"The overall problem with Trianii politics is how ingrained with religion it is. Perhaps not a full-fledged theocracy, but enough so that its dogma heavily influences both public perception and government policy. And unfortunately for those coming to the Trian system from other worlds, people of different cultures, beliefs and species; their religion has alot to say about off-worlders- not all of it good, either. The only thing that prevents the most xenophobic of their yu'nar from being labeled racist, most times, is the fact that they justify it with their beliefs."
~Liam Valcane, CSA Financial Officer
Baarok Manor was a known establishment on Ekibo, though to say it was out in the middle of nowhere would not be untrue. Night had fallen on the region and the cloud cover above had not yet dispersed completely, placing the estate in a pitch-black environment that none but those with solid evening-sight could see. For a Trianii, this was no issue whatsoever- but never had Syrra been so afraid of what was coming from the darkness before her, even if it involved a figure she knew. Determined as she was to face her birth-mother, the prospect of explaining her connection to Kajex was... daunting.
The chill of the night did not help either. Why, she wondered, do such things always happen when it's cold out?
They heard the speeder approaching long before they saw it, catching the considerably loud hiss and whine of an incoming vehicle with engines too powerful to be practical for a surface transport. Before long they saw it- a long, luxury model that was far too gaudy to be reasonable, clearly designed for overcompensation. No fewer than 6 Trianii were seated within, consisting a male driver, 4 lightly-armored female bodyguards with long-rifles and inactive fire-brands- and in the back, seated alone, the Matriarch herself, head held high and indifference painted on her features as the speeder slowed to a halt, right at the marble steps leading up to the Central Spire, where Syrra and Iaora waited.
Syrra grimaced. "New speeder model."
"Easy, my child- let's not antagonize the Matriarch over her questionable buying habits," Iaora suggested softly, drawing a chuckle from the younger feline.
Syrra noted with disdain that Bast remained seated while her security personnel hopped out and prepared her exit out of the vehicle, opening the side hatch and placing a small series of steps beneath it before getting to either side and offering their paws to help her out- the chauffeur stayed behind, looking relieved to be out of her presence. The Jedi had seen the caricatures of political elitism within the New Republic, but there was a stark difference here- while other politicians within that region might have had servants to do the same, Bast was not the corpulent, lazy and short-sighted official many would expect from someone so aloof. She was tall, more powerfully built than most Trianii female, as if she had kept herself in prime shape for so long, at least on par with Kajex's moderately athletic build, if not stronger- and she was much taller than he was, standing at an impressive 7 feet. She moved with grace and agility, poise that came from years of mindful walking and posturing. Why she needed 4 Trianii to help her out of her seat... well, Syrra knew why- it was to give the impression that she was deserving of nothing less.
The Padawan had left behind Kajex's brown bomber jacket despite the chill in the air, considering it an unwise decision for her birth-mother to see her in anything less than her form-fitting traditional Jedi attire. It was a better decision than she initially anticipated- as Bast and her escort approached, Syrra could see the flowing robes of gold-trimmed green silk wrapped around her form, the glint of beads and gems visible on her wrists, ankles and brow as she sauntered up the steps towards them. The disparity between Syrra's humble attire compared to her birth-mother's striking garments could not be more apparent to anyone except perhaps the physically blind, and even then the audible jangle of the Matriarch's superfluous jewelry might have clued in the visually impaired.
Yet by the time she had reached the top step, Syrra had set aside her internal criticism and bowed with Iaora, keeping her eyes low. "Matriarch Bast," she intoned evenly.
Bast's green eyes fell on her daughter- Syrra knew she was critically examining her attire, even if she said nothing about it. "Syrra- it has been far too long," she said haughtily, stepping forward and holding her arms open. With the barest amount of hesitation, Syrra stepped up to her mother and allowed herself to be embraced, the elder Trianii planting a kiss on her forehead. "I was told your servant's ship had arrived in Denhaven, and decided to surprise you- you always did like to spend time at my humble sister's estate."
"It was no trouble hosting her and her friends," Iaora replied smoothly. "I have made sure their accommodations over the last few days were comfortable." Syrra wondered how she could remain so calm- the remark about Kajex being her 'servant' struck a nerve, but rather than directly correct the Matriarch she nodded, settling for clarification.
"My instructor had business to attend to in Drohesh, before we arrived here... mother," she added, hoping Bast did not notice the hesitation. The last thing she desired was to offend someone so powerful. "I allowed him to settle his matters first, as they seemed more pressing." This was true enough- the wolf's absence had caused him to fall behind on his 'rent' for the hangar space, which was easy to pay off, but had required his presence all the same.
Bast nodded. "Be sure to put your priorities ahead in the future, daughter. If he is well-trained already, then your education must come first." She turned to her younger sister, eyeing her critically. "May we have your leave to enter your home?" Syrra frowned slightly- this was an unnecessary formality, one used only between Trianii who were not kin. Family was always allowed in family's homes unless there was reason to suspect it was not safe to do so, or that the answer would be no; the latter of which was rude to suggest.
Iaora bowed again. "Of course, Matriarch." She gestured Bast towards the entrance, her gaze looking a little cool as Bast guided Syrra beside her with her paw on her shoulder. Syrra knew she disliked the social dances that such meetings required of her, and Syrra felt the same way, mostly because she knew only just enough to keep up without being able to excel. Sooner or later, she suspected her birth-mother would point out a flaw or shortcoming to indirectly criticize- probably her attire.
Bast glanced to the Padawan at her side. "I would have thought as an emissary of the Jedi Order that you would have donned something a little more... traditional, by Trianii standards- you are home, not among students of the Force." Syrra found herself struggling not to sigh irritably- she had predicted the criticism accurately.
"I'm technically on Jedi business still, mother," Syrra replied quietly. "I thought it best to comport myself as a Jedi should, to make it clear who I am associated with."
"Your lightsaber should have been a sufficient badge of association to inform others, shouldn't it?" she asked, casting a glance at her hip. She paused, frowning. "Though I recall your weapon being different. You are not wearing your kin's lightsaber on your side. I would hear an explanation for this."
This time Syrra did sigh, though more to steady her nerves. "I encountered a Sith on my first solo mission, as I'm sure you're aware. In the ensuing battle I was critically injured and she destroyed my weapon- I was forced to build a new one."
Bast's look of disappointment did not fade. "You were defeated? Have these Jedi been teaching you properly? Have you kept up with your training?"
Syrra kept her anger in check. "I am being taught quite well, mother, and I am training hard. The warrior in question was equally skilled at the time, and simply found an opening." Not quite true- Syrra was forced to admit the Keris had been the far better fighter back on AS-303, but there was no way she was going to let the Matriarch know that. "I was able to retaliate before escaping with the prisoners I was sent to rescue, however."
Bast nodded. "So you killed her, then?"
The Padawan flinched slightly. "No. But she will not soon forget the injury I did to her," she assured her mother- though she did not say that Keris was over it.
Bast seemed satisfied with Syrra's response, nodding again and motioning her to follow. "You do your people honor by fighting on their behalf. It's a shame that we don't see you around more often to keep doing so- though if you've found a male on this planet that has struck your fancy, perhaps that will be reason enough for you to stay in the future, or at least visit more often."
Syrra feigned ignorance. "What do you mean?"
"Please, child. Your devotion beads are clear to anybody who bothers to look and see them for what they are. You did not possess them prior to leaving for your Jedi education. I assume you fell in love with one of the males you had rescued during your mission?"
Syrra paused. "It's true that I did meet him in the course of my first solo operation, yes. And I did rescue him," she lied honestly, as they entered the warm entrance of the Central Spire.
"Is he of noble birth?" Bast pressed as they continued down the cooler, open halls of the manor. Syrra glanced behind them, noticing Iaora as she kept close behind- her true mother gave her a subtle nod, which Syrra recognized as a sign to cast her lover in a positive light.
"Not rich nor deeply affiliated, no," Syrra admitted, "yet I find him quite noble. A pilot and a philanthropist who has spent much of his life helping others, rescuing people and conducting investigations to apprehend criminals." She smiled to herself- the description was certainly accurate. "And he's remarkably skilled and brave."
"A Trianii Ranger?"
"I'm afraid not, no- but certainly as courageous and selfless as the best of them. He reminds me of Father," she stated honestly. "Or at least, he reminds me of how others spoke of his bravery and heroism."
Bast seemed to brighten at this. "Well then, I'm certainly interested in meeting this young man. Is he among us tonight?"
Syrra nodded reluctantly. "As a matter of fact, he is- although... as positively as I speak of him, I'm not sure you'll approve."
The Matriarch paused, her eyes narrowed. "... Is there something you're not telling me?"
"Only what you have not asked me to answer," Syrra responded honestly. "Follow me and I'll introduce you to him- it would be quicker and easier." Steeling herself for the storm that would likely follow, she led the way towards the manor lounge, hoping desperately that Kajex was ready.
"I'm not ready. I'm not fucking ready," Kajex repeated in a panicked state of mind, his large paws covering his face as he rocked back and forth anxiously. He had put on a brave face for Syrra while she was around- now that she was gone, he was letting his nerves destroy themselves, jittering every few moments as his eyes darted around the luxurious room. "You were right Talrik, we should've just left, Aarn's drink isn't helping."
"Give him another shot, doc," Talrik advised Aarn, keeping an arm around Kajex's shoulders and trying to keep him steady as he started staring into the fireplace.
Aarn frowned sympathetically, filling the wolf's glass with more whiskey. "I might actually prescribe a mild sedative to him instead, the poor boy looks ready to crack."
"Kaj, this is for Syrra, remember?" Talrik said forcefully as he squeezed the wolf's shoulder. "She's gonna need you for this."
"Kid, I've been shot, stabbed, bludgeoned and have been terrified out of my wits by some of the things I've seen in my line of work. But right now, I wish Knight Ulfric were alive so I could have a go against him instead of doing... this." Aarn offered him a refilled glass and Kajex snatched it from him, knocking it back in one go, groaning as the burn of alcohol rolled down his throat. Dealing with officials in positions of power was one thing, he would make them chafe if he didn't like them, goad them and irritate them if they deserved it; but dealing with one who was Syrra's mother and had enough influence to potentially make Aarn's and Iaora's lives a living hell was quite another.
"Easy there, son! The last thing we want from Bast is to think you're a drunk." He sat on the other side of the wolf, putting a paw on his back. "You're a good lad, going out of your way to help my employees and their families the way you did. Bast may not like that her daughter is committed to being with you, but risking your life to save Trianii lives has got to count for something to her. Now- deep breaths, Captain."
The wolf complied, sitting up and filling his lungs to the brim before letting it out slowly. Not all of the anxiety went with the air, but enough of it did. "Alright... I can't do this, but I can fake it. Talrik?"
"Just keep close to me so that if I pass out I don't break my neck falling over or anything."
The fox smiled dryly. "You're going to be fine. Or you'll look like an an asshole in front of a powerful politician for one night only, in which case you can count on Syrra and I to help you physically unwind afterwards."
"Don't mention that in front of her," Kajex whined.
"Take it easy- I'm just your assistant, that's all," he said, smiling reassuringly. He grabbed Kajex's shoulders as a click at the door sounded, keeping him in place as the wolf jumped. "Easy, Captain! She's about to come in."
Kajex nodded, standing up and trying not to sway from his lightheadedness as he faced the opening door, watching as Syrra strode in, followed by Iaora and a tall, physically-imposing Trianii with green silk robes that towered over both of them. Her eyes briefly glanced over him and Talrik, though they did not linger on either of them for long as Aarn stepped forward, bowing respectfully as the door clicked behind them.
"My aides told me you were coming. It's always a pleasure to have you in our home, Matriarch, though I apologize that we had such short notice to properly prepare for your arrival. Have you been well?" he asked.
Bast regarded the shorter Trianii with an expression that seemed to border on polite disdain. "I've been fine, Aarn. And who are your two guests, may I ask?"
Aarn gestured to the Amaran, who bowed his head slightly, looking apprehensive. "This is Talrik Lye, a military associate of Syrra's from the Jedi Praxeum, currently a crew member of the Gold Rush; and this good man here is Captain Kajex Surnahm, the ship's owner and Syrra's associate and instructor in the Jedi Order."
If Kajex knew he could bow without falling over, he would have done it- instead, he managed a weak smile and nodded his head. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Matriarch- Syrra's told me a lot about you." He kept the smile up even as he noticed her eyes flashing dangerously- she had noticed the devotion beads strung in his hair. Even now she was surveying the colors; the placeholder white pearls, the gold-shaded topaz... and when she reached the sapphire blue beads, he could see the fire in her emerald eyes, noticed the stiffness in her posture. Her expression stayed neutral, but Kajex thought he could detect the barest scowl on her face as she regarded him.
Her voice was low and pleasant- and dangerous. "A pleasure to meet you, Captain." She stared at him. "I certainly wish Syrra had told me about you- or even told me anything at all," she said smoothly, glancing in the Padawan's direction. "I was unaware her Jedi Master seemed so... common."
Kajex cleared his throat, trying to get his nerve back. "I'm not a Jedi Master, ma'am- just a philanthropist with a lot of useful skills, teaching Syrra all I can to supplement her Force abilities."
Now the Matriarch did frown. "They assigned a non-Jedi to my daughter? Why? What is the meaning of this?" she demanded.
"She gets on well enough on her own," Kajex offered, trying to salvage the situation. "She's something of a quick study when it comes to learning Force abilities, in fact- she really doesn't need my help on that front. I'm really just the training dummy, the guy who tries to keep up with her while sparring and all that."
"Really." Bast stepped forward, eyeing the captain critically before turning to Syrra. "Trained as he may be, daughter... I fail to see why you have bonded so well to this so-called 'training dummy'," she stated, a low growl rolling in her chest as she spoke.
Syrra straightened, looking calm despite the growing tension. "Because despite what he may say about himself, he's also a hero," she said seriously. "He's nearly given his life to save our people in the past, and he's done it for many others as well." Kajex warmed at the comment, smiling at Syrra as she reciprocated his expression.
"Is that all?"
Syrra visibly flinched as if she'd been slapped. Talrik sharply breathed in, looking pale at the words, and Iaora and Aarn seemed speechless- Kajex frowned slightly. For a moment, the Padawan seemed to be at a loss for words. "I... pardon me? Whatever do you mean, mother?"
"Don't feign ignorance, child," Bast warned, her scowl becoming more pronounced. "You devotion beads match his precisely, it's plain as day you've chosen him as your potential mate. Do you mean to tell me that you've bonded yourself to a mercenary, a non-Trianii who had to be paid to aid our people, and that his single contribution to saving our people merited this union?"
Syrra swallowed. "It's... not a union, mother."
"Not yet, anyway." Kajex matched the Matriarch's scowl with a hard stare of his own. Perhaps Aarn's double dose of whiskey had finally kicked in, but the wolf felt it was more likely that seeing yet another elitist talking down to him, and even worse in front of the woman he was in love with, had both settled and bolstered his nerves. "I just don't think it's time yet for me to ask your daughter to be my mate." He straightened up a bit more, trying to ignore Syrra's surprised look. "And with all due respect, ma'am, I've been helping the civilians of the Trian system since I was 15 with my parents, for low cost. I have to find some way to pay the medical bills I rack up while doing it, after all."
Bast strode forward, the powerful Trianii looking down at the captain as he stood his ground. "You intend to ask for her hand eventually, then."
The wolf nodded. "Eventually. When she's ready. Not before."
Bast said nothing for a few moments as she sized up the wolf with a look of disdain. After perhaps half a minute of tense silence, she turned to Aarn. "Is it not customary for the host to offer drinks to his guests?"
Kajex glanced at Aarn, who seemed to frown for a moment before nodding. "You're quite right Matriarch Bast, I beg your pardon." Giving the wolf a cautious look, he moved to a nearby cupboard as Bast moved to take a seat, gesturing to him to do the same. Talrik remained standing, while Syrra and Iaora joined them, the Padawan seating herself next to her lover while her surrogate mother sat beside her.
The wolf suspected that Syrra had done this to make a silent statement, and it was clear from the Matriarch's expression that she took it as such, her eyes narrowing. "I hope you won't mind, Captain, but I would like you to answer a few questions regarding your relationship with my daughter. A mother needs to know these things, after all."
"I'd be glad to answer," the wolf said stiffly. "What would you like to know?"
"Your birthplace and parentage, for one. I don't think it's unreasonable for me to inquire about your upbringing, wouldn't you agree?" she said, her eyes fixed on the captain closely. "I would appreciate your honesty- there's no need to hide who and what you are," she added, adding emphasis to the latter inquiry.
"I'm afraid I couldn't tell you who my birth-parents are. I never knew them. I was found near an orphanage on Corellia, and placed in an education center until I was 7, when I was adopted."
Bast cocked her head. "And who adopted you?"
"A human named Bran. He was something of a hero, helped a lot of people to as a means of making a living. He oversaw my education and welfare alone until he was married," Kajex answered calmly. He knew what would come eventually in response to Bran being married.
Aarn started handing out drinks, starting with Bast and Kajex- the wolf offered a quiet thanks, though he noticed Bast had picked up her glass without so much as a hint of acknowledgment towards Aarn. "I see. Was he well-connected?" Bast asked casually, though everyone present could tell this was an important question.
Kajex hesitated. "I would say that he was, yes, though he had to sever many of his contacts during the Emperor's reign due to problems with political allegiances. He ended up moving to the Wild Space regions with me when I was 12, along with his mate. Here on Ekibo, in fact."
Syrra perked up- she had never heard this from him. "Wait... Ekibo was your home?"
The wolf half-shrugged, half-nodded. "In a sense. We usually made berth here, I spent a lot of time on the surface, though not so much among the public."
"And your adopted father's mate, his wife- who was she?"
Kajex paused for a moment, knowing what would likely entail with his answer. "...He was a Trianii Ranger, named Kane."
Bast seemed to jerk at that, an angry scowl having flitted across her features for a moment before they disappeared. "I... see. How unseemly."
The wolf glared at her, the comment making it difficult for him to keep his voice even as he clenched his fist around his glass tightly. "I'm... sorry that you think so. He was a good man, a good father to me. It's unfortunate your opinion of him is less than agreeable- I'm sure he would have liked to meet you."
His words seemed to make her brighten, a smile playing on her muzzle as she sipped her drink. "By all means, Captain, there's no need to hide your disapproval. I'm quite sure you're very angry right now- which is fine, you are certainly entitled to your opinion of him. It simply is not the way of the Trianii people, I'm afraid."
"Well, I suppose not all of the universe can be so progressive," Kajex said shortly. A part of him wanted to snarl at her, and Syrra must have felt this desire- not a moment later he felt her warm paw slip into his and give it a reassuring squeeze. He managed to refocus, keeping his eyes locked on Bast. "What else did you wish to know, Matriarch?"
Syrra's movement had not gone unnoticed by the Matriarch, but she said nothing of it. "Your occupation. What is it that you do, and what does it earn you? Enough to support a family?"
Kajex took a calming breath before answering. "For years I worked as what I like to call a mercenary philanthropist. For the most part, that involved criminal investigation, working with local authorities to fix social problems, rescuing kidnapped persons or running cargo for mercy missions in conflicted regions of space. My going rates tend to be very low- it's not simply the rich and influential who have needed my help, but families and lost souls in need of a hand."
"So would you say your earnings have been meager?" Bast asked, seeming to completely ignore the non-financial and selfless aspects of his work.
The wolf sighed. "For a while, it was. But I've always gotten by. I don't need much in the way of credits to survive. Nowadays, I make a decent living working with the Jedi."
"'Decent', you say. Would you say it would be enough to attend to the needs of Trianii nobility? My daughter is not a commoner, regardless of the company she keeps," Bast said sternly, peering at the wolf as she took another sip.
Syrra frowned. "He wouldn't be attending to the needs of Trianii nobility, mother," Syrra interjected. "I'm not Petra, Alisya or Mehti- I am not some pampered princess who would expect luxury from her mate."
"Mind your tone when speaking of your elder sisters, cub," Bast warned her sharply. "They at least have had the good sense to stick to noble Trianii tradition. With all due respect, Captain Surnahm, you sound less and less like the individual I would like for my daughter to enter union with, with every answer you provide. I reasonably cannot expect you to raise a family on a 'decent living'; I question any individual who possesses a questionable occupation; I do not like that you are unable to tell us your lineage, much less your species; and I'm frankly appalled that your upbringing involved a homosexual relationship, that which we consider an abomination on this world." She paused. "How do you expect to convince me that someone like you is the right man for my daughter?"
There was sharp crack, followed by the shatter of glass as the drink Kajex had been holding was crushed in his paw. He felt the sharp lance of lance run up his paw at least one thick piece of glass lodged in his palm, but he ignored it easily, getting up to his feet as his paw started to bleed badly. He managed a warm smile to everyone present.
"Alright... I have to ask everyone here a question- is it alright if I drop the goddamned charade right now and just be myself for a change?" He looked around- Aarn looked apprehensive, yet said nothing; Iaora treated him to a warm smile in return; Talrik grinned and gave him a thumbs up; and Syrra squeezed his paw again, nodding. He turned back to Bast.
"Lemme start by saying that one downside to being adopted by Bran was that he possessed a lot of political connections, and not all of them were pleasant, either. Many of them were alot more difficult to put up with than you are, lady, but I'm gonna attribute that to you being a special case of political elitism that at least has the decency to pretend to have legitimate concerns. So, to that I say... you can drop the fucking act, sister. I know you hate my guts right now, and I'd prefer it if you were straight with me on that point instead of trying to insult my intelligence, like I'm not able to tell."
Bast's eyes flashed dangerously and she moved to speak, but the wolf headed her off quickly. "So I'm used to living short on funds. Big fucking deal. I have my own ship and therefore my own home, which is better than can be said about most of the denizens of the galaxy. Not many 'commoners' possess the means to visit other planets or experience other cultures or religious viewpoints, or lack thereof. I'm glad to say that my travels have brought me to enough places that I can safely claim that there's a large, growing percentage of the galaxy that doesn't hold to the notion that two men falling in love with each other should be considered wrong, and a larger majority doesn't mind interspecies relationships either- so you won't mind if I say that not only do I disagree with your point, but that if I were to argue from a position of growing popularity, then you're just wrong. But since it's pretty late, and I'm sure you need to fuck off somewhere else, we'll skip the philosophical discussions about the merits and downsides of homosexual love and move on to your incredibly petty questioning of my occupation."
He looked to Talrik. "Before I had either Syrra or Talrik at my side, I did almost everything solo, shouldering the kind of burden that would make most men give up if they didn't have the experience or training that I had. Call them civilian skills if you want, but you wanna know something? I saved lives. Because you see, unlike other mercenaries who ask for cash up front before they track bounties or offer services, I actually give a damn about other people. I hate the idea of living in a universe where the only motivation for being a decent person is the sound of credits being poured on a table. So describe my profession however you would like, but there's very little you can say at this point since I'm working for the Jedi Order now- I would love to hear you explain how such an occupation couldn't be considered noble."
Bast glared at him, and he continued. "And finally, as far as convincing you that I'm the right guy to be Syrra's mate- you can tell yourself whatever you like, but it's ultimately not up to me, or you, for that matter. I have to convince her. I've seen this woman become stronger over the last 6 months, having confidence today that she lacked so long ago likely due to your interference. I would be proud to be her mate, ready to say yes if she asked me! The last thing she would need is your permission, that's for damn sure. I can't provide her with much more than my ship as her home, my companionship, my teachings, and all that I own to share with her, but if that's enough for her...?"
He trailed off, looking at Syrra. He needed to know that what he had was enough. He had no words to describe the measure of his internal elation as she smiled up at him, nodding and mouthing the word 'yes' to him.
"... Then I'd be ready to give it all to her." He paused. "And don't worry about whether or not I could support a family with my earnings. As I'm not a Trianii, I'm incapable of siring cubs for her." A smirk appeared as he glared daggers at Bast. "Although... that's not for lack of trying, ma'am."
A second glass shattered, this time in Bast's paw as she glared at Kajex, slowly getting to her feet as her paw bled.
"... You are certainly a bold one, Captain Surnahm. How dare you."
The wolf snorted derisively. "Like I said, my father had a lot of political connections, many of them far worse than you. I don't care much for politics- and I care less for them when they involve tyrants."
There was a deadly silence as his final word seemed to echo in the lounge, broken only slightly by the sound of dripping blood on the warm marble beneath their feet. Nobody dared speak as the wolf and Matriarch glared at one another, a fire dancing in their eyes as they waited for the other to say or do something in response. Kajex stood fast, knowing Bast would look for any sign of weakness- but ultimately, it was she who moved first.
She turned her glare to Iaora. "What say you of this, sister? There's no sense in pretending you didn't know about this, if they've been here for a few days. At least tell me you had the sense to do the right thing."
Iaora looked to Syrra for a moment, before standing up at full height. She only stood as tall as Kajex, but the look of determination in her eyes at the moment made it seem like she was several feet taller. "I did do the right thing, Matriarch. I let Syrra choose, and I offered encouragement, support and wisdom for her relationship- just as any good mother would."
Bast growled. "She is not your daughter, Iaora."
The white-furred Trianii stared back defiantly. "She's as good as my daughter," she replied simply, putting her paw on the Jedi's shoulder. "She will always have a home here, as will any kin whom you have turned away or neglected. Ra'Tasum as well, whenever he likes."
"You would house my degenerate, tail-raising son?" she spat.
Iaora lifted her head. "Unlike you, Bast, I don't spurn my kin for whatever shortcomings they may or may not have. Like you. You are always welcome in my home, and I will always love you... despite your unfortunate attitude and shortcomings."
Bast said nothing in response- to all present, it seemed clear it was not a point that Iaora was going to shift away from. She instead returned her gaze to Syrra. "I have yet to hear anything significant from you, child. Explain yourself. Why would you do this? Do you have no care for your own political future on Ekibo?"
Syrra stood, still holding her lover's paw. "I love him. That alone trumps any political future you think I should be possessed of. He does exactly the kind of work I wish to be doing for the rest of the galaxy, not just for the planet of my birth. I'll always love Ekibo, but I have to be selfless enough to consider worlds beyond my own if I'm expected to be a Jedi. At the same time... I'm perfectly welcome to be a little selfish and desire the companionship of someone who would try, and who has tried, to give their life for me- someone I care enough about that I would do the same for." She raised a finger warningly at the Matriarch. "But don't pretend for even a moment that you give a damn about my 'political future', Matriarch. Everyone present is well aware that the only political career at risk by the path I choose is yours. I refuse to be a pawn in your petty power game. You wish to keep controlling your slice of Ekibo? Then you can do it the way you've been doing it this whole time- without me."
Bast stared at the Padawan with her eyes narrowed. Kajex half expected her to remark aggressively, wondering if the venom in her glare indicated she was close to leaping over the low table and throttling the wolf to death. But he stood by every word he said, now brimming with confidence that Iaora and Syrra had stood with him in support. Knowing full well there would be consequences, he matched the fire in Bast's eyes and waited.
And without warning... she started to smile.
"Well... I can see that I have no chance at changing your minds at the moment. Outnumbered 3 to 1, assuming that your Amaran servant and Aarn have not taken a side in this- I might as well consider you individual bricks in a very stubborn wall. So perhaps I should wait until the wall crumbles before I tend to each brick."
Syrra glared. "Is that a threat, Matriarch?"
Bast smirked. "Not at all, child- merely an observation. You clearly have no intention of staying here forever. You must attend the academy and become the Jedi Knight you swore you would become. But don't worry- if you think that I'd be petty enough to have your bastard lover face the consequences of his discourtesy, you can rest easy. He is safe." She turned her eyes to Kajex. "... For now."
"Meaning?" the Padawan growled.
"Meaning that he still has his uses, child. And I never discard anything that still has a use, not until it is no longer necessary. As both your lover and instructor, I have no doubt he will put everything he has into whatever nonsense constitutes as your Jedi 'training', so that you will eventually become a Jedi Knight. And after that point, I expect he will no longer be of any use to you, either." She drew herself up to full size. "If you are smart, your interaction with him will cease when that happens. Because if it doesn't... you may be forced to see how well he has taught you, and employ that training for his sake. Then, perhaps, he will be discarded anyway."
Talrik growled, stepping up behind Kajex. "When that happens, bring out your best. I have a fully loaded C-rifle ready to back up my family. You threaten one member of our pack, you get the whole pack."
"Perhaps you should do yourself a favor and reconsider your loyalties, whelp," Bast responded pleasantly. "I have 4 of my best security rangers standing outside the door at this moment, each of them fully capable of easily tearing your miserable hide to shreds at my command- and they are not the only ones I possess. You are, as I said, in no immediate danger- but make no mistake, even if Syrra severs all contact with me, I will know the moment she becomes a Jedi Knight... and she will make a choice when that happens." Syrra said nothing, though she continued to glare at the Matriarch.
"... Well, anyway. It appears I have overstayed my welcome. I can tell when I'm not wanted, and if my own dear sister stands against me I suppose I should take the hint."
Iaora gave her a sad look. "As I said, you are always welcome in my home, Bast. And regardless of how you feel about me, Syrra, Aarn or Kajex... I still love you."
Bast regarded her with indifference. "That is of little comfort, Iaora. Now, if you'll excuse me, Captain Surnahm is quite correct in point out that the hour is very late, and I do need to, as he so eloquently put it, 'fuck off somewhere else'. So I will say goodnight and good luck to you all." She began to move for the door.
Aarn took a step towards her, eyes on her bleeding wound. "Matriarch, your paw."
Bast held up her uninjured paw to stop him. "Spare me, Aarn. I can do without your meager healing arts. I shall have it attended to by a professional."
The black-furred Trianii sighed. "As you say, Matriarch. We'll not keep you any longer."
Bast turned to her sister, treating her to a cool stare. "Farewell, Iaora."
Iaora sighed. "I wish I could say it was nice to see you again, Bast. But everyone here knows that is not the case. Please reconsider your position- I do not wish for our family to be broken."
Bast did not look back at Iaora as she exited. "That, my sister, is not solely up to me."
Once they were sure she had left, Aarn let out a relieved sigh. "Finally... I felt like I was suffocating there for a moment."
Kajex sat back down, letting go of Syrra's paw. "I'm sorry, everybody. Once she started laying into my dads... if there's one thing about my life I won't let anybody shit-talk, it's my parents. I hate dealing with politicians and I just... I hate having to pretend to be someone better than I really am."
Syrra smiled, leaning over to nuzzle his cheek. "Love, you are better than you believe yourself to be. I love you for being straightforward, even blunt, to get your point across, and I don't mind that you made it clear you and I were physically involved."
Talrik snickered as he slapped Kajex on the back. "That was a nice touch when you let her know, by the way- but maybe that's just because I was rooting for you to drop the charade and niceties. If she wanted to know who you really were, the kind of guy you are, then she might as well get the real, unvarnished you- bad language and all."
Kajex nodded, though he looked concerned. "What about you guys, though?" he asked Aarn and Iaora. "She's not going to try to get you back for this, is she? She more or less just threatened to kill me, I don't want you guys to be at risk just because I decided to be an asshole, even if I think she deserved it."
Aarn scoffed, as if the idea seemed ridiculous. "She wouldn't dare. She observes Trianii religion very closely, she would never try to harm her own kin, directly or indirectly. As you are neither kin nor Trianii, she's far more open about what she'd do to you, I'm afraid- but we'll be fine. At worst, she'll try to be more restrictive of my business, but my work is ultimately in my hands, and Iaora's- the yu'nar will side with my mate, just as I side with you, lad."
The elder female Trianii smiled. "As abrasive as you might have been, I supported every word you spoke, Kajex- even the part about my sister having to, as you said, 'fuck off somewhere else'." She gestured to his paw. "Nevermind that, though- you're still bleeding. We should have that checked immediately."
Syrra looked to her mother and uncle, a blush on her face as she addressed them. "Actually... could I have a moment alone with Kajex, please? I would like to try my hand at tending to his injury through Jedi healing, and... I need some time to talk."
Aarn smiled knowingly. "Of course. I think we could all do with a bit of rest- I'll have one of the workers clean up the mess tomorrow morning."
Talrik nodded. "I'm going to head to the Gold Rush and grab a bit of gear, then turn in for the night." He leaned in, nuzzling both of them affectionately. "You guys take the time to talk, kiss and cuddle, I'll be fine for tonight- I think you guys need some time and space without me."
Kajex licked his cheek and ruffled his hair while Syrra kissed the side of his muzzle. "Thanks, kit. You know we love you too, right?"
"Of course you do," Talrik acknowledged with grin, hugging the both of them. "And you'll prove it to me later- just not tonight. Sleep well, you two."
Aarn had set aside a few sanitation cloths for Syrra before guiding Iaora and Talrik out of the lounge. Once they were alone, Syrra grabbed the wolf's paw, looking it over. "How do you think that went?" she asked.
Kajex smiled. "I know you're not angry with me."
The Trianii chuckled as she observed his palm, nodding. "I'm not. I'm actually more relieved than anything. I knew the Matriarch wasn't going to change her position so easily, I was more scared about how this would all pan out, what lengths she might go to separate us. But now...? If she thinks the threat of death is going to dissuade me, then she has no idea what we've been up to lately." She cringed as she saw the shards lodged in his pawpad. "Which has admittedly consisted of a lot of pain- you have 2 big pieces still in your paw. How does that not hurt?"
The wolf grinned sheepishly. "Your uncle may or may not have administered two heavy doses of Razor-Rye Whiskey before your mo- er... the Matriarch came in. But I'm not drunk, I promise. And believe me, it hurts like hell right now, I just didn't think it'd be a good idea to break down, start sobbing and curling into a fetal position."
"It's okay- next time, you're perfectly welcome to drop to the floor and bawl," she joked. "I'm strong enough for both of us."
Kajex smiled warmly, bringing his clean paw to her cheek. "I know you are. But right then and there, I needed to show her and you I'm strong enough for both of us, too."
The Jedi Padawan nodded appreciatively, nuzzling into his paw. "Brace yourself, this'll hurt quite a bit more."
With a quiet whine and grit teeth, the wolf steeled himself as he felt Syrra tug at the shards in his paw, groaning painfully as each sharp length of glass slid slowly out of his palm. She held his paw upright, the blood pooling in his palm as she put her own paw over it, breathing in as she concentrated. Kajex could feel warmth radiating from her hands, or at least something that he perceived as warmth. Almost immediately his pain ceased, though what little of the wound he could see now beneath her paw and the small pool of blood still remained as that soothing warmth started to course through his wrist and forearm.
He smiled with the knowledge that it was working. "Those lessons with Cilghal have really paid off, haven't they? Mind you, your med skills are pretty good as they are, but this..." He paused. "... I'm really proud of you, Syrra. I wish I could've taught you these things."
Syrra looked up, though her concentration did not waver as she regarded him with affection. "It's easy with your palm- it's physiologically similar to any other bipedal sentient race, the blood, nerves and bones. It's... really not that impressive," she said modestly. "But for something like this, I'd gladly do it."
They said nothing for a while as she put moderate effort into repairing the wound, but as the bleeding slowed to a complete stop, she looked back up into his eyes, an expression of apprehension on her features. "When you said that you'd be my mate, if I ever asked... did you mean that?"
The wolf didn't even hesitate before nodding. "Absolutely."
Syrra swallowed. "So... if I were to ask you right now?"
Kajex smiled. "If you were to ask me, 'Kajex, will you be my husband?', I'd say yes." He put his free paw on her knee, rubbing it reassuringly. "Except that you're not asking me, kitten."
Syrra looked away. "You're right... I'm not." She sighed. "I'm... not ready, not yet. And you knew that, because when you were asked by my own..." she paused, "... by the Matriarch, you said you would, but only when I was ready. So... when will I be ready?"
Kajex shrugged. "That's really up to you. I'm guessing you'll believe you'll be ready when you're finally a Jedi Knight... and when I finally stop hiding things about myself," he added dully.
The Trianii looked back up again. "... I know you're not going to answer..."
Kajex nodded. "I won't."
"... But what is it you're hiding?"
The wolf smiled sadly. "Things that would make it so much easier for you, held back only by a promise I made to Bran. Things that I feel bad for hiding- every day I don't tell you is a day I'm kicking myself for it. Things that I feel by keeping to myself, might keep you and Talrik safe."
"Then don't tell me," Syrra said calmly and sincerely. "I never knew Bran or Kane, but only an idiot or heartless person would be incapable of seeing how much you must have loved them. I only wish I knew when you might tell me."
Kajex nodded. "If it helps... the stronger you become, the fewer reasons I find that I have to keep it away from you. At the rate you're going, probably not for much longer. Probably when you undertake your Jedi trials to become a full-fledged Knight."
"Do you think I'm ready for them?" she asked.
The wolf smiled. "I think Master Skywalker would say so at this point. And I think you're strong enough that a little extra training will prepare you for anything he throws at you. You have your fears, but I know you're brave enough to face them; you have your shortcomings, but I know you have the drive to develop the skills to overcome them. And I promise I'll be there if I can, to see you pass them all."
Syrra said nothing, though she looked grateful. After a moment, she lifted her healing paw away from the wound- or at least, where the wound had been perhaps 10 minutes earlier. Using a sanitation cloth she soaked up the coagulated blood and wiped the area clean, revealing fresh, healed skin along his pawpad. Letting out a satisfied sigh, she leaned in, nuzzling the wolf.
"It'll take time to get better with that, but I'll keep at it," she assured the wolf as she started to get up. A firm tug on her wrist caused her to freeze, staring at Kajex as he gently coaxed her back down. "Yes?"
"I want to make you a promise," he said, looking serious. "When I told Bast I would wait until you're ready, I meant it. You're not ready... and until I actually work up the nerve and reasoning to break my promise and tell you what I'm hiding, I won't be either. But I can wait. I can enjoy what we have right now, this pack with you and Talrik, until we're finally ready to take that step. If it takes a year, 3 years, or even a decade... I'll wait as long as it takes until you're ready."
She smiled. "I'll accept that promise on one condition."
"You have to be the one to propose."
He chuckled. "Do you not want to? I don't mind."
She shook her head. "Trianii culture dictates the female ask the male to be her mate. My father went against that notion by asking my mother instead. And as much as I honor many traditions of my culture, marriage is one I'd gladly defy." She nuzzled him. "Besides... it was a dream I used to have as a cub, to be proposed to by someone I respected and loved. And what grown woman doesn't sometimes wish her child fantasies came true?" she asked, grinning.
The wolf laughed, pulling her in and kissing her deeply, a thick purr rolling through her chest and into his. The fear he'd felt earlier seemed laughable now as he held his lover in his arms, vague dreams of a union with Syrra starting to form in his head as their muzzles pressed firmly against each other. It was with great reluctance and an equally great smile that he drew back, his eyes gazing into the sapphire-blue orbs that stared back, filled with nothing but deep, pure love for him.
"You've got a deal."