Something was bothering Aayla.
There was a question gnawing at the back of her mind. It scratched at her consciousness even as she meditated. She pushed it away.
This was all her own fault, she knew.
Kit had asked if she would like to join him for some light meditation before dinner. Aayla, without thinking, had agreed. Which had lead her here, to a small, square cushion on the floor in Kit's rooms, feeling as though she was on pins and needles and yet light as a feather, all at once.
She should not have agreed. She knew better. Aayla had never had a friend like Kit. She'd never been so inexplicably close with any of her comrades. Quinlan, he was like family. They grew close over time, through shared experiences. He was a mentor and a friend, for all the bumps and snags in their relationship. Kit was different.
Aayla had barely glimpsed master Kit Fisto in passing before the Battle of Geonosis, and by the end of that dusty, bloody day she was leading a vanguard with him, full of hundreds of identical soldiers they had never seen before, against an army of droids. Their company hadn't gotten more than fifty yards from their landing point before blaster fire came hurtling at them in bolts of red in a sudden, neat wave. A troop of B1 battle droids had emerged from what had appeared to be a small dune in the wavering dust, but what was instead a mass of sand-colored droids, kneeling. Kit had reached over to the nearest trooper, switched his saber out for the clone's blaster, and begun firing straight at the oncoming droids, blowing dozens of heads off in a massive sweep. Aayla liked him immediately.
Battle forms bonds, or so they say, but Aayla knew that didn't quite explain it. Not really. She didn't feel an immediate connection to the other survivors, not the way she did with Kit. About a month and a half after Geonosis, recovered, but a little shell-shocked, Aayla had been sent to Kamino to work with the troops there, and their cloners. She was to prepare for active command and receive a small battalion of troops at the end of a month's span of training. Maybe even an entire corps to herself if they approved of her leadership abilities. She didn't quite know how to feel about that. And when she got to Kamino, there was master Kit Fisto on the rainy landing platform, smiling, hands in the sleeves of his robes. He was a constant, reassuring presence during Aayla's time at the facility.
She would have drowned if it wasn't for him. And this is what she tried to focus on, the drowning. The droids, the burning platform above, the pain in her chest as the air ran out, and the relief of new air rushing into her lungs. Not Kit. Not how steady he was under the waves while she thrashed and fought against what, for a moment there, seemed like an inevitable death. Not the feeling, for just a moment, when her lungs were full again, of his lips on hers and how cool they were to the touch. Not how it felt to be rocketing towards the surface, rejuvenated, with his arm around her waist, helping her swim far faster than she could on her own. Not the ebullient warmth inside her chest, adrenaline racing through her as though a whole new life was surging through her veins, her eyes locked with Kit's across the platform. She felt almost invincible as she approached him, one hand tracing the spots on a single, green tendril, the muscles in her core constricting as his wet shirt touched her belly. The way he had smiled at her then...
An hour later, adrenaline rush gone, she'd sat in her tiny white room in the facility, every blanket they'd given her wrapped around her like a cocoon. She couldn't stop shivering, and she couldn't tell if it was the cold, or the embarrassment, or both.
Aayla had drills for the rest of the week and was blissfully spared too much alone time with Kit. He was sent back to Coruscant on assignment at the end of the week.
And everything had been fine after that. Aayla enjoyed Kit's company, and, though they were in contact occasionally, it was nice to be back on the same soil three months later. Kit had an infectious personality, a warmth that seemed to infuse him. If he was in a good mood, everyone was in a good mood. Aayla had only been back at the High Temple for five days, but had managed to see quite a lot of Kit. Perhaps too much. She learned from him over lunch one day that Nautolan head tendrils possess very sensitive olfactory sensors, sensors which picked up minute pheromone changes. If it was strong enough, Kit could literally smell fear (which Aayla learned by means of a particularly engaging tale of how Kit managed to find a fleeing criminal in a pitch black tunnel by following the terrible smell of fear.) It took Aayla a while to realize that this ability would be an issue.
On her fourth day back Kit had asked Aayla if she would like to spar. Their session was calm and committed, and went on that way for over an hour. Kit, superior swordsman to most of the best Jedi knights, beat her easily often enough, but she managed to get the upper hand by striking low, forcing Kit to move his blade at an awkward level. This allowed Aayla to vault over his back and have her blade at his waist by the time he pivoted to face her. There was something in his face then, something to his sweaty, supportive smile that caused Aayla to swallow hard, mouth suddenly dry, a pang of something tense and lustful pounding in her gut. Kit's smile fell, and he blinked, taking a step backwards. And Aayla realized with heart-stopping horror that he knew. He could smell 'want' on her as though it were a sign hanging above her head. She lowered her blade and tried to compose herself, swatting the shame away as best she could. What a fool. What a silly, unbalanced thing to feel. Does mortification have a pheromone response? She prayed not.
"Another bout?" Kit asked quietly. And Aayla nodded, not meeting his eyes, and charged.
That was yesterday. Today... today she had been actively avoiding Kit. To her mind it was perhaps the most childish behavior she'd demonstrated in years, and it did not even work. She passed Kit in the archives in the late hours of the afternoon, stooped over a very large holo of a very old manuscript.
And that was how she ended up here, in an unfamiliar room with a very familiar person, hoping to keep her resolve.
Her efforts at composure had worked well... for the first twenty minutes or so. Then, as she went deeper into her meditative state, she began to feel the Force in her senses. She saw the remaining light tickling the corners of her closed eyes, heard the muffled sound of speeders whizzing past the temple boundary, felt the fabric of her pants where her hands rested in her lap, smelled the light, barely grassy scent of the room. And a warmer, almost salty scent...
That was Kit. A little salt of the sea, a little warmth from a spring sun; dew in the fog, warm, sticky. Something hot stabbed at Aayla's consciousness and she could see it behind her eyes like a slash of red in the dark. She focused in on the Force, feeling her mind lifting up and almost out of meditation. She forced it back down.
If you must think, she told herself, think of something harmless. Banal. Pressing a robe so that it looks presentable. Eating a ration-stick. Dishes. That ugly blue hallway with the matching carpet. Form IV footwork drills. Jogan fruit. Rows and rows of identical robes.
And then she thought of Kit's robes. Very basic, very traditional. Tan and brown and more brown, boring, boring. Kit even went the extra length with that collar of his. It seemed to Aayla that most Jedi, those who stuck to conventional styles of Jedi dress, wore no more than three layers in their general robes: two tunics and an undershirt, or something of that ilk. Sometimes Kit donned three tunics, all with that high-collared shirt underneath. She wondered if it was light or heavy. Starchy, or comfortable. Kit did not seem to dress for comfort– unless, perhaps, he was cold in non-aquatic environs without so many layers on. Maybe the high-collar was for warmth. And anyway, more importantly...
How in the Force did he get that thing over his head?
Fourteen tendrils, one small opening... Aayla could not work it out. And now it was too late to do much else. She was coming out of her meditative state, mind instantly flashing to Kit moving to undo the shirt somehow, rolling up his sleeves, exposing his lower arms which were quite shapely... going for the waist of his pants now...
Aayla's eyes snapped open. She shook her head and took in a sharp breath, angry with herself, looking murderously at the door. She took another breath, and when she turned back, Kit's eyes were open, looking at her.
His expression was soft, but Aayla couldn't read it. She exhaled slowly. This, she realized, was a losing battle. They were in a space comfortable to Kit and unfamiliar to her, and his innate abilities would be able to sense her feelings in more ways than she could herself. He had the definition of home-field advantage.
So Aayla sighed and gave up the ghost. Kit knew, he understood. That wasn't going to change. But he mattered to her, on so much more than a physical level, and Aayla was unwilling to set aside their friendship to spare her own embarrassment.
Slouching a little, she said "I'm sorry, Kit," and for a moment Kit looked a bit pale, as if steeling himself for a seemingly inevitable, awkward conversation. Then Aayla finished, "but I have to ask you something."
Kit sat up straight and his frame loosened a little. Aayla felt him projecting reassurance towards her mind, and she fought the instant sting of shame that rose up in her chest.
She leaned towards him a little, legs still crossed, elbows resting on her knees, and asked, "how in the world do you manage to take that shirt off?" She gestured at her throat, holding her thumb and index finger in a curve to indicate the turtle-neck tunic.
Kit looked down at his chest, craning back to glimpse the collar. He looked back up at Aayla, mouth open as though he was about to respond, then paused. He held her gaze for a moment, watching her hazel eyes look back at him, her gaze unwavering. Kit shifted slightly, brow a bit furrowed, and leaned forward, left elbow resting on his knee as he brought his left hand up to his chin. He did not break eye contact, a wide grin snaking its way onto his face. And this was a very particular grin, one Aayla had seen only once before, months ago, in the rain, on lips that had just touched hers. It was almost a smirk, reflected in the dark swirls moving in his eyes. It was something she understood.
And Kit said in a low, hushed voice "would you like to see how?"
And Aayla, fighting the biggest smile of her life, said "show me."