you for the ride, er... Garfield."

Qui-Gon smiled. "My name's not Garfield."

"What is your name?"

"Joaquin Gonzalez, but everyone calls me Qui-Gon."

Obi snorted. "What the fuck kind of name is Qui-Gon?"

"I don't know, I could be asking someone named Obi the same thing."

"Touché." Obi reached to open the van door. "I, uh... I guess I'll see you at the coffee shop. Thank you again for the ride."

"You're welcome." A sudden impulse, one that Qui-Gon couldn't believe he was doing, but... "Do you want my cell? If you need a ride anywhere, and I'm available - which I might not always be - I'd be happy to take you there and back. I don't want you getting sick out in the rain."

Obi frowned. "I don't want to, like, take advantage -"

"You're not taking advantage of me if I'm offering." Qui-Gon reached for a notepad in his glove compartment, quickly jotted down his number, and handed it to Obi. "Here." He swallowed hard. "Or even if you don't need a ride somewhere, but you might need, I don't know, a friend."

"Why would someone your age want to be friends with me?"

"I didn't know there was a law saying we could only associate with people our own age. But, if you want to know why - you made a Hitchhiker's Guide reference. You read. Reading is important enough to you that you went to the library on a Saturday morning, in this kind of weather. We have that in common. And frankly, it would do me some good to associate with people beyond other college professors." When I allow myself to associate with anyone at all, holing up constantly after my wife's death.

"I'll, uh, think about it." Obi rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "I'm not great with people."

"Even people who aren't great with people need people, Obi."

Their eyes met for a moment, and Qui-Gon felt his breath catch, looking into those blue pools. Then Obi just nodded, and opened the van door. "Thanks. See you later, I guess."

Qui-Gon watched as Obi hopped out of the van, and made a brisk walk to the porch of the duplex, letting himself in. He stayed a moment longer even after Obi had already gone inside, then he drove back in the opposite direction, to his own side of town.

Feeling more alone than before. Missing him already, which was nonsense.

But there was the glimmer of hope. He might have, at the very least, made a new friend.

A very attractive new friend.

No, you
 stop that, he's young enough to be your son.

Yes, and he could call me Daddy.


Qui-Gon's face burned - it had definitely been too long since the last time he'd gotten laid, and Obi would have attracted him even if he hadn't been so sex-starved. But he didn't want to get his hopes up there, and he especially didn't want to scare the younger man, who he felt protective of for some reason even though he barely knew him. 

He's still hot.

Stop being such a horndog, Gonzalez. Get your shit together.

As Qui-Gon pulled in to the driveway outside his house, the rain was starting to let up, the sun peeking between silver clouds. He had left the house feeling like he was made of lead, and there was just a little spring in his step as he brought the groceries inside.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: You Spin Me Right Round (Like A Record)

 

Chapter Track: "I've Got You Under My Skin" - Frank Sinatra



Qui-Gon was in better spirits on Sunday - it was as if seeing Obi on Saturday had helped alleviate his funk, just a little. And then Monday came, and it was back to work.

Qui-Gon felt restless and on edge all day, like he was waiting for something to happen, but didn't quite know what it was. He thought of Obi's restless energy in the van, the way he disapproved of Obi vaping - he didn't want to see such a beautiful young man end up with cancer from smoking - and Obi's admission that he needed to do something with his hands. If Qui-Gon felt like this, now, he could only imagine what it was like for Obi to carry that tension around all the time.

His last task of the day was meeting with two of his students, to advise and give encouragement. One of them, a young African-American named Finn, who was majoring in engineering and minoring in environmental sciences, hoping to go into green technology as a career, was on the autistic spectrum. Before his students left, Qui-Gon said, "Finn, can you stay for a moment? I'd like to ask you something."

Finn stayed behind, looking at the floor - briefly up at Qui-Gon, and then off to the side again.

"It's a bit of a personal question," Qui-Gon said, "and I hope you won't mind, but... you're autistic... I have a friend who's autistic and I'd like to be supportive of him. He says he needs to do something with his hands frequently."

"Oh, he stims."

"What?"

"Stimming. It's..." Finn made a vague hand gesture. "It's stuff we do with our hands, our body, most of the time without thinking about it."

"I see."

"My boyfriend, Poe, bought me a fidget spinner." Finn pulled it out of his pocket and demonstrated; Qui-Gon recognized it, having seen Finn play with it around the campus, and had never known what it was.

"Where do you get those?"

"Poe got mine online, but I think you can buy them at Target or something."

"That's good to know, Finn. Thank you very much." Qui-Gon smiled.

Finn gave a shy little smile, and waved before walking out.

Qui-Gon went straight home - he had a lot to do, to prepare for tomorrow. But on Tuesday, he stopped at Target after work.

It happened that Sören Sigurdsson, the 2D studio art professor, was walking around with Mark Lowry, the music theory professor, putting items into one cart. There were rumors around campus that the two of them were sleeping together, which Qui-Gon considered none of his business, but were harder to disbelieve when he saw the two of them walking side by side, the easy familiarity around each other, bantering down the aisle. Mark Lowry was even taller than Dooku, and next to Qui-Gon and Sören he was the only other male professor with long hair on campus, dark hair to the middle of his back. Qui-Gon had never seen him wearing a color other than black. Wire-rimmed glasses framed intense grey eyes that focused on Qui-Gon as he shambled down the aisle, and the cart paused.

Sören ran a nervous hand through his curls, smiling. "Qui-Gon," he said. "It's a small world, já?"

"It is. But it's perhaps a good coincidence I ran into you, because I feel a bit awkward asking this of a random salesperson -" Qui-Gon didn't know why, he just did. "Do either of you know where the fidget spinners are?"

Sören and Mark exchanged a slightly amused glance, and then Mark said, "Yeah, follow me."

"So fidget spinner, eh?" Sören smirked. "They're pretty trendy now."

"It's for a friend." Since Qui-Gon liked Sören, and had no issues with Mark, he said, "I have a friend who smokes and said he needs to do something with his hands."

"Smoking is a filthy habit," Mark said. Qui-Gon had seen Mark read the riot act to students smoking outside more than once. "And yes - if he's going to quit, something like a patch or gum might help, but the hands are still an issue."

"Oh... I should get him a smoking cessation kit too, then?"

"Probably. They have those at the pharmacy."

They came to the fidget spinners. Sören decided to start playing with the ones on display, until Mark said, "You are such a big kid sometimes."

"Well, I'm old enough where it matters."

Mark turned red at that, and Qui-Gon said, simply, "Er," under his breath, and made his selection. "And now for the pharmacy," he said. "I'll let you two be..."

"Nah, you can tag along if you want," Sören said, "it's cool. We were going to go to the coffee house after, actually, if you want to come with us?"

"Well now, our chance meeting is quite a coincidence. That's where I'm going, too."

Like Dooku, Mark had tenure - he was the youngest tenured professor - and drove a Jaguar; Qui-Gon followed Mark's Jaguar to Mountains of the Moon. The three got a table together. Sören and Mark knew what they wanted right away. Ahsoka came to the table, greeting them warmly - she was one of Mark's students. Qui-Gon got a lavender chamomile tea, and then Ahsoka turned to Sören and Mark and Mark said, "The usual," with Ahsoka nodding.

"We usually come here on our lunch break," Sören explained.

"The usual" for Sören and Mark turned out to be a fig rose tea and chocolate espresso, respectively. Out of the corner of his eye, Qui-Gon caught Obi waiting another table, and when Obi was done taking his order, Qui-Gon called out "Obi!" Obi glanced across the room, and gave a shy, sweet smile when he saw Qui-Gon.

Obi made a beeline for Qui-Gon's table. "Hey," he said.

"Hi," Qui-Gon said. He cleared his throat and straightened his shoulders. "When does your shift end?"

"In about an hour."

"Would you like to grab a bite to eat with me?"

Obi looked at Sören and Mark. "Um... don't take this the wrong way, but after dealing with people at work all day I don't want a crowd..."

"Don't worry," Sören said, "we're getting out of here once our drinks are done, we have other plans." He and Mark looked at each other, and then off to the side, like they were pretending to not be up to something.

"So it would just be us," Qui-Gon said.

"I don't really have money..."

"I don't mind paying."

"I don't have the money to pay you back."

"The only thing you'd owe me is your happiness. Deal?"

Obi took a minute to think about it and then he nodded. "Deal."

Obi walked off, and Mark said sotto voce, "He's a bit young for you, isn't he?"

Qui-Gon wasn't even sure he'd consider it a date, but he wasn't going to let that slide. "It's about as wise as fraternizing with a fellow faculty member, don't you think?"

Sören snorted into his tea, and Mark shot him a look. Sören gave him an "innocent" face that wasn't innocent at all, and Mark blushed.

"And who cares?" Sören asked. "He's a consenting adult, right?"

Qui-Gon swallowed hard. "I... don't even know that there's anything to consent to... we're friends..."

"Oh come on, I see the way you were looking at him." Sören kicked him under the table. 

Is it really that obvious? Qui-Gon wanted to crawl under the table and die.

Sören went on, "He's cute, though not really my type. I tend to go for tall and dark."

I've noticed.

"Apart from Claire," Mark said, dryly.

Now it was Sören's turn to blush. "She's my TA, I'm not sure that's a good idea."

It took Qui-Gon a moment, and then he remembered, Claire James. Strawberry blonde, Scottish from the sound of her. What the fresh hell did I just walk into, Qui-Gon thought to himself, sipping his tea. It's a fucking soap opera. Something told him he hadn't even scratched the surface, and probably didn't want to.

Mark and Sören were off a little while later, and Qui-Gon waited until Obi strolled up and said, "I'm free now."

They ended up getting pizza at a hole-in-the-wall place Qui-Gon liked to go to now and again, called That's Amore. Music like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra was always playing in the background here, owned by a big, loud Italian family.  It had been Tahl's favorite pizza restaurant in town. They sold pizza by the slice as well as different sized pies, and had a large selection of specialty pizzas as well as toppings to build your own. Qui-Gon went with the veggie deluxe, and it took Obi a bit longer to decide, finally going with sausage and mushroom.

"Thanks, again, for this," Obi said.

"I have a gift for you," Qui-Gon said.

"Really?"

Qui-Gon produced a small Target bag, and out came a smoking cessation kit and a fidget spinner. "The fidget spinner is to give you something to do with your hands."

Obi's eyes widened and he made an undignified little squeak, which he immediately looked self-conscious about, but Qui-Gon found the reaction adorable. Then Obi said, still wide-eyed, breathless, "Holy shit, d'you know how much money the stop smoking kits cost? Well, of course you do because you bought it, but..."

"I have a good job. I teach at the university, I'm the environmental sciences professor."

"Oh. You might know my roommate, Ani, though I dunno, cuz he wasn't taking that course, and he dropped out."

"That's unfortunate." Qui-Gon frowned. "Education is very important."

"I tell him that, but, yanno. That guy you were having tea with, uh... Lowry... he was Ani's professor. Then Ani decided he just wanted to make music and not bother with the schooling."

"I see."

"It's another reason why I didn't want to come along if they were gonna be there, cuz Lowry gave him some big lecture about dropping out and needing to 'consider his life and his choices' and Ani's still pissed at him. I don't know the guy so I can't be mad at him myself, but I don't want Ani to find out I was 'hanging out' with him or something. Ani kind of has a temper."

Little warning bells went off in Qui-Gon's head at Ani kind of has a temper, but he wasn't going to pry right now, not when Obi was already a bundle of nerves, and it could be nothing. "Well, they're just colleagues. And you don't need to apologize - your comfort levels are your comfort levels. If you're nervous around someone, that's just how it is, and it's fine."

"So, ah." Obi turned the kit around and around. "I could give it a shot, but."

"Please do. I know you don't want to be lectured, but it would be better for your health if you didn't smoke."

"And... this is a gift, you don't want anything for it?" Obi raised an eyebrow. "No strings?"

"No strings, no. I wanted to do something nice for you." Qui-Gon got the impression not many people had been nice to the younger man.

"There's really... nothing you want. You're just giving me a gift from the goodness of your heart, no expectations."

"None whatsoever."

"I may not be the best with social cues, but I've had some experiences, that have taught me this isn't very common." Obi frowned. "There's really no strings here."

"No."

"You're not, like..." Obi looked up at him, met his eyes for a fraction of a second, licked his lips, and looked away. "Trying to get down my pants or something."

"No, not really."

"Damn."

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. Did he just... "'Damn'?"

"I was kind of hoping..." Obi ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Nah, you probably think I'm just a kid, or something."

"You..." Qui-Gon felt like he couldn't breathe. "You're interested?"  As if on cue, Frank Sinatra began singing "I've Got You Under My Skin" in the background. He'd dared not hope, but yes, he couldn't deny that he was attracted...

"Have you not looked in the mirror? You're hot." Obi gave a cheeky grin. "For an old dude." His lips wrapped around his straw.

Qui-Gon snorted. "Do you even know how old I am?"

"Forty? Forty-five?"

Qui-Gon made a noise. "Forty isn't old."

"Forty-five is fucking ancient."

"I've been on the other side of forty for awhile now." A pause. "I'm fifty-nine. I'll be sixty in May."

"What."

Qui-Gon nodded. "How old are you?"

"Twenty-three later this year."

"...Really." He looked a bit younger, even with the facial hair.

Obi pulled out his state ID. Qui-Gon saw the name, OBERON EWAN CANOBIE, born Halloween, 1995.

"So yeah, you probably think I'm too young," Obi said.

"No, I don't. I just..." Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "I didn't want to get my hopes up." I've already lost so much hope.

Obi leaned back in his seat.

"So now," Qui-Gon said, "I suppose I should ask you on a proper date. What are your plans for Friday?"

"I have none."

"Would you like to have dinner with me on Friday?"

"I would."

"Are you OK with having dinner at my house? I'd like to cook a homemade meal for you."

"OK."

"OK then."

They rode back to Obi's duplex on the wrong side of the tracks in silence. There was so much Qui-Gon wanted to ask him, about himself, his life - but he was nervous, and he could tell Obi was too. Obi took the fidget spinner out of the package and played with it in the van, and Qui-Gon found it oddly adorable.

You're definitely spinning me around.

Once they reached the duplex, they lingered in the van for a moment.

"What time should I pick you up on Friday? Is six good?" Qui-Gon turned to face him.

"Six is good, yeah."

"All right." Qui-Gon smiled. "I'll see you then, and thank you." He patted the Target bag. "Let me know how this works out for you, OK?"

A tall young man with nape-length sandy blonde hair and blue eyes came out of the duplex, wearing a white "wifebeater" tank top under a black hooded sweatshirt, and faded jeans. He scowled at the van, and Obi managed a grin that looked somewhat guilty.

"That's Ani, my roommate," Obi explained.

Ani sauntered up to the van. "Who the fuck are you?" he asked.

Obi answered for Qui-Gon. "Ani, this is... um... Qui-Gon. Joaquin. He's a friend."

"A friend, huh?" Ani raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah."

Qui-Gon rolled down the window and held out his hand. Ani didn't take it, just continuing to glare at him.

"I'll explain later," Obi muttered, and Qui-Gon gave a little nod in acknowledgment. "See you Friday," Qui-Gon said as Obi hopped out of the van.

Ani practically dragged him back to the duplex.

I hope that one won't be causing problems. Qui-Gon waited for a minute, not really knowing what he was waiting for, before heading back home.

He felt so giddy he started speeding a little, without meaning to, usually a slow, careful driver. He likes me. We're going on a date. This is a thing now.

And that little voice in the back of his head, Until something happens to take it all away again.

Qui-Gon took a deep breath. Begone, thought, he argued with himself. He wanted, just this once, a moment of peace.

Chapter Text

Anticipation

 

Chapter Track: "I Want Your Sex" - George Michael

 

The rest of the week absolutely seemed to drag on. Thursday was the worst of it, with every cell in Qui-Gon's body screaming for the day to be over.

But for the first time in awhile he decided to eat in the cafeteria for lunch instead of holing up in his office. He saw Dooku, eating in the corner, and thought Why not? Dooku had been one of his professors, back when Qui-Gon had originally considered ancient history as a major, and later made the switch to environmental sciences; though Dooku had been disappointed by the change, they were still fond of each other and Dooku helped him get his job here when Qui-Gon decided to go into teaching. Dooku was always reserved - Qui-Gon could count on one hand the number of professors Dooku was willing to socialize with, Sören was one of them - and Qui-Gon frequently had to initiate conversations; Dooku was an occasional dinner guest of himself and Tahl, with Tahl and Dooku having long discussions, and frequently debates, about history. When Tahl died, Qui-Gon descended into grief, and it created a rift between him and his old ancient history professor.

It was time to fix that. It was time to start fixing a lot of things.

Qui-Gon put his tray down, before sitting. "Hello."

"Young Qui-Gon."

Qui-Gon rolled his eyes; there was only ten years age difference between them, but Dooku would forever think of him as "young Qui-Gon". Qui-Gon noticed Dooku tended to think of all his students as being like the children he'd never had, caring even as he was outwardly aloof.

"It's been awhile," Dooku said.

"It has." Qui-Gon nodded. "I'm sorry about that. It's been... difficult... for me, after -"

Dooku put up his palm, nodding. Qui-Gon didn't really need to explain it was because he was mourning Tahl. "I understand." Dooku gave that little smile that would have been a big grin on anyone else. "It's good to see you coming out of your shell, then."

"I'm trying."

"Anything prompting it?" Dooku raised an eyebrow over his glass of orange juice. "Sören says you've made a friend."

"You and Sören were talking about me."

"Sören and I talk about a lot of things." There was a little twinkle in Dooku's eye then, his cheeks flushing slightly pink. Dooku looked away quickly.

Qui-Gon had never seen Dooku react like that to the mention of someone's name - it was subtle but oh, so definitely noticeable. Qui-Gon wondered if Sören knew that Dooku had reasons for driving him around that weren't just the practicality of living on the same street. This was definitely a soap opera, considering Sören and Mark, and whatever interest Sören had in his Scottish TA Claire James, but... not any of my business.

"But yes," Dooku went on, "he mentioned that you'd made a friend. A rather young one, a barista."

"I'm hoping that you won't lecture me about the age," Qui-Gon said, in a tone of voice indicating it would be a hypocrite if Dooku did, considering he was crushing on an Icelander almost forty years his junior.

"I have no lectures, apart from telling you that it's time to move on with your life, and I hope this goes well for you."

"Well... thank you, Teach. I appreciate that. I hope it goes well for me too. We have a date tomorrow night."

"Ah. What are your plans?"

"I'm cooking him dinner, we might watch a movie. Not terribly exciting, but I get the sense he hasn't had a proper homecooked meal in awhile."

"That's kind of you. I have recipes if you need them. I have a Gordon Ramsay cookbook, actually."

"I probably don't need that, but thank you for the offer."

"Hm. Do you have any ideas of what you might make?"

"I'm half-Spanish, so I was thinking of something mi abuela used to make. Arroz con pollo. I'd do paella but I don't know how he is with shellfish - if he's fine with that and there's a second date, I might make that for him another time."

"That sounds lovely. You should get a good wine." A disapproving glance. "Not the kind in a box."

Dooku was never going to let it go about the time Qui-Gon brought boxed wine to the faculty Christmas party last year. Mark Lowry had teased him about it for awhile also, playing "Man in the Box" by Alice in Chains on his harp when Qui-Gon had occasion to be down his wing of the campus.

"Yes, Teach." Qui-Gon nibbled his sandwich. "What have you been up to lately, yourself?"

"Not anything terribly exciting. Preparing my little garden for spring. Reading - I've started The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. My usual running - I've been waiting for the weather to get warmer to go hiking and ride my bike again. You may not know this, but my old cat, Beowulf, died of renal failure four months ago -"

"I'm very sorry to hear that."

Dooku gave a solemn nod. "Sören was there with me when he died. He was fond of the cat as well, since he occasionally drops by, and he cried. He made me a beautiful carved wooden box for Beowulf's ashes, set with stained glass. Very kind of him. He's a fine young man."

Yes, I'm sure you think he's very fine, Teach.

"Anyway... I've been considering getting another cat, but I don't know." Dooku frowned. "Considering my age. I'm in good health, but..."

"Seventy isn't a death sentence anymore. You're physically active - you're more physically active than I am, even! - so you've got some years left. If you want a cat, get a cat."

Dooku's frown deepened. And Qui-Gon put two and two together - it wasn't just the cat that he was holding back on. It was why he hadn't said anything to Sören. That and Mark, probably.

Qui-Gon sighed. He reached out to pat Dooku's shoulder, even though he wasn't the kind of man who allowed casual touch, usually. "You've got a lot of life ahead of you," Qui-Gon said, meeting his eyes. "We both do. And you should live yours, as well."

Dooku finished his orange juice, saying nothing in response.

The rest of the meal was spent in silence, but at the end, when they got up, Dooku said, "It was nice chatting with you again, Qui-Gon."

"Same here."

"We should do this again. You shouldn't be such a stranger."

Qui-Gon wanted to hug the older man, but didn't. He just smiled. "I'll try."

"Do or not do. There is no try." Dooku gave a small smile in response, before walking off.

_


On Friday, Qui-Gon was absolutely giddy. His first class seemed to go by pretty quickly in the rush of his anticipation, but then time started to drag again between classes.

Qui-Gon had to make copies of a document for his afternoon class, so he headed to the copier room. The door was closed, which was unusual during the daytime, and when Qui-Gon pulled the knob, it was locked. There was the sound of a copy machine working inside, so somebody was in there, but before Qui-Gon could knock, he heard a whimper.

Qui-Gon's instinct was to ask if the person inside was all right, and before he could open his mouth and get the words out, the whimper was louder, more insistent, followed by a deeper grunt.

Oh boy.

A sharp cry, and a deep groan. Two male voices. And then what was clearly Sören's voice: "Oh shit, oh fuck..."

Another deep groan.

"Oh god fuck me... harder..."

The sound of flesh slapping together, a few more cries and grunts and groans. "Yesyesyes like that like that..." came Sören's voice, followed by the deeper voice making a little sob, now.

"Oh god..." Sören was gasping, panting.

"Sören," came Mark's voice. "Fuck, you feel so good."

"Oh shit. Oh shit..." Sören was panting harder, and Mark growled.

A moment that was just panting, little groans, and then Sören made a desperate, feral noise and Mark ground out, "Come for me."

"Oh FUCK..." Sören was gasping for breath. "Macalaurë!"

More of Mark's grunts and then he cried out "Sören," letting out another growl.

A few more moans, more panting, gasping for breath, then the noises stopped, and then the copy machine stopped.

Qui-Gon was hiding in the shelves of paper and other supplies across the hall, his face on fire. Well, now I know how the rumors got started. He wondered how many times they'd been indiscrete like this around the campus.

With the noises done, Qui-Gon waited, pretending he was looking at the reams of paper.

A few minutes later the copier room door opened a crack, and Sören stuck his face out, looking around. When he saw Qui-Gon, his face dipped back out.

Sören was whispering something, and he heard Mark say, "Well, shit," and then he and Mark stumbled out of the copier room, carrying stacks of copies they'd made - Mark had the biggest shit-eating grin on his face, and Sören was giggling uncontrollably.

"Um, hi," Mark said.

"Good afternoon." Qui-Gon kept his tone neutral.

Mark and Sören looked at each other, and Sören looked down.

"How much of that did you hear?" Mark asked, brushing a stray lock of hair out of his eyes.

"Enough." Qui-Gon didn't know whether to be amused or exasperated. Probably both. "It was quite a performance."

Mark bowed, like he'd just played his violin or harp for an audience, and then Sören dragged him by his sleeve, the two of them cracking up all the way down the hall. Qui-Gon noticed Sören was walking funny.

Well, that must have been something if he's walking like that and couldn't even say Mark's name properly. Qui-Gon shook his head, chuckling as he let himself in the copier room. It smelled like sex.

And then, the mental images of fucking Obi, nailing him so good that Obi couldn't say his name right either, couldn't even make words.

Shit. Get a hold of yourself.

He was hard. He'd certainly found Obi attractive, but this was the first full-blown, hardcore pornographic sexual fantasy he'd entertained about the younger man, and asking it politely to go away just made it stronger. He hadn't had sex since Tahl died - masturbated, yes, but it wasn't the same thing - and all of the pent-up libido he'd been suppressing for five years flooded him now, thinking about doing everything and anything with Obi - sucking him, being sucked, frotting their cocks together, fucking Obi in different positions, letting Obi fuck him. Picking the smaller Obi up and fucking him against the wall the way Mark had probably fucked Sören against the wall just now.

What it would be like to feel that kind of passion for someone that you were up for it anytime, anyplace, so lost by lust that you threw caution to the wind... the kind of passion Mark and Sören clearly exhibited.

His hard-on was not going away. He couldn't walk around campus like this. While the copy machine printed, he let himself in the bathroom a few doors down and stroked himself, fantasizing about fucking Obi against the wall, making him scream, making him paint himself with cum. "Obi," he groaned, shuddering as he climaxed, coating his hand.

It took him a minute to recover, head spinning, toes curling, and then he just stared at his cum-soaked hand in shock, disbelief that he had actually masturbated about another living, breathing person, not just replaying old memories of Tahl, or strangers in a porn.

He hungered.

It made him feel alive again. But it was also dangerous. He barely knew this young man - what he knew of him, he liked, a lot - and what if things went wrong? What if he opened his heart, closed up from grief, and Obi stomped on it?

What if he doesn't? What if you've found the second great love of your life?

Six o'clock could not get here fast enough.

Chapter Text

First Date

 

Chapter Track: "Let's Wait Awhile" - Janet Jackson

 

Qui-Gon pulled up in front of Obi's duplex promptly at six PM. Obi wasn't waiting outside, but the lights were on in the duplex, so Qui-Gon shut off the ignition, climbed out of the van, and walked up to the porch, knocking on the door.

A moment later, Obi answered. He was dressed like he usually did - today it was a dark blue plaid flannel shirt over a lighter blue T-shirt, skinny jeans. He gave a shy smile when he saw Qui-Gon, who had brought a single long-stemmed red rose with baby's breath.

"Come in," Obi said.

It was the first time Qui-Gon had been inside where Obi lived, and he had admittedly been curious to see what it was like. The front door was at the living room, which was rather sorry-looking, a beat-up couch and scratched-up coffee table that looked like they'd come from thrift stores, beanbag chairs on the floor. The coffee table was littered with notebooks and torn-out sheets that looked like music notations of some kind, and there was a guitar case nearby, and a Marshall amplifier and effects pedals farther away. A flat-screen TV, and a wooden shelf, again rather beat-up looking, holding DVDs. The walls were bare and the living room otherwise seemed spartan, like all they could afford was right there. Obi took him through the living room into the kitchen, to fetch a glass of water to put the rose in. The kitchen was neither the filthiest Qui-Gon had seen nor was it pristine - dishes were drying in a rack next to the sink, and Qui-Gon got the impression Obi had done them just before he arrived to try to spruce up the place a bit. The kitchen counters were clean enough, the stove could use a cleaning, and the floor was cleaner in some parts than others.

"I do the chores around here," Obi explained as he set the rose in the glass of water. "Ani can be hard to keep up with."

Speaking of Ani, Qui-Gon could hear something that sounded like activity in the hall bathroom - a toilet flushing, sink running.

Obi quickly marched Qui-Gon out of the kitchen, down the hall. They passed by a bedroom that was a complete disaster - mattress on the floor unmade, dirty clothes on the floor, garbage from TV dinners and takeout, empty soda bottles. A poster of Kurt Cobain hung on the wall, staring mournfully - Qui-Gon was surprised someone Ani's age even knew who Kurt Cobain was. The walls were painted black, which Qui-Gon felt was probably against the terms of their lease and Ani didn't care; a dark bedsheet being used as a curtain flapped in the breeze.

Past a hall closet, and there was Obi's bedroom. The walls were a pale grey, probably unpainted in keeping with the lease, the paint chipped here and there. He also had a mattress on the floor, and a couple mismatched, worn-looking shelves filled with books against the walls. On top of the shelves were assorted knicknacks - a stuffed kitten doll, which made Qui-Gon smile, a little plug-in waterfall, and a color-changing lamp which Obi demonstrated as he turned off the lights and turned on the lamp, the room glowing blue, then green, then violet, then red.

"It calms me down when I'm upset," Obi said.

"It's very nice. I should get one of those."

Obi put the rose next to the stuffed kitten. "Er, I hope you don't think I'm dumb for having a stuffed animal -"

"Not at all. What's his name?"

"Smokey. I've had him since I was three."

Qui-Gon reached out to pet the stuffed toy. "He's adorable."

Obi put the light back on. His bed was made - not super-neat and tight, but the covers were pulled up and it looked neat enough. There were pillows propped up so he could sit on his bed if he wanted to, and there was a laptop nearby. That was when Qui-Gon also noticed a crate full of sketchpads, colored pencils, and Prismacolor markers.

"You draw?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Yeah."

"Can I see?"

Ani showed up in the doorway, staring at them. He was wearing a white "wifebeater" tank top and ripped jeans, and fiddling with a white gold ring on his right hand.

"Er." Obi tried to straighten his posture. "Ani, this is... um..."

"Joaquin Gonzalez, but everyone calls me Qui-Gon." Qui-Gon smiled, trying to be friendly even though Ani was looking at him with that same withering, disapproving face he'd had the other night when he saw Qui-Gon dropping off Obi.

"And Qui-Gon, this is my roommate, Anakin Skye-Walker."

"Yo," Ani said, finally. He looked at the rose, and then he looked at Obi. "So this is like your new boyfriend or whatever?"

"Probably," Obi said, nodding.

It was just the first date and too soon to know if it would even work out, but for some reason the "probably" gave Qui-Gon a rush anyway, and he couldn't help smiling.

"He's a bit too old for you?" Ani raised an eyebrow.

"Age is just a number," Obi said. "And besides, Quinlan was just a few years older than me and you see how well that worked out -"

"Yeah." Ani's teeth set at that.

There was some history there, and Qui-Gon was curious, but he wasn't going to press now.

"So like..." Ani shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "How did the two of you meet?"

"The coffee shop where Obi works," Qui-Gon explained. "I went there after work one day, I teach at the university close by..."

"Jesus," Ani hissed under his breath. The university was obviously a sore spot for him.

"...and I'm just... rather fond of him." Qui-Gon put a hand on Obi's shoulder - he realized a moment later some people on the autistic spectrum didn't like to be touched, but Obi didn't flinch away, looking over his shoulder with another shy smile that made Qui-Gon's heart flutter.

Ani walked up to Qui-Gon then, getting within several inches of his face. Qui-Gon could smell breath mints. "Let me make this abundantly clear," Ani said. "If you hurt Obi in any way, shape or form, I will fucking kill you." Ani started fiddling with his ring again.

On the one hand, Qui-Gon wanted to be happy that Ani was protective of Obi - someone needed to look out for him - but on the other hand, there was an element of obsessiveness and violence to it that set off alarm bells in Qui-Gon's head. Now was not the time and place to try to probe deeper into the situation, but Qui-Gon made a mental note to ask Mark Lowry about his former student sometime soon.

"He's cool, Ani," Obi said.

"You don't know this guy yet," Ani shot back. But he stepped back just the same.

"I will return him unscathed," Qui-Gon promised. "I am a gentleman."

"You'd fucking better be." Ani folded his arms. "I'm not joking that I'll kill you."

"Ani, chill." Obi was looking increasingly uncomfortable. He turned to Qui-Gon and said, "Can we go now?"

"Yes, I was just about to suggest that." Qui-Gon took Obi's hand - it just felt right - and led him past Ani, who turned and followed them out of Obi's bedroom. "Have a pleasant evening, Anakin," Qui-Gon called out, as he led Obi out the front door.

They drove across town to Qui-Gon's house in silence, with the radio playing. Once they got in, there was the strong aroma of arroz con pollo, which had been simmering all day in the slow cooker and was just about ready. Qui-Gon had a bottle of Chianti in the fridge - he'd sent Dooku a text message earlier asking what wine should go with it. Dooku's first message had been, predictably, "Not the kind in a box."

"Have a seat," Qui-Gon said, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table.

Obi sat down. "That smells really good."

"I hope you'll like it."

He started off pouring wine, and lit candles at the table for ambiance. Obi smiled and blushed at the romantic gesture. Qui-Gon opened up the slow cooker and got a dish ready for Obi, bringing it over to him, and a few minutes later he sat down with his own dish.

"It looks good too," Obi said.

"Arroz con pollo, the way my grandmother used to make it. Well... in a slow cooker, which isn't how she did it, but the recipe is otherwise the same." Qui-Gon raised his glass of wine. "To seeing where this goes."

They clinked glasses, and began to eat. Obi shoveled food down like he hadn't eaten in fifty years, and then a few minutes into it got self-conscious and slowed down. "Sorry," he said. "This is just... really delicious..."

"It's a compliment," Qui-Gon told him, reaching across the table to pat his hand. "There's also plenty if you want seconds, or want to take some home with you to heat up."

"If Ani doesn't scarf it down."

Qui-Gon's lips quirked. "He seems like a rather problematic roommate."

"Yeah, that's... a mild way of putting it." Obi frowned between bites.

"This is probably none of my business, but since we don't know much about each other, I'm curious...?"

Obi ran a hand through his hair. "Well... basically... I'm from out of state. So is Ani."

"OK."

"I'm from Massachusetts. I left home when I was 18, I met this guy on the Internet who lived in Florida, so I stayed with him for awhile. That's Quinlan, the guy Ani referred to. Ani and I were working at the same place, Ani was living in a trailer with his mom and his drunk stepdad, and when Quinlan got, um..." A little sharp hiss of breath. "Quinlan and I had some problems, and Ani and I put our money together and left town. We drove cross-country together - he wanted to go to Seattle, but his truck broke down here in Corvallis. So we just decided to stay here awhile, and I managed to convince Ani that he should go to school, since he'd been in school in Florida. But then he, you know, dropped out. He works at Wal-Mart now. He thinks he's going to make it big in the music business someday."

"What kind of music does he play, exactly?"

"Metal. He'll tell you all about how metal can be as complex as classical music, and a lot of metal musicians have classically trained backgrounds."

"It is indeed a shame he didn't stay with his music theory class, Professor Lowry says the same thing." Qui-Gon smiled, remembering Mark playing Metallica and Dream Theater covers on his harp at school concerts. It was why Mark and Dooku seemed to get on well - in Dooku's aloof, reserved way - adding an additional complication into why Dooku wouldn't want to step on his toes about Sören.

"Yeah. Even though Ani is from a trailer park, his mom was trying to make a better life for him and made him take piano lessons and shit when he was a kid, he told me. So he has that classical background." Obi had some more bites of food. "Anyway, that's how I ended up here in Oregon."

"You're indeed a long way from Massachusetts. Do you miss it? Do you keep in touch with your family at all?"

"I come from a big family and yeah I talk to my mom a few times a year. I guess I sort of miss it, but the winters here are a lot milder. I don't like snow that much."

"How long have you been here?"

"Two years next month." Obi raised an eyebrow. "How long have you been here? You're not American, are you?"

"I came here from the UK when I was nineteen, still have an accent, yes. My older brother Javier was a hippie, traveled around, and I idolized him growing up, so I followed him here, to a commune in Oregon. I went to school - I was going to major in ancient history, and then, well." Qui-Gon smiled into his wine. "I switched my major to environmental sciences."

"That's quite a switch. What happened?"

Qui-Gon threw his head back and laughed. "It was 1981. Professor Dooku, who still teaches, had a class field trip to explore ancient, folklore-connected sites in the UK, where he's from originally, also. I thought it would be boring, returning to my home country where we see these things every day and take them for granted, but Dooku never did. I... acquired some shrooms to make the trip more interesting. I was at Wayland's Smithy and the trees started singing, I saw a white horse being ridden by an elf, who told me the Earth was in danger - this was the days well before people were concerned about global warming and pollution. Even though I was obviously hallucinating, it still felt very real and I decided I needed to switch majors. I've done a bit of work out here with recycling and waste disposal, conservation, advocacy... trying to raise awareness about environmental issues. The Pacific Northwest felt like home to me right away, a place I needed to protect."

"Wow, you're... like... the first person I've met who's made good life decisions on drugs."

Qui-Gon almost snorted his wine.

"And you're... Spanish, and from the UK?"

"Spanish father, Irish mother." Qui-Gon nodded. "They met in London."

"Where's your brother now?"

"Dead." Qui-Gon frowned. "He took his own life in the mid-80s."

"Shit. I'm sorry."

"So am I."

Some awkward silence, and Obi said, "And you're, like, fifty-nine? You haven't been single all this time, have you...?"

"I was married. She was killed by a drunk driver five years ago."

"Shit." Obi scratched his beard. "Well, this got dark."

"It's all right. The subject would have come up anyway."

A few more bites of food and Obi said, "She, you said?"

"She. Her name was Tahlia, everyone called her Tahl. She was a fellow professor at the university."

"So you're... not gay?"

"I'm bisexual, or I suppose, pansexual as they say these days." Qui-Gon sipped his wine. "I appreciate beauty where I see it. Tahl wasn't straight either."

"Ah OK. Makes sense."

"We're fortunate to live in a part of the US that's very LGBT-friendly - a number of my fellow professors are LGBT in some way, and we have a big Pride event on campus every year." Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "And you... have not attended the university, since you've been here?"

"I never went to college. I dropped out of high school and got my GED. I got bullied, couldn't deal with it, I was in special ed as a kid, I have too much anxiety with groups of people to go back to school. Working retail or food service isn't great, either, but." Obi shrugged.

"You draw."

"I do."

"I know the 2D studio art professor, he is a very kind person, he could meet with you and maybe make some accommodations -"

"Not now, OK? Besides, my stuff's not that good. My ex said so."

"Just because one person doesn't like it, doesn't mean it's not good." Qui-Gon calmly sipped his wine, restraining the urge to look up this Quinlan person in Florida and throttle him. It was an unusual reaction for him, usually being mild-mannered and non-violent as it got. "And from the little bit you've told me about him, he sounds like he may have been saying that to knock you down."

"I dunno." Obi shrugged.

"Would you like more?" Qui-Gon pointed to Obi's plate, which was nearly clean.

"Yes please."

Qui-Gon got up, fixed another plate for Obi, and set it down. "More wine?" When Obi nodded, he poured the glass.

"I'd still like to see your art, if you felt like showing me," Qui-Gon said.

"Maybe next time, if there's a next time."

"I'd like there to be a next time."

Obi smiled; Qui-Gon smiled back.

When they were finished eating, Qui-Gon cleared the table. "I can do dishes," Obi offered.

"You're a guest. I don't expect that of you. What you can do for me is look at the DVDs I have in the living room and if there's anything you want to watch, get it ready, OK?"

A few minutes later Qui-Gon joined Obi in the living room, sitting next to him on the comfy black leather couch. Obi had already made the acquaintance of Fernando, who was on Obi's lap, purring away as Obi stroked him, talking baby talk. "He's beautiful," Obi said.

"That's Fernando." Qui-Gon skritched the cat, and then, on impulse, also skritched Obi's beard, making Obi blush and giggle adorably. The reaction made Qui-Gon's cock wake up.

"How old is he?"

"About six. I got him a year before..." His voice trailed off, he didn't need to finish a year before Tahl died. "He's been an invaluable source of companionship."

"I wish I could get a cat, but I can barely feed myself."

"Well, you'll be getting lots of cat time here, hopefully." Qui-Gon patted him, and looked at the DVD Obi had picked out, sitting on the coffee table. "Labyrinth, eh?"

"Yeah. Came out before my time, obviously, I saw it for the first time when I was fifteen and, uh." Obi grinned. "Realized I might be gay."

Qui-Gon laughed out loud at that. "Yes, Jareth... has that effect on people." He loaded the DVD player.

Twenty minutes into the movie, Qui-Gon and Obi were curled up together, Obi's back against Qui-Gon's chest. Qui-Gon put his arms around Obi - it felt right. Ten minutes after that, Qui-Gon kept one arm around Obi and began to pet his hair, not able to help it. He leaned in and breathed in the scent of Obi's shampoo, a clean, masculine scent.

"That feels nice," Obi said, relaxing into Qui-Gon's touch.

"You don't mind? I should have asked first..."

Obi smiled over his shoulder. "It's fine." Then, his voice sounding small and sad, "It's been a long time since anyone has touched me. I guess... it's like, skin hunger, or something."

That did it. Qui-Gon tilted Obi's head and crushed his mouth to his, groaning when Obi responded, lips parting, tongues meeting for the first time. The little moan Obi made, Qui-Gon's cock stirred again and he kissed Obi harder, wanting to drink him in.

Soon they were in a full-on makeout session on the couch, Qui-Gon continuing to pet Obi as he kissed him again and again, stroking his hair, his face, his beard, rubbing his chest. When they pulled apart for air, breathing hard, Qui-Gon said, "You're precious. I want to be good to you."

"I feel safe with you."

Qui-Gon kissed him again. Obi wrapped his arms around Qui-Gon, and Qui-Gon pushed him back against the couch. Now his kisses were travelling from Obi's mouth to his neck, kissing, licking, nibbling, gratified by Obi's gasps and whimpers, arching to him. Qui-Gon was hard as a rock now, grinding against Obi's jean-clad thigh.

Obi was kissing Qui-Gon's mouth again, and, feeling bolder, his fingers were running through Qui-Gon's hair, playing with it. Qui-Gon kept some of his hair tied back in a ponytail, the rest hanging loose, and he felt Obi undo the ponytail so all of his hair hung free, and Obi's hands brushed his hair, stroked it, his eyes fascinated, adoring.

Qui-Gon started kissing his neck again, and he felt Obi's nails in his back, through the fabric of his T-shirt. These damn clothes in the way. The thought of Obi's nails in his back as he pounded the younger man into the mattress... Qui-Gon shivered, giving a little growl as he nipped Obi's neck again.

Their mouths met once more, and Obi let out a little whimper into the kiss. Qui-Gon's hands had only gone as far as Obi's chest, but now they were sliding lower, to his stomach, and lower, palming the hard bulge in Obi's jeans...

...and Obi froze, a look on his face like a deer caught in headlights.

Qui-Gon sat up, breathing hard. "Are you all right?"

"I..." Obi also sat up, and looked down, nodding. "Um."

"You're not all right."

Obi took a deep breath. He looked up, met Qui-Gon's eyes for a moment before looking away, frowning. "The last time I had sex..." He ran a nervous hand through his hair. "It wasn't sex. I was raped."

Quinlan, I will find you and I will kill you. Qui-Gon felt himself glaring. He was never like this. But his first concern was to the triggered young man on his couch. "I'm sorry. I didn't know -"

"I know." Obi nodded. "I..." He sighed. "It's not that I don't want to, it's that I'm not ready." Their eyes met again, briefly. "Can we take it slow?"

"Yes." Qui-Gon stroked Obi's face, smiling, feeling a surge of tenderness. "We can take it slow."

"Thank you for understanding. I'm really sorry -"

"You have nothing to apologize for."

"You're all worked up -"

"I can take care of it. Your safety is more important than my libido."

Obi cracked a grin. "At least I know you can still get it up at your age."

Qui-Gon rolled his eyes and snorted. "You make it sound like I'm downright geriatric, now."

"Well.." Obi's eyes twinkled. "Like I said, you're pretty hot for an old dude."

"You're going to torment me about my age every time we date, aren't you?"

"Of course."

"You are a naughty boy."

Obi bit his lower lip - he liked hearing that - and Qui-Gon felt his cock start up again, but dammit, no, calm down now.

They went back to watching the movie, and when it was getting close to the end Qui-Gon said, "Would you like ice cream? I have some in the freezer."

"What kind?"

"Pistachio, or butter pecan if you don't like that."

"You are so weird. You're, like, the only other person I know who likes pistachio."

"Clearly, it was meant to be." Qui-Gon patted him, and got up.

He made a pit stop in the bathroom, quickly taking care of himself - thinking of what it would be like to make slow, sweet love to Obi, making him come, making him shatter, giving him good associations with sex again - and then he washed his hands and dished out ice cream. Watching Obi lick and suck the spoon didn't help his libido any, with his cock waking up yet again, but he behaved.

When Obi was finished, he said, "I should probably get back home, Ani has to work early tomorrow morning."

"All right."

Qui-Gon drove him home slowly, not wanting to be done with him yet - they took a detour at the duck pond, driving around the pond, with Obi making happy noises at the sight of it, like a big kid. When they finally got back to Obi's duplex, they lingered in the van.

"I enjoyed tonight," Qui-Gon said.

"So did I." Obi smiled. Then he frowned and said, "I'm sorry, again, about earlier -"

"Please, you don't need to apologize. I'm fine with taking it slow. As much time as you need." Qui-Gon took Obi's hand and kissed it. "Do you have plans this weekend?"

"Working, heh."

"When is your next day free?"

"Wednesday."

"Would you like to get together again?"

"I would."

"Four PM, this time?"

"Sounds perfect."

"All right." Qui-Gon cleared his throat. "May I kiss you goodnight?"

Obi nodded. 

They kissed - more sweet and gentle than before. They rubbed noses for a minute afterwards, and then Qui-Gon planted a kiss on the tip of Obi's nose. The way he smiled at that, showing his dimples, made Qui-Gon's heart flutter.

"Good night, Qui-Gon." Obi hopped of the van and waved. "I'll see you Wednesday."

"Or sooner, if I come by the coffee shop." He couldn't go that long without seeing him again.

"Please do." Obi waved all the way to the duplex.

Qui-Gon leaned back in the driver's seat and sighed, taking a moment before he drove off. I am already in too deep. But it was the best kind of feeling.

He just hoped he'd be able to help heal the younger man's heart.

Chapter Text

Falling

 

Chapter Track: "Can't Help Falling In Love" - UB40

 

Over the weekend, Qui-Gon felt restless.

The restless energy turned into Qui-Gon pulling an all-nighter on Saturday night, cleaning the house more thoroughly than he had since before Tahl's death. It wasn't that Qui-Gon's house was dirty, he did regular chores to keep it functional and reasonably tidy, but now he took care of the little details that had gone neglected.

It occurred to Qui-Gon halfway through his cleaning that it wasn't just March winding to a close and the urge to do "spring cleaning". He was getting his house ready to entertain company, maybe even have guests stay over. The sort of thing he hadn't done much of at all since Tahl died.

Tahl.

That was the final detail. Reluctantly, he went into her old closet. He had bags ready. All of her possessions, save a couple that he kept for sentimental value, were put into large garbage bags, and loaded into his van. He drove to Goodwill on Sunday afternoon, donating everything. Not looking back.

He took a detour, not going home right away. He drove around the park, and the dam finally broke, crying for awhile. He felt almost guilty - the very final act of letting her go. But it was time. He was moving on. He had to.

When he got home, he stopped at the fireplace mantle. He'd kept the pictures of her, that wasn't a problem. His finger traced the outline of the frame. "I still love you," he said out loud, as if she were standing right there, "but you understand, right?"

He took a deep breath, and reached for his cell phone. Still looking at Tahl's picture, he dialed Obi's number. Four rings, and Obi answered. "Hello?"

"Obi, it's me."

"Hi."

"Hi. How are you?"

"All right. You?"

"OK."

"We're still on for Wednesday, right?"

"We are. I just." Qui-Gon sighed. "I needed to hear your voice."

"Oh." A pause. "Oh. Well, um... shall I read to you? I can get a newspaper..."

Obi was taking it literally, and it was adorable. Qui-Gon smiled. "There's no need, but thank you for offering. Just a moment was enough. Thank you."

"You're welcome, I guess."

"I won't keep you, I know you're probably at work."

"I'm on break, but that won't last much longer."

"OK. I'll come into the coffee shop tomorrow, if you'd like."

"I would." Qui-Gon could hear the smile in Obi's voice. "You're my favorite customer."

"You're my favorite barista. See you then."

When Qui-Gon swiped End, he was smiling. His house was cleaner and brighter, and his heart was lighter.


_


After Qui-Gon's classes were over on Monday, he made his way over to Mountains of the Moon. He spotted Obi right away, waiting tables in skinny jeans and a beige hoodie over a grey T-shirt. Obi smiled at him from across the room, and Qui-Gon's heart skipped a beat.

"What will it be today?" Obi asked, strolling up with his notepad.

"Ginger mint tea, thank you."

Qui-Gon tried to concentrate on his work, but his gaze kept stealing to Obi, admiring his lithe figure and the way he moved. Every now and again Obi would notice him watching and give a shy little smile, showing those dimples Qui-Gon loved.

Qui-Gon fought off the urge to just walk across the room and kiss him for all to see.

He thought about their date last Friday, and his promise to take things slow, to help Obi with his recovery. He intended on keeping that promise. But goddamn if he wasn't feeling like a horny teenager right now, especially when Obi's back was turned and gave him a view of that firm, shapely bubble butt...

...The tea plonked down on the table. "Enjoy," Obi said.

"Oh... do you think I could trouble you for a blueberry muffin as well? I'm in the mood for something to eat."

Qui-Gon's mind immediately went in the gutter after those words came out. Yes, I'm sure you are, his inner voice taunted. The thought of giving Obi a blowjob... Qui-Gon gave a little sigh.

Obi came back a few minutes later with a blueberry muffin. "Is that all?"

"Yes, that's all."

A minute later there was his receipt. Qui-Gon looked at it - he was only being charged for the tea. "I think you made a mis-"

Before he could finish his sentence, he saw a doodle on the bottom of the receipt, of Garfield eating a blueberry muffin. It's on me. -O

Considering Qui-Gon had more money between the two, he felt like protesting, but he had a feeling if he did it would be a hit to Obi's pride. So he would let Obi do him this favor.

He felt compelled to save the receipt, when he brought it up to pay Ahsoka. She smiled when she saw the drawing at the bottom. "You should see his doodles in the break room," she said.

Later that evening, after dinner, Qui-Gon found himself taking the receipt out of the wallet. He felt the strange urge to frame it. He knew he was being ridiculous about it, but he couldn't help it. He found himself stroking the edge of the paper, thinking about stroking Obi's dimples with his finger the same way.

His phone was in his hand, then. He dialed Obi's number. He didn't get an answer, and he frowned. Then five minutes later his phone rang. Ah. "Hello there."

"Hi, sorry about that, I was in the bathroom."

"It's quite all right." Qui-Gon cleared his throat. "Thank you for the muffin."

"You're welcome."

"And... the little drawing on the receipt. It made me smile."

"Good."

"Ahsoka says you have drawings in the break room."

"...Yeah."

"When you come over on Wednesday, can you bring your sketch book? I'd like to see your work, if I may."

There was a bit of silence, enough that it made Qui-Gon nervous, wondering if he'd hit a nerve at all without meaning to, and finally Obi said, "'Kay."

"All right. Take care, Obi."

"You too."


_


As paella simmered on the stove, Qui-Gon and Obi sat on the couch, going over the contents of Obi's sketch book.

Qui-Gon didn't know what he was expecting, but it surpassed his expectations. The first few drawings were of wildlife, flora and fauna - detailed flowers, and a particularly adorable picture of a lioness with her cubs. Then there were elemental dragons in colored pencil, proportionate and with lovely shading. Finally there were Art Nouveau type sketches of different people. Qui-Gon recognized a few of Ahsoka, in different moods and poses and outfits.

"You are very talented," Qui-Gon said.

Obi blushed, and there was that shy little smile that took his breath away. "Thanks. You really mean it?"

"I do. I don't believe in giving false praise." It was something Qui-Gon had learned from Dooku. "Really, it's a shame to not see you doing some sort of career with it."

"Yeah. I mean, that means school, and... well..."

Qui-Gon sighed. He made a mental note to talk to Sören sometime in the not too distant future about what he could do, if anything, for this special case. "I know it's difficult. But you've got so much potential."

"That means a lot." Obi's smile became a frown. "My ex-boyfriend said it was stupid."

And Qui-Gon found himself holding Obi tight. For a minute he just stroked Obi's hair, rocked him, once again feeling the urge to find this Quinlan wherever he was and destroy him. "Now you listen to me." Qui-Gon put his hands on Obi's shoulders and looked into Obi's eyes. Obi looked away, as he did, but then his gaze wandered back. "Your ex-boyfriend is the one who is stupid. You have a gift. And one way or the other, I would like to help you figure out how to share this gift with the world."

Obi swallowed hard. His arms tightened around Qui-Gon, he buried his face in his shoulder, and Qui-Gon resumed rocking him, petting him.

They stayed like that until the timer went off in the kitchen. Qui-Gon served the paella to candlelight and music. It was the same 60s and 70s psychedelic era rock that they played at Mountains on the Moon, not the most romantic selection in the world, but it put Qui-Gon at ease.

And then "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd came on. Obi started singing along during the chorus. Qui-Gon smiled.

He refilled their wine, and Obi raised his glass. "To being two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl."

Qui-Gon clinked his glass, and then he made a face. "That's quite a way of putting it."

"And here I thought you'd appreciate that I like some of that old people music."

Qui-Gon almost choked on his swallow of wine. "Old people music. Thanks."

Obi grinned. "You're welcome."

Qui-Gon kicked him under the table. Obi kicked back.

When dinner was over, they went back to the living room. Qui-Gon put on the TV, but he was less interested than what was on the screen, than going back to the sketch book and looking at everything again.

"Really, this is nice work."

Obi was skritching Fernando on his lap, and he gave Qui-Gon a little headbutt like the cat would headbutt him. Qui-Gon reached out to skritch Obi's hair and beard, and Obi purred. At the naughty innocence of it, Qui-Gon felt himself getting hard, and adjusted, not wanting to make Obi uncomfortable, remembering the promise to take things slow.

Qui-Gon also tried to distract himself. He lingered at one of the pictures of Ahsoka, dressed gothy with a witch hat and a broom. "How long have you been drawing?"

"Since I was a kid in elementary school, but I got more serious about it in high school. Though it was kind of an accident, how."

"Really."

"I come from a big Irish family, lots of siblings, and it was on me to babysit a lot of the time. So I started drawing to entertain my younger brothers and sisters. Got a lot of practice, and just... kept practicing, I guess. Drawing helps slow my mind down."

The thought of Obi drawing to make his siblings happy gave Qui-Gon a case of the warm fuzzies. "You're adorable, you know."

After awhile Qui-Gon put the sketch pad down and Obi leaned against him. They cuddled for awhile, watching Star Trek; Qui-Gon continued petting Obi. When the episode was over they kissed, and then there were a few heated kisses, and then Qui-Gon made himself stop. He took a moment to catch his breath. "If we're taking it slow, we should. Behave."

Obi nodded.

Qui-Gon glanced at the time. "And I do have to work tomorrow morning, so shall I take you home?"

"All right."

On the way back, it started to rain. In front of the duplex, they lingered. Qui-Gon leaned in for a kiss, more chaste than the ones on the couch, but still soft and sweet. He stroked Obi's face, and Obi smiled.

"How does Friday night sound?" Qui-Gon asked.

"I can't do Friday night, I promised Anakin I'd go to one of his shows." Obi made a face, suggesting he'd rather do anything but that.

"I see."

"But I have Sunday off? All day? If you'd like to -"

"I would." Qui-Gon nodded. "I can call you on Friday evening perhaps to set a time to pick you up for Sunday, and we can decide what we're doing then?"

"Sounds good."

"I enjoyed this evening." Qui-Gon stroked Obi's face again. "I enjoy your company."

"Thanks. I like spending time with you, too." Obi looked down, and turned pink. "I like you a lot."

"I like you too." But "like" wasn't the word that Qui-Gon wanted to use.

And when Obi got out of the van and headed into the duplex, Qui-Gon groaned, annoyed with himself for the other l-word being at the tip of his tongue. It's the second date, you're still getting to know each other. You don't just need to take it slow sexually, you need to slow down emotionally.

But there was no off switch for emotions. And despite the rain pouring down and the chilly March air, the memory of Obi's smile was like the warm sunshine.

Chapter Text

A Helping Hand

 

Chapter Track: "Lovely Day" - Bill Withers

 

The day after their date, Qui-Gon was running late, and it was a hectic day. The following day, Friday, Qui-Gon made it a point of arriving on campus early - he was on a mission.

After sitting in his office and checking his e-mails, going over the lesson plan, he walked over to the wing of the campus where the arts and music classrooms were located. The door to Sören Sigurdsson's classroom was open and the lights were on, which meant he was around, but looking into the classroom Sören wasn't in there. Claire James was, and she looked up from her laptop.

"Hi," she said brightly. "Can I help you this fine morning, Professor Gonzalez?"

Qui-Gon smiled at her charming Scottish accent. "Actually, yes, and please, call me Qui-Gon. Where's Sören...?"

"He's down the hall." A pause. "Music Theory."

Of course he was. "Thanks."

"No problem." A warm smile. "Have a nice day, Qui-Gon."

Mark Lowry wasn't in the Music Theory classroom, but true to what Claire said, Sören was. Qui-Gon cleared his throat, and Sören startled. He dropped a small plastic bag on the floor.

"I'm sorry to startle you," Qui-Gon said.

"Shit, no, it's OK. I thought you were Mark and I was getting caught."

"Getting caught?" Then Qui-Gon saw the contents of the bag - stick-on googly eyes - and Mark's desk. Everything on his desk - jar of writing utensils, the writing utensils themselves, stapler, hole punch, folders, outbox and inbox, paper holder, laptop - had googly eyes on it. The desk itself had googly eyes on it, and googly eyes on every drawer of the desk. Qui-Gon then looked at the calendar - which had googly eyes on it as well - and noticed the date. Friday, March thirtieth. An early April Fool's joke.

The wastebasket had a pair of large googly eyes, all the chairs were sporting large googly eyes, and Qui-Gon watched Sören step up to the platform where Mark's harp was displayed... and affixed a set of big googly eyes onto it.

"Oh dear."

Sören grinned. "Wait, I need to take some pictures." He pulled out his cell phone, and snapped a few photos, taking a closeup of the harp, and then a selfie of himself standing next to the googly-eyed harp, throwing the horns and making a funny face into the camera. Once that was accomplished, he took a few steps back to survey his handiwork. Qui-Gon shook his head, chuckling.

The laughter became a little pang of sadness, remembering Dooku's crush on Sören. He is exactly the kind of partner Dooku needs. It was too bad Sören was taken.

"So, are you here to see Mark? He's down the caf getting its sorry excuse for coffee -"

"I'm actually here to see you," Qui-Gon said. "Your assistant told me you were down here."

"Ah, I see." Sören nodded. "Well... if you came to talk to me, let's clear out of here because Mark will get back any minute now and we'll get interrupted."

They went to the cafeteria, just as Mark Lowry was coming back. He made eyes at Sören in the hallway, and Sören blew him a kiss, then snickered as he pushed on ahead. "I cannot wait," he said under his breath.

Despite Sören calling it a sorry excuse for coffee, it didn't stop him from going to the coffee machine and getting a cup, himself, adding cream and three sugars. He cringed as he drank it. "I'm not a morning person," Sören explained. "I need a lot of caffeine to actually feel awake."

Qui-Gon had an orange juice, and they sat down. "What can I do for you?" Sören asked.

"So... recently you saw that I have a friend, who works at Mountains of the Moon."

"The barista who's less than half your age. Yes, I saw that. How's it going with him?"

"Good." Qui-Gon nodded. "We had our second date a couple nights ago."

"Don't tell me you're asking me for romantic advice."

"No, not quite." Qui-Gon sipped his orange juice. "So... my, well, I guess you could call him boyfriend, now... Obi. He draws."

"OK."

"He says he hasn't been to college. He's autistic spectrum, and he has some trouble with social anxiety in a classroom. But I've seen his work. He's quite good. A lot of potential."

"So you want to know what his options are, já?"

"Yes."

Sören took a sip of coffee, and leaned back. "He definitely needs to go to HR before he applies, and be honest with them about what his challenges are, and so on. But there are some accommodations that can be made. He can do most of his requirements online. He'd have to come in for my class, but my kids are great - we're all kind of odd, so he shouldn't worry too much about troubles with his peers - and Claire and/or myself can give him extra help, individual attention, as needed."

"Thank you. I can tell him that -"

"It might be better coming from someone on staff? It might be best coming from me personally, to put his mind at ease. Not just as his possible future professor but speaking as someone who understands mental health stuff firsthand - I'm a hot mess of bipolar II, ADHD and anxiety, and wouldn't have survived my doctorate without accommodations."

"Wow. I didn't know."

"We don't wear signs on our foreheads advertising we have mental illnesses, and I would like to hope that I'm controlled enough that you wouldn't know, for the most part, unless I told you. But já, that's the kind of shit I live with, so I already feel for him."

"It is much appreciated."

"How soon do you want me to talk to him? Actually..." And then Sören's phone started going off. The ringtone was "Good Vibrations" by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Qui-Gon had an idea already, and the look on Sören's face when he took the call just confirmed it. "Hi, snookums."

A rapid-fire litany of curses, with Sören shaking from silent laughter, and finally Sören couldn't contain his laughter and it rang out across the cafeteria. "Oh, you poor dear. My poor baby."

More of Mark's ranting, and then he calmed down, and Sören said, "Look on the bright side, at least I didn't draw dickbutts everywhere with Sharpie."

Qui-Gon snorted into his juice. He was about to get up, but Sören put a hand on his wrist and mouthed the words one minute and after Mark went on a bit, Sören said, "While I have you on the line... Qui-Gon here wants me to talk to his boyfriend about enrolling in my class sometime this year. What do you say..." Sören glanced over at Qui-Gon. "And you let me know if this works for you, too... How about we go on a double date on Sunday afternoon?"

Qui-Gon could hear Mark say, "OK, that could be fun."

Sören glanced back at Qui-Gon.

"I'll have to talk to Obi about it and get back to you, but I have no objections to it, myself," Qui-Gon said.

Sören gave the thumbs up. "OK, so we're tentatively on for Sunday. Qui-Gon will let me know for sure when...?"

"I'll be talking to him about it tonight, so why don't I give you a call after...?"

"OK. My cell's in the faculty listings."

Qui-Gon patted Sören and got up; Sören waved as he walked off.

When Qui-Gon got to his classroom, he found googly eyes on the doorknob and a post-it note, with elegant cursive. Don't encourage his shenanigans. -Mark

Qui-Gon laughed to himself as he opened the door. Sunday would prove interesting indeed, being around those two.


_

Obi was amenable to the idea of the double date, despite his earlier reluctance to spend time around the two of them. It was agreed that to save gas and carbon, everyone would go in Qui-Gon's van. So on Sunday the first of April, Qui-Gon went across town to pick up Obi first, and then he picked up Mark and Sören at Mark's house, which was by the pond Qui-Gon frequented.

Mark was waiting with a sheepdog/Corgi mix on a leather leash. "This is my service dog," Mark explained. "His name is Huan." Huan barked.

"I didn't know you had a service animal...?" Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow.

"I can't take him with me on campus but he goes with me as much as possible otherwise. I have post-traumatic stress disorder."

Qui-Gon was even more surprised by this revelation than Sören's honesty about his own mental health issues, and then remembered Sören's words. We don't wear signs on our foreheads advertising we have mental illnesses. It certainly cast their relationship in a new light, going from the model-pretty hot topic of gossip on campus and a bit of a walking sitcom to something deeper, more raw and real.

Mark frowned. "I can leave him home if you absolutely can't, but -"

"I'm sorry I didn't explain that sooner, I kind of derped," Sören said, running a nervous hand through his dark curls.

Obi was already fussing over the dog, who was licking his face. And Qui-Gon himself had a soft spot in his heart for animals and plants alike. He gestured for them to get in.

Huan had a mixed white-and-light-brown coat, the short stubby legs of a Corgi, the long coat of a sheepdog, a sheepdog face, and a Corgi's big ears, tufted with sheepdog fluff. He was absolutely adorable, and it made Qui-Gon want a dog, though his cat would probably not approve. Huan lay on the floor of the van, getting reassuring pettings from Mark and Sören. Once they were on the road, Qui-Gon asked, "So where are we headed to?" That had not been established beforehand.

"It's nice and sunny today, we were thinking miniature golf?" Sören asked.

The course allowed service animals if they were leashed and had the proper paperwork, which Mark had on hand. As they headed out onto the green, looking at the holes and their props, Mark muttered, "I can't believe I let you talk me into this." Sören gave him a big, cheesy grin.

Meanwhile, it was painfully nostalgic for Qui-Gon - mini golf was something he and Tahl used to do once in awhile, and he hadn't been since she'd died. As far as Obi, he had never been golfing at all. Qui-Gon showed him how to hold the club and putt, which involved having to get in close proximity to him and touch him, and they both got flustered.

Despite Mark's initial self-consciousness at it, he was the best golfer out of the four of them, and was strutting a little by the time they approached the last three holes. Sören patted him. "See, I told you this would be fun." Huan barked as if to agree with him.

"Yeah, it is." Mark grinned back. Sören gave him a little peck.

If Mark was the best golfer of the four of them, Sören was the worst, and indeed, one of the worst golfers Qui-Gon had ever seen. He never knew one could fail so badly at miniature golf, until he'd seen Sören Sigurdsson try. And though Sören didn't seem to be doing it deliberately - it really was a case of bad aim, being uncoordinated - Sören had a good sense of humor about it. "Wow, that's not even in the right direction," he said as he watched the ball fly off at the next-to-last hole. He started singing Smash Mouth. "Hey now you're an all-star, get your game on, go play | Hey now, you're a rock star, get your show on, get paid | AND ALLLLL THAT GLITTERS IS GO-OOLLLLD | ONLY SHOOTING STAAAAAAAAAAAARRRS BREAK THE MO-OLD." He laughed at Mark cringing at the song.

After the last hole, Obi said, "Again?" and sounded so much like a big kid that as much as Qui-Gon wanted to sit and rest for awhile, he couldn't deny him. But then he looked across the gate by the hole and his face lit up even more. "Oh never mind - let's do that!"

It was a go-kart track.

Most of the people at the track were kids, some with parents. The go-kart attendant did a double-take at the four gentlemen. There was a height requirement, and they certainly met the minimum height, but the maximum was seven feet, and Qui-Gon was six feet four inches tall and Mark was taller than he was.

Mark had to be measured, but he already knew his height. "I'm six nine," he said.

"Hurr hurr," Sören said under his breath.

Mark rolled his eyes, and then he gave Sören an "oh, you" smile, shaking his head, turning pink.

"I feel so short compared to all of you," Obi said.

"I'm not that tall, just six feet," Sören told him.

"Still."

"Well... as the saying goes, it doesn't matter when you're laying down."

Obi's face flushed at that, and so did Qui-Gon's, especially when he knew exactly what Obi was thinking. They weren't there yet, but when they would be...

Qui-Gon's wish to sit down was granted when he sat in the go-kart. This still wasn't quite the rest he wanted to take, but it could be worse.

Sören climbed in the same go-kart as Mark and let him drive - Qui-Gon knew Dooku drove Sören around, but he could have sworn Sören used to drive a few years ago, and he wondered briefly about it. Qui-Gon laughed at the sight of Huan sitting on Sören's lap as Mark drove the go-kart, Huan's tail wagging, tongue lolling in that happy "I go for a ride" smile dogs got.

The four raced the go-karts around for close to an hour, and then they decided to go to the restaurant on site. It was standard American fare, nothing terribly special, but nothing Qui-Gon wouldn't eat, either. 

There was a selection of alcoholic beverages available, and Qui-Gon refrained since he had to drive, but Obi looked at the drink menu and decided to try the hard cider.

"I'll have to see some ID, hun," the waitress said.

Obi looked annoyed, but he produced a state ID and passed it to Sören, who passed it to the waitress. She glanced at it and nodded.

Sören passed the card back and Obi tucked it away, still disgruntled. "Oberon, huh?" Sören asked. "That's not a name you see every day."

"Ah, Shakespeare," Mark said, sipping his ice water.

"Yeah," Obi said, nodding. "My mom is kind of... a colorful person. A hippie. An aspiring novelist, though she's never published anything. I have a twin sister named Titania." Obi gave a cheeky grin. "We call her Tits."

Sören snorted his drink, cried "ow" in pain, then laughed at the slapstick comedy of the snort, and Mark laughed too. "God, what a nickname," Mark said.

"My younger siblings had it worse. We got named for Shakespeare's faeries but they got named for fucking Tolkien elves. Galadriel, Glorfindel, Elrond and Legolas."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Interesting."

Sören looked at Mark, who looked off to the side, and then they grinned at each other like they were amused at a private joke.

Huan whined when their food arrived, and Mark broke off a small piece of his burger and slipped it to the dog. Sören reached out for the cocktail sauce on the table and poured a pool of it next to his fries for dipping, and Obi gave him a horrified look.

"That's... that's not ketchup," Obi said.

"No, it's not," Sören said, dipping a fry into the cocktail sauce before eating. "It's an Icelandic thing."

"Oh, you're from Iceland?"

Sören nodded. "Been here awhile but yes, that's my home country."

"Wow." Obi's eyes were wide. "I knew you weren't American but I didn't know where." He looked at Mark. "Have you been to Iceland?"

"Yeah, Sören took me there last Christmas to meet his brother and his cousin." Mark nodded. "I think they approved of me. I hope."

"You would have gotten your arse kicked if they didn't," Sören said, nibbling on a fry.

"I wish my family was like that," Obi said.

"Ha, maybe you do, maybe you don't. My family is... a lot," Sören said.

"That's putting it mildly," Mark said sotto voce.

Sören snickered at that. "Yes, yes it is."

"I'd like to see Iceland someday," Obi said. "I bet it has a lot of interesting places to draw, too."

Sören's eyes lit up. "It does. I can show you my portfolio sometime. A number of my paintings are set in Iceland, based in places I've been. Well, it starts out that way and then it becomes... more. I'm a fantasy artist, a surrealist, I guess you could call it."

"I'd like to see your work." Obi swallowed hard. "Qui-Gon told me to bring my sketchbook with me..."

"Yes. I told him that I'd like to talk to you about your art, if you want to show me."

When they were finished eating, Obi's sketchbook was in the van, and Sören looked through it on the way back to town. "These are really good," Sören said. "I'd like you to consider enrolling in the university and taking studio art classes."

"Yeah, I haven't... been to school since I left high school. I can't deal too well with people -"

"If you talk to HR they can set it up so you can take most of your requirements online. You do have to attend my class in person, though there's less hours in the freshman year -"

"Fewer," Mark said under his breath.

" - and all the kids who take my class are kind of weird artsy types, but nice people, and if you need help with anything, my assistant Claire and I can work with you."

Obi played with his fidget spinner.

"If this helps your decision making at all," Sören said, "I normally don't disclose this to students but I have some mental health issues. I'm bipolar and I have ADHD and an anxiety disorder. I also have a doctorate. This is a good school if you're struggling, a lot of resources for people like us."

Sören and Obi's eyes met, and Sören gave him a reassuring nod and a pat.

"I'll think about it," Obi said finally. Which was a relief to Qui-Gon. It wasn't a yes, but it wasn't the no and the resistance at the earlier suggestion. "When do classes start...?"

"Well, we've got summer classes starting in June, you'd have to apply now to get in, but I take the summer off, so you wouldn't have me as a teacher if you did. If you want me as your professor, you want to start in September. Like I said, you'll have fewer hours in your freshman year than subsequent years - you'll be seeing the most of me in your senior year, if that's your major. But if you want me to work with you, apply for the fall, já? You've still got some time to think about it."

"I will. Thank you."

"No problem."

"Sören is very well-loved by his students," Mark told Obi. "He's patient and encouraging and tries to make things fun."

"Art is fun," Sören said. "Well, you know, it's fun when it's not ripping your heart out or driving you slowly insane as you obsess over a project. But I've never understood why art has to be elitist."

Obi actually smiled at that. That, too, was a good sign.


_

Qui-Gon and Obi returned to Qui-Gon's house, just the two of them. At the scent of Mark's dog, Fernando rebuffed them, and Qui-Gon said "Right" and marched Obi to the sink so they could wash their hands. Then, with his hands wet, Obi flicked the droplets at Qui-Gon, cackling as Qui-Gon winced at the drops splashing his face.

They curled up on the couch, watching Star Trek again. Qui-Gon just pet Obi for awhile, and finally Obi propped himself up on an elbow and looked up at Qui-Gon adoringly.

"I had fun today," Obi said.

"I did too. And you know what?" Qui-Gon planted a kiss on top of Obi's head. "Even if you decide not to go ahead with it, I'm proud of you for even considering enrolling in the fall. I know that it's not easy for you to think about."

"It sounds less scary when Sören talks about it," Obi said. "He seems very nice."

"He is. Even Dooku likes him, and Dooku doesn't like anybody."

"You mentioned him before but I forgot, and... what the fuck kind of name is Dooku? Who is he again?"

Qui-Gon doubled over laughing at that, and laughed harder when he pictured the way Dooku's face would look if he could hear Obi say that. "He's Romanian, British-born. A professor at the university. He was my professor, until I changed majors, but he remained my mentor, and is a dear friend. My oldest friend, really. He was best man at my wedding."

"Wow, if he was your professor, he must be really old."

Qui-Gon snorted. "He's ten years older."

"That's old."

"He's a cool old guy. He drives a motorcycle on the weekends, listens to metal. He was involved in radical leftist politics in the late 60s through mid 1970s, got arrested a few times, and is one of the few old hippies I know who still stays true to his values and hasn't become a sellout." Even if he is a fucking wine snob. "I'll introduce you sometime." A pause. "I already told him about you."

"Oh, really?" Obi grinned. "Like it's official now?"

Qui-Gon nodded.

Obi leaned up and gave him a kiss.

What was meant to be a quick little peck became soft and lingering, and then it heated, their mouths opening, tongues swirling. Both men groaned into the kiss, and one kiss led to another. And another. Soon Obi was laying on top of Qui-Gon, both still fully clothed, but their hard-ons were straining against their jeans as hands wandered, grinding against each other. When Obi had a bold moment and licked Qui-Gon's neck, Qui-Gon's cock twitched and he took Obi's chin.

"This isn't taking it slow," he rasped.

Obi's eyes met his, a feverish look in them - the blue like a flame. "Can..." He swallowed hard. "I'm not ready to go all the way..."

"I didn't think you would be."

"But..." Obi licked his lips. "Can we try, um... a handjob?" A pause. "Like... you know... going into a pool a little at a time. We try this tonight, I get comfortable with it..."

"If you'd like to, I have no objections, but you absolutely must tell me if anything triggers you, all right?" Qui-Gon stroked Obi's face. "I don't want to upset you."

"I'll tell you."

They unzipped and unbuttoned their jeans and worked the jeans and briefs down their thighs, freeing their cocks. Obi's cock was slightly curved, shorter than Qui-Gon's, but thicker. Obi's balls were high and tight, while Qui-Gon's hung lower and looser. Both men were uncut, and already leaking precum. Qui-Gon moaned at the sight of Obi's ginger bush, and couldn't resist petting it, making Obi moan in turn.

Qui-Gon took Obi's cock in his hand, and Obi took Qui-Gon's cock in his, and they began to stroke. They kept the rhythm slow at first, the same rhythm, and resumed kissing. Obi kissed Qui-Gon's neck again, and Qui-Gon moaned, arching to him. Obi's hand sped up on Qui-Gon's cock then, and Qui-Gon stroked Obi's faster, harder. They moved their cocks closer together, and precum dripped from Qui-Gon's cock onto Obi's. When more precum pooled in Obi's slit, he guided Qui-Gon's hand to jerk the trail onto Qui-Gon's cock, and they both groaned at the sight of it. Qui-Gon was getting closer, and he could tell from the ragged way Obi was breathing, the way he was shaking, that Obi was right there, too.

Qui-Gon took Obi's hand off his cock, and he let go of Obi's, taking both cocks into his fist, stroking them together. "Fuck," Obi gasped, shuddering.

Qui-Gon kissed him hard, and stroked them furiously. At the moment of truth, when Obi gave a little whimper, the kiss pulled apart and Qui-Gon gasped, watching as his cock began to shoot. Obi was coming too, right at the same time, and they both moaned at the delicious sight of cock creaming cock, throbbing and throbbing with pulse after pulse of pleasure.

Obi rested his head in Qui-Gon's chest, shaking. Qui-Gon drifted away for a moment, and came back deeply relaxed. With his fingers he collected the cum that had pooled on their bellies between their spent cocks, and stuck them in Obi's mouth. The sight of Obi's lips wrapped around his fingers, sucking like he would suck a cock, tasting their cum, would have started Qui-Gon up again if he didn't need time to recharge.

They cleaned off, got their pants back on, and then Qui-Gon just held him for a few minutes. "How was that for you?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Good." Obi nodded.

"No triggers, flashbacks...?"

"No. Just... happy." Obi smiled. "Happy that it felt good, and happy that I can do that, at least."

"One step at a time." Qui-Gon kissed his forehead. "I'm proud of you for that, too."

They cuddled awhile longer, and at last it was time for Obi to go home. There were a few more kisses outside the duplex.

"I don't have to work on Friday," Obi said.

"As luck would have it, I only have one class on Friday and I'll be free in the early afternoon."

"Perfect. So I'll see you then?"

"You'll see me sooner than that at the coffee shop, but yes, it's a date."

Obi hugged him. "I like where this is going."

"Yeah, me too." Qui-Gon nuzzled him, and gave him a pat. "Good night, Obi."

Again, the urge to say those three words. God, get a hold of yourself.

Technically, I "got a hold of myself" earlier.

Anakin opened the door to the duplex before Obi could let himself in, and glared at Qui-Gon, and once Obi was inside, Anakin slammed the door. That one was going to be trouble, it seemed. But it still wasn't enough to ruin his good mood.

Chapter Text

Happy Little Trees

 

Chapter Track: "Green" - Love Spit Love

 

Friday afternoon was warm and sunny, just as Qui-Gon had hoped. He took Obi for a drive outside the Corvallis city limits, and parked the van at a park-and-ride. He gestured to a trail several feet away. "I thought it would be nice to go on a hike," Qui-Gon said.

And that was what they did. The trees were starting to come alive now, everything lush and green after recent rains. They hiked in a reverent hush, taking in the majesty of the forest. Every now and again Qui-Gon nudged Obi and pointed, to get him to take a closer look - a bird here, a mushroom colony there. At one point, they saw a deer. Obi clapped his hand over his mouth to not make a noise out loud and scare it away; his eyes were wide and he was actually shaking a little in the awe of the moment.

A little while after they spotted the deer, they took a rest break, sitting on a fallen tree together, drinking water. "Was that your first time seeing a deer closeup?" Qui-Gon asked.

Obi nodded. "I'm from Boston, there isn't much wildlife there. I suppose there is when you get out into rural Massachusetts, but I didn't get to go that way very often. By that I mean, like, never."

"That is a tragedy." Qui-Gon bent his head. "People need nature, and children especially." He gestured to the forest around them. "This is why I decided to stay in the Pacific Northwest. There's something really magical about the land here."

"It really is," Obi said.

"Even as the world is dying - global warming, pollution, deforestation and species extinction - you can almost forget about that, here. The land is happy here. The trees are happy. Almost like the land is singing."

There was a moment of silence, and then Obi smiled, shaking with quiet laughter.

"What's so funny?"

"You..." Obi grinned. "You remind me of that guy. What's his name...? Bob Ross. The Joy of Painting was one of my favorite shows, used to be on my local PBS station on the weekends when I was a kid. It helped get me into art." He looked from Qui-Gon back out at the trees. "All the happy little trees. Happy little clouds..."

"Oh, dear." Qui-Gon laughed too. "I've actually never seen that show."

"Oh, we should watch it! When we get back, you want to watch a couple episodes?"

"Sure."

They were in no rush to get back, exploring the forest a little more before they headed back down the trail. When they got in Qui-Gon's van he continued to drive for awhile, so they could enjoy the scenery and the fresh air. They stopped for food at a small, rustic, family-run restaurant for wood-smoked burgers, and there was a nearby stand selling homemade ice cream. Qui-Gon enjoyed watching Obi eat his cone with sprinkles on it, like a big kid, but inevitably the sight of Obi's tongue made his mind go in the gutter, and he had to look away to be able to drive safely, his face burning.

Back at Qui-Gon's house, he made some tea and they curled up together on the couch, watching Joy of Painting reruns on YouTube. When the sun set, Qui-Gon and Obi sat outside and watched it, Obi leaning on Qui-Gon, being pet. They went back inside at twilight to watch more episodes, and in between episodes Obi asked him, "What do you think?"

"I like it a lot." Qui-Gon thought for a moment. "It's very soothing."

"Yes, that's it exactly. It's not just that he makes really nice paintings, about nature, but it's... very relaxing."

"He's very ASMR."

"What?"

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "ASMR. It stands for autonomous sensory median response, I believe. Basically a feeling of well-being combined with a tingle down the spine, like the auditory equivalent of a scalp massage."

"Oh yes. That's exactly it." Obi nodded, and then he paused and Qui-Gon could almost see the gears turning in his head. "I think that's one of the reasons why I liked the double date so much. It isn't just that Sören is very nice and he made me feel better about going back to school, but he and Mark both have nice voices. Mark has a really, ah, ASMR voice."

Qui-Gon had never really thought about it beyond Mark having a very pleasant voice, but on reflection he did indeed, which seemed fitting for a music teacher. "Yes, Mark seems the very embodiment of ASMR, doesn't he?"

"We should go on a double date with them again sometime."

"We should, yes." Qui-Gon smiled. It was nice to see Obi warming up to them, after struggling with social anxiety - it was also nice to see that Obi was thinking of the future, wanting more dates with him. If I was a dog, I'd be wagging my tail right now.

Well, I suppose I am sort of a dog, with the thoughts I keep having about this young man.
 He kept looking at the way Obi's jeans fit him, and remembered the handjob over the weekend, wanting to see Obi's cock again.

"Do you have to work tomorrow?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Yes, in the afternoon."

"So you're OK to have a glass of wine or whiskey, then?"

Obi nodded. "Do you have brandy?"

"I have apple brandy, never been opened. It was a gift from Dooku at the faculty party last Christmas, but I don't like drinking alone, so I hadn't touched it." Qui-Gon got up and headed to the pantry, where he kept a few bottles of alcohol, and a box of wine for special occasions. He came back with the apple brandy, and two glasses.

"I have an idea," Qui-Gon said. "Would you like to watch more ASMR videos?"

"Yes please."

And that was how they ended up snuggling on the couch, binge-watching ASMR videos. When they polished off their first glass of brandy, Obi asked for a second, and Qui-Gon refilled his glass. When that glass was done, Obi leaned into Qui-Gon's chest, and Qui-Gon pet him. He was deeply relaxed - Obi was deeply relaxed - and Qui-Gon noticed that it had been hours without Obi vaping. He wondered if Obi was finally quitting, using the nicotine cessation kit.

Obi looked up at him adoringly, and mumbled, "I had a really nice time today."

"I did too." Qui-Gon kissed the top of his head, and resumed petting him.

After awhile, when the latest ASMR video was over, Qui-Gon was going to ask Obi what he wanted to do now, if he wanted to go back home or watch something else - and Obi was asleep. That Obi felt safe and relaxed enough to be able to just fall asleep on him filled Qui-Gon with a strange surge of quiet joy.

He put on Star Trek for himself and continued to hold Obi. When he got up to to go to the bathroom - reluctantly - he came back and found Obi laying on the couch, still sleeping, and now Fernando was on the couch next to him, purring away. Qui-Gon laughed at the two commandeering his couch, and sat in the recliner instead. He made popcorn later, and offered, but Obi mumbled and rolled over, then let out a snore.

After Qui-Gon finished his popcorn, he looked at the time. He really needed to go to bed himself, so some decisions had to be made. He sat on the ottoman by the couch and gently shook Obi awake. "Obi."

"Huh?"

"Obi. You fell asleep."

"Oh shit, really?" Obi opened his eyes and yawned. "What time is it?"

"Almost time for me to go to bed. So I can take you home, or -"

"Well, I don't want you driving if you're tired."

"Thank you for the consideration."

"I didn't bring any night clothes with me, though, and I doubt you have anything that fits."

"You can wear a T-shirt of mine. It'll probably hang on you like a short nightgown."

"OK." Obi sat up. "But, uh. Where am I gonna sleep?"

"The couch folds out into a bed if you want to sleep there, or..." Qui-Gon swallowed hard. "You can share my bed, although I am mindful of what you say about going slow and if we were to sleep together tonight it would be to just sleep together. I will be a gentleman."

"I'd rather do that, then. You feel nice, like a big teddy bear."

They brushed their teeth, washed up, and Qui-Gon let him borrow a tie-dye T-shirt. Obi laughed at the sight of himself in it. "I look stupid," he said.

"No, you look adorable. I don't think anything could actually look bad on you."

Obi walked over and gave him a little kiss.

Sharing a bed with Obi and being a gentleman was, of course, easier said than done. It didn't take long for Obi to fall back asleep in Qui-Gon's arms, but Qui-Gon lay there for awhile, his body screaming for release at the proximity of the younger man. It got bad enough that Qui-Gon finally got up, went to the bathroom, and brought himself off, almost ashamed of how quickly he came, like a horny teenager all over again.

The masturbation helped, but only to an extent, and when he climbed back in bed and Obi was laying on him again, Qui-Gon's mind continued to go in places it hadn't gone in years. He finally made himself perform some meditation exercises, and that helped him get to sleep.

He didn't set the alarm on Saturday mornings - weekends were his chance to sleep in - but he usually didn't sleep much past ten AM, either, his internal body clock waking him up well before that. He woke up to Obi raining kisses on his face and petting him, which was a lovely way to start the morning. I could get used to this.

It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once.

He opened his eyes to Obi smiling. Then Obi pointed to Fernando, who was sitting on the bed and gave Qui-Gon an accusatory look. "MOW," Fernando yelled.

"Your cat woke me up," Obi said. "Um... where do you keep your cat food? So that way I don't have to wake you up next time."

He said next time. Qui-Gon's heart skipped a beat and his stomach turned cartwheels as he got out of bed. He showed Obi where he kept the cat food in the pantry. Then he noticed the time - it was ten-thirty.

"Shit, I normally don't sleep this late."

"I usually don't either especially if I go to bed early like I did last night," Obi said. "I guess I needed the sleep. I haven't been sleeping too well lately."

"Oh." Qui-Gon frowned as he fed Fernando. "Is anything wrong?"

"Not really wrong," Obi said. "Just, you know. Money's always kind of tight, and Anakin's always kind of... Anakin." Obi looked at the clock himself. "My shift starts at twelve-thirty so I'll have to go home soon."

"Yes, I understand. Would you like breakfast first?"

Qui-Gon made them pancakes, which would have been enjoyable on his own, but he loved watching Obi dig into them, acting like such simple fare was the best thing ever. Obi got changed back into the clothes he wore last night - "I'll put on something fresh when I get home" - and then Qui-Gon drove him to the duplex on the other side of town.

This time, Qui-Gon didn't sit in the van watching Obi walk off. He wanted to hug Obi, a proper hug, not one constrained by the seat positioning and the steering wheel in the way. So he walked Obi to the door, pulled him close, and gave him a soft kiss.

"Thank you for everything yesterday," Obi said.

"Thank you."

"Wednesday night good?"

"Wednesday night is perfect. Six o'clock?"

"Yes."

And then the door slammed open, with Anakin standing there in his usual wifebeater tank top, under a blue plaid flannel shirt, and worn-looking jeans. He looked furious. "Where the fuck were you last night?" he asked.

"Out," Obi said.

"Yeah obviously. You don't fucking let me know ahead of time, you don't fucking call -"

Against his better judgment, Qui-Gon spoke, not able to just stand there when Anakin was behaving belligerently towards my partner. "I believe Obi is an adult, so unless there was some sort of obligation he had to attend to -"

"Yo, did I fucking ask you?"

Qui-Gon squared his shoulders. Anakin was tall, but Qui-Gon was still taller by a few inches. He folded his arms.

"C'mon," Anakin said, shoving Obi inside. "We're gonna have a talk."

He glared at Qui-Gon behind his back before he slammed the door shut. Once they were both inside, Qui-Gon could hear Anakin screaming, "DO YOU KNOW HOW FUCKING WORRIED I WAS ABOUT YOU, YOU FUCKING MORON?"

Qui-Gon felt the urge to bang on the door and tell Anakin not to talk to Obi like that, and then he could hear Obi yelling back at Anakin and decided he'd let Obi take care of it... for now. But when he got back in his van and back on the road, his conscience nagged him again. Before they went much further, Qui-Gon decided it was a good idea to be informed of any roadblocks that might come up, where Anakin was concerned. He didn't know what was going on with Anakin, and what it would imply for Obi and his future involvement with Obi...

...but there was someone he knew who might, since he'd been Anakin's professor and mentor once upon a time. Qui-Gon took out his cell phone and opened up the calendar section, making a note of "Talk to Mark Lowry" for Monday.

Chapter Text

Storm Warning

 

Chapter Track: "The Unforgiven" - Metallica

 

On Monday morning, after checking his e-mail and going over his lesson plan, Qui-Gon walked down to the arts and music wing of the campus, and the Music Theory room. He heard the harp well before he got in the room - "The Unforgiven" by Metallica - and he stood quietly outside the door for a few minutes, watching Mark Lowry play. Mark was completely absorbed. As someone of an unusual height that often felt physically awkward, Qui-Gon was surprised by the fluid grace of the near-seven-foot-tall professor, long dark hair swaying in rhythm with the notes, wire-rimmed glasses somehow not sliding off his face. Qui-Gon had seen Mark's burned right hand before, but now he couldn't stop staring at it, and felt a little awkward. He wondered if this had something to do with the post-traumatic stress disorder he needed a service dog for.

The room was also not fully lit, and for a minute it seemed almost like Mark was glowing, though when Qui-Gon rubbed his eyes and blinked the illusion went away. Must be the pollen in the air doing weird things to my eyes.

Qui-Gon cleared his throat and Mark jumped, and then he composed himself, turning to look at the door. "Qui-Gon, hello," he said. "May I help you?"

"Actually, yes, you can. Can I come in for a moment?"

Mark gestured, and Qui-Gon stepped into the classroom. Mark flipped the light switch, and Qui-Gon sat on one of the steel folding chairs across from the podium and the harp, feeling gangly and awkward.

"To what do I owe the pleasure? Usually our departments don't interact much."

"I'm here to ask you a question," Qui-Gon said. "It's normally not the sort of thing I'd ask, but it's relevant to the situation I'm in."

Mark leaned back, and gave him the "I'm waiting" look.

"Awhile back you had a student. A certain... Anakin... I forget his surname."

"Anakin Skye-Walker."

"Yes, him."

Mark shook his head. "I don't know what you're wanting to know about him, but this probably gets into student-teacher confidentiality and I could lose my job. So I'd rather not."

"I see." Qui-Gon took a deep breath and headed towards the door. "It's just... I'm involved with his roommate and I'm worried about how his personality issues might-"

Mark's silver eyes met his; there was a look of annoyance in his eyes that made Qui-Gon stop talking. "As I said," Mark said more firmly - he didn't raise his voice but it felt like he had - "I cannot get into this with you. Again, I can lose my job over this."

"All right. Thanks anyway." Qui-Gon headed back to his wing of the campus.

Once Qui-Gon got in his classroom, stapling together lesson packets, his cell phone vibrated and gave the chime for a text notification. Qui-Gon sighed - he'd forgotten to silence his cell phone, again, and it was a good thing he wasn't in the middle of a class. He took the phone out of his pocket and there was a text from a number he didn't recognize. Indeed, that he was getting a text at all was odd. He swiped to his text messages.

Meet me at the pond at 5:45 and we can talk then. -M

_

Qui-Gon showed up early, since the pond was farther away from his house and Mark lived right there. He sat on a bench where he'd be visible, and at 5:45 exactly he saw Mark stroll into the park, with Huan on a leash. Qui-Gon raised his hand in greeting.

"This is still too out in the open," Mark said sotto voce when he approached the bench.

They went for a walk together, and found a picnic table near the bandshell, picnic tables and bandshell being empty still at this time of year. Mark sat on the other side of him, and threw a stick for Huan to fetch.

"All right, so here's the deal," Mark said. "This is all strictly off the record."

"I understand."

"So..." Mark looked off to the distance at Huan, and took a deep breath. He folded his hands on the table and looked down, gathering his words. Qui-Gon again looked at the burned right hand, trying not to stare. Mark looked up. "Ani is special. I say this as someone who teaches a lot of really bright, really talented kids, because look, you don't typically major in music unless you've got a modicum of musical ability, right?"

"Right."

"But Ani... can play by ear. He has perfect pitch when he sings. This is not something you see every day even in my field. He's got a tremendous amount of potential, and I tried to be as encouraging as possible while still maintaining the bounds of professionalism. But you know how it is, you get invested in your kids, the ones who want you to mentor them. And inevitably, you find out things about them. Ani has had a bit of a troubled past."

"So Obi tells me."

Mark nodded. He leaned back and folded his arms. "Qui-Gon... Anakin Skye-Walker has a drug problem."

"He... what." Qui-Gon's jaw dropped. "But he has a job -"

"He has a job working at Wal-Mart stocking shelves. Which doesn't require brain cells to not be fried from drug use."

"Do you know this for a fact, or do you just assume because he lives on the wrong side of the tracks -"

"I don't assume." Mark's voice had an edge to it now. "You might think I'm this snooty stuck up classical music guy - and I get that assumption a lot from faculty, people who haven't bothered to ever sit down and have a conversation with me and talk shit anyway - but I don't judge people for where they come from, I judge people by what they say and do."

Qui-Gon almost felt like saying "I'm sorry," but his mouth was suddenly dry.

Mark went on. "I'm telling you this because it's true. He's used on campus. I don't know how often he uses, I assume it's not every day if he can still hold down a job, but it's enough to be a problem."

"What specifically are we talking about here? Marijuana?"

Mark laughed. It was a bitter laugh. "I wouldn't have said he had a drug problem if it was weed, Qui-Gon, this is Oregon for fuck's sake, everybody smokes weed around here. Sören and I toke up once in awhile."

"Oh good, so do I. Maybe we can -"

Mark nodded, and waved his hand as if to say we're not done yet. Huan came back over with the stick in his mouth and Mark tossed it out again. "Ani does meth, Qui-Gon."

"Jesus."

"Yeah. He'll claim it's recreational but he's already done some things that point to it being not so recreational."

"Such as..."

"The reason why he's no longer my student." Mark let out an exasperated sigh. "Late last fall, Ani stole some music equipment from the campus. I assume it was either for drug money or to pay rent because... he spent his part of the rent on drug money. I don't know the full story of what it was for, because when I caught him, he was a bit of an incoherent mess, as one might be when accosted by a man of my size."

"I... wow. Wow."

"Now, I could have pressed charges, but I decided not to do that for a couple of reasons. Number one, he probably would have went to jail, and I don't think I need to explain to you what happens in prison. He's a non-violent offender, he really... no. I didn't want to see that as his fate. Number two, I really didn't want the shitstorm of the news media coming out here and wanting to interview me and possibly photograph me and all of that, I like living a quiet, simple life without the notoriety of being 'some meth head's music teacher'. Number three, I was aware that if he went to jail, his roommate would be up shit's creek without a paddle as far as making ends meet."

"Yes, I suppose you're right about that as far as Obi is concerned."

Huan came back with the stick, and Mark pet him and cooed "good boy," then he threw the stick again. "I also could have gone to the dean and got him expelled but I had compassion - and perhaps it was misguided - and I wanted to leave him room for opportunity to re-enter my class if he cleaned up, got his shit together. People with drug problems usually have mental health issues and that's how they self-medicate, I have mental health issues so it's something I'm sympathetic to. So we worked out a bargain where he'd return the stolen items, quietly drop out of my class, and get some drug counseling - I got him a referral and everything, same behavioral health clinic where I got the paperwork for my service dog. And in case you're wondering, I do have evidence that he stole things. Some stuff had gone missing here and there before that, smaller items at first, less trivial as time went on, and I got suspicious and set up a video camera and I got everything recorded, right down to him doing a bump of meth just before he carried the stuff out."

Qui-Gon facepalmed.

"In hindsight," Mark said, "maybe I didn't make the right decision as far as setting up that deal with him, because if you're concerned enough about his behavior to be asking me about him I'm going to assume he's not following through with drug counseling."

"I don't know, but he... has a bit of a temper. It is indeed concerning."

"OK. A piece of advice, then." Mark's eyes met his, challenging. "It would be in Obi's best interests to get away from him. The thing about addicts, and addiction, is that when they're active, it becomes a black hole and it sucks in everyone and everything in their path. I am telling you now Anakin is going to be an ongoing source of chaos and calamity for you and Obi unless you can get him away, somehow."

"That's easier said than done, considering they live together, and considering they have some intense personal history - they moved out from Florida together, from what Obi told me, Anakin rescued him from an abuser -"

"It's not uncommon for a rescuer to be an abuser themselves. That's how they establish trust, and dominance."

Qui-Gon sighed. He thought of the way Anakin was yelling at Obi - he didn't like it - and he thought of Obi mentioning that he hadn't slept well lately, had been stressed out, and Anakin was a cause of that stress.

"Now," Mark went on, "you can be honest with him, but expect some resistance." Huan came back with the stick and Mark tossed it again, and glanced at his Rolex watch.

Qui-Gon nodded. "It might also come off as controlling, and I don't want to be that kind of boyfriend, telling him who he can and can't associate with."

"No. And it has the potential to backfire, anyway, and push him even more towards Ani. I wish there was something I could do to help, but all I can really do is arm you with this piece of information. It does seem, though, that part of Obi's challenge here is that he doesn't have a whole lot of friends who aren't Ani -"

"He mentioned Ahsoka, who got him the job at the coffee shop."

"Ahsoka. She's a good girl." Mark smiled, and then he frowned. "Ahsoka is one of my students and she... is Anakin's ex-girlfriend."

"The plot thickens."

"She broke up with him right after the theft incident. Also, he was talking to her like she was a piece of trash, making her do things like carry his books or fetch water for him. I commented on it a few times when he wasn't around, told her, 'you know, you're not his servant woman.' That sort of thing. If Anakin is freaking out over you seeing Obi, I'm surprised that he isn't going ballistic over Obi associating with Ahsoka, but I'm guessing it's also because Obi needs a job and Ahsoka helped him get that job."

"Probably. Or maybe he is going ballistic and I just haven't seen it yet." Qui-Gon frowned. He was liking Anakin less and less the more he heard about him. He pinched the bridge of his nose and cringed. "This is a clusterfuck."

"That it is." Mark looked at his Rolex again. "I'm afraid I can't stay long, I'm going over to Sören's place for dinner and Netflix."

"Netflix and chill?"

Mark laughed and grinned. "Netflix and chill, yes." He got up, and whistled for Huan to come back. Huan did, and after Mark put Huan back on the leash, and he and Qui-Gon stepped away from the picnic table, he held out his good hand for Qui-Gon to shake. "Have a good rest of the evening, Qui-Gon. I'm sorry I had to be the bearer of bad news."

"Thank you for telling me about all of this, I appreciate you took the risk for Obi's sake, and I assure you I will do nothing to compromise your job." Qui-Gon reached with his other hand to pat Mark's shoulder. Mark adjusted his glasses, and Qui-Gon couldn't help staring at the burned hand again. 

Mark gave him a look.

"I'm sorry," Qui-Gon said, feeling sheepish. "I... ah."

"It's an old war wound."

Mark was... early forties? Qui-Gon did the mental math. "Iraq? Afghanistan?"

Mark didn't answer that. "See you later." He walked off, Huan trotting and wagging his tail.

Chapter Text

Moving Forward

 

Chapter Track: "You've Got A Friend" - James Taylor

 

It rained on Tuesday, the rain mirroring Qui-Gon's internal state of wanting to hide in bed rather than come in to work, and when he had quiet moments in his classes, or between classes, he found himself thinking about Obi... worrying about him, remembering what Mark had told him yesterday about Anakin. He wondered how much Obi knew about his roommate's habits, how much he'd been affected by them.

And he found himself wondering about how, indeed, to get Obi away from that influence. It was going to be like defusing a bomb - a careful procedure that if not done just so, would be explosive and damage all involved.

The worry was coupled with missing him, intensely. It had just been a couple of days since they'd seen each other and already that was too long.

You've got it bad, and that is not good.

...Nor can I help it.


Arguing with himself, Qui-Gon drove from the campus to Mountains of the Moon. His face lit up when he saw Obi waiting tables, but Obi only managed the faintest of smiles. Qui-Gon chalked it up to this being a busy hour of the day, and the stress Obi had reported having as of late, not sleeping well. When Obi waited on him, Qui-Gon's first words were, "How are you?"

"Fine." He didn't sound fine at all.

Qui-Gon frowned. "You know, if you need anything..."

"What are you having today." Obi's tone of voice was flat.

Qui-Gon sighed. He didn't like that at all. "Um... citrus mint tea, please, and a lemon scone."

Obi nodded, jotted down his order, and walked off.

Qui-Gon attempted to work on his laptop, but he kept being distracted by watching Obi. Every now and again, their gaze would meet, and Qui-Gon tried to give him a reassuring smile, hoping it would be an oasis in a hectic crowd. Obi never smiled back.

At last Obi brought over the tea and the scone. His hands were shaking a little. Qui-Gon noticed, and even though it was probably not professional for Obi, Qui-Gon reached out and put his hands on Obi's, an attempt at comfort. "Hey," Qui-Gon said, meeting his eyes. "It's OK." He raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're fine?"

Obi yanked his hands away. It was like a slap in the face. "Yeah, I told you I'm fine."

"Obi." Qui-Gon shook his head. He took a deep breath. "You're not fine."

"Could you not?"

Before Qui-Gon could respond, Obi ran a hand through his hair, rubbed his beard, and said, "Look, I go on break in fifteen minutes."

That was less leisurely than Qui-Gon would have liked to drink his tea and eat his scone, but he hurried for the sake of seeing Obi in the usual break spot. Obi was pacing around, playing with his fidget spinner.

"What happened in there?" Qui-Gon asked.

"You... you're too nice." Obi frowned. "I don't need to be treated like I'm this fragile thing made of fucking glass -"

"Obi, I'm sorry if I offended you at all. I care about you. You seemed stressed. I wanted to make sure you were OK -"

"You know how tired I get, sometimes, when people find out I'm on the spectrum, they start... pitying me and shit. Oh, Obi has special needs. We have to walk on eggshells for the poor, poor autistic boy. I don't need you to feel fucking sorry for me."

"Again, I care about you. I would act the same way whether you were autistic or not, because you're my partner. But speaking bluntly, as an educator, we live in a world where too few people understand neuroatypicality and are willing to make any sorts of accommodations for those who are different, and I know some of my students who are on the spectrum often feel like they have to push themselves harder and try to be 'strong' for a world that doesn't understand them, and I hate to see you doing the same thing. There is no shame in admitting you're having a hard time, having a bad day -"

"Look, piss off, all right? I don't need you to be my white fucking knight."

Qui-Gon felt stung. He swallowed hard. Then he nodded. "All... all right." He would accede to Obi now, not wanting to throw gasoline on the fire. "Does this mean you're canceling for tomorrow, then?"

"Yeah." Obi nodded, and looked away. "I... I'll call you or something."

Qui-Gon walked off, out to his van, and went home. When he arrived at his house he sat in his van for a full ten minutes, just stunned, and then he buried his face in his hands, letting out a strangled sob, feeling like his world was crashing around him.


_


The next morning, Qui-Gon was in the campus cafeteria, getting breakfast. He hadn't eaten before he left home - he'd barely slept - and he needed coffee to survive the day, and then his stomach protested.

Dooku was eating a bowl of raisin bran and reading the Silmarillion. Qui-Gon sat in a corner of the cafeteria, hoping to just disappear, that Dooku would be too absorbed in the book, but of course he noticed.

"Qui-Gon. Good morning. You won't be interrupting if you join me, I've read this book several times now."

Despite Qui-Gon not really being in the mood for people, he nonetheless took his tray and sat across from his old mentor - after all, they'd been adrift since Tahl's death, and that was his own fault, and he needed to try to rebuild that bridge somehow. Dooku gave him a small smile as he sat down. Then his smile became a concerned frown when he saw the look on Qui-Gon's face, shoveling cornflakes into his mouth.

"Is everything all right, Qui?"

"Not really, no."

Dooku nodded and sipped his orange juice. "Anything you want to talk about?"

"Not especially."

"Hm." Dooku took another bite of his raisin bran. "And you were doing better, too, it seemed."

"Yeah." Qui-Gon looked down.

"Well, if you do decide you want to talk about what's bothering you, my door is always open..."

Qui-Gon thought about the shopping trip he'd taken after his conversation with Mark on Monday evening, going all-out with steaks and shrimp - Mark's story about Anakin stealing and possibly having financial trouble because of drugs, and Obi's admission that money had been tight, Qui-Gon didn't know how well Obi had been eating, and it seemed Obi could put away a lot of food when they were together, so he wanted to feed him especially well. There was no way Qui-Gon would be able to eat all of it himself if he cooked it tonight, he didn't have a lot of room in his freezer to put away some of it for another time, and he didn't like the idea of wasting food or living on leftovers for the next couple of days. He also got the sense that if he was alone tonight, when he would have been on his date with Obi, he would probably end up drowning his sorrows and have a hangover tomorrow, or make some stupid decisions before then.

He was overdue for spending some time with his old friend, anyway. "Do you have plans for tonight, by any chance?"

Dooku blinked, caught off guard. "I... do not, actually."

"Would you like to come over for dinner? It's been awhile."

"Indeed it has." Dooku nodded. "What time?"

"Six PM."

"I can do that. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

_


It managed to stop raining on Wednesday afternoon, though it was cloudy and cool.  Dooku's habit was not merely to be on time, but to be early, and Qui-Gon couldn't help chuckling to himself and shaking his head when he saw Dooku's Jaguar pull up in front of his house fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, with Dooku just sitting in the car, reading to pass the time. Qui-Gon opened the door and whistled. Dooku looked out the window and Qui-Gon waved, and gestured for him to come in.

Dooku had changed since he'd been home, out of his usual suit and tie for class - more formal than any other professor on campus - into a dark blue sweater and black chinos. He still looked elegant, and moved with a grace and speed of a man decades younger. He was carrying a chocolate cheesecake in a cake dish, and Qui-Gon's eyes lit up at the sight of it.

"Yes, I made that," Dooku said. "I didn't want to come empty-handed, and I didn't know which sort of wine to bring since you hadn't mentioned what we're having for dinner -"

"It's OK. I've got wine. And wow, you made that?" Qui-Gon did the math; Dooku must have gotten to work on that immediately after he got home.

"Sören stayed for awhile and helped me. I just saw him home before coming here." That little flush in his cheeks and twinkle in his eyes when he brought up the Icelander.

"Well, here. Sit down. I'll take that into the kitchen and would you like coffee or tea?"

"Tea, Earl Grey if you have it."

Qui-Gon brought the cheesecake into the kitchen, put on water for tea, and got dinner started. When the kettle boiled he poured water into a mug and plopped in a tea bag. He brought it out on a tea service tray with cream and sugar and Dooku made a face.

"What's... that."

"Earl Grey as requested."

"You're from England too, and you forgot how to make proper tea?"

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. Then Dooku looked down and said, "My apologies. I'm a guest in your home, and I shouldn't be so critical."

Qui-Gon patted his shoulder. "It's been a long time since I've been back to the UK, Nicolae."

"I've been living in the States longer than I lived there, now, but for some reason I still think of England as home." Dooku bobbed his teabag in the mug. "I go back every couple of years on holiday as I can. I don't know why."

"Well, there's a lot of things to see and do?"

Dooku nodded. "I feel drawn to the historical sites, which I suppose seems a no-brainer considering what I teach for a living, but there are a few in particular. I'll be going to Avebury for the summer solstice."

"Ah, that sounds lovely." Then Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow, leaning back in his chair. "It also sounds very Pagan."

"I'm not, if you're wondering. I suppose I have sympathies, again, as a teacher of ancient history, but it's more of an intellectual curiosity for me. Well... yes, I suppose there's a sort of energy there too, superstitious that may sound..."

Qui-Gon waved his hand. "I told you about what happened to make me change my major. An elf talked to me when I was high on mushrooms on that field trip you took us on to Wayland's Smithy. I'm not going to judge you."

Dooku snorted into his tea. "If only elves were real."

"If only."

Fernando came over to sniff Dooku, and climbed up on the older gentleman's lap. "Well hello there," Dooku said, petting him. He sighed. "I miss Beowulf."

"You should get another cat."

Dooku frowned. He continued petting Fernando. "Even if I didn't think I was too old and that cat might outlive me, at this point -"

"- You don't know that, and you seem to be in good health -"

"- Cats are not replaceable and interchangeable, either. They are people, with four legs and fur."

Qui-Gon nodded. "People, whether they're hairless mutant gorillas or felines, are not interchangeable or replaceable, no. But at some point life goes on and you can discover something new with a new friend."

"You seem to be talking as much about Tahl now as you are about Beowulf. How are things with your new friend?"

Qui-Gon made a noise. "Let's... watch something, shall we?"

Qui-Gon put on Star Trek: The Next Generation, going back and forth between the kitchen and the living room. When dinner was ready, Qui-Gon retrieved the box of wine from the pantry, set it on the table, and poured them each a glass. Dooku took his seat, noticed the box of wine, bitchfaced, but didn't say anything. Qui-Gon couldn't help grinning as he swirled the wine around in his glass.

A few minutes into dinner Dooku said, "This is superb. The steak is wonderfully seasoned and cooked just right."

"Thank you. I did my best."

"My compliments." Dooku raised his glass of wine, and then made a little face before taking a sip.

As Qui-Gon worked on his shrimp, dipping it in cocktail sauce, Dooku looked at the cocktail sauce and Qui-Gon knew he was thinking of Sören, no doubt having eaten with him enough times to see the Icelander put cocktail sauce on fries or other items. His words that followed confirmed that suspicion. "I do hope you like the cheesecake, when it's time. Sören suggested chocolate..."

"Oh, I'm sure I will. It looks lovely. It looks tempting enough to eat now before dinner is even over."

"He made a smaller cheesecake to take home. I believe he's getting together with Professor Lowry this evening." His eyes looked sad.

Qui-Gon felt a twinge. He wanted Mark to be happy with Sören, traumatized as he was as a war vet, they seemed to be good for each other... but he also wanted Dooku to be happy as well. None of my business, Qui-Gon thought to himself, sipping wine. He still hurt for all of them.

"And as far as you..." Dooku looked at his plate of food, and then at Qui-Gon. "This is quite a lot here. Really special. You were in a bad mood this morning, and when I asked you how things were going with your new friend, you purposefully evaded the question. Putting two and two together, your original plans this evening were with him and they fell through, didn't they?"

Qui-Gon just nodded. "Yeah."

"What happened?"

Qui-Gon frowned. "I went to see him at work, and he snapped at me, got a little hostile, and canceled our plans."

"I see."

"He said he'd call me, but I'm not getting my hopes up. I think I may have blown it with him."

"As I cannot see both sides of the story, I can't tell you that you have or have not. But it seems to me that perhaps he was having a rough time at work, lashed out in stress, and it wasn't so much you as it was the other circumstances. You won't really know unless you talk to him." Dooku wiped his mouth. "You should call him."

"I... don't want to make things worse, if he's mad at me and doesn't want to talk to me -"

"You should call him. You should do it sooner rather than later, the longer you let things go without talking it out, the more of a misunderstanding and hurt feelings there will be. The situation isn't going to resolve itself, you need to be proactive."

You're a fine one to talk about needing to talk about things considering you won't tell Sören how you feel. But again, that was none of his business, and he felt if he challenged Dooku on that right now it wouldn't go well. Qui-Gon nibbled on a shrimp. "I suppose."

"No, you don't suppose, you know I'm right. You're going to call him."

"I'll call him later."

Dooku raised his eyebrows. "I know you, and when you say 'I'll call him later' it means days from now, at the earliest." Dooku put his knife and fork down. "You're going to call him now."

"Now...?"

"Right now. I can wait." Dooku sipped his wine.

Qui-Gon made a noise, but found himself taking out his cell phone, even as his brain was protesting WTF? you're not my teacher anymore, you're not my father but that had always been the dynamic between them, Dooku giving firm guidance and a bit of tough love when needed. Qui-Gon would have probably become a hermit years ago if it hadn't been for that, with Dooku encouraging him to stay in school, continue teaching, even pursue Tahl.

Qui-Gon dialed Obi's number. Four rings, and Obi finally answered. "Hello."

"Obi. It's me."

"Hi."

"Hi."

"Hi."

"Hi."

"Hi."

"Hi."

Qui-Gon laughed. "Hello. I..."

"It's funny because I was just thinking I should call you, and then you called me. That's almost, like... telepathic."

"Almost, yes." Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "Obi... about yesterday..."

"Yeah, about that. I'm really sorry. I wasn't having a good day at work, I was having sensory overload, and I had a fight on Monday night with Ani about why I don't like going to his shows - too loud, too many people, the smell at the bar makes me sick - and he called me a special snowflake and it was just. Bad."

"Oh, Obi." Qui-Gon's heart sank. With friends like Anakin, who needs enemies?  He needed to figure out a way to pull Obi away from Ani's influence that wouldn't backfire, but right now... One step at a time. "Obi... I want you to know... I'm not with you because I feel sorry for you or am trying to make myself feel like a good person by 'rescuing' you. I'm with you because I genuinely like you. And I truly didn't mean to offend you yesterday. I meant what I said - I care about you and when I see you unhappy, I want to do something about it, I want to make you happy, as your partner."

"I know. And it probably didn't help that I'm a wreck of nerves right now because I'm quitting smoking, on top of everything else."

"Oh. Oh."

"Yeah. I know you don't like it and..."

"Well, it's something I want you to do for yourself, Obi, you're young and have a lot of years ahead of you, I don't want to see you end up with very preventable cancer because you smoke. But that you're taking my feelings into consideration, it means a lot."

"I am, though I clearly failed at that yesterday."

"Well... it's an understandable failure. Nothing that can't be forgiven. I'm not even angry with you, I'm just relieved that you're not truly angry with me."

"I'm not. I'm so sorry."

"You don't need to keep apologizing."

"I'm also sorry for canceling our plans for tonight. I... miss you."

"I miss you too. Would you like to take a rain check? Are you free Saturday night?"

"I get off work at 7 PM. And I work Sunday afternoon so I'd have to go home at a decent hour unless -"

"- Unless you want to spend the night again, just cuddling, like before. This time you can come prepared?"

"OK."

"Feel free to bring your art supplies if you want to sketch or anything while you're here. I wouldn't mind watching you work."

Obi's voice brightened. "OK! That might help me relax after my shift."

"Yes, I hope so. Shall I pick you up at 8 on Saturday? Is that enough time for you to get ready? We can have a late dinner."

"That's enough time. Thank you, Qui-Gon." A pause. "For everything. Thank you for being awesome."

"You're pretty awesome, yourself." Qui-Gon wanted to say those three words again and choked them back, not wanting to blurt them out and scare the young man away. "See you Saturday, unless you want me to come to the coffee shop before that."

"I want to tell you yes because I'd like to see you, but I feel like right now as I'm quitting smoking and am having to deal with people and noise and running around getting orders straight which is hard for me on a good day, I might take the risk of snapping at you again without meaning to, so only stop by if you don't expect me to be a merry sunshine, please."

"All right. And Obi, I don't fault you for that, either. It is, as I said, very understandable."

"I appreciate it." Another meaningful pause. "I appreciate you."

Qui-Gon felt that lump in his throat. "You too. Bye, love."

And then as he swiped "End" he realized that even though he hadn't said I love you, he'd still called Obi love. His face burned.

Dooku did one of those small golf claps. "Well done."

"God, I forgot I had an audience." Qui-Gon pinched the bridge of his nose and chugged his wine.

Dooku smiled into his own wine glass. "I told you so."

"Yes, you did." Qui-Gon chuckled, exasperated and amused all at once. The consistency was strangely comforting. Don't ever change, Dooku. "I suppose I owe you one, now."

"Yes. You can owe me by not serving me boxed wine the next time I come for dinner."

Qui-Gon's chuckle became a cackle. And then he refilled his glass and raised it. "To a next time. To renewed friendship."

They clinked glasses. "It's good to see you rejoin the land of the living, Qui."

Do you even know what that looks like, Dooku? "Thanks. I suppose I'm getting there."

"One step at a time. You'll get there. You just need to keep talking to him. Don't withdraw. Communication is key."

Qui-Gon pointed to the cake dish. "Cheesecake?" Speaking of communication, and your lack thereof with Sören.

"Cheesecake, yes please."

Fernando meowed. "Cats don't eat cheesecake," Qui-Gon scolded.

Fernando meowed louder.

A few bites in, Qui-Gon said, "You'd offered me recipes awhile back... can I have the recipe for this?"

"You're physically capable of having the recipe, yes."

Qui-Gon rolled his eyes. God, the more things change, the more they stay the same. "May I have the recipe for this, Professor."

Dooku laughed. Then he said, "You may, but I'll do you one better - you and Obi have plans for Saturday, yes? I can make another cheesecake on Friday or Saturday and bring it to you before your date."

"That would be very kind of you. Maybe you should get Sören's help again." You should get Sören's help with a few things.

"I'll ask." Dooku's cheeks flushed again, and he looked away almost a bit guiltily.

Fernando meowed and stood on his back paws, his front paws on Qui-Gon's thigh, batting him.

"No cheesecake for you." Qui-Gon wagged his finger.

After dessert they went for a little walk around the neighborhood, which was a picturesque cul-de-sac with a little park at the end. Dooku winced a little as he sat down, and rubbed his knee. "Arthritis," he explained. "It's not all that bad yet, but it acts up in more humid weather and I believe we're expecting rain the next few days."

"It's amazing that you're as active as you are. Do you still fence?"

"I do. Not as often as I used to, but I'm good for going to the fencing club a couple times a month, and I practice at home a few times a week. And I assume you still are off the wagon with fencing yourself."

"Yeah."

"Pity."

"I never could get the hang of pretending to want to stab people." Though I might make the exception for Quinlan and Anakin.

Dooku laughed. "You've always had a gentle heart."

"I suppose."

"I'm glad you've stayed true to that over the years, especially with the way the world is now, and that you have not become bitter and angry. All the idealism of my youth, and it seems that too many places are going backwards instead of forwards."

"It's very sad. Though my kids remind me that there is still good in this world."

"Mine too. I try to impart upon them the truth that history is doomed to repeat for those who forget it." Dooku gave Qui-Gon a pointed look. "Don't repeat your own history of being such a stranger, if there is more grief in your life."

Qui-Gon did something he normally didn't do, and reached out to give his mentor a hug. Dooku was awkward at first, not knowing how to respond, and then he hugged Qui-Gon back, patting his shoulder.

Qui-Gon walked Dooku out to his Jaguar. "Thank you for having me over," he said.

"Thank you for coming over. We'll have to do this again sometime."

"Indeed. I'd be happy to cook for you and Obi some evening."

"That sounds good. He has to warm up to the idea of meeting a stranger, I think, but when he does... consider those plans made."

"Good." Dooku patted him. "I wish you happiness, Qui."

"Same to you." Qui-Gon felt that little twinge for him again, and gave a sad wave as Dooku got in his car and drove off.

Chapter Text

Sprouting

 

Chapter Track: "Weather Storm" - Massive Attack

 

Obi looked so cute with his backpack, like a big kid going away on a sleepover. He was grinning from ear to ear when he got in Qui-Gon's van, and Qui-Gon grinned back.

A quick kiss. "I'm happy to see you," Qui-Gon told him.

"Yeah, me too." Obi blinked. "See you... I mean. Not... see myself, because I always see myself."

Qui-Gon chuckled. "I knew what you meant."

Dinner had been simmering in the slow cooker all day and was already ready when they arrived. Qui-Gon had made a pot of shrimp gumbo - it was one of Tahl's recipes, growing up in New Orleans - and Dooku and Sören had stopped by in the early afternoon with a chocolate cheesecake, en route to Portland to go to Powell's City of Books "and Voodoo Doughnut," Sören had said, while Dooku rolled his eyes but was still smiling.

"We'll bring you and Obi back donuts," Sören said. He pulled up a menu on his cell phone. Qui-Gon did a double take at the cock and balls donut, which he thought would probably be too suggestive, decided the maple bacon bars looked good, and if Obi liked them, he'd take Obi up there one of these days, if he hadn't been already. Portland's "look how weird we are" vibe rubbed Qui-Gon the wrong way enough that he could only tolerate it in small doses, and was why he lived down in Corvallis, but it was fun for the occasional trip.

As Qui-Gon dished out the gumbo, he informed Obi, "We have company coming for a short visit, just fyi."

"Oh?"

"Sören and Professor Dooku are bringing us something."

"Oh, OK." Obi nodded.

Qui-Gon got the sense that if it was anyone else Obi would probably have a problem with the disruption, but Obi liked Sören.

Obi enthusiastically ate the shrimp gumbo, having a second helping. "Save some room for dessert," Qui-Gon said, pleased that Obi still liked his cooking.

They ate cheesecake on the couch when there was the expected knock at the door. Sören and Dooku came in; Sören had a bag from Powell's in one hand, which he set on the floor, and carried a pink box from Voodoo Doughnut.

"Obi, this is my mentor, Nicolae Dooku. Dooku, this is my partner, Oberon Canobie, but everyone calls him Obi for short."

"A pleasure to meet you," Dooku said, smiling.

Sören put the pink box of donuts on the coffee table. "A dozen maple bacon donuts for you guys."

"Oh, that's very kind of you, I was only expecting a donut for each of us," Qui-Gon said.

"I got a box to take home and I figured what the hell, why not get another box." Then Sören handed the Powell's bag to Obi. "This is for you."

Obi opened it, and there were several adult coloring books - mandalas, fantasy creatures - plus a fresh sketchbook and a brand new box of colored pencils. Obi squealed aloud and leapt up to hug Sören, who laughed and hugged him warmly.

"That was... so nice? I barely know you..."

"You... kinda remind me of myself, when I was your age," Sören said, patting his shoulder.

"Aw come on, you're not old enough to do that 'when I was your age' shit, are you?"

"I'm thirty-three." Sören nodded solemnly. "I'll be thirty-four in November. Definitely an old geezer now."

Dooku snorted. "You know..."

Sören grinned at him. "I know."

"All right, you whippersnapper, I think it's time we head home." Dooku put an arm around Sören's shoulders, whose grin broadened.

"Wait..." Obi gave them a confused look. "What happened to Mark? Aren't you going out with him?"

Dooku and Sören froze, and Dooku gave him a pained look, his face flushed, while Sören looked away, also blushing, looking like he wanted to hide. Sören ran a nervous hand through his mop of dark curls, and scratched his beard before adjusting the glasses on his nose, which were fogging up as if from a sudden flash of heat.

Obi knew immediately he'd put his foot in it. "Er. Sorry..."

"Nico - er, Dooku - and I are neighbors," Sören said. "We've been living in the same neighborhood for about four years. Nico started driving me around after I had a car accident in 2016 and was too spooked to drive. We got to be close, because of that, and he's basically my best friend. We hang out a lot."

"Though it didn't start off that way, to be sure." Dooku gave Sören a look that was equal parts annoyance and affection; Sören's dark eyes sparkled back at his. "We didn't like each other at all, at first. I used to hear you coming a mile away, driving in with your rap music full blast, bass shaking the entire street. Which I swore back then you were doing purposely to annoy me. And the days you would play it at home -"

"That time we had the music war with 'Inna Gadda Da Vida' versus Snoop Dogg, for the entire block to hear." Sören's laughter rang out. "I remember."

"I'm surprised we didn't kill each other."

"Well, I'm glad we didn't." Sören bit his lower lip and crinkled his nose. "I like to think I'm more considerate now, too. I was going through a bit of a rough patch then. Very angry all the time."

"Yes, that Seth character..." There was a predatory look on Dooku's face. "Putting the fear of God into that filth was one of the more satisfying moments of my life."

"Jæja, let's not talk about my asshole ex right now. Anyway, home, já?"

Dooku patted Sören's shoulder, and Sören took his hand and squeezed.

"I'm sorry," Obi said again.

"No harm done. Enjoy the presents. Good night!" Sören waved, and Dooku waved also, and they were out. As they walked down the path, Qui-Gon and Obi heard Sören singing at the top of his lungs, "La-da-da-da-dahh | It's the motherfuckin D-O-double-G (SNOOP DOGG!)" Qui-Gon had to look out the window to watch the ridiculousness.

"Brat," Dooku said.

"You love it." Sören reached out to give him a squeeze, before they got in Dooku's Jaguar.

"Shit," Obi said when they were gone.

Qui-Gon gave Obi's knee a reassuring squeeze and a rub.

"They just looked so..." Obi searched for the right word. "Cute together, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." Qui-Gon frowned.

"I think Dooku likes him. I think Sören likes him back, too, but Sören's with Mark..."

"I think we better stay out of their business." Qui-Gon opened the donut box and handed Obi a maple bacon donut. "Here."

The look of rapture on Obi's face sent Qui-Gon's mind back into the gutter, and Obi being able to fit most of the elongated, thick donut in his mouth didn't help matters either. "This is so good," Obi said through a mouthful of donut, then, self-conscious about talking with his mouth full, he waited till he was done chewing and swallowing. "This is great."

"Have you been to Voodoo Doughnut?"

Obi shook his head.

"Maybe we can go sometime. Portland's about an hour and a half north of us, closer to two hours if there's traffic. It would be a fun day trip."

"Yeah, I'd like that." Obi leaned in and nuzzled him. "I'd like to check out the art scene if we go there."

"OK! Then we'll definitely go sometime."

"Speaking of art, you said I should bring my supplies to sketch, though I see I've got plenty here. But I've got some stuff in my backpack..."

"Yes, I did say that, and I'd still like to watch you create if that's OK with you."

"It is. Can I get changed first?"

"You can shower and change, if you feel like taking a shower, too. Whenever you're here from now on, just treat this as being your house, too."

Of course, Qui-Gon almost regretted telling him that, as the sound of the shower sent his mind back into the gutter, thinking of Obi naked, lathering himself... Qui-Gon got hard, and when he couldn't resist a peek at Obi walking from the bathroom into the bedroom in just a towel, he hardened even more. He rushed to the bathroom to relieve himself, and felt self-conscious about it after, like he was a horny teenager again, not able to control his libido.

You know what? I am going to be sixty in May. There are worse things than feeling like a teenager.

Seeing Obi in red plaid flannel pajamas was not normally the sort of thing Qui-Gon would have expected to set off his libido again, but he looked so sweet and innocent in them that Qui-Gon felt that stirring of arousal once more. Obi sat down next to him with sketchpad in hand.

"Anything in particular you want me to draw?" Obi asked.

Qui-Gon thought for a moment. Then he said, "Did you ever have an imaginary pet when you were a kid?"

"Yeah." Obi turned red and gave a sheepish grin. "I had a pet lion named Liam."

Qui-Gon smiled at this.

"What about you? That's a weirdly specific question to ask me, sounds like you had one too." Obi elbowed him.

"Yes, actually. He was a pet dragon named Nigel." Qui-Gon couldn't believe he was telling this to anyone.

"A dragon. Named Nigel."

"Yes. A green dragon named Nigel. When he sneezed, pollen and seeds came out of his nose and it made the flowers grow." Qui-Gon shook his head. "In hindsight, I suppose you can say I was destined for a career helping the environment."

"I guess so. Was he a big dragon? Small?"

"He was about the size of a house."

"OK." Obi gave Qui-Gon another grin, and then started sketching.

Qui-Gon watched a rerun of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Fernando on his lap, purring away, every now and again stealing glances at Obi drawing. When he broke out the colored pencils, Qui-Gon peeked at the pad, but then his gaze stole up to Obi himself, a look of determination on his face, nose wrinkled, tongue poking out slightly. There was almost a hum around him. It made Qui-Gon want to snatch away the pad, kiss him, and ravish him. Down, boy.

At last Obi was finished, and showed him. "Here." It was Liam riding on Nigel's back; a catnip plant was growing from Nigel's energy and Liam was very obviously high on the catnip.

"That's... amazing."

"Keep it."

"I want to frame it." Qui-Gon would have gone out immediately to buy a picture frame if it wasn't late on a Saturday night. He put the drawing on top of the mantle where it would be safe until he could get a frame.

It had been raining on and off all day, had started raining again while Obi was drawing, and as Obi snuggled up on Qui-Gon, with Qui-Gon petting him, the sound of the rain was especially soothing and it wasn't long before both men were sleepy.

After they brushed their teeth together, Qui-Gon changed into his own night clothes, wearing flannel pajama bottoms and a T-shirt to bed - he noticed Obi ogling him when he was shirtless, and was reluctant to put a shirt on, wanting to bask in the admiration. But it was a chilly night.

Qui-Gon climbed into bed, but Obi didn't immediately - he went over to his backpack, and Qui-Gon watched him produce Smokey, the grey stuffed kitten doll that Obi had mentioned owning since he was three, which would make the doll twenty years old now. It was in reasonably good shape though it was also obvious the doll had been well-loved over the years.

"You are too adorable," Qui-Gon said as Obi brought the kitten doll in bed with him.

"You're not just saying that? You don't think I'm lame for owning...?"

"No, not in the slightest. I wish I still had my teddy bear from childhood."

"I don't just sleep with him, sometimes when I'm really stressed out I'll wrap a couple blankets around myself and hold him."

Qui-Gon wrapped his arms around Obi and kissed the top of his head. "There are far worse ways to cope."

Qui-Gon turned the lights out, though he had a nightlight and Qui-Gon watched Obi in the faint blue glow. He resumed petting Obi, snuggled up on his chest holding Smokey, petting in the rhythm of the rain.

And then there was thunder, and Obi jumped. "Oh Jesus..."

"Shhhh, it's all right." Qui-Gon's arms tightened around Obi.

"God, I hate thunderstorms."

Thunder boomed again, lightning flashed, and Obi made a little whimper.

"It's OK. You're safe here." Qui-Gon pet him some more and kissed the top of his head. "You're OK."

"God, I'm such a wuss." Obi looked up at him, and Qui-Gon saw the tears in his eyes. "My ex used to make fun of me about being scared of thunderstorms."

"Your ex sounds like a real douchebag."

"Yeah, but... you know. It wasn't the first time. Wasn't the last time. Ani thinks it's dumb, too."

"Yeah, about that." Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "I don't like the fact that he called you a 'special snowflake' earlier in the week and gave you a hard time about not being able to go to his shows because of the issues you have. That doesn't sound like he's very healthy for you to be around."

"He's not all bad all the time. He saved my life when we were in Florida. He just... you know, has problems and he can be an ass sometimes, but he's really nice to me other times."

Yes, abusers wouldn't get away with abuse if they were awful 100% of the time. Qui-Gon sighed.

There was more thunder, and Obi jumped. "God. I'm sorry -"

"You have nothing to be sorry for, love." There it was again, that word. "Nothing to be sorry for, nothing to be ashamed of."

"My ex used to tell me to 'be a man' when I got like this."

"Yes, because the definition of 'being a man' is of course violence against a smaller and physically weaker person... except it's not. I loathe the toxic masculinity in society. You'll get none of that here."

Obi smiled up at him, showing those dimples. "Thanks."

Qui-Gon kissed the tip of his nose, and started rocking him a little.

The thunder calmed down, and Obi fell asleep in his arms, and then Qui-Gon slept too. There was more thunder in the middle of the night, waking them both, and Qui-Gon's arms tightened around Obi, making soothing noises until Obi fell back asleep.

It had stopped raining when the alarm went off in the morning - the sun had come out. After Qui-Gon fed the cat, he went out back to his organic garden, Obi joining him. The grass and plants were wet from the rain, and sparkled with rainbows in the sunshine.

Qui-Gon grew mostly vegetables, with a few ornamentals. Right now, in April, nothing was in full bloom yet, but there was still work to be done. Qui-Gon pointed out to Obi what would be growing where, in the rows of soil; Obi watched Qui-Gon work in the garden as intently as Qui-Gon had watched Obi draw the night before, and at last Obi said, "I can't wait to see your garden in bloom, and all the yummy veggies that will be ready this summer."

"Me either. But even before it gets there, I find the stages of growth interesting. It's the entire journey for me, not just the comparatively brief time when everything is showing off." He pointed to the nearby compost bucket. "Even the decay that is happening in there, rot that will be used to enrich the soil. It's all beautiful to me."

"Wow. That's... deep."

Qui-Gon patted him, then remembered his hands were dirty, and he facepalmed, then he groaned, again remembering his hands were dirty. Obi laughed, and stood next to Qui-Gon as he washed his hands at the kitchen sink.

"Um... this is going to sound like a weird question," Obi said.

"Maybe, maybe not."

"Can I... have a plant? In your garden? Something I can help take care of when I come over?"

"Well, yes." Qui-Gon was delighted. He looked at the time. "You have a couple hours before you have to be at work, yes? The garden supply store should be open."

Obi decided on a cabbage plant, which Qui-Gon thought was practical. "If you want to come over on Monday, we can plant him together," Qui-Gon said.

"Oh, so it's a him."

"I. Ah." Qui-Gon ran a hand through his hair. "I name plants."

"Now you're adorable." Obi kissed him.

In the van on the way back, Qui-Gon said, "I suppose I should let you do the honors of naming the cabbage."

Obi thought for a moment. "Fred."

"Fred?"

"Fred."

"Fred it is." This is why I love you.

Chapter Text

Refuge

 

Chapter Track: "Sunrise" - Simply Red

 

After Qui-Gon and Obi planted Fred the cabbage plant on Monday evening, they made plans to spend another Saturday night and Sunday morning together. There was a dinner date on Wednesday, and Qui-Gon visited the coffee shop a few times that week - even though Obi was still in the process of quitting smoking and working with the public would always be stressful for him, he also seemed in better spirits and that was good to see.

By Friday night, Qui-Gon was feeling ready to jump out of his skin with the urge to cuddle with Obi again. He was also finding himself once again choking back those three little words as he drove home from the coffee shop, and wondering if it was the right time to finally take the plunge and say them, or if he'd be perceived as moving too fast and scare the young man away.

Saturday finally came - it felt like it had been years - and despite Qui-Gon's annoyance at his mentor's habit of showing up too early, here was Qui-Gon doing the same thing, pulling up in front of the duplex at 7:40 instead of 8. He had on the radio in his van, and he leaned back and closed his eyes, zoning out to classic rock.

And then he heard shouting from inside the duplex. It was hard to make everything out, probably happening from the hallway near the bedrooms and bathroom rather than in the living room proper, but he definitely recognized Anakin's voice followed by Obi, the two yelling back and forth. Qui-Gon's heart started to race, a feeling of alarm flooding him. The voices got closer and Qui-Gon recognized the f-bomb, and then he heard Obi crying.

"God, you're such a fucking crybaby," Anakin screamed.

"And you're acting like a bully," Obi screamed back. "You're my brother, Anakin. I love you. You shouldn't be like this."

"You shouldn't be like this either! Asshole!"

Obi cried harder.

That was it. He didn't care if it was going to backfire on him, he couldn't just sit there. He turned off the van, got out, and marched to the door. Just before he could pound on it, he heard Anakin scream "I HATE YOU!" and the door banged open, with a tearful Obi rushing out.

Obi stopped as he saw Qui-Gon, who simply pulled him close, and then glared at Anakin as he approached the door, fuming. Anakin was fiddling with the ring on his right hand, and there was a crazy look in his eyes.

"Let's go," Qui-Gon said, taking Obi's backpack even though he was perfectly capable of carrying it himself.

He drove off immediately. When they were a couple of streets away, Qui-Gon glanced over at Obi, who had his head in his hands and was rocking back and forth, shaking with quiet sobs.

"Did he hit you?"

"No." Obi shook his head. He looked up for a moment. "It would have been nicer if he had." He put his face back in his hands, and this time the sob wasn't silent.

Qui-Gon was seething. He had the urge to drive back up, break the door of the duplex down, and beat Anakin Skye-Walker within an inch of his life. But he wouldn't. He needed to get Obi home, get him calm, make him feel safe again.

Once they arrived, Qui-Gon put on water for tea immediately. Earlier in the week Obi had specifically requested they order pizza tonight, not that he minded Qui-Gon's cooking, but he hadn't had pizza in awhile, and Qui-Gon came back from the kitchen with a menu for one of the local places that delivered. Obi only half looked at it, his eyes far away.

Qui-Gon sat next to Obi and pulled him close, held him tight. Started rocking him. Obi fell apart again.

"What were you guys fighting about, if you don't mind me asking?" Qui-Gon asked.

"He's gonna be late for his share of the rent next month, and... he told me to ask for extra hours at work. I told him I already put in thirty hours a week and I'm stressed out enough."

"Yeah, that's... ridiculous. And it's not your job to clean up his messes." Qui-Gon frowned. He cupped Obi's chin in his hand and tilted Obi's face to look at him. "Obi. Answer me honestly. Is he using?"

"...Using what?"

"Drugs. Using drugs."

"I... don't know?"

And then it occurred to Qui-Gon that no, of course Obi wouldn't know. Drug users had a habit of lying about their drug use, concealing it from those closest to them, and no doubt Anakin kept his meth use a secret from Obi. Which was going to make it harder for Qui-Gon to explain that Anakin was doing meth, and be believed.

Anakin's behavior is bad enough that you don't really need meth as an excuse to tell him he's better off not living there. But was it really? Qui-Gon thought of what Obi told him last week. He's not all bad all the time. He saved my life when we were in Florida. He just... you know, has problems and he can be an ass sometimes, but he's really nice to me other times.

Qui-Gon pinched the bridge of his nose. The kettle whistled.

Qui-Gon came back with a cup of chamomile tea for Obi, hoping it would help calm him down. Obi rocked back and forth on the couch as he drank it.

"Do you have your fidget spinner? That might help -"

"Ani took it."

"What." This was getting worse and worse all the time.

"When we started arguing. I needed to stim, I was getting agitated, and he took it away."

Qui-Gon facepalmed. "That's just cruel."

Obi shrugged.

"You know..." Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "Is it really such a good idea for you to live with someone like that?"

"I... I can't leave him. It's like I said, he's an asshole sometimes but he's not like this all the time. He'll calm down. If I move out, he'd need to find another roommate to make ends meet and he doesn't want a stranger living with him, and he's... he's done a lot for me. It would feel disloyal."

He's done a lot for you, all right. Like take away one of the things you use to cope. Qui-Gon frowned. "It feels like he's being disloyal to you."

"Look." Obi glared, and Qui-Gon could feel him getting defensive. "He's my best friend. I don't have many friends. I don't really have... any friends, around here, apart from Ahsoka and him."

We're going to need to remedy that. Qui-Gon thought about how well the double date with Sören and Mark went, and perhaps if Obi got to be friends with Mark Lowry, he could explain to Obi himself about Anakin's drug problem and the real reason why Anakin was no longer his student. It's worth a shot.

"I'm just saying, it doesn't seem like he's a very good friend to you."

"Yeah, well, you don't know him." And then the words that cut like a knife. "You barely know me, as it is."

"I'm trying to get to know you, Obi." Qui-Gon looked down, and then up, and over at Obi. "I know enough to know I care about you. A lot. And when you're hurting, it hurts me."

Obi sighed. He leaned on Qui-Gon and buried his face in Qui-Gon's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. You're upset." Qui-Gon ruffled his hair. "I'm worried about you. It's not that I don't want you to have friends. It's that I worry Anakin isn't actually being a friend to you."

"He'll pull his head out of his ass later. He always does."

"I still don't like the fact that he's asking you to cover for his rent and with extra hours. Please tell me you're not going to force yourself to do that and stress yourself out even more -"

"I don't know what I'm going to do." Obi looked up, his cheek still resting on Qui-Gon's shoulder. "Believe me, times like this, just leaving him to fend for himself is tempting but I'd feel like such a piece of shit later. He took care of me when he had a job and I didn't."

"That doesn't make you obligated to -"

Obi put a finger to Qui-Gon's lips. He buried his face in Qui-Gon's shoulder again, his nose in Qui-Gon's hair, and Qui-Gon heard him sniffing. "Your hair smells really good."

Qui-Gon couldn't help laughing at that. He pulled Obi off his shoulder and into his arms, against his chest. He just held him like that for a few minutes and then he said, "Have you decided on what kind of pizza you want? So I can call?"

"Veggie deluxe sound good?"

"Sounds perfect. Shall I get breadsticks to go with it?"

"Yes please."

They ate in the living room rather than in the kitchen, with Fernando begging and finally sulking off to his own food bowl. After they ate, they took a walk together around Qui-Gon's cul-de-sac neighborhood, and sat in the little park, cuddling.

"It's nice here," Obi said.

Qui-Gon nodded. "It's why I decided not to sell the house and move after Tahl..."

"After your wife died."

"Yeah." Qui-Gon sighed.

Obi took his hand.

"But yes, I considered, for a time, going somewhere else in town or perhaps leaving Corvallis altogether, going up to Salem or Portland or even all the way out to Eugene. Then the depression and apathy set in, and it's better now, and I just... like it here. I'm attached to this place. This is my home."

Obi and Qui-Gon walked back. They sat on the couch together; Obi drew for awhile, which Qui-Gon encouraged, feeling some relief that drawing was helping to calm Obi down. When Obi was finished, he showed Qui-Gon the sketch - it was the park they had just visited, but the trees were personified, like Tolkien's ents, and one of them was giving Qui-Gon a hug.

Qui-Gon hugged him, hard. He almost said I love you but again he held back, and the need to hold back brought tears to his eyes. He wanted to shout it from the rooftops, and he was so afraid that one wrong move would send Obi running away screaming.

They cuddled to sleep together, and in the middle of the night Qui-Gon heard Obi cry out. Obi started thrashing around. "No..." he moaned.

Qui-Gon gently shook him awake. "Obi. Obi."

Obi sat up with a gasp, and then was breathing hard, shaking. Qui-Gon rubbed his shoulder.

"Bad dream?" Qui-Gon asked.

Obi nodded, and then he started to cry.

"Oh. Oh, honey." Qui-Gon pulled him close, and rocked him. "Shhhh." He kissed Obi's forehead, smoothed his hair. "You're here. You're safe."

Obi sobbed.

"You're safe here with me." Qui-Gon's arms tightened around him. "Do you want to talk about it at all? Sometimes talking about it helps to show it's not real and helps us snap out of it back into the here and now, faster."

"The problem was that it was real." Obi swallowed hard. "I was fighting with Ani again and then I was back in Florida and Quinlan was..." He didn't need to finish the sentence. "And this time instead of helping me Ani just left me there and..."

"Oh, baby." Qui-Gon rocked him harder, and rained kisses over Obi's face. He took Obi's chin in his hand and made him look up, meeting his eyes in the blue glow of the nightlight. "That awful man is far away and I promise you, I promise you, you are safe with me now, and I will never, ever do to you what he did to you."

"I know." Obi stroked Qui-Gon's face. "You've been great. I trust you." He managed a smile through his tears.

Qui-Gon kissed the tip of his nose, and then gave him a soft, sweet gentle kiss. "I'm glad you trust me. I want to take good care of you." And then, he finally said it. "I love you."

There was a long pause, and Qui-Gon's heart almost stopped, worried that he'd blown it, that Obi was going to think they were moving too fast, couldn't possibly love him yet you barely know me -

"I think I love you too," Obi said.

I think I love you wasn't as good as just I love you but it was a far cry from being rejected or scaring him away. Qui-Gon let out a little chuckle of relief and rocked him again, squeezing him. "Good. Good."

"It scares me, a little," Obi said. "But it feels right, too. I think it scares me because... it feels right, and I'm not used to things feeling right."

God, how Qui-Gon ached for him, and what kind of hell he must have been through. "Well hopefully as time goes on, you'll get used to it. I want you to get used to it. I want things to go right for you, Obi. I want to make you happy."

"I want to make you happy, too." Obi frowned. "I'm sorry I'm like this, so... fucked up..."

"Love, what happened to you was fucked up, but you, yourself, are not fucked up. You're precious."

Obi cried again. Qui-Gon kept rocking him, petting him, wanting to cry too, for him, with him, but he needed to get Obi back to sleep. At last he trailed kisses along Obi's forehead and husked, "You need your rest, love."

"I'm afraid to go back to sleep. I don't want to have more bad dreams..."

"I know. But you still need sleep. You have to work tomorrow, it'll be worse if you go in and you're not rested. And yes, you take the risk of more bad dreams but maybe you won't have bad dreams. Maybe you'll dream of something else. Like ents. Or Fred the cabbage. Or Liam and Nigel, looking after you."

Obi closed his eyes, let out a deep breath, and gave a little nod. And after awhile he did get back to sleep.


_

Qui-Gon was up before the alarm, and for a few minutes he watched Obi, sleeping peacefully.

He was hard. Yes, it was a normal thing his body did when waking up, but also, he was hard for Obi. He thought about getting up and taking care of it, not wanting to make Obi uncomfortable...

Then Obi stirred, and blinked his eyes open. "Hi," he said, yawning and stretching.

"Hi." Qui-Gon reached over to turn off the alarm.

Obi began kneading on him and making purring noises like a cat. Qui-Gon laughed, and then, feeling mischievous, he licked Obi's beard, grooming him like a cat would. Obi responded by kissing him, and when their tongues met, they moaned into the kiss.

That was when Qui-Gon felt Obi's own erection pressed against his thigh, and Obi's hand slid down from Qui-Gon's shoulder, down his chest, to the bulge in his pajama bottoms, gently rubbing.

"Obi..." Qui-Gon's voice was raspy with emotion and lust. "Don't feel like you have to..."

"I want to. I want you." Obi met his eyes. "I'm... still not ready to go all the way, but there are other things we can do, right?"

"Oh yes." Qui-Gon crushed Obi's mouth to his, kissing him hard, and the way Obi moaned into the kiss made his cock jolt. Feverish, he pulled down his pajama bottoms, and then Obi's, and he cried out when he felt Obi reach for his cock, stroking slowly. Obi started kissing his neck, and it was all he could do to not come right then, electrified.

And then Obi collected a little of Qui-Gon's precum on his finger, stuck it in his mouth to taste, and the innocent-yet-naughty gesture made Qui-Gon moan again. "Damn it, why are you so tempting," he said aloud.

Obi laughed and kissed him again. "I could say the same thing about you."

Qui-Gon took Obi's hand off his cock, otherwise he was going to explode, and he was in the mood to savor. He guided Obi's hips so their hard cocks were touching, pressed together; they both moaned at the sight of it. Then he began to roll his hips so his cock slid against Obi's, slowly, sensually. Obi rolled his hips, matching Qui-Gon's rhythm, and they continued like that, cock rubbing cock. It was delicious to look at, and felt delicious, especially the sensitive cockheads rubbing together, frenulum stroking frenulum.

"God, I want you." Qui-Gon kissed Obi again and again.

"I want you too." Obi kissed him back. "I want to be ready to... be yours... eventually."

"We'll get there." Qui-Gon kissed him again. "No rush. We can enjoy the way there." He moaned. "This is... very enjoyable."

"Yes."

The feeling of cock rubbing cock led to wanting to feel skin against skin. They shucked the rest of their clothes, and Qui-Gon gently rolled Obi onto his back. As their cocks continued rubbing together, dripping precum, Qui-Gon kissed and licked down Obi's neck, fingers playing through the ginger chest hair, the fingers of one hand rubbing a nipple in slow, lazy circles as his mouth feasted on the other. Obi arched to him, gasping, panting, trembling, making delicious little whimpers as he edged closer and closer. When Qui-Gon collected some of Obi's precum on his fingertips and anointed Obi's nipples with it, and then licked it off, that was what set Obi off, his cock spurting all over Qui-Gon's cock and belly as he cried out, "Qui. Oh, god. Qui. QUI. FUCK."

Qui-Gon took them both in hand, continuing to stroke Obi through his orgasm, and a moment later Qui-Gon gave into his, erupting all over Obi's cock, and he watched as Obi's cock spurted another arc of cum, Obi making an inhuman noise as he shook, fingers curling involuntarily.

Qui-Gon collapsed onto him, face in Obi's shoulder, quivering with the force of his release, trying to catch his breath. He felt like he was falling, then flying, becoming one with a pile of soft, fluffy, bright clouds.

He came to a little while later, with Obi playing with his hair. "We gotta get up," Obi said.

"Shit."

They cleaned up and got changed - Qui-Gon thought about offering to take a shower with Obi but he knew if they did that Obi wouldn't leave, and he had to go to work with his financial situation being what it was currently.

Qui-Gon worried about it on the way to Mountains of the Moon, dropping Obi off directly there instead of at the duplex, since they were running late and Obi said he kept an apron and name tag there. Even though Obi had minutes on the clock before his shift started, they lingered in the van, and Qui-Gon smiled when Obi reached out to hug him tight.

"Thank you for last night," he said, and then, his lips grazing Qui-Gon's jaw, he husked, "This morning."

Qui-Gon felt the urge to throw Obi in the backseat and suck him dry, but again, Obi had to work. He patted Obi and kissed his forehead. "Thank you." He stroked Obi's face. "Wednesday night per our usual?"

"Yes."

Qui-Gon nodded. "I love you."

"I love you."

Though Qui-Gon still worried about Obi, his heart felt lighter, and he sang on the drive home. Somehow, things will work out.

It was nice to feel hope again.

Chapter Text

Mi Amor

 

Chapter Track: "Despacito" - Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee

 

As April drew to a close, and Obi and Anakin's rent would be due during the first week of May, Obi had taken Qui-Gon's advice to not take additional hours at the coffeehouse and stress himself out even more, but Obi still had stress from the prospect of rent being short, and Anakin acting like it was Obi's fault instead of his own money mismanagement.

When Qui-Gon found out Obi was living on peanut butter sandwiches at the end of the month to squeeze every last penny he could towards the missing rent money, something in him snapped, and he found himself taking out his checkbook as Obi sat with his fidget spinner, looking at the floor.

Qui-Gon cleared his throat. "How much do you need to not be short next week?"

"Four hundred fifty dollars, which is half the full rent. Anakin says he's good for it the week after next, but our landlord is pretty strict about paying on time. We already had late fees a couple times before and they'll be even more this time around, close to a full month's rent."

Qui-Gon wrote a check for that amount, and handed it to Obi, whose mouth dropped open.

"I can't... accept this."

"You will accept this," Qui-Gon said, "but there are strings attached, contingencies upon me giving this money to you. And before you worry, I'm not buying you - I'm not expecting sex because I gave you this money."

"All right. I'm listening."

"The first is that when Anakin produces his share of the rent in two weeks as promised, you will pay me back what I'm giving you now. I'm well-off, but four hundred fifty dollars is a non-trivial sum of money, and it's more the principle of the matter since it's less about you and more about what he did."

"OK."

"The second. I see a pattern of behavior here - you mention there were late fees before and I assume this is because of Anakin and not because of you, correct?"

"Correct."

"You are not only going to refrain from taking more hours to compensate for him, you're going to ask for fewer hours at your job, as a show that you will not be enabling him any further."

"Um, I can't do that. I'm taking as few hours as I can take, with thirty hours, and still make ends meet. Any less than that and I'll have to live even more frugally than usual."

"I'm fine with giving you two hundred a month give or take for your own personal use, or buying your groceries, or something, to reduce the amount of hours you have to work and reduce your stress, anyway. Besides, if you start school in the fall, it's going to be hard for you to be a full-time student and work that many hours. One of the two has to take a hit, and I would rather see you focus on your future, and I don't mind contributing a little extra to make that happen. Though I would appreciate it if you did not let Anakin know I was financially supporting you in any way. He might be able to figure it out, if I'm taking you food shopping, but I don't want him to assume that he can pull this shit month after month with being short on the rent and I'll bail you guys out."

Obi swallowed hard. "Quinlan supported me in Florida between jobs and he was... controlling."

"I'm not Quinlan, nor am I talking about full financial support, only a little extra to help as you need it, and I do not have any desire to try to keep you under my thumb. I can barely handle being a responsible adult myself, some days, let alone try to micromanage another person's life."

Obi laughed at that. "OK."

"The third, and possibly hardest, of these contingencies, is that I want you to seriously consider finding another place to live sometime within the next few months. And when I say 'another place to live', I mean one that does not involve you having Anakin Skye-Walker as a roommate. Going back to what I said about Quinlan - I'm not going to control you and tell you that you can't associate with him. Truth be told, I would prefer you not associate with him, as I don't like the way he treats you, and I've heard some... rumors... about him that deeply concern me. But as things stand currently, I can't demand that you stop being friends with him. I can only strongly suggest that living with him is not good for your mental health, and your mental health affects me, as your partner. I'm happy to help you look for another place to live, and to help you screen potential new roommates if -"

"Yeah, that's part of the problem, and part of why I put up with Ani's shit. 'Better the devil you know than the devil you don't', the saying goes. I know Ani and know how to deal with him... mostly. Someone else I don't know? Not so much. Plus someone else might think I'm a freak or whatever -"

"I have some students on the autistic spectrum, and I can put my feelers out before the semester is over and see if any of them are looking for roommates or have any autistic-friendly friends who are. And just so we're clear, there's not a hard time limit on when I'd like you to move out of there, but if you are planning on starting school in the fall it really should be before then, or I fear he's going to interfere with your schooling somehow."

"I think you worry too much, but... OK."

Qui-Gon gestured with the check again, and Obi took it, slowly. He looked down at it. "I can't believe you're giving me this," he said.

"Not something I'd do for just anyone, but I love you."

Obi leaned in and gave him a kiss. "I love you too. Thank you."


_

The next day, in the early afternoon between classes, Qui-Gon's cell phone went off. He recognized Obi's number and took it right away, feeling a rush of panic. Now comes the point where he runs screaming. The money was too much.

"Hey," Obi said.

"Hey yourself."

"Sorry if this is a bad time -"

"You caught me right after one of my classes finished and I'm about to head down to the caf to get lunch. What's up?"

"I asked my manager for fewer hours, like you said I should, aaaaaand... I'm down to twenty hours from thirty starting next week, and I worked it out that I can get off a couple weekends per month. Entire weekends."

"Oh, my god." Qui-Gon breathed a small sigh of relief that this wasn't bad news, wasn't the end - he wondered why he was so afraid of things going wrong, and chalked it up to the despondency he'd felt after Tahl's death, where it felt like there was no hope left for him. His face lit up at the prospect of spending uninterrupted weekends with his mate. "That's... wonderful."

"So next weekend... I'll be free the evening of Friday May fourth, and have the fifth and sixth off, if you want me to come over for the weekend?"

"I would. I absolutely would." Qui-Gon could have started turning cartwheels in his office. "We're still on for this Saturday night, yes?"

"Unfortunately, I have to throw Ani a bone, because he's gonna be real surly when he finds out I'm not working so much, and I'm gonna have to lie and tell him they reduced my hours and I'm terrible at lying. I know you're gonna lecture me about being friends with him, but I just..." Obi sighed. "I can't completely let go of him, whether or not it's bad for me. So I told him I would go to his show on Saturday night, at the stupid club with all the stupid loud drunk people and the stupid stinky smell."

Fuck. Qui-Gon wanted to punch the wall, because he couldn't punch Anakin's face. Where is all this aggression coming from, I never used to be like this.

You never used to be in love with someone who's been so badly hurt.

"I'm really sorry," Obi said. "I'd rather see you."

"Yeah, I know. I get it." Not really, but I'm not going to argue with you about it. "Well... it's a long wait till next Friday."

"We can still do Wednesday night if that's OK?"

"Yes. And Obi? Thank you for listening to my concerns."

"Yeah, I'll admit it's a little weird for me, but I know you're trying to look out for me."

"If I ever do overstep my bounds, I want you to tell me honestly. I don't want you to feel forced or pressured into things. I do hope you understand my reasoning for the strings I had attached to your rent."

"I do." A long pause. "I love you, you know."

"I love you too." God, I love you.

Qui-Gon almost skipped on his way down to the cafeteria. He didn't eat there every day, but he'd been running late and missed breakfast, and needed to make up for it now. He saw Sören and Mark sitting together in a corner, and Sören began waving to him, and then waved for him to come over. So after Qui-Gon fixed his tray at the salad bar, he sat down at their table.

"Hey!" Sören said, all smiles, sipping a 20 oz bottle of Mountain Dew.

"Hey yourself." Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at the Mountain Dew. "I'd forgotten how bright that stuff is. That's downright radioactive."

"God," Mark said. "I don't know how he can drink that."

"Because the coffee today is especially shit," Sören said. "And because it makes you make that face at me." When Mark glared again, Sören booped his nose.

"Sören needs a caffeine drip," Mark told Qui-Gon. "But he also needs standards." He turned back to Sören. "You could have had tea like a civilized person."

Sören rolled his eyes. "I'm not a civilized person, my distant ancestors were Vikings. Be glad I'm not drinking this from, like, the skull of one of my enemies or something. That would be metal as fuck."

Mark shook with silent laughter. "You are so weird."

"That's... an achievement, coming from you." Sören gave him a pointed look, his eyebrows raised. "Wow, I need to make a note of this. Today is the day Mark Fucking Lowry called me weird."

Mark's silver eyes twinkled and he gave a small, cryptic smile.

Qui-Gon didn't think Mark was all that weird, though he supposed a near-seven-foot-tall long-haired fortysomething doctorate-holder who played Metallica on the harp wasn't exactly normal, either, but then, Sören knew him better, and probably had some stories.

"So how's tricks?" Sören asked Qui-Gon. "How's your boyfriend doing?"

"Things are going well."

"I guess so, you had quite the shit-eating grin on your face when you walked in."

"He's finally getting weekends off, sometimes. Not this weekend, but next weekend."

"Oh!" Sören looked at Mark, and then back at Qui-Gon. "You know what next weekend is?"

"Um..." Qui-Gon felt like he should know this, but he was still feeling giddy from the phone call with Obi.

"It's Cinco de Mayo," Mark said.

"There's this hole-in-the-wall Mexican place that we like to go to a couple times a month," Sören said.

"Yeah, they'll have specials, and..." Mark grinned at Sören. "A mariachi band. I believe they're having karaoke with the band."

"We're expecting the place to be packed so we want to call in a reservation," Sören said, and then he looked at Mark who nodded, as if he knew what Sören was going to say without having to be told, and Sören went on, "If you and Obi want to go on another double date with us...?"

"Perfect." This was the golden opportunity to start gently nudging Obi to make friends with them, so Obi couldn't say he had no local friends besides Ahsoka and Anakin. And then hopefully, when the time is right, Mark will tell him about Anakin's meth problem.

Of course, Qui-Gon knew friendship didn't come easily to the young man, with his social anxiety, and it would probably take Obi awhile to get to a place where he'd be comfortable considering them friends. But this was the way to start.



_



On Friday May fourth, Qui-Gon picked up Obi, who looked a little agitated waiting outside, but quickly warmed up when he hopped in the van. The source of his agitation was the usual drama with Anakin - or perhaps not usual, now that Anakin knew he had reduced hours at work - but Obi managed to keep his spirits up, relaxing as they puttered in the garden together.

"Can I help you cook tonight?" Obi asked Qui-Gon.

"I don't want you to feel obligated, like you have to be a servant now -"

"Nah, I think it would be fun." Obi looked a little sheepish. "And I don't really know how to cook, so..."

"I see."

Having Obi's company in the kitchen was nice, and it stroked Qui-Gon's ego to be treated like some sort of wizard because he knew how to make food. He also liked watching Obi participate as he could, chopping vegetables, measuring and adding ingredients, stirring a pot. The meal was simple - homemade chicken stew with dumplings - but delicious, and seeing Obi's pride that he helped was just as good as the food itself.

After dinner they sat outside for awhile - the days were getting longer and warmer, and it was nice to curl up on the grass, watching the sunset, drinking wine, with Obi leaning against him as Qui-Gon pet him.

I could get used to this.

It was the next level of truth - he'd gotten past the first terrifying hurdle of I love you, and now here it was. He wanted to do this every night. I want him to live with me.

It would be an elegant solution to the problem of Obi living with Anakin, and needing some extra support as he worked fewer hours, but it also had to be approached even more carefully than Qui-Gon had been careful with admitting his love for the younger man. Even more than that, this had the potential to backfire, since Qui-Gon knew Obi had lived with his abusive ex Quinlan and probably had reservations about living with a partner again, even someone he trusted.

So for now, Qui-Gon sat on those feelings. And that he had them at all... he hadn't expected to fall like this, to love like this, hope like this.

I didn't think I had anything left in me. But I still do. Life... is going on.

The smell of wildflowers on the evening breeze, and for a minute it felt like something had touched Qui-Gon's shoulder. He closed his eyes, and Tahl's face came immediately to mind.

Good, he heard her say.


_



On Saturday at five PM, Qui-Gon picked up Sören and Mark at Mark's house. Mark had to leave Huan at home, since the restaurant didn't allow service animals, and he looked a little ill at ease as he climbed in the back of the van, but then Sören stroked his face and gave him a little kiss and Mark relaxed.

Qui-Gon felt a pang. They made a really nice couple. Sören and Dooku would also make a really nice couple. None of my business.

It seemed that the reservation was prescient, as the parking lot was already close to full and it wasn't even six PM yet. There was a lobby to wait to be seated, which was also full with standing room only, and Mark cut ahead to tell the maître d' that they had a reservation.

As they looked over their menus, a waiter came over with ice water, freshly made tortilla chips and fresh guacamole and salsa. Sören looked at the cups of salsa and then at the waiter and said, "What's the heat rating on that?"

"It's all mild, señor."

Sören made a face and Mark said under his breath, "Oh Hells." Sören grinned and told the waiter, "Bring me your hottest salsa, please."

"Sí, señor."

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. Sören nodded. "Mild salsa is like water to me," Sören said. "I like it hot enough to clear my sinuses."

"Huh. But you're not Mexican at all...?"

Sören shook his head. "100% Icelandic, born and raised. I don't understand it either, I come from a people who think putting dill in sour cream makes it 'heavily spiced'. But I have a really high tolerance for, and taste for, heat in my food."

"He's not lying," Mark said. "When we started dating last year, after our summer in Sausalito, he took me to an Eritrean restaurant in Portland. I thought I was gonna die. I think I understand now what women mean when they talk about hot flashes in menopause because WOW."

"That place is amazing and we should go there again sometime. Plus it's an excuse to go back to Powell's, and Voodoo Doughnut."

"God, Voodoo Doughnut. Where you stand in line for an hour to get passably OK donuts and look at a velvet painting of Kenny Rogers."

"That's part of the fun, is how overhyped the place is for what it is. I'm not a hipster, but I enjoy it ironically. The donuts are better than OK though, I'd argue. You're just a food snob."

"Maybe because I haven't burned away all my taste buds." Mark gave him an impish grin.

"Oh, I think you know I have some taste buds." Sören wiggled his eyebrows, and Mark almost choked on his water, turning pink.

Qui-Gon decided to change the subject before it could go much further into their sex life. "Um, what would you guys recommend from the menu?"

"Everything," Sören said, and Mark nodded. Sören went on, "But if you really want the best value for your money they're doing a special on tacos tonight. I'm going to get a bunch of soft chicken tacos."

"Same." Mark nodded. "I think we get that most of the time anyway."

"We got fajitas for your birthday...? And enchiladas for mine...? But. Yeah. Their tacos are great."

The four all decided on the special on soft chicken tacos, which came with a choice of soup; Sören and Mark both ordered black bean soup and Qui-Gon and Obi got the abondigas. The waiter, when he came to take their order, came back with hot salsa as Sören requested, and once their order was taken Sören tore into the tortilla chips. He frowned. "This still isn't as hot as I like it but it'll do," he said.

Mark dipped a chip into Sören's salsa and winced as he tried it. "Jesus Christ, Sören. It's like you're part-dragon."

"You can't complain too much, I gotta fuel that furnace that keeps you warm at night." Sören twined a lock of his hair affectionately around the index finger of his free hand. "He likes using me as his personal space heater," Sören explained to them.

"He throws off a lot of body heat, yeah." Mark smiled at Sören and leaned against him.

"It's nice in the winter, hell in the summer. It's why I needed to go someplace coastal last year." Sören smirked. "Mark and I ended up renting the same house in Sausalito without knowing we would be roommates for the summer. What are the odds?"

"Wow," Qui-Gon said. "That's quite the coincidence. And I take it that's how you two..."

Sören and Mark looked at each other and then back at them and nodded. "We... hooked up," Sören said. "And then some."

"You helped me find my way again." Mark kissed the top of Sören's head, and Sören looked up at him with worship in his eyes.

"You helped me feel safe again."

Qui-Gon's breath caught. It was almost like looking into a mirror. Under the table, Obi's hand strayed to Qui-Gon's knee, rubbing and squeezing. Qui-Gon took Obi's hand, and turned his head to look into those sparkling blue eyes. When Obi smiled, showing those dimples, it was all Qui-Gon could do to not take Obi's face in his hands and kiss him hard enough to make a scene.

Their soup came, and the first round of tacos. The mariachi band started up, and it put Sören in the mood to look at the little menu of alcoholic beverages, which he passed around. Qui-Gon decided to refrain, since he was the one driving, but he didn't mind if everyone else drank. When the waiter came back to bring more tortilla chips and salsa, Mark ordered a Dos Equis, Sören asked for a "Dirty Shirley", and Obi got a hard lemonade.

The drinks came back with the second round of tacos. The "Dirty Shirley" was an alcoholic Shirley Temple, and when Sören put the cherry in his mouth, Mark's face turned as pink as Sören's drink.

Qui-Gon raised his glass of ginger ale. "To good relationships, and what looks like the beginning of a good friendship."

"Skál," Sören said, the other three bringing over glasses and the bottle to toast.

Out of curiosity, Obi tried a bit of Sören's salsa, and his face turned bright red and his nose immediately started running. "Oh my god," he said.

"You OK?" Sören asked, looking concerned.

Obi nodded, chugging water.

Mark had a second bottle of Dos Equis and Obi had a second hard lemonade, but Sören didn't get a second drink, explaining, "I'm really not supposed to have more than one on my meds."

Qui-Gon wondered if Mark was also medicated for PTSD and maybe should have stopped at one, but he figured Mark was an adult and knew what he was doing.

As if he picked up on Qui-Gon's concern, Mark looked at the bottle and said, "It's been awhile since I've had this much."

"Then maybe you shouldn't drive me home later, not that we were planning on it anyway." Sören ruffled his hair.

They had more chips and salsa, and groaned at the bad singing of the restaurant patrons who were doing karaoke with the band. Mark looked like he was in physical pain from anyone singing off-key, and finally said, "Fuck it, I'm going to show this place how it's done," and walked over to the band.

"Yup, he's definitely a little drunk," Sören said, grinning.

A few minutes later there was the dramatic flourish of a guitar, and a song Qui-Gon wished he didn't recognize, that had been all over the pop stations and turned into a meme. "Oh god," Sören groaned, cracking up laughing as the guitar started.

Mark walked over to Sören, mic in hand, and began to sing. 

Tú, tú eres el imán y yo soy el metal
Me voy acercando y voy armando el plan
Sólo con pensarlo se acelera el pulso
Ya, ya me está gustando más de lo normal
Todos mis sentidos van pidiendo más
Esto hay que tomarlo sin ningún apuro
Despacito


The restaurant started to clap along, encouraging him.

Quiero respirar tu cuello despacito
Deja que te diga cosas al oído
Para que te acuerdes si no estás conmigo
Despacito
Quiero desnudarte a besos despacito
Firmo en las paredes de tu laberinto
Y hacer de tu cuerpo todo un manuscrito


Sören actually got up and started to dance - someone handed him a bright, garish oversized sombrero and he put it on, looking utterly ridiculous, but otherwise his moves would not have been out of place if there was a pole on stage. Obi howled with laughter as Sören came to Mark and danced up on him as he sang, trying to look as seductive as he could but ready to lose his straight face any moment. At the end of the song with the final Des-pa-cito, Sören grabbed Mark and kissed him, which elicited wild applause and cheers from some of the crowd...

...and then someone threw a beer bottle at them. "GET OUT OF HERE, YOU FUCKIN' F*****S!" someone screamed, using the homophobic slur.

Sören and Mark dodged another bottle, and then a plate hit Sören in the shoulder and that was it. Mark went to the table where the bottles and plates were being thrown and sucker punched the man throwing them, and then picked him up like he weighed nothing, a gleam in his eye. For an instant, Qui-Gon's mind played a trick on him, seeing Mark's hair flood to his thighs, the silver eyes now like labradorite, inhuman. And then when he blinked Mark was back to normal; Qui-Gon thought it must have been the adrenaline rush as things escalated.

"You need to learn some manners," Mark growled.

"Mark. Put him down, let's get out of here before they call the police and there's... problems." Sören took a deep breath.

Mark shoved the man back in his seat and then backhanded him, and when another man at the same table got up to accost him, throwing a punch and giving a shove, Mark took one of the empty beer bottles and broke it over the man's head and backhanded him as well. Sören grabbed Mark and started dragging him out of the restaurant.

"We need to go now," Qui-Gon said to Obi.

"But... we haven't paid..."

Qui-Gon left a bill on the table approximate to the cost of their meals, and also dragged Obi out.

Qui-Gon drove out of there as quickly as he could, barely breathing, hoping they didn't run into the police. When they were safely back on the highway, he heard himself breathe out.

"I. Ah. I'm sorry about that," Mark said. "Fight or flight response..."

"It's all right." Qui-Gon nodded. He wasn't angry, though he made a mental note to never get on Mark Lowry's bad side.

"Did I scare you?" Mark asked Sören.

Sören shook his head. "I was more afraid of them than I am of you." Then Sören's voice lowered to a whisper. "That was so hot."

Qui-Gon cleared his throat. "No hanky-panky in the back seat, please."

Sören giggled. Obi grinned.

"I'm really sorry, again. Shit."

"I guess we've blown it for double dates, haven't we?" Sören asked.

"Well..." Qui-Gon considered. "Not necessarily. We probably can't go back to that restaurant, now, and I'm wary of going any place where you can't have your service animal, I think, we have to be more careful next time, but they did start the conflict and needed a reminder that 'gay' doesn't mean 'weak'."

"I don't like labels," Mark said, "just fyi. And Sören, well..."

"I'm not, like, 100% gay. Maybe like 70-80% gay, but I can make the occasional exception," Sören said.

"Like Claire," Mark said under his breath.

"You. Could we not right now."

In the rear-view mirror Qui-Gon watched Mark give Sören a teasing grin, who turned red and looked away. That was... interesting. Not my business.

When they got to Mark's house, Mark handed Qui-Gon a bill from his wallet. "Here," he said. "Thank you."

Qui-Gon didn't recall Mark seeing that he'd left money behind on the table, or Obi informing him that he'd paid. Qui-Gon took the bill and felt a little strange, and then he shook Mark's hand. It was very warm.

"It's good to know we haven't completely blown it," Mark said.

"No. Just... take care next time, though hopefully people won't start with us wherever we go next time." Qui-Gon waved to them before they walked off, hand-in-hand, leaning on each other.

Qui-Gon turned to Obi. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, why?"

"I know that sometimes physical altercations can be triggering to watch for people who have themselves experienced violence."

"Nah, I'm good." Obi patted Qui-Gon. "If anything I like knowing that if we're out on a double date and someone starts shit with us, Mark has our backs. And seeing them, they kind of remind me of us, a little, and that makes me feel like you, too, would defend me if I needed it."

Qui-Gon took a deep breath, thinking of those aggressive urges he'd had towards Anakin as well as Quinlan, the latter of whom he'd never met. He nodded.

"We didn't get to have dessert," Obi said once they arrived back at Qui-Gon's house.

I want you for dessert. Qui-Gon kept that thought to himself. He dished them out ice cream and they sat together on the couch.

Qui-Gon still felt keyed up from the incident at the restaurant, upset that homophobia was still alive and well even in a liberal part of the country in 2018, and also unnerved by Mark's show of superhuman strength being able to pick up a large man without effort, and the fact that he'd briefly hallucinated Mark's hair being far longer than it was and his eyes looking alien, if beautiful... and then how Mark somehow knew he'd paid for their meals and repaid him. Huh. After he finished his ice cream, he decided he was going to have a shower. "Feel free to help yourself to anything in the kitchen," he said.

"Oh... Qui? Do you have any of that apple brandy left?"

When Qui-Gon came back from the shower in his T-shirt and pajama bottoms, towelling his hair, he found Obi nursing a glass of apple brandy. "Hey," Obi said, and hiccuped.

Oh boy, he's a little drunk.

Qui-Gon sat down next to him. "Hey there."

"You want a sip?" Obi offered him the glass.

"No thank you."

Obi polished it off and put it down. Then he leaned in and sniffed Qui-Gon loudly. "That soap you use smells so good." Then he tugged on a strand of damp hair. "Do you think I could... comb your hair?"

It had been a very long time since anybody had touched Qui-Gon's hair - not since before Tahl died. Qui-Gon melted as Obi gave him a combination scalp massage and grooming, and then just played with his hair for awhile. "You've got such pretty hair," Obi said. He nuzzled Qui-Gon, who could smell the alcohol on him. "I love your hair."

They kissed, and Obi slipped a hand up Qui-Gon's shirt; Qui-Gon groaned as he felt Obi's fingers find a nipple, rubbing it to hardness. Obi gave Qui-Gon a naughty look. "Fuck me," he said.

Qui-Gon took a deep breath. It took him every ounce of his restraint to say, "No."

Obi pouted. "Don't you want me?"

Qui-Gon was hard in his pajama bottoms, and gestured to his bulge. "Of course I want you. But the answer is no." He stroked Obi's face. "You're drunk, and I don't want to take advantage of you. Especially when you have a trauma history, and not being really ready might trigger you."

"Well, shit."

"I love you. I don't want to do anything to hurt you."

Obi frowned.

"Let's go to bed and just... cuddle."

That was what they did, and cuddling was nice. It started to rain again, and the rain lulled them both to sleep soon enough.


_



In the morning when Obi was sober again - and a little hungover, needing coffee - the topic of sex didn't come up. Later, after they had been working in the garden for awhile, Obi finally said, "Thank you for saying no last night."

Qui-Gon reached out to pat Obi's hand. "Thank you for understanding why I said no."

"I think I still need to wait awhile before we go all the way. Soon... I'm getting there."

"Take as much time as you need."

Qui-Gon really didn't want to bring Obi back on that night, and Obi seemed reluctant to get out of the van as well.

Stay, Qui-Gon wanted to tell him, and didn't.

"So Wednesday night, and then I do have to work next weekend - I don't get every weekend off, unfortunately -"

Qui-Gon heard himself groan with disappointment.

"- but I can still sleep over on Saturday night if you want me to?"

"Yes." Qui-Gon took Obi's hands and kissed them. And then he decided to take a half-step forward with his feelings. "Obi... we're at a stage in our relationship where you can consider this a blanket invitation to spend time with me whenever you want. You know I work during the day Monday through Friday, at the university, but the semester will be over in a few weeks and I have the summer off. Till then, any evening you want to see me, just call me and I'll come get you. You can spend the night here even if I have to work the next day. We don't have to keep things on such a strict schedule, if you don't want to."

Obi kissed him hard, and then he said, beaming, "OK."

"OK." Qui-Gon smiled back. "So give me a call, and I'll see you soon."

"I love you."

"I love you too." He said it first... Qui-Gon could have wept for joy.

Chapter Text

Numbers

 

Chapter Track: "Father Figure" - George Michael

 

For the last few weeks, things had been going smoothly. Obi was over Qui-Gon's house at least three to four times a week, and was noticeably less stressed out working fewer hours, though Anakin continued to give him a hard time about it. Qui-Gon still felt an ache when Obi wasn't there - the increased frequency of seeing him made that ache sharper - and he wondered how, if at all, he was going to broach the suggestion that Obi move in. He decided to give it more time before he rocked the boat, and spent the month of May in the giddy, blissful haze of new love.

As the month began winding down, Qui-Gon went into work as usual on a Thursday morning, got breakfast in the caf, and sat down with Dooku, who gave him that small but warm smile that would have been a big grin on anybody else. "Good morning," Dooku said.

"Morning! How are you?"

"All right." Dooku nodded and sipped his coffee, making a face. "Sören is right, the coffee is dreadful some days."

"And yet you drink it."

"Force of habit, I suppose. When you get to be my age habits are harder to break." That prompted Dooku to lean back in his chair and give Qui-Gon a conspiratorial look. "Speaking of."

Oh no. Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow over his orange juice.

"You are having a birthday next week."

Qui-Gon facepalmed, and nodded. "I can't believe you remember that." Considering they'd drifted apart in the years following Tahl's death. But then, he still remembered Dooku's birthday was in late December, so he supposed if he remembered Dooku's birthday it wasn't a stretch that Dooku would remember his.

"I remember many things, Joaquin." Dooku rarely called Qui-Gon by his actual name unless it was serious. Judging from the intense, hawk-like focus on Dooku's face, birthdays were serious business to him. "You're turning sixty, yes?"

"...Yeah." It seemed surreal, he didn't feel sixty. But he was a product of his generation and he also had a large amount of influence from his older brother's generation, his late brother being a contemporary of Dooku. He often felt out of step in a rapidly changing world, with "woke" values that were a more aggressive, militant form of the Age of Aquarius he remembered coming of age in the 1970s. He had never remembered the world seeming so angry, not even in the storms surrounding Vietnam. It was one thing to feel a sense of being a relic from the past and another thing to be reminded of the hard numbers.

"A momentous number. Do you have plans for your birthday?"

"I. Uh. My boyfriend has next weekend off, so I presume he and I will be doing something. But if you mean an actual party, no I haven't made those sorts of plans."

"Hm." Dooku sipped his coffee, and then his eyes wandered across the caf. Qui-Gon looked and saw Sören, who beamed at Dooku and waved. Dooku's eyes twinkled, cheeks flushing pink as he gave a small wave back.

In all the years Qui-Gon had known Dooku, he had never seen him like this around someone. And Dooku was reserved enough that just these little tells, told so much. He really has it bad.

Hours later, as Qui-Gon was packing up and preparing to head home, there was a knock on his classroom door. Qui-Gon looked up and saw Sören standing there, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

"Sören, hi."

"Hi! I hope I'm not interrupting anything important -"

"No, although I was on my way out."

"Can you stay a few minutes?"

Qui-Gon nodded, and sat on the edge of his desk.

"So," Sören said, "a little bird tells me your birthday is next week."

Qui-Gon groaned. "The little bird would be six feet five inches tall, yes?"

"With silver feathers, and a very deep call." Sören nodded, laughing.

For you I'm pretty sure that's a mating call. Qui-Gon laughed too at the mental image of Dooku as a bird.

"Mark and I had made plans to go to Tillamook and Cannon Beach next Saturday, if you and Obi want to come with us. If you want to all go in your van, we don't mind buying you guys lunch or whatever -"

"Tillamook, you mean the cheese factory?"

Sören nodded. "We had thought about going this weekend but it's gonna rain and the 10-day forecast says next weekend will be gorgeous and they're usually right, so Mark and I will just stay in this rainy weekend and, um." Sören's face flushed, and Qui-Gon had no doubt what "um" was alluding to.

"Er." Qui-Gon smirked. "The cheese factory was your idea, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, I want to get some proper cheese curds so I can make poutine, my twin brother lives in Canada and he's coming out to visit in a few weeks and poutine is like his most favorite food ever."

"You have a twin brother?"

"Fraternal. He teaches at the University of Toronto, he's an astrophysicist -"

Qui-Gon's eyebrows raised. "Wait... Dagnýr Sigurdsson is your brother?"

"You've heard of him."

"He's coming down to give a speech for the commencement ceremony for the sciences department, so yes."

Sören facepalmed. "I should have realized you would have known that considering you teach in the fucking sciences department. I can be smart, I swear." Sören put out his arms in a flying gesture. "Captain ADHD, faster than the speed of - wait, what's that shiny thing over there?"

Qui-Gon laughed softly. "Yes, I'm looking forward to his speech. I remember seeing him on Neil Degrasse Tyson's show a few times and having several interviews alongside him and they co-wrote that book debunking a number of pseudoscientific things, which I have in my library at home. Though I hear there are some who think your brother himself is a pseudoscientist, like Dawkins wrote a rather scathing open letter to him for suggesting mythology may be based in ancient alien visitation."

"The full context of my brother's perspective on that is that as things stand with our current knowledge we can neither prove it right or wrong, and it should be investigated more closely to try to prove one way or the other, and he's said that it's actually in the best interests of rationalism and human progress to try to get rid of religion by exploring the theory that the so-called gods are just advanced aliens. He actually agrees with Dawkins on quite a bit, it's simply that Dawkins would say mythology is just made-up shit by delusional people, while my brother thinks ancient people may have encountered something they didn't understand with their limited knowledge of science and technology and the way the world works. So yes, he has a bit of a controversial reputation, though nobody can discredit his contributions towards quantum theory or his work on the Large Hadron Collider. He knows his shit."

"I can tell you've had this conversation a lot of times."

Sören nodded, grinning and laughing. "It gets tiring when people know who he is and bring up Dawkins, but I'll defend him if only because he's my brother. I don't know what I believe, myself." Sören sighed and his expression got more serious. "I'm a Lutheran, it's the state religion back home, I come from a long line of pastors, my family ran the big church in Akureyri for centuries, till comparatively recently - my great-grandfather Sören, who I was named for, was its pastor! And he used to invent weird contraptions on his farm, he got famous for flying around Iceland in a hot-air balloon. Anyway, sorry I went off on a tangent there... I'm mostly lapsed but still go to church on Christmas and Easter out of force of habit, Jesus Christ had some beautiful teachings and continuing the same ritual tradition I've been doing since I was a small child is comforting in a way that's hard to explain... but the world is too fucked up for me to actually worship anything. And yet too strange for me to completely deny anything exists at all. I've seen some -" Sören caught himself and stopped. "I just know that while my brother's pondering things like alternate universes and quantum travel I'm trying to paint the things I see in my head. He and I operate on such different wavelengths it's amazing we're twins." Sören smiled again. "I'm very proud of him."

"I'd be proud too, if he were my brother. Just what I've seen from him in collaboration with Tyson is brilliant and he always seems very down-to-earth and nice in interviews."

"He is genuinely a very nice person. Mostly. He has a temper, like everyone in my family does if provoked the right way. We've got that Viking blood."

"Do you have a big family?" Qui-Gon couldn't resist the little getting-to-know-you session.

"Not really? I have a cousin Ari who still lives in Reykjavik - hilariously, my brother's a strident atheist and anti-pseudoscience guy and our cousin owns a yoga studio and does Reiki and reads Tarot for a living, they agree to never talk about religion versus science on our rare family get-togethers. And I had an older sister, Margrét. She's dead." Sören looked down.

"I'm sorry to hear that. My older brother, my only sibling, took his own life in the 1980s. He was bipolar."

Sören nodded. "I'm sorry.  It's rough... I'm bipolar II and I tried to kill myself a number of years ago, back in... 2004? I think it was. I was twenty. It was the holidays. Margrét wasn't a suicide, though. She was murdered. A transgender murder statistic."

"Oh no."

"My uncle Einar raped and murdered her. It's why I left Iceland, I was going to fucking kill him and Ari had to talk me out of going to jail for his worthless father. I stayed with my brother for awhile as I worked on my doctorate but I always kind of felt like a third wheel with his partner and after I got my doctorate when I was twenty-seven and he had kids I felt like I was imposing so that's how I ended up down here in Oregon."

"I see. How did you choose Oregon?"

"Honestly?" Sören smirked. "My cousin Ari, the psychic... I went to visit him in Iceland for the holidays in 2012 - the winter solstice, 2012, when everyone thought it would be the end of the world and shit, and we smoked some weed and I had him spin a globe while blindfolded. His finger landed on the Pacific Northwest. That sounds so stupid, I know, but like I said we were high and it seemed good for a laugh. But the university was hiring, and I got the job here. Later, like a year ago? I asked him to throw each of the 50 states into a hat and whichever one he pulled would be my summer vacation. He pulled California, so I looked it up, thought Sausalito sounded nice, and I accidentally, coincidentally, ended up renting the same place as Mark and, well." Sören began to hum the X-Files theme.

"Listen... I changed my major because of a vision I had when high on mushrooms, and it worked out, here I am. I can't judge you."

Sören chuckled. "I suppose." He shrugged. "I probably wouldn't be imposing on Dag now that his partner is deceased and he's a single father, but I have a life here now."

"Is he bringing the kids?"

Sören nodded. "Twins. A daughter named Margrét, for our sister, and a son named Magnús, which was her name before she started transitioning. They're six now. Cute as a button." Sören gave a little wistful sigh.

"You want kids, don't you?"

Sören nodded again. "Mark is kind of touchy about that subject. He has a son he lost contact with when, you know, war happened and things got... bad." Sören looked away, and Qui-Gon got the sense that Sören had heard quite a story and was holding back on what he could tell for privacy's sake.

Qui-Gon sighed. He felt for both of them, and it seemed rather fortunate that they were getting to be friends - maybe the two couples would be good for each other, a support system in a world that had brought them all tragedy and pain. He wanted to give Sören a hug - he wanted to find Mark and give him a hug, too - but he kept that impulse in check.

"Anyway," Sören said, running a nervous hand through his dark curls, then taking off his suddenly-foggy glasses to polish them on the edge of his shirt, "so we're on for next Saturday, já?"

"Yes indeed. Since it's a two-hour trip one way, how about I pick you up at eleven and we'll be in Tillamook in time for lunch?"

"That's perfect. I'll be at Mark's place." Sören put on his glasses.

Before he could leave Qui-Gon's classroom, Qui-Gon heard himself say, "Sören."

Sören stopped and looked over his shoulder.

"If you ever need a friend... you have one. If you ever want to come over for tea, or you know..." Qui-Gon made a "toking up" gesture. "You and Mark are both welcome. That's true even if I have Obi over, because he needs friends too."

"Takk." Sören smiled. "I'll take you up on that sometime, then."

"Just let me know."

Sören smiled and waved on his way out. Qui-Gon again felt that pang of empathy for the younger man, but also a bit of hope, that they were all on the path to healing, somehow.


_

A couple hours later, Qui-Gon picked up Obi. As they worked on making dinner together in the kitchen, Qui-Gon said, "I talked to Sören today."

"Oh yeah?"

Qui-Gon nodded. "He invited us on another double date next Saturday. Tillamook and Cannon Beach."

"I'd love to go to the beach."

"Good." Qui-Gon rubbed Obi's shoulder.

"It's Memorial Day weekend next week, right?"

"...And my birthday."

"Oh!" Obi put down the knife and threw his arms around Qui-Gon. "Well then, we definitely have to go." Obi pulled back. "You're gonna be how old again...?"

Qui-Gon swallowed hard, feeling self-conscious as the word came out of his mouth. "Sixty."

"Wow." Obi got quiet, then.

After a few minutes of awkward silence, Qui-Gon said, "Yes. And you're less than half my age..." He frowned, resuming the work of dicing chicken.

"You don't look sixty at all. You don't look a day over fifty."

"Well, thank you. I try to take care of myself, but." Qui-Gon took the risk and said aloud what he was thinking. "As much as I want this, want you, I have to wonder if this is really fair to you. I couldn't fault you if you started thinking about the future and realizing I may not have a lot of years left -"

Obi shrugged. "I'll take what I can get. Besides..." He bit his lower lip, and Qui-Gon felt that surge in his loins. "I like you being older. A lot older."

"Oh." Qui-Gon's face flushed. "I... see."

"I, ah." Obi looked down. "I told Ahsoka you were 'daddy as fuck' the other day."

The heat in Qui-Gon's face intensified, as did the heat in his groin. "Er."

"Oh god. I hope that didn't weird you out -"

Qui-Gon found himself slamming Obi against the wall and kissing him hard. Obi made a little whimper into the kiss, and kissed Qui-Gon back hungrily, running his hands over Qui-Gon's chest and back, ass and thighs. Qui-Gon groaned, kissing Obi again, and then started kissing and licking the younger man's neck. He could feel Obi's hard-on pressing against him, and his hand strayed to stroke the bulge through Obi's jeans.

"You want me to be your daddy, do you?" Qui-Gon rasped. He didn't know why he was turned on by that - the thought of actual incest was repellent to him - but here he was, getting turned on by the thought of Obi calling him Daddy.

Obi nodded. "Yes."

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, Daddy."

Qui-Gon kissed him again. He nibbled Obi's lower lip, sucked it, kissed him again. Obi was rubbing up against him now, panting.

"Please, Daddy..." Obi gasped out.

Qui-Gon couldn't resist teasing a little, hand sliding under Obi's shirt, rubbing a nipple. "We need to make dinner, sweetheart."

"I'm hungry for something else."

Qui-Gon picked Obi up off the floor, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him caveman-style to the bedroom. He practically threw Obi onto the bed, and began undressing; Obi started undressing too. When they were both completely naked, Qui-Gon joined him on the bed and resumed kissing him.

"What do you want, sweetheart?"

"I'm not ready to go all the way yet -"

"- I didn't think you were."

"But..." Obi's eyes met his. "I want to taste you."

"I want to taste you too, love."

They got into position for a sixty-nine, laying at each other's sides. They sucked slowly and languidly at first, and then harder and faster, hungrier. Deep-throating each other, then focusing on the head. Qui-Gon worked his tongue as he sucked, and Obi followed suit, bringing him perilously close to the edge. They edged and edged towards climax, moaning with their mouths full. Qui-Gon reached to gently cup Obi's balls and rub them, and when he felt them tightening he let Obi's cock slip from his mouth and just started licking it, paying special attention to the slit, savoring the precum pooling onto his tongue.

"Daddy, please, I need to come," Obi moaned.

Qui-Gon's response was to dip his tongue into Obi's foreskin while his lips wrapped around the head, teasing him even more. His own cock jolted at the noises Obi made, and he groaned around Obi's cock in his mouth as Obi started sucking him again, rubbing his tongue on the frenulum, fingers playing in the sensitive spot between Qui-Gon's balls and ass.

It didn't take long, and then Obi's free hand grasped Qui-Gon's and he gave a few warning cries of, "Mmmm, mmmph, mmmm." He pulled Qui-Gon's cock out of his mouth and panted, "Daddy, I'm gonna come -"

"Mmmhmmm." Qui-Gon rubbed Obi's ass and gave it a playful swat.

Obi exploded, flooding his mouth, screaming around Qui-Gon's cock. It set Qui-Gon off, letting out a deep, primal noise as he came in Obi's mouth, and the moan of pleasure Obi made at tasting him triggered another wave of throbbing release.

They lay there for a few minutes, catching their breath. Qui-Gon had swallowed the load in his mouth and cleaned up the rest with his tongue, savoring every drop. "You taste good, love," he said.

"Ahsoka told me to eat some pineapple."

Qui-Gon laughed, a full belly laugh that gave him a feeling of euphoria post-orgasm. "Did she now. You told her...?"

"Yeah, I told her I wanted to do this with you. So she got some pineapple and put it in the break room for me." Obi sat up, grinning. "You taste good, too, but you always eat a lot of fruit and veggies."

"Speaking of which, I've got some fresh strawberries in the fridge for dessert."

"That sounds good." A wicked grin. "Maybe one of these days, we could do the strawberries-and-whipped-cream thing. Not today, because I'm spent - god that blowjob was amazing - but..."

"Soon."

"Maybe for your birthday."

"Oh my."

"You're turning sixty, but I'd like to sixty-nine again." A shy look. "Maybe more."

"Obi. Only what you want to give, are ready to give." Qui-Gon stroked his face. Then he pulled Obi close and gave him a gentle kiss. "And you're sure my age doesn't bother...?"

Obi put a finger to Qui-Gon's lips. "Not at all." He kissed him back. "I love you, Daddy."

"I love you too, baby."

Chapter Text

Learn To Fly Again

 

Chapter Track: "Broken Wings" - Mr. Mister

 

Qui-Gon's van pulled up in front of Mark's house, and Obi gave a big flailing wave to Mark and Sören, who were sitting on Mark's porch swing with Huan. It made Qui-Gon happy to see Obi that happy, he could practically hear Obi screaming internally My friends, I get to see my new friends again.

Mark had his acoustic guitar case with him, and Sören had a duffel bag, which they threw in the trunk. Huan gave a little yip as he got in the van, bounding ahead of his owner, and settled on the floor between the back seat and front seat. From the passenger's side, Obi reached behind him to give Huan pettings, who licked and nuzzled his hand.

"You're a good boy," Obi said, rubbing Huan's head. "Oh yes you are. Oh yes you are."

"Are you trying to steal my dog?" Mark teased.

"Mmmmmmaybe." Obi looked up at Qui-Gon and said, "We should get a dog." Then he quickly corrected himself, as they weren't living together, and said, "You. You, ah, should get a dog." Obi looked away.

But Qui-Gon had caught that, and in the rearview mirror he saw Sören and Mark giving each other a knowing look - they'd caught it, too. Qui-Gon's heart skipped a beat. He still had to go slowly, proceeding with caution, but the slip of "we" getting a dog suggested that Obi was thinking of their future... a future with them living together.

"I'd have to see how he is around Fernando first," Qui-Gon said.

"Huan is actually very well-behaved with Sören's cat," Mark said.

"Oh, you have a kitty?" Obi looked over his shoulder at Sören, beaming.

"Yeah, you want to see pics of him?" Sören pulled out his cell phone, went to the appropriate gallery folder, and passed the phone up to Obi, as Qui-Gon got on the road.

Obi spent the next ten minutes looking at pictures of Sören's tuxedo cat in various poses, including some selfies of Sören with the cat draped on him. There was even a picture of Mark with the cat on his head, grooming his mane of hair, looking unimpressed.

"I like him," Obi said. "I like all cats, though. Uh. He, him... is it a he? Or a she?"

"A boy," Sören said. "His name is Snúður."

"Is that an Icelandic name?" Obi asked.

"Já. It means -"

Mark cut in, "His name means Cinnamon Roll."

Obi laughed out loud. "You named your cat Cinnamon Roll?"

"He's my precious cinnamon roll, too good for this world," Sören said.

"That is so adorable." Obi passed the phone back. "Qui has a cat named -"

"Fernando," Qui-Gon said, nodding. "He's a black cat. I got him a couple years before my wife died."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Sören said, reaching out to pat him. "How long has it been?"

"Five years, it'll be six years on New Year's Eve. She was killed by a drunk driver coming back from a faculty party - she taught at the university, too. I try not to think about it."

"Understandable. That's bloody awful. People shouldn't be on the road if they've had too much to drink."

"Thus why I am the designated driver always," Qui-Gon said. "Not that I've been especially social since her death. You guys are really the first..."

Sören patted him again. "Well, we appreciate it. It's difficult for us to make friends, too, with our respective issues. I mean, there's Nico, of course, but."

"Of course." Qui-Gon nodded. "He seems very fond of you." You probably don't even know, do you?

"I'm very fond of him." Sören smiled. "I know he has a reputation on campus as being a rather severe, stern professor but he's just a big teddy bear deep down."

Or maybe he's just that way with you. "We're about to pass a Starbucks, shall we stop at the drive-thru and get drinks for the road?"

"Oh man, don't tell anyone I was at the competition," Obi said.

"I won't for five hundred... M&Ms," Sören teased.

Once beverages were acquired, Qui-Gon said, "If anyone has an objection to classic rock now is the time to voice that objection or that will be what we listen to on the highway."

"By all means," Mark said.

Qui-Gon put on the local classic rock station, which was just finishing up "Break on Through" by The Doors. "Stairway to Heaven" came on and Sören took a lighter out of his pocket and flicked it on, swaying it to the song. Mark started singing along and it made Qui-Gon's hair stand on end. Qui-Gon had heard Mark play the harp before but it was one thing to hear him play the harp and another thing to hear him sing. He was reminded of Jeff Buckley with a deeper vocal range, but even that didn't seem like an apt comparison. Halfway through the song Mark cradled Sören and pet his curls, and at the end of the song Sören was visibly shaken, having to take off his glasses.

"My mother used to sing me that as a lullaby when I was small," Sören explained to Qui-Gon and Obi. "It's one of the few memories I have of her. I swear to god every time Mark sings that I can feel her."

"Your mother died?" Obi asked.

"Yeah, I. Ah. Found her body when I was six. Brain aneurysm. I'm older now than she was when she died. I freak the fuck out every time I have a headache."

"I'm so sorry," Qui-Gon said, feeling another surge of sympathy for Sören. God, what he's been through.

"Just reminds me I have to live every day to the fullest," Sören said, and sat up, giving Mark a little kiss, and a pointed look, holding his gaze. "We never know what the future holds. We have to take what we're given."

Obi and Qui-Gon looked at each other then, and Obi squeezed Qui-Gon's knee. Qui-Gon felt a lump in his throat, wanting to cry a little himself. He knew how fragile life was, all too well, when Tahl was taken away from him. And for the last five years, he hadn't been living, merely existing.

You gave me my life again, Qui-Gon wanted to say aloud to Obi, and didn't. 

The way Mark was looking at Sören, in the rearview mirror, Qui-Gon could tell he was thinking the same thing.



_

The Oregon countryside - forests and farmland - was lush and green at this time of year, and though Qui-Gon kept his eyes on the road as much as possible, he couldn't help stealing glances at the scenery. Obi, Sören and Mark were watching it too, and apart from making the occasional points of conversation were quiet, as if in a reverent hush. Qui-Gon felt it too, like they had just entered some kind of portal into Tolkien's mythology or some other universe, a liminal feeling in the beauty of the land. This is sacred ground.

Things returned somewhat to normal when they arrived at the Tillamook Creamery. The four did the tour - it was Obi and Mark's first time seeing the factory where the cheese was made. "That looks like it would be less stressful than working with customers," Obi mused. "Too bad it's a two-hour drive one way, that isn't practical for getting to and from work."

"No, unfortunately not." Qui-Gon patted him.

"I can't believe I'm watching this," Mark said.

"This is hardly the weirdest thing I've gotten you to do." Sören grinned at him.

"Hells, Sören."

Sören wrapped an arm around him. "It's not that bad, is it?"

"Nah, it's not." Mark smiled and kissed his cheek. "It's strangely soothing to watch."

"It is. Though it's putting me in the mood to eat some cheese now, and you know how I love my cheese, falleg grilluð ostur mín."

Mark snorted and shook with silent laughter. "Don't ever change," he said, giving Sören a kiss on the lips this time - fairly chaste, because they were in public, but the way their eyes met afterwards was full of smolder.

"What did you just call him?" Obi asked.

"He just called me his beautiful grilled cheese," Mark said. "It's a running joke."

"Mark thinks it's sexy when I speak my native language," Sören explained.

"So in between the sweet talk... or the dirty talk.. he slips in things like that."

"Ég elska þig, þú veist." Sören played with a strand of his hair, looking at him adoringly. "Og þú elskar það. Næstum eins mikið og ég elska ostur."

Mark rolled his eyes, but he was still laughing. "Come on, brat."

There was a restaurant there, as well as free samples of cheese. After having some free samples of different varieties of cheese they headed in. Sören had a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup with cheese curds, and a side order of fries. Mark got the Oregon Bay shrimp salad. Qui-Gon got the Tillamook Madame sandwich, with ham, fried egg, and different types of cheese. Obi got a bowl of bacon-and-beer mac and cheese with chicken breast added. They also ordered appetizers of tempura battered cheese curds with Sriracha sauce and fried oysters to share among the group. As promised, Mark paid for all of them to repay Qui-Gon for carpooling them there.

"This is the best mac and cheese I've ever had," Obi said.

"I'll have to get the recipe for that," Qui-Gon said, wanting to make him happy, and it did look good.

"If you get the recipe let me know," Sören said, "I want it too."

"Will do."

Sören's face lit up. "You know what we should do some night?" He turned to Mark. "Make fondue."

"Yes, we should," Mark said.

Sören pointed to Mark. "He made me cheese fondue the night he put the moves on me. It's like he knew the way to my heart - and down my pants - was cheese."

Mark laughed. "Well, you are pretty cheesy."

"If I'm cheesy, does that make you cheesesexual?"

"You know..."

"I know." Sören kissed his nose. Then he turned back to Qui-Gon and Obi. "But his cheese fondue is, like, the ambrosia of the gods. We can make a big pot and get some nice crusty bread and have something to go with it."

"If it's anything like this, that would be great," Obi said, spooning some more mac and cheese.

"That would be nice, yes." Qui-Gon smiled. Just the idea of them coming over was nice in and of itself. He didn't just like them as people, and wanted to offer them kindness and hospitality after the hell they'd both clearly been through, but it was comforting to continue to reinforce that he and Obi were a couple, and see Obi interested in making friends.

"Qui?" Sören cocked his head to one side. "We have something for you."

Sören reached into the satchel hung over his shoulder, and pulled out an envelope.

"Aw, thank you." Qui-Gon smiled.

Mark and Sören sang "Happy Birthday" as Qui-Gon opened the card, which Sören had made himself - a beautiful landscape of the beach they were about to go to, and two birds nuzzling on a nest in a tree near the beach, one with Qui-Gon's coloring and the other with Obi's coloring; the four eggs each had different starscapes with swirling galaxies and nebulas on them, and the nest had faintly glowing runic symbols around it. Qui-Gon saw the apparition of a woman with African-American features and dreadlocks in swirls made of the winds, dressed and posing in a way indicating she was meant to be Gaia or some other "earth mother" figure, protecting the birds and their nest, but she was the very spitting image of Tahl. And yet, Tahl had died just before Sören started teaching at the university and their conversation earlier on the way to Tillamook indicated Sören didn't know anything about it, it wasn't the sort of information Dooku would have volunteered, either. Qui-Gon thought that interesting, and remembered his conversation with Sören last week. The cousin who worked as a psychic and energy healer. And that bit with the world is too fucked up for me to actually worship anything. And yet too strange for me to completely deny anything exists at all. I've seen some... He hadn't finished that sentence.

Yes, Sören, I bet you have seen some shit. For some reason, Qui-Gon's thoughts went to that scene in Harry Potter with Harry and Luna riding the thestrals, who were only visible to people who had witnessed a death, and in his mind's eye he saw a small boy with a halo of dark curls finding a young dark-haired woman cold and lifeless on a couch, his full lips parted but no scream coming out, his pupils blown wide as if he were looking at daylight even though it was evening. Flames of fire in dark eyes, for just an instant.

Then Qui-Gon was reminded, it seemed at random, of the vision he saw at Wayland's Smithy, over thirty years ago now, and he wondered now if that had been a hallucination at all.

Qui-Gon couldn't quite remember the elf's face, being that it was over thirty years ago and he was high at the time, but he did remember the elf had a flood of bronze hair, pointy ears...

...and the same eyes Qui-Gon had briefly seen on Mark during his split-second hallucination at the fight at the restaurant earlier in the month. 

No, people have been known to have flashbacks of trips, and the adrenaline was high enough it would have triggered something like that.

Qui-Gon made himself look back at the card, which gave him chills in a good way. Just the card itself would have been something to treasure forever, Qui-Gon wanted to frame it as soon as possible. Inside - Sören had drawn a dickbutt looking like himself, mop of dark curls, beard and glasses, with a voice bubble that said "Happy birthday, you old fart", which made Qui-Gon laugh aloud - and there was a gift card for Powell's City of Books, a gift card for Voodoo Doughnut, and a gift card for the local garden supply shop.

"Nico says you have a garden," Sören said.

"I do! You should see it when you come over. And thank you very much, these will be well used."

"You're welcome. We thought about making you a cake but we didn't know what you wanted and Nico already ba -" Sören caught himself, slapping a hand over his mouth.

Qui-Gon raised his eyebrows.

"That was supposed to be a surprise," Mark said, giving Sören a playful elbow nudge.

"You might be seeing Nico tomorrow. Act surprised," Sören said.

Qui-Gon laughed. "I'd be more surprised if he forgot my birthday altogether or came empty-handed. No harm done."

"Like I said, he's a big teddy bear." Sören crinkled his nose and bit his lower lip, looking down, and took a sip of cider.



_

After hitting the shop, where Qui-Gon, Mark and Sören bought cheese - Sören bought a lot of cheese, including the cheese curds that he'd mentioned would go to making poutine for his brother - they headed out to the beach.

The drive from the creamery to Cannon Beach was even more picturesque; the forested coastline was almost too beautiful to be real. When they parked at the beach, Sören retrieved his duffel bag and Mark his guitar case.

There were other people at the beach but it wasn't terribly crowded, which was a relief. They found a spot and Sören opened the duffel bag and spread a blanket.

Now that there was less around to distract them, Obi stared at Sören's sleeve tattoos, which were usually covered up with long sleeves but now that summer was on its way, Sören was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Sören noticed Obi looking, and held out his arms for a better look. He had realistic-looking flames on one arm, and ocean waves on the other.

"They're full sleeves, they go all the way up," Sören said. "And then they connect with the ink on my back."

"You have work on your back too?"

Sören took off his shirt. Qui-Gon noticed Obi noticing Sören's pierced nipples with fascination, and Qui-Gon wondered what Obi's nipples would look like pierced, or as importantly, how Obi would react having them played with.

God, why am I such a horndog.

Sören turned around. On his back, the fire sleeve led to a flaming phoenix, and the water sleeve led to a bird made out of waves of water. Their tails were entwined, and hooked through the top of a stylized eight-pointed star.

"That's so cool," Obi said.

"I designed it," Sören said. "Someone else inked me, obviously, but..."

"Holy shit. Wow. Did it hurt? Did, uh... the nipple piercings hurt too?"

"Yes and yes, but I have a high pain tolerance." Sören flushed as he turned around, and the blushing and the look off to Mark at the side with a little grin before looking away suggested the two had some BDSM experience. "The, ah, stimulation I get from it makes up for the pain I endured to get it. I have another piercing, too, that hurt worse."

"Oh? Can I see it?"

"Obi." Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at him, knowing if it wasn't immediately visible... Qui-Gon shook his head.

"Yeah, it's kind of... an intimate piercing." Sören looked off to the side again.

"Oh. Oh. I didn't know, sorry." Obi also blushed. Qui-Gon patted him, chuckling.

The two couples split off then to explore different sides of the beach; Qui-Gon and Obi went down one end and Sören and Mark the other, Huan excitedly trotting with them. Obi and Qui-Gon held hands as they walked, and paused for awhile to look at Haystack Rock.

After the long walk, the four reconvened at the blanket. Qui-Gon watched as Sören knelt before his duffel bag again and got out some supplies to build a bonfire. He made a fire a safe distance away from the blanket, where there was room to sit on a fallen tree and large rocks.

Obi leaned on Qui-Gon, who put an arm around him and tenderly stroked his hair. Mark got the guitar out of his case. "You have any requests?" Mark asked.

"FREE BIRD!" Sören yelled.

Mark shot Sören a look, who gave him a wicked grin, and Mark tweaked Sören's nose. Sören leaned in and blew a raspberry into Mark's neck. Obi giggled, and Qui-Gon smiled too.

"No 'Free Bird'," Mark said. He looked at Qui-Gon and Obi.

"Hmmm." Qui-Gon scratched his head. "'Wish You Were Here' by Pink Floyd, perhaps?"

Mark played that - the raw sadness in his voice gave Qui-Gon chills again - and then Qui-Gon suggested "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues, and the voice became seductive, hinting at what Qui-Gon and Obi would get up to later.

Then Sören said, "I have a request, if you'll let me sing."

Mark raised an eyebrow.

"Maggie May," Sören said, completely deadpan.

Mark gave him another look, Sören gave him an innocent face that wasn't innocent at all, and Qui-Gon wondered what was up with that, some private joke, probably. Mark took a deep breath and began to play, as Sören sang in a rich, husky tenor like he was an R&B singer.

Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you
It's late September and I really should be back at school
I know I keep you amused but I feel I'm being used
Oh Maggie I couldn't have tried any more
You lured me away from home just to save you from being alone
You stole my heart and that's what really hurts

The morning sun when it's in your face really shows your age
But that don't worry me none in my eyes you're everything
I laughed at all of your jokes, my love you didn't need to coax
Oh, Maggie I couldn't have tried any more
You lured me away from home just to save you from being alone
You stole my soul and that's a pain I can do without

All I needed was a friend to lend a guiding hand
But you turned into a lover and
mother what a lover, you wore me out
All you did was wreck my bed
and in the morning kick me in the head
Oh Maggie I couldn't have tried anymore
You lured me away from home 'cause you didn't want to be alone
You stole my heart, I couldn't leave you if I tried

I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school
Or steal my daddy's cue and make a living out of playing pool
Or find myself a rock and roll band that needs a helpin' hand
Oh Maggie I wish I'd never seen your face
You made a first-class fool out of me
But I'm as blind as a fool can be
You stole my heart but I love you anyway

Maggie I wish I'd never seen your face
I'll get on back home one of these days


Qui-Gon and Obi clapped, Sören took a small bow, and Mark gave him another annoyed look that became an amused grin. "Oh, you."

Sören kissed the tip of his nose.

Mark opened a water bottle and poured it into a travel dish for Huan, who lapped it up as Mark pet him. "You guys should sing a duet," Obi said.

Sören and Mark decided on "Leather and Lace" by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley, with Sören singing Stevie Nicks's part and Mark singing Don Henley's part as he played the guitar. The two of them sounded great together - again, Mark's singing gave Qui-Gon chills, and a surge of emotions that were hard to parse, everything all at once.

"Any more requests?" Mark asked.

"How about something you want to play, Mark?" Qui-Gon asked.

Mark thought for a few minutes, and then he started again. 

I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment's gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity

Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind

Same old song
Just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground
Though we refuse to see

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Now don't hang on
Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won't another minute buy

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind


There was so much beautiful pain in Mark's voice, and as he sang, Qui-Gon reflected on the history of the world, war after war, plague after plague, and his own life flashing by, the last time he saw Tahl before she died. Qui-Gon had tears in his eyes at the end. Obi did too, but he slow clapped, smiling. 

"Wow, that was good," Obi said. "That was, uh, Alabama, right?"

"Kansas," Mark said softly. "Before your time." Mark had tears in his eyes too, but his expression was otherwise neutral.

"You weren't all that old when the song came out, were you?" Qui-Gon asked Mark.

Mark just gave a little smile. Then he looked at Sören - who was crying openly, though quietly - and said, "Here, this is from your early childhood, I think."

His eyes focused on Sören the entire time, as if he were singing and playing directly to the Icelander.

Baby, don't understand
Why we can't just hold on to each others' hands
This time might be the last, I fear
Unless I make it all too clear
I need you so, ohh

Take these broken wings
And learn to fly again
Learn to live so free
When we hear the voices sing
The book of love will open up and let us in
Take these broken wings

Baby, I think tonight
We can take what was wrong and make it right, mmm
Baby, it's all I know
That you're half of the flesh
And blood that makes me whole
I need you so

So take these broken wings
And learn to fly again
Learn to live so free
And when we hear the voices sing
The book of love will open up and let us in

Take these broken wings
You've got to learn to fly
Learn to live and love so free
And when we hear the voices sing
The book of love will open up and let us in, yeah, yeah

Let us in
Let us in

Baby, it's all I know
That you're half of the flesh
And blood that makes me whole
Yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah

So take these broken wings
And learn to fly again
Learn to live so free
And when we hear the voices sing
The book of love will open up and let us in

Take these broken wings
You've got to learn to fly
Learn to live and love so free
And when we hear the voices sing
The book of love will open up for us and let us in


Sören's tears were more obvious now, sniffling, and Mark's expression was no longer neutral, looking like he could cry at any moment. Qui-Gon and Obi were also moved to tears, holding each other.

"Hey," Sören said, reaching into the duffel bag and pulling out a bag of marshmallows. "Marshmallow time now, já?"

"Let's go for another walk first," Mark said, putting the guitar back in his case and giving a nod of acknowledgment to Qui-Gon and Obi as he rose to his feet and pulled Sören up with him.

Qui-Gon and Obi cuddled, and Huan came over to cuddle with them, being pet. Qui-Gon was now seriously thinking about Obi's suggestion to get a dog. He watched Mark and Sören walking along the beach, holding hands. The sun was just beginning its descent, painting everything gold, giving the seascape a magical feeling. Mark's long dark hair was blowing softly in the breeze, like a scene from the cover of a fantasy novel, and at last he stopped Sören in his tracks and put his arms around him, looking at him intently. He stroked Sören's cheek, and wordlessly, got down on one knee. Sören's full lips parted in surprise.

Mark pulled something out of his pocket - Qui-Gon squinted and saw a cheese curd. Mark offered it to Sören and he threw his head back, laughter ringing out, shaking with it. Then Sören got deadly serious as Mark reached into his other pocket and pulled out a small black box and opened it.

Obi was seeing it now, too. He gasped, and when Sören nodded through his tears and Mark slipped a ring onto his finger, and Sören also slipped a ring onto Mark's finger, Obi stood up and cheered. "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

The two men were grinning when they came back to the bonfire, arm in arm. Sören showed off the ring - white gold, set with a row of small diamonds, a masculine design. Mark sported a matching ring.

"Well done," Qui-Gon said. He looked at Mark. "Do you have a date planned?"

"Soon-ish? Not too soon because we've got to get through the last couple weeks of school, but I was thinking July or August."

Sören squeezed him.

"In the meantime," Mark said, turning to Sören, "you should think about a move-in date."

This meant that Sören and Dooku would no longer be neighbors. Qui-Gon wondered what Dooku would think about that, and the news of the wedding in general. As if Mark sensed Dooku had crossed Qui-Gon's mind, he said, "I'm sure Sören wants Dooku to be his best man, and... Qui-Gon, I know we don't know each other well, but would you do the honors of being mine?"

"So long as you're not expecting me to wear a tuxedo. I don't do formal wear," Qui-Gon said, chuckling.

"Nah, we haven't worked out the exact details yet but I'm pretty sure Sören would rather flay his own skin off than wear a tuxedo," Mark said, and Sören nodded, cringing. "We'll let you know the dress code, or lack thereof, when we have more of the details worked out."

"I can't believe you... fucking..." Sören wheezed. "The cheese curd."

Mark grinned.

"Honestly, elskan, I would have said yes if that was all you had." Sören cracked up laughing all over again.

"Yeah, I know, you. You ridiculous, wonderful man." Mark hugged him and rocked him, closing his eyes, radiating joy.

Sören nuzzled him and then he reached out for the bag of marshmallows and shook it. "Marshmallow time!"

They roasted marshmallows over the bonfire. Qui-Gon couldn't remember the last time he'd done such a thing, and Obi had never done it.

"I can't believe you've never roasted marshmallows before," Mark said. "What the hell part of the country are you from where this is not a thing?"

"Boston," Obi said. "Pretty urban out there, and I wasn't in Boy Scouts or anything where I could go camping and whatever."

"Ah, you're a Masshole."

"You too?"

"No, Connecticut, but close enough to know how awful you guys are at driving." Mark laughed.

Qui-Gon's curiosity was piqued. "Oh, you're a Yankee, yeah?"

"Yes." 

"Did you go to school out there?"

"Yale, but I was deployed for some of that." Then Sören shoved a marshmallow into Mark's mouth.

After some more marshmallow-roasting, it was time to head back. Sören and Mark put out the fire, and led Huan out to the van. They threw the bag and the guitar case in the trunk again and climbed in the back seat, sitting on different sides than before.

Sören curled up on Mark on the way back, and Mark played with Sören's hair, eventually making a tiny little braid in his curls. The sight of the forest lit all gold in the dying sun was breathtaking, and Qui-Gon decided to switch the music to Enya to fit the mood.

When they got closer to Corvallis, Qui-Gon asked, "Do I need to stop anywhere for food or anything?"

"We've got some stuff at home," Mark said, and Sören nodded.

Qui-Gon looked at Obi. "You hungry at all?"

"Not for food." Obi gave him a predatory look.

Qui-Gon felt himself hardening, and didn't know what to say in response, face on fire.

Then Obi had a look of panic on his face. "Oh shit," he yelled.

"What?"

"I forgot to bring Smokey." He looked sheepish. "Um... can we stop at the duplex so I can get him?"

"Is Smokey a pet of yours?" Sören asked.

"Um." Obi turned bright red. "Uh. Not exactly. He's a..." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Stuffed animal."

"Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww." Sören reached out to pat him. "You know what? I sleep with an Eeyore doll. And that's not my pet name for Captain Emo over here, either."

Mark gave Sören a playful swat and a noogie, and Sören tweaked his nose. Then Sören went on, "Eeyore's my favorite because he knows what it's like to be really sad and not always much fun to be around but his friends love him anyway."

"That's really sweet," Obi said, "and it helps me to feel better about being a grown man sleeping with a stuffed animal, thank you."

"Seriously, fuck this 'real man' macho bullshit in society," Sören said. "Just be yourself, always."

As reluctant as Qui-Gon was to possibly run into Anakin, he conceded to the request - how could he not? - and accompanied Obi inside.

Anakin was zoned out on the couch when they got in but woke up, stretching. "Oh, hey," he mumbled.

"Hey," Obi said. "We're just here for a few minutes to get something."

"Cool, cool." Anakin yawned and stretched again. "Whatchu guys up to, anything good?"

Qui-Gon wasn't used to Anakin being... mellow... and there was a far away sound to his voice, like he was possibly under the influence of something.

"We just got back from Cannon Beach," Qui-Gon said, attempting to be polite.

"The beach." Anakin snorted. "I hate sand. It's coarse, rough, and irritating."

Like you. Qui-Gon hung back as Obi ran off to his bedroom, and came back with Smokey.

"God, you came back here for that fuckin' thing?" Anakin snorted again. "You're such a baby."

The words came out before Qui-Gon could stop himself. "He's my baby, and don't you forget that." His eyes met Anakin's, a challenge.

Obi pulled him out of the duplex by the tail of his tie-dye T-shirt, and then, there on the porch, holding Smokey in one hand, he threw his arms around Qui-Gon, stood on tiptoe, and kissed him hard.

"I love you, Daddy," Obi husked.

"I love you too, baby." Qui-Gon swatted his bottom.



_

When Obi and Qui-Gon got back to Qui-Gon's house, they took turns in the bathroom - Obi spent a long time in there and Qui-Gon heard the sink running, and eventually went to the kitchen to feed Fernando, whose meows got louder and louder as the can opened. Obi came out to watch Fernando almost trip Qui-Gon in the hurry to get to his food dish, and start gobbling it up.

"You'd think he hadn't eaten in days, and he had some dry in his dish when we left," Obi said.

"He likes to make me feel guilty." Qui-Gon grinned. "How dare I be gone all day." He raised an eyebrow at Obi. "Are you all right? Thought you'd fallen in, for a moment."

"Yeah, I was, um, washing up." Obi flushed a little and looked off to the side. Then he looked up at Qui-Gon. "So remember when I told you I wanted to do the strawberries-and-whipped-cream thing for your birthday? I'd like to do that now." He bit his lower lip. "I've been thinking about it all the way home."

Qui-Gon felt that start in his loins again. "I've got it ready in the fridge. I've got some champagne, too."

"Let's bring that... into the bedroom."

They slowly, sensually undressed each other, kissing and caressing the exposed flesh. When they were both completely naked they stood together for a moment, holding each other, kissing as their hard cocks slid together. "I love you," Qui-Gon husked against Obi's neck, before taking a lick.

"I love you." Obi kissed him back, and then took Qui-Gon's hands and shyly led him over to the bed.

Qui-Gon had already opened the champagne, and now he poured them each a glass. They clinked glasses and took a sip, and put the glasses down on the bedtable.

Obi arranged a column of strawberries from Qui-Gon's sternum down to his navel, and then sprayed a lavish amount of whipped cream over his torso; Qui-Gon shivered as he felt the cool froth on his nipples. That was nothing compared to Obi's tongue, when he leaned over Qui-Gon and began to lick it off with slow, deliberate strokes of his tongue. Everywhere, all over his chest and stomach. Eating the strawberries off him, licking up the juices as they spilled. Qui-Gon's skin felt so sensitized he wondered more than once if he was going to be able to come untouched. By the time Obi had licked him clean, his cock was dripping precum and he was arched, panting. Obi took a few teasing licks at the head of his cock and then he came up to kiss Qui-Gon, hungry and deep.

"Your turn," he said.

Qui-Gon laid out the remaining strawberries on Obi's torso - and some on his thighs. He sprayed the whipped cream over them, and over the rest of the exposed flesh on Obi's chest, stomach, and thighs. He worked on Obi's body for a long time, kissing, licking, nibbling, sucking, and even after Obi was licked clean Qui-Gon continued to lap him, savoring the aftertaste. Qui-Gon reached for his glass of champagne on the bedtable, feverish, not caring about messing up the sheets, and poured it out over Obi's body. Licked him all over again. The remaining dregs of the glass, Qui-Gon dripped over Obi's cock, and then the last over the tender place between balls and ass, his tongue licking there, too. When Qui-Gon's tongue found its way there, he could taste a little soap in addition to musk and champagne, and he put two and two together, that Obi had been washing up there in the bathroom. His breath hitched.

"Obi, may I...?"

"I was about to ask. Please, eat me, Daddy."

Qui-Gon dipped his tongue into the inviting pink channel and Obi howled, fisting Qui-Gon's hair. The next twenty minutes Qui-Gon feasted on him there, tongue licking the prostate fast and slow by turns, until Obi was writhing, nails scraping Qui-Gon's shoulders, panting, "Daddy... please, Daddy, I need... I need..."

Qui-Gon stopped licking for a moment. "What do you need, baby?"

"I need you in me."

Their eyes met. "Are you sure?"

"I..." Obi nodded, and swallowed hard. "There's lube in my backpack on the chair. I got it because I was thinking about it..."

Qui-Gon's cock leapt. He didn't want to get up, not wanting to leave Obi's body, but he reluctantly did so to fish in Obi's backpack for the bottle of lubricant. He brought it back to the bed and climbed back over him, kissing him deeply. "I need to get you ready first, if it's been awhile for you."

"You've been doing a damn good job of that, with your tongue." Obi shuddered.

"No, I mean I need to get you ready." Qui-Gon opened the bottle of lube and poured some over his fingers. He looked into Obi's eyes and said, "If at any time you don't like what I'm doing and you want me to stop, you let me know, OK?"

Obi nodded.

Qui-Gon slipped a finger into him, rubbing slowly. He found the prostate right away, and at the sound of Obi's moan, the way he shivered and arched to him again, clutching him, it took Qui-Gon every ounce of his restraint to hold back and not take him right then. He kissed Obi's neck, working the finger in and out of him. One finger became two, and two became three, and when Obi was rolling his hips, fucking Qui-Gon's fingers, panting, Qui-Gon knew he was about as ready as he was ever going to be.

"How do you want it?" Qui-Gon asked between kisses and nibbles at Obi's shoulder.

"On my back, like this."

"You're sure you don't want on your stomach? It'll make it easier for you -"

"I want to look into those pretty eyes."

Qui-Gon smiled, and kissed the tip of Obi's nose. He took some of the pile of pillows beside them anyway, and had Obi come up to position them under the younger man's hips, which would help.

Qui-Gon poured lube over his own cock, and directly into Obi's channel. Then he guided the head of his cock to the puckered hole, breathing harder at the sight of it. He put in just the tip. Obi moaned, and Qui-Gon teased him, the tip going in and out, Obi's moans louder and more insistent, until Obi finally cried out, "Please."

"Deep breaths, baby. Push out as I push in."

Qui-Gon took Obi's hands and started the descent. There was a sharp gasp, and a few tears in Obi's eyes - Qui-Gon knew from his own experience with penetration that if it had been a good while there would be a burn no matter how much lube was used. He went as slowly as he could, searching Obi's face. "Do you need me to stop?" he ground out.

"No." Obi grit his teeth. "I need this." Their eyes met again, and Obi's voice lowered to a whisper. "Teach me to fly again."

Overcome with emotion, Qui-Gon kissed him hard. Obi squeezed his hands and tilted his hips up, pushing out hard. A moment later, Qui-Gon bottomed out inside him and just rested there while Obi caught his breath.

"We did it, baby." Qui-Gon kissed him again. "We're one."

Qui-Gon started thrusting slowly. Even as every nerve in his body was screaming to drive into the younger man - it had been so long, and that tight, slick heat was delicious - he kept himself in check, wanting to make this good for him. After a few strokes Obi cried out, and Qui-Gon knew he'd found that spot, and the right rhythm. Listening to Obi moan each time he pushed and pulled was almost too much for Qui-Gon to bear, trembling as he steeled himself to keep it slow, not to come first.

Qui-Gon reached for the other glass of champagne on the bedtable, and poured it out over Obi's chest. He leaned down to lick and suckle Obi's nipples, fingers plucking one as mouth worked on the other. All the while thrusting in him slowly. Obi writhed, overcome with sensation. "Daddy," he cried out. "Oh god, Daddy... it's so good..."

"Yes, love." Qui-Gon nibbled on a nipple. "This is how it's supposed to be, baby."

It seemed like an eternity passed, with the slow thrusting, all of the kissing and licking and caressing, teasing Obi to that edge. After awhile Obi was rolling his hips back at Qui-Gon, his hands on Qui-Gon's hips, urging him on faster. Qui-Gon gave in to go just a little harder and faster, but still kept it on the slower side, easing him into it.

"Still good?"

"The best, Daddy." Obi kissed him softly. He bit his lower lip and moaned.

Obi was leaking a tremendous amount of precum, and when Obi reached down to start touching himself, collected precum on his fingers and stuck them in Qui-Gon's mouth, that was when Qui-Gon lost a little of his control and started to thrust harder. And then Obi's nails were in his back. "Oh god, yes," Obi moaned. "Harder, Daddy..."

With a growl into Obi's neck, Qui-Gon pushed down and gave it to him. Obi's hips rocked back at his, matching his rhythm. "Yes, yes, yes, more," Obi panted. "More, Daddy, more, yesyesyesyes..."

They were both right there, gasping, shaking. Their eyes met and Obi made a desperate whimper that turned into a little howl. "Daddy," he cried out. "Daddy... Daddy... I'm gonna..."

"Yes, baby. Come for me." Qui-Gon leaned down and kissed him hard.

Obi screamed into the kiss, and Qui-Gon felt him contracting, felt the spray of hot cum against his belly. He lost it - one, two, three thrusts and he was spending deep inside him. "Obi," he moaned. "Oh, god Obi... fuck..."

"Daddy." Obi shuddered and let out another splash of cum, pulsing around him again. "Daddy!"

Qui-Gon collapsed on top of him, toes curling as the pleasure throbbed and throbbed. Obi played with Qui-Gon's hair, and then just held him, their legs entwined, two hearts beating as one.

Qui-Gon dozed a little, and then he came back to himself, feeling floaty. He kissed Obi's chest, over his heart. "Thank you."

Obi smiled at him. "Thank you." He stroked Qui-Gon's face. "That was... amazing."

Qui-Gon had gone soft and slipped out of him. There was a mess to clean; he'd have to change the pillowcases and the sheets. Qui-Gon couldn't believe how much cum he'd deposited in Obi, and the debauched sight of the hole spilling his seed would have gotten him hard again if he didn't feel so utterly spent. For a moment Qui-Gon entertained cleaning it with his tongue, eating it out of Obi and bringing him to a second orgasm with his tongue, but Obi had been tight and he didn't want to make him too sore.

Soon, though. That would be fun.

Obi got off the bed and headed to the bathroom, wincing a little as he walked. Qui-Gon put on pajama bottoms, opting to remain shirtless on the warm night, and changed the bedsheets. When Obi came back, he sat gingerly on the newly changed sheets and put his own pajama bottoms on, and then just sat for a minute looking at Qui-Gon.

"Are you OK?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Better than OK." Obi nodded. "Just... a lot of feelings." He took Qui-Gon's hands, and Qui-Gon pulled him close, before climbing back on the bed himself. He rolled Obi against him and rocked him.

"My brave boy. I'm so proud of you," Qui-Gon said, stroking Obi's hair.

"I love you so much." Obi looked up and frowned. "I'm sorry I couldn't really afford to get you anything for your -"

"No, love, you already gave me the best present I've ever received." Qui-Gon kissed his forehead.

"I'll be giving it to you over and over again." Obi leered. "I'm too sore for another round, but... god. We are so doing that again."

"Mmm, good." And then Qui-Gon took a deep breath and said, "Maybe you could do it to me, some time."

"...You're not strictly a top?"

"I'm mostly a top, but once in awhile... it's like a 80/20. Tahl pegged me occasionally, and once in a great while we invited a third person into our bed. That's all been awhile, though. I'd have to work my way back up to it. Don't feel obligated though if you'd rather bottom -"

"No, I mean... I've only bottomed, but I think I'd be OK topping from time to time." Obi gave a wicked grin. "Especially if I can get you back for teasing me."

Oh yes, I could definitely get used to this. "Well... let's rest now."

"OK."

Qui-Gon pet Obi to sleep, and with tears in his eyes he marveled at the wonder of Obi trusting him like this, knowing that trust didn't come easily after what he'd been through. It was awe-inducing. Humbling. If Tahl was indeed watching over them, he sent a silent prayer of thanks to her now.

Chapter Text

Ride Like the Wind

 

Chapter Track: "Good Morning" - John Legend

 

On Memorial Day, Obi brought Qui-Gon breakfast in bed - leftover birthday cake from what Dooku had brought by the house yesterday. Dooku's visit had been brief, and he seemed uncomfortable and a bit sad the entire time; Qui-Gon got the sense that Sören had broken the news of the engagement to Mark and Dooku wasn't taking it well... but Qui-Gon wasn't going to pry. It wasn't his business.

What was his business was the delicious young man in his bed, feeding him cake from his fingers... and Qui-Gon licked and sucked the icing from Obi's fingers as well. They had slept nude, and they were naked now. Obi "accidentally" let pieces of cake drop onto his body, which Qui-Gon ate off him, and licked the bare flesh clean.

By the time the cake was finished Obi was hard, and so was Qui-Gon. 

After Obi had bottomed for him for the first time on Saturday night, they had only given each other oral pleasure last night, as Qui-Gon knew Obi was a bit sore and wanted to give him a night to recover. But now Obi was straddling his lap, rubbing his ass against his hard cock.

"Daddy, do you think we could...?"

Qui-Gon pulled Obi into his arms and kissed his forehead. "Only if you want to, love."

"I want to. I really want to."

"Let me get you ready first." Qui-Gon gave him a wolfish grin. "I think I'm in the mood for... second breakfast."

With that, Qui-Gon patted his shoulders, a cue for Obi to come up. Obi straddled his shoulders, sitting on Qui-Gon's face. Qui-Gon took a few teasing licks around the rim of Obi's opening and then he thrust his tongue inside, lapping slowly. The howl of pleasure from Obi made Qui-Gon's cock throb, urgent to take his lover now, but he held back, wanting to make this good for him.

So Qui-Gon spent awhile there, licking slow, then licking hard and fast, then licking slow again, until Obi was fucking his face, whimpering, panting, screaming. And even then, Qui-Gon wanted Obi to beg for it - he wanted nothing less than Obi's full, passionate consent. He smiled when Obi began to plead, "Please, Daddy, fuck me... I need you in me so bad, Daddy... please, Daddy, please..."

He let Obi beg just awhile longer. It was when Obi shouted at the top of his lungs, "DADDY, I NEED IT IN ME NOW, RIGHT FUCKING NOW, DADDY, NOW," that Qui-Gon relented, pulling his tongue out and smacking Obi's bottom.

Together, they lubed up Qui-Gon's cock, and then, kissing, Qui-Gon's slick fingers worked into Obi's channel, rubbing the prostate in slow, lazy circles. It was when Obi was fucking his fingers, whimpering, that Qui-Gon gave in, guiding his cock to Obi's hole.

The sight of Obi sinking down on him, slowly taking his cock inch by inch, almost undid Qui-Gon right away. They both cried out when he was all the way inside, and Qui-Gon rested there, giving Obi a chance to adjust to the length and fullness inside him.

Then Obi began to ride. And it was glorious. Already, so soon, there had been such a transformation in him, as Obi reclaimed his sexuality, as he re-learned what it was like to truly want it, to hunger for it. With each roll of Obi's hips atop him, Qui-Gon could feel his trust, his surrender, that heady, intoxicating combination of love and lust. Qui-Gon's hands held Obi's hips, thrusting into him, matching Obi's rhythm. Watching his cock claim Obi again and again. The way Obi's lithe body moved, so gracefully. The look of ecstasy on his lovely face - the heat in those bright blue eyes.

Qui-Gon's hands slid up to play through the auburn chest hair, and over Obi's pink nipples, teasing them into taut peaks. Rubbing the nipples, pinching them. Obi threw his head back and cried out, and started riding faster, harder. "More, Daddy," Obi gasped as Qui-Gon played with his nipples. "Feels so good..."

"Yes, baby. Daddy wants to make you feel good."

"Daddy..."

"My sweet boy."

Obi leaned down to kiss him, and for a moment their foreheads pressed together, looking into each other's eyes, breathing each other's breath. The thrusts slowed; Qui-Gon wrapped his arms around him, wanting to burn this memory into his mind for all time, to stay in this place of love and trust and tenderness as long as he could.

The powerful feeling of love between them gave into an explosion of lust. Obi leaned back up, rocking his hips harder than before, and Qui-Gon leaned up with him, to seize a nipple between his lips, tugging hard, before lashing it with his tongue, fast and furious. Obi howled, grabbing on to Qui-Gon for dear life as he bounced on his cock, Obi's hands white-knuckled, nails digging in Qui-Gon's flesh as the bed slammed against the wall. "Daddy, Daddy," Obi called out.

"Yes, baby." Qui-Gon gave the other nipple the same treatment, and nuzzled the chest hair before returning to the first nipple, licking around it slowly before his tongue danced on the hard nub. The sight of Obi's nipples erect and glistening from his tongue had him right on that edge, with every pant and shiver and moan Obi was making, and he felt so good... Qui-Gon shuddered, fighting back his release.

He didn't have to fight long. Obi started stroking himself - the sight got Qui-Gon right on that edge again - and then Obi's precum-slick fingers were in Qui-Gon's mouth. And at the sight of Qui-Gon licking and sucking his fingers, moaning, "Oh, baby, you taste so good," before sucking on them hard, wanting to savor every last bit of his flavor, Obi lost control, shouting "Daddy" as he spent all over Qui-Gon's chest and stomach. A few thrusts later and Qui-Gon's own climax took him under, melting into Obi's pulsing, contracting hole.

"Oh, god." Obi had a beatific look on his face. Qui-Gon wished he had a camera.

Qui-Gon stroked Obi's hair and beard and kissed the top of his head. "And that was the perfect way to start a day."

"I'd like to start every day like that."

"Me too. Though, it's easier to do on a day like today because I have off. Tomorrow I have to go back to school."

"Awwwwww..." Obi pouted.

Qui-Gon laughed - he was so cute - and patted him. Then he thought for a moment, reminded of Obi's joy at Cannon Beach. "It's just for a couple more weeks, till finals. And after finals... how would you like to go on vacation with me for a week? We don't have to go far. I was thinking about renting a place near Cannon Beach..."

Obi shrieked at that, and then, self-conscious, his voice dropped an octave and he said, "Yes, I think I'd like that very much."

"Good." Qui-Gon kissed his forehead. "It'll do us both some good." Not the least of which, it'll make it easier to broach the subject of us living together. From what Obi had said about wanting to start every day like that Qui-Gon got the sense he wanted it too... but it was one thing to say that in the afterglow of passion and another thing to really think about it as life was happening. Spending a week together on the beach would help them determine if this was the right step for them.

And though the end of the school year wasn't much farther away, getting there felt like an eternity. But at least he didn't have to spend that time alone, smiling as he snuggled up against Obi, who was playing with his hair.

Neither of us are alone anymore.

Chapter Text

Hold On

 

Chapter Track: "Hold On" - Michael Bublé



May became June, and the first half of June passed by in a blur, with the weeks leading up to finals. Qui-Gon still made time for Obi, but he had more to do, and Obi - not wanting to impose - came over less, which made Qui-Gon worry about him falling back under Anakin's influence. Yet, when Obi did come over, he was chipper, and even showed his own protective and nurturing side, rubbing Qui-Gon's back and feet, cooking for them without being asked.

Then, at last, the last week of school arrived, the week of June eleventh. Qui-Gon started to relax - after Commencement Day on the sixteenth he was free and clear for the summer.

As Qui-Gon relaxed, Obi started to seem troubled again. He could snap out of it fairly quickly, but it recurred enough that after dinner towards the beginning of finals week, Qui-Gon asked Obi what was bothering him.

"I told Ani I'd be going on vacation for a week soon and he wasn't happy about it."

"Well... I don't see why it's for him to be unhappy with it." And once again, Qui-Gon hated that Obi was in that situation to begin with, and wanted to ask Obi to move in with him. Soon. After your trial week together. Qui-Gon kissed Obi's forehead. "He doesn't have the right to tell you where you can go and what you can do with yourself."

"I guess. But... he's still my friend, and." Obi looked down at the floor. "He reminded me of all he's done for me, like helping me get away from Quinlan, and... I feel guilty."

"I won't deny that it was good of him to help you leave an abusive situation. But it's not good of him to lord that over you like he owns you now, which is the impression I get from him taking offense to you going away for a week."

Obi shrugged.

Qui-Gon put his arms around Obi. "Here, let me help you take your mind off things for awhile." After a few minutes of snuggling Obi close, he walked Obi to the bedroom, dishes be damned for the night.


_


The next day, Qui-Gon saw Obi off to work and Obi was cheerful - as one might expect from him having had a few orgasms the night before. But later that evening when Qui-Gon picked Obi up at the duplex, Obi was even unhappier than he'd been last night. It was enough that instead of going straight home, Qui-Gon took a detour, taking them on a little drive.

"Talk to me," Qui-Gon said when they'd been on the road for a few minutes. "What's going on? Has Anakin been giving you more grief?"

"It's something else."

"Out with it." The pit of Qui-Gon's stomach tied into a knot, worrying that Obi was having doubts about them now...

Obi took a deep breath. He met Qui-Gon's eyes for the briefest instant before looking away; he pulled out his fidget spinner and began to stim with it. "When I came back from work..." He swallowed hard. "There was a dead rose on our doorstep."

"What."

Obi nodded. "Not a dried flower, but an actual rotten, moldy rose. Long-stemmed, like it came from a florist or something, but... all gross. And it had a ribbon on it... with skulls."

"OK, that's weird."

"Very weird. I don't get it."

"I don't either. Maybe one of your neighbors heard Anakin's music and that was their snarky commentary..."

Obi laughed. "He does play pretty loud, but... no, I don't know."

"Did you throw it away?"

"I did. I mean, it was nasty, I don't see the point of keeping it..."

Qui-Gon had a weird feeling about this... a bad weird feeling. He rubbed his chin. "If there's any way we can go back and you fish it out of the trash... in case your 'secret admirer', or Ani's, does it again... this is evidence for the police."

"Oh no. The trash is really disgusting and I don't want to go digging through it for that. It was weird, I'm... I'm unsettled by it, but is it worth going to the police over?"

"Not on its own, what I'm saying is if it keeps up. Hopefully it won't."


_


Of course it did. The next day, Qui-Gon picked up Obi at the duplex after work and Obi showed him another dead rose... with a dead mouse attached. And a note - one of those really stereotypical notes of evildoers, with letters cut and pasted from magazines and newspapers, which would have been amusing if it wasn't with a dead mouse and didn't say I'LL NEVER LET YOU GO, OBI.

"Oh my god." Qui-Gon's eyes widened with alarm.

"Yeah." Obi frowned.

"Obi... have you dated anyone since you moved to Oregon? Besides myself, I mean."

Obi shook his head. "Been too scared to, after Quin-Quinlan..." His jaw quivered, tears brightening his eyes.

"Oh god, you don't think he..." Qui-Gon didn't want to consider the possibility, but there it was. "He was back in Florida, last you knew?"

Obi nodded.

Qui-Gon went into the trash himself to pull out the first dead rose, and took photographs of the evidence in case this escalated enough to need police involvement; Qui-Gon had a sinking feeling that it would, and he'd start doing research on what the police required for a restraining order or further action later that night, or tomorrow at the latest.  Once they got in the van, Qui-Gon asked, "Are you on any kind of social media where you've mentioned being out in Oregon?"

"I have a Facebook account to keep in touch with my family - my sister does all her updates there instead of calling people - but I don't have anything public."

"Does Anakin?"

"Oh god." Obi shuddered. "Yeah, I think Anakin might have his location listed on Twitter or something..."

"Fuck."

Obi broke down sobbing.

Qui-Gon pulled over the van and held Obi as best as he could in the front seat. When Obi had calmed down some, Qui-Gon got back on the road and turned the van around, driving in the direction of the duplex. "You're going to stay with me for a few days."

Obi didn't protest.

When they arrived at Qui-Gon's house, Obi was crying again, and Qui-Gon thought of how best to soothe his young lover. Sex was comforting, but Obi had to be in a place where he was more relaxed than this, not wanting to trigger him...

"Here, love. Wait here for a few minutes." Qui-Gon patted the couch.

He drew a bubble bath, adding lavender and chamomile essential oils and epsom salts to the bubbles. Even though he and Tahl had the tub custom-built after they moved in, so Qui-Gon could actually fit in it, he didn't take baths often, preferring to shower. It had been years, and probably not since before Tahl died. But now...

Obi was hugging Smokey, his kitten doll, when Qui-Gon returned. It tore at his heart. He gently scooped up the doll, gave it a few pettings, and put it down beside Obi. "Fernando will keep him company while I take care of you," he said, marching Obi towards the bathroom.

"Wh-where are we going? What are we doing?"

"You'll see."

The bath was ready and the bathroom was lit with candles when Qui-Gon and Obi walked in. Qui-Gon began to strip, while Obi stood there, still a little in shock from before, and when Qui-Gon was naked he undressed Obi. That got Obi's attention back to the present, and when they were both naked, Obi ran his hands over Qui-Gon and pulled him closer, kissing him as their hard cocks rubbed together. Qui-Gon groaned as Obi took them both into his hand, stroking slowly. "I want this too, but Daddy wants to comfort his boy first." Qui-Gon took Obi's hand, leading him to the bathtub.

Qui-Gon climbed in first, and Obi giggled as the bubbles splashed around while Qui-Gon sat. Even though the bathtub was designed for Qui-Gon to fit, he still felt huge and awkward getting in the tub, like a giant trying to pretend to be human-sized. He felt less awkward when Obi climbed in the tub with him and cuddled up against him.

"This is nice, Daddy." Obi kissed him.

"You're a nice boy. Who deserves nice things." Qui-Gon tilted Obi's face to his and kissed the tip of his nose.

For awhile they just sat, enjoying the warmth of the water and the smell of lavender and the sparkling bubbles in the ambiance of the candlelight. Then Qui-Gon began to wash Obi with a loofah sponge, smiling as Obi made purring noises, pretending to be a cat.

"Yes, that's a good kitty." Qui-Gon skritched Obi's beard.

"Maybe you'll groom me like a proper cat after... with your tongue."

That thought was so delicious that it was all Qui-Gon could do to not lift Obi out of the tub and carry him to bed right then, but he held himself in check, wanting to melt Obi's cares away here in the tub first. But, Qui-Gon did give him a kiss, rubbing their tongues together playfully, and soon they were necking, hands caressing, exploring. And then they were sitting so their cocks were pressed up together, and they were in Obi's hand again, stroking slowly. When Qui-Gon gave Obi a little love bite, Obi stroked them harder, faster.

When Obi bit him back, Qui-Gon's hand covered Obi's, urging him on even harder. He knew, when their eyes met, that their first climax of the day would be here in the tub. It wasn't what he had planned, but it also felt just right, the way things were supposed to happen.

They kissed again, and again, and then Obi's breath caught, and he gave that precious little whimper that was the tell he was about to come.

"Yes, baby. Come for Daddy."

Obi threw his head back and cried out as he climaxed, and the sight and feel of Obi shooting all over his cock made Qui-Gon come too, moaning "Obi," as he gave in. They kissed deeply, drinking each other's cries, shuddering in each other's arms as they crested, seed mingling and flowing into the water.

They held each other for a little while after that, catching their breath - it felt like Qui-Gon was melting into the bubbles, and he got the mental image of being one with the primordial soup of existence, the sea of stars themselves. Then Obi was petting him before he could doze off. "Daddy, I have prune skin."

Qui-Gon laughed, blinking awake. "All right, sweetheart."

They climbed out of the tub together, blew out the candles, and went to the bedroom. Clothing could come later. Qui-Gon had a bottle of strawberry-flavored massage oil that he hadn't broken in yet, waiting for the right time... and now seemed like the right time.

"Lay on your tummy and I'll make you feel even better."

Obi did, and Qui-Gon kneaded and rubbed his back, going hard again at the sounds Obi made and the way his shapely ass bucked against him as he unraveled knots and soothed the tension away. Qui-Gon rubbed Obi's ass, fingers occasionally straying to rub against the puckered hole, a finger circling around it, delighted by Obi's gasp and moans. Then it was time to rub the back of his thighs, and calves.

When Obi turned over, Qui-Gon poured the oil over him and used a lighter touch this time, caressing more than he was kneading, taking the occasional lick at the strawberry massage oil here and there over a shoulder or his chest, stomach, thigh... then more intently, feasting on his nipples as Obi thrashed around, parting his thighs, arching to him. "Please, Daddy..."

After Obi had been begging for awhile, Qui-Gon grinned and said, "I thought you wanted me to groom you with my tongue first."

With that, Qui-Gon teased the life out of him, licking him all over from his neck down his chest - spending more time on his nipples - over his stomach and thighs, behind the knee. He licked Obi's cock from head to root and back again, licking and licking the shaft until precum flowed. He took the head of Obi's cock into his mouth, swirling his tongue slowly around the head, then just lapping the slit. He licked down to the balls and licked and sucked Obi's balls, then the sensitive place between balls and ass. And then his tongue was in Obi's ass, loving him slowly, as Obi practically wept, thrusting against Qui-Gon's face, pulling his hair - Qui-Gon loved having his hair pulled, seeing Obi's eyes blaze like blue fire.

"Daddy... please, fuck me..."

"Mmmm." Qui-Gon's tongue worked inside him even more slowly. "We'll see." Of course, he had every intention of taking him, ragingly hard as he was, but he loved getting Obi more and more worked up.

"Daddy, please. Please."

"I want to be good to you, baby. You deserve this..."

Obi shuddered. "Nobody's ever done this for me before."

"Not..."

"Especially not Quinlan, no."

Qui-Gon scowled. "He missed out, then. But he didn't deserve to have you. And he'll never touch you again." He licked around the rim of Obi's hole. "Daddy's keeping you safe now." With that, his tongue dipped back inside.

A moment of furiously lashing his tongue and Obi came hard, shooting onto Qui-Gon's face. Qui-Gon pulled his tongue out just in time to get the last of it, lapping Obi like a fountain. The sight of him coming was so arousing Qui-Gon almost came too.

But instead he lay there, as yet unsatisfied, waiting patiently as Obi recovered. It didn't take long, at Obi's age. Obi poured oil onto Qui-Gon's cock. "I need it, Daddy."

"Daddy needs it too."

"We'll take care of each other." Obi kissed him hard.

Qui-Gon pushed into him, slowly and as gently as he could. Obi was taking it more easily than before, but Qui-Gon still didn't want to hurt him. He reached for Obi's hands as he moved inside, squeezing. Looking into his eyes, wanting Obi to feel the love and trust, to be able to see it in his face. As much difficulty as Obi had with making eye contact, their gaze held now, and that eye contact was worth a thousand declarations of love.

Qui-Gon rocked into him slowly - he badly needed to come, but he wanted to savor, and as importantly, he wanted Obi to lose himself in this, their passion, their pleasure. Pushing the past away with every touch, every feel, every kiss, until this was all that existed.

He didn't know what was happening with the stuff being left on Obi's doorstep, if this Quinlan Vos was back or not... but Obi was his, now. And as Qui-Gon slowly edged Obi towards release, and held him on that edge as long as he could, he reminded him of that with every stroke, every breath. "Mine," Qui-Gon whispered, kissing and licking Obi's neck, his nipples. "Mine."

At last they couldn't hold back anymore, and Qui-Gon began to thrust faster, harder. Obi's nails were in his back, Obi's hips bucking against his, Obi's voice rising above the slap of their flesh, the bed slamming against the wall. When Qui-Gon's teeth grazed Obi's throat, Obi came with a hoarse shout, and a few seconds later Qui-Gon blasted into him with a wild cry, coming and coming and coming, what felt like endless throbbing pleasure.

It occurred to Qui-Gon as he lay there in Obi's arms, feeling like he was floating, that they needed to do something about dinner... he needed to go grocery shopping, probably. He nodded to himself, thinking I'll get right on that as he closed his eyes.

He was woken up by his cell phone going off. He grabbed it from the bedtable, grumbling - Obi was stirred awake by it as well. Qui-Gon swore as he saw what time it was - he'd been asleep for two hours - and then tried to control his grumpiness when he saw the number.

"Sören, hi."

"Qui! Hello! I hope I'm not calling at a bad time..."

"Sort of?"

"Should I call back later..."

"No, now is... it's OK, if it's not long. What's up?"

A nervous laugh. "Jæja... so... my brother's here! Would you and Obi be interested in joining us for dinner in the evening on Commencement Day? A sort of congratulations-on-surviving-the-school-year celebration. It would be you, Obi, me, Mark, Dag, and Dag's six-year-old twins."

"Yes, I think we could manage that."

"Excellent. Um... Mark apologized to the owners of the Mexican place and offered to pay them for damages and stuff. So it's OK if we go there, if that's what you'd be interested in."

"I'd like that very much. Let me..." Qui-Gon glanced at Obi, who was dozing off again, and shook him gently. "Mexican place on Friday night?"

"Yeah!" Obi nodded, his face lighting up.

"OK. We're on."

"Seven PM good? We'll meet you there."

"Yes. That's perfect. And Sören, thank you. Tell Mark I said thank you as well. He did the right thing. You've got a good man there."

"I know." Qui-Gon smiled at the smile in Sören's voice. "And I will. We'll see you on Friday!"

"Oh before you go... would your brother think it was weird if I brought along a copy of the book he co-authored with Neil Degrasse Tyson, to get his autograph?"

Sören laughed. "No, he wouldn't mind. He'd be flattered. Though, I have to warn you, he's almost as bad as I am, so..."

"Oh no. Am I going to find a dickbutt in my book?"

"Maybe."

Qui-Gon laughed. It felt good. He needed it. "OK. Well... it will be interesting to see what kind of mischief he comes up with. And... I'll see you Friday."

"OK! Have a good evening, and tell Obi we said hi."

Qui-Gon hit End. "That was Sören."

"I heard the voice, yeah." Obi was all smiles now. "I get to see my friends again?"

Qui-Gon hugged him. You adorable thing. "Yes. And you'll meet Sören's brother and his brother's kids."

"Oh? Smalls?"

Smalls. That, too, was cute. "Yes."

"I love kids." The look in Obi's eyes was almost wistful.

Qui-Gon wondered, briefly, what Obi would be like as a parent. What it would be like for them to adopt... He shoved that thought away with You're sixty and that's too old. And then he wondered if the age gap was fair to Obi, still in his twenties, but...

...it wasn't fair to leave him, either.

Especially not if there was a predator on the loose. Qui-Gon fought back a surge of white-hot fury, thinking about it. His stomach growled as he sat up.

"Shit, I have to think of dinner..."

"You want to just get pizza and relax?" Obi asked.

It wasn't the romantic, home-cooked dinner-by-candlelight Qui-Gon had envisioned, wanting to spoil his lover after having spent the first half of the month so preoccupied... but just like the spontaneity of the sex in the tub, it was even more perfect than his plans.

Chapter Text

Chapter Track: "Lonely" - Janet Jackson





"Qui-Gon! Obi! Hi!"

In the lobby of the Mexican restaurant Sören waved, grinning. Obi waved back and Qui-Gon flashed a smile. Sören leaned on Mark, who wrapped his arms around Sören and kissed the top of his head, and then Qui-Gon's focus rested on a man who was the same height as Sören, dark-haired, pale, and also bespectacled like Sören was, but that was where the similarities ended. Sören had unruly nape-length curls, dark eyes, a neatly trimmed beard and mustache, and would probably look like a girl if he didn't have facial hair, with his full lips. Dagnýr Sigurdsson was clean-shaven, grey-eyed, a boy-next-door look with dimples, and his hair was short though a few locks gave the impression his hair would curl like Sören's if grown out. Mark, Obi, and Qui-Gon all had on T-shirts and jeans, and Dagnýr wore a button-down light blue shirt and dark blue chinos, a contrast to his brother who looked like a pirate in a ruffly black shirt. Dagnýr shook Qui-Gon's hand as he approached.

Dagnýr's children were both dark-haired - the girl, Margrét, looked like a tiny female Sören, with long curly dark hair, brown eyes, and full lips; the boy, Magnús, looked more like Dagnýr. Both of them were dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Magnús smiled shyly and Margrét tugged on Qui-Gon's sleeve, wanting a handshake too.

The introductions were brief; Dagnýr had a Canadian accent with only the slightest hint that Icelandic had been his native language, speaking on the in-breath, in contrast to Sören who still had a fairly robust Icelandic accent. Qui-Gon wondered about that, and then Obi said, "You both are from Iceland?" Then Obi realized what he asked, considering they were brothers, and made a face. "Derp."

"It's all right," Dagnýr said. "I say 'thank you' to ATM machines without thinking about it, and last time I went out for my birthday the waiter wished me a happy birthday and I said 'you too', so I understand."

"He's probably wondering about our accents," Sören said.

"I got self-conscious enough about mine to work with a vocal coach when I started working at NASA," Dagnýr explained.

"Wow, you worked at NASA?" Obi's eyes lit up.

"I still do, sometimes. It's where I met these squirts' mom." Dagnýr looked a little sad as he patted his kids' heads.

"Oh, where is she?"

"Gone. Car accident."

"I'm sorry," Obi said, looking down.

Sören put an arm around his brother, and Mark's arms tightened around Sören as if to say I could have lost you that way too. Qui-Gon swallowed hard, thinking about Tahl, deciding to not bring it up.

They were seated a few minutes later. The kids were given coloring sheets and kids' menus, and Sören said, "No fair, I want to color too." The waiter came back with a coloring sheet and crayons for Sören, and then Obi said, "Oh, can... can I color?" Sören grinned at him, and Qui-Gon tousled Obi's hair affectionately as Obi colored along with Sören and the kids.

As they browsed menus, Qui-Gon produced the book he'd brought for Dagnýr to autograph. Dagnýr also drew in it with crayon - stealing crayons from his brother - which made Sören laugh. Next to his name written in pen, Dagnýr colored a green alien riding a pink unicorn farting rainbows; the alien had a speech bubble that said "I BELIEVE". Qui-Gon laughed aloud at the drawing, tickled.

"I will cherish it always," Qui-Gon said.

"Well, you know. That might be worth money someday. Here, you can take a picture of me to prove I drew it, get a print and it'll be worth even more." Dagnýr posed with the book open to the page with the autograph and drawing, pointing at it, while Qui-Gon snapped a cell phone camera - Sören made bunny ears over his brother's head - and then Dagnýr said, "There, that'll get you a whole coffee at Starbucks, probably."

"No, it's worth more than a coffee," Sören said. He patted his brother. "It's worth, like, a box of donuts at Voodoo Doughnut." He looked at Qui-Gon and Obi. "We're taking him there this weekend."

"Is this your first trip to Oregon?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Yes. I've heard a lot about it, but there's a lot to see. I flew into Portland yesterday but I didn't get to see much." Dagnýr looked at Sören. "And then I have to fly back in a month because someone is getting married." He rolled his eyes. "At Voodoo Doughnut."

Qui-Gon snorted. "You..." He looked at Sören, then at Mark. "You guys are getting married there."

Sören nodded. "We have to send out invitations so you'll be getting a formal one in the mail, but yes, that's where we're having the ceremony."

"It was Sören's idea," Mark said.

"I figured as much," Qui-Gon said.

"I asked Nico to be my best man," Sören said. "And I believe Mark asked you to be his..."

"He did." Qui-Gon nodded.

"I'll pretend to not be butthurt that you asked someone else to be your best man," Dagnýr said to Sören.

"I didn't want to have to choose between you and Ari. Things are already tense enough with you two," Sören said, sipping ice water. "Last thing I needed was to look like I'm playing favorites and make things even worse. Besides... Nico is my best friend, it didn't feel right not to ask him."

Dooku probably wants to be your "best man" in another sense, Sören, and I can't believe you don't see it, Qui-Gon thought to himself, but said nothing.

The waiter came by and took their orders, and then came back a few minutes later with drinks and trays of tortilla chips and salsa.

"So your cousin's coming out for the wedding?" Qui-Gon asked Sören.

Sören nodded. "He's like my brother, so yes, he had to be invited."

"At least I don't have to suffer alone," Dagnýr said. "Ari likes wearing a suit and tie about as much as I do."

Sören snorted. "It's payback for all the shit we put each other through growing up."

"Like we don't put each other through shit now. Every time I get an e-mail from you I brace myself. I'm always getting Rickrolled."

Sören grinned into his ice water. "Hi Always Getting Rickrolled -"

Dagnýr facepalmed as Magnús and Margrét giggled. He mouthed "help me" to Qui-Gon and Obi.

"I like Rick Astley!" Margrét said, and she started singing, "Never gonna give you up..."

Sören and Magnús sang along. "Never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you..."

Dagnýr glared at Sören. "Yeah, takk for teaching them that song."

Sören beamed. "You're welcome."

Dagnýr rolled his eyes and looked at Qui-Gon and Obi. "Do you guys have brothers?"

"I have a brother," Qui-Gon said. "Had. He's no longer with us."

"I have a lot of siblings," Obi said, nodding. "I keep in touch with everyone on Facebook but I'm kind of the weirdo of the family and the only one I'm really close to is my sister." Obi looked at Mark. "What about you?"

"Brothers are dead," Mark said mildly, and looked away. Sören took Mark's scarred hand and squeezed.

Qui-Gon felt for him, and he wondered if that was a contributing factor to Mark's PTSD. He didn't want to ask and be rude. And as much as he considered Dooku a friend, wishing there was some way for Dooku to get what he wanted with Sören, he also couldn't begrudge Mark, wanting Mark to be happy as well. And the way Mark looked at Sören now, love in his eyes, tugged at his heart. Underneath the table, Obi reached for Qui-Gon's hand, like Mark and Sören were a mirror of themselves.

"Welp." Dagnýr looked down. "That got awkward."

"Let's talk about something happier," Sören said.

"Who wants to learn about black holes?" Dagnýr asked.

Sören made an innocent face as he dipped a chip into the salsa, which let all of the adults know his mind was thinking about holes of another kind, but he wasn't going to say that in front of the kids. As Mark rolled his eyes and muttered "Hells," Sören shook with silent laughter and Dagnýr facepalmed.

"Goddammit, Sören."

"I didn't even say anything." Sören batted his eyes before putting a salsa-laden chip into his mouth.

"You didn't have to, we all know you." Dagnýr narrowed his eyes.

Obi was snickering too. Qui-Gon shook his head, but he grinned - it was so good to see Obi laugh, after the tears of yesterday.


_


After the meal, as things were winding down, people drinking refills and relaxing, and they were waiting on the checks, Obi got up to go to the bathroom. When he got back to the table he was shaking like a leaf, tears in his eyes.

Qui-Gon rose from the table. "What is it, love? What's wrong?"

"I." Obi ducked into the table, and Qui-Gon sat back down next to him. Obi swallowed hard.

"What is it? Obi. Tell me." Qui-Gon took Obi's chin in his hand.

"I th-think... I saw... Quin-Quinlan..."

Qui-Gon's eyes met Mark's. "That's his ex," Qui-Gon said. "Obi was abu-"

Before he could finish the sentence, Mark got up from the table. "Right, where is he?" Mark asked, calmly taking off his wire-rim glasses and slipping them into a case in his pocket.

Qui-Gon also got up.

"The white guy over there with the shoulder-length black dreadlocks." Obi pointed to a table in the corner; the man was eating alone, his back to them, and Obi would have only seen his back coming out of the bathroom. Obi was taking shallow breaths.

Mark charged towards the table, and Qui-Gon got the sense this was going to turn into another incident if he didn't get to the man first. Qui-Gon got on one side of him, with Mark quickly falling into place on the other, and the man - who looked early thirties, green-eyed, wearing a grey T-shirt and faded jeans, stubble on his square jaw, large gauge plugs in his ears, surly expression - glared up at them.

"Hello," Qui-Gon said. "We'd like to have a few words with you."

"Piss off," the man said and took a swig of his beer.

Mark yanked the man to his feet. "All right. Let's... go have a talk..."

"Hey!" the man yelled, and gave Mark a shove.

Mark's eyes flashed, and before Mark could put hands on him, Obi called over, "That's not him!"

Qui-Gon and Mark looked at Obi, then each other. "That's not him," Obi repeated, and broke down crying.

"Sorry about that." Mark patted the man's shoulder. "We thought you were hurting a friend of ours..."

The man threw his drink in Mark's face.

Mark blinked slowly, his jaw clenched, and Qui-Gon could tell this was going to end badly if he didn't intervene. He grabbed Mark and started ushering him back to the table. Obi was sobbing now, which was upsetting the children; Dagnýr gave money to Sören. "I gotta take these kids out of here and get them calm," Dagnýr said. "See you tomorrow." He nodded at Qui-Gon. "It was nice meeting you, I guess I'll see you at the wedding?"

"I'm sorry," Obi sobbed.

Qui-Gon shook Dagnýr's hand again and then Dagnýr carried his son out, who was crying, while Margrét hugged his leg, looking distraught, sucking her thumb. "Papa, why is he crying," Magnús bawled. "It's so sad when people are sad..."

"God, that was like me at that age." Sören pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Fuck." Obi wept harder. "I'm so sorry. I ruined everything..."

"No, Obi," Qui-Gon said, pulling Obi into his arms. "You didn't." He explained to Sören and Mark, "Obi is being stalked."

"Oh Jesus," Sören said.

"So he had valid reason to think that was his ex..."

"I'm sorry," Obi repeated. "I'm sorry. I made a scene and upset the kids and I know you don't get to see your brother much aaaand I'm sorryyyyy -" He let out a wail, sobbing.

"OK, Obi?" Sören reached across the table. "The last guy I was with, before Mark? Stalked me too." Sören took a deep breath. "He did all kinds of horrible shit to me. He put me in a fucking car accident."

Obi's eyes widened.

"That was why you had the accident?" Qui-Gon felt fury all over again.

Sören nodded solemnly, then looked at Mark, who tenderly stroked his face. Sören took his hand and kissed it. "My ex beat me, raped me, and Mark was my first time after that."

"Quinlan beat and raped me too." Obi sobbed.

Sören blinked, his eyes too bright, then he came over around the table and gave Obi a fierce hug.

Obi's tears were loud enough that people around the restaurant were looking at them, which just made Obi cry harder. "I'm such a baby. I'm sorry, I shouldn't be crying like this..."

"Obi, I know how it feels. I've been there. You didn't ask to have a panic attack, flashbacks, about any of this, just like I didn't, and don't, still, but it happens. You can't help it." Sören hugged him tighter. "Right now, you're with people who care about you. I can tell Qui-Gon loves you very much, and Mark and I think of you as a friend. We don't want you to feel bad for needing to cry."

"I feel like such a coward..."

"You're not," Mark spoke up. "You are much, much stronger than you know." And with that, he came around the table and hugged both Sören and Obi, and Qui-Gon was hugging all of them then.

The waiter came by, and Sören said, "Oh shit," under his breath. Qui-Gon felt the pit of his stomach too, remembering what happened the last time they were here, worrying that they were going to get kicked out and this time they wouldn't be allowed back.

But instead the waiter asked, "Is he all right?"

"I think I'll be all right," Obi said, wiping his nose on a napkin. "I'm sorry..."

"Do you have our checks?" Sören asked, smiling politely.

"Actually that's what I came to tell you." The waiter tried to point discretely, in the direction of the man who Obi thought had resembled Quinlan, who was getting up from his table now. "He paid your bill."

"He..." Qui-Gon blinked. "What."

The man was coming in their direction on the way to the door. "I get it now," he said. "I'm sorry about the... yeah. You take care of the little guy, OK?" He gave a nod as he stepped out.

"Well, shit." Sören and Mark sat back in their chairs, and Sören finished his drink.

"I feel kind of bad," Mark said. "I could have started a fight with that guy. I think something in me just snaps when people I care about are being hurt or threatened in some way."

"I hear that's a common response in vets," Qui-Gon said.

"Ha. Yeah." Mark sipped his drink, looking down. "Three of my brothers had red hair..."

"Big Irish Catholic family?" Obi asked, a little calmer. "Lowry is an Irish name, right?"

Mark simply replied, "I'm not Catholic these days."

Sören grinned. "Hi Not Catholic These Days..."

Mark shot him a look; Sören kissed the tip of his nose, and Mark tweaked Sören's nose. Mark reached for his glasses case and put his glasses back on. "But anyway, I think I reacted a bit more strongly than usual because of the association."

"I'm sorry your brothers are gone," Obi said. "Can I be your little brother?"

Mark swallowed hard, and took off his glasses, his eyes tearing. Sören started to get choked up too, and then Obi was hugging both of them again.

When they walked out to their respective vehicles, Mark lingered and then he said to Obi, "You want to be my other best man?"

Obi hugged him again.  Qui-Gon got choked up, deeply touched and grateful for the gesture of friendship and found family that Obi needed.

"Having three best men isn't 'traditional'," Sören said, making air quotes, with a mischievous grin to show how much he cared about "tradition".

"We're two queer guys getting married at a donut shop with a velvet painting of Kenny Loggins on the wall, I don't think we can defer to tradition at this point," Mark said.

Then Sören laughed so hard he snorted.

"What," Mark said.

"The painting is Kenny Rogers, not Kenny Loggins. I thought you'd remember that, Mr. Music Man."

Mark facepalmed, laughing. "Hells."

"Leave your unicorn out of this."

Mark shot Sören a look. Qui-Gon gave Sören a confused look - there was some story there he didn't know about. Sören just gave an innocent face and then he chuckled, "Kenny Loggins."

"I guess I'm kind of emotional with Obi adopting me in there -"

"Hi, Kind Of Emotional With Obi Adopting Me In There -"

Mark started chasing Sören around the parking lot, with Sören shrieking and laughing; Mark finally caught him, gave him noogies, until Sören slammed him against their car and kissed him hard, playing with Mark's long raven-black hair as they kissed. Then they were sheepish, blushing, seeing they were being watched.

Obi hugged them again, and then Qui-Gon did too. He said to Mark, "Thank you."

"For?" Mark raised an eyebrow.

"He needs the support." Qui-Gon looked at Obi, who was getting in the van.

"Yeah, he does." Mark nodded. He looked down with a sigh. He and Sören exchanged a look that seemed sad, almost regretful. "What he really needs," Mark said, "is a break."

"He's going to get that. I'm renting a place at Cannon Beach next week."

"Oh, good," Sören said. He looked at Mark. "We should do that sometime. Though... we still gotta plan the honeymoon."

"I'm pretty flexible," Mark said, and rolled his eyes as Sören snorted again, looking off to the side; Qui-Gon knew Sören's mind was in the gutter. Mark gently elbowed Sören. "Wherever you want to go..."

"I think I want to visit... Kenny Loggins..."

"OK, you." Mark opened the passenger door of his Jaguar and gave Sören a little push, then swatted his bottom. Sören gave a sassy butt wiggle before looking over and waving.

"Bye, you guys," Sören said, grinning.

It started to rain as Qui-Gon made the drive home. Obi was looking out the window, silent. When they got back to Qui-Gon's house, he took Obi in his arms as soon as they got in the door.

They cuddled on the couch together, watching TV and petting Fernando. After awhile Qui-Gon's pettings of Obi's hair and beard led to raining little kisses over his face, and then a deeper kiss.

Obi looked into Qui-Gon's eyes and smiled sadly. "Do you think you can just hold me tonight?"

Qui-Gon's body ached for sexual release, and his heart ached to comfort Obi, to pleasure him and drive the pain away, giving him the blessed relief that a good orgasm or four could bring. But he also wanted to give Obi what he needed, and if Obi needed to be held...

Besides, I don't want him to think all I want is sex. 

"Yes, love." Qui-Gon kissed him more softly, gently. "Here. Let's get under the covers... in our nice warm, safe nest, hm?"

That was what they did. With the rain falling, snuggled close to Qui-Gon, being pet and rocked, Obi had another cathartic cry; Qui-Gon kissed his tears. And then Obi calmed down, and Qui-Gon could feel the tension melting out of his body as they continued to rock together. At last Obi fell asleep, and Qui-Gon just watched him for awhile.

He found that as much as he was relieved that the man at the restaurant hadn't actually been Quinlan Vos, or there was a good chance he or Mark - or both - would be in jail right now, needing Sören or Dooku to post bail, Qui-Gon was also disappointed. If it had been Quinlan, he could have put a stop to this stalking nonsense swiftly. He was not looking forward to taking Obi back to the duplex on Sunday morning to get more of his things to pack for a week, wondering what would be waiting for them then.

Not to mention Anakin's attitude.

You deserve so much better than what you've gotten in life so far, sweetheart. And though it broke Qui-Gon's heart to see Obi so upset earlier - the way Obi had been so ashamed to cry in public - it had also been a necessary lancing of the wound, and Obi getting the support he should have had long ago. He was grateful for their friends, as complicated as things were with Dooku's feelings for Sören. Qui-Gon wondered about it all now, feeling like a number of things were falling into place. He thought about his visit to Wayland's Smithy in 1983, the bronze-haired elf who spoke to him and inspired the career change... where Qui-Gon wasn't just trying to help save the world, one green innovation at a time, but he'd had wonderful years with Tahl, and now his job had brought him a bit of a family. He wondered if that elf was real or had just been a figment of his mushroom-enhanced imagination, and if he was still out there.

Qui-Gon wasn't much for religion, but it felt almost like a sort of higher power was guiding them. And somehow, it would work out, even with this new threat of a stalker on the horizon. The evil will be vanquished, somehow.

Chapter Text

Getaway

 

Chapter Track: "Walk On the Ocean" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

 

It rained all day on Saturday, which was just as well as Obi was feeling drained from his catharsis the night before and felt like staying at home. He'd packed some art supplies to take to Qui-Gon's, and he spent the day sketching - that, at least, was heartening to see.

It was the kind of day that was good for something hearty in the slow cooker, and as Qui-Gon worked on slicing vegetables to go with a pot roast, his cell phone went off. It was Dooku.

"Hi, Teach."

"Hello, young Qui-Gon."

Qui-Gon rolled his eyes, but smiled. "And how goes it this rainy Saturday?"

"It goes. How are you, and your friend?"

"We're doing all right. Obi is sketching, and I'm working on dinner." Qui-Gon thought about inviting Dooku over, but he didn't think Obi would be up for unexpected company.

"Oh... if you're busy, I won't keep you then..."

"Well, I know that you don't usually make phone calls just to chitchat, there was probably something you wanted to ask me?"

"There is. Do you have plans tomorrow? Would you like to meet for coffee?"

Qui-Gon sighed. As much as he'd missed Dooku's friendship - a casualty of his grief over Tahl - and he hated to say no... "Unfortunately, tomorrow is taken, and all the rest of next week. I'm bringing Obi on a little vacation."

"Oh, very nice. Where are you off to?"

"Cannon Beach."

"Most excellent. I hope you enjoy yourselves."

"Thank you. So yes, tomorrow isn't good. We'll be getting back on Saturday night... how about next Sunday?"

"I'm afraid that won't work for me either. As you know, I'm going to Avebury for the summer solstice..."

For once, Dooku's "as you know" wasn't a statement of something completely obvious - Qui-Gon remembered Dooku mentioning he was going there a few weeks ago, but it had slipped his mind with everything gone on. "Oh. Yes. Yes, you did say that."

"I'm leaving on Monday - Sören and Mark are bringing me to and from the airport." A pause. "More economical than parking my car at the airport for a week or taking a shuttle, you see."

Dooku was, of course, not hurting for money at all, both as a tenured professor and from being a descendant of old-money Romanian aristocracy, so either of those expenses would have been a trivial sum of money to him. "I do see." I see you want an excuse to see Sören before you leave. "Are you guys going anywhere before that -"

"Yes, Sören insists on taking me out to breakfast." Dooku chuckled. "At Denny's or IHOP or one of those places I wouldn't normally be caught dead going to."

The things you do for love? "Well, have fun. I regret that I can't join you..." So I can make fun of you about eating at Denny's the way you've made fun of me about the boxed wine incident. "But I'm sure you'll be plenty entertained."

"Entertained would be one way of putting it, yes."

"So this Sunday isn't good, and next Sunday isn't good, but what about two weeks from now? Are you free?" Qui-Gon threw carrots in the slow cooker.

"I am indeed free then."

"You want to come over for dinner then?" While he didn't mind going out to restaurants with Obi, he also didn't want to run the risk that Obi would have a panic attack in front of Dooku, since Obi knew him less well than he knew Sören and Mark, and Dooku had the "resting bitchface" that could be intimidating even when he wasn't trying to be.

"I would. Shall I bring anything?"

"Yourself, unless..." Qui-Gon had a thought. "We could cook together."

"All right. Do you have an idea of what you might like to make...?"

"What I'd feel like having for dinner might change radically in two weeks, so it's best to discuss those details when it gets closer to the time."

"Yes, you're right. That was a rather stupid question... you'll have to forgive me, my mind has been a bit preoccupied with the trip to Avebury and, er, certain other matters."

Like, no doubt, Sören's impending wedding. Qui-Gon felt for him, knowing this was probably a difficult time. As much as he didn't want to hit a nerve, he couldn't resist poking at it. "I hear the formal invites to Sören's wedding are going out soon..."

Dooku gave a little sigh. "He told me that as well. He asked me to be his best man, you know."

"He did mention that, yes."

"It's... a nice gesture." Another small sigh. Then, "He's taking time away from his brother's visit to see me off to the airport, which was very kind of him - as you know Portland is over an hour and a half away."

This is new and shocking information, Teach. "Yes, three hours round-trip is a bit of driving, not counting whatever time it takes to eat at Denny's."

"He's a good lad. Mark... is a good man too, willing to make that drive, and all." Another long pause. Dooku's voice was a bit hoarse when he spoke again. "Anyway, Qui-Gon, I shan't keep you. We'll talk more about plans for what to cook when I return from the United Kingdom on the twenty-ninth?"

"That works for me. And, Teach, have a safe trip."

"Thank you. You too."

It was Qui-Gon's turn to sigh when the call ended. He felt like shaking Dooku and screaming Will you just tell Sören how you feel already. Dooku hadn't admitted it outright, but all the tells were there. And yet, Qui-Gon knew it wasn't as simple as that... and there was Mark's happiness to consider. It was a complicated, messy situation.

A situation that was not his business, especially when his own life was complicated and messy enough, thinking of the unresolved situation with Obi's stalker out there. Qui-Gon had been fussing over Obi's anxiety, and wanted to check on him again. He peeked into the living room, watching Obi draw, with Fernando sitting next to him; Obi's nose was wrinkled and his tongue was poking out slightly, brow furrowed in concentration. It was adorable and slightly arousing; Qui-Gon was about to duck quickly back into the kitchen and refocus on the task of vegetable preparation - he had the onions to chop now, his least favorite task - but not before his eyes met Obi's and Obi flashed him that brilliant smile.

"Hey," Obi said.

"Hi," Qui-Gon said.

Qui-Gon lingered for a moment, and then Obi put down his sketchpad and walked over. Fernando got off the couch and followed them into the kitchen, promptly yowling near his half-full bowl of cat food.

"Oh, there's food in your dish," Qui-Gon said, pouring a glass of ice water for both himself and Obi.

"But... but... he can see the bottom," Obi quipped.

Qui-Gon had taken a sip, and he almost choked on it as his mind went into the gutter when Fernando put his front paws on Obi's leg, meowing at him urgently.

"Yes, indeed he can," Qui-Gon said, lips quirked in a small smile as he took another sip of water.

It took Obi a minute, and then he facepalmed, snickering. "You're almost as bad as Sören, you know."

"That's quite a feat, I think."

"And... about that. Bottoming, and all." Their eyes met for an instant, before Obi looked down at the cat. "I, ah... thank you for last night. Just holding me. I needed that."

"I know." Qui-Gon came closer and put his arms around the younger man. He planted a kiss on Obi's brow. "I know."

"I'd like to make up for not having sex -"

"Obi." Qui-Gon gave him a stern look, putting his hands on his hips. "There is no 'make up for'." He made air quotes. "You don't owe me sex, just because we're in a relationship." Qui-Gon felt a fresh surge of rage in the general direction of Quinlan Vos, who he imagined was responsible for this attitude. "You're not obligated to have sex with me. I love you, I enjoy your company. The sex is nice, but that's not why I'm with you."

"OK, I guess I worded that wrong. I'd like to have sex. Even if you're not all pent up, I am." Obi bit his lower lip.

Something about that was so arousing that Qui-Gon stopped caring about getting back to dinner preparations and just slammed Obi against the wall, kissing him feverishly. Obi responded back with hunger and fire, and soon they were taking down each other's trousers and briefs. Hard cocks sprang free, brushing up together as they kissed again and again.

"Here, now, please," Obi gasped between kisses.

Qui-Gon didn't habitually keep lube in the kitchen, but there was cooking oil nearby. He slathered his cock, and, with Obi's back against the wall, legs around his waist, Obi's arms holding on for dear life, Qui-Gon pushed into him.

It was hard and fast and savage. Usually Qui-Gon liked to take his time, keep it slow, not merely for the sake of not hurting his mate or possibly triggering him by being too rough. But now it was just raw, primal need. Obi bounced on Qui-Gon's cock, screaming, nails digging in Qui-Gon's back through his T-shirt. Qui-Gon's teeth were on Obi's neck, growling.

"Yes, Daddy, yes, fuck me," Obi cried out. "Take it, Daddy..."

Qui-Gon's cock throbbed, desperately craving release, but he didn't want to be selfish. He licked Obi's neck, soothing where his teeth had been, before nibbling some more. "You are so wanton now. So bold..."

Their eyes met. "You make me want you."

Qui-Gon kissed Obi hard, pounding into him faster. Obi screamed into the kiss. With cooking oil still on his hand, Qui-Gon reached for Obi's cock, gripping it hard, stroking it furiously in time with his thrusts, thumb rubbing the frenulum. Qui-Gon's other arm tightened around Obi, the reassurance that he wouldn't fall, though the wall was supporting them both. Their tongues licked together between kisses, and there was another moment where their eyes met, electric blue. Their foreheads pressed together, breathing each other's breath, Qui-Gon found that precious moment of eye contact - such a challenge for Obi, doing it for him - was as erotic as the sight of Obi's slick cock dripping precum, Obi's hole swallowing his own cock again and again. Obi's eyes were focused like lasers, burning into his very soul.

"Come for me," Qui-Gon growled out.

"Daddy!" And Obi threw his head back, letting out a wordless howl as he came all over Qui-Gon's shirt.

With a shuddering cry, Qui-Gon gave into his own release, knees buckling, almost falling over with the power of his orgasm. They were gasping for breath together, coming and coming, shaking in each other's arms.

Somehow, Obi got down, and Qui-Gon slapped his bare ass - Obi giving him a cheeky grin over his shoulder - as they put their pants back on.

"Your shirt. Oh my god." Obi turned bright red, shaking with laughter.

"Oh dear. Well..." Qui-Gon shrugged. "I need to do laundry anyway." He looked at the time. "Maybe I should start a load once I throw this in the crock pot..."

"You need help with anything?"

Qui-Gon didn't want Obi to feel obligated to act like some kind of servant, but the company was nice, in lieu of cuddling afterwards. "Sure, let's wash our hands and you can chop celery?"

"Would you rather I do the onions?"

"If you'd like."

The onions made them both tear up, but then Qui-Gon noticed Obi was shaking and the tears were flowing a bit more than could be attributed to the onions. He put his knife down and came over. "Are you all right?" Qui-Gon's eyes widened with alarm. "Are you triggered...?"

"No. That's just it." Obi gave him a little smile. "I... you make me feel so good." He looked down, swallowing hard. "I still think about what that bastard did, I'll never really be over it..."

"I don't think anyone truly gets over these things." Qui-Gon thought of his brother's suicide, which still hurt all these years later. He thought of Tahl, and how he'd been a shell of his former self until comparatively recently. And that still wasn't the same as being abused, being raped... "If people could just 'snap out of it', everyone would snap out of it."

"Yeah." Obi nodded. "But... I feel less broken, if that makes sense."

"It does." Qui-Gon took Obi into his arms. "And I am so, so proud of you." He meant it - what he felt was even stronger than those words could express, seeming trite or not enough somehow. He felt a fierce satisfaction at seeing Obi reclaim himself, forging his own identity apart from Quinlan, apart from Anakin's toxic friendship when he was allowed to just be himself.

"I'm looking forward to us going on vacation together. It'll be nice." Obi looked out the window at the pouring rain. "Though I hope it doesn't rain the entire time we're there."

"Well, you know, people call this the Pacific Northwet for a reason."

Obi facepalmed. "That's awful."

"Truly, I should be pun-ished."

Obi shook his head. Then he looked at Qui-Gon's cum-stained shirt again, laughing. "I guess we'll be making it rain, in a sense."

"And you say I'm almost as bad as Sören, you're pretty bad yourself."

A pause. "Hi, Almost As Bad As Sören..."

"I'll have to thank him for being such a wonderful influence on you."

Obi grinned. Qui-Gon swatted his ass again. He couldn't help smiling back; he loved that smile on Obi's face, more precious when he knew how hard-won it was. Then Qui-Gon looked out at the rain too. "Even if it rains all week... you are my sunshine."

Obi blushed. "Come here, you dork."

They hugged and kissed, and then got back to work before they could get into mischief again.


_


The next morning, they packed, and then Qui-Gon drove Obi to the duplex to get more of his things. Anakin's truck was there, and when Qui-Gon and Obi came in Anakin was passed out on the couch - there was evidence of hard drinking on the coffee table, and Anakin made noises as he was woken up.

"Jesus Christ," Anakin whined, hiding his face with a pillow.

"Hung over?" Obi asked.

"Fuck you."

Obi and Qui-Gon walked past, but before they could exit the living room Anakin made more wounded animal noises and Obi said, "Should I bring you some Aleve or something?"

"Yeah, thanks."

They stopped in the kitchen, which was even worse than Qui-Gon remembered. Dirty dishes were piled up in the sink - Obi had to wash a clean tumbler. He got ice, and then Obi surveyed the contents of the fridge, frowning when he saw the only thing in there was a couple pieces of dubiously safe-to-eat leftover pizza. Qui-Gon knew that asking Obi to work fewer hours would impact Anakin financially, and it was clear from the living room that Anakin could afford to drink, but he also knew that he was probably stringing this arrangement along too long and Anakin was going to need a harder push to either find a new roommate or live in a more affordable place - there were limits to what Qui-Gon wanted people to suffer through, even someone like Anakin who hadn't exactly been kind to Obi all the time.

Obi went to the bathroom - Qui-Gon resisted the urge to start washing Anakin's dirty dishes - and when Obi came back with the bottle of Aleve, they walked back into the living room. Anakin was now sitting upright, scowling.

"Thanks, man," Anakin said as Obi dispensed two Aleve and handed him the water.

"I hope you're not going to drink like this all week," Qui-Gon heard himself saying.

Anakin glowered, an eyebrow raised. "What's it to ya? You're not my dad."

"No, I'm not. But I am a person with a conscience."

"Whatever." Anakin rolled his eyes as he finished the water. He glanced up at Obi. "So you're really going, huh?"

"Yes, Ani, I'm really going on vacation. We talked about this." Obi folded his arms.

"Yeah. I just..."

"Just what?"

Anakin looked up at them. "There was another... thing."

"You mean..." Qui-Gon's heart started racing.

"Yeah, I kept it in case you need to show the police or whatever. Let me go get it."

Anakin got up, said "ow" and squinted when he did, and then charged out. Obi and Qui-Gon waited - Obi took a seat on the couch and Qui-Gon also sat down, frowning at the empty beer cans and beer bottles. Again, Qui-Gon fought the compulsion to clean. He also noticed that the coffee table seemed a bit more empty than the last time he'd been here - Anakin still had notebooks and a robust number of music magazines, but the pile of magazines looked a bit less sprawling than it did before, though not neater. Qui-Gon wondered if Anakin was going through and cleaning, or perhaps selling anything vintage for extra money, though those activities seemed far too organized in contrast to the disaster state of the house.

There was an over-the-top Hallmark card with a red rose and "I'll Always Love You" in gold calligraphy, and on the inside was the cut-and-paste letters like the last note: YOU MAY HAVE FORGOTTEN ABOUT ME, BUT I'LL NEVER FORGET ABOUT YOU. Also inside the card was a photograph of Obi and Quinlan Vos, and crosshairs had been drawn over Obi's face.

The card came with a dozen red roses - that were in a box of presumably what was beef heart - now smelling bad from being rotten meat - and also full of worms, like the kind that could be purchased at a bait-and-tackle shop, except they were all dead. THE FESTERING CORPSE OF MY HEART / SO SAD THAT WE'RE APART was in cut-and-paste letters on the box.

It was such bad emo poetry that Qui-Gon would have laughed if he were not so angry, and grossed out by the rotten meat and dead worms. Obi broke down crying.

Anakin, amazingly, pulled Obi into a hug, patting him. Obi accepted the hug, leaning on him. Qui-Gon felt the urge to yell you take your hands off him, but he held himself in check, and instead, took photos of the latest batch of evidence.

"That's why I needed to get so drunk last night," Anakin said. "Came back and found that shit on the doorstep. I was gonna call you but I didn't want to upset you..."

Qui-Gon didn't think Anakin drank just because of that, remembering what Mark had told him about Anakin's drug use, but it seemed rather like a convenient excuse. Obi cried harder, and Anakin rocked him a little.

Finally Anakin pulled back and said, "Look. Obi. I know I've been a shitty friend. Like, really. I know you're not just going on vacation because you want to spend some time with your old man, and you need to get away from this, but I know you want to get away from me, too. And I'm really sorry. I haven't been there for you, and I'm sorry it took something like this to remind me of how we were like brothers back in Florida. I don't know what the hell happened, or if it can be fixed, but..."

"Yeah, I..." Obi looked down at his shoes, and shrugged. "I'd like to fix things, but it's gonna need time." He looked up. "And proof."

"If you'll give me a chance, I can prove it."

"Anyway, I gotta pack."

Obi and Qui-Gon went to Obi's room. Qui-Gon was tempted to tell Obi to pack all of his belongings now, leaving only whatever furniture he didn't want to take, but that would require more than one trip in the van and they needed to get going to Cannon Beach. Qui-Gon did notice Obi was packing a photo album, though, and he wondered about it before Anakin showed up in the doorstep of Obi's room.

"So, ah." Anakin ran a hand through his hair. "Now's probably a bad time to ask, but can you loan me twenty bucks till next week?"

Obi paused and gave him a filthy look. Qui-Gon did too.

"Seriously, I'll pay you back..." Anakin looked at Qui-Gon. "Or you."

Qui-Gon took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I couldn't help but notice your fridge is looking bare, and if you need food money specifically, I could take some time and drive you to buy food. But I'm not just giving you money to drink or spend on crystal me -"

"What the fuck did Lowry tell you? Is he still spreading that meth rumor? You know I got removed from the program not because of that bullshit meth story, because I caught him getting a blowjob from that Icelandic teacher dude in the bathroom and I blackmailed him to give me a higher grade -"

Anakin didn't quite look like a habitual meth user, though he was on the thin side and Qui-Gon knew from seeing others go down that path that it sometimes took awhile to go from still-normal-looking to "looks like a meth head", especially if they were just using recreationally at first. And Qui-Gon knew there were rumors about Mark and Sören sleeping together for some time, confirmed when he'd heard them in the copy room being indiscreet, before he'd gotten to really know them personally. But he also didn't think Mark could make up a story like what he'd shared about Anakin, claiming to have video evidence that could be asked for and challenged as a bullshit story if he couldn't produce it, and more to the point, staff dating other staff wasn't prohibited by the university - Tahl had been a co-professor and they'd been married. Sören and Mark likely would have gotten written up if Anakin had caught them having sex in the bathroom, possibly suspended without pay for awhile, but probably not fired, particularly with Mark having tenure.

More to the point, something seemed off now about Anakin's proclamation, like he knew he was on a sinking ship and desperately reaching out for a life preserver. It was convenient to bring up Sören and Mark now when their marriage announcement was running in the local paper, publicly confirming the rumors that they were together once and for all. Qui-Gon couldn't prove that Anakin was lying, but his gut was telling him this was the case, and coupled with Anakin just now wanting to be Obi's friend again when he needed money...

It was Obi who spoke up now. "Ani, I saw you do a bump before your last gig that you made me go to, to help you 'get in the zone'. Please."

Anakin looked away. Then he walked off.

Qui-Gon and Obi left without saying goodbye, and indeed, left without giving Anakin money. They were quiet most of the way down to Cannon Beach, the radio playing, Obi looking out the window.

Finally Qui-Gon broke their silence, when they were twenty minutes away. "Obi, I have to come clean with you. Not long after we started dating, I talked to Mark about Anakin, because I wanted to be informed about... well, the way he was affecting you. Mark told me a rather disturbing story about why Anakin is no longer his student, that involves drugs and theft. I've been sitting with this information for awhile because I had concerns if I told you it wouldn't be believed, and you would push away from me and towards Ani. But now that you've mentioned you've seen Ani do meth for yourself..."

"Yeah, I have." Obi nodded. He glanced at Qui-Gon, and then looked down.

"I wish I'd told you sooner, and I also wish you'd told me sooner. I understand you probably had your reasons -"

"I knew you'd get on my case to move out, and... well... you saw the place, just now. I know you're going to say he's bad for me and has been bad to me and you're not wrong, but I also feel like I owe him, still. I know it bothered you to see him struggling like that, now can you imagine being friends with him for years and remembering a time when he was actually nice and fun to be around and he literally saved my life, and how much that bothers me? I feel like if I... get rid of him... it's going to be his death sentence." Obi swallowed hard.

"Obi, he's writing it with or without you. If it wasn't you, it would be someone or something else. And you deserve better than living with that kind of chaos. Especially now, when you're being stalked." Qui-Gon put his hand on Obi's for a moment. "I'm not just taking you to Cannon Beach to have fun for a week, to relax, get our mind off things, but..." He took Obi's hand, kissed it, and put his hand back on the wheel. "I'd like you to consider moving in with me. Not just for yourself, but Anakin needs to either get a roommate or move someplace like a studio."

"Oh." Obi blinked slowly. "You... you want me to live with you..."

"I've been wanting that for awhile, but I know that's a huge step and it's one I've been wary of mentioning because I know you lived with Quinlan and..."

At the mention of Quinlan's name, Obi started crying again. Qui-Gon pulled over, and hugged Obi for a few minutes. When Obi was calmer, they got back on the road.

"I think I want to, but I want to take a few days to..." Obi looked down again.

"I understand. Like I said, I know it's a huge step. You've been staying with me a lot, we've been seeing a lot of each other, but moving in with me, sharing my home, it being your home now too, settling in, is something entirely different, and I know when you were in a situation like that before where that was weaponized against you... I'm not offended that your answer isn't an immediate 'yes'." Qui-Gon was relieved that it wasn't an immediate "no", that Obi's response had started with I think I want to. He could have pulled over again to do cartwheels along the side of the highway.

After a few more minutes of quiet, Obi said, "There's something else to consider too."

"Hm?"

"I'm being fucking stalked. Quinlan Vos is out there, somewhere, leaving shit on my doorstep. If I leave the duplex, that doesn't mean he'll go away. He'll look for me. He'll find me, wherever I go." Obi looked at Qui-Gon, fear in his eyes. "That means if I move in with you, it's only a matter of time before that starts happening at our house. I worry about Fernando getting hurt, our garden... I worry about you and him having a confrontation and you wind up in jail..." Obi choked up again, breathing harder in panic.

And it was something to consider, indeed; Qui-Gon could see it in his mind's eye, beating the hell out of Quinlan if their paths crossed. He wouldn't do much good for Obi if he was in prison, someplace he likely wouldn't survive as a sixty-year-old queer man. And if Quinlan did something to Obi...

But moving in together still sounded like the best course of action. "This situation with Quinlan is going to be resolved one way or the other, Obi. This I promise you." He felt like an asshole saying it - I'm making a promise I don't know if I can keep - but he was determined. And as Dooku had told him when Qui-Gon was still his student, When you put your mind to something, Joaquin, God help anyone or anything that stands in your way.


_


Qui-Gon hadn't anticipated the Oregon State Police coming out to their cabin on their first night at Cannon Beach, but then, he hadn't anticipated a lot of things.

A male and female police officer came out, and they sounded compassionate, sympathetic, but they also explained there wasn't a whole lot they could do from just photographs of items being left on Obi's doorstep, if Obi's ex wasn't showing up at his work or other places, if there weren't phone calls or harassing e-mails, and it didn't help that when Obi was in Florida he'd never built a history with going to the police about the beatings and the rapes.

"You really should have gone to the police," the female officer chided him.

Qui-Gon knew she probably wasn't coming off in her own mind as victim blaming, but he got angry anyway. "As a woman, I'm sure you can understand why he wouldn't, seeing what happens to people who report rapes in this country, and how they're treated as being even more guilty than the rapists they're reporting, especially if they've ever had a sexual history with multiple people..."

"I do understand that, Mr. Gonzalez." The officer nodded. "But unfortunately, the lack of a case history from the past makes it harder to prosecute or even get a restraining order here and now, when these photographs of 'gifts' are all you've got in the way of evidence."

Qui-Gon pinched the bridge of his nose. "Fuck."

"I'm very sorry."

Qui-Gon and Obi were both given cards by the two officers, with an admonishment to call the next time anything happened. "Even though the 'presents' and notes aren't much to work with, still give us a call if they continue," the male officer said, "because that will be part of the evidence if things escalate with... more."

Qui-Gon really hoped there wasn't more.

They'd brought Fernando to the cabin, who sensed that Qui-Gon and Obi were upset and climbed on them, laying across both of them, after the officers left. Fernando kneaded on Obi, who skritched him, looking like his heart had been smashed to pieces.

They had pizza delivered, and then Qui-Gon drew Obi a bubble bath to help him relax. He was too big to fit in the tub himself, so he sat on the toilet seat cover in his pajamas, washing Obi's back while he reclined in the tub.

"It's going to be OK," Qui-Gon said, sponging Obi, even though he didn't know if he believed it himself, but it was important to make Obi feel he believed it, anyway. "It's going to be OK. I won't let him hurt you ever again."

After Obi's bath they made love, slowly, sweetly. They lost themselves in each other, and for awhile, they were safe in each other's arms and everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

But that seemed to make it hurt all the more as Obi fell asleep after and Qui-Gon lay awake, watching him, worrying, wishing there was more he could do. Like somehow, this was prolonging the inevitable explosion of... something.


_


Monday and Tuesday were nice sunny weather. On Monday, Obi and Qui-Gon built sand sculptures on the beach, walked along the shore, swam, and Obi spent the evening making art. On Tuesday they went to Tillamook, distracting themselves with watching cheese being made, and Qui-Gon bought cheese and made a nice pot of homemade macaroni and cheese with chicken and bacon added, that evening.

On Wednesday it was cloudy, and they had a lazy day of watching old movies, cuddled up together. Even though it was cloudy and cool, Obi wanted to hit the beach for awhile, and Qui-Gon couldn't begrudge that, as it was nice and peaceful, even moreso with fewer people around on a day like today. Obi built a sand turtle, decorated with pebbles and driftwood, and it was nice enough that Qui-Gon took pictures.

"You ever sculpt?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Not since I was a kid, with Play-Doh."

"Hm. I think you should look into trying your hand at it. You'd be good at it. I bet Sören would agree with me." With that, Qui-Gon sent Sören a text message with the turtle attached.

Sören did in fact agree. Get that kid into my art class, please.

They went out to dinner after the beach, and Qui-Gon shared the message. "Have you thought some more about enrolling in the university this fall?"

Obi nodded. "I want to. I just..." He looked down. "Right now, everything is a lot. I'm not sure what's going to happen next week when we get back, let alone in September..."

"I know, honey." Qui-Gon choked up, rubbing Obi's back. "But, as you know..." Great, I'm channeling Dooku. "A college degree is important. Even without getting a foot in the art world by taking classes... I don't want you to be struggling if something happens to me when I get older, and... as importantly, I don't want you to feel powerless and financially dependent on me, because that was what happened with Quinlan, wasn't it?"

Obi nodded, tearing up.

"I promise you, I will never be violent to you. Unless of course you want to be spanked, bitten... consensually." Qui-Gon tried to smile, attempting levity. "But that's not the point. I don't want you to feel... a power imbalance that keeps you trapped with me. And it's harder to get out of that if you don't take care of your future."

"Yeah." Obi sighed. "Can we change the subject now?"

"All right." And then, another text from Sören.

If Obi ever wants to try his hand at sculpting, or doing ceramics, I have access to a kiln.

Qui-Gon showed Obi, and his face lit up. That was just what was needed; Qui-Gon could have sang for joy.

Unfortunately that joy was short-lived. When they drove back to the cabin, a brick had been thrown through the window of the cabin, glass scattered out front, and there was a white box on their doorstep with more cut and paste letters reading FOR YOU, DARLING.

The police arrived shortly after the call. Qui-Gon was holding Fernando - he'd been worried that the brick through the window could have hurt the cat, but the cat was fine, and not as shaken up now that Qui-Gon was cuddling him. The box was opened outside - an entire SWAT team had come out in case anything explosive was inside, which caused a scene with the neighbors, though the box just contained another beef heart, this one surrounded by what appeared to be dog feces.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Qui-Gon said, disgusted.

"We can't stay here," Obi said after the police left. "Not only are people looking at us like we're aliens that just landed, but... he knows we're here. He's gonna come back..."

They checked into a hotel that allowed cats. Qui-Gon also knew he was going to have to pay damages to the people he was renting the cabin from, which was his first call after they arrived at the hotel.

They didn't make love that night, just held each other tight. Qui-Gon debated returning to Corvallis the next day, but Obi insisted they continue their vacation even if they had to stay at the hotel for the remainder, since it was still a short drive to the beach and other places.

Obi stayed awake a long time due to anxiety, and Qui-Gon drifted off a little after he watched Obi sleep. And then Obi woke up with a nightmare, and Qui-Gon petted him and rocked him till he calmed down.

At last Qui-Gon started to rack his brain, needing to make sense of this somehow. "What I don't understand is how Quinlan found us, unless he's been following us around and thus far has been really good at evading detection."

Obi shrugged.

Qui-Gon grabbed his laptop - Obi had mentioned Anakin had his location public on Twitter, which seemed to be how Quinlan had found them from Florida, and he wondered now if Anakin had bitched about "roommate's gone at Cannon Beach for a week" on Twitter as well. He found Anakin's Twitter without much trouble, but as far as he could tell there had been no Tweets about Obi being away made anytime recently, unless they had since been deleted.

"Obi, have you told anyone besides Ani about our trip? Like Ahsoka?"

"Well, I mean, Ahsoka and my other co-workers know I'm on vacation, and I told Ahsoka, just her, 'the beach', but I didn't say where."

"All right." Cannon Beach wasn't the only coastal town around, so presuming Quinlan had shown up at the coffee house looking for Obi's whereabouts, he'd be left with multiple choices, and it seemed a bit of a stretch unless...

Something increasingly was looking off with all of this, and Qui-Gon didn't understand it just yet.

"Hey Obi?"

"Hm?"

"That photo with the package Anakin showed us... of you and Quinlan..."

"Quinlan had one, and I had one. After I threw out everything of his, or everything that reminded me of him, I kept that photo as a reminder to not go back to him... I kept it till we started dating. Then I threw it out. I thought it was weird that particular photo was in the card, it's not like Quinlan could have known that was the same one I kept."

Qui-Gon closed his laptop and pinched the bridge of his nose. The only people he'd told about the vacation were Dooku, who was out of the country, Dagnýr Sigurdsson, who was on his way back to Canada, and Sören and Mark.

Neither Sören nor Mark felt like the type of person to act like this, especially when neither of them had known about Obi's past until several days ago... and the stalking, or "stalking", had already started. Mark could be violent and possibly lethal if provoked, and Sören had mental health issues, but it just didn't seem right. Even with the dog feces in the box, and Mark having a dog.

Anakin was the other person who knew. Qui-Gon thought about the coffee table at the duplex, all the magazines that had once been there, and how there had been fewer of them recently, and the letters cut and pasted from magazines.  Anakin would have had access to the trash when Obi threw out the picture of himself and Quinlan...

Anakin had it in for Mark. Can't you see? That shit is from HIS dog! Qui-Gon could just hear it now if he brought up the theory that Quinlan wasn't stalking Obi at all, but it was one of those five people. He's fucking crazy! Of course it's him!

And then there was the fact that Anakin had reacted badly to Obi going away on vacation - like somehow he could tell this week was a test run for the future - and Anakin was now using the stalking as an attempt to get closer to Obi again.

It was all starting to look very, very bad, but of course Qui-Gon had no proof, and if he told Obi "I bet it's Anakin" it had the potential to backfire, even with Obi admitting Anakin wasn't the best person to be around.

It was like defusing a bomb. And in a way, it made Qui-Gon even more nervous than the possibility of it being Quinlan Vos.


_


Qui-Gon kept his thoughts carefully guarded on Thursday - he didn't have a plan yet, and he needed a plan first. And right now, his immediate concern was for Obi's care and safety... safety was not just physical, but emotional.

Obi was a wreck, even at the beach, and when Qui-Gon went out to pick up takeout that didn't deliver on Thursday night, leaving Obi alone in the hotel room with the cat, he came back just in time to see Obi packing.

"An Uber's on its way here," Obi said, looking down.

"OK. Sit. You were just going to leave without saying anything?"

Obi sat, but continued to stare at the floor.

"First of all, did I do something wrong, in any way, shape or form? Tell me and I'll fix this..."

"It's not you." Obi shook his head. He looked up, meeting Qui-Gon's eyes for a few minutes before looking away. He was agitated enough that he began to rock himself, and Qui-Gon took Obi's fidget spinner - which he'd been just about to pack - and handed it to him.

"I need to know what's going on, Obi. Please."

Obi took a deep breath. He ran a hand through his hair, rubbed his beard, and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "OK. I wanted to take off because... I don't think this is going to work out."

"Why not?"

Qui-Gon was expecting to hear an answer about their age difference, or the fact that Qui-Gon was an established professor and Obi was just a barista struggling to make a living, which would have been valid concerns, albeit they hadn't deterred Qui-Gon from getting involved with him and he would have tried to persuade Obi to give it a chance awhile longer. And instead, Obi said, "I'm too fucked up. My life is too fucked up." Obi's cell phone went off. "Shit. That's the Uber... I need to tell them I need more time to pack -"

"No." Qui-Gon shook his head. "I don't want to keep you here against your will, but we're not done talking yet. If, when the conversation is done, you still want to go..." Qui-Gon swallowed hard, feeling a knot in the pit of his stomach. "I won't force you to stay. But we're talking first. So go on."

Obi hit Ignore on his phone and then he silenced his cell phone. He looked up again. "I'm damaged goods."

"No, you're not."

"Qui-Gon, I've been such a wreck we can't really enjoy ourselves here. You saw how I lost it at the Mexican restaurant last week. I have issues."

"We all have issues. And you're working through yours." Qui-Gon's jaw set. "Sören said he still has panic attacks in public. Would you tell him to leave Mark, or tell Mark to leave him?"

"No, but -"

"No buts. If it's not OK for them to bail on each other, it's not OK for you to bail on me because of your issues, either."

"OK but -"

"No buts."

"The other thing is -"

Qui-Gon waited.

"The entire reason why we're here at this hotel instead of the cabin is my fault. Because I'm being stalked."

"Obi, being stalked is not your fault." Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. "You did not make your stalker do it." Qui-Gon noticed he was finally using the phrase "your stalker" instead of going with the theory that it was Quinlan. He still didn't know how he was going to prove it wasn't. "You didn't ask for the stalking, you didn't ask for the rape, you didn't ask for the abuse. If it hadn't been you, it would be another victim, because stalkers stalk, abusers abuse, rapists rape, that is what they do regardless of what you say or don't say, do or don't do."

"I... I don't know. I just don't want this to keep escalating and you ending up in jail or something because of me. I'm not worth it..."

"Oberon Ewan Cenobie, you listen to me and you listen to me good." And Qui-Gon got on his knees then. "I would die for you. I would kill for you. I'm not going to lie to you, there is a chance this situation is going to result in somebody going to jail, possibly me. There is a very real chance of that. But I don't want you pre-emptively leaving with the assumption that is the inevitable outcome, that there are no other possible ways this will be resolved. And I don't want you, at all, to think you're not worth fighting for. You are worth it to me." Qui-Gon blinked back tears. "I have already been fighting for you. You didn't know me prior to a few months ago, but I was existing, not living. Quietly drowning in my grief over my late wife. I've been re-engaging with life again, with feeling things again, as terrifying as it is for me to love someone with the possibility that I might lose them. You know, because you've been there, my brave boy, how hard it is to get your life back. But I am taking my life back, and so are you, and I will be damned if we don't take it back together."

Obi got up, and threw his arms around Qui-Gon's neck, sobbing. "I'm so sorry..."

"You have nothing to be sorry for."

"I don't want to leave, but I don't want you to suffer because of me -"

"I would suffer without you, love."

Obi pulled Qui-Gon to his feet, and they kissed. And kept kissing, until they tumbled down on the bed together, then they looked into each other's eyes for a moment and kissed some more.

"Food's gonna get cold," Qui-Gon mumbled between kisses.

"I want to eat something else first."

"Oh myyy -"

Obi silenced him with a kiss.

They sixty-nined, sucking each other hungrily, like their lives depended on it. Before they could come in each other's mouths, Qui-Gon dipped his tongue into Obi's channel, licking him slowly, teasing him. "You are worth my time," Qui-Gon husked, before licking some more. "You are worth all the time in the world."

"I'm doing something wrong if you can still make flowery declarations, Qui." Qui-Gon felt Obi smiling against his ass cheek, and then Qui-Gon cried out when Obi's tongue poked inside him too, rimming him for the first time.

They took their time, lapping slowly, savoring, then more feverishly, bringing each other to the edge again and again before backing down to slowly lick some more. At last Qui-Gon's attention returned to Obi's cock - so temptingly slick with precum - and licked his cock from the head all the way down the shaft to the balls and back up, then just licked the cock all over, every inch of flesh, rubbing and rubbing his tongue. Obi's response was to take just the head of Qui-Gon's cock in his mouth, kissing it, tongue lashing the slit.

When they resumed sucking, after all that teasing, it didn't take much longer to finish. With Obi's cock in his mouth, two fingers working in and out of him, rubbing the prostate, Qui-Gon brought Obi off hard, and the taste of Obi's cum flooding his mouth triggered Qui-Gon's own release. They came up to kiss each other, moaning at the taste of their combined cum, the sweetness of their passion.

Qui-Gon used the microwave in their hotel room to reheat the food he brought, and they curled up on the bed together, watching Star Trek. Fernando came over to beg, even though he had food in his dish; Qui-Gon conceded to give Fernando a couple cat treats, and then Obi meowed and Qui-Gon fed him a shrimp from his fingers like Obi, too, was a cat.

After dinner as they snuggled - Fernando snuggling with them, purring away - Obi also made purring noises, headbutting Qui-Gon like a cat. Qui-Gon skritched his beard, and Obi kneaded like a cat. It warmed Qui-Gon's heart.

"You're so cute." Qui-Gon kissed the tip of his nose. Then, tears blurring his eyes, he said, "It would hurt so much if you left."

"I'm sorry I thought about -"

Qui-Gon kissed him.

"We still going back on Saturday?" Obi raised an eyebrow. "Maybe we should go back tomorrow, since you're having to pay extra for the room and also pay the cabin people for the window..."

"Money's not the issue. If you want to stay one more day, we can."

"OK. I... I'd like that, then."

"Good."

"And then..." Obi looked up at Qui-Gon. "What happens, when we go back? You still want me to move in with you?"

"I do, but..." Qui-Gon took a deep breath. Finally, the beginnings of a plan were starting to congeal in his head, but it was important to the plan to not make it look like a sting operation. "Obi, because you almost left tonight, I want you to take one more week before we move in together and really think about things." That wasn't entirely a lie, but it wasn't the only reason why he was asking Obi to stay at the duplex an additional week, either. "And... well... we saw how badly Anakin is off, and I know it probably wouldn't sit well with you to not give him at least some notice that you're likely moving out in the first week of the month."

"Shit, yeah."

"And if he truly wants to fix things with your friendship, let him know this is a wakeup call." As much as Qui-Gon had reservations about Obi being a sort of bait, if his theory about Anakin checked out, it was likely that "Quinlan stalking incidents" would increase as Anakin felt like he was losing leverage and was using the "Quinlan stalking" to remind Obi of Florida and how Obi "owed" him and re-assert that he was still the friend who would look out for Obi.

If Anakin just doesn't completely go psycho on Obi and...

And that was a real risk. Qui-Gon took a few deep breaths, already nervous about this.

"OK." Obi nodded, and gave Qui-Gon a little kiss.

It rained on Friday, their last full day there, which was just as well because they spent the day in bed, making love. Then it stopped raining in the late afternoon, and Obi wanted one last trip to the beach before they headed back tomorrow.

It was drizzling when they arrived on the beach, but rays of sun were peeking through the clouds. And there was a rainbow. Qui-Gon put an arm around Obi, a frisson down his spine - it felt like a sign that there was hope, this nightmare would be over soon.


_


When they arrived back at Qui-Gon's house on Saturday evening early, Qui-Gon's first action was to let Fernando out of the carrier. Obi went off to the bathroom, and while he was taking care of business, Qui-Gon's second action was to call Mark Lowry.

Four rings, and then Mark's dry, serious, "What can I do for you," like he was being interrupted.

"Mark, hi. I need to ask you a very big favor."

Chapter Text

The Truth Shall Set You Free

 

Chapter Track: "Exile" - Enya

 

 

An unmarked brown van was parked a few houses down from the duplex that Obi and Anakin shared.

Inside the van, sat Qui-Gon and Mark. The van was a rental in Mark's name.

Qui-Gon had casually asked Obi for a copy of Anakin's work schedule, as well as to inquire after Anakin's other activities that week, as far as whether or not he had any shows, was seeing friends, and so on. Obi had raised an eyebrow, but hadn't questioned it.

Mercifully, Anakin worked third shift stocking shelves at Wal-Mart, so Qui-Gon and Mark could return to their respective homes at night and not have Obi and Sören wondering why their partners were gone all night. And during the day, starting when Anakin was scheduled to return home from work, Qui-Gon and Mark had arrived very early on the scene, switching places between the passenger's and driver's seats every few hours to do a stakeout, and see if they spotted anything. Another rental car was parked further down the street in the event Qui-Gon or Mark had to visit the restroom and could drive off, while not leaving the house unwatched.

The first four days after Qui-Gon returned from Cannon Beach, there was no sign of new "Quinlan stalking" evidence, and Qui-Gon made sure to ask Obi about it in the evening, if anything new had shown up. As Thursday came and went, the week about to draw to a close, Qui-Gon felt like his plan was about to fall through, since Obi had given his notice that he'd be moving in with Qui-Gon the following week, though he supposed he could stake out his own place. But then, that was starting to invest a lot of time into things.

Qui-Gon wondered, as they tracked the duplex and Anakin's comings and goings, if he'd been wrong in suspecting Anakin and if it might in fact be Mark or Sören... but that still felt like the wrong assumption, and Qui-Gon hated that it even crossed his mind; he hated how paranoid this entire situation was making him in general, startling more easily, wondering when the proverbial wolf would be at his door.

Apart from the occasional moment of paranoia, he found that having Mark along for the stakeout was strangely comforting. When Mark went off on restroom stops he also went to get Starbucks and bring it back, learning what Qui-Gon liked from there; they otherwise didn't talk much. On Thursday morning, Mark had to take off to go to the airport with Sören to pick up Dooku, and when he got back in the afternoon Mark got restless, and Qui-Gon thought it might be OK to have the radio on low. Mark put on the classic rock station and zoned out a little until Qui-Gon said, "I really appreciate you coming along with me for this."

Mark nodded. "If Sören was in the same situation..."

Qui-Gon pinched the bridge of his nose and nodded; he hated that Sören had past experience with being stalked and abused as well. "You know how it is to want to go to ridiculous lengths to protect one's mate."

"I do. Though also, truthfully, I dislike predators on principle."

"I'm surprised you didn't go into law enforcement... well, I suppose the service can be considered a form of that, yes?"

Mark simply nodded, looking uncomfortable with the subject. For a bit of levity, Qui-Gon sipped his iced coffee and quipped, "I feel like we're on some cheesy cop sitcom. Old hippie and an aging hair metal fan... together, they fight crime!"

Mark found that less amusing than he did, managing only a thin smile, and Qui-Gon felt awkward. Awkward enough that he decided if they didn't see anything by Friday night, he was going to re-evaluate his plan to bring Mark along on the stakeout.

And then it happened. Anakin went out in the early afternoon on Friday, and when he came back, he had a bouquet of roses tucked under one arm and was carrying a bag from the local bait-and-tackle shop on the other. Mark had a camcorder set up and he zoomed in.

"Son of a bitch," Mark hissed.

Mark looked like he was ready to go out there and pummel Anakin, and Qui-Gon put a hand on Mark's arm, restraining him. "Not yet." Qui-Gon pointed to the camcorder. "We need to get it all."

"Right." Mark took a few deep breaths.

They waited, watching the door. Twenty minutes later, Anakin put out the roses, with the box, and what looked like a card-sized envelope. Then Anakin ducked back inside, and a few minutes after that, they heard very loud music coming from the duplex, presumably so Anakin couldn't claim to have heard anyone moving around outside.

Mark and Qui-Gon exchanged glances. Obi was scheduled to take the bus home from work today - Qui-Gon had suggested Obi using public transport to avoid making things further awkward with Qui-Gon and Anakin interacting. But now, that plan had changed. "We need to take a trip," Qui-Gon said.

"Mountains of the Moon?"

Qui-Gon nodded.

As Obi's shift was wrapping up, he was surprised to see Qui-Gon and Mark walk in. "I'm here to take you home," Qui-Gon said.

"Oh. I thought you said take the bus..."

"I did. But... I changed my mind today. For reasons."

Obi was further surprised at the brown van. "Where's the Jaguar?" Obi asked Mark.

"At home," Mark said nonchalantly. "Get in."


_


The three got out of the van together. On the way from the coffeehouse to the duplex, Mark had been uploading from the camcorder to a USB stick, and now Mark had the USB stick in one hand and his laptop in the other. Obi gave him a puzzled look, and Mark just stared straight on ahead, features neutral, deceptively calm - Qui-Gon could see the anger in Mark's eyes.

Obi let himself in; rock music was still blaring outside and Anakin was on the couch, playing a video game.

Qui-Gon threw the bouquet of roses at Anakin's face.

"The fuck was that for?" Anakin got up and was about to take a swing at Qui-Gon... and then Mark shoved Anakin down on the floor, towering over him.

"Sit. Down." Mark hadn't raised his voice - if anything, his voice was quieter than usual - and yet, it felt like Mark had yelled. Qui-Gon's hair stood on end.

"Hey man, you don't come here in my fucking house and swing your weight around..." Anakin got up and was about to get in Mark's face. And then he stopped, when Mark held up the USB stick.

"What... what's that."

"That, Anakin, is why you're going to get out of my face and sit the fuck down, now." Mark pointed to the couch.

Anakin sat on the couch. Mark sat next to him; he had Qui-Gon and Obi stand on his side of the couch.

"First, let's take a little trip down memory lane, shall we?" Mark smiled at Anakin. It was not a pleasant smile. It reminded Qui-Gon of a wolf.

Mark opened up his laptop and brought up several video files. He clicked on one, and it was the video evidence that corroborated Mark's story of Anakin stealing.

Anakin looked about ready to choke Mark. He reached for the laptop; Qui-Gon grabbed it away and before Anakin could hit Mark, Mark blocked the incoming fist.

"This is your last warning to refrain from further attempts to assault me," Mark said. "I've been in the Army. I've killed larger men than you. Do not."

"What, are you threatening to kill me now? You can go to jail for that."

"And you can go to jail for this." Mark nodded at Qui-Gon, who put the USB stick in the laptop. When the file came up, Mark clicked on it. Obi's jaw dropped as he saw the footage of Anakin arranging everything on the doorstep.

"That was you...?" Wide-eyed, breathing hard, Obi turned to Anakin.

"You have anything to say for yourself, you rotten little shit?" Mark asked.

"Get the fuck out of my house," Anakin said flatly.

"Obi, go to your room and pack," Qui-Gon said. "Now."

"I'm not leaving without saying a few -"

Qui-Gon glared at Obi - as good as it was to see Obi about to stand up for himself, he didn't want Obi to lose everything he owned if things went badly. "Get your shit. Please."

Obi huffed off to his room.

"Here's the deal," Qui-Gon said, sitting on the coffee table in front of Anakin. "I really don't want to go to all the time and trouble of going down to the police station and having this probably get in the paper, and I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt that this is just the drugs making you crazy and there's some small part of you that isn't really like this and maybe you can find him if you get some professional help... which isn't the kind of assistance you will get in prison, looking the way you do, if you get my drift. But if you ever come around my partner again, we're going to the police. And I don't just mean to get a restraining order against you, I mean every book we can throw at you - the drugs, harassment - is going to be thrown. Hard. I am going to hire the best lawyer I can afford - which is more than your probable public defender. And if you so much as lay a finger on Obi, prison will look like the kinder option..."

Obi was bringing the first load of his stuff out to the van. "I don't have much more," Obi said.

It was less than Qui-Gon thought. "Are you sure? I don't want you to be sacrificing anything important..."

"Yeah, I'm sure." Obi made a face and ducked out.

"As we were saying," Qui-Gon said.

"Anakin, get some help," Mark said.

"Look who's talking, Rambo. You're not as tough as you think you are. You need a fucking service dog to go places..." Anakin laughed, and sneered. "I bet you're just all talk and no action..."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "And you think you're tough, terrifying a poor boy who you know has been through hell? Does that make you feel big, Anakin? Does it make you feel like more of a man? What's the problem, do you need to compensate for your toxic masculinity with the meth making you not able to get it up anymore..."

Anakin reached for Mark's throat. Mark picked Anakin up off the couch - Qui-Gon gasped - and Qui-Gon watched as Mark threw Anakin into the coffee table, breaking it in half, with Anakin kicking him on the way down. Before the kick could connect, Mark grabbed Anakin's leg, rolled him over, and when Obi walked in, Mark had Anakin in a nelson grip.

"I warned you," Mark said softly, "not to fuck with me, did I not?"

"Get the rest of your stuff," Qui-Gon said to Obi.

Mark continued to hold Anakin in the nelson until Anakin tapped out, crying. As soon as Mark let go, Anakin was on him again, and this time Mark just sat on him, pinning Anakin's arms, whistling the Jeopardy! theme as Obi walked by with his next load of belongings.

The temperature in the room felt like it was at least ten degrees warmer, and when Obi came back in, Mark got up and said, "I'm going to give you the courtesy of being able to look at Obi while he's talking to you but if you try me again..."

Anakin just spat, but otherwise lay there, until he could sit up, breathing hard, shaking.

Obi's eyes were full of tears. "You were my brother, Ani. I loved you." He let out a sob. "You were supposed to be my friend, not another abuser!"

"Yeah... and some shitty friend you turned out to be. You haven't been there when I needed you for months!" Anakin glared. "Get the hell out of here, I HATE YOU!"

Qui-Gon gently nudged Obi out the door. Mark followed. Obi got in the van, sobbing, and Qui-Gon looked over his shoulder at Mark, who was trying to breathe deeply, looking a bit shell-shocked; Qui-Gon imagined the violence had triggered him.

Mark's eyes looked a little strange, which Qui-Gon attributed to PTSD. But at a closer look they seemed to be slightly iridescent and almost glowing, like pieces of labradorite or moonstone - reminding Qui-Gon of the fight Mark had gotten into at the restaurant, and Qui-Gon wondered if he was having another flashback from past hallucinogen use, brought on by the high emotions of everything gone on. Except it seemed like too much of a coincidence for it to be about Mark, specifically.

"You OK, buddy?" Qui-Gon asked, about to reach out to put a reassuring hand on Mark's shoulder.

"Don't touch me right now." The voice sounded like several voices at once. Qui-Gon blinked, and then Mark made a face and said - one voice, his normal voice - "I need... a minute to breathe, and then I'll be along."

Qui-Gon got in the van, and his eyes kept going back and forth between Obi falling apart in the back seat, as seen from the rear-view mirror, and Mark standing on the curb, trying to take some deep breaths. Qui-Gon did a double take as once again, like he'd seen at the restaurant, Mark's hair was no longer to the middle of his back but cascading all the way down to his thighs. There was a slight breeze outside, enough to stir Mark's hair around, so that Qui-Gon saw Mark's ears for the first time.

Dr. Mark Lowry, Ph.D, had pointy ears.

What in the fuck. Qui-Gon wondered once again if he was hallucinating. And then Mark's hair was back to its usual length, his hair had returned to settle over his ears, hiding them, and Mark was striding towards the van.

Qui-Gon tried to feign nonchalance as Mark got in the van, though he still had goosebumps and his throat was dry.


_

Mark drove them to Qui-Gon's house. He helped Qui-Gon and Obi carry Obi's things inside, and then Obi mumbled his thanks and said, "I need to be alone for awhile."

That left Mark and Qui-Gon standing in the living room. "Well," Mark said, glancing towards the door, "I should be off... Sören will be happy to see me home at a decent hour for the first time in a week..." He made a face.

"Mark, wait." As much as Qui-Gon had some anxiety about bringing this up - especially seeing what Mark was capable of, knowing he'd let Anakin off easy - he needed to put his own mind to rest about whether or not he was going crazy, needed a MRI scan of his brain, or something. "Have... have tea with me for a few minutes, please, I need to talk to someone about something."

Mark let out a deep sigh, looking like he wanted to be anywhere else right now, but he nodded.

Qui-Gon made tea - wondering how Dooku was doing, who hadn't called yesterday, the twenty-ninth as he said he would; he was starting to worry - and Mark sat with him in the kitchen. Fernando came over for pettings, and Mark scooped up the cat and held him, stroking. "Sören and I need to get a cat," Mark said.

"Has he moved in yet...?"

"Soon. Next week. He's been sleeping over since his brother went back to Canada, but he's not officially moved in."

"So we'll both be busy with our respective partners moving in..."

"Yeah."

"I'd like to invite you guys over for dinner once we've settled... to say thank you for, well... being so understanding. Especially you. I shudder to think of how that would have gone with Anakin if I'd had to deal with him by myself." Qui-Gon cringed.

"He'd be worse on crystal. I don't think he was tweaking and he still was crazy strong." Mark also cringed, and sipped his tea when Fernando climbed down.

"Do you really think he'll get some help?"

"No." Mark frowned. "I don't. So it's very important that Obi stays away from him."

"That's..." Qui-Gon also frowned. "That's an odd way of putting it, considering we told Anakin to stay away from him..."

"I don't know how many addicts you've known, but when you're in the music world you see a lot of them, and one thing that remains pretty consistent is it's hard for people addicts have hurt to cut them off completely. Obi has a good heart, and that makes him very susceptible to being taken in by Ani again. To be honest, Obi might need to get some counseling too, though that's easier said than done, Sören found a lot of therapists are fond of victim blaming and telling people to 'forgive' their abusers and it's 'wrong to be angry' and all of this shit that makes it harder to recover, easier to be manipulated and taken advantage of."

"That's unfortunate."

"Quite."

A few moments of awkward silence passed, and Mark finally said, "Qui-Gon, you didn't just ask me to tea to thank me for the help."

"No."

Mark folded his arms and waited.

Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "Mark, this is going to be a very strange question -"

"Probably not as strange as some of the shit Sören's asked me -"

"Oh, god."

"Anyway." Mark gestured. "You're my best man - well, one of them - so. Out with it."

"Mark, what are you?"

There was a long pause, and then Mark laughed. "What do you mean? Musician, professor, American, queer..."

"No. I mean, what are you. I'm... I'm not phrasing this right, so just bear with me. I may have been seeing things with all the emotional intensity of what went on, all the adrenaline, but... but..." Qui-Gon facepalmed, and then he looked up, eyes meeting Mark's eyes. "Are you an Elf?"

Mark looked down. Qui-Gon felt that frisson down his spine again, goosebumps on his arms.

"I prefer the term Quendi," Mark said mildly, and sipped his tea.

"You... oh my god." Qui-Gon leaned back in his chair. "Tolkien's fiction, you must be joking..." Except he couldn't shake what he'd seen with his own two eyes.

"Tolkien is a man I told a few things to, a long time ago."

"A... few."

"Juuuuust a few." Mark casually sipped his tea. "So, you saw the ears."

"I saw the ears, the hair, the eyes." Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "Were you even in the Army?"

"Oh yes. I was in World War I, World War II, fighting for the Americans, the Civil War fighting for the North, and the Revolution... fighting for the Americans. So yes, I've been... in the Army. A few times now. Wasn't in Nam, though, I was helping leftist student groups, which, uh... complicated my own life a bit." Mark ran a hand through his hair. "I don't age, so I move around a lot, but I've been in the States since the 1600s, save the occasional trip overseas. Every time I move to another state, I have to change paperwork, backstory... though it's not a lie that I have PTSD, and all my brothers are dead." Mark closed his eyes and sighed. "I've been around humans longer than I was around my own kind, as things stand now."

"That sounds rough."

"More than you can possibly imagine."

"I know this is rude, but how did you get that scar on your hand..." And then Qui-Gon's chills intensified, looking at the geometric burn on Mark's palm; suddenly there was a flash of recognition, remembering the story about the Silmarils. "Oh my god. You're..." The harp. The voice. The dead brothers, three of whom had red hair. "You're Maglor?"

"So you've read about me."

"...A long fucking time ago, but... yes." Qui-Gon buried his face in his hands. He took a few breaths to calm down - he was shaking - and then he drank his tea.

Mark just nodded.

Qui-Gon leaned back. "Does Sören know."

"Yes. He knows. He found out not long after we became intimate."

Another few minutes of silence passed. Mark and Qui-Gon finished their tea. Mark finally rose from the table and said, "I need your word that you're not going to expose me."

"I wouldn't. I... would sound quite mad, it was bad enough telling you what I saw..."

"I still needed to make that clear, anyway."

"If I hadn't given my word?"

Mark frowned. "You don't want to know the answer to that."

Qui-Gon had chills again. "What about Obi..."

"Let me think on whether or not I want him to know. The more people who know, a bigger liability it is. Don't lie to him, though, if he asks you outright 'hey is Mark an Elf?' He's been lied to fucking enough. But something tells me that's not a question you'll have to worry about, unless I get careless again." Mark grit his teeth.

"So... what I saw, I wasn't supposed to see?"

"No. I suppose you could call it 'glamour magic', what I do to disguise what I can. It takes energy and effort to do and after thousands of years wandering I am tired, which is why I take the lazy route of just never putting my hair in a ponytail or a man bun like Sören does sometimes or whatever because it would show my ears, instead of trying to glamour my ears, and I don't try to glamour my hand even though it gets me rude invasive questions now and again. The glasses usually make it easier for me to disguise the eyes - I have perfect vision and don't need them, they're part of the slackass, done-with-this approach. What you saw, isn't even the full strength version of me as I actually am - Sören has seen it. But what you saw is enough to cause a stir, so... usually I'm better about the glamour. I kind of lost my shit back there across town."

"Just a little."

"Just a bit." Mark laughed bitterly. "I'd do it again. That punkass..."

"Hopefully he won't be a problem anymore."

"Again, that probably depends on Obi now. He needs a good support system to be able to resist getting sucked back into the web of someone who manipulates him into thinking he cares, when that kid hasn't had a lot of caring in his life." A pause. "Sören and I will give what we can."

"I appreciate that." Qui-Gon held out his hand, and grasped Mark's scarred hand. "I'm glad we're friends."

"It's not a word I use lightly, Qui-Gon. Remember that."

And then, remembering that Mark said he could glamour his ears but he was tired and chose not to, Qui-Gon said, "This is a stupid question, but -"

"Qui-Gon, do me a favor and when you have a question, just ask the fucking question, don't tell me it's stupid or weird or something. It's understandable you'd have a lot of questions about all of this."

"All right. I know you said Sören knows, it was something he found out about. But... is Sören human?"

Mark pursed his lips. "Sören's complicated. Let's go with that."

That answer made no sense, and Qui-Gon decided not to press it... for now.

Qui-Gon saw Mark to the door, and before Mark left, he said, "This has been one of the easier times I've had with having to come out to someone about, ah."

"I see."

"You seemed unusually accepting, especially for someone who works in the sciences."

"Well..." Qui-Gon closed his eyes, remembering 1983, and opened his eyes, looking at Mark. "You're not the first Elf I've encountered."

"Really." Mark put a hand on his hip.

"Over thirty years ago, I was in England on a field trip, and did mushrooms. I had a conversation that I attributed to being on mushrooms, but every time I think about it... it felt more real than drug experiences tend to feel. The Elf had those iridescent silver eyes like yours... I can't quite remember the face both because it's been a long time and he was very, very bright..."

"That's a thing, yes. Full strength me is like a lamp."

"...and he had very long hair. Like about as long as yours is naturally, without the glamour - to your thighs - but an unusual color. Not black like yours, and not blonde, like the movies with Legolas. It wasn't quite red, either, though it was reddish. More bronze than copper."

Mark's jaw dropped. "What did you just say."

"Bronze hair?"

Mark closed his eyes and started to cry.

Qui-Gon felt like giving him a hug, but before he could touch Mark, he opened the door and took a step outside. "I think you met my son Tindómion," Mark explained. "I... I thought he might have been dead. Thank you. This... is important."

And then Mark was off, getting in the van, driving away.


_


After taking a few minutes to calm down, letting it sink in, Qui-Gon walked to the bedroom. Obi was curled up on the bed in the fetal position, eyes open, petting Fernando.

Qui-Gon sat on the edge of the bed and began to rub Obi's feet. "Hey."

Obi mumbled incoherently.

"I am so, so sorry that Anakin did this to you."

Obi took a deep breath. "Yeah. Me too."

"I am also so, so proud of you for giving him a piece of your mind -"

"I would have said more if I could find the words." Obi rubbed his forehead. "Mostly I'm just... screaming internally right now."

"I know."

"I should be relieved it's not Quinlan out there, but instead this feels even worse? Even if he stays away from me? I used to trust Ani, and this is yet another person who betrayed my trust -"

"I know." Qui-Gon flomped on the bed beside Obi. "I know, baby."

He pulled Obi close; Obi seemed too exhausted to cry, all cried out. Qui-Gon rubbed Obi's back, his head, and then Qui-Gon's cell phone went off in his pocket. He thought about ignoring it, but after what he'd been through earlier he didn't want to take any chances that he was missing something important.

It was Dooku. The interruption was both annoying and welcome at the same time. "Teach, hi." Qui-Gon's tone was more stern then. "You didn't call yesterday like you said you would -"

"Yes, my apologies, I went to bed much earlier than usual. I had rather a long flight back and my time in England was a bit more, er, exhausting than I'd banked on." A soft chuckle. "Am I calling at a bad time?"

"Yes and no. We're still on for Sunday dinner?"

"Yes. Do you know what we're making?"

"How do you feel about paella? You bring shrimp, I'll buy everything else?"

"I could go for that."

"Brilliant. We'll get caught up more on Sunday, if you don't mind? I've had a bad day and..."

"Yes, understandable. I hope the rest of your day goes better." And then Dooku hung up.

"Speaking of dinner..." Qui-Gon looked into Obi's eyes. "What do you want to do tonight, babe?"

"Meh." Obi snuggled into Qui-Gon's shoulder. "I don't want to go anywhere and deal with crowds. Other than that, I don't care."

"OK. I should maybe cook a nice home-cooked meal... which I should start soon..."

Before Qui-Gon could get up, Obi grabbed him and pulled him back down. "Not yet. Hold me for awhile?"

That was what Qui-Gon did, and not just for Obi's sake, but for his own. He wasn't just angry with what his mate had been put through, he was disappointed with Anakin, and it seemed like the disappointment with that one human life throwing itself away and hurting others with it was a microcosm of disappointment with humanity itself... centuries and millennia of war and violence and needless cruelty. 

And, the world had suddenly gotten strange beyond his comprehension, and it left him full of uncertainty about the future.

Chapter Text

Where Do We Go From Here?

 

Chapter Track: "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" - Sting

 

The day after the altercation at the duplex, Qui-Gon woke up feeling hungover, even though he hadn't touched a drop. Obi looked about as bad as Qui-Gon felt, withdrawn into himself for most of the day. Qui-Gon let him be for awhile, and then he decided for both their sakes they needed to get out of their heads for a bit, and Qui-Gon needed to go shopping to prepare for Dooku's visit tomorrow anyway.

The trip to the store proved useful not just to get what was needed for tomorrow and have food on hand for the next couple of days, but Obi relaxed a little and the fresh air made Qui-Gon feel less ill. When they got back home and the groceries were put away, Obi was in better spirits enough to sketch.

Qui-Gon had the TV on, but he wasn't really focused on what was on. His mind started replaying the chaos of yesterday - and the revelation from Mark.

Qui-Gon found himself getting his laptop. He wasn't in the mood to go to the library and check out a copy of the Silmarillion, or try to find a copy online - it had been a good couple of decades since he'd read it, but what he did remember was that it was very dense, like reading the King James Bible, except about elves. Instead, he Googled Maglor.

Maglor is a Sindarin rendering of his Quenya mother name Makalaurë (or Macalaurë), which means "Gold-cleaver" — alluding to his skill with the harp, and possibly the power of his voice. (He was also known as "Strong-voiced" and "the Mighty Singer".) 

Qui-Gon remembered the day he'd heard Sören and Mark having sex in the copy room, had unmistakably heard Sören cry out "Macalaurë", and assumed it was a case of coming so hard it had made the non-native-English-speaker say Mark's name wrong. But now he knew it wasn't that at all.

And then Qui-Gon facepalmed, laughing out loud. Macalaurë. Mark Lowry.

Obi raised an eyebrow. "What's so funny?"

"Oh. Nothing."

Obi pursed his lips. "Well, it's something."

Qui-Gon felt horrible - already the cover-up was starting, but he respected Mark's wishes to take time to consider whether or not he wanted the liability of another person knowing who and what he was, and even if Mark had given the go-ahead to tell Obi, Qui-Gon wasn't sure how to even broach the subject of that with him."So, uh, our friend is an Elf." That would go over splendidly.

Not to mention that even if Obi believed it, Qui-Gon now had more questions than answers. Everything he thought he knew about the way the world worked had been challenged by what happened yesterday. As a scientist, and someone who taught science for a living, Qui-Gon of all people knew that of course it was important to keep an open mind and be willing to be wrong. It was how people went from thinking the world was flat, and the Sun revolved around the Earth, to the current understanding. It was how new inventions were made - trial and error - and improvements, upgrades, on those inventions. In theory, Qui-Gon could accept that he didn't know everything and the planet had layers of complex mysteries. In practice, Mark coming out as an Elf scared the shit out of him.

And not just because Mark's existence implied things about the strangeness of the world, things Qui-Gon didn't even want to formulate questions for, never mind learn answers about - but because he had come to care about Mark and Sören as friends, Obi thought of Mark as his big brother and Mark's words I don't age, so I move around a lot were ringing in his head now. He knew Mark had been teaching at Oregon State University since 2010, it was now 2018, and Mark told the world he was born in 1975. He wouldn't be able to fake being in his forties for much longer without lying about Botox or other things incongruous with his personality. Sooner or later, Mark was going to have to move, and marrying Sören strongly suggested that Sören was coming with him wherever he went. Qui-Gon wasn't going to take it well when Mark and Sören left, and Obi sure as hell wasn't going to take it well.

Unless we travel with them.

But Qui-Gon had lived in the Pacific Northwest for decades now. He was attached to the land here. Am I more attached to my friends who are becoming like family, than this place?

Qui-Gon hoped he didn't have to answer that question for a good while yet.

His head was spinning now. He clicked out of his tabs, put his laptop to sleep, and got up. He needed to ground himself. He went out back to the garden.

The first yield from his garden was ready. Obi came out, watching Qui-Gon on his hands and knees in the dirt. "You're just in time to harvest Fred," Qui-Gon said, smiling as he pointed to the cabbage that Obi had named. "Here, I'll let you do the honors."

Qui-Gon would be keeping some of the fresh produce, and he would gift the rest of it to Dooku when he came tomorrow. Dooku didn't need free food, but Dooku was a foodie who went to farmers' markets and would appreciate the garden-fresh produce. And the thought of seeing Dooku again made him happy. More friends. That was what he and Obi needed right now, after the betrayal of Anakin - supportive, caring people who didn't act like psychopaths. Let things be good and quiet for awhile.


_


Dooku and Qui-Gon spent late Sunday afternoon cooking with the classic rock station on. Obi sketched in the living room, and Qui-Gon kept peeking into the living room, both because he liked to steal glimpses of Obi creating, and also because he still worried about Obi's emotional state after the ordeal of Friday.

After a few times of this, Dooku noticed, raising an eyebrow. "You're behaving like a mother hen, Qui-Gon."

"Yeah." Qui-Gon looked down. "We had a bit of a rough day on Friday."

"Oh? Lovers' quarrel?"

"No. That would have been easier to deal with."

Qui-Gon didn't quite want to talk about it, but he knew from the look Dooku was giving him that Dooku wasn't going to let it go, either. Qui-Gon sighed. "He's moved in with me now because there was an incident with his roommate. Drug use, abusive behavior..."

"Ah. I see." Dooku nodded and scowled. "Unfortunate."

Qui-Gon sighed again and confessed to Dooku what he'd been holding in, and part of why this was so hard for him. "What's unfortunate is that I was warned about this kid months ago - he was a former student of Mark Lowry's, and rather... disruptive..."

"Is this Anakin Skye-Walker?" Dooku glared.

"Yes. He told you?"

"Sören told me about the theft and Mark's stress, etcetera." Dooku chopped harder.

Qui-Gon nodded. "So, yes. That's him, I was warned about him, and I waited this long to ask Obi to move in. I didn't want to scare him away, but in hindsight, I feel like me not speaking up contributed to the mess on Friday and it's something we're likely going to be doing damage control on for some time. Obi hasn't been in a good place mentally."

"You can't be too hard on yourself. It can be quite difficult to state one's desires and intentions, and sometimes it just seems like the best course of action to keep quiet." Dooku's chopping intensified even more.

Coincidentally - or perhaps not - Pink Floyd came on the radio, and Qui-Gon put a hand on Dooku's arm and said, "Be careful with that axe, Eugene."

"As you know, my name's not Eugene and this isn't an axe -"

"My point still stands. You'd think the subject of not saying things about stuff was personal for you, or something."

Dooku gave Qui-Gon a murderous look, turning pink, and scooped up the vegetables he'd chopped so far and threw them in the pot.

They said nothing further until everything was ready to go. As the paella cooked, Qui-Gon poured them some wine... from a box. Dooku narrowed his eyes, and Qui-Gon smiled mischievously as he swirled the wine around in his glass.

"So, let's talk about something more pleasant than Obi's shitty ex-roommate," Qui-Gon said. He gestured to Dooku. "How was Avebury?"

Dooku turned pink again. "Well. Er." He cleared his throat. "As you know, a number of Pagans gather to these sacred sites for the holidays. I'm not, though I appreciate the interest in historical mythology or modern re-imaginings of it. People were having a drum circle, and there were a few dancers. I met one of them, who was dressed as the Holly King. His name was Eden. Eden Dale."

Qui-Gon's eyebrow shot up. "So you made a friend."

Dooku looked off to the side.

"Oh. My. God." Qui-Gon put his glass down. "Teach, do you have a boyfriend now...?"

"No." Dooku's tone was a bit more vehement than he probably intended, and he cleared his throat again, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "But we were, ahem, intimate."

"Wow. Wow."

"'Wow' doesn't begin to describe it. I shan't give the details, I am a gentleman, but it was... memorable. Moreso because I was still a virgin."

"You what. You came of age in the Woodstock era, how the hell does that happen?"

"Undiagnosed Asperger's, probably. I've never been good with 'normal' social interactions, let alone dating. And by the time I thought I might want to try, AIDS was a thing people of my persuasion had to worry about. So it seemed like too much of a bother." Dooku pinched the bridge of his nose and downed his wine. "In any event, this Eden was my first sexual experience. Experiences, plural.  Quite... plural.  I normally would be uninterested in casual sex, though there was a connection that made it feel not casual, even as I doubt I'll ever see him again. I suppose it was a combination of being in the right place at the right time, whatever cologne he was wearing, and being pent up." Dooku looked away at that, looking like he regretted saying the last thing as soon as it was out of his mouth.

"Pent up?"

Dooku said nothing, but poured himself another glass from the box, which amused Qui-Gon after all the complaints Dooku had about boxed wine. It also meant a nerve was being hit.

"So, this Eden guy. Was he cute?"

"Cute? I'm not a teenager, Qui-Gon."

"No shit."

"He was attractive, yes. Quite tall. Long silver blond hair to his waist. Very light grey eyes, almost white, but not blind. Athletic build. Striking. Young, maybe thirties."

"Sören's age, basically."

Dooku looked down.

Qui-Gon swirled the wine around in his glass some more. "Well, I'm happy for you, Teach. I hope it was a good experience for you."

"It was good, yes. Just..." Dooku caught himself and gulped down his wine.

"Just what."

Dooku put his glass of wine down. "I might have been a port in a storm for him. He knew my name, but he kept calling me something else. Ñolo. Sounds Spanish."

"That's... not a Spanish name I've ever heard of, but OK." And then Qui-Gon waited for it, like a cat about to pounce on a target. "What about you?"

"Oh, don't get me wrong, I was attracted to him, it was enjoyable. It just..." Dooku buried his face in his hands for a moment, then rubbed his face and downed the rest of his glass. "Don't let me drink any more of that, since I have to drive home."

"Gotcha. What is it, Teach. I promise you, I'm not going to judge you."

"It seemed to make a certain ache I have that much worse."

"When you say a certain ache you have, you mean..." Qui-Gon said it for him. "Sören?"

Dooku's jaw dropped. "Is it obvious...?"

"It is to me, because I know you. I don't know how obvious it is to Sören or anyone else."

Dooku leaned back in his chair. "Yes, I have feelings for Sören. I have for... some time now."

"How long?"

"Late 2016."

"Jesus." That was before Sören and Mark got together.

Dooku simply nodded, his hands folded on his lap.

Qui-Gon's gaze challenged his. "I'm going to give you some unsolicited advice - you should tell him."

"Joaquin... no. First of all, I am old. He'd probably think I'm too old for him."

Qui-Gon almost choked on his wine thinking of Mark, wandering the Earth for thousands of years. "Oh, my sweet summer child."

Dooku's expression sharpened, murderous again. "What."

"Nothing."

"ANYWAY. My age is a consideration here. I still work out, I keep active, my physician says I am in very good shape for a man my age. I didn't even need Viagra to... never mind."

"Yes, never mind." Thinking of Dooku having sex was like thinking of his brother or father having sex. No me gusta.

"But, I'll be seventy in December. I don't know how many more good years I'll have. I don't want Sören to suffer if I become invalid. Also, in case you hadn't noticed, Sören and Mark are getting married in a matter of weeks. I don't want to disrupt their relationship, especially not when the two of them are happy together and both of them have had precious little happiness in their lives. Not to mention that Mark is not anywhere near as old as I am and can give Sören more years than I could."

Qui-Gon felt like screaming at that.

Dooku went on. "A wise man once said 'don't be a dick'. I feel it would be a 'dick move', as the kids say, to let Sören know how I feel about him. Nor do I feel it would end well - he'll either reject me and things will get awkward, or Mark will be rejected and my conscience will start bothering me enough for things to get awkward. It's a no-win situation. It's why I haven't told him."

"And yet, in not telling him you deny your own chance at happiness, and you deny Sören the right to choose what he might want, and doesn't know is an option."

"You are friends with Mark Lowry, yes? You're not sounding like a friend to him right now."

"I will absolutely admit this situation is an utter clusterfuck - I don't want to see Mark get hurt. But you're already hurting yourself by not saying anything. And if you truly love Sören, you should give him the choice to love you back."

"I love him enough not to ruin his life, which is what is going to happen if he chooses me over Mark."

"You... are... an idiot."

"I'd like to close this subject of discussion if you don't mind, Joaquin."

"That's just as well, because I want to yell at you."

Dooku laughed at that, and Qui-Gon did too. "Oh, Qui-Gon," Dooku said, "how the tables have turned, where you are the one wanting to yell at me, instead of me yelling at you."

"I know."

"These are strange times."

"Tell me about it." Two days ago I had someone sitting where you're sitting now who is an ancient Elf who likes Metallica, and yesterday I made coleslaw with Fred the Cabbage. This is my life now, apparently.

To help push the subject change along - though Qui-Gon was still dissatisfied - he showed Dooku the haul he'd be taking home.

"Oh, splendid. I haven't really cooked since I returned home from England... I needed a bit of a rest, I think..."

"Did you shag your entire vacation?"

"Not my entire vacation, but I got a bit of a workout, yes." Dooku looked away again, flushed pink.

Qui-Gon wished he hadn't asked that as a cucumber sat in his hand. Dooku facepalmed at it.

"I shall make good use of these," Dooku said. "Not in that way," he quickly added.

"I figured. I know how much you love to cook."

"So much I wonder if there isn't an alternate universe where I became a chef." Dooku stroked his beard.

"There might be one where you became a lawyer, with how much you love to argue," Qui-Gon quipped.

"There might be one where you became an adult."

"There might be one where you have a sense of humor."

"There might be one where you have a sense of style."

"I have plenty of style." Qui-Gon couldn't resist. "Doggy style..."

Dooku pressed his forehead against the cupboard and made a noise; Qui-Gon gathered Dooku appreciated knowing about his sex life as much as he appreciated knowing about Dooku's, which was not much.

At the words "doggy style" Obi poked his head in the kitchen and Qui-Gon wondered how much of that he'd heard. That was one position they hadn't tried yet, one that Tahl had enjoyed, and sometimes he did as well when being pegged.

"Dinner will be ready soon," Qui-Gon told him.

"OK." Obi smiled and ducked out.

Chapter Text

Heart In Your Hands

 

Chapter Track: "Keep On Going" - Fleetwood Mac

 

As the weeks wore on, Qui-Gon and Obi settled into their new life together as live-in lovers. Anakin stayed away from Obi, and as far as Qui-Gon could tell, Obi was staying away from Anakin - Qui-Gon couldn't be entirely sure, as he didn't monitor Obi at work and didn't spy on his online activities, but Obi wasn't otherwise calling him or going to meet with him.

Indeed, Obi's life was fairly predictable. He worked part-time each week, and when he wasn't at work he was at home, unless Qui-Gon took him somewhere. When Obi was at home he sketched, or played games online, or watched TV. Sometimes they worked in the garden together, and Obi was helpful about chores, something Qui-Gon was grateful for even though he didn't want Obi to become a glorified servant.

Dooku was getting back in the habit of coming over once a week for dinner, and Qui-Gon also had Sören and Mark over for dinner once a week on a different evening. When Obi had been living at Qui-Gon's house for two and a half weeks, Sören and Mark's formal wedding invite went out, announcing that the wedding would be held at Voodoo Doughnut on Friday, July 20th, at 2 PM. The dress code was casual, which both surprised and relieved Qui-Gon, and as Obi sketched in the living room, Qui-Gon stepped into the kitchen to call Sören to double-check that this wasn't an error.

After three rings, Qui-Gon braced himself to leave a voice mail, and then there was a loud knock on the front door.

Qui-Gon heard Obi let out a little scream, startled. Qui-Gon realized this wasn't just Obi's usual autistic startle response, but Obi had become a bit hypervigilant since leaving the duplex, looking out the window more often, startling more - and harder - at sudden loud noises. Qui-Gon himself felt his heart racing, worrying that it was Anakin, worrying that it was the police...

He opened the door slowly, warily, and it was Sören.

"Oh thank god," Qui-Gon said under his breath.

"I heard a little scream... oh. Oh god." Sören facepalmed. "Jesus Christ, I didn't mean to scare you guys..."

"It's all right, Sören. I was just trying to call you..."

"Yes, funny how that works, isn't it?" Sören raised an eyebrow.

"Come in, come in." And then when Qui-Gon closed the door behind them, he paused. "Wait. Where's... Mark? Or Dooku? Didn't either of them drive you?"

"No."

"You took a cab here? The bus?"

Sören shook his head. "I'm driving a little, now. Just a little, I can only do short trips across town, I can't do highways and shit yet, I may not ever be able to do that, but... I made it. After over a year and a half, I got behind the wheel of a car." He grinned.

Obi flew off the couch, his panic forgotten, and gave Sören a hug. "I'm so proud of you," he said; Obi knew the struggle with PTSD anxiety all too well.

"Hi So Proud Of You -"

Obi glared, and then he smiled again.

Qui-Gon thought about saying I'm proud of you too, knew he'd be walking into it, and he chose his words differently. "Yes, that is very good." He patted Sören's shoulder. "Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Something cold to drink?"

"Something cold, please. Ice water is fine if you've got it." Sören nodded.

Sören sat at the kitchen table, and Obi joined them.

"So you said you were trying to call me?" Sören turned the ringer back on his phone. "I had this off so it wouldn't go off while I was driving and startle me." He gave Obi a sympathetic look. "Jæja, there's your number."

"I wanted to ask you about this." Qui-Gon flashed the little card with the wedding invite that was on the fridge as a reminder. "The casual dress code... that's not an error?"

"Nope, it's not an error." Sören laughed.

"Are you guys getting married in jeans?"

"No - we have something planned - but we absolutely don't care if people want to come to the wedding in jeans and T-shirts. Though, we won't yell if people want to be more formal. Claire is probably going to insist on wearing a little summer dress, or something, and Nico will likely wear a suit and tie, if not a full-on tuxedo."

Qui-Gon could see that. "Well, I for one am glad I can just go as myself."

"Me too," Obi said.

Sören smiled. "Jæja, we're keeping the wedding on the small side - mostly other teachers, few of my old students, a couple friends-of-friends, like Claire's cousin Harrison is visiting and I told her it was fine if he tagged along with her. We don't see the point of making everyone uncomfortable in starched suits for a few hours, considering we're getting married at a donut shop."

"Gotta run to the bathroom, be right back," Obi said, and took off.

While Obi was in the loo, Qui-Gon said, "I still can't believe you're getting married there."

"Neither can I, but it seemed fitting considering the weirdness of our life." A pause. "Mark told me you know about him."

Qui-Gon nodded. "He did. He also said something rather odd about you."

"Oh?" Sören sipped his ice water.

"I..." Qui-Gon sighed. He had no idea how to word this without potentially being offensive, but now seemed to be really the only time to have this discussion, with Obi out of the room. "He told me that he can make some minor changes to his appearance with... magic, I guess... to blend in around humans better. That he could hide his ears, but that would take more effort than he wants to expend, so he keeps them covered with his hair. I asked, with that in mind, if you were human, and his answer was 'Sören's complicated.'"

Sören threw his head back and laughed. "That would be the understatement of the year."

"Also the great mystery of the year, because I don't understand that at all."

Sören put his ice water down. "Do you believe in reincarnation?"

"I honestly don't know what I believe. I believe in something, but it's beyond my capabilities of knowing what that something is."

"That's fair, because I don't quite know what I believe either, but, ah." Sören lowered his voice. "I used to be an Elf, in a past life, and Mark - Maglor - and I knew each other. Biblically."

"I see."

"I'm going to keep that deliberately vague because I don't know how much of that Mark wants getting out, or how much of the specifics will make sense. But I was, ah, reborn as a human."

"Did you know, when you got together with him...?"

"I didn't know at first what he was, or who I was. That knowledge came later, in stages. I started having some very strange dreams, and we pieced the puzzle together. I felt like a dumbass that I didn't see it sooner, but on the other hand, I don't think it was intended for me to remember who and what I was. But I sure did." Sören pursed his lips, and his eyes were almost angry.

"Are you saying that you were sent here as a kind of punishment..."

Sören nodded. They heard the toilet flush, and Sören said, "Let's, ah. Not discuss this in front of Obi. Mark's still deciding whether he wants him to know about..."

Qui-Gon just nodded.

Obi came back in, and Sören asked, "How are you guys doing?"

"Oh... well as can be expected, considering what happened a couple weeks ago. We're settling in." And as Qui-Gon saw Obi look out the window again, he sighed. He didn't want the only things in Obi's life to be their relationship and his job. He needs to get out and do things. Spend time with friends. At least once in awhile. Qui-Gon didn't expect Obi to be a social butterfly, as an autistic introvert, but he wanted Obi to build a larger safety net than what he currently had, in case something happened to him, and as importantly, he felt Obi deserved to be able to trust people again, that it would be necessary for his healing.

"You do anything interesting lately?" Sören asked.

"I'm sketching, you wanna see?" Obi asked.

Sören nodded enthusiastically. Obi ran to the living room like an excited puppy, and came back with his sketch pad for Sören to look through.

"Oh, my god." Sören's eyes widened as he looked at the current sketch - Qui-Gon in the garden - and the last few sketches, one of which was a rather intimate pose of Qui-Gon that he would have preferred Sören not seeing, but then, Sören was an adult who had sex with men, so it wasn't like he was seeing anything new. "I know I've said it before but you need to hear it again - you're very talented."

"Thank you." Obi looked down with a shy grin, blushing.

Sören looked over the sketches again.

"So, Sören," Qui-Gon said, "did you just happen to be in the neighborhood...?" He didn't mind the visit, but he had a feeling there was a reason.

"Actually, I came to ask if you guys would be interested in hanging out with me in the art room at the campus today? It's not in use today, and as faculty I get to go there on days off or summer if I feel like it, and I'd like some company as I work on something. Plus I don't know if you've enrolled for fall classes yet -" Sören looked at Obi. "But if you're going to do that you need to do it soon and it might help you make a decision if you see the campus."

Obi looked at Qui-Gon.

"It's up to you," Qui-Gon said, but he strongly hoped Obi would say yes.

After a moment, Obi nodded.

"Brilliant. Do you mind driving us down? I want to be able to drive myself home later and not have driving overload." Sören gave Qui-Gon an apologetic look.

"No, I don't mind at all." Qui-Gon held back the technically, you're doing me a favor he wanted to add to the end of that, since he'd been worrying about Obi's future and this trip seemed like a good chance of securing that.


_


Sören started with giving Obi a little tour - there were some summer classes happening at the university, so they had to be quiet. When they got to the room where Sören and his teaching assistant Claire James had 2D Studio Art during the normal school year, Obi took it all in with wide eyes.

"I've never seen so many art supplies in one place outside of an art supply store, and I haven't been in one of those since I left the east coast," Obi said.

"There's some old Prismacolor markers in that bin over there..." Sören pointed to a table with a large Sterilite bin on top. "I can't promise all of them work but most of them probably have some life in them. We start off the year with all new stuff and I wanted to keep those for you at the end of the year instead of throwing them away, but I keep forgetting about it." Sören ran a nervous hand through his curls and pushed up the glasses on his nose. "ADHD. Super fun to have with bipolar and PTSD."

"Oof, yeah." Obi opened the bin. "Holy shit, all this is for me?"

"All that's for you." Sören grinned.

"So you're working on a project down here?" Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "Do you not have things set up at Mark's place..."

"Oh, I do. But..." Sören walked over to an easel, where there was something with a cover on it. "I'm making him a little gift for our wedding, you see, and I want it to be a surprise."

"Ah, I see."

Sören pulled the cover off the easel. There was a black velvet painting.

Obi made a face. "Is that Jesus?"

"No." Sören smirked. "It's Kenny Loggins."

Indeed it was. Qui-Gon facepalmed and then he belly laughed, remembering the way Mark had mentioned the Kenny Rogers velvet painting at Voodoo Doughnut but slipped and called it Kenny Loggins, which Sören teased him about. "You're never going to let that go, are you?"

"NOPE." Sören laughed too.

This was the same couple where Sören had affixed googly eyes to everything in Mark's classroom - including Mark's harp - for April Fools Day, and Mark had proposed to Sören with a cheese curd before producing a ring, so Qui-Gon shouldn't have been surprised, but Sören and Mark finding new ways to troll each other nonetheless was surprising, and also delightful. I hope they're still like that when they grow old together. Qui-Gon realized then that Sören would age and Mark wouldn't, and that didn't seem fair; he wondered how many other times Mark had been through getting attached to a mortal just to watch them die.

He also realized that, as much as it hurt him to see Dooku pining for Sören and he wanted Dooku to find happiness with the man he loved, it would also hurt for Mark to lose what was no doubt a source of joy and hope in what seemed like a lonely life, wandering the Earth endlessly apart from his own kind. Moreso with Sören being the reincarnation of someone Mark had known and loved from before...

God, what a fucking mess. Qui-Gon closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Before I get started..." Sören turned on the portable stereo. Then he rummaged around in his shelf of art supplies, and Qui-Gon and Obi watched as he brought out a bag of clay. "I've got aprons - which I would recommend wearing. If you want to play with this, and all. I can fire the pieces for you in the kiln after they've had time to dry and you've applied some glaze, if you want to glaze them, which would mean coming back."

Obi's eyes lit up. Sören gave them each an apron and a chunk of clay, and then he sat at his easel and painted, every now and again glancing over at them.

Obi dug right in, sculpting, while Qui-Gon took his time, for awhile just rolling the clay in his hands, mashing it, feeling it, which he found incredibly soothing and grounding. He felt like a big kid and a wise old guru all at once with the connection to the earth in his hands, and molding it, shaping it.

Sören finally noticed Qui-Gon was just playing with the clay for awhile, and he smiled.

"I know I look ridiculous," Qui-Gon said.

"No, you don't. I'm very tactile myself."

Mark must be happy. "I see."

Sören snickered, as if he knew what Qui-Gon was thinking, and confirmed it with "That, too." Then Sören went on, "But yeah, clay is very... therapeutic. Very spiritual."

"I like the way you say that with your accent," Obi said.

"Awww, takk." Sören smiled again. "There are ancient creation myths about gods fashioning humans from clay, or wood. And the earth is made from starstuff. When you hold a piece of clay in your hands, and make something with it, it's a connection to that wonder the ancestors had, a belief that we all have a little spark of the divine in us."

"That's... really deep." Qui-Gon was impressed; Sören wasn't even forty. "Philosophical." I can better appreciate now why he and Dooku get along so well.

"The first time I ever worked with clay as an artistic medium, I made a dick with a smiley face on it."

Qui-Gon wheezed, laughing. "Oh god."

"You were a grownup?" Obi asked.

"I'm not a grownup," Sören told him. "I just do a clever job of convincing everyone that I am." Then he said, "Jæja, I didn't start doing most of this till I was in my twenties. I drew and colored as a kid, but that was about it."

"You didn't get to play with Play-Doh?"

"Well, Play-Doh's not quite clay in the way this is, but no, I didn't get to play with Play-Doh as a kid." Sören gave a small, wistful sigh, looking down. "I didn't exactly have a normal childhood. My mamma was great, but my aunt and uncle not so much."

"Did you have any toys?"

"I played outside a lot... I also played with dolls till my aunt and uncle started raising us, then that was a problem. I had a bunny doll my mamma made and my uncle went after me about it when I was thirteen."

"That's horrible." Qui-Gon swallowed hard, hurting for what Sören went through.

"I saved the remains in a pillowcase. Mark saw it last summer and he fixed it up for me." Sören blinked back tears.

It made Qui-Gon even more reluctant to see Sören and Mark split up. He wanted to cry too. Dammit.

Obi also looked like he was about to cry. Then, before Sören could break down, "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart came on. Sören rolled his eyes and started laughing, using the remote near his easel to turn the stereo up. "Love you too, babe," he muttered, and then he explained to Qui-Gon and Obi, "This is our song."

Qui-Gon remembered Sören singing it at the beach as Mark played guitar, at the end of May -how long ago that seemed, though it hadn't been two months yet - and the mischievous look on Sören's face when he'd requested Mark play it, the look of affectionate annoyance that Mark had given him.

Sören sang along now as he painted.

Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you
It's late September and I really should be back at school
I know I keep you amused but I feel I'm being used
Oh Maggie I couldn't have tried any more
You lured me away from home just to save you from being alone
You stole my heart and that's what really hurts

The morning sun when it's in your face really shows your age
But that don't worry me none in my eyes you're everything
I laughed at all of your jokes, my love you didn't need to coax
Oh, Maggie I couldn't have tried any more
You lured me away from home just to save you from being alone
You stole my soul and that's a pain I can do without


It took Qui-Gon a minute and then it registered. Maggie. Maglor. Qui-Gon shook with silent laughter - his eyes met Sören's, who grinned, knowing Qui-Gon got it now.

"Dear god." Qui-Gon was shaping the clay now - he'd decided on a primitive, rustic-looking gnome for his garden.

Obi was making a turtle, like the turtle he'd sculpted out of sand on the beach. He had a couple of tools out from Sören's supplies to work the shell and add carved detail. Qui-Gon felt a warm glow of pride at Obi's talent, as well as the sting at what had happened on their trip to Cannon Beach. He thought about doing it over again now that Anakin seemed to no longer be a problem, but he didn't want Obi to be triggered by the association of the stalking at the cabin. They would have to find someplace else to go.

Qui-Gon glanced at Sören. "Have you and Mark picked a destination for your honeymoon?"

Sören nodded. "We're renting the same exact cabin we had in Sausalito last summer, for a week. The place we fell in love, the place we made love for the first time." Sören closed his eyes and let out a little dreamy sigh, remembering. "And the second. And probably the fiftieth, or something like that."

"Wow." Qui-Gon let out a low whistle.

"Damn," Obi said. Obi looked at Qui-Gon then. "Could we visit Sausalito sometime...?"

"I was just about to suggest that," Sören said. "If you want, I can put you in touch with the people we rented from..."

On the one hand, the idea of having sex in a bed that Sören and Mark had also had sex in was a little weird, on the other hand Qui-Gon wanted to make it up to Obi for the Cannon Beach trip gone wrong, and Obi had asked. "Yes, please do," Qui-Gon said.

Sören looked at Obi's turtle. "I really love that. It's going to look fabulous all glazed up."

"And I can come back and do the glaze...?"

"In about a week. Then I'll fire it for you when I get back from my honeymoon. So it'll be awhile before you have the finished pieces, but it'll be worth it."

"I could get addicted to this," Obi said. "It's like, the best form of stimming ever."

"Yes." Sören nodded vehemently. "You get it. I get it. And if you take my class, there's at least a few people in that class who will also get it."

"Hell, even I want to take this class now and I teach here," Qui-Gon said.

Obi shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Is he gonna get in trouble if..."

"Only if you were taking a class I was teaching," Qui-Gon said. "Some colleges don't want teachers and students fraternizing at all, but it's only an issue here if..."

"OK. That's fair, since you could influence my grade." Obi made a face. "No offense, but I don't want to take environmental sciences."

"None taken."

"We do have to, ah... we can be friends, but I can't show you favoritism," Sören said to Obi. "If there's an issue, I have to treat you like any other student, and I hope you won't take that personally."

Obi nodded. "I wouldn't want you to treat me different anyway. It wouldn't be fair. I want my work to stand on its own merits."

"You should do just fine so long as you're doing what you're assigned and you get it done on time." Sören glanced at Obi's turtle in progress again. "Speaking of mythology earlier... I keep thinking about the myth of the world carried on the giant turtle's back."

"And who carries the turtle?" Obi asked.

"Another turtle. It's turtles all the way down."

Obi laughed aloud at that. "That's a great mental image."

"It is, isn't it?"

"I think I'll sculpt that," Obi said, looking at the leftover clay, and proceeded to make a smaller turtle to sit on the first turtle's back.

Then Qui-Gon considered his gnome. He needs a friend. He used his own leftover clay to start making a second gnome.

"Awwww, are you making your gnome a friend?" Sören asked.

Qui-Gon nodded, feeling a bit sheepish, but it was fun, and he was in the presence of people who understood the importance of playing and having fun.

"That's good. It's a tragedy to have a gnome alone." Sören gave a big, trollish grin.

Obi put his hands on either side of his face and yelled, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA."

"God." Qui-Gon laughed. "That was terrible, even for you."

"No, this is terrible." Sören showed them the finished Kenny Loggins on black velvet.

"That is indeed... very... questionable." It was photorealistic, but it was Kenny Loggins on black velvet.

"When we're ready to go, you want to help me pick out a frame for it?" Sören giggled. "I can tell Mark you helped..."

"When are you giving him the painting?"

"Night before the wedding."

"We can get you a frame ourselves if you give us time to go shopping for one," Qui-Gon said. "It's the least we can do, since you've been so kind to us."

"Well, takk. I won't ask, but I won't tell you no..."

It would also be an excuse to take Obi shopping for more art supplies. He wanted to indulge the boy, now - art seemed like Obi's lifeline much as it had been Sören's.


_


After Qui-Gon and Obi were finished sculpting, Sören took them down to the cafeteria, which was bare-bones for the summer - the coffee pot was still flowing.

Dooku was there, even though he wasn't teaching for the summer. Qui-Gon was surprised to see him; Sören also registered surprise.

"Nico!" Sören went right over to him. "Hi!"

"Hello, Sören." Dooku's cheeks turned slightly pink and his dark eyes shone.

God. Qui-Gon waved. "Hi, Teach. What brings you here today?"

"I am using the university library to conduct some research."

"Oh, anything interesting?" Qui-Gon asked.

"It's a bit private." Dooku looked down.

That could mean any number of things, including and especially Dooku's more obscure historical interests, but something told Qui-Gon that "personal" meant either sexuality or... perhaps a dating manual. The idea of Dooku reading a dating advice book was hilarious to Qui-Gon, and he struggled to keep a straight face.

"And you're here during the off season as well. Rather curious." Dooku looked up.

"Jæja, I was taking Obi on a tour of the campus," Sören said. "As you know -" Qui-Gon got the sense Sören was taking the piss out of Dooku with the as you know Dooku loved to abuse, and it would go over Dooku's head. "Obi might be joining us this fall."

"It's not might," Obi said. "I've decided. I'm going to register."

"Oh, good." Qui-Gon breathed a small sigh of relief.

"Very good." Dooku smiled. "As you know, an education is very important..."

"Jæja, I think he gets that." Sören patted Dooku on the shoulder. His hand lingered just a few seconds too long and Sören's cheeks were also flushed pink, his dark eyes sparkling. Sören and Dooku's gaze held for a moment before they both looked away.

Oh god, will the two of you just fuck already. And Qui-Gon hated that he was thinking that. He wanted Sören and Dooku to be together... he wanted Sören and Mark to be together.

Then Sören looked at the clock, running a hand through his curls. "We better get going, I told Mark I'd hit the store on the way home..."

"All right. Well... take care, Sören. You too, Qui-Gon, Obi."

"I'll call you tomorrow, OK?" Sören waved at Dooku on the way out.

On the way back to Qui-Gon's house Sören was quiet, looking out the window. He looked like he had a lot on his mind.

It made Qui-Gon a little sad. But Obi was going to start school in the fall, so he couldn't be too sad. Bit by bit, things were working out.


_


When they got back home, Qui-Gon started working on a homemade lasagna, including making the sauce from scratch. He had Obi in the kitchen to taste, and while Obi was in the kitchen they looked at the calendar hanging up on the fridge.

"If we're doing Sausalito this summer, it'll have to be in August."

Obi pointed to the week of August fifth. "What about then?"

"If the cabin's available." And then Qui-Gon had that knot in the pit of his stomach. "Oh god, not then."

"Why not?"

Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "August fifth was Tahl's birthday. My late wife."

"Oh." Obi frowned. "I'm sorry, I didn't know..."

"No, of course you didn't, love. It's all right."

As Qui-Gon stirred the sauce, Obi said, "You know..."

"What?"

Obi looked down. "Never mind."

"No, what. Honesty is important in a relationship, Obi."

"You never talk about her."

Qui-Gon sighed. "No, I don't. Grief affects different people differently and this is how I've been bearing my grief, I suppose."

"That's not fair to you. I don't want you to think you're going to make me jealous or something if you talk about her... and, well." Obi frowned. "It's not fair to her, like... I knew you'd been married and she died, and it's been so weird that you don't talk about her. Like, ever. And it made me wonder, did you forget about her?" Obi's voice was small and quiet. "Would you forget about me?"

"Oh, dammit, Obi." Qui-Gon pulled him close and choked back a sob. "No, Obi, I have not forgotten about her. I could never forget about her. Until very recently, when you came into my life, I was utterly haunted by her. And couldn't talk about it to other people. Even though I'm sure now that Dooku would have been sympathetic, or others. We live in a world where people expect everything to be resolved quickly like life is a sitcom, for people to 'snap out of it'. Tahl wasn't even dead six months before I had well-intentioned people trying to set me up on dates. I didn't want to hear 'life goes on', 'there's other fish in the sea', and all the platitudes people give you because they make your grief more about them and their comfort level than it is about the person grieving and their need to heal in their own time. I've been trying to move forward with my life now, but that isn't the same as forgetting her. And you." Qui-Gon blinked back tears, stroking Obi's face. "I could never forget you."

"I hope not." Obi's arms tightened around Qui-Gon. "I'd never forget you, either. I'd be a wreck if you died..."

"Yes, about that, Obi." Qui-Gon took a few deep breaths and said what had been weighing heavily on the back of his mind. "Things are quite serious between us now, with you living here. And to quote Professor Dooku, 'as you know', there is a significant age difference between us. I'm sixty. You'll be twenty-three in October. I'm in good health but I'm not going to live forever. One of the reasons why I want you to go back to school is because you'll be better able to take care of yourself without me with a degree -"

"You better not die anytime soon." Obi's eyes were too bright.

"I don't intend on it, sweetheart. But we don't know what the future holds. I'd rest easier knowing you won't be struggling to feed yourself as a barista, having to live with shitty people to get by, if something happens to me." I'd also rest easier if you could inherit from me. The most surefire way to do that was either marriage or adoption.

Marriage... Qui-Gon felt a frisson down his spine. Not yet. But soon... soon they would have to broach the subject.

"Well, no dying yet."

"No. And until that day comes, we'll both live." Qui-Gon gave him a kiss.

It was meant to be tender and reassuring, but it quickly heated, and soon they were pulling down each other's jeans and underwear, hard cocks rubbing together as they kissed more deeply. Qui-Gon found himself walking Obi backwards to the table, kissing all the way. He reached for the cooking oil and lathered their cocks. Then Obi climbed onto the table on his back, and all thoughts of death went away as Qui-Gon propped Obi's legs on his shoulders and took him hard, drove into him fast and furious as if prolonging his life depended on it. Obi screamed loud enough that Qui-Gon wondered if the neighbors could hear, and didn't care. They needed this, losing themselves to passion, the need to fit together, the need to feel that wild, frenzied glory, animal in its lust, divine in the shatter of climax.

Obi made a mess on Qui-Gon's shirt again, and Obi himself came on the ceiling fan which was impressive, and they both laughed at the mess. It felt so good to laugh.

They cracked up laughing all over again after Qui-Gon cleaned up and began slicing the sausage for the lasagna.

"Didn't we already have sausage?" Obi asked.

"We didn't eat sausage." Qui-Gon grinned. "Yet."

There was zucchini fresh from the garden going in the lasagna too. Obi teared up, snorting, as Qui-Gon handled it, giving it a look before he started chopping.

"I almost feel like we should give a basket of cucumber and zucchini to Sören and Mark as a wedding present," Obi said.

"Yes. With googly eyes."

"Oh, I was going to suggest drawing faces on it but googly eyes would be better." Then Obi said, "When we get the frame for the, ah, painting... I want to get Sören a little something, to say thank you."

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah. I know this might sound stupid, but I want to get him Play-Doh. Since he never got a chance to use it as a kid..."

That was one of the sweetest damn things Qui-Gon had ever heard in his life. He slammed down the zucchini and slammed Obi against the wall, kissing him hard. They stiffened up again, and, giggling, raced each other to the bedroom; Obi made it there first but Qui-Gon pounced him like a cat, the two of them leaping onto the bed together, laughing harder at the ridiculousness of it.

Dinner could wait. The entire world could wait, as Qui-Gon drank in the joy in Obi's eyes. Joy he would never grow tired of sparking to life.

The joy that was his life now, eyes as blue as the sky wide open. This time they made love more slowly, sensually, Obi on his back. If the kitchen table had been fire, this was a walk in the clouds, soft, silken, gentle and sweet. Obi's arms held him tight as they reached the finish, and when they climaxed together the world seemed to stop.

"I would never forget you, Obi," Qui-Gon husked as they lay there, raining kisses over his face.

"No. But you would forget you were making dinner."

Qui-Gon gave him a look, though he wasn't really annoyed. When Obi got up to put his clothes on again, his ass was too tempting and Qui-Gon gave it a playful swat. Obi cackled, shaking his ass. "Ooh, Daddy."

Qui-Gon wondered briefly if Obi had a spanking kink, but now was not the time to explore those thoughts, as he really did have to get back to making dinner.

Fate and fortune willing, they'd have plenty of time to explore that, and other things.

Chapter Text

Ride Into the Danger Zone

 

Chapter Track: "Ride Into the Danger Zone" - Kenny Loggins

 

On the afternoon of Friday, July twentieth, Dooku picked up Qui-Gon and Obi and made the ninety-minute trip one way from Corvallis to Portland. Dooku and Qui-Gon had decided ahead of time that it would be more environmentally friendly to carpool, and while Qui-Gon was rather particular about who he rode with and would normally be the one to offer to do the driving, Dooku mentioned privately that alcohol was being served at the wedding party and he needed to be designated driver and have an excuse to remain sober "so I don't drink too much and say something I regret later, in vino veritas." Qui-Gon couldn't fault Dooku for that.

What he could, and did, fault Dooku for, was wanting a pickup time above and beyond what Qui-Gon was banking on for a commute, "in case we hit traffic"; as of late antifa and alt-right demonstrators had been clashing in Portland and that was an issue of concern as well, with holding up traffic - but there was anticipating delays and then going early in the morning. 

What he could, and did, fault Dooku for was overdressing for the event. Qui-Gon knew Dooku didn't do casual - even on his off days he somehow managed to look impeccably elegant in a sweater or button-down shirt and trousers; he had a very old-school sense of style. He expected Dooku to wear a suit and tie like the kind he wore to the university on his teaching days - one of the few professors at the laid-back institution to do so - or even a tuxedo. He was not expecting a Victorian-style suit with a jacket with tails, and a waistcoat, and a fucking top hat, and something told Qui-Gon that Dooku had gotten the suit custom-made just for the wedding.

What he especially faulted Dooku for was the obvious pain he was in on the way down. Qui-Gon knew Dooku wanted to be supportive of his best friend; he also knew how incredibly sad this occasion was for him. And now that Dooku knew he didn't have to hide his feelings for Sören around Qui-Gon and Obi, he had on extremely sad music on the way down, as if they were going to a funeral instead of a wedding.

Qui-Gon held his tongue, even though he felt like shaking Dooku and screaming at him to say something to Sören already.

They had some time to kill, and Obi had never been to Powell's City of Books, so they did that, attracting some stares with Dooku being overdressed for just about anywhere, walking into Powell's with an aging hippie and a young hipster. Powell's was the largest bookstore in the United States, several levels of wall-to-wall books in every subject imaginable. Obi was suitably impressed, and Qui-Gon found himself considerably less annoyed as he enjoyed himself watching Obi's wonder at "So many books. I've never seen so many books at once."

"This is one of the reasons I stay in this area," Dooku said.

"I feel like I'm on some documentary or TV show exploring the wilderness," Obi said in a hushed, reverent tone of voice.

They took a break to get coffee at the bookstore and ran into Sören's teaching assistant Claire James, whose younger cousin Harrison was allowed to come to the wedding even though he didn't personally really know Sören or Mark, but happened to be in the States visiting Claire. Qui-Gon wondered why Claire had also made it down rather early, and then, as the topic of Sören came up over coffee, he realized Claire was early for the same exact reason Dooku was, and it wasn't really because of traffic. There was a flush in her cheeks and a sparkle in her grey eyes at the discussion of the young soon-to-be-married Icelander. Qui-Gon recalled Mark gently ribbing Sören over perceived attraction to Claire, and he could appreciate why now, seeing Claire's long strawberry blonde hair worn loose, her hourglass figure in a pale pink summery dress. She and Harrison didn't look much alike, with Harrison's brown curly hair and blue eyes, but there was a similarity in body language and mannerisms. A similarity in warmth.

Qui-Gon felt worse for Dooku, who'd had feelings for Sören for the better part of almost two years, but he also felt bad for Claire, who he could tell was trying to be supportive of her friend while this was still a disappointment to her. You guys need a fucking support group.

Even though Obi seemed endlessly fascinated by books upon books, there was only so many times Qui-Gon wanted to go up and down the levels of the store, and eventually it was suggested by Dooku that it was not an inappropriate time to arrive; Claire and Harrison would follow them down.

Voodoo Doughnut was everything Sören and Mark had promised it to be and worse. The walls were screaming Pepto-Bismol pink. There was indeed a velvet painting of Kenny Rogers hanging up. Voodoo Doughnut proudly served RC Cola, that throwback to the 80s, and as another throwback one of their donut varieties had orange Tang.

Sören and Mark were already there, going over the wedding procedure with the officiant, and Qui-Gon did a double-take. Neither Sören nor Mark were wearing their glasses, which was not usual for them, but that was not even the most unusual thing about their appearance.

Sören was wearing what appeared to be a fur pelt-topped cape over leather armor, a metal breastplate embossed with a wolf, and a sword on his belt. He looked for all the world like a Viking chieftain, or a king from some ancient fantasy realm.

Mark Lowry himself was wearing a full suit of delicate, shimmering chainmail; on the breast, set with blue gems, was the flaming star of the House of Fëanor. Mark wore a plumed helm that added a foot, and he was already tall enough to make Qui-Gon feel short.

Qui-Gon wondered, looking at Mark, if he'd had the costume made for the wedding - and probably spent a small fortune to do so if he had - or if it was a relic from the ancient past, days from before the War of the Ring itself. He had a disturbing feeling it was the latter, and somehow whatever Elven magic or energy had gone into the making of the armor had kept it together all this time.

Mark's service dog Huan, a Corgi-sheepdog mix, was wearing a little bow tie, obediently waiting on a leash nearby. When Sören caught Qui-Gon in the corner of his eye, he waved, and a few minutes later Sören and Mark came over.

"You guys look..." Qui-Gon didn't have words for it. "You look... very... you." It would have been ridiculous on anybody else, somehow the two of them pulled it off and looked regal - especially Mark, who looked like a true Elf, even glamoured to hide his unnatural eyes and the true length of his hair, which still covered the points of his ears. Even with the absurdity of them wearing this attire in Voodoo Doughnut.

Sören threw his head back and laughed. Mark gave a small smile.

"The costumes would be odd anyway," Claire spoke up, "but they seem even odder with wedding guests wearing T-shirts and jeans."

"And yet, this is normal for Portland from what I've seen," Harrison quipped.

Claire snorted. "This is his first time visiting Oregon. He's still taking it in."

"There's a reason why one of the town slogans is Keep Portland Weird," Mark said.

"Jæja... you're the reason." Sören grinned at Mark.

Mark gave him a look, and Sören batted his eyes innocently and Mark tweaked his nose. "You can't talk," Mark said. He pursed his lips and folded his arms, glowering at Qui-Gon and Obi. "I hear I have you to thank for the frame for the painting."

Qui-Gon and Obi nodded, grinning.

"Oh, Sören made you a painting?" Claire asked.

"Yes." Mark rolled his eyes. "Kenny Loggins."

Claire almost spat her drink. "Kenny... Loggins. What..."

"I accidentally slipped up and referred to that 'art' -" Mark made air quotes. "Over there as Kenny Loggins instead of Kenny Rogers, and Sören had a field day."

Sören put an arm around him. "Could be worse. I thought about getting you a life-size cardboard cutout of Kenny Loggins but I decided a black velvet painting was tackier."

"Gee Sören, thanks."

"ARI!" Sören waved to someone coming in through the door. Qui-Gon recognized Dagnýr from last month, and there was a man with him, equally tall, short dirty blonde hair, bearded, blue eyes, ripped, ruggedly handsome, wearing jeans and a Metallica T-shirt. "Claire, Harrison, Qui-Gon, Obi, Nico, this is my cousin Ari. Ari, this is... people."

"Hi," Ari said. He raised an eyebrow at Sören. "What are you wearing, dude?" Ari's Icelandic accent was at least as strong as Sören's if not stronger.

"Clothes," Sören said.

Ari's eyes narrowed. "Please tell me that's not real fur and no animals died for you to wear that pelt..."

"No." Sören made a face. Then he grinned and said, "It's IKEA rugs put together because I'm classy as fuck like that."

Ari and Dagnýr facepalmed in unison.

"I'm fucking dying in this shit," Sören said. "I can't wait to get my clothes off, if you know what I mean..."

Dooku and Claire turned pink in unison. 

"I'd rather not know what you mean," Ari said. Ari shook Mark's hand. "Uh, nice hat."

"You in the SCA or something?" Dagnýr asked. "You do Ren Faire?"

"No," Mark said. "That involves people. And romanticizing a part of history rife with disease, intolerance, and brutality -"

Dagnýr blinked like he'd been slapped. "OK, wow, just asking."

Dooku's lips quirked into a small smile. "I hate medieval re-enactment for the same reason."

"You'd both know all about it, you were there," Qui-Gon quipped, and then he realized he'd said that out loud. At least in Dooku's case he was joking... mostly. Probably.

"You guys just hate fun, let's be real," Sören said.

"That too," Mark and Dooku said in unison, and then they laughed about it, though Dooku looked uncomfortable.

"Please excuse me," Dooku said, stepping aside.

"Speaking of hating fun..." Mark glanced at Sören and gave him a stern look. "'The Wedding March' better not be interrupted by Rick Astley."

"Would I do that?" Sören gave Mark an innocent face.

"Yes. You would."

Sören raised his right hand. "I solemnly swear 'The Wedding March' will not be interrupted by 'Never Gonna Give You Up'."



_


"The Wedding March" began to play.

Dagnýr's children Margrét and Magnús were both "flower-bearers", a gender-neutral version of the flowergirl, since Sören and his family were very sensitive to the issue of not reinforcing sexist stereotypes about what was "for girls" and "for boys". They scattered petals down the aisle.

They were followed by Huan, who was serving as ringbearer, wagging his tail excitedly as he trotted down the aisle carrying a small pillow set with two rings. Huan got pets from Margrét and Magnús when he reached the end of the aisle, and turned around and yipped, waiting for his master.

Mark and Sören took their first step down the aisle, and the stereo playing "The Wedding March" cut to synths and an upbeat guitar riff.

Revvin' up your engine
Listen to her howlin' roar
Metal under tension
Beggin' you to touch and go

Highway to the danger zone
Ride into the danger zone


Mark gave Sören a look, and Sören beamed.

"You said no Rick Astley," Qui-Gon heard Sören say. "It's not Rick Astley. It's Kenny Loggins..."

Qui-Gon tried not to make a scene from laughing; he laughed harder when he saw Dooku roll his eyes, and then he stopped laughing at the little sigh Dooku gave, watching Sören's mischief. He could almost hear Dooku's thoughts: He's an idiot, but he's my idiot. And knowing, in those moments, the door was closing. Qui-Gon put a hand on Dooku's shoulder, feeling bad for him.

"We have come today to join these two men in matrimony," said the officiant. "If there is anyone present who objects to the union of these two men, speak now, or forever hold your peace."

It took Qui-Gon every ounce of his strength to not shove Dooku forward. Qui-Gon watched Dooku take a deep breath, open his mouth as if to say something, and then close it, thinking better of it. The pain in Dooku's dark eyes tore at Qui-Gon's heart. Qui-Gon had wondered sometimes, when Dooku had been his professor and a very harsh taskmaster, if the man had any emotions at all. And now, he felt bad for ever having thought that about him. Still waters run deep. Qui-Gon could see just from Dooku's eyes - he otherwise held a poker face - that he was in unfathomable distress.

Then, Qui-Gon noticed Obi kept checking the door, and he realized after a minute why. Sören and Mark's wedding announcement had run in the paper; Anakin would have seen it. Though Obi seemed to be recovering over the last few weeks, Qui-Gon could tell now that Obi was wondering if Anakin was going to show up and crash the wedding in retaliation for Mark "ruining his life". Qui-Gon's heart raced a little faster, now wondering the same thing himself. He once again internally berated himself for waiting so long to catalyze Obi getting away from Anakin's influence, because it was so much worse with things having dragged on and escalated than if he'd risked telling Obi his concerns at the first sign of trouble.

Qui-Gon's eyes met Claire's, who gave him a concerned look. He didn't want to cause alarm by demonstrating paranoia, so he returned his focus to the wedding. Mark and Sören had written their own vows to each other, and Sören went first.

Sören's warm brown eyes could drill through granite, as he looked at Mark like he was the only person in the room. "I'm not as good at singing as you are, but I wanted to sing for you, from a song by Seether."

Sören cleared his throat and began to sing in a soulful, raspy tenor:

The worst is over now and we can breathe again
I wanna hold you high, you steal my pain away
There's so much left to learn, and no one left to fight
I wanna hold you high and steal your pain

'Cause I'm broken when I'm open
And I don't feel like I am strong enough
'Cause I'm broken when I'm lonesome
And I don't feel right when you're gone away


Mark was getting obviously choked up, and Qui-Gon felt himself tear up, too. Sören's voice was husky with emotion as he said, "We've both been wounded by tragedy and trauma in our lives. We're careful with each other... and our broken places fit together. We're stronger, together, than either of us were on our own. Stronger than either of us thought we could be. Two parts of a powerful whole." Sören glared at Ari and Harrison, who were both snickering; Ari mouthed the word "hole", and Ari and Harrison exchanged a guilty grin, looking down. Sören came closer to Mark and took his hands. "I want to be with you for the rest of my life. Through sickness and health, for better or worse - we've already been there. I want you at my side, no matter what happens. I would follow you to the ends of the earth, through the end of the world, across lifetimes, across universes. From this day, to my last day, my life is yours."

Qui-Gon felt Obi take his hand. Qui-Gon fought back tears - not just at how beautiful the words were, Sören's feelings for Mark... but it echoed so much his own feelings for Obi. 

Mark took Sören in his arms, and then when they pulled apart it was time for his vow.

"Well, I don't have a song," Mark said, "but I have a poem. Pablo Neruda wrote it."

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz, 
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire: 
I love you as one loves certain dark things, 
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries 
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself, 
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose 
from the earth lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where, 
I love you simply without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
than this: where I does not exist, nor you, 
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.


Sören wept openly. Qui-Gon started ugly-crying, feeling self-conscious about it then less so when he heard Claire sobbing as well. Dooku's eyes were too bright.

Somehow, Qui-Gon was aware of when Sören and Mark exchanged rings, were proclaimed "partners in life", and kissed, but it all seemed to pass in a blur. He kept looking at Obi. Thinking. Feeling.

The wedding party was simple, with assorted drinks, donuts, and 80s music. Dooku kept off by himself. Qui-Gon and Obi fed each other donuts and each had a bit of alcohol - Qui-Gon was amused to see cannabis ale as one of the options. He hadn't had pot in a good while, he knew Mark and Sören occasionally toked up and had invited them to do so "one of these days"; maybe when they got back from their honeymoon "one of these days" could be soon, deeper relaxation after the mess with Anakin. Qui-Gon saw Sören dance with Claire out of the corner of his eye. Ari and Harrison were talking - if Qui-Gon didn't know better it looked like they were flirting.

Somehow, Sören got Dooku to dance with him to David Bowie, even though Dooku protested "I don't dance." After Sören and Dooku danced around, Dooku came over to Qui-Gon and Obi and said, "Would you mind terribly if we left soon? The crowd and the noise is getting to me."

While Dooku was in fact an introvert, Qui-Gon knew it wasn't just that. Obi was getting a bit antsy from the crowd and the noise himself, so about fifteen minutes after Dooku and Sören danced, they got in Dooku's Jaguar and made the drive back to Corvallis.

Qui-Gon took "one for the road", even though Dooku disapproved of eating and drinking in his car - Sören got away with it, when Dooku was chauffeuring him, but for obvious reasons. Dooku gave Qui-Gon a filthy look as he sipped away at the ale, but Dooku otherwise said nothing.

Qui-Gon wasn't quite drunk, but he had enough of a buzz going that it was loosening his lips, and it was probably a good thing that Dooku had elected to leave when he did, because Qui-Gon heard himself blurt out, "And this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper."

"Would you like to walk to Corvallis?" Dooku spat, eyes staring at the road.

"Not especially. But then, I could probably get there faster than you could get where it is you really want to go." Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow.

Dooku said nothing.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"At the 'speak now or forever hold your peace' portion? Do you think I am utterly daft, Qui-Gon?"

It was amazing to Qui-Gon how long Dooku had lived in the States and not only still had a London accent but also frequently used British English. "I wouldn't say utterly daft, Teach. There's a difference between 'a lot' and 'utterly'."

"Let's presume that even if I could have said something at that part of the ceremony without incurring the wrath of everyone in attendance but perhaps yourself and Obi, looking like a wretched arse... you heard them, back there. How can I, in good conscience, try to disrupt that or take that away?"

Qui-Gon shrugged. "I don't know. I only know that I still think you owe it to Sören to tell him and if you thought it was awkward before he put that ring on his finger, it's going to be a hell of a lot more awkward now."

"What I owe Sören is my friendship... which I undoubtedly will ruin if I say a damn thing. You don't get it, do you?" Dooku finally looked at Qui-Gon - a withering look bordering on contempt, though Qui-Gon knew it wasn't personal - and looked at the road again with a snort.

"Get what?"

"No, of course you don't. People actually like you. You're warm, personable. I told you that I very likely have undiagnosed Asperger's - there wasn't awareness of autistic spectrum issues when I was growing up. By the time that was 'a thing', as the youth say, I was already old and I don't have the time or patience to drag myself off to a doctor to tell me something that I already know and I can't really get help for because I've been set in my ways coping how I can, this fucking long." Dooku never used the f-word, and Qui-Gon's eyebrows shot up. "But this is what I'm getting at - it's hard for me to make friends, it's hard for me to keep friends. I don't want to lose Sören's friendship. Even if you think he wouldn't automatically reject me because of my age or some other issue - and I disagree with you on that - it's not just Mark, and not wanting to ruin what they have. I don't want Sören to think I'm some... what do they call it? 'Nice Guy'. Who is only friends with him and doing nice things for him to get down his pants. Which isn't the case at all. Sören doesn't owe me sex, I don't feel entitled to him, I don't resent him for being with Mark. With or without any romantic complications, I appreciate Sören's friendship. He has been through a lot, I intervened with an abusive ex of his, he really does not need to be triggered thinking I'm some creepy old guy who's only kind to him because I have ulterior motives. Does that make a modicum of sense now, Joaquin?"

"It does. And yet, I am a scientist and you are an historian, and as you know, plenty of people in both our fields have had brilliant logic and still were completely wrong. You make sense, Dooku... you're still an idiot."

"Piss off."

Those were the last words Dooku spoke to him for the remainder of the drive down. When Dooku dropped Qui-Gon and Obi off at their house, Qui-Gon lingered, not wanting there to be bad blood.

"Look. Teach. I just want you to... if not be happy, not have any regrets." Qui-Gon took a deep breath as he looked up at the sky, which was bright and sunny, yet still felt ominous. "When things went down with Anakin late last month... it's been weighing on my mind that they could have gone worse than they did. He could have had a gun. If Mark hadn't been there, the police might have needed to get involved and things likely wouldn't have ended well. It's been impressed upon me that you, I, anybody, could go at any time. When I lost Tahl, I kept replaying over in my head what I wish I could have said if I'd known I was having a last conversation with her, and..."

"Qui-Gon, I am keenly aware of my age and eventual impending mortality, which is yet another reason why I say nothing to Sören. The difference in our perception is not that you or I could go at any time, it's what we would regret saying or not saying."

"You don't want Sören to know you love him? I think that's bullshit." 

"Qui-Gon... go home. We'll... talk in a few days." Dooku patted Qui-Gon's shoulder. "You try too hard."

"At least I try. At least someone gives a damn about you."

Qui-Gon got out of the car. When he got in, Obi was sitting on the couch with Fernando. Qui-Gon kicked off his shoes and sat next to Obi, taking in the sight of him with the cat... how natural it looked, like Obi had been living here all along, this was his cat, his home. He thought about the wedding and how Sören and Mark's choice of words had struck a chord in him as well.

You should take your own advice, Gonzalez, Qui-Gon admonished himself. Don't let another minute pass by without Obi knowing how you really feel.

He argued back at himself. I don't even have a proper ring -

All that can come later.

The urgency was amplified by the fact that he wasn't sober, and indeed, he'd probably be waiting for the proper time and place, with a ring, arranging everything just so if he wasn't under the influence. A nagging voice in the back of his head told him to wait, not just because he was tipsy but this was all moving so fast, and it was drowned out by Now, now, NOW.

"Obi?" Qui-Gon's voice was a little hoarse.

Obi glanced up at him.

"Will you marry me?"

Chapter Text

Love Hurts

 

Chapter Track: "Love Stinks" - J. Geils Band





There was a long pause - enough to set Qui-Gon's nerves on edge, harshing the buzz he'd felt from the ale and the joy of the wedding. And then Obi simply replied with, "You're drunk, Qui."

"And?"

"And..." Obi got up, and made a vague hand gesture in Qui-Gon's direction. "You're under the influence. You're not thinking clearly. It's not a valid question when you're like this -"

Qui-Gon pinched the bridge of his nose. He suddenly didn't feel well.

There was another long silence - Obi had walked across the room and was looking out the window now, at the tree branches stirring in the wind. Qui-Gon finally got up, walked over to the window, and put a hand on Obi's shoulder, squeezing.

"I'm going to lay down for awhile."

Obi just nodded.

For a few moments that felt like an aching eternity Qui-Gon lay there in the fetal position, clutching a pillow to him, a knot in the pit of his stomach. He'd had that warning feeling before he'd gone ahead and popped the question on impulse... and now he understood why. His intuition was trying to tell him about this - of course Obi wouldn't accept a proposal given while drunk, thinking it wasn't genuine.

The problem was that it had been genuine, and he hoped Obi would see that.

I'll try again when I'm sober.

With that resolution giving him a little comfort, Qui-Gon closed his eyes and slept.



_


He overslept - it was late night when he woke up, just in time to make a pizza delivery call before they closed. Qui-Gon and Obi didn't say much as they ate pizza, watching TV on the couch. Eventually Obi showered and went to bed, and after trying to read for awhile, Qui-Gon was tired again and climbed in bed beside Obi. They lay there side by side at first, not touching - it was still awkward. Then Qui-Gon reached out and Obi rolled against him, snuggling into him, legs braiding together, and things felt OK again.

Things felt OK again enough that in the morning when Qui-Gon woke up hard, he rubbed against Obi's thigh, raining kisses over his face, then giving him a deeper kiss when Obi's eyes blinked open and he gave Qui-Gon that sweet smile. "Good morning to you," Obi said after they pulled apart from the kiss.

Qui-Gon growled, kissing Obi's neck. Licking, nibbling. "I want you," he rasped.

Obi's response to that was to take down his pajama bottoms, freeing his cock - and then he reached to take down Qui-Gon's pajama bottoms as well. The pants moved down their legs, sliding out of the bedcovers onto the floor in a haphazard pile. Obi took their hard cocks into his hand and stroked them together. Qui-Gon groaned, kissing Obi's neck more insistently.

"Do you like that, Daddy?" Obi asked, stroking them a little harder.

"Yes, baby. So much." Qui-Gon started to pull up Obi's shirt. Obi let go of their cocks for a moment to raise his arms for his shirt to come off, then he helped Qui-Gon out of his own shirt. The brief moment of Obi letting go of their cocks was almost painful, and Qui-Gon gave a moan of relief when Obi took their cocks back into his hand, resuming the slow stroking, loving the feel of Obi's velvet shaft against his. Qui-Gon's hand covered Obi's, and Qui-Gon claimed his mouth again. And again. As good as it felt with cock rubbing cock in Obi's tight grip, he needed more. Much more.

This time Obi was kissing his neck, and Qui-Gon cried out when he felt Obi nibble the sweet spot where the neck and shoulder met. Obi's tongue soothed where his teeth had been - and then he bit again, harder, making Qui-Gon tremble and buck his hips against him, urgently. He liked the aggressive side of his mate showing itself.

"My kitten has teeth," Qui-Gon said, skritching Obi's beard like he was a cat.

Obi gave a playful little mew then sucked Qui-Gon's fingers into his mouth. Qui-Gon moaned, shivering again. He was starting to go crazy with want and they'd barely just begun.

When Qui-Gon's fingers slipped from Obi's mouth, Qui-Gon took advantage of the slickness of them to play with Obi's nipples. He kissed Obi's neck now, relishing the moans Obi made, and when he sucked a nipple into his mouth he almost came right then from the cry Obi let out, the feel of the little nub pebbling between his lips. The sight of that nipple glistening, swollen. He feasted on the other one, cock throbbing at the sound of Obi moaning, panting.

Then Obi returned the favor, rolling Qui-Gon onto his back against the pillow, lapping Qui-Gon's nipples, suckling, nibbling. Tugging hard with his teeth, before sucking hard. His hand went faster on their cocks, and Obi's free hand went from massaging the nipple his mouth wasn't working on, down to slip a finger into Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon groaned as he felt Obi's finger find the prostate. It had been so long since he'd had anything inside him. One finger became two, and Qui-Gon was rolling his hips, fucking Obi's fingers.

Obi stopped working on his nipples to kiss him, then lick a trail from his throat down his chest to the sensitive planes of his stomach. After a few kisses along his stomach Obi paused - his fingers still playing against Qui's prostate, the other hand stroking their cocks - and he rested his cheek against Qui-Gon's stomach. "I was wondering," Obi said.

"Hm?"

"Can I top you?" Obi bit his lower lip adorably. "I've never..."

"Yes, sweetheart."

"I'll get you ready the way you do for me." With that, Obi slid down, and his cock left Qui-Gon's cock, fingers left Qui-Gon's ass - with Qui-Gon making a little whimper of protest, then a cry as Obi's tongue speared him.

It had been Qui-Gon's limited experience with bottoming that made him a better top, firsthand knowledge of what it felt like, and clearly Obi had also been learning from his own experiences with bottoming, right down to the preparation of rimming. Obi's tongue was like magic, brushing his prostate in slow, deliberate strokes then faster, harder, lashing, fucking. It wasn't long before Qui-Gon was fucking Obi's face, fucking the tongue rubbing away inside him, and Obi shook his head, working his tongue even faster, viciously devouring him.

It was so good Qui-Gon could have come like that, but Obi stopped just before Qui-Gon could let go. He took a few slow teasing licks at Qui-Gon's cock, from the head down the shaft to the root, and back up. Then sucked a little at the head, kissing it, working his tongue, before just licking around and around the head, back and forth over the slit. He made a show of collecting precum with his tongue before giving the head of Qui-Gon's cock a gentle little kiss - a tender gesture that made Qui-Gon smile, tousling his head.

"Are you ready, Daddy?"

"Please, baby."

Obi reached for their lube, slicked up his cock, and poured lube directly into Qui-Gon's ass. Qui-Gon guided the head of Obi's cock to his opening, and braced himself, taking slow, deep breaths as Obi's cock slid in, inch by inch. It had been long enough that there was a little pain as Obi stretched him, but nothing he couldn't handle, and when Obi was at last all the way inside him it felt so right that the stretching had been worth it. They lay there for a moment, Qui-Gon feeling tears in his eyes. Obi's hands held his, and squeezed.

"I love you, Daddy."

"I love you." Qui-Gon let go of one of Obi's hands to stroke his face, his hair. The happiness in Obi's bright blue eyes in this moment was a memory he would cherish forever.

Obi began to thrust slowly, a hand wrapping around Qui-Gon's cock and stroking in the same slow rhythm of his thrusts. A moment into it and Qui-Gon gasped, bucking against him. He gasped again when Obi's cock hit that spot again. Shivered and cried out when Obi's cock touched that sweet spot inside him again.

"Is that good, Daddy?"

"So good." Qui-Gon pulled Obi close to him and kissed him hard, trembling against Obi as Obi's cock found that spot again and again. "You're such a good boy, taking care of your Daddy like this."

"You feel good, Daddy." Obi kissed him back. "I... like doing this to you."

"Good. We can take turns." Qui-Gon kissed him again. The thought of Obi taking him on a regular basis was delicious - especially the thought of Obi taking him more aggressively. Those teeth in him...

...And after keeping it slow for awhile that was exactly what Obi did, not able to hold back. One of Qui-Gon's legs was on Obi's shoulders as he drove harder, and Qui-Gon's hands slid down to Obi's hips, guiding him. The rubbing-rubbing-rubbing on his prostate was delicious, the deliciousness intensified by the fierce look on Obi's face, the sound of their bodies smacking together...

"Yes, like that. More."

"I'm not hurting you?" Obi rasped.

"Give it to me." As tight as he was, he found himself hungering for this, that primal need to mate...

Soon Obi was pounding him into the mattress, both of Qui-Gon's legs on his shoulders. Qui-Gon's nails were in Obi's back, their hips rocking together, Qui-Gon giving it back as hard as he got it. The sound and feel of Obi's balls slapping his ass alone was enough to bring Qui-Gon to that edge, and his prostate was being rubbed just right. The way Obi grunted and growled... Qui-Gon was panting, gasping for breath. "So close, love."

"I want to make Daddy come."

"You will. Almost there..." Qui-Gon's nails dug into Obi's back harder. "I want to feel you come inside me." Oh, that thought of being seeded with Obi's cum...

Obi growled. "I'm going to come deep inside you. Mine..."

"Yes, love." That territorial, animal side of him was delicious. "Yours..."

"Mine." Obi nibbled his neck again and then he ground out, "Come for me."

Qui-Gon let go, coming with a wild cry. When his seed shot over Obi's chest, Obi in turn spilled into him, and the feeling of Obi's hot cum pouring over his sensitive throbbing prostate was almost too much. Qui-Gon gasped and shuddered, toes curling as the pleasure throbbed through him, pulse after pulse. Obi was moaning, swearing, finally just panting, eyes wide almost with shock.

They lay there shivering in each other's arms, and when the climax faded, giving way into more gentle, dreamy contentment, they kissed, deep and passionate, then more gently, sweetly.

"How was that?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Amazing." Obi laughed. "I like bottoming but I think I like topping as much. I could get used to that."

"I could get used to that too. You were wonderful."

They kissed again. Qui-Gon pulled Obi against his chest, pet and rocked him.

"God, I really..." Obi laughed again. "I had a feeling I'd like that but I didn't know how much. So long as we could go for a couple rounds, taking turns - I still like feeling you inside me, and all - I wouldn't mind doing that every night."

"Well..." Qui-Gon sat up a little then, still holding Obi, though now Obi was slipping out of him; Qui-Gon could feel the cum leaking out of him, that deliciously debauched feeling. "We could do that every night. Especially if you married me. I would want that to be for life."

"Here we go again," Obi huffed.

Qui-Gon let go of Obi, and blinked, taken aback. He opened his mouth, though he didn't know what to say, and Obi closed his, looking away, looking like he regretted the flippant response.

But it was out, and there was no way of putting it back. "I'm perfectly sober now," Qui-Gon said. "Even though I was a bit drunk when I proposed last night, I meant what I said. The alcohol gave me the courage to say it. I want you to marry me, Obi. I love you. I -"

Obi got off the bed, and walked to the bathroom without saying a word. When he got back from the bathroom, he began getting dressed... again not saying a word.

"Obi?"

"This is too much too soon," Obi said. "I love you, Qui, I really do, but I..."

Qui-Gon sighed. And he realized that yes, they'd been living together a short time - they'd only been in a relationship for a few months full stop. And Qui-Gon was still young, only twenty-two, turning twenty-three on Halloween. Most people didn't get married nowadays till they were in their late twenties at least - Sören was thirty-three going on thirty-four.

He tried to be OK with it. He tried to see it as not a complete rejection, only a rejection of the proposal, not of the relationship itself, not of him. But as they ran some errands later, Qui-Gon noticed Obi was ill at ease, a discomfort that he couldn't chalk up to Obi being out in public, because he'd seen Obi in those situations before. This was something different.

And even if it wasn't a complete rejection, the rebuff of the proposal did hurt. It also felt like a warning, that their age difference was a bigger deal than Qui-Gon had thought it was, that they were at two very different places in their lives... that Obi had barely started his adult life and what he wanted now might not be what he wanted in five years, ten...

Fuck.

Everything came to a head when Qui-Gon was preparing dinner and Obi came into the kitchen and gave him a hug, and though Qui-Gon returned the hug, he stiffened just a little, and he could feel himself fake-smiling. It was enough that Obi could tell, and Obi was not necessarily a master of body language.

"You're still..." Obi shook his head. "Harping on about the proposal... thing..."

Qui-Gon threw some potatoes into the pot. "I'd be lying if I said your refusal didn't bother me, Obi, yes."

"And I'd be lying if I said your proposal didn't bother me."

Their eyes met.

Qui-Gon sighed and he pinched the bridge of his nose. "Can we... just forget I asked? Act like it never happened, and..."

"No, we can't. And you know it."

Dinner was fraught, with such an awkward silence and distance between them that Qui-Gon felt like he might as well be eating alone.

They sat in the living room to watch TV after the meal, but sat across from each other rather than together, and after awhile Obi got up without saying anything and walked off, and Qui-Gon didn't stop him.

Later that night when they went to bed they didn't make love, they didn't even hold each other. Qui-Gon lay there awake for a long time, feeling like his world was falling apart. Maybe they'd get past this, maybe they wouldn't, but right now it hurt. Finally he took a Benadryl to make himself go to sleep, something he hadn't done in a long time.

When Qui-Gon woke up in the morning he was reminded of why he didn't like to take Benadryl to sleep - he'd had strange disturbing dreams he couldn't remember, felt hungover even though he'd had no alcohol last night, and he'd overslept. Obi wasn't in bed with him, which wasn't surprising since it was late morning, but what was surprising was that the house was quiet and Obi wasn't around, and it wasn't a work day as far as Qui-Gon knew.

Then he noticed it. Obi's things were gone. And in the kitchen on the counter there was a note.

I'm sorry. I wish you all the best.

-O


Qui-Gon leaned against the fridge and let out a sob. He cried and cried, finally doubling over the kitchen counter to support himself, but not even that helped, and he ended up on his knees on the floor, great heaving sobs that wracked him, made him feel nauseated. He cried until he couldn't cry anymore, laying on the kitchen floor exhausted, cheek on the cold linoleum tile. Spent of tears. Feeling spent of life itself. Desolate.

I was a fool for thinking this would work.

Somehow, he managed to peel himself up off the floor. He was tempted to just go to bed and go back to sleep, but Fernando came trotting past with a "prrrp?" He had to do what he did when Tahl died - hang in there for his cat, if nothing else.

He scooped up the cat and sat on the couch with Fernando on his lap. "At least you still love me."

Chapter Text

 

Crash and Burn

 

 

Chapter Track: "Wrong" - Depeche Mode




The rest of July passed in a cloud of grief. Qui-Gon made himself get out of bed to take care of his cat and his garden, but otherwise spent a lot of time sleeping, or zoning out in front of the TV, too depressed to do much else. He barely ate, and when he did eat it was mostly convenience food or takeout.

Finally, on the first of August, his cell phone rang. Qui-Gon tried to ignore it and let it go to voice mail, but the caller was persistent, and after the fourth round of letting it ring, just before it could go to voice mail, Qui-Gon picked up the phone and saw Sören's number. Against his better judgment, he swiped Accept.

"Hello." Qui-Gon's voice sounded distant even to him.

"Qui. Hey. We've been back from our honeymoon a few days and... you haven't called or anything. You all right?"

Qui-Gon made a noise.

"Well listen, Mark and I were thinking, you and Obi want to come over for dinner?"

Qui-Gon sighed.

There was a long pause. Finally Sören broke the silence. "Qui, you there?"

"Yes, Sören. I'm here."

"Mkay. What's going on?" Another pause. "Did we do something wrong...?"

"No Sören, it's not you." Qui-Gon immediately felt bad that was the first conclusion Sören jumped to, and as much as he hadn't wanted to talk about this with anyone, and had indeed been avoiding all his friends, he had to say it. "Obi... left."

"He what."

"He left, Sören. He's gone. He packed his things and moved out a couple days after the wedding."

"Wh-why in the fuck -"

Qui-Gon sighed again and pinched the bridge of his nose. He would have cried from the awful truth of finally speaking it out loud, but he felt numb. Not so numb to keep from shaking a little, feeling a knot in the pit of his stomach. "I..."

"Seriously, Qui, what happened? The two of you were so good together -"

Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "I proposed to him. He got scared and ran off, said things were moving too fast."

"And you just... let him leave?"

"Well, he left when I was sleeping, but -"

"You haven't called him or tried to -"

"No."

Another long pause, and then Sören made a noise like a wounded animal. "Báðir eruð þið helvítis fífl, ég get ekki helvíti trúað þessu, hvað í fjandanum er þetta skítur?"

Qui-Gon could hear Mark's voice in the distance. "Sören, babe, you OK?"

"Vinir okkar eru helvítis heimskir, ég vil berja þá báða í heimskulegu helvítis hausunum. Helvítis rassgötin eru svo heimskuleg -"

"Qui-Gon." Mark spoke into the phone. "My husband appears to be perturbed. What happened?"

"Hann féll mikið á höfuðið þegar hann var barn, það er það sem í fjandanum gerðist," Sören yelled in the background.

"OKAY, SÖREN, CHILL," Mark yelled. Then he muttered, "Asking the Flame Imperishable to chill -"

"What?" Qui-Gon's eyebrows flew up.

"Nothing," Mark said. "Qui-Gon, why is my husband in drunk Viking mode? What's going on?"

"Obi and I broke up."

"I see."

"Yeah."

"...So I can't go anywhere for a week without coming back to a flaming garbage fire."

"I don't know what you want me to say, Mark."

"I assume you're not OK, but is he OK? Have you tried to talk to him? Work things out with him?"

"Erm, no."

Mark let out a sharp exhale.

"Sérðu hvað ég meina? Fokking fífl," came Sören's voice in the background.

"Mkay," Mark said. "You want to come over by yourself, then -"

"I'm... not in the mood for company right now, Mark. Thank you for the offer, but."

"We won't force it on you. Yet. But you can't stay in your shell forever. And I really do think you need to have a talk with Obi. I'm rather surprised that you haven't already."

Qui-Gon made a disgruntled, noncommittal noise. As much as he missed Obi and would jump at the chance to have him back, the thought of trying to call Obi or hunt him down was exquisitely painful.

"I... think I need to go," Qui-Gon said, feeling that stabbing ache.

"All right. I understand. We'll talk to you in a few days... by which point I expect you to have had a chat with Obi. Take care, Qui-Gon." With that, Mark ended the call.

Alone in the darkness and the silence, Qui-Gon buried his face in his hands.


_


Mark's words nagged at him, and the next day he called Obi's cell. When he got no response - though at least the number was still in service - Qui-Gon decided to go to Mountains of the Moon.

He had not been there in a good while, even before the breakup. And he didn't know Obi's current schedule - whether or not he'd be on today at all. But he still took the chance, and there Obi was, waiting tables.

Obi avoided him until the last possible minute. Then he came over and said, all professionalism, "What can I get for you today?"

Qui-Gon took a deep breath. He'd had no mental script rehearsed for what he was going to say to Obi when he saw him, and even if he had, it would have vanished in the intensity of his feelings at seeing him again. Obi was wearing a red paisley shirt and jeans, with his Mountains of the Moon apron over his clothing, glasses perched on his nose. Qui-Gon's mind instantly began to play back what Obi looked like under his clothes... what Obi had looked like topping him, Obi's first time topping and the last time they made love. The trust he'd felt, giving himself, the complete surrender enmeshed so fully with his mate. And now, standing in front of him, with Obi's blue eyes like the frost - when they had been blue flames weeks ago - it felt like they were worlds apart. Qui-Gon's mouth was suddenly dry. He swallowed hard.

"Obi. How are you?"

"I'm fine." Obi looked away quickly.

And then Qui-Gon's self-pity turned to concern for Obi, realizing that Obi had moved out and he wasn't exactly making a lot of money on a barista's income. Wondering where he was staying, hoping he wasn't homeless. "All right, perhaps more importantly - where are you? I don't want you on the street. If you -"

"I moved back in with Anakin."

"You. What." Qui-Gon's jaw dropped.

"Yeah." Obi looked down at the floor and rubbed his head nervously.

"Obi. You can't stay with him. He was stalking you. He does meth. He's not stable -"

Obi shrugged. "It's just temporary. He doesn't live in the duplex anymore, he had to move to a studio because that's all he can afford, and I'm sleeping on the floor till I have a deposit saved to get a place of my own. I'm technically not supposed to be there -"

"No shit, you're not supposed to be there, that is the last person in the world you should be staying with." Qui-Gon was absolutely horrified. For all his fear that Obi was homeless... this was worse. This was much worse.

Not simply that it filled Qui-Gon with fear for Obi's safety - both physical and psychological - but what it implied. It was like a slap in the face, seeing that Obi would rather stay with someone who had been stalking him, abusive towards him, than continue to live with Qui-Gon.

"I meant that it's in violation of the lease." Obi took a deep breath. He looked at Qui-Gon, briefly meeting his eyes before looking away again. "Look, Qui. Don't... take this the wrong way, but I'm on the clock here. I need you to either order something or leave. And then, I'd appreciate it if you didn't come back for awhile. It hurts too much."

"Don't you think it hurts me too? But I came here to try to -"

Obi shook his head.

And just the shaking of his head, said all that needed to be said. Qui-Gon got up, abruptly. "Forget it," he muttered. "Damn it all to hell."

He started to walk out, but before he could step out the door - Obi's back was turned now, he looked over his shoulder and yelled, "Don't let that bastard keep you from starting school in the fall. If nothing else, you get yourself an education, so you can take care of yourself. Promise me."

"I promise," Obi said without turning around.

Qui-Gon left, shaking as he walked to his van.

When he got in he finally cried, the dam of numbness that had kept him tearless for days - past the initial deluge when Obi left - broke, and broke hard. Qui-Gon pulled out of the coffee shop, but didn't get very far, just a couple blocks away, before he pulled over and let go, sobbing over the steering wheel. Beating it with his fists in raging grief, the way he wanted to bash in Anakin's head. Bash the face of fate itself, stealing away the two people he'd loved in his life.

He finally folded his arms over the steering wheel and rested his head on his arms, crying and crying until there was a knock on the window. Qui-Gon sat up and saw an elderly woman, who gave a small, sad smile and a little wave. Qui-Gon rolled down his window.

"Excuse me, sir, are you all right?" the woman asked. A little Bichon Frise dog on a leash barked and whined.

"I'm fine." Qui-Gon took a few deep breaths and made an attempt at a fake smile.

"Are you sure?"

"Quite. Thank you for asking. Have a nice day."

"All right. You too, dearie." The woman waved again and the dog yipped, wagging its tail before she dragged it along down the sidewalk.

That was one of the things Qui-Gon liked about living in the Pacific Northwest most of the time - people were so nice out here, as if the politeness had spilled down from Canada. Unfortunately, this was one of the times when it was just annoying. Qui-Gon cursed under his breath and started the van again to get a move on home before the next Good Samaritan wanted to ask him if he was OK.

I'm not all right. I will never be all right ever again.


_


Suddenly it was Sunday - more time passing by in a fog - and when Qui-Gon came back from the garden and looked at the calendar, he saw it was August fifth.

What would have been Tahl's sixtieth birthday.

He broke down and cried again, remembering Tahl. Missing her. Which led to the certainty he'd felt that her spirit was watching over him and had guided him to Obi, the second great love of his life. Now he just felt betrayed, his faith shaken... feeling even more alone than before. When he'd just been mourning Tahl, it was bad enough, but now, grieving Obi's departure from his life, the loneliness was even sharper. He'd at least been existing after Tahl died. Now... it felt like there was nothing left for him.

He needed to get out of the house. He thought about calling Sören, asking him and Mark to come pick him up, but he didn't want to cramp their style by inviting himself over if they had plans, and as importantly, he didn't want their sympathy. He didn't want another lecture about trying to make things work with Obi. He avoided calling Dooku for the same reason - Dooku who had let his own love slip from his fingers and was in no position to be lecturing anyone.

Qui-Gon got in the van and drove. It was after seven PM. He hadn't been eating much in weeks; he came to a pub. He'd have a drink, a bite to eat...

...one drink became two. "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton came on in the background, a song he'd danced to with Tahl. He had a third drink, and a fourth. Fighting back tears, not wanting to lose it in a public place.

Then there was a young man - early to mid twenties, Qui-Gon was guessing. When Qui-Gon left his table, food mostly untouched, and just came to the bar to sit, the man sat next to him. Sandy blonde hair cut in a fauxhawk, green eyes. Effeminate. "Can I buy you a drink?" he asked.

"Er, no." Qui-Gon didn't know what that implied, and though the young man was attractive and he felt he should probably be flattered, he wasn't.

And yet, he hadn't come to the bar to be alone, had he? Maybe getting laid would do him some good...

Qui-Gon's face burned at the very thought, feeling somewhat ashamed of himself.

The young man put a hand on his arm. "Just thought you looked lonely."

Qui-Gon let him buy a fifth drink. Qui-Gon knew when the beer came that it was too much and he probably needed to call a cab home. He'd do that later. The young man leaned in with a beer of his own.

"You want some company tonight?"

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. This wasn't a gay bar, and Qui-Gon didn't think he normally set off people's "gaydar". But then, he was friends with two married men, and Corvallis was a small college town and sometimes people assumed "birds of a feather". The assumption that Qui-Gon went that way didn't bother him - he was pansexual, after all - but there was something about that assumption being made here and now that set him off in a way he couldn't quite place.

Qui-Gon felt like saying no right away, but once again that voice inside him nagged you should get laid, forget about him just for tonight...

"Depends on what you mean by company." Qui-Gon took a swig of his beer.

The young man leaned in closer. "Fifty dollars and I'll suck you off. Two hundred and I'm yours for the night, whatever you want..."

Qui-Gon got up. Of course this man wouldn't actually be interested in him - not that Qui-Gon was exactly interested either, and especially not now. He felt downright insulted. "No thank you," he huffed, and started to walk out of the pub.

His emotions were running high enough - shame, disgust... mostly with himself - that he didn't think to call a cab. He got behind the wheel of his van. "It's not far to home, I'll be fine."

Halfway there, Qui-Gon lost control of the van. He woke up to red and blue lights. Sirens. Being put on a stretcher. Put in an ambulance. It hurt to breathe. His head was killing him.

Everything hurt. He felt like his very soul had been shattered into pieces.


_


He lay in the hospital bed, trying to take some deep breaths.

His van was totaled, but he himself had no irreparable harm - a concussion, a few broken ribs, some wounds that had to be stitched up from the broken glass of his windshield. As importantly, nobody else had gotten hurt, except for the tree his van had crashed into.

He was going to need at least six weeks of recovery time. He'd be able to start the fall semester at the end of the month, since his job as a professor was sedentary, but he was going to need to otherwise take it easy, which meant getting some help around the house.

Bloodwork had also been drawn, and Qui-Gon knew that it was going to come up that his accident had been a result of driving under the influence. He would need to talk to a lawyer relatively soon, because Oregon had rather stiff legal penalties even for a first-time offense.

After the initial treatment and observation, most of his recovery could be done at home - he was set to be discharged in two days. But it felt like a long wait... the more time to reflect on the idiocy of what he'd done. All the feelings of shame from the pub came back to him, and the deepest shame of all, that he'd driven drunk on Tahl's birthday. Tahl, whose own life had been taken by a drunk driver.

He started to cry. It hurt to cry. That was exactly what he was not supposed to be doing right now, and he couldn't help it. He was brought a sedative, and then, before it could kick in too heavily, he dialed Obi's number. It was an obscene time of night, he knew if he got a hold of Obi at all he'd be waking him up, but...

Three rings. "Hello," Obi mumbled.

"Obi. It's Qui. Please don't hang up, I'm in the hospital -"

"What?" Obi's voice was too loud, and Qui-Gon could hear a growl in the background. "Shit, I woke up Ani..." Obi lowered his voice. "What? Are- are you all right?"

"I'm obviously not all right if I'm in the hospital, Obi. Look, I probably shouldn't be calling you, but... I was in a car accident. I'm lucky to be alive, it could have been much, much worse than it was. The van is totaled. Nobody else got hurt, but..." Qui-Gon choked back a sob. "I fucked up, Obi. I'm so sorry."

"Qui-Gon, I." Obi's voice was shaking. "I don't know what to say."

"Like I said, I probably shouldn't have called you. I don't know why I'm telling you this. I'm sorry." And then Qui-Gon hung up.

He put the phone down and closed his eyes. The tears silently rolled. At last the sedative did its work, and he went out like a light.

He was roused some time later by a nurse's voice. "You have a visitor."

Qui-Gon almost got up from the bed when he saw Obi walk in. Just the little bit of stirring he did in shock at seeing him was too much, and Qui-Gon moaned in agony. But he couldn't help smiling at the sight of Obi, who wasn't smiling as he took a seat beside him.

"What the hell happened?" Obi asked.

"It was Tahl's birthday. I got drunk. And drove, like an idiot."

Obi facepalmed and shook his head. "Fucking hell, Qui-Gon." When he took his hand away his eyes were too bright. "I worried that you'd tried to commit suicide, since you didn't tell me what happened on the phone. But this... well, I'm not exactly wrong, am I?"

Qui-Gon exhaled sharply - it hurt, and he cringed. "I hadn't been intending to kill myself, if that's what you're after. But I suppose that no, you're not entirely wrong, it was a very foolish move. I seem to be prone to a lot of those."

Obi pinched the bridge of his nose.

"How did you get here? Did Anakin bring you -"

"No, I took a cab." Obi's eyes met his for a moment before looking away. "I'm not going to stay long, but I... I needed to come."

"I appreciate it. I know that's a lot of trouble for you to go to."

"How long will you be..."

"Being discharged sometime later tomorrow, though I'm on doctor's orders to take it easy, so I'm going to have to ask Dooku or Sören and Mark to help me with stuff for awhile." Qui-Gon wished Obi would move back in, but he supposed that was unfair to ask him that now, and he didn't want Obi to think he'd only called to ask him to come over and babysit him the next few weeks. "It's not very serious, just broken ribs, a concussion, I had some nasty glass cuts. I'll recover, given time. But realizing what happened... how it could have been worse... it shook me up enough to call you. In that moment of facing my mortality, you were who I thought of."

And then Obi reached out and took his hand. Obi tried to smile, but it just came out as a frown. His eyes were too bright. Qui-Gon fought back tears of his own.

"I miss you," Qui-Gon choked out.

"I know." Obi nodded, and looked away. "I miss you too, but I..." His voice trailed off and he made a vague hand gesture.

Qui-Gon closed his eyes. I miss you too was almost enough. He doesn't hate me.

Then, before he could open his eyes again, he felt something soft and furry. He opened his eyes and saw Smokey, Obi's kitten doll. "You need him more than I do right now," Obi said.

"Obi, I can't take -"

"Yes, you can, and you will." Obi stood up then. "I... I gotta go, Qui." He started to fall apart, and rushed out of there, letting out a sob a few paces out of the hospital room.


_


Qui-Gon had the option of taking a cab home, or asking Dooku or Mark and/or Sören for a ride. He decided he didn't want to make small talk with a cab driver or dodge invasive questions from a stranger about his injuries. So it was a question of whether he wanted to deal with an "as you know" lecture or be sworn at in Icelandic.

He opted for the latter, because at least Mark and Sören already knew what was going on with him and Obi.

Mark and Sören were waiting for him in the lobby. If looks could kill, both of them would have annihilated him, and Qui-Gon almost wished he hadn't called them. "Get in," Mark snapped when they got to his Jaguar.

Huan was in the back seat and proceeded to climb on Qui-Gon and lick his face; even though Qui-Gon knew Fernando would take offense at the dog smell when he got back, he let the Corgi-sheepdog mix comfort him. At least someone isn't completely pissed off at me.

"So your van is totaled because you drove drunk," Sören said in a flat voice.

Here we go. "Yep."

Sören glared daggers in the rear-view mirror. "Ertu heimskulegasta fjandinn sem hefur lifað? Hvað er eiginlega fjandinn að þér?"

"Sören, chill," Mark said, putting a hand on his husband's knee. Then he too glared at Qui-Gon in the rearview mirror. "You, sir, are a fucking asshole."

"I know," Qui-Gon said.

"You could have gotten killed. You could have gotten someone else killed. Did... did you get your doctorate from a fucking Cracker Jack box? I just. Can't. Even."

"I am painfully aware that I fucked up, Mark. And I most likely will have legal consequences, beyond the expense of having my van replaced, and the recovery over the next six weeks. That should be enough to drill into my head to not repeat this mistake -"

"I should hope not, but people do stupid things when they're desperate. I have... a lot of experience with that."

A little frisson went down Qui-Gon's spine, and the words Eärendil and Elwing came to the back of his mind. In his mind's eye, a flash of blood, Maglor's cry of what have I done, the orphans Elrond and Elros. Qui-Gon swallowed hard. He clutched Smokey, began petting him by instinct even though it was just a stuffed plush cat, not real.

"Whatcha got there?" Sören asked, looking over his shoulder.

"That. Ah." Qui-Gon sighed. "Obi showed up."

"Oh, so you talked to him..."

"We just talked, but not much. Nothing really came out of it."

"Is he at least OK?" Mark cut back in. "I was going to call him myself, but after what you told me I was going to give him some space for a few more days -"

"I don't know about OK, but he's not homeless, which was a concern of mine."

"Where is he now?" Sören asked.

Qui-Gon exhaled. "Anakin."

Mark pulled over and took a few deep breaths, shaking with visceral anger.

"Oh HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL NO," Sören yelled, and then he let out another volcanic eruption of Icelandic. "Það fáviti? Móðgandi viðbjóðslegur skítblettur dulbúinn sem manneskja?"

"I... you're sure he's with Anakin?" Mark set his jaw.

"He told me himself. It's not at the duplex. Anakin moved out, into a studio somewhere. Obi's sleeping on his floor."

"Hells." Mark leaned back in his seat and covered his face with his hands.

"Fucking..." Sören inhaled sharply. "Ég sver við Guð að ég mun slá eilífðarfokkinn út úr honum -"

Mark held up a hand. "OK. OK. Let's... get Qui-Gon home, then we'll come back in a couple hours with some food or something..."

"Thank you," Qui-Gon said.

"You probably should work out a schedule with Dooku so we're trading days."

That meant having to talk to Dooku about all of this. "Can I have a couple of days before -"

Sören's laughter rang out, knowing exactly why Qui-Gon was requesting a couple of days. "He already knows, Qui. I told him."

"Oh, did you." Qui-Gon felt he shouldn't have been surprised, considering how close Sören and Dooku still were, but he felt a vague annoyance that the breakup had been a topic of conversation.

"He hasn't called you yet, he thought he'd give you some space, but, ah." Sören rubbed his beard. "You know. The longer you wait, the longer that lecture's gonna be."

"Yes. I know." He could hear the "as you know, drinking and driving is very irresponsible" now.

"Qui, we're pissed off at you because we care," Mark said. He got back on the road. "I told you when we had the discussion about, well." He let the point of his ear show before his long hair fell back over it. "That I don't take friendship lightly. You and Obi were the best men at our wedding. And Dooku. I'm not just upset that you did a very reckless, foolish thing that could have gotten you and other people killed, I'm upset that you didn't call one of us to keep you from making that decision in the first place."

"It was a Sunday night. I didn't want to interrupt -"

"I get it. But you know what? You getting killed would have been a lot more of a disruption. So the next time you feel like going out to drown your sorrows where maybe you're not going to think well enough to call a cab or something... call me. Just... don't worry about whether or not you're being a pain in the ass. You're family to us. That's what family does... be a pain in the ass. And we look out for each other anyway. So promise me that going forward, this won't happen again. It's already difficult enough for me to let mortals in past an arm's length, let alone have them flaunt their mortality in my face."

Qui-Gon sighed, feeling a pang of guilt. He managed a nod, even though just that little movement hurt. "I promise."

"Good."

Chapter Text

 

 

Find A Way

 

 

Chapter Track: "I Don't Want To Talk About It" - Rod Stewart





Two weeks after Qui-Gon's accident, Sören and Dooku were over his house. A schedule had been worked out where every three to four days, Dooku or Sören and Mark would come over to check on him, bring him food and prepare a few days' worth of meals that could be easily heated in the microwave, and do some household chores including tend the garden and clean the catbox. Today, on August twentieth, Dooku had brought Sören along, and they were cooking together in the kitchen. Qui-Gon reclined on the couch watching TV as they worked, as he couldn't quite sit at the table yet, but it was well enough because he didn't really feel like watching them banter. Even though Dooku and Sören weren't technically an item, the chemistry between them made Qui-Gon miss Obi all over again.

And then, when food was in the oven, Dooku and Sören came out with tea. Dooku poured Qui-Gon a cup and gingerly handed it to him; Qui-Gon mumbled his thanks.

"As you know, the semester starts in a few days," Dooku said.

Qui-Gon nodded. "I'm not medically cleared to drive, but I can go to work if I take it easy. I feel bad asking you for more favors, but I'll need a ride to campus and back since it's less strenuous than taking public transit and having to walk..."

Dooku nodded. "That's why I brought it up, Qui-Gon. I can take you until you're able to drive again."

"Ugh." Qui-Gon made a face, thinking about his totaled van. "I'm going to have to buy a new vehicle... I'll need a ride to a car dealership too."

"You let us know," Sören said. "Although..." He and Dooku looked at each other. "I'm wondering if you're even going to be allowed to drive, legally, once you're medically cleared for it."

"Well, I mean." Qui-Gon frowned. "They didn't arrest me at the hospital -"

"They'd need bloodwork with your alcohol level, and if you had any bloodwork done the lab results can take a few weeks to get back. Former med student here. So just because you haven't been arrested for DUI doesn't mean you won't be." Sören made a "tsk" noise.

"Shit." Qui-Gon sighed. "I really hope that doesn't happen -"

"I do," Dooku said sharply. "And you know how I feel about the police in this country. But yes, Qui-Gon, actions have consequences. Healing broken ribs, buying a new vehicle, that's easy. An arrest record is a bit harder to escape -"

"Oh here we go again," Qui-Gon groaned. "It's been two weeks, Teach -"

"I don't care if it's been two years." Dooku glared. "You. Could. Have. Died. You. Could. Have. Killed. Someone. Your wife was killed by a drunk driver, and you celebrated her birthday by drunk driving. Two weeks after the fact I'm still baffled, even shocked, by what the hell you were thinking - or rather, that you weren't thinking at all."

"No, I wasn't thinking, you were absolutely right. I was so blinded by grief that I could only feel, without that balance of logic. Which isn't an excuse. I fucked up, and I feel bad..."

"Not bad enough." Dooku put his tea down, leaned back in the chair, and folded his arms. "What you did was, quite frankly, suicidal. And telling me that what you did was done in a haze of grief doesn't convince me that it's not. I know that almost six years after losing Tahl, it still hurts. I know that you're still hurting over Obi. But there's other people in this world who care about you and would be absolutely devastated if something happened to you. And when I say 'other people', I mean me."

"Me too," Sören said softly. Dooku and Sören looked at each other, and Dooku patted his knee; Sören rubbed Dooku's knee in return. Their gaze held for a moment before they looked back at Qui-Gon, faces stern.

Qui-Gon felt himself getting choked up. Wanting to hide, burning with the shame of what he'd done... and also feeling like he didn't deserve their caring. "I..." Qui-Gon blinked back tears.

"Qui-Gon." Dooku's own eyes were too bright. "As you know, we are only ten years apart in age, but since I met you as one of my students decades ago, I've felt paternal towards you. You are..." He took a deep breath. "The closest thing I've ever had, or ever will have, to a son. I think of you as my son, and..." His voice trailed off, his jaw quivering. Sören took his hand and made soothing noises.

Qui-Gon let out a sob, then. Things with his own blood family had been strained since his older brother took his own life. He and Dooku had been quite close before Tahl died, and one of the nice things about the last few months was falling back into friendship with him again, after drifting apart in his grief and self-imposed isolation. He'd missed Dooku, lectures and all, and here and now the truth was lay bare: Dooku was, as his old mentor, the father figure he'd never had. The disappointment and disapproval from Dooku over his recent fuckup hurt worse than judgment from anyone else because of that. And yet, finally hearing this be acknowledged, even if it took the fuckup to lay it out, gave him a sense of relief and gratitude even as he continued to twinge with shame and guilt.

"I don't entirely know what I believe these days about the metaphysical," Dooku said, his voice shaking, "but I can't shake the feeling that you were my son, my blood, in a past life, somehow, and that we found our way back to each other... and if that is the case, nobody is allowed to take you away from me. That also means you, yourself."

That felt intuitively right to Qui-Gon. He didn't entirely know what he believed either, though Mark's existence was proof there was more to reality than what most people thought... and at the mention of past lives, he thought about the conversation he'd had with Sören where Sören had mentioned he was an Elf in a past life and he and Mark had been together back then. Something about Dooku bringing up a possible/probable past life, and Sören and Mark's acknowledgment that Sören had been Mark's lover a long time ago, felt strangely connected - gears were turning in the back of Qui-Gon's head. But he was too emotional to poke at it much beyond that, right now. Maybe later.

"I don't know what you want me to say," Qui-Gon said. "I've said I'm sorry countless times now... considering this isn't the first time you've lectured me since the accident." Not even the fourth or fifth. "Though it's the first time you've mentioned why you feel so strongly."

Dooku picked up his mug of tea. "I'm not very good with feelings, Qui-Gon."

Qui-Gon snorted and sipped his tea, giving Sören a pointed look. No shit.

Then Sören said, "Hi Not Very Good With Feelings -"

"Sören." Dooku gave him a murderous look. "That was uncalled for -"

"On the contrary, we needed a moment of levity right about now." Sören patted him, grinning. "Though, seeing you in dad mode, I don't know. It's kind of cute." Sören bit his lower lip and crinkled his nose, looking down.

Dooku's face flushed.

Oh, will the two of you JUST FUCK ALREADY. If Qui-Gon's ribs weren't still recovering, he would have flung a pillow at them. Now it was his turn to glare, raising his eyebrows at Dooku as if to ask when are you going to tell him with his mind.

Dooku narrowed his eyes back at Qui-Gon as if to say don't start that again and sipped his tea.

"I can promise you that I won't do it again," Qui-Gon said finally. "I'm likely not out of the woods yet emotionally..." He sighed, thinking of Obi, wherever he was. Hoping Obi was OK. "But I won't do anything that stupid again."

"You had better not."

Then Fernando trotted out with a chirp. He came over to Sören, who was usually the cat's favorite guest, but after taking a sniff at Sören's outstretched hands he walked away with his nose in the air and came over to Qui-Gon.

"Huh, that was interesting. Usually he likes you," Qui-Gon said, gently stroking the cat as the cat got beside him on the couch.

"He probably smells my kitty." Sören sipped his tea.

"Oh... you and Mark finally got a cat?"

Sören nodded. "We adopted a ginger tabby kitten. You should come see him!"

Qui-Gon loved cats, and just the idea of a kitten made him melt. But he was still feeling sad and not much for socializing - just the rotating visits from Dooku, Sören and Mark every few days to help him around the house had been almost too much. "In a few weeks perhaps -"

"No. Soon. A few days. Kittens grow fast, he won't be this tiny forever, and you really need to see this tiny, cute ginger kitten we took home." Sören gave him a look. "Besides, I don't think it's good for you to be all..." He made a vague hand gesture. "Alone and shit."

"Indeed." Dooku's lips quirked. "The kitten is worth visiting."

"So whaddya say?" Sören pulled out his cell phone and hit a few buttons; Qui-Gon saw from across the room he had the calendar open. "It's Monday, you want to come over for dinner on Thursday night? See the baby? I'll come pick you up."

Qui-Gon sighed. "If you insist."

"I do." Sören looked at Dooku. "You want to come over then..."

Dooku shook his head. "I don't want to overwhelm the small creature with too many people around at once." His lips quirked again as he sipped his tea, and Sören restrained a grin. Qui-Gon wondered what that was about, if they had some private in-joke. "I can visit another evening, though, perhaps, thank you."

"Jæja, you better."

"I must admit I was a bit worried I'd see less of you after the wedding. It's been nice to continue to be included in your life, such as agreeing to come along with me today," Dooku said.

"You're my best friend. I wouldn't just abandon you, Nico." Sören squeezed Dooku's knee; Dooku rested his hand on Sören's again and their eyes met, another one of those too-long glances before Sören bit his lower lip and looked away.

Oh for fuck's sake, you fucking idiots. Qui-Gon cleared his throat loudly and when Dooku's brow furrowed, murder in his eyes again, Qui-Gon said, "Sorry, wrong pipe," before taking another sip of his tea, glaring back at Dooku over his mug.


_


On Thursday evening, Sören picked up Qui-Gon. It was Qui-Gon's first trip in a vehicle since coming back from the hospital, and though Sören drove slowly and cautiously, they hit a few bumps and potholes that made Qui-Gon cry out, and Sören apologized profusely.

Qui-Gon had been in the vicinity of Mark's house before, as it was near a park with a pond that Qui-Gon liked visiting, but this was his first time actually visiting the house itself.

Mark Lowry lived in a one-story two-bedroom house on a quiet tree-lined street. There was a small garage on the house, which had light grey siding, a darker grey roof, and reddish brick corners, with large paneled glass windows. The house was ringed by well-maintained shrubbery. The door was wood, with an oval glass floral design in the center. At the door was a welcome mat that said COME BACK WITH A WARRANT. Qui-Gon chuckled at it.

"We're a shoeless house," Sören said, kicking off his Doc Martens at the door. Qui-Gon also removed his footwear.

He heard Huan bark, and then Mark opened the door before Sören could get out his keys. He took Sören into his arms and gave him a quick kiss, then gave Qui-Gon a curt nod - Mark still hadn't forgiven him yet for driving drunk. But he also was letting Qui-Gon into his home, so that was something. "Come in," Mark said.

Qui-Gon would have stooped to pet Huan if he wasn't still recovering from broken ribs. Huan trotted ahead of them, excitedly barking and wagging his tail. Qui-Gon took a moment to admire the inside of Mark's house, which had an open plan living room, kitchen and dining area. There was a brick fireplace in the living room, which was done in neutral black and white, with splashes of color from a few of Sören's paintings - and some more unusual decor. Qui-Gon grinned at the framed KISS albums, the KISS poster, and an electric guitar that was actually hanging on the wall. It looked familiar but he couldn't place it. Mark saw him noticing it and said, "Ah, that's a replica of George Lynch's guitar from Dokken's 'In My Dreams' video." He gave a sheepish little laugh.

Mark's war harp was in a part of the living room near a workspace with Sören's art supplies and his latest work in progress on an easel. Nearby there was a large shelf unit filled with vinyl records, and a record player with an elaborate sound system. Near that was Mark's other musical equipment, and another shelf with various rock paraphernalia - Qui-Gon grinned again at the KISS action figures. The surreality that this was Maglor, the ancient Elf written of by Tolkien, with a collection of KISS action figures made Qui-Gon laugh a little until his ribs started to hurt. Sören gently steered him towards the black couch. "Sit," Sören said.

"Can I get you anything?" Mark asked.

"Water's fine," Qui-Gon said. "Where's the kitty?"

It was that moment when Obi walked out. Qui-Gon's jaw dropped.

"H-hello, Qui." Obi shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Looking more delectable than he had any right to in jeans and a light blue T-shirt.

"Obi. What... what are you doing here."

"I'm staying with Mark and Sören for awhile."

Sören nodded. "After we found out he was staying with Anakin, Mark went ballistic, we went to the coffee shop next time Obi was on and Mark insisted he take the other bedroom for a bit."

Mark came back with water for Qui-Gon, and ginger ale for Sören and Obi.

Qui-Gon remembered the little smirk Dooku had at Sören's reference to the "ginger kitten we adopted", and Sören's own grin, like they had been expressing amusement at a private joke. "You tricked me," Qui-Gon said, glaring daggers at Sören.

Then he heard a tiny "mew", and looked down and saw there was in fact a small orange tabby kitten walking towards him.

"No, not really," Sören said. "We do actually have a ginger kitten now, as you can see. It was just a funny double meaning."

"So, what's his name?" Qui-Gon said, melting at the kitten who hopped up on the ottoman for pettings.

"Piparkökur." Sören smiled. "We call him Pip for short." Sören cackled. "Mark didn't want me calling him Kök or Kaka for short."

Qui-Gon spat his water. His ribs were hurting again from laughter, and Obi laughed too. Then Sören gestured for Obi to sit; Obi took one of the armchairs, near Qui-Gon but not sitting on the couch next to him. Mark took one of the other armchairs and Sören sat on Mark's lap, with Mark putting his arms around Sören.

"Dinner will be about ninety minutes roughly," Mark said.

"Ooh, what is it?" Qui-Gon asked.

"It's a lasagna." Mark looked at Obi. "He asked me to make it since Garfield was coming over."

"That's a name I haven't heard in a long time," Qui-Gon said, looking at Obi over his water. Not since the beginning of their relationship. Qui-Gon didn't know whether to laugh or cry, or both.

"I told them about that," Obi said. "I still can't believe you called me Odie when we first met."

Sören snickered. "That's bloody awful."

"Yeah. What can I say? I got a bit flustered and tongue-tied in the presence of such beauty." Qui-Gon gave a small, wistful smile before he took a sip of his water.

Obi sighed, and Qui-Gon sighed too.

"Well... we have an hour and a half to burn, so if you want to watch something, I'm open to suggestions," Mark said.

"Oh! Can you put on Rattle and Hum?" Sören asked.

Sören got up from Mark's lap and waited while he put on the DVD of U2's Rattle and Hum, then Sören sat back down on Mark's lap. Huan lay at their feet and Pip purred away in Sören's arms. Mark's sound system on the flat-screen TV was amazing, and Qui-Gon felt nostalgic for what had been one of his favorite bands in the 80s. He also felt old when Obi said in a hushed voice, "Wow, this was before I was born..."

Once again, that reminder of their age difference, and this time feeling a little prickle, wondering if Obi's rejection of his proposal had anything to do with that. The rejection came roaring back to his mind through the latter half of the concert documentary, and when it was over and time for dinner, Qui-Gon was glad to have an excuse to get up and go to the bathroom to wash his hands, needing to splash cold water on his face, trying not to break down crying.

On the way back from the bathroom Qui-Gon lingered. The bathroom was between the two bedrooms, across the hall from each other. One, which Qui-Gon assumed was the guest room, had light grey walls and the same neutral black-and-white decor as the living room, with a large window and hardwood floors, a few small plush rugs here and there. There was a futon against the wall and Qui-Gon recognized some of Obi's belongings - he didn't look too moved in, like he was indeed staying temporarily. The other bedroom had black walls, a king-sized bed with a gauzy black canopy curtain, black bedcovers. Ornate candelabra on the walls, fairy lights around the canopy curtain, candles and lanterns around the room, with mahogany William and Mary style furniture. Hardwood floors, red Oriental throw rugs. The room smelled faintly of incense, like it had been burned recently. There was a small stereo in the room as well, and a bookcase that had some old-looking books and a few interesting objects, pottery mostly, a stained glass box, and what looked like a crystal ball. All in all it was a very dramatic-looking room, the sort of room that felt like Mark and Sören. Qui-Gon grinned again when out of the corner of his eye he saw a heap of four stuffed animals - a unicorn, two bunnies, and an Eeyore doll - seated at a miniature tea set on one of the dressers.

He frowned when he thought of Smokey, who he'd been sleeping with at night since Obi gave it to him at the hospital. He felt like he was going to need to return the kitten doll at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

He realized, on his way down to the dining area, that he was looking at the bedrooms for a reason. Over the years since Tahl's death, Qui-Gon had visited the idea of moving out of his house more than once. He had resisted because he was attached to the house and the neighborhood it was in... the garden he kept. Yet, he felt haunted, even after he'd finally gotten around to removing most of Tahl's things from the house, and the feeling had intensified the last two weeks that he'd been homebound. Moving somewhere else in town still sat badly with him, but redecorating the house might be the change he needed.

He thought about that as he sat down to dinner, admiring the wooden finish of the kitchen. He wondered how much of a pain in the ass it would be to have a wall taken out to give him an open plan living, kitchen and dining area. Just the thought of repainting seemed like a herculean effort right now.

There was a garden salad to go with the lasagna - the lasagna was half-sausage, half-eggplant. There was also fresh bread; Mark broke bread and handed Qui-Gon a piece. Somehow that felt symbolic, when their eyes held.

"You're family," Mark said, confirming it was an important act for him. "Remember that."

"That means I get to do this to you." Sören dipped his straw into his ginger ale and spat ginger ale at Qui-Gon. Obi laughed, clapping.

"Behave," Mark said to Sören.

Sören blew ginger ale at him too, which resulted in Mark blowing ginger ale at Sören.

"Children," Qui-Gon said.

"Says the guy who, I don't know, drove drunk a couple weeks ago," Mark said.

"Et tu, Marcus? I've already gotten endless lectures from Dooku."

"You deserve it. Fucker."

Sören snorted, and Obi shook with silent laughter. The hilarity of an ancient Elf calling him "fucker" was not lost on Qui-Gon and he couldn't help laughing a little as well, shaking his head.

"Wow," Obi said with his mouth full. "This bread is really good. Is it lembas?"

Qui-Gon's eyebrows shot up, and he looked at Sören, then Mark. "Does he..."

"He knows, yeah." Mark sighed. "It's kind of hard to live with someone and keep that a secret, especially when I usually unglamour when I'm at home, force of habit." Then Mark took a deep breath and Qui-Gon watched as Mark's hair lengthened, and he glowed a little, silver eyes iridescent. Obi's jaw dropped, until bread fell out.

"I'm still not used to the transformation," Obi said.

"Anyway, it's not lembas," Mark said. "It's just regular bread. With a garlic spread."

"I can't believe it's not butter," Sören said.

Mark facepalmed - now it was his turn to laugh - and he put his bread down. "Jesus Christ, Sören, don't even with that right now." At the look Qui-Gon gave him, Mark explained, "Inside joke, background story is stuff you probably don't want to know about."

"We used butter as lube once," Sören said.

"Sören, I said they probably don't want to know -"

"Like they don't know we fuck."

Mark laughed harder. "You're incorrigible."

"Takk."

The dinner conversation wended its way towards school starting next week, and Obi was both nervous and excited about his first semester. Qui-Gon was relieved to know Obi was still planning on going through with attending college, though he supposed he shouldn't have been too surprised since Obi was staying with two professors and Mark and Sören would likely get on his case if he didn't. Obi was doing as much of his coursework online as possible, as part of the accommodations for the anxiety and overstimulation that came with being autistic spectrum. He would have to go to campus sometime for some things - notably when he had Sören's classes - but a lot could be handled over the Internet, which Obi was grateful for. He was still feeling intimidated enough that he was stimming more, just even talking about it, and Sören quietly got up and brought out Obi's fidget spinner. Anakin had taken the one Qui-Gon had gotten him; Sören and Mark got him a new one.

After dinner Obi offered to do the dishes, and Sören said, "No, I got this. You go... sit in the living room." He glanced at Qui-Gon and said, "You too."

Qui-Gon and Obi went into the living room area. Qui-Gon could see Mark and Sören at the sink - for a minute Qui-Gon wondered if Mark would come out to the living room but it became apparent that Mark was giving them their space, and it then became apparent that was the main purpose of being asked to dinner, it wasn't just simply so Qui-Gon could meet their new kitten, adorable that he was, playing with a jingle ball on the floor.

There was a long awkward silence and finally Qui-Gon broke the silence. "How have you been? Besides all of the worrying about school."

Obi shrugged. "OK, I guess. You?"

Qui-Gon sighed and looked down.

"Yeah." Obi nodded. "I figured."

"When do you want Smokey back?" Qui-Gon asked.

"You can keep him for awhile."

"Like how long is awhile."

Obi shrugged again. "Probably at least another month or so. When I move out of here into a studio, I don't want him to get lost or something in the running around..."

"Yeah." Qui-Gon sighed.

Then Mark did step into the living area, giving them a disapproving look. "Mkay, so the two of you... need to talk about some stuff." He folded his arms.

"I don't know what there is to talk about," Qui-Gon said. "Things have been over for a month -"

"Oh no." Mark shook his head. "If it was well and truly over, you wouldn't be here right now."

Qui-Gon bristled at that. "Well, I can't bloody drive right now, so yes, I am stuck here as a captive audience, and I wouldn't want to be rude asking to be driven back so soon after dinner. But what's done is done. I just have to accept it that Obi doesn't love me anymore -"

"You're wrong." Obi glared at him. "I still love you, Qui. You could have died a couple weeks ago -" And he let out a sob, and broke down crying.

Qui-Gon's stomach sank even as his heart soared. Tears came to his own eyes. He was relieved to hear the admission of love... and even more than knowing how much pain his bad decision had caused Dooku, knowing it hurt Obi too was like a knife.

"Do you know how much of a wreck I was after I saw you in the hospital? No, of course you don't. It's a good thing Mark and Sören came to get me that day at work because Anakin gave me so much shit about crying. I..."

"Well, if you still care, you have a funny way of showing it, considering you left without saying a word to me and then when I came to see you at work and ask how you were, you told me to go away." Tears quietly rolled down Qui-Gon's cheeks. Mark stepped back into the kitchen area. Qui-Gon couldn't help staring a little as Mark walked off, his hair at its true length all the way down to his thighs, still taken somewhat aback by the casual unglamouring.

"I left because I couldn't take seeing you in so much pain. Pain that I'd caused."

"I won't lie, Obi. It hurt that you said no to my proposal. But that wasn't a dealbreaker for our relationship. I could have lived with you saying no."

"See..." Obi took a deep breath. He tried to pull himself together. Mark quietly stepped in to hand Obi water and then stepped back out. "I didn't know that."

"Of course not, because you left without talking to me first." Qui-Gon felt the sting of it - almost angry.

"I left because I freaked out. Like I said, I felt like I fucked everything up by saying no, I couldn't deal with seeing you all... hurt. But no, I didn't know that saying no was all right, especially when you were getting reactive."

"I wouldn't say it was all right, per se, but we would have survived. Gotten past it."

"It's just." Obi sighed. "It's like I told you. Everything was moving really fast. I didn't know if you were wanting to get married soon -"

"Oh god. You mean you took the proposal literally? Like 'do you want to marry me right now'?"

"Sort of kind of? I knew it probably wouldn't be, like, immediately the next day or even next week, but not a lot of time passed between Sören and Mark's engagement and their wedding -"

"If I might?" Now Sören stepped in. "We're the exception, not the rule. A lot of people have engagements for months, sometimes longer than a year, before they get married. We wanted July twentieth, after the proposal happened, because it's a significant date for us."

Mark's arms came around Sören from behind. "The anniversary of our first time."

Sören looked up at Mark and Mark leaned in to steal a kiss. Mark squeezed him and went back to the kitchen. Sören lingered.

"And I mean, even if it was a few months out," Obi said, "we haven't been together all that long, and there was just so much happening. The shit with Anakin, the move..."

"Speaking as another non-neurotypical person," Sören said, which sounded funny and adorable in his accent, "we tend to be creatures of habit. We do better when we have a sort of routine, or at least when things are predictable. Big life changes are stressful for neurotypical people but they seem to be even harder for us, throwing everything out of whack."

"Yes," Obi said, nodding vehemently. "That's it, exactly."

"So something like getting married, which... just planning a ceremony, perhaps a honeymoon, never mind all the legal implications... that's a huge deal. A huge life change, and when you haven't been with someone that long..."

"Exactly. And..." Obi swallowed hard. "My parents got married young, shotgun wedding because my mom was pregnant, and they're divorced. They rushed into things and I worry about making the same mistake they made. And their divorce was such a pain in the ass with all the red tape and everything. I love you, Qui. I want to be with you. But I need, like... more time. At least a few more months before I can decide something like that. Can we just be for awhile?"

"We can." Qui-Gon felt another wave of tears coming on, relief, gratitude, as well as pain - Obi rarely spoke about his family, and Qui-Gon wondered now just how much of a sore subject this was, how much his parents' unhappiness and divorce had affected him. He guessed quite a lot.

"All right, good," Sören said. He called to the kitchen, "Hey Mark, I think they pulled their heads out of their arses..."

"Well, there is one more thing." Qui-Gon's eyes met Obi's for a moment. "I would ask you to come back home with me. I don't want you to think I'm asking you because I'm laid up and can't do much right now, it's because I miss you..."

"I understand," Obi said.

"Nico would still want to come by to help," Sören said. He grinned. "And lecture you."

Qui-Gon made a noise. "He's going to lecture me for the next decade, probably."

"It's cute you think it would just be a decade." Sören rolled his eyes.

Qui-Gon ugly laughed at that; it hurt. "You know him too well."

"As you know..."

The imitation of Dooku's accent and basso made Qui-Gon double over. "Ow, ow, fucking ow." Qui-Gon moaned in pain, wincing. Pip mewed with concern and came over, batting at Qui-Gon's pant leg.

"Awwwwwwww, kitty wants to help," Sören said.

"Fernando misses you," Qui-Gon said, looking at Obi again.

"I miss him too. And you. Even if you were a fucking asshole drinking and driving." Obi rolled his eyes. "You better never do that again."

"I swear to you, I won't."

"As far as moving back in... this weekend?"

"That's fine. That'll give you time to pack. Oh and... you probably already know this, but..."

"As you know," Sören muttered, making Qui-Gon laugh again.

"Stop that," Qui-Gon wheezed, twinging. The innocent face Sören gave him made it worse. When Qui-Gon calmed down he said, "I'm under doctor's orders to take it easy, which means..."

"I figured." Obi nodded.

"I also totaled the van so between not being medically cleared to drive, and not having a vehicle -"

"And probably getting your license suspended once your bloodwork gets back to the police," Sören said.

"Well, I've taken the bus before," Obi said. "I can walk."

"I feel bad," Qui-Gon said, "but..."

"Qui? Can I... can I hug you? I've been wanting to do that since you walked in but I've worried with your ribs..."

"Gently."

Obi came over and joined him on the couch, and hugged him gently. Then they shared a sweet, gentle, lingering kiss. Mark and Sören stood together, watching, and applauded when they pulled apart, breathing harder.

"There," Sören said. "Fucking finally."

"I..." Qui-Gon took a deep breath. He felt a little ashamed that he'd been annoyed when he'd first gotten there, feeling tricked into it. "Thank you for intervening, both of you."

"After thousands of years alive, my home is apparently the Dr. Phil show. This is my life now," Mark said, with a little eyeroll. "But, you know. Like I said, you're family."

"You guys will have to come for dinner, when I'm a bit more healed up."

"Jæja, we can start going on double dates again," Sören said.

Obi took Qui-Gon's hand and squeezed. Just that little bit of physical contact made Qui-Gon ache, wanting Obi for dessert. But it was enough, right now, just to be next to him. To be together again.

Chapter Text

Welcome Home

 

Chapter Track: "Rope Burn" - Janet Jackson




On the afternoon of Saturday, August twenty-fifth, Sören drove Obi to Qui-Gon's house. It was still surreal to see Sören driving, even as Qui-Gon knew Sören used to drive before his accident in December 2016. But it was heartening to see that Sören was at a place in his recovery where he could at least drive short distances across town again, while he still wasn't ready to drive longer trips on the highway. It also gave Qui-Gon a bit of a pang, knowing that Mark had been good for Sören, that the two of them had found safety and healing with each other, and as much as he wanted to see Dooku happy he was loath to disturb the hard-won peace Sören had found. He wondered how the impending school year was going to shape things for all of them.

Mark's Jaguar was packed with Obi's belongings, and Sören helped Obi carry them inside. Sören stayed for tea, and then he gave them both hugs on the way out.

"I hope this is the last time I have to move you back in," Sören said, giving Obi a stern look.

"Yeah, I know." Obi nodded, looking down sheepishly. Then he hugged Sören again and said, "Thank you, you and Mark have been great."

Sören affectionately tousled his hair. "I'll see you at school on Monday." Obi would have to be on campus for the first day. He waved, and Qui-Gon and Obi watched him get in the car and pull out.

Then Qui-Gon gestured to Obi to follow him and they sat back down at the table.

"So, let me start off by saying I'm really glad to have you back home," Qui-Gon said. Their eyes met, and Qui-Gon added, "Where you belong."

Obi smiled and reached out to take Qui-Gon's hand. Just that simple touch made his heart soar.

"But I have a few rules, this time around." Qui-Gon had been rehearsing this in his mind in the hours before Obi's arrival. Even with practicing it in his head, it still felt strange to say any of it aloud, and yet it was necessary. "Rule the first. If things ever get to the point where you want to leave, again... you need to tell me first, so we can talk about it. We could have avoided all of this if you'd talked to me before you left."

"I know. I'm sorry. And... I don't think I'll leave again -"

"You say that but we don't know for sure what the future holds. And the thing is, every couple has problems from time to time, every couple has disagreements, arguments, from time to time. I know you don't like conflict, it makes you want to bolt. So what I'm asking is if we hit another bump in the road... don't leave without us discussing it."

"All right."

"Rule the second. If you panic and forget rule number one - because look, I speak firsthand about poor decisions made on impulse in the heat of the moment..."

"No shit." Obi scowled.

Qui-Gon sighed. He was getting tired of everyone continually picking at him about the accident, and yet he knew it was wholly justified. "Or if we talk and you decide to leave anyway, I absolutely do not want you moving back in with Anakin. That was..." Qui-Gon pinched the bridge of his nose. "It was as painful to me as you leaving itself. It felt like a slap in the face, that I was apparently so awful to be around that you had to run to Anakin. I know now that wasn't it, but that was what it felt like. And I can't stress enough that he's bad to you, and bad for you."

"I know. But at the time I was leaving, I didn't feel I had any other options."

"Except you did, because Mark and Sören came to get you. So that's my other rule... if you need to leave, Mark and Sören are willing to take you in until you can get a place of your own. And I daresay they're a damn sight better to stay with than Anakin."

"All across the board." Obi nodded. "Mark's a good cook, they're super nice. Except..." Obi made a face.

"Except what?" Qui-Gon's eyebrows shot up.

Obi rolled his eyes and shook with silent laughter. "They're, ah. Loud." His face turned pink. "I know they tried to keep it down with me in the other room, but, uh... they didn't quite succeed there."

Qui-Gon thought of the indiscretion with them in the copy room and realized they'd be louder in their own home. He facepalmed, also laughing. "Oh god."

"Yeah. I love them lots, but like. I'm not keen on hearing 'OH MARK FUCK ME HARDER' -" Obi did an imitation of Sören's accent. "Anytime soon."

Qui-Gon couldn't unsee it. He thought of Sören and Mark as being like siblings to him - or perhaps Sören was sort of like his mother, if Dooku was his father - and though he was generally not a prude, it was awkward to think about them that way, and he gathered it was awkward for Obi as well.

"But you're right that it's better than staying with Ani," Obi said.

"Which leads me to my third rule. I don't want you in contact with Anakin anymore. I assume Mark and Sören had a similar rule when you stayed with them -"

Obi nodded. "Yeah, they did."

"So it shouldn't be too hard to follow, if you've already been keeping that rule. I don't care that he let you sleep on his floor when you moved out, and I'm sure that he's tried to use that as some sort of leverage to 'prove' that he 'really cares about you'." Qui-Gon made air quotes. "Maybe in his twisted way of thinking, he does. But his actions - apart from taking you in briefly - prove otherwise. He's brought chaos and pain to our lives, and going forward, we don't need that around us."

"Understood."

"All right then. Lecture is done. I even managed to get through it without an 'as you know'." Qui-Gon smiled to himself. "Now the matter at hand is... what do you want to eat for your first night back?"

Their eyes met. "You," Obi breathed.

Qui-Gon's breath hitched. In his grief following the breakup, and the physical pain and exhaustion following the accident, he hadn't had much of a libido over the last month. But his doctor did say around two to three weeks he'd start to feel a bit better - they were right on schedule for that - and seeing Obi again, being in proximity to him, having him home again made all that lost time come crashing in. Qui-Gon's cock stirred.

"I know you have to take it easy, but..."

"There's..." Qui-Gon licked his lips, his mouth suddenly dry. Wanting something to suck on. "Still things we can do that won't be too taxing."

"I hope so. All I've been able to think about since Thursday night is your cock."

Qui-Gon got up with a start - wincing as his chest twinged - and Obi got up as well. Qui-Gon crushed Obi to him, kissing him hard and deep. Feverishly, they began undressing right there in the kitchen, clothes strewn across the floor as they made their way from the kitchen to the bedroom, kissing and caressing all the way, hard cocks rubbing up together.

At last they were on the bed together, and spent a moment just holding each other, legs tangled, feeling each other skin to skin. Qui-Gon felt himself getting choked up - even more than missing the sex, he'd missed this. Holding Obi. Being held. Obi hadn't just come home, Qui-Gon himself was home now, in Obi's arms.

Obi saw the tears in Qui-Gon's eyes and stroked his face before giving him a soft, sweet little kiss. "I missed you."

"I missed you too." He kissed the tip of Obi's nose. "So much."

Then Obi started to cry, and the sight of his tears set Qui-Gon off, crying silently. "I'm so sorry that I left. I'm sorry that I hurt you..."

Qui-Gon took Obi's hand and kissed it. "I'm sorry that I overwhelmed you. I'm sorry that I upset you. I didn't know about what all went on in your family -"

"Yeah, I know I never talk about it. Them."

"And I just..." Qui-Gon closed his eyes, trying to stop the tears. "We feel so right, together. If there's one thing I'm very sure of, it's that I want to spend the rest of my life with you." He opened his eyes. "But I can say something like that by virtue of my age. I know at your age, you're still figuring things out. And making a legally binding commitment at your age, something that we'd have to go to court to undo... I can see how that would be scary. I really should have thought more before I proposed -"

"I understand why you did and I..." Obi gave him another soft kiss. "I'm flattered. I want to say yes. But I need more time. I need things to be calm and stable for awhile. I haven't had much of that since I left Massachusetts."

"I will do my very best, Obi. Just... don't run off." Qui-Gon cringed, feeling another wave of tears coming on. "Even more than you saying no to the proposal, it was you leaving and going back to someone who hurt you, that hurt..." He broke down again.

"Oh, Daddy." Obi's arms tightened around him. "I'm so sorry, Daddy."

Hearing Obi call him "Daddy" again was wonderful and painful all at once - too much emotion, flooding him. The flood came out in tears, and Obi kissed them.

"I promise you I won't run away and go back to him, again."

"Don't." Their eyes met. "That was like having my heart ripped out of my chest."

"I know." Obi frowned. "I feel so bad..."

"I'm sure you do. And just like Dooku and Mark and Sören keep trying to impress upon me about the accident and what a fool I was... well, your own decision to go back to Anakin was a foolish one. You're very lucky that he didn't do something awful while he had you in his home. And though you've been asked to leave him alone, that doesn't mean that he'll leave you alone, now he may feel like you've given him a way back in..."

"Yeah. I was wrong." Obi bit his lower lip then, meeting Qui-Gon's eyes. "I did a no-no, Daddy."

Qui-Gon exhaled sharply. There was something about that innocent-yet-naughty response that made Qui-Gon wonder if Obi might want the foolishness of his mistake impressed upon him in a way other than lecturing. A more visceral way.

"Yes, you were very naughty, running away."

Obi started rubbing against his thigh. "Maybe Daddy should teach me a lesson."

Qui-Gon's cock was waking up again. "Yes, it seems that after your naughtiness you shouldn't get relief right away, should you? Giving you what you want so soon when you've been such a brat doesn't make me very responsible, does it?"

Obi rubbed against his thigh more insistently. "What do you think should be my punishment, Daddy?"

"Well... you should indeed be punished, but I don't want to trigger you, when your ex hit you..." Qui-Gon thought. "He didn't spank you though, did he?"

"No sir."

Being called "sir" made his cock twinge all the more. He could feel himself starting to leak precum. His cock twinged again as he thought of spanking Obi's pert little ass. "And then maybe I should tie you up, so you can't run away again..."

Obi moaned at that, bucking up against him. "Oh Daddy."

"Tie you up and make you beg for it."

"Teach me a lesson, Daddy." Obi's face lit up. "Teach me to be a good boy."

"All right. If anything is too much for you, if you don't like it and you need me to stop..." Qui-Gon sat up gingerly and rubbed his beard, considering. "We need a safeword."'

"Safe...word?"

"Something for you to say instead of 'no' or 'stop', since 'don't stop' and 'don't, stop' sound too much alike. Something you'll remember to say."

Obi thought for a moment and then he said, "Kenny Loggins."

Qui-Gon laughed so hard his ribs protested, remembering Sören trolling Mark about his "Kenny Loggins" slip. "He still hasn't let that go, has he?"

"Nope." Obi grinned.

"Well, Kenny Loggins is a bit of a mouthful -"

"That's what his wife said, probably."

Qui-Gon facepalmed, laughing harder. "Goddammit, Obi. Sören was a horrible influence on you."

"I know." Obi grinned.

When Qui-Gon calmed down he said, "Kenny Loggins is a lot to say if you're overwhelmed, so maybe... Footloose?"

"Footloose works."

"Now then. Get on all fours, face down, arse up."

Obi did as he was told. He watched as Qui-Gon found a scarf in the closet, and Qui-Gon came over to the bed and tied Obi's wrists to the slats in the headboard. He had Obi try to move his wrists, wanting to make sure the bonds were neither too lose nor too tight.

Then Qui-Gon got back on the bed and in position. "I'm going to give you twenty spankings and count them."

"Only twenty?"

"My dear, you'll find out soon enough why it's only twenty." Qui-Gon was not in the physical condition of someone like Mark with a military background or Dooku who still regularly went to the gym and practiced martial arts and sports fencing, but he wasn't a weakling, and he hit with the power one might expect with a six foot four inch frame. The smack of his hand against Obi's ass was satisfying, and watching the bubble butt flush red in response even moreso. Most satisfying of all was the way Obi wiggled his ass and thrust against him, panting "yes, more," between spanks. The way he cried out with each slap of his flesh, shivering.

Qui-Gon was rock hard by the time the twenty spankings were finished, his cock dripping precum all the way down the shaft. And yet, as badly as he wanted to fuck Obi and give them both what they'd been craving, the point of this was to not give in right away. And Qui-Gon knew that they would both come so much the harder for the prolonged teasing. He told himself that as he gently rolled to spear Obi's opening with his tongue and began to lick, slowly at first, stroking himself. Having his tongue inside Obi again, and the way Obi's moans got louder, with Obi bucking against his face, fucking his tongue, was exquisite torture. Qui-Gon could almost scream with the frustration building, wanting him so badly. But he kept himself in check, continuing to slowly lap inside Obi, tongue rubbing the prostate. Even when his tongue worked faster, harder - and at last he was devouring him, shaking his head, growling a little as his tongue fucked away - he still kept that iron control, knowing it would pay off.

Oh, the noises Obi made. And then he was whimpering "Please, Daddy, please." Qui-Gon loved it. Of all the makeup sex scenarios he could have dreamed up, this was better than anything he could have fantasized about. He loved Obi's surrender, knowing his trust hadn't come easily, and here he was, completely lost to sensation and lust and hunger. It was a precious gift, one that Qui-Gon would never take for granted. One that he was so, so happy to have back in his life.

"Please, Daddy. Please, I need to come..."

Qui-Gon slowed his licking down again, laughing softly at Obi's howl of frustration. "Soon," Qui-Gon soothed, and licked some more.

"Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgod... oh god..." Obi was quivering, and made precious little high-pitched sounds. Qui-Gon glanced up and saw Obi's fists were white-knuckled, grasping the headboard. "Daddy... Daddy..."

"Mmmmmmmmmm. Need to make sure you really want it. Since you ran away and all, giving this up..."

"Oh god Daddy I want it more than anything if you don't give me your fucking cock right now I'm gonna fucking die."

Qui-Gon laughed again, and his response was to lick even more slowly.

But after a few more moments of lapping slowly inside Obi and hearing the howls and moans intensify, Obi gasping for breath, Qui-Gon relented. His own cock felt ready to explode. He untied Obi, and held him for a moment. "Still good?"

"Fucking fuck me now."

Qui-Gon laughed, making his chest twinge again. He patted Obi's shoulder and said, "I'm afraid you'll have to ride me."

Obi pressed the back of his hand against his forehead with a little eyeroll, then he grinned as he fetched the lube, and poured lube over Qui-Gon's cock. The touch of Obi's hand working the lube onto his cock almost brought Qui-Gon off right away. Obi straddled his hips and Qui-Gon guided the tip of his cock to Obi's hole.

At the feel of being all the way inside him, Qui-Gon was perilously close to coming. He grit his teeth, nails digging in Obi's hips as Obi began to ride. The sight of Obi taking his cock over and over again, his lithe body moving, hips rolling like a dancer's, the look of lust and ecstasy on Obi's face, those delicious moans, Obi's cock flushed and dripping precum... it was too much. Now it was Qui-Gon's turn to quiver, gasping for breath, not wanting to come too soon.

But they were both so pent up it didn't matter. Obi came in record time, shooting all over Qui-Gon, the last jets of his cum giving Qui-Gon a pearl necklace and a facial. And at the feel of Obi contracting around him, the sight and sound of Obi's orgasm, the feel of Obi's hot cum sprayed over his body, especially on his face... Qui-Gon shattered, letting out a roar as he blasted away, body heaving again and again with each delicious wrench of his climax. His chest twinged a little, but it was worth it. So very, very worth it.

Obi collapsed onto him, shuddering in his arms. "Daddy."

"My good boy."

And at that, Obi cried, and Qui-Gon cried with him. Good cleansing, healing tears. Things were all right again. They'd found their way back to each other, and somehow their bond felt even more solid now, as if their time apart had made them realize how much they needed each other. Qui-Gon rocked Obi in his arms, and they rocked and rocked together until they dozed off.

Qui-Gon came to, to see Obi on the phone. He felt a brief jolt, worried that it was Anakin even though he knew Obi knew better, and he hated that it was his first reaction to seeing Obi on the phone, wondering if it was Anakin. He wondered if that was ever going to stop being his reaction, if they would be well and truly done with him.

And of course, it wasn't Anakin. "I ordered us a pizza," Obi said. "I hope you don't mind."

"I don't. I still can't quite cook yet. Soon." He appreciated that Dooku, Mark and Sören had been coming over to cook and store a few days' worth of meals at a time, the food was excellent, but Qui-Gon enjoyed cooking and didn't like that he couldn't do it just yet.

Obi and Qui-Gon changed into pajamas, and then Obi set to the task of collecting the clothing that they'd shed between the kitchen and the bedroom, with Qui-Gon laughing and shaking his head at it, feeling a little self-conscious but also amused that he'd been so caught up in the heat of passion they'd made a bit of a disaster with their clothes.

Obi laughed at it too. "I guess we got carried away."

"A bit."

And when they cuddled on the couch waiting for the pizza, they got handsy again. Enough that when the pizza came, Obi said, "Food can wait. I need more."

It was the first time Qui-Gon had taken Obi from behind - laying on their sides, more slow and gentle this time, with Qui-Gon's arms around Obi, every now and again tilting his face so they could kiss. The sweet, languid fuck was also just what they needed, melting together, until at last the explosion. Qui-Gon lay there feeling like his brains were spilling out of his ears. He laughed when Obi shook him - Obi had brought the pizza box to the bed, and Obi's first meal back at home was them eating pizza naked in bed.

"This isn't how I'd envisioned a welcome home dinner for you," Qui-Gon said.

"No," Obi said. "It's better, because it's more real. More us. You're comfortable and cozy."

Qui-Gon gave him a little kiss. "So are you."

Chapter Text

 

Love Without His Wings

 

 

Chapter Track: "With A Little Help From My Friends" - The Beatles




The fall semester started at Oregon State University. August became September. In the second week of September Qui-Gon's injury was on the mend enough that he was able to go to a car dealership - this time he opted for a Prius, as an electric car, rather than trying to buy another vintage VW van and have it changed over. What he liked even more than the freedom of being able to drive himself around again was being able to cook again. And on Sunday, September sixteenth, Qui-Gon finally had Sören and Mark over his house for dinner for the first time in weeks, to say thank you for the help they'd given during the recovery and especially for taking in Obi and intervening to help them get back together.

Mark still wanted to help in the kitchen, which Qui-Gon didn't mind. They worked on making a pot of paella together, while Obi and Sören colored mandalas. Seeing them do something childlike made Qui-Gon smile fondly, and Mark smiled at them too.

"Sören's a big kid," Mark said. "I find it refreshing. He's gotten me to play and rediscover the wonder in this world, which... I need, being around as long as I have."

"Yeah." Qui-Gon nodded. "I imagine." Qui-Gon's lips quirked, thinking about Sören dragging Dooku along on trips to Portland, like Voodoo Doughnut. "I think he even makes Dooku have fun."

"Yes. That's quite a feat." Mark grinned, not able to resist. "As you know..."

Qui-Gon groaned. "Believe me, I know."

When the paella was able to just cook without close attention, Qui-Gon and Mark went out into the living room, and Qui-Gon put on the TV. Star Trek: The Next Generation was on, and Sören stopped coloring to watch. Then Qui-Gon realized his interest wasn't just in the story, when Sören crinkled his nose and bit his lower lip at the appearance of Jean-Luc Picard. "There's my boyfriend," Sören quipped.

Then Sören's cell phone went off. Qui-Gon recognized "Clair de Lune" by Debussy. Sören took the call right away. "Claire!" he said, his face lighting up. He got up and whispered, "Excuse me, I gotta take this."

Sören went off into the kitchen. Qui-Gon tried not to eavesdrop but he couldn't help but notice Sören was a bit animated on the phone, and preening as he talked to his teaching assistant. When the call ended and Sören came back into the living room, he was practically strutting. "So?" Mark asked as Sören sat back down beside him.

"So, Claire and I have a date for Tuesday night."

Qui-Gon's eyebrows shot up. He almost dropped his tea. "You..." He looked at Sören. "A date date. As in, a romantic evening."

"Jæja. Well, you know, about as romantic as a Taco Tuesday at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place can be, but."

Now Obi stopped coloring. Noticing Obi was staring at him too, Sören looked at Mark and then back at Qui-Gon and Obi. "Oh, you guys didn't know we're poly?"

"No, this is the first I've heard you guys mention it," Qui-Gon said.

"Poly... gons? Polydactyl?" Obi looked confused.

Sören laughed, and so did Mark. "Polyamorous," Sören said. "A type of open relationship. We're committed to each other, but we can see other people if we want so long as we talk about it, have some rules and boundaries in place, that sort of thing."

Qui-Gon decided to tell his friends something he didn't tell many people. "My late wife Tahl and I had that sort of arrangement. We very occasionally took a third person or another married couple into our bed. I say 'very occasionally' because as two academics there wasn't a whole lot of time for that, but..."

"I didn't know that," Obi said.

Qui-Gon bristled, feeling a little self-conscious that he hadn't said anything to Obi about it before now, and hoping this wouldn't make things awkward later. "We thought it was more honest for us, having seen so much serial monogamy and cheating..."

Mark nodded. "And Sören has a big enough heart to love more than one person and still have plenty of room for me."

"That's not all that's big," Sören said.

Mark facepalmed, turning red, shaking with silent laughter. "Goddammit Sören."

"I knew you were attracted to Claire," Qui-Gon said, "since it had come up in conversation awhile back, but didn't think you'd do anything about it..."

"Jæja, originally I had some concerns about getting involved with my TA, but. Ah. We missed each other a lot over the summer, and that came out in a kind of explosive way the first week of school, on her birthday."

"Oh my."

"I'm also... surprised that this didn't come out already, you guys didn't know. My... ah... I don't want to call them girlfriends because that implies more of a commitment than there actually is, but fuckbuddies sounds so crass... anyway, there's these girls who were at the wedding, Sharon and Frankie. They live in Portland, they're together, I go down there to hook up with them once in awhile, or they come out here. I probably forgot to introduce you with everything going on," Sören said, looking a little sheepish.

Between Claire and these two other girls, Sören had a bit of a harem. That and his artistry and the admission of having bipolar disorder gave Qui-Gon the sense that Sören was like a modern-day Lord Byron, but with less chaos and drama. Qui-Gon once again wondered about who in Tolkien's Legendarium would correspond to a Byron-like character, intense, passionate, creative...

"Sounds like you're pretty busy," Obi said.

"Not really? Sharon and Frankie is a sometimes thing. And well... not too busy." Sören looked down. He bit his lower lip again. "There's someone else I'm interested in. Older. Another professor, actually..."

When Sören saw Qui-Gon's eyes widen, he quickly reassured him, "Oh no, it's not you."

"I didn't think it was," Qui-Gon said. "Though I appreciate knowing it's not all the same."

"Jæja, like, don't take this the wrong way, but I have like, no interest in you and Obi."

"That's good." Sören and Mark were both attractive men, but neither of them were quite Qui-Gon's type, and Qui-Gon got the sense they weren't Obi's type either, not that he would necessarily begrudge Obi if he wanted to go there. Then Qui-Gon asked the obvious. "It's Dooku, isn't it?"

Sören gave a deep sigh and nodded. "You got me."

"I knew it," Obi said.

Sören facepalmed. "Is it obvious?"

"It seems that way," Qui-Gon said. To everyone but the old idiot himself.

Mark also sighed and he patted Sören. "I keep telling you that you need to say something to him..."

"Oh god, don't start that again," Sören said.

Mark rolled his eyes. "Sören. Seriously. You should talk to him about it. You've had feelings for him since 2017, for fuck's sake. Almost a year."

"So... you don't... mind that he's in love with Dooku," Qui-Gon said.

"Uh, yeah, duh, we just came out about being in an open relationship," Mark said. "But I want Sören to be happy. And even though I don't age, I can still be killed, he needs some kind of other outlet so he doesn't fuck me to death."

Sören's laughter rang out. "Oh you."

Mark grinned and gave him a little kiss. "I'm not complaining. Life is good."

"Hi Not Complaining Life Is Good -"

Mark put Sören in a headlock and gave him a noogie. Sören's response was to tickle him, and Mark tickled him back until they were rolling around on Qui-Gon's living room floor, laughing and shrieking. At last Obi said, "Get a room, you guys."

Sören got up, gently brushed himself off, and said, "Gonna go to the boys' room and, ah, freshen up."

"Yeah, me too," Mark said, and Sören scooted ahead with Mark right behind, Mark's hands on Sören's ass.

Qui-Gon couldn't help cackling and cringing, knowing what they were up to in the bathroom, and when they came back, both of them grinning like idiots, it was just about time for dinner.

The meal was mostly school talk, and Qui-Gon only half-listened to the conversation. He thought about Sören's admission that he had feelings for Dooku, and that he was in a relationship arrangement where having Dooku as one of his partners would be acceptable. But like Dooku, he was also avoiding the topic of his feelings, each of them worried that the other wouldn't feel the same way. And Qui-Gon knew that if he told Dooku "hey, Sören told me he likes you in that way," as much as on the one hand it would be good to see them finally together, he also knew this was something shared in confidence and probably neither Dooku nor Sören would trust him with anything again. For that matter, Mark would likely be pissed at him, and Mark had even stronger feelings about breaches of trust - out of the corner of his eye Qui-Gon glanced at Mark, unglamoured, hair falling to his thighs, letting the points of his ears poke out from his hair, eyes iridescent, a faint aura of light around him. He didn't want Mark to panic about a slip of confidence and decide it was time to bolt. Especially not for Obi's sake, who was so attached to his friends, Mark his unofficially adopted big brother.

Yet, something had to be done. Somehow. Qui-Gon considered.

And when Sören and Mark went back home and he and Obi were curled up on the couch, Obi was on the same page. "Sören and Dooku need to get their heads out of their asses and talk," Obi said.

"Mmm, they do." Qui-Gon nodded, stroking Fernando.

"And they won't."

"It seems not likely. Dooku said he's been in love with Sören since the end of 2016... Sören's been in love with him for almost a year... and they've still not said anything." Qui-Gon sighed.

"We ought to help. I mean, they helped us, we kind of owe them."

"We do, but we have to tread carefully. It is rather like defusing a bomb, I think." Qui-Gon stroked his beard thoughtfully. It was starting to nag at him again that Dooku had said Qui-Gon felt like his son in a past life, and Mark and Sören had a past life connection of their own... like it was all connected somehow. That all of this was fated in some way. But that still didn't mean caution could be thrown to the wind. If anything it felt like caution was even more necessary.

"We'll figure it out," Obi said.

"Yes. Hopefully soon. For now..." Qui-Gon kissed the top of Obi's head. "I hope you're not upset or too worried now that you know about my history with Tahl."

"No, I'm not," Obi said. "I think I agree with you that it's more honest than to cheat if you're attracted to someone else too..." Obi looked up at Qui-Gon. "Is there anybody else, right now?"

"No," Qui-Gon said truthfully. "If that changes, you'll be the first to know. And likewise, if there's someone you're interested in... just let me know. I'd rather share you than lose you."

"I love you, Qui. But I think we're good. I think you ruined me for other people." Obi grinned.

Qui-Gon patted him. He asked something that had been in the back of his mind but he'd never really wanted to visit. "Anakin isn't..."

"Anakin's straight, as far as I know. Actually..." Obi made a face. "My new friend, in Sören's art class, this girl Padmé, she's dating him now. She deserves better."

"Oh dear, have you told her about his issues..."

"Not yet. I don't want shit to get awkward, we're still getting to know each other. I don't make friends easily, I don't want to piss her off. But."

Qui-Gon sighed. "I hope she doesn't get too sucked into his web of..." Qui-Gon made a vague hand gesture, trying to find the right word for it.

"That's an insult to spiders."

Qui-Gon laughed and tousled Obi's hair.

Chapter Text

 

Truth Or Consequences

 

 

Chapter Track: "Bad Boys" - Inner Circle




After Qui-Gon's classes on Tuesday, September eighteenth, he was on his way from the Oregon State University campus to have a cup of tea at Mountains of the Moon - both to see Obi, and relax while going over lesson plans. He was in a good mood, enjoying the breeze in his hair and classic rock on the radio.

And then his face fell when he saw a police car come out and tail him, and there was a single blare of the siren, a flash of the lights, indicating to pull over.

Qui-Gon took a deep breath as he pulled over and waited for the policeman to come over. He rolled the window down.

"License and registration," the police officer said.

Qui-Gon quietly handed it over. After looking at it for a moment, the police officer said, "Please step out of the vehicle."

Qui-Gon did.

"Mr. Gonzalez, I have a warrant for your arrest."

"What am I being charged with?" Qui-Gon already had an idea - it had taken some time but had finally caught up with him.

"Driving under the influence of intoxicants." The cuffs slapped on Qui-Gon's wrists. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you..."


_


A few hours later, Dooku showed up to post bail. His expression was neutral as Qui-Gon was walked out, and remained neutral, looking straight ahead as Qui-Gon walked beside him out to the Jaguar.

Dooku drove in silence for a few minutes and finally Qui-Gon broke the silence, not able to stand it. "Thank you for bailing me out, Teach." Qui-Gon rubbed his beard nervously. "Kinda suspected you might just let me sit there until tomorrow -"

"I thought about it," Dooku said with a curt nod. "But there's more than just you to think about, there's Obi and your cat. So I came as soon as I could."

"I owe you, big time."

"I hope you didn't talk much to the police."

"I was married to a black woman for over twenty years, I think I know to not trust the police, Teach."

"Fair enough." Dooku nodded again. "I called a lawyer for you, you have an appointment tomorrow morning. I would advise you to heed whatever he tells you."

Qui-Gon breathed a sigh of relief. That was one less thing he had to worry about. "And my car..."

"It's been towed back to your place. I asked Sören to please pick Obi up, so Obi should be waiting at home for you."

"I appreciate it." Qui-Gon thought about sitting in jail for those few hours, stressed out. He now just wanted a shower and to relax. He really wanted to smoke a bowl, but he had a feeling that was a bad idea with this charge hanging over his head.

At Qui-Gon's house, they lingered. Qui-Gon wanted to thank him again but it felt trite, felt like not enough, and he was waiting for yet another lecture but it didn't come. Finally, after a few moments of more awkward silence, Dooku told him, "Have a good evening, Qui-Gon, if you can."

"You..." Qui-Gon blinked slowly. "You're not going to chew me out again about the accident?"

Dooku took a deep breath. "I had a talk with Sören about it. He told me you'd likely be rather stressed out from the arrest and if I give you a hard time it would just make thing worse and that could contribute to tension with your partner. I don't want that, nor the aftermath of you resenting me. So... consider yourself off the hook... for now."

"Good lord, Sören talked you out of giving me a lecture? You must really have it bad for him," Qui-Gon blurted out.

Dooku rolled his eyes, flushing pink. "I suppose he has a way of charming me, yes."

"Sooooo... is that all you guys talked about?" Qui-Gon couldn't resist being a gadfly. "You haven't told him about your feelings yet?"

"As you know, that subject is delicate and difficult for me to address. I'm uncomfortable even acknowledging that I have feelings for him, let alone the disruption it will cause either to our friendship or his marriage..."

Qui-Gon snorted. You clueless bastard. He bit back the urge to say something about it, and then, finally, the lightbulb went off in his head. Mark and Sören had staged an intervention to get Qui-Gon and Obi back together, inviting Qui-Gon to dinner without him knowing Obi would also be there. He could do something similar... "Well... once again, I really greatly appreciate the trouble you've gone to between bailing me out, setting up an appointment with a lawyer, getting my car towed..."

"Yes. As you know I think of you as my son, so that is what -"

Qui-Gon put his arms around Dooku. After a moment Dooku returned the hug, chuckling and patting Qui-Gon's back.

When they pulled apart, Qui-Gon said, "My thanks isn't adequate. Would you like to come for dinner?"

"Not tonight -"

"Oh god, no, not tonight." Qui-Gon cringed. "I really need to just be left alone tonight, well... apart from Obi and my cat. Being around people is the last thing I need after sitting in jail..."

"I rather understand that, having had a few run-ins with the police during my activist days. No offense is taken."

Qui-Gon nodded. "But later this week, perhaps." He thought about it for a minute. "This Friday, the twenty-first? Seven-thirty?"

"That's doable." Dooku nodded. "Shall I bring anything?"

"Yourself." Qui-Gon had an idea, and as much as Dooku liked cooking, him helping in the kitchen would ruin it. "The date may have to change, I'll let you know for sure by the end of Thursday what's going on." He would have to talk to Sören.

"All right."

Qui-Gon opened the car door. "Goodnight, Teach. Thanks again."

"Goodnight, Qui-Gon."


_


The next morning Qui-Gon had to postpone his classes, since he had an appointment with the lawyer. After his first class he met with Dooku in the caf.

"How did the meeting with the lawyer go?" Dooku asked.

"It went," Qui-Gon said, nodding as he sat down. "I'm a first-time offender and Oregon has something called the DUII Diversion Program. I'll need to plead no contest, but I can avoid jail time and have the DUII charge dismissed if I pay a fine, have an ignition lock placed on my car which I'll have to pay monthly fees to maintain, have an evaluation and probably attend an education program on drugs and alcohol -"

"Which likely means also drug testing, and no weed." Dooku raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, that's gonna suck." Qui-Gon sighed. "And I have to attend a Victim Impact Panel. There will also probably be a sort of suspension on my license with a hardship permit where I can drive to and from work but that's about it."

"Well... I would feel sorrier for you, but there are more severe penalties than this, such as jail time, which you're managing to avoid."

"Yeah. Just a few hours in jail was bad enough, never mind a couple days or months." Qui-Gon shuddered. "Anyway, now I just have the hearing, which the lawyer is working on getting for me as soon as possible."

"Good, good. All in all, this could have been worse."

"Yes."

"As you know, what you did was very serious -"

"I thought Sören told you not to lecture me."

"That was yesterday when you just got out of jail. Today is a different day."

Qui-Gon pinched the bridge of his nose and made a noise. Then, as if he'd been summoned by his name, Sören showed up in the caf, smiling and waving at them. Dooku gave a small smile back - which would be a grin on anyone else. His cheeks were slightly flushed, dark eyes twinkling. Qui-Gon noticed the pink in Sören's own cheeks.

It would have been a good time to pull Sören off to the side and invite him to dinner on Friday, but he was giving himself till the end of Thursday because he knew Sören and Dooku talked and he didn't want Sören to slip and mention that he was having dinner at Qui-Gon's and Dooku mention he was as well. He knew of course that Dooku could slip and mention it first, but he was erring on the side of Dooku being reticent.

He still wanted to scream when Sören came over and Sören and Dooku began chatting. Watching the way they looked at each other, the casual touching that he knew had to be agony for both of them, even as they couldn't help themselves. If they were strangers to Qui-Gon and he was seeing them for the first time he'd assume they were a couple between how close Sören stood to Dooku, the touching, the light in their eyes.

Soon.


_


Qui-Gon talked to Sören on Thursday afternoon, as Sören was tidying up in his classroom. Or was supposed to be, anyway - "Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra was playing on the stereo Sören kept in his classroom, and Sören and Claire James were doing a bad tango. Qui-Gon watched them until the song was over and they doubled over against Sören's desk, giggling, and then he clapped slowly.

"Oh god, how long were you standing there?" Sören made a face.

"Long enough," Qui-Gon said.

"I'm sorry, I know that wasn't Dancing With the Stars material." Sören snickered. "More like Discount Dancing With the Stars."

"I... I'd probably watch that, to be honest."

"Me too."

They laughed and then Sören said, "So what's up, Qui? I assume you came down here for a reason."

"I did. Do you have plans tomorrow evening."

"I do not," Sören said. "Mark and I were just gonna spend a quiet evening at home..."

"Well... would you like to come for dinner?"

"I can ask Mark if he's up for it -"

Qui-Gon shook his head. "As much as I like Mark and feel bad about leaving him out, I'm only asking you for this one, not him. I hope that's OK."

Sören raised an eyebrow. "Why? What's going on?"

"I've been thinking about renovating and redecorating my house," Qui-Gon said - that was truthful, though it was only a half-truth or perhaps a quarter-truth where inviting Sören to dinner by himself tomorrow night was concerned. "You have an eye for color and perspective and I thought it would be nice to get your input."

"I'm flattered." Sören nodded. "I can tell Mark what's up, I'm sure he can find a way to amuse himself while I'm gone." He looked at Claire then. "Hey maybe you can hang out with Mark. It would be nice for my girlfriend and my husband to get to know each other better, be friends and all that."

Something told Qui-Gon that Sören's intentions weren't for Claire and Mark to be just friends, but he wasn't going to press that now. He watched as Claire nodded and said, "I could do that. Mark seems pleasant enough."

"Jæja, I encourage it." Sören patted her, and there was a very telling not-so-innocent look on his face for a split second before he met Qui-Gon's eyes and tried to muster up an innocent face. "So, yes, I think I can get out of the house for a bit on Friday night. Though... hm, we'll have to talk about who gets the car. Maybe I should ask Nico to drive me -"

Before Qui-Gon could tell Sören not to, Claire said, "I can drive you and drop you off, then drive back to your place if Mark wants to have dinner. I don't mind."

"Takk, you're a love." Sören kissed the tip of her nose and Claire beamed, turning pink. She put her arms around Sören and he put her arms around her and they stole a kiss, then Sören remembered Qui-Gon was there and ran a nervous hand through his curls. "So, ah. Derp. What time tomorrow?"

Qui-Gon thought about it, and decided Sören arriving the same time as Dooku would be awkward - Dooku had a tendency to show up early as well, which needed to be accounted for. He also did sincerely want Sören's opinion on changing the house around. "Six-thirty sound OK? Dinner will be closer to seven-thirty, but that gives us time to go over your suggestions for what to do with the place..."

"That's fine with me," Sören said, and glanced at Claire, who nodded.

"Excellent." Qui-Gon clasped his hands together. He had a brief moment of wishing Fernando was there with him so he could stroke his cat with one hand and his beard with the other, an "evil overlord whose plans are coming along" pose. "I'll see you tomorrow, Sören."

With that, he left Sören and Claire to dance around the classroom - dancing and snogging, he noted over his shoulder before he ducked out.

Soon.

Chapter Text

 I Saw the Light

 

Chapter Track: "I Saw the Light" - Todd Rundgren




"Qui, a car just pulled up."

Obi had been monitoring the window near the front door, and Qui-Gon came over now, putting an arm around Obi. Claire James drove a sensible white Toyota, and they watched as Sören lingered in the vehicle, leaning in to give Claire a kiss, which turned into the two necking and petting before Claire gave him a playful swat, laughing, and kissed the tip of his nose. She tousled his curls, and he blew her a kiss as he stepped out of the vehicle.

Qui-Gon had discussed his plans with Obi on Thursday night - he would grill steaks and shrimp skewers outside, though Friday was an overcast day and threatened rain in the evening. Obi would make a salad, and they had a bottle of red wine, though Qui-Gon knew Sören and Dooku would both only have one drink if that because of Sören's medication and Dooku driving. Obi would set the table up with candlelight just prior to Dooku's arrival, while Sören was distracted with looking at the house and advising on new color schemes and arrangements. Qui-Gon and Obi would let Dooku and Sören eat by themselves in the living room, while they took their own meal out in the backyard or possibly the bedroom - giving Dooku and Sören a chance to be alone and talk in a romantic ambiance.

In Qui-Gon's mind, the plan seemed foolproof, that there was little that could go wrong.

Sören was dressed down, in jeans and a Joy Division shirt, his curls in a loose man bun. He had been in preppy khakis and a button-down shirt for school that day, and his hair had been down, so obviously he'd gone home and changed. Qui-Gon almost wished he'd told Sören to wear something dressier, but he realized Dooku had seen him dressed down a number of times and clearly didn't mind - Qui-Gon wondered if part of the appeal for Dooku was a bit of rough - and asking Sören to dress up a little would raise suspicion.

Qui-Gon started by taking Sören on a walk of the house. Sören took off his glasses and chewed the end thoughtfully, and Qui-Gon could almost see the gears in his head turning as Sören made assessments of what could be done with the least amount of aggravation.

"I'm thinking about having this wall taken out," Qui-Gon said, "so the living room is open plan with the kitchen and dining area."

Sören nodded. "That would look nice, I think." He walked back and forth between the living room and the kitchen. "So you've got wood panel type walls in the living room, and hardwood floors... you keeping that?"

"Yes, I think I'd like to get the kitchen redone with a more wooden look to match."

Sören walked around again, studying. "Right now you've got a lot of cream and muted burgundy and gold -"

"That was left over from Tahl. I think it's time for an entirely different color scheme, repainting the bedrooms, possibly even new furniture. I have an idea of what I'd like, but you should talk to Obi and get a feel for his preferences with color, since he's going to be living here too, and help us decide on some kind of compromise or cross between what we want."

Sören went on another tour of the house with Obi while Qui-Gon set up the grill outside. The sky was looking a bit ominous, and he was starting to question whether or not his idea of using the grill was such a great idea, praying that he would get at least another dry hour.

A little sparrow flew into the yard, hopping around. Qui-Gon smiled at it. He was still smiling as he left the sliding glass door open for a moment to bring out the package of steaks, then went back inside and came out with the shrimp. Normally he'd close the door but since he'd only be out for under a minute and last he knew Fernando was taking a nap, he thought it would be fine. A few moments later, as he had steak on one side of the grill and shrimp on the other, he heard shouting inside.

He ran back in and saw the sparrow flying around - from the living room down the hall. Sören and Obi were trying to catch the sparrow, but it kept evading their grasp.

The sparrow whizzed by Qui-Gon's face, and Qui-Gon reached to try to catch it. It was too fast. Then Fernando woke up from his nap and stated chasing the sparrow, and when the sparrow went back down the hall, he saw Fernando slip out the patio door that he'd forgotten to close in the chaos of the sparrow - Fernando was an inside cat. Qui-Gon chased after him and Fernando scaled the fence.

The cat was microchipped in case something like this happened, but Qui-Gon didn't want to take any chances anyway. He ran out front - mercifully, Fernando had gone from over the fence to the pathway between houses, rather than the next street over, which was where Qui-Gon would have headed. The cat continued running, and Qui-Gon chased him across the next few lawns. Then, just as Qui-Gon caught the errant feline, he slipped on wet grass. Nothing was broken, as far as he could tell, but it was the kind of impact his newly healed ribs didn't need right about now.

Wincing, Qui-Gon carried the cat back to the house. Then he realized he'd left the grill unmanned. He arrived just in time to see Sören and Obi come out to the yard because everything was charring to a crisp.

That was when the knock on the door came.

This was all wrong. Qui-Gon cursed under his breath as he opened the door and there was Dooku. Dooku, who usually wore a suit and tie to school, was wearing black trousers and a light blue button-down shirt - more dressed up than Sören, yet still dressed down for Dooku.

"I'm a bit early," Dooku said.

"Yeah." Qui-Gon pinched the bridge of his nose. "Come... come in."

And then Sören and Obi were walking back in from the backyard. Obi frowned. "I think we're gonna have to order takeout, but I can still make the salad -"

"Nico!" Sören put a hand on his hip. "Didn't expect to see you here."

"I... didn't expect to see you here either," Dooku said.

"Oh, it must have slipped my mind to mention that you both would be coming," Qui-Gon lied.

Sören gave him a look that let him know he didn't buy that at all whatsoever. "Mhm."

"Indeed," Dooku said dryly, with a raised eyebrow. "You're... here alone? Where's Mark?"

"Mark's chilling at home. Qui just asked me here by myself." Sören also raised an eyebrow, and shot Qui-Gon another look.

"I see," Dooku said.

"Well, ah." Qui-Gon rubbed his beard. "We had a bit of slapstick comedy hour just now. A bird got in the house - it's still in the damn house - and then the cat got outside. And the steak and shrimp I had on the grill got burnt in the chaos. So dinner's going to be a bit late, depending on what we plan on doing." He gestured to the table. "Please sit down."

Sören and Dooku sat. "Do you want me to make the salad or not?" Obi asked.

"I think not," Qui-Gon said. "We'll just get delivery or something. But we should try to be good hosts, so let's get out the wine." He gave Dooku a look. "It's not in a box."

Qui-Gon came out with the wine and then Obi said, "Here, let me. You go sit down." He pointed to the couch. "Well... first, get something on that doesn't have grass stains all over it."

"Yes, Mother," Qui-Gon chuckled, and walked to the bedroom.

When he came back out - in pajamas, not giving a fuck anymore - he saw Obi was still trying to figure out how the wine opener worked, and he could tell Dooku was attempting to be patient and courteous, holding in his impulse to grab away the wine opener and do it himself; Dooku might be socially awkward himself but he knew that would embarrass Obi. But then Obi gave him a pleading look and Qui-Gon came over and taught him how to use it, "motoring through". The physical contact helped it to be a moment of bonding, and Obi gave him a little kiss when the wine bottle was opened.

"Now, you go sit," Obi scolded.

Qui-Gon rolled his eyes affectionately and sat on the couch.

The sparrow decided to show up again right as Obi was pouring the wine, flying onto the table. And then Fernando leapt onto the table, and Obi ended up spilling red wine all over Dooku's light blue shirt.

"Câcat," Dooku said as he got up from the table.

Qui-Gon had not heard Dooku swear in Romanian in years.

Sören gently caught the bird in his fist before Fernando could get it. "Here, little baby, I'm going to put you outside, ok?" Sören spoke softly, tenderly to the bird as he carried the bird in his hand out to the patio.

As he did, Dooku marched to the kitchen, and Qui-Gon got up and followed him. Dooku immediately began to take his shirt off, and Qui-Gon was actively regretting this entire idea. Fernando circled around his legs with an inquisitive chirp, as if Qui-Gon in the kitchen meant mealtime, even though Fernando still had some food left in his dish. Qui-Gon gave an exaggerated sigh at the cat as he began to open up a can of cat food.

Sören came into the kitchen, quickly shutting the glass door behind him, when Dooku's shirt was off completely and he was applying dishwashing liquid to the stain. For a moment Sören and Dooku just looked at each other, and Dooku's face turned pink as Sören's eyes raked him up and down, licking his lips as he took in the silver hair on Dooku's chest, defined pecs and arms, sculpted six-pack abdomen of a man in his late sixties who took care of himself.

"I..." Dooku swallowed hard. "I'm going to need to borrow a shirt, Qui-Gon. And I'm going to need to leave soon, to get home and throw this in the wash."

"You could borrow my washing machine," Qui-Gon said.

"I would feel improper running your washer and putting money on your bill over a single shirt of mine. Please." Dooku's dark eyes pleaded.

Qui-Gon went down to his bedroom and he grabbed the first clean thing in his closet. Dooku gave him a murderous look at the tie-dye T-shirt but put it on anyway. It was starting to rain now.

"I didn't even wear tie-dye in the 60s and 70s," Dooku said. "I was a total square apart from the politics."

"It's what I have on hand," Qui-Gon said. He folded his arms. "Are you very sure you can't stay a bit, Teach?"

"I'm sure," Dooku said.

Qui-Gon sighed deeply. "Welp."

"Well, what, Joaquin," Dooku snapped.

"I just... things obviously didn't go according to plan, and I'd hoped you'd get some time to talk..."

"We... talk all the time," Sören said, looking at Qui-Gon with narrowed eyes.

"Yes. We make it a point of getting together at least a few times a week," Dooku said. "So..."

Qui-Gon raised his eyebrows at Dooku. Dooku looked away.

"Qui, you didn't ask me here just to get my advice on redoing the house, did you?" Sören asked.

Qui-Gon just gave a small, not-very-innocent smile.

And then Dooku's eyes met Sören's, and their gaze held - a long, pointed look. Dooku exhaled sharply. "Sören, when I leave, would you like to come with me? We can grab a bite to eat on our own, and discuss where on the way and perhaps... other things."

Sören nodded. "Jæja, we can do that."

Qui-Gon and Obi watched Sören and Dooku walk out in the rain to Dooku's Jaguar, and when the car pulled off, Obi couldn't help laughing.

"That was a nightmare," Obi said. "I'm so sorry -"

"Eh, I have a feeling it'll work out, somehow." Qui-Gon took Obi's hand and led him over to the couch. "I'm grateful that, as rocky as our own start was, it wasn't as awkward as those two pining for each other forever and not knowing how to talk about it."

"Me too," Obi said.

"So what now? Pizza, Chinese, Indian..."

"I could go for Chinese."

The rest of the evening was cozy and quiet, sharing Chinese food as the rain fell outside, watching Casablanca. Making slow, gentle love, falling asleep and then waking up in the middle of the night to love again, both of them more feverish this time, before falling back asleep. Qui-Gon woke with the dawn and took a step outside because he always loved the smell after it rained, and he smiled at the rainbow in the dawn sky. It felt like a good omen.


_


When he got back to work on Monday, neither Sören nor Dooku were there. Qui-Gon heard from Claire that Sören had called out of work, and Qui-Gon felt vaguely alarmed by that, but resisted the impulse to call Sören and ask if everything was OK.

On Tuesday, Qui-Gon saw Dooku's Jaguar in the parking lot, and towards the end of the day he made his way to Dooku's classroom. He was just in time to watch Sören and Dooku holding each other, kissing passionately. Qui-Gon watched them for a moment with a grin before he cleared his throat. They pulled apart a bit reluctantly, with Sören giving Dooku's hands a squeeze.

"I'll catch you later," Sören said, and as he walked out of Dooku's classroom Qui-Gon couldn't help but notice Sören was walking a bit funny, slower than usual, gingerly, almost but not quite limping.

"Qui-Gon. Hello," Dooku said, his voice bright and almost musical.

"Hi, Teach. I came to ask how it went, but I think what I just saw speaks for itself."

"Er... yes." Dooku took a seat at his desk - wincing a little as he sat, wincing again as he adjusted his position. That alone spoke volumes about how his talk with Sören went, and implied things Qui-Gon wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know about.

But his curiosity got the better of him anyway. "So you talked."

"Yes, Joaquin, we talked," Dooku said.

"And."

"Sören ended up spending the weekend, and we called out on Monday to, er, extend the weekend. Mark was fine with it."

"So when he spent the weekend, you guys..."

"I am a gentleman, Qui-Gon, but yes." Dooku closed his eyes. "It was magnificent." He let out a little sigh and opened his eyes as he reached for his thermos of coffee. "Sören is... quite passionate. Insatiable. I can't begrudge him having other partners, he is too much for any one person - Mark said as much himself - and I am not young anymore. But nonetheless... to say we enjoyed ourselves would be a gross understatement."

"Good."

"I shall have to launder that shirt you let me borrow -"

"Keep it."

Dooku laughed softly. "It didn't get anything on it, if -"

Qui-Gon made a noise. "I don't care, you can still keep it." He grinned then. "As a souvenir of your first time with Sören."

"That shall be a more tangible souvenir than the state of my torso. And my neck."

Qui-Gon realized then Dooku was wearing a turtleneck. His eyes widened and he laughed. Cringed and laughed. "Oh dear."

"Yes. As I said I shan't give too many details, that is ungentlemanly of me, but my back and chest is rather scratched up and my neck is, well." Dooku pulled down the turtleneck; he was sporting hickeys like a teenager. He flushed pink, smiling.

Qui-Gon applauded. "It's about fucking time." He snickered. "Literally."

"Sören said that he and Mark go on occasional double dates with you and Obi, and perhaps once in awhile Sören and I could..."

"I'd like that," Qui-Gon said.

"But no disasters next time." Dooku gave him a filthy look. "I still can't believe you and your... meddling."

"I do it because I care. You think of me as a son, well... I want my dad to be happy. Shoot me."

Dooku put down his thermos. "You... you called me your dad."

"Yeah, I guess I did. Dad."

Dooku got up, and initiated a hug with Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon returned the hug, holding him tight.