“Be careful,” Knol warns, the flickering hologram the only light in the tunnel. “Whatever the Republic’s fancy new army is doing here, they're not going to give a damn about keeping the old city systems intact.”
A distant explosion shakes the ground, sending dirt raining down on Jon's head, and he winces. “I doubt they even know about them,” he says, pulling his hood forward a little further. “No one here would talk to a Republic official, even if they were bleeding out.”
Knol snorts, and Jon can see a flicker of movement beyond her, Fay's distinct figure and a cloaked, hooded form that’s most certainly Nico, their heads bent together. Plotting, likely; Sidious caught wind of something that made him start poking his nose into matters, and though Knol is confident he hasn’t found anything yet, they're going to need to be exceedingly careful for the foreseeable future.
“Just keep your eyes open,” Knol says, folding her arms over her chest. “Most of my contacts got run out the city with all the shelling, so if you get into trouble I’ll be hard-pressed to know before it’s too late.”
“I’ll be fine.” Jon ducks as another explosion shakes the tunnel, raising dust, and grimaces. “We need that lightsaber.”
Knol's breath is rueful. “We need someone who can use it, too, you vagrant, so keep yourself in one piece. I'm better with Force manipulation than a lightsaber. Fay wouldn’t even know which end is the dangerous one, and Nico's too predictable to fight a Sith Lord.”
“Thankfully,” Nico says, pointed, from beyond her, “I can take care of his apprentice perfectly well.”
Knol rolls her eyes. “You just want an excuse to kick Dooku in the ass,” she says, unimpressed, and there’s a definite lack of argument in response.
Jon snorts quietly, picking his way along the tunnel. There's a split, one path heading right and down and the other left and back towards the surface, and he pauses for a moment, listening. The Force is a steady, watchful presence, the fabric everything else in reality is stitched to, and Jon's always had a talent for knowing where he needs to be in the weave of it.
“Those wild animal instincts serving you well?” Knol asks, amused.
Jon scoffs, but turns right, following the slope of the floor down into the earth. “I’ll find it,” he says, a promise, and Knol sighs.
“You’d better,” she says. “But if you can't, Fay and Nico have about ten other plans that should be able to get us killed equally well, so come back and we’ll regroup.”
It takes a moment for Jon to find his words, and he keeps his eyes fixed ahead of him, on the pale blue flickers of light disappearing into the unbroken shadows. “I could find Dark Woman,” he says quietly. “Of all of us, she—”
“No,” Knol says flatly. “Not unless you want me to tear her pretty little head off. An’ya isn't getting anywhere near our planning.”
“Shut your mouth, vagrant, it’s not up for discussion.” Knol tosses her mane with an irritated flick, feline features curled in an expression of clear disgust. “We avoided the war because the lesser of two evils is still an evil. Using one evil to beat another is exactly the same.”
Jon grimaces, trying his best not to let his relief show. “Fine. But if I can't find this—”
“We’ll figure out something else.” Knol glances away, then grimaces as the holo flickers harder. “We’re losing the signal.”
“The tunnels are deep here.” Jon comes to a halt, ignoring the next rain of dirt that hits his hood. “You're fine holding the Sith?”
Knol's grin is all teeth, just a little too sharp. “Maul? He’s like a kitten. You just have to shake him by the scruff sometimes to get him to listen.”
Kitten is not the term Jon would use to describe a cast-off Sith apprentice who spent the last eleven years running around a junk planet, half-mad and full of rage against a Jedi. He snorts quietly, watching Knol's face in the flickering light, and asks, “Fay's going to see to him?”
That, at least, makes Knol's expression slide into a grimace. “She should at least be able to get his prosthetics working better,” she says. “And Nico's been fixing whatever’s wrong in his head. It’s a work in progress, though.”
Knol's leaving out the way she’s connected with Maul, Jon thinks, a little wry. She’s very skilled at that.
“Well,” he says quietly, “you’re good at getting half-crazy apprentices to find a better path. I would know.”
Knol scoffs, but her smile is fond. “Not your fault that things were done to you by bastards,” she says. “Either of you. We’ll work it out.”
Jon's throat feels tight, but he inclines his head. “Don’t tell Maul that Kenobi is here.”
“I'm not reckless, unlike certain idiots I could name,” Knol retorts. She turns her head, catching something, and then says, “Fay says there should be a spring somewhere on the planet, supposedly near you, that should be able to heal pretty much anything you do to yourself. It’s underground. You should feel it in the Force once you get close.”
That certainly wasn’t in any of the records Jon or Nico found. He raises a brow, but inclines his head, and says, “Thank you. Be careful with Maul.”
“You be careful with the warzone,” Knol retorts. “We’re too far away to bail you out, Antilles, so keep your head down.”
“Always.” Jon inclines his head to her, and Knol blows him a kiss that’s only a little mocking, then closes the transmission. The blue light winks out, and for a second there’s nothing but complete, utter darkness pressing in on Jon from all sides. Another shell hits, somewhere above, and the tunnel trembles—
And then, slow, steady, a light kindles, brightens. Jon smiles faintly, watching the veins of crystal in the tunnel walls begin to shine, and then reaches out, running his fingertips lightly over one of them. They're warm to the touch, craggy but smooth beneath his fingers, and they branch out like lightning through the dark earth, curled in fractal patterns that the natives have never tried to disguise.
The shelling above won't break through to the tunnels. They’ve already survived centuries and plenty of other wars, and the Force is strong down here. Jon has faith.
Of all the things Dark Woman gave him, his faith in the Force is the one he’s most grateful for.
By the light of the crystals, Jon keeps moving, following the branching patterns down into the earth. The tunnel loops and curves, leading steadily south and down at a steep angle, and Jon tries to calculate how close he’s gotten to the front. He must be right underneath it by now, but he can't feel the shelling anymore, and the Force is bright here, particularly strong. The battalions above are stars against a supernova, in comparison, and Jon has better things to focus his attention on, regardless.
Maul gave them Sidious’s identity, his plans. Between the inside knowledge and the whole galaxy thinking they're dead, they have an advantage, but—not enough so to defeat a Sith Lord as powerful and cunning as Sidious.
The legends of a weapon from the beginning of the Order promise more of one.
Fay remembers the stories, at least. She was able to find the first thread, and Jon and Nico unraveled it from there, drew out the tales and hunted down the facts, and they led Jon here, right into the middle of a battlefront, but—if he can find where the old Jedi Temple once stood, he might be able to find the weapon supposedly hidden there as well.
The sound of water rises as Jon descends, and the path opens, arches across a wide, slow-moving river whose bed is made entirely of crystal. Jon pauses at the edge of the drop, looking down, and grimaces faintly, but the tug of the Force is clear. He vaults the railing of the bridge, dropping down into the river, and winces as icy water washes over his knees. It’s bright, at least, and he wades downstream, moving with the current through the high arches of stone and crystal. The glasslike glow turns everything eerie, washes over the earth in a hundred different shades, but Jon can't feel anything down here that’s a danger. There's little animal life, most of the native creatures having fled the fighting, and everything is silent except for the burble of the river, the air warm despite the freezing water.
Ever since he left Dark Woman, Jon has always followed the Force, always let it guide him to where he needs to be. The pull of it is strong right now, a steady course unspooling from his feet, and he follows it, something prickling at the back of his neck. Not a threat, but…awareness. An urge that usually means someone in need of help, and Jon is here for the lost Temple, but—that doesn’t mean he isn't still listening to his instincts. If there's someone down here that needs him, he’ll help that. That’s a Jedi's duty.
It takes a long while, almost an hour of wading through the warming water, before Jon finally hears something. A voice, low and desperate, and he pauses, trying to track it. Off to the side of the river, where a small stream trickles away through a narrow break in the walls, and Jon makes for it, hauling himself up out of the water and onto a ledge of crystal. The crystals on either side of it grow out of the earth like twisted plants, fractal structure turning them into twisting, strangely inorganic blooms of color, and Jon minds his steps as he picks his way through the arch and into the secondary room. The ledge cuts along the wall, the crystal forming a natural canal that carries the branching stream high above a sandy cavern, and—
Down on the cavern floor are two men. Clone troopers, by their armor, which is dirty and scorched but painted with a jewel-bright blue. One is flat on his back, with the other leaning over him, and that desperate voice is his, frantic as he tugs at armor catches.
There's blood on the sand, a tumble of stone that shows where they fell from the surface. Through the bottom of a blast crater, maybe, Jon thinks, and without pause he leaps the edge of the canal and drops onto the sand with a thump.
Instantly, the conscious trooper leaps to his feet, whirling around. His blaster comes up, fires, but Jon raises a hand, deflecting the bolt into the sand where it splinters out, glass crackling in its wake from the heat.
“Peace,” Jon says quietly.
The trooper’s breath shakes like a strangled sob as he exhales. “You're a Jedi?” he asks. “I can't—we fell, and Fives—”
“I can help,” Jon says, and he’s not as skilled at memory manipulation as Fay, but that’s a thing to worry about afterwards. At the very least he can put them both to sleep when he’s done and simply leave, and no one will connect this one act of kindness to a Jedi Master thought two years’ dead at this point.
“Thank you, sir,” the clone says desperately. “He got hit by one of the mortar rounds, I don’t—our medic was with the general—”
Jon crouches down over the bleeding trooper, gently pulling off his helmet. The other clone drops to his knees, quickly pulling off his armor with the ease of practice, and Jon gets a hand on the trooper with the goatee, feels for a pulse in his throat, and finds it easily. Steady, even if it’s weakening, and that’s a good sign.
“Your names?” he asks, joining the trooper in tugging off the last few pieces of torn, scorched armor.
“I'm Echo,” the clone says. “He’s Fives. We’re with the 501st, under General Skywalker.”
The one Sidious has so many plans for. Jon grimaces, but brushes his hood back to be able to see more clearly. There's blood soaking Fives's black thermal undersuit, a wide gash where shrapnel must have cut through, and the flesh beneath is equally torn to the point where Jon is sure that he sees bone. But—
Fixable. Dark Woman made sure he could heal, if only so that he could keep himself moving no matter what.
“I can fix him,” he says quietly, “but it won't be pleasant. You’ll have to hold him down.”
“Yes, sir,” Echo says, relieved, and shifts around him, half-pinning Fives to the sand. “More than this?”
Jon eyes Fives, who’s shorter than him but has a broader build, all muscle, and at least four weapons within easy reach. His healing hurts, unlike Fay's, and if Fives wakes suddenly, it won't be pleasant. Deliberately, he swings a leg over Fives's legs to sit on his knees, pinning his legs down, and then leans forward, framing the deepest part of the wound with his hands.
“Hold,” he says, and closes his eyes.
Healing has never come easy, but—it’s worth the effort. Now especially. Jon drags the wounds closed with invisible stitched, seals the flesh, burns out infection. It’s delicate work, but Jon has had concentration and focus drilled into him since before he can even remember, and he blocks out everything thing else, ignores the surge of panic and pain in the body beneath him, the struggles, the cry. Grits his teeth, shuts out the rise and fall of Echo’s voice and Fives's sounds of pain, and—
For Jedi, the how of getting to a goal matters just as much as the goal itself. Or—it should. The Order has been losing sight of that in the war, been overlooking warning signs. Jon knows why, understands the choices, but it puts him far too much in mind of Dark Woman’s methods. Brutal, and objectionable, and wrong, but producing wanted results and therefore acceptable in the long run. Like the healing she taught him. Like the way she trained him.
Jon can't be that kind of person, though. There's enough darkness in him already, enough moments when he’s faltered. If he starts believing that the ends justify the means, he’ll stop seeing a reason why he shouldn’t fall, and Jon refuses. He’ll never let himself go that far.
The only healing he knows causes pain, but Jon won't let it be something that’s justified by the good it provides. He eases it as best he can, lightens his touch, adds warmth. Lets the pain fade from nerve ends beneath a wash of heat, and Fives's next sound is a strangled whimper of relief. He shudders, and Jon lightens his touch, lets thin tendrils of power curl through his mind, and finds the chip. A thought and a moment of will is all it takes to crack it, making it inoperable, and he sits back, lifting his hands.
“I'm sorry,” he says softly, and Echo laughs, ragged in his throat.
“You—that’s amazing,” he says, tugging the turn blacks out of the way to show a long, thin scar, faded like it’s years old. When he glances up, his eyes are wide. “You're—a Healer?”
“No,” Jon says. “Nothing even close.” He slides off Fives's legs, settling on his knees in the sand, and leans over him, checking his pulse again. There are dark eyes on him, but Jon ignores them, a tight knot in his chest that feels like guilt. He hates causing pain in the innocent; healing himself is fine, but inflicting it on someone else makes his stomach turn.
“You?” he asks Echo, who shakes his head.
“Just some scrapes,” he says.
Fives, still flat on the ground, scoffs loudly. “Your wrist is broken, asshole,” he says, voice rough, and Echo pulls a face.
“It’s fine,” he says, but Jon holds out his hands in offer, and Echo looks at him for a long moment before he sighs and lets Jon take his arm.
Thankfully, the break is just a fracture, easily fixed and with minimal pain, and Jon repairs it, then slips a thread of power up to break Echo’s chip as well before he lets go again.
“Can you get back up the way you fell?” he asks quietly.
Echo grimaces. “No,” he says. “I tried, but even with rappelling gear we wouldn’t make it. The edge is unstable, and there's about fifty feet of loose rock ready to come down on our heads. Plus the Seps left unexploded mines all over the crater even if we did make it out.”
Jon hesitates, looking up, then back the way he came. The crystal channel is high above them, but not so high that Jon can't pull two troopers up with him, and wading upstream should get them to the tunnels without any chance of getting lost. Them getting back onto the bridge will be a problem, though, if he’s not there; it’s too high to jump without the Force, and there are no handholds for climbing. Without rappelling gear, they’ll be stuck. This detour has already used up most of Jon's spare time, too. The crystals stop glowing with the sunrise, and it will take another month for the planet’s moons to be low and close enough to activate them again.
He could leave the troopers here, technically. There will be people sweeping the battlefield after the fighting, looking for survivors, but—
If they don’t get found, or if the people above can't get them out, their deaths will be on Jon's head. That’s unacceptable.
“I can get you out, but I have a mission,” Jon says, careful. “I don’t have time to get you back to the surface right now, but—afterwards, I will.”
Fives sits up and looks at Echo, who looks back for a moment. “You're a Jedi,” Echo says. “If you have a mission, we’ll help.”
Jon grimaces, not fond of the reminder of why the clones were created in the first place. A trap for the Jedi, one that was executed perfectly, because the Jedi's power as an organization has been fading for decades. Because they couldn’t say no, not with other innocent lives on the line, and they were trying to minimize damage. But all it did was leave them vulnerable.
“All right,” is all he says, and he rises to his feet. “It may be dangerous.” The lightsaber he’s here for was hidden for a reason, after all, the whole Temple buried to keep it out of enemy hands during the last days of the Sith Empire, and he doubts the ones who did the burying would have left it unprotected.
Fives gives him a grin, twisting to his feet like he’s testing his range of motion. Apparently satisfied with it, he rolls his shoulders, then starts picking up the pieces of his armor. “We’re ARC troopers,” he says, and it’s cocky. “We can handle a little danger.”
Echo rolls his eyes, slower to stand, and when he looks at Jon his expression is thoughtful. “Are you sneaking behind enemy lines?” he asks.
“No,” Jon says shortly, looking up at the ledge above. “Going deeper underground. There’s something old buried here that I need to find.”
Echo and Fives exchange looks again, but either of them argues. “Well,” Echo says after a moment. “I'm glad you found us.” His voice wavers, and Fives automatically steps closer to him, reaching out. He grips Echo’s forearm tightly, and Echo gives him a wan smile before he looks back at Jon. “Thank you.”
Jon ignores the way his skin prickles, looks towards the river instead. “I'm glad I was in time,” he says simply, and then, “I need to lift you up there. Is that all right?”
Fives squints at the canal for a moment. “I'm game if you are,” he says with a shrug, and Echo nods. “Is there actually a place to stand up there, or is it weird Jedi floating stuff only?”
Jon snorts, and with a touch of control he leaps up, landing lightly on the ledge. Raising both hands, he breathes out, then lifts, and lets Echo and Fives rise up slowly until he can set them on the crystal.
“That wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I expected,” Echo says, catching his balance. He eyes the bright glow of the river through the crack in the wall and asks without much hope, “What are the odds that’s a well-lit road?”
Jon huffs in amusement, slipping back through the gap. Echo and Fives follow with a scrape of armor, then pause, but Jon doesn’t hesitate to leap back down into the river.
“It’s just water,” he says, glancing up at them. “The crystal is harmless.”
“Ugh,” Fives mutters. “Wet boots for days.” He slides down gamely, though, and offers Echo a hand. Echo takes it, jumping down as well, and then casts a look up at the roof of the tunnel, a high arch of stone veined with bright crystal.
“This is under the battlefield?” he asks. “None of our scans picked it up.”
“Too deep,” Jon says simply. “You won't get a comm transmission out, either.”
Fives snorts, bringing his blaster around so it’s in easy reach. “You get that that sounds like something a murderer in a bad holo would say, right?” he asks in amusement.
Jon hesitates, a little startled, and Echo and Fives exchange glances again. This time, though, they're amused, and Fives shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Oh, hey, got a name?”
“Jon.” He debates over whether to add his last name, but—they serve with Skywalker, who’s Kenobi's old padawan. And out of all the Jedi who could recognize Jon by description alone, Kenobi is at the top of the list. He leaves it off, wading downstream and ignoring the two troopers, and after a moment he hears a resigned sound from Echo and a splash as they follow.
“Calling you General Jon sounds kind of weird,” Fives points out.
“Then just call me Jon. I'm not a general.” It was one of the more convincing reasons to work with Knol, Fay, and Nico to fake his death, too; Jon isn't suited to have other people under his command. He’d hurt them, and he refuses to risk that. Knol and the others are safe, because any one of them could contain him if he did fall, and Fay at least wouldn’t hesitate to wipe his memory entirely if it happened, but padawans or clones—
He can't risk them like that.
“Undercover Jedi?” Echo asks, sounding interested. “Like with the yellow lightsabers? General Kenobi was talking about them with Commander Tano. A Jedi Sentinel, right?”
“Not quite, but close enough.” Jon pauses where the river branches in three directions, listening. The Force is stronger here, heavy with age and watchful intensity, and he breathes through it, feeling the muffled tug. One step south—
The bottom of the river drops away, and he goes under.
The cold water is an unpleasant shock, and Jon instantly kicks for the surface, feels hands grab his cloak and pull. He breaks through the water into air that’s practically balmy in comparison, cursing, and Fives mutters an oath, getting an arm around his waist and hauling him back up onto solid ground. Echo, one hand anchored on a jut of stone, the other hooked in Fives's belt, drags them back until he can grab Jon's other arm, and together they pull him up to standing.
“With all due respect, sir,” Echo says, raising a brow at him, “maybe you should watch where you're going.”
“The riverbed all looks the same,” Jon tells him, a little offended and feeling far too much like a loth-cat dropped in a bath. “Because of the crystal.”
“So you can toss around two grown men in heavy armor and heal mortal wounds, but you can't tell that you're about to step in a sinkhole?” Fives asks, judgmental.
“You serve with Skywalker,” Jon says, mildly annoyed. “I'm sure he’s told you that’s not how the Force works.”
Fives grins at him, and it’s bright and full of teeth. “Yes sir. I think that puts us in the perfect position to judge.”
Jon snorts, easing his arms out of their grasp to straighten carefully. He still can't see the edge of the drop in the riverbed, but knowing it’s there is helpful enough. Not that it matters now, seeing as he’s entirely soaking wet and lost his hair tie. He sighs, scraping some of the strands out of his face, and looks ahead of them, trying to see a way forward without swimming.
“There's a Jedi Temple in that direction,” he says. “We need to reach it.”
Echo hesitates. “We could swim, sir,” he says after a moment. “But we’d need to leave our weapons and armor here.”
From the slant of Fives's mouth, that’s the last thing he wants to do. Jon casts a glance at them, at the markings painted on their armor, and feels an uncomfortable twist in his gut. That would be like taking away their identity, in some small way, and therefore it’s unacceptable.
“No,” he says. “You don’t have to. We’ll find another way.”
“Thank you, sir,” Echo says, and there's a strange note to it. When Jon casts him a veiled look, though, he just smiles a little and turns to look down the other path of the river. “Maybe they connect again further down?”
Nothing down here is mapped; even what paths are marked, Jon left behind at the bridge, so he has no idea. With a grimace, he casts a look left, then right, and—
He can still feel that tug, sharp beneath his breastbone. The Force wants him to go left, and he takes two careful steps forward, right up to the edge of the drop, and stops there, closing his eyes. They can't swim, and they can't go back, but…surely there's a way.
“How many hours until sunrise?” he asks.
“About…two, probably,” Echo says. “What happens at sunrise?”
“The crystals go dark again,” Jon says grimly. “And we either find somewhere to wait for a full month until they reactivate or we get lost without a path to follow.”
There's a moment of surprised silence. “Path?” Fives asks, and he picks his way up to Jon's side. “The crystals are a path?”
Jon inclines his head as Echo slips up on his other side, wary of his footing. Reaching out, he points to a particular pattern, fernlike and feathery, that unspools down the wall, endlessly repeating. “I’ve followed those markings across six planets,” he says, a little wry. Nico had been called away to deal with Maul early on in their search, and that left Jon to follow Fay's vague recollection of stories from three hundred years ago and what little he could slice from the Jedi Archives.
“Are there really that many lost Jedi Temples?” Fives asks, startled. “It seems like the kind of thing someone would want to find.”
“This one was lost on purpose,” Jon says quietly. The Force pulls, insistent, and he slips past Echo, gently pushing him back with a hand on his chest. The water looks the same depth here as everywhere else, but when he slides a boot forward to test it, there’s a ledge. Frowning, Jon crouches down, since he can't exactly get much wetter than he already is, and drags his fingers across the surface to get an idea of its width.
The same fractal pattern repeats in the surface, and Jon allows himself a flicker of satisfaction.
“Here,” he says. “Stay close to the wall and you should be fine. I’ll go first.”
Echo grimaces, but he finds the ledge with his foot, easing out onto it. “Are there any predators?” he asks. “Anything about to come out of the water and eat us that we should know about?”
“Probably not,” Jon says, and his voice is the only thing about him that’s dry.
“Coming from a Jedi? I don’t know if that means something good or bad,” Fives jokes, but he follows, bolder than his fellow trooper, more at ease on the narrow ledge. “Every time General Skywalker tells us that absolutely everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about, someone dies.”
It stings, to hear that. Sinks talons into Jon's chest and tears, and he has to breathe carefully. The Jedi are doing the best they can, but—it’s not enough.
It will never be enough, given how many have already died.
“I won't let that happen,” he says quietly. “Not unless I'm dead first.”
Echo’s breath is loud even over the rushing water, and Jon can hear Fives's gauntlets creak like he just curled a hand into a fist. There's a long moment of silence, and then Fives says, “You don’t even know us.”
“And besides,” Echo adds more quietly, but more forcefully. “There are millions of clones, and only ten thousand Jedi. If anyone should be dying for someone else, it’s us for you, sir.”
“I don’t see it that way,” Jon says, soft, without looking back. “If I let you do that, I'm not a Jedi at all. Just a coward with a lightsaber.”
“That’s not how wars work, sir,” Echo says, exasperated. “You're a CO, you need to be protected—”
“Then maybe the Jedi shouldn’t be in the war,” Jon tells him flatly. Turns his head, following a flash of light from underneath the water, and steps out into the river without hesitation. Fives yelps, lunging after him with a hand outstretched, but—
Jon's foot lands on the ledge that cuts through the center of the riverbed, leading towards an opening in the far wall, and it holds.
“Kriff,” Fives mutters, prying his fingers off Jon's cloak. “Warn us next time, sir. You're going to give us a heart attack.”
“Sorry,” Jon says, and means it. He was frustrated, but—that’s not an excuse. That’s never an excuse. “See if you can trace the pattern with your boot. It should show you the way.”
“Sir, if we can ask, what exactly was so important in this Temple that they decided to just misplace themselves?” Fives asks, carefully edging out into the current. He offers Echo a hand, and Echo takes it gladly, following him out with wary steps. It makes Jon realize belatedly that he likely should have made the same offer, but—
If they're close to the old Temple, there are likely traps at best and enemies at worst. It’s probably better that Jon has both hands free to defend them.
“The Jedi here were experts in crafting lightsabers,” Jon says, and reaches for the far wall. Feels the branching pattern, feathery against the smooth crystal, and traces it downstream. The ledge rises from the water at a shallow angle, and by the time they reach the sweeping curve of the next bend, it’s almost completely above the surface, which at least makes the footing less treacherous.
“I thought Jedi built their own lightsabers,” Echo says carefully. “As like, a ritual. Commander Tano told us about having to find the crystal on a special planet and everything.”
“Lightsabers are an expression of a Jedi's purpose,” Jon says, and he’s been around Fay and her opinions on such things for too long to think they're a Jedi's life, the way some do, but he knows how much care he takes with his own, and all the reverence that went into creating it. It’s one of the few happy memories he has of his training, because Dark Woman helped him, was proud of him, thought his new lightsaber was a beautiful, well-crafted thing, worthy of being carried by a Jedi. “They don’t need to be made by our hands, though most are. There are legacy lightsabers that can mean just as much.”
“Is that what you're looking for?” Fives asks interestedly. “One of those legacy ones? Something that belonged to the first Jedi? Something extra powerful?”
“Something like that,” Jon says, amused. “It’s lightsaber with a special crystal in the hilt.”
“To make it a different color?” Fives asks, wrinkling his nose. “What, blue and green and yellow weren’t cool enough for you? You always could have gone with purple, then.”
Jon flinches, involuntary and instinctive, and ducks his head. Wants to reach for his hood, pull it up to hide his face, but it’s sopping wet and won't do much. But—
Dark Woman’s lightsaber is purple, and he’s never had any fond memories associated with it.
“It’s not just color,” he says roughly, and picks up his pace a little, following the path around the bend. The river opens out beyond it, the channel becoming wide and the tunnel arching up into a vast cavern as the water slows. The path rises from the water, and there's no hiding now that it’s created, rather than natural; there are steps leading up to a walkway, multicolored crystal carved with images of trees and birds and animals in an interlocking tangle.
Old, Jon thinks, pressing his fingers to them. Very old and very beautiful, done by a master craftsman, and meant to lead somewhere important.
“We’re close,” he says, straightening, and glances back at Echo and Fives. “I don’t know what state the temple will be in. Stay close.”
“Yes, sir.” Fives's tone is almost joking, but he grimaces faintly as he steps up onto the walk. “How did you even find this place?”
“The Force tells me where to go,” Jon says softly, and it’s one of the things he’s always been best at, reading those kinds of currents. Animal instincts, Knol calls them when she wants to tease him, but—they're not all that far off.
Dark Woman stripped his senses down, took them away one by one while they trained, until only the Force was left. Jon trusts it more than he could ever trust a living thing, hears it more clearly than any Jedi he’s met. Fay has her own connection to it, deep and intrinsic, but—it’s not the same as Jon's, desperate and forged in blood.
“You don’t have any troops,” Echo observes, and when Jon glances back, Echo is watching him closely. “I thought pretty much all Jedi got at least a squad or two.”
Jon looks away. “I'm not command material,” he says, and starts walking. There's tension under his skin, a twist like nerves he hasn’t felt in years, but he lets the feeling go, breathes it out.
There's no time. The sun will be rising soon, and they need to find the temple before that happens. Another month of Sidious in power likely won't mean all that much in the long run, but—
In lives lost, the cost is too great. It’s already taken them too long to unravel his plans and figure out their own, and they can't wait any longer.
“I don’t know,” Fives says, a little dry. “You’ve got the grim and broody and snappy thing down pretty well.”
“Fives,” Echo hisses, but Jon hesitates. Grimaces, then comes to a halt, raking a hand though his wet hair.
Fives is right. He hasn’t—most of the time he’s dealing with criminals, even now. Criminals or Fay and Knol and Nico, who know him. Having to interact with people who don’t is…unsettling. Jon can't just grunt at them and have them understand the meaning behind it.
“No,” he says, quiet. “He’s right. Forgive me.”
“What?” Fives says, caught off guard. “No! That wasn’t—you act just like Colt used to, that’s all I meant. I wasn’t complaining.”
“Yes you were,” Echo says, rolling his eyes. He takes two more steps to catch up with Jon, brushing their shoulders together like they're comrades, and says, “Sorry, sir. We really do just want to help. If you're doing something important, and you need more hands, we want you to use ours. You saved Fives. It’s the least we can do.”
Jon eyes him, but Echo’s gaze doesn’t waver, firm and settled, steady. After a second, Jon has to look away, a curl in his stomach that’s too close to warmth. He ran into Jango Fett on a mission, once, back when he was a Knight. Echo is a different person entirely, but…that same thread of attraction is there. Jon likes his face. Likes the way he holds himself, and the knowledge that Echo is dangerous.
He likes the stubborn determination to save Fives, too. It’s not the type of thing he’ll allow to be a problem, especially since he’s fairly sure they feel things for each other already, but—the thought is there.
“Please don’t call me sir,” he manages, and wishes a little desperately that he could pull his hood up. “Just—Jon.”
“Permission to call a Jedi by their first name?” Fives says, on his other side, and the smirk he gives Jon is quick and wicked. “How many other clones do you think have gotten that, Echo?”
“Are we counting Cody?” Echo asks dryly. “I think he’s probably calling General Kenobi by his first name, seeing as they're sleeping together.”
Fives pulls a face. “Assuming General Kenobi ever sleeps,” he says, then catches a glimpse of Echo’s smirk and levels a finger at him. “Whatever you're about to say, don’t.”
Jon can't help it; he chuckles, ducking his head, and says, “Come on. Only a little farther.”
“You said the crystals are going to go dark soon,” Echo observes, following him down the walkway, close at his heels. “Are we going to have to figure out how to get back upstream in the dark?”
Jon shakes his head. “There should be a back way out, through the Temple itself,” he says. “The river was an easier entrance than trying to find one hidden door in a mountain, but leaving through it should be easy enough.”
“I didn’t even realize Jedi did this kind of thing,” Fives says. “The whole…hidden Temple with secret entrances thing. Isn't that supposed to be the Sith?”
“They went underground to hide from the Sith,” Jon answers, and reaches out, tracing his fingers over a stretch of crystal that forms a repeating, echoing pattern. “Back during one of the old wars. A host of Sith Lords banded together to steal their collection of crystals, so they hid themselves even from other Jedi, in case one of the Order fell to the Dark Side and betrayed their location. And then they died out, and no one could find them, even to recover what they'd made.”
There's a pause, and then Fives grimaces. “That’s creepy,” he mutters. “If they're so lost, how did you find them? someone must have tried before.”
“The Force tells me where to go,” Jon says, because that’s more believable than telling them that Fay is old enough to remember the war in question, met people who visited this Temple once. Jon's penchant for ending up where he needs to be helped, especially given that five hundred years is enough to make anyone’s memory a little unreliable.
“That seems convenient,” Echo offers, a little wry. “Just—listen to something invisible and it’ll put you where you need to be. But how can you be sure that it’s the Force and not…you wanting to go somewhere?”
Jon snorts quietly. “Faith. I trust in the Force to guide me, and my own ability to touch it.” When Echo and Fives exchange looks, he raises a brow at them, sardonic. “The Jedi are a religious order.”
He doesn’t tend to associate with the Order as it stands. Didn’t, even before he and the others faked their deaths. But—what the Order stands for has always been the hill Jon has set himself upon, unwavering. Dark Woman raised him, honed him, but the Order—it gave him something to believe in, and Jon has walked dark paths but never wavered in that, at least.
“I guess I always forget that,” Echo says with a faint frown.
Fives shrugs a little. “It’s not like General Skywalker seems to believe in all that much except the Force being powerful,” he says, and Jon doesn’t twitch, but it’s a near thing. “And we always see the Jedi on the battlefield, not in their Temples.”
“Jedi show faith through action,” Jon says. “Whether they're in the Temple or not doesn’t matter.” There's a curve in the path ahead of them, and he steps around the wall, then pulls up short.
“Oh,” Fives says from behind him, stunned. “It’s huge.”
It is, particularly for not being the main Temple. The river turns here, flowing past the front of the structure carved into the earth, and the cavern soars above it in a grand sweep of light. Jon can hear a waterfall in the distance, but here the eddying water forms whirlpools that catch and shatter the light, reflecting back the crystal’s multicolored glow and making the light seem to dance.
Beyond the river, rising from the water, is the Temple itself, pale carved stone and stark, sweeping lines. The front walkway is wide, open, arching away from the feet of the building to meet the crystal path on their side of the river, and Jon lets out a breath of relief. The river is probably deep here, and it’s wide enough that Jon wouldn’t have been able to leap it, especially not with two other people in tow.
“High point of the day so far: we don’t have to swim,” Echo says, a little amused.
“Speak for yourself, the high point for me was the mysteriously appearing Jedi who made me not die,” Fives retorts, and when Jon glances at him, he grins. “Truth, si—Jon.”
Jon snorts, starting for the bridge. “I'm glad I could help,” he says dryly.
Echo is quiet for a moment, the thump of his boots the only sign that he’s following. “Is that the kind of thing you would call the Force intervening?” he asks. “Because—the odds that a Jedi would have been in exactly the part of the tunnels that we landed in, and a Jedi who could heal at that—” He reaches out like he can't help it, and Fives catches his hand, giving him a quick smile.
“Yes,” Jon says, soft, and means it. “I would think the Force put me where I needed to be.” He turns his gaze ahead of them, stepping over the join where crystal-veined rock and plain stone meet, and says, “I don’t feel any animal life in the Temple, but—be careful.”
“We have your back,” Echo says firmly, gripping his blaster as he sweeps a careful look over the walk and the entrance to the building beyond it. “Do you think the Seps made it down here?”
“If a whole Sith council didn’t, I doubt the Separatists could,” Jon says dryly. There are statues of the two founding Masters of this Temple flanking the entrance, solemn and hooded, both of the women holding lightsabers in one hand and a sword in the other, and Jon minds his step on the path between them. They were both master smiths, from what Fay said, and created for the joy of it rather than for the sake of forging powerful weapons. Jon doesn’t think either would mind his intentions for their most dangerous lightsaber, but—better not to risk offending whatever Force ghosts linger.
The main doors stand closed, tightly shut, and Jon lays a hand against them, trying to sense a locking mechanism, something he can use to open them that isn't brute strength. It takes a long moment, the weight of the stone unfamiliar—
“Hey, look,” Fives says from behind one of the statues, leaning in to poke at the bricks. “This looks like—”
With a grating groan, the stone sinks into the wall.
Jon spins, meeting Echo’s resigned, exasperated expression and then growls, “Move!”
Even as he says it, there's a rumble. Distant, but growing louder, like an approaching wave, and Jon curses, throws himself against the doors with all his strength brought to bear as he shoves.
“Kriffing hell, Fives!” Echo says, and an instant later he slams his shoulder into the stone right beside Jon.
The rumble becomes a roar, and Jon takes one look back at the tunnel, sees a solid wall of water, and grabs for the Force.
“What the hell kind of booby trap is that?” Fives demands a little frantically, and joins Echo with a groan of effort as they throw their whole weight against the stone. Stepping back, Jon tangles as much power as he dares into one hard shove, right at the seal of the doors, and there's a jerk.
With a squeal of rusted-over hinges, the first one moves, cracks open just enough to fit a body through, and Jon snaps, “Go!” just as the water surges up like a tsunami.
Echo stuffs himself through the gap, dragging Fives along behind him, and Jon spares half a second to grab for the depressed stone, hauling it back out flush with the rest of the wall, then throws himself through. Instantly, Echo and Fives put their shoulders to the door, and Jon turns, does the same and slams the huge door closed just as the wave reaches the bridge.
There's a clatter, a muffled roar. Water floods under the door, washing over their boots, then retreats, and the noise dies down again into ringing silence.
“Karking slag,” Fives groans, and slides down the door to thump to the ground. “What was that?”
Jon's own heartbeat isn't anywhere close to steady, and he pushes his hair back from his face with a grimace, stepping away enough to eye the door. “A good way to flush out the tunnels, apparently,” he says, and Echo laughs raggedly.
“No touching anything,” he tells Fives, who pulls a face at him, then glances up at Jon, faintly wary.
“Sorry, sir,” he says with a grimace.
Jon snorts, quietly amused, and offers him a hand up. “Leave off the sirs. It motivated us to open the doors faster,” he says. “I’ll take it.”
Fives snickers, but takes his hand, and his grip is firm as he lets Jon haul him to his feet. “That’s one way, sure.” He grips Jon's wrist for just a moment, then says, “I guess it’s a good thing we’re not going back up the river.”
With a grimace, Jon inclines his head. He’d be twitchy the whole way if they did, just waiting for another flood; far better for all three of them if they find the back way out now.
“The whole place was built to survive a war,” he says. “Watch what you touch.”
“Or just keep your hands around your blaster and stop poking at everything,” Echo says, exasperated, but he grips Fives's elbow, leans in.
Jon looks away as they bump foreheads, recognizing a Keldabe kiss when he sees one. He might not be able to give them a lot of privacy, but he can at least not stare.
The main hall of the tunnel is enough of a distraction anyway. There are three wide halls, slanting away in different directions, the walls covered in draping vines and moss, the floor a thick carpet of green. When Jon takes two steps into the hall running straight ahead of them, he feels a tug, subtle but insistent, and breathes out.
“How long until sunrise?” he asks quietly.
“At this point? Probably half an hour,” Echo says, and a moment later he joins Jon, studying the hall with a frown. “We should probably find lights. I lost my helmet when we fell, but Fives's helmet lights should still work. We’ll have to stay close together, though.”
Jon shakes his head. “There are plants,” he says simply. “Sunlight reaches this place.”
Startled, Echo glances at him, then up towards the roof of the temple. There are long, narrow vents carved into the stone, reaching upwards until they vanish into the darkness, and Jon's willing to bet money on them being made to let light in.
“That will be useful,” Fives observes, then glances at Jon. “You know where to go?”
“Know is a strong word,” Jon says dryly, but heads down the forward path, boots careful on the covering of moss. The vines make something in his chest relax a little; he doesn’t like being underground, generally, and as pretty as the crystals are, the lack of anything more organic was weighing on him.
The Force is a steady pull, though, firm and unwavering. Jon picks his way through the silent halls, half an eye on the wide, arching doorways that open off of it in the darkness, and knows they're going the right way even as the building gets darker and darker.
“You said you serve with the 501st,” he says, glancing back. Fives is watching him, while Echo watches the path behind them, and it makes Jon's nerves settle just a little. “Have you been with them for the whole war?”
Fives shakes his head. “We weren’t in the first deployments,” he says. “Our squad was younger, and we got deployed later, to Rishi Station. When the Seps attacked the base, we were the only survivors.” There's an edge of grim satisfaction when he adds, “Our squad-mate, Hevy, he’s the one who alerted the fleet that the Battle of Kamino. He blew up the base with himself inside to turn off the all-clear beacon.”
Jon glances at the patches on their armor, the image of a rotary blaster with For Hevy curled around it, and then away. “He sounds like he was very brave,” he says quietly.
“He was a bastard,” Echo says, but he sounds proud. “But he was Domino’s bastard.”
Fives snorts. “You only think he was a bastard because he won that fight you picked—”
“He did not win—”
“I can't believe you're still sore about that—”
“He didn’t win, Fives, shut up—”
“I can't believe you're talking poodoo about a dead vod—”
“I loved Hevy, but he still didn’t win—”
Jon, who’s heard hours of the same kind of thing between Nico and Knol, rolls his eyes and says a little more loudly than he probably needs to, “Watch the steps.”
Then, of course, he has to lunge to catch Fives as he misses the first stair beneath all the moss and almost overbalances. Fives yelps, snatching for a handhold, and Echo leaps, but Jon is closer. He lets Fives slam into him, wincing faintly at the weight of all that armor, and braces himself as Fives claws his way upright.
“Careful,” he says, amused.
“Right, those steps,” Fives says sheepishly. “Noted.”
“You okay?” Echo asks Jon, giving Fives an exasperated look. “For someone whose head is all empty space, he’s heavy.”
“Hey,” Fives protests. “It’s all muscle!”
“Sure it is,” Echo mutters. “That’s why whenever you roll on top of me in the middle of the night, I can't breathe.”
Fives huffs, but he casts a glance at Jon. “Okay?” he asks.
“I'm fine,” Jon says, more amused than anything. He might have a bruise or two from pointy bits of plastoid, but that hardly matters in the long run.
“You're all wet,” Fives corrects, and he’s frowning a little. “I know Jedi don’t generally carry luggage, but if we’re in the mountains…”
Knol's ability to use the Force in the manipulation of fire would come in handy right now, Jon allows, but he just shakes his head. “It doesn’t bother me,” he says, and steps away from where Fives's hand rests on his shoulder blade, heavy and too close to intriguing. Jon doesn’t normally feel attraction so readily, but—it’s been a while since he interacted with anyone but Nico, Knol, and Fay in a friendly manner. It’s just a physical reaction, that’s all.
“It will if your clothes freeze solid around you,” Echo points out, but he doesn’t hesitate to follow Jon down the stairs. “If you don’t have troopers, where have you been serving? If you can tell us.”
I've been dead will probably raise a few too many questions. Jon debates his answers for a moment, then says, “Looking for ways to remove the leaders of this war.”
“Oh,” Fives says, frowning. “Without any backup? That seems dangerous. I know ARC troopers are trained for things like that—”
Jon shakes his head, cutting him off. “I'm not fit to be a commander,” he says flatly. And—it’s true. It’s why he’s never taken a padawan. One wrong step, one bad day, one push too many, and he lives close enough to the edge to fall. Fay will stop him, and Knol and Nico will hold him, but—anyone else has a high chance of being collateral damage.
Jon has faith in the Order, in the Force. It’s faith in himself that has always been hard to come by, and the knowledge that he might forget that the ends never justify the means. He can say without hubris that he’s strong, but that just makes him more dangerous, and the risk greater.
Echo is watching him, quiet, thoughtful. When Jon glances over at him, though, he just tips his head, then says, “There are other options. It doesn’t have to be clones under your command.”
Jon opens his mouth to answer, but as he does, Echo’s foot hits the next step. There's a sharp, ringing click that echoes through the silent hallway, and Echo instantly freezes stock-still, hardly even looking like he’s breathing.
The grinding, creaking groan of mechanisms starting to turn shakes the stairway, just as the distant glow of the crystal winks out, plunging the temple into complete darkness.
“Karking monkey-lizard poodoo,” Fives says, and Jon couldn’t agree more.
“A mine?” Echo asks, barely breathing.
They're definitely not going to be that lucky, Jon thinks. A mine he could deal with. This is—
The stairs shudder under them, one stomach-churning jolt that feels like the twitch of an animal’s hide, shaking off an insect. Jon takes half a second to calculate, to feel, and—
The stair beneath his foot gives way.
Behind him, Fives shouts, and Echo yelps, reaching for him. His stair is still whole, still in place, but it’s one of the few. Jon has half a second to realize before he’s falling, and so is Fives.
“No!” Echo shouts, but Jon doesn’t have time to look, to so much as glance back. they’re tumbling down through absolute darkness, but he can hear the impact of stone on metal, knows there’s nothing good waiting for them at the bottom. Above, he can feel Echo still standing, still steady even if he’s frantic, and he curses, then twists. Fives is a tangle of terror and anger right above him, and Jon gets a foot on a piece of stone, uses that small bit of momentum to launch himself up and grab Fives around the waist. Fives hisses, but grabs him in return, hanging on tightly as Jon flips them over, slows their fall as he gets a hand on his lightsaber, and in the wash of green light that ignites Jon has just enough time to see the metal spikes rising to meet them.
Fives shouts, arms going strangling-tight, but Jon doesn’t hesitate. He twists, gets a foot on the edge of a spike as they hit them, and shoves hard, launching them back up into the air and towards the far wall. It’s too high to jump in one go, but Jon gets a foot on the stone of the wall, jumps again, and flips them over.
“Grab!” he says, and throws Fives right at the narrow ledge of stone Echo is standing on.
With an offended yelp, Fives goes flying just as Jon's momentum fails. He tumbles back down, but Fives gets a hand on the remaining step, Echo running to grab him, and Jon lets out a breath of relief. Closes his eyes, concentrating for just a moment, and feels the spikes approaching again. Without another person’s weight, it’s easy to slow himself enough to land lightly on one of the chunks of fallen stone caught precariously between the spikes, balanced there as the last of the rubble rains down.
“Jon?” Echo calls, the sound reverberating through the darkness.
“I'm here,” Jon calls back. There isn't enough light to see far, but he can make out the sheer walls, covered in thick, woody vines. If there are any passages leading away, he can't make them out, and the air down here is still, stagnant enough to make him think that there aren’t any.
There's a sound of exasperation from above him. “We don’t have any ropes,” Echo says, just as a pool of light kindles. Fives's helmet lights, likely; Jon can see them sweeping the darkness.
“That’s fine.” Jon eyes the vines, then reaches out, feeling the Force within them. Dark Woman was always better at the manipulation of plant life, but—
Her lessons tended to stick, regardless of Jon's skill. They hurt too much not to.
With a rustle, the thickest of the vines rises, and Jon grabs it, then deactivates his lightsaber and clips it to his belt. Getting a firm grip on the vine, he hauls himself up, hand over hand, boots bracing against the slippery moss as best he can manage.
At the very least, he thinks, a touch ruefully, it will keep his muscles from locking up with the cold.
It’s a long climb, and by the time he reaches the top his muscles are burning, breath coming short and hard in his chest. Jon judges the last few feet, the fact that Echo and Fives are both on the other side of the stair, and then grits his teeth and shoves off the wall. The Force gives him just enough momentum to catch the edge of the stone, and he swings himself up, then sits down hard, closing his eyes.
At least it was him and not Nico. Nico would have hated that much physical exertion.
“Jon!” A hand touches his shoulder, grips, and Jon looks up into Fives's face. He has his helmet tucked under one arm, casting light around them, and the pressure of his hand is grounding, tight.
Jon tips his head, looks at Echo standing behind him, equally worried. “All right?” he asks them, and Fives scoffs.
“I think we should be asking you that,” he says. “You climbed that?”
Echo makes a low sound of amusement, stepping closer. “Good thing it wasn’t General Skywalker,” he says, amused. “He has less upper body strength than Commander Tano.”
“Yeah, but so does everyone. Commander Tano can bench-press me,” Fives points out, but he gives Jon a crooked smile. “That’s two I owe you now. And a stop touching things that I owe Echo.”
Echo makes a sound of deep offense. “I was just walking,” he says. “Anyone could have triggered that.”
“It was probably meant for the defenders to be able to activate,” Jon says, looking out into the darkness. He can see another step that hasn’t fallen, right at the edge of the light. “A Jedi could get across, but not foot soldiers.”
Echo grimaces. “Not without jetpacks,” he agrees, and then hesitates. “If you need to go ahead without us…”
“No,” Jon says quietly, cutting him off. “I can get you across. I'm not leaving you behind.”
Fives and Echo exchange glances Jon can't read. “If you're sure,” Echo says after a moment. He sinks down, one leg dangling over the edge, the other pulled up against his chest, and breathes out, a rueful sound. “Two traps and we haven’t even made it out of the main part of the temple yet. This is going to be fun.”
Jon snorts, flexing his hands. The vine’s woody trunk tore his gloves, and he pulls them off, resigned to going without. They were wet anyway. “This was a Temple meant for craftsmen. There wouldn’t have been many of them even at the height of things.”
“Not enough to stand against an invading army of Sith Lords and their soldiers?” Fives asks, and when Jon tips his head, he grimaces. “No wonder they went with booby traps.”
“Any idea how deep in the Temple this weapon you're looking for is?” Echo asks. “If there are more traps further in, you might need General Skywalker's help. And General Kenobi's.”
“No,” Jon says flatly. Skywalker is Sidious’s pet project, and he’ll be lucky if he escapes all of this without Fay erasing big chunks of his memory as it is. Jon isn't about to feed Sidious knowledge of the method they're going to use to defeat him. “No other Jedi. This is my task.”
Echo frowns, but Fives is watching Jon, a thoughtful frown on his face. “It’s that much of a secret? But…you stopped to fix me.”
Jon doesn’t look at him, looks down at his hands instead. “You would have died if I hadn’t,” he says simply. “The larger picture of the war is important, but there's no use winning if we lose ourselves in the process. Whoever I can save, I will.”
“Well,” Echo murmurs, but there's an odd look on his face. “We appreciate it.”
With a grimace, Jon rises to his feet, having caught his breath well enough for now. “I’ll lift you across the gap,” he says, and there's an itch under his skin that makes him want to move, to keep moving until it goes away.
Faintly surprised, Fives rises as well, offering Echo a hand and pulling him to his feet once he takes it. “You can do that?” he asks. “It’s a long way.”
Jon inclines his head. “If I lift you one at a time,” he says, and—maybe most Jedi couldn’t, but Jon has plenty of strength and a control that Dark Woman honed with brutal efficiency. He could manage this half-dead and concussed; cold and a little tired is hardly a handicap at all in comparison.
“I’ll go first,” Fives volunteers with a grin. He tosses his helmet to Echo, then straightens, eyeing the gap. “Do you want me to jump?”
Jon considers, then nods shortly. “If you're willing,” he says. “Momentum will help.”
“Not that I can get a lot like this,” Fives says, but glances at Jon. “Ready?”
Jon raises his hands, takes a breath to center himself. Emotion is distraction, leeches strength. Focus brings clarity, and ability with it.
“Yes,” he says, and Fives rocks back on his heels, then launches himself forward out into empty space.
Jon doesn’t work with other people much. Works with people who aren’t Jedi even more infrequently, and never with people who are so willing to trust his abilities. It’s a flare like shock, or maybe horror, but Jon bleeds them out, reaches, catches. Fives sails across the gap, drops to land lightly on the stone, and doesn’t even waver as he straightens. When he turns back and waves, Jon lets out a soft huff, amused and relieved, and glances at Echo.
“Jedi have no problem with heights, do they?” Echo says, smiling a little. He hesitates over the helmet he’s holding, but after a moment Jon holds out his hands for it.
“No,” he says. “We always know we can catch ourselves.”
Echo nods, accepting that, and curls his fingers more tightly over Fives's helmet for a moment before he reaches out, setting it in Jon's hands. “Careful with that,” he says quietly.
Jon touches one of the markings on the brow, like mandibles, and inclines his head. Like agreeing to hold onto someone’s identity, he knows, and says, “Of course.”
Echo’s smile is quick and warm, and he turns towards Fives, then says, “Tell me when.”
“Go,” Jon says quietly, raising a hand, and Echo launches himself forward. A touch of extra Force propels him across the gap, and Jon steadies him, slows his leap at the last second so he can land easily. Then, with a hard shove, he follows, twisting over in the air and coming down lightly on the stone. There's nothing else beyond it, but the lip of the pit is obvious, and Jon vaults over the edge, tumbles over, and lands five meters below in a crouch. The floor here feels solid, and he straightens, then reaches up.
“I'm lifting you down,” he says, and Echo flashes him a hand sign that’s probably an affirmative. Carefully, Jon picks them up, then lowers them, and they land on either side of him with light thumps.
“That was definitely the least fun I've ever had with stairs,” Fives says, and grins at Jon when he offers him his helmet back. “Thanks. For that and the save.”
Jon just nods, glancing at Echo. Echo’s watching him, thoughtful, but he holds Jon's gaze for half a moment and then looks away, into the darkness ahead of them. “Which way?” he asks.
“Right,” Jon says, and checks the floor ahead of them. He can't see any sign of traps, or sense any danger, but—the traps weren’t built with malicious intent, and that makes them hard to identify. They're all defenses, not attacks, and Jon is glad for that but at the same time it’s mildly aggravating.
“What’s next? A pack of wild rancors?” Fives jokes, but he has his blaster close at hand as he follows Jon closely.
“I hope not,” Echo says with a grimace.
Jon snorts quietly. “I can deal with rancors,” he says. “I can't deal with the temple falling down on top of us.”
“That’ll be next, then,” Echo mutters, all resigned humor. “All of this and the Sith never even made it here. That seems like a waste.”
“Better that they didn’t,” Jon says, and even with the Temple in this state, even with centuries between its occupation and now, it’s still almost impossible to imagine the Sith overrunning it, taking it. Not just for the weapons they would have gained, but for the crafters, for the knowledge contained here. Once the war is over, Jon will give the High Council a map to this place, or lead them here himself, and see to it that all of that knowledge is restored to the Jedi. That they can reclaim it.
There are so many lost Temples, closed long ago. Not just in the Core, not just in the Mid-Rim, but out here, deep in the Outer Rim. Jon would like to see them opened again one day, restored and restaffed. The people of the Outer Rim have only had tales of Jedi for too long, have been without help. It’s the main reason Jon agreed to the plan to fake their deaths and go underground; no one was helping the people out here except for them, and he wasn’t about to turn is back on that duty.
Reaching out, Jon gently brushes a touch across the pale stone of the walls, then lets out a breath. “There’s a vault here,” he says. “With kyber crystals from across the galaxy, and all the other stones and crystals the Jedi have used to create lightsabers. If the Sith had taken it…”
They could still take it, if Jon isn't careful. That’s why he’s the only Jedi here.
“Other stones?” Fives asks, startled. “I thought it was just kyber crystals they used.”
Jon shakes his head, can't help but smile a little. He remembers with perfect clarity how it felt to craft his lightsaber, picking the hilt, finding the crystal. One thing he can share with all Jedi, regardless of how he was raised, and that’s—good. Comforting. “Master Windu uses a Hurrikaine crystal, given to him by the natives of that planet,” he says. “I've met Jedi who use krayt dragon pearls, or gems from their homeworlds. A lightsaber is the extension of the Jedi, and reflects as much.”
“Krayt dragon pearls?” Fives asks, and grins. “That’s what General Skywalker should have gone with. He’s always talking about the krayt dragons on Tatooine, and how he’d fight them off—”
Jon snorts. “Given that he left Tatooine when he was nine,” he says dryly, “I doubt it.”
“What?” Fives stares at him for a second, and then his features shift into something deeply offended. “He swore!”
Echo smothers a snicker, patting Fives on the shoulder, and sidesteps his elbow-jab in retaliation. “Got caught believing tall tales like a shiny, huh?” he asks, and Fives pulls a face at him.
“He’s the general,” he protests. “How was I supposed to know? I thought all Jedi did things like that!”
“Many do,” Jon says, perfectly bland. “I fought a terentatek when I was sixteen.”
“Aren’t they Jedi killers?” Echo demands, horrified, and then pauses. His eyes narrow, and he looks Jon over warily. “Wait—”
Jon doesn’t let so much as a flicker of the truth show on his face. He just raises a brow, watching Echo as Fives tries to muffle his laughter, and then keeps moving. From behind him, there's a brief, hissed argument, the sound of elbows hitting plastoid, and then a few rapid steps to catch up as Jon starts down another flight of stairs.
“You didn’t,” Echo accuses, falling in on his left.
“I don’t know, I’d say he did,” Fives says from his right, grinning. “Well?”
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to ruin the magic,” Jon asks mildly, and keeps moving, senses trained for any hint of a trap.
“Okay, but—a terentatek?” Echo repeats. “At sixteen? Alone?”
“I never said I was alone,” Jon tells him. Dark Woman had watched, after all. Jon still can't tell if she would have stepped in if things had gone badly, but—at least she would have prevented it from escaping and rampaging through the area.
“Oh.” Echo still sounds suspicious, but he looks ahead of them, sweeping a wary gaze over the rest of the stairs. “How far down do we have to go?”
Jon shakes his head. “I don’t know where the vault is,” he says. “Somewhere beneath us.”
“The Force doesn’t come with a holomap? You should ask for a refund,” Fives jokes, though he’s noticeably careful with each step as they descend.
“I can at least tell that we should take the next left,” Jon says, though a map would be nice. He feels a flicker of something off and holds out his arms, stopping Echo and Fives in their tracks, and then says, “The roots grow through a crack in the stone on the next stair, and nowhere else.”
“Trap,” Echo concludes grimly, and shifts back, judging the distance. “Just the next one?”
Jon crouches down, curling his fingers through the delicate stems of the plants growing along the edge of the wall. He can sense their roots, their reach for the earth beneath, and—they grow deeper here than anywhere else, even though they shouldn’t. The one after that feels normal, though, and Jon rises, then gets a grip on Echo and Fives with the Force, just in case, and jumps.
He lands at the bottom of the flight of stairs, and the ground stays solid beneath his feet.
The hiss of Fives's breath is all relief. “Oh, good,” he says. “No more crumbling staircases. I like this plan.”
With a quiet snort, Jon lifts his hands, picking them both up and setting them down beside him. “Not yet,” he says, and Fives huffs.
“You're a ray of sunshine, you know that?” he asks, looking around them.
“Fives,” Echo says, annoyed, and shoots Jon a quick smile. “Ignore him, they kept him in his growth tank too long.”
Jon just shrugs. It’s hardly the worst he’s ever heard, and he can tell Fives doesn’t mean it maliciously. “Up there,” he says, giving in to the insistent tug. “There's a hallway.”
Echo grimaces, one hand close to his blaster as they approach the darkened opening. “Charming,” he says. “No lights?”
Pausing at the edge of it, Jon frowns. When he raises a hand, he can feel a faint hum in the air, something low and steady that feels familiar, and he touches the Force, touches the source—
With a flickering wash, light rises. Kyber crystals set into the walls shimmer to life, a flood of pale golden light filling the corridor, and Jon lowers his hand and smiles a little, taking a step in. He brushes his fingers over the closest crystal, a tangible reminder of what this temple was for, and says, “Apparently there are.”
When he glances back, Fives and Echo are trading meaningful looks, intent and furtive, with whole conversation in their expressions. They don’t say anything, though, so Jon dismisses it, drawing his hand back, and starts down the hall with their steps right behind him. It’s narrow, the ceiling low, but the kyber’s glow keeps it from being strangling. Jon still has to duck his head, but it’s less of a pain than it could be.
“How did you feel that thing?” Fives asks, and when Jon glances back, he has both hands on his blaster, projecting an air of not touching anything that makes a flicker of amusement rise in Jon's chest. “With the plants. I thought things had to be sentient for Jedi to touch their minds.”
“Consitor Sato,” Jon says. “Channeling life energy into plants. My Master practically rediscovered the ability. It’s…rare, these days.”
There's a pause, and then Echo says, “I didn’t realize the Jedi could do things like that.”
Jon breathes out, keeping his eyes fixed ahead of them. “The Jedi are fading,” he says bluntly. “And the Republic is sliding towards darkness. Many things have been lost.”
The war powers being granted to the Chancellor were what first made Nico worry. “Special” right up until there were dozens of them, handed over by scared and desperate senators and sending the whole Republic sliding further into darkness.
Nico had thought, at the beginning, that someone was simply pulling Palpatine’s strings. None of them had realized that Palpatine was Sidious until Maul revealed it, and then everything fell into place.
Their work won't end with killing Sidious, not if they want to save the Jedi Order and the Republic as a whole, and Jon is fully aware of that, but—it’s a start.
“Things like Temples?” Fives asks, moving just a little closer. “I've only heard of the one on Coruscant and the one on that—kyber crystal planet, uh—”
“Ilum,” Jon finishes for him. “The first Jedi Temple was built in the Unknown Regions, not the Core. The Jedi spread inward, not outward, but the older Temples have mostly been abandoned.” He traces an etching inlaid with a golden kyber crystal, then pulls his hand away and takes a breath. “They’ve been lost, and old skills with them. My Master collects forgotten abilities, but—there are many she hasn’t found. Many that no one will ever find, now.”
“Oh,” Echo says, soft. “I guess…it’s hard to tell it’s that bad.”
“It’s not, largely.” Jon skirts a cracked floor tile, keeping his steps light. “Those who remember stay quiet, and the Jedi continue.”
But not everyone is content with that. Fay and T'ra Saa had a falling out over it two centuries ago, and that was when Fay left the main Temple. Nico levied for more proactive measures against the slave trade, but was overruled by the Senate and their connections to the Hutts. Knol pushed strongly for reforms in the Senate itself, following the near-destruction of her home system, and was shunted out on missions as far from the Core as possible in response.
Things are broken. It isn't the Jedi's doing, because the Jedi are leashed and muzzled and little more than a tool now. But if they can change the Order—
One of the kyber crystals in the wall shimmers, and Jon feels a flicker like dread curl down his spine. He freezes, and Echo and Fives instantly go still behind him.
“Jon?” Fives asks warily.
Distantly, growing louder, there’s a rumble.
“Karking bantha shit,” Echo hisses, and turns, bringing his blaster up—
The walls rumble, shift, move.
“Run,” Jon says, and puts word to action, bolting down the hallway as the walls close in. Not a metaphor, and not slowly, and Jon has no idea what set off this trap but there's still at least half the length of the corridor to go but the walls are already a good foot closer than they were just seconds ago.
“What the hell,” Fives complains, ducking a rain of dirt that falls. He staggers, boots sliding on the sandy floor, and Jon pauses just long enough to grab his arm and haul him up and forward, just as another kyber crystal flickers.
Jon catches light out of the corner of his eye, and his heart leaps into his throat. Kyber crystals on either side of the hall, matched sets, and he only has one lightsaber, can't block both sides—
He shifts his grip, throws Fives forward past him, and tackles Echo just as the man pulls level with him. They hit the ground hard, and right above their heads a beam of yellow energy shoots across the hall like a lightsaber blade.
“Fracking swamp-toed bolt-brain,” Fives says, and scrambles to his feet. “Is that a lightsaber?”
“The next best thing,” Jon says grimly, and hauls Echo back to his feet. All along the corridor, there are flickers of light, and he assesses for half a second, but—
They’re igniting as the walls close. When a pair of crystals gets close enough together, they trigger. If this keeps going, the whole hall will be full in minutes.
Jon sets his jaw, sets his feet. Takes a deep breath, then raises his hands. “When I give you the signal, run,” he says.
“But—” Fives starts, but Jon closes his eyes reaches for the Force, and slams his palm hard against one wall.
It’s an impossible weight, and given force by the mechanisms pushing it. Jon's lifted buildings that were easier, and the strain stings, sharp against his nerves, but he doesn’t let himself waver. He can't stop the walls from closing, but—he can at least slow them. “Go,” he grits out, and Echo makes a sound of protest, takes a step forward only to have Fives grab his arm and drag him down the hall at a run.
It’s just in time. Behind them, one after another, the beams ignite, and the walls inch shut. Jon can't quite fight a groan, because it feels like the worst sort of exertion, and he can't stop the press. Staggers back, palm still on the stone, and feels the other wall meet his back with a cold surge of resignation. Feels Echo stumble, falter, and the last beam ignite just as he and Fives reach it, and wants to curse—
Fives kicks Echo’s feet out from under him at a dead run, and they slide sideways under the last blade and out into the open just before the walls slam shut.
Dark Woman was never kind in her lessons, but they were always useful lessons.
It’s one of the things Jon always feels he should defend her for, to Knol and the others. Dark Woman is brutal, and her training methods are harsh, and she sees no need for mercy with those who would call themselves Jedi, but she’s one of the most skilled Jedi Masters in recent galactic history. There's no one who knows more old skills, more dark, dusty corners of Jedi lore. For all that she’s a last resort for troublesome padawans, she’s also the Council’s spy, their hidden intelligence in the most dangerous situations.
When she raised Jon, it was to be a useful, dangerous thing she could set loose on the galaxy, to give the Order another edge in their fight. She gave him all the skills he needed to survive in her line of work, all the skills she’d dredged up from the depths of forgotten books found in improbable places. Dark Woman had hoped to make him just like her, so she armed him for the dangers she put herself in.
That doesn’t mean Jon likes using those skills.
Pulling himself through a solid object feels a little like every molecule is screaming. His body doesn’t want to. The stone doesn’t want him to. The power vibrates wrong against his skin, washes through the Force in an eddy of uneasy power, and Jon drags himself through the stone, teeth gritted, desperate to get to the other side. It’s a last-resort ability, and he can feel it leeching his strength, making his head throb as he holds it steady.
Dark Woman was a thorough teacher, but Jon was never that skilled a student.
Finally, finally, his hand breaks through into empty air, and Jon groans. He pulls himself the rest of the way out, spilling down onto the floor, and then slumps there, eyes closed as he tries to catch his breath.
Next time he’s about to volunteer for a dangerous mission to a lost Temple to find a legendary lightsaber, he’s going to think twice about it. Maybe three times. Knol is fond of adventure. She can do it if she’s so enamored of the idea.
Before he can gather himself, before he can even lift his head, there’s a shout. Jon twitches hard, trying to summon the strength the leap up, face whatever new danger this is, but he doesn’t get the chance. Hands grab his arms, a set on either side, and haul him upright, and Jon staggers, slumps into their hold as his head spins. The feeling makes him grimace, and he needs to keep up practice with Dark Woman’s more obscure techniques, needs to be stronger than this, but—
Using them always makes him think of her, and remember things he would rather forget.
If he were braver, stronger, he would. But Jon always did disappoint her utterly.
“Jon! Jon, what happened?” Fives demands, and the words are loud but his grip on Jon's arm is gentle, more support than restraint.
“Easy, Fives,” Echo says, more quietly, and a moment later he’s pulling Jon's arm over his shoulder, wrapping his own arm around his waist. “Find a rock and toss it down those stairs. We should get away from this spot.”
“With our luck, that’ll make the whole Temple sink into the river,” Fives says ruefully, but he steps away, and Jon tries to straighten, tries to make his eyes focus so that he’ll be able to help if another trap activates. Echo holds him back, though, holds him steady, and after a second Jon just gives up and lets him, closing his eyes again and concentrating on staying upright.
“Are you okay?” Echo asks quietly. “We have a little bit of bacta with us, if you need it.”
It takes Jon a moment, but he shakes his head. “Tired,” he says, and it rasps in his throat, a little too ragged. The inside of his head aches, like an unused muscle that’s been overstretched, and he curses himself for this ridiculous bit of weakness. He should be better, shouldn’t be so tired from a few moments of using that skill, but—
Well. Even Dark Woman only uses it for stepping through doors and walls, not for dragging herself a hundred yards through solid stone. Jon can at least be satisfied with that.
Echo’s laugh is a crack of sound, low and disbelieving. “You walked through a wall,” he says. “We thought you were dead.”
“We thought you died for us,” Fives says, like a correction, and a moment later he’s on Jon's other side, arm snaking around his waist beside Echo’s to help hold him up. “That stone made it all the way to the bottom without getting crushed by spikes from the ceiling or something, and there’s some kind of garden down there. I think we’ll be okay as long as we don’t touch anything.”
Something about that sounds familiar, like it should spark recognition, but Jon can't think what. He forces his eyes open again, tries to focus on Fives and the Echo, and asks, “The energy from the crystals didn’t hit you?”
“No,” Fives says, and gives him a grin as they pull him forward. “No thanks to Echo.”
“Shut up,” Echo says, mildly chagrined. “I was distracted by our Jedi getting crushed to death, okay.”
Fives makes a rueful sound. “Yeah, I noticed that, too,” he says. “Jon, first step here.”
“I might pass out,” Jon says, in the interest of full disclosure, because there are black spots swimming at the edges of his vision.
“That’s fine. We’ve got you,” Echo says firmly. “Still nothing that wants to eat us, right? So we’ll be all right even if you do.”
A part of Jon wants to argue, but the rest of him recognizes that it’s a bad idea. He’s been around Knol long enough to know precisely what those look like. Instead, he grunts, then says, “My comm—don’t use it for outgoing transmissions, even if there's a signal. Not safe.”
There's a moment of silence, and Jon can feel them exchanging glances. “We won't. Promise,” Fives says.
“Last step here,” Echo tells him, and then, “Fives, you said garden. This is a kriffing jungle.”
“What did you think happened to a garden that hasn’t been taken care of in hundreds of years?” Fives retorts.
Jon snorts quietly, but the feeling of grass under his boots is a relief, and the hum of plant life all around them redoubles, green against raw nerves. He can feel himself slipping, his feet dragging, but a moment later Echo says softly, “There’s some clear space here, and some kind of spring. I think we should be safe. Jon, we’re putting you down, okay?”
Jon tries to reply, but somewhere between the feeling of sinking into long grass and the touch of hands at the clasp of his cloak, he loses time. When he focuses again, he’s on his back on soft earth, and someone is pulling his boots off, another set of hands propping his head up. For a moment, Jon thinks about protesting, but—
The darkness feels soft all around him, and the Temple is silent. He closes his eyes, breathes out, and sleeps.
The silence looms, and Echo can't quite breathe through it.
“Clear,” Fives says softly, sinking down beside him and setting his blaster in his lap. “If there's anything down here, I can't see it.”
“A Jedi would probably have better luck,” Echo says, only a little wry, and Fives huffs a near-silent laugh, glancing down at the Jedi stretched out between them. Jon hasn’t moved since they set him down, and if Echo couldn’t see his chest rising, he might worry.
“I think we’re on our own for a bit,” he says, and can't help but reach out to touch a strand of wet hair that straggles down Jon's cheek. There's a soft breath, and Jon turns his face into the touch just a little, though he doesn’t otherwise move.
Echo doesn’t pull his hand back, even though he probably should.
Fives is watching, too, and when Echo glances at him, his smile is quick and lazy, but in a way that has teeth behind it. “Not permanently, though,” he says, and drags his knuckles lightly over the sharp slant of Jon's cheekbone. “I kind of thought we would be.”
Echo had, too. They’d followed orders, run, but even as they slid out into open air he’d looked back, expected to see the strange, scruffy Jedi who had saved Fives be crushed to death in the closing walls. Had seen the stones meet, had heard the grinding mechanisms stop, and been absolutely sure that he and Fives were alone in a boobytrapped Temple, far away from the rest of the 501st. Absolutely sure that the man who saved Fives had died to buy them an escape, and hated it.
And then he’d pulled himself out of the stone like he was climbing out of a pool of viscous liquid. Walked through a wall and fell to his knees, and it was like Echo’s heart had restarted with one great shuddering beat.
“And I thought General Skywalker did strange things,” Fives says, quiet, amused, and Echo can't help but snort, because it’s true. He hasn’t heard any other clones mention similar things, either, except for the Wolfpack talking about Plo Koon freezing water and summoning lightning to his fingertips.
“I can't believe he doesn’t have any troopers,” Echo says, and—well. It’s not quite a flicker of jealousy he feels towards brothers who don’t even exist, but. But maybe it’s the next best thing, because Jon has already saved them multiple times, shown beyond words that he’ll die rather than leave them behind. And that’s—that’s a lot, for a general. Echo understands why most generals can't do the same, but all he can think of is how Jon would be with his own squad. They’d be the safest clones in the galaxy, probably.
After Rishi, after Droidbait and Cutup and Hevy, it’s okay for Echo to want that for himself and Fives.
“It’s weird,” Fives agrees, stretching out his legs and leaning back on his hands. By the tone of his voice, he knows precisely where Echo’s thoughts are, but when Echo glances at him, Fives is watching Jon. “He’s weird.”
Fives almost died today, too. Would most certainly have died if Jon hadn’t appeared out of the darkness to heal him. Echo breathes out, breathes in, and reaches across Jon to grab Fives by the shoulder. It gets him a startled look, and then a smile, and Fives leans over. Echo bends to meet him, slants their mouths together in a slow, careful kiss that lingers, and then rests their foreheads together. His hand slides up from cupping Fives's cheek to press his thumb against the tattoo on his temple, and for just a second Echo can't fight the memory of that fear, that despair he felt when Fives was bleeding out through his fingers, far away from any medic.
“I'm really glad you're okay, Fives,” he says.
Fives's smile is crooked, and he reaches up, fits his hand over the palm-print Captain Rex left on Echo’s armor on Rishi. “What’re the odds,” he says, and Echo can't help but look down at Jon again, still and worn between them. He reaches out, almost not able to resist, and is startled when his knuckles bump into Fives's, halfway through the same motion.
Surprised, Echo looks up, finds Fives looking back with a raised brow, and can't help but snort. “Really?” he asks.
“Really?” Fives repeats, mocking, and Echo gives in grudgingly, rolling his eyes. Practically daring Fives to say anything else, he strokes lightly over wet hair, and Fives snickers, his fingers tracing a scar that slants down Jon's cheek.
Between them, Jon shivers, curling in on himself, and Echo pauses. Lifts his hand, then tries to assess the temperature of the air around them. There’s light rising, sun filtering down to the garden, but it’s still startlingly cold, especially for someone who’s completely drenched and still wearing soaking wet clothes.
“Controls on your thermals still work?” Fives asks after a moment, and Echo raises his wrist, checks that they do, and nods, already starting to strip off his armor.
“Trade off?” he asks.
Fives reaches for Jon's belt and sashes, pulling them off and then stripping him of his tunic. The thin undershirt is just as wet as everything else, but Echo can see Fives hesitating over it, and as the last piece of his own armor comes free, he reaches out to pull it off himself. When he gets a hand on Jon's skin, it’s far, far colder than a Human should be, and Echo grimaces.
“Maybe not,” he says, answering his own question. “Come on, let’s get him warmed up.”
As Fives starts stripping off his own armor, Echo reaches out, undoing the laces on Jon's pants and pulling them off as clinically as he can. It’s hard not to pay attention to skin, scarred and bruised like Jon has been in too many fights recently, but—this is to keep Jon warm, nothing more.
As soon as the last of the soaked clothes are off, he carefully gathers Jon into his arms and then lies down, tugging Jon flush against him. A moment later, Fives settles along the line of Jon's back, draping an arm over him. The thermals are warm, and getting warmer as they raise the heat, but Jon is still cool to the touch and Echo doesn’t like it.
“You know,” Fives says, and that grin means nothing good. “We’ve talked about getting a Jedi between us, but this isn't quite how I was picturing it.”
Echo rolls his eyes. “Now’s not exactly the time, Fives,” he huffs. “And besides, we were talking about General Secura.”
“Yeah, but I like Jon,” Fives says easily. “And there's less of a chance of death by Bly.”
That, Echo is willing to admit, is very true. General Secura seemed into them, but the whole time they’d been talking to her, Bly was hovering right over her shoulder like a very aggressive guard dog, and looked equally ready to rip their throats out at the drop of a hat.
Besides, Jon's sweet in a very different way than General Secura. And he’s steady, full of a faith Echo isn't used to seeing. Not quite warm, but—painfully kind.
“Later,” he says quietly. When Jon's found whatever he’s looking for in the Temple, and they’ve made it back to the surface and the rest of the 501st, they can bring it up. Hopefully Jon will say yes, and hopefully he’ll stick around, or at least agree to meet them somewhere later. Coruscant, at least; their leave usually puts them there, and since he’s a Jedi he probably goes back to the temple frequently.
Fives curls his fingers over Jon's ribs, framing the edges of a deep bruise going violet against his skin. “He said he was looking to take out the leaders of the war,” he says quietly. “There might not be much of a later.”
Echo winces, can't quite help the way his arms go a little tighter around Jon. He knows the rates at which Jedi are dying, particularly Jedi undercover in the CIS. And if Jon is aiming for Dooku and Grievous and those like them, he’s going to be in ten times the danger.
“This weapon he’s looking for will help,” Echo says quietly. Doesn’t say he’ll be fine because he doesn’t know that, can't, but—
He wants to believe it. I won’t let that happen, not unless I'm dead first, Jon had said, and—those words hit hard, somewhere deep in Echo’s chest. Especially like this, in a place where things could come out of nowhere and eat them, just like on Rishi.
“Maybe,” Fives agrees, but he’s watching Echo, dark eyes and something intent, and Echo can't resist. He leans up on one elbow, and Fives makes a low sound of amusement, curling forward to meet him in a slow kiss. His hair is stiff with drying blood under Echo’s fingertips, a grim reminder of the fact that he was dying just a few hours ago, and all Echo wants is to get him somewhere safe and warm and quiet, take his time making sure Fives is all in one piece.
Maybe with Jon between them, so they can thank him for the rescue. So they can get to know him a little better, intimate and immediate. Echo certainly wouldn’t object to that.
“Maybe’s all we can have right now,” he points out, and Fives snorts, flopping back down. He pulls Jon against him, tangling their legs together and hooking his chin over Jon's shoulder as he gives Echo a faintly wry smile.
“You're such a pessimist sometimes,” he accuses.
Echo rolls his eyes, but shifts closer, one arm under Jon's head, the other stretched across him to curl around Fives's hip. “Realist,” he counters.
“Yeah, yeah. So start figuring out a realistic way to get Jon to stick around a little longer once he deals with whatever he needs to,” Fives tells him, and settles in, forehead resting against the back of Jon's skull as he closes his eyes. Echo thinks of the feeling of it, the brush of warm breath against the back of his neck, and wants to shiver. He doesn’t, but—
“I think we can come up with something,” he says, low, and Fives smiles but doesn’t open his eyes.
Echo stares at him in the brightening light, at Jon between them, and breathes in. Breathes out, and tries not to think about how little they can manage to hold onto in the middle of a war. This might be all they get, if they're not careful. Even if they are careful, knowing how things go. Clone troopers don’t have a high survival rate, and Jedi don’t, either.
If it is all they have, Fives has a point. They should make the most of it.
For the first time in years, Jon wakes slowly.
There's no sudden wrench of consciousness bringing him back to stark awareness, no surge of alarm putting him on his feet in an instant. Just warmth, all around him, and a heartbeat under his ear, the weight of a head on his shoulder. It takes a log minute to realize why that’s strange, why it’s wrong, but it doesn’t feel wrong. Just—
Peaceful. It’s strange.
Slowly, reluctantly, Jon opens his eyes. There’s black cloth beneath him, an edge of dark skin in his periphery, and he can feel Echo’s arm around him. Echo is flat on his back, Jon draped over his chest, and it’s warm. Thermals, Jon recognizes after a moment, running to provide extra heat. On top of him, too—Fives is curled over him, nose buried in Jon's hair, one hand hooked dangerously high around his thigh.
It’s a little hard to breathe, and not just because of the weight on top of him.
Forcing himself back to focus, Jon closes his eyes, assessing. He feels better, less raw in every nerve ending. There's sunlight all around them, and the air is still cool but the heat of Fives and Echo surrounding him makes it easily ignorable. No danger that Jon can sense, or at least nothing immediate, and—
The Force here is bright, quiet. It feels like Dagobah, or at least a shard of it; there's some nexus here, a small little fraction of the Force that’s pure and clean, and it settles over Jon's senses like a blanket, soft and comforting. He turns his head, looking, and catches a glimpse of steam in the cool air, stone and the burble of running water.
Fay had mentioned something about a spring with healing properties, hadn’t she? Jon hadn’t expected them to find it so easily, but he’s hardly about to complain. If they need it later, it should be simple enough to find.
He doesn’t want to move, doesn’t want to have to get up, but—Fives and Echo’s kindness isn't a thing to take advantage of. They clearly were trying to warm him up, and that’s already far more than Jon expected. Steeling himself, he carefully shifts—
Against the back of his neck, Fives groans. The sound makes Jon's skin prickle, and he can't quite stifle a shiver as those fingers tighten around his thigh, as Fives curls in tighter. He freezes, even as Echo’s arm shifts, and there's a huff against his temple.
“Ugh, Fives,” Echo complains. “Get off, bastard.”
“No,” Fives says petulantly. “I'm comfortable.”
“I'm not, because I can't breathe—”
Jon can't help it; he snorts quietly, pushing up and gently extricating himself from the pile. Echo watches him go, an expression Jon can't read on his face, and Fives's hand slides down his leg, a deliberate sweep, before he rolls over and flops onto his back, stretching his arms over his head and sighing into it.
“Feeling better?” he asks, glancing at Jon, and Jon thinks of that soft moan against his skin and has to swallow.
“Much,” he says, a little rough, and realizes belatedly that he’s almost naked, stripped down to nothing but his underwear. He has no idea how long it’s been, except the light is everywhere now, but—likely not enough to dry things. Not in this temperature.
“The rocks around the spring were warmest, so we put your stuff there,” Echo says, sitting up. He’s still watching, and it makes Jon extra aware of his own skin, the scars he carries. Not entirely unpleasantly, but—he still has to look away. Still has to focus on calling his clothes over to him with a gesture. They’re vaguely damp, but he pulls them on regardless, combs his fingers roughly through his hair and tries to brush it back behind his ears to keep it out of his face. His lightsaber, at least, is undamaged, and he checks it over carefully.
“Is the hilt made of wood?” Fives asks curiously, and a hand settles on Jon’s shoulder as a body leans over him. It takes effort for him not to twitch, and more to keep his breathing even in the face of Fives's warmth, but he inclines his head.
“Brylark wood,” he says. “My Master liked to combine the organic with the inorganic. Most padawans make their lightsabers with a reference to their masters in the design.” He hesitates, glancing at the tunics he still has to put on, then offers it to Fives.
There's a sharp inhale right next to his ear, and Jon shoves down the urge to lean back into the solid body behind him. Before he can be tempted any more, at least, Fives leans in. “Really?” he asks, delighted. “I thought Jedi didn’t let other people touch their lightsabers.”
Echo snickers. “Someone should tell Generals Kenobi and Skywalker, then,” he says. “Cody and Rex are always picking them up off the battlefield somewhere.”
The idea makes Jon grimace. He’s not wholly reliant on a lightsaber to fight, but—the idea of just dropping it somewhere makes him want to double-check the connector clips anyway.
“It’s fine,” he says instead, and sets the hilt in Fives's hand. “I trust you not to break it.”
“That’s a lot of trust,” Echo says dryly.
Fives makes a rude sound and straightens, gently turning the hilt over in his hands. He deliberately fits his fingers around it, keeping his thumb well away from the ignition button, and says in quiet surprise, “It’s so light.”
“It is?” Echo rises as well, coming over to see, and Jon has to hide a smile, pulling his robes on and then doing up the sashes. His belt and pouches are still wet, the worn leather cracking and scraped, and he grips it for a second, but empties the pouches of anything that survived and then leaves it by the edge of the spring. There's no use being attached to physical things.
His cloak is the driest of his clothes, the cloth rough but resistant to water, and he pulls it on with a sense of relief, even if he leaves the hood down. As he settles it, Fives makes a sound of offense, and he turns to see that Echo has claimed the lightsaber, using his body to block Fives from grabbing it back as he looks it over. Fives is practically plastered against his back, reaching around him to try and grab it, and Jon chuckles softly.
“You realize there's no safety, right?” he says, and Fives freezes. So does Echo, and after a long, tense moment they trade looks.
“None?” Echo says, disbelieving.
Jon shakes his head, lifting a hand and calling the weapon back to him with a flick of his fingers. It tucks itself through his sash, and he says, “My Master always thought it was a metaphor. Jedi are weapons without safeties. While we’re learning to control ourselves, we learn to control our lightsabers, too. As a physical reminder.”
There's a pause, and then Fives makes a face, pulling away from Echo. “No offense, but your Master doesn’t exactly sound like a ray of sunshine,” he says.
“She wasn’t,” Jon says, because he can't imagine any phrase that would describe Dark Woman less. “But she wasn’t wrong.”
Echo makes a skeptical sound. “Anyone’s a weapon, if you look at it that way,” he says. “The clones definitely are.”
“Yeah,” Fives says, immediate agreement. “Anyone can throw a punch hard enough to kill another person, or trigger an explosive. The Jedi are special, but you're not the only dangerous things in the galaxy.”
Jon stares at them for a moment, not entirely certain how to respond. Dark Woman was always so convinced in the duty of the Jedi, in the danger of them, and he’s never particularly thought about it that way.
“Oh,” he says, frowning.
With a laugh, Fives hooks an arm over his shoulder, leaning into him. “One of the reasons the clones and the Jedi work so well together, right?” he says.
Jon has to look away from the sight of his smile, but the only other place to look is at Echo, who claps a hand on his free shoulder and grips gently.
“How many more levels to go until the vault?” he asks, and his smile is crooked but—
Jon's skin prickles, and he looks away, doesn’t try to name the emotion that rises.
“A few,” he says, hoarse. “Ready for more traps?”
“I think we can handle it,” Echo says, and it’s not as cocky as Fives's agreeable grin, but there’s a steady certainty to it, a warmth that makes it just a little harder to swallow than it should be.
“All right,” Jon says, though he doesn’t step out from between them. “Let’s go.”
There's a suspicious lack of anything trap-like as they leave the garden and the healing spring.
“How big is this place?” Fives asks, a little tight, as another corridor turns into a wide, straight hallway leading vaguely down. The walls are carved with reliefs, inlayed with crystal, and don’t seem to be about to move, but Jon still eyes them warily as they start down the hall.
“Most of the area under the mountain, from what I could tell,” Jon says with a frown, and it’s tempting to lengthen his stride, put himself out in front for whatever dangers are coming to hit first, but at the same time, he wants to stick close in case something comes from behind. “Building it was part of the challenge, I think.”
“Jetii,” Echo mutters, but it mostly sounds amused. “Those statues out front—they're the founders or something, right?”
Jon inclines his head, eyes on the wide tiles that are just visible through the dust down here. “A Human Jedi who specialized in refining kyber crystals and a Sephi Jedi who specialized in building the hilts. They left the main Temple to start a workshop together, and eventually others joined them.”
“As simple as that?” Echo asks, and he glances over at Jon, clearly surprised. “I thought founding their own temple would be…more dramatic.”
“Especially seeing as they were Jedi,” Fives adds.
Jon snorts. He skirts a tile with the Order’s symbol inlaid in green glass, glowing bright in a shaft of sunlight, and hears Echo do the same where he’s walking at Jon's elbow. Fives is out of its direct path, but he still gives it a wary berth. “Not everything has to be dramatic,” he says. “And besides, once there were dozens of Temples throughout the Outer Rim. It was hardly noteworthy for the Jedi to add one more.”
“Are there any left in the Outer Rim?” Fives asks curiously. “I've never heard any of the generals we’ve served with mention them.”
“No,” Jon says quietly, and brushes a hand over the wall. “They closed decades or centuries ago. Jedi rarely come to the Outer Rim at all anymore.”
He doesn’t look back, even though he catches the way Fives and Echo trade glances, thoughtful, intrigued. “How many more were there?” Echo asks.
Jon shakes his head. “I don’t know the exact count of them,” he says. “At least twenty that are widely known. Maybe more like this one, with the records lost to time.” He comes to a stop where the hallway branches in three directions, listening. Feeling, and he breathes in, breathes out, lets himself be guided as Echo and Fives halt beside him.
“When you said the Jedi were fading,” Fives says, “I didn’t think you meant that…dramatically.”
Jon's smile is a little crooked, but he looks at Fives, then at Echo, and says, “It hasn’t been dramatic. A dramatic change means people would do something about it. This has been…slow. Like decay.” He casts a look up the left-hand corridor, and says quietly, “The Jedi have failed to see the threat of the Sith for a thousand years. I wonder how much of that decay can be blamed on the Dark Side working against them while they were blind to it.”
“Oh,” Echo says after a long moment, and it’s on the very edge of grim. “From what I've heard, decay’s definitely a Dark Side thing, right? That would explain it.”
“Some of it,” Jon allows, but he’s not willing to drag politics into this, all the ways the Jedi have been eaten at by the Senate, made less neutral, more political. It’s not what they were meant to be. The sheer fact that Yoda could be put into such a position as to have to lead an army shows that.
“Well,” Fives says, determinedly light, and knocks Jon's shoulder gently with his own. “Maybe after the war you can reopen some of them. If it’s as easy as just wanting to, there shouldn’t be a problem, right?”
Jon pauses, a little startled, and glances at him. Frowns, but—Fives is right. He’s been thinking of it as a thing that would need Council permissions, oversight, allowances, but—
Once, Jedi simply settled where they liked, shored themselves up, and kept working, and it was enough.
Maybe it can be like that again.
“That would be the best possible outcome,” he says, soft, and offers Fives a small smile. “Thank you. You're…very logical.”
Fives grins back, and it’s bright and warm. “I want that in writing. In triplicate. With a signature.”
Jon snorts, even as Echo rolls his eyes. Reaching out, Echo punches Fives in the shoulder, making him yelp, and then asks, “So, which way? We’re probably due for a trap by now, right?”
Amused, Jon lets Fives duck around to his other side, putting Jon between himself and Echo. Looks ahead of them instead, towards the branching corridors, and—
Hesitates. Frowns, because the pull of the Force has faded, dispersed. He can't tell which path to take, and that’s mildly unsettling.
“I don’t know,” he admits after a moment, grim. Steps forward, slipping past Echo, and puts a hand on the edge of the left-hand tunnel, trying to feel for any sort of hint. There's more sunlight down this one, but they need to go down towards the vault, not back up towards the surface.
“Spin a blaster, go where it points?” Fives offers, but the joke is undercut by the wariness of his voice.
“Let’s save that for a last resort,” Echo tells him, dry, and joins Jon, peering down the next corridor. “This one leads down,” he points out.
“And if you're looking for a lightless void, this one is probably the best bet,” Fives says, leaning into the right-most tunnel. When Jon glances over at him, he’s frowning, an edge of suspicion to his face that makes Jon still. “My helmet lights don’t even reach two meters in.”
That’s strange enough to catch Jon's attention, and he heads for Fives immediately, joining him at the edge of the hall. He’s right; there’s no light at all down this one, though the other two corridors have at least a little illumination, and the unsettling blackness is enough to give Jon pause.
The Force is still clouded, still strange. But—
“There's no saying a Sith couldn’t use the Force to find their way through most of the traps,” he says quietly. “And what better to turn them away than a place where the Force was strange and didn’t work correctly?”
Echo and Fives exchange glances, and Echo’s hands tighten on his blaster. “The Force doesn’t work?” he asks, concerned. “Are you going to be okay?”
Jon breathes in, breathes out. “I’ll be fine,” he says calmly. “I can still feel it. It’s just…faint.”
“Well,” Fives says, light. “It makes sense it would be the most dangerous hallway, right? Since they want to keep people out. I'm game if you are.”
Jon grimaces, but inclines his head, then glances at Echo.
With a sigh, Echo raises his hands. “This is a bad idea,” he says, but slings his blaster over his back. “Fives, are those lights all the way up?”
“For all the good it does,” Fives says, faintly grim. “Ready?”
Jon steps past them, right to the edge of the darkness. It feels…strange. Heavy against his skin, like spider-silk, and—
From behind him, there's a sound of alarm, and Jon stops short. An instant later, a hand grabs his arm, then another tangles in his cloak, and he’s hauled back with a hiss of offense.
“What?” he asks, stumbling upright as he’s dragged back into the light. “What’s wrong?”
Echo makes a low, almost angry sound. “You disappeared,” he says. “Like—like it swallowed you.”
“My lights don’t work at all,” Fives agrees, alarmed. “It’s like the whole thing is filled with black fog.”
That’s…probably to be expected, but still unpleasant. Jon eyes the corridor, then Fives and Echo, and says, “Hang on to me, or to each other.”
They trade looks for a long moment, and then Echo offers Fives one of his hands, holds the other out to Jon. “Right-handed or left-handed?” he asks.
“Ambidextrous,” Jon says, a little amused, and takes Echo’s hand with his right.
“So you go both ways?” Fives asks, grinning. Immediately, Echo makes a sound of disgust and elbows him hard, and Fives laughs, ducking away as best he can while keeping their hands linked.
Jon rolls his eyes and leaves them to it, turning back to the hall. He still can't feel anything except a vague edge of widespread pull, a draw that could come from any direction. But—
Well. The reasons for choosing this path still stand.
“Don’t let go,” he says quietly, and steps into the darkness.
There's no immediate trap sprung, nothing instantly alarming. Jon can't see a single thing, the pressure of the darkness its own weight, and he keeps one hand outstretched in front of him, sweeping it back and forth slowly as he tries to keep his feet headed in a straight line.
Even from this close, he can't see any trace of the lights form the helmet Fives is carrying.
“Karking hells,” Echo mutters from right at his back, quiet and unsettled. “What is this?”
“I don’t know,” Jon says, and his fingertips skim stone. Coming to a sharp halt, he says, “Corner or dead end.”
There's a step to his left, and a moment later Fives says, “Solid wall on this side.”
At least they didn’t walk far if it is a dead end, Jon thinks, and feels to the right of him, carefully dragging his fingertips along the wall. Two steps on and he turns, reaches out. Catches the edge of an opening, and says, “There's a door here.”
“If this was all to hide a door,” Fives says, sounding aggravated, “I'm going to—”
Two steps in and there's a sharp hiss. Jon jerks back, and feels something just miss the tip of his nose in the darkness.
Instantly, Echo hauls him back towards them, voice alarmed as he says, “What is that?”
Another hiss, the sound of an impact, and it’s too loud to just be the one that missed Jon, echoes all the way down what must be a long corridor. Jon listens for a moment, hearing the hiss, the impact, the rush of air, and then says grimly, “I think we found the next trap.”
“Arrows,” Fives says after a second, and groans. “Arrows across the hallway. In the dark. Great.”
That’s about Jon's feelings on the matter. He grimaces, takes a step back and to the side—
The darkness lifts.
Startled, Jon looks down. Beneath his feet, spread out across the stone, is the Order’s crest, this time in white crystal. When he lifts his head, it’s to the sight of a near-wall of arrows flying across the corridor barely half a meter from them, but—
There's a timing to it. With the light, Jon can see that. There are arrows all along the corridor, but they're staggered, uneven bursts. If Jon could get past one set, could see when the next was about to fly, he could make it to the end of the hall easily.
The moment he steps off the square, though, the darkness closes in again.
“Here,” he says, and pulls Echo closer, right up against him. Hears Echo’s sharp breath, and asks, “You see it, too?”
There's a pause, and then Echo nods, gaze dragging away from Jon to look down the hall. “The crest is doing something?” he asks.
Jon inclines his head. “Some kind of personal barrier, maybe,” he says, and shifts over, stepping back into the darkness so that Fives can join Echo on the stone.
“Oh,” Fives says a moment later, startled. “It’s a pattern. Kind of. But it keeps shifting.”
Listening along won't let them make it to the other side unscathed, Jon thinks. Memorizing the pattern is useless, because Fives is right. It lasts for a few moments, then changes, and there won't be enough time to pause and relearn it in the middle of the corridor. He’d end up full of arrows if he tried. But—
“I think there’s another crest on the other side,” Echo says, craning forward with a hand on Jon's shoulder to keep him steady. “And a dial, way off the ground by the roof of the hall. Maybe that turns the arrows off?”
Jon raises a hand, tries to reach out with the Force, and makes it no further than the edge of his fingertips before he loses his grip. “Whatever is creating the darkness is likely the same thing keeping me from reaching the switch from here,” he says grimly. “The Force is…very quiet, here.”
“Frack,” Fives says, displeased. “So we just run and hope for the best?”
“No,” Jon says quietly. “I’ll go, and you tell me when to move.”
There's a moment of silence that’s vaguely horrified, and then Echo splutters. “You can't,” he says. “Send one of us, we’ll go and you can guide us—”
“No,” Jon says simply. “Besides. The dial is high enough off the ground that I’ll need the Force to reach it, right?”
Echo’s fingers tighten on his shoulder, and Fives makes a low, angry sound. “No,” he counters. “You’ll get killed. We’ll get you killed—”
Jon snorts quietly. “I don’t believe you will,” he says, and feels it in his bones. Fives and Echo won't let him die here. “I need to be the one to cross, and I trust you.”
For a long, long moment, he thinks they're going to keep protesting. Thinks it’s going to be a fight, or a struggle to make them see sense, but after a minute of perfect silence Fives takes a breath.
“One of us on go, the other to tell you when to stop,” he says grimly. “That way we won't be tripping over each other, and we can react faster.”
“Faster than you can, maybe,” Echo says quietly, and Jon can't help but smile. If they think this is anything compared to what Dark Woman liked to use as training, they're deeply mistaken. He wasn’t lying about the terentatek.
“Have faith,” he says. “The Force is quiet here, but not gone. It will keep me safe.”
“I hope so,” Fives says, and swallows. “Okay, I’ll tell you when to go. Just—be careful.”
Jon inclines his head, then closes his eyes; they’re useless in the dark anyway, and with them shut it’s like this is just another bout of training. Dark Woman had him training blindfolded for half a year, learning to function without sight. This trap seems specifically designed to confuse instincts like that, but—
That’s what Fives and Echo will help with.
“Okay,” Fives repeats, audibly steeling himself. “First move—two steps across when I say. Now!”
Two steps, quick, and Jon feels his heart in his throat as he comes to a sharp halt just as the hiss of arrows sounds. They pass right behind him, right in front of him, so close that he can feel the breeze they raise, but they don’t even skim him.
“Four steps,” Fives says, pitched to carry.
“Only stop for two seconds,” Echo adds. “It’s a short gap.”
“Then three steps,” Fives confirms.
Jon nods, hears something right by him hiss—
He crosses the four steps as quickly as he can, waits for Echo’s cry and stops short, counts the bare seconds and then steps again, three strides carrying him forward just as arrows hiss at the edge of his cloak. Breathes out tension, fear, frustration, and lets himself focus on calm, on the rise of Fives's voice as he calls, “Six steps, then you’ll have to roll—half a meter of clearance, but the trap’s only about a foot wide there. Now!”
Pleasant. Jon counts the paces, then drops, rolling beneath a continuous hiss of arrows and then right back to his feet. He can hear the rhythm shift around him, and—
“One step back!”
The blade of something much, much larger than an arrow just misses the tip of his nose, and Jon hears Echo curse, sharp and vicious.
“Axes,” Fives says, steady, set. “Three pairs, one after the other, two meters apart with arrows in between. Five seconds between the first swing and the second, with arrows dead in the middle.”
Jon tips his head, considering. The mechanism in the wall where he’s standing is winding up again, so he doesn’t have long to decide, but—
“How high are the arrows? Level with the top of the axe blades?” he asks.
There's a startled pause, and when Fives answers, Jon can hear the grin in his voice. “Yeah, just about. Maybe three inches higher. Top of the axes are maybe a meter and a half off the ground.”
“Time the swing,” Jon says, calm. It’s dangerous, and probably stupid, but—he has faith of his own, in the Force and in the clones behind him. “Tell me when to jump.”
There's half a second’s pause, a click—
Jon leaps, feels arrows skim the edge of his cloak, and lands on a narrow edge of metal. The sideways sweep is disorienting in the darkness, and he clutches the shaft, takes a half-second to orient his balance, and hears the rush of arrows in front of him. Just as they fade, Fives calls, “Jump!”
Jon jumps high, flips, comes down. Two meters, he thinks, and hears the sweep of the axes coming back, hits just an inch too far forward.
“Jon!” Echo cries, but Jon catches himself, twists—
“On your left, two meters!”
—jumps, and catches hold of the haft of the next axe just as it starts to swing back across the hall. For one instant his balance wavers, but he rocks back hard on his heels, catches himself, and tilts forward. Catches his balance, but the axe is sweeping back towards the wall already, about to vanish into it again and there's no time.
“Jump and roll!” Echo calls, and Jon dives forward, hits the ground on his feet and immediately drops forward into a roll, then comes back to his feet. Hears the shout, turns, and takes three running steps, leaps a low streak of arrows, touches down just as Echo shouts for him to stop. Arrows pass in front of him, so close Jon almost recoils.
“Forward!” Fives shouts. “Run!”
“Duck!” Echo adds half a beat behind him, and Jon drops, slides a step, feels something skim his hair and then rises, takes four strides—
He stops dead, feels another set of axes slice across his path, and twists through the gap as they part.
One more step and he hits the ground, rolls beneath another spray of arrows, rises.
“One step back!”
Not an arrow. Something larger, heavier. Jon hears it impact the other wall, then Fives call, “Six steps, then jump! One meter up!”
The pattern sounds wrong. Jon can hear it, just slightly off in the darkness. Wants to pause, wants to try and figure out the difference, but—
There's no time. Jon curses inwardly, but he leaps forward, takes four steps. Almost hesitates, almost drops at the hiss of arrows releasing, but Fives and Echo haven’t missed yet. They wouldn’t get him killed now.
He takes the remaining two steps, then leaps, and passes into the light just as a whole wall of arrows releases behind him. If he’d jumped too soon—
But he didn’t.
Landing, Jon tips forward into a roll, rises, then leaps for the dial at the top of the wall. It’s a good distance up, and he grabs it, twists it hard, and feels the resistance for a long moment before it gives, twisting closed. As it does, the last bursts of arrows clatter down in the middle of the hall, as if whatever is firing them is out of power, and the swinging axes slow, then stop, swaying gently in the air.
“Kriffing hell,” Fives says into the quiet, and takes a step off the Order’s crest. Hesitates, then says, “The darkness is gone.”
“Part of the trap, I assume,” Jon confirms. He drops, straightening carefully, and holds his worn, ragged cloak up. It’s a good bit more ragged now, with some definite arrow holes he’s going to be spending a fair amount of time patching, and he sighs, but glances up as Fives and Echo approach with quick steps.
“Good work,” he says, and gives them a quick smile.
Echo lets out a sound of disbelief, then reaches out, hooks a hand around the back of his neck, and hauls him close. Jon has half a second for complete and utter bewilderment before Echo taps their foreheads together, leaning there for a long moment with his eyes closed.
“You're going to give us both heart attacks,” he says, ragged.
Looping an arm around Jon's shoulders, Fives tugs him away from Echo, leans up to press their foreheads together as well. “That was hot,” he says, and his smile is all relief as he closes his eyes. “Kriffing amazing.”
Heat floods Jon's stomach, and he can't help the urge to twitch back, even though Fives doesn’t let go. There's a burn climbing his face, too, and he wants to duck his head, haul his hood up, hide, but Echo is right behind him, almost sandwiching him between them, and there's no possible place to go.
Maybe nowhere Jon wants to go, either, and it should be shameful, but Fives's hand is on his hip, Echo’s is on his back, his other on Jon's ribs, and Jon could pull away except for how he can't physically make himself.
“Thank you both,” Jon says, a little hoarse, and Fives grins at him.
“I think we make a good team,” he says cheerfully, and Echo laughs a little, too close, his hands too hot on Jon's body, even through his clothes. The drag of want is almost bewildering with how strong it is, and Jon tries very, very hard not to swallow visibly.
“I think it’s mostly that Jon follows orders really well,” Echo says, and his voice makes Jon want to shiver. He has to crush the reaction, and—
It’s just been too long. That’s all. Too many months since the last time he indulged in anything, and longer than that since he let himself indulge with another person. He wants, and he won't get, and he needs to control himself.
“And you’re good at giving them. No wonder you're ARCs,” he says, keeps it gentle, and carefully but deliberately extricates himself from their holds, stepping back. his fingers itch to reach for his hood, to flip it up and hide his face, but at the very least he can keep that much of a handle on himself.
With the darkness gone, his sense of the Force is back, too. He turns towards another set of stairs that spiral downward, following the tug, and says, “This way.”
He thinks he catches Echo and Fives exchanging looks out of the corner of his eye, but he keeps his attention focused on what’s ahead of them, so he can't be entirely sure.
It takes a moment, but after a beat there are steps on either side of him again, quick and steady. Echo falls in on his left, and Fives takes the right, mirroring him as he starts down the wide staircase.
“What are the odds that’s the last trap?” Fives asks, like he didn’t just give Jon the Mandalorian equivalent of a kiss in the hallway. Jon's skin itches with the urge to reach out, to touch, to take, but he buries the urge, crushes it down and keeps moving.
“I think it’s safer to say that’s the first real trap,” Jon manages after a moment. He can feel their surprise, and raises a brow, glancing over at Fives. “It’s a trap designed to take at least two people to navigate. People who trust. Sith wouldn’t be able to manage it, not the vast majority of them.”
“Oh,” Echo says, thoughtful. He looks ahead of them, then says, “I guess we should expect more like that, then.”
Jon inclines his head. “Teamwork traps,” he says dryly, and Fives snorts. A chunk of stone gives way under his boot, and he hisses, jerks—
His hand lands on the wall, and there’s a low, echoing groan. Fives freezes, eyes going wide.
“Karking damn it,” Echo says, but at this point he just sounds resigned. “Another one?”
The stairs shift under their feet, and Jon hears a rush of water from above. With a curse, he lunges, grabbing Echo, then Fives, and hauls them up against him just as the stairs go flat beneath them.
A second later the water hits, fast and strangely hot, sweeping their feet right out from under them and sending them whirling down in a drowning rush that carries them all away.
The flood pours through a narrow opening that’s just barely wide enough to fit them, rapidly closing, and they spill out on a wide stone floor that’s already covered in a few inches of warm water. Jon comes up coughing, dripping wet yet again, even if he’s slightly warmer this time, and immediately hauls Fives up onto his knees. Echo, on his other side is choking and coughing, and Jon reaches for him, curls a hand over his back but can't do anything to help.
“All right?” he asks hoarsely.
“Ugh,” Fives says expressively, but he pulls away from Jon to kneel on Echo’s other side, offering him a hand. Echo takes it, clasping their wrists, and lets Fives haul him up to his feet.
“Did we just get hit by a waterfall?” Echo asks incredulously.
Grimly, Jon glances back at what used to be a staircase, but—
The door they fell through has slid almost completely shut, only a narrow gap left to let in a steady stream of water. The room is wide, empty, but the water on the floor is already ankle-deep and rising.
“It’s not from the river,” he says. “The trap must have diverted water from whatever source feeds the spring.”
“And that’s the only door,” Echo says quietly, staring at the gap. He turns, scanning the edges of the room, and asks, “So how do you think this one works?”
“Frustratingly,” is Fives's verdict. He splashes across to the entrance, bending down to check it, and then asks, “Jon, can you cut through this?”
Jon joins him, crouching down to check as well, and pauses. Beyond the stone, all he can feel is pressure, and when he tries to press the door back upwards, there's a groaning creak, and the water starts rushing faster through the widened gap.
“Kriff,” Fives mutters, eyeing it. “I guess that’s a no.”
“The whole stairwell must be filled with water,” Jon says quietly. “We might be able to swim up, but…”
Echo makes a resigned sound. “But we need to go down,” he finishes, and Jon nods.
“There must be another door,” he says. “This isn't just a trap, it’s part of the temple. They would have given themselves a way out.”
Fives gives him a faintly wry smile. “I’ll take the left wall,” he says, and wades in that direction.
The water is already halfway up his shins, and Jon tries not to calculate exactly how long they have left before it’s past their shoulders.
“I’ll take the far wall, then,” Echo says after a moment, and gives Jon a look he can't read before he turns away. It makes Jon's skin itch, just a little, and he grimaces at himself, drags his fingers through the stringy wet strands of his hair and shoves them back, then turns to the right wall, heading for it with careful steps.
This was definitely one a Temple room of some sort. Jon recognizes the design of it, wide and open and full of light filtering down from above, with low, wide pools around the edges that were likely once filled with water flowers. There's a statue of the Sephi Master in the center of the far wall, her hood drawn up and her hands raised, a lightsaber hilt resting in one palm and a kyber crystal in the other. Before her, visible through the clear water, are blue tiles that practically glow against the surrounding white stones, catching the filtered light.
Jon pauses before the statue for a long moment, staring into her hidden face. Then, careful, he bows to her, straightens. He’s here to take from her vault, after all, even if he thinks that she would approve of the reason.
“Forgive the intrusion, Master Serra,” he murmurs, and she joined the Force long ago, but—that hardly means she can't hear him.
The green crystal in her hand flickers, and Jon takes a breath, turns away. He skirts the statue to touch the wall, searching for a hidden crack or gap that might show a door. The blue tiles that ring Serra’s statue spread out, tracing the edge of the room to the first set of rectangular pools, and Jon crouches down in the knee-deep water, feeling out the edges. Pauses, then grimaces, and ducks under the water to reach down into the pool, trying to feel if they have a bottom. He can't feel one, but there's certainly water flowing up through them, strongly enough to keep him from diving down to the bottom to check for any kind of passage.
When he surfaces again a moment later, the water is higher than it was. Their time to find the entrance is rapidly getting shorter, and Jon wonders a little grimly if there’s an exit at all.
There was a way through the arrows, though. Even the pit trap at the beginning as carefully constructed so that Jedi could still get through. There has to be an exit here as well. These are defenses, not just traps.
He wants to sit down and meditate. Wants to reach out, submerge himself in the Force and see if there's any clue there left for a Jedi seeking entrance, but the water is still rising. Echo and Fives are in heavy plastoid armor, and they won't be able to swim nearly as well as Jon in his lighter robes. Getting them out needs to be his focus.
“Nothing over here,” Echo says, grim, and Jon shakes the hair out of his eyes, glances up to see Echo splashing back across the room towards Fives. “If there's even a gap in the stone, I can't find it.”
Not surprising. Jedi built this Temple from the ground up, carved it out of the mountain; they were skilled enough craftsmen to make every join perfect, and in this room particularly Jon would expect them to make sure there was no way water could leak out.
It’s almost to his knees at this point, and Jon isn't a short man. He forces himself to breathe out, slow, calming, and casts a glance around the room.
“Is this one of the founders of the temple?” Fives asks suddenly, and Jon glances over, finds him standing in front of the other statue and staring up at her. Like Master Serra’s statue, this one also stands with hands raised, a lightsaber hilt in one hand and a kyber crystal in the other.
After a moment’s pause, Jon wades across the hall, minding his footing on slippery tiles, to pause in front of the statue. Unlike the other one, the Human Master has her hood down, leaving her face clear, and she’s smiling, standing tall and straight with her gaze fixed across the hall.
Deliberately, Jon curls his hands together, bows to her. “Master Elbry,” he says quietly. “Yes.”
“Fives?” Echo asks, almost wary. He’s watching Fives with narrowed eyes, faintly suspicious, and Fives gives him a quick smirk.
“She’s holding a lightsaber,” he says. “I thought she was the one who specialized in crystals.”
“She is,” Jon says, a little confused by why this sticks out to him. “But crystals are part of making lightsabers, which is what they both did.”
Echo makes a noise of agreement. “The other one’s holding a crystal,” he points out.
“Exactly,” Fives says, and rounds on Jon. There’s an intent sort of focus in his face that almost makes Jon take a step back, and he grabs Jon's arm, pulls him a step to the side and then doesn’t let go as he points upward. “Look, the way she’s holding the lightsaber is the exact same way she’s holding the stone. And the other one’s hands are different—it looks like she should be holding two lightsabers.”
Jon looks, and—he’s right. Serra’s hands seem like they're meant to grip, while Elbry’s hands are both open, almost flat. The statues’ eyes are locked, too, looking at each other rather than looking down benevolently the way the verions at the entrance to the temple were.
“I think you're right,” he says, a little startled, and Fives grins.
“No need to sound so surprised,” he says, though there's no heat in it. “I've got more going for me than my pretty face.”
“Which is good, because there are a few million versions of it running around,” Echo says dryly. He studies the statue for a moment, then grimaces, and asks, “So we just…grab it from her? Pry it out of her hand?”
Jon winces. It feels…rude. Almost unspeakably rude. These were the leaders of the Temple, some of the greatest smiths in the history of the Jedi Order. They’ve joined the Force, have long since passed on, but at the same time, this was their home.
Even if it’s doing its level best to kill them right now, Jon's skin crawls a little at the thought of deliberately breaking anything.
Fives squints up at Elbry’s hand, a good meter above his head, and pauses. “I don’t think we’ll need to,” he says. “If it’s meant to open a door, it shouldn’t be too hard to move, right? They wouldn’t want to trap their own people in here. Just the Sith.” He takes a step back, then says, “Jon, lift me up there. If it’s easy to move it should just be something I can pick up.”
“Please is a good word, you know,” Echo mutters.
“As if you’ve ever said please in your life,” Fives retorts, and Jon snorts quietly, letting himself settle. Fives is right; if it’s the trigger, it won't be something they have to break to use.
“Of course,” he says, and raises a hand. It only takes a moment to lift Fives until he’s level with the statue’s hand, and he leans forward, almost flips head over heels before Jon manages to steady him quickly. Reaches out for the lightsaber, resting in the palm of the statue’s open hand, and nudges it cautiously.
It shifts, and Jon can feel the flare of victory from Fives.
“Ha,” he says, and leans in a little more. “It’s just sitting on her hand, picking it up should be fine.”
It feels…easy. Easy enough that Jon is a little suspicious. The arrow hallway was dangerous, and the trapped hallway before it was the same. The water is halfway up his thighs now, but it still seems—
“This is too easy,” Echo says grimly, just as Fives picks up the lightsaber hilt.
There's a ringing, echoing thud, and the door they fell through slides up. The staircase beyond it is one vast wave of water, and it pours into the room with the force of a waterfall. Jon staggers from the force of it, and Echo shouts, stumbling in the sudden current. He almost goes down, but Jon grabs for him as well, lifts him up above the rapidly rising water.
“The crystal!” Fives says, waving the hilt at him. “We have to switch them!”
The water hits his waist, still climbing, and Jon grimaces. “Hang on,” he says, and turns, practically throwing both Echo and Fives across the room in the most controlled push he can manage. Like they're in freefall, Echo immediately twists, streamlining himself, arrowing straight for Serra’s statue. He hits it ahead of Fives, ducking in to grab the green crystal from Serra’s palm, and Jon breathes out, focuses, and calls him back, even as he holds Fives steady.
“Put them in at the same time?” Echo asks, and he catches himself with a hand on Elbry’s statue, then raises the crystal. The blue one she’s already holding seems to shine brighter with its presence.
“Seems dramatic enough,” Fives jokes, though there's something tight in his voice. “Jon?”
“On three,” Jon says, and fear right now will be counterproductive. He doesn’t acknowledge it, even as the water reaches his chest. If this doesn’t work, if there's no way out and they’ve triggered the trap—
“Three,” Fives says, and sets the lightsaber in Serra’s grip, just as Echo drops the kyber crystal onto Elbry’s open palm. In the same moment, the water sweeps over Jon's head, and he chokes, shuts his mouth, holds his breath, and braces, trying to keep Echo and Fives steady even as his feet lose their grip.
And then there's a shiver through the air, a feeling in the Force that rises. Even through the water Jon can see the kyber crystals start to shine, and he surfaces with a gasp, not quite able to tread water, about to slip under again—
The lightsabers Serra is holding ignite with a hiss, one blade blue, the other green. Fives yelps, and Jon immediately wrenches him back, goes under as he does and has to fight his way up for air again. The two lightsabers aren’t pointing at Fives, thought; they're pointing down towards the floor, and the blades cut right through the blue tiles around her statue.
Something clicks, and something pulls, and instantly the water level starts dropping again. Jon's feet hit the tiles, and he hauls himself up straight, coughing out inhaled water as the pools along the walls start drawing water in instead of pouring it out. The flood from the doorway doesn’t abate, but the water level sinks faster than it can fill the room, and in a handful of moments it’s around Jon's knees.
As carefully as he can, he sets Echo and Fives on their feet, then shakes his hair out of his face and coughs again. The water is warm, but the air down here is cold, and he can already feel the chill setting in.
A moment later, there's a splash beside him, and then a body against his, pressed up against his side. Fives wraps an arm around his waist, even though Jon doesn’t need the support, but when Jon glances up to tell him that, Fives grins at him, bright and pleased.
“It worked,” he says.
Jon can't help it; he chuckles, giving Fives a smile in return, and nods to Echo as he splashes closer. “That was clever,” he says. “I wouldn’t have thought to look at the statues.”
“There's a door now, too,” Echo says, pleased and relieved, and he hooks a hand behind Fives's head, pulls him in. Fives laughs and goes with it. He kisses Echo hard, and something jerks quick and hot in Jon's chest, so sudden that he has to yank his eyes away. A guilty sort of want curls low in his belly, and he curses himself, then deliberately slips out of Fives's grip and steps away, scanning the far wall.
There is a door, and it’s a far better thing to focus on than the way Fives moans, low and soft and unselfconscious.
Instead of letting himself dwell, instead of letting himself want, he turns to Elbry’s statue and bows to it formally, then to Serra’s, in thanks for the rescue. Steps away, minding the wet tiles, and approaches the door carefully. There are steps behind him, a low murmur that he can't quite catch, and Jon has to swallow, has to force himself not to look back and see what Echo and Fives look like when they’ve just been kissed. It’s wrong to want them. It’s wrong to want to receive the same when they’ve already been so kind to him. As if they should be obligated, just because they love each other.
His stomach turns, but—at least the rising guilt helps drown out the desire.
There's another set of stairs leading down, but it’s a shorter staircase this time, straight and simple, and there's a faint glow at the bottom, warm and golden-red. Jon doesn’t quite trust them, or the lack of threat he can feel from them, but one trap right after the other, and then a third in quick succession, surely means they're due at least a little breathing room at this point.
“Light?” Echo says quietly, too close, and his hand brushes Jon's hip as he leans past him to peer down the stairwell. “Is someone still down there?”
He sounds unsettled by the thought, and Jon shakes his head, raising a hand. Breathes in, out again, and says, “I can't sense any lifeforms near us. It should be safe.”
“It’s been hundreds of years,” Fives says, amused, and pushes right in between Echo and Jon, catching himself on Jon's shoulder when Echo shoves back. “How would anyone still be alive down here, Echo?”
Jon hums, doesn’t let himself look back at either of them as he starts forward, taking the stairs with wary steps. “There are still Jedi in the Order who are over five hundred years old,” he says. “Master T'ra Saa is almost eight hundred, and Grandmaster Yoda is nine hundred.”
There's a startled pause, and then Fives squawks, “What?”
“Nine hundred?” Echo repeats, incredulous. “But—he fought Dooku. He kicked Dooku's ass.”
With a soft snort, Jon scrapes his hair out of his face, peering ahead of them through the low arch. “The Jedi Order frowns on speciesism,” he points out.
Fives scoffs. “There’s speciesism and then there's staying a Jedi for nine hundred years,” he says. “Didn’t he get bored? Didn’t he ever want to leave?”
Jon thinks of Fay and has to smile, just a little. “We’re Jedi,” he says. “The Order is home.”
He wasn’t given to the Temple as a child, never knew the crèche the way other padawans did. Dark Woman found him in her wanderings and raised him personally, apart from the Temple, but even so, Jon's never been anything but a Jedi. Has never wanted to be anything different. And from what he knows of Fay, it’s the same for her. Five hundred years and it’s simply made her steadier, more devoted to the Force. And in the end, that’s what matters most, as Jedi. The Force and the tenants of the Order, the will to keep people safe and preserve whatever peace they can. It’s the thread that makes the Order a home, even for Jedi like Jon and Fay and Nico and Knol who never return to Coruscant. A common purpose, a shared belief, and for all that there are a thousand petty differences, the commonality is the most important part.
“I guess,” Fives says slowly, “that I was thinking about it like…the GAR or something.”
Jon shakes his head, glancing around as he passes the narrow archway. The room that opens out around them is smaller than the room above, darker; there's no sunlight down here, but there’s still light. A forge stands on one side of the room, dark and still, but yellow and orange kyber crystals set into sconces on the wall cast their brilliance over the space, and the floor practically radiates warmth.
“Oh,” Echo says, startled. “It’s that Master’s workshop.”
Master Serra was a Sephi, long-lived enough that it likely was hers, Jon thinks. He steps forward, taking in the neat worktables, the low bed in the corner. Everything is remarkably preserved, right down to the robes hung on the walls, and he wonders if there was some sort of stasis field over the place, something that their entrance into the room above disturbed.
“I wonder if there were other ways out of the water room,” he says quietly, and brushes his fingers over a set of tools, bright and unrusted despite the years they must have sat out. “But because we moved the lightsaber and crystal, we got this door.”
“It would make sense,” Fives says with a shrug. “Who’d think to poke at the statue, right? And who would poke at the other one, too, once everything started flooding faster?”
“A very clever trooper,” Jon answers, amused, and Fives grins at him.
Looking amused, Echo rolls his eyes. “It’s warm in there,” he says. “I bet wherever all that hot water came from, it’s warmed by the same thing. We should let our clothes dry here before we move on.”
Jon inclines his head, stripping off his cloak and emptying his pockets. “Will your armor dry?” he asks, concerned, and pulls off his sash, then tosses his tunics next to the cloak. The undershirt follows, because it’s so thoroughly soaked it might as well be transparent anyway, and he strips off his boots, then his breeches, and lays them out as best he can.
There's a strange pause, and when he glances up, both Echo and Fives are watching him.
“Yeah,” Fives says after a moment. “The thermals are good for that, and the plastoid doesn’t pick up a lot of water except in the padding. In this temp it should be dry within an hour or two.”
“Ration break,” Echo says, faintly relieved. “We have extra, Jon. You should eat, too.”
“Thank you,” Jon says, and glances around the room. Takes a step, careful, and then pauses. Looks at the robes on the far wall, and thinks of Master Serra down here, building lightsabers in the warm glow. How long did she continue? How long did she last after they hid the Temple and erased all record of it? Was she the last, or were there more after her who sealed up her workshop, settled matters and kept working right up until the end?
“Is this Jedi Master the one who built the lightsaber you're looking for?” Fives asks, moving past Jon. He tests the bed, then settles down on it, stripped to his underwear and apparently unconcerned about it. Jon's face feels hot, and he deliberately looks away from so much dark skin, scattered with scrapes and bruises but still appealing.
“Yes,” he says, and hopes his voice sounds steadier than it feels. “The crystal she used is…difficult to work with, and rare. Master Elbry found and refined it, and Master Serra constructed a hilt for it. It was one of this Temple’s treasures.”
“At least the Sith never got it,” Fives says, and waves a hand. “Come on, it’s warm but it’s not that warm. Get down here.”
“We’re coming, don’t be impatient,” Echo huffs, equally stripped down to skin, and he takes Jon's elbow as he passes. “Any blankets?”
“Why are you asking me?” Fives protests, shifting over before he bends to search under the bed. It’s a clear invitation, but Jon tries to plant his feet, tries to pull away even so.
It doesn’t work. Echo simply turns, wraps an arm around his waist, and pulls him down between them, sandwiched on the narrow bed with his back to the wall and a body on either side. Jon freezes, not entirely sure what to do, how to react, but before he can Fives makes a sound of success and hauls a thick blanket out from under the cot. There isn't even dust on it, and he shakes it open, then tosses it over them, settling back against Jon's side.
The press of that much skin makes Jon close his eyes, and he has to breathe steadily for a moment as Echo’s hand curls over his thigh. They're so close there's no other option, that’s obvious, and he tries not to twitch as Fives's hand mirrors Echo’s, sliding up his skin to pause at the rough line of a scar.
“You said you were going after the Separatist leaders,” Echo says quietly, like he hardly notices the way he and Jon don’t even have so much as a hair’s breadth of space between them. “Don’t you want to have at least a couple of troopers for something like that? Or even another Jedi?”
Jon hesitates, wondering how to answer. He could say, again, that he’s not command material. Could tell them that he’s on the edge of Dark in a way most Jedi aren’t, and unlike Mace Windu he doesn’t dare channel it. Doesn’t dare do more than acknowledge it and keep moving, wary of its influence. But he already said that, and they didn’t understand.
“I'm…undercover,” he says, which is true enough. Not at the orders of a Council member, but undercover all the same. “Most of the Order thinks I died. It’s best to keep it that way. And if they assigned someone to me, it would raise questions.”
There's a pause, careful, and Echo and Fives trade glances. “Died,” Fives repeats. “You're that far undercover? But—that means you can't go back to Coruscant, or get help from other Jedi. Even if you're in trouble.”
“There are others,” Jon says, uncomfortable. He knew what he was getting into, agreeing with the plan that Knol and Nico and Fay brought him. With the abilities Dark Woman passed on, he could get them off Queyta without Kenobi realizing, fake his own deaths and then help the others fake theirs. Fay finding Maul wasn’t expected, but—it made the whole charade incredibly valuable. They can move undetected now, can operate without anyone knowing, and even the Sith Lord won't be expecting them to reappear when they do.
He was never in contact with other Jedi much as it was. It doesn’t matter.
“How long since you’ve seen them?” Echo asks, frowning. When Jon hesitates, he raises a pointed brow. “That long? But—what about contact? What about having someone to rely on?”
Jon snorts, soft. “I’ve been working in the Outer Rim since I became a Knight,” he says. “Very, very few Jedi ever visit the Rim. That part I'm used to.”
“Still,” Fives says, insistent. “If Echo or I were on our own, it would hurt. Maybe the Jedi aren’t like the clones, but you're still used to growing up right alongside other younglings in the crèche, right—”
“I wasn’t raised in the crèche,” Jon says, and looks away, up at the darkened forge. “My Master found me on a planet in the Rim, when I was an infant, and she brought me up to be her padawan.”
“Oh.” Echo frowns, trading glances with Fives again. “I didn’t think Jedi did that.”
“Most Jedi wouldn’t,” Jon allows, careful of his words. “My Master is…unorthodox. She wanted a padawan who was strong enough to learn the skills she unearthed, and I had potential.”
“And those skills are why you got this mission?” Fives asks. When Jon glances over, Fives is watching him carefully, and his fingers are just a little tighter on Jon's leg. “All those lost abilities you said she found. She taught you, and now you're going to use them against the Seps.”
“Against those who are controlling this war,” Jon says, deliberate. “Most of the lower-level Separatists don’t want to enslave planets, or kill millions. They just want the Senate to hear them. But those above them just want power, or profit.”
There's a pause, careful, and then Echo says, “You're looking for the Sith who infiltrated the Senate.”
Jon goes still, breath tangling in his throat.
Fives snorts, shifting enough that he can look at Jon's face. “Dooku told General Kenobi and General Skywalker,” he says, “when Hondo Ohnaka kidnapped them. We read the report. But nothing ever came out of it, and no one investigated. Not really.”
“Except you're investigating,” Echo finishes, and there's a light in his face, something as intent as a big feline watching its prey wander close, entirely unaware. “You're investigating, and you found who it is, because that’s who you're planning to use this lightsaber on.”
For a long moment, there's nothing Jon can say or do. He looks from Fives to Echo, at a loss for words, and—it wasn’t supposed to be something they could parse out so easily. No one else has managed, but a handful of words and now they know.
“You can't say anything,” he says, rough. “Even when you make it back. Don’t even think about it too often. The Sith has a long reach, and he won't hesitate to kill anyone who he thinks might know.”
“We won't,” Echo says, like that should be a relief, but his voice is grim. “It’s our secret now, too.”
Warning on this chapter for sex pollen of a sort? Kind of?? Emotional manipulation pollen fits better, honestly.
The peace of meditation isn't an easy thing to reach, not with Fives's and Echo’s hands on his skin. Jon's managed meditation under far worse circumstances, but—
Those were bad moments, dangers and injuries and darkness. They weren’t two hearts beating next to him, a temptation beyond Jon's reach.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Fives says quietly, and his fingers curl a little tighter on Jon's thigh, grip until Jon's breath catches. For a moment he can't begin to think what Fives means except for sex, wants to say far too long and reach over, drag Fives in and—
He bleeds that aching edge of want out into the Force, breathes through it until he’s back in control and can focus on what Fives actually means. “My last official mission was four months after the Battle of Geonosis,” he says, though even that is an exaggeration; the Council had called Nico, Knol, and Fay to Queyta, but Jon was only there because the three of them had contacted him after, asked for his help. The Force had wanted him there, so he’d seen no reason to disagree.
“You’ve been undercover for years?” Echo asks, and his hand slides up Jon's arm as he shifts forward, rises slightly like he’s going to stand up and pace until Fives leans across Jon to shove him back down. There's indignation on his face, an edge of offense that’s startling, and he scowls and says, “That’s too long—”
“It’s fine,” Jon says, a little uncomfortable, and looks away. “I never visited the Temple on Coruscant as it was. Being thought dead is…”
Nothing out of the ordinary, he wants to say, but a flicker of something in the Force draws his attention before he can finish. With a frown, he glances up, back towards the stairs that lead into the room above, and then around the workshop. There's nothing that seems visibly different, but—
Along the walls, curled between sconces holding the crystals, are long, looping vines, thin and delicate. The leaves are long and blade-shaped, deep green with violet veining, and there are pale blue blossoms just starting to open, even in the darkness. There's something off about them, something that stands out. He’s seen them before, knows there's something strange about them, but Jon can't remember where he would have encountered them, and he can't even tell if what he’s sensing is a threat.
“Jon?” Fives asks, concerned, and his fingers slide higher, a light brush that makes Jon want to shiver.
“Sorry,” he says, a little rough, and looks away. “What is it?”
“You zoned out,” Fives says, and he’s frowning a little. “Are you okay?”
“I think the sun is going down,” Jon says, as much an excuse as he can offer without outright saying I want you both. “Those flowers—if they're night-blooming, that means we’ve already been down here for eight hours.”
They aren’t night-blooming, but…something else. He knows that, has seen them in a book somewhere before. Read about them, with Dark Woman standing over his shoulder, but he can't for the life of him remember what the entry said.
Echo pauses like he’s calculating. “That makes sense,” he says. “We stayed in that room with the spring for at least six hours while you recovered. I guess all the near-death experiences throw off the sense of time, though.”
Jon can't help but snort. “True enough,” he murmurs, then flicks his fingers. His comm spirals up out of the pocket of his robe, soaring across the room to drop into his hand, and he checks the time. He can't remember the time the sun sets on this planet, but it has been a solid eight hours at least, and there's a blinking light that indicates a missed transmission. Jon calls it up, frowning, and is unsurprised to see Knol's comm code. If it’s been so long, it’s not strange that she’s worried, but she would have to know that the chances of Jon getting a transmission this far underground are slim.
“I thought you said it wasn’t safe to use your comm,” Fives says, raising a brow.
“Outgoing transmissions aren’t,” Jon says. “The only people who comm me have the equipment to keep their sendings safe.” He weighs the comm for a moment, then straps it to his wrist again, not willing to miss another call if Knol tries another time. He probably won't be able to get it, but there's always a chance.
“Right,” Echo says, quiet. “You said there were others. More Jedi people think are dead?”
Jon hesitates. He trusts both Echo and Fives, but at the same time, Knol and Fay and Nico's secrets aren’t his. Fay at least won't want stories of them spread around, even to those Jon would trust with his life, if she can't vet them first.
“Quit prying, Echo,” Fives says lightly, and shifts up, onto his knees. When Jon glances up at him, he catches Jon's chin between his fingers, tilting his head, and Jon's breath tangles hard in his chest. He freezes, but Fives's fingers skim down his throat, light and lingering.
“It looks like someone tried to cut your throat here,” he says, and drags his touch back up again, just a little more pressure behind it. “But they missed.”
“What?” Echo asks, alarmed, and grabs Jon's shoulder. He rises up, leaning right over him, and Jon quickly closes his eyes, tries desperately not to think of anything at all. It’s hard, though, with Echo practically on top of him, Fives still gripping his chin. If Jon twisted, he could pull Echo into his lap, could press his back to Fives's chest. And from there—
He feels raw, oversensitive. Like every inch of skin is desperate for touch, and Echo and Fives are the only ones he wants it from.
“Someone did,” he says, a little ragged, and has to swallow before he can add, “Jango Fett.”
“What,” Fives demands, offended. “Our genetic template did that? When?”
“After my Knighting,” Jon manages, and wants to shudder when Echo’s hand slides around his throat, curves to touch his scar. “I pretended to be a bounty hunter, and we had a mission together. He figured out I was a Jedi at the end.”
“And then tried to kill you,” Echo concludes, frowning. He and Fives exchange glances, and after a moment Echo reaches up, touches the place where the scar cuts up Jon's jaw to skim his cheek. “What, were you two sleeping together?”
“No,” Jon protests, though he can't quite bring himself to pull away. “He was just…aggravated.”
“This looks like more than aggravation,” Fives says frankly, and slides a hand down Jon's arm, finding his hand and squeezing gently. “If it had been half a centimeter deeper, I’d be dead right now.”
Echo winces, clearly uncomfortable with the idea, and leans in, pressing his forehead to Jon's again. Jon stills, hardly daring to blink as Echo’s breath becomes a tangible thing, warm against his cheek and lips.
“I know I already said thank you for saving Fives,” he says quietly, “but I mean it. Thank you.”
“You’ve both saved me in return,” Jon says, and dares to lean into the touch just a little. Not a Keldabe kiss, just an expression of emotion, the closest Echo has to an outlet right now, but—he’ll take it greedily and gratefully. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without your help. The Force put you in my path for a reason, and I…regret the harm you suffered, but I'm grateful for you being here.”
“What harm?” Fives jokes, and his arms slide around Jon's shoulders, chin coming to rest on Jon's collarbone as he slides halfway between Jon and the wall. “This is way less stressful than the average mission with General Skywalker. Or General Kenobi.”
Jon tries for words, a response, but can't find it. Fives is pressed up along his back, holding on to him, and Jon wants to lean back into him, wants to jerk away. But even if he was going to try, Echo is right in front of him, on his knees and straddling one of Jon's legs, his bulk penning Jon in.
“We make a good team,” Echo says, and his hand settles over Fives's where it’s resting over Jon's heart. Bare skin is too much, and Jon ducks his head, trying to hide his face, but there's no concealing hood, nowhere to go. Just Echo and Fives, surrounding him. Used to touch in a way Jon isn't, free with it in a way that’s almost torture when he can't do anything but look—
Echo’s hand covers his, pulls it up. Presses it to Echo’s own chest, and he says, low, soft, “Shrapnel. The last time we were with the 501st. Kix managed to save me, but he was swearing louder than I’d ever heard him before. This was worse. But you still saved us.”
The skin under Jon's fingertips is pebbled, pocked. The scars curl across Echo’s torso, just missing his heart, and Jon can't help but drag his fingers over them, slow and careful. Glances up at Echo’s face to make sure there’s no protest—
Echo kisses him. It’s sudden and hard and deep, and Jon jerks, can't help the noise that tears from his throat. His hands go tight around Echo’s ribs, and he wants to haul him closer but—
Fives. Fives, who’s right behind him, whose partner just started kissing a stranger.
Except Fives laughs, warm in Jon's ear, and his hands flatten against Jon's chest, drag down. He tugs Jon closer, fully covering his back, and he’s hot, his mouth is hot as he kisses the scar on Jon's throat. His thumbs skim the line of Jon's underwear, teasing just beneath it, and Jon twitches, sucks in a sharp inhale and drags his mouth away from Echo’s to gasp for breath.
Instantly, Fives is pushing him around, toppling him back practically into Echo’s lap and curling over him. He steals his own kisses, light and teasing, slanting his mouth across Jon's again and again until Jon feels drunk with it, scattered bits of heat and want that are just enough to wind him up.
“Kriff,” Echo says, and his hand curls in Jon's hair, pulls just a little tight until Jon groans. He tips his head back into the pressure of it, and Echo hums, gives a gentle tug.
“Figuring it out, Jon?” he asks, but he’s smiling, bright and pleased, and Jon can't help the small sound that breaks from his throat, the way his hands go to Fives's hips as he gets a knee between Jon's legs.
“I think you're getting there,” Fives agrees, wicked, and settles down fully on top of Jon, elbows braced on either side of his head. Smiling, he leans down, takes another kiss, but it’s deeper this time, slower, and Echo’s thigh is right behind Jon's head, Echo’s hand is still in his hair. It keeps him from moving, from deepening the kiss as Fives presses into his mouth, and he can't do anything but take it, let Fives overwhelm him with slow, deep kisses, one after another, until his head is spinning and his hands are tangled in Fives's hair and there's nothing left in his head but the heavy, breathless hum of arousal.
“Fives,” Echo says, a complaint, and Fives chuckles against Jon's mouth, nips at his lower lip to make him shiver and then finally lifts his head.
“Yeah?” he asks, cocky and more than a little smug, which Jon would be more annoyed by if he weren’t so breathless that it’s probably deserved. “Something you wanted, Echo?”
“Yeah, and you're lying on him,” Echo retorts. It makes Jon swallow, and he wants to ask why, how, but Fives is shifting off of him, and Echo is hauling him up, practically shoving him back against the wall. His hands find Jon's, fingers tangling, and he presses Jon's hands up against the wall, slides in and shoves him up bodily against the stone. He’s not smiling, but there’s a light in his eyes that’s all bright humor, all want, and when he leans forward, he nips at Jon's jaw, drags his teeth lightly up the line of it until Jon chokes on a moan, and chuckles.
“You're so kriffing hot,” Echo says, and he’s hard, hard and pressed up against Jon, holding him still as he lays kisses across his jaw, down his throat. Jon wants to grab, to haul him up until he can fit their mouths together, but Echo has him pinned and he can't move. He’s dizzy with want, stupid with it—
When he opens his eyes again, the flowers curling up the wall are right above him, the blooms heavy and fragrant, and Jon freezes.
Trap, he thinks, dazed. It’s a trap.
“Wait,” he rasps, and turns his hands, catching Echo’s wrists. Pushes, and Echo pauses instantly, breath shuddering out hot against Jon's skin. For a long moment, he doesn’t move, but—
“Wait,” Echo repeats, and raises his head. His dark eyes are blown black, and his breath shakes, but something bewildered is slipping across his face, startled and uncertain. “It’s…”
“Hard to stop,” Jon confirms, quiet, and glances over to where Fives is frozen, eyes already narrowing in calculation. Carefully, gently, he presses Echo back another few inches, then slides out from beneath him and off the bed. He stumbles a step away, closing his eyes, and knows the one test that won't fail. Thinks of Dark Woman, thinks of the first time she scared him as a child, the mercilessness in her eyes as she forced him back in training, purple lightsaber a blur of threat and—
The fear that rises is gutting, too strong, too sharp. Jon traps a cry of pure terror behind his teeth, feels his knees give way and hits the ground, breath rasping hard and harsh in his throat. Strong emotion transferred into an even stronger response, old fear turned into something immediate and vicious.
A steady, burning want turned into overwhelming desire.
Jon breathes through it, focuses on peace. Releases the fear and the arousal in equal measure back into the Force, bleeds them out of himself until his heartbeat steadies, and then lifts his head.
“Jon?” Fives asks, and he’s kneeling a few feet away, looking worried. Still hard, an obvious bulge against pale fabric, outlined by damp cloth, and the sight makes Jon close his eyes, control himself carefully for a moment. He wants to grab Fives's thighs, press his face to Fives’s cock and turn his head and—
It’s a rising spiral of desire, and even so much as looking at Fives is making it worse. Jon ducks his head, curls his hands against the warm stone, and thinks of finding balance. Thinks of himself as a scale, too much emotion on one side and too little on the other, and tries to center himself at the fulcrum point where both start to tip.
It’s harder now than it has been in a very long time.
Emotion, yet peace. Ignorance, yet knowledge. Passion, yet serenity. Chaos, yet harmony.
“It’s the flowers,” he says. “They're the next trap. We’re in the middle of it.”
“The flowers?” Echo asks, incredulous. He rises to his feet, shooting them a wary glance where they curl down above the bed, and takes a handful of deliberate steps towards the center of the room.
“Whatever you feel, they redouble it,” Jon says, and slowly rises to his feet. Reaches for the Force, feeling out its edges, and then raises his hands. The more pollen the flowers put out, the worst the response will get, and he can't let it. Won't, so—
Sharp, quick, he closes his hands, and all around the room the blossoms snap shut. Like time speeded up, they crinkle closed, droop, still. Waiting for the next time someone enters, Jon thinks, and grimaces.
There's a slow breath, and Fives rises to his feet. “No wonder it’s warm,” he says, a little grim. “After the water, you want to stop here. That’s the point.”
“And anyone looking for something would explore the room,” Echo agrees. He catches Fives's elbow, holding on, and Fives pulls him in, lets Echo drop his head on his shoulder and lean there for a long moment, arms loosely curled around him as they gather themselves.
Jon looks away, self-disgust a wave rising up to drown him. Grits his teeth, turns away, steps forward to give them space, and—
They wanted him, but not like that. A little bit of attraction, maybe, or a stray thought. Not something to act on, or to face like that.
His hands curl into fists, and he swallows, breathes out. Releases the shame and anger and guilty little bits of sadness into the Force, then heads over to pull on his clothes. They're still wet, but better than bare skin right now. He can't face Fives and Echo without some kind of barrier right now.
“We should move on,” he says, and pulls on his boots, then turns. Realizes, belatedly, that he isn't the only one with wet gear and grimaces just a little. “If your thermals are dry enough. This isn't…it’s not a safe spot.”
Determinedly, Fives nods, and he hooks an arm around Echo, pulls him towards their disassembled armor. “How is this even a trap?” he asks, almost plaintive. “It’s just flowers, how come—”
“Because it’s just flowers,” Jon says quietly, and hesitates. But—Echo and Fives felt it, and have to deal with it, and it’s not right to keep his distance when they're suffering, still reeling from the emotional shift. Crouching down, he collects their boots, the thermals, and rises, offering the undersuits to them. “Jedi feel things, but we control extremes of emotion, control ourselves. No Sith would bother. Most of them feel rage, or fear, or hunger, and let it run rampant. As soon as they stepped into this room…”
“Murder spree,” Echo says, sounding almost awed. “That’s…ruthlessly clever.”
Jon can't help a faint, wry smile. “You are your own undoing in here,” he says, and looks away. Wants to think of Echo pinning him, the breadth of him, the strength, the gentleness in the way he immediately let go even with the flowers’ influence, and has to close his eyes for a moment. “Nothing implanted, no foreign emotions. Just your own mind turning against you.”
A touch. Light, careful, but Echo’s fingers curl around his elbow and hold. “When you fell,” he says, eyes on Jon, “that wasn’t…”
“Fear,” Jon says simply. “I tested it with a memory.”
Echo’s grip tightens, just faintly. “You're all right now?” he asks, frowning, and Fives is watching too, just behind him, with dark eyes and clear concern.
They're kind, Jon thinks, and lets himself smile, just a little. Turns his hand, gripping Echo’s forearm, and says, “I'm fine. But we should go.”
“Right.” Fives starts strapping his armor on with the ease of familiarity, then picks up his blaster and slings it over his shoulder as Echo moves to do the same. Casting a look around the room, he asks, “How long until the flowers are out of our system?”
Jon can't remember precisely; the only place he’s ever encountered mention of them is in some of Dark Woman’s old texts, found by explorers in a certain system in the Unknown Regions. But with the blossoms closed, and the air moving through the room, it shouldn’t take long.
“Soon,” he says, and tries to make it a comfort. “I already feel more balanced.”
Fives smiles, quick and warm. “I don’t think we should take advice from someone who just made themselves collapse in terror to test a theory,” he jokes, though there's something serious in his eyes. “What kind of Jedi are you?”
The bad kind, Jon doesn’t say. If I were the good kind, I wouldn’t want you so much.
“It was the easiest way,” he says instead, and heads for the far side of the workshop. The door stands open, another staircase leading down in a tight spiral, and Jon curls his fingers in the soggy edges of his cloak, not fond of the look of it. Everything dark in this Temple has become something ominous, and it’s not a fact that sits well, even compared to other abandoned Temples Jon has visited.
This was supposed to be a home, and it’s become a war zone. He understands the need to hide away the Temple’s dangerous weapons, but—surely this went just a little too far.
“Jon,” Echo says quietly, and Jon very consciously doesn’t stiffen. Turns, instead, and finds Echo right behind him, holding dark brown cloth in his hands. When Jon blinks, he snorts, holding it out, and says, “It’s the same color as yours, and it looks about the same size. And it’s dry.”
Something curls in Jon's chest, one precise turn that echoes through his body, and he reaches out, takes the cloak from Echo’s hands. It’s heavier than his, which was made for a jungle planet; this one was undoubtedly used in the surrounding mountains. There's no trace of wear, though, and the weight will be welcome this far down.
“Thank you,” Jon says, a little rough, and strips off his, pulling the dry one on in its place. It settles around him, slightly larger than his old one but far less patched, and Jon draws the hood up to test its depth, feeling a little more at ease with the familiar drape around him.
Echo smiles at him, though he doesn’t reach out to touch. “Fewer arrow holes,” he says, and when Jon pulls a face, he laughs a little.
“You wear different colors from other Jedi,” Fives says, and he knocks Echo’s shoulder gently as he comes to a stop beside him. It’s an easy motion, clearly meant to be a comfort, and Jon can't stop the guilt that rises again, eating like acid through his veins. He looks away.
“They're mine,” he says simply. Dark Woman certainly never cared, after all, and when Knol had brought Jon his first set of new robes as a Knight, they’d been darker than most, all browns instead of the usual creams and tans. They're harder to find, but—
Well. Jon tends to patch his own clothes anyway, and he likes them. different, subtly, and a reminder of Knol's gift.
“Like our armor,” Fives says, thoughtful, and steps forward, clapping Jon lightly on the shoulder and then letting his hand rest there as he leans forward, peering down the staircase. “What next? More water, you think? A rockslide? Another arrow trap?”
Jon grimaces. “The vault, hopefully,” he says, though he knows with an instinctive sort of awareness that they aren’t nearly deep enough into the mountain yet. There are more levels to go.
“It’s cute to see you so optimistic,” Fives says dryly, but even as he says it, he glances back at Echo, like he’s making sure it’s okay.
Jon's ribs ache like he got kicked, and he turns his face away. Breathes in, breathes out, and reaches for equilibrium, ease, acceptance.
Emotion, yet peace. Ignorance, yet knowledge. Passion, yet serenity. Chaos, yet harmony.
Four pillars for a Jedi to build on. Four pieces of the mantra that Jon learned from the first moment he could speak. The reminder shouldn’t be necessary, but this entire mission has been something uncertain and unsettling. A test from the Force, maybe, or a reminder.
“Stay behind me,” Jon says quietly, and keeps his steps light as he starts downward. The light from the workshop illuminates the first spiral, and then there's another kyber crystal set into the wall beyond the curve of the stone, pale gold in the gloom. Its glow is soft, not quite enough to see clearly but sufficient to darken the shadows into a mass that shifts as they pass, and Jon eyes it warily, skirts the edge of the light with care. Echo and Fives do the same, quiet and alert, and Jon considers for a moment telling them to go back up and wait where it’s safe, either in the water room or the workshop now that the flowers are closed, but—
That’s a thought driven by emotion without reason attached, and it’s not right. Jon brushes his fingers over the dry fabric of the cloak Echo gave him, and thinks how kind they are, the two of them. Kind and quick and clever, and that’s a good half of the reason it aches so much to have had something and then lost it.
Except he never had it at all. It was a reaction to the flowers, and Jon can accept that.
He steels himself, glancing up towards the bottom of the staircase, and then stops dead, something cold curling down his spine.
White hair colored red by the kyber stone beside her, Dark Woman rests her hands on her belt and raises a brow at him. “Padawan,” she says, the same languid, expectant tone that’s always slid right past Jon's sense and hit something instinctive. “It took you long enough.”
The light of the red stone makes his head hurt. Dark Woman’s stare is cool, like she’s been waiting, and Jon's heart is beating just a little faster than it should be.
“Master,” Jon says, and swallows. Wants to take a step back, but Echo and Fives are coming down the steps behind them and he doesn’t know what she thinks of clones, or of non-Jedi this deep in such a sacred Temple. Steps forward instead, taking the last few stairs in two quick leaps and landing in front of her. Immediately, he bows, hears a quiet snort above him, and feels her hand settle on the back of his head.
“Always so impatient,” she says, and clicks her tongue. “I thought I taught you better than that, boy.”
“Sorry, Master.” Jon swallows, then straightens, looks at her. “Why are you here, Master?”
Dark Woman rolls her eyes. “Master Ven’nari finally deigned to contact me,” she says. “Come on, we don’t have long. It’s this way.” Turning, she grabs Jon by the shoulder, and the familiar motion is enough to make him flinch—
The wall opens, the red kyber crystal sinking back as a door swings open, and stone rumbles. At the same moment, there’s a shout, strangely muffled, and Jon wants to turn, wants to look, because there's something—
But Dark Woman steps into the shadows, boots ringing on the stone. “Padawan,” she says, sharp as a knife. “Come.”
Jon's head aches, but that bark of command is one he obeyed every day for almost eighteen years. He follows it now, too, and doesn’t allow himself to waver as he walks into the darkness after her.
The wall groans closed behind them, and then there's no need to even think about looking back. Just a red glow in the shadows, and Dark Woman’s familiar figure in front of him, leading the way.
Fives staggers to a halt at the bottom of the stairs just as the wall swings shut.
“No,” he snarls, slamming a fist against the stone, but it doesn’t budge. The strange, colorless kyber crystal set into it shimmers, then goes dark, and Echo curses. He leaps down the last few steps, landing behind Fives, and comes to help him shove at the wall.
If there's any sort of catch, any sort of secret lever, though, Fives can't see it.
“Kriff,” Echo mutters, and shoves shoulder-first at it, slams the heel of his palm into the stone. “Kriff. Jon!”
There's no answer. There aren’t even echoes.
“He didn’t hear us,” Fives says, and that has to be the explanation. It’s the only one that makes sense. Jon's proved over and over that he won't leave them behind, even when it’s dangerous for him. The idea that he’d just—walk away, or something—
“Right,” Echo says, and his mouth has that same stubborn slant that Fives knows so well. “Even if he was upset about the flower thing, he wouldn’t just leave. It must be another trap.”
Fives tries not to let his worry show too clearly. Another trap that Jon wasn’t able to avoid, didn’t notice or couldn’t fight against, and that’s a bad sign. If he couldn’t shake it, and it comes for them, it’s going to take them a hell of a lot to avoid it.
Reaching out, Fives taps two fingers against Echo’s gauntlet, and when he turns, Fives holds out his hand with a raised brow. It makes Echo pause, then snort, and without hesitation he wraps his hand around Fives's, holding tightly.
“No wandering,” he agrees, and looks back at the wall, frown flickering to life.
“When we find Jon, we should put a collar on him or something,” Fives jokes. Kind of. He means it a little more than he probably should. “Maybe that will keep him from disappearing on us.”
Echo swallows, glancing at him, and the slant of his thoughts is clear. They're definitely not just about keeping Jon out of trouble. Or, well, if they are, they're about keeping him out of trouble by making sure he’s thoroughly occupied with other things. When Fives raises a brow, Echo huffs, looking vaguely guilty but also mulish. “Let’s find him first,” he says. “Then we can talk about tying him up, with him.”
Fives hesitates, glancing back up towards the workshop. “He does want us,” he says, and it’s not quite a question, because the sense-memory of Jon under his hands is a vivid thing, makes that same sort of desperate desire sink through his stomach even outside of the flowers’ influence. Jon pressed up into his kisses, clung to Echo, had to tear himself away from them. Even if some of that was the flowers, not all of it was.
Echo takes a breath, turns his hand. He pulls Fives against him, tucking his nose under Fives's ear, and Fives leans back into the familiar breadth of him, hooks a hand over his hip and rests his temple against Echo’s forehead.
“He does,” Fives repeats, because Echo needs to hear it. Echo likes guidelines, likes regulations. Likes to bend them, too, but he likes the structure of them. Fives is the one who’s good at certainty and conviction. “We need to find Jon before he gets hurt, and make sure he knows that we want him back.”
“I thought we made it pretty clear,” Echo says, a little dry, and Fives thinks of Jon pressed between them, wanting, hungry, and grins.
“We can make it clearer,” he says, maybe a little cocky, and shifts. “Come on. Think we can find another way into that room?”
“Let’s try,” Echo says determinedly, and pulls away, though he keeps their hands locked together. “Jon was saying these were all traps that needed cooperation to beat them, right?”
Fives goes to agree, then pauses. “The last one wasn’t,” he points out after a moment, but he moves to help as Echo starts dragging touches over the wall, the kyber crystal, the stairs around them, looking for a hidden mechanism. “The last one was emotion and control.”
“Jon was being controlled,” Echo says quietly. “He must have been. He wouldn’t have left us.”
“He wouldn’t,” Fives agrees, and that at least he doesn’t even hesitate to say. Jon trusts them; the arrow trap hallway proved that without a shadow of a doubt. Jon would have drowned himself keeping them above the water in the water room, too. He cares about them a hell of a lot, even for a Jedi.
Fives has seen some of the stunts General Skywalker has pulled, when Commander Tano or his droid or Senator Amidala are in danger. And he gets why all of them are valuable, and need to be saved, but—
Maybe it’s because Fives is an ARC, who serves with other generals when the need arises. Maybe it’s because he’s been privy to the planning in their missions, or lack thereof, or just because he and Echo started off outside the 501st and got pulled in after Rishi, after loosing Droidbait and Cutup and Hevy. But sometimes, it feels like General Skywalker doesn’t see the clones under his command as men, just as soldiers. Disposable soldiers he can risk in the name of saving those closest to him, and no matter how much Fives likes General Skywalker as a person, as someone who shares tall tales about himself and laughs and is always down for a fight, sometimes it just…rubs him the wrong way, that’s all.
Every time General Skywalker tells us that absolutely everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about, someone dies. He told Jon that, and it was halfway to a joke, but—Fives meant it, too. Whether General Skywalker is just overconfident, or whether he just doesn’t care enough to be certain, he puts his men at risk even when the chances of success are slim and the gain from the victory is equally thin.
Jon doesn’t do that. In the closing hallway, in the water room, on the falling staircase, he risked himself to save them. And even the fact that he stopped in the middle of a vital mission to save Fives's life, the life of one clone when the fate of the Republic was at stake—well.
Echo might be thinking about how to get Jon to stick around briefly once they’re done here, but Fives is trying to figure out how to get Jon to take them with him when he goes.
It makes sense. They're ARCs, they move around between divisions and units as needed, so they're used to changing missions on short notice. And Jon needs them, more than just right now. If they can convince him to take them—
Well. They’ve probably already been declared dead, or at least missing in action. It’s a good way to go undercover, given how Jon is supposed to be dead, too. Captain Rex will worry, but they can send him a message, let him know that not everything is as it seems, that they got tapped for something top secret. And then they can stay with Jon.
That seems like the most important thing, right now.
“Maybe there's another entrance,” he suggests, after the second time they’ve tried coming down the stairs to see if they can trigger the trap themselves. “Around the corner, or something.”
“Maybe,” Echo allows, and his hand is still tight around Fives's, hasn’t wavered. “What if…this is the kind of thing only someone who’s Force-sensitive would trigger?”
“Makes sense,” Fives says with a shrug, and tucks his helmet under his arm, switching on the lights. It feels weird wearing it when Echo has lost his own, even if Echo didn’t mark his. “We can find a way in, though. Even if we have to blast through the wall or something.”
“No blasting through walls,” Echo says, faintly pained. “With our luck, we’d probably bring the whole temple down on top of us.”
Probably, Fives will admit. He still snorts, tugging Echo down the hall and left around the sharp corner. The hallway continues on for a few meters, then turns left again, and Fives slows, frowning.
“It cuts right around the room Jon went into,” he says.
Echo is frowning, too, and he rounds the next corner, then stops dead.
“Kriff,” he says, dismayed.
“What the hell is this supposed to be?” Fives asks, bewildered, as he stares out across a wide, high-ceilinged room with what can't be anything but a maze filling its expanse. There's sunlight, and cold air, and a door in the wall on the left that’s standing open.
A touch grimly, Fives looks at the open door, then over at Echo, only to find him looking back with resignation on his face. “Jon's probably somewhere in there,” Echo says. “If something’s controlling him, something that only works on Force-sensitives, and it led him right through that room and out into the maze…”
Fives thinks of Jon wandering, dazed, confused, lost, out in the middle of that tangle of stone passageways, and something deep in his chest twists. “We need to find him,” he says. “He can't have gotten that far, it’s only been a few minutes.” They wasted some time trying to get into the room, or reactivate the trap, but—they can move fast when they need to. Finding Jon will just be a matter of retracing his steps.
Echo hesitates, though. He looks at the steps leading down to the entrance of the maze, then at the tops of the walls that make it up, too narrow to stand on even for a Jedi. If they had their jetpacks it would be one thing, but—
Well. If they’d been wearing jetpacks, they might never have met Jon at all, and Fives will take the almost-fatal injury and this whole barrage of ridiculous traps over not meeting their ridiculous Jedi, honestly.
“This is a trap for Force-users,” Echo says slowly, and glances down at their joined hands. “There were the teamwork traps, and then the emotion traps, and this one…we’re not Jedi. We’re not even close.”
Fives can see where he’s coming from, but at the same time— “The hallway led around the room,” he points out, and—something that’s been bothering him from the beginning resurfaces. “The stair trap, with the gaps we had to cross—any Jedi or Sith could have gotten through easily.”
With a frown, Echo considers this. “Jon said it was to keep the foot soldiers out,” he says. “Anyone without a jetpack would have fallen or gotten stranded.”
“Yeah,” Fives says in agreement, and grins at him. “But a Jedi would have lifted their soldiers across, and the Sith would have left them behind.”
He can see the moment when Echo gets it, the way his eyes widen. “We’re the way out,” he says, and his hand tightens on Fives's. “We’re the key. We’re not Force-sensitive, so the trap won't get us.”
“Exactly,” Fives says, and maybe he’s wrong, but it makes sense. All the other traps needed at least a bit of Force-sensitivity to get through, so they were clearly built with Jedi in mind. But this last one—it never triggered, no matter what Fives and Echo did. It only caught Jon, and drew him away, and left them a clear path around the spot where he was taken. Why add an extra corridor if not to give a regular person a way around the trap?
The Sith wouldn’t have bothered to get regular soldiers like Fives and Echo this deep into the temple. Even if they had managed to avoid all the other traps, there's no way they would have dragged a squad of normal people along with them, protected them from danger, kept them alive until they hit this trap. Only a Jedi would have done that, and a Jedi did.
With a sound of relief, Echo leans over, grabbing Fives's chin and dragging him in. Fives goes with a laugh, and the collision of their mouths is messy, rushed, relieved. Echo presses his thumb to Fives's tattoo, and Fives curls his hand around the back of Echo’s neck, and when they finally break apart Fives is breathing just a little too hard, his lips a little bruised. Echo is a good kisser. It’s one of those things Fives would object to more if he didn’t benefit from it so much.
“Kriff, you do have a brain,” Echo says, but he’s smiling, and the warmth in his eyes is a familiar, fond thing.
Fives elbows him hard in the side, right below his belt. “A better one that you, since I don’t just use mine for backtalk and picking fights,” he says.
Echo huffs, like that’s not the absolute truth. “I don’t pick fights,” he lies. It’s blatantly a lie. Echo picks fights with anyone he thinks is in the wrong, and doesn’t even hesitate. “Come on, how about we go show off your big brain to our Jedi. He’ll probably be very impressed.”
As long as Jon's okay, everything will be fine, Fives tells himself, and smirks at Echo. “Impressed enough to lose his clothes again?”
From the look on Echo’s face, he’s remembering precisely what Jon looked like when he stripped down, all the scars and the broad shoulders and the muscle. Fives looked, too; Jon is a big man, and he’s not precisely handsome with his strange, pale eyes and his crooked nose, but he’s unfairly attractive even so. Fives kind of wants to pin Jon in between himself and Echo, see how much Jon can take. See how much he wants that they can give him, and—
Hopefully it’s everything. Fives really, really hopes he wants everything.
“Come on,” he says, amused, and hip-checks Echo forward towards the stairs. “Time to go get lost in a maze. You got any string with you or something?”
Echo pauses, giving the maze a speculative look, and then glances back up the corridor. “What do you want to bet there are shards of kyber crystal up in that workshop?” he asks. “They should be plenty bright enough for us to notice if we drop them behind us.”
“Guess I'm not the only one with a brain,” Fives says, grinning. “Sounds good to me.”
“I've been thinking,” Fives says, dropping a shard of crystal at the edge of the next opening.
“Oh no,” Echo says, deadpan.
Fives punches him in the shoulder, then benevolently decides to ignore that and forges on. “I've been thinking, the war’s going to be over at some point. Probably soon if Jon can get the lightsaber he needs and kill the Sith.”
Echo raises a brow at him, but doesn’t stop walking, steps careful on the stone. It’s inlaid with patterns of white and green, swirls and branching fractals, and Fives doesn’t trust it at all. There are probably dozens of traps waiting to be sprung; they just haven’t had enough bad luck to hit them yet.
“The war won't end for a while, even after that,” Echo says, and there’s something quiet and tired in his voice that means he’s thinking about Droidbait and Cutup and Hevy. “But—maybe people will be willing to talk, if all the leaders are gone.”
“Yeah.” Fives doesn’t let himself dwell on the sight of Droidbait, sprawled still on the ground. Just one more casualty in an attack, just one more number recorded. It feels fitting that when Hevy blew up the base, Droidbait went up with him. Not a planned pyre, but—Droidbait would have approved. He loved Hevy.
“But,” Fives says, and drops another crystal when Echo makes a right turn. “Afterwards. There will be a lot of clones, and the Republic probably won't want to keep feeding us.”
Echo grimaces. “We’ll be lucky if they keep feeding us ten minutes after a peace treaty is signed,” he says, wry, because they’ve both been on Coruscant, have both dealt with senators. When planets are threatened, the senators are more than happy to throw clones at the problem, but as soon as the threat is gone, they're back to credit-pinching.
“Most of us will stick with the Jedi,” Fives says, and knows he’s right without even having to think about it. They were made for the Jedi. The Jedi are theirs. He can't even begin to imagine Lightning Squadron leaving General Windu, or the SCUBA troopers leaving General Fisto. Even after the fighting is over, they’ll have to pry Commander Cody away from General Kenobi with a crowbar. “But the Jedi can't just take on a couple million people without warning.”
“You’ve really been thinking about this,” Echo observes, and scowls at the dead end that suddenly looms in front of them. “Kriff.”
With a grimace, Fives backtracks, picking up the crystal he dropped and taking the left turn instead. “Of course I have. Haven’t you? We’re all Mandalorian; maybe some of us will retire and start farms or something, but most of us are going to keep fighting. And so many Jedi have died that they're going to need a hell of a lot of help to go back to normal.”
“I always just assumed we’d stay with the Jedi,” Echo admits, tipping one shoulder in a shrug. At the next turn, he pauses, and Fives goes quiet for a moment as they both listen, but—if there's any sign of Jon, they can't hear it.
“But there are only a few thousand Jedi,” Fives points out. “If we all try to stay, and the Republic stops helping, they won't have any way to feed us, or anywhere to put us.”
“Yeah,” Echo says, a little grim. At the next branching path, he sidesteps one of the crystals they previously dropped, takes the corridor it doesn’t mark instead with steady steps. “So what’s your point?”
Fives opens his mouth the answer, then stops short. Echo almost crashes into him, but before he can protest, Fives grabs his arm and points down the narrow hall. There's a comm unit on the ground, light blinking, and it’s far too new to fit with this ancient Temple.
“That’s Jon's,” he says. “It has to be.”
Echo curses, picking it up, then glances towards the ceiling. “It’s getting a signal,” he says. Hesitates, and—
“No,” Fives says quietly. “He said it’s not safe.”
Echo grimaces, but slides the comm into one of his belt pouches. “I know,” he says. “I wouldn’t have.”
Gently, Fives bumps their pauldrons together. “I know. Just reminding you before that big brain ran away with you.”
Echo rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling a little. “Whoever Jon’s working with, I hope they don’t need him immediately,” he says, and glances ahead of them. “We must be getting closer, though. Crystals holding?”
Fives checks the bag. “So far. Half left.” And—he understands Echo’s urge to call for help, to comm the generals and get them down here, but the urge to trust Jon is stronger. He’s already trusted them with himself so many times, in ways Jedi usually don’t, and Fives just—wants to hold that trust. Wants to keep it.
More than his fear that they won't find Jon, more than his worry about this mission, more than his regret for leaving the rest of Torrent to think they're dead, he wants to have faith. Maybe it’s not faith in the Force like Jon has, but it’s faith in Jon, and surely that’s the next best thing.
“Good.” Echo curls a hand around his wrist, gripping for a moment, and says again, “I wouldn’t have commed anyone.”
“Of course not,” Fives says, and knows that immediately and without hesitation. “You trust him, too.”
“He saved you.” Echo’s voice is raw, and he tightens his grip, meets Fives's eyes. “I thought you were dead, Fives. I thought no one was coming and I was going to have to sit there and watch you bleed out.”
They hadn’t even been the ones to set off the mine. A battle droid fell into the crater as they were dealing with a couple of spider droids, had tripped right over the charge and blown them all to hell. Fives had felt his armor give way, had felt the hit, had felt them fall, and the last thing he’d heard was Echo yelling his name.
And then Jon, curled over him, pale eyes and dark hair and hands that were so hot they burned, putting him back together.
Fives is just another clone. He’s a man, not a number, but—there are millions of clones, and they’re just soldiers. The Jedi do what they can to keep them safe, but Jon paused a mission that could save the galaxy, put it at risk just so he could save Fives's life.
That’s a hell of a lot to wrap his head around, honestly.
“You didn’t,” Fives says, and meets Echo’s eyes. “You didn’t have to.”
“No,” Echo agrees, and his smile is crooked. “Because of Jon. So let’s go save him back.”
“The Force would make this easier,” Fives says, though he hardly means the complaint. When Echo follows the turn of the path, he marks it, then hurries to keep up, skimming his hand along the wall. “Is it just me or is this place getting darker?”
“It’s not just you,” Echo says, and glances upwards, expression slanting towards grim. “I think the sun’s going down.”
And then they’ll be stuck wandering this maze in the pitch dark, with only Fives's helmet lights and the vague hope of finding Jon to go on. Fives pulls a face, looking up at the distant ceiling just as he reaches the next corner—
Under his hand, something clicks.
Fives has just long enough to feel a flare of deep-seated horror, a wash of resignation, and then the wall he’s leaning on moves. The whole section of it tilts, perfectly silent, and spins, and it knocks Fives right through the gap it makes and out the other side as he yelps.
“Fives!” Echo says loudly, alarmed and annoyed in equal measure, as Fives hits the far wall and bounces off. Behind him, the wall clicks closed, and Fives can hear Echo banging at it, worried and frustrated.
There's…not actually anything wrong, though.
Fives straightens slowly, blinking at the perfectly normal section of the maze he’s standing in. Instead of green and white tiles on the floor, there are bronze and blue, which he hasn’t seen before, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of other difference.
“I'm fine, Echo,” Fives says, pitched to carry. “It was the stone below the one with the scuff on it, at elbow-height.”
There's a pause, then a rough breath, and a moment later a click. The wall spins, and Echo ducks through before the back half of the wall can knock him off his feet. He leaves it to spin shut, grabbing Fives's arm, and Fives leans in first, bumps their foreheads together in a brief Keldabe kiss, and then straightens.
“I think it’s a different route,” he says, pointing at the tiles. “Some sort of alternate path you can only get to if you know the trick.”
Echo frowns, crouching down to press his fingers to the tiles. “We’re not trying to find a new route, though,” he says. “Just Jon.”
“Yeah, but once we do find him, we’re going to need a way out,” Fives says, and approaches the swinging wall. He finds the right brick after a moment, pressing it, and Echo catches his arm and pulls him back through as it swings out.
The wall clicks closed, and all around them, stone rumbles.
“Kriff,” Echo says in dismay, and Fives grabs his hand, hauls him back, and ducks, just as the wall ahead of them moves like a vast piece a jigsaw, sliding sideways with a grinding roar. It sails through a gap that opens, slams into another piece and goes still, just as two more sections of wall turn sharply, rotating and thudding together. All around them stone is shaking, the maze is rearranging, and Fives thinks of Jon left on his own, wandering under some sort of outside control, not able to get out of the way and wants to scream—
And then, with one last thundering slide, the maze goes still.
“Karking hell,” Fives says, straightening, and it feels like his heart is lodged in his throat. “What was that?”
Ahead of them in the growing darkness, a colorless crystal flickers, set into the floor.
“Nothing good,” Echo says grimly, and glances back and forth. “That’s a long hallway without any turns for this to still be a maze.”
Fives eyes the wall, which is at least four meters tall and narrows to a fine point, and surrenders the momentary thought of climbing up to look. “There was a crystal like that back at the end of the stairs,” he points out. Right when Jon disappeared, he caught a glimpse of it glowing, but it didn’t seem to do anything. At least not to them. “We haven’t passed any others, though.”
“Why would the maze lead us to Jon, though?” Echo asks, suspicious, even as he starts forward. Fives flanks him, keeping half of his attention on the crystal and his other on the walls around them. If another change is coming, he wants to know in plenty of time to get out of the way.
“Maybe it’s not,” Fives says. “Maybe the crystals are like cardinal points, and it rearranges around those.”
“And us moving the wall triggered it?” Echo offers, and pauses by the crystal, crouching down to look at it. It’s set into a plain white tile, perfectly unremarkable, entirely colorless, but—Fives doesn’t trust it. He takes two steps past Echo, wanting to put both hands on his blaster, and—
A flicker of dark cloak, just rounding the corner.
“Echo!” he says, and bolts. There's a curse behind him, but a moment later Echo catches up, following him at a dead run around the corner and into another twisting section. There are no other openings, though, no other passages, and Fives twists through the narrow turns, leaps down a short flight of steps, and emerges into another long corridor set with colorless crystals every few meters.
Jon is halfway down it, moving like he’s marching, hood up and cloak flaring around him. He’s walking in the exact center of the hallway, every step robotically perfect, and Fives breathes a curse and runs for him, Echo right behind him.
“Jon!” he calls loudly. “Jon, wake up!”
One of the crystals flickers as Jon passes it, the light washing over him for a brief instant before it falls back into darkness.
“Kriff,” Fives hisses, and lunges. Gets one hand in the back of Jon's cloak and drags him to a stop—
The hiss and hum of a lightsaber igniting is loud enough to freeze Fives's blood, and a glowing purple blade sweeps down, right at his hand.
I'm going to be rotating through fics for my Tuesday updates, so that most of my WIPs stay in rotation. The current schedule is:
3 November - trade your heart for bones to know
10 November - efface the footprints in the sand
17 November - Spring in Hell (and everything’s blooming)
24 November - like a dark horse made of air
1 December - made of hurricanes and ether
8 December - trade your heart for bones to know
It’s instinct more than any conscious thought that has Fives wrenching back, blaster up and swinging before he can even register the motion. He doesn’t have time to fire, but he lashes out, and that purple blade drops, the shadow behind it twisting away. Light flares, one of the crystals near them brightening in a wash as darkness falls like a blanket, and in the gloom the only points of light are the white crystals, the purple blade.
Fives steps back, feels Echo braced beside him, and stares at that lightsaber. Lets his gaze slip past it, just as the figure holding it reaches up. The hood folds back—
It’s a woman. A lean, rawboned woman with a tangle of white hair, her eyes cold, her face beautiful despite that. She surveys Fives and Echo for a moment, mouth thinning, and then says, “Boy. Wait.”
For a fractured instant, Fives thinks she’s talking to them, but before he can even open his mouth to snap at her, Jon stops. He turns, glancing at her, then bows his head and takes a step back, like she’s the only thing in the world that matters.
He doesn’t even look at Echo and Fives.
The woman smiles thinly, advancing, putting herself between them and Jon. “Clones in a Jedi Temple,” she says, cool. “How novel.”
Something prickles at Fives's nerves, something sharp and unsettling. She’s a Jedi, clearly, but…there's something off. “General,” he says respectfully, even so, and lowers his blaster. “We didn’t realize there were any other Jedi in the area.”
Echo flicks him a quick glance, but doesn’t comment. Just inclines his head, perfectly silent, and shifts back a step. Putting himself in line with Jon, in case they need to grab him, Fives knows, but—he’s not entirely sure what the two of them are supposed to do against a lightsaber. Blasters aren’t exactly weapons made for fighting Jedi.
Fives doesn’t even know if they should be fighting a Jedi, but—he doesn’t like this. There shouldn’t be anyone else in the temple. They barely made it through the traps all together, and this woman being alone down here strikes him as off. The way she spoke to Jon doesn’t help; it just puts all of Fives's hair on end.
ARC training is good for teaching people to listen to gut feelings. Even with the usual murkiness of Jedi nonsense, Fives has a decent sense for when things are going wrong, and this right now hits every last one of those alarms in his brain. A Jedi where she shouldn’t be, Jon caught in a trap that’s doing something to his mind, and…
She dodged. Fives swung the barrel of his blaster right at her lightsaber, and instead of cutting through it, she moved out of the way. Maybe that was just consideration of his weapon, but—it still strikes Fives as wrong. Wrong that she struck at him in the first place when he’s so clearly a clone, wrong that she didn’t actually do something to him if she was intending to.
“I found the entrance in the mountains,” the woman says brusquely, and eyes them. “The boy brought you with him the whole way?”
The boy. Like Jon doesn’t even have a name. Fives contains the instinct to bristle, breathes in, and nods. “Yes, sir. He found us in the tunnels and stopped to save me.”
Most Jedi would smile, or at least take that as what’s due. Her mouth tightens again, and she frowns. “Too much is at stake for him to make a habit of stopping,” she says. “Attachment is the downfall of the Jedi. We cannot be too fond of anything, or we risk our duty.”
Too fond. Like Jon's kindness can be distilled down into too much sentiment and discarded as a flaw. And—Jon isn't reacting. He’s just standing there, head bowed, hood hiding his face, not so much as a flinch to show he can hear them talking about him like he’s somewhere else.
Fives doesn’t like that at all. Jon's always been pretty quiet, but not like this. Not like he isn't allowed to speak or something.
Behind them, the crystals on the floor are bleeding green, slow but steady. They were colorless before, but now they're the color of new leaves, and getting darker.
“I think it worked out,” Echo says, deliberate, tight, and Fives only just contains a wince. He should have known that was coming. “Sorry, General, who are you?”
The woman’s glance is impatient. “I have no name,” she says. “Names are a sign of possession, and no Jedi should own anything. However, some people have chosen to call me the Dark Woman, and you may use that if you like.”
That’s…jarring. Fives trades looks with Echo, and—it’s almost clone reasoning, but perfectly backwards. The beginning, at least. If someone’s given her a name, though, isn't that just as valid as the one she gave up?
“General,” Echo allows, and Fives approves, because like hell he’s going to call her General Woman. “There was a trap back there, by the stairs—”
One white brow rises. “There was no trap,” she says. “The boy heard me calling him and came to help me. You will wait here, and we will finish this mission.”
Unease prickles down Fives's spine, and he looks at Jon. “Sir,” he says deliberately, and takes a step towards him, reaching out. “Sir, are—”
The blade of a purple lightsaber comes to rest in front of him, a clear warning, and Fives freezes. Stares at it, and thinks suddenly, starkly, of when they were wading down the river and he’d joked about this lightsaber Jon is after being a fancy color. Like purple, he’d said, and Jon had flinched.
Boy, she keeps calling him, like she knows him. Like she knew him as a child, when that title fit. But—
I wasn’t raised in the crèche. My Master found me on a planet in the Rim, when I was an infant, and she brought me up to be her padawan.
“You're Jon's Master,” Fives says, and is certain of it. He meets her eyes over the blade of her lightsaber, able to hear Echo’s sharp breath in, but doesn’t let himself blink. “You're the one who found him.”
Her nose wrinkles, just slightly. “Jon,” she repeats. “An undercover name he grew attached to. Do not refer to him as such. It’s unbecoming, given what he is.”
Fives feels very, very cold and very, very angry. Jon chose his name. It has nothing to do with Dark Woman, and she doesn’t get a single karking say in the matter, but she’s trying to have one anyway.
If she’s the kind of Master where just the mention of her lightsaber spooks Jon, she gets even less of one, actually.
“Can I ask you a question, sir?” Fives asks evenly, not wavering, not shifting back. Her lightsaber is still inches from his face, but—Fives is starting to figure things out.
Dark Woman scowls at him, but inclines her head. “Make it quick. The boy and I have a mission to complete.”
Fives tilts his chin, meets her eyes with a thread of defiance that’s hard to aim at a Jedi, but—she’s not a good Jedi. She’s nothing like the Jedi they’ve met. She’s nothing like Jon.
“Why isn't your lightsaber humming, sir?” he asks, and blue eyes widen. She jerks back—
A blaster shot. Loud, ringing in the darkness and the enclosed space, echoing through the open dome above them. The blue bolt streaks through the air, right where Dark Woman’s head was half an instant before, and she leaps back. Doesn’t try to block the shot, but avoids it, and snaps, “Padawan!”
Fives sees the movement as it starts, the way the body beneath that dark cloak tenses. There's no time to shout, no time to warn. He just lunges, throws himself right into Jon as one of Jon's hands goes for his belt. Jon doesn’t make a sound, but twists, as quick and boneless as a snake, and Fives is good at hand to hand, but before he can even blink he’s being slammed up against the wall, head cracking against the stone. Pain ricochets through his skull, spots flare across his vision, and he yelps. Instinct says to go for his blaster, a vibroblade, something, but—
This is Jon.
Close behind them, there’s another shot, a woman’s snarl. Fives doesn’t look for Echo, doesn’t look away from Jon's face, though, because Jon is staring at him. Jon is gripping his armor and staring at him, and he isn't moving. The look on his face is almost confusion, and he shivers, one all-over tremor like he knows something is wrong. Fives's heart leaps in his chest, and he reaches out before he can stop himself. His hands find the edge of Jon's hood, slide under it, and he gets his fingers in thick dark hair like he wanted to do when they were kissing.
And maybe it’s that thought that drives him, just as much as the pained look on Jon's face, the frozen stiffness in his muscles. Fives meets those dazed blue eyes and says, “Jon. You saved my life. I don’t think you're going to kill me now.”
Jon's expression twists into a deep grimace, and he ducks his head, breath hissing though his teeth. His muscles strain, and Fives curls his fingers into his hair and says, with all the certainty that rage gives him, “Your name is Jon. You told us that. Your name is Jon and you're a good Jedi. You didn’t become a general because you didn’t want to lead clones, but you're leading us. You’ve kept us safe this whole time.”
Behind him, the green crystals flicker, just a little. They fade, lighten, like some of the deep green is leaching out of them, and Fives grins. “Jon,” he says again, and tugs. And just like Fives hoped, Jon moves with him, lets Fives pull him up and forward. “You don’t want to hurt me,” he says confidently, sliding an arm around Jon's back, and—it’s risky. If he can't break whatever’s holding Jon, he’s not in any sort of position to defend himself.
But this is a Jedi trap. This is a trap meant to be broken by people like Fives, who care enough to try. People who made it this far because Jon is kind, and careful, and so dead set on protecting them that he almost drowned himself for it.
“Hey,” he says, quieter, and smiles as Echo sets himself in front of them like a barricade, blaster raised. Doesn’t look for Dark Woman, just focuses on Jon as he strains, and carefully strokes his fingers through wet hair. “Hey. You're not going to hurt me. I know that. Not either of us.”
Jon's fingers curl tight, fisting against Fives's armor. “Did,” he breathes, eyes closing, and Fives can't stop himself from leaning in, dropping their foreheads together. Keldabe kiss, he thinks, and breathes out.
“I'm a big strong ARC,” he says. “I can take one bump on the head. Come on, you’re scaring Echo.”
Jon's breath hitches, and he raises his head, but Echo takes a step back without hesitation and reaches out, grabbing Jon's arm. As smoothly as he can, Fives slides out of Jon's grip, lets Echo take his place and haul Jon in close, right up against him.
It leaves Fives with a perfect view of Dark Woman standing there in the passage, her form getting dimmer even as Fives watches. Her eyes are still glacially cold, and she fixes them on Fives like a threat, but she’s too indistinct, isn't moving, isn't a danger. Cockily, Fives gives her a lazy salute, touching two fingers to his brow, and says, “Better luck next time.”
“Fives,” Echo says, exasperated, but Fives just rolls his eyes as she flickers and disappears. When he turns back, Echo has an arm wrapped tight around Jon, who’s slumped against his chest, and Fives takes full advantage. He closes the gap, fits himself up against Jon's back, and wraps his arms around him and Echo both, burying his face in the back of Jon's hood.
“Kriff,” he says. “You scared us both when you disappeared.”
Jon's breath is rough, and it’s clear he’s not fine, but when Fives opens an eye to check the crystals, they're pretty much back to being colorless. “Sorry,” he gets out. “She was…”
“A memory,” Echo suggests, and Jon nods. Over his head, Fives meets Echo’s eyes, sees the kindling fury there, and tips his head. Echo nods, and tightens his grip, then asks, “Jon, can we carry you? We need to get out of the maze.”
“I can walk,” Jon says firmly, and Echo looks unimpressed, but he lets Jon straighten, pulls one of his arms over his pauldron and takes Jon's weight.
“What if we want to carry you, though?” Fives says, and it’s not actually a joke, even if he makes it sound light. He pulls his blaster forward, though, steps over to the far wall and checks for any more scuffed stones. “Echo, think we trust that other path?”
“More than this one,” Echo says grimly, and helps Jon closer to the wall. A moment of hunting around elbow-level doesn’t provide any secret entrances, but the next block of stone over has a suspiciously familiar scuffed stone on it, and Fives waits until Echo and Jon are close, then presses it. The wall swinging open is a relief, and he ducks in, give Echo room to come through after him, and then holds perfectly still, waiting for the grinding rumble of the maze moving.
There's nothing, though. Just silence and settling darkness.
Slumped against Echo’s side, Jon lifts his head, something in his expression lightening. He tips his head back, eyes going to the high dome of the ceiling, and says with a touch of surprise, “This is the right way.”
Kriff. The wash of relief is almost gutting, and Fives closes his eyes, breathes out through his nose. “It is?” he asks. “You're sure?”
Carefully, Jon pulls away from Echo, reaching out to lay a hand against the wall. Fives twitches, but Jon keeps his hand well away from the trigger, just presses it flat against the stone and says, “Yes. The kyber crystals here aren’t glowing red.”
Fives pauses, trades careful glances with Echo. “Red,” Echo repeats, wary. “They looked white to us. And then green.”
Jon's mouth twists, and he reaches up, pulls his hood off. “The one on the stairs, too?” he asks.
The trap, Fives doesn’t say. “Yeah.”
He doesn’t need to, apparently. “That’s where it caught me,” Jon says, closing his eyes, and pulls his hand away. “The Force feels smoother, here. In the other hall…it felt like it was draining me.”
Just tossing him out of that passage would probably have been enough to break the spell, then, Fives thinks, and it’s a relief to have another way to fix things if it happens again. “The crystals got darker green the longer that—memory talked,” he says. “Dark Woman, or whatever. Like they were sucking the Force out of you.” He hesitates, then takes a step forward, touching Jon's back gently. “You picked Jon as your name, right?”
There's a long, long pause, and then Jon nods, just once. “I did,” he says. “She never named me, but—I wanted a name. And when I used this one undercover, after I was Knighted…it fit.”
Fives needs to kiss him. He wants it like he hasn’t wanted anything in a very long time, and he starts to take a step—
Hesitates, frozen, because Jon left the flower room so quickly it seemed like he was running. He got caught in the trap the same as them, and he wanted them, Fives knows that, felt it. But…what if it was just want?
Echo, though. Echo has always been the braver of the two of them, the bolder, the more reckless. He steps forward, right past Fives, and says, “Jon.”
Startled, Jon turns, alert like he’s looking for danger. “Echo?” he asks with a frown, and flicks a glance up and down the passageway. “What is it?”
“This,” Echo says, bullish, determined. He catches Jon's hand, hauls him in closer, and Fives can see Jon's eyes go wide, the brief flicker of desire that’s clear enough to be undeniable, and then Echo pulls him right into a kiss. It’s an Echo kiss, the kind Fives knows intimately, and he snorts, watching Echo tip Jon's head and take his mouth like it’s a competition. Jon makes one startled sound and then all but melts into it, a soft moan breaking from his throat as Echo deepens the kiss. It’s bruising, desperate, the thank kriff you're alive kiss that Echo and Fives have shared way too often in this war, and by the time Echo pulls back, Jon is breathless, dazed for a much, much better reason than a trap and a handful of crystals.
“You scared us,” Echo says. “We didn’t know what had happened to you.”
Jon swallows, closes his eyes. “She was all I could see,” he says after a moment. “It wasn’t you, it was—but I felt—I hurt Fives—”
“No,” Fives says firmly, and—how the hell anyone could look at Jon and think his kindness was weakness, or something that could lead to his downfall, Fives has no idea. He slides in, catches Jon's arm and pulls him around, and as soon as Jon is facing him, Fives grabs him. Grabs him, wraps his arms around him, hugs him, because kriff, after today Fives needs hugs, and he didn’t have to have the Jedi equivalent of Bric in his head.
“You stopped,” he says, right into Jon's ear, and Jon's big body shivers, relaxes. He wraps his arms around Fives in return, buries his face in the curve of his throat, and hangs on, and Fives turns his head, kisses his temple. Breathes into the softness of his hair, and says, “Don’t run away this time, okay?”
Jon swallows, then nods. “The flowers—” he starts, and then stops short, furtive, guilty. Like he’s not sure he’s even allowed to bring it up.
“I thought it was pretty clear,” Fives says, almost a joke for all he’s deadly serious. “We want you, and you want us, and there isn't a bed down here that will hold all three of us but I think we can come up with something.”
Echo snickers, leaning in, and he drapes his arms around both of them. “We’ve done okay so far,” he agrees, and bumps is forehead hard into Fives's head, then Jon's.
“Echo,” Fives complains, because that wasn’t a loving Keldabe kiss, that was a headbutt. “Quit!”
Echo looks unrepentant, because he always looks unrepentant. “Kiss him already,” he says pointedly. “And then let’s get out of here before the maze moves again.”
Fives laughs, burying his fingers in dark hair, and—Jon's hair is soft, even with all the dunkings he’s had today. Fives gets both hands in it, meeting Jon's eyes, and grins at him. “I'm really glad we found you,” he says, and means more than just in the maze.
Jon's gaze softens, and callused fingers catch Fives's cheek, tilt his head up. Jon kisses him first, and he’s careful about it, delicate, almost tentative. With a hum, Fives pushes up, takes the lead and deepens it, sliding his tongue against Jon's. Jon makes a quiet sound, intriguing, tempting, and Fives tightens his fingers just a little—
Distant, grinding, there comes the sound of stone shifting, moving. Jon's head jerks up, breaking the kiss, and he spins to face the sound, but it’s too dark to see much beyond the next turn. The maze is rearranging again, but—the change hasn’t reached them yet. For today, Fives is willing to call that good luck.
“Time to run,” Echo says, and grabs one of Jon's hands. Fives grabs the other, not about to let Jon even out of arm’s reach any time soon.
Jon looks between them, takes a breath. “This way,” he agrees, and pulls them forward down the blue-and-bronze-marked path, following the faint glow of the crystals towards the far side of the maze.
“What even was that?” Fives asks, flopping down on a stretch of thick moss that covers the floor of the chamber beyond the maze. It’s a small one, but there's a silvery kyber crystal suspended from the ceiling, glowing softly with what Jon suspects is refracted moonlight. It’s soothing, settles nerves that are raw with old memories, and between that and the moss beneath Jon's hands as he sits down, he feels a little more human and a little less like a wrung-out rag.
“What was what?” Echo asks, and takes a seat right at Jon's side, so close their thighs are pressed together. Jon considers moving away for half a second, because last time they were this close they ended up kissing, but—
But Fives and Echo both kissed him of their own free will, without any flowers to manipulate them into it. That knowledge jars in Jon's chest, curls through him like the heat of a fire on a cold day, and he doesn’t know what to do with it, but it’s…good.
“The memory,” Fives says, sliding closer until he’s leaning against Jon's other side. It makes Jon's skin prickle, and he has to take a breath. Doesn’t move away, doesn’t want to, and that’s something new. Something on the edge of unnerving. “She wasn’t actually real, right? With how she went out of her way to keep us from touching her, and she wasn’t right—”
Jon doesn’t particularly want to think about Dark Woman. It’s one thing to argue with Knol about calling her for assistance, but having her right in front of him, cold and brusque and eternally disappointed, shook things loose that Jon's tried very, very hard to keep in place over the years. And then—
I'm really glad we found you.
“No,” he says, and his voice is a little rough, a little too quiet, but he can't make himself be louder. Not with Fives leaning against him, Echo pressed against his other side. “She wasn’t real. A reflection of a memory that something here pulled out. To—to blind me. if I’d kept listening, I would have gotten lost in the maze and never even known it.”
“Fives figured that part out,” Echo says, and curls his hand over Jon's thigh. It’s almost unnervingly close to when they were sitting together in the flower room, but there are no flowers to be seen here. “That the whole thing would have caught a Force-user, but anyone who brought someone who couldn’t use the Force this far was probably a Jedi.”
“It was good thinking,” Jon says, and Fives smiles at him, quick and brilliant.
“I knew you wouldn’t have just left us,” he says, and Jon closes his eyes, unable to keep looking at his face. There's a quiet sound of amusement, then an arm over his shoulders, and Fives pulls him in, presses his nose to Jon's hair. At the same moment, Echo’s hand presses flat to Jon's spine, and Echo leans against him, kissing the scar on Jon's neck. It sparks a shiver, Jon too aware of every inch of skin they're touching, and he can feel Echo’s smile against his throat.
“It wasn’t the flowers,” Echo says, low, and Jon breathes in, breathes out.
“They helped,” he manages, even as he reaches out. Fives catches his hand, turns his head, and Jon kisses him, harder than he means to but he wants, and Fives pushes into him, wraps his arms around Jon and practically climbs into his lap. Hardly about to protest, Jon pulls him close, gladly lets Fives drag his head back and kiss him harder, and moans when Echo fits himself up against Jon's back and starts laying more kisses along his throat.
“Don’t think we need them,” Echo says, and the scrape of his teeth makes Jon moan. Fives smiles against his mouth, gentling the kiss and easing it back, and then shifts up. Echo rises to meet him, and Fives kisses him too, cups his face as Echo hooks a hand round the back of Fives's neck. It’s slow, familiar, and Jon can't help but smile, resting his forehead against Fives's chest. Waits for that kick of longing and guilty want again, but—
It wasn’t the flowers.
“Definitely wasn’t the flowers,” Fives says as they pull apart, and he sinks back down, wrapping his arms around Jon's neck. Doesn’t go for another kiss, but leans in, resting their foreheads together and closing his eyes. Carefully, Jon wraps an arm around him, feels a body on his right and raises the other, and Echo slides right in, tugs Jon's head around and kisses him softly. His mouth is gentle, just a little teasing, and by the time they're pulling apart, Jon feels breathless, warm all the way through to his bones.
“Only a little further,” he says, and knows it’s true, instinct pared down to certainty with the touch of the Force. “I think the vault is one level down.”
“So only ten more traps between us and it,” Fives says, rueful. “What’s next, do you think?”
Jon grimaces a little. “I don’t think I want to guess.”
With a snort, Echo rests his forehead against Jon's temple, closing his eyes. “Do we have to come back through the traps?” he asks. “To find the doorway out?”
That, at least, Jon has an answer to. Fay remembered very clearly sneaking out the back door with a pretty Twi’lek Jedi on her one visit here, even if most other things have faded from her memory with the centuries. Smiling a little, because Knol gave her hell for that, Jon shakes his head. “The rear door is three levels above the vault, but there should be a direct staircase,” he says. “From within the vault, I heard. It’s hidden, and not accessible from the outside, but it should put us near the entrance.”
“I think that’s the best news I've heard since we got here,” Fives says dryly, then takes a breath and pulls away, rising to his feet. He offers Jon one of his hands, Echo the other, and says, “Come on. Unless we’re setting up camp here for the night, we should probably keep moving.”
“No camping outside the maze with the illusion of a murderous Jedi Master,” Echo says firmly, and takes his hand. Jon does as well, and Fives hauls them both to their feet, then promptly leans in to steal another kiss, first from Echo and then from Jon.
Jon doesn’t object in the least. As far as missions go, despite everything else, this is easily one of the better ones he’s ever been on, and the press of Fives's mouth, the warm curl of his bravery and humor, the weight of Echo behind them, is most of the reason why.
you know that feeling when you set out to write 5k of porny lost temple shenanigans and accidently trip over a plot and take 40k to get to the scene that inspired the fic??? yeah.
“Oh no,” Fives says, coming to a sharp halt at the top of a long, winding staircase.
It sounds like a joke, but Jon grimaces a little too, stopping beside him. Echo eyes the stairs, then the hallway behind them, soft with the glow of moon-bright crystal.
“We haven’t been having the best luck with stairs,” he says grimly.
“And that’s a lot of stairs,” Fives agrees, glancing at Jon. “Can you tell if they're about to turn around and eat us, or something?”
Jon shakes his head. “None of these traps were built with malice,” he says. “In the Force, they just feel like part of the temple.”
The face Echo pulls is full of dissatisfaction. “I guess they are, but that doesn’t mean I like it.” He pauses, then asks, “Should we toss a stone down?”
“I’ll go first,” Jon says, because he at least can react faster than either Echo or Fives if something happens. He takes a step forward—
Hands on either of his arms haul him back, pin him right in between Fives and Echo, and Echo makes a warning sound, wrapping his arm around Jon's waist. “No,” he says firmly. “Last time you went first you got caught in a trap that staying with us could have prevented.”
Jon winces, guilt rising, but before he can say anything, Fives snorts. “Easy, Echo,” he says, and Echo huffs but loosens his grip a little. “It looks wide enough for us all to stick close.”
“If it collapses under us again, I need to be close enough to catch you,” Jon says quietly, and he can still hear the echo of Dark Woman’s words about attachment, but—
He needs to save Fives and Echo if they're in danger. Not to the exception of all else, not to the point that he would doom the galaxy for them, but. Strongly. Deeply. It’s an aching, soft thing in his chest, his knowledge of them, their presence, and Jon will do anything he can to keep them there. Even if everything is doomed to end when they go back to their battalion, even if it’s just momentary, he’s glad just knowing they exist in this universe.
“Just…be careful,” Echo says reluctantly, and when Jon glances over at him, Echo pulls him in. The heat of his mouth over Jon's should be familiar by now, but somehow it’s still startling, enough to make Jon twitch for half an instant before the tight grip of Echo’s hands, the possessive slant of his mouth shatter the reaction back into a shiver of warmth. Echo kisses like it’s the only thing on his mind, like he’s going to completely overwhelm Jon with it, and Jon's nerves feel too bright, too hot. There's a shivery brightness low in his gut, a pull of pure want that makes Jon fist his hands against unforgiving plastoid, and—
Echo is thinking. Thinking of skin, and Jon stripped bare, him and Fives still in their armor as they pin Jon between them. Indistinct, tangled, too many wants overlapping, but Jon catches the edges and they feel like a blow, make him gasp as he drags his mouth away. He ducks his head, and Echo pulls him in, lets Jon hide his face against Echo’s pauldron and curls a hand into his hair, holding him there as Jon fights the shivers of arousal that are curling through his veins.
There's a quiet laugh, then hands. Fives tugs Jon away, back against him, and he wraps his arms around Jon's chest, turns his head to kiss up his throat. “Do I want to know what you did?” he asks Echo, who looks entirely unrepentant.
“I was making a plan of attack,” he says, stepping forward. “For later.”
Fives's lips skim Jon's throat, lingering on the scars there, and Jon shivers. Eyes dark, Echo reaches out, pushing the edges of Jon's cloak back, then splays a hand over Jon's chest, over the thinner cloth of his tunics. He drags it down, gauntlet a heavy weight that’s hard for Jon to think around, and Fives hums, arms tightening as he sets his teeth ever so gently against Jon's throat. The sudden hard pull of his mouth makes Jon gasp, kneels almost buckling as Fives rolls skin between his teeth, sucks and bites down, and the way want shakes through Jon like a tremor is unfamiliar, almost bewildering in its strength. He aches, and it lodges deep in his gut as he tips his head back, gives Fives more room.
“Kriff,” Echo mutters, and a moment later he’s shoving Jon's tunics open, pulling the sash free. The shock of cool air as his shirt falls open makes Jon suck in a sharp breath, and Echo smirks at him, deliberately grips Jon's waist and ducks his head, and the heat of his mouth against Jon's collarbone is like a brand, jars a moan from Jon's throat. He’s caught between Echo and Fives, entirely unable to move, unwilling to move, and he gets one hand in Echo’s hair, grips Fives's wrist with the other, and Fives laughs against his throat.
“Like that?” he asks, light, and shifts, and the hardness of his codpiece is too obvious, pressed right up against Jon.
With a ragged sound, Jon tilts his head back, turns his head. It’s an awkward angle, but Fives catches his mouth anyway, kisses him hard. The mark he left throbs a little, bruise-hot but desperately wanted, and Jon can't not know it’s there, can't forget it even for a moment as Fives deepens the kiss, tangles their tongues. On his hips, Echo’s hands tighten, slide down, and Jon startles, gasps as his mouth closes over a nipple, as strong fingers go tight around his thighs. He can feel how much they want him, clearheaded without any of the haze of the flowers, and it echoes through his own want, amplifies and returns it until Jon feels like he’s about to drown in the heat.
“Hells,” Fives says breathlessly, pulling his mouth away, and he presses his cheek to Jon's, breathing hard. His eyes are on Echo, on the lap of Echo’s tongue, and Jon wants to whimper, digs his fingers into Fives's wrist until Fives turns his hand to catch Jon's, grips it tightly. Echo rolls Jon's nipple with his tongue, then slides his mouth over, kisses the center of Jon's chest, casts a smirk up.
“We can get you off now,” he suggests, low, and curls his hands around, making Jon gasp at the deliberate press of fingers against his inner thighs. “Take the edge off.”
It’s likely a bad idea, but Jon can't quite think why. He leans back against Fives, trying to catch his breath, and Fives hums, presses their cheeks together.
“We could,” he says lightly, and strokes a hand down Jon's chest, fingers tracing the same path Echo’s mouth just took. “After the last couple of hours, I think we all need a little reassurance.”
Because they were worried. Because they saved him. Jon swallows hard, and he’s been a Jedi all his life, has never been vulnerable, but—people don’t save him. The fact that Echo and Fives did is—disarming. Strange that they would, that they wanted to, that they would go to such lengths and face down Dark Woman, and Jon doesn’t know what to do in the face of that. Knows what he wants, but—
“I want you,” Jon says, raw, and means it. Wants them here and now, wants them always, wants to steal them away into the night where they won't be fodder in a Sith's plans to destroy the galaxy. Wants them with him, and safe, and those are contradictory things but they still sit heavy in Jon's chest.
Echo’s breath is rough, and he kisses Jon's collarbone, right over a scar from where the terentatek broke it. Jon shivers, closing his eyes, and gentle hands stroke up and down his sides, slow and lingering.
“Right now?” Echo asks, and he leans in, kisses Jon softly. “This can be for later, too.”
Once they get the lightsaber, Jon is going to have to leave. He’s going to have to go back to Knol and Nico and Fay, let Fives and Echo go back to their squad and their general, and knowing that aches. If this is all he can have—
“Whatever you want,” he says, helpless to offer any other response. Feels the hitch in Echo’s breathing, the way Fives turns his face into Jon's hair. And—he wants them, wants to give them everything he possibly can. Wants to make them feel good and take care of them and never stop, and he turns, leans in to kiss Fives hard and deep and then sinks down to his knees. Fives sucks in a sharp breath, hands going to Jon's hair, and his eyes are impossibly dark and hot as he cups Jon's face, slides his thumb across his lips. Jon kisses it, feels another hand on his chin and lets Echo draw his face up. The look Echo is wearing is all hunger, edged with something fierce, and Jon leans into his hand, digs his fingers into scuffed armor, and waits for them to show him what they want.
“Kriff,” Fives says, and leans back against the wall, shifting his feet apart so Jon has more room. Jon hesitates, but after a long second he leans forward, pressing a lingering, open-mouthed kiss to Fives's codpiece. Fives's hips twitch up, and with a groan he drops his head back, and satisfaction flickers, deep in Jon's chest. He curls his hands over thick thighs in heavy armor, shivers as Echo’s hand joins Fives's in his hair. Echo’s thinking again, mind racing, but the image that keeps surfacing is Jon on his back, thighs splayed wide around Echo’s armored hips, only the codpiece missing. For an instant Jon can almost feel it, a thick shaft buried inside him, cool armor bruising the inside of his thighs as Echo takes him, and he moans, presses his forehead against Fives's chestplate and tries to catch his breath as heat cascades through his nerves.
“Jon?” Fives asks, and his hand slides down, cups Jon's nape.
Jon shudders, and his face is hot, his head spinning. “Echo thinks…very clearly,” he manages, and Fives laughs, reaching out. He hooks an arm around Echo’s shoulders, pulling him in, and Echo kisses him hard, deliberately pressing Jon between them with a hand still fisted in his hair. With it comes another image, perfectly clear, wrenching—the three of them in a tangle somewhere indistinct, on their sides with Jon in the middle, split open on two cocks and entirely incoherent with it as they fuck him maddeningly slowly.
Jon can't help the desperate noise that jars from his throat, and he fumbles at Fives's codpiece, reaches a hand back to undo Echo’s. They're still kissing, but there are hands on Jon, in his hair, on his cheek, in his robes, and they pull him forward even as the armor clicks loose. Jon finds the opening in the undersuits, pulls Fives's cock free, then Echo’s. He stops there, not sure which he wants more, torn between two equal urges, but after a moment he leans in, buries his face against the line of Fives's cock the way he wanted to do in the forge. Fives jerks, groans into Echo’s mouth, and the vibration of his pleasure hums beneath Jon's skin.
With a low sound of intent, Jon kisses his cock, drags his tongue up the curve of the shaft. It’s blood-hot, musky, and he feels drugged without any help, lost in the desire that’s blotting out everything else. With a sigh, he rises a little, catches the head in his mouth and rolls his tongue over it, catching the beads of precum and then pulling away. He eases the foreskin back, then takes the head again, playing with it, letting the little jerks of Fives's hips slide it deeper before the hand in his hair tugs sharply.
The sparks of pain make Jon gasp, pulling back, and Echo strokes his hair in apology, but turns his head, and Jon shudders, lets himself be moved. Echo’s cock bumps against his lips, and Jon opens for it, takes it, and Echo doesn’t hesitate. He sinks himself into Jon's mouth, hauling Jon's head in, and Jon tries to remember how to open his throat, how to let himself be used like this, desperate for it. He chokes, almost gags, but even when Echo’s hand instantly goes slack Jon keeps going until he can bury his nose in wiry dark curls.
“Hells,” Echo says, a little shaky, and strokes Jon's hair. He brushes it back from Jon's face, then rolls his hips slowly. Jon takes him, bobs his head and lets Echo sink into his throat, then deliberately swallows around him. This time Echo’s curse is a lot less polite, and Jon hums, pulls away. Turns his head, just as Fives wraps a hand around his cock, and Jon opens his mouth for it, feels Echo’s groan as Jon gets a hand around him and strokes.
Fives doesn’t thrust in, doesn’t do anything but rest the head of his cock against Jon's lips, and Jon glances up, finds Fives watching him with dark, dark eyes. Without looking away, he kisses the head of his cock, openmouthed and messy, and Fives moans. He holds still, frozen tense and staring, as Jon licks away the precum, still stroking his fingers up and down Echo’s shaft. His own cock is so hard it almost hurts, pressed against the seam of his pants, and he shifts, groans. Tips forward, sucking at the head of Fives's shaft, letting it slide over his tongue as he hollows his cheeks around it.
There's a shift, the hand in his hair loosening, and then a tug, and Jon lifts his head, Echo’s cock pressing at the corner of his mouth. Echo guides him onto it, even as Fives makes a desperate sound, pushes forward. He drops to his knees right behind Jon, and Jon jolts as hands find the button of his pants, jerk them down. With a groan, he leans back, and Fives wraps his arms around him, hitches him up. A thick cock slides between Jon's legs, bumping up against his balls as cold armor meets bare skin, and Jon moans.
“Good?” Echo asks breathlessly, and in answer Jon grips the edges of his kama, urges him closer. He sucks desperately at Echo’s cock as Fives shoves his thighs together, pins them there with his knees, and Jon's never been manhandled like this before, never been so overwhelmed. He wants more, wants everything, and Fives's mouth is on his throat, sucking more marks into his skin as he rolls his hips lazily. The cock between his thighs is slick from his mouth, and Echo has both hands in his hair, pulling Jon down and fucking his throat with short, needy thrusts. Jon lets him, takes it greedily, then slides his mouth up, tracing veins with his tongue. Pulls off, but drags his lips down the shaft instead, mouthing at Echo’s heavy sac. In the same moment, Fives shifts, rolls his hips harder, and Jon chokes on a cry as his cock thrusts right into a spot that makes him see stars, makes all the tension in his stomach go loose and shivery.
He closes his eyes, panting for breath as he tries to focus, and Echo’s cock is against his cheek, his thighs tense under Jon's hands. Jon can hardly breathe through the refracted desire from two directions, the burn of Fives's thoughts as he fucks between Jon's thighs, the way Echo wants them both, enjoys seeing them coming undone in a way that’s deep and immediate and visceral. It makes Jon shiver, moaning, and Fives laughs breathlessly against his throat.
“It is good, isn't it?” he asks, low, and leans back, a hand on Jon's shoulder pushing him forward. That touch slides down, then back up, dragging Jon's robes with them, and Jon shivers as they’re stripped off, dropped to the side. Fives covers his bare back, and the feeling of his armor pressed into Jon's skin shouldn’t make Jon's belly twist with heat, but—it makes him feel vulnerable in a way that just winds the heat higher instead of making him uneasy.
“Very good,” he manages, breathless, and Fives kisses the knobs of his spine, smiles against his skin even as he rocks his cock into Jon's balls, sparking too much sensation up through his nerves and making him choke on a moan.
“You’re amazing,” Fives breathes, and reaches out, getting a hand on Echo’s cock, the other on Jon's chin. He guides the shaft back into Jon's mouth, then kisses Jon’s cheek as he laps at the head and asks, “Think you can get him to come like this?”
Jon can. He can feel the way Echo is watching him, the tension wound through him that’s about to snap. Deliberately, he lays his hands on Echo’s thighs, dips his head down and draws back, and with a gutted sort of groan Echo grips his head, urges him to take it deeper every time he swallows the shaft down. Echo’s breathless little sounds are making Jon's head spin, his desire spiking through Jon's. Jon's cock aches, and he tightens his thighs around Fives's shaft, trying not to squirm as Fives's hands close tight around his sides.
Having that thick, slick cock between his legs makes him want Fives all the way inside him, fucking him brutally, relentlessly. It’s not something Jon gets to indulge in often, most of his partners picked up in a bar and sucked off in an alley or a fresher, or taken care of with a shared handjob that’s quick and furtive but sufficient. The last time someone actually took him was—years ago. But he wants it, wants what Echo was imagining. Doesn’t even know if he can manage it, or if it was just a passing thought, but—finding out seems like half the fun.
This might be all he gets, though. And if it is, Jon wants to give them both as much pleasure as he possibly can.
With a moan, he wraps a hand around the base of Echo’s cock, drags his mouth over the head of it. There's a curse above him as he strokes, a low sound against his spine that’s all appreciation. Echo curves a hand around the back of his head, not pushing, just holding, and Jon casts a look up at him. Knows he isn't much to look at, but drags his lips up over soft skin, down to mouth at Echo’s sac, presses kisses that are openmouthed and messy to the thick veins. Echo shudders, groans as his fingers go tight, and Jon feels the wash of thoughts gone fever-bright, the spike of pleasure half a second before Echo comes with a ragged cry. He pulls back, but not all the way, catches the head in his mouth and lets Echo’s bitter spend spill out on his tongue as he rolls the head with his lips.
There's a breathy sound, a groan, and Echo crashes to his knees in front of Jon, drags him forward and kisses him clumsily, and Jon swallows as best he can before he opens to it, gives Echo control of the kiss as he’s hauled up and practically into Echo’s lap. The slick kama under his bare thighs makes him gasp, but Echo steals the sound from his mouth, kisses him hard, and then turns him around. He pushes Jon down on his hands and knees, right in front of Fives, and Jon is already reaching out even as he catches his balance.
Fives's hand catches his, and he laces their fingers together, shifts back. He sits down, legs spread, and Jon crawls forward to kiss Fives's cock, to rub his cheek against the shaft. Gentle fingers twist into his hair, and Fives tugs him up, right to the head of his cock. His breaths hitch, and his eyes are blown black, and Jon can't help but watch his face as he sinks down on that hard cock, letting Fives slide right down his throat as Fives carefully rolls his hips.
“Kriff,” Fives breathes out on a groan, and he tightens his grip on Jon, testing. When Jon doesn’t protest, just takes him deeper, he thrusts a little more firmly, fucks Jon’s mouth as his head falls back. “Kriff, Jon, going to kill me—”
Echo’s laugh is ragged, breathless, but he leans over Jon's lower back, lays a kiss against the base of his spine. A hand closing tight around his own cock makes Jon gasp, almost choking, but Echo strokes him and doesn’t let up. Long, tight strokes that fill Jon's head with white that blot out everything else, and he whines as Echo rolls his balls between his fingers, grips. It kicks deep in Jon's gut, wrenches a low, wounded sound from him that’s muffled when Fives's cock sinks back into his throat, and Fives gasps for breath, hips jerking up in uncontrolled thrusts that make Jon's eyes water, make him moan as Fives wavers on the edge. He pushes down, Echo’s clever fingers tightening hard, and buries his nose in tight curls as he swallows.
With a whine, Fives comes, fingers bruisingly tight on Jon's nape, pulling his hair. Jon shivers, moans as Fives spends down his throat, and he’s almost there, almost done—
Fives's cock slides out of his mouth, leaving a smear of cum across his lips, but before Jon can even take a breath Fives is hauling him up, tumbling forward. He shoves Jon back into Echo’s lap, presses right up against his chest, and wraps a hand over Echo’s on Jon's cock. Jon cries out before he can stop himself, grabs for Fives's broad shoulders, feels Echo’s arm go tight around his waist. They stroke him together, pressed so tight to him that Jon can’t even breathe. He gasps, twists, and Fives laughs against his mouth, winded but warm.
“Easy, Jon,” he breathes, “just let us take care of you. That was amazing, you're amazing, look at you—”
“Our Jedi,” Echo says, right in his ear, and nips the lobe, fingers dipping down beneath Jon's sac. They press in hard, and Jon jerks as lights burst behind his eyes, as his nerves sing like they're full of electricity. He comes, too sudden to even shout, and Echo and Fives stroke him through it, keep going as he shudders and clutches at them and rides the wash of oversensitivity with a ragged moan.
Gently, carefully, arms wrap around him, the body beneath him shifts. Echo slides back to brace himself against the wall, and a moment later Fives joins him, their legs tangling as they settle. Jon gets dragged down between them, nestled there with his head on Echo’s shoulder and Fives's hand stroking his thigh, and he shudders a little, sinks closer. Wishes for bare skin instead of armor for this part, but Fives's touch is gentle, and Echo’s breathing is steady and soft, and Jon can drift without worrying.
Slowly, an arm slides over his shoulder, and Fives kisses the corner of his mouth, soft. “Kriffing incredible,” he says, lazily pleased, and Jon hums, hardly even able to summon the will to open his eyes.
“Thank you,” he says hoarsely, and his throat feels sore, used, sounds rough, but—it’s good. The endorphins are sweet, and Jon feels warm all over, lazy in a way that’s so rare he can't remember the last time it happened.
With a huff, Echo turns his head, noses into Jon's hair to kiss the curve of his jaw, arm tightening around Jon's back. “I think that’s supposed to be our line,” he says, but there's a smug undertone to it that makes Jon smile. He tips his head, catches Echo’s mouth, and Echo kisses him softly, stroking his cheek with the backs of his fingers.
“Look at that,” Fives says, laughing a little, and he slumps down, sprawling himself over Jon's lap and grinning up at him. “No bed, but we managed one whole sex moment without the floor trying to eat us.”
Jon winces, very deliberately laying a hand over his mouth. “I'm glad you're feeling confident,” he says, just a little dry. “But please.”
Fives kisses his palm, unrepentant, and stretches a little. With a quiet snort, Echo reaches down, carding his fingers through Fives's hair, and asks, “Bets on who’s going to trigger the next trap?”
“You,” Fives says immediately, pulling Jon's hand away from his mouth and tangling their fingers. “Or that ghost. She seems spiteful enough, even as just a memory.”
Jon winces a little. “She isn't…spiteful,” he says, and for all Dark Woman’s brusque personality, that’s always been true. She forgives easily, moves on from slights. “And she was just a memory. I haven’t spoken to my Master in years.” And…she would disapprove so strongly of Fives and Echo. She wouldn’t hate them, because Jedi don’t hate, but she would feel that Jon's connection to them was dangerous, that it couldn’t be risked, because it was a potential path to the Dark Side.
Maybe she’s right. But Jon hasn’t felt hope or comfort like Echo and Fives have given him in so long that it’s unsettling to think of. He’s always done his duty, always known his place, and yet.
They take it from a burden to simply a task, just with their presence.
He tips his head before he can help himself, buries his face in Echo’s throat and tightens his grip on Fives's hand. They should be moving, should be heading for the vault, but—
Just for a moment, Jon is perfectly content to stay right here, with the Force whispering peace and safety and light around them.
Major cliffhanger warning for this chapter, please be aware.
Echo and Fives’ hands are never far from his skin.
Jon understands it entirely; if he had easy access to skin, he would probably be doing the same, but it’s harder when Fives and Echo are all wrapped up in armor. Even with the danger of the stairs as they descend, even though they just had each other, Jon wants more.
Fives’s hand rests low on his back, and the mere fact of its presence is already more than Jon ever could have hoped for.
“I don’t know if I like this,” Fives mutters. “Isn't something supposed to be jumping out and trying to eat us?”
Echo snorts like he’s not scanning every inch of the stairs ahead of them. “If you say that, it’s definitely not going to happen,” he says, and casts a sideways look at Jon, gauntlet brushing his knuckles. “Anything?”
Jon shakes his head. They’ve been descending for at least ten minutes now and he still can't sense anything, whether it’s danger or the vault. Whatever traps are coming are likely going to be the most dangerous, and there's a prickle of unease across his nerves, but—he can't tell what’s coming.
“We’re going in the right direction,” he offers, because that’s all he has, and Echo grimaces, catches Jon's wrist to squeeze it gently for half an instant, and then lets go again. Jon casts him a quick smile before he turns his eyes forward, and says softly, “We’re almost to the vault.”
“How can you tell?” Fives asks, but it’s curious, not demanding.
“Instinct,” Jon says, and means the Force. They're the same thing, to a Jedi. “It’s…like how you know the way to put a blaster back together, even if you can't see it.”
“Hours of being tortured by trainers?” Fives jokes, and Jon doesn’t look back at him. Dark Woman’s training was…brutal, but he’s not sure it counts as torture. He came out of it a Jedi, after all.
“The training likely helps,” he allows, a little rueful, and Echo snorts. His elbow brushes Jon's again as he pauses, and then points ahead of them, to where the lights of Fives’s helmet catch a dark spot in the wall that the light can't break.
“Trap?” he asks. “Or just a door?”
“Both?” Fives mutters, and Jon can't help a sound of pained agreement, stepping past them. He’s careful of his feet on the landing, but there don’t seem to be any pressure plates or tripwires, and he crosses to the narrow door, pressing a hand against it.
In the very center of the weathered metal, a kyber crystal kindles, glowing pale gold. There's no threat to it, nothing that Jon can sense, and he touches it, feeling out the mechanism. No handle on the door, no latch, but when he presses gently with the Force, it clicks open. Swings inward, perfectly soundless, and Jon stares into the perfect darkness beyond for a long moment and then grimaces.
“Endless, impenetrable darkness seems like a good start,” Echo says dubiously, right behind Jon's shoulder. Like in the trapped hallway, the lights from Fives’s helmet don’t seem to go more than half a meter before they're swallowed completely, the unbroken pitch black hiding everything.
“I think the vault is on the other side,” Jon says quietly, holding a hand out, and—it’s hardly even instinct. Just a flicker of suspicion, a touch of certainty that shouldn’t hit so hard, especially when coupled with a rising, impending sense of perfect, grim foreboding.
“Through the creepy darkness it is,” Fives says, sounding more or less resigned to it, and tips his head. “We want to hold onto each other?”
“Yes,” Jon says, and something prickles down his spine like wariness, like caution. Not uncertainty, not doubt, but—this is going to be dangerous. It’s heavy, like a sense of impending doom that weighs on top of Jon's lungs. “Stay as close to me as you can.”
A hand fists in the back of his cloak as Fives steps closer, locking wrists with Echo. “Think there’ll be another handy dial to turn off the darkness?” he asks, halfway to a joke.
“Think we’ll be able to find it without tripping over it?” Echo mutters, but when Jon steps into the darkness, he follows.
If there is another spot where the darkness breaks, Jon can't feel any pull towards it. He keeps one hand near his lightsaber, the other outstretched as he takes short, careful steps. The floor is smooth beneath his feet, large tiles that are almost slick, and he thinks of more water traps, drowning in the darkness, and tries not to let his stomach turn over.
“Room must be big,” Fives says, and there's a tension in his voice that matches Jon's. “I can't hear any echoes. Well. Except one.”
Echo snorts, and there's a thud like he just thumped a fist against Fives’s armor. “I don’t hear anything,” he points out. “If there's water close to us, it’s not moving.”
Apparently Jon isn't the only one with those thoughts. He feels a flicker of rueful amusement, and says quietly, “We’re a good distance from the river.”
“I don’t think distance is going to stop the people who built that statue trap,” Fives says and it’s a little dry. “There's—”
In the darkness, something cracks.
Jon's thoughts are all wrapped up in Fives and Echo’s, his mind tuned to theirs after what they shared, after being so close. He feels Echo’s jolt of dismay like it’s his own, feels the tile beneath his boots give, and reacts instantly. With a hard jerk, he hauls Fives forward, catches his arm, grabs for Echo even as there's a deep rumbling beneath their feet. Echo shouts, falling, but Fives sets his feet and Jon pulls, and with a heave they drag Echo back up over the edge of the hole. He slams into Jon, clutching at his shoulders, and the impact knocks Jon back a step. He takes it—
Finds nothing but empty air beneath his heel.
There’s half a second to recognize what’s happening as Jon lurches backwards, another to feel Fives’s startled cry even as he does the same, and then Echo grabs them both. He wrenches them back upright, onto the small square tile that’s alone in empty space, and Jon grabs him, wraps his arms around Echo and Fives both and hangs on as they teeter dangerously in the darkness.
For a moment, there's nothing but silence, tense and fraught, and then Echo’s breath shudders out of his lungs, his arm sliding around Jon's waist and hauling him a bare inch closer. “Bantha shit,” he says, and Fives huffs out a sound that’s too winded to be a real laugh.
“I was right,” he says. “It was you who triggered it.”
Echo scoffs. “Yeah, well, I think that makes us even. And now we have to get out of the trap.”
“It would help a lot if we could see what the trap was,” Fives mutters, and there's a scuff. Jon grips him tighter, closes his eyes, and tries to feel what’s around them. This darkness doesn’t seem to swallow the Force, the way the hall with the arrows did, and he breathes out in relief, but—it’s still impossible to tell what’s around them.
And then, in the darkness, there's a flicker of light.
Jon catches it out of the corner of his eye, just a pinpoint of brilliance that flares and fades and flares again, green and glowing in the pitch black. A little startled, Jon turns his head, and finds it far below them, small in such a way that he can't tell if it’s the light’s actual size or simply small with distance. The light is a kyber crystal, the same green as his lightsaber, and the glow of it feels like a tether, like he’s being beckoned.
Jon needs to go to it, and he knows that immediately and without hesitation.
There's no way to know what he’ll be jumping into, though, and Jon hesitates, casts a look at Fives and Echo even though he can't see them in the dark. He’s the only one who needs to go to the light, and the whisper of that instinct is just soft enough that he could ignore it. He wants to, wants nothing more than to keep them close, but—
Danger, something whispers, a prickling trail like talons dragged up his spine. Danger to them.
Tightening his fingers against slick plastoid, Jon stares down at that pinpoint of light, and there's a sinking sensation in his stomach, an awareness, a certainty. That light is the key to the trap, and the vault is close. If he takes Echo and Fives down to it with him, they’ll be in greater danger than if they stay up here on the platform.
But if Jon leaves them, there's a strange, sinking awareness in his chest that he won't see them again.
“Jon?” Echo asks, sharp, and Jon closes his eyes and swallows.
It could just be a feeling. A lot of things are, and he’s hardly infallible.
“Do you trust me?” he asks quietly, and there's a moment of startled silence, a wash of offense from Echo—
“Yeah,” Fives says without hesitation, and his fingers curl tight around Jon's bicep. Jon can almost feel his smile in the dark. “We do.”
“Do you even have to ask?” Echo adds, fingers tightening in the cloth over Jon's hip. “Of course we do.”
Jon swallows, leans in. He rests his forehead against Echo’s, then Fives’s, and breathes in. Finds the strap of his comm, undoes it, and presses it into Echo’s hand, folding his fingers over it.
“Take my comm,” he says quietly, and can't help the urge to brush his fingers over Echo’s face, the slant of his cheek. “Just in case. If you make it to the vault, look for a red hilt with silver tracings, and a pattern of shadows on it. Take it, and go up the stairs, and once you're on the mountainside find somewhere to hide. Knol will comm every six hours, all you have to do is wait for her call and then answer it.” He hesitates, then closes his eyes, breathing out again. “Tell her Agen is a better swordsman than I am, and he can finish it.”
There's a moment of complete silence, and then Fives’s fingers clamp down, a convulsive, automatic grip. “What?” he asks, and there's an edge to it. “Jon—”
“We’re not leaving,” Echo says, and his voice rings in the gloom. Jon can't see his face, but he can feel his indignation, the edge of anger, a trace of fear. “You can't ask us to—”
“This is about something bigger,” Jon says, soft, and feels Echo’s swallow, Fives’s indrawn breath. “The key to the trap is below us, and I'm the only one who can reach it. But if I fail this mission, everything is lost. Please.”
Fives’s exhale shakes, and a moment later his hand finds Jon's hair, cups the back of his neck, pulls him in. He kisses Jon, brief and hard, and then lifts his head. “You're talking like you're not coming back, but we know you are,” he says, and Jon can't help but smile, touching his cheek.
“Thank you,” he murmurs, instead of answering, and turns. Echo’s mouth catches his, that arm pulls him closer, and Echo’s grip is as bruising as his kiss.
“You are,” he says, and then lets go. Jon doesn’t answer that either, just turns, leaps out into the darkness, and lets himself fall.
It’s a long fall. Feels endless, impossible, and Jon almost feels like he’s in freefall, in the depths of space with nothing below him and only the bright beacons of Fives’s and Echo’s minds above him. There's a flicker of panic, of alarm, but—
The Force is a steady pull, and Jon trusts it more than he’s ever trusted another thing in his life. He closes his eyes, quiets everything else, and lets instinct speak loudest, and the Force through it.
It’s instinct that has him twisting, reaching. He cushions his fall, hits the ground in a crouch, and then rises. It’s still dark down here, perfectly lightless except for the green crystal, but Jon takes a step towards it, another. Walks to it without hesitation, because it feels right, and reaches out—
His fingers hit glass, a bare meter away from the light.
“Jon?” Fives calls from above, thready with distance.
If Fives’s helmet lights don’t illuminate this strange darkness, Jon igniting his lightsaber likely won't do much either. He grimaces, tracing his fingers over the glass, and calls back, “I'm all right.”
There's a faint hiss, continuous and unchanging, now that he’s close enough to hear it. It’s low, coming from behind the glass, and it doesn’t sound like an animal’s noise. Jon frowns a little, cocking his head as he tries to make it out, and steps sideways, trying to find some sort of opening. The glass curves like a bell, taller than Jon is, and it’s hard to tell in the dark but he thinks it’s circular, perfectly smooth.
When he reaches out with the Force, trying to touch the green kyber crystal, he can't feel anything inside the glass at all.
A feeling like dread creeps down Jon's spine, makes his breath catch. He can't pinpoint a source, can't tell why, but it’s there and heavy and waiting, like some vast beast curled in the black and watching him, waiting to pounce. It feels like the factory on Queyta, like Durge and Ventress springing their trap. Like I will die here, whispered over and over in Jon's ear, as heavy as grief.
Jon has never feared death, never mourned for the idea of his own passing. He’s a Jedi, and he’ll die as a Jedi, and when that day comes he’ll do everything he can before his last moments to save those who deserve it, but he won't fight against it. Especially not when Echo and Fives are above him, balanced precariously in the darkness, waiting for him to save them. Even with the hum of trepidation singing through his nerves, he doesn’t waver, just keeps sliding his fingers over the glass. He’s probably circled the thing at least once already, but—
A seam, obvious against his fingertips.
Quickly, Jon stops, following the edge across, then down. It’s a low door, from the feel of it, narrow and tight, but when he presses his palms against it there's a quiet click and it swings inward. Jon ducks in afterwards, holding it open with his fingertips as he reaches out, and he still can't touch the Force, can't quite reach the green kyber crystal sitting on its stand. There's something soft under his feet, shifting and loose, and the door wants to swing shut again, the glass heavier than Jon would have expected. Thick, he thinks, and grips the edge of it tightly for a long moment.
The crystal is the key to the trap. He knows that the same way he knows day from night. But if Jon lets go of the door to reach the crystal, he might not be able to open it again. He might be trapped in here, and with his sense of the Force blunted by whatever the bell is made of, he isn't even sure he would be able to use one of Dark Woman’s tricks to get out.
But that’s why he gave Echo his comm. He knew before he jumped down here that something was off, and—it makes sense if this is the trap. A Sith wouldn’t sacrifice themselves for the sake of someone else. It’s so opposite everything the Sith practice that they wouldn’t even comprehend the idea.
In the darkness, the hissing is getting louder.
Jon closes his eyes, then loosens his grip. He lets go of the door, stepping forward as it swings shut, and doesn’t bother to look back. Reaching out, he finds the edge of the pedestal in the center of the bell, slides a hand up it. The kyber crystal is floating, hovering, and when he touches it, it bobs downward. Willing to try anything, Jon pushes it down, and there’s a faint resistance, but it goes. It sinks, and beneath it there’s an indent that it slots into perfectly as Jon pushes it home.
All around him, there's a tremor. In a wash of brilliance, lights come up, sweeping across the vast room from above. The lone tile Echo and Fives are standing on doesn’t move, but with a hissing click a series of walkways unfold from the far wall and stretch out, locking together as they slide out right to the edge of the remaining tile. There's a crow of victory from above, a sound of delight—
Sand spills over Jon's boots, and he raises his eyes to the fall of golden sand that’s hissing down the glass wall faster than before, piling up with unnerving speed. It’s up to Jon's shins and only getting deeper. Above him, the column of glass rises straight up, spreads out like a support for the stone floor above, and Jon knows without having to question it that this pillar holds up the vault. If it breaks, they’ll never get in.
Jon swallows. He can feel the pressure of the kyber crystal against his fingers, trying to rise again. When he loosens his grip, it floats up, and instantly the light snaps off, the bridge of tiles shudders, like the walkways are about to collapse. With a curse, Jon catches the crystal and shoves it back down, and the lights come back up with a hum, the bridges steadying.
The sand is almost to his knees already.
“Jon?” Echo calls, and Jon can hear him like they're standing right next to each other, close enough to touch.
“Will the bridges hold you?” Jon asks steadily, and there's a moment of surprised silence, then a huff.
“Yeah,” Fives says. “Probably. But there are three of them, and each one has different writing on the tiles.”
Another trap, because it would never be so simple. Jon closes his eyes, steels himself, and asks, “Can you describe them to me?”
“It’s just words,” Echo answers before Fives can. “And only on the first tile of each path. The Way, Self-Discipline, and Knowledge.”
Despite himself, Jon smiles. Maybe it is simple after all. “Take the path that starts with The Way,” he says.
There's a pause, and then high above he can see Fives take a step forward, across one of the three bridges. It holds, and Jon lets out a breath of relief, watching them cross towards the next spot where the three paths converge. It’s a wider landing, and they come to a stop there, trading looks.
“Another one,” Fives says, crouching down. “The same words, but in a different order.”
Jon shifts, trying to brush some of the sand away from the top of the pedestal. “They're the Three Pillars of the Order,” he says. “Knowledge is next, and then Self-Discipline will be the last.” Pauses, and swallows. “You should hurry,” he says honestly, quietly. They can't see him well, and—that’s probably for the better. The sand is falling faster now, and it’s completely blocking the door. “Go.”
“What about you?” Echo asks evenly, and when Fives takes a step towards the edge of the platform, he catches his shoulder and pulls him back.
That sense of doom, of death, is still heavy across Jon's shoulders, a weight on the back of his neck. Not…alarming, really, so much as inevitable. Jon isn't scared, and he curls his fingers in the sand that’s almost to his waist, then says, “I’ll see you again.”
It’s not a lie. As part of the Force, Jon will stay with them. He knows that the same way he breathes, automatic and unfaltering. Whether or not he can find his way out of this, he’ll stay with Echo and Fives until they pass themselves. At a distance, if he has to, but—that’s been true this whole time.
“Jon, no,” Fives says, all sharp edges, and Jon thinks of that last kiss, the imprint of it hot against his lips, and smiles.
“Go,” he says again. “I’ll keep the bridges up.”
There are no doorways down here. Once the kyber crystal rises again, the light will disappear, but Jon still won't be able to get out. The sand is over the top of the door, and the Force is muted, out of reach. He can't phase through the walls, can't teleport, can't shatter the thick glass. But—that’s all right. Echo and Fives will find the lightsaber, get it to Knol. Agen Kolar can face Palpatine, and the lightsaber should give him an edge no matter how powerful the Sith Lord is. And—
Knol will know, when she looks at Fives and Echo. She’ll know how Jon felt, and she’ll keep them safe.
“Finish my mission,” Jon says quietly, and tries to reach for their minds, but—whatever the glass is made of, his sense of the Force can't pass through it. He can't feel them. Just the sand sliding over his fingers, high enough now to reach halfway up his chest. “Please.”
Fives makes a sound of denial, but Echo pulls him back again, wraps an arm around him. “All right,” he says, grim, and when Fives tries to struggle, he shakes his head. “Fives, stop.”
“But—” Fives starts, and then stops himself. Jon can hear his shaky breath, but after a moment he says, “The Way, Knowledge, Self-Discipline.”
“Yes. Go.” Jon doesn’t add anything else, doesn’t try to put the feeling in his chest into words. He just watches as they pick up a run, heading across the last sets of bridges and leaping up a short flight of steps to reach a door set into the far wall. They vanish through it, and Jon pulls his hand away, lets the crystal rise as the lights blink out. He fights his way through the sand to reach the glass, but when he tries to press himself through it he can't. It holds fast, and he curses quietly, puts his shoulder against the door. Shoves, but there's no movement, no give.
There should be something else. There must be, but Jon can't think of it. I will die here fills his head, rings in his ears, and there's a flare of panic that comes with it, an undertone of suspicion, of desperation, of cowardice.
The Dark Side might be enough to get him out. One selfish, desperate, self-serving action, one moment of uncontained emotion and fury, and Jon might be able to break the glass. He could get away, even if it meant breaking the column, bringing the vault down.
Fives and Echo would never survive that.
Emotion, yet peace. Ignorance, yet knowledge. Passion, yet serenity. Chaos, yet harmony.
Death, yet the Force.
Jon's breathing steadies, firms. He shoves away those thoughts, too much his own, but fed by something else. He won't do it. There's nothing in him that would make such a selfish choice, and any temptation is natural, but ignorable.
He’s not afraid of dying. And if the cost of living is killing Fives and Echo, dooming this mission, Jon will die gladly.
The sand is too soft, shifts too much to provide any sort of foothold, and Jon stops trying after a moment. He sinks back against the glass, breathing out, and closes his eyes. Wishes, just for a moment, that he could feel Echo and Fives’s minds one more time, but—
They’ll find the lightsaber and give it to Knol. Knol will keep them safe. It’s a good outcome. Jon can be glad of it, and if there’s a flicker of regret that he won't be able to stay with Fives and Echo, well. He wouldn’t have been able to anyway, and at least like this, if he joins the Force, he can stay close always, protect them no matter what.
The sand slides over his shoulders, and Jon tips his head up, keeping his breathing steady, his mind clear. Repeats the mantra, like he’s sinking into meditation, and doesn’t even try to fight.
I will die here, something whispers, instinct or some last flare of self-preservation or the drowning dregs of selfishness, and Jon presses his fingers into the glass and accepts it readily.
Yes, he thinks, and it’s steady, calm. But they're going to live.
It’s enough. It’s everything.
The moment the light goes out behind them, Echo feels his heart drop.
“No!” Fives says, and they're halfway up the stairs but he still turns like he’s going to leap right back down them. Like they didn’t just hear the bridges fall away again, leaving nothing but a hundred-meter fall and absolute darkness. Echo catches him before he can make it even a single step, hauls him around and forward again.
“Come on,” he snaps, and Fives fights, but Echo’s never not known him since the moment they were decanted, and he can tell it’s not a real attempt. Fives knows what they have to do just as much as Echo does.
Just as much as Jon does.
“No,” Fives says, but it’s an empty protest as they stagger up the last few steps and into a wide-open room. “We can get him out, we still have one set of rappel gear—”
“Fives,” Echo says, and lets Fives hear it, the way he wants to turn around and go back as well, because they never even saw the trap. Jon went down there, fell out of sight, and they heard his voice but that was it.
They heard him telling them to go ahead without him, and Echo’s chest feels like it’s been hollowed out beneath his ribs.
Fives’s face twists, and he grabs Echo, hauls him in. Echo knows him too well to think he’s going to throw the punch he’s telegraphing, and he drags Fives in instead, wraps his arms around him and squeezes hard. Fives grips him in return, desperate, and the sound that jars from his throat is ragged.
“Kriff, Echo,” he gets out, and Echo wants to throw things. Wants to turn around, find Jon—
“I know,” he manages, and Fives grips him tighter, breathes out harshly against his cheek, then pulls away and turns.
“Let’s go,” he says, and he’s pale, mouth a thin line. “We can—after we give his friend the sword. We’ll come back and look for him.”
Echo doesn’t let himself think about how hard it was to get here, all the times they almost died, all the ways that could go terribly. They will, because they have to. They’ll do what they promised, what duty demands, because it’s an important thing, but—
After that, Echo thinks, and it’s like the half-imagined, desperate whispers of after the war that he and Fives always trade in the dark when there's no one else around to overhear. After, after, after, because all they can do right now is keep moving, even when Jon is probably dying horrifically a few hundred meters beneath their feet.
Echo’s breath shudders out of him, and he almost trips. Without looking back, Fives catches his arm, pulls him up and on, and they stumble across the room to a wide, circular door. It’s inlaid with beautiful patterns, like a sky full of galaxies split by polished golden rings, but the bright colors and glowing crystals blur in front of Echo’s eyes like flares.
He’s crying, he realizes, and swallows hard, raising a hand to rub at the wet streaks on his cheeks.
Fives is the one who’s dry-eyed, grim-faced as he faces the door. There's no panel to open it, no latch that Echo can see, but Fives presses both hands against it, sweeping his palms across the inlays with a frown. He reaches out, and Echo steps in, catches his wrist before he can trigger something, and pulls him back.
“Wait, Fives,” he says. “It wouldn’t be random. Nothing has been.”
Not even meeting Jon. The Force brought him to them, brought him just in time to save Fives’s life, and Echo has always believed in what the Jedi say, but—abstractly. Seeing Jon appear in the cave, hearing him say he could heal—that was the moment Echo really understood what the Jedi mean when they talk about the Force as the threads that bind the universe together.
Jon's thread is tangled up in theirs. It can't be cut.
Fives makes a sound of frustration, stepping back half a pace. “Then what is it?” he asks. “It just…looks like a galaxy.”
“Not a whole galaxy,” Echo offers, frowning, and steps forward. “Look. It’s—it’s off, but I think this is the system we’re in right now.”
Tipping his head, Fives leans in, tracing a finger over the kyber crystal set into the black metal, and with a soft shimmer, it kindles, glowing a strange, unearthly grey that makes the hair on the back of Echo’s neck prickle. Fives freezes, too, his eyes widening and his breath catching, but after a long second nothing collapses or activates or tries to eat them, and Echo mutters a curse and steps closer.
“Think it’s safe to say that’s the you are here crystal,” Fives says, rough with tension. Because they're ignoring the fact that Jon is somewhere behind them, below them, caught in a trap. Echo feels like he can't really breathe, and he has to force himself to focus on the map, to keep looking.
“This isn't just the Outer Rim,” he says after a moment. “That’s why it looks so off. This over here—I think that’s the Unknown Regions. And then down here, that has to be the Core, because this part is the Inner Core.” He traces a swathe of black crystals that are probably supposed to represent the black holes at the center of the galaxy, then pauses. There's something—
“Kriff,” Fives says, and pulls his hand away. “It’s about the Jedi. Remember? Jon said the Jedi came from the Unknown Regions. There's that one Temple, on the ice planet—”
“Ilum,” Echo says, startled, and pushes up on his toes to drag a hand over the part of the map that represents the Unknown Regions. “But—Commander Tano said its location is one of the Order’s biggest secrets—”
“And besides, Jon said there were a bunch of Temples all over the Outer Rim,” Fives finishes, and groans. “But…I don’t know what else it could be.”
Echo settles flat-footed again, frowning at the map, trying to think, but—it’s hard. Jon is—and they promised to finish his mission for him. They have to do this. “It still looks odd,” he says, trying to remember the last time he saw a map of the galaxy as a whole and not just the little piece they were currently campaigning in. Before they left Kamino, probably. “It just—it doesn’t look right.”
Fives leans in to touch one of narrow golden bands, then looks up. “It’s not right,” he says, and grabs Echo by the elbow, dragging him three steps sideways. “Look, it’s—the rings are off. And they vanish into the floor, but if we align them I bet the door will open.”
Echo looks at that strange ghostly gray glow again, right in the center of the map. One large crystal to mark out a system, but there are smaller ones, too, scattered over the metal like a waterfall of colored sparks. It’s a wild mix, but Echo’s eyes keep catching on a pattern, a shift of different colors that is repeated all over the door.
“I see it,” he says. “Where we are—that’s the center. See the pattern, the white and purple and then the blue? If we can turn it so it lines up, I think that will make everything else align, too.”
Fives nods, grim, and heads for the other side of the door. “I’ll pull,” he says, and Echo nods, digging his fingers into the narrow band of gold. He throws his weight forward, and Fives hauls backwards, and with a grating, creaking groan, the metal shifts. Slowly, jerkily, it slides forward, clicking through positions as it goes, and Echo keeps shoving until he sees the line of white crystals line up with the ones in the innermost circle.
“Stop,” he says quickly, and shifts back, grabbing the next one. “Okay, I think I need to pull this time. Good?”
“Go,” Fives agrees, and shoves forward. The ring slides more smoothly this time, even as the clicking hiss makes Echo want to look for an activating trap. They slide it into place, then move on to the next, and the map is settling, starting to look right. Not exactly right, but it’s been hundreds of years since it was made, and Echo supposes that accounts for some of the differences.
Then the third ring clicks into place, and he sees it.
“Fives, look!” he says, just as another light flickers into being. Not ghostly gray this time, or the yellow that caught his eye first. “That’s Coruscant, and the light—it must stand for the Temple there.”
White, bright and shining, the Coruscant light glows, and close to it another ignites, this one dusky orange. All across the map, more points of light are flaring to life, scattered across the galaxy like a sweep of particularly bright stars. Echo takes two steps back, watching with something tight in his throat, and feels the bump of Fives’s shoulder against his as they watch the crystals kindle.
“It must be what Jon was talking about,” Fives says, quiet. “These are all the Temples that used to be open, but were lost.”
Echo’s eyes feel hot again. “There are so many of them,” he says, and—one thing to think of the Jedi as a handful of mystical warriors headquartered in the shadow of the Senate, but—at one point they were everywhere, out where people could see them, with homes all over the galaxy. With so many ways to help people, when now they can't even manage to keep themselves alive.
The galaxy must have had so much light in it, once, Echo thinks, and it hurts to be standing in the darkness and seeing a glimpse of that. With the man who gave them that glimpse, with all his old knowledge and his unwavering faith in the Force and the Jedi, having told them to leave him behind so that he could save them and make sure his mission was completed.
The spreading stars keep climbing all the way to the top of the map, and the very last one to light is a huge crystal as long as Echo’s thumb. It shines a fierce, bright green, and there's a sharp click, a groan. The door swings inward with a protesting screech of hinges, and Echo grabs for Fives, finds him already reaching back as they duck forward, getting through the gap before anything else can trigger.
But nothing does.
With a low shimmer, light rises to fill the room. It’s a relatively small room, five meters in each direction, which isn't what Echo was expecting given that it’s supposed to be a vault. But—
The walls are covered in lightsaber hilts.
“Kriff,” Fives says breathlessly, taking a step forward. “How are we supposed to find anything in here? There are so many.”
There are. Hundreds of them, all neatly laid on shelves and ordered, the rows of them stretching all the way to the ceiling. Three walls are entirely covered, with the fourth left empty except for two heavy doors and a pair of statues featuring the same women from the water room. Echo takes a few careful steps in, still gripping Fives’s wrist, and scans the walls, not entirely sure what they're looking for.
“A red hilt,” Fives says, matching him. “It should be a red hilt with silver tracings, and—a pattern of shadows? But what does that look like?”
Echo swallows, and—this is going to take them hours. There's no way they’ll manage to get to Jon before he’s dead, if they even had a chance before. But—
Jon needed to get this lightsaber to fight the Sith who’s orchestrating the war, who’s hidden in the Senate and playing both sides, trying to bring the whole Republic down. They need to find it and get it to Jon's friend, so she can get it to the person who can use it. That’s bigger than one Jedi and two clones, more important than the fact that Echo feels like his heart is fracturing a little more with each beat.
Jon bought them the time to find the lightsaber, so they will.
“Why would they leave one of their most dangerous things just sitting on the shelf?” Fives asks, but he steps forward, starts scanning the rows. “We should pull down all the red and silver ones, check them over to see which one is right.”
“Leaving it on the shelf seems like plenty of security when it’s just one lightsaber out of thousands,” Echo mutters, but he doesn’t protest, scanning the first shelf. There are at least twelve red ones just on the lowest level, and he picks out the five with silver decoration and lays them out in the center of the floor. A moment later, Fives brings over another eight, and they share a look as he sets them out carefully.
“Pattern of shadows?” Echo asks, wary.
“I don’t even know what that means,” Fives says, and goes back to his wall. With a grimace, Echo keeps working as well, pulling down any lightsabers that look like they might fit and setting them aside. None immediately jump out at him as right, and there's no special shelf marked dangerous, which is frustrating, but—
It’s kind of bewildering, to think that all of these are meant to be wielded by Jedi. That all of these are lightsabers, carefully built by a master craftsman. Echo’s seen what one Jedi with a lightsaber can do on the battlefield, and to think of so many more just waiting for someone to appreciate them, to use them—it makes it a little hard to breathe.
“Commander Gree would love this,” Fives says, from where he’s balanced with his feet on the lowest shelf as he works. “And I bet Bly would, too.”
So would Jon, Echo thinks, remembering the way he talked about his lightsaber. The way he looked as he checked it over, intent, careful concentration and the gentle touch of scarred hands.
Echo hurts, all over and deep inside. Breathing is getting hard again, too.
“I was going to say we should stay with him,” Fives says, without looking back, and his voice is tight, bullish. Like he’s going to barrel through the pain and say it anyway, because it needs to be said. Echo can't even begin to find the words or will to stop him. “Not just leaving here, because we’re supposed to be dead and that’s easy. But—after he defeated the Sith Lord, and when the war was over. And I was going to say that we should—we should resettle the lost Temples. Clones and Jedi, working together to rebuild them, back to what they should be. There aren’t enough Jedi to fill all of them alone, and there are too many clones for any of the Temples that are still staffed to deal with, so—why not just—have Jedi and clones go reopen them together? It would have worked.”
And Jon would have liked the idea. Echo saw his reaction to this Temple, his sadness at the loss of so much knowledge and so many Temples to time. But—
But now it doesn’t matter.
“We should,” Echo manages, even though he feels like there's a fist around his throat. “Even if—he can't. Or the Jedi don’t agree. The Temples were abandoned, so we can just. Go and fix them up, with any clones who want to.”
“Lots will,” Fives says, with a steady faith Echo always has trouble replicating, even when he has a clear path laid out in front of him. There's an edge to it now, though, like Fives will make sure of it or else, and Echo has to close his eyes for a long minute before he reaches for the next red hilt.
“They’d better,” he says, and lifts the lightsaber clear—
With a thump and a rattle, something rolls free. It drops down through a crack, bounces off the bottom shelf, and rolls to a stop against Echo’s boots with a metallic clink.
Red, Echo thinks, and there’s something rising in his chest even as he crouches down to grab it. A red hilt, but dark, deep crimson instead of the scarlet he was expecting, with a delicate filigree of silver etched into the surface. The markings are so light and delicate that Echo almost doesn’t see them at first glance, but as he picks the lightsaber up off the ground, the light catches on them, makes them shift and dance like shadows in front of a moving candle.
“Fives,” Echo says, just a little bit too loudly, because his heart is in his throat and it’s hard to think of anything else. “Fives, I think I—”
“You found it?” Fives says, all relief and disbelief as he grabs Echo’s shoulder and leans in to see it. “I—that’s definitely a pattern of shadows, okay, I see it now.”
It only took them minutes, too, instead of the hours Echo expected. He tightens his grip on the lightsaber Jon was so determined to find, then glances back out the galaxy door, towards the vanished walkway. There's no reasonable way to get down there; his rappelling gear won't reach the bottom, and he wouldn’t just send Fives up onto the mountain alone with the lightsaber even if Fives would actually go. But…
Fives’s hand closes over his. “Come on, Echo,” he says quietly. “Jon's friend will probably comm soon.”
There's no saying that the signal will actually reach this deep, so they need to get to the surface and let her know. Echo’s fully aware of that, and he swallows, nods.
Don’t let the sacrifice be for nothing. It’s not something they teach on Kamino, but hells, Echo and Fives have learned it anyway.
“Right. Stairway up,” he says roughly, and Fives grips his hand, nods.
“Two doors,” he answers. “We just have to pick the right one.”
And the other will probably try to eat them, or it will spew fire, or something. Echo’s figured out how this goes. “Spin a blaster?” he offers, and Fives winces.
“Maybe just open them both at the same time,” he says. “Then if we trigger a trap, we have a way out, too.”
That works for Echo, and he nods, tightening his grip on the lightsaber. Pauses, swallowing, and looks around the room again, feeling something turn in his stomach.
“We should put things back, too,” he says quietly. “I don’t—we shouldn’t leave it a mess.”
Fives lets out a harsh breath, then leans in, bumping their pauldrons together. “You're right,” he says firmly, and Echo tucks the lightsaber through his utility belt and stoops to gather up as many of the lightsabers as he can, careful of accidentally switching any on. Weapons without safeties is a ridiculous idea.
“He said we’d see him again,” Echo says before he can think better of it, and his throat is tight, something unpleasantly hot in his chest. It’s—plaintive. He doesn’t mean it to be so plaintive, but his breath hitches, and he just—
Wants. Wants what they're never going to have, that future where they all survive the war and rebuild the abandoned Temples together and survive. Where Jon didn’t die so they could get a special weapon and kill a Sith Lord.
Fives carefully slides the last handful of lightsabers back onto the shelf, then turns. “I know,” he says, and Echo can't help but reach out, reach for him. He pulls Echo in, and Echo rests their foreheads together, trying not to think when his thoughts are full of nothing but an angry sort of grief and a wash of bone-deep regret.
“Jetii,” Fives says, and Echo can't laugh because he’s about to cry. Their Jedi, and of course, just like Hevy, he sacrificed himself for something bigger.
“Doors,” Echo says, and lets him go. “I've got the left.”
“Right, then,” Fives agrees, and as they approach the pair of doors in the far wall, he casts a glance up at the statues of the two Masters who founded the Temple, face twisting. Easy to understand how he feels—Echo gets that same kick of anger and something within a few degrees of gratitude, because the Temple brought Jon to them, but it also took him away. Still, he reaches out, brushing the back of Fives’s hand, and then steps forward to face the doors. They're precisely identical, made of white stone carved with a pattern of interlocking circles, and when Echo grips the handle it’s warm to the touch.
“On three?” Fives suggests, getting ahold of the other one. Echo nods, setting his feet, and Fives says, “One, two—”
“Three,” Echo finishes, and hauls backwards, only to almost lose his footing when the door swings easily, soundlessly. He nearly crashes into Fives, who staggers, then catches him, and—
“Oh,” Fives says, and his voice cracks.
Echo doesn’t need to ask why. He stares at the set of steps leading down from Fives’s door, lit by white kyber crystals set into the walls at regular intervals, and swallows hard. Those stairs would probably let them reach Jon. And—it’s an easy way back up, if they did go after him. The other set leads upwards, and it’s the one Jon must have meant when he mentioned an easy way out of the Temple, but—
“Echo,” Fives says quietly.
The other set leads up, lit with pale gold, and Echo almost thinks he can smell rain and fresh air from the mountainside above.
Echo bites down hard on his lip, trying to be reasonable. They have a mission, but Jon is down there, probably dead or dying, and this is a way to save him.
“He saved us,” Echo says, and the words ring in his ears, too loud, but—he doesn’t regret them. Not really. “We should save him now.”
Fives makes a low, wounded sound, hands fisting. “Echo,” he says, pleading. Pleading for Echo to make the right choice, tell him to do the right thing, to make them both follow the regs and finish the mission, but—
He knows as well as anyone that Echo knows the regs, but that’s hardly the same thing as always following them.
Echo doesn’t answer, just waits, watching Fives. Fives stares back, expression torn, and then he closes his eyes, setting his jaw. It’s easy to see the determination sliding over his face, the sheer force of will, and when he opens his eyes, Echo is smiling.
“We’re not just numbers,” Fives says, like it’s a challenge. “Not everything is about the mission.”
“Technically,” Echo says, because he can't not, “Jon's probably the best one to use the lightsaber, so rescuing him should be part of the mission.”
Fives laughs at that, choked and rough, and knocks their foreheads together. “Come on,” he says, starting through the door. “It’s not that far down, and I don’t see any obvious traps.”
It’s probably selfish, doing this. It’s probably exactly what Jon would tell them not to do, but at the same time, this is a war. Echo is so kriffing tired of war, and losing everyone, and all the light going out a little more every second. Of leaving people behind, and getting left behind, and everyone dying. Dying for good things, but—they're still dead at the end of it, and they can't even live in the world they gave everything to save. It’s not fair. It’s not right.
If they can't save people, if they can't at least try, what’s even the point of all of this?
Echo casts one more look at the stairway leading up, then turns and follows Fives without hesitation. The doors stay open, like they're waiting, like this won't be a trap after all, and Echo breathes, digs his fingers into his palms, and lets himself hang onto a little bit of hope.
This is the ending I've always had in mind for this fic, and it's really great to finally be able to put it into words nine months after I started.
I'd like to request that people not demand sequels/epilogues/follow-ups, because I get really, really frustrated with people who take free things, don't bother to appreciate the time and effort that went into them, and just demand more. Thanks.
“This one,” Fives says, a few hundred meters down the stairs. There's a silver door leading off the landing, a control panel beside it, and Fives has a decent sense of direction, of space. This is far enough down, and they have to be right beside the room with the trap.
“Think it needs a code?” Echo asks, frowning at the panel, but when Fives steps closer and brushes the dust off, the light at the top is green.
“It’s unlocked,” he says, heart in his throat, and touches the button. Hardly dares to hope, but—
With a soft click, the door slides back, and when Fives locks it open, it stays that way.
Shoulder bumping Fives’s, Echo slides in beside him, then taps another button. Within the room, there's a click, a rumble. Lights come up, and through the doorway Fives can see the floor rebuilding itself, tiles locking back into place in a fluttering sweep like shifting scales. The lights stay on, illuminating a bare, open stretch of ground with strange grey crystals set into the walls. Fives is entirely certain they're the same unnerving, unearthly crystal that served as the marker for this place on the galaxy door, and he wonders if they're native to this planet, if they're something that the Masters here were particularly fond of.
“Jon?” he calls, stepping into room. Echo follows, leaning down to wedge his blaster across the doorway just in case it tries to close behind them. Fives wants to appreciate the forethought, but his heart is beating a little too hard, his ears ringing. There's no sign of Jon, no Jedi in an oversized cloak sitting on the ground and waiting for them.
They hadn’t been able to see him when the lights went up and the paths rebuilt themselves as they were crossing. There wasn’t any hint as to where he was down here, and something like fear crawls up Fives’s spine. What if he landed somewhere else entirely?
“Jon?” Echo calls, pitched to carry, and Fives matches him as they step into the room, careful of where they put their feet. “Jon, we got it. Where are you?”
Still no answer, and Fives turns, puts his back to Echo’s as they scan the room. With the tiles locked together above them, it’s hard to say where the vault is, but Fives thinks he sees the jut of the stairs leading to it. A few meters over, there's a column of what looks like glass that’s full of golden sand, and Fives winces at the thought of how fragile it looks, how easily the whole vault could have come down if that’s what it’s holding up. A weight thing, maybe—too many people in the vault and it collapses. Which is clever, but brutal, so it matches all the traps they’ve seen so far.
“Where is he?” Echo says, full of sharp edges. “He jumped down here, I know it.”
“Maybe when we deactivated the trap, it covered some doorway he went through?” Fives suggests, giving the room anther sweep. Echo starts along the wall, headed right, like he’s looking for openings, and Fives turns the other direction, towards the glass column. He studies the wall, the floor, but if there’s any secret opening, it’s completely hidden. Maybe another Force-trap, he thinks, grim. If that’s it, they're just wasting time, and—
Something scuffs under his boot, and Fives pauses, looks down.
There's sand on the floor. It’s golden, soft against Fives’s fingers when he leans down to touch it. Not a lot of sand, but a definite scattering of it, in a way Fives wouldn’t have expected to be able to escape from a closed column. Frowning, Fives looks up at the glass, following the rise of the column up to where it disappears into the ceiling, and can't see any holes. Follows it down—
Catches an edge of something dark, buried in the sand.
“Echo!” Fives shouts, panic beating in his chest, and he throws himself forward, hears running footsteps close in. “Echo, the column, he’s in there, in the sand—”
“Karking hells,” Echo says, ragged, and slams his hands against the glass. “There's—there has to be a door, he got in there somehow—”
On the other side of the pillar from him, Fives sees the crack. “Here!” he calls, and digs his fingers into the seam, wrenches at it. His fingers slip, not able to get a solid grip, and he makes a sound of fury, shoves forward and hauls back again, and an instant later Echo is there too, pushing Fives’s hands to the side.
“Over, here, this side,” he says. “See, look, there's a divot—”
Like a handhold, right against the seam so that it’s almost invisible from most angles. When Echo grabs it, though, there's a faint shift, and Fives gets his hands into it as well, digs his heels in and hauls back just as Echo does, and with a groan, the door slides open a handful of inches. Sand spills out, covering their boots, but not enough. Fives grits his teeth and puts all his weight into pulling back, trying not to think how impossible this door would be to open from the inside, even with greater than Human strength, and he snarls, drags—
The door slides all the way open with a protesting screech. A cascade of sand spills out, and a body comes with it.
“Jon!” Echo cries, and he lunges, pulling Jon up and out of the sand, and Fives gets his other arm, helps haul him clear. He’s still, limp in their grip, covered in powder-fine grains of sand, and Fives thinks of sand in his lungs, of Jon drowning in sand like it was water and curses desperately. He rolls Jon up on his side, presses his fingers to Jon's throat and searches frantically for a pulse. They took too long in the vault, spent too long debating what was right, and Jon suffocated, suffocated in sand while they stood over his head and didn’t even think—
With a wracking cough, Jon jerks. He gags, claws at the floor, chokes and coughs as he heaves for breath, and Fives curses. He grabs Jon's shoulders, but Jon wrenches back, one hand coming up like he’s trying to block a blow even as he coughs, and Fives’s chest twists.
“Jon,” he says. “Jon, it’s us, you're all right. You're out of there.”
Jon doesn’t raise his head, doesn’t stop coughing, but his hand grabs for Fives, and Fives catches it, leans over him. He’s covered in sand, shedding it with each heaving cough, and Echo meets Fives’s eyes over his head, expression full of worry. Curling a hand around his shoulder, Echo braces him, pulling the canteen from his belt.
“Can you drink, Jon?” he asks. “I have water, if that will help—”
Jon shakes his head, pulling at the neck of his robes, and Fives gets it a moment later. He drags Jon up into his arms, bracing Jon's back against his chest, and starts pulling at his sash. “Echo, help me get this off, he needs skin for his healing thing—”
Echo doesn’t even hesitate. He starts stripping Jon, getting his tunics open. The undershirt he just gets his hands in and rips down the middle, and Jon makes a wheezing sound that’s probably thanks, splaying a hand over his own chest. There's no light, no sparks, no visible change, but after a long, long moment Jon jerks, hisses. His head falls back against Fives’s shoulder as he gasps, but this time his breathing is clear, deep. He doesn’t sound like he’s still halfway to suffocating, and Fives lets out a shuddering breath, wrapping both arms around Jon's waist and burying his face in sandy hair.
“Jon,” he gets out, ragged, and one of Jon's hands curls over his, grips tightly. He tips his head, and a moment later Echo makes a sound of pure, wrenching relief and folds down against him, wrapping his arms around Jon and Fives both.
“Kriff,” Echo manages, voice shaky. “Jon, you—that door could only be opened from the outside.”
Long fingers curl into Echo’s short hair, and Jon tips his head, temple resting against Fives’s. “Couldn’t think,” he manages, even rougher and raspier than normal. “Had my lightsaber, but—something in there—”
It was a test. A trap, but—one only a Jedi would have managed, Fives thinks, and has to swallow hard. Self-sacrifice, and selflessness, and then the only way to get out of the trap was to have someone come back for him instead of just leaving with the lightsaber.
“We’ve got you,” he promises, kissing Jon's cheekbone, his temple, the curve of his brow. “We’ve got you, and we’re not letting you go.”
A raw noise drags from Jon's throat, and he clutches at them both, hauls them closer. Fives wraps himself around Jon as best he can, feels Echo do the same, and they pin him between them, completely surrounded. Safe, and theirs, and Fives means it when he says they're never letting go. No matter what, no matter the reason, Jon's never leaving their sight again.
“Easy,” Fives says softly, and Jon nods, breathless even with the short climb back up the stairs. Fives is under his arm, holding him up, and Jon wants to be careful, not put too much weight on him, but he still feels shaky with lost oxygen, like the inside of his throat and his chest have been sandblasted raw. He’ll heal himself more when they're safe, when he’s had a few more minutes to recover, but right now, getting out seems like the best plan for all of them.
“Here,” Echo says, and pushes the door into the vault open a little wider, then reaches back, gets Jon's other arm like not touching him for even a few moments is too much. Jon lets himself be moved, too tired to think of why he shouldn’t, and Echo wraps his arms around him, all but picks him up off his feet, and sinks down with him, pulling Jon into his lap. Jon shudders, turning his head to bury his face in Echo’s throat, and Echo’s hitching breath says everything. He clutches Jon close, and they should get up, keep moving, but—
“We’ll just rest here for a second,” Echo promises, and Fives slides to his knees in front of them, looking worried. Not able to help himself, Jon reaches out, groping for his hand, and Fives catches it immediately, squeezing tightly.
“I’ll be all right,” Jon promises, and Fives makes a sound of amusement that only just covers the ache underneath.
“Yeah,” he says, sinking down and pulling Jon's knees over his own. “Now you will, because we’re never leaving you again.”
“Ever,” Echo promises, and the grip of his arms is almost bruising. “We—if we’d just left—”
His voice breaks on horror, and Jon wasn’t scared of dying, even like that, but it still makes a shiver of horrified resignation eat up his spine.
“Thank you,” he manages, curling a hand around Echo’s arm, tightening his grip on Fives’s hand. “I—thank you. For coming back.”
“We finished the mission,” Echo says, stubborn and set, like Jon can't feel his desperation. “We got the lightsaber, so it was fine. If we left you behind, there was no point in anything.”
A trap for a Jedi, but—not the death of a Jedi, Jon thinks, and closes his eyes, breathing out.
He wants to curl up right here he is, stay in Echo’s lap and sleep for a week, but they really do have a mission to finish. Squeezing Echo’s arm, he pushes up, careful, and Fives instantly catches him, pulls Jon's arm over his shoulder and braces him.
“Jon,” he says, concerned even as he helps Jon get his feet under him. “We can rest here—”
Jon shakes his head, trying to marshal his thoughts, put together some kind of response. “I need—Knol needs to know we made it,” he says. “She’ll know where we can go. And I need a shower.”
Fives’s laugh is rough, but warm. “Yeah,” he agrees. “You do. Echo?”
Echo gets to his feet, slinging his blaster back over his shoulder. “Need anything else from the vault?” he asks.
Jon pauses, a little startled by the thought. He looks around the room, for the first time really registering where they are, and has to swallow. There are hundreds of years’ worth of work on display, the creations of dozens of Masters who lived and died centuries ago. The lightsaber he came to find is just one piece out of thousands, and to think of all of them staying here, lost, to fall away into dust with the rest of the Temple—
It aches with a quiet sort of sadness that Jon's felt far too many times, thinking about the past and what the Order has lost.
Carefully, Jon pulls away from Fives and Echo, walks across the room to the closest shelf on unsteady legs, and then pauses there, running his fingers over the hilts. Psychometry isn't one of his gifts, but the care put into all of these is almost tangible, something soft and bright and warm. They're all beautiful, a hundred different designs and types, meant for different hands and different styles and different purposes. Jon's rebuilt his own lightsaber a dozen times over the years, found new crystals half as many times, but—his work is still impossibly rough and amateurish in comparison. The Jedi who crafted these really were Masters in all senses of the word.
Halfway down the shelf, green catches Jon's eye. A pair of lightsabers, one a smaller shoto, with sleek silver hilts. They're wrapped in thin green leather over the grip, with Brylark wood inlays in a pattern of delicate leaves. Jon's never seen anything quite so lovely, and he reaches for them, lifts them down with reverent hands.
“Pretty,” Fives says, from a pace behind him, and Jon can't help but snort at the understatement.
“Very,” he agrees softly, and the buttons to turn them on are carved like the knots on a tree trunk, tiny and precise. Jon ignites the shoto, and the blade is a green three shades darker than his own, edged with a touch of silver in a way he’s never seen before. It’s beautiful, and Jon hesitates, swallows. He has a lightsaber, but—
“Keep it,” Echo says quietly, warmly, and his hand closes around Jon's elbow, gripping gently. He’s smiling. “It suits you.”
“It feels…rude,” Jon says, but it’s hard to look away from the blade. “I came for a reason.”
Fives snorts, pressing their shoulders together. “You didn’t come expecting to pick up two clone troopers, either,” he points out. “Besides, lightsabers are meant to be used, right? I'm pretty sure none of these were meant to become decorations and just sit on a shelf until the end of time.”
They weren’t. Even if they were largely crafted for the art of the crafting itself, Jon is sure they were all intended to be eminently functional. And—
He can hear the crystals singing to him, the same way his own does.
Switching the shoto off, Jon sighs, but curls his hands a little more tightly around both hilts, then attaches them to the connector clips on his belt. He’ll have to find better ones, but—for now, these will do. It feels like a good decision, too, like something warms at his choice, and he steps back, then turns and raises his hands, bowing to the two statues beside the doors.
“Thank you,” he says quietly, to whatever ghosts are still listening. There's no response, but Jon wasn’t expecting one, and he glances over, offer a small smile to Fives and Echo. “It shouldn’t be too far to the mountainside.”
Fives grins back, stepping close and sliding under his arm again, one hand hooked around Jon's waist. “Good. I think I'm more than ready to leave this place behind us.”
“Me too,” Echo mutters, firmly closing the door leading down to the trapped room. He waits for Jon and Fives to pass him on their way up the other set of stairs, then pulls that door shut behind them as well and follows. “I'm going to have nightmares about walking across tiled floors.”
“Stairs,” is Fives’s verdict, and Jon can't help a sound of amusement.
“Even with what we did on the stairs before?” he asks, and Fives makes a low, desperate noise, grip tightening.
“Jon,” he complains. “That’s not fair.”
A hand settles low on Jon's back, fingers digging in lightly. “That was a good start,” Echo says pointedly, and Jon's breath catches. “But as soon as we’re near a bed and have a day to ourselves, we’re going to wreck you.”
A sound jars from Jon's throat, and he’s too tired to be thinking of it, but he can't fight the shiver that runs through him, the way he leans into Fives’s hold. Fives smiles at him, leans in and kisses the corner of his mouth, and murmurs, “Later. Promise.”
Because they're staying. They both want to stay. Jon closes his eyes, hardly able to believe it.
“You could—what about your unit?” he asks, raw. “Aren’t you going back to them?”
“We’ve already been reported missing in action, probably,” Echo says, and as the stairwell widens out, he catches up, falls in on Jon's other side and braces him, one arm around his waist. “Or killed in action. Like you, right? So it’s fine. We’re not leaving you.”
Jon can hardly believe it, doesn’t know if he should. All the reasons why he shouldn’t be a commander are still all too real, but—
“I can't—I'm not command material,” he says helplessly.
Fives snorts. “So? Don’t give commands. We all worked together pretty well,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be you as our general. You can just be our Jedi.”
“Makes it less awkward for us to fuck you, that way, too,” Echo says, and Jon makes a sound of embarrassed offense, ducking his head. Fives laughs at him and kisses his cheek, though, so it’s hard to mind the words too much.
Still. Jon closes his fingers more tightly over Fives’s shoulder, takes a breath. “You have to leave me,” he says, and even as Fives and Echo both make instant sounds of protest, he shakes his head. “No. if I ever hurt you, you have to leave me. Promise me.”
“Like your Master hurt you?” Fives asks, too quick, too clever. When Jon stiffens, he smiles crookedly, and Echo’s low sound is the next best thing to a growl.
“It was…training,” Jon says, ducking his head. His hair is full of clumpy sand, doesn’t hide his face well, but—he tries anyway. “She made me a Jedi, and made sure I wouldn’t fall to the Dark Side. But if I do—”
“You won't,” Echo says flatly, and takes two steps past them to hit the button on a panel beside a short doorway. It slides open, letting in a gust of icy wind, and as Jon and Fives stagger up the last few stairs, Echo catches Jon's arm, drags him up, then turns and shoves him up against the stone beside the door. Jon almost startles, but before he can even twitch away Echo is on him, hands on his thighs and hauling him up, mouth slamming into Jon's with bruising force. Jon gasps, clutches at broad shoulders made broader by pauldrons and armor, and Echo kisses him brutally, kisses him breathless, kisses him until Jon's head is spinning and he can hardly hang onto Echo at all. He whimpers, and Echo pulls away, too quick, too soon, drops him on his feet and shoves him up against Fives. Without hesitation, Fives catches Jon's face between his hands, kisses him as well, and his mouth his softer, but he slants their lips together, never long enough, just enough to steal everything that’s left of Jon's breath until he’s gasping, clutching at Fives and his teasing mouth and the smile Jon can feel.
“You won't,” Fives breathes against his lips, and presses his thumb against one of the marks he left just a short while ago. “You would never.”
Jon ducks his head, burying his face in Fives’s throat, and Fives smiles, kisses his hair—
“Ugh, sand,” he says instantly, pulling away and making a face, and Jon can't help but laugh, the sound shaking through him.
Echo snorts, wrapping his arms around both of them from behind Jon, and he tucks his face into the nape of Jon's neck, just breathing. “We were thinking,” he says, low. “About after the war.”
Fives is still smiling, pressed against Jon's cheek. “Yeah, we were,” he agrees. “About the old Temples, and how there are going to be a lot of clones with nowhere to go, and not enough Jedi to work like they used to. So what about restoring all the lost Temples and making them places for Jedi and clones?”
Jon closes his eyes, overwhelmed. He can see it, clear as day in his mind. A Temple full of clones and Jedi, in the Outer Rim, with gardens and rooms full of laughter and a crèche. A place brought back to life, brought back into being by many hands, with sunlight and warmth and a place in the Force, a duty they can finally fulfill completely, with no one left abandoned.
It’s more than he’d ever thought to imagine, but—he can already sense it, the pull, the call of that future pulling them onward together.
“Yes,” he says, ragged, rough, and grips Fives’s side, Echo’s arm as he tries to hang on and ground himself. “That’s—a good thought.”
Echo kisses the knobs of his spine, smiling against his skin. “We thought so, too,” he says softly.
Before Jon can answer, there's a quiet, insistent beeping. Jon lifts his head, and Echo fumbles for one of his pouches, pulling out Jon's comm and handing it back as he pulls away from Fives. Fives doesn’t let him go far, but loops an arm around his waist again, holding him up as he checks the code and then accepts the transmission.
“Vagrant!” Knol says, her shimmering blue image rising. “Finally. You’ve been giving me one long heart attack for the last eight hours.”
“Hello, Knol,” Jon says ruefully, and she stops short, looking him over. Her eyes go to Fives, then Echo, and she folds her arms over her chest and huffs.
“You look like bantha shit, Antilles,” she says bluntly. “Do I need to come down there and pull you out of trouble?”
“Echo and Fives already did that,” Jon says, tacit acknowledgement of what she isn't asking. “We found it.”
Knol pauses for a moment, then laughs, and it’s all relief and victory in equal measure. “Karking hell, Jon, I knew it!” She turns, and calls, “Nico, pay up, it only took him a day!”
From outside the holo, there's a loud scoff, and a credit chip comes flying at Knol's head. “Fay, you said it would be difficult,” Nico says.
Another face leans into view, and Fay tugs her hood down, smiling with bemusement. “Less difficult with help,” she allows, and inclines her head. “The back door is still open, I see.”
“Careful what you touch,” Knol advises. “Fay probably had sex on it six hundred years ago—ow! Violence from the Healer!”
Fay rolls her eyes, withdrawing her fist from Knol's arm, but tells Jon, “There’s a house about a kilometer down the mountain, next to the river. One of Knol's smuggler friends will be there in a few days to pick you up. With the shelling, we can't get anyone there sooner.”
“That’s all right,” Jon says, a little relieved, and feels Echo’s hand curl around his. “We could use the rest.”
Fay smiles, then turns her head. “I need to get back to Maul,” she says. “But I'm glad you're safe, Jon. It’s nice to meet you, Echo, Fives. Welcome.”
“Yeah, welcome,” Knol says, still rubbing her arm. “If you can make the drifter relax and actually sleep for more than four hours at a time, I’ll pay you a hundred credits for every extra hour, so have fun tiring him out and we’ll see you in a few days.”
“Knol,” Jon says, face hot, and Knol laughs at him without mercy.
“Test that crystal,” she tells him. “After you’ve slept. Later.”
The comm cuts off, and Jon sighs, brushing a hand through his hair. “Sorry,” he says ruefully, and Echo snorts.
“A hundred credits an hour, was it?” he asks, raisings a brow, and Jon refuses to look at him, instead reaching for the red hilt he’s carrying. It practically leaps into Jon's hand, and he catches it, turns it over in his fingers.
A hand settles on his waist, and Fives leans against him, watching curiously. “So what does this one do?” he asks. “Is it really enough to defeat a Sith Lord?”
“Not alone,” Jon says, but he raises the hilt, breathes out. No button, but he can feel the mechanisms in the Force, and it’s easy enough to touch them. The blade ignites, perfectly soundless, almost entirely transparent, and when Jon takes a step forward he can feel the ghostfire crystal’s resonance all around him. Near invisibility, with a shimmer of afterimage as he moves that would confuse even the best duelist, and he smiles as he deactivates the blade. “But I think it will help.”
Fives’s laughter is incredulous, bright, and he takes a step forward, grabs Jon around the waist and whirls him into a kiss that steals every last bit of Jon's breath. “Kriff,” he says. “That’s amazing. You're going to end the war!” He spins Jon once more, then lets him go, and with a grin Echo catches him, pulls him into another whirl and then kisses him as well, and Jon is laughing as he does.
“We,” he says, when Echo lets him up, and he curls his fingers into Echo’s curls as Fives presses up behind him. “We’re going to end the war. And then—”
“Then,” Echo says, tangling his fingers with Fives’s, leaning in to kiss Jon again. “Then we’ll rebuild.”