If she were truly honest with herself, Kalinda felt a small measure of sorrow after she and Stone had departed the Outer Rim world and set a course back to Coruscant.
And that, she knew, was the entire problem.
In spite of her protests that she was fine, Stonewall had insisted on piloting the craft so that the Jedi could rest; presently, she was sitting in the co-pilot's chair, pretending to be asleep. In reality, her mind reeled. They had been unable to send a communication through to the Temple, most likely due to the disturbance from her exorcism – the word would likely never stop making her shudder – but Honi had promised to do so as soon as she was able.
Just before they had left, the younger woman had pulled Kalinda to the side, concern written across her pale features. "You're sure you're alright, Master?"
Kalinda had smiled at her, recalling the serious, copper-haired girl she'd met years ago. "Yes, Honi. I'm fine. Ready to leave, but fine."
Still, Honi had looked distraught. Finally she'd given a shake of her head, frowning as she spoke. "You should know, I didn't include the exact nature of your...malady in my report," she'd said in a careful voice. "I thought that you might prefer to keep that to yourself."
"What did you tell them?" Kalinda had been stunned, as Honi had never been inclined to hide any part of the truth; many times during her apprenticeship, the younger woman's blunt nature had caused problems for both herself and her teacher.
"That you were in pain," Honi had answered, her voice taking on its usual businesslike tone. "So much so that you required sedation. I also mentioned that Captain Stonewall was instrumental in helping to contain you until I could come up with a solution."
There was a pause, then – to Kali's astonishment – the younger woman had given a shrug that was almost nonchalant. "It was close enough to the truth, and when Master Nu told me what happened to Duran, I let them assume that's what you were experiencing." Her eyes had then focused on Kali, with an expression that was suddenly filled with doubt. "It was the right thing to do, wasn't it?"
It had taken Kalinda a moment for the words to sink in, and she wondered if her brain was still muddled after the entire ordeal. "Truthfully? I'm relieved. This will be difficult enough to explain without..."
She'd paused, and they'd each cast a glance at the shuttle, where Stonewall was prepping the vessel for departure. "Thank you, Honi."
"He cares for you a great deal, Master," Honi had replied, giving Kalinda an appraising look.
Immediately, her mind had cast itself back to the previous night, and she felt a shiver run across her skin. "I know."
"But that doesn't concern me as much as the fact that your affection has grown for him," her former Padawan had added, straightening as if confirming something to herself.
Kalinda had regarded the younger woman but said nothing, and it became Honi's turn to sigh. "Obi-Wan won't be pleased."
Obi-Wan. Kalinda remembered the involuntary wince that came to her face at the mention of his name. It seems like we just managed to work through all of our issues, too. What mess I've made of things.
But she had said none of this to her former Padawan; instead, she'd reached forward to embrace the younger woman before she turned to step aboard the shuttle. "Thank you for your concern, Honi. Take care of yourself."
And now they were moving through space, the stars sliding past them like raindrops against a windshield. It was quiet, and Kali was glad to have a chance to think. At the helm, Stonewall seemed content for the time being, though she could feel that his attention was on her.
She couldn't blame him, not really, and her mind whirred in thought even as she kept her eyes closed and her breathing slow, mimicking patterns of sleep. They could never go back to how things had been before, when they'd only worked together and he'd harbored romantic feelings for her; when she'd learned of them, she'd even considered asking for him to be reassigned to another Jedi, but had ultimately not been able to do so.
Honi was right. She did care for him, and Kali had no idea what she was supposed to do with the understanding, now. Images flooded her mind; despite herself she felt another shiver of pleasure at the memory of him kneeling before her, intent on bringing her to climax again and again. But her feelings for him ran deeper than the pleasure he'd brought her; his kindness, his kiss, his concern, his laugh, his touch, his voice...they were all seared into her psyche, and she was ashamed to realize that she was not entirely regretful of the fact.
In the name of the Force, what would she tell Obi-Wan?
No, she thought, trying to keep her face slack as if she were asleep and pushing all her thoughts of Stonewall to the side. This has to end. Obi-Wan deserves better than this, especially from me.
While she felt that the experience that she and Stonewall had shared was...pleasant, she knew that it had to mean nothing in the long term. As she'd told him at the spring, their actions on Mundali had been guided by the Living Force; but it was over now, and she knew that they had to move on, somehow.
But they could never go back.
The second day of travel they received a transmission from the Temple. Apparently, Honi had managed to contact the Jedi and inform them of Kalinda's impending arrival, and her breath caught as she watched Obi-Wan appear at the comm-station, a miniature version of himself. After he related Honi's information, he said that he'd arranged for one of the Healers at the Temple to examine her the moment that they touched down.
"I look forward to seeing you again, Kalinda," he said at the very end, his voice softening before the transmission ended. She sighed heavily as the blue glow flickered away, glad that it was her turn at the helm. After a moment, Stonewall looked at her.
"May I ask you something?"
"Of course," she replied, her pulse quickening.
He was quiet for a moment, as if debating, before he spoke. "You mentioned a name the other day...while you were sleeping. Who is 'Ben?'"
While some of her time on Mundali was hazy, she clearly remembered every moment of their activities. Her dreams, however were another story. Usually. In any case, there was no mistaking who "Ben" was, and she took a breath while she debated how to tell him.
Stonewall must have taken her pause as reticence to speak of the matter, so he shook his head. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, I was just curious."
"No," she replied, looking over at him. "You have a right to know, Stone. Ben is someone I've been close to since we were both very young; he and I are lovers and friends alike." She swallowed, but held his gaze. "Ben is my nickname for Obi-Wan."
For one moment his face paled and he looked completely shocked, which amused her on one level, because she'd been certain that her relationship with Obi-Wan was obvious to everyone, by now.
After a beat he exhaled deeply, but did not drop his eyes from hers. "General Kenobi?"
He was silent.
They reached Coruscant the following morning, having barely said a handful of words to each other since he'd asked her about Ben. While they were waiting for clearance to land, he turned to her from his place in the pilot's seat. Through the Force, she could feel his agitation and his uncertainty, but in his fashion he seemed to be pushing past them in order to move forward.
"Kalinda, I just..I want you to know that I meant everything I said to you on Mundali. My oath, I mean." Here, he frowned as if annoyed, but he continued, anyway. "I know that you weren't yourself for most of the time, and I understand if you don't want me around any more...but I just wanted to say that I meant it. Every word."
He took a breath and held her eyes with his own, almost-golden ones. "I am your man, Kalinda, until...well, until."
She could almost hear his thoughts: Until you don't want me anymore.
It took her longer than it should have to reply and when she did, her throat was tight. "Stone, I think things are going to be strange for us, for a little while. I don't want you to leave, but I can't...I need some time to sort things out."
At her words, his face fell, but after a moment she could practically see him trying to shake his feeling away, and she continued. "In the meantime, I think you should train with Commander Cody to be a Commander yourself."
His eyes widened and she smiled despite herself. "I was actually going to mention it after we returned from our last mission, but, well..." Mundali had gotten in the way; she made a motion with her hand to indicate such a thing. "What do you think?"
"It would be an honor to train with Commander Cody," he replied, though some of the enthusiasm had faded from his voice. He was silent for another moment, as if debating, then he took a breath and cast her another look. "Are you angry with me?"
She would have chuckled at this, but for his pained expression. "Angry? Not in the slightest. I simply need some time to think. But I promise I will come back," she added, touching his hand. He put his own larger one over hers, pressing their skin together; his gaze was earnest, wide with naked longing and hunger and another emotion that she dared not name even as something within her heart tightened in response.
What is the matter with me? she thought as she looked down at their joined hands. Why do I feel like this?
"Stonewall...love and desire are easily confused," she whispered, lifting her hand from his, trying not to notice that she was trembling. "Some time apart will do both of us a world of good."
Soon enough they were back at the Temple; when they separated he headed to the transport that would take him to the Coruscant barracks. For her part, Kalinda gathered her belongings and headed for her quarters, thinking only of showering and crashing into her bed to sleep for the next eighteen hours, which was exactly what she was doing until she felt a familiar presence in her room.
"You were supposed to see the Healer the moment you arrived," Obi-Wan said, sitting on the edge of her bed as she yawned and sat up.
"I'm fine," she replied, rolling her neck from side to side, wincing at the popping sensation. "I just needed a bath and a few days' sleep...which, by the way, you're interrupting."
"Forgive me," was his dry reply, though his gaze on her was concerned. "When I heard what happened, I was worried about you." He shook his head and took her right hand in both of his as he continued to study her face. "You look different."
She cleared her throat and looked away from him, watching the Coruscanti traffic streaming by the small window of her room. "Did you talk to Honi?"
"I heard her report, yes," he said, his voice cautious. "But something felt wrong. She's incapable of deception, but..." He studied her, his storm-blue eyes giving the impression that he missed nothing, but there was only concern within their depths, which added to her feeling of guilt. "Did something else happen? It sounded like a horrific ordeal, but you seem well enough-"
"I'm sorry," she whispered, feeling her eyes prick. The tears overwhelmed her and a moment later she was sobbing into his shoulder, shaking uncontrollably.
"Kali," he said, embracing her. "It's okay...it's over now." She felt him press his cheek to hers, felt his arms wrap around her shoulders.
When she was able speak she shook her head. "No, you don't understand. Yes, something did happen." She sighed and wiped her eyes with the hem of her shirt. "You're not going to like it."
They sat together on her bed and she told him everything – save the most intimate details that he could sort out for himself – and during her speech she watched his face change from concerned to confused to incredulous.
When she'd finished, he blinked a few times before running his hand through his hair and shaking his head at her as if in disbelief. "You...slept with him?"
"I could hardly stand, the feeling of desire was so strong," she replied, shivering at the memory. "Honi can attest to it. I could hardly think...even breathing was difficult. I needed a release, Ben, and I didn't know what else to do."
"You slept with him?"
"Please don't make me repeat the story," she replied, taking a breath to steady herself. "Honi was kind enough to keep the exact nature of the situation from the Council...but I had to tell you."
Obi-Wan was silent for another moment, an unreadable expression on his face. When she reached out to him through the Force, she was met with a flickering uncertainty that he hid well, as usual. Eventually he spoke, and his voice was all calm collection. "Where is he now?"
"I sent him to Cody, to be trained as a commander," she replied. "Remember, I mentioned that to you before I left for Mundali?"
He nodded, then took a deep breath before he looked at her, shaking his head slightly. She touched his arm. "Are you upset?"
"Honestly?" He sighed again and scrubbed at his face with his hand. "I'm not, not really. I trust you, Kali. I know that you never would have done anything like that unless you had no other option." His mouth quirked into a smile and she caught a familiar glint in his eye, the kind that had always set her heart to beating faster. "I do wish that I had been with you."
They shared a chuckle before his hand lifted to his beard in thought. "However, I think it's a good thing that you sent him away. It's probably best that you don't see him again; it will be confusing and painful for him to be near you, now. "
I am your man, without reservation, without hesitation, today, tomorrow and always.
Sensing her hesitation, Obi-Wan gave her an exasperated look. "But you've developed an attachment to him, haven't you?" She said nothing and he sighed. "Kalinda..."
"Don't worry, Obi-Wan," she replied, sitting upright. "I know what I have to do."
His eyes softened and he reached for her, his touch at once firm and familiar; it brought back a lifetime of different memories, and it was a relief to lie in his arms once more.
But despite this, she found that she still couldn't shake the the memory of Stonewall's embrace.
That was going to be a problem.
The next day she requested an assignment from Master Windu. When he asked her where she wanted to go, her reply was short:
"Anywhere but here."
If you enjoyed this, check out the next fic in this timeline, Duty And Destiny. For more fluffy romance (non-sexual), take a peek at the vignette collection, Stolen Moments. If you like stories with more spice, there are many to be found on my Adult Fanfiction author page, (see my profile), not the least of which being the "unedited" version of this fic. ;)
Thanks for reading!