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we were young once

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The Mynock was overcrowded. Sure, with the adjustments that had been made, it was finally comfortable for three men and a baby (well, a human, a clone, two Rodians, a Twi’lek, a small (but growing!) Zabrak, and now a human baby,) but it wasn’t meant to hold all of those individuals plus the crew of the Xanadu --five extra bodies in the same space was making Tamlin feel kind of claustrophobic, on top of the usual discomfort of having his uncles and Dak Rambo in the same space. Tamlin didn’t have anything against the smuggler, but it was awkward to sit in the booth and watch Uncle Bacta and the male Twi’lek, Tech Wizard, make moony eyes while Rambo really only had eyes for the baby. Tamlin had a well-honed appreciation for romantic tension, thanks to Uncle Leenik reading him many of Neemo’s books, but even that triangle--square--pentagram--was too much for him to handle. He couldn’t even seem to make eye contact with Z or Pox to exchange awkward faces, though he supposed given they had to live with the way Tech just kind of openly stared longingly at Dak all day long, this really wasn’t all that unusual. 

 

So instead he was stuck staring at the top of the table, also pretending he didn't know all of this was happening, and slowly drawing letters with the beads of condensation rolling down his glass of Bantha milk. They weren't even doing very much; Bacta was cooking as much as he could between glancing furtively at Dak, and Leenik was "helping," which almost guaranteed that the meal would be practically inedible once it was time to actually eat. Tryst and Dak were cooing over the baby together, which Tamlin understood since zie was their baby, and Dak didn't get to see zie very often since zie lived on the Mynock and not on the Xanadu. Tech was just watching them, his mouth occasionally open before he realized it was just hanging that way, and Pox and Z were on either side of him, muttering over his head about their latest shipment. Leenik was watching Tryst with that sparkle in his eye and a smile on his snoot, and Lyn was focused intently on her datapad. 

 

Adults were boring, Tamlin decided. All their drama made him tired, especially because it would make the ship tense for a while after, because Bacta would ask Tryst probing questions about Dak and Tryst would answer like it was nothing because he loved to rile Bacta up. Leenik would also say things bluntly and Lyn would try to make it easier, and Tamlin wished for a moment he had a good excuse for not just sitting there, like Neemo did. (Neemo was under deadline for his newest book, and had basically barricaded himself in his room until further notice, though Lyn would often coax him out of his room to make him eat at meals. Even then he wasn't very talkative, instead muttering to himself about the plot, which he wouldn't reveal to any of them, not even to Tamlin.) He sighed deeply, and Lyn glanced sympathetically at him over her datapad, but went right back to work. He didn't know what she was doing--she was also being relatively secretive, which made him think it was also something work-related, maybe even SPYING, but she wouldn't tell him no matter how subtle he tried to be. After the third or fourth round, she'd patted his head and told him that unfortunately, he'd inherited his Uncle Tryst's skills in subtlety, and wouldn't listen when he protested that he wasn't related to Uncle Tryst and so couldn't inherit anything from him.

 

Then, the baby started to cry, which wasn't hir fault--Tamlin knew he would have cried too, if he was a baby and couldn't do anything else to express how awkward the whole situation was. It seemed like four different people stood up, Bacta rushing in like he always did when he heard a baby cry, and Tamlin took the opportunity to wriggle his way past Z and Pox's legs, muttering something about going to practice his forms in case anyone asked. As he glanced over at his shoulder, only Pox was looking at him, and she gave him a wink, to which he nodded and headed away through the ship.

 

As much as he knew he should, he didn't go to the dojo and practice his forms; he headed instead to the cockpit. It would be nice to have some time to himself, to look out at the quiet of space. Only when he arrived and went to flop down into the pilot's seat, he saw instead that Dak's... sister's kid was sitting in the pilot spot. 

 

Tamlin very nearly lost it. He was too old for tantrums any more--he was seven , after all, and he couldn't just cry like the baby any more, especially because he wasn't the baby on the ship any more--but he'd been counting on this space being empty , on having one moment alone on this karking ship. Mentally he assigned himself more forms, because if Bacta knew he'd even thought that word, he'd be in big trouble, but he was really frustrated! 

 

Max Epsteen was just lounging, his legs spread wide, staring blankly out into space. He seemed to hear Tamlin, though, because he turned slowly and blinked at Tamlin. “Oh,” he said. “Hi.” 

 

“Hi,” Tamlin said, trying not to grit his teeth. 

 

“Is it dinner time?” 

 

“No. I just came to--”

 

“Get away,” Max nodded, then moved the co-pilot seat with his hand so it twisted to be more opening to Tamlin. “You can hang out if you want. It’s quiet up here.” He turned back to face the darkness of space. 

 

Tamlin watched him for a moment uneasily. On the one hand, getting away hadn’t originally meant hanging out with another member of the Xanadu . On the other hand, it seemed rude to ignore an offer to sit, and he didn’t really want to be rude, even if he was upset about not being able to find a space away from everyone. Then again, maybe if he sat here with Max, no one would say he was avoiding the festivities. He’d rather be sitting in the pilot seat, but Max got there first so it seemed only fair. He climbed into the co-pilot seat, turning it as he did so he could look out at space. 

 

They fell into a silence that Tamlin wouldn’t exactly call comfortable , but ever time he glanced over to see if Max felt the discomfort like he did, the human was just staring out into space, not really moving. Tamlin wondered what he was thinking about, but wasn’t sure he knew the right way to go about asking. He didn’t want to be accused of having Uncle Tryst’s sense of subtlety again, that was for sure, but it seemed weird to just sit here and not say anything. 

 

“Are you excited for Life Day?” he asked instead, because that seemed like a pretty safe topic. 

 

Max shrugged. “It feels weird to celebrate like this.” 

 

“Did you not celebrate it before? Is Dak a Ringist too?” It felt a little stupid to ask like that--to ask about Dak and not Max. Tamlin tried to remember if he’d ever heard Tryst say anything about if he’d let a non-Ringist have a kid with him, or really anything about raising the baby Ringist or not, but if he was being honest with himself, he’d tuned out most of what Uncle Tryst said about religion, belief, and the age of the universe. 

 

Max shrugged again. “No, we celebrated. Mostly it’s weird to do it in space and not do it with my sister.”

 

“You have a sister? Why didn’t Dak pick her up too?” Tamlin realized the questions were coming in very fast, so he sat back and tried not to seem too demanding. Max was quiet for a moment, and Tamlin was just about to apologize when he spoke again.

 

“I don’t know. I don’t think she’s his--sister’s kid. And she wasn’t with me when I got kidnapped and they picked me up. She was at home. She’s sick, a lot.” 

 

“Oh.” Tamlin sat quietly, privately regretting he’d ever asked. Now it felt skewed, uneven, like he was demanding too much of Max. “My mom is dead,” he offered. “And I never knew my dad. And--and I was kidnapped because I have the Force.” It all came rushing out of him at once, and he felt himself flush when he realized just how much he had shared. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Max said after a moment. Tamlin shrugged back.

 

“It’s not a big deal,” he says. “I mean. Sometimes--sometimes it is, I guess. I miss my mom. But I have a lot of uncles, so I guess that helps.” He paused and ran his fingers over the arm of the co-pilot’s seat. “Can I ask you a question?” 

 

“Sure,” Max responded, not seeming to care that Tamlin had already asked many questions of him. 

 

“Is--you don’t have to answer,” Tamlin started, “but is--Dak really your uncle?”

 

Max finally did look at him, and Tamlin quickly looked away. “Just because Uncle Bacta sometimes says Dak has--” He paused, trying to think of the right words. “A rich fantasy world that abdicates him of responsibility.” He paused, chewed his lip, wondered if that was too much. “Uncle Lyn says Uncle Bacta needs to stay in his lane.” 

“Does she really say that?” Max asked. 

 

“Not exactly,” Tamlin admitted. “That’s what Uncle Tryst said she meant .” 

 

Max nodded, turned back to face the dark of space. “He’s said he’s my dad, before,” he said. “Or, I think that’s what he means. It’s hard for him to say it, sometimes.” 

 

“What about the baby?” 

 

Max paused, and looked back to Tamlin. “I think it’s different. He’s--um.” He turned away again, and for a moment Tamlin felt much, much smaller in his chair than before. The silence as Max--composed himself? Tamlin felt like looking over to see if the older boy was crying was rude, so he used the Force to pull one of the little trinkets that Leenik kept leaving on the console towards him. This one was a small ball in the shape of what they kept referring to as “the murderball”--Leenik had had it 3D printed somewhere based on the plans they’d taken when they’d rescued Tamlin, and even though Bacta kept trying to throw it away, it kept appearing on the console. There was also a Boba Fett bobblehead they’d picked up from BHIKKE, and Tamlin noticed it also fly off the console, but towards Max. 

 

“Hey!” he said. “I didn’t know you could do that too!” 

 

“Huh?” Max asked, and the Boba Fett bobblehead, which had been spinning, stopped in mid-air, the head still rattling. “Oh, this?” He made the bobblehead spin again. “I don’t know, I’ve always been able to do stuff like that.” 

 

“Me too,” Tamlin said. “My mom could too, and--and someone is supposed to help me learn, but it’s complicated right now, so Uncle Bacta is teaching me what he knows instead. Stuff from the Jedi.” He said the last part conspiratorially, in case Max didn’t think the Jedi were cool. “I have my own lightsaber!” 

 

“Woah, that’s pretty cool.” The bobblehead stopped spinning and just hung there in the air. “I haven’t been doing a lot. But I’ve been thinking about maybe--well.” He paused, looked over his shoulder. “There’s a group,” he said, low and conspiratorially. Tamlin leaned in to hear, eager to share a secret that wasn’t just about their dead or absent parents. “They’re on this planet called Jedha. They call themselves the Guardians of the Whills.” 

 

Tamlin nodded seriously. “Lyn knows stuff about them, I think. Or at least about the Whills.” 

 

Max looked back over his shoulder again, towards the kitchen where Tamlin had come from. “Anyway, I’ve been thinking, maybe they can teach me stuff about this. About the Force. Since there aren’t any Jedi left, and I don’t have anyone who can teach me. Dak, sometimes he says he has the Force too but…” he shrugged. “If he does, I don’t think he knows very much about it. He used to be a slave, so he wasn’t ever a Jedi or even trained by anyone I don’t think.” 

“Well--maybe you could train with me and Uncle Bacta.”

 

Max shrugged. “I don’t know if I can start from the same place. The Jedi, right, they--they started young. I’m too old, probably, to learn the way you can learn. But maybe the Whills--maybe the Guardians can teach me some things.” 

 

Tamlin nodded. “Are--have you told Dak yet?” 

 

Max shook his head. “I’m--I don’t know. He’s really happy right now, with the baby, and like. Having a family and stuff. But our next job is to drop off some stuff in Jedha, so I thought maybe I could talk to the Guardians there.” He shrugged. “It--was hard for him, maybe, I don’t know,” he continued, “but I don’t think he understands--like knowing you have the Force, and all this evil stuff is happening.” 

 

“You have to train for what’s next,” Tamlin nodded. 

 

Max nodded back. “Yeah. Dak doesn’t get that. He had to live so long surviving by himself, it’s hard for him--for any of them--to really think about the whole galaxy and the trouble the Empire is causing. They just run jobs and hope to keep living. Well, maybe Tech gets it, but--” He stopped, the Boba Fett bobblehead in his hands now, as he twisted it between thick fingers. “That’s why it’s a good thing the baby is with you,” he said finally. “Maybe--maybe if zie has the Force too, you and Bacta could train hir from when zie is little. And zie can help too.” 

 

Tamlin swallowed hard. “I promise,” he said. “I promise zie can help, when zie is bigger. I can sense the Force in hir, and I’ll make sure zie gets trained.” 

 

Max nodded. Behind them, a chime rang out, and KAT’s voice came across the ship’s speakers. “Recipe: ham is now complete.”

 

“Tama!” Bacta called. “Dinner time!” 

 

Tamlin climbed out of the co-pilot seat. “Dinner time,” he repeated for Max, as if the other boy hadn’t heard. “Hopefully Leenik didn’t get close to the ham, or we might go kind of hungry tonight…” 

 

“Anything’s better than space-pizza dough,” Max replied, and they headed back into the rest of the crowded ship.