Disclaimer: This is a work of non-profit speculative fiction. No infringement on the copyrights of George Lucas is intended.
Notes: Many many thanks to Barbara for betaing. And to everyone who asked for something slightly lighter than gut wrenching angst - here you go!
Summary: A different sort of AU series set between TPM and ANH. One event can change history in a domino effect...
Qui-Gon stepped over the threshold into his suite, breathing an inaudible sigh as the heavy doors slid shut behind him. The quite of the suite was a blessing to his dimly ringing ears, the soft glow of the half-lit lights a welcome relief to eyes weighted with fatigue and long since ringed round with muscles tightened into torques of aching tension.
Leaning back against the carved surface of the doors Qui-Gon let his head to drop, allowing himself a momentary rest before forcing himself upright again. He reached stubbornly for first one boot, then the other, tugging them off and resolutely pushing away from the door to walk across the smooth tiles. He dropped the boots beside the table, then loosened the cloak and caught it before it could pool to the floor, draped it neatly across the back of a chair. Discipline and rote habit completed each movement for him, even though it pulled painfully at the muscles in his neck to tilt his head and each step was a small eternity.
He should have been celebrating. The negotiations had dragged on from a handful of days to two handfuls, days of waning patience spent doing little more then playing referee to the strident and volatile arguments of the diplomatic parties. The only card that had played in his favor had been that neither side really wanted open hostility that might lead to war... But both were more than content to stay seated across a table and scream at each other like outraged merchants in a public market until Qui-Gon's head ached and his patience slipped further away with every shouted insult and bristling retort. It had taken a great deal of smooth talking and more patience than he had thought he possessed to arrive at the treaty that had been signed that evening. But signed it was, however grudgingly, and with the mission completed Qui-Gon could bid farewell to the squabbling Thalen system with the clear sense of a job done.
He should have been celebrating... if the word alone had not contained more energy than the Jedi Master could draw from his tired body.
"Children," he groaned softly, rubbing at eyes and throbbing temples. "It's like overseeing a pack of wild children." He had nothing against children, but the behavior in adult beings - from sunup to sundown, and then some - for days on end had worn his tolerance for it to a ragged nub.
The headache had progressed until he could see his pulse at the corner of his vision, each beat echoing an answering throb through his aching scalp. He had suppressed it during the negotiations but now, in the quiet of the suite, it crept upon him again and he found he didn't have the strength to push it away. Qui-Gon hissed a soft curse, reaching up to tug the cord from his hair and wincing as it caught painfully.
The soft ripple of the Force which heralded Obi-Wan's otherwise silent approach gave Qui-Gon a momentary focus away from the pain. In the next moment his Padawan's hands brushed his own aside, fingers plucking the tie away without further incident and raking gently through the freed tumble of hair. Blunt fingertips lingered at the nape of his neck, gauging the tension in the corded muscles. "Another argument, Master?"
"Dozens of them," Qui-Gon sighed. "But that will be the last of them."
"They signed the treaty, then?" Obi-Wan's voice was pitched soothingly low, his hands gentle as he pushed his Master towards the sleeping room but strong enough not to allow protest.
"Finally." Did his voice really have that much frustrated irritation in it? Qui-Gon sighed again, dropping stiffly down to sit on the edge of the sleeping couch. Obi-Wan retreated quietly and Qui-Gon allowed himself to look longingly at his pillow. The idea of simply stretching out, clothes and all, was appealing... but habit came to the rescue once again and with a heavy sigh he fumbled for the closure of his belt.
"Let me." Obi-Wan reappeared at his side, hands already reaching to brush aside the long strands of Qui-Gon's hair. The Jedi Master hissed softly as a wet, steaming hot cloth draped across the back of his neck, tensing for a moment and then releasing his indrawn breath in a slow sigh as the heat penetrated. Keeping one hand to press the cloth in place, Obi-Wan managed the belt closure with the other, pulling belt and sash away to drape them at the end of the couch.
Qui-Gon resolutely pushed away the help, stripping his tunics off and folding them. Obi-Wan took them from him, and this time when his Padawan reached for his shoulders the younger man's stern expression allowed no argument. Judging silent compliance to be the better part of valor, Qui-Gon allowed himself to be pushed down onto the couch, balking only when the younger man's hands would have arranged him on his stomach. "There's no need..."
Strong fingertips found a knot in the muscles of his shoulder and pummeled it mercilessly, drawing a startled gasp of pain from Qui-Gon. "You call that 'no need'?" Obi-Wan asked archly. Qui-Gon ground out an inarticulate noise that wasn't quite an assent, then reluctantly allowed himself to be positioned where those insistent hands could reach the bands of tension in his back. Muscles, straightened fully after hours of sitting, spasmed at the change and he groaned again, muffling the sound into the pillow.
Obi-Wan took pity on his Master's dignity, reserving any further comment as he set to work. Qui-Gon buried his face into the pillow, taking an edge of the fabric between his teeth and biting down sharply to keep from protesting as fingers like steel rods dug into the knots of his back with enough strength to bruise. His Padawan was nothing if not thorough - from the point of one shoulder to the other, up and down the column of his neck and sweeping down across his ribs until Qui-Gon was certain there wouldn't be an inch of flesh not left blackened and blue.
In the wake of those brutal hands, however, came the blessed easing as muscles too abused to continue the fight gave up the ghost of tension. Beaten into a diffident submission, Qui-Gon's back slowly relaxed, some of the ache draining away from the base of his head until each heartbeat no longer flashed whitely against his closed eyelids. The relief made the means more than worthwhile, a thought he communicated with a soft sigh.
As though it were the signal Obi-Wan had been waiting for, the hands eased their merciless march across Qui-Gon's back. A gentler touch replaced the iron strength, one meant to soothe rather than conquer. Long sweeping strokes of palm and fingers, following the length of his spine and traveling outwards. Able at last to focus on more than the pounding pain in his temples, Qui-Gon could feel the subtle heat in those palms - a warmth that spread like ripples through his skin with each touch, a blanket of living Force that soothed and healed. Once assured that the muscles of his back contained no more consistency than a smooth grade of pudding, the fingers took the liberty of burying themselves into his hair and molding to the shape of his skull. The warmth pooled across his scalp and seeped into the hard kernel of tight pain that persisted, easing it gradually until his awareness of it in temple and jaw faded, the memory of the pain already dimming as the sensation disappeared.
"The Healers must have mourned when they lost you," Qui-Gon murmured, the words coming grudgingly to a tongue heavy with fatigue.
The hands never eased their work. "I was to go to AgriCorps, Master."
"Wasted talent," Qui-Gon muttered. "You're no farmer." The fingers smoothed gently through his hair, whisking away the cooling cloth at the nape of his neck before returning to sweep across his back. He sighed softly in appreciation.
"Not now. Thanks to you, Master." Gentle teasing in the tone.
"Padawan." The word was soft, barely a breath, acknowledging and affirmation in three simple syllables. Obi-Wan's hands stilled against his shoulders, squeezing softly before continuing their ministrations.
Silence descended in the dimness, broken only by the slow, rhythmic touch across his back. Qui-Gon allowed his eyes to close, sleep beckoning sweetly at the edges of his mind as he drifted.
The hands slowed gradually, almost impercipetably, finally stilling. It was the very lack of movement which roused Qui-Gon, bringing his awareness back to his surroundings. Obi-Wan's hands lingered warmly against his shoulder blades, a silent caress that asked without assuming. His Padawan's voice was a soft whisper that barely broke the silence. "Rest well, Master."
The hands withdrew, leaving a quick rush of cold against his skin in their wake. Qui-Gon rolled over with more ease than he would have credited himself with, reaching out to catch Obi-Wan's wrist as the younger man made to rise from the edge of the couch. In the softly distant glow of the lights from the next room the Padawan's face was cast in shadows, only the ruffled ridge of his cropped hair catching the edge of the light. All the same, Qui-Gon could see the smile that curved the younger man's lips. The hand in his twisted gently, thumb brushing across the pulse in his wrist before withdrawing. Qui-Gon settled back against the pillow, enjoying the simple pleasure of a stretch that was unaccompanied by pain.
Cloth rustled softly in the silence. The edge of the couch dipped with added weight. Qui-Gon reaching out without opening his eyes and was rewarded by an armful of warm skin that chuckled softly as it settled against him. "You should rest," a soft whisper chided beside his ear, not quite managing to disguise Obi-Wan's pleasure in mock reproving.
Something soft tickled across his cheek. Qui-Gon caught the slim rope of Obi-Wan's braid, letting the soft hair twine around his fingers as he gave it a gentle tug. "I am resting," he pointed out. Another whispered laugh answered him. Reaching up, he brushed the softer skin of lips, traced the smile that shone there and answered it with one of his own. Here, now, in the shadowed silence of the suite, wrapped within the cocoon of their entwining arms, it was easy to push away all of the frustration and stress of the negotiations.
Obi-Wan's lips brushed across his fingertips in a soft kiss. A hand slipped into his hair, stroking through it. Qui-Gon sighed, letting his palms skate across the bare skin of ribs and back, down to the curve of hipbone and back to the solid expanse of shoulders. Obi-Wan hummed in appreciation, his breath warm against the Jedi Master's shoulder.
Turning his head slightly, Qui-Gon caught the younger man's mouth against his own. Obi-Wan sank readily into the kiss, lips parted against his master's. There was a sweetness in each slow taste, in the stroke of tongue against flesh and the sharing of breath between them. No urgency, though it simmered beneath Obi-Wan's touch as it could not help but do in the young. Love and comfort rather than passion, and the simple pleasure of touch and taste.
Qui-Gon broke the kiss reluctantly, admitting, if only to himself, that the resiliency of youth did have its advantages. Catching the small tail of hair at the back of Obi-Wan's head, he tucked the smaller man beneath the curve of his chin. "We're both resting," he said firmly. Silent laughter shook the chest pressed to his own, soft puffs of breath warming his collarbone. Obi-Wan's pleased humor bubbled up infectiously, drawing another smile from Qui-Gon. "At least for a little while," he amended, drawing an audible laugh from the younger man.
Smiling lips brushed a kiss across his throat. "Yes, Master," Obi-Wan breathed with proper servility, but his tone spoke entire volumes. Qui-Gon smiled, drawing the younger man closer, his cheek pillowed against the soft brush of short hair. A little while... and the night was not truly that old.
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