As Kallen rattled of the details of their cargo, Raven found herself deep in thought, peering at Naruto intently, the words going in one ear and out the other.
'Naruto...just what are you?'
If he really was a Spartan, then not only did this mean that he was different, but it added a host of different questions. If he really was one of the famed elite super soldiers, then what on earth was he doing as a bounty hunter?
It made her realize just how little she knew him.
Admittedly, she now knew even less about his past.
So he'd become a spartan at age fifteen, that only made her wonder what he'd done with the last four years of his life, leading up to that hellish mission that ultimately made them an inseperable pair, the dynamic duo.
But oh, how little she knew!
To gain the power known as Vizard, you had to die, at least once, Raven knew this for certain. Yet there was no indication or sign of the blond being undead, and he certainly wasn't a ghost, so just what did that make him?
He'd once told her...
"Raven, we all have our secrets. Mine is my past. I'd...rather not talk about it."
Damn these secrets.
He sat back against the crate, legs dangling over the dock, taking a long pull from the cigarrette, letting the smoke curl into the air before him, along with his sigh. The evening sun reflected in his eyes bellying the dimming of the day's light.
Smoking was a rare treat for him, something the spartan did not often indulge himself in often. Raven would be sure to scold him if she ever caught him doing this, going on and on about how he'd give himself cancer and the like-
But cancer was the least of his worries.
He could tell.
She'd become curious again, the intensity of which so burningly bright, that it hurt just to look at her sometimes.
More than usual.
As if he didn't have enough to worry about.
Flicking his fingers, the mask appeared in his palm, staring up at him.
A dull humming sound pricked at his skull, then:
The time is fast approaching, apprentice. The deep, otherwordly voice boomed from within his skull, resonating within his skull, emanating from the mask itself, which stared up at him lifelessly. When the time comes, fufill your promise, and I will return to you all that you have lost and more.
"Yes, master." Once more, he tried to keep the anger from his voice, but failed in doing so. "I hear and obey."
Oh? You doubt me? The entity rumbled, amused, yet there was a touch of irritation to its voice, and too late, the blond realized he'd failed to restrain the bite of his tone. Then perhaps your next assignment should be more pleasing to you?
"What're you gettin' at?" The blond frowned. "You harm ANYONE and the deal is off."
'I'm already deadset against this...
Yes...perhaps such a thing can be arranged...After all, the two of you were quite young when first you met...Perhaps a visit will set your mind at ease, apprentice.
The hackles on the back of his neck rose.
He couldn't mean-
I'd rather not. Enjoy my generosity for yourself when you get there, apprentice.
With a cackle, the voice dissapeared, leaving the mask lifeless and dead as ever.
"I see you're deep in thought."
Trying not to show it, the constant dread that clouded his thoughts, Naruto looked to his right, and found that he was no longer alone. There she was, once again without her helmet, still in the suit, though her hair was no longer held back in the ponytail.
"How long have you been there?"
"Just now." She replied, staring at the setting sun. "But for a second there, it sounded like you were talking to yourself again."
"Heh." He smirked bitterly. "Sitting out here for hours can do that to ya."
'If only you knew. If only...
"She's sleeping, just so you know." Samus patted him lightly on the shoulder, and he winced at the touch. "She seems pretty upset about something."
"Did you two fight again?" She peered intently at him refusing to let her fellow blond out of the inquisitive stare.
After another long drag from the cigarette, Naruto nodded wistfully, recalling upon their pillow fight and what had come too damn close to a kiss.
"Yeah, something like that-
A dull rumbling caused the two of them to look up.
"They're here." Naruto muttered with a sigh, only just now noticing the approaching host of Knightmare's in the distance. Rising to his feet, he withdrew the metal sphere from his sleeve, and gave it a firm squeeze.
The huge hunk of machinery behind him rose, its cockpit opening for him, as the Gawain's systems powered up.
"Damnit, this is gonna be a pain in the ass after all."
As the Gawain rose to its full towering height, Kallen emerged from the nearby hatch, scrambling to her feet with speed that bellied her limber build.
"Go get Raven!" Naruto called to Samus, who slapped on her helmet, and went off in the other direction.
"That thing a two seater?" The pilot asked, jerking a thumb to the Knightmare's dual cockpit, whilst Samus went down below to wake Raven.
Naruto frowned, but grabbed onto a nearby rail as an explosion rocked the ship.
"What're you getting at?"
"You take the weapons system, I'll take the wheel!" She shouted back, as the freighter steadied itself, observing his skepticism, and not appreciating any of it. "I'm the better pilot here anyway!"
"You gotta better idea, dumbass?!" She snapped, holding her hand out to him.
Biting his tongue, the blond grabbed her wrist, and readied himself to jump the remaining distance that seperated them from the cockpit.
'I'm gonna regret this...
The Gawain was a golden black blur as it darted amongst the fighters, wiping out large swathe's of knightmares in long, wide sweeps of its cannon's, lighting the horizon as its weapons beat the night sky red with the glittering sparks of plasma.
Not a single mech got through.
"You're a pretty good pilot." Naruto remakred in between the fireworks.
"You're not too shabby yourself." Remarked Kallen with a grim smirk, as the cannons silenced another life.
By the time Samus had gotten her ship ready for takeoff, it was already over, the superior knightmare frame had wiped out the enemy.
The mech landed with a bulky clank, and an enthused Kallen jumped out of the cockpit, followed by Naruto, the duo landing smoothly on their feet, despite the long drop to the deck. Raven's brow twitched slightly when she saw that he was standing just a little too close to Kallen, or perhaps that was becauses said pilot just scooted to the side a bit.
"Well, that went better than expected." He managed, giving the redhead a brief nod of gratitude. "You're a pretty good pilot."
"You...did alright."Kallen managed, biting down on her hatred, only to find significantly less of it than before. "B-But you're mission still isn't finished! We're not even halfway to our destination, and-and-
Samus saw the way Raven was fidgeting, and an alarm bell went off in her head.
"Then its decided. We'll each take watch in shifts of two."
"Sounds good." Kallen nodded, before Naruto could voice his own opinion on the matter. "I'll go first, and we'll rotate into pairs from there."
"Fine." Muttered Raven.
"Good." Kallen whispered, countering her.
"What was that?!"
Naruto and Samus exchanged a glance, rolled their eyes, and headed down below as the bickering began.
(An hour later)
Exhausted, yet refreshed from her shower, Raven exited the shower, clad in nothing more than a bathrobe.
Its color was rather unusual for her, for it was not black as would be expected, but a stark, spotless white.
And then she saw him.
For some reason, he'd discarded his kevlar vest, and was now performing a series of situps, all in nothing more than a simple pair of khakis, and a white muscle shirt. The corner of it had rolled up a bit during the excercise, and was the reason she stared.
"That mark on your stomach...what is it?"
"Nothing." Naruto replied, just now noticing her. Almost immediately, he faced away, finished his set, rose , and slipped his flack jacket back on over the undershirt, obscurring the spherical oddity even further as she lost sight of his abdomen. "Just a tattoo."
"One that glow's in the dark?" Raven prodded with a frown.
"It's a special tattoo." He insisted, realizing far too late what this was about. It'd been a long time coming, and now he had to face her on it.
"Tell me the truth." She began, looking him square in the eye. "It's a seal, isn't it? You're a full demon because you have one sealed inside you."
He nodded stiffly.
"Anything else you forgot to tell me?"
"Raven," He eyed her warily, "I thought we talked about this-
"We did," She cut in abruptly, folding both arms across her chest, her beautiful violet eyes a shocking mix of furious misery. "But I wasn't under the impression that you were lying to me the entire time, partner."
The way she all but spit the entire sentence, made him wince. For a moment, silence reigned, and he refused to speak.
But, just when she was ready to turn her back, give up on him, he at last spoke:
"Hey, we all have our secrets. Mine is my past-
That was the straw that broke the camel's back.
All at once her emotions, which she worked so hard to control, exploded, denying her control of herself.
"No! Don't you dare give me that tired excuse, not after that!" All at once, tears sprang to her eyes, which had been dry mere moments before. For some reason, she just couldn't control herself. Perhaps it was jealousy, perhaps it was exhaustion, or maybe it was something else altogether, but whatever this strange, haywire emotion was, it broke all the restraints she had in place. "I'm...I'm tired of it! All this secrecy!"
She'd uncrossed her arms by now, and her hands sparked with violent pyschic energy, lending the air about her an almost visible shimmer. The desire to curse him was overwhelming, even more so to throw her partner halfway across the room, even if he hadn't done anything to anger her. "If you don't trust me then just say it!"
"I do trust you." He wanted to say. "More than you know."
But how could he tell her that? Despite the year of their partnership, she was still a complete stranger, even to him. He knew she loved poetry, her favorite color was indigo, and being a half demon, she wasn't really a people person.
But sadly, that was about it.
Outside the job, they had so little in common.
So they both had demon blood in their veins.
Did that really mean anything?
No, he couldn't let that happen.
"It's none of your concern." He finally replied, his tone lacking its usual charm, instead replaced by a cold indifference that she'd never seen before. "You may have shared your life story with me, but that doesn't entitle me too-
His head twisted to the side, just as her hand flew out, her fingertips grazing his face, where the scar lay.
Instinct, born from all those hellish years, kicked in, flooding him with rage and adrenaline. Voices, images memories, all those painful events that he'd suppressed roared to the surface, and though his mind screamed:
Still he lashed out with such fierceness, moving with such speed, that the blond knew, he just knew he wouldn't be able to stop in time, despite his best efforts and willingness to do so.
He hit her so hard that stars flew before her vision, and left his own hand numb. Stunned, Raven, reached to the red handprint throbbing upon her left cheek, unable to believe she'd been smacked with such force, and by him of all people.
Furious, the heroine lashed back at him, only to feel an immense force pinning her down. Cold, matchless sapphire blue eyes stared her down, not daring her to retaliate, but begging her to cease her efforts, as he lowered his hand.
Slowly, she felt her entire face heat a deep scarlet, and she began to tremble, shaking all over, despite her best efforts to control herself. Tears, hot stinging tears, dripped from her eyes, down her face, refusing to be held back any longer.
"Sorry." He looked away.
A small hiccup escaped her lips, and then all control was lost to her. Squeezing her eyes shut, Raven tried to flip the hood over her head, desperate to hide her face, but her arms refused to move, instead hugging herself tightly, the hiccup becoming a sob, then the trickle became a torrent of tears that spilled freely from her eyes.
"I...don't understand anything anymore!"
"Sorry." He repeated. In one fluid movement, he'd knelt down to hold her, wrapping her trembling frame in warm, strong arms. The embrace came so suddenly, that the poor thing just broke down, burying her head in his shoulder.
"Why?" She whispered, in a rare moment of vulnerability, still choked with sobs, and so many different emotions, each fighting for control. "Why won't you tell me?"
Sighing, the blond gently stroked her moist hair, still wet from the shower. "I just can't. Not yet." She didn't look it, but it was at times like this, that he realized just how fragile her psyche was.
Jango hadn't taught him how to comfort women, or understand them. But then again, he'd never really had the time to, what with being killed by a jedi and all.
Samus had been some help in that department, and he was on more of a friendly basis with his fellow hunter, but try as he might, he just couldn't even think of her felt like more of a big sister to him, and kissing your sister, no matter how hot she was...
Just felt weird.
His time with Ino didn't serve much example for him either, but those three years had been (arguably) the best years of his life. Granted, their work had taken them to entirely opposite ends of the galaxy, not to mention they'd be shot if anyone were to see them together...
But on the rare occasion when he could spend just a day, a measely twenty four hours in her prescence, he'd never felt so alive.
She'd been a strong girl, a true Mando, ever since Jango introduced them to each other, and one hell of a fighter. She'd never cried, at least he'd never seen her cry, and whenever he came home, if she was there, she'd be there to greet him with a warm smile.
When work allowed it, of course.
Even now, just the thought of her, even in death, took his breath away. Unbidden, a sense of rage wormed its way into his heart. It wasn't right, for her to die like that, to be ripped away from this world by that bullet, and protecting Raven, their bounty of all things!
But then he realized this was Raven, the same, trembling girl he now held in his arms, human, like anyone else. Like or not, Raven was-was-
Really all he had right now.
A sense of Deja vu washed over him as he tried his best to console her, the sobs slowly growing quieter, whilst she withdrew into herself, regained control over her wayward emotions, and slowly returned to he normal self.
This had happened once before, comforting someone, but granted, he'd been so much younger then. Before he'd joined the military, before he became a spartan, before all of this. Back then it'd been more innocent, without the constand danger of dying at any second.
Back when he had nothing, nothing at all to call his own, it was so much simpler.
So long ago.
But those times were gone.
"I'm so sorry, Raven."
"If you were sorry, you'd just tell me." She muttered, once more in control of herself, yet neither did she let go. " I know I'm not really the right person to say it, but you havebe more open." Nor did she make any effort to disentangle herself from him, his hands, resting upon her hips, pulling her into him, inhaling deeply his scent, a mixture of testosterone and sweat.
She gripped him tightly stifling another unexpected bout of weakness.
"If not, then it'll eat you up inside."
All at once, he released her, slipped on the rest of his armor, and was halfway out the door, all in a heartbeat.
"Its my turn to take watch. Get some rest."
Next time: "To hate...Is to love.: Next chapter will finish up the mission, then they're off to the One Piece Universe! Get ready for some surprises!