Bastila's injuries responded to the kolto and to the rapid healing of her Jedi abilities. It still meant three days with little enough to do but rest and think. Even standard training exercises would be discouraged, which was something of a disappointment. Mission and Zaalbar came by, and Bastila accepted Mission's offer to learn Pazaak. Of course, she lost most of her games, considering Mission's better experience, but it was still an interesting distraction. Zaalbar also informed her that a formal diplomatic team would meet with the Chieftain's Council in a couple seasons to discuss and establish formal ties. Juhani and Jolee came by later. Jolee told some ribald jokes that got her to blush, but also got her to laugh. Juhani brushed out Bastila's hair and braided it, which did a lot more to brighten Bastila's mood than she had expected. Carth also came by with a datapad so she could make a formal report to the Jedi Council.
Her most surprising visitor came in late afternoon on the second day. While stuck on a paragraph of her report, there was a knock on her door.
It slid open. Canderous looked strangely formal as he walked in with a handful of yellow flowers. He also seemed to opt for what could have been his best set of clothes – ones that weren't stained with grease from ship repairs, or merely lining for his armor.
"I hear that it's a custom among your kind to bring flowers when visiting the ill or injured. Was I mistaken?"
"No, you aren't. However..." She couldn't shake the confusion. "Well, the concept of a Mandalorian bringing an injured Jedi flowers is certainly an unusual one."
"Blame Kairi. In another life, she must have been a protocol droid. I asked her what is customary to do among your people, and she informed me of this practice." He dropped the bouquet unceremoniously in her lap.
"There is another...custom about flowers, Canderous. Did Kairi inform you?"
"I did not ask."
Bastila picked up the wrapped yellow blossoms and inhaled the scent. "Starflowers. They smell absolutely wonderful. Thank you, Canderous. I...I never expected this."
"Ah, because you consider my kind barbarians, and a barbarian cares little for such customs? I suppose I am a barbarian by your standards. Your kind is all for protocol, custom, formality...you solve with sharp words when my kind settles for sharp blades." He shook his head. "But I'm beginning to see value in what I once thought of as frivolous. Maybe there are reasons, after all."
Bastila's eyes went from the flowers to Canderous and back to the flowers. "Yes, there may indeed be." She straightened and asked him point-blank. "I also recall hearing that you 'claimed' me already. What sort of 'claim' do you pretend you have on me?"
This caused Canderous to laugh so hard he leaned against the wall. "Naan jhetat, Princess, you need a mirror to appreciate it. You're like an Arkanian fire gem when you get your feathers ruffled. Had you been in my world, I'd have you slung over the back of my war beast and taken you to my tent already!"
A mirror was the last thing Bastila wanted at the moment, as she felt her cheeks growing very warm. She tried to recover what was left of her dignity. "Are you saying that's what your kind call mating practices?"
"Not really, but it was a lot of fun to see you blush," he teased. Clearing his throat, he got serious. "But I wish to understand, and to be understood. It is a strange and terrible thing to realize that the ones you once faced across a battlefield are the ones who now guard your back, to realize that the old rules have changed so quickly."
"Yes, yes indeed." For the first time, she thought she could understand him. She wanted to understand him. Was it such a short time ago that she only saw him as a barbarian and thug? "Damn, I have been so foolish."
"Back on Taris, I believed I could fight all my foes alone and still win. It took a couple of good beatings to bring me to my senses. The pride I had at being a warrior – at being what I had been trained to be all my life – made me arrogant and stupid. I had to learn the value of fighting with a clan all over again."
"Perhaps that makes us not as different as I once believed," she said.
"Perhaps not, Jedi. But I should like to know you better, and I can teach you a thing or two in the process."
She raised an eyebrow. "Sounds almost like a threat."
That got another chuckle out of him. "We don't make threats. Consider it more a warning shot."
"Don't be shocked when I fire back."
He winked his slate-colored eye. "I look forward to the battle."
Carth and Kairi stood at the city's edge, watching the sunset. The sky was a magnificent canvas of gold, pink orange and blue. The colors blended together at the borders with each color holding its place in the sky from one horizon to the other. Kairi looked up at him and broke the companionable silence.
"You seem like you're far away. Is something wrong?"
"Oh..." Carth shrugged. "It's nothing. Sorry."
"It certainly doesn't seem like nothing," she said.
"Well, I...I was thinking of Morgana," he said. "She and I...well, we always liked to watch the sunsets back on Telos. Since she passed away...well, I was never one to watch sunsets after that."
"So, why are you watching the sunset now?"
"I'm...I'm not sure, really. All I really am sure about is that I want to, and I like the fact you're watching with me."
She didn't have an answer for that, and Carth was glad for it. The sun continued its slow sink into the distant sea, causing the clear blue water to shimmer and glow. Carth caught himself glancing admiringly at Kairi. She was back in civilian clothing that reminded him of their days on Taris. Her black hair was down and the sea air blew through it.
He worried about her. He'd almost lost her twice on this planet and it still shook him badly. Not to mention he still had the suspicion that the Jedi were using all of them – but especially her – in some sort of power game. Saul's lesson was never to put anything past anyone.
Does the Force listen, I wonder? He thought. Well, if it does, just...just one thing. She deserves a lot better than to be a pawn of some saber-wielders who like who think they're gods.
With a deep sigh, he admitted. "The only thing that's kept me going since she died has been the need to find Saul and kill him. It's better to think about that than...anything else. If I can do that, maybe I can let her go. Let it all go."
"I know...I guess there's a lot more at stake now. I mean, just the news that Dustil's still alive...And Bastila, in her own way, did have a point."
"What did she say? Whatever it was, it certainly made you unhappy."
He nodded. "She was...well, she managed to say exactly the wrong thing. Not that I blame her much. I mean, I worry myself with how everything's become lately. I...I keep trying to remember Morgana's face. Now, there's so much I can remember...what her hair smelled like, how she smiled," he laughed mirthlessly. "Even our last fight. But I just can't seem to remember her face. It's like I'm losing her again."
Kairi listened, not offering judgment until he was finished. "You remember what is important, I think."
"Heh. This coming from an amnesiac."
"Would she want you do this to yourself?"
"I suppose not," he admitted. "Just...If we encounter Saul, promise me that I'll be the one to kill him. I have to settle this. I need to settle this."
"I can't promise you," said Kairi, pulling back to look at him. "Things...things may work out differently. Foresight isn't one of my talents. What I can promise you...what I can promise is that I will be at your side when you do what you have to."
"Thanks, Kairi. Whether it does or not, that's the way it has to be." He brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "I...guess there's no need to discuss it until then."
Another minute of companionable silence before Kairi spoke again. "There's still something you want to say?"
"Well, I...ah..." He cleared his throat. "I've just been admiring you. Not...uh...not anything like that, though...I've been watching you in action. Your skills...you have a natural talent that's incredible." He quickly tried to stammer out an explanation. "Not like all I do is watch you or anything. I don't mean anything by it."
"You're blushing," she said. "But it's all right if you watch me. I've been watching you, too." Her arm wrapped around his waist, and she looked up at him with the warmest smile.
His stuttering embarrassment broke into laughter. "Ha! Why didn't you tell me that sooner, Kairi? You could have saved me a lot of trouble." The teasing vanished, and he rubbed her neck. "I will say one thing, though. We've come a long way with your help. Whether it's the Force, fate, or just dumb luck...Well, I'm glad you're here."
"Thank you," she said, her hand rubbing his back. "It means a lot coming from you."
"Kairi, we would have never made it this far without you. Hell, you've been one of the only things that's kept us on track. The crew respects you, Kairi. I...I should have said this a long time before, instead of doubting you. I...well, I hope you can forgive me."
"You already apologized," Kairi said. "And there's nothing to forgive. Knowing how badly you were hurt goes a long way to explaining why you couldn't trust me on Taris. After all, I still know so little about myself."
"Well, I've made a few observations," he teased. "But I hope you won't mind if I keep those to myself."
Now Kairi was blushing. Well, damn good thing she could just read emotions. Some of the things that ran through his mind when he thought about her could get a man decked. Beauty, bravery, brains...she had his number. Why else would he be reduced to stammering when she caught him looking?
Morgana wasn't like her at all. His wife had been tall and blond with eyes like the ocean, outspoken and lively. Where Morgana would go out dancing, Kairi would be home with a datapad. Where Morgana was quick to state her opinion, Kairi was more apt to try and understand the situation first, then express her opinion not so much with words as by actions.
"You're an impressive and beautiful woman, Kairi," he said. "I'd just like to make things right between us."
He pulled her close, one hand brushing her coal-black hair, feeling her petite body pressed against him. Carth had an inkling of what the Jedi meant when they said the Force harms with one hand and heals with another. She stiffened and stepped away.
"But what happens afterwards?" She asked, changing the subject. "You get your revenge on Saul, and then...?"
"You mean - if I kill him?"
"Yes, what then?"
He put his hands on her waist. Creator of the universe, it would be pretty damn easy to know what he wanted to do right now, but thinking of the future...?
"I...I never thought about it. I suppose I always assumed I'd be dead once Saul was."
She was looking up at him, those dark eyes pulling him in, making hiding anything laughable. Even back on Taris, she could pry what she wanted out of him so easily! No, the truth was more that he probably wanted to tell someone - wanted it badly enough to pour his heart out to someone who would listen - even a mystery woman.
He picked his words carefully. "Understand that whenever I envisioned fighting Saul in the past, it was as captain of my own ship...or alone. In those cases, I would risk everything." He shook his head. "I'm not in the same situation now. I would like to think that I wouldn't put you in danger. That I wouldn't forget that there's more behind him that needs to be stopped. If I ever do see him, however...Kairi, I can't promise anything any more than you can. I don't know what I'd do - I just don't. I mean, his death has been my focus for so long."
Her hand reached up to touch his face. A detached part of him knew the picture they presented...knew the reason he was losing his grip on Morgana's memory. How did things get to this point? She deserved a lot better than him – why couldn't she see it, and why couldn't he seem to manage the guts to push her away?
"I need your help, Carth," Kairi said. "There's so much at stake here."
It was as though she had reached in and wrapped her tiny hands around his heart. He didn't have the strength to tell her to leave, not when the larger part of him was aching so badly. "I know. I'll...see this through. I promise you that. No matter what.... as for what comes after that...Well, let's wait until I know I'm around to see it."
The hand cupping his face went to his shoulder. Using that for leverage, she stood on her tiptoes to kiss him, and chivalry lost the round. His hand traced the curves of her back, her hip, and she sighed blissfully as her lips parted to let him in, as her fingers found knotted muscle and started to rub the tension out.
She was like Kessel spice – one taste and all you wanted was more. His mind started to race with half-complete fantasies and dreams he had since seeing her dressed up for the party in Upper Taris – the first time he realized how attractive she was.
All right, so she could sense that he wanted her – so what?
Without warning, she pulled away, straightening her tunic. Her hair was mussed, and her lips swollen from their kisses. She was obviously warring with herself, the conflict in her dark eyes like an ion storm.
"Carth," she said. "I...I..." Kairi sighed, and fixed his collar. "I want this as much as you, but I....I just don't want to break your heart in the end."
He let out a long breath. Jedi...of course..."I understand...I think...Come on. Let's go home."
Was it just the sea wind, or were there tears in her eyes, threatening to fall? He didn't ask – he didn't want to ask. While they still had the ability, they walked back to the Hawk.
Carth headed right for the fresher while Kairi decided to work off her tension by practicing some ritual lightsaber stances Zhar taught her. Some of it was to work out the physical tension, but most of it was to grimly remind herself of her station.
Pivot and block...There is no emotion; there is peace
Lunge and strike...There is no ignorance; there is knowledge
Parry and fall back...There is no passion; there is serenity
Feint and slash...There is no chaos; there is harmony.
Turn forward and lower the blade. There is no death; there is the Force.
Kairi took a slow breath. At least now she was calm enough to face Bastila. She was back in robes, of course, having been released from the medical facility a few hours before with a clean bill of health.
"Bastila, what is it?" she asked. "I have been doing this all wrong, haven't I?" Powering down her blade, she clipped it back on her belt, but could not hide the self-recrimination. "Perhaps all along..."
"Actually," Bastila admitted. "The error is with me – not with you." She sighed as she crossed the distance between them in measured strides. "I've been trying to come up with a way to say this for some time, but I suppose I ought to come out and say it. The truth is, Kairi, that I'm starting to rely on you. Not just for the sake of the mission, but my own sake. I am...I'm glad you're with us."
"That was very hard for you to admit," Kairi said bluntly.
"Did I? Well, I am trying to be sincere."
"I know you are," Kairi said. "I just have a lot on my mind. Go on."
"It occurred to me that I may have been too critical of you, too demanding. I know my manner can be taciturn. I know you must be sick of my lectures about the Dark Side, and everything else." She shook her head. "I spent all my years hounded by instructors, being told how gifted and important I was until I was sick of it. I remember when I used to swear that I'd never become as stogy and self-important as the Jedi Masters. Ironic, really."
"Perhaps," Kairi said. "But you needn't be like that."
"I suppose not, but I am becoming like that, though it's not easy for me to admit. This control has kept everyone around me at arm's length; even those like yourself who are most in need of my understanding and compassion. Maybe it's time to change that. You deserve to know how much I've come to respect you."
Kairi was quite surprised. She even made a second mental scan to make certain she wasn't just hearing what she wanted from Bastila and that the praise was genuine. "Thank you."
"Well, that wasn't nearly so difficult as I thought it would be. Thank you for hearing me out. I feel...I feel much better."
Kairi took Bastila's hands in her own. "As do I. I never wanted to be a disappointment to you, or the Jedi. I do the best I can."
"Disappointing?" Bastila shook her head. "Kairi, I had much to think about during my convalescence. All of the crew came to visit. The closer I looked at them, but more I saw that in resisting their – and your – offers of companionship, what I really resist is the will of the Force. If it has brought us together like this, then perhaps there is purpose and lessons within."
"I think it was the way you handled the Mother Firaxan that convinced me,"Bastila said. "I was injured. Canderous had the toxin. If you only thought of his safety or mine, you wouldn't have risked our lives. Instead, you chose to act as a Jedi and attempt communication."
Kairi could say nothing, only push aside her own confusion to listen.
"You are a true servant of the Light, following the tenets of the Jedi Order despite the lure of the Dark Side...and with so little training. For me, it has always been a constant battle. Don't you find it difficult at all? You make it seem so easy, or is that just an illusion?"
Kairi shrugged. "I just do what I believe is right, though sometimes it is difficult. If that makes me a servant of the Light, then I'm glad for it."
"And that's enough for you?" Bastila scowled and shook her head. "If only it were so easy for me. If only the right path was always so clear. I've always struggled for control over my passions - been too quick to anger, too quick to get involved. My instructors constantly berated me for it."
Kairi shrugged. "Maybe patience begins with being patient with yourself, Bastila. You've so much that's been thrust upon you...I'm certain it's got to be terrifying."
"Part of my purpose on this mission was to guide you in the way of the Light; to help you avoid the temptations of the Dark Side, but I fear I've failed you in that task. I don't think I'm the proper Jedi to guide you. I am no Master. You should have remained with the Council."
"Why do you say that? You've proven yourself so far."
"The face of the matter is that I have never possessed much skill at controlling myself. With the bond that joins us, it seems I've even less."
"Because of...I'm sorry, I'm not understanding you."
"You have maintained the path of the Light Side, but it has been despite my influence, not because of it. It is increasingly obvious I am unable to guide you properly."
"You're doing your best, I'm certain."
"Maybe," she said. "Ah, so often I've dreamed that I might be able to confront Darth Malak himself and use all this power I have to kill him and stop all this death and destruction. I see all the destruction the Sith have cause and...and I get so furious." She shook her head. "Yet, we're told that these feelings are the path to the Dark Side."
"You have your own demons to face, Bastila. We all do."
"I suppose I do. Part of me thinks it would be worth anything to vanquish that kind of evil, even if it meant giving in to my base emotions. The very thought that I could become as evil as Malak; I can't fathom it. It...it doesn't seem possible. How could I..." She looked into Kairi's eyes and Kairi felt a momentary jolt of fear from her. "No...Wait, I'm sorry."
Bastila also threw up a mental barrier so strong that Kairi's concern was more for that. Never had Bastila tried to cut the bond off, and never with such abruptness! "I shouldn't even be asking you this. The Jedi teachings are clear; who am I to question them. And worse, who am I to make you question them?"
"What?" Kairi was quite concerned now. First, Bastila comes in to admit her shortcomings, and now she seemed to be fleeing like a spooked iriax.
"These are dangerous thoughts, the indulgence of a vain mind. Please, forget I even mentioned this."
Projecting calm and comfort, Kairi put her hands on Bastila's shoulders and lightly hugged the taller woman. "Bastila, it will be all right."
"That's...kind of you to say, but I think the evidence speaks for itself. I think...I think I have made a very big mistake. I just hope you are not the one who pays the price, ultimately, for the fact I can't aid you enough."
"We could always aid each other."
"That's a kinder response than I deserve, and I can see there is wisdom in your words. Perhaps...perhaps you can help me, and I will try to help you. Hopefully, this will work out for the both of us, and the sake of this mission."
"In the meantime," Kairi said. "Can I practice the Donji kata with you? It takes two people, after all."
"Certainly," Bastila answered. "Now, first, stand with your feet shoulder-width..."
Saul Karath did not tremble. Even when facing the prospect of the Dark Lord's wrath, he was at least determined to face the consequences of failure with the full dignity of his station.
Kneeling at Malak's feet, he admitted. "Calo Nord is dead. I have failed you, my lord."
"The punishment for failure is death, Admiral," Malak said plainly, the harsh tones of his artificial voice threatening even when calm.
Saul set his jaw and shut his eyes. Very well...be quick about it.
"But the failure was Calo's, not yours. You may rise."
Feeling relieved at his stay of execution (he was not foolish enough to think of it otherwise), Saul rose to his feet, assuming the "at ease" posture. "Shall I hire another bounty hunter, my lord?"
"No," Malak said. "We will not make that mistake again, especially now that we know what we deal with."
"Do you really think...do you really believe this woman is who you believe her to be? It seems...impossible."
"Few things are impossible for one as strong with the Force as she once had been, nor when the treachery of the Jedi Council interferes. Fortunately, I know of her weakness..." He seemed to be smiling under the mask. "I always have known her weaknesses. That is why I leave this trap in your capable hands."
"What sort of trap?"
"One that gives us both what we want," Malak said.