Disclaimer: Ren, Ioz, Tula, Niddler, the Wraith, Mer...none of it's mine. *sniffle* The other characters here all belong to me, though (like I'd want 'em *snorts*).
Author's Notes: I did write this and part 6 of Desperate Times this weekend (July 27-28, 2002), but my floppy corrupted DT, so I have to try again from home...but it's being continued! Both of these are, I swear. ;o) I wrote them while trying to avoid studying for finals this weekend and am starting to think about an actual plot to go with this one. We'll see. O:o)
Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you. *bows* :o)
Not much later, Ren--feeling very uncomfortable from the girls' attentions, Ioz and Niddler's silent amusement, and Tula's seething jealousy--was sitting at the head of a long multipurpose table below the main deck of the fishing vessel that Grath and his family owned. As soon as the burly man had seated the prince there, the girls immediately shoved ahead of the guests and grabbed spots on the benches on that side of the table, focusing their attention completely on them, and ignoring the startled and chagrined scolding from their parents for being so rude.
"...So I was actually really not wanting to come out today, you know," Jeeri was gushing, "because fishing's just so boring, you know? And we're always around the family at home, so what would be so new about this, you know? But now I'm so glad I decided to come along, since I got to meet you, Prince Ren, you know?"
Ren stifled a quiet groan. She'd shoved her sisters aside and nearly trampled them to get one of the places right next to him, and he could tell that she was inches away from outright jumping into his lap.
He wondered how he could start to edge away discreetly enough that they wouldn't get offended or scoot after him.
Denra had disappeared, evidently to ready some of her minga-nectar tea for their guests. Ioz and Niddler, evil fiends that they were, were distracting Grath from his already-futile attempts at prying his daughters' attention off Ren by striking up a conversation with him. As Grath was at the opposite end of the table, turned to his left to speak to Ioz and Niddler, he was completely oblivious to Tula, who was sitting to his right, a glare reminiscent of the Dark Dweller himself on her face. And it was directed at Ren.
Ren, meanwhile, was sweating. Not literally--well, a little literally--but he was certainly stewing in his seat, torn between trying to be polite to his new fan club, trying to wrench himself away from their all-too-eager--and hungry, Ren noted with a generous amount of embarrassment, seeing a very blatant longing in Jeeri's eyes--gazes, and glancing helplessly between them and Tula, shooting her desperate glances and asking her to throw him a line and get him out of this mess. But of course, she wasn't budging.
Ren finally gave up, shot her a point-blank glare, and rolled his eyes at her. Her eyes widened, as he completely caught her off-guard, and he felt a little stab of satisfaction at her startled and almost guilty expression. Hah, he thought, smirking silently.
One of the girls was trying to get his attention--and she looked rather embarrassed, but a bit eager as well. He steeled himself for her question, hoping it wouldn't be as terribly awkward as some of the other ones they'd asked were.
"Um--begging my pardon for asking this, Prince Son-of-Primus--" He winced openly. "But--do you--you know--have a girlfriend?"
The word girlfriend jarred everybody from their other distractions and brought their attention back to Ren and his groupies.
Ren flushed, considered his options, and then sighed, realizing that he honestly had no other choice if he wanted to get out of this.
"Er--yes," he replied, swallowing, and looked over at Tula, who was watching him impassively now, the glare conveniently gone. "Tula's my--er--girlfriend."
He caught the faintest bit of smug satisfaction on her face before she took on a properly demure look. (He was refusing to look at Ioz and Niddler, but he could feel their gazes boring into the side of his head.)
Tula smiled pleasantly at the shocked looks on the girls' faces (though Ren was almost positive he noticed the faintest tinge of a sneer below her innocent demeanor), and stood from her place and came over to Ren, and gestured for him to scoot over on his bench, which he did. She then sat down next to him, her leg brushing against his due to the small size of the bench, and wrapped her arms around him, nestling her head on his shoulder and ignoring his startled exclamation.
"And we're very happy together," she added, smiling cheerfully at the lot of them.
Then Denra re-entered, carrying a tray of tall cups with a thin, orangey-gold liquid in them. "Anybody up for some tea?" she announced, cheerfully oblivious, sliding in between Niddler and one of the sisters to place the tray down at the center of the table.
The sister she brushed against--the youngest--suddenly choked back a sob, rose from the table, and went dashing into the back room.
Ren winced, feeling a pang of regret, and then looked at the other three sisters, who were sitting back, stony-faced.
"Oh," the younger one who asked the question finally replied, flatly. "I see how it is."
"That's right," Jeeri replied, her eyes flashing. "You led us on."
"I what?" Ren blurted, totally taken by surprise. "Look, you all just--"
"You were flirting with us! You acted like you liked us!" she burst out. "You lied to us." Her lower lip started to tremble. "How could you?"
Ren exhaled sharply. "Okay, look, let me explain--" he began, but she cut him off again.
"No," she replied sharply. "I can see through you now. You're a--a--chump."
Ren opened and closed his mouth, unable to think of anything to say to that, and before he could collect his thoughts, the rest of the sisters stood and hurried from the room.
Silence once again. Ren broke it this time, though--he'd had enough.
"This is all your fault," Ren burst out angrily at Tula. "Look at what you made me do!"
She finally disentangled herself from around him. "Hey, it was your choice!" she shot back heatedly. "I gave you a way out--it's not my fault you used it!"
"Um--" Niddler's meek voice made both of them whip their heads around, and he nearly ducked behind Ioz to hide from their glowering stares. "What just happened?" he ventured.
Ren sighed, and stood, moving to the opposite side of the table from Tula so he could glare at her properly. "She--on the Wraith, she told me I could tell the girls that she was my girlfriend, and she would play along," he explained coldly. "I just didn't think she'd rub it in so much."
"Well, I didn't think he'd be such a baby about it and keep leading them on like he did!" she retorted, matching him glare for glare.
His jaw dropped. "I led them on?" he repeated, stupefied. "Tula, I did no such thing! I was being polite! I was being chivalrous! I was doing everything in my power to not hurt their feelings, and you ruined it! Look, if you have a crush on me, then you could've just told me--you didn't have to offend four innocent girls in the process!"
Tula blushed, her glare deepened, and she turned and flounced from the room in a huff.
Ren sank down at the bench next to Niddler and sighed deeply, burying his flaming face in his hands. Only then did he think to see how the parents were reacting, and he glanced cautiously up at them.
They were exchanging an unreadable look. Then, much to their surprise, the mother sat down next to Ren and placed her hand on his shoulder. "We probably should have warned you," she replied resignedly. "They do this to every boy they like, and nothing we say can change their ways. I guess they've just latched onto you. They're hot and cold—if you're at all nice, they'll latch on like sea leeches. If you brush them off, you're--er--"
"A chump?" Ren replied weakly. She let out a dismayed chuckle and nodded.
"Poor, poor boy," Grath remarked sadly, shaking his head. "I should have recognized you--it's a recent thing, the past few weeks, but I thought it would pass." He then shot Ren an amused but sympathetic look. "Maybe now it will?"
He groaned, silently muttering curses to himself, and shoved away from the table and stood. "Maybe I should go apologize to them," he suggested.
"You can try," Grath replied with a weary sigh. "It's not a large boat, not as large as yours, but there's a bedroom aft. They'll probably be there."
To be continued...