It was always a bad sign when more than two Masters set up a private comm meeting to talk to you.
It was an even worse sign when one of them wasn't Bastila. Dustil was a grown man with children, a Jedi Knight.
He refused to fidget.
"I was made aware, Master Ara, Master Rthin," he said respectfully, "Does that mean you've approved it?"
And what did that mean? Dustil was still trying to figure it out. Somewhere between the relief and absence in his head that only included his former Master far on Coruscant and the lingering thoughts of words that weren't quite spoken, he wasn't sure where to place any motivation.
The Arkanian Master's pupiless eyes were regarding him thoughtfully, maybe. It was hard to tell sometimes. Maybe that was why he'd been dragged into this comm. "Knight Rappertunie has proven himself very capable in this endeavor, but the speed at which Mekel Jin has," there was the briefest pause that spoke volumes, "adjusted, has given us the inclination to exercise caution."
Maybe Lydie was having better luck, though Dustil still wasn't sure Aves was the best place to look, considering the stances on the other candidates. He wished she'd let him know occasionally, throw a report his way so he wasn't feeling so blind sighted about why the Council really sent her.
It certainly wasn't to help with any of the many duties of the Enclave.
There was a light chime, indicating someone at the door and Dustil waved his hand to let them in. It wasn't the way the bond signaled that Mekel had come in, because there wasn't that any more. But he could sense him and his presence was too familiar to ignore.
Dustil didn't turn around, and shuffled datapads, trying to maintain a cool, non-influencing attitude.
In other words, you can't force or guilt someone into the Jedi. Obviously. Look how well it worked out for any of the kids from Korriban (at least at first in Dustil's case), or Minuet Avery Revan. The best case scenarios were living with Mandalorians and Beastriders.
Dustil resisted rubbing his temple and kept his hands on his lap. "By removing him," he finished for them.
Master Ara nodded, Master Rthin just kept staring at him with those pupiless white eyes.
Weeks. Weeks he'd spent convincing Mekel to stay on Onderon and now the Council wanted to remove him. A small part of Dustil wanted to scream and growl in frustration, but he knew better than that. "Are you sure that's the best option considering his state right now?"
Better to say that then, outloud what he was worrying about the kids. If it was Bastila he could be honest completely. As it was, Dustil sighed. "This season is very stressful on the Enclave, Ai-- Knight Sez has really appreciated his help with the new healing unit we've moved to."
"Hi." With Mekel's shoulders slumped forwards, the robes looked too big on him. There was a shadow of stubble on his face and his eyebrows had come in. They pulled together slightly, in a familiar scowl that didn't match the tone of his voice. "You have a second?"
Was, of course, too much of an answer? It was the one that felt instinctive, but maybe that was the problem.
This would be easier if Dustil wasn't obviously not impartial to every one of the Padawans. Let alone Mekel. He finally decided on an unaffected nod.
It was strange to see Mekel in robes like this, not like before on Coruscant, or even on the videos for the Rogue Padawans. He actually looked like one.
Maybe Devn was a miracle worker.
"I'm --" he shifted uncomfortably on his feet and cleared his throat. "I asked Rappertunie -- I'm going to be a Padawan. For real." He glanced down at himself, straightening the belt of his robes. "The Council approved it and everything." His gaze skittered over to Dustil's face and then darted away fast. "Really," he added for emphasis, like he was making sure of it himself.
"Isn't Knight Reeves a well established healer?" Master Ara said, one brown eyebrow raised over her dark eyes.
Dustil wasn't sure what that meant. Was that a dig at Mekel, Dustil, or Dash?
"Knight Reeves has been helping me with the general run of the Enclave," Dustil knew that sounded like exactly what it was. That Dash hadn't been doing anything. And although his assignment here had been a personal favor, Dustil had no doubt if Dash fell too far and Dustil didn't do something about it (taking him back to Coruscant or otherwise), that it wasn't Knight Reeves who was going to get the blame.
"And it's not just Knight Sez that's receiving the benefit. Mekel Jin is clearly thriving in this environment, if he's already put himself towards rejoining the Order." Which Dustil was sure they'd all be happy about if it happened. It would get some of the more reluctant members of the Council on board with the next Force sensitive released from the tanks. It wasn't just Mekk. That was not the driving factor of Dustil's motivation.
They had to get that.
"I know," Dustil said, carefully, trying to make it not sound like it was careful, "Did you want to have a seat? There's an extra chair up against the wall."
"You know?" Mekel looked startled.
It took a lot of strength not to smile at that. He tried to emulate Bastila, way back when on Kashyyyk, when she had been closed off and calm. "I'm the Interim Head of the Enclave, I tend to get informed of these things."
"You didn't say anything."
"You wanted me to tell you, that you were considering rejoining the Jedi?" It was easier this time to remain unaffected, Dustil just cocked an eyebrow.
"I thought you'd be interested." Mekel's voice was toneless now and his face completely blank.
"Perhaps, the careful balance of your routine, coupled with Knight Rappertunie's influence has produced something of a miracle," Master Ara couldn't have been more sarcastic if she tried, but anyone not a Jedi hearing her voice would have only detected sincerity.
"You'd be removing Knight Rappertunie as well," Dustil added. "The Enclave here is short staffed as it is."
"Knight Korr and," there was another impermeable pause and something that might have been a lip twitch if Dustil could read Master Rthin's eyes, "Master Loanin are assigned there for the moment and after Knight Korr's mission ends another Knight can be assigned to the Enclave."
Dustil couldn't argue with that. At least not with logic and anything that wasn't emotions. He took a deep shallow breath through his nose, trying to make it unnoticeable.
Dustil wasn't sure what to say next. Was, I'm glad you told me too partial? Or was if you're serious about it, I'm thrilled implying too much?
He cleared his throat and shuffled a few files out of order, absently. "It's a very serious commitment, but I'm sure Devn's already told you that."
"He didn't have to tell me. I'm not stupid." The voice was still toneless, but the scowl had deepened. "Is that all you're going to say?"
Dustil wondered if he could inadvertently push this in the other direction. He took a breath and tried, once again, to be impartial. "Did you want me to say anything else? Because it's your decision, not my opinion that should count."
Mekel walked over to the chair Dustil had offered him and stood over it, hand tapping on the back. He did not, however, sit down. "If you don't have anything to say, that's fine," he clipped, in a tone that implied the opposite. "Rappertunie's my master now. I don't think he's thrilled, but it should be good for his career." He took a deep breath. "They're sending us away. Did you know that too?"
Master Ara had her fingers folded in her laps. "Perhaps a Master as well."
It wasn't really a threat. Dustil knew eventually, they would find a real Council to replace what they'd built at the Enclave. Running an Enclave for this many years with just Knights wasn't the way to keep it going. That didn't stop Dustil from bristling a little.
It wasn't the first time in his life he'd been shoved into leadership and forced to let it go. "Yes, Masters." He said instead of anything else that came to mind.
Master Ara's hair was in an impeccable topknot, only one strand fell out of place, she pushed it back with a long finger and returned her hand to it's previous position. "Considering that, a reassignment to build up another Enclave would be a viable option."
"What?" Dustil didn't mean to make that sound to so surprised, but he was. He cleared his throat and regained composure, his tone wary. "Where?"
He'd rather stay on Onderon under someone else than be away from Fae for months at a time again.
Dustil didn't meet his eyes, it was easier that way. "Yes, I think they're considering places. Devn would probably know more."
Not Coruscant where Lydie was. And not Onderon with Dustil. That much they made clear.
"The k-- my Padawans can still visit, if that's a concern." Which it obviously was. It had better be. "Devn already cleared the mission to the shore with me. A well rounded apprenticeship should be good for them."
And really, in this one tiny area the Council could kiss his ass, everywhere else he'd defer to their judgment and try to follow the Jedi code. But not with his kids. He wasn't going to deny them the biological father they were just getting to know.
"That's good." Mekel wasn't looking at him either. His hand kept tapping against the chair. "So you knew about that too."
Master Rthin shrugged a delicate shoulder. "The Council has been deliberating for quite some time about the matter. But with the way the Onderonian Enclave has thrived, you would be in consideration for a leadership position."
They wouldn't say Master, but they could imply it. Dustil tried not to think about it. He didn't deserve to be a Master this young. After all that had happened on Thule, not to mention how he still had trouble adjusting to certain things, like resisting the urge to fidget.
But he'd thought about it. After all, his own Master had been made one at his age.
Stop it. Dustil thought harshly to himself before nodding carefully.
"Interim Head of the Enclave," Dustil said, gesturing to himself. He met Mekel's eyes for a second and then glanced away again.
"Then I guess you must know why they're sending me away too." Mekel's mouth twisted.
"They told you that?" Dustil's voice lost the tone of impartiality and he cleared his throat glancing back at the table again and taking a deep breath.
"Rappertunie told me. Did you ask them to do it? Did you ask them to send me away?"
"What?" Dustil balked at him. "Of course not!"
"I'd understand if you did, it's okay. Makes sense even." Mekel rubbed the back of his neck. "Sometimes I'm not sure myself why I want to do this. But then I think and I --"
"I just said I didn't," Dustil tried not to snap, he frowned and sighed. "But you need to be sure...maybe, maybe it's not a terrible idea."
"Of course, this could hinge on the Enclave's next few successes."
Right. This wasn't just a threat, it was a piece fodder to put in front of his face and lead him closer like a bantha. He'd better not interfere one way or another with Mekel's path to the Jedi, or bye bye Masterhood until he's fifty.
Would have worked really well on anyone else.
Dustil could deal with fifty. Or even never. It was a hard thought, but not something he didn't deserve.
"Of course," he agreed, his voice without tone. "You don't want my presence to influence Mekel in any way."
"He has put himself into a position," Master Ara said just as tonelessly, "where he could make himself easily available to you or Knight Korr, considering his previous actions--"
The Arkanian Master cut her off. "Dustil," Master Rthin said carefully, but not unkindly, Bastila was usually the only Master that used his first name, "Can even you be sure that his intentions are completely his own?"
Dustil didn't have an answer to that.
And that was where they had him.
"I'm sure." Mekel's voice was flat. "I know why I'm doing this."
Dustil didn't find it difficult to keep his voice cool this time. "And why is that?"
"For you." He shot a look at Dustil. "And the kids."
Dustil had learned not to squeeze his hands together, since one could break the other, so he just kept his metal fist clenched on his knee. "That's--" His breath came out annoyed. "It's a lifetime commitment, it's not just something done to impress or make up for things. And you can still see the kids with or without it."
He turned his head away and moved a couple of files back into place, knowing the exact words to say. Careful deterrents. Everything short of it will never work on me. "I'm still seeing Char."
"I figured that, when you didn't come home, those nights the kids were with Lash." Mekel tilted his head up, staring at the ceiling. "I'm sure I'll find someone frackable too, eventually." He paused for a second. "Not Rappertunie though."
Dustil covered the automatic snort with his hand and turned it into a cough. He eyed Mekel carefully. "You don't need to make up... for things, by doing this, either."
Mekel shrugged. "It's not like I have anything else to do."
Dustil glared at him, irritated at the sting that that casual attitude over something so important still brought. "It's nice to see how you still think of commitments. That's not a good reason."
Mekel glared back. "I'm so committed, I don't even care that you're fracking that -- pilot."
Dustil didn't know exactly what that meant, or if he even wanted to know what exactly it was referring to. He just shook his head. "That's very altruistic of you, I'll be sure to include that in my status report to the Council," he said dryly.
Mekel bobbed his head in weird parody of a Padawan's bow. "If you think it's appropriate, Acting Interim Master Onasi."
"Do you think this is a joke?" Dustil stared at him and clenched his jaw, feeling a muscle there jump in barely controlled irritation. "That you can just try to be a Padawan again, because you can't think of anything better to do?"
"That's not --" Mekel bit off whatever it was he was going to say. His expression darkened. "I bet you didn't have a better reason, when you rejoined."
"Yes, Mekk, I've been a Jedi for over ten years, because I was bored." He rubbed his temple. "That logic makes complete sense."
"You wouldn't know sarcasm if it bit you in the ass, Telos." Mekel turned and walked towards the door. "Maybe I'll see you, before we leave for the coast. Don't worry, I'll keep the kids safe. Have fun with Char."
It was definitely immature and not impartial of Dustil to shoot, "I will," before turning back towards his files and putting the rest of them back in their useless dead-lead order. Loanin was probably going to refile them anyway.
The door closing behind him was the only notice he had of Mekel's leaving.
The files weren't going to magically appear to be any more clear than the throbbing ache in his chest and head, that warred with whether he was making the right decision on anything and everything.
Dustil slammed his hands on the desk and stood up, determined to at least control one point in his life and find out what was up with Lydie's investigation.