Mealtimes were still strange. The members of the Nevarro tribe would retreat to their private quarters. A small change was that Tulata followed Paz instead of her brother to share her meal with him, but Tern still stayed in his room. The younglings had chosen to enjoy her and her father's company instead of spending their time in their own compartment.

Lively conversations were going on and the lounge area was filled with their laughter. More than once she had to divert curious questions about where they had been and what they had been doing. She saw the glances her father sent her way and how he grinned when a particular question made her avoid it sheepishly.

But she knew how to get even with him. When the younglings had retreated, she helped him cleaning the kitchen area: "You've got an admirer."

She winked at him with a grin and a wiggle of her brows that caught his attention: "I know. Liom. He became my shadow." It was an almost happy sigh that his answer drew from him.

"Nope, not Liom." She cackled, he had been oblivious.

"No? Who then." He gazed back towards the lounge area, retracing the sitting order, mentally taking stock and eliminating unlikely options.

When he locked back at her, she knew that he was none the wiser and made it easy for him: "The lanky girl with blonde hair."

He was perplexed: "What? She's barely … hasn't even taken the creed. That's absurd, appalling even!"

She laughed as he worked himself up: "It's not my fault that you are an attractive man. And she is turning into a woman."

"… outrageous … still a child … should pick one her age …"

She chuckled on as he rummaged around, wrapped up in his incredulity: "Not like there is much to pick from."

"NARGH! Ne'johaa!" He had her laughing at the top of her voice.

"What do today's younglings think! Do I have to wear my helmet all the time now, just to keep her from ogling me!?" Her sides hurt from laughing. The raging fit that had her father gesticulate wildly was too comical to observe.

She was barely able to talk through her giggles and snorts, only sobering up slightly at the idea that slowly crept into her mind: "If you think that helps, … or … I could take her to the farm with me on one of my next trips there. But I'm not sure what her vode would think about that."

He was entertaining the same thoughts as she did, then he shook his head: "They are aruetii."

"Pity. The youngest is quite intrigued and might make a good verd."

After completing their task in silence, they sat in the lounge and discussed their trip to Jormark. It was when he suddenly went completely silent and didn't look at her that a suspicion rose in her: "What else is there?"

He was quiet in his admission that he could accept a hunt on Myrkr. He didn't know much about it, just that it was pest control and that he had to accept the contract to learn more about it.

She shifted on her seat. She knew the politics, but that didn't mean she had to like them. And something else made her want to decline the offer. But the way the Zabrak looked at her, told her that he not only wanted to do it, but that he had also caught up on her reluctance.

She wondered if he would take the job without her, but how would he get there. As he would need her as pilot anyway, she could also participate in that job. She just had to make sure to keep away from him what made her shy away from the planet: "Okay ... I'm in ... Inform … your contact."

"What is it?" She instantly froze and everything in her seemed to turn into ice. She hated how observant he was. All the years apart had not lessened the way he could read her.

"The place … the one that Denx had found … it was on Myrkr."

The silence that fell between them was heavy. She couldn't look at him, not the way he looked at her. If she wanted to be able to keep her composure without cracking her teeth with how she clenched them together, she had to avoid looking at him.

She tried to work her jaws loose and stared straight on. But her brain was only able to form this one word – Myrkr – and with it everything that it meant was displayed before her inner eye – the place he had found for them, his pyre.

Only when she didn't seem to get any air into her lungs, only when her scarf felt wet where it hugged her neck, only then she gave in to the soft pulling sensation against her shoulder, only then she started to curl against her buir and buried her head between his shoulder and neck.

"You remember what I said to you … I still think … in order to … give him a chance, to go on with him, … you have to leave behind your past. Denx wanted to settle on Myrkr, … make it the place were you give all of him the rest he deserves … he and the others."

Her vision was dull with the fast-paced hammering thuds that resonated in her head. Her violently shivering hand refused any control she tried to regain. – Through serenity you gain strength.

It hurt, it hurt to even imagine what her father had implied.

He is right. Through victory you gain harmony – She knew he was right. It unsettled her and her mind didn't grasp the drop of ease that started to settle much deeper down within her. When he went into the cockpit, she sat contemplating. When she rose, she still wasn't sure if she would be able to follow his plans through. Nevertheless, she followed her father.

He heard them talking about the jobs, his hands involuntarily twitched. His first duty was towards the tribe, but a hunt he could participate in would also help the tribe. He would have to talk to Paz about it. But it dimmed on him that what he had heard might not have him included, it was highly unlikely even. There was only one way to find out.

But he wanted to try and to be prepared. He started arranging not only his gear, but also the arguments he could use to convince Paz, her and her father. From the latter he expected less resistance than from her. His mouth twitched into a humourless smile at the slivers of protectiveness he had experienced from her. Not only she harboured this sentiment.

Quiet voices made it through the closed door into his quarters, a quiet murmur he couldn't decipher. Only when it had got completely quiet, he opened the door to find the lounge area empty, but he knew where to find them.

He made himself known, stepping heavier than normally, as he walked towards the cockpit. The holo was just flickering into life as both heads turned towards him. The Zabrak's attention was quickly averted again, engaged in the conversation. She was continuing to eye him with a questioning look which made him shuffle his feet to adjust his stance.

"Kryban. That was fast. How did your consulting go?"

His eyes flickered from the holo to the sitting Zabrak. The man knew his name, the men knew each other from the past.


The man's laughter was deep but halted abruptly. His gaze shifted from the Zabrak to his daughter and to him. The squint of the man's eyes told him that they could be vaguely made out on the other side of the holo: "Don't tell me that's …"

He tensed, the man in the holo had recognized him for what he was. The Kraybans were wearing their cloaks, but his armour was too identifiable.

"... We want the job." Dargak was quick to interrupt.

The way his contact's eyes had flickered over to him several times had him made him cringe.

"As always, no questions asked." The Zabrak was all business and sounded harder than he had ever heard him.

"Yeah, your choice who you run with. But she is …"

The cautious insinuation was too rich to be overheard and made him bare his teeth. What his mind stumbled over, was what the man had wanted to say about her.

"… Exactly. You said, it's pest-control, I got a hunter. End of story." The Zabrak was too quick to interrupt him.

"Okay, okay. I send you the information you need. By the way, there is no fob, so no need to show up here."

His mind tried to take in the information of the missing fob.

"Appreciated. Is there a time frame?" The Zabrak didn't even stumble over the missing of a fob.

"Not really, can you make it there within a week?"


The chuckle that came from the man was more relaxed: "You know, I really missed you and your curt answers. How long has it been …?"

He paid more attention. Without having to ask he could get more information about her family.

"… thirty years, if you don't count in the few times in between."

If he hadn't stood next to the man, he would have completely missed the drop of his voice.

"Yeah, there was a time when you stopped showing up completely and after that only scarcely."

He slowly did his calculation. If it was correct, then the Zabrak had worked with his contact before he had found his daughter. He had taken no jobs in the first time and later only to make the ends meet.

"Information received. Stay safe."

"You too, Kryban … and your company."

He heard the stressed word. Again, an insinuation, but what was the man referring to exactly?

He turned in his seat and watched both closely. The sudden appearance of Tharam Tern hadn't been taken into account. Although the holo had called for his attention it hadn't gone unnoticed how Vayra had tensed up.

Both still young enough to be hot-blooded and impulsive. He knew that his daughter could have the temper of a wounded Wampa, the hunter seemed to be more on the seething side when it came to anger management. When both clashed, he did only want to be a bystander.

And that was what he was right now. He would listen, watch and learn. He reclined in the pilot's seat, crossed his arms behind his neck and threw up his legs to rest them on the board before him. Her plans were spilled, how would she explain them, he was not going to help her out of this situation.

"What are you doing here?" – She was a coil ready to spring.

"Heard you, thought I'd have a look." – His guarded voice couldn't fool him.

"We were just fixing a job." – She was trying to avert a discussion, that was new to him.

"I just have to inform … the al'verde, but I'm all in." – He couldn't hide his enthusiasm.

"No, you are not. Have you seen how that guy had reacted to you? … You won't expose yourself and the tribe like that." – There was her protectiveness again.

"Have you seen how he reacted to you? … And. He wanted to say something about you.. not me." – He was trying the 'best defence is offence' – tactic.

"That is not important. I don't have a tribe to protect." – Her counter was grave.

"It is important, and I have to sustain a tribe." – A very valid argument. Was this already check?

"You found the gemstones." – No, the point went to her. Obviously, as the brave was quiet for some time, deciding his course of action.

"I … don't want … you to leave … without me. I want to spend all the time I can with you. Tulata said something wise: do not waste time. Being apart would be wasting time. Thus, I will come with you." He had started slowly, just to pick up pace and become more and more confident in his statement.

Check and mate. He knew that she knew by the way her mouth worked without any syllable passing her lips. Quietly he rose and bent to whisper in her ear: "He is right … and you know it."

To the warrior he nodded: "I will ask your al'verde.

He left and activated the closing mechanism of the door to the cockpit to give them some privacy. Finding the heavy infantry was easy, he just had to find the healer. That was what he thought, but they weren't on the ship, not in the med bay, not in their compartment. He went outside, no one was there either. He rounded the ship once, then he saw them all. They were coming back from their cave.

"Can we talk?" He had intercepted the other heavy man, who only grunted. He chuckled at the prod the healer gave him with her hips and at her words: "Play nice!"

He didn't totter about. He went right to the point and with his riduur next to his side the heavy infantry actually didn't have much to say to object the wishes of his beroya. Grudgingly the al'verde agreed. When everything had been transferred to the cave they would leave.

It was a spontaneous decision when he offered to ask Vayra to leave the speeder bike with the clan. His argumentation that three didn't fit on it anyway had made her agree in the end.

Before they left, they had seen to it that the remaining tribe members didn't lack anything. The healer had even made sure that the spaces in the cave had been assigned, that everyone had an area to retreat to. She proudly called them already the private chambers.

She had kept back, she didn't have any intentions of claiming anything for herself. But she hadn't taken Tulata into consideration. First, she argued with the healer about the rather large grotto that Tern's sister had picked for her, then she had given in and no longer wondered at the stubbornness that seemed to run in the family.

When the green-blue warrior entered he was completely unaware of what had gone on. She heard Tulata direct her brother to put his things in this very grotto she had just left. She went into a coughing fit. What did the woman think how far they had already progressed – she was definitely not going to discuss that at that moment, or at any.

She was thankful that he didn't seem to have any idea what his sister had arranged. When he placed the container with his belongings, she made a face at Tulata. She made sure the healer saw clearly the quick movement her finger made across her throat. They would have to talk about this match-making tendency she had. Then she turned and went to the ship.

She waited in the cockpit for the signal to leave the planet. Quietly she was tapping an impatient rhythm with her boot, it almost matched the beating of her heart. Her fingers thrummed in quick succession on the armrest.

It is not his fault – he doesn't know anything – it is sister's vile plan – he doesn't have anything to do with it.

The more she thought about the place she had to share, the more complicated things got in her mind. She tried to list up the things and adjustments that would have to be made in case they actually did stay there together.

Together – was there really a need for the two beds she had stored in her mental list?

Swallowing seemed to have become difficult as she remembered that they had shared one bed already, twice even. But it had been awkward, at least when waking up, so yes, definitely two beds. But it had also felt nice to feel his warm body next to hers, to be enwrapped in his arms, to feel his breaths and to hear the beat of his heart.

How would it feel to feel him even closer, intimately, in her? Remembering how his pulse had accelerated, how he had reacted to her, increased her pulse. She tried to breathe around the tight feeling that spread from her middle to her throat and to her abdomen.

"Everything is ready. We can leave now." The quiet droning of his voice reached her ears.

She froze and felt a heat creeping up her ears. She had been so in thought that she hadn't heard him approaching. Quickly she reached out to the controls engaging the engines.

"Where … where is Dargak?"

"Common area. He sent me here."

"Umm. Okay. Sit and fasten the belt."

His movements showed that he was used to it. Everything spoke of a proficiency which she had to admire. She wished for her helmet, which sat on the ground next to her, as she stole a glance along his folded legs. When he tilted his helmet at her, she knew that he had caught her.

She decided for a quick hyper-jump. Somehow thinking about spending a longer time next to him had her adjusting her position in her seat several times.

"You feeling okay?"

He was observant. Too observant for her taste: "Yeah. Why?"

He made an overall gesture at her: "Way you sit, you don't seem to find a comfortable position … Plus …"

She looked at him to make him continue: "… Plus … increased temperature and heartrate."

"What are you …? Have you got medscans in there? Are you using them on me?"

He unfolded his long legs and slipped to the front of the seat: "Couldn't be helped. It flared up."

She shook her head several times as she tried to understand: "Are you telling me you have synchronised …"

"Yes, yours and Dargak's. He did, too, and asked me to do it. Only yours is missing." He slowly reached for her helmet and turned it slowly in his hands.

Her gasp was breathless: "No."

She had worked alone for so long by now, she had got used to many things, missing only a few others. But there were also so many things didn't miss. Hearing other people's last moments in her HUD was one of them. She didn't want to experience this anymore. If the systems of their helmets were synchronised, she would … no, she couldn't.

His whole body reacted to her rejection, it asked for an explanation, it pleaded for acceptance. The leather of his gloves creaked as his grip tightened. His back had become rigid, he was sitting completely straight as his helmet's visor stared relentlessly at her.

"I can't. When I remember … their voices … it is these last moments … when they … I don't want to … to hear anyone dying … either of you."

He held out his hands and when she didn't react, he reached forward prying her right off the armrest she was clutching. With one hand he held hers, with the other she felt his thumb rubbing over the back of her hand. A wide circle, a circle that slowed gradually.

"It is a safety measure, so that it won't come to that." The low murmur of his voice engulfed her. It was mesmerizing and calming.

She found herself counting the circles he drew. Then it dawned on her. She quirked her brow at him: "Are you trying to slow and align my heartbeat?"

"Does it work?" He breathed out a smile.

"You have the scans working. Tell me."

He continued, watching her so intensely that she felt his eyes boring into hers. After some time, he slowly nodded and hummed contently. She didn't see his eyes widening for a second at the tiny hiccup her beat made when she heard the drone of his hum.

He had used the time to rest until they reached Jormark. Kalish was the only larger continent. A larger green speck, among countless smaller ones, in the vastness of a dark blue that the ocean provided. White crowns danced on the surface, long waves rolled onto the beach whose coordinates they had been given as a meeting point.

He pointed along the dark line of dried algae that marked the high-water level and she sat down the ship way beyond it. He noted how she turned the ship to make an easy and quick way out possible. He had already seen the lone figure approaching walking along the beach, approaching the ship with measured steps.

She had seen the man too: "No one else around." He didn't wonder that she took her routine measurements.

He left the cockpit just to hear her add: "Meet him outside." Of course, her protectiveness stretched to her ship, too. He clasped his cloak in the front and drew up his hood.

When the ramp had lowered, he took in the man that stood in a decent distance. He was well dressed, not overly, but nevertheless his clothing told his rank. As the spokesman and representative of the settlers on Kalish he was upholding a certain standard.

He was not tall, and somewhat sturdy around his middle. His blonde hair hid the grey in it well, but his blue eyes were lively. The tightly woven fabric of the drab shirt spoke of a thin thread. It made the material sturdy, still light enough to answer to the light wind that blew. It was tucked under a broad leather belt with he had fastened over trousers in a darker drab colour His attire was completed by knee-high boots which seemed to be water-repellent. His whole armament consisted of a simple small blaster on his hips. His hand was held afar from it.

Dargak waited at end of the ramp for the time of a slow breath, then he stepped over to the man. He saw the small movements of his head as the man took in his approaching figure. He remembered how this was done every time he neared a client. With a small nod he greeted the man.

"I … we ... ermm … you are the man I had contacted concerning our problem?"

Dargak's hidden smile was quick. These people didn't have many experiences in hiring mercenaries, it spoke for them.

"Positive. I took the contract. You said you have more information on our arrival."

"Yes, I'm Barneto, Toban Barneto. The major of Kalish, so to say."

"Well met, call me Zab." The man's face was an open book. His eyes constantly roamed towards his back, towards the lowered ramp of the ship.

"Well, umm Zab, when you and your men are ready, we can go and meet the council. Everything of importance will be spoken there."

"How many raiders do we talk about. We need to prepare for the meeting."

"Meeting? Ohh. I get it. We were not able to count more than maybe twenty or so. But there might be more." Toban's voice had become small and unsure. Maybe he feared that they wouldn't fulfil their contract.

"How far to where the council is?"

The sturdy man turned and pointed: "Round the bend and a few miles inland. About an hour's walk."

"How did you get here?"

"I walked, why?"

"Wait here." The shorter his replies got, the more insecure the man became, until he was basically dancing on the spot the way he constantly shifted his weight from one leg to the other.

He didn't wait for any answer but turned and walked back into the ship.

"Twenty, thirty plus raiders, so far everything else unknown. Meeting point with council some miles inland, guess that is where their village is. Taking the shuttle?"

"Load everything we need into it. Will he walk ahead?" She started to heave a crate towards the entrance of the shuttle. Tharam was already up accepting the loads.

"Can we take him with us?"

She halted for a second then she shortly nodded: "Will pick him up on the beach."

"Good. Will be waiting there with him. He's getting a bit nervous." He was about to leave the ship again when he turned and said loudly enough for both of them: "Zab is the name I go by here." He left accompanied by a modulated chuckle and a set of green eyes rolling dramatically.

He went back to the waiting man: "Let's back off a bit." Taking him by his arm made the man tense but he was willingly turned and led away.

"What else can you tell me about those raiders?"

"They hide their faces, we don't know who they are."

The shuttle roared to live and with his hand on the man's arm he guided him on, keeping him from turning around.

"What are they after?"

"Supplies. Until now, but last time they …"

"Children or women?" He had perfectly understood. As long as it was about things that could be replaced the people of Kalish had put up with the raiders.

The man spat out: "Women." His eyes were wide when the A'den landed on the beach in front of them.

"Quicker that way." He ushered the man through the open ram and between the crates that had been loaded onto the shuttle. When he had pressed him down onto one of the seats he pointed at the belt: "Buckle up."

He found a leverage as he kept standing in front of the seated man, only swaying slightly as the shuttle lifted and made its way towards the settlement. He lowered his head even more as he caught the man staring up, trying to see behind his hood. He wanted to keep his charade up as long as possible.

When they landed outside the village and Vayra and Tharam left the cockpit the man stared: "A Mandalorian?!"

"Any problem with it?" Tharam had spoken before he could say anything.

"Oh errmm no. Not at all! It is more than we could have hoped for!" The astonishment was replaced by something that could be read as relief.

His daughter's voice came guarded, even with the modulator easing the edges: "Care to enlighten us?"

"Some of the council feared that calling for mercenaries would enlarge our predicament. But now that they will see that there is a Mandalorian working for you they might be more relaxed."

She was not yet convinced: "How so?"

"Once, before the Empire … there were some who came regularly and there were never problems, quite to the contrary. So we only have the best experiences with ... errmm I hope that expands to your tribe, too."

Tharam kept totally silent, he had reduced himself to a looming presence in the back. Dargak knew that he was busy thinking over the information he had just received. Mandalorians here on Jormark, but Barneto had spoken about the past.

Then Tharam's voice pressed violently through the vocoder: "Where are they now?"

"I'm sorry, we don't know. They just … vanished. Never came again." He produced as sad smile which was totally wiped off his face. His mouth turned into a wide O before he barely breathed: "Two Mandalorians."

The man stared in what he considered a stunned awe as his daughter peeled back her hood to reveal her pearl black helmet. His smile became wistful as he remembered two Mandalorians in black armour, one shining and one pearl, who had had this effect on the people they had come across.

He would give Toban Barneto time to recover, before he would show his helmeted face. A horned helmet might be a bit too much for the man who already seemed to have troubles proceeding and finding back into a relaxed state at the sight of the two Mandalorians in front of him.

And they got more stares. He didn't have to turn around to see the reactions their arrival caused. His tall cloaked and hooded form walking next to Kalish's major started it off and the two armour-clad figures walking behind him had the people gather, point and whisper excitedly.

It somehow was a warm feeling that rushed through him at what he recalled being the only warm welcome he or probably any Mandalorian had ever received. It was not only because the situation of the people of this village was desperate and they were seen as their saviours, but their experiences had been positive. Shortly he mused about the current location of the tribe. If Garos didn't work out, they could try to settle here.

The village was barely a village, it was a small town. The peaceful sight which it made from afar was quickly done away with when they walked past the first houses. Some were barricaded, others were broken into, the doors hanging ajar, and windows burst. A large storage had a still smouldering hole in its side.

As more and more people gathered, he saw many sporting bandages, wrapped arms, legs or heads. He quietly wondered how many were more seriously injured and how many hadn't survived the attacks.

The crowd which had whispered animatedly hushed as they were led into a large building. A quick glance backwards told him that they would be waiting outside. the corridor they were led through was not long and ended in a wide room. A row of seats arranged in a semi-circle stood to the far end. Each one was occupied by a member of the town, by a member of the council.

By their clothing he could see that all classes of their society had a representative present in the council. The age range was wide. He noted a young woman, barely in her early twenties as well as a middle-aged and an aged woman who had seen at least eighty turns of the seasons. With the men it was the same, every age group was present.

They were all humanoid, but not all human. The blue skin of a Chiss stood out prominently, as well as the pale green of a Mirialan, both were women. Then his eyes caught a red face with a head adorned with horns. He froze in midstride.

Hadn't it been for Tharam and Vayra to halt their steps equally fast more than just the tattooed member of the council would have changed their gazes to curious looks. Thus, it went by almost unnoticed.

He heard her voice in his earpiece, somehow Tharam must have managed to convince her to have the systems aligned: "What?"

He slowly nodded at the council in what could be considered a greeting. Slowly enough for Tharam and Vayra to copy his movement before he continued to step closer to the council. His eyes were fixed on the red face with its black tattoos. His gaze roamed over the sitting person until he saw the slight differences, a Dathomirian. The quick contact Vayra made with his arm told him that she had finally understood his reaction.

"The council of Kalish welcomes you." The old woman had come to a stand with the help of a knobby staff.

"You want us to help." Neither Vayra nor Tharam had made a move to initiate the conversation. It was clear that he would be the spokesman for them.

"That we do. It is an honour for us to see two Mandalorians in your team."

He decided that the time was right: "Three." He flapped back his hood and revealed himself. The members council were not unprepared after he had announced their numbers. He was another Mandalorian. But the small wave of stir that went through them concentrated on one of their own, the Dathomirian.

He watched the paler man closely as he came to a stand and slowly walked down to him. He couldn't know who or what he was, only the horns unconcealed by the helmet gave him an indication. When the council member stretched out his hand in a greeting, he clasped his underarm.

"It is an honour. May I ask …" The question lingered and he gave it a quick thought.

There was no use or need to hide the obvious or the leave the man in the dark: "Iridonia."

The old woman spoke up again: "Since we are honoured by three of the best warriors of the galaxy, let us explain the whole situation."

And that she did. She and the whole council. Where their knowledge was limited witnesses were called.

When the first raid had taken place, it was only a few men who had taken only some supplies. The time to the next raid was spread so wide that the Kalishians hadn't seen any link. But then the raids had become more frequent, more and more had been taken in searches within the town that took the raiders longer than just to get in, take what they needed and get out again.

And the last raid had been the worst. They didn't just sweep in to steal, but they lay waste to more than necessary and for the first time the raiders were not content with the supplies, but abducted several young women, too.

A small boy's testimony gave then a clue Dargak knew they should follow. The boy had been curious and brave and more than lucky. His size had been to his advantage to go unnoticed as he followed the raiders. Not far, but far enough to give him a lead where to start.

"Why did you take such a risk?" So far Vayra had kept quiet. But when the small boy had been asked to the council, she had watched him very closely. At the first sign of discomfort she had squatted down next to him, her gaze through the visor solely directed towards the boy.

"They took Rika." The small boy was beyond self-control and started to cry loudly.

"His older sister," the Dathomirian helped out.

"We will bring them back, Rita and the others." Vayra rose again and went to stand next to him.

"We will follow the lead and keep you informed." He gave a short nod with his head, indicating that he had finished.

"You have to be our guests for the time of your stay on Jormark. I take it you would like some privacy. We will prepare one of the houses to accommodate you."

"Thank you, anything at the outskirts will do."

"Sivavi, will you please show them to your place." The old woman had turned to the Mirialani who rose, bowed and waved them to follow her.

He had heard only bits of the conversation between the man from Jormark and Dargak, his main point of interest was convincing the woman next to him to have their systems interlaced. It had taken all of the arguments he could possibly come up with.

In the end, he didn't know what did the trick, she had given in and he quickly did the adjustments he had to do before she changed her mind again.

When he left the cockpit, he came eye to visor with the man who had hired them.

"A Mandalorian," was everything the man was able to blurt out

And he was quick with his assessment. Too often he had felt the resentment and even hate: "Any problem with it?"

Vayra kept to his side and she sounded as disbelieving as he felt at the man's statement. Yet somehow the relief and even reference seemed genuine when the man explained himself.

The sudden droning sound in his ears seemed to rise to a deafening intensity – other Mandalorians – they were not alone, there were more. His heart galloped in a surge of hope. And he needed to know where they are. But the answer was devastating – vanished – they were gone. Again, there were no more of them.

When Vayra flipped her hood back he suppressed his chuckle at the man's reaction. A warm sensation of pride filled him at how she was looked upon. More intense was the warmth at the idea that she could be his if she allowed it.

He walked straighter, with more purpose in his stride as he followed their leader into the small town. He made sure to keep her pace, as he unintentionally walked in step with her. Beneath the security of his helmet his eyes danced from one face to the next. Not a single one showed aversion, every single one held an excited, impressed but hopeful, even friendly expression.

It felt good, he could get used to being looked upon to like that. He remembered what Dargak had once talked about – setting up beacons to call out for their own. Jormark might be a good place to start with.

The destruction was to be seen almost everywhere. Especially at the outskirts of the small town. The closer they got to the centre the less damage he saw. The raiders didn't risk getting caught up in the middle, a quick dash to the rims and then they retreated again. He was sure that the Krybans took stock of this too.

The council consisted of a dozen people. When they had come to a sudden halt, he clasped his hands at his back and stood tall, a statue of Dura-allyo and Beskar, a colourful sculpture between two black Beskar armours. The old woman who spoke for the town stood out, not only due to her age, her eyes squinted amusedly as she gazed at him.

Out from the corner of his eye he saw Dargak nod before he stepped closer. He did likewise.

"The council of Kalish welcomes you." The old woman who addressed them let her gaze roam over the three of them but came to a rest on him. Again, he clasped his hands behind his back, pulling back his shoulders, standing as still as possible.

When it had come to negotiations, he had let Djarin do the talking. The older hunter was the one longer in business, although he was the quieter one, the more solitary one, the more forbidding one.

Where he was only initially shy, the other hunter was outspoken introverted. Where he had developed his social skills with the tribe with the help of his sister, the other hunter had mostly kept to himself.

If he had to guess, it was Karga Greef and the Armourer Djarin had spoken to most, definitely more than with any of the other members of the tribe, himself included. Their conversations, rare as they had been, had mostly circled around their hunts.

He had thought that the horned helmet of the Zabrak would cause a greater stir among the council members, but he was well accepted, just like he and Vayra had been. That they looked towards one of their own had him more astonished. He had been too preoccupied with the old woman than to notice the only other man with horns in the large room.

He hoped that his own slight movement had gone unnoticed as the man walked towards the Zabrak. But the closer he got the more the slight differences stood out, especially when it came to the tattoos.

In the following they learnt about what had happened to the small town. With the small clue they could start their work. And if they got really lucky the raiders might come even back. Though he was sure Dargak didn't want to wait that long.

The young Mirialani led them to a small house at the outskirts of the town. It was surrounded by a once well-kept garden. The garden was trampled down, the window next to the front door smashed and the door itself had been kicked off its hinges.

"I was visiting Elder Macisa when they came." The small woman with the green skin and the black geometric signs on her cheeks rubbed her hands along her upper arms.

She stepped through the destroyed door into the room. He waited until the Krybans had followed, he used the time to look around.

A part of the garden must have been an herbal garden. In another, larger part he saw what was left of a vegetable garden. Everything had been uprooted in a fit of anger, leaving a path of destruction Among the colourful disarray he spotted something dark violet. Most of it crushed, just a single stem rose out of flattened field.

He bent and plucked it. The sweet scent made it into his helmet when he held it close to the lower rim.

"Wuta!" It took him a moment to realize that the Zabrak meant him.

He entered the room and the green-skinned young woman turned towards him: "Oh, did they leave something untrampled?"

"What is it?" He twirled the stem between his fingers.

"A Malreaux rose, they are known for their deep red colours."

"More a violet than a red," he stated as he inspected the flower.

She reached into a half-smashed sideboard and handed him a slim vase: "Here, water tap is over there. Brings at least some colour to the chaos here."

She looked around: "I'm sorry that we can't offer you anything better."

Dargak was quit to intervene: "It meets our requirements, so don't worry."

There was not much in the house that hadn't been upturned. Together with the Zabrak he righted the sofa, table and chairs, bringing some order into the mess. With the vase set in the middle of the table it almost looked normal.

Then the owner of the house showed them around, not that there was much to look at. The main room functioned as a kitchen and living room, the only two other rooms were a bedroom and a fresher. It was even smaller than Dargak's house on Ossus.

For the next hour they worked on sweeping the house and placing everything that was beyond repair outside. They were about to heave the mattress onto the bedframe when somebody knocked on the doorframe.

Some townsmen with their hands full of this and that were lining up outside. In the end they had dishes and a full meal sitting on the table, extra mattress and bedclothes.

He retreated to the bedroom to eat quickly, after that they separated and went scouting, looking for tracks they widened their circles, communicating their finding and only when night drew in they met again in the small house to make their plans.

Dargak produced a map he had been given by Barneto: "The track led to the beach here, a ship had been pulled ashore. That means they have brought their loot and the women to one of the other islands."

"The A'den can pick up heat signatures. I will set out later at night, the darkness and the cloaking system can cover me."

"We will go together, if we can strike right away then the moment of surprise is on our side."

He nodded to the suggestion of the Zabrak: "We still have the equipment on the shuttle."

While he was sitting at the table he stared at the single flower in the slim vase. He had plucked it with the intention to give to Vayra, but the Mirialani had somehow diverted his goal. How exactly had he planned to give the flower to her, he asked himself repeatedly. It had been an impetuous and instinctive act.

He turned his head to look outside where father and daughter stood and again acted on impulse. He grabbed the vase and went to the bedroom. There he placed it on the small bedside table. He paused for a moment and decided that it was better like that. He didn't know if he actually was able to hand it to her personally.

It was a dark new-moon night when they made their way back to the shuttle. This time he sat in the hull leaving the Krybans to work as a team in the cockpit. Again, their search was done in widening circles, checking on the closest islands first.

Their search ended halfway on their third semi-circle: "Heat signatures. Checking."

He could hear Dargak clearly in his earpiece and he started to hack into the data pad the Zabrak had given him: "A cluster of buildings. Unoccupied, but two. In front of one two signatures. More inside. No movements inside. In the other, movements."

"I'm drawing closer. Think we found them. How many in the buildings?" He could hear the concentration in her voice.

"First, five groups of four. Second, three, eight, ten, fourteen. No wait, two more coming in."

"The two from the first building?" Dargak was resetting his controls.

"No, they are still there. And … there's another heat-cluster. Incoming from seaside. … Change course! They will hear or see us!"

"Calm down, we're cloaked. So, how many incoming."

He still had to get used to the technology her ship and shuttle were equipped with: "Tight group of six, surrounded by eight.

"At a rough guess twenty-six women and same number raiders? Quite a number, but managable. There's a clearing inland."

"Copy. We will land there and work towards them. Let them gather and we can get them all." It was not only the modulator that made her voice sound hard and metallic.

"We have to keep the kidnapped women safe and we can't rely on them helping us." He was calculating on different tactics. It all depended on where the newcomers located their new quarry and where they decided to stay.

While the shuttle sat down in the clearing, he observed the red moving dots on his pad. A toothy grin spread his lips: "Cocky bastards."

The routine was quickly discernible. A team of two stood guard over the women, a team of two was on patrol, the rest gathered lazily in building two.

Dargak chuckled: "Let me guess they are helping us wiping them out?"

He shoved the pad into his hands: "Yap! I'll get the explosives."

His enthusiasm made Vayra snort: "Look, who else is cocky."

Maybe it was the prospect of action, of taking out those who had brought misery to unsuspecting innocents. Maybe it was his musing of how she might react to finding the flower at the bedside table. Maybe it was something completely different. Whatever it was, it made him lean close to her and to growl into her earpiece: "Keep that up and I'll be cocky and hard."

He was already out of the shuttle with his rifle slung across his back and a knapsack full with explosives when he heard the inhaled yelp and the roar of laughter.

He dug his helmet down against his cuirass, but his blush was soon overcome by a chuckle about his own boldness: "Are you coming?"

Her retaliation was quick: "Not yet, might need your help."

When he looked back, he saw the Zabrak leaning heavily against the side of the shuttle, half bent over and holding his midriff, as his whole body shook.

He tilted his head and tried to keep his shoulders still. When she walked up to him her elbow dug into his side. But it felt good, he felt good. So, he groaned dramatically: "Did you learn that from my sister?"

"Nope. No need to learn that. It's a common woman-thing." She giggled softly as they waited for Dargak to catch up.

"Ade! You can't do that to an old man! At least give me a warning beforehand!" He was still snorting time and again in mirth.

"Okay everybody had their fun. Now business. The women need us."

"Oya Manda!" It felt good to hear their call, he felt good. Their numbers might be small, but they were Mando'ade, they were verde! They would show the raiders what it meant to fight against Mandalorians.

His task was to sneak to building two and place the explosives. He waited until the patrol relief exited the building, then went to work. Vayra and Dargak wanted to deal first with the patrol and then the two guards.

He watched them vanish into the dark, following the patrol. He strained his ears, tuned up the HUD systems, no sound. Then: "Two gone."

He sneaked towards the building, started on the left side of the entrance, ducked under the windows, ignored the raucous laughter and lewd topics that caused them, worked round the building, ducked again under a window and ended up on the right side of the entrance.

He waited, listened and quietly fixed a last detonator on the door itself. Gliding back into the darkness he waited. Dargak soon joined him again: "We got all: Patrol and sentry are cold. Vayra is taking the women to the shuttle."

"Detonators are placed, might have used one or two too many." He chuckled darkly. It felt good to take them out, he felt good.

"Ready when you are." His hand hovered over his vambrace, ready to punch in the code that would make the explosives blow. He got a nod from Dargak and his fingers pressed down.

Together they sprinted off and he counted: "Five … four … faster … two … one."

They were pushed forward into the undergrowth. He curled up as he was thrown into the thicket, he rolled into the motion and came up fast again. Turning he tore his blaster out, aiming in the general direction of building two.

It was a sea of flame and smoke. What was left of it was a burning inferno whose heat engulfed him. His ears were ringing, and he felt the adrenaline roll in waves through him, but it felt good, he felt good.

Dargak was grunting and struggled up from where he had been thrown against the stem of a tree: "I'm getting too old for that shit."

"Hurt?" As nothing moved in the direction of the explosion, he turned to the Zabrak who patted down along his body.

"One head, two arms, two legs. Everything where it belongs." But Dargak was breathing hard, he might not be hurt, but he was in pain.

He tilted his helmet at him and shrugged: "Revising healthy ways of taking falls might be due."

He had barely made a step when his helmet was jerked forward by a slap to the back of it.

"D'aneh! Remember our sparring on Ossus."

"Naak!" They were laughing amiable on their way back and it felt good. He felt good.

The situation at the shuttle sobered them up. Dishevelled, torn clothing, dirty and bloodied. The women had not been treated tenderly. And they shrunk back as they appeared.

He watched Dargak hold his hands out and up and copied him. The nervousness some women spread seemed contagious and soon most of the women were sobbing.

"Please, fear not, we came to bring you back to your families." Dargak's solemn voice might be able to soothe and calm, his appearance in the dim light was not, so he tried his luck.

He slowly stepped towards them, more into the light: "Toban Barneto hired us to find you. We will take you back to Kalish."

"Will you really?" The woman had a black eye and a split lip.

He nodded in affirmation: "Of course. I only fear that you will have to split into groups."

The shuttle's engines started: "Ladies! Sounds like we are ready for the first trip." He went into the cockpit: "How many can the shuttle take?"

She turned her seat: "One in the cockpit, four in the seats, I will take it slow, four more sitting on the floor. Makes three trips."

"Good, I will tell them." He went back outside and soon found out that the woman with the black eye started to take things into her hands. The other women trusted her more than the strangers and especially Dargak with his horned helmet was eyed with mistrust.

He had to do something: "There is a Dathomirian in the council of Kalish, isn't there? See, our vod, our friend here is not much different."

He looked at Dargak and quietly tapped his helmet and shrug his shoulders.

"You're right. I'm sorry I didn't think about removing the helmet." Dargak came closer to the light and started opening the seal of his helmet. He got a range of reactions. Sighs of relief, ohs and ahs of astonishment, and some wide eyes. The woman with the black eye stared openly.

Then she turned to him: "What about you?"

It took him a moment, then he shook his head: "We follow different ways of the Creed. My way doesn't allow me to remove my helmet."

There was a smirk on her lips and a twinkle in her eyes: "Pity."

And he felt a blush creeping into his face: "Ahum … errmm … and I'm spoken for, anyway."

"Double pity." She turned and called the names of nine women: "When the shuttle is back it is your turn."

He quickly stepped back and brought Dargak between himself and the woman. When she sought him out again, he kept his answers short and more than once he looked at the Zabrak for help, but he only grinned at him in return.

He started to become fed up and murmured: "You could really help me there."

But the Zabrak only laughed at him: "And miss all the fun, no way!"

He tilted his helmet down, low enough to show his annoyance, the chuckle he then let slip through his vocoder came from the lowest parts of throat and he turned towards the woman: "You know this attractive Zabrak is not yet spoken for, you might want to try your luck with him."

He quickly ducked out of reach and past the woman who really stepped up to the tall man. With crossed arms and resting his weight on one leg he waited for the fun to enfold. The nasty look that Dargak shot him was answered by a sneer that the other man couldn't see. It felt good to get back at him, he felt good.

When the shuttle came back, the woman helped the next group of women to find a place before she stepped back to stand again next to Vayra's father. Vayra had only cast them a quick glance. A silent conversation of nods and shrugs passed between the two Krybans before she went back into the cockpit to bring the second group of women to Kalish.

He set his mic to directly contact Dargak: "I'll be the co-pilot. There is no way I will share the hull with that lecher."

"Neither will I. How about we put her in the co-pilot seat."

He didn't have to think twice about that suggestion: "Deal."

He was especially friendly as he led the woman to the co-pilot's seat, giving Vayra an affirmative nod before he retreated to the area in the back and found a place for himself.

When they reached Kalish it seemed the whole town had gathered in the market square. A celebration had been prepared, despite the late hour. Tables and benches had been assembled, different kinds of dishes were piling on one of them. Barrels with beer had been opened and there was even a band playing.

Before he noticed what was happening, he felt himself dragged forward with. His only relief was, that the Krybans didn't fare any better. When he looked who had conquered his arm to pull him towards the middle of the marketplace, he was only able to sigh, it was of course the woman with the black eye.

The council had gathered and with a single tap of her knobby staff the old woman silenced everyone.

"This is the happiest day after a long time of fear, pain and loss. Thanks to you, honourable guests, Mandalorians, we can welcome those amongst us who we have deemed lost. Never have we been disappointed by the men and women of Mandalore, not in the past, not today and neither in the future. Scarce your numbers have become but be assured that here in Kalish you will always be welcome. Besides fulfilling our side of the contract there is not much else we can give you to express our thankfulness, but this humble feast shall speak for our gratitude."

The woman started to clap her hands and soon the place was filled with the noise of everyone clapping enthusiastically. He turned his helmet to look around, at the people standing around them, at Vayra who was pointedly looking at her boots and at Dargak stared without blinking at the council.

"Now, let's celebrate!" and with that the music started to play, people took seats, went with mugs towards the barrels or with plates towards the table with the food.

Again, his arm was pulled. "Dance with me." Who else but the woman who had been hitting on him from the start.

He growled, deeply iritated: "Can't. War wound."

He concentrated on which leg he favoured and started to move off with a profound limp. But he wasn't alone long. His arm was pulled up and around a set of shoulders. He opened his mouth to tell her finally off, but the words fell back into his throat as he saw the black armour.

Vayra was at his side, supporting him: "Where are you hurt? How did it happen? Do we need a medic?"

"Shhh. Just bring me back to our quarters." He had to concentrate to keep up his limping while a low chuckle built up in his chest.

"If you are not hurt, why do you limp?" She was still supporting him with his arms slung round her shoulders.

His growl was more or less a yelped chuckle: "War wounds are good when it comes to dancing."

"What … are you fleeing from the dance floor …" He could hear that she was confused and didn't exactly believe him.

"… that and that leecher." When they couldn't be seen from the marketplace anymore he gave up his limp, but kept his arm where it was, because it felt good to feel her warmth. He felt good.

She started to understand, her soft laughter told him that much: "You can't dance."

"Nope. Can you?" He deadpanned, guessing that she probably couldn't either.

"Yap. I can." She was laughing more.

It made him stop and he felt slightly embarrassed: "Umm how about you go back and enjoy yourself then?"

"Are you telling me that your company is not enjoyable?" He definitely had to learn more about her ability to counter him, to be better equipped. The way as it was, she had him more often silenced with her retorts than he liked to admit.

"Yes, … No!" He had to take a deep breath first, but still his voice was hushed: "You tell me …"

She had turned to face him: "It's more than enjoyable." And when she pulled down his helmet to meet hers his breath hissed shakily.

"But you're missing out on the beer and food." He felt bad for having pulled her into his escape plan.

She stepped back and snickered: "Give me five minutes."

With that she was off in a sprint. When she came back, she had a basket with her: "Now we got everything. Drinks, food and enjoyable company."

She placed two chairs so that their backs met, moved the table next to them, spread a cloth on the table and placed the items she had brought on it. It was two bottles and he guessed it was beer from the barrels, pieces of roasted meat, vegetables and several slices of bread.

She put everything but the bottles into the middle, reachable from both sides. Only the bottles she placed at either edge of the table. In all its simplicity it looked delicious and he licked his lips as he felt his mouth water.

"Yours." She had placed a hand on the chair that looked towards the bedroom and he noted that it stood so close that with one step he could step in, aside and be concealed behind the wall separating it from the main room.

He waited until she had sat down to take a seat himself, with a last look behind him he reached for the clasp of his helmet.

"A toast to the successful job. No one hurt and all women back."

He also went for the bottle and bounced it with a soft clank on the table: "On successful jobs."

The beer tasted good and reminded him of ne'tra gal. It was rich and sweet. Only the spiciness was missing. At the first mouthful he realized how thirsty he was. He took another long pull and another before he sat down the half empty bottle.

"Hope you have eaten something, or this will get right into your head."

The guilty sound he made was a giggle, higher in note than he was used to coming from his lips. The brewing master definitely knew how to do his job. He could feel the result already creeping past his tonsils into his head.

He reached for the meat and a slice of bread: "Maybe not too late yet."

It was as delicious as it looked. The curst crunched as he chewed it. It unmistakably tasted like the beer. A soft moan of content made it past his throat: "Tastes good."

Her laugh sounded beguiling: "You make it sound like … something else."

Maybe the moan he answered that with was a bit too saucy, but he didn't mind, he felt good.

Maybe finishing the rest of the bottle with a few swallows was asking for trouble, but it would be good trouble.

And it definitely made him bold: "So, are you going to come?"

He didn't wait for her answer but put on his helmet and stepped into the bedroom. He switched on the nightstand light and looked at the window. It was slightly more than a narrow gap with a heavy black curtain. He closed it, tug it into place and for good measure he draped his cloak over the curtain rod, too.

With an exaggerated sigh he sat down. He stretched out on the soft cover and crossed his arms behind his neck. When he tilted his helmet towards the door, he saw her standing in the frame. She was taking a slow swig from the bottle.

"Cocky." She was grinning sensually down at him.

His fingers curled in a grabby-hand motion, but he was still sober enough to stop after two curls. "If umm if that is okay for you."

"And cute." She tilted her head back as she emptied the bottle.

He saw the sway in her hips, the way she slowly turned to close the door and the way her eyes seemed to be dark glinting pools when she looked down at him. Very slowly he curled his fingers again. The soft creak of the leather clearly audible in the total quietness that lay around them.

Her eyes slightly widened: "You put the rose in here?"

"It initially was solely for you." He craned his neck towards it. The light of the small lamp illuminated the dark violet petals. "As beautiful as you."

He almost missed that she lowered herself onto the bed. But he didn't miss the way she crawled up to him, it made him speechless. It was like she was stalking him, her toothy grin eased into an alluring smile. He stared up at her face as she slowly lowered her head and rested it against his visor.

"And charming." Her eyes were so close, the blue of his visor the only barrier.

His arm was not long enough as he clawed for the switch of the lamp: "Lamp."

"And needy." She had read his mewled demand correctly.

"If it's okay." She didn't answer, she acted. Stretching she reached out and with a soft click the room was buried in darkness.

He hadn't sealed his helmet, so it made no noise when he slipped it off. Only the soft clunk when he placed it on the floor gave him away.

With is outstretched arm he could feel her coming closer and he softly placed his hand on her back as she inched closer and aligned her form next to him. Her hair tickled his cheek as the weight on his collarbone increased, she was resting her head on him.

He so wanted to feel her and not the backplate as he ran his hand along her back, but he waited. His senses directed keenly on the most subtle hint.

He didn't have to wait long. Her hand trailed along the other collarbone and down his arm. Then he felt the pinch at his fingertips. He wriggled each finger loose until she was able to pull off the glove.

He moved his hand from her back to her side and helped her to work that glove off too.

Her fingers nestled long on his wrist until he heard his vambrace click open. With the other she was faster.

She had to lean over him to place the items on the floor next to his helmet and her weight on him felt good. He felt good and he let her hear it with a low, appreciative hum.

He had the impression that she lingered, especially when his hand ran all the way from her shoulder down her back, over the firm roundness and along her shapely thigh. He felt the muscle tense under his ministration.

Slowly she glided back to lie along his side, and he felt her turning away from him. Two metallic sounds followed. When she came to rest against him again, he let his hand run down her arm to confirm his suspicion, she had taken off her vambraces.

His hand trailed further, until only their fingertips touched, his silent question lingered. She tapped her finger against his thumb. He closed the gap between his thumb and index finger and when he held the leather in his grasp, she wriggled her finger back. Together they pulled off her gloves, which she flicked back onto the floor.

She let a deep inhale go after she had nestled back against his collarbone. He dipped his head and pressed a kiss against the softness of her hair.

Now he took his time. He breathed in the mahonia scent, curled his fingers into her hair and strands round his finger. He only let go, to run his hands down her arm where it lay across his chest.

When she moved, he stilled to read her motions. Her hand found halt on his shoulder and she pulled herself up, closer, he felt her breath on his chin. His scruff would sting her lips. But when he felt her tongue slide up to play along his lower lips his breath hitched.

In shallow breaths his chest rose as her tongue mapped his lips, when her teeth grazed over his lips he stopped breathing completely, when she sucked his lower lip in, all the air escaped him in a long, low groan.

He twitched, but her hand cupped his temples. His hands fisted the sheets as she deepened her kiss. He grew breathless and when they broke, they gasped for air. Not long enough to gain composure, just long enough to avoid dizziness for their next long dance.

When her hand left his temples, he became aware of the loss of warmth, no matter how engulfed he was in their kiss. He huffed his discomfort. It died in his throat when he felt her shift.

The plush material next to his head caved in as she put her weight on her hands. The soft mattress gave way to the weight of her knee next to his side. The warmth of her thighs caressed his sides and to the heat that started to spread in his groin the heat of her core added as she straddled and pressed against him.

When he pressed his heels into the mattress to lift his hips, his moan became a growl of primal need.

"And hard." Her husky growl undid him, he tilted his head back and let go of the groan that had built up deep in his chest.

Although she didn't move, she had him panting. His mind mockingly flashed all the fantasies he had entertained back at him as he tried to keep still. With the sheets in his fists he punched into the mattress to redirect his tension.

When she rolled her hips into him, his hands gripped her waist hard, lifting and easing her hips off him. Words were hard to form, his lungs burnt, and his brain was a mess: "D-don't … C-can't …too … too clo-close."

She didn't answer, she didn't laugh, she didn't huff, she did lean in and kiss him deeply. When his hips snatched up in responding on instinct to the nip at his lower lip, he did feel the corner of her lips curl up.

Her breathing was hard, but she was still coherent: "Don't or you ruin your trousers."


With the way her thighs squeezed against his thighs he detected that she was shifting again. The part of him that had not given in to the basic needs yet was thankful for the break. The part of him that wanted to chase his release made him moan.

"Can't have that." Her hands were on the closing mechanism of the pauldrons, next on the cuirass. His chest heaved as she lifted their weight off him.

When the coolness of the night air brushed along his chest, he noted that she had opened his flight suit. He pressed his head back to lift his shoulders as she peeled the fabric over his shoulders and down his arms.

"W-what are … you d-doing?" He knew what she was doing, again his brain separated in need and restraint.

"Want to feel your skin." Her hands were cool against the furnace of his chest.

He slipped his arms out of the sleeves as she breathed soft kisses against his lips and jaw. He had one arm free when she reached his neck. He grabbed the sheet again as her teeth grazed against his pulse. He freed his other arm as her tongue trailed along his collarbone. Again, he fisted the bedclothes and tore at them as her tongue flicked over his nipple.

His whole body arched with a groan and a shudder had him trembling as her nails trailed down to the rippling muscles of his abdomen.

How she had slipped herself and the suit lower, how she was able to peel down and gather it below his buttocks was beyond his ability to think straight. The rational part of his brain had finally given in, solely the craving of his body directed his movements, solely a slight sliver of restraint kept him from letting loose and turn on her to repay her with the same sweet torture.

He felt her fingers press along the V-shaped muscles to his groin, he felt them playing with the hem of his trousers, he felt them … too close: "DO-DON'T … don't touch!"

Her hum was full of understanding and … hunger: "I'll be careful." She used both hands to pull the waistband off him.

The buttons sprung open, one after the other. "If" – pantbuttonpant – "You" – pantbuttonpant – "Touch" – pantbuttonpant – "Me" – pantbuttonpant – "I" – pantbuttonpant – "come" – pantbuttonpant.

Her voice was a soft purr in his ears as she slowly kissed her way up again: "See, I was careful."

He felt relief, of the tension of his trouser, of the tension coiling and burning in his loins. His mind reeled. This was really happening. All the longing days and nights. All the times he had tried to get closer to her. All the times she had retreated and pulled away from him.

He wanted to feel her, to touch her skin, to explore her body with his lips and he moaned his need into her next deep kiss. He rolled his hips into the void she kept between them and grunted his desperation: "Wwhat … what about … you?"

"Ah – Ah. Tonight's not about me." He leant into her caressing hand as she stroked her fingers down his temples, over his cheek and a trailed her thumb long his lips.

He gave in into the impulse and sucked the first digit in, his teeth carefully closing and holding it while his tongue circled the tip. She inhaled sharply, hitched into a broken moan. She nipped at his collarbone and ran her nails over his chest. He let her go as he breathed his moan.

She rested her palm on his chest and he felt the pressure as she used him as leverage to drag her leg over him, to come to lie next to him again.

He didn't know if he should be relieved or frustrated. It lasted only a moment. It only lasted until she breathed into their next kiss: "Do you want …"

"Want. You?! Yes … but … can wait." He had feared he had gone too far, had made her retreat again.

"Can you really?" He heard the tantalising slur, the alluring smirk, the seductive hint.

"Bare-ly." His gasps had finally reduced to hard breathing, he willed himself back from the edge again.

"Don't have to." She smothered his question with another deep kiss.

He forgot about his restraint, he forgot what she had said, he forgot what he wanted to ask as their tongues entwined. She had him panting again when he felt her finger tug the waistband of his briefs lower. His rising hips made his length brush against her arm, it made him groan and buck again.

He gritted his teeth as he felt himself freed of any fabric. His voice was coarse grunts: "Are you sure?"

"Hmm." Her finger trailed along the veiny underside and he swallowed a howl of a groan.

"W- want … you. Nee-need … you." The last coherent words before he started to mouth gibberish. Her hand had enclosed his girth and started a rhythm that matched the thrusts of his hips. His arm wrapped round her and pulled her close to his side. His mouth sunk into hers. His teeth dug into her skin as she drew a moan from him with each motion.

The searing coil tightened as he mouthed hoarsely her name: "Vay-ra." He cradled her face with his palm, pressing his forehead against hers and clung to her: "Be Mine." His groans became pained: "Need. You." His world imploded into a wave of blinding whiteness as the coil sprung free.

When his muscles slowly relaxed, he lay panting. Only slowly his brain was able to pick up its work again. Her hand was softly stroking his slackening length, his stomach and loins cooled with the sticking mess coating him.

Self-consciousness flooded him. He had gone too far, he had lost control: "I'm sorry … I shouldn't …"

"I'm not" His ears were still filled with white noise. Had he heard correctly?

"Vayra, I …"

"Hmm … if I had known that it takes this for you to say my name, I would have done it much earlier."

"I … you …"

"Di'kut. If you liked it, kiss me."

He cupped her face with both his hands: "… I … you." He couldn't find the right words, not yet. His lips, his tongue had to speak for him."


Ne'johaa! Shut up!

vode: comrades, mates

Aruetii: strangers

verd: warrior, soldier

buir: parent, father, mother

al'verde: commander

riduur: spouse, wife, husband

beroya: bounty hunter

Wuta: green-blue

Ade: children

D'aneh!: Brat!

Naak: peace

ne'tra gal: black ale - sweet, almost spicy black beer

di'kut: idiot, useless individual, waste of space (lit. someone who forgets to put their pants on)