Many thanks to Bataav for his valuable input and written contributions to the Holoreel RP.
An ebook of all seven parts of this ficlet can be found here.

Dodixie IX – Moon 20 – Federation Navy Assembly Plant

Sakaane slipped quietly back into bed and pulled the sheet up around herself. All the blankets were in a tangled heap on the floor, and while the room wasn’t actually cold, the air felt slightly chilled on her skin, still warm from the shower she’d just taken. She shifted onto her side, propping herself up on an elbow and resting her chin in one hand so she could watch Bataav sleep.

A single bead of water escaped from her still-damp hair and slipped between her shoulder blades, making her shiver. Shaking her head slightly, she reached back to wipe the moisture away; the movement brought the chronometer on his side of the bed into view, just ticking over the hour. The morning was nearly gone.

She quickly looked back to his profile, quiet and peaceful in slumber, and banished anxious thoughts about what tomorrow and the following days might bring.

He must have felt her watching him because he stirred and carefully cracked open one eye, then the other. A smile tugged at his lips as their gaze met and she felt her heart flutter the way it always did when he looked at her.

“Hi, sleepyhead,” she teased, reaching out to brush her fingers through his hair and stroke his forehead. “You dozed.”

His smile became a grin and he reached for her. “I can’t imagine why I was tired.”

Later, they lay snuggled up together, Bataav behind with his arms around her. The sheet had joined the rest of the linens on the floor. “So much for my shower,” she sighed.

“Are you complaining?”

She felt his lips on her shoulder. “Nope.”

“Good.”

She reached back to caress his neck while staring at the wall ahead, seeing nothing and becoming thoughtful even while enjoying their afterglow.

Finally she said, “Bataav…” but faltered and fell silent. She felt him waiting expectantly for her to continue so rolled over to face him. “Tomorrow we’re going back to Intaki. And I just wondered…” She bit her lip.

He brushed a lock of hair away from her face. “What about?”

“You’re the Karna Pasha,” she blurted. “I’m…only a kacha. When we get home…” She felt her face turning red and silently cursed how anxious she suddenly felt, but pressed on. “What happened this week, between us… Was it just a fling?” She searched his face for a reaction. “Because…I really hope it wasn’t. What you said last night to Njal meant a lot to me…but I just want to make sure I didn’t misunderstand—”

Bataav smiled reassuringly. “Is that what you’re worried about? That we’d return to Intaki and I’d want everything to go back to the way it was? I don’t want things to go back to how they were. And I meant what I said to Njal about that pirate. I’ll be making a couple of calls when we get back to see what my people can dig up regardless of what security told us about him disappearing.”

As he spoke, Sakaane felt the knot of apprehension in her chest dissipate. Grinning, she threw her arms around his shoulders and kissed him.

Bataav kissed back and smiled. “You do realize there’ll be corp gossip. I can imagine Sanya and Creetalor noticed how close we were so if the others don’t hear it from them I doubt it’ll take long for people to notice. Forget rank getting in the way,” he added. “There’s nothing to stop us being together when we get home.”

Sakaane couldn’t stop grinning. “That’s fine by me.” Then, to help distract herself from the ridiculously girly excitement coursing through her, she asked, “I don’t suppose you’d tell me more now about your associate?”

Bataav nodded. He’d committed himself to explaining some of his own background the moment he’d handed over their luggage when they’d arrived together. He knew Sakaane would ask questions but after spending so much time with her in the last few days he was comfortable enough to open up a little to her.

“His name is Caerne Ormand. He works for my old team. I mentioned my military training last night…” Bataav paused, as if hesitant to go on. “That’s because I’m ex-military. My team are the others from my former unit.” He sat up and gazed across the room, falling silent.

Sakaane sat up too but said nothing, hoping he would go on, which he eventually did.

“YC110 wasn’t good, and not just because of the war. We were forced to go dark. I mean off radar. Just before we went our separate ways we were holed up in some warehouse and this guy was breaking in.”

A smile spread across Bataav’s face as he remembered.

“Almost shit himself when he turned around to find himself face to face with a black ops squad all kitted out in our gear. Rather than deal with him, if you know what I mean, we decided a local asset might be useful and we…’employed’ him. He worked for us as a runabout kind of guy and we didn’t kill him. It was a necessity in our situation. Over time he earned our trust and he’s one of the team now. He’s a good guy. Loyal.”

Bataav glanced to his side where Sakaane sat listening.

“We all separated for a while. Caerne went with one of us and I enrolled in the navy academy. We all linked up a few months before I came to Intaki and they agreed to work in Intaki’s interests for me. I guess it makes them mercenaries in a way.”

“What happened to the team? I mean, if Caerne is here on the station, does that mean the team member he went with is here too?”

“No, Caerne’s on his own here. They’re often working on their own projects but who knows. One day maybe I’ll get the old unit together again in Intaki.” He said no more; they sat in silence.

Sakaane laid her cheek against his shoulder. “Thank you for telling me. I’m certainly glad he was here.”

They spent the rest of the day quietly with each other, passing the time with pleasant distractions. Njal had a packed meal sent over in the afternoon and then in the evening joined them for dinner as he’d promised. The trio conversed and laughed late into the night, and finished off the bottle of Payloqan k’Adharnam.

Finally, Njal bid them farewell. Sakaane saw him to the door. “It was wonderful to spend this time with you, Njal. I hope one day soon you’ll consider coming home to Intaki. ILF and her allies have done a great deal of good there. It’s not entirely how it was years ago.” She chuckled. “And I know a great many pilots now to fill your bar with too!”

His eyes sparkled. “You never know, my dear. With an offer like that, I just might.” He clasped her hand with his and then leaned forward to kiss her cheek. “I would tell you to take care of yourself, but”—he glanced significantly at Bataav, standing quietly a respectful distance away—”I can see it’s unnecessary. Instead I will simply wish you a safe journey home, and I’ll look forward to your next letter.”

She smiled and bounded forward, embracing the elder man. “I’ll look forward to our next visit. Thank you for everything, Njal.”

He departed. Sakaane sealed the door behind him and turned back, sliding into Bataav’s waiting arms. “Now I really don’t want to leave,” she murmured.

“I know. Let’s not think about that until tomorrow. It’s late.” He gently pulled the pin out of her hair so it fell down around her shoulders, then silently led her to their bed. A few minutes later, the lights went out.

28 March YC113
Dodixie IX – Moon 20 – Federation Navy Assembly Plant

The next morning Sakaane returned to her quarters to pack the last of her things into her trunk and get it ready to load into her ship.

A twinge that lingered in her side made her pause and reconsider sending the secured trunk away; she reopened it and rifled through to the lower layers. There, beside a yellowing copy of a photo of her parents, brothers, and a much younger version of herself, sat a lockbox. She pulled it out and sat back with it in her lap, pressing her thumb against the security panel.

The lid sprang open, revealing a pistol and holster. She pulled the semi-automatic weapon free of the box’s moulded interior, feeling for the first time in years the heft of the gun’s weight against the palm of her hand.

“I think it’s time you and I became reacquainted,” she murmured, taking aim at a panel across the room to check the gun sights. The pirate’s face flashed briefly in front of her eyes. He caught me unprepared. It won’t happen again. She popped the magazine and saw it was empty, as she expected. A compartment beneath the moulded insert for the pistol contained a replacement, which she loaded in. The lockbox was returned, empty, to the trunk. I never should have let Nailo force me out of the habit.

Her crew was busy at their duties when she boarded to ‘walk the decks’: a tour and inspection she always undertook after any significant length of time away from her vessel. The crew were in good spirits and relaxed after their week’s vacation, freely chatting with Sakaane when she stopped to check in with them. If any had heard of the assault by the Caldari pirate, none mentioned it, though she caught their curious glances at the previously unseen weapon on her hip.

Finding her ship and crew to be in order, Sakaane returned to the pod gantry and shortly thereafter found herself suspended inside her capsule. Once her belongings, including the pistol tucked safely away in its lockbox once again, were loaded into the frigate, she undocked. Obsidian Dawn slid out of the bay, its black hull reflecting the nebula outside.

“I see you,” came a familiar voice in her mind. She panned her camera drones around. A steady stream of ships docked and undocked around her as she cleared the station, but none was the one she was looking for.

“I don’t see you.” Nevertheless she smiled, sensing Bataav was near, his keen eye watching her and the other ships going about their business from inside his cloaked Nemesis. She set course and pointed the nose of her Vengeance at the Botane gate, the first of eleven jumps to Intaki.

They warped together.