Anakin and the Jedi Babies: A Child's Ink
Context: Anakin and the Jedi Babies, chrono
WARNINGS: underage characters get tattoos/piercings
Word Count: 5680
Ships: primarily Gen (Disaster Lineage + Shmi), offscreen JangoShmi, past Obitine, past Anidala
Ylliben Skywalker is known as a preternaturally calm and quiet child, serious and pensive.
He jokes. He roughhouses. He is as responsive to tickle attacks and shoulder rides and warm hugs as any other child.
But he is Jetii'Manda, not just Mando'ade, and that fact is impossible to forget.
This is a child that can read before he can speak, a child who can talk at length about 'grassroots antiestablishment propaganda and its influence on rural sociological development' before he can say the words without a lisp. This is a child who looks a man in the eye and tells him to check over his blaster one last time, or it will explode in his hand only minutes into the next engagement. This is a child who is not only willing, but capable of discussing the plausible ramifications of Duke Adonai Kryze's latest decrees with Jaster Mereel himself, while still in possession of all his baby teeth.
(His father is not worried by this. Upset, sometimes, pained and tired, but not worried.)
(His sister only laughs.)
It is, as a result, not as surprising as it could be, when a six-year-old wanders his way into Na-Tsuyon's parlor and asks her what the risks of getting a tattoo at his age are.
"I'm not having that conversation with you unless your parent is here," she says. A few of the other artists crane their heads in her direction, but she waves them off.
"I'm not trying to get it right this moment," Ben protests. "I'm just gathering information. He said that was fine."
"Still need your parent here here," she tells him.
He leaves for about ten minutes, and then comes back with a tall, gangling figure in tow.
"I hear this isn't the place for unaccompanied minors," Knight Skywalker jokes.
(She has heard him called a General. She does not know which war he fought. Nobody does.)
(They no longer ask.)
"Well, he is young," she says, brushing her tentacles back over a shoulder. "I don't let anyone under human-fourteen get tattooed without a parent on hand, and giving preliminary information to anyone under twelve is... generally not worth it, shall we say."
Skywalker smiles, oddly amused in the way he always is when someone points out his children need supervision. "Glad to hear it. Are you the Na-Tsuyon whose name is on the door?"
"I am," she says. "And you're Knight Skywalker."
He's pleased at that. She can feel it in the chemical receptors of her head tails, and wonders. "Yep. So, do we jump right into the discussion or do you need me to sign something, or..."
"No, it's enough that you're here," she assures him. "Now, the main reasons we discourage tattoos for younger sentients is the distortion factor. While the level of pain is much lower than it would have been several millennia ago, and we have the technology to remove ink from below the skin, a tattoo before your body stops growing will distort as you grow and your skin stretches. You would need to come in yearly for touch-ups, to remove the sections that have moved out of place, and fill in where the ink is no longer settled."
"That makes sense," Ylliben says. He looks up at his father, and then back to her. "You'd be able to tell me if any of my choices would be... bad for a Mandalorian, yes?"
"I would," she confirms. She glances up at Knight Skywalker. "I don't suppose you have any history of getting tattoos?"
"No," he says. "I'm from Tatooine, so..."
Different connotations to the very act of it, for him.
She ducks her head in a nod. "I understand. Generally it's easier if the parent has experience in the process, but it's far from mandatory. You're willing to work with the distortion maintenance?"
"Yes'm," Ylliben says, and his father shrugs and gestures, as if the word of a six-year-old is thus law.
"I'll walk you through the details of the process, including the care, relevant allergies, and so on. I don't suppose you have anything in mind already?" she asks.
"I do," he says. He doesn't tell her what it is, yet.
Anakin Skywalker stays there the entire time, and they make an appointment for later in the week.
"My buir isn't my only father," Ylliben says quietly, when it comes time to get details on what he's getting tattooed. "I had another father before him. A Jedi. He died, to protect me, and a lot of other people. So, um..."
He shoves a picture to her, the symbol of the Jedi, plain and simple. She looks at him.
"In red," he says, shifting on his feet, looking up at his father and then back down at the page. "For, um, to honor a parent."
"Your first father was a Jedi?" she asks, gentle as she can.
"Mm-hm," Ylliben says. "He died, um... he saved buir from slavery, too, a long time ago. Both my dads were Jedi, and I'm going to be one, too, and so is Sokanth. It's--it's about where I come from, and--"
"You don't have to justify it if you don't want to," Na-Tsuyon tells him, reaching out to place one hand on his. It's very warm and dry, in her opinion, but she finds that most humans are. Mandalorians are some 80% human, or near human.
Nautolan Mandalorians aren't unheard of, but she's a rare one.
Ben sucks in a breath, and says, "I want it up here, on my right shoulder, like a pauldron."
Na-Tsuyon nods, and looks up to Skywalker. "You'll have to sign some papers to approve it, Master Jedi. You approve of the design?"
Skywalker hesitates, and then goes to one knee in front of his son, and speaks so quietly she can only hear "--remind you of the generator complex?"
Whatever Ben's answer is, it's too quiet for her to catch. It satisfies Skywalker, though, and he stands. "Alright, let's see this paperwork."
When Ylliben comes in again, a year later to get his slightly-twisting tattoo fixed, it's with Miss Shmi in tow. Na-Tsuyon greets the middle Skywalker, for all that she's still not entirely sure how to address the girl. "I heard you've been attending the university at Sundari. Some kind of engineering?"
"Mechanical, yes," Shmi says, oddly soft. "I'm going to spend another year to specialize in vehicular engineering. I'd like to design starships, since I already know how to fix them."
"A worthy goal," Na-Tsuyon says, as she leads them over to one of the stations and starts sanitizing Ylliben's inked shoulder. She doesn't entirely see why a university education is needed for something that, in her opinion, an apprenticeship could more thoroughly cover. It certainly worked well enough Na-Tsuyon herself. "You're on vacation, then?"
"I am," Shmi confirms. "It's... unfortunate that Anakin couldn't be here a the same time, but we'll see each other in a few days."
Ylliben fidgets for a bit as his jedi symbol is fixed, and then finally asks, "Ori'vod can approve new tattoos, right?"
"Sokanth, no. Shmi..." Na-Tsuyon looks up at her. "I have no idea if you're listed as his legal guardian anywhere, and I'd need proof of that."
"Secondary to Anakin," Shmi confirms. "Ben would like this to be a surprise for Ani."
Ben pulls out a sheet, with a careful design on it, and presses it into Na-Tsuyon's lap when she lifts the tattoo gun and he's not at risk of ruining his own ink. It's simpler than the Jedi symbol, though it's two colors instead of one.
"It's the Open Circle Fleet," Ben says, shy in a way she's given to understand he usually isn't. She thinks his shyer moments may be connected to admitting to emotion, something that he's tying quite closely to his choice of Tattoos. "I thought, um, since I'm already--already honoring one buir, then, er..."
"The Open Circle Fleet was under the command of my brother's Jedi Master," Shmi explains, one hand on Ben's. "And I am given to understand that the symbol was designed as a subtle nod, of sorts, to the two of them as a team. Ben's looking to honor Anakin as he has his first father."
Ben looks down at his lap, and doesn't meet Na-Tsuyon's eyes.
"Bring me proof of guardianship," she tells them. "And I'll make sure you get it finished early enough that the bacta comes off before Knight Skywalker makes it home."
She holds true to her word, and talks her way into being there to see the reunion and reveal.
The emotions that cross Skywalker's face are complicated and unexpected in ways that she can't identify.
Then it's all too simple, because he starts crying on little Ylliben in the middle of the hangar.
It doesn't take a full year for Ylliben to come in for another set. It's only five months, maybe six. He has a sketch again, a geometric design of something she doesn't recognize, but still pings as familiar for some reason.
"It needs to be the right shade of blue," he tells her, serious as anything. Knight Skwyalker is right next to him, smiling all soft and indulgent, and maybe a little sad. "It's for Soka."
Oh. This is based on her facial markings, then. Or... what they will be, maybe. This doesn't look quite like what she's seen on the girl, but everyone knows little Ben is more touched by visions than his father and sister.
Na-Tsuyon thinks she knows where this is going. "The same blue as her montrals and lekku?"
Ben shakes his head. "No, 501st blue."
"It's close, but a little darker and more saturated," Skywalker offers, and shrugs when she looks his way. "It's a long story, but the 501st was the legion I led before I arrived at Mandalore. It had a specific shade of blue assigned for armor paint, so legions could easily identify each other in the field."
That's... odd. She doesn't ask for more detail, though. It's not her business. "Where do you want this one?"
Ben shows her his left forearm and frames a section about two-thirds the length of it, along the outer side. Like a vambrace.
She has a feeling all these symbols will be on his armor, once he's old enough for it.
"Let's go through my inks and see which one will work best," she says, and does not comment on the rest.
When Ylliben comes in again, a few months before his next touch-up appointment, he doesn't have an image on hand. His father is trailing him again, and Na-Tsuyon has a guess.
"Time for Shmi?" she asks.
Ben ducks his head, flushing and not meeting Na-Tsuyon's eyes. "Yes'm."
"I thought as much," she says, and smiles at Skywalker. "General."
"There have been oh so many rumors flying since the last Jedi run-in, you know."
"I don't care," he grouses, dropping into a seat. "Hells, a man takes emergency command for one battle, and it's all anyone can talk about."
"You ended a civil war, sir."
Ben giggles into his hands as Skywalker groans and slaps a hand over his eyes.
"No respect," the man complains. "Ben, be nice to me, I'm your dad."
"Nuh-uh," Ben says. "I know all the most embarrassing secrets."
"A cruel child," Skywalker accuses. "Ruthless."
"You're the one raising me," Ben says, swinging his legs back and forth. He's got plastoid training vambraces, now, and greaves that clink against the legs of the chair.
"Somehow, yes." Skywalker sighs, with great drama and all such things. He drags himself up to sitting. "Anyway. Moving on."
"Do you have something in mind already?" Na-Tsuyon asks.
"Binary suns," Ben says. "Just two overlapping circles, coin-sized, one bigger than the other, in sunset colors. In a gradient, with a sort of... flare to it? Halo? The... oh! The stellar corona. Buir knows the colors better."
"I want to see what you have to work with before I sketch out the design," Skywalker says. "But yeah, sort of pink and yellow and peachy."
"I can do almost any color," Na-Tsuyon promises. "Especially on fair human skin like Ylliben's. I won't have a problem getting those to show up the way I would on myself."
Na-Tsuyon is a color most would call 'aquamarine.' She's a light shade between blue and green, and much as she likes her skin, it's an absolute pain to make red and orange show up.
She can do it.
It's just annoying.
Ben asks for this one to be on the inside of the left forearm, high and opposite to the widest point of the mark for Sokanth.
"Can I see your fonts?"
Ben's alone, for the moment, but Na-Tsuyon knows that when he makes his decision, his father or Shmi will approve it without question. It's no harm to let him browse.
"Basic, Mando'a, or Huttese alphabet?" she asks. "Or something more esoteric?"
He's eight years old, now. He's still far younger than most of her clients, but she's long gotten used to him. Even when he's acting like a child, there's something to it that doesn't quite sit right. 'Born middle-aged,' a few of the other civilians on base had joked.
She wasn't sure if she thought it was just a joke, these days.
Na-Tsuyon passes her fonts book to the boy, and settles back in her chair for a long afternoon of running numbers. He, meanwhile, goes to sit in the lobby, legs still not long enough to reach the floor, paging through with unwavering, unsettling gravitas.
Half an hour, and then Ben returns.
He points to a font. "This one."
"What's it going to say?"
"Vode An," he tells her, as serious as can be. "In black, over my heart. It's important."
"It's a fairly common phrase," she notes idly. "Should be quick."
She doesn't expect much of a response, and certainly not the one she gets.
"It was different for them," Ben mutters, not looking at her. She sees him twisting the toes of one shoe into the floor. "It was... it was different. I can't talk about it. They were brothers, actually brothers, and they had--they had nothing, they were basically slaves, but--"
"You don't have to talk about it," Na-Tsuyon assures him, a hand on his. "You don't have to explain it to me. If it means something to you, that's all that matters. I just need you to be sure."
"And buir to sign the paperwork," Ben quips, smiling at her. She notices that several teeth are missing. It's cute. "You need that too."
"That too," she agrees.
When Skywalker shows up, he hears what it is that Ben would like, and makes a few suggestions for a border--a gear that sounded too much like the Republic's symbol for a Mando'a phrase, a building on stilts from a city she's never heard of on a planet that rings no bells, a human genetic strand for reasons she can't imagine--most of which are soundly ignored, until Skywalker sketched out a stylized ship of... some sort.
"Venator," Skywalker says, and taps the image. "Nobody will know it except us, but it'll mean something to you, for them."
Ben looks at it for a long moment, and then takes the scrap of flimsi with Mando'a on it and lays it overtop the center of the sketch.
He stares at it for a few long moments, and then nods sharply and pushes it to Na-Tsuyon. "This, please."
He's such a polite child.
It makes it easier to ignore the more confusing parts of his presence in her parlor.
Sokanth Skywalker is in her shop.
"Hello," Na-Tsuyon says. "I didn't know you were thinking of getting ink."
"I'm not," she says, hopping up on a stool across the counter. She holds out a hand, and Na-Tsuyon clasps it with bemusement. "But you guys do piercings too, right?"
"We do," she confirms. "You're... ten?"
"Yep!" Sokanth chirps, kicking her legs back and forth. "Is that old enough to get these without permission, or should I ask my dad to come by?"
"At least twelve for piercings without in-person, signed approval from a parent or guardian," Na-Tsuyon says. "Though if you're anything like your brother, I don't imagine that'll be a problem for you."
Sokanth grins at her, bright and a little wild. "Nose, bottom lip, eyebrow. I don't know the actual terms, but I know what I want. Which do you suggest getting first?"
"I'd say nostril," Na-Tsuyon tells her. Most species even vaguely humanoid kick off with the ears, but that's not exactly an option for a togruta. "Let me get a chart and you can figure out what type of piercing you want, and what kind of hoop or stud. I don't actually do the piercings myself, though. Comm the General if you want this done today, though."
Nostril, labret, and a horizontal brow, the piercer notes down at the end of the latest Skywalker visit. Na-Tsuyon wonders if the brow piercing will look strange with Soka's markings, and then doesn't think on it further.
Ylliben, almost nine, is silent as he gets the touch-up.
His father isn't here. Neither is Shmi. It's pre-approved, signed permission and all, but it's still odd that neither of Ben's adults is here.
Sokanth is, but she's almost as quiet as Ben is.
Na-Tsuyon has heard the rumors, but she's not going to say anything. She's not. It's not her business.
"Ben," Soka speaks up, towards the end of the appointment. "Ask her the thing."
Ben shakes his head. "No way."
"She knows more about tattoos and how important they are than anyone!" Soka urges. "Ask her!"
"Do you want to wait for your father?" Na-Tsuyon suggests.
"No!" both immediately yelp.
She pauses, glad the needle hadn't been to skin, and levels a look at Ben. He flushes and settles down, mumbling an apology for jerking as he had. She goes back to fixing the stretch of the binary suns tattoo.
Soka shifts in her seat, watching them intently.
"Shmi's upset with buir," Ben suddenly says. He doesn't meet Na-Tsuyon's eyes. "I'm... I don't know if you heard what's going on."
"I do my best to avoid rumors," she says, keeping her voice as neutral as she can. "I did hear that the Mand'alor is about to have a grandchild, and something about an upcoming wedding. That much has been announced officially."
"Dad freaked out," Soka says, legs kicking back and forth. "He's happy for her, and he's fine with Jango being the other parent, but it kicked off a... philosophical crisis? Ben, what do you think?"
"Metaphysical, maybe," Ben mumbles. "Definitely existential."
"And he told Shmi some stuff and now she's hurt that he didn't tell her before and it's all a mess," Soka finishes. "So, uh, we don't... want either of them involved. Until. Um. Until that's settled."
Na-Tsuyon bites back any deeper questions she might have. "Alright. I won't pry. What did you want to know from me?"
"I had a plan for what I was going to get next," Ben says, staring at the fold of fabric over his sister's knees in lieu of something more pertinent. "A peace lily, on the inside of my wrist, for..."
"You don't have to tell me," she reminds him.
Ben bites his lip, and closes his eyes, and breathes in deep. Neither of the girls comment.
"She was important," Ben finally says. "In the big memories. But she doesn't... she's not... she isn't here. And Jango is. And he's marrying Shmi, and they're having a baby, so I should put a mark down for him first, right?"
"He's gonna be Mand'alor, too," Soka adds.
"He is," Na-Tsuyon says, as neutral as she can.
"He's joining the family," Ben says, his gaze fixed on the floor in front of him. "And there's going to be a baby, and that's. That's important."
"There's no order that you have to get things in," Na-Tsuyon assures him, squeezing his shoulder in a light gesture of support. "You've prioritized family so far, so I think it would make sense to get a mark for the coming cousin, at least. Unless... is the lily for your birth mother?"
Ben's face twists, uncomfortable for some reason she can't begin to guess at.
"No," Ben says.
"Skyguy's Jedi Master did almost marry her when they were younger," Soka explains. She glances at Na-Tsuyon and then away and at the wall. "They had a whole dramatic 'forbidden romance' thing going on, 'cause Jedi aren't supposed to get married. She died before Ben came into the picture, though."
It's a neat enough explanation.
It feels fake, but much of what the Skywalkers say about their pasts does.
She's sure it's true in some way. In some perspective. From... from a certain point of view, maybe.
"Alright, then," Na-Tsuyon dismisses. "All things aside, I would suggest adjusting your order of tattoo acquisition, but there's no particular requirement by Mandalorian standards. Your choices are rarely anything that intersects with set traditions, nor do you have a historic clan or house that comes with mandates of the sort. It seems that you're leaning towards prioritizing something for the new additions to your family, though; you've made it clear that these things are important to you, and I think you should pursue it if you're comfortable with it."
Ben nods, eyes somewhere far off.
"It'll make him flustered," Soka pushes, kicking lightly at her brother's ankle. "Jan-Jan's still worried you don't like him anymore."
"He is not," Ben huffs. "He's just scared of buir."
"Nah, your opinion matters too," Soka argues. "And you've been avoiding everyone 'cuz Skyguy freaked out and Shmi's upset, so Jango's worried you're mad at him about the baby happening. If you get a tattoo about him, he might actually cry."
"Is that why you want me to take that route?"
"Not the only one," Soka says, utterly guileless. She blinks at him, bright and innocent. "But I definitely do want to see the future Mand'alor crying because you made it obvious he's family now. It'll be funny."
Ben sighs, very clearly being dramatic about it. "Soka, I'm not going to pick a tattoo based on what you think will be funny."
"Imagine his face, though."
Na-Tsuyon doesn't comment at the expressions Ben makes as he very clearly does exactly that.
"Well, kriff," Ben sighs, and Soka giggles at the swear. "I'll have to get a tattoo for Jango, then."
Ben is already nine by the time he comes in with his father to actually get the tattoo for Jango's addition to the family. The choice he makes isn't particularly imaginative, but it'll suit well enough. A mythosaur skull, the symbol of the Haat Mando'ade, in a grey the same shade as beskar.
There actually are traditions to this one, specific adjustments to the framing and stylization meant to indicate how one fits into the faction, but also how one is associated with the Mand'alor. Ben is family, and close family, but not related by blood, nor adopted directly by the Mand'alor, rather a relative through the riduur be alor.
Na-Tsuyon explains each element and adjustment in detail, lets them process and agree, until she's taking a needle to Ben's skin once more.
"Will you be getting one for the coming child as well?" Na-Tsuyon asks while shading in a curve of bone.
"Not yet," Ben tells her, quiet and oddly contemplating. "I need to meet them, first. Figure out who they are."
"Sensible," she agrees. There's the usual oddity in his phrasing, and she ignores it as ever. "Did you tell Fett that you were getting this?"
"No, it's intended as a surprise," Ben says, watching her work.
She can almost feel the coming question.
It does not come from the human she expects.
"Do you know any Mando tattoo artists in Little Keldabe?" the General asks, voice low.
She finishes the line she's on, lifts the needle away from skin, and turns to him. "You're leaving for Coruscant?"
"Not yet," Skywalker says. He meets her eyes evenly. "But... soon. The time's coming. A year, maybe two. The Force will let us know when the time is right."
"Uh-huh," Na-Tsuyon acknowledges this. She does not comment further. The Force is not her wheelhouse. If they think it wants them back on Coruscant, with the Temple, then that's what they believe.
"These are Mando work," Skywalker continues, almost painfully earnest, "and I'd like to ensure whoever maintains them until Ben stops growing knows the right way to handle Mando art."
It's really not that different from a standard tattoo artist, but she's a little charmed anyway. Enchanted, almost. The man really does care.
"I can get you some names and addresses next time you stop by," she promises him. "It's been a few years since I checked in on their work, and I'll need to look them over before I make any recommendations."
He smiles at her, relieved in a manner she finds appallingly open for a Jedi like himself.
Ben mimics his father.
She gets to attend the wedding, months later.
The food is very, very good.
(Ben waits until the reception to show off his new tattoo, and the future Mand'alor does, in fact, cry.)
(So does Shmi.)
(So does their eight-week-old daughter, but that's probably unrelated to the tattoo.)
"Do you think getting a belly button ring would be good?"
Na-Tsuyon doesn't lift her head from her paperwork when Sokanth poses the question to the piercer. She's in for the horizontal brow bar, this time, and the labret is going to be somewhere a few months down the line.
"That's really up to you," the piercer says. His name is Hujnak, and he's a Devaronian that's been working here since Na-Tsuyon opened up the place. She loves him dearly, but he stole the last piece of cake and for that he will have no help with difficult customers for the next fortnight.
Or until she gets bored.
"I'm leaning towards 'no,' but I'm not sure," Soka muses. "I like the idea of it, but I feel like it might get snagged on things more easily. Plus, it's going to be a point of higher damage and pressure if I get a gut punch. It's one of the parts of my body I'm never really going to armor up, you know?"
They do know. There have been screaming matches about all the Jedi's refusal to wear enough armor on many occasions. The Jedi prioritize their agility to such a degree that armorweave is more reasonable than actual armor, in their opinion. This is an opinion that Fett and Mereel both take issue with.
At great volume.
(Shmi has vambraces, a gorget, and greaves, Na-Tsuyon knows. Some of it was exchanged at the wedding. Shmi doesn't wear much armor, certainly less than even the children. Shmi, crucially, isn't a warrior or otherwise planning to see battle.)
"Then I would say it may be best to hold off."
"Phooey," Soka says, though she doesn't seem particularly upset. "Ben's gonna be cooler than me forever, then."
"You think tattoos are cooler than piercings?" Hujnak challenges. "I'm offended."
"He can just get more," Soka protests. "Without it looking weird or getting dangerous, I mean."
Hujnak hums, noncommittal. "And you're worried about being cooler than the younger brother you have told me is, and I quote, the biggest nerd ever?"
"Well, yeah," Sokanth scoffs. "He's gonna start acting older than me as soon as he thinks he can get away with it. I gotta have something to hold over his head, you know?"
"Seeing as you are the older sibling..."
Not paying attention.
"These are House Kryze colors."
Ylliben's breath hitches.
He is ten. He doesn't seem ready to provide answers. She turns to the father instead.
"Will that be a problem?" the general asks, calm and even.
"Yes," she says, and Ben slumps. She continues, because this is her job, and for a reason. "Unless you have a ready justification for when House Kryze asks, yes, it will be a problem. If it were a landscape or an animal, it wouldn't matter, but the pairing of the colors and the peace lily is an explicit statement of loyalty to Adonai and his heir, Satine. Unless you've suddenly decided to adjust your political stance to total pacifism instead of your Jedi approach, or have another reason to take on House Kryze colors, I'd warn against it at all, and would refuse to perform the work myself."
Ylliben's eyes are fixed somewhere behind her, and shining wetly.
"Okay," the general says. "Ben, do you have any other pallettes in mind?
"These were her colors," Ben whispers, and then he swallows thickly. "I just..."
"Simplify," Skywalker suggests. He fiddles with a necklace half-hidden in his Jedi layers; the japor one is visible, but a dull gold glint is all Na-Tsuyon can see of the other before it's tucked away again. "She'd understand, yeah? There's political ramifications. Dangerous ones, especially to you."
Interesting thing to say about a woman who, by Soka's earlier statements, died well before Ben was born.
They could at least try to stop dropping hints about their oddities. She doesn't want to know more.
"Lilac," Ben finally decides. "And... pale silver. With a filigree pattern in the shading?"
"I can do that," Na-Tsuyon promises.
She does not ask further.
"We're moving to Coruscant in a month."
Na-Tsuyon's head snaps up, head tails jolting almost painfully with the movement.
Sokanth is getting her labret, finally. She's gossiping as Hujnak prepares the tools, as usual, and Na-Tsuyon tries to ignore it when they Skywalkers do that, she does, but...
"You're leaving," she repeats, feeling oddly blank.
"Um... yeah?" Soka answers. She scratches at one stubby montral. "We've talked about it before. I thought you knew."
"I didn't realize it was so soon," Na-Tsuyon defends. She's more upset than she should be. "I thought you'd be waiting until the little princess was older."
Sokanth blinks at her, slow and... not judging, no. Evaluating, maybe.
"I'm almost thirteen," she says, slow and deliberate and heavy. "And Ben's eleven. There's no hard age limit for becoming a padawan, but I'm getting into the peak years for getting chosen, and I've been living here instead of in the Temple. I haven't had years to impress a potential Master like the others. That might not matter; sometimes a Master sees their future student and just knows, but... I need to have other Jedi to spar with, not just Skyguy and Ben. And Ben's visions are getting stronger, and Dad was never that good with his own in the first place, so he's worried about being able to help at all. We could stay longer, but..."
She trails off, and shrugs, and the weighted air disappears. "It's not the same thing as a verd'goten, at all, but it's about the same age, you know? I should be in the Temple for it."
"What would a verd'goten equivalent be?" Hujnak prompts, when Na-Tsuyon fails to find her words. "Being an adult and equal member and all such things?"
"Knighthood," Soka answers immediately. "Dad got knighted when he was twenty, but that's really young, usually. His master was knighted at twenty-five, which was a bit late, but apparently there was a whole dramatic thing going on there that Dad never got all the details about."
"Becoming a Padawan is a sign that your teachers see you as someone that is ready to take on the responsibilities of a Jedi, yes?" Hujnak asks. "That you may not be ready to go out on your own, but that you're old enough to understand your oaths and choose how to follow them, and to protect others?"
Sokanth considers this, and then nods. "Yeah, I guess it's similar to using the verd'goten to gauge if someone's ready to swear the Resol'nare, that way. Still not moving out, and just about entering an apprenticeship, but enough of an adult to make the choice of how to change the world."
"I think most cultures have something like that around the same age," Hujnak comments. "Some do it a bit later in the teens, but it's usually around your age that most... well, most cultures who age at the 'human standard' rate--"
Na-Tsuyon can't help the reflexive snort of derision. Neither can Soka. Hujnak, the closest to human in the room and yet still very much not, smiles like this is exactly what he intended.
"--most who age at that rate do have it somewhere in that eleven-to-seventeen range, I'd think."
Soka shrugs. "Yeah, well. Still gotta go to the Temple for it, you know?"
"Are you going to take the verd'goten at all?" Na-Tsuyon asks, suddenly a little desperate to keep the Skywalkers here, with Mandalore and all its people, just a fraction of a moment longer.
"I don't think so," Soka muses. "I've been thinking about it, but I should probably talk about it with Jango, yeah?"
"Yeah," Na-Tsuyon says, and feels like she's swallowing down around rocks.
As it turns out, the timing is very deliberate. Three weeks later, Jaster transfers the title of Mand'alor to his son.
(Though Na-Tsuyon does not know this, twenty-six is older than Jango was when he lost the title, once upon another life.)
There is a week of festivity. There is food, and drink, and dancing. Some people get married. Some people make announcements of impending births. Some people reveal songs they composed in preparation for this very day.
For a week, Mandalore celebrates a new king.
Then, the Jedi and his children leave.
(Ben gives Na-Tsuyon a hug before he goes.)
(She tries to understand why she feels like she's losing something when he does.)
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