Era of Rebellion - Navigation

D. Wade Hyde and Christopher Levy.
Zero years after the Battle of Yavin (35:9:3) in the Alderaan system: Delaya (Leiliani: Medcenter).
El-Nay Darr, Kerrie Kiley, Lord Marcus Rodney, and Tycho Starlight.

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 suitably.

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 furious."

"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 understand.

"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 now."

"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 environmental suit.

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 side.

"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 one yet?"

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, Kerrie?"

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. Got me?"

"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 prisoner.

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 of it."

"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 walked out.

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, quietly.

"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 first breakup.

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 head.

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 love me?"

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 over."

"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 them.

"Deal," Tycho 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 fate.

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