Sitting in a cross legged position inside one of Ilum's many crystal caverns, Willow tried to center her concentration on the task at hand, knowing how important it was. But no matter how hard she tried, she kept drifting back to what had happened mere days ago.
What had started off as a simple negotiation mission had become so much more, her life changing forever. Qui-Gon Jinn, one of the Order's most revered Jedi, had been killed by a Sith warrior, the first recorded sighting of one since the Battle of Ruusan a thousand years prior. And a nine year old boy, the oldest person ever to be inducted into the Jedi Order, had become the Padawan to Qui-Gon's former apprentice, now a Jedi Knight.
The red haired Padawan took a breath as the image of her Master's body formed in her mind. Willow had been the Padawan learner of Tara for eleven years, and during that time they had forged many emotional connections, often skirting the line that outlawed attachments. She had always wanted to take it a step further, but Tara had always kept herself composed just enough to make sure she didn't fully cross over the line.
But that trip to Naboo had changed everything. Separated from Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, they had traveled deep into the forests of the Mid Rim world, where they had laid their souls bare for one another. The redhead knew that Tara had kept a lot of pain internalized, which may have contributed to her rigid resolve to not cross the line too badly.
But, in one single instant, it had changed forever.
Opening her eyes, Willow glanced down at the components lying in front of her, along with the datapad that held the instructions on how to construct a lightsaber. Her old weapon, which in actuality had been Tara's long ago when she was a Jedi Knight, had been destroyed in an outright display of arrogance by the Sith. That had been a traumatic experience for her, and she wasn't too sure if she would get over it. The fact that she was here now, preparing herself to construct a new one, meant that she had indeed gotten over it.
Tara had changed so much. Ever since Naboo, she had taken on a completely different persona. No longer the shy, reserved, stoic Jedi Master she had been before, she had become confident and assured about what she was doing, becoming open about her feelings in a way that she never had before.
It frightened Willow. On the one hand, it was exactly how she wished her Master to be, but it was unsettling to know that such a change had occurred given circumstances as stressful as the ones they had undergone.
Stretching out through the Force, she could feel Tara's presence onboard the transport that had brought them to Ilum. It comforted her to know that her Master was nearby, but she wouldn't come to help her. The task she had to perform had to be done by her.
It was time to get to work.
She took up the datapad and read the instructions on the computer screen, casting her glance over to look at the components. Among the handgrip, power cell and other vital components lay the three mephite crystals that she had selected for her weapon.
Taking a deep breath, and glancing at the datapad once more, she began to concentrate and got to work on constructing her new weapon.
Sitting at the cockpit of the small transport ship, Tara kept going over the holonet messages of the past several days. It had kept her from thinking about what Willow had to do now.
And about what she had done mere days ago.
It wasn't much of an exaggeration for her to think that her life had been irrevocably altered during the events that had happened on Naboo. She had opened herself up to her Padawan, which had been a serious breach in conduct as far as her role as a Jedi Master was concerned. Not only that, but it made her feelings for Willow all the more hard to deal with. Not that she was sorry about it. Now that she had begun her journey down that path, it would not be productive to dwell on it. And in any case, those feelings had always been there, albeit in a highly different form.
And it was how her own life had changed during that time that scared her the most. She had considered herself the epitome of what a perfect Jedi should be, a feeling that she had worked hard to cultivate given the realization of her origins and where she came from before she was a Jedi Knight. It had made her happy to know that it was the image that Willow wanted to work towards. The day that Willow became a Jedi Master was one that she looked forward to with great pleasure.
Suddenly, she sensed a disturbance in the Force. Opening herself up and allowing it to flow through her, she could sense someone nearby having a great deal of difficulty. But there was no one on the planet except for her...
Tara opened her eyes and let out a small sigh. No matter how disciplined Willow tried to be, there were times when she allowed her emotions to get the better of her. And when it happened, it was usually bad news for anyone who happened to be in the immediate vicinity. And it wouldn't do to have Willow accidentally cause a cave in.
Spinning around, she walked over to the blue and green painted astrodroid plugged into the recharge socket. "R5?"
The droid started up and turned its dome to look at its owner. Tara took a moment to recall how the droid had come into their possession. They had decided to take a brief stopover at a used droid lot on their way to the spaceport. While there, they stopped at a droid lot and found a battered R5 astromech that had obviously taken one too many blaster shots. Though the Jedi forbade attachments, Willow couldn't help but feel pity for the droid, and convinced Tara to buy it. She had been thankful that the owner had marked it down more considerably than was standard for R5 units, and was even more thankful that Willow had spent the majority of the trip refurbishing the unit back to tiptop shape. It would not have been a good idea for them to return to the Temple with a collection of scrap and short three hundred credits.
"I want you to go to the crystal cave and find out what's wrong with Willow. I can't go because of the traditions of the ceremony of which she is undertaking. Find out what's wrong and come back. Understood?"
The droid bleeped in compliance and wheeled itself around, heading for the ramp. Moving back to sit down at the controls, Tara rested a hand on her shoulder, hoping that everything was alright.
Willow groaned as her latest attempt to construct her new weapon failed once again. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't figure it out. She was very technical minded, being able to put together computer systems when she was barely a teenager. By the Force, she even put together a badly damaged astromech droid that she and Tara had found at a used droid lot which looked, for all intents and purposes, a likely candidate for Mister Scrap Yard Year 3 (per the new dating format following the Great ReSynchronization). But for some reason, she couldn't figure out how to build a simple tool like a lightsaber.
'I don't want to let Tara down,' she thought. 'I can do this. I can.'
Setting the components down in front of her once again, she tried to center her mind in order to calm herself down. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't concentrate enough to set her mind on the task at hand. It instead drifted once more to the events of the past few days, where both her life and her Master's had taken a dramatic turn.
Compared to that, building a new weapon, even if it was necessary, seemed insignificant.
A slight trilling whistle caught her attention then, and she turned to find the squat form of an R5 droid trundling towards her. A small smile spread across her face. Tara was not allowed to come and help her with this task, but that didn't mean that she wanted the redhead to know that her presence wasn't nearby. Tara must have also figured that sending R5 to cheer her up would improve her mood, reminding Willow that she could build something like him, she could build a weapon.
"Hi, R5," she said. "Did Tara send you to check up on me?"
The droid gave off a whistle follow by a series of trilling notes, which Willow naturally interpreted as her Master's comforting reaffirmation in what she was doing.
"Thanks, R5," Willow nodded in response. "It's good to know that someone out there is looking out for me." Reaching over to pick up the datapad, she looked at the words on the screen.
"I just can't seem to get this out, R5," Willow sighed. "I've tried it exactly like it says here. And yet I can't seem to get this working."
Reaching out with his pincher arm, R5 took the datapad and casually scanned it, then delivered a trilling sequence of bleeps strung together with a singsong quality.
Willow could recognize scolding when she heard it. "Yeah, well, I don't see you coming up with any great ideas to help me out, either." Setting the datapad down on the ground, she held her arms against her legs, trying to gather some warmth into her body, the air around her tinged with the cold frost brought about by Ilum's perpetual ice storms.
Trundling over, R5 reached out and gently tapped his owner on her shoulder. Turning to look, Willow smiled. It was almost as if Tara were right there with her, letting her know that things would turn out OK if she just tried once more.
Reaching over to take the datapad in her hands, she looked at the words again, gaining a new confidence in what she was doing. She would do this, not to make herself feel important, or because it was required of her, but to make Tara proud of her. Ever since Naboo, she had wanted to prove that she was capable of defending herself against any and all dangers the galaxy threw their way. If this had to be the first step, then she would have to make the decision to take it.
"OK, now let's see if I can get this right," Willow said. As she began to read the words, however, a thought invaded her consciousness. She had been following the instructions she had downloaded for just this purpose. Although she was rather unconventional in certain areas of her life, she made up for it by being rather stringent on others. And this included making sure she followed the basic structure of the Jedi Order to make sure that the fact she felt respect for her Master in a way that went beyond the standard Master/Padawan partnership didn't become that obvious.
One of the lessons she had learned during the incident on Naboo had been not to let her emotions get the best of her. The fact that she had nearly gotten herself killed on one occasion and captured twice because it meant that she didn't want to feel that defenseless ever again.
R5 let out a series of bleeps, and Willow turned to look. "Wha...? Oh. Nothing, R5. I think I just figured out what I'm doing wrong." She handed the droid the datapad, which he took in his arm. "You see, I've been following the rules, doing what I'm supposed to do."
Picking up the grip of her new lightsaber, she examined it for several moments before setting it down once again and she moved to collect the other components. "And if the situation on Naboo taught me anything, it's that there are times when you just have to go around the rules to get something done."
It had been too long, Tara realized with a growing discomfort. R5 had not yet returned, and she could feel the redhead's growing tension through the Force. Tradition or not, she was very close to heading out to see if Willow needed any help.
It was making her feel incredibly conflicted. On the one hand, she wanted to be there and reassure her Padawan that everything would be OK if she just concentrated. But she couldn't. Willow had to complete this task by herself without any help.
But could she do it?
Tara reflected on all that had transpired in the galaxy over the past eleven years and how much both it and her relationship with Willow had dramatically changed in that time. She had always considered herself to have a perfect moral center, able to easily distinguish between right and wrong. And despite all that she had been taught by her Jedi teachers and her own Master, she felt compassion for other living beings.
The Code explicitly forbade such attachments, but she couldn't help it. Unlike other Jedi, who thought that action on their part was for the good of the universe, Tara believed that in order to best serve the citizens of the Republic, the Jedi should maintain a watchful eye over those who most deserved their help, gently guiding them in the direction those individuals believed they should go in, not the direction that any self righteous group thought they should go in.
Even if that group was the Republic Senate. And especially if that group was the Jedi Council. When Tara had been younger, she always believed that the Jedi Order and the Republic was a shining beacon of light that cut across the galaxy and brought freedom and civilization to all. But as she got older, she came to realize that the Republic wasn't so much a beacon of light as it was the bloated remains of an overly damaged carcass going through the motions by sheer inertia alone. The Order to which she had been a part of was no better. Tara was someone who cared for each and every living being in the galaxy, even those who were undeserving of it. It was thus a constant struggle for her to have to place the well being of one group above another. It was that sort of thinking that led to her long standing belief that, no matter what either the Jedi or the Republic did, it always seemed to cause more harm than good. It didn't help that there were many situations in her time as a both a Jedi Knight and Master that went a long way toward proving her correct: the Stark Hyperspace War, the Eriadu Trade Summit disaster, the Yinchorri Uprising, and...
Brushing back a strand of her hair, Tara's thoughts turned to the invasion of Naboo, the latest situation that had proven her correct in her belief that the Republic, in attempting to solve the problems and concerns of others, caused a great deal of harm to those who did not deserve it. And it was certainly a great irony that it was there that the emotional wall that she had built over the course of her life had finally crumpled.
And it was all because of Willow.
Willow's progress as a Jedi had been amusing to say the least. Tara had known of her during her time as a Jedi Knight, hearing her peers talk about a Padawan who was far beyond the others of her clan and exemplified what it meant to be the perfect Youngling and student. Of course, she was equally known for her rather...frequent brushes with the ethics of the Order. There was the time when she accidentally deleted a good majority of the information in the Jedi Archives, and her tendency to get overly emotional in situations that called for calm and peace of mind.
And then there was her late night excursion to Coruscant's underworld.
That incident, ironically, was what had led to their current relationship. Having wandered into a cantina, Willow had inadvertently walked into the Black Sun Vigo that she had been tasked with bringing to justice. She had planned to use rather...unsavory methods in order to accomplish that, and wasn't terribly looking forward to that. It was thus a relief for her when she came across the spunky little tyke who was to become her Padawan, though the guilt she felt about the situation forced her to talk to the Council when she learned that Willow was going to be cast out of the Order because of the redhead's actions.
It had been the first of many times when Tara had done her best to keep Willow from harm as she helped to shape her into the perfect model of a Jedi. But then there had been that incident on Taris, when Tara had taken a blaster shot directly to the chest and had to spend months undergoing treatment in order to get well once again. Tenderly rubbing the spot that, even now, still bore the scares of that incident, she realized that had been the first time that she couldn't protect Willow from the dangers of the galaxy.
That became all the more obvious during their trip to Naboo. Tara had hoped that it would be a good situation in which to slowly start expanding Willow's experience in dealing with the problems of the galaxy. It was her hope that the redhead could start to come into her own as a Jedi, and not have to be dependant on her Master for everything, a situation about which she couldn't help but notice the irony, considering all the blonde had done to foster that dependence.
Of course, things had not turned out so well. And Tara had done her absolute best to keep Willow out of danger, a task made all the more difficult by Willow's constant need to be reassured about a situation that she herself, despite putting up a brave front, did not feel any more comfortable about.
But with the kiss the two had shared in the forested swamps, Tara knew that she had finally crossed a line. For the longest time, she had allowed her emotions to be bottled up so that she could never let the pain of learning of her origins: her mother had been a Jedi who had given her to the Temple at age three and was killed en route back to Alderaan by none other than her father, who had captured her some years earlier. Tara was the result of that forced union.
It was that secret that had her to struggle for emotional control for the majority of her life. Jedi were not allowed to know of their past, but Tara knew of hers because her own Master, the famed Corellian Jedi Nejaa Halcyon, felt that she had a right to know. Tara couldn't help but wonder what made Master Halcyon think letting her know would possibly be for her own good. The knowledge that her mother was a Jedi who had been captured, tortured and violated in the most perverse manner imaginable was something that the blonde tried very hard to forget from the moment she had learned of it.
But on the positive side, her mother must have cared a great deal for Tara if she was willing to give her up to be trained. It was a standard practice that Jedi initiates be found by the age of six months, before the feelings that could promote fear, anger and hatred could be developed enough to make them unsuitable for instruction in the ways of the Force. But since Tara had grown up on Alderaan, a planet well known for its peace and tranquility, and in the company of such a loving young woman as her mother must have been, the Jedi Council must have thought there reasons sufficient enough to allow her to be taken in.
Of course, the downside of this was that her mother had been forced to leave the Jedi Order. It was something that made Tara proud and conflicted at the same time. For Her mother had given up the only life she had ever known just to make sure that her daughter had the opportunity to have the life she deserved, and the decision must have weighed heavily on her. Because of that decision, Tara could desire to do little other than honor the memory of her mother and make her proud.
Tara felt something then. A subtle manipulation of the Force that, on the surface, passed by so quickly that it could be misunderstood as insignificant by less focused Jedi. It gave her pause as she wondered briefly if Willow was using the Force unnecessarily in her task. Although the task of creating a lightsaber was one in which manipulation of the Force was necessary, the redhead did have a tendency to overuse her Force abilities sometimes in even the most simplest of tasks. Tara recalled the first night they had spent on Naboo, when Willow had wondered why Tara was using sticks in order to create a fire when manipulating the air around them with the Force would have produced the same effect. Tara had chastised Willow by saying that the Force wasn't a tool to be used to solve everyday problems, a credo borne out of her desire to limit the use of her own skills unless her life or the life of someone else was in danger.
The feeling passed, and was replaced by one of great accomplishment. Smiling briefly, Tara stood up and walked back to the ramp of the ship, preparing to step out and greet her apprentice as she returned.
Waiting at the edge of the ramp, her cloak tightly wrapped around her, Tara watched as two figures emerged from the snowy winds. Smiling, she walked up to greet Willow with a handshake that soon turned into a hug.
"Welcome back, Padawan," Tara said.
Looking up into the crystal blue eyes of her Master, Willow replied, "And to you, Master." Removing something from her belt, she gave her newly constructed lightsaber to Tara for inspection. "I thought you might like to look at it, seeing as how you played a vital role in its construction, and all."
Tara looked at the weapon Willow had given her, a flood of memories returning to her as she recognized the shape and design of the redhead's new weapon. It was, in every shape and form, a near perfect likeness of her weapon. This did not surprise Tara, as lightsabers built by Padawans often reflected the design of their Masters. But most Padawans added their own spins on the design, making their weapon one that showed respect to their Master, yet marked the weapon as their own. For Willow to have built hers in the exact likeness of her own...
"Willow...I don't know what to say."
The redhead's eyes sparkled. "Say you're proud of me."
Tara smiled. "I am proud of you, Willow. No matter what you do, I will always be proud of you."
The two enveloped in a hug once more, then turned to board the transport, R5 following behind. As Tara made the preparations for take off, Willow moved to sit beside her, head turning to look at her Master. "Master?"
"Yes, Willow?" Tara asked, not turning to look at her, still concentrating on her task.
Willow thought about how to proceed. Ever since Naboo, and the feelings she had experienced there, she had been wondering how to talk to her Master about what she had done. It pained her to realize that she had come so close to feeling the grip of the Dark Side on her heart. Willow knew that Tara had her own pain, and she did not want to add more to her Master's, which, in relation, seemed rather insignificant. Willow may have brushed close to the Dark Side, but Tara had the stigma of being the product of an unloving relationship mixed with her desire to care and help others. It must be terrible for her to go through life every single day wondering how she could help others without harming them.
Willow turned away, knowing that now was not the time to deal with this. Ever since Qui-Gon Jinn had died, Tara had nearly fallen back into her own routine of keeping things to herself and not letting anything out that others may see as a weakness. Willow knew that her Master was currently agonizing about how to deal with a particular problem, and she also knew that until Tara came to a conclusion about that, it would not be a good idea to compound her problems by adding her own.
Turning to look out the viewport, Willow watched as the snowy surface of Ilum began to disappear as the ship lifted off and headed into space. "Nothing."
Tara placed a comforting hand on Willow's thigh, gently squeezing it. Willow smiled faintly at the touch, knowing that it meant one very important thing. Even though they knew the other held some kind of pain back and that now was not the time to discuss it, it meant that, no matter what happened or how long it took, they would find a way to deal with it.
Reaching for the hyperdrive levers, Tara pulled them back, and Willow watched as the stars around them transformed into the mottled sky of hyperspace. Sitting back in their seats, Master and Padawan relaxed, wondering what would happen to the galaxy around them before they would feel comfortable enough to talk to one another about the pain they kept close to themselves.