A/N: Crest had some unfinished business on Aruna...I wasn't quite ready to leave, either.

Arunai Interlude

Crest hadn't spent too much time in the palace gardens during Shadow Squad's brief tenure on the planet Aruna. Most of the mission had taken place either in the streets of Rudral, the capitol city, or the rugged mountains as he and Traxis accompanied the Jedi Knight Kalinda Halcyon and the young queen of Aruna to a distant temple.

Naturally, it had been an eventful trip.

Happily though, the hard part of the mission seemed to be over; the Jedi and her squad were now tasked with ensuring that the young queen's proposed changes in the social structures of the planet would proceed without further incident. I know it's important, Crest thought as he stood in the center of the palace garden and looked around. But does it have to be so boring? All those endless meetings were enough to make me want to jump off the nearest mountain just to shake things up. Spring had come in earnest to the city, evidenced by the myriad of flowers that had seemed to blossom overnight; even in the muted light of the sunset he could make out the vibrant colors that coated most of the shrubs and trees in his vicinity.

Once the official business was concluded for the day, things relaxed a little bit, particularly for the Jedi and the clone captain, Stonewall, who were – if it was possible – even more nauseating together than they had ever been. I don't mind a little PDA, but seriously...they need to tone it down. Indeed, none of the clones wanted to be anywhere near the suites where the Republic group had been staying when the lovers were...

Crest sighed. Enjoying themselves. I'll just leave it at that. Though his brothers had taken to exploring the city some more, he had elected to remain behind as he was feeling uncharacteristically melancholy. I don't know why I'm so mopey...I should be on top of the world; we had another successful mission and got to attend a massive festival. Despite these pleasant notions, his thoughts kept returning to a certain Arunai woman who'd left such an impression on him that he was still finding hidden flecks of colored powder on his skin days after the spring festival.

She's the ruler of an entire planet and I'm about as far from unique as you can get. Still though, it was nice to think that maybe a woman like her would even look at a guy like me. He frowned. Maudlin thoughts were not his forté, nor did he care for sulking.

Soft footfalls met his ears; a light jingling of gold made him turn to see the very person whom he'd been thinking of and he straightened his spine on impulse as Sita, the queen of everything he could see and stand on at the moment, approached him. Her alabaster hair glinted in the fading light and her eyes – the color of a morning sky – regarded him with curiosity even after she greeted him. "Where are your brothers?"

A unit, a set. What am I on my own? Kriff, I'm in a weird mood today. Rather than speak, he gestured to the cityscape below them and she nodded, a faint smile curving her cheeks.

"You didn't want to join them?"

This made him pause. "I thought I'd give the garden a look. None of us wanted to stay in our quarters; the Jedi and the Captain are a little too...enthusiastic right now." His face felt warm despite the cool breeze that slipped across his skin. Am I seriously talking to the queen about this? That's got to be against some kind of protocol.

But she laughed. The sound reverberated around them and he felt a grin spread over his face. "They are, aren't they? Even Badal and I weren't that bad as newlyweds."

The mention of her deceased husband – the former king, lest you forget – stilled him and his smile faded.

Sensing his unease, Sita took a step closer. Her skin was a warm reddish color and she smelled of jasmine. "I loved him very much," she said in a quiet voice. "As he loved me. However, it is not the way of my people to let the shadows of those who have passed hang over us forever. He is gone. I have shed my tears. But the wonderful thing about life is that it goes on."

Crest studied her. She was wearing a simple silk dress – if such a combination of words was possible – and her face held an expression that he could not read, though he was trying to. "I'm sure he loved you very much, your majesty."


Her eyes on his were pale blue and he could not look away as he said her name. "Sita."

She stepped closer, closing the gap even more. Crest realized that her hand was on his arm well after it had happened; the press of her skin was soft and warm and unlike anything he'd ever felt. He was riveted by her gaze. Perhaps he said her name again, but at that point he lost track of the exact sequence of events. His feet were planted in the ground as surely as any tree and she moved to him like wind over the water. This isn't happening. This isn't real. The last of the evening birds had stopped singing as the crickets took over the music of dusk.

"Crest?" Her face was close to his; she was shorter than him and he had to look down to meet her eyes. She smiled, her hand still on his arm. "Are you well? Your pulse is racing."

He nodded, but said nothing as breathing was also difficult. If I move, this will all vanish, I'll wake up...and I really don't want to wake up right now.

The queen of Aruna tilted her head up to him; her pale hair was loose and tumbling down her back. "Crest," she said his name again, though it was a whisper. "Don't forget to breathe." With that she leaned up and kissed him. Her lips were soft, softer than anything he'd ever known, and the scent of her skin was intoxicating. There was a moment of fumbling awkwardness before his body adjusted to the new experience.

Lucky I'm a fast learner.

After several moments they broke apart and he decided that he could overlook the captain's recent behavior. I had no clue what I was missing. No wonder he's all starry-eyed. He held her gaze and gave her a smile. "Breathe. Right. I think I need to work on that."

Sita laughed and he thought that he'd never heard a more wonderful sound. "I understand how you feel." Her skin was flushed, spots of color had appeared in her cheeks. "Perhaps with more practice, we could perfect our technique." Pale blue eyes met his and he grinned at the glint of mischief he saw within them. All around the garden, cicadas and other night insects were calling to one another and the air was filled with the strange melody.

To hell with protocol. As if on instinct, his hands moved to her shoulders even as she leaned into him, pressing herself against his chest while he kissed her was warmer than he'd imagined, and he held her as close as he could. When her arms wrapped around his torso, Crest thought that he could well and truly die happy right there.

But of course, it couldn't last.

Eventually they broke apart though they kept their eyes on one another. Crest took a deep breath to calm himself, because he was certain if he spoke immediately, his voice would crack like a teenager's. "Sita..."

She shook her head. "I know. But I also wanted to know what it would be like." Her hands skimmed across the planes of his face as if committing it to memory. "And I wanted you to have something to remember me by on all your travels throughout the galaxy."

"Trust me, Sita, I'll remember you, no matter what. However," he couldn't help himself and he grinned. "I'd like to make absolutely certainthat you'll remember me...just in case." On impulse he kissed her once more even as she smiled again.

Afterward her hand moved to his and he savored the press of their skin. She looked at him a moment more before she turned to leave. "I will never forget you, Crest. You are a man like no other."

As he watched her slip away through the garden, for one of the few times in his life Crest was speechless.

When his brothers found him some time later, he was still grinning.