A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 3:
A Triad Formed? part 2 of 3

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/F and M/M
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Jay was sitting in the library, wondering where Shi was. Normally they'd be studying together right now, but she was nowhere to be seen at any of their usual spots. He doubted she was upset with him. After two months things had seemed to settle down nicely. She and Fenrik were both content enough with the attention he gave them and their Masters were satisfied that none of their studies were slipping now that the first week of traumas had been sorted out.

"Sorry I'm late," she said, hurrying in, a slightly winded look on her face.

"You okay?" He glanced up, looking her over with concern.

"Yes, just...." She sighed, sitting down opposite him. "I'm afraid I can't stay long. Master Ursal was assigned to help on Necropolis; I'm going with her."

"Necr ...." Jay went tense, his eyes wide. "That's a plague system."

"Which is why we're going," she nodded. "Along with every healer the Order can spare. They need us, Jay. Don't know how long we'll be gone, but it'll be months at least."

"Are you likely to be coming back?" He asked quietly.

"Do you really think Master Ursal would take me with her if she thought I wasn't going to survive it?" She asked him.

"At some point our Master has to lead us into danger, as much as they all hate it," he murmured. "Not every Padawan survives to become a Knight."

"But the danger they take us into isn't danger they think is more likely to kill us than teach us lessons," she pointed out, reaching across the table to take his hand. "I will come back, Jay. I'm sure of it. I'm not going to die somewhere like Necropolis."

He squeezed her hand and nodded, needing to believe her words more than truly agreeing with them. "I'll try to be here when you do."

"I'll write you," she smiled softly, squeezing her hand back. "Promise."

"Thanks," he managed a smile, his distress under a blanket of calm and acceptance for her sake. "I hope it's not as bad as it sounds."

"I hope not too," she nodded, standing and leaning over to kiss him gently. "I should go finish packing; I just had to come and say good bye before I left."

"Thanks," he squeezed her hand before she had to hurry off. It was enough that he stood and quietly walked out a few minutes later. Studying was pointless right now. He needed to calm down.

Fenrik shook his head as he saw Jay sitting next to his favorite koi pond, teasing the fish into nibbling at his fingers. Word had traveled fast about the deployment to Necropolis, and the Panther had known how it would hit him.

"Hey," he said softly, sitting down next to Jay. "How're you doin'?"

"Better than an hour ago," he said quietly, looking over at him with his eyes lowered. "Still scared half to death for her."

"Can't blame you," Fenrik admitted. "Hell, even I'm worried. Tell you what, why don't we do something to take your mind off it for a while?"

"What did you have in mind?" He asked non-committally, not particularly interested in doing anything, but knowing it was a bright idea. Brooding never helped, after all.

"Two tickets to the holo-theater," Fenrik offered, holding up the chip with the data on it. "Warriors of Fire 3?"

"That's cheating!" He pouted, but the grin wasn't far behind.

"Didn't Master Essani teach you that yet?" Fenrik asked with a grin. "Jedi don't always play by the rules."

"Nah, she had to teach me there were rules first," he snickered. "It's why her fur is always gray these days."

"Well, let's go occupy you for a few hours, let her relax for a while," Fenrik chuckled. "After all, how much trouble could you get into watching a movie?"

"Do you really want to know that?" Jay smirked with a wink as they headed back towards their rooms to change into less conspicuous clothing.

"Probably not," Fenrik agreed, chuckling as they walked off.

A few hours later Fenrik and Jay were walking back to the Temple from the holo-theater. Jay was excitedly going on about the movie, special effects, and how to improve the theater's projection systems in roughly equal proportions. Fenrik, for his part, was half-listening, offering his own comments when it was appropriate and he had half a clue what Jay was talking about. He knew Jay didn't mind.

A few blocks from the theater, his focus shifted entirely away from Jay's conversation. He had a feeling they weren't entirely alone, but he couldn't place it yet.

"What's up?" Jay asked in the same rapid-fire voice as he had said everything else since the credits had rolled.

"Probably nothing," Fenrik said, shaking his head. "Just keep walking... keep an eye out though." The more they walked, the more certain he was that somebody was following them. And not just somebody else from the Temple following them back.

"Muggers wouldn't be that stupid, would they?"

"It's not like they know where we're from," Fenrik pointed out quietly. "Besides, I might be wrong."

"No, you aren't." Jay murmured after a moment of contact with the blasters in the area even as he slid his lightsaber from it's concealed sheath under his loose sleeves.

"Great," Fenrik muttered. "Well, let's see if we can shake them." They kept walking, turning the corner towards a better-lit street. A trio of Duros turned onto the walk ahead of them, starting their way.

"So much for shaking them," the Panther murmured.

"We won't have to worry about vibros and blasters, but its not good odds," Jay shifted slightly so they could guard each other's backs and started to really focus on not loosing control in a real fight.

"Let's see if we can get out of this without a fight if we can, okay?" Fen suggested, slowing down as the Duros approached from the front, and the part of the gang tailing them, another Duros, a Gamorrean, and a Rodian, came up behind them.

"Hey! Move out of our way," one of the Duros ahead of them demanded.

"If we could, we would," Fenrik said easily. "I'm afraid there's nowhere for us to go, since your friends are so close behind us."

"Are you saying we're crowding you, fuzz-face?" The Rodian sneered in its native language.

"No, just that you're too damaged to see the obvious." Jay replied coolly, a little too at ease with the harsh language and it's insults.

"I don't know what you said," Fenrik muttered at the Rodian's offended squawk, "but I don't think it helped."

"You're the one who'd brain damaged, crossing us, fuzzy," the Rodian shot back. "Or can't you count?"

"In case you couldn't understand that," the Duros said calmly, "unless you're looking for a fight, he'll need an apology. A rather large one," he added, rubbing his thumb and one large forefinger together in the near-universal sign for money.

Fenrik's fur bristled slightly, but he held back the growl. Unfortunately, he was also broke, so even if he was inclined to pay them off he couldn't.

Not that he was particularly inclined to.

"How about this instead?" Jay rumbled in Basic and flicked his deep blue lightsaber to life. "You move, or we find out if Rodian really does make good eating."

"Jay," Fenrik cautioned him, slipping into a defensive stance as he felt chills run up his spine from the younger tom's reactions.

"Jedi?!?" The lead Duros exclaimed in surprise, all four of them stepping back and reaching defensively for the weapons at their hips.

"Pretty toy, fuzz ball," the Rodian muttered, even as he stepped back slightly and pulled two strange blades out of his pockets. "You know how to use it? No Jedi young as you."

"Ignorance always was your kind's strong suit," Jay sneered in Rodian, hatred over a year dormant flaring white-hot with an unprotected target in the offering.

The Duros drew their blasters, and Fenrik was very glad to be behind Jay as he saw one of them pull the trigger with no result.

"Walk away," he said levelly. "We won't tell anybody, you'll get out of this with all your limbs intact, everybody's happy."

"Fuzz-face pays first." The Rodian snarled and flicked his blades towards them, the micro-tech in them making a hard target to hit or dodge as they buzzed around the pair.

It was also the excuse Jay was looking for. He took two fluid steps forward, uncaring of the blade the lodged into his shoulder for a moment before they both fell to the ground, their innards no longer working. He brought his sword-arm in an upward arc that cleanly separated the Rodian into four pieces with an immensely satisfying shenk.

Two of the Duros, typically not a violent people in the first place, decided that living was the better part of valor and ran. The other two dropped their blasters, drawing vibroknives that, despite not working as they were supposed to, still made serviceable weapons. The Gamorrean, by contrast, pulled a heavy metal rod out of a loop along its back and slammed it against Jay's wounded shoulder.

Fenrik snarled and turned to put himself between the massive pig-man and his tumbling friend, slashing its arm with his claws and earning a pained squeal. It was just in time for him to feel the Dark rising in Jay as the kit got to his feet, his rage giving way to a survival-based fear as the Duros closed on him while Fenrik was busy trying to survive the giant pig out to crush him.

He ducked out of the way of the rod hurtling towards him again, making another quick, darting attack, wishing he'd thought to bring his own lightsaber. It might not have helped keep them out of the fight, but it would have made it a lot easier if they were both armed.

He lashed out again, as the two Duros left at a run when they realized that they were the ones left facing the lightsaber. He felt the Gamorrean's makeshift club smash into his left arm, but ignored the pain as he sank his claws into its wrist, pulling it forward and off-balance, planting his foot on the back of its neck.

"You really don't want to fight anymore." Jay growled at the downed Pig, the Force a palatable presence in his voice even as his lightsaber singed the hair of the Gamorrean's thick snout.

It squealed incoherently, though the fear behind the noises was obvious.

"Jay!" Fenrik said sharply, wincing and cradling his arm. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like what the medic said when they got back to the Temple. "It's over; he's not going to try anything."

The lightsaber took too long to deactivate, but it did before a second life was lost.

"It hurt you," Jay said quietly as he touched his friend lightly.

"You too," Fenrik pointed out, nodding towards Jay's bleeding shoulder as Jay's lightsaber vanished into his sleeve again. "Let's get that bound up and get back to the Temple before those Duros decide to come back with friends." He took his foot off the Gamorrean's neck, snarling at it in warning that sent it squealing away.

"I liked this shirt," he pouted a bit as they began moving again, though not even he thought the attempt to lighten the mood on the short walk remaining was funny.

The staff in the infirmary was much smaller when Jay and Fenrik got back; a keen reminder of how many of the Jedi and Padawans who would be working or training here had been sent abroad just hours before.

"Take it easy on that arm for a few days," the MediCorps worker told Fenrik firmly, tightening the sling around it mostly as a formality. The bone had been set and the worst of the damage healed, but it was still sore.

"I will," Fenrik nodded. "Thank you," he added, bowing respectfully as he stood and walked over to Jay near the door.

The younger tom's injuries had been easier to patch up being light muscle damage, and mostly required a little care with a medkit and a good tip to the driver of the sky car that had brought them back to the Temple to get the seat cleaned.

"So, they're done with you?" Fenrik asked, smiling slightly.

"Yeah," he nodded and fell in next to his friend. "I heard you snapped bone."

"It's been set, won't be any serious damage in the long run," Fenrik said dismissively.

"*Which means you were both lucky,*" Master Essani's familiar mental voice told them both as the kushiban trotted in to the Infirmary and hopped up on a nearby chair.

"A good reason to never go out unarmed." Jay nodded, mostly to Fenrik and completely missing his Master's intent.

"*Also a good reason not to let your emotions guide you in a fight,*" Essani told him, her mental voice directed at him alone.

"Master?" He looked at her, a bit at a loss as to the reprimand.

"*We will discuss it in private in the morning,*" she explained.

"Yes, Master." He accepted without question.

"*I'll see you in the morning, Jay. Or will you be sleeping in your room tonight?*"

He shot a slight look at Fenrik, then turned back to her. "I will see you in the morning, Master."

"*Very well,*" she nodded slightly. "*Rest well, both of you,*" she added, emphasizing the word 'rest' purposefully.

"I don't think either of us are game for much else, Master." Jay murmured as the kits walked out of the room, though he shot a last look at his Master as if it could tell him what he was in for a lecture on in the morning.

"I think she's mostly worried about how you responded in the fight," Fen told him softly as they walked back towards his quarters. "Not physically, but emotionally. I know I could feel it, and she's much better at sensing that sort of thing than I am."

"What happened?" He looked over, concerned that he really had no clue what they were talking about. Everything felt natural and correct in review, unlike every other time he'd gotten in trouble for fighting.

"The anger and fear," Fenrik explained, trying to come up with a way of putting it into words. "Jay, even before the fight started I could feel it; that Rodian really pissed you off.... Why don't we get back to my room before I try and explain it better, okay? Better in private."

"Sure," he nodded as he placed that much in the memories and walked in silence. Fenrik reached up, tentatively putting his arm around the younger tom's shoulders, alert for any sign that he was aggravating his injury with the added weight. When they got back to his room, he groaned slightly, leaning back against the door as the lock clicked behind them.

"And I was trying to get you to relax tonight," he chuckled slightly, shaking his head in a mixture of frustration at the timing and a little in acknowledgement of exhaustion that was making itself felt.

"I appreciate it," he smiled and stretched up to kiss him lightly. "Feel like a cup of warm milk?"

"Mmm ... only if you let me make it or make yourself something too," Fenrik rumbled, returning the kiss. "No fair pampering me when you got hurt too."

"You aren't making anything," he smirked up and turned for the small open kitchen. "And warm spiced milk sounds good to me too. Now go sit down somewhere comfortable."

"All right," Fenrik chuckled, going to sit down on the bed, laying back and testing his arm gingerly. It still hurt, but at least he could move his arm reasonably well already. He unhooked the sling from around his neck; trying to sort out how to talk to Jay about something his own Master was having a hard time explaining.

If Jay didn't understand that he'd drawn on the Dark even before the fight, it could be nearly impossible to make him understand. Still, as badly as Jay's actions in the fight had unnerved him, there was no way Jay was Dark yet. Now that he was calm again, the taint was gone.

"You put that back on," Jay tried to sound stern as he came in Fen's bedroom with two steaming mugs of warm milk, one well-doctored with fragrant spices.

"Jay, my arm is fine," the Panther grumbled, sitting up and making room next to him. "It's just a little sore is all."

"Which is why you need to wear that sling tonight." He pointed out and handed a mug over before settling in next to him.

"Jay," Fenrik groaned, though he set the mug down and hooked the cling back up over his neck, picking up the mug and leaning against him lightly. "You do realize I'm only doing this to humor you," he muttered affectionately.

"Of course," he grinned and kissed him lightly, the sweetness of spicy milk on his lips. "It's the only reason you warriors do anything good for you."

"Oh, like you're one to talk," Fenrik pouted, sipping his own milk. "You know you'd be in just as much trouble left to your own devices."

"Yeah, but I make no pretences of having any kind of good judgment." He pointed out with a chuckle and long sip of milk, almost purring as the mixture slid down his throat and relaxed parts of him he forgot could tense. "You're supposed to if you got left alone."

"Oh just you wait until you're supposed to be respectable too," Fenrik rumbled teasingly. "You're going to be so glad that Masters aren't supposed to chide their Padawans publicly."

"Hey, there's a reason I'm looking to stick around the Temple, you know." He snickered and licked a drop of milk from Fenrik's jaw. "They tend not to ask the questions I can't answer around here."

"Not yet at least," the Panther rumbled, shifting to kiss Jay lightly. "Mmm... I seem to remember we had a conversation to have here...."

"Yeah, what freaked you out about the fight," Jay looked at him uncertainly.

"Yeah," Fenrik nodded, sighing a bit and leaning his head against Jay's good shoulder. "It's not really easy to explain, but as much as it worked...." He sighed again. "The emotions you were reaching into, and the way you reacted to the Rodian... they're dangerous feelings, Jay. Fear, anger, hatred, they're all parts of the Dark Side, almost word for word." He shifted to nuzzle Jay's neck lightly.

"It's not you," he murmured softly.

"It's very much me," he murmured and let his head lean against the Panther's. "More than the Light is. It's why I'm not a warrior. I can't afford to live that close to the fire. It ... it doesn't feel wrong because it's most of my connection to the Force."

"Jay, that's not true," Fenrik said firmly, reaching across his body to rub the younger tom's arm lightly. "You're not a creature of the Dark any more than Knight Parn. You wouldn't just be being trained if you were... you reacted the same way most Padawans do in their first real fight, that's all."

"I ..." he looked over at the Panther seriously, debating just how much to explain. He dropped his eyes with a sigh and wrapped his hands around his mug. "How much about my tech talent has made the rumor mill?" He asked quietly.

"Not too much beyond what you do with it," Fenrik admitted.

"You have a right to know what I told the Council, what my family is. At least the quick version of it." He murmured. "We don't have a name for the Force back home. I'm not completely convinced what I do with machines is though the Force as you know it. But I'm the fifth generation in the family to be able to do it and a sixth generation has been born.

"It started with Jermain Tabisan. My great-great-grandfather. He probably had the Gift already, but it wasn't enough. He made a deal with the Demon to give him much more power, the power to warp reality itself through the machines he created. It drove him mad in the end, completely to the Dark as you'd call it. He nearly destroyed the world many times before Great-Grandfather Jake killed him.

"But the Demon already had a hold on Jake, who stumbled on the expanded Gift without knowing the price of it years before. Jake fought the Demon inside as the ones in the real world until he was killed in the line of duty with his partner. He was the one who named it, explained the price and boons to his daughter by his father, my Grandma Jessie. She's still fighting it every day. She chose the Gifts, the ability to do real good even with it's price.

"My father made the same choice. So have I. Most of our power comes through the Demon, a creature of the Dark Side. It's not like it is for most sensitives. The Force isn't something that starts neutral and our wishes draw us to one side or the other. Clawsons are born Dark. We learn to appreciate the Light, but it never comes that naturally for us. Not the way the Darkness does. I have to pay attention to not draw on the Dark Side."

"Jay, it's like that for most of us," Fenrik said, squeezing the younger tom's shoulder gently. "The Dark Side is easy to draw on, and it offers a hell of a lot of power for the effort. That's what makes it so seductive. Just because you call on it without thinking doesn't mean that you're evil, or that it's the way you're strongest in the Force. I've done it before, Knight Parn has, I'd be shocked if you could find even one of the Masters who hasn't, some time, when they were younger or desperate.

"*You're not evil, Jay. What taught your family to use the Force might have been, members of your family might have been, but you're not."

Jay wanted to argue, to make Fenrik understand ... then part of him that didn't like the status of condemned whacked most of him upside the head and made him shut up. Maybe if he repeated what Fenrik had said enough times, he might manage to believe it. It was an incredibly seductive thought, even if it only lasted tonight.

The morning would come soon enough when he had to face the Masters who did believe he was intrinsically Dark.

It was enough to make him want to cry, a lump in his throat as he wondered if these were the kind of things that Chance had told Jake when he was hurting about his choices. He could believe that this was what kept his kin out of trouble, and the lack of it cost them their battle with the Demon.

Empathy had never been Fenrik's strong suit, but he knew when it was time to shut up and just be close to somebody he cared about... and Jay qualified, more than he'd thought he would at first. He wrapped his good arm around the smaller tom, ignoring the ache as he held him against his chest and the sling between them.

Master Essani watched Jay walk in the next morning, letting out a quiet 'whuffle' of mild frustration. This was never an easy discussion to have, and what she felt inside him said this wasn't going to be an exception. He was clearly conflicted about something, though she couldn't be clear what yet. Knowing her Padawan as well as she did, it was almost certainly not going to make things easier.

"Morning, Master." He bowed his head to her in respect and settled nearby, ready for a lesson that he didn't really understand what it was about.

"*Good morning, Jay,*" she said softly. "*Did you sleep well?*"

"Yes, Master," he nodded. It was true after all, even if it had been a bit of a strange sleep that left him waking up feeling no better mentally than when he curled up against Fenrik to rest. All he knew from it was that Fenrik could control the Demon. In the end, it was all that truly mattered. If he couldn't control the Demon, he needed a mate that could.

"*How is your shoulder feeling?*"

The question seemed to surprise him a bit. "Almost healed, Master."

"*That's good,*" she nodded. "*Did you and Fenrik talk about your response the fight at all?*"

She wasn't entirely sure what to make of his reactions, honestly. Most Padawans were disturbed after the first time they killed in battle, though given that the Rodian had attacked first it was quite possible that Jay wouldn't be. Between his culture, early years and personal quirks, he rarely reacted like most Padawans did no matter what the situation was.

What worried her more were the feelings she could sense behind his mental shields; she was beginning to get a clearer impression of what he was upset about and it wasn't good that it had lasted this long.

"Yes, Master." He nodded, putting the blur of that time into as much focus as he could. "Mostly that I was angry even before anything started. I don't remember being angry, just a smooth transition between trying to talk our way out and the fight, but I do not doubt his recollection of things. Something happened. I just don't know what."

"*You responded to a Rodian who was trying to goad you into a fight, from what I felt,*" she explained. "*It was a very intense response. It was also a very troubling one, given that I doubt it was the goading that made you respond that way. You've dealt with worse from Navik before without reacting that strongly.*"

"Navik was protected." He said even before he realized what he'd said.

"*This is the problem,*" Essani sighed softly as things began to fall into place. "*I'm surprised nobody noticed it before, but you still have a lot of issues with Rodians, don't you?*"

"Yes, Master." He lowered his gaze, knowing he was in the wrong.

"*We're going to have to work on that,*" she said softly. "*Not all Rodians are like Navik, or like Guilden. They have a tendency to be violent and bullies, but they're individuals as much as any other race. They can be brilliant, honorable, even peaceful, despite their culture.*"

"Just not the ones I've met," he murmured. It wasn't a denial; just an uncertainty about how he'd react if one didn't try to push.

"*Granted,*" she admitted. "*Their culture values hunting and combat ability highly; many of them turn that into a violent streak. We had been hoping Navik would turn out better, but that didn't happen. I think we're going to spend some time working on trying to introduce you to better ones.*"

"Yes, Master." He accepted it, wondering what kind of creature a non-offensive Rodian would be like. It was a difficult concept to wrap his brain around but he was quite willing to try.

"*Now... there's also the issue of your response to a fight in general,*" she said gently. "*You're going to have to fight without responding with fear and anger eventually, Jay.*"

"The Dark Fenrik said I call up," he nodded seriously. "I don't remember doing that. I don't remember it feeling anything other than right." He admitted quietly, deep down very afraid that he may have already lost the most critical battle of his life. "Master Yamari says I'm making progress. It just hasn't been fast enough."

"*It's a natural response, Jay,*" she explained. "*I'm sure Fenrik told you how easy it is to tap into the Dark's power, especially when you are afraid or angry. It's simply a response you have to learn to control, preferably before you get into another fight.*"

"Yes, Master," he nodded submissively. "I am working on it. It's difficult to deal with that part of me when I'm not in a real fight. I lock it away ... I don't even know exactly how anymore. It's like it doesn't exist until a fight is real."

"*Do you believe you can learn to extend your sense of it being a game to when the fight is real?*" She asked him, moving over to nuzzle his arm gently as he nearly jumped, his eyes wide in shock at the idea.

"I ... urrr ... isn't it dangerous to take fighting that way?" He asked, a bit stunned at the concept coming from his Master. "Make it too easy to take that route?"

"*Just until you're better at controlling it,*" she explained. "*We can control the situation here, keep it from becoming deadly. We don't want you to forget the consequences of fighting, but you need to learn how to handle knowing those consequences are possible without responding emotionally.*"

"I ... yes, I can." He decided that it was simply going to happen, the odds be damned.

"*I have to go sit with the Council today,*" she explained, "*but I want to start working on teaching you to do that as quickly as we can.*"

"I understand Master." He nodded quietly. "I would like to spend the day mediating. Maybe I can remember what happened; exactly what I did, where it went wrong."

"*Very well,*" she nodded. "*I hope it goes well, Jay. I'll see you this evening?*"

"Yes, Master," he smiled a little more warmly and reached down to scritch between her ears until she became a light golden. "I am glad I chose not to become a warrior. As natural as it felt, I don't think I like how easy it was to kill."

"*That is a good thing,*" she agreed, rurring slightly and putting a small paw on his leg, pleased not only in his statement but that her approval still meant so much to him. Both things made life much easier. "*I hope you never do, to be fair. It's necessary sometimes, but not something you should ever like.*"

Padawan Jay Clawson looked like anything but a Jedi as he walked into the Temple of Akwina, dressed in the loose brown and green robes he remembered from his kittenhood, his ears decorated in the slender gold and gem clips and fine chains. It was almost half the world away from the Jedi Temple and home, but it was as close to his homeland as this world had to offer. For all it was dedicated to a deity he'd never heard of before finding this place, it felt right.

The hand-carved stone was warm and old, done for love of the Power, not to impress visitors that didn't believe. The stained glass and small statues and artwork of the mother feline of all bloodlines and her legends were rich with the efforts of many artisans. Even the central statue, close to three times life sized was dressed in much the same way as he remembered Bastet was in the temples back on Aristal and those build with each colony and ship.

Full and rounded in a body representative of all her children, the mother of all felines stood with her translucent robes of all colors and smiled at those who entered with warm eyes.

Jay let out a small sound as he relaxed, comforted by the familiarity of something so incredibly similar in this land so far from his home and kind. He settled easily near the central statue on the pillows provided for just that and relaxed his mind and soul with the prayers and silent offerings from his home.

"Thank you for overseeing my travels Lady Bastet," he murmured. "I am you son still, and always will be. I ask for your protection in this journey inside."

With the formalities over with, he sank easily into a deep meditation, seeking out the source memories that he could only remember as a blur when awake.

The beginning came easy. Fenrik thought they were being followed. The blasters and vibro-weapons confirming the familiar pattern. Then the Rodian was in front of him and something he hadn't felt in over a year woke up in his mind. Vicious. Hateful. Destructive. Utterly gleeful to have a target that wasn't protected.

He had enough control to keep the first insult from being his.

But the words were exchanged, the details blurred, and something warm and dark and controlling oozed around his mind.

And he welcomed it, embraced it.

Not for one moment had he fought to free himself until Fenrik had asked him to.

Even then, he hadn't wanted to. He hadn't wanted to have the power cloaking him go away.

If that was the Dark, the thing that destroyed its users, why did it feel so comforting? So natural and right?

Tracing its retreat through his mind, he abruptly stopped.

This was it.

This was the door Father and Grandma talked about.

The door to their full Gift.

The door the Demon lived behind.

Essani hurried through the ancient feline temple as fast as she could respectfully. She - and the rest of the Council - had felt the chill coming from this place an hour ago, a flash of Dark Side power of a level that usually heralded disaster. Master Noloth was with her now, his aged, scaly face showing a dark scowl.

She didn't know why Jay was here, or what had happened that had made him the source of such a powerful surge, but she was glad for the Lizard beside her. Even if Jay did have things under control, like he'd said when she'd contacted him, she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to be there alone if he lost it.

"*Jay?*" She called telepathically as they walked through the door into the aged church.

"*Here, Master.*" His mind-voice came back easily, directing them to the central statue as he stood smoothly. It look serene, but she could feel how completely terrified he was just below the surface of calm.

"What happened?" Master Noloth demanded in his heavily accented Basic, a nearby acolyte looking at the scene with a slightly distressed expression.

"*Master Noloth,*" Essani said firmly, walking towards Jay, her fur a dark grey. "*What happened, Jay,*" she asked more gently.

"*I was following what happened in the fight in my mind, trying to understand what had happened. I found the door.*" Jay recounted, a tremor in his mind-voice that spoke volumes of it's meaning to him. "*It's not well sealed. I didn't open it, but the Demon could reach in when I got too close and tried to grab me. I managed to shove it back and close the door, but I don't know how long it'll stay closed.*"

"*Let's get you back to the Temple,*" Essani said soothingly. "*It clearly didn't get you, but I think we'd best be back there in case something happens again.*"

"*Yes, Master.*" He nodded and followed her, relieved to have them present.

"I thought you said he was going to wait," Noloth asked her quietly, earning a sharp look from the much smaller kushiban.

"*He did,*" she pointed out as they returned to the waiting sky car. "*Come on, we'll discuss this on the way.*" They left, climbing into the back seat before the driver, one of the Temple's custodians, lifted off and started back towards the gleaming spires half a world away.

"*What were you doing out here?*" Master Essani asked Jay, looking up at him from where she was curled up on his lap for the trip. "*It's not exactly a short trip for somewhere to meditate.*"

"It's very much like the Temples to Bastet," he stroked her lightly along her ears. "It's ... home." He tried to explain something that wasn't even a feeling. He'd learned not to speak of Powers seriously, but no amount of knowledge had damped his belief that Bastet was real.

"How long have you been coming here?" Master Noloth asked, his voice not betraying any of his reaction.

"Eight months, Master Noloth." he answered formally.

"*And it hasn't interfered with his studies, Master Noloth,*" Essani pointed out, cutting off the Lizard's next question. "*Jay, are you certain the Demon is contained for now? At least as far as you're concerned?*"

"Yes, Master," he nodded. "I do have to give it an opening of some kind to get out."

"So what kind of opening was involved this time?" Master Noloth asked.

"I got too close to it, Master Noloth." He tried to explain. "The seals on the door are incomplete, so it could reach out a little way when it had a target."

"Did this have anything to do with the altercation you had last night?"

"No, Master Noloth," he said simply. "It has to do with being an adolescent Clawson. This is part of what I tried to explain when I first got here."

"*This Demon is definitely a powerful Dark Side force, whether it's powers are or not,*" Essani mused. "*I suspect it's native to your galaxy, whatever it is.*"

"Agreed," the Lizard nodded. "And not a power to be trifled with."

"*Regardless, as long as it's not going to be released, I believe we'll all be fine,*" Essani said softly. "*Were you able to come to any conclusions before your encounter?*"

"*That it was the Dark that felt good,*" He told her as privately as he could, a mixture of acceptance and horror at it.

"*The power of it?*" She asked, hoping to make things clearer.

"*The warmth of it, the fire that made things so clear.*" His thoughts barely made it to her. "*It didn't give me any power. At least I don't think so.*"

"*I see,*" she murmured mentally. Warmth was usually the last thing anybody used to describe the Dark Side, even those who embraced it. "*That's definitely unusual. I'll have to speak with some of the others, Jay.*"

"*The Demon knows my family, it know me. It knows what will attract us, what we won't fight. It's been in my head since before I was born.*"

"*I believe I understand,*" she nodded. "*For what it's worth Jay, we're not going to let you go that way, not without a struggle.*"

"*Thank you,*" he smiled slightly and stroked her ears, almost oblivious to Master Noloth sitting next to him. "*Fenrik helped a lot too. I pushed the Dark back after the battle because he asked me to. It spared the Pig's life.*"

"Gamorrean, kit," Master Noloth corrected him, leaning his head back with something that was almost a chuckle. "There is a difference."

The last part earned him a curious, and rather questioning look, but Jay nodded. "The Gamorrean's life."

"*So, think you can handle the rest of the day without giving us reason to come chasing you half-way around the world to see if you released a swarm of ancient Sith spirits?*" Essani asked with a mental chuckle.

"Yes, Master." He managed a bashful smile. "I think I can manage."

"So, anything bothering you?" Jay asked Fenrik later while the two of them were snuggling.

"Mmm ... well, you're leaning against my arm a bit," the Panther chuckled, taking the glass and pressing against him lightly for emphasis. He was still wearing the sling, at least when Jay was looking, but more to humor him than for any real pain left in it. "And I'm a little worried about Master Kiris," he admitted.

"Your Master?" Jay shifted and nuzzled him.

"Yeah," Fenrik nodded slightly, pressing into the contact. "He's been gone longer than he was supposed to be. Probably just some little delay that came up, but ... I worry," he admitted.

"He matters to you," he nuzzled him gently. "I'd worry about her if Essani left me alone, late coming back or not."

"We probably all would," Fenrik chuckled slightly. "Worry about our Masters, that is. I'm just feeling a little nervous, I guess. I haven't heard from him since he left, which is normal enough. Just all those little things that go together to make you nervous."

"I know," Jay murmured and nuzzled him. "And if he's stressed, you're feeling it too."

"It's like that with you and Master Essani too?" Fenrik asked, returning the nuzzle.

"Yeah, it's how they always know about us," He smiled a bit sheepishly. "That Master-Padawan bond gives them access past our shields, but it's not completely one-way."

"Uhm ... did Master Essani ever tell you if she feels anything through that bond when we...."

"Only if she's checking, or it's very strong," Jay looked at him curiously.

"That's good," Fenrik nodded, blushing beneath his fur. "It just occurred to me that she might be picking up on things when we were in bed together... y'know?"

Jay blinked, then blushed brightly. "Umm, well, yeah, she probably knows. Maybe not details ...."

"I hope not," Fenrik nodded, turning to kiss Jay tenderly. "Now, let's both try to forget either of us thought of that."

"Yeah," he grinned and kissed him back, slipping his tongue into his lover's mouth with a bit of hunger.

"Mmm...." Fenrik returned the kiss, their rough tongues exploring each other's mouths. "Want to see if a day's been enough?" He suggested, leaning back on the couch and drawing Jay back on top of him slightly as he worked out of the sling.

"Yeah," Jay rumbled and relaxed to straddle his hips with a more heated kiss. "I could definitely stand a workout."

"Mmm ... who in who?" Fenrik rumbled, wrapping his arms around the younger tom.

"You in me," he breathed hotly against Fenrik's neck between kisses as the Panther worked to get his robes off.

Master Jienhui Ursal stretched out in her bed on the transport ship, absently checking those around her by reflex, beginning and ending with her Padawan, who was understandably nervous. Already the young woman, normally a fairly late riser by Jedi standards, was in the meditation chambers on the ship, attempting to deal with it as privately as she could. Normally the great Bear would have left her to do so, but today she decided it wouldn't hurt to offer a little help, if it was welcome.

She lumbered out of bed and made for the shower, giving Shi enough time to come out of her meditative state if she cared to before she got there. It was only a short walk to the meditation quarters, and it was no surprise to find her Padawan was not alone there. This was the first mission for many, and even those who knew what was coming needed the extra calming.

Especially those who knew what was coming, in several cases.

Shivasta stood and walked out of the near-silent room, smoothing out her robes and bowing to the older Bear.

"Master Ursal," she said, quietly but politely. "You wish to talk with me?"

"Yes," she rumbled gently and guided Shi to the abandoned observation deck. "About what is coming, and what you have left behind."

"I had a feeling," the young Ice Walker nodded slightly, following her Master out, looking out the view screen at the strange surroundings of hyperspace. "I'm a little uneasy about it," she admitted.

"About the mission, or Jay?" She asked kindly.

"Both," Shivasta said softly. "And they're both connected, yet not, at the same time. It's a little confusing," she chuckled slightly, blushing a light violet.

"Perhaps I can help you sort it out," Ursal offered. "Visions are frequently confusing, even after you know what they are about."

"I'm not sure if it's a vision," she admitted. "Probably just nerves. I've never had to help people who needed it this badly before. I know it's what I'm training for, and that I can help, that I want to, but... I don't know how much I can."

"You help as much as you can," Master Ursal said simply. "It is all any of us can do. It is all any of us are expected to do."

"I understand, Master," Shivasta nodded softly. The Bear only wished it was as true as her Padawan felt it was; she was certain that many difficult lessons would be learned before they returned to the Temple. "I'm also worried about Jay," she admitted, "in several ways."

"What ways?" She pressed gently.

"I'm worried about him worrying about me," she chuckled slightly, pressing back against her Master's comforting size and warmth. "He was terrified when I told him where we were going, not that I can really blame him."

"I can not either," Ursal nuzzled her lightly. "But it does no good to worry about such things. You can not control what he thinks."

"No," she admitted. "But I wish there was some way to help him feel better about it. I promised him I'd write, but I don't know how much that helped."

"It will be enough." She said simply. "But something else is bothering you, cub."

"Yes," Shi admitted softly. "I'm scared... not just about the mission, but about what I'll find when I come back."

"That he will have moved on?" She asked gently.

"Yes," the young woman admitted. "I wouldn't blame him either. We could be gone for years."

"Yes, we may be," Ursal nodded solemnly. "If he has, and you have not, you have the option to court him again."

"I know," she nodded. "It's just that difference between knowing and knowing," she said, wishing there were words in Basic that better explained the difference.

"I understand," the elder Bear smiled gently. "At least you will be able to keep up on his life. It may not be being there, but you can write to each other. It will not be completely disappearing from his life."

"Thankfully," she nodded. "And he has Fenrik."

"Yes, he will not be alone." She said gently. "Things will be all right, cub. Trust in the Force."

"I will Master," she nodded, sighing slightly. "Thank you."

"I will always be here for you, Shivasta. Even after you have earned your place as a Knight. You are not the first I have helped through this, I do not expect you to be the last."

"Which part of it?" The young woman asked with a slight chuckle.

Ursal smiled and chuckled in return. "The first serious, long mission. The first plague. The first patient you can't help. The first time you leave a lover behind. The first time you come home to a lover or mate you haven't touched in months or years. I've seen it all a few times."

Shivasta turned, embracing the Bear as well as she could.

"And to think," she murmured fondly, "some people don't think old people know anything."

"Mmmm, Doruth," Tes nuzzled him as they snuggled on the large, soft couch in the living room of their quarters. She watched the news while he was more interested stroking her swollen belly. "I think I can help get an audience with Dilvam Tam. I know him from a few years back. He's usually happy to see me."

"Really?" He asked, looking over into her eyes. "That'd be great, if you can swing it. Thought he was a little paranoid about 'guests' though?"

"Oh, he is if he doesn't know you. But if you appreciate his work and are willing to bring in supplies or play a few games of pazaak, he's a friendly little guy. He knows I'm good for all three."

"How is he with new people then?" Doruth asked. "After all, we're hoping to introduce Jay to him without getting either of them ready to gut the other."

"They're either be the terror of the tech circuit or they'll try to kill each other." She chuckled softly. "He's friendly, but you can not shut him up about his new toys if you show a wit of understanding."

"I think we'll have to have Master Essani schedule a month or two off of Jay's studies," the Panther chuckled slightly, snuggling up. "Thank you, love."

"Anything for my packmates," she murmured and nuzzled him. "Besides, Jay's a good kit. And it'll be fun to see Dilvam again."

"Mmm ... just don't let the two of us get into a pazaak match," Doruth chuckled, nuzzling her back. "I'm trying to kick that gambling habit yet."

"Do you seriously want me to keep you from playing, or just put a limit on the finances?" She rumbled in soft affection and stroked his ears and forehead.

"Mmm... tip me off before I tick him off," Doruth chuckled. "I might lose money in games sometimes, but I'm not that much of an addict. Learned that much from my father before he kicked off."

"Oh Doruth." She rolled her eyes with a chuckle. "It's a friendly game, no fair using Force to tweak the odds."

"I won't!" He said seriously, nuzzling her neck. "Only do that when it's serious. I just mean before I clean him out," he smirked. "I was a pro, remember? I didn't always cheat."

"Mmm, we'll see then." She winked at him and followed it up with a kiss that left no doubt of why she'd brought the lube out into the living room.

"Mmm ... that we will," he rumbled, returning her kiss. "Y'know, at this rate, you're gonna have another litter on the way before this one's born," he winked, running his hands down her sides and reaching back to caress her ass.

"I think I could live with that," she grinned and leaned forward to give him ample places to touch even as she pushed him back a bit to lay on the couch. "You're a lot more enticing than their sire."

"Good to know," he purred, nuzzling her neck and inhaling her scent, heavy with arousal and the pups in her belly. "Mmm... almost a shame it doesn't work that well."

"Oh, I don't know," she rumbled as she pushed his robes from his shoulders to expose the sleek black fur and powerful chest. "This way means you can stay with me during my heats without pups."

"Mmm ... which is going to end up making things awkward when you go into heat when the pups are getting old enough to wander around the ship on their own," he pointed out playfully, pulling his arms out of his robes and starting to undo her own looser robes.

"As if your Padawan won't be?" She raised an eyebrow, her mind elsewhere with a groan when his mouth found one nipple. "Oh gods," Tes shuddered and ran her hands along his face and ears. "You and that tongue."

He just grinned up at her, suckling first one nipple, then another, fondling her lower sets as he bathed them with his tongue. It was so delightful how she moaned and squirmed without a trace of reservation. She held nothing back from him.

It felt so good event before she touched him, something she did very well when he wasn't distracting her too much.

"Willing to try something new?" Tes breathed with a shudder.

"Mmm ... surprise me?" He asked her with a rumble, certain she didn't have any kinks he couldn't at least tolerate.

He saw her dark brown eyes glitter and a wide grin spread across her muzzle.

"Then I need you undressed before you get too turned on." She licked her muzzle eagerly.

"I think I can manage that," he grinned, pulling his robes off the rest of the way, leaving himself naked as he pulled her down for a hungry kiss that was surrendered to completely as her own robes came off in a hurry.

"Now, now," Tes tried to get herself under control enough to not jump him immediately as she kissed and licked her way down his chest and abs while her hands gently fondled his full balls to bring him to the right state of arousal.

"Mmm ... how long will you need me like this?" He asked with a groan as she got him about half-hard and kept him that way while she reached next to the lube bottle to bring a rather wobbly slick black ring with a much more slender second loop under it.

"Just till I get this on." She grinned up at him adoringly before kissing his cock.

"And what is 'this'?" He asked, rumbling and focusing on keeping his body from getting any more aroused until she was ready as she slipped the gel-dildo like ring over his half-full erection, then slid the smaller loop behind his balls to tighten the arrangement like a cock ring, except the part around his cock was rather soft and far too high up.

"This is a delightful little thing that'll let you tie to me," she grinned and ran her tongue up his cock, catching as many of his barbs as she could. "Let go, lover."

He did so with a groan, quickly hardening the rest of the way at her attentions and knew just as quickly that this thing would world like a cock ring, strange configuration or not.

"So this is what you... oooh... bought while Jay was... mmm... asking what those beads were for?"

"Yap," she grinned and stood to run her hands over his body. "I won't ask often, but I have so missed tying with my lover."

"Mmm ... and how could I possibly deny you," he purred, running his hands down her body. "Be interesting to see what it's like for your kind," he rumbled.

"It is very intense." She shivered in anticipation and coated his barbs with the lube that made it so good for them both. "How do you want to snuggle for twenty minutes?" Tes murmured with a kiss.

"Mmm ... you in my lap," he groaned. "Damn, woman... mmm... you sure this thing'll swell then come down, right?"

"Yes," she kissed him soundly and pressed him back to sit on the plush couch so she could straddle him. At first she just rubbed her pelvis against him, relishing in the feel of a canine cock on the male she loved. "Gods, you make me impossibly hot."

"I do my best," he rumbled, nuzzling her breasts, lapping at them with his rough tongue, groaning as she rubbed against him. "And you more than return the favor."

"That a request to get in me already?" She giggled a bit and licked the back of his ears even as she shifted her hips up to take him in.

"Mmm ... it's certainly not me complaining about it," he grinned, suckling one nipple hungrily as he took her hips in his hands, pressing up against her wet, eager sex and slid in easily until they came to the ring she had slipped on him.

"Ohh, yeah!" Tes howled and shuddered, her body nearly on overload already from the sensations and instinctive response to the knot pressed against her sex.

Doruth just started thrusting, savoring the sounds she made and the feel of her body, tight and hot around his own. He didn't particularly like cock rings, or things like them, but what he'd said before was right - there was no way he could really deny her something she wanted in bed, especially not something that minor.

Besides; if it made the ecstasy he could feel practically pouring off her a more common thing? He could live with that very easily.

A few nights later, the quiet chime of somebody asking to be let into the suite shared by Jay and Master Essani woke the kit out of his near-slumber. Reluctantly he uncurled from around Essani's small form and slipped out of bed, quickly pulling an outer robe on to cover his nudity before he went to see who was asking in at this hour without waking his Master telepathically first.

Opening the door, he saw Fenrik on the other side, looking exhausted and very wound up.

"Sorry I woke you up," the Panther said apologetically. "Jay, do you think I could stay here tonight?"

"It's okay," he assured him quickly and guided him inside with a gentle hand. "You're welcome here." He said seriously, knowing his Master wouldn't object even before she confirmed it mentally while she walked out of Jay's room and settled into her own, smaller bed.

"Thanks," Fenrik said gratefully, letting the door close behind him before he hugged Jay close; a sort of needy hunger in the embrace.

"What's wrong?" Jay asked and hugged him back.

"I don't know," the Panther admitted, a fact that clearly worried him almost as much as whatever was wrong did. "I just... I can't be alone tonight," he murmured.

"No problem," Jay nuzzled him supportively and urged him to his bedroom. "I understand."

"Thanks," Fenrik repeated, following him into his room and sitting down on the side of the bed. "I hope Master Essani doesn't mind."

"*I don't, kit,*" she told him gently from the other room. "*Calm down, and try to get some sleep. You'll probably be feeling better in the morning.*"

"Yeah," Jay nuzzled him. "Warm milk, or just snuggling?"

"Snuggling," Fenrik murmured, turning to return the nuzzle before he shifted to kiss the younger tom. "More, if you want."

Jay was caught between the reflexive answer of yes, and a doubt that it was really what Fenrik wanted.

"Snuggle," Jay kissed him back lightly even as he let the loose outer robe to the floor and encouraged Fenrik to stand so they could get under the covers. It wasn't hard at all, though the Panther's arms were back around him as they crawled under the sheets, both of them naked.

"Don't know what's wrong," Fenrik admitted with a kiss as Jay snuggled close with a content sound.

"Maybe your Master is stressed," Jay nuzzled him gently. "Or the worry you mentioned before is getting stronger. It'll be okay."

"I hope so," he murmured, rubbing Jay's back, working strong fingers through his fur; unconsciously touching all the right spots to turn his lover on.

"Just try to focus on what's here and now and let the worry slip away," Jay tried to concentrate on helping his friend and not on what Fenrik's touch was doing to his own body.

"Right," the Panther murmured, kissing Jay tenderly. "Here and now's good...."

"Yes, it is." He breathed in sharply as wondering hands tried to draw a whimper of arousal from him and stop his own hands from returning the favor.

"Take me," Fenrik murmured softly, nuzzling Jay's neck as he got over the shock of the request and it's phrasing.

"All right," Jay kissed him gently and ran his hands along sleek black sides, trying to gage the mood a little better as he kissed his way down Fenrik's muscular body.

He earned a deep, soft moan and felt the Panther shift, leaning back slightly and lifting his upper leg to give Jay better access to anything he wanted. He rubbed the younger tom's back and shoulders, kneading them as he closed his eyes and surrendered completely to the distraction of pleasure that Jay offered him so freely.

Running, darkness, pain shooting through the side. The beast was probably still chasing him.

People screamed in the streets, diving out of the way as he ran by, pursued closely by a nightmare he'd thought was nothing more than a legend.

Master Kiris leaped up onto the roof of a small building in the Corellian slums, running and jumping to the next before he dropped into an alley and tried to catch his breath. He looked up with a start, igniting his lightsaber as a wall exploded in a shower of plaster and the terentatek howled for Jedi blood.

The Panther dropped into a defensive posture, wincing as blood dripped from the gashes the beast's claws had left in his back after it killed the Dark Jedi he'd been hunting. The giant, beetle-like creature growled, its mandibles clacking as it gauged its foe and smelled something that no enemy the Jedi had fought had smelled in years.


Kiris thrust his hand out desperately, stabbing at the terentatek with the power of the Force and trying to knock it off balance, following the attack with his lightsaber. The wave of Force energy washed over the creature, but the lightsaber blow struck true, biting into its chitin and burning through its flesh for a few inches... still, not nearly enough damage to stop it. A massive claw grabbed the Panther by his arm, pulling him up towards massive, spreading wide, ready for the kill....

Fenrik screamed, shooting up in bed as he grabbed for his own throat. Agony shot through his other arm as all the fears and insecurities of the past few weeks came crashing together into one jumbled moment of stark terror.

"*Master!*" Jay's mind voice screamed at Essani, who was already rushing for their room. He had no idea what was wrong, what the jumble of images, thoughts and information in his mind was, but he knew what it took to draw that kind of sound and smell from a warrior. That in and of itself was a terrifying concept when all he could do was try to hold Fenrik and convince his brain that whatever this was wasn't happening to him right now.

The door opened, letting the kushiban in as Fenrik shuddered in Jay's arms.

"*What happened?*" She asked, hopping up on a chair as the Panther tried to calm himself down.

"Master Kiris," he panted. "Something... something killed him!"

"Terentatek," Jay named the thing that reminded him of stories of his Great-Grandfather's adventures. "A giant beetle."

*Is that what you remember?*" she asked Fenrik. Jay could feel the shock she kept tightly shielded from anybody else, even from her fur.

"Yes Master Essani," he nodded, licking his lips. "That was the word my Master had for it. It was killing him."

"*It may only have been a nightmare Fenrik,*" she told him soothingly. "*I will call the Council, we will see what has happened. If you two can sleep, it would be best.*"

Jay looked at her, uncertain why she would not tell him what they all knew had happened. "*Master, may I add some somuric to his milk?*" He asked along their tightly shielded bond.

"*Do so,*" she nodded. "*And take some yourself, if necessary. I may be busy for the next few days Jay, along with the rest of the Council. I'm sure you'll have your hands full helping Fenrik cope.*"

"*I understand Master.*" He nodded fractionally, squishing his curiosity until it was a better time to ask what had her so frightened about a giant beetle. "I'm getting you some warm milk," he nuzzled Fenrik gently. "Okay?"

"Just don't take long, please," Fenrik said, looking into Jay's eyes with an expression that was closer to lost than anything the younger tom had seen before.

"I won't," he leaned down to kiss him reassuringly before hurrying to make the milk that would hopefully be strong enough to let Fenrik sleep despite the ragged ends of a shattered bond in his mind. "*Master, shouldn't he see a mind-healer for the bond?*"

"*In the morning,*" she confirmed, moving to the door. "*For now, he needs to sleep. Force willing, when he wakes up there won't be any need.*"

"*Yes, Master.*" He took the small glass of warm milk back to his room and handed it to Fenrik before settling next to him to hold the bigger Panther. "There's somuric in that. It'll help you sleep."

"Thank you," he murmured, taking the glass as the door slid open and closed. "Jay... do you think it might have just been a dream?"

"No," he sighed and hugged him tightly. "I'm sure it wasn't."

"I didn't think so," the Panther murmured, squeezing his eyes tightly shut as he drank the drugged milk and wrapped his arms back around Jay, fighting to keep from breaking down.

"It's all right," Jay murmured quietly as they embraced and he stroked Fenrik's ears.

"Not yet," the Panther murmured softly, pressing his muzzle against Jay's neck. "Not until I know for sure."

"Then lay down and don't fight the somuric," he said softly and guided him down. "They'll know in the morning."

Before long, he held the drugged Panther in his arms, sleeping with a peace and calmness that was completely at odds with what he actually felt.

The twelve Masters of the Council were clearly tired as they gathered, but none of them protested the extremely unusual meeting. They also paid little attention to the usual protocol, simply gathering in a circle and settling in.

"We all know why we're here," Master Shan said softly. "Master Essani, I assume you believe that Padawan Aren's vision was valid?"

"*I do, Master Shan,*" the kushiban agreed, her fur a deep, steel grey. "*And if it is, then we must act quickly. There is no way to save Master Kiris, but Corellia has many Jedi there, most of whom would stand no chance against a terentatek, let alone the damage it may do to the people there while hunting us.*"

Master Ryul nodded seriously. "Are there any still alive who remember the last time we hunted one?"

"Not who saw the hunt," Master Kareth said softly. "However, the records still exist, as well as how they have been slain. Those who leave on the hunt must be skilled in blaster combat, as well as with lightsabers. What concerns me is why this one has returned; they've been thought to be extinct for over a thousand years."

"It means what it has always meant," Master Yamari said quietly, her gaze elsewhere. "The Dark is strengthening as it has not in generations."

"Given the associations, could this be linked with Padawan Clawson?" Master Noloth asked pointedly.

"*It may,*" Master Essani admitted. "*Though not because of anything he has done directly. The Dark Jedi we sent Master Kiris to hunt went to Corellia for a reason; it may be connected to the appearance of the terentatek there.*"

"Which means we will need to seek to find what that connection is, if there is one," Master Surool said, frowning slightly. "And if there is more than one to deal with. We may need to begin training for another Great Hunt."

"For now, what Jedi have the skills to hunt this one?" Master Charn looked around, his long black tail lashing sharply. "Besides Knight Parn."

"There are more Custos who are qualified than Jedi," Master Noloth admitted. "But Master Kylyanni is qualified. There are others, but I don't know their names off-hand."

"I am as well," Master Kareth said softly. "Master Kiris was the superior warrior, but I have studied the terentatek more than most others, and prepared for this day to come."

"I would say that makes this mission yours to lead." Master Ryul inclined his head to the slender vixen.

"It is the sensible decision," Master Noloth agreed. "Do you believe that the three of you, possibly with Custos, will be sufficient?"

"We sent three Knights to finish the Great Hunt some three thousand years ago," she pointed out. "Two Masters and a Knight should be able to handle this one without anyone else being slain." She stood up. "We should leave soon; I'll contact Master Kylyanni and Knight Parn and have them meet me in the vehicle bay."

"I strongly recommend taking a few of the more blaster-inclined Custos as well." Master Shan cautioned her. "We do not know if this creature is alone. Do not become too confident from your rank. Those three Knights had battled many terentatek before their final kill. No one with you has."

"Very well, Master Shan," she agreed, inclining her head towards him. "We will be cautious."

"*May the Force be with you, Master Kareth,*" Master Essani said softly as she left.

"Where are we going?" Tes asked amicably, a bit excited, when Doruth came back to their quarters after the middle-of-the-night emergency meeting and started to pack.

"We're not," he said softly, knowing she wasn't going to like it. "I've been assigned to a joint mission to Corellia with Masters Kareth and Kylyanni, trying to find out what happened to Fenrik's Master. I'm afraid I have to leave you here for this one."

"Like hell!" She growled softly. "I'm not on maternity leave yet."

"Tes...." He sighed and closed the small case with the clothes he thought he'd need in it. "Master Kiris was probably killed. What did it is supposedly a creature called the terentatek. It's a Jedi-hunter specifically, but it goes after anybody who can wield the Force. They picked the three of us who were best at fighting without lightsabers or the Force to face it if it's there, and we're taking several of the Custos with us, but I don't want you anywhere near it until it's dead, or we know it's not real." He moved over to the bed, caressing her cheek lightly. "Please," he said softly, "I don't want to take the chance that this is going to go badly."

"It's that terrible a beast?" She calmed down significantly, worry replacing outrage and she cupped his face.

"The Jedi have tried to hunt its species to extinction, multiple times," he nodded softly. "Lightsabers barely touch it and the Force is practically useless against it. If something goes wrong, you've got our pups to worry about too." He leaned forward, kissing her softly.

"Which is why you're going." She nodded regretfully. "Not many Jedi are good hunters without those two things."

"Exactly," he nodded. "It's that, or hire mercenaries or bounty hunters to go after it. Frankly, it's better this way. Sorry about the short notice," he said apologetically, "but if this thing's real, we need to change that as quickly as possible."

"Be careful, love." Tes murmured and kissed him; a lingering, passionate contact not intended to distract him but to have him leave with a taste of her in his mouth. "You have pups to come home to."

"I will," he murmured softly, reaching down to ghost his hand along her belly. "I have you to come home to too; no better reason than both of those together."

"Good," she rested her head against his chest for a moment before stepping away to let him go. "Force be with you, love."

"Thank you," he murmured, kissing her briefly before grabbing his pack and turning to leave. The walk to the hanger where their fast transport was already waiting was brief but too long, and he stopped dead in his tracks when their Custos contingent came into view. Five Wolves, no doubt a working pack from the way they interacted, with enough heavy personal weaponry to take on a small army of heavy droids.

The blaster carbines he could understand, even the heavier models. But the repeating blasters he saw were almost overkill, especially the one the largest of the Custos was carrying, almost too big to be used by a person without a tripod.

"The concept of 'overkill' is lost on them, isn't it?" He asked Master Kylyanni quietly as he walked up next to her.

"They said something about wanting to be certain the Alpha's mate returned," the Ferret pointed out. "They're very dedicated to making sure we all come back from this, particularly you."

"Tes'd be glad to hear that, I'm sure," he murmured, raising an eyebrow as they loaded a number of high-caliber slug throwers. "Excuse me," he nodded politely to the older woman, stepping forward to have a word with the Wolves.

"Greetings Knight Parn," one of the females, well-built with brown and grey fur, inclined her head to him without breaking from overseeing the others as their equipment was locked in place in the cargo compartment.

"Greetings, Custos Resh," he said politely, inclining his own head slightly, though not quite as much. "Don't you think this might be a bit much?" He asked, indicating the growing arsenal.

"Hunting anything that scares Jedi more than Sith does warrants whatever might be needed." She said firmly but politely. "We do not yet know if these are improved terentatek, or how many we face."

"I understand your concerns, but I'm worried about what might happen with the slug throwers. What type of ammunition are you using?"

"Hollow point, dum-dums, tumblers, incendiary," she ran over the inventory in her mind. "And a load of armor piercing variants for if it turns out a lot tougher than reports indicate."

"I hope you don't plan on using the armor piercing rounds unless they're necessary?" He asked hopefully. "We don't want to endanger bystanders with bullets that rip through the target, after all."

"Of course not," she almost sounded miffed. "Those are only for if the target is too tough for the other rounds and is blaster resistant."

"Which it shouldn't be," he nodded. "It's not that I doubt your judgment, Custos, it just seemed like a little much. Which, given my track record, probably means something's going to happen and we end up under-gunned," he admitted with a slight chuckle.

"I suggest you not tempt fate, Knight Parn," Master Kareth chuckled. The lean vixen looked very unusual with a blaster rifle strapped across her back, particularly a light sporting rifle, but Doruth had a feeling that it was heavily modified for what they were going to be doing.

"We are prepared for it if he does." Resh said simply. "We were chosen because we know how to retreat when it's a good idea."

"A skill we may end up using," Master Kylyanni agreed as she walked up to the ship. "Is everything ready, Custos Resh?"

"Yes, Master Kylyanni." She bowed politely after the biggest male in her pack nodded that everything was secured and accounted for. "We are ready."

Master Essani walked into medical, noting mentally that she had been here far too often for her liking since taking Jay on as a Padawan. Not that it was his fault by any means, but he did have a knack for being found here, with or without somebody else.

Now he was sitting with Fenrik as the mind-healers finished smoothing over the remains of the bond that Master Kiris' death had shattered. It was always painful when a Master's death ended the bond, but when death came in an instant, when it didn't have time to fade before ending, it was worse. She wasn't surprised that Fenrik had screamed, or by the rest of his response the night before.

She only wished she had better news for them. Not that they didn't know it already, but she never enjoyed telling a Padawan that they had confirmed it. Hopefully Fenrik wouldn't ask about the condition of the body. The look Jay flicked her way when he realized she was there warned her well enough that her Padawan would, even if Fenrik did not.

This was not going to be pleasant.

"*How are you feeling?*" She asked the Panther gently once she was sure the mind-healer was done.

"Better," he said softly. "They said the bond was why I was as wound up as I have been lately." He sighed, closing his eyes. "I still can't believe he's gone...."

"That takes time." Jay murmured and hugged him supportively, speaking from far too much personal knowledge for one his age.

"*Time that you'll have,*" Master Essani reassured him gently. "*I'm afraid that I can't tell you you're wrong either. We received word from Corellia today; they found his body.*"

Fenrik swallowed hard, trembling slightly in Jay's arms.

"Are they sending him home?" He asked.

"*Here first,*" the kushiban said softly, "*but yes, back to his homeworld after that, assuming his wishes didn't say otherwise.*"

"They don't," the younger Panther said softly. "He only talked about it once, but he did want to go back home. Was it...."

"*We're not sure if it was a terentatek or not,*" Essani explained. "*But we've sent a team to find out, well prepared if it was. They'll find out what killed your Master, Fenrik. For what it's worth, his death was swift, and likely painless beyond what had happened in the fight.*"

"It's something," he nodded softly. "I should go back to my...." He swallowed hard at the thought of his quarters, or going back to them. They were his quarters now; his alone.

"You don't have to," Jay offered, his voice low and respectful in his offer to stay with his lover, or have Fenrik stay with him.

"If you don't mind, Jay, Master Essani...?" Fenrik sounded hopeful, and the kushiban nodded.

"*It's no inconvenience, and understandable,*" she said softly. "*You can stay with us until you're ready.*"

"You don't need to be alone," Jay squeezed his hand. "There is plenty of room for what you need in my closet."

"I should go pack up what I'll need then," the Panther said with a shaky smile as he stood up. "Jay... do you mind coming with me?"

"Just try to get rid of me," he managed something of a stern face, but the concern behind it ruined the effect.

"Wouldn't dream of it," the Panther murmured, wrapping his arms around Jay in a tight hug before he caught himself and stepped back slightly and found his hand captured as Jay took charge and guided him out into the hallways to his quarters.

The quiet hum of Master Kareth's blaster rifle charging broke the background rumblings of the Corellian streets. The trail of the terentatek had led them up out of the slums and into the upper city... and, frighteningly, closer and closer to the parts of the city that Corellia's Jedi tended to gather. It hadn't killed anybody else yet, but it was only a matter of time before that changed.

"It's close," she said softly. "To the east... it's approaching the Testing Grounds."

The Custos pack nodded and double-checked their weapons that had been ready throughout the hunt and exchanged glances to double-check that they all understood the battle plan and orders.

"Let's get going then," Resh's voice was low, nearly a rumbling growl as they picked up the pace a bit.

The three Jedi moved with them, Doruth and Kylyanni's blasters already prepared.

"Master Kareth," Doruth asked quietly, "how can you sense where it is?"

"Look for the void in the Force," she answered. "That is where it will be."

"I see what you mean," he nodded, focusing and seeking for the sensation she described. Suddenly, he leaped up and over the pack of Custos, bolting in the direction of the beast making its way towards a cluster of young sensitives who would have no way of surviving the encounter.

"Move!" Resh barked and hit a dead bolt run to get into firing range before the Panther got himself killed doing the Jedi thing.

"Can't blame him," Master Kylyanni pointed out softly as they hurried to follow him. "Not given all that's at stake." Her blaster pistol, almost comically large in her small hands, was ready for use when they were in range. The sound of a blaster discharge, followed by a bellowing roar of pain, said that wouldn't be long.

"Damn crazy Jedi going to get himself killed." The biggest Wolf rumbled in a mixture of frustration, distress and respect even as Doruth appeared in front of them so quickly he was nearly run into.

"I got it's attention," the Panther pointed out, turning and firing his heavy blaster as the great beast appeared from around the corner, earning a roar of pain as the shot struck on its shiny black-brown carapace.

"We noticed," Kylyanni said dryly, moving out from the middle of the pack and firing her own weapon, spreading out so it had to focus its attention on multiple targets rather than a single group. Master Kareth started to move away from them as well, though she went a different direction - up, onto a nearby balcony.

Resh made a sharp motion with her free hand and two of her Wolves vanished into side streets to come around behind it while the remaining three opened fire even as they spread out, their much heavier repeating blasters making a significantly bigger impact.

"*Hold Fire!*" Resh ordered calmly across the Force with the note that her two packmates were about to lead it into the open where it would be an easier target and them much harder to get.

In the moment of silence terentatek roared and spun around, scuttling after the two Wolves that were harassing it from behind. It drew back a massive arm, swinging for one of them even as their repeating blasters fired volleys of energy-bolts into its chest.

A massive crack from the balcony drew everybody's attention to Master Kareth's shot, just before the beast howled in agony, the arm it had drawn back falling to the ground, twitching as green ichor flowed from the wound.

"Finish it," she called down to the others.

"With pleasure," Doruth growled, the seven warriors on the ground opening up with a second series of shots that left the nightmare of the Jedi dead in the streets, its body twitching slightly, its armor scorched and burnt.

"Heavier weapons next time," Resh commented absently as she stepped up to the carcass.

"Definitely." A packmate nodded decisively. "That took far too many hits."

"At least it's dead," Doruth pointed out, looking up at the Grey Fox putting her weapon away. "And none of us are even seriously injured. What the hell sort of blaster was that?" He asked.

"Tensor rifle," she responded easily as she jumped down from the balcony. "I acquired it while I was still a Knight, when I was researching the creatures. I'm glad it worked as well as it did."

"Nice," Resh rumbled appreciatively. "Illegal as hell, but very nice."

"A Jedi isn't a creature of morals," the Vixen chuckled slightly. "At least not when necessary. Now, let's go deal with the rest of our task."

"Should we bring the body back with us?" Master Kylyanni asked. "It might prove useful to study one."

"Custos Resh, do you believe it's possible for us to carry it back?" Master Kareth asked the Wolf.

She glanced at the carcass, then at her packmates, and nodded. "It would be easiest to carry it to the Testing Grounds and land the ship there to load it. Even with Force assistance, the bugger's heavy and the streets ill-suited to maneuvering it in.

"I'll help you move it then," Master Kareth offered. "Knight Parn, Master Kylyanni, if you two would be kind enough to bring the ship?"

"Yes, Master Kareth," the Panther and Ferret nodded, turning to head back for the transport as the rest of them worked to move the massive predator to the Testing Grounds.

"Is it just my natural paranoia going overboard, or was this just a bit too easy?" Resh asked Master Kareth quietly as they used a combination of Force and muscle to get their prize into the open.

"It does feel that way, doesn't it?" Master Kareth agreed. "But I do not sense another. I find myself wondering if this one might have been the Force's way of giving us a warning."

"Hell of a warning," the shewolf muttered. "Leaving a Padawan without a Master."

"He'll find a new one," the Vixen said certainly, knowing that it was little comfort to the Wolves, and would be little comfort to Fenrik if he heard it ... if not upset him. And yet she knew it was true. "What I can't help but wonder is what it's a warning about."

"Hello Jay." Shivasta's image flickered in the holo-message. She looked well-rested, calm, at peace. Jay hadn't been sure what to expect, but this was a good sign he was sure.

"We're about to arrive at Necropolis; I wanted to be sure to record this while I had the time. The trip's been uneventful, mercifully. I've been talking with some of the other Padawans here... even some of the Knights are nervous. I'm not the only person who hasn't seen anything of this scale before... I guess that's comforting, in a weird way. I might be out of my depth, but I'm not the only one. We've all heard the reports, read them... it's bad there, but we all know we can help.

"That's the important part. We can help there." She looked away from the camera briefly and nodded.

"I have to go soon. I hope everything is going well for you and Fenrik. Write back when you get the chance; it'll be good to hear how things are at home. I'll bet you've managed to get yourself in trouble a dozen times just since I left," she chuckled with a fond smile. "I'll write again as soon as I can. Until then, think a fond thought or two for me. I know I'm thinking them for you," she smiled, before the image flickered out with the 'end message' chime.

Jay drew a deep, thankful breath, debating just how much to tell her of the hell that had gone down here. Some he really did have to tell her, some ... she just didn't need to hear from him.

"Anything you care to say to her?" He looked over at Fenrik, who was trying to relax on the couch.

"Wish her luck, and tell her I'm glad she left you here for me to take care of," the Panther chuckled slightly. "It didn't quite work out that way, but one of us is takin' care of the other at least."

Jay nodded with a forced grin and turned back to the holoscreen to make the recording.

"Hey Shi. Glad to hear the trip was uneventful. Things are moving along here. Doruth got sent on a hunting trip with a couple others and left Tes behind, so she's been a real terror. Hopefully they'll send word he's coming back soon.

"Fenrik wishes you well, and sends thanks that you left be behind to take care of," he winked with a playful grin. "Essani's kind of adopted him since his Master is gone." He did his damnedest not to look as stricken as that made him feel. "Still no word on when he's getting back.

"I hope things turn out not to be as bad as it sounds, and things get sorted out soon. I already miss you." He clicked the recording off and sent it to her.

"I'm sure she'll be fine," Fenrik said softly, moving to hug Jay from behind. "I wonder when they're going to hear about Master Kiris," he mused quietly, closing his eyes as the pain washed through him again. "And I'm sure Doruth will be back soon... it should only take them a couple days to get to Corellia, at worst."

"And not much longer to hunt that thing down, I hope." He nodded and turned to hug him back, embracing his lover in all the caring warmth he could offer. "They'll probably know in a few days. It's news, but they're going to be really busy."

"I know," Fenrik murmured. "And they're going to have their own troubles to deal with too." He sighed slightly. "Come to bed with me?"

"Of course," he stretched up to kiss him lightly and nuzzled him before standing, still in their embrace.

"Master Essani?" Doruth asked politely, approaching the kushiban as the entourage of tall, well-muscled Panther Jedi of both genders boarded the Gurath.

"*Yes, Doruth?*" She looked up, watching as her Padawan boarded with Fenrik.

"I noticed you're not on the list of people I should make sure are on-board before we leave," he said softly. "There is space for you, if that's the concern." Of course, if she was any larger there wouldn't be; the Gurath's quarters were well and truly filled with Panthers coming along for Master Kiris' true funeral on his homeworld of Shiraak Prime.

"*No, I am not coming,*" she agreed quietly. "*I am needed here on the Council. I trust you can take care of Jay and Fenrik for this journey.*"

"Very well, Master Essani," he nodded, surprised at the level of trust involved. Of course, it wasn't like they were planning on having any trouble on the way, but it was still a sign. "Thank you," he bowed respectfully.

"*Just bring my kits home safe,*" she said softly, her full confidence that he would clear with the words.

"I will, Master," he promised. "We'll see you again in a few weeks," he said before turning to board the Gurath and run the last of the pre-flight checks that Tes had begun.

"Hey," Jay caught Fenrik gently by the arms and guided him to settle on the simple bunk they'd share for the next couple weeks. "It's too early to pace."

"Sorry," the Panther said apologetically, ducking his head a little. "Guess I'm just a little wound up. It's kinda strange to think of all these people are coming along with us to pay their respects to him, given how little time he spent with most of them... most of anybody, for that matter."

"You never did talk about him much," Jay reached up to caress Fenrik's face. "What was he like?"

"A warrior in every sense," Fenrik smiled softly. "And ultimately a Panther too. Fiercely independent, a real loner. Guess that's why I'm so surprised by the turnout; most of the people here he only knew by virtue of being another Panther, as far as I know.

"But as much as he was a private person, he always fought for the right side of things. Not necessarily the legal one, but the right one, unless his vows forbid it."

"There are such vows?" Jay frowned, trying to think of such a thing worth keeping.

"I saw them in action," Fenrik admitted. "The Jedi are viewed as representatives of the Republic, so we can't necessarily enforce our morals in an area where they conflict with the local laws. Nar Shaddaa was the place I saw it happen. Slavery is legal there, and the Republic has so far not taken a stance opposing it in Hutt space. No Jedi may strike against slavery within Hutt Space. Outside its boundaries is another matter, but within it would be seen as an act by the Republic against the Hutt's laws, which we do not have the right to represent until it is an accurate representation."

"Oh, that," he nodded. "Didn't think of it that way."

"True though," Fenrik pointed out. "It was downright painful to watch him the time I was there with him; I could practically feel the offense he took at it, though he never let anger show, even in private. He stayed away from Hutt Space for just that reason; he only went when the Council required it of him for a mission.

"Beyond that...." Fenrik sighed, snuggling up next to Jay. "He was incredible. It's hard to explain it, but he is... was... everything I want to be."

"Everything you will be," Jay said softly, stroking his ears and neck gently. "It's good to have at least one person like that in your life."

"I just wish I knew what to do now that he's gone," Fenrik murmured softly, nuzzling Jay's neck and holding him close.

"You accept it, heal, and find a new Master to complete you training with." He answered simply.

"Is it really that simple?" Fenrik asked, looking at Jay searchingly. "I've been his Padawan since I was ten, Jay, six years.... How do you find somebody you can connect to like that again?"

"That simple, yeah." He nodded seriously. "That easy? Not likely. It's not much different than falling in love or finding a lifemate after one's died." Jay murmured and stroked Fenrik's neck and upper spine. "It can take a while, but it can happen." He looked back and kissed him softly. "And this one really comes down to the fact that if you don't find someone you can at least trust, even if it's not as much as Master Kiris, you can't finish your training. Give it a few months. Someone will become apparent as the right choice to do the job."

"I hope so," the Panther nodded slightly, kissing Jay back and sighing softly. "It just doesn't feel like it right now," he admitted. "I know better, but feeling it is a lot harder."

"Fenrik," Jay got him to look at him directly. "You just lost him. Traumatically. You haven't even buried him yet. Don't worry about anything but seeing him off and healing from the loss for a while. No one is expecting you to move on like nothing happened."

"You're right," Fenrik admitted, snuggling up closer to him. "Thank you, Jay," he murmured softly. "For being sensible for me."

"It's what friends are for," he nuzzled him and held him tightly. "And mates are to hold you when you cry for the loss."

Fenrik turned over in bed, trying to let Jay sleep. He'd woken up a few minutes ago, his mind tossing and turning as he tried to calm down. The nightmares weren't as vivid anymore, they didn't have the immediacy of Master Kiris' true death, but they were still there.

He sighed softly, turning again and kissing Jay softly before extricating himself from the younger tom's arms. He climbed off the cot and moved to the small dresser in the room, opening the drawer and pulling out his lightsaber.

His Master's lightsaber, made for him.

He walked out to the cargo bay where Master Kiris' remains were in stasis. He still remembered the first time he'd seen it, after Knight Parn and the others returned from hunting the beast that had killed him. It hadn't looked too bad, except for the one glaring flaw. The head that the beast had taken off and partially eaten had been replaced by a false one. The imitation was flawless, but that only mattered if you were looking at the appearance. The fact that it didn't belong was too obvious... and, in its way, more disturbing than the simple absence would have been.

Fenrik tried to ignore the nearby body, instead igniting his 'saber and starting a simple kata. As the blazing white blade cut through the air, he focused his world down to three things; the blade, himself, and his troubles. Each stroke illuminated the shadows of his troubled mind, bringing things into clarity and giving him a point of focus to tackle until another issue became more clearly the source of the trouble.

The young Panther fought his phantom battle in the cargo hold, lights flashing off surfaces, the quiet hum of his blade the only sound in the ship.

It was that unexpected sound that woke the usual inhabitants of the ship. Tes lifted her head, checking with her eyes what she felt, that her mate was indeed still in bed and not the source. With a soft mumble she settled back down even as Doruth kissed her gently and slipped out of bed to dress quickly. No one should be practicing at this hour. No one should be conscious at this hour.

In the back of his mind, he wondered if one of those on board had his meditation method. It was usually him that was up at strange hours with a saber in his hand, using the katas and glow of his saber to bring clarity to his troubled thoughts.

He made his way back to the cargo hold, and paused at the door, watching the youth. To almost any other in the Order, it would look like 'saber practice. To Doruth, who used it himself, the difference between that and combat meditation was obvious. He could hardly blame the youth for needing it either. Loosing your Master was never easy, even after you were a Knight. To loose him half way through training in such a traumatic way with half a galaxy between you ... that had been known to break a Padawan.

Fenrik continued his meditation for a few minutes before he realized that he was being watched. He finished the kata and extinguished his blade to turn to face the Knight with a bow.

"Did I wake you?" He asked, looking up politely.

"Yes," Doruth nodded slightly. "I'm usually the one doing that." He paused, regarding the admittedly strange scene. "Is it how Master Kiris taught you?" He asked softly.

"It is," Fenrik nodded, closing his eyes briefly. "It was how he meditated as well, when he had the space."

"I wish I had known him better," he murmured. "I had to learn on my own how to clear my mind. I didn't realize there was another Jedi who used kata meditation."

"Neither did I, except for him," Fenrik admitted with a slight smile. "He said it's not very common, even among the warriors, though I'm sure a few others do it. It works," the cub chuckled slightly, putting his lightsaber in its holster with ease. "That's the important part."

"Yes, it is." Doruth nodded with a small smile of his own. "It's good that you are taking the time to. It's not an easy or quick thing to come to terms with."

"No, it's not," Fenrik nodded. "I just needed to clear my thoughts tonight."

"Then I will leave you to your thoughts, before Jay decides I need to be 'encouraged' to go back to bed." He smiled warmly and turned to leave, even as he realized that it was much more likely to be Tes who came to drag him back to bed, though that was unlikely to be restful. He was definitely going to have to invest in some serious soundproofing before he took on a Padawan.

"He's more likely to encourage me," Fenrik chuckled slightly.

"Quite possible," Doruth grinned at him over his shoulder. "He's as bad as Tes from what I've heard."

"Knight Parn? Would you mind staying for a little bit, if it's all right? It might help to have somebody who knows what they're doing a bit better to talk some of this over with."

"Of course," he said easily and turned fully to face Fenrik. "Here, or up in the observation bay?"

"Probably be better in the observation bay," the younger Panther admitted, looking at the stasis case holding his Master's body as he moved to follow Doruth.

"It is rather unsettling, for all the copy is perfect," he nodded, speaking quietly as they walked.

"I know they meant well," Fenrik nodded slightly. "But it's just not him. I can't believe that creature...." He shuddered, sitting down in the observation bay and felt the bigger Panther settle next to him and put a strong hand on his shoulder. "It does get easier, right?"

"The going on, day to day? Yes, that gets easier with time and acceptance that he is gone." He nodded solemnly. "Loosing someone close to you? No, that part never gets any easier."

"Guess it's not supposed to," Fenrik nodded slightly. "Why do we do it the way we do?" He asked, leaning back in his chair with a sigh.

"Do what?" Doruth asked, a bit at a loss as to which thing he was asking about.

"I...." Fenrik sighed, trying to think of how to say what he was thinking. "The whole thing. We're not supposed to get too attached to anybody, anything, it's the whole reason most Initiates are taken when they're so young. But then we create a bond like the one between Master and Padawan... even without the actual bond, there aren't any pairs that don't have a connection like that. I don't know how you were able to do it, turn against him when you had to."

"I almost didn't," he sighed, the memories of it still a faintly terrifying pain. "The rest ... that's a complex answer." He sighed and shifted to lean against a bulkhead and stared out at the stars rushing by. "The lack of attachment ... emotions tend to cloud judgment. It makes it hard to think, to see things for what they are and the path you should take. You just went through a fairly civil round of why you are encouraged not to be close to anyone with Jay and Shi. It would have gone much differently if there weren't two Masters intervening in the fallout. It's why it's so hard to accept what the next year will bring, that you'll heal enough to have another Master for the remainder of your training and risk it all again, possibly even a third time if it comes to it.

"The bond with a Master is mostly to protect the Padawan. You learn so much, you're put in so much danger so young and so often that it's almost the only way a Master can make sure you aren't getting into trouble, physically or with the Dark. It's not something a lot of Masters relish having from what I've read. It's not something I liked having at your age. It's not something I'm particularly looking forward to when I take a Padawan, but I know from my own time that it's needed if he'll survive to become a Knight. I have to be able to know when he's in danger from anything to protect him until he's ready to protect himself, and that means I accept the bond and all that comes with it."

"Didn't do either of us any good when we needed it," Fenrik pointed out, his tail betraying the brief rush of anger he felt.

"Life is like that," Doruth said quietly, understanding the anger and pain all too well. "Things don't always work out the way we mean them too. A lightsaber should cut anything it touches. A Master should see his Padawan a Knight. A Jedi is the hunter, not the hunted. We shouldn't let emotions cloud our judgment or fall to the Dark Side. But it all happens and the incredibly small odds of any of it isn't much comfort to those that face the results when things don't work out right."

"Especially not when you could've done something," Fenrik nodded, swallowing hard. "Should've said something sooner."

"You had that premonition before?" He frowned; surprised that such a dramatic Force-ripple could have been missed.

"Not the premonition, but the whole week leading up to it... I was feeling more and more stress from him, so many things that should have said something was wrong...."

"Fenrik, as frustrating as it may be, even if you'd said something nothing would have changed. He was expected to call for help if he needed it, even if it was just to you. He was hunting a Dark Jedi, a fallen Master. If he was close, that is how it feels. It can drive you crazy to be the one left behind, knowing something's going on and blocked from even being moral support." Doruth sighed. "Taking the blame for what happened won't help any either."

"Did you at least found out what happened to the Dark one he was following?"

"The terentatek killed him."

"It balanced things out," Fenrik murmured, sighing and shaking his head. "At least his mission was completed."

"Yes," Doruth nodded. "And that one won't hunt another Jedi."

"I just hope there aren't any more of them out there... whatever created it, it's an abomination. How could anything exist outside the Force like that?"

He held back his real beliefs that it was the predator of the ultimate predator. "I don't know," he admitted the truth. "But we've tried to exterminate them time and time again, and every time the Dark rises in power again, they come back to hunt us all."

"I'm going to hope this was just a fluke," Fenrik sighed. "Rather than something about to go very, very wrong. Thank you for speaking with me, Knight Parn. We should probably both get back to bed, before we're missed."

"Any time you'd like to talk, you're welcome to," he smiled warmly and squeezed the younger Panther's shoulder. "I may not have all the answers, but I've been through a lot of what you are."

"Thanks," Fenrik smiled slightly, putting his hand on Doruth's before he stood to leave. "I'll keep the offer in mind."

"Have you assessed how far in his training he is?" Master Ryenth casually asked the female next to him on the observation deck.

"He's at the point where I would recommend starting to train him in lightsaber construction," Master Zaian admitted, inclining her head slightly as her ears twitched, taking in the report on the vid-news Master Charn was watching. "He seems to have a reasonable grasp of how to use his abilities, though he relies on his training before his talents. I believe he would be ready for his Trials within five years, if not for the interruption this will cause."

"And the difficulties his bonding with Clawson will cause." Master Charn commented without truly joining them. "They are as tight as any mated Knights, and less likely to take separation well for all it is all but a given."

"It can't be that close?" Ryenth frowned. "They are far too young to have developed that closeness.

"Barely three months." Charn confirmed. "Impossible or not, it has happened and it will be an unpleasant thing for them to have end."

"And recent events have only brought them closer," Master Demria, youngest of the four, pointed out quietly as she walked onto the observation deck. "Though Clawson's involvement has helped Aren to maintain his balance throughout this."

"Agreed," Zaian nodded. "Their closeness is surprising, but has worked out for the better thus far."

"It is when they are separated for an extended period that will require careful management." Charn cautioned. "It would be best if his new Master has helped someone through such a separation, and has experience with the death of someone close."

"He needs a healer or counselor more than another warrior most, right now," Demria agreed. "Though that may change through the next year."

"Right now, that is what he will have." Charn nodded. "He won't have another Master until he is ready and at least largely recovered from what has happened. Master Essani has agreed to oversee him until he is ready to accept a new Master as he is likely to all but live in her quarters anyway." He paused to look at the three most likely candidates for that new Master. "Make no mistake, even healed, this will leave its mark on him long past his Knighthood.

"He will not be the first troubled Padawan to be trained successfully though," Zaian pointed out.

"None of us expect him to forget what happened, Master Charn," Demria agreed. "Losing your Master is never easy, especially not through violence. The question is what nature that mark will take. Kiris would not have wanted his death to end his Padawan's training, or leave too great a shadow over his future. Properly directed, this trial could serve to temper him, rather than tarnish him."

"Yes it could. It will simply require special care for it to. Not every Jedi is ready to provide that."

"Hardly," Demria agreed. "Though I am willing to," she added, "if it is possible when the time comes. He deserves the best chance he can get, both for his own merit and as Kiris' Padawan."

Master Charn nodded thoughtfully. "I would encourage you to include yourself in his life then, and Padawan Clawson's as well if they are ever separate. I can already see in the Force that his will shall be the deciding factor, and it is quite unlikely that their opinions will differ for long." He advised her calmly. "They are both very strong willed kits."

"Once we have returned to Coruscant," the younger Master nodded. "For now, he has enough to do with grieving and the responsibilities he has accepted. As I understand, he has taken the position of Master Kiris' heir for the ceremony."

"At least he is unlikely to have difficulties beyond finding a suitable location," Charn said softly. "And his perfectionist nature."

"That is helpful," Zaian agreed. "And I'm sure Clawson will be willing to point out when he's worrying too much about finding a perfect location."

"And Aren may actually listen to him," Ryenth chuckled. "At least more than to anyone else on board."

"We can certainly hope so," Demria nodded. "He doesn't need to give himself any more stress than he's already under."

"Very true," Charn nodded. "It'll be a rough enough year for him regardless."

Fenrik knelt beside the grave Master Kiris' body was resting in. Most of the others had gone already, leaving Fenrik to pay his last respects. He looked around at the spot they'd chosen, a quiet clearing surrounded by massive jungle trees. It was a quiet, peaceful place, one that had felt right when Fenrik had first visited it.

He hoped his Master would be happy here.

"This is it," he sighed, reaching down to brush his fingers along the dead Panther's arm. Most people would have thought the grave was far too shallow, balked at the lack of a casket ... or the fact that there was a burial at all. Most of the Republic had gone on to cremations, for space among other reasons. But their people's traditions were different; here, Kiris' remains would go on to rejoin the planet's life cycle and his spirit would rejoin the living Force of the area.

He looked down at his Master's remains. His real head was beneath the body, what was left of it at least. The false one remained on his shoulders, a training 'saber replacing the one the terentatek had destroyed after killing him. Fenrik sighed, closing his eyes as the pain washed through him.

"Jay?" He asked quietly, sitting up a bit straighter.

"I'm here," he answered softly and stepped closer to put a supportive hand on Fenrik's shoulder.

"Can I have a few minutes alone?" Fenrik asked softly, putting his hand on top of Jay's. "There's something I need to do."

There was a moment of hesitation, fear that the Panther meant to kill himself, but he nodded and squeezed Fenrik's shoulder. "I'll be by the river."

"I'll be there," Fenrik promised as he glanced up and realized that Jay had been crying silently during the ceremony for someone he had never met, the only visible grief any of them had shown. "Don't worry," he smiled slightly, "I'm not that far gone."

"Thank you," Jay stopped himself from kneeling to kiss him and let go, his steps away steady despite the emotional turmoil inside as he tried to cope with his own losses, eventual death and how much family customs actually mattered to him. Things no thirteen year old had any business thinking about and he'd put off for too long already.

Fenrik swallowed, taking his lightsaber out and setting it down at his knees. He was grateful for Jay's tears; he'd have to let him know later. He knew the others felt their own grief, in their own ways, but none of them had really showed it. He felt his own tears roll down his cheeks, and for the first time since the body had been brought back to the temple he didn't try to stop them.

He wasn't sure how long he cried, though he was sure Jay had gotten back to the river some five, ten minutes walk away. He wiped his tears away as his nerves steadied, then picked up his 'saber.

"I know it isn't yours, but at least it's one you made," he said softly, carefully removing the training 'saber the Jedi on Corellia had placed there as a formality and replacing it with his own. "Besides ... I promised to return it to you when you were done with my training. I wonder if you knew it would be like this. I know I never did."

He holstered the training 'saber, hoping nobody would notice ... or, at least, that they wouldn't mention it if they did. He looked up at the false head that had been bothering him since he had known about it. Ironic, really.

Master Kiris had told him once that even if he lost a hand he wouldn't have accepted a replacement. He'd considered it a sign of pride overcoming faith in the will of the Force. And now, when it wouldn't have helped him, the decision had been made for him. Fenrik reached into the grave again, taking the head and twisting it, wincing at the sound of the mountings sliding out of place as it came off in his hands.

"This doesn't belong here," he said softly, standing up and hiding the offending prosthetic by one of the nearby trees before he set about the task of shoveling the soil back into his Master's grave. Once he was done, he brushed some of the dirt from his sweat-soaked robes, his tired muscles giving him something else to think about as he started to walk back towards the river where Jay was waiting.

"Goodbye, Master," he murmured as he followed Jay's steps to where the kit was sitting by the water's edge, his knees to his chest and his face buried in his arms on top of them. His entire body was shaking, the tears no longer silent as any attempt to control himself had been abandoned well before.

Fenrik sat down beside him, wrapping his arms around the younger tom and held him close, silently offering some of the support he'd been given since this had all started while Jay pulled himself together enough to face the adults again.

"I don't suppose there's a swimming hole nearby?" He murmured quietly, rites he barely remembered hearing about combining with not wanting the Jedi on the ship to see them this tear-soaked to drive events for a time.

"There should be," Fenrik nodded, helping him stand up and felt him lean against him even as Jay tried to be supportive as well. "They don't expect us back for a while, I'd wager, and they can find us if they have to ... why don't we go clean ourselves up?"

"Better than looking like this what we see them." Jay nodded and hugged him back.

"It's okay for you to cry too, Jay," Fenrik murmured softly, kissing him gently before they walked to the small pond nearby, steam rising lightly from its surface.

"Wouldn't know it from the adults," he made a small sound of relief and shed his robes just far enough from the water's edge to avoid getting them wet before stepping in with no concern for any critters that might be in residence or that it would be too hot.

Fenrik followed him in, groaning as the hot water soaked through his fur. It was almost too hot for comfort, but the heat felt good as it soaked into his shoulders.

"They've seen too many friends go already," he pointed out softly. "They're just keeping it inside, like everything else."

"I know," he moved to rub Fenrik's shoulders even as his nuzzled his powerful neck. "I just still remember how much trouble we'd get in for doing just that. Dad said it was how the Demon got a hold in your mind, how you fall to the Dark. It just doesn't seem right." He sighed. "Some parts of your world I'll probably never get used to."

"That holding it in was?" Fenrik asked, wanting to be sure he was hearing it right.

"Yeah. Holding everything inside was the best way to go suicidal, insane or Dark, whatever came first." He murmured.

"Only if you bottle it up, instead of handling it," Fenrik murmured, turning to rub Jay's back. "We're just not supposed to let our emotions rule us, after all... it's just that bottling it up seems to be the easiest way to do that for most of 'em."

"And it works for most," Jay consented and groaned softly in their embrace, not really questioning the reasons or method. "It just isn't how I was raised as a sane choice. It just feels not right to have that much grief around and no tears or ... well ... social outlet." He sighed and rested his head against Fenrik's chest. "I just never realized till now just how different things are here; that my funeral's going to be anything but what I'd want just because of who'll be there."

"Maybe you'll manage to get home before that happens," Fenrik murmured, rubbing his back. "Besides... it's not just the Jedi approach. Panthers aren't exactly renowned for showing their feelings," he admitted, "especially not warriors. Not unless it's 'pissed as hell.'"

Jay couldn't help but chuckle weakly and tried to lighten the mood a little with a kiss. "Or horny as hell."

"Mmm ... very true," Fenrik chuckled, returning the kiss. "Sorry I haven't really been in the mood lately."

"You just lost the most important person in your life." Jay looked up at him seriously and cupped his cheek. "Sex is hardly the top of my concerns list."

"Thanks," the Panther murmured, kissing him gently. "Don't know what shape I'd be in by now without you here, Jay," he admitted.

"It doesn't matter," he said firmly. "I was here, I am here and I'm not about to leave you."

"Good," Fenrik murmured, rubbing his back. "So, feeling better now?" He asked, licking the younger tom's tear-matted cheek lightly.

"Yeah," he managed a smile, purring weakly at the intensely personal and caring touch. "You?"

"About as much as can be expected," the Panther smiled slightly. "Thanks for giving me that time."

"Anytime you need it, just ask," he kissed him gently before stepping back and closing his eyes to sink completely under the water to work the tear stains from his fur.

Fenrik took the chance to clean his own fur off, though he stayed above the water to do it until Jay was back up himself a few seconds later.

"I will," he smiled, "though I don't think it'll be too often."

"Good," Jay murmured and ran his hands up Fenrik's chest before kissing him soundly, the hunger in his mind from memories from home not matching the lack of arousal in his body. The conflict took a third way out and made him blink as he finally placed what was off about the incredible silence of the area. "I can make you a real one to practice if you'd like." He offered hesitantly, remembering Doruth's polite but very firm refusal of an improved 'saber over a year before.

"You noticed that, huh?" The Panther asked softly. "It just wasn't right to leave a fake one there... and I might take you up on that, eventually. Surprised you know how to do that already."

"I don't, technically," he looked up with a bit of an impish grin. "But it's seriously hard for me not to pick up how to create something I spend so much time working with. I built one for Tes a couple weeks after I got to the Temple. It doesn't take long, really. It's the tuning it to yourself that's the time consuming part, and it's not something you do unless you can build your own. I could probably have it ready in a day or two at the Temple."

"I'll consider it," Fenrik smiled slightly. "It'd be a lot easier to explain," he chuckled a bit.

"I doubt anyone will question it, whether I build you a new one or not." Jay kissed him gently and climbed out of the pool to shake off. "Sun-dry?"

"Works for me," Fenrik nodded, climbing out and shaking the hot water out of his own fur, laying down on the grass next to Jay, reaching over to rub his chest lightly.

"Mmm, feels good." He rumbled softly, a contented sigh escaping as relaxed in the strangely blissful silence of this world.

"Do you think I picked the right spot, Jay?" Fenrik asked, rolling up onto his side and absently scritching along his lover's front.

"Did you want somewhere calm and peaceful and full of life?" He glanced over.

"Yeah," Fenrik nodded. "Somewhere worthy of a protector's spirit, but where he could be at peace."

"I think you found a perfect spot then," he smiled at him easily.

"Thank you," Fenrik smiled. "Mmm ... you ever come up with some way I can thank you properly for all this, just let me know, okay?"

"Come to peace with this," Jay rolled to his side to look at him seriously as he reached out to caress his face. "Don't let this scar you for life."

"I'll do my best," Fenrik nodded slightly, leaning forward to kiss him. "I won't forget... but I won't let it ruin me either."

"That's how it should be," he nodded and kissed him back with a bit of fire. "Life does go on and you have a lot of life left."

"And a good tom to live most of it with," Fenrik murmured, returning the kiss and snuggling up close as they passed the time it would take to dry.

Jay let the light pack he'd brought for the funeral trip drop to the floor of his room at the Temple unceremoniously, too emotionally worn out to care about clothes. Fenrik had made some headway after the funeral, and Jay couldn't begin to express how grateful he was at that. He was already thinking far too much about death for anyone's good and how to word his instructions to a people that believed in cremation and letting the ashes drift on the wind.

The very idea was enough to make him shiver. Not all his kin were lucky enough to have a body left to burry, but to intentionally destroy it with no marker they ever existed ... it scared him more than he dared admit.

He was grateful too that Master Essani didn't seem to be around as he checked for messages and saw one from Shi a couple days old.

"Jay!" Shivasta's image looked as frustrated as she sounded as she said his name. "You should have said something! Gods I'm glad I had Master Ursal view the first version of this message before I sent it!" She sighed, straightening up slightly. "Please tell Fenrik I'm sorry about his Master. I wish I was there to help. We've been here about a week now, and I have to say... they've cleaned up the reports we get out there," she admitted. "It's not too bad around our outposts, but you get too far from those and...." She sighed again, shaking her head.

"The plague is bad, Jay. Don't tell anybody out there, but I don't think it's natural. The Masters are looking into the cause while the Knights and Padawans try to help as many people as we can. I've never seen this much suffering in one place before. It would be so easy to be overwhelmed by it, but we have to be strong. I helped a little girl today," she said with a smile. "Her parents were frantic, but I was able to bring it under control. According to the doctors, those we heal should have the antibodies to fight the plague better, so she should be immune now. I hope they're right.

"Give Fenrik my condolences, Jay. I miss you terribly, but he needs you there. The Force be with both of you. And don't give Master Essani any heart attacks while all the healers are gone," she winked as the message ended.

Jay closed his eyes with a defeated sound and let himself drop into a nearby chair. There was no way he could answer her now. Too wound up and worn out to say what she'd need to hear. It ached to have her missing. She could have made the death go away in a few minutes.

But he had to be strong, for her and for Fenrik ... and for himself. He could feel the Demon alternate between raging against the door and crooning sweet promises of power that they both knew were true.

Fenrik interrupted it as he got into the room, setting his own pack down as he noticed Jay's mood even as he realized that almost all the furniture in the room had been changed out to be more suitable for two.

"What's wrong?" He asked, kneeling next to the young tom.

"Shi's seriously ticked I didn't tell her about Master Kiris, the plague is really bad ... the unnatural kind of bad, but don't repeat that ... I guess the last few weeks are starting to really catch up with me too."

"Shi's probably not that ticked off," Fenrik said reassuringly, standing Jay up and guiding him over to sit on his lap on the bed, wrapping his arms around him. "And they've got more healers there than they do back here, I'm sure they'll figure out what's really going on and solve it."

"I know," he willingly surrendered to the embrace and closed his eyes. "I'm just really worn out right now."

"Shh, rest then," the Panther murmured, kissing his neck gently. "You lay down, I'll help you relax enough that you can get some sleep in your own bed, okay? I'll even give you a big black body pillow to snuggle up with," he smiled.

"When am I ever going to refuse that?" He managed a grin and kissed him softly. "I think I've gotten used to the relative silence of a ship too. The chatter's intense here."

"And here you said you used to gripe about places that were too quiet," Fenrik chuckled, pressing him down to the bed and starting to work his robes off. "You can tune it out, right? If it's too intense?"

"Yes," he groaned and arched up into the touch and coming nakedness even as he worked Fenrik's robes off his shoulders. "Just like you do minds."

"Just checking," the Panther rumbled, helping Jay take his robes off, then working his off the rest of the way. "Roll onto your front, okay?" He suggested and got an almost immediate response as Jay shifted to his arms and knees.

"Fuck me, now." Jay shivered, his body only half aroused but his mind driving a need so intense it hurt if he let it.

Fenrik blinked. He'd expected Jay to be wound up, but this wound up he hadn't been expecting. Even so, he reached into the nearby drawer and pulled out the lube.

"Sure you want this?" He asked, opening the tube and spreading some onto his fingers.

"Yes," he breathed hotly and looked back at his lover with pleading eyes. "I want you in me."

Fenrik made quick work of preparing his partner. Jay looked almost as desperate as he'd felt the night....

He shook his head, dispelling that thought. No way that was going to happen. He pressed against Jay's back, nuzzling the back of his neck as he started to press his shaft into the younger tom's ass with a moan. He groaned with a shudder as he felt Jay let go of something deep inside that hurt like hell. Not the pain of loss, but something related.

"Yessss," Jay hissed and pressed back, embracing the almost-pain that came with such pleasure and a kind of comfort he had no words for. He tightened his body around the invading cock, relishing the feel of every bump along its length and the barbs near the head that made Fenrik whimper when he pulled out.

"Oh fuck," Fenrik groaned, starting to thrust slowly. It had been weeks since they'd done this, literally. It added an extra level of intensity to it that was a lot like their first time. The main difference was that Jay was a much more active lover now; thrusting back when Fenrik thrust forward and rippling the muscles of his lower body to milk the cock inside him ruthlessly.

"So good," Jay whimpered.

"Nnngh ... can say that... again," Fenrik panted, gripping Jay's hips lustily as the pace picked up and the musk of their arousal began to fill the air around them.

"Harder," Jay almost growled, pushing back hard against Fenrik's groin.

"If you want," the Panther growled, starting to thrust harder, searching for the nub inside his lover's body as he reached around to start stroking his cock, paying special attention to the small nubs around the head and particularly the two new ones that had come in since the last time he'd truly explored Jay's body.

"Ohhhh," Jay moaned deep in his chest and didn't fight the rising pleasure in his body. He was vaguely aware that he cried out when Fenrik found the right spot deep inside him that felt like nothing else in the world. The scream that came with the second thrust into his prostate combined with the two fingers just below the head of his cock that squeezed his nubs down in unison left him feeling lightheaded and mewing as he came, spurting his seed across his bed and Fenrik's hand. His ass spasmed around Fen's shaft, drawing a deep roar from the older tom as he pumped his cum deep into his ass.

They were both panting as Jay turned his head to nuzzle his lover. "Face to face?" He rumbled softly.

"Gimme a couple minutes, Jay!" Fenrik protested playfully, even as he pulled out with a groan. "Me in you yet?"

"Yes," he groaned with a shudder and rolled over with his knees up and spread, his ass leaking the Panther's seed as he casually stroked himself, his eyes on fire with desire for the tom kneeling above him.

"That's a very good look for you," Fenrik rumbled, licking Jay's seed off his fingers before pressing against his chest and kissing his neck, pressing himself into his body again.

"Ohhh, yeah!" He groaned and pressed up against the solid mass over him, kissing him and filling him. If mortal heaven existed, he had found it here with this tom claiming his body and mouth with all the strength and deep passions of his kind.

The new position rubbed them both in all new ways, the tight slickness and pounding, the hand that touched everything right, and moaning cries of pleasure and for more pushed them both to a second orgasm in ten minutes.

Fenrik panted as he pulled out of Jay, kissing him hotly, the smaller tom's seed mingling on both their bellies, his own dribbling from his ass.

"Mmm ... how 'bout a break, 'kay?" He asked hopefully.

"All right," he murmured and ran his hands up Fenrik's chest, but the look on his face belied his words.

"You're still wound up?" The Panther chuckled, kissing him lightly and laying on his side.

"Some," he admitted and shifted to snuggle in. "You haven't really been in the mood for a while."

"Mmm ... spirit is willing now, just not sure if the body's up to it," Fenrik chuckled, nuzzling his neck. "So... how 'bout you tell us a 'bedtime story' while I rest up?"

"A story?" Jay looked at him, completely at a loss.

"Mmm ... you can't tell me you haven't been thinking about Shi any. About what you two might be doing if she was here...." Fenrik's fingers ghosted over Jay's cock and its sensitive nubs.

"Oh," Jay moaned softly as his hips lifted into the touch as he tried to get his brain into het mode with all the male scent in the room. "She likes being in charge," he admitted, his cheeks burning lightly even as Fenrik kissed him soundly enough to make him forget that and just want to please his lover. "Her body's so cool, even her mouth. It's kinda weird, exciting too, knowing that's normal for her. Her scent's utterly intoxicating, even more than yours."

Fenrik gradually guided one of Jay's hands down to his cock, letting him take over the stroking so he could scratch the younger tom's chest.

"Go on," he rumbled. "What would you two be doing, if she was here instead of me? Just let go and imagine it...."

"Not as much," Jay breathed in sharply at the touch to his chest and his own fingers around his cock. "She'd pin me on the bed, straddle my hips and let her robes fall away from all that soft, blue skin. Make me just look and feel with my hands for a while before I can finally get undressed. She makes the most incredible sounds when I lick her nipples and run my fingers along her sex." He whimpered as memories combined with touch to bring him to full hardness. "It smells incredible when I rub her the right way and she comes."

"And how would she make you cum?" Fenrik asked, nuzzling Jay's neck lightly and inhaling his scent.

"Sometimes with her mouth, like you do, or her hand," he made an indistinct sound as a tremor ran through his body and his fist closed around his cock. "But what's really good is when I slide between her legs. She's so slick and eager and her clit is hard against my cock as she moans and moves. It never takes long."

"You want that?" Fenrik asked with a seductive rumble. "Want her here to make you come onto that soft, smooth skin of hers?" He trailed his fingers down Jay's front, paying special attention to each of his hottest spots.

"Yes," he admitted with a long moan, intentionally keeping his hand slow to draw out this new game. "Or feel you inside her with me." He whimpered as the idea broke most of his self-control.

"Mmm ... go ahead Jay," Fenrik purred, "make yourself come for her."

The strange idea didn't really have time to register as instinct tightened his grip and sped up his strokes, bringing his hand up to squeeze the nubs just below his cock-head with each pump until his hips thrust off the bed with a sharp roar and his seed spurted across his abs. Each motion drawing a little more come from his body and another whimpering sound from his throat.

Fenrik purred deeply, inhaling the scent and caught Jay's mouth in a tender, intimate kiss once the younger tom's roar had passed, his cock still shooting his essence up onto his stomach and fingers.

"Mmm, that was different," Jay murred lazily after he caught his breath.

"Bet she'd like to hear some of that," the Panther purred. "Maybe watch too," he winked.

That got a raised eyebrow in return, though Jay was far too relaxed to particularly argue. "She doesn't have anybody to play with."

"You have clearly never learned about having a partner who's in the field," Fenrik chuckled, kissing him lightly. "Sometimes Jay, the important part isn't having somebody there to play with, but knowing that the person who's waiting for you still wants to play with you, even if they've got somebody else. Honestly, from talking with her, I'd say especially if they've got somebody else."

"I'll think about it," he murmured, his cheeks a bright red under his fur. "That's a lot to send with a message."

"But I think it'd be worth it," Fenrik smiled, nuzzling Jay lightly. He was cute when he was embarrassed like this. "Not like you have to do it this time," he chuckled. "Now," he purred, rolling back on top of Jay, between his legs, "let's see if I can make you come as hard with me here as you did thinking about your girlfriend across the galaxy...."

Shivasta groaned as she dropped onto a seat in the common area, closing her eyes and reaching back to rub her neck gently. Her entire body ached from exhaustion and stress. She wasn't the only one either; most of the Healers who were coming off their shifts were just as wiped out.

Some of the Padawans were already sleeping on their tables, too wiped out to make it back to their quarters. One of the Knights looked like he was meditating, but Shivasta could tell the difference; he'd put himself into a stasis-trance so he'd be available in case of an emergency. She wondered how Master Ursal was holding up, and how close their were coming to finding out what was going on in this system.

Normally a Healer had a few minutes to rest between patients, recover their strength. Here, they were seeing them as quickly as possible, one coming in the door practically while the last one was still being tended to. It was like her worst shifts in the infirmary back on Coruscant, only about ten times worse since only the patients who had the mildest cases of the Plague were able to be sent home cured most of the time. The rest were left for the next shift's treatment, the theory being that giving the work some time to 'settle in' might make the next attempt more effective. She hoped it would work that way. It was the only hope some people had.

She stood up stiffly, walking over to the front counter of the barracks.

"Any messages for Shivasta Stormwarden?" She asked hopefully. The young man behind the desk, a local volunteer, looked through the list and pulled out a small disk, handing it to the grateful Ice Walker.

"Thank you," she smiled, starting up to her room. She hoped it was from Jay; she could use some news from back home. Compared to things here, it was bound to be good news as long as nothing had gone horribly wrong since the last one.

She closed the door to her small room behind her, stripping down with a grateful sigh. Gods it was hot around here. She couldn't wear her lighter outfits while she was on-shift either, not unless the heat was enough that regular robes were dangerous for her. It made things even worse, exhausting her faster than just the work would.

She slipped the disk into her holo-deck and opened it, cocking her head slightly as the menu rose with two messages from Jay. She opened the first one and sat on the edge of the bed while it started.

"Hey Shi," Jay's warm smile came across in the hologram. "I hope things are going better for you. I've missed having you around. I am sorry I didn't tell you about Master Kiris. It happened after the last message and things happened really fast after that. So for now Fenrik's staying with me and Master Essani until he's ready for a new Master." He glanced off the viewing area and ducked his head a bit. "Yeah, the side benefits are pretty good too.

"Anyway. Things are settling down again now that the funeral is over and everybody's back home. Tes is getting huge. Between her belly and three sets of tits she's one big rounded front. Looks rather like a pear with teeth and legs. I think she's starting to scare Doruth too." He snickered. "She's just a bit erratic with only a month to go before the birth."

He paused, shifting a bit uncomfortably. "But Fenrik talked me into something he thinks you'll like. Just please don't watch the attached movie anywhere public, okay?

"I hope you enjoy it. Talk to you later." He smiled shyly and clicked the recording off.

She cocked her head slightly, wondering what the devil could have him that embarrassed. She let her hair down, the long, dark-blue braids falling behind her, then pulled the viewer over so she could watch it as she laid down on the bed. She hit the keys to open the attachment, and lay back with a sigh.

The vid opened with an image of his room... rearranged with new furniture so two could live in the small space ... and focused on the bed, but no one there. She had just long enough to process that when a Jedi, soon obvious as Jay's lithe form walked into view wearing the heavy outer robe she had gratefully just gotten out of.

Her breath caught as he shifted fractionally, his back still to her, and let the dark brown robe slide from his shoulders to reveal the long lines of his nude back before he slipped onto the bed and rolled over to face her, his body relaxed and his smile warm and just a touch loopy.

"Thank you Fenrik," she murmured softly as she started to guess what was probably about to happen. She rested her hand on her pale blue stomach as she watched, wondering what had caused the odd smile.

"I've missed you Shi," he murmured softly, his voice low and seductive as he ran one hand along his tightly muscled chest and abs while the other stretched up to lengthen his already slender form. "Missed how only you touch me," he rumbled, circling one nipple with a finger as it hardened, "how you feel against my fur."

She shivered slightly, licking her lips as she watched him caress his body and felt the first stirrings of arousal in weeks.

"Your skin's so cool when you touch me, run your fingers through my fur, it's exotic." He lowered his eyes with a soft sound when he finally ghosted his fingers over his sheath, encouraging his cock to fill. "Even at your hottest, it's an electric shock against my skin. Doing things I never thought possible."

He drew in a sharp breath and arched up slightly as his cock peaked out and he circled the head with the back of one claw.

"Your skin is so soft, like your tongue and curves ... everything." He moaned as much in memories as his own touch. "You're so different from Fenrik, it makes you that much more enticing."

Her eyes roamed his miniature body, from his filling shaft up the lean muscle and soft fur she remembered against her own body the times they'd been together. A shiver of pleasure ran down her spine as she reached down to touch herself, drawing in a slight breath at the pleasure.

She was sure Fenrik was in the room, an impression that only got stronger as she saw ghostly 'fingers' leave furrows in Jay's chest fur. She looked at the lean tom's face, focusing on his expression and the unguarded pleasure there.

"You smell so sweet when you're aroused," he groaned and closed his eyes, his concentration on his words faltering as his fingers circled over the multitude of tiny nubs just below his cockhead. "But it's nothing compared to how you taste when I slide between your spread legs to tease your clit. Nothing matches the intoxicant of what you taste like inside when I press my tongue inside that incredible tight body of yours and make you cry and squirm as you start to loose control."

She whimpered softly as she started to stroke her sex... then stopped, pulling her hand back as an idea came to her. If he was going to do this for her, the least she could do was return the favor. But she wanted to watch the rest of this first. She tried to imagine him there with her, his scent, how it would feel to be getting that attention from him.

Gods she missed him.

"Nnn ... it makes me want to be inside you, to feel the tight slickness around me as you come." Jay managed even as his balls tightened and he stroked himself a little faster. "To be able to kiss you as you come so hard around me and feel my come pour into your cool body." He whimpered and shivered with a deep groan as his hips thrust up, precariously close to pushing himself over the edge before her eyes.

"Go ahead," she whispered to herself, "come on...."

It was only a moment longer before he growled, his teeth bared and clenched before a low rumble turned into a sharp roar as he let go, the white ribbons of his seed in sharp relief to the darker background and his dark, rusty-brown fur.

"I miss you Shi," he murmured as he panted in recovery.

Shi pressed her legs together almost shyly, now well and truly aroused as the recoding faded to black and clicked off. She removed the disk from the viewer. She was going to want to hang on to this.

And she definitely wanted to record her 'reply' while she was still interested in it. She'd grab a nap and record a real message later, but for now....

She slipped in a blank disk so she could give it to transfer later, and started the recording. As the recording signal came on, she smiled.

She was going to give them both a show they wouldn't want to forget.

Tes growled as her swollen, uncomfortable body woke her at a truly vile hour once again. There hadn't been a comfortable position to sleep in since before her mate had left to burry his kin, and it was getting worse every week. At least now Doruth was back to help warm her ... at least when she wasn't overheating and crawled out of bed to stick her face into the small freezer to try and cool off.

She couldn't fault his backrubs though, which couldn't be often enough for her. It felt wonderful, and even managed to get the swelling in her joints to go down for a while.

"Force!" She gasped as consciousness hit at the same moment as a shot of pain through her wombs.

"What's wrong?" Doruth asked, waking up quickly at the pained sound.

"Probably nothing," she murmured, her hands rubbing her swollen belly even as it rippled again. "Or not." She grimaced. "Contractions."

"Think you can get down to medical without help?" The Panther asked, fully awake in a flash, sitting up and grabbing their robes from near the bed. "Or should I call for somebody?"

"I can walk," she nodded stubbornly and scooted out of bed as much got up. "My water hasn't broken yet. It's not far along."

"All right," he nodded, helping her get her own clothes on. "Though you're not going there without me. I thought you were supposed to have a month or so left?"

"I do." She said simply, grateful for the help and his presence. "It's not unusual, just requires attention."

"Just let me know if you need any help," he said, putting an arm around her as they started out of the room and towards medical. She was being calm about it; it couldn't be anything too worrisome.

At least that was what he was telling himself on the entire walk, which took far too long for him, and from the number of times she winced, for Tes as well.

"Tes?" The MedCorp healer on duty looked up in surprise as they walked through the door. "What is happening?" He asked calmly and professionally.

"Pre-labor pains," she explained with a wince.

"A month and a half early." Jameric nodded and guided them into a private room. "The Healer will be here soon."

"At least they're not sending in a medical droid," Doruth murmured as he sat down near Tes.

"Not for four Force-sensitive pups." Jameric smiled at him. "These things are serious."

"Four?" Doruth asked, raising an eyebrow and looking at Tes, wondering if she'd known there were that many on the way.

She nodded. "I found out while you were gone."

"It's part of why we're watching this so closely." Jameric added. "That's twice what it is usual for a first litter."

"And it's a lot to carry." Tes grumbled.

"No kidding," he agreed with a slightly concerned frown as he reminded himself that there really wasn't anywhere better to be.

"No, there isn't." Tes squeezed his hand gently. "Even if they were born today ...."

"Which isn't likely." Jameric interrupted.

"It's far enough along that they won't be in much danger." She finished.

"Good," he nodded, chuckling slightly and squeezing her hand. "Y'know, for being the one in pain, you're doing a remarkably good job of being the rational one of us."

"One of us has to be," she pointed out with a tolerant grin, just before she winced.

"That doesn't look good," a well-rounded black she-bear said as she entered the room. "Has your water broken?"

"No, ma'am." Tes spoke with more submissive respect than she gave anyone.

"Good," Healer Ethrins nodded and knelt to run her hand over Tes's swollen belly.

"Is anything wrong?" Doruth asked the Bear quietly.

"No, but we do need to control the contractions to be on the safe side," she answered him soothingly. "More for her comfort than for the safety of the pups. They are not nearly strong enough to be a danger."

"So she's not having the pups yet?" He clarified, squeezing Tes' hand reassuringly as he felt the pain ripple through her again. "I think I'm speaking for both of us here; anything you can do to make this more comfortable for her will be welcome."

"No, your pups are not coming yet." The big Bear nodded and stood. "I will be back in a moment with something to ease the contractions."

"You okay?" He asked her softly as the Healer walked off.

"Yes," she smiled up reassuringly. "It just hurts.

"Just checking," he smiled back at her. "You didn't even treat the medic who was patching you up after Xagobah that well."

"Midwives rate extra respect," Tes chuckled softly. "Maybe it's a Wolf thing, but the one who makes sure pups are born healthy to a healthy mother rates that kind of respect. Especially since they have to deal with you during the birth when it's not going to just happen."

"She has a healthy sense of what's good for her," Healer Ethrins rumbled with a distinct chuckle as she returned with a small band and bottle of pills. "These are for the pain, try not to take more than one every twelve hours without talking to me first." She handed the bottle to Tes. "And this will monitor the contractions and limit them until it's time. If you'd stand up." She motioned slightly and Tes stood and helped rearrange her robes so the thin, soft ribbon could be hooked around her middle. "Take it off for water activities; showers, swimming, water therapy and such. If you need it to control the contractions for that short a time frame, you need to come in, because something is wrong."

"I understand," Tes nodded politely and got her robes back in place.

"Good. Then I will see you in four days for the regular weekly." She turned her attention to Doruth. "Do you have any questions?"

"As long as everything's all right, I don't think so," the Panther smiled slightly. "Not that I can't ask her instead at least," he chuckled, giving his mate a gentle hug.

"All right," she nodded easily. "You two get back to bed, and try for rest," she eyed Tes sternly. "Understand?"

"Yes, ma'am," she blushed slightly. "I'll behave."

"And you?" The Bear leveled her materially protective gaze on Doruth.

"Yes'm," the Panther chuckled slightly, raising his right hand. "Rest, for her especially."

"Good," she nodded, apparently satisfied. "Call me if anything happens."

"I will, Healer Ethrins." Tes promised as they headed back to their quarters.

"Padawan Aren, have you eaten yet?" Master Demria walked up to him just outside a sparring gym from a round of practice.

"Not yet, Master Demria," he said politely, almost used to having a Panther keeping a discreet, or not so discreet, eye on him much of the time. "I was about to go do so."

"Would you care to join me?" She offered with a slight smile that managed to carry the fact that it really was an offer, not a politely worded order.

"Certainly," he smiled and fell into easy step with her on the way to the nearest cafeteria.

It was odd, in a way; she wasn't usually all that friendly. Of course, he was starting to get used to the Panthers, Knights and Masters alike, taking more of an interest in him. In the days since the funeral, several of them had talked to him, or been watching him. He was pretty sure he knew why too; they were all wondering which of them, if any, would stand the best chance of being his new Master once he was ready to accept one again. And to make sure that he would be able to accept one again, no matter how unlikely it felt to him right now.

Only Doruth didn't seem to be acting that way, but then he'd taken an interest, because of Jay, before anyone thought Fenrik was going to need a new Master. It was kind of funny, because he was also the only one who'd been actively looking for a Padawan when it happened.

"Did Kiris ever speak of me?" She asked easily.

"Some," he nodded. "He said you two had been good friends, when he was younger." He felt like he should say something sympathetic, express some sorrow for her loss, but he wasn't sure what to say. She certainly hadn't seemed more upset than anybody else had. Then... she was a Master. That was hardly unusual, especially for a Panther. Grief ... almost all strong emotions ... were dealt with in private, or with one's mate at most.

"The closest either of us came to having a mate." She nodded, apparently at ease with the fact. "He said you had the most potential of any available when he took you as his Padawan."

Fenrik blushed slightly beneath his dark fur, holding back the twinge of pain that came with knowing he'd never be able to thank him for the compliment.

"I think he changed his mind about that a few months after he took me on," the younger Panther admitted. "Took a couple years before I reached the point where he was satisfied with my progress."

Demria couldn't help but chuckle a bit fondly. "You learned quickly then. Most take nearly to their Knighthood to get the perfectionist nature down that well."

"I wanted to please him," Fenrik said easily. Thinking back, it really had been that easy too. It wasn't a matter of resenting his lessons, or putting them up against anything else. It was a simple matter of knowing that he had to improve in order to prove his Master had made the right choice in selecting him as a Padawan.

"I guess that's part of why I feel as lost as I do now," he admitted. "I don't have that anymore."

"I think you do," she said almost gently as they entered a lift. "It maybe not as focused as it had been, but it seems clear that you still care about your skills and place as a Jedi."

"I do," he admitted. "I'm just not sure yet how much of that is because I don't know what else to do."

"Being a Jedi is not the only thought you have had?" She asked, intent on the answer.

"I came to the Order when I was barely old enough to climb," he pointed out. "Serving it, serving the Force, is all I've really thought about. It never seemed to be something in question, as far as I can remember."

Demria nodded. "Your ... friend ... Jay, may be able to help you understand if you wish to explore other possibilities. I understand he spent much of his youth elsewhere."

"I might," Fenrik nodded as the lift stopped and they stepped out. "And mate, please. At least boyfriend."

"As you wish," she nodded, easily accepting Jay's status even though she thought they were decidedly too young for it. "Few make it as far as you have if serving the Force is not in their heart, but it would not hurt to be sure of that in yours." She advised kindly.

"You're probably right," he nodded. "Though honestly, it'd take something very unusual to fit me as well, I think."

"Such is true with most who come to the Temple," she nodded easily. "It is very unusual to have the talent and focus to become a Jedi after all."

"Very true," he nodded. "And honestly," he added, smiling a little, "I think Master Kiris' spirit would come back just to rip me a new one if I gave up because of this. He hated wasting his effort," he chuckled slightly and got a warm smile for it.

"That he did," Demria chuckled herself as they got in line to get their meal. "He rarely did either."

"Can't let this be the first time then," Fenrik smiled a little as he took a meat-heavy plate and followed the older Panther to a table. "Guess I'm still trying to please him after all."

"I don't know many Jedi who are not trying to still please their Master." She admitted with a slightly amused chuckle. "After so long, it comes naturally."

"Of course, most of them would never admit it," he chuckled. "After all, we're not supposed to care either."

"True, but it still shows. Especially when you've known them from Initiate all the way to Master and know what to look for."

"I imagine," he nodded, eating slowly. "Do you stay close to your old Padawans?"

"As much as it is possible," she nodded. "Monith is quite the wondering Knight."

"So it's not just one-way," Fenrik smiled. "That's good to know."

"It depends on the Jedi involved," she countered slightly, "but no, it is rarely one way."

"One thing I have learned," he smiled, "there are very few things that apply universally."

"Only the Force," she chuckled. "Before a sentient gets involved."

"And then it doesn't always like to work the way it's supposed to," he chuckled. "I still don't get how everything I've seen works, even with the Force behind it."

"Ah, such is the nature of the Force," Demria smirked. "There are debates dating back to before the Jedi that are still going about exactly how we do some of what we do."

"And then you get to some of the things other creatures do," he chuckled. "And I know I haven't seen much of what's out there. No wonder we still haven't figured it all out in about twenty thousand years."

"And the fact that we keep figuring out new things to do ourselves." She added easily. "The Jedi bag of tricks is much larger now than it was in the beginning."

"Not likely to stop growing for a long time," he nodded, finishing his meal.

"No, it is not," she agreed quietly and finished the last of her milk. "So do you have a schedule you are keeping?"

"Not much of one yet," he admitted, "but I'm expected back at my quarters pretty soon," he chuckled.

"Ah," Demria rumbled in understanding. "I will not keep you then."

"Thank you, Master Demria," he smiled, standing and bowing politely. "I'll see you around?"

"Until I am sent on a mission," she inclined her head. "Have a good time."

"Thank you," he smiled, before turning to head back to his quarters and see what Jay had been up to for the past few hours.

He walked into the suite he shared with Jay and Master Essani to a face full of musky male arousal and semen-scent that definitely belonged to his lover, and no one else.

He grinned and walked into Jay's room, holstering his new Clawson-made lightsaber.

"So this is what you do when I'm off practicing, hmm?" He asked, looking at the naked and spent tom on their bed.

"Mmm, nice timing," Jay purred with a deep rumble. "Get that tail of yours over here. Shi sent a reply."

"Oh she did, hmm? Were you working on another one?" The Panther teased, slipping his robes off and sitting down next to Jay, nuzzling his neck and inhaling the musky scent that went straight to his own cock.

"Not yet," he chuckled and pulled Fenrik's head down for a heated kiss. "I had to wind down a bit."

"What did she put in that reply?" Fenrik asked once he had his lips back. He had an idea... but he really hadn't expected that Shi would do that, at least not on her own!

"Watch," he purred throatily as the projector turned on.

The Panther turned to do just that, guiding Jay's sticky fingers up to his lips and starting to lick his cum off them. He stopped when he saw Shi's image appear; slender, statuesque and completely naked in all her sky blue glory with long, thick, dark blue braids spread out around her.

"Whoa. I can definitely see the appeal," he rumbled, turning to kiss Jay's cheek.

"Hi there you two," Shi said. "I'm guessing that Fen's going to watch this some time with you Jay, so I just want to say thanks for your last letter. I really needed that," she said, ducking her head slightly.

"Wait until she touches you," Jay breathed and claimed another kiss as his free hand slid between them to fondle Fenrik's balls and filling sheath, earning a soft moan from the Panther. "It's like nothing else."

"I'm guessing you've watched already?" Fen asked with a rumble, nuzzling Jay's neck before he turned his attention back to the holo. Shi was fondling her breasts lightly; and spread her legs to rub her slick, damp lips.

"Mmm ... I love the way your fur feels against me," she murmured, her eyes closed as she drew up the memories of the times she'd been with Jay. "It's soft and warm, spreads your touch out all along me. And your tongue." She moaned, spreading her sex and fondling her clit. "Gods, kat, the things you do to me with that tongue of yours...."

"Umm-hum," Jay murred and worked his lover to hardness before rolling them over so they could watch the holo, Fenrik upside down, and took the bigger tom into his mouth to tease him.

"Ooh, I know what she means about your tongue," Fenrik groaned. As he watched, Shivasta went into some detail about just what Jay did do to her, and the younger tom demonstrated some of his other talents.

"And I love the way your come feels on me," Shi said, clearly blushing from the way she ducked her head. "It's so hot it almost burns, but the way it tastes, the smell... gods Jay, it's so entirely you...." She gasped slightly, slipping a finger into her body and starting to work her sex slowly.

"Mmm ... she definitely wishes you were there with her," Fenrik panted. "Damn, Jay, this isn't gonna take long...."

"Then I'll just have to move," Jay licked his whiskers and slid up Fenrik's body to straddle his hips. With a long, low groan he reached back and guided the Panther's thick, hot cock into his well-stretched and slick ass. "Because I love your come in me."

"Oh fuck," Fenrik groaned, his attention directed away from the video as he started to thrust up into Jay's body, gripping his hips to pull him back onto the barbed length.

"Oh Jay," Shi panted, fingering herself faster on the video, "I want you inside me... want you to be a part of me...." Fen closed one hand around Jay's shaft, stroking him, fingering his nubs as all three of them approached their orgasms.

Jay tightened his ass, drawing a potent roar from the tom under him even as he threw his own head back and cried out in the unabashed pleasure of pumping his seed across Fenrik's chest in time with Shivasta's cries of pleasure and spasms on the holo-vid and Fenrik's balls pulling up to his body, emptying their contents into his ass.

The Panther pulled him close for a heated kiss, rubbing his back and scratching it lightly.

"Damn that was intense," he purred, as Shivasta curled up onto her side on the bed in the video, trying to catch her breath and control of her body.

"Imagine what it could be like with her really here," Jay rumbled and kissed him solidly again. "Having her between us, or sinking into me when I'm in her."

"I know I can think of worse things to do," the Panther rumbled.

"Sweet dreams you two," Shi murmured, smiling into the camera, wrapping her arms around herself. "I know mine will be." The projection turned off as the two felines made out, largely oblivious to its silence.

"So," Fenrik asked when he could talk again, "when were you going to mention that new little toy of yours?" He asked, raising an eyebrow and glancing at the feline dildo on the floor, clearly used before he'd gotten there.

"Keep forgetting about it when you're here," he shrugged with a grin. "I like the real think too much."

"And who says you can't have both?" He asked with a smirk. "Or at least not have the real thing while I settle for your little friend, if you don't think you're up for going that wide."

"Both?" Jay looked down at him, it clearly written on his face how lost he was about Fenrik's suggestion.

"Don't worry," the Panther chuckled, shaking his head and kissing him deeply. "Probably wouldn't be up for that. Though it might be fun to use during a sixty-nine," he winked.

"Oh, yeah." Jay shuddered in anticipation of that idea, even as something mischievous flicked across his mind. "That's not the only think I keep in my sex drawer."

"I seem to remember noticing a few of your 'toys,'" the Panther grinned. "Question is, how to put them to use?"

"It's a pretty damn hot thought both ways." Jay licked his lips and lowered his body to kiss Fenrik slowly, passionately. "But I'd like to know what it feels like with you really in charge." He whispered with a throaty rumble.

"You sure?" Fenrik asked, rolling over on top of him. "I haven't really done anything like that before."

"Neither have I," Jay looked up and caressed his cheek. "But I do trust you."

He could tell that the statement meant more to Jay than the words suggested. He kissed the smaller tom tenderly, drawing out of his body with a groan.

"Just tell me if I do something you don't like."

"I will," he promised with an excited shudder.

"All right," Fenrik purred, kissing him again before moving to the drawer and pulling out the small box with Jay's toys to explore just what was in the bondage for beginners kit. Padded handcuffs, soft rope, blindfold and gag.

He glanced back at his lover to see Jay stretched out, his hands over his head and desire crystal clear across his entire body.

"Now where should we start," he rumbled, walking back over to the bed and pulling the cuffs out first. He straddled Jay's waist, leaning down to nuzzle his head as he cuffed him to the headboard.

"Just how creative do you want me to get?" He asked with a purr.

It earned him something of a curious look as Jay lightly tested the hold the cuffs hand on his wrists. "Just how creative can you get?" He grinned mischievously up.

"Shall we find out?" Fenrik asked with a grin, pulling some of the ropes out.

"Yes," Jay licked his whiskers with an excited shiver.

"I have no idea if this is going to work," Fenrik admitted, blushing a bit as he tied the end of one of the ropes around Jay's thigh.

"We'll just find out, then," he purred reassuringly and tried his best to cooperate with the positioning.

Fenrik helped him lift his legs slightly, though not all the way yet. He tied the rope around the base of the barbed dildo, pressing the tip into Jay's ass.

"Mmm, nice start," Jay rumbled with a soft moan, curious where this was going.

Fenrik tied the other end of the rope around his other thigh, then tried moving his legs a bit, the rope moving the dildo inside him.

"How's that for a start?" He asked.

"Different," he moaned softly at the penetration. It wasn't as good as a real cock, but it was good.

"Good," the Panther purred, leaning forward to kiss Jay deeply, rubbing their shafts together a bit as he moved his legs to thrust the dildo up into his body in time with his movements to soft whimpers as his lover hardened again.

"Very good," Jay stretched up to claim a second kiss as heated as the first. "Oh, yeah."

Fenrik rumbled deeply, his tongue exploring Jay's mouth as he started to get into a pleasant, easy rhythm that they could keep up for a while. Each motion rubbed his short, stiff barb-hairs and the nubs below them against Jay's nubs, their cocks rock hard and slick with Jay's semen. He experimented a bit with different ways to move the dildo inside his lover's body.

Jay abruptly stiffened with a gasp, then whimpered as pre began to leak from his cock.

Fenrik grinned, repeating the motion and leaning back a bit, looking down at his dark cock rubbing against Jay's lighter one, moaning deeply as he started moving a bit faster, practically transfixed by the display of male flesh. The soundtrack of pleasure Jay was providing only encouraged his own moans as the body below him began to tremble.

"Close ..." Jay gasped out, his head thrown back and his eyes closed as he panted.

Fenrik just panted, moving faster and rubbing himself against Jay's cock harder. He threw his head back with a roar, thrusting his hips up as his seed sprayed through the air in pearly arcs, the motion driving the dildo in Jay's ass deeper, up against his prostate and as deep as it had ever gone.

"Yesss!" Jay groaned and shuddered as his entire body tightened, around the dildo, around Fenrik's hips and against the restraints holding him down as the last of his seed pumped from his cock to join Fenrik's on his chest.

"Oh, gods." Jay panted softly, his eyes still closed as another soft moan escaped him.

"Fuck," Fenrik panted, letting Jay's legs down and snuggling up with him, reaching up to open the padded cuffs. "We are so going to have to do that for one of your letters to Shi," he grinned a little loopily.

"Yeah," Jay shifted to untie the dildo and pulled it out before snuggling up close and kissing him with a slow, contented passion. "When it's not my fourth round in an hour."

"Mmm ... she really got you wound up, didn't she?" The Panther chuckled, wrapping his arms around Jay tiredly. "Not that I don't approve," he winked.

"Yeah," he murmured softly. "She's beautiful; so exotic and soft and strong-willed."

"You've got it bad, kat," Fenrik chuckled, kissing him softly. "At least you two have your letters. I don't know what I'd do with you if you couldn't get in touch with her for a few months."

"You'd get even more action than you do now," he snickered and kissed him back, snuggling in contentedly. "I hope things get under control soon. I miss her a lot."

"Shh, don't worry," Fenrik smiled, rubbing his back. "If there really is something weird behind it, then they'll figure out what it is, beat its ass, and be back as fast as the transports can travel."

"I know," Jay murmured and relaxed. "And she's doing something important in the meantime." He smiled softly. "I'm just glad you're still here."

"Don't worry, I'm not about to leave," Fenrik smiled, closing his eyes a little sleepily. "Mmm ... when we get up, remind me to tell you how your new lightsaber worked."

"All right," Jay murmured and snuggled in with a content sound.

Doruth Parn approached the meditation chambers quietly, walking past numerous Jedi in quiet rooms, seeking one in particular. He found Master Essani stepping out of one of the rooms, ready for the meeting she'd called him for.

"Master Essani," he bowed politely. "You called for me?"

"*Yes,*" she nodded her small head easily. "*Come. Am I correct that you have a relatively open schedule right now?*"

"Unless the Council has a mission for me, I find a Padawan, or Tes goes into labor," he nodded, following her out towards the gardens. "Which, unless you're going to say something about the first, should mean I am for the next month or so."

"*No, the Council does not have a mission for you,*" she chuckled warmly, easily keeping up with his much longer stride. "*But I would like your assistance with my Padawan, or rather, with his mate.*"

"Is Fenrik still having problems?" Doruth asked, looking down at her with concern in his expression. "From losing Master Kiris?"

"*No more than is expected. Actually, he is doing much better than most do.*" She assured him and found a flat, sun-drenched rock to sit on. "*What concerns me is that they may be growing too close, too quickly. It has not been three full months yet and they are literally inseparable. It has done wonders for Fenrik, but it is troubling as well. They will have to part company in a few months.*

"That is an issue," Doruth admitted. "And not one that either of them will want to deal with. I take it you'd like me to try and wean Fenrik off Jay?"

"*While I work on helping Jay deal with him not always being there. It is very natural for Jay's society, so they will never have what most Jedi think of as a normal level of attachment, but they do need to learn to function without the other for more than a couple hours.*" Essani cocked her head slightly. "*I hoped you would conceder taking Fenrik camping for a few days. Somewhere nearby, but far enough that they aren't on the same world. The wilderness would likely do Fenrik some good.*"

"I have a few possibilities," Doruth nodded. "Do we want to try and keep them from guessing why?"

"*At least with Jay. He has a tendency to not learn well when he knows it's a lesson setup. Fenrik could know once you are gone if it seems like a good idea.*"

"I could say Tes is getting nesty, and I'm looking to get out before I get buried under a comforter," the Panther mused with a slight chuckle. "Of course, the problem would be only taking Fen. I don't know if you're looking for the strain it might cause if you said Fen could go but Jay had to stay for his studies."

"*True,*" she nodded. "However, if we work it correctly, it will be Jay who insists that Fenrik goes. He has lost a great deal of his study time recently and he needs to focus on it before he gets too far behind. Fenrik is not in such a position. I believe Jay would tell him to enjoy the trip. Or you could invite Fenrik for some 'quality Panther-only time' away from everything.*"

"And Fenrik would likely offer to stay," Doruth nodded. "While Jay practically packed his bags for him," he chuckled. "So, should we try that?"

"*Yes, and hope they do what we want.*" She clicked her teeth.

"If they don't, there are other ways to get them apart for a little while, I'm sure," Doruth pointed out with a slight smile as he stood. "I'll go clear things up with Tes."

"*I will see you later today then,*" Essani nodded and hopped down to go round up her charges for lunch.

Doruth waited by the door as he watched Jay and Fenrik practicing in their room. The device Jay was holding gradually shifted its colors in response to the younger tom's body temperature, pulse, breath rate, and other vital signs.

"And how are you keeping him from having the machine turn the color you want?" He asked Fenrik with a chuckle.

"I don't tell him," the younger Panther grinned up at the older one. "So unless he's giving them exactly the body rate he wants, he has to do it himself."

"And that'd be a lot faster than what we're seeing," Doruth nodded, somewhat impressed.

"Yep," Fenrik nodded. "Hey Jay, take five."

"Okay," he nodded and set the device down. When he rose to his feet it was instantly obvious that the body control exercises had drained him heavily.

"Whoa, relax," Fenrik said easily, helping him sit again.

"You're doing better from what I've heard," Doruth smiled.

"I'm actually getting some results," Jay nodded, looking up curiously. "What's up?"

"Tes is getting nesty," Doruth chuckled. "I was thinking of getting out for a few days so I didn't get buried under a comforter, wondering if you guys wanted to come along, if Master Essani didn't object."

"Sounds great," Jay grinned widely. "Camping's fun with you."

"And it'd be more fun with a second Panther around huh?" Doruth smirked slightly.

"Yeah, I get to play instead of just watch," Jay winked at him.

"Go talk to Master Essani you little scamp," Doruth smirked. "And just hope I don't go walking in on you two while we're gone."

"Maybe you'll learn something," Jay snickered and focused inside, to the bond he had with his Master and the only way he could talk to anyone silently. "*Master?*"

"*Yes, Jay?*" The kushiban replied.

"*May we go camping with Doruth for a few days?*"

"*I'm afraid you need to focus on your studies, Jay,*" she said. "*Perhaps next time, but you have to catch up after the last few weeks.*"

"*I understand, Master.*" His disappointment was evident, but so was his unquestioning acceptance of her decision. "I can't go," he told the two Panthers.

"Guess you'll have to go on your own then," Fenrik told Doruth apologetically.

"She said I couldn't go." Jay pointed out. "You're free to."

"If you want to come along you're welcome, Fenrik," Doruth offered.

"But...." He trailed off, looking at Jay, clearly torn. He knew how Jay was likely to handle being alone... and, beside that, he still wasn't honestly sure how he would handle it, even with Doruth there.

"I've got Master Essani," Jay smiled reassuringly at him. "Go have fun. It's not like you'll be that far away."

"All right," Fenrik said, leaning over to kiss Jay lightly before he stood up. "I'll get packed."

"I'll meet you at the Gurath," Doruth smiled. "And don't worry. He'll hold up for a few days."

"I'll be fine," Jay smiled at Fenrik before the Panther headed out and Jay started to stretch a body that had not appreciated his most recent studies.

Doruth grunted as he pulled himself up and onto the next ledge, panting a bit as he climbed back for a bit of a rest, waiting for Fenrik to catch up. He looked out over the ledge, over mountaintops and small forests thousands of feet below.

This had definitely been a good idea.

He pulled his robes a bit tighter around him as a gust of wind went by. Between his robes, his fur, and his training, he was actually handling the cold remarkably well.

The look on Fenrik's face as he appeared over the edge agreed with Doruth. He was breathing a bit hard, but he was grinning ear to ear and probably wasn't even feeling the cold or thinner air as he pushed up with his arms and kicked off with his feet to make the ledge with a leap and settled next to Doruth.

"It's not the jungle," the older Panther grinned as he leaned back against a cold rock, "but you never get a view like this on a jungle world." They were in the 'tropics' of Mirrus Prime, an arctic world orbiting one of the tiny, unknown stars just a few hours travel from Coruscant. It was just far enough away that it qualified as a vacation but not so far that either kit, or Tes, would be concerned.

"No, it's not," Fenrik grinned at him and settled back. "You don't get climbing like this either."

"That you don't," Doruth agreed. "Though if you have to climb back up from the Shadowlands of Kashykk it's close enough," he chuckled. "Hell of a lot more dangerous too."

"True," he nodded and breathed deeply of the thin air. "And that's hardly camping for fun."

"Not for the sane," Doruth agreed, enjoying the fresh, clear scent. "So, how are things working out between you and Jay?"

"Good, I think." He smiled fondly for the small tom. "He's got it bad for Shi, but he's seriously wired for polygamy."

"That's good," Doruth smiled. "It can really suck to be interested in somebody who's monogamous and interested in somebody else."

"Yeah, but then I wouldn't have gotten to that first kiss, much less to where it was an issue."

"True," he nodded. "I'm glad you three managed to sort that all out with as little help as it took."

"Yeah," Fenrik smiled, a bit of a flush trying to show on his cheeks. "She was just caught off guard at a bad time, but her kind usually take more than one mate, and I doubt Jay ever thought about it, even as an abstract concept. He was born to his father's third lifemate. It's probably just how they do things."

"Probably," he nodded. "You're okay with it too, right? Not just playing along?"

"It's a little weird," he shrugged. "But that's honestly more from being involved with someone seriously. She's attractive to be sure."

"That's better," Doruth chuckled. "On both counts. She's a good kid, just like you and Jay both are."

"There aren't many at the Temple that aren't." Fenrik pointed out with a chuckle. "A few stellar exceptions, but they're way easy to spot."

"By the time they're stellar exceptions, yeah," the older Panther admitted. "How are you holding up?" He asked, looking over at Fenrik more seriously.

"Still off center," he admitted quietly, looking out over the open sky surrounding them. "How did you kill it?"

"The terentatek? Blaster fire. It probably would have killed one of the Custos with us, but Master Kareth had a tensor rifle she used to take its arm off before it could connect. If we'd all been armed with lightsabers it would have been a much closer battle."

"Does it really mean the Dark is coming back to hunt us?" He asked quietly, frightened despite not showing it.

"I doubt it," Doruth said, reaching over to squeeze his shoulder slightly. "It may mean that there is a force for the Dark Side rising, that the balance is shifting again, but the last time they rose in serious numbers was after two wars with the Sith. This was probably more of a fluke than anything else. Some rich idiot on Corellia who found one that had survived and let it get out of his zoo."

"I hope so," he murmured. "The last thing Jay needs is a recruiter for the Dark coming from the outside too."

"Definitely not," Doruth agreed. "He has enough trouble without any of them," he sighed. "It's always the darkness that doesn't try to recruit that's the hardest to resist."

"You don't see it coming," he nodded, his voice low. "Have you ever come across a belief in inherent evil? That a group is born that way and they can't do more than break even?"

"Come across it? Yeah," he nodded. "Believed it myself?" He shook his head. "The Sith embrace the Dark Side willingly, they wallow in it. But even Sith can be redeemed. How can anybody be born irredeemable?"

"I don't know," Fenrik admitted. "But Jay thinks he is, his entire family is. I tried to tell him he's wrong, that what inside him isn't different from the rest of us, but there's something going on with him that's just not normal. I don't think there's a sensitive on Coruscant that didn't feel it when whatever it was happened to him a few weeks back. There is no way to be the center of that big a surge in the Dark and not reek of it afterwards, but there wasn't a trace of it on him an hour later. He was still pretty freaked out, but it look longer for the Dark to wash away after the fight the night before, and that was nothing in comparison for intensity."

"Then it's not him," Doruth said, shaking his head. He recognized what that sounded like; it was all too familiar. "That sounds more like a Dark Sider of power, one that knows what it's doing and how to hide it. A Sith or Dark Side Spirit maybe, but not somebody who is evil, but doesn't know how to deal with it."

Honestly, he wasn't sure what disturbed him more.

"Then he's ... he's in a lot of danger, isn't he?" Fenrik looked over, half-hoping for a reassurance that he knew couldn't be given. "Or we are."

"No more than he already knew he was in," Doruth admitted. "From what I understand, that surge was the 'demon' he's mentioned. It's very powerful, but not something his family hasn't dealt with before. Not something he can't handle, given the support and reason to fight that he needs. Something that I think you and Shivasta can provide him," he said, looking over at the younger Panther.

"It's ... real?" He looked over, more than a little disturbed. "And the Masters haven't gotten it out of his head?"

"It may be real," Doruth admitted. "As for getting it out of his head ... I'm sure Master Essani would if it was possible. Unfortunately, it may simply be that this spirit can find him. Unless it manifests, there may not be a way to 'get it out.'"

"At least he handles separation reasonably well." Fenrik murmured. "I'm not likely to be stationed at the Temple all that often."

"I have a feeling he'll probably be with you or Shivasta at least most of the time once you're all Knights," Doruth said reassuringly. "You'll all have missions, but the Order doesn't exactly make it a point to split up mates when they can help it."

"Mostly he'll be with Shi, unless he changes his mind and goes warrior." Fenrik glanced over. "He's got the same feel as most warriors, even though he's denying it."

"He does," Doruth agreed. "But I think I know why he's avoiding it. You were with him, during that fight you two got into. When it's that easy to slip into the Dark Side, to let hate and anger take control, you don't want anything to do with it if you're smart. It can take the warrior right out of you, or at least the desire to be one. I should know," he chuckled slightly. "Took it out of me for a solid five, six years."

"It does put me pretty solidly in the 'occasional lover' category, though." He tried to sound like it didn't bother him. "This is the longest I've ever been in the Temple in six years, and I'm seriously looking forward to getting back into traveling again."

"You'll figure something out with him, I'm sure," Doruth said reassuringly. "He's not likely to let that get in the way, and he knows what it's like to have to travel."

"No," Fenrik had to chuckle. "I don't think he lets much of anything get in the way of getting what he wants, once he decides he wants something."

"It still bothers you though, doesn't it?" Doruth asked him softly.

"That I care this much about somebody's who seems to be on the top of the 'in danger of going Dark' list, yeah." He sighed. "That there's good odds I won't be within a week's journey when he really needs me with him ... a lot more." Fenrik admitted and let his arms drape across his raised knees. "There's enough to being a Jedi without worrying about someone else who won't even be around."

"For what it's worth, it's best if you worry about coming home. He has Shi, she won't let him turn if she can help it. And if he would turn ... I think he'd be the first to say that it'd be best if you were somewhere else, where you could find out safely."

"I don't know," Fenrik murmured. "It just means that much longer before I'd have to face him."

"You mind hearing something you might not particularly like?" Doruth asked, looking at him seriously.

"That usually means I need to hear it," he looked at the older Panther quietly.

"It also means you'll get the chance to hear about it," Doruth said softly. "He won't decide to take you out before you can confront him. As hard as it is, it's better for somebody who cares about them to do it, if it gets that far. They have the best chance of turning them back... and they'll make it fast, if they can't."

Fenrik nodded slightly, mulling that over. Not just in context of Jay and the future, but in context of the tom telling him this; a Jedi who had faced someone he cared about gone Dark.

"It's also kinda academic." Fenrik murmured. "It's not like I'm going to stay at the Temple much."

"True," Doruth nodded. "Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we tend to keep busy unless we take teaching jobs."

"Or a mate who's expecting," he managed a bit of a teasing grin.

"That's an entirely different sort of busy," Doruth smirked. "Don't get me wrong, the pups'll be worth it, but there's a lot of work involved keeping her happy."

"How did she ever talk you into it?" Fenrik gratefully went after the new subject.

"Like I said," he chuckled, "they'll be worth it. Besides, she's wanted pups by a Wolf for a while. Her best odds were for now."

"Before she gets much older?" He took a hesitant guess. "Or did she find the perfect sire?"

"A bit of both," Doruth explained. "She's hardly old, but it was getting to the point where it was a good idea to have her first litter soon, and she hit it off with one of the Knights on Ambria."

Fenrik nodded, then considered the older Panther a bit. "Is she really getting nesty?"

"Perceptive, aren't you?" Doruth said, chuckling slightly. "She is, but I'll be honest with you, it's not the only reason we're out here. Master Essani was getting worried that Jay might not take separation too well, when the time came for it, if he didn't get a little bit of it soon enough to start getting used to it."

"I didn't think he was that far behind in his studies," Fenrik chuckled softly. "It's probably a good idea. I don't think he ever sleeps alone when he's got a choice."

"Not that far behind, but it'd be better to get him started now, rather than when you're more than a few hours away," Doruth chuckled. "Hope you don't mind being kept in the dark."

"Nah, it's not like you could tell him." He nodded easily. "And the camping is a nice break from the Temple."

"That it is," Doruth chuckled, nodding. "So, want to see if we can make the peak before we have to head back to the ship?"

"Sounds good to me," he grinned and curled to his feet easily.

Jay was on his way home from The Power of The Panther, wishing Fenrik had been there to watch it with him and just as sure he was having a blast with Doruth. With his studies only fractionally heavier than before, he was very suspicious that his Master had actually masterminded getting them some time alone to bond. They had so much in common, Doruth would make a perfect Master for Fenrik in a few months when they were both ready. It was a sneaky plan perfectly executed. He loved it.

He was just getting ready to hail a cab back to the Temple when he heard somebody shouting around the corner. The desperate, frightened tone drew his attention and he didn't even question his choice to track it down.

He rounded the corner just in time to see a short, powerfully built Rodian force a brown-furred Rabbit fem up against the wall.

"Shut up, female," it said in rough Basic. "You should have used the money you paid to get here to pay off the Hutts." It pressed its thick forearm against her throat, shifting its hand and taking a short, familiar metal rod from its sleeve.

What was a Rodian bounty hunter doing with a lightsaber?

A low growl rumbled from Jay's throat as it clicked the only way it would have one was from a dead Jedi.

"How about picking on someone who can actually use one?" He called out to the Rodian with a sneer in his tone even as he advanced, his newly built 'saber lit a brilliant sea blue that gave no indication it was at all unusual, much less than it had a mate still hidden in a concealed sheath under his off-hand sleeve.

The Rodian looked over at him, looking him up and down before stepping back from the terrified woman. She looked between the two of them, then bolted into a nearby alley while the Rodian was distracted.

"Any suggestions where to find someone like that?" The Rodian shot back, its own 'saber igniting much to Jay's irritation with a deep, blood-red tone that no true Jedi would have used, not even a fallen one. Only those who completely embraced the Dark used that particular crystal. The Rodian slipped into a combat stance easily, holding its 'saber at ready.

"Obviously not in front of me, katchutak." Jay sneered in almost flawless Rodian. Part of him knew he shouldn't be doing this, that he should call for his Master, or at the very least not bait this fighter a rank or two above him by Jedi standards, but his hatred for the scaled pig overrode it all.

"Little fuzz ball has a death wish," the Rodian growled as Jay matched his stance with a more aggressive one ill suited for the Jedi public image. "I'll be sure to send your daddy's lightsaber back to the Temple after I've carved you up."

"Maybe yours should have taught you how to build a real one," Jay shot back, his ears flat and body calm even as he felt the warm rush of rage that clarified everything into perfect focus and stilled his nerves to a level most Knights would be respectful of.

"Oh it's real enough," the Rodian sneered. "Let me show you!" He lunged forward, his 'saber flashing towards Jay's.

The kit didn't even blink as he side-stepped and blocked the strike, his entire existence a pool of smooth flowing heat very much like how most Jedi described it when they were in tune with the Force, but founded in hatred and rage. Only his smile was chilling. He had a kill in sight and he relished it.

The Rodian ignored his expression, shifting the force he was putting on his 'saber and forcing Jay's hands to the side long enough to plant a sturdy fist in his stomach. It drew a grunt from Jay, though the kit refused to double over even as a smirk crossed his face.

The unique hum of a lightsaber activating joined the fray to mark the second blade of his primary 'saber flaring to life and the fractional shift it took for Jay to send it across the forearm impacting him.

The dark warrior's hand drew back sharply, but not fast enough to keep it from cutting into his scaly flesh.

Jay felt a satisfied glow inside him as he heard the snarl of pain, though he would have preferred it to be accompanied by the thump of his attacker's hand. His 'saber crackled as the Rodian slashed at him, catching the blue blade and forcing him to return his full attention to defense.

He took a step back, trying for a little breathing room and found himself pressed all that much harder. He gritted his teeth and ducked a strike, dancing around his opponent to put some distance between them and went on the offensive, using his natural speed and agility to counter the strength across from him.

Before long, that wasn't enough. The Rodian started turning the tables, his attacks becoming more aggressive and forcing him onto the defensive. Suddenly his feet were yanked out from under him, sending him sprawling onto the ground. He suppressed the startled yelp and rolled to one side to avoid the incoming strike, but he couldn't stop the visible signs that he was tiring.

"*I will protect you.*" A low, male voice promised soothingly from deep in his mind.

Jay tried to ignore it as he scrambled to his feet and dodged the next attack with only a fraction of an inch to spare, the ozone of the blade that close to his fur lingering in his nose as he started to conceder a retreat no matter how much it galled him.

Before he could consider it too strongly, his lightsaber was knocked from his hand, going out as it rolled along the walk. A spark of panic flared white hot, shattering the focused calm of his rage. His coordination dropped and he lost all appearance of training for a moment before regaining some semi-balance of it with his second 'saber in his hand from it's hidden sheath under the loose sleeve of his off-arm.

He barely managed to block the next attack. Their eyes met through crossed 'sabers and both knew who was going to win.

The Rodian grinned, pressing his advantage with a flurry of attacks that Jay only barely managed to dodge or parry even as the kit worked his way back to his other lightsaber.

"*You will win.*" The Demon promised even as a fresh wave of calming hate flowed forward, this time laced with power and knowledge far beyond Jay's. "*I won't let you die.*"

It instantly settled the kit's heart and nerves as he threw a blast of Force, knocking his opponent back ... and, seemingly, evaporated him. Suddenly there was no indicator, sensory or otherwise, that the Rodian was there, or ever had been; just Jay's lightsaber sitting on the ground, the metallic walkway scored where the blade had landed.

"Stand down, Padawan," a firm voice said as the Rabbit stepped out of the alley, her bearing nothing like the frightened woman she had been minutes before. The tone, and her bearing, spoke to training that he had little inclination to disobey, even coming from a stranger.

Still, she saw in his eyes, in the hesitation before he complied, that he had suspicions that had nothing to do with the Darkness not wishing to leave his mind even as it began to drain away. Despite the uncertainty about her and the Dark-drenched combat high she could feel in him, he never considered attacking her. It was only moment before he settled to look at her with a bit of confusion, extinguished his secondary saber and stepped back to claim his other without taking his eyes off her.

"It's over," she told him firmly. "Come," she added, signaling a sky car, "we have to get you back to the Temple and your Master."

"*Master?*" He sent a querying thought along their bond, his natural paranoia and having his mind mucked with so intimately making her agreement needed.

"*Come back with her,*" Essani told him. "*I was aware of this. She is Knight Winda,*" the kushiban added.

"*I understand, Master.*" He murmured silently and stepped inside the sky car with the Knight. Most of his mind was relieved beyond words that they now had a real understanding of what was happening to him so it could be stopped, or at least controlled. If they'd gone to all this trouble, it was being taken seriously and would be dealt with.

"I'm sorry for the deception," the Rabbit said, folding her ears down as they climbed into the sky car. "It was necessary that you believed it was real for us to determine what was really happening," she explained.

"I understand Knight Winda." Jay inclined his head to her easily. "I am looking forward to having better control over it."

"That is the idea," she smiled. "To the Temple Spire," she told the driver, settling in as the car lifted off and sped towards the massive ziggurat, it's occupants in easily silence.

Winda passed the trip thinking about what she had seen, how the young feline had responded to her illusions. Much of it was disturbing ... but, to her, the most disturbing part was the sense of something other that was there, guiding his reactions gently.

He wasn't receiving all his training from the Order; that much she was certain of.

As the car touched down, Master Essani was waiting for them. Winda stepped out, looking across to see if Jay was aware enough to realize they'd landed and found him completely in touch with the here and now as he slid out after her to bow to his Master. She bowed to the older Jedi as well, standing up as Essani nodded to both of them.

"*Knight Winda, would you please accompany us?*" She asked.

"Yes, Master Essani," the Rabbit nodded.

"*Jay, if you would come with me to the Council chambers? We have much to discuss.*"

"Yes, Master." He agreed, his voice soft and cooperative as they followed the kushiban to a nearby lift, the trio traveling in silence as they rode up to the uppermost levels of the gleaming white tower. Jay was certain that Essani and Winda were discussing what had happened, but he couldn't tell what they thought about it so he remained silently in the background as they continued out of the lift to the Council chamber that Master Essani spent so much time in.

The similarities between this visit and his first one weren't lost on him. The entire Council had gathered, and except for a few year's more grey fur they were practically identical, right down to the expressions most of them wore.

Essani took her seat, leaving Winda and Jay standing to face the twelve Jedi Masters.

"Padawan Clawson," Master Shan said evenly. "In previous discussions with this Council, you have talked about something your family calls 'the Demon.' You haven't gone into much detail regarding how it has helped your family to use its abilities. Can you do so now?"

"Yes, Master Shan," he bowed politely to the Council leader, though it wasn't lost on any of them that the kit had always been willing to.

"It guards the door, the path, to an ability to warp reality with machines and enhancements to our natural genius that my family has used for six generations." He began easily. "To access that power and ability, we have to open the door to it. That allows the Demon access to our mind, but also gives us access to the full Gift that is our birthright. They come from the same place, but are not the same thing.

"What it did today, while I recognize the effect from recent years, is not anything in family lore. It may be something about me that is different, or it may be the fact that I am actually training to use the Force as well as my natural Gifts. Force abilities as you know them are not something I know from family lore."

"So it would be fair to say that your family, those who have chosen to pursue the full Gift, has been trained in how to use its gifts to their fullest by this Demon?" The Dobie asked.

"No, Master Shan." Jay said respectfully but very firmly. "All I know says that we learn on our own, sometimes with help kin who have already been through it. We have to fight to keep the Demon out from the moment we accept the full Gift. It is possible the Demon teaches those who are insane and have turned against the family, their lives are not well recorded in that way, but it does not do more than attack and tempt the rest of us."

"*However, you do agree that it is acting differently towards you than it has towards the rest of your kin, to the best of your knowledge,*" Master Essani said.

"Yes, Master Essani." Jay inclined his head to her.

"Knight Winda, when Padawan Clawson was fighting your illusion, what did you feel?" Master Kareth asked softly.

"There was something else there," the Rabbit said easily. "I don't know if it was this 'Demon,' but there was another being involved in the way things played out. Not simply an anthropomorphication of the Dark Side, but a conscious entity. It also believed that the illusions were real, and interfered in the fight shortly before I ended it."

While Jay did not speak, he nodded in agreement with her words.

"*You described the Dark Side as feeling warm, comfortable, after your last battle, Padawan,*" Essani said. "*Did it feel the same this time?*"

"Yes, Master. The rage and hate brought more clarity and focus than I have ever managed calmly." He nodded, honestly a bit disturbed by actually speaking what he knew. "It is like a lagoon of flowing lava that orders and claims everything in its path to protect me."

"Is it possible that the Demon was influencing your perceptions of it?" Master Noloth asked. "We have never heard such a description of the Dark from those who have been exposed to it. However, we have heard similar descriptions of the minds of those who wield it."

"It is likely, Master Noloth." Jay bowed to the ancient Frilled Lizard. "We do not know what its goal is, but we do know it tries to turn us ... Dark." He said for lack of a better word, though the gathered Masters could tell what it was in his mind, Omega, and it meant something much more specific than the simple label: violent, insane, megalomaniac, betrayer, destroyer, Evil. "And it uses any means it can come up with to do so.

"From what I have read of the Dark Side, it is not something any of us would accept easily or not question. The cold ..." he paused, struggling to put to words something he just inherently knew and feared. "My kind are sun-cats, from the desert tropics of a warm world. Cold is a bad thing, something instinctively avoided, even feared. It is death and bad meat." He stopped himself before he got wound up again in how incredibly wrong everything about the Dark was. "It is not something any of us would willingly go or stay near without incredible desperation or insanity already festering."

"Where the warmth is seductive and welcoming," the Lizard nodded. "Did you feel that same presence during the surge you felt at the temple you visited?"

Jay had think about that, comparing the incredible differences in how the two kinds of events felt before he nodded in agreement that the essence behind all three times, both fights and when the Demon nearly grabbed him directly, was the same. "I believe so, Master Noloth. Two very different approaches, but the essence behind it is similar if not the same."

"I would suggest that it is possible that your apparent comfort with the Dark Side is, instead, the Demon attempting to make you comfortable with it," Master Surool said. "Would you agree?"

"It does make sense," he agreed with the pink-skinned twi'lek, though he wasn't completely sure where it was going.

"*Why would such an obviously powerful entity waste its time trying to turn somebody who was inherently evil, evil?*" Master Essani asked him, visibly startling the kit.

Jay snapped his mouth shut to stop the reflexive statement that she didn't understand, even as he was fully aware she 'heard' it perfectly well and wasn't going to let it drop without an explanation that satisfied her.

"Inherent in that it was there before I was born, and I can't get rid of it, Master." He spoke softly, his eyes downcast. "It may be a separate entity, something you do not see as part of me, but you can not take the Demon out of my family. It is a major part of what we are, who and what I am. I have seen what happens to those who chose to refuse their Gift to avoid dealing with the Demon. They are ... incomplete. Even they can feel it. They exist, but they do not truly live. It almost hurts to be around them, to be near that ... emptiness ... the lack of life ... that was kin."

"*However, you are not evil in that you, yourself, are a creature of the Dark Side. The Demon may be, and you have to deal with it. However, members of your family are not born evil. They still choose whether or not they want to face it... and whether or not they want to fight it.*"

"Yes, Master." He met her eyes briefly, accepting her statement as fact even though he couldn't internalize it yet.

"It still leaves us with the question of how to handle this," Master Shan pointed out. "Do you believe that you can learn to resist what it offers? The power and clarity may be comforting, but if you begin to rely on them... it can be dangerous in the long run. The anger may not leave everything clear, when it suits the Demon's purposes."

"Yes, Master Shan," he focused on the Dobie without any doubt in his mind. "Knowledge is the Demon's downfall. It may not be as quickly as any of us would like, but as I learn to stand on my own in a given subject, it will have less and less ability to influence me without my acceptance."

"Which subjects do you feel you need to learn to stand in the most then?" He asked. "Combat, clearly, but are there any others?"

Jay stilled, seeking to answer as completely and honestly as he could.

"Accepting that I live here," he began softly, knowing it was the true way the Demon had into his mind in a real, permanent way. "That I will die here." He added, the pain of that idea a sharp, tearing ripple in the Force around him before he settled a moment later.

"Acceptance that it is not my place to fix everything." Jay continued, his eyes solidly on the floor as he exposed part of himself to the Council that not even his Master had had privy too. "Acceptance of ... loss." He added simply, the multitude of its meanings, from the loss of a fight to the loss of a lifemate, clear in the intent.

"*Acceptance of the ugly parts of life,*" Master Essani offered, her mental presence reassuring and gentle.

"Yes, Master." He nodded, his exterior flawlessly controlled despite the turmoil just under the surface that they could all see. "It's best way in is to be ready when I want something bad enough to make it happen, the laws of reality be damned."

"How is it that your mates help you to fight this?" Master Noloth asked. "In general."

"They are a reason to resist, Master Noloth." He tried to explain something he was only beginning to translate from imperial knowledge to practical understanding. "It is something inherent in my family. We do not cope with being alone well. It will gradually drive a Clawson insane to be without that connection to the living world. Once insane, the Dark is embraced as the only warmth available."

"*It is also a part of his people's culture,*" Master Essani said, giving an explanation that made much more sense to the old-fashioned Lizard. "*Padawan, I want to work with you to develop some way of training you to handle the things you have discussed. We have to deal with this now, rather than once you have accepted your full Gift.*"

"Yes, Master." He inclined his head to her, relived even as it scared him.

"*We should get started then,*" she said, standing. "*Thank you for your assistance, Knight Winda.*"

"You're welcome, Master Essani. If either of you feel that working on non-lethal ways of handling fights would help, feel free to seek me out," the Rabbit said, looking at Jay in particular.

"Thank you, Knight Winda." He inclined his head to her, though he wasn't quite settled enough to think that far ahead. He made one last bow to the gathered Masters and followed his Master out.

"Master Ursal? You called me?" Shivasta asked softly, walking into the Bear's quarters. She was plainly exhausted, mentally and physically, the extra-long shifts in the infirmaries taking their toll. Even so she saw the shift in her Master's manner as she came in the room. The old Bear locked a calculating gaze on her, the kind usually reserved for patients being too stubborn.

"Yes, cub, I did." She nodded. "You are pushing yourself far too hard."

To be fair, Shivasta had been expecting this talk for a while now.

"Master, there are a couple hundred of us to a system with hundreds of thousands of patients. If we're going to make a difference in the end, we have to keep pushing ourselves."

"A Healer can make no difference if they push themselves too hard." Master Ursal pointed out firmly. "You can not help anyone if you can not focus."

"Very well, Master," Shivasta sighed slightly. "I'll cut back to single shifts again, at least for a time."

The old Bear leveled her gaze on her Padawan; a bit surprised she had acquiesced so quickly, then nodded. "Good. Now you should get some rest."

"Thank you, Master. How are you and the others doing at finding the source?" She asked.

"We are close to pinpointing it's origin point, and have confirmed that it is most likely a natural pathogen mutated by exposure to a concentration of the Dark Side." She said with a slight smile.

"Naturally, or did somebody do this intentionally?"

"We do not know yet," Master Ursal admitted. "While such concentrations of Dark outside of a person are rare, they do exist."

"I understand," the young Ice Walker nodded. "I should go rest... I'll see you later, yes?"

"Yes, cub," she smiled easily. "Go rest now."

"Thank you, Master." Shivasta turned and started walking out, leaning heavily against the wall next to the door as soon as it had closed behind her. For a few minutes, she closed her eyes and focused on summoning the strength to make it back to her quarters. A pained look crossed her young face as she felt a twisting in her stomach.

She'd been working too hard, that was all... she just had to make it back to her quarters, get something to eat, maybe see if Jay had sent a message. She hadn't had the time to reply to his last one yet... maybe she could do that before she went to sleep. Just a quick letter, let him know everything was okay. She stood up and started back towards her room, focusing on each step, trying to stay steady on her feet. The last thing anybody needed right now was for her to pass out, get sent to medical and taken off all her shifts.

"Shivasta." Her Master's deep rumble came from behind her even as strong arms scooped her up. "That is not simple exhaustion."

"I'll be fine," she protested softly.

It was strange. Part of her mind was looking at everything that was happening and agreeing with her Master. Another part of it seemed completely unable to accept the simple truth of it. Maybe it wasn't simple exhaustion; she'd been pushing her endurance and her training to its limits for almost a week now. But she didn't seem to be able to make herself accept that something might be wrong that a good night's sleep wouldn't fix.

The debate was ended briefly by another twisting pain in her stomach. She curled up in her Master's arms slightly as Ursal carried her towards Medical. One of her braids shifted slightly, revealing a small black mark that quickened the Bear's step.

"You will be fine." Ursal rumbled with a fierce determination. "But you will not be taking your shifts for a while."

"Just working too hard," Shivasta insisted weakly. What was wrong? She could tell that something had happened, but not what. "What's wrong?"

"You have contracted the plague." Her Master informed her quietly as they entered the barely organized bedlam of the medical area.

"No I h-nngh...." Shivasta bit her lip to stifle her groan. Her healer's training seemed to go to work on the problem immediately once she'd been told that, getting past the stubbornness that felt obligated to keep working. She knew the symptoms, and knew that the stomach cramps were a sign that it had progressed beyond the stage where it would be treated easily. She hadn't seen any of the marks or lesions that usually preceded them, but knew too well from seeing too many advanced patients that it was possible to miss them unless you checked for them routinely and rigorously.

She hadn't been taking that sort of time lately.

Any more protests she had were stopped by the possibility that continuing to work could end up making things worse, rather than better. If she infected a patient, or somebody near them who'd dodged it so far....

"Master Ursal," one of the Healers said, a young twi'lek. "Your Padawan too?" She asked, looking at Shivasta.


"Too?" The old she-bear's rumble held a hint of surprise and a great deal of worry to any who knew how to read her.

"Yes," the twi'lek nodded, her own expression much more clearly worried. "Since the last shift started, we've had more and more of the Healers reporting in. Mostly Padawans but one or two of the Knights... it's like something flipped a switch," she admitted, turning around and starting through the crowded rooms. "Follow me, we should still have a clear medical bed."

Ursal nodded and set her mind to finding the cause of this. If it was affecting Healers now, it was far more than a planet at risk. Such a disease could not be stopped if it got out. And, in the back of her mind, she was more certain than ever that this was not a natural accident of pathology.

Go to Part 1         Part 2         Part 3        

A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 3: A Triad Formed? part 2 of 3

NC-17 for M/F and M/M
Het Level is MediumHet Smut Level is Low
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

215 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written February 4, 2005 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: Star Wars (Furry)

Primary Races: Bear, Ice Walker, Kat, Kushiban, Panther, Wolf

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Relationship (Established), Romance (Teen), Sex (BDSM), Sex (First Time), Sex (Rough)

Pairings: Doruth Parn/Tes Ramaris, Jay Clawson/Shivasta Stormwarden, Jay Clawson/Fenrik Aren, Fenrik Aren/female

Notes: If you have issues with reading about early teen sexuality in fiction, please check out now. It is in abundance and graphically depicted here.

Blurb: It's an eventful year at the Jedi temple as the first true triad in a thousand years forms around death, birth and biology not quite ready for it.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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