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fasten their shadows to my neck

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“Another one?” Nico asks, dismayed, as Jon appears in a wash of glittering green light. He doesn’t hesitate to step forward, though, quick on his feet, to grab the clone trooper’s free arm and haul it over his shoulder.

“Electrical burns,” Jon says in explanation, and staggers toward where Fay has the other trooper stretched out on the duracrete. Nico helps with the clone, and Knol grabs Jon’s other arm, holding him steady on his feet as the world spins.

“More?” Fay says grimly, but she shifts over, and as they lay the trooper—Longshot, Jon thinks he heard him called, that last moment before he was almost killed—out, Knol crouches down to pull the man’s helmet off, letting Fay get a hand on his skin.

“They can't have that many left,” Knol says disbelievingly, straightening, and her fur is dark with dust and burns, but her hands are steady as she rests one on her hip. “And you shouldn’t be teleporting,” she adds pointedly, jabbing a finger at Jon. “You're going to kill yourself, vagrant.”

Jon doesn’t say anything, just ducks his head, letting his hood cover his face. He hates using what Dark Woman taught him, but—

Some things are more important than bad memories.

“If we knew their objective, we could preempt them,” Nico says, frowning. “Fay?”

Fay shakes her head, not lifting her hands from the two troopers. “I can't read their thoughts from this distance. Particularly not with three Jedi in the group.”

Knol scoffs. “So we cover our faces, grab the padawan, and ask her. We’ve been ‘dead’ long enough that she won't know us.”

“We are not kidnapping a padawan,” Nico says severely. “Master Ven’nari, have some sense.”

“I have plenty of sense,” Knol retorts. “We don’t know the mission or the objective, and we’re just blindly following around some infiltrators hoping they’ll give us a chance to snap up some clones before they're mincemeat. The only reason we’ve managed to make it this far is Antilles, and if he jumps around too much he’s going to turn himself inside out.”

“Faint,” Jon corrects, but Knol just waves an irritated hand.

“Either way, they don’t have that many more clones to lose and they clearly haven’t managed their goal yet.” Knol glances up at the citadel above them, then at Jon again, and asks, “How many more have you got in you?”

Jon isn't about to say he exhausted himself when he grabbed Longshot. There’s no time to fall down and sleep right now, and he wouldn’t even if he could. “Enough,” he says instead. “I’ll rest when we’re done.”

Knol nods, short and sharp. “If you can get me to the control room, I can at least see about mitigating the damage,” she says. “And making sure they escape intact.”

It’s a better plan than blindly bolting after the team, trying to make sure nothing fails. Jon inclines his head, even though the extra jumps aren’t going to be pleasant.

Before he can answer, though, Nico sighs, and asks, “You’ll have to sleep before we leave, correct, Antilles?”

“No. Better just to get back to the ship.” Once Jon crashes, he’s going to be out for a while, and there's no way he can do that in this citadel.

Nico looks entirely unhappy with this thought, but nods. “I will retrieve the files,” he says, and draws his hood up. “Fay?”

“No one who makes it this far will even remember who they are,” Fay says without looking up. “I’ll be fine.”

“Be careful,” Jon says, though Nico likely doesn’t need the reminder. “If the Sith Lord notices—”

“Then he’d best not,” Nico says, and vanishes with a ripple of light. A moment later, the door opens, then shuts again, and Knol snorts.

“Fancy tricks, all of you,” she says, amused, and takes the hand Jon offers her.

“Says the woman who eats fire,” Jon says. “With the Force.”

“That little Knight thought burns knocked me out,” Knol mutters. She’s been bitter about it for years, and Jon carefully hides his amusement. “Ha. Me? Not likely.”

“It was convincing,” Fay says. “That was the point of it, Master Ven’nari. But all of that work will be ruined if Kenobi sees us now.”

“So he won't.” Knol jerks her head at Jon. “Not like he’d recognize Antilles even if he saw him. Most of the galaxy is under the impression he doesn’t have a face.”

Jon doesn’t respond. It’s easier that way, especially when he wants to get into somewhere he isn't welcome. “Control room?” he asks instead. there's a tug under his skin, a steady knowledge that he’s needed elsewhere. Jon's always had a talent for that sort of knowing, but…there are too many things it could apply to, here.

Not the Jedi Skywalker and Kenobi rescued. He’s sure of that. The Jedi have enough direct help. It’s the clones who need them.

“Right in the middle of it,” Knol says, and her smile is all threat. “No one’s going to worry about a few lightsaber burns when there are three Jedi invading the rest of the fortress.”

Jon nods, then raises a hand. It’s impossible to avoid thinking about Dark Woman when he does this; she’s one of the only Jedi who’s mastered this trick, the only one who could have taught him, but—it’s an impossibly useful skill, no matter how tiring it is. He focuses, touches the Force, feels the fabric of it. Reaches out, and just—

Bends it—

With a cry, Knol surges forward, green lightsaber ignited. The droids manning the control center don’t even have time to turn before she tears through the first one, and Jon leaves her to it. Before he even hits the ground, he lets the Force bend again, steps out at a different point of the fabric. High up, this time, perched on top of a turret in an open hangar. There’s a lightsaber battle below him—he can pick out Kenobi's green blade, Skywalker's blue, the padawan defending a knot of clones. Below him, in the turret’s seat, a battle droid is just settling in, starting the systems, and somewhere Skywalker shouts.

Jon weighs what the Force is telling him for one fractured heartbeat. A clone with blue-painted armor is running, shield raised as he races for the shuttle, and something cold coalesces as Jon watches him, a knowing. He’s about to die. But—

Nico will be furious that Jon's ruined their cover, or at least dented it. Then again, Nico has been freeing slaves and pissing off the Hutts for years, and he hasn’t let anything even dissuade him from continuing. This is the same, Jon thinks.

Still. There's no reason to be straightforward about it.

His cloak is black, meant to blend into the darkest shadows here. Easy enough to secure the hood, then leap down, right on top of the droid. It jerks, but Jon tears its head off barehanded, crushes it with one hard blow even as it slams a hand forward into the trigger. Below them, someone yells, but Jon is already moving, leaping up and over the edge of the turret as the cannons fire. A touch of the Force bleeds into speed, and he flips down in front of the bolts, throws a hand up. Not blaster-fire, heavier, harder to stop, but—

Jon puts all his will behind it, all the Dark-edged fury his master drilled into him, and lets the bolt hit.

It scatters, pitting the floor in deep streaks. Jon can't catch all of it, though, and behind him there's a pained cry. Blood, Jon knows, and spins, grabbing the ARC trooper as he collapses, leg showing bone through torn armor. Just the edge of the shot, but—it’s enough to mortally wound, and Jon curses. He hauls the man up, even as the clone struggles, and turns.

Skywalker is approaching at a run, as is the clone captain in blue. Jon saved the shuttle, though; if they leave now, while Knol has the weapons disarmed, they’ll be fine.

“Echo!” the captain shouts, and the ARC trooper jerks, desperate, quick, but Jon doesn’t have time. Could let Echo go and just disappear, except Echo won't survive it. They don’t have a medic with them, and he’s already fading.

“A toll,” Jon says, pitching his voice low enough to be unrecognizable, and when Skywalker snarls, he takes a step back, raising his hand. The Jedi Council doesn’t realize Dark Woman passed on this skill as well, and Jon knows all too well how to emphasize the threads of Dark power in his soul. Lets Skywalker feel them now, and says, “Your ship and a safe exit for a clone. A good trade, isn't it?”

“No!” the clone captain snarls, and his blaster pistols come up. Skywalker growls, advancing with his lightsaber raised, but Jon takes one step back and lifts a hand.

Just folding space. That’s all. Stepping from one point to another with no physical distance between.

He reappears in the control room, staggers hard as his knees almost buckle. With a sound of surprise, Knol twists around and catches him, clipping her lightsaber to her belt and quickly ducking around to take Echo’s other side.

“You're a mad bastard, Antilles,” she says, but she’s laughing. “They're going to think you're a new Sith.”

The cameras. She must have seen. Jon grunts, holding Echo firmly as he struggles, and says, “That’s the point. Diath can't complain if they're chasing shadows instead of us.”

Knol snorts. “Diath will complain anyways,” she says. “Up for one more?”

Grimly, Jon nods, then drags both Knol and Echo forward. In a wash of green the world folds—

There's a cry, a rush of motion. Jon's vision wavers, and he hits the wall spine-first, only just managing to stay on his feet. Echo slumps as well, and Knol says, “Leave it, trooper, he’s the one who saved you. Fay, another.”

“The trooper or Antilles?” Fay asks, faintly dry, but a moment later she’s there, helping Jon slide down the wall to sit. Her fingers close around his wrist, the edge of her vast, incandescent power bleeding into his veins for just a moment, but even that is enough to steady Jon's head. He nods in thanks, and she smiles crookedly, turning to the ARC trooper.

“We don’t want to hurt you,” she says gently. “But if I don’t heal you soon, you’re going to lose that leg.”

Echo’s helmet turns from her to the figures behind her, and the two clones Jon saved earlier trade glances.

“She saved me and Charger,” Longshot says with a shrug. “And apparently he did too.” He nods to Jon, who inclines his head, then very carefully pushes to his feet.

“Your generals breaking in was the distraction we needed,” he says, and catches his balance as his vision darkens. Breathes through it, then eases his hood back slightly, so it doesn’t block as much of his vision. “There are files here that could lead us to Dooku. But we saw a chance to help, too.”

“Plenty of help,” Knol says with a snort, folding her arms over her chest. “They’ll make it out of the hangar thanks to Antilles.”

There's a pause, and then, carefully, Echo pulls his helmet off. “Will they actually go?” he asks.

Fay hums, lifting her gaze from where his leg is knitting itself back together under her hands. “Yes,” she says, quiet certainty. “They’re leaving as we speak.”

Echo’s expression twists, and Charger grimaces. “Well,” he says, and Jon can hear the catch in his voice. “Rescued and left behind is better than dead, sir.”

“The Jedi and the officer were more important,” Echo says, determined, even if it’s a little rough. “The regs say to prioritize the rescue of officers, and General Skywalker would know that.”

From the glance Longshot gives Charger, they don’t think so, but neither of them argue.

“I don’t understand,” Echo says, and glances up. Narrowed eyes lock on Jon, and he says, “Why did you grab me? You could have left me there and still saved the shuttle.”

“If he had, you would have bled out,” Fay says calmly, and sits back. She catches the wipe Knol tosses her, carefully cleaning the blood off her hands. “We are Jedi, trooper. If it’s in our power to save lives, particularly lives overlooked by the rest of the galaxy, we will.”

“Diath is still going to throw things at you,” Knol tells Jon, and he huffs.

Echo looks between them, then hesitates. “You’re…all Jedi?”

Fay smiles. “We are,” she confirms. “Jedi who have no contact with the Temples or the Council. Even before the Council was convinced we were all dead, we spent most of our time in the Outer Rim, working alone.”

Knol snorts. “How times change,” she says, and glances towards the door. “I’ll go speed Diath up, see if we can't get back to the ship before Antilles collapses.”

Jon scoffs, but Knol pats him on the head as she passes and disappears out the door without pause.

Behind her, Fay chuckles, rising to her feet. “I’ll go as well,” she says. “Droids might not have memories to erase, but the Force works on them as well as any other inanimate object.”

“Be careful,” Jon says quietly, and she inclines her head, then leaves with a ripple of pale robes.

In the silence that follows, it's easier to justify letting his legs fold again, letting himself fall back against the wall and sink to the floor. More controlled this time, but still halfway to a slump, and Jon can’t even bring himself to care. He’ll need the power Fay gave him to get them back to the ship, and in the meantime, any effort feels like far too much.

“How did you do that?” Echo asks after a moment. “The…jumping. I didn't think Jedi could…”

He trails off, like he doesn't want to say it, and Jon snorts. “Teleport,” he finishes. “Most can't. But my Master can, and she taught me.” Taught him too many things, in ways Jon hates, but—Dark Woman is a good reminder that all the Light power in the galaxy can't actually make someone a good person, and a touch of the Dark doesn't mean Jon is irredeemable.

There's a long moment of silence, and then Charger carefully takes a seat beside him, just out of arm’s reach. “You’re the one who grabbed us, then,” he says, hooking a thumb at Longshot. “Thought I was dead for sure, when I fell. The generals—” He pauses, trying to find words.

“The Force takes concentration, preparation to use,” Jon says quietly. “If they’d been ready, they would have tried. I was faster.”

“Appreciate it, sir.” Charger’s smile is crooked.

“Yeah,” Echo says, more quietly. “They wouldn’t have been able to get out, if that droid had taken out the shuttle. Thank you.”

Jon looks away, awkwardness itching down his spine. He focuses on taking out terrible people, tries to keep his interactions with their victims to a minimum for just this reason. “I couldn’t save you completely,” he says.

That, at least, makes Echo smile slightly. “Close enough. I don’t think it would have gone well for me if the shuttle exploded while I was standing in front of it.” He hesitates, then swallows and lifts his head. “Are you…going to let us go back?”

Longshot sucks in a breath, and Charger goes still. They both look at Jon, who keeps his gaze on Echo. Says, soft, “Eventually. There’s something you need to do first.”

Echo’s expression twists. “You can't keep us,” he says, and that tone is still polite, but there are teeth right beneath the surface. “All missions, even those picked up by Jedi Generals without squads of their own, have to be run though the proper channels—”

Jon snorts, letting his head fall back against the wall as he closes his eyes. “Who do you think we’re hiding from out here?” he asks, flat. “Who do you think we’re chasing, when everyone else in the galaxy thinks we’re dead?”

Echo blinks, and then frowns. “Chasing,” he repeats, and then his eyes widen. “You—General Skywalker said a Sith is controlling the war. You're going after them?”

Jon tips his head in agreement. “There are things your generals haven’t found,” he says. “If we pass them on, the Sith might realize what we know. We can't risk it.”

“So—you just wander around the galaxy looking for clues?” Echo demands. “But you could be generals! If you can teleport, you could help any army win, no matter what! And that Healer—she could save any Jedi—”

“We save who we can,” Jon says quietly, and in his lap, his hands are fists. Very, very carefully, he controls his breathing, focuses on the inhale, the exhale, the cold metal behind him.

Dark Woman said much the same to him, right at the start of the war. Pressed, prodded, urged him to go back, like she wasn’t the one who taught him to keep away from the Council and work on his own, separate and solitary. And Jon—hadn’t. Couldn’t. With the state of things, if he’d gone back, they would have put people under his power. Clones, a padawan. Someone.

Jon doesn’t trust himself with anyone. He’s not a gentle man. If he hurt someone he was supposed to protect—

Carefully, deliberately, he breaks the thought apart, lets it go. He doesn’t have anyone to protect, only has ideas and concepts and things he doesn’t have to feel about, and that makes him safe. It’s fine.

“Sir?” Echo asks, a thread of concern to it, and when Jon opens his eyes the clone is in front of him, crouched down. A hand hovers, like Echo doesn’t know if Jon is safe to touch. “Are you hurt? Should I get the Healer?”

“Fine,” Jon says roughly. Looks away, and says more deliberately, “Once we’re done, you and your brothers can go back. It will take a few weeks, though.”

Echo’s mouth is tight, but he still nods. “Okay,” he says quietly. “I trust you, sir.”

You shouldn’t, Jon doesn’t say. Offers, instead, “We’re meant to help. As Jedi. So we will.”

Echo takes a breath. “And we’re meant to serve the Jedi—”

“No,” Jon says, and thinks of all the other things they’ve found. The chips, the plots, the encoded orders. Breathes, and says, “You weren’t. But you do it anyway. And that means everything.”

They're going to save the clones. Get every chip out, save every fallen soldier that they can. Otherwise, they don’t deserve to be Jedi, and Jon at least has never been anything else. He’s what he was made, and what he’s made himself, and everything in him is Jedi to the core.

No Sith will be allowed to ruin the galaxy. No clone will be left as part of a slave army. Jon decided that the moment the war started, and the years since have only made him more determined.

Echo is still watching him, but his expression has lighted into confusion, into something startled underneath that. “Oh,” he says, and then smiles. It’s a bright, sweet expression, and Jon can't quite look away. “This mission you're running, sir. how can we help?”

Jon pauses. Stares at him, then flicks a glance at Charger and Longshot. Longshot nods firmly, and Charger just tips a shoulder in a shrug.

“Seems like you're all fighting for us, sir,” he says, easy in a way that belies the look on his face. “The least we can do is fight for you as well.”

It’s not. Jon knows that. But—

“Thank you,” he says, quiet, and Echo shifts, settling back against the wall on his other side.

“It’s your fight,” he says. “I don’t—I don’t get it, but I'm sure you have a reason. And…we’re grateful. Thank you for coming back for us.”

No one else was going to, hangs unspoken in the air between them.

Jon looks away. It’s probably an act of kindness that Echo doesn’t say anything else.