Not really in the mood to see the remnants of his brothers’ shattered weapons, Donnie had tucked the fragments of katana and jitte into a drawer while he focused on piecing together Raph’s communicator. On the upside, with the Fugitoid’s resources, he never lacked for tools or materials when it came to fixing things, a common worry of his back home.
The door at the far end of them room opened and the resulting whoosh echoed through the large space. He’d set up his workspace in the corner of the Fugitoid’s cargo area. It was far enough from the places his family tended to congregate, like the bridge, rec room and holo-trainer so that he needn’t worry about distraction and distant enough from the engine that a failed experiment wouldn’t jeopardize the functionality of the ship. No one really came down here but him.
With a sigh, he set his work aside and spun in his chair to face his visitor, eyes widening when he saw Raph. Raph wasn’t looking at him, but instead, Mona’s ship, tractor-beamed up as they were making their getaway. The sad, faraway look in his brother’s eyes was foreign and disquieting.
Feeling like he was looking in on something private, Donnie turned away, but the movement caught Raph’s attention, shaking him out of his reverie.
He froze, midway to facing back towards his desk again. Don waited as Raph shuffled over, jaw set, expression grim, avoiding looking directly at him. Whatever Raph was here for, he was pretty sure that he wasn’t going to like it.
Raph frowned, considering his words, elevating Donnie’s concern given how rarely his brother ever did that. “I need your help.”
Tempted as he was to agree immediately, Don hesitated. He loved feeling useful and doing things for his family to ensure their survival, improve their quality of life or just make them happy, but this felt different. “With what?”
Raph grimaced. “If…if things go wrong after we make the exchange. I don’t want him using me to screw with the rest of the universe. I need some insurance to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The room was so silent that even the smallest of sounds would have been deafening. Donnie blinked as his mind wrapped around his brother’s words. “You want us…me…to kill you?”
Raph nodded stiffly. “Probably by remote, since I won’t want you anywhere near me if it comes to that and I can’t know what it is or how you’ve done it in case…”
Raph stopped and looked at him this time, really looked at him, eyes wide in disbelief at the barely contained rage his brother must have seen on his normally placid features. In typical Raph fashion, he didn’t back down. “I get that it isn’t a pleasant possibility, but you were ready to do what needed to be done on Star Forge and this is the same…”
Don’s fist slamming into his jaw, interrupted this time, the shock too great for Raph to catch himself as he flew back onto his shell.
“No. It isn’t. Even given borderline-nonexistent chances, I still would have tried to save us.”
Raph rubbed his jaw, glaring up at Donnie belligerently. “I’m not asking you to give up on me.”
“But you’re giving up on yourself.” Don’s voice was soft and quiet this time as he spoke. “I won’t do it because you need to fight. With everything you have.”
“I will, but I don’t want to have to worry about…”
“Yes, you do.”
Raph scowled. “Scuse me?”
Donnie knelt next to him. “I won’t do it. You’re just going to have to win.”
Raph’s hands balled into fists. “What if I can’t? What if he makes me kill you and Leo and Mikey…”
Donnie wrapped his arms around his brother, aware that Raph was shaking. “That possibility is why you won’t lose. You won’t let that happen. I trust you.”
Raph didn’t look up. “If I don’t trust me?”
“Then my trust will be enough for the both of us. You’re the most unbreakable person I know. I’ll stake my own life and everyone else’s on it.”
Raph did look up this time, worry still plainly etched across his features, but also a touch of wonder and a glint of humor. “Even April’s”
Donnie nodded without hesitation. “You won’t let that happen. I know it.”
Leo wandered through the ruins. The scout ship’s computer indicated that the atmosphere on Jaguada was breathable, so he hadn’t bothered with his helmet. He wasn’t sure what he was expected to find in the crumbling remains of what was clearly once an enormous fortress. From the leavings and numerous posts of mini-shrines, the place was clearly a pilgrimage point for anyone seeking the old ways, but as far as he could tell it was completely deserted.
His first reaction had been to spike his helmet into the ground, throw a good tantrum in the privacy of this desolate place and stomp back to his ship. But some newfound instinct pushed him to keep searching and, fool’s errand or not, he listened, seeking whatever it was here that resonated with him.
Now, after journeying all the way here, he’d been aimlessly exploring for hours without finding a thing. Maybe it was less intuition and more childish hope that kept him looking. He knew where he really needed to be and this wasn’t it.
“What am I doing here?”
“That is the question isn’t it?”
He spun towards the sound, startled that someone had managed to sneak up on him. In what had been the empty space behind him a second ago was now a crimson mist, forming into a hooded figure with glowing red eyes.
His mind started shuffling through all his Space Heroes lore to produce a nice, space-based alternative to the ghost option that his mind was screaming at him. A few options presented themselves, though none were any more settling. But he would not run. He was here on a mission and fear would not deter him. Shutting down the unhelpful emotion with iron will, he pulled he slid the hilt of his light saber from his utility belt, circling the being, cautiously seeking out potential weaknesses.
The ghost’s mouth, all that was visible of the spirit’s hooded features beyond the lights of his eyes, quirked up into a half smile. “Interesting. I didn’t think you would be so young, but I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.”
Leo froze. “What?”
The smile widened. “A colorful expression. Your native language is very expressive. I think I shall continue to use it.”
Leo frowned. “No, not that, I mean…have you been expecting me?”
The spirit vanished in a red cloud.
“For some time now, yes.”
Leo spun again, to find the ghost behind him now, eyeing him appraisingly. “How? Why?”
The spirit was now strolling around him in a circle, looking him up and down. “In the Force can be seen things that were, are and may yet be, though crucial details can be obscured.”
The Force? Was this the teacher he’d come looking for?
“You have been waiting to instruct me in the use of the Force?”
The spirit chuckled. “Have I been awaiting a student? Yes. Is that student you? Perhaps.”
Still wary, Leo tucked his weapon away and squared his shoulders. “I am ready and willing to learn.”
That seemed to amuse the spirit. “Are you? That remains to be seen. Do you even know who I am?”
Leo bit back an impulsive ‘it doesn’t matter’ and considered the point. In martial arts, the relationship between master and student was everything, a bond of trust and responsibility, not to be taken lightly. “Who are you?”
The ghost stilled, almost thoughtful for a moment. “Once, long ago, I went by the title Darth Gravid.”
With a gasp, Leo leapt back from the being, pulling out his weapon once more and igniting it.
Darth Gravid laughed. “And what do you hope to do with that? I am beyond such things now. Have been since Gean took my mortal existence.” He shook his head ruefully as Leo continued to back up, mentally mapping his way back to his ship. Gravid sighed. “So many mistakes the first time around.”
Leo scowled. “I’m not your second chance.”
Gravid crossed his arms. “Aren’t you? What happened to being ready and willing to learn?”
Leo’s eyes narrowed. “Not from a Sith Lord.”
Gravid cocked his head to one side. “Yes, I suppose you’ve got enough trouble with the Sith at the moment. Fortunately for you, I am not a Sith Lord.”
Leo eyed him incredulously. “You expect me to believe that the name Darth Gravid is just a coincidence.”
Gravid’s amusement returned to his few visible features. “Well, of course I was a Sith Lord. However, I guess you could say I retired.”
Leo raised an eye ridge. “Sith Lords retire?”
Gravid shrugged. “Usually when our apprentices murder us, however, I’d made the decision long before mine turned on me. In fact, it’s what prompted her to turn on.”
Leo was still edging towards his escape route as he spoke. “So, what? You saw the light and decided to turn Jedi?”
Gravid actually burst out in laughter that seemed to echo around Leo from all directions. “Hardly. Having some compelling ideas doesn’t make them right.”
Now Leo was stumped and wished Fugitoid had been able to find even a little more information on the past, so he wouldn’t be at such a disadvantage right now. “So what are you? Not Sith? Not Jedi?”
Gravid had drifted around to cut off the hasty retreat he’d been hoping to make. “As if they would have me now. It’s just as well. I won’t have them either. I’ve found a new way. A better way.”
Leo didn’t answer, conveying his skepticism through posture alone.
Gravid hardly seemed to notice. “The Sith are, or were, mistaken. The universe cannot be controlled, no matter how strong one’s iron fist is. And it shouldn’t be. Were that possible, it would render existence quite boring, don’t you think?”
Leo blinked but didn’t answer.
“And the Jedi seek to defend and protect life while refusing to live their own for fear of temptation. What can they know of an existence they disdain to participate in. Risky yes. But without risk, we can’t move forward, static and trapped in place.”
Leo moved, keeping distance between them as best he could. “And your alternative?”
“It’s not a choice, light or dark. It’s both. Good and evil coexist together all around us. Within and without. Defining each other and dependent. There isn’t one without the other and attempting a purge of either is futile and self-destructive. One must accept and acknowledge all of what they are if there is to be any hope for them to truly live and grow. The Force isn’t divisible into such discrete fragments. It simply is and what you draw from it is up to you. The way isn’t one or the other, but somewhere in between.”
Leo glared. “And what if I’d still rather be a Jedi.”
Gravid actually snorted. It never occurred to him that ghosts could snort. “Try not to be so ignorant boy. I said be who you are, not keep a ledger of good and evil to hold balanced. Keep up.”
“And don’t be so quick to give up everything to become something that you only have the vaguest ideas of what it is. Are you so ready to abandon your family? Your father, your brothers, your friends? So quick to forget her, your Karai? At their fussiest, the Jedi would have insisted you free yourself from all those temptations towards selfishness, preferential love watering down your resolve, partiality tempting you to care only for them.”
Leo’s eyes widened and he stilled. How could Gravid know so much about him? He considered refusing to answer, but suspected that Gravid might know it anyway. He seemed to have an inside information track.
“My family isn’t my weakness, it’s my strength.”
Gravid huffed. “And that is why you aren’t a Jedi, not that they didn’t establish surrogate bonds among themselves. One of many signs that they were fighting the natural order of existence.”
Leo frowned. “My bond with my family is not selfish.”
“Oh, so you wouldn’t choose to save a brother over the greater good.” He cast an upraised palm forward, inviting Leo to tell.
Leo closed his eyes, recalling their many battles, against the Kraang and Triceratons. Against the Shredder and the Purple Dragons. Fought for strangers who would never accept them.
“It’s what we do. I would fight for all I’m worth and more to save any and all of my family, but we are ready and willing to protect and save others, even should we risk our lives to do it. We all know and accept this.”
Gravid crossed his arms again. “And fear for them wouldn’t drive you to rash and injudicious action?”
Leo mirrored Gravid’s posture. “How so?”
“Given your brother’s situation, can you be sure you won’t abandon everything to run off and botch his rescue.”
Leo’s hands tightened involuntarily around the handle of his light saber, but he didn’t lash out. Taking a deep, calming breath as his father taught him, he relaxed. “I will save Raph, but, until I can, I trust him to survive and wait for me. He can and he will.”
Fear wasn’t enough to shake his faith in Raph. He could trust Raph to hold on, just as Raph could trust him to make it in time.
Gravid managed an oddly genuine smile this time. “And that is why I accept you as my student.”
Leo was so startled that he nearly dropped his weapon. “What?”
Gravid placidly gestured him to follow. “Come along boy. Lots to do and not much time to do it in.”
“We can’t have Maul, running about making a mess of things. And given how strong the Force runs in your little family, he certainly won’t be inclined to leave your clan be.”
The Force? His family? His brothers? Looking down at the saber in his hand and Gravid’s exposed back, he sighed and shut the weapon down, following.
“Keep up. Much to do. Fortunately, your father seems to have laid the foundation. All skills trained and already in place, although there is one other weapon form, I’d like to add in. All that remains is to properly recognize and acknowledge what you already know. I must say, it’s nice to have most of my work done for me for a change.”
Leo eyed Gravid speculatively as they traversed deeper into the heart of the ruined fortress. “If any of my brothers had the potential to learn from you, why were you waiting for me?”
“I was waiting for my student who just happened to be you. Pay attention boy. Besides, you’ve met your brothers. What a recipe for frustration. I’ll leave their education to you. I mean, do I look like a masochist? Don’t answer that.”
Leo couldn’t help but chuckle as he realized he’d accepted Gravid’s offer. He’d learn what was necessary to stop Darth Maul and save his family. If this turned out to be a dangerous mistake he had complete trust that his family would save him in turn. It’s who they were after all.
April sat at her post on the bridge, waiting for the computer to finish it’s scan of law enforcement broadcasts, for any changes necessary to their course. The chase was tricky enough as their quarry had already swapped his ship once and was likely to do so again.
Fugitoid sat in the middle console, tapping away at buttons. It wasn’t actually efficient or even necessary, since he could mentally connect with the ship to run it, but the habit likely helped him feel more in touch with her his humanity.
Beyond him, Casey lounged in the station he typically shared with Raph, throwing a ball up in the air and catching it, over and over again. The frustration at doing nothing coming off him in waves.
She hadn’t needed to resort to using her powers to track their prey, but it could come up at any time. It was time to stop putting it off and finally gain control over her powers.
Not actually as confident as she willed herself to be, she wrapped her fingers around the soul stone pendant and tried to focus, starting with the ship, taking in everything around her. There was calm sense to their present chunk of space without any ripples of danger. It was almost peaceful.
Within the ship, she became aware of the sets of consciousness in the form of feelings and colors. Casey burned red and black with anger and frustration, desperate to move, do something, fix his best friends pain, with absolutely no outlet to do so. She shied away from his mind as his agitation was contagious.
Beside him Fugitoid was a swirl of blue and yellow, hope, tinged with melancholy, a familiar state for him. Down in the cargo bay, she could sense Raph and Donnie, searing white determination and faith crowding out pain and fear. It buoyed her spirits.
Approaching the room came Mikey, bright and yellow, pure joy and optimism, like a personal sun, shedding warmth and light wherever he went. Beside him was Ahsoka, a pale gray with darker patches, like bruises of the soul. Longing, sorrow and confusion slowly being burned off in the radiance next to her.
The door opened and they entered as April tried to pull herself back to reality.
“And this is the bridge, where Leo’s usually playing captain. Pretty cool huh?”
“And now you can get properly introduced to everyone. This is April, our…”
She struggled to scrabble back as Mikey, too focused on Ahsoka to notice her, reached out to pull the two of them into a handshake. The colors and feelings, while fading were still there, overlaying their hosts in her present vision. Her instincts were screaming ‘don’t’ at her, but she wasn’t in enough balance of mind and body to retract her hand from Mikey’s grip.
The moment their fingers touched, the world around her imploded. She was standing in a strange place, one she both knew and didn’t know, focused completely on the man in front of her, covered from head to toe in ominous black armor, the sound of his mask deafening in her ears. A faint shadow of another man, with an expression of easy confidence and affection overlaid the dark figure. Both different and yet the same although she didn’t understand how.
Seeing him erupted a geyser of conflicting emotions that she knew weren’t hers even as she experienced them anyway. Guilt. Sorrow. Pain. Anger. Hope. The last fleeting, but she clung desperately to it anyway.
“Revenge is not the Jedi way.” His voice was deep and rumbling as he spoke.
“I am no Jedi!” Ahsoka’s voice spouted from her mouth, determination clouding everything else.
The next thing she knew she was charging in, beams of light clashing in a whirlwind of violence, red and white. But at the core of everything, she did not want to kill this man. Could not. Far beneath the veneer of unfeeling cruelty lay a better man. A mentor. A friend. A brother. If even a spark of that man remained, she could not snuff it out. She held back. And so she lost, even before the battle ended.
With a scream from outside the moment, she felt Ahsoka shove her away, the scene fading as the woman’s power hit like a fist to her mind. April was vaguely aware of being back on Fugitoid’s ship, slumped in her chair.
Mikey’s voice sounded so distant, although part of her knew that he was right beside her. “What the shell…Ahsoka wait!”
Her consciousness slipped away and the room went dark.