Red Dragon Inn
Stars End Sector => Stars End Bar & Grill => Undetectable => Topic started by: Yana Triem on April 30, 2017, 10:43:21 AM
Scrapyards in the Spaceport were ten-a-penny, but like all places with an abundance of a particular tone, the quality of parts available in such places tended to vary, depending on which one you frequented. By mid-morning the next day, Mira had already vetoed three of the yards Yana had taken her to, and Yana was beginning to regret volunteering to take her out at all. If it wasn't for the fact that Kalen wanted some time alone to speak to BB-D2 about a past he himself barely remembered, she might have insisted he did it, instead. As it was, she followed Mira into the next yard, nodding to the owner in his office as they passed him by. The teenaged mechanic seemed more impressed by this yard, ducking away from the ships being stripped toward the heaps of discarded parts with every sign of interest, leaving Yana to find somewhere reasonably clean to sit and wait.
Like most places at the Spaceport, there were all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds milling around the scrapyard. Some of them, like Mira, were searching for this or that part to fix this or that piece of machinery. Some of them were what was known as "pickers", looking for rare parts and items so they could sell them to someone else at a higher price. There were scavengers and mechs and various others, all looking to either buy something they needed or sell something they wanted to get rid of. There were workers there, too, some of them working to strip down equipment so that they could salvage the parts that were still worth selling.
It wasn't long before Yana lost sight of Mira altogether. The young mechanic had apparently found exactly the place she had been looking for, roping in a random astromech to help her locate some of the more specialized parts on her list. Unlike Kalen, however, Yana wasn't bothered that the girl was out of her eyeline. She simply took up station by the entrance, arms crossed comfortably, to wait as long as it took, which was turning out to be longer than she had expected.
"Should have brought a book," she was muttering to herself when Mira came back into view, hauling a heavy basket of parts with her.
"You look after these," the young mech told her. "I saw a hydraulic compressor back there that'd be perfect."
Before Yana could say anything in response, the girl was gone again, leaving her to defend the basket of parts against anyone who thought they could pick out of it.
Some were human or humanoid, others were anything but. It wasn't the kind of place where you'd expect to run into someone you knew, but then Fate had a way of doing that to people, especially on Rhy'Din. It wasn't so much the looks of the young man that might have drawn anyone's attention as it was the debate that was going on between him and a Trandoshan who seemed to be arguing over the same piece of scrap metal.
As the argument went on, Mira's attention was drawn that way. She didn't really take much notice of the two arguing, her eyes focusing on the part held between them. With a nonchalance that would have made Yana's eyes bug out, she wandered in that direction.
"Excuse me, may I have that?" she asked the Trandoshan politely as he gesticulated with the part, and because she was young, and sweet, and softly-spoken, he handed it over without even breaking his tirade at the human male in front of him. Mira grinned. "Thanks." And with the part tapping against her leg, she wandered off once again, still looking for the hydraulic compressor she could have sworn she'd seen a moment ago.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" the human declared, as the large lizard-like humanoid handed over the item they'd both been arguing over. He turned to stalk after Mira with the intention of reclaiming it, when the Trandoshan gave him a shove, knocking him off balance, just for the hell of it.
"Hmm?" Mira turned back in time to see the shove. "Hey!" Brandishing the part, she gestured in the Trand's direction. "Back off and find something you know how to use, lizard-features!"
"Lizard features!" the human echoed, laughing. "I think she just insulted you, Gris. He's a T'doshok," he corrected for the girl's benefit. "And he doesn't take too kindly to being called a ..." He might have finished that thought if the lizard in question wasn't picking him up by the collar and shaking him. "No offense, Gris. You're the handsomest lizard I've seen in years!"
"I don't care what he is, he's ..." She trailed off as the human was lifted off his feet, letting her head tip back to really take in certain details. "... really big. Hey, are those claws?"
Things might have taken a turn for the worse if Yana hadn't come looking to find out what the commotion was about. The sound of her activating her blaster cut right through all the background noise. "Hello, Gris," she said calmly. "Put him down, there's a good boy. Mira here wouldn't hurt a fly, but I will shoot you. Your choice."
"Yeah, be a good boy and put me down, Gris!" the young man said, trying hard not to flail, as the lizard hissed in irritation before dropping the human unceremoniously to the ground. He hissed another warning in Yana's direction, but didn't think the scavenged part was worth getting shot over and backed off.
"Same to you," Yana said politely, gesturing with her blaster for the lizard to make himself scarce. As he did so, she turned a weary look onto Mira. "How did you manage to start a fight in a scrapyard?"
Mira shrugged innocently. "I didn't! All I did was ask nicely for the part - he started the fight." And by he, she meant the man now on the ground.
The man in question brushed the dirt from his trousers as he climbed to his feet. Now that the sentient lizard had backed off, he paused to take a look at the pair of women, eyes narrowed first at Mira. "You shouldn't have interfered. I almost had him convinced," he said, making a swipe for the part in question.
As Mira jerked back, holding onto the part she felt she'd gained ownership of fair and square, Yana's blaster swung about to aim at the man making a grab for it. "Uh-uh-uh," she warned, taking a better look at him now he wasn't on the floor. "Gav Rowan, you know better than to snatch something from a woman, especially one with an armed friend."
Mira's head swung around to stare at Yana. "You know him?"
A wide smile spread across the young man's features as he turned to Yana, recognizing her now that she'd called attention to herself. "Yana Triem?" he asked, grinning like an idiot and doing his best to ignore her blaster. "Well, how in the Nine Hells are you?" He might have picked her up off her feet into a bear hug if it wasn't for the blaster. "And who's this pretty young thing?" he asked, swinging his gaze back at Mira.
Yana chuckled at the reaction, holstering her blaster as the tension eased. "Off-limits," she warned her old friend with a smile. "Mira, do we actually need that part?"
Mira glanced between the pair of them, looking down at the rod in her hand. "Not if we find something better," was her qualifying response. "Who's your friend?"
Yana smiled, rolling her eyes. "Mira, this is Gav Rowan," she introduced them. "Gav, Mira."
"Oh, don't be such a spoil sport, Yana," he pouted. He might have gone on to remark that he hadn't even met the girl yet, but Yana took care of that little detail pretty quickly. "It's okay," he said, with a grin at Mira. "Keep it. I was just having fun getting Gris all worked up." He wiped a slightly grimy hand on his pants and offered her a hand. "A pleasure to meet you, Mira."
Switching the part from one hand to the other, Mira gripped the offered hand firmly. "You didn't think it was a pleasure a second ago," she pointed out with a bemused smile. She eyed him thoughtfully, looking him up and down. "How strong are you, would you say?"
Behind her, Yana snorted with laughter, guessing where this was going. She'd had the same question aimed at her two scrapyards back.
"That was before I knew you're a friend of Yana's," Gav explained cheerily as he gripped her hand, holding on just a little longer than was necessarily. He eyed her just a little warily at the question, assuming she had a good reason for asking, besides wanting to admire his muscles. "Um, pretty strong, I guess. Why?"
"Good. Come with me." Mira handed the rod into Yana's hand, turning to lead the way through the heaps of scrap.
Yana smirked, gesturing for Gav to follow. "Better do what she says," she suggested. "She's got a droid who'll fry your balls if it thinks you've looked at her insultingly."
Gav chuckled, taking little offense at Yana's threat. "I'd like to keep them intact, if you don't mind," he said, though he didn't see any droid and wasn't too worried about Yana shooting an old friend. "What are you looking for? Maybe I can help."
"There's a hydraulic compressor over ... here." Mira turned abruptly and pointed. The compressor she was looking for was underneath a defunct speeder that had been stripped and tossed. "Think you can lift that while I get it out?" she asked Gav, shamelessly batting her lashes above a warm smile.
"Do or do not. Isn't that how the old saying goes?" he quipped back at her. She hardly needed to batt her lashes at him to get what she wanted when he was altogether too happy to help. He paused a moment to roll up his sleeves, though it was hardly necessary. "So, what are you up to these days, Yana? I haven't seen you in 'coon's age." Whatever the hell that meant. He didn't wait for her response but went ahead with doing his best to move the defunct speeder out of Mira's way, not without some effort.
"Got off-planet," Yana told him, biting her lip as she caught a look at the expression on Mira's face. Off-limits or not, Kalen's little sister definitely liked what she was seeing. "Ran a few smuggling runs, got my own ship, traded up and got a partner, too. Mira's our engineer."
"How did I go from grease monkey to engineer in three days?" Mira asked, ducking down to crawl underneath the speeder as Gav held it up, working on excavating the part she was after.
"By virtue of being the only person on board who knows how the engine works," was Yana's answer. "What have you been up to, Gav? I thought you were all set to join that merc band operating out of the Andromeda system."
Gav didn't have much to say while he was struggling with the speeder, with no choice but to flex his muscles there, for Mira's benefit or not. He was glad to hear Yana had done so well for herself, even though he hadn't been quite so lucky. "Nah, that fell through," he said, without much explanation. "You got it yet, Mira? I can't hold this thing up all day, you know."
"Just a second ..." There was a loud metallic crunch from beneath the speeder, and Mira came backwards out of the gap at speed, clutching the part she'd been after in the first place. "Okay!" She looked up at Yana from where she'd landed on her backside. "What did you do with the basket?"
Yana rolled her eyes. "Gave it to the owner to hold for us."
Once he was sure Mira had the part she needed, he let go of the speeder, letting it drop noisily to the ground. "Want me to carry that for you?" he asked, as he reached for Mira's hand to pull her to her feet.
Pulled up, Mira's until now unpracticed flirting made itself known again. "You're a big boy," she mused teasingly. "You could make yourself useful and carry more than just this for me. I mean, us."
"Your brother is going to kill me," Yana predicted from behind her.
Why he wasn't flirting with Yana, instead of Mira, was anyone's guess. Yana seemed closer to age to him than Mira, and yet, it was clearly Mira who'd caught his attention. "Anything for a friend," he told her, taking charge of the compressor. "So, you've got your own ship now, huh?" he asked of Yana. "What are you planning on doing with it?"
"Orsk's expressed an interest in sending us on a few runs," Yana told him, trying to ignore the outrageous flirting going on between her companions as they headed back toward the yard gates. Kalen was definitely going to want an explanation. "We were thinking about going legit, actually."
"Still working for Orsk, then," he mused aloud. "There are worse ways to earn a living," he said, though he preferred not to become indebted to anyone, no matter how much it paid. "What's Orsk think of that?" he asked further as he fell into step with the women.
"Haven't actually mentioned it, yet," Yana told him, pausing by the owner's office. She eyed her friend. "Front you a meal and a bed tonight if you do the heavy lifting for us?" she suggested, reaching in to drag the heavy basket out into the light.
On Gav's other side, Mira's eyes lit up hopefully as she looked up at him.
He probably would have offered to help, even without the offer of dinner and a night's lodging, but now that she'd offered, he couldn't very well refuse. "I'd say that sounds like a fair deal," he replied with a smile. If it had been anyone else, he would have charged them by weight.
"Good, take this." Grinning, Yana heaved the basket toward him with a jerking motion. She had a feeling Mira was going to need another couple of trips back to this yard over the next couple of days, already making a mental note to convince Kalen to hire Gav as escort and extra pair of hands for his sister. "Make a start, I'll pay and catch up," she told them, gesturing for Mira to lead the way.
Gav arched a brow. That looked like a lot more to carry than he had bargained for, but the promise of a hot meal and soft bed was still too tempting a prospect. He took up the basket and fell into step beside Mira, without so much as a backward glance at Yana. "She's getting a little bossy in her old age," he remarked, though Yana couldn't have been more than a few years older than him. "So, Yana says you have a brother. Are they ... you know?"
"Well, they're not playing Jenga at night," she laughed. "I'm not supposed to admit that I can hear them, though. Gotta try and install some sound proofing without them finding out." She grinned at him. "Want me to take some of that?"
If she'd been anyone else, he might have agreed, but there was something about her that made him want to impress her or at least not trouble her with the load. Maybe it was a macho thing, maybe it was some tendency toward chivalry, but whatever it was it had him shaking his head. "No, I'm okay. It seems Yana has done well for herself," he mused aloud, with just the tiniest hint of envy.
"From what I hear, it hasn't been without its problems," Mira shrugged, hearing the envy in his voice and wondering where it came from. "How do you know Yana, anyway? She doesn't ... well, she doesn't really seem like the type to have a lot of friends."
"Oh," he shrugged, only in part due to shifting the weight he was carrying, and frowned thoughtfully. "We grew up together on Rhy'Din. We used to pick pockets together when we were young, but ..." He paused, that frown deepening. "I don't think her father liked me much. He thought I was a bad influence on her or something." Or maybe a good influence, considering the strained relationship Yana had had with her father.
"I don't think her father liked her much," Mira murmured, pausing as she glanced around, trying to remember where they were and how to get back to the ship. "I don't suppose you know where the Landing Pads are in this sector, do you? I haven't been here very long."
"The Landing Pads?" he echoed, arching both brows. "That's a bit of a walk, but it's this way," he told her, turning to head in that direction. "Where are you from?" he asked, both out of curiosity and just to make conversation.
It was just as well she'd asked; if she'd had to guess, Mira would have had them walking in entirely the wrong direction. "I was born on Ena'tar," she told him easily, not seeing any danger in sharing this. "Spent most of my life on Faraxen, though, until Kalen and Yana came for me. What about you, are you from around here?"
"Came for you?" he echoed again, unsure what her story was, but sure there was one. Everyone had one, it seemed, especially here on Rhy'Din. "I grew up here," he explained, though he said nothing about being born there. It seemed he, at least, had that much in common with Yana and even Kalen.
"Yeah, I guess you could say I was kind of a prisoner, only I didn't know it," she explained, seeing nothing wrong with sharing this, either. "Kalen - that's my brother - he's been looking for me for years and years, and then a few days ago, he found me. And here I am. Oh, this way." Finally recognizing the area, she turned toward Landing Pad 87, though it was still some distance away.
For a guy who never seemed to stop talking, he wasn't quite sure what to say to that. He knew she was giving him the short version of her story and leaving out a lot of the details, but the thing that struck him the most was the fact that she'd only realized she was a prisoner on Faraxen after she'd been rescued. He'd often wondered if anyone was looking for him or missed him, but had given up hoping for someone to find him a long time ago. "I'm glad he found you, Mira," he said after a long moment and sounded like he meant it, too.
"So am I," she agreed with a warm smile. "Otherwise I wouldn't have been in the scrapyard, or seen your muscles." It seemed as though Mira was distinctly lacking a brain to mouth filter, but she was either impossible to embarrass, or utterly unaware that most people didn't just come straight out and say things like that. "I'd offer you my bunk for the night, but I don't think that's what Yana had in mind."
He chuckled as she remarked on his muscles again, which he didn't really think much about. They were just the product of hard, honest work. "I have a feeling your brother might have a problem with that," he replied with a smirk and a flirtatious wink at her. He'd only known her a few minutes and already he was growing fond of her, but then she was a friend of Yana's, so what wasn't to like?
"Feh, he's bumping bits with Yana, he can't say anything about me," she insisted, but her grin suggested he might be right about that. A brother who'd had to be reminded that she wasn't still ten years old wasn't likely to be happy to find her bringing stray men home to bump uglies with.
"If he's your big brother, he can!" Gav reminded her, good-naturedly. "If I had a little sister like you, I'd lock her up and throw away the key," he said, though he was only teasing. The fact of the matter was he had no family to speak of and no one he really thought of as family, as much a loner as the rest of them had been.
"You could try," she grinned back at him. "If she was like me, though, she'd be out of there in seconds, no matter what kind of lock it was. I'm that good." Maybe she was showing off a little. Truth was, she'd met handsome guys before, and yes, she'd definitely lost that side of her innocence in years gone by, but she liked Gav. He was the nicest person she'd met so far on Rhy'Din, though that wasn't saying much.
"Makes me wonder what else you're good at," he remarked, the corners of his eyes crinkling with mischief as he grinned back at her. He came to a halt for a moment to shift the weight he was carrying, arms starting to ache, but too proud to ask for help.
"Stuff that'd make your eyes cross and your pants tight if you think about it too much," she threatened, pausing with him. She didn't need him to mention that the weight was beginning to make him ache, reaching into the basket to relieve him of some of that burden. What she pulled out were several long, heavy rods, settling them comfortably on her shoulder. "We're almost there."
"Promise me your brother won't shoot me?" he asked, though he'd hardly done anything to provoke him just yet. Even though Yana had pulled a blaster on him just a short while ago, he'd known Yana would never pull the trigger.
"He won't shoot you," she promised him easily. "Can't promise BB won't jab you with a spark, but he's sneakier than Kalen is, and a lot more protective. Anyway, that's the kind of thing I can kiss better."
"In that case, it might be worth it," he winked again, though he wasn't just teasing. He liked her. She was cute and spunky and smart, and he got the feeling that the attraction was mutual. The question was was he willing to brave an over-protective big brother and an even more protective droid for just one kiss?
She winked back at him, pulling her gaze away as they approached the right building. Stabbing the code into the pad by the door, she gestured for him to go in ahead of her. "No one's gonna shoot you," she promised him again. "I just wanna look at your ass."
"If I'd known that, I'd have worn tighter pants," he quipped back. If it had been anyone else, he might have been a little cautious, maybe even a little suspicious, but Yana was one of the only people he could say without doubt that he trusted with his life.
"I've got a good imagination," she assured him with a low laugh, following him into the building accessway, and out onto the pad itself. There was Nemesis, looking exactly as they had left her. "Whaddya think? isn't she beautiful?"
Still hauling an armload of scavenged parts, he paused to take a look at the freighter. He wasn't sure he'd call her beautiful exactly - not like a woman was beautiful - but she had potential. "The landing gear needs work," he replied as he moved closer. "Gun turrets, too. She's a diamond in the rough, all right, but she needs a little work."
"I haven't had a chance to go over her completely yet," Mira confessed, impressed that he could see what needed doing on the outside. "I'm not so good with weaponry as I am with mechanics. BB does the electronics side of things. Come on board, I'll show you where you can put that. First thing I need to do is rig up a new hydraulic system for the cargo lift so next time you won't have to carry things quite so far."
"Maybe I could help," he suggested, as nonchalantly as he could but maybe a little too eagerly. "You know, if you want me to," he added quickly, not bothering to add that he'd also have to be paid or continue to receive room and board.
"Prove you know what you're doing, and maybe I'll hire you," she challenged him, conveniently forgetting that it was Kalen and Yana who had all the money. Chuckling, she headed up the ramp. "C'mon, you need to put all that down before your arms fall off."
"Yes, ma'am," he replied cheerily as he followed her up the ramp, unable to help from admiring the view, now that the tables were turned.
"I'm not a ma'am," she objected laughingly, though if she'd thought about this, she might have called out to her brother, wherever he was. The whistling greeting that was BB-D2 realizing she was back on board was easy to pick up, anyway. "Try again."
"Miss?" he guessed. "Mira," he corrected himself again, with an almost shy smile now that they were on her home turf.
"Mira! Is that you?" a distinctly male voice called from somewhere inside the ship. Well, who else would it be?
Gav almost audibly gulped, realizing he was about to encounter the "over-protective big brother".
"That's better," Mira smiled back at Gav, her head turning forward as she heard Kalen call out. "Yeah, it's me! I made a friend, and before you shoot him, just know that Yana will shoot you for it because he was her friend first!" She paused to let this sink in, looking down as BB-D2 came trundling into view. "That goes for you, too."
Kalen wasn't far behind, following just behind the little droid. Thankfully, he didn't have a blaster strapped to his thigh or his hand might have gone for for it, more out of habit than anything else. He looked from Mira to her companion, who, at first glance, seemed more boy than man. "Who are you?" Kalen asked, pointedly.
"This is Gav," Mira introduced them. "Gav, this is my brother, Kalen." She poked Kalen in the chest. "Complain at Yana, she offered him food and somewhere to sleep if he carried my stuff back here for me. This is all totally her fault." She glanced back at Gav. "Engine room's this way."
If Mira was observant, she might notice that Kalen's expression didn't look quite right - not angry exactly, but not himself either. His voice was a little raspier than usual, but it was easy to miss if one wasn't paying attention. "I will," Kalen replied, eyeing the boy and wondering what his connection was to Yana or his sister, for that matter. All things considered, he couldn't help but be a little wary.
"Pleased to meet you, sir," Gav greeted Kalen, though in his estimation, the man wasn't all that much older than he was.
Kalen grunted in reply. "We'll see," he said, making no promises one way or the other until he talked to Yana.
Mira lead the way past Kalen, along the curved corridor of the ship and into the port-side engine room, waving a hand toward the center of the space. "Anywhere there," she told Gav, crouching down to get eye-to-eye with BB-D2. "Be nice," she told the droid firmly. "He's Yana's friend, and I like him, too, so no being mean just because you can."
[But Friend-Mira, he was looking at your rear!]
She chuckled. "So? I was looking at his, too. He has a nice ass. Don't make me get descriptive, it'll burn out your innocent audio-circuits."
Whether Gav could understand Droid or not, he made no comment with regard to the conversation going on between Mira and her little droid, pretending not to notice as he settled the load he'd been carrying down in the middle of the room, like she'd asked. As soon as that was done, he let his gaze wander around the room, taking in his surroundings with a practiced eye before looking back at her and the droid. "So, that the droid I have to be so wary of?" he asked, gesturing with a hand toward BB.
She grinned over at him. "Yeah, this is BB-D2," she introduced the droid, who looked between them for a moment before whistling a hello of his own. "Beebs, this is Gav. Be nice." The droid wobbled its dome for a moment, and trundled over to inspect the haul of parts. Mira chuckled, rising to her feet. "So you're a mechanic, too, huh?" she asked Gav curiously.
"Nice to meet you, BB," he told the droid, as politely as he might greet a person. It couldn't hurt to make a good impression on the little droid, not to mention her brother. He shrugged his shoulders at her question. "More like a jack of all trades, I guess. Little of this, little of that. I can do most things, if I put my mind to it."
"How are you at building a hydraulic system from scratch?" she asked, eyeing him thoughtfully. Yes, he was cute, and yes, she was definitely interested in him, but she had work to do. Giving the ship a complete overhaul was not a task to be taken lightly. "The cargo lift in the starboard hold had one once, but it's all empty in there right now. Pretty useless to a cargo freighter, don'tcha think?"
"From scratch?" he echoed, pausing to think that over a moment. "What are you gonna be doing?" he asked, wondering if she was abandoning him to the work or if they were going to be working together. "Might take more than one day," he admitted, having only bargained for one meal and one night's stay.
"Working with you," she pointed out in amusement. "You really think you're so cute I'd trust you working on my ship all alone?" Her brow rose above a sardonic smile - Nemesis might not actually be hers, but she was the engineer. As far as she was concerned, the ship was her new best friend.
"You're the boss," he replied with a grin. "So, where do we start, boss?" It didn't seem to bother him that he was taking orders from a girl a handful of years younger than him. She was the mechanic; he was just the hired help.
Mira's grin widened. "Beebs, can you isolate the starboard cargo hold and reduce to emergency power?" she asked the droid, moving over to the collection of parts she'd had Gav tote here from the scrapyard. She started to sort them, removing the few from the basket that they wouldn't need. "We'll have to get this into the crawlspace - it'll be a tight fit, but we should have enough room to get the skeleton done in a couple of hours."
"Like I said, you're the boss," he repeated, still smiling. Who was he to complain when he was going to get a free meal and bed out of the deal? Not to mention being stuck in close quarters with a girl whom he couldn't help but feel attracted to.
"Well, c'mon then," she told him, hoisting a heavy armful of those parts into a loose sling she then lifted over her head. "You can carry those." She gestured to what was left in the basket with a grin, tilting her head as a flicker in the lights signified that BB had done what she'd asked. "Thanks, Beebs. C'mon, muscle man, flex for me and let's get down to it."
"You don't have to ask me twice," Gav replied, waggling his brows at her and grinning again, as he flexed a bicep for her before moving to gather up the rest of the parts and follow her into the crawlspace. Work before play.
And their descent into the crawlspace meant that Yana could make a beeline straight for Kalen when she got back to the ship. She found him in the cockpit, moving to tease her fingertips through his hair as she came to his side. "Met Gav, have you?" she asked, pretty sure that her old friend hadn't been thrown straight off the ship or mortally wounded. She doubted Mira would allow it.
"Yes, I've met Gav. He's with Mira in the engine room," he informed her. Oh, yes, he knew exactly where his sister was and who she was with. "She said you offered him room and board," he added, though it would seem the guy was doing more than just hauling parts.
"I did," Yana confirmed, dropping into the co-pilot's seat. "He's an old friend - we grew up together," she explained to Kalen, knowing he must be dying to ask. "Street rats stick together, even when one of them gets off the street. He's a good guy, Kay. I was actually going to ask you to consider hiring him as an escort for Mira when she inevitably goes back to the scrapyards."
"Were you two ever ..." he asked, trailing off without finishing that thought, though it seemed obvious enough what he was asking. It wasn't even any of his business really, unless it wasn't something that had been left in the past. Then again, he'd noticed the way Mira was eyeing the boy and the way she smiled every time he looked at her. He arched a brow at the suggestion that the boy escort Mira, unsure how he felt about that. On the one hand, he'd feel better if she wasn't alone, but then why did it have to be him? "I could escort her," he pointed out, though if they were going to work a job for Orsk, he was going to be busy preparing for that.
The unfinished thought was enough to earn him a bemused grimace from Yana. "No," she insisted, shaking her head. "Gav and me ... that never happened. We're just friends, Kay, have been since we were little. Hix didn't like him - that's probably why I stuck around him so much." She snorted at that, shaking her head. "And no, you can't escort her," she pointed out to him. "One, because you have a tendency to want to have at least one hand free for your blaster, and she'll want you to carry things; and two, because we're going to be busy prepping for the next trip, as and when we decide where we're going."
"You trust this guy?" Kalen asked, though it seemed she had already made that point clear. Who was he to question her judgment or choose her friends? She hadn't balked rescuing his sister or asking her to join them, so it was only fair he return the favor.
"I'd trust him with my life," she answered, not needing to think on it at all. She'd known Gav Rowan since she was six years old, since he was four, and they'd come through a lot growing up in the Spaceport together. They might not have seen one another for a couple of years, but some friendships were like that. They'd always be there, even if they didn't connect for years at a time.
"Mmm," he murmured in reply. There wasn't much he could say to that, though he wasn't sure he trusted the guy with his sister's virtue as much as Yana trusted him with her life. "He can have the room next to ours," he said. "But just for a few days."
Yana's smile was wide as he conceded, leaning over to kiss his cheek. "Thank you," she murmured fervently. It was good to be able to help Gav out, especially since it seemed as though his oft-hoped for plans of getting off-planet kept being shot down. "He'll work for bed and board, I know that. We worked out pretty early on that people will give you a place to sleep and a meal if you work hard for them and don't expect money."
"I must be getting soft in my old age," Kalen replied with just the hint of a smile, as she kissed his cheek. He had more questions than answers about this Gav guy, but he trusted Yana's judgment, at least for now. "So, what exactly does Orsk have in mind for us?" he asked. A couple of days in 'port, and he was already getting antsy.
Yana leaned back into her seat, drawing her knee up to her chest as an odd scraping sound from below them announced that Gav and Mira had made it halfway to the starboard crawlspace. "There's a run to Naboo he'd like us to take on," she said. "Basic cargo delivery when we arrive, likely to be something like fabric or de-humidifiers. He has a contact who needs a shipment of red sand removed and delivered for purification - not exactly illegal, but heavily regulated."
"And our cut?" he asked, coming straight to the point, which was profit, though he had started to wonder if they were doing this more for profit or adventure. His dream had always been to have his own ship, and it seemed he'd accomplished that now, even if he technically only owned one-third of it.
"35%," she told him - she'd been quite tough on Orsk when it had come to getting paid. "Comes to about 70,000 straight into our account, more than enough to pay the expense of the trip twice over." She rested her cheek on her hand, watching him with a faint smile. "What, did you think I'd forget that bit?"
"No, I trust you, Yana," he told her, doubting she'd ever forget a single detail. Technically speaking, that came to a little over eleven percent each. While he might have liked a bigger cut, he couldn't complain too much about the creds. It was more than they'd ever made before, and the job sounded simple enough. That was what worried him, though - he'd learned the hard way that things were never as simple as they seemed. He found himself weighing the profit against possible risks. "What about Mira?" he asked, knowing she'd balk at being left behind, even for a few days.
"I'd assume she's coming with us," Yana shrugged lightly. "It's her choice, of course. If she comes along, that's all well and good. If she chooses not to, we'll have to find her somewhere to lay up while we're out of 'port and ask Orsk to keep an eye on her." She considered Kalen for a long moment. "You know you'd be easier in your mind if we had a way of splitting our crew equally," she commented. "Whichever way she chooses, Mira will be on her own for a good chunk of time - either here, or on the ship while we deal with the business end. Maybe we should think about hiring on an extra pair of hands to even up the split."
"You said something about hiring Gav to keep an eye on her," Kalen mused aloud, though he wasn't sure he liked that idea. He'd seen the way the two of them had been eyeing each other, like a couple of hormonal teenagers on a date.
"Yeah, I did," she agreed with a faint smile. The look on Kalen's face told her enough about what he thought of that idea, but with any luck, he'd mellow toward her friend over the next few days. Gav was a good man, in her opinion, and provided Kalen didn't actually catch him balls deep in Mira, Yana couldn't see the two of them having that many issues with one another.
"And you trust him," Kalen said, as if needing confirmation, though she'd already said as much. He knew he should take Yana at her word, and he couldn't deny what she was saying made sense, not to mention the fact that he couldn't protect Mira forever, but it wasn't that easy. He had only just found her, after all, and he didn't want to chance losing her.
"I do," she confirmed, prepared to say it as many times as was necessary to get the idea through his mind. "There are only three people I trust absolutely in the twelve galaxies I've visited, and they are all here on this ship as we speak. And no, I'm not including the whistling ball."
One eyebrow flickered upwards, a little surprised to hear her say that. It wasn't just that she trusted Gav - a man he had only just met - but that she trusted him and Mira, too, though she hadn't known them very long. But then, he realized he felt the same. Despite everything, he trusted her with his life, and there weren't many people he could say that about. "I suppose we could use another crew member," he admitted reluctantly, though he hadn't yet agreed.
Yana's smile deepened as she reached over to stroke her fingers through his hair. "You've allowed that he can sleep here for a few days," she pointed out. "See how you feel about it after seeing him work and getting to know him a little." She tilted her head to look a little more closer, narrowing her eyes at the tension in his expression. "Hmm. Come with me." She rose, clasping his hand in hers. "Not taking no for an answer."
Her touch calmed him a little, even as that brow arched a little higher at her summons. It had been a trying day for him, though he'd said nothing of it. "Where are we going?" he asked, curiously. It was the middle of the day - too early for bed. He could hear muffled voices beneath them - Mira and Gav working on the engines - but he couldn't tell what they were saying.
"Somewhere you can talk out what's got you tied up in knots," she informed him. Not off the ship - just to their quarters. She tugged him after her, locking the door behind them. "Sit, and talk," she told him, and just from her tone, it was clear that she was not done not taking no for an answer.
He followed her to their quarters, as obediently as a child, though he wasn't sure he wanted to talk about what had upset him. Had, as in past tense. He didn't really think it was upsetting him anymore, though it seemed Yana thought differently. "I'm not sure I want to talk about it, Yana," he admitted, though he knew it would probably do him good, and she had already warned him that she wasn't taking no for an answer. Couldn't they just have sex instead? That would probably help.
"Not even a little?" she asked innocently. Ever since he'd got her to open up enough and admit that she cared about him, things had been a little different. And, of course, she knew he cared about her now. That had to be the reason she was coming at this sideways now. Her hands skimmed over his sides, stretching up on her toes to kiss him tenderly. "You're so tense," she murmured softly against his lips. "Talk to me."
He was still frowning, even as she kissed him, his hands moving to brush her hair back from her face. "You are so pretty. Have I ever told you that?" he asked in a meager attempt to change the subject. He knew she was trying to help, but he wasn't sure he wanted to burden her with his own troubles - especially troubles he could do nothing about.
"No, you haven't," she answered, her lips curving in a fond smile as the tip of her nose circled his. "Not sure that being pretty is enough to make you this tense, though. I'm still dressed." Her lips brushed his once again, hands smoothing to his back beneath his jacket.
He sighed, in part due to her touch and in part because he knew there was no fighting her. She was going to find out sooner or later, and with BB around, it was more likely to be sooner, rather than later. Even if Yana didn't understand him yet, Mira did. "BB used to belong to my parents. When Rhel came for me, he took BB, too." Of course, that was before Rhel had given BB over to Mira.
Encouraged that he'd begun to talk, she drew him down onto their bunk, curling close to him. Perhaps it would be easier for him to tell her this if he didn't feel as though he had to look her in the eye. "And you've been alone with BB for most of the day."
Kalen drew her hand into his, tracing her palm with calloused but surprisingly gentle fingertips. Her comment needed no answer, but after everything they had shared together, she deserved an explanation. "My mother left a message for me with BB. I never knew until today."
She frowned - just a faint expression, a sign that she could empathize a little with what he must be feeling. Though her own parental message had been anything but what she had wished for, she couldn't imagine the shock of finding a message meant for him in the droid he hadn't even thought he would ever see again. "What did she say?"
He shrugged, looking a little too much like the lost boy he had once been and not so much the hardened smuggler. "She said ..." He paused a moment, as if he was having keeping his emotions in check. "She said she loved me and to take care of Rhel and Mira for her." He darted a glance at Yana's face, having trouble hiding the confusion and raw emotion from his eyes. "Why would she say that, Yana?"
Her arms tightened about him as he glanced at her, nothing but tender concern in the eyes that caught his. "I don't know, Kay," she murmured softly. Rhel, she might have understood, but how had Kalen's mother known about Mira? That was confusing. "But that's what family doesn't it? Take care of each other?"
"No, Yana ..." he started, pulling away just far enough that he could meet her gaze. She wasn't understanding the implications of his mother's message or of what BB had told him. BB, it seemed, was the key to unraveling the entire mystery behind Kalen's and even Mira's background. "It is because she was Mira's mother, too. Don't you see?"
The confusion she felt at having him point it out made her frown a little. "How is that possible?" she asked softly. "I thought only Rhel connected you. How did Mira and your mother end up on a completely different planet? Was the woman with her even her real mother?"
"There's only one way to find out, isn't there?" he asked, knowing he was going to have to ask Mira at some point, but probably not today. While it was shocking to think he and Mira might share both the same mother and father, it was comforting, too.
"You need to talk to Mira about it," Yana warned him gently, but she knew it wouldn't be today. "Did your mother say anything else?" As she asked, her fingers slid between his, squeezing gently, wondering if there was anything she could possibly do to lessen this shock for him.
"Something about the bloodline," he admitted, though it had been so much of a shock, he hadn't absorbed it all. "I have to watch it again." Probably with Mira, so that she knew what he knew, though it might be awkward. "Rhel told me so little. Just that she sent me away to keep me safe."
Yana nestled closer to him. "Perhaps he didn't really know himself all the whys and wherefores," she suggested, though it didn't seem likely. "It sounds as though he was trying to protect you, in his own way. I know you don't feel very protected right now, but he was doing what he thought was right."
"What am I supposed to tell her?" he asked, feeling at a complete loss. It wasn't the end of the world, nor was it a bad thing that he and Mira were the product of the same parents, but it seemed to raise more questions than it answered. Why had they been kept separate? What was it they were being protected against? And why had it been such a big secret?
Yana was silent for a moment as she considered something he might not have realized. "You said BB showed you this message today," she said thoughtfully. "But you knew him when you were little. So it stands to reason that he was programmed not to give this message to you until you were old enough to understand it. What if there's more to the message? What if BB has a trigger that will release the whole message with you and Mira both there to listen to it?"
"Maybe. I don't know," Kalen replied. He couldn't really confirm or deny that, though it was certainly a possibility. "I couldn't remember what she looked like, Yana, and then there she was, telling me ..." He broke off, his voice cracking with emotion, though he refused to let her see him break down. She had enough of her own troubles without shouldering his.
"She loved you." It was patently obvious that Kalen's mother had loved him, and that Rhel had loved him too, in his own way. Yana's heart ached for his losses as she gathered him closer into her arms, brushing a soft kiss against his jaw. "Of course she loved you," she promised him. "Only a mother who loves that deeply could possibly go through all that just to keep her son safe."
For a long moment, Kalen had no words. He did not trust himself to speak for fear his voice would betray his grief, but it wasn't only grief he was feeling. There was confusion, too. There were things his mother had said in her message that made no sense to him; things that he still did not understand. He swallowed down the lump of tears that was stuck in his throat, drawing comfort from Yana's embrace, from her caring and compassion. It had been a very long time since he'd shed a tear over his mother, and he wondered if BB had done him a favor in showing him her message or if he'd only reopened wounds better left alone. He knew what Yana said was true, but that didn't make it any easier to bear.
After a long moment, Kalen pulled away, just far enough that he could see her face. His own face was a mask of grief and confusion. Was it any wonder he was angry all the time when so much had been taken from him? And yet, Yana had felt a similar loss in her own life and understood him better than anyone he'd ever met. "There's more, Yana," he started. "She said something about my blood. Our bloodline. Mine and Mira's."
She stroked his hair back off his face, considering him for a long moment. There was less tension in him now that he has released some of what he was holding inside, but it wasn't enough. Not yet. She knew what it was like to hold it all inside for far too long. "Does knowing what that bloodline is mean that anything is going to change?" she asked him carefully. "Will it change the way you see your sister? Or what you want to do with your life?"
"I am who I am, Yana. Nothing is going to change that, and nothing is going to change how I feel about you," he said, adding that last part, just in case she wasn't sure. But would that bloodline - whatever it was - change how she felt about him? No matter the truth of his parentage, he knew who he was.
"Then you're placing too much emphasis on it," she told him gently. It took a lot for Yana to open up and trust the way she trusted and cared for Kalen; a little revelation about his bloodline wasn't going to change that. "It may give you answers, when you know, about why your lives took the course they did. But if you are content with who you are, and where you are, then your bloodline has no bearing on it."
"You are right, of course," he said, absorbing her words and taking them to heart. Rhel had taken him away from Fest all those years ago for a reason. Whether his bloodline was that of a prince or a pauper mattered little. He was who he was, and he could be no one else. "BB has another message, but he will only share it with me if Mira is there." And Mira was currently in the engine room working and flirting with Gav.
"Then I'd say you need to find some kind of balance in yourself before broaching that with her," Yana told him firmly. "You'll never absorb what else your mother has to tell you if you're so agitated you can't think straight. And Mira might need you to be the calm one. She seems laid back, but she might not be so easy-going when it comes to your parents."
"I don't know if I can ..." He started, trailing off again before he could finish that thought. He'd never had to be strong for someone else before, but now that there was Yana and Mira to think of, he had no choice. He frowned, pushing that thought aside as another came to the fore. "I failed him, Yana. I failed Rhel. She wanted me to take care of him and Mira, and I failed. How could I know? Why didn't he tell me?" It angered and frustrated him that Rhel had never told him the truth, and yet, he knew the man had been trying to protect him and Mira, and he couldn't fault him for that.
"Kalen, listen to me." She sat back, taking his face between her hands, forcing him to hold her gaze as she met his eyes with serious honesty. "You didn't fail anyone," she told him fervently. "You did the best you could with what you knew. Rhel did the best he could; he did what he thought was the right thing. That's all anyone can ask. And as for your mother? She asked you to take care of your family, yes, but that was when she believed that you and Rhel and Mira would be all together. There will be other words in another message. But you didn't fail anyone."
"She was there with Mira on Ena'tar, and Rhel never took me to see her. Not even once. He left me behind with Orsk, while he went to see them. He told me he was working a job, and I would be safer staying behind. He lied. I never saw her again, Yana. Never. Not until today. Oh, I know he was doing it to keep me safe, but I would have given anything to see her again," he blurted, all the words coming out in a rush of confused anger and grief. "And what of the man I thought was my father? She says nothing of him. Did he know I wasn't really his son? Is that why I was sent away?"
The rush of his anger shouldn't have been a surprise to her. They had both experienced enough of each other's anger to know that while their tempers ran hot, they also burned out relatively quickly. "Kalen, you don't know," she reminded him, trying to be gentle in the face of his confusion. "You can't make assumptions. You don't know the circumstances, or the decisions they had to make. I know it's hard, and I would never try to take your anger away from you, but try not to hate them. If they cared so little for you, why did they bother trying to protect you both? These aren't the actions of unfeeling people, any of them - Rhel, your mother, even her husband. That galaxy was a confusing, frightening place when you were born. Who knows what they had to do?"
He drew a deep breath as he momentarily turned away, before murmuring almost too quietly, "I know." All the anger went out of him again - not forever, but for now. The anger was sometimes the only thing that kept him from breaking down, though the boy he'd once been had shed enough tears. "I don't know what I'm going to tell her," he said, repeating something he'd said just a few days ago, before they'd gone to rescue his sister from Faraxen.
"Tell her the truth," Yana told him. It was as simple as that. "Tell her that BB has a message for you both. Don't shut her out when you've heard it. That's all you can do, Kay. You can't predict her reaction, or even guess at what's in the message. You just have to face it."
"I wonder if it would be better not to know," he mused quietly, though he wanted to know the truth once and for all. "I'm sorry, Yana," he found himself apologizing again, feeling guilty for the mess his life had been and the way she'd been dragged into it. He knew she hadn't had an easy life either, and he didn't want to be selfish.
"Knowing the message is there and not listening to it would haunt you more than the truth contained inside it," she said with a wry touch to her expression. "Trust me. I spent seven years imagining what might be in a message, and it wasn't even for me. I'll never forgive him for that, but it's better to know for sure, than to be stuck hoping for something that never existed." She shook her head, drawing in a slow breath to calm her own emotions. Kalen didn't need her to go into her own problems here. "Don't apologize," she told him firmly. "I care about you. I want to know if you are struggling."
He reached for her hand, linking his fingers with hers, still feeling guilty for feeling this pain, when she had so much pain of her own. "I am sorry about Hix, Yana. So sorry," he told her, though they had been through this already. None of that had been his fault, and in the end, they were both orphans. "I want you to be there when we hear her message," he told her further, and on this, it was him who would not take no for an answer.
Her fingers entwined with his, she settled close to him once again. "Talk to Mira about that," she suggested gently. It wasn't a no, but the message BB carried wasn't for her - it was for the siblings she had accepted as the family she'd never really had. "And Hix was never your problem, never your fault. I built up too many hopes and dreams about a father who didn't even acknowledge me as his. I expected too much from him, and I hurt myself. I'll survive it."
"If we ever have children, we will make a better life for them," he found himself saying, surprising even himself. He'd never really mentioned children before, never considered he'd ever want to be a father, but now that he'd met Yana, he wanted to give her the family neither of them had ever had.
She blinked, stilling for just a moment where she curled against him. She'd not considered the future, whatever they had between them still too new to turn her mind beyond the next few weeks and months. But hearing him say that - hearing him express, if not a hope, then an inclination toward a family of their own - it turned a very secret part of her heart to goo. The faintest touch of a smile softened her lips as she relaxed against him, looking at their joined hands. "We'll give them a home," she promised softly.
"A home that isn't a freighter," he added with a smile, at long last. It wasn't just a hope or a dream - not anymore. If there was anyone he wanted to build a life with, it was Yana, and though neither of them had yet used the word "love", it was clear they were both well on their way toward feeling it.
"No, not a freighter," she laughed, twisting her head to look up at him. Her smile was warm. This was the smile he brought out in her, the smile only he got to see in all its glory - warm and soft and tender in its trust. "Feeling a little better?"
"How can I not feel better when you are here?" he asked, lifting a hand to brush his fingers against her cheek. He wasn't ready to say it yet, but the warmth in his eyes and the soft smile on his face was enough to convey his feelings without having to say it. "Thank you, Yana," he told her, before brushing a kiss against her lips, more behind those words than he was saying.
"I don't think you feel any better when I'm yelling at you," she pointed out with a flicker of a grin, that cheekiness swallowed by the kiss he touched to her lips. Her palm curled to his cheek, enjoying the scratch of his beard against the sensitive skin as she lingered in that kiss far longer than he might have intended her to. "Like I said, Kay ... together all the way."
He smirked a little at her remark, happy to linger in that kiss as long as she wanted. He turned his face into her hand to touch his lips to her palm. "You will hear no argument from me," he admitted, agreeably. Though there was no talk of marriage or vows, they had already promised to stay together, and that was more than either had ever expected or hoped for.
"Even if Mira decides she wants Gav as more than just a hunky assistant?" she teased him, knowing perfectly well that this was going to kill whatever mood they were setting together. There was a decidedly mischievous streak in Yana Triem, and Kalen seemed to bring it out in her.
"We will see," he told her, tapping her nose with a finger and probably surprising her with his lack of an answer either way. He knew he couldn't stop Mira from growing up, nor could he keep her safely locked away forever. All he could do was hope she made wise choices and be there if she needed him. It was a surprising point of view, even to him.
A point of view he might have reconsidered, if he could see his little sister right about now. In the tight confines of the crawlspace beneath the starboard cargo hold, Mira and Gav had been making good time getting the skeleton of the hydraulic system into place for the cargo lift. At this moment, Mira had one arm fully wrapped into the inner workings of the ship, bracing herself with the other against Gav's chest as he held two hydraulic rods in place on either side of her. Not exactly the romantic embrace she might have been hoping for, but they were working. She had to take what she could get. "Almost ... there ..."
It was an awkward position, to put it mildly, but he wasn't complaining. Not only was he getting a free meal and bed out of the deal, he got to spend time in a cramped space with a pretty girl who seemed as interested in scrap parts and as competent at mechanics as he was. "Take your time. I just have the rest of my life ahead of me," he teased, muscles bulging as he strained to hold the rods in place while she worked.
She laughed softly, concentrating on what she could feel at her fingertips. It was never easy, connecting up rods when you couldn't actually see what you were doing, but Mira was an old hand at this sort of thing. There was a crackle as she finally fumbled the connecting cords into place. "Okay, ease back," she said. "They should be taking the strain now."
He did as he was told, but there wasn't much room to ease back into and he found they were still too close for comfort. It might have been easier if she'd been another man - less distracting anyway - but a lot less fun, too.
She listened to the ship as he let the rods take the strain, a grin appearing on her face. "Whaddya know? It worked." It took a bit of wriggling, but she managed to get her arm free, twisting to face him triumphantly.
Turning to face him, she'd find him right there, standing a little too close for comfort and smiling in what looked like amusement. "I said it would, didn't I?" he asked, having had no doubt. "You're a pretty good mechanic ..." he told her, adding with a hint of mischief, "... for a girl."
"Excuse me?" She laughed in his face, rolling her eyes at the mischievous comment. "I'm an amazing mechanic, and being a girl doesn't come into it," she insisted, a grin playing about her lips. "And besides, if I wasn't a girl, you wouldn't be here, would you? You'd be all the way over there somewhere, trying to impress Yana, not me."
"Yana?" Gav echoed with a sputter of laughter. "Kissing Yana is like kissing my sister ... if I had a sister," he told her, which might lead her to believe he had kissed Yana at least once. "Besides, she's only got eyes for your brother." Oh, yes ... he'd noticed. It hadn't taken much effort to notice, and Mira had even confirmed for him.
Her grin widened at the way he reacted to her tease. "And how is it different?" she asked innocently. "Kissing your sister and kissing someone who isn't illegal for you to kiss?" Her brows rose, dark eyes offering up a silent challenge as she smiled sweetly up at him in the close confines of the crawlspace.
If that wasn't a challenge, he wasn't sure what was. "What do you say we find out?" he asked, as he leaned closer, towering over her. He bent his head and reached to tip her chin upwards to meet his gaze ... and if he was lucky, his lips.
"Didn't think I had to say anything," Mira murmured teasingly, arching her back to get just that little bit higher, wanting to meet him halfway. "I've been dropping hints the size of an asteroid here." She grinned, her breath warming his lips as her hands skimmed over his sides to curl her palms over his hips.
He leaned closer, his lips just barely an inch from hers when the sound of someone very pointedly clearing their throat was heard from behind him, and the spell was broken. The throat-clearing didn't sound like it had come from a woman, and Gav frowned, knowing her brother had caught them. "I can explain," he said, as he raised his hands and straightened as best he could in the small space.
Mira sighed, stilling where she was just long enough to make her point before letting Gav try to inch away from her. Her head turned toward Kalen, the look in her eyes promising that if he didn't have a good reason for this, they would be having words. "He doesn't have to explain," she pointed out. "We've done all we can down here today, anyway."
Despite all their defensiveness, Kalen had bigger things on his mind than that of a stolen kiss. He hardly looked at Gav, his attention focused on Mira. "We need to talk," he told her, offering no hints what that talk might be about, though from the look on his face it was unlikely to be about a simple kiss.
She blinked, surprised by what seemed to be an about turn. "O-kay," she said slowly. "Can we do it somewhere that isn't the crawlspace?" As she spoke, her hand gently brushed Gav's side - she wasn't letting him off the hook with that promised demonstration, but it was just going to have to wait.
"Look, if this is about me ..." Gav started, finally gaining Kalen's attention.
"It's not about you," Kalen assured him, though he wasn't too sure he liked the idea of his sister and Gav sneaking smooches in the engine's crawlspace. Mira had a point, though. This wasn't the best place to tell her what he needed to tell her. "Why don't you clean up and meet me in my quarters? And bring BB with you."
"Aye, aye, captain," she answered, but it wasn't entirely flippant. "I won't be more than a half hour." She watched her brother out of the crawlspace, turning her eyes back to Gav. "You so owe me a damned good kiss," she informed him impishly. "But duty calls, apparently."
"What was that all about?" Gav asked, once Kalen had departed. He'd expected the man to at least give him a warning, but he hadn't said anything except that he wanted a word with Mira - a word that was apparently not about him. He might have kissed her anyway, but the mood had passed with her brother's interruption. "I hope your brother gives me a chance to make it up to you," he told her, obviously a little annoyed with the interruption and maybe even worried that he had already overstayed his welcome, whatever Yana might have said.
"I don't know," Mira admitted. "He's a little hard to read, you know? But hey, he didn't shoot you or throw you out, so I guess it's safe to say that I'm the one who's gonna get told off." She flashed Gav a grin. "The 'fresher in your bunk is a bit temperamental," she warned him. "Give me twenty minutes to get washed off, and let the tank refill, and you shouldn't have any problems. I promise, I'll fix it tomorrow."
"I like you, Mira, but I don't wanna make any trouble for you with your brother," Gav admitted with a frown. While it was true he had only just met her, he couldn't deny the attraction and was hoping to get to know her better, but he didn't want to come between her and her brother.
She smiled up at him, awkwardly squeezing by in the cramped space. "Trust me," she promised. "You're not making trouble at all. I like you, too." And to be honest, if Kalen wanted to make trouble, he'd find out that the temper he knew so well in himself had also been passed on to his usually laid-back little sister.
"We'll talk later," he promised her, but not until after she'd cleaned up and talked to her brother. Whatever Kalen wanted, it seemed serious. Maybe it wasn't about him, after all.
"We'd better." She winked back at him, bending almost double to get out through the narrow passage to the access hatch, and up onto the deck itself. It was only about twenty minutes later that she was clean, calling BB to her as she headed for the bunk Kalen shared with Yana. She buzzed the door, shaking her damp hair back from her face.
"Come in!" Kalen's voice called from somewhere behind the door. Little did Mira know that he'd been pacing for the last twenty minutes or so while he awaited her arrival. It was either that or finish the bottle of that blasted Tiharr.
The door swept open to reveal his little sister in her more comfortable clothes, giving BB-D2 a gentle boost with one foot to get him over the lip of the doorway and into the bunk room. Mira looked concerned as she followed the droid. "This is all very formal, you know," she pointed out. "Am I gonna be court-martialed for flirting?"
"It's not about that," Kalen assured her again, in case she didn't believe him the first time. BB could probably deduce what this was about, but it seemed BB wasn't talking, which was a little odd for the little droid. "Make yourself comfortable," he told her, though there weren't many places to sit. The captain's quarters, though a little more spacious than the crew's cabins, were sparsely furnished, with only one bed that was hard to imagine both Kalen and Yana fitting themselves into.
Luckily for Kalen, Mira was a simple soul at heart. She found herself a comfortable place to sit on the floor, glancing between BB and Kalen. "What's this about?" she asked in confusion.
BB whistled for her attention. [Messages, friend-Mira. I have been programmed with a message for you and friend-Kalen.]
She blinked, looking up at her brother. "What message?"
"A message from our mother," Kalen told her, before BB had a chance to answer. He found himself wishing she'd chosen to sit on the bed, so that he could sit beside her, but maybe it was better this way. He wasn't sure yet what the message was exactly or how either of them was going to react to it.
"Our mother?" she queried, more curious than anything. "I thought ... Well, I guess I assumed ... BB?"
The little droid trundled closer to them, waiting for Kalen to sit down before he could activate his holo-projector. [Friend-Rhel and friend-Essia had two children - friend-Kalen, and friend-Mira.]
Kalen's mouth formed a tight line. He was obviously trying very hard to maintain his composure, if only for her sake. "I didn't know," he admitted, still standing as he looked over at his sister. "She had a message for me. BB shared it with me while you and Yana were at the 'yard." But he wasn't going to share that message, only the fact that they shared not only the same father, but the same mother, too.
She absorbed this, an odd sheen in her eyes as she came to the realization that Kalen really was her brother, not just the half-brother who got to travel with their father. She turned an accusing gaze onto BB-D2. "Why didn't you tell me?" she demanded.
The little droid made a sorrowful sound. [Programming did not allow for full disclosure, friend-Mira.]
"It's not his fault. I think she must have programmed him to wait until we were together," Kalen explained, at last dropping into a chair, though he didn't look any more relaxed there than he had when he'd been pacing the floor. "I'm not sure what's in the message, but I think it's probably an explanation."
"Well ... I guess we should hear it, then," Mira said quietly, her brows drawn together in a faint frown. She couldn't even begin to imagine what their long-dead mother must have wanted them to know so badly that she would program a message into BB years before they were ever likely to meet.
"Whenever you are ready, BB," Kalen said, unable to completely hide the tension in his voice. Whatever message their mother wanted to give them, whatever had happened, whatever explanation she had left for them, he knew she was already gone and there was no bringing her back.
With a soft whistle of agreement, BB extended his holo-projector, activating it. For a moment, there was nothing but a grainy blue blur, before the image of a woman formed. Their mother had been tall and, like them, dark haired and dark eyed; beautiful, in a haunted, exhausted sort of way. The image of her smiled.
"Mom?" Mira whispered, inching away from the projected image to bump her shoulder against Kalen's knee. He was real; their mother was not.
Oh, she was real, all right - or at least, had been when she'd recorded this message for them. Kalen got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, almost dreading what he was about to hear, but knowing he wouldn't be able to live with himself until he did. He felt Mira bump her shoulder against his knee, and he instinctively sank to the floor beside her, reaching for her hand. Whatever she was about to tell them, they were in this together.
"Kalen, Mira, mis peque?os ... if you are seeing this message, then the worst has happened, and neither I nor your father are able to be there with you. Fest was never a safe world in which to raise children. I was married young, for political expedience, in a world fractured by the Separatists, and further torn by civil and galactic war. My husband was a good man, but his political loyalties did not join my own for many years after our marriage - he placed himself in danger for the sake of our friendship. I met Rhel by chance, loved him, and bore him a son ... a boy my husband claimed for his own to protect my reputation among those who would surely have used my adultery against us. Rhel approved - he said he could not give a child all they would need. But when our enemies targeted my son, we had no choice. Rhel was the only one who could protect you, Kalen. Even with him, assassins came after you; your name was known in connection with my own. Even after we changed it, there was still the danger."
Mira's fingers fumbled to grip Kalen's hand, her heart tight in her chest as she watched the image of their mother speaking to them across parsecs and years from the grave. She'd forgotten how beautiful Essia was; how lovely, and how sad. But she'd never known any of this - never known that her mother had been married to someone who was not Rhel; never known that her brother's life had been in danger from when he was very small. Essia had never spoken about Fest to her when she was little, nor of this man she seemed to have held a special friendship with for his care of her and her son. Yet this did not seem to have anything to do with Mira herself, drawing confusion forth with her grief.
Kalen was mesmerized by the image of his mother for the second time that day. It had been too many years since he'd seen her face and heard her voice, and though he knew this was only a holo message she'd recorded long ago for her children to see once she was gone, he couldn't help but think how very real she seemed as she stood there before them. Everything he'd forgotten about her seemed to come flooding back, and though nothing she'd said so far had come as a great shock to him, he found himself unable to look away from her likeness.
"When my husband was killed, there was no protection left on Fest for me. If Rhel had not come for me, taken me off-world, I would have been killed in the same way. He took me to Ena'tar, and that is where you were born, Mira. If I had not been who I was, we would have joined your father and brother in the stars. But my blood, my rank, was enough to make enemies with a very long reach. So long as I remained off the grid, no more assassins came for my children. It broke my heart to keep you apart, but there was no choice we could see. To have us all aboard Rhel's ship would have painted a target on him not even a Stormtrooper could miss. That was the legacy of my bloodline, something I could not protect you from without keeping you separate."
"Assassins?" The word was barely more than a gasp from Mira, the only outward sign of her shock that anyone would send hired killers after the child her brother had been. And more than that ... that those assassins were so good at what they did, they were the reason she had not known her brother until barely a week ago. Who had their mother been, to invite so much violence into her personal affairs?
And there it was - something about his mother's bloodline again, but she had yet to explain what that meant. Who was she, then? Kalen tried to remember, but it was too long ago and he'd been too young to understand. All he could remember was her smile and the way she kissed him when she tucked him in at night. He didn't remember anything but a tearful good-bye as she'd placed him in Rhel's care and told him she'd love him always. As the memories flooded back, vague as they were, Kalen was having a hard time keeping his emotions in check.
"Kalen, Mira, mis peque?os ... you are the children of the last scion of House Ormlada, royalty on Fest before the wars came. What remains of the Empire would see you dead for my betrayal of my husband, who was one of their own in the beginning. The New Republic will never trust us after our involvement with the Separatists who gave rise to the Empire at all. Yet I know, if you are receiving this message, that danger has passed. They do not know of you; they need never know of your connection to me. You need never return to Fest, either of you, but I hope that knowing this will go some way toward explaining our actions."
The image of their mother looked down for a long moment, and it was clear that, even back then, she had been struggling to keep herself calm. Who could blame her, knowing that this message would only be seen in the event of her death? She raised her eyes once more. "I love you both with every fiber of my being. Be good to one another, and whatever you choose to do with your lives, be happy in your choices. I could not give you freedom in life; with my death, you have it. Live well, mis peque?os. May the Force be with you, always."
Somehow, as the message wound on to its conclusion, Mira had wrapped her arms about Kalen's shoulders, crying quietly against his neck as she listened to their mother's last farewell. Who cared if they were royalty? What the hell did that matter now? Their mother was gone; their father, too; and but for Kalen's timely meeting with Yana, the siblings might never have met at all. All that heartache might have been for nothing.
Moved not only by his mother's message but his sister's grief and the memories of a lost childhood that had bubbled up inside him, silent tears tracked their way down his cheeks - the first he'd shed in countless years. He'd had to harden his heart after Rhel's death in order to find the strength to survive against Trethin's treachery, but now it seemed the wall he'd built around his heart was slowly crumbling. Aware of his sister's quiet sobs, even as he watched his mother's image fade from view, he drew her into his embrace. They were all that was left of their family, and though it had taken years for them to find each other, Kalen was not going to lose her the way he'd lost Rhel or their mother. Like her, he didn't much care if they were royalty or not. What mattered was that they had found each other.
"It's all right, Mira," he told her quietly, as he held her close, gently rubbing her back in an attempt to comfort her. But really it wasn't. It wasn't all right at all.
Mira clung to him as he gathered her close, sniffling as she tried to produce some coherent thought. "She didn't have an accident, did she?" she whimpered quietly, the first thought that had come to her mind. Essia had been someone of consequence, a target just because of who she was. The woman who had gone through so much to keep her children safe wouldn't have crashed her speeder on a plain she knew so well.
"I don't know," Kalen replied, as honestly as he could. He really didn't know for sure, though he, too, had his suspicions. "But whatever happened to her, you are safe now, here with me and Yana. I promise you that." And yet, he couldn't keep watch over her forever. "I think that so long as no one knows who we are and we stay away from ..." From where or who? The Empire? The Republic? The Galaxy? He had no reason to go back there any longer, and neither did she. But oh, how he wanted revenge.
"I don't care about being safe." She shook her head, her breath hiccuping in her throat as she brought forth the one wish she'd had since she was six years old. "I want my mom." And just like that, whatever control she'd had over her tears was long gone, leaving her sobbing in her big brother's arms.
Whatever Kalen might have been feeling - anger, grief, sorrow - he pushed aside for the sake of his sister. He needed to be strong for her now, even if it felt like his heart had just been ripped to shreds. "I know," he told her quietly, and he meant it. It had been a long time since he'd had the luxury of thinking of her, but the little boy who'd been sent away was still buried somewhere inside him. "She loved you, Mira. So did Rhel, and so do I." There was that word - the one he'd avoided for so long.
Mira nodded, virtually in his lap by this point, hugging her arms around his waist. She'd never been held like this by their father - Rhel had always maintained a polite distance. She'd never let anyone else try it but their mother. But she had a brother now, and she let him comfort her without a second thought. "She loved you, too," she sniffled, drawing back at last to wipe her nose on her own wrist. "I miss her so much. If-if she hadn't had me, she could have been with you and Dad, and ..."
"No, Mira," he told, brushing the tears from her face with his fingers. His own tears had dried up, but there was no mistaking the pain in his eyes. "None of this is your fault. It is the fault of those who care only for power. Our parents' enemies. Those who sought to use them for their own means. That is who is to blame. Not you, not me, not our parents. Do you understand?" he asked, cupping her face in his hands as he searched her eyes.
She held his gaze, still a little weepy as he trapped her face between his hands to be certain she was listening. Slowly, she offered up a small nod, sniffing harshly. "Not gonna stop me feeling guilty, though," she told him. "Lil' bit." She glanced down, only now noticing the damp patch she had left on him. "M'sorry I cried all over you."
"Guilt and I are very good friends," he admitted with an almost ironic smile. It was more than he'd planned on saying, but there it was. "It's okay," he told her, that smile warming. "I won't melt." Not from tears, anyway. "BB?" he asked, all too aware that the droid was still there, quietly witnessing all of it. "Keep that holo in your files, but no one is to see it again but myself and Mira. Can you do that?" Not even Yana. There was no need. He'd tell her everything she needed to know.
The little droid beeped his answer in a muted tone, as though he was worried about disturbing the siblings too much. [Information stored, friend-Kalen, for access only by friend-Kalen and friend-Mira.]
Mira smiled a little half-heartedly at her droid's solicitation of their feelings. "It's okay, Beebs," she promised him gently. "We'll be okay."
If he changed his mind later - if for some reason, he wanted Yana to see it - then he'd ask BB to access it for him, but for now, he couldn't bear to watch it again. "We are never going back there, Mira," Kalen told her, even as much as his heart burned for vengence. "We will make a life for ourselves here." Wherever here was - on Rhy'Din, on the Nemesis - wherever they were together.
"I wanna go back to Ena'tar," she told him, her voice unhappily small as she ventured the only thing she'd asked for since they'd met. "I wanna say goodbye." She bit her lip, trying not to cry again at the thought of that final goodbye, one hand rubbing her nose awkwardly. "But I never want to see Fest. It can burn for all I care."
He felt her bitterness as much as he heard it in her voice. Fest, the place where he'd been born, and yet, he felt no attachment to it or fondness for it, except for the people he'd once loved there - not just a mother, but a man who he'd thought was his father, too. "No, we can never go to Fest, but I can take you to Ena'tar."
Mira swallowed, drawing in a deep breath as she leaned close, hugging her brother tightly. "Thank you," she whispered to him fervently. Not just for helping her as they absorbed their mother's last message, but for coming to get her in the first place. He could so easily have just left her where she was, to get on with his life without the burden of a little sister on his shoulders. He might never know how much she appreciated being part of a family again.
"But you are Mira Dain now," he told her, as if that was his only stipulation. He'd taken that name for himself after Rhel had been killed, and as much as he'd admired and even loved the man, it was too dangerous using that name again, especially if they were going to Ena'tar. "We'll need to get you some identification," he said, but that should prove easy enough to do on Rhy'Din.
"Have to let go of both of them," she agreed softly. She didn't quite understand why he wanted her name to change, but it made a twisted sort of sense in her distressed state. She couldn't cling to the heroes of her childhood any longer; they would only invite danger.
If she'd asked, he would have told her. It was in part because she was his sister, and as such, they should share their name; but it was mostly to keep her safe from anyone who might be looking for anyone connected to Rhel. "Yes," he replied, though he had three people to grieve, rather than two. He wasn't going to forget the man who had accepted him as a son in order to protect Kalen's mother. He deserved to be remembered just as much as the other two. "Let go but never forget."
Suddenly she pulled back from him, ashamed of how difficult she was finding it to keep herself from crying. All these years, and she had not cried for her mother once. And now, she couldn't stop the tears from coming. It didn't feel right, to parade her grief in front of Kalen when he must be suffering just as much. "I should ... I've got more work to do," she said abruptly, moving to stand.
He wasn't going to stop her if she wanted to go, if she needed to go, and yet, it was a strange feeling to know he wasn't alone in his grief and loneliness anymore. And somehow, helping her cope with the loss of their parents seemed to help ease his own pain, though he didn't understand how. He caught her hand as she moved to her feet. "Mira, I'm not going anywhere. I'm here if you need me," he told her, echoing nearly the same words he'd told Yana.
"But you need me not to be right here, right now," she said, avoiding his gaze as her fingers tapped against her own hip, her other hand caught in his. "If I'm here, you're not gonna feel it, and you need to feel it. You've got Yana to help you. It's not like I'm gonna run away, is it? I just ... I need not to be in the way of you letting go."
"I let go a long time ago, Mira," he told her, though he wasn't sure if that was true. He'd always assumed his parents were dead, even when no one had told him so. Maybe it was just a feeling, or maybe it was the fact that he knew he was never going to see them again. Rhel had made it clear there was no going back to Fest, and when a teenaged Kalen had insisted that was exactly what he was going to do, Rhel had finally admitted that there was nothing there to go back to. Even that had been a lie. If he'd known his mother was on Ena'tar, Kalen would have gone there, with or without Rhel's permission, but it was too late for that now, and now he knew why.
She shook her head, dark eyes that were so like his, so like their mother's, meeting his gaze with a piercing certainty that was only possible between siblings, no matter how short their acquaintance. "No, you didn't," she told him quietly. "And just now, you didn't let yourself try. Please don't make me the wedge between you and Mom again, Kalen. I can't lean on you if you're hiding behind me."
He frowned at her, but decided there was no point in arguing. He'd kept that wall around his heart for so long, he wasn't sure he wanted to let it drop. The fact was, he was afraid what might happen if he let himself feel it, and yet, he couldn't deny the tears he'd shed after all those years of feeling dead inside. Should he tell her of his fear, or let her think he was only being stubborn? "I'll be fine, Mira," he told her at last, feigning a smile.
Mira wasn't the one he needed to tell. "Don't do that," she told her brother sadly. "Smiles are too important to fake." She ducked out of the room, her tears already falling again as she accelerated toward the engine room and down into the crawlspace. Even if she did nothing down there, she'd be out of everyone's way and hard to find.
He exhaled a sigh as he watched her go before turning back to BB. It was just the two of them now, but for a long moment, there was nothing but silence between them. "Thank you for taking care of her all these years," Kalen told the little droid, not really caring if it was in his programming or not.
[Friend-Mira was all that was left of friend-Kalen,] the little droid said mournfully, tilting his dome as he looked up at Kalen. [She is correct. Your emotional response is not healthy, friend-Kalen.]
"What emotional response would you like me to have?" Kalen asked, with just a hint of defensiveness, but not much irritation. Should he cry like a baby? Get drunk? Get into a fight? What he really wanted to do was punch someone, but that wasn't going to solve anything. And crying was out of the question.
"How about a normal one, that doesn't involve pretending what you're feeling isn't important." BB-D2 spun about, apparently startled by the sight of Yana leaning in the doorway. She looked down at the droid. "I sent Gav out for food, Mira's down below. Keep an eye on her, BB, okay?"
The little droid whistled an affirmative, rolling past her to do as he was told.
The moment he was gone, Yana stepped fully into the room, letting the door lock behind her. She studied Kalen in silence for a long moment. "Take off your clothes."
"You think this is a good time for sex?" Kalen asked, brows arching upwards, though he wasn't going to deny her, if that's what she wanted. He didn't really understand how taking his clothes off was going to help him feel whatever it was everyone seemed to think he was supposed to be feeling.
Yana's hands came to rest on her hips as she held his gaze. Sex might well be on the cards, but she had something very specific in mind. She'd heard Mira's parting words to her brother; Yana could make a guess at what Kalen was doing. She'd seen him do it herself. The only way she could help was this ... by making him trust her enough to be vulnerable in her hands. "I wasn't asking, Kay," she told him quietly. "Take off your clothes."
"I know what you're doing," he told her, waggling a finger at her. "You think if I take off my clothes, I will feel vulnerable, yes?" he asked her, making no move to do any such thing or even get off the floor. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, he was just feeling too heartsick to do anything but sit there and feel sorry for himself. What he really wanted to do was get angry. Anger had always helped him cope before.
"No." She shook her head. "You've got more barriers than just your clothes. You need to accept that someone else cares about you, someone who doesn't want you to be hurting, or suffering. And I intend to show you. So take your damned clothes off and get in the damned 'fresher, Kalen Dain."
"That isn't my name," he told her, with narrowed eyes, feeling that anger welling up inside him again, even though he knew she was trying to show him how much she cared. "I don't even know what my name is any more. Do you know what she said, what she wanted to tell us? We are royalty, Yana. Dispossessed royalty. Can you believe that? So, who am I really? Prince Kalen of Fest? Kalen, Rhel Ardinn's son? Kalen Dain is a lie. I made him up when Rhel died."
"Bulls***," she said succinctly, pointing at the 'fresher. "Move your arse, Kay, or I'll move it for you." For once, Yana was managing to keep her temper in the face of his, but if he kept on denying her the only means she had to help him, she was going to snap something she wasn't sure either of them were ready to have in the open yet.
"How are you going to do that?" he asked, chuckling humorlessly, reminding him of something Mira had said and wiping the smile from his face. He sighed, knowing he was already beat. "What do you want from me, Yana?" he asked, in a voice that sounded almost defeated.
She sighed heavily. "I want you to let go," she told him, her voice quieter as he subsided. "Kalen, you don't have to carry the weight of the multiverse on your shoulders. How can you ever feel anything if you don't let yourself feel this?" She stepped closer, offering her hands to pull him off the floor. "Let me help you."
He hesitated for just a moment before reaching for her hands and letting her help him to his feet. "I'm not sure I want to feel it," he told her, in a hushed voice, almost as if he was afraid to admit it. He wanted to feel something - he had felt something, until he'd bottled it back up again so that his sister wouldn't notice.
Yana held his gaze, her eyes almost impossibly soft as she released his hands, easing her fingers beneath the hang of his jacket to slide it from his shoulders. "I need you to feel it, Kay," she whispered back to him as the cloth hit the floor. "It's impossible to love someone who doesn't remember how to feel."
"That's my favorite jacket," he remarked, though he made no move to pick it up or to stop her from taking his clothes off. He wasn't sure how this was going to end, but there didn't seem to be much fighting it. It was the word love, though, that gave him pause. Was she trying to tell him she loved him or that she could love him? And what if he couldn't do as she asked? Would she leave him, then? Abandon him the way his parents had abandoned him and his sister, whether by choice or necessity? "I don't know if I can, querida," he admitted with a frown, though he had come very close, just a short while ago.
"You can," she promised him. "I know you can. Just let me love you, Kay. Please." There was that word again. Perhaps it was too soon to be telling him how she felt in her heart, but he was the one who had opened her heart. She needed to do the same for him, if only he would let her. She dropped down onto her knees, fingers gently unbuckling the straps on his boots to guide each one off his feet.
It was humbling to have her kneeling in front of him and unbuckling his boots, but he didn't want that. He didn't want her to humble herself in front of him that way, but then it was something she said again that felt like a punch in the gut. "Love me?" he echoed. It was one thing to hear his sister say it. She was family, after all, and didn't have much choice in the matter, but he knew Yana wasn't talking about the love of family when she used the word. He reached for her hands to pull her to her feet. "Please, Yana. What do you mean?"
Drawn up onto her feet, she stood close to him, almost afraid to say it straight now that she knew he was paying close attention to every word that came out of her mouth. It was easier to love him without saying the words; the words made it real. And she was afraid of loving him when he was in no state to love her in return. How could he be, when he hadn't let go of the past that haunted him so terribly? Her fingers tightened in his grasp as she swallowed to wet her dry throat. "I love you."
She loved him? But which one of him was she in love with? The smuggler, the pilot, the partner, the man? He didn't see her in different roles, but only as a whole. She was Yana Triem, his partner, his friend, his woman, his lover. And yes, somewhere in the deepest recesses of his heart, he knew he loved her, too, even if he had trouble saying it. But why did she insist on loving him when he was so hard to love? He had been in love once before, a long time ago, but she had left him behind when he couldn't live up to her ideals, and in all honesty, it wasn't the tragedy of his parents' deaths that had closed up his heart so much as that one betrayal.
"Why, Yana? Why do you love me?" he asked, his voice quiet again, needing an answer. Was he really worthy of love?
A soft smile graced her lips briefly as she held his gaze. "That's a difficult question to answer," she warned him. "Loving you is a fact. In a lot of ways, it defies explanation. But I love you, Kay. Not the persona. Not the name. I love the man who persuaded me to trade up my ship with him. I love the man who gets incandescently angry over misfortunes from my past that I left behind years ago. I love the man who risked his life to help me get some closure." Her hand curled to his cheek. "I love the man who wants to be everything I need, everything his sister needs. I love you because you need someone to love you, Kay, and no one has ever needed me the way you do."
His brows rose, eyes widening a little in obvious shock at what she was telling him. It was one thing to hear someone say the words and another to hear them tell you why. It was almost unbelievable in a way. He hadn't heard those words from anyone in a very long time. Certainly not from Rhel - no, his father. And not from Riami - the girl who had spurned him. And today, he'd heard it three times - first from his mother, then from Mira, and finally from Yana. But it wasn't that that was making his eyes misty so much as the way Yana had pointed out that he needed her. Not that she needed him, though perhaps she did, but that she had somehow pushed past the barriers he'd so carefully put in place and seen how much he needed her. And what did one say to that? There was only one thing he could say, his voice thick with barely-repressed emotion, just there beneath the surface.
"I love you, too, Yana," he whispered, almost as if he was afraid to say the words out loud.
She drew him down to her - not for a kiss, but for something that was almost more intimate. Her brow touched his as she closed her eyes, the tip of her nose brushing against the side of his own as her free hand found its way to his back, holding him close. He loves me. A tender smile graced her lips as she leaned into him. "So stop shutting me out," she murmured softly. "I need you, Kay. All of you, not just the parts you think I can handle."
Drawn so close that he could almost drown in the scent that could only belong to Yana, he closed his eyes and let his other senses savor the moment. He didn't see the smile on her face so much as hear it in her words. He felt the tenderness of her touch, the warmth of her body so close to his, the pleading in her voice. It had been a long time since he'd been needed, a long time since he'd been loved. He drew a deep breath, his eyes slowly opening, as if to make sure she was real and not just a dream. He wasn't sure he could give her what she wanted all at once, but he could try. It had taken years to build the walls around his heart, but it seemed she was breaking through, one piece at a time. "I-I need you, too, Yana."
"Let me love you," she whispered, gently drawing back just far enough to slide his shirt upward. She had every intention of following through with her initial plan. He needed to understand that her love didn't come with conditions. She'd been denied someone to love all her life, even a parent. Kalen was the focus of all the love she had to give.
Let me love you. It seemed like such a simple request, and yet, he knew it was anything but simple. There was that lump in his throat again, his heart aching with longing and hope for something so long denied him. A little boy torn from his mother's side, never to see her again. A young man grieving the loss of a father who'd never been brave enough to tell him the truth. And now here he was, with a sister to care for and a woman who loved him, just when he'd given up altogether on love. It was more than his heart could handle all at once, and he found there wasn't much reason to fight his feelings any longer.
"Yana," he whispered, her name a prayer upon his lips, as he pulled her close, holding her tightly against him, as if he was afraid to let go. The tears came silently and almost unexpectedly. No wracking, messy, violent sobs. Just silent tears, as peaceful as a spring rain.
She was right there as he finally let the cracks open, her arms gentle around him, holding him against the storm he had to pass through if he wanted to find clear skies on the other side. Silent tears were just as painful, just as heart-wrenching, as the sobs that might otherwise wrack him if he had not held all of this inside for far too long already. Loving lips brushed against his shoulder, his neck, his cheek, whispering soft comfort filled with promises that she would always be there for him. And when he seemed to be calming, she drew him into the 'fresher, to wash away his tears and his tension beneath the stream of hot water. Loving him, the way she needed him to let her do from time to time.
It was a strange feeling, surrendering all the pain and guilt and heartache he'd carried around like a heavy weight for too many years. He knew it wasn't going to be easy and it wasn't going to all happen at once, but slowly, some of that pain was washed away, and when it was over, he felt a strange lightness in his heart that he couldn't remember ever feeling before. He had once promised Yana freedom, not realizing until now that it was really her who'd freed him, not the other way around. For the first time in his life, since he was a small boy, he knew what it was to be loved, and he loved in return. There was no greater gift than that.
"There now," she murmured as she wiped him dry, pressing a gentle kiss over his heart before raising her eyes to meet his gaze tenderly. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"
He wasn't quite sure how to answer that question, nor was it, he sensed, a question that needed answering really. She knew as well as he did how hard it had been for him to open up even a little, and how much trust he'd put in her to let her see that side of him. It wasn't so much a matter of difficulty, as it was of trust. He had taken a leap of faith in trusting her - the first leap of faith he'd taken in a long time. And there was that smile that rose to his lips so rarely - a smile that made his whole face light up like a sunny summer day. "What exactly are we talking about, Yana?" he teased, taking her question completely the wrong way, though he knew what she'd meant.
She narrowed her eyes playfully back at him, knowing perfectly well what he was doing. But there had been enough for now. A little silliness wasn't going to do any harm here. "You need details now?" she teased back. "And here I was thinking you knew all my buttons by this point."
"I think I could be content spending the rest of my life learning all about your ... buttons," he told her, a soft smile on his face, crinkling his eyes. There was just a little teasing there, mostly he was being serious. It wasn't exactly a marriage proposal. People like Kalen and Yana didn't need a piece of paper to make it legal and show the world proof of their devotion. BB had said it already. They were life-mates, whether they'd realized it already or not.
She laughed, drawing him down into a slow kiss. "You're back," she told him warmly. "It's good to see you again." Had he gone anywhere? Not physically, but the shocks of his mother's messages had sent him somewhere she couldn't follow. It was good to know that she could bring him back to her with a lot of stubbornness.
"I didn't know I'd left," he remarked, even chuckling a little. Here, insulated in their own little world where nothing could hurt them, it was easy to open up his heart to her and let her see the man he'd kept hidden away for so long.
Yana's smile was bright and warm as she discarded the towel, turning back to smooth her hands against his sides. "You're way too literal sometimes," she informed him fondly. "I guess I'm just going to have to learn to live with that."
"It must be the language barrier," he teased, as his hands found her hips and his lips found her neck. It might be a while before they joined Gav and Mira, but it would be time well spent. They might all be pieces of valuable scrap, but together, they'd scrub clean and fit themselves tightly into one unit that could weather anything.