Star Wars
The Old Republic:

Freelancers

Part One: Daen

The light started to fade on the flank of the apartment tower as she waited outside in the airspeeder, observing the traffic down below through the side viewport. No lights could pierce the darkness of the lower city of Coruscant. And not from this altitude. She imagined dropping a glowstick to see just how far it would go before disappearing, or smashing in someone's windshield, causing an accident.

Running out of patience, she looked herself in the rear view monitor, adjusting a few locks of black hair behind her ears, fixing an eyelash that was bothering her during the flight. Her lips felt dry and she'd forgotten to bring some balm with her. Oh well. Even though he wouldn't be looking at her that closely she needed to feel good about herself, however vain that seemed.

Finally there was movement on the balcony she was stalking, a door slid open and a black shadow with red trims walked out on the ramp to sit itself heavily on her passenger's seat.

"Long day at the office, My Lord?"

An armored hand touched the door switch to closed position. "Just drive," he said with a sigh.

Smiling to herself she pulled the speeder away from the balcony and headed towards the floating skylanes. Rush hour, too late to find a shortcut, and she could use the quality time spent in traffic before they reached destination. Something was bothering him, it showed even though he was wearing a mask. Drake and her had been friends for as far as she could remember; fate had just decided for him to be... different.

"I'm glad you got here," he said, "what I need right now is a fresh glass of no authority."

"Can't do much about that with the creepy suit on." Daen reached for the on-board computer to activate the music station, setting it on low volume.

He turned his masked face towards her. "After all these years you still don't appreciate the uniform. It's got more class than your friends' merc gear."

"They do what they can to get by," she said, "and you can blame your colleagues for spreading the bad rap on your uniform."

She didn't need to remind him about the assault on the Jedi Temple, not today. Still there were times when she wished she had been there to change his mind about volunteering. They would have run away together and stayed under the radar while the galaxy dealt with its problems alone.

"Look," he called out, pointing a gloved finger towards a skyscraper ahead. "They finished that new tower last month. You talked about moving here before, haven't you?"

"Drake, I was twenty. And have you seen the rent in this district?"

"Those are really nice apartments, I looked it up on the Net."

"I couldn't afford it, not even if I turned my family to the Hutts."

The Ceras were banned from Nal Hutta because of a sabotage mission going wrong. Mak Cera – Daen's adoptive father - had miscalculated the explosive charges on a precision strike, destroying the wing of a Hutt palace. Then Load had tried minimizing the damage by taking out half of the guard, and stealing cargo on the way out. All repairs were paid but they were to never set foot on the planet, or cross path with Hutts again.

Drake touched the computer screen to browse her comms and she had to swat his hand away, knocking into the Cotorsis gauntlet which hurt a little.

"What are you doing? That's my privacy you're nosing into."

"You really have too much stuff in this database. What if someone steals your speeder, huh? No more work, no more credits."

"Oh," she took a sharp turn to pass a vehicle on her left. "Because moving in with you and living off your Imperial paychecks is the better option?"

His voice became softer. "You should be more open to the opportunity. It wouldn't cost you anything, just like living in your parents' freighter. Only in a bigger place and I'll be right next door instead of having you coming all the way over here."

They finally got into the entertainment district. Daen found their usual parking lot in a lower basement beneath a commerce tower and turned the music off with a flick of her thumb behind the steering handle.

"You know that I like being on the move," she tried to say with more calm. "No attachments, no restraints."

"I know, we had this conversation before." He shifted in his seat and reached behind them while she parked the speeder. "You made your own choices and I respect them."

She switched the head lights off and extracted her key card from the console, then darkness filled the compartment. Drake handed her the gloves and helmet she had kept on the backseat.

"We turned out okay, you and I," she said with a light pain in her chest.

She could only see him as a shadow reaching both his hands to his head. The next thing she heard was his own voice, husky and unfiltered. "I never doubted that."

He moved in to kiss her. Touching his bare face she closed her eyes, feeling the softness of his cleanly shaved cheeks, then her fingertips met a painfully deep scar under his jawline. She repressed a sob. They met once a year at best and every time she discovered new wounds, and worse disfigurement. Even if she did not ask who had done that to him she knew he was feeling her anger.

Sith warriors constantly fought and tricked eachother for power, to gain rank and impress their masters, but she tried not to wrap her mind around it. The sight of one of them walking around in Drake's same cloak and armor was enough to make her blood boil.

Pulling away from him she sniffled loudly and wiped her hands up her forehead to flatten the hair on her scalp. She slipped the helmet on, clipping the seals down on her collar and watched the HUD system come online. With her own gloves on she was now confined in the isolated climate of her suit, with its heavy plating and hidden artillery in almost all places. The anonymous mask and the threatening look of her outfit made her feel closer to him somehow.

Drake nudged her back to her senses and they exited the vehicle. "Come on, we got work to do."

They got to the open air plaza of the entertainment district which was crowded with more lifeforms than a small planet could withstand. It was night time, but the numerous signs and colored neon lights made it as bright as noon. Daen had trouble sorting through her biological filters and her HUD kept focusing its scans on every new species or humanoid that walked by.

Drake kept a short lead on her left – only a head taller than her, the crowds seemed to part in front of him like pushed away by an invisible shield. But seeing the look in their eyes and optical organs it was clear that none of them wanted to come close to a Sith. It was nice not bumping into them but she felt exposed, and observed. Turning her head slightly towards them was all they needed to suddenly go about their business.

"They remember you," Drake said, hardly covering his voice. A female Rodian startled before cowering deeper into the crowd. "Soon you won't need to send out resumes to find work."

"To me they seem more fascinated by their shoes right now."

"Don't let that fool you," he scornfully replied, "with a passive attitude and false concern in the eyes, anybody seems innocent."

She smirked beneath her helmet, sent back into her memories from a time when he wasn't even an Imperial yet. "But you know better, don't you."

Turning his head towards her she couldn't see his mask because of the hood of his cloak, luckily the crowds became less dense now and she walked up to his level, careful not to step on his draping.

"Times don't change that much," he said.

She nodded, spotting the lounge where they had to make contact with an informant. She had no idea who it was, it changed every year.

"Go around the back," Drake told her. "If our Jedi is in there he'll most likely take the service exit once I come in."

She threw a look inside the lounge – a strip club, really – and held her hands to her hips.

"What if he gets stupid and makes a scene?"

She heard a small chuckle behind his mask that wasn't picked up by his communicator.

"Too much collateral in there, no Jedi would risk waving a lightsaber two paces away from hot lekku."

It wasn't the first time they were hunting together, most of times simple criminals that harmed Imperial interests. Drake was trained for far worse but he chose the little jobs too... just to be with her, maybe? Daen followed his instructions before her thoughts became irrational. Finding a back alley around the square building the service door was exactly where she expected, but a bouncer stood there. A tall green-skinned Twi'lek who seemed to spend his daytime at the gym and the rest at the local fast-food diner. Daen walked carefully up to him, hands at her sides to show peaceful intent.

"I'm waiting for someone."

The bouncer with the large green head-tails opened his red eyes wide. "You!... You work with the Sith-- My apologies, sorry." He pushed the door control and it slid open. "Didn't realize at first, you know..."

Caught aback by his reaction she went along with it and entered the bass-abusive music-blasting smoky establishment. People dressed in their best party attire sized her up like she was the worse looking alien they'd seen, others cowered in that familiar docile attitude she noticed in the streets earlier.

"Don't worry," she mumbled to herself. "I won't confiscate your death sticks."

She was stopped by a line of females waiting to go to the sanitaries, but the main room was dead ahead, with tables, stages, strobe lights and really loud suggestive music that she had to filter out in her audio settings. There were a few humans but mostly Twi'leks dangling their lekku around, twisting and performing for credit chips. The patrons had portable devices that made it easier to tip if they wanted to.

Daen stood there, almost mesmerized by the multiple shows and tried not to let her mind wander. There were booths on the far left side of the lounge and a waitress was bending over to a customer, hard to see in the dim lights. The Twi'lek stood up and pointed across the room then a black shadow rose in front of her. Daen focused in her HUD to zoom in the picture. Black gloved fingers slid around the face of the purple-skinned waitress who smiled and winked at the man standing over her.

Typical, she thought. Unable to watch, finding it hard to breathe she forced herself to stay alert and pay attention. Someone came into her field of vision, all blurry and out of focus.

"Are you waiting in line?" shouted a female voice. It was strange to even find any female customers in here. Daen stepped aside and shook her head so that the young lady could walk away. "Oh, good. Thanks."

Hastily moving forward she needed to keep track of Drake but he was nowhere to be seen. Proceeding further inside would break the trust he had put in her, her place was at the back door. Once outside again the green bouncer revealed his sharp yellowish teeth in an annoyed expression.

"Couldn't find who you were looking for?"

"Hard to say at this time." A diplomatic answer, she felt proud of herself.

Then, with surprising speed someone bolted out of the door, sending the Twi'lek guard spinning and eventually falling to the ground. A blur of brown robes stopped at the opposite wall of the back alley, a male human Jedi with the typical Jedi outfit, armor, cloak, boots and unmistakable lightsaber hilt in hand.

She raised her blaster pistol knowing she wouldn't stand a chance against a Force-wielder who could swat away her shots like a mild annoyance.

"Freeze! Drop your weapon," Daen shouted at the top of her lungs. Once again, a pointless strategy given the situation. But a decade of police training still had a hold on her reflexes.

The young man – six feet tall, dark hair, light complexion - ignited his lightsaber illuminating the dark alley with a blue and white flash. With his other hand he showed his open palm; Daen felt the grip on her weapon loosen as if invisible strings were pulling away from her. She cussed out loud, knowing she was losing her focus and needed a new strategy. Where was Drake now that she was finally in front of a Jedi?

Acting on impulse, she dropped her weapon which flew off and threw herself forward on her unusual adversary. He caught the blaster he seemed so eager to catch with his Force trick which gave Daen the needed distraction to swing an armored foot up the back of his left knee where there was no protection. He fell on his side with a yelp. Daen saw her blaster dropping but was too busy getting back on her feet, and activating through her helmet the only weapon at her disposal that the Jedi couldn't bat off with his lightsaber: the gauntlet-mounted flamethrower.

The HUD flashed a warning in the middle of her field of vision: INCENDIARY FLUID FAILURE.

"What the frig?" she hissed.

Everything went blurry when the Jedi charged her, blazing blue saber raised to strike her down and she saw a flash of pure white, lifted her arms up as a reflex to protect her head. She fell on her back as something sparkled and she smelled charred metal. The bright blue light had disappeared in a shriek and the Jedi stood there, baffled at his deactivated weapon. Thank you Cotorsis plates, she thought.

More warnings popped up and blinked around in her HUD telling her that her weapon diagnosis system wasn't happy. THE FOLLOWING DEVICES ARE DAMAGED OR DISCONNECTED: GRILL – POISONATOR – FISHING LINE – KITCHEN KNIFE. So much for renaming her devices while bored. She really needed to modify the notification settings when she got back home. If she made it alive.

The alley was dark but a red light appeared accompanied with a low hum and the Jedi reignited his lightsaber. Daen got up again, now ignored by her opponent who focused all of his attention on Drake.

"Took you long enough!" she sighed, picking up her blaster from the concrete ground.

Holding his red lightsaber in a low guard he barely turned his head to her. "You could use some practice." He nodded in direction of her hands. "You alright?"

Her heart was already racing from the adrenaline and it got a little worse. "Yeah," she said, breathing slowly.

The Jedi used the downtime to rush in for battle, both hands gripping his weapon tightly as he attacked. Drake immediately blocked his attempts at going through his defense, and pushed him ten feet away with his own powers. Daen wasn't a fan of Force displays, it made her feel helpless even when she wasn't involved in the duel.

The man looked a little dizzy from the invisible blow but got back into the fight, exchanging violent strikes against Drake again. Daen stepped back, mesmerized by the performance. Laser blades clashed and flashed until all of them turned their attention to the door as it opened again. A Twi'lek woman – young as well, probably still a teenager – stood there, eyes wide in shock at the scene.

"Liina!" said the Jedi, obviously worried and upset.

The blue-skinned girl – a dancer, by the looks of her outfit – hid her mouth with her hands and started to cry. "Harek, I'm so sorry!"

The only one who made abstraction of her interference was Drake. He pointed his blade in a horizontal angle and pierced the chest of the Jedi. Daen fought not to look at the girl's face when she cried a loud "No!", and picked up the discarded lightsaber. The red light from Drake's own weapon faded and he stepped away from the lifeless body.

The Twi'lek called Liina cradled the dead man in her arms, sobbing. Daen just wanted to leave her there and move on, but Drake stood over the girl.

"This is Sith controlled territory," he said, speaking softly but he sounded really annoyed. "He knew what the stakes were."

"But he meant nothing wrong!" she whimpered, combing the Jedi's hair with her blue fingers. "You didn't have to kill him!"

"It's my job to keep the people safe here, young lady. I should arrest you for endangering us all by bringing a Jedi within our borders."

"That doesn't make any sense," she protested.

Daen watched him kneel down to her level, he rested a hand on her shoulder and murmured. "He was using you for his own interests and assassinated many of our agents. He made you believe that he had feelings for you... but you know better now."

She almost instantly stopped sobbing and moved away from the corpse. With a black-gloved thumb Drake dried a tear from her cheek.

"I... I should go back to work," she said with an even voice. "From now on I'll stay away from the Jedi and customers who won't pay me."

And she strode back inside the club. Drake lifted his left arm up and tapped something on the inside of his gauntlet before walking out of the alley with Daen.

"That was awfully kind of you," she commented.

He grabbed her arm to examine the damage caused by the Jedi's blade before the Cotorsis plating could block it. There was a burned hole in Daen's combat suit showing her left wrist charred on the outside. It hurt like hell.

"Nothing a little Kolto can't fix," she said.

He looked at her through his mask. "When will you let me teach you to fight properly?"

She freed herself and they kept moving down the plaza, as two regular pedestrians at night. "I know you mean well but I'd rather have a strictly casual relationship with you." There were dancing colored lights on a panel advertising a new holovid game and she let her eyes wander. "And Mak wouldn't be too happy about me training with a Sith."

Drake remained silent and she pondered whatever made him hesitant to reply. They arrived in front of the theater where a mass of people were gathered on the sidewalk and they looked at the strange couple, from a safe distance.

"You chose the right people to surround yourself with, Daen. No matter what they say."

She looked at him and met his gaze. That mask of his had become a reassuring sight. "I'm glad you think that, it matters a lot to me."

Twenty eight years old and no place of her own, recently laid off, still single and no kids, she had lots of reasons to feel insecure. When she wasn't helping Mak and Mora with private shipping – aka. smuggling – she traveled alone: scavenging ghost ships, bodyguard contracts, escorts, spying... And when she got tired she found Drake for a few days. He was her anchor to sanity and she liked to believe that he needed her, too.

They went back to his apartment where she could station her speeder in a private hangar, next to his own "Sith bike". It was a place he rarely used and never had anyone coming over for dinner so it looked bland like a hotel room.

"If you ever need paintings or nice decorations I can hook you up."

The walls were black, the carpet was black, the lights were dim. Perpetual darkness. With his red-trimmed cloak Drake looked like a piece of furniture himself.

"You're welcome to arrange it to your liking if you stay," he replied.

Out of her armor and into her sleeping slacks she went to stand at the window on the balcony and looked at the starry sky. Ships flew by with their bright traffic lights and ion engines powering up to pierce the atmosphere. Projectors slowly swiped the landscapes to position the highest towers, air speeders and taxis sparkled the invisible lanes below. Hours would pass by and she wouldn't get bored of watching Coruscant.

"I could get used to this," she thought out loud, playfully tugging at the bandage on her wrist.

He stood beside her, she felt a hand around her back and warm air in her neck. "Then don't fight it," he said.

She mustered the courage to look into his hazel eyes. His skin was as pale as she remembered, and this time he had cut his sand-colored hair a little shorter. The scar she had felt earlier went from beneath his chin to his right cheek, still red and swollen. A laser blade wound for sure.

"Another Sith did that to you, wasn't it?"

He nodded lightly and leaned on the railing. He wore the plain black clothes all warriors wore under their armor. "Yesterday. An apprentice challenged me after we had a little argument."

"An argument..."

"It doesn't matter now," he said after a pause. "He payed his arrogance with an arm and a leg. He gave his life for his stupidity."

"Fierfek, Drake. He almost cut your head off."

"Almost," he smiled. "I made tea."

She smiled back, it was so like him to go from terrifying stories to the mundane and innocent. It was probably that side of his person that helped him survive the Sith Academy.

"Of course you did."

They went back inside and the lights increased gradually, allowing her to look through her food cabinets and storage closets. There wasn't much to be found except for the basics.

"You won't find anything to steal here."

"Huh," she responded before sitting at the counter as he poured her a cup. "I don't steal."

"Then if I go through your things now I won't find Harek's lightsaber?"

"Harek?" Frig, I forgot that poor bastard's name already. "He didn't need it anymore."

According to Drake: killing people everyday was fine but stealing wasn't, and she spent her life salvaging other people's belongings. Daen bit the inside of her lips to keep herself in check.

"No." He sat opposite to her and looked at the wall for a moment. "A Republic spy would have used a better cover. Why send a Jedi?"

She slowly sipped the tea. "Maybe he did come to see that dancer after all?"

"In his robes and armor? It doesn't add up. No Jedi stands a chance in these parts."

His hands around the ceramic cup were rugged and there was some bruising. Daen had noticed the metallic knuckle pads on his gloves and they matched the markings on his skin. Yet another hint of how brutal his daily life was. She replayed the duel in her head.

"Is it true that he killed those agents?"

He looked at her straight in the eye before answering. "He might have."

"You could interrogate that Twi'lek later on, she might know stuff about her HoloNet lover."

A smile stretched his lips thin. "You believe that's how they met?"

"Everyone gets bored. Don't tell me you've been busy everyday since the peace treaty."

"My butt itches when I sit around for too long."

She nudged his arm with a cocky grin. "But you love texting me. For hours. You have no idea how many times I risked my life to send you a reply."

"Right, because you have so much to do."

"Hey I may be unemployed but I ain't idle. Get yourself an obedient house slave if you want dinner and something to screw once a week."

Drake shrugged innocently. "Believe what you want, that's not my style--"

He froze in the middle of his sentence like he'd heard something.

"Ugh," she complained. "The Force is paging you?"

Checking the chrono on the wall's holo display, he put his tea cup down. "I may have to head out to the Academy soon."

"No time for a quickie?" she suggested hesitantly and followed him into his room.

"Afraid not." He grabbed a piece of armor, turned around and pulled her against him. She felt him rest his chin on her head. "But hold on to that thought."

He had different sets of the same outfit and armor and she helped him put on a clean one. After he had all the plates equipped and adjusted he grabbed his mask and she got him in his red-trimmed black cloak.

"So this time it's not safe to be seen together?" she asked, heart pounding. The idea of being left alone while he was out there always made her go irrational.

Lightsaber clipped to his belt, he pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and he was all set. "You have the key codes to come and go as you please. Can you fix up something to eat for when I get back?"

"What?!"

"Ha ha," he said and poked her nose. "Gotcha."

She watched him leave with determination, not looking back and certainly not saying goodbye. Whatever was waiting for him at his headquarters she trusted he could deal with. For her part it was time to tend to her damaged suit.

She brought her belongings into the living room to work on her sewing skills and something dropped to the floor with a muffled thud. The Jedi's lightsaber. Daen picked it up, examined it closely to find any kind of marking on the metallic hilt. Her eyes stopped on the ignition switch.

"You're not that retarded now," she said to herself.

Holding the silver tube as far as her arm went she squinted and pressed the button down. It shrieked and emitted that bright blue light she had seen earlier. Disconcerted by the absence of additional weight, she tried waving the thing around and heard it humming in the air. All of the sudden she imagined a similar light appearing in front of her, a red one, held by a black figure standing over her.

She pressed the button again and watched the blade disappear along with the creepy vision. The weapon had lost all its fantastic might on her and she just left it far away on the low table.

If another hunting opportunity presented itself she would have to get used to all of this.