Tara looked behind her, seeing Willow following at a respectful distance. The two had started moving shortly after Tara had woken up, heading towards the edge of the forest, intent on finding a way into Theed that didn't involve dealing with the bulk of the Trade Federation army. With Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan gone, it would be up to them to do something. They had yet to encounter either retaliatory droid forces or helpful assistance, but that didn't discourage either of them.
"Yes, Willow?" she asked.
Willow moved up beside Tara, wiping her Padawan braid back behind her ear. Ever since she had learned of her Master's past the previous evening, there were many more questions she had wanted to ask. She knew that this wasn't the most appropriate time to ask them, but she had gotten her to open up. And she wasn't about to stop.
If she could say that she had any weaknesses, asking too many questions would definitely be it.
"Have you ever thought...about what would happen if...y'know, you decided to leave the Order?"
The question caused Tara to stop in her tracks, turning to Willow. "L...leave?"
Willow nodded. "Yeah. You know, like the Lost Twenty..."
She paused, realizing that she may have been somewhat inappropriate to compare her to those of the Lost Twenty, the only Jedi to have voluntarily left the Order. Bronzium busts of the Jedi were located in the Jedi Archives. Willow had spent many hours in there, devouring the knowledge contained with the Archive's many holocrons.
"Willow..." Tara said, her voice becoming a hushed whisper.
Willow shifted her weight. "I'm sorry, Master. I didn't mean..."
Tara gently put her hand on Willow's shoulder. "Willow, you know what I am. What...I've always thought I was. The Jedi...they've given me a life. One I can be proud of. One I can use to correct the mistakes..."
Her voice stalled, realizing that she was including herself in the ‘mistakes' she said that she was using her life to correct. It was the sort of self defeating thinking that she had let herself do for almost her entire adult life. It was what prevented her from being more open to others. It was what prevented her from being more open to Willow.
And it was preventing her from doing what she wanted most: admitting to Willow what she already knew. That her concern for her and her love was more than the usual Master/Padawan friendship.
Willow must have picked up on what she was thinking, because she said, "I still mean what I said last night, y'know. You're not a mistake. And I still..."
Tara started to smile, her cheeks reddening fiercely. "Thank you, Willow." She turned and started to walk forward again, Willow following into step behind her.
"Singing," she said after a few moments.
Willow's head perked up. "What, Master?"
Tara stopped and looked back at Willow, a half smile creeping onto her face. "If I wasn't a Jedi, I'd probably be a singer. I often spent time as a Youngling singing in my quarters." She gave a small laugh and grinned. "Master Halcyon had to request that the walls of our quarters be reinforced to make sure that nobody would be kept awake at night." She sighed contently. "I could often imagine myself singing at the Galaxies Opera House."
Willow smiled, glad that Tara was coming out of her shell a bit more. Singing wasn't something she could picture her doing. Singing was something she knew she couldn't do, at any rate. She had tried it several times, and the unfortunate Younglings that she had been near had told her in not-so-flattering terms that hers was a voice that should shatter ten inch transparisteel.
Tara turned to Willow. "What about you? Ever have any fantasies about what you ever wanted to do if you weren't tasked with the whole ‘save the galaxy from evil' job?"
Willow blushed, looking at her boots and shuffling uneasily. "Well, Master. I've always wanted to...explore the galaxy. Get to know some people. Kashyyyk and Ithor held particular interest to me. Being nature planets, you know. And I always wanted to visit Yavin IV."
She gazed into Tara's eyes. "And I always kinda hoped that you would have...you know, come with me."
Tara's face, which had been increasing with amusement as Willow told her story, suddenly fell. As much as she wanted to agree with her, she knew that it would never be allowed.
With sudden alarm, she realized why Willow had asked what she would do if she left the Order.
"Willow," she said, her voice taking on a serious tone. "You know that we can't do this."
"But...but..." Willow pouted, unable to come up with anything to say.
"I feel the same way," Tara interrupted. "But...we can't." She reached to take Willow's arm, but the red haired Padawan shrugged it off, moving to sit down on a nearby tree trunk.
"We could..." Willow said, pausing a moment as she thought about what it was that she was going to say. "We could keep it a secret. I mean, we don't have to tell anyone. And you know how good I am at keeping secrets. Well, not usually. But when I have to, I can keep my lips sealed tighter than a cockpit. I mean, there was this one time, during lightsaber training..."
Tara's heart was near breaking at this point. She just couldn't take it anymore. "Willow...Padawan," she amended, desperately trying to maintain the level of professionalism that she had maintained around her and Willow. But it was no use. The past several hours had completely broken down her emotional barriers.
Willow suddenly became aware of how uncomfortable she was making her Master. "Master, I'm sorry if I..."
Suddenly, and without conscious thought, Tara took Willow into her arms and kissed her.
Both of them were completely taken by surprise by what was going on. Willow hadn't really been expecting her Master to make such a bold action towards her. She had often dreamed that she would, hoped that she would. But there was a significant difference between what one wanted and what one got. Although she had often kept hoping that it would happen, she had long ago given up hope that Tara would be this forward.
For her part, Tara was rather shocked that she was being this assertive. Although she was rather impetuous in her youth, ever since learning the truth about herself, she had kept herself under even stricter guidelines and pressure than any Jedi could ask for oneself. It had given her a reputation for being introverted, shy and depressed, but she told herself that it was for the greater good, to ensure that what she had suffered would not happen to anyone else.
When she had met Willow, she had felt through the Force that a significant event had occurred, and that both of their lives would be better for it. And although Willow was willing to explore the possibility, Tara had always kept herself under a tight leash. She told herself that she was doing it to protect Willow. To protect herself. She realized now how much of a fool she was. Master Halcyon had always told her that she was special, and that she would find someone one day with whom she could share herself.
That was apparently coming true. And it had only taken the invasion and subjugation of a entire planet to make her see reason. By that logic, the implosion of Coruscant's sun would no doubt having her walking down the altar with Willow on her arm and the pride of the Republic firing off a twenty turbolaster cannon salute in gratitude.
The two held the embrace, their lips locked together, pleasure radiating all over their bodies and through the Force. They didn't want the feeling to end.
It was mid afternoon, and Nute Gunray did not feel any better than he had at sunrise. In fact, he felt worse now than he did at the start of the day. And he was a nervous wreck at the start of the day.
He turned to face Rune Haako, who had just entered the room. He knew that he wasn't bringing good news. Good news seemed to be in short supply these days.
"Well?" he demanded.
Haako held his head. "We've been unable to locate the major resistance leaders, Viceroy. They appear to be in deep hiding, and our scouts have been unable to track them."
Gunray sighed. There were times that a cheap and disposable army worked in the best interests in the Trade Federation. Tracking a handful of malcontents in the swamps and forests was not one of them. "And what of the two Jedi?"
Haako shook his head again. "The data recorder OOM-9 found in the wreckage of BAS-163's AAT was apparently damaged beyond recovery. Our best slicer team is currently at work trying to recover the data, but probability estimates suggest that over 90% of the data is corrupted."
Were he prone to such outbursts, Gunray would have physically threatened his lieutenant, or perhaps taken a blaster from the nearest droid and dispose of it. As it was, he was too nervous to even contemplate doing such actions. Lord Sidious had made it clear that he was most displeased with the turn of events that had occurred, and that his apprentice was now being sent out to clean up his mess. He didn't know what that would involve, and frankly, he could spend the rest of his existence never to find out and be perfectly happy for it.
He sighed. "Order OOM-9 to gather all outlying forces that he can spare from all outlying outposts and guard stations and order them to return to Theed. They should arrive by nightfall. When they do, he will lead them into the swamps."
Haako stood puzzled. "The...swamps, sir?"
Gunray nodded. "The townspeople speak of a race living in the swamps and marshes. The pitiful resistance appears to be based in that area. And the Jedi are no doubt there as well." He turned and made a dismissive gesture, signaling to Haako that he was to withdraw.
"I think its about time we solved all of our problems. Once and for all."