I scanned the crowd as I entered the cantina. As in any place like this in the galaxy, it was filled with seedy creatures of every shape, size, and species. I tried not to let the fear show in my eyes, to keep them hard, to look tough; to channel that confident Jedi that the Masters were.
I would have failed miserably if I had been only in Jedi robes.
I guess that it's good that I left then, if I can't even be a decent threat as a Jedi.
But I can look tough -be tough- as a Mandalorian. I remembered my armor. The helmet I wore hid my eyes, and encased in the thick bodysuit adorned with the impenetrable beskar plates, I felt more comfortable than I ever had in the soft robes I wore as a Jedi.
I strode right up to the bar, with more of a swagger than a step. I was confident in my abilities, for once. No one dared to meet the visor that was the eyes of my violet helmet, and with good reason. Beskar'gam, however pretty it truly was, was not just for looks. And I was sure that the double blasters on my hips weren't much of an encouragement to step up and say 'hi' either. But little did they know that, well concealed behind the kama, a lightsaber was hidden in each holster that bounced against my thighs. Even with my beskar encasement, I still held some ties to the Force-using world.
Beskar'gam. It meant Iron skin in basic.
Each Mando's kit was hand-crafted, and customized just for his body and preferences. It was meant to be a second skin. And it truly was to me. I felt more at home in this 'skin' than just my own. This was my skin. My first skin, I now knew.
I was Mandalorian by birth, and when I had discovered that, and returned to my culture, I realized why I had never been at ease with the teachings and people of the Jedi.
So I left. And that was it.
"Antakarian Fire Dancer," I told the bartender. He nodded. I went to sit in a booth, well hidden in a dark corner, and waited. The drink was placed in front of me, but I didn't touch it. I wasn't going to take my helmet off. I wasn't here to drink.
It wasn't long before another figure entered the cantina. Everyone turned but pretended not to care when another armor-clad Mandalorian entered. This one I knew immediately from the black plates with an emblazoned red Mythosaur skull across his chest.
His surname meant 'Destroyer'. And very aptly placed for his family. He was the first Mando I had met, and initially, he scared the osik out of me. He still did sometimes, but in a different way than that first meeting when he tried to kill me.
He walked straight to me and slid into the seat. I pulled him close, bumping helmets and chest plates in a rough embrace. A Kedalbe Kiss some called it. The only way to share a 'kiss' with helmets on.
"Ori'vod," I said, our helmets' sound connected and scrambled so none could overhear. Big Brother. He was to me in some ways.
"Su'cuy, Ad'ika," He took the drink on the table with one gloved hand, and lifting his helmet a bit, downed the shot in one gulp. With a satisfied sigh, he replaced both the glass and his helmet. "That stuff is strong, but nothing compared to Mando liquor."
"I know. I don't even know why I got it," I said, an almost weary tone to my voice.
"For me. So how are you holding up, Mir?" His concern was veiled by the humor that constantly laced his deep voice. But it was there and genuine all the same.
"I'm tired," I sighed. "I'm sick of running, honestly..."
Kelan's hand found mine between our hips. His long fingers curled around mine, dwarfing my petite hand. I could feel the heat of our palms mingling, even through the gloves.
"It's going to be alright, Mirdala. I promise. If I have to hunt down and kill every one of those shabla Jetiise myself, I'll do it." His hand tightened further on mine, protectively.
On the outer edges of my senses, I caught a somewhat familiar presence entering the cantina. I couldn't place this aura, but he was another Jedi for sure. He didn't seem to mean me harm, but I could feel he was watching me. I watched him in my peripheral vision, still cautious.
"I'm sure you would enjoy that, wouldn't you?" Distraction didn't show in my voice.
"Every second, babe, every second..." I could hear the grin in his voice, even if I couldn't see his face. I laughed and the danger sense that had been prickling down my spine for the last few weeks retreated to just a barely-perceptible tickle. Kelan chuckled, but far too soon did the reality of danger come crashing down on me. I could sense a slight but nagging worry emanating from him. The tone grew serious far too quickly when I asked him about it.
"Oh, see," He readjusted himself in the sticky booth seat, turning to face me but keeping my hand tightly in his grip. "I happened across some intel from a reliable source. He says that the Jedi haven't given up on finding you."
"Well, we knew that."
"I know," He sighed, "But I also learned that they've employed a certain... bounty hunter to find you."
"A bounty hunter! Why can't they kriffing leave me alone? I've done no wrong! I can leave if I so wish! They never said I couldn't!" I was angry now, but only Kelan could tell. We both held our bodies stiff, making only small unintelligible motions. We looked like any Mandalorian couple -if we were in fact that; I wasn't sure- out for a drink. Only someone with a well-trained eye would have known we were having a conversation of this importance. I drew in a long breath to calm myself. "Do we know who it is they've hired?"
"That I couldn't glean," Kelan said regrettably.
I cursed under my breath.
"But," he said, once again squeezing my hand, holding it up against his armored chest. His helmet was a unreadable mask, but I could tell that he stared through it intently. "I'll go out again, I'll find out all I can. I won't let them catch you, Mir. I can't. Former Jetiise or not, you are now mando'ade. Aliit ori'shya tal'din."
Family is more than bloodlines.
A Mandalorian proverb. And the only reason I was still alive. Without Kelan's protection and acceptance, I would have been dead long before this day.
I looked into the T-shaped visor of his helmet, wishing I could see his eyes. I had a sudden urge to kiss him, but that would be impossible, probably even without the helmets. I had never been allowed to experience any attachment as a Jedi. I didn't know what love was. And I didn't know if by my misreading, Kelan would take it the wrong way. Though I was unsure of what love was, I thought that if I loved anyone, it was Kelan.
So lost was I in pondering my feelings, that I almost didn't sense the danger until it was too late. I heard a scream and a sudden explosion as a grenade went off in the middle of the room. Smoke promptly began to leak from the orb, and patrons fell from the bar stools. No one was hurt, but all were out like lights.
Our helmets, equipped with air scrubbers, kept the noxious sleeping gas from reaching Kelan's and my lungs. We were both up, in fighting stances with weapons drawn, before the grenade thrower had a chance to enter. When they entered, the smoke obscured his figure from our view. The presence I felt was unfamiliar, but I knew they had come for me. I was the intent for their previous actions. I knew this, so I wasn't surprise when I heard the figure speak:
"Mirdala Skirata... I'm here to collect a bounty."