"I've loved and lost, I crossed the line.
No regrets, I'd do it all again.
Forever my heart, forever I am...."

-Miriam Stockley, "Miriam"

Chapter One

They left the training center for the cafeteria, and it took no longer than halfway through dinner for consternation and worry on Obi-Wan's part to set in. Seated across from her Master, who had once more wrapped dignity and distance about himself, Obi-Wan tried to engage Qui-Gon in conversation -- once -- asking what time he wanted to practice the next day.

"Have you forgotten the Council meeting?" Qui-Gon asked tiredly as he rubbed the bridge of his nose -- a sure sign that a headache had started behind his eyes. "Let us see to the Council first, Padawan. Then we'll worry about your practice."

[He doesn't sound like he's looking forward to either one,] she thought, her heart falling into his feet. [It's been a long day; perhaps he's just tired.]

[And perhaps he's regretting kissing you,] an insidious voice sneered in her mind.

[So he kissed me,] Obi-Wan argued with the voice. [It's no big deal. People kiss people all of the time.]

[Masters do not kiss their Padawans the way your Master kissed you back there. You probably enjoyed it more than he did, since he was probably just trying to teach you another lesson. *You're* the one who wrapped your arm around his neck in a stranglehold and wouldn't let go. How's a Jedi Master supposed to gracefully disentangle himself from that? He probably just meant to give you a nice, sweet, innocent kiss. Whose body turned it into something else, huh? ]

Color suffused Obi-Wan's face at the memory.

[There, there...] the voice continued sarcastically. [He's a grown man. He knows that since you're in a woman's body, you're going to react like a woman. You can't help yourself.]

[I caught that part, thanks,] Obi-Wan growled, stirring her soup around and around, but not eating it.

[Good. I'm sure he'd hate to have to repeat the lesson.]

Inexplicably, Obi-Wan felt depressed at the thought. [Why should it depress me?] he argued with himself. [I mean, it's not as if I *want* him to kiss me, or to want me... is it?]

[Don't you?]

[No! Absolutely not! I mean... Yeah, he's the most attractive man I've ever met, the most honorable, noble human being in this galaxy, but I've never wanted to make love to him. He's been my father and mentor, and my friend. Except for what happened back there today, he's never given me the slightest hint that he feels anything for me other than what a Master feels for his apprentice.]

[He loves you, you know?] The voice turned soothing.

[Of *course* he loves me. Like a son... er, a daughter now, I guess. He just doesn't love me... that way. He was just trying to show me how complete my transition has been from one sex to the other.]

Feeling very lost and alone for reasons she didn't understand and had no wish to examine any further in such a public place, Obi-Wan tried to finish her dinner and failed miserably. She knew that there was no solution to that, just as there were no solutions to the absolute mess her life had become.

* * *

[Of all the stupid, short-sighted, things for me to have done!] Qui-Gon berated himself, shifting uneasily in his chair and feeling the pounding in his head match the pounding in his groin. [Did I have to try to seduce Obi-Wan? What's she going to think of a Master who one minute is trying to beat her into submission, and the next... She is so confused now, the last thing she needs is an old man's desire added to her turbulent emotions.]

Even as he stole a glance at his Padawan, Qui-Gon dipped deeper into depression. [Look at her - she can't even eat, I've upset her so much.]

"Padawan, if your dinner isn't to your liking, please feel free to select something else," he suggested gently, laying his warm fingers over Obi-Wan's.

Slowly, she pulled her fingers out from under Qui-Gon's, didn't look up to meet his searching gaze. "I guess I'm just not hungry. I'm sorry, Master. I'm not very good company right now. If you will excuse me, I think I'll just go back to our quarters and meditate?"

"As you wish," Qui-Gon murmured. Almost before the words were past her lips, Obi-Wan had taken her tray and was leaving the table. In a matter of seconds, she was all but running out of the cafeteria.

* * *

Returning to the rooms he shared with Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon had himself once more under control. His arousal was now a steady, bearable presence as opposed to something screaming for attention.

His apprentice was deep in meditation in the far corner of the room. Moving quietly about the common area, the Jedi Master kept the lights low and gathered his databook to review his report on Sarsden one last time. The next morning, he would hand it over to the archivist. Obi-Wan's transformation would then become part of the Jedi's permanent database, and common knowledge within the Temple.

[I wish it were otherwise,] Qui-Gon thought wryly, knowing how tongues would wag once the story was allowed to be told beyond the Council Tower. Settling onto the low couch across from Obi-Wan, he shielded his thoughts so as not to intrude upon his apprentice's mental journey.

Only a few minutes later, he was satisfied that this version of the report was the final one. Clicking closed the databook after preparing the disk, Qui-Gon set it aside only to realize what a golden opportunity had been handed him in this moment: he was free to study -- for the first time and at complete liberty, without guilt or concern whether Obi-Wan might consider it rude to catch him staring -- the image of what she had become.

The young woman sat quietly, peaceably, with her head tilted slightly to the left and her small hands cradled, one inside the other -- instinct within reason -- in her lap. The head tilt was a flaw -- one Obi-Wan had had for as long as Qui-Gon had known him. All of the correction in the world hadn't cured him of that, and Qui-Gon knew that it never would, now.

"I can't *hear* if I don't hold my head this way," Obi-Wan had protested, years ago. "That's where the doorway to the Force is in my mind."

After trying to for months to change it, an exasperated Qui-Gon had accepted it, and then found it endearing. [How can Obi-Wan be so perfect in most technique, yet lacking in one so very elementary principle?]

[Because the Force made him that way,] Qui-Gon had come to realize. [And that imperfection makes him all the more precious to me.]

Becoming precious to him anew was the body he saw before him; small and lithe as it was, with slender, muscular legs folded beneath it. Gone were the obvious, rippling muscles Qui-Gon had carefully helped Obi-Wan develop in endless sessions over the years. The shadows cast by the dim track lighting now caressed pale, perfect skin between Obi-Wan's high breasts, and Qui-Gon longed to share space with those shadows, to follow the line of their caress, to push back the Padawan tunic and explore new territory.

Her spiky auburn hair looked stiff and unyielding, yet Qui-Gon knew from cutting that hair that it was not. His fingers itched to be there, even as his lips wanted to nuzzle Obi-Wan's small ears, tug on the Padawan braid and pull her closer to him, to learn every inch of her new curves, to learn the small noises of passion that she would make when he made love to her.

Even as the thought occurred to his Master, Obi-Wan ended her meditation. Straightening her head, she opened her eyes and stared at Qui-Gon, who all but jumped. As it was, the Master folded his hands before his crotch, as though to shield himself from view.

[That's totally unnecessary,] Qui-Gon reminded himself, even as he did it. [The tunics hide everything.] Still taking some sort of psychological, if not actual, satisfaction from the gesture, he didn't remove his hands, but prayed that his mental shielding was working as well.

"Thank you, Master" came the low, sultry tones that had always been so much a part Obi-Wan.

Qui-Gon had always found his Padawan's voice to be calming. Not so, any longer. Responding to the warm, provocative tones, his aching arousal intensified to hear that voice now. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head for a moment, seeking control and distance. "For what are you thanking me, my Padawan?"

Rising from the meditation pad, Obi-Wan stretched as tall as she could, clawing for the ceiling and driving the kinks out of her back and legs. Tensing his own muscles in sympathetic response, Qui-Gon wanted to arch with her and arch against her, wanted to slide his hands possessively down his Padawan's slender torso, yank her close, and show Obi-Wan know how much he needed her.

[Not a good idea, Jedi.]

"Thank you for suggesting that I meditate."

Obi-Wan's smile did strange things to Qui-Gon's stomach; her open, trusting gaze was even worse. Padding across the room, she unclasped her belt and tossed it into her sleep-room. "You were right: I've gotten a few ideas I'd like to try tomorrow."


Obi-Wan's tunics followed her belt. Even as Qui-Gon realized that his apprentice was in the process stripping for bed as he watched, he also realized that Obi-Wan was doing as she'd had always done. There had never been any sort of embarrassment or modesty between the two of them: as men, they knew what each other looked like. The casualness of the locker room had been extended into their home: who would care if they traipsed around in the nude?

Obi-Wan had always enjoyed meditating naked, enjoyed letting Coruscant's sun warm and caress him every morning. Their private garden offered endless opportunities to enjoy the freedom that total nudity allowed: Qui-Gon had always suspected that if Obi-Wan could have practiced battle moves in the nude, he would have done so, so comfortable was he. In any case, the apprentice had often pursued his kata in the same natural, hedonistic state.

On occasion, Qui-Gon had joined him, when his control had been firmly in place and he had felt able to control his wayward body. Even if he'd occasionally become obviously aroused around his Padawan, because of the enthusiasm of youth and Obi-Wan's strong sex drive, the younger man had usually beaten Qui-Gon to it, standing firm and proud in the morning light, even as he concentrated on getting some position or other right within the kata. It had never been an issue until Qui-Gon had realized how beautiful his Padawan was, until the Master had recognized that he wanted more than to simply look at Obi-Wan, and so had begun retiring to his rooms before bed-time struck.

No such luck, now. Disappearing momentarily to discard her leggings, Obi-Wan returned to the common room. Folding her arms and leaning naked against the doorframe in a position Qui-Gon recognized from months gone by, she asked, "Do you think it would be all right if I installed two crystals into my lightsaber tomorrow? I'd like to experiment with different blade lengths if you don't mind?"

[She's perfect,] Qui-Gon thought, his gaze raking Obi-Wan's body and finding himself stiffening abruptly and painfully to raging, complete erection. Somehow, he managed to reply in a voice that did not sound strangled.

"That would be fine, Obi-Wan."

Crossing the room, Obi-Wan knelt beside her Master and gathered a few papers from the end table beside the couch. "I made a few notes earlier of some new designs. What do you think?"

"Obi-Wan..." Qui-Gon breathed, half-plea, half-command. Slowly, as if in slow motion, as if he were watching himself do it, Qui-Gon leaned over and cupped one of Obi-Wan's breasts in his hand. "You are far more of a temptation in your nakedness now than you ever were before. Please, put on some clothes?"

Obi-Wan gasped as Qui-Gon's calloused thumb firmly rubbed her nipple. Responding quickly to his touch, the bud warmed and rose, beckoning him on. The Master was more than happy to oblige. Obi-Wan pushed harder against his hand; whether such encouragement was intentional, Qui-Gon didn't know. Didn't care.

Obi-Wan's green eyes were stormy; fury and need battled within. Her cheeks were stained in embarrassment. "I've walked around here naked for years, Master. You've never cared before."

Surging to her feet, she crossed the room with the same agile grace she'd had as a male. Hauling back on the closet door, she grabbed her old cloak from its place beside Qui-Gon's.

"You were never a woman, before, my Padawan."

Shoving into the cloak, she wrapped it about herself before whirling and staring across the room at the Master. "I'm sorry that I've upset you by running around naked, Master. It won't happen again."

"You didn't upset me." He spoke quietly, despairing. Too quiet against the maelstrom that suddenly possessed his Padawan. "You aroused me."

Total silence met that admission. And then--

"I'm going to bed." All but flying into her sleep-room, Obi-Wan slid the door closed behind her.

Left alone, Qui-Gon bowed his head in his hands. [I should not have done that. I did not mean to embarrass or upset her.] Those were not reactions he would have expected from Obi-Wan, not in a million years. [What is wrong with her?]

[Foolish question. What *isn't* wrong with her now? What does she feel is right with her now? And what did I expect? That she would want my touch, even after she let me kiss her? Ridiculous. She hurts, and I have hurt her more. But... it was necessary to tell her. Was it also necessary to touch her the way I did? I let my emotions, my desire cloud the issue. Obi-Wan does not understand, and I cannot expect her to. For that, I am sorry.]

In the end, Qui-Gon retreated to his own meditation mat and tried to apply lifelong inner calming techniques in an attempt to sort out his feelings of confusion and remorse. An hour later, when that meditation was completed but inner peace was still elusive, Qui-Gon dared to open the door to Obi-Wan's chamber. Stepping inside, he let the city glow of Coruscant light his way. Crossing to Obi-Wan's bed, he stood quietly and looked down at his sleeping Padawan.

As always, Obi-Wan slept with her back to the room, as close to the wall as she could get. Her Padawan braid trailed across the pillow.

[Everything has changed for my Padawan, except for that braid,] Qui-Gon realized. Kneeling beside the bed, he laid a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder.

"I owe you an apology, Obi-Wan," he whispered, hoping that the Force would carry this apology into her dreams. "I was insensitive and intrusive this evening. You may walk before me in any state you desire. I will accept it, and count myself lucky that you are before me at all. Rest well, my Padawan."


Chapter Two

The next morning, Obi-Wan made sure she was up before her Master. Streaking into the refresher at least an hour ahead of Qui-Gon, she showered and was fully clothed and meditating quietly by the time Qui-Gon got up.

"Good morning, Obi-Wan," came the familiar low voice, intruding upon her non-thoughts. If that voice was more hesitant this morning than it had been on other mornings, well, Obi-Wan knew that she had no one to blame but herself after last night's scene.

Rising from the meditation, she offered a formal bow before opening her eyes. "Good morning, Mas--"

Qui-Gon acknowledged the greeting with a slight bow of his own before turning away, but Obi-Wan never got the rest of the word out. Her mind was too busy shrieking, [Sith take it, he's naked and dripping from his own shower!]

Blushing furiously, she couldn't stop staring at the long, lean lines Qui-Gon presented for her inspection. [Well, I guess that the same rules don't apply to him as they do to me.]

Only now, as her Master strode majestically through the apartment and back into his chamber, did Obi-Wan come even halfway close to understanding Qui-Gon's agitation of the night before. With muscular legs that were much longer than any man's had the right to be, damp tendrils of clean hair clinging across his broad shoulders, and well-defined muscles moving easily beneath the planes of his back, Qui-Gon was magnificent. Obi-Wan's new hormonal makeup hastened to communicate that fact to her, complete with suddenly clammy palms, curling toes, and lungs that suddenly didn't want to breathe for her any longer.

[Why didn't I ever see him like this before?] Obi-Wan wondered, even as the delicious fire began coiling through her again. [He's nowhere near me, not doing a thing, and I feel this way about him?] She shivered, never mind that the room was warm with the morning sun.

Returning to the living area, Qui-Gon stopped in front of Obi-Wan, who was still standing vaguely down at the edge of her meditation mat. "Padawan, would you mind cutting my hair?"

"Uh... sure. After you." Blinking up at him almost stupidly, she gestured toward the 'fresher.

Qui-Gon walked serenely enough before Obi-Wan, even as he usually walked serenely before her in his Jedi robes. But oh, what a difference was made by the lack of a few layers of austere clothing. Swallowing hard, Obi-Wan came to realize that it was a difference that really made no difference.

[When he's clothed and walking in front of me, I know that I'm safe, and I feel proud to be with him. But when he's like this and the walk is the same, the man inside is the same, and I know that I love him. I want to touch him, make him aware of how I feel.]

[Is that how he feels about me? Is that what he was trying to tell me last night? Is he trying to teach me something? Again? Still?]

[Probably,] she decided, joining Qui-Gon in the 'fresher and taking the scissors Qui-Gon offered in the palm of his hand.

The two of them had been through this ritual so often over the years, the Master turned without prompting to face the wall and offer Obi-Wan clear access to his hair. Smiling slightly to remember earlier years when Obi-Wan had been so short that she'd had to sit on the edge of the tub so that she could reach his Master properly, Obi-Wan retrieved Qui-Gon's comb and worked to gently untangle his mane. Once Obi-Wan actually had her hands on him, the fire inside her retreated to smolder happily in the background.

"How much do you want me to cut off?" she asked, already dreading the answer.

"Two inches."

"Master--" she protested, running her fingers through it. "Only one inch, surely. Can't you let it grow just a little longer?"

Sighing deeply, Qui-Gon turned his head and peered down at her from the corner of one very blue eye. "How many times have we had this conversation over the years? Any longer, and it is a danger. To us both."

Which translated to, 'If I am blinded by hair, I cannot defend myself or you.'

"I know. But that doesn't stop me from wishing it weren't so. You have beautiful hair, Master."

"So do you."

"Not like this."

Combing through the strands once more, Obi-Wan snicked the scissors in a silent, pre-arranged signal that her Master should look straight ahead and stand very still. Qui-Gon did so, and Obi-Wan snipped slowly, carefully, determined to get it right. Trimming in a slight half-circle, she made certain that the ends were an even length, even as they flowed across Qui-Gon's broad shoulders. Checking her work, one side against the other, she finished by snipping a few stray hairs, then spread her hand across Qui-Gon's back.

"All done."

"Thank you, Obi-Wan."

She could feel Qui-Gon's voice rumble through the palm of her hand. So small was the 'fresher that the Master couldn't get around Obi-Wan to exit, but had to wait for her to return the scissors to their assigned place in the cabinet. And so Qui-Gon loomed over Obi-Wan, as protective and comforting a presence as he'd ever been.

Folding her hands in formal supplication, Obi-Wan faced Qui-Gon and bowed his head. "I'd like to apologize for my behavior last night."

"It is I who owe you an apology, Obi-Wan."

"I don't believe so. I think I better understand, this morning, why my own lack of clothes disturbed you last night." His gaze flickered briefly to Qui-Gon's manhood, hanging heavy and inviting between his thighs.

A long silence met her announcement. And then, "Obi-Wan, please look at me."

She did, with reluctance.

Qui-Gon offered a wry smile. "Your Master can be a very stuffy, unamusing old man sometimes."

"You're not!"

"Last night, I was. We're both human, with all of the passions, emotions, and reactions that implies. We've been together far too long to let something so elementary as our being naked come between us. If you will trust me not to judge you so harshly again, I will trust you to walk any way you wish before me. And, for the record, there has never been a time -- no matter the body you were in -- when I have not wanted to look at you. You were a handsome man, Obi-Wan. And you've become a beautiful woman."

She felt her mouth drop open in surprise, but had the foresight to close it before trying to assemble an answer. "I... er... Thanks. You really mean his, don't you?"

"I do."

Qui-Gon waited serenely for his Padawan's next reaction. Even as Obi-Wan wanted to say something or do something to thank him, she couldn't think of a proper response. As for Qui-Gon, he seemed contented to stand trapped in the 'fresher with Obi-Wan blocking his way for as long as she liked.

"Would you like me to dry your hair?" she offered impulsively after a long, awkward moment. [Where the hell did *that* come from?] Still, it didn't sound like too bad an offer.

Amusement flashed in those blue eyes. A crooked, somewhat bemused smile flashed briefly. "If you like."

Reaching over Obi-Wan's head, Qui-Gon retrieved the dryer and handed it to her. Turning, she walked out of the 'fresher and into Qui-Gon's sleep-room. Reaching the bed, she turned, expecting to find Qui-Gon close behind, only to discover that he'd stopped to retrieve a hand towel, a small mirror, and even smaller pair of scissors.

Padding into the bedroom, Qui-Gon sat on the edge of the bed, spread the towel across his lap, and raised an eyebrow when Obi-Wan didn't immediately apply herself to the damp hair.

"Why did you bring a mirror?" Obi-Wan dared to ask.

"My beard needs trimming." [Carry on,] his gesture said, even as he handed Obi-Wan a wayward leather hair-tie.

"I see."

Dropping the tie onto the blanket for safekeeping, Obi-Wan climbed up behind Qui-Gon before running a wide-toothed through his hair and turning on the dryer. Tossing aside the comb, she used her fingers to massage her Master's scalp, going ever so gently so as not to disturb him as he trimmed his beard. Ever the fastidious Master, Qui-Gon made certain that the trimmings fell onto the towel in his lap, rather than onto the bed or on the floor.

Finishing before Obi-Wan did, Qui-Gon folded up the towel and set the mirror aside. Closing his eyes, he leaned into his Padawan's caress. "That feels so good, Obi-Wan."

Increasing the pressure, she shut off the dryer, but didn't stop massaging.

"You're tense even before the day has begun," Obi-Wan accused, letting her fingers work down Qui-Gon's neck, across the rock-hard muscles at the top of his shoulders.

"You know that I've never enjoyed Council meetings very much."

"I can't see why not. After all, it's not as though they try to ferret out our every opinion and disagree with them. It's not as though, next time, they'll send us off to complete some piece of dirty work that they'll criticize even more."

The droll delivery made Qui-Gon smile.

Brushing out Qui-Gon's hair, which was now totally dry, Obi-Wan impulsively segregated a thin length of hair at the nape of his neck. Separating the hair into three strands, she began braiding furiously, wondering if she could actually get away with this.

Qui-Gon turned his head slightly. "What are you doing?"

"Your hair's very fine. I've run into an especially difficult snarl." [Please don't pick up the mirror,] Obi-Wan begged silently, even as she pushed aside the rest of Qui-Gon's mane, which left room to work and exposed the love braid she was making.

Reaching the end of the braid, Obi-Wan quickly, viciously pulled the flexible thread from the end of her own Padawan braid. There would be time later to get another thread before the braid unraveled. Working one-handed and not wanting to let go Qui-Gon's newly created love braid for fear she'd lose it in the rest of his hair and have to go digging -- which action Qui-Gon would really question until Obi-Wan had no choice but to confess what she'd been trying to do -- Obi-Wan managed to stretch out the thread and wrap it around the newly created braid.

[There. That ought to hold it. Wonder how long it will take him to discover it's there?]

"Got it," she announced, setting the braid aside before brushing quickly through the rest of Qui-Gon's hair and gathering the appropriate amount to pull it back and fasten it as he always wore it. A final brush through the entire mane and it was done -- with the new love braid hidden safely behind the Master's left ear. [Unless you already know it's there, you won't notice it. I hope.]

Still kneeling behind Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan impulsively threw her arms around the man's broad shoulders. "You feel so good to be near. You smell good, too."

Turning his head, Qui-Gon rubbed his beard against Obi-Wan's cheek. "Do I?"

"Mmmm. And your beard is soft." She rubbed back against it, enjoying the rasping sound it made, and tightened hers arms around Qui-Gon's neck. "My transition can't be easy for you, either. You know that I love you, don't you, Master? Thank you for being so patient with me."

Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon stop breathing, and wondered if she'd spoken out of turn. Not daring to draw breath, not daring to move, she waited for his response.

Slowly, Qui-Gon's big hands came up to wrap themselves around Obi-Wan's wrists. Warm and gentle, those strong hands could destroy the most bitter enemy as well as caress the most fragile tear from Obi-Wan's cheek.

Softly, he rumbled, "I love you too, my Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan's world righted itself. Smoothing Qui-Gon's hair back to the tie, she dared to kiss his forehead. Letting her nose drift back down to her Master's ear, she breathed softly into it. Qui-Gon caught his breath sharply when his apprentice kissed his beard, just where it began at his jaw.

"You're such a strange mixture of rough and soft," Obi-Wan murmured. "I guess most men are. Strange, how I've never noticed before." With a final tug on his hair, she slid off of the bed. "I guess I should let you get dressed."

Turning to exit the room, Obi-Wan found herself caught by a long arm around her wrist.

"Wait," Qui-Gon whispered, his blue eyes urgent with need.

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow in inquiry, only to be brought to stand between Qui-Gon's legs. Pulling his Padawan closer, Qui-Gon spanned Obi-Wan's waist with his fingers, turned his head and leaned his cheek against her stomach.

Hesitantly, not knowing what to make of this gesture, Obi-Wan slid her arms around Qui-Gon's broad shoulders and hugged tightly. Her Master released the anxious breath he'd been holding, and Obi-Wan felt the tension drain out of him.

"It'll be all right," Obi-Wan murmured instinctively, her words as low and elegant and soothing as they'd been before her transformation. Running her fingers through Qui-Gon's hair, she continued, "We've done nothing wrong this time, Master. Between the two of us, we can handle the Council."

"I fear that it will not be pleasant for you, Obi-Wan. Just as this entire mission was not pleasant for you."

"It's only a moment in time, Master. We'll present our report, they'll ask me questions, you'll state your conclusions, and then it will all be over."

Calm confidence washed through the bond from Padawan to Master. Qui-Gon tightened his grip on Obi-Wan, soaking up his Padawan's calm as a cat soaks up sunshine on a winter's day. Clinging to it, craving it, he stored it in his heart in preparation for when they had to stand so close and yet so far apart in the Council Chamber.

Leaning over, Obi-Wan nuzzled impulsively once more at her Master's ear. "We're together, Master, so it *will* be all right."


Hugging tightly and fiercely, Obi-Wan realized suddenly that even strong Jedi Masters could suffer from hidden, unspoken fears. The Padawan held the Master for a long time, until Qui-Gon felt able to let go of Obi-Wan physically and still carry her strength inside of him.


Chapter Three

Pacing a careful three steps behind her Master as usual, Obi-Wan left the hood of her cloak up as they traversed the corridors of the Temple on their way to the Council chambers. When Qui-Gon cast her an inquisitive glance, obviously wondering if she was still feeling shy about her appearance, she murmured, "I'm savoring the privacy. Once this meeting is over, there's probably not going to be much left for either of us."


From Qui-Gon's expression, he didn't look like he was looking forward to the attention, either. The Padawan population would undoubtedly descend upon Obi-Wan, but as the Master of the transformed apprentice, Qui-Gon would have to deal with the endlessly curious Masters.

Qui-Gon leaned down to address the cloaked figure at his side. "Perhaps we should confer later and decide how much you wish to reveal to strangers?"

"Sounds good to me." From her scathing tone of voice, Obi-Wan left no doubt that she wouldn't want to reveal much.

For the first time in Obi-Wan's memory, she and her Master did not have to wait an hour in the receiving room of the Council Chambers, but were ushered straight before the quorum the moment they arrived. Bowing her head, Obi-Wan smiled grimly to herself, knowing all too well how eager everyone had to be to see her.

[If you think I'm just going to waltz in here and show off, let you stare and prod Qui-Gon as well as at me... You can just forget it. It's *my* transformation, *my* body, and I'm controlling this encounter. With a lot of help from my Master, of course.]

"Gathered, we have, to explore the rumors of your apprentice's transformation," Yoda began gently, as if sensing Obi-Wan's uneasiness at being forced to reveal something so very personal.

"I beg to inform the Council that it is more than rumor," Qui-Gon began in a voice so quiet, that, except for Yoda -- whose ears caught everything -- everyone seated around them had to lean forward to catch his words. "Our mission to Sarsden was a success. As a reward for that success, the king offered us what his handmaiden referred to as a gift. We stand before you to show you what, exactly, that gift consisted of."

Turning slightly, he focused the Council's attention on Obi-Wan, who pushed back the hood of her cloak. Her expression was an exacting study in neutrality as murmurs of dismay and amazement traversed the circle.

Mace Windu gestured a tight circle. "Please turn, Padawan, so that all may see this transformation."

"Take off your cloak, first," added Yoda.

Shrugging out of it, Obi-Wan draped it over one arm.

Yoda shook his head. "We must see all of you, Padawan Kenobi."

Qui-Gon closed the distance between them to take Obi-Wan's cloak. Worried blue eyes met gray-green.

[Are you all right with this?] Qui-Gon asked silently.

[I'll have to be, won't I?]

Leaving Qui-Gon's side, Obi-Wan walked a wide circle around the chamber. Meeting every member's gaze in their turn, she challenged them to... what? Not even she was certain.

[To treat me with respect, certainly. Not to laugh, absolutely. To maintain my dignity, my serenity, without their help or interference. 'There is no emotion, there is peace.' Well, you're going to see that *this* Padawan has made his... er, her... peace with the situation and is living in the present. 'There is no passion, there is serenity.' Yep, that's me. So what are you going to make of it?]

The dark-haired beauty called Depa Billaba smiled encouragement as Obi-Wan reached her. Holding out a hand, she murmured, "Could you come here for a moment, Padawan Kenobi?"

She rose as Obi-Wan did as she was bid. Slender fingers touched her face, exploring the bones.

"Whatever method they used to do this," Depa announced to the Council, "the physical results are flawless." Taking Obi-Wan's hands in hers, she studied his frame before addressing Qui-Gon. "From your observations, are the changes limited to the physical?"

Folding his arms, Qui-Gon shook his head. "Obi-Wan's emotions have been affected as well, though I suspect those, too, are related to the physiological changes. His emotions often seem to be driven hormonally, as I believe is common with the human female."

Depa nodded understanding, while Obi-Wan wondered, [What does that mean?]

[It means that you are more emotional as a woman, Padawan. Subject to the whims of the female cycle of hormones.]

[Oh. So that's why I want to cry all of the damned time. Why I get upset sometimes at the drop of a saber for the least little thing.]

[It would seem so.]

[You're having to put up with quite a lot from me, aren't you?]

[Remember that I love you, Obi-Wan. I most certainly do not 'put up' with any part of you.]

"Do you feel that this gift was meant as an attack?" Mace Windu asked.

"No, sir," said Obi-Wan. "It was presented as an honor. However dubious." Quickly, she related the circumstances surrounding the actual change, even as Depa wandered around her, mentally cataloguing the changes.

"Strange way for someone to express their gratitude," muttered Windu. Leaning forward, he stared at Obi-Wan in a way she was finding most uncomfortable.

[He looks like he's hungry, and I'm dinner.]

"What of future delegations to the planet?" Mace asked Obi-Wan. "Will they run into offerings of the same... gifts?"

The Padawan shrugged. "Who can tell? Again, Master Windu, this was meant as a reward for my Master's serving them."

"Yet they did nothing to you, Master Jinn?"

"I was scheduled to be in conference with the king. When this was pointed out, the handmaiden was agreeable that the gift was to be bestowed upon my Padawan. With hindsight, it occurs to me that perhaps they planned it that way."

Obi-Wan returned to her Master's side as Depa completed her delicate inspection. Unobtrusively, the apprentice glided up to stand a little closer to Qui-Gon than was their usual custom before the Council.

"Whatever gift they had chosen to bestow on either of us, we could not have refused it," Qui-Gon pointed out, turning slightly to welcome Obi-Wan beside him.

"Result of that would have been death," acknowledged Yoda. "What sort of gifts have they in store for future visitors, hmm?"

"Did you ask why the gift was given?" Windu asked, his gaze still fastened upon Obi-Wan.

"That was taboo according to their custom."

Yoda offered a sympathetic smile, his eyes softening as they crinkled at the corners. "Sorry we are on your behalf, young Padawan, for this transformation. Changed back, would you wish to be?"

"Of course, my Master." Obi-Wan offered a slight bow. "But the chances of that are very small, I suspect."

"The Council will explore the possibilities," Mace assured, steepling his fingers. "Future delegations will be warned, and we will send a formal notice to the planet saying that these changes are not acceptable by our custom."

"Warned, all visitors must be. This will not be allowed to happen again. Help Obi-Wan, however, this does not," Yoda admitted. "Master Qui-Gon will continue to guide you. A better Master, you could not have."

Obi-Wan stepped closer to the man under discussion and stole a quick, smiling glance up at him. "I'm well aware of that, Master Yoda. If it wasn't for Master Qui-Gon....."

Shrugging, she spread her hands before him, hoping to convey what words could not.

A warm, heavy hand came to rest across her shoulder. "Obi-Wan is handling the transition well. Already, we have begun the training necessary to accommodate her. I am pleased with his progress thus far."

"We look forward to watching you in competition," said Mace, an eager glint in his eyes.

"You may have to wait some time, sir," Obi-Wan said, almost with alacrity at her ability to deny this particular Jedi Master something. "I doubt that I'll be ready to make a public spectacle of myself anytime soon."

[But what a beautiful public spectacle it would be,] Windu's expression said.

Qui-Gon's hand tightened on Obi-Wan's shoulder.

"We thank you for your report," said Yoda. "The Force be with you, young Kenobi, as you adjust to your transformation."

Bowing his respect, Obi-Wan went to follow her Master from the Chamber, but halted when Qui-Gon sidestepped to approach Mace Windu.

"Could I speak with you privately for a moment?" Qui-Gon murmured.

Without waiting for the Councilman's answer, Qui-Gon stalked out of the room. Obi-Wan followed quickly in his wake, lest the Council think of more awkward questions to ask. Feeling rather than seeing Windu's surprise at Qui-Gon's unexpected request, Obi-Wan knew that the man was following them both out into the receiving area.

Turning abruptly and without warning, Qui-Gon reached out to steady Obi-Wan when she would have ploughed into him. A tilt of his head, a quick squeeze of his apprentice's shoulder, and Qui-Gon sent Obi-Wan safely behind him. Given the "Me Master, you Padawan," glint in his eye, Obi-Wan obeyed that command without hesitation. That particular expression was usually reserved for times of great danger outside the Temple walls. She most remembered it from years before, when she'd been smaller, younger, and less able to defend herself at Qui-Gon's side.

"You wished to speak in private, Qui-Gon?"

"I did." Qui-Gon's quiet voice was in direct contradiction to the animosity Obi-Wan sensed was seething just beneath the surface. "You have been less than subtle in your attraction to my apprentice."

Windu's jaw slackened in surprise, but Obi-Wan could feel the truth of her Master's words. "Qui-Gon-"

[So *that's* why his staring made me feel so twitchy in there,] Obi-Wan realized. [There's so much that I totally miss in this new body, but Qui-Gon seems to pick right up on it. How does he *do* that? I'm still worrying about the situation, trying to figure it out, while he's already in there dealing with it.]

"Right now, your interest is manifesting itself only in your desire to watch Obi-Wan. Unfortunately, you were also instrumental in informing certain members of the Council -- in an untimely, totally unofficial and inappropriate manner -- of private matters regarding events affecting my Padawan. You also showed a blatantly selfish disregard for traditional Jedi training methods by invading our practice session yesterday afternoon."

Shoving back the edges of his cloak, Qui-Gon stretched to his full majestic height -- about four inches taller than Windu. Placing his hands on his belt, Qui-Gon took a step forward. Windu took a step back. Circling around the two men, Obi-Wan sought a better view than the one offered at her Master's back.

"I am speaking with you now in an effort to ensure that your interest goes no further," the Jedi Master said softly. "The caress of your eyes will not evolve into a caress of another kind -- do I make myself clear?"

Qui-Gon's hand rested lightly upon the hilt of his lightsaber. The implication was clear.

"I woudn't--"

"Quite right. You wouldn't. Have I your promise, then?"

Windu's gaze flickered briefly from Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan. It was one thing to discover yourself desiring an imminently attractive young Padawan whose fire you'd always admired, who now possessed a fresh feminine beauty, the likes of which you'd -- literally -- never seen before. It was quite another thing to discover that the Master protecting the beauty was quietly snarling in your face, as fierce and possessive as any Velde lion prepared to fight for its mate.

[Jinn has the power, strength and determination to back this up right here, if need be,] Windu realized, [and he will if I don't make the right noises.]

Glancing back at Qui-Gon, Windu caught sight of something just beneath the Master's left ear. [What the--]

Squinting slightly, Windu focused on the thing and realized it for what it was: hidden deep in the strands of Qui-Gon's mane was a miniature version of the Padawan braid. [There's absolutely no way that Qui-Gon put that there himself. Which leaves only one other person who'd dare try it. And one reason why they'd want it there.] It was all Windu could do to keep from grinning at Obi-Wan over Qui-Gon's shoulder. [The little lioness lies down with her mate; who am I to try to come between that?]

Backing up another two steps, Windu raised his hands in simple surrender and grinned. "You have my promise, Master Jinn. Your apprentice is safe from me."

Backing even further away from Qui-Gon, as if he didn't want to chance turning his back on the Jedi Master, Mace Windu activated the doors leading back into the Council Chamber. Qui-Gon didn't move until the Councilman was well away, with the doors sliding closed behind him.

"Thank you," Obi-Wan murmured softly. "I think."

Still, Qui-Gon didn't relax. Turning his head, he regarded Obi-Wan, who noted that his jaw was set, the look in his eyes was still fierce.

[He's definitely more warrior than diplomat right now,] she realized. [Best to be cautious.]

"I don't believe that I could have handled that myself, Master," she ventured softly, daring to close the distance between them and lay her hand on Qui-Gon's arm. [Calm... The danger is gone now.] "I didn't even realize he wanted me."

Qui-Gon gave a slight smile that didn't reach his eyes. "You're used to being the predator, Obi-Wan. Not the prey. But no matter; you shouldn't experience any trouble from that quarter." Turning, he bowed slightly and gestured his Padawan before him. "After you."

Not wanting to debate the everlasting issue of 'Who goes first: the Master or the Apprentice?' Obi-Wan did as she was bid. Moving from the Council chambers and out into the corridor, she then moved aside and slowed momentarily to let her Master step up beside her.

"Are you ready to build another lightsaber?" Qui-Gon asked companionably, shedding his fierce mood as easily as he would shed his cloak.

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan's eyes shown with what could only be called reserved glee. Fighting with the wrong-sized saber was like fighting while wearing the wrong-sized shoes: too little and it could hurt a lot; too big and if she blundered, she could die. Given the new strategies she was determined on trying later in the day, a perfect fit was an absolute necessity.

"We're not going to the student lab?" she asked when Qui-Gon led her past the lengthy Temple corridor leading across the concourse and into the Jedi Academy.

"I have somewhere else in mind."


Chapter Four

Qui-Gon took Obi-Wan into a Temple tower that she'd never seen before, over to a bank of elevators and downward. Deep into the new tower they went, past checkpoints near which Obi-Wan knew she wouldn't have been allowed to breathe without Qui-Gon. Nodding briefly at each guard, her Master was silently allowed entrance, with only the occasional raised eyebrow offered to question the presence of the apprentice at his side.

Subdued lighting, like that in Qui-Gon's own chambers, replaced the hard white light Obi-Wan was accustomed to. Austere decor gave way to more elegant furnishings; a tapestry from Jykstra here, a sculpture gifted from Naboo there. Branching off of the main corridor they traveled were small meditation gardens, complete with benches, fountains and windchimes, offering total privacy in every atmosphere a Jedi Master could want.

"It's beautiful here," she whispered to Qui-Gon, and then caught the disapproving eye of another Jedi Master who was sitting on one of the hallway's benches and glowering as though Qui-Gon were escorting a particularly nasty kind of insect past him.

"I suppose it is." Qui-Gon offered the disapproving Master a respectful nod before sliding a hand across Obi-Wan's shoulders and guiding her closer to him.

Opposite the gardens, an ancient and very out-of-place wooden door was ensconced in a steelite wall. Punching an access code into the pad beside the door, Qui-Gon lifted the black iron latch and shoved his weight against it. The door swung back slowly, with Qui-Gon ushering Obi-Wan inside as yet another, passing Jedi Master shot them a questioning glower.

"Are you sure it's all right for me to be here?" Obi-Wan whispered, noticing that the door Qui-Gon was now closing was about four inches thick. [Where did that thing come from? And how long has it been here?]

"As long as I am with you, Padawan, you are welcome anywhere in the Temple," Qui-Gon murmured, closing the door while Obi-Wan waited in the small, dark corridor beyond.

"That's not what five pairs of Jedi Master eyes told me on the way here."

"You no longer look like yourself, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon reminded her. "The Masters we have encountered no doubt suspect that I have led a stranger into their sacred corridors. Either they will soon learn of your transformation and your identity, or I will deal with their comments later."

He sounded casual and unconcerned, and Obi-Wan suspected that she should take Qui-Gon at his word. [He'll handle it,] she concluded. [Probably with the same icy calm as he handled Mace Windu.]

"It's not yet general knowledge what's happened to you," Qui-Gon continued, leading the way down the narrow corridor, past a string of solid grey steelite doors. "If I visited the Academy lab with a beautiful young woman and we constructed a lightsaber together, you know that the students would talk." Pausing at a particular door, Qui-Gon wrapped a finger around Obi-Wan's braid and tugged gently, teasing. "Especially if I address the beautiful young woman as Obi-Wan, or if she calls me Master."

"I see your point."

Obi-Wan eyed the brass nameplate on the door her Master was keying open. *Qui-Gon Jinn,* it read.

"This room is yours? What's it for?"

"You'll see." The door slid back. With a faint smile, Qui-Gon ushered Obi-Wan inside. "After you, my Padawan."

The lights came up as she stepped across the threshold, only to stop dead. Eyes widening with startled delight, she breathed, "Oh... wow."

Behind her, Qui-Gon chuckled softly. "Would you mind taking a mere two more steps into the room, please?"

"Sorry." Obi-Wan did as she was asked, allowing Qui-Gon's broad frame entrance as well. Turning in place, she surveyed the small, very private lab.

"Wow..." she whispered again, gazing on a spotless workbench, a wall full of top-of-the-line tools, and a storage cage containing row upon row of raw parts and the supplies necessary to do everything from building a service droid to outfitting a hyperdrive.

Standing before a wall panel, Qui-Gon punched a button. To the left of the workbench, an accordian shield folded neatly up into the ceiling. A clear glass window was revealed, which looked out onto a private ship's hangar. The view afforded was all too familiar to Obi-Wan -- except that she'd always seen it from another angle, when she and her Master had entered through the arched entry at the other side of the quadrant housing their quarters. Before the window was Qui-Gon's personal starship, the *Marauder.* She sat, sleek and blue and elegant in her private berth, patiently awaiting her Master's pleasure.

"Nice view," Obi-Wan observed dryly. "Now I know how you always managed to so quickly come up with those replacement parts you wanted me to install." Shaking her head, Obi-Wan looked up at Qui-Gon, who'd come to join him before the window. "I can't believe that you've brought me here to build a lowly apprentice's lightsaber."

Qui-Gon shrugged out of his cloak, set it on a peg beside the door. "My lab is meant to be used, Obi-Wan."

"Yeah, but--"

"But what?" Qui-Gon reached for Obi-Wan's cloak even as he waited patiently for his Padawan to put the words together.

"I feel... so... *unworthy* of this."

"The lightsaber you make will not be." Setting Obi-Wan's cloak atop his own, Qui-Gon called out, "Theron, attend."

Immediately, a pit droid leaped down from the top of the parts cage, unfolded itself, and bounded over to Qui-Gon. Chattering excitedly, it bowed briefly before unfolding its metal claws and awaiting its Master's commands.

"We're building a lightsaber. Bring the necessary parts, including a set of at least five smaller casings from which we will choose. You'll have to visit exterior Stores to get the casings, as those we have on hand are too big."

A series of enthusiastic whistles met that command.

"Carry on, then."

Grabbing a lab tray, the pit droid threw back the door of the storage cage and began digging into the first series of boxes.

"Theron huh?" Obi-Wan murmured as the tray was returned to them, complete with an abundant selection of power cells, small insulation packets, tiny metal knobs, wiring, and other required bits and pieces. "A name which translates to, I assume, 'the hunter'?"

Qui-Gon gave a crooked smiled and gestured for his apprentice to seat herself on one of the stools before the workbench. "Can you think of a better name for one that fetches and carries?"

Opening a drawer, the Jedi Master brought forth a set of small screwdrivers, guides and wrenches. "You'll be needing these, I believe." Taking the stool opposite Obi-Wan, he handed over the tool set, then leaned back and folded his arms. "You do remember how to build a lightsaber?"

"If I don't, you can ship me off to Agricorps." She favored him with a wry grin. "I'd be a pretty sorry apprentice if I couldn't do this."

"Agreed. Which is why I asked." Reaching down, he tugged on her braid again.

Obi-Wan rubbed the side of his head. "Master, I wish you wouldn't do that. You know it's not a leash, and it's annoying."

"Which is why I do it. Here are your casings, I believe."

Theron plunked another tray between Master and Apprentice. Metal rattled against metal, with the skeletal cylinders gleaming spotlessly up at them.

"Doesn't look much like a lightsaber to me." She frowned, then intoned solemnly, "And so it begins. Query One: Is Jedi Apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi capable of selecting his... pardon me, her... hilt casing without the expert advice of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn? We'll keep you informed."

"Sarcasm does not become you, my Padawan."

"Consider it revenge for your abusing my braid."

Rolling the first casing back and forth in the tray, she didn't even bother picking it up. The two beside it were inspected more closely, only to be rejected as well. As were the remaining two.

"Are there any others where these came from?" Obi-Wan plaintively asked the pit droid, who simply stared up at her, non-comprehending. "Huh. I guess you only take instruction from our Master. Sort of like me?"

"What, exactly are you looking for?" asked Qui-Gon, a faint warning in his voice. While the aesthetic look of a lightsaber was important, it wasn't important enough to send a droid endlessly scouring the Temple supplies for just the right design.

"I want one that looks like yours."

Startled silence met that announcement. After a long moment, Qui-Gon murmured, "You could have said so in the first place, Padawan."

"And miss astonishing you?"

Qui-Gon shot his Padawan a look that said, *Behave.* "Theron, attend," he ordered. "Bring us 24-, 26- and 28-gauge duplicates of my casing FP32-ZB9."

Snatching the tray of rejected casings, the droid bounded off.  Less than two minutes later, it returned with the new ones. Obi-Wan hefted the smallest, only to find it was too small. In the end, she settled on the 26-gauge casing.

"You can always refit it later it you do not like it," suggested Qui-Gon. "I'll keep the larger one on hand, just in case."

"Thank you," Obi-Wan murmured, sounding distracted as she had already turned her attention to cracking open the casing and fitting insulation around the new diatium power cell.

Moving aside the belt ring, she took the grounding wire Qui-Gon offered and attached it to the metal ring as a safety precaution. *She* wouldn't be the one to accidentally -- make that stupidly -- short out the power cell and delicate crystals before they'd even had the chance to perform.

Crouching over the casing and all but blocking Qui-Gon's supervisory view so that he had to inch his stool closer, Obi-Wan installed the insulation, diatium cell, dual plasma-pack and necessary wiring to connect the three.

Qui-Gon noticed that his apprentice had a habit of sticking her tongue out between her teeth in concentration while she worked. [A childhood habit? Definitely an endearing one.] Her thigh to Qui-Gon's thigh, she rubbed against him as she worked carefully for long minutes beneath her Master's watchful gaze, but seemed oblivious to their touching. Qui-Gon, however, was not.

"I thought this would be easier with small fingers," Obi-Wan murmured in a voice that Qui-Gon was only just beginning to realize was still one of the most seductive he'd ever heard.

"I suspect that it would be easier only if you were working on a saber whose size matched your original."

Their fingers brushed as Obi-Wan took the crimpers Qui-Gon offered and began connecting the wires to their appropriate connectors.

"Blue wire to the blue plasma-house," she murmured in that voice -- so soothing when she'd been a man and so lethal to Qui-Gon's senses now that she was a woman. "Red wire to red plasma-house. If I do this wrong, I'll reverse the polarity of the gamma flow and the whole thing will blow up in my hands the first time I turn it on."

"Let's not, shall we?"

"Agh!" Obi-Wan cried out the next minute, as the tangle of wires absolutely refused to fit alongside their respective houses within the hilt.

"There's an easier way to do that," Qui-Gon observed mildly, holding out his hand for the crimpers. "If I may?"

"Be my guest." Sliding off of the stool, Obi-Wan stretched to drive the kinks from her back.

Taking the lab tray containing the lightsaber casing, Qui-Gon settled it before him and carefully set about untangling the wires. Sliding a companionable arm across her Master's shoulders, Obi-Wan leaned against him and watched avidly.

"For a big man, you do very delicate work," she murmured into Qui-Gon's ear.

"Practice," the Master admitted, without reluctance or embarrassment. "You've no idea how many of these things I've had to build. Or rebuilt. But never one so small, my Padawan."

Turning his head, Qui-Gon smiled. Lining up the blue and red wires, he used the crimpers to twist them together, and then ran them down the center of the casing, which made them fit neatly between the plasma houses.

"That's an elegant way to do it." Draped across Qui-Gon's shoulder in her determination not to miss a single technique or hint that her Master might share, Obi-Wan's cheek caressed his. Her breasts were crushed against Qui-Gon's shoulder-blades, her breath was warm on his skin. Obi-Wan's nearness felt so good and so right that Qui-Gon's body insistently demanded more.

Gritting his teeth, the Jedi Master focused on the lightsaber. Over the next few minutes, Obi-Wan murmured questions, observations, and sweet appreciations into his ear, which had the effect of gently and steadily encouraging his arousal. [If Obi-Wan keeps this up, I'm going to seduce him within an inch of his life once we're finished here.]

"Why are your hands shaking all of a sudden?" she asked in all innocence, her breath stirring Qui-Gon's hair and nearly making him leap off of the bench as his erection swelled another inch. Or two.

"Fatigue," he drawled, shifting in discomfort and not believing the excuse any more than his Padawan would. "I believe it's time you chose your focusing crystals, Obi-Wan."

"Oh, yeah." Instead of backing away from Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan simply leaned harder against him and slid the tray of supplies closer.

Qui-Gon closed his eyes and nearly moaned when Obi-Wan's left hand caressed the back of his neck in an effort to maintain her balance. Reaching down, the apprentice dipped her free hand into the tray. Palming each quartz crystal in its turn, she closed her eyes and concentrated on its energy.

"These two, I think." She dropped them into the palm of Qui-Gon's waiting hand.

Staring down at them, the Master hesitated for a moment, as though lost in thought. Half of him was trying to tame his massive need so that his fingers would stop shaking; the other half of him was very soberly considering defying thousands of years of Jedi tradition concerning the crystals in a Padawan's lightsaber.

"Select a third crystal," he finally instructed. "A smaller one."

"Another?" Obi-Wan questioned, her natural voice all but a purr at Qui-Gon's ear. "Master, do I need a blade that long?"

Qui-Gon winced as Obi-Wan's tone and its innocent innuendo shot straight between his legs.

"It won't affect the blade length." [Though you're definitely affecting mine,] he thought. "Theron, attend. Bring me the freshest JD30 circuit you can locate."

"I've never heard of that circuit," said Obi-Wan, selecting another crystal as she'd been instructed. "What is it?"

"Coupled with the third crystal, it's what makes my lightsaber more powerful than yours. It will let you drive the blade through the strongest blast door, or through a series of them if need be." Qui-Gon cast Obi-Wan an ironic look. "It also will prevent your weapon from expiring underwater. And it has a few more special features we'll discuss as they come up."

Obi-Wan handed Qui-Gon the third crystal before resuming her place at her Master's shoulder. "I've heard legends about that sort of thing. But isn't it against tradition for me to have something like that until I'm a Master?"

"I care more about keeping you safe than honoring tradition right now," Qui-Gon murmured as he set the first crystal low in the power cell housing and the second one just above it. The third, he placed carefully between the blade-power adjust module and a power vortex ring sized specifically for its purpose. It was delicate work for such huge hands, and he was pleased that his fingers were once more steady, no matter his inner turmoil.

"I am breaking no strict Code ruling, giving this to you," he said. "I am merely hedging your bets in battle. Still, it might be wise if neither of us mentions this... enhancement... where Temple ears may hear."

"Yes, Master."

Qui-Gon shuddered. [By all the gods... that voice.] His arousal grew. Sliding off of the stool and out of the circle of his Padawan's arms, he decided that his apprentice could finish his own lightsaber. "Obi-Wan...."

Obi-Wan frowned at Qui-Gon's desperate tone, even as the Master brushed a finger down Obi-Wan's throat.

"You might want to give some thought to changing the timbre of your voice."

"I'm sorry, Master," came the automatic apology before confusion filled his eyes. "Wha-at? Why?"

"It can have a certain effect on... people."

Narrowed gray-green eyes locked into his. "No one's complained before. You've never complained before, so what's the problem? You used to find my voice very relaxing, and said so many times."

Knowing there was nothing for it but to explain in the clearest way possible, Qui-Gon sighed and took on of Obi-Wan's hands in his. "Your voice is not relaxing me very much right now, my Padawan."

Guiding that hand beneath the edge of his tunic and up between his legs, Qui-Gon held it there for a long moment -- more than time enough for Obi-Wan to feel his ever-increasing need.

Snatching back her hand as Qui-Gon surged against her palm, Obi-Wan blushed furiously. "The sound of my voice is enough to do that to you?"


"I... er..." She tangled her hands through her hair. "Master, do you want me to apologize? By the Sith, I swear I'll never say another word to you."

Qui-Gon's startled laughter filled the room. Reaching out, he tugged once more on Obi-Wan's braid. "Making a man want you is not necessarily a bad thing, Obi-Wan. Rather, it's a power you possess. One of which you need to be aware, to use as you see fit."

"But if it's all wrapped up in how I talk, then it's part of me all of the time. I don't mean to arouse you, Master. I can stop walking around naked in front of you, but I truly don't know how to talk any other way."

Obi-Wan said it with simple honesty, in *that voice*. Again. Closing his eyes, Qui-Gon clenched his fists, arched strongly, and moaned.

Obi-Wan eyed him and offered a sympathetic grin. "Worse, huh?"

"It's getting there."

She considered her Master's predicament. "When you kissed me in the training room yesterday, were you wanting to make love to me then as you do now?"

"Yes." A quiet, honest admission, with blue eyes pleading for understanding.

"What about last night, when I was running around naked?"


Obi-Wan thought about that. "Then why was your wanting me alright in the training room, but not last night, and not now?"

The question jolted him. "Obi-Wan--"

"Either I somehow make you want me and it's alright, or it's not alright." Leaning up against the workbench, she considered the matter. "You're sending mixed signals, Master, and you can't have it both ways."

That voice, again.

"Padawan, please!" Qui-Gon's own voice was all but a whisper, pleading for mercy.

"Please, what?" she asked softly, deliberately using the tone she now knew would affect Qui-Gon so powerfully. Pushing away from the workbench, she approached with the confident swagger Qui-Gon knew so well. "Please don't undress before you? Please become a mute? Or, please, would I acknowledge what you're feeling and give you permission to act on it? If that's not what you want, then why'd you put my hand... here?"

Reaching both hands beneath the tunic, Obi-Wan cradled her Master boldly, yet carefully, with one hand above, one below.

"The nice thing about leggings is that they're totally form-fitting," Obi-Wan murmured, leaning closer, "beautifully outlining the target one wishes to impact."

Impact it, she did. Standing stiffly before his apprentice, Qui-Gon ground his words out between gritted teeth and let Obi-Wan's hands be there.

"You're quite right, Obi-Wan. I *am* sending mixed signals, while you are quite simply... feeling... your way in a strange new world." [Pun intended, young Padawan, and please don't tease, or you may wish that your lightsaber had exploded in your hands, rather than me.] You're being yourself, and I'm reacting to that."

Offering a sad, lost smile, Qui-Gon wrapped his fingers around Obi-Wan's wrists and gently disentangled her hands. Bringing them to his lips, he braced them against his chest. The better to keep them out of trouble.

"I want you because I love you, Obi-Wan. What you have become affects me as well as you. I can't help reacting to your nearness, just as you can't help being who you are. That... person... just happens to arouse me."

Obi-Wan shook her head. "I don't know how I can change my voice, Master. I'm not even sure I want to try."

"It was wrong of me to ask it. Don't change who you are, Obi-Wan, for you are truly special whether you're wrapped in the body of a man or a woman. I have had these feelings for you for a very long time."

Clenching her hands between Qui-Gon's, Obi-Wan stared up at her Master. "You've...what?" When Qui-Gon did not elaborate, but simply looked down at her calmly, Obi-Wan added, "Coming from you, Master, that's quite an admission."

He shrugged. "Your body has a mind of its own, my apprentice. Mine does, too. Especially where you're concerned."

"Even when I was *male*?" She sounded incredulous.

"Even then," Qui-Gon acknowledged.

She shook her head. "I had no idea."

"I never dared to tell you."

Obi-Wan thought for a moment. "Then it's me you want, and not just the body?"

"It would appear so, as what I feel is determined to manifest no matter what body you are in. But Obi-Wan, you are the only man or woman in my life who has made me feel this way. The difference in our ages, the relationship we have as Master and Apprentice... All argue against our becoming involved with each other."

"So that's why you didn't tell me? You maintained a balance and just... endured, before?"

He nodded.

"You never would have told me about this?"

"Not unless it became impossible for me to bury what I feel -- which it appears to have done. My body responds much more quickly to your nearness, now. And there's the added impulse I feel to protect you. It's all entwined, Obi-Wan, and while I can control it, I don't know how to stop it."

She stood silently for a long moment. "Master, if nothing happens by chance, did it ever occur to you that the Force may have intended this for both of us? Perhaps I've wound up in this body specifically so that we can resolve our feelings for each other."

"When the solution presents itself, don't throw it away?" Qui-Gon ventured. "Do you believe I'm resisting what I feel when I really don't need to? Are you suggesting that I should act on my feelings where you are concerned?"

Obi-Wan shrugged. "You're still the Master and I'm the Padawan, so I wouldn't presume to tell you what you should do, but you're the one who's always telling me to feel, don't think. If *you* use your instincts, what do they tell you to do where I'm concerned?"

Qui-Gon drew a deep, anxious breath. "I'm not sure you want to know, Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan's eyes held no little exasperation. "Master, there's nothing you could do to me that I haven't wanted to do, or haven't already done, with a woman."

Qui-Gon's reply came almost on a growl. "As you wish, Padawan."

Sliding one arm around Obi-Wan's waist, Qui-Gon ground her against him in a bone-crushing embrace, so tightly that the air rushed from Obi-Wan's lungs. Bending over her, Qui-Gon took her mouth just as she thought, [I can't breathe.]

[I'll breathe for you,] came Qui-Gon's voice in her mind, companioning his more than obvious physical need. Obi-Wan's feet left the floor; neither one of them cared. This kiss was nothing like the probing one they'd shared the day before: Obi-Wan recognized and responded to the demanding, barely contained arousal Qui-Gon was battling.

[If you stop, I'll scream,] she warned through their link, being careful to let amusement trickle through as well, hoping it would diffuse the ferocity of her Master's desire.

Qui-Gon answered on a growl, shuddering as he devoured Obi-Wan's mouth and moved on to her jaw and her ear. Seizing her earlobe, Qui-Gon sucked and nuzzled and lapped until Obi-Wan gasped and arched hard against him.

[So, you like that?] Qui-Gon purred back through the bond, totally disinterested in calming himself. [If I continue, my Obi-Wan, you may scream, anyway. I have that affect sometimes.]

[Arrogant....] Obi-Wan shot back the word even as another thought occurred to her. [Wha... Who? *WHO* have you had that affect on?] Burying her fingers in Qui-Gon's hair, she yanked. Hard.

A chuckle rumbled against her. Breaking the kiss, Qui-Gon smiled down at her. His eyes were the deepest blue Obi-Wan could ever remember seeing them. Darkened with passion, they left no doubt that she was wanted.

"Jealousy does not become you, my Padawan."


"Who *was* she?" Obi-Wan gasped as Qui-Gon arched experimentally. Distracted from asking, Obi-Wan sighed. "That's very, very nice...."

Qui-Gon arched harder and rubbed, seeking to increase the friction. Sliding his hands across the small of Obi-Wan's back, he cupped her hips and tilted them upward, more firmly against him.

Returning Obi-Wan's feet to the floor, Qui-Gon began kissing her again. Sucking on Obi-Wan's lower lip and winding his fingers through the short hair, Qui-Gon drove all thought of the supposed past competition right out of Obi-Wan's mind.

"Gods, but I need you...." Obi-Wan managed to groan out. Frantic to touch Qui-Gon, she slid her hands beneath the older man's tunics, scratched through the hair on his chest, and found a sensitive nipple. Shoving aside the fabric, she fastened hungry lips there.

Qui-Gon was thrusting steadily against Obi-Wan by now -- instinctive, mindless thrusts that sent Obi-Wan's own desire spiraling upward to meet him. Releasing his nipple with reluctance, she whimpered.

"Closer -- Master, please? Clothes...off...." She sounded almost childlike as she struggled with the hateful layers of material. "Want you."

"Not here," gasped Qui-Gon, breathlessly feathering kisses along Obi-Wan's temple and lifting her hard against him once more, for the pure pleasure of feeling her so close and yet so far. His frustration flooded the link they shared. "Not now. Here...it's all wrong. You deserve better."

It was Obi-Wan's turn to laugh. "Master, I don't need candles and wine. I don't want them!"

"Perhaps I do." Returning his Padawan's feet to the floor, Qui-Gon disentangled her fingers and tried to look stern. But with his hair in disarray, his lips reddened by their kisses, and his nipple damp from Obi-Wan's mouth, the Jedi Master failed miserably.

Setting his apprentice well away from him, Qui-Gon reached for some tattered semblance of control. Watching him silently for a moment, Obi-Wan realized, [All I have to do is say something -- almost anything, up to and including asking him the time of day -- and he'll be writhing for me. For ME. That's pretty special. And pretty scary. Not a responsibility I ever would have sought.] But she had it now, and would guard it -- and her Master's vulnerability as he needed Obi-Wan so badly -- with everything she was.

"You're shaking," Obi-Wan observed, once Qui-Gon had visibly worked through a quick series of exercises to calm his breathing, and was refusing to look at her.

"You're right." Yanking the hair tie out of his hair, he stared down at his trembling fingers. "By all of the hundred tiny gods of Endor, Obi-Wan, what are you doing to me?"

"Loving you," she answered simply. "You've never lost control with a woman before, have you?"

"No." Growled. "And I don't plan to start now."

Obi-Wan could feel and see the immense effort it took for her Master to gather the shreds of his passion-shattered being, focus in the living Force once again and turn, with courage, to face his Padawan. The enormity of his desire, screaming for release, made Obi-Wan realize that, had she never been a man, she wouldn't have understand the immense control it was taking for Qui-Gon to deal with the situation.

[Were it me in his place, could I find the same courage and control?] she wondered.

"Would you mind putting this where it belongs?" Qui-Gon offered up the wayward hair tie.

"Yes, Master."

Qui-Gon shivered.

"Sorry. That voice again, huh?" Taking the hair tie, Obi-Wan was careful not to touch Qui-Gon's bare skin. Stepping behind him, she tapped dispassionately on his shoulder. "You're too tall. As usual."

He knelt for her. Working swiftly, almost roughly, Obi-Wan finger-combed through the thick strands of hair for the second time that day and gathered them together beneath their respectable fastening.

[What is so amazing about this entire scenario is that *I'm* just fine,] Obi-Wan considered. [Of course I want him, too. Of course I'm looking forward to our picking up where he left off -- and hopefully soon. But I'm nowhere near the state he's in. I guess it really doesn't take much to get to a man... any man. They say women react differently, but I'm just beginning to understand what a drastic understatement that is.]

"All done." Obi-Wan patted her Master companionably on the shoulder. "I need to finish my lightsaber. Do you want to wait for me here, or take a walk?"

Rising to his feet once more, Qui-Gon did not turn around. Gathering his cloak from beneath Obi-Wan's, he announced, "I am going to the meditation garden just across the hall. The lights here will extinguish themselves, the door will lock behind you automatically when you leave. Theron will store himself. When you have finished, you will let me know?"

"Yes, Master."

Palming the door control, Qui-Gon sighed deeply and left without a backward glance.

[He's leaving to survive, not because he's slighting me,] Obi-Wan realized. Through the bond, he sent, [I love you, my Master.]

[As I love you, my Obi-Wan. Always,] came the weary, half-embarrassed reply.


On to Part 3