There is something downright normal about visiting a cafe for lunch with her, something ordinary about reading over the selections and watching as she orders immediately, without sparing a glance at the provided menu. If it weren’t for the looks of surprise and general deference from the servers and sidelong glances from other patrons, he could almost forget that he had agreed to have lunch with the Grand Master of the Jedi Order.
He could almost pretend they were just two regular citizens, having lunch together.
That does not make the silence after their orders are taken any less awkward. Talking about the state of the Republic and the current actions of the Empire seems far too impersonal and, after the debacle with the Supreme Chancellor, he’s pretty sure he’d like to avoid that topic if at all possible. There’s always Theron, but then again, their son was possibly the only subject that could be worse.
A surreptitious glance towards the woman sitting across from him shows no obvious signs of discomfort but he knows her better than that. He can see the forced edge to her polite smile, can see the way her eyes dart from sight to sight, as though searching for something.
When he catches her gaze, though, she smiles, hesitant but real. “How is Commander Shi?”
“Doing well,” he says instinctively, even as he blinks in surprise. From what he knows, it has been decades since she has taken an active interest in the coming and going of the Republic military outside of organizing small strike teams of the Republic’s finest. “I admit I’m surprised you still remember her.”
A strange sort of irony twists her smile. “She’s difficult to forget,” is all she offers by way of explanation.
“And uncannily inconspicuous. I don’t know how she manages to keep on top of everything so well, and still be so observant.” He shakes his head, grinning. “Sometimes I wonder whether she’d be better suited to the SIS, though the military certainly runs smoother for her being in it. And I imagine some of the more… flirtatious members of the SIS would drive her up the wall before long.”
He has forgotten how warm her laughter is, soft and gentle and her, and he cannot help but be enchanted, to talk of ridiculous memories and escapades in the hopes of hearing it again. They trade stories throughout the meal, interspersed between bites of food he has nearly forgotten about, captivated as he is by her enthusiasm and animation.
The silence that falls over them as they finish is more peaceful than he has known in a long time, though dimmed somewhat by the knowledge that he has reports to return to, and undoubtedly complaints from Saresh for his obstinacy. Reluctance seems to linger in Satele’s gaze as well, mixed with uncharacteristic apprehension.
“Jace.” His name is a whisper, in spite of the relative seclusion of their table. “I owe you… I owe you a lot, actually. I’m not sure I can ever make up for it, but if nothing else, you deserve an explanation, and an apology. For Gell Mattar.”
She shakes her head. “No, I need to... I never should have done any of it. I know that, looking back. I should have trusted you, should have told you the truth. It is all too easy to forget that fear is also an emotion.” She offers him a smile that is brittle, hesitant. “I was afraid for you, worried about what you would do if you knew. I feared you would forget to take care of yourself, especially after Gell Mattar.”
He blinks away sudden memories of fear and foolish impulse, pushes away the mental image of her team, surrounded by Sith, and nods. In that, she was not wrong; if he had known the truth, about Theron and everything else…
The brush of her hand against his makes him look up. Something else glints in her gaze as she leans forward, her voice so quiet he has to strain to hear it. “And I admit that I was afraid of what I would become if I lost you.”
He can say nothing, can do nothing more than sit there, his brain processing her words, reconciling them with memories and his own hurt.
After several moments, she moves to get up, her motions jerky, abrupt, but he catches her before she can. “Satele.” Her name is gentle, perfect, in his mouth and he savors it as she looks at him, a mix of surprise and hope in her gaze.
“Thank you for telling me. I understand now and you were probably more right than you think.” The corners of his mouth pull upwards as he shrugs. “I was perhaps far more foolhardy than I should have been. And I forgive you. I’ve long since forgiven you.”
He considers her, her warm gaze and gentle expression, the smiles that seem to make everything brighter and that he never wants to live without. Not again.
It is his turn to be hesitant, to receive a look of concern that he brushes away. In a moment of boldness, he reaches for her hand, curling fingers around her smaller ones so easily, so naturally, as though it has been days instead of years, decades.
“Satele.” Her name is steadying, comforting, and he is certain he will never get tired of saying it, never get tired of the sweetness of it. “I will always forgive you.”
Hope wars with disbelief on her face and he has to take a deep breath, wondering if she can hear his pulse racing. “I still care about you, Satele. I always have, through… through everything and I’d like to try again. For us to try again.” Her fingers tighten around his, warm and centering, as he pauses, struggling to hold back words that threaten to spill out. “I mean, I don’t know how you feel, but…”
He has to be imagining the glint of tears in her eyes as she shakes her head. “Jace, I was a fool before. You were - are - one of the best parts of my life. I want nothing more than that.”
It is everything he has ever wanted, and yet… “What about the Code?”
“The Code?” She gives a snort. “The Code is from an older time and is too black and white. If I were to make a list of Jedi who have broken the Code, I suspect many of the current Masters could be found on it. Besides,” and her smile turns impish, “there are some advantage to being the Grand Master, you know.”
“I believe that would be considered an abuse of power,” he retorts with a smile before noticing the time and sighing. Somehow, they have gone far over the allotted time he had reserved for both Saresh’s scolding and lunch, though he would never regret it. “Well, I believe I’m already late, so…”
He can see the reluctance in her eyes as she, too, gets up. “I understand. I’d apologize for keeping you but…” She shrugs, a smile blossoming on her face, and he couldn’t have kept from returning it even if he had wanted to. “I- We should do this again sometime.”
It isn’t until Commander Shi comments that he realizes he has been grinning rather foolishly the entire rest of the day.