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The Arbiter

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"Get outta here," I snarl at the bumbling Selkath assigned to be my arbiter. "You're not helping anything."

The Selkath has the decency to look apologetic, bowing to the court and escaping the room.

I turn and look at the justices, trying to appear as composed and calm as possible. "I would like to represent myself."

The justices glance between themselves and shrug.

"Very well," Shelkar says, turning his beady eyes on me. "What were you doing in the Republic embassy?"

I start telling the story of my travels on the planet, doing my best to keep any sort of suspicious activity out of it. I'm nowhere near as well-versed as I'd like to be, but I make my points clear. I feel good about my chances of release until the court starts flinging questions at me, nitpicking at every detail I tried to avoid.

I swear inwardly, doing my best to answer the volley of questions without getting overwhelmed. The judges are succeeding in making me feel completely moronic and trapping me in my own words. Needless to say, the trial isn't going well, and I'm nearly ready to turn myself in just to make the torture stop.

Someone in the audience clears their throat and we all turn to see who the intruder is.

Bastila is standing there, looking calm and very in control. She dips her head ever so slightly in a nod of greeting. "Pardon my interruption," she says, keeping her distance from the bench respectfully.

I feel her nudging at my mind through our bond and raise an eyebrow at her.

Designate me as your new arbiter, she orders.

I'm about to protest when she growls my name threateningly in my head. "I'd like to designate this woman as my new arbiter," I say meekly, turning my gaze to Chief Justice Shelkar.

It almost looks like the Selkath is annoyed, but he asks Bastila a few questions. It doesn't sound like she'll be allowed to represent me, but Shelkar finds out that she's a Jedi and allows her to step forward.

I go quiet and allow Bastila to speak. I'm amazed at how masterfully Bastila talks her way around my supposed crimes, glad that one of us is so eloquent. I can feel her dip into my mind to check what happened every so often, allowing her easy access to what she needs to convince the court I'm innocent. I notice the Selkath agreeing a little easier and sense Bastila bending their minds with the Force. Her words about only using the Force when absolutely necessary comes back to me and I fight away amusement.

By some stroke of luck, the Selkath High Court agrees to my release and their guard comes over and releases my handcuffs.

Bastila bows to the court, coming over to me and catching my arm, all but dragging me out of the courtroom before the Selkath can change their minds. We put a few blocks of Ahto City between them and us, finally stopping on a long bridge over the ocean.

"What were you thinking?" she chides, sounding almost frantic. "How could you get yourself into a situation like that?"

I rub at my still-sore wrists, scowling at her antagonistic tone. "What? You didn't want me to get that piece of the Star Map? Excuse me for trying to help the mission along!"

Bastila groans, knitting her hands behind her neck and pacing around. I hear her reciting part of the Code through our bond and roll my eyes. She starts mouthing the words and I take a deep breath, sensing the tension running through both of us and wanting to calm down.

"What was up with that, anyway?" I ask, trying to take some of the irritation out of my tone. I care about Bastila, even if she does drive me nuts, and I don't want to piss her off. "Back there in the courtroom. I thought we weren't supposed to use the Force for anything but emergencies."

Bastila stops and stares at me incredulously. "Did we not discuss the Selkath's penchant for the death penalty?"

I cringe, remembering the lecture Bastila had given me before I left the Ebon Hawk. "Oh."

"We are bondmates," she says slowly, emphasizing each syllable. "We share a special connection. Our pain, dreams, and emotions are shared. What do you think would happen if one of us were to die?"

I don't say anything, my gaze dropping to the ground. I hadn't thought about that, and now that I have, the idea of hurting her in any way makes me feel sick.

Bastila exhales slowly, trying to calm herself down. "You promised me you would be careful. Right after Dantooine, don't you remember? You said you wouldn't do anything to endanger either of us."

My head snaps up. "I know, I'm sorry." My words are spoken earnestly, and I try to radiate my sincerity through the Force. "I got caught up in the heat of everything and wasn't thinking. I figured you were safe back on the Hawk."

Bastila studies me for a few moments, glancing out over the waves and going quiet. We lean against the railing together, letting the breeze blow through our hair and soothe us.

"Thank you," I murmur. "I'd have been screwed without you."

Bastila nods, a half-amused smile curling her lips, but it disappears a few moments later as she gets lost in thought once more.

"I am glad that you made progress on our mission," she concedes finally. "It is important, but... your safety is more important. Please be more careful in the future."

All the tension is gone, and I feel relaxed enough to grin a little and nudge her with my elbow. "I knew it. You do care about me."

The brunette cuts her eyes at me, looking like she wants to admonish me, but all the fight goes out of her and her shoulders sag a little. "I do," she admits quietly, sounding almost reluctant as she looks back out at the endless ocean. Her voice drops to almost a whisper with her next words. "Perhaps more than I should."

Something about her tone is different, and I can hear gentleness there that I didn't expect. "Bastila..."

She closes her eyes and sighs. "I'm sorry. I'm... I'm not in control of my emotions. You need a mentor that can actually guide you and help you."

"I don't want anyone else," I interject, the sudden ferocity in my voice startling both of us. "Who else would be stubborn enough to save my ass every time it needed it? You've saved my life so many times, I've lost count."

Something strange flashes across Bastila's face but I don't dwell on it, words falling out of my mouth without me even trying to come up with them. "You're smart and brave and you know just when to intervene before I do something stupid. I've learned so much from you, Bastila, even if you don't realize it. You drive me crazy sometimes, but I still feel closer to you than anyone back on the Hawk. I'd rather be alive with you than dead with anyone else."

Bastila looks at me pleadingly, her eyes showing surprising torment. "I... I'm supposed to be strong. I'm supposed to protect you."

"You have," I assure her, smiling gently. "Way more than any of the masters ever could."

The brunette exhales frustratedly, worrying her lower lip between her teeth before speaking. "I do care about you," she says haltingly, "but you make me feel something that I absolutely cannot feel."

What she's trying to say hits me like a sack of bricks.

"With our connection, these... feelings are even more dangerous than they would be for a normal Jedi." Bastila shakes her head, closing her eyes again. "I don't... With such an intimate connection between us, Malak could so easily exploit any relationship we might have and use it against us."

"Bas?" I interrupt, my heart pounding anxiously as I hope against hope that I know what she's not saying. My voice stops her nervous rambling. "Do you love me?"

The brunette gives me an almost terrified look, her eyes flashing with a flurry of emotions before she nods. "I... yes. I do." Her voice is strangled, but I pay that no mind, stepping toward her and grabbing her up in a searing kiss.