Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars or any of its associated characters; they all belong to their respective owners. I only own any characters or plotlines that you do not recognize.

Foreword: Bit of a shorter one for y'all today, but I felt motivated to get something out to you guys!

57. "No Hard Feelings"

Coruscant, Core Worlds

A temperate breeze swept across Senator Amidala's open-air veranda, which caused sweeping, gauzy curtains to sway and flutter leisurely. They danced softly, the way that deep space pilots often described angels to move. The slow, leisurely movements of the transparent swaths of white fabric were hypnotizing to watch. Through them the soft blues and purples of evening could be seen, glowing in the stretch of clouds that heralded in the latter half of the day. All of Coruscant was calm, or at least looked it in the wake of the dying daylight. The whole of the planet's surface seemed like a condensed star scape. The windows of the ecumenopolis' innumerable buildings both twinkled and glowed constantly in the growing dark. Speeder tail lights zipped around like the arcs of shooting stars, brilliant in their quickness. It was remarkable how calming such a dizzyingly busy place could be. This was something that Elara had always marveled at; how so much peace could be derived from a place that truly never slept, where the energy constantly pulsed and thrummed without so much as a couple second pause. Perhaps there was a comfort in the feeling of life. Especially now, given that Elara had already seen enough death to last a lifetime. To be surrounded by the obvious signs of liveliness was soothing. It, in a way, forced her to relax, which was something she found progressively more difficult to elect to do.

And it was on Padmé's veranda that Elara was trying to purposefully fall prey to the sensation of relaxation. Her head sat tipped back against the back of an elegant, curving sofa, eyes closed softly. A hand sat softly draped over her still bruised ribs, which ached faintly with every inhale she took. Her other hand lay flopped over in her lap, and rested motionlessly beside an activated datapad. An incident report glowed on its screen. Elara had read half of it before the sudden urge to rest her eyes had overtaken her. They'd started to burn and ache, longing to be closed, if even for just a minute. Ten or so of those minutes had passed in blissful quiet, the low thrum of distant speeder traffic creating Coruscant's usual nightly lullaby.

"It looks like you're posing for an artist of some kind," Padmé teased lovingly, voice lilting into a slight laugh.

The corner of Elara's mouth pulled into the slightest smirk, and one of her eyebrows lifted languidly. "Oh? And what would this piece of art be called? 'The Over Expended Jedi'?" she inquired in a half-laugh, voice croaking tiredly. The hand that had been resting in her lap rose to rub at her still-closed eyes. "I'm sure it will be a most desired piece…"

Padmé laughed at the sarcastic drawl, voice tinkling from the other end of the sofa. It was a gentle sound, delicate and light, which befitted the smile that had surely split across her face. One that surely showcased her dazzling display of teeth, and crinkled the corners of her warm brown eyes. Everything about the Senator from Naboo was poised and gentle and beautiful; and that included her Force signature, too. It was no wonder that she was able to conduct her business with a calm, determined success. There was a peaceful air about her that was infectious. And though there was a demure aspect to her nature, an innate gentleness, she was by no means to be taken for granted. She was not weak. For there was always a passion burning behind her eyes, a slight hitch in her smiles that promised she was ready with a sharp, smart comeback. Just the sort of thing a diplomat and politician needed––and she had always been one of the best.

"Well, 'The Over Expended Jedi' looks as though she would make a beautiful sculpture."

Elara gave a disbelieving cluck of her tongue.

What she didn't realize, due to that lack of belief, was that Padmé was ultimately correct. In the languid positioning of her body, there was an artfulness. Instead of her usual attire of Jedi robes in shades of pale purple and off-white, she was wrapped in something much thinner, gauzier, and more colorful. It was a robe of Nabooian style, lent to her by Padmé. The robe was made of silk and organza, bathed in shades of rich, golden ocher. The natural slip and flow of these fabrics revealed a softness to Elara's figure that was not often appreciated through the layers of roughspun tunics. They followed the line of her legs as they lay outstretched, falling away from her bare feet and crossed ankles. Hair, slightly damp and curling into gentle waves, splayed loosely beneath her reclined head. Elara's state of repose was a moment of calm beauty. And it was something special. Something that was, in fact, artful, in its own unique way, and that was not a beauty that Elara could grasp. Perhaps if it had been someone else––if it were Obi-Wan, perhaps––she might've seen the beauty in it. But with Elara being the subject of it, it was completely lost to her.

"I hope you're feeling more relaxed, at least. Did you finish reading that report?" Padmé asked.

A grimace twisted across the Jedi's face as she lifted her head. A crick in her neck had formed from how long it had been stretched both backwards and sideways; whilst one hand reached up to massage the knot that had formed under her skin, the other lifted her datapad. Air filled her lungs fully, then left in a full, heavy sigh.

"No. I made it halfway before I felt the sudden urge to follow Ack's advice––he'll be thrilled to know I willingly rested my eyes," she deadpanned. The hand at her neck dropped so she could scroll back a few lines, which she skimmed quickly. The words 'Zillo Beast' popped out at her and immediately made her twice-bruised ribs start to ache. "Are you done with yours?"

A much gentler sigh left Padmé. Elara turned her eyes on her friend, who sat on the opposite end of the sofa, legs tucked up, datapad resting on her knees. One elbow rested on the back of the furniture piece, which allowed her delicate fingers to keep her head propped up. There was a tired frown playing at the corners of her mouth. "Not even close. It's numbingly long, a briefing on the number of newly Separatist aligned systems… It's very detailed… and very much an attack on someone's optimism…"

"Most reports and briefings nowadays are…"

Both women had made a habit of meeting with one another when they had reports or briefs to read or write. It was easy to do such things alone. The comfort and quiet of one's room often provided a decent atmosphere to work in. But it was nice to have some kind of companionship, the sort that understood there was a time to work and a time to talk. They'd read or write in comfortable silence. That is, until one of them made some kind of passing comment regarding whatever they were working on. In this case, Elara was reading a write-up on the Zillo Beast incident, which had transpired not but several days prior, and layered more bruises atop those garnered on Felucia. And Padmé was reading up on Separatist systems, a hot topic that had started to burn in recent days. But it had started with Padmé not just lending the tired, bruised-up Jedi a lavishly comfortable robe, but also the use of her bath. Refreshers were good for getting clean, for temporarily soothing aching muscles; but they weren't good for total relaxation. So Elara had let her muscles soak in the luxurious senatorial bath located in Padmé's rooms. It had left her with a sweet, mellow floral perfume that clung to her skin. Afterwards, both had settled in to read as the sun started to set; it all had evolved into a quiet kind of girls' evening. Both of them were tired, in desperate need of one relaxing night, and had decided that this was the evening to have it.

The quick stint of conversation waned into silence once more. Padmé frowned as she returned to her briefing, and Elara's tired eyes returned to Windu's description of the Zillo Beast incident. It was descriptive but clinical, as many Jedi reports were. Perhaps it was the exhaustion, or perhaps it was genuine boredom, but she couldn't find it in herself to stay focused on it. She'd read dozens of these things before, and while they were often dry, she usually made it through them in the first sitting. But this time around, Elara found that she couldn't make it through it. Her thoughts kept wandering. They trod carefully down a wary path, fearful to disturb what doubts and worries lay settled across it. Those thoughts had her fingers swiping to dismiss the Zillo Beast report, and had them tap into an official decree put out by the Chancellor's office. It had been released whilst she, Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka were on Felucia; and ever since she'd read it, Elara had found it hard to thrust from her mind.

By Order of the Supreme Chancellor:

Henceforth, all production of armor and equipment required by the clone troopers of the Grand Army of the Republic shall be increased. Such items will be made readily available so we might protect our invaluable assets. Any and all damaged armor and equipment may be turned in and replaced upon request, and any faulty armor and equipment should be reported immediately.

Palpatine had kept true to his word, the one that he had divulged to her in the humid air of the Senate Gardens. Upon returning from Felucia, the entirety of the 442nd had been outfitted in new armor. The men were busy painting their chosen markings onto the brand new plastoid alloy, grinning and jovial. All other clone trooper outfits had been much the same. And as Ack-Ack delivered the news of the order––"I don't know what you did, Sir, but it damn well worked."––Elara was in genuine disbelief. The Chancellor was a flatterer, that she had always known. So, ultimately, he'd taken his word as just that. Flattery. She never would have dreamed he might actually make good on his word; she'd hoped he would in this given circumstance, but had been very doubtful. The fact that he had was absolutely jarring. It floored her. Palpatine was someone she'd never truly trusted, and thus, part of her was pleasantly surprised by this turn of events; however, on the other hand, part of her had tensed in suspicion. Because for as much as the order was much needed, the wording betrayed a coldness behind it. It was put out so that they 'might protect our invaluable assets.' To much of the Republic––and clearly to Palpatine––the clones weren't viewed as human. They were a means to an end, living weaponry. He certainly wouldn't shed any tears for the death of the clones.

Which made the executive order all the more perplexing. It was clearly not something the Chancellor did out of the goodness of his heart, no matter how much he may try to convince her of that. Elara had the strangest feeling that this order had been made because of her concerns. That this was, in some way, a bid to get her to trust him. Even if it was just an ounce more than she had before. It was something that he'd been dying to gain for years, or, at least, that was what she'd always thought. He wanted to be a mentor. A confidant. An ear to speak her problem into. Just as he had been––and has been––all of those things for Anakin, who had come to trust him implicitly. If this was a game that Palpatine was playing, then he was playing it well. He was an excellent politician. He prodded gently, found the tender, weak points, and then poked at them; and it felt like he was pressing against one of hers––the protectiveness she felt over her men. A soft frown pulled at Elara's lips at the thought, and a hand rose to massage the corners of her mouth.

"Padmé?" she asked quietly. The response she got was an inquisitive, gentle hum. Her head ticked slightly towards her friend, who remained absorbed in her report on Separatist systems. Words bubbled up to her lips, halted there, and then burst forth courageously. "What are your thoughts on the Chancellor?"

The question caused Padmé to lift her attention from her datapad. Her fingers were paused mid scroll, and her expression was both inquiring and curious, drawing her delicate eyebrows together and gently parting her lips. Elara couldn't help the sharp shot of anxiety that zinged through her body. It wasn't one she often asked. It wasn't a question that many asked at all, really. The Supreme Chancellor was a man many respected for any multitude of reasons: his quiet but pressing demand for respect, his air of dignity, his ability to make tough decisions. He was so widely well thought of, and that made it difficult for Elara to voice her mistrust of him. The only person who knew of such misgivings was Yoda, who had seemed open to entertaining them; she daren't bring it up to Anakin, for she knew he wouldn't hear it. He'd scoff and smile, and tell her that she was overthinking things, that the war had gotten to her head. That Palpatine was the best man there was, and she didn't have anything to worry about. Mentioning such worries to Padmé had never seemed to be an option, either. While she had been Queen of Naboo, he had been sitting in Naboo's senatorial seat. They'd been partners in politics for years. But this escalation in Elara's own relationship with Palpatine––no matter how slight or inconsequential it may have seemed––finally pushed her to ask. Working with someone amiably did not always mean you enjoyed them personally.

"Palpatine? Well…" Padmé lowered the datapad to her lap, "I have known him for many years, so I fear my evaluation may be a little biased. As a professional, I know him to be an excellent politician. There's never been someone more dedicated to their job, especially whilst he acted as senator. He was a good and loyal servant to the people of Naboo. People loved him, his fellows respected him. It was him I knew I could go to, while I served as Queen, to ask advice on difficult situations. Of course, not all of these decisions would be the popular outcome, but he would make them anyways, if he should think that was the best course of action. He would always give me his unbiased opinion, and if he should have a bias, he was sure to make it known. It's an aspect of this personality that has served him well in his role as Chancellor."

Elara offered a little nod, strands of still damp hair caressing her cheek with the answer she'd received was about what she'd expected to get. A shining recommendation. Which Padmé would, of course, give––she was, after all, the one who had initially proposed that Palpatine take on the role of Supreme Chancellor. "And… personally?"

"I know him to be a good man. Devoted to his job and to his beliefs, but not so much so that he would deny anyone their opinion. He cares for those he works for and wishes to see them safe––just look at how he reacted to that bombing on the tarmac. His concern was not only for what such an event meant, but for those caught up in the explosion. It's that caring that has made him a mentor to many; including Anakin, as I'm to understand," Padmé recalled.

"And in either of these capacities––professional or personal––do you know him to be a… flatterer at all?" Elara endeavored to ask.

"Flattery can be a tactic in politics, and it's one he knows how to use well. But if he truly believes that one deserves complimentary words, then he will lend them." It was here that Padmé's expression, lively while she spoke, creased into its previous look of curiosity. "Why do you ask?"

Lips pursed, Elara turned her attention back to the datapad in her lap. On its screen the executive order glowed, the words teasing. They promised change, a good change; but there was still something to them that didn't sit quite right in the pit of her stomach. Something unnamed that seemed to lurk beneath the perfumed promises, that wasn't quite what it presented itself to be. Part of her hoped that this was just paranoia. That the exhaustion and jadedness that came from fighting a war really was just making this seem too good to be true. But it was near impossible to ignore that insistent twinge that said not to trust it.

"Until very recently, there seemed to be an endless parade of flattery any time I spoke with the Chancellor. Praises of my work with the Order, congratulations on a successful mission, or the passing of my trials… Reassurances that what I've been doing since the start of the war is making a difference. I've never been flattered in such a way, and…" she trailed off, mouth hanging open wordlessly. Then through her lips passed a sigh, accompanied by a dismissive shake of her head and a tired expression. Whatever energy had driven her to ask, suddenly depleted. "I don't know. It never sat quite right."

As those words hung in the air was an uncharacteristic uncertainty, a delicate smile curved across Padmé's face. There was a kind of knowingness to it, as though she did know why, and it was not at all what Elara in fact felt. The troubled Jedi watched as she set her datapad aside, pressed her hands down into the sofa, and shuffled closer to her. The rich, deep purple fabric of Padmé's own robe dragged behind her elegantly; it swept out behind her like a spill of water, dotted gently with small gems that glittered in the low light. Once she was at Elara's side, she tucked both of her legs beneath herself, facing her. She then reached out and took Elara's hand and pulled it away from the datapad screen. Padmé clasped it between both of her own, the gesture both friendly and warm. The battle hardened calluses on the Jedi's fingers brushed against the softness of the Senator's.

"The flattery is deserved," she tried to assure. The smile that still lifted her lips lent a happy lilt to her voice. She even offered a quiet, sweet laugh. "I know you well, Elara. You find it difficult to receive and accept compliments, you think them to be unfounded and undeserved. But the praise that you're given is well deserved. I don't imagine the Jedi Council is very flowery when they offer compliments…"

Elara couldn't help but laugh quietly at the comment. "No, they're rather straightforward," she confirmed.

"Precisely! The Chancellor is known to be verbose at times, particularly when expressing praise. Perhaps your unease comes from not being used to such compliments. The Chancellor speaks highly of you, and he appreciates the work that you've done. He mentioned as much when he proposed passing the executive order on armor production."

The unprompted mention of the order had Elara perking up a little. With a slight shift of weight, she twisted her torso towards Padmé, her legs drawing up onto the sofa slightly.

"He did?"

"Yes, he did. When opposition arose, claiming that production times couldn't be helped, Palpatine came to the defense of your proposition. Of you. He cited your multitude of successful missions, your qualities of leadership, your compassion. How your first-hand experience in the field should be trusted above all else; and that if this was a concern to you, then it should be a concern for all. He, like myself, believes you to be one of the best Jedi fighting this war. I am sure that he means well… that all he wants is to be there for you, as he has been there for others," the Senator explained. Her words were punctuated by the squeezing of Elara's hands, as though she was attempting to reassure her.

Elara sat there quietly, trying to envision the Supreme Chancellor leaping not only to the defense of her request, but insisting she be trusted. It, for some reason, boggled her mind. For all of the flattering he had done, this was not something she could picture him doing. His words of praise had always seemed very private. Like they were meant for her ears only. And how could they not be, as they were often spoken in low, quiet tones, while he guided her across a space with her arm pulled through his? They were delivered to her, and her only, in a way that made the flesh over her spine crawl. Despite Padmé's gentle reassurances, Elara couldn't shake the feeling that Palpatine's motives weren't as pure and genuine as they were being made out to be. It didn't feel as though he were speaking to his councils about her with a warm, grandfatherly smile. It still didn't feel kind. No––it still felt as though he was trying to whisper sly promises to her, a serpent-like smirk on his face. Like he was trying to worm his way under his skin and find a home there; just the thought of his stale breath on her skin made her flinch.

A gently defeated exhale fled Elara's nose, something that might've seemed like a sigh of resignation or relief. But it was a quiet, self-made acknowledgement that she was still quite alone in her opinions of this man. It would take quite some convincing on her part to get Padmé to change her opinion; just as difficult as it would be to convince Anakin. This was an argument she wouldn't win, so it was one that she wouldn't endeavor to start. She was too exhausted, mentally and physically, to even try. So she mustered up a smile, small but hopefully convincing, and inclined her head to her friend. This was something that seemed to work, as Padmé's careful smile grew.

"Yes… you're probably right," she falsely conceded. "He's probably just trying to be kind. I'll be sure to pass on my regards when I see him next." Though there was an acidity to those words that only she could taste, that only she could feel prickling on her tongue, there was a truth to the latter half. She would have to pass on her regards––it was the decent thing to do. And though the man made her hair stand on end, the deeply rooted, well-mannered part of herself still felt strange about being so forwardly cold to him. Because if this perception of hers was truly some sort of misunderstanding––which she genuinely doubted was the case––then she would surely feel guilty for being so needlessly rude.

Perhaps there would be a day when she would both have the energy and feel brave enough to confront others with her worries.

It was not such a day.

Before Elara was tasked with finding some kind of segue into a new conversation, a light, humming chime rippled through the apartment. A door chime. Both women looked towards the opposite end of the veranda, where the door to the adjoining room was located. It was getting late, which usually meant visitors, unless expected, were not common. And given that they'd settled in to have a quiet, undisturbed evening… and the fact that Padmé's delicate brows had furrowed in confusion… no one else was expected to show up. Some part of Elara, newly but firmly rooted, tensed a little. The muscles in her back coiled a little, undoing a portion of the relaxing she'd done. Her jaw shifted and set. Her left hand tightly gripped Padmé's, while her right hand pulled from her friend's grasp, instinctively reaching for her right hip––where her lightsaber usually hung. But this time her fingers brushed against the wispy organza of her robe. Her saber sat neatly atop her folded Jedi robes, on a small table on the opposite side of the room. It was out of reach, but war had left Elara more on edge than before. Where once an unexpected visitor would have just simply been puzzling, it now inspired a kind of paranoia she was still getting used to. Like whoever or whatever was there posed an immediate, potential threat. Logically, however, she knew whoever was calling upon the Senator of Naboo likely meant no harm. But this new found instinct was hard to fully let go of; especially when it had saved her life before.

"Excuse me a second," Padmé murmured softly. She gently removed her hand from the Jedi's, rose to her feet, and smoothed the nonexistent wrinkles from the fabric of her robe. She elegantly moved across the veranda, the ripple of rich blue fabric fluttering out behind her. She disappeared through the adjoining doorway, leaving her friend alone on the sofa.

With a deep breath, Elara bid her eyes to fall closed. A steady exhale passed through her nose, and with it, she honed in on the warm, calming sensation in the Force. Once focused on it, she allowed it to wash over her. The hand at her hip relaxed, instead of grabbing at a not-present saber hilt. The tension that had gathered between her shoulder blades melted away. It's only a guest, Elara told herself gently. In all likelihood, it was a foreign dignitary, who had come to extend an invitation to dinner. There was no need to be so on edge. This wasn't a war zone––this was Coruscant. And though it had been touched by war in isolated incidents, it was by no means ravaged like Christophsis had been. The wash of calm flooded over and through her, easing her nerves, which now always seemed to live in some kind of harried state. With one final, calm exhale, Elara opened her eyes. And though the Force hummed around her calmly, though on the whole she was much more settled, that twinge of anxiety still festered deep in her gut somewhere.

Elara, with a gentle sigh, picked her datapad up off her lap again. She returned to the incident report she'd been pouring over, dragging her fingers across the screen to find the place where she'd left off. But no sooner did she find the spot, than a new sensation washed over her. It was gentle, like the breeze tickling past her nose, or the cresting of a slow rolling wave. And though it was new––it was familiar. The calm of the Force that had settled itself around her was disrupted by the lively tingle of a new Force signature. One that was warm and impossibly gentle, understanding to its core, and, to Elara, deeply intoxicating. Her muscles locked, and her fingers froze against the datapad screen. Her heart cramped in a strange mix of anxious excitement. After a moment, her head raised, eyes wide and fixated on the doorway on the opposite side of the room. She waited, breath bated for some kind of confirmation that it was, indeed, Obi-Wan Kenobi who had arrived at the Senator's apartments. Her answer came shortly afterwards, and left her breath snagging in her throat.

"My apologies for intruding," Obi-Wan's warm voice lilted from the other room, "but Anakin mentioned I might find Elara here, and the matter is pressing."

The steadied beating of her heart quickly elevated, tripping over itself upon realizing that he was there, and he was there for her. He had not sought her out directly since that night in the hangar, and instinctively some part of her smarted with worry. It froze the breath in her lungs. It was thawed only by the rationale that such a thing wasn't likely to happen again, not now at least; that confrontation had been born of a phenomenal circumstance. A similar occurrence had not happened. In fact, if Elara dared to think such things, the climate between herself and Obi-Wan had seemed to have improved. That thought––daring and tentative––had that frozen breath leaving her lungs in an exhale, one that still shook despite the attempt of self-reassurance.

"It's no intrusion at all," Padmé promised. Their voices had been growing louder, which suggested that they were making their way towards the veranda. At any moment, they would stride through that door and find Elara sitting there, picturesque, in the fading light of day.

And it was that thought, remarkably, that sent a thrill of panic through the Jedi's system. It was no longer because Obi-Wan was seeking her out. Or because they would be sharing a conversation. Such things a mere two weeks ago would have inspired the same reaction. But this time, the thought of them––of him––seeing her like this––dressed in attire far different from her day-to-day wear––filled her with genuine panic. Her heart thundered inside her chest. The pulse of blood through her body quickened. For a moment, the word seemed frozen… and then it sped into overtime. Elara was on her feet in a second, datapad cast aside, and grabbed the back of the sofa. And in a dramatic move befitting of both a Jedi and a Skywalker, Elara launched herself over the end of the sofa. Hair swayed into her eyes. The Force aided in carrying her legs clean over the top of the sofa. The gossamer fabric around her legs shifted, billowing out behind her in elegant waves of ocher. It was the burning contrail of her swift movement towards the other side of the room, where her Jedi robes sat patiently waiting. If Elara could snag them on her way into the adjacent room, she might just be able to change. She might just spare herself the shock of being seen in such a state.

The robes were almost within reach. Elara reached out preemptively, waiting to feel the whisper of softness she attributed to her lilac under-tunic. But no sooner did the tip of her middle finger reach it, her plan was utterly foiled.

"Elara, Master Kenobi is here to see you," announced Padmé. Her voice, soft as was typical, felt as though it had been bellowed. It halted the scurrying Jedi right in place, her arm extended towards her clothes.

Elara stared at the wall directly in front of her, eyes blown fully wide. Then, after staring at the pale white veins of the marble wall slab, her eyes fell tightly closed. Inside her chest, her heart felt as though it were about to burst. If only she'd been able to grab that tunic. Just the under-tunic and the trousers. For it was those things that Obi-Wan had seen her in before, those things were familiar to them both. He knew what she looked like with the slight bulk of rough-spun fabric encasing her body. What he didn't know––what she barely even knew––was how she looked like this. Swathed in fabric so sumptuously thin, it seemed as though a breeze could tear it. Fabric that allowed glimpses at limbs and skin so dutifully hidden. With a neckline that dipped lower than that of the robes that covered her up to the base of her neck. This was all very unfamiliar. And, on the whole, Elara felt very unprepared.

Unable to help the heat that flooded her cheeks, a heat that painted them a becoming pink, Elara lifted her chin. She then composed her expression as best she could and turned. Both her hands went to her waist and tugged at the tie of the robe, ensuring it was secured tightly. Very tightly. She willed herself to look at Padmé first. Truly, she did. And it was a valiant thought. But Elara had no control as to how her gaze only stalled for a second on her friend, before jumping sharply to her fellow Jedi. And she looked at him just in time to see the noticeable shift in his expression. It went from composed, with the slightest, curious crease between his eyebrows, to flawlessly slack in surprise. That crease disappeared as his eyebrows lifted out of their furrow. The slightest of parts appeared between his lips. For a moment, his eyes locked with hers, gaze oddly intense for such a slackened expression. It caused that trembling, tense pull in the pit of Elara's stomach to tighten again. That feeling only worsened when Obi-Wan's eyes dropped to the floor, to her feet, and started to meander upwards again. Over the thin, delicately embroidered silk that hid her legs, the transparent organza that created tempting peeks at her arms and chest. Those fabrics both so thin that Elara felt as though she could feel his gaze. Where it felt like a breeze could tear the Nabooian cloth, it felt like his gaze could burn straight through it. For she swore that she could feel the movements of his eyes against her skin as they scaled the length of her body. As though he weren't standing across the veranda at all, and was instead beside her, hands moving over the spots his eyes were lingering. That fleeting comparison conjured images the likes of which were not unfamiliar to her—hot breath against sensitive skin, two heartbeats pressed close to one another, a heat born of an unknown passion. Such thoughts had passed through her head before. And they were not not always wholly unwelcome; but given the current situation, given the present company… such thoughts were very much unwelcome. Vastly so. The thoughts only made her blush darken.

Elara cleared her throat a little, stopped fussing with the silken tie, and smoothed her hands over her stomach.

"How can I help you, Obi-Wan?" she managed to get out, voice mildly breathless––and not just from her quick attempt at escape. Her mind was so scrabbled from the way that he was looking at her, she'd forgotten to use an honorific, as she'd taken to doing in more recent days. His name weighed on her tongue sweetly, like a honey she'd been forbidden to eat.

The moment that his name fell from her mouth, his eyes leapt back up to hers. Drawn to them almost as though through magnetism. For a second, all he did was stare, something slight having shifted in his gaze. Something unfamiliar and subtle, but different nonetheless. But then his eyebrows suddenly vaulted and he cleared his throat, head tipping forward in silent greeting. This also tore his gaze away from her, and for a brief moment Elara felt as though she could breathe again. Her eyes darted over to Padmé, who was holding a lithe hand over her mouth––a half-hearted attempt to hide the fact that she was smiling beneath it. There was a mirthfulness glittering in her eyes, which slipped between both Jedi smoothly. Elara widened her eyes a little at her, silently questioning her as to why she hadn't been given any warning; and in response, Padmé just smiled a little wider. Briefly, she pressed her hand fully over her smiling lips, then dropped it away and tried to stifle it from view. But it still twinged at the corners of her mouth, even as Obi-Wan lifted his head again. When his eyes also rose, they stuttered a little as they met her own, like he willed them not to jump lower.

"I apologize for the interruption of such a leisurely evening. If I did not believe it to be of the utmost relevance, I would have waited till tomorrow," he said. Though the familiar business-like tone of his voice was present, something had softened it. Almost a kind of bashfulness, an emotion he rarely portrayed.

Elara gave a little nod, resisting the urge to press her hands to her cheeks; something that would have been a half-hearted attempt to hide how pink they had likely become. Instead, her hands swept behind her back and clasped there. A stance more befitting of her scarred armor than her lavish robe, but it had become something of a comfort. A way for her to squeeze at her own fingers without anyone noticing––and that was exactly what she was doing. Squeezing her fingers till it felt like the joints might pop. "You needn't apologize. If you believe this matter in need of immediate addressing… then I trust your judgement. It has rarely led us astray."

Obi-Wan nodded, the corner of his mouth subtly twitching at the word 'us.' But it was a flash of a thing. So quick it could've been a trick in the shift of the dying evening light. For no sooner did Elara think she saw it, it was gone. But she would have liked to think it was there. She hoped that it was there––the starts of a smile, no matter how fleeting. Because that would be a potentially positive reflection of how things had changed since their return from Felucia. Something had happened on that far flung jungle planet. Something had… shifted. An unprompted change, one that neither Obi-Wan or Elara had intentionally gone out of their way to make. It was as though there was something in the atmosphere of the planet that had caused it. A shift so small, so slight… but something that felt remarkably seismic. Something that had gently disturbed the thick, humid air around them, yet simultaneously shoved them towards civility. Something more than civility––that was what they had been working with. No, this shift pushed them towards familiarity. Where it was acceptable to talk in a tone other than business-like. Where looks could linger for a second longer, a hand could reassuringly touch an arm, and where agreements could be made. Elara couldn't put her finger on why Felucia had been the turning point; but it was undeniably that.

Things were by no means what they had once been. The once dynamic duo hadn't returned to strolling through the Temple side-by-side, or taking tea with one another in the mornings. They weren't smiling at one another easily again, but they also weren't dutifully avoiding one another's gaze. They'd reached some kind of middle ground. Where the energy that surrounded them felt healing, urging them to mend the rift that they'd torn between them. They held conversation more easily, with more of an air of familiarity, though there was still tension in the pauses. It was easier to stand in the same room as one another, and the air between them was more tentative than stifling. It felt better than where they'd been before Felucia, like they'd finally found a direction to start meandering in. One where distance didn't have to thrive between them, or where animosity didn't bloom so readily. And though such a path may not lead to where Elara's heart so badly yearned for it to go… that was something that she wanted, too. For things to return to some kind of normalcy between them. Because this stilted, broken, not-quite-friendship that they'd been operating with was exhausting. It was disheartening. It was not sustainable––it had never been sustainable. And on top of all of that… it just didn't feel right. So she would take 'better' over 'perfect.' Because in the grand scheme of things, she'd rather have Obi-Wan in her life as a friend, than to have him in it as a stranger.

Obi-Wan, with a gentle clearing of his throat, lifted a datapad. He must have been holding it at his side, something forgotten about in the intense first moments of his arrival. "A rather peculiar message came in via the communications tower."

"Peculiar how?" Elara asked. For that word––peculiar––could mean any number of things. Her first thought was that it was, perhaps, it was encoded in a way that made it seem jumbled, impossible to decipher. But why would Obi-Wan need her help with that? She wasn't a code breaker by trade. So she found her head tipping curiously to the side, waiting for further explanation.

"No one could make any sense of it whatsoever," he began, directing his attention to the datapad. He started to tap around its screen, likely bringing up the message in question. "In fact, it isn't much of a message at all––it was addressed to an individual, with a short sentence and a set of coordinates attached. The sender's location was encrypted, but with some work, the encryption was broken. It seems as though it was sent from the Outer Rim." Obi-Wan looked up, his fingers stilling to curl around the edge of the datapad. "When it was brought to my attention, I realized that it was meant for you."

"Me?" she asked, eyebrows furrowing. It was one of those moments where it felt like something dropped. Elara could feel it in the air, feel it in her stomach, the sensation fighting to replace the heat that had bloomed in her gut. Even without knowing the tone or contents of the message, she couldn't help but feel taken-aback… and slightly worried. "How do you know it was for me?"

Obi-Wan started to move across the veranda, arm extending to offer her the datapad. Elara immediately moved towards him, eyes not once breaking from his own. She reached out for the device as she came to meet him halfway through the room. As it was passed to her, their fingertips just millimeters away from touching, Obi-Wan's expression shifted. The pass-off of the datapad paused. His expression was unamused, tight. It was a look that she recognized, but the specificity of where she'd seen it before was just barely evading her. All she knew was that said expression, or one similar to it, often crossed his face whenever he was deeply unamused with something or someone.

"It was addressed to the 'Pretty Jedi,'" he drawled flatly. Elara was unable to help but gawp at him in surprise. Obi-Wan nodded and seemed to suppress a sigh. "It was a moniker that confused our brethren in the tower, they did not know to whom it was referring. But I knew…"

She stared at him a moment longer, completely taken aback. The message was from Hondo. A man who inspired such ire within Obi-Wan's inner being. The man who had caused the exact same look to cross the Jedi's face as he flirted with Elara on Felucia. It wasn't just displeasure on Obi-Wan's face… it was that unique swath of jealousy, too. The kind that had sparked through his eyes when he'd admitted that her interacting with Hondo put him on edge. Knowing that such a feeling had not left him, even two weeks after they'd returned from Felucia, sparked a feeling deep in Elara's stomach. It was similar to the one that she'd felt upon first recognizing his jealousy; an unabashed hope that things weren't as bleak as they seemed to be. That whatever had grown between them, the thing they had both been trying to squash had yet to be killed. There was still a chance to revive it and allow it to thrive. That kind of hope was intoxicating. It was dream-like. It threatened to make her forget why it was they were standing there across from one another, fingers almost touching as they both held the datapad.

And the reason why they were there was because there was a message.

A message with coordinates.

Coordinates…

The sound of Hondo's voice burst forth, brash and loud, to the forefront of Elara's head. It drawled a promise to 'shout the name of where to find the contact' if he were feeling generous. With eyes suddenly blowing wide, she looked down to the datapad and pulled it in towards her to read the message displayed across the screen.

TO THE PRETTY JEDI:

NO HARD FEELINGS, I HOPE!

The coordinates followed the simple, shockingly straight-forward message. Elara stared at them for a moment, trying to work out where they would lead her; it didn't take long to note that they were in the Outer Rim Territories, but she couldn't pin-point it.

"Do you know where this is?" she asked, voice gently quiet. She looked up at Obi-Wan, who had been watching her rather intently.

"It's a planet called Nevarro. Not the most pleasant of places from my precursory research…" Obi-Wan lifted a hand to draw his fingers across his jaw, and his brows furrowed. "Do you know why Hondo would be sending you this locale?"

Elara nodded, hair swinging alongside her face. The excitement at what these coordinates could mean had started to well up inside of her. It started to show in the lifting of her brows, the almost breathless exhale that left her mouth as she revealed that: "On Felucia, he said that he might willingly give up the location of his contact––the one who he received information about my bounty through."

Those words were enough to totally alter the atmosphere of the veranda. It was almost as though a wind had swept across it, bringing a wash of surprise in its wake. It affected all individuals present. It ripped the contemptuous look from Obi-Wan's face, leaving something almost dumbfounded there instead. Padmé voiced a small, almost startled gasp, and surged forward a few steps. Her hands grasped the back of a luxurious armchair, which she leaned forward against. Elara looked between them wide-eyed, heart thrumming wildly against her rib cage. Inside her, a cocktail of relief and apprehension swirled. It sighed at the thought that this could all be over soon; it shrank away at the thought this could all be a lie. A trick. A joke. This bounty was something that had been nipping at her heels for weeks, and had inspired a paranoia she had never known before. It reminded her of a time in her life where being sold for money was an everyday fear. Though, for the most part, Elara had managed to put on a brave face throughout the ordeal, the anxiety of it had still haunted her restful moments. It would be an insurmountable relief to discover that this was real. That these coordinates held the key to solving this mystery. And yet, she could not logically allow herself to lean into that hope, all for one reason.

"He's a pirate," Obi-Wan voiced quietly, almost regretfully in the airy aspect of it. He offered a slow shake of his head, and in his eyes a silent battle raged. The same one that Elara fought––the one between hope and apprehension. "He could be lying."

"I know," Elara agreed.

"But this is the first solid lead that you've had," Padmé pointed out. She gestured to the datapad and darted her eyes between the two Jedi. "Is it not worth looking into?"

Obi-Wan crossed an arm over his rib cage whilst the other lifted to draw a hand over his mouth. "Now, I didn't say that… I simply believe we need to approach this with caution. It could be a trap. After the ordeal on Felucia," his mouth twitched, perhaps at the memory of Elara plummeting through the air, "I don't see why he would be so keen on upholding his word. He did, after all, throw you rather gracelessly off a cliff."

That last comment was stated flatly, as though someone had pulled Obi-Wan's vocal cords tight, the very auditory picture of displeasure.

Before Elara had a chance to pipe in with her opinion, Padmé elegantly swept in with hers.

"Perhaps he's attempting to be conciliatory," she suggested. Her tone had tilted into something she might use in diplomatic negotiations. She rounded the chair she'd grasped on to in order to seat herself on its arm. Her delicate eyebrows arched, and her shoulders simultaneously lifted. "From what I've been told, he's rather partial to Elara. I believe it could be possible that the happenings on Felucia were not enough to sway his opinion of her." She gestured to the datapad again. "His giving her these coordinates could be a peace offering."

"It could be…" Elara agreed carefully. She looked down at the screen in her hands, eyes skimming over the words once more. The message was brief, but she felt as though she could hear Hondo's voice chiming out in her head. It was laced with a smirk and cocky, as though he was assured that this would right all wrongs. "I wouldn't put it past him to do something like this in an attempt to make up for his wrongdoings. But I cannot discount the fact that he's a pirate. That his profession is contingent on lying. That this could be a lie… no matter how wonderful it would be if it was the truth. My deceiving of him could have cut him deeply, and this could be a trap…" Elara pursed her lips at that thought, and sighed, that cocktail of potential hope roiling in her stomach once more. "But I cannot dismiss it totally."

Obi-Wan nodded, and his fingers gently prodded at the down-turned corners of his mouth. "Nor should you. I do believe this is worth investigating; I just believe we should be more cautious than anything. Make a plan, stick to it, take precautions every chance we can."

"I concur. At the very least, we'll foil his plot. At most," Elara met Obi-Wan's eyes and offered him the datapad back, "we finally get to the bottom of this."

Afterword: Well. It's been a lot longer than I intended. Life really whooped my ass for the past three months. I had my brother/sister-in-law/niece move in with my family and I, and I became de-facto babysitter for two months, which eliminated any time to do what I would've liked to do. I ended up needing to see about anxiety/depression medication, which has helped immensely, but I had to focus on doctors appts and what not. Then I ended up moving out, so that was a process––I've been settling into a new space, got a job I've been prepping for… way too much has happened, and my creative drive just plummeted. I've been sitting on these 12 pages for so long, and instead of withholding it any longer (and making it longer as I originally wanted to), I thought I'd get this out to you all! Hopefully it'll clear some of the creative channels in my brain. I cannot thank you all enough for your patience, and thank those of you who have reached out/commented hoping that I'm alright! I am, I just had to take a step back to let life settle down for me :) With that said, let's get back into the routine!

Review Replies!

DCD Gojira: Thank you, I hope you enjoyed the new chapter!

StrangerEyes: Those last words for the last chapter came to me as I was driving somewhere, and I was like 'oh yeah. Oh, yeah, that's gotta be the button for this mini-arc.' I hope you enjoyed the chapter; sorry for the delay in updating! Thanks again!

BookMite1oo: I remember not being mentally prepared for the last chapter either xD And that's saying something since I was the one writing it! I'm glad you seemed to enjoy it though. Since that last update, I am doing MUCH better mentally, and I'm feeling my creative drive pick back up again. Thanks again, and thank you for your patience! Hope you enjoyed the chapter!

bambam411: First of all, thank you for your understanding. I didn't realize how completely burned out I was around the last time I posted, and how much I needed to take a step back and take care of myself for a bit. Creativity/writing is a big part of my well being, but there's only so much it can do. I feel much better now, and I think I'm at a better spot in my life/mental state now to get back to consistently writing. Secondly, I'm so glad you enjoyed that last chapter! I was worried about writing Obi's POV, because he's so tricky to write, especially at this pivotal point for him. He's about to teeter/has just teetered off the edge of realizing that something has to be done, that he (and Elara) have to do something about this if they want to productively move forward. And the end of the last chapter… I had so much fun with it! The Mandalore arc is nigh, probably starting in the next chapter! I'm very excited to get into it… and still playing with maybe doing more Obi POV with it… I hope that you enjoyed the chapter! Thank you, again, for your understanding and patience!

monkeybaby: I hope you don't mind the extra long break I ended up taking! But the next arc will be starting the next chapter, and I hope that you're still excited for it! Thanks again, and thank you for your patience!

MsRosePetal: I'm so glad you enjoyed the last chapter! It was really a pivotal one to understand where they're both at going into the next arc. Because they're both just… so close to truly breaking. They've hit a point of individual realization that leaving all these emotions unaddressed isn't going to help them whatsoever. It's going to hurt them more than help them. Obi's POV was especially necessary because he's the tough nut to crack with this kind of stuff. I hope that you enjoyed the new update, though it is pointedly shorter than normal. Thank you again, for your thoughts and patience!

obilara4ever: Writing the Obi-Lara moment at the end of the last chapter just reminded me how much I miss writing them TOGETHER. Ugh, I can't wait for this next arc… 'cause we're finally creeping back into the territory where that's going to be getting more consistent again! Thank you again (also, love the guest username! :) ), and I hope you enjoyed the chapter!

RemiSparklez: I really loved getting the chance to write all the bits and pieces of the last chapter. Obi-Wan's POV was something I'd been sitting on doing for SO LONG, and I was so excited to finally get it down into writing! 'Cause this is such an important moment for him. He's realizing that his feelings are a lot deeper and real than he initially thought, and that they cannot be left unaddressed. Writing Ani and Lari is also something I've been waiting to do for forever; I itch to find moments where I can write a Skywalker Duo battle moment! I've got songs I listen to that just speak to me for those moments, so I always look for a moment to include it. And the injuries I just had to include; they're not invincible. It's easy to forget that, especially when, in canon, we don't really see them get injured/taken down all that often. So poor Elara's gotta get beaten up sometimes xD Also, I'm absolutely delighted you thought Anakin was going to be the one that caught her––I tried to make it kind of like 'oh, who is it?' But I thought everyone would be like 'it's Obi-Wan obvi,' so I'm very happy that it caught you by delightful surprise! Also, to my knowledge Sugi's name is pronounced like 'sue-ghee.' They don't say it often in the episode… like maybe once or twice, so I could be wrong! Again, thank you for your understanding and patience! Hope you enjoyed the chapter!

Duchess of Lantern Waste: Was the ending moment of that last chapter the turning point you ask? Well… it just may be… ;) The hopeless romantic in me is the reason that last chapter happened; I couldn't help myself. I just had to have a moment like that after all the tension and contention between them! I hope you enjoyed the chapter! Thanks again for your patience!

boursin: Can I just say that your review, when I got it all those weeks ago, absolutely made my day. I was folding laundry and watching the Bad Batch when I got it, and I was a smiling fool while I read it. I cannot tell you how awesome, and how cool it is to learn that you were listening to this story. I didn't know that was a function on the app! It's insanely cool to me that you fell into liking this story through listening to it in chunks, and incredibly flattering that, by the time you had worked your way through this, that you have fallen in love with Obi-Wan and Elara as a pairing, especially since you love Obidala so much/aren't the biggest fan of OCs! It is the greatest compliment as a writer to hear that some part of their writing inspires, in some way, another writer. So the flattery hit me hard to hear that you had taken inspiration from the details of this story. And the slow-burn aspect––so glad that you enjoy it so much! This is the slowest burn I've ever written, and I periodically get so nervous that I've been drawing it out so long. Because we're in the the 50s for the chapters, and they're only JUST finally about to be like 'okay, so we can't hold off on this any more.' But it just works for them so well! Because, as you pointed out, they're just so GOOD––they're good Jedi and good people, and they don't want to endanger each other, or anyone else, by giving in to what they've been told is wrong. But it does seem like the Force is, indeed, trying to nudge them together. Because they're connection emotionally, physically, and THROUGH THE FORCE is just so strong; that their connecting would just give them a better understanding of what it is to be good, of what the Force is and how it works, and that the Code doesn't necessarily have to dictate what is and is not good. And I think that, out of everything that you said in your review, that last bit about reinvigorating your love of Star Wars really got to me. Because there can always be a melancholy aspect in the wake of being disappointed by the way something ended/or simply because it's ended/feels like it ended. It is probably the highest compliment to receive/the most touching thing to be told that this story reinvigorated your love for Star Wars. Because it's for the love of Star Wars and its characters, and what it means to me, that I've been writing this story. So, truly, I cannot thank you enough for dropping such a wonderful review! It really made my day (and still does), especially in a time when I was really going through it emotionally and mentally. Thank you again, so, so much! Your patience is wonderful, and I hope that you enjoyed the chapter!

Gem: It's always a compliment of the highest degree to hear that I've inspired someone, somehow, to want to write! :) I'm really happy that you enjoyed the last chapter, and hope that you're excited for the continuation! Thank you for your patience!

ForgeandGred4Ever: Thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed the chapter, despite the hiatus!

DesertMortician: The Mandalore Arc should be starting in the next chapter! I have been so excited to get to this arc, it truly is the turning point! It's going to be so much fun to finally write out everything that I've had planned for so long. Also, I have not seen any of those videos, but I am absolutely going to give them a look! Thank you so much for your patience, and I hope you enjoyed the chapter!

DojoYoyo: I'm really looking forward to tying in a lot of the stuff that I've already written with the later RotS stuff, and stuff beyond it! I hope you enjoyed the chapter; thank you for your patience!

Lady Basara: You wished for more Padmé, and Padmé you got! I got hit with this quasi rom-com-esquires moment for Obi-Wan and Elara and I was like 'it somehow has to involve Padmé, she has to be somehow involved.' And thus this chapter was born! xD I had a delightful time writing the girls together again; and in an aspect that we haven't really seen them in before. They're being more serious, talking about what's going on in the galaxy. We'll get some girl-talk moments about the Obi-Lara moments in this chapter soon, though! I hope you enjoyed the chapter! Thanks again for your patience!

Nerdette92: I love writing the Hondo-Elara dynamic. Because, as you say, you've got someone who is so innately selfless (Elara) juxtaposed with someone who is so focused on themselves (Hondo). You get him doing anything for self preservation in the exact moment that Elara was willing to do something to save someone else. Ugh, I just love it. I cannot wait to write more of them, especially with Obi-Wan being all scowl-y about it! I hope you enjoyed the chapter; thanks again for your patience!

I-got-zapped: Don't worry about not getting the chance to review! As you can see with my 3 month absence, I understand that life can really get in the way. But I am so happy you enjoyed the Bounty Hunters misadventure! I had a lot of fun using it as a set-up for things to come. Letting Obi and Lari start to wade back into being kind with one another, getting more sibling bonding, more Hondo being Hondo… I am SO excited, though for the Mandalore Arc, because I've been itching to introduce Satine into the mix! She and Elara are gonna be so much fun to write together. I definitely needed the time I took away, and I did what I needed to to make sure I was in a good place to come back to writing. Thank you for your understanding and your patience! Hope you enjoyed the chapter!

thenerdnextdoor: 'Morbidly delightful' being used to describe Obi-Wan's jealousy is the perfect way to go about talking about it. Because it's definitely something he's begged himself not to feel, stopped himself to feeling, and now that he finally feels it––it's so satisfying to us as readers/writers, but you just know that it's tearing him apart inside. And the passionate/defensive side he's starting to display will certainly never go away… it's just gonna get worse xD I, for whatever reason, had thought that Sugi and Obi's convo in the episode was a lot longer than it was. So I beefed it up to talk about the nature of bounty hunters and of Jedi. Because the bounty hunters in this episode always seemed so much… nicer than what you'd expect. Sort of a Din Djarin deal, where they're actually good people, but because of their profession they're just a little more gruff on the outside. I have so much fun writing Elara, and I'm so delighted that you love her so much. Because, you're absolutely right––on paper, Elara being 'good, selfless, kind, and passionate,' is SO boring. But I love using those aspects and developing them into both virtues and flaws. Like, her selflessness is admirable––but it drives her to recklessness. Her kindness is admirable––but it can lead her to trust a little too easily sometimes. And she's humble, but not so humble she's not proud and openly proud of what she has accomplished. Ugh, I just love her so much! And that ending moment was just such a delight to write. I still want to write an Obi POV and post it up on my Tumblr. Because the absolute PANIC that man felt in that moment… immense. And to see how that moment played out between him and Anakin… 'cause Ani totally would've sprinted forward to save her. That means Obi was quicker on the uptake than him and that's SOMETHING. The Mandalore Arc starts up next time, hope you're ready for it! Again, I love getting the chance to talk with you, and I cannot thank you enough for how often you've checked in on me in the last few months, it was very nice :) I hope that you enjoyed the chapter! Thank you again for your patience!

PrettyRecklessLaura: Here's more (finally)! Hope that you enjoyed it; thank you for your patience!

MalirBly: Thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed the chapter, and thank you for your continued patience!

Elizabeth: Sometime there are images that just… drive a scene for me, and the lightsaber tapping against Obi-Wan's hip just really did it for me last time. Because it's a physical reminder of the internal conflict he's got going on. The tapping won't let him forget it, so it just keeps his mind going back to it, despite the fact he's trying to be professional and do his job. I had a lot of fun with his POV; because his struggle with these emotions, particularly at this moment, are so complex. He's feeling so much, and he has no idea how to handle it all. He's jealous and worried, and he doesn't know how to deal with that combo. And he can't really talk to her about it, because they haven't had a good chance to just sit down and talk about it. I also love your observations on the little chunk I did about trust. I couldn't let that aspect go unaddressed. It's just… so important for them. And they haven't been trusting one another as of late, and that's really thrown a wrench in things for them, AND for others around them. Both he and Elara are trodding on one another quite a bit, and they're both learning that they need to take steps to fix that. They really are reaching a point where they're willing to be vulnerable with one another again, and that's soooo important! Obi-Wan was vulnerable with her in admitting he'd acted on emotion; and in kind, Elara, at the end, admitted she still trusts him (and trusts him with her life). Also, so glad you love the caged heart image I always use, there's something about it that just… quietly delights me so much. And with the fight with Hondo, I really wanted to re-use that 'stopping a bolt' moment again. Because not only is it a quasi reckless thing to do (especially after being warned to be careful in doing it), but it shows that she's leaning into her power as a strong Force weirder more. She's starting to pull more Anakin-like moves… and a lot of those are emotionally motivated. The Mandalore Arc is upon us! And it is, indeed, arriving at such an odd spot for Obi-Wan and Elara… but it's just the right spot that it needs to happen at. And thank you for your understanding about the stressful time I went through. It ended up being… a whole lot more than I was expecting. But I feel like I'm in a much better place, now! I hope you enjoyed the chapter; thanks again! And thank you for your patience!

camelotprincess1: There is absolutely something about Hondo that just causes the jealousy spark. They're so rarely around people who would OPENLY and BLATANTLY flirt with Elara that when it happens… oof, Obi-Wan does not know how to handle that. That other shoe, regarding the bounty, is dangling precariously… it's going to drop somehow, one way or another. I'm very pleased, though, that it's caused an underlying anxiety as it's gone on longer. I worried it would just sort of be a 'blah' story line xD Obi-Wan admitting to acting subjectively is a HUGE step for him! He's starting to realize that he can't hide it, at least not from her. Hiding it from her would make things far worse. And Elara is definitely one of those 'looks like a cinnamon roll, could actually kill you' types. She's such a gentle soul, that a lot of her adversaries, pre-battle, probably think they could best her easily. But, oh-ho-ho, are they wrong! Elara trusts the Force just as much as she trusts Obi-Wan––and she trusts him a whole lot, even after everything that's happened. I love these dorks! I hope you enjoyed the chapter; thank you again for your patience!

KingPenguinJG: I've been planning some Obi-Lara missions for the future, and I'm always open for suggestions! I hope that you enjoyed the chapter; thanks again for your patience!

Abby Schmidtz: Hi! Wish I could've responded to you sooner, and I wish that guest reviews could be PM'd back to. I was going through it for a little bit, and I had to take a step back to recuperate/let life settle down a bit. But, three months on, I'm doing a whole lot better! Thank you for your concern! Stuff did bring me down and I did, indeed, kick it right in the ass!

Guest: I'm thinking you're the same guest reviewer for the three checking in on me periodically––thank you so much! I wish I could have replied to you in real time! I'm doing alright, I just had some life stuff that was making it difficult for me to find time to sit down and get writing done. Thank you so much for your patience, and I hope that you've enjoyed the chapter!

absollian: I'm so glad that you enjoy this story! And thank you for dropping a line to check in on me :) I'm doing a lot better now, like, MILES better than a few months ago. And I'm really looking forward to getting back into the swing of things! Thanks again for your kindness and patience!

yelloPika: I'm so glad you enjoy the story, and impressed that you binge read the whole thing! I've had such a blast writing every chapter and every moment, so I'm delighted you've enjoyed it, too! Thank you again for your patience, and I hope you enjoyed the chapter!

And thank you to those that added this to their follows/favorites; it means a lot!

Seriously, to all of you––THANK YOU. I am continuously struck by how wonderful all of you are; I didn't feel at all pressured to return before I was ready, and the outreach you all gave to make sure I was okay was wonderful. It was really lovely to see that the wee community this story has made is so wonderful and supportive. I was continuously reminded that you're all just so lovely, and that when I returned, you would all be so incredibly understanding.

Next up we'll start in on the Mandalore Arc! Get ready, y'all, 'cause we're GOING ALL IN!

Thanks again! Y'all rock!

~Mary