Jak & Bey Chapter 3: Smashed
Detective Jak Eagerman - 24-year-old human male, a detective of the Coruscant underground
Detective Bey Bem'sura - 19-year-old Balosar female, a detective of the Coruscant underground
Pero Bem'sura - 42-year-old Balosar male, Bey's father
Elanna Bem'sura - 42-year-old Balosar female, Bey's mother
Ward Bem'sura - 21-year-old Balosar male, Bey's oldest brother
Dazz Bem'sura - 20-year-old Balosar male, Bey's second oldest brother
Casp Bem'sura - 11-year-old Balosar male, Bey's youngest brother
Officer Chumby - Sullustan male, beat cop of the Coruscant underground
The promotions ceremony had been boring and that didn't bother Detective Bey Bem'sura at all. In her line of work, a little bit of boring came as a welcome break. The Balosar beamed from ear-to-ear during the entire event.
After each of the police officers had been announced and awarded their new ranks, the tidy rows formed into clusters as friends and family swarmed them with congratulations and praise.
Bey's own family was no exception. Every one of them had attended.
"Well done, Detective Bem'sura!" Bey's father shook her hand.
"We're so proud of you!" Her mother hugged her. "We always knew you'd do great, but seeing you here today. Mm! Just makes a mother so happy!"
Her oldest brother patted her on the back. "Good job. Grats!"
Her younger brother grinned. "Maybe I'll join the force, too!"
Her second oldest brother shook his head. "I still don't know how a runt like you survived a whole year as a cop here in the Coruscant underground."
"Runt?" Bey huffed. "I'll take you in an arm wrestling match right here and now. My partner got me going to the gym. I might still look skinny, but I've gained a lot of muscle."
"Hey, Bey!" Her partner, Jak Eagerman, pushed through the lot of them. He held out an unassuming box. "Congratulations! I got you a little something to—"
At this point he seemed to realize who the five Balosar around Bey were. "Oh. Hi."
"This is my partner and mentor, Detective Jak Eagerman." Bey smiled. "This is my mom, Elanna. My dad, Pero. And my brothers. Numbskulls One, Two, and Three."
The second oldest of them punched her in the shoulder and offered his hand to Jak. "I'm Dazz."
"I'm Casp!" The youngest one waved.
"Ward." The oldest rested an elbow on Bey's shoulder and gave Jak a nod. "So you're the partner, huh? She doesn't talk about you much."
Bey frowned, struggling with the awkwardness of her two social circles colliding. "Jak's . . . great. I've learned everything I know from him. But it's not healthy to bring the job home with you, so that's why I don't talk about work."
"I disagree!" Elanna interjected her words and herself between Bey and Jak. "I want to know more about the man who's been looking after my daughter. We're having a big celebration dinner at our house tonight. You should come!"
From behind her mother's back Bey shot Jak a severe stare. She shook her head warningly.
Jak saw Bey's expression and deliberately grinned at Elanna. "I'd love to!"
If looks could kill, she would have murdered him several times a week. Since they couldn't, Bey's death stare was met with absolute impunity, like always.
As the speeder streaked through the tunnels and thoroughfares traversing between level 1356 and level 1325-A, Bey hung onto Jak's back and shouted over the whipping air. "My family's great, but you don't know what you're getting into!"
"I'm sure I've handled worse!" He yanked the speeder around a corner and down a shaft.
"You should've declined!"
"What? And miss a chance to find out how a kid in the underground grew up as naïve as you? Not on my life!"
Bey sighed and gave up trying to argue with him. She rested her face against his back and watched lights flashing by in the darkness. She had no problem living in Jak's world. Patrolling the underground, you saw things. A lot of things. And you learned to make light of it. She also loved her family dearly. They had somehow managed to raise her and her brothers in relative safety.
She was the bridge between two worlds, but those worlds could hardly be more different.
"Turn left at the fuel station!" She reached around him to point. "And then go down the ramp."
He followed her directions, weaving through the maze of levels. Navigating the underground was never straight forward. As the layers of Coruscant had grown more and more numerous, the lower levels got denser and less organized. Areas that had once been open roads got filled in with residences, shops, and other things. Some places had collapsed under the immense weight of the ever-growing layers above.
Neither the sun nor the Imperial government reached this far down, yet life went on. Local governments did what they could. People eked out a living. Some strove to literally move up in the world, while others drifted farther and farther down.
"Stop here!" Bey motioned to an apartment complex. Jak pulled over and she hopped off, relieved to be able to talk clearly again. "Jak, in all seriousness, listen to me."
He pulled off his riding goggles and finally looked her in the eye. "Alright. I'm listening."
"You're—" She sighed, and continued grudgingly. "You're a great detective and I wouldn't want anyone else for a partner. I never say it, but you know it."
"But . . . ?"
"My parents are very—" She struggled for the right word. Not strict, as they always supported her. Not reserved, as the house often filled with laughter. "Conservative. Protective. Perhaps I grew up a bit sheltered."
"Perhaps? Ha ha!" He gestured vaguely around them. "Not so sheltered anymore though, are you? Can't be a cop without seeing the dirty underbelly of the underground."
"Well. Yes. I'm sure they know that. But I don't talk about it. And you're sort of the embodiment of this other life I lead."
"Other life?" He raised an eyebrow.
"It's not like I lie to them." She frowned at him. "But I'm their little sister and their precious daughter. To you, I'm your partner and an adult and we've been through a lot together."
"I think I see where you're going with this, but give me an example."
"Well." She squared her shoulders. "Remember my first day? We went for drinks?"
He chuckled and then chuckled some more. "You got absolutely plastered. I had to scrape you off the sidewalk and let you sleep it off at my place. I told your mum you were working late, because I didn't figure she deserved to see you marinating in your own stomach juices."
"I'd never had alcohol before. I thought Balosar were immune to it." Bey rubbed her face. "As far as they know, I don't drink. And I don't swear. And I don't crack off-color jokes. Or use innuendo. Or hang out with people who've used."
"So they don't know you at all." Jak chortled.
She glared at him. "And you know why I don't talk about you? It's not because I don't want to. It's because if I told them everything, they'd be horrified. They wouldn't trust you at all. Which is stupid, because I trust you with my life every day. But . . . like the death stick thing, you know? That would scare them."
A year ago, when she'd caught him, she'd threatened to match him stick for stick if he kept using.
He snorted. "Yeah? You scared me too, you idiot."
"Me too." She scowled at him. "But I don't want them worrying. Just leave the talking to me. They assume you're this super stand-up guy. Just let them keep believing what they want, that's all I'm asking."
"Fine. But ya owe me a box of ryshcate tomorrow morning."
"I thought you were laying off the pastries."
"Sure." He winked. "But this is a special occasion. Bey B's first promotion!"
"It's my second. You missed the first one because you were drowning yourself in alcohol, remember?"
"Whatever." He dug his gift out of the storage box on the back of the bike, tucked it under one arm, and gave her a shove toward the entrance to the apartment complex. "Let's go. I'm starving."
The few lights left in the apartment lobby flickered. Bey led Jak into a rickety stairwell and fretted the entire way up five flights of stairs. Maybe she was worrying too much. Jak looked nice in his dress uniform, clean and professional. All he had to do was be polite and not recount any stories.
As they reached the apartment door, Bey smoothed her uniform nervously. This was her home, her family—her entire world, apart from her job. No matter what happened, Jak would come away with new things to tease her about. She sighed. It couldn't be helped.
Swiping her keycard, Bey opened the door. "I'm home!"
The rich smell of roasted meat and baking bread flooded out. If the Bem'suras knew anything, it was how to make the most of what little they had. Ingredients could be hit or miss this far down, but her mother could make anything taste ten times better.
"Welcome home!' Her mother popped out of the kitchen and hugged her. She hugged Jak, too, and waved him inside. "Come in. Dinner's almost ready."
Her father also appeared and shook Jak's hand. He ushered Jak to the dining room table. "Please sit, Detective."
Bey's three brothers were already at the table, waiting hungrily. They each got up to shake Jak's hand before returning to their seats. The youngest, Casp, lingered for a moment to stare up at him. "You're huge!"
He wasn't wrong. Bey had thought the same thing when she'd met the two-meter man. Jak was both tall and stocky, although these days, his weight and girth was mostly muscle, unlike when she'd first seen him.
Jak chuckled. "That what she said."
Bey kicked him sharply in the ankle before shoving him towards a chair and then sitting down herself. "He's big enough to the wrestle the baddest scumbags in the underground!"
Jak tapped her on the shoulder. "Could you show me where the bathroom is?"
"It's right—" She frowned and pushed her chair back. "Yeah. It's right this way."
Down the hall and to the left, she opened a door. "Here it is."
She shoved him inside, out of sight of her family, and hissed at him. "Make one more 'she said' joke and you're going home in a body bag!"
"You gotta calm down. Everything's going great."
His hands landed on her shoulders and pointed her at the mirror over the sink. He smoothed his short hair as if preening. "Look. What's not to like? Your family will love me."
She took a breath. "Yeah, I know."
"Frak, woman, you're tenser than a standoff on Stoke Street." His thick fingers dug into the knots in her shoulder muscles. "Relax, Bey B."
But Bey did not relax, because she saw her father walk past the doorway, stop, and do a double take.
"Excuse me?" Pero frowned.
Jak turned, putting Bey between him and her father. "Oh, hey, Mr. Bem'sura."
Her mother appeared immediately at Pero's side. "What's going on, Pero?"
Bey chuckled nervously. "Maybe we should all get back to the table. The food looks delicious, mom!"
A moment later, they all sat around the table in an uneasy silence. Pero broke it. "Detective Eagerman . . . what exactly are your intentions with my daughter?"
Bey's heart sank. Here it was, the moment where everything went off the rails.
Jak frowned. "My intentions are to keep her alive as long as possible. What else would they be?"
"Do police usually call their partners 'baby'?" Elanna chimed in.
Jak held up his hands. "Hey, look, you gave her that name, not me."
"Her name is Bey," Ward interjected coldly.
"Oh, come on!" Bey planted her hands on the table. "It took me years to get you all to stop calling me 'baby'. Don't act like you didn't!"
Dazz nodded. "Yeah, but that's different. We're your family. When I call you 'baby', it means you're a child."
"I'm an adult! I'm nineteen!" She narrowed her eyes. "And unlike you, I have a job!"
Ward continued his brother's point. "But when some guy calls you 'baby', it means something entirely different."
"I'm right here." Jak butted in. "And I definitely am 'some guy', but I definitely ain't interested in jumping your sister's bones."
Elanna stifled a gasp. Pero frowned. "Excuse me?"
As Bey turned various shades of furious and embarrassed, Jak turned back to Pero. "Mr. Bem'sura, I get it, okay? If I had a daughter this gullible, tiny, and naïve, I'd be terrified of someone taking advantage of her. It'd just be so kriffin' easy."
"Jak! Shut up!" Bey kicked him viciously in the ankle a second time. "You're making it worse. Look, there's nothing between us! You can relax. Workplace relationships are strictly prohibited."
Elanna raised a shrewd eyebrow. "Do your other coworkers also give you shoulder massages?"
"It's not like that!" Bey felt her antennapalps quivering with rising blood pressure. "The only reason he even came to dinner was so he could embarrass me in front of all of you! He's a big jerk!"
Jak shrugged. "Well, it wasn't the only reason, but Bey is remarkably entertaining to tease."
All three of her brothers started laughing. Dazz rolled his eyes. "Yeah, we know."
"Boys are all the same. I hate all of you!" Bey started shoveling food into her mouth, her antennapalps folded back. She skewered Jak with glare. "If I don't die of embarrassment before tomorrow, I'm going to beat you with a shock-baton until you can't walk."
"See what I have to put up with? Daily death-threats." Jak ruffled her hair. "It's adorable."
"Stop touching me!" Bey held a fork to his throat. "Got it?"
"Yeah. Yeesh, woman, calm down." Jak held up his hands in surrender and then dug into the roast and dinner rolls. "Wow! This is fantastic. You're an amazing cook, Mrs. Bem'sura."
"I made the rolls." Casp pouted at him.
"Well, sir." Jak gazed back seriously. "Ya got a future in baking ahead of you."
Her little brother made a face. "I'm going to be a cop when I grow up!"
"Even better!" Jak lifted a roll. "Bring these to the office every day, will ya?"
Bey finally sighed and relaxed. After the initial rocky start, maybe things would go more smoothly.
With the food soundly demolished, Ward presented Bey with a box. "We all chipped in to get you a congratulation gift."
Tearing through the paper, Bey fully expected some spring-action booby trap, but she found a holo protector instead.
"Turn it on," Casp urged. "We loaded it with images."
She flicked the switch on the bottom. Immediately a holo of her graduation from the police academy appeared. It had only been a year ago, but she looked younger, even to her own eyes. A moment later, it showed the Bem'suras celebrating Life Day.
"Aww, thanks! You guys are the sweetest." Bey smiled, and then frowned as an image of Dazz showing off a mouthful of half-chewed food appeared. "Never mind. You're all still buttheads, like usual."
Seeing Jak's gift on the table, she opened it as well. "Ouch!"
"Heh, sorry. Should have warned ya." Jak cut open the rest of the package with his knife while Bey sucked her thumb.
"Aw, that's—" She frowned as she tried to figure out why Jak would give her a ceramic figurine of a comical human, and then she saw the cactus growing out of the man's pants. "Jak. Why."
He chuckled weakly. "Expected you to open it at the station, not here."
"Thanks?" Bey sighed and steadfastly ignored her parents' expressions. Jak was right. The cactus would have been a hit at the office—but here it just made her uncomfortable. "It's getting late. I need to get some sleep. You should head home."
"Yeah, I guess so." Jak considerately didn't point out it was still early in the evening for both of them. "Well, it was great meeting everyone. I'm glad to see my partner has such a good family."
Bey showed Jak to the door, but as she waved from the doorway, her father edged past her.
Before she could spend more than a second wondering why he was following Jak out, her mother shut the door and took Bey aside for a private conversation in the kitchen.
"Bey. Sweetie." Her mother had that face. The same face she'd used to explain puberty.
Bey cringed. "Yes, mom?"
"Mm. Dear." Her mother pursed her lips and tried again. "I know you've never dated."
"No." Bey rolled her eyes. "And I'm not dating my partner, either!"
"I know that, sweetie." Elanna put her hands on her hips. "But does he?"
"Does he what, mom?" Sighing in exasperation, Bey pulled a glass out of a cupboard and filled it with water from a pitcher.
"Does he know?"
"Know what, mom?"
"That you're not interested in him."
"I said before, relationships are against regulations. He knows that as well as I."
"That's not what I asked." Elanna followed her to the other side of the kitchen. "Regulations or not, if you lead him on—"
"I'm not! Mom, for crying out loud, I don't even know how to flirt, okay?"
"What I mean is, men can be a bit obtuse. If you don't tell them directly that you're not interested, if you're nice to them, if you talk to them a lot—they'll just assume you like them."
"I do like him!" Bey set her water down. "But not like you seem to think. Anyway, I can't not talk to him. We work together every day. And if it helps, I'm not nice. I'm a bit of a jerk to him, honestly. I mean, it's only fair."
"But honey, guys will take that as a sign of interest—"
"Mom, what do you want from me? I can't be nice and I can't be a jerk? What am I supposed to do? Pretend my partner doesn't exist?"
"No! I've had it. I don't know how many ways I can explain we aren't a thing, so let me try explaining something else. It's my life! I'm not an idiot, and I'm not a child!" Bey slugged down the water, put the glass in the sink, and headed out of the kitchen.
"You're still my child!" her mother's voice followed her.
Jak had a feeling what was coming as soon as he saw Pero following him outside.
Bey's father, an unassuming Balosar if ever there was one, walked with him down all the stairs and out to the speeder bike on the street before saying anything. "Detective Eagerman. A word, if I may."
"Sure. What's up?"
"I was born on level 800. My parents were born on 723. Their parents came from 640." The Balosar knitted his fingers together. "I do not even know how far back in my ancestry you'd have to go to find the ones who came here from Balosar. My family has been here practically forever. We started near the bottom, and we've been clawing our way up as far back as I can trace my family tree."
"I don't think I'm an ambitious man, but some might consider that I ask too much." Pero shrugged. "All I have ever wanted is to give my family a better life than I had."
Jak thought about the smiling faces of Bey's rambunctious brothers. "I'd say you've done pretty well."
Pero nodded in gracious appreciation. "I thought so, too. But perhaps in my efforts to safeguard my family, I am the reason Bey is, as you say, gullible and naïve. Perhaps I should have raised her to be more streetwise."
Jak opened his mouth to say Bey could handle herself well enough, but Pero continued without giving him an opening.
"Detective Eagerman—Jak, if I may—I am not a man of any great stature or standing. I cannot puff myself up and pretend I have any power over you or what you do."
"Why would you want—"
Pero looked up intently. "So, I'm asking you, please, whatever you do, understand that Bey is my only daughter. Maybe you're right, and she would be easy . . . to take advantage of. Maybe she doesn't speak of you often, but it's often enough to see how she looks up to you. She trusts you."
Jak sighed and studied the grimy sidewalk for a moment, considering his words. He knew what Pero was asking. "Mr. Bem'sura, you asked what my intentions are, and I gave you an honest answer. I torment the crap out of her, but the truth is, I owe her my life several times over."
"So you'll keep her safe?"
"At the end of the day, she's a cop and these streets are far from safe. Stuff happens. I can't guarantee her safety." Jak picked up the goggles draped over the bike's handlebars. He examined them for a moment. "But I give you my word I'm willing to die trying."
Bey stormed out of the apartment complex just in time to pass her father as he came back into the lobby. She nodded and marched out to where Jak was seating the goggles upon his face.
She scowled. "What's so funny?"
"I'm glad to see your family makes you as mad as I do." He chuckled. "Means I'm in good company."
She growled under her breath when he spread his arms. "You wouldn't believe my mom! She insists I'm too nice and too mean to you practically in the same breath! Oh, she wouldn't approve of this either!"
"You want a hug or not?"
"Why do they still think I'm a child?" She planted her face against his chest.
"Because you let them." He gave her a squeeze and patted her head.
"And why won't they let go of the idea that we aren't just partners?"
"Probably for the same reason I got reported to HR yesterday for licking my finger and sticking it in your ear." He shrugged. "They just don't get what it takes to make a good team!"
She pulled away, making a face. "You sort of deserved that one."
"Yeah," he agreed, but then he grinned. "But so did you."
She made a rude noise and folded her arms.
"Time for me to head—" Jak frowned suddenly and patted his pockets until he found his datapad. He answered it. "Hello? Yeah. What? Are you sure it's in my unit? Then when is it going to be out? Crime scene? I'm a cop. Oh, come on. It wasn't arson. I've been gone all evening— Ya at least got a spare room?"
Grunting, he shoved the datapad back into his pocket.
"What was that about?" Bey could tell it was serious.
"There was a fire in my apartment block. They're putting it out, but they say I'm not allowed back until they rule out arson and repair the place." He shrugged off her look of concern. "I didn't have anything of value in there."
"I'm sorry. There's a motel just up on level—" She remembered how he'd borrowed money for lunch, explaining he'd spent his meager savings fixing his speeder bike. Payday wouldn't come for another week.
He saw her staring. "It's fine. I'll go back to the station and sleep at my desk. If they complain, I'll tell 'em it's their fault for makin' me write so many reports."
"No, you're not." Bey sighed and waved toward the lobby. "You're staying with us."
"But your parents—"
"—will just have to deal with it."
"Are you sure? I don't want to intrude."
"You let me crash at your place once. What was it you said? 'It's what partners do.' "
Bey wasn't going to take no for an answer, but after she explained what happened to Jak's place, neither her mother nor her father argued.
"Our place is not very big," Elanna admitted. "We could only afford a one-bedroom apartment. But we wouldn't think of turning you away."
"Bey can sleep with us in the bedroom, and you can take her spot with the boys in the living room." Pero gestured to the dining room that also served as a living room and had two couches. "The couches have foldaway beds under them, so there's a place for each of you."
"I'd have been fine with sleeping on the floor, to be honest." Jak nodded appreciatively. "Just happy to have a roof over my head. Sorry to inconvenience you."
"Think nothing of it!" Elanna handed him a blanket and pointed him to a couch. "You're welcome to stay here until your next payday."
Bey was a little surprised to see them welcome him in, but she wasn't at all surprised to see her brothers off to the side, strategizing.
"Alright, boys. Listen up." Ward had his arms around the other two. "We take shifts."
"Why are we taking shifts?" Casp looked confused. "Shifts of what?"
Dazz was totally onboard. "We gotta stay awake and make sure this guy doesn't get up to any funny business with Bey, alright, Casp? I'll take first shift."
"I'll take last shift." Casp looked unconvinced but also unwilling to be left out.
"Alright. It's settled then." Ward patted them both on the shoulders and let them go. He looked up to see Bey with her arms crossed. "Oh, hey, Bey."
"Really? I mean sure, I can understand not trusting the stranger in the house, but what about me? You don't trust me either?"
"Well." Ward scratched his head. "It's the principle of it, you know."
"Enjoy your lack of sleep." Bey rolled her eyes. She knew she wouldn't be getting at rest, being tucked into her parents' bed like a fish in a tin. Frankly, without her brothers' meddling, she probably would have sat up all night with Jak, swapping jokes at the dining table.
She had invited Jak to stay, and she'd do it again, but she knew it was going to be a week of hell.
Jak lay awake on the couch, pretending to sleep as Dazz stared at him from the dining table.
Jak had grown up in the mid levels of Coruscant, settling farther and farther down to get away from the chokehold of Imperial rule. The Bem'sura's had started at the bottom and clawed their way up. Even this meager apartment was barely within their budget, Jak guessed. The only thing that made the tiny place big enough for a family of six was the lack of stuff. Aside from a few boxes stacked up to form shelving, one for each of the children's clothes and personal belongings, the place remained bare of non-essentials.
He imagined what money didn't go to rent went to food, and he felt guilty knowing he could easily eat as much as three of them combined. This would be diet week, he supposed.
Dazz eventually shook Ward awake, and Ward took the position at the table.
Jak finally dozed off but woke later to the sound of Bey's voice.
"Can't believe you're really going through with this nonsense." A chair squeaked as Bey sat down.
"What are you doing up?"
"You kidding? Dad snores and Mom keeps tossing and turning," Bey grumbled tiredly.
"You can take my couch," Ward offered. "I'm not using it."
"No, thanks. I'll just drown myself in caf at work tomorrow."
Jak thought about getting up and keeping them company, but he decided that might give the wrong impression. He dozed off again.
When he next woke, he heard Ward rousing Casp. "Hey. It's your turn, bud."
Casp groggily got up. He must have gone to the table, because then he said, "Bey, what are you doing out here?"
Bey gave a muffled, inaudible reply, as if talking into her arms.
A few minutes later, Jak cracked one eye open. Ward and Dazz sprawled across their couch and foldaway, dead to the world. At the table, Bey had passed out with her face on her arms. Casp had pulled his chair over and was currently sleeping on Bey's shoulder. So much for taking last shift.
Jak got up quietly, picked up Casp's unused blanket, and padded over to the table. He draped the blanket over both of them. He guessed from the chill in the air that they couldn't afford much heating. It seemed extreme frugality had gotten them up to this level. It also explained why Bey was small even for a Balosar. He could just imagine her sharing her portion of the food with her younger brother. It made him feel even worse for imposing on their hospitality.
Padding back to the couch, he saw a shadowy figure in the hallway. Pero. Jak nodded in greeting. "Can't sleep?"
"Just checking on everyone." Pero returned the nod. "Need anything?"
"No, thanks." Jak smiled faintly. "You got a good family, Mr. Bem'sura."
"They're everything to me." Pero's eyes drifted over Bey and Casp huddled under the blanket. He headed back down the hall. "Good night, detective."
Jak's stomach rumbled so loudly, Bey heard it from her desk. Her head came up. "You shouldn't have skipped breakfast."
"We both know I could eat your family out of house and home." Jak had found a stale pastry in the breakroom and was scarfing it down. "It's just a week until payday. Don't worry about it."
"Of course I worry about it!" she scolded, standing up. "I'm not going to have my partner passing out from starvation and crashing the speeder bike into a wall somewhere! Come on, I'll buy breakfast."
"Wait up. I gotta get changed. Can't run patrol in my dress uniform." Jak rummaged through his desk drawers. He found his regular uniform, a change of plain clothes, and his gym bag.
He took the regular uniform to the locker room, and as he changed, he found a handful of credits in the pocket. Enough for a couple meals. Good! He wouldn't have to mooch off Bey for breakfast.
Then he thought about it and realized he had a better idea.
"Only five percent grub dust!" Casp clutched the ten-kilo bag of flour to his chest excitedly. "This is the good stuff!"
"It's cheaper in bulk." Jak smiled as Casp took his new treasure to the kitchen.
Bey lowered her voice. "If you found that much in your pockets, you didn't have to skip lunch."
Jak nodded to the kitchen, where Casp was happily measuring out flour into a mixing bowl. "This will go a lot farther than one meal. And look how excited he is."
"Yeah." Bey smiled as she watched her younger brother. "Thanks, Jak. You didn't have to do that."
"Sure I did."
The following day, after her morning shower, Bey stepped out of the bathroom. She heard grunting in the living room. Combing out her wet hair, she went to investigate.
Having fashioned two training pads out of blankets and belts, Jak was coaching Dazz how to throw punches. "Left jab! Jab, jab. Right hook! Good job, kid."
Bey raised an eyebrow. "Boxing, Dazz? Are you concerned your little sister might be getting stronger than you?"
"What? No," he snorted, but his voice gave away the truth.
"Yeah, uh-huh," She giggled. "Yo, Jak. Bathroom's empty if you want to shower before we head out."
"Nah, I'm good." Jak put down the makeshift pads, grabbed his jacket, and headed for the front door. "Let's go."
"But we haven't had breakfast—" Bey recoiled and then fumbled to catch the scone Jak swiped from the kitchen counter and tossed her way. He took one for himself.
Once outside, Jak explained himself. "I'll shower in the station gym. No point contributing to your family's water bill if I don't have to."
"Jak, relax. We aren't so poor that we can't support one extra person for a week." Seeing the doubt on his face, she continued. "Ward and I both have jobs now, so we help out. We're doing okay, we just don't spend anything more than we have to, so maybe it looks like we're barely subsisting, but we're not. We're saving up to move up to level 1356, same level as the station."
She looked away for a moment. "Don't tell anyone, but I'm thinking of getting my own place. Although if I do, it'll have to be a bit farther down."
"But your family's great."
"Yeah, but I want my own life, you know?"
"Yeah, I get it." Jak settled onto the speeder bike and pulled down his goggles.
Bey tilted her head, seeing something else in Jak's face. "You don't look like you get it."
"I've had my own life since I was old enough to leave home." Jak shook his head. "Ain't all it's cracked up to be. I'd trade it for a family like yours any day."
"I love them, but I just need some space, Jak."
"My super just called and said my apartment's open again," Jak announced several days later as he returned from an early morning outing. "But the best news is that it was payday today."
The Bem'suras looked up from the table and kitchen.
"Now, I know what you're going to say, so I did the math." Jak set down a big box. "Even if I'd had the money in my account, it would have cost me a chunk of change to rent a room and feed my face for a week, so I owe you all that much."
"No, no." Elanna waved a hand. "Payment's not necessary."
Pero shook his head in agreement.
"Well, I'm not paying you. I'm showing my appreciation." Jak pulled smaller boxes from the large box. To Casp, he gave a datacard of bread recipes and tutorials. To Dazz, he gave a pull-up bar that could be secured to a doorway. To Elanna, he gave a fragrant potted flower that grew without needing sunlight. To Pero, he gave a business card.
"Not much of a gifty-gift," Jak admitted, "but I know a guy over in level 1400-B. He's rebuilding an office complex that collapsed a few months ago, and he needs a good pipefitter. Bey said that's your trade. I recommended you. It's a lot of work, if you're interested. The pay's pretty good on that level."
Pero nodded in gratitude.
"And finally, Ward." Jak grinned. "I know you've been trying to catch the eye of that girl you work with. Hope it fits."
Jak held out a leather coat and helped Ward put it on. It settled nicely on the Balosar's shoulders. "Suits you. Now ask her out already."
"Forgetting someone?" Bey folded her arms.
He laughed and tweaked her antennapalps. "Course not. I owe you a few meals, at least. Want to check out that bar and grill up on 1388 after work?"
That offer drew the gazes of everyone except Casp, who had his nose buried in his datapad. He felt Bey stiffen, and the quiver of her antennapalps told him she was fuming.
"Or not." Jak removed his hand quickly. "I'll think of something else, Bey."
"This is awesome," said Ward, glossing over the sudden awkwardness. "Thank you, Jak."
"You really didn't need to." Elanna placed the flowering plant on the counter. "We might not have much space, but you've been a perfect guest."
Pero shook his hand. "We were happy to have you."
"Thank you both." Jak cleared his throat. "Well, we need to get to the station. Come on, Bey."
"Wait, Bey." Elanna touched Bey's elbow. "I need to speak with you."
"Go ahead, Jak." Bey sighed audibly. "I'll be right down."
"Got it." Jak cast a glance over his shoulder as he left, trying to read Bey's body language. Was she mad at him, or at her family?
"Bey, about Jak."
Bey rubbed her face. "What about him now? So he offered to buy me dinner. It's because I bought him breakfast every day this week and he's trying to pay me back. For the last time, he's not hitting on me!"
"Mm." Elanna tapped her lower lip in thought. "But what if he were?"
"He's not! I told you, it's against regulations—"
"He's a good man. Perhaps worth pursuing a different career for."
"What?" Bey made a face at her mother's sudden change of opinion. "Mom, seriously? Last week you were warning me against leading him on. Now you want me to date my partner? Are you joking?"
"I'm just saying, you could do a lot worse."
"He's not my type."
"Strong? Kind? Makes you smile?" Elanna shook her head. "What is your type, then?"
"The type who's not my partner!" Bey rolled her eyes in disgust. "How about a fellow Balosar, for starters. You know, someone I can actually start a family with?"
"Bey, I'm just trying—"
"You're trying to run my life for me. Well, guess what. It's my life." Bey backed towards the front door, well aware all of her brothers were watching. "And maybe I'll screw it all up. Maybe I'm just that dumb. But it's my life to screw up, not yours."
Things felt suddenly familiar as Jak noticed Pero following him out.
Once again, Pero waited until Jak reached the sidewalk, and then he spoke. "Detective, after watching you this past week—I realize I spoke too soon. I was so concerned about protecting my daughter, that I forgot that she's actually an excellent judge of character, however 'gullible' or 'naïve' she may appear. I apologize for expressing distrust."
"With respect, Mr. Bem'sura—I'm not the one you need to apologize to."
Right on cue, Bey stormed out of the lobby and jumped on the speeder bike. She ignored her father. "Jak, we're going to be late."
"Like I said." Jak shrugged and hopped on behind Bey. He'd never let her fly it before, but maybe it would make her feel better. "Thanks again for the hospitality—"
The speeder bike shot away before he could finish.
That evening, as they returned to their desks to fill reports and clock out, Jak peeked over the partition and saw Bey lying on her desk, her cheek planted squarely against the metal surface. She saw him and frowned but didn't get up.
He rolled his chair over to her desk and poked her in the nose. "You comin' or what? You look like you need the bar more than the grill."
"I need the bar more than the grill," she echoed lifelessly.
At Tino's Bar and Grill, Jak obligingly listened to Bey vent and watched her slug drinks back rapid fire. He sipped his own drink slowly, knowing he'd have to get her back home. She didn't show it yet, but she'd definitely exceeded her limit.
"It's none of her business who I date or who I work with or what my type is!" Bey gulped down another fruity drink spiked with hard alcohol. "I'm not a child anymore. I've known you for a year! She thinks she can make a snap judgment and know you better than I in one week?"
Jak knew she didn't want him to offer advice. She just wanted to be heard. But after she started repeating herself for the third time, he stopped her. "I know you're mad, but don't talk about your family like they don't mean the world to you, because I know they do."
That quieted her for a moment.
"Look, Bey, it doesn't matter what they think. You're—"
She made a face, her show of outrage gone. "It matters to me."
"Well, I'm not going to treat you differently just because they like reading too much into things." Jak studied her face. "I'll treat you differently if you ask me to. If you ask me to. Not anyone else. Do you want anything to change?"
She shook her head. "No."
"Good. Then you're stuck with me, Baby B, and all of my terrible jokes, too."
She smiled briefly. "I'm still moving out, though! You can't stop me!"
"Wouldn't dream of it." He chuckled at her stubborn expression. "If you want, I'll help you find a new place tomorrow."
"Thanks." She buried her face in her drink, mollified. "You're the best, Jak."
"Course I am." He grinned. "Shame on you for ever doubting it."
She stuck out her tongue and then hiccupped. The effects were starting to kick in. "Shhhame."
While Bey contemplated the bottom of her glass with newfound interest, Jak turned his attention to the news broadcast on the screen behind her. Although it was muted, he could still make out the subtitles, and the images of rubble needed no explanation: there had been another collapse.
On Coruscant, new surface levels were created on a regular basis, with no regard to the stress they added to the lower levels that hadn't been designed to support such weight. Cutting edge construction techniques allowed the surface levels to withstand any shifting of lower levels, so they didn't care about—probably weren't even aware of—the weight slowly crushing the people beneath them. Typical Imperials.
With collapses becoming increasingly common, anyone who could afford it added structural reinforcement to their buildings. Of course, most couldn't afford it. Local governments tried to prop up key locations, but they had limited budgets, too.
Jaded to the whole thing, Jak almost ignored it.
Then he saw the subtitles scrolling by: "Collapse on 1325, Block A. Several residential complexes impacted. Efforts to recover bodies underway. Hundreds estimated dead."
Jak felt his chest seize with alarm. 1325-A. He got up quickly. "Gotta take a leak. I'll be right back."
As soon as he stepped behind Bey and out of her line of sight, he rapped the bar to get the bartender's attention. "Another refill for the lady. And—"
Thanks to their sound-sensitive antennapalps, Balosar had extremely good hearing, so Jak only pointed to the screen and made a throat-cutting gesture. The bartender nodded and switched it off.
Once inside the restroom, Jak called Officer Chumby, who he knew currently worked the night shift. "Hey, man. Level 1325. How bad is it? What part of Block A?"
Jak listened, his heart sinking at every word of Chumby's response. Finally, he disconnected, feeling sick. He could always hope the Bem'suras had not been spending the evening together at home . . . as they always did.
He thought of Casp's bright face, and Ward talking about his secret crush, and Dazz teasing Bey. He thought of Elanna patiently working throughout the day to keep her family's tiny apartment running on a shoestring budget. He thought of Pero, so concerned about his daughter's safety. They'd probably all been laughing around the dinner table when everything had come crashing down.
Jak splashed cold water on his face and then dried it with a paper towel. He took a slow breath. He'd made Pero a promise.
He had never walked so slowly back to his barstool. With every step, he racked his brain for ways to keep Bey from ever finding out. But each of them ended the same way. She would find out eventually, no matter what he did.
He sat down, and as much as he wanted to order a series of whiskey shots, he didn't.
Finally, he got up the nerve to look Bey in the eye. "Hey, Bey?"
"M'yahhh?" She hiccupped into her half-empty glass.
"I need you to know something."
"I know lotsssa things."
"Bey, I'm serious." He knew from her glazed expression, she probably wouldn't remember anything he said. "No matter what happens—even if the world seems to end—I'm not going anywhere. We're partners to the bitter end. When everything else is gone, you've still got me. You got that?"
She promptly pointed at him and laughed. "And I thought I had too mussh to drink! Did'n know you're an emotional drunk!"
"Yeah." He forced a smile, even as he swallowed. "But you're about to keel over, so you're coming home with me. They said my place is fixed up."
"But all your ssstuffsss gone." She tried to stand. "You've got nuffin' left."
That makes two of us, Jak thought, catching her before she could fall. When she couldn't even make it one step without stumbling again, he scooped her up. "I got you. Try not to puke on me this time, okay?"
This sent her into a fit of giggles, punctuated by hiccups.
Her amusement wrenched his heart, because he knew it would be the last time in a long time that he'd see any kind of joy from her.
He carried her outside and settled her in front of him on the speeder bike, holding her tight with one arm and easing away from the curb carefully.
He flew as slowly as a grandma, paranoid of every intersection as he took her home. She and this speeder were the last things he had left in this world. He couldn't afford to lose them. He also couldn't afford self-pity, because he was the only thing she had left.
After parking below his apartment complex, he lifted her gently off the bike. She'd passed out, and her earlier smile had been replaced with oblivious peacefulness.
"I'm so sorry, Bey," he whispered, burying his face in her hair. "I promise I'll make you smile again, even if it's the last thing I ever do with my life."