He woke up on the Ebon Haw- he'd recognize the ceiling anywhere.

"Hey, you're awake!" Mission cried. Carth tried to sit up, but found that someone had replaced all his insides with durasteel and gelatin while he was out.

"Urgh?" he gargled. He coughed, and found that once he started, he couldn't stop.

"Bastila!" Mission yelled, panicked. "A little help, please!"

Bastila ran into what Carth belatedly realized was the medbay, looking worn and worried.

"Don't try to move too quickly- you may not be fully recovered yet," Bastila cautioned him, playing with the buttons on the kolto bed, and Carth managed to catch his breath. "Mission, why don't you go get him a glass of water?"

The Twi'lek left, and quickly returned with a drink in hand. "Sip, don't gulp." Bastila ordered firmly, holding it to his lips. Carth drank greedily.

"Wha' 'appen?" he asked.

"From what I understand, you, Hanuu, and the older Jedi ran into some Mandalorians in the Shadowlands. One of them snuck up on you in a stealth field generator and stabbed you through your armor, puncturing one of your lungs. Between the two of them, they managed to stabilize you enough to move you and carry you back here. Jolee put you in a healing trance; we weren't expecting you to wake up for a few more days."

Carth tried to nod, but found the muscles in his neck weren't working properly and he ended up giving himself vertigo instead.

"You will probably not regain full use of your motor functions for a day or so yet. In the mean time, try to get some rest," Bastila's voice advised as the room spun lazily into nothingness.

He awoke again some time later, considerably more sore, but able to move. He heaved himself into a semi-sitting position with a groan; outside his line of sight T3 blurbbled happily and zoomed out of the room, causing him to almost fall out of bed in surprise. He caught himself just as Mission entered the room.

"Oh good, you're up again!" she cheered. "Little guy was chirping so fast I couldn't tell if he was sayin' you were up or had mutated into a rakghoul. Just let me go get Bastila"

Carth caught her arm before she could leave. "Don't get Bastila," he croaked. "If I have to listen to her lecture now, I'll puke."

Mission snickered. "How about some water instead, then?"

"That I can deal with," Carth replied, releasing her.

Mission came back with another cup, and Carth drank just as thirstily as before. "What'd I miss?" he asked when he finished.

"Well, you were attacked by Mandalorians..." Mission began, but Carth cut her off.

"I heard that part. Where's Hanuu now?" he asked

"Back in the Shadowlands. Canderous and Jolee went with her."

"She took Canderous?" Carth asked, surprised. They were attacked by Mandalorians; why would she want the bring another one along? What if he decided he wanted to be with his people again and turned on her?

"Yeah. After Canderous heard that you'd run into some of his people he kept pestering Hanuu about it, so when Jolee finally kicked her out of the medbay they went into the cargo hold and had an amazingly spectacular shouting match in Mando'a. You could even hear it out on the Walkway; I know because I went to go visit with Matton so I wouldn't bust my eardrums listening to the two of them going at it, and we could still hear them. They calmed down after Sasha came running out into the common area, though. Oh, you haven't seen her yet! She's the cutest thing ever, even though Hanuu and Canderous are the only ones who can understand what she's saying, and-"

"Okay, I no longer know what's going on," he stated. With a pang, he remembered that Dustil had developed the same speech patterns around the age of eleven, when he'd discovered the joys of model shipbuilding and first-person flight simulators. Morgana had, half-resigned, half-proud, commented that he was destined to follow in his footsteps, and become the best pilot in the Fleet, and drive whatever woman he married insane. "I take it Matton's a free man now?"

Mission nodded slowly, deliberately. "Did you catch that?" she asked.

Carth sighed. "Yes. Now, who's Sasha? And what were Hanuu and Canderous shouting about?"

"Sasha's a stowaway- a human girl around the age of six. From what Hanuu deciphered, she was captured by Mandalorians on Datooine, and when she managed to escape, she hid in the cargo hold. As to what they were 'discussing'..." Mission shrugged. "I don't speak very much Mando'a, but I got the impression that they were both very peeved about something- my guess is the guys who skewered you. The word 'shabla' was used quiet a lot."

"'Shabla'?"

"The Mando'a equivalent of fracking," Mission informed him.

"Ah," Well, if Canderous really was upset at his kinsman- although he wasn't entirely sure why that would be, they seemed pretty typically Mandalorian to him- then at least that meant that he

wasn't likely to betray Hanuu. Yet. "That bad?"

"What part of 'you could hear them on the Walkway' didn't you understand?" Mission demanded.

Carth opened his mouth to retort, but was interrupted by Bastila skidding into the room. "Carth's awake! And you didn't inform me! Mission, you-"

"I asked her not to," Carth interrupted before Mission could respond. "I felt a little nauseous when I woke up and didn't want to puke all over your robes."

"And then hear about how vomit leads to the darkside," Mission put in. Carth shot her a look, which she dutifully ignored.

Bastila spluttered incoherently for a moment, then took a deep breath, probably mentally reciting the Jedi Code. "Mission," she began, perhaps a bit more forcefully that she intended.

"Bastila, keep it down why don't you? Carth just came out of a coma-"

"Healing trance. It's a healing trance! If you're going to try and order me about, which is a ludicrous idea to begin with-"

"Alright, alright, a healing trance, do you really think that you're preaching is-"

"Would everybody please be quiet?" Carth groaned, cradling his head in his hands. "Gees, I had just managed to forget how bloody annoying everyone on this ship is..."

It was only after a few beats of silence had passed that he realized that he had said that last bit aloud.

"And now I'm kind of hoping that you two remember what a talent I have for sticking my foot in my mouth," he added quickly.

Mission patted his consolingly on the back. "Don't worry Carth. It's as unforgettable as your jacket."

Bastila sniggered, and Carth sighed again. He still wasn't quiet sure what was wrong with his jacket.


Perhaps it was simply because Ordo was away, but everyone seemed more pleasant now than they had before- there was less shouting, and with a few exceptions of the teenaged Twi'lek sort, everyone was more or less polite with each other. Juhani's presence seemed to change as well. She had introduced Mission to dejarik, much to the teenager's delight, and often meditated with Bastila, which seemed to make her less... cold. She was still meditating more often than not, but this time around, he could see that it was more a desire not to miss anymore of Hanuu's messages (and there were many over the next several days) than the desire not to associate with the common folk. Sasha also probably helped; the three women (and Carth himself, when Mission wasn't around to make smart-aleck comments about Hanuu having whipped him already- he really didn't feel like explaining about his family) doted on her, and having a skittish little girl on board made everyone go out of their way to avoid having loud fights that would scare her. During her free time, Mission had Sasha 'help' her and T3 rewire the communications system on the Hawk so that it was compatible with their communicators: this would allow the two groups to stay in touch as long as they stayed with in five hundred miles of each other- something which, hopefully, would be pretty easy to do. Next time, they wouldn't have to rely on the Force-bond to keep in touch.

It was five weeks into their stay on Kashyyyk when Bastila finally emerged from her meditations, grinning so broadly she scared Sasha, a sure sign the Hanuu had contacted her with good news.

"She found the Star Map!" Bastila said, as excitedly as it was possible for her to get. "And wants us to meet her at the Wookie village right away!"

"Finally!" Mission cheered, pumping her fists in the air. "We get to rescue Zaalbar!"

The rescue, however, had already taken place by the time they arrived in the village, perhaps because the were delayed by a debate over what to do with Sasha (Mission ended up rigging a sling of sorts for T3). Jolee and Canderous were waiting by the entrance of the village for them, although they were both too involved in a staring contest to give any detailed answers.

"She's over at the Holder of Laws, clearing up a mess Czerka left behind," Jolee informed them without taking his eyes off the Mandalorian. "Now scat!"

Carth wanted to press the matter, but one look at Bastila's face told him it would be better to leave before the Jedi's head exploded.

They wandered around the village for a while, not knowing where the Holder of Laws was, until Mission spotted Zaalbar through the crowd.

"Big Z!" she cried, flinging herself through the Wookiees. Zaalbar gave a joyous shout and they embraced.

"See," Hanuu said tiredly. "I told you we'd get him back."

She looked very... bedraggled. Blood, sweat, and mud covered her robes, her hair hung down in greasy strands over her face, and she listed to one side.

"You look like crap," Carth told her.

Hanuu shot him a tired glare. "You- well, actually, compared to the last time I saw you. you're a vision of health."

"Yeah... not having a vibrosword in my side did wonders for my physique," Carth replied.

"You're going back to ship to sleep now, right?"

"No, I have to help the Wookiees overthrow Czerka first," Hannu told him.

There was a beat, perhaps two, of silence before Carth realized the she wasn't joking. "Of all the- Hanuu, you just spent three weeks mucking about the lower Shadowlands, being attacked by Mandalorians and terentateks and everything else, and now you wanna go fight a war!"

"It's not a war. It's a rebellion," Hanuu corrected him.

"It doesn't matter what you want to call it, beautiful, it's still going to involve a whole lot of fighting and running and you don't look fit to be doing either!" Carth exclaimed.

"Oh? And do you really think you're the best judge of that?" Hanuu asked.

"Considering how you're plastered in mud and I can still see the circles under your eyes? Yes."

"Well, tough. I don't." she snapped.

"Well, tough. I don't either."

"So we're in agreement that you'll butt out and let me finish this thing?"

"Not at all. I'll give you points for sheer bone-headed stubbornness, though," he said, glaring at her. She glared right back.

"Do yourself a favor, and don't. The way things are going Mission will end up beating us both anyway." She made to move past him, but he stopped her.

"Don't even think about, gorgeous. You are not allowed to move from this spot until you get eight hours of sleep."

"You want me to sleep for eight hours- which is a very long time for me, by the way- here? On this spot? In the middle of the village?"

"No," Carth replied, "I expect you to pass out here, on this spot, in the middle of the village, at which point I will carry you back to the ship and you will sleep for eight hours."

"You better not," Hanuu warned him. "No one will believe we aren't together if you pull that."

"Is Jolee still going on about that?" Carth whined.

"Jolee?" Hanuu asked, looking surprised. "No, he just sort of stands off to one side and looks amused as Canderous makes his little 'comments'. I swear, if I hear one more 'Hanuu and Republic in a sack' jokes, I'll steal all his clothes while he's in the refresher and replace them with Juhani's uniform."

Carth had a sudden mental image of the Mandalorian, bursting out of Juhani's robes and screeching in a hideous Cathari accent: "Vhere the frack are my clothes, Jedi!"

"How about we find a hammock or something for you to crash in instead?"

"For eight hours? Not on your life."

"Seven?"

"Three."

"Six."

"Five."

"Done."

"Good. Now let me go clear things up with Freyrr..."

"Sure thing, but just so you know, I'm following you around for the entire time until you go to sleep," Carth warned.

Hanuu opened her mouth to argue, but at that point Bastila interrupted her, a strained smile on her face.

"Hanuu," she began. "Zaalbar seems to be under the impression that we are helping his people overthrow Czerka."

"Yeah," Hanuu confirmed. "Are you under the impression that we're not?"

"I am under the impression," Bastila said shrilly. "That we are on a mission of the utmost importance and cannot by waylaid by the problems of Wookiees!"

Silence descended upon the village, as every Wookie turned to stare at them. At that same instant, Hanuu's entire demeanor changed. Before, she had be radiating exhaustion, her eyes dulled and posture slumped; now, cold fury drew her up straight and tall, so that she seemed bigger than Zaalbar, and Carth could have sworn her eyes were glowing.

"Bastila, what do you think the objective of our mission is?" she asked quietly. "Because it seems to me that you and I are operating under different directives."

"That is obvious," Bastila sniffed, seemingly oblivious to the durasteel in the older woman's tone.

"I am glad you realize you're wrong. Now if we can, I'd like to return to the ship-"

"I never said I was wrong," Hanuu corrected flatly. "If anything, I implied you were such. And you never answered my question."

Bastila appeared taken aback for a moment before swiftly regaining her composure. "I hardly think that is a matter to discuss here," she said, looking around at the Wookiees nervously.

"Too bad. We're going to," Hanuu informed her. There was something infinitely frightening in the way she spoke, and the way she stood, that made him feel very small and helpless. He felt a sudden wave of pity for Bastila, who was on the full receiving end, rather than simply watching the exchange.

Bastila frowned, and then sighed in resignation. "Very well, I shall humor you. We are on a mission to find the- the source of the Sith's power, in order to destroy it."

"Why?"

"I'm sorry?" Bastila exclaimed. "Are you seriously asking..?"

"Why do we need to stop the Sith, Bastila?"

"Because they're the Sith!" she cried indignantly.

"And that's where you're wrong," Hanuu declared. "We aren't on this mission, we aren't Jedi because we need to stop the Sith."

"Uh, Hanuu?" Carth began. Hanuu cut him off.

"Let me finish, Carth," she ordered before turning back to her fellow Padawan. "We aren't even Jedi because we wield the Force and resist the darkside. We're Jedi because we have a duty to root out injustice and right wrongs. We're Jedi because we protect innocents. Is our ongoing mission more important on a galactic scale than saving this planet from Czerka? Absolutely. But the galaxy won't fall within the next few days. Here, it's different. Here, we may not have another chance. Here, we have to act now."

Bastila didn't reply, but merely stood there, mouth agape. Several other listener, Carth included, were doing much the same thing.

"If that is all, I'm going to be late for my meeting with Freyrr. Excuse me."

And with that she spun around on her heel and strided away, long dark hair billowing out behind her like a cloak.


"What in the name of Mandalore's Helm was that?" Ordo exclaimed, breaking the silence.

"I don't know," Carth replied as the Wookiees went back to their normal business, whispering

excitedly among themselves. "Is that some sort of Jedi thing, Bastila?"

"No. No, we aren't given any training for that sort of thing," Bastila answered, looking perturbed.

"That is something she must have... gotten from somewhere else."

"Didn't you say she was some sort of smuggler?" Jolee asked.

Mission snorted. "That was the most un-smugglerlike thing I've ever heard in my entire life."

"That's what it said in her file," Carth answered slowly, keeping the incompleteness of her file tohimself. "Why don't we go ask her about it? Anyone know where Freyrr's place is?"

"The Cheif's Hall is right over this way, if I recall correctly," Jolee informed them, pointing in the

direction Hanuu had gone. "I'm assuming that where they'll be."

Zaalbar growled in what was most likely the affirmative and they all headed off.

Being that they were them and could only manage to be silent under the most dire of circumstances, they made their way through the village in groups of twos and threes. Sasha had fallen asleep in her sling, and T3 was blurbing quiet complaints about the amount of drool that was now pooled on his head. Mission, apparently trying to make up for lost time, was bombarding Ordo with questions about the Shadowlands. Much to his surprise, the Mandalorian gave almost enthusiastic- and certainly loud- answers, rather than using is normal, grunting mode of speech. Jolee and Zaalbar seemed to be exchanging gossip about the villagers, which was confusing to listen to because even though he spoke in Basic, he couldn't tell whether 'Lobawa' was a name or a place or pet. He and Bastila were the only ones who were uncharacteristically silent.

"Credit for your thoughts?" Carth asked finally.

"Huh? Me?" Bastila replied, looking startled.

"Well, I can't help but notice the worried expression on your face," Carth began. Bastila cut him off with a glare.

"I am a Jedi; I do not have emotions strong enough to show on my face," she informed him scathingly.

"Okay, okay!" Carth placated. "I just wanted to know if I had competition in the brooding department, that's all." Bastila sighed. "No, I do not. But now that you mention it, something has been bothering me... something about Hanuu."

"Such as?"

"Have you ever noticed that many of the things Hanuu knows- and does- seem inconsistent with her life as a smuggler?"

"Yeah, pretty much the moment she woke up after we crashed on Taris. But, from what she's told me, she wasn't always a smuggler." They had reached the Hall, and the two of them stopped outside the door and let the others pass ahead of them. "And Hanuu's very... Hanuu. Normal standards don't seem to apply all that well to her."

"Hmm..." was Bastila's only reply, before she walked through the door.

The Cheif's Hall looked more or less like every other building in the village- tall, long, and wooden. If Zaalbar hadn't been there to point it out to him, Carth would have walked by it without a second thought. Inside was more or less the same- there was a large throne at the end of the hall, and some doors to what he assumed were smaller rooms for living in, and perhaps having closed meetings. Hanuu and a Wookie Carth assumed was Freyyr sitting across from one another. Mission whispered that it was probably best to stay still and quiet until Hanuu and Freyyr finished talking; she in Basic, he in Shyirook, making the entire exchange reminiscent of the conversations his mother and older sister had that he would eavesdrop on as a child. From what he could tell, Freyyr acknowledged that the Wookiees could use their help, but was reluctant to accept it without some set price up front. Hanuu countered that they had no need or want of his people's credits. Freyyr didn't want to owe them simply a debt of gratitude, because it would be impossible to repay them for their freedom. Hanuu replied, stressing her words, that the Wookiees didn't owe them anything, regardless of what they were given. Freyyr acknowledged the logic of her argument, but seemed reluctant to concede for reasons that escaped Carth until Hanuu brought in Zaalbar into the mix.

"Your son has sworn a life debt to me. That bond binds me just as closely to him as it does him to me. His troubles are my troubles, and I know the presence of slavers among his people troubles him greatly."

Freyyr blinked and growled a question to Zaalbar, who groaned and pointed to Mission, who said "Don't go looking at me either. I'm just the kid she helped off Taris."

"My planet is called Deralia. I was born there, grew up on Corescant, and have traveled pretty much everywhere since then. This is my first trip to Kashyyyk, however," Hanuu answered.

Freyyr sighed, and then, if the expression on Hanuu's face was anything to go by, acquiesced, gesturing to one of the smaller rooms to the right. "Thank you," she said with a slight incline of the head.

"I take it we just allied ourselves with the Wookiees?" Carth asked Mission

"And got ourselves a place to stay for the night," Hanuu confirmed cheerfully. "Now, who's idea was it to bring the kid down here?"

"Hey!" Mission protested automatically.

"Not you," Hanuu said wearily, pointing to Sasha, who was still drooling on T3's head. "Her."

"Well we couldn't leave her alone on the ship," Carth began.

"And one of you couldn't stay behind to watch her?"

"Well, you did say to meet you here, and none of us wanted to stay on the ship so..." he trailed off at the bemused expression on her face.

"Right, well, there isn't enough space for all of us in that room, so all but four of you will have to go back to the ship. With Sasha and T3."

"I'm staying," Carth volunteered quickly.

"As am I," Bastila added.

"Don't even think about trying to stick me back on that tin can until you're little rebellion is over with," Canderous threatened.

Zaalbar growled something Carth couldn't make out, and Mission perked up. "I call that spot."

"I suppose that means the young Cathar and I will be making our way back to your berth. Goody, I was hoping to fight some more kinrath today."

"Well, now that that's settled, let's move on to the communication problem. Bastila tells me that you made the communicators compatible with the Hawk?" Hanuu asked.

"Yep. Brought a pair with me, too," Mission said proudly, digging though the utility belt she wore to produce a small module.

"Thank you Mission. You give me hope that the galaxy isn't completely doomed," Hanuu

complimented her, tucking the communicator into her pocket. "Alright, so let's just get settled in, and then we can get right to work in the morning."

"Works for me. I'd like to have a word with Miss Shan here before I leave, though," Jolee informed then, before grabbing said Sentinel's arm and dragging her out of the Hall.

"Big Z and I are going to his Dad's place. We're just across the way!" Mission bounced off, followed by Zaalbar.

"I vill go wait for Jolee outside," Juhani muttered, blushing furiously as she walked away, followed by T3 and Sasha.

"Don't do anything to give me nightmares," Canderous grunted, leering as he went away.

"You'll get yours, Ordo," Hanuu grumbled back.

"Is that a promise?" he retorted.

"Yes. For you to get Force-choked in your sleep,"

The Mandalorian laughed and exited, as Carth turned to Hanuu. "Did they all just leave to... give us privacy?"

"Yes," Hanuu replied flatly. There was a small giggle from outside.

"Nothing's happening! Or happened! Or will happen! Give it a rest you Or'diniise!" she half-yelled. The giggling stopped.

"You know, whoever decided to stick this particular group of people together needs help for their spice addiction," she muttered, throwing herself into the smaller room Freyyr had indicated.

She looked around, nodding approvingly at the Spartan hammocks, table, and chairs.

"Hey, guess what that's for?" he asked jokingly, indicating the hammock.

"Carth..." she whined.

"Hanuu..." he mocked.

She sighed, then dropped herself into the hammock, which promptly flipped over and deposited her on the floor.

Carth helped her up, grinning broadly.

"Oh shut up," she snapped.

"I didn't say anything, beautiful," he replied.

"Yeah, but you were certainly thinking of some wise cracks," she grumbled.

"Stop pretending that you can read minds," he admonished.

"I don't need to read your mind, it's written all over your smug face," she growled, grabbing the hammock in a wrestlers hold in an attempt to untangle it.

"I'm pretty sure it untwists the other way," he commented, still grinning.

She glared, but took his suggestion and was soon landing on the floor after another failed try.

"You need to enter at an angle. Try laying on it diagonally," he advised.

"Can I take that to mean you actually know how to wield one of these things?" she asked hopefully.

"Yeah, here, let me show you."

No sooner was he settled into the hammock than Hanuu ran out of the room like a blaster bolt.

"Hey!" he yelled, vaulting out of the hammock and sprinting to the door. "Dammit woman, if you don't come back here and get some sleep, I'm just going to shoot you!"

"Cut it out Carth, you're exceeding your daily recommended dose of paranoia," Hanuu shouted back, hauling three dirty and tattered packs behind her. "I'm just thinking that I'll sleep on a pallet, and you can take one of the hammocks and we''l both be able to get some rest and all will be right with the world."

"So this is it, then?" he asked. Hanuu shot him a confused look, so he elaborated. "You're one of the Jedi, you have the combat skills of an elite special forces commando, and you speak something like twenty languages... but you can be defeated by a hammock?"

"It's not defeat. It's a strategic backwards advance," she corrected.

"Right..." he drawled.

"Oh, it's all part of my master plan," Hanuu assured him, turning to the offending fabric and shaking her fist at it. "You will rue the day you decided to dump my rear on the floor."

The hammock declined to comment.

"And for your information, I speak forty-seven languages, not twenty. Granted, eight of them are dead and have no redeemable value outside the world of academia, and about a dozen of the them are technically dialects and so don't really count... and one of them in Serrocan interpretive dance, but all together there's forty-seven of them and I'm proud of it!"

Carth couldn't help himself. He began to chuckle, first softly, then more loudly.

"Uh, Carth?" Hanuu asked warily. "What's so funny?"

"Oh, nothing," he said. "I just figured out what you were as a respectable respected person."

"Oh?" she asked. "Do tell."

"You," he said, pausing for dramatic affect. "Were a teacher!"

She froze in shock, and he let out a great "Ha!" of triumph.

"Was not," she protested belatedly.

"Liar, liar, robes on fire," he chanted victoriously.

"Wow," she deadpanned viciously. "Just when I think you can't get any more juvenile..."

"Oh, don't start with me, professor," he retorted.

"I wasn't a teacher!"

"Sure you weren't," Carth assured her, patting her shoulder in what he thought was a very consoling manner, still grinning broadly. "I can just picture it, though- Hanuu, the mild-mannered schoolmarm..."

"Whoa! Cool those engines Carth!" she ordered. "Since when am I mild-mannered? Or anything even remotely resembling a schoolmarm?"

"Well, obviously, that's your alter ego," he explained.

She sniggered, shaking her hand slightly. "You," she declared. "Are such a geek."

"So says the schoolmarm."

She sighed, and crawled into her bed roll with a chagrined expression on her face. "I wasn't a teacher. I'll admit to being invited to give a few lectures and key-note speeches to linguists schools, but I never, ever, actually taught a class."

"Well, what were you then?"

Hanuu groaned. "Carth..." she repeated.

"Oh C'mon, Hanuu. We've gotten off Taris. Hell, we even got off Datooine. You did promise to tell me about you life as a respectable-"

"Respected person. Yes, I know," she sighed again. "But if you want the full story, it's going to take the entire five hours I'm supposed to be sleeping and then some."

"So don't tell me everything," Carth countered. "Just tell me what you did. Give me a job title."

Hanuu sighed a third time and said, grudgingly, in a very put-upon voice. "My official designation was 'Primary Ambassadorial Undersecretary to the Head of ROFR."

He spun around to stare at her in disbelief. She had her eyes closed and looked very grim.

"ROFR," he began slowly. "As in Republic Office of Foreign Relations?"

"Well, it certainly was the Rylothian Order of Free Ryl," she replied without opening her eyes.

"You were a diplomat?" he rephrased, in case there was something he was missing.

"Yes," she confirmed shortly. "Yes. And I was a good one, too."

Carth scrutinized her for a moment, and then asked, "How the hell did you end up as a smuggler of all things?"

Hanuu rolled over to face him and opened her eyes. "Carth, I thought we agreed I wasn't going to tell you everything tonight?"

"Okay, fair enough." Carth sighed. "Just answer me one thing."

Hanuu groaned and rolled back onto her back. "What?"

"You have no problem breaking laws, lying, or trying to wiggle your way out of promises," he prefaced, with special emphasis on that last part. Hanuu huffed, and he continued. "But Zaalbar's lifedebt to you... you defend that with your very being. What's the difference?"

Hanuu was silent for such a long time that Carth began to suspect that she was feigning sleep in order to avoid answering. But he was wrong.

"When Zaalbar swore himself to me, he literally placed his entire life in my hands. All of the potential he posses, for good or for ill, is mine to command," she paused, frowning. "That's not a promise, Carth. It's an alliance. And I place as much emphasis on honoring my alliances as you do on honoring your duty."

"Oh," Carth said, not entirely sure how to respond. After a minute he asked. "How do you differentiate between and alliance and... everything else?"

"An alliance is formed whenever you willingly take some responsibility for someone's well-being. My promise to you to make you trust me, for example, was an alliance."

"Oh," Carth repeated, shocked, and once again at a loss for words. What do you say to a declaration like that?

"Just so you know," he began finally. "I've made it my duty to make you take better care of yourself."

"I'd noticed," Hanuu chuckled. "The nagging's a little difficult to miss."

"It'll get a lot worse if you don't start getting some sleep soon sister," he threatened.

"Hey! You started this conversation, flyboy," she reminded him.

"Goodnight, Hanuu," he said pleasantly.

"Goodnight, pigman."

Carth was still grinning as he fell asleep.


Many, many thanks to Lady Tragic, who took on the noble and probably life-ending duty of becoming my beta. We who are about to type salute you!