At any other time, the attention Motée paid to Ellé would have filled her with joy. Ellé had never known her to be so solicitous. So many anxious questions about how she was doing had she received that she would have snapped at anyone else, but Motée she answered every time, even if it made her cry, maybe especially when it made her cry, because Motée would take Ellé into her arms and hold her for as long as she wanted to stay there. Ellé knew Motée would never wonder why she always wanted to stay in her fellow handmaiden’s embrace for so long.
But at other times Motée spoke darker words, out of the earshot of Jar Jar, and even of Rabé and Coté. She never said anything for sure, but only heaped scorn on the official claim that their mistress had been murdered by a “rogue Jedi” and declared that she would soon tell their sisters all about rogues.
When they entered their home system, neither Rabé nor Coté gave any reaction. Jar Jar looked up, sniffled, and then looked back down. But Ellé ran to the viewport to watch as Naboo appeared as a swiftly growing blue-white sphere out in space.
Motée joined her after a minute. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” she asked gently. “We haven’t been back here since you joined me. Aren’t you glad to see it again?”
Ellé was silent. She was feeling little more than emptiness. It felt as if she had left so much behind, only to come back to nothing.
Then Motée leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, “I think you might be looking forward to seeing one young woman again, right?”
Ellé’s words at her evaluation flashed back to her, when they’d asked her about her commitment to one of Apailana’s handmaidens, and she’d confessed to its strength. And now she felt her heart crack and numbness descend, as she realized that no, she wasn’t looking forward to seeing Meklé at all, because things couldn’t be again the way they had been.
“You’re not happy, are you?” Motée then asked. Ellé remembered hearing speculation from other people that she might be borderline Force-sensitive, being half a Sensari and half a Klistorin. She’d had a young cousin in the Jedi temple who in all likelihood had just been slaughtered, by clone troopers, Ellé thought, whatever the newsnets claimed about it.
She really should say something. Motée was expecting her to.
“It’s just hard,” she finally said.
“I know.” Ellé couldn’t suppress the slightest of sighs as Motée took her into her arms once again. She didn’t dare say that no, Motée didn’t know at all.
One thing she hadn’t faced yet was that with their mistress dead, she and Motée would be going their separate ways.
“I would have liked to have talked more freely to you, you know.” Motée’s voice was suddenly soft and urgent in her ear, causing her face to grow hot and her eyes to frantically scan their reflection in the viewport to see if Motée saw. “If we’d had a moment alone since we heard about the Senator’s death. There are things for which I definitely don’t want Jar Jar around.”
“What...” Ellé started to say, dizzy from the smell of Motée’s breath. She was close enough that for one, crazy, moment, Ellé knew beyond a doubt that Motee was about to kiss her, that this woman was one whom she wouldn’t have to walk away from, but she could spend her life with her exactly the way she’d been dreaming about for half a year.
“Ellé,” she continued, “I need you to help me. After a certain funeral-not Senator Amidala’s-you have to help me keep everyone there, even after that other woman’s family leaves, since you know Coté will invite them. I’m going to need to explain the whole thing then-it involves those two dead bodies we’re carrying in the back of this ship too.” She discreetly avoided mentioning the identity of the two bodies when there was still the chance that Jar Jar might overhear. He was uncannily good at overhearing secrets, especially when he in fact didn’t want to.
Rarely had Ellé felt so foolish. Motée had never even exhibited any attraction to her own gender. How could she have possibly thought-?
And now she was gone, wandering away, forgetting Ellé, wrapped up again in her dark mutterings which in Ellé’s eyes were bordering dangerously on obsession.
Rabé joined Ellé by the window, and with her watched Motée pace. “Is she always like this now?” she asked her. “I don’t fault her dedication, but it must make her a trying companion.”
“Not at all,” said Ellé coldly. “I could have asked for no better mentor, no better fellow handmaiden, no better hand to hold in the troubled months we’ve been through since I came to her side.”
“You think very highly of her, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Ellé fervently. “You said yourself she’s dedicated, and she’s very observant and very clever. Some of the things she did for Senator Amidala...but I can’t tell you. Not yet.”
Ellé abruptly found herself seized and yanked into the older woman’s field of vision. “What do you mean, ‘not yet’?” Rabé growled.
“She’s decided what we tell you and when we tell you it,” she squeaked. “She has that right, and you know it!”
“Leave her alone,” Motée had seen, and had run over. With one quick movement, she had Ellé out of Rabé’s grip and had pulled her arms around her protectively. Ellé stared defiantly at Rabé, secretly wishing that Motée would never let go.
“Oh come over here and stop bothering the girl, Rabé,” Coté called from across the room. “Imagine being her age right now.”
“I’m not a little girl,” Ellé protested weakly, relieved as she was when Rabé turned away.
“Of course you’re not,” Motée replied carelessly.
“Really, I’m only three years younger than the youngest of them.”
“Yes, yes.” Motée was letting Ellé go.
Growing angry, Ellé clung to Motée’s arms to keep her from leaving. “No, really, I’m not a child!” she pleaded, their impending separation bringing a new bravery to Ellé, who knew painfully well that she didn’t want to lose Motée the way she’d lost Meklé. “I can’t be, Motée! Not when I-”
But at that moment the floor lurched, and both handmaidens glanced out the viewport to discover how close Naboo had gotten. “Strap in,” Motée told her, “we’re coming down.”
It was the closest Ellé Okrest ever came to telling Motée Sensari that she loved her. As she let Motée pull her over to the seats and strap them both in, her mind again having moved beyond Ellé’s just as it always did, she knew that she never would tell her now.