When Obi-Wan had asked her for recommendations to fill two positions on what was going to be a special operations squad, Shaak Ti had spent several days observing her cadets before deciding on a pair of batchmates who were close to graduation and due to be assigned to Krell’s company. (The fact that they would be assigned to Krell’s company did play a considerable part in her decision, though she wouldn’t admit that unless pressed by someone she trusted; were that not the case, she might have gone into the records and made recommendations of clones already graduated, but it seemed an opportunity to at least give those two a chance.) They showed a flare for creative, independent thought, and their ability to work together with mere glances and the simpatico of twins made them seem particularly well-suited to the mission specs, and so she had sent them off, trusting in Obi-Wan’s good judgment.
When she found out who their commanding officer was going to be, though, she wondered if she wasn’t sending them to someone even worse than Krell.
The only people in the Temple who weren’t aware of the ex-Sith in the Detention Center were initiates and younger. Shaak had never had cause to interact with Maul, nor any desire to, but she was well aware of his existence; she had been thoroughly briefed when she had accepted her position on the Council, and had to sort through a number of mixed feelings when she discovered that he had been allowed out on assignments prior to her taking that seat. Despite the fact that he had been vouched for by both Obi-Wan and Vokara Che – and Vokara’s judgement had always been particularly sound – there was something unsettling about the entire affair, allowing a Sith to be involved in Jedi operations. She herself was unconventional by Jedi standards, so she didn’t speak out against it, but she wasn’t easy with it, either.
She was also aware that he had been allowed out to help with the war effort, presumably at Obi-Wan’s side, who had taken it upon himself to rehabilitate the zabrak despite the misgivings of many of his fellow Jedi. She had already been assigned to Kamino and had missed the debate which led to it; after finding out, she only had time to hope that the wisdom of the Council held and that this would not end up in tragedy.
But finding out that he was being given command of a squad – one which likely consisted of several of the troopers she’d seen raised and graduated herself – and she had finally called.
It was Yoda who answered her, sounding almost reluctant about it: “Loyal to the Jedi, he is not. But loyal to Obi-Wan, he undeniably is.”
It didn’t necessarily hold that loyalty to Obi-Wan would translate to responsible leadership. Shaak requested the roster for the squad and it was sent to her; her heart sank some when she saw the troops involved. Shiv had been pulled from an assignment to Orto Plutonia; he had been one of those marked as a possible contender for ARC, once he had some more experience under his belt. He was one of the earlier ones that Shaak had graduated, a solemn-seeming cadet at the time with his more vivacious batchmate, but thoughtful and sharp and personable. She had not graduated Husker – he was one of the oldest clones, and he had been recovering on Kamino when she was first assigned to oversee the training and graduation of the cadets – but he was another particularly memorable fellow, tough and determined.
She almost swore when she saw Raze’s listing. And Tango’s. She hadn’t graduated Castle, she couldn’t quite place him in her memory, but she remembered Misty, Brody and Smarty. Raze had been one of her secret favorites, with his sweet nature and difficulty focusing on one thing at a time; she remembered notes from before her arrival that he’d had trouble with instructors because of his difficulties in keeping on task, but his unrelenting positivity went a long way to keeping him alive and moving forward. Tango had also stolen a place in her memory as being a soft-hearted clone with some confidence issues, unless he was in a cockpit. Misty used to plaster himself up against the transparisteel windows watching the ocean; Brody had been a wise-cracker with a flare for the dramatic who got his name after he had already left, and Smarty had a million questions, driving instructors to the point of exasperation regularly, but could retain a shocking ninety-six percent of everything that he read or learned.
Oh. And Tally, too? The acerbic medic had been incredibly talented in his field, but came very close to decommissioning due to his sharper, cynical, distrusting nature. She had intervened with the Kaminoans – without his knowledge – and had him assigned under Obi-Wan specifically knowing that Obi-Wan would be able to deal with a clone who needed his loyalty to be earned, instead of programmed. If anything, Tally’s inclusion in this debatable venture did make her feel better; he would hold a commanding officer’s rear to the fire, if he felt it was needed.
Even for as many clones as she graduated, she tried to remember them; remember their quirks and habits, any little pieces of them that made them individuals, making full use of her Jedi-trained memory to hold onto them. She followed them as well as she could; when they gained names after leaving her, she memorized which name went with which former cadet so that she could acknowledge them by that individuality. She knew too well how many they would lose; someone should remember them for the people they were, not just as where and when they died, one of some impersonal number in the losses column.
“He’s teaching them teräs käsi,” Ahsoka had said, when the topic had come up during one of their very rare social calls recently. “I don’t know, Master Ti; they seem to like him, he seems to like them, and he’s always been polite to me.”
(It would be a long time before Shaak would find out that Ahsoka had been involved with some friendly espionage with Maul and his Blackbirds; when she did, by then, she was utterly unsurprised and could find it in herself to also be very amused.)
Anyway, her misgivings led to her keeping an eye on the squad’s records and logs. Most of them were unavailable to her, since she wasn’t their commanding officer, but she was alerted when they were assigned their first training mission.
“General Skywalker is currently on assignment and out of contact,” was the response to her first query.
“General Kenobi is currently on assignment and out of contact,” was the response to her second query.
“They’re currently being ransomed by a weequay pirate,” Mace told her, dryly, which basically meant that she wasn’t going to be getting any answers anytime soon. “I’ll have them get back to you whenever we’re done dealing with… this.” His emphasis on this made clear his feelings on the subject.
Only those two, she thought, before turning her attention back to the mission specs she was looking at.
It seemed innocuous just reading the brief, but she did have clearance for that given her own assignment – overseeing the training of the clones in the GAR – and so she had called up the detailed mission parameters and promptly wondered what the Hell Anakin Skywalker was doing. It looked more like the kind of mission one would send a very seasoned group of ARCs on than the kind one would give to a relatively new squad in training.
Maybe he was just over enthusiastic, she thought, not quite sure how to sort out her feelings on it; the desire to give the benefit of the doubt to Anakin, while at the same time a surprising amount of concern for the sake of the squad itself, being put into a situation where it looked like they were going to lose in a confidence-shattering manner. The sheer number of obstacles that they would have to overcome, without making any mistakes, just to be able to advance towards the base they were supposed to take was–
Frankly, it was unfair. Shaak knew well that the Separatists didn’t necessarily play by the rules, but destroying the confidence of a group of soldiers in training defeated the very purpose of said training. She couldn’t fathom what good could come of this; the chances that the Blackbirds would succeed were astronomical, and even if they did, none of them would come away from it feeling as if they could trust General Skywalker.
Still, they were already days into it, so it was too late to change it. There had been no mock-casualties; in fact, according to the records of the 501st detachment based there, there had been no sign nor hint of the Blackbirds inside of the range of operations at all yet. Shaak couldn’t bring herself to hope they would succeed in their mission, if only because they were being treated so unfairly, but she couldn’t deny a breath of relief at the fact that none of them had fallen yet.
When she realized that she was rooting for a squad led by an ex-Sith, she had several more feelings to sort out.
Hopefully, when Obi-Wan was finished being ransomed by a pirate, he would get back to her about possibly assessing the squad.
They were his men, she had no authority to demand it, but maybe it was time to see for herself what was going on with them, and with their highly unconventional lieutenant, too.
Shaak Ti steps off of the gunship, a second before it takes off again. She takes a deep breath, breathing in the dust of one of the thousands of almost identical Republic listening posts. For an instant, she stands on another dusty world, watching clones under her command assault a droid control ship. Of course, she watches them after she has leapt to the top of the grounded vessel and is cheerfully hurling parts of droids off of the top.
She hears a dry Corellian drawl in her mind, in the unbroken training bond. Aren’t you a little serene and wise to be thinking about being cheerful? the voice snarks.
Watch it, infant. I wouldn’t be too snarky. Have you gotten the neon pink out of your beard yet?
There is silence in the bond. It was green, he says with as much dignity as an early-twenties human male can offer.
Ti clears her head as a familiar figure walks up. She smiles and returns Obi-Wan Kenobi’s bow, her eyes growing troubled at the lines around his mouth; the half armor on his torso. He is only five years younger than she is.
“Hello, Master Ti. It’s good to see you. How goes it on Kamino?”
“As well as can be expected, Master Kenobi,” she says. “It’s a daily battle with the Kaminoans to improve the lot of the clones; to have basic guarantees that the boys won’t be ended the second they get a hangnail.”
He nods soberly. “I’m glad that you’re there, Master Ti. I only hope that we can get this horrible war over with and then solve what we can do with these men.” He falls silent. Shaak can see him thinking, contemplating what the Jedi have wrought. Then a grin flows to his bearded features. “How is your former Padawan? Last I saw him, he was sporting a distinct Master Windu look.”
In spite of the laughter that rises to the surface, she feels the warmth of pride flow through her chest. She fights the urge to pull her comm and show pictures. “I don’t know. I only hope that he keeps his impression of Master Windu to himself.” Shaak nods. “I think that certain elements in Corellian Security are acting on the intelligence that your squad came up with on their last mission. Tal and his slicers were able to make sure that the right connections were made that the Blackbirds acquired. Certain members of the board of Blastech may find themselves facing charges on Corellia, if not the Republic, and may allow us to keep the Blastech contract for blasters and heavy weaponry, in spite of the neutrality.” She touches Obi-Wan on the shoulder, allowing a slight smirk on her face. “I guess I should thank Lieutenant Maul and his troops for something other than teaching he and Drop a tiny bit of humility.”
Obi-Wan grins. “Only a tiny bit. A ‘drop’ in the bucket.”
Ti rolls her eyes and groans.
The accompanying expression of various huntresses on her world fades as she sees his face grow sober. “That’s why I agreed to this, Master Ti. You’ve had great success in training Jedi by unconventional means in the Hunt on your world. Not just Croft and my former Padawan’s apprentice, but others whose Masters have wanted an edge for their trainees—an edge to connect them with the natural world and the Force around us.”
Shaak remains silent as she watches Obi-Wan gather his thoughts. “I believe that Maul is doing an extraordinary job at training his unit. I think that he’s melded this diverse bunch of troopers into what has started to prove to be an effective, unconventional force, much like your former apprentice’s.” He looks down. “I would like you to give an honest assessment to Maul. I think he needs to hear it from someone who’s not named Kenobi.”
His eyes narrow, an expression that her Padawan had used on her quite a bit. She suppresses the pang of separation—of attachment—that cuts through her. She allows herself to tune back in as he stares at her.
“Maul could use an ally on the Council, Master Ti. Someone who hadn’t been on the Council during the Naboo crisis, as well as someone who’s known for keeping an open mind.” He looks away. “An open mind for redemption.”
She remains expressionless; does not rise to the comment.
“I’d also like you to give one to Croft,” he finishes. “He could be an ally himself, now.”
Shaak nods. “I know. Taliesin has found himself the senior General in the Special Operations Division, since Janysytang was killed.” She closes her eyes for a moment, fighting the pain of her thoughts. All of twenty-two years old, she thinks, shielding the thought from the as yet unbroken training bond. “You know I voiced my own skepticism at this endeavor at the first, Obi-Wan,” she says quietly.
“I know, Shaak. I know that Master Qui-Gon—.”
She holds up her hand, stopping him in mid-thought. “No, Obi-Wan. It is not that. I’m a Jedi. I remember that one of our tenets is compassion. Out of compassion, comes forgiveness.
“While I have a great deal of respect for Master Qui-Gon, I can’t condone vengeance. Some of what I have heard when I was briefed, if even half of it is true, smacks of revenge, rather than justice. I don’t know Maul, but I trust you implicitly, Obi-Wan.” Her eyes track to the horizon. “You helped me see that even with the losses of Atti and Fe Sun, I couldn’t give up. I won’t give up on Maul without having even seen him in action.” She gives a soft smile. “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”
Obi-Wan rolls his eyes at the platitude, but then he nods. “Thank you, Master,” he says.
Her smile morphs into a crooked grin, an unconscious copy of another’s expression. “Some would say that I am the living embodiment of second chances, with my track record.”
He nods solemnly. She knows that he is thinking of her two previous Padawans; of their deaths before knighthood. Of her grief, so well contained behind the serene countenance. She shakes his head. The younger knight had gone to Shili to bring her back from her mourning period after the second. A thirteen year old human, only at the Temple for eight years, had been on page duty at the hangar when they had exited their shuttle after another mission together.
The same young human, now a blooded General with so much responsibility.
“No, Obi-Wan. It’s not Maul’s history. Rather, since I have become General of Training, I’ve felt a tremendous responsibility to these men. To give them as much of an edge as I can, so that they can survive to whatever we can do for them. I’m just—” She stops, then continues carefully, “I am interested to see how someone who has never trained anyone, who has only undergone Force knows what in the way of his own training with the Sith, can give the edge to these men.”
He smiles. “I think that you’ll be surprised, Shaak,” he says. “Just as I was surprised that day in the hangar when you immediately connected with that small Corellian, so soon after your losses.”
She remains quiet. An unknown clone officer with the insignia of a Captain walks up. Ti smiles broadly. “General Kenobi, this is Captain Pal, my adjutant. He’s kind of an unconventional fellow himself. I think he knows one of your Blackbirds.” The officer salutes them both smartly.
Obi-Wan nods and beckons to another trooper. “Waxer. Please escort General Ti to the training area.”
As Ti leaves, Obi-Wan turns to Pal. “What did she mean, Captain, that you were an ‘unconventional fellow’?”
He can hear the smile in the officer’s voice, behind his bucket. “She meant that I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground, General,” he replies dryly. “Not until she made me. On Geonosis. The General has a way of finding the deepest hidden talent of someone. Watched her do it with many a hopeless group of shinies.” He stops for a moment. “May I speak freely, General?”
“Of course, Captain,” Obi-Wan answers.
“I know that Jedi don’t love. That they don’t feel pride. But I watch her as she stands there while the new battalions march past her. I see the love. The pride. Then I watch something die in her as they finish passing her, marching off to war.” He salutes again and leaves.
Obi-Wan is silent as he considers what this war is doing to them all. In his mind’s eye, he sees himself on Zigoola, expressing his love for Maul; watching as he left Obi-Wan and Bail to face down that temple. This vision competes with that of a Togruta Jedi, her heart torn by the deaths of students, taking a chance, as a thirteen year old human grins up at her cheekily, in the Jedi Temple hangar.
For a brief moment, he wonders if he is using his friendship with Ti; her innate honesty and compassion—-traits he had seen nearly a dozen years ago, as she had held the life of the murderer of her second Padawan in her hands. When she had chosen the light and the life.
Obi-Wan’s mind goes to a dark corner. Is he being selfish? Is he being the Negotiator, the High General of the Outer Rim Systems Army, Commander of the Open Circle Fleet, to merely manipulate Shaak Ti into protecting his own love?
All without revealing to her his own plans about the Order at war’s end.
His mind travels to Pal’s words. He wonders why the officer had offered them.
For an instant, he feels a stab of fear as he wonders if he had misread his friend’s compassion. If Pal had been priming the pump for the letdown of Shaak’s evaluation.
Obi-Wan shakes his head. He knows Shaak Ti. He knows Maul. He even knows himself. He decides that he is right to take this chance; that love will have its say.
Pal walks down the company street. He curses himself as he wonders whether he had done his General, for whom he would gladly shield from any harm, be it another pissant jetti or an army of clankers, any favors by his openness to Kenobi. He sees a clone in body suit, his hair longer than it used to be, but with a familiar look about him. He walks faster and pulls his bucket off.
The other clone, wearing a breastplate decorated in lightning bolts with shoulder marked with the red cross of a medic, stops. The trooper grins. “Hello, Pal. Did you stop by for more airsickness patches?” The two clones bring their foreheads together, an expression of affection nearly as old as they are. Pal sees Tally’s eyes widen as he sees the insignia and the pauldron. “You? Pukey? A captain? They must be hard up for officers.”
“They recognized my obvious charm and good looks,” Pal retorts.
Tally laughs. “That’s not the Pal I knew. He would’ve been looking at his feet after my first words to him. What happened and what have you done with my batch-mate?”
Pal looks away. “Geonosis happened,” he says quietly. They both sober.
“I heard,” Tally says. “I heard you took over two companies and kicked a Jedi’s ass to get her moving, when she was ready to abandon you all.”
Pal feels his anger rise, tamps it down. “You only got it half right, Vod,” he says, his teeth slammed together in defense of that particular young Jedi. “I took over that wing, but that Jedi wasn’t ready to abandon us because she was a coward. She wanted someone else to take over, so that she could go and die. So that she could join her friends and her left arm, lying in that arena. I just gave her a reason to live.”
Tally falls silent, face gone rueful in sympathy, if not for the Jedi, then likely for Pal. “You’re here for the inspection, right? To see if our L-T is good enough to keep us?” He turns and follows Pal to the training area.
“Yes. I am,” Pal says matter-of-factly.
“Then we’re as good as sunk. They’ll probably send Maul back to where he came from.” Tally’s eyes lock with Pal’s; there is only a tiny hint of malice—of threat— in the dark eyes. “I’ve never met a Jedi Master, except maybe Kenobi, who saw things outside of their doctrine.”
“You haven’t met General Ti, have you? You met her Padawan, General Croft, I heard.”
Tally nods. “Yeah. In spite of giving all appearances of being an immature little shit who thinks with his deece, he’s not half-bad. Seems to care for his troops, as well as respecting what we can do.” He paints a ghost of a smile over his features. “Got us a line on some prime salvage.”
Pal grins. “As far as thinking with his deece, he sounds like most of the brothers I know. He’s had to learn a lot in the past few months. One thing that I do know is that he didn’t lose any of his commandos through ten missions. It was only when he got to his last campaign, a garden spot that we managed to abandon after he, Kenobi, Skywalker, and that little Commander, Tano, managed to wrest it from the Seppies.” He looks forward, watching his General watch the Blackbirds exercise. “He wasn’t even a General, yet.” He looks Tally in the eye. “I’m pretty sure he might’ve learned that from somewhere other than the bottom of a whisky bottle.”
Tally looks as if to say something, but pauses. “I’ve met her,” he says quietly. “General Ti, I mean. I might owe her a bit, but I’ll reserve judgement on her until after this damned eval is over.” He looks away. Pal feels his insides twist at the almost haunted look in the medic’s eyes. A part of his brain recalls the eager-to-please cadet that Tally had once been. He wonders where the sharp edges had come from.
He nods; sure that there is more to that story, but one for another time. He pushes forward. “Tally, I know how you feel about what our lives are. But there are good people—Jedi and our commanders who are fighting to make our lives better. People who think that we’re worth it. From what I have heard, I think your Lieutenant is one of those.” He touches the medic on his cheek. “I know what you can do, Tally. How hard you work to keep our brothers alive. You have to have faith that you will be recognized for what you do. You’re a better doctor than most I have seen who have the fancy piece of paper. Might not be up to Surgeon-General Che, yet, but at least none of us are scared shitless around you.”
They both laugh. Pal turns and looks at his Jedi, her tall frame still and serene as she stands next to a figure who can only be Lieutenant Maul, given the vivid, two-tone colors of his skin. Both watch as the squad works at martial arts exercises.
He sees Tally’s eyes widen as Husker walks up to Ti. They both laugh, Ti with that full throated laugh, with full canines, that only Pal and perhaps a young Zeltron get to see on all but the rarest of occasions. He smiles as Ti pulls Husker to her in a deep embrace, whispering into his ear.
Tally appears thoughtful as they pull closer. Both of them see Rabbit lunge at the exercise leader, Sergeant Shiv, in an attempt to use the instructor’s moves against him.
They both wince as the younger clone slips and falls to his knees, as he usually does. Both troopers watch as Maul walks over to the combat pair.
Maul walks over to Rabbit and Shiv. He takes a deep breath and pulls Rabbit to his feet. “You’re coming closer, Rabbit,” Maul says. “You just have to anticipate how he anticipates that move.”
Rabbit takes the proffered hand and stands. He hangs his head. He looks past Maul at the older version of Commander Half-Pint, watching quietly, her violet eyes taking it all in. Where Commander Tano was all energy and snark, this one was all serenity and quiet. Is this what Ahsoka will be like in another three decades or so? All that snark and laughter gone?
Rabbit looks down. “I’m sorry, Lieu. I’m making us look bad to that Jedi. I’m making you look bad.”
Maul gives one of his small smiles, shaking his head. “Don’t worry about it, Rabbit. I only care that you get it and that you can use it to survive. Besides,” he says, the smile growing by millimeters, “you don’t want Rancor to show you up.”
He turns away. Rabbit squares off against Shiv. “You can do it, trooper,” Shiv says. “But I’m not going to give it to you.” The Sergeant looks away. Rabbit knows that he is seeing the faces of his former unit—all gone on a frigid world in the Pantoran system. He shakes the thoughts of Shiv’s losses off and makes his move.
Rabbit curses as he goes flying through the air.
Ti watches Maul’s expressionless face as the young clone goes flying. Even though he is quiet and his Force-sense is so contained, she can feel a very tiny bit of concern radiating around him. Almost imperceptible.
Concern not just for the younger trooper, but his teacher as well.
For several moments, she turns her attention to Shiv. She centers herself, allowing her gaze to lock on every tiny nuance of Shiv’s expression. She tries not to focus on a pair of laughing purple eyes and chestnut hair with streaks of natural blue, as the owner of those eyes and that hair teaches her what to look for in very subtle emotional cues. Cues that came naturally to a member of a species with a natural empathic resonance. She shakes her head, sending the vision of that face to the back of her brain. She locks on Shiv. On the outside, he is the hyper-competent, quiet trooper she had known briefly; that she had studied.
There. She can see the lines of pain around his eyes, the flickers as his mind briefly focuses elsewhere. She only relies on what Dani had taught her, in a brief moment in a Coruscant café, a thousand years ago. She keeps her Force sense in the background. She looks down and away, knowing that she had given these cues at least twice in her life—perhaps more than that, now that she watches these men march away from her on Kamino.
She turns her gaze to Maul, out of the corner of her eye. She had meant what she had said to Obi-Wan. She doesn’t think she would’ve approved of what had been done to him after his capture, if she’d been on the Council. She is fairly certain that Qui-Gon Jinn wouldn’t have approved of what had been done in his name, even couched as ‘security’ and ‘preserving the light.’
Shaak feels her gaze sharpen as she catches a glimmer of something, looking at Maul through the lens of that young woman’s teachings. She nods to herself.
Shaak makes a decision. She turns, making sure that Maul is facing her, as to not surprise him and touches him gently on his shoulder. She can feel the coiled power in that one touch. “Lieutenant Maul. This is your training exercise and I am no expert in this discipline, but may I try something?”
He stares at her, his golden eyes searching her face for any sign of displeasure. She isn’t surprised by his wariness, given what she knows, only that he’s keeping it so carefully banked right now, perhaps for the sake of the squad.
She smiles slightly, careful not to show her sharp canines. After a moment, he nods. “By all means, General Ti.”
Ti walks over to Rabbit and pulls him up effortlessly. She pulls her robe off and hands it to Raze, who looks on with wide eyes. She is clad in singlet and skirt, her arms showing much more power than the only other Togruta they had seen up close. His own brows raise. There are also a few more white markings on her skin than their sometime junior instructor.
Maul sees her whisper in Rabbit’s ear, away from Shiv. He listens attentively. Ti smiles as he nods and bows her head to him. She turns around and walks towards Maul, reclaiming her robe from the awestruck Raze.
As she dons her robe, Shaak watches as Rabbit and Shiv square off, again. This time Shiv lunges first. Rabbit easily sidesteps, then lunges with the same move as before. She sees Maul start to close his eyes in a wince, then snaps them fully open as Rabbit jinks in another direction, then back to the center. His fists strike his opponent in the jaw, then whip around and strike Shiv on the neck.
Shiv goes down. Rabbit immediately is there helping him up, as Tally walks up. The other Blackbirds gather around them both, slapping Rabbit on the back and gently joshing Shiv, once they see he’s on his feet, albeit shakily. Maul stands back, his eyes locking on the pair. Shaak knows that it takes an unexpected amount of effort to avoid going over there to check for himself.
Shaak returns his gaze, keeping hers with a guarded lack of expression. He stares at her, as if trying to discern whether she is about to strike—to send him packing from his squad. After a moment of scrutiny, he visibly relaxes—if only by the tiniest of movements. She opens her mouth in a slight smile, her sharp incisors slightly visible, but not bared at him.
He shakes his head and regains his equilibrium. “The Charging Wampa? I hadn’t taught them that yet.” He turns and squares off. He looks at Shaak as she stifles a laugh. He relaxes again at the sound. “You didn’t say that you knew teräs käsi, General Ti,” he says.
“I don’t. Don’t know a damned bit of it,” she replies. She smiles and bows her head to Maul. “I just told him to take the example of his Lieutenant—his teacher—and defy expectations.”
He remains silent, still apparently searching for a snare of some kind.
Shaak takes a deep breath, then continues, undeterred by his lack of response. “No, you hadn’t taught them that move yet. But you’ve inspired them to go beyond and learn more, to keep you on your toes as well.” This time she bares her teeth fully in a grin, hoping that it still manages to retain its non threatening edge. “I think you’ll do just fine, Maul. When I walked up to this area, I felt the energy and the comradeship from this disparate group of troopers.” Maul looks away. “From you, most of all, Lieutenant. You who are so closed off. I felt it in you most of all. I think your friend Obi-Wan was right to entrust you with these men’s lives. They’re as good for you, as you are for them.“
Shaak manages to keep her tone even; free of the reeling emotions. “I was watching you watch both Shiv and Rabbit. I could sense and see the care for them. For Rabbit—wanting him to succeed, not just for the skill, but for the confidence. She allows her gaze to fall on Shiv. “You were the one who had to tell him about his platoon, right?”
Maul nods, almost imperceptibly. She sees him stare at her. “You are letting him grieve in his own way. But, I think, you will be there to catch him if he falls.” She reaches out, but stops before touching him. “Sometimes it’s all that you can do.” She turns to walk away.
“One more question, General,” Maul asks in a different tone, apparently setting aside the rest of it to try to sort out later, at least for the moment. “Why did you remove your robe when you walked out there, then put it back on?”
It is her turn to look down. “Because that was their space. I wasn’t a Jedi master or a General, there. I was as much a student as they were,” she says.
Shaak starts to turn away, again. She allows a gleam to come into her violet eyes. “A couple of more things. I believe that when my former student’s hair grows in, he would look divine in purple. It’s another of his family’s colors. Drop, as well.”
She walks away.
“You said two things, I believe, General Ti,” Maul calls after her.
She stops and turns, taking in the other Blackbirds. She sees them looking at her expectantly. Analyzing her. Shaak wonders what she can say to put them at ease. She is at a loss. A glimmer comes into her mind, as she sees them turning back to their exercises—exercises of an unconventional group of men. She recalls connecting with several Padawans; of how she had gotten their attention, had put them at their ease.
“One thing I was taught at an early age, gentlemen,” she says to them. “Always carry a knife.” She is a blur as she reaches into her robes and skirt, down to her leg. Maul catches a glimpse of scarlet skin as her right arm comes up and forward.
A hunting knife quivers in the dead center of a makawara pole, used to hone punches.
Her huntress’s teeth are bared again before she turns and leaves. She can feel several eyes staring at her retreating back. Including those of the most unconventional of them all.
Raze walks over to the blade and takes it. His face strains as he tries to pull it from the thick wooden post. Once he is able to pull it from the wood, Maul gives a tight smile as he sees the indicator that Raze might take off after Ti, peppering her with questions. Especially if that imparted wisdom might give him an edge in his quest for bright, shiny, or furry objects. Pal walks over and looks at the knife as Raze contemplates putting it in his belt. “Don’t worry. She has others. That’s just one of her teaching knives.”
Raze looks at the others, voicing their unspoken thoughts. “Maybe that is what Commander Half-Pint will look like in thirty years or so.”
Pal joins her as she walks to the lartie. He sees her pace quicken; he had seen the communiqué from Kamino. He smiles; he knows that there is an unscheduled consultation with a certain Corellian agent. One that might not allow him access to her quarters for at least two days.
“Did you find what you needed, General?” Pal asks.
Ti starts, as if coming back to the present, to this world. She recovers quickly. “Yes, Captain. I believe that I did,” she answers.
He waits patiently. Ti smiles at him. “I sent a draft of my report to Obi-Wan and Taliesin. This will be an effective fighting force. Since Tal and the 332nd have already crossed paths with them,” she says—at this they both share a smirk,” I think that they might work well together for some more training and operations. Taliesin and Maul might learn something from each other.”
“If we can keep them from escalating the prank war,” Pal says.
They board the lartie for the trip up to the Venator. Ti turns to Pal. “Did you get a chance to see Tally?”
Pal nods. “Yes, General. He’s pretty protective of his squad—including his L-T,” he says. “He takes care of them.”
Ti nods. “No greater praise for a unit medic,” she says. Pal sees her look at the passing ground.
“Did you know him, General? He spoke of meeting you, that ‘he might owe you’.”
Ti’s smile widens a bit. “That same stubborn idea of care and independence didn’t exactly endear him to the Kaminoans. I had to intercede,” she says, her expression growing hard for a moment.
Pal doesn’t have to ask what that intercession entailed. He stares at Ti, once again counting himself lucky and privileged to know her.
He sees her expression grow thoughtful, just before she closes her eyes. He hopes that her mind is at ease—either thinking of smooth crimson skin, or communing with her former student.
Shaak does allow a thought for the two days she will spend with that certain Corellian agent, Daaineran Faygan, while she recuperates from a slight wound incurred looking into a certain group of corporate predators on her father’s world. She sends those thoughts away as she hears the warm voice of Taliesin Croft in her mind. Thanks, Master. Guess we’ll be looking over our shoulders again. She hears his voice in her mind grow serious. I miss you, my mother-of-the-hunt.
Shaak Ti manages to fight the tears from her eyes. As do I, my hunter.