The Temple is quiet. It shouldn’t be a surprise to Ponds now, with the number of visits to it he has under his belt.
Not many vode can say they frequent the Jedi Temple, though admittedly almost every single one can claim to have been to the crèche at least once, but he is one of the few. In fact, ever since he and Mace cleared up their feelings—long story—he practically lives there instead of the barracks. Mace spends every moment of his time on Coruscant that he can spare at home and, as always, where he goes, Ponds goes.
What is a surprise is the little sniffling noise he can hear from around the corner.
He stops, frowning as he listens. It sounds...like an upset tooka. Or a crying youngling, which would make a lot more sense.
(He has plenty of experience with vode breaking down, but younglings? Not so much. He has a bit, though, given that Mace tricked the whole of Lightning Squadron into getting kidnapped by a youngling clan on their last leave.)
Despite his lack of talent dealing with younglings, at least in his opinion, he knows that a crying kid shouldn’t be by themselves, so he turns the corner.
The kid is tiny. Ponds didn’t know much about how natborns age until Rex’s kid came along, but he can wager a guess that this one isn’t much older than 10 standard. He’s leaned up against the wall, clutching his shaking hands close to his chest as he sobs, body heaving with the effort. But what really catches the clone’s eye is that he’s being extremely careful not to touch anything, flinching when his fingers even get close to his robes.
Abruptly, Ponds is reminded of a recent mission with General Vos. He’d never seen a general break down like that, not until he got his hands on a battered pair of manacles and picked up the suffering of every person ever bound with them.
Ponds approaches the kid, unsurprised that he doesn’t even notice his footsteps or his presence until he’s kneeling in front of him.
The youngling jumps, a gasp slipping past his lips. “No—”
“Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay, ad’ika,” Ponds murmurs, sitting criss-cross to look less threatening. “Can you hear me?”
His lip quivers as he nods. “Can’t see,” he sobs.
Without question, he goes to tug off his gloves, a brand new pair after a trek through a jungle ruined his last ones. “Psychometry, right?” he gets a hesitant nod again. “You have a comfort item?”
(Vos had one of Kenobi’s old robes. Cute. Cuter in that it won Ponds that betting pool.)
He shakes his head. “Left it. Stupid—”
“Not stupid, just forgetful,” Ponds says instantly.
He holds out his gloves, letting them skim his hands so he can feel it, seeing as his vision is overwhelmed right now. Vos always gets more feelings than visions, apparently, but Ponds did some research into the ability before working with him and found out that it isn’t uncommon. He grimaces. This kid must be going through hell right now.
“Here, they’re brand new. Only memory you might get is me smacking one of my sergeants over the head.”
The youngling laughs a little and Ponds smiles. Success, he thinks, like it’s some kind of mission to get him to smile. Well. It certainly wouldn’t hurt.
He helps him slip on the gloves, careful not to touch him. “Better?”
“Mhm,” he manages, shutting his eyes tightly and opening them again. “Sorry.”
“It wasn’t your fault. What’s your name, buddy?”
He rubs at his eyes and runs a hand through his fiery red hair, sniffling a little. “Cal, um, Initiate Cal Kestis.”
“I’m Ponds,” he introduces, holding out his hand for him to shake.
“Mast-Master Windu’s commander?” he asks, eyes wide.
He snorts. “One and only.” He sobers immediately. “I thought the quartermaster gave gloves to all Jedi with psychometry.”
“They do, but, um, I keep...losing mine,” he admits sheepishly. “I didn’t wanna ask for another pair ‘cause I’ve already had three in two months and—well. I don’t want them to be mad.”
Ponds tilts his head. “I get that. People are scary when they’re mad, huh?”
“Tell you what, have you ever heard of the ‘CO Loophole’?” he asks. When Cal scrunches his face up, he snickers. “It’s something my shinies named. When you can’t find something for hours and you go to tell your commanding officer about it, they find it in less than a minute.”
Cal smiles a little and Ponds counts it as another win. “The crèchemasters do that, too!”
“Everybody who looks after somebody else can do it, I think,” he declares. “How about we see if you and I can’t find those gloves. If we can’t, I’ll take you to the quartermaster myself.”
The kid brightens almost instantly, but his face falls a second after. “You-you’re not busy?”
“Eh, General Windu fell asleep at our last briefing, so I think he can live with me being late,” Ponds says with a shrug.
(He’s not late to a briefing with ‘General Windu.’ He’s late to a lunch date with Mace, but oh well. Mace really won’t mind, especially when he meets this kid. Ponds knows he’s a sucker for kids—though not so much the ones that can’t talk yet—and he’s used it to his advantage.)
“Really?” he asks, gawking.
“Really. But you didn’t hear it from me.”
Ponds holds out a hand—a bare hand, now, but he can’t find it in him to notice. Cal takes it without hesitation, his red-rimmed eyes brighter than before. Something tightens in the clone commander’s chest, realising that the kid has no problem trusting him. He wonders offhandedly what might’ve happened if he hadn’t been here at this very moment.
“You’ll have to show me the way,” Ponds admits to the boy as he helps him up. “I’ve only been once.”
Cal nods, dusting himself off without letting go of his hand. “To see Hawkbat Clan, right?”
“Yeah,” he remarks, somewhat amused. He leads the way down the hall, slow and steady so that the little one can keep up. “How’d you know?”
“They still brag about it,” he huffs. “We got to see the Wolfpack, but they’ve visited, like, everybody. They’re the only ones who got to see your battalion, though, so…”
Ponds hums. He didn’t realise younglings were aware of how much he and the vode have visited. In fact, he wasn’t aware that visiting was such a big deal. He’s always known that it was good for the vode, what with how strikingly relaxing it is to hang out with younglings, but maybe it’s good for the Initiates, too.
“Why don’t we take a detour?” he finds himself suggesting. “I know a squadron that wouldn’t mind some time off.”
He can message Mace on the way, he decides.
Cal lights up like a sun. “Really?” he asks again.
Oh no. He’s adorable. Holy kark, this kid could make the Separatists surrender with his grin alone. Ponds is smiling like an idiot, too. He doesn’t think he’s ever wanted to adopt someone so much, even when picking out shinies for Lightning Squadron.
“Really,” he laughs. “But if Commander Wolffe ever comes back to your clan, you have to tell him we’re your favourites.”
“Deal!” the boy chimes immediately, swinging their intertwined hands a little.
Wolffe can find another shiny Jetii. This one is his.