El-Nay Darr had spent three
days within the bacta tank, recovering the wounds that
had been inflicted on her during her clash the Nerf
Herder. After examining her vitals the 2-1B medical
droid concluded that it was safe to remove her from tank
and began the process of flushing her. She could see
Tycho waiting on the outside and she had mixed emotions,
as she was not certain whether or not he was angry or
not. A moment later she raised upward to the top of the
tank and received that first sensation of cold air on
her bacta covered skin, which caused her to shiver. She
pulled the respirator from her mouth and began to cough
slightly, before bringing her hand up to her mouth to
wipe away the remaining bacta. "I need a cigarra..." she
complained, the first words from her mouth, as she
stumbled towards the bed that had been provided for her.
The droids began the process of drying her and providing
a simple robe for her to wear. So much pampering, she
thought to herself as she watched the droids fret over
her. A girl could get used to this.
Tycho watched in silence as
she was removed from the tank and dried off. He said
nothing about the cigarra, but he rose and walked over
to her bed to join her. "I got it," he told the droids,
shooing them away and taking the robe. He helped her
into it, tucking it closed around her. He stroked her
damp hair out of her face and kissed her. Then, he held
out the bottle of Moonbeam. "Think you feel up to a
sip?" He asked, thinking it might make her feel a little
better. His eyes were bloodshot, but they also had a
gentle, sad look to them.
El-Nay's eyes went wide at
how quickly the kiss came, as she had half expected him
to be angry with her. She looked at the bottle of
moonbeam for a moment before pushing it away from him.
"No. I shouldn't, Tycho," she said, still sounding a
little weak, as she lay there in the bed feeling quite
lethargic. Her muscles had weakened from not being used
and just stretching her legs was proving to be quite the
ordeal. "I handled myself much better sober," she said
to him, though her gray eyes still looked towards the
bottle. She wanted it to be certain, but she knew that
it was no longer in her best interest if she were to
continue down the warrior's path.
Tycho just nodded and took
another pull from the bottle. He placed it aside and
went back to her bedside. "I know you must feel weak
after being in there," he said. "I've had plenty of
experience in bacta tanks. I'm gonna help you out a
little." He moved down near the foot of the bed and took
her leg to begin bending it and flexing it. He
alternated between stretching it out and folding it at
the knee. "Push down against my hand as much as you
can." It was kind of like a bit of physical therapy.
"Marcus says that since you tracked him down and
captured him he's willing to let you turn him over."
El-Nay pressed her foot into
Tycho's palm as her leg was manipulated, which allowed
the circulation to return to lower extremities.
Gradually full sensation began to return to her body and
a healthy color flowed to her skin. She had scars, but
the bruises had been healed, and for the first time
since he saw she looked completely unharmed. "I wondered
when you were going to bring that up..." she said, as she
continued to move her legs with his help. "I did catch
him, you know. I had him bound and immobilized," she
said proudly, a warm smile coming upon her young face,
which had been spared in the attack. "I didn't account
for the droids," she said, shaking her head as she
remembers that part of it. "I had him though," she again
added, quickly, in the hope she had impressed Tycho
Tycho shook his head, but
gave her a small smile. "I know, El-Nay," he said. "He
told us. You had him." He did not mention that she had
failed to follow through and bring him in. He wasn't
that much of an asshole. The girl was green and she had
held her own, incapacitated the more experienced man,
and lived through it all. That was good enough in his
book. He started helping with the other leg and went on.
"You know, I very nearly lost you, El-Nay. I was so
"Been talking to him, huh?"
El-Nay asked, feeling somewhat awkward about the notion
of the only two men she had been intimate with having a
conversation. "You ... talk about anything else?" she
asked, following a pause, trying to be subtle about what
she was asking, but instead had been quite obvious. "I
am sorry, Tycho, but if I had not done it I would have
lost myself," she informed him, uncertain if he would
"I had a few choice words
with him," he informed her, then gave her a little
smile. "And a touch of violence was involved. Nothing
serious." He sat on her bedside and looked down at her
with a sigh. He looked tired, worried, and happy to see
her well all at the same time. "You hurt me a little
bit. Waking up to see you gone and fearing that..." Tycho
paused and sighed again. He touched El-Nay's cheek. "I
know, though, why you had to do it. It's okay. I'm just
glad you're alive. That's what matters."
"You wouldn't have let me
go," El-Nay said to him, as she rolled over in the bed
to turn her back to him. She was finding it quite
difficult to look him in the eye as she sensed she had
hurt him ... she had never done that before. "Why were you
so afraid?" she asked, turning to look over her
shoulder, more at the ceiling than at him. "You didn't
think I could do it ... did you..." she said, weakly,
feeling she already knew the answer.
Tycho sighed deeply, then
glanced away. He knew there was no way he could say
anything other than what she expected without it being a
lie. "I guess I didn't," he admitted. "I'm sorry I
didn't believe in you." He walked around the bed where
he could face her properly. "I'm sorry, El-Nay. I was
wrong. Still ... the fact I was afraid for you is a good
thing, right? It means I care about you. I didn't want
to see you hurt."
"At least you're honest,"
El-Nay said, feeling hurt by his views of her, but also
understanding that she had done little to this point to
inspire his confidence. "Fear is never a good thing,
Tycho. When you're afraid you're not yourself. You're
not your best," she continued, her hands nervously
fidgeting on the edge of the sheet that covered her.
"You have to stop worrying. You have to stop being
afraid. Or you're just going to make a mistake and get
yourself hurt," she tried to explain, looking up at him.
Tycho smiled a little grimly
and shook his head. "No," he corrected. "Fear isn't
necessarily a bad thing, if you use it. You can make it
work for you instead of letting it control you. But
you're right this time. I wasn't the one in control... the
fear and the anger were." He glanced away, then sighed.
"I suppose I had a right to feel that way. You ... well, I
don't know what I'd do if something happened to you." He
looked back to her, meeting her gaze for a moment before
his eyes dropped again. "I don't let people in, but I
did let you in, baby doll. I can't just close the door
"I must develop my skills
until the day the Mandalorians rise up to retake our
home. That will never happen if you worry about me or
try to protect me," El-Nay told him, as she was not
willing to let go of the newfound feelings of pride and
self reliance she had acquired during the fight. "Don't
hold me back, Tycho. Please..." she said, pleading with
him, nearly begging. "I can handle myself. I know I
can!" she said proudly, before sitting up in the bed, as
she was becoming more alert.
Tycho looked at her oddly
for a moment, then said, "Don't you think I know that?
You proved it. I don't want to hold you back. I wanted
you to learn to be stronger in the first place. I was
going to help you, but you proved you didn't need my
help. That doesn't mean I can't worry about you or help
you. I care about you... don't you care about me? Even a
little?" There was a certain appeal in his eyes, as if
he wasn't really sure she wanted to be with him anymore
at all. Did she simply not need him anymore?
"I do care about you, Tycho,"
El-Nay said to him, speaking honestly and from the
heart. There was no holding back or deception in her
voice. "But when we're in battle I will not fear for
you. I cannot and I ask that you not either," she said,
considering the words he had spoken. "I want to live my
life the way my ancestors did ... and I cannot allow
anything to come into conflict with that," she explained
to him, hoping that he would understand. She then looked
around the room, a look of some apprehension in her
eyes. "I do not see my beskar'gam. Did it survive?" she
asked, fearing that her armor may have been destroyed or
discarded in the aftermath of the fight.
"There is no room for fear
in battle," he said, quoting something her father had
once told him. "But I will have your back and you mine.
Always." He didn't need to ask ... he knew she would have
his back. "Your armor is fine. It's already been
repaired, but it'll need a new paint job. Will you keep
the same color?"
"There is no other color,
Tycho," El-Nay said, authoritatively, as she experienced
some relief from the knowledge that it had survived.
There was no way to replace it with the Empire
controlling beskar mining on Mandalore. "He's really
going to let me take him in?" she asked, finding it hard
to believe ... it did not make much sense to her. "I guess
that takes care of my problems..." she said slowly,
although she did not entirely feel comfortable at
bringing him in that way.
Tycho chuckled and shook his
head. "Yeah... I think he has a plan," he said. "And don't
jump down my throat about the color. I'm not trying to
get you to change... I just wondered if your victory meant
a different color to represent your change. You have
changed ... I can see it."
"I will always represent my
lust for life, Tycho. Always," El-Nay said to him
firmly, before swinging both of her legs over the side
of the bed. She closed her eyes, gripping the bed with
each of her palms, before exhaling a deep sigh. "I can
do this," she said, before letting her feet touch the
ground. A chill ran through her body as her naked feet
made contact with the cold floor. "I wish to get
dressed," she said, before trying to take a step
forward. She staggered, nearly falling at first, but put
her hands in front of herself to steady her walking.
Tycho simply nodded. "I
learn more about you every day," he said. She was still
young, unseasoned, but she had earned respect and a big
part of that was respecting her traditions. To do so, he
had to understand them, so he asked questions. Hopefully
she'd get used to it and understand. He stood back so
that she could stand and get moving, but he offered her
no help. He knew she didn't want his help. "There are
some clothes over there. A pity you've got to put them
on. It just means I'll have to take them off later, I
guess." He smirked and gave her a quick wink.
A flush of red came to her
skin at Tycho's flirtatious comment, which stopped her
dead in her tracks. "Is this what you thought about
while I was recovering?" she asked, before allowing the
robe to fall from her body and expose her naked backside
to her. It had been badly burned and torn apart by the
explosion and it took a lot of courage on her part to
let him see it. She reached through the clothes that the
medcenter had provided her and slowly, with some
awkwardness, began to clothe herself. "I want to get out
of here," she said, tiredly, breathing heavy, once she
was fully dressed.
A smile touched Tycho's
lips; he was clearly unbothered by her scars. He didn't
like to know she was harmed so badly, but she was in a
profession where it was unavoidable and she didn't need
to be babied. He wasn't about to lose any of his
attraction to her just because she was marked up,
though. "No, actually," he said. He'd been worried
enough about her that such things hadn't crossed his
mind. "You've got me thinking about it now, but I can
wait. Getting out of here sounds like a good idea." He
took out his comm and called Kerrie. "She's getting
dressed, then she'll be ready."
"Who are you talking to?"
El-Nay asked him, as she sat down in the chair to catch
her breath. She was perhaps moving a bit too quickly and
she needed to slow down and catch her breath. It was
only then that she took a moment to look around the
facility she was in. It had state of the art technology,
privacy, and was well staffed by modern droids. "How did
I even get here?" she asked, her fingers moving to trace
over some of the newer scars. She frowned, softly,
hoping that Tycho would not notice.
Tycho had seen all of her
scars, pretty much, so there was nothing left not to
notice. He knew she was self-conscious and would be even
more so now, but there was nothing to be self-conscious
about, in his mind. "Kerrie," he said. "You and Marcus
were both here when we arrived. He got out before you...
said he'd buy you a case of Corellian ale to try and
make up for everything..." He paused and chuckled. "He and
his people saved your life, actually."
"Kerrie is here?" El-Nay
asked, with a mix of excitement and apprehension. "Is
she mad?" she asked, after a pause, as she was unable to
predict how she might have reacted to her actions. "Wait
... what?" she asked in response to what he last said,
seeming genuinely confused. "He and his people ... saved
me ... after what I did?" she repeated, in order to ensure
that she had heard him clearly. She brought her hand up
to run through her dyed blonde hair as she tried to take
in everything that had happened.
"Of course she is," he said,
plainly, then turned and picked up the bottle. He took a
good pull from it, then came across the room to join
her. He rested a hand on her hip as he sidled up closer.
"They wanted to keep you alive for questioning, but
Kerrie demanded they turn you over to Imperial custody.
Besides, Marcus wouldn't stand for anything happening to
you. He actually feels really bad about it all. The guy
is a bastard, but I guess he's not an evil bastard."
"I'm an Imperial prisoner?!"
El-Nay asked, her voice nearly breaking as she spoke in
an astonished squeal. "I thought the whole point of this
was to keep me from becoming that," she said, her head
sinking down, as the palm of her hand came up to connect
with it. "He feels bad about it?" she asked, not lifting
her head, as she spoke. Clearly much had transpired
while she was recovering and she needed to be caught up.
Tycho tilted his head to the
side and gave her an odd look. "Of course you're not an
Imperial prisoner. This is Kerrie we're talking about.
She's using that as an excuse to get you out of here.
And I guess Marcus didn't realize he was gonna hurt your
feelings by being a playboy. He's an idiot and I told
him so. I told him a lot of what I thought of him. I
have to admit, though, he's trying to do the right thing
now, and he never wanted to see you hurt. I can't hate
the guy. Believe me, I tried."
"Should I hate him?" El-Nay
asked, finally raising her head to lock eyes with Tycho
again. The truth was she had no idea how to feel. She
had not had a chance to talk to him ... really talk ... in
the time they spent together. From the moment he met her
his sole focus had been getting her into bed, which
flattered her and caused her to submit. "I guess we have
to go back to Esseles, huh?" she finally asked, before
moving to stand back up onto her own two feet. "I'm not
looking forward to seeing that bitch again," she added,
her eyes moving to the bottle which he had repeatedly
taken drinks from ... she hungered for it, but she knew
well enough that she could not handle it.
Tycho shrugged. "I don't
know," he said. "You'll have to decide for yourself.
But, if you're going to turn him over... hell, just about
no matter what we do, we're still gonna have to go back
to Esseles. I'm not looking forward to it. I'm hoping we
can get it done and over with, then leave that shithole
and pursue a lucrative life elsewhere."
The door to the suite opened
revealing Kerrie Kiley carrying a crate that carried the
plates of Mandalorian iron that comprised El-Nay's
armor. "Everything go okay?" she asked Tycho, before
turning her attention to El-Nay. "I cleaned it up as
best as I could. I found a you a new environmental suit.
The repair to the jetpack ... well that's going to take
someone more skilled than me," she said, methodically,
as if she was reading a list of chores. She did her best
to show no emotion as she looked at the young woman, but
she did feel a sense of joy at the fact that she looked
no worse for wear. "You look well," she said, offering
the slightest trace of a smile on the lips she had so
carefully mimicked to match those of a human.
El-Nay was more excited to
see Kerrie than she was to see her. "So. I hear I'm your
prisoner?" she asked, before looking into the crate to
check on her armor. It was in need of painting and
touching up, but otherwise was blessedly intact. "That's
all right. I wasn't a very good pilot anyway," she said,
as she began the process of undressing out of the
hospital clothes so that she could begin to put on the
Tycho leaned back against
the wall, admiring the woman as she changed clothes. It
was then that he reflected on what he'd just thought:
Woman, not girl. Interesting. He would have to think on
that one. In comparison to him, she *was* a girl due to
her youth, but for some reason, girl didn't feel like
the right word anymore. He wanted to watch her, see how
he'd changed and see why, subconsciously, he felt that
change. He took another drink from the bottle and walked
over to join the ladies once she was done changing. "Me
and Kerrie here have been getting along swimmingly while
we were waiting for you to get out of the bath. Haven't
we?" He gave Kerrie a grin.
Kerrie rolled her eyes at
Tycho's statement and could smell the liquor on his
breath from across the room. "He has been remarkably
well behaved," she said to El-Nay, shifting her
attention from her to him. "I have spoken with Marcus
and he intends to still go through with it. Did you fill
her in?" she asked Tycho, as she noted the time on the
chronometer. She had done her best to control the
Alderaan Guard, but realized they hated the Empire and
considered an El-Nay a terrorist. Time was not on their
"Insofar as there is a plan,
yeah," he said, giving a shrug. "What Marcus does once
he gets there..." Tycho shrugged. "Well, hopefully he has
a plan for that, too. Did he tell you if he came up with
El-Nay had begun applying
the plates of colorful beskar to her body and slowly
transformed into a petite girl into an armored warrior
in front of their eyes. Once she had the armor on she
felt more herself, but rather than immediately place the
helmet upon her head, she tucked it under her arm. She
felt more confidence and the need to hide beneath the
helmet was now only a weak urge instead of a strong
impulse. "Is there anything we're overlooking?" she
asked, as she began to contort her body to loosen her
muscles that had been idle for the days in the tank. The
suit somehow felt heavier than before.
"I don't know. I just don't
know..." Kerrie muttered, shaking her head, as she looked
between the two. "If he has a plan he hasn't deemed fit
to fill me in. And, if I've overlooked something, well
it wouldn't be the first time I've blundered in regards
to Intel," she confessed, nodding her head to add
emphasis. "I was actually the one that recommended the
Nerf Herder to Major Traebor in the first place. I
didn't realize he was being hired to hunt his own
brother, nor did I realize all of the trouble it would
cause the lot of us," she complained, bitterly,
clenching her gloved hand into a fist.
"Ah," Tycho said, looking
incredibly enlightened, "well, good job there, Kerrie."
He flashed her a toothy grin. Tycho went over to pick up
his helmet, the only piece of his armor he wasn't
wearing. Then, he slung his rifle and made sure he had
all of his belongings. "What's our next step, then?"
"The next step is for El-Nay
to collect the bounty on the Nerf Herder resulting in a
collective groan from the entire bounty hunters guild,"
Kerrie informed them, joking slightly, as she moved to
slap her on the back. "Are we ready?" she asked, looking
over them carefully before proceeding. She had a feeling
in the back of her head that she was overlooking
something, but she could not even begin to guess at what
it might be.
"No," he said, shaking his
head. "No, that's entirely too simple. There's something
we're missing. If we rush into this, something's going
wrong." He paused and looked at them both. "I've got a
bad feeling about this."
The door to the suite opened
once again and this time entered Marcus Rodney wearing
the distinctive black armor that he wore when operating
as the Nerf Herder, complete with helmet. "How are we
doing?" he asked, as he entered the center of the room,
looking at each of them and feeling confident. "Good to
see you're enjoying my stock," he said to Tycho,
referring to his bar tab, before offering him a quick
pat on the back. He then moved towards El-Nay, standing
in front of her, and angling his head downwards to take
a good look at her. "Your prisoner, miss," he said with
a soft laugh, before pressing his wrists together and
offering them up to her. No tricks. No deceptions. He
had chosen his path.
"I figured you may never
need it again," Tycho said, sardonically. "But,
hopefully I'm wrong." He sighed and sealed the helmet
onto his head; so far, no one had seen his face but
Marcus, and the women, of course. "Listen, we need to be
the ones to set the meet for the handoff. Otherwise,
we're probably gonna walk right into a trap. I say 'we',
because it'll be you doing the handoff, El-Nay, while
Kerrie and I do overwatch. You any good at sniping,
El-Nay's eyes locked onto
the man for the first time without feeling any sense of
hurt, which was a first for her. "Keep your mouth shut,
scum," she said to Marcus, playfully, before moving
closer towards him. "Sorry. I've just always wanted to
say that to a prisoner," she snickered, before patting
him on the chest a couple of times. She then shifted her
attention to listen to Tycho and his plan.
Marcus was glad to see
El-Nay had lost her sense of humor in the struggle, but
he quickly turned when he heard Tycho begin to speak. "I
don't want to involve either of you any further," he
said, in a stern tone of his voice to make his point
clear. "They won't bother El-Nay. She's nothing to them.
No offense, darling," he said to her quickly,
remembering her temper. "They've got a hard-on for me.
What can I say? I've always been irresistible," he said,
before nudging El-Nay slightly, as a reminder of their
past encounter. He was quite the scoundrel.
Tycho's face darkened. He
didn't like seeing Marcus flirt with El-Nay, but it
wasn't that, actually. "We're already involved and it's
going to stay that way," he said. He unslung his rifle
and cradled it in his arms. "I've had enough of my plans
shot down. We're doing it my way, or I'm gonna shoot you
right here, right now, and dump the body at her feet.
"What a temper!" Marcus said
to both Kerrie and El-Nay, quite unimpressed by the
threat. "Yes. Go ahead. By all means. Shoot me dead
right here. Because denying Traebor and Previn the
chance to do to me what it is they've gone through all
this trouble to do is *really* going to end your
problems," he said, sarcastically, before turning his
attention back to El-Nay. During the flight to Esseles
he would have to ask her where she found this guy.
Kerrie, feeling as if she
was the only adult in the room, quickly interjected
herself between the two men so that nothing would get
out of hand. "No one is shooting anyone!" she insisted,
putting her hands out to make sure the two stayed a safe
distance apart. "Tycho and I will accompany you and
that's final," she insisted, glaring at each of them
with her blue eyes. "But you won't go shooting unless I
say so. And from this point on you stop drinking!" she
barked at him, raising a gloved finger to poke at the
breastplate of his armor.
"I'm well aware that you
think I'm stupid, Kerrie, and I really don't give a
shit," he said. He was glaring daggers at her from
behind the faceplate of his helmet. "I've been doing
this longer than you and I'm telling you right now, we
can expect to be fucked over. El-Nay, you're going to
set up the meet in a place of your choosing that will
provide Kerrie and I with positions to do overwatch.
Should the need arise, we'll be able to open fire from
hidden positions above. Understood?" He looked at all of
them, each in turn. He clearly would brook no argument
on this subject. Tycho had been following Kerrie and
Marcus' lead, but this was a deal breaker.
"I don't think you're
stupid, Tycho. I think you're in love," Kerrie revealed
to Tycho, feeling quite frustrated by the man's actions.
"And I don't think we're going to get fucked over, Tycho,"
she said to him, getting right in his face as she spoke.
"It's just that I happen to know he's going to get fucked over, but he doesn't care. So let's just do it,"
she sighed, finally turning away from him and moving
back towards the others.
"All this fuss over me?"
Marcus asked, trying to calm everyone's mood. "While
it's certainly appropriate ... and even expected ... that I
get this much attention it really is a bit much," he
informed them pointedly, as he began to move towards the
exit. "El-Nay, my dear, I don't want to tell you how
you're supposed to your job, but you'd better get on
with binding me and getting me aboard your ship," he
said, offering himself up to her once again as the model
Tycho was given pause by
Kerrie's comment. "You think I'm...what?" He said, his
voice sounding incredulous. He stared at her for a
moment, unsure as to how to respond to that. He glanced
at El-Nay, then back to Kerrie. "Forget it ... El-Nay, do
you know where you want to do the handoff, or should we
pick a place on the way?"
"Forget it? Why forget it?"
El-Nay asked Tycho hurriedly, looking rapidly between
Kerrie and Tycho after that exchange. "Is she right?"
she asked, ignoring everything to do with the mission
for the time being and instead choosing to focus on the
more personal matter. Underneath the armor she was still
very much a young woman.
"What?" Tycho asked, staring
at her. "I ... what does this have to do with anything?
Is now really the time to talk about our damn
relationship when you need to get this asshole to the
people who are threatening to have you killed?" He
actually sounded angry in his embarrassment and
discomfort. "And, besides, this isn't their business.
However I feel about you is between you and me. So you,"
he said, looking to Kerrie, "can keep your damn nose out
"Yes. It is the time, Tycho,"
El-Nay said, as she moved closer to him, shifting in
front of Marcus. "Once we leave we may never get another
chance to speak and I want to know if she's right!" she
insisted, allowing her helmet to fall so that she could
fold her arms in front of her chest. She had feared that
their feelings might get in the way of missions and she
needed to know if Kerrie's instincts were right.
Marcus moved closer towards
Kerrie with an amused look upon his face hidden beneath
his helmet. "This ought to be interesting," he said
quietly to her, before leaning back against the wall to
watch what was about to happen next. Best to get it all
out of the way before the mission he thought to himself.
Tycho stared at them all in
silence. Why did they insist on doing this shit to him?
Kerrie and Marcus ... especially Kerrie! ... had been
giving him shit since day one. He was sick of it and he
just wanted to get this over with. It was nobody's
business but his and El-Nay's and he wasn't ready. He
slung his rifle and slowly removed his helmet so that he
and El-Nay could look at each other properly. He stepped
closer to the little Mandalorian and leaned in to kiss
her softly. His lips lingered for just a moment, then he
stepped back. There was sadness in his eyes as he looked
at her. "Goodbye," he said quietly, then turned and
El-Nay savored the kiss,
feeling her heart flutter as she came into contact with
him. But when he said 'goodbye' it hurt her in a way
that she had never felt before and she nearly buckled.
She stood there for a moment and could feel the
sorrowful eyes of Kerrie and Marcus upon her. The tears
began to well in her eyes and all of the progress she
had made was beginning to erode. Quickly she grabbed
hold of her helmet and fumbled with it, awkwardly
placing it back upon her so they could not see ... but
they had seen. Under the helmet she began to sob
uncontrollably, the tears flowing like someone had
turned on a waterfall. She moved quickly towards the
door, hurrying down the corridor after the man. "Tycho!"
she yelled as loud as she could through the tears,
unable to accept that he was doing to her exactly what
he promised he would never do.
Tycho slammed the helmet
onto his head and bit down on his tongue so hard he drew
blood. His eyes burned like they were on fire and he
felt a hurt like he hadn't known since his mother had
died. He heard her call after him and he tried so very
hard to keep walking, but he couldn't. He stopped. A
droid was walking past and he slammed his fist into its
head so hard that it bent to the side. Sparks flew from
the neck joint and it collapsed onto its side. Fists
clenched, he turned toward El-Nay. "What?" He asked,
"What are you doing?" El-Nay
asked as she finally caught up with him, crying so hard
that she risked drowning within the confines of her
helmet. "Do you love me?" she asked, looking around her
and seeing no one else around. "We're alone. There's no
one else. Do you love me?" she asked, demanding to know,
despite the fact that she was being hurt beyond words.
It was worse than any torture that Intel or the Black
Sun could think of. "Don't leave. Please..." she pleaded,
not wanting to go through the hurt again. She had never
had a relationship like this before ... it would be her
Tycho stood in silence for
some time before lowering his head. He was a jumble of
confusing emotion and pain of all kinds. "Why are you
doing this to me, El-Nay?" He asked. "These people have
been pushing me and pushing me ... your friend, Kerrie.
And now she brings *this* up? She had *no right*!" He
turned away, but didn't move. His body heaved with a
sigh as he worked to bring himself under control. "I
didn't expect this from you. I would never do this to
you. I don't know what I feel and it's not fair to
pressure me like this. What have I done to you besides
wait by your fucking tank for days, worrying? Why isn't
what we have enough? Why can't we be allowed to see
where this goes and how we feel on our own time? Why do
you have to let someone else who doesn't belong in our
relationship pressure us into deciding now? What the
*hell*, El-Nay?" He turned to look at her, shaking his
El-Nay listened to
everything the man had to say before opening her mouth
to respond. "Tycho..." she said, only managing to speak
his name before being overcome beneath the helmet. Her
hand reached out for his chest, setting upon it gently
as she needed some physical contact to sustain herself.
"No one has ever loved me before. I just wanted to know.
In case I don't survive what comes next. I'm sorry," she
admitted to him, before slumping her helmeted head down
in utter dejection. She did not know what else to do or
say ... she simply lacked the experience.
Tycho hesitated, but reached
up and pulled off his helmet. He dropped it on the floor
beside them. His eyes looked a little watery, but that
could easily enough have been from the alcohol. Or... not.
He sighed, then pulled El-Nay into his strong embrace.
"I ... don't think I've ever loved anyone in my life," he
said. "My mother... but that's different. I don't really
know what it feels like. I don't see how it's fair to
force us to try to figure it out right now. Can you say
for sure you know how you feel? Can you say that you
El-Nay sighed happily in the
man's strong embrace, allowing her body to melt in his
arms as she went completely weak against him. "No. I
don't know either. I thought maybe she did. So I got
excited for a minute. I'm sorry..." she said, repeating
her apology, as she brought both of her arms up to wrap
around him. She held him as tight as she could, afraid
what might happen should she let go. "Are you going to
come to Esseles with us?" she asked softly, trembling
slightly, as she waited for his reply.
Tycho let out a shaky sigh
and held her to him. He closed his eyes and rested his
head lightly on hers. His relief was palpable. "Of
course I am," he said quietly. "I can't let anything
happen to you ... I just can't stand being backed into a
corner like that. I'm sorry I hurt you. Please ... let's
just figure this out together. We haven't even known
each other that long and we need to get to know each
other better and sort this out. It's nobody's business
but ours." He stroked her hair lightly, then moved in to
kiss her again. He could feel the wetness on her cheeks
and did what he could to wipe it away with his gloved
hand. "I'm not going anywhere. You just don't know what
it's like in my head. I wish I could show you ... it's
just so confusing and overwhelming and I really don't
need people shoving this on us whenever we're about to
risk so much. I promise we'll talk more when this is
"This is exactly what I was
worried about, Tycho," El-Nay said to him sadly, as she
relished in every tender moment they shared. "What
happens to me you can't control and if you try you're
just going to put yourself in danger..." she worried,
pleading with him now, as she looked up at him with her
steely gray eyes. "I need you to trust that I can take
care of myself. I need you to focus on what's in front
of you when we're out there instead of on me and what
I'm doing," she implored, her hands moving up and down
his back. "You're not going to be worried about Marcus
or Kerrie. Please don't worry about me," she went on,
dramatically rambling from the emotions that were
threatening to overcome her.
"I *do* trust you to take
care of yourself," he insisted, "but that doesn't mean
I'm not allowed to worry. That's part of caring about a
person and the only way I can stop worrying is if I stop
caring. Do you want that?" He sighed, a pained
expression on his face. "Just because I'm worried
doesn't mean I can't focus on the task. I know what I'm
doing and I know how to control myself if I need to. We
*will* get this done and come back from it. I'll watch
your back while you handle this, then we can figure out
the rest. Trust me, please."
"I just don't want you to
make a mistake because you listen to your heart and not
your brain. I don't want to feel like a burden when I'm
out there," El-Nay told him, turning her head and
resting the side of her face against the breastplate of
his armor. "You're not always going to be able to be
there for me, Tycho. You're not going to be able to be
there every second of every day. I will do my best and
if I should fall I will do as a warrior and bring honor
to my clan," she vowed, before turning her head up to
look at him with longing eyes. "We should get going.
They're probably back there talking about us," she said,
trying to lighten the heavy mood that had fallen upon
said. He respected her, but that wouldn't stop him from
wanting to protect her. He couldn't always be there,
though, like she said. She had to stand on her own two
feet, and shielding her wouldn't help that one bit. "No
doubt they are," he agreed, adding a sage nod. "They're
real gossip-mongers, I'll bet." He smiled down at her
and gave her a last kiss. Now, it was time to face their