I wake up to the sound of the ship's engines, the brilliance of bright starlight flooding through the canopy and the weight of Tahiri's body held snug against me. Her golden hair tickles my lips and nostrils, and her closeness fills my thoughts the beauty of her healthy scent, the warmth and balance of her body.
She's like a limpet, a muscular little symbiote, fixed to me with a stubbornness she makes seem easy. Even asleep, she grips tight and as I lower my gaze from the vision of stars above and ahead of us, I can see the curve of one tanned shoulder, the lively tangle of her sun-bright curls.
Overnight, the ship's course inwards towards Denon has brought the bows rounds towards the system's primary, and even though the sky above us is black and strewn with stars, morning sunshine fills the cabin.
In that pure light, Tahiri gleams.
We make an odd couple, I suppose this human girl using my body as a living mattress; this alien creature of burnished copper and gold resting so comfortably against the durable denim blue-grey of my scarred and tattooed skin.
I grin at the stars, and savour the simple pleasure of waking up with her.
I can feel her smile back at me in her sleep her head pillowed on my pectoral, the tug of tendons in her cheek as she curves her lips in satisfaction.
For a while, we simply stay like that, smiling together as by unspoken mutual consent we draw out the pause between sleep and waking for a little longer.
Eventually, she shifts her weight and murmurs something that might mean good morning, and lifts her head to look at me. Clever fingers splay across my chest, and the face that rises from beneath her tangle of golden hair to greet me lights up like a second sunrise.
"I must have died and gone somewhere beautiful," I tease her.
"Dummy," she beams back at me, playing one finger along my scar as it switches back and forth across my face, before heading south down the side of my throat. "You're lucky I find ugly guys beautiful these days, you know."
She continues to follow the scar, leading her fingers in a feather-light dance along the zigzag ridgeway that runs back and forward down my front. The scar marks the seam where the Shapers sewed me into this skin, still livid red and purple after all this time, serving as the root to which the madder and indigo patterns of my warrior tattoos are grafted.
There's a whimsical smile on Tahiri's face as she reads the coded life-story written in my skin, and I can tell exactly what she's thinking. She's described me before now as gift-wrapped just for her.
She pauses at one of the tattoos she added herself, and rubs a fingertip around the sworl.
I manage a leer that I guess must look truly hideous, but the gentle laugh that shakes my body is surprisingly human. She grins at me, leans down again, and kisses the very tip of my scar, where it ends in a slashing curve across my scalp.
"I don't know what I'd have done if they'd butchered you like they did me," I murmur, glancing up across her flawless body, and provoking a flash of anger from her eyes. A hard scowl shades her features.
"You'd not love me if I was like you?" she asks, making her displeasure clear by continuing to fix me with the same cross expression.
"I'd have learnt to," I say. "But the truth is, you look adorable with those nasty Yuuzhan Vong expressions on that cute little human face."
"Dummy!" she yelps, slapping me playfully but hard enough to hurt.
We rock with laughter, grip each other for balance then a grapple becomes a tussle, and we tumble from the hammock, yelling in momentary panic before our bodies crash against the hard, cold deck.
I try to tighten our tangled bodies into a knot to trap her and she tries to slip out of my embrace, snaking across the metal like a bolt of lightning. I scramble after her, and pounce clumsily, and we wrestle again, laughing and screaming like little children.
Now I'm on top, pinning her with my weight. She bites down hard into my forearm, and I relent, shifting instinctively to give her some space, glancing at the bright blood welling in the curve of teethmarks she's just stamped in my skin.
"It's okay," she says, with a bright, sharp grin. Her other hand has somehow sipped free to ruffle my tousled hair. "Anyway, it's time for breakfast."
"Oh?" I ask, with an expression that against all the odds makes me look like the human boy I used to be. "Dustcrepes or granite slugs?"
"Dummy," she laughs, and shows me that wolfish smile again. She licks her lips, and draws me down into her embrace, teasing my scarred lips with beckoning kisses. "By breakfast, I meant you."
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