A/N: As always, thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logic errors.
This chapter was released at least 2 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with them seeing a draft version around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago.
Links for both are at the end of the chapter.

Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.

ALSO

Fanfiction, in their infinite wisdom, has decided to turn off email alerts for chapters with the only mention of this coming on their Twitter account!
(Morons!)

Please remember to go into your account and turn email notifications back on if you wish that to start happening again. and remember to do so every 3 months!


Current Date: READ THE TITLE! (lol)


The Calm Before the Menace

… …


As my eyes wandered away from the sycophantic gathering of nobles, diplomats, and dignitaries, I found myself staring in awe at the intricate and majestic ceiling above. The exquisite painting and artistic style of the architecture reminded me of the grandeur and elegance of the Sistine Chapel. However, this was far more magnificent, making it a fitting venue to commemorate the crowning of Naboo's new monarch.

Those present were watching as various people of importance – both from within and without the sector – approached the throne to offer Queen Amidala congratulations and often a gift in recognition of her reign. The ceremony to crown her had taken several hours in the main square of Theed, though thankfully the sun had been out all day without it ever feeling hot, and now those of status were in the Celebration Hall, which was built to commemorate the founding of the colony on the planet several millennia ago.

The parade through the streets of Theed that led up to the formal coronation on the steps of the Royal Palace was a joyous one. Everyone seemed welcoming of their new queen, and thanks to Observe, I knew many were happy to finally see King Veruna gone and replaced. Hope and expectation emanated from everywhere, and I did my best to hide concerns about how that hope would be shattered inside of a year by the Trade Federation. Now, there were a few who were concerned about Padmé's age, but they were in the small minority, and even they were joyful and hopeful.

Padmé was wearing a long, regal, red gown that bore a striking similarity to the one she'd worn when the Trade Federation had blockaded and invaded the world, so I assumed red was a colour the Naboo associated with royalty. While the gown was fine, the headdress – made from the tail feathers of a local bird of prey called a Twirrl – was distracting, and I was glad that now she was sitting on a throne greeting her well-wishers that she wasn't wearing it. Yet as much as I disliked the headdress, I couldn't help my smile knowing the lightfoil I'd gifted her when she'd become Princess of Theed was given a place of importance at her hip. Something I felt her advisors weren't overly happy about, but it pleased me to see that she valued my gift.

Of course, I had to remind myself that no matter how much she looked like how she had in the Phantom Menace, unlike the actress who'd played her, Padmé was only a child. Yes, at fourteen she was considered an adult by the Naboo – and Mandalorians – but she was under the Republic age of Responsibility of 16, and until she was twenty-one, her parents decided what she could or couldn't do. Though I suspected that last part was void now that Padmé was queen.

The other issue was that, as much as I liked her, and I knew she liked me, I was involved with someone. While Serra was accepting of what I shared with Bo – and, I felt, interested in experiencing the redhead for herself – Padmé wasn't someone that had come up during our talks – be they serious or joking – about others around us. Though I did find it amusing that Naz, Sia-Lan, Aayla and Rachi's names all came up during those discussions.

Beside me, Fenrir shifted, which failed to draw much response from those around us. Still, as I was positioned far to the back of the hall with Fenrir out of sight of the throne intentionally, and since this was further from the more important dignitaries, it meant those nearby had to stand closer than any would've liked to the hulking beast at my side. Only the fact I wore a lightsaber and that two Naboo guards stood behind me prevented a mass panic from breaking out. Still, even with that, and Palpatine's express approval to allow us to be present, I was using Force Cloak to conceal Fenrir and Force Persuasion to convince others to mind their distance. It wasn't perfect, but it had calmed the ripples of fear that had radiated out when we'd first entered the hall.

Palpatine, who had insisted I attended the ceremony, had wanted me to have a position of prominence near the throne, however, I'd declined. This was Padmé's day, and I didn't want either myself or Fenrir distracting from that. Still, I would eventually be moved to join the line to offer congratulations as Palpatine had insisted I do so, and I felt no need to argue against it. Though I couldn't deny the reactions of those watching, seeing a Jedi and Tuk'ata as large as any man step close to the new Queen was something I was looking forward to. Almost as much as I was looking forward to Padmé's reaction to my presence.

As I continued to watch, a young male – perhaps around Padmé's age – approached the throne. He dropped to a knee, which was an odd choice as few of those who'd come before had done so, and held up a box that, with some Force-assisted sight, I saw was very intricately carved. The boy appeared nervous as a man moved from the side of Padme's throne to stand next to him. I couldn't hear what the man was saying clearly since I was so far away from the throne on purpose and wasn't willing to use the Force to boost my hearing. While the hall was generally quiet, when I'd done that before, I'd been bombarded by comments from others in the hall. None had been particularly loud, but it had been unnecessarily annoying.

"Kun Lago, former Prime Counsellor of King Veruna, and his son, Ian." I stiffened as Palpatine whispered the details from behind my shoulder. I hadn't sensed his approach even when I wasn't entirely focused on Padme and those around me. That was a clear sign of how easily he could hide his presence. "No doubt he hopes to regain some of his former glory with our new Queen."

"If the rumours about Veruna's corruption are true, I don't see that happening. Hells, I'm honestly surprised he hasn't been brought in for questioning."

Palpatine chuckled as I turned to face him. "While I'm sure that has happened, he and the former king have enough supporters remaining, that any investigation would be squashed before the details could reach the public."

I grunted and glanced back to see a guard take the box from Ian even as Padmé spoke to Kun. "Hmm, in that case, might I suggest the new queen grants him a position? One that involves managing Theed's sanitation needs."

Palpatine's smile grew. "While it would certainly be a worthy appointment, I fear the new queen is less vindictive than we would be in her position. A trait that has helped her rapidly rise to the throne. That and adding someone with Kun's reputation to her cabinet, even in such a suitable position, would undermine confidence in her government before it could begin."

I nodded, accepting his words even though I noted he'd not replied to my comment about Veruna. I had little doubt he knew where many of the bodies were buried and had likely – through people like Sate Prestige – made sure those bodies were found at opportune moments to undermine Veruna. Just as I had little doubt he'd helped subtly to ensure the seemingly malleable Padmé could assume the throne not long before he brought about the blockade and invasion of Naboo.

"The boy appeared nervous," I remarked as he guided me and Fenrir – who he never seemed bothered by, but also avoided bringing up – toward one side of the hall. "Is his father hoping to seek a betrothal for the queen?"

The Senator stopped and placed a hand on my shoulder, ignoring the faint growl that action brought forth from Fenrir. On some level, I suspected that the tuk'ata could sense something off about the hidden Sith, though I never brought it up. Not after communicating, as best I could, with Fenrir and making him understand that I knew Palpatine was trouble, but that I needed to stay close to him, for now, to avoid him suspecting I knew his true intentions.

"Kun might well seek such an alliance; however, I am certain the queen would reject the overture." He smiled warmly. "I suspect Queen Amidala, if she were to pursue a consort, has already set her eyes upon another."

"Said suitor would be a lucky man."

Palpatine nodded and then turned, his hand sliding from my robes. As he moved, I glanced at the place he'd touched. No obvious device was present, but I'd still check the robes later to be sure. Now, I didn't expect him to ever be so open, but I wasn't discounting him, or someone working for him, might try to bug or track me. Thus, I'd made it obvious at times – around him and others – that I checked my robes for such things. Most felt I was being paranoid, but just because I was, didn't mean people wouldn't try to track me.

Palpatine led me and Fenrir toward a small door. There, a guard tensed as he saw Fenrir approach, but said nothing as he pressed what looked like an ID tag against the door. As it silently slid open, he stepped to one side and allowed us to enter without incident. The door closed behind us, leaving us in a darkened, narrow corridor that was only illuminated by coloured light strips along the wall.

As I was guided through the corridor and others, I took in the various strips of light that seemed to take different paths, guiding those who used the tunnels to different locations without any signposts. It was an ingenious and effective layer of security that I had not anticipated from the peaceful Naboo. As we passed by larger intersections, I noticed guards stationed at strategic points and several servants and droids bustling around, tending to their duties. Despite our presence, only the mouse droids scurried out of our way, while even Fenrir's appearance from the shadows failed to elicit any reaction from the other individuals. It was as though we were invisible, and our movements went unnoticed.

Eventually, the path we were following – a light purple strip – reached an end. With practised ease, Palpatine ran his hand over a section of the wall and a door slid open. I blinked, caught off slightly by the shift in brightness, and when it passed, I saw we'd arrived at a part of the line waiting to greet Padmé. Thanks to having already walked the hall the day before – while it was quiet and Padmé was busy with other preparations so she wouldn't know I was present – I'd formed a map of it, as such I knew we were no more than a hundred metres from her.

When I'd initially agreed to Palpatine's idea of attending the coronation, I'd wanted to remain in the shadows until the banquet tonight. However, the Senator had been insistent that I announce myself no later than in this hall. To do otherwise, he claimed, would be a grievous insult to her and the people of Naboo.

Several people, both those waiting in line and their attendants, turned our way as we emerged. None reacted to the presence of the Senator and a Jedi, though most did when Fenrir emerged. I was still using Force Persuasion to calm everyone, but the sudden emergence of a nearly two-metre-tall beast from a hidden passage unnerved many. Several guards moved closer, only stopping when Palpatine raised a hand.

"Here," he said as he indicated a slot in the line. As I moved closer the man there bowed and shifted away, allowing me to take the spot. Clearly, he'd been standing to reserve my spot and I wondered how many other guests had someone do that for them. "While I understand you'd prefer to join the line later, none can approach the queen until they pass the final security checkpoint." He turned and indicated a wide arch where a dozen guards were stationed. I could sense two more on each side, manning laser-cannons that were hidden behind closed windows.

"Thank you, Senator," I said as I lowered my head.

"But of course, Master Jedi," he replied, which drew the attention of several nearby. Something he no doubt intended as it would likely look good for him to be associated with a Jedi friendly to the new queen.

Behind me, I heard someone move, only for Fenrir to turn. A quiet but high-pitched squeak escaped from there before I heard footsteps of someone rapidly moving away. Palpatine glanced passed me and chuckled. "I wonder if I might one day borrow your companion. I feel having him with me would allow me to avoid the worst of those wishing to monopolise my time in the Senate."

I chuckled and shook my head. "While Fenrir would certainly help with that, I fear how he would react having to deal with those who frequent the halls of power in the Republic.

Palpatine glanced at Fenrir and a faint smile, one that hinted at malevolence slipped onto his face. "Yes, as amusing as imagining such a scenario is, it would be unwise to allow it to happen. Still, one can but dream." While most would ignore the smile, thinking he was simply enjoying the dark humour of my remark, I felt it might well be a hint of his true self showing through. Though I had no proof of that. "I must leave you here. When you arrive at the throne, I will be on hand to deflect some of the queen's attention."

"Until then."

With a nod, he moved off and I waited. It took about twenty minutes to reach the security checkpoint, with the guards there tensing the closer I and Fenrir got. Once it was our turn to pass through the checkpoint, the two that were directly checking guests tensed and gripped their rifles tighter as they approached.

"Sir, your, uh, beast…"

I grinned knowingly while casually parting my robes, revealing the gleaming lightsaber at my side. "Fenrir stands as my loyal companion, bound to my in the Force. His fangs are reserved solely for those harbouring malicious designs against me. The Jedi Council allows his presence, as do Senator Palpatine and Queen Amidala—though she remains unacquainted in person as of yet." Slipping an identification chit to the guard, I watched as it was scanned. The other sentinel inched closer, halted abruptly—much like the scanning guard—when Fenrir emitted a discontented growl. "Patience, Fenrir. They are merely doing their jobs; even if their intentions soured, this would not be where they'd mount an assault." Fenrir advanced, nudging my shoulder with his powerful head, nudging me into motion. To regain my balance, I adjusted my stance, scratching his chin with the hand that bore the lightsaber. "Indeed, once this affair concludes, a brisk run would likely do us some good." Fenrir exhaled in approval, coinciding with the return of my identity chit from the guard's grasp.

"You are free to pass, Master Jedi."

I nodded my thanks, hiding my amusement at the fear wafting off him and walked through the checkpoint, entirely unconcerned with the dozen blasters levelled at Fenrir and myself. If they even thought about attacking, they'd be lucky to survive Fenrir's response let alone mine. To say nothing of the bollocking Palpatine and Padmé would certainly give them.

As we emerged through the checkpoint and came into view of the masses, a small commotion started. I placed my hand on Fenrir's side and smiled at the crowds. "Easy Fenrir. They're just afraid of you. As they should be." He snorted in agreement. "If you behave, then I'll see if you might be allowed to hunt a native beast." Even if he didn't lift his head and expose his teeth in an animalistic grin, I'd know he was excited by the chance to prove himself against the local predators. His desire to be the alpha, to dominate all challengers, resonated through the Force.

Sensing surprise from a familiar presence, I turned to the throne and saw locked eyes with Padmé. Her eyes were slightly wider than normal, though there was no other outward hint that she was shocked to see me and Fenrir. After getting over the surprise, she returned her attention to the lady speaking to her. One who'd seemingly stumbled over her words after Fenrir's emergence into the light of the hall.

After waiting for about fifteen minutes, it was finally my turn to approach the throne. I could sense Padmé's growing interest and curiosity as I neared her. As I climbed the steps to greet her, Fenrir wisely remained below, knowing that any sudden movements might provoke Captain Panaka and the others to open fire. Just then, Palpatine emerged from the shadows and stepped into view. "Your Majesty, may I have the honour of introducing Jedi Knight Cameron Shan. Though, given his companion, I suspect you were already aware of his presence for some time." The people around us chuckled nervously as I knelt a few steps below the throne, awaiting Padmé's response.

"Yes, I had observed their approach for the last few minutes," Padmé replied regally. "I believe when we last spoke, you told me you would be unable to attend."

I stood and smiled at her. "I beg your forgiveness, my queen. The Senator was able to convince me to alter my plans, though he at least agreed with keeping my presence hidden until the last possible moment so as to not distract others during your glorious celebration."

Padmé remained stoic in her seat, not outwardly letting on how she felt. However, thanks to the Force I could sense her delight at me referring to her as my queen, and amusement at my reasoning.

"I see." She turned her head to Palpatine, who looked resplendent in his Senatorial robes. "Normally I would be concerned about you keeping secrets from me Senator; however, in this case, I accept your reasoning. Nor do I deny that seeing Knight Shan again is an unexpected delight."

"Your Majesty." Palpatine bowed deeply as he accepted her comment.

"I see that you weren't lying when you spoke of Fenrir's size," Padmé said, looking beyond us toward Fenrir. "While I have seen him through Holocalls, laying eyes on him in person is another matter entirely."

I chuckled and glanced back at Fenrir, who as if knowing he was the centre of attention, lifted his head high and turned just enough to expose his spinal crests. In particular, the one he'd lost on Zonama Sekot. "Tuk'ata are not normal creatures, my queen. They are as connected to the Force as a Jedi, and it enables them to grow rapidly." Fenrir shook his head and then locked eyes on the queen. "He is but a pup yet already fully grown, or so the Council hopes."

Several chuckled, though there was still a nervous undercurrent as I turned back to Padmé. "Ah, yes. I almost forgot." Slowly I reached into my robes. "The Senator informed me that a gift was customarily given to a new monarch upon their ascension." I tilted my head toward her as I continued. "While finding a gift that would surpass your lightfoil on short notice was difficult, more so that it might be misinterpreted as a gift of courtship," I sensed a rush of embarrassment and desire from her as I spoke, "I do hope this meets with your satisfaction."

I pulled a small box from my robes and handed it to Palpatine. He took it and brought it toward Padmé. As he opened the box, she inhaled sharply, as did several of her handmaidens. One of her hands twitched as if she would make a move to take the necklace, but that was the only physical reaction she made.

"It is beautiful, Master Jedi. Might I inquire about its design?"

My smile widened as I replied. "Based on your love of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I had it made in the design of the Evenstar. If Your Majesty might recall, it was…"

"...The necklace Arwen gifted Aragorn before he set off with the Fellowship."

I nodded as Padmé finished the description. I had considered gifting her a copy of the first book in the KOTOR trilogy as that was due to release in a few months, but I'd decided against it, choosing some from the Lord of the Rings given Padmé's love of that series. "Yes, though this one is framed around a pearl taken from a greater krayt dragon, your majesty."

"I hadn't realised a Jedi could afford such a gift," Palpatine commented calmly.

"Knight Shan killed one on Tatooine several years ago as a Padawan," Padmé replied as I realised Palpatine's ploy. He was feigning ignorance to bring up that not only was the gift personal, but I had killed the krayt dragon personally. By associating with me and Padmé like this, I suspected he was securing his position even further. "Something done without the use of the Force or his lightsaber."

"Ah yes, forgive me for forgetting, Your Majesty," Palpatine remarked as he closed the box. "I find it hard to dwell on how close our young Jedi came to dying during that trial." Padmé's eyes followed the action, making clear she liked the gift, though she made no move to take it now. From what I'd seen, she'd not touched any gift directly, so to accept it like that would break decorum. And possibly, start rumours about us. "Even knowing he survived, I feel as if my heart has stopped whenever the memory returns."

"An understandable reaction, Senator. And one I admit to having shared." Padmé finally dragged her eyes from the box and returned them to me. "I thank you for the gift, Master Jedi, and hope we might speak more at the banquet this evening."

"I'm at your service, Your Majesty," I replied with a bow. When I came up, even if she had to keep a smile off her face, I could see the delight dancing in her eyes.

With nothing more to say, I turned and walked down, patting Fenrir once next to him again. As we walked away, I ignored the gazes coming our way. They could be impressed, shocked, jealous or infuriated all they wanted. I knew none would make a move against me. Not now or at the banquet. That little display that Palpatine had on showed that he, Padmé and I were on friendly terms. Something I knew he'd used to his advantage.

Still, since he'd created the link, I'd have to do the same. While most people here held little long-term value, gaining connections with people like Panaka and Padmé's handmaidens would be beneficial soon. Though I hoped that the banquet tonight wouldn't be as extravagant and long as the ones I'd endured on Zygerria. I'd take a whole-in-the-wall cantina, a few shots of Mandalorian ale, and good company over galas and government functions any day.

… …


… …

Later that day, after the banquet had ended, I found myself walking around the palace. Padmé had insisted that I stay the night inside the palace, and after accepting, I'd returned to Theed's spaceport and flown Raven into a private hangar. Ironically, it seemed to be the same one Naboo fighters had launched from in the Phantom Menace. The short trip with Raven had allowed me to check up on Simvyl, and Fenrir. The Cathar hadn't been interested in being at my side during the festivities, preferring the peace and quiet of Raven, and while the banquet tonight had been better than those on Zygerria, I felt he'd gotten the better end of the stick. As had Fenrir who I'd decided against bringing to the event on the chance someone made the mistake of irritating him and thus lost a limb.

As I neared my assigned quarters, a guard stepped into my path. Sensing no ill-intent from him, even though his hand rested on his blaster, I made no move for my lightsaber, though I still made note of the dozen other beings within fifty metres of us. The closest one stepped out to join the guard, revealing themselves to be a servant.

"Master Jedi," the servant began, being far more relaxed than the guard. "Her Majesty wishes to speak with you privately." It took me a moment to realise the servant was likely Sabé, one of Padmé's handmaidens. Sabé's eyes were filled with curiosity as she waited, though it was hard to make out her full face as it was hidden by a hood that left shadows dancing over her features.

"Of course." Sabé turned and I followed her into a side passage. Like the ones in the hall from earlier today, it was unmarked save for the light strips. The guard fell into step behind me, his posture making clear he was still tense.

"May I know your name?" I asked as a door closed off the passage behind us.

"I'm Sabé," she replied without turning, confirming my suspicion. In less than a year, she would be at Padmé's side when the Trade Federation invasion and, in the canon timeline at least, had stood in as her decoy on several occasions. Hopefully, that level of subterfuge wouldn't be needed with my presence, but I was still relieved to learn she was at Padmé's side. "Might I know your full name, Master Jedi?"

I smiled slightly, though she couldn't see that as she led me down the darkened corridor. "Cameron Shan, but my friends, of which I hope you might one day be, call me Cam." As I'd expected, Sabé seemed to pause mid-step. It only lasted a second, but that was enough to confirm that Padmé had spoken about me to others.

After that, we moved in silence through the corridor, following a pale blue strip until it ended. There, a door slid open, and we emerged into a new corridor. I could sense a dozen beings nearby as we emerged, though only four were visible. Those four stood outside a set of large doors. Like much of the decoration in this corridor, the doors were overly ornate, verging on ostentatious. This didn't seem like Padmé's style, so I assumed this was left over from Veruna and Padmé hadn't yet had time to redecorate.

"The queen has requested the presence of the Jedi," Sabé said as she led me toward the large doors. Two of the guards looked me over carefully while one at the rear shifted, bringing his arm closer to his face. I could see the light of a small display flare to life as he examined something upon it.

"He's clean," the guard said, which had the others relax.

The four stepped to the sides, allowing Sabé and me access to the large doors. She pressed against the door, her fingers moving to enter a code, and a moment later the doors swung open. Once we were inside, the doors pulled closed, leaving us standing in an open antechamber. There was a large table with freshly cut flowers and a bowl of fruit in the centre, along with a jug and four ceramic cups, that had a half-dozen comfortable-looking chairs around it. Doors led off in three directions, though I suspected that only the double one directly in front of us, given their size, led to the royal chamber.

Seeing we were alone, Sabé turned and pulled back her hood, smiling as she looked me over. That let me see her face clearly for the first time, confirming she matched what I remembered from the movie. And since I knew the actress' name, I knew what she'd likely look like as she aged. "Master Jedi, might I ask, but are you the Cam that Padmé has so often spoken of?"

I smiled at the question. I reached past her and picked up a cup, taking a sip once I realised it contained water. "And which Cam would this be?" I replied, taking a step toward her.

"The Cam she spoke of meeting several years ago during the evacuation of the Shadda-bi-Borans," Sabé responded with a smirk. "The one she claims is the author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of holonovels as well. The one Padmé speaks of when…"

"Sabé!"

Padme's call cut off whatever little secret the handmaiden was about to reveal and drew my attention to the doors to the royal chamber. Padmé was there, having exited a moment before, without any of the gaudy clothing her station seemed to demand. Instead, she wore an apparently simple, yet no doubt expensive, gown over what appeared to be her sleepwear. "I asked you to bring him here, not place him under interrogation."

Sabé curtseyed. "Forgive me, Your Highness. I was simply curious about your interest in the Jedi, and then learnt his name matched that of the one you…"

"Sabé!" Padmé called out for the second time within a minute. She looked at me, some panic evident in her eyes. "I... I'm sorry for her behaviour. She's got this idea that…"

I held up my hand, stopping Padmé before she finished. "It's fine, Padmé. Truthfully, I feel better knowing those around you know the real you, and not Queen Amidala. It eases my concerns about you being in danger from those who might try to exploit a new, young monarch." Sabé's smile grew as I spoke, which caused Padmé to blush. I turned back to the handmaiden. "While I don't know what it was the queen cut you off from saying, I am the author of those novels. And the series of holomovies that are in production." Both girls perked up at hearing that, indicating that Sabé was just as much a fan of the trilogy as Padmé was. "However, I'd prefer that little nugget stays between us."

"Yes, yes," Padmé replied absently, a smile spreading over her face. "Sabé, you may leave us."

Sabé, a smile also on her face, glanced between me and Padmé. "With respect, Your Highness, I am to always remain by your side." She fixed her eyes on me as her smile evolved into a grin. "Even when your thoughts are on things with less than pure intent."

"Sabé!" That was all Padmé managed to get out as she gawked at her handmaiden. For my part, I simply chuckled and shook my head. "Cam!" I shrugged in response, not willing to risk speaking and somehow making this more embarrassing for the young queen.

Padmé took a few deep breaths. While those calmed her, they did nothing for her rosy cheeks. "Sabé, please leave us. If I cannot feel safe with a Jedi at my side, then how could I with anyone else?"

"Your Highness." Sabé curtseyed again, though as she stood, she fixed me with a glance that made clear she knew what I was thinking. She was wrong, though only for the next few years. I watched as she walked away, though toward one of the smaller side doors. No doubt, those led to the handmaiden's quarters. Something confirmed by two female heads that popped into view as Sabé stepped into the room.

"And close the door behind you!" Padmé called out, though her attention was on me and not her handmaiden. If it was, she'd have seen the door fail to close as something blocked it from closing, allowing those on the other side to watch discreetly. While that might have been because of simple curiosity about me and Padmé, I felt it was more to do with watching the queen even when she didn't wish to be watched. That thought calmed my nerves regarding her safety over what was no more than half a year away.

"So," Padmé began, drawing my attention from her handmaidens to her. She took a step toward me, only to stop as she craned her neck to look up at me. After blinking, she took a step back. "have you been well?"

"Very well," I replied with a shrug. I nodded at the table, and the chairs around it, and after a nod from her, escorted her into one of the chairs. "Had a few adventures, lost one starship, gained another. Made some new friends, said goodbye to others and fought more battles," I explained as I sat next to her.

As I sat, she pulled her chair close. Her hand then moved toward my face. "Yes, I can see that." Her fingers brushed aside some of my hair and then traced the scar, over my left eye, left by the Vong. "And I saw Fenrir's wound as well. He seemed… proud of it?"

"Tuk'ata are bred for war. Being wounded in battle and surviving is a good thing for them."

"And what else does he enjoy?" she asked as she pulled her fingers from my face, letting them drift down my arm.

"Battle or hunting are the only things that seem to calm him," I replied before chuckling. "He might settle if he found a mate, but he's not yet shown an interest in such things."

"And what about you?" I stared at Padmé. For her part, the blush grew stronger, and she imitated a fish for a few moments as she realised how what she'd said could be interpreted.

I placed my hand on hers, cutting off her flailing to find a way to escape her slip. "I find spending time with friends is a good way to unwind after a stressful situation. Such as spending all day dealing with people wanting something from you because of a promotion." She blinked as I spoke. "Congratulations on your ascension."

"Thank you." She turned away and reached for a cup of water.

"Of course, once I heard you were standing, I had faith you would win. So much in fact, I may have broken some minor Jedi rules and placed a wager on you winning. One that paid off and I'd now like to donate to the Refugee Relief Movement and a local charity of your choice."

The cup had frozen at her lips when I'd said I'd bet on her winning and hadn't moved since. "You really don't have to do that."

"No, but I want to. And it's harmless fun. Credits matter little to a Jedi." I bit off any mental retort about how much bullshit that was with around a billion credits in my name. I'd moved some to other accounts, under various aliases, though it was surprisingly hard to draw more than a few million from the account without having to deal with the IGBC. I doubted that was Plagueis' work, as stopping withdrawing the credits would be an odd move for an ally, but he certainly was made aware I was trying to withdraw and transfer the funds into other accounts. "Since I won, because of you, I might as well let you have some say in how they're used. So, who should I make the donation to?"

"T-the Naboo Children's Fund," she answered slowly. "They help young, underprivileged children to follow their dreams. Sabé was one helped by them." When she finished speaking, she took a sip of her water.

"Good. A half-million to each then," I commented just as she swallowed. As she coughed and spluttered I laughed. I expected this would defuse any lingering tension between us and was proved corrected when, after she stopped coughing, she slapped my arm.

"Cam!" Of course, the blow didn't hurt, and I kept laughing, which quickly diffused her anger, and soon she was chuckling along with me. "Are you certain?" She asked once the laughter had died down.

"Yes. What's the point of making a wager if there's not some risk involved?" I shot back, a wide smile on my face. Only part of those donations was coming from my winnings, the majority was coming from my funds. I had little doubt Padmé would mention this around people and Palpatine would hear word of it. When that got back to Plagueis, I hoped the Sith would think I'd used most if not all, the credits I'd withdrawn so far – around fifteen million. If they did, I'd have some leeway to use those credits off the books – as almost all of it was now stored in my Inventory – without them trying to track my actions. "So, when should I, oof!"

My question was cut off as Padmé leaned forward and onto her tiptoes, cutting off the distance between us, and pressed her lips against mine. As I tasted the faintest hint of something sweet on her lips, my brain froze.

When it unfroze, I cursed the fact my attempt to remove the tension had failed even as I felt myself begin to kiss her back. Thankfully, she pulled back before my hands could move as I feared they'd bring her closer instead of pushing her away. Before I could say anything, she blinked, slipped from her seat and then raced away.

I turned, watching as she pushed the large doors to her chamber open enough to slip through. As they closed, I caught sight of the large, luxurious bed within. When the doors closed behind her, with the Handmaiden's one following a second later, I facepalmed.

"Haar'chak!" I spat into my hand as it dragged down my face.

I'd hoped to avoid that happening, to distract her with the wager. Instead, it seemed that had been the final straw she'd needed to make her move. Oh, she was embarrassed that she had, but it had happened. If I could, I'd avoid seeing her again until she was a few years older, however with what was right around the corner, that wouldn't work. For so many reasons.

I stood, placing the mugs back next to the jug. "Thank you for the meeting, Your Majesty," I said loudly so my voice would carry to her, the handmaidens and the guards outside. "However, the hour is getting late, and I feel it unwise if I remain any longer. You undoubtedly have a busy day tomorrow and I need to return to Coruscant."

With my piece said to the empty room, I walked toward the main doors. With each step, I hoped what had happened here didn't ruin my friendship with her, and wondered how Serra would react when Padmé likely reached out to talk about this. I then grunted in annoyance as I realised that I'd have to explain this to Serra before Padmé called to avoid her reaction.

As I exited the antechamber, I wondered what Nar Shaddaa looked like this time of year.

… …


… …

A little over a week after Padme's coronation, I was back on Mtael's Gift. I'd left Naboo two days after the banquet, not having managed to speak to Padmé again, as she was busy being the leader of Naboo. While part of me did think she was avoiding me – which was enforced by the fact each time she looked my way I felt her embarrassment – it had allowed me time to scout out Theed. Palpatine himself had given me the formal tour, no doubt using the fact he was close to a Jedi who Queen Amidala was friends with to further his reputation with the locals while attempting to worm deeper into my trust.

After that, I'd left Naboo and travelled a little, taking my time before arriving in the ShaDo system. When I'd arrived, I discovered they'd just completed another successful raid against a minor Hutt on Makeb. Thus, last night there'd been a feast that celebrated the freedom of new members of the community. There I'd discovered that most of the freed slaves had been pleasure slaves, and as the night had worn on, and tales of my actions in founding and supporting the Lokella were told, I drew the attention of many of the newly freed slaves. While most were polite in their thanks, a pair of Zeltron twins felt I deserved a more personal reward.

With my thoughts focused on Padmé and Naboo, I'd turned them down, though that hadn't stopped the pair from trying their best to bed me. If not for the Interface activating Player's Mind automatically to block their pheromones, I doubt I'd have been able to resist. The pair were fucking gorgeous. Yet I had resisted, though only by leaving the feast before the drink flowed too much.

Because of the feast, the corridors of the station were quieter than usual. Those that had assignments were going about them but most of the other inhabitants of the station were seemingly sleeping off the effects of the night before. That was useful as it gave me time to take a slow, leisurely walk toward the Skywalker's cabin, which was my reason for stopping here on my way to Mandalore.

On Mandalore I planned to bring HK back to full functionality, or as close as my mediocre skills would allow. I'd already spoken to Bo via the Holonet about the project, and she was excited. Though that might also be because I'd revealed that I was now with Serra. No doubt the red-haired warrior wanted details, and probably wished to learn when she could have her chance at my fellow Jedi. Still, Bo was happy I was bringing Anakin along with me for HK's rebirth. As much as she might deny it, she had a sweet spot for the kid - a fact I enjoyed teasing her about whenever Anakin had come up in conversation between us. I doubted Bo wanted children as of yet, but I also knew she'd make a great mother. At least in terms of allowing kids the freedom to learn by doing, even if that meant making mistakes along the way.

"And here I thought this morning's walk would be wasted."

I paused mid-stride at the sensual, almost musical voice that floated toward me from my right. As I turned, I saw Surmi, one of the Zeltron twins leaning against the wall. While she wasn't actively trying to show off her frame – at least I didn't feel she was – the way she rested did little to hide her impressive figure or assets.

"Surmi, I figured you and your sister would've found someone to warm your sheets at the party," I spoke softly with a smile, letting her know I wasn't bothered if she had.

Surmi chuckled and pushed off the wall, drawing my sight to her chest as it swayed in the tight shirt she wore. One that was unbuttoned just enough to reveal a tempting amount of cleavage. "We did. Our night was enjoyable, and our companions were enthusiastic. Syshe is still sleeping off our escapades, however, I find my thoughts continually drawn to just what a Jedi might be capable of. Even as slaves, stories of the prowess of Jedi in battle had reached our ears and I cannot escape wondering if such prowess extends beyond the battlefield. Preferably to actions that are far more pleasurable for all involved." Each step she took toward me had her hips swaying evocatively and even if she was limiting how active her pheromones were, I could feel myself reacting to her presence.

"As I said last night, while the offer is incredibly tempting, another holds a place of importance in my heart. As much as I'm sure we'd both enjoy time together, I'm unsure how she would feel about me bedding someone as beautiful as you. Especially as we've only just met."

Surmi's smile grew as she moved closer and placed a single finger against my chest. She wasn't short, but I still towered over her, forcing me to look down and making it hard to avoid my eyes wandering to the opening in her shirt. "This other means much to you, does she?"

"She does. More so than I suspect the Jedi Council would approve of," I replied with a smile coming to my face as I thought of Serra. Though thoughts of her were soon joined by Bo.

"She is the one the others talk of. The female Mandalorian?"

"No. Bo and I separated due to our paths parting," though I knew our paths would soon cross again. Serra knew this too, and while I'd sensed some trepidation from her over me reuniting with Bo, for the most part, she was accepting of it. Even going so far as to say she was happy if I slept with Bo again. While she didn't say anything else, I felt her curiosity and desire flare for a moment when she said that, making me wonder if Bo was right about Serra being just as attracted to females as she was to males. Or at least to me.

Surmi blinked and tilted her head. "The Mandalorian is comfortable with this?"

"Yes, as is the other. Both know each other, and I think, perhaps, they might like each other as well."

Surmi chuckled and ran her finger down my chest, letting the contours of my skin guide her path. "Then you are very lucky. As are they to be able to enjoy you." Her finger stopped just above my waist, and she stood on her tiptoes. "If they are amenable," she whispered into my ear, "my sister and I would be more than willing to join all three of you for however long you'd take us." As she finished, her lips brushed against my cheek.

I stayed still as she pulled back. The idea of her and her sister joining Bo, Serra and me in bed was… going to rattle around my head for some time to come. I knew Bo would take the offer without issue, but I doubted Serra would react well. Though, I did rather hope she'd be interested.

"Until later, Mtael," Surmi finished as she slipped past me, her fingers dragging over my side until she could no longer maintain contact. It took most of my self-control to not react to the way she made that title sound positively scandalous, and for the first time, I found I didn't mind being called that.

Turning, I watched her go, my eyes drawn to the way her hips moved, defying gravity with each step, until she slipped from view. "Fucking hell," I muttered to the empty corridor. I already had issues with Padmé – and possibly Sabé if the way she'd looked at me before I'd left Naboo was any indication – to sort out. Never mind the affection Miraj had shown me. "When did my life turn into a freaking love novel?"

After shaking my head, I resumed my walk toward the Skywalker's cabin, pushing aside thoughts of females that seemingly wanted to bed me and each other to one side. I really didn't need those bouncing around my head when I spoke to Anakin and his mother.

Once at their door, I pressed the buzzer. Since neither had stayed at the feast until late last night – not unless they'd returned after I'd left – they should be up. I could sense them inside, though as Anakin moved to the door, I frowned as Detection indicated someone else was inside.

"Who is it?"

I smiled, glad to see that Anakin wasn't just opening the door whenever someone buzzed. He was far too trusting and open with others, and I'd feared someone might take advantage of that – and of the clear fact I visited him whenever I stopped in the system – to target him and Shmi to get to me. "It's Cam."

The door was opened even before I finished, making me wonder if Anakin could sense it was me.

"Cam!" I barely had time to hear his excited call before he barrelled into me. Since he was only nine, that meant the hug was locked around my waist, trapping me. Thankfully, I'd know this was coming and braced for it.

"Good morning, Anakin. I hope I didn't wake you."

"No, we were just getting ready for breakfast," I looked into the cabin, failing to hide my shock at seeing Ferox standing in the main room in something akin to a toga and his hair was damp at the edges. "I suspect Anakin will insist you join us."

"Yes, come in!" Before I knew it, the boy had dragged me into the main room. While I was puzzled to find Ferox here, the former gladiatorial slave seemed amused.

"I'm… surprised to find you here at this hour," I said to Ferox even as Anakin tried to drag me to the sofa. No doubt he wanted to show me something he'd learnt while I was away. Normally, I'd let him, but the presence of the Corellian had my attention.

"Oh, Cameron. I hadn't realised you were going to come over." I turned, as did Ferox, to see Shmi step into the room. She was wearing a simple dress with a towel wrapped around her hair. "Please, won't you join us for breakfast?"

I looked over to the table and saw three places were already set. My eyes turned back to Ferox and Shmi as I put it together. "Ah, I'm sorry. I didn't realise you already had plans." I didn't know when, where, why, or how it had happened, but between my last visit to the station and now Shmi had gotten close to Ferox. Close enough that he was staying over, and Anakin seemed comfortable with it. That was certainly a surprise, but not one I was upset about, Anakin could use another positive male role model.

"You're always welcome," Shmi responded as she moved closer to Ferox, taking his hand in hers, confirming my suspicions. "If not for you, all of us here would either still be slaves or dead. To us, you are family."

I nodded my thanks, not finding the words to reply to such a statement. As I sat, I watched the pair. Ferox was headstrong and aggressive while Shmi was incredibly gentle and caring. It was an odd pairing, at least on the surface, but I sensed they did truly care for each other beyond simple infatuation. Nearby, Anakin pulled utensils out of a drawer that sunk into the wall for me. I smiled in thanks as he placed the plate, cup and cutlery on the table for me.

"If I might ask, how long have you been close?" I asked as Ferox held out the chair for Shmi to sit on.

"Around two months," Shmi replied as Ferox sat beside her, kissing the top of her head as he did so. The smile on his face was an odd one. I mean, I'd seen him smile before, but that had been when he'd been sparring or fighting. Then, there'd been an almost reckless abandon to him. This smile was soft and tender; an expression I never expected to see on his face.

"I had returned from an assault on a slave market two sectors away," Ferox said as he took over the story. "While we liberated most of the slaves, I was wounded in the fight. Shmi here watched over me for a week as the bacta healed my wounds, spending every meal with me so I wouldn't feel lonely."

Shmi smiled and leaned against Ferox's shoulder. "Once he was healed, and after one of his training sessions for Anakin and others his age, he came over and asked me to join him for a meal." Shmi's smile grew as she turned and looked up at Ferox. "From there, things developed quicker than I think either of us expected. It was Anakin here that first mentioned how happy I was with Ferox, and said how happy he was for me."

I smiled and ruffled Anakin's head upon hearing that. While the boy disliked my action, it gave me a moment to quickly consider this development. Obviously, by taking her from Tatooine, her eventual marriage to Cliegg Lars – and then death at the hands of Tusken Raiders – wasn't going to happen, so I couldn't consider this change a bad thing. Still, I'd have to speak with Anakin and others about Ferox, especially if Shmi was managing to smooth out his rougher, blunter edges.

As I returned my gaze to the loving couple, I felt something subtle shift in the Force. Curious, I used Observe on both and was surprised to see their feelings were genuine, that both were concerned I wouldn't approve and that the pair had an awkward conversation coming in a month or two. "I'm happy for both of you," I said, easing their nerves, "and wish you joy for what the future brings."

Both frowned, wondering at my choice of words, however neither could say anything as something pinged in the kitchen. As Shmi stood and moved to gather breakfast, I watched her go, processing that I now knew, thanks to Observe, that she was with child. While I suspected the child wouldn't have much, if any Force sensitivity – as neither parent did, and Anakin was an anomaly – their existence was going to affect Anakin dramatically. Any formal training at the Temple was now out as I knew the boy would reject going if it meant leaving his mother and sibling.

"Where have you been this time?" the boy asked, drawing me from my thoughts on the changes occurring to the timeline. I didn't need the Force to know he was excited to hear of my latest adventure.

"Nowhere exciting," I replied with a shrug before passing my plate to Shmi as she returned with a bowl. "I attended a diplomatic summit at the request of a Senator and then spent time in the Temple." I brushed over the details of events on Eriadu, and time spent with Serra simply because I didn't want to worry him. "Though before coming here, I attended a royal coronation." I didn't go into detail there as I didn't want him looking up Padmé on the Holonet. Ignoring that he might be fated to fall for her, if he knew of her now, then he might well try and somehow sneak there when Naboo was invaded. Plus, taking him would've placed him in Palpatine's sight, something I wanted to avoid for as long as possible.

"Wizard! What was that like?" He asked, barely managing to sit still even as Shmi placed food on his plate.

I chuckled at his behaviour and ruffled his hair once again. Though that did little to change his mood. "Honestly? Boring. Lots of pageantry, formality, and false politeness."

Ferox grunted. "Sounds awful."

I nodded as I put my fork into the food. "It had its moments," I countered. Of course, the main one that stuck in my thoughts wasn't one I wanted to dwell on.

From there on, we spoke of mundane matters over breakfast. Shmi and Ferox updated me on the size and strength of the Lokella – now numbering just under seventy thousand between the station, fleet, and colony below – while I let them know a few titbits of information about what was happening on Coruscant. Ferox offered some blunt – but, I could admit, appealing – ways to handle the more tedious Senatorial debates I'd watched, which made me chuckle. All the while Anakin tried to enter the conversation, asking questions about what I'd done and telling tales – sometimes tall ones – of his adventures on the station.

About thirty minutes later we finished the meal and I stood, collecting up my plates.

"You don't have to do that," Shmi commented with a gentle smile. "You're our guest."

"It's the least I can do for inviting me to join," I replied as I placed Anakin's plate on my own, and then took them and the cutlery over to the automated washer. Anakin tagged along, our cups in his hands. After that, I glanced at Shmi and then nodded my head toward Anakin.

"Anakin, go and wash and brush."

"Do I have to?" He whined. "I want to stay with Cam."

"I'll be here when you get back, I promise." He smiled at that and rushed through the main room. "If you rush though I won't take you out on Raven!" I added as the door to the washroom slid closed. With him gone, and after letting Ferox chuckle at my idle threat, I turned to Shmi,

"The boy loves flying almost as much as he loves taking things apart and rebuilding them," Ferox commented, making me smile. Anakin had a knack for technology, and a desire to understand it that few other sentients had. Something that would've existed even if he wasn't Force-sensitive. "Just as he does for combat training."

"I thought he wasn't allowed to join?" Shmi asked with a frown.

Ferox shrugged. "I told the instructors to keep him away, but he always finds a way into the training area. Besides," he continued with a shrug, "it's better he knows how to defend himself if the worst should happen." I nodded in agreement. While Ferox's style of fighting wouldn't suit him, especially once Anakin got a lightsaber, having a sound base was never a bad thing.

"Baalta promised me she'd keep him away," Shmi commented with a sigh and a shake of her head. "I sometimes fear that boy will be the death of me."

I kept thoughts of her canon death from my face. With her here now, beside Ferox, that fate had been averted. "Perhaps then, I might have a way to keep him from those classes and getting into trouble – which he no doubt does daily." Shmi's frown deepened, and I raised a hand. "I'm not asking to take him to the Temple. He will one day be trained, of that I'm certain. However, I feel, for now at least, he benefits more from spending time with his family." The main reason for not taking him to Naboo – Palpatine – was even more prevalent for taking him to the Jedi Temple.

There was also the fact that taking Anakin there would bring him to the attention of the High Council. They would, undoubtedly, be reluctant to let me train him, especially if they learnt his midi-chlorian count was higher than mine. Of course, if I didn't train him, that issue would be null and void. However, the only option I could see beyond me was Qui-Gon, but that needed Obi-Wan to be knighted, which only happened after he killed Maul. Dooku might be an option, but I had the distinct feeling that beyond sharpening up Anakin's lightsaber styles, my former Master had no interest in taking another Padawan.

"For several years now, I've had a droid head and brain in my possession. It belonged to my ancestor and Anakin, along with others, has been helping me design a new frame for the head. Since I plan to attach the head to the frame soon, I wondered if Anakin might wish to be there to see it happen."

"HK?" Shmi asked, making me glance toward the bathroom. "Anakin has talked animatedly about the droid. Particularly the stories the droid told to him, along with Bo-Katan, about its adventures with Revan." Shmi frowned, making me wonder how detailed Anakin had been in his retelling of HK's tales. Though beside her, I saw Ferox lean closer slightly, as if he was curious about these tales. Or perhaps he'd learnt some of my history and wanted to hear about Revan.

"Aye, he's… well, I guess I could say he's a family heirloom at this point," I remarked with a chuckle. "Since I'm a Jedi Knight, I have more leeway in what I can travel with, thus I want him up and around. So to speak." Plus, I wanted him at my side for the invasion, and not just so I could hear his commentary about battledroids. Missing out on that would be something I'd regret for the rest of my life. Along with introducing HK to R2-D2. I found the concept of releasing those two in an unsuspecting galaxy a way to lift even the deepest gloom.

Shmi looked at Ferox, though if she was hoping he'd be against things, she was disappointed when he nodded his support. After sighing she turned back to me, only for the door to the bathroom to open. "Anakin," she said without looking back, "Cameron has something to ask."

Anakin felt like a star going supernova in the Force with how much excitement and energy erupted from him. I knew the Interface diluted my connection to the force, but even with that, I was taken aback at the power that radiated from the young boy. "Anakin," I began once I'd recovered from his presence, "how would you…"

"Yes!" He shouted, cutting me off. "I want to be a Jedi!"

I blinked before shaking my head and laughing. Something I heard Ferox do as well. "No, Anakin. I'm not taking you as my Padawan or to the Temple. At least not yet," I added quickly as his mood fell. "No, what I wanted to ask is if you'd like to come with me to see HK come fully online?"

Any disappointment on his face vanished as I explained myself. "Yes!" He shouted, punctuating his excitement with a jump. Though as he landed, he paused and looked at Shmi. "Um, what about my mother?"

"Once HK's online, and we've put him through his paces," something I knew Bo would take immense pleasure in doing, "I'll bring you back home. I just felt you'd want to be there with Bo and me when HK came online."

He nodded, the smile on his face brightening the entire room. Somehow it grew wider when I mentioned Bo. "Wait… you mean we're going to Mandalore?" I nodded even as I saw Shmi tense. "Wizard!" Anakin jumped again. "I'll go pack." Without waiting, he turned and ran toward his room even as I returned my focus to his mother.

"Will he be safe? I mean, I know their war is over, but from all I've heard it's a dangerous place."

I chuckled. "No more so than many places in the Outer Rim." Ferox nodded in agreement. "Besides, something I've intentionally kept from most is that Bo's father is Duke Adonai Kryze. After the war, he and Duke Torrhen Ordo control the sector, and both consider me an ally."

I was a little surprised that neither had moved to become Mand'alor, as with the defeat of Death Watch – bar whatever Pre Vizsla was able to save – and Duke Varaud, they had the power and influence to claim the title. Perhaps neither felt taking the title was worth the renewed chaos it would bring or had other reasons to not do so. Regardless, I was glad they hadn't as it would place Serra and me in the awkward position of having to choose between the Order and Manda'yaim. I was semi-certain of which way I'd go, but I couldn't be sure of Serra, and wouldn't want her making a choice to please me.

Focusing back on the present, I noted that Ferox seemed interested, and I wondered if he'd want to visit with us. Mandalorians had started returning to the station since the war ended to help train the Lokella and he'd undoubtedly sparred with a few. Honestly, he and Validus would make excellent Mandalorians.

"If it was anyone else, even Ferox, I'd say no," Shmi said slowly, her eyes drifting to Anakin's room. "However, since it's you, and I know Bo-Katan, I… I'm ok with him going."

I smiled and nodded. "If anything, or one tries anything they'll have to get through me and Fenrir first." The mention of the tuk'ata made her lips twitch. "Provided Bo and her father don't declare a crusade first. He would be under the protection of House Kryze and, well let's just say, Mandalorians have a hair-trigger when it comes to protecting family and allies."

"Thank you. It's just," she sighed again and shook her head. "Ever since he was born I've known he was destined for something special. Since we met you, I've known his path isn't one I can walk, but I don't think I'm ready for that day to come. Not quite yet."

"I understand. And I assure you that while I do think I'll be taking him to the Jedi, there is no rush. Most aren't taken until they are ten or older. Even if I don't take him as a Padawan, which I'm not sure Anakin would like," that earned a smile, "I'll keep a close eye on whoever does take him as a Padawan." My eyes glanced down at her belly. "If the Force wills it, and he becomes my Padawan, then I'll do all I can to ensure that not only will he stay in contact, but that we return as time and the Force allow."

"I thought that was against the Jedi rules?"

I nodded at Ferox's question. "It is, but Anakin will be far from a normal Jedi."

"Nor are you," Ferox shot back with a smirk. "You travel with warriors, fight when needed and have a beast that would shame many that I stood beside in the fighting pits." I knew he was trying to reassure Shmi, but it wasn't the best way to phrase things.

"I'll admit the Force has shown a, shall we say, willingness to place me in volatile situations more than most Jedi might encounter in such a short span of time, but I don't feel that will continue." Or I hoped it wouldn't as I didn't want something to come up that forced me to be distracted when I should be on or near Naboo. Afterwards, if the Force had things it wished for me, then so be it. Each adventure I'd had so far, even – as much as I hated to admit it – my time dealing with Komari Vosa and the Bando Gora, had helped shape me for the battles to come and were generally enjoyable.

Shmi smiled, though there was sadness behind it. "Cameron, even I know you have a purpose in this life, one greater than anyone else on the station other than my son," she glanced at Anakin's door, making sure he was still inside before continuing. "One that's tied to…" her words were cut off by Anakin rushing out of his room, a bag almost as large as him being dragged behind. "Anakin," she said with a resigned shake of her head, which had Ferox and me exchange amused smiles.

"We're not leaving this minute, Anakin," I said as he dragged the bag to the table. "Not even today, I suspect. I wish to speak with Master Dooku first, and the Ruling Council. It's past time I used some of the phrik they placed aside for me."

"I'll let Validus know you wish to speak."

I gave Ferox a nod of thanks then turned back to Anakin. "For now, just keep doing your classes and chores. Later, if your mum allows, you can play with Fenrir, though I warn you he's grown more since you last saw him." I held my hand out, lifting it to roughly my height when I stood. Anakin's eyes widened as the last time Fenrir had been here, he'd been at about my neck. Smirking at the boy's reaction, I looked at Ferox. "Provided you promise to only use blunted blades, I think Fenrir's at the stage he can spar with others."

Ferox smiled widely as he accepted the terms with a nod. He and others had been wishing to take on Fenrir in a combat session to see what he was capable of. I'd been reluctant to allow it as Fenrir was still young and growing. Both of those were still true, but I felt he was at, or near, his full height, so wrestling with others would do him some good. I'd just have to remind him to not bite down on anyone and still remain close just in case things got out of hand. While he was gentle around me – most of the time – he wasn't a pet.

… …


… …

I watched patiently as the shuttle from Gaia's surface came into view. I knew Dooku was onboard and could sense his presence as the shuttle – which was a converted light freighter – slipped through the shield holding the atmosphere. While I'd already spoken with him over local comms, I wanted to speak with him in person as this was likely to be the last time I could do so before Naboo was blockaded. There were, I felt, still several months to go as Padmé was still inside her first month as Queen, but I couldn't be sure of that and thus was working on a tight clock.

Time passed as the shuttle touched down, and the ramp descended. If he wished, Dooku could've exited first. To the Lokella, his position was almost as high as mine, yet I knew he wouldn't. For all his stature, grace and belief in superiority, he believed that using that status was pointless in most situations. Thus, I waited as a dozen sentients from a handful of species exited the shuttle. Most moved off toward their station or cabin onboard Mtael's Gift though some were greeted by friends, lovers, and in the case of a Twi'lek, family.

Dooku stepped off the ramp calmly, and even though he was the last to disembark, many still stopped to watch. Some even moved to give him a clear path from the shuttle. I smirked at the little display that proved how highly the Lokella regarded him, enjoying someone else having to endure their respects for once.

At the bottom of the ramp, he turned and looked up at me. Several people around did likewise, and I could sense the awe and delight as they realised that I was present. Dooku lowered his head and moved off as I felt his amusement at transferring the worship to me. I pushed off the railing I was leaning against and sighed. I'd long since accepted the Lokella's feelings toward me – even from those who'd not been present when I'd helped free them – but I'd prefer if they moved past it and simply treated me as a regular visitor to their system.

I moved along the balcony and waited at the steps until Dooku came back into sight. "Master," I said with a respectful bow.

When he was close enough, he placed a hand against my upper arm and offered me, what was for him, a warm smile. "You no longer need to do that, Cameron."

"I will regard you as my Master, even if, one day, I become Grandmaster of the Order, Master," I replied with a smile of my own.

I was caught off guard when Dooku laughed, even more so in that it felt genuine. "If one day, you did become Grandmaster of the Order, I fear what would've befallen the Order that the Council would ask you to lead them." I chuckled, wondering, depending on how my life turned out, I might somehow fill the role that Luke was meant to have after Return of the Jedi. "Now come, tell me why you wished to speak in person."

I lowered my head in acceptance, and as he moved, I turned to walk at his side. "It's about the boy, Master, and other things. Other events." The balcony I'd waited on was a quiet one, rarely frequented by any bar those, like Anakin, who might enjoy watching shuttles and smaller freighters come and go from the bay below.

"Do you intend to take him as your Padawan then?" I glanced at Dooku as we walked. "While you've denied this plan several times, Master Fay and I both sense the connection that exists between you. The Force moves around you enough that even I, someone without interest in visions and prophecy, can see what Masters Nilas and Sifo-Dyas spoke of many years ago. You two share a path through the coming darkness, one I have little doubt you can walk."

I smiled at the compliment and slowed as we neared the end of the balcony. Some people were moving around the corridors nearby and I'd rather the conversation we were having remained private. "I won't deny that I wonder if I should take Anakin as my Padawan, but I don't think either of us is ready for that step currently."

"You may be young in body Cameron, but you are wiser than you appear, more so than even many Knights twice your age. I have no doubt that any you train will grow to become exceptional Jedi, regardless of when you begin their training. That said, if you do eventually take the boy on to train, perhaps you might attempt to curtail his desire to rush headlong into anything he'd set his mind toward."

I chuckled and shook my head. "I fear that is a lesson I'm ill-advised to teach, Master."

Dooku gave a very gentle grunt. "Yes, I suppose that is true. Though I suspect that your tendency to rush in will be tamed by concerns for any Padawan you train. It would be best for both of you if you learnt to take even a brief moment to determine a situation before acting."

"Yes, Master." I looked back at the bay, watching as various droids and crew checked the shuttle and prepped it for its return trip in a few hours. "How goes your time with Vosa?" While I'd rather not discuss someone who darkened my thoughts whenever they were mentioned, avoiding the topic was a worse approach to take. Though I was far from ready to face her once more, even if she was disarmed.

Dooku took some time before replying as if carefully weighing his options. "As well as it can, I believe. Komari will never rejoin the Order, something we both agree upon, but I feel she is nearing a moment where her path will be tested. Still, while I believe she will make the correct decision, I cannot place much trust in that belief."

I nodded, accepting his words. Provided I survived Maul – something that was troubling my thoughts when I slept – I might be ready to speak with Vosa. But not until then.

"Have you felt the shift?" I turned to Dooku, confused by the sudden change in topic. "The darkness Master Nilas and Sifo-Dyas spoke of is growing stronger. I can sense its lingering touch upon you, almost at times as if it might engulf and consume you; extinguishing the light you radiate within the Force."

"Aye, I can sense it," I replied slowly. "Though I'm not entirely sure from where it comes," which wasn't entirely true, "only that a moment, a tipping point, approaches." I looked up at the pipes running along the ceiling of the bay and sighed. "I've seen… new glimpses of something coming. Trade Federation droids marching on fields of green, blades of blue clashing with one of red, a distant, deranged cackle at the very edges of my thoughts. I don't know what they mean, or what they're trying to warn me of, but I know I need to try to, if not stop them, then at least… lessen their impact."

The idea that my existence, and my actions since arriving in this era, might somehow make things worse for Padmé, the Naboo, and the rest of the galaxy was a nagging one. One that grew stronger the closer it got to the invasion. I knew things had changed, that the plans Sidious and Plagueis had placed in motion had altered slightly because of me, yet how those changes would affect others was a complete unknown.

I turned to Dooku, noticing with a hint of surprise I could almost look him eye to eye now, as he placed a hand on my shoulder. "The future, as Master Yoda is fond of saying, is always in motion. Our actions can, at best, cause ripples, but the flow of time and the will of the Force are hard to alter. The glimpses those of us connected to the Force are granted plague our thoughts with worry. However, you must push aside that worry, and place trust in yourself, those around you, and the Force. Even when others say your actions are unwise, if you believe deep within yourself that the path you walk is the correct one, that the actions you've taken are right and just, then you'll find the strength of will to continue on that path." He offered me another smile, one that oddly reminded me of Palpatine's grandfatherly ones. "This darkness around you, one I can feel more clearly as our bond has grown over the years, has become stronger. It does threaten to engulf you, and those close to you. However, I know that when the critical moment comes, you will do what is right. You won't face it alone; this I am sure of even if I suspect I won't be beside you when the time comes. That said, I have little doubt you will prevail and drive back the encroaching darkness."

I smiled and lowered my head. "Thank you for the kind words, Master. I'll be sure to heed them when the moment arrives." As I continued, I felt my smile slip slightly. "Yet, even when I do, I worry for Anakin. In my visions, I see him at my side as the darkness approaches. Yet, I fear bringing him near, as if it might somehow empower the looming threat. He is young and I worry my choices will in some way damage him irrevocably."

Dooku squeezed my shoulder. "Which is why you are concerned about taking him as your Padawan currently." I nodded, confirming his statement. "That is another sign of your wisdom. One far beyond your years. Though again I say I have faith that your training of the boy – be it as his Master or simply as an advisor – will help guide him toward the path the Force wishes him to take." I grimaced as an image of Vader striking down Obi-Wan flashed through my thoughts, making me wonder if I would replace Obi-Wan in that destiny. "And that you will remain on the path the Force has laid out for you, even if, I'm sure, at times you find yourself feeling lost and confused. Just like the boy, you have a significant role to play in countering the darkness that has fallen over the galaxy." He pulled his hand back and took a step away. "Normally, I would be reluctant to say such things to a newly risen Knight, particularly one of your tender years. Yet I know you won't allow ego or pride to interfere with your choices. No more so than any sentient would."

"Thank you, Master." I reached out and grasped his forearm. "For everything you've taught me so far and will certainly continue to teach as the years pass." When I'd first been assigned to him and Fay, I'd felt I would learn more from Fay, that she would be the more important Master. Yet, nearly a decade later, I knew that I had been wrong. While Fay's teachings proved useful, I'd gravitated toward Dooku. More than just from a need to prevent his fall to the Sith or complete the quest linked to that fate. My path had moved from the one Fay walked, coming to lay closer to Dooku's. Though not, I was glad to say, one that led to him rising as Darth Tyrannus.

"And thank you, Cameron, for showing me that the future, no matter how bleak and corrupt the present is, still carries with it hope. For a long time, I believed my actions, my choices, as a Jedi had been for nought. Yet, from teaching and learning from you, I have come to see that I was wrong. My choices matter. Not just those I have taken, but those I will take." His free arm came around and he gripped me just under the shoulder. "Whatever dangers this darkness brings, the Force will be with you, my friend."

… …


… …

"Woo-hoo!" Anakin called out as I pushed Raven down into the atmosphere of Mandalore. Enjoyment and excitement radiated around me as Anakin and Raven both revelled in our rapid descent. As a smile spread over my face, my fingers flew over the controls, controlling Raven's entry even as I sensed her guiding my actions on how to manipulate her power systems. "This ship is so wizard!"

"Aye, she is," I agreed with a chuckle as I flicked the thrusters and Raven rolled on her axis even as we accelerated through the upper clouds of the atmosphere. However, I sensed the moment was over as a light blinked on one console and the sensors detected four fighters closing in rapidly from the north-east. Pressing the relevant control, the holoprojector on the bridge flared to life.

"Unknown vessel, state your purpose or be fired upon."

I grinned at the blunt but effective challenge from the armoured warrior that appeared as a hologram. "This is Alor Cameron Shan aboard the Jade Raven. I'm here on clan business with Alor Adonai Kryze." As I spoke, I sent a file containing my clan and personal sigils along with a secure code the duke had given me to use whenever I returned to the sector. The code had gotten me past the orbital defences – and seeing a few dozen large cruisers patrolling the system was an interesting change since I'd last visited – with ease.

The Mandalorian looked away from me, likely to confirm the file I'd sent. "Alor Cameron, welcome. I will inform Alor Adonai that you will be arriving. Will you require an escort to Keldabe?"

"No thanks. I think I remember the way." The Mandalorian nodded and then clasped one hand to his chest before the signal ended.

"That was cold."

Even as the sensors showed the fighters turning away, I replied to Anakin. "It wasn't. Mandalorians just prefer to get to the heart of a matter without any needless time-wasting and grandstanding. Something I feel the rest of the galaxy would do well to copy." Even as I spoke, Raven banked, turning away from Sundari toward the old, original capital of the planet. I'd hoped he'd not be based in Sundari as the city was linked to the New Mandalorian faction, but I couldn't be sure of that. Plus, the area where the city, and those nearby, was built was nothing but desert. That made it the perfect place to cut loose and let Raven push herself during low-altitude manoeuvres. "Of course, if you think they're cold, I'll have Bo cancel your training sessions."

"Training?" While his tone was cautious, thanks to our bond, I could feel a spike of excitement.

"Well, we came all this way, so what sort of mentor would I be if I didn't let you train alongside some of their young warriors?" His hesitancy fell away as the excitement grew and when I glanced his way, there was a wide smile on his face. "Just don't mention this to your mother, otherwise I'm not sure if she'll let you travel with me again." He nodded so rapidly I feared he'd hurt himself and with a laugh, I turned my full attention back to the controls and the fast-closing white sand of the planet below.

As the desert ended, I pulled Raven back, letting her race mere metres over the tops of the forest that sprang up. I knew leaves would be sent flying, along with animals disturbed by the flyover, but Raven was enjoying herself and I wasn't willing to end that. At least not until Keldabe came into sight. Once it did, I lowered the power to Raven's engines, and as a sense of annoyance filled the cabin, I gently patted the framework, letting her know I understood.

Keldabe appeared much as it had in the past, with the Mandalmotors tower now fully repaired from the damage it had previously sustained. As I circled the city, I noticed activity within the training centre, and the gentle yet persistent alarms reminded me that any attempt to fly over would trigger defensive batteries. It was a change from my time there, but it was one I strongly supported. The flyby also jogged my memory to potentially seek out conversations with Commandant Kraviss and Rangemaster Marod if time permitted.

Keldabe, resembling a neglected factory complex carelessly discarded within a forest, presented an unusual sight. A vast hillfort encircled by a bend in the Kelita River, surrounded by settlements dotting the nearby woodland. Dominating the landscape was the extensive sprawl of Mandalmotors, now repaired from the damage it had taken, with its towering hundred-meter structure acting as a navigational reference. Utilizing the comm mast as a guide for the spaceport, he could precisely align his descent onto the landing strip. This city was Mandalore, characterized by Mandalmotors, a multitude of small engineering workshops, subsistence farms, ore mining, and a profusion of trees. Excluding the unique beskar deposits, the exceptional Mandalorian iron ore, there was little to set the place apart other than its inhabitants.

Eventually, as I neared the landing area on the northern edge of the city, I pulled back further on the power, and gently lowered Raven onto an empty pad; one that had broadcast a signal to me as I reached Keldabe airspace. While there were no permanent landing pads – at least not for most Mando'ade – as a clan chief, I was assigned one by flight control.

Even before Raven's engines had started to cool, Anakin was up and racing for the exit. "Anakin!" I called out just as the cockpit door slid open. "Patience." I laughed as his shoulder slumped. If there was one thing that remained the same, even with all the changes I'd caused, it was Anakin's desire to rush in. While I doubted I could ever break that, even if I wanted to, I was going to try and curb it as much as I could. Even if that only applied to simple situations like this.

With Anakin all but bouncing at my heels, I moved through the ship, finding Fenrir and Simvyl waiting at the landing ramp. The tuk'ata was almost as excited as Anakin, though, for Fenrir, it was a chance to get out of Raven and run around. Still, my attention was on the Cathar, who carried HK's powered-down head in a bag on his back.

"Remember that not only are these Mandalorians not those who butchered your people thousands of years ago, but that you're under my protection. And by extension, that of the Duke's," I said as I looked at him. "Though I'll admit that Bo is a fair example of their lust for battle."

Simvyl gave a firm nod. "I'm aware. And while I'm no stranger to the thrill of the hunt, and know the Massacre is ancient history, I am still uneasy. All Cathar, be they born on our homeworld or not, are told the story of the night the skies rained death. How, under the command of Cassus Fett, scores of Mandalorians on the back of their metal beasts, brought my race to the verge of extinction." He sighed as the ramp descended. "Still, I swore myself to your side, to walk wherever you go. I knew then that you were considered one of them, and have since taken Bo-Katan as a mate," I opened my mouth to remark that Bo wasn't my mate only to stop as not only did he continue, but I realised that he said 'a mate'. "And perhaps I might be able to use some of my distaste to prove that my people are not weak."

I nodded, accepting his words. "OK, but if you ever feel the need, just return to the Raven. No one will think less of you."

A small smile was what I got to confirm he understood me, and I turned to Fenrir as he whined. "Be patient both of you," I muttered as Anakin was, like Fenrir, dancing from side to side as we waited until we could disembark.

The airlock hissed and pulled open, and I was thankful the pair waited, letting me take the lead as we exited. Once outside a group of twelve Mandalorians approached. All were in full armour and armed, though the four in the middle carried their helmets under an arm and had their blasters holstered.

"Alor Adonai," I began lowering my head for a moment, "I hadn't expected you to greet us personally."

Adonai smiled and reached out with a hand. He'd walked with ease, making me all but forget his leg below the knee was artificial. "Alor Cameron. How could I not?" He asked with a wide smile as I grasped his forearm. "You protected my daughter for far longer than I expected you to," behind him and to the left, Bo rolled her eyes though a smile was on her face, "fought beside her in battles of which songs are sung and have been a good and faithful ally to my clan and I." His eyes drifted beyond me. "Though I do admit to being slightly disappointed the Ne'tra Sartr is no longer with you. That said, my daughter says that in all but weaponry, your new vessel outstrips the Sartr."

I laughed as we broke the grasp. "The Raven is a unique vessel, and I believe the Jedi Council are pleased that she lacks the firepower it had. An opinion that I don't share and was hoping that your engineers might have suggestions on how to correct this oversight."

"Aye, I suspect they will. And I'm sure Alor Dred might also have some interest in that project. He spoke well of how you handled negotiations on Zygerria." I lowered my head for a moment, accepting the praise. At that, Adonai turned his eyes on those with me, quickly locking onto Fenrir. "From the tales Bo told, I know this is the mighty Fenrir; a beast bred of battle." I could sense Fenrir's pride and felt the air shift as he shook and stood to his tallest, his head rising above anyone else's. "Though I hadn't realised he was so imposing."

"Tuk'ata, thanks to a connection to the Force, grow faster than other predators. Though he should be close to full height now, so I'm only left waiting for maturity to come." Fenrir flicked his head, smacking his jaw into my ear and making me stumble.

Adonai laughed at the interaction. "And he is as aware as Bo mentioned. A rare thing, and something Alor Torrhen may well be jealous of." Before I could ask about what he meant, Adonai turned to Simvyl. "On behalf of my people, we are honoured to welcome an Antarian Ranger to our world. While few ever pass our way, we respect the vows and dedication your organisation has. And I for one look forward to sparring with you. My daughter has spoken highly of your prowess in combat, something I'm sure has only increased in your time by this one."

"Since your daughter left, things have been relatively quiet."

I bit back a comment about tempting fate as, knowing what was around the corner, I didn't want Simvyl to think Naboo was somehow his fault. Still, his remark drew a chuckle from Adonai.

"Hmm, is that so? Then perhaps you'd be willing to step into a sparring ring and shake off the rust?"

"Perhaps."

Adonai gave Simvyl a nod before looking down at the youngest member of my group. "And who might you be, little one?" He asked with the soft smile of someone used to dealing with kids.

"Anakin Skywalker, future Jedi Knight. Pleased to meet you," Anakin shot back, extending his hand as he spoke with the certainty of youth. I rolled my eyes at his behaviour even as I smiled. I'd told him at least a dozen times a day since we'd left the ShaDo system that I wasn't taking him as a Padawan. However, it seemed every time I spoke, he added a 'yet' to the end of my sentence. Of course, since I'd already taught him some basic Force techniques, and even the basic velocities for Shii-Cho, I could understand why he felt he was a Jedi in all but name.

Adonai shook Anakin's hand as he smiled. "Ah, yes. I've heard your name, but I swore my daughter told me you wished to learn the ways of the Mando'ade?"

"If Cam can be both, then so can I," Anakin replied with certainty and a smile.

Adonai laughed and, after that, ruffled Anakin's hair. The boy's grumble only made Adonai laugh more as he stood and returned his gaze to me. "I believe you remember those with me?"

I nodded and turned my eyes to the trio. Bo and Osto Ordo made sense, though I was a little surprised to see Naz with them. I gave the latter two nods before speaking to Bo. "I hope you're keeping out of trouble?" I asked as I grasped her arm.

Even as she squeezed my arm tighter than needed, she smiled warmly. "That's my line, you utreekov," she shot back without any venom. I pushed away the urge to pull her forward into my arms. Not only would that send the wrong message to her father, but it wasn't something Mandalorians generally did. At least not when involved with another. "How have you been?"

"As Simvyl said, generally it has been a quiet time. Though I did manage to secure the prize we spoke of." I watched as she processed my words, and a wide smile spread over her face.

"Bo!" Anakin's call cut her off from saying anything regarding Serra, which was a good thing as that wasn't a topic for public discussion. I chuckled as Bo slipped from my grasp and fell to a knee, hugging the boy as he slammed into her.

"And here I thought Bo hated children."

The smile was still plastered to my face as I turned to Naz. "Anakin's special," I explained as I grasped Naz's arm. "How have you been?"

Pre Vizsla's daughter smiled warmly at me. "Enjoying some rest now that the war is over. Though I'll admit, even with Bo back, I'm getting twitchy to do something again." As she spoke and broke our grasp, she ran her fingers down my arms. "Do you have any ideas?"

I chuckled as her fingers ran over my hand. Bo had told me that she'd put off the marriage her father wanted, claiming openly and loudly that Kote Wrajud wasn't man enough for her. Since that was the case, Naz was still fair game, and the look Naz was giving me left little doubt as to what she wanted. Still, until I spoke with Bo – and Serra as while she was fine with me renewing things with Bo, Naz was a new variable – I wasn't going to declare any interest.

"If time allows, I'm more than willing to spar," I replied before turning and craning my neck to look up at Osto Ordo. "Osto, it's been some time."

"Aye, though it looks like it's been good to you," Osto replied before clapping me – hard – on the shoulder. "And from what Bo-Katan's told us, you've managed to get yourself out of a few scrapes without needing me to come and save your shebs. Still, I hope you're willing to tell the tale of your duel for a planet. Bo-Katan's telling lacks… flair."

"That's because I wasn't there, you mir'sheb!" Bo shot back, which drew laughter from everyone bar Anakin. I looked down at her to see Anakin staring intently at her gauntlets and caught the smirk dancing on Naz's face as Bo stood and used a hand to keep Anakin at her side.

"I see some things haven't changed," I commented, drawing another round of laughter, and forcing me to slip back and avoid a weak punch from Bo. "Yes, yes, I know. I'll kick your arse in the ring as soon as the adults have finished talking business." Bo glared at me, making me glad she couldn't call on the Force otherwise I suspected I'd have been halfway back to Coruscant by now. I turned my attention to Naz. "Why exactly do you stay around her?"

Naz laughed loudly at that, though before she could reply – or Bo could insult me in some way – Adonai coughed. "While I'm glad you're reconnecting with our people, and would, like the others, enjoy a spar or two, perhaps we might talk somewhere else? I have a cask of ne'tra gal ready as Bo tells me you're here for more than just catching up."

I nodded in agreement but turned to Fenrir. "On you go, but," Fenrir took off, making a beeline for the forest to the north of us. "Stay out of trouble," I finished with a mutter as I watched him race off before turning back to Adonai. "I'm sorry. Fenrir dislikes being stuck on theRaven."

"It's alright. Bo already warned me of this." He turned and nodded to his guard. Two of them stepped away and then took off, their jetpacks carrying them in the direction Fenrir had gone. "They've orders to simply monitor the beast and ensure he doesn't threaten any vheh'yaim that dwell in the forest and ensure that none try to hunt him."

"My thanks." I was glad of that, as while I knew Fenrir would avoid the dwellings, there was still a chance he might run into a Mandalorian who'd think him a worthy kill. At least until Fenrir ripped a limb off. Adonai turned and I fell into step beside him. "While I'm here, if it's possible, I'd like Anakin to get some basic combat training. Nothing major, and certainly not something his mother could complain about. But he lives with the Lokella, and I'd feel better if he knew something extra."

Adonai nodded. "That can be arranged, and I suspect my daughter will wish to oversee it personally," I nodded in agreement even as he glanced over his shoulder to where I could hear Anakin peppering Bo with questions about her gauntlet. Adonai leaned closer. "The boy is the first I've seen her show concern about since Korkie's death," he whispered, though before I could respond, he continued at a normal volume. "When I was first told you wished to construct a droid, I was confused as I was led to believe that Jedi were as against them as we are. However, after Bo revealed some details of this droid of yours, I admit to being curious to meet it, and the engineers I've brought in are loyal to my or Alor Torrhen's houses."

"Thanks, though, can you arrange for some workers to enter my ship? I've got two crates of refined phrik inside that I wish to use in the construction."

Adonai's brow rose, though he accepted my words and tapped away at his gauntlet a moment later. "I, along with others, look forward to meeting this droid once he's built. Until then, you must regale us with your duel for a planet." I sighed at being reminded of that, which drew a loud laugh from him. "We've heard Bo's telling of it, but as she wasn't there, details were spare. Once you've done that, I and others will no doubt regale you with tales from the war."

… …


… …

I rolled first one shoulder and then the other. Having full armour on them again was a calming experience, though the difference between this armour and the one I'd worn at the Institute was that this armour was mine. Like other Mandalorian armour, it didn't cover every part of me, nor was I wearing a beskar-infused underweave as this was simply a fitting session to ensure everything was sized correctly. If it wasn't, the Mandalorian armourers would be able to alter it, though how they did that was something even someone of Adonai's rank didn't know. The armourers and metalsmiths who worked with beskar guarded their secrets violently and jealously.

As I moved my arms, my eyes once again took in the simple black colouring that had been applied to the armour. While the Jedi Council wouldn't like the fact that I was wearing armour, or approve of the colour, I felt better with it on. Jedi had worn armour at times in the past, and while Sith tended to predominantly wear black, it wasn't a colour exclusive to their Order and to the Mandalorians, use of it on armour, if one placed focus on that, implied the pursuit of justice. Something the Jedi couldn't complain about.

I took the helmet from the armourer staring into the blood red visor, this the Jedi may be able to complain about, before lifting it and placing it on my head. It hissed as the seals engaged and the internal HUD powered up. Amusingly, it was familiar with elements that reminded me of what my Interface used and some that shared links with the more advanced tactical gear I'd trained with in my former life. I looked around the room, getting used to the HUD displaying information about anything I focused on, though not in a way that would distract me if I was in combat.

"There, now you look like a true Mando'ade in their beskar'gam, Alor Cameron." The comment came from the armourer helping me with this fitting. She wore a wide smile, as did Bo and Naz who were standing back. Bo's eyes seemed alive as they scanned me in my armour and the HUD detected an increase in her heart rate as she took in the sight of me in full armour. Naz was more restrained in watching me, but from the HUD's information, I could tell she liked what she saw as well. "You are free to alter the base colour, or apply accents as you wish, but this one," the armourer gestured at Bo, "felt you would approve of the scheme."

After removing the helmet, I replied to the armourer. "You've done an excellent job, vor entye," I said with a small lowering of my head. "There doesn't appear to be any section that requires reshaping."

Though I knew I still had to collect my underweave. That would be going under my Jedi robes so that even when I wasn't wearing full armour – such as when I was within the Temple – I'd still have some protection. Not that the underweave would hold up to a concerted attack against it by a lightsaber. The thin mesh nature of it lowered the effectiveness of the beskar to the point it could be breached, though such things were unlikely to happen in places where I'd be without the armour.

"Did you think I'd not know your measurements?" Bo asked with a half-hearted huff. She pushed off the wall she was leaning against and let her eyes wander over my armoured form once again. Without the underweave currently on, I was wearing something just as skin-tight, which it appeared Bo and Naz approved off.

"No, I think you had more than ample time to learn them," I shot back with a smirk and let my eyes wander her frame. She was in armour, but I knew what she looked like out of it and her underweave, and the best places to touch her to bend her to my will. Bo chuckled at my look which earned her an unsubtle elbow telling her to knock it off from Naz.

That gesture drew my attention to the blond. While I didn't know exactly what she looked like under her gear, I could make more than a fair guess. Both from how snuggly the underweave fit her, and comments Bo had made during our quieter moments against the pillows.

"I am glad my work meets your standards," the armourer responded without any hint of sarcasm. "All that is required now is a listing of how you wish to add to the kom'rk and other sections of the armour." She pointed to a console five metres to my right. "This system can help you make decisions based on your preferences and visualise how they might be added. Once that is completed, I suspect your friends will take you to a training facility. While you wear the armour well, you must still learn to adapt it to your fighting style. Something no Jetii has done in many centuries."

"Vor entye," I said again in thanks and moved to the console she suggested.

As I walked, Bo and Naz moved closer, and my mind drifted for a moment to the welcoming feast/party yesterday that had erupted in Keldabe for my return. The biggest shock hadn't been the number of warriors inside the Oyu'baat cantina that wished to drink with me or hear the stories of my adventures. That honour had been when Satine had walked in beside her and Bo's brother dressed in armour. Now, she wasn't wearing full armour like many others, instead choosing just the gauntlets and chest-piece, but the sight of her in any armour was a surprise. As was the cordial way she and Bo greeted each other.

As the night wore on, I'd learnt that Adonai had been correct in that his family would be targeted, though Dooku had arranged for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan to protect Satine. That event must've been where Obi-Wan and Satine first met, though it seemed here at least, their time together only lasted a few months before Adonai had her recalled to Mandalore. While she still advocated for peace, she eventually accepted that the way of the New Mandalorians wouldn't work, something I had to use Observe to confirm as hearing those words from her mouth resulted in me coughing up my ne'tra gal. Something Bo and others had laughed loudly at.

From talking to her more, the defining moment in her realisation had been when Death Watch launched another attack on Sundari. The guards – or at least those still following the New Mandalorian ideals – had been slaughtered and Satine had been forced to take up a blaster to defend herself and the school at which she'd been working. Her defence of the children, including killing two and wounding another member of the Death Watch cult had broken the last barriers between her and her family, and while she was still reluctant to attempt her verd'goten – something easy to see as she lacked a personal sigil on her armour – Bo had moved to fully restore what she once had with her sister. Or at least, that's what I got from the way the two moved acceptingly around each other. There was still some tension, but nothing that felt like it wouldn't eventually dissipate with time and effort.

I'd also discovered that Satine would soon be returning to Coruscant, to take up a position as senior aide to the sector's current representative in the Senate. None in the cantina referred to that person as the Senator as it was clear that even now, eight hundred years later, they bristled at being under the yoke of the Senate. However, from a quiet moment with Adonai this morning, I'd learnt that he understood that they couldn't break from the Republic and expect anything but another Dral'Han to occur. I had inquired why neither he nor Torrhen hadn't moved to become Mand'alor, but he'd not given a clear answer on the matter.

"What will you choose?" Naz asked as she and Bo approached me at the weapons console.

I shrugged. "Not sure ye…" I was cut off as the doors to the room hissed open and in rushed a familiar blonde-haired boy.

"Whoa! Cool!" Anakin muttered as he took in the sight of the workshop. His eyes found me quickly and widened dramatically as he saw my armour.

"When you're older, though full beskar would be after a verd'goten," I said before he could ask when he'd get his own set of armour. Beside me, I heard Bo chuckle. Probably at how sure I was Anakin would follow me into becoming Mando'ade.

I turned from the console to answer. "We've already gone over this," Bo commented with a sigh. "One last time. The verd'goten is the rite of passage during which an adiik – a child – carries out a hunt. Afterwards, they become mando'ade." I looked at Bo as she again explained the terms patiently. Beside her, Naz watched with a tender look in her eyes.

Bo stepped away from us and knelt to look Anakin in the eye. "In our culture, when a child reaches thirteen, they are taken by a relative or mentor to another world. There, armed with nothing more than a knife, a survival pack and your wits you must endure whatever the planet you're on throws at you. The trial is completed once you've killed a predator of some form. It must, either alone or in groups, be a threat to your life."

"So a bantha wouldn't count?"

Bo, Naz, and I all chuckled at the image of someone killing a bantha in an attempt to become a Mandalorian.

"No, it wouldn't," Bo replied after muttering something under her breath. She tapped the left chest of her armour. "This sigil here is from my hunt when I killed a furred blood owl." Anakin's lips twitched at the animal's name, though Bo didn't snark at him as she'd done at Serra and me. In fairness, I had looked that up and discovered it wasn't anywhere near as simple as its name suggested. The damn thing was about as long as Bo was tall and its claws could carry off, in theory, a bantha calf or similar-sized animal.

Bo then pointed at Naz. "She killed a nightshrike while Cam…" She paused as Anakin's eyes widened as he saw the sigil I bore.

"That's why you fought a krayt dragon!" He blurted and I laughed.

"Greater krayt dragon actually," I replied casually, long used to reactions like this when people heard about my verd'goten. "My hunt was why I was on Tatooine, and at the end of it, when I first sensed you through the Force."

Anakin smiled, happy about the change in his fate because of my hunt – which may well make him more certain he wanted to attempt the hunt when he was old enough – only for a frown to form on his face. "Why is your armour just black while theirs have more colours?"

"Every mando'ade has a base ideal they hold true," Bo began, once more explaining Mandalorian customs to Anakin. Before she'd returned home, she'd mentioned adopting him into Clan Kryze. I still feel she wasn't entirely serious, but that feeling was slowly disappearing the more I watched her be a mentor and teacher to the boy. "My armour has a base of grey as a reminder of my mother. Naz chose green as she is remarkably loyal to those she cares for." Beside me, I felt pride and care emanate from Naz. "Both of us chose red as a primary accent to honour our parents and ancestors. As for Cam, as he said, black signifies justice." Bo turned and looked at me, a knowing smile on her face. "As much as he might deny it, he has a keen sense of what is right and wrong and of what needs to be done. He's not afraid to do that, regardless of how others might react to his choices. The accents are up to him."

"If I have any, green is the most likely. At least as a primary." I chuckled and shook my head as I looked at my new and improved gauntlets. "As suitable as the idea of red as an accent might be, I'm unsure how the Jedi Council would react to having me walk into the Temple in armour with that as the secondary colour.

"I'd pay to see their faces if you did," Naz commented, which drew a laugh from Bo.

"Regardless, there's no need to add accents currently. From what I remember, they are often added over time as a warrior grows and changes."

"Aye. And then there's those who stick to a single colour for reasons other than tradition," Naz said with a smile. "I have an uncle whose armour is just orange. And I mean bright, burnt orange. While he enjoys life, he told me once that he made it so simply to distract his opponent has armour that colour simply to disorientate an opponent."

I shook my head, imagining the Mandalorian equivalent of a giant orange. "Yeah, that would make me pause before engaging him. Force, regardless of where on the battlefield I was, that would be a distraction." The three smiled in agreement even as I turned back to the console. "Now, while I'm sure Anakin has questions galore about armour design and colouration, I have to finish up here. Do either of you lovely ladies have suggestions for what I should equip my armour with?"

… …


… …

That evening, after spending the afternoon testing out my new armour, getting used to how to move in it, and using the tools that were part of it, I was in my assigned quarters going over the design for HK. The phrik that I'd brought with me was with Adonai's technicians, and they'd already told me it would take a day or two to shape the alloy how I wanted. While beskar would have been my personal preference because it could be more easily incorporated into the delicate parts of his structure Phrik may be better because it was just slightly more durable.

Beskar and phrik could both resist lightsabers and tank concentrated blaster fire, even taking turbolaser fire, phrik generally dealt with it just a bit better.

The way the quest linked to getting him online– Rebuilding a Hunter-Killer: Part 1 – hinted at a follow-up quest, which I suspected was to do with upgrading HK's software and hardware. Though I couldn't be certain of that.

My eyes drifted over to my armour trailing the gleaming black surface, resting momentarily on the weapons and the small glinting cold that held the dragon skin cloak closed before stopping to stare into the blood red visor. I'd taken it off after returning to my quarters after dinner. There, Adonai had explained slightly why he wasn't making a play to become Mand'alor. He felt he was too old to take on the load when he was already burdened with so much work to risk taking on the challenge of becoming the leader of his people. Since the sector was recovering from another civil war, I could understand some of his logic, but it felt like a very flimsy excuse. However, it was his to make and one I respected, though I just hoped someone else – my thoughts focused on Pre Vizsla – didn't attempt to make a play for the title. That though, was a matter for the future, for now, my thoughts – if they weren't focused on HK – drifted to Naboo and the invasion.

The armour I had was solid, however, something about it felt off. Since I was working on a tight clock, I wasn't going to have it redesigned now, but provided I survived Naboo, I'd return to Mandalore and have it re-shaped into something closer to what I wanted. I might even have accent colours added, though for now the dark base colour was fine and when worn under my robes and dragon hide cloak, wasn't too intimidating. Or at least I felt they weren't, though I was sure certain members of the Jedi Order would still find an issue with me wearing armour.

A beep from my door drew my attention and with a simple gesture, I used the Force to open the door. As it slid back, I saw Bo and Naz enter, wearing nothing but their underweave. My eyes were naturally drawn to the familiar lines of Bo's form and the new, tempting ones of Naz.

Bo had already spent the previous night in my quarters, having dragged me away from the feast after Anakin had crashed. The boy had insisted on drinking ale like the rest of us, and while he lasted longer than I'd expected, he'd still passed out barely an hour after the feast began. After I'd returned, Bo had not let me sit before dragging me away. Frankly, while I'd enjoyed the feast, I'd pass on a feast every day for the night I'd enjoyed with Bo, so seeing her here was a pleasant surprise, as was Naz whose eyes were already undressing me.

"Lady Bo-Katan, Lady Naz, how may I help you tonight?" I asked as Bo stalked toward me. Her face twitched in annoyance at me calling her a 'Lady' but until the day came when she beat me in a spar, I wasn't going to stop. And frankly, I suspected she liked it when I did as it gave her an excuse to start something with me. Not that I felt she needed an excuse as she was always welcome in my bed.

"Stop that!" she snarled as she grabbed my robes and pushed them back, exposing the tunic I was wearing underneath while appearing to trap my arms against my side. Her lips crashed against mine, letting me catch the hints of alcohol on them, but before I could return the kiss, she pulled back. "And yes, I want something," she said with a smirk, "though I'm not the only one."

I looked past her at Naz. The blonde had stayed near the door, though the way she nibbled her lip and watched Bo as she settled next to me, made clear what she wanted. "And how might I be of service, Lady Naz?" I asked teasingly, which earned me a less-than-gentle elbow to my ribs from Bo.

Naz moved forward, completely certain, "You, I want you."

I smirked, letting my eyes wander over her frame again. That brought out her desire even more, pushing the concern I felt from her back. "And what of Kote Wrajud?" Honestly, at this point, with Bo's hands already teasing my leg, I doubted I'd care enough to not take Naz. However, it would be better to hear from Naz's lips that she wanted me over him.

"I don't want him. My father agreed, and the betrothal was cancelled." My brow rose at hearing that. Pre not securing Clan Wrajud was an odd move as the clan chief was a firm Death Watch supporter. Either Clan Wrajud had fallen on hard times after the civil war, or Naz had found a way to convince Pre to end the arrangement. Regardless, I knew Pre would hate that his only daughter was here tonight, which made taking her even more appealing. "What I want is in front of me."

I stood, sliding from Bo's grasp with an ease she'd never shown before. "Then who am I to deny your desire," I said as I moved toward Naz.

My lips found hers with ease, and she submitted to me with a moan as my hands wrapped around her waist, pulling her against me. As her hands came to my arms I felt Bo's breath on my ear.

"Prove to her that my tales of your prowess are true," the redhead whispered as I felt one of her hands slide into my belt. "Take us until neither can nor wants to walk from your room tomorrow."

I nibbled Naz's jaw even as her fingers tore apart my tunic. If the ladies wished to be ravished, I was more than willing to do so. Hopefully, Adonai would understand why I missed our meeting about my need for fighters for an upcoming battle and the state of the sector tomorrow morning.

… …


… …

Even though every simulation – all two thousand of them – had confirmed that if we reached this point in the procedure, nothing would go wrong, it still didn't make me any less nervous. The power levels through the combat frame were slowly climbing as all basic systems came online for the first time. It was taking forever for the levels to rise, but that was by intention as I didn't want to risk HK's core if there was an issue from a power surge.

"Why is it taking so long?" Anakin whined from behind me, however, I didn't reply. My focus remained fixed on the readings in front of me. Each servo and motor in the frame that came online and reported back green was another small step toward the final goal. Though until everything was online and working within expected parameters, I wouldn't consider this a success. Hell, until I saw HK in combat, I'd likely retain worries that something was wrong.

"Cam's just being extra careful," Bo replied in the same gentler – for her – tone she always used with Anakin. Several people had commented on her behaviour around the boy, and while Naz and I could handle Bo's aggression that evening, anyone else was challenged to a duel. Even her father and brother weren't immune to the challenge, though they, like me, laughed off her behaviour.

As much as Bo wasn't the mothering type, she did have a soft spot for Anakin, and I couldn't deny the idea of seeing her raise our child hadn't flashed through my thoughts several times over the last day. Nor the idea of Naz and Serra also having children. Yet even though the pair had spoken via the Holonet, and Serra was accepting of my bedding Naz – and no denying Bo's suggestions that she wanted to join us – any thought of children was for the future. Possibly even after the Clone Wars, or whatever replaced them if my actions so far and to come had a great enough effect to alter events that much.

"But it's soooo slow." I couldn't help but smirk at Anakin's whine. While he had a good head on his shoulders and was smarter in some ways than many adults, he was still a child and hearing him behave like others his age was oddly refreshing. Though that didn't mean I wanted to tolerate it and made a note for Simvyl to take Anakin for a training session.

It had only been a few days since we'd arrived, but Simvyl was settling in easily enough. Most of that was because many knew of him from Bo's war stories of our time on Zonama Sekot. Though some came from the few spars he'd engaged in. While, from what I'd heard, he'd lost more than he'd won, the fact he was willing to step up to the plate and didn't hold back earned him the respect of many. Yet the biggest thing that helped him, and something that caught us both unawares, was the reveal of a clan of Cathar who followed the Resol'nare.

They weren't a major clan, numbering only a few dozen strong, but they were part of House Ordo and having some of his species here helped Simvyl settle. Even if he was still processing the idea that Cathar would choose to follow the ways of the Mando'ade.

It also ensured he didn't spend all his time on Raven. While I was reluctant to allow many onboard, Adonai had reached out to Dred Yomaget and between them created a small team of six to examine the mechanical sections of my ship and consider how she might be upgraded. So far, things weren't looking good in arming Raven as it might well mean cutting through her skin; the engineers just as reluctant as me to do. To them, she was a marvel of engineering that shouldn't be butchered simply to make her combat ready while I fretted over how much pain it would cause her.

"All work takes time and completing something as worthy as rebuilding the akaan beskar'ad of Naast be Me'suums, requires as much time as it takes." I grinned, wondering how HK would feel at the name the Mandalorians had given him.

"What of the what?" I resisted the urge to shake my head. Anakin, like any child, had to know what was going on, but the more he asked, the less he knew and the more questions he asked.

My grin grew as Bo exhaled loudly and I knew she was shaking her head at Anakin's curiosity. "The war droid of Revan." She spoke slowly in a tone I recognized as a sign she was getting annoyed.

"Anakin," I said just loud enough that my voice would carry to him so as to not distract the technicians around the room who were monitoring specific aspects of the process. "If you keep asking questions, I'll send you back to the Raven and return you to your mother before the day is over."

"Oh… Okay."

I wouldn't actually do that, but Anakin couldn't be sure, and thus as the power climbed over ninety-five per cent, I was greeted by silence. At least if I ignored the various sounds of the lab and the whispered tones of the handful of technicians on-hand.

Time seemed to slow as the levels rose in each section of the frame, dragging the overall readings ever upward. As the readings passed ninety-nine per cent, no warnings sounded, and I exhaled in relief. A moment later the yellow visual receptors of the droid head flickered to life, and I took a step back from the console, wanting to watch the rebirth of HK-47.

He sat up slowly, and I offered a silent thanks to the Force that there wasn't any sound of creaking. Even if I and others had gone over the plans with a pico-metre thick comb, that didn't entirely reassure me that what I was watching would occur.

HK raised his arms and turned them over in front of his receptors. Each finger was closed and opened independently, and then the joints at the wrist, elbow and shoulder were tested. He turned and repeated the process with his legs before hopping from the table and standing tall. The body and head had been coated in phrik which had been altered to as close to the original shade of his last frame.

His receptors flickered as he turned to me. "Query: Master?"

"How do you feel?" I asked with a smile, taking in the physical sight of one of my two favourite droids.

"Indignation: I am a droid, Master, not a squishy meatbag. I do not feel anything." I shook my head, amused at the half-expected response. HK's optical receptors flickered as his brain carried out an untold number of calculations within a second making sure his internal circuitry was working correctly. "Statement: This new frame is working within acceptable parameters. Addendum: there is much room for enhancement."

"I would expect nothing less," I said with a smirk. "What about the new inbuilt ordinance? Are they working as expected?"

HK lifted an arm, and I watched as part of the forearm slid back, exposing a high-powered, though low-rate, blaster cannon. He rotated the arm and checked other things internally before the cannon slid back into the arm. He repeated the process with the other arm, though that exposed a flame thrower, one that while it sparked, didn't ignite. That was because I'd kept the fuel out of the initial activation. Slots on his thighs were exposed, though both were empty as HK had wanted them left free for him to adapt for specific missions, a finger glowed as the laser in it flickered, a vibroblade flashed out from each wrist and a low whine was emitted as he tested the inbuilt sonic weaponry on low.

"Affirmative: Yes, Master. All hidden compartments activate with acceptable speed and scanner inhibitors report no faults." Those inhibitors would hide his hidden weaponry from all but the most invasive of scans. Something only places like the Senate building used, and even then, only in certain locations. "Observation: While my programming has already developed thirty-seven thousand, eight hundred and ninety-three possible layout combinations, I require target practice to determine which would be the most suitable for various scenarios. Suggestion: Perhaps one of these pathetic meatbags is willing to volunteer to help with my calibrations?"

I laughed and shook my head. "No, HK they're not. While I know you dislike most organics, you should be nicer to the ones in this room. Without their help designing, forging and constructing your new frame, you'd have remained nothing more than a head for some time to come."

HK turned, taking in each technician in the room. I suspected he was placing their images on a file for those to avoid killing; or at least, to avoid killing in any way but quickly. He turned back to me, though I felt his gaze was on Bo, Anakin and Naz more so than me. "Agreement: Yes, Master. I shall ensure that those responsible for this new frame, as barely acceptable as it is, are afforded as much respect as I can muster for meatbags."

A few of the technicians seemed to tense, hands drifting toward their blasters, but not drawing them. HK was a law unto himself and to Mandalorians, the way he talked could easily be seen as a threat. Even when he was trying to be civil.

I shifted my focus from HK to them. "You'll have to forgive HK. What he lacks in social niceties, he more than makes up for in combat proficiency. Haran, I'd go so far as to call him murder-happy, but he doesn't have feelings."

"Agreement: Yes, Master. I am superior to all meatbags and their inability to think without using feelings. Clarification: Outside of yourself, Master, and the Creator."

"That's not nice!" Anakin yelled out as he came to my side. I shook my head, surprised that even now, after having spent time around HK over the last few years, he could still be caught out by the droid's bluntness. Behind me, I could sense Bo and Naz's amusement at HK's antics. I didn't know how Naz felt about droids, but Bo disliked them as much as HK disliked organics. Only I, and their shared love of weapons, combat and violence allowed them to find common ground.

"Commentary: I am a droid, little meatbag. I wasn't programmed to be 'nice'."

"HK," I said, cutting off Anakin from retorting. "As you well know, Anakin was one of those who helped design your new frame. Some of his suggestions generated unexpected but significant improvements in your efficiency."

HK's receptors flickered. "Clarification: What I meant, little meatbag, was that I'm not nice to those my Master doesn't wish me to be nice to. Otherwise, I can be very agreeable."

"Anyway," I began as I shook my head at HK and what his definition of agreeable might be, "what are your self-diagnostics reporting about the new frame and programming?"

"Answer: The frame is working at eighty-nine-point four-five per cent of optimal efficiency. However, my combat matrices require calibration for the new frame, and potential updating for weaponry specifications of this era. Clarification: While the various manuals and technical documents have been uploaded, there are always discrepancies between those and what a given weapon is capable of. Addendum: In time, once calibrations are complete, I look forward to testing myself against the Jedi of this era, and of replaying the look of shock upon their faces when their beloved weapons fail moments before I extinguish their pathetic lives."

I chuckled. "So, you're fine with the phrik? I was thinking that in time, we might develop a superior frame, one composed of both phrik and beskar."

"Commentary: Would not the meatbags known as Mandalorians feel slighted by using the alloy they worship in a droid's frame?"

"They might," I replied quickly as I sensed Bo and Naz – along with the technicians still present – bristle at HK's words. "But we can see. I don't have my ancestor's flair for creation, at least not with droids, so I'm simply placing on the table the option to upgrade the frame if you ever wish to. And, no doubt, Anakin and Bo will have suggestions for the hardware and software that might hold some appeal."

"Agreement: That is a very wise course of action, Master. Advisory: However, without extensive examination of this frame, in true combat, I could not offer a decision on the offer."

"Understandable." I looked down at Anakin, whose eyes seemed to have lit up at the idea of improving HK, which was both heartening and – at least for my enemies – terrifying. "Still, it's time to shake off the rust, so to speak. Three thousand years is a long time to let your skills degrade, no doubt to the point of a child's."

"Commentary: Oh, you are a cruel master, Master. I believe I'm going to enjoy fighting by your side."

I held back a comment on the status of combat droids in this era. I didn't want to ruin the fun of hearing HK's critiques of the Trade Federation's B1s when we got to Naboo. He'd already expressed some displeasure with them from Holonet recordings he'd viewed but seeing them in a recording was worlds away from facing – and slaughtering – them on a battlefield.

Thus, I turned and moved toward the door. HK fell into step behind, I could imagine he wasn't thrilled about the fact, for now, he wasn't carrying a blaster. Though as I exited the room, with him and the others in tow, I knew that issue would be quickly rectified. As we walked, I opened and closed Rebuilding a Hunter-Killer: Part 1, noting that I'd received 1375XP. I'd made the first hidden objective of getting Mechanics [Droids] to Master:25, though the others – for reaching Master:50, Master:75, and Savant:1 – hadn't been reached. Still, it was another small step on the way to level 30 – I was about 15000xp short – and the final system upgrade.

… …


… …

A soft, continual beeping pulled me from my dreams and felt a gentle change in the Force, which had me shifting in my bed. Or tried to, because, as my thoughts aligned themselves, I remembered that once more Bo and Naz had joined me last night and both were laying either side – and in the case of an arm from Bo and a leg from Naz – over me currently.

Using the Force and slow, careful movement, I extracted myself from my warm and tempting position and slid from the bed. Naz groaned, seemingly realising I wasn't there. I smirked as she shuffled over in her sleep until she was pressed up against her friend and lover before turning. The floor was, as usual, covered in various sections of clothing with their armour resting on a table at the far side of the room beside the stand holding mine. While the pair were ravenous in bed, they didn't simply toss off their armour in the desire to join me in bed, which was a relief as the chance of standing on the controls of a vambrace and setting off the inbuilt weaponry would be fucking embarrassing to deal with when medics and security turned up.

I was glad the floor was covered in carpet and the room warm as otherwise I might well have used Silence to ensure I could ignore the attempted communication. At least if the Force wasn't shifting, hinting that something was happening.

I pulled my helmet on, ensuring I and whoever was calling me wouldn't wake my lovers. "Yes?" I asked as the channel opened.

"Cameron," came Simvyl's voice, through the earpiece, "we've got an incoming priority signal from Coruscant. Should I route it to you now?" He sounded more awake than me, but that was probably because the call had come into Raven first and he'd had to wake before calling me.

"Go ahead," I replied, glad the signal was being routed into the helmet. Whoever was calling wouldn't see the state of my quarters or the two naked beauties behind me. It was unlikely to be my publisher, as from the initial report they'd sent, the first book of the Knights of the Old Republic Trilogy, The Dark Times, would cover everything from the game up until facing Darth Bandon, which for this was taking place in the Shadowlands of Kask…

My thoughts were cut off as the HUD displayed an image of Palpatine. "Cameron, I do hope I haven't caught you at an inopportune time," he said. All he'd see was my face, which no doubt showed my shock at his call.

"No, I was not far from waking anyway," I replied with a half-truth. It was only an hour from sun-up, but since I was sure we'd only gone to sleep a few hours ago, I'd planned to enjoy a lay-in, and then – I hoped – a repeat of last night's events. "Has something happened regarding our mutual concern?"

"No, no. There's been little movement on that matter." Palpatine paused and, for once, looked every bit his age. "The matter I'm calling regarding is perhaps graver, at least to me." I inhaled, wondering if this was the starter's gun. "You remember the summit on Eriadu?

"As much as I'd rather not, yes." I still had moments where I replayed the event of Eriadu, wondering if my hesitation to act might have been driven by a desire to ensure, as bad as it sounded, events happened how I expected for Naboo. "Has Viceroy Gunray been brought in for questioning?"

Palpatine sighed and slumped. "As much as that would be ideal, he hasn't. It seems that the Viceroy has reacted worse than expected to the taxation of the Outer Rim, and seemingly in a move to punish me for supporting the Chancellor's call for a summit on Eriadu, blockaded Naboo."

"Is that legal?" I asked, only to pause and fight the urge to laugh. Of all the lines I'd pull out, it just had to be that one.

Thankfully, Palpatine didn't see or sense my hesitation after speaking. "No, it certainly is not. The matter is now with the Senate, but with the Chancellor mired in allegations of corruption, it will take years, at a minimum, before any decision is reached regarding the blockade."

"If not longer with the Trade Federation and their allies in the Senate actively hindering investigations," I suggested, which earned a nod from Palpatine.

"Indeed. As I fear for my people and the new Queen," I knew he was playing on my friendship with Padmé there, but in his place, I'd do the same, "I'm reaching out for help wherever I can."

I nodded, showing my understanding. Yes, he had ensured Naboo was the target, but I wasn't meant to know that. "I'll do what I can. What of the Jedi Council? Can they intervene on humanitarian grounds?" Even as I asked that, I knew they'd do fuck all to help. But it gave me time to run through the checklist I kept in my mind about what I needed to do. If there was time, I could try and head to Naboo directly and confront Gunray. I'd be massively overstepping my bounds as a Jedi, and lead to the High Council censoring me – at a minimum – but it would save the planet.

"Master Yoda expressed his sympathy, but I was informed that they wouldn't act in an official capacity until the Senate asked them to." I snorted, making clear my dislike of that response, which brought a small smile to Palpatine's face for a moment. "I'm sorry for asking for your help, but I have little other option."

"It's fine, uncle," I replied, playing on the bond we shared. "If you want, I could head to Naboo and speak with the Viceroy?" I offered, adding enough inflexion to 'speak' that he'd understand my meaning.

"No, no. I fear such a bold move would only make things worse for everyone." That did make sense, even ignoring his role in ensuring the blockade happened. Still, it was an offer I had to make to hint I was more proactive than other Jedi. Now, if given a choice, I'd have happily led a strike team with the purpose of capturing Gunray before the invasion took place, or possibly just after, but while I considered Bo, Naz and others good fighters, they weren't on the level to pull off a mission like that. Hell, I wasn't sure I was. Not with Maul floating around the edges of the picture. "While I'm glad to have your support, I'm not willing to risk your life in such a fool-hardly move."

"Then what do you suggest?" I asked even as I sent a message to Simvyl to ready Raven for flight.

Palpatine took a moment, seemingly considering the matter though I had little doubt he already knew what he wanted me to do. "Return to Coruscant. In the time it will take you to get here, I can make other moves and see what our options are. If nothing exists, then I may well accompany you to Naboo. Combined, we might be able to sway the Viceroy's hand before the blockade turns into something worse."

"Of course, Senator. I'll send a message to your office once I'm underway. If I push the engines on Raven, I should be there within two days."

Palpatine sighed and seemed to find some energy again. "Thank you, my friend. I… When you arrive, head straight for the Senate. I'll ensure you have priority clearance. Thank you."

I smiled in support before closing the channel. Once it was closed, I considered how I could change events. Ideally, I could get assigned the mission instead of Qui-Gon. Beyond completing the quest to keep him alive past the invasion, being there could help move things in different ways that might unintentionally disrupt Sidious' plans. Still, any plan would have to wait until I returned to the capital of the Republic, and pulled off the helmet.

"What's happening?"

I tensed, caught unaware by Bo's voice. After placing my helmet on the table, I turned to see she and Naz were both awake, though Naz looked inclined to drift back to sleep. "You remember how I mentioned needing my armour and HK for the darkness I sensed?" Bo nodded while Naz blinked trying to clear the cobwebs of sleep. "I fear it's arriving earlier than I expected. Naboo, a planet in the Chommell sector, has been blockaded by the Trade Federation. The Senator, who I consider somewhat of a friend, is asking for help."

Bo was stationary for a second before she slid off the bed and stood, entirely unconcerned by her nakedness. Or mine it seemed. In my haste to answer the call, I'd forgotten to slip on even my robes. That made me extremely glad I'd used the helmet to take the call. "We'd better speak with my father," Bo started as she reached down for her underweave. "If you're going to war, House Kryze will ride with you."

I smiled in thanks and moved to find my clothing.

"I'm coming too," Naz added as she pulled herself over the bed. Though the statement was undercut by a long, loud yawn that slipped from her lips.

I nodded to her even as I pulled on my trousers. However, my mind was on Anakin. As much as he'd want to, I wasn't taking him to Coruscant. Not when I was heading directly to Palpatine. I couldn't leave him on Mandalore, as he'd likely find a way to sneak on board any ship Bo was on, claiming he wanted to help. As much as she'd scoff at me for saying so, she had a soft spot for the boy and would have no issue with bringing him along in a support role. Yet, knowing Anakin, and his insane luck, he'd find a way to be critical to the upcoming battle. To ensure that didn't happen, I had to ask Adonai to have someone take him back to his mother. At least there he'd be safe.

Once back on Coruscant, I'd be intercepting Qui-Gon and, provided Valorum hadn't already reached out to the Jedi, take the mission before he could. If he'd already been assigned by the time I arrived, I'd tag along, claiming a connection with Padmé would help the mission.

Regardless, after nine years of waiting, the starter's gun had sounded. It might be another decade before things became official, but finally, the Clone Wars had entered their opening stages.

… …


… …

A/N: Well, finally, after 5+ years and over 850000 words, we reached the canon timeline.

...

As always, this story is crossposted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own, and Royal Road.

You can find me (and the backroom team who help with this) on Discord at:

Story Discord link: /UM89QfyQk3

Secondary Discord (for general chaos/Gamer stories): /wd3tUYWVCd

If you wish to - for all but the lowest level - get 2 months of advanced drafts and more for all my works, you can consider supporting my work at:

Pat-re-on: /USSExplorer

Subscribe-Star: /USSExplorer

...

Regardless if you join the discord or support my writing, I hope you enjoy the story and suggestions, valid criticisms, and ideas are always welcome.

And of course;

May the Force be with you. Always.