"Why?" That wasn't the response most people hoped for when they confessed a growing attachment, but then, Kalen wasn't most people, and he'd experienced first hand how prickly this particular woman was. Yana couldn't see herself the way he saw her. And as much as she wanted him to say this and mean it, to want her the way she wanted him, as a presence in her life not just in her bed, it was going to take more than one confession to convince her he wasn't just being kind. "Of everyone in all the galaxies, why would you even consider me?"
"Because, Yana, you are not like anyone else I have ever met," he explained, finding it difficult to put his feelings into words. "I know you want your freedom, your independence, but I was hoping now that we are both free of Trethin, we might continue this partnership for our own sakes." He sighed, knowing that didn't come out quite the way he'd wanted it to, but hopefully she'd forgive him. "It has been a long time since I have cared about anyone the way I care about you."
She bristled a little as he implied that he knew her thoughts, but thankfully she had enough control not to say the first thing that came into her head. "I'm not a pilot," she pointed out. "I'm barely a mechanic. All I know how to be is a smuggler. And I have a terrible temper, I get jealous over the littlest things, I'll drive you completely insane. But ... but if you want to-to keep what's going on here happening, then ..." She sighed, closing her eyes as she rushed her way through what came next. "I like you too please don't leave me anywhere."
For a woman who claimed not to be a pilot, she'd managed her little fighter well enough, but he didn't bother to point that out, instead focusing on what else she seemed to be trying to tell him. It was almost as if she was trying to talk him out of it, and yet, there she was, blurting out something about liking him and asking him not to abandon her. "Is that what you think? That I'll leave you behind?"
She didn't dare open her eyes, knowing herself well enough to be pretty sure that if she actually looked at him, he wouldn't get an answer. "You've got family," she heard herself say with a certain amount of reluctance. "I'm used to being alone. Everyone leaves me behind eventually."
He wasn't sure why she wouldn't open her eye and look at him, unless she was afraid he might see something there she didn't want him to see. "Stop saying that, Yana. Why is it so hard to believe that I care for you? Yes, I have family. I have a sister I have never met and who probably knows nothing of my existence. I have a father who died without acknowledging me as his son and a mother who died after giving me away. What kind of family is that?" he asked, with just a hint of bitterness in his voice, though it was not directed toward her. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment. "You should see what your father had to say on that holo."
Her eyes snapped open at the bitter tone in his voice, wondering if he knew how lucky he was. He had a sister, he had family - the man who had raised him, whom he had loved like a father, actually was his father. "My mother left," she blurted out. "When I was a baby, she left me. I don't know where she went or if she's even still alive. My father ..." She sighed, looking down at her hands. How could she even begin to explain her relationship with her father? "The holo," she agreed with a faint nod. "Unless it fell out of your pocket."
He reached into that pocket, pulled out the holo, and handed it to her. "Why don't you see what he had to say while I get us something to eat?" he asked, thinking she'd probably prefer to watch that in private.
"Thank you." She smiled, unable to deny a thrill of excitement as the holo dropped into her palm. She would finally get the goodbye she'd been lacking for seven years, finally know what her father's last thoughts were. She'd built it up in her mind, all her hopes clinging to a message that might somehow excuse the years of neglect that had gone before. She knew there wouldn't be any words of love on there - Hix Triem wasn't like that - but maybe there was something just for her.
He moved to his feet to let her watch that holo in private, but before he left, he leaned close to touch a kiss to her brow, tenderly, almost protectively. Whatever it was he was thinking and feeling had very little to do with leaving her behind.
Her smile softened as he kissed her brow, her eyes following him out of the cockpit. He cared about her. Her. With that thought in her mind, she rose from her seat, moving to plug in the holo. A lump caught in her throat at the hologram that formed.
"Papa," she whispered to the familiar face, forcing herself to listen as he began to speak.
"Orsk, if you're seeing this, then I'm dead. Pandora is yours, all debts considered cancelled as per our agreement. Keep the girl out of trouble. The apartment on Rhy'Din is already sold ..."
It was a shock, to hear that the message was for Orsk, but Yana hadn't truly expected the whole thing to be for her. But as the message moved on, detailing accounts she'd never known about, planets she'd never heard of, people whose names she didn't recognize, her hopes began to sink. There was nothing there for her. No word of goodbye, not even an acknowledgement that she was his daughter. Just an instruction to Orsk to keep the girl out of trouble. Just the girl.
Thankfully, Kalen made good on his promise, busying himself in the ship's galley, while Yana watched what he assumed was a private and final message from her father. He gave her as much time as she needed, keeping to the galley until she was ready to join him, respecting her need for privacy. Whatever the message might be, she knew how to find him if she needed him.
It took her a long time to emerge from the cockpit, the holo in her hand. Her eyes were red-rimmed, her cheeks blotchy, betraying the tears she'd been so careful to keep absolutely silent. She set the holo down on the table with a dull thud. "It's for Orsk," was all she said, already turning away.
"For Orsk?" he echoed, setting down the sandwich he had just about finished. There was one for her, too, along with a cup of coffee. He'd made sure the galley was well-stocked before they'd left Rhy'Din, not without Orsk's help. It took a minute for him to realize what she was saying, noting the tell-tale signs of tears on her face. He'd never seen her cry before, not even a little, but the holo had clearly not been what she was hoping for. His expression darkened for a moment, those familiar feelings of anger and hatred washing over him, this time where her father was concerned. Or maybe it was Trethin who was to blame. Whichever the case, they had both clearly hurt her. "What did he say?"
She stilled as he echoed her, unable to just walk away when she knew he deserved some kind of explanation. She'd been so insistent on getting the holo. What a pointless hope that had been. Story of her life, really. "It's a message for Orsk," she told Kalen quietly, more subdued than she'd been since he'd known her. "Instructions on what to do with his ship, with his property. Who to give the proceeds from the sales to. Turns out Pandora was never meant for me, she should have gone straight to Orsk in the first place. And the money he made off selling her should have gone to people I've never heard of."
He felt deflated, almost like someone had just punched him in the gut, but he knew that was nothing compared to what she must be feeling. No wonder she felt so alone and worried so much that he'd abandon her, like everyone else had done before him. Well, he knew a little of what that felt like, though Rhel - no, his father - had never abandoned him, never turned his back on him, never walked away from him, like hers had. What was he supposed to say to all that? There wasn't anything he could say or do to take away her pain, but maybe he could give her a little hope for the future. He moved to his feet and closed the distance between them, surprised to find his heart aching for her and wishing there was some way he could take away a little of her pain. He reached to adjust the blanket he had wrapped around her shoulders, using it mostly as an excuse to touch her and be close to her.
"Well, you're not alone. Like it or not, you're stuck with me now, and Orsk has promised us a big enough percentage of Trethin's money that we don't have to worry about being indebted to anyone ever again." It wasn't exactly words of comfort, but his heart was in the right place.