Saga Untouchable: Clone/Jedi Romance, Adventure/Drama, Obi & OCs, [COMPLETE] 2/25/14

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by laloga, Dec 21, 2012.

Moderators: Briannakin, mavjade
  1. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Title: Untouchable
    Author: laloga (Lauren)
    Characters: Obi-Wan Kenobi, OCs
    Genre: Drama, Adventure, Romance
    Era: TCW
    Rating: K+
    Summary: A small Republic force is sent to the ancient world of Aruna to prevent the queen from joining the Separatists, but nothing is as it seems as bonds are tested, faith is shaken, and the Force itself is lost. Angsty, romantic, adventurous: Obi/OC/OC
    *

    A/N: If you're reading this, thank you for your patience! I know it's been a while, but this story turned out to be quite the endeavor. Though it references events that occur in my other fics, What Remains, Old Wounds, All or Nothing, and Warriors of Shadow, (accessible at this site), you don't have to read them to understand what's going on, though I do think you'll get more out of the story.

    As always, I hope you enjoy. Please leave a comment – even a small one – as it really makes all the difference and can't be appreciated enough.


    ***

    Untouchable

    Prologue

    Eleven months prior to the start of the Clone Wars.....

    It was supposed to be an easy mission.

    As these things often went, it was not. What should have been a pleasant affair – the blessing of a royal marriage – was made complicated by a rather unorthodox decision of the leader of the planet Aruna: King Badal had chosen to wed a woman deemed by some of the more influential members of Parliament to be an unsuitable match, as she was neither rich nor esteemed and could claim no connection to any of the deities that directed the lives of the Arunai people. Though it was clear that the couple was very much in love, the gods did not look favorably on the union.

    In the end, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Kalinda Halcyon had managed to uncover a plot to assassinate the bride-to-be, Sita, and in doing so they inadvertently proved to the people that the union was indeed supported by the gods, so the wedding was allowed to proceed without further incident.

    Just business as usual, Kalinda thought as she stood beside the young bride, listening to the ceremony take place. Though I wouldn't have minded a little less excitement; preventing a murder definitely takes away from any overly romantic sentiments. At least they'll have a story to tell their grandchildren. The royal couple was dressed in vibrant saffron and crimson silks edged with gold, the fabric glittering in the morning sun as the priest who was performing the rite began to intone over their bowed, white-haired heads.

    Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter to the other.”

    The priest spoke the words in a solemn voice, his eyes lifted to the space above the heads of the russet-skinned Arunai man and woman who knelt before him. Their hands were joined. The scents of champa and frangipani were thick in the open-air temple, one of the oldest structures in the capitol city of Rudral.

    Kali's feet itched.

    Hours before dawn she'd been brought to Sita's quarters, where a team of servants had begun the arduous task of turning her into a respectable-looking Arunai woman; some of it, like the massage and washing of her hair, had been pleasant. Other parts, not so much. Already she longed to take her hair out of the elaborate braids that had been pinned to her skull, remove the copious bangles and necklaces draped over her wrists and neck, and dunk her head into the nearest pool to wash of the cosmetics that tinted her face. At the end of it all someone had handed her a mirror and she did not recognize the person who looked back at her, though she had smiled and thanked the servants all for their hard work.

    Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.”

    However, no matter how much she longed to shed the trappings, it was not her place to do so – yet. For now, Kali was charged with remaining by the young queen's side and offering her wisdom or advice, as the Jedi had done for thousands of years. Before she and Obi-Wan had left Coruscant it had been explained to them in no uncertain terms that this was a planet of vital importance to the Republic, not only for its wealth, but its connection with other powerful systems like Mandalore.

    Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other.”

    Kali wondered if anyone would notice if she scratched her left foot with her right, then decided against it. Her head ached from the pins and she was afraid to move her hands for the tell-tale jingling of bangles at her wrists. The ceremony was nearly over now and soon there would be a massive banquet, followed by dancing and general merry-making that would last for another day or so, even as she and Obi-Wan were scheduled to depart the next morning. Part of her had hoped they'd be able to stay for the upcoming spring festival, but it seemed unlikely.

    Now you are two souls, but there is only one life before you.”

    From his place beside King Badal, Obi-Wan's blue gaze caught hers and he smiled, which made her heart skip a few beats, as it always did when he looked at her so. Like her, he was wearing traditional Arunai garments, though her costume was much more flamboyant than his. It's nearly over, Kali. His voice in her mind was chiding and slightly mocking, though there was an undercurrent of long-held affection. Try to hold on a little longer. As teenagers they had learned to speak to one another through the Force; it was quite a handy trick, especially at times like this.

    Easy for you to say, she replied, keeping her expression smooth as she watched the priest lay garlands of flowers around the newly married couple's necks. You aren't dripping with jewelry and covered with henna. At this she saw Obi-Wan's eyes flick to her folded hands, which had been carefully inked the night before with intricate designs of swirls and flowers.

    Garlands placed, the priest continued. The alabaster hair that was a trait among all Arunai did not give away one's age, but his skin was lined and his posture was bent, even as his crimson robes brushed the stone ground. However, his voice was clear and vibrant, ringing through the audience as he spoke the ancient words.

    May beauty surround the both of you in the journey ahead and all the years that follow.”

    As Obi-Wan's eyes met Kali's again, she sensed from him a sudden, acute desire to strip away the trappings of the ceremony and see if the henna would come off onto his own skin after they were both damp with sweat, though his expression was perfectly neutral. It's been a while since we did anything like that, she thought as she felt heat creeping to her cheeks. But it might make for a nice way to pass the time. When she smiled back at him his eyebrow lifted marginally and the glint in his eyes caused her to shiver even as she listened to the closing words of the priest.

    May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth.”

    *

    Later, after the ceremony had ended and the celebration had been going on well into the late afternoon, they had managed to find a few hours to be alone together: she watched as he removed the jewelry, lifting her arms and reaching around her neck to do so, his breath warm against her cheek; he had pulled the pins from her long, dark hair and run his fingers through the lengths, smiling at the look of abject relief and joy on her face; he had unwrapped the dress from her body and traced his fingertips over the painted whorls on her skin. Later they learned that the henna was indeed very stubborn, as it refused to come off even after the most vigorous activities.

    Feel better?” he asked as they lay beside one another in her quarters, the silken curtains over the windows lifting in the breeze. It was warm, but not uncomfortable, and the entire room was tinted in gold by the sun that was starting its descent below the horizon.

    Kalinda was nestled in the crook of his arm, her heartbeat just starting to return to a normal pace; she kissed his chest and looked up at him. “I do.” The utter happiness and delight of that moment was seared into her memory when he smiled down at her just before he kissed her again. I wish we could always be this way.

    They both knew that they'd have to leave the next day, return to their lives as servants of the Republic, but for now it was enough to simply be together. Her arms moved around his neck as his hands made their way to the small of her back and they forgot everything else for a while longer, until the room was dark.

    *

    It was early the next morning and the sky was still faintly purple from the night and scattered with a handful of stars. Beyond the palace courtyard, in the city below, Kali could make out the faint shadows of those not fortunate enough to attend the ceremony, though they were tasked with cleaning up after the festivities. While she and Obi-Wan waited for the king and queen to see them off, she glanced at her companion, indicating those below. “I'll never get used to it.”

    He nodded. “Their caste system is a strange concept to me as well, but it's not our place to judge the customs of others.”

    I know,” she replied with a frown. “But still. It feels wrong, doesn't it? The whole concept of 'untouchables,' feels arbitrary to me. Why are they not good enough? Why do the others look down on them so?”

    Well, perhaps things will change with Sita,” he said. “After all, she isn't from a noble family. If anyone can understand the plight of the lowest caste, it is she.”

    Kali exhaled into the air. “I hope so.” After a few moments she glanced at him again, arching her brow. “We could stay a bit longer, you know. I think that Sita might need more advice....”

    He chuckled. “Anything to see the festival?”

    Perhaps,” she mused. “Or, you know....to spend more time in your company.” She smiled at him. “I can think of worse reasons to hang around.”

    At this he sighed. “You know that we can't delay any longer, Kali. Besides, you can always return another year.”

    But we're here now,” she countered. “There's no time like the present, Ben. Come on,” she gave him her widest smile. “It won't be a problem if we stay longer, at least through tonight.”

    Obi-Wan shook his head, though she could sense the deliberation in his thoughts. “You know we need to get back. Besides, Anakin's waiting for me. He was very put out he was that he didn't get to come.”

    It was her turn to sigh. “Fine. For your Padawan's sake, we'll leave right away. But you owe me a festival.”

    A rustle of silk and clatter of booted feet alerted them to the approaching royal couple and their guards; on instinct, both Jedi dropped to their knees in a low bow, as was the custom. Badal smiled at them. “There is no need for such formality, my friends. In fact, we should be bowing to you,” he said, his voice smooth and lilting. He was only a few years younger than Kalinda, with a broad, open face. When the Jedi had risen to their feet, Sita glanced at her husband with a question in her eyes. In response, he chuckled and nodded. “But you should tell, them, I think.”

    The young woman smiled at the Jedi, though her gaze rested on Kali as she spoke. “Kalinda Halcyon and Obi-Wan Kenobi,” she began. “You have done such a wonderful service for our world. I ask that you accept the blessings of our gods so that you both will always walk in safety and light.” Her crowned head inclined at the massive temple that stood next to the palace which they'd just left. “Come,” she added, holding out her hand. “Follow me.”

    Though it was considered slightly improper to do so, Kali leaned over and whispered to the young queen as they began to walk. “Sita, what is this about?”

    It is the only way that I can think to repay you,” she replied, excitement in her pale eyes. “You have given me so much these last few days, Kali, and I don't mean only what you did as a Jedi.” Here she paused and her gaze lowered briefly. “You were a true friend. I felt less afraid with you by my side than I have in a long time.” From her, Kalinda could feel a ripple of sorrow.

    She said that she has no other family besides some distant kin in the country. I'm glad that I was able to help her, even a little bit. “I think you'll make a fine queen, Sita,” she replied with a nod. “And I know that your parents would be proud if they could see you now. You are very blessed.”

    I am lucky, indeed,” Sita whispered back, casting a glance at her new husband. “To be able to spend my days with the one I love.” Many had argued that she was merely seeking to take power for herself, but Kalinda could tell that goal was not in the young woman's mind, especially when she gave a brilliant smile that radiating nothing but happiness and Kali could not help but return the look in kind. “How many can say that they are truly so fortunate?”

    Kalinda cast a longing glance at Obi-Wan; his eyes were fixed on the path ahead. “Not many.”

    Flanked by a coterie of elite guards, the group journeyed to a smaller temple than the one where they'd attended the marriage. They climbed the steps and entered a chamber that was resplendent with brightly painted statues and the scent of incense. A slender, red-robed Arunai – the same man who had performed the marriage ceremony – stood before a statue of a many-armed goddess, watching them with a benevolent gaze. Kali and Obi-Wan were asked to kneel as the priest began to chant in Arunai, a rhythmic, calming sound that eased Kali's concern a little, though she couldn't have said why she felt apprehensive to begin with.

    And then he spoke in Basic, so that they could understand what it was that he was saying. “You were born to be together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together even when the wings of death scatter your days. You shall be together even in your silent memory-”

    Shock rippled through the air almost tangibly as Obi-Wan glanced at her. Is this...is he marrying us? Before she could form a reply, he raised his head to the priest. “Forgive me,” he said. “I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I understand what you're saying....is this a marriage?”

    Nonplussed, the priest looked at Badal and Sita, the latter of whom flushed and shook her head. “No, Master Kenobi,” she said. “I know that the Jedi cannot marry under the edict of your Order; this is merely a simple ceremony, an affirmation of your feelings for one another....” She trailed off as Obi-Wan stood and faced her.

    Your Majesties,” he said. “I am so sorry, but this goes against the Jedi Code, which supersedes all other things in our lives.” He glanced at Kali, who had also risen. “We understand the honor that you do us, but I'm afraid we cannot allow ourselves to be joined in this – or any other – manner.”

    Badal nodded, though Kalinda could sense his surprise. “Of course, Master Jedi. Forgive my wife; she did not mean to offend you.” He gave a small bow and extended his arm as if to usher them out of the temple. A glance at Sita showed that her face was bright red and her eyes were downcast; Kali extended her hand and touched the younger woman's arm.

    As they left the temple, Sita turned to her and gave her an apologetic look, which Kali returned with a small smile. No one spoke until they were at the bottom of the temple stairs, when Badal stopped and looked back to the Jedi. “Again, please excuse Sita's error in judgment, Masters Halcyon and Kenobi,” he said, his hands closing in front of him. “We truly meant no disrespect.”

    No harm done,” Kalinda replied as she and Obi-Wan bowed again to the royal couple. “It was a lovely thought.” She met Sita's eyes and tried to send her a soothing tendril of Force energy, but the young queen merely ducked her head.

    Obi-Wan nodded and she could feel his heightened tension. “Indeed. Thank you for your graciousness, Majesties.” There were a few more cordial words before the king and queen were escorted back to the palace and the Jedi were brought to their ship by the royal guards. Neither one spoke for several minutes until the craft was plummeting through hyperspace, when Kali glanced at her silent companion. “I can't believe that.”

    Me either.” He frowned at the helm. “I can't believe that they were about to marry us.”

    Kali shook her head. “That's not what I'm talking about, Obi-Wan. I think it was wrong to rush out of there so suddenly, especially because –“ She stopped speaking as a very palpable wave of agitation rippled off of him, though he said nothing. “ – it wasn't a marriage, it was just a nice sentiment from Sita, you know? She's young and in love....I think she was trying to show us that they were thankful for everything we did.” A light on the console flickered and she glanced down; their trajectory was slightly off so she made a correction to the flight path. “It wasn't a marriage, Obi-Wan. A marriage is a legally binding ceremony....a pledge, an oath. This was an affirmation.”

    His jaw tightened and she could tell that he was deliberating on his next words, though after a moment he seemed to just give in and look back at her. “The very fact that she – that anyone – would even think to request such a ceremony....it bothers me.” Fog appeared on the console as he gave a deep exhale and glanced back at the helm. “Were we that obvious?”

    The question gave her pause. There was the ceremony itself when we kept making eyes at one another. And of course, there was 'after' the wedding. “I guess we got a little carried away,” she said at last, her tone cautious. “But it was a wedding; love was in the air.” She gave a wave of her hand. “And it was springtime as well. Everyone was feeling....exuberant.”

    That shouldn't matter,” he replied. “She shouldn't have had any inkling about...us. Whatever we are.” He sighed again, though he said nothing else and for some time they sat in silence until he turned to her once more. “It was a marriage.”

    She frowned at him. “It was an affirmation, Ben. There's nothing wrong with admitting that you love someone.”

    In any case,” he replied, his gaze fixed back on the viewscreen. “If a complete stranger could make the mistake of thinking that we wished to take part in such a ceremony, we got more than a little carried away.”

    It wasn't the first time.” She couldn't hide the yearning in her voice.

    After another pause he shook his head again. “I care for you, I do.” He gave her a sideways glance. “And I know that you care for me.”

    Obi-Wan.” Her voice was quiet. “It's more than that. I think it always will be. And it is for you as well.” At his expression she shook her head. “Do you remember what I told you when we were younger? The Force and love...they're one and the same. To deny one is to deny the other.”

    Again he shook his head. “I don't think I'll ever be able to understand that way of thinking, Kalinda, though it's not for lack of trying.”

    She swallowed and indicated the small starship that they'd used for their journey to the Mid-Rim world. There was barely enough room for them to turn around without hitting one another; though the close quarters had not bothered her before she found that it was a bit difficult to breathe at the moment. “Can we finish this when we get back?”

    After a moment, Obi-Wan nodded and glanced at the navacomputer. “We should arrive at Coruscant within thirteen hours.”

    Neither one spoke for the duration of the journey.

    *

    Do you love me?” As much as she wanted to shout the question, Kalinda found that the words came out in a whisper as she and Obi-Wan stood in her quarters after they'd returned to the Jedi Temple. It was hard to meet his gaze but she forced herself.

    He winced as if she'd struck him. “Kali-”

    It's not a hard question, Ben.” Her nickname for him slipped out almost of its own accord but neither one acknowledged it.

    The answer is more complicated than you think.” When he looked at her again, there was something new in his eyes, some conviction that she had never before seen, though it was overlaid with sorrow. “Don't ask me that, Kali. You know the answer.” His voice was almost pleading.

    But she pressed on, despite her better judgment. “Then why won't you tell me?” On impulse she stepped to him and took his hands in hers. “Why won't you say it?” She searched his eyes. “Please? You know that I love you, Obi-Wan.” He said nothing and she dropped her gaze. “I do.” For a while they were both silent until she spoke again. “Ben, it's not wrong to love. It's not against any code to love another being.”

    “Not this kind of love, Kali,” he replied as he moved away from her. Their joined hands broke apart. “It's too much; it will consume us both if we don't put a stop to it. And I feel that dark times are coming....we have to use our energy for other purposes. I think that neither of us can afford a distraction.”

    A frown creased her forehead at this reference. Lately there had been whispers of systems threatening to leave the cocoon of democracy and align themselves with a powerful new force; rumors of a coming war were rippling through the bolder members of the Senate like the wake of pebbles tossed into a pond. Things are changing, more so than they ever have before. How will we change with them? How will the Jedi Order itself change? The thoughts were troubling.

    “But that's exactly it,” she said after a moment. “We can all feel it....the darkness coming. Now, more than ever, we need to keep our bonds strong.” She approached him again, her eyes fixed on his. “That's how it used to be, in the early days of the order. Jedi were not forbidden to form bonds with one another, as long as it didn't interfere with their purpose, with their path.” Her face was close to his, even though he had to lean down to keep their eyes level. “Denying your feelings is the worst thing that you can do, Ben.”

    He faltered. She could see it in his eyes: a flash of plain and naked longing that mirrored her own desire. Whatever else, she realized, I know he loves me. I know it. The thought should have brought comfort, but she found instead that she was about to fracture into a thousand pieces as he stepped back and opened his mouth to speak.

    “Master?” Anakin's voice sounded over the comlink and the moment that had been stretched between them snapped as Obi-Wan looked down at his comm. The young man's voice was questioning. “Where are you? We have a meeting with Master Plo.”

    I'll be right there, Anakin,” Obi-Wan replied, relief evident in his voice. He looked at Kali one last time as he signed off, but said nothing else before he slipped out of the room.

    Kali stood alone for a moment before she was able to unclench her fists that had balled at her sides. It's different, this time. It's more than just circumstance keeping us apart. She took a deep breath to calm herself, to quell the emotions that he always stirred within her heart. The notion brought her thoughts a semblance of order and she nodded to herself. I have to be stronger. Being near him is too hard for me, still. Perhaps if I keep my distance, it will be easier.

    On us both.
    ***

    Author's note: The verses in this chapter were taken from traditional Native American wedding vows as well as a bit of Kahlil Gibran's, The Prophet.
    Last edited by laloga, Feb 25, 2014
  2. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Gorgeous vows and you set a vivid and detailed scene. =D=

    As much as I like Aala, I already like Kalinda a lot. I agree with everything she says about love and I think the problem comes when you try to pretend you cannot or shouldn't love another; then the secrecy and self-other betrayals come in. :( :rolleyes: Please tag when you update.

    @};-
    laloga likes this.
  3. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_eyes: I love Aala as well! [face_love] Kali has spent a lot of time dealing with all of her emotions and thoughts on love. Of course, she's only just skimmed the surface. ;) Thank you so much for the review!

    ***

    Chapter One: Things Left Unspoken

    Approximately two years after the start of the Clone Wars....

    Nine months ago, had anyone asked the clone captain Stonewall if he'd ever considered the idea of entering the Jedi Temple and just walking up to a certain Knight's quarters, he would have thought them to be a few players short of a bolo-ball team. However, there had been some function a few months ago – a meeting of generals and clone officers that Chancellor Palpatine had arranged – so the Jedi had been asked to show the clones around their Temple. It had been a much talked-about affair, for the Order was reticent to let outsiders meander through the hallways of their home, but in the end it had turned out to be quite a pleasant evening.

    At least, it had been so for Stonewall and Kalinda.

    At some point during the affair she had approached him and indicated that he should follow her out of the main room and into one of the ubiquitous turbolifts that were situated throughout the Temple. As they rode he'd asked her where they were going but she only smiled at him and said nothing until they reached a long corridor. She led him past a series of identical doors before stopping at one and holding out her hand, which he'd taken.

    Here we are,” she'd said to him as the door slid open. “Home sweet home.”

    Even now the memory made him smile.

    It was late afternoon when he made his way through the rear entrance to the Temple, pausing only to swipe his guest pass at the panel stationed at the inner door before heading to the nearest turbolift that would deposit him on Kali's floor. The Temple was quiet, almost unnervingly so; most of the Jedi were involved in the battles that were raging all across the galaxy. Stonewall saw no one besides a group of younglings who did not spare him a second glance as he stepped into the lift, which indicated that it was not so uncommon to see clones in the Jedi Temple, though it was by no means the norm.

    His body sank down slightly with the upwards acceleration of the lift. Nice to have a little bit of leave after we've been running around the galaxy for so long. This thought made him pause, as he knew that most of his brothers would not share his view on the situation; indeed, the other members of his small squad had been chafing at the hiatus from action as much as he'd been enjoying it. Though I suppose our experiences have been very different this past week.

    When the lift stopped and the door opened, Stone made his way to one of the identical doors down the carpeted hallway, pausing at his goal to take a deep breath as he reached for the chime that would announce his presence. Tonight's the night I'm going to tell her.

    Before he could activate the chime, however, the door to Kali's quarters slid open, revealing the dark-haired Jedi he had begun working with over nine months ago. “Hello there, Captain,” she said with a grin that he had come to know well. She wasn't wearing her traditional tunic and robe; instead she was dressed in a soft, light-blue dress that fell to her knees, below which she was barefoot.

    General,” he replied with the best salute he could manage, given the things he carried. “Mind giving me a hand?” He indicated several canvas bags that he'd brought along with his pack and she took a few, her expression puzzled as the clone entered the room and made his way to the cooking area. Though he had not seen any other Jedi's quarters, Kali had told him that all Knights were allotted the same type of space: a small apartment that featured a living area, bedroom, 'fresher and kitchenette. The colors were soft and muted, though he could see Kalinda's hand in multiple places, namely the row of gleaming instruments along one wall of the living area.

    What's all this?” she asked, watching as he placed the bags on the small counter and began rifling through them.

    Stonewall pulled out several containers of fresh vegetables and assorted other foodstuffs. “Dinner.” He glanced at Kali and smiled to himself at the startled look on her face as she watched him arrange the food on the counter. “I said that I had a surprise for you, remember?” The kitchenette in her quarters was small but sufficiently equipped, so he'd only had to bring a few additional items to put his idea into action. “You look lovely, by the way.”

    I thought you'd like it,” she said after she thanked him, though she continued to stare as he worked. “You can cook?” Her tone was incredulous as he pulled out a few large utensils from the nearest bag and set them beside the stove.

    The clone captain turned to face her. “Better than you? Yes, very much so.” He raised an eyebrow and kept his face as serious as he could as she studied him.

    At this she chuckled. “I wouldn't gloat, Captain. That's not saying much.” With a laugh, Stonewall continued to arrange ingredients before reaching below the small stove, opening a wide compartment and pulling out an assortment of pots and pans, all coated with a thick layer of dust. Kali gaped at him. “How did you....has that stuff been there all along?”

    It was Stonewall's turn to look surprised, though he realized in a moment that he shouldn't have been. “Saw them the last time I was here. You didn't know?” He turned to the sink and began rinsing off one of the larger pots.

    Shaking her head, Kali began to investigate the food that he'd set out. “That's what restaurants are for. And we have a perfectly nice refectory a few levels down.” She held up a purple and white striped fruit and sniffed it. “Where did you get all this?”

    I have my methods,” he replied, grinning as he reached for another pan to rinse off.

    She regarded him a moment longer before shaking her head and smiling as she leaned back against the counter alongside him. “Need any help?”

    Stone set the pans aside and glanced around. “I think I'll be okay. Besides, if you want to help, I'll have to ask that you first get a fire extinguisher out so we can be prepared.” He moved to stand before her and put his hand on her waist, the other reaching up to smooth a strand of hair off of her forehead.

    Kali cast her eyes to the ceiling. “That was one time, Stone,” she replied, shaking her head as she leaned into him. “And it was months ago....are you ever going to let me live it down?”

    It took the entire squad almost an hour to put out that fire,” he replied as he held her close. “That bit of forest on Agamarwill never be the same...so, no. I won't.” Keeping his mouth in a firm line he looked down at her, willing himself not to laugh as she gave him a mock glare.

    In response, she leaned up and kissed him; the sensation still sent chills down his spine, even after almost a year in each others' company and he found that he never wanted to stop. It feels so right when we're together. Nothing else could ever be as good as this.

    However, in that moment her comm began to chirp and they broke apart. Kalinda sighed and cleared her throat before activating the device to voice-only. “Yes?”

    General Halcyon.” Mace Windu's voice almost echoed in the small space. “Please report to the Council chambers at once.” Without waiting for a response he signed off, leaving Kali and Stone in silence. After a moment she looked up at him.

    I'm sorry, Stone,” she said. “Duty calls. I'll be back as soon as I can.”

    He cupped her cheek and held their faces close. “Come back hungry.” She smiled and nodded, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him hard one more time before she moved away to pull on her boots, throw her robe over her dress and exit the room, leaving him alone in her quarters. For a moment, Stonewall could still feel her body against his and he gave a quiet sigh before he returned to his bags and pulled out one last item: a datapad that contained the recipes he was planning to re-create.

    Several minutes later he had a pot of sauce simmering on the stove and was checking the 'pad for the next step; he selected a portion of vegetables and began to chop them into small pieces while he considered his plan as he made sure that the measurements were correct. It may not be how these things are supposed to go. But I think it will be nice, anyway. With this notion he felt his stomach churn with nerves, though he tried to push the feeling aside and focus on the task at hand. At least, I hope it will be.

    *

    Kalinda's footsteps echoed down the hallways as she hurried from the turbolift to the Council chambers, though she paused outside the door and took a few deep breaths to steady herself and smooth out her robe. Hopefully this won't take too long. Stone seemed like he had something on his mind. Once she was sure that she looked presentable she entered the wide doors. The room was spacious, with massive windows that overlooked the streams of traffic that moved through the Coruscanti sky.

    With the recent wars, most of the Council members were away on campaigns, so there were only Masters Yoda, Windu, and Obi-Wan present. Though it had been some time since Kali had spoken to her former lover, she found that being in his presence again was...strange. It doesn't hurt like it used to. That's got to be a good sign. Perhaps things have changed for the better.

    Mace Windu nodded to her once in greeting before he began to speak. “I know that you were supposed to be on leave through the end of the week,” he began. “But a situation has come up that requires your immediate attention.”

    Of course, Master.” She held her disappointment back, as she had hoped to spend every bit of her free time with Stone. “What's the problem?”

    The system of Aruna is experiencing some turmoil,” he continued. “You recall King Badal and his Queen?”

    At the mention of that particular planet, Kali felt her throat tighten, though she refused to look at Obi-Wan as she nodded. “Of course, Master.”

    Yoda's large eyes studied her, giving the impression that he was not fooled by her outward composure. “Died, the king has. Some six months ago.” His eyes closed for a moment before opening and looking back at her. “Much disorder there has been, in the time since. Considering joining the Separatists, the young queen is.”

    Kali's brows knitted. “But why? Aruna has always been a strong supporter of the Republic.”

    That's what we're hoping to uncover,” Obi-Wan said, causing her to turn to him. “The Queen has requested a meeting with us.”

    Us?” Her stomach turned to ice as her earlier feeling of complacency vanished. He can't mean....

    Obi-Wan gave her a tight smile. “Queen Sita has asked us to speak to her Parliament on the Republic's behalf, Kalinda.”

    You will both journey there tomorrow,” Mace Windu said, leaning back in his chair. “But there is more....” He paused and shared a glance with Yoda before continuing. “We need to know if the Separatists could be behind some of the trouble on Aruna. Your squad will accompany you and see if they can't get to the bottom of this matter. They have proven themselves to be suited for the task.” His words gave Kali a glow of pride as she thought of the team of clones she'd been working with for the past six months.

    Is there anything else?”

    Mace shook his head. “No. You may go. Obi-Wan will brief you on the details. May the Force be with you.”

    Nodding, Kalinda exited the room as quickly as she could, though she heard Obi-Wan's footsteps behind her. After their last shared mission on Basrah – over six months ago – she had taken great pains to close her mind to him, both to keep him from knowing that he had hurt her again and because it was easier to do so rather than dwell on the broken bond; in the past they had been able to communicate through the Force, but she found that it was easier to cut him off completely than leave any part of herself open to him.

    The turbolift doors were open before her as if in invitation and for a split-second she considered rushing for them. But we're not kids anymore. We have a mission and a duty. With that thought she paused and waited for him to reach her.

    For a few moments they simply stood before each other in the corridor; he looked older, she realized, more careworn and tired. But his eyes...his eyes are the same, even after all these years. Underneath everything, he's still Ben. The thought brought back a rush of emotion that she was hard-pressed to push to the side, though she managed.

    Are you alright?”

    His voice snapped her out of her reverie and she shook her head. “No. I mean...yes, I am.” Frowning, she took a deep breath while trying to be discreet about it. “Badal's death....it's just a surprise. Poor Sita; I can only imagine what she's going through right now.”

    Obi-Wan nodded. “I know. I felt the same way when we received her message. She still looks so young...” he trailed off in thought. “There have been...happenings, according to her, that we think may be linked to the Separatists.”

    Happenings?”

    She was unclear,” he replied. “But it seems as though their gods are angry now that she is the sole ruler on the throne and are making their displeasure known.” At this they shared a look; a very similar thing had happened during their last mission to Aruna, though they were able to save the young woman's life in the end and bring peace to the world.

    Kalinda leaned against the wall beside the turbolift and crossed her arms, trying not to think of Stonewall in her quarters, cooking her a delicious meal. “More 'signs' from the gods?”

    Obi-Wan took a deep breath and ran a hand through his beard. “Of a different nature, I believe,” he said. “As I said, she was unclear as to the specifics.” He was silent for a moment and Kali felt a flicker of impatience, though she tamped it down as she smoothed out her dress. At this, Obi-Wan looked at her. “You look nice.” There was a hint of a question in his tone, though he didn't voice it.

    Thank you.”

    After another moment he inhaled deeply and gave her a polite smile. “Well,” he said, gesturing to the turbolift. “I'll let you get on your way. We'll have plenty of time to discuss this tomorrow. Shall we set out at 1500 hours? Will that give your men enough time?”

    It should be fine. I know they're anxious to get going again.”

    He activated the turbolift door for her. “Until tomorrow, Kalinda.”

    She nodded and stepped inside. “Until then.”

    *

    Stonewall had just set down the last plate when Kali returned to her quarters; it had taken a little bit longer than he'd anticipated to cook the meal, but he was pleased with the results. As he looked up to greet her, he noticed that she seemed a bit shell-shocked as she stood just within the threshold for a moment, her gaze fixed on the floor. “Is everything okay?” he asked, coming to her side. “What did they say?”

    Rather than answer him right away she blinked and looked around her quarters: he'd lit at least a dozen candles and set them around the area that functioned as a dining room; the table was set with plates and flatware that she'd had on hand and he'd managed to find some ambient music that he knew she liked on the radio. The room was bathed in a soft, golden glow and filled with the scent of the food he'd cooked. She stepped to the table and studied it before turning back to him, her dark eyes wide. “Stone....what is all this?”

    I told you,” he replied, feeling uneasy at her startled expression. “I wanted to have dinner with you.” He frowned. “Is it okay?”

    It's perfect,” she replied; he was relieved to see that she was regarding him with tenderness. “You don't do anything half-assed, do you?”

    Laughing, he pulled out her chair and handed her a glass of pale wine as she sat down. “Corellian?” she asked as she sipped it. He nodded and she looked up at him, her smile wide. “You never cease to surprise me.” She watched as he laid the food down in front of her. “Thank you, Stone. It's lovely....everything is just perfect.”

    Don't say 'perfect' until you've tried it,” he replied as he took his own seat across from her. “This was my first attempt.” He lifted his glass and she did as well; they clinked together with a light, musical sound. “To nine months,” he said with a smile at her. “Here's hoping we have more.”

    Many more.” He knew her well enough to see that she was still distressed, though he could tell that she was attempting to mask the feeling as they began to eat. After a few bites she grinned at him. “Delicious...and I've never had anyone cook for me like this before.”

    Really?” he asked, pleased. “I find that hard to believe.”

    Spearing a piece of vegetable she smiled again. “Well, unless you count the field rations that Crest has prepared.” At this she paused and looked at him. “How are the others? I haven't seen them this week.”

    Anxious, from what I can tell,” he said after a moment. “They don't like sitting around Coruscant quite as much as I do.”

    She seemed to consider something for a moment. “Well, they can relax,” she said. “We have a new mission.” After she explained the particulars to him, he nodded.

    I'll let them know when we're done here,” he replied. “Aruna. Should be interesting.” Again, he smiled at her but she merely looked down at her plate. “Kali...is something wrong?”

    He watched as she sighed and reached for her wineglass, taking a deep drink before looking at him. “Obi-Wan's coming as well,” she said after a moment, studying the pale liquid. “We were there for her wedding some years ago and the queen requested that we both return to offer some assistance now.” She met his gaze and he was struck by the agitation in her eyes.

    Stonewall nodded, though inwardly he frowned at the mention of the Jedi's name as his memory cast back to a night just over nine months ago, after Basrah. It was the first time that he'd seen anyone, let alone a Jedi, look quite as stricken and pained as Kali had and it had all been because of her relationship with Obi-Wan. General Kenobi, he thought, chiding himself. It won't do to have you thinking of him in any other way besides 'General.' He looked back at her. “Are you alright?”

    I'm not sure,” she replied after a moment. “I think so. It's just...unexpected.” She took a deep breath and seemed to mentally shake something away. “In any case, it doesn't matter right now,” she said, straightening and sipping her wine again. “Thank you again for all this, Stone. It's wonderful...but, is everything okay on your end? You seem a little nervous.”

    Jedi senses. Of course, the woman I fall for happens to be one who can pretty much read my mind. “I was worried it wouldn't turn out well,” he said, indicating the food. “I've never cooked like this before.” It was true, but it was not the truth.

    She reached across the table and took his hand. “Well, you can be rest assured that it's amazing, Stone. Thank you.”

    Later, when they were in her bed and she was drifting to sleep, he was wide awake. I should have told her, he thought as he looked down at Kali's somnolent form beside him. But she seems troubled by this new assignment....it wasn't the right time. Soon, though. She stirred and nestled closer into him, wrapping her arm around his chest and heaving a sigh when he stroked a lock of dark hair off of her face. After a few more minutes he closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but couldn't get the restless, anxious feeling out of his mind. I do wish I had been able to say it. His arm tightened around her shoulders. One way or another, I have to tell her.

    ***

    Please let me know what you think. :) Thanks for reading!
    Last edited by laloga, Dec 24, 2012
    Gemma likes this.
  4. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Wow, Laloga. =D= That must've been hard, writing Kali meeting Obi-Wan like that and placing a barrier between them. [face_thinking] It makes total sense that Kalinda wold do that but it's a shame :( although I'm glad to know the feelings are there underneath. :) Stone seems a decent sort; I just hope none of them gets hurt but it looks like someone has to. [face_thinking] Kalinda does need to be with the one she belongs to LOL despite his stubborn self. :p
  5. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_eyes: Kali and Obi-Wan have a long, long history together. I can't remember if you've read my other fics or not, but when this story takes place, it's about a year after she and Obi-Wan decided - for the last time - that they were not going to keep their relationship going. Shortly thereafter, Kali and Stonewall took up together, and have been involved ever since.

    So yes, it was difficult to write Kali and Obi-Wan going their separate ways, but things will work out as they're meant to, in the end. :)

    As always, thank you so much for reading and reviewing! I promise I tried to tag you, (I know how, I swear!), but the site is being wonky for me today. :p

    ***
    Chapter Two: Departures


    It was an hour or so before dawn when Kalinda woke. The first thing that she was aware of was Stonewall beside her, his arm around her back as she was pressed into his side at the crook of his shoulder – right where she'd fallen asleep. He was always so warm; something about the clone's fast metabolism made their body temperatures a little higher than that of non-clones. Eyes closed, she inhaled his familiar scent before she glanced up at him to see if he was still sleeping. Honey-brown eyes looked down at her and she smiled. “Good morning.”

    He bent to kiss her forehead. “Morning.”

    Last night wasn't a dream, was it?” she asked, sitting up and regarding him. At his raised brow she laughed and felt her cheeks flush. “No...that was real, I know...I mean the dinner. It was perfect.” She took his hand. “I meant what I said, Stone. I've never had anyone –“ she met his gaze. “ – cook for me like that.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, again.”

    You're welcome,” he replied as he sat up as well. “It was nice, wasn't it?” When he glanced at the chrono on her wall the previous evening's mission came back to her in a flood. “You said we're leaving at 1500?”

    That's the plan, though I'd like to meet up with you and the others a few minutes earlier.” Kali paused. “Are you okay? You still seem like you have something on your mind....” His almost-golden eyes met hers and for a moment she could almost see something there, some flicker of apprehension that she could not name. Nervousness pinged her and she put a hand on his cheek. “Stone?” She had never looked into his mind without his permission and resisted the urge now. He's always honest with me...but something's up. I know it.

    The feeling was gone in the next moment and he smiled at her. “Just thinking about the mission.” He put his hand over hers and kissed her palm. “And I know I've been neglecting the others. Hopefully they won't be too cross with me.”

    Do you have to get back right away, or can you stay for a little while longer?” She moved back to lie against him and began kissing the planes of his chest as she spoke. “I'd prefer the latter, in case you can't tell.”

    The hairs on his arms rose as he gave a quiet shudder at her touch and she felt his arm tighten around her. “Now that's not fair,” he said softly as he ducked his head to kiss her again.

    I've got a whole arsenal of 'not fair,' Captain,” she replied with a grin as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Besides, it's early yet. Just a little while longer?”

    Stonewall's hands gripped her waist as he kissed her neck; she could feel him grinning as he spoke next. “As you wish....General.”

    *

    Several hours later Stonewall found himself at the outskirts of the Jedi Temple, Kalinda beside him as they made their goodbyes. “I'll contact you this afternoon,” he said as he hefted his pack – considerably lighter now – and saluted her while a group of Padawans walked by, their expressions curious though they pretended not to take an interest in the interaction. Dressed in her traditional robes again, Kali looked every inch the image of a proper Jedi Knight. He was wearing his armor, brought along for the sake of propriety though it felt strange to wear it when only twenty minutes ago she'd been doing a very thorough job of distracting him as he was trying to get suited up.

    That sounds good,” she said, keeping her voice quiet as she held his gaze, though he could still see that her thoughts were elsewhere. They looked at one another for a moment before he nodded and turned to go, stopping only when she spoke again. “Stonewall, thank you for everything,” she said. “I mean it...thank you.”

    Stone nodded. The sun was creeping across the sky in earnest now, the light condensing on the edges of her dark hair as he watched her. Some small part of his mind seemed to give way and he cleared his throat. “General...?”

    Captain?”

    His mouth opened; his brain formed the words, but as he was about to vocalize them, one of the Padawans separated from the group and made her way to Kalinda, casting a puzzled look at Stonewall, who shut his mouth and gave the Jedi another crisp salute before turning to leave.

    It was always difficult to walk away from her but he knew that it was necessary.

    For now.

    Since the war had begun, there was a shuttle service that ran between the Jedi Temple, the Senate, the barracks, and any other place where military personnel might need to travel, so it was no trouble for him to slip on one of the vehicles that was headed for his destination. As he watched the sunlight filtering between the massive buildings, his thoughts turned speculative. It wasn't the first time.

    If we weren't at war; if she weren't a Jedi Knight and I weren't just a clone, would we be able to be together? Beneath his feet he felt a shudder as the shuttle begin to move. What could 'together' even mean for us?

    The shuttle slid out of the Temple district and headed for the curved dome of the Senate building, stopping once to let a few more passengers on, none of whom gave him more than a passing glance. The longer that the wars lasted, clone soldiers became a more common sight on the planet, though Stone knew that it was not the same everywhere. The doors closed with a hiss and as his body tilted back with the acceleration of the vehicle, he turned to look at the Temple behind him, watching as the distinctive ziggurat receded into the distance. It was one of the most recognizable sights on Coruscant, though he found it to serve only as reminder of just how big the distinction was between his and Kali's places in society.

    The thought made his hand tighten around the strap of his pack. Maybe it's all in my head. Maybe what I want from her is something that can never happen. This made him wince. As if it matters what I want. I should just be thankful for what I have.

    Finally the shuttle paused at his destination; he slipped off alone and made his way to the inner barracks, nodding to the brother who scanned the ID chip in his armor before waving him through. As he walked, he activated the comm in his helmet. “Weave? Where are you guys?”

    There was the briefest pause before he heard his brother reply. “Captain; we're in the mess. I take it you're back?”

    Before Stone could reply, the ordnance man sounded over the comlink. “How's the general?” Crest asked, a grin in his voice. “Well rested, I hope.”

    Stonewall shook his head, though he couldn't keep a slight smile from his face. “She sends her greetings. I'm sorry to say that our leave is being cut short, but you'll all be pleased to know that we have a new mission. I'll meet you in the mess in a few.”

    Nice of you to rejoin us at last,” the weapons expert, Traxis said, though his tone was sharper than normal. “We were starting to wonder if you were ever coming back around. I'm about to lose my mind sitting around here.”

    About to?”

    No one asked you, Crest.”

    Weave spoke again, his tone wry. “As you can tell, we're doing about the same. See you in a moment, Captain.”

    Stonewall signed off and headed for his quarters in the barracks. Though officers were afforded a bit more privacy than regular troops it was not a spacious room, holding only a bed, desk, and locker for his kit. He set down his pack and looked around; everything was flat and dull and he was seized with a longing to be back with Kali in her own apartment, which, though far from luxurious, was at least more pleasant than this. It was starting to feel like a home, he thought as he made to leave. This seems so...empty. More so than it ever did before. Frowning, he pushed the maudlin thoughts from his mind.

    I need to focus on the task at hand, nothing else.

    For now.

    *

    Obi-Wan was trying to meditate.

    Seated in one of the chambers build especially for that purpose, legs crossed, arms relaxed, back straight, he inhaled deeply and counted to ten in his head. Once the count ended he exhaled, taking just as long to release the breath and letting his mind empty as he did so. However, he found that he couldn't shake some of the uncertainty that kept tugging at the edges of his thoughts, as well as the face of a certain dark-haired woman who had never quite vanished from the deepest places of his consciousness.

    He inhaled again. I'd hoped that one day we could maybe pick up where we left off – at least go back to being friends – but she hardly looked at me once she found out about the mission. After Basrah he'd discovered that she had cut herself off from him through the Force and it had taken quite a bit of adjustment on his part to get used to the feeling – or lack thereof. I've always been aware of her, at least in the back of my mind. But now...nothing. Empty space; a blank wall. The breath was released, slowly. At the time the realization had been painful. Later on, after further reflection he came to recognize the necessity of closing oneself off from certain emotions. It was a coping mechanism that he himself had often made use of, though he ultimately tried to make peace with the darker thoughts.

    But still. In all the years we've known each other, I can't remember a time when she ever shut me out so completely.

    His chest lifted with another breath, though he let it out in a rush as his comlink chirruped. Opening his eyes, he activated the transmission and blinked in surprise as a familiar form appeared before him. “Duchess Satine.”


    Hands clasped before her, she gave a slight incline of her head in acknowledgment. “Obi-Wan.” She paused for a moment before she spoke again. “Am I interrupting?”

    Not at all,” he replied. “Nothing productive, at any rate. Is everything well?”

    The Duchess of Mandalore nodded, her horn-shaped earrings swaying with the motion. “For now, I suppose. Things have been quiet since our last encounter. But this is not a social call,” she added, raising her chin. “I have heard rumors that Aruna is thinking of seceding from the Republic.”

    Obi-Wan nodded. “You've heard correctly, I'm afraid. I'm scheduled to journey there today and convince Queen Sita not to do just that.” He uncrossed his legs and rose to walk around the chamber, his footsteps echoing in the empty room.

    That is troubling news, indeed,” she replied with a frown. “Though I've never personally met the queen, I have heard only good things about her and the deceased king. You were sent on a mission there, if I recall correctly?”

    Some years ago,” he said, pausing at one of the slotted windows. “Myself and....another Jedi were dispatched to bless the union of King Badal and Queen Sita; it turned out to be quite an eventful trip. Uncovering terrorist plots, saving the life of the bride-to-be....”

    The usual, then?”

    Obi-Wan chuckled and looked back at her. “Quite.” He paused before speaking again. “I take it that you have a particular interest in the outcome of this mission? I know that Mandalore and Aruna have been allies in the past, especially since you have both chosen to remain neutral in the wars.”

    At this she nodded, though the movement was slow, cautious. “That's true,” she said, glancing at him. “There have been....rumors of dissent among the lowest caste – which is not unusual, given their treatment – but I fear that they will be blamed for the troubles taking place on that world.” She frowned as she continued. “If Aruna joins the Separatists, it will be massive blow to the Republic, but I do not think that those more unfortunate members of its society should suffer the brunt of your investigation because of this fact.”

    Satine,” he said. “I have no intention of pointing fingers before I have evidence.” His brow lifted as he regarded her. “Surely you know me that well, at least.”

    As you say,” she nodded. There was a moment of silence before she took a deep breath. “I also....that is, I wanted to wish you well before you left,” she said at last. Her eyes met his and she gave a small smile. “I know that you have been stretched very thin of late and I just wanted to say good luck, Obi-Wan.”

    Well...” he paused before he smiled back. “Thank you, Satine. I appreciate it.” Though she opened her mouth as if to speak again, she said nothing else and signed off. After the transmission ended, Obi-Wan ran a hand through his beard in thought before he glanced around the meditation chamber once more and resumed his position on one of the seats.
    *

    At precisely 1440 hours Kalinda made her way to the Temple's shuttle bay, where she and Stone had agreed that they would meet prior to the start of the journey. Of course he and the rest of Shadow Squad were already there and she smiled inwardly at the idea of her “family” of clones. We do make a good team; I'd forgotten how much I missed them. As soon as he noted her arrival, Stonewall turned to approach her and Kali glanced at the Padawan she'd enlisted to help her carry the instrument cases. “Thank you, Averi,” she said to the young Rodian male, who nodded and passed the cases to Stone.

    As the youngling walked away she looked into Stone's visor. “Hello, again. It's been a long time, hasn't it?”

    By now he had grown accustomed to her gentle teasing. “Too long,” he replied, reaching for her pack as well. “Far too long.” They approached the others, who all stood at attention as soon as she got close.

    Kalinda couldn't help but laugh. “At ease, for goodness sake. And take off your helmets, please.” She smiled as their faces became visible. “Much better.” There was silence for a moment before she sighed. “Are you all okay? You didn't get reconditioned during our time apart, did you?”

    No way,” the bald clone replied, an easy grin spreading across his face as he stepped forward and embraced her in a tight hug that nearly lifted her feet off the ground. “General...it's good to see you again.”

    Thanks, Crest,” she said, the words forced out with a breath of air. “I was starting to wonder if you recognized me.” At this they all shared a laugh.

    After their brother's exuberant display each of the other clones greeted her in his own fashion: Weave shook her hand with a light touch; Milo saluted her again and managed to look startled when she reached for his gloved hand; Traxis merely gave her a curt nod before reaching for the instrument cases to help Stone bring them inside the modest freighter that they were to take on their mission.

    Weave ran his hands across the twin patches of hair on the top of his head. “Thank you for bringing the instruments,” he said. “I have a few new songs I was hoping to learn.”

    I told you that you could hang on to the dulcimer, Weave,” she said as Traxis and Stonewall emerged from the ship, the latter coming to stand at his usual place at her side while his brother stood a little ways off from the group, arms crossed before him. “The same went for the rest of you as well.”

    Crest gave a wry grin. “As much fun as it would be, I'm not sure that our other brothers would want to hear our musical....efforts while they're trying to rest.”

    I missed the drum, though,” Milo added, glancing at the ship. “It'll be good to play it again.”

    Kalinda opened her mouth to reply, but at that moment she noticed Stonewall go tense; she looked up and saw Obi-Wan approaching the ship, robes rippling in his wake. He looked every inch the Master and Council member that he was, so she didn't blame the clones for snapping to attention and moving to stand in a line before the ship. After the briefest hesitation Stonewall stood before his brothers, his back arrow-straight. No one spoke. Kali took a deep breath and gave Obi-Wan a polite smile as he walked up to them.

    An eyebrow lifted as he glanced at the clones before nodding to her. “I take it this is the squad I've heard so much about, General Halcyon?”

    Nodding, she couldn't help but smile at his wry tone as she gestured to the troops. “General Kenobi, this is Shadow Squad.” They saluted him in one fluid motion – reminding her of the first time she'd met them – and she moved through their ranks as she made the introductions. Obi-Wan nodded politely as he followed Kali down the line. When they reached Stonewall the clone hesitated for a fraction of a second before he saluted Obi-Wan, who reached forward.

    I never got to congratulate you personally on your promotion, Captain,” he said, shaking the clone's hand. “Though I realize the sentiment is long overdue at this point.”

    I appreciate it, in any case,” Stone replied. “Thank you, General Kenobi.”

    Obi-Wan cleared his throat and looked back at Kali. “I have the transmission from Queen Sita,” he said. “Shall we go over it once we get underway?”

    Sounds good. I'll met you inside.” As Obi-Wan entered the ship she glanced at Milo and Crest. “Why don't you guys take the helm at first? You can swap after a few hours, as usual.” They nodded and slipped aboard the ship, Traxis and Weave following behind them. Kali looked at Stonewall and stepped towards him, but it was he who spoke first.

    Do you need me to...I don't know. Is there anything I can do?” His voice was quiet.

    She tried to cast her awareness out around them, but found that it was a little harder than it should have been at the moment so she looked about the hangar instead. It was empty. Another step put her directly in front of him. “You already do so much,” she said, keeping her pitch low. “You really do.” A glow of happiness emanated from him at her words, though it was streaked with concern. The captain nodded and extended his hand, as if to help her step onto the ship though they both knew she needed no such assistance; but it was good to feel the reassuring press of his skin beneath his glove as he offered her a measure of support.
    Last edited by laloga, Feb 22, 2013
  6. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Laloga - it's the colon right afterwards LOL oh this was a yummy update. :) :) You're making me like Stone and Kali together too. You write mush extremely well - the warm undercurrents of emotion included. =D= @};- If you're into other fandoms -- Criminal Minds and/or Trek, and you ever want to write something - I'll be there in under a second to vaporize. ^:)^ !!
    Gemma, serendipityaey and laloga like this.
  7. Valairy Scot Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    Hmmm...walking into a situation, eyes open and minds wary...a bit of tension to spice the pot as well. Nice update.
    laloga and serendipityaey like this.
  8. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_eyes, thank you so much! This is a very emotionally heavy story, and I worked hard to get them right. LOL...I like Trek, but so far the fandom hasn't inspired any fics. I'm not sure what Criminal Minds is...a show? :p Thank you for reading and commenting, though! :D

    @Valairy Scot, there's more tension to come...thank you so much for the comment!

    Hey, I figured out how to tag people on the boards! Will wonders never cease? :p

    FYI, this chapter references something that occurred in my other fic, What Remains.

    ***

    Chapter Three: Inkling
    Though an older model, the oblong-shaped freighter was in decent condition so Obi-Wan hoped that they would have no technical problems reaching their destination. He watched as the younger clone and the bald clone took the helm and began prepping the ship; moments later the floor beneath his boots began to vibrate when the engines came online. Milo and Crest. And the one with two strips of hair was Weave. The scarred one is Traxis. All of Kalinda's reports of her various missions had emphasized her happiness with the small squad that had been assigned to her, so he was determined to learn their names. If there is hope of restoring even a small part of the connection that we shared, I need to make every effort.

    Obi-Wan's thoughts returned to their last mission on Aruna.

    An image of Kali lying in the crook of his arm and smiling up at him bubbled to the surface of his mind; he could still feel the flutter of her heartbeat against his skin when he bent to kiss her. As the memory came to him he turned it over in his mind, examining it from every angle. The unfiltered delight she had taken in such a simple act as him running a hand through her hair had reminded him that life – even that of a Jedi – did not have to be without joy.

    It was so easy to forget that, especially lately.

    I've missed her. The realization came to him as he heard the whine of the engines increase in volume and pitch and he had a sudden desire to see her face. Seated at the common area towards the front of the ship, Obi-Wan glanced over as Kalinda and the clone captain stepped aboard after the others, his fellow Jedi approaching him to take a seat at the rounded table as Stonewall joined the rest of the clones, who had gone to ensure that their supplies were stored properly in the rear of the ship.

    "Everything alright?" he asked. As she nodded and sat down her robe slipped aside; he noticed a blaster pistol slung in a holster that hung at her hip."When did you start carrying that?"

    "On Japarran," she replied. At his raised eyebrow she frowned. "You know I'm not the galaxy's best fighter with a lightsaber. Something has to even the odds." She patted the weapon and gave him a questioning look. "It took a little getting used to, but I can't imagine being without it now. What?"
    He shrugged. "It's just unexpected, that's all. I never pictured you with anything other than a lightsaber."

    Nodding, she glanced at the transmitter he'd pulled out. "Is that it?" He passed it to her and she studied it for a moment before activating the device. An image of a woman dressed in shimmersilk robes appeared before them. The Arunai were near-Humans with deep, russet-golden skin and alabaster hair, and the young queen was said to be among the most beautiful of her people, though to Obi-Wan she had seemed little more than a wide-eyed girl the first time he'd first met her.

    Across from him, Kalinda smiled. "She looks the same," she mused, her hands folded before her chin, her elbows resting on the table. "A bit more regal, but still Sita." The ship started to lift, slipping out of the hangar as the recording began.

    "Greetings, Master Jedi," Sita began, her voice quiet and lilting. "I wish that it were in happier circumstances under which I was contacting you, but such is the nature of the galaxy at times. First let me say how dearly I wish that these wars were over and that peace reigned above all else." Here she paused and her eyes lowered for a moment before she continued. "Some six months ago, the gods saw fit to take my beloved husband from this world. Since that time, there has been much unrest in my home."

    Kalinda glanced at Obi-Wan and he marked the sorrow in her eyes. "Do you know what happened?"

    "No idea," he admitted. "She doesn't say, either." They shared a look as the queen continued.

    "Aside from natural disasters there have been threats of dissension among the lower castes...the people are frightened and angry and the high priestess, Neerja, claims that the gods are displeased with us, though I fear there is more at work here than that. I should tell you that I have been approached by Count Dooku, of the Confederation of Independent Systems, who has urged me to align Aruna with the Separatists, claiming that by doing so he will extend us the aid that the Republic has been unable to supply, despite the petitions that I have made to the Senate. Though it is against my personal wish, I must do what is best for my people."

    Here she paused and took a deep, shaking breath. "The members of my Parliament are calling for a vote on the matter of secession within the week, so I ask that you send two Jedi to come to Aruna and speak on the Republic's behalf. Kalinda Halcyon and Obi-Wan Kenobi are known on my world and I think that their voices would add some much-needed calm to the chaos that is gripping my home." She gave a low bow, the movement was the uneasy swaying of a blade of grass against the wind. "In any case, I humbly thank you for any assistance you can offer and wish you all the very best of luck in your endeavors. Namaste." The image flickered and died as the ship approached the line of traffic that was streaming off planet.

    Running a hand through his beard, Obi-Wan looked at Kalinda. "I have a bad feeling about this."

    She gave a tight smile and leaned back in her seat, rubbing at her forehead. "Poor Sita," she said. "She's not ready for this."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Couldn't you tell how frightened she was?"

    He shook his head. "Yes, of course, but she's had several years to become acclimated to her position," he replied, watching the atmosphere recede as the ship approached the hyperlanes.

    "A few years isn't a lot of time to learn how to run an entire star system," Kalinda said. "And it doesn't seem like she's ready for this burden."

    Obi-Wan frowned. "Whether she's prepared or not, she's been saddled with it. It is vital that she make herself ready. The future of her people depends on it. Besides," he added, looking at her again. "She chose to be where she is; she chose to marry the king, knowing full well that this could happen. It is her duty to accept responsibility for her choices."

    "She chose to marry the man she loved," Kalinda replied, her eyes narrowing in thought. "And she loved him very much." After a pause she sighed. "But you're right. She needs to fulfill the role of leadership, regardless of how she feels."

    "I don't remember this priestess that she mentioned," Obi-Wan said. "Do you?" As Kalinda shook her head his hand lifted to his beard once more. "By all rights, Sita's word should be the ultimate law but if she's reluctant to act as a queen should, this woman may be a dangerous element. And Count Dooku contacted her? That's troubling."

    At that moment, the bald clone – Crest – glanced back at Kalinda. "General, they're requesting our pass-code." At this, the dark-haired Jedi rose from her seat and moved to the helm, remaining there for several minutes while Obi-Wan watched her interact with the clones. Crest entered the code and their ship moved to the front of the line, a benefit from being on a mission for the Jedi Council. After he did so, he turned to her and said something that made her chuckle as she replied.

    "No, Crest, that won't be necessary," she said. "But thanks for the offer. Feel like breaking out the harmonica once we get settled in? I know you're anxious to get back to the tablas, Milo."

    "Aye, boss," the bald clone replied with a salute and a grin. The younger clone smiled and also answered in the affirmative. Kalinda remained with them at the helm for a few moments as the ship moved into hyperspace before turning back to Obi-Wan and giving him a nod as she returned to the table.

    "Harmonica?" he asked.

    She smiled, though it was not at him; the realization that gave him a pang of remorse. "You'll see," she replied. "Are we done here for now? I need to speak with the others." Obi-Wan nodded and picked up his datapad to scan through the latest news, though his awareness was on her as she slipped out of the room and towards the cargo hold at the rear part of the ship. Despite the fact that he could no longer feel her emotions through the Force, he could still sense her presence join the other clones; on a whim, he reached out to them.

    The one she'd called Weave had a quiet orderly mind, focused on the task at hand, though Obi-Wan felt a flicker of...something when the clone noticed the Jedi approach. It wasn't an attraction, he realized, but more of a deep-seated awe. Not that I blame him, Obi-Wan thought with a faint smile. Traxis, the clone with the scar, seemed indifferent to the Jedi's presence, though there was a flash of annoyance at something Obi-Wan couldn't name. Strange. I wonder what has bothered him so.

    Setting the thought aside, he focused on the clone captain and inhaled sharply in the next instant.

    The captain's feelings for the Jedi were powerful host of emotions that Obi-Wan had definitely not been expecting. It was overwhelming at first, so he took a mental step back to regroup for a few minutes; however, when he stretched his awareness out once more, the feelings had vanished. Unless it was a fluke or I'm very mistaken, he's hidden them from me, he thought with a frown. Interesting. I wonder if Kali knows? She must...how could she not sense that? Before he could say anything, she emerged from the back of the ship with the other clones following in her wake. Setting the datapad down, he sat up and looked at her. "What's all this?"

    She glanced at the troopers, each of whom was carrying an instrument case.

    "Gentlemen...care to show Obi-Wan what you've been working so hard on?"

    *

    While Traxis and Weave secured the cargo hold, Stonewall was at the gunner's station, the lone piece of weaponry on the small freighter. Though he knew that the ship had been looked over prior to their taking it out, he still wanted to ensure that all was as it should be; it also provided a moment of privacy as he heard Kali approach. She spoke to the others, mentioning their instruments, before moving to find him.

    "Feel like breaking out the ion-steel?" she asked as she met him in the closet-sized section that housed the single cannon and gunner's seat.

    On impulse he reached for her hand and gave it a slight squeeze as he nodded. Suddenly, he felt an odd sensation and he looked at her. "Are you...?" he tapped his head and she winced.

    "No, but I should have thought of this," she replied, her hand still in his. "It's Obi-Wan. He's bound to be curious about you guys as I haven't talked about much else. He might try to...get a feel for you." A deep breath and she removed her hand from his. "You need to try and keep your thoughts about me to a bare minimum when he's around."

    The feeling had vanished. "I'm not sure I can hide how I feel about you from a Jedi Master," he said at last, his voice uncertain.

    Nodding, her gaze grew distant while she thought. After a moment she looked back at him. "It may not work," she said slowly. "But it's worth a shot. Imagine a wall around your mind, if you can. Just focus like we did with my shield on Basrah and the toxin on Japarran...remember?"

    "I'll try," he said, closing his eyes and doing as she said. "Can you tell if that did it?" he asked after a few moments.

    "I'm not sure," she admitted, looking perplexed. "I can still feel you, but I think it will be different for him." She gave Stone a pained smile. "This is only temporary; I just think it will be easier if he doesn't...well," she sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "Complications."

    The clone captain paused before he spoke. "Complications. Right." He took a breath and looked at her. "But...would it really make a difference if he knew? You said that relationships are kind of a gray area for the Jedi. Why would it matter to him?"

    She tilted her head as she regarded him. "It shouldn't matter to him at all, Stone. I'd just prefer to keep it to ourselves. For privacy's sake, if nothing else."

    As much as he wanted to back down and do as she asked, he couldn't stop the next words that left his mouth. "You didn't mind so much when my brothers found out."

    "Stone," she said. "You asked me if you could help? Well, this will help. I have a feeling that this mission is going to be difficult enough without Obi-Wan lecturing me about forming attachments." Here she frowned and shook her head. "That came out wrong...I just mean that what we have should stay between us. For now."

    "For now." It was a risk, but he reached for her hand again, which she accepted with a relieved smile. They stood so for a few moments before he heard Weave and Traxis walk by on their way back to the main area of the ship. The scarred clone paused by the door, glanced in and shook his head, irritation written across his features.

    "I thought we were supposed to perform."

    Kali gave him a nod. "We're on the way, Trax." He made no reply, though his eyes flicked to Stonewall before he moved on. She looked back at the captain. "Is he okay? He seems..." she paused. "More agitated than usual."

    "I've noticed it too," Stonewall replied. "I'll talk to him about it."

    She nodded, though her next words were uncertain. "Are we...okay?"

    The question threw him for a loop. "Of course. Why wouldn't we be?" On a whim, he kissed the top of her hand and motioned for the doorway.

    Several minutes later Stonewall and his brothers had settled in the common area and were in the process of tuning their instruments. Milo had set the ship's autopilot, so everyone was free to take part in the session. The clone captain watched as Kalinda pulled out her viol and began adding rosin to the bow; he noted that General Kenobi's gaze flicked to himself only once or twice before settling on her. "Kalinda," he said after a moment. "What's all this about?"

    The instruments tuned, the clones looked to Kali for the signal to begin. She raised a brow at Kenobi. "Get ready," she said, a grin in her voice. "Guys? How about an old favorite?" She named a song they all knew well and at her count, the squad began to play.

    It was pleasant to play the ion-steel gitar with his brothers again, though Stonewall had enjoyed a few private lessons with Kali during their leave, the memory of which he quickly set aside to focus on the music. The song was light, cheerful and a little complex, but they all were familiar with it at this point. He heard each of his brothers' instruments and felt a glow of pride at the sound, a far cry from the dissonance that had marked their first attempts at making music. A quick glance at the others showed that they were each wholly engrossed, the layers of sound piecing together in perfect harmony.

    Stonewall's hands now seemed to move of their own accord across the strings of the polished-metal gitar; he found that he didn't have to think quite so hard about where to put his fingers or which position of his wrist would allow greater freedom to reach certain chords. It was becoming more and more natural. Something made him look up only to catch Kali's gaze, though her eyes lowered in the next moment. It was then that he felt another foreign brush against his mind and knew that General Kenobi was trying to feel him out again. Stonewall concentrated on his mental barrier and noted that the awareness seemed to turn away after a few moments. Even so, he didn't dare look anywhere but his instrument as the song wound down.

    When it ended, Kenobi lifted his hands and began to applaud. "Well done," he said, smiling at them. "That was remarkable." He looked at Kali and his brow lifted. "Your influence, I take it?"

    She nodded. "The talent was there," she replied with a smile. "I just gave it a bit of a push."

    "Bit of a push?" Crest said, his harmonica in his lap. "You're relentless, General...she made us practice more than anything else, almost. Sir." His tone was informal and he seemed to check himself in the end, though it was a bit late.

    However, Kenobi didn't seem to mind as he nodded to the bald clone. "Consider the effort well worth it; as someone with no musical talent whatsoever, I am impressed. As usual." Again he smiled at her. Stonewall watched as Kali nodded and looked at her viol, though he noted a flush of color that crept to her cheeks, a sight that sent a flash of apprehension through him.

    "General," he said. "Remember the last one we learned before leave? I'd like to try it again." The others nodded in agreement and he caught her eye as she lifted her viol and the music started once more.

    *

    As she lay alone in her bunk that night, Kalinda dreamed.

    It was like no place she had ever been. She walked alone in a barren field coated in gray ash; looking down she saw that the ground had been charred and burned, each of her steps caused flecks of the ashes to float in the air around her and be carried off by the rough wind that also tugged at the edges of her tunic. Though the sky was bright, the sun above her head was obscured by roiling clouds and it was silent save for her own soft footfalls.

    Where am I? A sudden noise to her left made her turn and her jaw dropped as she saw her first Master, Jonas Ki, walking towards her; his white-blond hair seemed to glow among the ash and his eyes had an almost otherworldly cast to them. This is a dream, she thought as she hurried to meet him. This isn't real...but still, it's good to see him again.

    "Master," she said as they met. "Where are we?"

    He did not answer her immediately though his expression was pensive. "Kali. What are you doing?"

    She frowned. "What?"

    "It's a simple question."

    "I-" Her mouth opened, but no sound came out. After a moment she shook her head. "I don't know what you mean."

    Jonas folded his arms before his chest. "You must put a stop to it, or the cycle will never cease. You know that you have to be stronger." As he looked at her, his expression softened. "Often I wonder if I failed you, by training you myself; I fear that it has made it harder for you to let go as you should be able to do."

    He was never able to find the balance between being my father and being my teacher, no matter how hard he tried. It was a secret that only a few others were aware of and she felt her throat tighten. "You didn't fail me, father. But what do you mean? Put a stop to what?" The wind kicked up more ash and blew it around them, bits of the gray flakes getting caught in her clothing and hair. In the distance she could hear the rumble of thunder and beneath her boots the ground gave a quiet shudder as if in response.

    "I loved you," he said. "More than anything in the galaxy. That love gave me strength and purpose, but at what cost to you?" His voice was growing distant and she felt fear clutch at her heart, so she reached her hand out to him but met with only empty air. His face flickered and began to fade.

    "Please stay," she whispered. "Please, father. I need you. I need your help."

    He smiled. "I have faith in you, Kali. You can do this. But you must make yourself stronger. You must not make the same mistakes any more." His blue eyes closed and she watched the blowing ash engulf him, obscuring his form. The rumbling in the distance seemed to grow closer and she felt a flicker of heat against her face, though when she glanced around she saw only the empty field.

    As she turned back to him, she realized that he had almost completely faded away and she felt terror grip her for an instant, though she couldn't have said exactly why. He's been dead a long time, she thought as she watched him disappear. I thought I'd moved on. Why does it hurt so much, still?

    Suddenly the air around her split with a piercing shriek from an unseen source and she felt the thrill of fear return. Her hands went to her saber, but she found that it was missing, along with her blaster. The ground below her feet began to quake even more as if something very large was approaching and the heat on her face grew in intensity. No. This isn't real...it's just a dream.

    When she awoke, she was covered in sweat and gasping for breath and it was several hours before she was able to sleep again.
    Last edited by laloga, Dec 31, 2012
  9. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Wonderful post and progression of the plot. =D=

    "Criminal Minds" is an amazing show detailing psychological profiling done by a Behavioral Analysis Unit; in between doing the most intense cases, :cool: you get to know some wonderfully likable and unique characters. :)

    **

    Sita's plight -- is anyone every "ready" to govern? [face_thinking] You're never adequately prepared for all the contingencies. And then you have to put up with the political types. :p
    laloga likes this.
  10. Valairy Scot Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    This chapter did a great job showing the conflicting emotions several characters feel. Emotions are usually a bit of a mixed bag as here: Kalinda is wary of Obi-Wan and protective of Stone, yet she she seems wary of her own feelings for Obi-Wan and/or his thoughts regarding her. Stone is willing to give Kalinda the space and trust, but is a bit confused about why and so is a bit uneasy.

    Obi-Wan - ah, he's a bit harder to read. Curious, yes.
    laloga likes this.
  11. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_eyes, thanks so much! I'll have to take a look at "CM" one of these days. :) Very true about being "ready" to be in charge; it's a tough job, right? ;)

    @Valairy Scot, yes...many, many emotions going on here, and more to come! Obi is a bit inscrutable, but such is his nature, sometimes. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)



    ***
    Chapter Four: Arrival on Aruna
    "This is the Republic vessel Salvation requesting landing clearance," Weave said from his place at the helm, nodding a moment later as the reply came through the comm.

    From her seat, Kalinda looked up and watched as the familiar planet drew closer to them on the viewscreen: a patchwork orb shaded with the blues, greens and browns that indicated the world's variegated terrain. Though the capitol city of Rudral was located amidst rolling, temperate hills, much of the planet's surface was covered with jagged mountains that ran down to the ocean as well as vast stretches of lush jungles. It's still so beautiful. I don't know why I thought it might be otherwise.

    "It looks pretty, anyway." Seated beside her, Stonewall echoed Kali's thoughts. "Much nicer than Florrum."

    "Or Rhen Var," Milo added as he studied his datapad. Since the squad had received orders on such short notice, Stone had insisted that they spend much of the journey going over all of the intel that they could before they landed; as Kalinda and Obi-Wan had both been there before the Jedi were coaching the clones on some of the finer points of Arunai culture.

    The clone captain glanced at Kali, though the look was professional. "Jedi are held in high regard here," he said with a nod to Obi-Wan, who was seated at her other side.

    "That's true," she replied. "We're looked on as a special kind of caste, 'above' everyone except the royal family – who are said to be chosen by the gods themselves – and the priests and priestesses."

    "The importance of the Arunai religion cannot be overstated," Obi-Wan added, leaning forward. "Aside from the regent, the high priest or priestess is the most powerful voice in the Parliament." Hand in his beard, he frowned and looked at Kali. "If the most recent high priestess has decided to stir up trouble for Sita, it won't bode well."

    Weave glanced back from the helm at the group. "The caste system...it seems like a type of ranking? Is that the case?"

    "Sort of," Kali replied. "Sometimes it seems fluid; it's easy to fall to a lower caste than the one you are born to. Other times, as in when you are hope to ascend to a higher caste – usually by marriage – it is incredibly difficult to get others at your new level to accept you. The fact that an orphan from the country was able to reach the role of queen is unprecedented."

    "Who's at the bottom?" Traxis asked from the co-pilot's seat.

    Kali and Obi-Wan exchanged glances. "Untouchables," he said. "They are forbidden from coming into contact with most other members of the society and are treated more or less as lepers. Naturally, it is they who take on the most unwanted tasks, those that are normally left for droids on less populated worlds."
    "Harsh," Crest said from his place at the table. "Remind me not to get mistaken for one of those folks."

    Rather than reply, Kali got to her feet and stood alone against the bulkhead, watching as the planet grew larger and larger in the viewscreen and failing in her attempts to not remember certain things she'd pushed out of her mind:eek:bi-Wan's vivid smile as they walked through one of the many lush gardens that populated the capitol city of Rudral; the murmur of his voice while his hand skimmed across the bare skin of her arm; the heady scent of the blossoms that grew in the garden of the main palace where they had found a few private moments together.

    Though it had been wonderful to simply exist together for a while, ultimately the moments had shown her that she desired more from him. Our days on Aruna were some of the happiest we ever had. But after they ended, I realized that I wanted something I knew he couldn't give. She gave a deep sigh as the ship drew closer to its destination. I'm not sure how it will feel to revisit this place.

    The soft cadence of Obi-Wan's voice made her look up. "Despite everything, it's beautiful, isn't it?" Arms crossed, he had come to stand beside her to watch the view. Something in his words gave her pause; if she hadn't known any better, she would have thought that it was longing.

    He's just experiencing nostalgia from being back here, too. Nothing more. "It is," she replied, glancing at her 'pad. "If this takes long enough, we might be able to see the spring celebration."

    "I owe you a festival, don't I?" he said, pitching his voice low and regarding her with a gaze the color of the sky that still managed to make her heartbeat pick up, despite herself. The faint curve to his mouth that she knew well appeared and she again felt heat creep to her cheeks, though she tamped the feeling down.

    Another deep breath; she knew that it looked as though she was trying to keep calm and found that she didn't care. "Actually, I'm not sure if we'll have a chance this time, either," she replied, her hands clenching around the 'pad. "In any case, there are other things that we need to focus on right now." She met his gaze and noted how his expression changed, became more thoughtful as he nodded.

    "As you say."

    *
    The planet of Aruna was pretty enough, but its capitol glittered.

    Rudral was the most beautiful city that Crest had ever seen, but it wasn't for the reasons that most people would've thought. Yes, there were ancient buildings constructed of the same kind of rock or stone, something that caught a certain angle of the fading sun and cast it into thousands of shimmering points of light. Yes, there were lush gardens scattered throughout the palace district, filled with plants in every shade of green that held a promise of flowers to come with spring's approach. Yes, there were ubiquitous temples – some older than the Republic itself – carved with intricate images of Aruna's pantheon of deities.

    All of this contributed to Rudral's beauty, but it paled in comparison to the rich, throbbing pulse of life that vibrated within the city itself. Though he was no stranger to crowds, Crest marveled at the sheer mass of people that moved through the streets as their squad was carried to the main palace on a small transport operated by several of the queen's royal guard. The going was slower than it could have been, for it seemed that none of the copious pedestrians were in any hurry to get out of the way of the vessel.

    After checking to make sure that he was on a private comm channel with Weave, he remarked on the surge of people to his brother, who nodded. "Aruna is densely populated," he said. "But only in the main cities; the countryside is so wild and mountainous, it prevents most folks from straying away from the urban areas."

    "I'll keep that in mind." Crest studied the Arunai through one of the small windows in the side of the transport, noting even how those who appeared to be destitute wore colorful garments as well as an air of unassailable pride. He watched as a solitary young man made his way through a particularly crowded section of the street and marked how the other Arunai seemed to slide away from him, casting wary looks his way though he seemed oblivious to the fact.

    As Crest was making the decision to remark on the sight to Weave, he glanced next to him at one of the guards: the man wore an expression indicative of someone who smelled something very foul and his gaze was fixed on the pair of Jedi who stood before him. Good thing I've got my bucket on, Crest thought. It's nice to see and not be seen, sometimes.

    After a while the street they were on angled up slightly; he looked beyond the figures of the Jedi, the captain, and the Arunai guards and was again thankful that he wore his helmet, as it concealed his look of utter shock at the sight that began to creep into view.

    The structure they were approaching was seated at the top of a nearby hill against a backdrop of mountains so high they looked as though they carried the sky itself on their peaks. Like many of the nearby buildings it was constructed of the same, shimmering stone that caught the light and cast it back to his eye, but Crest could only think of it as more: bigger, grander, taller...it dwarfed every other building in the city. Rows of stairs zig-zagged from the streets to the building's entrance at which there was a set of twin doors that Crest was sure their entire ship could've fit through with little issue. In what he was learning was typical Arunai fashion, images of deities were carved into the gilded doors: smiling, benevolent-seeming gods and goddesses interspersed with intricate images of vines and flowers.

    "I guess that's the royal palace," he heard Weave say as they approached.

    Crest chuckled. "What gave it away?" A tiny spot of color caught his eye: a figure in pale blue stood at one of the balconies, facing the street. Crest magnified his HUD as much as he could and realized that it was a young Arunai woman, her gaze fixed on the approaching transport, her alabaster hair glinting in the sun. "Who are you?" he murmured.

    Weave glanced back at him. "What?"

    Crest blinked and looked at his brother. "Nothing. Just going through a minor existential crisis. I'm better now."

    "I'm sorry I asked."

    "If I had a credit for every time I heard that..." Crest said with a sigh.

    When he looked back up at the palace, she had disappeared.

    *
    As the Republic group was led towards the throne room by the stiff-backed guards, Kali's words on the ship came back to Obi-Wan and he tried not to frown. She's obviously still upset with me, though I could tell that she was...conflicted. It was the little things that gave her away, the catch of her breath or the way her eyes lingered on his and it was a small comfort to realize that he still knew her, despite her efforts to shut him out.

    The throne room was as large and imposing as the last time he'd been here, though he found that it was no more so than many of the other palaces he'd journeyed to during his tenure as a Jedi. However, he could sense the awe radiating from the clones who followed behind their general. Sometimes I forget how new everything is to them. Though the footsteps of the clones echoed, the Jedi made no sound as they walked across the tiled floor towards the dais where the Arunai regent was seated.

    Beside him, Obi-Wan noted how Kali seemed to tense as her head lifted to search for the young queen, who was partially obscured by a bevy of servants and guards that were clustered around her. It still bothered him that he couldn't sense his fellow Jedi, that there still seemed to be a wall between them but he resolved to let the matter go, for now. We have too much between us for it to remain so forever, he thought as they came to a halt before the throne, which was really more of a low couch with curved sides, carved out of some alabaster stone and filled with thick cushions.

    The head of the guard stepped forward and gave a low bow. "Your Majesty," he said. "May I present the Jedi Knights, Kalinda Halcyon and Obi-Wan Kenobi."

    Kali bowed first, Obi-Wan a beat behind and the clones followed suit. All was still for a moment as the queen rose and approached them, the pale-blue, silken fabric of her dress rustling with her movement. She smiled at Obi-Wan but stood before Kali. "I'm so glad you came," she said, her voice quiet.

    "I'm glad we were able to," Kali replied, looking with fondness at the younger woman. "Though I'm so sorry to hear about Badal." Obi-Wan could sense the queen's anticipation at seeing the Jedi once more; her agitation was almost, like that of a child looking for her mother. He thought that Kali sensed it too, for she reached out and gave the queen's bejeweled hand a small squeeze. "It's good to see you again, your Majesty."

    Sita nodded and lowered her eyes, for a moment looking like a girl much younger than she was. After a moment she glanced at the clones, her composure returned. "What are these? I do not recall the Jedi requiring the protection of common soldiers."

    "They are far from common," Kali said, rising and motioning the others to do so as well. "These are the men that I have been working with for the past six months, Majesty. Gentlemen, would you please remove your helmets?" The clones did so in unison, standing at attention as the young queen ran her eyes across them. Obi-Wan noted a flicker of nervousness from each of them, though it was strongest from Crest.

    As Sita looked at them distaste crossed her features, though she smoothed them over after an instant, looking back at Kalinda and nodding. "They are the clone soldiers that the Republic is so proud of, then?" Her tone was doubtful.

    Kali regarded the younger woman. "Yes, and with good reason. They are here to assist us, your Majesty. I can assure you that each of these men is as trustworthy as myself or Master Kenobi." Though they were spoken with a courtier's ease, there was steel behind the words.

    "Even so, I would prefer them not to be here," Sita replied. "They are not...natural. Clones do not fit within the proper order of the world. However," she looked back at Kali, whose jaw had tightened at the words. "If you vouch for them, Master Halcyon, I suppose I can make an allowance." Here she took a deep breath and glanced at the group of servants, calling to one and speaking to him in their native tongue. As he slipped out of the room she gestured to the clones. "The servants' quarters adjacent to your rooms will be prepared for them."

    Obi-Wan cleared his throat. "Your Majesty, we would like to know what exactly has been happening that has you so concerned?"

    The young queen nodded to one of the smaller antechambers to their right, the copious bangles on her wrists jingling as she did so. "Please, follow me." She led the group into the study and indicated that the Jedi should have a seat at the front of the carved, wooden desk. There were no windows in this room, though the walls were covered with frescoes that detailed the history of Aruna.

    The clones stood in a line behind the Jedi and Obi-Wan noticed that they seemed to stay centered around Kali, the captain standing close to her left side. He took a seat at her right and Sita sat across from them, folding her hands in her lap; she looked very small in the large, high-backed chair. There was silence for several minutes while a tray of drinks was brought. After the Jedi were served Sita dismissed the servants, though her guards remained at her back – mirroring the clones – and she gave a sigh, her head falling and despair emanating from her.

    "Sita?" Kali said, leaning forward. "What's wrong? What is it?"

    The young queen lifted her face to them; her eyes were bright. "My dear friends...I am afraid."

    *
    "We sensed as much, Sita," Kali said, keeping her tone gentle. "But that's why we're here. Please...what's going on? Your message was so cryptic."

    The young queen nodded and swiped at her eyes, her bracelets clinking as she did so. She took another deep breath and cleared her throat, meeting Kali's gaze. "Before Badal died there were rumors that he was considering siding with the Separatists in the war. They were lies," she added, sitting upright. "He always loved the Republic, but the rumors were enough to cause unrest among the people, who were happy with his decision to stay neutral. However, there were some who thought the idea was an agreeable one and pushed him to reconsider, especially once Count Dooku sent a message to the Parliament suggesting as much."

    Beside her, Obi-Wan leaned forward. "Some...as in Neerja?"

    The queen let out a breath and nodded. "The high priestesses was very outspoken about the matter of secession. Of course my husband quelled the idea, but after he died..." her eyes lowered and she was quiet for a moment before looking back up.

    "And now that he's gone, they're pressuring you to join the Separatists?" Kali asked.

    Sita frowned. "That is part of the matter, though I would rather that were the whole case. No, they are calling for me to step down as ruler altogether."

    The room was silent.

    At last Obi-Wan shook his head. "I don't understand...you are the Queen, you have the ultimate say in your people's government, do you not?"

    "No," she replied in a bitter tone. "Badal was the voice. I am merely a farmer's daughter who was lucky enough to snare the king's attention." Her voice grew quiet. "The people accepted me because Badal loved me. Now that he is gone..." her hand lifted. "I find that I am not so beloved any longer. Not when every day there is some new crisis with which to be dealt and the Separatists are making promises that the Republic has so far ignored."

    "But you were anointed by the gods of your people," Obi-Wan continued. "Are you saying that's no longer relevant? And are you talking about the dissent among the untouchables? Everything seemed calm enough when we came through the city."

    "There is that," she replied. "But there have also been other reports...things like wildfires, avalanches, and wells that have been tainted-"

    "All of those things can be faked or created by a living person," Kali interjected. "Have you seen actual proof of any of this?"

    The queen nodded. "I have spoken with petitioners who come from the affected areas." She leaned back in the chair and was quiet for several moments. "But according to Neerja these things are merely signs, indications that something is wrong. Ultimately the discussion circles back to me. I am not enough. The gods have decreed that I am not fit to rule without my husband at my side and I should be replaced by a person more suitable."

    "Who?" Obi-Wan asked, though Kali thought that he knew the answer, as she did. "Neerja?"

    "Such a thing has not been heard of in an age, though it is not out of the question." Sita looked down at her hands, which were toying with the hem of her dress. "If Neerja has her way she would take the throne and align our world with the Separatists – and the peace that Badal worked for would be ruined." At this her face crumpled and she put her hands before her eyes.

    Kali rose from her seat and crossed the room to the young woman, putting a hand on her shoulder. "That's not going to happen, Sita," she said. "Not if I have anything to say about it, at least." She tried to send her a tendril of soothing Force energy, but found that it was more difficult than it should have been. After a few moments of concentrating she was able to do so, but the act should have been as natural as lifting her hand. However, she set the concern aside to kneel beside the young queen. "I think I'd like to meet this Neerja." Her voice was wry.

    "I would as well," Obi-Wan added from his seat. "It seems we have much to discuss."

    After taking a deep breath, Sita nodded. "The next Parliament session is scheduled for tomorrow morning," she said. "It will be good to have someone on my side and you can see firsthand how things are." She looked at Kali and smiled, though her eyes were red-rimmed. "In the meantime, will you tell me of your adventures since the last time we spoke?"

    ***

    So, Aruna is obviously inspired by India, where I have never been but would love to go.

    Crest's POV was a first for me in this story; since this fic, I've written him many times and have learned to love the guy, but I'm curious about your thoughts.

    Thanks for reading! :)
  12. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Laloga [face_dancing] Love the Kalis-isn't-quite-over-Obi ;) touches. :) Crest -- I like him. He reminds me of Captain Rex, in the capable hands of Jade_Max. :cool: So he deserves his own version of Ahsoka. [face_laugh]

    This world Aruna you've crafted - sounds lovely!!! =D= Bravo on developing a detailed culture @};- That can be quite the daunting part of a plot. [face_thinking]
    laloga likes this.
  13. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Whew! It's been a while since I updated - apologies! Darth Real Life has been hounding me, lately.

    @Jade_eyes Thanks for the comments! :D I worked hard on making Aruna feel vivid, and I'm glad it's coming across. LOL! IMO, Crest is a bit more jolly than my dear Rexter. ;) But I'm glad that you liked him! :) Thank you for reading!

    *****
    Chapter Five: Impressions and Complications


    Queen Sita was the first member of any royal family that Stonewall had ever come across and he had to admit, he was not particularly pleased with her at the outset. Though he knew it was not his place to consider how he or his brothers were looked upon by anyone other than their CO, he found her open disdain for the clones hard to swallow, especially given the fact that they had come to Aruna to help her. The only comfort he took from the situation was Kali's immediate defense of his brothers, though he found that he missed the helmet that obscured his face; without it, he struggled to keep his expression aloof and unaffected.

    However, when he saw the young queen break down in the next room and watched Kali comfort her, his feelings softened. She's just a kid, he realized. And clearly out of her depth. Again, it wasn't his place to speculate, but he couldn't help it. She seems to like Kali well enough, which means she can't be all bad.

    After the Jedi and the queen finished their discussion, Sita rose. “You should take some time to rest and refresh,” she said, bowing to the Jedi who had also come to their feet. “Would you join me for dinner tonight? We can discuss this further as well as other, happier things.”

    Kalinda bowed as well. “Of course,” she said. “We would all be honored.” She gestured to herself, General Kenobi, Stone and the others; the queen hesitated for a moment before replying.

    I'd hoped that it would just be the three of us,” she said, her words careful. “I'll have dinner sent to your men.”

    Stonewall felt Kali tense as she replied, though her tone was calm. “We're a team, Sita-”

    General Kenobi stepped forward, his hands spread. “But we have no desire to go against your wishes, your Majesty,” he said. “Perhaps only the Captain can attend?” Stonewall noticed that he and Kali exchanged looks; hers was frustrated but the other Jedi's remained neutral.

    After a moment the queen sighed and nodded. “Very well, Master Kenobi. It will be as you suggest.” She looked from one Jedi to the other and smiled. “It is so good to see you both, still side by side,” she added. “I am glad to know that some things have not changed.”

    Dinner sounds lovely. Thank you,” Kalinda replied, her tone abrupt. General Kenobi said much the same thing and one of the strange, silent servants appeared at the door to lead them out of the room.

    The clones replaced their helmets and followed the Jedi across the marbled floors.Stonewall cast a surreptitious glance at Kali and tried to ignore the mild churning in his stomach. It's no secret that she and General Kenobi have a history. I saw what happened after the last time he was done with her and I shouldn't worry about it. She's over all that now. A deep breath helped him push the feeling of unease away as he turned his attention to more practical matters, such as getting a sense of the layout of the palace.

    This building is incredible,” Weave said in the comm. “Just think of all the history that it has seen....” They were passing a colorful tapestry with the image of an ancient battle woven within the threads; along the walls there were gleaming statues and wooden carvings of multiple-armed deities.

    Traxis clucked with disapproval. “It's too fancy for me. And I don't like being treated like a droid with skin.” The sounds from their movement echoed throughout the corridor as they walked and Stonewall could see his own reflection in the polished floor.

    That was kind of weird, wasn't it?” Milo added. “We're here to help.” The servant who'd been escorting the group paused before a large door.

    There was a beat of silence; Stonewall cast a glance at Crest, who normally would have had a ready quip at any juncture in the conversation, but his brother was silent. Strange. Usually you can't shut him up. The door was opened to reveal a room that may as well have been a house, given its size: there was a sitting area and fully-equipped kitchen, everything either plush and silk or lustrous chrome; to each side he could make out large bedrooms, with swaying curtains and stacks of pillows; a series of large, curved windows overlooked the glittering city stretched out below them.

    The servant moved to the kitchen and gestured to a smaller, narrow door. “To the quarters for your....for them,” he said with a nod to the clones. “Will you need anything else?” His tone held an edge, but Kalinda didn't seem to hear it as she cast a questioning glance around the suite.

    Is this...are we all staying here?” Her arms extended to encompass the room and the rooms adjacent. “Together?”

    This is our finest suite,” the servant said, his voice tremulous. “Is it not to your liking? Her majesty thought....”

    General Kenobi stepped forward. “It's perfect, thank you.” He nodded as the servant bowed and hurried off before glancing at Kali. “I think there will be enough space, don't you?”

    I suppose so. It just...caught me off guard.” They stood facing one another before she turned to Stone and the others. “Why don't you guys check out your room? I'm going to go to the gardens, at the center of the palace,” she added. “To meditate.” Her eyes touched on him and he caught her meaning. As she made her way to the doorway she paused to look back at Kenobi. “I'll see you at dinner.”

    The general studied her for a moment before nodding. “Very well.” With that, she slipped out of the room. After a moment, the Jedi glanced at the clones. “Captain Stonewall? If I may speak with you a moment?”

    Though he tamped down the flash of alarm at the Jedi's words, Stonewall thought that he noticed the general's eyes narrow slightly. “I'll meet you in the room,” he said to the others. Once his brothers had left, the Jedi motioned to him and they moved to stand before one of the wide windows that overlooked the city.

    I have a feeling that this mission is going to be more complicated than we anticipated,” General Kenobi said after a moment. “And while I do not doubt the Queen's word, I would like some more... comprehensive information. That is why I would like you and your squad to take to the city streets and see if you can't ascertain anything else, anything that might lend credence to her feelings that the head priestess, Neerja, is starting a bid for power.”

    Stonewall hesitated. “General Halcyon informed me that we would play an intelligence-gathering role on this mission,” he said. “But it was understood that the Separatists might be involved. Sir.” He didn't mean to tack the honorific at the end, but it happened anyway. However, the Jedi did not seem to notice as his hand went to his beard and he studied the cityscape a few moments.

    I'm not sure that's exactly the case,” he said at last. “But something is definitely wrong here. The Force is very clear about that.” He continued to stroke his beard, though he turned back to Stonewall. “I have a feeling that the answer lies within the city.”

    Stonewall took a breath. “The kind of thing you're talking about...it might be difficult for a group of armored soldiers to get the locals to trust them – especially if the queen's sentiments about us are shared.” At this thought, he removed his bucket.

    General Kenobi nodded, though he did not reply immediately; Stonewall wondered if that was a Jedi trait. “Kalinda has said nothing but positive things about you, Captain,” he said at last. “About you – and your squad's – ability to find creative solutions to difficult problems. It was the main reason that you were allowed to accompany us on this mission.” He paused here and Stonewall got the sense that he was letting the words sink in. “I'm certain if there is a way to uncover this information, you will do so. If not,” he shrugged and raised his brow as he looked back at Stone. “Then that's what I'm here for, I suppose.”

    That won't be necessary, Stonewall thought, his back straightening. “I have faith in my men, sir,” he replied. “We'll find a way.”

    Excellent,” the general said. “Kalinda has spoken very highly of you,” he added. “Personally, I mean.” He turned his gaze to Stonewall, who found it difficult for a moment to meet the Jedi's stare even as he sensed another querying brush against his mind.

    However, he was not without his own mettle, so he kept his eyes level and his voice even as he replied. “Always good to hear, sir.” They looked at one another for what felt like hours, though it was only a matter of seconds before Stonewall spoke again. “It's been an...honor to work beside her these past months; I'm glad to know that she feels the same way about the rest of us.”

    Indeed,” Kenobi said with a smile. “In the many years that we've known one another, Kali has always made it a point to recognize those she is...fond of.” He looked back out the window at the sun that was starting to set below the horizon. “She has the ability to bring out the best in those around her,” he added, his voice quiet.

    That's very true,” Stone agreed. “Sir.” The Jedi nodded but said no more, so Stonewall took that as a dismissal and slipped out of the room.

    *
    Okay, I'm never leaving,” Crest said as he flopped down onto the nearest couch. “And did you see the size of those bedrooms back there? Fancy.” He gave a low whistle. The servants' quarters were naturally smaller and more humble than the main suite: in the single, long room there was a series of trundle beds along one wall, a seating area and a 'fresher. All of the clones had removed their buckets upon entering the room and he was tempted to shed the rest of his armor as well.

    Traxis glanced around and shrugged, though he took a seat at the edge of one of the beds. “It's okay. Not too many potentials, which is a good thing.” He pulled out one of his blasters and began to disassemble it on the bed, running a cleaning cloth over the individual pieces.

    Right. No flowy curtains for seppies to hide behind here,” Crest replied with a smirk. “That was my first thought, too. After the lack of a minibar.”

    Shabuir. Do you even know what that is? Or is it something you picked up from a holovid?”

    You're so touchy, sometimes, Trax. It's almost like you find me annoying.” He studied his scarred brother. “Seriously. What's going on? You seem grumpier than usual.” The other clone made no reply, instead turning all of his attention to his weapons.

    Ignoring Trax, Milo sat beside Crest on the couch and put his hands in his lap, drumming them on the plating of his armored legs. “So...what now? Are we supposed to just stay in here?”

    With a sigh, Crest closed his eyes and leaned his head back. Why can't they just relax and enjoy the moment? For once we're not crawling around the jungle or desert on some backwater moon; we should savor it here while we get a chance. An image of the young queen came unbidden to his mind and he found that she was even prettier up close, though she seemed a bit sad and lonely. Her eyes were a nice color...light blue. Haven't seen any like them before. Absently, he pictured her face a moment longer before he shook the thought away, thankful that his brothers were incapable of reading his mind.

    From the center of the room, Weave spoke. “I hope they'll want us at that Parliament meeting the queen mentioned. It sounds really interesting.” He'd pulled out a datapad and was scrolling through it, his eyes narrowed in concentration.

    Crest opened one eye and looked at his brother. “If it weren't for the fact that we were clones of the same man, I'd swear we weren't related in any way.” He chuckled as Weave rolled his eyes. At that moment, Stonewall entered the room, pausing as the door closed behind him. “Hey, Cap,” Crest called out. “You don't want to go to that Parliament thing, do you?”

    The captain studied him a moment before speaking. “I don't want to ask, do I?” he said, looking at Weave, who shook his head. Stone sighed and ran a hand over his close-shaved hair before glancing around the room at the group.

    You look like a man with something on his mind,” Crest said.

    After clipping his helmet to his belt the captain crossed his arms and nodded. “General Kenobi just gave me our orders,” he replied, the words coming out slow and deliberate. “We're to get to the bottom of this business with the high priestess by doing a bit of exploration in the city, feeling out the locals...that kind of thing.”

    At this, Weave looked up from his 'pad. “And how exactly are we supposed to do that?”

    I'm guessing it's not by blowing anything up,” Crest said with an exaggerated sigh. Behind him, Traxis muttered something under his breath.

    Stonewall shook his head. “We'll figure it out.” He looked at Trax. “What was that?” There was silence for a moment and Crest winced inwardly at the tension that his volatile brother was exuding.

    I asked you a question, soldier.”

    There was the click and clatter of weapons being set down haphazardly, which was not at all like the scarred clone. “Nothing, Captain.

    Somehow I'm not convinced.” Stonewall stepped across the room to his brother and regarded him. “What's up with you? You've been edgier than normal since we got off leave.” Along with his brothers, Crest turned to watch the exchange, noting how Traxis' muscles were tense and his jaw was tight as he looked up at the clone captain before he seemed to reach a decision.

    And how would you know, Captain? It's not like you've been around lately. At all.”

    Though his posture stiffened, Stone's gaze remained fixed on his brother. “What exactly are you saying?”

    Traxis looked down at the disassembled Deece beside him. “It won't work out, you know,” he said, his voice hard. “You and her. She's just....” He frowned and shook his head. “Never mind. It's not my place.”

    Stonewall's reply was sharp. “You're right, Traxis. It isn't any of your business. But since we're discussing it, why don't you finish the thought?”

    A flicker of movement across the room caught Crest's eye; it was Weave, looking as though he wanted to run for the door. Can't blame him. Not like I want a ringside seat for this bout, either. Beside him, he felt Milo tense even as he pretended to study his armor. Sensing the others' discontent, Stonewall glanced at them and then back at Traxis.

    Let's take a walk.”

    No,” Traxis replied. “We're a team, aren't we? What happens to one of us affects the others, right?” When he stood, the movement was sudden and swift; he faced Stonewall and mirrored his posture. “Fine: you and the General...it's not real. You must see it, Captain. She's just using you...” He faltered at the last word, but seemed to collect himself. “I thought it was just a....passing phase, but-”

    You have no idea what you're talking about, Trax.”

    But I know you,” Traxis replied, shaking his head. “We're the same, Stonewall; we're brothers. And I see how you look at her....but it's not going to work. It's wrong.” He shook his head again and frowned. “She's a General, a Jedi Knight and you're just a clone. You may as well be different species.”

    If I didn't know any better, Crest thought. I'd say he was concerned.

    The room was utterly still. Crest risked a look at Weave, who had been edging to the door, though he'd paused at Traxis' words. A glance back at the Captain showed that his hands were clenched at his sides though his face was inscrutable. Finally, Stone spoke in a curt voice. “I appreciate your input, Trax, but you were right the first time: it isn't your place.” He glanced at the others. “Anyone else share Traxis' thoughts on my personal life?”

    Silence.

    Traxis snorted and sat back down, picking up the barrel of his weapon. “Forget I said anything.”

    There were another few minutes of silence before Crest couldn't stand the tension any longer. “So, are we going to have to go around the city in disguise or what? I think we kind of stand out in our armor.” He smiled to himself as the others – save Traxis and Stone – chuckled and the edge that had come over the room softened a bit. “Not that I want to get rid of my kit,” he went on. “But I do think the shiny would look pretty spiffy with white hair....” He reached out and tousled the younger clone's neat hair and grinned as Milo glared at him.

    At least I have hair.”

    Crest raised his eyebrow. “For now. But you're also a heavy sleeper, and I do have quite the light touch with the clippers.”

    *
    In the distance, Kali could see the mountains.

    Dusk was fast approaching and someone had lit the torches that were placed at intervals throughout the garden; the glow of the firelight created flickering shadows beneath the leaves. Bright green tips of nearby plants indicated that spring was coming though the breeze still held a nibbling chill and she could smell distant snow. Above her head she could feel the leaves trembling as the tree shuddered under the wind's touch.

    It was a good place to disappear for a while.

    Kali's boots rested beside her on the soft grass and her back was against one of the thick biraj trees that had been planted amidst the bushes and shrubs; the garden had been crafted by Arunai hands and great pains had been taken to ensure that it mimicked the natural world as much as possible.

    Though it seemed to be a futile effort, she really was trying to meditate. However, her thoughts refused to lie in an orderly place so she could take a mental step back, collect the threads and weave them together to try and make sense of the confusion that she felt. I almost get the sense from Obi-Wan that he wants to rekindle what we felt the last time we were here. The smile she knew so well, his attentiveness to her....they were small indications, but they were there nonetheless. She took a deep breath and shook her head. No. I'm imagining things. Being surrounded by all of these memories....it's making me sentimental. I had a feeling that coming back here would be difficult.

    Rather than dwell on her old pain, she turned her mind to Sita and her situation. Something the young woman had said bothered her: 'it will be good to have someone on my side.'

    Her eyes opened and she looked around the empty garden. She feels as though she is alone, despite the fact that she's the ruler of this world. Perhaps she's right; the last time we were here there was no shortage of members of the court. The only people I've seen this time are servants and guards, who all seem...strange. A little hostile. It could've just been the presence of the clones, but it felt as though there might be more to it.

    Kali took a deep breath and tried to extend her awareness to the city beyond, trying to tap in to the Force and get a sense of the sentiment among the people, but it was like trying to look through a smudged and dirty window or trying to drink from a stream that was drying up; she caught faint traces of discontent and discord, but it was not as clear as it should have been, especially if there was as much unrest as the Council and Sita had each indicated. Her eyes opened and she rubbed at her forehead. Maybe I'm just tired...I didn't get much sleep last night.

    Kali?”

    She glanced to her right as Stonewall's familiar form appeared through the thick, manicured shrubs. “I was wondering where you were,” she said, getting to her feet and taking his hand as they met beside a rhododendron bush.

    General Kenobi wanted to speak with me,” he replied after a beat. “We're to take a look around the city and see if we can't uncover some more information about what's going on, Though I'm not sure exactly how that's going to work, given that the locals seem to think we're droids with skin.” There was a frown in his voice. “And here I thought this mission was going to be straightforward.”

    As she released the breath that she didn't realize she'd been holding, Kali laughed. “They often start out that way; the next thing you know, you're tangled up in something far more complicated than you thought.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “I know that you and the others will figure it out; I'll help if I can, though I have a feeling that Obi-Wan and I will have our plates full with Neerja and the Parliament. Perhaps while we're at dinner, the guys can go take a look around the city.”

    Stonewall nodded, though she could sense his doubt. “Perhaps.”

    Come on,” she said after a pause. “Let me show you my favorite spot.”

    Wordlessly he followed her as she wound a way through the garden, straying off the usual paths until she reached a small pond that was covered in lily-pads and surrounded by low willows whose branches fell in ribbons over the water's edge. “Do you know why I like this place so much?” she asked him as they faced one another. There was a low, stone bench beside the water though neither of them took a seat.

    Because it's beautiful?” His voice was warm; as they walked he had removed his helmet and was looking at her in such a way that suggested he was unaware of anything else in the entire galaxy.

    She smiled. “Because it's isolated.” With that she reached up to kiss him, her arms moving around his waist as she clung to his sides. Beneath her hands she felt his body tense, then relax into the embrace as his own hands wrapped around her back and held her as close as he could. The agitation from the day receded from her mind while they kissed and she felt the Force thrumming through her veins again. Maybe I was worried for nothing. After several minutes they pulled apart and he reached forward to stroke her cheek.

    Kali?” His voice was uncertain.

    What is it, Stone?”

    He took a deep breath and glanced around the area; she felt hesitation and doubt trailing from him as he looked back at her. “I-” In that moment they heard a loud clamor from the direction of the palace and Kali sighed and looked up at him.

    That's the gong for dinner,” she said. “I'm sorry....can it wait? Why don't you go ahead? I'll catch up in a moment.” The clone captain took another deep breath but he nodded and slipped off through the garden, leaving her alone.

    Kalinda took a moment to look at the nearest torch, watching the flame flickering against the encroaching darkness before she left as well.




    Last edited by laloga, Jan 16, 2013
    serendipityaey likes this.
  14. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    The garden: a lovely spot :) -- Kali's thoughts - understandably a jumble of confusion. Her with Stone -- is there a small barrier between them, or is it just one or the other imagining it? [face_sigh] [face_thinking] Does Kalinda even know what her relationship path should be? Where it should go, and where she thinks is the politically correct path won't always merge, usually don't. I don't want anyone to get hurt, but you need to go to the one who feels like home ... And it's not something that you can "talk yourself into" :p

    Wonderful stuff, always worth the wait, although I don't like to [face_laugh] ;) [:D]
    Last edited by Jade_eyes, Jan 16, 2013
    laloga likes this.
  15. Valairy Scot Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    Hmm...the Force seems to be a bit "obscured" here but by what or whom?

    I'm sure nostalgia is present, but Obi-Wan can't really want to rekindle anything, can he? It's too painful for them both.

    I love how you paint "hints" of the character's thoughts through body language and vocal cues/dialogue. Whereas I wallow in the inner thoughts, you have a light touch that doesn't bang the reader over the head - it's really lovely and effective and I envy your ability this way.

    This passage for example illustrates this:

    Not to mention your storytelling is so good as well - it flows so well and leaves one both satisfied and wanting more.
    Last edited by Valairy Scot, Jan 16, 2013
    serendipityaey, Jade_eyes and laloga like this.
  16. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_eyes Yes, Kali is very conflicted right now, and it's affecting her in more ways than one. Trust me when I say that she winds up on the best path for her. :) Thank you for the comment!

    @Valairy Scot Thank you! I work hard to show what the characters are feeling, and body language is so very useful for doing so. Yes, the Force is somewhat obscured...or blocked... ;)

    So sorry for the delay in posting! Please read and enjoy.


    *****

    Chapter Six: The Past is Present


    After the clone captain left his quarters, Obi-Wan decided to take a walk. First he went to the courtyard that overlooked Rudral, leaning against the stone parapet and casting his awareness out – not into the city, as he probably should have done – but rather through the palace, searching for Kali even as he watched the sun sinking below the horizon. A realization was forming in his mind but he was not about to jump to conclusions unless he had more solid evidence. The captain was remarkably adept at shielding his thoughts from me, but he didn't get there on his own.

    He thought back to the first few minutes of their journey and recalled the outburst of emotion he'd sensed from Stonewall regarding Kali; the clone had been drawn to her since Basrah, so it was no wonder that his feelings had developed to this point after they'd been working together for over half a year.

    However.

    He nodded to a group of servants who slipped past him, their eyes darting away. She must know, which means one of two things: either she is ignoring it, which is unlike her, or....he frowned. I just can't picture her falling for someone like him. Obi-Wan took a deep breath and turned from the panorama to make his way back into the palace.

    Everything was as he remembered: the same marbled floors; the same high, rounded windows; the same pervasive scent of incense from the temples and snow from the distant mountains. It was a wonderful time, though it ended the way it did. We got so carried away with the romance of everything...and my feelings for her began to creep towards attachment. What other choice did I have, but to put a stop to the relationship? What else could I have done?

    His steps led him through the halls and towards the garden where he and Kalinda had passed quite a few pleasant hours together prior to the wedding. I know that she hated the clothes she wore to the ceremony, but she looked so beautiful. A small smile crept to his face at the memory and for a moment he could feel her skin against his.

    At the eastern entrance to the garden he paused to regard the Human-sized statue of a goddess. Perhaps it had been painted at one time, but now the image was the uniform color of some pale stone; at her feet were small, spiraling flames and in each of her multiple arms was a curved sword. His eyes fell upon the face of the goddess, wide-eyed and grinning, though it was a ferocious expression rather than a benevolent one as she looked back down at him.

    Sudden movement caught his eye and he turned to see the clone captain stepping into the garden from another entrance, heedless of Obi-Wan, who paused before he slipped in after him. Careful to keep his movements silent, he followed Stonewall until he saw the reason for the clone's presence here. The expression of sheer joy and welcome on Kalinda's face as she looked up at Stonewall made his chest tighten, but it was not until she took the captain's hand that the truth of the situation fell upon him.After a few moments of conversation Kali lead the clone further into the garden but Obi-Wan did not have to follow to understand what was happening.

    Instead he turned to leave, brushing through the foliage as quickly as possible. Only when he was free of the garden did he realize that his heart was pounding and his hands were clenched, so he paused beside the statue once more and took several deep breaths to calm himself and set his thoughts in order.He considered casting his awareness out once more but decided against it, though he thought it was odd that she had not sensed him.

    Obi-Wan sighed again and ran his hands through his hair, his back straightening. The sudden, echoing sound of the dinner-gong made him start, even though he turned and made his way back towards the palace. This is going to be even more interesting than I'd anticipated.

    *


    The queen had made good on her word, but after the clones had eaten the food she'd had sent, Crest found that he was bored. “Trax, come on.”

    I told you....I'm busy.”

    Crest crossed his arms and glared at his brother. “You've cleaned your guns at least three times over,” he countered holding up the deck of cards and wiggling them in what he hoped was an enticing manner. “All I'm asking is for one round of sabacc. One.” The scarred clone shook his head and picked up the chamber of his Deece again, pointedly ignoring Crest.

    Damn him, the bald clone thought as he sighed. He knows how to annoy me right back. “Fine,” he said, turning away. “I'll just break out my harmonica, then.”

    Weave and Milo looked up from their datapads and Crest grinned at the very clear “NO” that rang out in unison from each of his brothers.

    Well,” he chuckled. “There's at least one thing we can all agree on, eh?”

    Here,” Weave said, tossing him a 'pad. “Intel. Make it your best friend.”

    Crest looked at the 'pad and frowned. “You can't learn anything from this stuff,” he replied, flicking through the screen. “If you want to learn about a place, you have to dive in, get dirty.” He shook his head. “Words only do so much; you need smells and sounds and....” he trailed off as the door behind him slid open, revealing General Halcyon's familiar form.

    I'm sorry for barging in like this, but there wasn't a chime or anything.” She stood at the threshold and looked at them with a wary expression.

    Crest grinned at her. “It's safe,” he said. “We're all decent; I know you don't want a repeat of that time on Talor...”

    At this she gave a chuckle as she entered the room. “No, thank you. But I would like to talk to you guys for a minute before I go to dinner.” She watched as they rose to stand before her, somewhat at attention, though Crest knew that she tended to run quite a bit more informal than most other Jedi. “First of all, I'd like to apologize for the attitude about you that seems to be so common here; it was something that I should have considered and prepared you for.” She let out a breath and ran her hand through her hair. “That being said, Stone mentioned to me that you've been tasked by General Kenobi with taking a look around the city to gather what information you can.”

    Weave nodded. “That's why we're going over the intel again,” he said as he held up his datapad. “To get an idea of what's out there.”

    What's 'out there' is nothing that can fit in one of those little 'pads,” Crest interjected with a shake of his head.

    I agree.” The clones looked at her and she lifted her brows. “Rudral is an amazing city; at the very least you should be exploring it, especially since it appears that Stonewall, General Kenobi and myself will be stuck here for the evening. I know that you'll stand out in your armor,” she said as Milo opened his mouth to speak. “But our presence here is no secret, so I'm not worried about you all trying to blend in. For tonight, all I ask is that you get out there and poke around.” From her pocket, she pulled out a small pouch of credits and tossed them to Weave. “Don't spend it all in once place.”

    Pocketing the money, Weave frowned. “But, General...what are we looking for?”

    As she was turning to leave, the Jedi paused at the door and looked back at them. “Just keep your eyes open,” she replied. “You never know what you'll see.” With that she slipped out of the room.

    Copy that, boss,” Crest called, giving her retreating form an exaggerated salute before he turned back to his brothers, clapping his hand together. “Alright....who's up for a little recon, boys?”
    *

    None of my training ever prepared me for this, Stonewall thought as he stood at the entrance to the dining hall, debating whether or not he should just walk in or wait to be summoned. Taking down a SBD at fifty meters, fine. Chasing wanted criminals across the galaxy, perfect. Even dealing with scumbag pirates, I can handle. But this? Again, he peered in the massive room and saw that it was still devoid of anyone; the long table was set for four and candles flickered from sconces along the walls, the light glinting off of the porcelain flatware. I'm completely out of my league.

    Captain.” He turned to see General Kenobi approaching him, an unreadable look on the Jedi's face. It took him a moment but he saluted, though the other man merely nodded. “I suppose we're a bit early,” the general said, indicating the empty room.

    It seems that way,” Stone replied. “Sir.”

    Kenobi seemed to consider something for a moment before he spoke again. “Have you seen Kalinda? There is much we need to discuss, but I haven't been able to track her down.”

    Consider me tracked.” Both men turned to see Kali approaching, her robes rippling behind her as she hurried towards them. Stonewall found that he couldn't quell the happiness he felt at seeing her, though her eyes landed on his for only a moment before turning to Obi-Wan. “Can it wait until after dinner?”

    Of course.” At that moment the trio heard the rustle of silk and the jangle of gold as Queen Sita appeared amidst her servants, looking regal in a deep turquoise gown. Following the example of the Jedi, Stonewall gave a low bow, though he felt clumsy next to their graceful movements, especially as the clinking of his armor echoed in the wide chamber.

    The queen lead the way into the room, taking a seat at the head of the table and indicating that Kali and General Kenobi should next to one another at her right, which left Stone to sit at her left, across from the Jedi. Within a few moments several more people had entered: a small group of musicians and a servant who brought everyone tall goblets of water and wine. General Kenobi thanked the servant and looked at the young queen. “I'm looking forward to dinner; as I recall, Arunai food is a pleasure not to be overlooked.” He glanced at Kali. “What was that one dish that you were so fond of? The halla?”

    The queen turned to Kali and smiled. “Not many outsiders enjoy that particular dish.”

    It was a bit on the spicy side,” the dark-haired Jedi replied. “But well worth the burning in my tongue.” In the background, the musicians began to play and Stone found himself looking over at a familiar sound. It looks like the tablas, he thought, recalling the little drums that were the first instrument he'd learned to play. He glanced up to see Kali smiling at him. “This is where they came from,” she said. “Though I never was able to use them with any real proficiency.”

    I find that hard to believe,” the queen said, glancing between the Jedi and the clone. “You were always quite a talented musician.” Her eyes widened and Stonewall thought again how very young she seemed. “You will play for me again, won't you?”

    Kali took a sip from her water glass and nodded. “I can do better than that,” she said, glancing at Stonewall. “Stone and his men have proven to be quite talented musicians; perhaps you would let them play for you, Sita.”

    Yes,” Kenobi replied. “You've done an admirable job of teaching them.” He chuckled. “It reminds me of all those times you tried to get me to play something over the years. You were determined to make a musician out of me, no matter how abysmal I proved to be.” His head shook as he gave Kalinda a wide grin. “Don't you remember the flumpet lessons you forced on me when we were teenagers?”

    There was only the sound of Kali toying with her glass for a moment before she replied. “I think so.”

    Stonewall glanced at his own plate; the promise of food was starting to lose its appeal as he found that his appetite had vanished. I wasn't even alive when she was that age. The realization struck him like a blaster bolt.

    The queen smiled at Kenobi. “You don't share Kali's musical talent?”

    As much as she would've had it otherwise, that is the sad truth.” The Jedi was still grinning at Kali, who gave a small smile in reply, though she did not meet his eyes. There was a pause in the conversation while the first course was brought and Stonewall was confounded by the array and variety of foodstuffs that were set before him, though a surreptitious glance at Kalinda showed him the best place to start eating.

    After a few minutes Kali looked at the queen. “What exactly is Neerja saying about you, Sita? Why do they say that you are not fit to rule without Badal?”

    The queen's face fell and she pushed the food around on her plate for a few moments before she replied. “None of the members of the priesthood were pleased with my coronation,” she said at last. “They claimed that Badal had been seduced or drugged, but the reality was far simpler.” She looked up. “We never even should have laid eyes on one another, but by fate or chance we did, and fell in love. Destiny is a strange thing, I suppose, to allow an farmer's daughter to wed a king.”

    Sita: you are the queen. You have everything you need to win this struggle. Why is there even a problem? I don't understand. You could end all of this....”

    I do not have Badal's presence, or the love of the people, Kali.” The queen's words were quiet and her eyes were downcast. “Those who are also in power speak against me, and I find that I have no one that will side with me. I am afraid of what will happen should I go against the will of the priests.” She took a deep breath. “The ruler of Aruna may have the bulk of the power, but it is only relegated by blood, not marriage.”

    Kali frowned at her plate; the food was hardly touched. “This isn't right. There must be more going on that we don't know.”

    General Kenobi had set his fork down as well and his hand was in his beard. “I suppose after tomorrow we'll have a better idea of what is happening. You mentioned the vote?”

    It was supposed to be today,” the queen replied. “But I asked for a time extension to allow the Republic to speak on its own behalf.” There was only the scraping of forks against plates for a moment before the young queen looked back up at Kali. “Please can we talk of something else?”

    Stone watched as Kali seemed to debate something before she nodded. “Of course. You wanted to know what I've been up to since I was here last?” The queen nodded, a smile breaking over her face and Kali indicated Stonewall with her right hand. “Most recently, I've been assigned to work with a very fine group of men in order to help the Republic in the recent war.” She gave Stone a smile, which he found himself returning. “It was tricky at first, but we've somehow managed to stumble along, haven't we, Stone?”

    As he met her dark eyes, he found that he was unable to say much more than a simple “yes, General,” though he couldn't shake the feeling that arose within him at her gaze. She seems so comfortable talking to the queen....a far cry from the woman I've seen crawling around the jungle, covered in mud. It shouldn't surprise me; I suppose all Jedi are capable of doing much the same thing. Still, the realization was unsettling and he found himself thinking back to Traxis' words. Perhaps he's right. At the end of the day our worlds are so different....could we ever find a common ground?

    And you, Master Kenobi?” the queen asked, her eyes flicking to the other Jedi. “You have been on missions with Kali and her soldiers?”

    The bearded Jedi frowned and shook his head. “No, your Majesty. For most of the war I've been on the front lines of battle, along with my former Padawan, Anakin. I don't believe you met him.” He gave Kalinda an inscrutable look. “We haven't seen much of each other since the last time we were here, actually.”

    Are you lovers still?” the queen asked, looking from one Jedi to the other. “You were both quite taken with one another while you were here last.”

    Kalinda was sipping her drink and started coughing at the queen's words; for several moments the sound echoed throughout the dining room. Stonewall was about to leap from his chair when General Kenobi slapped her back as he leaned towards her. “Are you alright?”

    Nodding, Kali cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “It went down the wrong way,” she said, her voice hoarse. “I'm fine, Obi-Wan.” She looked back at the queen and managed a tight smile. “We're not...like that now,” she said, sitting upright. “We're colleagues, Sita. Nothing more.”

    Queen Sita nodded, though she seemed disappointed. “How unfortunate. I was hoping, well....” she ducked her head. “It's foolish, I know. But you were both clearly so....right together.” She smiled. “After Badal died, I thought back to the two of you and how happy you seemed; it gave me comfort to think that such love still existed in the galaxy somewhere.” At this she turned and addressed Stonewall, the first time that she'd done so. “You should have seen them, Captain. It was quite a sight.” She giggled and Stone felt his hands clenching beneath the table.

    Things change, Sita,” Kali replied as she shook her head, though it seemed to Stone that she was trying hard not to look at General Kenobi. “People change.”

    You're right, Kali,” the general said in a soft voice. “People do change.” He met her eyes and Stonewall felt his chest tighten as Kali's lips parted slightly while she regarded her fellow Jedi.

    It can't be, he thought, his breath growing shorter, though he tried not to show it as he looked down at his plate. Does she still have feelings for him? I shouldn't be surprised if she does...They're both Jedi, after all. And she's known him her whole life, but I thought....he gave a small shake of his head. No. I'm being paranoid.

    When he looked up, Kali was still regarding Obi-Wan. It bothered him more than he cared to admit that he couldn't read her expression.



    ******
    Yes, more angst...sigh. Don't forget to let me know what you think! :D

    Last edited by laloga, Jan 25, 2013
  17. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    laloga -- woot! Bless Sita for asking the ... interesting ;) question and/or making the pointed observation LOL although it does make me feel bad for Stone. :( Huggles for Stone and for all concerned. Things do change [face_mischief] but maybe not as much as you think [face_laugh] :D
  18. Valairy Scot Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    Sita stuck a stick in a hornet's nest with that question, didn't she? Uncomfortable situation for Kali and Stone especially.
  19. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2

    @Jade_eyes Yes, Sita really has a way with pointing out what she *thinks* is going on, based on what she knew of the Jedi the last time they were here. Lots of things have changed since, though. ;) Thanks so much for the comment!

    @Valairy Scot The dinner scene was meant to be uncomfortable and awkward...glad it came across that way. Though *I* certainly wouldn't want to be in that situation. :p Thank you for the comment!

    Warning: angst ahead.



    *****

    Chapter Seven: One Way Or Another


    Where should we go first?” Crest asked as he and his brothers stepped out into the night after their journey down the palace stairs.


    Weave glanced at the map he'd pulled up on his datapad and frowned as he considered. “Well, if we're looking for information, the best place to start would probably be the largest concentration of citizens.....I say we try the main marketplace.” He pointed the direction and the clones began to walk, necks craning as they took in the sights and sounds of the city.


    Milo inhaled deeply before gazing at a food vendor whose wares elicited the enticing smell. “I'm glad we ate already, otherwise we'd spend all those credits that the general gave us on a meal.”


    I could eat again,” Crest replied as he watched a young couple purchasing several thick, delicious-looking pastries. He glanced at Traxis, who had remained silent since they'd left the palace. “What about you?”


    Let's just get this over with,” the scarred clone said. “The sooner we figure this mess out, the sooner we can get off this rock.” They made their way to the market, which, according to Weave, was about three miles from their location, though the press of people would make it difficult to reach in a timely fashion.


    Or at least it should have, but for the fact that people in the crowd drew back the moment the clones came in sight; men and women cringed and refused to meet their eyes, children hid behind their parents' legs and business owners turned their gazes away. Funny, Crest thought as he nodded to another merchant and watched as she looked the other direction. I didn't think we were that ugly.


    Beside him, Milo leaned towards Crest and spoke in his ear, since they were not wearing their helmets. “Why is everyone acting like we're contagious?”


    Maybe you should have taken a shower before we left.”


    Weave looked back at them. “It must be the armor. We have a tendency to stand out.”


    Traxis muttered something in Mando'a that made Milo's mouth drop open. “That's a horrible thing to say...what would even make you think that?” By now they had reached the market and there was still a pocket of open space around them as the Arunai refused to come closer than a few meters.


    After they looked around for a moment, Weave reached into his belt and pulled out a few creds. “Let's test the theory before we jump to conclusion.”


    The clones approached the nearest vendor, a woman selling some kind of meat-on-a-stick that smelled amazing. However, the moment the clones reached her stall, she shook her head and backed away, shouting something in Arunai that Crest didn't need a droid to translate, especially since the words were accompanied with a shooing gesture of her hands. They tried another vendor, an elderly man whose booth contained heaps of strange, colored powder – some kind of art supplies, Crest figured – and were met with the same reaction.


    After three more attempts, each with the same result, the clones stood to one side of the market, casting furtive looks at the bustling place behind them. “What are we going to do?” Milo asked. “How are we supposed to find out anything if no one will talk to us?”


    Weave ran his hand over his head as he thought. “I'm not sure. Maybe if we removed our armor, tried to dress like natives....”


    Crest was only half-listening, as his gaze had fallen on a group of three people, two men and a woman who were crossing the center of the market; the other Arunai's reaction to them was much the same as it had been for himself and his brothers. However, the group did not seem particularly bothered by the cringes and hasty movements of the “regular folk” as they were engrossed in their own conversation. He watched as they passed by the clones and then made their way into a nearby alley only to pause before a garbage bin.


    The elder of the two men stood by while the other two began to poke around in the garbage, clearly looking for something. His long white hair braided neatly down his back and he was dressed in a tattered but clean robe of bright green; his younger companions were clothed in a similar fashion.


    On a whim, Crest left his brothers and made his way to the trio, holding his palms out in a gesture of openness. At his approach, the younger man and woman froze and looked up, their light eyes wary as they took him in though they did not step away; the elder man's gaze, however, was milky-white and sightless, his face turning towards the sound of the stranger's approach.


    Crest recalled what bits of intel he'd read. Most of them also speak Basic.May as well give it a shot. He looked from one to the other and gave his most polite smile. “Hello, sirs, m'am. How are you doing this fine evening?”


    None of them replied but they also did not turn away, which Crest took to be as a good sign. Though they remained in place, his brothers had tracked his movements and he could almost feel their awareness on the group of Arunai. The bald clone cleared his throat and smiled again. “I'm Crest,” he said, putting a hand on his chest-plate. “These are my brothers: Weave, Traxis and Milo.” As he mentioned their names, they each stepped forward and nodded. “We're new here,” he continued. “And we're not familiar with all of your customs....do you know if there's any reason why no one will talk to us?” He knew that he was probably pushing his luck, but it was really the only question that came to his mind at the moment.


    As he spoke, the elder man appeared to be regarding him, though he and his companions were still silent. Crest glanced at Weave, who gave him a look that said, it was your idea, you deal with it; Milo shrugged and Traxis simply glowered and crossed his arms. The bald clone looked back at the Arunai. “I'm sorry if I've offended you in some way,” he said, feeling a thrill of nervousness pass through him. “But my brothers and I-”


    Untouchable.” When he spoke, the older man's voice was surprisingly smooth. “That's why no one will meet your eyes, son. You are considered untouchable.”


    Behind him, Crest heard Traxis snort and mutter. “Figures.”


    So, they think we're lepers?” Milo asked, his brow furrowing.


    The younger man shook his head and said something in Arunai to the elder, before raising his eyebrow and looking back at the clones. “You said that you are....brothers?” His tone was skeptical, much as the young queen's had been.


    Sort of,” Crest replied. “It's complicated....”


    They're those cloned Republic soldiers that came with the Jedi,” the woman said suddenly. “To help the Queen.”


    That's us,” Crest said with a salute and a grin. “At your service.....?”


    I'm Kesin,” the older man said, laying a gnarled hand on his chest. “This is my daughter Danu and her husband, Marut.” He gave a slight bow, which the others mimicked. “Tell me, are you hungry?”


    Er....” Crest glanced at the others, who were still watching him. “Sure....but we don't want to impose....I mean...” he gestured to the garbage bin.


    Kesin smiled, his teeth glinting brightly in the darkness. “We were not looking for our dinner, Crest, but it is always a good idea to search through the castoffs of others; you never know what treasures you may come across.” He moved his hand, indicating the alley behind them. “Come. I find that I am curious about you and your brothers and I can tell that you have more questions about Aruna as well.” The clones looked at one another; as if sensing their hesitation, Kesin chuckled. “Don't worry; we mean you no harm.”


    The woman – Danu – cast a wary look at her father. “Are you sure....? They're soldiers.” Next to his wife, Marut nodded, but Kesin shook his head.


    They are strangers in our home, Danu,” he replied. “Let's not prove ourselves as ungracious as the others have obviously been. Come,” he said again to Crest. “I would like to hear more about you.” Without another word the elder man turned to step down the darkened alley, his white hair gleaming in the night; after another glance at the clones, Danu and Marut followed.


    Crest looked at his brothers. “Well? Think we can handle it?”


    Traxis rolled his eyes. “Are you seriously asking that? They're civilians, Crest. I think we're good.”


    I could eat again,” Milo added. They all looked to Weave – technically the ranking member of the group – as his comm began to chirp.


    Captain?” Weave asked as Stonewall's image bloomed before him in the darkness.


    What's happening at your end?”


    Weave glanced at Crest and cleared his throat. “Hard contact. Should be fine; I'll check in later, if that's okay.”


    Stonewall nodded, though his face looked pensive. I guess the dinner didn't go well, Crest thought. Too bad I wasn't there to lighten the mood.


    Right.” Abruptly, the image faded and Weave gave a sigh.


    Guess we're going to meet some locals after all.”


    *


    Dinner stretched on for hours, or so it felt to Kalinda as she fielded questions from Sita, tried to decipher the signals that Obi-Wan was possibly sending her, and attempted to make sure that Stone was not really as uncomfortable as he looked. She was certain that she was failing at all of those things, – especially the latter – as the clone captain kept his eyes on his plate the entire time. Thankfully, Sita noticed Kali's discomfort during the parts of conversation that were centered on her and Obi-Wan's former relationship and the talk soon turned to other topics.


    At one point, as Sita was speaking to one of the servants, Obi-Wan looked at her, gesturing to the glass of water that she'd nearly choked on. “Are you certain you've recovered?” His tone was warm and she found her heartbeat pick up a beat or two despite herself. She nodded, but said nothing and sipped from her glass once more.


    When dinner ended at last, Sita bowed to them and wished the Jedi goodnight while only glancing at Stonewall. As she slipped out of the room, Obi-Wan looked at her. “May we speak now?”


    Kali nodded and turned to Stone. “Will you please check on the others? I'm curious to know what they've learned.”


    Of course, General.” She watched him leave before looking back at Obi-Wan, who gestured that they should walk. They made their way through the palace and went outside on the balcony that overlooked the city, pausing before the railing as he spoke.


    I'm not entirely sure how to begin,” he said, his brow furrowed. “You are aware that the captain has feelings for you, I assume?”


    She was silent.


    Obi-Wan sighed. “It's not a surprise, all things considered, but I have to say, I'm a bit....taken aback at the way you seem to feel about him.”


    And how is that?” She was careful to keep her eyes on the city even as he looked at her.


    I've seen your face when you look at him, Kali. It's an expression I know very well.”


    As well you should. Her hands were resting on the ledge and it was an effort to keep them flat and still against the cool stone.“Are you going to lecture me on the dangers of attachment?”


    At this, Obi-Wan frowned and shook his head. “Even if you've shut me out of your mind...I know you, Kali. The two of you...it just caught me off guard,” he added, leaning forward. “But what connection do you have? What can he offer you that-” He checked himself. “Not that you owe me any kind of explanation,” he went on after a pause. “But I can't tell if you're thinking clearly about the situation that you're in and I'm...concerned for you.”


    This was enough to draw her gaze from the cityscape as she glared at him. “Concerned for me?” She shook her head. “You gave up any and all right to worry about me a long time ago, Obi-Wan.”


    Kalinda, you're my oldest friend,” he replied. “I'll always be...mindful of you.” There was a pause and he sighed again. “He cares for you a great deal.”


    I know.” Her voice was soft as she looked back over the city. “I know he does.”


    Do you?”


    Do I what?”


    Obi-Wan was quiet for a moment. “Care for him?”


    What difference does it make?” she replied, her eyes still fixed on the distant horizon. “What possible difference could it make to you, Obi-Wan?” Rather than allow him to reply, she continued to keep her gaze away, though her hands were gripping the ledge with white knuckles. “As I said, it's none of your concern. Not anymore.”


    Kali-”


    Good night, Obi-Wan.” She turned to leave, striding away while trying to push aside the biting anger that had flared within her at the gentleness of his tone and at the warmth in his eyes when he looked at her. This isn't happening, she thought as she moved through the palace, her steps automatically carrying her towards the garden. I can't believe that he cares about me in that way any longer, or that he's trying to act like he has any say – any say at all – in how I spend my time or who I spend it with. Her cheeks were hot and her fists were clenched beneath her robes; so engrossed was she in her own thoughts she nearly ran headlong into Stonewall.


    Are you okay?”


    Though quiet, his voice jolted her out of her reverie. “Not really,” she replied. “But it doesn't matter....did you get a hold of the others?”


    The clone captain's head tilted to one side as he regarded her. “I think they've met some locals, but Weave couldn't talk; he's going to call me back.” He paused. “Did I actually startle you?”


    At this she frowned. That's strange....I didn't sense him at all. “I guess you did; I'm a little preoccupied right now,” she replied. Stone nodded, though he ran his hand through his close-shaved hair, his feet shuffling as she studied him. “Are you okay? I know that this hasn't exactly been a pleasant evening, but you've been acting a little...off lately. Since before we left, even.”


    His shoulders lifted and sank as he took a deep breath. “Now that we're both here....will you please walk with me for a second?”


    Kali nodded and followed him through the garden, to the spot where she had led him earlier; this time he sat on the small marble bench indicating that she should take the place beside him. As she did, she tried to reach out to him through the Force, but – as before, when she had tried to get a feel for the city – it was almost a vain effort. He was nervous, that much she could tell, but she could pick up almost nothing beyond the obvious.


    The soft clearing of his throat made her realize that she'd been staring off into space. “Kali,” he said, taking her hands in his own. “You're right. I have been nervous lately, but it doesn't have anything to do with the mission – for once.” They shared a brief smile and he continued, though it was after a deep inhale. “I know that we haven't known each other so long, in the grand scheme of things,” he said, meeting her eyes. “But I think...” he frowned and shook his head. “I know that.....” Another deep breath and she felt blood rushing to her ears as his honey-brown eyes focused on hers.


    Kalinda, what I'm trying to say is that I love you.”


    The words hung in the air between them for several seconds but they were only accompanied by a thick silence.


    After a moment she felt him squeeze her hands. “Kali?”


    Suddenly her heart was racing; her breath was short, her vision blurred and she felt as though she were trapped inside a very tiny room with no windows. A swell of anxiety filled the cavity of her chest. Abruptly she stood, the cool air rushing to her palms where his hands had been. “Stone...you know I care about you....” She found that she couldn't look at him, so she looked at her own hands, which were trembling. Her fists balled. “I really do...”


    But you don't love me.” The words were spoken without emotion, but she didn't need the Force to tell her that he was stricken. At that moment she would have almost preferred anything – even anger – to the blank but piercing sorrow that was written across his face.


    Her mouth opened but no sound came out and he nodded to himself. “Okay,” he said as he stood up. “I....I need to check on the others. Goodnight, General.” There was no trace of warmth in his words as he slipped away from her and faded into the night.


    Kali tried to reach out to him through the Force. She was met with a blank wall and the hollow thud of her own heartbeat.



    *****


    Wow...this was a really difficult chapter to write. I need a hug. Actually, I think Stone needs one too. And Obi-Wan....and Kali. :p
    Last edited by laloga, Jan 30, 2013
  20. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    @laloga - here's your hug [:D] [:D] This was one of the best angsty chapters I've read =D= You write their emotions so superbly & the dialogue so breathtakingly realistic. I felt every word Kalinda said to both Obi-Wan and Stone. It was bound to happen, the disclosures, the realizations. :( Stone is a darling. :* But you could tell in the immediate, involuntary emotional reactions to his declaration of love what Kalinda is needing/wanting - even if unconsciously. [face_thinking]
    laloga likes this.
  21. Valairy Scot Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    A bit convenient, isn't it, that Obi-Wan appears to be trying to rekindle something from the past here where he and Kali had a past. Strangely enough, I'm now feeling that it should be a futile attempt. Oh, maybe - maybe - they can start something new in time, but what they had is gone and can't be reclaimed. They're different people now.

    On the other hand, assuming there is no Order 66 in this story and there is an end to war, I'm not sure Kali and Stone can stay together in civilian life as they can during this time of strife, especially if she doesn't love Stone.
    laloga and Jade_eyes like this.
  22. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_eyes Thank you so much for the comments! Kali has some issues to work through that are causing her own emotions to be jumbled in a way, so she's not *quite* in her right mind, unfortunately, which accounts for her reaction to Stone's declaration. It takes courage to love someone; she's still working on finding hers. :)

    @Valairy_Scot There's so much history between Kali and Obi-Wan, and some of their most intense memories happened right here on Aruna. It's hard, sometimes, to let go of the past when it's right in front of you. They are different people, now. :) Thank you for the lovely comment!



    Chapter Eight: Gravity


    I'm such a fool. She doesn't love me.


    Stonewall was walking, though he had no clue to where. His feet moved of their own volition, which suited him just fine as he wasn't certain that his brain could handle much else at this point. I'm a fool, he thought, again and again. Traxis was right. She doesn't love me. I'm a fool. At one point he felt his boot knock into something solid and looked up, only to see a massive statue of some old god grinning down at him; he stepped to one side of the effigy and continued on. At last he noticed the steps that led down the face of the hill and into the city, two guards standing at attention on either side. He gave a nod to them though they each pointedly looked the other way.


    May as well look for the others. Replacing his helmet afforded the captain a bit of respite as it sealed him in a familiar world. According to his chrono it wasn't all that late yet, though it was true dark. Torches were placed at intervals on the stairs, casting a flickering light on the steps which he took two, three at a time in his haste. Only when he reached the bottom did he contact Weave again. “Where are you?”


    Er...I'm not sure, exactly,” his brother replied, his tone uncertain. “But....stand by.” There was a pause; Stone could hear muffled voices for a moment before Weave came back, giving him an address. “It's near the market,” he added. “And I hope you're hungry.”


    After he signed off Stone made his way through Rudral, unaware of anything besides the street names and the sound of his own footsteps; he tried not to think, but it was a vain effort. She doesn't love me and I'm such a fool for thinking it might be otherwise. The thought reverberated in his mind, striking a renewed blow each time.


    When he found himself standing at the entrance to an unfamiliar temple he could not recall how he'd come to be there. The sloping steps he'd walked across were discolored and chipped, as was the rest of the building; graffiti had been sprayed along the outer walls and though Stonewall didn't know the Arunai language he could make out several of the lewd drawings well enough. I should check in with Weave again, just to make certain that this is the right place. However, he simply pushed past the broken door and stood inside for a moment until he heard the sound of his brothers' voices, raised like torches against the night. They're here. That's good, at least.


    Stonewall made his way through the empty corridors and turned the corner at the end of the hallway, his boots crunching over piles of rubble as he followed their laughter until he reached the inner sanctum of the temple. There was a exposed area – an atrium that opened to the sky – where someone had lit a fire, around which a group of Arunai were seated with his brothers. All of them were laughing at one of Crest's more colorful jokes.


    The captain stood in the doorway for several moments before one of the Arunai, a slender woman in a tattered but colorful dress, noticed him. Her spine straightened and she spoke to the man beside her, who said something to an older man seated between Crest and Milo. It was then that Stone's brothers realized he was there.


    Captain!” Crest shouted, leaping to his feet as Stone removed his helmet. “You made it! Here, try this stuff: it's called halla and it's fantastic...” He waved a piece of meat skewered on a stick in Stone's face and started to lead him over to the group, though he paused as Stone hesitated. “You okay? You seem-” He studied his brother and his face changed. Something silent passed between them and Crest nodded and glanced at the others, placing his hand on Stone's shoulder as he steered him towards a seat beside the fire.


    This is Kesin and his daughter, Danu. Her husband there is Marut and there's also Apala, Nandeen and Mithra,” he rattled off, pointing to the Arunai who were clustered amongst the clones. “Everyone, this is our captain, Stonewall. Captain, these are our new friends. Guess what we have in common?”


    The elder one he'd named Kesin bowed his head. When he looked back up, Stone realized that his eyes were frosted and sightless. “A pleasure to meet you, my boy. Come and share our fire, if you like.” The others nodded and smiled at him, their faces illumined by the glow of the fire. One of them had a set of tablas and was striking the drums with a steady, soothing rhythm while another held a rounded, dulcimer-like instrument that she strummed with a light touch.


    Nodding, Stone took a seat beside Weave, accepting a mug of something that he couldn't taste. Weave nodded to him. “Glad you could join us,” he said in a quiet voice. “Crest made some friends, as you can see, and I think we may get some interesting information for the General as a result of it all.”


    At the mention of Kali, Stonewall felt something snap inside of him. He looked at his drink and watched his hand clench around the terra-cotta cup until he could see it starting to crack, the pale substance within beginning to drip around his hands. Suddenly the cup was gone and Crest was beside him as Milo and Weave asked the musicians about their instruments. “What's up, brother?”


    The familiar but unexpected language of Mando'a was enough to draw out a response from Stone, as he replied in kind. “Traxis was right.” Now empty, his hands opened and closed as if of their own accord.


    Crest was quiet for a moment before he spoke. “Don't worry about it now, vod. We've got your back.” He addressed the others. “Will someone please get this man another drink? We have some serious bucking up to do, guys.”


    Crest,” Stone said after a moment. “Who are these people? What did you mean by 'what we have in common?'”


    *


    This is going to be interesting. Crest chuckled to himself and indicated the elder Arunai man. “Now that is a funny story...Kesin here was just telling us.”


    Kesin's voice was clear, despite the myriad of wrinkles that creased his weathered face. “We are all untouchables,” he said, forming the word as one might say something mundane. “Myself and my family because we were born to it; you and your brothers, Captain, because you were not born at all.”


    Or so we've gathered,” Weave added. “No one's exactly sure but the theory is sound, if not particularly comforting.”


    Crest watched as Stonewall sipped from his mug and nodded. The others told him of their experience in the marketplace, but the captain hardly said more than a handful of words in reply. Not that he's chatty under normal circumstances, but I can tell that something's really wrong this time. He took a deep swig of sampah, the barley drink that had been sweetened with honey. “But that's not why we're so excited,” he added. “I mean, being on the lowest rung of a foreign society is exciting and all, but at the end of the day, it's not worth getting bent out of shape over.”


    Easy for you to say.” Milo spoke up from his place beside the tablas player, whose movements he'd been watching with interest.


    Stone sighed and looked at Weave, a question in his eyes. The other clone straightened and spoke to Kesin, who gave one of his broad smiles. “Your brother tells us that you have come here seeking information,” he said. The clone captain answered in the affirmative and Kesin continued. “Then it seems that you have come to the right place, for no one has more information than those who no one sees.”


    At this, Stonewall looked up, his brow furrowing. “I'm sorry?”


    Kesin chuckled, though it was his daughter, Danu, who answered. “No one notices untouchables, even as we do the most menial task in front of them. We are forbidden from coming into contact with anyone in a higher caste – even so much as an accidental touch – though there are many of us, more so than almost every other caste which means that our eyes and ears are everywhere.” She paused and glanced around the fire at the others before she continued. “We would help you, but for a price.”


    Crest watched as Stonewall nodded to himself, taking another swig of his drink. “And what price would that be?”


    Danu's eyes lifted. “You serve the great Jedi Knights, correct? We ask that you speak with them on our behalf; I know they have the queen's ear and could perhaps talk to her.”


    Regarding?”


    Clearing his throat, Crest felt everyone's eyes turn to him. “Oh, nothing much, Cap,” he said. “Just looking into changing society.” The music paused, then started again after a moment.


    Marut laughed. “Nothing so extreme. My wife has the notion that we should be given a representative in Parliament. It isn't a bad idea, just unlikely. Those who have power are not eager to share it. In their eyes we are as different as birds from fish and could never live in the same place.”


    Well, we may not get another chance as good as this one,” she replied, looking at Stonewall. “If these men do indeed have the ear of the Jedi and the Jedi have the ear of Queen Sita....”


    Stone was quiet for a moment before he nodded again. “Can you provide us with information about the high priestess, Neerja? We have reason to believe that she's spreading misinformation and lies. But we'll need proof,” he added, looking at Danu. “Solid evidence, not just word-of-mouth.”


    And if we provide this, you will speak to the Jedi for us? You will convince them to talk to the queen?” Her voice was quick and eager and the others around her sat up, attentive.


    We'll do our best,” he replied, though the words were quiet. “Of that I can promise you. However, there's no telling what the Jedi will do.” All of the clones looked startled at the edge to his voice, though Kesin merely nodded and placed a hand on his daughter's shoulder.


    That's his way of saying, 'yes,'” Crest interjected. “He's a man of few words, our Captain, but he makes them count.”


    Though Danu was frowning, her father nodded. “It is more hope than we had before and for that we are grateful.”


    *


    For a moment, Obi-Wan watched Kalinda leave before he turned away from the panoramic cityscape to make his way to their quarters. She truly doesn't trust me any longer. The realization struck him like a blow. Will she ever let me back in?


    Again he tried to picture Kali and Stonewall but he found it a difficult image to swallow, as he had never tried to imagine her with anyone else. I suppose she could simply be seeking the company of a younger man, though that doesn't seem like her. She'd said something that bothered him, a question that he wasn't sure he knew the answer to. Why does it concern me? Why indeed.


    The shared quarters were devoid of anyone so he was spared further contact with the others, at least for the time being. But even as he lay in bed, watching the glow of the city beyond his window, sleep refused to come, kept at bay by persistent memories from their shared past: the bubble of her laughter at a murmured joke when they were children; the first brush of her lips to his in the Archives back at the Jedi Temple at sixteen; the warmth of her skin against his own as they lay tangled together countless times in the years since. She knows me so well, sometimes better than I know myself. No matter what else in my life has changed, I've always known she was there – as I've tried to be there for her in my own way, even if it was not how she would have liked.


    His arm stretched out to the empty place in the bed beside him; again he was reminded of their last mission to Aruna, of the happiness they'd shared. We have so much between us...was I wrong to set it aside? Even for duty? Under normal circumstances, Obi-Wan did not like doubt, especially when it came to his own motivations and if he was honest with himself, the doubt had started with what she'd said to him their first time here. She was right: no matter how much I've tried to pretend otherwise, I can't deny my feelings for her are stronger than I would like. My reaction to her 'death' on Japarran is proof enough of that. Indeed, he had been almost numb with shock and grief when a report had come through that she had perished during the course of that mission nearly nine months ago.


    And now, alone as he was in the late hours of the night, he found that he was still questioning his past actions and their repercussions until the very first traces of dawn edged over the horizon. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps there is room in my life for love, after all.


    He sat up and rubbed at his face, blinking and looking around the room as if for the first time. Only then did he recognize it as the same place where he and Kali had spent many hours together, years ago on their first trip to this world. I don't believe in signs. But I do believe in another chance. Perhaps she will, as well.


    *


    After Stonewall left, Kali spent a restless night alone in the garden. She had given up on meditation some hours ago and was currently attempting to access the Force in order to perform simple tasks that she had been able to do with ease since her earliest memories. An hour passed and she found that she was covered in a sheen of sweat from her vain efforts to lift a fallen branch approximately the size of her arm. Provided she used every ounce of her concentration she could levitate the object a few centimeters off the ground, but it was difficult, nearly impossible. Fear clawed within her chest like a living thing attempting an escape, though she was able to tamp it down.


    What is wrong with me?


    Finally she noticed that dawn was coming; recalling the Parliament session that she and Obi-Wan were supposed to attend she decided to at least change into a fresh set of clothes. The palace was quiet now, almost peaceful, though she felt nothing but turmoil and the throb of fear and sorrow. He's never left me like that, she thought as she made her way to her room. But I've never given him reason to. Though she knew it was a futile effort, she tried to reach him through the Force.


    Nothing.


    At the entrance to the suite that the Republic group was sharing, she paused. Even if he's in there, I wouldn't know. After several more deep breaths she opened the door and stepped in the room to find it empty. She entered her quarters, glanced at her chrono and realized that she had time for a shower; several minutes later she was standing in the pulse of water, hot as she could tolerate it.


    It helped a little.


    When she stepped out of the 'fresher and began to towel off, her mind was a bit more clear, though she still felt a knot of anxiety in her stomach. Looking around her room, the realization struck her that it was the same set of rooms where she and Obi-Wan had stayed during their last mission here. This place...it was the beginning of the end for us, wasn't it? As much as I've always hoped that a relationship would work out between us, it didn't. I'm not sure they ever could, now. I loved him, but all it brought me was pain.


    The thought was a fleeting one, followed immediately by an image of Stonewall's face from the night before and she felt her chest tighten again. Do I love him? I don't even know. Kali stood in the middle of her room and tried again to reach Stone through the Force, more out of habit than because she thought it would be effective. Her eyes closed and she pushed every bit of her focus towards his familiar energy. Stone, I'm sorry.


    What are you doing?” Obi-Wan's voice brought her attention back to the moment and she whirled around to face him, her breath short in surprise.


    Blast! You scared the kriff out of me,” she said, narrowing her eyes as she clung the towel around her torso.


    As he looked at her she realized he was trying not to laugh, which only stung her ire further. “My apologies,” he said, lifting his palms up. “After I knocked, banged on the door and shouted your name for almost ten minutes, I decided that I should make sure that you were still alive.” His head tilted as he regarded her; naturally, he looked refreshed and awake.


    At least one of us got a decent night's sleep. “I'm here,” she said at last. “That's really all I know at the moment.”


    What were you doing?” The concern was evident in his voice, though it was more than his usual attentiveness.


    Suddenly all-too-aware of the fact that she was almost nude, Kali clutched the towel around her midsection and tried to appear as calm as possible. “Nothing, Obi-Wan. May I please get dressed? I don't want to be late.” She nodded to the chrono against the wall.


    However, he remained where he stood, his eyes on her face. “Something's wrong. Kali...”


    I'm fine,” she said at last. “Ben, I'm fine. Please leave.” Her nickname for him slipped out as if on its own accord and she saw his expression grow more thoughtful, though he nodded and turned to the threshold. She dressed as quickly as she could before peering outside her door to survey the empty room. A few steps across the living space brought her to the entrance to the servants' quarters, though after several moments of rapping against the door she realized that their room was empty.


    She nearly called Stone on her comlink, but decided to contact Weave instead. “Where are you guys?”


    There was a slight pause before she heard his reply. “We're in the city, General. It's a bit difficult to speak now, but I think we're on to something.” His voice took on a wistful tone. “You're about to go to the Parliament meeting, aren't you?”


    Despite herself, Kali smiled. “That's right.”


    Well, I'll be there in spirit.” Another pause before he spoke again. “General, is it okay if I report back a bit later? Like I said, I think we're on the right track here.”


    That's fine, Weave.” A question had lodged in her throat but she found that her mouth would not form the words.


    But Weave was kind, far kinder than she felt she deserved. “We're all here, General,” he said, his voice hushed. “In one piece.” She nodded to herself as he signed off. A throat cleared behind her and she turned to see Obi-Wan holding a cup of steaming tea.


    You look like you could use this,” he said as he handed her the mug. Their fingers brushed as she took it from him. “Their tea is excellent, still.” His voice held a trace of sorrow. “Some things haven't changed, at least.”


    It was piping hot, fragrant and rich; for a moment she was nothing so much as grateful. “Thank you,” she replied, meeting his eyes. “I suppose we should get going?” He nodded and they made their way out of the room.

    *****

    Thanks to @serendipityaey for the title to this chapter! [face_love]
    serendipityaey likes this.
  23. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Wonderful scenes =D= Very happy, as usual, to see/read an update. [:D] @};-
    laloga likes this.
  24. Valairy Scot Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    Oi, nobody's content, satisfied or happy - a trio in regrets.
  25. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_eyes, thank you for reading and commenting! You rock! :D

    @Valairy Scot, yes...sigh. Much angst behind, and more to come. But hopefully it's worth it at the end. :) Thank you for the comment!


    *****

    Chapter Nine: Disintegration


    The sky was beginning to brighten when Danu turned to a few of the other Arunai and they started conferring in their native tongue; several minutes later two of them slipped away and she seemed satisfied as she looked back at Stonewall. Though he had been feeling drowsy, Crest sat up to listen to the exchange. “I have contacts in most areas of the city, more so now as people are arriving for the festival. We should be able to come up with the proof that you require.”


    The clone captain nodded. “Thank you. We'll speak to the Jedi. How can we contact you again?”


    I can meet you back here at sunset, two days from now. That should give us enough time to gather something useful.”


    Sounds good.” Stonewall glanced up at the sky. “We should be getting back, at any rate.” Beside him, Milo had fallen asleep where he sat, his head tucked into his chest. Crest nudged the younger clone, who sat up and blinked rapidly.


    We're moving out,” the bald clone said as he got to his feet, the others doing the same. “Thank you,” Crest said to Kesin. “For the food and all. I hope we can return the favor.”


    The older man smiled. “Thank you for your company, Crest.”


    Soon the clones were making their way back through the city streets, squinting in the rising light. They were quiet for a few minutes before Crest looked at the captain. “So....” Stonewall took a deep breath and let it out slowly, but said nothing. He tried again. “Captain....you know that I don't like to pry, but-”


    Since when?” Traxis asked. Crest shot him a look and the scarred clone simply shook his head.


    It's true that what happens to one of us affects the rest,” Weave said after a moment. “And...well, to be frank, Captain, you seem....” he frowned and gave Crest a pleading look.


    By his nature, Crest was able to get others to talk, to open up. It was one of his few talents that went beyond placing a strip of det tape with perfect alignment. “What happened?”


    They had almost reached the palace steps by the time Stonewall answered; when he spoke, his voice was quiet. “I want to apologize to you all,” he said as he paused a the foot of the stairs. “I made an error in judgment that could have cost us....well, a lot. She doesn't feel as I do,” he said at last. “She doesn't....” Another deep breath and he met Crest's eyes; the bald clone felt a thrill of sorrow and anger rush through him at the look on the invincible captain's face.


    I guess we all made a mistake. For a minute there I'd gotten my hopes up. There was silence for several moments before Crest squeezed his brother's shoulder. “Come on,” he said, nodding to the stairs. “I think we all could use a few hours' shut-eye.”

    *

    Obi-Wan and Kalinda met the young queen outside of the Parliament building, which was located on the hill to the right of the palace. Surrounded by a regiment of guards, Sita looked calm, though Obi-Wan could tell that she was trying to mask her nervousness. When her eyes fell on the Jedi she smiled and gave an incline of her head which Obi-Wan returned with a bow; Kali stood beside him and did not move until he cast her a look, at which point she blinked and bowed as well. Sita nodded to her guards and the group began to walk towards the rounded building that reminded Obi-Wan of the Republic Senate, though it was not nearly as massive.


    As they entered the wide doors, Sita cast a concerned glance at Kalinda. “You don't seem yourself, Kali. Did you not sleep well?”


    I'm fine, Sita,” Kali replied after a beat. “Just a bit restless.” She said no more as they stepped into a wide, circular room with a crescent-shaped seating section that took up about three quarters of the sides. At the remaining quarter was a large, high-backed chair on which Sita was to sit, along with places to either side of her for the higher-ranking members of the more prominent castes.


    Nodding to a cordoned-off set of chairs at the back of the room, Sita indicated that they should take a seat. “I thought that you might like to remain in a position where you could observe for the time being,” she said to Obi-Wan. “That was how you preferred it last time, yes?”


    Thank you,” he replied. “It should do nicely.”


    We're a bit early, but the others should be here, soon,” she added. “Badal used to like to do so: arrive before anyone else. He claimed that it kept everyone on their toes.” She sighed. “He was quite skilled in these matters.”


    Obi-Wan smiled at her. “I have every confidence that you can stand in his place, Majesty.” He looked at Kali who simply nodded, her eyes fixed on the floor. Clearing his throat, he bid goodbye to the queen and led Kalinda towards their seats, watching as the members of the Arunai government began to file into the room. As he studied them, he reached out through the Force and was struck with the undercurrent of apprehension and fear, nothing that there was also a malicious edge. There is something very wrong here. Sita was right to call us, he thought, glancing at Kali to see if she had reached the same conclusion. Her gaze was still distant, though at his look she straightened in her seat and began scanning the room as he had done.


    As he was about to speak to her, the audience seemed to hush as a lone figure entered the room: a slender woman, dressed in the alabaster robes of the high priestess. Neerja was younger than he'd expected, though she was still older than himself; she had the bearing of one who had once been quite beautiful, though her mouth was drawn in a thin line and her pale eyes turned cold when she found the Jedi in the crowd. Obi-Wan watched as she stood for a moment, regarding the other members of Parliament before making her way to the chair by the queen. Neerja poised in her seat like an almost regal figure, her palms in her lap and her gaze serene. By contrast, Sita seemed to grow visibly tense as her hands fidgeted with her bangles and toyed with the edges of her gown.


    She must show more confidence if she is to be taken seriously as their leader,” he murmured, his hand in his beard. Kali nodded, though she still made no reply. After another minute or two, at some signal that Obi-Wan didn't catch, the session began.


    It was not so different from other similar meetings that he had attended, save for the fact that the person who was supposed to be leading it remained nearly silent the entire time. The first hour or so was taken up by petitioners who all had similar complaints: one man, a trader, claimed that the roads were growing impassable due to rock-slides in the north; another woman said that her farmlands ravaged by wildfires that refused to be put out; still another man argued that many in his village were ill due to a tainted well. After each complaint, Sita tried to give the speakers a kind word and an assurance that the matters were being looked into, but there was no certainty in her voice.


    Meanwhile, Obi-Wan watched as Neerja's expression darkened until she leaned to one of her associates and whispered something while the young queen was speaking, blatantly disregarding the other woman's authority as the other members of Parliament noted the exchange.


    Finally the line of petitioners ended and Neerja stood up, the room quieting under her gaze. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said in a ringing voice. “Every day it grows clearer that the gods are showing their disfavor for the one who sits upon the regent's throne. How much more suffering must happen before the problem is rectified?” She looked at Sita, who seemed to shrink under the priestess's eyes. “This woman may have married our beloved King, but she is not fit to rule in his stead. This we have seen with the continued problems befalling our world.” Neerja's eyes turned to the room and she spread her hands, palms facing the ceiling. “I beseech the Parliament again to correct this mistake and vote that our world align with the Confederacy of Independent Systems, who can provide the aid that we need.”


    The audience murmured, mostly words of assent as Neerja continued. “Sita claims that she has asked the Republic for help, yet I see no evidence of such a thing, save only two of their Jedi and a handful of half-men who are not fit to stand among regular society.”


    At this, Obi-Wan noticed Kali's gaze sharpen as she looked up. He felt her body tense beside him just before she stood. “Would you give the Republic a chance to speak on its behalf, Neerja?” he heard her say. “Or would you prefer to continue spreading your vitriol?”


    Kali,” he hissed, looking up at her. “That is not-”


    Ignoring him, the dark-haired Jedi took a deep breath and continued. “As I'm sure you're aware, the Republic is engaged in a war on many fronts,” she said. “It is true that we have been unable to send aid as of yet, but myself and my colleague are here now to help in any way we can.” At this, Obi-Wan got to his feet and stood beside her, attempting to radiate calm assurance. “It seems to me that the best solution to this problem lies in action rather than words,” Kali went on. “Perhaps the Parliament can authorize an investigation of the claims that are being made, to ascertain if-”


    Neerja glowered at the Jedi. “Are you suggesting that the petitioners are lying? That hardly seems like the Jedi way.”


    Obi-Wan cleared his throat. “We are simply here to get to the bottom of the problem as quickly as possible. As of this time, nothing can be ruled out. Every claim must be looked into before a conclusion can be reached. Surely we can all agree on that?” A rippling murmur moved through the audience as all eyes turned from the Jedi to the young queen, then back to the priestess, whose composure had returned.


    In that case, your Majesty,” Neerja said in an unctuous voice. “I am more than open to such a reasonable request from the Jedi, though I would also like to make a request of you.” The room quieted and Obi-Wan felt a thrill of apprehension; beside him, Kali shot him a glance and he could see that she was also on edge.


    Sita nodded. “What is it that you want, Neerja?”


    The priestess bowed her head. “If the Jedi wish to examine the plagues that have fallen upon our world, I will not stand in their way; however, it would be wise for you, Majesty, to attempt to reconcile with the gods and perhaps ease some of their agitation towards you.” She looked up, her expression serene. “I was praying in the early hours of the dawn today, when I received a vision,” she mused. “A vision of an old temple, to the north. There was a young woman, dressed in the finery of royalty, standing beneath the statue of Chamunda, one of the oldest goddesses. I believe that you must journey to this temple, Majesty, and attempt to make peace with the goddess.”


    Obi-Wan and Kali exchanged glances; though he could not reach her through the Force any longer, he could see the trepidation in her eyes at the suggestion. However, before either of them could speak, Sita nodded. “Very well, Neerja. I will do as you suggest, to prove my faith in our gods.” She looked at Kali and Obi-Wan. “One of the Jedi will accompany me; the other will remain here.”


    This is a mistake,” Kali muttered as the audience erupted into a burble of speech. “Neerja means to do nothing besides cause trouble in Sita's absence.” She looked at Obi-Wan and shook her head in exasperation. “She could stop all of this if she just stood up for herself.”


    Obi-Wan nodded. “Agreed, but that is something that no one can do for her.” He paused and ran a hand through his beard. “I suppose I can remain here and try to keep an eye on Neerja while you accompany Sita to this temple, though I don't like the sound of such a journey.”


    Kalinda took a deep breath. “Well, we need to talk to Sita, of course. And we should see what the guys figured out before we commit to anything.” Again, her eyes grew distant and Obi-Wan could see that she was distressed about something, though she seemed determined to conceal it from him.


    The session was over, members of Parliament began to file out around them and while they waited for the crowd to disperse he put a hand on her arm. “I know that you're unhappy with me right now,” he said. “But I know you, Kali. I know that something is wrong....”


    She rubbed at her forehead and shook her head. “Not now, Obi-Wan. Please.” At his look she sighed. “Later, okay? Just...later.” He nodded and they stepped down from their seats as the crowd gave way.

    *


    Kali could feel that her patience for the young queen was starting to slip. She needs to take control of this situation, she thought as she watched the members of Parliament leaving the chamber. She has the power, she has the position, but she lacks the confidence. It was not an ideal circumstance – the Jedi splitting up – which she said as much to Obi-Wan, though ultimately she knew that they had little choice if they could not convince Sita otherwise.


    As she and Obi-Wan moved to address the queen she wondered what the guys had discovered, though she found that thinking of Stone – even in a peripheral way – was more painful than she'd anticipated so she turned her thoughts away from her captain.


    She was still unable to access the Force as she should have been, the realization of which was a continuous, pulsing fear within her chest, for all that she tried to ignore it. I'll have to tell Obi-Wan. After all, he is on the Council and should be made aware of the fact, especially if it will affect the mission.


    Sita stood in the center of her guards, her face drawn and her hands wringing as she watched the Jedi approach. Once they had joined her, the group exited the room and made their way back to the palace proper. No one spoke until they were back in Sita's informal study, when the queen took a seat and put her head in her hands. “You see what I mean? Neerja is determined to see me absent from the throne.”


    Kali felt her jaw tighten as she looked at the guards. “May we have a moment alone with the queen?”


    They looked at each other with uncertainty, but Sita waved them away. “Kali?”


    You need to stand up for yourself, Sita,” Kali said, facing the younger woman. “You are the ruler of this world and you need to act like it.” The queen's face fell and Kali immediately regretted her sharp tone. “I know that Badal left you with an immense responsibility,” she added, softening her voice. “But you must be strong. So much depends on it.”


    Beside her, she felt Obi-Wan approach. “Kalinda is right, your Majesty. I fear that Neerja will not back down....and I must say, I don't like her 'suggestion' that you leave the city and journey to some distant mountain.”


    Sita was silent for a moment, considering. Finally she looked up at Kali. “I forget; for all of your wisdom, you know little of our ways. If I do not at least make the attempt it will only give Neerja and her supporters further proof that I am unfit to rule. I must go.” She frowned and studied her hands. “Kali....will you come with me?”


    Of course,” she replied. “But we need to speak with the others first. They spent all night gathering information for us.”


    Your clones?” Sita frowned again. “I still don't see why you need them around, Kali. But if it will make you feel better...”


    It's not about making us feel better,” Kali replied. “Obi-Wan was right: we need more information before we can make any kind of progress.” She took another breath and stood up. “How long will the journey take?”


    Sita paused, considering. “Much of the way is through the mountains, but it should not take too long. No more than a day, by ship.” She looked from Kali to Obi-Wan. “I can be ready tomorrow morning.”


    Obi-Wan nodded. “Very well. Let us meet with the squad; I'd feel better sending you with at least two of them.” Indicating the way back to their quarters, he looked at Kali. “Shall we?” She bade Sita goodbye and they slipped out of the study. When they reached the suite, Kali realized that the clones had returned and were presently sleeping in their room.


    Despite herself, she smiled at Obi-Wan. “We should let them rest for a few hours.” He nodded and gave her a meaningful look. “And in the meantime, I suppose we should talk.”


    That would be good. The garden?”


    No. Just come in my room.” She entered her quarters and shut the door behind them, though she found that she was unable to say anything for several minutes.


    Obi-Wan took a seat at the wide stone windowsill and looked out at the city below them. “It's still beautiful here. I'm not sure why I expected it to be otherwise.” He looked back at her. “What's wrong, Kali?”


    Rather than reply she moved to stand beside him; she indicated the curtain that was pulled to one side of the window and lifted her hand, sending all of her concentration and focus to lift the edges of the silken fabric.


    Nothing happened.


    Obi-Wan frowned and looked at her. “I don't....”


    The Force.” Her voice was a whisper. “It's gone.”

    His eyes widened.


    I don't know what's happened,” she continued. “I can't do anything anymore. It's like....like trying to reach for something only to find that my hand is gone, or trying to take a step forward and hitting only empty air.” She felt her eyes prick and looked down. “I don't understand why.”


    And then his arms were around her, pressing her to his chest as he held her close. In that moment he was no Jedi Master, no General, but simply Ben and she felt herself relaxing into the familiar embrace. Neither one spoke for several minutes until he pulled back enough to look down at her. “I'm not sure what to do, Kali,” he said in a hushed voice. “But there must be something. If I can help you at all, I will.” He gave her the smile that she'd fallen in love with years ago.


    Ben.” Her entire body was trembling as she met his eyes, felt her mouth drawing close to his. There was only the faintest brush of their lips before she pulled back as if stunned, stepping away from him. “Obi-Wan.” Her hands clenched at her sides as she looked at him and winced at the expression on his face. Her throat felt thick as she swallowed. “I'm sorry, but I just can't. Never again.”


    There was silence for a few minutes before he nodded. “I'm sorry, too, but-”


    No,” she replied, her voice rising. “No, there is no 'but,' Obi-Wan.” She met his eyes for a moment before shaking her head. Out of habit she tried to access the Force to seek a measure of calm, but it was useless and she felt frustration swelling within her again. I don't know how much more of this I can take.


    He took a deep breath. “Kali...there's too much between us to turn away from. I see that now, though I wish I had sooner, I really do. The last time we were here you said that denying my feelings was the worst thing that I could do...you know, I've thought about that every day?” She made no reply and he went on. “I know that things have been hard for us in the past, but now I think-”


    At these words she lost her veneer of control as anger overtook her. “Don't you understand? I'm done....I can't do it anymore.” Her voice was rising in volume until she was nearly shouting. “It's over, Obi-Wan. It has to be over...I know...I know that you couldn't be what I wanted you to be, but it still hurts, okay? It hurts-”


    Obi-Wan.” They both whirled to the door to see Stonewall standing at the entrance to the room, his eyes fixed on the bearded Jedi. “General Kenobi. I think you should leave. Please.” The word was added almost as an afterthought.


    The air around Kali grew thick and stifling as Obi-Wan took a deep breath. He gave her one last look before he slipped out of the room without another word. However, she was watching Stonewall who met her eyes once before looking away. “Are you injured, General Halcyon?”


    The hope that had sprung up within her withered. “No, Stone. But I-”


    He nodded and cleared his throat before she could finish speaking. “When you're ready, we have information for you.” With that, he turned and exited her room, and Kali was alone again.

    *****


    A/N: Yes, the angst continues...I didn't include the word in the summary for the heck of it, sadly. Will Kali get the Force back? What will happen between the "big three?" And in the words of Admiral Ackbar..."it's a _!"

    Also, I meant to say earlier that if there is a soundtrack for this story, it's the album Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Not every song "fits" but a good portion of them do. Check it out! (If you don't know who either of those people are...get thee to youtube!)

    One last thing: if you've left a review, I love you. Really. If not...what the kriff are you waiting for? :p No matter what, thanks for reading! :)

Moderators: Briannakin, mavjade