Carth had never been much for city-planets. Between a childhood on Telos and spending time on planets like Corellia or Taris, he'd become somewhat convinced that eliminating everything green and natural from a planet's surface would eventually spread to the people too.
But he'd never been happier to see the glittering grid of Coruscanti buildings and the packed space lanes heading into and out of the planet's atmosphere. The journey back had been slightly faster; thanks to their plotting the hyperspace routes as they traveled, but coming from the heart of the Unknown Regions to the capital of the Core worlds was no day trip. It also hadn't helped that the Hawk was in piss-poor shape, but Carth was going to fix that once they landed.
Katrina sat in the co-pilot's seat next to him, hands tensed on the edge of the dashboard, hovering on the edge of her seat like by leaning forward, she might be able to make out Celyn somewhere a million kilometers below them.
"Republic Control, this is Carth Onasi, requesting permission to land."
There was no trace of static in the familiar voice that replied. "Welcome back, Admiral."
"Good to be back, Forn," Carth answered. "Nice to hear you're out of your office."
Dodonna laughed. "Well, when your message to Republic Command from the Outer Rim reached my desk, I knew I had to see it for myself. A lot of officers have lost some bets."
"Just don't expect me to pay them off," he replied dryly, beginning their descent. "I'm betting you're going to want a meeting with me before we head back to Telos."
"Scheduling's having a fun time trying to get all the brass together in one room at the same time, but I expect it'll happen within the next forty-eight hours. You're cleared for dock seven."
"Understood. Carth out."
The auto shader tinted the cockpit glass to combat the large setting sun to the west. The Hawk wove through two flocks of birds and around the Republic flight control tower, easing down into their empty assigned dock.
Carth exhaled, leaning back in his seat and running a hand through his hair. "Welcome home, gorgeous."
Katrina glanced sideways at him. "We're going straight there." It was not a question.
He nodded, trying and failing to resist the urge to smile. "Straight there."
He unbuckled his seatbelt, waiting for her to rise from her chair and start down the hallway before he got up and followed her. Mira, Sarii, Mical and Dustil were already gathering up their things in the common room. Mical looked a little—well, okay, a lot paler and thinner than he had when they started this trip, but he was as quiet and composed as ever, waiting politely for Sarii and Mira to head down the gangplank before him.
"What, no datatape parade?" Mira quipped as she exited the Hawk. "I was expecting at least a Gungan marching band."
The dock was huge, but fairly empty. A few technicians and mechanics were working on smaller fighters lined along the wall. There was a large group of people gathered near the dock's exit, and the instant Carth and Katrina stepped off the gangplank, a flurry of snapshot clicks and camera droid flashes went off from one end of the group to the other.
One person managed to duck under the rope keeping the rest of the press out and past the two port authority officers guarding it. The officer closest to her looked from the jostling crowd to the single woman walking a brisk pace towards the Hawk. "Miss Vin!" he called half-heartedly. "You're not authorized to—"
As soon as she was within ten meters of him, Tova ran into Dustil's arms. Dustil stumbled backwards under the force of her kiss. His arms wrapped tightly around her until she was up on the tips of her toes.
My son has the Force. My son is a Jedi Knight. My son is in love with a beautiful girl. My son is getting married. My son is happy.
Wherever she was, he hoped Morgana could see it.
"Wow…can that be your normal hello from now on?" he heard Dustil say.
"Depends," Tova replied. "Are you going to be gone for almost a year again anytime soon?"
"Well hey, if it gets me greetings like that…"
Carth squeezed Katrina's hand and she squeezed back softly. Tova turned towards them.
"Master Jedi," she greeted, nodding respectfully. "Admiral Onasi."
"Hey Tova," Carth replied, leaning forward to give her a hug. "Try and take it easy today, huh?" he murmured in her ear.
The blonde smirked, twirling her microphone around expertly in her hands. "I'll do my best, Admiral, but I can't make any promises." She pressed a button and a camera droid floated over the heads of the other reporters and up in front of their path, moving backwards as they headed towards the exit.
Tova flicked her hair over her shoulders and licked her lips once before nodding to the droid. A small red light blinked three times and then remained lit.
"This Just In with Tova Vin, reporting live from the Republic Command docks, where Admiral Carth Onasi has just returned from an extended and highly top secret mission into the Unknown Regions."
Behind them, Mira snorted. "You're dating a HoloNet reporter?" she asked Dustil. The way she said 'Holonet reporter' might have been the same way another person would have said 'exotic dancer.'
The bright, alert expression on Tova's face didn't budge. She stuck the microphone in his face, and Carth involuntarily recoiled. "Admiral, do you have any official comment on rumors that your mission was an attempt to gather intelligence on an emerging Sith threat perhaps more powerful and more deadly than Lord Revan and Lord Malak?"
"They're not," Katrina answered before he had a chance. She didn't bat an eyelid, but one side of her mouth lifted.
The two guards tried lamely to contain the rest of the press waiting for them outside. They managed to clear a small tunnel, but two dozen hungry journalists were no match for two overwhelmed recruits.
"You'll have to attend the press conference and read the official statement from the Republic like everyone else, Miss Vin," Carth told her, trying to avoid the rest of the microphones suddenly shoved out in front of him.
"Of course, if you want an exclusive from the most important Jedi on this mission, I'd be happy to give you one," Dustil said, elbowing his way past Carth to get next to Tova and in front of her camera. "My father will downplay the events of the past few months, but I'll let you in on a little secret: I pretty much single-handedly saved the galaxy," he whispered loudly into her microphone.
Tova jerked it sharply out of his hands, the smile on her face never faltering. "We might have room for a segment with you, Master Jedi. Maybe after we interview your utility droid."
Carth lifted his hand to his mouth, trying to make his snort sound like he had been clearing his throat.
-- -- -- -- -- --
"…I still fail to understand, Jedi Revan."
Of course you do. It was dangerous, heady stuff being in front of the Jedi Council now. It wasn't bravado and arrogance that made Katrina think she was more powerful and knew better than them—it was the fact that she was. She could see what they were thinking as easily as she was reading a datapad. All the councilmembers' fears, doubts, motivations, and secrets were there for her perusal, courtesy of Sila's tutelage. The ability made her uneasy, and Katrina didn't probe any deeper than the surface. But knowing that she could…it just made her impatient to get out of here.
She inhaled sharply. "Master Ahniuk, I am trying to tell you that these Sith are the threat from beyond the Outer Rim that you believe corrupted Lord—me and Malak. Whether they are the true lost Sith species or the descendents of the dark Jedi exiled to the Unknown Regions millennia ago, you need to realize that they are a definite threat, and if you allow them to continue their work on Verte, you'll find them walking the halls of the Temple calling themselves Jedi before you know it."
"We have physical evidence, Master," Dustil reminded them, his tone bordering on exasperation. "T3's got coordinates and journal entries documenting their presence and activity in the Unknown Regions. We have detailed lists of Sith conversion operations on Remli Prime. Padawan Mical Jorde experienced the conversion first-hand, and if you want me to tell you about Chael again—"
"And were he fully recovered from it, we would have summoned him here as well to share his experience," Master Korr interrupted firmly. "We do not doubt the Sith's existence or their intentions, Knight Onasi. What the Council finds difficult to grasp is their inactivity. As you have noted in your report, Jedi Revan, these Sith have had numerous occasions upon which to obtain hyperspace routes and coordinates to Republic space, despite your efforts to deter them by destroying your own ship and the Jedi Chaser."
And they probably already have them. It was terrifying to imagine—Sila and the rest of them at any time could have invaded and crushed the Order and the Republic swiftly. There would have been no warning. There would have been no victory, even with Lord Revan on their side.
"What are they waiting for? An engraved invitation?" Jolee said, gesturing with one hand and then returning it to where his arms were folded against his chest.
"Which is easier, Masters?" It was infuriating how obtuse they were being when it all seemed so fracking obvious. "Mounting a loud, full-scale assault on the entire Republic fleet, or quietly capturing all the Jedi and non-Jedi you can and converting them to your side? Pretty soon, there won't be enough true Jedi left to oppose them when they do decide to pick up and attack. They let us escape because they knew we would come back, and when we do, I think we should be ready."
"And what do you suggest?" Master Ahniuk asked, lifting an eyebrow. "Should we raise an army? The Republic will not support us in this, no matter how strong of an ally Admiral Onasi is. These Sith have attacked no Republic worlds. They pose no immediate threat. Your reports indicate that they cooperate legally and, by all accounts, peacefully on the worlds of the Unknown Regions."
It would be so easy to twist things. Bend the truth a little. Use what they knew or thought they knew against them to make them see her point of view. They were all so vulnerable, so impossibly open-minded. Like they were inviting Katrina into their heads, begging her to help them—
"Then what are you going to do?" she snapped, killing the thought before it ended. "I sure as hell hope it's not nothing."
Jolee chuckled. "You know, I wasn't on the Council during the Mandalorian Wars, kid, but I'm getting a distinct feeling of déjà vu. Anyone else?" He glanced around the Council chambers. No one answered, but that didn't stop the old man from snickering to himself anyway.
"I am surprised that your experiences thus far have not yet taught you the value of patience and consideration for the implications of an action, Jedi Revan," Master Korr continued. "The Council has no desire for a repeat of Katarr and the days of Jedi assassins. But we will not send good men and women to their deaths needlessly."
"They wouldn't die needlessly," Katrina interrupted. "They would die for the Order. For the Republic. If they aren't worth dying for, why did I waste my time out in the Unknown Regions all these months? Why are we even bothering to talk about this?"
It was almost visual now, the way a sentient's mind worked. The words iced over the thought processes of each and every councilmember, freezing them midway to their next objection.
"Beats me," Jolee finally said. "I think Revan makes an excellent point."
"If we are to send additional Jedi to investigate these Sith, or at the very least to aid the Republic in shutting down the operations at Remli Prime, they will need to be prepared," Ahniuk said. "Jedi Revan, you and Knight Onasi will train an elite group to combat the mental capabilities of the Sith."
"The knowledge you obtained on Verte is powerful, but dangerous," Master Korr said. "We will need time to select the most stalwart and seasoned Jedi appropriate for such an undertaking. And their training will need to be kept secret and separate from the rest of the Order. The newly refurbished enclave on Telos may be an ideal location."
"When the time comes, you may be asked to lead that group back into battle," Ahniuk added. "But not before. Is this an acceptable compromise?"
Not really. But it was probably the best she was going to get from the Jedi Council.
"Fine with me," Katrina replied. "That is, if it's fine with you," she added, glancing sideways at Dustil.
Her former Padawan shrugged in agreement, though the smirk on his face said he was more excited about the opportunity than he was letting on. "I'm getting married in a few months. But I'll keep an eye on her for you until then," he told the Council.
Jolee guffawed into his hand.
-- -- -- -- --
The sun was setting quickly. It was fortunate that natural light had little effect on a Miraluka, because the child wasn't ready yet.
Visas felt a breeze pass under and around her, fluttering her robes and giving her goosebumps. But she did not release her hold on the Force. She owed the child that much.
Ever since she had watched her mother brutally attack her father, albeit to save his life, Celyn Onasi had become a shadow of her formerly mischevious, confrontational self. She spoke little, ate little, played little, and refused to speak of the incident again. Though the Council had grimly thanked her for her efforts to relay information about Revan's activities, it did nothing to assuage Visas's guilt over exposing the child to a living nightmare. Since then, she had visited the girl daily, offering lessons in the Force and soothing meditation. Neither did much to draw the child out of her quickly closing shell.
Even now, Celyn floated only a centimeter or so from the ground, clothes brushing the marble floor. Her hands were folded between her crossed legs, and she was a little hunched inward like the mediation was a warm blanket in a cold, cold place.
Visas exhaled. "Think of something that brings you happiness. A friend, or a favorite memory."
All that came to the girl's mind was an image of her mother. At least this time it was not a replay of her actions in the Unknown Regions. Nevertheless, Celyn took a few deep breaths as if she was preparing to cry.
The child's sudden break of the meditation bond startled Visas enough that she fell onto the smooth marble floor, reaching to rub her tailbone as she watched Celyn spring to her feet.
The little girl's aura was brighter than it had ever been before; a glowing star racing across the courtyard, flying over the steps, breaking through the approaching crowd of apprentices and ignoring the calls of a few of them.
The Miraluka watched through the walls of the Jedi Temple, past the marble pillars, following the glimmer of Celyn Onasi darting around perplexed masters and self-righteous padawans. Force-sensitive reflexes and natural speed overruled the clumsiness of a growing child and made her leap over a utility droid tending flowers and slide down a banister without any break in her movements.
The little girl's happiness was blinding and overwhelming, warming Visas and making her smile in spite of herself.
The reason was obvious. Revan had returned.
-- -- -- -- -- --
For a second, Carth wished he had a blank holocube.
Sleeping on the Hawk was a better idea than staying in the Jedi Temple. He couldn't count the number of strange looks Katrina had gotten- the married Jedi with a little girl having a giant reunion in the middle of the Jedi headquarters. The ship was private and got them away from whatever disapproving words the Jedi might have had.
He couldn't understand how anyone could possibly disapprove of what he had in front of him. They both looked so damn cute right now that he felt like he should leave them there all night, with the hopes that they would still look like that when he woke up.
But in the position Katrina was in she would have a horrible ache in her neck by morning, and Celyn would catch a cold under the sterile controlled climate of the cockpit. So Carth leaned over them, trying to figure out how to untangle his daughter from Katrina's arms.
Once she'd come flying at them in the halls of the Jedi Temple, the little girl hadn't stopped talking. She'd peppered him with questions and told him everything that had happened to her, going from one story to the next without any kind of flow or pause.
With Katrina she had finally been quiet. It would have been eerie, the way they had sat here in the cockpit watching the Coruscanti sunset if the hours of silence hadn't been broken occasionally by laughter.
He figured Celyn was just as talkative through the Force, because both wife and daughter had fallen asleep just before the sun finally disappeared under the vast cityscape of the planet.
Celyn gave a soft cry at the momentary shift from being curled up on Katrina to being lifted into Carth's arms. Her brown hair was feathery and wisps of it stuck to his jacket as he carried her back towards the crew quarters. Her mouth hung open and her little body radiated with drowsy heat.
It was almost hard to tuck her into one of the bunks when his little girl's head was resting on his shoulder, when her little hands were lying heavy and limp against his back. Celyn's eyes, the corners greasy with sleep, fluttered open as he pulled back the thin blanket and put her in the bunk.
"Father?" she mumbled. Carth ran the back of his hand across her cheek.
"Go back to sleep, Jawa," he told her quietly. His daughter yawned, half reaching for the finger on her cheek before slumping to the side and falling back asleep.
Carth drew the blanket a little farther up over her shoulders and returned to the cockpit.
No one could blame Katrina for being exhausted. Her hair hung in soft tendrils over her shoulders; for once not confined in its usual braid. Her hands lay crossed over each other in her lap like she was still holding onto Celyn.
He gently kissed her cheek. The Jedi bristled, her head lifting slowly and giving him a barely lucid smile.
"Beautiful women shouldn't sleep in cockpits."
Katrina made some soft noise of agreement, and let him pull her up from the chair. The natural grace of a Jedi must have been in the half of her that was still asleep, because she stumbled and he put his hand on her back to steady her. She padded slowly in the direction he pointed her to; towards the medbay and the bed they'd shared during the Star Forge.
Her only contributions to helping him slip off her outer robes were lifting her arms slightly and making half-hearted efforts to keep her eyes open. Carth eased her back into the bed, pulling off his own shirt and wrapping a possessive arm around her waist.
His hand felt like it conformed to the lines of her stomach. His fingers remembered the exact curve of her from thigh to ribcage, the exact spot that her firm abs softened into the slight pouch of having given birth; the odd scar that ran across her skin.
Carth Onasi finally closed his own eyes, eagerly seeking sleep.
He couldn't wait to wake up and say 'morning, gorgeous'.
-- -- -- -- -- -- --
The Hall of a Thousand Fountains was a place of great spiritual and mental strength within the Jedi Temple. A lot of people pictured the spray of countless assorted waterfalls, a loud rush echoing throughout the Temple halls. In reality, there was a surprising amount of variation between each and every fountain. Some sent out a cool, calm mist, while others sent spurts of water dancing from one drain to the next. Others simply were large, running waterfalls, while some created rain showers or shapes. All of them together created a kind of strange, syncopated song that sounded different depending on where you were in the Temple.
It was a good place to think and meditate. It wasn't a good place to dump your Padawan.
He was there before she even was, facing one of the larger fountains with his back to her, prompt and timely and responsible, as usual. At least the Sith hadn't taken that away from him.
He turned when Sarii reached him. "Master Zhen."
"You look better, Mical," she told him politely. That was all she had left for him: politeness. Niceties. Things you would say to an acquaintance, someone you didn't intend on seeing again.
He nodded, clearing his throat. "The meddroids tell me I am not physically damaged, as far as they could tell."
Sarii nodded back. "That's good."
The drip-drop of a small fountain next to them punctuated the dead space in their conversation.
"Mira left the Temple this morning," Mical continued. "She claimed she wanted to lose herself in a cantina for a night, but she took many of her belongings with her. Still, I doubt this is the last we will see of her."
"Atton was the deserter, not Mira." Speaking his name suddenly made the chasm between them visible, though it had been there all along and would always be there.
"I—" Her Padawan cleared his throat again, hoarse. "I've wanted to say…I don't know how to tell you how sorry I…"
He stopped, turning his head away to watch an engineered waterspout swirling across a flat pool.
"There are no words, Master Zhen." And the ones he had were too heavy with emotion. "I know how…important he was to you. I admired him too, despite our differences, I never—"
"You never meant to kill him. I know, Mical. I'm not angry. I don't hate you." The noise of a thousand fountains left no quiet space for lies. "But you understand why I could never be a good Master to you again."
Mical nodded. "The Council has already reassigned me, to Master Iridel. They say he has experience with…my situation."
Sarii grasped his shoulders. "You were a good Padawan, Mical. You'll be a wonderful Jedi someday. And it'll be because of what happened on Verte, not in spite of it."
The former intelligence officer laughed once. It echoed off the rounded bowl of the rock-filled fountain behind them. "Is that what it takes, I wonder? Is that the price of a good Jedi?"
"Because if it is, Atton was right," he continued without waiting for an answer. "Perhaps we really are the scourge of the galaxy."
"You don't believe that."
The tenseness in his shoulders deflated a little. "No, I do not. But it makes it easier for me to justify my presence among them."
There probably wasn't anywhere appropriate to dump your Padawan. But at least Sarii had left him somewhere that lent itself to calm, rational thought. Mical didn't have the benefit of a host of Force ghosts and dead masters to give him advice.
The nearest empty room was the east reading room, just off the main Archive entrance. It was nondescript, decorated with a few chairs, potted plants, and end tables. The sound-dampening walls blocked out the noise of the fountains, and that was really the reason she wanted to be in there. She had had enough calm, rational thought for one day—
"Am I in the wrong room?"
Sarii jumped, putting her hand to her throat at the sound of another voice other than her own thoughts.
The man in the corner looked so self-assured that she wondered how she had missed him. He sat in a chair with one leg folded across the other, his elbows resting on the chair's arms and his hands clasped in front of him. He watched her from across the floor with a raised eyebrow.
Sarii lowered her hand, smoothing the front of her robes. "I'm sorry if I interrupted something—"
The man shook his head, smiling.
"There's not much to interrupt at the moment. In fact, you might have just saved me from falling asleep."
Something about his face seemed so familiar, but she couldn't place it. His eyes, not quite green and not quite brown, a color she forgot the name of momentarily— was it hazel? –stared back into hers without any kind of uncertainty or hesitation.
"I almost got lost in here. The Order should really think about hiring some guides or public relations officers to help ignorant folks like me."
Sarii laughed, and the man grinned, pleased with the reaction.
"You're not a Jedi, then," she murmured, although she could feel the Force within him like a small but very scrappy family pet.
"Nope. Just a politician."
"I'm sure whatever you're doing in the Jedi Temple is a very interesting story then," Sarii replied.
The man smirked, running a hand along his dark brown hair, straight and slicked back.
"I was here to see my sister. Elections just finished on my planet and I thought it was about time for our four year reunion."
He pushed himself up from the chair. He was a few centimeters taller than Sarii, dressed in blue civilian clothing.
"Maybe you can help me out, Master Jedi…?"
"Sarii. Sarii Zhen."
"Sarii," the man repeated.
She decided she liked the way he cocked his head to the side thoughtfully, the way his hands fell flat at his sides.
"Maybe you can show me around the place. Then next time I won't end up in some forgotten sitting room."
"I could help you find your sister," she offered.
The man shook his head. She suddenly felt self-conscious; wondering if her ginger-colored hair was mussed, if her eyes were telling the story of the past few years in their lack of color.
"No, I think she's a little distracted at the moment. Some Republic nobody's more important than her brother the Governor. Go figure."
"Besides, sometimes there are more important things than my sister," he added with a knowing wink.
"I might not be the best guide," Sarii murmured. "I was exiled from the Order for a while."
His gaze was impenetrable, no matter how much she politely looked away. To her surprise, she found herself blushing.
"Small galaxy," the man replied. "I'm an exile too."