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a rose bloomed out beneath the thorn

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This, Fox thinks despairingly, is one of those times he really wishes the Guard had a Jedi of their own.

With a loud squall, Stone trips over his own feet, tumbles down off the top of the railing he was perched on, and splats on the ground like a kitten jumping off a high shelf, wings and limbs everywhere. With a sound of sharp concern, Thorn tries to leap for him, only to get the long spikes on the tip of his tail stuck in the grating on the floor and pull him up short, and he squeaks, a burst of fire blooming. It fizzles out quickly, thankfully, but he still snaps his mouth shut like he’s contemplating never making a sound again.

Fox, who is sitting exactly where he was standing when they karking transformed, very deliberately does not budge an inch, and he keeps his tail tucked close. No wings to trip over, but—seeing his commanders trying to navigate tails and extra limbs is warning enough.

With a sad little hiccup of smoke, Thorn sits down, wings drooping. He is, annoyingly, an immensely flashy and pretty dragon, with golden and steel-bright feathers and a long, elegant neck. He also looks mournful, and if Fox thought he could move without completely destroying his dignity, he would definitely cuff him around the head for it, but.

Well. Fox doesn’t have a lot of dignity left, given his job. He’d like to keep what shreds he can intact.

With a series of sad squeaks he definitely is too old for, tooka-sized dragon form aside, Stone peels himself off the metal and staggers upright, shaking himself hard. He still wobbles slightly when he takes a few steps, and after a second he stops, sits down hard right on one of his wings, and makes a mournful sound, looking straight at Fox.

Fox glares, not about to move an inch. And certainly not to save Stone from his own clumsiness.

Thorn twists, shakes himself, tugs again, but his tail is well and truly wedged. They're also all but alone down here, their squad sent back up towards the surface to look for clues as to the Chancellor’s disappearance, and, well. Now would be a great time for a Jedi to decide to wander past. Fox would even take Vos, at this point, but the bastard’s probably off knocking boots with Cody, because Cody has awful taste.

A hundred levels down in Coruscant's undercity, though, and they're not likely to have any sort of rescue coming. A hell of a long way to go if they want to crawl their way up to the surface, too, and enough unscrupulous bastards lurking all around them that Fox is absolutely sure they won't make it.

And then, soft on the metal walkway, there's a step.

“Oh,” a quiet voice says, and Fox doesn’t even have time to tense before a figure is moving onto their landing, dropping. The Human goes to his knees, and Fox pulls himself up and bristles, a warning snarl breaking from his throat.

It would probably be more impressive if he didn’t sound like a tooka with a headcold.

Still, it makes the man pause, and he pulls his hand back, looking from Fox to Thorn to Stone. “Oh,” he says again, and curls his fingers, then drops his hands to his knees. He’s no one Fox has seen a wanted poster for, at least; dressed all in black, with dark hair streaked with gold, and—

“Sorry,” the man offers, smiling a little. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” Leaning forward, he shows Fox his empty hand, then says, “I just wanted to get him unstuck.”

Fox gives him a suspicious stare, but Thorn squeaks sadly, letting out another puff of ineffectual smoke, and—Fox isn't precisely heartless, maybe. He huffs, sitting back down precisely where he was, and the man chuckles.

“I'm Ferus,” he says, and instead of reaching for Thorn, he reaches first for Stone, gently tugging his bent wing out from underneath him and shifting him forward just enough to be able to smooth his wings back, resettling them where they’re supposed to be. Stone chirps in relief, trying to stand, but one wing flops out almost immediately and drags him sideways, and he topples right over in front of their savior.

Fox groans a little, slumping down and slapping his paws over his eyes.

Ferus doesn’t laugh, which is surprisingly restrained of him, but Fox, out of the corner of one eye, can see he’s definitely trying hard. “It’s all right,” he tells Stone, patiently helping him resettle his wings again. “You just need to build up the flight muscles, and then you’ll be able to control them more. It will happen before you know it.”

Stone chirrups sadly, butting his head right into Ferus's hand, and Fox is watching closely enough to see the faint wince when a horn scrapes skin, but Ferus doesn’t show any other sign. He just strokes Stone’s wedge-shaped head with two fingers, then rubs behind the curve of his impressive horns.

“It will be fine,” he says, smiling a little. “Your scales are very handsome. You just need some practice wearing them.”

Showing he isn't entirely hopeless, Stone keeps his shebs planted on the grating when Ferus lifts his hand, though he makes a sad rumbling sound, tilting his head like he wants more scratches and entirely ignoring Fox’s narrow and slightly poisonous look. Ferus just smiles, and says, “One minute. I’ll get you all back to the surface, don’t worry, and back to the Temple. I was headed there anyway.”

Fox tries no to let his tremor of relief show, but—it’s difficult. The sheer fact that Ferus was planning to go to the Temple is already a good sign, and while Fox isn't quite willing to trust it entirely, it’s a good start. So is the careful way he strokes Thorn’s feathery sides as he shifts his wings out of the way, then runs a light touch down his tail. At the edge of the grate, he frowns, turning Thorn’s tail slightly.

“I bet you couldn’t do this again if you tried,” he says, a little amused. “Don’t move for a minute, all right, sweet?”

The pet name makes Thorn preen a little, and Fox growls. Ferus snorts, glancing at him, and says with amusement, “You're a grumpy one, aren’t you?”

Looks can't kill, but Fox still puts all of his effort into it anyway.

Undeterred, Ferus leans over Thorn again and raises a hand. “No moving,” he warns, and frowns, eyes narrowing. Fox waits, tensed for something else, for a swing, for him to try to just yank Thorn free without care—

Metal groans, moving on its own, and the slats of the grate bend apart. Quickly, Thorn jerks his tail free, squeaking excitedly, and promptly slams a wing into a bar as he tries to turn and falls flat on his face before Ferus can catch him.

A little smug, Fox eyes him, then pushes up to sit, carefully curling his tail around his feet. He rumbles, a much more dignified sound than squawking like the others, and Ferus glances over at him even as he scoops Thorn back up and plops him down on his feet.

“Ah, I see you're ready for your pets?” Ferus asks, smiling a little, and that’s not what Fox was after, not in the least, but before he can even try to shift away or growl again, Ferus's fingertips are skimming lightly down his spine, rubbing with exactly enough pressure across fur that wasn’t itchy a moment ago, and Fox’s eyes just about cross. He arches up into that touch, turns to chase it—

Trips, only to have Ferus catch and steady him before Thorn or Stone can see.

“There we go,” Ferus says, and lifts his hand away. “Do the three of you know how to take your scales off on your own?”

Deliberately, Fox shakes his head. He has no idea how they even turned into dragons in the first place, let alone how to turns back. The Jedi can likely help, but—getting there alone would be all but impossible.

“All right,” Ferus says easily, like he doesn’t mind. “It’s a good thing you’re all still small. I don’t—”

In the darkness, something very large and very angry growls.

Fox has half a second to think of the thing that smashed in the Chancellor’s whole wall, plucked him out of his office, and smashed him against a few windows before it dragged him away. He bristles, snarls a warning—

An absolutely massive dragon, big enough that it’s eye-level with the walkway even though they're a good hundred feet off the ground, stalks forward into the light, brilliance reflecting off massive, jagged horns and yellow skin marked with black. It takes one look at them and opens its jaws, and the fire that licks around its mouth is green, vivid and poisonous. There’s blood on its snout, a torn piece of a brocade robe that looks suspiciously similar to the one the Chancellor was wearing stuck between its teeth, and it pulls back—

Slim hands snatch, and Fox is suddenly airborne with a yowl. He flails, but he doesn’t have wings, can't catch himself. Not that Thorn or Stone seem to be doing any better as they squawk and flail and fall.

And then they're not falling anymore, because black and gold scales catch all three of them.

Lean and sleek and lithe, with wide wings built for speed, Ferus surges up in dragon form, right past a burst of acid-green flame and away. He arrows up towards level above, and Fox grabs for the golden mane running down his long neck just in time to keep from going spilling off. He snaps his head out, clamping down on Stone’s tail, and Stone yowls but grabs for Thorn as he goes skidding past. He manages to pin one of Thorn’s wings, and Thorn grabs for Ferus's mane, hauls himself up just as they level out, and Ferus's wings beat hard, sending him rocketing through a narrow opening and out into open air and bright light.

Fox has never been so relieved to see speeder traffic, and he hunkers down, trying to slow his heartbeat as Ferus folds his wings and glides in a long, graceful arc towards the opening to the next level. This one is a tunnel, and Ferus rumbles a warning, catches the edges, and hauls himself straight up, golden claws digging in deep and propelling him up the last few meters. When he slither out into the next level, it’s onto grass, shocking in the middle of Coruscant. The small square is deserted, a single fountain still burbling quietly in the center even though it’s overgrown, and there are no lights in the buildings around them. Ferus takes a careful look around, then crouches down, and there's a shimmering wash like a heat haze—

Something pulls, something shifts, and with a yelp a very Human Ferus hits the ground flat on his stomach, three full-grown troopers in armor on his back. He hits hard, wheezes, and Fox spits out a mouthful of Thorn’s hair and snaps, “Get off of me.”

“Sorry, sir,” Thorn groans, levering himself up, then rolling off. Stone does the same, flopping down on his back with a truly pathetic sound and thumping his head back against the grass.

“I feel like I got run over by Alpha,” he complains.

Fox ignores him, pushing up on his hands and knees and grabbing Ferus's elbow. “You okay?” he asks gruffly, helping to pull him to his feet.

Ferus winces a little, putting a hand to his chest. “I’ll be all right,” he promises, but he sounds winded enough that Fox frowns, helping him over to the edge of the fountain and guiding him down. Tellingly, Ferus doesn’t protest, just takes a moment to catch his breath and then raises his head.

“I take it you're not initiates,” he says, a little ruefully. “Given your size, and how unused you were to your scales, I assumed. Forgive me.”

“Initiates,” Fox repeats, crouching down in front of him. “Jedi initiates? The dragon thing is a Jedi thing?”

Ferus nods, and he’s not carrying a lightsaber that Fox can see, but—he’s a Jedi too. He has to be. Several things are starting to make much more sense.

“It’s a Force-adept thing,” he says, meeting Fox’s gaze squarely. And—well. That’s a hell of an implication. It wasn’t just Fox, wasn’t just Thorn. All three of them shifted, all at once.

“I assume it hasn’t happened before?” Ferus asks quietly, and Fox shakes his head, not quite able to frame words.

Fortunately or unfortunately, he isn't the only one here, and with a sound of disbelief Thorn sits up, bleached-blond curls spilling around his face. “We can't be Force-adepts,” he says. “We’re clones.”

“And why did we change now?” Stone asks, frowning. He rubs a hand over his shaved skull, trading looks with Fox, and says, “And…we all look different. As dragons. How’s that possible?”

Ferus smiles a little. “That much I can answer,” he says. “It’s because you’re all unique in the Force, and your scales reflect that.” Pausing, he grimaces, then says, “I can't answer the rest. At the very least, though, I can get you back to the Temple, and one of the Masters there may know.”

It’s a better fate than dying in the undercity, Fox thinks with a sigh. He rises to his feet, offering Ferus a hand, and asks, “And that…other dragon, down there?”

Ferus's expression slants into something grim, even as he slides his fingers into Fox’s grip. Like his dragon form, he’s lean, rawboned and elegant to look at. “That,” he says unhappily, “was some kind of Dark-Side user.”

“Great,” Thorn says grimly, twisting his hair up into a knot. “The Chancellor got eaten by a Sith dragon roughly the size of a cruiser and we were barely tooka-size. I call osik.”

Stone snorts. “If you want to go back down and tell the giant evil dragon to fight fair, be my guest,” he says, and Thorn makes a rude gesture at him. Fox rolls his eyes, then glances around them. He can hear traffic, but—

“Think you can make it back to the Temple as a dragon?” he asks Ferus. “You seem faster than a speeder, and I need to tell the generals what happened.”

Ferus gives him a crooked smile. “It’s been a while since I put on my scales, but I think I can manage that,” he says. “And—I think I can keep you from transforming again, if I try. The three of you will have to sit on my back, though. You don’t mind?”

Fox opens his mouth to tell him it’s just fine and they appreciate the effort—

“I've always wanted to mount a Jedi,” Thorn says merrily, and Ferus goes red. Grinning like a cat in the cream, Thorn leans back on his hands, eyeing Ferus up and down, and says, “You're really kriffing pretty, too, and since we should probably all thoroughly thank you for saving our lives—”

 Stone tackles him bodily, and Fox could stay out of it, but—

Thorn’s an idiot. Fox throws himself into the fray and grinds Thorn’s face into the grass, and doesn’t regret it for an instant.