It was a time of celebration in Coruscant, and had been so for a full week. Everywhere in the streets and plazas, on the skyhooks, and even, Donos suspected, down at the very depths of subterranean existence, colourful banners and holosigns proclaimed the reason for this planetwide party -- it was the wedding of Princess Leia and Han Solo. Donos detached himself temporarily from the main subject of his thoughts, and grinned wryly as he strolled over one of the myriad aerial walkways which linked one duracrete edifice with another. He wondered if Solo ever stopped to consider the irony of his situation: one minute the scum of the galaxy with an imperial price on his head, and the next the toast of a planet. Life was definitely full of turnarounds.
The walkway connected with a broad thoroughfare, this one, like others, emblazoned with flowers and messages for the happy couple. The occasion had become transformed into a mass catharsis, a chance to purge the last four years of alternate unease and destruction in an extended outpouring of joy and, in many cases, wild partying and jubilation. Donos himself had a natural reticence towards such excesses, but the last two years of his life had contained enough tragedy and loss to make him appreciate the chance to throw it all aside for a while and savour the moment; and there was no doubt the atmosphere was contagious.
Take the ball two nights before for instance, one of several organised to allow the thousands of diplomats and minor potentates of the growing New Republic their chance to wish the couple well. Poor Solo, though Donos, as he remembered the man's obvious discomfort in his military dress gear. If he can survive this week, the marriage'll be a cinch. But once the formal presentations had been over, and the couple had stayed for the obligatory dance, the general air of gaiety had taken over, and people had thrown themselves wholeheartedly into party mode.
The ball had been staged at one of the plazas near the Imperial Palace. A huge canopy had been lifted into place to protect the revellers from any vagaries of the weather, and a bar had been set up serving almost every cocktail permutation imaginable. The trees and plaza furniture had been decorated with streamers and baubles, and every now and again showers of confetti were projected from a fan in the canopy on to the people below.
Donos had entered with Hobby and Janson, but had lost track of them at some stage after the first dance. Assuming they had discovered the bar, and not feeling quite at the stage for liquid refreshment himself, the Corellian had found a convenient tree to lean against, and amused himself observing the activities. He quite liked the feeling of anonymity that being one member of a vast crowd produced, and the fact that, regardless of their individual differences, everyone was temporarily united in a common purpose. Cameraderie without necessarily having to actively promote it -- a bit of a cop-out, but a harmless one, he thought.
He ran his eyes over the dancers in all their finery, and then found his gaze wandering to the periphery, to where other spectators had positioned themselves against trees or on benches. Some, preferring company, had congregated in groups to gossip and drink or simply to watch, while others, like himself, stood slightly apart. It was just after the concert band had struck up with a slow Corellian waltz that Donos noticed her. She was over towards one corner of the dance area, stationed in between two holobulletin projectors. Unlike most other watchers, she stood upright and alert, her gaze seemingly concentrated on one of the dancing couples, although every now and again she would swivel and survey those at the perimeter.
Donos watched her for quite some time, willing her to look in his direction so he could catch her eye, although what he intended to do if she did he had no idea. All he knew was that she was one of the most exotic-looking women he had seen in a while. She was tall, probably nearly the same height as himself, and had rich auburn hair which was piled up on her head in a complicated arrangement of plaits and loops. Her dress was stylish, but curiously plain, and revealed little spare flesh, unlike the dresses of most of the other women he could see. It compensated for this by glittering with an aquamarine phosphorescence whenever she moved, a display which accentuated the curves beneath it. Her skirt was split up one side, and when she turned sideways, which she did on a regular basis, he found his eyes drawn to the tantalising length of slim, athletic leg it revealed.
By the end of the Alderaanian gavotte, Donos decided that the warm prickling sensations he seemed to be experiencing up and down his spine required some sort of remedial action. But just as he began to work his way around the dance floor, who should he see but Janson pop out from behind one of the projector columns and begin talking to the woman. She seemed to reply briefly, but her pattern of surveillance didn't alter. Then she shook her head, rather haughtily he thought, turned to Janson and appeared to speak, and returned her attention to the dance floor. Janson nodded, and as he turned away Donos saw him shrug, whether out of puzzlement or defeat he couldn't tell, but he secretly notched one up to the mysterious woman, and committed the scene to his memory to use for possible future revenge.
After the Alakathan kanumba, the warmth became overwhelming. He pulled at his collar to alleviate the tension and set off again, but no sooner was he a quarter of the way there when he saw Hobby approach the woman. He watched with fascination as the same scene of rejection was played out again.
He stayed at his new position during the subsequent tango and watched the woman thoughtfully, the phrase "third time lucky" bouncing around in his head along with "forewarned is forearmed" and "take a hint, buddy, she ain't interested". In the hiatus between dances, he decided to go with the first two, gritted his teeth, and walked boldly through the disorderly knots of waiting dancers. He kept his gaze firmly on the people gathered on either side of the woman, keeping note of her actions in his periphery vision. His heart nearly stopped when he noticed her cast an appraising look over him -- her eyes were the colour of Corellian jade -- but he purposefully avoided her gaze and settled nonchalantly against the column to her left. For a while he concentrated his attention on the milling crowd, and then very deliberately he stepped in front of her and pretended to peer fixedly at someone in the distance. No longer able to see her reactions, he waited with baited breath.
Presently he was rewarded with the sound of her clearing her throat.
He ignored it.
"Excuse me," she said. Her voice was polite and melodious, but definitely not lacking in assertiveness. "You're blocking my view, could you move please."
Donos turned, affecting surprise. "Oh, I'm sorry, didn't see you there. I ... er," he waved at the twilight depths beyond the plaza, "thought I saw somebody I knew. But it's difficult to tell friend from foe in all this finery."
She gazed up at him, and he saw that her eyes were not only green, they were wide and slightly upturned with well-etched lashes and brows -- very appealing, but at that moment definitely challenging. She smiled rather frostily and acknowledged his comment with a nod, but then raised a hand to motion him to the side.
"Um, could you move please? I need to be able to see clearly."
Donos stepped dutifully to her right. "Certainly ma'am, certainly had no intention of being rude." He glanced at the dance floor and then back to the woman. "You're, uh, not one of those Holonet gossip columnists are you, out to suss out who's going with who at the big occasion?"
She threw him a withering look, and then returned to her observation. "Would that my life was that petty," she said sardonically after a short pause.
"I gather you don't mean that," he teased. Hey not bad; so far we've had about six exchanges and no headshakes. I'm already one up on the other two.
"You gather cor-" She stopped abruptly and stiffened, and her hand slid down towards the side-split in her skirt.
Donos followed the direction of her gaze, peering over towards the bar. "What's the matter?"
She stood riveted for a moment, and then her posture relaxed, although her hand remained resting just below her hip. She shook her head. "False alarm," she said.
"I gather that's not a holocam you have hidden down there?"
She turned to him slowly and scrutinised him shrewdly. Her expression, he noticed, was serious, but there was a faint hint of sadness about it. An unfamiliar sensation niggled at him, and for a moment he felt guilty about being so devious. He had to admit that it wasn't in his nature to be this calculating, but there was an indefinable quality about the woman that appealed to him, and it seemed to be calling to something similar inside him. He held her gaze until eventually a faint look of amusement touched the sides of her mouth.
"I sincerely hope not. Although I suppose I could figuratively decapitate somebody with a poorly framed shot."
"But not an effectively permanent form of removal?"
"Most definitely not." Her eyes flicked back to the dancers.
"So, who are you guarding? If it's okay to ask that is -- I mean I don't know what sort of arsenal you're carrying and how touchy you can be."
"You're in no danger at the moment."
He noticed the slight upturn of her lips again.
"I'm guarding Prince Kazinder. Know who he is?"
Donos shook his head apologetically.
"Well, don't worry. He's not exactly big-time in the New Republic as yet. But he's important in his own sector, and at present is something of an unpopular man."
"Oh. Which sector?"
"Tarsus. Heard of it?"
He frowned thoughtfully. "Heard of it, yes. Can't quite remember where it is exactly, though."
"It's quite a way out -- further than the Outer Rim."
"Further than Bakura?"
"Afraid so -- and opposite quadrant. As we're so far away from his enemies, I think it unlikely we'll have any trouble. But I'm not taking any chances."
"So why's he so unpopular? And which one is he?"
She nodded to a large, balding man puffing around at the side of the dance floor, and glanced at Donos speculatively.
Donos studied the man for a moment. "I gather his unpopularity has nothing to do with romantic intrigue or glamour," he said laconically.
To his surprise the woman laughed, and for a moment her studied seriousness was transformed into gaiety.
"I like that," she nodded appreciatively. "And you're right. He brought in some measures to curtail the activities of one of the crime cartels, and now they're out to get him. At least they will be until Intel catches the big boss. Apparently the next guy in line isn't quite so vengeful."
"In other words, he's willing to do a trade-off?"
She grinned ruefully and shrugged. "You got it."
"That seems to be the way of things," he glanced down and confirmed that her gaze was directed slightly behind and to the left of the large, sweaty man. He was impressed. She's no fool, he thought. Doesn't even trust me.
"It can't be much fun for you having to play wallflower while the boss has all the fun."
She shrugged again, the translucent threads in her dress catching the light and emphasising again the mounds and hollows. Donos swallowed quickly.
"If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen," she replied cryptically.
"I guess." He paused, wondering if the statement was intended as a warning. If it was, it was having the opposite effect. The percussionist in the band had muted his syncopated jizz-style beat to the more rhythmic three-four patter of a slow waltz. "Still, uh ... do you think the boss would mind if you joined in just once. It is the last dance, and we can sort of circulate around him if you like. I'll keep an eye on him when your back's turned."
She studied him with the neutral appraising expression again, and he was beginning to feel his spirits sink when suddenly she gave a slight nod and held out her hand. He overcame the temptation to pull her disrespectfully close with the realisation that, if he did, she would notice his heart trying to beat its way out of his chest. Instead he exulted in the proximity of her body with its faint perfume of exotic flowers. He guided her over until they were dancing in a lazy circle around the man he guessed as being the real Prince Kazinder, an upright, good-looking man possibly in his late thirties.
"You're slightly more intelligent than I expected," she said.
"Thankyou," he grinned. "And you're as good a dancer as you are a bodyguard."
"I'll reserve judgment on that."
"It was a compliment."
"I know -- and it was sweet. I just hope you're right ... about the latter bit."
After the waltz, Donos had dutifully returned her to her station, at which point the prince had returned and claimed her attention. Donos, temporarily unable to come up with a suitable way of broaching the idea of another meeting, had been forced to wish her goodnight. He had returned to his quarters, alternately floating on air, and suffering an acute sense of loss at the thought of never seeing the woman again. The up and down feeling had continued the next day, and he had been grateful for the concentrated workout on the simulators that Wedge had ordered for them.
This afternoon was his time off, and feeling the need to escape and think, he had taken to the Coruscant streets. He sighed to himself, and cast a glance around to get his bearings. He was surprised to find that, while mentally disconnected from the actions of his legs, he had managed to descend two whole levels and move south one block. He looked down, and almost stopped breathing. The object of his cogitation was down on the next walkway. She was strolling with a measured, almost feline, grace about six paces behind Prince Kazinder, her attention firmly riveted on the area around him. Donos envied the man this undivided concern.
He paused for a moment to watch her. She was wearing a casual shirt-style tunic top over plain dark pants -- the tunic loose-fitting enough to conceal a selection of weapons -- and her hair hung down from a band on top of her head in a series of long looped plaits. He hurried down a nearby ramp and was nearly at the bottom when the air suddenly exploded with the sound of blasters and a succession of screams. He dodged past one frenzied group of people thundering blindly towards him, and thrust his way savagely through the middle of another, the holdout blaster he carried in his inside jacket pocket already raised and ready. He heard nearby the rapid swish of an airborne projectile, and then saw a tall, skinny man with wolfman-like features staggering backwards. As Donos straightened, the man collapsed at his feet. A vibrobade, still juddering, protruded from the left side of his chest, and his shirtfront slowly and magically changed from a tacky olive colour to bright crimson. Donos shivered at the deadly accuracy of the hit, and gazed around desperately trying to locate the two people whom he knew to be the source of the disturbance.
His eyes settled first on the fallen body of Prince Kazinder, and as he raced towards it he noticed another body nearby, one that, as he approached, was raising itself up on an elbow, blaster raised. Without pausing to aim, Donos instinctively had the man centred and the shot discharged before he had skidded to a halt beside the prince. He checked Kazinder's carotid artery for a pulse and eyed the blackened torso of the would-be assailant.
He went to shout for the woman, and realised with a jolt that he had never asked her name. Then he saw her. She was in the process of disentangling herself from the clutches of a thickset humanoid with arms and legs the girth of tree trunks. As Donos raced towards her, he saw her thrust herself viciously backwards into what he immediately recognised from the humanoid's grimace as a tender part of his anatomy. In the split second that her attacker's grip on her relaxed, she reached back and grabbed one of his thick, flannel-like locks of hair, pivoted herself neatly forward and half yanked, half threw him to the ground. Before he had landed she had converted her fist to a blade, which she crashed down on to his windpipe. The humanoid shuddered and emitted a series of strangling gasps, convulsing as his attempts to draw in air failed. Satisfied that he would create no further problems, the woman went to lunge past Donos towards Kazinder, but he grabbed her arm and turned to run with her.
"He's alive," he shouted. The background screams and groans made communication difficult.
"Thank the spirits," she shouted back, the words half lost in the emotion he could hear threatening to strangle her ability to speak. "I thought I'd knocked him clear -- but there was a second assassin. I didn't see him until it was too late. I think Prince Kazinder's been hit in the back."
"The side," corrected Donos. They reached the prince, and the woman fell on her knees beside him and turned him over gently. The bolt had seared through the man's right side, fusing flesh with the smouldering remains of his clothes. Fortunately the shot was low enough to have missed vital organs, but too high for the critical artery in his thigh.
"I don't think it's too bad," said Donos, pulling out his squadron comlink.
"It's bad enough," she said, her voice still tight.
"Well -- we'll see if we can get some help with this."
The woman glanced up in surprise, and then saw the device in his hand. A look of relief came over her face, and she turned back to the fallen prince and carefully slid him around so that his head rested on her lap.
"Thank you," she said when Donos had finished requesting help from the voice on the other end. "You came along at the right time."
"Well," he said, pocketing the comlink and giving the body of the man he'd shot a cursory check-over for ID cards. "With any luck my friends'll be here soon and we'll be able to finish this little show." He paused. "I'm Myn Donos by the way." He held out his hand.
"I'm Tanira Sahpul," she took his hand and then smiled apologetically. "We can't go on meeting like this."
He chuckled. "Well I guess we could, but I don't know how long the adrenalin would last. I'll just go and check that fellow you felled for ID." He indicated towards Kazinder. "Looks like he's coming round."
But Tanira was already stroking the prince's forehead and addressing him in a language Donos had never heard before, and once again he felt the alien stirrings of jealousy. He wondered if Kazinder realised how lucky he was.
By the time the med-droids at the health centre had installed the prince in a bacta tank, and the help team of Wedge, Tycho and Corran had finally understood the psychic message Donos had been trying to send them, that their presence was no longer required, it was late. Donos turned to Tanira, and was suddenly assailed by uncertainty. He knew he was attracted to her, but he also knew it was situational. He didn't want to leave her, and yet he was aware that offering to escort her back to her rooms brought him dangerously close to being accused of the sort of predatory tactics Janson might employ. That realisation wasn't helped by the fact that he knew part of him wanted to hold her in arms and see where it would take them. I suppose, he thought, I could always invite her to my room and we could leap up and down on the bed together. That would certainly be Jansonesque, and not quite so predatory. The image almost made him laugh, but he stifled the impulse, something which he found easy to do when he looked closely at the weary look in Tanira's green eyes. What he would give at times to be a smooth operator instead of feeling like an awkward klutz. But then could he live with the guilt such behaviour would no doubt induce in him? Probably not.
"You look like you need a drink," he said, wanting to reach out and push a wayward tendril of auburn hair from her cheek, but fearing that she might misread the action. "That was a pretty deadly shot with the blade, by the way. I'm impressed, and not a little intimidated."
She snorted. "Well thanks for shooting the one on the ground. There was no way I could have stopped him by myself. I underestimated the number of contacts the cartel has here. I guess I'd better swap to dancing -- at least if I fail there, I won't endanger anybody's life."
"Don't be so hard on yourself, these things happen. And you still saved him. Come on -- you want to go for a drink, a walk, a meal? What's going to help the most?"
For a moment, as he studied her appraising expression, he had an awful idea she was going to send him away. But the look suddenly softened, and he noticed again the sadness he'd picked up on at the ball.
"I think I need to get back on my own territory and lick my wounds," she smiled ruefully. "Mainly my pride."
Probably not the safest of images to come up with at this point, thought Donos, as the familiar volcanic stirrings threatened to return.
"I'll walk you there," he said quickly, and then added, "that's if you feel like some company."
"Actually, Myn," she said quietly, "I'd appreciate that. But I probably won't be much company for you."
Donos was temporarily unable to think of a reply, mainly because of the exotic lilt her accent gave his name. Instead he motioned her towards the exit, and as they entered the corridor, he took her arm.
On the way to the hotel where Prince Kazinder had taken a suite, he learned a little about her background. She had only been Kazinder's bodyguard for about one standard year. Previous to that she had been an operative for Tsu'porian Intelligence, Tsu'por being the home world of both herself and the prince. She had been married to another operative, but he had been killed when his cover was blown in an operation against the cartel that Kazinder had recently offended. Initially she had stayed with Intel, but eventually the constant reminders had been too overwhelming -- so she had left, taken a little time to sort herself out, and then accepted the bodyguard job. Dealing with associates of the cartel there today had given her a degree of satisfaction.
"I doubt I'll ever get my hands on the people who killed Rahwerri," she said softly, swiping a datacard across the suite's lock, "but the closer I get to them, the better it feels."
"You like the idea of vengeance?" asked Donos, following her in.
"No. I like the idea of balance. The one they took from me is worth a hundred of every three I take from them."
"Sounds fair enough to me." he murmured, gazing around at the plush floor coverings, and the crushed nauga velvet drapes.
Tanira opened a small refrigeration compartment in a bench unit in the corner of the room, and gazed inside it thoughtfully. "Prince Kazinder is a fairly thrifty man," she said, "all I can offer you is some sparkling pitaro-water, something called ..." she pulled out a bottle and read the label, "lomin ale, or if you'd prefer a hot drink, we have coffeine and hot chocolate."
"Might try the pitaro-water," replied Donos, settling himself on the nerf-hide lounger that stood along one wall. "Is that something from your part of the galaxy?"
She smiled as she poured an effervescent amber liquid into a tall glass. "It is. Comes from Iicini'ia, one of our nearest neighbours." She studied him as he took the glass. "You've lost people too, haven't you Myn?"
He looked up in surprise. "Yeah -- I have."
He shook his head. "I've never had a partner -- never had the time or the opportunity to get to know anyone sufficiently. But ... I've lost friends, close friends. Too many." His dark eyes momentarily took on the glaze of someone staring into haunting scenes from the past.
"I'm sorry," she murmured as she sat down nearby. "It seems to be part of living -- losing people. I guess we have to learn to be grateful for the times we have together, and always accept the fact that they will end. It's just hard to be the one that's left."
Donos nodded slowly, and then turned towards her. They gazed at each other for a moment.
"I really enjoyed the other night," he said.
"I did too."
"I, uh, have a confession to make."
She raised her eyebrows quizzically, but he noticed a faint twinkle in her eyes.
"You engineered the meeting, you mean?"
"Uh -- yeah. It took me quite a while to engineer too, may I say. I'm not much good at that sort of subterfuge. But I gather you've figured that out."
She looked both thoughtful and amused. "No, I disagree. You're quite good at it, but I get the impression you prefer not to do things that way. You prefer things uncomplicated."
He studied her expression, and then chuckled and took a final gulp of his drink. Unusual tang, but he liked it.
"You're a very good judge of character, Tanira." He paused. "I did want to meet you. I ... uh ... I just have this feeling we've got a lot in common."
"I think we do too."
He took a deep breath and added bravely. "Actually, um -- I didn't want that waltz to end, I liked being close to you like that. And I ... uh ... well, what I would really have liked would have been to be able to kiss you goodnight. But, well, your boss rather ruined that."
A soft smile touched the sides of her mouth, and she regarded him thoughtfully. Then she placed her glass on the in-built tray on the arm of the lounger, and slipped towards him. All Donos had to do was gather her in his arms, and place his lips on hers.
"That was very nice," he mumbled a while later. "Even better than I expected."
Tanira laughed, and it tugged at his heart strings to think that the gay, carefree expression he saw in that instant would have once been habitual. He wondered if she was thinking the same about him.
"You know -- you have the most amazing dark eyes," she said.
"You have the most amazing green ones," he replied, tentatively caressing her cheek.
In return, she traced around the line of his jaw with her finger, slowly, as if rediscovering an activity that had once been a source of long-forgotten delight. To Donos's surprise he didn't feel awkward, in fact it came as a revelation to him that he was actually leaning into her caress, even lightly kissing her fingers. Her eyes explored the contours of his face -- studiously, pensively -- until apparently satisfied with what they perceived. Then she smiled softly and reached up to him.
"Mmm," she murmured, when their lips parted a second time, and the affectionate smile took on a slightly impish appearance. "That certainly made up for the other night. What about a hello and goodbye for yesterday?"
"I didn't see you yesterday," he reminded her.
"You could pretend you did. And then you can settle the account for today."
His eyebrows shot up in consternation that was only partially contrived. "I didn't realise you'd be so demanding."
"Is it going to be a problem?" she asked.
He studied her expression for a moment just to ascertain that he was reading it correctly rather than imbuing it with his own wishful thinking. "My boss has drilled it into us that Rogue Squadron pilots can rise to any challenge, and I have no intention of proving him wrong."
She laughed, and then the mischievous look softened. "It's easier when you've got a wingmate, though, don't you think?"
"Yeah." Donos surrendered again to the force pulling him to her lips, but as the kiss became more adventurous he felt the faint stirrings of panic.
Tanira must have noticed because she pulled away gently. "Just because you're following your boss's orders so spectacularly doesn't mean we have to make use of it, you know," she said softly.
Donos sighed, aware that he sounded like he'd just run a marathon. "Sorry. It's just that it's, uh, been a while, and I'm ... well, I'm a little out of practice."
"Me, too." She kissed his chin and nestled against him.
"I, um." He stopped, unable to find the right words.
"You what?" she coaxed.
"I really want you, Tanira," he murmured. "I guess I'm just worried I'm being selfish. I -"
She placed her finger on his lips. "Stop there." He watched as she unhooked the fasteners on her tunic top and slipped it off revealing her chemise. She reached up and kissed him again lightly, and then slowly pulled that off, too. Donos knew his eyes were popping, and he could feel overload alarms going off on all his on-line systems, but he didn't resist as she took his hands in hers.
"Does it look like you're being selfish?" she asked softly, cupping his hands against her breasts so he could feel the hungry thrust of her nipples.
"You're beautiful," he mumbled. He had forgotten that skin could be so soft or that the subtle fragrance of perfume could be so intoxicating. In his mind he imagined kissing his way slowly from her toes to her lips and having her squirming with delight. In reality he was too overwhelmed to move. Why did it all look so easy in the holovids?
"Flattery's always a good starting point," she whispered, and proceeded to slide his jacket off, and then slid her hands down to the fastener on his Corellian breeches. "I see it's true what they say about Corellians."
"Actually I think it's the company," he chuckled breathlessly and then gasped. "Tanira! I, um, thought you said you were out of practice."
"I think it's beginning to come back," she giggled gazing up at him mischievously and was about to repeat her playful ministrations when Donos leapt to his feet and swung her up in his arms.
"I can see there's only one way to deal with a woman like you," he said purposefully, and marched towards what he hoped was the right bedroom.
"What was that you said about there being only one way to deal with me?" she murmured drowsily later as they lay tangled together in the peaceful half-light of the bedroom glow panel.
"Okay, I admit that was a miscalculation. Maths was never my strong suit."
She yawned and stretched like a contented whisperkit. "I don't know. There doesn't seem to be much wrong with your addition."
Donos chuckled and slid his arms around her as she turned to him again. "I'm glad I had the courage to walk across that dance floor."
"Me too." Her lips brushed his as she spoke. "Stay with me tonight, Myn."
It was a fair request -- and well expressed. Donos felt no inclination to argue.
They stood together at the bottom of the ramp leading up into Prince Kazinder's yacht. It was an unusual design, not one with which Donos was familiar. The prince had spent nearly twenty-four hours in bacta at the Squadron facility before being moved to one of the health centres considered more appropriate for a person of his standing. After a further two days of recuperation, he had returned to being Tanira's responsibility; but Donos wasn't complaining. The assassination attempt had given them three days, and by swapping duties with Hobbie and Inyri, he had managed to spend most of that time with her. He knew he was going to miss her badly, but he had known at the start that there was no question of her not leaving. Somehow a predictable loss empowered him, and gave him back the sense of control over his life that the unpredictable losses had destroyed.
He found he kept mentally revisiting the scene at the ball, trying to fathom what had moved him to be so proactive -- even creative -- in his efforts to meet the green-eyed woman who had caught his eye. He suspected that whatever it was that had drawn them together was something they had both been unwittingly broadcasting to each other -- their common need for companionship and physical affection, perhaps. Or their desire for a respite from the gloomy bouts of retrospection with which they were both too familiar. Donos had found himself telling Tanira about his lost squadron and his feelings for Lara Notsil, some of which he had barely acknowledged to himself.
He had received a message from Lara a few months earlier, just after the Wraiths had been disbanded and he had been reassigned to Rogue Squadron. She had created a new identity for herself as Kirney Slane and had set herself up as a shuttle operator on Corellia. In the message, she had given him an address at which, for a short period of time, he would be able to contact her. But after three weeks of tortuous self-argument about whether to try and re-establish contact or not, the time limit had passed. Even now Donos couldn't decide whether he saw a future with Lara or not. But he did know that having someone just willing to listen had allowed him to validate some of the inner wranglings he had had with himself and to negate others.
Tanira, too, seemed to have gained something from the encounter. He had held her against him while she cried hot tears of anger and pain, as she told him about her and Rahwerri's decision to start a family just before the mission that killed him. It was something she had never been able to tell anyone else for fear of losing her composure.
"What s-sort of stupid pride is it that makes us believe people wouldn't want to comfort us?" she had demanded between sobs.
"You have to want to be comforted," he had replied, stroking her hair. "Sometimes it takes a while to get to that stage."
Gradually her paroxysms of grief had subsided and when he next looked down he had seen that she had fallen asleep. He had settled back into the corner of the lounger where they'd been sitting so she could rest against him undisturbed, feeling a sense of peace and fulfillment he hadn't felt for a while.
"I want you to promise me something," said Tanira, taking his face in her hands. "I want you to promise that you'll make an effort to find Lara and tell her how you feel."
"What if she's found someone else?"
"You still have to tell her. Not for her sake, but for yours. Promise me."
"But what if ..."
"No matter what."
"No matter what? What if she's linked up with some one-hundred-and-twenty kilogram, two-metre tall unarmed combat specialist."
"Then you tell her, and then run away very quickly. I'm sure you have a good turn of speed."
"I appreciate your confidence," he grinned wryly.
He squinted down at her in mock deliberation, admiring the depths of her wide green eyes for probably the last time.
"Demanding wench that you are. Okay, I promise."
She smiled and kissed him, and then slipped a hand up to run it through his thick, dark hair. "There will always be a special place in my heart that will be just for you," she whispered, and wiped away a tear that had spilled on to his cheek.
"In mine too," he replied, smoothing away the tears making her own cheeks glisten.
"I'm sad, but I'm not unhappy," she said.
He held her against him. "Yeah," he said, not feeling the need to mask the effect that the lump in his throat was having on his voice. He held her for a long moment, and then released her, but took her hand in his. "Na-tahringih," he said quietly.
"Na-tahringih," replied Tanira. She squeezed his fingers gently and then walked up the ramp. She turned once at the top. They gazed at each other and smiled fondly, then she stepped into the ship's corridor. The ramp closed with a hiss.
Donos watched as the yacht lifted on its repulsors and gracefully maneuvered out of the landing bay. He followed its progress up past the towering pinnacles of the city until it was lost in the haze. He stood gazing up for a long time.
"Myn," a quiet voice came from behind him.
He turned to find Wedge there.
Donos noted the look of concern. It's good to have friends, he thought. And to be alive. A random image popped into his head of a Corellian berry moth emerging from its cocoon, unfurling its trembling wings to the warm sun, suddenly able to feel again after a long sojourn in the dark.
"I'm sad," he said firmly, "but I'm not unhappy."
"Goodbyes are ... pretty hard," said Wedge.
"The Tsu'porians don't like them either. They don't say goodbye, they say na-tahringih. It means 'till the new sun'."
Wedge considered his statement thoughtfully. "I like it," he said. "Gives you a feeling of ... largeness and hope."
Donos nodded and Wedge saw a small, peaceful smile transform his features. The sombre, brooding expression was gone.
"Yeah," said Donos. He threw Wedge a look that was part thank you and part see-you-later, and walked away. A figure emerged from the shadows behind a diplomatic shuttle. Wedge turned to him with a quizzical expression. "What do you think, Wes?"
Wes's blue eyes followed the disappearing pilot, noting the easy swing of his shoulders and the faint hint of a swagger.
"I could be mistaken, but I think that's the Donos I trained," he said finally. Then he nodded. "It's good to have him back."
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