Jaeda sniffed away a few angry tears as she stalked past the ship’s holocom on the way to her quarters, and cursed (not for the first time) the medic who’d thought it was a good idea to reroute what was left of her tear ducts into her sinuses. Why had she ever thought this man would be any different from all the rest? Torian was a good partner in the field, a skilled fighter, a... jerk.
At least she hadn’t cried in front of him.
If she was being honest with herself, she’d half-meant it. What she’d said to him on Taris. She’d been glad on hearing Torian was on Taris, looking forward to seeing his grin again. Even if her first sight of his face had been above a blaster aimed at her heart. “Maybe I was just eager to see you again after Dromond Kaas.” It was the first thing that had popped into her head; he’d been shocked, enough for her to disarm him, but that didn’t mean she’d lied.
She’d thought his shock then might mean he was glad to see her too. Not after what he’d said today. No. Just the rejection she was used to. Just another mocking jerk. She punched the code to the armor locker hard enough to sting calloused fingertips, and slammed the door wide when the lock clicked open.
Snarling under her breath, Jaeda buckled on armor and gear. The motions were familiar, calming. By the time she was fully geared up she wasn’t sniffling any more. She did one last check on the armor, all statuses green, and pulled her weapon from its clamps on the door of the armor locker, shrugging it into the holster on her backplate.
Carrying her headgear in one hand, she went down the stairs to the airlock - hesitated at the airlock, then moved to the foot of the stairs and called up them. “Mako? With me.”
“Boss?” came back faintly from the control center, and then Mako was clattering down the stairs, gunbelt in one hand, slinging her go bag over one shoulder with the other.
Torian stiffened at that and blurted a protest from his post near the exit bay. “Take me!”
She met his eyes, let her… scorn (not betrayal, not hurt, not now, hide those, always) …let her scorn curl her lip. “No” was all she said, but his face went still and stern and he nodded acceptance.
“I’ll be here,” he said, and she turned away and cycled through the lock.
“Mako?” Torian stood at the entrance to the command deck, peering around the entryway.
“Torian? C’mon in, nobody here bites!”
He scanned the small control room and ducked inside gingerly. “Nobody here but you. Good to know you don’t bite. Hoping you could help me with something.”
“Sure, Torian, what do you need?” Mako studied the Mandalorian. He seemed out of place in the high tech control center, tall and blond and nervous around the computers and comm systems that were her oldest friends.
He sighed and leaned his hands on the back of the pilot’s chair, looking out the viewscreen. “Know I made a mistake back then. Didn’t mean it, but the Hunter’s been taking you on missions, avoiding me. Her right, not saying different. But I’d like to fix it…”
“Just talk to her, Torian.”
“How?” he growled. One fist balled up and drew back and he punched the back of the pilot’s chair lightly. “She’s ducking me.” His hand fell back to his side and he turned to her. “Anyway, had another idea. Want to track down the guy who hurt her.”
Mako eyed him dubiously. “What if there’s more than one?”
His feral grin took her aback. “Then more than one fool will die.”
She looked at him for a long moment, black eyes steady on his scarred face. “Let me see what I can find out. I’m not going to help you kill someone who just made one bad call.”
Torian shrugged and nodded. “Take what I can get. You see what you find out.” He turned to leave. As he stepped out of the control room Mako’s enhanced hearing caught his low mutter: “…just want to make things right with her.”
Jaeda looked around the lounge at her crew, all of them just sitting, shoulders slumped and heads down while they waited for the landing clearance from Fleet. Nobody was inclined to be boisterous; everyone was exhausted and a little worse for wear after weeks on Quesh.
“It’ll be at least three days before the repairs to the ship are finished, folks. I’ll comm you when I need you back. Have fun, call if you need me, and try not to break anything.” She reached into a pocket and pulled out the credit chits, then went around the lounge, handing out well earned crew shares.
Gault summoned the energy for a tired smirk down at his chit. “With this kind of a payout, you could get me some more of that wine I like.”
“You can buy it yourself, with that payout.” Jaeda fired back. Mako looked up from her datapad and smiled wanly at the byplay, then went back to perusing what looked like a computer parts catalogue. Torian took his with a nod and a quiet “thanks.”
They scattered as soon as the airlock unsealed; it had been a long time since they’d had leave and everyone was due some R&R, not to mention a little time out of each other’s pockets. Jaeda led the way, eager to get her shopping done and then have some time to relax. She had her list of armor and weapon upgrades for herself and the crew; her first stop would be the Galactic Trade kiosks. Business before pleasure - if there was anything left over, maybe she’d splurge on a night or two in luxury accommodations on the station; someplace she could actually have a bath, in lots of water - there was a decadent thought.
Mako caught Torian’s arm as he turned to leave the lounge. “Wait,” she said quietly. He paused, but she didn’t say anything more until she heard the airlock hiss closed behind the other two. He turned to face her.
“I got what you asked for, more or less. You’re not going to like it.” Her usually cheerful face was somber as she handed him a datastick. “It’s her dossier, what there is of it. Figured I’d start there.”
Torian nodded his thanks and pocketed the stick.
“Wait till you’re in private,” she added.
“Might as well look at it here, then.” He pulled the stick back out of his pocket and reached to slide it into the holocom dataport.
Mako turned quickly, facing away from the holocom. “I’ve seen it,” she said with a wince. She reached for her bag and then hesitated. “If you need anything, just call.” Slinging the bag over her shoulder, she left him to it. He waited until she was at the bottom of the stairs before hitting play.
She was right, he didn’t like it. Not at all. Not least because it looked like the men responsible for her pain were all dead and beyond his reach. It explained a lot about his hunter, though. When the replay ended, he leaned back in his seat and ran a hand over his chin, thinking hard.
Jaeda looked up from the display of fine knives she’d been lost in to find Mako hovering at the entrance of the small shop. Imperial fleet weapons shops were worse than candy stores. She had done well on the GTN, or maybe it was just that there were more credits coming in these days; her hotel stay was booked and there was still a good pile of credits available to spend on things beyond the necessities. Gault’s wine would be delivered to the ship before they had to leave, and she’d found a few new tech toys for Mako (reminded, she quickly turned one of her bags so the giveaway logo was hidden.)
“One second, Mako.” Deciding she was overthinking it after all (if she bought presents for some of the crew shouldn’t she buy for all of them?) she tapped the display, quickly selecting one of the better multitool tech knives. The salesman appeared at her elbow to take her details.
“For you, bounty hunter?” he asked smoothly.
“Oh, no. For someone else.”
“Very well. Will you be taking the package with you?”
Jaeda shook her head. “Send it to my ship, attention Torian Cadera, please.” Same as she’d done with the wine. No big deal. Nothing worth spending - she glanced at her comlink – almost an hour on selecting? Her subconscious should get with the program; he was just another crew member, dammit.
She sighed and picked up her packages, looking back at Mako.
“I’m done, want to grab a drink?” she asked.
Mako nodded. “A drink would be good.”
They opted for the bar on the second level of the concourse; it was a little more private than the one on the main floor. The bouncer took one look at Jaeda’s ID and waved them both through. Given that quite a few of the other ‘perks’ of winning the Great Hunt had been negative or dubious at best, she’d take having VIP status when it came to getting into fancy bars.
Frothy orange drinks in hand (Mako’s choice, for the teeny toy lightsabers that skewered bits of fruit in the glass) they made their way to a small table in a secluded alcove. Mako led the way. She clearly wanted to talk; she was frowning, and a few times she’d started to say something and then stopped herself again.
Jaeda took a cautious sip of her drink. It wasn’t as bad as she’d feared, not too sweet, and you could taste the rum. “These are better than they look,” she said, toasting her companion. Mako raised an eyebrow and took her own sip.
“Not bad,” she agreed, cracking a grin as she pulled out the tiny lightsaber and swished it through the air, making a vrrmming noise as she thrust and parried. Jaeda grabbed her own saber and they held a brief mock battle over the pineapple chunks. It ended in giggles when the last piece of fruit was captured and eaten.
Jaeda leaned back. “So… what did you want to talk about?”
Both eyebrows went up at that and Mako opened her mouth to protest. Jaeda waved it off. “You found me to tell me something, I think, otherwise you’d be off enjoying your leave.”
“Maybe I just like fighting over fruit chunks,” she said defensively. Jaeda crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow and gave her a mild Look, the one that said stop wasting my time, right now. Targets got the full bore Look; the watered down version worked on friends just fine, she was pleased to note.
Mako grumbled and fiddled with her lightsaber a bit more and finally said, “it’s about Torian.”
“What about Torian?” Jaeda was happy with the offhand tone she’d achieved; cool and indifferent, that was the trick.
“I think you’re being too hard on him.”
“Oh?” She wasn’t going to give an inch. If Mako had to have this conversation with her, she didn’t have to make it easy.
Mako huffed in exasperation at her stubbornness. “Look, boss, I’ve been talking to him. He was genuinely surprised when I told him that he was really mocking you. His mouth fell open, I swear!” She crossed her heart and looked at Jaeda earnestly. “I think he was serious. I know he wants to get back in your good graces.”
Jaeda had to stop and think about that. Mako was her friend, as well as her crewmate, and wouldn’t knowingly steer her wrong. Maybe she had been unfair. She could at least give the man the same consideration as any other member of the crew. “I’ll think about it,” was all she said, but Mako sighed with relief and nodded happily.
“That’s all I ask,” she said.
“Good. Let’s get back to fun, then, that’s what leave is for.” Jaeda raised a hand to summon the server to bring them another couple of drinks to duel with.
All his thinking led to the same conclusion. If he couldn’t kill the men who’d hurt his hunter, he’d have to sit her down and talk to her. It was the only way left to try to make things right between them. On the whole, he thought he’d rather have brought her a few choice heads. Torian sighed, pulled out his comm, and punched the button to connect to hers, maybe a little harder than was strictly necessary.
She answered on the second chime. “Trouble?” The word was a little slurred, and he could hear music in the background, and what sounded like someone laughing. He thought he heard Mako say “good timing,” and wondered at that before answering.
“No. No trouble. I just need to talk to you, if you have time.”
He could hear Jaeda’s low mutter “…what is it about leave, everyone should be off having fun, they all want to chat instead…” and then there was a long pause. He almost closed the connection, but then she spoke clearly into the comm: “Alright. Meet me at the Xanadu hotel in an hour. At the bar.”
Torian leaned back in his chair at the bar of the expensive lodging where she’d agreed to meet. He took another sip of his drink. The servers were quick with the refills; he was well on the way to haryc b'aalyc… he turned that around in his head, the way he always did for Jaeda: drunk and emotional, in common. He’d have to teach her Mando’a, if… if things improved. Enough liquor to calm his nerves was fine; more than that would be a mistake, though. He set the glass down on the low wooden table in front of him and composed himself to wait for her.
He was beginning to wonder if she’d stood him up, or he had mistaken the meeting place. She was late. After a few more checks of his chrono he picked up his drink and moved out towards the lobby, choosing a better vantage where he could see the hotel entry. Eventually (almost a half hour past time) he spotted the tall woman with the sleek red hair cutting across the crowded walkway outside. She was moving a little slower than her normal careless prowl, and carrying a cluster of bags in one hand and a small duffle in the other.
Jaeda came into the hotel and he started to wave. His hand fell to the table as he realized she was turning away from the bar. She walked over to the hotel desk and dropped her bags with a sigh of relief, rolling her shoulders. A brief transaction with the droid behind the counter concluded with her picking up a key and handing all the bags over to a porter, who bustled away with them. Torian moved a little further back into cover in the bar, where he could observe and not be seen. He watched as she caught sight of herself in one of the many mirrors hanging in the lobby and paused to smooth her hair. That was something he’d never seen her do before… she frowned at her reflection and turned away from the mirror, walking rapidly across the lobby and into the bar.
Torian walked over to her where she stood just inside the doorway, scanning for him in the dimmer lighting within. “Tables in the back are quieter,” he said, stopping a few feet away so that she would have time to recognize and respond to him. “Want a drink?”
“Think I better not,” she said with a stifled laugh, and he finally recognized why she was moving with extra care.
He led the way to a table in an out of the way corner. Jaeda shifted one of the chairs around until both seats had good sightlines over the rest of the place, and took the one with the best view of the bar. Torian nodded and accepted the other; he waved the waitdroid over and placed an order for two bajjahi. Jaeda leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs and folding her arms across her chest. She looked out over the bar until the server had set the hot drinks on the table and left. Then she turned her attention to Torian, who stared back in something of a panic. Now that he had her attention, what should he say?
The silence stretched into awkwardness. He’d never think diplomats were cowards ever again; this talking business was harder than it looked. He gathered his nerve and opened his mouth to say something, anything, just as she unfolded and leaned forward abruptly and spoke.
He broke off and gestured to her to continue, at the same time that she sat back again and waved to him to go on. They were back to staring at each other. Eventually Jaeda’s shoulders slumped, and she sighed and looked away from him. She reached forward and picked up her mug and took a taste, then a deeper swallow.
“This is good.” She sounded a little surprised.
“Good after a hard day.” He raised his mug in salute and took a sip. “Glad you like it too.” The quiet between them was a little less strained, then.
Jaeda finished her drink and put the mug on the table; it made a faint chiming noise as she set it down. Her eyebrows went up and she tapped the tabletop with a fingertip, making it ring softly. Lightly tapping a complicated rhythm on the table and watching her hands instead of him, she said: “Okay, Torian. Mako said I should talk to you.” She glanced at him briefly, then back down at her hands. He watched her fingers dancing out the faint music and thought about everything he wanted to say to her.
It was easier, without her watching him. He took a deep breath and rested his hands on the table edge. It muffled the music and he pulled his hands away and rested them in his lap instead.
She grinned in the relaxed way he hadn’t seen in a long time. “S’okay.” He smiled back, heartened.
“Listen, I’m...” he started, and finished with a rush, “...really sorry I upset you. Didn’t mean to.”
Her hands came to rest on the table. “Mako said that, too.” She looked over at him almost fiercely, and then her eyes fell back to the tabletop where her fingers flexed, knuckles white. “What did you mean?”
He shrugged helplessly. “Wanted to find out if you were claimed. Didn’t know how to ask.”
“Dating, married... you know.” He waved one hand vaguely.
Her head came up and her hands relaxed and she looked at him with her mouth hanging open a little before she shut it with a click. She looked back down at her hands and finally said: “no. Not dating anyone.”
“Good,” Torian said before he thought, and decided then and there to risk it all. “Because I would like to. Date you.” He was getting better at interpreting her facial expressions. That was incredulity and old pain there with it, he thought. Reaching out, he took her hand and held it. “Listen to me,” he said slowly, willing her not to pull away.
Jaeda shook her head sharply and sniffed hard, raising her free hand to her face and pressing it over her cheek. He didn’t think she was even aware of doing it. But she hadn’t pulled her other hand out of his.
“Need to talk to you about scars,” he added. “Don’t think you understand how we feel about them.”
Torian saw her flinch again; she really didn’t understand. He pointed at his own face, running a finger over one of the slashed half circles underneath both eyes. “Coming-of-age marks, these. For a vow, or a mission, usually. You don’t think they make me ugly?” It was a startling and unwelcome thought. It hadn’t occurred to him that she might, but with the way she felt about her scars, maybe...
She shook her head quickly, and squeezed his hand. “No, no I don’t.”
That was a relief; he reached out and gently moved her other hand away from the scars on her cheek. She stiffened, but waited to hear what he had to say. “Those are coming-of-age marks too,” he said, and took a breath for courage. “I read your dossier.”
“Why?” she demanded shakily, her hand tensing in his, ready to rise to anger again. He rubbed his free hand over his face.
“Truth? Looking to find the men who hurt you, made you ashamed, so I could kill them for you.”
Her “why?” was much quieter the second time around.
“Thought I could make it up to you, taking them out. But they’re dead already, so I can’t bring you their heads.” He scowled briefly at being denied the opportunity to do battle for her, then resumed his gentle assault on her mistaken beliefs.
“You need to understand. Scars like that, on Mandalore, we prize them, admire them… We - I think they make you more beautiful, not less.” He was pot-valiant, that was for sure. He could feel his cheeks flushing, so he kept his eyes on her hand, gently tracing her knuckles with his thumb. Her hand rested warm in his, and she was listening, not pulling away, not yet, so he kept going.
“Mandalore sent you to kill the cave beast on Dromond Kaas as a test, didn’t he? To prove you were worthy of being adopted into the clans.” It wasn’t really a question, but she nodded slowly anyway. “You should have told him how you got those scars; you didn’t need more testing.”
“I don’t like to talk about it,” she said quietly.
He laughed, short and low. “Shows you’re adopted, hunter-mine. Any Mando would be proud of what you did, killing that vinecat when you were so young.”
He raised his head then and looked straight at her face, then reached out and gently touched her cheek, one finger brushing down the ridged line of her scars. “The scars prove you fought and won. They mark you as a warrior…” he went on under his breath, “…make you lovelier, brave and beautiful...”
Jaeda jerked again at his touch. “No,” she said, shaking her head. But her hand stayed clasped in his.
“Yes,” Torian said simply. “Mesh’la, beroya-ner. You are beautiful.” There was another way to convince her he was being honest. He turned her face to his, and leaned over to kiss her gently. Jaeda froze for an instant and so did he. But then she sighed and relaxed into the kiss, her free hand coming up to cover his where it lay against her scarred cheek.