Smouldering ruins, the stench of blood and burnt flesh, ear-deafening explosions that shook the ground he stood on, eye-blinding brightness as the laser bolts whipped past him.

A force pivoted him round, a searing pain knocked his leg from under him.

Cover, they needed cover from the next onslaught. Their next turn was a bad decision, a dead end – they would end up dead.

He locked gazes with the red visor of the pearl black helmet next to him: Darasuum.

Glaring light, roaring blast, clenching weight.

Greys, browns, red.

He dug himself out of the debris. He stood in the open, no coverage anymore the houses were gone. He stood in the wreckage. He was alone.

Black.

He needed to dig for the black armour. It lay still: Darasuum. He was knocked sideways with the next volley of blasts.

Red.

He stumbled over their bodies. The house turned into a death-trap for the villagers, for everyone.

A whimper. A wiggle.

Blue.

A tiny bundle of azure covered in dust and rubble. A dirtied bundle of cloth.

He knew he had to pick it up. He knew he had to take it along with him and up into the azure of the sky.

Black.

He dug, he had to dug more, deeper. He dug into the wreckages until his gloves tore.

Red.

His fingers tore and bled. He pulled her limp form out from the grey turned red. He was alone, he could remove her helmet. Red streaks trailing from her nose down to her cheeks, from her ears down into her cowl.

He was not prepared. His tears smeared the red trails as he kissed her goodbye: Darasuum. Akay vi taab tome tug'yc.

He woke with a gasp and struggled up. Beads of sweat ran down his temple as he blinked to orientate himself. There was no destruction around him. He was safe, on the cot, in the med bay of the ship. Another pair of salty beads found their way along his nasal wings.

A pair of dark green eyes hovered next to him. He followed the line of the shoulder, ran his eyes along the small arm until he gazed onto the small hand that rested on his chest.

"I don't like your dream."

"You what? What do you mean?" It was rare that he did sleep so deeply, that he couldn't feel the presence of someone else.

"I don't like your dream."

"How long have you been there?" But the boy had unceremoniously wriggled himself onto the mattress.

"Heard something, came to look, watched you having a bad dream."

When the boy tilted his head Dargak got the fleeting impression of being watched by a Convor. When the boy slowly blinked the owl-like impression intensified with the delayed way his lids closed one after the other.

"Touched you, but you didn't wake."

He rose his eyebrows. This had never ever happened before.

"What did you dream about?"

He looked at his hands, the fingers were unscathed. He reached out and ran a caressing hand over the boy's back. It probably soothed him more than it did the boy when he rubbed circles on his back: "I dreamt about the day when I found my ad."

"Why does that make you sad?"

"Sad?"

The boy reached up and ran a finger down along the side of his nose, following the wet line.

He had to release his breath before he was able to answer: "Because that is the day when I also lost my riduur."

With a grave nod the boy answered: "My buir also found me when I lost my parents. This is the way."

His snorted laugh was bitter. He had to pull himself from spitting out what he thought about the way. At that moment he hated the fatalistic phrase of the Nevarro tribe more than ever.

"No, Liom. It's more like Kot'parj. This was the only way I could accept what happened. Only with strength … and my ad. You foundlings give us the strength to continue."

"Do I have to have an ad too, to be that strong?" Somehow the boy seemed to be appalled. And it didn't really help that right at that moment the youngest of his tribe started wailing in a such a high-pitched voice that they both flinched.

"No, Liom. That is not necessary in order to be strong." He grinned brightly into the relieved face of the boy. "And fortunately, not all the foundlings are that young."

"How old was your ad?"

The wailing didn't subside: "Very young, younger than that little shriek-hawk. Probably only a few weeks."

"That is good. Then she doesn't remember her parents."

He studied the green eyes that had locked with his. Their shiny gloss intensified and when the tear spilled over, he carefully wiped it away with his thumb.

"No, she doesn't. I'm all the parents she remembers."

"I miss my parents. Sometimes … when I remember … I can't see … their faces anymore. I forgot what … the looked like. I'm forgetting …"

He pulled the boy closer and when the small form scuttled onto his lap and into his arms, he enwrapped him tightly: "Do you remember their love?"

A soft bobbing of the boy's head was the only answer he got between the hiccupping sobs.

"As long as you remember their love and say your remembrance you will never truly forget them. Darasuum."

"B-but … wo-won't I forg-forget …"

"Draar. That's why we add the names of those who marched on. You add your parents' name and I add the names of my brother and my wife. They will never be forgotten. Tell me their names and I will add them in my remembrance."

He was rocking the boy in his embrace and soon found that it had a soothing effect on him as well, not only on the little foundling. It took the boy a time before Dargak was able to hear him babble between his sobs.

"D-deyu, my dad's … name was Deyu."

"That is a good name, means 'preserver of morality' And your mother?"

"Leka"

"It means 'defender of men', did you know that? Tonight, I will add their names to those I have lost."

He kept on his soft rocking motions and already thought that the boy had drifted off into sleep when he heard the tiny voice: "Can we say them together?"

He gave him a soft squeeze which did nothing to ease the tightness in his chest that threatened to spill over. How often had he held and rocked Vayra to console her? It felt like an eternity had passed.

He stilled when the forbidden image of rocking the limp from of Sori invaded his mind. He had to do something before the abyss swallowed him completely: "Yes, we will say them together tonight. But now we will wash our faces and find the others."

She had to feel her way from his neck over his jaws. She felt the scruffiness of the short hair. She leaned forward, meeting him halfway. For the rest she needed his seeing eyes to avoid any awkward bumping into him.

She felt him linger until her fingers nudged him to come closer. A short moustache tickled the sensitive skin of her upper lip. She felt his breath brush against her skin and the curl of his lips, but he didn't close the last fraction of an inch.

She realized that he was waiting for her, that he would neither move nor initiate anything. He wanted her to take the lead, to have the control. He wanted her to be sure of what she was doing.

Her lips brushed his delicately. Just a soft brush as she inhaled the herbal note of the soap he used and scent that was solely him. Another soft butterfly was followed by a more lingering one. Her lips mapped out his, feeling the soft curves and the slightly chapped parts and she smiled when she felt the corner of his lips turn up into a smile.

She felt the warmth of his lips as the moustache slightly grazed against hers. Her thumbs circled along his cheekbone down to his jaw as she leaned in more. His lips responded, parted as her tongue tentatively dipped out and ran along his lower lip. He wanted her to taste him, to deepen her kiss.

An electric wave rushed through her as their tongues met. His soft moan made her shiver and held her breath captive. She pulled him closer as she gave in to her curiosity to explore the heat that lay within.

BeeP

She froze, mid-kiss. It was an effort to leave this warmth of their entangled touch. Their quick breaths joined as her lips still lingered on his and she felt the corners of his mouth fall.

"Guess our newly-weds want to be picked up." The lament was rich in his voice.

She joined his groan and reluctantly settled back: "Don't they have anything better to do?"

She heard his chuckle and didn't flinch when she felt his fingertips gently reach for her cheeks. Then he had her completely breathless as he pressed in for a deep, passionate kiss. It was short and heated. A promise and a desire. A flash in which the blinding truth hit her. She wanted to feel this kind of kiss again. She wanted to kiss him like that and be kissed by him like that.

It couldn't be helped, the sealing hiss of his helmet told her that much. She blinked several times when she opened her eyes. With a sigh she reached for her own helmet and handed it to Tern: "I contact them, you can start collecting those stones."

She searched the pockets of her utility-belt. Of course, the com-link was in the last one. By the time she pulled it out, it gave a second beep. With a sigh she activated it: "Su'cuy."

She still felt breathless and was glad that it was Tern's sister who answered her. She wouldn't have liked to put up with a lewd comment from Walking Wall.

"Su'cuy. Umm … Is everything okay on your side? Hope we don't disturb. But … umm … is it ok to ask if you could pick us up again?"

She had to laugh. His sister's curiosity was seeping through her words, her snigger was barely covered and yet she sounded really hesitant: "No worries, we can get you in a short time. Meet us where we dropped you off."

After she had pocketed the device, she helped Tern to fill her helmet with the exquisite green stones she could find. They were already on their way back to the shuttle when he suddenly slipped his hand into the crook of her arm. A quick glance told her that he was feeling the symptoms of his blood loss again.

"Can you make it to the shuttle? I could bring it closer."

His nod was strained, but he was determined to make it on his own feet. In the end she had to drag him into the co-pilot's seat where he sat down with a tired groan telling of his relief.

"Don't feel safe Tern. Your sister and I will have a talk about that."

His groan sounded only half amused, she could hear that he was annoyed: "Do you have to put me through that?" It made her wonder what his experiences with the healer were.

She smirked and wiggled her eyebrows at him before she clutched the dented cheeks parts of his helmet to turn his visor towards her: "For what I intend to put you through I need all of your stamina."

"Oh…" Although she couldn't see his face, she knew that she had successfully short-circuited his brain.

The box was only insignificantly lighter. Now he knew where the weight had come from. With the food and drinks gone, the medkit and the gun, safely wrapped up again in the oilcloth, shifted in the box, when he had to tilt the container.

"Our tribe doesn't have the means to achieve something that valuable, let alone two things that costly." He didn't get much of a response from Tulata, so he rambled on, worked himself up in an impotent lingering anger at what he felt was a debt he wouldn't be able to repay.

"I bet that was all her idea. That or that kriffin' Zabrak's. Bet they were both in together. And your bother, too"

Suddenly, he was confronted with Tulata facing him: "Meg but'gar?"

"Entye." He would only admit to her, begrudgingly and quietly.

"There is no debt. It was a gift. A very considerate one, given that she doesn't know us at all. Or have you mentioned your secret desire or needs to her?"

He could only shake his head. He had to give it to her, the pilot had found exactly what he had eyed for quite some time. But it was hard to come by, either pry it off a dead Troopers hands – and there were always too many to do that – or the black market – neither a place where he could pick leisurely.

"And don't worry, there will be a time when we can even this debt. Hopefully soon." The knowing giggle had his attention.

"You know something I don't? Did they say anything when you contacted them?" Reading into other's emotion had never been an easy task for him and many even thought him incapable. And with someone who hadn't been a part of the covert he felt even more at a loss.

What he had got was the unsettled nervousness that their younger hunter radiated. What he had experienced was how the pilot had come undone and broke down. But the more he thought about it while they were making their way along the tunnel, the more he understood the extent of it.

It had been right under his Beskar covered nose, still he trusted his riduur more than his own limited instinct when it came to things like that: "That's why you wanted to give them more time … since when have you known that there is something going on?"

"Ever since she stuck this wicked vamblade into him. First thing when he woke, back in the covert on Nevarro, was to inquire about her. That is how I knew, even though he might not have known himself yet."

His brain trailed back. He remembered Tharam's entangled and twisted form at the end of the staircase. All he had registered back then, was that another of their hunters had been brought down and was lying in his blood at his feet.

His brain had shut down to one single thought and hadn't registered the hoarse plea which was addressed at him – Morut'yc kaysh! He chuckled grimly – love at first stab – how befitting of a Mandalorian.

When they stopped outside to wait for the arrival of the shuttle, he had had enough time to process everything: "So when do we need wedding presents for them?"

The way she looked up at him and titled her head with a low chuckled made him wish they could be back in that lovely hidden paradise.

"I fear it is more complicated for them. The different ways to follow the Creed, her past. But if I recall her breathless state, I might wager that they did make a progress and that I was disturbing them somewhat."

When the shuttle finally landed to pick them up, his eyes searched the lone, helmetless figure standing at the ramp. Her smile was hesitant and a flush slowly crept into her cheeks. His riduur had been right. Something had gone on.

But he was missing his hunter: "Where is he?" He instantly regretted his harshness when the smile dropped, and her eyes angrily flashed at him.

"Inside." She didn't have to nod towards the cockpit as the taller green-blue warrior chose to appear next to her at that moment. He was steading himself at the frame of the hatch, but then his hand slipped onto her pauldron as he loomed behind her.

"Su'cuy."

He just nodded to answer the younger man. He caught on the tiredness in his voice and stance, but there was something else. He imagined that Tharam had overheard him, at least that would explain the possessive stance. But there was something else, a protectiveness he had never seen the hunter express before.

"Just wondered if you were still playing prey for that little pet of yours." He grunted amusedly as he was elbowed by Tulata. It was hard enough to make his muscles flex under the padding.

At least he was able to ease Tharam enough to make him snort: "No, this time it didn't think any part of me to be the food. And we have been busy otherwise."

His breath caught, he definitely didn't want to know anything about their afternoon activities and remembering his own had his ears on fire. But as Tharam produced the helmet filled with bright green stones, he stared: "What is that?"

Her voice was guarded: "Your way to sustain yourself. There might be a time when the Sundari are in no need of meat." She had crossed her arms and shifted her weight to lean back against Tharam

Another nudge to his ribs made him clear his throat: "Vo-Vor entye. Par yir." He was not good at that, not at all, not when he could see the quickly rising eyebrow and knowing smile that crept back into the pilot's face.

"I take it that everything has been arranged to your satisfaction?" Her smirk widened as she lowered her head a fraction. Her stare reminded him of the Boetay eyeing its prey. It was predatory and dared him to contradict her.

He was saved by Tulata stepping up to Vayra and hugging her in a tight embrace. At least he had the satisfaction of seeing her eyes widen in astonishment, even if only for the duration of a blink. Tharam was the next to endure her hug. He knew she had conferred something to her brother privately when he inclined his head.

The flight back was all women-talk. He marvelled on the effect the presence of the pilot had on Tulata. She was expressive with him, but with the woman the topics varied even more. He was astonished that the woman from Ossus had an even broader knowledge about herbs than Tulata, and that was already impressive.

When he heard them discussing about gathering more plants, he grew edgy. When Vayra brought up seeing the old Sundari she had met, he put his foot down: "Not without me, or another warrior."

It earned him a calculated gaze from the pilot-seat and a challenge: "Seems I have to finally prove my worth to you, Walking Wall."

"What!?" Tharam's helmet came up with a surprising speed. He had been lying on the seats in the hull with his head rested in his sister's lap.

"Ha-mmpfft." Tulata made a strangled noise as she made the laugh die before it could leave her voice cords.

He started to growl, then is brain caught up: "Walking what? Wall? Have you just called me …"

"Uh-hu. Walls can be torn down, you know. You won't get me with that hook again. When we are back, you will be up for a sparring. After all, you still want to thank me in your own way for what is in the box, don't you?"

He heard more protests and laughter from the hull, but he pushed them aside as he started to catalogue the woman in the pearl black armour. The glances she cast him sideways and the wry smile made him look even more critically.

He leaned back in his seat. He hadn't seen her fight with Tharam, he had only heard vaguely of her fight on Ossus. Both times he had encountered her, he had her subdued quickly, but both times she had not been her true self.

But he had fought the Zabrak. And very likely he had taught her. Slowly he felt the anticipation rise, and of course he did remember his riduur's words of warning.

When they stepped off the shuttle Tulata elbowed him again as she whispered: "Told you."

He heard his sister's voice as she asked to be picked up. At the quick thought of her finally being wed to the man she loved he looked at the woman he loved. He kept the quiet, yearning sigh to himself as he swept up the gemstones.

So much had already happened today. She had shared something very personal, had let him participate in something only she had experienced.

She had opened to him in more than one way, with her mind and with her body. Her seeking his embrace, starting the caressing and initiating their kiss made him wish he could turn back time. His tongue ran over his lips, remembering how she had felt on and in him.

She caught him staring as he wondered what it would be like to see her eyes when they kissed. The leather of his gloves creaked as he rolled his fingers into a fist. He was counting the hours until they would have time for each other again.

This time he made himself known when he felt the incoming light-headedness, but he could and would endure it to the shuttle. He knew that he would have to ask his sister for help He had to get a head start, her – Kryban's threat was anything but empty. And both women on his heels to improve his health was a bit much for his taste.

He was just about to tell her that he had accepted the necessity to do so, when she caught him completely offhand, short-circuited his brain and the only lonely little cell left stumbled repeatedly over single words that made it past the haze – I … put through … your stamina.

Even when one or the other cell activated itself again, he was less than coherent besides a single syllable, too much energy was used for trying to make the searing coil in his innards untangle and for the film playing in his head.

When he woke up he felt the shuttle landing, they were picking up Paz and Tulata. And it was the first he heard growl, a sound that he didn't like, one that made him rise and stand next to his woman.

His woman – he knew she could stand up for herself. But the same way as Paz had placed himself subconsciously next to his wife, he was placing himself next to his woman. His smile became a wide grin when he felt her lean back against him. Despite the protective plates he could feel her body against his – oh how much he would have loved to sneak his arms around her to hold her even closer.

He only listened with half an ear as he watched his sister. Imagining the pure joy, she must radiate under her helmet spread a comforting warmth in his chest. When she hugged him, he quickly changed to private com to give her his best wishes.

That she knew about them had him not surprised, but he didn't want to reveal too much and thus he answered her question, if their afternoon had been pleasurable only with a soft nod. On the flight back to the ship she pried more, but he was just content to rest. His answers were mostly grunts or chuckles, depending on what was less embarrassing.

He had almost drifted off again over the women talking about plants when her punched words made it past his helmet – Walking Wall. He was flabbergasted at both, her fearlessness and the snort from his sister. He squeezed Tulata's calf until she admitted having known about the nickname.

He grumbled, but there was not much he could do to prevent the sparring, though he pondered talking to her and to Paz, to reason with them. But two stubborn warriors, he knew he was fighting a losing battle.

He had spent the whole day with the Rulls and the foundlings of their tribe. They had been more than busy starting their little covert in the chosen cave. It was spacious enough. There were more than enough cul-de-sacs ending in grottos which fit to serve as private rooms, lager cavernous spaces fit for storages, an infirmary, a room for the foundlings, a karyai and the furtherst space could even serve as a training area. It was long enough to serve as a shooting range and as it had an almost a pit-like part, other kinds of training could be held there too.

The Rulls had wanted to wait for all to decide, before they occupied any of the smaller caves for their private quarters. So, arranging the foundling's room and the common room was the first they concentrated on.

When he examined the future rooms, he decided that more would be needed to make the tribe feel comfortable and at home. Many things could be constructed by themselves, but some other things would have to acquired.

As night hadn't drawn in yet, he decided to use the time to put his contacts to use. Not only the new covert would need things, some of the provisions needed restocking and also the ship and the shuttle needed a refill.

On his way back to the ship he had more than once looked around and listened. He hoped that this time no one would be hurt when they got back. It seemed that every time they left one came back hurt in one or the other way.

He ventured to the cockpit and locked the door. For once he did not want the company of the green-eyed boy who had chosen to become his constant shadow. Although he felt honoured and flattered, what he had in mind to do was nothing he wanted the boy to witness.

There was one anonymous request for help, but the job was low-paid, kept vaguely and sounded fishy. A ship would be required as the coordinates were placed on an outpost somewhere in space. Likely pirates. He discarded it.

Another offer caught his attention. Jomark was in reachable distance. The bounty, commissioned by the colonists, was not too high, but would pay for more than just the trip there and the filling of the tanks. He contacted the man, who introduced himself as Toban Barneto from Kalish, and fixed the deal.

The little planet was mostly covered by saltwater and besides a huge number of small islands only one small continent made it habitable by humanoid standards. Jormark's peaceful population mostly lived by fishing and sea farming. He quickly calculated what the job would involve

He was about to shut the device off when it started to blink rapidly: "Come in."

"Kryban is that really you?"

"Positive."

The holo flickered wildly as the dark-skinned man shook with laughter: "That was the only affirmation I needed to know. It is really you. It's been ages, thought they got you. …"

Dargak didn't really pay attention to the ramblings about the good old times. His answers were kept short, there was only one thing that really interested him: "Have you got a job for me?"

"Coming right to the point, I see. As a matter of fact, yes, there is something you specialized in, pest-control on Myrkr. Interested?"

"Positive. Send me the intel, then I tell you."

The man tsk-ed several times: "You know that is not how I work. Take it or leave it."

He cursed inwardly. Too often this had led to almost-disasters: "How long will the offer stand? Have to consult first."

More flickering of the projection: "Does your wifey keep you on a short leash?"

"Negative. She's dead."

The holo froze: "… Sorry. … I can put it on hold for a day, then I need your answer."

"I'll contact you." He shut the com quickly off and left the cockpit. Back outside the ship he finally set himself to the task of tending to the dried skin. He had different things in mind he wanted to use it for. It was the pouch he started first on.

When his daughter and the three members of the Nevarro tribe finally arrived, it was already dark. The others had retreated to the common room while he was still sitting in the light of the lowered ramp. He didn't need much light to do the carving he had started once it had got too dark to work on the skin. He knew by heart to carve the little figures.

The tribe members went into the ship. It was just an indistinct flick of his hand holding the knife, but Vayra caught it and sat next to him.

"Seems that no one needs to be carried to the med bay ... everything went well."

She made a face at him: "Yap, even more so. Found something to help them onto their feet."

He whistled at the sight of the filled helmet: "That's worth some credits. Maybe I should have waited …"

"What do you mean?"

"Made a contact and a contract. Thought we could use some credits. Jomark, colonists set a bounty. Not too high but would pay off for more than just the trip." He tried to sound nonchalant, to keep the excitement out of his voice.

Too late he realised his mistake, she wasn't used to having plans made for her. First, she grumbled incoherently, then she started pacing up and down. When she pivoted quickly towards him, he expected her to say something, but only her mouth worked.

With a set jaw she started pacing again until she finally stood square in front of him with her arms crossed: "Fine. What is it about and when do we start?"

He chuckled and handed her the information he had been given: "Small band of raiders, but too many and too well equipped to deal with them themselves. Their search of the perimeters was unsuccessful, and they suspected that they might have a ship to back them up."

"So, what is it? Pick anything off out of the orbit and then do some island-hopping?" She was annoyed and the way she saw it, he could see the disadvantages of their coming hunt.

"Or lay in wait and pick them off then." He watched her eyes flicker for a brief second.

"Might take some time."

He nodded: "But saves us the hopping." He tried to guess what else had her reluctant, then he added: "He could come with us."

He had never seen that look in her eyes. Understanding, bewilderment, scorn and even a hint of fear. Her answer was curt: "No."

Of course, she had seen that Tharam did not feel well. She had argued with him, but he had been stubborn. She knew he had plans of his own which did involve Vayra and she couldn't really blame him for what he wanted – time alone with her.

But seeing him steadying himself in the frame of the hatch, lying down fatigued and resting on her lap, like he hadn't done in decades – she made sure that he would show up in the med bay for a check-up. In the meanwhile, she made a list to ease the effects he was suffering.

When she heard of the old Sundari woman and her presumably wide knowledge of the local plants she had agreed immediately, enthusiastically even. It was a good idea, to let the people get acquainted to them gradually and showing that there were also women in their ranks would make them look less hostile.

The punch she wanted to give Paz for his interference would have been hard enough to make even him wince, but he was in the cockpit, too far away from her. His sense of protectiveness was honourable and adorable. But she was capable herself, and she wouldn't have been alone.

Back at the ship she pulled her brother with her, she didn't give him any chance to disappear. Pushing him more or less into the med bay, she locked the door behind them. She slowly peeled her gloves off and took off her helmet.

"Come on, take it off." She had to tap her foot to convey her impatience until he relented and reached to the release-clasp.

He was pale, paler than she had ever seen him, when she touched his face his skin felt cold and still sweaty. She helped him out of his gloves, his hands were icy and instinctively he reached for her much warmer ones. She started rubbing first one then the other between her hands.

"You have to take better care of yourself."

"Hmm, ya ..."

"You will exactly do what I tell you the next days."

"Hmmmpf, ya …"

"I'm going to prepare something that should help with possible nausea."

"Pfffmmm, t'late."

She gave him a sharp look: "When?"

"This afternoon."

She rubbed a hand over her brows and shook head: "You hadn't been worse when you had been a teen."

"Hmmpfff not true."

She took hold of his chin and made him look up to her: "May I remind you." When he questioningly rose a brow, she stabbed him into his right loin with her other hand.

"It could have killed you! The medics said that it had been about to burst and then it would have been too late. Just because of your stubbornness!"

"Didn't know better then."

"You still do not know any better! Listen to me or I'll release Vayra onto you."

"You also want to put me through that? Why do you women always have the same ideas?" She had to suppress a laugh at his groaned answer and the way he threw back his head. His groan a plea to the gods above.

"Do you think any deities will help you answering that question?!" She smirked at his dumbfounded expression.

When he tried the sulking look on her, she punched softly against the chest: "We all want you in one piece and especially she. So, what did she say she wants to put you through?"

"Didn't say what, just that she needed all my sta …." His teeth clacked as clapped his mouth shut.

Keeping serious at the suddenly rising blush and expression that dawned on him, was absolutely impossible. She didn't want to snub him further and hugged him tightly: "Thar'ika. I'm happy ... for you."

When she pulled away from him, she was much more serious: "Thar, you haven't seen what she went through when we found you in that room of yours. She was completely beside herself. You can't put her through that again."

When his brows knitted, and he just quietly nodded, she knew how guilty he felt. She caught his sagging head and made him look up at her again: "Make sure she knows how much you love her. Let her see it in actions and in words. Do not waste time, like … like Paz and I did."

She smiled encouragingly before she turned and rummaged in the drawer, Vayra had pointed her to. When she turned with the loaded syringe, she saw his eyes widen. His growl was a groan, or was it the other way round?

Her smile was sweet: "You brought this onto yourself."

He had come out Tatooine with nothing. Every credit he had taken from the young wanna-be bounty hunter he had given to Peli. She had earned it. His ship was working properly again, and the tank was refilled, but his pouch was empty. He needed a job, and he had a bad idea. Calling Ran was definitely a bad idea.

He hoped that for once that the little womp rat understood the urgency to stay hidden. Because meeting up with Ran meant meeting up with an old acquaintance he wanted to keep forgotten. Mayfeld – a former Imp who made his skin crawl – and Blurg, the huge Devaronian – muscles and nothing else – was one thing. Rabid Xi'an and a too smart droid was something completely different. But he needed the credits Ran had promised.

His hope that she might have changed – as he had – finally growing out of post-adolescent behaviourisms, was demolished the moment he heard her sneer, saw her fiendish grin and the flicker of one of her beloved knives. He reminded himself of the credits.

All he could do was seethe beneath his helmet, at anything they threw at him. Xi'an's insinuations of intimacy, the droid's criticism of his ship and then Blurg's intrusion in his private lockers. Not a minute passed where he didn't tell him to keep calm, to let everything bounce off him – he needed the credits.

Then things got even worse when the tiny compartment was opened, and its secret spilled. Of course, it led to more remarks from the poisonous tongue of the Twi'lek, and Mayfeld wasn't any better – the credits which he needed.

Target practice – how much he wanted to turn them into that right now. But putting his little foundling out of harm's way was his first target now – credits were more important.

A New Republic's prisonship was their target – unmanned – they had said. Unmanned but not without droids. That brainless Devaronian had to shoot the little mouse droid, but when it came to the four patrol droids the three idiots were none the wiser – maybe they were nothing better than targets.

He knew they were looking for him, thought he had abandoned them. They wanted to see him in action, he would give them a show. At least that way he could get rid of some of the coiling rage they had built up in him – get the job done, get the credits, get out.

The droids were a great outlet for his pent-up anger. Of course, he hadn't expected any praise, but if Mayfeld thought that the look he exchanged with Xi'an had gone unseen by him, he was wrong.

Yes, Mayfeld, Mandalorians are the greatest warriors in the galaxy. Yes, Xi'an, things have changed, I have changed and progressed. Who has honed their skills better?

Qin – he should have known it. Why hadn't he wondered where her brother was right at the moment that Xi'an appeared. He didn't know what made him angrier, that he hadn't asked himself this question, that they had taken him by surprise, or that he was sitting in Qin's position now.

He knew – at kriffin' everything. The crew, the prisonship, the droids, the useless death of the only human on board and – just everything.

The next round of patrol droids were his ticket out of the cell, the next steps led him back to the control room. The next step was separating them, taking them out one by one.

Taking Blurg out was physically exhausting and made him hurt in more places than he could count. Taking Xi'an out was – with each of her knives flying in his direction it became clearer and clearer – emotionally satisfying. Taking Mayfeld out was entertaining in the way the Imp turned it into a cat and mouse game – he loved being the hunter. Taking out Qin was business – he was walking credits.

He wouldn't have thought it possible, but seeing the droid standing in front of the opened compartment where his foundling was hidden peaked his rage to unknown heights. Only when he saw the cluster of wires go down with a smouldering hole, revealing the little one unharmed he allowed himself to relax, to breathe again and to uncoil.

For once he felt satisfaction – no questions asked – the quarry delivered and the three in the prisonship in the cell they had him confined to. His smile was wide, but grim. He knew Ran was a back-stabbing arse, but he had seen to it that it would be the very last day of this bastard, and of Quin.

His grin was feral as he passed the three small patrol ships of the New Republic. For once they were good for something. He didn't have to see it to know what was going to happen. The stars turned into streaks as he activated the hyperdrive.

Mando'a

Darasuum: forever/eternally

Akay vi taab tome tug'yc: Until we march together again.

ad: child, son, daughter

Riduur: husband / wife, spouse

buir: parent, father, mother

Kot'parj: strength wins

draar: never

Su'cuy: Hi

Meg but'gar?: What angers you?

Entye: debt

Morut'yc kaysh! Safe her

Vor entye. Par yir: Thank you. For everything

Karyai: common room; main living room of a traditional north Mandalorian house - a single big chamber for eating, talking, resting, and even the last secure stronghold when under attack