June 2000 - July 30, 2001 (August 2001)

Disclaimer: I'm sure the Jedi never do anything remotely like this. Or that. Or the other thing, with the... never mind. As so often happens, elynross said something that made me think "okay, why not?" As a punishment, she had to edit the story. Do not archive this story without permission.

Lives of the artists

The zhai was just the right temperature, warm, but not hot. Qui-Gon closed his eyes and savored the taste, cradling the tiny cup in both hands as custom dictated. Zhai, sweet as the kiss of a lover. Ukay poetry about zhai and its effects could, and did, fill an entire library. He could already feel his body begin to respond, and he enjoyed the feeling. "You honor me," he said, opening his eyes to nod gravely at Red Fingers, who had settled himself at the opposite end of the couch.

"Not at all," Red Fingers said with a quick smile. "You are bringing great profit to my house, Tall Silk. I merely wish to show my appreciation." Leaning back, Red Fingers gestured around the room. "In case you missed it the first time."

Qui-Gon smiled back. "No," he said dryly, "I didn't." He had started out in a much simpler chamber, where the walls had been plain, not frescoed, and the floor had been bare of all but a thin rug. After only two nights of work, he'd been moved here and the price for his services tripled. Yes, he had definitely brought great profit to the House of Falling Petals. "And I am touched that your appreciation takes the form of ensuring my... stamina."

He sipped again at the zhai. Its subtle presence spread through him like a pleasurable itch beneath the skin. Very high-quality zhai, this, but then everything in the house was of good quality. Qui-Gon shifted on the couch, which was reassuringly solid under his large frame, despite its delicate appearance. All the furniture in the room was designed to hold up well against vigorous activity. When Qui-Gon moved in, Red Fingers actually jumped up and down on the bed in order to demonstrate the excellence of the springs — after removing the brocade covers, of course.

"It is my duty to care for my artists." Red Fingers flicked a dark curl away from his forehead, to better display the silver streaks at his temples — streaks that, Qui-Gon knew, owed nothing to nature and everything to artifice. Red Fingers wasn't as old as he'd like to be. "Are you comfortable here, Tall Silk? Is everything to your liking?"

"Yes. Everything is fine." Everything, Qui-Gon amended to himself, except that he had been undercover in the House of Falling Petals for eleven days without coming any closer to the goal of his mission. They had been told that the third minister of Ukay visited this house regularly, but Qui-Gon was starting to think that that meant once every year or so. Perhaps it was the minister who could do with a cup of zhai, to turn his thoughts in the right direction.

"Good. Good." Red Fingers rubbed his hands together. "I am glad to hear that."

Qui-Gon didn't doubt it. His initial suspicion that Red Fingers might be involved in the minister's deadly drug trade had not lasted long. Red Fingers was much too concerned with the health and well-being of his resident artists, and had made it clear at the outset that illegal drugs were not allowed in the House of Falling Petals.

"I'm very grateful to Feathermouth and Three Feet Dancing for allowing me to attend their performance last night," Qui-Gon said, a professional talking shop. "They taught me several things."

"Yes? Feathermouth says you can teach a trick or two yourself. In fact, I'd like to sit in on your next session, if you don't mind. It's occurred to me that—" The comm link around Red Fingers' wrist blinked, a subdued green message. "Excuse me, please. I'll be right back." Red Fingers got up and padded out of the room, shooting an apologetic smile over his shoulder.

Qui-Gon breathed in the steam rising from the zhai. This could not go on much longer, he decided. Interesting as it was to work for Red Fingers, there were more important matters that needed to be dealt with. If the third minister didn't appear within the next few days, Tall Silk would buy out of his contract due to urgent family matters, and Qui-Gon Jinn would find another way to investigate the minister's connection to the drug that had killed five politicians and ten house artists, all of them at least marginally force sensitive.

He wondered if Obi-Wan had achieved better results, looking into the matter from the outside, but he doubted it. Obi-Wan was diligent, but he had all the prejudices of Ukay culture against him. They would have to come up with some new angle, Qui-Gon decided. Meanwhile, he had to think about whether there was anything he might have missed here in the House of Falling Petals. Leaving Red Fingers out of it, there were nineteen artists to consider. Qui-Gon hadn't sensed any darkness about any of them, though, nothing that would suggest they were hiding something.

A quick rap on the door heralded Red Fingers' return. "A client," he said, leaving the door ajar as he stepped into the room. "A client for you, actually — he was most insistent that it was you he wanted to see and no one else. He's quite, well, you know," Red Fingers made a face, "young."

"That's all right," Qui-Gon said, hiding his amusement.

"Are you sure?"

Qui-Gon nodded. The zhai hummed softly along his nerves. "I said at the outset that I don't have a problem with it." He wasn't Ukay, after all. Youth had its attractions.

Red Fingers settled himself on the couch again, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankles. "I look forward to seeing your technique with him, then. Says his name is Jumps-to-the-stars, but I think you should call him Braided Child."

That sounded ominous. Extremely ominous. Before Qui-Gon could say anything, the door was pushed open, and Obi-Wan came through it, moving at a brisk clip, mouth opening into speech. Then his eyes slid sideways from Qui-Gon to Red Fingers, and he froze.

"Welcome," Qui-Gon said, putting his zhai cup down and getting to his feet. "It honors me that you have requested my company."

"It honors me that you have granted my request," Obi-Wan answered, the undercurrent of urgency in his voice imperceptible to anyone who did not know him well.

"Don't mind me," Red Fingers said genially. "I'll just sit quietly here in the corner."

Qui-Gon walked over and wound Obi-Wan's braid around one finger, tugging him closer. "How may I please you?"

"I'm in your hands."

Obi-Wan bowed his head, a perfect picture of respectful youth. On the couch, Red Fingers nodded approvingly. Qui-Gon looked at the pulse beating in Obi-Wan's throat and compared its pace to his own. It wouldn't be too hard to get rid of Red Fingers on some pretext or other; the man was sensitive to his artists' wishes.

"I'll have to make sure that you don't regret it," Qui-Gon said, tipped Obi-Wan's head up, and leaned down to kiss him.

He could taste startlement and felt Obi-Wan tense against him; when he pulled back, he got a long, unsmiling look. Qui-Gon began to unhook the front of Obi-Wan's shirt, taking slow care with every little clasp, trailing a fingertip up and down the exposed skin before going on to the next one. When the shirt hung open, he kissed Obi-Wan again, with lazy thoroughness. Obi-Wan's lips moved against his own, but not responsively; Obi-Wan was trying to say something. Qui-Gon ignored it.

Slipping the shirt off Obi-Wan's shoulders, he walked around to catch it, and stayed behind Obi-Wan's back, stepping in close to run his hands over Obi-Wan's shoulders. Qui-Gon dug his thumbs in, pressing down where it was needed, until Obi-Wan had no choice but to relax. This, he could almost do in his sleep. When Obi-Wan's shoulders had dropped by almost an inch, Qui-Gon moved closer, standing against Obi-Wan's back. He smoothed his hands down over Obi-Wan's chest, deliberately circling the nipples with his thumbs, feeling them draw together under his touch. He had to lean down uncomfortably to breathe on Obi-Wan's ear and tug on the lobe with his teeth, and decided they had better move off the floor.

Slow steps backwards, tugging Obi-Wan along, got them to the bed. Qui-Gon sat and pulled Obi-Wan down between his legs, clasping him firmly with thighs and arms. It was easy, in this position, to bite at the back of Obi-Wan's neck, to map out the nerve clusters with lips and tongue. He stroked up and down Obi-Wan's arms; when he got down to the hands, Obi-Wan tried to sign something into his palm, but Qui-Gon pulled away. Obi-Wan's exasperated snort turned into a hitching breath when Qui-Gon licked his collarbone. Obi-Wan's nipples were drawn tight and sensitive to the lightest brush of Qui-Gon's fingertips.

Qui-Gon still had the taste of zhai in his mouth, and he turned Obi-Wan's head with one hand and kissed him lingeringly, to share. Something touched the back of his hand, and he turned it palm up, felt the delicate cup placed there, and barely even heard Red Fingers' soft steps on the carpet, moving back to the couch again. He pulled back and brought the zhai cup to his mouth, sipped, then held it for Obi-Wan to drink.

And Obi-Wan drank without question, emptying the cup. Qui-Gon dropped the cup, heedless of where it fell, and kissed Obi-Wan again. He drew his hand down over Obi-Wan's chest and firm, smooth-skinned belly, and began to undo the row of clasps at the waist of his pants. The Ukay favored intricate fastenings, and great care taken with them between lovers; there were poems about buttons, about lacing-ribbons, about clasps such as these. Qui-Gon felt fumble-fingered and inelegant. He slowed down.

One clasp, and then another. Obi-Wan leaned back, his head tucked in the crook of Qui-Gon's neck. His short, spiky hair tickled Qui-Gon's ear. Qui-Gon undid another clasp, then stroked his hands down along the insides of Obi-Wan's thighs and up again before going on to the next one. Obi-Wan seemed to heat under his touch, almost burning his fingers. He turned his head and muttered something into the skin of Qui-Gon's throat.

Qui-Gon danced his fingers over Obi-Wan's chest again, teasing at the nipples. Obi-Wan's back was warm and comfortable against him. He swept his hands down, undid another clasp, then back up again. Obi-Wan pressed against him, breathing deeply and unsteadily. A warm, spicy scent of excitement was rising from him, headier than the taste of zhai.

Slipping both hands down under the waistband, Qui-Gon palmed Obi-Wan's hipbones, feeling them press up into his hands as Obi-Wan strained to meet him. He circled his thumbs inward until he could draw them softly up each side of Obi-Wan's cock, a thin layer of silky fabric between skin and skin. Obi-Wan's breath hissed between his teeth. Keeping his touch light, movements small by necessity, Qui-Gon started to tease that fabric away. He worked it down as far as the pants were unfastened, then freed his hands and began to undo the final clasps, working by touch, biting gently into Obi-Wan's shoulder.

When all the fastenings were undone at last, Qui-Gon looked down along Obi-Wan's exposed torso. Nipples drawn to tight points, chest just barely damp with sweat, stomach muscles quivering, hard cock framed by dark, heavy fabric studded with the silver glints of clasps and hooks. Draped over Qui-Gon, straining to keep still, Obi-Wan looked expensive and ornamental; the Ukay would think him unripe, but to Qui-Gon, he seemed perfectly ready. More than ready, desire clouding around him like steam.

Glancing up, Qui-Gon looked straight at Red Fingers, who was watching them with a friendly, detached expression on his face. He held eye contact for a moment, then went back to touching Obi-Wan, skimming his fingertips over all the uncovered skin from shoulders to thighs. When he curved his fingers around Obi-Wan's cock, he felt Obi-Wan shudder, a long, slow, rippling wave against him. Qui-Gon pinched a nipple just to feel Obi-Wan's cock leap hungrily against his palm.

He shaped Obi-Wan's body with his hands, hips and stomach, ribcage, chest, shoulders, arms, sliding his hands down over Obi-Wan's and moving them together up to Obi-Wan's throat and down again. Every line was known to him, and he painted this familiar beauty with his fingers and Obi-Wan's, making it shine. When he finally wrapped his hand, their hands, around Obi-Wan's cock again, Obi-Wan moaned helplessly, a quiet, undemanding little sound, half smothered in Qui-Gon's neck.

Qui-Gon looked up. Red Fingers' face looked the same, but there was a dark shadow in his eyes. Letting go of Obi-Wan's hands, Qui-Gon began to stroke more firmly, at a steady pace too slow to be truly satisfying. Obi-Wan's body thrummed with tension, and he arched into Qui-Gon's touch in short jagged thrusts. Qui-Gon wanted to put his hands everywhere, to touch every part of Obi-Wan over and over, like a miser polishing a hoarded jewel.

Moving his hand faster, he cupped the other one around Obi-Wan's soft, tightening balls, rolling them gently against his palm. Obi-Wan gasped. The head of his cock was wet against Qui-Gon's fingers. Obi-Wan tried to spread his legs wider, but the pants tangled around his thighs kept him trapped as he was, and Qui-Gon quickened the pace still more, watching Obi-Wan intently, aware that Red Fingers was watching, too.

Obi-Wan strained into the touch, and then, with a choked cry, he came, shooting high over his stomach and chest. He slumped heavily against Qui-Gon, almost burrowing into him. Qui-Gon rubbed his cheek against Obi-Wan's hair and looked up to see that Red Fingers was getting to his feet, looking at his wrist comm. Red Fingers walked out of the room without turning his head in their direction, shutting the door with a soft click.

With a last small aftershock hiccup, Obi-Wan lay still. He seemed heavier now that he wasn't writhing in Qui-Gon's arms. Qui-Gon flexed his sticky hand and reached for one of the small towels discreetly tucked away at intervals around the edges of the bed. He wiped his fingers, and then began to dry off Obi-Wan's stomach.

Obi-Wan took a deeper breath. "The minister left for the north continent last night. He is not expected back this season."

"I see." Qui-Gon tossed the towel aside. Obi-Wan stirred, rubbing against Qui-Gon's hard-on and jerking away abruptly. He stood up with a lurch, tugging one-handed at his unfastened pants. Qui-Gon lifted one hand to help, then let it drop. "I suppose we'd better follow him."

He got up off the bed and went around Obi-Wan to the clothes chest in the corner. Buying out of his contract would be costly, with nothing to show for it, but not all undercover operations were successful. Qui-Gon took his clothes out and turned around.

Obi-Wan stood by the corner of the bed, shirt in his hands. He stared down at it as he asked, "What was in that cup you gave me?"

"Just some tea," Qui-Gon said. "We should go." But Obi-Wan looked up and met his eyes, and they stood staring at each other for a long time across the width of the expensive silk-napped carpet, silent, apart.

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