For the Sake of A Smuggler's Heart

Sometimes I think you guys get tired of hearing this but...I DONT OWN ANY CHARCTERS except Nomica.

This is my first One-shot using an OC, so fat chance you'll see her pop up again. This is also my first shot with romance in it, and no, before you ask, ITS NOT WITH EITHER RATCHET OR CLANK. Re-read title and you'll get the hint ^.^

My character...is not beautiful, as you will soon find out. I did that...on purpose, I guess. I was tired of reading stories where Ratchet or Clank fall in love with beautiful, flawless girls right at first sight. Not saying there bad, I'm just saying that I got kind of sick of them after awhile. I wanted to show that there can be love without everything being so...pretty and perfect. Truth of it is, people do stupid stuff. They make mistakes. They have flaws. I guess it's sort of another reason I choose Smuggler as the other main character beside Talwyn and Nomica.

As for the Smuggler's real name...I honestly didn't know what it was. But the name I choose for him just felt...right, for some weird reason. Takes place in ToD, and please don't ask me why the Smuggler went in with Ratchet and Clank, because if you REALLY wanted a reason, I'm guessing he kind of knew she was there...

Cuz I don't think my other one went through: Shout out to RobotAuction for all her help and reviews. YOUR EPIC!

ANYWAYS, enough of that, time to move on to the story ^.^

Zordoom prison was the universal hell.

Tachyon had taken measures to ensure that. Built on a hot, inhospitable planet, the only wish that you had was to embrace the cold, phantasmagorical state of the after-life. Torture was a daily routine, one that the prisoners had to labor through with, at times, an almost keen fondness. It convinced them that they were real and that this was not just some nightmare cooked up by dark fears and thoughts.

In a suspended, cramped cell, Talwyn Apogee huddled against the far wall. She was scared. Very scared. More scared than she had ever been before. Amidst the fear was a deep rooted worry for her two companions; how would Cronk and Zephyr fair? Two old warbots in a host of very young, very angry guards and prisoners? She could imagine their screams in her head, almost to the point of hearing them aloud.

"Hey." the voice was soft, obviously female, with a light insect-like buzz that was very apparent near the start and finish of the word, but not so much in the middle. It came from the wall to her left, and assumedly, from the suspended cage there.

Talwyn, not really in the mood for conversations with what would probably be some mass murderer, stayed quiet and tried to calm her heavy breath.

"Come on, I know you're in there. I heard them put you in there." slight annoyance came off, but Talwyn was puzzled,. The buzzy voice was strange enough, but the longer sentence seemed to give the other prisoner trouble; it sounded labored, with breaks and pauses, as if there was some type of struggle. If not for the fact that, from this, Talwyn guessed that the individual was in no condition to do anything, she would have never said anything at all. As a matter of fact, she still really wasn't sure why she had started up a conversation, even with somebody as in obvious distress as the person was. She could only guess she felt sorry for it.

"What do you want?"

"To talk. Your new, and I was hoping to get updated on the news from the outside world." A groan of pain interrupted the casual voice. "Don't worry, I won't ask your name. Probably think I'd do something horrible with it."

A likely story. Just wanted the 'news' huh? Well she could play at that game too.

"Nothing much has happened that I recall. Ant news from in here worth knowing?"

A buzzy, cold laugh. "Alright, let's try another question, shall we? What did you do to get in here?"

Talwyn was silent. The alien on the other side was asking too many questions for her taste. Did she even actually care, or was she just trying to press information from her?

The voice let out a ragged sigh.

"Listen kid-"

"I am not a kid!" The indignant reply came before Talwyn could stop herself.

"-Fine. Person, I understand if you don't want to talk, but you gotta realize that you're going to spend a lot of time in here, and it doesn't help if you've got nobody to talk to. Trust me, I know. Plus, most of the people here didn't even commit any real crimes; just rebel against emperor Tachyon."

"I'm guessing you were with the aforementioned group? What did you do to get in here?"

"Me? Well, several things. Sabotage, illegal smuggling, and fir being part of a underground information act."

"A what?"

"The UIA, we smuggled information like wares, giving it out to the people who needed it. Unfortunately, the information was...slightly illegal, although completely legit. Tachyon was not pleased that it got around, you see." The person let out a groan and slammed into the wall, causing Talwyn to jump.

"Sorry, " they apologized. "This just really hurts."

"What wrong?"

"Electro-Nanotech. Delivers a painful shock every couple of seconds. New toy." they let out a strangled laugh. "Thanks for the conversation though, it is distracting."

"How long have you been in here?"

There was a low buzzing noise, and it only took Talwyn a second to figure out it was from her neighbor. It stopped as they started to speak.

"Hard to tell really. I thinks it's probably been about two years now. Really haven't dwelled upon it. Kind of depression, you know?"

Two years? Two years...

"What's your name?" asked Talwyn. The silence that followed made her almost wish she hadn't asked the question. she was about to apologize when the woman spoke up.

"Nomica, but my fronds call me Blitz."

"Why?"

"Because I get them outta jams. I was a smuggler once, you know."

Talwyn paused. It was only polite to give her name back, but was it wise? People could do a lot of things with a name...

...most of them, however, required you not to be locked up in a high security hell hole for the rest of your life. She relented.

"Talwyn. Talwyn Apogee."

There was a pause. "Apogee? As in, Max Apogee."

"Yes."

A low buzz.

"Interesting. Tell me, Miss Apogee; how did you come to Zordoom?"

And she told her. She told Nomica everything. When she had finished, Nomica laughed.

"What a story! Fortunately for you, you won't be here much longer. That Lombax of yours will come get you and your two warbots."

"How?" moaned Talwyn. "He doesn't even know we're here. Besides, it would be too dangerous for him to stop his current mission to come and get us."

A scoff. "Listen, nothing sounds too dangerous for that boy. With his robot companion they seem like a pretty unstoppable force." Nomica's voice faltered and a buzzing made Talwyn's ears ring.

"Are you alright? What's that buzzing sound?"

"I'm Noctoid, so that buzzing is me. Don't worry, I'll be okay." panted Nomica "Maybe I just need some sleep..."

Noctoid? They were an insect-like race of creatures. Very common, if not with about two dozen different species. She should have figured that out with the buzzing, but most Noctoids she had met had either chirped or clicked (depending on their species.)

"Talwyn?"

"Huh? What?" asked the Apogee, whisked from her thoughts.

"I said just call me if you need anything, okay?"

The adventurer smiled. "Yeah. Thanks." She listened closely as Nomica snuggled up in the corner nearest to her cell. Maybe she was right. The fact that she had contacted Talwyn first showed that she wanted, or maybe needed, a companion. Who was in here, she wondered, and how many of them deserved to be?

Two years. Could she take that here? She wasn't sure. Then again, Nomica seemed almost normal. But, if she was anything like Smuggler...

A soft buzzy snore passed through the thickness of the cell wall, a comforting white-noise against the strangely distant cacophony of the rest of the prison.

Nomica (or should she call her Blitz now?) had said that Ratchet would come for her. Would he? Would he risk his mission to save them?

It sounded like something stupid and heroic he would do.

Talwyn could only hope.

Talwyn jerked awake. Alarms, shrill and screaming, filled her head and flashing lights made her blink furiously.

"What going on?" asked Talwyn above the din.

There was weary chuckle. "He's coming for you. I told you so."

"Nomica?" The Noctoid didn't sound very good. Her voice was dry and hoarse.

The containers they were in jerked to life, causing Talwyn to lose her balance and slam into the wall. Quickly regaining her footing, she drew her hidden blaster from it discreet (and only slightly indecent) hiding place. The rail they were suspended on came to a sudden halt, once again causing the Markazian to go careening. After a few moment of stillness, the door slid open, revealing the silhouette of a short figure with very large ears.

Talwyn, not being one to miss a beat, leapt up and exited the cage, pointing her pistol at other surrounding, nonexistent enemies. There she notice, with Ratchet and Clank was somebody she did not expect to see.

"Smuggler? Why is he here?"

The Smuggler just adjusted the large gun he had at his hip and slightly tipped his hat to the woman. Ratchet rolled his eyes.

"What, not even a thank you?" he asked, fake hurt dripping off his words.

"Thank you Ratchet- and yes, you too Clank- , but have you found Cronk and Zephyr yet?"

"We kind of hoping you knew."

Talwyn thought back for a moment. The warbots had been taken down a different path than she had, but if she thought really hard about it, she was sure she could remember the way.

"I think I do. Come on, let's-" The sentence stopped halfway as a sudden thought slammed into her head like a wall in a high-speed chase.

Was is wise? She'd done wiser. Was is smart? She'd done smarter. Two words were the only things that were between her leaving and her hopping on that computer right there.

Two years.

"Hold up a moment guys." she sighed. She waved a vague hand to the cell that was left of hers. "Open it."

"What? Why?"

"Just...open it. You have the code right?"

Ratchet nodded to Clank, who quickly moved the rail to the other cage. Typing at a speed too fast for the mammal mind to keep up with it, Clank typed in the code and the door slid open. It seemed as if everyone leaned forward expectantly to see who was inside.

Nomica kept herself up by leaning heavily against the wall. Her breathing was ragged and uneven.

She was obviously Noctoid: her face was angular, with a sharp chin and nose. Two huge fist-sized compound eyes stared at the group through many lens. Thin lips, which were tightly pressed into a fine line, only part to allow a long, thin tongue to lick to them, giving them what little moisture she had left. Her neck was attached to narrow shoulders, which tapered down to a narrow and angular body. Her skin almost matched her hair; which were both separate shades of green. From her hair stood out to antenna's wilting pitifully.

What caught Talwyn's attention right off the bat, however, were the two large, iridescent insect wings that drooped at her sides. They fluttered slightly at the opening of the portal.

"Well, aren't you a pretty Markazian! You don't have to do this." It was more of a groan than a voice. Every so often the older Noctoid female would shudder. Talwyn reached out to her.

"Don't touch me. You'll get shocked."

"I won't." aid a deep, suave voice, one tinged with a peculiar accent that really couldn't be place. Nomica seemed to be having trouble focusing on the man behind Talwyn.

"Well I'll be damned." she whispered.

"Blitz, you have gotten yourself in a mighty fine situation here." said the Smuggler, putting a hand on one hip. Talwyn looked between the two, stuck somewhere between awe and confusion. Nomica shook her head. adjusting herself against the wall, the Noctoid wrapped her wings around her chest and back, the tip coming to a rest just below her shoulder blades. Seeing this was done, the Smuggler scooped her up, the shocks bouncing harmlessly against his scaly skin.

"Hmph, usually I'm getting people out of these situations."

"Knew you would trip up."

"Thanks Smug."

"Shut it. You need rest." The Smuggler walked out of the cramped area and into the artificial light of the release bay. He turned to Ratchet.

"I'm taking her back to the ship. Should have some things there that can help her. You three can handle things on your own, I take it?"

Talwyn, Ratchet, and Clank exchanged glances.

"Yeah, meet you out there. Don't get killed on the way out." responded Ratchet. Smuggler, already turning, waved his gun around in a small circle.

"You need that advice more than I do, partner, after all, I got us in here didn't I?"

Talwyn waited until the pair had turned the corner before speaking her mind.

"What...just happened here?" she asked.

"I'm betting some long and complicated back-story that we're going to hear about later." Ratchet cocked his Combustor. "Better have fun with the action while it lasts."

"Lead the way, Miss Apogee. Cronk and Zephyr are not going to wait forever." reminded Clank. Talwyn nodded

"Follow me boys, and try to keep up."

So that's where you were these last coupla years." commented Smuggler. He had set Nomica up on a couple of crates in the back of his ship. Smuggler himself was rummaging through a crate of nanotech-related items. When he finally found what he needed, he approached the injured woman.

The hardened Smuggler's face fell to one of worry as he turned to look at his long lost friend. She was pale; her usual forest green skin now almost a pastel. Her eyes were unfocused and her face scrunched up in pain. Her body was rigid and shaking as shock after shock ripped through her system. Smuggler sat heavily on a crate next to her.

"Ah hell Blitz, what have you gone and done to yourself?" The poor creature just shook her head in reply. Wishing to see her pain no more, Smuggler brought a small gun-like device to her neck and pulled the trigger. The effect was immediate; Nomica's body loosened and her face relaxed. She took a sharp gasp of air.

"Thanks." she managed. Her body felt numb and tingly and her head light.

Smuggler sighed. He wanted to approach the topic gently, but the questions were burning in his head.

"You could have told me you were in trouble."

Nomica shook her head, daring to sit up a bit to see him better. "No. Trust me when I say it wouldn't have worked."

"How come?"

"They were waiting for me to contact somebody or vise versa. They knew I wasn't alone."

"I coulda got Vertil and Dorn to come. Woulda been an easy job." he argued. The anger in his voice was becoming apparent.

"That's a lie and you know it! They were using me as bait Smug!"

"I did warn you about taking that job Blitz."

"Yes you did!"

Finally his composure snapped.

"Damn it Blitz!" He slammed a fist down on the crate, making her jump. "Two years you were gone! Two damn years! Not a word, not a peep, not even a mention of your name in the back-water gossip! You coulda been dead for all I knew!"

"I took a job Smug! You knew the consequences and so did I. If you weren't okay with me going, you should have said something! Otherwise, I don't see why you were so worried!"

"Worried? I was outta my damn mind! You were my partner, the only person in the biz who I could trust, and you went up and disappeared without a trace. Not only that, but when I do find you, your locked up and tortured in Zordoom! Did that damnable UIA get you out? It sure doesn't look like it, because here you are!"

"Smug I wa-"

"What you shoulda done was stick with me and the trading business!"

"Like that had any less chance of me ending up in Zordoom! How many close calls have you had since I left, Smug?"

"Those were close calls, I never got caught!"

"It was one job! I would have come back!"

"BUT YOU DIDN'T!" The rage made the air thick and tense. The pair's faces were only inched apart. Smuggler glared at her, his cold, hard yellow eye boring into her, waiting for her rebuttal.

Somewhere inside, he know it was partly his fault. He should have said something, but he was too macho to admit his feelings. Looking at her, he felt scared for a moment. He thought she had lost her fiery sprit in Zordoom; that they had managed to break somebody he had previously though unbreakable. That they had changed her, and that he had allowed that to happen.

Then, she promptly slapped him.

Smuggler reeled back at the unexpected and painful contact.

"What in the-" he started, his cheek throbbing and heated.

"That was for making me feel bad about staying in that hell hole! Did you even consider what it had to be like for me being two years without you?" She opened her mouth, as if to say more, then promptly closed it.

"You know what? Just forget about it. I don't want to deal with this right now." The Noctoid turned away from him and laid back down on the crates, her back to him. Smuggler growled and stormed up to the cockpit, where he angrily checked the incoming messages. There was only one: from Ratchet, telling him that they had found the two old bots, but were having difficulties getting out. His instructions were to hold tight and only fire if fired upon first.

Trouble? How long would that take? Glancing back at the prone figure in his cargo, he picked up the soft, rhythmical buzz. He had to guess that Blitz was asleep. Good, she would need that rest for when he handed her ass back to her on a silver platter!

A tiny part of him knew that his anger was misplaced. She had made a mistake and had already paid dearly for it. He was sure him ripping into her didn't made her feel any better, but damn it, he had worried. Two years gone by and he still asked around for her at every place he traded. He had never stopped hoping, never gave up.

This time he turned his chair around completely to look at his old partner. Leaning back, Smuggler crossed his arms over his chest. His red parrot, who had been quiet up till this point, fluttered over and sat on the wheel.

"Smug's gotta crush! ACK! Smug's gotta crush."

"Shut up ya life-wasting pile of feathers!" Smuggler hissed, not even denying what his pet was saying. He knew about love and people's backward views of it. He also knew about needs and how they were met. Hell he was a male smuggler, and not a horrible looking one at that. He knew about attraction.

But the woman front of him could do things to him...

Sure, they had been partners, thrown together in an uncanny circumstance. Nomica had been nice to him Still was when her temper didn't flare. Strange thing was, he had started to be nice back. Then there was the attraction. It wasn't the musky, lust-filled attraction he was used to seeing. It was new, and somehow more...complicated. He craved for her touch, but even more so her craved her approval, her acceptance. Of what, he did not know. A comforting smile, a lock of the eyes, was all he need to feel to know that with every day, wither it was wise or not, that acceptance was given. That gave him a...a warmth he had never felt before. It was a simple feeling, but it affected him in such a way...

The first, and only, time they kissed he was sure something in him had been jarred loose. Her lips just merged so perfectly with his, which tingled at the contact. That same warmth welled up in his stomach and exploded like fireworks. It was a pleasure he had never experienced before and he barely had the dignity to let her pull away.

That was before she had left on that ill-fated trip. It was only after she had gone that he realized full what the feelings he had harbored toward her were. He had thought he had known love, but he had been a fool. His love had come from desperate women on back-water planets.

This new alien feeling...that love came from the heart. A heart he didn't think he had.

Smuggler got up and sat next to her again. He reached out a hand to touch her hair, but stopped himself.

This was stupid. He didn't have time for this. He returned to his seat, the forlorn loneliness that he had felt the last two years suddenly surging back. Why did he even bother...

"What the matter Avrail, your very quiet." Her voice rang out on the silent ship.

It all came flooding back with the sound of his name on her voice, the warmth drowning out the cold that had been there for so long.

Avrail. He hadn't been called that in such a long time.

One smooth movement. He was just that good. Their lips were locked and his hands were tangled in her hair. In the process, his hat had come off, and dropped soundlessly to the floor.

He had been angry at her for leaving.

But now it was time to show her how glad he was that she came back.

FIN