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Holding Pattern

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Only the bruise on his jaw was visible. His workout kit covered the rest, and if he didn’t telegraph it, no one would notice the ribs. Or the shoulder. Or anything else.

With only so many vode in the CC pool, it was always the same faces for sparring. He saw this one less often than most. 

That should be a good thing. The vod hit like a cargo transport, and he was always thinking, always learning and adjusting. He’d taken more falls to this one vod than any other cadet in the rotation. It should be good that he disappeared for tendays at a time.

There was a split second of appraisal before the whistle blew.

Then they were moving. No careful dancing of two Threes who didn’t want to take the loss. They didn’t do that, and their trainers wouldn’t have stood for it if they had. The strikes were heavy, despite the fact that the vod didn’t outweigh him by much despite the height difference.  

These were always clean fights. No seeking out healing injuries to get the quick win. There were extra rules to the spars, extra standards to meet - both of them lived with them - but the wins were deserved, and the losses were respectable. 

When it was the two of them, it was better than when it wasn’t.

They’d never talked about it. Never had an opening to talk about much of anything.

He slipped through a grab that should have put him down in a heartbeat. There was no opening to strike back. The vod was too quick for that, even with the long reach. He was back into position before there was anything left unguarded.

The other sparring rounds had concluded. The silence in the lack of impacts, footfalls, and grunts enough to tell him so without taking his eyes off the vod facing him.

The attention prickled his skin. They were the center of attention - vod and trainer alike. If his sparring partner even clocked it, there was no indication. No preening, no jitters.

Oh, he liked this one.


Midday meal had to wait. There was a full batch of Twos without supervision for the North field. 6975 had stepped forward to supervise before the Rancor trooper had finished getting the word ‘volunteer’ out.

The di’kut hadn’t even asked if Jolly minded missing their usual turn at midday meal. He hadn’t asked Jolly to join him either, but there was no way he’d let the vod walk into the nexu’s den alone.

“Keep ‘em in the sunny spots, Jolly. Unless you want to send them back to get another layer before you’re out there,” the CT vod’ika called out as he led his pack of littles past theirs. “Limmie game tonight if you’re interested.” Just as he reached the end of the line, Bean’s attention snagged on the littles with them. “Not your usual crew, is it, ‘75?”

“6975,” Jolly corrected automatically, because he knew the stubborn vod wouldn’t do it himself. 6975 didn’t bat an eyelash when someone called out ‘75 at him, so Jolly could only assume he didn’t like the nickname.

The CT, who Jolly only knew was named Bean because every single Four -- CC or CT -- seemed to be his best friend, pulled up short and glanced between them. 

“Apologies, 6975. I didn’t know.” 

6975 nodded once, his mouth working like he might say something, but he didn’t. 

If Jolly knew what he meant to say, he’d fill in the gaps. The vod was smart, scary smart sometimes, but he wouldn’t answer in those moments. Maybe frown or shrug if he was feeling really emotive. When he didn’t speak in those little moments, Jolly was always tempted to speak for him.

If Bean’s bothered by the lack of any more reaction, he didn’t show it. Instead, he smiled bright like the nod was answer enough. “I’ll get it right going forward, vod. Sorry about that. You two have fun out there.”

Jolly was still chewing on what he could have said as they stood in a sunny spot and watched the littles play, running and shrieking in the crisp air. “It’s a wonder he remembers anyone’s names, considering how many vode he talks to… He’d probably stop us for a chat in the line for the ‘freshers.” 

The side eye 6975 gives him is epic, and Jolly would be jealous if there was any reason for it to be applied in the situation. 

“He’d stop you to chat. ” 6975 corrected, attention on the littles like it always was, like a jumpscare might carry one off any moment.

He talked to everyone, 6975 included. Jolly had made sure of it. “And anyone else.”

“Should go practice your limmie.” 6975 very nearly cracked a smile, nodding over to the littles tackling each other as they chased a ball.

The littles didn’t have anything like an organized game going, just packs of them racing after the ball, chasing it one way until it was kicked back the other. 

“I’m not going.” Jolly hadn’t thought he needed to say it. “It’s probably just a bunch of CTs anyway.”

“I see.” The judgement practically dripped from the words. 

Jolly could try to explain. He could try to get the vod to understand that things were the way they were, even systems away from Kamino, but he knew he’d just get that stubborn look of ‘and?’ in response. 

6975 understood better than any cadet other than the ones Jolly trained with, and he still didn’t understand enough.

“Udessii you two!” Jolly crossed the playfield to drag two khi’vode back to the feet when tangled limbs had turned into a wrestling match long after the limmie ball had rolled off.

Little ‘81 had made a habit for these sorts of scraps, and even if they were usually meant to be friendly, ‘35 never took it that way. Jolly got ‘81 around the midsection and hung him under his arm. “Go catch up with the others, ‘35.” 

The little took a moment to debate if he’d rather chase the ball or continue wrestling with ‘81 before charging off on his little legs towards the ball.

“What did I tell you about scrapping with your brothers?” Jolly bounced ‘81 like a sack of tanga roots. 

“I was just playing with him.” The words came out in a very guilty whine. “Ransom lets me do it when he watches us.”

That tracked , Jolly didn’t say out loud. “Ransom is a nerf herder and you shouldn’t listen to him.”

That got a giggle out of ‘81. “I’m going to tell him you said that.”

“You tell him.” Jolly had called him way worse to his face. He set ‘81 down on his feet and ruffled his hair. “Stop tackling your brothers.”

“We’re supposed to tackle when we play limmie!” ‘81 huffed.

“Fine, let them up after you tackle them.”

The look ‘81 gave him belonged on a grizzled veteran trooper, and Jolly bit back the urge to tell him not to be too clever when he was around others. That was how it used to be. Things were different now.

“Who are they?” ‘81 nodded toward the edge of the field. Two ori’vode stood together, watching the field like they were looking for something.

That didn’t mean anything now. No one was watching them. Assessing them. No one was charting their usefulness to the Republic. There weren’t any specialized training tracks.

They were just brothers. Jolly knew that. Believed that.

And yet.

“Go get the limmie ball, ‘81.” Jolly crouched down by the vod’ika. “Play it back toward me and 6975, you hear me?”

‘81 made a considering noise that was comically unsubtle. “Might have to shove some to get control of the ball.”

“Just this once.” Jolly gave him a gentle shove after his brothers.

While he did that, Jolly went straight to 6975, walking casually like he hadn’t noticed the other brothers.

“You know them?” Jolly didn’t want to think something was wrong, but the two of them also weren’t approaching. It could be anything or nothing, but he and 6975 didn’t have much longer before the littles went in for their next lesson. Keeping them clear of whatever it might be was his top priority. 

6975 didn’t say yes, but his lips twisted in something like consideration. 

The limmie ball went skittering past the two of them, and the pack of littles raced closer to their side of the field. 


“You recognize them?” Jolly guessed. The ori’vode didn’t wear armor, nothing with company colors. One of them was big, square and solid. The other was built slim and lean. Not too different from the ones Jolly’d trained with.

“Looks like The Marine. Not certain.” 

The words were stilted. Jolly couldn’t tell if it was from trying to form them in Basic or nerves. If it really was The Marine, that would account for the size of the big one at least. Didn’t explain why a Marshal Commander would come out to a playfield in the middle of the day.

6975’s brows did that thing they did when he worried. “I’ll go.”

Jolly could go instead, but something in the way 6975 looked over suggested there was something else going on. “Then I’ll watch the littles.”

Whatever it was, they’d handle it.


He sat alone in the mess, just like he had every time he’d noticed him, Just as silent as he was when they were on the training mats.

Squadless, he’d heard. Basically dormless. Singled out, just like he’d been. One of the others said he’d bunked with some vode they knew for half-a-tenday, and never said more than two words to them. 

There were some cadets on different training schedules, ones on their own timelines, but this was different. Maybe the snakes let it happen because they’d noticed how karking good he was at everything. Maybe they let it happen because every cadet was nothing more than a number to them.

He had questions, and he wanted answers. He wasn’t afraid to get them for himself. He carried his tray over and sat down across from the vod like he did it every meal. The dark head lifted, and solemn eyes moved from his hands to his face, and then back to his own tray.

He’d go if the guy asked him to, but he was going to have to ask. 

Instead, the vod lifted his gaze back up and nodded once. Welcoming, or approval, or what, he couldn’t say, but it was enough. 

“I’m Neyo.”


“Marshal Commander Neyo?” Jolly repeated, trying not to sound too stupid. 6975 was talking with the bigger ori’vod, standing stiff and square like he did when anyone ranking so much as looked his way. 

“It’s just Neyo now.” The ori’vod shrugged. 

“You’re tall!” ‘35 grinned up at the karking Marshal Commander. “Can you see everything up there?”

“Only mostly everything,” Neyo answered seriously, which only encouraged the little one to try to haul himself up on his belt.

“Sorry, sir.” Jolly had so many questions, so many things he wanted to say. “They are a lot, but they’ll be back to their lessons shortly.”

Of course after seeing ‘35 try to climb, Tug and Scoop came running over to join in. Around the time Spark and his squaddies were involved, there was nothing to do but try to round them all back inside. After some cajoling, they went off, and Jolly couldn’t help but steal a glance at Neyo.

He wasn’t looking for approval or anything. The former Marshal Commander wasn’t looking to train a batch of shinys. 

“That vod a friend of yours?” Neyo glanced over to where the other ori’vod stood beside 6975.

He couldn’t be sure 6975 would put it in those terms, but Jolly nodded anyway. “Stubborn di’kut.”

Neyo laughed, maybe even giggled. A Marshal Commander could still giggle. “Let me tell you a story about a stubborn di’kut I once knew. You know what kolto shots are?”

Jolly nodded, leaning in closer to soak up every word, every ounce of his ori’vod’s attention.

“Good, that’s important to the story. I was in this ship crash once, on a seppie planet….”

Oh, this was going to be a good one.