No Absolutes – 3/4 – Eff_Dragonkiller

Title: No Absolutes
Author: Eff_Dragonkiller
Fandom: Star Wars
Genre: Action Adventure, Crime Drama, Family, Hurt/Comfort, Mystery, Science Fiction, Slash
Relationship(s): Tyvokka & Obi-Wan Kenobi, Obi-Wan Kenobi/Quinlan Vos
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Violence – Graphic, Violence – Domestic and/or Against Children, Off-screen rape of a minor character, Assisted Miscarriage, References to Children in War (canon), References to Slavery (canon), Dark Themes
Beta: hmweasley
Word Count: 107,000
Summary: After almost a year of war and loss, Obi-Wan just wanted to go home. Unfortunately, neither Master Jinn nor the Temple were as welcoming as his dreams had always painted them. He was lonely, grieving, and certain that he was about to be sent away again. Master Tyvokka was not impressed with how the High Council handled the Jinn-Kenobi partnership. There was something wrong there and he was going to fix it no matter who stood in his way.
Artist: tpena19



Chapter 6: The Festival of Rain

10th day of the 12th Republic Standard month, 957 ARR

The tenth day of the twelfth month began the first day of the Festival of Rain. The beginning of the new year on Jedha, the ancient home of the Jedi, and Obi-Wan began it with Quin flopping into his bed at dawn.

“Obi. Obi. It’s the first day of Rain.” Quinlan opened his mouth to continue his torment and Obi-Wan slapped a hand right over his friend’s open mouth.

“If you don’t get off me, Quin, you’re going to lose your balls to my lightsaber.” Obi-Wan snarled.

His friend hesitated, and the boy could feel how concerned his partner was, before the older slowly rolling off the redhead. “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”

“I swear, Quin!”

“I’m going. I’m going.” Quin huffed, but he wasn’t cruel. The older boy didn’t drag him off the bed or steal his blankets. And when he closed the door, Quin tried his best to be quiet. “Maybe tea was the better choice after all.”

Finally, alone in his room, Obi-Wan groaned. It had been a horrible night. Tossing and turning, sweaty, nauseous, and fighting stomach cramps painful enough to make him pale, Obi-Wan didn’t know if he’d gotten a full hour of sleep the entire night. And peeling back the blankets, he saw why.

He’d bled. It wasn’t a lot. Not enough that the blankets or mattress were ruined, but it was there. Obi-Wan had finally entered the last stage of his development, puberty.

The young Padawan had to sit among the dirty sheets for a moment, just breathing. As much as he had understood he wasn’t male like a Human, what with the diagrams and the ultrasound that clearly showed his non-Human-standard organs, it hadn’t really sunk in until this moment, though, staring at the bloody bedding and alternating between starving and sick to his stomach. He wasn’t Human. He wasn’t really a male.

The knock on his door stopped the incipient anxiety attack before it began.

“Obi-Wan? Are you alright?”

“F-fine,” The Padawan croaked back.

“Padawan, I can feel your upset.” Master Tyvokka said through the door. “I know you’re not fine. May I come in?”

Without considering the mess, Obi-Wan kind of melted at the concern and respect his Master showed him. Closed doors were taken seriously. Even though Master Tyvokka wanted to know what was going on, he wasn’t going to just barge into his student’s room to find out. His Master would have to know eventually, but Master Tyvokka would have waited.

“You can come in, Master.” Honestly, Obi-Wan probably needed a healer. He felt like something the tooka dragged home. And he hadn’t quite gotten to this part of his health studies yet.

Master Tyvokka entered the room and immediately zeroed in on the stained bedsheets, which made Obi-Wan shrink in mortification; he hadn’t remembered the mess he’d made. But the big Wookie just deflated a little in relief.

“Oh, Padawan. I didn’t even think.” He settled on the side of the bed and offered his opened arms to his small student. “Would you like a hug?”

Obi-Wan shook his head, but then nodded, then shook his head again. More moisture leaked out of his eyes as the messed up and confused mess of his emotions made the same action necessary and repellent in the same breath. “I don’t know!”

“Alright then.” The Master wrapped his arms around Obi-Wan carefully until the youngling’s stiff posture melted. “Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to get cleaned and I’ll send your sheets to be washed. Then we’ll head down to the Healing Halls to see if Healer Ha can see you. If everything turns out well, you can relax here or go enjoy the first day of the festival with Quinlan. Alright? Good.”

When Ha finally took ze’s fingers away from his tender abdomen, Obi-Wan had to breathe a sigh of relief. The area was tender and noticeably swollen. As much as he trusted his healer and his Master, and desperately wanted to prove to be a good Jedi, right now all he wanted to do was curl up on his side and cry a little. Or a lot.

“Time to see what the inside looks like.”

“Will it always be like this?” Obi-Wan asked as he took a deep breath, shunting his embarrassment and discomfort into the force.

“Painful, cranky, hungry and nauseous at the same time?”

“And ah, weepy?” Obi-Wan grabbed for a tissue and tried to dry his eyes. “I feel like I’m crying all the time. Force, I can’t seem to stop.”

“Give yourself a break, Padawan. You’re entering an important part of your development. Your body’s chemistry is going to be swinging back and forth for a good number of years.” Ha smiled gently.

“What is important right now, Obi-Wan,” his Master said, stepping forward, offering compassion both in through their bond and through an outstretched hand, “is to remember not to let your emotions rule your ability to make rational decisions.” At Obi-Wan’s face, which the Padawan was sure looked a mix of fright and consternation, Tyvokka offered a huff and ruffled his hair. “If it becomes very difficult, we’ll develop coping mechanisms. For now, it’s the first day of the Festival of Rain, and I am here no matter what happens, Padawan.”

Obi-Wan hid his blushing face in his Master’s robes and flooded his bond with the Wookie with his earnest affection to make up for the fact that his words were muffled. “Thank you, Master.”

“As for the physical symptoms, they may get worse, or they may get better. Every species has it differently, and honestly everyone who menstruates deals with it differently.” Healer Ha frowned up at the Master, “I’d actually like to bring a Stewjoni medical expert to the temple to give Obi-Wan a thorough checkup. Sometimes textbooks can get everything right and still miss information. An active Stewjoni healer would know more.”

“If you need help,” Master Tyvokka said, “I’d be happy to assist if I can.”

“I’ll definitely keep that in mind.”

In the meantime, Ha pressed the wand over his abdomen and directed it toward the area they wanted to see. “It’s a little inflamed, you can see the swelling. But the egg sack is in good shape, properly attached at the stem, properly detached from the surrounding tissue.”

“Honestly, I’m having a little difficulty dealing with most of this.” Obi-Wan stared at the strange shapes of the organs inside him. “I don’t think I realized what egg bearing meant.”

Ha smiled, if Obi-Wan picked up a bit of amusement from the healer through the force, he didn’t let it annoy him. “I’d like to give you some intimate health information, but I’m still waiting to hear from the Stewjoni Institute of Health.”

“What do you know that you can share?” Obi-Wan raised a brow, “Do you know anything?”

“You aren’t capable of interbreeding.” Healer Ha started with. Which Obi-Wan thought showed what other padawans his age were getting up to. “So, unless you meet up with a Stewjoni you feel inclined to be sexually intimate with, you shouldn’t have to worry about children. But we can put you on birth control if you like?”

Obi-Wan stared back at his healer like a tauntaun caught in the floodlights of a shuttle and then swung the look around to his Master. Was there a correct answer to that?

The old Master huffed and pet his Padawan. “There isn’t a right or wrong to this, Obi-Wan. It’s your choice and you can choose differently at any time.”

“Jedi come in all shapes, sizes, and species. The emotional, mental, and physical spectrums run the gamut.” Ha offered, “Some species near-Human and not can have overwhelming breeding compulsions. Don’t feel you have to deal with anything like that by yourself. The Order will not set you aside because your instincts overwhelm you. Young, no young. Mate, no mate. We’re here for all your health needs. And for helping you develop healthy coping mechanisms for all of it.”

“We’ll definitely discuss this with your mind healer, so don’t worry about it too much.”

Obi-Wan wasn’t sure he was ready to think about any of this growing up stuff. Not the parts of his anatomy that were on discussion today, and certainly not the possibility of life mates and babies. “I’m in a lot of pain and just lack motivation and energy. Is there anything you can do to help?”

“We can give you a short-term shot to alleviate symptoms.” Ha said already prepping the injector. “This is a general anti-symptomatic. Nothing we’ve received from the Stewjoni Institute of Health suggests that you can’t use it but tell us immediately if something becomes uncomfortable. If you feel any spike in sensation or pain, you develop a rash, a sore throat, or any symptoms of an allergic reaction, you come back immediately. Alright?”

“Yes, Healer.” Obi-Wan nodded, just content that this miserable feeling might go away. “I promise.”

“Be sure you do.” Healer Ha scowled at him skeptically, but Obi-Wan just offered the most charming smile he could. “Get out of here, you Imp!”

Obi-Wan’s plan to become one with the squishy couch in front of the holovid screen was halted before it even began. He had showered and changed into stretchy clothes to combat the bloated feeling and had just settled in for a marathon of My Dark Desires where Kemola was just preparing to ask Semmina to marry him, against both their families wishes when Quin poked his head around the door.

“Feeling better, Obi-Wan?” The older Padawan’s smile was more than a little mischievous as he leveraged the younger boy from his blanket nest.

“Quin, I had plans!” Obi-Wan whined.

“Yeah, plans to become one with the couch and feel miserable. Fascinating.” The older boy pushed Obi-Wan to lean against the wall as he dropped to forcibly put Obi-Wan’s temple shoes on his feet. “I spoke to Master Tyvokka, or- ah, I listened while Master Tyvokka spoke with my Master. Congratulations, Obi-Wan, on entering puberty. You’ve now joined the sacred 48% of the galaxy that can bear life.” Quin’s face was serious when he looked up from Obi-Wan’s feet. “That’s very important to Kiffar Force philosophy, you know. Only bearers can become religious figures on Ki Vos.”

“Quin, stop! Just stop!” Obi-Wan slapped his mission partner’s hands away from his tender body. “I feel gross and hungry, except I’ve eaten more today than I have in the last week. And none of my clothes fit, and I don’t care how much I release my anxiety to the Force, it just comes back! I don’t want to go out.”

“I get it. And it’s awful. I might not go through it myself, but I’m not some civilian kid who thinks it’s gross. You can talk about it if you want to.” Quin reached out carefully for his best friend, tugging him closer when Obi-Wan didn’t object. “Or you can let me improve your day. It’s the beginning of the Festival and there should be vendors up and down just about every public hall in the Temple. We can go grab tishien and mock the youngling’s attempts at Rain dances. Find a garden with a mist to wash the year away.” He tugged lightly on Obi-Wan’s hands, stepping toward the door slowly. “Let’s make the end of your day, and the beginning of the new year, three times as awesome as the shitty beginning.”

Obi-Wan hesitated, “Master Tyvokka won’t mind?”

“Master Tyvokka gave me permission.” Quin said, “we might all do something as a lineage later in the week, but the Festival of Rain has never been his favorite. Damp fur not being pleasant. What do you say, Obi?”

“Ok. Improve my day.” Obi-Wan nodded finally and turned the screen off before he took Quin’s hands. My Dark Desires would be there another day.

*****

Millenia ago, when Jedha was the Order’s home and they were dreaming of the stars but not yet traveling with them, the year started anew with the spring rains. With the rise of the Republic, and the establishment of the Galactic center on Coruscant, it seemed sometimes that the entire galaxy followed the ecumenopolis’s twelve-month cycle. But the Jedi still celebrated the wheeling of time according to Jedha. And the Jedha year started with the Festival of Rain.

If the last festival of the year was the Festival of Wishes, orienting the mind on hopes for the future, instead of the pain of the past. Then the Festival of Rain was about washing the last of the old year off to embrace the new.

On Jedha, the first rains were soft, and the old tribes would gather to dance and sing and fellowship under the first moisture since the dry days of winter started. On Coruscant, the Temple set off sprinklers. The fire suppression system went throughout the Temple, but it was during the Festival of rain that in some corridors it never turned off.

Tyvokka imagined that was where Quin had finally pulled Obi-Wan and perhaps next year the old Wookie would tolerate the water long enough to watch the two dance and sing in the rain as many of the younglings do. The euphoria that went hand in hand with such celebrations was breathtaking in person, and it had been many years since Tyvokka had concerned himself with more than a sprinkling of water among his lineage.

Not this year, though. He had more than enough on his plate to drag him through the entire festival week. He didn’t need the aggravation of waiting for fur to dry.

Unexpectedly, the doorbell rang, and though Tyvokka wasn’t expecting any company, he couldn’t say no when he opened the door to three mischievous smiles.

“What are you all doing here?”

“Making sure you actually celebrate the new year, Master.” Tholme said, shouldering past the Wookie with a laugh in his eyes. “Force knows you would have just spent your Padawan-free time doing more work.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Plo chuckled as he squeezed past his former Master.

Shaak raised the pot in her hands, “At least I brought kithta? You can’t turn me away.”

“And what have the rest of you brought?” Tyvokka demanded with a laugh, “Or am I expected to feed you as well?”

“I brought salad.” Tholme said as he entered the dining area, “oh, look, official datapads.”

“I have chocolate.” Plo displayed the box as he went in search of place settings. “Really Master, there was a time you’d have broken out the wine as your Padawan shut the door.”

“What can I say?” Tyvokka huffed, “I’ve grown boring in my old age.”

“Never, Master.” Shaak pressed a kiss to his temple as she moved past.

Before Tyvokka could kneel at the head of the table, Shaak pressed something into his hands. A glass bottle of clear water, likely from a garden deeper into the temple. The kind the Quartermaster arranged for Jedi who’d be away from the Temple during the Festival. Or the type compassionate former students brought to grouchy old masters who were avoiding the public sprinklers.

Tyvokka twisted the bottle in his hands. “You haven’t done the rites yet?”

“It’s only the first day of the festival,” Plo offered his contentment through the Force. “I was happy to wait for our lineage.”

“Quin planned to spend the day with Obi-Wan. Even before this morning.” Tholme released a heavy breath and settled a little further down on his cushion. “This would have been the first time since T’ra Saa left that I would do the rites by myself.”

“None of our rites are good to do alone.” Shaak nodded toward the bottle. “We figured we could do them together, as an adult lineage. Let the younglings prance about in the sprinklers. We can sit and be dignified.”

Tholme snorted, “Might be a bit late for dignity, Shaak.”

Tyvokka smiled at the sound of his former students quibbling. He opened the bottle with a twist, “Perhaps now is not the time, children?”

“If you say so, Master.” Shaak Ti said with a grin, settling to kneel in front of him.

One by one Tyvokka poured a handful of water over the heads of his adult children

and said, “Blessed are the months with rain, washing away the death and struggle of the dry times. As the rain renews the earth, may this water renew you. Let it wash away the stress and sorrows of the last year, so you might enter the next one refreshed.”

Last to kneel before him, and oldest of his students, Plo carefully covered the lip of the bottle with a talon and sprinkled water over his former Master’s head. “May this water cleanse you of your sorrows, so you can enter the new year prepared as good soil to do the work of the Force.”

“May it be so.”

The rites were over, but Tyvokka was slow to raise his head, as he considered the changes that even the past months brought. The last year had chased stress and work into the new one, and the old Master knew it would just build. He hadn’t had a Padawan in his rooms since Tholme. He had forgotten the balance required of masters to attend to both duties and students.

It was something to consider, but perhaps not at dinner.

Tyvokka pushed his thoughts to later when he could meditate on them and offered to plate the kishna for the adults ringed about the table. “I feel like I see you every day, but I can’t remember the last time I sat and spoke with any of you. How are you all? Shaak, I know you are heading one of the investigations into the Temple. Is that still doing well?”

“Yes, Master. Well,” Shaak scrunched up her face so that the broad hunting patterns of her skin made new shapes. “It’s doing fine now that I finally nailed down Madam Nu about some resources for our effort she had been hesitant to share. Someone needs to remind that woman that she can’t just refuse people resources because she doesn’t like what they’re going to do with the information.”

“I know she isn’t that old,” Plo said a light laugh in his voice, “but even I sometimes have difficulty remembering who the Master of the Archives before her was.”

Tyvokka shook his head, “I couldn’t say.”

“Perhaps what someone really needs to do is tell Madam Nu she should consider a successor.” Tholme suggested, “Are you going to report your… grievance, Shaak?”

“Oh yes,” the female agreed, “it won’t be as part of my report. But there is someone investigating how informational resources are being censored. I shunted it off to them. I was very thorough.”

“I’m sure they were quite pleased with your additions.” Tyvokka chuckled. “And you, Plo? What’s new in your life?”

Plo finished his slurry, “I proposed a research project on the decreasing number of Force sensitive children. As an offshoot to finding out why I return again and again to the same districts, often the same houses, but with the certainty that the younglings I’m looking for are not there. There are several of us involved in the issue now. We’re not sure what is happening, but there seems to be a great number of missing children.”

Something about the issue was tickling a thought in the back of his mind, and as he considered the problem, Tyvokka accidentally caught Tholme’s gaze, and the Shadow offered a meaningful look. Ah, yes. The DuPont murder. Not exactly dinner table conversation, though.

“Could it be the Hutts or some other slave ring?” Shaak asked, passing the savory jam for the toasted bread pieces.

“We’re not hearing of a corresponding rise in slave trafficking.” Plo shook his head, “It was one of the first things suggested. But I checked with Research, there is no corresponding data to suggest that is happening. According to our resources and the shadows on the ground, the slave trade – as disgusting as it is – remains the same.”

Shaak frowned, “Many governments do not require registration of Force sensitives, could it simply be that the numbers reported are wrong?”

“Perhaps.” Plo offered, “Except there are ways to extrapolate that information, and we’re just not seeing that.”

Tyvokka cleared his throat, “I believe I have information that would be valuable to you in this effort, Plo. But it’s incredibly sensitive. And, very much not dinner conversation.”

Plo nodded slowly with a frown. “I understand. I’ll make an appointment with Radka?”

“That would be for the best.”

Tholme abruptly changed the subject during tea, “I have asked T’ra to come back to the Temple. It would cut short her tour as a Sentinel, but I feel – I feel that this is the right thing to do.”

“A Force-feeling?” Tyvokka asked, concerned. Tholme had never been skilled in foresight, but sometimes the closer a Jedi was to the subject, the more powerful the vision.

“Like Obi-Wan’s?” Tholme startled and shook his head. “No. Just – Quinlan and I bonded spontaneously. I had been considering taking a Padawan, but not as young as he was. T’ra took the posting as a Sentinel because the High Council does not traditionally allow Jedi pairs to raise padawans. She did not want her position to hurt my chances of being approved.”

Shaak frowned, “Tholme, your bond with Quin might as well be Force-given for all the input either of you had in it. The High Council wouldn’t have turned you away.”

“I heard things, T’ra heard things, about how they saw Quinlan.” Tholme sipped at his tea. “It made us think that if they could legitimately turn me down, they would; so, she left. But now, it is not just Quinlan and myself. We often take Obi-Wan as well, and as much as I thought we could get into trouble, that child makes it an art form.”

Tyvokka snorted. As unusual as it was, he had not yet been in the field with his apprentice. He had trusted Obi-Wan’s education to the other temple masters, Tholme and Che, and even on one occasion Plo. But he did not doubt his former student’s words. There was something different about Obi-Wan.

“The Force rests heavily on him, and as uncomfortable as it made Jinn, I would never have Obi-Wan learn to ignore it.” Tyvokka gratefully accepted the tea Plo had prepared for him. “If it is his lot in life to be the hands and feet of the Force, then I will ensure he is at least well trained for it.”

“I can’t say much for Obi-Wan but pairing him with Quinlan has done much to even out the lad’s education.” Tholme smirked. “He even turns in his homework on time now.”

Plo snorted, “Because Obi-Wan threatens him. I came across Quin running away from Obi-Wan, a bottle of blue dye in his hand, shouting that Quin had promised his paper was written. If we’d known all it would take to get the lad to pay attention would be some harmless pranks, we could’ve whipped Quin into shape years ago!”

“As though it’s the threat that makes Quin so eager.” Shaak nibbled at a piece of sweet bread. “Those two might be young, but they are well on their way to one of the strongest pair bonds I’ve ever seen.”

“Unchecked, I have every reason to believe it will be the first life bond acknowledged by the Council post Ruusan Reformation.” Tyvokka admitted, stunning his lineage.

“Do the boys know?” Plo frowned, “That might be a weighty burden, but I’m not sure they deserve to blunder their way into that.”

“They could break it.” Tholme said, the tremble in his hand spilling his drink. “Without knowledge, without guidance, all it would take is one big fight and that wonderful future would become impossible. Even more reason to ask T’ra to come home. I ache that she is parted from me and with two trouble magnets to keep in hand, I thought she might have pity on me.”

Plo offered his lineage-brother a napkin for the spill. “Has she responded?”

“She is out of communication at the moment. I will ask once she is back in range. I did not think this was a conversation that would be well received left as a message.”

“Wise,” Tyvokka agreed.

Shaak settled anew on her cushion, “How is Obi-Wan? I heard he ended up in the Healing halls this morning?”

“This doesn’t leave the room, understood?” Tyvokka gave a stern look around the table and was pleased with the concerned nods from his adult students. “Obi-Wan began menstruating during the night. It was an uncomfortable and stressful time for him. We’re still waiting on information from Stewjon, so we don’t know if he has begun early or late. Or if his symptoms are normal. They were not forthcoming when we addressed them directly. I eventually had to reach out to the Senator from Stewjon who agreed to make sure someone answered our questions.”

“Very secretive species?” Plo frowned, “I can’t say that I know of any other Stewjoni in the Temple. Then again, there’s nothing about Obi-Wan that makes his species obvious, either.”

“Unless they survived into adulthood without having to receive an internal exam, there are no records of any other Stewjoni Jedi.” Tyvokka stole the last piece of chocolate as he spoke. “They are a small population, compared to the entirety of the galaxy, and justifiably cautious. I do not know how basic medical information could hurt their people, but I cannot say it couldn’t happen.”

“He’s decided on Basic male pronouns, correct? We have a support group for non-binary genders who must deal with the stupidity of the galaxy. I can put him in touch with the facilitators if he wants.” Shaak offered.

“What little information we’ve been able to find on the Stewjoni says there are three natural sexes, and that gender performance can vary between them to an exaggerated degree.” Tyvokka said, “Obi-Wan said he didn’t feel like anything had changed, and that he had no desire to spend his life conjugating his chosen pronoun set for people. So, yes, he’s maintaining the Basic male pronoun.”

Tholme snorted, “That sounds more like Quin than Obi-Wan.”

“Perhaps he was rattled because what he knew of his species had changed.” Plo suggested, “So he went with the easiest option?” The Kel Dor scowled at Tholme. “Or he asked Quin, and the boy was that infuriating combination of supportive-but-could-care-less.”

Tholme choked, “It’s not my fault. Quin doesn’t have a diplomatic bone in his body.”

“We’re fortunate then, that Obi-Wan has enough for two.” Tyvokka hid his smile behind his teacup.

Shaak scowled down at her empty plate. “He might change his mind. He’s young and going through an incredibly upsetting time. We should encourage him to consider the alternatives at least.”

“Obi-Wan has a sensitive heart. Push too far in the opposite direction and we could offend him.” Plo cautioned, “And he might never change his mind. Or care. Gender identity is important, I agree, Shaak. But by and large gender performance doesn’t have a great deal of significance to the Jedi in residence or at any outpost of the Order. It’s only once out in the greater galaxy that it becomes important. And as much as it hurts to say, he will be better served in the galaxy, and of better use to the Order, if he continues to use male pronouns.”

“Regardless,” Shaak sighed.

“It is a wonderful suggestion, Shaak.” The old Wookie nodded, “I will make sure Obi-Wan knows it is an option.”

*****

The day turned out much better than it began. Quin had followed through on his plan. They’d grabbed tishien from the stalls the services staff were manning, and the mixed skewers of vegetables and meat were better than Obi-Wan had ever tasted. They sat on the half-wall that separated the youngling wing from the rest of the Temple and barely resisted joining in when the initiates’ rain dances devolved into a mud war.

It was a great day. And it continued that way because later when Obi-Wan and Quin stood under the mist in an out-of-the-way corner of an out-of-the-way garden, Quin tipped Obi-Wan’s head back and gently pressed his lips to his friend’s. And when Obi-Wan blinked wide eyes up at his partner, Quin did it again. And again. Until a blush spread across Obi-Wan’s cheeks and the smirk that held permanent residence on Quin’s lips softened into a warm and cautious kind of smile.

Obi-Wan admitted that it was a pleasant feeling making butterflies in his stomach, and as he walked back to his Master’s rooms, the boy couldn’t deny that he wanted to feel it again. For all the conflict and drama Obi-Wan had survived through the past year, this soft thing with Quin felt a lot like a reward. More, it felt comfortable.

If Obi-Wan wanted to keep Quin’s kisses secret, his mistake was coming home from the festival with kiss-swollen lips still wringing the moisture from his tunic. Of course, it hadn’t been long enough from his last kiss for Obi-Wan to really consider the consequences of what would happen when the rest of the lineage found out, but if the Padawan had considered it—attempting to hide it from his Master would have probably just spelled disaster. Tyvokka finding out just as Obi walked in the door was probably better for everyone involved. Force knew that Quin didn’t have a shy bone in his body.

There were far more people in the apartment than expected, and Obi-Wan startled to look up from toeing off his boots to see three extra pairs of eyes watching him.

“Uh, hi?”

“Hello,” Master Tyvokka said, reaching out to cup the Padawan’s face. “Ho ho. Looks like our youngest got inducted into the new year in high fashion!”

Plo chuckled, “That’s quite a blush, little brother. Care to share who put it there?”

“Quin?” Obi-Wan cringed, “Are we in trouble?”

Tholme grumbled as he stood from his cushion, “The only trouble Quin got into was making me four credits poorer.”

Shaak cackled, “And me four credits richer!”

Obi-Wan blinked nonplused, “You bet on Quin kissing me?”

“That boy watches you like you’re the star in the space he orbits.” His Master said with a wide grin. “It was only a matter of time before he made his move.”

“He knows a good thing when he sees it.” Plo said, helping Shaak up with a steady hand. “Happiness isn’t an accident, little brother. You have to reach out and make it happen.”

Obi-Wan frowned, watching as his older lineage siblings prepared to head out,

“What about the Rule of Attachment?”

“The Rule of Attachment is about possession, Obi-Wan.” The Wookie said, after he saw the rest of the lineage out the door. He cradled the boy’s head in his big hand. “The unhealthy love that squanders friendship for jealousy and drives lovers to seek dark magic to bring shades of their love’s back from the Force. Not the love that makes a day brighter or watches a knight-companion’s back.”

He pulled Obi-Wan to settle in beside him on the sofa. “How do you feel?”

“Okay.” He made a face, squirming in his seat. “Uncomfortable, but nothing horrible. I wouldn’t want to try fighting or running, but I’d survive. The cotton pad Healer Ha gave me is… something to adjust to, but Quin made my day much better.”

“Perhaps the initiates are right, and everything is better with kisses?” Obi-Wan was sure he’d turned a never seen shade of red at the mischievous smile his Master gave. The Wookie snorted and ruffled his hair, “Regardless of the how, I’m glad to hear your day ended better than it began.” Obi-Wan was content to cuddle against his Master while the male ran claws through his hair. Until, of course, he heard what the Wookie said next. “Do I need to give you the Little Jedi’s talk?”

“Master!” Obi-Wan bounced from his seat, that fuchsia shade of red back on his cheeks. “I’ve had the health and hygiene courses! And the lectures about the stupidity of gender performance and the expectations that the greater galaxy has. I think I’m fine.”

“I’ll remind you that we’re still waiting on information from Stewjon. So that information might be wrong.” Master Tyvokka pulled him back to the couch. “But I was thinking more like the conversation where I tell you it’s okay to feel attraction, to want an intimate partner, and to fall in love; and you actually listen this time. They’re healthy psychological behaviors, and the Order does not have any right to impress harmful behaviors on you.

“What you shouldn’t do is let your emotions dictate your behavior or distract you from your duty. But I want you to shut up the little voice in the back of your head. That probably sounds a lot like Grandmaster Yoda, which has convinced you that Jedi aren’t allowed to love at all, and that isn’t true.”

“I get it, Master.” Obi-Wan nodded. He understood. It was a fine line, but one that made the Jedi life far more palatable than lonely. He snorted, “I’ll try to shut that voice up; but it might take some time.”

“I hope you know that you can come to me with whatever worries you.” The older male tugged him a little closer, and once again Obi-Wan found claws in his hair. “That’s my job as a Master. To give you a secure place to learn and grow in your path as a Jedi. No matter where that path leads.”

Master Tyvokka hummed, seeming uninterested in letting Obi-Wan go. “How about we talk about your studies then? Do you wish you had more time where I was your teacher?”

Obi-Wan takes a minute to word his response. He didn’t want to offend his Master. “I know it sounds awful, but I don’t miss you, Master Tyvokka. You’re here in the Temple working to make the whole of us better. I don’t resent the time you spend organizing all of that. Beyond that,” He shrugged, “A lot of my education is still with my age mates, though that might change as we all age; so, if we were any other pairing, you’d be in meetings all day and I’d be bored to tears.”

“Alright then,” Master Tyvokka laughed, “How do you like Tholme’s instruction?”

“Master Tholme often splits any assignments up by difficulty, taking the most onerous or dangerous portion and giving Quin and I the other part.” Obi-Wan winced, remembering a madcap run through the lower levels that ended up requiring a freezing decontamination shower. “Which doesn’t always equal safe. Actually, with Quin it rarely equals safe.”

Master Tyvokka snorted, and Obi-Wan figured that wasn’t news to his Master. He saw their mission reports, after all. “But you feel you’re learning and being challenged?”

“I enjoy being Quin’s partner and helping Master Tholme.” Obi-Wan said, “we work well together, and I think we even out each other’s weaknesses.”

“Enjoy it enough to accept his kisses, don’t you?” Obi-Wan refused to comment, trying to hide his face in his Master’s robe while the Wookie laughed. “Fine, fine. I’ll stop and just say that Knight partners are not uncommon among shadows. So much of a Shadow’s job falls outside of contact with the Temple. If assistance is necessary for a lone Knight, help often comes too late. How do you like staying on Coruscant?”

“It’s different. With Master Jinn, we were rarely on the planet for longer than it took to turn in my coursework and change out the clothes in our bags. But there are so many ways that Coruscant could use Jedi help, like the greenhouses going up in the low light levels and the mediation work at the weekly clinic.”

“And your other missions with Tholme and Quinlan? How do you feel about being a Shadow?”

“I don’t know?” Obi-Wan bit his lip and finally shrugged. “It’s not always so different from being a Consular Jedi. Master Jinn got into a lot of trouble when we went on missions.”

Tyvokka barked out a laugh, “Of that I have no doubt. But do you feel like being a Shadow might be where you want to stay? Or do you feel like changing training tracks?”

“I like what I do now. But… do I have to know now?”

“Force, no.” Master Tyvokka reassured, “As your Master, I want you to be a happy and productive member of the Order. But I don’t care if that’s as a Consular Knight, a Shadow, or a member of the Corps. Force willing, you will enjoy a long life. Full of the kinds of experiences that make life memorable. You may even find the track of your service to the force changing.

“Master Yaddle started as a Consular Jedi and has become an archivist in her advanced years. There is nothing to say that you cannot change gears when you are older. Besides, you are young yet, more than time enough to decide on your life pursuit. How goes the philosophy reading?”

Obi-Wan heaved an exaggerated sigh just for the huff and smile he got from his Master. “Long. And boring. And difficult. Did Quin have to do this?”

Master Tyvokka smirked, “If he has not, he will have an entire datapad full of reading requirements to meet as a Knight. All Shadows must do these readings. There was no reason to hold you back simply because you are a Padawan.” The Master considered his Padawan, and Obi-Wan tried not to fidget. “What worries you, Obi-Wan?”

“Everything you gave me said that there are no absolutes. Except isn’t that an absolute?” Obi-Wan blurted.

“It’s not so literal as that, Padawan.” The Wookie offered. “It’s more a reminder that even Jedi can break under the right circumstances. That even the High Council can make mistakes. We are not perfect, just seeking perfection.”

“That’s not what they teach in the creche.” Obi-Wan couldn’t help but mutter. “It’s not what Master Jinn believes.”

“No, they believe, as Master Yoda has taught, ‘forever shall it darken your path’.” Master Tyvokka sighed, “Growing up I never heard the phrase ‘forever will it darken your path’. I had the good fortune of being raised by a Clan Mother who was old enough to have probably changed Yoda’s diapers.” Obi-Wan giggled. He forgot, with how nimbly Master Tyvokka moved, that he wasn’t that much younger than the small green troll. “I inherited my position as a Shadow from a Master whose line was one of the last not tangled with Yoda’s. And she believed that we needed to be prepared to touch the dark side of the force.

“‘It will happen, Ti.’ She always said, ‘One day you will face an enemy stronger than you, backed into a corner, and you will reach for the dark. Or underestimate your curiosity of some Sith artifact, and I would have you come back.’ Always, always come back.”

“I would learn more about what our lineage believes.” Obi-Wan swallowed. “I

want to come back, no matter what happens.”

“That’s all I could ever want for you.” The Master said. “I will share everything I know, and you will learn to judge these matters by your own understanding of the Force. And I will be so proud of you.”

 

Chapter 7: Change of perspective

1st day of the 1st Republic Standard month, 958 ARR

Tyvokka considers the notification on his datapad. A private meeting in one of the most secluded gardens in the Temple with the Master of the Order. This had all the makings for the ambush scene in a holodrama. But he couldn’t really decline the invitation from the Head of his Order. No matter how much he wanted to.

So, after leaving a message for his Padawan and a reminder that Obi-Wan had extra coursework due that evening, Tyvokka girded himself and left for Master Dapatian’s garden.

All the way at the center of the massive Temple was a quiet and carefully preserved garden just for the pleasure of the Master of the Order. Niktipa had kept the gardens arranged with beautiful blooming shrubs in between clean Zen-style sand pits where the old female would often retreat with her guest while they argued over some point of contention. Dapatian had replaced those sand pits and shrubs with large open lawns and a walkway lined with Chrystophasin singing blooms and Force flowers. The garden was quite beautiful, but the way Dapatian stood in the center with his back towards his guest and refused to acknowledge Tyvokka for several minutes raised the Wookie’s hackles.

Which, the Master of Shadows admitted, was probably at least part of the reason. After all, Tyvokka had spent the last several months constantly at odds with Dapatian’s plans for the Order. The Master of the Order was ready to send Obi-Wan back out into the greater galaxy for leaving the Order, but Tyvokka stepped in and said no. Dapatian wanted to refuse the investigations of the members as unfounded, and Tyvokka shoved his tusks in the empirical evidence. The Kel Dor would have preferred that the service corps and the knights of the Temple continued working in their separate directions, when Tyvokka didn’t even ask permission to integrate them into projects and positions within the Temple.

No, it was no surprise why Dapatian was making this ridiculous power play. The other Master was not taking the change in status quo well at all.

“Ah, Master Tyvokka, come walk with me.” Dapatian led the way down the pebbled path, force flowers and exotic blooms lining the walkway. “I’m certain you know why I’ve asked you to join me, Tyvokka.”

“You’re mistaken, Poli.” The Wookie ignored the grimace the other Master made at the use of his first name. Monkey see, monkey do. “I was quite startled by the invitation to meet with you.” He let the silence sit for a moment before picking back up just as the Force shifted, “Quite pleased of course, I’m certain I have not had the pleasure of walking with the Master of the Order since Iola Niktra was the head of the High Council. It is stunning what you have done with it.”

“It is quite different, isn’t it?” Dapatian murmured as he led them down the left path of a fork. “Quite calming.”

“I’m honestly surprised you didn’t use the opportunity to give yourself a little piece of Doran in the heart of the Temple.”

“Oh, but these gardens are for the Master of the Order to speak with others in the Order; filling this space with the gases of Duran and syphoning out any Oxygen would be quite counter-intuitive.”

Except that the Gardens of the Master for the spirit and reflection of the Master, not, in fact, to hold private conversations. But Tyvokka was not surprised that even in this Dapatian would see a chance to gloat. “Well, this is likely one of the most beautiful meeting places in the Temple. Are those Honey Dew Tulips, I see?”

“Indeed,” And Dapatian’s pleasure filled the force. “Senator Palpatine of Naboo sent them to me last year. We met at the Chancellor’s New Year’s celebration and had a rousing discussion about the ethics of flora and fauna exchange in new biomes. We spent most of the time arguing about the Nithaleen Laurel as an invasive species on Manis III.”

Tyvokka had to admit he would have been very involved in such a conversation himself. “And the Senator’s opinion?”

“That the laurel is far more beautiful than other such invasive plants and the Maniceans should be delighted with their beauty.” Both Jedi masters snorted.

“He clearly has no appreciation for invasive vine species.” Tyvokka muttered.

“My feeling as well,” Dapatian admitted. “Perhaps you could bring it up with him? I am planning a small outreach event for the Coruscanti New Year. Just a few Senators and galactic community members invited to enjoy the fireworks from the Observational Gardens, the ones that face the South of the Chancellors street? It shouldn’t be too big; I can’t imagine that too many will want to abandon the luxury of the Chancellor’s viewing platform for what we can offer.”

Tyvokka hummed in response, “I shall consider it.”

Dapatian led him into the heart of the garden, a green field lined with force blooms and a pair of benches framed by Alderaani gold roses. “Perhaps you should consider something else as well.”

Ah, the point. And without an hour of hedging and duplicitous speech either, how pleasant. “Which would be what, Master Dapatian?”

“The effect your contentious investigations and reforms could have on the stability of the Order.” the Kel Dor said. “Things are changing and they are changing fast. Surely this change cannot be maintained? Surely it would be better to adhere to our traditions, they have been the foundations of the Order’s stability for hundreds of years.”

“You have concerns?” Tyvokka frowned, he was not unfamiliar with the argument.

“Will you share them with me?”

Dapatian sighed and seemed to deflate a little. He turned the Kel Dor version of a smile in Tyvokka’s direction, the wrinkles around his goggles crinkled and warmth was fostered within the Force and space between them. “Thank you. I grew concerned that you would not listen.”

“A proper objection can only strengthen the argument.” Tyvokka offered. “And the Order functions as efficiently as it does because of the many perspectives its members offer. Share with me what concerns you.”

“So much is changing, Tyvokka.” Poli said, “The Service Corps return to the Temple—what if some members harbor bitterness toward the Temple residents because they were never chosen?”

“Wouldn’t it be better to know and lance that bitterness than for it to fester amongst our Corps members?” Tyvokka offered, “With them here in the Temple, they can take advantage of our services and we can observe them. I don’t think most of the outposts have mind healers on staff. And I hope that in the future a more integrated Order will reassure younglings that simply because they may need to leave the Temple, doesn’t mean that the Order has changed.” He considered the overwhelming fear and anxiety Obi-Wan had admitted to suffering his twelfth year in the creche and wished that for none of the younglings.

“And for those who are bitter about not becoming knights?” Tyvokka failed to hide a grimace, and Poli zeroed in on it with concerning attention. “Tyvokka?”

“There has been some discussion of opening the trials of knighthood up to corps members who were never padawans.”

If it weren’t so serious a conversation, Tyvokka might have laughed at the utter horror the Master of the Order expressed. As it was, the Wookie had to bite his tongue to keep himself contained. Even leaking it into the force could be detrimental at this point.

“What?”

“Poli, think about it. There are healers and pilots, AgriCorps and EduCorps members who are better at their chosen fields than many of the knights and masters of the Temple. Why shouldn’t they be able to claim that title?”

“It’s not done.” Poli objected. “We’ve never done it!”

“But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” Tyvokka let the subject sit as the Master of the Order caught his breath. “Poli, what aspect of the Trial specifically requires experience as a Padawan?”

The Kel Dor inhaled deeply, “The trial is a test of the metal of padawans to be knights. It requires determination, perseverance, obedience, adherence to the tenets of the Code, and willingness to sacrifice for their beliefs.”

Tyvokka nodded, that was what he had been taught and experienced as well. “Where in that does it require being a Padawan? Do you think that our Corps members do not require determination, perseverance, obedience, or adherence to the Code? Do you think that they do not sacrifice for their missions? Lani Hedle gave her life for her mission. Is that sacrifice worth less because she was a member of AgriCorps and not a Consular Knight?”

“No.” Poli said softly. “Of course not.”

“Then why shouldn’t her students be allowed to take the trial? Why shouldn’t her teacher?”

Poli Dapatian stared up through the transparisteel ceiling of the garden. Past the soft yellow of the artificial sunlight, it was possible to see a few stars. The brightest and most obvious parts of the space surrounding Coruscant and the core. The parts that never went away no matter how much they were still considered the ‘night’s sky’.

“I called you here to ask you to consider setting aside your crusade of change.” The Master of the Order finally said, still not looking at Tyvokka. “But now I am faced with the prospect of acknowledging that you’re right. And it is terrifying. What happens, Master Tyvokka, when the Order can no longer recognize itself?”

“Perhaps it will become something else.” The Wookie said softly. “Or perhaps people will recognize that the heart of what we are, our code, our mission to bring light into the galaxy, our connection to each other and the Force—none of it changed. Just what it looked like.”

Master Dapatian offered Tyvokka a warmer, more hesitant smile, “I am faced with the prospect that my fear is ungrounded, irrational even, and yet I struggle to let it go.”

“Even stars die,” Tyvokka offered quietly, “we are none of us perfect. Each just trying to do better than the day before. I would advise, if you would listen, that you seek out the mind healers’ assistance. Change is frightening, because we are letting go of what we know to try something new, and it could fail. But stagnation is death, Poli, and I would see our Order prosper for another thousand years.”

Poli sighed, “Thank you for sharing your wisdom, friend. I will carefully consider what you have said.”

“The honor was mine, Master Dapatian.”

*****

8th day of the 3rd Republic Standard month, 958 ARR

Obi-Wan stared at the course work on his datapad, but he wasn’t focusing on it. Interstellar navigation was an important skill, and Master Tyvokka had promised to reserve some time later in the year once the ExploraCorps started progress on the new hyperlane, but numbers weren’t Obi-Wan’s strongest skill to begin with and even the words were swimming on the page now. Stewjon had finally sent a doctor to the Temple and what the other Stewjoni had to say had left Obi-Wan’s heart in his mouth and his stomach in knots; each time he tried to consider the matter rationally, he couldn’t. His heart sped up and sweat beaded against his skin. Obi-Wan couldn’t meditate, and he couldn’t work on his coursework.

Giving up for the moment, Obi-Wan closed his eyes and tipped his head back on the recliner, just listening to the noise of Shadow’s lounge. Just Jedi going about their day, complaining about traffic and offering casual warnings about the assholes they’d encountered on their missions. It was soothing and amusing in turn.

Conversation in the Shadow’s lounge was neither for the faint of heart nor for the rest of the Temple. Obi-Wan let a smile bubble up at the thought of exactly how many fits Master Dapatian might have if he knew that the most common topics of conversation included in no order: best methods of infiltration, best tips for lying, and how to best fudge reports sent to the High Council. There was an art to toeing the line with the High Council, most Shadows were content to never learn it.

The cushion next to Obi-Wan dipped quietly, and the Stewjoni offered a small smile to the familiar presence as his partner ran fingertips through his hair. “How were the lessons with Marsella Eliana?”

“Difficult,” His partner said quietly. “She wanted perfection. ‘Getting caught is a one-way ticket to an outer rim prison if you’re lucky. The Order isn’t coming to get a thief.’ Kind of makes me wonder how many Shadows logged as missing with the Senate are actually serving terms for breaking and entering on shitty rim worlds.”

Obi-Wan wrinkled his nose, uncomfortable with the idea that any of their members were just left to rot. “We could ask Master Tyvokka? He has to know.”

“I’m not sure I want the answer.” Quin tugged lightly on the short red strands, “Not that I want to go hang in the snooty lounge, but why’re you relaxing in here? I thought you preferred to study in the open lounge near the room of a Thousand Fountains?”

“I never really liked it better, Quin. I just wanted to prove that I could handle their looks and whispers. That they would not drive me away.” Obi-Wan rolled closer to his companion, tucking under the older boy’s arm. “It was just too hard today.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know.” He willingly went when Quin tugged him down to lay back against the recliner. His friend between the world and him. “It was just a lot today. The Council of Reconciliation finally deliberated on the fight between Kadok Deb’os and Radka. They agreed she was within her rights to defend her person, that Knight Deb’os had been verbally unpleasant, but that Radka had escalated the situation to violence too quickly.”

“Shit.” Quin said, “what was the outcome?”

“Radka was assigned a guided meditation and a series of lectures on conflict de-escalation.” Obi-Wan shrugged awkwardly into the couch. It could have been worse. “Knight Deb’os was assigned two meditations: one on prejudice and the second on interpersonal behavior. They also required that he could not return to the duty roster without at least three sessions with a mind healer. So, it seems okay? I’m not sure that Radka deserved to get any of the punishment, but it could have gone worse.”

“Right.” Quin pet lightly at Obi-Wan’s waist. Just offering his friend comfort,

“What else happened?”

“The Stewjoni healer finally arrived.” Obi-Wan said after a moment. “I’m not healthy. Like, really not healthy. Healer Ha wanted to take me off the duty roster, but Master Tyvokka talked her out of it.” He pulled aside the collar of his tunic to show the vitals monitor. “The only way they were letting me out of the Halls was monitored, so I couldn’t really say no.”

Quin traced the shape with wide eyes, “Not just ‘go take a nap and three pain relievers, call me in the morning’ kind of sick. Seriously sick. How are they fixing this?”

“Vitamin shots and special diet.” Obi-Wan scrunched his nose up and wiggled closer to plant his face in his friend’s chest. “More than before, even. And I have to get blood work done every week.”

“But they’re not taking you off the active investigations?”

“I can’t go on new missions until my blood work is back where it’s supposed to be.” Obi-Wan said into his shirt, “But Master Tyvokka convinced the healers that taking me off our current investigations would be demoralizing.”

“I get that.” Quin said.

His hand paused in its motion on Obi-Wan’s back, and the younger boy leaned back to see a frown on his partner’s face. “Quin? What’s wrong?”

“You remember Wilfred Domes?”

“A little hard not to. I’m glad Master Tyvokka’s been teaching everyone the advanced barriers, ’cause I still have nightmares.” Obi-Wan admitted. “What happened? I thought everything looked clear for his submission to the criminal hospital.”

Quin winced, and Obi-Wan braced himself. “He was killed. ‘Terminated for disruptive behavior’ was what the RepSec report said. Incident report and the witness statements said that during transport Domes suddenly became unmanageable, argumentative, and violent. He went after one of the guards with his teeth. They subdued him and committed him in the violent patients’ ward at Organa Hospital for the Criminally Insane. By the end of the day the notice was coming down that he was going to be terminated, within 24hours of the incident Wilfred Domes was dead. RepSo didn’t even have time to file for an extension of aid given the documentation mind healers provided that he was not culpable of his own actions.”

How horrifying. RepSec and RepSo were not known for their swift movement, they were governmental agencies of Coruscant. Which meant that someone pushed for it. Obi-Wan sat up, cursing, “We should have thought of it!”

“What?” Quin scowled, “I was comfortable.”

“It’s a cover-up, you nit!” Obi-Wan smacked Quin in the shoulder. “The Sith, or whoever is pulling the strings, is someone powerful enough to place pressure on RepSec to get rid of the scapegoat. They arranged an excuse and then applied enough credits or threats or karking ‘mind control’ that RepSec didn’t mind pushing the paperwork through!”

“Obi-Wan,” Quin whined, avoiding one hit and catching the other hand, “stop it!”

“I just-” He pressed his head to his friend’s shoulder, “I don’t know how Wilfred Domes ended up with the attention of the Sith Lord, but he didn’t deserve it, you know?”

“I do.” Quin said, laying them back down. “I don’t think anyone actually deserves the attention of the Sith. Sith were the boogie men beneath beds that crechemasters warned would come if you didn’t clear your plate. Now they’re real and we don’t know who they are or where they came from or what they’re capable of.”

“And we’re at the front of dealing with that. All the shadows are.” Obi-Wan sighed, “Do you ever think about not being a Shadow as a Knight? There are lots of options.”

“What like a Consular Jedi or joining Jedi Investigations as a Guardian?”

“Yeah. You’re good at investigations. You’d do well as a Guardian.”

“It wouldn’t even take a week for shift master to punt me off the tower.” Quin snorted. “No, I’m a Shadow and I know it.” Obi-Wan felt his friend’s considering gaze, “Do you? I know people keep talking about our future like being Knight partners is a certainty, but I want you to be happy, even if I think we could be amazing together.”

“There’s no guarantee of being Knight partners.” Obi-Wan said, “Given the nature of the current High Council, they might deny us out of spite.”

Quin frowned, “Since when have you thought the High Council spiteful?”

He shrugged, “I grew up. They haven’t exactly been the best examples of Jedi in my experience.”

Quin frowned but let it go, “There’s at least a little guarantee. We’re the most successful Padawan pair in the Shadows. No small part of that is your silver tongue and my ability to swing a lightsaber,” Quin smirked. “But we get harder assignments than most senior padawan pairs. I don’t think either Council would split us up for spite or pettiness. Not when they’d have to explain it.”

Obi-Wan sighed, “I just keep wondering.”

Quin shifted, “Do you keep wondering because you’re unhappy? Or because other Jedi are unhappy the shadows are content to absorb you and all your awesomeness?”

“’Awesomeness’ is not a word.”

“Sure, it is. Stop deflecting.” Quin poked his partner in the arm, “Are you wondering because you’re unhappy? Or because other knights would prefer you favored another future?”

Obi-Wan flushed under his attention, “I just – I don’t know. I hear a lot about the good I could do in a different track. Or the shame I bring on Master Tyvokka. And with the threat of the Sith looming, I just—wonder.”

Quin looked quite serious when Obi-Wan peeked from beneath his lashes. “If it’s about the Sith, that’s one thing. The threat from them is very real. If it’s about making other people happy – don’t. No, Obi-Wan.” He nudges Obi-Wan’s chin back up to face him. “I’m serious. Those assholes, no matter their justification, are just jealous. What right do they have to argue that the good you’re doing with me and Master Tholme is any less than the good they could do with you? You can’t live your life catering to someone else’s happiness.

“No matter what they say, Obi-Wan, they will not forget that you left the Order. That you showed them up, or that you were right. Please don’t let a single thought of placating them linger in your head. What they say about you doesn’t really have anything to do with the good you could do or the shame you bring. Because honestly? Master Tyvokka has raised a lot of Jedi. He doesn’t make bones about what is shameful, and if it is, if you sincerely apologize, do you think he couldn’t bear it?”

Obi-Wan shook his head.

Quin nodded, “Exactly. Master Tyvokka is tough. He took you on against the censure of the High Council. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass what temple gossip thinks of his choices.”

“And you? What do you think? Why are you happy with the shadows?”

“Obi,” Quin gently cradled his hand around Obi-Wan’s face, and the younger boy almost couldn’t stand how precious he felt. “I am a Shadow. I’m obstinate and rash. I have a temper. I can’t wear a political mask or keep my thoughts to myself for love or money. I wouldn’t last a day in the Corps because of the subservient impression most feel they should have, and I have no more talent healing than a Jawa does growing tall. This is what I am. I’m a Shadow. As soon as Master Tholme introduced me to the shadows, I knew I had come home.”

Obi-Wan wanted to feel like he had a home. He’d thought the Temple had been home. Headed to Bandomeer, he’d been furious over leaving it. Abandoned on Melida/Daan because of his own conscience, Obi-Wan had dreamt of it. But having arrived in the shadow of Master Jinn, even months later, it didn’t feel like home anymore. Obi-Wan wondered if it ever would.

Quin’s head jerked forward to hit the back of the couch cushion above Obi-Wan’s head. Tholme was standing above them when Obi-Wan peeked around his companion’s head. “Get up. We’ve got a break in the smuggler’s case.”

“Me too?” Obi-Wan asked, trying to keep the anxiety from his voice, but Tholme

just nodded with a smile. The young teen resisted the urge to cheer.

Quin groaned and rolled off the couch to thump against the floor. “What happened?”

“Research finally tracked down the family and original berth for Mx. Taz. It’s right here on Coruscant.”

*****

Dex’s was popular among Shadows within the Order for a multitude of reasons. Dexter Jettster didn’t judge, he didn’t mind ignoring blood, bruises, or broken bones, and he always had a kind, and sometimes helpful word. In return, the Jedi tried to keep their own business out of the male’s dinner, and maybe didn’t admit to the High Council that the ‘highly trustworthy and confidential source’ was a Besalisk male who offered tired padawans extra pie.

Pie that was definitely not on the approved diet plan. Obi-Wan licked the spoon, regardless.

“We don’t have anything, do we?” Quin asked, laying his head on the table, dragging his spoon through the real whipped cream in circles.

“Well, we have one family that refuses to talk to their smuggler kin.” Which Obi-Wan couldn’t complain about; in any other situation, he’d be patting them on the back for being law-abiding citizens. Well, not literally, but he’d be thinking it.

“One surviving kin that refuses to speak to Jedi.” Unfortunately, not uncommon. “And a third that can barely talk for themselves. So, it certainly looks like a whole bunch of nothing.”

Quin squinted up at him, “Were you always this snarky? Because you just ate the largest cheeseburger and pie I have ever seen, so it can’t be hunger.”

Tholme snorted, “Serves you right. I’ve been apologizing to people for years, Quin.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan caught sight of something familiar at another table. A flash of one of the brightest greens he’d ever seen, worn as the back panel of a leather jacket. It was very, very familiar. Obi-Wan sipped at his fizzy drink, eyes closed in a lightly meditative state as he tried to remember where he had seen that particular jacket.

“Obi?”

“Shh.” He flailed a hand in his fellow Padawan’s direction, “I’m thinking.”

The Iedapha family had worn that shade of green. Aula had panels of it peeking through pleats of her skirt, while her brother had worn it on their jackets, embroidered with a family crest on the back. It was the Iedaphas in the booth across the dinner, and once Obi-Wan was certain of that, he had a thought that just wouldn’t leave him alone. An idea worth risking.

Obi-Wan pushed away the last of his fizzy drink and reached to the pockets of his best friend’s robes. “You still had the notes?”

“What? Yes?” Quin squirmed but resisted opening his eyes, “Obi, it’s not okay to feel me up in front of Master Tholme.”

Tholme snorted, and Obi-Wan gave an exasperated huff. “I’m not feeling you up, Quinlan! I’m looking for the datapad, I had an idea.”

Quin sighed and just handed it off, “Don’t break it, I haven’t uploaded our notes yet.”

“Don’t worry,” Obi-Wan said, climbing over his friend. “I’m not you.”

“Padawan,” Tholme hesitated, taking in the exhausted form of his own Padawan, and the slightly more awake form of Obi-Wan, he sighed. “Just be careful.”

“I’m only going to a booth on the other side of the dinner, Master.” Obi-Wan assured him. “And it’s people I already know. Don’t worry so much.”

“Obi-Wan, I’m learning with you that there’s no such thing as too much worry.” He offered a small smile.

Obi-Wan offered a hesitant smile back before continuing with his plans, unsure what exactly Master Tholme was referring to.

In the background Obi-Wan could hear Master Tholme ask faintly, “What do you think he’s off to now?”

“Who knows?” Quin snorted, “Did Master Tyvokka warn you we’d be constantly pulled along by this Padawan, or was it just luck?”

“Karma.” Tholme said, “I certainly pulled him along often enough as a Padawan.”

Obi-Wan hesitated for a step as he approached the Iedaphas’ booth. “Ah, hello. Iedapha, correct?”

The male Obi-Wan figured was the eldest, Aud, startled a bit when he noticed Obi-Wan standing at the end of their table. “Padawan Kenobi, pull up a chair, can we get you anything?”

Obi-Wan shook his head as he dragged a stool over, “I’m here with my lineage brother and his Padawan,” Obi-Wan gestured towards the table they had in the opposite corner. “We’ve already eaten.”

The Iedaphas followed his direction to see where Quin still had his head against the table and Tholme was rubbing at his eyes as he tried to focus on whatever he was reading.

Bale, sitting on the other side of the table winced, “They, ah, seem tired.”

Obi-Wan nodded, “We’ve been out all day trying to find some leads on a case we’re investigating. It hasn’t gone so well.”

“We might not know much, but we could help if you need it?” Aud offered immediately, and Obi-Wan resisted blowing out a breath in relief.

“That would be great, but first how is Aula?”

The large males got quiet and Zif at the back of the booth leaned forward to say, “She’s doing the best she can; the Healers at the clinic got her a lot of help and she goes back in a week or so for a follow up, but she’s pretty messed up about the whole thing.”

“It doesn’t help that our parents threw her out of the den.” Bale said, not angry, just sad. “I think she would recover faster in the den, but – well, no one really disapproves of what she did, but everyone also agrees that she broke pack law, so she had to leave the den.”

Obi-Wan bit his lip, “Is she okay? I don’t know many people outside the Temple, but I could talk to some of the masters. Someone should know how to help.”

“Little Jedi,” Aud said, petting his spikey hair with an enormous hand, and Obi-Wan tried to resist cringing. “Don’t worry so much. We’re taking care of Aula. She’ll be okay.”

Zif frowned and pressed a little closer, “Are you okay, though? We haven’t seen you at the clinic for many weeks.”

“I’m not a regularly scheduled volunteer,” Obi-Wan admitted. “They rarely let padawans my age join them in the lower levels.”

“A wise choice for you at least.” Aud and Bale exchanged a look before the elder continued, “We’ve heard mixed things about you in the low levels. About a bounty on your head.”

Obi-Wan blinked wide eyed, “A bounty? For what?”

Bale shrugged, “We don’t really know. Some say it’s from one gang or another who want your silver tongue for themselves. But there are darker whispers.”

“There’s a building on the 50th level, in the Carmishi district, that everyone knows is bad news.” Aud snorted, “Salman’yen worked there, though we didn’t know it when he hurt Aula. Just that bad things, evil things, happen there. Children get taken in, and not long after they’re dumped back for the garbage to take. Dead.”

“We don’t want that to happen to you.” Bale said, “So maybe it’s best you avoid the lower levels for now.”

“That might not be possible.” Though Obi-Wan couldn’t deny the heavy sensation of fear sitting in his chest. Because it was no coincidence that the Iedapha spoke and the faces that Obi-Wan saw in his mind’s eye were Ann-Marie DuPont and all the other mutilated children that their investigation had found. Obi-Wan wanted to ask about the building on the 50th level and why no one ever tried to help the children, but he didn’t. He could tell that they didn’t want to discuss it anymore. And honestly, if it was connected to the Sith Lord, like Quin and Obi-Wan thought, steering civilians toward that evil thing would just be a crime.

“We’re looking for information about the Hiddle Coua,” Obi-Wan said, tabbing open the datapad to show pictures of the ship and crew. “They smuggled something into Coruscant that’s dangerous, really dangerous. Because they’re dead and we can’t find anyone who knows anything about it.”

Bale scrolled through the pictures, pausing on the first crime scene photo with a body in it. “They died hard, didn’t they?”

“Very hard.” Obi-Wan admitted, “and in ways that no one deserves to die. We want to give them justice, but we can’t find anyone who will say anything.”

Zif frowned while Aud and Bale went back and forth in their own language. Obi-Wan could tell they were concerned, but the content went over his head. Finally, Bale sighed.

“Zeldeck Amaranth runs a boarding house on the 42nd level,” Aud offered, “Ze might know more.”

“Ze’s got a bad attitude toward practically everyone,” Bale pointed to the head shot of Mx Taz. “But we’ve seen this one there on multiple occasions. Just,” The big Luprasi rubbed thick finger pads across his nose bridge, “be careful. I don’t want to have to tell Aula you got yourself all mixed up in something you shouldn’t have.”

Obi-Wan offered a helpless smile and a shrug, “that’s like the definition of being a Jedi.”

Searching the residency database for Zeldeck, Amaranth led them to a tenement at the very edge of the dusk levels. Deeper even than the mercy missions went. The smell was noxious, and the air was thick with fumes. The three Jedi wore masks and held lights to find their way. It was a hard trip and dangerous even for Jedi.

Tholme knocked on the door, “Zeldeck Amaranth?”

“Leave me alone!” Came the shout, just barely made out through the heavy door. “I ain’t buyin’ ‘n I ain’t sellin’!”

“We’re not selling anything.” Tholme shouted back. “We’re Jedi, looking for kin of the Hiddle Coua crew.”

“Ain’t here. Ain’t never been here. Won’t be here ever.”

“Sure about that?” And Obi-Wan could feel Master Tholme pulling with the Force, just something to make Mx. Amaranth a little more willing. “We could offer an award?”

The resident yanked open the door to peer through the gap the chains allowed, “Look like Jedi. What Jedi want with Zeldeck Amaranth? Jedi don’t come down here.”

“We do if we have a reason,” Tholme offered the still images of the crew from the Hiddle Coua. “Do you know these people?”

The wide-eyed person peering through the gap in the doorway seemed to deflate a little, “They dead?”

Tholme frowned, “Yes. I apologize for informing you this way.”

Obi-Wan could make out the faint impression of motion behind the door.

“I knews it. Maybe not dis, but I knews somet’ing was wrong.”

“We’re looking for their killer,” Tholme said, “And we would appreciate any information you could share.” Tholme paused, “we’d be willing to compensate you for it.”

Ze closed the door and then yanked it open again. Staring up into the much taller face of Master Tholme. Obi-Wan wouldn’t have been surprised if this small, fierce citizen was shorter than Master Yoda. Zir attitude certainly filled the space. “Whats you want wif smuggler killers? Awards?”

Master Tholme frowned at the aggressive stance, “Regardless of the victim’s occupations, murderers should face the law.”

“The day we believe they were killed, the ship’s crew gave something to the Temple.” Obi-Wan said around the impressive form of his lineage brother. “Something very dangerous and we want to make sure that the people who gave to them – who certainly knew the crew would die – are held accountable for it.”

Zeldeck Amaranth scowled up at Obi-Wan before scoffing and leaving the door open to the inside of the apartment. The walls were yellowed with age and dirt. The very air staining the fabric and paper in the rooms. The space was cluttered with garbage and broken bits, the debris of a life taking care of an old building with old parts. The cranky person returned before the Jedi could decide if they should move further into the domicile.

“Know dis.” Ze shoved the datapad, screen cracked, and case chipped into Tholme’s hands. “Cap’n’s log. Ain’t know nothin’ else.” The cranky owner glared up at the adult Jedi, not even really sparing the two padawans a glance. “You pay for it?”

“Yes.” And Tholme dropped a small purse of credits into the open hand. A nice sum for the area the residence was in. And Tholme must have thought better of lingering because he didn’t look at the datapad or let them ask any additional questions from Mx. Amaranth before leaving.

*****

13th day of the 3rd Republic Standard Month, 958 ARR

Except for the Captain’s log, the only other evidence in the investigation into who killed the crew of the Hiddle Coua was the crime scene itself, and until Forensics was finished, Obi-Wan, Quin, and Master Tholme just had to wait. Fortunately, it was only about a week after their adventure in the dim levels when Tholme received the notification from Forensics that they were finished with the ship.

Forensics, which was part of both Research and Investigations, was practically hidden in the depths of the Temple. As he followed his training Master and fellow Padawan, Obi-Wan idly considered how many people knew exactly how much of the Temple was still in use. Initiates were certainly never taught that there were levels and levels of missions that had carved purpose-needed spaces out of the grand architecture of the Temple on Coruscant. As an Initiate he’d seen machine shops and Quartermaster’s supply closets, shuttle bays and the rows upon rows of small rooms that made up the healing halls.

What he’d never seen and what even masters might not even know existed, unless their mission required special assistance, was the levels upon levels of workspaces for the smaller departments of the Order. Or not so small. The special workrooms, salles, and lounges of the Shadows alone took dozens of floors clustered around the Tower of First Knowledge.

On the other side of the Temple, sprawling beneath the Tower of Reconciliation, was Jedi Investigations. As a part of Jedi Investigations, Forensics had about six floors of the biggest rooms the North face of the Temple offered. It was big, busy, and a strange mix of sterile and very dirty.

“Who are we seeing?” Obi-Wan asked as they took another set of stairs downward.

“Zoe Tzeyetek,” Master Tholme said as he signed the padawans into the secure bay marked Forensics 6. “I’ve worked with zir before. I’ve never asked, but ze tends to end up with the messy, dirty, bloody cases.”

“Well,” Quin chuckled darkly, “our case certainly counts.”

The Hiddle Coua sat in the middle of the bay, taking up three of the berths with barely enough space in the rest of the room for the equipment Forensics required. The freighter was probably the biggest type of ship that regularly entered atmosphere. Anything larger and getting back out of the planet’s drag was a much more dangerous prospect.

“Zoe?” Master Tholme called, “You in here?”

“Oh, Tholme!” There was a bang from the other side of the ship and some mostly muffled cursing. “Crap, that hurt.”

“Hello, Zoe.” the Master Shadow offered a hand to the Zabrak on the floor. “You alright?”

“Yeah, really just hurt my pride.” Ze smiled, “So, you the lucky maniacs who caught the Sith case?”

“The duty and privilege of being a Shadow.” He turned and introduced the padawans. “These are my students. My Padawan Quinlan Vos, you’ve met before, and this is my lineage-brother Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

“Wish we weren’t meeting under these circumstances.” Zoe said, “I’m senior forensic tech, Zoe Tzeyetek. It was to my great annoyance to be on call when they brought this sucker in. We’re still not through with processing, but I think we’ve got the major details you will be interested in.”

Ze motioned them over to a projection of a model of the ship. “The Hiddle Coua was a ZH-25 Quester-class freighter. Upon which four people were found murdered, one — Captain Taz — was found tortured. Autopsy revealed that time of death occurred approximately around 3pm on 12th of the 9th month. Which you all probably know because you were the ones who called it in.”

Master Tholme nodded, “We received a copy of the autopsy report when it was originally submitted.”

Zoe moved to the control panel and shifted the holograph to show the back hatch of the ship, “Then we’ll get down to the specifics. Traditional forensic techniques located a virus in the ship’s systems. There was an automated takeover of the ship at 2:30pm, when the pilot attempted to engage liftoff.”

“Which would have been around the time Mx. Taz arrived back at the ship, correct?”

“Correct. We could catch zir on a half dozen security cams between the Temple and the berth where you found the ship; the takeover likely happened within minutes of Mx. Taz’s last appearance on cam. The virus was designed to look like a malfunction in one of the calibration indicators for the artificial gravity system. It wouldn’t have been uncommon on a ship this old. These things practically fall out of the sky.”

“Besides the bodies, how do you know it was a virus instead of an actual issue?” Obi-Wan ignored his partner as the older boy leaned toward the Zabrak to whisper, ‘sorry, he’s new.’ “Did you actually find the bug?”

Zoe frowned, “No. The virus was gone, but we could see where it had been. A lot of damage to the systems run by terminal. In addition, the ship was in practically perfect shape. Old but very well taken care of. Just to make sure, we took apart the artificial grav simulators for the ship and there was no problem with the calibration indicators.”

Obi-Wan nodded. It wasn’t a surprise that the perpetrator had that type of tech; they’d left almost no sign at the hatch. A virus that shows as maintenance problems wasn’t much of a stretch.

“How was the hatch opened?” Master Tholme asked, moving on. “I doubt we would have even noticed it had been tampered with if we were not already on guard.”

“It was a tool called a dweller. They’re a little like mouse droids.” The Forensics tech said as ze brought up an image of the small droid, “They have one specific job, drill down into the lock of a hatch and pull the code to unlock it. It wasn’t on the ship when it was collected.”

Quin frowned, “How expensive are those things? Rare, right? Just the programming alone has to be expensive.”

“Black market? Three quarters of a million credits for one.” Zoe sighed, “They’re the tools of assassins. Virtually impossible to track. RepSec doesn’t even know who sells them, just that they exist. And they do the type of damage that we found on the Hiddle Coua’s hatch.”

“Assassins specifically,” Obi-Wan considered, “but not slavers, pirates, or thieves; I would have thought otherwise.”

“But slavers, pirates, even thieves, they all have their own tricks, most of which center on manipulating people, not tech.” Quin pointed out, “Can’t imagine a slaver or even a thief is going to want to shell out 750 thousand credits when a pulled spark plug, or a bought guard is going to get the same result.”

“So, someone hired a trained assassin, an excellent one really, to get on board and obtain something. Information, from the state they left the captain. But can it really just be about the holocron?” Master Tholme questioned.

“It has to be.”

“Obi?” Quin nudged him gently, “What are you thinking?”

“Extortion and blackmail require the targets be alive.” Obi-Wan said, staring at the markers on the model where bodies had been found. “Likewise, for a hostage ransom. It had to be an item they were looking for. And the holocron is really the only thing Mx Taz was transporting worth that kind of pursuit.”

“I’m not arguing,” Master Tholme sighed, “but do you have more proof?”

He didn’t. Just the niggling feeling he’d learnt that meant someone was going to shoot. Just the hint he’d caught something in body language or tone or wording that suggested whatever was happening was about to go south fast. Quin was beyond talented at rotating pieces of a puzzle to get a picture, it was why he was better at coding. But Obi-Wan was better at people. And something—training, experience, or the Force—said that the assassin who pulled out Mx Taz’s fingernails, was looking for the holocron.

“Not anything I can put into words.”

Master Tholme hummed a moment before nodding, “If you find the words, let me know.”

“What did Forensics say about the ship?” Quin asked.

“The crew died hard. Very hard.” Zoe sighed, “There was a miasma of ill will and evil intent that had barely begun to get settled before the crew was killed. They were grieving and their fear and impotent anger, and bitterness at not being able to do anything, is just under what they were feeling at the time of their deaths.”

“Anything special about that?”

“Not particularly. Bitterness, anger, spite—from the captain—the normal cocktail of emotions that sentient and sapient species go through when facing certain death.”

“Was the weapon a lightsaber, like we thought?” Quin asked.

Obi-Wan gave his friend an incredulous look. “How could it have been anything else?”

“First rule, Obi! Never assume.” Quin said with his nose so far up in the air Obi-Wan wondered if he needed to watch out for snot, the fool. “It looked like, smelt like, and probably felt like a lightsaber wound. Doesn’t mean it was.”

Zoe interrupted before Obi-Wan could argue it; to everyone’s benefit. “There are very few things that leave wounds like lightsabers. In this case, Forensics can confirm that the weapon was a lightsaber.” Ze winced, “and that the crystals were bled.”

Quin whistled lowly, “If it looks like a Sith, acts like a Sith, and smells like a Sith?”

“Must be a Sith.” Obi-Wan finished quietly.

“Unfortunately,” Master Tholme said, breaking the pale over their small group, “the High Council isn’t likely to be convinced by such logic. We need more, like the Captain’s log.”

Unfortunately, regardless of multiple incidents of nagging, Research was still no closer to deciphering the log’s text. Whoever had managed the encryption for the backup had done their job thoroughly.

Chapter 8: The Festival of Stars

1st day of the 4th Republic Standard Month, 958 ARR

“It stinks that Research hasn’t cracked the cypher on the Captain’s log yet.” Obi-Wan sighed.

It had been four months since the small Shadow team of Master and padawans had delivered Captain Taz’s log to Research and there had been no further movement on the case. No new tips had come up from the Luprasi; the rash of disappearing Force sensitive children and their later mutilated bodies had stopped. Plo was convinced that the feeling he had been following on Search that so frequently had led to dead ends must have been the kidnapped children. But the Sith had clearly caught on after the mess with Wilfred Domes, because no matter how hard Plo tried, there was nothing new to find.

It was the first day of the Festival of Stars, the one traditional Jedi holiday that almost all the Republic celebrated right along with them. For all that space travel was a regular part of everyone’s lives, it was still no minor accomplishment that their ancestors had left their planets. It was worth celebrating. No matter how Obi-Wan felt about the looming threat of the Sith and the increasingly anxious testimony of his Cenned.

“I still think that at least some of that cypher is just bad spelling.” Quin said, looking both ways and tugging his partner into an alcove. “Hello there.”

“Quin!” Obi-Wan blushed at the older teen, wriggling a little, both excited and uncomfortable with the feelings his partner incited in him. “You can’t just keep pulling me into dark corners!”

Quin laughed, “Sure I can, Obi. I’ve probably been pulling you into dark corners since we met, and I have no intention of stopping.”

Obi-Wan wrinkled his nose, “Well, I can’t dispute that.”

“Right?” Quin grinned, his eyes bright with good humor and his presence warm with soft, genuine affection and attraction. “Obi-Wan, before we go, I wanted to say-”

“Quin! Obi! Where did you go?” Garen shouted out in the hallway, and the duo vaguely heard Bant’s voice, but they couldn’t make out her words.

Obi-Wan physically pulled his best friend’s attention back by dragging Quin’s face back. “He can wait a minute. What did you want to say?”

Quin’s focus wasn’t entirely on Obi-Wan, aware that Galen and Bant were coming closer. But the Kiffar teen pressed a kiss to Obi-Wan’s lips, slow and hot, leaving Obi-Wan feeling precious and just on the verge of heated. “I can wait.”

“No, it’s okay, they can-”

“No, Obi.” He pressed a gentle kiss to Obi-Wan’s fingertips as he pulled away. “That’s what I meant; I can wait.”

And of course, that was when Quin stepped out of the alcove. Leaving Obi-Wan a confused mess of jumbled feelings. A little frustrated, and a little confused and increasingly suspicious that his partner was alluding to desires that Obi-Wan was just starting to feel. The younger teen had honestly never felt the gap between their ages more. Currently, Quin was three years older than Obi-Wan. Quin had been chosen as a Padawan young and been exposed to much more than Obi-Wan had been, no matter the stint in slavery or the near-standard year he had spent on Melida-Daan.

“Garen, what’s up?”

Obi-Wan heard the soft tread of their friends just outside the alcove, and he shoved his uncomfortable feelings to the back of his mind for the moment. Perhaps they might have made time before Garen tracked them down, but it wasn’t now.

“A year! I’ve been gone a karking year and the temple may as well not be recognizable!” Garen scowled, tugging an unwilling Bant behind him.

“Things haven’t changed that much, Garen.” Obi-Wan protested, sliding out from the alcove.

“Really?! I went to sign up for the next quarter’s classes and there were four times as many choices as usual!” The other Padawan crossed his arms, “I thought for sure my Master and I would get back and I’d have one extra-curricular option! It wasn’t like the choices were amazing last year either.”

Obi-Wan had to admit, when put like that, perhaps the changes that had seemed so slow were quite startling.

“I mean, sure, it’s weird,” Quin agreed, “but it’s way better than not having any options at all.”

“It would have been nice to have a warning at least!” Garen huffed as he observed how Obi-Wan and Quin acknowledged Bant a bit colder than they would have a year ago.

“Okay, enough. What the hell is going on? Does this have something to do with Siri Tachi blowing us off? And you two!” He pointed a finger at the two padawans. “You usually wait for us. We always spend the Festival of Stars together!”

“Well, we figured that wasn’t on the books anymore. Considering that Bant hasn’t spoken to us in months.” Quin drawled, staring at the Mon Calamari just as hard as she was staring straight.

“What?” Garen gaped, “Why?”

Bant pulled at the webbing between her fingers, “I still haven’t been taken by a Master, Garen, and I didn’t want anyone to think I-”

“What?” Garen scowled, “Supported your friend? Were loyal? Compassionate? Understood that forgiveness shouldn’t come with public shaming?”

Obi-Wan stepped forward. He wasn’t happy with Bant, but just as his choices shouldn’t have led to public shaming, humiliation shouldn’t be tossed on Bant either. “Hey, Garen, that’s enough. Bant has a right to be concerned. Whether or not it’s appropriate, people judge—even Jedi do it. Bant is allowed to make poor choices.”

Galen scowled at the Mon Calamari with tears building in her big eyes. He huffed. “Will you apologize?”

Bant nodded hurriedly, reaching her hands out. “I’m sorry, Obi, Quin. I’m just-”

“Scared.” Obi-Wan nodded and stepped forward to give his friend a hug. “It’s okay. I understand. I even understood then. Doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.”

Bant grasped hard, back at Obi-Wan, “I promise I won’t do it again.”

Obi-Wan just smiled and stepped back to let the two grumpier boys accept Bant’s apology. She meant it, which was a step in the right direction. And perhaps some help finding a Master would give her some support to avoid falling into this trap again.

“So. We’re headed to the Chancellor’s parade, right? We’ll have to head out soon, we’ve probably missed all the good seats.” Garen said, moving on quickly. He’d always had a temper like flash paper, easily lit but it burned out fast.

Obi-Wan shared a mischievous grin with his partner, “Actually, we had a different idea.”

Quin shrugged, “How willing are you to try something new?”

Bant and Garen were more than willing to take a step off the well-trod road and to Obi-Wan, watching his friends react to the low-light levels was almost as enjoyable as watching the decorations himself.

Here in cut out foil hanging from street signs, was the March on the Stars, when sentients first made their way into the stars. There at the street corner, next to a vendor selling pastries with hot spices, was a storyteller enthusiastically exclaiming to younglings of several species about the Hunt for a Home. The story of how the first sentients, cast about from each other and among the stars, landed on new planets and made new homes.

There were younglings in tiny sets of pretend Jedi robes and parents who grinned and waved as Obi-Wan and Quin walked by.

Most Jedi didn’t believe the story about the First Sentients; though science, even now, wasn’t quite advanced enough to decide. So many species with so many looks and needs, and yet most could interbreed successfully. Did that mean that they were once all from one group? Or did it just mean that sentient life developed in a pattern?

Twi’lek believed that they were all descended from the Great Dancer. Whose footsteps flung the stars throughout the universe. And Togruta held their Huntress Mother up high, who left them to hunt the great darkness to protect them. And according to Plo, life on Doran started in caves, searching for the light that led out. And his research said that Stewjoni believed they were children of the planet and the produce of the planet was a gift from the planet.

But whatever the origin story was, the Festival of Stars was a fun time to gather with friends. People were out and about. Children laughing and calling out. Communities in the undercity were sharing what they had, so that everyone had a little. Everyone was celebrating hope, even if they knew that the gloom would return at the end of the week.

Of course, assholes could ruin anything.

In the reflection of a local shop’s window, the Padawan could see someone lurking in an alleyway that was partially hidden by two vendors with fabric awnings. Obi-Wan would bet it was a male, and statistically it was probably human. Whoever it was, they were up to no good.

A quick look told Obi-Wan that Quin had already noticed the being in question. Garen was immersed in an argument about ships and podracers; Bant had stopped by a vendor selling herbs. A local hedge-healer Obi-Wan vaguely recognized. Bant might never leave. Perfect timing, really, for Quin and Obi-Wan to do their job. Garen and Bant might not even notice.

The being reached out to snag the straps of a passing female’s purse, and Quin grabbed his wrist instead.

“Hey, man, what’re you-” The mugger, an adolescent male who appeared human, bit his tongue when Quin pressed the end of his lightsaber next to his heart.

It was always amusing when Quin caught muggers. Obi-Wan was far more likely to just hold them and call RepSec. Quin liked to let them go, but not before he made them regret all their life choices. Obi-Wan had seen Quin pull it off on a surprising number of occasions.

“You know, if you need help there are missions that offer it.” The older Padawan offered as he frisked the mugger.

“Nah. Nah, I’m good.” The kid, because for all that he was older than either Padawan he certainly wasn’t acting it, broke out into a sweat. Obi-Wan had to bite back a snort at exactly how much amusement his partner was getting out of this, the Force practically danced from Quin’s mirth, filling the shadowed corner and into the street making passers-by grin and laugh without knowing why.

“Really? Because I caught you about to steal someone’s purse.” Quin pressed his lightsaber a little harder into his victim’s side. “You sure you don’t need help?”

“No. Nope, I’m fine. Suddenly rethinking all my life choices, but totally willing to turn over a new leaf.”

Obi-Wan stepped forward, moving out of the street traffic to ask, “What is it? Bad job history? Drugs? Alcohol? Prostitutes?”

The mugger blinked, “What? No. It was a dare.”

Obi-Wan wanted to say that he’d never heard something so ridiculous, but this didn’t even top the list nowadays. And he might have been skeptical, but Quin was easing up. The psychometric stared at the would-be-mugger before groaning.

“You’re an upsider. Let me guess, you came down to the lower levels because you heard RepSec doesn’t patrol here?”

The mugger frantically shook his head, “No. No way. That’s stupid. Who would ever believe that? I just -” He sighed and hung his head. “Yes. Gods, yes. It was stupid I’ll never do it again.”

“Got money for a cab?” Obi-Wan asked dryly.

“What? Why?”

“We’re not leaving you down here.” Quin snorted. “I think you’re sincere. Obi thinks you’re sincere, but there’s no guarantee. And RepSec might not be down here, but they are.” He jerked his head and pointed out the three lurking Luprasi. “Hey, Aud.”

“Quin. Obi-Wan.” The big male gave the two padawans a quiet nod. “Pity you’re working on a holiday.”

The mugger crumpled like a wet tissue, “Oh. Okay. Yeah. I’m sorry. So sorry. I’ll never do it again. Please, please, please, please let me go home.”

Zif huffed from where he stood leaning against the alley wall as Quin pulled the mugger away, “Never let us have fun.”

Obi-Wan stared up at the much larger male skeptically. He’d like to say he’d gotten to know the other well in the past several months. The Iadaphas had become something like Quin and his go-to source of information on anything happening in the undercity. “Your idea of fun tends to leave people in need of bone replacements, instead of just new clothes.”

“Obi, are you here? I thought—Oh,” Bant blinked up at the giant forms of the Luprasi males who towered over all the padawans, standing a good foot and half taller than the galactic average; Obi-Wan had just gotten used to it. The Mon Calamari offered a shy but honest smile. “Are these friends of yours, Obi?”

Bale grunted, “Just acquaintances. We came looking for you, Kenobi.”

“I was just saying hello, Bant.” Obi-Wan smiled at his friend and walked towards the entrance of the alley. He could take a hint. “I’ll be right there. Please try to keep Garen from starting a mob!”

The Mon Calamari huffed, turning back to the street front. “Asking for the impossible, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan let his smile fade as he turned back to the small gang that even now was convinced they owed him something. By now, Obi-Wan was certain it was the other way around. He owed them. “What can I do for you, Iedapha?”

Bale reached into his jacket and offered a small bag of purple powder. “This is getting on the street. That asshole Salman’yen was peddling it.”

“We had no problem shaking him down for some,” Zif snorted.

Aud frowned, “It’s tasteless and added to any sort of liquid it dissolves in seconds. Calling it Hate, on the streets.”

Obi-Wan carefully took the thin plastic bag and held it up to the light. It shimmered, and in the Force it felt no more dangerous than sugar. “What does it do?”

“Incite violence.” Bale stepped forward and said quietly, “Remember that gang shooting at the cafe months ago?”

“Yes?”

“No proof, but someone said this stuff was in the coffee they were served.” Bale stepped back. “When we got some, well, it needed to go to someone who could do something.”

Obi-Wan carefully placed the zipped back in an inner tunic pocket. “I can make sure that happens.”

Aud patted the Padawan on the shoulder, “We know that Obi-Wan. We’re not concerned.”

“Obi, are you done?” Garen said from the alley entrance. “I found something!”

“Garen!” Bant complained, “Interrupting is rude, you- you- marshmallow!”

Garen raised a brow, “Pretty sure that’s not an insult, Bant.”

“At least not one he’s going to learn from,” Quin said, sneaking up behind their friends and scaring them.

“I should go,” Obi-Wan said with a sigh and a shake of his head. “Before they break something. Or each other. I hope you enjoy the holiday, Aud.”

The Iedapha nodded back, “You too, little Jedi.”

“What was that?” Quin asked as he wrapped an arm around Obi-Wan, following their friends over to the exhibition podracer display Garen was salivating over.

Obi-Wan patted his partner on the chest, “I’ll tell you when we get back. It’ll wait for now.”

“Alright.” Quin pressed a soft kiss to Obi-Wan’s crown and tightened his arm. “I won’t wait long though.”

“Hopefully, you won’t have to.”

“Quin! Obi-Wan! What do you think of this?!”

When Obi-Wan looked behind him, the Iedapha family had disappeared. While he didn’t forget his promise, the rest of the holiday was filled with laughter and hot food from questionable places. The bag of mystery powder kept safe against his chest as the night ran long.

Tholme stood at the top of the stairs when the four students finally fell out of an air car at the end of the evening. “Did you all have fun?”

Bant’s grin was wide enough to hurt just looking at it, “It was great!”

“I loved the foil stars!” Garen laughed, “I think they’re even better than the Chancellor’s parade! And my Master would be much happier to help me with those than trying to steal fireworks.”

Obi-Wan bit his lip when Tholme directed a skeptical look towards them, “You took them downside?”

“We were planning on a date,” Quin shrugged. “They kind of invited themselves along.”

Bant flushed an interesting shade of purple, and Galen gaped at them. “A date! You guys are dating?”

“We’re… enjoying time together on shared activities.” Obi-Wan moved over and closed his friend’s mouth. “We’re trying to see if this thing is worth it.”

“That’s like the definition of dating,” Garen grumbled. “Don’t you think it will be weird when you stop dating?”

“You assume we will. Obi and I are highly compatible.” Quin pointed out. “Master Tyvokka and Master T’un have already sent us on several missions that even senior padawans aren’t normally given. They’re trying us out as knight partners, and everyone knows that the best partners share even ah, intimacies.”

Bant turned to Tholme, her eyes a little wider than normal. “Is that true?”

“That they’re being trialed as a Knight pair already? Yes. That they consistently complete tough missions that most senior padawans can’t? Also, true.”

“I thought knight pairs were myths?” Garen frowned.

“No.” The Master Shadow shot the Padawan pilot a frown. “The Shadows work almost exclusively in pairs for their own mental health and safety. And many Jedi who settle in the Temple have discreet affairs with other Jedi. Nowhere in the code has it ever banned love. But it is a powerful emotion, and it can be difficult to compartmentalize duty from emotion.”

“How do they do it then?” Bant asked as the group followed Master Tholme into the Temple.

“Most Jedi figure it out on their own, but Quin and Obi are actually working their way through a series of guided meditations available for training Shadow pairs. It tests their compatibility and their compartmentalization by throwing them into fictional situations,” Tholme clarified after a pause, “They often must pick between harm to their partner and losing the mission in these meditations. Of course, mission success is not always guaranteed.”

“Obi shot me once.” Quin danced out of his way as Obi-Wan tried to swat him.

“Stop being so dramatic.” He huffed, “I shot through you, and you would have done the same. Besides, you cut off one of my limbs!”

“To save your life!” Quin protested, “Besides, the holo replaced it with a snazzy mechanical limb.”

Obi-Wan grumbled, rubbed at an injury that had never happened. “It kept pinching.”

Bant and Galen exchanged wide-eyed looks, “They’re fully immersive?”

Obi-Wan frowned, “When you’re in it, you know it’s not necessarily real, but you still get swept up into the situation the meditation provides.”

“You feel pain and hunger and fear.” Tholme smiled lightly, “Though the trauma of the situation fades after you leave.”

“Do you think they could be made available to other padawans?” Garen asked, “How great could it be to face something in real life and have been exposed to it before? How many lives could be saved when padawans aren’t facing their first hostage situation without their Master in the field?”

Obi-Wan made a mental note to find time to talk with his friend. Garen didn’t sound upset, if anything he was excited for the prospect, but sometimes stress hit at the strangest times. And that was an oddly exact hypothetical scenario.

“Perhaps.” Tholme considered, “But it is not my decision. We’d probably have to consult Master T’un.”

Bant tugged Galen forward, “Then let’s go!”

*****

Every year the Chancellor hosted an elaborate party and meal to celebrate the Festival of Stars. A charitable organization was highlighted, and their staff would share their efforts and why their cause could benefit from the Senate’s attention. Then the Chancellor’s chosen activities would pry money from the overpaid and corrupt Senators for the benefit of the charity.

This year, to the surprise of many, the Chancellor’s chosen charity was the Jedi Order’s own Council of Services and Aid, and they had highlighted the mercy mission to the low light levels. Tyvokka had received an invitation to the event months ago and had badgered his lineage brother, T’un, and former Padawan, Tholme, to join him. Only a crazy person would not bring reinforcements when faced with the most highly placed Senators and businesspeople of the galaxy. It didn’t help that Tyvokka found most of the masters on the Order’s High Council to be ridiculous, not at all appropriate backup for such an event.

He even had an excuse to bring them that didn’t involve lying or having his lightsaber confiscated. Since Master Che and the rest of those who normally volunteered with the mercy missions had declined to attend, Tholme really was the only one who had enough experience with the mission to speak for them. Regardless of how flat most of the public found his affect.

“Once more into the breach,” T’un muttered as the three made their way into the elaborate float that was the Chancellor’s seat in the parade for the Festival of Stars.

Tyvokka snorted, but carefully didn’t remark when both of his lineage member’s first choice of beverages was alcoholic.

“Ah, Master Tyvokka!” The Chancellor greeted enthusiastically. “I was so pleased to find out that you had accepted the invitation. Especially when I see that your Padawan has contributed to much of the outstanding work done with the mission to the lower levels.”

And there, on the large screen embedded in the wall, was indeed Obi-Wan. Larger than life, the redhead was seated at the negotiation table. It looked like the marriage agreement from several months ago. Probably the least controversial aspect of Obi-Wan’s work with the mission. Tyvokka smiled, he knew his Padawan was especially pleased about how that situation turned out.

“Thank you, Chancellor, for this opportunity. It is truly without equal. This gift will allow so many possibilities for the mission to expand into new districts.” Tyvokka said and then proceeded to lie his ass off. “I know Master Vokara Che, who runs the mission, was extremely disappointed to be missing this. But a Healer’s job is never done.”

“Indeed.” The Chancellor nodded, “I was surprised—or perhaps disappointed is better—to find out that your Padawan wasn’t coming. Hopefully, the lad isn’t ill?”

As though any Jedi Master worth their kyber crystal would willingly expose their students to members of the Senate without the High Council’s interference. “Obi-Wan is still quite young, and he made plans to celebrate the holiday with his friends. I thought it better that he enjoys the free time instead of plotting some manner of mischief here.”

“I have heard so much concerning the maturity of your Padawan,” A Muun said, joining the conversation with a slightly wooden smile to the Chancellor. “Why his work with the mercy mission is only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve heard that he single-handedly brought peace to Melida/Daan. Truly, the work of a saint to accomplish what he did.”

“Ah, Director Demask,” the Chancellor smiles, “may I introduce you to Jedi Master Tyvokka? Master Tyvokka, this is Hego Demask, Director of the Banking Clan. He was the one who introduced me to the work the Temple’s mercy mission is doing.”

Hego Demask was a Muun of no mean height. Even for the towering species, he was very tall. There was a papery and faded quality to his skin that only came to Muun in advanced age. His mouth was pressed into a small smile that lacked warmth, and his eyes were flat and blank. Even in this cesspool of corruption and insincerity, the Muun made Tyvokka’s hackles rise. He offered a small bow and resolved to keep watch. There was something more going on here than he could see.

“Obi-Wan would say that he was simply in the right place at the right time to help, no sainthood needed, just the Force. Though, I’m quite impressed,” Tyvokka replied. “Most among the elite of Coruscant are content to ignore the undercity and our efforts. How did you hear about the mission?”

“I own several buildings in the undercity,” He made a small moue of distaste. “Of course, it wasn’t the undercity when I bought them. Such a pity that progress also came with such grime.”

“You are quite old yourself, Master Tyvokka.” The Chancellor remarked, “Have you found the progress of time as… disappointing?”

T’un snorted even as Tyvokka sighed. “My apologies, it’s just that, in the Temple compared to Master Yoda’s advanced age, everyone is considered young.” The Master Shadow shook his head, “And woe to anyone who wants to complain about the changes. Master Yoda’s opinions on such are well known.”

“And wearying, I would assume.” Director Demask said, flagging down a server with refreshments. “I have found that as an elder Muun, my sentiments of such can bring more conflict to the organization than simply listening.”

“I can’t say that it is any different in the Temple.” Tyvokka remarked with little heat or discomfort in his voice. It was more than he wanted to share, but these males were not stupid. To say otherwise would be a terribly obvious lie. He offered T’un a fresh glass as he took one for himself when Demask offered to call for something else. “Thank you, Director, but even this is better quality than we often see at the temple.”

“Does the Order require you abstain?” The Chancellor gave a mock shudder, “how horrible.”

“Moderation, not abstinence.” T’un said taking a savoring sip, “but the Temple is large and the Order that much more so. The resources that could buy a single bottle of this Chantenel wine could fund ship repairs or clinical trials. If Masters want such luxuries, well, we’re all given stipends.”

“Though it would take quite a bit of saving for a bottle of this,” Tyvokka sipped. Chantenel wine was always so sweet. Too sweet. A mild warning threaded through the Force at the half-formed thought that such a powerful flavor could hide a dangerous taste.

The Chancellor gave a great laugh, “Master Jedi, I promise. You ever feel the need to indulge, you just come visit me!” The male winked, “We can keep it between the two of us.”

“And the closest dozen of your staff?” T’un asked with a smirk. “Perhaps I’ll take you up on it.”

Tyvokka hid a smirk behind the rim of his wineglass. He always forgot how good T’un was at schmoozing with the elites. Tyvokka took a moment to breathe deep and admire the elaborate array of shining metal and precious stones that bedecked the celebrations of the upper levels. The float in front of the Chancellor’s was from the Trade Union. A Keli Ra symphony was arranged on one of the lower tiers, and near the top a flag of vibrant dark blue Musha silk was the backdrop for a field of diamonds pretending to be stars.

“It’s beautiful, is it not?” Director Demask asked, moving closer. “The opulence of the elite is a wondrous thing. The foundation of my clan’s very existence is built on the greed of the upper echelon and their all-consuming desire for more. But perhaps it is not without its own graces.” The Muun gestured to the surrounding charitable event. “After all, without it your mission wouldn’t be receiving near as much support tonight.”

“All the same,” Tyvokka said, “I think I’d rather the stars be real.”

With a slight bow, the Wookie moved back to where the Chancellor had pulled Tholme in after his speech.

“I will, of course, be writing a very generous check,” the male was saying, though the Chancellor’s attention had already moved on to the small group of Jedi and Senators over by the balcony. “But if you’ll excuse me, I really must go speak with Senator Palpatine and Master Dapatian.”

“It appears you’re in luck,” T’un said with a small smile. “If you hurry, you might catch them both in the same place.”

“Very rare,” the Chancellor laughed, and with a series of polite nothings the leader of the galactic republic left them to politic with much more powerful beings than he.

Tyvokka puffed out a breath, “We should be coming up on the Temple, what do you say we get off this traveling circus?”

T’un knocked back the last of his glass, “I’d say you read my mind.”

Tholme checked his watch, “the younglings should be just getting back from the undercity. I made Quin promise he’d be back by hour past dark.”

“We can settle down in the Lounge.” T’un offered, “Watch the fireworks from the observation balcony in our sleep robes.”

“Sounds wonderful.” Tyvokka said sincerely.

The two older members of the lineage left Tholme at the steps of the Temple to pick up the younglings. No use going further into the Temple when he would just have to turn around and go back to check on them. The lineage brothers continued their slow ambling walk through the Temple, when Tyvokka saw something.

In a quiet little meditation room on an equally quiet side corridor, Qui-Gon Jinn was teaching an Initiate the proper ceremony for tea, and his only chaperon was Yoda. It should have been infuriating. The Council of First Knowledge oversaw the protection of all initiates in the Temple. They don’t sanction a Master or lay down a decree for their own health. Instead, Tyvokka was just sad.

Tyvokka reached out to open the door, but T’un stopped him.

“It’s the Festival of Stars, Tyvokka.” his lineage brother frowned, “do you really want to spend the rest of the evening arguing with Yoda? We had plans, cotton candy and popcorn, and those little pastry puffs with whipped cream and chocolate. Fireworks? Watching Obi-Wan be oblivious while Quin tries to sneakily cuddle? Any of this ringing a bell?”

“Obi-Wan’s not that oblivious.” Tyvokka said with a sigh, deciding that just this once he’d let it go.

“Shhh.” T’un laughed, “I’ve got five credits on whether Quin gets elbowed in the nose this time!”

Tyvokka shook his head and turned around to leave. If there was one truth about the Shadows, it was that there was nothing that could not be bet, wagered, or lost. As an active Shadow, Tyvokka had always carried a pack of cards and he knew Tholme did the same. T’un still preferred an obscure dice game, something about odds and evens. A little piece of light, even during the darkest times.

“Master Tyvokka,” Yoda said, hobbling after them, “A moment you have for me?”

Tyvokka wondered what the old troll would do exactly if he said no. Outside the Temple, Jedi could be sanctioned for un-Jedi like behavior if they were rude without cause, but inside the Temple, the general belief was that the Councils would ignore anything that didn’t come to blows.

He took a deep breath, “Yes, Master Yoda?”

“Appeal to you for my Grandpadawan, I do. Well matched is he with Siri Tachi, good for him, she could be.”

“No.” T’un scowled, frowning even fiercer at the old Master when Yoda blinked at him like T’un wasn’t a decorated Master, wasn’t a member of the Council of First Knowledge, and hadn’t handed Jinn the sanction himself. “Padawans are not mental health bandages, you-”

Tyvokka slapped a hand over his lineage brother’s mouth, insults solved nothing. “Master Jinn has been sanctioned by the Council of First Knowledge for doing his last Padawan willing and known harm. Unless you can give me written documentation from a mind healer that Jinn has undergone treatment and understands what he has done wrong—no. The ruling stands.

“Not to mention that Master Jinn has only recently left the Halls.” He frowned at the two forms peeking from the meditation room. “Xanatos duCrion did him a devastating level of damage, Master Yoda. I’m not comfortable giving him custody of a youngling until a mind healer can tell me he’s seen serious improvement.”

Yoda appeared very disgruntled, frowning and with ears lowered, but he did not appear like he was going to force the issue.

Tyvokka turned to leave, ready to finish his celebration on a much better note. Except the light tap-tap-tap of a youngling running came after them.

“Master Tyvokka,” Initiate Siri Tachi brushed up against him, “I know you’re busy, but will you give your blessing so Master Jinn can take me as his Padawan?”

Tyvokka stared at the smirking troll in the background and wondered if the older Jedi had forgotten what it meant to discipline a student. Molding a Padawan into a Knight was no easy feat. It was why it was a requirement for being a Master. Which meant that protecting a Padawan, or in this case an Initiate, could require hurting them. Saying ‘no’ was just as important as saying ‘yes’.

“Initiate Tachi, you want to be a Consular Jedi?” Tyvokka gave her a skeptical look as he crouched before the young female. “By all reports, you’re not the most diplomatic of initiates.”

Siri stared defiantly back at him. “I’m only twelve; I’ve got lots of years to learn how to be diplomatic.”

“So, you do. If this is what you want, then we can schedule a meeting, perhaps consider which knights or masters might be open to accepting a student.” Tyvokka went to rise, but Tachi was fast, and she’d fisted her hand in his robes and was now glaring at him.

“Master Jinn wants to train me.”

“Master Jinn can’t be trusted with the wellbeing of a youngling.” Master T’un said bluntly.

“It was only Obi-Wan!” Siri scowled and stomped her foot, but her anger did not hide her tears. “He left the order; Master Jinn was right to leave him there! He couldn’t be trusted. You shouldn’t have accepted him back. Obi-Wan should’ve been left on the streets! To die!”

Tyvokka removed his clothing from the Initiate’s grip. “What awful things to say about a person you grew up with.” She flinched. “I will arrange a meeting for you to examine all of your options, because I am quite certain diplomacy will be a hard path for you.”

He examined the child—because for all that Quin and Obi-Wan were within two years of her; they had the stern educator that was the greater galaxy to teach them maturity—and considered what to say. “As for taking Obi-Wan as a student, I have no regrets. He has a profound and incredible relationship with the Force that I would never have him ignore. He has learned a lesson that usually takes many many years to learn.”

“What?” Siri furiously wiped moisture off her cheeks.

“The Force is not kind, it is not gentle, it does not love as you and I love. And if it is necessary, the Force will break your heart.” Tyvokka paused. “It can be the task of a lifetime to learn how to mend that break. If I could, I would not have had Obi-Wan learn that this young, but that he lives and he succeeded? I am overwhelmingly proud of him.”

Even this quiet corridor was not without traffic, and whether it was T’un or some compassionate bystander, Crechemaster Arraan had arrived in time to hear the end of Tyvokka’s lecture, and he stepped forward with a sigh.

“Come, now, Siri Tachi. You will have the attention of some of the best to find you a teacher.” The Crechemaster held out his hand.

“I wanted Master Jinn!” No matter how much anger she hid behind, she couldn’t quite hide the way her voice trembled.

“One day, my dear, you will understand and thank us for this.” The human male said, carefully guiding her away with a gentle but firm hand.

Further down the hall, Tyvokka could just make out the ears high on Yoda’s head and the wide eyes on his face. It made Tyvokka wonder all over again, exactly how much Yoda had raised his padawans over the years. If some of Qui-Gon Jinn’s problems didn’t stem from problems Yoda had grown in his own lineage. Cin Drallig had made a point of informing them that even after giving the news of his Padawan’s ill state to the far away Watchman, Dooku had not requested to return to the Temple, not even for a quick visit.

Considering the weak and weary figure leaning in the doorway of the meditation room, Tyvokka sighed and walked away. He could not even imagine the struggle Jinn faced with barely any support from his lineage. Tyvokka knew he would have been devastated if similar had happened to him. It would be a long uphill battle to save Master Jinn’s mental health. He wished him well and prayed the Force had mercy on him; but he stood by the Council’s sanction. Master Jinn could not be trusted with the wellbeing of a youngling.

*****

6th day of the 5th Republic Standard Month, 958 ARR

“I hate getting old.” Tyvokka groaned as he settled onto the floor cushion next to his friend.

T’un snorted, “Imagine how Yoda feels.”

“I don’t want to.” The Wookie grimaced, “You know, when I started this not-so-subtle reformation attempt, I expected my opposition to come from Yoda and the other older members of the Order. And certainly, I see more than a little conflict from our elders, but it’s Master Dapatian who gives me the most fits. First, he disagrees, then he agrees, now he disagrees again. It’s not just me, correct? Master Dapatian is behaving… erratically.”

“No, It’s not just you.” T’un said quietly. “I can’t imagine what’s going on inside his head. We think of those elders, of which we both qualify, as sticks in the mud. We forget that they have just as many memories of better times as we do. For all that, this slow slide of indifference could be placed at Yoda’s feet, it can also be placed on Dapatian’s shoulders. Perhaps he is struggling with the ramifications?

“You have competently and without doubt, exposed the rot within the Temple to everyone who would sit still long enough to listen.” T’un pointed out, “Perhaps he feels guilty, that it happened under his watch?”

“Or he’s waiting until I mess up to undo all my hard work.”

T’un thought for a moment before shaking his head, “I don’t think so. You’ve done good work these past months. It can’t be undone easily. More likely Dapatian is waiting to see how it turns out, or he doesn’t actually disagree with your assessment and is using the time to focus on something else.”

“Because that’s not daunting, at all.” Tyvokka huffed. “We have ears and eyes on almost every aspect of the Order at this point. We have heard nothing about a project large enough to distract the Master of the Order.”

“Perhaps it’s not for the Order.” T’un suggested, “He spends quite a bit of time with members of the Senate and the wealthy. He claims Senator Palpatine from Naboo as a close friend, and many I know in the Senate bet that he’ll be Chancellor within the next decade. It would not be the first time a Jedi Master resolved a conflict or consulted on an issue for a friend.”

“I don’t like it.” Tyvokka said bluntly, “I don’t trust him.”

“We can’t do anything about it.” T’un replied just as bluntly. It was a good thing Tyvokka’s guests were still arranging snacks and drinks in the kitchen. “All we can do is wait and watch.”

“And pray,” Tyvokka sighed.

“And pray,” T’un agreed.

Tyvokka was distracted from the thoughts by a confused mess of anxiety and courage from his bond with his Padawan. Tuning into the conversation in the kitchen, the old Wookie heard something he never expected.

“Healer Che, do you know any masters in the Healing Halls that would be interested in taking on a Padawan?” Obi-Wan asked, and Tyvokka understood better why his Padawan had chosen this time to join the meeting when he never had before.

The Tyvokka-Kenobi quarters had turned into the command center for the entire process that Master Tyvokka had kicked off. Though most special interest groups had their own meeting rooms and times, the main investigation, if it could be called that, met in Tyvokka’s rooms. The Wookie knew Obi-Wan wasn’t a particular fan of the arrangement. The Padawan had complained once or twice that he wished sometimes he could just sit in front of the holo in his under tunics without some random Master coming in and giving him the judging eye. Tyvokka figured laughing probably hadn’t been the best response to that.

Che raised her brows and flicked her lekku, “Last Tyvokka told me, you were quite content to continue breaking records as one half of the youngest Shadow pair in the Order’s history.”

“Quinlan would be inconsolable.” Master Tahl grinned as she snagged a treat.

“It’s not for me. My crechmate Bant would like to be a Healer, but she still hasn’t been chosen as a Padawan.” Obi-Wan shared as he settled beside Tyvokka.

“I’ll ask.” Che nodded slowly, “The Healing Halls could always use more hands. Several of my master healers are without students at the moment. It would be their final say, of course, but things under my scope have settled down some. Perhaps I might even consider it.”

Tahl wrinkled her nose, “The one who’s ignored you the past several months?”

Obi-Wan shrugged, “She’s only twelve. Won’t turn 13 for a standard month or two yet. She’s allowed to make crappy decisions; she’s apologized.”

Tyvokka could feel through their bond that his Padawan was being honest. While the child’s actions hurt, Obi-Wan was trying not to hurt her back. “That’s a very mature outlook, Obi-Wan.”

The boy shrugged and blushed a little, “We all do stupid stuff. I got myself involved in a war, Bant just let temple talk influence her opinion.”

“Something to keep in mind, then.” Che said, “If we’re looking to help her gain a Master.”

“Obi-Wan, your time with the Young might have been ill-advised, but you weren’t stupid.” Tyvokka pressed furred finger pads to his apprentice’s chin, so he could look the boy in the eye. “You brokered peace for a world that had been torn by war for longer than the Republic has known about them. That is no small action, whether or not it was sanctioned by the High Council.”

“Or if Master Jinn was a complete asshole.” Tahl frowned and stuffed an entire pastry in her mouth.

Che directed a sympathetic look towards the woman, “Still hasn’t left you alone, yet?”

“I honestly don’t know how he’s managed to get out of the Healing Halls.” Tahl gave an exasperated huff. “I’d say he was stalking me, but he does leave. We just happen to be involved in many of the same activities. Plo assists me to physical therapy, Jinn stops by on his way to art therapy. I take dinner in the commissary and he ‘needs a place to sit’.” She groaned, “I would have rejoiced at the thought if he took a mission, but Jinn is a mess. He’d only get someone killed.”

“Yoda tried to get us to approve Jinn for a Padawan.” T’un offered, “We refused it immediately, of course, but I checked the records. The mind healers are nowhere close to allowing Jinn to go on missions, let alone the guardianship of a Padawan.”

“Rightly so,” Che nodded, “after everything, I’m not sure that I’d ever want to see another Padawan in his custody.”

Obi-Wan shifted uncomfortably on his cushion but said nothing. Through the training bond, Tyvokka could tell that the last thing his shy student wanted was for more attention to be placed on him. So, the Master wrapped his arm around the boy but said nothing.

As for the idea of Jinn with a new Padawan, Tyvokka couldn’t say that he was objective about it. Yoda believed younglings could heal Jedi on the brink of falling. In theory, Tyvokka wasn’t even opposed to the idea. Younglings were full of innocence and wonder. Being in their presence, teaching them and protecting them, it was like basking in the light of the Sun after months underground. Shadows often volunteered time in the creche to remind themselves of why they willingly went through the wringer for a galaxy so corrupt. He had done it himself when he’d been doing the types of missions most would assume a Wookie couldn’t do.

Tyvokka refused to allow a youngling’s mental and emotional wellbeing to come second to that of an adult’s. Adults were adults, capable of making their own decisions and dealing with the consequences. Younglings couldn’t do the same. It was his job to safeguard the Temple’s younglings and guide them on their path growing up. There was no way he was allowing a new Padawan for a Master like Jinn. The man didn’t need a new Padawan; he needed more time with a mind healer and maybe a damn straight jacket.

T’un sighed and flipped open his datapad, “If we’re done gossiping, perhaps we can get started.”

Tahl snorted, “I’m never done gossiping.”

Tyvokka coughed to suppress his laugh and turned to the first item on the agenda.

Obi-Wan had offered to take notes. He usually skipped these meetings. There wasn’t much he could offer that the masters couldn’t accomplish faster. But tonight, Quin and Tholme were beating the crap out of each other in the salles, Bant was confined to the creche because of the time, and Garen was running behind on servicing some of his gear.

Master Tyvokka had offered to excuse him, but Obi-Wan really didn’t have anywhere to be. Especially considering the meeting was held in his home. So, the Padawan settled in to take notes. But the longer he listened to the meeting, the longer he could feel the Force tug just a little at his attention. There was something it wanted him to know, he just couldn’t see it yet.

Running his stylus down the tabs open on his datapad, the Force tugged his attention again and again to the option it wanted until Obi-Wan finally ran into a security wall. Blinking and rising from his working meditation, his eyes focused on the secure entry for the Order’s personnel records. Specifically, those of the masters and knights who’d left the Order.

Most of those names should be public knowledge, but Obi-Wan knew that if this was the direction, the Force wanted him to take, then there was something here for him to know. Nudging his datapad over to his Master, Obi-Wan offered a helpless shrug at the raised brow Master Tyvokka sent him before the male submitted his access information.

Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan settled back into the focused meditation that had gotten him this far. Numbers honestly weren’t his specialty, Quin was much better getting numbers to mean anything, but Obi-Wan had more patience. And right now, the Force needed him.

Except it wasn’t working. No matter how he turned it, the numbers coming up made little sense. There was no way his coding could make sense of this information. He needed help.

Noticing that the meeting was close to finishing, Obi-Wan didn’t bother moving away from the table, just queued up Quin’s contact on his comm where he sat. He crossed his fingers that his partner had his comm on him, though, and it wasn’t sitting at the bottom of his laundry pile like last week.

“Light of my life!” Came the tinny sound of his best friend’s voice through the small speakers.

“My sun and stars.”

Master T’un snorted and there were a lot of smiles and gentle laughter around the table, but his dry response had Master Tahl choking as she attempted to laugh and eat at the same time.

“What can I do for you, Obi?”

“I have a coding question for you. I’m trying to match two tables from the Order’s database, but it’s not working.”

“Is it the Archives?”

“One table is, the other is from the Central Order Repository.”

Through the comm Obi-Wan could hear Quin huffing, “I hate using COR. Alright, what column are you matching on?”

“Personnel Identifier.”

“Okay. So, you should be able to-”

Obi-Wan could mostly follow what Quin said, but now and then he had to ask his partner to back track because the screen didn’t match. The one-time Obi-Wan offered his datapad to his Master to gain access to the system again, he made the mistake of looking up and seeing the entire table staring at him.

“What?”

“Quin likes pet names?” Tahl asked with a grin, “Vokara’s been keeping track from me. What was it – three instances of sweetheart and four of honey?”

“And four times he called you something and dropped it.” Master Che said with a sharp grin. “So, who won the bet?”

Obi-Wan flushed brightly as his Master handed the datapad back and sniffed, “You’d have to ask Master Tholme about that. Because I certainly wasn’t in on any bets about my love life.”

He could still hear the stage whisper when Master Tahl leaned over the table to tell Master Che, “It was Plo!”

“Alright, Quin, I think I’ve got it.” Obi-Wan said, turning back to the results. “I’ll comm you if I have more problems.”

“Sure. See you later, Obi-bear.”

It was reflex to wrinkle his nose, Obi-Wan really wasn’t a fan of pet names, but a smile still curved his lips a little involuntarily. He might not have liked the names, but he did like that Quin wanted to give him one. A name for Obi-Wan that was just theirs.

Running the final code Quin basically wrote for him over comm call, Obi-Wan choked at the results on the page.

Master Tyvokka placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, asking, “Is something wrong, Padawan?”

Obi-Wan slid his datapad over to his Master, unsure that he could find the words to describe it. Unfortunately, that drew the attention of the table, and once again Obi-Wan was staring down the combined attention of the gathered masters.

“What’s going on?” Che asked, making a final note on her own notebook.

Master Tyvokka cleared his throat, “According to the statistics Obi-Wan and Quin could pull, the last ten fallen Jedi were all stationed mostly alone-”

“Fits with the psychology,” Master T’un nodded.

“-and were over the age of sixty or the equivalent.”

“That- does not fit.” Master Che set down her glass, “Are you sure?”

Master Tahl hummed, “Conventional wisdom suggests that it should be Shadows, between the ages of twenty and thirty-five, or species equivalent, often males with a history of falling in love with non-Jedi.”

“Just curious, were you?” Master Che raised a brow.

The woman across the table shrugged, “It was an interesting psychological profile. Though it was developed over five hundred years ago. I wonder why it changed?”

“Or when?” Master T’un muttered.

Master Tyvokka examined Tahl, “Perhaps you would like to do some research on the lives of those members who left the Order? Find out what they had in common?”

“Or who,” Practically burst from Obi-Wan’s lips, and the young Padawan had to ride the wave of force that washed through the room. That was the point. The reason the force had him digging through membership records; these lost members had someone in common.

There was silence at the table as the comment echoed a little. It was a bit terrifying to consider that the Sith Wan-Das called Master might have been so completely hidden they could touch even the heart of the Order. Seducing established masters to the dark side, while no one even knew to be wary of a threat.

“It’s quite smart, actually.” Master T’un said after a moment. “A Jedi elder, ill content with the Temple need not be taught many of the lessons an apprentice would require. Saves quite a bit of time, wouldn’t it?”

“So non-Jedi acquaintances should be at the top of my list of suspects. Good, good. Gives me somewhere to start.” Master Tahl munching on a last handful of crackers, “Which means I should probably get started. There’s no way this is going to be easy. I’ll need my beauty sleep!”

The doorbell rang as the meeting broke up, and Obi-Wan was more than happy to stretch his legs and get it.

“Siri? What are you-?”

“You’re a real son of a bantha, you Hutt’s slime!” The younger girl snarled from the doorway, “What the fuck did you tell your Master, Kenobi? What lies did you spread so you didn’t have to own up to the fact that you- you- you slime eating mistake of a force-begotten slug, weren’t strong enough to handle being a Padawan!”

Obi-Wan swallowed dryly, “Siri, what-”

“It’s all your fault!”

And with a sudden scream, Siri knocked him to the floor and started whaling on him. Even years of self-defense didn’t help him when she took him off guard. His head smacked against the hard stone tile of their entrance way and Obi-Wan couldn’t even see straight, let alone coordinate a defense.

Tyvokka arrived in time to pull the Initiate off his dazed and hurt Padawan, and not even bothering to fight his instincts, he took her by the collar of her uniform and shook her. Like his people would an errant cub.

“Siri Tachi, what in the Force do you think you are doing?!”

The Initiate hissed and spit, wiggling in his grip, practically emanating violence. “It’s his fault! It’s all his fault!”

Reaching over, Vokara carefully applied a Force touch to the child’s shoulder. Siri Tachi continued wiggling for a moment, but gradually her flailing slowed until Tyvokka held a limp Initiate by the neck of her tunics.

“Thank you, Vokara.”

“The Force can be used for almost anything.” She muttered as she crouched above his dazed Padawan. She bid Obi-Wan stay on the floor when he tried to move, running her hands over his skull, and checking the reaction of his pupils. “Including sedating bratty initiates. Well, Kenobi, I don’t think you’re much worse for wear. You’ve got a moderate concussion, but I’m not concerned.”

She let her hand close gently over his forehead and closed her eyes. Tyvokka could feel her nudging the Force to heal the swelling on the boy’s brain. “Take it easy the next couple of days. No caffeine, no strenuous activity. If you can stay awake for the next couple of hours, then you can sleep through the night. Come to the Healing Halls in the morning, and we’ll check you out then.”

She stood but continued frowning at the boy on the floor. “Might be nauseous, might be weak, might find the light too harsh for your eyes. Just take it easy.”

His Padawan stayed on the floor of their foyer, eyes closed, and head tipped back offering only a vague acknowledgement in the master healer’s direction.

“I should get him up to the couch.” Tyvokka sighed and handed the unconscious child to T’un. “Could you make sure Siri Tachi gets back to the Initiate dorms? Someone must be looking for her by now. I would do it, but I have a sick Padawan and yet again, I am recused from this situation.”

“All the fun stuff always happens to you, Tyvokka.” T’un said with a mischievous grin. The Human Master adjusted the child carefully, “I’ll arrange with Master Arraan for her to get an appointment with a mind healer. And I’ll… keep you abreast of any issues.”

Tyvokka saw him to the door, “Thank you, my friend.”

Tahl stretched and carefully stood from the low table as the other masters quietly left. “Well, you do host the most exciting meetings I’ve ever been to. First a break in from a fallen former member, now an Initiate fight in your doorway. How are you going to top this?”

“Hopefully, I won’t.” Tyvokka snorted as he helped his Padawan up and over to their couch. Offering a hug to the woman once his student was settled. “I really hope the next meeting is far less exciting.”

Tahl smiled from the doorway, “Not if it meant giving up your Padawan.”

Tyvokka nodded slowly brushing Obi-Wan’s bangs back, “Not if it meant giving up Obi-Wan.”

*****

24th day of the 5th Republic Standard Month, 958 ARR

Quin and Obi-Wan settled down at the low table in Master Tyvokka’s apartments with datapads and snacks surrounding them. The captain’s log from the Hiddle Coua was finally back from Research. They had been warned that there was only a sparse amount of information to go on, but it was more than they’d been working with before.

“Some of this is still in Mx. Taz’s shorthand.” Quin noted quietly, his head bent over the datapad. “Might be difficult to make out.”

“We can try,” Obi-Wan countered, “and what we don’t get we can ask our masters.”

“And if they don’t get it?”

Obi-Wan shrugged a bit fatalistically, “We send it back to Research.”

Quin sighed, but settled a bit more at the table they shared, “Ready to make notes?”

Obi-Wan offered his partner a cheeky grin and held his stylus aloft, “Ready.”

“Starting from the most recent and working back,” Quin mumbled as he scrolled through the page’s metadata, “Alright, this is dated the same day Taz showed up at the Temple. The Capitan writes they ‘finally berthed at Coruscant. Informed crew we won’t be staying, already made plans to hit SkyDock Station instead. Just have to get this karking thing to the Temple. Whoever was willing to sacrifice my crew will not get what they want.’” Quin was quiet for a moment, “So, we were right. Mx. Taz was running on spite and temper.”

Obi-Wan considered the time of the entry and the time it would take for the Captain to make zir way from the berth in the undercity to the Temple and back again. Then added to it the time it would take to perform flight checks, and what the investigative team had found in the Hiddle Coua. Obi-Wan made a note in his document; Mx. Taz’s crew were never going to survive. “Next entry?”

“Dated the day before, Mac’done killed Ikra. Four blasts to the head. Doc sedated him and interned Ikra in a freezer box. Didn’t want to find out if whatever drove her to kill her Ethel could reanimate her corpse. How do I tell their nest that one mate killed the other?”

“Maybe, maybe, we should skip to the last cargo pick up.” Obi-Wan bit his lip. It felt like they were violating the Captain somehow. Airing zir concerns and grief, even if they were the only ones there. “We don’t really need this information, do we?”

“It’s probably going to give me nightmares, anyway.” Quin agreed and scrolled down. “Alright, let’s see. Here’s something; dated about a month before zir death. ‘Kelse approached me about carrying cargo to Coruscant. Not heavy or technically illegal, but,’ um ze used an abbreviation—’ntfrse’—what the kark could that mean?”

“Hmm, ‘not for RepSec’s eyes’?” Obi-Wan offered, and he could see from the way his partner frowned Quin wanted to argue it, but it honestly made too much sense. “Come on, Quin. No offense to Mx. Taz, ze was impressive, but the Captain wasn’t from RepSec Intelligence. This was zir log, under zir lock and key. The code was probably less to confuse a thief and more to save time. Don’t make it too complicated.”

“Obi-Wan, we are in a conspiracy! Sith holocrons only decades old; spirits driving people to kill their loved ones; murdered smugglers.” He sputtered, “It sounds like a bad holodrama, not real life!”

Obi-Wan took a deep breath, “You’re right. I’m sorry I didn’t take it seriously.”

“No. You don’t deserve that, Obi-Wan. I’m sorry for snapping.” Quin ran his hands over his face, taking the time to rub at his temples. “This is just… terrifying. For the last couple of years, I’ve been training to be a Shadow. But that was supposed to be against criminals who thought slavery was a good idea, or against darksiders—like the Dathomiri—with more temper than sense. Maybe there would be a mission to give mercy to a fallen Jedi, making sure the High Council doesn’t find out, but this is—. The Sith—. None of those maybes dealt with Sith. Sith are—”

“Frightening.” Obi-Wan pulled Quin into his arms and didn’t let go. “All our lives Sith have been held up as the epitome of evil. The monster under the bed. The nightmare in the closet. Except, now we have to deal with the very real possibility that the Sith are out there. Not just isolated darksiders, but trained and vengeful Sith. That’s terrifying Quin, I don’t blame you.”

Quin leaned back just far enough to lay a soft kiss on the corner of Obi-Wan’s mouth when he pulled back. “But I still shouldn’t have snapped. I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you. I apologize for making light of the situation.”

“I forgive you.” Quin sighed, “Shall we continue to read Ser Taz’s log?”

“Of course,” He lightly shoved Quin back into his seat, “we have work to do.”

“Fine, fine, fine. Alright, let’s try this one. A week after that notice, ‘agreed to carry cargo from Kelse. Single box to be picked up at Bay, Bar, & Tap, Singish quadrant 2, dock 5. Kelse said he’d hand deliver it’ Huh. Do you think we can use that?”

Singish was technically a member of the Republic since it was a part of the empire of the Ching family. Supposedly, that should mean that a request from the Jedi wouldn’t be ignored. In reality, the Ching administration regularly denied Jedi on Search access; and to complicate matters, Singish was part of a trio of moons called the Queen’s Crown. Infamous for its use by pirates, smugglers, and slavers. Even if the Jedi could get approval, they might not get any answers.

“I’ll run a query.” Obi-Wan mumbled, already typing an additional request to Research.

They didn’t receive a response that afternoon, but a couple of days later Tholme flopped onto the couch in Master Tyvokka’s living room with a frown on his face and a pad with Research’s encrypted disk drive attached at one corner.

“We might have hit a dead end. I have gone through ten judges on Singish and four Imperial Justices from the Ching administration, and none of them will sign a search warrant based on ‘circumstantial evidence’ to investigate a smuggler’s murder. The last one fairly laughed in my face and most of the offices sent me a form rejection. It would be easier to get money from a Hutt than approval for an investigation from the Ching dynasty.”

T’un cackled, patting Tholme on the head as he moved behind him with the fresh pot of tea. “You poor boy.”

“Do we need to?” Quin asked, squinting over at his teaching master. And Obi-Wan paused the game they were playing. There was something in his friend’s tone.

Tyvokka laughed, “Regardless of what your Master has taught you, evidence stolen from behind locked doors is not admissible in Republic court.”

Quin smirked, “I already knew that, thanks. No, I meant that Delphi’s Esoterics and Obscurities is licensed on Coruscant. We don’t need a warrant or judge on Singish. We need one served here that includes information available at satellite offices. And… a Jedi Sentinel willing to overseeing the search of any offices.”

Tyvokka blinked and T’un hummed, but Tholme groaned, “Not it!”

“Master Dooku would be available.” Master T’un mentioned idly, “He’s stationed in that sector.”

Master Tyvokka nodded slowly as he thought, “And it would get the man back in the Temple for an assessment. Master Dooku has been on his own for far too long.”

The room was quiet for a moment before Master Tholme groaned from the couch, “Still not it.”

Master Tyvokka huffed as he levered himself out of his armchair, “I’ll put the call in through Temple Investigations, there should be someone who sees our perspective.”

“Good luck,” Master T’un muttered as the Wookie made his way to the secure comm, and Obi-Wan had to duck his head to hide his grin. They had been nothing like he expected after Master Jinn’s lineage, but Obi-Wan was finally comfortable with the idea that he trusted them. And he didn’t think they would make him regret it.

*****

7th day of the 6th Republic Standard Month, 958 ARR

Unfortunately for the team investigating Mx. Taz and zir crew’s death, Kelse was also dead when Delphi’s Esoterics and Obscurities had gotten around to enforcing the Coruscanti warrant on their satellite office. The Togruta, a male unliked by his office mates and without a secretary, had died of a heart attack some days before Master Dooku landed. The company had been happy to hand over the remnants of his office and assure the Jedi Order that whatever he’d been into had been his sole responsibility.

It sounded odd to Obi-Wan and knew that most of the masters involved with contacting the company had been skeptical of the management’s innocence as well. It was far more likely that Delphi’s had enough to hide, and they didn’t want the Jedi lingering like a foul smell.

By all accounts, Master Dooku had landed, oversaw the collection of the office and was back in space within three days with no delays. There were no saber duels, no run-ins with criminals, and no obsessed stalking. Obi-Wan thought it odd when he and his friends couldn’t go to a festival without catching trouble, but the Padawan remembered Master Dooku as an intimidating and sour fellow. Perhaps the Master was scary enough that even on a moon known for its indulgence in the criminal world, no one wanted to mess with the Jedi.

In no time at all compared to the months it had taken to get this far, Obi-Wan was standing with Master Tholme and Quin ready to begin as Master Dooku directed the placement of crates into an empty room they could use to sort through it all. The plan was simple. A reconstruction of the office had been created under Master Dooku’s direction and instead of searching manually for the crucial piece of missing information, Quin was going to use his psychometry and Obi-Wan was going to help him.

“You’re a fortunate child,” Master Dooku said as they waited for Master Tholme to make sure that everything was as accurate as they could have it. “It’s unusual for a case like yours to get a second chance. I am certain that had Qui-Gon chosen to take you back, he would have ruined you. Just like he ruined himself.”

“I am fortunate,” Obi-Wan agreed. Master Tyvokka was amazing, even if he was tempted to curse the Wookie blue when he fell out of the fifth form for the hundredth time. “But there was never a chance that I would return to Master Jinn.”

“Because you betrayed him?”

“Because he betrayed me.” Obi-Wan said firmly into the quiet hall, certain of this fact no matter how long it had taken for him to reach it “I won’t ever regret what I did, never. But I shouldn’t have had to do it without him.”

Master Dooku was a solemn statue standing next to the Padawan, with only moments to spare as the volunteers filed out of the room and back to their desks in Investigations. He turned to Obi-Wan and nodded. “Have you always been so wise?”

Obi-Wan snorted, “Master ensures I meet a mind healer weekly. We’re finally down from five visits a week to three. I have an absurd amount of homework that boils down to ‘consider what you would say if it had happened to someone else’.”

“And expletives are not thrown regularly?”

“So many,” Obi-Wan met the older male’s small grin with a smirk, “if we had a swear jar it would be full of credits on a regular basis.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever willingly attended mind healer sessions,” Master Dooku said thoughtfully, “I could never quite see the use.”

“They’re mandatory for Shadows,” Obi-Wan shrugged, “might as well get used to them now so that ten years from now I’m not trying to hide some monster under the bed.”

Master Dooku was opening his mouth to say something when Master Tholme called Obi-Wan over to give the partners one last pep-talk. Obi-Wan offered his former grandmaster an apologetic smile as he moved over to the door.

“Alright, one last time, what are the steps?” Master Tholme asked.

“We’re immersing ourselves in our pair bond and attempting to attain a meditative state.” Obi-Wan offered, knowing that the last time Quin had described it, Tholme had nearly passed out from laughing too hard to breathe.

“This shared meditative state should allow Obi-Wan and I to build off my psychometry,” Quin said rolling his eyes, “so that we don’t have to go through this entire mess by hand hoping that Kelse tagged something ‘imperative evidence Jedi should never see’.”

“Hey,” Tholme brought them both in for a hug, cupping a large hand to each head, “I know this is stressful, but if you can’t find anything, don’t worry. You haven’t lost anything except some time. Just do your best.”

“Our best, right.” Quin took a deep breath and offered his hand to Obi-Wan. “We can do that.”

“Absolutely,” Obi-Wan agreed, giving his partner’s hand a tight squeeze, “this is nothing.”

Falling into the bond was as easy as breathing these days. They had practiced until moving meditation had been as easy together as it had been a part. The world swirled and Obi-Wan could practically feel the thrum of the Force through the universe. Like the beat of a drum, only a few could hear; or better, the vibration of the engine in a spacecraft, something you only notice when it’s not there. Through Quin’s eyes, the Force swirled in a thousand different colors he couldn’t describe. Just a beautiful backdrop over which the Force would show them what happened.

Once both the meditation and the bond felt stable, Obi-Wan gave Quin’s hand the squeeze to get started.

Opening the door to the reconstructed office was like walking into an abstract painting. Just color and light smearing across his vision without an ending. The room was set up to mimic the office on Singish; complete with the outline of large bay windows. Two walls were set with bookshelves covered in knick-knacks and actual paper-bound books. The desk and guest chairs settled in the middle of the room with the large bay window on the left. Directly across from the desk, right beside the door, was an enormous glass etching.

It would have been a beautiful and classy layout if Dooku hadn’t mentioned that when he’d arrived the floor had been littered with food wrappers and the stench of Kelse’s dead body had still been lingering. It lingered amongst the things they’d brought into the Temple as well.

Quin’s psychometric talent required touch, but Obi-Wan’s foresight didn’t. Sharing their gifts meant Quin didn’t have to go around the room, tracing his fingers against every inch of bound paper, lose electronics, or gaudy knick-knacks. Instead, Obi-Wan’s foresight let them see the areas Ser Kelse spent most of his time and hone in on those areas to seek out his secrets. Like vague and indistinct directions, the colors of the Force Quin could see fell into two areas. The male’s desk and the etched art.

Trailing behind his partner, Obi-Wan understood a little better why they fit together so well. Obi-Wan practically saw in black and white compared to the swirling neon colors that filled Quin’s perspective. Where Obi-Wan didn’t understand how exciting the world according to Quin was, he also never going to lose himself in the sudden heightened sense of the world that Quin was practically drowning in. Obi-Wan grounded Quin. It wasn’t a new thought, but the idea that it was more than just the relief of disgruntled authority figures made it an endearing one.

“Do you see these colors all the time?” Obi-Wan asked, testing carefully if they could maintain the open bond without touching.

“The swirls are you,” Quin shook his head, happy to attach the desk with both hands.

“And the colors?”

“What colors?”

“These colors that are so vivid.” Obi-Wan said as he crossed the office to the etching. “And all the sounds, they seem much louder and sudden than I’ve ever experienced.” He shrugged lightly, “off of a battlefield that is.”

“Huh,” Quin must have paused because he didn’t hear anything before the older Padawan turned to their training Master, “Master Tholme, anything to weigh in?”

“No.” The male said from the doorway, “though you might mention it to your Healer, Obi-Wan. It could be species specific or a problem with Obi-Wan’s sight.”

Obi-Wan agreed vaguely, letting the idea settle into the background as he considered the problem in front of him.

“Not going to come in, Master?” Quin asked, and Obi-Wan could practically hear the grin in his partner’s voice.

“We shouldn’t enter with the bond still open,” Master Tholme said, and Obi-Wan could hear the exasperation in his voice. From where he stood with his back to his lineage, Obi-Wan grinned. “It would confuse the Force impressions we’re hunting. Are you ready to close it?”

“I’ve got all I can from the desk.” Quin scowled at the fake-leather blotter, “just a lot of greed and gluttony with spikes of absolutely disgusting levels of arousal and fear in equal measure around the comm, but nothing to really help. But seriously, this guy was like a black pit of gluttony, fear, and hunger.” He shuddered, “Hunger of so many kinds; Master, it was so gross.”

Master Tholme frowned with a grimace, “Not a surprise from a resident of the Queen’s Crown. We’ll meditate later to make sure you don’t have active memories of it.”

“He spent a lot of time staring at this piece of art.” Obi-Wan said, tracing the frame the way the man must have for the force to pick up such a concentration in one place. “He must have taken time every day to stare at this. What is it?”

“Finish the meditation,” Master Dooku said from the entry, “And I’ll see if I can recognize it.”

Since the bond was open, the colors were vibrant, and the sounds were loud and startling, but as Quin slowly closed the bond, ending the shared meditation, Obi-Wan could slowly see some colors lost their vivid detail and some sounds lost the sharp note that made them loud and startling. Nothing was gone, just shifted, like Obi-Wan was back to walking around a world covered in a blanket.

“It’s called The Reverence,” Master Dooku said, coming to stand behind him. “It’s an old piece of art from before the last Sith war. It’s supposed to depict how a subjugate of the Sith is supposed to go about the worship of their masters, willing sacrifice given out of obsessive love. Even unto death.”

“That’s so disturbing.” Obi-Wan said blandly, the etching taking on an entirely different meaning with context. “But why would Ser Kelse care about this piece of art so much? I’m no mind healer, but that male wasn’t the kind to give sacrifices. Not willingly and out of love, at least. Not the way this painting meant it.”

“Perhaps it’s not what the art depicts but the object itself that has some meaning? A gift or a reminder? Even Hutts are not awful from the egg.”

“Maybe,” Obi-Wan was willing to reserve judgment, honestly, because he both agreed with the Master and disagreed at the same time. He had been introduced to some truly corrupt beings in the galaxy, but he also understood Master Dooku’s point that most people were not completely evil, just as there were few genuinely good people in the galaxy. It was likely that as a youngling Ser Kelse had never aspired to what he ended up as.

Trying to get a better understanding of the antiquities dealer, Obi-Wan reached up to touch the hem of the supplicant, just the way Kelse always did. Except moments after Obi-Wan touched the glass, there was a click in the frame, and out from the corner of the steel edging was a data stick. Matte black and near innocuous for all the horrors that it probably held.

“You were right, not the art but the object.”

“Classical and clever,” Master Dooku chuckled. “Not behind the art, within it.”

It would need to be sent to Research for processing as a piece of evidence, but for now the team located a terminal and disengaged the network access before slipping the data stick into the port. Just to see if it held anything useful.

Kelse had been intelligent, far more intelligent than they had granted to an antiquities dealer dead of a heart attack with a history of working for criminals. He wasn’t a genius, but he had known enough that whatever deal he’d struck for his success wouldn’t last forever.

The data stick had a series of transactions and letters on it. The signature name changed, but the sentence structure and what appeared to be a password stayed the same. Buried beneath transaction records for the purchase and shipping of a dozen pieces of Sith antiques, the application of blackmail and bribes, was the receipt for the shipping of an object the same size as the crate Mx. Taz had dropped at the Temple. A receipt for payment to the Hiddle Coua and approved by a name that might not have been familiar to Obi-Wan, but it was familiar to someone.

The Force presences of Master Dooku had gone still and calm in that artificial way Obi-Wan had noticed the adults of the Temple managed when they were beyond furious.

“Master Dooku,” Obi-Wan frowned, “Did you recognize something?”

Master Dooku sighed and slumped a little in the chair he’d pulled up, “It’s the name of a contact I’ve been discussing Sith theories with for several months. We met through the University of Coruscant’s Virtual Lecture series. They did a series on the facts and myths associated with the last Jedi/Sith War a year ago. He’s fond of an argument that the Sith weren’t so bad, just misrepresented.”

Quin snorted, “Doesn’t look misrepresented to me.”

Master Tholme hummed as he ran a finger across to the date the letter was logged in the record, “How long did you say Kelse had been dead when you arrived?”

“Some weeks. Perhaps two or three,” Master Dooku shook his head, “The autopsy report I requested claimed he died of a heart attack. Which, given the subject’s morbid health wasn’t unlikely, it’s just incredibly convenient.”

“I didn’t even know Togruta could get that big.” Quin leaned over and whispered, “What’d the man do, think he was a Hutt?”

Obi-Wan covered his laugh with a cough, “You think Ser Kelse was killed for his part in this conspiracy?”

“Perhaps more like killed because the package never got to where it was supposed to go,” Master Dooku mused, “After all, Kelse had done such a good job with all the other tasks it had to have been because he failed that he’d been killed this time.”

*****

15th day of the 6th Republic Standard Month, 958 ARR

Obi-Wan didn’t know all the details, some of it because it was boring and out of his interest, and some of it because it was dangerous, but with Master Dooku’s direction and Master Tholme’s assistance, Research was able to discover that the pseudonyms on the letters to Ser Kelse belonged to Senator Sheev Palpatine of Naboo. A mostly anonymous mid-ranked politician from a mid-rim planet who’s only defining feature was that a fellow senator had pointed out that Palpatine had enough connections they were betting on his chancellorship within the next decade. A dangerous piece of news since he was under investigation for treason.

After all, being a Sith wasn’t against the law.

Without access to Senator Palpatine’s records, all they had was circumstantial evidence hinging on the connection between Kelse and Palpatine. There was a lot, and it all seemed to point in the same direction, but it wouldn’t take much for a good defense attorney to put a hole the size of a freight carrier in it.

With the mounting pressure to build the case for Senator Palpatine’s arrest, there wasn’t really time for a proper name day celebration for Obi-Wan. He was fifteen today by the Republic calendar. And he was hiding.

Perhaps by next year Obi-Wan would be healed enough not to mind a celebration hosted in his honor, but he rather thought that sounded like a pipe dream. He thanked the Force that something had distracted the lineage from making a big deal. The last thing he wanted was to remember that Siri was still confined to the Initiate Halls because she professed to hate him; Bant cycled through being even more literal with the code, chastising Quin and him for every unnecessary use of the Force or apologizing for every slight offense he could have taken from her over the years. Including an apparent time when they were just toddling that Bant had stolen his squishy speeder and bopped him on the head. He honestly didn’t know what to do with her.

And with Garen away with his Master, there was only Quin left to celebrate with him. Master Tyvokka had opened their apartment to any who wanted to celebrate, but it was mostly an excuse for knights and masters to grab just a few seconds of his Master’s time. The constant stream of people in and out of the apartment was overwhelming. Some were faces he knew the names of, but some of them he couldn’t remember meeting, and all of them had gifts. It was simply too much. Last birthday the Young had split their rations so that Obi-Wan would be full for once.

This year so much more had changed than the rations on his plate. Thinking back, Obi-Wan couldn’t remember the last time he’d been hungry, or tired, or cold, or sore, and his Master hadn’t been there to ease his aches or offer him kelp bars or wrap something around his shoulders. It was better, Obi-Wan knew it was better. No one should have to go cold or hungry, the difference was just hard to swallow. He’d woken up this morning, and the memories had felt like a weight pressing down on him. He’d just needed to get away.

Obi-Wan slumped. He tossed the holocron in the air, caught it, and tossed it again. They probably wouldn’t even miss him. It might have been his birthday, but the guests were just there to honor his Master.

“There you are,” Quin said as he slid into the room. “Master Tyvokka thought you might be here.”

“He gave me the vault code for Wan-Das’s holocron lock,” Obi-Wan offered as his friend settled against him. “I’ve still got two hours left before the alert sounds. Still haven’t opened it though.”

“Do you want to?” Quin asked softly, softer than Obi-Wan had ever heard him, and he couldn’t help but turn to his partner. Quin leaned against the stone wall just like he did, but he wasn’t looking anywhere but at Obi-Wan.

Quin moved suddenly, wrapping his arms around Obi-Wan and pulling the younger boy onto his lap. The smaller boy tucked his head under his partner’s chin and for a moment Obi-Wan pretended that the rest of the world didn’t exist. Nothing mattered but them.

“I don’t know.” He finally said, letting the holocron roll onto the floor. “I should. It was Master Tyvokka’s present for me. I just-”

“Master Tyvokka trusts you to know your limits,” Quin spoke quietly, his mouth inches from Obi-Wan’s ear, kissing the skin of his temple with each word. “He’s showing you that by giving you time with your Cenned.”

Obi-Wan couldn’t help tensing. The holocron had fallen from his grip but perhaps that was better. Wouldn’t want to lose a priceless piece of knowledge because a Padawan had a fit.

“Oh.” Quin tilted his chin up with the curve of his knuckle, “huh, maybe not such a great gift after all.”

“I don’t- It’s not-” Obi-Wan shook his head, rocking to his feet to pace his emotions out. He’d certainly failed to ‘let them go’ today. Finally, he burst, “It doesn’t make sense!”

Quin stretched his legs out and caught Obi-Wan as he stepped over the older boy’s legs. Gently but firmly, Quin pried Obi-Wan’s hands out of his fists and wove his fingers between them. “Emotions don’t have to make sense.”

“They’re-they’re-”

“Dark?” Quin filled in after the silence stretched on for a moment. “You can’t be worried about falling? Not you, Obi-Wan.”

“You don’t know, Quin,” he whispered away from his partner, “I’ve done things. Things that keep me awake at night. I don’t think I’ll ever know if I did them for the right reasons or if it was out of fear.”

“It doesn’t need to be one or the other.” Using their joined hands, Quin tugged him back down to his lap, letting go of Obi-Wan’s hands just so that he could wrap his arms around his partner. “You need to get rid of the voice in your head that probably sounds a lot like Master Jinn or Master Yoda, telling you that serenity is the path of the Jedi.

“You think Knight Windu is serene? Because you might want to get your eyes checked. That male is one boiling mass of anger hot enough to burn.” He paused to lay a gentle kiss to Obi-Wan’s temple. “You can do things out of fear or anger or even hate, and they can still be the right thing to do. You and I have a connection, Obi-Wan. Trust me, if you can’t trust yourself, you’re not going dark.

“And,” Quin said, reaching out for the gilded dodecahedron laying inert on the floor, “It’s okay if you’re angry with your Cenned that ze was dark. No one can tell you what to feel, not even Master Yoda.”

Obi-Wan snorted, “I just don’t get it. Wan-Das loved me; I can see it, nearly feel it every time I’m in the presence of zir and yet ze has admitted to murder, theft, buying and selling slaves, and all sorts of sithly training that I honestly wish I had never asked about. We have overwhelming evidence that ze drove people insane! Drove them to kill their own lifemates!” Obi-Wan shook his head, wiping roughly at the tears on his cheeks, “I don’t understand. How can ze love me and still have no problem with what ze did?”

“Obi-Wan,” Quin once again grabbed his hands and not knowing what else to do, Obi-Wan buried his face in his best friend’s tunic. “The dark side- you know the theory as well as I do. There are Force users who are grey and there are darksiders who can use the Light side of the Force and lightsiders who dabbled in the dark side of the Force without falling; but Sith lose their minds to the dark side. It’s part of their teachings. ‘Through passion I gain strength’.

“Your Cenned loved you enough that ze did the best thing ze could do. Ze gave you to the Order, gave you a future where you could be safe and happy, but that was probably the last sane thing ze ever did.” Quin hugged him close, “Don’t let zir actions wrap you up in knots.”

“I can’t help it.” Obi-Wan admitted, “If it were anyone else, I’d have walked away. But this is my Cenned, I’m supposed to love ze and I can’t stand to even think about zir holocron.”

“Wan-Das is dead, Obi-Wan.” Quin said after a moment. “Ze’s been dead for years at this point. It’s great that you found your parent, but don’t feel guilty about leaving it alone. No matter what anyone else says, your first obligation is to your mental health. Not some EduCorps specialist’s academic interest.”

“My first obligation is my mental health,” Obi-Wan repeated, chewing it over in his mind. “I think- I think I need to talk to Master Tyvokka about it.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do.” Quin agreed, picking up the holocron, “Let’s just get this under lock and key first.”


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Eff_Dragonkiller

I read. I write. I attend meetings. I battle dragons.

2 Comments:

  1. “The Force is not kind, it is not gentle, it does not love as you and I love. And if it is necessary, the Force will break your heart. It can be the task of a lifetime to learn how to mend that break.” This is one of my favorite quotes about the Force ever. It made me so happy to read it. This story is amazing!

  2. Love this.
    Thank you

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