The Secret of Silence
The Exile started, jerking round her head, and then saw who it was and cursed violently under her breath, "Goddammit, Atton."
"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you."
She shook her head, dismissively, and turned back to the plains.
Atton watched her for a second, hesitantly, and then sat down beside her, "What's wrong?"
She gave a small laugh and shook her head, "Don't worry 'bout it. Seriously."
"You can talk to me, y'know. I'm not an idiot."
She looked at him, quickly, obviously instantly regretting her words, "No, I didn't mean that."
"Then what's wrong."
She hesitated, and then shook her head again, "It's this... this place..."
He frowned, confused, "Dantooine? But... I thought..."
"I was raised here." She completed, softly, "I grew up here. Well. I wasn't born here, of course, but... I spent... long years here."
"In the Academy." He completed, quietly, "The Jedi Academy."
Shélla glanced at him, curiously, for a moment seeing something unfamiliar in his eyes, "Yeah. The Academy."
"With your master?"
"Masters. I had a few."
She gave a small, humourless laugh, "I was a difficult case. Some Masters wanted me... others wouldn't touch me with a force pike. Vima, Master Sunrider, she was a Master of mine for some time. Informally, of course, they wouldn't allow her to take me on fully."
"Yeah, you might not have heard of her. And, uh... Vash. Master Vash."
"Yeah. She was one of the council. The council that exiled me." She paused for a second, and then shook her head, not speaking.
Atton looked at her. It shook him how much time she spent not talking. How she could express an emotion with a raised eyebrow, a whole idea with a single glance. When asked a question, she never answered it immediately, ever. And he didn't expect her to. Because with a glance she could save a hundred words.
"So, uh... Why?"
"Why did Lonna agree?" she gave a low, weary sigh, shaking her head, "I don't know. Or maybe I do. Maybe I don't want to know."
"From the holovid... it kinda looked like... she pitied you."
"I don't care."
The sentence stopped him. That was another of her traits. She had a way of making a simple sentence sound like an accusation, a passing word sound like a death sentence.
But she also had the knack of knowing when she had affected someone: "I don't mean that. Of course I don't mean that."
"It's okay. It's fine. You... you know you can tell me... what you want... Don't you."
She shot him a small frown.
"I mean," he continued, shrugging slightly awkwardly, "I'm not... I mean I'm not gunna..."
Judge you. He finished, silently, unable to say it.
But she seemed to get it. She gave a small, soft, almost surprised smile, then nodded, "Thank you. That's..." she hesitated, and then shook her head, trailing off. "Sometimes... around the others..."
"It's just..." she shook her head, almost angrily, frustrated that she couldn't get the right words, "I'm not a Jedi. I'm not. And, truly... I don't think I ever was. Not in the way they were, anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"There is no emotion, there is peace." She quoted, quietly, "The first line of the Jedi code. It was... the most important. And the one I struggled with the most."
"Yeah, that's probably because it makes no sense." She raised an eyebrow, and he shook his head, "I don't, I don't... mean any offence, but... it's crap. All of it."
She raised an eyebrow again and then shook her head, "I thought that. Before I left for the Mandalorian wars. Before Revan recruited me."
"Why did you... Why did Revan..."
"Revan didn't choose me, I chose her." She shook her head, slowly, "You didn't know her before. Before the wars. Before all this... this... fighting between the Jedi. Before the war against the Sith. She was... she is a good person. She was a good Jedi."
She hesitated, "Well. She was a good person. You don't understand. Before I was a Jedi... I met Revan. Before I was recruited. Well. She met me."
She paused again, her eyes moving back to the Khoonda plains, "Nal Hutta."
"Hutta?" he repeated, incredulously, "Why?"
She shot him one of those miraculous looks, and he instantly got it: "You were a slave?" She grimaced at the word, and he shook his head, immediately, "Sorry, sorry, I just... I was just... surprised."
"Yeah, well, people are."
"You just seem so..."
"Capable? Indomitable? Not likely to take a slaver's crap?" she nodded, slowly, "Yeah. Well... it was a long time ago. I was young. I didn't... I couldn't... defend myself then."
Eyes back to the plains again, "Dead. I looked for them, after. But... they had died. Fire. An accident. That is what drove me to the Jedi, I suppose, I had... I had nowhere else to go."
"But what about Revan? How does she fit into all this?"
"She was on Nal Hutta. I don't know why. Never asked. She passed me. With her Master. I begged her for help. In my... barely passable Galactic. Her master told her to leave me. But..."
"No. She saved me. Said that she could feel the Force inside of me, that that was why we had met. The Force had brought her there."
Atton tilted his head slightly to one side, "Had it?"
She shook her head, truthfully, "I don't know. Maybe. She did save me. She saved my life. I guess that's something."
"Of course it's something, it's your life."
"Yeah. She... did something many people wouldn't. Just one more slave on Nal Hutta, I was nothing special. But she saw something in me. And saved me."
She fell into musing silence. Atton looked at her. The break wasn't uncomfortable, but sometimes he wished like hell she would just say what she wanted. That she'd break through that 'oh-so-emotionless' shell of hers and actually level with him.
He looked at her for a second, "What are you thinking about?"
"Why?" she asked, softly.
He shrugged, "Just wondered. What are you thinking about?"
Shélla paused for a second, "Malachor."
"Oh. Cheery subject..."
She managed a small smile, "Yeah. Yeah, I guess so. Sorry."
Atton hesitated, and then shook his head, "Revan... lead you to the Mandalorian wars?"
"Did you do it because she saved your life?"
She frowned slightly, "I don't know. Though... I'd like to think not. I'd like to think I'd have done it anyway. Or maybe I wouldn't. Depends on when you ask me."
She smiled slightly, "I have conflicting views. I don't even know what I think anymore. Some days it's so clear why I left the Jedi. Other days... I can't even remember."
He looked at her, "I can't tell you that, Shélla."
She nodded, slowly, "I know. I know it's up to me to live with my decision. Decide whether it was the right one. It's just... with Vrook..."
"Yeah, good old Master Vrook. He always hated me. Well," she corrected, raising an eyebrow, "Didn't hate me, of course. Can't use that word being a Jedi. But... he thought I was incompetent, angry, mediocre... cantankerous... thought I had a lust for power... He just generally disliked everything about me."
Atton looked at her. Jedi lies, Jedi hypocrisy, why couldn't she see it. Or maybe she did see it. Maybe she'd seen it all along. Maybe that was why she had left.
You do see it, don't you? His mind asked, pleaded, even, You can see that they're full of crap, right?
He rolled his eyes, letting weary irony cover genuine anger, "Wow. Long way from hate, then..."
She smiled again, "Yeah. But... everything about him... I'm just... not used to feeling disgust. On that level. Especially not by someone I..." she trailed off, then shook her head, "Every single word that comes out of his mouth screams disgust. It's like... like he wants me to always know what I did, always be aware of it, of my betrayal."
"Not that I know much about it, but I thought Jedi weren't supposed to harbour grudges."
She shrugged, "Yeah. Well. We all know that doesn't happen. But with Vrook... and then Kreia, on top of that, saying the complete opposite, that I was right to fight, that it was wrong for me to leave like I did..."
Atton shook his head, dismissively, quickly suppressing his anger, "Oh, who cares about what that old witch thinks."
Shélla raised an inquisitive brow, but didn't comment. Instead she looked back across the plains. A Kinrath flittered across the horizon, far in the distance. The Exile didn't move; it was too far away to cause alarm.
Considering her silence a polite kind of dismissal, Atton was just about to get up when she spoke again: "Have you ever had so great a change... something change so much in your life... and so suddenly? A whole part of your life changed in a fleeting second?"
He looked at her. You have no idea, sweetheart. He thought, grimly, but didn't voice it.
She ran her teeth over her bottom lip for a second - it wasn't nerves, it looked more to him like an ongoing habit, "I was a slave. Revan said one word and I was free, I was a Jedi. Then she said another and I joined her again, fought under her in the Mandalorian wars. All of a sudden I was a soldier. And then... and then came Malachor V. And I wasn't a soldier. I was... this. An Exile. Condemned to the Outer Rim."
"Of course, not condemned." She retracted, considering her wording, thoughtfully, "More... left." She turned to him, a curious frown on her face, like she had never thought of it like this before, "They left me. The Jedi left me. My saviours. They were my sanctuary. Revan left me, to join this, this... war. She was a friend, but she was more than that. She was my Master. A slave's thoughts, maybe, but it's true."
"You can survive without them, you did survive without them."
"I know. But always there was this..." she paused, apparently fighting for words, and then shook her head and put her hand on her chest, over her heart, "Something in here." She moved her other to her stomach, "And here. Or maybe something not there. Something missing."
He watched her, carefully, "Like what?"
Shélla paused for a moment, thinking, and then shook her head, letting her hands fall back to her sides, "I don't know. But from the second I landed on this planet I wanted to see the Academy. But when I got there... all I could think of was how much I hated them. And feared them. I hated them because I feared them. And I feared them because they could get into my head. Make me doubt myself. And because they were my Masters. And I was their slave."
"You... hated them?" Atton repeated, delicately.
"You don't understand. I had to. To survive, I had to hate them. And at that Academy... I thought... God, what if I recognised some of them? My friends, the only family I had, my Masters, what if I recognised them? But, even worse... what if I didn't?"
He looked at her for a moment. Then he got up, moving to his left and kneeling behind her. She twitched her head round, frowning, but he gently moved it back again, "Stay still."
"What are you -"
"Just stay still."
Atton hesitated, and then put his hands on her shoulders, in the dip near to her neck. He rubbed his thumbs along the lines made across her back by her collarbone, gently squeezing in and pulling across to either side.
Oddly, she didn't push him off. She pushed her shoulders back, allowing the touch, not objecting when his hands slipped under the collar of her strangely Jedi-like top. He kept his touch soft, feeling the tension so easily in her shoulders and neck, moving his thumbs down her spine, pushing her top down a little further.
Shélla tilted her head to one side, giving out a low, long sigh, "Don't you go getting any ideas, Mr Rand."
He smiled, forcing up the playful lust, pushing his hands a little deeper, a slight tingle going through him as he felt her body stiffen and melt to his touch, "You have no idea how long I've wanted to do this."
"Oh, shut up."
He smiled again. He couldn't see her face, couldn't see what her amazing expressions were saying, but the way she was pushing back against him, allowing the touch so easily, it felt like she was okay with it. More. It felt like she liked it.
She let out a little murmur, a low purr, and then shook her head, as if catching herself, "The last thing I want is some pistol-bit like you thinking they can get further than they can."
He nodded, thoughtfully, "Then why are you letting me?"
"'Cause my neck hurts, now shut it."
He laughed and shook his head. He moved his hands down to her lower back, pushing up her top this time, pressing in her taught muscles in small, circular movements, urging them to unwind. He felt her back tighten as he moved over a particularly tight muscle, and then relax again as he relieved it. He pulled his hands gently across her waist, and unconsciously licked his lips. Though she had sworn not to, he hoped to hell she wasn't reading his emotions. 'Cause, right now... they were so strong he didn't think he'd be able to hide them from her.
Then she twitched, "Ouch. Ow."
"Sorry." He moved his hand away from the spot, immediately, "What's that from, then?"
"Azkul. A well aimed hit."
"Azkul? I didn't see that."
"That's because you were too busy screwing around with Dopak."
"Yeah, sorry he tried to kill me." He felt her smile, but he was looking at her back, frowning slightly. He ran a hand down her jumpsuit, feeling out the buttons, "D'you mind?"
She gave a small shrug, and he popped open a few buttons until he could see the beginning of a vivid, painful-looking purple bruise, "Just a bruise. No blood."
"Yeah, he didn't get me with his blade, he tripped me back into a wall."
"Ouch. It looks nasty. Why don't you just... I dunno... do that Jedi thing?"
"Because I don't want to. I was distracted when this happened. It was my own fault. So I'm not healing it."
"You're... punishing yourself?"
She tilted her head slightly to one side in a sort of indifferent half-shrug, "I prefer to call it teaching."
"Y'know, you won't be teaching yourself for long if you're gunna allow yourself to be weaker with that thing."
She paused for a moment, obviously thinking about it. Then she shook her head, "No. I'll heal it before a battle. Until then... it serves as a reminder."
"What were you distracted by?"
She didn't reply. He hesitated, and then shook his head, gently doing the buttons back up, "Why don't you try and look after yourself for once."
"I do look after myself."
"I mean..." he paused, fighting for words, and then shook his head, "Never mind."
He moved his hands back up to her neck, working on that sore nerve she had talked about, his body stiffening as she once again melted to his touch, "You know what, I really don't get you sometimes."
"You like people not getting you?"
She didn't reply, once again leaving him to form his own opinion, somehow making the answer completely obvious without even saying a word.
Atton paused, tilting his head to one side, and then decided it was time to ask: "Why do you do that?"
"You... don't answer questions. You're so... quiet."
Shélla twisted her body slightly so she could see him out the corner of her eye, amused, "You obviously haven't seen me at a swoop race."
"No, I mean..." he paused, looking at her eyes, and then shook his head, "You know what I mean."
She gave a small smile, shaking her head. She didn't speak.
"You do know what I mean. Don't you. Why d'you do it?" she didn't reply, and he shook his head again, more frustrated than anything else, "You're doing it again! Why? You're just doing this to annoy me, aren't you."
She just looked at him, raising an eyebrow. There was something playful about her smile that made him think she was teasing him, toying with him.
He let out a weary sigh, "What are you doing."
She took pity on him: "I'm teaching you." He frowned, and she smiled again, shaking her head, turning round so she could see him properly, "You taught me that you didn't need to be able to block your thoughts to stop others reading them. You taught me to play pazaak. Now let me do something similar."
She paused for a moment, considering him, and then spoke again, slowly, calmly: "When I speak to you... to anyone... I speak very carefully. I chose my intonation, my speed, my emphasis, what I'm gunna say. When I speak to you... and then I just... stop... what does it make you wanna do?"
"I dunno, I guess... I don't know, it makes me feel..." he trailed off, but she was still looking at him, expectantly, eyebrow raised.
He paused for a moment, steadily becoming more and more uncomfortable. And after that quickly followed the anger. Milder than it should be though, with a Jedi playing mind tricks on him. Damn it. A girl this cute shouldn't be able to have this much of an effect on him.
"I guess... it makes me feel... sorta... awkward. Frustrated. Uncomfortable?" still no word, she was looking at him, thoughtfully, nodding as if what he was saying was perfectly acceptable but she still hadn't gotten what she wanted yet, "I don't know, it makes me wanna..." he lowered his voice, shaking his head, frustrated, "It makes me wanna... take you by the shoulders and... shake you."
She raised the eyebrow again, in a weird sort of sceptically-amused way, sort of like 'I'd like to see that...' but didn't speak.
Frustration sparked again, "I dunno, it makes... it makes... it makes me wanna fill the silence."
Bull's-eye. Her smile grew, and she nodded, approvingly, "There we go. You've got it. It makes you want to fill the silence."
"But why would you want them to fill the silence?"
"Because you don't need to have the Force to get someone to tell the truth, Atton. You don't need to be a Jedi or a Sith. You just need to be a good psychologist. You just need to listen."
"I don't under-"
"Yes you do."
He looked at her, startled. It was the first time she had ever interrupted him, ever cut over him. And it was for a reason. Okay. Think about it. "You let them fill in the silence... because they get uncomfortable."
"Yes. And what did I say I did."
"You said you speak very carefully. Oh." He was getting it now, and he smiled, wondering on simple it was, "When you don't speak it makes people uncomfortable, distracted - which stops them thinking about what they're saying."
She smiled, broadly, "That's it. You've got it."
"You can trick people into talking... by... not talking."
"Yep. You're getting the hang of this."
He raised an eyebrow at her. She caught the expression, and then smiled slightly. Her face told him clearly that he wasn't going to get away with it. He fought with her gaze for a moment and then conceded, shaking his head: "Well, I've had a lot less practice than you have."
Shélla smiled again, and then got to her feet, moving back along the grassy bank, "Come on. Back to the Hawk. It's time we got moving."
"Where to now?"
"Onderon, I would think."
"Is he as pleasant and cheery as his predecessor?"
She laughed, shaking her head, "In fact Master Kavar is a very good man. And an amazing Jedi. He was always... very kind to me. He helped me with my training."
"You like him? After he exiled you?"
"Well. He didn't exile me personally." Then she shook her head, looking away from him in a manner that immediately sparked the spacer's attention, "Besides. When I was a Padawan, I kind of... I sort of had a..."
"Had a what?" he asked, curiously.
She turned her head again, but he could see her licking her bottom lip, unconsciously, "I kinda had a bit of a thing for him."
"You what?" he asked, smiling incredulously.
"Don't tell Kreia." She warned, immediately, "Or Mical. Seriously."
"You had a thing for him? For your Jedi Master?"
"He wasn't my Jedi Master, he was a Jedi Master. Just someone I saw around the Academy, someone I got lessons from every now and then, I didn't actually have much real contact with him."
Atton smiled, mischievously, "Oh, what a pity."
She reached out and gave him a playful but none the less sharp slap on the arm, "Quit it."
"Hey, hey, I don't mean anything by it!" he smiled at her again, chucking her playfully on the arm, "I actually kinda like it. It sort of makes you a bit more... human. You could do with loosening up a bit."
She nodded, keeping her eyes on the Hawk, "Maybe. But not for you."
She walked up the gangway, completely indifferent of him.
Atton stopped, waiting for her to get out of sight, and then shook his head, letting out a long, low breath. God, that girl... She could jab him in the eye with a Bothan stun-stick and he would still keep coming back for more. It was just something about her...
The old scow had told him she was a leader, and that was why simple-minded people like him followed her. Personally he just thought it was because she was strong, clever, amazingly cutting and quick - an astounding contrast with her sweet-as-sugar looks - great at pazaak, an unbeatable swoop racer, and, of course, absolutely gorgeous.
Okay. Gotta be careful now, Atton. Don't lose your head. She's just a bird. A Jedi bird.
But he knew that wasn't true. The Exile was different from every other person he had met. Because she had learned to live without something no Jedi could live without. And she had come out... unbroken. Untainted. Perfect. The Jedi's teachings no longer contaminated her, and she had even formed her own lessons, her own teachings. Human teachings, real teachings. And she wanted to pass them on to him.
She was... incredible.
Atton shook his head, firmly. He couldn't get into this right now. Especially not with that old witch so easily entering his head. No. Things would continue as they were.
Now. Onto Onderon. They had a lot of work to do.
Atton took a few steps onto the gangway, ducking into the ship. Off to Onderon. Of the Onderon System. To find Master Kavar...
I kinda had a bit of a thing for him.
He gave a small smile. He could feel that odd sort of playful lust flickering in his stomach. He had meant what he said. He loved that part of her. But not because it showed she was human.
He loved it because it showed she wasn't Jedi.