The training grounds of the Vizsla compound are always busy. Utrelsor Vizsla knows this well, since she’s lived here all her life, but she also knows quite well how to find the people she’s looking for.
After all, the best way to find her darling ori’vode is to look for where the most people are watching.
She loves them, she does, even Jaster who Kori’b uir only brought into the family a year and a half ago.
But they’re both way too popular.
She elbows her way through the mass of beskar’gam, shoving someone who tries to whap her buy’ce and causing a bit of an avalanche. She gets plenty of room after that and is able to pop out of the crush of people to watch her two favourite di’kute.
Tor has his beskar painted completely black, because he is the most literal person she knows, while Jaster has added bits of red and shades of grey to his. Both men wield beskade and they’re making a show of it instead of training properly. It makes her roll her eyes, but she can’t deny the small curl of envy in her gut. She’s only just turning twenty, while both of her vode are nearing twenty- three , and the differences are clear. At least Jaster, with his clear t ogruta heritage, has a reason to be absurdly tall. Tor however has not a single one, being the tallest one in their family.
Where, she wonders, did he get the height? Not from Kori’buir, who is barely taller than her, and not from her and Tor’s other buir, who was actually even shorter . Sure, they might all be average in height, but that means nothing with these two around.
She’s forever going to be the vod’ika in their shadows.
Tor makes a showy twirl and pays for it when Jaster gets the dull side of his beskad hooked up against the hilt and pulls, sending Tor’s flying to lodge itself into the packed soil of the training field.
Utrelsor grimaces, she knows that’s always a bitch to get out.
Tor laughs, though, and holds his hands up in surrender. He knows when he’s been bested, even if she suspects he doesn’t quite know how often Jaster bests him. Jaster holds his beskad aloft and the crowd cheers.
Jaster, she’s heard from everyone who comes through the compound, is going to be an amazing successor for Kori, and Tor will make a great lieutenant. She hopes they haven’t told Tor that. It may be true, but her biological brother considers his pride far more than his namesake justice, even if he lies to himself otherwise.
He’s a good older brother, she’d tell anyone. He is. He’s always been there to be helpful, always been a shoulder to cry on and someone to threaten her boyfriends, always been there to help with her modules and tease her and help her cut her hair.
But Jaster was adopted for a reason. He’s a good brother two, and she likes him enough to call him a friend, but he’s not really here to be part of their family.
He’s here because Kori’buir wanted to make the succession clear.
Many years from now, when Kori’buir dies, it’s going to be Jaster with the responsibility of leading their people.
Jaster notices her first, pulling his buy’ce off and grinning as he fishes her out of the crowd. Tor slaps her back, still laughing at himself and at Jaster.
It feels good.
She’d be happy if it could be like this forever.
Utrelsor leans back in her chair, her upper lip curled to keep her stylus in place there while she thinks. She gets why Jaster asks her to proof his papers—Tor may love that he found such a smart vod but he also has no idea how to edit and Kori’buir is always busy—but some of this stuff goes over her head if she’s too tired.
“You should keep all four feet on the ground,” the offending ori’vod says pleasantly from across the table from her.
She flips him off.
“What are you having trouble with?” he asks.
“I’m not having trouble,” she protests, taking the stylus back in her fingers and glaring at him. She does sit the chair fully back against the library’s wooden floors, though. “I just have to think about it. You give me some real high level osik you know?”
“It’s not osik,” he protests.
She gives him a flat look. “When are you going back to Keldabe City?” she asks.
He purses his lips. “We have meetings from the eighteenth to the twentieth, but classes start on the twenty-first and they’re having me do classes at the polytechnic in the capital here.”
“Do you need it done by then?”
“Nayc,” he drawls, shrugging. “It’s for end of term, technically.”
“Overachiever,” she mutters.
He beams at her. “If you found something you liked, you’d be like this too.”
Doubt. Still, she tells him, “I’ll have it done by the time you get back for classes. I am going to bum it in your apartment for a week though.”
His smile turns into a smirk. “You want to learn more Concordian swear words, don’t you.”
“Duh.” Concordia may speak a variation of Concordian dialect, too, but Concord Dawn’s is more varied, and she and Tor have had court talk drilled into them. The Vizslas having a title keeps them in check, allegedly, along with the Wrens and a few other families.
Utrelsor hates it.
So Jaster teaches her Concordian dialect and she teaches him Sundari dialect and they both scrabble as much of the Keldabe City dialect from Jaster’s colleagues and professors as possible.
“Do you know when Tor gets back from the mine check?” Jaster asks. He looks out the window.
Sometimes Utrelsor wonders why Kori’buir didn’t let them court, why he adopted Jaster instead, but she knows more about politics than she should to let herself wonder too much. “You can do better than him,” she says instead of changing the subject or just telling him.
Jaster scowls and firmly doesn’t look at her. The tips of his ears go a little red. “I just—.”
“One day you’re going to find someone awesome,” she says with a sniff. “And I’m going to tell you ‘I told you so’ and make you get a dumb tattoo with whoever the guy’s name is, and he’ll be just as smart as you and a hell of a lot less prideful.”
“It’s not like that,” Jaster protests weakly. “We just have plans to spar tonight.”
Her accent on that particular phrase breaks the tension, sending Jaster into frantic giggling that a man his size shouldn’t be able to produce. “Sometimes I do wonder if you like your ori’vod,” he admits after a moment.
“Of course I do.” She trusts Tor more than anyone with her worries, but right now she’s between boyfriends and doesn’t have any.
“So do you not like me?” he asks.
Utrelsor stares at him. She throws the stylus at him.
It bounces off his forehead and results in a look like a surprised gi.
“Of course I like you, di’kut. It feels like you always should have been here, most of the time. You’re my ori’vod too, so don’t forget it.”
Jaster smiles, but it’s really sad in comparison to earlier. She wonders, sometimes, about what he left behind on Concord Dawn.
She’d like to give his old boss a piece of her mind. And a few broken teeth.
Hmm, maybe she can convince her project for this season to be hunting down the aliit of the bastard Jaster got exiled for killing. They may be rich but they’re not as powerful as the Vizslas.
Her thoughts are interrupted by the door to the library swinging open. They both look over to find Tor, his intact beskar’gam still coated in mine dust, with a manic edge to his eyes but a big grin.
“Don’t breathe in too much dust, di’kut,” Utrelsor drawls.
“Yeah,” Jaster adds in a matching drawl.
The manic edge ebbs away and is replaced with a pout. “Stop ganging up on me.”
The two of them share a look, then look back at their vod. As one, they say, “Nayc.”
“You’re both horrible, you know that? Absolutely terrible, the worst siblings a man could ask for. I ought to tie you both by your feet from the announcement poll!”
“Tor,” Utrelsor says, smiling.
He shuts his mouth and gulps.
“What did you need that made you step into our calm, peaceful, quiet library while still covered in mine dust?”
“Oh.” Tor flushes. “Kori’buir wants to see us.”
“Go change and have someone hose your beskar off,” Jaster says, taking charge. “We’ll make shig.”
Making shig doesn’t really take too long, but their household is full of particular people. This means that instead of a generally agreed upon set of mixes of herbs for the infusion, there are jars with each ingredient that at least one person who lives at the compound likes.
Jaster heats the water in the kettle while Utrelsor picks out the different herbs.
More behot for Kori’buir and Jaster, less for her and Tor. The former will be up half the night while the latter will be sleeping like normal people. Veshok needles for Jaster and Tor. Purple stars for her and Kori’buir. Some weird herb from Concord Dawn goes in Jaster’s cup, but she adds a little less for herself. She actually likes the taste pretty well, just not as strong as Jaster. Maybe the veshok needles balance it out or something. Then some bluebell buds for Kori’buir and some black mint for Tor and they’re ready for water.
Well, when they get to the office. She puts the cups on the tray and gets the heat protector ready so Jaster can deposit the steaming kettle directly on.
She makes him carry it.
Sure, she can haul the thing herself, but ori’vode are supposed to be useful.
Tor meets them at the door and takes the tray from Jaster and Utrelsor graciously ignores the grin Tor shoots him and the way his ears go red again.
Utrelsor pushes the door open. “Buir, we’re here. We brought shig.”
Kori Vizsla looks up from his datapad, filled with enough documentation that if it were all on flimsi it would probably break the desk, and smiles at them, his lined face showing a dimple. “You were faster than I thought.”
She and Jaster look over at tor, who averts his eyes and whistles.
“Come on, sit.”
They all shuffle to their favourite seats, Tor setting the tray on the desk. Kori’buir pours the water himself, then passes the cups to exactly the right person. It’s one of the few things Utrelsor wishes she could do, but even Jaster can’t, yet, so she doesn’t pout too badly.
Utrelsor sits back and savours the taste of her shig and from the gentle quiet, everyone else is doing so too.
It’s like normal family time, almost, except for the distinction that Kori’buir called them into his office. This isn’t one of the common rooms in the core family part of the compound. This isn’t after dinner. So there’s a notable tension in the air.
After a deep sigh, Kori’buir says, “A’den Fett passed away two days ago.”
Jaster startles, sucking in a quick breath and then coughing hard. Tor and Utrelsor both smack his shoulders for him as he coughs up a bit of shig. “He’s dead,” he says, and it’s the most gutted Utrelsor has ever heard him sound.
“A’den Fett was the aliit’alor of the Fetts, wasn’t he?” Tor asks their buir.
Kori’buir nods seriously. “His ad, Parjaya, has now taken his place.”
Jaster looks a bit pale. “Osik,” he mutters, setting his shig down and putting his face in his hands. “And I can’t even…”
Utrelsor pats his shoulder. “You know them?”
Jaster nods, but doesn’t look up. “He was an apprentice protector who I helped train, right before. Everything.”
“It seems they knew it was coming,” Kori’buir says gently. “He’s Utrelsor’s age, isn’t he? Why don’t you two arrange to meet him at one of the space stations when he has time.”
Jaster looks up, but his eyes are a bit blank. Utrelsor hadn’t noticed how much light he put into them before now, and it’s kind of scary.
Where did her ori’vod go?
She looks over at Tor, who at least is similarly worried.
“Why?” Jaster asks, the question coming out in more of a croak.
Kori’buir’s gaze, she thinks, goes a little hard. “Because your friend is now the head of clan Fett. I was on well with A’den, but you three are the next generation, and Tor has work. And I think young Parjaya could use a break.”
It’s the last sentence that has Jaster bowing his head again. He nods once, then picks himself up and takes himself to the door. “I’ll message him.”
Tor hops up, already going after him and leaving Utrelsor alone with their buir.
“That’s not it, is it?” she asks him.
Kori’buir shrugs and leans back, sighing. “I knew he wouldn’t take it well.”
“Buir,” Utrelsor says, “why am I going too?”
He looks over at her, like he’s measuring her. It’s times like these she knows that if she and Tor were born Force s ensitive like him, she’d be the one in Jaster’s place right now. Most of the time, he’s a good buir.
But right now, he’s being a good Mand’alor.
He sighs again and sits back up, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Jaster is going to be the next Mand’alor.”
She knows this.
“Tor won’t react well.”
She also knows this.
“I think there will be a civil war.”
That...that she didn’t know. She stares baldly at him, then frantically looks back at the shut door to the office. “What do you mean? Tor loves Jaster! Even if he gets pissed, he wouldn’t…”
Kori’buir shakes his head. “I know you don’t want to think he could do it...but I don’t have that luxury. He thinks it’s his place, and when it comes down to what he thinks, well, you said it yourself. He loves Jaster. He doesn’t think of his as his aliit. If I weren’t Mand’alor, if that title wasn't in the cards, he’d probably cancel Jaster’s adoption just to marry him. And that means…”
“He’s willing to forget he’s family if he decides he's an enemy too.” Utrelsor squeezes her hands together.
“Right. But, Ut’ika, Jaster won’t have children. Not if he’s fighting a war, especially.”
Jaster wouldn’t dare put a child at risk until they were ready, not unless he had no other choice. And if he had the choice not to have any that he could put in the line of fire.
Not have any to be at risk of their ba’vodu.
“So, what? Are you relying on me for the next Vizsla ‘alor?”
Kori’buir cracks a tired smile at her. “No. If I thought it was better, I’d make it so you were Vizsla’alor yourself. But I think it is better if you find out if this young journeyman protector is the kind of person you like.”
“He’s on Concord Dawn. Away from where the war would be.”
“Mostly. But more than that, he’s a Fett. Force sensitivity runs strong in that family, and they are well known for being strategists for Mand’alore. Not just Cassus Fett. A’den was one of the people I trusted most among the aliit’alor. We weren’t truly friends, but I knew he’d always be honest and he wanted the best for our people.”
She stares at him. “You want me to, what. Make sure that Fett is on Jaster’s side.”
He shrugs again. “Which side you take is up to you,” he says, even if he sounds exhausted. “You don’t have to choose either, if you don’t want to. No...the best bet for the end of the war, if Jaster can’t do it...is going to be if you have Fett children. Children with Vizsla and Fett heritage...A Mand’alor like that would be able to change the galaxy.”
She looks at her hands, where she’s digging her fingertips into the thin flesh around her knuckles. “Buir—.”
“It’s up to you. I just wanted you to know my ulterior motives for you meeting him. I do want you to be happy, too, so you’re the one who decides what happens there.”
“Right.” Shab, she doesn’t want to deal with this. She just wanted to hunt down those that hurt Jaster, hurt her family, and like. She doesn’t know, sleep around a bit? Be the lady of the house and protect her di’kut’la ori’vode from social politics?
She doesn’t want them to fall apart.
“I can’t stop it, can I?” she asks.
“You know your brother,” Kori’buir whispers. When she looks up, he’s turned around to stare out his office window.
He can’t stop it either.
He’s tried, she knows. He taught Tor all about what a Mand’alor actually needs. He raised him so Tor would be able to support the next Mand’alor.
“I’ll meet him,” she says finally. “But I can’t promise anything.”
He doesn’t turn around and smile at her. She wishes he did.
She’s glad he didn’t.