Supervisor Wennen stood behind him, slinging her bag over her shoulder, blonde hair flying. It was the end of the shift, obviously, and she was waiting for him to finish. "You want to go grab something to eat?"
Ordo turned in his seat and tried to smile in a Corr-like way at her. He had been hoping to get back to Qibbu's as soon as his shift ended, because Corr's meat-can armour was pinching his circulation in places, and the more time he spent in Supervisor Wennen's presence the more uncomfortable he became.
It wasn't that she was unkind or pretentious, or anything that most Coruscant government workers were. In fact, she was as far removed from a superficial, self-absorbed city girl as you could get. That was evident in the way she treated Corr like a human being, and not a disposable wet-droid like everyone else. But she was still a suspect, as far as the mission was concerned, and he had to act innocent and Corr-like.
Except that was the problem. She thought he was Corr. In actual fact, the real Corr was back at Qibbu's with Skirata, Delta and Omega, learning fast how to be a commando. While he, Ordo, was stuck in the guy's body-numbing armour doing mind-numbing undercover work.
Maybe he was a little jealous. He certainly didn't envy Corr's everyday job. At least Wennen was nice to look at.
Just as he reprimanded himself sternly for thinking like Mereel, Supervisor Wennen raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Food? Come on, I know you're always hungry."
Ordo, still nice, polite trooper Corr, powered down his monitor and sent Wennen what he hoped was an easy smile. "Sure."
Because he was actually hungry, whether he enjoyed her company or not.
She returned his smile and waited for him to shut off his workstation, then they walked side by side through the early evening streets of Coruscant to a little tapcaf she and Corr obviously frequented, by the amount of times she'd brought him here. He had to admit that it was nice; never too loud or busy, and with a nice comfortable seating area. The food was first-rate, too, though he would have been just as happy with much less.
Wennen chose a table in the corner by the window, and a serving droid whirred over to take their order. Wennen ordered for them, because she knew what he would like, and then she sat back with a sigh. Ordo cleared his throat, clasping his hands in front of him on the table.
Wennen sighed irritably, fiddling with her fork. "Just a little. Jiss wasn't in again, and as usual I had to cover her work as well as mine. I've never known anyone to take so much sick leave. Something's going on with her."
Ordo blinked as a passing hovercab caught the setting sun and threw light into his face. It shone on Wennen's hair, glittering on the golden strands. He couldn't help but stare. "You know, I could do some of that work for you. I work fast."
She shot him a grateful smile. "That's what you said last week."
"I suppose I have nothing better to do." He smiled, and she returned it. He wished she would give him the work, though, partly because he was so bored during the day, and partly because Jiss was also a suspect and her work might give them some clue about what she was so busy with, and how illegal it was. He wondered why Wennen wouldn't give it to him – was it because she was in with Jiss, too?
"So," she leaned forwards to fiddle with the flimsi napkin instead, her long fingers graceful and soft-looking, "What do you want to do tonight?"
She'd changed the subject, and he gave up on Jiss for now. He tried to think like Corr, eager to see the sights of Coruscant. Observing the man for the past few days had perfected his act. "What haven't we seen yet?" he asked.
She mock-pondered, the hints of a smile teasing at the corners of her lips. He knew she'd already decided when she looked like that, and he was grateful, because it meant less mental effort thinking of tourist attractions. He quirked a questioning eyebrow, but she just winked at him and tapped her nose.
"You'll see," she smiled knowingly. Before he could press her further, the food arrived and he forgot about work whilst he was involved in sampling the finest of the week's menu. He never knew quite how hungry he was until he had a bite to eat, and then a bite turned into a few platefuls. When the desserts came, they were gloriously sticky and sweet, and before he knew it Wennen was pushing her plate over to his side of the table.
"You know I can never have more than a bite or two," she said. "It's far too sweet for me."
He smiled at her gratefully and accepted the offering, tucking in as she sat back to watch the traffic of the evening. She talked as he ate, describing what and who she saw and making up stories for each passer-by. It was a game Ordo often played in his head, and apparently she and Corr played it, too. It was an odd moment of the day; when he felt like Wennen knew the real him and he didn't have to pretend any more. It was easy.
"Oh, this woman's meeting someone," she said, as a dark-haired human woman stood outside, glancing at her chrono occasionally. "A man."
"Her husband?" Ordo asked, noting the ring on her finger. Wennen paused for a second.
"No. She's meeting a secret lover." Her eyes twinkled as they smiled across the table at him, and he smiled past a mouthful of sticky, syrupy cake. She carried on, leaning across the table to speak in hushed tones. "And he's tall and handsome, around half her age. She loves her husband, of course, but for what she wants…she needs to look elsewhere. I'm going to say her husband is in love with his job, and is barely ever home. Maybe he's even having an affair, too." She caught Ordo's eye, and giggled. "Okay, you go."
Ordo put his spoon down, and sat back. He surveyed the sidewalk, and selected a young, rather tanned, pretty brunette, rushing across the square in a pair of glasses and a business suit. He pointed her out.
"Okay. She's obviously in a hurry, so I'm going to say she's late for a meeting of some sort. An audition, maybe. The office job is just that – a day job – when really, she dreams of being on the stage." Wennen gave a laugh at this, and he carried on, pleased by the reaction. "Sadly, no one really pays much attention to her because she's a little shy and often overlooked. She's trying, but everyone she sees gives her a no. I'd say she's talented, but because she can't assert herself and get what she wants, her dream of being a performer is likely going to stay that – a dream. Unless she finds a job as a dancer at a Hutt's parlour."
To his surprise, Wennen dissolved into a fit of hysterical giggles and had to dab at her eyes with her napkin. Ordo frowned and raised an eyebrow. "Uh…I'm sorry?"
"I'm sorry, I just…" she could barely breathe, and Ordo wondered if she was going to choke and if he'd have to resuscitate her. The thought of mouth-to-mouth with her was oddly enough not unappealing. He squashed the thought as she attempted to speak again, "She…she…" she took a deep breath and calmed herself, but she couldn't wipe the smile off her face. "That's Jilka Zan Zentis. She works in the Tax Enforcement offices at the Treasury. And she and I happen to be very good friends." She laughed some more, and Ordo actually flushed.
"I had no idea-"
"She could box you to the ground with the raise of an eyebrow!" Wennen giggled. She had an infectious laugh that tugged at the corners of his mouth.
Me? I think not. "Shy and unassertive, not so much then…" Ordo started to grin, and although he was still painfully embarrassed, he couldn't help but see the funny side. She did that to him. He wondered how much trouble he was in if he started to consider a suspect a friend.
"A dancer?" she laughed harder, eyes crinkling at the corners and twinkling with laughter. "At a Hutt's parlour? Oh, that's a good one…just wait until I tell her that…!"
Ordo's eyes grew wide with panic. "No! Don't tell her!" But he too was laughing, and soon he couldn't think about much but how funny everything was, and he and Wennen sat rocking with laughter in the window of a tapcaf, and the world melted away.
She sighed, finally able to breathe again, and sat back, the remnants of a smile in her eyes. "You know, Corr, you're a lot of fun. You're a good guy."
Ordo felt guilty, because of course he wasn't Corr. And if she started to consider Corr a close friend, he felt as if he'd cheated her trust. If she ever found out what had been going on under her nose, she'd never trust Corr again. That was, assuming he returned to desk duties, which was unlikely by the way he was taking to commando training. A guilty flush crept up his neck, and unsure of what exactly Corr would say to something like that, he simply gave a small smile.
She was watching him with a warm look in her eyes, and they didn't move for a moment. Ordo panicked, wondering if she suspected something was off, and began to formulate Corr-like replies to the questions he thought she was about to ask. But she just shook her head in what he might have described as mild amazement.
"Nothing," she said with a smile. "You're just so…innocent."
Ordo couldn't help but feel a burst of anger flare up inside, but maintained a calm exterior for appearances' sake. He wouldn't call what he'd seen, what he'd done in this war 'innocent', not the blood on his hands. How could she think that? A pair of dead eyes flashed in his mind, rose from his memory, but he pushed them away, thinking instead of the mission at hand. He still couldn't help a sharp remark. "I don't think innocence is what it is." He raised an eyebrow. She seemed to realise what she'd said, and shook her head again, firmly this time.
"No, not innocent like that. Look," she took him by surprise and reached over the table to take his gloved hand. He looked at her, trying not to convey how startled he was. "I know you've seen a lot of bad things. This war…it's not something that breeds good things."
Her comment intrigued Ordo. "You're against the war?" he asked, more out of curiosity than anything else. She looked offended.
"Of course I am. Look at what it does to men like you."
"I didn't mean it like that," Ordo backtracked. "I just meant…I haven't met a lot of civvies, outside of the office. But they seem to think it's not their problem and leave it to other people to have an opinion and do something about it. Or, they think it's a good thing we're fighting the 'evil Seppies'." He extricated his hand from hers to make quote marks in the air, and she gave a wry smile.
"I don't think it's just the Separatists who are corrupt," she said, staring out of the window with her hands clasped in front of her. "I sometimes wonder whose side I'm really on," she glanced back at him, and their eyes met. "And that scares me."
She worked in the government in the middle of a war, and she wasn't even sure whose side was right. She was scared, and it said something to him that she felt comfortable enough to open up to Corr.
Her eyes were very dark. They flashed with something that made his heart flutter in his chest, and his reaction startled him. It was something beseeching that was begging him not to judge her. It moved him, and it was in this moment he knew for certain that he liked her. She worked in the government in the middle of a war, and she wasn't even sure whose side was right. She was scared, and it said something to him that she felt comfortable enough to open up to Corr.
"I know," he said quietly. "Me too."
Relief broke in her eyes, and she looked down at her hands. "And anyway…" she began, her voice taking on an amused lightness. "I meant you were innocent in terms of social situations."
"Oh." There was nothing much else he could say to that, and his flush returned. His cheeks grew hot, and he was glad of the distraction when the serving droid returned with a bill. Wennen paid, even though he objected, brushing off his offers with flippant smiles. Then she winked at him.
"Come on. I know where we can go."
He had been planning some polite brush-offs earlier, hoping to get back to Qibbu's and his mission. But to his immense surprise, he followed her without hesitation, his refusals forgotten.
The evening air was temperate and pleasant, even if it was artificial. That was what he hated about Coruscant; everything was simulated and synthetic, precisely constructed and calculated to optimum standards of living. It reminded him too much of Kamino, sometimes. Mandalore, he was told, couldn't have been more different; rolling hills and fields, unpredictable weather from storms to snow, a constant refreshing breeze from the North. Kal'buir said you could stand still on Mandalore and believe you were the only person on the planet. He couldn't wait to see it when he got the chance. The sprawling, glittering skyscrapers and constantly moving traffic of the city made him feel small and powerless.
Along the way he noticed almost every male species they passed gave Wennen a second glance, their eyes wandering up and down her body as they walked. A few whistled, or made gestures she pointedly ignored. The only man she didn't ignore was him. He wasn't sure how he felt about that, but something inside him was certainly pleased at the attention.
"Doesn't that bother you?" he asked as another slack-jawed mongrel visually undressed her. For some unexplainable reason, he wanted to hit the man, and gave the hu'tuun an ARC trooper standard glare as he passed. The thought struck him that maybe his possessiveness meant he was getting too close to her, and he reminded himself that she was a suspect. He had to try to distance himself.
Wennen shrugged. "Yes. But sadly, it's a free Republic. People will stare."
So she had adapted. Ordo could identify; the clone trooper armour brought a whole load of stares and whispers with it when it was seen in public. More than half of the population still believed they were just droids in fancy suits. "How do you just ignore them?" he asked, resisting the powerful urge to glare at another man.
"You just do," she said, "Returning the attention in any way, positive or negative, simply encourages them." She raised her eyebrow. "Some men do not understand the word no."
"Has it ever been that serious?"
"You mean have I ever had a problem with a guy harassing me?" she laughed. "No, I learned pretty early to shut them out," her eyes twinkled, "Unless you'd like to be the first…?"
Ordo's face broke into a smile, but the comment made him wonder more than ever if he was indeed too close to her. It was a fine line between professional interest and friendship, and one easily blurred in this case. He tried to keep it clear in his mind, but as the days went on the harder it was to remember she was a suspect. That worried him, and he wondered if he should talk to Kal'buir about it. Feelings were…messy.
He glanced at her as they walked, her head held high and blonde hair catching the fading orange sun, waving behind her in the breeze. If he ended up having to slot her, he wondered if he'd be able to do it. And that scared him, because he'd never had reason to doubt his abilities before.
"We're here," she said suddenly, and smiled back at him as she took his hand and led him through an entrance to what looked like another Coruscant park, by the trees he could see.
"Another park?" he asked, somewhat sceptical, raising an eyebrow at the rows of dark-green foliage above their heads.
The sun had set a while ago, but on the streets the lights of shop signs and streetlights illuminated the city walkways. Here, there were no lights or neon signs, and the sounds of bustling city life were gone the moment he'd stepped through the gates, as though someone had just put mufflers over his ears, or the dampener system in his helmet had just kicked in after a big blast. It was dark and quiet, and peaceful. Occasional low-lit lamps or lights in trees or by pathways gave a nice ambient light.
She turned to look back at his somewhat awed expression. "Not just any park," she laughed. "I promise you'll enjoy it. And if you don't, you can choose where we go next."
They ambled amongst trees he'd never even seen the likes of before, with huge sprawling trunks and roots that knotted over themselves like twisting ropes, and passed flowers of every colour. The lights set in between the plants made their colours gleam out from the dim twilight. Occasionally Wennen would stop to touch the bark of a tree or smell a flower, sometimes telling him about them; their names, origins or such facts. Some he knew and could tell her before she could open her mouth, and soon it became another game. There were few people around, but still in the hush they laughed quietly.
After a while, they came across a water fountain with lights set into the jets, the result being water that seemed to glow as it arced gracefully over the stone and plashed into the pool below. He found himself fascinated by the patterns the water traced in the air, and it was only after several moments he realised Wennen was watching him with an amused expression. His blush returned, but it was darker here and he hoped she couldn't see it.
"How do you know so much about all this?" he asked, gesturing around them, in an attempt to get her to stop focusing on him. She bit.
"My father, mostly," she said. "He used to take me on vacation to all sorts of places like this. The jewel-caves of Birsingrial were his favourite." Ordo thought he detected a wistful tone in her voice, and wondered what her history with her father was. He thought she had more to say, but she didn't continue and instead flashed him a soft smile before moving to sit on the edge of the fountain. He followed her suit, and decided the conversation about her father was to be had another time. She obviously didn't like talking about her family.
"Do you come here a lot?" he asked, noting how their hands were barely a finger's width apart on the cool polished stone. Her fingernails were clean and manicured, her fingers long and slender, pale against the dark of the stone and his gloves.
"Here? No," she answered him, "But I like to spend my lunch breaks in the parks, if I can."
"You like nature." He tilted his head up to look at her. She glanced up at him and nodded.
She laughed quietly. "Yes. And loud and busy. Nature is…"
"Not." He tried.
She didn't laugh this time, but her eyes smiled at him quietly. "Yes."
It was at this moment that he realised how the closeness made him feel uncomfortable. Their shoulders were almost touching, strands of her very-blonde hair slipping over and brushing against his shoulder-plate. Under the glow of the lights from the fountain her hair looked almost phosphorescent, and very soft. This close he could count her eyelashes. Once again he noticed she was looking at him, and nervous confusion churned in his belly as he realised he didn't know what to do next.
Her eyes seemed to be trying to tell him something.
He knew he was slow when it came to social situations – as she had pointed out, earlier – and this time was no exception. When it finally clicked into place in his mind and he knew what she was trying to tell him, the nervous confusion turned into simple nervousness, and he almost choked on it.
She leaned forwards a fraction of an inch, her weight shifting towards him, and the slight movement confirmed his fears. Was she going to…kiss him? Her eyes flickered to his mouth as she leaned in so close he could smell her perfume, and cold fear seized him. No. Just no. Panicked, he stood up hurriedly, almost slipping over in a pool of water that had spilled over from the fountain. He cleared his throat and pretended to adjust his leg armour, heart beating loudly in his ears.
She blinked and froze, and for a split second he thought he'd done something horribly wrong and offended her. But just as soon as he'd formulated the thought, she turned to smile at him and pointed down a tree-lined path.
"We'll head there next," she said lightly, but he didn't miss the blush heating her cheeks. He felt guilty. "The path eventually leads to the exit, but it's got some spectacular tree roots."
He nodded, attempting to return her smile without looking like he might be about to vomit. She stood up quickly, and stepped away from the fountain.
It took him less than a split second to see what was about to happen. Her footing slipped in the pool of water on the ground by the fountain, and she began to fall backwards, her head on an impact course with the rim where they'd been sat. He reacted.
She let out a cry as she slipped, but he was fast. He caught her in his arms before her head could hit the fountain, and the next thing he was aware of were her dark eyes barely an inch from his. She was panting.
"Thanks, Corr," she breathed.
He tried to reply but found somehow he couldn't speak around the lump in his throat. And then her arms circled his neck and she kissed him.
He froze, unsure if he should return the kiss or push her away. He was torn both ways; the male part of him starting to enjoy this new, strange sensation and wanting to pursue, but the soldier in him wanting to retreat to familiar territory, back to proper behaviour where he felt safe. He floundered, not quite kissing her but not quite pulling away, panicking again. His body tensed up as he was unsure what to do with his arms, his lips, his head, and after a moment she seemed to notice his tenseness and pulled away.
They stayed in the position he had caught her in for a few more moments, Ordo terrified that she might cry. He had heard that sometimes women did that when you upset them, and he really didn't know how to deal with that right now. Then, thankfully, she cleared her throat.
"Uh…Corr? You can let me go now," she said.
Ordo flushed. "Right," he managed. He hauled her back up onto her feet and looked away as she straightened her work suit, painfully embarrassed but still slightly relieved. He felt somewhat elated, and put it down to his relief that she wasn't crying and not the kiss, incredibly confused. She turned back to him and smiled again, but he noticed it didn't reach her eyes and felt guilty again.
Because, of course, he was Corr to her. And for some unexplained reason, that made him sad too. He had robbed Corr of his first kiss, and deceived Wennen's feelings. And he doubted she would ever know Ordo, the real Ordo, nor would they ever meet again after the mission.
Though why he had reason to be sad about that, he didn't know. She was just a woman, just a contact in just another mission.
He opened his mouth to say something, anything, but she held up a hand to stop him. She took a deep breath that came out a little shaky, the blush from earlier still heating her cheeks.
"Don't," she said, her smile more like a grimace. "Just…don't."
He nodded, hoping she knew he was sorry. Their eyes met once more, and she bit her lip. He tried to apologise with his eyes, but he didn't know how to make his speak like hers did. She nodded, however, and her gaze softened.
Maybe she had understood him.
They walked down the path lined with giant trees, and Ordo tried to immerse himself in the beauty and awesome wonder of the nature around them again. But she didn't say much this time, and he found all he could focus on was the churning pit of guilt in his gut and wondering what she was thinking. It was an awkward end to the night, and when they reached the exits they parted ways with smiles that barely hid the embarrassment and promises to see each other at work the next morning.
Ordo walked back to Qibbu's in a daze, and decided not to tell Corr about what had happened. Not to tell anyone about what had happened. He couldn't face Kal'buir, Mereel would only find it hysterically funny, and Corr would be disappointed. He'd never live it down.
The city looked so much different now, for some reason. Too bright, too loud. He envied the random strangers he passed and their simple lives. He arrived at Qibbu's and found that everyone was either on watch or downstairs eating, and took the opportunity to shut himself in his room and try to shut everything out. He couldn't help but wonder what she was doing right now, what she was thinking.
He remembered how good it had been before she'd kissed him, and wondered if, now, he should have returned it. Had he wanted to? He couldn't remember.
He knew that now he did.
Wennen wasn't waiting for him when he got off shift the next day. Or the next, or the next. She never waited for him after that. He knew he'd hurt her now.
She still smiled at him from across the room, though. Hope was not all lost.
Aww…poor Ordo. I really wanted to play with the idea of what happened when Ordo was undercover as Corr and the relationship with Besany. I can imagine it was a shock for Besany when she found out Corr was actually Ordo…
Huge thanks to laloga for Beta'ing! Genius work, and a great help. :)
Thanks for reading!