A/N: If you're reading this, thank you for your patience! I know it's been a while, but this story turned out to be quite the endeavor. Though it references events that occur in my other fics, What Remains, Old Wounds, All or Nothing, and Warriors of Shadow, you don't have to read them to understand what's going on, though I do think you'll get more out of the story.
As always, I hope you enjoy. Please leave a comment – even a small one – as it really makes all the difference and can't be appreciated enough.
Many, many heaps of gratitude to SerendipityAEY for all of your help in making this as good as it can be. (I owe you some Obi-fluff!)
Eleven months prior to the start of the Clone Wars...
It was supposed to be an easy mission.
As these things often went, it was not. What should have been a pleasant affair – the blessing of a royal marriage – was made complicated by a rather unorthodox decision of the leader of the planet Aruna: King Badal had chosen to wed a woman deemed by some of the more influential members of Parliament to be an unsuitable match, as she was neither rich nor esteemed and could claim no connection to any of the deities that directed the lives of the Arunai people. Though it was clear that the couple was very much in love, the gods did not look favorably on the union.
In the end, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Kalinda Halcyon had managed to uncover a plot to assassinate the bride-to-be, Sita, and in doing so they inadvertently proved to the people that the union was indeed supported by the gods, so the wedding was allowed to proceed without further incident.
Just business as usual, Kalinda thought as she stood beside the young bride, listening to the ceremony take place. Though I wouldn't have minded a little less excitement; preventing a murder definitely takes away from any overly romantic sentiments. At least they'll have a story to tell their grandchildren. The royal couple was dressed in vibrant saffron and crimson silks edged with gold, the fabric glittering in the morning sun as the priest who was performing the rite began to intone over their bowed, white-haired heads.
"Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter to the other."
The priest spoke the words in a solemn voice, his eyes lifted to the space above the heads of the russet-skinned Arunai man and woman who knelt before him. Their hands were joined. The scents of champa and frangipani were thick in the open-air temple, one of the oldest structures in the capitol city of Rudral.
Kali's feet itched.
Hours before dawn she'd been brought to Sita's quarters, where a team of servants had begun the arduous task of turning her into a respectable-looking Arunai woman; some of it, like the massage and washing of her hair, had been pleasant. Other parts, not so much. Already she longed to take her hair out of the elaborate braids that had been pinned to her skull, remove the copious bangles and necklaces draped over her wrists and neck, and dunk her head into the nearest pool to wash of the cosmetics that tinted her face. At the end of it all someone had handed her a mirror and she did not recognize the person who looked back at her, though she had smiled and thanked the servants all for their hard work.
"Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other."
However, no matter how much she longed to shed the trappings, it was not her place to do so – yet. For now, Kali was charged with remaining by the young queen's side and offering her wisdom or advice, as the Jedi had done for thousands of years. Before she and Obi-Wan had left Coruscant it had been explained to them in no uncertain terms that this was a planet of vital importance to the Republic, not only for its wealth, but its connection with other powerful systems like Mandalore.
"Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other."
Kali wondered if anyone would notice if she scratched her left foot with her right, then decided against it. Her head ached from the pins and she was afraid to move her hands for the tell-tale jingling of bangles at her wrists. The ceremony was nearly over now and soon there would be a massive banquet, followed by dancing and general merry-making that would last for another day or so, even as she and Obi-Wan were scheduled to depart the next morning. Part of her had hoped they'd be able to stay for the upcoming spring festival, but it seemed unlikely.
"Now you are two souls, but there is only one life before you."
From his place beside King Badal, Obi-Wan's blue gaze caught hers and he smiled, which made her heart skip a few beats, as it always did when he looked at her so. Like her, he was wearing traditional Arunai garments, though her costume was much more flamboyant than his. It's nearly over, Kali. His voice in her mind was chiding and slightly mocking, though there was an undercurrent of long-held affection. Try to hold on a little longer. As teenagers they had learned to speak to one another through the Force; it was quite a handy trick, especially at times like this.
Easy for you to say, she replied, keeping her expression smooth as she watched the priest lay garlands of flowers around the newly married couple's necks. You aren't dripping with jewelry and covered with henna. At this she saw Obi-Wan's eyes flick to her folded hands, which had been carefully inked the night before with intricate designs of swirls and flowers.
Garlands placed, the priest continued. The alabaster hair that was a trait among all Arunai did not give away one's age, but his skin was lined and his posture was bent, even as his crimson robes brushed the stone ground. However, his voice was clear and vibrant, ringing through the audience as he spoke the ancient words.
"May beauty surround the both of you in the journey ahead and all the years that follow."
As Obi-Wan's eyes met Kali's again, she sensed from him a sudden, acute desire to strip away the trappings of the ceremony and see if the henna would come off onto his own skin after they were both damp with sweat, though his expression was perfectly neutral. It's been a while since we did anything like that, she thought as she felt heat creeping to her cheeks. But it might make for a nice way to pass the time. When she smiled back at him his eyebrow lifted marginally and the glint in his eyes caused her to shiver even as she listened to the closing words of the priest.
"May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth."
Later, after the ceremony had ended and the celebration had been going on well into the late afternoon, they had managed to find a few hours to be alone together: she watched as he removed the jewelry, lifting her arms and reaching around her neck to do so, his breath warm against her cheek; he had pulled the pins from her long, dark hair and run his fingers through the lengths, smiling at the look of abject relief and joy on her face; he had unwrapped the dress from her body and traced his fingertips over the painted whorls on her skin. Later they learned that the henna was indeed very stubborn, as it refused to come off even after the most vigorous activities.
"Feel better?" he asked as they lay beside one another in her quarters, the silken curtains over the windows lifting in the breeze. It was warm, but not uncomfortable, and the entire room was tinted in gold by the sun that was starting its descent below the horizon.
Kalinda was nestled in the crook of his arm, her heartbeat just starting to return to a normal pace; she kissed his chest and looked up at him. "I do." The utter happiness and delight of that moment was seared into her memory when he smiled down at her just before he kissed her again. I wish we could always be this way.
They both knew that they'd have to leave the next day, return to their lives as servants of the Republic, but for now it was enough to simply be together. Her arms moved around his neck as his hands made their way to the small of her back and they forgot everything else for a while longer, until the room was dark.
It was early the next morning and the sky was still faintly purple from the night and scattered with a handful of stars. Beyond the palace courtyard, in the city below, Kali could make out the faint shadows of those not fortunate enough to attend the ceremony, though they were tasked with cleaning up after the festivities. While she and Obi-Wan waited for the king and queen to see them off, she glanced at her companion, indicating those below. "I'll never get used to it."
He nodded. "Their caste system is a strange concept to me as well, but it's not our place to judge the customs of others."
"I know," she replied with a frown. "But still. It feels wrong, doesn't it? The whole concept of 'untouchables,' feels arbitrary to me. Why are they not good enough? Why do the others look down on them so?"
"Well, perhaps things will change with Sita," he said. "After all, she isn't from a noble family. If anyone can understand the plight of the lowest caste, it is she."
Kali exhaled into the air. "I hope so." After a few moments she glanced at him again, arching her brow. "We could stay a bit longer, you know. I think that Sita might need more advice..."
He chuckled. "Anything to see the festival?"
"Perhaps," she mused. "Or, you know...to spend more time in your company." She smiled at him. "I can think of worse reasons to hang around."
At this he sighed. "You know that we can't delay any longer, Kali. Besides, you can always return another year."
"But we're here now," she countered. "There's no time like the present, Ben. Come on," she gave him her widest smile. "It won't be a problem if we stay longer, at least through tonight."
Obi-Wan shook his head, though she could sense the deliberation in his thoughts. "You know we need to get back. Besides, Anakin's waiting for me. He was very put out he was that he didn't get to come."
It was her turn to sigh. "Fine. For your Padawan's sake, we'll leave right away. But you owe me a festival."
A rustle of silk and clatter of booted feet alerted them to the approaching royal couple and their guards; on instinct, both Jedi dropped to their knees in a low bow, as was the custom. Badal smiled at them. "There is no need for such formality, my friends. In fact, we should be bowing to you," he said, his voice smooth and lilting. He was only a few years younger than Kalinda, with a broad, open face. When the Jedi had risen to their feet, Sita glanced at her husband with a question in her eyes. In response, he chuckled and nodded. "But you should tell, them, I think."
The young woman smiled at the Jedi, though her gaze rested on Kali as she spoke. "Kalinda Halcyon and Obi-Wan Kenobi," she began. "You have done such a wonderful service for our world. I ask that you accept the blessings of our gods so that you both will always walk in safety and light." Her crowned head inclined at the massive temple that stood next to the palace which they'd just left. "Come," she added, holding out her hand. "Follow me."
Though it was considered slightly improper to do so, Kali leaned over and whispered to the young queen as they began to walk. "Sita, what is this about?"
"It is the only way that I can think to repay you," she replied, excitement in her pale eyes. "You have given me so much these last few days, Kali, and I don't mean only what you did as a Jedi." Here she paused and her gaze lowered briefly. "You were a true friend. I felt less afraid with you by my side than I have in a long time." From her, Kalinda could feel a ripple of sorrow.
She said that she has no other family besides some distant kin in the country. I'm glad that I was able to help her, even a little bit. "I think you'll make a fine queen, Sita," she replied with a nod. "And I know that your parents would be proud if they could see you now. You are very blessed."
"I am lucky, indeed," Sita whispered back, casting a glance at her new husband. "To be able to spend my days with the one I love." Many had argued that she was merely seeking to take power for herself, but Kalinda could tell that goal was not in the young woman's mind, especially when she gave a brilliant smile that radiating nothing but happiness and Kali could not help but return the look in kind. "How many can say that they are truly so fortunate?"
Kalinda cast a longing glance at Obi-Wan; his eyes were fixed on the path ahead. "Not many."
Flanked by a coterie of elite guards, the group journeyed to a smaller temple than the one where they'd attended the marriage. They climbed the steps and entered a chamber that was resplendent with brightly painted statues and the scent of incense. A slender, red-robed Arunai – the same man who had performed the marriage ceremony – stood before a statue of a many-armed goddess, watching them with a benevolent gaze. Kali and Obi-Wan were asked to kneel as the priest began to chant in Arunai, a rhythmic, calming sound that eased Kali's concern a little, though she couldn't have said why she felt apprehensive to begin with.
And then he spoke in Basic, so that they could understand what it was that he was saying. "You were born to be together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together even when the wings of death scatter your days. You shall be together even in your silent memory-"
Shock rippled through the air almost tangibly as Obi-Wan glanced at her. Is this...is he marrying us? Before she could form a reply, he raised his head to the priest. "Forgive me," he said. "I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I understand what you're saying...is this a marriage?"
Nonplussed, the priest looked at Badal and Sita, the latter of whom flushed and shook her head. "No, Master Kenobi," she said. "I know that the Jedi cannot marry under the edict of your Order; this is merely a simple ceremony, an affirmation of your feelings for one another..." She trailed off as Obi-Wan stood and faced her.
"Your Majesties," he said. "I am so sorry, but this goes against the Jedi Code, which supersedes all other things in our lives." He glanced at Kali, who had also risen. "We understand the honor that you do us, but I'm afraid we cannot allow ourselves to be joined in this – or any other – manner."
Badal nodded, though Kalinda could sense his surprise. "Of course, Master Jedi. Forgive my wife; she did not mean to offend you." He gave a small bow and extended his arm as if to usher them out of the temple. A glance at Sita showed that her face was bright red and her eyes were downcast; Kali extended her hand and touched the younger woman's arm. As they left the temple, Sita turned to her and gave her an apologetic look, which Kali returned with a small smile. No one spoke until they were at the bottom of the temple stairs, when Badal stopped and looked back to the Jedi. "Again, please excuse Sita's error in judgment, Masters Halcyon and Kenobi," he said, his hands closing in front of him. "We truly meant no disrespect."
"No harm done," Kalinda replied as she and Obi-Wan bowed again to the royal couple. "It was a lovely thought." She met Sita's eyes and tried to send her a soothing tendril of Force energy, but the young queen merely ducked her head.
Obi-Wan nodded and she could feel his heightened tension. "Indeed. Thank you for your graciousness, Majesties." There were a few more cordial words before the king and queen were escorted back to the palace and the Jedi were brought to their ship by the royal guards. Neither one spoke for several minutes until the craft was plummeting through hyperspace, when Kali glanced at her silent companion. "I can't believe that."
"Me either." He frowned at the helm. "I can't believe that they were about to marry us."
Kali shook her head. "That's not what I'm talking about, Obi-Wan. I think it was wrong to rush out of there so suddenly, especially because –" She stopped speaking as a very palpable wave of agitation rippled off of him, though he said nothing. " – it wasn't a marriage, it was just a nice sentiment from Sita, you know? She's young and in love...I think she was trying to show us that they were thankful for everything we did." A light on the console flickered and she glanced down; their trajectory was slightly off so she made a correction to the flight path. "It wasn't a marriage, Obi-Wan. A marriage is a legally binding ceremony...a pledge, an oath. This was an affirmation."
His jaw tightened and she could tell that he was deliberating on his next words, though after a moment he seemed to just give in and look back at her. "The very fact that she – that anyone – would even think to request such a ceremony...it bothers me." Fog appeared on the console as he gave a deep exhale and glanced back at the helm. "Were we that obvious?"
The question gave her pause. There was the ceremony itself when we kept making eyes at one another. And of course, there was 'after' the wedding. "I guess we got a little carried away," she said at last, her tone cautious. "But it was a wedding; love was in the air." She gave a wave of her hand. "And it was springtime as well. Everyone was feeling...exuberant."
"That shouldn't matter," he replied. "She shouldn't have had any inkling about...us. Whatever we are." He sighed again, though he said nothing else and for some time they sat in silence until he turned to her once more. "It was a marriage."
She frowned at him. "It was an affirmation, Ben. There's nothing wrong with admitting that you love someone."
"In any case," he replied, his gaze fixed back on the viewscreen. "If a complete stranger could make the mistake of thinking that we wished to take part in such a ceremony, we got more than a little carried away."
"It wasn't the first time." She couldn't hide the yearning in her voice.
After another pause he shook his head again. "I care for you, I do." He gave her a sideways glance. "And I know that you care for me."
"Obi-Wan." Her voice was quiet. "It's more than that. I think it always will be. And it is for you as well." At his expression she shook her head. "Do you remember what I told you when we were younger? The Force and love...they're one and the same. To deny one is to deny the other."
Again he shook his head. "I don't think I'll ever be able to understand that way of thinking, Kalinda, though it's not for lack of trying."
She swallowed and indicated the small starship that they'd used for their journey to the Mid-Rim world. There was barely enough room for them to turn around without hitting one another; though the close quarters had not bothered her before she found that it was a bit difficult to breathe at the moment. "Can we finish this when we get back?"
After a moment, Obi-Wan nodded and glanced at the navacomputer. "We should arrive at Coruscant within thirteen hours."
Neither one spoke for the duration of the journey.
"Do you love me?" As much as she wanted to shout the question, Kalinda found that the words came out in a whisper as she and Obi-Wan stood in her quarters after they'd returned to the Jedi Temple. It was hard to meet his gaze but she forced herself.
He winced as if she'd struck him. "Kali-"
"It's not a hard question, Ben." Her nickname for him slipped out almost of its own accord but neither one acknowledged it.
"The answer is more complicated than you think." When he looked at her again, there was something new in his eyes, some conviction that she had never before seen, though it was overlaid with sorrow. "Don't ask me that, Kali. You know the answer." His voice was almost pleading.
But she pressed on, despite her better judgment. "Then why won't you tell me?" On impulse she stepped to him and took his hands in hers. "Why won't you say it?" She searched his eyes. "Please? You know that I love you, Obi-Wan." He said nothing and she dropped her gaze. "I do." For a while they were both silent until she spoke again. "Ben, it's not wrong to love. It's not against any code to love another being."
"Not this kind of love, Kali," he replied as he moved away from her. Their joined hands broke apart. "It's too much; it will consume us both if we don't put a stop to it. And I feel that dark times are coming...we have to use our energy for other purposes. I think that neither of us can afford a distraction."
A frown creased her forehead at this reference. Lately there had been whispers of systems threatening to leave the cocoon of democracy and align themselves with a powerful new force; rumors of a coming war were rippling through the bolder members of the Senate like the wake of pebbles tossed into a pond. Things are changing, more so than they ever have before. How will we change with them? How will the Jedi Order itself change? The thoughts were troubling.
"But that's exactly it," she said after a moment. "We can all feel it...the darkness coming. Now, more than ever, we need to keep our bonds strong." She approached him again, her eyes fixed on his. "That's how it used to be, in the early days of the order. Jedi were not forbidden to form bonds with one another, as long as it didn't interfere with their purpose, with their path." Her face was close to his, even though he had to lean down to keep their eyes level. "Denying your feelings is the worst thing that you can do, Ben."
He faltered. She could see it in his eyes: a flash of plain and naked longing that mirrored her own desire. Whatever else, she realized, I know he loves me. I know it. The thought should have brought comfort, but she found instead that she was about to fracture into a thousand pieces as he stepped back and opened his mouth to speak.
"Master?" Anakin's voice sounded over the comlink and the moment that had been stretched between them snapped as Obi-Wan looked down at his comm. The young man's voice was questioning. "Where are you? We have a meeting with Master Plo."
"I'll be right there, Anakin," Obi-Wan replied, relief evident in his voice. He looked at Kali one last time as he signed off, but said nothing else before he slipped out of the room.
Kali stood alone for a moment before she was able to unclench her fists that had balled at her sides. It's different, this time. It's more than just circumstance keeping us apart. She took a deep breath to calm herself, to quell the emotions that he always stirred within her heart. The notion brought her thoughts a semblance of order and she nodded to herself. I have to be stronger. Being near him is too hard for me, still. Perhaps if I keep my distance, it will be easier.
On us both.
FYI: The verses in this chapter were taken from traditional Native American wedding vows as well as a bit of Kahlil Gibran's, The Prophet.