A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 5:
Trials and Pain part 3 of 3

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

"It is beautiful here." Jay said softly as he held Shi's back against his chest, his arms wrapped around her as they stood and gazed out over the storm-swept lands the Stormwardens called home. "Alien to me, but beautiful in its own way."

"It is," she agreed, pressing back against him softly on top of the lookout tower. "It's even more impressive when the storms aren't blowing," she murmured. "You can see almost forever, it seems like. Funny, in a way."

"You'll surrender before you're hurt too badly, right?" He asked with a nuzzle, his fear palatable in his scent even to her. It was something that only got stronger when he realized she had to stop and think about it before she could answer him.

"If I can, Jay," she said softly. "It'll be up to my opponent if they accept it or not."

"You know I can't let you die." He whispered, his nose buried in her hair and the fear he rarely felt a viscous, shimmering pool of cold desperation in his mind that all but called the Demon to him with it's crooning of warmth and soothing focus on destruction. "No matter what it means."

Not for the first time, she was keenly aware of just how honestly he meant that. On the one hand, it was touching... on the other hand, it was very, very frightening to know just how far he was probably willing to go.

"I'm not going to die," she promised him. "I'm the healer, remember? I might not be as good a fighter, but I have my tricks. Besides," she murmured, shifting to kiss his cheek softly, "even if my body dies, I won't let something like this take me away from you."

She felt it, in the Force and in his body, that they had once again crossed that line between her faith and his own lack of it in such things.

"No, you are not going to die." He shifted his head back to look her in the face. "I am sorry, but a ghost is not close enough."

"I won't die, Jay," she promised him. "Just... don't ask me to show you how I win, if I have to do it the way I might. Okay?"

"All right." He kissed her softly and calmed down some, though the knot was still in his gut. "I'll do my best not to interfere."

"You can't, Jay," she told him softly, but seriously. "If you do, then none of this matters. I have to do this... just please, trust me to handle it."

"If she is about to kill you, I can't stand by." He dropped his eyes in apology and regret. "I just can't."

"Then I'll just have to keep her from getting that far, won't I?" Shi murmured, pressing back against him and closing her eyes as he held her tightly. He was like this with Fenrik too, though not usually as noticeable, at least not to her. Of course, Fenrik hasn't gotten into a pre-arranged fight the Jay had to watch and not help out in.

"I'll be all right," she promised him, trying to keep her mind as confident as her voice was. At least he was steady enough to stay out of things unless it really was her life at stake. "Jay... depending on how things go tomorrow...."

"I'll take care of you," he promised softly, her needs focusing him away from his own fears without either of them trying. "The first messy kill is always hard."

"First kill, period," she murmured softly. "I've lost patients before, but never actually...." She licked her lips, turning in his arms to hold him close. "It's never come up for me before," she admitted.

"I'll take care of you Shi." He promised again and held her tightly, his rough tongue tenderly grooming her thick hair. Even though he couldn't understand having a problem with killing, be it on the hunt or in battle, he knew it was something she never wanted to have to do. "We'll be back at the Temple soon. It will be all right if she makes you kill her."

"Let's just hope she doesn't... or that I can take the choice away from her," Shi murmured softly, kissing his neck and looking out at the storm clouds again. "Want to watch the clouds a bit more, then go back to our room?"

"Sounds good. They'll be here in the morning. You need your rest."

"Yeah," she murmured, turning back around, hugging his arms close as they returned to watching the frigid scenery.

Shivasta and Jay were watching the clouds again from the lookout tower the next morning, chilled by more than just the winds. The blizzards were clearing up, and where clouds in the sky would fade, armies were revealed.

Snow half-buried many warriors and many vehicles, several of which Jay and Shi both recognized as transports bearing the emblem of the Republic... the Trade Confederation... the IGBC... other groups with a vested interest in seeing that Garosh became another resource world for Republic interests.

The Stormwardens were outnumbered and outgunned alike. Angry clouds remained, threatening another 'demon storm' if it was necessary, but that was close to the only edge they had right now. That, and probably ten-times the number of sensitives loyal to them and the two Jedi watching from the tower that intended to end it.

"Shivasta!" Elan called up from further down the tower. "It's almost time."

"Too soon, but at least it will be over with." Jay sighed and hugged her tightly before they turned to head down.

"Assuming they'll accept the results," Shi shivered, walking down ahead of him. She pulled on the gloves she'd been working with, the heavy ice sword at her hip in place of her lightsaber. It still didn't feel natural to her, but she knew how to use it now. "Here's hoping."

"If not, it's where I come in." Jay said simply and firmly. "The may be ready for Jedi interference. They aren't ready for mine."

"No, they're not," Shivasta agreed, knowing full well that every ounce of technology on the battlefield would turn against them if necessary to stop this.

"It looks like their champion is young," Elan offered as they reached the bottom. "Nobody I recognize, but not as experienced as some of the people they have available."

"The same can be said of ours." Jay reminded him quietly. "Force skill doesn't show as easily as physical training."

"And there are pre-teens with more training than I've had," Shi admitted.

"Perhaps, but you have your Jedi training," Elan pointed out confidently. "Besides, the vision you had said you were meant to face this battle. If you and your grandmother shared the vision, at two different times, clearly it was meant to be."

"And Jedi training is nothing to discount." Jay reminded her with a nuzzle. "Our reputation isn't empty."

"No, it's not," Shivasta agreed, taking a deep breath as they walked out. So much that could go wrong today... if she wasn't able to keep things under control, somebody was going to die, possibly many somebodies.

That thought alone was enough to keep her focused. She was a healer; it was her job to save lives, no matter the method. She was just doing that same familiar work today, by means she was barely familiar with at all.

The biting cold outside brought her attention outside once more; to the gathering crowds from both sides of the conflict, and the two males walking with her to the challenge field.

She straightened up, walking purposefully forward as she noticed the groups converging and forming, almost instinctively, a circle between them for the champions to fight if a challenge was made.

Champions... somehow, the title struck her as being distinctly awkward, especially applied to her. She was about as far as one could get from being a champion for anybody.

The Stormwardens were clearly outnumbered at least three to one as she made her way through the several-thousand strong force of warriors and crevasse cats. The tension in the air was literally palpable to her Force senses, but there was something else that she felt as the Republican camp stirred.

Something familiar to her.

An Ice Walker woman, a few years younger than Shivasta for all they looked the same age, stepped forward into the circle. She carried a metal shield and an ice blade, her body clad in light battle armor that Shivasta recognized as being of Republic design. It wasn't much better than what they could make locally, but it was much cheaper and easier to get a suit of. Still, in this fight, it wouldn't be any more effective than a suit of sheeloth-hide, and the shield no more useful than the light ice-shields most of the warriors carried.

She had passed up the chance to use both; armor would just slow her down, and the shield would force her to fight one-handed. Besides, with the gloves she was wearing, and accepting a little pain, she could almost use her hands as shields if she had to.

There were days she was devoutly grateful she was a healer.

"Where is the champion of the Stormwardens?" The Republican champion called out.

"I am here," Shivasta responded, stepping forward into the ring of bodies, leaving Elan and Jay behind. With a deep breath, she calmed herself, focusing on what had to be done here and now, and how best to do it. She still wondered where she knew the other Ice Walker from... she didn't recognize her from her first visit, but there was something there that seemed to connect them.

"So, the Stormwardens have stooped to asking a Jedi to protect them from us?" Her opponent taunted her, and the army behind her.

"I am a Stormwarden." Shi replied with a sharp edge on her voice that did little to indicate her true state. She knew what was expected of her and she provided it. "I fight as a Stormwarden."

"So you're the one," the younger woman observed. "Tell me, have you forgiven your 'clan' for sending your mother to die in the Wastes for what she did for you? Or did they forget to mention that little tidbit to you?"

"I know her crime, and her punishment." Shi shrugged, showing more indifference than she really felt as she finally placed where the familiarity was from. "Clearly she did not die before giving birth to a true traitor, sister."

"She only lived because she was taken in by a clan that cared about her," the other Ice Walker countered. "And are you sure I'm the traitor here? After all, I serve my clan. You... I wonder what the Jedi would say if they heard you were here for this. Do you intend to die a traitor to the people who raised you, to serve the ones who decided to throw your life away?"

Before anyone could respond a flash fire of murderous rage erupted in the Force, almost visible to the non-sensitives. It ended just as quickly, but not before Shi recognized exactly what had caused it and just how on edge her mate really was. He wanted to be on the battlefield badly.

"I will not die today, sister." Shi said simply, hoping she could end this before Jay gave in to the Demon so close to the surface right now. "Enough of your talk; show what you can do."

"Very well, if you're in a rush," she shrugged, bringing her sword and shield up into a neutral stance easily, holding the heavy blade in one hand with a practiced grip. Suddenly she reached out through the Force, starting a whirlwind at Shivasta's feet, wind, snow, and ice buffeting the older Ice Walker and distracting her. The younger sister bolted forward, charging as fast as she could without using the Force.

Shi barely had time to bring her blade up to block the crushing blow that followed, her sister's ice blade crashing into hers with the force of a charging bantha that Shi guided slightly to one side as she sidestepped and spun around with a touch of Force, her blade aimed squarely across her opponent's back.

She felt it bite into the thick synthetic fiber of the armor, but the other warrior spun before it could get into her flesh. Shivasta reeled as her sister struck her in the side of the face with her shield, knocking her back and following up with a swift thrust for her stomach that she brought up a telekinetic shield to block until she could get out of the way almost instinctively.

She took the moment it took her sister to recover to hit her hard with malacia.

The look of surprise on the younger Ice Walker's face said she hadn't been expecting it, but a hard, fast Force thrust threw Shivasta back before she could take advantage of the few moments it took for her to recover.

It didn't take this time, not all the way, but it was the edge that Shi had expected, and needed, it to be.

The distance between them gave Shi the time to hit her again with malacia before her opponent could do anything else.

She was ready for it this time though; the vulnerable point in her Force pattern had been sealed; the young Ice Walker wrapping the Force around herself like a protective cocoon. She stood again, bolting for Shi with the Force behind her motions. Shivasta bit her lip in pain as she felt the deadly cold blade bite through her robes, leaving a shallow cut in her arm.

It was also just the move Shi was waiting for. It brought her opponent close enough to use the morichro technique. If her sister could withstand two malacia attempts, she just about had to be hearty enough to survive this.

She reached out through the Force, piercing the younger Ice Walker's barrier and latching on to her Force pattern. She started applying the proper energies to the proper focal points, slowing and stilling the flow of the Force through her opponent's body. A moment later, she had stopped it completely, and the Ice Walker passed out faster than if Shivasta had put her in a chokehold.

She quickly released the pressure, letting the Force start back through her body so she would only be unconscious, then stood to looks of shock from both sides. Shi knew she was expected to kill her at this point; her sister had lost the battle, her life was forfeit.

Shivasta didn't care. It was over, and she wasn't going to kill her if she didn't have to. She tossed her blade to the ground, moving her sister's next to it. Only one person wasn't shocked, but he was relieved. Very, very relieved.

"The battle is over," Shivasta said clearly, turning towards the larger army. "Your champion lives, but she is helpless for now." She reached out to the Force users among her clan, and to Jay, drawing on their power to add the full weight of the Force to her words. "Your army is defeated; return to your homes and your lives, and seek a peaceful compromise among the clans. How our people deal with the Republic isn't worth a war."

She picked up her sword, and her sister's bloodied one, as the younger Ice Walker groaned softly and started to return to consciousness. She moved quickly to hand both weapons to Impana, praying that this would be over for now. One of the Republicans stepped forward... but only to help her sister back to her feet.

"I don't know how you beat me," she told Shivasta. "But you did. Thank you for my life... I will return to our chieftains, and we will withdraw for now."

"That is all I have earned," Shivasta acknowledged, inclining her head. "What is your name, sister?"

"Etreia," she answered simply, turning to start walking back towards her camp, shaking her head to try and clear the last of the grogginess from it.

Shivasta put her hand over the cut on her arm, summoning the Force to close the wound. She moved back towards Jay as the two armies started to stand down, taking a deep breath.

"This is one tradition I'm grateful for, just now," she murmured as he pulled her close and trembled ever so slightly from the tension seeking release.

"It is a lot less bloody." He agreed and nuzzled her, his warmth a welcome reminder of home and calmer places.

"I'm the one who's supposed to be on edge right now," she murmured, shifting to kiss him lightly when she was sure nobody was watching. "Let's get back to our quarters... don't think we should leave until tomorrow."

"When they've actually left." He nodded and wrapped and arm around her as they walked, his flickering tail the most obvious sign of his continued agitation that was slowly draining away, much to the frustration of the Darkness in his mind.

"The Republican forces are leaving," Impana told Jay and Shi as they prepared to do the same the next day. "It looks like we'll be able to negotiate with them, convince them to let us handle our own bargains with the Republic."

"I hope so," Shivasta smiled, taking Impana's hand and making the last of her goodbyes. "I'd like to be able to come back some time and see that things aren't on the verge of war."

"Agreed." Jay nodded with an easy smile. "It's much more pleasant to visit when the skies are clear."

"They'll always be clear for you two," Elan chuckled. "Just make sure to give us some warning."

"That we'll be able to manage," Shivasta smiled. "Thought it'll probably be a while before I come back again."

"Maybe next time you'll stay," Impana chuckled, though she knew it was very unlikely at best. Jay's silent reaction only reinforced that idea. He was decidedly not happy with the thought.

"At least long enough to actually teach us a few of those Jedi tricks." Kiryntha grinned at him. "And have a little more fun."

"I was about to say we'd bring Fenrik along next time, but I don't think I'd ever get them back if I did," Shivasta chuckled, stiffening slightly as she sensed something. She looked over towards the Republican warriors preparing to leave, and saw Etreia making her way towards their landing pad along with a young Ice Walker. Shivasta could sense the relation between them, and the Force in the Ice Walker who was probably still too young to talk.

"I think we're going to have company on the trip home," she told Jay quietly. "Assuming you think the Sharufa can handle a toddler until we make it back to Coruscant?"

"Easily." He nodded, his gaze on his mate's sister with a curious edge.

The other Ice Walkers noticed the newcomers next, looking over at them with expressions ranging from curious to concerned. The child next to her was younger than most Ice Walkers were brought out into the cold, though she was well-bundled to make up for it.

"I heard that you were going to be leaving soon," Etreia explained to Shivasta, sparing a brief nod for Impana. "I wanted you to meet your niece first."

"All right," Shivasta nodded, kneeling to look into the bright blue eyes of her sister's daughter. She looked up at her mother, then back at her aunt, not saying a word. Shi could tell that the young woman was a sensitive. Not the strongest, but strong enough that a part of her said she should be brought back to the Temple if it was acceptable. She wondered if that was why Etreia was here.

"She doesn't speak very much yet," Etreia explained. "Kanna, this is my sister, Shivasta."

"Hello," the little girl said softly.

"Hello," Shivasta smiled warmly. "Good to meet you, Kanna."

"I've spoken with mother, and with the chiefs of father's clan," Etreia explained softly. "We can all tell that Kanna is a sensitive... a fairly strong one, mother feels."

"I have to agree," Shivasta nodded slightly. "The Force is strong with her. It seems to run in the family," she smiled up at her sister.

"Stronger in some than in others, it seems," Etreia chuckled slightly. "We felt it would be best if she went to the Temple. I don't like giving her up, but... she's more likely to grow up there than she would be here."

"Is that okay with you?" Shivasta asked Kanna. She was old enough to talk... and old enough to resent being taken from her family, when she grew up. The toddler nodded slightly; Shi wasn't sure if she understood, but it wasn't an entirely new concept to her at least.

"I'll take her back," Shivasta told Etreia, standing up. "I'm sure she'll return, eventually," she smiled slightly.

"I hope so," the other Ice Walker nodded with a slight smile of her own. She stepped forward to hug Shivasta lightly, a gesture she returned.

"Thank you, for bringing her to me," Shivasta said.

"And thank you, for giving me the chance to. I didn't expect the both of us to leave the battlefield yesterday."

"You're welcome," Shi nodded, not mentioning her own doubts about whether or not they were going to. "We should probably be leaving soon."

"Come and visit the rest of your family when you come back next," Etreia offered. "I think our parents would like to know how you've turned out."

"And now that I know mother's alive, I think I'd like to meet her," Shivasta smiled. "We'll take good care of Kanna," she promised.

"I know," Etreia smiled, and then looked over at Impana. "One of the chiefs would like to speak with you, before returning to our territory."

"I will meet with her... and your mother, if she's with your party," Impana nodded.

"We'll make the arrangements," she nodded, stepping back, and then kneeling by her daughter.

"Be a good girl," she smiled, kissing her lightly. "I'll see you once you're grown up... maybe sooner. Good bye, Kanna."

"Bye, mama," Kanna said softly, kissing her mother goodbye and stepping back next to Shivasta.

"I think this is our cue to leave," Shi told Jay softly. "The Sharufa ready?"

"Since we arrived," he nodded, letting her lead the way to the ship he'd built years before.

"Padawan Clawson, have you been following the news from Coruscant during your absence?" Master Kareth asked Jay as he faced the Council, just a few hours after he, Shi, and Kanna had gotten back.

"Yes, Master." He answered easily; flipping through the headlines in his mind as he refreshed himself with them. Only one stood out, and it really stood out. A serial killer was loose in underground with a MO of a wild animal with rabies. "The killings in the Southern Underground?" He asked, deciding that was the most likely subject the Jedi would be discussing.

"Yes," Master Shan nodded. "The Council has decided that, the bounty hunters that have been called in aside, it would be prudent for a Jedi to be involved in the hunt for the killer as well. If possible, we want you to capture the perpetrator so they can be brought to trial. If necessary, we will understand killing them, but we will want proof that the responsible party has been stopped. This is your first solo mission; we will be judging your performance when you return."

"I understand, Master." He inclined his head slightly even as he requested the Temple to build him a full briefing. "Is there anything known that is not in the Temple system?"

"Very little," Master Kareth said easily. "We are not sure if it is a sentient or non-sentient being responsible. There seems to be little connection between the victims beyond the fact that they live in the area; you will want to start at coordinates that are already available to you. You already know that there are several bounty hunters involved in this hunt; expect them to be ready to use lethal force unnecessarily and to attempt to hinder your own progress."

"I understand, Master." He nodded. He did too, a little too well. Intended as part of his mission or not, he wasn't about to let a bounty hunter best him at one of his best skills. It called to far too much of his predatory nature. A hunting, competitive nature that was extreme even by his kin's standards. "I will do my best to ensure they do not succeed at either."

"Remember that they are not your enemies, Padawan," Master Noloth cautioned him. "Ultimately, their goals are in line with ours. Theirs are merely motivated by self-enrichment, more than the safety of the public."

"Normally, a solo mission would be conducted farther from the Temple than this," Master Shan admitted. "However, we feel that it would be best to involve you in this mission. You may return to the Temple in emergencies, or if it is necessary for your mission, but we expect you to conduct this as though your mission was further abroad."

"I understand, Master Shan."

"*Do you have any additional questions for us, Padawan?*" Essani asked him.

"No, Master." Jay nodded to her.

"Then you should get started as soon as possible," Master Shan told him simply. "We hope to hear back from you before we hear about this creature again."

Jay nodded and rose, turning without a word at his dismissal. His mind was already accessing the database and assessing his options for hunting the killer, whatever it was. He barely nodded to Shi as he passed her and Kanna waiting for their turn with the Council.

Jay spoke softly to himself, repeating the most salient points of the information he had, what he still needed to know, and what he needed to take as he readied his gear and kept it heavy on the non-lethal side. His lightsabers and skills were more than enough to tackle anything else required of him. His belt and Glovatrix were for capturing his target.

He felt the excitement building until he found the plateau that would allow him to work for days without being so wound up he was likely to make a stupid mistake. He had no intentions of sleeping. It wasn't a smart choice for a hunt like this unless it lasted for more than a week. There was simply too high a chance that it would kill against while he rested.

One last check of his equipment and he grabbed his heavy outer cloak, left a message with the computer for his mates and was gone from the place he'd called home for fourteen years with few the wiser.

The Southern Underground was never pretty. In its way, Nar Shaddaa was better than Coruscant's slums. At least on Nar Shaddaa the people in charge admitted there were slums and problems there; they just didn't care about them. Here, Coruscant would have gladly forgotten this entire place existed if it could.

Frustration and desperation vibrated through the Force, almost palpable as he moved towards the location of the last attack. At the Temple, it wasn't too hard to filter it out. Here, surrounded by it, the quiet undertone of the planet's slow death was a throbbing beat, almost as hard to ignore as the smell of the garbage pits nearby, only a kilometer or so down. A dull crack split the air as a waste canister broke passed through the tractor ring flinging it up out of the atmosphere.

He added a command for Sharufa to watch her sensors and not get hit or boarded in these tight quarters and stay close. There was a very real possibility he'd have to leave in a hurry, with or without his quarry.

He walked into a small building... more of a hovel, really... and found the room where the last victim had been taken.

The blood hadn't even been cleaned up yet; it seemed everybody was content to just wait until the filth that covered everything else covered it as well. There had clearly been a struggle; there were scorch marks from blasters on the wall. Two hits on the wall, with just enough space between them for a body to have been hit by the second shot in the burst. There were other marks, but they had clearly been wild, probably after the attacker had grabbed its victim.

Jay knelt and sniffed the air, testing it for any too fresh scents before he gave himself over to the calling up the memories in the floor and walls, even the furniture, seeking the moment just before the kill to get the best idea of what he was hunting before he actually went after it.

All he could get was a sense of utter wrongness; nothing in the building had been able to recognize what had attacked, just that it wasn't any sort of a normal species. More frustratingly, a quick check with the databases confirmed that it wasn't a known species. The attacker was big and muscular, with a shaggy coat of fur that looked almost more like a patchwork carpet than natural fur. Reds, bright blues, browns, all were present in irregular patches along the thing's body.

And there was nothing quite like it in the system. Its face, when Jay managed to find a working display that could show what had been seen, was vaguely like a Bulldog's, but its mouth was even more filled with sharp, uneven teeth. Its arms were long and gangly, ending in massive, wickedly curved claws. It just didn't look natural.

Of course, this far down, there was no telling just what had been created over the past millennia, whether by nature, mutation or manipulation.

He let out a small breath and shifted his focus, seeking how the creature had come in, and how it had left.

That wasn't hard to figure out at least, even without his Gift. He could see the claw marks on the door, now that he looked at it. It had probably jumped down while the victim was coming in, followed him in, killed him, and then pried the doors back open to get out safely. Between the time and the fact that this was one of the worst possible parts of Coruscant to live in, anybody who'd noticed anything had probably done their damnedest to ignore it.

But that meant there would be blood to track it by, at least part of the way.

He focused a bit more of his energy on his senses to avoid being surprised by anything, be it a local, his prey or a bounty hunter, and moved with the balanced grace his training brought even at speed.

He picked up the blood trail outside, going up and over the building. That would explain how it managed to stay undetected. He could sense something familiar up ahead ... he couldn't tell if it was his prey or something else, as he followed the blood easily.

It was still reason enough reason to pull the Force around him in preparation for a battle where a fast kill just wasn't an option; he was likely to have to deal with bounty hunters as well as his prey. It was categorically the worst combination he could think of ... shy of prey that was immune to the Force.

He dismissed the thought as quickly as he could; no sense in tempting fate. He really, really didn't want to have to deal with something like that.

Buildings skimmed by as he moved just a little faster than natural across their roves, all his senses alert for trouble and for his quarry.

He found the creature moving deeper into the slums, somewhere near the center of the attacks in areas nobody lived in willingly. He heard a shout of pain up ahead, a blaster firing repeatedly before it was silenced. He put on his full speed that wouldn't cost him his ability to react if there was a trap up ahead.

His Force-senses caught the scene ahead before his eyes did; one bounty hunter down, the beast trying to eat. He called on enough Force to surround the creature with a telekinetic bubble.

He reached the scene before the creature realized it was trapped; it was just as ugly and hard to describe as he'd thought. It looked something like a nightmare orangutan. The thick green scales and blast armor of the Trandoshan who was being gradually ripped apart hadn't helped him against the powerful claws.

Jay almost felt sick as he realized that the lizard-man was in few enough pieces he might still be alive, or at least be able to survive if he made it to a medical facility quickly enough. . So far, it had only actually lost an arm, something the Trandoshan would recover from given the chance. It made his next priority separating the beast from its meal, a trick that was gratefully not too difficult with a strong telekinetic grip on each to pull them apart even as he called for Sharufa to join him. She was capable of transporting the beast and its prey safely to the Temple.

Unfortunately, taking its food away alerted the creature to the Jay's presence. The creature let out a piercing howl of rage as the Trandoshan was pulled to safety and set on the ground so Jay could turn his full attention to containing the beast. It tried to charge, but the bubble kept it in place. For now at least; the thing was strong enough that it was taxing even Jay's ability to maintain the field, hammering away at the invisible barrier with all its strength.

"*Sleep.*" Jay put the full force of his will and the Force behind the demand. As strong as it was, its mind wasn't up to the test of the suggestion; it fainted dead away, leaving Jay to work on stabilizing the latest victim with the suspended animation cube he'd intended to use on the beast.

Sharufa's engines were easily audible in the background as the ship brought herself in as close as she could to her creator to his relief. He moved to pick up the creature telekinetically, still wondering what the Hell it was, when something hard and heavy hit him across the back of his head, making him see stars and drop the killer even as he rolled with the blow and lashed out with the Force against the object and its wielder. He heard a satisfying crunch as the weapon was destroyed, but noted with some annoyance that he didn't hear anything from whoever had attacked him.

He was on his feet, the Force heavy around him even as Sharufa powered her weapons up and took aim on the attacker.

"*Get the beast and Trandoshan secured.*" Jay ordered his ship, leaving him to focus on his first real lifelong enemy while his ship used its equipment to deal with the rest. "Hello Navik."

"Long time, Jay," Navik responded. His Basic was better, and the years had clearly bulked him up. The bully from Jay's childhood finally looked as tough as he'd always thought he was. As much as Jay wanted to say he still wasn't any smarter, he knew better than to underestimate him after so long.

The Rodian discarded his destroyed blaster rifle, pulling a long double-pike off his back. He held it skillfully, taking up a defensive posture. He was wearing a simple suit of light armor, similar in design to the Trandoshan's, but covering more of his body. Maybe he'd finally found a partner he could work with.

It'd be just like him to have let a partner like that get killed before he did anything to help him.

"I'm just after the ogre," Navik explained. "You can go back to the Jedi and tell them the thing won't be hunting here any more."

"No." He replied evenly and slid both his lightsabers out of his bracers and lit them, lighting the area up around his hands as the arc of energy over the hilt protected them. His own stance was defensive as well, one mental ear open for trouble on his ship or anywhere else around them. "You aren't that trustworthy." He added as the beast was taken into his ship by a tractor beam where it would be quickly secured in a force-field reinforced cell with a constant supply of knockout gas to keep it down.

"Those are new," Navik observed. "Though they're not the only thing that is here. I'm a bounty hunter Jay; you really think I'd throw a contract just to get you in trouble with the Jedi?"

"Probably not." He acknowledged the odds. "It's still not your capture."

"And what do you think the Jedi will do when you bring it back, eh? They're not about to kill it."

"Find out what it is and where it came from to start with." Jay pointed out evenly. "If that thing is as unnatural as it feels, finding out who created it is important to stop this from happening again."

"You really haven't been down here long, have you fuzzball?" Navik laughed, shaking his head. "Figures. You try talking to people while you were hunting it, or just the walls?"

"I didn't need to talk to either," he pointed out and silently acknowledged Sharufa's silent message that all was ready. "The blood trail leads right from the last kill to here. Have better luck on your next hunt." He told Navik and made an easy turn and leap to the open hatch of his ship.

"Oh I will!" Navik called after him. "I'll just bring that one's mate in. Just try not to be too loud about having caught it? Look bad for the Order to have another turn up after they say they've ended it."

Jay didn't reply, but he did take note of it as the hatch closed and Sharufa peeled away as quickly as she could in the tight confines. He had other concerns right now; the injured hunter and the beast he had captured. Both needed to be returned to the Temple as quickly as possible.

The short trip back gave him a chance to think about what Navik had said. It was certainly possible that there was more than one, even if it was somebody's escaped experiment. He'd have to find out as much as he could as fast as possible before he went back out to check on that.

Fortunately, it wasn't far to reach the Temple in the small transport. A brief, fast flight later, he was touching down, medics waiting to help the injured Trandoshan as soon as the ship had landed. Shi was with them, and first on board the ship to start moving the injured bounty hunter.

Jay waited until they were done, then greeted Fenrik and a sleek silver Vixen Knight with a nod when they boarded. "It's this way."

"Thank you," the Vixen nodded. "You're sure that it's an unrecognized species?" She asked him, following him back to the holding cell.

"It's not in any database I have access to, Knight Cesta." He nodded as they came to a stop in front of the force-field reinforced room-cage with the unconscious bulldog-orangutan-Force-knew-what monster. "It's not even close to anything known. It feels decidedly unnatural to me as well."

"I can see that," the Vixen said, looking at the sleeping creature with a perplexed expression.

"Can you tell if it has a mate, or ... young?"

"Not without more of an examination... this is what was responsible for the killings in the Southern Underground?" She asked. "I'll need to move it to a more secure location."

Jay nodded and unlocked the cell to hold the creature in a telekinetic bubble to move it. "It is the species responsible for at least the last kill. I've been told it has a mate still loose down there. I haven't had an opportunity to examine the other kill sites or try to track it back to its lair yet."

"Who told you?" Fenrik asked curiously as they moved the creature, watching it warily as it started to stir slightly.

"Navik," Jay answered quietly and got ready to send the creature back to sleep if it actually woke up before it was caged again. It turned out to be necessary, but simple to do. "He's one of the bounty hunters after it. He tried to steal this one, and told me there was another he'd get when that didn't work. I think the Trandoshan was his partner."

"Think you can trust him, or think he was just trying to get your goat?" Fenrik asked.

"It doesn't really matter right now," Jay shook his head. "I haven't gotten the chance to really examine anything yet."

"Maybe we should get this one restrained before distracting the person restraining it?" Cesta suggested.

"Of course," Fenrik nodded. They made it to the holding area without further incident, where Cesta had Jay place the creature in a holding cell.

"That should keep him quiet if necessary. It shouldn't take long to find out if I can trace a mate to it; you two sort out what was going on with Navik while I do so?"

"Yes, Knight Cesta," Jay bow slightly to her. "Please contact the Sharufa when you know something. I'm going to go back down to learn more."

He was several steps outside the lab before he remembered that a Knight's orders or no, this was his solo and having his mate and partner along for the hunt was definitely not called for yet. "Do you know anything about Navik that I don't?"

"Probably not," Fenrik admitted. "Didn't have much to do with him while he was still here, less since then. I should probably butt out before I cause any trouble with your mission, but just be careful when it comes to dealing with him Jay."

"I always will," he nodded seriously. "Take care of yourself and Shi, and have her let me know when the Trandoshan is up for talking."

"Will do," Fenrik nodded. "Force be with you, Jay."

"*Thank you, love.*" He smiled and headed back to his ship for a proper investigation of the kill-sites and the trails that the killer took to and from them.

Later that day, Jay had run through the full history of the area again. The most recent killings had been misleading; they were in a different part of the Underground than a number of historical murders. Something had scaled up recently; given what Navik had said about a mate, it seemed possible that they were either gearing up for, or had, started a family.

That made it even more important to catch up. Coruscant's population could do with being knocked down a few billion, but this was overkill.

He'd figured out a new likely territory, one of the local garbage dumps. He was wearing a breather now, slowly and carefully working his way down the kilometers-deep pit, looking for any sign of a next or den. It was something he had to be a little careful about; one likely hole had already turned out to be a dianoga pit instead. His Force-senses could pick up life and the relative size, but he wasn't nearly as good at telling what kind of life it was.

It wasn't always easy to tell what was a nest and what was a cluster of junk that had landed properly. The entire place was well and truly chaotic.

Finally, he managed to find something that looked like a likely spot. There were bones there, including a couple skulls from various species. They looked like they'd been collected intentionally, but they'd clearly been left behind just as intentionally... and some time ago, he was sure. The nest was small enough to fit one of the creatures he'd found; if there were more now, they would have had to move to a larger area.

The sound of shouting from below filtered up; probably junk hunters sorting through the fetid piles of trash for anything salvageable. A moment of focusing on the sounds and Force backed up that it was nothing unusual, though they would be the ones who knew the area best. If there was a monster, they probably knew where.

He moved down further, trying not to think about what he was probably stepping in as he drew close. He was so going to need a long, hot shower and scrubbing after this.

The salvagers turned towards him as he got close, a couple of them reaching for blasters to defend their find; most of the remains of some sort of droid, discarded after something had smashed it up pretty well. Probably some sort of industrial accident.

A scrawny looking Ferret, probably the leader to judge by the fact that his blaster was more or less stock, rather than tinkered and overhauled a half-dozen times like most of the others, looked at Jay with an expression somewhere between fear and suspicion.

"You, who are?" He demanded.

"Jay." He answered easily. "I'm hunting the beast killing people down here."

"Beast? Ogre you mean?" The Ferret asked cautiously. "Or dianoga-snake?"

"Ogre." Jay clarified on a combination of knowing he wasn't after dianoga and what Navik had called the creature. "Do you know where they live?"

"Ogre left long ago. Many people it killed, their heads took. Second ogre came, both left. Two months ago."

Just about when the other killings started. So there was a mate... still, this didn't help him get any closer to finding it. The hunters conferred for a moment, speaking in hushed, rapid tones.

"You have food? Tools?" The leader asked after a moment.

"Yes," he nodded. "For trade."

"You show us first," the Ferret said. "They good, we tell you more."

Jay considered the Ferret and though about his supplies for a moment, then called Sharufa down, smiling slightly at her flamboyant entrance that matched her personality and name so well, and in many ways, his own and his heritage. Jedi or not, he was still a Clawson and a Furlong. Flashy was in his blood in a very real way.

It certainly seemed to impress the locals; some of them squeaked and ducked for cover in the garbage, clearly more used to ships coming down and trying to either catch them or shoot them, while others simply stared, not used to seeing ships down here at all that were still flying under their own power. The leader, for his part, moved to where there was some cover, watching Jay and the ship warily as Sharufa settled with a fast turn to present the open main hatch to him.

Jay made the leap easily, a much simpler move than many he'd done and reappeared to jump down a moment later with a good-sized bag in his hand. He walked over to the Ferret and offered it. "Food."

The Ferret opened the bag and looked in, inspecting the contents; rations heavy on the meats and quality field rations the Temple provided. He looked back at Jay after a moment; pleasure, eagerness and satisfaction clear in his mind, though he didn't show it.

Jay was sure that was enough to get what he wanted, but just as sure the Ferret was going to see what he could get out of this arrangement. Of course, living and working down here, he couldn't really blame him.

"Last stranger down here, offered a power cell too," the Ferret suggested.

Jay considered him for a moment, easily catching the surface thoughts and just what kind of offering would get him exactly what he wanted and what the Ferret considered most valuable. The kinds of things these folks wanted were easy for him to get, and he honestly couldn't mind paying more than he had to. They were just trying to survive and he respected that far more than the greed he was used to dealing with and tended to play hardball against. "This is probably worth more than a power cell to you." He said and brought out a field tool kit from his belt, opening it to show the Ferret its high quality and immaculately kept contents in one smooth motion.

He had to give the Ferret credit; he didn't show the surprise and pleasure he felt on his face.

"Us, you give that to, Eney will show you to last place ogre he saw."

Jay nodded and folded it up again with the ease of long familiarity and offered it over. "Deal."

The Ferret accepted the kit, motioning towards a young Rat who probably wasn't much older than Jay had been when he'd come to the Temple.

"Ogres left the pit," Eney explained. "Slum-people I saw one hunting, us more than they did. You I will take there... ship, take us out?" He asked, glancing at the Sharufa. It would certainly be easier than climbing out.

"Easily," Jay nodded even as the ship lowered itself so the young Rat could board without taking a flying leap with Jay. Soon, they were both on-board, and flying up out of the reeking garbage pit, much to Jay's relief and the youth's fascination for the view of his home turf from a very different angle.

"Padawan Clawson, are you there?" Cesta's voice came across the open comm line to the Temple.

"Yes, Knight Cesta." He answered reflexively.

"I've examined the creature. It's definitely not natural, but I can't find any sign of extensive genetic manipulation. I suspect the mutations are more the result of exposure to something present in the environment than intentional creation. We're looking at a prime example of Coruscant's ecosystem at work," she said quietly.

"They're called ogres, and I've confirmed there is at least a second one. I expect it's a species at this point."

"It's possible. I can't confirm if it has bred yet; it's a male, there aren't as many signs. But I can tell you that it probably has a mate, or at least that there's another down there; there are light wounds and scratches consistent with claws like its own. It has a very powerful sense of smell, and seems to be sensitive to the light. Intelligent too, for an animal. Have you seen anything that might be a sign of an early culture, or at least the potential for it?"

"Not that I've seen, but I have seen very little." He admitted. "You may have another and young to study soon, however."

"I'll let you go then," the Vixen said. "Just be careful."

"Yes, ma'am." He acknowledged, though he had no intention of not being careful.

"Person talking, who was that?" Eney asked, looking out the windows of the Sharufa as they traveled towards one of the more recent kill sites.

"Knight Cesta. She's studying the ogres I capture."


"Yes," he nodded. "As am I." He answered the unasked question in the Rat's mind.

The young Rat nodded silently, then looked at one building in particular.

"Ogre, last seen there," he said, pointing it out a building near several kill sites.

Jay nodded and set down nearby. "Did you see where it headed from here?"

"No," Eney admitted. "It was sniffing, looked like hunting. We ran when sister I warned."

Jay nodded and stood to head for the hatch. "Stay on the ship. I'll be back."

The Rat nodded, waiting obediently as Jay left the Sharufa and cautiously started to look around. He was struck immediately by the variety of scents coming through; the winds and ventilation shafts down here made this a prime spot to locate any of a number of different creatures by scent.

Looking around, he spotted what looked liked a fairly easy way of getting to and from the location, a duracrete wall that was partially crumbled, and wouldn't be too hard to climb. It all made for an excellent hunting point.

Jay let his Force-senses spread out, seeking his quarry by its aura while his nose and eyes searched for any trace of where to head from here.

He could only sense the one he'd found before from here... it must have been the one he'd caught. But what his Force senses couldn't pick up easily, his regular ones could. The creature had clearly gone over the wall multiple times; examining it, he could see where the claws had scored it, and the small tunnel above.

It would be too small for the Sharufa to move through, but he could fit through easily.

Time to do something stupid.

He activated the flashlight on his Glovatrix, set it to infrared and slipped a simple pair of band shades over his eyes to take better advantage of the band and went in.

The IR beam painted the surroundings with a light warmth that he could see, and he hoped the creature couldn't. He started to move through very carefully, testing the area ahead of him, looking to make sure each next step was safe. It looked like there was something up ahead, smaller than the first creature he'd caught... but he had no way of telling what the regular sizes for them were.

A few more steps and it was clear it was Navik, setting up a stake out of his own. Given he was looking into the den, there were high odds the second one was inside.

So that was where Jay headed.

As he stalked forward, it was clear that Navik didn't hear him until he was just about on top of him. The Rodian spun around, pulling a short blade out before he recognized who it was.

"What are you doing here?" He asked in a harsh whisper that didn't carry far. To judge by the contours of his face, he was wearing a pair of low-light goggles to help him see down here.

"My mission." Jay said simply and continued to move past him.

"More like suicide," Navik muttered, moving ahead with him until the Kat stopped to face him. "You think you're going to fight that thing in its lair?"

"I don't have to fight it any more than the first one, and it's better than having Knight Cesta angry with me." He shrugged. "It's only suicidal for you."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Navik asked, his temper flaring visibly in the Force.

Jay rolled his eyes, though it wasn't visible. "It's not suicidal for me." He said and moved further into the tunnel, all his senses alert for the first sign of his prey.

He heard the click of a trigger, but he'd already disabled Navik's blaster. For the Rodian's sake, he hoped one of the ogres didn't come on down until he was out of range.

Assuming, of course, that the tunnels went down that far. They seemed to; there wasn't much down further that was sending off heat. They split off up ahead, and it looked like there might be a few basic traps up ahead.

At the split he shifted focus to his nose, testing the ground for which tunnel had the freshest scent.

He headed off to the left, tracing the smells of blood and animals. He found a crude deadfall up ahead and disabled it easily; Cesta had been right about the creature being smart. For something that wasn't sentient, it was clever.

And here he was following it into its lair, where it quite possibly had young waiting.

He kept himself ready to put a telekinetic shield between himself and any attack, and moved forward cautiously. Hopefully it was home.

He saw the warmth up ahead as he rounded a corner; three bodies, one large, two small. To judge by the scent, at least two of them were ogres. He couldn't be sure if the third was an ogre, or possibly one of the several races he could smell here, along with the scent of death.

He quickly put up a shield between him and the warm bodies, then approached quietly. He had to get their attention to get them to go to sleep, but the closer he was the better.

The big one looked up sharply, its body outlined in bright reds and oranges to his goggles as it caught his scent and roared, the sound echoing painfully in the relatively confined space.

"*Sleep.*" Jay ordered with all the power he could muster for the Suggestion.

For a moment, he was worried that it wouldn't be enough. The creature's young seemed to be giving it enough mental strength to resist the command. A little more reinforcement and it fell, the smaller bodies squalling in fear until they too sank unconscious to Jay's silent orders.

With a small breath of relief, he lifted all three telekinetically and ordered Sharufa to get as close as she could, and prepare a cage for the mother and two young while he walked out, ready for another confrontation with Navik.

He knew that he'd shut down the Rodian's goggles, so he'd probably be outside if he had any sense whatsoever. Admittedly, that wasn't necessarily the case with Navik when he was ticked off, which he almost certainly was. The Rodian hated to be shown up even more than Jay did, and he'd just done it twice in less than half a day, and cost him a lot of money on upwards of four bounties.

He carefully pulled his glasses off and stored them when the natural light became strong enough, more than a little surprised that he hadn't run into Navik yet. The guy was too damn good at hiding himself too.

Jay was in mid-step when he felt the mother begin to stir, and he quickly focused on reinforcing the command to sleep.

The momentary distraction was all it took for Navik's plan to make itself known; Jay sensed the grenades concealed near the entrance just a split-second before they started going off, letting off piercing, shrill bursts of sound just barely inside the high-end of his audible range. He barely had time to register the bone-deep pain before his brain shut down, leaving him on the ground just as unconscious as his cargo.

Navik smirked outside the tunnel as he heard the high-pitched blasts from his trap going off. Most of his gear turned back on as Jay passed out, including his goggles, but he didn't bother to put them back on as he rushed into the tunnel. He'd just pack up the ogres, carry them out, and leave the kat there to explain to the Jedi how he'd been bested by the student they'd thrown out years before.

He quickly shackled the mother, noticing the two young ogres and restraining them with smaller devices he quickly improvised. He hadn't been expecting young, but he had no doubt they'd bring in some extra bounty money. As he was getting ready to head out, he couldn't resist the temptation to gloat a bit.

"Bet you never thought I'd be the one beating you," Navik chuckled, keying the call sequence for his own ship into the tracker on his belt.

That was just the distraction the half-conscious kat was waiting for. His higher brain functions were still down, but his instincts opened his eyes and recognized the theft of his catch.

Navik caught the sudden explosion of violence almost square on, his Force-senses were sure the kat was still unconscious, but the claws and fangs driven into his flesh and armor were very real and very sharp.

He responded with a more honed instinct of his own, calling on the Force to throw Jay back towards the entrance, buying himself enough time to realize his blaster was beeping with a potential overload. He threw it to the side and grabbed his double-pike, grateful that at least didn't need power to function. He was surer now than ever before that it was something Jay did that had been responsible for most of his problems with anything that involved a computer or powered system.

Fortunately, it was a lesson he'd taken to heart in the Arena. He was ready for it now, and fairly sure that the kat he was dealing with was functioning on a level he could handle on his own.

"And they said I couldn't control myself," the Rodian muttered. He'd never seen somebody who'd been nailed with sonics respond like this, but he knew full well that Jay wasn't quite like anybody around here. He made a mental note to be careful about that in the future.

Jay recovered quickly from the blow, replying with a Force-strike of his own; one with more power behind it than was even remotely required to put his opponent off balance. It was meant to crush.

Navik was knocked back by it, digging into the debris at the bottom to keep from going too far as he forced most of the blow around him. The Rodian scrambled for something to distract him; he tapped into some of his less-honed skills, creating an illusion of himself to give Jay two targets to focus on as 'they' leaped forward to deal with him.

It had the desired effect, the kat moved on reflex, choosing the illusion by mistake and lunging right through it to roll to his feet on the other side with flattened ears and a twist to lock him on to the correct one.

He had a feeling that Jay was starting to return to normal, his mind starting to wake up properly. He knew full well that the best way to end this would be as quickly as possible; no sense in fighting him at full capacity. He reached out telekinetically, grabbing for the feline's throat and squeezing.

The reaction was instant, reflexive and as expected. The frantic clawing at the invisible grip was base instincts at work.

"*SCATTER.*" A potent blow to Navik's mind almost sent him to his knees as his mind started to obey before he caught it and pulled his attention back to the here and now. When he looked up he saw his opponent between him and the ogres. Jay's ears were still flat against his skull but his stance the same loose, controlled one as in the face off they'd had over the other ogre.

"That really wasn't the smartest move, Navik." Jay told him evenly.

"Neither was not staying unconscious, you still did it," the Rodian countered, reaching out to grab Jay and pull him into the range of his double-pike only to find the grab sidestepped and dissipated as the twin double lightsabers came out, casting an eerie shimmer of blacklight colors in the dark space.

"This does not need to be a fight."

"Like you'll just let me haul them off to the CSF?" Navik asked with a half-laugh. "I don't think so." He mentally called up a couple times he'd fought somebody with similar weapons; usually they were about twice Jay's size, but a lot of the same tactics should work.

"*Sleep.*" Jay ordered silently, hoping to end it without any more violence.

"Not going to work on me, fuzzball," Navik shot back, charging forward and found his attack met by one of the double-bladed weapons while the other swung around to hamstring him. In the very back of his mind, he had to give a grudging respect to this kat for his skill with his weapons.

It was a skill he could match reasonably well though. He was able to meet both weapons with the ends of his pike, and whenever Jay would attack with the second blade, he could raise or lower his own weapon to meet it. As Navik had noted several times in the past, the extra cost of having his weapon designed to counter lightsabers had paid for itself several times over in the fact that he was still alive.

He winced as Jay managed to strike a glancing blow to his leg, and started to go more on the offensive. He focused on the Force, sending his perceptions a split-second into the future to keep track of what Jay would be doing so he could react and look for an opening. When he found it, it brought the center of his pike up to catch Jay in the jaw with the haft.

It sent the tom backwards as he rolled with the strike as much as he could to lessen its damage and got off a shot from his Glovatrix. The dart hit Navik squarely in the gut; it's sedative drug beginning to take effect quickly.

He tried to speed the drug through his system; the one hit wouldn't put him over, but enough of them might. He grabbed Jay telekinetically and threw him against the wall of the tunnel, staggering a bit as he got his footing again.

It was a situation Jay took advantage of with another telekinetic blow designed to spin the Rodian around and slam him to the ground. It didn't have quite the desired effect, but it was enough to knock Navik back a few steps - just far enough for him to step on the mother ogre, who was just recovering from the sonic blasts that had started the fight.

Navik screamed as powerful teeth latched into his leg, spinning and trying to stab his pike into the creature, but his sedative-slowed reaction time wasn't quick enough to keep the female from pulling him down and getting her restrained hands around him.

"Damnit!" Jay cursed under his breath and focused his mind on getting Navik away from her and getting her back to sleep. He could feel her rage, and could hardly blame her at all, but what she was doing just wasn't acceptable.

Besides, it wasn't entirely Navik's fault she was pissed off. Two-thirds his fault maybe, but not all of it.

Jay was able to put her back under quickly, leaving Navik's legs badly mauled, but most of the rest of his body protected by the shield Jay had put up. He noticed that the Rodian seemed to have put himself under instinctively; the bleeding wasn't nearly as bad as it should have been, almost like he'd dropped into a death-trance defensively.

It certainly made getting him to a healer easier. He wasn't awake to argue about it.

Master Essani hasn't felt this nervous inside in years. Her Padawan was about to report on his solo mission, and it was an interesting story from what she had caught of it already. The entire Temple was buzzing about the semi-intelligent species that had come out of a murder investigation.

Several other Councilors were intrigued as well. Most were surprised by what had filtered to them already and were expecting a briefing just as interesting.

What Essani found most worrisome though, was the strange reaction she'd felt earlier. Most of his mind had completely shut down, and what had been left was functioning at a level of raw instinct. That would be something they had to nail down before deciding on the results of his training. What had happened and why would be very important issues.

She stilled her thoughts as Master Shan summed Padawan Clawson in. She had to look at him as a Councilor as well as his Master. It was one of the more difficult things to do, no matter what was said about both having the same goal.

Jay walked in, his motions smooth and controlled as he knelt before them. He looked every bit the Jedi Knight that he would soon be, if all went well.

"Begin your report, Padawan Clawson," Master Shan ordered him calmly.

Jay inclined his head and relaxed as he settled in to tell the story that they knew parts of already.

"I began at the last known kill site, investigating the method of attack and attempted to obtain a visual impression of the attacker. I did succeed at both, though there was little other information. I learned later that the beast is an intelligent animal the locals call an ogre. It is well known to them.

"I followed the ogre's trail from the house, seeking to find its lair. Before I got that far I encountered one trying to eat the live Trandoshan I brought back with the male ogre. While ogres are physically very powerful and resistant, their minds are relatively vulnerable to the sleep Suggestion and the male did not put up much of a fight.

"While I was moving the ogre to Sharufa, Navik attacked me in an attempt to obtain it for the bounty. When the first strike failed to knock me out, he did not attack again and a short standoff ended with my return to the Sharufa and his return to the hunt for the second ogre he had learned was in the area. It was at this time that I learned of the second one.

"After seeing that the Trandoshan was delivered to the healers at the Temple and the captured ogre delivered to Knight Cesta, I returned to the kill sites and began to track the hunter, looking for its lair. I found one location that had been abandoned some time before. While investigating it, I heard some locals scavenging nearby and went to talk to them.

"For a week's worth of my rations and a field tool kit, the leader of the group provided me with a guide that had seen the ogre recently. The young Rat, Eney, is still on board the Sharufa until I have time to take him home. Navik's medical needs took precedence over returning him to his family.

"Eney directed me to a location where he had seen the ogre hunting, but did not know where it had gone from there. It was an excellent place to catch scents from the crosswinds, likely why the ogres favored it. Not far from the building was another den, much bigger and more complicated than the first. This one also had primitive traps and a false tunnel to discourage intruders.

"Navik was also staked out not far inside, waiting for the ogre to come out. I passed him and went further inside to find the mother and two cubs. She was much more resistant to the sleep suggestion, but she did go down to it. I used telekinesis to transport her and the cubs out, but as I reached the entrance several sonic grenades detonated and knocked me unconscious.

"When I came too, I was in the middle of a fight with Navik and the ogres were shackled." Jay finally paused, seeking anything worthy to add to that blacked out time. "I do not remember very much of what happened while I was moving but not awake. The primary impression of that time is a need to protect the ogres and a good deal of irritation at the lingering pain from the grenades.

"I attempted to talk Navik out of fighting over the bounty, it was not something I cared about, but I did not succeed." He admitted quietly, now sure that there was some way to get everyone out of there without injury. He still wasn't sure what it was, but Navik wasn't that unreasonable anymore.

"The fight continued a few more rounds, and he resisted my attempt to put him to sleep. He also resisted a knockout dart. While we were fighting, he got too close to the mother ogre and she managed to bite his leg before I could stop her. Though she went down to my suggestion and I shielded most of Navik's body, his legs were badly injured. It seemed as if he put himself in some form of trance when the ogre attacked him.

"I tended the worst wounds to make sure he would make it to the Temple and loaded all four on board the Sharufa. Navik's ship was not difficult to get to follow us. It is currently docked next to the Sharufa."

"Have you ever had a blackout like that before?" Master Kareth asked as they absorbed the salient points of his words. "That you are aware of, at least?"

"No, Master Kareth." He answered simply. "I can be fairly sure it has not happened before. The sensation is quite distinctive."

"You will think on this in the next few days, yes?" Master Surool suggested. "The how and why."

"Yes, Master Surool." Jay inclined his head. He would have done it anyway. He hated unknowns in his own mind. It was messy enough in there without any extra surprises, and this was an ugly surprise.

"We look forward to your report on it," Master Surool nodded.

"You said that you attempted to convince Navik that there was no need to fight," Master Noloth asked next. "Did you consider bargaining with him?"

"Yes, Master Noloth. He laughed at the possibility and attacked me before I could make an offer."

"What did you feel, when you saw the ogre attacking him?" The Lizard asked. Everybody on the Council was fully aware of the history between Navik and Jay.

It took Jay a moment to translate that out into words acceptable to use in front of the Council. The string of curses he'd said and still associated with that moment were not among them. Naming the emotion they represented was another issue entirely.

"Irritation at myself for not stopping things sooner." He finally got close enough to what he'd felt to say it to the Council.

"*Did you consider allowing him to turn the ogres in?*" Master Essani asked him.

"Yes, Master Essani. If he had stopped attacking me long enough for us to talk, it was what I intended to suggest."

"What is your assessment of his abilities, and what he has done with them?" Master Shan asked.

"He is a skilled warrior, my equal at least if he had a lightsaber, and he has leaned several Force-skills to an impressive level, particularly hiding himself. I do not expect the Dark Jedi kills on his record are from luck. He is not, however, a match for a Master or experienced Knight if he cannot surprise them." Jay gave an honest assessment of what he'd faced with the respect his opponent was due.

"He is self-centered and still sees violence as the first option, but he has also mellowed some since his time at the Temple. Even though he still has issues with me and wanted the ogres I had, he did not try to kill me for the male. If he had a serious interest in doing so, he could have then. He took me by surprise with that blow. If he had used something other than the butt of his riffle, today may have ended quite differently.

"Though it was much more serious, I do not believe he was trying to kill me over the female and cubs either. He used sonic grenades when he could have used something more deadly. He could have shot me while I was down. Even when we were fighting, he was not fighting to kill, but to incapacitate.

"He is dangerous, Masters, but he is not Dark in my assessment."

"And your opinion of what should be done with him?" Master Noloth asked.

"Healed and allowed to leave with his ship." Jay said simply.

"If you intended to offer him the bounty and he was not trying to kill you, why did you not back off and allow him to take the ogres?" Master T'qu'l asked him levelly.

"The ogres are intelligent enough to create traps in their lair to protect themselves and their young, Master T'qu'l." Jay answered more levelly than he felt. He couldn't name why it was so important to him, but he wasn't going to deny the potency of the drive to protect the family unit either. "They are intelligent enough it would be wrong to separate the family. I cannot trust the Coruscani Security Force to turn them over to us alive if it was not already arranged."

"*You cannot, or you do not feel the Jedi could trust them to do such a thing?*" Master Essani asked him.

"I can not, Master Essani. They are too easy to bribe by anyone with the credits and inclination."

"I believe those are all the questions we have for you at the moment, Padawan," Master Shan said, looking around the Council to confirm it. "We will reserve our final decision regarding your Knighthood until you, and we, have had the chance to meditate on what has happened."

"I understand, Master Shan." He said easily and stood to bow before leaving, eager to return Eney to his group and come home for a long, hot shower and scrub the rest of the garbage smell from his fur. He'd made himself presentable to the Council, but he could still smell it.

Fenrik paused and blinked as he picked up the heavy, musky scent of the shampoo Jay was using in the other room. So he had ended up having to go slogging through one of the garbage pits on his mission. The Panther shuddered slightly as he disrobed and made his way back to the bathroom. He slipped into the shower, picking up a second bottle of fur shampoo and squeezing some into his hands.

"Want some help with your back?" He asked his mate with a friendly tone.

"Always," Jay purred in return and set down the towel he'd been using with a little telekinetic help to do the job. "How'd the rest of your day go?"

"I got to play guard duty for the most part," Fenrik chuckled. "So pretty dull, compared to normal. Wouldn't want to have to deal with those ogre-things if I had a choice, but they seemed to settle down once the family group was together and given slightly more 'natural' surroundings. Sounds like you had a more exciting time of things." The Panther started working the shampoo into Jay's back-fur, nuzzling his neck and noticing that most of the smell was gone. Shi probably wouldn't even notice it.

"I'm not surprised. They're smart animals. There were even a couple primitive traps built into their den." He groaned softly in the pleasure of a solid backrub that went with the scrubbing. "Navik was the only real excitement, though." He paused, thinking back over the past day and the years before it, then turned to slip his arms around Fenrik's neck and kissed him softly. "When did I stop hating him?"

"I didn't know you had," Fenrik admitted, kissing him back. "Maybe about the time you got better about Rodians?"

"Maybe," Jay purred softly and nuzzled close to his mate. "I just realized that I didn't feel anything towards him, good or bad. It was kind of weird."

"Good thing though," Fenrik murmured, scrubbing his back lightly then rinsing it off. "Means you're getting over all that." He kissed Jay tenderly. "Been way too long since we've been able to spend some time together," he purred.

"A normal day is too long." Jay chuckled and kissed him back with a bit of fire. "I missed you, even as short as that mission was."

"Mmm ... and then you had that trip to Garosh with Shi all to yourself," Fenrik purred deeply. "Up for some shower play?"

"Always," Jay grinned and slipped a hand between them to tease Fenrik's sheath. "I love how you feel."

"It's more than mutual," Fenrik rumbled, his shaft starting to harden as he pressed Jay's back against the tile wall of the shower, running his hands down to caress the powerfully-built tom's ass.

"Gods, I've missed this." Jay moaned as he surrendered his body to his mate. "You, hot showers ... No one else can make me feel like this."

"Mmm ... feel how?" The Panther rumbled deeply, spreading Jay's cheeks and fingering his anus as he rapidly hardened to Jay's attention and own arousal.

"Safe, warm ... home." He breathed and claimed a heated kiss. "Hot and bothered."

"Mmm...." Fenrik rumbled into the kiss, probing his mate's mouth as he shifted to spread Jay's legs, rubbing their cocks together before shifting to press his cock up against Jay's tight, hot entrance. He groaned with his mate as he sank into Jay, the dark caramel tom trapped between the shower wall and Panther as they moved in slow pleasure with each other.

"So tight," the Panther groaned, dark fur moving along Jay's own, his fingers tracing the slightly smaller tom's rosettes and fine stripes from memory as his barbed length moved in and out of his ass.

"So hot." Jay shuddered as his balls tightened, his cock pulsing in pleasure. "Missed you so much."

"Missed you too," Fenrik groaned, biting down lightly on Jay's soaked shoulder as the pleasure flowed and echoed across their bodies and minds. His barbs raked Jay's prostate as his balls pulled up close to his body, almost on the edge of an orgasm.

"Yessss!" Jay roared as his body tightened around his lover and his balls pulled up tightly to empty their contents across his belly.

Fenrik answered Jay's roar with one of his own, pumping his seed deep into the younger tom's ass, his claws raking Jay's back while their pleasure peaked and ebbed to a panting exchange of kisses and touches of long familiarity and affection.

"We're decided then?" Master Shan asked the Council after they'd finished deliberating about what to do with the ogre family. "Contact the Ithorian councilors in charge of the Telosian Restoration Project, see if they can find a responsible niche for the ogres, and keep them in the Coruscani Preserve until we find out?"

"It seems the most responsible answer," Master Yamari said to a nod from both avians on the Council, Masters Krry'nnu and T'qu'l.

"Master Noloth, I will leave contacting the Ithorians to you," Master Shan said easily as no objection came from any of the other Councilors. "Which leaves us with the question of Padawan Clawson's solo mission. I believe we can all agree that his skills need to be tested more seriously before he is Knighted?"

"*Yes,*" Master Essani agreed first, though they all could feel the lack of contention amongst them. "*I would suggest that if we can arrange it, that a mission be given before he has given his second report. He knows as well as we do that he did better than expected on his Solo mission and just how unusual it is to have such a performance be insufficient. We will see a more accurate representation of his choices as a Knight if he is not aware he is still being tested.*"

"Agreed." Master Yamari nodded. "He is unusually sensitive to being tested, as we have seen in his Knowledge and other Trials."

Master Kareth smiled slightly and keyed something into her console. "I was going to wait until latter in the session to bring this up, but a perfect situation presented itself only a few hours ago. Alderaan requested our assistance in finding a serial bomber, and named Jay Clawson in particular, regardless of his rank. His talents did not go completely unnoticed after the Kallarak Amphitheater incident."

"*I believe this would be reason to delay his Knighting, even if we did not have doubts.*" Master Essani commented. "*I have not seen such a direct reflection of our needs in the Will of the Force in some time.*"

"More than enough reason," Master Noloth agreed. "And the trip will leave him with enough time to contemplate the unusual reaction he had."

"Master Essani, will you contact him?" Master Surool asked her.

"*Yes, Master Surool,*" the Kushiban agreed, sitting up and making the connection to her Padawan across their weakening link and mentally winced when it became clear that he was still greeting his mates.

Jay roared, his burning seed rushing into Shi's welcoming body even as Fenrik tightened his jaws on Jay's scruff and picked up his pace, seeking to come himself before Jay's ended.

The second roar that echoed through the room was muffled by Jay's fur, Shivasta crying out as she came with her two mates. The three of them lay still in a sweaty, contented pile of fur and flesh before Jay became aware of Essani's voice in the back of his mind.

"*I'm sorry to interrupt you Jay,*" she told him. "*But we have just become aware of a matter that requires your Gift.*"

"*I'll be ready in a few minutes, Master.*" He responded without a trace of the frustration or irritation that almost had to be there as he disentangled himself from his mates far too soon as far as any of them were concerned. "*Where?*"

"*Alderaan,*" she told him. "*The details will be on the Sharufa when you are ready. Force be with you.*"

"*Understood, Master.*" Jay replied. "I have a mission on Alderaan." He explained to Shi and Fenrik. "Have fun while I'm gone."

"Mmm... don't be gone any longer than you have to be," Fenrik murmured, kissing him before he got out from between them.

"Love you Jay," Shi smiled. "Force be with you; come back home safe."

"I will," he chuckled softly and traced his hand along their entwined legs on his way out of the room. He reached out to the Sharufa to start going over the briefing while he cleaned up.

Jay relaxed in Sharufa's pilot's seat as Alderaan's gorgeous blue-green globe came into view only a few hours outside of Coruscant. Here in the core, it could take longer to navigate the two solar systems than the space between them. Of all the core worlds, it was one of the few that still looked pristine. It was an expensive effort for the world, but one they still deemed worthwhile.

"Try to raise Sennif Ortol." He instructed Sharufa easily as he began to quietly browse the relevant news and files on the bombings. According to the files, they'd all been very public, usually timed around political events. Clearly, somebody was trying to influence the upcoming elections.

"Jedi Clawson?" His contact's voice spoke over link to the planet clearly.

"Yes," Jay replied easily. "Where is the best place to land? Sharufa doesn't need a spaceport."

"The spaceport," the Fox said seriously. "There's a fair amount of traffic in and out, but we prefer that it be obvious the Jedi have sent somebody to investigate at the Count's request."

"Understood. Will someone be there to meet me?"

"I will," the Fox offered. "You've been cleared for docking slip Zeta-9."

"Understood. I'll be down in a few minutes." Jay told him and closed the connection to enter the relatively uncongested patterns ... uncongested by Coruscani standards at least.

He touched down fairly easily, the prescribed landing zone already cleared for his access. He could see the red-furred Fox waiting for him nearby, alone. With several hours of flight to prepare, Jay was ready as soon as he stood and made a dignified appearance in his full robes, hood and all, with his Padawan braid tucked back along his neck. He may not be a Knight yet, but there was no reason to advertise that fact.

The Fox greeted him with a bow as he walked down the Sharufa's ramp.

"Jedi Clawson," he said politely. "Count Koron is grateful you arrived so quickly."

"Fortunately I was on Coruscant when the request arrived." Jay told him easily. "In what capacity will I be assisting the investigation?"

"In any capacity you are able," the Fox answered just as easily. "Primarily investigative and trying to locate the bombs before they go off. I understand you have a unique talent with things like this?"

"Yes," he nodded. "It is not flawless, but I can usually get more information out of objects than most."

"How useful would it be for disarming a device if you found it before it went off?" Sennif asked him.

"I have managed it before. How vulnerable a device is to my talent depends a great deal on the type of device. From the reports, these are not the easiest kind to deal with, but far from the most difficult."

"That's good," the Fox nodded. "Count Koron is very concerned about these explosions; he's concerned that the next might happen during this week's address to his constituents."

They left the spaceport; Jay couldn't help but notice that they were moving through the most heavily populated parts of it, where he would be seen with the Count's aide by the most people. His presence was being advertised subtly, but to judge by the looks he was getting by the locals, it would prove to be effectively as well.

He could hardly blame the Count for the move. Purely political or not, it would calm the people, and that too was part of his duties as a Jedi. As much as politics irritated him, he was fully aware of the needs of the Order were sometimes purely political. Jedi were feared by evil and respected by most because of walks just like this one that showed their presence before action was taken and problems solved. It would serve the Order as well as the Count when he succeeded.

"It would be a likely target," Jay nodded inside his hood. "I would like to see any remains you have of the previous bombs."

"We can arrange that," Sennif agreed easily. "There isn't much, not of the core devices, but some of the earlier ones were less efficient, I understand." They reached a small air car, and Sennif held the door open for Jay to climb in.

"Sometimes the smallest pieces can tell a great deal." He said simply and settled easily in the air car. "I may be able to glean useful information from the locations as well."

"The planetary security forces are eager for you to look at them," Sennif agreed, climbing in and taking off. "To be honest, we simply aren't set up to handle something like this. It's upsetting the people quite a bit, understandably so, and our police forces are set up for handling minor disturbances, not mass murder."

"I do not know of any police force that is," Jay nodded slightly. "It is not a common event, thankfully."

"I'd hate to live on a world where it was," the Fox agreed. "Do you want to visit the latest blast site first, or see the parts of the devices we've recovered?"

"The devices. Has anyone attempted to reconstruct them?"

"The police forces, no," Sennif explained, turning the air-car down one of the quieter side-streets of the district. "Count Koron hired somebody to reconstruct one of the early ones, and to develop the analyses of the blast sites, but she had to leave the planet before the third blast happened."

"Yes, extensive training was evident, but not the contacts to acquire detonite in quantity or other military grade supplies." Jay nodded thoughtfully. "As damaging as they have been, it does mean that they require knowledge of the location and a good deal of time to prepare. That is to our advantage in several ways. It also means that they are unlikely to be working with a large group."

"Unfortunately, we haven't been able to determine the locations ahead of time," Sennif pointed out, pulling up outside the ornate building that served as police headquarters around here. "Or even why they're doing what they are, beyond theories."

"Theories are where knowledge begins." Jay said as they got out of the air car. "We will have more than before soon."

"Hopefully," the Fox agreed, leading Jay through the quiet building. The young tom could feel the tension in the air; it was quiet, but everybody felt like they were just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Given the situation, that was about right too. They had nothing to do but wait for the next bomb.

He was more than a little surprised to feel how little irritation existed at his presence; quite a few of the officers were grateful for his arrival, hopeful.

They seemed almost as helpless as the civilians.

"Sergeant Gavin," Sennif said to a middle-aged Doberman as they approached him. "Jedi Clawson has arrived."

"Ah, it is good to meet you," Gavin extended his hand. "How much have you gotten to read on the case?"

"Most of the reports," Jay acknowledged and shook his hand firmly. "I wanted to see the evidence. Has a Force Sensitive been involved yet?"

"No," the Doberman said easily. "I'm afraid we haven't had any available to us with any sort of skill in dealing with situations like this."

"I'll leave you two to handle this; I would like a report at the end of the day," Sennif said, backing off as Gavin nodded.

"I'll show you to what we've been able to put back together so far," he offered Jay, who nodded and followed the canine into an evidence workroom strewn with the remains of something like a half-dozen bombs, each on it's own table.

"Most of these are from the first two blasts," he explained. "After that, they seem to have perfected the art of making sure the blast destroys any evidence we can find."

Jay nodded and walked to the table with the most bits of things and began to brush his fingers lightly over the objects, coaxing what he could of their last moments 'whole'.

It wasn't easy; they seemed less than willing to 'talk' with him at first. He got a mental image of somebody planting them; they were skilled, knew where to place them to maximize the damage, but he couldn't actually see who it was for some reason. That was something they weren't willing to give up.

The explosives that had been privately made were a little more forthcoming, but mostly about how and where they'd been made. It wasn't a full-scale laboratory, but whatever it was had been capable of producing large amounts of the highly unstable chemicals necessary. Almost pure, no less; it wasn't a complete hole in the wall.

It was much less than he was hoping for, and the building directly around the primary blasts had been vaporized by it. From the schematics, there was no one way to those locations either. It made the odds he could get anything useful from the buildings unlikely, though he'd try.

"They're well-organized and very skilled." Jay said quietly. "And they have a Sensitive doing the most critical work."

"Do you think it might be connected to the Amphitheater bombing on Coruscant?" Gavin asked him.

"It is possible," he admitted. "It is not the same people, but it could be the same group. We have not captured two of their leaders yet. Do you have a holonet room I can use for several hours?"

"We don't," Gavin admitted, "but the Count may. We've only got a small transceiver for the network here. He's scheduled to give an address at a similar location in a few days," the Doberman explained. "We're particularly concerned that they might attempt something similar here."

Jay nodded. "The best precaution is to increase security where the bombs are most likely to be with people. The Sensitive with them will likely be able to get any droid or security system to look the other way. Have any of the bomb sites been opened to the public since?"

"Only for a few supervised memorial ceremonies," Gavin explained. "And we have taken additional precautions already. That is something we're set up for."

"Good," he nodded. "I'd like to see the sites then. The devices aren't providing much, but the buildings may."

"Will you need transportation, or do you have your own available?" The Doberman asked him.

"I do not have an air car," he shook his head slightly. "My ship is likely a bit big for it."

"If you would like, we could loan you a speeder for the duration of the investigation," Gavin offered. "The targets have all been at ground-level anyways."

"Thank you, Sergeant." Jay inclined his head politely. "It would be most useful."

"I'll show you to the vehicle pool, you can pick out one of them," he nodded, starting down the corridor.

Jay followed easily; his measured pace and robes making it look almost like he was floating just above the floor. He couldn't help but find the whole 'Inscrutable Jedi' thing he was expected to project outside the Temple both amusing and silly. But right now, it was fun to have people not asking him how he did this or that. He was finally the professional to be taken as his word, not the student that had to explain or justify everything to someone.

Besides, there were definite perks to being recognized as the guy who'd been asked to come and take care of a problem too big for them to handle around here. If he wasn't already used to the sometimes heady feeling of everybody looking at him with that hint of deference and awe, it could prove downright intoxicating.

He could easily see how some Jedi could fall to craving it or take it too far. He couldn't help but remember that it was the lessons from his parents, aunts and uncles, not the Temple, that held him in check the best. This too was part of his heritage. The awe and being the 'fix it' people were very much what the Clawsons were. They faced the same fears from outsiders too, as the masters of strange abilities.

Fortunately, it wasn't a major issue here and now.

He was led back into the vehicle pool where a number of speeders and small air cars were waiting, various people tinkering away at them.

"Just give Sparks your transponder ID on the way out and we'll make sure all the files we have are transmitted to it," Sergeant Gavin told Jay easily.

"Thank you for your assistance, Sergeant." Jay inclined his head slightly as he began to move among the vehicles, seeking one that resonated with the kind of traits he wanted. Traits that most said shouldn't be there, but all who deal with high performance things knew were. Each creation had a personality and quirks of its own.

He finally found one that felt right, and was looking it over when somebody walked up behind him.

"Figures that the Jedi'd walk in and manage to find himself the most temperamental speeder we've got here," a deep voice chuckled behind him.

"They are the best performers." Jay replied simply to the buff Lion.

"Yeah, when they work right," the Lion agreed. "Every time somebody tries taking this guy out, it's maybe a half-hour before they bring him back and want to switch for another one. By the way, I'm Sparks."

"Clawson," Jay introduced himself. "I have a talent with temperamental machines. It's why I'm here."

"The bombings," the Lion nodded. "Well, if you can get him to work out for you, you've made a good choice. Fastest speeder we've got, just about the most maneuverable. I've done some tweaking on him personally, working on his flight ceiling, but there's only so much you can really do with that."

"I'll try to return him in a condition that someone else might be able to use it." Jay winked at him and opened the speeder's door. "Sharufa brings a new level to fussy."

"Just make sure you document any tinkering you do," Sparks chuckled, shaking his head. "They'll get awfully peevish if I don't know what somebody did to 'im."

"I understand," he nodded and slipped into the driver's seat, bringing the power up and crooning softly to the speeder before it lifted off and darted from the vehicle bay.

Sparks just shook his head and went to go transmit the speeders' transponder code to Sergeant Gavin before he got back to work. That cat would either be back soon, or that speeder would never be the same again. He had a gut feeling it would be the second.

Jay sighed as he finished his examination of the sixth blast site. He couldn't say he'd expected to get much, given the blast had all but vaporized everything within several yards, but it did mean that he really was down to using his skills, not his Force abilities. Skills that were largely untested. Some of that didn't even exist yet in the Republic.

He walked slowly to the speeder, a decidedly 'male' speeder, and tried to work out what his best next move was.

"Excuse me?" Somebody asked, walking up to him. It was a Cheetah... female, by the looks of her under her dark, fairly unisex clothing. She was one of the mourners at the small memorial shrine just outside the site's boundaries; he recognized her from the way in. "Are you the Jedi they asked to come here?"

"Yes, ma'am." He nodded slightly to the woman likely a decade or more his senior. Attractive, but she had definitely left her youth for mature beauty.

"I just wanted to say it's good to know that somebody's finally doing something about these horrible attacks," she said softly. "Do you know where you're staying yet? I'd like to offer you dinner, if it wouldn't be a problem. I know Jedi usually don't carry much money with them."

"Your words are thanks enough, ma'am." He smiled slightly, though he had to admit company was appealing. He was already lonely for his mates. "There is no need."

"Please?" She smiled hopefully. "It's the least we can do, and it wouldn't be any imposition. I want to do something to thank you for helping us."

"Then I accept, and thank you for your hospitality." Jay bowed respectfully to her.

"You're more than welcome," she smiled, returning the bow. "Should I meet you somewhere, or would you rather meet me at my place in the Spacer Quarter at about eight tonight?" She asked, clearly just offering a convenient place and time to meet him.

"Your place would be welcome." Jay nodded slightly and stepped towards the speeder painted in police colors. "I will be there."

"All right," she smiled, brushing a strand of white hair back over her shoulder. "The Kelarin Towers; if I'm not there to meet you just ask them to call Stacey Young at the desk."

"I will, ma'am." He smiled slightly at her. "My apologies for leaving so quickly, but I do have work to do before we eat."

"Believe me, I understand," she nodded, stepping back and letting him get on his way. She smiled as he pulled away in his speeder; everything was going according to plan.

Stacey rumbled lightly as shi rode the lift down from her apartment to the ground level. Shi was wearing a burgundy dress that accented hir feminine figure nicely without being obviously suggestive; shi didn't particularly want to scare Clawson off tonight.

What shi did want to do was give him something else to think about; hopefully something that might distract him a little bit from his mission.

He may be a Jedi, but he was a young, strong male and shi'd met very few of the later that couldn't be tempted to distraction for a little while.

The door opened, and shi started out of the elevator, making hir way into the lobby where shi hoped he'd be waiting. Shi was a little early; and it turned out that he was as punctual as he was unusual, giving her several minutes to focus her mind on not giving away her plans. You couldn't be too careful with a Jedi.

Stacy smile warmly and went to greet him, pleased that he had left his concealing outer robe behind. He would definitely be a pleasure to bed if his well-muscled physique and layered cloth and leather outfit was any indication. He'd somehow managed to make Jedi robes look stylish. Sort of.

About as close as anybody came, at least.

"Glad you made it," shi smiled, inclining hir head slightly towards him as he walked in. "Do you want to eat in, or somewhere else?" Shi asked him.

"Whatever is most convenient for you, ma'am." He bowed politely.

"How about my place then," shi offered, making the decision quickly and turned to lead the way back to the lift. It would be easier to control everything there, and he clearly didn't object.

"Who did you lose?" Jay asked softly after the lift doors closed.

"Co-workers," Stacey admitted. It was close enough to true. "Some friends of mine were in the Plaza when the bomb hit. I was lucky I wasn't in it myself."

"You were spared for a reason," he said with the soft certainty of his training, the closest he could come to soothing words.

"I hope so," shi said softly. Of course, shi knew just how true that was, but shi kept hir mind and voice in her role. There were some days it paid to call in sick. The lift dinged as it reached the top, the doors sliding open.

"I hope you're not a vegetarian," shi smiled, changing the subject as they got off.

"Not at all." Jay actually chuckled. "I prefer meat."

"Good," shi smiled, leading him back to her apartment, waving her hand to signal the door to open. "I've got a friend at Latli's who came up with a new recipe that's just incredible."

"I'd be shocked if anything from Latli's wasn't." His eyes went a little wide for a moment. It was definitely not what he'd been expecting as a 'thank you dinner'. Latli's was a restaurant not even he could afford all that often, and tended to order when he had the money and excuse. Shi's Knighting would be such an event, especially with his coming before they could really celebrate. Such meals were never shared by just two.

"Like I said, I've got a friend who works there," shi chuckled, blushing a bit beneath hir fur as shi lead him in. "He's as grateful as I am. It should be up here in a few minutes; would you like something to drink before dinner?"

"Milk or water would be welcome, ma'am." He smiled and bit back a comment about how his mates would be jealous of the meal.

On the other hand, if it worked out well, maybe he could bring them back after he got back home.

"All right," shi nodded easily. "Make yourself comfortable," shi told him as shi walked into the other room. It gave him a chance to look around; whatever she did, it paid reasonably well. Probably a trader of some sort, given where she lived. Kelarin Towers wasn't one of the best places in Alderaan, but it was the higher end of middle-class for the Spacer Quarter.

It was comfortable to him. That was what struck him first. She had nice things and lived in a nice place, far nicer than his own at the Temple, but it did not reach the level of ostentatious. Everything was either practical, beautiful or comfortable if it wasn't all three. It was colorful and natural and organic artwork, not gold and gems.

"Have you been a Knight long?" Stacey asked as shi walked back in, carrying a glass of milk for him, and a glass of a dark wine about the same color as hir dress for hirself.

"I'm not one yet," Jay fingered his long, thin braid as he accepted the milk in his other hand. It was mildly temping to say he was one, no matter how short a time, but his Master hadn't cut his braid yet, so he wasn't, even if he had finished all his Trials. "I had not finished my report on my final Trial when I was needed here. I'll be Knighted when missions allow long enough at the Temple for it."

"Ah, I understand," shi nodded. That was something that could be useful - the Count calls for Jedi support, and the Jedi don't care enough to send a full Knight even. "How is your investigation going, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Not as quickly as I would like," he admitted. "Whoever is building the bombs can block my talent for reading objects, but I've begun to put together a pattern using other means since we spoke."

"Oh?" Shi asked, sipping hir wine. "Anything useful?"

"Some," he nodded. "Nothing I can talk about."

"Understandable," shi nodded. "Especially if you only just got started. Have you ever handled something like this before?" Shi asked, knowing the answer full well.

"Once," he nodded. "I worked the Kallarak Amphitheater bombing on Coruscant. It's why the Count asked for me, and not just Jedi help."

"That's good to hear," shi smiled. They'd definitely been right about who it was, then. "Anything from then helping out now?"

"Yes," he nodded seriously and took a sip of chilled milk. "I can't really talk about it, either."

He was doing a good job of keeping off any topics that would give her a solid idea of how much he knew, but she didn't think he knew too much yet.

Just in time, there was a knock at the door.

"That should be dinner," shi smiled, standing up and gesturing to open it and let the well-dressed Chadra-Fan through the door. The short, bat-like humanoid bustled in, whistling and chirping happily as he set up the meal.

"Padawan Clawson, this is T'achak Ta'avon," Stacey said by means of introduction. "He works for Latli's, and is glad to meet you," shi translated for him as trays that more than filled the long-fingered hands of the small chef/server were set up.

"It is a pleasure to meet a free Chadra-Fan." Jay smiled and bowed politely to that small bat-like humanoid. "Dinner smells delicious."

He received a few grateful and proud chirps in response.

"He says thank you, and that it's more a pleasure to be one," Stacey chuckled. "Though like most of them, it didn't much bother him." Shi took hir seat as T'achak pulled the lids off, letting out the potent scents of the exquisitely prepared sliced, roasted meats and stewed fruits from all across the galaxy.

The smell was enough to make Jay's mouth water as he followed suit and did his damnedest to remember his manners.

"It looks wonderful too." He purred deep in his chest. He loved this food.

"You've definitely outdone yourself this time," Stacey agreed, smiling to the chadra-fan. The small cook bowed with a cheerful chirp, then headed out to return to the restaurant he worked at.

"His old owner sent him to the Epicurium to learn to cook," Stacey explained, "things went from there after his status was found out." Shi took a small plate for hirself, passing the other over to Jay. "Help yourself."

"Ah, the danger of having your slave become known as a slave in the Republic." He chuckled and selected a hearty portion of the meat and vegetables. It was excellent food and he intended to eat well, there was certainly enough on the table, without taking so much that it looked like he was eating a lot. It was a fine line and he hated having to worry it about appearances.

Stacey took hir own portion, a little smaller, and started to eat some of the stewed fruit, letting the juice add some extra flavor to the meat.

"From what I've heard, nobody at Latli's has ever complained," shi grinned.

"I don't doubt it," Jay smiled and watched himself more than usual at a meal. Smaller bites, eating slower in general. It was always nice to savor a meal, but it was also an effort to remember too.

This was definitely worth it though. It tasted incredible. The meat all but melted on his tongue in a cascade of spices and flavors that were intoxicating in their own luxuriant way.

"Mmm ... I swear, the cooking there is enough to make people around here work for their raises without anything else," the Cheetah rumbled appreciatively as shi ate hir own portion.

"It is some of the best I've ever had," Jay nodded agreeably. He was honestly enjoying the food too much to notice something was just a little off ... and familiar ... about it.

Stacey smiled mentally as shi recognized the buzz she was getting, and that shi knew Jay would be feeling more strongly, from the heavily processed ryl spice T'achak put in this recipe. Shi honestly didn't know if the chadra-fan knew the effect it had on some of his customers, but shi knew full well how useful it could be.

Soon she could smell the distinctive edge on Jay's scent that marked his arousal, though he didn't show any other sign of what must be an almost painful erection.

Hir own body was just about as eager by the time they'd finished their first helpings.

"You like?" Shi asked him with a rumble, shifting slightly so he could pick up hir own scent.

"Very much," he nodded and licked his whiskers back, his body language changing subtly as he recognized that something was definitely off. She was attractive, but he shouldn't feel like this.

Shi recognized the 'now or never' moment, and shifted out of hir seat to cover the brief distance between them and kiss him, pressing hir body against his in all the right ways, at least as well as shi could the way he was sitting. He was hot, aroused and responded instinctively to claim hir mouth from hir kiss with much more skill than shi'd ever expected. The feel of hir rock hard cock against his own only seemed to excite him more.

Jay groaned deep in his chest, the body pressed against his exciting him in ways he didn't think possible. Hir breasts were firm and full against his chest, but where hir crotch pressed against him was the hard rod of a cock pressed against his own. It, and whatever was in the food or milk, was doing an exquisite job of locking his attention on the feline against him that so clearly wanted exactly what his body did.

Shi slipped hir hands under his robes, guiding him to his feet as shi worked their clothes off.

"Different type of hungry?" Shi asked him with a seductive rumble, familiar with the half-resistance, half-helping manner of a Ryl-drugged feline by now.

"Shouldn't." He gasped as hir hand closed around his straining cock, still enclosed by cloth. "We're drugged."

"It's okay," shi rumbled, kissing him again and felt his resistance take a sharp drop. "Something in a few of the recipes, it's legal." Shi added before claiming his mouth again, catching on that if he couldn't talk, he didn't think nearly as much.

"I-I'm mated." Jay made one last effort to pull away that didn't working nearly as well as it should have. Then shi had his mouth again, hir hand inside his trousers, stroking him, and the physical stimulus ganged up with the ryl to shut off his resistance to what was happening even better than the wine on Garosh had. This time though, he cried inside. He'd remember every moment of tonight, everything that happened, and he couldn't stop himself.

Shi worked his trousers off, hir cock outlined against hir silky dress as shi pressed him back against the wall. Shi used one hand to pull hir dress aside and rub hir cock against his and grinned at the way he shivered and thrust back against hir. The way he moved and reacted to the contact confirmed that he was into toms at least. Shi'd had enough practice reading bedmates to be sure of it, and that he did bottom. He was probably into females as well; he seemed to have a good idea what he was doing.

Stacy shivered hirself when shi felt a sharp pair of claws slice through her dress, sending it fluttering to the floor in several large ribbons.

Shi rumbled, kissing him hungrily and spreading hir legs slightly; he could either press into hir, or shi could do the same to him, from this position. Shi gasped as sharp teeth dug into hir shoulder enough to draw a little blood and shi was suddenly on the floor with hir prey over hir.

The groan he drew from hir was part pain and a lot of pleasure as he drove into hir body, his teeth still in hir shoulder and his claws running down hir body. Shi was used to this sort of treatment, and had to admit shi enjoyed it, giving as well as receiving. Shi wondered idly if shi'd get the chance.

It didn't much matter; shi squeezed down around his length, raking his back with hir own claws as shi kept him occupied with their mutual pleasure. Hir body began to twitch too soon, on top of hir rubbing hir cock between their bodies as he pounded into hir wet sex with the full abandon of surrendering to the Ryl in his system.

His fur and flesh teased hir barbs, his own raking hir insides mercilessly. Shi dug hir claws lightly into his back as shi let out a lusty rowl of pleasure, hir sex spasming around his length, hir cock right on the edge as shi milked him hungrily. Shi lost it completely when his claws dug into hir ass and his bite tightened in the crook of hir neck just before he came hard with a growl, pumping hir body full of his seed.

Shi rolled over on top of him with a rumble, pulling hir feminine sex off his cock and pressing hirs up against the tight, furless pucker of his ass. Shi started to press forward, careful about how much shi moved hir top half until he let hir shoulder go with a groan and surprisingly sudden shift to submissiveness.

Given hir preferences, shi'd have just let him keep going, but shi needed to be in one reasonably solid piece in the morning and his manner wasn't giving good odds of that if shi had let him go.

Shi started thrusting with abandon, biting down on his shoulder lightly, taking over his role as shi worked hir way towards fucking him senseless.

Shivasta stiffened slightly in Fenrik's arms as the two snuggled up together in one of the side gardens.

"Something's wrong," she murmured. "Jay...."

"I feel it," he nodded and hugged her tightly. "Can't tell what it is though."

"Neither can I," Shivasta admitted, pressing close to her mate. "You don't think he might have...."

"I think we'd have a coal-gray kushiban yelling for us by now if it was that serious." He tried to reassure her. "She is still his Master. He's probably disturbed by something he's involved with. I don't think he's ever seen a mass slaughter before, much less six of them."

"You're right," Shi admitted. "I just hope he's all right. Think we should leave a message with the Sharufa for him, check if he's all right?"

"It never hurts to remind him we love him," Fenrik smiled and nuzzled her.

"No," she smiled, kissing him gently. "It doesn't. Why don't we go leave the message, then we can have dinner while I help you get your material for that trip to the Ice Crypts ready?"

"Sounds good," he nodded and twisted to his feet and offered her a hand up. "You know them much better than I do."

"Doesn't hurt that I spent a good chunk of my time as a student exploring them," she smiled, accepting his hand and standing up. "Much to the chagrin of a few Knights," she chuckled.

"What Knight wants to admit they were out-sneaked by an Initiate?" He chuckled easily. "That should have clued everyone in that you wouldn't be a perfectly party-line Jedi."

"What, you never sneaked out when you were a kid?" Shi giggled as they started back towards their quarters. "And to think, I thought I was the quiet, boring one."

"Who hasn't? Though I don't think either of us snuck off quite like Jay did."

"Most of us didn't sneak off to major conventions," Shivasta chuckled. "Come on; let's go make sure he didn't sneak off again."

Stacy shivered in memory of the hours it had taken to wear Clawson down enough to drug him with an actual knockout agent. The motion ruffled hir short spotted fur as shi stepped out of the shower from cleaning up. Shi still had wounds to bind, mostly hir shoulder and scruff, but the mission was going perfectly.

Shi was working on hir shoulder when the comm system beeped for her attention with a call from the one paying her for this.

Shi didn't bother to dress, just finishing up with the light bandage and walking into hir private room. Shi started the holo-transmission; glancing back to make sure Clawson was still unconscious.

"Young," shi said, toweling off hir white hair and short, damp fur.

"Progress report?" The Dalmatian bitch asked evenly.

"Clawson's unconscious," shi said easily. "And very good in bed, especially for a Jedi. I'll be needing some of your men to come help me transport him; you didn't tell me he was as big as a Puma when you gave me the initial description. Got to be almost a hundred pounds on me, and there's no way I can haul that as dead weight."

"Very well," the bitch nodded and typed something out on a control panel off screen. "Did he provide anything useful before he passed out?"

"Not much," Stacey shrugged, grabbing a shirt and pulling it on, the tight fabric clinging to hir figure. "Don't think he has much; didn't give him much time. He might suspect something, but I doubt he has any proof who's involved."

"Excellent." The Dalmatian nodded sharply. "Help will be there shortly to move him."

"I'll be waiting. With a little something extra," Stacey smirked, holding up a small disk. "He mentioned mates; I don't suppose you happen to know who they might be? You know enough other stuff about him it seems."

That raised an eyebrow, and then a vicious grin. "I will soon." She rumbled. "The Council may find that interesting as well. Anything else?"

"Lightsabers, robes if you happen to be interested in what a Jedi wears when he's trying to dress up," Stacey said. "He had a credstick on him, but it's passcoded. Maybe hand it to one of your techs to try and decode or something."

"All good," her grin widened. "I think I will put together a nice little package for his friends."

"Or I could ransom them back to them," Stacey pointed out with a casual shrug. "Unless, of course, you might care to make it worth my while to make sure you get them instead?"

The Dalmatian rolled her eyes. "As if the Jedi will care about clothes and a lightsaber. I will see it is worth your while to include them when my men pick him up."

"The Jedi, perhaps not, but his mate ... I'll be waiting, with him, and with them. If you don't mind, I'll go get dressed before your men get here."

"Very well." She nodded and clicked the link off.

Stacey grabbed a pair of pants, pulling them on with a self-satisfied rumble. All things considered, it had been an excellent night.

"This is bull," Crado grumbled, leaning back against the wall next to the force field that held their prisoner. "He's got enough tranq's in him to drop a rancor, I didn't sign on to babysit vegetables!" The Cathar grunted, puffing his mane back out of his eyes, his tusks locked in an irritated look.

"It's not like the boss can leave a Jedi unguarded, even a naked, unconscious one." His Wolf companion shook his head. "He's not a bad looking one either."

"For all the good that does us," the tawny-furred leonine snorted. "Maybe if the boss'd let us take advantage of it, this job wouldn't be so friggin' dull. Oughtta be helpin' the strike teams set up."

"Yeah, but the boom will be just as big as long as he stays down." Grenin motioned towards Jay.

"Yeah, yeah," Crado grumbled. "Still ticked the next big bang's gonna hit while we're busy playing babysitter. Maybe if it wasn't just interrupting another of Koron's speeches about 'fixing the Republic' it'd be better."

"Yeah, that is getting kinda old ...." Grenin paused, and then glared at the feline in the cell. "Damn. Go get another shot. He's waking up."

"You'd think the boss'd just spring for a cell we could flood with knockout gas," Crado muttered, moving over to a nearby medical case and pulling out a dart gun, loading it with a sedative dart with about half-again the standard dose.

"It's not like she designed this place." The Wolf rolled his eyes and took the dart gun, dropping the force field. "When you're taking over abandoned facilities, it's not like you get your choice." He added and shot the dart squarely into Jay's rump.

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Crado muttered, bringing the force field back up. "At least it's somethin' to do while they set up the next hit."

Shivasta stretched out languidly in bed as she woke up. Fenrik had already gotten up and gone to complete his morning exercises; in all fairness, she should have been up with him, but she'd decided to take the morning off and check to see if Jay had replied to their message when she woke up.

She pulled on her light summer-wraps climbing out of bed and moving over to the message center. She opened up her list of waiting messages, frowning when she saw there weren't any from Jay. He was probably just too busy with his mission. Still, there were a couple waiting for herů.

'Something you should know.' Well, that was an ominous subject... and it was from a Stacey Young, somebody she didn't recognize. Frowning, Shivasta opened the recording, sitting to watch as the lean Cheetah who'd sent it appeared in the glowing image.

"Shi?" Fenrik bolted into the room a few moments later, his head still ringing from her silent emotional outburst, and skidded to a stop as he caught sight of the holographic message. "Fuck."

In the life-sized hologram, Jay was in the middle of fucking a Cheetah herm neither of them knew. The artificial roar as he came inside of hir coincided almost perfectly with a barely-stifled rush of anger from Shivasta.

The Ice Walker forced herself to reach out and turn off the recording, despite the fact that Fenrik could tell she was having a hard time doing so. It was almost like a train wreck, in a way. He recognized every one of her responses too; it was little, if any, different from when she'd first caught Jay and Fenrik together almost eleven years ago.

"Shi had to be lying," Shivasta murmured quietly, trembling slightly as she sat back down and Fenrik wrapped his arms around her, nuzzling her.

"What did shi say?" He asked softly.

"That he met hir on Alderaan... that shi invited him to dinner and...." She gestured towards the projector, taking a few deep breaths to try and calm down. "Said he told hir he had mates afterwards and shi thought we should know about what happened. It can't be true," she murmured. "He wouldn't do that to us."

"Remember what we felt from him last night?" He asked her quietly. "There are some legal things that can make a feline loose control like that."

"Ryl, for one," Shi nodded slightly. "Still... he's managed to control himself before...." She swallowed, taking a few more breaths and calming herself. "You're right, it has to be what happened last night... even if it happened like shi said... maybe he didn't want it to, just couldn't stop himself."

"I have to wonder about the motive of recording that, and in sending it to us," Fenrik hugged her tightly. "After all this time, he wouldn't hurt you like this, not if he had a choice. We have no way to know what's off screen. It's not just drugs that could have forced him to perform for hir. He might have been protecting someone ... I'm sure he'll tell us when he gets back."

"I hope he can tell us sooner than that," she murmured, pressing back against Fenrik. "You want to watch it, before I delete the damned thing?"

"It might have important information in it," he sighed and kissed her neck. "If nothing else, if this wasn't willing, I want to have a little talk with this person."

"You're not the only one," she muttered, turning to kiss his cheek lightly. "Hope you don't mind if I pass. I'm already going to have to spend a while down in the Frozen Garden meditating to get that out of my system."

"I don't mind at all." He kissed her softly in return and let her go. "I don't think I'm going to watch unless it's needed. Something's seriously not right with the whole thing."

"Let's check with Master Essani later, see if she knows anything we don't," Shivasta suggested, standing up and going to change into heavier robes for the Frozen Garden. "After I've straightened myself out. Acting like I was a teenager again," she muttered.

"It'll be all right," Fenrik squeezed her hand. "Jay's survived hell in his life already; he'll never let this bring him down."

"Just a little nervous about him being away without either of us there," she admitted, returning the squeeze. "Then that message... I'm just off-balance today. I'll be okay, okay?" She smiled softly, kissing her Panther mate gently.

"All right. Settle yourself. We can't talk to Essani until the Council is over for the day anyway."

"Right," she nodded, kissing him again. "I'll see you later, love."

"Master Kareth?" Master Shan raised an eyebrow at the Grey Vixen's decidedly pale expression when she entered the Council Chamber after they had broken for a short lunch.

"Where is Master Essani?" The Vixen asked him, a sense of urgency in her tone, a small package beneath her arm. "We just received a package regarding Padawan Clawson."

"*I am here.*" She responded from the opening doors. "*What has happened?*"

"The people behind the bombings have captured him," the Vixen said softly, setting the package down and opening the box to reveal the kat's unique lightsabers, Gloveatrix and his robes, neatly folded beneath the crossed weapons.

"*He is still alive.*" Master Essani said firmly. "*Unconscious, but alive.*"

"How did this happen?" Master Shan asked the Vixen. "Does it say?"

"He was drugged during a meal, then... there are more details in a holo-video they sent along, but I would rather not go into them. He wasn't harmed physically, but I suspect he will have a great deal of trouble when he is released. What they did may well have longer-lasting psychological effects."

"We'll have to arrange a rescue mission," Master Shan said, glancing at a nearby chronometer. The rest of the Council would be back soon. "Master Doruth, perhaps."

"*No.*" Master Essani looked at the elder Doberman she was about to take over from. "*He has been held for less than a day. He is still in a position to free himself.*"

"Very well," Master Shan said, inclining his head slightly in acceptance that a Solo Trial had rules of its own and interference was to be kept at an absolute minimum. "However, we must still consider the well-being of the Alderaanians. Master Jolani, perhaps? In case Padawan Clawson is unable to escape in time to prevent further tragedy."

"*She will likely welcome the break from squabbling nobles.*" Master Essani agreed.

"I will inform her before our next meeting," Master Kareth nodded in agreement, closing the package. "Master Essani, I believe you are best qualified to determine what to do with this."

"*Thank you. Please have Jolani pick up his things before she leaves.*" the kushiban agreed. She was confident that he would return; he might be rather unorthodox, but she had no doubts about his abilities, but there was no reason why he should be without his lightsabers if Jolani met him first. She slid the package back by her cushions telekinetically, the three Masters taking their places before the rest of the Council returned.

"You wanted to see me, Master?" Fenrik asked in real concern as he entered Essani's quarters later that night.

"*Yes.*" She didn't bother to control the deep grey color of her fur. "*Both you and Shivasta need to know this, but I believe you know best how to tell her what has happened. The Council received a package earlier today. It contained Jay's clothing, equipment and lightsabers ... and this vid-disk. It is very personal, but you should know what happened to him before he returns.*"

The lack of surprise in the Panther's reaction was almost startling to Essani; he was concerned, but he didn't seem to be any more worried than he had been before.

"What happened?" He asked the kushiban.

"*He was drugged during a meal and ... raped.*" She had difficulty just saying it. Watching it had been torture. But to call it anything else was to lessen what she had seen in her Padawan's face even as his body was in pleasure. "*They sent us a vid of the entire event.*"

"Us too," Fenrik admitted quietly. Essani could feel the tension in him, but he kept it under control well. "Though they made it look much more willing on his part, couched it with a message that made it sound like the Cheetah was letting us know he was cheating. I'm surprised they thought two different messages would work, but not too surprised to find out what really happened."

"*You saw hir face?*" Essani focused on what could be a way to find the one who had hurt Jay in such an intimate way. "*It was carefully blurred in what they sent us.*"

"We saw it, but it may have been disguised," Fenrik said, shaking his head slightly. "It was very good if it was. We should still be able to recover the message, if you want to review it. I asked Shi not to delete it until we knew it wasn't needed for evidence. The first part at least; I don't see any reason to keep the 'proof.'"

"*Until we know if Jay wishes to prosecute hir, they should be kept. It is invaluable evidence in such a case.*" Essani said quietly, her own distress at it clear. "*If he does not, then we can destroy them.*"

"Very well," Fenrik nodded. "I'll make a copy and get it to you; I imagine Shi would rather not know about it. Her gut reaction was bad enough without being told to keep a copy around."

"*That was why I called you, and not her, to tell this to. She is a Healer, but her issues are such I was not sure it would be wise for her to see what happened. I expect this will be difficult enough for Jay to deal with without her anger to counter as well.*"

"Once she knows that happened, he'll be her first concern," Fenrik said certainly. "I'll go handle the copy, and fill her in ... Master Essani, do you know if they still have him?"

"*I expect so. I do not believe he has regained consciousness yet.*" She admitted.

"If necessary, I request permission for Shivasta and I to be involved in the rescue," Fenrik said softly. "Or retrieval, if it goes that far."

"*Granted.*" Master Essani nodded to him. "*I intend to give him more than a single day to free himself. I expect the situation will change rapidly once he is conscious. Not even the best Jedi can do much while unconscious.*"

"Understood," Fenrik nodded, taking the recording and getting ready to leave. "I just almost feel sorry for whoever's watching him when he wakes up."

"*I do not.*" The Master flashed red for a split second before shifting back to a lighter gray. "*Thank you for taking care of Shivasta. Master Ursal and I are here to help if you need it. It could be a long, painful time for all of you in healing.*"

"I understand, Master," Fenrik nodded. "And I'll make sure Jay and Shi do as well. Jay especially."

Jay kept his body as still as it had been unconscious. If his guards realized he was at all conscious, he'd be tranq'ed again and any chance of getting out would be gone for that many more hours. He opened his Force-senses a little more, locking onto the mind of the one right outside the cell.

"*Sleep.*" He crooned to it with enough power to easily overcome the unprepared mind.

Then he reached out to his cell and worked on getting the force field to shut down.

It was one of the things he adored about modern security systems in the Republic; they practically begged him to turn them off. The force field fell quickly. He was free, but he was also naked and unarmed with at least one guard who was awake and probably about to return.

He reached out with the Force again, coaxing a map and directions from the central computer system before lifting the tusked feline with the Force. With only one other person around according to the building, it wouldn't be hard to get out. He drew a breath to center himself and took off en route to where Sharufa would be soon.

"Hey Cra - the fuck?" Jay winced as he realized that the other guard was just rounding the corner. The Wolf reached for his blaster. Jay was pretty sure it was set to stun, but he was not going to let himself be put under again. The look of disbelief as the Wolf pulled the trigger uselessly told him they didn't know quite what he was capable of.

"*Sleep.*" Jay lashed out with the Force again, this time directed at the Wolf's mind. It put him under quickly, and the kat retrieved the blaster. It wasn't as effective as his lightsabers would be, but he had no clue where they were at the moment.

Jay lifted him to join the Cathar in the air and headed for outside and his ship where clothes, contact with the authorities and a place to secure these two were until he had a chance to interrogate them properly.

He managed to make it out to the ship without further incident, though he had to wonder how long he'd been out. To judge by his stomach, it had been more than a full day, probably longer, but not so long than he was more than very hungry.

At least the Sharufa was glad he was back; he could practically feel the ship's pleasure to have him 'home' again.

"Good to be back, Sharufa." He let out a breath as he stepped inside his ship. "Get Sennif Ortol and Sergeant Gavin on the com." He ordered as he moved back to put his prisoners in an impromptu set of cells.

He was just about to turn on the shower when the message came through.

"Padawan Clawson? Where have you been?" Sennif asked on the other end.

"In a cell at the Kimfu-Sujea supermax prison." Jay managed to keep the irritation from his voice. "The next target is the Count's speech."

"This is Sergeant Gavin," the Doberman said, apparently at the same location as the Fox. "We'll arrange for extra security at the speech; will you need assistance when you get here?"

Jay paused, weighing the relative value of the extra help compared to the risk of more lives. "Hunting live bombs is part of my specialty, but I'm not going to turn down help. Do make sure anyone who does join me understands it is voluntary and risky.

"Also, please have Stacy Young picked up for assault, kidnapping and as part of the bombing conspiracy. Cheetah herm, usually dresses as a woman. Shi lives at Kelarin Towers, apartment 173. I have two other members of the group with me who know who the ringleader is, though I don't yet."

"We'll send somebody over to deal with it," Gavin said. "Where will you be going next?"

"Where do you want the prisoners?" He asked simply. "Then to the Corona Amphitheater to find the bombs and set up for any more trouble."

"Bring the prisoners to headquarters then," the Doberman said easily. "You'll have a visitor when you get here."

"One who'll be able to return a few things you lost the other night," Master Jolani said on the other end. "Though now that you're free, I'll leave the rest of the mission in your hands."

"Yes, Master Jolani." Jay couldn't keep a touch of surprise from his voice even as his mind scrambled for how she'd come by his equipment and came up with little that wouldn't severely stress those closest to him. "I will be there within an hour."

"Looking forward to seeing you; I'll bring you up to date once you're here," she said.

"Thank you, Master." Jay replied simply.

"Should we cancel the speech?" Sennif asked.

"Not yet. I will have more accurate information to go by when I've had a few minutes to talk with the prisoners. Please do stay with the Sergeant until I arrive. What I learn from the prisoners you should both know."

"Will do," the Fox agreed. "Hope to see you soon, Padawan Clawson."

"Soon." Jay agreed and closed the connection. "Open voice recording for transmission." He ordered, delaying his shower for a few more minutes.

"Shi, Fenrik, Master. I'm about five minutes outside a prison cell right now, I'm not sure what happened that put my lightsabers in Master Jolani's hands and her here, but I can't imagine it looks good to you. I'm fine. I lost a couple meals and I'm sore, but it's nothing a little time won't fix. I'll send you a more complete message later, after I've gotten what useful intel I can out of my former guards and brought the locals up to date. Take care." He ended the recording and turned his shower on while Sharufa sent the message on its way, all while trying not to think about why he was sore and needed this shower so badly.

Jay drew a deep breath to center himself as best he could before the hatch opened after Sharufa landed behind police headquarters. The locals would never know anything had happened from his appearance, but the Master waiting for him would likely be quite disturbed by the way he must look in the Force right now. He just hoped he wouldn't have to convince her he could finish the mission.

He started down to the briefing room, still wondering just how she'd gotten his lightsabers back. He'd been half-convinced he'd have to make new ones after this mission.

"Padawan Clawson," Sergeant Gavin said briskly, the Doberman coming out to meet him. "We heard your ship coming in; this way please."

"The prisoners are still on board." He informed him as they walked. "They can be transferred when you are ready."

"I'll have men take care of them during the briefing," he nodded. "Did you get anything useful from them?"

"Details on their plan, purpose and who their immediate superior is." Jay nodded. "If we move quickly, we should be able to put a solid dent in their activities on Alderaan."

"Excellent," Gavin nodded, stopping at the door to the briefing room. "The Jedi who came from the Temple is here as well; she said she'd want to talk to you after the briefing, in private."

"I understand," Jay nodded easily before they entered and he caught the controlled look Jolani gave him, in the Force and with her eyes. Whatever had happened there, it had been bad, and the way he looked to her did little to change her mind. "Greetings, Master Jolani." He bowed politely to his superior, his manners flawless and exterior showing nothing of the turmoil inside.

"Greetings, Padawan Clawson," the Tigress nodded. He could sense her concern, but nothing else.

"We were worried when we didn't hear back from you last night," Sennif said. "Then Master Jolani arrived and... well, what happened?"

"I was captured by the rebel group." Jay gave them the fewest details he could get away with. "They underestimated what it took to keep me drugged unconscious. It turned out to be to our advantage. My former guards knew a great deal about the current plans and local members. This is by the same group as the Kallarak Amphitheater incident. They have been trying to discredit the Count to keep him from gaining any more power."

"Do you know where they're going to attack during the speech?" Sennif asked, concern in his voice. "If they're going to try attacking then...."

"They're planning on blowing up the Crescent Amphitheater during the speech, with teams around the city to start riots." Jay said simply. "It would be the biggest attack yet and quite a body count."

"We'll have to cancel it," Sennif said, shaking his head. "The potential loss of life there if we don't... it's unreasonable. What could they hope to gain doing this? How is it supposed to discredit Count Koron?"

"I believe the theory is that if he can't keep people safe during his own speech, it will hurt his ability to have the people trust him." Jay explained something he only sort of understood. "We are dealing with terrorists here. Their logic does not always match up with ours."

"Too true," Gavin nodded. "Unfortunately, their tactics work, even if their logic doesn't. We won't have enough men to protect the Crescent and deal with riots throughout Aldera at the same time."

"We know who their leader is, many of their people and locations. Each one we capture will tell us more." Jay was planning even as he spoke, his mind working double-time to correlate manpower and resources with the local database records. "If the speech is delayed for a few days, say a week, instead of canceled, your officers will be able to pick up a significant number of their people and I can keep the Crescent safe from bombs. Perhaps the Count could be ill, or called away, instead of saying it is delayed for lack of security forces."

"They may still attempt to set off the bomb, or start the riots, but the potential for damage will be lower," Gavin assured Sennif. "If you can convince the Count to adjust his schedule, we'll be able to keep this under control before anybody else is hurt."

"I will speak with him, see what we can arrange," the Fox nodded seriously. "That is our top priority, after all."

"I believe I can find the bombs that are already in the Crescent before the original speech time." Jay added.

"That would be ideal," Sennif nodded. "Should we delay any announcements until you are sure?"

"I would not," Jay decided after a moment. "There is not enough time to do a full manual sweep of the building. I can not be sure I have found all the bombs this quickly, just a majority of them. The sooner you make the announcement, the more planned it will seem."

"Then I will go bring the Count up to speed," Sennif nodded, standing up. "Is there anything else I should be aware of?"

"No," Jay shook his head slightly.

"I look forward to your report when this is all over then," Sennif nodded, bowing politely before leaving the room, leaving Jay with Gavin and Master Jolani.

"Is there anything else you want to fill me in on, before I send my men to start rounding them up?" The Doberman asked.

"No," Jay answered simply. "I can get names and faces from anyone who doesn't want to talk. I'll be at the Crescent finding bombs."

The Doberman nodded, standing up along with Master Jolani. He left the room to go handle the interrogation of the two prisoners, while the Tigress moved to talk to Jay.

"How are you doing?" She asked him softly.

"I'll be fine for the mission, Master." He couldn't quite meet her eyes. "After that, I'll need time to deal with what happened."

"If it helps, very few know about it," she offered. "Master Essani knows, as do your mates... they'll all be there for you, when you get back." She pulled out the small case with his lightsabers and the stolen equipment, opening it for him. "The people who captured you wanted to break you, and destroy what you had back home. They've failed at the second part, and I suspect you're up to proving they failed at the first too."

"I am, Master." He smiled slightly and accepted the case, quickly putting on his Glovatrix, lightsabers and other unduplicated equipment in place with an almost visible shift in his body language for the calmer and more certain. These items resonated so strongly of his Force-energy that they actually helped center him well beyond their value as weapons. "I don't break that easily. Now I am wiser for their failure." He kept his voice even with the controlled fire and determination that was his hallmark on a hunt was easy for her to feel, as was that he would need time and a good mind-healer when he got back and finally faced what had been done to him. "Thank you for bringing my things."

"You're welcome, Padawan. I'll return to Coruscant and let your Master and mates know you're free. Force be with you."

"Force be with you, Master." Jay bowed and watched as she left. He closed his eyes for a moment, focusing himself on his mission and pushed everything else out of his mind.

He opened his eyes and walked to the Sharufa. It was time to go to work.

"Jedi Clawson?" One of the local cops, a well-built Alsatian, walked up to the meditating kat quickly. He wasn't particularly crazy about interrupting him, but the news he'd been given was important enough to warrant it.

Besides; other interruptions hadn't really bothered him too much, nobody thought.

"Yes?" Jay opened his eyes slowly as he came out of the restful meditation he used to monitor the area for trouble.

"I've been informed we have another prisoner," the Alsatian explained, his surface thoughts providing that it was much more than just that.

"Their leader." Jay rose to his feet easily. "Excellent."

"Yes, Jedi," the Officer nodded. "Sergeant Gavin said that they've gotten all they can from her already, they would appreciate your assistance."

"Very well," Jay nodded and followed Durak to the speeder he knew would be waiting to take him to headquarters.

The trip gave them both a few moments to think about things. The last week had been eventful, but in all the right ways. They'd been able to catch up with the terrorists and start bringing them in; Jay had found the bombs in a matter of hours once he knew where to look.

All in all, he expected to be going home soon, and reporting a successful mission. Small consolation for what had happened, but it was something. He could barely stand to wait to be back with Shi and Fenrik. It ached to be away from them no matter what. Hurting as much as he did, it was an agony he didn't want to get used to.

It had also given Jay a working education on the difference between information the security forces could use, and what they could use in court. The first was much easier to get.

Unfortunately, at times like this, it was also somewhat less useful.

The speeder stopped at headquarters, and Jay climbed out wordlessly, making his way to the interrogation room where he knew they'd have the Dalmatian behind this. He just hoped Gavin would still be there; he wasn't sure being alone with her right now would be the best idea.

She may not have been the one who had raped him, but she'd paid to have it done. It was just the kind of fuel the Demon could really use against his self-control. He wasn't even sure he wanted to stop it either.

He jammed the thoughts back down, right along with the soothing, pitying voice that was offering to help make the bitch go away - permanently.

He reached the room and took a calming breath before asking the door to open. It slid aside obediently, letting him into the room with the Dalmatian and her frustrated interrogator, Sergeant Gavin.

"I understand you want information she's not willing to provide." Jay glared unemotionally at the person responsible for why he hadn't dared sleep in over a week.

"Mostly about whether or not they have any more plans, and where her superiors are," Gavin confirmed. "She seems to have dropped into a loop, if you know what I mean."

"You do understand that this may not be admissible in court, depending on how much Force I have to put into getting her to talk." Jay wanted to make sure they weren't looking for confession-grade Intel.

"Just like with the last few," Gavin nodded. "We need to get any more of her people we can, and make sure they don't have any more of those devices hidden somewhere."

"All right," Jay turned his attention to the woman that had made a simple mission a living hell and silently double-checked that this was being recorded. "Desa." He caught her attention with both his voice and a hand around her lower jaw. "Tell me the truth." Pure power echoed in his voice and through his body. "Who are your superiors?"

"What superiors?" She shot back. "I'm in charge."

"Not of the entire Dianogas." Jay replied evenly. "Who is above you in the Dianogas?"

"Blackstripe," the Dalmatian said, catching herself and setting her jaw even as her mind provided a face to go with the name. "Not that it'll do you any good, Jedi."

"Who else?" Jay demanded, pushing against her stubbornness with his own power and slipped for a moment.

"*Let me have her.*" The Demon crooned loud enough for Desa to hear it. "*We will avenge the wrongs. Sooth the pain.*"

"*I could, you know, give you over to the Dark in me.*" Jay breathed against her mind with only a taste of what he was capable of in imagery for her to ponder. "*Who would challenge a Jedi taking a prisoner somewhere?*"

"You're Jedi," she pointed out, though the uncertainty she felt about what he might do was almost palpable... as was her fear of it. Palpable, and very appealing to part of him.

Sergeant Gavin's confusion was just as clear about her answer to his verbal question.

"Who else is in the Dianogas?" Jay demanded again. "*Or you will find out just what you had done to me.*"

"I don't know anybody outside Alderaan!" The Dalmatian bitch snarled at him. "Blackstripe's all the farther I go, after what you did on Coruscant!"

"She's telling the truth." Jay said evenly to the Sergeant, not giving any clue about what he'd told her silently. "Do you have enough to convict her?"

"For being connected to the bombings, we had that before," Gavin nodded.

"Good," he nodded. "I have a few questions for her then, in private."

"How private?" Gavin asked, glancing up at the camera still recording everything.

"It won't record it." Jay told him simply.

"You're just asking questions, right?" Even just knowing she'd captured him, he was worried. Jay was pretty sure that if he knew the real reason, he wouldn't be having this conversation.

"Just questions." He said easily. "I am a Jedi, Sergeant."

It was such an effective reassurance... he just hoped it would hold true when he left. The Demon was definitely active tonight.

"All right," Gavin nodded, leaving the room. "I'll be waiting outside for when you're done with her." The Dalmatian looked at him, but the Dobie ignored her worried look as he left did so.

"You're going to tell me a who, a how and a why." Jay leaned close and spoke softly, his voice seductively dangerous but without any Force behind it. "How you answer will determine just how bad the nightmares are. Understand?"

"What are you talking about?" She asked him. "I told you everything about the bombings already."

"This isn't about the bombings. This is what you ordered done to me." He told her with an amazing level of control. "I know that Stacey Young is an alias. I know you hired hir to drug and rape me before shi handed me over. I want everything you have on hir, hir other IDs, how to find hir."

"Look, shi's been off planet ever since you got out!" Desa protested. "All I know is shi'll be using Spots as hir contact ID, probably find some cantina to slink in 'til shi can blackmail some rich guy."

"Now why." He demanded without raising his voice.

"That was for Coruscant. Blackstripe's call," the Dalmatian added quickly. "And it was the only way to get you out of ours."

She could tell her answer irritated him. A lot.

The next few breaths were an exercise in controlled fear until he stood and turned to leave without another word.

Shivasta tried to keep her nerves under control as she waited with Fenrik and Essani, but all of them could practically feel the buzz coming from her as Sharufa set down. Fenrik had explained what had happened, and Jay had insisted he was fine in the messages that followed after he was free ... but they all knew he wasn't. Right now, Shivasta just wanted to see him again, make sure he was okay.

And to neuter a certain Cheetah, but that was one desire she kept under control fairly well.

Master Essani flashed grey for a moment when she saw Jay's Force aura as he walked down the ramp to greet them, but she quickly got it under control before he saw it. There was no need to make things more difficult by giving him something else to worry about.

The tension, and now close Jay was to cracking right there on the landing pad as soon as he saw them, was too clear to them all.

"*I'm taking him somewhere private.*" Shivasta told Essani silently, but firmly, moving to help her mate back towards their quarters, grateful for the lack of protest from both sides. She was certain he hadn't gotten any sleep since his escape; it was just how he was when dealing with a mission, let alone anything more.

Jay kept his stance straight and face still despite how much he mentally leaned on his mates to make the short walk to their quarters. It may not have fooled anyone in the Temple, but he maintained the look of a Jedi even when he was almost completely crumpled inside.

Both his mates made it clear across their bond that they were there for him, fighting the urge to physically support him as they got him back to their quarters. The Kat had his pride and right now that was all that was holding him together. The fact that Fenrik had to pause to close and lock the door spoke volumes for how upset Jay was; he hadn't thought to lock it automatically.

The almost inaudible click acted like a signal and Jay sank against Fenrik's broad chest as he began to tremble, his nose buried in his fur to close the world to the scent and touch of one of the very few people he trusted with his weakness.

The Panther wrapped his arms around him gently, holding him there as he started to break down. Shivasta moved to hold him from behind, the two of them just letting him feel them close. The tears never came, but they both felt, intimately, what had happened to him that night as he wrapped the events up in their presence and stored them away where they couldn't hurt him anymore.

The two of them worked him into bed, pulling the covers up and snuggling close.

"Go to sleep Jay," Shi murmured softly, kissing his forehead. "It's safe here."

"*We'll protect you.*" Fenrik added softly and silently. "*Sleep.*" He added with just enough of a suggestion behind it to overcome the lingering resistance that had nothing to do with Jay's need to rest or his trust of the safety he had in his mates arms.

"*We'll have to keep him like this for a while,*" Shi told Fenrik mentally, keeping quiet enough to keep from waking Jay up again. "*Might be best to take shifts, make sure he stays out until he's doing better.*"

"*And to help with the nightmares.*" He nodded seriously. "*The Demon is bad enough. This ... this is just evil.*"

"*He'll make it through,*" Shivasta reassured Fenrik, caressing Jay's cheek lightly. "*I'll make sure of it. And I'll handle the nightmares, as much as I can. I've got the training for it.*"

"*I'll help with what I can.*" Fenrik murmured and nuzzled Jay softly. "*Both of you.*"

"*Why don't you get some rest first then,*" Shi told him softly. "*I'll keep an eye on how things are going in his head at first.*"

"*All right,*" he nodded and let his eyes close. Rest would be a rare commodity for a while.

Shivasta felt Jay's mind start to stir just a few moments before he started to tremble and whimper softly, the nightmares starting late the next morning. Fenrik was making breakfast to bring in for them, and Jay was already late for his debriefing with the Council. Fortunately, they'd taken her at her word when she said he would have to reschedule. She had little doubt that what Master Essani had seen when Jay had stepped down the ramp had helped.

The walk to their quarters had honestly made Shi dread if he was ever seriously injured physically. Even here at the Temple where everyone saw past the physical, he had the pride to walk when he had no need to. It was a valuable skill out where appearances mattered, but here he really should know it didn't matter.

She reached into his mind gently, not entirely sure what she would find there, but knowing that it would be painful for him. She couldn't help the audible gasp when she touched a first hand, vividly true to life replay of her mate trying to push the Cheetah herm away as shi kissed him and he kissed hir back. The terror of not being able to escape, to access his abilities, to even stop himself from pushing hir to the floor and fucking her as actively as if he had wanted to.

Shivasta tried to touch Jay's mind with her own, letting him know that she was there, providing a safe place to retreat to and found the offer taken up almost instantly. The memory-nightmare kept playing, encouraged and supplemented by the Demon, but Jay's conscious mind was curled up like a frightened baby kitten against his mother's belly in the protective bubble Shi made for him.

At the same time, she started working to dim the memory, to push it away from his active memory and into the past where it belonged. There but no longer a torture. The first few moments gave her an understanding just how long a process this would be. Not only was it something that had made a major impact on him, but the Demon was using it to break him, enrage him, turn him to the Dark Side.

She wasn't going to let that happen.

"*Back off,*" she told the Demon through Jay's mind, holding her mate close protectively as she worked harder, the Demon working against her to bolster parts of the memory she had just helped dim. She was tempted to just try re-writing the memory; it wasn't something she'd been trained in very much, but she was capable of making a small enough change it might help.

She forced the thought out of the way before she had even seriously considered it, hoping that Jay wouldn't pick up on it. She kissed his forehead tenderly, both in his mindscape and in reality, trying to sooth his pain as much as she could.

"*Focus on the healing, I've got this guy.*" Fenrik's mind slipped into the field and focused his considerable stubbornness and fire on giving the Demon something other than Shi's work to worry about.

Allowed to focus, the young Healer did all she could. She was sure the work wouldn't hold for long; mind-healing wasn't her best field. But she was competent enough to help Jay deal with it for now while he got the rest, TLC and likely meals he desperately needed.

She was more grateful now than ever before than she and Fenrik had special rights even from Jay's unconscious mind. He trusted them to the point he didn't resist whatever they did, even when it was fighting his battles in his own mind.

It was far too long, almost two full viewings of that hours-long event, before Shi felt the Demon retreat fully for the time being, it's energy expended.

"*How's he doing?*" Fenrik asked quietly as he came back, tired from the battle himself.

"*If I weren't more worried about the memories, I'd be worried that he's letting us in so much,*" she said, pulling back from Jay's mind to nuzzle the powerfully built tom in the waking world. "As it is," she said softly, "about as well as can be expected."

"*Good,*" Fenrik murmured and kissed his way down Jay's neck, responding without thinking to the heavy arousal in his nose. "*Breakfast is ready whenever we are.*"

"*Once Jay's awake,*" Shi nodded slightly, kissing Jay gently, squeezing Fenrik's hand gratefully. "*Thank you for the backup.*"

"*He's my mate too.*" He smiled over their semi-conscious bedmate. "*Anything I can do, I will.*"

"Mmm, smells good." Jay mumbled, still mostly asleep as he snuggled close to the pair.

"Think you're up for breakfast?" Shivasta asked him with a soft smile. "Or want me to go get it?"

"Yes, I'm up for breakfast." He murmured and nuzzled her. "And a change of clothes."

"We didn't think you really needed to undress last night," Shivasta chuckled, nuzzling him as Fenrik climbed out of bed. "Want some privacy?"

Jay paused, and then nodded a little shyly. "Yeah, I think so." He admitted quietly.

"We'll be getting breakfast around," she said reassuringly, brushing her lips against his. "Don't take too long." She smiled, climbing out of bed and going to follow Fenrik out of the room.

Essani shook her light grey fur out as she walked into Master Ursal's quarters for the small meeting she was about to have. The Bear had already set out seats for her guests, and Essani took hers silently. Shan and Kareth were already there, waiting for her to finish talking to her Padawan.

"How's the kit doing?" Ursal asked her.

"*As well as can be expected,*" Essani said.

"Should we have him under suicide watch?" Master Shan asked seriously.

"*No,*" the kushiban said, shaking her head. "*Thankfully not. He is disturbed, upset, and it will be some time before he can find his center outside of a mission, but he is not that far gone.*" She felt everyone in the room relax significantly at that. It was always the top concern. After all, as long as a Jedi was alive, there was hope for healing.

"Would you advise keeping him busy with missions?" He regarded his successor, still judging her suitability for the position.

"*I would not,*" Essani said, shaking her head. "*It would keep him centered, but it would be like sedating him. He wouldn't be disturbed at the time, but he would never deal with the underlying issues either. He will heal, given time, but I would not suggest solo-missions for him until then.*"

"It shouldn't be a problem." Kareth nodded. "He was listed long ago as not to be sent solo unless there is no choice. Master Artisan Shen'ri has indicated interest in taking Jay and Shivasta on as apprentices once he is Knighted. If he agrees, it would keep him around the temple most of the time anyway."

"I imagine he'll welcome the chance, distraction value aside," Master Ursal nodded. "At least if he's still as craft-oriented as he was before.

"*If not moreso,*" Essani chuckled mentally. "*On a more serious level, he will be quite some time before he is truly recovered, if ever. The Cheetah did quite a bit of damage to his self-confidence, and not in the way some would argue he could do with.*"

"Which brings up the next serious question." Shan spoke quietly. "From all indications, he has passed his Solo, and done well twice. But with this, is he still ready to be a Knight?"

"*Normally, I would not recommend it,*" Essani admitted. "*He is not going to be of a condition where I would recommend that he take on missions or a Padawan for some time. However, I believe he has already discussed his reluctance to take on a Padawan at all with you, Master Shan?*"

"Yes," the old Doberman nodded. "While that may change in time, he was quite sincere in his desire not to take a Padawan."

"He would not be the first Jedi to be put on limited duty for medical reasons." Ursal pointed out. "He did succeed at his mission, when by all rights he should have failed. Most Knights would have handed the mission over to Master Jolani when she was there and come home. He did not, even though he did not know this was his Solo mission. If this had happened after he was Knighted, there would be no debate. He would be put on restricted duty status until his healer said otherwise. I see no reason to deny him what he has earned, and many reasons for his mental health to give him in title what he has proven he capable of being."

"*Further, assuming he accepts the offer to begin training to be an Artisan, we will not have to publicize the light duty,*" Master Essani pointed out. "*This will be a crucial factor for him; I don't think anybody who saw him yesterday believed for an instant that there wasn't something wrong, but he carried himself perfectly, as though he was going to see the Chancellor despite being wounded. If we tell him that he isn't going to be given his rank because of this, I imagine he will challenge it. Rightfully, in my mind.*"

Shan nodded thoughtfully. "I will take both your assessments of his personality and not consider this in delaying his Knighting. The actual determination will be made tomorrow when he reports to the entire Council, however."

"*Of course, Master Shan,*" Essani agreed, inclining her head to the aged Doberman. "*However, I believe the three of us,*" she indicated Masters Shan and Kareth with one of her forepaws, "*may have to consider arguing this point with the rest of the Council, given they are not privy to his conversation. Master Noloth in particular is one I expect will protest his promotion.*"

"As he has protested all of them." Shan chuckled softly. "It is his purpose, I believe, to make sure the rest of us have a good reason for our choices."

"*A valuable skill, at all times,*" Essani pointed out, her fur shifting to a lighter color. "*We need somebody to keep us honest sometimes, even if he doesn't particularly like it when somebody returns the favor.*"

"Of course not." Ursal chuckled deeply.

"Have you had the opportunity to assess Jay yourself, Master Ursal?" Shan asked the Bear.

"Not yet," she said easily. "Shivasta is technically the healer in charge of Jay's recovery; my involvement is mostly as a secondary opinion and a more advanced mind-healer, if they deem it necessary."

"Very well." Shan nodded. "Is there anything else to discuss?"

"Master Ursal, I would recommend that you speak with Clawson yourself before he reports to the Council." Kareth nodded towards her. "Your assessment will carry more weight with certain Council members than a new Knight who is also his mate."

"I had been planning on speaking with both of them later this afternoon," the Bear nodded. "If for no other reason than to make sure Shivasta's work is holding. From what I understand, this morning was... difficult. Not dangerous, but it taxed her skills."

"*I am not surprised.*" Essani admitted. "*I am sure the Demon is making full use of this event to its advantage. It goes without saying that we'll be monitoring that closely.*"

"A wise precaution," Master Ursal agreed. "I will probably speak with him once he's been up for a few hours longer."

"Excellent." Shan nodded. "If there is nothing else, we all have duties to see to."

The other Masters nodded, standing and starting out of the Bear's room for the Council chamber.

It was going to be a long day.

Master Ursal paused outside Jay's workshop a few hours later, keying up the intercom.

"Jay, are you busy?" She asked the tom inside.

"Nothing too important." He called back as the door slid open for her. "Just building a backup lightsaber."

"Always a wise precaution," the Bear agreed, stepping into the workshop and letting the door slide shut behind her. "How are you holding up?"

"It depends on the moment," he admitted quietly as he put his tools down, though he couldn't quite look at her face. "Some I almost feel normal, some ... I'm back there until I remember I'm not. Shi and Fenrik really helped this morning."

"They care for you, greatly," Master Ursal nodded. The Bear shifted to meet his eyes, not a particularly easy thing for her to do with her larger frame and the reflexive resistance he didn't even think to do. When he realized she was trying, he gritted his teeth and looked up, though he couldn't maintain contact for more than a few seconds at a time. "How long has it been since you wouldn't meet a Master's eyes?"

"Since it happened." He said softly in one of the brief moments his eyes met hers.

It was just long enough for Ursal to realize just how unguarded he was inside when you knew how to look. It reminded her too much of an old saying no one remembered the origins of anymore.

'The eyes are the windows to the soul.'

Most people were unaware of how much their eyes showed of themselves.

Jay was keenly aware of how much of himself was visible, how little control he had over it right now, and the weakness on display for anyone who cared to see it. It was reliving the helplessness and violation all over again, every time someone who could see did.

He probably hadn't met anyone in the eyes since then.

"You don't have to be ashamed, Jay," she told him softly, even knowing that he would probably disagree strongly.

"It's ... not really that, Master." He managed to meet her eyes briefly again. "Showing weakness is dangerous. I can't hide it yet."

"What makes you think you were weak?" Master Ursal asked him seriously. "Padawan, if a Master had gone through that we would have expected them to turn the mission over to Master Jolani when she arrived. You not only freed yourself, but went on to complete your mission and saved hundreds, even thousands of lives, despite the very fresh pain."

Jay opened his mouth, then closed it as he tried to come up with words to explain himself.

"It is not what happened that it the weakness, Master." He struggled with it, knowing he wasn't doing a great job of expressing himself and the fine line between when she thought was wrong and what he was trying to hide. "Being defeated isn't a weakness. Showing how badly it's bothering you is. Showing anyone who cares to look how to defeat you is dangerous for a warrior."

"Even here, with people you know you can trust?"

"Here ... it's embarrassing." He sighed softly. "Here everyone knows how to see, and everyone ... everyone can see how far I have to go to not show my feelings the way a Jedi should."

She considered pointing out that anybody here could already tell that something was wrong, but dismissed it. She was fairly sure that doing so would probably be worse for him than just continuing like this. He was no doubt aware of the contradiction, and protecting himself until he had things better under control.

"There is no need to feel shame, Jay," she reassured him. "I know it will take you time, but know that anybody you want to talk to about this will talk without judging you for it."

He could only nod to this. He trusted her on the level of few others in his life, but it was not an easy idea for him to truly accept at the moment, even though he knew, deep down, that it was likely true.

"I'll leave you to your work," the Bear said, standing to leave. "Make sure Shivasta knows that she can ask for help if you or either of your mates need it?"

"I will, Master Ursal." He nodded seriously and watched her leave before turning to his work again.

Shi paused before she opened the door to her quarters. Jay was inside, alone. He was fairly calm, but keyed up all at the same time. At least it didn't seem to be a bad sort of keyed up. She stepped inside and glanced around, spotting him relaxing on the couch with a datapad in hand.

"Hi, love." He smiled warmly. He still wasn't quite up to meeting her eyes, but he was looking at her face.

"Hi," she smiled back, just as warmly as he easily rolled to his feet and walked over to her with familiar body language; sexual interest. "How're you doing?"

"Better," he murmured and brushed a hand across her cheek gently as he met her eyes briefly. He was scared, not so deep down, but he was also honestly interested in the intimacy they hadn't shared since he'd left on his second Solo mission. Intimacy that had all but defined the last ten years of their lives together.

"Good," she smiled, returning the gentle caress. "*Only as fast as you want to go,*" she promised him softly, mentally. "I've been worried for you."

He nodded slightly and leaned down to kiss her, hesitantly at first, testing his own reactions to the contact, before he brushed her lips with his tongue and ran his hands down her sides.

She parted her lips invitingly, shivering at the contact. She could feel how difficult this was for him and yet, at the same time, how determined he was that it work out and not give them the victory of destroying what he loved so much.

"I love you, Jay," she murmured softly, reassuring him as she started to run her own hands along his well-muscled body. She felt how readily his body responded, the pleasure it gave his mind to realize they hadn't lost that much.

"I love you," he murmured. "*Trust you.*" He added with a soft tremble of excitement in memory of ten years of pleasure. He couldn't forget the helplessness of the last time anyone had touched him like this, but his nose, his mind, every touch and breath reinforced that this was the person he trusted even more than himself and had never done him wrong. "I won't let them take this away from us."

"None of us will," she promised him. "You'll beat this... beat them," she reassured him. "And thank you," she added softly, knowing how difficult it was for him to trust even normally. She kissed him tenderly and felt a bit of the arousal's heat that was usually much more forthcoming against her body before he swung her up in his arms and kissed her almost playfully on the short walk to their bedroom.

"Y'know, I can walk," she pointed out with a giggle, glad to see that he was managing to act a bit more like his old self again, even if it was only for brief moments.

"Yes, but that's not nearly as fun." He managed a real smile as he laid her on the large bed and leaned over her for a kiss that worked it's way down her neck as he lightly fondled her breasts threw her robes in a sharp reminder of their first night out on the balcony.

The difference was, this time, she wasn't going to push him away.

She returned the kiss, her hunger and affection for the powerful tom above her obvious. She caressed his sides and back, finding the points along his body he enjoyed her touching the most and felt the rush of arousal it brought even as he slid a hand inside her robes to cup one breast, teasing the nipple with gentle fingers.

It was a strange combination to feel. He knew what he was doing, he knew her body almost as well as she did, but at the same time every touch was as hesitant as when they'd first shared her bed over a decade ago. Even that memory, how high he'd taken her that night in their mutual learning, brought a shiver to her body and deepened the arousal he could smell.

She whimpered softly when he nosed her robes out of the way to lick and suckle at her other breast.

"Oh Jay," she moaned softly, scritching the back of his head with one hand, pressing up into his mouth. She reached out mentally, brushing his mind with images of the two of them, sometimes with Fenrik, sometimes not, sometimes together like this, other times just together, from when they were both younger. All in all, it was a rundown of some of her favorite memories of him, of just how much she cared for him and thought he was worth caring for.

"*Love you.*" He shivered and let her feelings wash into his mind and swirl around the pain and fear threatening every moment. It wasn't a permanent fix, but for the moment it freed him to move more easily and gently removed both their robes.

Shi kissed him tenderly, wrapping her arms around him and holding him close once their robes had been removed. His fur was hot against her, his skin even hotter where it touched hers.

"I'm yours," she promised him even as he slowly rubbed his body along hers in a familiar prelude that excited them both. "Always will be. Nobody can do anything to change that."

"Won't let them," he agreed with a breath that ghosted over her chest before he slowly kissed his way down her body. No matter how aroused they were, today would be everything different from when the Cheetah had him. Slow and tender instead of hard and fast. Words of affection and encouragement rather than coercion and denial. Willing and in control instead of drugged.

Shi caressed his ears, moaning softly as he worked down her body. It had been a long time since they'd made love like this, but it was no less enjoyable for the wait. In the very background, she slowly realized that it was something that Jay missed badly and had for some time. No matter how eager he was for the games and fire that their sex life had been for years, he missed this, the tender slowness that had been their early encounters.

Shi made a silent promise to herself not to let it take this long, or such a drastic reason, again. She was finding that she'd missed it too, now that she was living through it again. It was a change of pace that was familiar and different all at once.

She cried out without reservation when his relatively cool nose edged over the neatly trimmed hair above her sex and down into the swollen lips and wet slit there.

Her breath caught as he buried his short muzzle in the thick, musky scent of her arousal. She moaned unashamedly, pressing her sex up into the contact as he licked and ate her out just as eagerly. As much as she thought about suggesting her turn around for a 69, she couldn't miss that this, and just this, was what he wanted right now. Any less control was a little too much to give up yet.

It wasn't something she could exactly complain about either as her body began to twitch and tighten at his attention.

"*You're in heat, love.*" Jay's mind shivered in excitement even as he shifted to lay above her again and pressed into her quivering sex in a single smooth motion before he froze, locking in his mind the differences between her body and the one before.

"It's okay," she murmured, focusing through the pleasure of feeling him inside her. "Shi's not here, it's us. We both want this," she reassured him, kissing him gently as he slowly relaxed and began to thrust.

Even now, with the pleasure intense for them both, he kept it slow, gentle, as much for the pleasure as to reassure himself that he could.

Jay's breath still quickened when her body tightened around his, the pleasure of being inside her and her experienced hands on his body and the exquisite familiarity of the taste of her skin as he kissed and licked her neck and shoulder.

She moaned, arching her neck to expose her throat to him. Her body tightened around his instinctively, milking his barbed length as she worked her hands along his back, every once in a while pausing almost on instinct to pay particularly close attention to a tense muscle. She couldn't help but to squeeze in time with his thrusts when she reached his ass. She was so close it was drawing whimpers of pleasure and need with ever motion.

"*Don't hold back.*" Jay whispered to her mind with a soft kiss.

It was all the encouragement she needed; Shivasta cried out in pleasure as her body spasmed around Jay's shaft, milking it hungrily. She held him close, practically screaming for her mate to come with her.

A low whimper of surprise and pleasure escaped his throat before he let go himself and relaxed enough to give his mate what she wanted with a roar of pleasure that held nothing of the pain she'd heard on the vid.

The two of them lay against each other for a few long, pleasant moments before Shi kissed Jay with a languid, happy smile.

"Good?" She asked him.

"Yes," he murmured and snuggled a little closer, his body more than ready for more, though he wasn't so interested in it.

"Good," Shi smiled, cuddling up close and deciding without regret to follow his interest. "Gonna have to do this again some time. And not wait almost ten years for it," she giggled, kissing his nose playfully.

"This may be all I'm really up for for a while." Jay murmured and pulled her close. "Some of the games we play ..." he shuddered. "I don't think I could handle anymore."

"I understand," she nodded. "Fenrik will too. After what happened, this much is surprising."

"I'm stubborn." Jay quirked a grin at her, then turned serious and buried his nose in her hair. "*I'm not going to loose what we have to some psycho.*"

"Shh," she murmured, rubbing his back gently. "We won't let that happen. How about a little nap like this?"

"*I'd like that,*" he murmured and pulled a blanket over them with a bit of Force.

Jay closed his eyes during the short trip on the lift to the council chamber. He wasn't looking forward to this, for all the mission had been a simple one, except for the little bit where he'd been raped and the vid had been sent not only to his mates, but to the Council itself. A vid and package that made it look bad enough for them to send a Master out to finish his mission.

No matter how well the results looked, it was painful to remember what had happened behind the scenes. The parts that the locals didn't know, but these twelve Masters and two Healers did.

Frankly, he would have preferred if nobody knew, and he'd had to finish the mission without any assistance at all. He knew he could have, and that he hadn't had the chance....

Still, they hadn't given him very much help - just returned his lightsabers and Glovatrix. And, at heart, he knew they had to once they knew about it. And he'd already taken his solo without any serious hitches.

He opened his eyes, as centered and in control emotionally as he had been in over a week and as physically in control as he always was before them. Without a sound or hint he was still torn apart inside he walked to the center of the circle and knelt before them, facing Masters Shan and Essani, only peripherally aware that Ursal and Shi were both in the room as well.

He could feel the tremors in the Force caused by the reactions of the Council to something. He tried not to think about the fact that it was probably because of what they saw in him right now; he didn't need to worry about that right now. It did not matter to what he was here to tell them.

"Report, Padawan," Master Shan told him.

"When I arrived on Alderaan I examined the remains of the explosive devices. Despite my Gift, they were unwilling to divulge any information about who put them together. A sensitive with a talent for equipment, much like me, was behind them and instilled enough loyalty that they would not tell me. It was learned after he was captured that his talent was very limited. He was not even aware he was sensitive, and he barely registered as such.

"I then examined the locations that had been hit. While the buildings were quite willing to give information, the area where the bombs were located had been vaporized in the blasts. There was no useful information gained. I realized at that point that my Gift would be of little use in the mission, and turned by attention to more traditional investigative methods.

"I began by downloading all the information to the Sharufa, so I could work with it in the holo environment I think best in for puzzles. The pattern did appear random; two very different sets of bombings occurring at the same time. One targeting government, one targeting people. Other than the timing, they had little else in common. Yet every time I began to work them as two separate cases, I knew that was wrong, no matter what the evidence said.

"So I worked on the angle of what could be the reason behind targeting the two kinds of locations. There were few that presented themselves, and all revolved around disrupting the government and social stability.

"When I broke for dinner, I was drugged and captured. This is when the package you received was put together. They kept me sedated until I fooled my guards into not giving me another dose in time. Once I could think, I use a suggestion to put them to sleep and called Sharufa to pick me up.

"In interrogating them, I learned the names and faces of several others in the organization. I passed this information on to the local authorizes. I also learned what the next target was from them and disarmed the bombs there while the authorities picked up the conspirators. I interrogated those too stubborn to speak otherwise. Within a week we had captured most of those involved and their leader, Desa.

"I also confirmed that this is part was of the Dianogas. The leader above Desa is Blackstripe." He finished with a holo-image of what he'd taken from Desa's mind.

"Were you able to determine why they wanted to destabilize the government of Alderaan?" Master Shan asked him.

"The same reason as the attack here, Master. They wish to destroy the Republic to rebuild it in their own image."

"What package are you referring to?" Master Noloth asked him, not so much pointedly as distinctly unsure what he was referring to, a sentiment he felt most of the Council reflected after a moment to check.

"The one containing my clothes, lightsabers and a vid of my capture." Jay glanced around those in front of him, a bit confused by what he was picking up from most of them. "The reason Master Jolani was sent to complete my mission before I escaped."

"We were unaware of this," the Lizard said simply, glancing at Essani.

"*Not all of us,*" the kushiban told him privately. "*The decision was made by Masters Shan and Kareth as well. We had our reasons.*"

"*Having something to do with why his mate and her old Master are here, I presume?*"

"*You can already see the results, Master Noloth. I'm sure we can all fill in the relevant blanks without making him tell us what happened in detail.*"

"The decision to send Master Jolani was made without some members of the Council present, Padawan," Master Shan explained simply. "They were filled in on events afterwards. Were you able to find any information on where to find this Blackstripe?"

"Very little, Master Shan. What she did know was clearly quite dated. Her last known location was Coruscant, before the Kallarak Amphitheater bombing."

"Definitely dated," Master Surool agreed. "Were you able to put any thought into the question we had for you before this mission?"

"Yes, Master Surool." Jay nodded slightly. "I believe it was an instinctive, unconscious level reaction to falling unconscious in a dangerous situation, while my body was capable of moving. I remember very little of that time, but what I do remember is very base, animal-level thought. Defend myself, defend what is mine."

"Do you believe this is likely to happen again?" The pink-skinned twi'lek asked.

"If the conditions are met again, I would expect so, Master Surool." He nodded slightly.

"How are you feeling, Padawan?" Master Dyba asked, turning her head slightly, the sudden movement unnerving on an instinctive level and had a noticeable effect on Jay for everyone present, though he didn't so much as twitch.

"Badly off center, Master." He admitted quietly. He really didn't know a better way to put it. He could function, but he'd be damned if he could settle himself. Even in here the Temple he was on edge, expecting another assault, for the weakness he felt to be taken advantage of, even though he knew it wasn't going to happen.

"This began after your capture, or after your mission?" The Togruta asked him, despite a mental warning not to push too hard from Essani.

"After my capture, Master Dyba." He answered honestly.

"Why? You may answer generally," she clarified.

It took him a while to figure out how to answer. It wasn't something he'd really spent much time on. He'd been raped. He couldn't stop himself from participating in it. That was what disturbed him. He wasn't sure, though, if that was what she wanted to know, or if he could generalize it much more and still get the point across.

Eventually, he settled on the blunt, painful truth. It was the truth.

"Because of how I was captured," he spoke softly, his body showing no signs of the turmoil that everyone present could see easily in the Force. "I was not simply drugged unconscious, Master. They used a form of processed Ryl, shi wore me out, then drugged me unconscious."

Master Dyba and a couple others glanced towards the graying Panther when Master Charn drew an almost inaudible breath in shock and comprehension of just what the young feline was saying.

"*Ryl is a potent aphrodisiac for felines.*" He explained quietly to those that did not quite follow. "*Properly refined, it can not be detected when mixed into food or drink until it has had effect. It leaves one fully conscious, and unable to resist participating in a sexual advance. Even when all are willing, it can be a very distressing experience.*"

"Padawan Clawson, why did you refuse the assistance of Master Jolani when she arrived?" Master Jamni asked evenly.

He looked over at the Wolf, one of the new members of the Council along with her Togruta mate that had taken the elder Wolf pair's place.

"I did not, Master Jamni. Sergeant Gavin asked if I needed assistance until the Count's speech. I did not know there was another Jedi involved yet. I told him that anyone who helps me hunt the bombs should understand that it was voluntary and dangerous. When Master Jolani spoke later, she said she would leave the rest of the mission to me now that I was free."

"Is there anything else you have to report?" Master Surool asked Jay, not betraying his internal reaction to having his suspicions confirmed.

"No, Master." He answered without resisting the effect of being before the Council.

"I do have one more question," Master Noloth said evenly. "According to the report from the Alderaanian officials, you spoke with the leader of the Dianoga cell privately, and the security camera 'malfunctioned' while you were doing so."

"I wanted what information she had on Stacey Young, the one who captured me for them. She knew nothing more than that shi had already fled the planet and had gone by the codename Spots."

"And all you did was talk? Think carefully; did you use the Force while you were interrogating her?"

Jay paused, going back over those moments carefully.

"I stayed inside her mind enough to know if she was telling me the truth." He answered simply and honestly. "The truth suggestions I had used earlier in the interrogation may have still been affecting her. I did nothing more."

"Did you threaten her?" The Lizard asked him pointedly.

"Yes," he didn't hesitate, though there was surprisingly little emotion to it. "I threatened to give her my memories of what she had ordered done to me and the nightmares it created."

"And did you?" Master Shan asked him.

"No, Master." Jay answered softly. No one could doubt how badly he'd wanted too, or that he had walked away with nothing more than words exchanged. "She did not order it, Blackstripe did."

"Would you do this to Blackstripe, if you had the opportunity?" Master Bas'rath asked evenly.

"I expect I would, Master." He glanced up at the Lioness, the fire of a warrior who was wounded but not broken in his eyes for a brief moment. A desire for vengeance tempered by a belief in justice that ran even deeper than his Jedi training.

"And what do you intend to do with this information?" Master Kareth asked.

The question clearly caught him off guard with something he hadn't thought about much.

"Nothing, Master Kareth. All I know is in my written report. What to do is now the province of the Council and who they chose to assign the hunt to, if anyone."

"Very well," Master Shan nodded. "Padawan Clawson, if you will wait outside the Council chamber until we call for you? We wish to discuss what we have learned."

"Yes, Master Shan." Jay nodded slightly and stood in one smooth motion, leaving them to discuss his behavior without him.

"He does remarkably well under duress." Master Bas'rath said quietly after the lift had begun to descend with Jay inside. "I do not know of many Masters who would have performed so well under the same conditions."

"Thankfully, we do not often have cause to find out," Master Noloth agreed, looking over at Shivasta and Master Ursal, both of whom had been silent throughout the debriefing. "I assume you two are here to enlighten us as to how he is doing?"

"We are, Master Noloth," Shivasta nodded.

"Please do so," Master Dyba said, leaning back to watch the blue-skinned Knight as she stood and approached the middle of the room.

"As we all could see, Padawan Clawson," Shivasta reminded herself not to call him 'Jay' here, "is in a great deal of emotional pain. He is handling it well, but it will be a great deal of time before he is truly centered again. The worst damage, the memories, is also the hardest to deal with. The Demon works to reinforce them as quickly as I can work to dim them. This will simply have to heal over time."

"What duties would you consider him still capable of?" Master Charn asked with a look that was only half with the present.

"For the time being, many of the same duties he has been involved with up until now," Shivasta said. "Teaching technical and combat skills, developing new technologies for the Order, the occasional accompanied mission. I would not recommend solo missions, but his focus and center while engaged in a task is as clear as it ever was. That's part of the problem, in a way."

"Explain," Master Surool told her.

"He could be occupied with accompanied missions for the rest of his life, and he would likely not display the pain and turmoil externally," Shivasta explained. "He would likely perform admirably. However, he would not heal."

"How much danger is there of this Demon turning him with this event?" Master T'qu'l looked at her, his bead-like black eyes in sharp contrast to the flowing silver of his feathers.

"If he were left alone, I would say higher than normal," Shivasta admitted. "However, he held up for a week without any support, while the pain was still very fresh. Given that he is not alone right now, and is under the care of healers, I would say it is unlikely."

"Should not a more experienced Healer be assigned to him, given how serious this is?" Master Krry'nnu regarded both Healers with sharp eyes, silently curious why the Knight and not the Master was speaking.

There was a brief moment of silence, when Shivasta fell back to her old habit of waiting to see if her Master would reply, but when such a reply wasn't forthcoming, she replied herself.

"Even without what has happened, Padawan Clawson has a great deal of difficulty trusting people," she explained. "Given this, the decision was made that I should be the Knight in charge of his case; as his mate, he trusts me, and is more likely to open up and accept assistance with me than with a healer he feels the need to be strong in front of. Master Ursal is monitoring the situation, and has offered her assistance if we decide that a more skilled mind-healer is needed."

"Mates often operate under special rules among social races like Padawan Clawson's." Master Jamni interrupted a half-thought out question from the Eagle. "As his mate, Knight Shivasta has access to his mind that would bypass most of his trained and instinctive defensives. She would also already be present in the evening and morning when troubles with nightmares are most likely. It is a wise choice."

"Thank you, Master Jamni," Shivasta said, inclining her head slightly.

"What is your impression of the situation, Master Ursal?" Master Noloth asked.

"He is badly shaken and his ability to trust has been seriously damaged by how completely he was taken by surprise by this attack." She began, carefully avoiding most details she knew. "He is, however, willing to speak the truth to me and Shivasta has had some success with healing the damage already. It bodes very well for his recovery. It will not be a short healing period, but I expect he has not suffered any irreparable damage.

"I would add that he would do best being treated as little as if he is on light duty as possible. His behavior since the attack has made it clear to me that he takes a great deal from doing the best he can. While he should not be sent on missions of any length, giving him duties befitting his rank here at the Temple would be of assistance to his healing."

"Is there anything else the Council should be aware of, prior to making our conclusion on his performance?" Master Shan asked the two healers.

"No, Master." Shivasta shook her head fractionally even as Master Ursal agreed silently.

"Thank you, Healers," the Doberman nodded. "You may wait, if you wish."

The two Healers did just that, Shivasta moving to take her seat again as the Council settled in to debate what to do about this.

"Is there anybody here who feels that this development, and Padawan Clawson's performance on his latest mission, shows that he should not be promoted to the rank of Jedi Knight?" Master Shan asked, getting straight to the point.

It was a point that the majority of the Council did not seem to feel needed to be addressed, as the assorted nods from the twelve Masters indicated.

"I do feel that he should be put on light duty officially," Master Noloth pointed out. "However, I agree that he conducted himself well. And showed a remarkable level of restraint," the Lizard admitted.

"*I will call him up then,*" Master Essani nodded, sending the mental signal to her soon-to-be-former Padawan. She wasn't sure what to make of the surprise she felt from him at being called back so soon, but he acknowledged the summons even as he walked to the lift.

When he stepped up to kneel before them, he showed no sign of what he might be thinking.

Master Shan paused for a moment before speaking. "Padawan Clawson, it is the opinion of this Council that you conducted yourself admirably on your prior two missions. In particular, on your latest mission you demonstrated the ability to respond to changing situations and succeed in your mission despite significant setbacks and injury.

"Considering this, the Council has decided to grant you the rank of Jedi Knight."

Jay felt a sharp spike of pride deep down where even the Council could have missed it if they hadn't been watching for how he reacted. His mate, standing only a few feet away, got a much clearer look at it. Not just pride at being acknowledged, but a calmness too, as a very real set of fears died for good. He was home, he was doing what he was meant to, and he would not face his great-grandfather's path of struggling with only a partner to lean on.

He flicked his gaze up, almost as if checking that Master Shan was serious, though all knew he did not question the statement.

"Thank you, Masters." He lowered his gaze again in respect for the rank they still had over him, regardless of the promotion.

"*Hold your braid at length, Jay,*" Essani told him mentally, her fur a light golden color. "*I suspect we'd both prefer my full attention was on not cutting too close.*"

"Yes, Master." He couldn't help but smile slightly as he wrapped the long braid twice around his hand and held it out for her.

He heard the hum of her lightsaber, the bright yellow blade igniting for one of only a handful of times he'd seen it in the twelve years he'd been her Padawan. The blade and hilt moved towards him, moving around behind him and lining up so the blade would pass between his head and hand cleanly. A moment later, and the long, thin braid hung limply from his hand, Essani's lightsaber extinguished and back at her side.

"Rise, Knight Clawson," Master Shan said with a smile on his grizzled muzzle as the feline stood with as much grace and poise as he had as a senior Padawan. He rather liked the idea of his last act as head of the Council being a Knighting, particularly of somebody who'd had as unusual a career as a Padawan as Jay's. "We will call you when we have a mission." He dismissed the new Knight with the traditional words, though all knew it would be years before he saw missions like his male mate had seen in his first few months.

Jay nodded to him and bowed to the Council before turning to enter the lift, his Padawan braid still wrapped around his hand. Shi and Ursal joined him in the lift before the doors closed, leaving the Council to its business.

"I hope he recovers quickly," Master Shan said, straightening up in his seat. "I believe there are just two more orders of business left for the day?"

"*Yes, ones you have delayed some years now on my account.*" Master Essani chuckled softly.

"Hardly unwarranted delays," the Doberman smiled. "I've been on the Council for some time, but I'm hardly incapable of meeting the rigors of the office."

"*Of course not,*" Essani agreed with a nod.

"I feel that forty years on the Council fulfills any reasonable expectations for a member of my species," he continued, standing up. "I nominate Master Essani as my replacement for head of the Council; I believe Master Ty'thri'ku'mo has already been selected to fulfill the vacancy. Are there any objections?" He asked, knowing it was mostly a formality. It would be the first time in several centuries that a Councilor's choice for replacement had met any serious opposition at this stage. It had been discussed unofficially for years now, before even Dyba and Jamni had joined the Council.

He looked around at the eleven others and received subtle shakes of heads and indications that all was acceptable.

"In which case, if Master Essani will take her seat, we'll try and figure out how to fit a hundred-foot dragon onto her old one," the Doberman chuckled, walking towards the center of the room as the kushiban's seat moved to the center and Ty'thri'ku'mo's great frame landed outside and one of the floor-to-ceiling windows opened for him to step inside. Without a word, the various Councilors shifted their chairs slightly closer together around the circle so he could settle along it with them.

"You will excuse me for not taking in a chair." Master Ty'thri'ku'mo deep voice rumbled with a touch of amusement, his black scales shimmering in the evening light with his flowing red mane that cascaded down his slender, serpentine neck and across his broad shoulders.

"Of course, honored Master," Shan said, inclining his head towards with a smile and all the respect deserved by the first Drakon Jedi in the Order.

"*Then I believe we are done for the day.*" Master Essani spoke in her first act as head of the Council.

Master Shan bowed to the Council, pausing a moment as the other Councilors rose, starting down from the Spire along with his mate.

"Do you have any idea what he's up to?" Fenrik asked as he fell into step with Shi on the way to their quarters, a place they had both been banished from by Jay until dinner.

"Just that whatever it is, he's nervous as hell about it," Shi said, shaking her head. "Doesn't seem to be anything bad though."

"As if you'd let him shut the door if you did," he smiled a bit teasingly at her. "I'm definitely looking forward to dinner though."

"Of course I wouldn't," Shi agreed with a chuckle. "And yeah, so am I. Fortunately, it's just about time, and the door should be unlocking for us pretty soon."

"Speaking of unlocked." Fenrik smirked as the door slid open for them, letting the rich smells of a home-cooked dinner waft out.

"Mmm ... not sure what I'm going to be happier to see; Jay, or the meal he made," Shi grinned. "After you?"

"Definitely Jay, but it's close." The Panther winked at her and stepped inside to catch sight of an impressive layout on the table, and a hand carved wooden box as the centerpiece. "*Maybe we'll finally find out what's inside that thing.*"

"*With everything that happened, it just didn't feel right to ask him,*" Shivasta pointed out, pulling out a seat at the table for Fenrik. "Have a seat until he's out of the kitchen?" She suggested.

"*I know,*" he brushed her mind softly and sat down as Jay came out of the kitchen with a bottle of dark wine to round out the meat-heavy and stewed sweet fruits.

"I see you have found your places." He smiled warmly, the nervous edge they both felt in his mind actually visible and directed mostly at the box at the center of the table.

"Well, there aren't all that many place to sit down," Shivasta pointed out with a smile for him. "Jay? You don't have to be nervous like this."

"I can't help it." He licked his whiskers nervously and poured their wine, then a half-glass for himself. "It's a big deal, for my family."

"What is?" Fenrik asked him, taking his glass. "Sounds like you need to get it off your chest before we have to sedate you."

Jay bit his lip, torn between having dinner first and having dinner when he'd actually taste the meal he'd spend a lot of effort to create.

Slowly he picked up the rectangular box and stepped around the table to stand between his mates. He could only just keep his hands from shaking as he opened it to reveal three smaller square ones, each the width of his spread hand, nestled inside. The one on his right had a storm carved on it, the one in the middle had a stylized cat's head, and a new moon was on the third.

"Jay?" Shi asked softly, looking at the boxes that had clearly had days, if not weeks, of effort put into them.

"Most pairings do this long before now, but I couldn't until we'd all been Knighted." He set the box down so the storm-designed one was in front of Shi and the new moon in front of Fenrik and unlocked all three, opening the boxes in unison to reveal a simple black collar of exquisite quality with a tri-colored yin-yang design in ice blue, blood red and ebony black made of precious stones.

"The formalities of my family." He began softly and knelt to take one of their hands in his. "I don't remember much, but I do remember this. The symbol of mated partners in the giving of matching collars.

"I would have you both be not just my lovers and family here, but my mates and my partners in the eyes of my family and Bastet." He managed to finish without his voice cracking, but he was trembling.

They both knew, or at least had an idea, of just how much what Jay was asking meant to him.

"Of course we accept, Jay," the two of them said, almost in unison, each squeezing one of his hands gently after a moment of silence.

The relief came out in a breath, along with so much tension he nearly collapsed as he squeezed their hands back.

Panther and Ice Walker alike shifted to help support him, turning to kiss opposite cheeks affectionately as he leaned into the contact with a deep purr.

"Come on," Shi smiled. "Let's eat before the food gets cold. It wouldn't be fair to any of us to let that happen," she winked.

"Fenrik's the one who wanted to see the box first." Jay managed a weak tease as he sat down and took a sip of wine to give himself something to do while he settled as much as he could.

"And you're the one who was so nervous eating wouldn't have helped," the Panther teased back, taking his seat. "Thank you, Jay."

"To us, to memories of good timed, and strength for the bad." Jay lifted his glass in a toast to them. "Partners are forever."

"Forever," Fenrik and Shivasta both echoed, raising their glasses to his.

Go to Part 1         Part 2         Part 3        

A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 5: Trials and Pain part 3 of 3

NC-17 for M/F, M/M and M/Herm
Het Level is MediumHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is LowHerm Smut Level is Very Low

213 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written April 24, 2005 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Primary Races: Bear, Cheetah, Ice Walker, Kat, Kushiban, Panther

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Bestiality (Off-screen), Rape (H on M), Rape Recovery, Relationship (Established)

Pairings: Doruth Parn/Tes Ramaris, Jay Clawson/Shivasta Stormwarden/Fenrik Aren, Various others

Blurb: Adolescence left well behind for the triad, bonds of loyalty strengthen even as they spend more time apart. As Jay masters his new Force-skills and begun to work with Shi on projects that even the Council is interested in, both Padawans near the end of their formal training and their Trials. Some go well, some less so, but all go roughly as expected.

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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