Red Dragon Inn
Stars End Sector => Stars End Bar & Grill => Undetectable => Topic started by: Yana Triem on April 14, 2017, 12:22:42 PM
[size=9]((Contains material of an adult nature.))[/size]
Contrary to Kalen's belief that she had been too far gone to remember anything from the evening before, Yana Triem woke with a pounding head and a very clear memory. Parts of it were too clear for her liking - why did I have to talk about his ass so much? - but the part that resounded through her head most was his insistence that they were now partners. Partners in need of a bigger ship. As much as she loved her Pandora, she knew it was not suitable for more than a one person crew, and the thought of living in that close quarters with Kalen Dain was more than enough to get her up and moving.
Leaving him sleeping, and with strict instructions to Kless to keep the merc pilot in the Pearl by whatever means necessary until she returned, she made her way out into the Spaceport, steeling herself for what she had planned. First stop was Landing Pad Seven, where she checked on the state of her newly repaired cargo shuttle, reclaiming the credit chit she'd handed over to pay for those repairs and the full tank of fuel. It didn't take long to pack her meager belongings from inside, hoisting a bag that felt too light to hold the necessities of her life onto her shoulder to head out once again.
She avoided the yards that proliferated in the classy end of the 'port; even if the scrapyards did hold a ship suitable, she would never be able to afford it. No, she knew exactly where she was going, treading the walkways down into the heart of the Spaceport, where criminal activity was virtually the only career worth pursuing. Keeping one hand on her blaster at all times, she walked with purpose. She'd grown up here; she knew these byways like the back of her hand, and enough people here could recognize not to trouble her, if not for her own sake, then for the memory of her father. Humans were fewer down here even than they were up top, but she didn't let that deter her. She knew exactly where she was going. It was known locally as The Graveyard, and it was run by a Hutt.
Not a true Hutt; you'd never catch one of them outside their own galaxy. No, Orsk Hitin the Hutt was a Bothan - from the same galaxy as the Hutts, certainly, but wily enough to get out and create a Hutt persona for himself that spread their reputation while keeping his own name safely out of the rumor mill. He'd run a few tricks with her father when she was a small girl; if she was very lucky, Hix Triem's name would still open doors here.
It was no surprise to see Jawas crawling all over The Graveyard, busily working on ships and ship parts, seemingly to their own agenda. Orsk had made sure to populate his inner ranks with races he was familiar with; people that, for one reason or another, had felt the need to leave their own galaxy and gravitated to what was familiar in this one. Therefore she was even less surprised to be challenged by a Rodian just a few moments after entering.
"Uba! Uba chuba chowbasa wata!"
Yana sighed, coming to a halt in front of the green-skinned mercenary. She hated Huttese - too guttural and generally nonsensical for her liking. She refused to speak it.
"I've got business with the Hutt," she informed the Rodian with an unfriendly glare. "Just you tell him there's a Triem who wants his time."
"Ta Hutt chuba bargon foo tah uba," the Rodian insisted.
Yana rolled her eyes. "Yes, he will," she countered through ground teeth, cursing her pounding hangover. She was not in the best of moods. "Pass the message, or I'm going to make trouble."
The Rodian clicked his muzzle-like mouth dismissively. "Bolla goola che uba."
"Oh, yeah?" Without missing a beat, Yana kicked his kneecap hard, drawing her blaster as he staggered to set the barrel against the side of his head. "Wanna think that over?"
The Rodian snarled at her, but was interrupted by the jabbering sound of a Jawa rushing over to them, waving his arms wildly. Stepping back, Yana let the pair talk, keeping her blaster trained on the mercenary all the while. If she heard anything she didn't like, he was going to regret it. After a few moments, however, the Rodian snarled once again, limping backward and out of her way. The Jawa bowed to her, gesturing for her to come with him as he pottered away, toward the hollowed out remains of what might once have been a Hammerhead Corvette-class freighter.
Following, Yana ducked inside at the Jawa's invitation, finding herself in the heart of Orsk Hitin's underclass empire. And there was the man himself - well, man was probably an insult. He was a Bothan, and proud of it, all shaggy fur around his canine-like face and standing no more than five feet in height. His muzzle swung about as she entered, and she felt a little of her tension relax at his booming greeting.
"Little Yan! Welcome to my humble home!"
"Hardly humble, Orsk," she pointed out, but she couldn't deny the wry fondness in her tone. This Bothan had kept a close eye on her after her father's death; if it wasn't for him, she would likely not still be standing.
"What brings you to me, hmm?" Orsk asked, gesturing for her to join him as he moved to sit comfortably on a couch that had never been designed for use on a starship.
She smiled. This was familiar. Straight to business, no need for reliving old memories or revisiting past misadventures. Her name got her in, and the memory of her father kept her in Orsk's good books. That was enough for now.
"I need to trade up," she told him, taking a seat opposite as she dug a datapad with her ship's schematics out of her bag. "Going into partnership with a good pilot, and Pandora's just not going to cut it for both of us. She's newly repaired, full tank of fuel, modified with a rear-mounted laser cannon and side turret, and jumps to light with half-calculation in a pinch."
"How far up are you wanting to trade?" the Bothan asked thoughtfully, taking the pad to scan the details in front of him. "Knowing you, it needs to be speedy and maneuverable as well as having fair cargo space. And two crew suggests separate quarters. I've a couple that might suit."
He nodded to the Jawa who had stayed with them, and the little creature went scurrying for another datapad as the Bothan turned his eyes back to Yana.
"Pandora would fetch a good price with any disreputable businessman," he told her. "Good enough to trade up without coming here."
"But I don't know any honest disreputable businessmen but you, Orsk," she pointed out in amusement.
He let out a bark of laughter, appreciating her distinction. "How do you plan to pay for what the trade doesn't cover?"
She bit her lip, not liking what had to come next. "I've got 5,000 creds to play with," she told him. "Bit of gold here on Rhy'Din, too. But if it's not enough, I propose to keep my creds and my gold, and cut you in on all deals I make until it's paid off." She eyed him pointedly. "You know I'm good for it."
"What's the cut you're offering?" he asked sharply.
"15% on all deals over 10,000," she answered promptly - she'd done the math while packing up her belongings. "5% on anything under that."
"Hmm." Orsk leaned back, stroking the long fur that grew like a beard from his muzzle. He studied her for a long time, ignoring the return of the Jawa, who held out a datapad in his direction. "All right, Triem, you have a deal," the Bothan said finally. "Pandora's worth 62,000, by my reckoning - for you, we'll call it 65." He nodded to the Jawa, who offered the datapad to her. "I've got two on my books that should suit your needs."
Yana took the pad, trying not to let her relief show. It had been a stab in the dark coming here at all, but thankfully she had never crossed Orsk Hitin. He'd never let her forget it if she did. She let her eyes scan the two ships he offered her. The first was an old model, too out-dated even with its modifications to get a decent speed up if they ran into trouble. The second ... She smirked.
"Either you're losing your eye, or you're trying to scam me," she informed the Bothan with one raised brow. "This isn't a modified YT-1300, it's a modified YT-2000."
Orsk frowned, sitting upright. "And how do you know that?"
"Centralized cockpit," she said simply, shrugging one shoulder. "Full tank of fuel included, right?"
Orsk considered her, and nodded once. "You want that one?"
"She'll do the job," Yana conceded. "New serial number, no name, as standard?"
"Of course," Orsk assured her confidently. "That price isn't correct, either. I'll knock 10,000 off that - YT-2000s don't sell the way the 1300s do."
Biting her lip, Yana did the math in her head quickly. Going by their deal as stated, that put a good ship in her hands, and with a couple of high return jobs under her belt after dealing with Trethin, she'd pay it off easily enough. And it was a good ship - even if Kalen didn't recognize that when he first got a look at it.
"All right, Orsk, it's a deal," she agreed, tapping in the details of Pandora with a faint pang for the loss of her first ship.
The Bothan grinned, insisting on escorting her to the correct landing pad in the hope of meeting this elusive partner she had mentioned. She was very careful not to send a message to Kalen until she'd sent Orsk on his way, however. The fewer people around here who knew she'd partnered up with anyone, the better. Still, she couldn't put it off forever, and by now, Kalen was bound to be causing trouble at the Pearl. So she finally sent that message, knowing Kless would deliver it with the worst kind of knowing grin ever.
Meet me at Landing Pad 87. Bring breakfast - the chit's in your left boot.
By the time Kalen woke up, Yana was already gone. He assumed she'd abandoned him again and gone off on her own, either not wanting to involve him or not trusting him enough to accept his offer of partnership. It was an offer he didn't have to make. He could have easily found work on his own and left her to her own devices. He didn't need any trouble with Trethin, but something about the man had irked him, and he'd felt bad about the girl's situation. Still, if she really didn't want his help, maybe he should just let her go and leave well enough alone. What did he care if she got herself killed, after all? That was just it though - for some reason, he did care, though he wasn't quite sure why. Cussing under his breath, he collected what few possessions he had with him before noticing the slip of paper that had been shoved under his door.
He furrowed his brows as he scanned the contents of the message. Though the note was unsigned, he assumed it was from Yana. Who else could it be from, after all? It wasn't long before he was on his way to pick up something for breakfast before making his way to Landing Pad 87 and see what the girl was up to now.
What he found on that landing pad was definitely a step up from the Pandora. A Corellian-class freighter, a YT-2000, and Yana on the gangplank, engine oil smeared across her forehead as she wiped her hands on a rag. She offered up a self-satisfied smirk at his arrival. "What do you think? Big enough for you?"
"This hunk of junk?" he asked, narrowing his eyes as he looked the freighter over. It wasn't that he couldn't fly her - he could fly anything with a pilot's seat - but she needed work. A lot of work, as evidenced by the engine oil smeared across Yana's forehead. Still, it was better than the single-cockpit fighter she'd brought him here in. Maybe they could make it work.
"Watch what you're calling junk," she warned with a scowl. "She'll make point-four past lightspeed, point-seven when I tweak the compressor. She's serviceable, and space-worthy. More importantly, she has space and maneuverability. And she's mine. Well, ours. You get to name her." She tossed this at him over her shoulder, already turning to head back into the ship.
"Let's just hope I don't name her clunker," Kalen muttered under his breath, before following her inside the ship. "I brought breakfast," he reminded her, holding up a paper bag as proof. In his other hand, he was balancing a takeout carton holding two cups of something that smelled suspiciously like coffee.
"Oh, is that coffee? Real coffee?" The look of sheer gratitude on her face was almost painful to witness as she looked back at him. That hangover was still in effect, it seemed. "There's a crew lounge around here somewhere ... this way." She led the way, turning right at the top of the gangplank and following the curve of the corridor past crew quarters, captain's quarters, and the cockpit before the corridor widened out into a space that held several chairs and couches.
"Is the any other kind?" he asked, answering her question with a question that demanded no answer. "For a crew of two," he murmured aloud, wondering if she planned on hiring anyone else or if it was just going to be the two of them. At least, she'd been sober enough to remember what they'd discussed the night before. He was frankly surprised she'd not only remembered, but gone right out and traded her ship up for this one.
"Well, it's pretty obvious we're going to drive each other nuts if we're in close quarters," she pointed out, swinging a leg over one of the chairs to sit down. Her hands reached toward him, fingers flexing in the time-honored "gimme, gimme" gesture. "We've got options if we think about hiring anyone else on, but for now, just us."
"A couple of droids, maybe," he suggested, though they hardly had the money to pay for either droids or a new ship when she had a 40,000 cred debt hanging over her head. He slid one of the coffees toward her before reaching into the bag for a breakfast sandwich wrapped in paper. "What options?" he asked belatedly.
"I mean space," she shook her head, taking the coffee cup from him with a grateful groan. "I really should have done this when I got up." And despite promising herself she wasn't going to mention it, she couldn't help adding, "How's your ass? Still perky?"
Thankfully, he wasn't the blushing kind or he might have blushed, but then she wasn't the first woman to have remarked on his assets. "I'm not sure. Would you like to check?" he retorted, hiding a possible smirk behind a sip of his coffee. "How's your head?" he asked, knowing she had to be nursing at least a small hangover.
Smirking herself, Yana took a slow sip of her coffee, deeply relieved just to be tasting the stuff. "Lingering," was her answer to his question. "So ... your first job, pilot - this ship needs a name so I can register her with the 'port and get her configured for the Nexus Gates. Then we put out feelers and tweak her a bit until she fits what we need."
If he was the pilot, what did that make her, he wondered? The captain, maybe? "I'll have to think about it," he said, unsure if he wanted the honor. "Do you care to tell me how you managed to buy her?" he asked since, thus far, she hadn't chosen to give him any details. If they were going to be partners - equal partners - then he needed to know what kind of deal she'd made to procure their so-called ship.
"I called in a favor," she admitted. "You probably don't want to know with who. Traded in Pandora to do it. You don't need to worry about paying off the rest - I worked it out, and I can pay it out of my take from whatever jobs we pick up. My risk, my foul if I miss a payment."
His expression turned even more serious, if that was at all possible, and he leaned forward, as if to make a point. "If we are going to be partners, then we need to share information, especially information that could put the other at risk. I have told you that there is or was a bounty on my head; now, I am asking you who we are indebted to and by how much?" As if it wasn't enough that they were indebted to Trethin - or rather, she was. He had just, for some strange reason he had yet to fathom, volunteered to help her pay it off, so she could be free.
Either she wasn't being clear, or he was very selective about what he paid attention to when she was talking. She wasn't sure which yet. Rubbing her forehead, she sighed. "I just finished telling you that you're not the one in debt," she pointed out. "This whole thing was your idea." But he obviously wasn't going to let her get away with not telling him. "Do you have any idea who Orsk Hitin is?"
Oh, he'd heard her just fine, but he also knew that as partners, they would be equally responsible for that debt, unless she was planning on taking charge and using him merely as hired help, but that was not a partnership nor was that what he'd had in mind. "Yes, it was, but it we are to be partners, then we share the debt equally ... unless this ship belongs solely to you. Then, I am nothing more than hired help, and you can pay me for my services," he pointed out, just as stubborn as she was. "And yes, I know who Hitin is. Is that who loaned you money for this ship?"
"It's not really a loan he gave me," she said thoughtfully. "I traded up through him. Kind of like ... 32,000 on credit that I can pay back. I'm good for it, he knows I am. And I kept your name out of it, because he's not the only person in his circle with contacts in Trethin's galaxy, okay? Believe it or not, actually protecting your ungrateful ass."
"You added 32,000 to the 40,000 you already owe Trethin?" he asked, but it wasn't that that made him angry so much as her remark about his ass again, this time not as flattering as before. "My ungrateful ass is the one who suggested this partnership," he reminded her, though it seemed she knew this already.
"Difference being, Orsk isn't going to kill me the second I hesitate about obeying his merest whim," she frowned. "I know him. He knows me. Like I said, he knows I'm good for the debt he just incurred. And you're pretty judgemental for a man who's been spending what little money I do have the last twenty-four hours. Look, we have a ship; we have a little time to do whatever it is you think we're going to do before we head back into Trethin's space and I get shot out from next to you, so look at it this way - my debt dies with me. You just got a free ship." She stamped up onto her feet, angry with him for making her feel like an idiot, abandoning the prospect of breakfast in favor of getting as far away from his condescending attitude as possible.
"I spent your money?" he echoed, furrowing his brows at her, eyes flashing with some anger of his own. "If you hadn't left me behind, I wouldn't have lost everything I had, including my cred chip! I am not a pauper, you know, and I have my own share of contacts. Just ... not here," he pointed out, trying to contain his temper. He wasn't really sure what they were arguing about, only that they were arguing.
"What, you don't think I've repaid you enough for that?" she demanded, whirling around to glare at him. "I came back for you, I risked my own neck to do that - which you've conveniently forgotten - I got you somewhere safe, healed up, fed. I get it - I've screwed up by getting a better ship, thank you for telling me. But guess what? You are not the center of my universe, sweetheart, I am! And right now, all I want is to get this thing space-ready and out of here so we can work on your plan to get me out of debt, okay? Not that I ever asked in the first place!"
Suddenly, he wasn't quite sure what they'd been arguing about. They were on the same side, for the most part. They wanted the same things. He had even offered her a partnership so they could work toward the same goals, and yet, here they were arguing. Why? Because she had gone ahead and wrangled a deal for a ship without him. Why was he feeling annoyed by it instead of pleasantly surprised?
"Let's get it ready, then," he said abruptly, having his own reasons for wanting to help her get free from Trethin.
"Fine, cockpit's that way," she snapped, jerking her head in the right direction before stalking off toward the engine crawlspace. She hadn't even looked at the breakfast he'd brought for her, abandoning her coffee on the table as she stamped away, snatching up her toolkit from on top of the single bag that held everything she owned.
The big question was who was going to be the captain of this scrapheap. She was talking about him naming it so she could register it, but whose name was she going to register it under? His, hers, or both of them? What was really rankling him was the fact that none of these things had been discussed; she'd just gone out and got herself into further debt without thinking to ask if he had a better plan. Not that he did. That wasn't the point. But instead of arguing the point further, he, too, stalked away in the direction of the cockpit. Unlike her, he took his coffee and breakfast with him.
And there they stayed for a good few hours - she working on the engine, and he with the computer in the cockpit. Yana refused to apologize, though she had admitted she had acted wrongly, in a roundabout way. She didn't understand why he made her so angry so easily, but working on the engine helped her to at least ignore those confused thoughts. It didn't occur to her until she'd finally managed to work the past lightspeed output to point-seven from point-four that she'd left the datapad containing the registration form half-completed in the cockpit. Too late to go and get it now, she realized, hoping he hadn't noticed it, or that if he had, he hadn't noticed what she'd put in the fields.
He hadn't noticed the datapad at first, mostly because he'd been too busy taking his frustration out on the spiderweb of wires within the control panel of the cockpit. It wasn't as relaxing as flying, but at least it distracted him from his annoyance with Yana. He still hadn't sorted out why he was annoyed with her, but their relationship had started out rocky right from the beginning. The problem, he'd decided, was that they were too much alike - both of them a little too defensive, a little too reluctant to trust, to let anyone get close - but if they were going to be partners, they were going to have to get past that, or they were doomed to failure. It wasn't until he was just about finished with his tinkering that he noticed the datapad and couldn't resist taking a peek. What he found there only confounded him further, until he decided to just swallow his pride and go find her.
A loud clunk from the crawlspace reverberated through the silent ship, swallowed by the sound of Yana letting out a frustrated yell. That yell dissolved into expletive-ridden muttering that finally petered out just as it grew clearer. She clambered out of the crawlspace and headed for the cockpit to run a simulation on the new hyperdrive output, grabbing a dirty rag as she went to staunch the blood dripping from her hand. Apparently, while she was generally good at engine work, she had a clumsy streak.
As it turned out, she seemed to have found him before could find her. He quickly slid the datapad back where he'd found it, turning his back so she couldn't see what he was doing. He arched a brow, startled to find blood dripping from her hand and lunging forward to catch her before she could staunch it with that dirty rag. "You really are your own worst enemy, aren't you?" he asked her, looking around for something halfway clean to press against her hand.
She startled as he caught her, her body flinching away even if she couldn't actually escape. "It's just a cut, I don't think I'm going to die from it," she ground out from between clenched teeth. "You have zero respect for personal boundaries."
"You might if it gets infected," he pointed out, grabbing a rag that was much less dirty than the one she had intended to use. His touch was surprisingly gentle as he wrapped the cloth around her hand. "Personal boundaries are not something you should be worrying about if you want someone watching your back."
She pressed her lips together tightly as he wrapped her hand, keeping her head tilted forward to hide her expression. Too much time to think in the last few hours had given her an uncomfortable look at her own attitude. "Look, my business with Trethin is more than just a debt," she blurted out, avoiding his eyes. "He has something I need ... something of mine that should never have fallen into his hands. So this won't be over even if you do, somehow, manage to get hold of 40,000 creds in the next two weeks."
"So is mine," he replied, not looking up from her hand, as he applied some gentle pressure to halt the bleeding. It wasn't as bad as it looked, but it still needed tending. He wasn't too terribly surprised to learn that her business with Trethin went deeper than debt, but he didn't want to pry any deeper than she was willing to let him. "Anyway, I owe you an apology. Getting beaten half to death has a way of putting anyone in a grumpy mood," he admitted, a slightly crooked smile on his face. He wasn't blaming her exactly, just trying to find some excuse for his behavior toward her. In all truth, he didn't really understand it himself.
She sagged a little, barely catching his smile as her head drooped even more. "That was my fault," she said quietly, groping toward some explanation of her own. "I haven't worked with anyone since my ... since I was teenager. Spent too long looking out for just me, I guess." She hissed as he pressed on her cut, wincing at the sting in the slit that she'd cut into the edge of her hand beneath her little finger. It wasn't an apology, but maybe it explained a little about her.
"Neither have I," he told her, realizing they had more in common than either might have realized. "Hold that there," he instructed, as he went in search of a medical kit. "What happened?" he asked, referring to her hand and not her past.
Curling her uninjured hand about the covered cut, she finally managed to raise her eyes to him as he asked about her injury. "Oh, I caught my hand on an uncovered lever in the crawlspace," she said dismissively. "I've bled before, I'll bleed again. It isn't exactly uncommon."
"No, I suppose it is not," he admitted, frowning a little at the thought of her getting hurt, even if the wound wasn't a serious one. Somehow, he managed to scrounge up a medical kit from somewhere, returning with it to take a closer look at her hand. "What happened to your father?" he asked, not only making conversation but trying to get to know her better and learn what made her tick.
Twisting her arm so he had a better angle to see what he was doing, Yana frowned at his chosen subject. "He's dead." That was the short answer. "The last job he took, his partner betrayed him. He was executed without trial." That was not enough detail, but it offered up a little more about her. Her eyes trained on his work on her hand. "What about you? Anyone waiting for you?"
"And this has something to do with Trethin, too, yes?" he asked, making a guess. After all, he had his own reasons for wanting to get rid of Trethin, and he had started to realize that they might not be all that different from hers. He carefully unwound the cloth about her hand so that he could apply an antiseptic and bandage it properly, shrugging at her question. "There is no one."
She winced at the sting of the antiseptic, her fingers twitching reflexively as he worked on her. "The job was a hire from Trethin," she shrugged herself. "Don't know for certain he was involved. But he's got a holo that belonged to my father. I want it back." At his confession that there was no one waiting for him, her frown softened a little in sympathy. "You seem like a good man," she said thoughtfully, studying the handsome face bent so close to her own. "Why would you throw in with someone like Trethin?"
He might have asked more questions about her father, if she hadn't followed up her explanation with a question of her own. He snorted in response before replying, his gut telling him he could trust her, at least where their mutual hatred of Trethin was concerned. "I don't trust him anymore than you do, but I have my reasons." As far as his being a good man, well, that remained to be seen.
She didn't respond immediately, but there was a subtle shift in her demeanor at his evasive answer, a sense of half-open doors being gently but firmly closed tight once again. Her eyes flickered to her hand once again. "So ... will I live, do you think?"
His reasons weren't much different than hers, but he wasn't sure he was ready to talk about it just yet. "I think so, but you will not be tinkering with the engines anymore today," he told her, as he secured the bandage in place. "Shall we visit the healer again?" he asked, with a hint of a teasing gleam in his eyes.
To her everlasting embarrassment, when teased at close range, she blushed, ducking her head in a vain attempt to hide it. "We've got bacta, I'll get by," she muttered, gently tugging on her hand in his grip. "Besides, there's still more to do on the engine. I upped the hyperdrive output to point-seven, but the fuel intake needs an overhaul."
He arched a brow, wondering what the big hurry was. Sure, she only had three weeks or so until she had to answer to Trethin, but he thought they had already accomplished enough for one day. "And if you keep working without eating or sleeping, you will be no good to anyone," he pointed out, though he didn't know that she hadn't touched the breakfast he'd brought her.
"I've gone without food before," she shrugged, drawing her hand almost protectively against her chest as she stepped back - although, in the tight confines of the cockpit, that wasn't very far. She lifted her head, the confident, cocky mask she was so good at wearing back in place. "You still haven't named the ship."
"I've been giving it some thought," he said, as he carefully packed the medical kit back up. "What do you think of Nemesis? It is in keeping with Greek mythology, like your Pandora," he suggested.
"Revenge and retribution?" Yana perked up a little, rolling her sleeves up for something to do with her hands. A faint smile quirked one corner of her mouth. "I like that. He won't have the first idea what it means, you know."
"That's just as well, don't you think?" Kalen asked, that crooked smile on his face again. "Why don't you give me a tour?" he asked further, having seen very little of the ship but the cockpit.
She blinked, surprised that he hadn't gone exploring already. It was the first thing she'd done when she'd finally convinced Orsk to leave her alone. "All right," she agreed mildly, her lips twitching with the desire to answer his smile with her own. "We'll start with the port - engineering and cargo space." Backing out of the cockpit, she turned away, taking a slow breath. Stop thinking about that smile.
The tour started at the port cargo hold and went all the way around to the starboard cargo hold. All in all, she was a pretty good size ship, with plenty of room for a small crew, as well as cargo. The fact was she was a little big for just the two of them. They could probably go for days without ever running into each other, if they wanted. But it wasn't until they reached the captain's and crew quarters that he asked his first question. "So, we should probably flip for the captain's quarters," he said, fishing into a pocket for a small coin he'd received back after paying for breakfast.
Yana shook her head with a faint smirk. "Captain gets the captain's quarters," she pointed out, resting her hands on her hips as she looked up at him. "You can pretend all you like, I know you read the data pad. It's what I would have done, Captain Dain."
"Why?" he asked simply, needing to know her reasons for making him Captain. He was the one with a bounty on his head, though he'd changed his name and appearance since then.
"Because there's every chance that Trethin's going to shoot me as soon as he sees me, and this way, you don't have to pay out to re-register the ship in your name," she explained with a shrug. "That, and it makes the ship harder to trace. Going one way, people follow me until they get to Orsk, and the trail goes cold. Going the other way, they follow you until they hit the registry, and it goes cold on them too."
"That makes sense," he said agreeably, shoving the coin back into his pocket for safekeeping, impressed with her logic, though he wasn't going to say so. "That brings us back to the matter of food. I assume the galley isn't stocked yet, and breakfast was a long time ago."
She frowned thoughtfully. "I hadn't really thought about that," she admitted. "We should probably look into those quarters, see if we have enough blankets. Space gets cold."
"We aren't in space yet," he pointed out. It would take at least a few days to get the ship kitted out with supplies, not to mention finding some job that earn them enough creds to pay off her debt to Trethin. "I need to check in with Trethin," he remarked, not even bothering to hide the scowl on his face at the mention of Trethin.
Her expression shut down at the mention of actually making contact with their employer. "Not from the ship," she suggested, her voice dull. "There are comm ports all over the Spaceport. Use one of those." She was not proposing to be a part of that call, but neither had she immediately assumed he was going to give her up to Trethin. It was the beginnings of trust. She looked down at herself in vague disgust. "I guess I need to clean up - thank gods I already checked the crew 'fresher was working."
He furrowed his brows at her, feeling just a little insulted that she'd even feel the need to tell him this. "Yes, of course, because that was exactly what I was going to do," he said, with more than a hint of sarcasm, her remark pushing a few of his buttons and putting him on the defensive again. What he needed was for Trethin to transfer what was due him so that he was not beholden to her for everything.
And just like that, the resentment from the argument earlier flared up in Yana. Her jaw clamped, hands falling from her sides as she backed up. "Try not to let the gangway hit you on the arse on your way out," she told him, rubbing the wound just a little more. "Oh, but wait, of course. That never happens to you, because you never make mistakes, clearly. I'm taking a shower." She turned on her heel, stooping to pick up the bag in the curving corridor, rummaging through it on her way to the crew quarters. Extracting what she needed, she let the bag drop onto the floor once again. "That's yours."
He narrowed his eyes at her, knowing he'd irked her, but she'd irked him first. He was at least ten years her senior and didn't particularly like being treated like a child. Of course he'd made mistakes; he just hoped she wasn't one of them. Clearly, both of them were too accustomed to being alone, but though she'd shared at least some of her story, he'd shared very little. What difference would it make, after all? He let her go, mumbling under his breath as he took up the bag and made his way to the so-called captain's quarters to freshen up. He wasn't going to be able to contact Trethin, anyway, until he could get to a comm link. Despite her warning, he wasn't stupid enough to contact him from the ship.
Half an hour later, after a steaming shower in which she had vented some of the frustrated anger she was feeling in tears she was incredibly glad he had no way of overhearing, Yana was back in the crew lounge, carefully applying bacta to the cut on her hand. Her hair was down, curling liberally about her shoulders; her clothing was decidedly better quality than what he had seen her in this far. It looked as though this second set of clothes was what she kept on hand for presenting herself to fussy clients. She was also muttering to herself, but that was probably more a habit borne of days and weeks spent all alone in space.
By the time he found her in the crew lounge, he had freshened up himself, though he was still wearing the second-hand clothes she had found him to change into. She didn't seem to notice him there at first, and he paused in the doorway to watch her quietly a moment, noticing the way her hair fell about her shoulders, making her look even younger than he'd thought. Prettier, too, but that was a thought he didn't want to entertain too much. He cleared his throat to let her know he was there before joining her, their argument not quite forgotten, but pushed aside for now.
She visibly tensed at the sound of his throat clearing, swallowing her mutters as she glanced toward him briefly. She didn't trust herself to say something even mildly polite at this point, deeply annoyed by the way he seemed to go out of his way to find fault with everything she did and said. She was even annoyed with herself for trusting him with her reasons for needing a link to Trethin; obviously she had made a bad call, telling him about her father.
He was observant enough to notice her tense and wondered if he'd made a mistake in suggesting a partnership with such a volatile woman, but then there was something about her that made him feel almost protective, and it wasn't in a fatherly or even brotherly way. "I know you don't like my connection to Trethin, and I know you don't trust me because of it, but I don't like him anymore than you do," he told her, trying to assure her of that fact yet again. "To be honest, I am not sure we need to repay your debt." He had obviously been considering some things since they'd agreed on a partnerships - things he had not yet told her.
"If I didn't trust you, I wouldn't have traded up," she pointed out, wiping the bacta off her hand now the cut was healed over once again. "I'd have left you to die, if I didn't trust you." She caught his gaze. "But I don't trust you enough, you're right," she agreed. "Give me a reason to trust you. You've done nothing but blame me for every little thing I've done. Some of it, fine. I've already accepted responsibility. The rest of it? Why should I risk my neck again for someone who would rather start an argument than swallow his pride and admit that I might have been right?"
"I will, but not now. You need to eat," he told her. Oh, yes, he'd found the evidence she'd left behind of her uneaten breakfast, and he was getting hungry again himself, too, which didn't put either of them in a very good mood. "But no booze. Not tonight. We need to be able to think straight," he said, trying not to sound like a doting father or older brother. He sure as hell didn't want to be either of those. He nodded toward her hand. "All better?"
Not now. Another evasive answer, and one that slammed another door closed in the back of her mind. She didn't want to argue again, though she was sure another argument was coming. Maybe a full on screaming match would deal with the tension between them. She glanced down at her hand, wriggling her fingers.
"Good as new," she told him, rising onto her feet. "You're leading the way tonight." Though the thought of spending an evening with him without alcohol was not an enticing one. She knew what some of her tension was, and she doubted he was going to let her get laid tonight. He seemed to have an obsession with keeping her in his sight.
He frowned a little at that. It had been a long time since he'd been to Rhy'Din, but it didn't seem like much had changed. There was also the fact that he'd picked the place the night before, but he didn't want to pick another argument with her over something as unimportant as where they ate. "What do you feel like?"
She sighed, shaking her hair back from her face as she edged past him, trying not to admire his lean lines. Maybe she could convince someone to give her a quickie while he was making his call to Trethin. That was a thought. "I really don't mind," she said, heading toward the gangway. "So long as it isn't protein bars."
"I think we can do better than protein bars. How do you feel about pasta?" he asked, falling into step behind her and trying not to follow too closely. He caught a whiff of her scent as she passed - a clean, fresh, feminine scent that was hard to resist, even if he wasn't otherwise attracted to her.
"Pasta?" She glanced back at him curiously. "That's the, um ... the wheat noodle things with tomato sauce, right?" Yana might have been raised on Rhy'Din, but there wasn't much of an Italian quarter in the Spaceport.
"Something like that, yes," he replied, with a hint of a smile again, obviously amused. "I know a place ... if it's still there." Just as he'd known a place the night before. It might have been a while since he'd been to the Spaceport, but he obviously knew his way around fairly well.
She nodded, letting him lead the way, pausing only to lock up the landing pad for security's sake before continuing on their way, one hand resting comfortably on the blaster at her hip. "Where are we going then?"
"To the old town. There's a portal that will take us there for a few creds," he replied, waiting for any objections. She claimed to have grown up on Rhy'Din, so she was likely as familiar with the city as she was with the spaceport, though he wasn't sure just how familiar.
Yana's brows rose curiously. "I don't really know the old town," she admitted thoughtfully. "Never went there when I was a kid; once I was spacing, there was no point. They take creds there?"
"They take most anything there," he replied. There was even the possibility of finding work there, but it might not be the kind of work either of them was accustomed to doing. He wouldn't be able to contact Trethin there, though, but it might be a safer place to talk without worrying about anyone eavesdropping.
"All right." She was slightly less cocky than usual as they walked along, unused to being in these clothes in this place for a start, not to mention heading to a place she was unfamiliar with, in the company of a man whose bones she really wanted to jump. That, or punch his pretty face. Possibly both.
He wasn't expecting her to like him, but if she was serious about getting free of Trethin enough to partner with him, she was going to have to at least tolerate him. "I know I told you I was raised on Rhy'Din, but I wasn't born here," he told her, making idle conversation that opened the door to his past once again as he led her toward a place that held a portal.
"You seem more familiar with Rhy'Din than I am," she mused as they walked along. "I know the Spaceport like the back of my hand, but nothing outside it. When I was a kid, the 'port was the whole world."
"I grew up on the streets, until someone took me in," he explained, and those streets weren't limited to the Spaceport, it seemed. "I learned how to survive."
"A habit that's hard to break," she nodded, letting her gaze wander toward him as she followed his course through the 'port. That explained the familiar sense of wariness about him, anyway; they'd both grown up on these streets, but it seemed as though his horizons had been far wider than hers.
He led her to a place with a neon sign outside that announced itself the "Stars End Bar and Grill", but that wasn't where he was planning on staying. He paused outside the place a moment, a look of uncertainty on his face, but it was just a bar and unlikely to be too populated at this time of day. "There's a telepad inside. A comm terminal, too," he told her. Okay, so it wasn't a portal exactly, but it would still serve their purpose.
"Making your call now or later?" she asked, unconsciously crossing her arms as she looked up at the sign. It seemed as though she, too, was uncomfortable entering this particular establishment. It might well be the most famous place in the Spaceport, but that didn't mean it was the best place for them.
"Later," he replied without hesitation. They needed to discuss some things first before he contacted Trethin. With any luck, there'd be a droid behind the bar and few people who'd take notice of a couple just passing through. It might have been better if they'd pretended to be an actual couple, but he decided to take a wait and see approach. "Ready?" he asked, though he seemed as hesitant as her to enter the place.
She frowned, biting her lip for a long moment. "Not really," she admitted. Her mind had turned to the bounty on his head. If it were still active, then Stars End would be where he was most likely to be made ... unless she provided a distraction. This is either going to be terribly embarrassing or just plain awkward, she thought to herself, but her mind was made up. She blew out a huff of breath, uncrossing her arms to take his hand in hers.
"Lighten up, we just got engaged," she said, her own face lifting into a bright smile as she pulled his arm over her shoulders, wrapping her own about his waist. "C'mon, sweetie."
He arched a brow, but got the gist of what she was trying to do, though he didn't realize just yet that it was more for his sake than hers. If he started keeping tally, he might realize that she'd taken more than a few risks for his sake in the last couple of days. "Engaged? You move quickly, querida," he replied with that teasing gleam in his eyes again.
"Point-seven past lightspeed," she countered with a slightly wild grin, trying not to enjoy the feeling of being pressed close against his side as they headed into the bar. "Maybe faster if you tweak my engine some more."
"Don't tempt me," he replied in a low voice, as he waited for the pneumatic doors to open and let them inside. He wasn't planning on staying long enough to get a drink, much less carry on a conversation with anyone, pausing to take a brief glance around before starting toward the telepad in the back corner.
"Would I do a thing like that?" Yes. Yes, I would, and I'd be completely shameless about it, too. But this, she kept to herself. Hopefully he wasn't going to expect her to keep this up in old town, but if he did, it was entirely her own fault. This was worse than arguing with him while wanting to do something much more passionate; she might actually have to skirt the edges of what she wanted just to sell the lie here.
They had no sooner entered the place, when a droid approached the pair, asking its programmed question in a very proper voice, "Welcome to the Stars End Bar. Can I help you with something?"
Kalen waved the droid off, one arm still slung around Yana's shoulder. "No, thank you. We're just passing through."
"Telepad online?" Yana asked, even as they kept walking, knowing the droid would answer without following. So long as they kept moving confidently, they weren't likely to garner more than a casual glance from any of the few customers who were scattered about the place.
"Yes, miss," the droid replied obediently. "Just drop your coins or cred chips in the slot or swipe your cred card," it added helpfully. Most of the customers hardly glanced their way, more interested in drinking or gambling or making deals than in a couple who were only passing through. They might not have as easy a time on the way back, but Kalen would worry about that later.
Yana deliberately didn't look around at the various denizens sitting comfortably in booths and seats. She didn't need to look to know that one of them was bad news. Ee'kree Malastar was there - a Gran she had grown up with, who had developed his own distinctive smell that stretched about twenty feet around him. He was big and mean, and he liked to think he was a big man. Essentially, he was always on the lookout for trouble, and the second he recognized her, he'd make it, she knew. Sending Kalen through the telepad first would mean she was unlikely to meet him on the other side; going through herself first meant leaving him here alone where he was likely to be recognized himself. So she did the only thing she could think of.
Swiping her credit chip through the slot, she twisted, taking hold of Kalen's lapel to pull him into the telepad with her. "Don't look," she murmured, careful to keep her face hidden behind him as Ee'kree's three eyes swiveled in their direction.
Kalen wasn't quite sure why she was tugging him onto the telepad with her, until he spied those three eyes looking around and realized she'd recognized someone. A very big, mean-looking someone that even Kalen didn't want to get into a scrape with. Going along with the ruse, he pulled her close, so that she could bury her face against his chest while he keyed in their destination, as nonchalantly as he could manage.
Hidden against him, only Kalen could possibly be aware that Yana had drawn her blaster from her hip, holding it ready, just in case. She was going to have to explain this one to him, she knew, but hopefully that explanation would not come with a shootout in the Stars End.
"Easy," he whispered, knowing she'd just pulled the blaster pistol from her hip but hoping she wouldn't have to use it. There were other ways to get back to the Spaceport, if they had to make use of them, but he needed to make use of that comm link to contact Trethin if he wanted his creds.
She raised her head just enough to meet his gaze, acutely aware of how close he was and how tense she was. "He's not moving," she whispered back, relief coloring her voice. As the teleport activated, however, they both heard a guttural voice snarl her name.
"Better hope he doesn't follow us through," Kalen remarked, though he might be waiting for them on the way back, and Kalen needed to use that comm link. Maybe going for pasta wasn't the best idea, after all, but it was too late to worry about it now. There was always the risk of running into trouble, no matter where they went, so there wasn't much use in worrying about it until it happened.
"I can handle him," she assured him quietly, holstering her blaster once again. "I just didn't want him drawing attention to you. If you're going to be recognized anywhere, it'll be at Stars End." Her free hand clutched reflexively against his back as she felt the familiar, uncomfortable sensation of being disassembled and put back together again, pressing her face against his chest in the process. It seemed as though teleporting was not her favorite mode of transportation.
"You can handle him," Kalen echoed, not exactly doubting her, but unsure who he'd place a bet on in that fight. Though the Gran was a lot bigger than she was and had the advantage of three eyes, a couple of well-aimed shots of her blaster pistol would even the odds. "Did you miss the word partner in partnership?" he asked, wondering if she thought he'd let her handle the guy alone.
She tilted her head back, relaxing as the teleport ended. The expression on her face was torn between offense and amusement. "Did you miss everything I said after that first sentence?" she countered, brows high, unwinding her arm from about his waist as she stepped back to look around them. She really didn't have the first idea where they were, or if he needed her to keep up the pretense of a relationship here.
From the look on his face, apparently, he had. He frowned back at her. "You should worry about yourself more or you're going to get yourself killed," he told her, though he was grateful she'd come back for him. Grateful for more than that, though it might hurt his pride to say it. He'd already thanked her last night, though it was unlikely she remembered due to her state of inebriation. "Shall we?" he asked, finding himself reluctant to let her go as she pulled away from him. It felt kind of nice to hold her close, but he'd never admit that out loud.
"Dead woman walking, remember?" she shrugged, sensing the reluctance even as she stepped back. She hesitated, turning her eyes back to him. "Are you likely to be recognized here?" she asked, tilting her head curiously. Do you need the pretense to continue was what she was really asking.
He forced himself to turn away from her to take a quick look around before turning back. "I don't think so," he said, though one could never be too sure. "I haven't been back here in a long time," he reminded her, and though the place may not have changed that much, he had. "We should go," he added, one hand going to the small of her back as if to urge her forward. He didn't want to chance her friend following them here and causing a scene.
She moved easily at the touch of his hand, letting him guide her away from where they had materialized. With luck, even if Ee'kree followed, he wouldn't know where they had gone. "I have no idea where we are, you know," she pointed out as Kalen urged her along.
"It's not far," he assured her as he fell into step beside her to lead the way. "Just stay close," he warned, not wanting to get separated. If they did, she might have a problem finding her way back on her own. "Have you never been to the old city?" he asked, as they strolled side by side, getting a few glances from passersby. Spacers weren't often seen in these quarters, but it wasn't unheard of either. It was the blaster pistols that drew most of the attention.
She shook her head, finding it only too easy to fall into step close beside him. The last thing she wanted was to get lost here - she could probably find her way back, but she didn't want to test her independence that badly. "No, I've never been here," she admitted quietly, unconsciously tucking her shoulder beneath his arm as she caught the interested glance of what she assumed was a male. "I don't think I've ever seen so many humans on one street before."
"There are more humans in the city than the port," he told her, sliding a possessive arm around her shoulders and eyeing the male until he turned away. He didn't bother to explain his actions, assuming she would understand that he was trying to keep her safe. "We are in what they call West End," he told her further. Obviously because it was at the west end of the city.
"Oh, you mean this is the rough end of old town?" she asked, her expression speaking volumes. In her opinion, people in Rhy'Din City didn't know rough. Rough was an average evening in the Spaceport, even the classy end. Still, it felt nice, the way his arm wrapped about her, knowing he was protecting her from the more than passing interest of a stranger. And just that feeling made her frown. She'd never welcomed anyone protecting her since she'd lost her father.
He snorted, following her train of thought. "Yes, but I assure you it will be well worth the risk," he told her, hardly finding much risk here, unless they ran into a pack of ogres or something. As they reached a crossroads, he paused a moment as if to get his bearings. "This way, I think," he said, choosing a direction.
"You think?" Yana bit down on a laugh that she knew would have sounded more mocking than anything. She was trying not to provoke his temper, at least while he was in a position to dump her and run the way she'd done to him not so very long ago.
"It was a long time ago," he reminded her. "But Rhel loved this place. He used to take me here when ..." Kalen trailed off as if just remembering himself and the fact that he hadn't spoken of his foster father and mentor for a very long time to anyone. "Ah, here it is. You see?" he said, as they finally arrived outside a quaint-looking place that looked more pizzeria than fine restaurant, but it wasn't the ambiance that mattered so much as the way the food tasted.
"Rhel?" It wasn't a name she recognized, and yet she did recognize the fond pain in his voice when he spoke it. It was the same painful fondness that colored her when she spoke of her father. Without thinking, she squeezed her arm about his back gently, offering the only comfort she could in that moment. Looking up at the place he had brought her to, she blinked, not really recognizing anything about it. "After you."
He could already smell the delicious aromas emanating from the place and smiled as he breathed it in. "Come along, then. You are going to love this," he promised her, pulling his arm away from her shoulder so that he could get the door.
"Well, I've already thrown up on you once, so if it doesn't agree with me, at least you won't be surprised," she drawled mildly, ducking from under his arm to fall in behind him. One hand rose to tuck her hair back behind her ear as they stepped inside, the other making sure the safety was on her blaster.
"Just trust me," he said, for the first time, though he may have implied it long before now. If she didn't trust him already, it was unlikely she'd have followed him this far. Once inside, he took another look around before once again deciding on a corner booth with a clear view of the door and a quick escape route out the exit.
At this point, having thrown up her one meal yesterday and stubbornly refused to eat thus far today, Yana would have eaten protein powder if it would calm the gnawing in her stomach. She automatically checked the view from the booth, sliding into a seat with a wary look around. The smells from the kitchen were making her stomach rumble loudly.
A young woman came over to offer menus and glasses of water before departing again to allow them time to decide. "I would recommend the lasagne, but it might be too rich for an empty stomach," he mused aloud as he looked over the menu, which was printed in the common language of Rhy'Din.
Taking the menu, Yana was immediately confronted with the struggle of trying to read dish names that were utterly unfamiliar. "Uh ..." She raised slightly panicky eyes to Kalen. "I can't read this."
He quirked a slightly crooked smile as he looked at her over the menu, meeting her gaze. "Do you trust me?" he asked, that word coming into play again, though all they were deciding on at the moment was dinner.
She held his gaze for a long moment. That wasn't an easy question to answer. She trusted him to a point, but all the evasion had not helped his case in getting her complete trust. "For this? I trust you."
He frowned a little, knowing that didn't sound too promising, but at least, she was trusting him in this, and he'd brought her here for a reason. He wasted no time in placing their order, along with a carafe of wine - not strong enough to get either of them drunk. Once they were left alone again, he turned back to her with a thoughtful look on his face. "I suppose I owe you a story."
She watched as he ordered, narrowing her eyes at the waitress' flirting with him. Not that she had any claim on him, but really ... would he really go for something so obvious as that? She managed to school her expression as he turned back to her, leaning forward on her arms as he spoke. "You don't owe me anything," she reminded him quietly. "But if we're going have a ... a partnership, then a little honesty wouldn't go amiss."
"Yes, well ... You may have noticed that I do not trust easily," he admitted, picking at an invisible spot on the side of his glass with a thumbnail. "I suspect you are much the same, yes?" he asked in that odd accent of his.
She rolled her eyes. "What gave me away?" was her drawling response. She thought her lack of trust had been amply demonstrated in the past couple of days, personally.
"I only mention this because we are very much alike, you and I," he said, trying hard not to take offense at her eyeroll and sarcastic response, which didn't really encourage him to open up much.
"And how would I know that?" she asked, her tone surprisingly gentle, even to herself. "I may not have told you everything about myself. But my father is the closest thing to my heart, and Trethin has something of his, something that belongs to me. I didn't have to tell you about it, but I did. And you gave me nothing in return. I need a reason to trust you. To trust that what happened to him is not going to happen to me."
"The holo," he said, proving he had paid attention when she'd been telling him her story. "We will get it back. This I promise you," he added, resisting the urge to take her hands in his to reassure her of this fact. "What happened to him is not going to happen to you because I am not going to let it." It really was that simple, as far as he was concerned, but he knew she was looking for more than just his word. "There is an old saying that a man's word is his bond. It is a code of honor, even among thieves. Rhel lived by this code, and so do I." This still wasn't proof, but then, what proof did he have to offer but his word? "Trethin does not."
"Trethin wouldn't know honor if it scalped him personally," she agreed with obvious amusement at that graphic mental image. But she sobered quickly, understanding that it might actually be harder for him to share something personal with her purely because he had waited until this moment to do it. "Who is Rhel?" she asked then, her fingers curling tighter to her elbows. He wasn't the only one fighting the urge to hold hands.
He flinched a little upon hearing her mention the name that had caused him so much heartache, even if it had been a long time ago. "Rhel is the man who raised me," he replied, simply enough. Not only raised him, but rescued him from the streets of Rhy'Din, took him in, and taught him everything he knows. All of that went unspoken, but silently understood. Obviously, it seemed, Rhel had not been his father, but a father-like figure in Kalen's life.
It takes a special kind of grief to recognize its echo in another person. The loss of the one person who had been the center of your world was that kind of grief. Yana stopped fighting the urge, unfolding one arm to reach over and touch his hand with her own. "I'm sorry," she said softly. It wasn't pity; it wasn't just a platitude. She knew what it was to lose that one person around whom your universe revolved, the person who had made you who you were. It wasn't even condolence. It was a simple acknowledgement of the pain, and the way it never truly left.
He drew a slow breath, even as she touched his hand. He really didn't want to talk about it, and yet, in a way, it was a relief to tell someone what had happened without worrying they might betray his trust. He paused a moment as if to gather his courage before continuing. "Trethin had him killed. I am quite sure of it. And then he set me up. He framed me for Rhel's death and when the authorities put a bounty on my head, he offered me a job and a place to stay. It took me years to unravel all this and to realize it was Trethin who had Rhel killed. When I confronted him, he said that if I betrayed him, he would turn me over to the authorities and collect the bounty for himself. So, as you can see, I have no more love for him than you do. You might as well know, I intend to kill him," he added, lowering his voice to barely a whisper. "It is what he deserves, after all."
Listening, Yana felt some of her barriers peeling away, understanding what it cost to share this at all. Her eyes narrowed at his addendum. "You mean we'll kill him," she corrected him quietly. "Partners, remember? The man's holding my father's last message to me hostage. If I could gut him myself, I would. But then I don't think things through very well."
"I would have done it already, but ..." Kalen trailed off. Killing Trethin wasn't going to be easy, or he would have done it already. "So, I am not sure we will need to repay your debt," he told her, though they would need work to pay their expenses, including the loan she'd taken for the ship. "I do not like ... killing. I am not a murderer or an assassin. I am not even a mercenary. Not really. I am a pilot, but it is time Trethin paid for his misdeeds."
Realizing she was still holding his hand, she drew her arm back as he spoke. "Yes, we do," she countered. "Because the only way he'll trust us to be on his turf is if he thinks he's the one with all the power, and the only way we can kill him is to be on his turf. He needs to believe we're broken to his will if we're ever going to get close enough to get the holo and end him." She bit her lip, frowning as she considered something. "My father once told me that the highest return he ever had was on information," she said thoughtfully. "High risk, but the return was hundreds of thousands of credits from an information broker. We could pay off all debts in one go, and keep ourselves close enough to Trethin to end him."
He had not minded her touch; in fact, he had found her touch reassuring, frowning a little as she drew back, but too lost in his own grief and pain to mention it. There were no tears; he was long past tears, but his heart ached to speak of the past, and that was part of the reason he preferred to keep that part of his history to himself. "Or get ourselves killed trying," he said, pointing out an obvious but unpleasant possibility. He didn't want anything to happen to her, but he couldn't deny that they both wanted this badly enough to accept the risk. "There will be no leaving me behind next time. We need to trust each other implicitly."
"Life is risk," she pointed out herself, and visibly flinched when he brought up her cut and run yet again. Under his gaze, she seemed to fold in on herself, arms almost wrapped around her own torso as she looked down at the table, curls falling forward to hide her face. "You can't ask me to trust you and keep throwing that in my face," she said in a low voice, her jaw tense once again. "I made a mistake. I also corrected it, in case you hadn't noticed. Trust goes both ways, and you don't trust me, either."
"You are wrong, Yana," he disagreed. "You did what you had to do. I accept that. It is because you came back for me that we are talking at all." Of course, that went without saying; if she hadn't gone back for him, there was a good chance he'd have been dead by now. "It has been a long time since I have trusted anyone, but I am starting to trust you." The fact that she'd gone back for him was a big part of that trust, and part of why he kept bringing it up, but he could tell how guilty she felt about it and offered a reassuring smile. "It is in the past. I will not mention it again," he promised her, hoping he could keep that promise, even though he'd felt the need to warn her one final time.
Whatever he might have said next was pre-empted by the waitress as she brought over two steaming plates of pasta covered in tomato sauce, along with freshly baked bread and butter, and a carafe of red wine. Now, that put a smile on his face, as he leaned in to inhale the aroma.
She looked up as he spoke, the wariness in her eyes fading at his reassuring smile. He really had no idea how devastatingly handsome he was, she decided in that moment, or he wouldn't keep smiling at her and expecting her not to react to it. As it was, she could feel herself blushing, hoping it wasn't too noticeable, grateful for the distraction of the food arriving. She raised her head to thank the waitress, only to find the woman flashing a kilowatt smile at Kalen and pretty much ignoring her.
"Should I leave?" Yana asked the woman pointedly. "You're obviously enjoying this date more than I am."
Kalen arched a brow, unaware of anything unusual in the waitress' attention. She was paid to wait on them, after all, and so far, he'd didn't think she'd done anything to warrant such a response from Yana.
The waitress finally acknowledged Yana by flashing her a sweet, if predatory smile - something that a man might not notice but a rival female would. "Then perhaps you should find someone more to your liking and leave the leftovers for someone else," she said, turning that smile back on Kalen, who seemed to finally be getting the jist of what was going on right under his nose.
"I'm flattered, but I'm afraid I'm not available," he started, with a smile of his own that was more conciliatory than friendly, one hand sliding across the table to capture Yana's. "Please forgive my wife. She has a terrible jealous streak."
"And a blaster," Yana added, offering the waitress a smile that was only just this side of threatening. Then her brain caught up with what Kalen had said. Wife? Now who's moving fast? Still, it was just as well he'd caught her right hand in his; if she'd been able to, she would have drawn that blaster to make her point.
The waitress flushed, eyes flashing, more at Yana's threat than at Kalen's explanation, but she knew better than to push her luck, especially if she wanted a decent tip. "I'm sorry. I thought from the lack of affection, perhaps you were his sister," she shot back, unable to stop herself, despite the obvious warning. "Enjoy your meal," she added, before turning away, with one last glance at Kalen.
"If you have to perform for other people's benefit, then it's not real, sweetheart," Yana spat at the woman's back, but she was already feeling the creep of mortification. Why had she done that? He didn't belong to her. They'd only just finished telling each other that they didn't trust each other all the way. For that matter, why had he played along and upped the stakes? After staring at Kalen for a long moment, aware of the warmth and weight of his hand over hers, she finally came up with something. "Well, this is awkward."
For his part, Kalen was looking more amused than anything, even as he slowly withdrew his hand from hers. "Eat your pasta. I promise it will be worth the trouble," he told her, as he reached for the carafe to pour them each a glass of wine.
"Eating. That's the point of this outing, yes." She picked up her fork and ... was that a spoon? Confusion blossomed on her face as she turned her gaze to the dish in front of her, inspecting the contents suspiciously. After a moment of this, she dug the fork in and raised it, only to have most of the spaghetti slide off straight away. The one string that stuck to the fork was also still embedded in the rest of the food, and no amount of raising her hand higher could bring it free. "One question," she managed, scowling at having food so close and clearly impossible to eat. "How do I eat this?"
He smirked in amusement again, though to his credit, he didn't laugh. "Like this," he told her, taking up both fork and spoon to carefully twirl the long strings of pasta around his fork, making it look easy. Instead of eating it himself, though, he offered that first forkful to her, reaching across the table to do so with a steady hand.
If the waitress hadn't got her back up, Yana would not have eaten off his fork. However, knowing that there was at least one person in the building who had designs on Kalen and now thought he was married to the bitchiest woman in the galaxy, she didn't give it a second thought, leaning forward to wrap her lips around the mouthful he offered her. "Oh gods ..." she mumbled through that mouthful. "That's amazing."
"Not disappointed?" he asked, realizing they were only talking about dinner, but they could just as well have been talking about something else. He dug his fork into the pile of pasta and started twirling again, but this time he shoveled that forkful into his own mouth, not hers.
She grinned, swallowing hastily. "No, disappointment is a long way from what I'm feeling right now," she agreed, lifting her own spoon thoughtfully. It took a few tries, but she eventually managed to get a forkful of her own pasta into her mouth. A muscle in her jaw ticked, however, at the obvious sound of badly suppressed laughter from their waitress. Meeting Kalen's eyes, she spoke just loudly enough for the woman to hear. "She doesn't need both eyes to work here, right?"
"Ignore her. I'm with you," Kalen pointed out, not bothering to clarify whether he was only talking about dinner or their partnership or something more than that. "Tell me about the Gran," he said, changing the subject. Her enemies were his now, and he needed to know just who those enemies were and what they wanted from her.
At the change of subject, Yana sighed, rolling her eyes. "He's all talk," she told him. "Most of the time. Ee'kree Malastar is his name - we grew up together, I guess you could say. Both street rats, but I had people looking out for me when he didn't. So he made the stupid mistakes and went down the dark paths my father's friends kept me out of. Likes to think he's a big man, but he's just a bully with a big gun these days. Gun for hire, and apparently between jobs."
"Someone who would make a good ally or a liability?" he asked, wondering if she wanted to bring anyone else in on this so-called partnership or limit it to the two of them. He knew what he preferred, but he was asking her.
The looks she gave him was expressive enough to answer that question. "I wouldn't trust that Gran as far I could throw him," she informed her companion tartly. "We have history of an unsavory nature, and I'm pretty sure he'd do it all over again if he could. It wouldn't turn out so well for me this time if he did."
"Do what?" he asked, pressing further for the details she had not yet revealed. He seemed only mildly interested, as if he was just making idle conversation while they enjoyed their dinner, but it was far more than that. If they were going to be partners, they needed to know what both of them were getting into.
She hesitated, not particularly proud of this moment in her history. "He, um ... Look, I was fourteen, I had just received all the usual body parts for a growing girl, and ..." She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, the tension rippling through her shoulders at the memory. "Ee'kree was the big boy on campus," she explained. "You stayed on his good side, or things went very badly for you. He was starting to get into more serious trouble, and he knew my father was off-world. Him and his little gang decided to sell me. Beat the crap out of me, slapped a collar and chain on me, and actually sold me to a slaver passing through. Lucky for me, that slaver was booking passage through Orsk, or I'd have ended up in a pleasure-house somewhere out beyond the bright center of the universe."
From the expression on his face, this wasn't quite what he'd been expecting. His expression darkened, eyes flashing with unexpected rage, his fingers tightening on the fork in his hand. "And your father let him live?" he asked, incredulously. "Or didn't you tell him?" He couldn't imagine letting anyone go unpunished who'd done such a thing. She was incredibly lucky to have escaped - or been rescued. He wasn't quite sure yet which way it had gone.
"I didn't have to tell him," she shrugged. "Orsk did. Ee'kree ended up working for Orsk to pay back what Orsk had to pay the slaver for me - kept him out of trouble for a few years, and my father started taking me with him on trips. Ee'kree's never let me forget it, though - that he turned me into a slave, and there was nothing I could do about it."
"If he mentions it in my presence, he will live to regret it," Kalen remarked, though the Gran might live to regret it whether he mentioned it or not. Kalen wasn't a killer. He wasn't an assassin or even a mercenary, but he wasn't afraid to do what needed to be done to keep those he cared for safe, and that now included Yana. He wasn't sure he wanted to ask for any more details than that. He already hated Gran for what he had done without knowing anything more.
"If we run into him, he will mention it," she warned, concentrating on getting her food into her mouth, hungry enough not to care about the s******ing at her less-than-graceful actions. "Last time he tried laying hands on me, I nearly ripped off his middle eyestalk."
"If he dares touch you, he will answer to me," Kalen promised her in a low voice. Though he sounded perfectly calm, he was also perfectly serious about that promise, whether they were friends, partners, or something more.
The sheer weight he placed behind that promise almost shocked her, completely unused to anyone actually watching her back for her own protection. "He's just a little fish," she told Kalen quietly. "I'd rather he didn't get a good look at your face. If that bounty is active in this system, he'll pass a tip straight away."
"That ..." He chanced a quick look around to see if anyone was watching or eavesdropping before continuing, lowering his voice for her ears only. This was another reason he'd brought her to the old city - there weren't so many spacers here who might know about that bounty or try to cash in on it. "It's over ten years old. I looked a little different then," he pointed out, though he was still wary. Bounty hunters weren't the kind to let a decade stop them if creds were at stake.
"I doubt you looked better," she murmured, hastily lowering her eyes to her plate. Why did she say that? There was something about Kalen Dain that was overriding her tongue's common sense. She'd commented too much on his ass, picked a fight with a waitress, and now she was within an inch of telling him how handsome he was. What the hell was wrong with her?
He arched a brow at her, not having missed the compliments she'd given him over the course of the last few days, drunk or otherwise. They'd known each other only a few weeks at most, almost a week of which he'd spent in a prison cell. "I am older, that much is certain," he replied, hoping he was wiser, too. His gaze lingered on her a moment longer than necessary, thoughtfully admiring the face before him, but not for the first time. "You look ... different with your hair down," he told her, not quite a compliment, though he'd meant it as one. Clearly he was not used to offering compliments to young women who he was not romantically attached to.
Yana lifted her eyes, on firmer ground with this. She was dreadful at accepting compliments herself, but she was at least smiling. "I look about twelve with my hair down," she pointed out in amusement. "You'd be amazed how many idiots think that looking young goes hand in hand with being gullible."
"Trust me, you do not look twelve," he assured her with a charming smile, though he wasn't really trying to be charming. "It suits you," he told her, just a little awkwardly before reaching to take a sip of his wine. He had a feeling he could have had his way with her the night before, but he had his scruples and taking advantage of inebriated women wasn't one of them, no matter how much she may have wanted it. Now that they were both sober, it was a different matter, though he wasn't sure how wise it was to mix business with pleasure.
She snorted with laughter, wiping her mouth and chin clean with a napkin. As much as she enjoyed the pasta, she knew she'd be decorating the ground somewhere if she ate all of it on a very empty stomach. "You really think so?" Her surprise was genuine, unused to being complimented by a man she had a horrible feeling she liked more than a little.
"I would not say so if I thought otherwise," he replied, priding himself on being honest, or at least as honest as a smuggler could be. He had just about finished his pasta, together they had nearly drained the carafe of wine, but he found himself hesitant to return to the 'port just yet, though that call to Trethin was still hanging over his head.
"That's ... thank you." She wasn't sure if that was the correct way to respond, but it was all she had in the face of a handsome man telling her she didn't look awful. It was fairly obvious by the way she drained what was left in her glass, feeling strangely nervous in his company now he'd made it clear he had noticed what she looked like.
No, he certainly didn't think she looked awful; in fact, quite the opposite, though he wasn't too sure how to tell her that without sounding ridiculous and romance had never been his strong suit. He'd always been too busy for romance. An occasional fling was one thing, but a long-term relationship was another, and yet, it seemed he and Yana had formed a bond with each other, despite their insistence on being loners.
"We should get back," he found himself saying, despite wishing this little date of theirs could go on longer. They couldn't afford to dilly dally like some people. He couldn't help the frown that was proof he wasn't looking forward to the return trip.
She sighed, offering a reluctant nod in return. "I guess we should," she agreed, digging in her pocket for her credit chit. Her frown echoed his, but she was equally displeased with the idea of inviting that waitress back to their table. She had to do it, though, twisting to catch the woman's eye and request their bill.
His frown deepened when he noticed her paying for yet another meal. Somehow, he was going to have to convince Trethin to transfer some creds to his account so that he wasn't so dependent on her generosity. After all, the man did owe him his pay, including a bonus for getting the crap beat out of him and not betraying his trust, however shaky that trust might be. The waitress was clearly ignoring them now that they had their meal and her flirtation with Kalen had been rebuffed.
"Okay." Yana sighed, getting to her feet. "Finish your drink, I'll be back in a minute." She headed for the bar, having a much easier time getting the owner's attention to pay their bill. This did, however, leave Kalen wide open for more attention from their waitress.
Annoyed that he was unable even to pay for a simple meal, he fished around in a pocket to see just how many creds he had available, looking up to find the waitress had joined him almost as soon as Yana had left.
"Please tell me you're not really married to that ... woman," she said with as sweet a smile as she could muster, despite the hint of loathing in her voice for his companion. "I don't see a ring on your finger claiming you," she pointed out, reaching for his left hand and rubbing her fingers against his ring finger as if to make a point. "I can't blame her for being possessive though. Men like you don't come along often."
She didn't have a chance to get much further than that. Yana was already on her way back over, her eyes narrowing as she approached. Even an old-towner could recognize the sensation of a blaster sticking into their back. "How about you take your hands off? Or you're going to be looking for a good doctor really soon."
Kalen didn't have much of a chance to respond to the waitress' advances before Yana rejoined them. He noticed the look of jealousy in Yana's eyes, as well as startled fear on the face of the waitress and he knew without asking that Yana had her blaster sticking in the waitress' back. "Yana, put it away. She means no harm," he urged her, with a look of warning in his eyes. They didn't need any trouble, not over this.
"She means a lot of harm, just not to you," Yana countered, but she removed the blaster, holstering it with a snap. "But by all means, continue to prostitute yourself." Stepping back, she turned on her heel, not wanting to watch whatever it was the waitress was going to do to thank him for saving her life.
"Excuse me," he told the waitress, moving to his feet and stepping past her, annoyed that Yana's temper was getting the best of her again. So much for ever eating pasta in this establishment again. They'd be lucky if the girl didn't report her to the Watch. Of course, it didn't help that she'd accused him of something that was completely untrue. And he'd thought they'd been getting along so well. "Yana!" he called as he hurried after her.
"Yell my name a little louder, I don't think they can hear you in the Governor's Office," she snapped over her shoulder, stalking out of the building without the first idea of where she was going. Right now, she just wanted away.
He had to run to catch up with her, grabbing hold of her arm to turn her to face him. "What the hells do you think you're doing?" he asked, dark eyes glinting with anger and maybe a little confusion. "That temper of yours is going to get us both killed!"
Yanked about, she didn't really have much choice but to face him, significantly smaller and weaker than he was at the best of times. She met him, glare for glare. "Oh, you think I'm just going to stand there and watch you get yourself laid?" she snapped back. "Not going to happen, Dain."
"Get myself laid?" he echoed, brows furrowing in anger and confusion. He would never understand women. "Is that what you think was going on? You hardly gave me a chance to respond, and if that was what was going on, why then am I here with you?" He didn't bother to point out that she had no claims on him, though he might if she continued to be unreasonable.
"Because you can't resist the opportunity to treat me like a child and shout at me!" she retorted, her own voice rising by several decibels. Yes, she had a temper; yes, she was reckless; no, she didn't think things through. He knew that, and he knew that she knew that, too. Quite how that had resulted in them yelling at each other in the street was a little beyond her right now.
"Really? If you don't want to be treated like a child, perhaps you shouldn't act like one!" he found himself saying, though he didn't really think he'd been treating her like one or that she'd been acting like one. They were just words that slid out of his mouth at her provocation. "Perhaps I should just take you over my knee, like a child, then, yes?"
"Touch me and I'll shoot you," she countered harshly, though he was already touching her. If he hadn't had a grip on her arm, she would have walked off again by now. "And since you're so generally disgusted by me and pretty much everything I do or say, why the hell are you even here? Go and call your boss, get paid, and I'll find my own way off-planet. Congratulations, you got a free ship!"
"Don't be an idiot," he told her, knowing it was her anger that was talking, though he still wasn't quite sure what had set her off. So another woman had been flirting with him. So what? He hadn't flirted back and would have rebuffed her again, if Yana hadn't interrupted. "This is why I do not partner with women," he muttered a little louder than he'd intended, and then it hit him, and he laughed, letting go of her arm as he did so. "You're jealous."
The laugh was a bad idea. Yana's expression shut down completely. She'd had a lifetime of being the smallest in the gang, the weakest, the littlest fish in the biggest pond, and she knew people laughed at her behind her back. Being laughed at by him ... that just made her feel even more stupid for entertaining, even for a moment, the idea that he might actually like her.
"Crawl up your own arse and die, Dain," she spat at him, digging in her pocket for her credit chip. She slammed it into his hand. "There, now you can lose me completely."
And again, she turned on her heel, her chest aching painfully with the urge to cry that she refused to give into. But the words in her mind were right. First chance to have even a friend in over a decade, and you screw it up before it starts. No wonder Papa left you behind.
Oh, he'd heard a lot worse from women before, and suddenly, he was grinning from ear to ear as he realized that she really was jealous. It was probably the highest kind of flattery she could have given him. It certainly gave his ego a boost anyway. Here, he'd thought she was merely tolerating him, and now he was coming to realize she was actually attracted to him. It made such perfect sense he wasn't sure why he hadn't realized it before. He hardly acknowledged the cred chip, shoving it into a pocket without thinking much of it. And suddenly, he found himself reaching for her again, to pull her around to face him, but instead of shouting or laughing in her face, he kissed her, with or without her consent.
His lips found a snarl that swiftly relaxed into a shocked "o", her eyes wide as she realized what she'd been swung back around and into. For a split second, she almost fought him, her balled fists caught between them as she dragged her mouth from his, green eyes staring into his in wary disbelief.
For someone with a fiery disposition and a mouth to match, he seemed to have rendered her temporarily speechless. That amused him, too, but he knew better than to laugh at her again for fear she'd think he was toying with her. "Do you still want me to go?" he asked, his arms having somehow found their way around her waist, his lips eager to taste hers again, hardly aware they were drawing attention and forgetting the waitress who may or may not have called the Watch.
"I'm still angry," she heard herself say, but the words were almost lost on her lips as she gripped his collar, pulling him back to her to answer that kiss with her own. Angry or not, there was passion in that kiss, passion that couldn't be mistaken for anything but her attraction to him, and the ache that was demanding to be assuaged. In the middle of a busy street.
That wasn't really an answer, and he found himself not really wanting to tame this beauty so much as win her. There was something about her - some fire in her spirit - that he'd never found in a woman before, and he'd known a few. She was like a powder keg waiting to go off, but he could not deny the sparks that were going off between them. His passion matched hers, knowing it was dangerous to give in to the temptation that was Yana, but for once in his life, throwing caution to the wind. Whatever else was going on around them was lost to that kiss.
But for all her recklessness, she couldn't forget that they were out in the open, in a place she didn't know, not far from a person she had undoubtedly pissed off royally. Despite her aching, her need, to be matched and feel it, she tore her lips from his, pushing to get away from him. "No ... not here ..."
There were places nearby, no doubt, where they could finish what they had started, but he didn't want to push her any farther than she wanted to go. After all that, was she rejecting him, or was she only hoping for someplace more private? It had been a long time since he'd kissed anyone or been kissed by anyone quite like that, and before he had a chance to wrap his head around what was happening between them, he merely blurted, "Where?"
Gasping to catch her breath, caught in the wrap of his arms, it was so easy to imagine just letting go and carrying through with what they'd started. The only safe place was on the ship. Their ship. "You-you have to make that call," she reminded him, fighting through the urge to kiss him again. "We have to ... our ship ..."
A handful of kisses and it was their ship again, all the anger going out of her, though he knew that fiery spirit burned deep. Maybe that was what he liked most about her - that she wasn't a weak, simpering female just waiting for a man to claim her. No, she had a spirit and a will of her own, and for some reason, she'd decided on him. He wasn't sure why, but he wasn't about to argue about it either. This was one adventure and one partnership that wasn't going to prove boring.
"Right, the ship," he echoed, finding it hard not to reach for her again, to taste the sweetness of her lips and feel the warmth of her body near his, but there'd be time for all that later. "Come on, then. We have to find a portal."
Oh, she was still angry. She wasn't entirely sure why, but she was definitely still angry. At least, that's what she was telling herself as sense reasserted itself. Yana was not used to what had just happened. She'd had a few flings over the years, quick fumbles that scratched an itch, but never a kiss that wiped her mind blank. "Right, okay. Where?"
"Unless things have changed, there should be a portal not far from here," he told her, having a hard time getting his heart to stop hammering inside his chest. This time, he grabbed hold of her hand, his fingers linked with hers, not only to claim her but to keep her close and out of danger.
They were both a little shocked by those kisses, it seemed, shocked enough that there were no more angry words as he claimed her hand. She let herself be tugged to his side, suddenly embarrassingly aware of the smirks on the faces of the people around them who had witnessed their passionate exchange. "How do you know your way around here?"
"Rhel had dealings here. He liked the old city and took me here sometimes. After he died ... It was safer in the old city, and I learned to find my way around. It was Trethin's men who found me and brought me to him. I didn't have much choice but to work for him or be turned over to the authorities," he explained, struggling a little to keep the loathing from his voice.
She nodded, squeezing his hand just a little. It was all she could think of to apologize for asking him a question that brought those memories to the fore. Still, there was a need to distract herself now. Her thoughts were coming back, and with them was the refrain what the hell are you doing sex and partnerships don't mix what if he rejects you you have to live and work with him now was on repeat in the back of her mind. "Is it very different here now?" she asked, desperately trying not to listen to that voice.
"Not very," he replied, as she pulled him back out of his thoughts of the past to take a look around. "The streets are the same, but some of the buildings have changed." He nodded his head toward a large building with a lighted marquee that could only be a theater. "That was not here before," he told her. Though some things had changed, much of it still looked the same.
"Isn't that kind of big for a theater?" Yana mused. The theaters she was used to played movies, and were generally underground bunker-type things with extortionately-priced snacks. She paused a little too long, tugged on again by his forward motion.
"Not for a live theater," he explained. He had been to many worlds and places within those worlds, but none was such a mix of species and cultures as was Rhy'Din. It had been his home for a long time, though he had not been born there. "Have you never visited the city?" he asked. "I thought you were born here."
"In the 'port," she clarified, still looking around curiously even as he steered them both in the appropriate direction. "I've never been in the city before today. Whole life, very .. space-centric."
"We should explore it some then," he suggested, though probably not today. He didn't bother to add the word "together" as he hoped it went without saying. The 'port had plenty to offer, but the old city was quaint by comparison, and arguably, a little safer, so long as one was careful. He came to a halt as they reached the portal, which didn't look like much to speak of. "Here we are."
"Really?" For just a moment, an excited smile flickered across her face, proving that there was more that interested her than ships and engines. The smile, however, died as they came to a halt, eying the portal like it was a death trap. "What is that?"
"That is the portal," he told her, stepping out of the way to let a few other travelers go ahead of them. "There are several scattered about the city. They are tied to the Nexus, so if you use them, you have to be careful." The portals were a quick means of transportation, but not without risks. "Hold tight to my hand, and I will get us there safely," he added.
"Meaning we could end up anywhere," Yana said, frowning at that thought. She glanced up at him doubtfully, tightening her grip on his hand obediently. Possibly a little too much, but he did say hold tight. "You're driving, evidently."
"We could, but we won't. It is the quickest mode of travel," he assured her, though perhaps not the safest. He frowned a little, hoping the contents of her stomach would remain intact. Whether it was safer to have one's molecules scrambled and reassembled via a teleporter beam or take a chance on the Nexus was a matter of opinion. He would have tightened his grip on her hand, but she was holding on tight enough to make his hand ache already. "Ready?"
She nodded sharply, moving forward with him to enter the portal. And almost instantly wished she hadn't. If teleporting felt weird, this was worse. She could feel her stomach roiling in protest, but her own pride wouldn't let her throw up in front of him again. Still, when they emerged on the other side, she was definitely a little green around the gills. "Not fun."
"Next time, we'll take a shuttle," he promised, once they stepped out safely on the other side. It seemed the trip had affected him equally, his face looking a shade too pale, but it beat the hells out of most other forms of travel. Even a shuttle would attract too much attention in the old city, though one would go hardly noticed at the 'port. "Are you all right?" he asked, taking a deep breath of his own.
She blinked to clear her vision, belatedly loosening her grip on his hand. "I feel like I left my stomach back there," she admitted, but the color was quick to return to her face, along with the relief of recognizing where they were now. She knew the Spaceport like the back of her hand. "You needed a comm link. This way."
Well, at least, she hadn't lost her lunch - literally. "I'm sorry. We should have stayed in 'port, but ..." He frowned when she mentioned the comm link, not looking forward to contacting Trethin, but knowing it was necessary. But what? He'd wanted to take her someplace nice, but without access to his account, he didn't have much choice but to rely on her generosity.
"Staying in 'port and away from the ship invites a lot of interest," she pointed out. Walking through the 'port holding hands is going to invite interest too. She ignored that thought, relegating it to the back of her mind along with the repetitive insistence that anything more than a kiss with this man was a bad idea. "Give it a couple of days, we can take off and relax a little."
It wasn't the bounty on his head that was worrying him so much as her safety. When was the last time he'd worried about anyone's safety but his own? It was a disturbing thought. Had it been foolish to kiss her, he wondered? But he had no regrets. He'd enjoyed kissing her, and it had been a very long time since he'd enjoyed the company of another human being as much as he was enjoying hers. Of course, he didn't tell her any of this. He knew sleeping with your partner wasn't a very good idea, but maybe they'd both been alone for too long. "I don't want to call Trethin," he admitted abruptly. But it wasn't so much a matter of what he wanted to do as much as what he needed to do.
That pretty much stopped her brain dead. It stopped the rest of her, too. She turned to face him, confusion all over her face. "But -" A passing stranger knocked her shoulder, and she sighed, pulling Kalen out of the mid-way. "You said you had to call him," she reminded him. "You've been fixated on it all day."
"I know, and I do," he replied, that frown still in place. "I just ..." He trailed off, unsure how to explain. He'd never had much reason to explain his feelings before, not to anyone. Not since Rhel had died, anyway. What was it about Yana that suddenly had him wanting to make her understand everything about him? He hardly noticed the bump, as distracted as he was with the impending call. "I need to know what you told him," he said, unsure how much he needed to tell the man. He found that he didn't want Trethin to know that Yana had left him behind or that they had sought refuge on Rhy'Din, but he had to tell him something.
"Nothing specific," she admitted, her head tilted back so she could meet his eyes. This was closer than they'd been since that kiss, and her body was informing her that it was too soon to expect her to have recovered from it. "I told him the pick up and drop off was successful, he contacted the client to confirm, and I told him that Pandora was damaged in flight and I was taking her for repairs. When he asked what I was doing with you, I said I'd either drop you on the nearest inhabited world or take you with me."
She could almost see the wheels in his head turning as he debated his next move. He knew he should check in with Trethin, but maybe it wasn't as urgent as he'd thought. He did want to access his account though, but that only really required a trip to the bank. "So, he didn't seem concerned over my whereabouts?" he asked further.
She shrugged. "He did make a point of telling me that if you died, so would I," she told him. "He knows I'm a soft touch. No matter how much I hated you, I would never have let you die."
"You hated me?" he asked, brows arching upwards as he pulled her out of the way of some passersby. The 'port was a bustling place this time of time, and he didn't want any trouble. He wondered now if Trethin's threat was the reason she'd come back for him, or if she would have done it on her own.
"Of course I didn't hate you, I ..." She sighed, backing further into the doorway and pulling him with her. "I resented having a babysitter," she told him reluctantly. "I knew he didn't trust me, but he really forced that home by sending you along with me. I'm a loner, I'm difficult to be around, I drive everyone up the wall, I have a horrible temper, and on top of that, he put the single most attractive man I've ever seen on my case, in my tiny ship, and I screwed up so badly I nearly got him killed. So ..." She frowned, realizing she'd lost the thread of what she'd been saying. "No, I didn't hate you. I don't hate you. I really should shut up now."
That was more than she'd said to him all at once in all the weeks they'd been traveling together. It wasn't so much the flattery that got his attention and even touched his heart as it was the obvious guilt she had felt and still seemed to be feeling over having nearly gotten him killed. He wasn't quite sure why she should shut up when everything was starting to come clear, at long last.
"I have been thinking much the same thing," he admitted, bowing his head to take her hands between his. "I am used to working alone, and I was not happy to have a partner, either. I have no love of Trethin, but when you left me behind, I thought you had betrayed me. I was not expecting you to return," he admitted, though she must know all this already. He had, in fact, been expecting to either be killed or rot there in that prison without anyone but her knowing or caring what had happened to him. "I was angry. I wanted to call Trethin and tell him everything that had happened, but I am not angry anymore. At him, yes, but not at you. I have nothing to say to him now that cannot wait. It no longer matters if he pays me or not. I have waited a long time to have my revenge. It can wait a little while longer," he told her, tilting her chin upwards to search her face for any hint of of anger or hatred or disappointment in him.
"I will always come back for you," she heard herself promise, surprised that she seemed to have decided something so fundamental as this without really thinking it through. "Even if you decide I'm a terrible idea and never speak to me again, I will never leave you like that again." She blinked as he tilted her chin upward, feeling the difference in their heights even more as she realized how close he was standing, how confined this little space they were in truly was. "My temper's never going to change," she warned warily, knowing he had already been irked beyond measure by the spike in her temperament.
"You would not be you if it did," he replied, choosing to trust her as he'd trusted no one since Rhel had been killed and sealing that promise of trust between them, spoken or otherwise, with another kiss. This one was sweeter than the others, more tender than passionate, allowing her to wonder where there was something more than just friendship blossoming between them.
And wonder she did, for the short time that her brain was allowed to keep thinking before the embers sparked again to flood her mind and wipe all thoughts aside. Tender was even further out of her realm of experience than passionate was; all she knew was rough and hard and often painful. It was reflected in the way she gripped his jacket, the way the kiss deepened until she almost split her own lip against her own teeth, wanting to be closer, to satisfy the need he sparked in her all over again. And they were still in public!
It seemed like a long time before his lips finally broke away from hers, acutely aware of the way she was gripping his jacket and practically melting against him. Suddenly all he wanted to do was make love to her. Of course, he couldn't deny that he'd always found her attractive, but this wasn't just about physical attraction anymore. It was about something else, something he couldn't quite put a name to. It wasn't love - not yet - but it was a longing, deep down, a hope that perhaps neither of them had to be so alone anymore. And yet, when he opened his mouth, something very different came out. "It is time I meet Orsk, but not today."
She stilled, disbelief washing over her face as she leaned back even further. "Excuse me?" she asked, daring him to repeat himself. Well, she had warned him about her temper. "That's what comes into your head right now? I'm throwing myself at you, and you're thinking about a Bothan?" Annoyed - and if she was honest, faking it a little just because it irritated him - she pushed away, striding out of the doorway in the direction of the landing pad where their ship was docked.
He couldn't help but smirk a little at her reaction, though he hadn't said it to make her angry. It wasn't what had been on his mind when he'd been kissing her. He'd only wanted her to know that he no longer felt the need to contact Trethin, but that he was going to have to speak with Orsk very soon. Not today, though. "Yana!" he called, striding after her but not really hurrying this time. She was easy enough to keep up with, and he had a feeling he knew where she was headed. "I said not today!"
"You were also kissing me and thinking about a Bothan you've never even met," she pointed out, refusing to look at him. She wasn't angry, and he'd seen her angry enough times to know it. She was annoyed and amused, and wondering just how far through the 'port he was going to follow her like a slapped puppy.
"I was not thinking about him while I was kissing you," he pointed out, in self-defense. "I only wanted you to know that if we are to be partners, I will need to meet him. Soon. But not now," he said, catching up to her at least, and turning her to face him again, unaware that they'd drawn the attention of a few onlookers. "You are much better looking than a Bothan," he teased, trying but failing to hide the smirk from his face.
Turned about all over again, Yana narrowed her eyes as she looked up at him. "You and personal boundaries," she muttered, though she was hardly complaining. "I'm so glad you find me marginally more attractive than a humanoid canine race."
"I did not say marginally," he told her, wondering why she insisted on putting words in his mouth or assuming what he intended without explanation. "Would you prefer I throw you over my shoulder again?" he asked, reminding her what had transpired just the night before. Had it only been that long? It seemed longer.
"Don't you dare," she warned him, one hand rising to point her finger at his nose from barely an inch away. "You're causing a scene. Should've kept walking." And to demonstrate her point, she backed up, her expression daring him to argue with her, green eyes glinting with something that was almost mischief and definitely amused.
He couldn't help but smile at her, though he wanted to laugh. She was trying so hard to seem fierce, when he could see the mischief in her eyes. She certainly was a firecracker, if he'd ever met one. "I am not the only one who knows how to cause a scene," he said, not bothering to remind her of the little scene she'd caused in the old city. All because she'd been jealous of a waitress he'd hardly given a second glance.
"I've raised it to an art form," she agreed, turning to keep walking, trusting that he was following her again. "You should feel honored - you're the only person who ever let me practice on them without punching me."
"Honored is not quite the word I would use," he told her, unable to hide the amusement from his voice. It was strange to think that just a few days ago he'd been convinced she had betrayed him, and now they were on the verge of ... of what? That was a good question. Of having an affair? Becoming friends? He couldn't be falling in love with her, could he?
"I would," she insisted, her lips curving into a smirk as they entered the shadow of the walls surrounding Landing Pad 87. "In fact, I'd probably say you're privileged. I am, after all, an absolute goddess when it comes to irrational temper tantrums." Oh yes, she knew herself very well indeed. Well enough to know that her temper was the best and worst part of her, and that if they continued on this course, he would be seeing a lot of it. Pausing at the door, she glanced back at him, letting him see her smirk before she turned her attention to punching in the code to unlock it.
"I shall consider myself warned," he replied, though he had already witnessed several temper tantrums in person. He might never learn how to avoid them, but he could learn how soothe them. Maybe it was a good thing he was a little more level-headed than she was. He took a lean against the wall, watching her as she punched the code into the lock and admiring her profile, the fall of her hair, the way her mouth looked when she flashed him that smirk.
She knew he was watching her. Just feeling his gaze on her was enough to make her fumble the code, swearing under her breath as she tried a second time. "You're staring," she pointed out to him as the door opened in front of her, flicking her gaze to his briefly.
"Admiring," he corrected - a very different thing, in his opinion. Why was it they'd never thought to flirt with each other before? Had they both been so focused on the job that it had never occurred to them? What exactly was it that had changed? Perhaps it was simply the fact that they'd realized they were more alike than different and that they made better allies than enemies. It was more than just that, but it was a start, anyway.
"Staring," she insisted, and this time she was smiling, shaking her head at him as she stepped out of side, one hand gesturing for him to follow her. "At least it's at my face and not my arse."
"Admiring that, too," he assured her, now that he was following her, his gaze moving lower to admire more than just her pretty face, whether it was forward of him or not. She didn't seem to have minded his kisses, and he had a feeling she wouldn't have protested if he wanted something more.
"See, now I can't tell you to read my lips," she countered. She actually laughed at that, passing out of the accessway and into the late sunshine before finding the shadow cast by their ship.
"If I could, what would they be saying?" he asked, calling her bluff. What did it matter if he could read her lips or not when he could hear everything she was saying, unless she wanted him to kiss her again. He had every intention of fulfilling that request, as soon as they were assured of some privacy.
Under the hang of the ship, she jumped to hit the release for the gangway, stumbling on her landing even as the gangway lowered behind her. She turned to look at him, one brow raised above a definitely inviting smile. "It's rude to stare."
Was he staring? He didn't think so, but she didn't seem to have minded. Even now, he knew she was teasing him and almost daring him to do more than just stare. "Then perhaps I should do something else," he said as he closed the distance between them.
"Mm, maybe you should," she agreed, but she wasn't making it easy for him. As he closed the distance, she backed away, slow steps taking her up the ramp and into the ship as her smile grew to a definitely teasing grin. How long had it been since she'd been comfortable enough with anyone to smile like this, to tease at all? And what was it about him that encouraged her to be comfortable? It couldn't be just those kisses ... could it?
He was half tempted to rush up the gangway and take her over his shoulder again, but he wasn't sure how she'd take that. She might be amused or she might be angry, and suddenly, he realized he had no idea how she might react to anything, but then, that was part of the challenge. What fun was it trying to win the heart of a woman who was so tame she was always in agreement and never dared to speak her own mind? Yana was certainly not that woman, and he knew it was in good part her fiery spirit that had at last drawn his attention. Instead, he only stalked her up the gangway, his heart pounding. What awaited him when they were safely inside? Would she melt under his touch again or would she play hard to get?
He found out when he reached the top of the ramp. Yana was against him in a moment, hungry lips seeking his, hands pushing him back against the hull as her palm slapped the button to close the ramp. To close them in together. Privacy, at last. And with that privacy, the hasty impatience of a woman who didn't know tender and didn't like waiting for what she wanted.
He was an experienced enough lover to know that sometimes a woman wanted tenderness and sometimes the desire was so great, she only wanted immediate gratification. That seemed to be the case with Yana, and though he didn't want to make any assumptions, he was only to happy to comply with her wishes. It was hard enough for him not to let his own desires get the best of him as he returned those kisses, his lips just as hungry for hers, his arms reaching to draw her close, fingers sliding through the cascade of hair down her back.
She was fierce in her desire, her hands already busy even as her lips trailed to his throat, clever fingers undoing his holster and her own, letting them fall as they may as her hands curled over his hips, pressing herself closer in pulsing rhythm that spoke louder than any words ever could of what she wanted. The feel of his hands in her hair, the smell of his skin, the taste of him ... she couldn't get enough. She wanted it all, now, heedless of comfort in her quest to fulfill that wanting, knowing he wouldn't let her keep him pinned there forever.
He wasn't surprised to find that she seemed to know what she was doing, but he was surprised at the urgency and the passion with which she was doing it. Every kiss, every touch urgent with desire, and he found his passion matching hers, like two flames burning brightly to make one fiery blaze. He fumbled with her clothing in a hurry to explore her and claim her, taking as much as giving, wanting her as much as she wanted him.
Never mind that they were only just inside the ship, never mind that comfort was at least three rooms away from them both. Yana didn't know gentle when it came to intimacy; she barely knew intimate when it came to physical sharing. All she knew was taking and giving with equal fervor, and she was determined to do both, right now. His jacket was easily removed - her boots and leggings joined it - and she clambered up him, tucking her legs about his hips with an urgent moan, the long line of her tunic swaying to cover her smalls.
He caught her as she tucked her legs around his hips, even as he smothered her moan with hungry kisses, pushing off the wall and stumbling with her toward the nearest flat surface, which just happened to be a bed in the closest crew cabin. He didn't care whether it was hers or not - the whole damned ship was theirs, so what did it matter? He only stumbled once before he was lowering her to the bed, his hands sliding up her thighs, beneath her tunic, pausing only a moment as if waiting for permission to go further.
The pause stilled her, her eyes suddenly wide with the fear that he had changed his mind, that he didn't want her after all. But only for a moment. The warm passage of his palms along her thighs was enough to reassure her, answered by the hungry creep of her own hands beneath his shirt. Her lips brushed his once again, a softly keening moan of sound escaping her. "Please ..."
That was all the permission he needed, smothering her plea once again with kisses while he deftly divested her of the rest of her clothing, giving him further territory to explore, which he did in earnest, ignoring his own desire for the time being so that he could satisfy hers. She was unknown territory to explore - all the lovely peaks and valleys of her body ripe for his attention. He proved in more ways than one that he was not only an experienced lover but an unselfish one.
Both of which were utterly alien to the wriggling woman receiving the full benefit of that unselfish experience. And boy, did she wriggle, absolutely incapable of keeping still as he explored the petite form that was normally so well hidden beneath layers of hard-wearing cloth. Sex was something to scratch an itch, but this ...
"Wh-what are you doing?" she burst out eventually, torn between enjoying his exploration and trying to get him as naked as she was.
For some people, sex was something to be taken seriously. Not a chore exactly, but serious business - a sacred union between a man and a woman. But for two people who lived life on the edge and knew life was too short, it was more than that. After all, if they weren't having fun, then what was the point?
"If you have to ask, then I'm not doing it right," he replied, with a teasing smirk. Or maybe she had just never been with a man who knew how to please a woman.
"R -ight ...?"
She didn't really have much choice but to lie back and enjoy what he was doing, so unschooled in hands and lips that knew exactly what they were doing that he elicited what he was looking for far sooner than he might have expected. Her hand flew up to cover her mouth as she cried out, used to having to muffle herself, even as she shuddered, writhing under his touch.
He was certainly enjoying himself, as well as her reaction to his ministrations, almost amused at the way she covered her mouth to muffle her own cry, even though there was no one there to hear her but him. But even as she shuddered beneath him, he wasn't quite done with her yet, his kisses and caresses growing tender and almost loving, even as his body was reminding him of his own desire.
Shaken by how well he seemed to know her body, Yana sank back against the bed, close to whimpering at the unrelenting way he kept on. Her hands found purchase in his hair, pulling him up to her, lips demanding more kisses as she sought some way to even the exchange between them. Fair-minded, it seemed, even if he wasn't yet done with her at his mercy, she wanted to turn the tables, despite her obvious disadvantage when it came to getting her way.
He didn't object to her getting her way, now that he'd enjoyed his exploration of her, but he made no demands, allowing her to take things at her own pace. He made no resistance as she pulled him to her, his kisses matching hers as his hands moved over her body. It didn't quite seem fair that she was not only undressed but at least partially satisfied while he was still half dressed, but he made no complaints.
The body he had at his fingertips was slender and smooth, somehow having lived a rough life with no blemishes left behind to mar her skin. Sensitive, too, if her reaction to his touch was anything to go by. But it was the mind in charge of that body that was doing the driving now, and Yana had her own ideas about how to even the playing field. It was awkward, yes, but she wriggled and tugged until he was the one below her, and she was the one doing the exploring, her own hands as confident as his had been, if not as thorough. She went straight for the kill, as it were.
His body wasn't as unblemished as hers, an old scar here and there, but nothing left of the beating he'd suffered just a few days ago before she'd come back for him. That body was reacting to her touch just as hers had reacted to his, but that was not the end he had in mind. "Yana," he called to her before she got too far, before she reached the point of no return. It wasn't that he wasn't enjoying it - his body spoke for him there - it was only that he wanted to claim her completely, and this was not the way he wanted to do it.
If being the focus of her partner's attention was alien to her, hearing her own name spoken in such a setting was just as strange. Strange enough to pull her up, her head rising to meet his eyes with that same suggestion of wary fear deep in her gaze. Was this the moment when he pushed her away? If it was, he was a very strange man indeed, to give and then refuse to receive. "What?"
"I want you," he told her, as simply as he could, his eyes perhaps expressing more than mere words could say, as if his body's reaction to her wasn't enough already. "Please," he added, perhaps his turn to plead, as much as it hurt his pride.
Please? She'd never heard a man say that in this sort of situation before, either. But then, she'd never really met a man like Kalen Dain before, she was beginning to realize. Urged in some way to gentle herself, just by the tone of his voice, she crawled over him, her hair falling in damp strands about his face as she stared into his eyes for a long moment. "I want you," she whispered back to him, her fingers clenching in the musty sheet beneath him.
"I want you, too," he told her again, repeating what he'd just said a moment before. Was she giving him permission? He'd never really had to ask before, but he found himself caring what this woman thought of him and wanting to please her. He had a feeling she was no virgin, but had she ever had a lover who really cared for her before?
"I know." A fleeting grin touched her face as she caught his lips with her own in a bruising kiss, dragging one hand down over his shoulder, his chest, his side, skating his hip to the promised land. She definitely wasn't gentle with herself, that much was for sure, but he was more man than she was used to, and it had been a while. Her kiss stilled along with the rest of her as she moaned at the feel of him, her limbs already shaking before they even began to move together.
He savored her touch and her kisses, allowing her to take the lead for a short while before he took over, unable to hold himself back from taking charge. He rolled her onto her back, covering her body with his, as they moved together in the oldest dance known to mankind. He took her slowly at first, his lips finding hers before trailing kisses against her neck and down between her breasts. He didn't say anything, but only let his actions speak for him, as their bodies crashed together until they were both breathless and spent.
Falling back to the bunk, for the first time in her life Yana didn't feel the need to rise and escape as soon as she could. For the first time, she welcomed the weight of his body against her own, the feel of his breath against her skin as they struggled to gather some semblance of control over themselves together. She wasn't entirely sure what had just happened. It hadn't gone the way she had expected; far from what she had experienced in the past. For a start, she was naked, and she hadn't been naked with anyone since she was a baby.
He hadn't been expecting this either. Oh, he had certainly thought about it, even fantasized about it, but he hadn't really expected to end up with her like this, and he sure as hells wasn't disappointed. He seemed as comfortable being naked as he was clothed, so long as she was there beside him - or more accurately, beneath him. When all was said and done, and they were both lying breathless in each other's arms, he found himself kissing her again, tenderly this time, almost lovingly. He brushed her hair back from her face and kissed her brow, almost protectively, lazily enjoying the warm weight of her against him.
Resting against him, she found herself returning the kiss he touched to her lips more gently than she'd kissed, or been kissed, with anyone. Despite the satisfying sing of her body, she couldn't help the confusion rippling through her mind, compounded all the more by the lazy way he kissed her brow and gathered her close. She wasn't used to being so still, so vulnerable, in someone's arms, and it showed in the growing tension of her frame. As much she was enjoying this unexpectedly soft interlude, she had no idea how to react to it.
An awkward silence seemed to settle between them, now that they had scratched that mutual itch. While some lovers might simply enjoy the quiet closeness and others might whisper sweet nothings, neither Kalen nor Yana seemed to know what to do with the quiet interlude that had settled between them. As for himself, Kalen seemed content to simply lie close with Yana in his arms, almost as if he was wishing the moment would last, and yet, it seemed it never did. Not with anyone he'd ever known, and maybe not with Yana either. That brought a frown to his face, and he found himself wishing for something more than just a quick and meaningless fling just once.
As much as he was enjoying the silence, however, the longer it went on, the more uncomfortable Yana seemed to get. It felt as though something was expected of her; something she didn't know how to give, something she couldn't even identify. "So, um ... what happens now?" she asked quietly, addressing her question to the hair on his chest, rather than to his face.
His frown deepened at her question, unsure how to answer that. He'd never really been asked that question before or considered that there could be something more than just a fling between himself and a woman. Not until now, and he wasn't sure why. What was it about her that was different from anyone else he'd ever met? "I don't know," he replied, as honestly as he could. "What would you like to happen now?"
"Am I supposed to know the answer to that?" she asked, her voice still very small. She hadn't taken her eyes off his chest, either, reluctant to admit that she was afraid to look up and see for herself whether or not he actually wanted her there or not. "I, um ... I've never been with anyone - like this, I mean. You know. Naked and on a bed."
He sighed a little, as he considered her answer - or lack of answer. Had they made a mistake in throwing caution to the wind? What harm was there in a little meaningless sex? But maybe that was the problem - maybe it wasn't as meaningless as either of them wanted to believe. Her confession gave him pause, wondering if he'd taken advantage of her lack of experience somehow, though she'd seemed to have been agreeable. "I haven't been with anyone like this in a long time," he admitted, as unsure of what to say as she was, it seemed.
"What was it like with her?" The question came from nowhere, fueled as much by jealousy as it was by genuine curiosity. Yana was beginning to realize that she might be getting attached to this pilot, who had pretty much reordered her life in the space of three days after annoying her for almost a month beforehand. She wasn't sure if she was pleased about that attachment. Surely friends ... lovers ... they were just another way of getting killed.
"Short," he replied, with a frown of regret that she might not see but would hear in his voice, even given such a brief reply. He hesitated a moment before he went on. "She was with the Rebellion," he added, the past tense hinting at what might have happened. "She wanted me to join them, but ..." He shrugged again. "There was a bounty on my head already, and I like it where it is. She thought me a selfish coward, more interested in collecting creds than in fighting the Empire." It was a harsh assumption for someone to make who didn't know everything about him, but it had obviously come between them.
Yana frowned, unconsciously inching a little closer to him. She didn't need the hints laid out for her; with the turmoil in that galaxy, life was fleeting. "I know you're not selfish, or a coward," she offered thoughtfully. "But some people have to have a cause. Personally, I'd rather live a long life than die for something that might never happen."
"It was a good cause, but I didn't want to die for it," he said, his voice quiet, lost for a moment in a memory he'd rather forget. "Maybe she's right. Maybe I am a coward," he admitted. Or maybe his life had just taken a different turn.
"It wasn't that good a cause," she objected. "I get the whole Evil Emperor thing being bad, absolutely. But turning to terrorism to bring down a system that provided galacticized transport, health service, and education, rather than, I don't know ... getting a good assassin to remove the problem and then dealing with the fallout through the political channels already available? It seems like a terrible decision to me."
"It's not that simple, Yana." It wasn't simple at all, and that was partly why he'd stayed the hells out of it. "You're lucky. You were born on Rhy'Din. You knew your father. He raised you. You didn't have to wonder where you came from or if you should go back there."
"My father didn't raise me." She shook her head, though she wasn't exactly prepared to share exactly what she meant by that. "And nothing's ever simple. The Rebellion weren't the good guys just because they were fighting an Empire that seemed evil to them. Shades of gray, Kalen. Everything's in shades of gray."
"I'm sorry, Yana. I'm sorry about your father," Kalen said, not wanting to seem morose after what they'd just shared. It had been a very long time since he'd opened up to anyone, but he found himself wanting her to know him better and vice versa.
She was quiet for a long moment, her mind racing. Her father was always going to be a touchy subject, but perhaps there was something else she could offer up to him. "My mother was from that galaxy," she ventured, a little wary of sharing even this about a woman she'd never known. "She was from somewhere called Dantooine."
"In the Outer Rim," he said, knowing a little more about that galaxy than he might have mentioned. "I was born on Fest. Rhel brought me to Rhy'Din after my parents were killed," he told her further. It was the first time he'd mentioned that part of his past to anyone in years. Not even Trethin knew that about him.
"I don't know anything about it," she admitted. "Just a name." Finally, she raised her eyes to his, still wary but somehow less afraid. "What was he like ... Rhel?" There was real curiosity behind her question; he spoke so fondly of the man, she felt sure he must have been more of a real father than she'd ever had.
"He was a good man, a friend of my father's," Kalen replied, unsure what else to say of him. "My parents asked him to take me away, someplace safe. That was before ..." He paused a moment, the memory obviously still painful. "Before they were killed. I don't know much about them. Rhel said they wanted me to have a better life. I am not sure this is quite what they expected."
"I'm sorry." Without knowing quite why, she brushed her lips against his shoulder, tucking herself closer. She didn't understand what it was about this man that made her so responsive to him, so eager to comfort him when he seemed to be in pain. So willing to risk her own neck to save his life in the first place. "Guess he wouldn't have approved of me, huh?" she offered with a wry smile. "Smuggler trash with a big mouth and pretty much nothing else."
Her question put a smile on his face, for some reason, as he considered what Rhel would have thought of her. "I think he would have liked you very much, querida," he told her, that term of endearment slipping off his tongue. "We are both smuggler trash," he added, oddly proud of that fact. It was better than some other things, anyway, and at least, they were both alive. He pulled away from her for just a moment to grab hold of the blanket and draw it up over them both before she got cold. "I like being here with you," he admitted quietly, almost as surprised to have said it as she might be to hear it.
"It's our ship, of course you do," she answered easily enough, assuming he meant the odd feeling of home. She couldn't quite hide the way she subtly relaxed against him as he covered them both over, glad to be a little less vulnerable in his arms. "You're the captain, I'm the crew. Nemesis belongs to you."
"No," he disagreed, turning his head to face her, needing her to know he meant what he was about to say. "We are partners. She is ours ... together." He might have only been talking about the ship and the partnership they'd agreed upon, whether temporary or otherwise, but he found himself almost hoping against hope that perhaps it was the start of something more.
Yana offered him a glimpse of a teasing smile as he held her gaze. "We're going to drive each other utterly insane, you know," she pointed out. "You're never going to be able to control my temper. I should know, I've been trying to for about ten years."
"Your temper is part of what makes you who you are. I do not wish to change who you are, Yana. I only want to know you better," he told her, turning to face her, his gaze drifting downward with a small smirk on his face that hinted at what he might mean by that statement.
Much to her embarrassment, she blushed as his eyes wandered, one hand splaying over her chest as though she could hide from him even when they were pressed this close together on a bunk made for only one person to sleep in. She couldn't hide the surprise in her eyes, though. "You want ... again?" she asked, uncertain quite what to make of that. "No one's ever ... Well, I ..." Huffing an impatient breath, she sighed, pulling herself together as her splayed hand turned to boldly lie against his chest, a shy smile sparking on her lips. "I want to know you better, too."
Though he wasn't only talking about knowing her better in a sexual way, he couldn't deny that he wanted her again and couldn't imagine ever not wanting her. He smiled up at her, appearing a little amused at her stammering response. "Then, what are we waiting for?" he asked, his arms going around her again.
Her shyness melted away as he drew her closer once more, a little more at ease with this than she was with words. But it was abundantly clear that she did not know how to be gentle, or tender. Everything she knew about carnality was rushed and hasty, and given how awkward she was, apparently upright and clothed as well. The third time she knocked her head on the bunk above them, she drew back, rubbing her head with a frown. "Guess I'm not as good at this as I thought."
"It's a good thing I am, then," he replied, that smirk on his face widening as he carefully rolled over on top of her, which was no easy feat considering the size of the bunk. He didn't waste any time getting started, but this time, he was in less of a hurry, intent on taking his time and showing her that there was more to the act of lovemaking than just a race to the finish.
"Oh, thanks a lot," she drawled, easily turned onto her back as he turned his attention to giving her a lesson in just what this was supposed to be like. He couldn't say she wasn't a quick study, but she still seemed utterly shocked that he could play her so well without knowing her inside and out.
Still, one thing was for sure, something they had definitely proved to one another over the last few days ... this partnership was never going to be boring.