When she was at home, in the Jedi Temple, Master Depa Billaba liked to end her day with the same simple ritual. First she carefully put aside her robes, and with them some of the expectations that came with her roles as Master and member of the High Council, then she stood beneath a hot shower and let running water and soap wash away the accumulated cares of the day. Finally, she dressed for sleep – a simple shift, plain and warm – and began the task of taking down her hair.
This day was no different. Warm from her shower, she loosened her braids, practiced fingers making quick work of the elaborate hairstyle, and ran her fingers through her unbound hair with a sigh.
The door comm sounded. “Come,” she said, pulling a robe on over her shift.
The doors slid open to admit her friend and fellow Council-member Master Adi Gallia, still in full robes despite the late hour.
“I was just coming to-” She stopped, taking in the soft light, the curly hair that spilled loose over Depa’s shoulders, and her obvious state of undress. “That is- I-”
“Your shock is either very flattering or very insulting,” Depa said drily.
“Flattering,” came Adi’s faint reply. “Definitely flattering.” She pulled herself together with a politician’s smile, superficial only to those who knew her well enough to tell the difference, Depa included. “I came to ask your advice about the Orchians,” she said, her eyes fixed firmly on Depa’s face. “But if you were about to retire-”
Depa’s smile sharpened. “You want to talk tactics,” she surmised. “Take a seat, Master Gallia.”
Adi sat gracefully on the couch, stretching her legs out in front of her with a sigh. “Too much sparring with Master Vos this morning,” she admitted with a wince.
“If you’re concerned enough about this mission to be sparring with Vos, you’ve definitely come to the right place.” Depa’s smile was warm. “Tea?”
Depa made her tea with fresh mint gathered from the Temple gardens, where it grew at her request. It was gentle on the palate, soothing at this late hour, and they discussed Adi’s mission to Orchis as their cups cooled to a drinkable temperature.
“So whatever you do,” Depa said, plaiting her hair as she spoke into the single practical braid that served her at night, “do not let Master Windu within ten feet of the echium flower.”
Adi choked back a laugh. “I’ll be sure to remember that,” she promised.
“Never let it be said that my advice is not both practical and intelligent.” She said it with a straight face, allowed the wry smile time to appear onto her lips.
“The same could be said of you,” came the smooth rejoinder.
Depa raised an eyebrow. “A rare compliment, Master Gallia. You must be slipping.”
“You’re a rare woman,” Adi said easily, unfolding herself from the couch with much less difficulty than she had sat down. “And your mint tea is a wonder. Now, my ship leaves early in the morning, and I should be well rested for the journey.”
“It was my pleasure,” Depa said, getting up to embrace her friend. “And don’t forget, I’ll only be a comm call away if you need any more of my no doubt excellent advice.”
Their embrace released but Adi’s hands remained on her shoulders, holding her just closer than arm’s length, and she was smiling down at her, her dark skin gleaming in the soft orange light that Depa favoured in the evenings. “Goodnight, Master Billaba,” she said, with a sparkle in her eye at the unnecessary formality, and leaning in, she kissed Depa’s cheek, her lips brushing at the very corner of her mouth.
Something sparked in the pit of Depa’s stomach, spread through her veins like lightning, and she raised her eyes to find Adi looking at her with a similar, frozen moment of realisation.
“Goodnight,” Adi said again and her voice wavered for a fraction of a second.
Oh, thought Depa.
Depa Billaba slammed hard into the wall of the private training room with a wince. It took barely half a second for her to catch her breath, but her opponent was faster, rushing at her with lightning speed and using the momentum of her body to knock the breath from her lungs once more and pinning her wrists above her head.
Adi Gallia stared down at her, smirking. “Enough?”
She could see in her mind’s eye the exact combination of moves that would free her, could see in Adi’s eyes that she realised it too. Knew that wasn’t really what her dear friend was asking. The desire to win burned hot in her, but she released it back into the Force with a smile, and on her lips the expression was half-knowing, half-feral.
Adi smiled back, and kissed her.
Adi had always been going to kiss her, here, now, and they both knew it. Lust, not love, she reminded herself. There was no attachment here beyond their long friendship. There couldn’t be, for both their sakes.
Adi’s full lips were soft against hers and she sank without reserve into the heat that suffused her body, letting it overwhelm her. The grip on her wrists was slightly more pain than pleasure. A shock like electricity arced through her at the realisation, and she must have projected something through the Force, through the tight shields that she had slammed up the second she had realised where this was headed, because Adi smiled, met the challenge in her eyes with the cool determination and spirit that had first caught Depa’s attention so many years ago.
Teeth grazed her bottom lip and she couldn’t help the small cry that escaped, chose not to mask her body’s reaction in any of the ways she had been so carefully trained and pressed herself closer, pinned between the warmth of Adi’s strong body and the cool wall of the practice room. Every square inch of her body was on fire.
Adi’s hand stroked her cheek, and the gentleness of her gesture compared with the raw power she displayed in battle was achingly erotic. She would release this moment into the Force, later, meditate on her actions and rebalance the equilibrium that was holding her so firmly off kilter. Sort this out, muttered a little voice in her head that sounded far too much like Master Windu for her liking, under the circumstances.
She very desperately did not want anyone to come running at the sudden rush of desire coursing through her veins, pushed more power at her mental shields even as she pulled her wrists free from Adi’s grasp, reversing their positions in one smooth motion and shoving her back against the wall.
Her arm was across Adi’s throat, not tight enough to do anything more than signal her upper hand, but she saw the way her pupils widened, breath caught in a hitch. “Do I win?” Depa asked, her voice ragged.
Adi shook her head. “We both lose.”
The heat in her blood turned ice cold. She dropped her arms, took an unsteady step back and hid her shaking hands in the sleeves of her tunic. Emotion, yet peace, said the voice in her mind. Had there been peace, in the uncontained passion of it all?
She knew there hadn’t. Not then, and not now.
She met Adi’s gaze with a confidence she didn’t feel. “My apologies, Master Gallia,” she said, and her voice sounded like someone else’s, tinny and far-off. Her breathing was unsteady. “That was-”
“Understandable,” Adi said gently. There was a dark flush high on her elegant cheekbones. “Don’t you think?”
She touched two fingers to her lips, still swollen from their kisses, and reached deep within herself for the answer, searching for the core of inner certainty that held her to the Jedi path. Emotion, yet peace, said the voice again. You must understand your feelings before you can let them go.
“Necessary,” she said, and smiled.