Author's Note: Remember the fourth Smile ficlet, Chignon 3? And the 32nd ficlet, Ascension? This one takes place between them, assuming they're in the same continuity. Cody has been looking at Barriss' hair (Chignon 3), and this is a day or two before they go up the mountain (Ascension). So, Cody and Barriss are off on their own on a jungle planet….


Smile


Braided.


He could not feel her, through his armor.

Their shoulders were touching; the damp, black fabric of her robes was splattered against the dirty white of his armor. There were slightly cleaner streaks just below where cloth met plastoid – the dripping rainwater from her clothes carved rivulets through the more thinly smeared mud sticking to him.

Her head wasn't on his shoulder. Her hair – braided neatly before, messily now – wasn't flopped across his shoulder or upper arm, though her head was tilted in his general direction, chin down, and her braid was tantalizingly close. He couldn't see the blue reflection of stark landing bay lights glancing off it. Right now, it was wet, black as space and just as smooth, locks folding and weaving into each other.

Was it really just a day ago he'd wondered what it felt like to touch it? It was almost mocking him, but it was just hair, even if it was her hair, and it was hard to imagine Barriss Offee mocking anyone.

Cody didn't jump when the storm unleashed another explosion of thunder. It was a different kind of ordinance than from a battlefield, but it was just as noisy, just as random, and he was used to ignoring anything that didn't sound like it was about to blow him – or his people – up.

The air was as thick with humidity as with bugs, and there were at least a dozen mottled orangey-green hoppers taking shelter with them under the outcropping of rock they found while the rain sheeted down and the sky tried to rip itself apart. It was daytime; the sun would set soon, but they'd been huddled under their precarious shelter since an hour after midday. They'd trudged through it for what was only ten minutes, but felt like forever, before finding their bit of shelter. The rain was warm, but it still chilled on the skin. Unfortunately, there wasn't any dry wood anywhere, and even if there was, there was no space for a fire.

Offee stirred slightly, her head bobbing once before she pressed her lips together, then sighed into a deeper sleep.

If they were being forced to stop, it only made sense that they get some sleep. Cody offered to take the first watch, though it was unlikely many predators – Separatist or animal – would be out in this kind of rain. He'd have thought it a hurricane if they were closer to a coast, but there was no such activity anticipated before they landed; it was simply monsoon season. He had his blaster in his lap and his helmet beside him. Two seconds until he was fully armed. One before he was ready to shoot, if he shot first, put his helmet on second.

Nothing would be out in the rain. Offee was a Jedi. She would sleep lightly. He'd never been this close up to a female before. It was…distracting. Distracting was bad. Even if there wasn't anything out in the rain.

He'd met plenty of girls – and women – before. Well, some girls and women. Commander Tano most regularly, but other Jedi too, including Barriss. Offee. Commander Offee. None of them ever sat squished against him with overly interesting wet hair before. She smelled like rain and earth. A little like sweat too, but mostly like wind-blown water. Her chin was narrow, and her lashes were as black as her hair, and even through the gloom of the storm there was just enough grey light to see them lay dark against her cheeks. Her tattoos were Mirialan, and formal, but this close they looked more like strange freckles than the result of some exotic ritual. Black freckles. Black, diamond shaped freckles that were not cute, because that would be a very inappropriate thing to think about a Jedi's tattoos. Or at all.

Still no predators. The rain pounded the stone above them, thudded into the dirt beyond the overhang, and dripped from the edges of the flora hanging halfway across the upper edge of their shelter. One of the hopper bugs adjusted its position and creaked out a squeaky call to the other insects, which was answered a moment later.

Offee was still sitting next to him, her shoulder pressed against his.

She'd sleep lightly. She was a Jedi. She'd wake up if he touched her.

Lightning cracked the air outside, and a flash of light lit the interior of their little hideaway. Offee flinched in her sleep, her eyes fluttered, then settled, remaining closed. She'd learned how to filter for the sound of danger, too, it seemed. He breathed out once.

The braid was still lying there, slipping over her shoulder, trailing down into the valley between where her left arm met her ribs. Whatever she used to tie it together had come off sometime during the day, probably around the same time she lost her hood. The end of the braid was unraveled, showing damp, wavy locks of hair.

Her eyes were still closed and another boom sounded in the atmosphere.

He was a commander. A professional. A leader of men and a veteran of many battles.

He should not be sitting here obsessing over a swath of braided hair, even if it was so close, and interesting, and horribly present. And feminine. It was ridiculous. He'd have to take off a glove to feel it; he couldn't dig his fingers into the weave of the braid, run his fingers down it and undo it, see if the whole length of her hair would ripple like the ends, if it would flow like water across his palms.

Offee was breathing steadily. She looked vulnerable in her sleep. But she was a Jedi, and therefore anything but vulnerable. Her chest rose and fell softly, and her dark lips were slightly parted. Her arms were folded across her waist, her feet tucked up close to her, knees tilted somewhat to the side.

Lightly? Very lightly. Just once. For curiosity's sake, and then maybe he could feel a bit more settled.

He moved slowly, letting his deece sit in his lap, barrel facing away from her. Slowly, he pulled off his left gauntlet and set it on top of the blaster. His hands were still fairly clean, considering all the dirt on his armor. The gloves under the plastoid kept most everything out. His skin seemed a remarkably ordinary human brown compared to her deep olive tones.

Just for a moment. Lightly. To satisfy curiosity, and that was all. He let his fingertips run lightly across the loose waves at the end of her braid.

It was soft. Smooth, wet under his touch, and it clung together, rippling until it curled into a tip. Cody's fingers lingered there for a long moment as the rain drummed against the ground and the sky rumbled.

When he lifted his fingers up, he intended for them to return to his gauntlet, but they didn't. They went higher, to where the braid met her shoulder, and lightly traced the sections of hair that folded in and around each other somehow, forming swells and dips that made her hair wavy at the end.

He turned his hand, let the back of his knuckles slide across the loose strands, sink into the wealth of hair. Black, and not without tangles from all their running during the day, but still soft, fluid, flowing down over her shoulder and her arm until the ends curled. It was different from his hair, longer, a different shade of black, but it felt similar to his own. They were both human – or very nearly, in her case. So similar, and yet, so different.

There were a few strands plastered to her cheek. He really would wake her up if he tried to touch her face.

She'd probably be upset, unsettled – annoyed – about him touching her. It was inappropriate in entirely too many different ways, but somewhere under all his training and knowledge of regulation and the massive gap between a clone and a Jedi, he still wanted to know what it felt like, to touch a woman. Even a little bit. There was only so much the Kaminoans could strip from a genetic code, and curiosity couldn't be removed.

He rubbed his thumb across his fingers, feeling the lingering softness of her hair. Desire couldn't be removed either, but this was already more than he should permit himself. Any more was unconscionable. Desire couldn't be removed, but it could be controlled. If there was one thing he was good at, it was remaining in control.

Cody made a small, aggravated sound in the back of his throat and snatched back up his gauntlet. It would be best if he forgot about this moment of weakness; even with the memory of her softness printed on his fingertips, it was too wrong. He didn't have her permission. It was sneaky, and taking advantage, touching her without her knowledge. He stuffed his hand back into the gauntlet. It was distracting. They had distance to cover and work to do – he shouldn't be thinking about women, much less Mirialan Jedi women with cute tattoos and soft wet hair and clingy wet robes, shavit

"Cody?"

And open, blue eyes that were indigo in the grey light of the storm. Heavy lidded, with her brows drawn together, she looked worried.

He turned away.


She hadn't been leaning on him, she was fairly sure. But he'd moved abruptly in some way she hadn't quite caught in her sleepiness, and now found herself awake and facing a startled, then disturbed looking Cody, who promptly shifted so that his back was towards her.

Barriss blinked a few times. Had she done something wrong? She checked her mouth – she didn't seem to have drooled on him. She was fairly sure she didn't talk in her sleep. Had she flopped over onto him or something? She glanced away for a moment, turning a little greener with embarrassment. Their shelter wasn't very large, and they needed to sit side by side to fully fit. The rain was still pouring down, and another flash and roll of thunder filled the sky.

The startled look on his face had been one of embarrassment, not irritation. Perhaps he found her proximity uncomfortable?

That stung a little. Still, it didn't matter. Not really. They'd gotten along well enough the past day. She'd thought they'd struck up a camaraderie, if not a friendship while they trekked through the jungle.

She was reluctant to invade his privacy and pry into his feelings with the Force; fortunately it wasn't too hard to read his body language. He was curled forward, not looking at her, and she could see a red flush up the back of his neck, in the narrow bit of space between his hairline and where the collar of his bodysuit left a gap. There was embarrassment there, but it was too stubborn a pose for some silly movement she'd made in her sleep. Suddenly his spine stiffened, and he straightened, and he slammed his helmet back onto his head, a posture of rigidity and propriety overlapping and overwhelming the embarrassment. There was too little space for him to move away, but the inches seemed far enough, with his back to her and his helmet on.

It wasn't the first time she'd seen one of the men stuff himself into his helmet. It was for privacy, a retreat, a little bit of space for himself.

If she hadn't done something to embarrass him, then he'd found something on his own to be embarrassed about. Clearly, something about her.

If she reached out to comfort him, to tell him it was alright, whatever it was that was wrong, he wouldn't feel her hand on his armor. And though she had no real sense of embarrassment or need for rigidity at the moment, it was propriety that kept her from reaching out to touch him. Cody was a companion, perhaps now a friend, but to touch him, wrap an arm around him and urge him to relax would be too personal, too intimate. As a Jedi, she had to keep some distance.

But also as a Jedi, she was kind.

"You should rest. I've slept some. Take your turn."

He did not move from his position for several long moments, but then he shifted, black visor looking at her blankly until he nodded once.

When he settled back against the wall of rock behind them, there was an inch of space between them. His hands rested lightly on his blaster, and it was several minutes before his head began to nod, then droop. His shoulders eased, his hands relaxed, his legs inched a little closer to the outside of the stone shelter. He twitched once, then twice, and Barriss smiled as he fell asleep.

If all was as proper as it should be, she shouldn't allow herself any pleasure in watching him rest. Shouldn't feel a little saddened he left that inch of space between them. But they were miles away from any watchful eyes, and all the rules that went with them.

She would feel embarrassed too, when he woke up and looked at her again, but she scooted closer to him, just enough to close the tiny gap between them. He couldn't feel the brush of her arm through the dirty, orange streaked plastoid armor he wore. It was solid, if battered.

It was a relief, to not be alone out here.

She wondered what his face looked like, in sleep.

Was it relaxed and restful? Or did he still struggle with whatever upset him?

The thunder rolled above, long and low and without lightning. Perhaps the storm would end soon.

Cody's arm twitched beside hers, and Barriss lifted a hand, fingers hovering for several long moments, before they descended. She couldn't smooth away his stress by caressing his face, nor would it be appropriate for her to.

So instead she let her hand rest on his arm, and watched for danger, and let the Force flow in calming waves through her and into him, until he slumped against her, her messy black braid lying in the nook between where her arm pressed against his.


These two are always entirely too much fun to write.