"A vision of eternity, like a dream,
A fantasy of old,
The keeper of my sanctity, now it seems
The Master of my soul."

-Miriam Stockley, "Miriam"


*He's in here.* Obi-Wan confirmed the presence of her Master's aura within the small meditation garden before slipping through the door. It wouldn't do for her to walk in on the wrong Jedi Master.

Save for the gurgle of a small stream tumbling through the private space, the moss and ivy garden was insulated and quiet. Tiptoeing down the stone path, Obi-Wan found Qui-Gon sitting cross-legged next to the stream. Eyes closed, breathing practically non-existent, he was deep in trance. Sinking down beside him, Obi-Wan followed his example, letting the sound of the water wash over her until she merged with it.

Tension she'd acquired while hunched over the workbench flowed out of her shoulders to be carried away by the sound of the water. Her fingers and toes tingled as a more efficient blood-flow established itself, and she found herself smiling slightly as she flowed ever deeper into the meditation.

[I know that meditation isn't meant to be an escape from the real world,] she reflected, [but *damn* this is nice!]

[It is, isn't it?] Qui-Gon's mental voice intruded. [Perhaps we should install a fountain in our own garden?]

[I'm sorry. Was I projecting too strongly?]

[No. I was listening for you. I have completed my meditation, Obi-Wan, and am prepared for our practice session. Let me know when you are ready.]

[Yes, Master.]

For a few more minutes, she took advantage of the uncommon luxury of sitting and doing nothing, being one with the water and the Force. [I probably won't set foot in another garden like this for twenty years -- until after I've trained my own apprentice and become a Master... Hah. That time is far and away.]

Seconds later, she remembered the new lightsaber at her side and eagerly began resurfacing. Opening her eyes, she found her Master sitting as he had been, but now his blue eyes were open. He wasn't bothering to hide the fact that he'd been watching Obi-Wan, and from the longing and hunger in his expression, Obi-Wan suspected that Qui-Gon was still aroused. More than that, if she reached through their bond... just over there... he could feel Qui-Gon... pulsing.

Unable to resist offering a mischievous smile, Obi-Wan asked, "Are you going to be able to practice in your current state?"


"Do you want an ice bath first?"

Qui-Gon narrowed his gaze. "What happened to the traditional cold shower?"

Obi-Wan shook her head and tried to look mournful. "I think you're beyond that."

Another heavy sigh was his only answer. Getting gracefully to his feet, Qui-Gon offered a hand to help up his apprentice. If that hand was hotter than normal, Obi-Wan wasn't surprised.

"I would protest that you don't understand, but...." Qui-Gon arched an eyebrow.

"You'd be wrong." Taking the hand he offered, Obi-Wan rose and leaned up on tiptoe to grin and kiss the bearded cheek.

* * *

The first thing Obi-Wan noticed when they walked into their usual practice room is that the door had been repaired.

"Did anyone say anything to you about this?" Obi-Wan asked, running a hand over the new paneling.

Qui-Gon cast an innocent glance over his shoulder. "Say anything about what?"

Shrugging out of his cloak, Qui-Gon began warming up. Obi-Wan followed suit, completing her exercises beside Qui-Gon and noticing that the Master closed his eyes so that he didn't have to watch Obi-Wan. She grinned, sympathetic to her Master's plight, but also a bit proud that she'd been the one to inspire it. [I'm not sure what you see in me, but...Nice to know you like it.]

"All right," she murmured. "Let's see just exactly what this body can do."

Leaving behind the new lightsaber, she paused on the edge of the mat while Qui-Gon deliberately lagged behind. Throwing herself into a series of flips and aerial maneuvers, she used the entire room while Qui-Gon waited at a safe distance.

Unable to resist, Qui-Gon opened his eyes and began watching. After completing one furious routine, Obi-Wan paused to catch her breath. With hands on hips, she paced in a circle and panted, considered the proficiencies and deficiencies in what she'd just done. Moving experimentally into a second routine, she performed an even more demanding series of tumbling and aerial half-twists before starting over and doing it all again.

This time, she double-timed it. Her speed and ferocity made Qui-Gon all but stop breathing.

"Shouldn't you slow down?" he called across the mat.

"No need!" Obi-Wan shouted back, spinning and tumbling in the air, totally fearless. "Master, this is *fantastic!*"

She seemed to defy gravity. Drawing the Force around her like an intricate web of support, she executed flawless maneuvers for the sheer pleasure of flying and falling, and laughed as the new body responded perfectly.

Smiling despite himself, Qui-Gon continued to watch. [Obi-Wan has loved this sort of thing since before I met him, certainly,] Qui-Gon reminded himself. Years before, he hadn't been proficient enough to train his Padawan in this area, and so had obtained the help of two of the finest gymnastic trainers serving at the Temple. 'Force-enhanced flight,' they'd called it.

[Flashy, but effective,] Qui-Gon called it. [Even I have to admit that.]

Within fifteen minutes, Obi-Wan had discovered that she could propel herself much further and higher than before. [I can go in tight, add extra spins, distance, whatever. This is going to work out just fine.] She wasn't about to tell her Master that; let Qui-Gon discover it on the practice mat in a few minutes.

After only half an hour, Obi-Wan knew her new body for what it was: coiled energy untouched, lighter and more compact than what she had had as a man; young and eager, ready and willing to answer her every command. Grinning from ear to ear, she finished and padded across the mat to bow respect and readiness to her Master.

Picking up Obi-Wan's new lightsaber where it laid atop her cloak, Qui-Gon activated it. "Shall we test this?"

"Absolutely." Wiping the sweat from around her neck, Obi-Wan started to take the weapon.

"A moment. Let me--"

"Master--" she began to protest, ready to remind Qui-Gon that she'd been trained to test them as well as to build them.

"I do not doubt your abilities," he intercepted the thought. "Far from it. But I know what to expect, what the saber should feel like. Let me make sure that it is functioning properly, please?"

Obi-Wan nodded acquiescence and schooled herself to be patient. There was only one problem: because of his large hands, Qui-Gon couldn't get a proper grip on the smaller hilt. It was far too small for him to fit all of his fingers around it, and Obi-Wan smiled to see him attempt to do just that.

"Problem, Master?"

"You're intolerably small," he grumbled. "I'll have to use this one-handed."

Obi-Wan nodded sympathetically. "It looks like a child's toy in your hands."

"We both know it's far from that." Activating it, he stepped well away from his apprentice and did a couple of experimental passes.

To Obi-Wan's ears, it sounded different -- more powerful, more dangerous to her ears. Even at a distance, the humming buzz vibrated through her ribs. [Will it do that when I'm holding it, too?] At least the blue light was steady and familiar.

Unclipping his own, heavier lightsaber, Qui-Gon tossed it to Obi-Wan and said, "Let's work through the intermediate fourth stage. Level three. Positions only."

Nodding her understanding, Obi-Wan powered on the Master's weapon and stood ready. She could remember years ago, when Qui-Gon had always counted off the first six positions in order to establish an exact speed for his Padawan, who had always seemed determined to go faster than the Master desired. Not so today; sensing Qui-Gon's all-too-real concern that the new lightsaber be flawless before entrusting it with guarding Obi-Wan life, she clicked immediately into the proper speed -- if perhaps a shade slower, just in case -- and let her Master lead the dance.

The sabers skittered and protested each slow contact, with Qui-Gon using only one hand. Never varying their speed, the two Jedi stood where they were for this exercise: all they were testing was the weapon's performance, not each other's skill.

"Same level, again," Qui-Gon commanded at the end of the drill. "Advanced speed, but not up to battle standard. Not yet."

Obi-Wan obliged him. A few minutes later, Qui-Gon powered down the saber and offered it to his apprentice. "It seems fine to me. If you experience any problems, disengage immediately."

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan returned Qui-Gon's weapon to him.

"Advanced stage. Level ten. Practice speed."

[Practice speed?] Obi-Wan's heart sank. [Infant speed.] Yet the minute she powered on the 'saber, she understood the wisdom behind that request. "Master?"

"Yes, Obi-Wan?"

"Should it make my fingers tingle?"

He nodded. "One of the functions of the third crystal we installed is to enhance the Force as it interacts with your own living aura. Your new weapon carries features more powerful than the version you were taught, and less effort is definitely more in this case. Try to ride lightly the lightning in your hand. The first point of contact with that lightning is the tips of your fingers. Think of it as an amplifier and let the Force flow between you. When you succeed, the tingling should lessen. In time, you'll grow used to it."

Obi-Wan blinked and grit her teeth against the itchy sensation. "Now I understand why you want me to go slowly. I can *feel* the power arcing to the pulsar tip and back down, through the handle. In the wrong hands, this would be like putting a galaxy starfighter in the control of someone whose only experience is driving a terran-bound ferry across a seasonal river."


"And you trust *me* with this?" She was stunned. "Why doesn't yours feel this way to me?"

Qui-Gon smiled. "Don't you remember the first time you held mine? You reacted much the same way. You even said that the vibration made your lips itch. You've become attuned to my aura and the saber's power. Familiarity with the Force leads to intimacy with the Force."

"Well, it's nice to know that I've such a close relationship with your lightsaber. Are you ready, my Master?"


They ran through the exercises Qui-Gon had ordered, with Obi-Wan taking advantage of her Master's patience and learning slowly about the new weapon. It didn't take long, though, for her to grow accustomed to it, for her caution to fade and her excitement to grow.

"Master, I want to go faster."

"When have you not?" Stepping back, Qui-Gon bowed and took the ready position. Raising his head and hardening his gaze, he challenged his Padawan with nothing more than a look. "Battle mode: lowest energy setting."

Obi-Wan's heart leaped to hear that order, which translated to, "Treat me exactly as you would your enemy." No breaks given to student or to Master. When she'd been younger, her Master's words had made terror run through her. [What if I'm not good enough, what if I don't remember enough, what if I make him disappointed in me?]

Obi-Wan's litany had changed over the years. A few weeks ago, it had been, [Wonder if I can get in a would-be crippling blow? Wonder if this time I can actually best him at some point today?] Obi-Wan no longer felt terror at the prospect of facing her Master at full-speed, full-blaze battle simulation. Instead, heady anticipation coiled deep inside her, feeding adrenalin through her veins and immediately readying her, just as it had and would again in real battle.

She took the time to double-check the settings on the saber. If one of them struck the other, the blow would still hurt. But it wouldn't maim, and it certainly wouldn't kill. Saluting Qui-Gon, she was about to power up the lightsaber, then hesitated.

"Master, are you sure about this?"

From Obi-Wan's mischievous expression, Qui-Gon knew she was asking just to torment him. Not only that, she was using *that voice* again. His apprentice's expression told Qui-Gon that he'd just have to learn to deal with it. This was Obi-Wan, and she wasn't changing. At least, not any more and especially not to accommodate him.

"I am sure," Qui-Gon replied. "It will help both of us work off our frustrations."

[Our?] Obi-Wan snorted, then saluted. "As you wish, Master."

Qui-Gon saluted back, only to launch himself forward. Swing, block, spin, block right, left, turn, overhead strike, back-swing....

Somehow, Obi-Wan met it all, even as she sensed that Qui-Gon was channeling into the Force every shred of sexual frustration he was feeling. It wasn't fair, but this was war. Obi-Wan might meet the same power off-planet, with some hulking brute of an enemy, and she needed to know how to defend against it.

Making his passion one with the Force, Qui-Gon embraced the battle as he might instead have chosen to embrace Obi-Wan. It gave his skills a lightning edge and terrified the living Force out of his Padawan.

The new lightsaber screamed against Qui-Gon's. The violent vibration made Obi-Wan's hands go numb, made her want to fling the strange, new weapon away from herself.

[Do, and you'll die,] she knew, sensing that there was more to this battle than the test of a single lightsaber. [Lose this, and I'm going to lose more than a little self-respect. You want to be a Jedi? Then dammit, Obi-Wan, *be* a Jedi. Live up to the name and Force connect with that saber in your hand, or it's over. Finished. Just send yourself off to Agricorps. It's not too late, you know?]

[The hell I will.]

So what if Qui-Gon's speed was faster this morning than his apprentice had ever experienced? So what if the blinding skill he was showing was something he'd never taught Obi-Wan? Qui-Gon Jinn was still her teacher, and she wouldn't send Obi-Wan into battle -- *any* battle -- without being certain that she had the ability to defend herself. She'd been privileged enough to be taken beneath the cloak of, to learn at the side of, the warrior the Jedi claimed was the best swordsman in four hundred years.

[Do not shame me, Padawan.]

She caught the thought clearly even as Qui-Gon forced her to block awkwardly. Spinning to disengage, Obi-Wan swung and blocked right, [*NO* -- block *LEFT* or lose that arm!]. Rolling, she came up bouncing to spin back around and parry overhead -- a reach for Obi-Wan, simplicity itself for Qui-Gon -- leapt sideways and *struck* at Qui-Gon's legs, but then the Master was airbound and leaping at her, but Obi-Wan saw it coming and--

*Grit her teeth as her arms began aching, as the acrid smoke from both sabers made her eyes burn and water and she blinked furiously to clear them and ignore the newest pain, ignore the muscles screaming across the back of her shoulders....*

*Stretched higher, longer, faster, and further against him -- HIM, the man she called Master and friend, mentor and, soon probably, lover -- the one hurting her, making her lungs burn, pursuing her from one end of the practice room to the other, never making a mistake, never giving her an opening, bearing down again and again and again until she could no longer feel her fingers, her hands, or her arms. Pushing her, pounding her, loving her until she had no choice but to fight as one with the Force and her body ceased to exist, until she was entranced by the pain and she KNEW it, was captured by the intensity of her Master's passion, the blinding smoke, the ever-increasing thrumming that WAS Qui-Gon Jinn, and his arousal fed Obi-Wan's through the Force, offering itself for the apprentice to use though she scarcely recognized its touch--*

*--and she dropped her shields, wrapped her soul around Qui-Gon's aggression and deliberately merged with his energy to ride HIS lightning as he'd often counseled her do, and she did it with such ferocity and need that she made her Master stagger, and Obi-Wan laughed -- laughed, to see the opening....*

[Enough defense!] the Padawan sang through the bond, her smile taking on the blue sheen of her lightsaber as it skimmed past her own nose -- so close, yet so much in control as it batted Qui-Gon's away, as though the Master's skill was nothing, his demand that Obi-Wan *bow* to his superior skill was nothing. [In your dreams, Master!]

She danced away, prancing and mock-glowering at Qui-Gon as the old Obi-Wan would have, body all at hard angles and taunting him -- 'Come and take me, if you can.'

Teasing him as Qui-Gon had seen Obi-Wan tease other opponents, full of himself and his Master, his maleness and his showmanship. Still, after all that had been done to his Padawan, it was there, shining through, and Qui-Gon was glad of it, *glad,* even as he stalked Obi-Wan across the training mat, drew a deep breath, and threw himself into the attack once again.

Obi-Wan launched herself forward at the same time, slamming her saber blade against Qui-Gon's hard enough to make both weapons scream. But when Qui-Gon stopped and held the confrontation, Obi-Wan did not. Letting go the saber with one hand, she anchored that hand against her Master's shoulder and dared to launch herself up and over him. Qui-Gon nearly fell forward on his face as all resistence fled, but managed to catch himself and spin about, ready for anything.

Whirling, he found himself nose to nose with a very blue blade. Slapping it away, he growled and advanced, sensing that he'd lost the advantage now and not quite certain how it had happened.

Backing away, Obi-Wan danced and grinned and beckoned, waggling his fingers in a most disrespectful, mocking manner. 'Come to me... Come. You know you want to. Know you will.'

Qui-Gon's blue eyes darkened. Straightening to his full height, he held his lightsaber at the vertical and grounded behind it.

Pouting, Obi-Wan paced a few feet before him, all but dragging her saber on the mat, plainly disappointed by Qui-Gon's refusal to be drawn. For the first time since her transformation, Obi-Wan felt the power she held deep within her -- power Qui-Gon had given to her. Had given her permission, also, to use.

Without warning, Obi-Wan launched herself over Qui-Gon again. Spinning about, the Master made as if to intercept his apprentice. Unfortunately, by the time he was there, so was Obi-Wan's booted foot to connect with Qui-Gon's jaw. Staggering back, he recovered his balance quickly, but not quickly enough.

Obi-Wan's blade cut at his leg, singeing his leggings and leaving a trail of soot up the long length of his thigh. It ended mere centimeters from his balls.

[Damn you!] Accompanied by blatant disbelief, the thought streaked through their bond before Qui-Gon could snatch it back.

Delighted laughter filled the practice chamber, and then the daemon called Obi-Wan was there again, dancing before him, beside him, behind him. Sliding beneath his guard, the apprentice took only seconds to burn Qui-Gon lightly in three separate places, making clear with the last touch that absolutely *nothing* was sacred, for the last place Obi-Wan struck was across Qui-Gon's very elegant and just-a-tad-too-slow butt.

[She's fast, she's ruthless, she's magnificent, and she's *mine*,] Qui-Gon thought *to himself* this time. [My padawan. The mare of fire has come into her own.]

Spinning backward, Obi-Wan put some distance between them. Pacing restlessly before Qui-Gon, she struggled to catch her breath a little and watched the predator warily. Confusion filled her gaze when Qui-Gon let himself grin. All too infrequent was that grin; Obi-Wan had seen it only twice in all the years she'd been with his Master. She knew better than to trust it now.

Approaching Obi-Wan casually, Qui-Gon swung his lightsaber before him. Backing up another step, Obi-Wan assessed the Master. In that moment, Qui-Gon lifted his hand and *pushed*. The saber flew one way out of Obi-Wan's hand while her feet flew another, depositing her without warning on her butt.

The green lightsaber vibrated between her eyes, its light burning her retinas so that Obi-Wan saw nothing beyond it. [Damn, he could have drilled into my brain five times over, at this rate. *Stupid,* Obi-Wan!]

Not bothering to roll sideways, she commanded her saber back into her hand and slammed it against Qui-Gon's even as the Master planted a booted foot on his Padawan's belly and brought part of his weight to bear on her.

"I believe this battle is at an end, Padawan."

Obi-Wan glowered up at him. "What, you're going to stand on me and crush me with the Force?"

"That is one option. I will leave it to you to research, meditate, and discern other ways, Obi-Wan. You'd do better to remember that your lightsaber is not your only weapon -- nor is it your enemy's only weapon."

"This fight *can't* be at an end!"

"Why not?"

She considered for a moment. "I was winning not two minutes ago. There's *got* to be a way out of this!"

Qui-Gon waited patiently for her to work it through: the sabers sparked and sputtered angrily against each other.

"I...I could disengage and...." she ventured.

Qui-Gon shook his head and leaned a bit more on his foot, just to make Obi-Wan gasp for breath.

"Checkmate, my Padawan. Your lightsaber is of no further use to you. In any one of five different ways, you are already dead." Stepping backward, Qui-Gon turned off his weapon and walked away.

[Well, damn,] Obi-Wan thought, brushing down her tunic before climbing to her feet. "Master, I want a rematch."

Not even bothering to turn around, the Master waved his lightsaber and kept walking.

"Tomorrow!" she insisted.

"Research first, Obi-Wan. Tell me what you learn. After that, I'll consider your request."

Bounding across the mat, she caught up with the long legs that could always carry Qui-Gon away from whatever he no longer wanted to deal with.

"There's one comfort in all of this," she announced as they reached the other end of the room, the end at which they had begun.

"What is that?" Gathering his cloak, Qui-Gon shrugged into it.

"Even if I'd still been a man, I'd still have lost the fight. I've learned something else, too."

"And what might that be?" Tired blue eyes met Obi-Wan's, all passion spent. In its place stood the usual, dignified, gentle Jedi Master.

Stepping closer, Obi-Wan slid her hands beneath Qui-Gon's cloak to range boldly over his barrel chest.

"This is my center," she whispered. Slipping her arms around Qui-Gon's waist, she rested her head against him and let the tension drain away, much as Qui-Gon had done that morning in their quarters. Aeons ago, it felt like now. The older man was damp and sweaty and hot, but gods, it was glorious just to touch him.

"My Obi-Wan...." He breathed the name on a sigh, sliding a huge hand across the back of his Padawan's neck and laying his other hand across Obi-Wan's back to hug her tentatively to him. When Obi-Wan didn't protest, Qui-Gon dared hold her a little tighter.

Drawing back a little, Qui-Gon tilted up Obi-Wan's chin and lowered his head to take her lips in a tender, seeking kiss. Standing up on tiptoe, Obi-Wan sought to deepen the kiss, breathed deeply Qui-Gon's scent made all the stronger by their session, and dug her fingers into the Master's back. Sucking lightly on Qui-Gon's lip, she moaned when his erection stirred once more. Without hesitation, Obi-Wan slipped a hand between his legs to cup him and stroke firmly.

"I want you," she breathed against his mouth.

Without shame, Qui-Gon pressed against Obi-Wan's hand and let her take possession. Kissing his Padawan gently, with a promise of things to come, he murmured, "I know."


Obi-Wan stared at the library monitor screen but saw nothing of the words written there. Yes, she was supposed to be researching saber-to-saber battle strategies in pursuit of a rematch with his Master over the next week or so. And yes, she would. Certainly, she would. By evening, she'd be able to discuss five thousand years worth of Jedi treatises and lectures with Qui-Gon, and the Master would be well-pleased, just as he'd always been after sending Obi-Wan out on these excursions. She might have to take a reminder disk home to reference on their own databook, but she'd done that before, and her Master would understand.

But she wouldn't do it just yet. Right now, Obi-Wan was too busy running her fingers over her lips, which were still warm and swollen and tingling from her Master's kiss. And she was too busy exploring their connection through the Master/Padawan bond: Qui-Gon was somewhere in the building, tending to business, perhaps reporting in private to Yoda, or perhaps ensconced in a Master's reading room mere feet away from Obi-Wan's own cubicle, studying the social and political situation of the next planet they were scheduled to visit.

[He's still aroused,] Obi-Wan sensed. It reached through the Force, touching her, making her aware that she was the focus of his Master's thoughts. [By the Sith, he's been aroused all day; so I don't think that's likely to change. It didn't for me, when I was a guy.]

Smiling at the thought, Obi-Wan found herself wondering how it would have felt to have her Master kiss her when she had still been male. [Would it have aroused *me* all day? How would I feel, now? Should I miss that, or just appreciate what I've got?]

[Best to appreciate it,] she decided quickly, [lest the Fates conspire to take it away from me. No, I think I'm quite contented with his kissing me as I am now. No use wishing for things you can't have, anyway. Besides, there's so much we *can* have -- and probably will, tonight, if I read my Master correctly.]

On the way from the practice rooms to the library, both Master and Apprentice had noticed that Obi-Wan's very presence in the corridors was now attracting stares and murmurs. More than once, a Jedi Knight or apprentice stopped dead in their tracks and stared at the young woman walking beside Qui-Gon, or gigged their companion in the ribs to draw their attention to the couple.

"And so it begins," Qui-Gon murmured, resisting the urge to tuck Obi-Wan protectively beneath his shoulder.

As for Obi-Wan, she straightened his shoulders, raised her head, and boldly stared back at each and every one of them. For some reason, the stares jarred her memory, and she remembered the Master/Apprentice competition that they had entered weeks before.

"Do you still want to honor our entry?" she asked, keeping her voice low, for the hallways appeared to have grown ears since word was getting around of her new state of being.

"Do you feel capable of honoring the entry?"

Obi-Wan shook her head. "I've got too much to relearn. I meant what I said to Master Windu; I don't want to make a spectacle of myself, even if I already am."

Qui-Gon nodded agreement. "I will ask that our entry be withdrawn."

"Thank you, Master."

* * *

They had pre-arranged to meet at dinner. As dusk fell, Qui-Gon left Yoda's chambers after spending the afternoon discussing the information vital to their next mission. The attention thrown Qui-Gon's direction in the corridors from relative Jedi strangers wasn't quite as bad as what he feared it would have been, had Obi-Wan been at his side, but it was bad enough. Attracting his share of knowing grins and nods from people he'd never met, Qui-Gon strode on toward the cafeteria.

[Are they catering some special gathering tonight?] he wondered, as the entrance seemed to be blocked. [Obi-Wan's in the middle of that,] he realized, sensing his padawan's presence like a beacon shining in the night.

Shouldering his way through the crowd, Qui-Gon managed to work his way a little closer to the all-too-human beacon. The closer he got, however, the more the crowd fought him, until he was stopped two rows away from his padawan, who seemed trapped in the very middle of these people.

"So, what's it feel like to be a girl?" a rude male voice asked.

"What's it feel like to be a guy?" Obi-Wan's calm voice drifted toward Qui-Gon. "You tell me, and I'll tell you. Look, I just came in here to get something to eat. I'm not here to compare women to men."

"But you'd be so damned *good* at it, Kenobi." It wasn't difficult to hear the leer in the apprentice's young voice. "Nobody who looks like you do now could be anything but... *good*."

"Tong...." A warning. Qui-Gon knew the narrowed-gaze look that went with that tone of voice, complete with thin lips and a hand on a lightsaber hilt.

[Don't, Obi-Wan. Not here. Not now.] He sent the thought urgently through their bond. [Let me help.]

"I'm good," Obi-Wan was all but purring. "Come a little closer, Tong-Maxel, and you'll see just *how* good I am."

The crowd laughed appreciatively.

"Go on, Maxel," a mocking voice in the crowd urged. "You know you want to."

Someone must have pushed the brash apprentice, because, in the net moment, Qui-Gon heard the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber being ignited. More than that, he could see its blue glow reflected on the faces of young Jedi apprentices standing just over there.

"All right, guys," growled Obi-Wan. "Give me some swinging room, here, please?"

Tapping the shoulder of the apprentice in front of him, Qui-Gon leaned down and whispered, "I need to get through here."

Turning her head, the apprentice glowered at Qui-Gon's breastbone. Recognition dawned when she stared up at the tall Jedi Master.

"Eep!" she gasped, moving sideways in the crush of the crowd to let the Master pass, which only resulted in her being crushed up against his chest as he slid closer to his objective.

"My apologies," he murmured, placing a hand to her elbow by way of apology.

"That's...uh...okay, Master Jinn."

And so it went, as he made his way through two more rows of people, and into the inner circle containing Obi-Wan. Sidling up beside his apprentice, Qui-Gon palmed his own lightsaber and turned it on. Green to Obi-Wan's blue, they presented a strong front -- so strong that the entire crowd surged back a few feet.

"You get our dinner, Padawan," he ordered, all mock glowers and solemnity that never reached his laughing blue eyes. "I'll handle this."

Glancing up at Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan immediately caught his mood. Chewing on her bottom lip, Obi-Wan shook her head. "I don't know about that plan, Master. They're a rowdy bunch. Do you think you can handle them alone?"

Qui-Gon narrowed his gaze and glowered at those within striking distance. "We shall see, my Padawan."

Lunging forward, he raised the saber over his head. The crowd tripped over itself while trying to back up even further.

"I'll...uh... I'll get dinner." Within minutes, Obi-Wan had prepared a tray for them both. "Ready, Master."

With lightsaber still ignited and held like a flaming torch to drive all of the evil creatures of the night before him, Qui-Gon growled and led the way through the now-laughing crowd.

"Did you hear that?" whispered one young padawan.

"He just *growled* us."

"He's very hungry," Obi-Wan informed the young woman. "I think you heard his stomach."

"Yeah, right."

Reaching the edge of the crowd, Master and Padawan turned to bow their respects and continued unmolested through the corridors back to their chambers.

"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan murmured. "I wasn't quite sure how I was going to get out of that with Tong-Maxel determined to feed the frenzy."

"Perhaps you should have called me?" Qui-Gon keyed open the door to their rooms.

"It wasn't serious enough for that."

"Obi-Wan, the time to call for help is *before* you need it. This ensures that the help arrives before it is actually needed."

"I hadn't thought of that." Placing the tray on their small table outside of the kitchen, Obi-Wan turned to face her Master. "I don't think I *would* have thought of it. After all, we're in the Temple. Why would I need your protection here?"

"If your instincts tell you that you need me, then you do, no matter the location."

Nodding understanding, Obi-Wan went to boil water for tea. "I'll remember that."

"That's not to say that you didn't handle the situation well, my Padawan." Qui-Gon followed her into the kitchen, folded his arms and leaned against the counter. "Humor will diffuse almost any situation."

"Well, it wasn't worth threatening people over it. They were curious and just watching, after all. But if Tong had reached for me the way I think he wanted to--." Obi-Wan shrugged. "You probably know what I would have done."

"Cut off his fingers?" Qui-Gon asked mildly.

"I had something a little lower in mind, but fingers would have done fine, I guess."

Handing over the tea, Obi-Wan took her own mug to the table and set out the food. Dinner was a companionable affair, with Obi-Wan announcing what she'd learned during her research of hand-to-hand combat and Qui-Gon pointing out how certain things could be applied in future sparring sessions. They talked long after the meal was over, until Obi-Wan ran her fingers through her hair and grimaced.

"Gritty?" Qui-Gon asked, knowing his Padawan had been so eager to research the combat material assigned that she'd taken a quick shower but not bothered to wash her hair after their session that morning.


"Go." He gestured with a long-fingered hand. "I'll clean up here."

Offering a brief bow, Obi-Wan headed off to the bath. Taking off her clothes in the small room, she also took the opportunity to stare at herself while trying to see that self the way Qui-Gon saw it.

[I don't understand why he's so attracted to me,] she acknowledged after staring at her bony hips, too-small breasts, and even bonier shoulders. Turning from the mirror, she climbed into the 'fresher. [When I look at me, all I see is somebody who's too little and too fragile. Why he wants me is beyond me. *I* sure wouldn't look twice. But who am I to deny my Master?]

Bathing quickly, Obi-Wan dried her hair and Padawan braid and wrapped a towel around herself. Qui-Gon called from his place at the comp-unit as Obi-Wan padded out of the bath and stuffed her clothes down the laundry chute.

"I've assembled the supply list we'll need for our next mission. Is there anything in particular you want?"

Kneeling beside her Master, Obi-Wan stared at the monitor.

"Your list seems pretty complete to me," she commented, letting her eyes scan the items. A large hand wrapped itself around the back of her head, smoothed over the still-damp hair. Turning her head, Obi-Wan looked up at her Master, who was smiling faintly as he ran the braid between his fingers.

"This needs to be rebraided."

Obi-Wan shivered as the back of Qui-Gon's hand moved over her breast. His fingers trailed down to the ends of the braid and slipped off the red elastic, followed by the yellow. Looking down, she watched as Qui-Gon began separating the braid. The man's hand looked so large to her now. If Obi-Wan were to turn and look at Qui-Gon again, she knew what she'd see: a powerfully built, large-boned Jedi seated calmly behind her. Qui-Gon's legs would be spread, his elbows resting on his thighs as he bent to his work. Obi-Wan had seen her Master seated like this many times over the past ten years: he had never varied his position to tend her braid.

Obi-Wan turned away as Qui-Gon's fingers moved up to her temple to began weaving the new braid, which symbolized Master and Padawan, intertwined and anchored in the Force. Qui-Gon had finished braiding only a few inches--down to where the yellow elastic would be installed--when Obi-Wan felt him pause and knew what he was doing: removing a few strands of his own hair to weave them into hers. The yellow elastic anchored the new hair and then Qui-Gon was off again, braiding more slowly as the hair thinned. His large fingers managed it carefully and applied the red elastic to finish the process. Laying the braid across Obi-Wan's shoulder, Qui-Gon briefly rested his hand there.

"It has always been a pleasure for me that you allow me to do that."

Obi-Wan fingered the end of the braid, was pleased to see streaks of brown and silver hair mixed in with her own auburn. "I thought every Master braided their Padawan's hair."

"When the apprentice is young, yes. But most apprentices take over the task when they're older."

Turning around, Obi-Wan sat back on her heels and regarded her Master steadily. "You've always asked to do it."

"And you've always let me. Each time I've asked, I've expected you to say no."

"I've always liked being touched by you."

Qui-Gon's gaze flickered at that, and Obi-Wan felt desire thrum through the bond. It was gone just as quickly as the Master hooded his expression, and their connection.

"No, Master. Don't...." Reaching up, Obi-Wan laid her hand against the bearded cheek and enjoyed the freedom of being able to do it.

"Don't what?"

"Hide what you're feeling now."


She shivered as Qui-Gon's voice dropped, further evidence of his desire.

"Are you cold?" Qui-Gon asked.

Obi-Wan shook her head. "Nervous. I haven't been this nervous since I was twelve and my teachers told me you'd be coming to watch me fight."

"Why are you nervous?"

"I want you to touch me," she whispered. "I want to feel what we felt this afternoon in your lab, and a whole lot more." Sliding her hands up Qui-Gon's thighs, she felt the muscles tense. Letting one hand continue its journey, Obi-Wan tenderly cupped the thick, hot bulge between her Master's legs, felt it surge in response. "I know this is for me, I've been waiting for you all day. It's one of the greatest gifts you could offer, Master. Please... let me accept it?"

On a sigh, he captured her hands and held them in his own. "We don't have to do this just because you know that I want it."

Obi-Wan had to grin. "What makes you think I don't want it, too?"

Arching an eyebrow, Qui-Gon grasped his Padawan's towel and pulled it slowly down to reveal one breast. When she didn't pull away, he leaned over and pressed his lips briefly to her nipple. His eyebrow climbed higher when she hissed and leaned into him.

"It would appear that I'm wrong," he observed dryly, caressing the rising nub with his thumb. "You do want me."

"I just hope that I can please you," she murmured. "I don't know what the hell I'm doing in this body."

"You know enough, Obi-Wan. Our touching could never disappoint me." Qui-Gon ran his fingers through her hair, tugged insistently on the elastic holding the tail fastened at the back. It released easily and he combed slowly through the damp strands. "I will make love to you, but only if you wish it."

"So formal, when I know all too well how fierce you can be?" She let her amusement shimmer through the bond. "I want this. I've wanted it for days, and I won't break, Master."

"No. But I might."

She shivered again at the look in his eyes and felt the delicious fire awake, uncoiling and driving upward as he stood. [Live in the moment,] she remembered his words. [And do try to enjoy it, Obi-Wan.]

Rising and standing with him, she was once more made aware of just how big he was when his warm, calloused hands cupped her upper arms, his fingers spreading across her shoulder blades. Sliding his hands down her arms and her back, he made the towel drop to the floor.

She watched him watching her until his breath quickened slightly, until she sensed his increasing need. Only then did she reach for his belt to find the release with deft, experienced fingers. Seconds later, she unwound his sash and raked the tunics as one up over his head. Her gaze followed his arms, noted the flexing, bulging biceps and corded muscle across his flat stomach that she'd looked at a thousand times before, but had never truly seen. Leaning forward, she lovingly traced a long-healed scar with a finger and a slow, focused breath on his skin before tucking her hands between his leggings and bare hips. Feeling the heat roiling off of his skin -- so much hotter, it seemed, than her own -- she slipped her hands around to the small of his back to slide the material down over his backside.

Even as the leggings dropped, she sank with them to lift first one long, fine-boned foot and then the other, to help him step out of them. Sliding her hand around his ankles, she paused and grinned to see the toes that were so seldom brought out of hiding: long and elegant, they echoed his limbs, his very being. Shifting her weight, she knelt and caressed up the backs of his legs to cup his buttocks before taking a deep breath, leaning forward, and letting her nose blaze a trail through the warm brown hair nestled between his legs. The spicy scent of him filled her senses and made her rub against him, already loving the feel of his hair against her skin.

His thickening erection nudged her cheek, demanding its own share of attention. Cupping his testicles in one hand, she caressed them with the tips of her fingers and squeezed lightly. The fingers of her other hand slid around the base of him to hold him steady as she licked and nibbled at the already weeping tip. Ever so delicately, her tongue pushed back the foreskin to seek the soft slit beneath.

Burying his fingers in her hair, he groaned long and low when she abandoned the tip only to begin suckling her way down the thick vein that throbbed harder beneath her ministrations. Arching, he let his head fall back, and she felt the tremor run through him.

Lifting her head, she blew on the dampened erection and cradled it in her hands. "Hot velvet, Master. And you feel so good to touch."

He surged and shuddered when her tongue sought him again. Growling low, he stepped back out of reach, bent to slide his hands around her waist and lift her effortlessly to her feet. Pulling her against his long length, he curved her head against his shoulder and covered her mouth with his in a long, demanding kiss that saw his fingers caressing behind her ear to find a most sensitive spot she had never known existed. Her knees turned to jelly, her legs threatened collapse just before he broke off the kiss, wrapped a hand around her thigh, lifted her up and slid himself between her legs.

"Hang onto me." He breathed the words into her mouth, then sucked her tongue into a demanding duel meant to devour. He kissed her long and hard and deep, matching the rhythm of his tongue to the rhythm of his thrusts, seeking entrance and teasing her unbearably at the same time.

She gasped, startled to feel him just there. Breaking off the kiss, she shivered and stare up at him. "I've never-"

"Felt that before?"

Snaking out her tongue, she closed her eyes and savored the taste of him on her own salty skin. "Hell, no."

His finger traced where her tongue had passed. "Did you like it?"

"Oh, yeah."

Opening her eyes, she wrapped her arms around his neck and all but climbed him to hold on as he had ordered. Trembling, she waited for his next order, his next breath, whatever he might want of her. Whatever he wanted, it was his -- immediately, irrevocably, completely. Her skin felt hypersensitive to his touch, like a new canvas waiting only for his creation. The feel of his furred chest against her nipples, his beard rubbing her cheek, his deep kisses -- every second of every sensation offered sensations she'd never known existed.

He set his teeth against her earlobe to pull gently and suckle soundlessly. Crying out as the flames leaped and twisted within her, she arched violently against his hardness, suddenly wanting nothing more than to feel him inside of her.

He purred long and low as he picked her up, cradling her protectively against him and carrying her into his sleep-room. The glow of the Coruscant skyline illuminated the small chamber, casting everything in silvered light. Tenderly, he laid her on the bed and drew back as if to look at her again. Shaking her head, she refused to allow him the luxury of not touching. Sitting up, she captured his hand and yanked, as if losing physical contact was to risk his changing his mind.

He lay half on top of her, dipping the bed and bracing his elbows on either side of her. He'd scarcely settled before she was yanking out his leather hair-tie, dropping it over the side of the bed, was combing her fingers through the glorious mane that came spilling down. He allowed the exploration, closing his eyes and purring once more under her caress. Once his mane had been tended, she moved on to lovingly trace the broken line of his nose and too-prominent brow. His blue eyes were black in the night, his breathing fast and shallow. The heat and the length of him rose between them, yet he seemed in no hurry to finish what they had begun.

"Master," she breathed against his beard, cupping his face and feathering kisses up his jaw, across his lined forehead.

"Mine," he murmured in return, lowering his head to accept her kisses. Entwining his fingers with hers, he brought them to his lips, kissed each one in its turn. "So strong, yet so small."

She shook her head. "Not my fault."

"No fault, Obi-Wan," he assured as she laid her cheek against the back of his hand, which still help her fingers captive. "Never a fault."

Shifting lower, he trailed light kisses down her throat only to end between her breasts. One finger circled a nipple, stroking and petting intently as she watched. Mere seconds later, she was moving restlessly and all but begging. Covering her hand with his, she tried to increase the pressure on her breast.

He laughed softly. "You like that, do you? You don't want me inside of you?"

"Want... both," she gasped, even as he lowered his head and she knew his torturous intent. "No, Master. Please!"

A hot, wet tongue, a cool stream of focused breath, and endlessly teasing butterfly lips brought her sensitive nipples to life.

"You want both?" he murmured. "A Jedi is not greedy."

With that, he fastened on her breast with a vengeance, suckling hard and thrusting his tongue and teeth across her nipple to make her arch and writhe. His weight pinned her; her efforts did little but frustrate her further and make him purr again.

"Screw being Jedi!" Obi-Wan panted, tangling her fingers in his hair and yanking. "I want you. Inside me. Now."

He left her nipple with much reluctance and a final long, drawn-out suck that made her yelp when he released her. Wrapping his arms around her, he rolled abruptly onto his back and laughed to see her startlement.

Finding herself lying across him now, she raised herself on his chest to look into his dark eyes and shivered. The chest hair beneath her fingers was warm and soft. The power and scent of him surrounded her, even as their bond pulsed with mutual need. She felt almost drugged with love for him.

"I love you," she whispered.

His fingers caressed her cheek. "Even as I love you."

Holding his gaze, she rose up and reached between his legs to guide him against her. Planting his feet against the mattress, he tensed and thrust slightly, letting her control the penetration and moving only as he had to. She gasped as he filled her, feeling his unrelenting girth and insistence that she accommodate it. In that moment, he read worry and insecurity in her eyes. Without words, she begged him to be kind when he remembered this night, to overlook her inexperience and understand that she'd never walked this road before. Not in this way and never with anyone else but him.

"Relax," he whispered, shuddering and raising his head to meet her halfway as she leaned forward to seek his reassurance, as well as his kisses. Wrapping his arms around her, he thrust gently to drive himself deeper.

She whimpered softly and at first he thought it was with pain, but when she straightened over him once more and tilted back her head, he saw that pleasure drove her. Lacing their fingers together, he joined his rhythm to hers and let it carry them both higher. He thrust harder, deeper, faster, and arched off of the bed when she cried out, climaxing deep within her.

She collapsed atop him, her breath mingling with his as she buried her nose in his neck. Wrapping his arms around her, he held on fiercely even as small, shuddering aftershocks claimed him.

"Mine," he whispered, feeling her fingers tangle in his hair, her breathing steady as she sank toward contented sleep. "My Obi-Wan."


Obi-Wan exploded from the 'fresher the next morning. "This is just too disgusting!"

"Pardon me?" Qui-Gon murmured, looking up from the datapad he'd been studying while waiting his own turn in the 'fresher.

Obi-Wan paced before him. "It's messy, I don't want children, and there has *got* to be a way to TURN THIS OFF!!"

Qui-Gon stared at her mildly for a beat or two, until realization dawned. "Only time will turn it off, my Padawan."

"If that's meant to soothe me, forget it!" she snarled.

Stalking over to the small closet in their entry, she yanked out her cloak. It was only as she shrugged into it that she realized it was *his* cloak - the young man she used to be. With something sounding suspiciously close to a svleki cub's growl, she shoved the offensive material back into the closet and yanked the next - pointedly smaller - one down. Slinging it around her shoulders, she all but buried herself in it.

"Do you require assistance, Obi-Wan?"

"Hell, no." The glare she gave him said that it was all his fault, somehow. "I'll just get Kee-Lahn to help me."


"Kee-Lahn. The apprentice you gave my clothes to in the training room the other day? The one who challenged you over the door?"

"I remember. What will you do?"

"Make her to Stores and get what I need."

Qui-Gon offered what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "At least we know that you're not pregnant."

She narrowed her eyes before backing up and punching the control to open the door. "Don't *even* go there, Master."

The tornado left quickly, with the door sighing shut behind her, and Qui-Gon breathed a sigh of relief in the peaceful aftermath. [That little hormonal display, members of the Council, is one of the reasons why I alway chose a male apprentice.]

* * *

And so began the new pattern of their lives. The days passed as days do, falling into a natural rhythm even as did Obi-Wan's body. Her lessons at the Temple continued, as did her sparring matches with Qui-Gon and other Masters of the Sword. Gradually, she become more comfortable with her body, if not in her body. She expected that, given time, she'd learn to control her emotions again, but that seemed far from happening. She'd never been so impatient or so sensitive before. Not knowing what else to do, she sought solace in her Master's arms, whether or not they made love. Qui-Gon voiced no objection, and Obi-Wan had the feeling that he would hold her until Coruscant itself dissolved, without minding it at all.

"I'm sorry to be such a pain," she murmured against his shoulder, stretched out against the long length of him in the middle of yet another Coruscant night.

"Obi-Wan, you are not a pain. There's nothing wrong with needing affection and reassurance."

"You don't think I'm getting too dependent on you?"

He kissed the top of her head. "Why do you think you might be doing that?"

"Because I'm all right when I'm with you, when we're training or whatever. When I'm away from you, everything feels really wrong. Out of joint."

"Our relationship feels wrong?"

"No!" She rose up on one arm to look at him. "What we share feels good. Really good, and I'm not complaining. I know you like this new body, but I'm still not at peace with it. I doubt that I'll ever be."

He caressed the back of her head. "It's been only a few months. One way of living has died to you. It will take some time to become used to this new way of life."

"So you don't think I'm becoming too dependent on you?"

"Not at all. I think you're more vulnerable than you were -- not only physically, but emotionally, as well. You need to be gentle with yourself, give yourself more time to come to terms with everything that has changed."

"That's not an answer."

Smiling, Qui-Gon drew her into a gentle kiss. "You've been under a great deal of stress since the transformation, and life here in the Temple is very much like a fishbowl. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing, feeling, achieving, or failing to achieve. This family of ours can be both a comfort and a strain, as everyone watches everyone else constantly. They're watching you all the more, no matter what you're doing, whether or not I am with you. Perhaps it's just a little easier when you're with me."

"Yeah. They pretend not to stare when we're together," she said glumly. "They won't let me forget what's happened. Not even for a minute."

"To them, it's a miracle."

"Or a freak-out."


She shrugged, unrepentant. "I'm calling it how I see it, Master. Some of them are fascinated, but others look at me like I've become some sort of freak. I'm inclined to agree with the latter most of the time."

"Padawan, they can't understand what you've been through, or the turmoil you continue to feel. You've always brought your vulnerabilities to me rather than to others, and with good reason."

"You've always known me better than I know myself," she admitted.

"Perhaps. This experience has not been easy for you, but you must know that I'm very proud of you. You're doing far better than you seem willing to give yourself credit for." Long fingers massaged lightly at the back of her neck. "Try to get some sleep, hmm? We've a long day ahead of us tomorrow."

Giving a sigh, Obi-Wan settled back down beside Qui-Gon, closed her eyes, and did as he bid her. Yes, she was vulnerable. [Hell, that's brought home to me at least three ways every day.] And yes, she came to him with it. [Who else could I go to? Master Yoda? He'd make weird sympathetic noises and shake his head and there the help would stop. Master Windu? He'd invite me in for a drink and stare at me all night. Kee-Lahn? She's used to being a girl, she hasn't a clue as to what I'm feeling.]

Qui-Gon didn't understand fully, either, but at least he tried. He listened to her fears and frustrations, held her when she cried, and let her fall asleep in his arms. Sometimes she cried, and he made her climb out of bed and meditate with him. Sometimes she cried, and they went for a walk in the gardens. Sometimes she cried, and they made love. She thought that his shoulder had to be perpetually soggy from all of her tears, yet he hadn't complained. At least, not yet.

Sometimes, Obi-Wan tried to sleep in her own bed, without him. Invariably, she awoke in the middle of the night, gave a deep sigh, and headed for his room. Crawling in quietly to keep from waking her Master, she pressed back against him and went back to sleep easily. Next morning, she often awoke with his arm draped across her waist, his legs entangled with hers, and his morning erection pressing against her back. It wasn't a bad way to wake up at all.

A few days later, it was Qui-Gon's studied opinion that Obi-Wan might be ready to channel all of the restlessness she was feeling by getting out of the Temple and back into the field. Decision made, he sent a message to the Council saying that they were ready to resume working. Within the day, both were standing before the Council, looking as calm and capable as always, while Obi-Wan's heart beat too fast and too hard in her chest.

[This is the first off-planet assignment we've had since...then,] she thought. [Force, please let me know what I'm doing. Please don't let me screw this up.]

She scarcely heard a word of Master Windu's briefing. "You two will pose as partners," drifted through her frantic mind, "and seek information," on some sort of smuggling ring. [Sounds simple enough; nothing we haven't done before, right?]

Bowing automatically when Windu sat back and said, "May the Force be with you," she followed her Master from the chamber and continued on in silence out into the Temple corridors. In less than an hour they'd packed, boarded the Marauder, and were cleared to leave Coruscant.

Qui-Gon smiled at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "Do you want to take her up and out?"

Never one to refuse an invitation like that, Obi-Wan gave a huge grin. Cracking her knuckles, she ignored her Master's wince and crouched over the controls. Settling into the routine checks, she took command of the ship and felt completely at home doing it.

"Yeah, this is fine." She sighed in contentment, feeding coordinates into the navi-computer as they cleared Coruscant's atmosphere.

Leaning back in his chair, Qui-Gon was contented to hide a smile and watch his Padawan work.

* * *

Obi-Wan walked out of the 'fresher the next morning in time to see Qui-Gon slide a small gold earring through his left ear. Gone were the familiar beige robes of the Jedi Master. The familiar boots were still there, but the leggings were rougher and well-worn, as was the billow-sleeved shirt Qui-Gon had tucked in behind the belt.

"What are you doing?" Obi-Wan asked as Qui-Gon laced the shirt that revealed far too much of the Jedi Master's chest for his Padawan not to squirm.

"Getting ready to play my part in this escapade. We'll arrive in an hour. Are you ready?"

"Uh... ready for what?" She sat on the edge of the bed.

Giving a low chuckle, Qui-Gon moved across the room to dig into a trunk. "I didn't think you were listening to Mace."

Turning back, he carried a stack of clothes to his apprentice and dropped them next to her on the bed. "You'll wear this."

Pawing through the garments, she saw that they were a reasonable replica of Qui-Gon's.

"Master, what, exactly, are we posing to be?"

"Smugglers. And mates. You will call me Jinn. I will call you-"


Qui-Gon hesitated. "I had something a bit more feminine in mind."

"Call me anything you want, just don't make me wear a dress."

The Master's laughter rang out, and Obi-Wan grinned.

"I had something a bit more subtle in mind," Qui-Gon asserted. "Would you object to my calling you Ailleacht?"

She arched an eyebrow, recognizing the word from their shared homeworld and native language. "Beauty? You can't be serious."

"Or would you rather I called you Bruid?"

"No, Master. If someone is to be the beast, it should be you."

"Ailleacht agus Bruid?" [Beauty and Beast?]

Obi-Wan nodded.

"No, I don't think so," Qui-Gon murmured, stroking her cheek. "It's a bit too... obvious."

"Yes, Master." She leaned into his hand, closing her eyes and realizing it had been a long time since she'd felt able to spar with anyone on such a casual level. It felt good to be able to do it again.

Leaning down, he stole a quick kiss. "Get dressed. Then come up to the cockpit, and I'll tell you what else you need to know."

* * *

EXCEPT FROM OBI-WAN'S JOURNAL, OR "Things you just don't put into the Council Report," entry #2195

We spent four months on Thar posing as pirates. I was very grateful for the time away from the Temple, even if we did have to live among smugglers, bounty hunters and cut-throats. None of them knew who we were -- or, more importantly, who I'd been -- and therefore underestimated us. Mostly me. Jinn, they learned very quickly not to cross. His ruthless possessiveness and protection of his mate became fodder for the gossipmongers very quickly after he leaped over three tables and very nearly cut a man's throat just for nuzzling my neck as we played cards.

Jinn refused to pay for the spilled drinks or ruined game, either. The victim of that attack departed very quickly because he'd soiled himself, all of the bets were retrieved, and the night was somewhat of a disappointment all around. And so it came to pass that no pirate dared to even glance Ailleacht's way when Jinn was with her. As for when Ailleacht was alone... Well, that's another story altogether.

I must admit that it was fun. Well, it was fun for me. Not so much fun for Qui-Gon. I learned a different sort of swagger, to flirt and bait and tease. It would have been a harmless occupation on another planet. On Thar, though, it could get a girl sold into slavery. Or worse.

Fortunately, I didn't think like a girl, even if Qui-Gon thought of me as one now.

My Master complained later that I simply would not stay where he put me, mentally or physically. I argued that I went exactly where I'd have gone and did exactly what I'd have done were I still a male Jedi. He said that was precisely the problem. The mask I showed the filthy, drooling pirate populace was ever-changing. One minute Ailleacht was all professional, no flirting, just get to the business at hand, my friend, what is it you want to smuggle where? The next, she was sidling up and cooing, telling the fattest smuggler in the business that he had great biceps and it had to be hard to keep in great shape, could she watch him next time he worked out? The next moment, you can be certain that Jinn was growling, while Ailleacht was shrugging and pouting and looking very sad that she couldn't pursue things with that adorable little smuggler.

I swear my Master and I would have been there only a month if he'd have let me do my job. And if I'd listened to all of his warnings, we'd still be there. I can't count all of the times that I called him over-protective. Of course, he called me a danger to myself. I think we were both right, but, in the end, I got what we needed and got the hell out of there in a hurry.

There was one man -- a big, burly bar-keep -- whom we were sure was in the middle of the game. He ignored Qui-Gon -- excuse me, Jinn -- from here to eternity, but he wanted me. Boy, did he ever. If he'd have drooled any more, he'd have slipped in his own spit.

Pity the feeling wasn't mutual.

Fortunately, he had an oblivious wife. That sort of thing can be a great friend if you know how and when to use it. I didn't know... before. Now, I do.

Funny, what you learn -- and fast -- when you're a girl.

Okay, I'll admit it: Ailleacht teased and baited the guy while his wife was off washing trenchers, and Jinn was off being patient with the populace and getting nowhere. I'll also admit that I wasn't armed as far as the man could see. My lightsaber was back on the Marauder, safely hidden along with my Padawan braid. I missed that braid; it was a real wrench when Qui-Gon cut it.

"We'll reattach it when this is over," he had said roughly, and I swear through the same kinds of tears that I was fighting back. He looked stricken, as if he'd just been forced to sever our bond rather than just a couple of feet of hair.

"Master?" I laid a hand on his arm. "Are you all right?"

His eyes said no, he wasn't, even as he nodded yes. Spooling the braid, he laid it reverently across our weapons and then closed the box. Touching a hidden mechanism, he slid the invisible compartment back into the bulkhead.

"Force... Master... Apprentice, remember?" I whispered, tightening my grip on him. "We carry it in our hearts. And we've still got our bond."

"We always will, my Padawan."

"So come on," I urged, rocking back and punching his arm. "Let's get this mission over with."

I may have swaggered off of the ship. I probably did. He says that after what I did to that bar-keep, I'm still swaggering.

He's right.

But the guy deserved it. Feel *me* up, will he? Want me to service him, did he?

His establishment was empty at mid-day because Thar's liquor is best served warm and its days are far too hot for anyone to be drinking. So there I was, all flowing curves and winks and smiles. Just there to talk, big guy. It's really lonesome without Jinn around. Yeah, he's gone and probably all day, so maybe you have something to keep me occupied?

I wanted information, and he wanted to map my body. We came to a mutual agreement in the corner of the bar. At least for little while. I let his lips do insidious things while nudging him just... a... little... by way of the Force. Mind whammy, some call it. I call it magic. And necessity.

"You want to tell me all that you know about the Bearla cartel."

"I want to tell you...."

Hey, this was a real sacrifice. I suffered through his wet, mushy lips on my neck, his greasy hands yanking at my shirt, and his rather frantic below-the-waist efforts to reach other things as well. I was doing good, though. Really good. The man was babbling and we were getting the info we needed.

Until he pulled up my shirt. Then, I got a little worried.

My panic had raced across the bond before I knew it. What was worse and thanks to my manipulations, this greasy bantha-like man had a two-track mind. His basal brain was saying, "Use her NOW," while his higher (but not much) mind was babbling everything I needed to know about the family Bearla. It was hard work, let me tell you, making sense of his words when his lips were all mooshed between my breasts.

I felt my Master's shock, first, and then his growing rage as he demanded a clearer picture of what was happening to me. I could feel Qui-Gon moving quickly through the crowd outside the bar, coming ever closer. [Just don't let him get here and break the guy's neck before I get what we came to get,] I remember thinking.

"I want to taste you," I whispered into the bantha's ear. Yanking down my shirt, I dropped between his groping hands to kneel at his feet.

Fumbling with his belt, I listened to him prattle on about the smugglers until I realized that finally -- finally! -- he had told me everything he could and was winding down. Time to get the hell out of Thar.

Qui-Gon appeared in the doorway just as I yanked down the man's drawers. The bar-keep's disappointing manhood reared up and swung toward my face.

"Not today, big guy," I muttered even as Qui-Gon closed the space between us.

Balling my fingers into a fist -- admittedly not as impressive a fist as I used to have -- I punched the guy right in the balls. His instantaneous freezing and indrawn wheezing told me that I'd hit my target dead on.

I tucked and rolled away before he could fall on me, fetching up against the back of the keep's moldering counter. A huge shadow descended on me, even as the man began a long, loud bantha wail. For one confused moment, I thought that the man himself was bearing down on me, and my arm was nearly wrenched from its socket when Qui-Gon yanked me to my feet.

"Out of here. Now." he growled, spinning me about and shoving. Hard.

I heard the bar-keep's knees hit the floor and didn't argue with my Master. I heard also the slamming of the kitchen door as his wife pelted to his rescue.

"Ooooh, Pudgie, sweet one, what's happened?"

Qui-Gon hauled me from the bar as the woman drew breath and let fly a string of epithets that I would have liked to have memorized. I don't think she was oblivious any more. My Master and I ran down the street with him in the rear - I suspect so that he could keep an eye on me during our escape.

[I got it!] I shouted at him gleefully through the bond.

[Yes, and you're *going* to get it as well!] he shot back, urging me to go faster as his feet practically scraped my heels.

I wasn't particularly worried.

By mutual, silent agreement we didn't return to the ramshackle room we'd called home for the past twelve weeks. Instead, we headed for the Marauder before the bar-keep could breathe again and summon help from the Bearla cartel. Ailleacht and Jinn had drifted into town; we'd streak out of it and back to Coruscant that hot summer's afternoon, and no one would be the wiser.

Qui-Gon all but shoved me up the entry ramp, slamming it closed and sprinting for the cockpit with me right behind him. We made planet-break in record time and the jump to lightspeed soon after that. No one would ever track us, not with the false destination report my Master had filed. Someone on Coruscant had already altered the Marauder's registration, so there was no way to trace the little ship or her owners.

"We're safe." I grinned, enjoying the rush as I'd not enjoyed anything for weeks.

"No thanks to you, Obi-Wan. What were you thinking of, back there?"

I shrugged. "Completing the mission. What's your problem?"

He was out of his chair instantly, pouncing like a svleki to crowd me in my chair. Nose to nose, he all but growled. "My *problem* is that you are still thinking like a man while -- like it or not -- you are encased in a more fragile body. That scene you instigated so boldly could have ended far differently. Need I paint a vulgar picture for you to realize this, my Padawan?"

"Need I remind you of the training that I've received at your hands and used with all success on past missions?" I said quietly, refusing to back down.

It was *my* body and had been *my* scene. By my own choice. Not only was I willing to take responsibility for what I'd done, I was damn proud of it, too. For the first time in months, I'd been in charge of me. That felt good, and I wanted more.

"I've gotten myself out of far worse situations without your help," I continued. "I knew exactly what I was doing. I may not have had a lightsaber, but I had about ten other options. You worry too much."

He did growl, then.

"Am I still to become a Jedi Knight?" I asked before he could begin lecturing me.

"Of course."

"That means you won't be around forever to nursemaid me?"

He was beginning to look distinctly uncomfortable. Opening his mouth, he closed it again and spoke through gritted teeth. "Padawan...."

"If you're not around, then who's left to rescue me if I'm in this body?"

Straightening, Qui-Gon leaned against the back of his pilot's chair. Narrowing his eyes, he folded his arms. "You weren't trying to prove something back there?"

"Only that I'm still capable of performing undercover, and that I can take care of myself. I may not have the same body, Master, but the brains and the training are still very much intact."

Qui-Gon blue eyes twinkled. "I'm not certain that bar-keep is."

I merely grinned. Reaching out, Qui-Gon drew me into a hug that said he was still proud of me, however much I'd scared him. I was sorry for that, but couldn't see any way around it. Neither could he, or he'd have had some choice words to make my ears burn. Perhaps he knew that he had to let go - and more than a little - if his Padawan was going to learn to survive on her own as a woman.

As for me, I was smugly satisfied with my performance. I'd done my job and our mission was complete. I'd learned something, too: brains often triumph where brawn cannot, and a great many men in the universe are oblivious of that fact. I now understood a little more of what Kee-Lahn had been trying to tell me in the locker room. I wasn't necessarily comfortable with it - yet - but I was beginning to understand it.

We made love that night, with the ship streaking through space on its way back to the Temple. This time was for us, for Qui-Gon and me, and the feelings were delicious. For the first time since my transformation, I felt comfortable with myself. I knew who I was again, and could live with the knowledge. I acted on what I felt that night, living in the moment.

We took things slow and gentle and long, exploring each other with a reverence that I've never experienced with any other lover. After my Master, I doubt seriously that I could stand anyone else touching me. Even if I were to return to being a man tomorrow, I think that would still be true.

Stretching against him and feeling our differences - where he was scratchy, where I was soft; where he was hard, where I was soft; where he was lean and I was not -- that was pure luxury. I ran my hands down his chest, across the rock-hard stomach and tensing thighs. I had the privilege of cradling him in my hands and knowing without a doubt that he wanted me. For the first time, it struck me what a miracle this was. I was a Padawan -- the weaker of our team - and he loved me. This Jedi Master, this power of Light and Force made flesh... this man whom I knew set duty above all else in his life... He ached and arched and wanted me.

On a groan, he slid deep inside of me, rocked me gently and loved me as no one else in my life ever had or ever would. In that moment, I knew peace. In that moment, I knew that Qui-Gon had made everything all right.


End of Part I. TBC