The soft brush of the students' footsteps faded quickly down the hall. Qui-Gon glanced after the younger ones, nudging each other and making gestures in conversation. They were learning silence, learning how to move in total silence for hours at a time.

It did not stop their talk, or their games -- it merely changed the rules. It served them well, when they grew older and began traveling on missions with their Masters.

After they passed and actual silence resumed, Qui-Gon returned to his reader. He and Obi-Wan might be traveling to Thorael soon, so he was studying up on the local customs and politics.

"Master Qui-Gon."

He looked up and saw Master Silla, gazing expectantly at him.

"A word with you please."

He nodded and shut off the reader. Silla turned and walked back down the hallway, Qui-Gon followed.

He got the feeling from Master Silla that this was to be a difficult conversation -- not that he hadn't had plenty of those in his time as a Jedi. Most of them with Master Silla, in fact. He hid his smile as the other reached a room and indicated Qui-Gon should precede him in.

Once inside with the door closed behind them Silla wasted no time in getting to the point. "It has come to the attention of the Council that the relationship between you and your Padawan has... expanded, shall we say?"

Ah. Of course. Qui-Gon had known this would happen eventually. Aloud he said only, "And what concern does the Council have?"

He had been careful, these last few days, to ensure his apprentice's performance did not falter. Obi-Wan was completing his training with as much skill and finesse as he had before -- even if he did have a tendency, now, to glow a little brighter at his Master's approval.

"You know such a relationship is forbidden," Silla said bluntly. "Yet still you initiated it. Why?" Qui-Gon could sense no condemnation in the other Jedi, just honest curiosity and concern.

"Master Silla, for months both Obi-Wan and I have obeyed the edicts and refused to allow the relationship. Eventually it became more a burden to refuse, than I judged allowing it would be." It was a dry, almost lifeless description of the desires that had threatened on so many occasions to distract him from his duties.

So many times he sensed in his apprentice the wavering of focus necessary to complete a task before him, wavering because his attention was desperately yearning for what he could not have.

Silla frowned. "If it was becoming that much of a burden you should have come to the council. There were other solutions."

Qui-Gon grimaced. The simplest and most common solution in such cases was to seek a new Master for the student.

But he didn't want that. It was, itself, even simpler. He *wanted* this relationship, as much as Obi-Wan. "The relationship is not a burden," he said quietly.

The other Jedi sighed wearily. "I had feared as much." His lips twitched upwards just slightly. "You never were one for the easy route."

Qui-Gon didn't answer. It was true that few members of the Jedi Council approved of his path, but none disagreed that it *was* his path. Whether they would agree with his taking young Obi-Wan down that path... well, if they were afraid of such a thing they would not have given him to Qui-Gon to train in the first place.

"You will have to speak to the council about this. Give them reason not to utilize one of the other solutions," Silla warned.

Qui-Gon nodded and said nothing.

Silla started for the door then hesitated before opening it. Looking back he said, "The council is sometimes too concerned with rules and propriety. What I sense from you is not something that is detrimental to either your Padawan or yourself. If it helps I believe you are in the right of this matter." And with that he turned and left.

Qui-Gon did not try to hide his startlement. Silla had never been much of a supporter of his, though he had never actively stood against him. But he *had* not expected to hear such a thing from him.

He smiled, collected himself, and went in search of a quiet place to consider the matter at hand.

Obi-Wan finished his workout and headed for the showers.

There was an extra spring in his step, even after the exhausting physical activity he'd just completed. Ever since he and his Master had given in to their feelings, it was like he had an extra burst of energy.

'Probably because I'm not spending it all trying to resist what I feel,' he mused to himself.

Or maybe it was just because he was happier and more content than he had ever been before.

He noticed the looks he got from some of the other students but ignored them. Ignored them until Galfi stepped up and shook its head.

Obi-Wan cocked an eyebrow questioningly. "Yes?"

"Who do you think they're going to give you to?" the blunt question came.

What? Shaking his head in confusion he said, "I don't understand."

"Your new Master," Galfi said patiently. "Once they take you away from Qui-Gon. Darnee thinks she's going to be his new Padawan now that she's ready to become a full apprentice."

"What are you talking about?" Take him away from his Master? Obi-Wan had to suppress a shiver of apprehension at even the suggestion. Not that there was a chance of something like that happening, he knew. Qui-Gon wouldn't let it.

Galfi blinked. "The Council is going to split you and Qui-Gon... didn't you know? What you're doing is forbidden."

Galfi didn't sound as if it cared, so much, that Obi-Wan was breaking rules. The other student seemed primarily interested in the gossip of who would be paired with whom.

"They can't do that." Even as the protest left his mouth he knew it wasn't true. The council could and would take him from his Master if they deemed there was cause enough.

Galfi, however, nodded. "They'll have to. It's not allowed. They'll split you up until you stop... you know. Wanting to break the rules."

Having a relationship beyond Master and apprentice, it meant, Obi-Wan knew. He didn't understand the council sometimes. How could love be considered wrong?

"I don't think they should do it, myself," came Tay's voice from behind him. Obi-Wan looked over at the other student as he continued. "It isn't like you're hurting anyone. Anyone who *knows* you could see you weren't going to get over it." He suddenly looked abashed at his words, as they all realized what that would mean.

At the looks on his fellow apprentices' faces Obi-Wan found he had to get out of there. Now. If he didn't, he wasn't sure what he would do or say.

"Excuse me, I've got to..." he stammered as he brushed past them and headed out the door and down the corridor. He tried not to think of their words, of the expressions on their faces. Their pity.

'Don't pity me!' he had wanted to yell at them. 'What my Master and I share is the most wonderful thing in the universe. *I* should pity *you* that you don't know what it's like!'

Still, as he moved down the corridor, the spring in his step was totally gone.

He didn't even notice his Master until Qui-Gon grabbed his arm. As he looked up, he realized he had heard Qui-Gon saying his name.

His Master was frowning ever so slightly.

"Sorry Master." Obi-Wan muttered his apology for his absentmindedness. Even that was enough to make him wince inwardly, since if Galfi was right it wouldn't be much longer he would able to call Qui-Gon that.

The light grip on his arm tightened. When he looked up he saw Qui-Gon start to speak, then he glanced up and pulled at Obi-Wan to follow him.

Obi-Wan followed meekly enough, his heart sinking even lower. The fact that his Master didn't seem surprised by his emotions suggested he knew the cause, which in turn suggested that Galfi had been correct.

Qui-Gon turned and regarded him silently for a moment. Obi-Wan suddenly wondered if it was already over.

"You have heard?" his Master asked.

"It's true then?" He could hear the plea in his own voice as he forced himself to meet Qui-Gon's eyes steadily, hoping against hope he would be told it was all a rumor that got out of hand.

His Master's countenance didn't change, still frowning slighting at him. "You knew as well as I, it is forbidden."

Obi-Wan's shoulders slumped as reality crashed in. He *had* known that, but at the time...

"What happens now?" he asked defeatedly, looking down at his boots, unable to meet his Master's eyes.

"Master Silla has informed me I've been called before the Council. I--"

Obi-Wan's eyes widened. They were going to blame it on Qui-Gon, he was sure. His Master already was no favorite of the Council. This, this could ruin him. He couldn't let that happen. And he wouldn't.

Moving swiftly he leaned forward and captured Qui-Gon's mouth with his own, pouring all his feelings into what he was feared would be their last kiss. When he parted he spoke, pleased that his voice only held the smallest of tremors. "I'm sorry about all this Master, but I'll fix things. I promise!"

Before Qui-Gon could react he brushed past him and ran down the hall. He knew what he must do.

"Obi-Wan!" he heard his Master's shout behind him, but he did not stop.

The Jedi Council would be in the Council Chamber at this hour... they might in fact be waiting there for Qui-Gon. With all the trouble his Master had had with the Council, Obi-Wan feared that this would be the final straw.

It was up to him to stop it. He'd go to the council and take the blame himself. They could do anything they wanted to him; it didn't matter, just as long as they left his Master alone.

He reached the Council Chamber doors and didn't stop, dashing past the honorary guard and inside. The Jedi Council members all turned towards him, with varying degrees of no-surprise on their faces.

No one asked why he was here.

"I need to address the Council," he said, his voice loud and clear and strong.

A few of the Masters exchanged glances. None responded except Yoda, who simply nodded.

Looking at all the impassive faces watching him, Obi-Wan felt his courage falter for a few seconds. 'This is for Qui-Gon,' he told himself sternly. 'You can do it.' Taking a deep breath he began.

"I have done something that is forbidden. I acknowledge that. And worse I have drawn my Master into it as well. I ask that if you insist upon punishment that you punish me alone, for it was I who initiated the relationship."

There was a moment of silence and Obi-Wan could feel the Masters exchange looks and silent words.

Yoda was the only one who spoke. "Acknowledge it, you have." The half-question, half-statement seemed to seal his fate. Whatever happened now, there was no going back.

"Yes." He paused and then added, "And I cannot say I regret it. My feelings for my Master are real and worth whatever you decide to do to me. I only regret that he may suffer because of them."

For a moment Yoda merely considered him, and Obi-Wan felt the urge to fidget -- or run. But he remained there and returned Master's Yoda's gaze unflinchingly.

"Consider assigning you a new Master, we have," Yoda finally said.

"I... understand," Obi-Wan replied as he felt his heart sink. "If that is to be my punishment I will, of course, accept it. But what of my Master?"

"Punishment it is not meant to be. Complete your training, you must."

"With all due respect Master Yoda," he said, unable to completely hide his bitterness, "how else am I suppose to look at it?"

"Distracting, your feeling are," Yoda replied, sounding unperturbed. "On your training your focus must be, not on your Master."

Obi-Wan nodded, conceding the point. "My Master says the same thing. But taking him away from me will not make me feel any less." He paused and then boldly added, "You have not answered my question yet either. What about my Master? If I am to be forced to accept a new Master, what is to become of Qui-Gon?"

"If worthy he is, a new Padawan he shall have," Yoda replied, again in that odd, neutral tone that told Obi-Wan nothing. Nothing save that he was about to lose Qui-Gon... possibly forever.

A new Padawan. The words hurt, even though he knew it was not Qui-Gon's desire. It was a pain he was unable to keep off his face... or safely behind his shields.

"You may not consider this punishment," he said in a voice as open and raw as his emotions, "but it certainly feels like it. Punishment of the harshest kind."

"Obi-Wan," a soft voice came from behind him. A balm to his pain. Qui-Gon stepped up behind him and put his hands on Obi-Wan's shoulders.

Taking a shaky breath, Obi-Wan leaned into the touch, drawing strength from it and his Master's presence. His shields firmed and his outward demeanor once again appeared properly Jedi calm.

"Master," he murmured, the one word holding recognition, gratitude, sorrow, love, everything he thought or felt.

The hands on his shoulders tightened slightly. "Obi-Wan," came the reply, and in it he felt his Master's love, concern, and confidence. Confidence?

"Master Yoda," Qui-Gon began.

"Something to add, have you, Master Qui-Gon?" Yoda asked in an almost-amused tone.

"I do not believe it would benefit myself or my apprentice to have our relationship dissolved. As Master/Apprentice, or as anything else." The certainty in Qui-Gon's voice rekindled the smallest of hopes in Obi-Wan. His Master had swayed the council to his point of view in the past. Could he do it again?

"Against the rules, it is," Yoda continued. Around him, the other Masters were merely watching. Obi-Wan could not tell from any of their expressions whom, if any, were being swayed.

"We acknowledge that," he said, having regained his courage with his Master's presence. "But it's happened. We cannot undo it. You can punish us, break us up even, but it still will have happened."

"Yes but we can prevent it from interfering with your training," Master Dona put in. She was looking at them both rather severely.

"It will not interfere with his training, Master Dona," Qui-Gon replied calmly. She didn't look convinced, but then Master Dona had never gotten along with Qui-Gon.

"Certain, are you?" Yoda asked.

"It hasn't so far," Obi-Wan pointed out. He was confident in saying that. He knew all his scores were the same or even higher since they had gotten together.

Yoda looked at him and Obi-Wan felt as if the Jedi were looking all the way through his soul. He met Yoda's gaze unflinchingly. He had nothing to hide; if Yoda was truly reading his soul he would have to concede that Obi-Wan and his Master were right.

Finally Yoda sighed, his gaze shifting to Qui-Gon. "Never easy it is with you. Always follow the difficult path you do."

"Master Yoda," Qui-Gon began, only to be interrupted.

"Together, you may stay," Yoda pronounced. Qui-Gon moved swiftly, embracing Obi-Wan from behind. "But watched, you will be," the Jedi Master finished.

Weak with relief Obi-Wan barely heard the rest of what was said. Qui-Gon nudged him and he bowed to the council before following his Master out.

His Master. Qui-Gon was still his Master and would remain so. The thought repeated over and over and he found himself grinning like an idiot.

Qui-Gon glanced down at him, and smiled. It was a thoughtful smile, as curious as it was grateful.

"What are you thinking Master?"

"They did not debate the matter," Qui-Gon said simply.

Obi-Wan frowned. No they hadn't. It was almost as if... "You think it was a test?"

"I think they had already decided," Qui-Gon replied. "Do not get me wrong, had our feelings been less true I believe they would have said 'no' as readily."

"If our feelings had been less true this relationship wouldn't have happened in the first place," Obi-Wan pointed out. "We would have been able to resist them."

"Yes," his Master nodded, and Obi-Wan felt as if *that* had been the point, all along. The reason Qui-Gon had finally allowed the relationship to begin.

He was distracted from his thoughts when Qui-Gon reached up and rested his hand on the back of Obi-Wan's head, holding him gently.

With a contented sigh Obi-Wan moved forward wrapping his arms around his Master's waist and looking up into his Master's eyes. "Even if they *had* separated us, my feelings wouldn't have changed. You'd still be my Master. And I'd still love you."

"And I would still love you, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon leaned down, and gave him a kiss.

Neither man noticed they were being observed.

"I thought they were going to be discreet," Master Silla said ruefully.

"Forgot to tell them, we did," Yoda replied.