"You'll find, at times, that the Force possesses a sense of humor- one that takes time to appreciate and laugh at."
"How much time?"
"Usually a week after people stop trying to kill you."
~Recorded Mercenaries during the Jedi Civil War
There was something both peaceful and imposing about the Great Temple's Ceremonial Chamber, Syrra reflected- perhaps the incredible stonework, the immense openness, or the powerful history that seemed to linger in the air. She almost felt like she could sense them all, as her footsteps echoed in the Great Temple's main chamber, the hall completely empty save a lone figure in black at the top of a short set of stairs. Feeling slightly nervous despite Luke's kind visage, she ascended the steps, stopping once she was at the top and bowing low. "Master Skywalker."
Luke smiled warmly. "It's been a while, Syrra. I'm glad you found the time to accept my request for an update on your progress- it's been about a month and a half, if I remember right." He gestured to the rest of the chamber, walking casually towards the temple's viewports, looking as serene as ever- Syrra followed after a moment, waiting for him to continue.
"I reviewed the last few missions that you and Captain Surnahm undertook over the last 2 months, after your fracas on Abaat. You've both done some remarkable work together- I was especially impressed with your last one, the rescue your team pulled off on Malastare."
"Thank you, Master Skywalker. To be fair, Talrik did a lot of the work as a sniper, we could not have gotten close without his help." She smiled to herself, knowing the fox would appreciate her giving credit where credit was due- it had been his intervention and quick-thinking (and inhuman accuracy) that had saved a lot of lives that evening. Ever since he'd joined her and Kajex on their mission to Kurah, their missions had become easier and more coordinated.
"I will be sure to inform the New Republic of his efforts. I'm told he initially had a difficult time with finding employment, and I was especially glad you managed to convince Captain Surnahm to take him on. I sense it's been good progress for both of them, as well." He stopped at the window, staring distantly into the brightly-lit jungle of Yavin 4.
Syrra nodded, hopping up onto the stonework of the viewport and reclining against the corner. "It has. Kajex has been starting to keep in better touch with the few friends he's made over the years, I think as a reaction to him taking Talrik on. He's been talking to an acquaintance of ours to convince her to send her daughter here to be trained as a Jedi. She's still reluctant, I wonder if maybe I should go there."
"I can certainly give you the time and opportunity to conduct a recruiting run," the Jedi Master replied approvingly. "Let's not be hasty, however- it might be best for her to come to that decision on her own, with Kajex's encouragement."
She nodded, watching a family of birds fly in close formation. "Well anyway, the point is that him making a connection with Talrik has been a positive change, as you say. It took him a while to get used to Garrett and Lynch, and even now he doesn't usually go out of his way to be social- but he's getting better, I think. He was the one that suggested having Sabaac nights on his ship these last couple of weeks. There are times I felt like he'd rather remain secluded, guarded. But I can only imagine that he's suffered a lot of loss in his life to keep his personal connections to a minimum. Family, friends, lost loves..."
"Does he speak about them often?"
Syrra half-shrugged, half-nodded. "Off-handedly, mentioned in passing most of the time. There are... moments, though, when he loses composure inwardly. He knows he can't hide it from me, I just instinctively latch on to whatever is bothering him. We talk a lot when that happens. He never really goes into great detail about the hows of his losses, just the effects- like he seeks reassurance that he's done all he could in the past, but can't tell me anything about it."
Luke nodded. "Allow him to keep these secrets he possesses to himself. There may well be pain behind such memories, names and actions that could trigger those emotions. It will be important for him to have friends to lean on when those moments inevitably come. And continue to encourage these connections between him and others. The last thing one should be in the universe is alone."
Syrra let out a small sigh. "You know... it's funny- there was a time before coming to the Praxeum where I believed in the old Jedi way of banishing attachment. I think it's why I never said goodbye to my aunt, why I never tried to connect with my mother or siblings, why it was hard for me to adjust to my time here- because I actually believed that was the best way to live as a Jedi." She paused. "Now here I am, quickly making friends and trying to help him to do the same, when the only reason I changed at all was because of him. I don't get that, Master."
"It may be his line of work made it difficult to have such comfortable ties- or that he allowed his own experiences to discourage him from making those connections until you came into his life. Something was different with you, something that must have compelled him see things from a new perspective. Is there anything you can think of?"
She thought about it at length, her brow furrowed in concentration as she sifted through her memories of her time with the wolf. After a few moments, she centered on one in particular- the moment he'd saved her from making a grievous mistake, followed by her helping a soul in pain open up. "Markus."
"The Besalisk you told me about?" Skywalker asked.
"Yes... I think maybe helping him cope with his loss, giving him some sense of closure with Calya and giving him a little bit of hope for the future... I think that helped Kajex too, in a way. Got him to see me differently. That's when he actually started giving a damn about me, putting the kind of faith in me that I'd never known before." She shrugged. "Maybe he's just holding out for good people, regardless of who they are or where they come from. And I think he saw it in Talrik's performance and character qualities. It would explain why he and Talrik have hit it off so well."
"How well?" the Grand Master asked with a knowing smile.
The Padawan smiled. "Can anyone hide anything from you, Master Skywalker?"
"Captain Surnahm is hard to read at times, particularly when he does not wish to be read- but right now I get the sense that he's expressing a particular interest in your recently-acquired crewmate," he said. "However, I expect your relationship with him is strong enough that you already had some idea, correct?"
Syrra cleared her throat- it was an awkward topic to talk about. "Neither he nor I have... er... done anything untoward to Talrik. But the attraction is there. I've... considered letting Kajex pursue it- I know he's had a few lovers in the past, which doesn't actually bother me."
Luke nodded. "I can't say that I have advice to impart on this- it's certainly not a situation I'm familiar with. Perhaps it would be best to tell what part of it does bother you."
The Trianii sighed, looking back out and spying a pair of Brush Canids far down below. A slight tremble ran through her as she watched them play with each other. "I suppose I'm worried about the fact that I'm not worried about it, if that makes sense. Trianii relationships are restrictive due to our religion and culture, and usually monogamous- but not always." She watched with interest as Garrett strode out near the jungle's edge, the brush canids approaching him without fear nor aggressiveness and bounding around him excitedly. "Having non-Trianii lovers is... unusual, but not forbidden. Homosexuality is, unfortunately. Polyarmory is also restricted unless the 'queen' is in a position of high authority, and even then it isn't practiced often."
Luke arched an eyebrow. "You speak as if you don't prescribe to these religious viewpoints. Are they at odds with what you truly believe as an individual?"
Syrra nodded, still watching the canids play with the Jedi human. "I've accepted the fact that I'm not a normal Trianii. I'm different in a lot of ways, not least of which are my short stature and my ability to use the Force- but in this case my view on relationships is... different. Where my other siblings disliked or hated my youngest brother for his personal proclivities, I found in him a reason to cherish him as another individual that deserved to be loved. So... no, I don't believe as most other Trianii do- I certainly don't have anything against homosexuality. But I can't decide if that means that an alternative relationship structure would be... right, I guess," she finished, not quite satisfied with her last words. "It doesn't help that Kajex is my first relationship."
The Jedi Master nodded, saying nothing for a moment, a small smile playing on his lips. "Then maybe you should allow yourselves to experiment."
Syrra jolted in surprise, falling off the stonework with a surprised curse.
Luke laughed, helping the Padawan up to her feet. "Not the response you were expecting, I take it."
Syrra fought to form words, thoroughly confused. "But... why?"
"After the way you have described your bond with Kajex in the past, I would be very surprised if he did not honor your personal wishes to maintain a monogamous relationship with you alone, if you were to tell him you wish for it to remain that way. That said, there's no way of knowing if allowing him to engage in physical relationships with other lovers this will either espouse jealousy or spark a positive influence on your relationship with both him and Talrik, until you actually try it. At worst, you'll discover it's not what you want and then go back to what you already have. Provided you do all you can to make your third member comfortable, I don't see it as being particularly detrimental." He grinned. "Besides, you should also take into account that he is a wolf, after all- and if he's anything like most categorically unevolved social canine species, polyarmory may actually come naturally to him."
"So, you think I should...?"
"The choice is yours alone, Padawan. All I can do is impart advice and caution- you alone control your actions."
She nodded, sighing as she slid the topic into the back of her mind, making a mental note to talk it over with her lover. "Is there anything else we should discuss?"
He inclined his head. "We've uncovered more information about this Circle of Syn, as well as your attacker. I've already imparted this knowledge to Captain Surnahm, but as you had been busy sparring earlier I decided this would be a satisfactory opportunity for a one-on-one discussion. As we had discussed months ago, the name concerns the ancient Sith Alchemist, Sorzus Syn. We were able to learn from the holocron you delivered to us 2 months ago that Syn was responsible for the creation of many abominations- among them are the Howlers here on Yavin 4, and the now-extinct Leviathan of Kesh."
Syrra grimaced. "'Creation?'" She did not like the sound of that.
Luke hesitated. "The Sith are responsible for a great many advances in studying the Dark Side of the Force. Not all of their discoveries were inherently evil, but most of them were easy for them to abuse, as they tried to stretch the limits of their knowledge- always at the needless cost of many lives. Among their unnatural research was the creation of monstrosities that they would unleash upon the Jedi in their wars. Sorzus Syn was among the first of the Sith to practice this 'alchemy', and was widely regarded as the most powerful among such practitioners."
"So this 'Circle' might be trying to replicate her work?"
He shrugged. "As to that, I can't say. What is known is they have many dark force users on their side. We identified your attacker as one called Knight Ulfric, a human from Coruscant who went missing about a decade ago. Since your last meeting, he has been sighted 4 separate times, always at the scene of great destruction on planets both within and without the New Republic territories." He paused, looking solemn. "We've lost 3 Jedi to him so far- a Master and her two apprentices. Thankfully all others have managed to survive their encounters, but if he is any indication of the caliber of our foes, then we'll be hard pressed to drive him back. And this coming merely a year after the Disciples of Ragnos Crisis, no less..." he sighed, shaking his head.
"Is there anything else?"
"They have been searching for Jedi and Sith artifacts, possibly to continue their experiments on kolto. My hunch is that kolto reacts positively or negatively depending on the presence of Light or Dark side abilities and artifacts. The effects of the Healing Crystal of Fire in particular is fascinating- and disturbing."
"Why is that?" she asked
"The dead must be allowed to remain at rest. At some point, all of us must become one with the Force. Bringing back an organism like that is something of a violation of life, by cheating it of death. Moreover, we know nothing of the effects it might have on sentient beings, nor how long dead a corpse can be to still be affected- the organism might go mad, or suffer deleterious side-effects. Last year, the Disciples of Ragnos tried to revive Marka Ragnos himself, and I fear that this kolto research could be used for the same purpose. The only upside to it all is that we know for certain, through New Republic Intelligence, that the Healing Crystal of Fire is one of the relics they do not possess- yet. If Jurah and his daughter were able to find one through their black market, there may well be other fragments in existence."
"What should I do, then?" she asked, standing straighter.
Luke smiled. "Keep doing what you're doing. You're been here almost a year, and you've shown yourself to be among the best of my students right now- it would be detrimental for you to remain lax. I'll have another assignment for you and Kajex by the end of the week, something that will aid in this conflict." He squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "I don't doubt that very soon you'll be ready for one of the Jedi trials. It would be best to be prepared for it."
She felt a thrill of excitement at the prospect of moving onwards as a Jedi, such that she barely contained her anxious tail-swishing. "Which trial?" she asked, trying to keep her voice neutral.
"Ah, now that would be telling," he chided good-naturedly, wagging a finger in admonishment before bowing to her. "I can only suggest that you have all your bases covered. Now, I'm afraid I have some other business I'll have to attend to- I'm glad we were able to have this discussion, Syrra."
"I as well," she responded in kind, bowing to him respectfully. "Thank you for your time."
"Gotcha, little fucker!" A screeching noise echoed through the ship, immediately silenced by the sound of a boot crunching heavily upon a thick shell. A groan of disgust followed. "Fuuuck... these boots were clean just yesterday, too." Talrik spared an annoyed glance at the remains of the ship parasite he had just dispatched, an insect about the size of his paw that had left a purple smear on the sides and sole of his footwear.
Kajex laughed as he leaned against the doorway, tossing a slightly damp minitowel next to the Amaran. In many ways, seeing the vulpine stooped beneath the engine reminded him of himself at a much younger age. "I know, right? I've had to wash my footwear more times than I care to remember because of these damn things. And I know the infestation is somewhere in the ship, I just haven't had the time and inclination to do anything about it, since it's small enough and slow enough I only have to do this every so often." He mused to himself. "I'm going to have to see if Syrra can track them down with her abilities. Might make for a good test I can write up to Master Skywalker. Don't worry about cleaning it up right now," he added as the vulpine almost started to use the towel to wipe the remains.
The fox nodded. "Well, might as well still put the trap in- it's too much to hope for that I just squished the nest's top breeder," he said sourly, grabbing a bug trap and reaching underneath the ship's port engine, then wiping his paws and dirty face with the towel. "Did you need something, Cap--" He caught his mistake quickly, started again. "What did you need, Kajex?"
"Nothing, really. Just wanted to talk- it's been over a month and I guess it just hit me that we haven't really talked much. How're you liking it on this ship?"
Talrik smiled. "Honestly? I'm enjoying it. You guys have been nothing but awesome to me, and all I have to do is whatever you ask me to do. Work is hard and the injuries can get bad, but at least I don't have to worry that I'm going to do something morally ambiguous, you know? And at least I get to keep up with my training, get to help you with yours. It's a bit impressive being able to see a Jedi in action up close without worrying that she's going to slice my limbs off," he said with a chuckle.
The wolf offered the younger fur a paw, helping him up. "Yeah, she's a sight to see in combat. So are you, for that matter- I keep saying it, but I still can't believe you put that many thugs down that quickly from so far away on our last mission."
Talrik blushed a bit, though he smiled appreciatively. "I've got a knack for marksmanship- top of my class, like I said." He wiped the last traces of oil and dust off his muzzle. "It was about the only thing I enjoyed about my time at the academy. I hated most of the rest of it because... well..." He trailed off, ears flattening.
Kajex tousled his hair, motioning him down the hall. "Don't focus on it, kid. Keep moving forward. You liked being able to find out what you were good at, right?"
Talrik nodded, looking relieved as he followed. "Yeah. The sense of accomplishment that came knowing I had a skill I could utilize. Best part was that even though there was a high risk of me having to put down an innocent civilian, I almost never got those assignments. The two times I did, I was skilled enough to subdue them with a non-fatal shot and blame it on the rifle optics."
"I believe it- were you actually aiming at that thermal detonator back on Kurah? That pretty much ended the whole thing quickly, Syrra was glad you saved my life like that."
The fox grinned, looking proud of himself- Kajex kept himself from laughing as he took a seat in the lounge, the resemblance between his younger self and the youth almost uncanny now. "If you only have so long to act, then act. Besides, with 5 blasters aimed at you and you too injured to move, I had to end it quickly," he explained. "It's one of the few useful rules in Imperial sharpshooting, to prioritize targets."
"Well, I know I said it already, but thanks a lot for that- you saved my life back there. Keep those skills sharp," Kajex advised. "You'll probably be putting it to more use soon. Anyway, was there anything you needed to talk about, or any concerns you feel you needed to bring up."
Talrik cocked his head. "Why do you ask?"
Kajex sighed, feeling a little guilty. "A part of me kinda feels bad. I wasn't exactly polite when I took you prisoner, even though it turned out you didn't exactly have a choice. I guess it just bothered me, knowing that you were forced to be a part of something you had no decision in and having to stick with it. And then after that, initially refusing your request to join Syrra and me." He paused, taking a moment to choose his words carefully. "Syrra probably already told you that I don't trust very easily, and I'm trying to get past that, even with those who are unfortunate enough to be our former enemies. I recall being a little snippy before we ended up on Kurah."
Talrik smiled. "It's fine- it's like you said then, you were feeling the pressure of the mission with someone new. You're miles ahead of any of my commanding officers in terms of treatment. I think you actually treat me really decently. But I'm up for talking whenever you'd like."
"Alright then. So, is there anything you need from me, or wanted to do?" Kajex asked encouragingly, taking the seat opposite the fox and leaning forward. "If you're going to be on board and away from your mother and sibling for days at a time, I think it'd be best that you at least feel you're among friends. So anything you can suggest that leads to me being less of an asshole, I'll give it a shot, I promise."
Talrik chuckled. "I appreciate that, Kaj. If I had to suggest anything..." he trailed off, running his paws along the holotable. "Lynch keeps kicking my tail at Pazaak everytime he's here, you heard him when he said he hadn't had a good streak since he started playing against you. I could use pointers, when you have the time- I'm down about 50 credits, I'd like to get that back."
Kajex grinned. "I'm game, when we have free time to spare. Wouldn't be the first time I've bonded over cards. Anything else?"
The fox nodded. "I see you and Syrra practicing hand-to-hand every so often. It's something I never picked up on, the Imperial Academy didn't offer advanced Echani to my kind, and it could really supplement my marksmanship. If you think you could spare the time..."
"Teach you Echani? That'd be fine, I could use a sparring partner while Syrra is at the Temple studying. Hell, if you want, we could even teach you how to handle a vibroblade- if we're going to be facing Sith, Dark Jedi or arrogant Force-sensitive dipshits like that one guy Syrra put down on Kurah, it might come in handy."
"That'd be great, actually," the fox said, his eyes lighting up and tail wagging slightly. "Other than that, though... I'd like it more if we did start talking more often. About anything, really. Just so I can know you a bit better."
"That's why I wanted to start talking with you," Kajex continued. "And to tell you that if anything else is bothering you for any reason, that you come talk to me, too." He smiled. "Hell, it's what I did with Syrra, ended up working- now she and I are together because of it."
There was a long pause as the scene seemed to freeze. The wolf grinned in amusement- though the word had obviously been said reflexively, without conscious thought, he had nonetheless been expecting something like this to occur. Talrik looked horrified at what he'd blurted out, apprehensively staring at the wolf to see what he would do. After perhaps a minute, Kajex burst out laughing.
"Kid, close your mouth before the ship parasites consider paying your muzzle rent for the space," he suggested good-naturedly.
"I didn't mean it like that!" the Amaran insisted, looking panicked. "I just meant that you're both lucky you've gotten together from it!"
"Yeah," the wolf agreed, not convinced in the slightest and trying not to laugh about it. "I guess we are pretty lucky. Probably lucky enough that it would make a cute guy like you jealous at times?"
"I'm not jeal-- wait, what?" Talrik looked stunned. "You... think I'm cute?"
Kajex nodded, smiling genuinely. "Sure. I can't speak on your species behalf, but I like how you look, sure. I think it's cute that you think I'd buy that your remark was anything more than an observation, as opposed to, say... envy? It's also kind of adorkable that you failed to take into account that you share this ship with a Jedi Padawan who has a good head for reading people."
The fox flushed brightly. "She... read my mind?!" he wheezed.
The wolf shook his head, still chuckling. "That's not what I said. She values your privacy like she does everyone else's. However, that doesn't stop her from picking up on those bursts of emotion and good vibes whenever you see me- you just kinda give it off to her, like the way the eye is drawn to a glow. I'm actually a little flattered you find me attractive as well."
"You don't mind?" the fox asked, ears folded back in embarrassment.
"Not at all. Part of the reason I didn't want to say anything was because of how you described your abuse. I wasn't completely sure if you felt capable of trusting people on a deeper level because of that," the wolf explained quietly.
"I'm... I mean, it's not really like that," Talrik stammered, looking away. "It's not just physical or anything, just... a lot of admiration. You went out of your way to help me, how could I not appreciate that?"
The wolf raised an eyebrow, grinning. "Is that right? Because typically, most clients I've had in the past whom I've done rescues for don't moan my name during the late hours when they think a locked door will block all the noise- not solely out of 'admiration', anyway." Talrik looked completely speechless, and the wolf continued. "I would've thought that you'd have learned these last few weeks that sound tends to carry on my ship. Syrra learned that on day one, because I'd forgotten- it's why my quarters are now sound-proofed. She didn't have to sense your feelings to figure it out since you were carrying on fairly well just from the return trip to the Praxeum the first day we even met- to say nothing of the fact you've done it almost every night since then. And not necessarily to just me, but Syrra too," he added.
"Shit..." the fox breathed out, looking ready to pass out from the embarrassment.
"Deep breaths, kid," Kajex advised casually as he got up and put a paw on the young man's back soothingly, the fox complying and trying to steady himself with controlled respiration- the wolf smiled down at him kindly. "I'm not mad and neither is Syrra- and I'm not trying to give you shit for it, I'm really not. I just I think it'd help for you to know that I don't mind that you've got a thing for me- I just want you to be comfortable here, and I'm keeping my mind and arms open for you, if it helps."
Talrik swallowed. "I... don't know what to say."
"Say nothing for now. As it stands, even if I wanted to pursue a closer relationship you, I wouldn't- not without asking. I promised Syrra that I wouldn't, er... fool around with anyone else, unless she gave me clear permission to do so. She's made the same promise, and I told her if she's interested she's more than welcome to pursue others physically- not that she has. The only reason she even brought it up with me is because she likes you too." He smiled. "Not like she's in love with you or anything, but she thinks you're cute- and she does care about you as a good friend. Still, it's more important right now that you and I getting a better feel for each other, you know?"
The fox was blushing so hard at this point Kajex was surprised he could still discern the cream-colored fur of his undermuzzle from the rest of his pelt. "That... would probably be a good idea," he said weakly, managing a wan smile as the older male stroked the back of his neck. The wolf paused for a moment, then reached out a gave the younger male a rub behind the ears affectionately, smiling as the vulpine's body stiffened.
"Just try to relax. Now that it's out in the open and you know the response you can quit worrying about it, right?"
"... Can you do this more often?" Talrik murred softly, leaning into the ear-rub.
The captain smiled. "Anytime."
Syrra peeked into the dim room, looking side to side. "What'd I miss?" she asked with a slight twinkle in her eyes.
Kajex sat up, still clothed and alone in bed. "You missed absolutely nothing," he stated with an amused chuckle. "Well, besides Talrik demonstrating a little jealousy and me spilling the beans on the fact that both of us know he gets himself off to me."
"Then why are you in bed?"
The wolf stuck out his tongue. "I'm an adult with a high-risk job, I can take a nap whenever the hell I want, lady."
She laughed. "Just checking- Master Skywalker said he was getting strong vibes between you two," she grinned as she sat down on the bed's edge. "For a moment I thought you'd wiggled off the leash and went in on him. Is he okay?"
He nodded. "A little red in the face but I tried to get him to see it positively. Told him not to get his hopes up, it's still your decision whether anything happens between him and me. So, what'd he tell you that he hasn't told me yet?"
"We'll be getting another assignment by the end of the week, he says. Other than that, he just wanted to touch bases with me and see how things are going between us. It's weird- I don't know if he talks about these sorts of things with anybody else," she admitted, unzipping her bomber jacket and tossing it onto the bed, flopping onto the bed and staring at the ceiling. "I talk about our relationship together, a lot of the time."
Kajex smiled, flopping next to her playfully. "Nothin' wrong with that. You're a Jedi, making sure you have a good, healthy relationship is key to making sure you don't go nuts if I get hurt, right?"
"I dunno- I can't imagine other Jedi talking about... well, things like whether it'd advisable to engage in polyamory, you know?"
Kajex shifted his head, looking quizzical. "... Wait, you talked about that?"
She turned her head, raising an eyebrow. "Should I not? It's not like you're able to hide it from him, he told me one of you two was getting aroused while he and I were talking."
"Poor kit," Kajex said sympathetically. "Ah well, if Luke already knows, there's no sense in lying about it. I don't think many people could pull one over him. But no, I don't mind- I just thought you did."
Syrra nodded. "So... what do you think? Should I loosen the leash?"
The wolf grinned. "That's your decision. But to help you decide, I'll answer that with another question, because your answer may depend on it- did you ever happen to peruse through my male-on-male content?"
The feline swallowed, feeling a burn in her cheeks. "Y-yeah..."
"Did you see anything you liked?" he asked, rolling onto his stomach, folding his arms and resting his head on them.
She hesitated. "... You know the one with the Falleen and the Chistori couple, where the Falleen seduces the 'mercenary', but gets in over his head because the Chistori is bigger and stronger, and they have that hot spring scene and..." She trailed off, hiccuping nervously, then turning to Kajex. "Wait... are you getting turned on by this?" She glanced at the wolf's left paw, which had disappeared beneath him.
The wolf grinned again, tail wagging enthusiastically. "No, I'm just adjusting myself," he lied quite obviously. "But I know which one you're talking about. So, seeing a bigger guy give it to a smaller male turns you on?"
Syrra whimpered slightly, hiccuping again and hiding her face. "I feel like a pervert for admitting it... but yes."
Kajex reached over, petting her ears with his other paw. "Aww, don't feel bad, kitten," he reassured her soothingly. "Like I said, I have a decade and a half of experience- it took a while for me to be comfortable with my bisexuality. I don't expect people who are new to it to feel the same way, certainly not if they come from a culture that's more rigid, like yours." He leaned over. "So... ever thought about what it would be like if I plowed our little fox friend?" he breathed into her ear, grinning wickedly as she shivered.
"Stooop," she whined, putting a paw on his face and pushing him back, though she found herself smiling. "Okay, yes- I've fantasized it a couple of times. It doesn't help he keeps getting off to you almost every night- and to me at least once a week."
"I was wondering why you kept grabbing my butt and poking under my tail lately," he laughed, making her blush harder. "Well, the upside is that if I invite him to join us in bed, it'll mean only one load of sheets to clean instead of two," he joked, refolding his arms. "But in all seriousness- I'm going to ask him after warming him up to the idea. Given his rough history, it's better that we make it clear that we have no intention of hurting him in any way- he's our friend." He paused. "If, that is, I have your permission."
She considered the wolf carefully, then nodded. "Okay... on three conditions."
She held up her left index finger. "First, he has to say yes. It needs to be consensual, like you said."
"Agreed," Kajex acknowledged solemnly. "Gotta make sure we don't hurt him in any way."
She raised a second finger. "Secondly, you have to let me know when you're going to... er... fuck," she said bashfully. "That way I can stay out of the way if possible, and... join if I feel like it," she admitted, a deep blush spreading across her face. "It has to be a 3-person involvement, you know? I mean, n-not sex-wise! Just, I h-- fuck, you know what I mean!"
The wolf flashed his teeth teasingly. "I know what you mean, and I'll let you know. And I'll try not to tease you too much about it."
She sat up raising a third finger. "Lastly, and this is most important... if I feel uncomfortable with the arrangement at all, and I say to stop... you stop. No questions asked."
Kajex sat up with her, scooting in close and wrapping his arms around her, nodding. "Absolutely. You come first, kitten." He nuzzled affectionately into her cheek. "I don't want anyone on this ship to be unhappy, so we'll take it slow." He smiled as she drew in close to him, purring into his chest, stroking her back. "Incidentally, what made you change you mind?"
Syrra hesitated. "Master Skywalker suggested that if you're naturally anything like a social canine species, that you might possess a kind of..." she struggled to find a the right, inoffensive words, "... a kind of... predisposition, towards polyamory."
Kajex raised an eyebrow, a half-smile on his muzzle. "That almost sounds stereotypically racist," he joked. "But since I know only one other member of my race, there's no way to say for sure whether or not he might be on to something." He sighed, looking around. "If nothing else, I guess it helps that deep down, I guess I do want more closeness in my life- the ship hasn't had a crew since..." he paused, looking slightly pained, "... since Bran and Kane and me, I guess."
Syrra licked his cheek. "I wish I knew them, if only to see how Talrik and I compare to them."
"Don't be silly. I'm happy with the way you guys are now. And trust me, you guys are a lot more like Bran and Kane than you might think. Deep down, though... I miss having a family. I love you, Syrra, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't like Talrik. He's a good guy, he's got a good heart- and I know he's eager to be a permanent part of the ship." He sank onto his back, staring at the ceiling. "Fact is... I think the reason he's hit it off so well with us is because we might be the first people to actually be decent to him. I can empathize with that, to be honest."
Syrra ran a paw against the beads in his hair. "For someone as sweet as you, I still find that hard to believe."
Kajex scoffed. "The universe as a whole tends to be very reactive. People tend to need little more than a first glance to come to a conclusion- when I was younger, it got me into a lot of scuffles with the kids who thought I was the bad kind of 'wolf'. I admit I'm guilty of it too- I treated Talrik with distrust based on the training he had and the armor he wore, and not the heart underneath it all. He deserved better than that."
The Trianii smiled, lazily laying her head on his chest. "You're a good 'wolf', love. But I think even the best 'wolves' are cautious. Don't be too hard on yourself, I know Talrik understands why you were apprehensive- and now you know he's a good 'wolf' too."
The captain nodded, putting a paw on her head, thumbing her beads. "So if this works... does this mean we'll be a 'pack'?"
"I think it does... 'Alpha.'" She smiled, nuzzling into him.
For the next few days neither Kajex nor Syrra did anything particularly direct where Talrik was concerned- the only change seemed to consist of a subtle shift in mood whenever the fox and wolf were in the same room. It was far from cold, as Kajex had been initially towards the younger man when the two had first met- but Syrra pointed out that Talrik's posture was a little more uncertain and apprehensive, though his attitude seemed more hopeful and warm.
He and Kajex had spent the first evening relaxing with the older captain teaching the younger soldier some of the finer points of Pazaak and showing him how it was not as simple a game as it was made out to be. As they played, they talked, with Talrik revealing more about himself- that he was born on Naboo to his merchant parents; that he and his family had fled after the Battle of Endor to avoid being caught in the crossfire of the Rebellion victory-inspired uprising against the local Imperial garrison; that they had arrived on Teeva months before the Imperial Remnant arrived and claimed the territory; that his father and his crew had gone missing when he was 14 and were presumed dead; and that he had been conscripted into Imperial training only a year later.
The discussions weren't completely sobering, though- the vulpine soldier seemed more at ease the more he talked to the both of them. Neither of them asked if he had any particular prior relationships before he'd been "kidnapped" as it seemed fairly clear the answer would have been no. Nevertheless, he'd still managed to have a somewhat decent life before he'd been forced to work for the Empire, though he admitted he had once wanted to apply to be a security volunteer back on Naboo, to be a hero- a childish dream, perhaps, but one he was starting to live out in a very different, though also very agreeable, fashion.
Though they only had a few days before they would be given a new assignment, all three of them spent most of their hours of that time training, with Syrra helping Talrik develop better skill in Echani martial arts and Kajex doing constant repairs and upgrades on the Praxeum's remote drones to help keep Talrik's marksmanship in top shape. It also gave the Academy's students a constant supply of better training apparatus. The side effect of this was that it helped both Syrra and Talrik learn more about droid and machine repair in addition to programming and operating slicing interfaces. With new gear acquired from their last few missions, Kajex's armory was more robust and diverse, prompting both him and Talrik to give Syrra lessons on the new weaponry- though the wolf lamented that they had to give up some of the "niftier new toys" to the New Republic because they were, as Master Katarn pointed out, "technically illegal, even if they are pretty cool". At the very least they were able to keep Argus' Stouker concussion rifle, which Kajex had allowed Talrik to handle, much to the fox's glee.
The end result of all this was that Kajex was starting to feel like the mentor Skywalker had hoped he'd be for Syrra- and that mentorship was rapidly extending to Talrik. It was far easier to coordinate together during their jungle training exercises than he had expected- the bond that he and Syrra shared gave them a level of trust that seemed unfathomable, and Talrik's drive, discipline and eagerness to help was inspiring to watch at times. So when the week came to an end and Kyle Katarn banged on the Rush's hatch to give them their assignment (and get ready for Sabaac night), Kajex had never felt more confident in his team, and looked forward to the evening with high spirits about the job.
Although, as much as he was beginning to enjoy card night, he still had his gripes.
"No, Kyle, I'm not going to stock Ruby Bleil on my ship! The last time I did my boyfriend, may the Force preserve him, tripped and spilled it into the cargo grating- and now I have ship parasites that have been there for 7 years! I've got Tony's Corellian Ale and Hutch Brew Light- and water! Take your pick!"
"That's it?" Katarn grumbled as he dropped into a seat in the lounge.
"This is a Corellian smuggler ship- not a Corellian bar!" Kajex shouted from the galley.
"So why are you making everyone besides me and Syrra pay for the drinks?" Talrik called back wryly, grinning.
"Because I'm the one that's purchasing the drinks anytime I'm off-planet- and as you're my employee and Syrra is my student, you two get free drinks," he groused, having decided to extract the entire cooling box back into the lounge with him. "And no, I don't buy it with my Sabaac winnings. You guys keep drinking me outta house and home, I'm gonna institute a BYOB policy for anyone that wants to play- or I'll have to program some Core World Poker into the table and kick all of your asses with a proper, vintage card game to get my liquors." He set the alcohol case next to the holo-display table slid into the seat next to Talrik. "Who's coming tonight, Kyle?"
"Corran said he's out, Mirax started going into labor a few hours ago and he wants to be there. Lynch isn't coming either, says he's waiting for a less busy night so he can screw more credits out of Lye's pockets." Talrik said nothing, though he looked a little irritated. "Garrett is bringing along Master Simetra, though. Syrra here yet?"
"She's picking up some ration capsules and other equipment from the quartermaster. So why couldn't Master Skywalker give me the details this time?" Kajex asked as he started passing around the bottles.
"He's off-world, visiting his sister and offering political counsel- not that it's his forte, but he's still family. Got the briefing with me, though, if you want to go over it real quick before we start playing." He held up a datapad. "Mind if I connect here?"
"Fine- just don't get your drink on the display," the wolf sighed as Kyle jacked it in. "Took me all of an evening to clean it off last time."
The holographic emitters sprung to life, casting an expanded image of the screen's contents suspended in midair in a ghostly blue light, just as the sound of footsteps at the ramp echoed through the ship. Syrra rounded the bend, carrying a trio of satchels and setting them off to the side, raising her eyebrows in interest. "Did I miss anything?"
"Not at all, you got here just in time. So anyway-" Kyle tapped the screen, bringing up a holographic display of a massive belt of asteroids as the feline took her seat. "You'll be traveling to the Byssus Belt, an interesting little series of asteroids connected via AI-controlled gravity well projectors and reinforced tubular systems for transport- a right little marvel of pioneer ingenuity."
"Mining colony?" Kajex asked.
"Ship scrapyard, docking station and mercenary outpost, actually." The wolf groaned and Kyle smiled. "Figured this is right up your alley, Captain. And don't worry, the guild there is controlled by a former Antarian Ranger- they'll deal with Jedi fairly. He caught wind about the Remnant's recent interest in Jedi and Sith artifacts- he was one of our trusted contacts who gave us leads during the Disciples of Ragnos Crisis a couple of years back, and now he's got something extra for us to look at."
"Do you not like working with other mercenaries, Kaj?" Talrik asked with a tilted head.
"The ones doing it solely for the money tend to be assholes about it," the wolf grunted. "I only ever met one or two who were decent women. Still, if it's an Antarian Ranger at the helm, they might not be so bad. So what are we going there for?" he asked, glancing at down the hall to the ramp as Garrett and a heavily-tattooed woman about his age walked in.
"One of the local scavvers there is a Force-sensitive, she felt a pull in one of the older vessels and investigated- came across a pair of damaged pauldrons she says burned her hands when she tried to pick them up. That alone suggests it's probably a Sith artifact. Mission is pretty simple- get to Southern Star Station, meet with the guild leader and commander, Ray, and get the package back here safe. Couldn't be easier," Kyle finished.
"Please don't say that, Katarn," Kajex hissed, ears flattening as he reset the holographic display and passed around a few more bottles while Kyle, Garrett and their new guest paid for the drinks. "Every time someone says that, I either get shafted about 300 credits or something really bad happens."
Lynch rounded the bend, the portly blonde pilot grinning. "Guess that means I'm winning tonight."
Talrik frowned. "What are you doing here?" he asked, ears folded back. "Thought you were skipping tonight."
"I changed my mind to siphon more credits, kid- hope your boss here is paying you well," he chuckled, dropping into a seat.
Talrik grimaced, then leaned in close to Kajex, muttering. "Core World Poker, you said?" The wolf nodded. "Do it."
Grinning at the vulpine, Kajex stood back up. "Alright, Sabaac night, folks. Glad to have Master Simetra with us tonight," he indicated politely the tattooed woman, who treated everyone to a peaceful smile, "so as she's new to this, let's go over the rules again- no mind reading, mind tricks, Jedi concealment, skifters, dirty topics, bad jokes, spilling any drinks on my table, non-Republic currency betting or sneaking into the galley for my frozen noodles. House rules tonight are Bespin Standard." Lynch groaned and Talrik pumped a fist in the air as little subtlety as possible. "Bottles of ale are 8 decicreds- spill any drinks on my ship and you owe me 8 full creds, right?"
"Highway robbery," Lynch muttered.
"You want to pay the Academy chef for snacks next card night? No? Then deal with it," the wolf responded, as the rest of the players chuckled. "Now stop whining and let's deal, right?"
Locke did not immediately look up, regarding the vixen resting in his arms with genuine affection as he ran a paw through her fur. It had taken 3 hours of intimacy to quell her desires, but it was easy to be dutiful and generous where she was concerned. When he finally did answer, his response was distant and preoccupied. "... I assume it's of great importance, Miles. Quietly, please- my apprentice needs her rest. And as I've said before, my friend- you may call me Locke."
"Alright, Locke. Long-range transceiver picked up a signal from the ISD Grand Finale. The transmission is coded and I've made all security checks to ensure it remains discreet."
The wolf shifted out of the bunk carefully, laying Keris down gently and rubbing her ears for a moment before nodding, getting his robes back on. "Thank you, Miles. I'll require privacy while I accept the transmission."
"I'll stay back here, keep a figurative eye on things," Miles stated, taking a seat in the room as Locke strode past him into the vessel's cockpit.
The knight had spent the last 3 weeks along the Outer Rim, tracking down known locations of Jedi who had escaped Order 66 decades ago. Though none of his targets still remained, as he had predicted, the artifacts they had possessed did- tracking the items in turn had proven to be far less difficult afterward. The trio had been ordered to report in by the end of the month, though Locke suspected that if he was being contacted now by Inquisitor Voyde, then another trinket had been located and required immediate attention before the Jedi intervened.
He slid into the pilot's chair, tapping a finger on the console for a few moments before sitting up straight and activating the transceiver, his eyes on a small holo-emitter before him. The ghostly, blue-grey image of his master took shape, his wrinked, age-marbled skin almost grotesque. His glacial eyes were narrowed as he stared at the wolf with an expression bordering on dislike.
"Good evening, Inquisitor Voyde," Locke said with an insincere smile. "Couldn't sleep?"
The Sith lorekeeper glared at him. "I demand an update on your progress, Knight Locke."
The wolf sighed. "Very well. We've retrieved 2 Jedi war swords and a holocron in the last 3 weeks. I intend to return to the Grand Finale to deliver these items to you before moving to the next tar--"
"Ignore the next target, Knight," Voyde said abruptly. "You're doing exceptional work, far beyond what I expected. But your next target will have to wait." There was a glint in the Inquisitor's eyes. "A far greater prize has recently been located. Inquisitor Tesque is aware of it, and has started to make her move."
Locke frowned. "Which means Ulfric is meant to intercept it."
"Precisely," the Inquisitor confirmed grimly. "This is a situation where we cannot allow that brute to approach. The prize here is too great a lure, the beast will take it for Tesque, if not himself. They cannot be allowed to possess it- so I am tasking you with getting to it first."
"Very well," Locke replied with a nod- rare though it was for him to agree with his master, their disgust for Ulfric's barbarism was a common ground for them both. "Where am I being sent?"
"To the Byssus Belt."