Tara found herself unable to sleep, though she noticed that Willow slept soundly, a remarkable accomplishment given the surroundings and the situation around her. She reached down and moved to ruffle her hair, but stopped just as her fingers reached those red strands.
"Stop it," she told herself. "That's no way to behave."
She said that as if she believed it. And yet...
She thought of what had happened several hours ago, though it now seemed like decades had passed since her revelation. She had fully expected Willow to freak out when she told her what happened. After all, anyone who had to deal with that sort of thing in their lives must have been psychologically unstable.
There had been times when she believed that, too. Of course, that had been before her Master had told her everything about her past. She briefly thought about her Master and the time she had spent with him during her training.
Nejaa Halcyon had been a remarkable Jedi, and one that Tara had immediately identified with. When she was a Youngling, she had spent many a day in the Temple library reading about his adventures in the Outer Rim. She had always looked up to him, and was overjoyed when he selected her to become his Padawan.
The two had enjoyed many adventures together, though it was during this time that Tara felt her feelings for him change. Although he was certainly an attractive individual, she found that she was spending a great deal of her time when she wasn't on a mission with Nejaa or training in the company of females. It was a rather surprising thing for her to be doing. She obviously didn't feel attracted to them, she just preferred their company.
Nejaa hadn't really commented on it. She never figured out why, but she suspected that it allowed him to do other things that didn't require him to focus on her. Not that he was ungrateful, he kept telling her. It was just that there were things he did that he didn't want to get her involved in.
Then came the day that her whole life came crashing down.
Tara sat in the public cab as it raced to the landing platform where her Master's ship had landed sometime ago. She was eager to hear how his mission had gone. When he left, he wasn't allowed to talk about it. Now that he was back, he hoped that he could tell her now that there was no danger.
Her spirits deflated instantly when she arrived and did not recognize her Master among the figures present. Instead, she saw three members of Republic Security, who was in the process of reading the rights to a tall and imposing man with sharp features and a glare that could burn through duracrete in seconds.
A glare that Tara was surprised to see turn in her direction and turn to surprise.
"No!" he shouted. "It can't be you! We destroyed your ship!"
Tara was shocked. The man was clearly insane. She started to move away, but found herself backed up against a wall. The man, meanwhile, shoved aside the man whom he had been talking to, flattened another with a punch, withdrew the man's blaster and started towards her.
"I don't know how you managed to escape that ship, Jedi," he snarled. "But I'm going to make sure you don't escape here."
Tara was frightened, not only because she was being stared down the barrel of a blaster, but because she had no idea why. The only times she had left Coruscant were in the company of Master Halcyon. And he had never taken her anywhere near this man.
She was jolted back to her senses when she heard a stun blast and saw the man go down, the blaster he held clattering out of his hand to land directly in front of him. She looked up to see the two men the man had knocked out approaching.
One of them looked at her. "Better get back to the Temple, Jedi. There's nothing for you here."
Tara had done so, and was surprised to find Master Halcyon there waiting for her. She ran from the public cab she came in and ran into him, hugging him fiercely.
"Master Halcyon," she said between chocked sobs. "I'm so glad to see you."
Nejaa gently returned the hug. "I know, Tara."
Tara's joy at that didn't last, as she could sense the conflicting emotions that he was feeling for her at that moment. He was hiding something from her.
"Master? What's wrong?"
Nejaa took her hand. "Come on inside, and I'll tell you."
And he did. He told her all about the mission. How he was selected to bring to Coruscant the members of a notorious smuggling gang that had been plaguing Corellian shipping for the past several decades. There had been little done about it for quite some time, given that such instances, when occurring in the Outer Rim, were less likely to raise the ire of the Republic, especially when Corellians made a business out of such practices, and the Republic did not want to damage relations with the Corellians.
Then had come the rumor that the smugglers were being supplied by the Trade Federation, and so action had to take place. Nejaa had been selected by the Jedi Council to do so, given that, as a Corellian himself, he knew the system well.
It was while working undercover as part of their gang that he had a chance to learn about the history of the group, and had managed, through some computer slicing, to find out everything about what happened over a decade ago. How the gang had bribed the Republic liaison to the Diktat to bring a Jedi to Corellia in order to gain an influential bargaining chip with the Trade Federation, saying that they had corrupted a Jedi and would send her against them if they turned their backs on them.
Unfortunately, the Jedi had escaped nearly a year later when the ship had hit port at one of the orbital cities near Duro. The Trade Federation, noting that the smugglers had lost their bargaining chip, captured and killed a great deal of their number. Their leader, identified by the ships records as a "Kieran Maclay", banded together with several survivors and set out to find the one responsible. When they learned that she was on a transport from Coruscant bound for Alderaan, they seeded the most likely hyperspace path the ship would take with their remaining fleet and vaporized the ship upon reentry.
Tara had taken the news pretty hard. She, like most Younglings, had known little about her origins, and to have it told to her in such a fashion was rather upsetting. She remembered that she hadn't left Nejaa's side for a week, going with him wherever he had gone, including some dangerous parts of the underworld that she would never have gone even before this had happened.
But when she became a Jedi Knight, she was told by Nejaa that, despite all that she had learned about the rather soul shattering circumstances of her birth, that he was proud of what she had accomplished as his Padawan, and that someday he hoped that she would teach someone as well as he had taught her.
She glanced at Willow one final time, then allowed the need to sleep to claim her and closed her eyes.
Willow walked down the hallways of the Jedi Temple to the quarters that she shared with her Master, who had been away on a mission. When Willow had asked what that mission was, all Tara would tell her was that it was of vital importance to the Republic and that it was too dangerous for her to bring her along. Willow knew that Tara was being a little too overprotective, but she didn't comment on it and had gone to her quarters without further argument.
That had been three days ago, and Willow had heard nothing since. That in and of itself wasn't unusual. Most missions that the Jedi undertook were usually top secret with no ability to access the Holonet. But still, the wait was starting to bother Willow. Someone must know something by now.
She opened the door and stepped inside the room, which was as Spartan as a room could be. Two bed on opposite sides of the room, a rather large dresser between them and a table with a computer terminal and holoprojector near the door. She moved to the dresser and opened one of the small compartments where she and Tara stored their belongings.
Inside was a rectangular box. Willow withdrew the box and opened it gently. Inside was Tara's first lightsaber, the one she had used when they had first met. She had given it up when she became a Master, constructing another to signify her change in status. And although she knew that she should have given up the weapon, she had kept it safe inside this box. Willow was always puzzled about that, but had never asked about it, knowing that Tara would tell her about it when the time was ready.
Just then she heard the door open. She hastily placed the lid of the box back on, yet made no move to return it to where it had been kept. She didn't have to. She knew who it was.
There was no mistaking that silky, half whisper voice. She turned around. Sure enough, Tara was standing in the middle of the door, her hair done in a rather elaborate pattern and wearing a rather revealing dress ensemble that she had only seen the wealthy of Coruscant wear to formal dinner functions. She briefly thought that this must have had something to do with the mission she was on, though that was overshadowed by the predicament she was now in.
"Master," she said, hastily trying to come up with a reason to explain what she was doing. "I'm...I'm sorry I was snooping inside your things, Master. I mean...I wasn't exactly snooping, as this is kinda my room too, and I just happened to come across it in the middle of searching for my datapad...and..."
Tara gently shook her head as she moved inside, the door silently closing behind her. "It's all right, Padawan." She took notice of what was clutched in Willow's hands. "I see you've found it."
Willow looked down at the box. "You're not mad? I mean, it was your first..." She trailed off, unsure of how to continue.
"I know," Tara said, moving to sit down on the bed. As she did so, she reached for the box that Willow held, who made no attempt to continue holding it.
Tara opened the box and withdrew the weapon, taking a moment to examine it. "It was an exquisite weapon. Or at least, my own Master thought so. Then again, he always did have a way of making beautiful women hear what it was that they wanted to hear. When I used it, it was as if I was one with the Force, and that it was with me."
She extended her arm to Willow, the weapon still in her hand. "I hope that it does the same with you."
Willow hesitated for a fraction of a second. What was her Master doing? This was one of the few things that she had kept for herself, and she was giving it freely to her without any questions? She didn't know what to say.
"Master?" she asked. "Are you sure?"
Tara stood up, her arm still outstretched. "Yes, Willow. I'm sure."
Giving a crooked half smile, Willow took the lightsaber from Tara's hand and clipped it to her belt, feeling a strange sense of satisfaction as she did so.
As she did, she noticed Tara moved to the dresser and removed her Jedi robes. "I need to go get changed and washed up. I don't think I would be doing anyone a great deal of help by parading around the Temple like some undercity streetwalker.
Willow held back a laugh at that, trying desperately to make sure that her humorous comment did not reverberate clear enough through the Force to make Tara aware of it, but as she moved to the door with the bundle of clothes, she gently took her arm and spun her around.
"Master," she said slowly. "I just want you to know that..."
Tara suddenly stiffened, and Willow could feel that she had become rather uncomfortable about the situation. Willow knew this, and knew that she should apologize, but something clicked in her brain and prevented her from doing this.
"Willow," Tara said, her voice dropping below a whisper.
Willow slowly brought her face to Tara's, their eyes locked on one another. Willow felt a surge of energy through the Force, and knew that Tara felt it too. But while she did nothing to hide from it, Tara was blocking it with all of her energy. But she was failing.
Their faces continued to move slowly together and Willow drew a breath, taking in the aroma of Tara's sense. She knew that Tara's defenses were crumbling, and that one of them would have to make the first move.
Their faces were now literally inches away from one another, their eyes unblinking, their lips about to touch...
Willow's eyes bolted open faster than a blaster discharge, fighting back the urge to get to her feet.
"Sithspawn!" she thought. "What the frilly heck was that all about?"
She remembered the incident rather vividly. It had happened six months ago. Tara had gone undercover to Kuat, posing as a wealthy aristocrat hoping to hire the services of a telbun, a cover story for her attempt to discover whether or not Kuat Drive Yards was actually supplying weapons and arms to the Trade Federation. She had later commented on how much the assignment was difficult for her, given her preference for female company. Tara had offered her old lightsaber to Willow, which she took a moment to confirm was still on her person. Tara had gone to change back into her Jedi robes.
But she had not made any moves to engage in any intimate contact with her Master, even though she had very much wanted to do so. After all, they had known each other for ten years at that point. What were they supposed to do when they met? Have a cup of caf and discuss the latest Holonet News gossip?
It was then that she noticed something was on her chest. Turning her head slowly to look beside her, she saw Tara's arm draped rather protectively across Willow. And she noticed that her face was mere centimeters away from her own. And she was smiling.
There were those in the galaxy who considered the morning sunrise to be a thing of beauty, an omen that the day to come was to be one of enjoyment and pleasure.
As he sat on his mechno-chair watching the sunrise, however, Nute Gunray felt nothing beautiful about it, and knew that the day ahead would neither be pleasurable nor enjoyable.
Truth be told, however, he had little reason to feel this way. The Naboo had put up little resistance, with what meager security force the planet had already put under the heel of the droid army. And so far, despite the blockade causing a dramatic drop off in outgoing goods, the citizens were behaving themselves, almost as if they expected that their Queen would come to their rescue.
Gunray allowed a grimace to appear on his face, disgusted with the ease at which Queen Amidala had fled Naboo. Perhaps this was the cause of his uneasiness? No. Lord Sidious had made it perfectly clear that the Senate would do little to bring about an end to the occupation of Naboo by the Trade Federation.
Gunray's frown deepened as he brought his mind back to the conversation he had with Lord Sidious the previous day. He had allowed himself to believe that victory was his, and that there was nothing that anyone could do to stop him now. In the time since, he had come to realize that whatever victory was to be had here was Sidious' alone, and that he, like it or not, was merely a pawn in Sidious' scheme. He did not particularly enjoy that thought, but as long as Sidious granted him what he and the Trade Federation wanted, who was he to complain about how he got it?
No, he thought. Better to remain ignorant to what was going on around him. He stared out at the rising sun and tried to find the beauty in what he was seeing.
And tried to keep his thoughts from drifting to the many things that could go wrong.