Jak & Bey 4 - Going Commando
"Jak!" He distantly heard Bey screaming his name. At least that meant she still lived.
Pain struck him across the face, dragging him back to consciousness. Bey crouched over him, hand upraised, determination burning in her eyes. "Get up, you idiot! I can't carry you!"
This wasn't how he'd planned to go. He'd promised to get her to Naboo.
Several days prior:
Getting off of Coruscant was easier said than done. Particularly on a speeder bike, which hovered but couldn't actually fly, one had to take the scenic route to travel up level by level through twisting mazes of streets and tunnels. What would have taken a simple elevator mere minutes took former detectives Jak Eagerman and Bey Bem'sura many hours and wrong turns.
Jak felt Bey's hands slipping from around his waist. He pulled over quickly. She sagged to one side and then jerked awake, catching herself. "Nngh. What time is it?"
"Very late or very early." Jak shrugged, stepping off the bike. Seeing a pedestrian coming towards them, he planted a hand on her head. "Put those away."
Her antennapalps retreated. "Why?"
He kept her behind him until the pedestrian shuffled past. "Your family had been struggling to rise up from the bottom for generations, but the truth is, going much higher wouldn't have been worth it."
"Why?" She rubbed sleep out of her eyes and gazed around. "It's cleaner up here, and I bet the jobs pay better. What level is this?"
"1552, where I grew up." Jak shook his head. "The pay is better, but the local governments of the underground take a pittance compared to what Imperial taxes are up here. Anyhow, the Imperials don't think much of most non-humans, especially Balosar."
"What did we do?" Bey frowned.
"The Balosar have a reputation for dealing drugs and being addicts. During the day, you'll be okay, but any Balosar loitering at night is likely to be picked up by the police."
"I see." She sounded too tired to care. Swaying, she sat down in the middle of the sidewalk.
"Come on, Bey, ya gotta keep moving." He pulled her to her feet and back onto the speeder bike. "We won't have enough credits for a ride off this rock if we burn it getting a hotel room."
She yawned. "How much farther to the top?"
"The top? Three thousand and some levels." He smiled as she gasped and turned to stare at him. "But we aren't headed to the top. We only need to get high enough to reach a level with ship access to the atmosphere. At least another three hundred levels. We've gone about two hundred." Jak got on behind her so he could hold her on the bike this time. "We'll stop for some caf soon."
"Three hundred?" She moaned and planted her face against the handle bars. "We've both taken two shifts flying already, and I can't feel my butt anymore."
"I can feel your butt for you," he offered, trying to annoy her into wakefulness.
"Oh, shut up," she mumbled. It hadn't worked.
Jak didn't want to stop on this level, or any level, but she was right. They had to rest.
Sleeping on the streets was never a good idea, but he remembered there should be a bus stop and a bench a few blocks away.
Jak sat on the bench, his feet propped on the speeder bike and Bey snoring softly beside him, her head on his leg.
The scene of them resigning from the police force replayed again. He couldn't get it out of his mind.
"Ohhh, I see how it is." Leyla had leaned over the desk smugly and winked. "So the rumors are true. I guess you don't have to worry about that no-relationships rule now, huh?"
"It's not—" Bey had glanced at Jak. "Is it like that?"
"Huh?" Jak had found himself looking at her as if for the first time, suddenly afraid anything he said would be taken poorly. "No. I mean, well, do you want it to be like that? 'Cuz I'm not sayin' ya aren't cute. But, ya know, I never thought about you like that."
Leyla's mouth had opened in shock.
Jak had teased Bey relentlessly since her first day on the job, at first trying to drive her away, but Bey had a natural talent for mimicry and emulating others. Despite being sheltered, she had soon matched him insult for insult and innuendo for innuendo. It had become a game, a way to goad each other into laughter even on the worst days.
Their unprofessional behavior had generated numerous HR reports, but anything that made Bey's face light up with amusement or exaggerated annoyance was worth every black mark on his record.
But Leyla's comments, and the shock on her face—it stuck with him. Everyone in the office had assumed he and Bey were an item. Bey's family had too, when they had met him.
He brushed hair out of Bey's peaceful face. Had they been right? Had he been blind?
The more he thought about it, the more it bothered him. He hadn't dated anyone in the last two years. He had occasionally flirted with pretty girls, but after Bey's family had died, he had spent most of his time with her, trying to distract her.
Bey had never expressed much interest in relationships either. She'd never gone out with anyone. But what if she had?
He'd never thought about it until now.
His stomach sank as he imagined her hanging out with some other guy. He'd be pissed.
That told him everything.
Everything, except how Bey felt. Everything except how she would react if he told her.
Being shot with a stun bolt was not a pleasant way to wake up. Nor was being dragged to a holding cell by the Coruscant Security Force.
Jak paced the cell, fuming with how stupid he'd been to doze off, but even he hadn't expected to be arrested for nodding off in a public area.
Bey sat on a duracrete ledge at the back of the cell, with that blank look she got in foreign situations. She looked clueless, but Jak knew she was internalizing everything around her, trying to figure out how to adapt. She still had her antennapalps retracted like he'd told her.
Jak wasn't as worried as someone else might have been in his position. At least, he wasn't worried about the same things.
His fears arrived in the form of a large man in a captain's uniform.
The man had a crisp haircut and was heavy set with muscle, not fat. He was one of the few humans who could stand toe-to-toe with Jak and look him straight in the eye. Which he did. "You finally show your face."
"Just passin' through," Jak grated.
"Didn't expect to see you around here again." Captain Sparin Eagerman nodded past Jak. "First time you've brought home a human girl."
Bey looked up sharply, her dark eyes darting between them in surprise. She came over to get a closer look, perhaps figuring out this was his father.
Sparin returned her scrutiny. "Looks a little young."
"I'm twenty-one." Bey scowled. "I'm just short."
"Yeah," Sparin replied, in that infuriating way he had that never told you whether he believed you or not. He turned to the guards patrolling the block of holding cells. "Let them out."
"Yes, sir." One of the guards strode over briskly and unlocked the door.
"And release their speeder bike from impound."
Outside, Jak's father slaved Jak's speeder to follow his own, but his had a sidecar, which he instructed Jak to sit in.
"Where do I sit?" Bey glanced over the arrangement, confused.
"You're his girlfriend, right? You can sit on his lap. It ain't far."
Bey noted the displeased expression on Jak's face as she climbed into the sidecar and sat on his knees. He wrapped an arm around her waist as they pulled into the street. "I didn't know you had a father."
"Sometimes I wish I didn't."
"Jak." She scowled at him.
"You don't know him," Jak retorted over the building wind.
"We're lucky he's a cop." Bey shouted in his ear. "What if someone else had arrested us?"
"Someone else would have kicked us awake and told us to shove off instead of tossing us in a holding cell."
"Oh." Bey wrangled her hair into a hair tie to keep it from whipping Jak's face. "Where's he taking us?"
Jak glanced at the street signs as they whisked by. "Home."
Why did he look so angry?
"Welcome back." Sparin opened the front door to an apartment Jak thought he'd never see again.
As he stepped inside, a firm grip on Bey's shoulder, he saw nothing had changed. Everything was exactly as it had been before his mother had died.
Bey took everything in with wide eyes. "It's so nice! So spacious!"
Compared to apartments on level 1325, Jak supposed she was right. To him, it was just a reminder of things he didn't want reminded of.
"I know you said you're passing through," his father said, shutting the door behind them, "but you won't make it far. Only one reason for you to head for the surface. You're looking to leave. And all reputable passenger ships require an ID these days, what with the growing terrorism problems of the Rebels."
"We both have IDs." Jak frowned at his father's impeccable deductions.
"Yeah, but she doesn't have a chain code, does she?" Sparin shook his head. "Knock off the act, Jak. We aren't at the station anymore. I can guess you got her from far enough down that they don't issue all the proper Imperial documents. I know a Balosar when I smell one, not that you ever slept with your own kind. "
"Ow!" Bey yanked her shoulder out of Jak's tightening grip. "Watch it, you idiot."
Jak hated everything his father had just said, but he couldn't contest any of it. He kicked himself for not expecting a problem with Bey not having an ID. What's more, he didn't know what to do about it.
Sparin sighed. "You never did like following the rules, did you? Not mine, not Coruscant's, not the Empire's. Your mother was the only one you ever listened to."
"Leave her out of this," Jak growled.
Shrugging, Sparin waved a hand at a hallway. "Stay as long as you need, but leave at your own risk. You know what you're doing."
What he meant was, "You know you'll never make it off Coruscant alive."
"That's awfully kind of you." Bey broke the frigid silence. "I'm so tired, I could sleep a month and drink a few liters of caf."
Jak turned away from his father, gritting his teeth. He ushered Bey down the hall. "Bathroom's at the end if you need it. You can sleep in my old room."
As he pushed open the door to his room, he saw that it, too, hadn't been touched, except by the housekeeper. His bed still sported a comforter patterned in TIE Fighters on a starry background, reminding him painfully that there had been a time when he thought the Empire were heroes. Posters of various bands and holovids plastered his walls. Sports trophies and holo projectors lined his shelves.
Spotting a well-worn, stuffed loth-cat next to the bed, he hastily kicked it out of sight. "It's . . . uh . . . been awhile. I was just an idiot kid when I left."
His efforts to cover his embarrassment went unnoticed. Bey jumped on the bed face-first and buried her face in his pillows. "A real bed!"
Five seconds later, she was out.
A week ago, he wouldn't have thought twice about pushing her to one side and taking the other side for himself. Now he didn't know what to do.
Sparin leaned into the doorway. "Food's in the fridge if you're hungry. I had a double shift, so I'm turning in. We'll talk in the morning . . . if you're still here."
Jak nodded, but he said nothing. Part of him hated his father even more for helping when Jak had little choice but to accept it.
Closing the door, Jak headed to the living room and passed out on the couch, surrounded by memories he didn't want.
Jak sat up, taking a second to register where he was. He saw his father in the kitchen, pouring caf. Sparin looked up. "Made extra, if you want any."
Grunting noncommittally, Jak got off the couch and headed into the kitchen. He found the mugs in the same cupboard they'd always been in. Grabbing one, he let his father fill it. If he missed anything from the mid levels of Coruscant, it was the higher grade of caf.
They sipped the caf in silence for a moment, and then Sparin spoke. "Where've you been all these years?"
Jak had left home at eighteen, heading down until he could no longer feel the insidious touch of the Empire. He hadn't seen his father in six years. He shrugged. "Been around."
His father tried again. "What have you been up to?"
Jak shrugged again.
"Besides sleeping with all the Balosar women, that is."
"None of your fraking business." Jak scowled into his mug.
"She's cute, but what is she, like one and a half meters?" Sparin shook his head. "Guy your size, with a girl that small, I'm surprised all the pieces fit, if you know what I mean."
"Frak off!" Jak snarled. "You just won't let it go, will you? What happened to Mom has nothing to do with Bey!"
Sparin's jibing tone turned to ice. "What, other than that she was murdered by Balosar slythmongers?"
Bey stretched, yawned, and found herself gazing at all the holos on Jak's shelf. The images of him with his mother and father looked so happy. She'd never competed for sports trophies or had piles of presents at her birthday parties, but she knew what it was like to be surrounded by a loving family. Her eyes swam for a moment.
She couldn't understand why Jak had ever left. He'd had a perfect childhood, and a perfect family.
Then she heard Jak yelling. She'd rarely heard genuine anger in his voice before, but he was furious.
"Bey's got a cleaner record than either of us! Just because one Balosar is a scumbag drug dealer, doesn't mean they all are!" Jak slammed his mug on the counter, splashing caf across the surface. "Her entire family died because the Empire couldn't care less about the lower levels. So a few levels collapse. So a few thousand innocent people die every year. So what? They're beneath you, literally, so what do you care if they all die!"
"Innocent?" Sparin snorted. "Innocent like the Balosar who murdered Fiolla? Innocent like the woman you gave access to our apartment that night"
"She played me! Bey is nothing like—"
"KNOCK IT OFF!" Bey stood at the edge of the kitchen. "You boys cut it out, right now! You might hate each other, but you're still family, and you'll behave civilly, or so help me, I will make you wish you had!"
They stared at her. Jak could only imagine this was how Bey's mother had handled arguments among the Bem'sura household.
"At least you're both still alive to yell at each other!" Bey planted a holo projector into each of their hands and turned them away from each other.
Jak found himself looking at an image of himself as a kid, riding on his father's shoulders. She had taken it from his room.
"You want to know what Jak's been up to? He's been following in your footsteps, protecting the streets from criminals and drug dealers." Folding her arms, Bey frowned at Jak's father. "He even gets his crude sense of humor from you, although his jokes are actually funny."
"And you, Jak, where do I even start?" She sighed. "It's obvious you looked up to your dad your whole life. You didn't leave because of him."
Jak pushed away memories of his mother's funeral. He'd left knowing his mistake had cost her life. He'd left knowing his father hated him for it. He'd left without saying a word.
"Now, who wants breakfast?" Bey opened the fridge as if nothing had happened. "I'm making eggs."
Jak's fingers tightened around the holo projector until his knuckles cracked. When he turned around, he no longer saw Captain Sparin Eagerman. He saw a tired man aged beyond his years. The holo projector on the counter before his father showed him holding Jak aloft after Jak had won a wrestling trophy.
"You're wrong." Sparin finally drew himself up. "He did leave because of me. I blamed him for what happened."
"I see." Bey finished cracking eggs into a pan and after washing her hands, she turned around. "Well, so you know, he's punished himself enough."
Jak wanted to storm out, but seeing Bey throwing herself at his problems convinced him to stay. "I can't do it over. I can't fix it. I made a mistake, but saying I'm sorry won't do a kriffin' thing, so waddaya want from me?"
"You never bothered to apologize." Sparin's lip curled, but then he sighed. "I guess I never gave you the chance."
"Yeah." Jak looked away. "Well. I'm sorry. I regret that night more than anything in my life."
"I'm . . . sorry I made you feel you had to leave home." The older man coughed to clear his throat. "Losing Fiolla was bad enough. I didn't want to lose you, too."
Bey wiped the spilled caf from the counter, and she returned the half-empty mug to Jak's hands. As she did, he felt something drip onto his hand, and it wasn't caf.
"Bey. Hey." Jak lifted her chin and dried her face with his shirt. "It's okay."
She sniffled but pulled away to busy herself with the eggs. "The last time I fought with my family, I never got to apologize."
At the same time, two hands landed on her head.
"Sorry." Sparin pulled his hand back, letting Jak ruffle Bey's hair.
Bey turned and broke into a giggle. "Totally no family resemblance between you two."
A few minutes later, as they dug into the scrambled eggs Bey had prepared, Sparin cleared his throat. "You make good eggs."
"Thanks!" Bey beamed. "You make excellent caf."
"How long have you two been together?"
"Three years." She took another bite but then looked up quickly. "Oh, not like that. We joke around all the time, but we're just friends."
"Just friends," Jak echoed hollowly.
"Uh-huh." Sparin scrutinized Jak, as if he knew something didn't add up. He'd always been able to see through Jak. "Why are you so eager to head offworld?"
"We got fed up with our jobs." Jak glossed right over his own reasons. "Wanted a change in scenery. I didn't realize she'd need an ID."
"Well." Sparin sipped his caf. "I could get you a job with the CSF. Not sure about the little lady. Ain't one officer who wouldn't raise eyebrows at hiring a Balosar, not after all the drug-related busts we've had to make."
"Hard pass." Watching Bey get scorned by her coworkers didn't interest Jak in the slightest. "I promised Bey I'd take her somewhere she can see the sky. Maybe Naboo."
"Figured." His father finished his eggs. "I know a guy. He's an informant of mine. No promises, but maybe he can smuggle you offworld."
Jak nodded slowly. As much as he didn't want to accept favors from his father, he wasn't in this alone. He wanted to help Bey offworld as soon as possible, and indulging in his own stubbornness would only get in the way. "Thanks."
"Before you thank me, remember that is hardly without risk." Sparin shook his head. "This smuggler is a known criminal with a rap sheet a mile long. I can put you in touch, but there's no guarantee he won't kidnap you both and sell you to slavers. And while my sector is not planning on making a move on him yet, he's got plenty of enemies elsewhere. If you do get caught, don't mention my name. I can't be tied to this, understand?"
"Yeah, I got it."
Jak finished his breakfast, as did Sparin, and then Bey. They sat for a moment in silence. Jak cleared his throat. "Isn't it time for you to leave for work?"
Sparin looked at them both and shook his head. "I'm on the night shift. But aside from that, I took the day off."
"Of course ya did." Jak should have known. "You don't trust us in the house alone."
"Jak! Shut up." Bey menaced him warningly with a fork. "Your father hasn't seen you in years. Don't you think that warrants taking some time off to catch up with you?"
Jak scowled and looked away. She might be right, but to be honest, if he'd been in his dad's shoes, he wouldn't have trusted himself and another Balosar woman in the house either.
Bey saw his reluctance. She sighed. "Come with me. We need to talk."
He followed her out of the kitchen and down the hall, where she stopped at the doorway to his bedroom. "Jak . . . we will be leaving probably within a few days. Assuming we make it, we're never coming back."
"So?" Bey rolled her eyes. "Don't waste this time fighting. I wish I'd had someone to tell me the same thing two years ago. Family is precious."
"It's not the same. You had a great family."
"So did you!" She waved her hand at the shelves. "All these holos speak for themselves. He's not a terrible father. You loved him. And say what you want, but I can tell he still loves you."
"Tonight, I'll take the couch. This is your room." She eyed all the holos. "You belong here, not me."
He scoffed. "You belong anywhere I belong."
She looked at him askance. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing." He pushed past her and grabbed one of the two pillows from the bed. "This is all I need."
"Suit yourself. Where's the utility room? I want to wash my clothes while I shower."
After pointing her to the washer at the other end of the apartment, he carried the pillow back to the couch. Even after only one night, it already smelled like her. After three years of being around her and sharing a speeder bike with her, he found her scent comforting.
His dad looked up from the table as Jak set the pillow on the couch. "You don't have to do that. We're all adults here."
"Sleep apart from your girl."
"She's not my girlfriend."
"I can tell. You don't act like boyfriend and girlfriend."
"You act like you've been married for years."
"Dad, we're partners. We worked together. That's all."
"I've seen a lot of detectives paired up over the years." Sparin glanced down the hall, as Bey closed the bathroom door. He waited for the sound of the shower turning on. "You don't look like partners to me. And don't act like I'm stupid. I know you're a sucker for dark-haired Balosar. Don't tell me you aren't a thing."
Jak met his dad's eyes flatly and without humor. "We aren't a thing."
Sparin stared at him for a moment, too shrewdly. "So you haven't told her yet."
There was no point lying. Sparin could see through any fabrication. "No."
Jak was pretty sure even a Balosar couldn't hear them over a running shower and through a closed door, but he still lowered his voice. "I'm not talking about this with you."
"If not with me, then who? Her?" Half of a smirk pulled at Sparin's lips. "Look, kid, all women want someone to love them. A girl like her will find someone sooner rather than later. What are you going to do then?"
Jak said nothing. He cracked his knuckles in annoyance.
"Never thought I'd see the day when you friend-zoned yourself." Snorting, Sparin poured himself another cup of caf.
Jak finally sighed. "I don't want to lose what I have. She's not interested in me in that way. She wants a family."
"Come on. Ya know humans and Balosar can't have kids together."
"I also know there's an abundance of Balosar kids abandoned because their parents went off to live a life of crime and got thrown in the slammer or shot in the face because someone wasn't putting up with their crap." Sparin shook his head in disgust. "Adopt a few. No one else wants to."
Jak's fingers tightened around his mug. "Why are you trying to set me up with Bey, when you've always made it so clear how much you hate Balosar?"
Sparin raised an eyebrow, as if surprised. "I don't hate Balosar. I hate sleazebags who pollute my streets with drugs and crime."
"Not all Balosar are criminals!"
"You think I don't know that?" Looking irritated, Sparin continued. "But I arrest criminals, and a lot of them are Balosar. To be frank, Bey's the first honest and clean Balosar I've met."
"Maybe if the Empire didn't force them down into the underground and into poverty—"
"Poverty and hardship don't create criminal behavior anymore than wealth and power does. Trust me, I've seen depravity at every level. Harming others for your own gain is a willful choice, not a condition of circumstance." Sparin sipped his caf ominously. "And I have no sympathy for anyone who makes that choice, whatever their standing or species. Scum is all the same to me."
Jak clenched his jaw, trying to put his thoughts into words. He had to admit that Bey's family being poor hadn't adversely affected her at all, but he'd seen how the Empire treated most non-humans. "Say what ya want, but Bey doesn't deserve to be lumped in with criminals just because she's a Balosar. She couldn't live up here without being looked down on. Imperials have never been kind to non-humans."
"Hypocrite." Sparin chuckled to soften the word, but the laugh held an underlying bitterness to it. "Telling me not to lump her in with her kind, but in the same breath tying me to the Empire because I'm an Imperial citizen. Judge a group by the group's actions and an individual by the individual's actions . . . I thought I taught you that."
Jak wanted to retort, but he found himself ruminating on how twisted things had become. He remembered idolizing his father as a kid. He remembered hating his father after leaving home.
The transition between the two phases revolved around him meeting Nara Gen'amani.
Eighteen-year-old Jak had found the Balosar woman stunning. She was a couple years older than him, but had the face of a makeup model and the body of a dancer. Everything she did took his breath away. He had adored her.
His father had hated her at first sight, making it clear "that Balosar tramp" was not welcome at the Eagerman home. Jak hadn't taken the rejection kindly. He'd kept seeing her in secret for months. And one day, while his parents were away on vacation, Nara had told him she needed a place to stay. Just for a few days, she promised, while she found a new apartment to live in. In return, she'd set him up with a well-paying job as a bouncer at a nearby bar.
Still sore about his regular arguments with his father over Nara, Jak had given her a spare keycard and let her stay.
For the first night, everything had been great. Nara had brought a few friends over, and they had shared some drinks and had a blast. When everyone else had left, Nara had shown him the night of his life.
On the second evening, Jak had started his new job at the bar. It hadn't been until he'd got home the next morning that he realized how cruelly he'd been played.
Nara had set him up with a job to get him out of the apartment, so that she could get her friends over to rob the place. That would have been bad enough, but Jak's parents had returned early from their vacation because they had been arguing—Jak had later found out—about what to do with Jak and Nara. His mother had gone inside while Sparin unloaded their luggage from the taxi.
Surprised and panicked, Nara and her friends had killed Jak's mother in their attempt to escape, but not one of them had made it past Sparin.
Jak had returned home in time to see the Coruscant police swarming the place. His father had grabbed him and forced him to look at each body, including Nara and his mother, raging at him for his idiocy. Jak had been taken in for questioning, and when they released him, he'd never returned home.
"After everything you said about Nara . . . I thought you disliked her because she was Balosar." Jak looked away. "But you knew . . . didn't you?"
Sparin nodded. "After a while on the force, you get a sense for people of ill intent."
"I know that now, but I was just a dumb kid back then. I guess I owe you another apology."
Sparin nodded towards the hall. "Bey's a good woman."
"You think I don't know that?"
"She'd make a good wife."
"Lay off." Jak grunted. "For the last time, she's not interested."
Sparin shrugged, getting to his feet. "Guess you're still a dumb kid."
"Frak you." Jak left the kitchen and went to his bedroom to be alone. To his immediate dismay, he saw the stuffed loth-cat in the rumpled sheets. How had Bey found that? Had she been poking around his stuff? What else did he have under his bed?
He lay face down and started poking through the dusty debris of boxes and old shoes and junk. So many memories he had packed away and nearly forgotten. The model TIE fighter his mother had bought for him at an air show. The vibroblade his father had given him at his seventeenth birthday, still sheathed. He tucked that into his boot.
"Looking for something?"
Bey's voice startled him into hitting his head on the bed frame. He grimaced as he pulled out and sat up. "Nothing partic—"
Her black hair clung wetly to bare shoulders. Fresh from the shower, she only wore a towel.
He cleared his throat and tried again. "Just going through some old junk."
"You weren't looking for this, were you?" She grinned, picking the loth-cat off the bed and waggling it in front of him. "A little old to need a stuffed animal to sleep with, aren't you?"
"Aren't you?" He retorted, feeling his cheeks warm. "If you were lonely enough to hang onto that thing all night, ya should've told me. Would've given ya a lot more to hold onto."
She blew a raspberry. "In your dreams, you big oaf!"
"All the time, Bey B."
"Uh-huh." She nodded at a poster with a Zeltron swimsuit model. "I bet you dream about Zeltron women."
"Who doesn't? Bet you do too."
She tossed the toy at him. "I do not!"
The motion loosened her towel, but unfortunately she caught it before it could slip. She saw him looking and made an apologetic face. "My stuff is still in the wash. I didn't think through the whole leaving Coruscant thing, or I would have brought a clean change of clothes."
They had left the station after resigning their jobs as detectives and hadn't looked back. It wasn't like either of them had left behind anything of value at their apartments.
"You can borrow some of my stuff." He opened his closet and grabbed one of his old shirts. He tossed it at her.
She started to reach for it, but had to catch her towel instead. The shirt fell on her head.
Jak laughed at the sight of her.
She pulled it off her head and glared at him in mock anger, laying her antennapalps back. "Thanks, jerk."
"Happy to help." He grinned insolently. He found a pair of pants and held them out. They were almost as tall as her.
"Like those would fit." She rolled her eyes as she tugged the shirt on over the towel. The hem came down to her knees. She let the towel drop and stepped out. "I don't need them anyway."
"Right. I forgot you're such a midget."
"I'm not a midget!" She took a swing at him, but he planted a hand on her head and pushed her out of arms' reach.
She seized his hand in a flash and twisted it into a submission hold, except he only had to lift his arm. As soon as her feet came off the floor, she was stuck hanging off his wrist. "You don't fight fair!"
"No one ever does."
She dropped to the floor and bounced back to her feet. He flinched as something hard jabbed him in the groin. She had pulled the vibroblade from his boot, although she'd left it sheathed. "You're right. I don't."
Swatting her hand away, he picked her up and slung her onto the bed. He tossed the loth-cat onto her stomach. "Midget."
"Come back and fight, you coward!" She laughed as he left the room. "I can take you!"
They often sparred, not just verbally but also physically. It gave her a way to practice fighting techniques that addressed the size disparity between her and larger opponents. This time, however, he was painfully aware she only had a shirt on, and that she was lying in his bed. His desire to wrestle her down and pin her had nothing to do with fighting.
His words to her father rang in his head. "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."
As he turned to close the door, he saw her grinning face. It was utterly unguarded. She trusted him implicitly. Despite appearances, he saw only innocent amusement in her eyes. He'd been approached by enough women to know this wasn't an invitation.
As the door shut, he let out a labored sigh. Things had been easier when he'd been oblivious to his feelings. She, on the other hand, was still clueless.
It was his own fault, of course. She'd spent her formative years on the force as his junior, and rather than get offended by his incessant crude jokes, innuendo, and flirting, she had emulated him, adopting his sense of humor as her own.
Now there was nothing he could say that wouldn't come off as a joke and get an appropriately inappropriate response. He had made her impossible to flirt with.
Bey stared at the door and sighed. Since the loss of her family, Jak had always been at her side, but at times like this, she felt incredibly alone.
Sighing, she hugged the threadbare loth-cat to her chest. It was normal to miss her family. It was confusing to miss something she couldn't identify.
During the last two years, several factors had served as anchors—things she could always count on. Her apartment. Her job. The underground. Jak.
She only had one of them left. Swallowing, she hugged the loth-cat even tighter.
She shouldn't cling to him like a lost child. She was a grown woman. She should act like one. The problem was, she could act like one. Any behavior she witnessed, she could emulate. She could act tough. She could act like her mother. She could act like a hardened detective. She could act like Jak. None of that made her feel prepared to deal with the uncertainty of her future.
She wished Jak hadn't closed the door behind him, as if he wanted to shut her away.
Having grown up with only brothers, she'd never been close to any woman other than her mother. Was this what it meant to be female? Reading way too much into the tiniest of gestures? Or maybe Jak was tired of constantly putting up with her.
The bedroom door opened a few seconds later. Jak held a laundry basket. "Your clothes are done."
"Okay. Thanks." Embarrassed to be caught with the loth-cat, she tried to shove it out of sight.
"Here you go." He upturned the basket above her, dumping the fresh laundry on her head.
She sat bolt upright. Picking a sock out of her antennapalps, she narrowed her eyes. "Butthead."
He grinned without remorse.
Despite herself, she couldn't repress a smile of her own. She threw the sock at him. "I hate you."
"Nah, ya love me." He tossed the sock back at her as he took the empty basket away.
She made a rude noise and started folding the clothes. Then she stiffened.
The last few minutes replayed themselves in her head, and what had seemed like an everyday interaction with Jak suddenly became acutely embarrassing. It was as if for the first time she could see how everyone else saw them.
She pulled on her clothes with haste, her face burning.
That was just how they were, she rationalized. It didn't mean anything, because they always messed with each other. They were too comfortable around each other to fuss about appearances. They had never cared about what anyone else thought.
But she cared about what Jak thought. Maybe she should have stayed in the bathroom until her clothes had finished. Maybe she shouldn't have picked a fight with him. Thank goodness he hadn't read anything into it!
But the relief turned into irritation. Why hadn't he read anything into it? She was reasonably cute, wasn't she? After all this time, why hadn't he made a move on her? It wasn't like he had dated anyone else in years. Was it because she was a Balosar?
She remembered their last words at the underground police station, when Leyla had brought up the topic. Genuine surprise. He wasn't interested. He never had been. Maybe he never would be.
She didn't know whether to be relieved or crushed.
"His name's Aml Garmin. Remember it because I'm not writing it down." Sparin briefed them in the living room the following morning. "He's a human. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark clothes. Usually hangs out at the Pub 'n' Grub on level 1560. Intel says he's in the area drumming up business as we speak. Ship's parked up on 1802, bottom of the access shaft. So far, he's known for smuggling goods and people past customs. Nothing too serious."
"Aml Garmin. Pub 'n' Grub, 1560. Got it." Jak nudged Bey, who sat quietly beside him on the couch. She'd been reserved lately. "You ready to go?"
"Of course. Not like I have anything to pack" The nudge got her attention, but as soon as the words left her lips, she seemed to zone out again.
Jak licked his finger and stuck it in her ear.
She squealed and kicked his shin. "What was that for?"
"I am!" She glared at him, rubbing her ear. "Aml Garmin. Pub 'n' Grub. Level 1560. Smuggles goods and people. Dark all the things."
"Correct." Sparin stood up. "Better get moving if you want to catch him."
"Yep." Jak grabbed his backpack. It contained the things he'd collected from his desk on his way out of the office, barely more than a change of workout clothes, and a few things he'd collected from his old room. It also held the only possessions Bey had brought with her: a potted cactus he'd given her and a hologram projector full of images of her family and Jak.
"I sort of hoped Aml would take awhile to show his face." Sparin held out his hand. "It was good to see you again, kid."
Jak reached out a hand but winced as Bey punched him in the kidney. "Ow! What, woman?"
She narrowed her eyes. "If you shake your father's hand instead of hugging him, I swear I'll spit in your next cup of caf when you're not looking."
"Ya see what I have to put up with?" Jak grumbled. "She's like a—"
Bey's antennapalps twitched warningly.
"Alright. Fine." Jak braced himself for awkwardness and put his arms around his father.
To his surprise, it wasn't awkward at all. It was something he hadn't felt in years.
It felt like home.
"Wait up, Bey." Sparin pulled her back inside the apartment as she and Jak stepped out. He closed the door, leaving Jak outside. He eyed her seriously. "I know I'm never going to see my son again."
"I'm sorry." Bey didn't know what else to say.
"Take care of him for me."
"Of course." She grinned. "That big oaf would be dead if I didn't always watch his back. It's what partners do."
Sparin's stern face didn't return her smile. "Don't hurt him."
Something about his expression sucked the humor right out of her. "Why would I hurt him? He's my best friend. My only friend, to be honest."
He frowned at her.
She'd often been accused (mostly by Jak) of being clueless, but she could still read between the lines. "You don't need to worry about that. If he liked me, he'd have made a move on me by now."
"You're sure about that."
To her own surprise, Bey's voice turned cold. "He's had every conceivable opportunity. It's pretty obvious I'm not his type. Now if you don't mind, it's time for us to go."
The goodbyes still lingering in her head, Bey rested her cheek against Jak's back as they sped off for level 1560. Saying farewell to Jak's father reminded her of her own family, and her last, angry words to her mother.
"Bey, I'm just trying—"
"You're trying to run my life for me. Well, guess what. It's my life."
As a girl, when Bey had looked into the future, she saw herself raising a family, just as her parents had done, while slowly working her way to higher levels of Coruscant.
Now, when she looked into the future, she couldn't see anything. It was truly her life, to do with anything she wanted. It was exhilarating and terrifying and empty.
She hugged Jak a little tighter.
Jak pushed through the doors of the Pub 'n' Grub. It didn't look a whole lot different than the places he and Bey had frequented on the lower levels, except the clientele looked marginally less shady and it only smelled a little like vomit, instead of smelling a lot like vomit and urine.
Bey followed him in. With her hair down and her antennapalps out, she didn't look out of place in the bar scene at this level. They took a corner booth so they could survey the entire room.
Both of them had carried out plenty of undercover operations together, so they didn't need to say a word. Jak assumed a casual slouch, while Bey feigned boredom and fussed with her nails. In the underground, even a hint of police officer posture would send ne'er-do-wells skulking out the back door.
A discrete sweep of the room confirmed what he'd suspected. Most of the patrons were human males wearing dark clothes. Some wore hoods. His father's description of Aml Garmin didn't narrow things down much.
To pass the time, he ordered a beer for himself and a spiked fruit juice for Bey. They sipped slowly, saying nothing.
Around them, customers chattered and bargained while music played and the bartender took orders. To Jak's ears, it all muddled together into a din that masked the quieter conversations. Bey, however, missed nothing. Her antennapalps heightened her hearing, allowing her to overhear every word.
Jak waited patiently. Casually watching the surrounding patrons, he found his gaze flicking back to Bey frequently. Her dark eyes stared into her drink blankly, all her attention elsewhere. Her hair spilled over her shoulders, framing her delicate face.
After nearly an hour of nursing their drinks, Bey stood up. She headed as if towards the ladies room, but stopped at a booth along the way. She slipped into the seat across from a hooded man and exchanged a few words. He nodded.
While they chatted, two men entered the bar. Jak watched how their gaze swept the room just a bit too thoroughly. They were on the alert for trouble, which wasn't odd in itself in a bar like this, nor were the blasters on their hips. Their posture, however, was slightly too upright. Their blasters were identical, standard-issue for the Coruscant Security Forces. Clearly, they were both new to the concept of undercover operations.
Jak got up slowly and cleared his throat as he approached. "There you are! You're late."
As he put one arm around each of their shoulders, the one on the left growled under his breath. "Who the kark are you?"
"You two amateurs trying to blow my cover?" Jak hissed between his teeth as he grinned at them amiably, guiding them to the bar. From his peripheral vision, he saw Bey catch the hooded man's hand, pulling him out of the booth. This was what made them a great team, the ability to coordinate without exchanging a word.
"Barkeep! A round for my friends." Jak slapped a credit chit on the transparisteel counter while counting in his head, estimating how long it would take Bey to make it out the front door. Then he pretended to turn to the guy on his right, using the motion to check over his shoulder. He cursed and pulled the guy closer. "You morons scared off my target. Thanks a lot! Your commander's going to hear about this."
Jak strode out of the bar, checking his reflection in the transparisteel door as he reached for it, checking to see if they were following him. They weren't. At least not yet.
Bey, as expected, was nowhere in sight, but after he took a few steps down the sidewalk, her head popped out from an alleyway. She'd recognized the sound of his footsteps.
When Jak stepped into the alley with them, the hooded man glanced between them uneasily. "What's this? What was that about?"
"What do ya think? The fuzz is onto your ass, which we just saved, so I think ya owe us a discount." Jak didn't bother peeking out of the alley to see if anyone was coming after them. He saw Bey listening intently and knew she'd tell him if she heard anything.
"The girl says you want to be taken offworld."
"And that you don't have chain codes."
"If we did, we wouldn't need you, would we?" Jak didn't know who the two undercover agents had been after, but judging from Sparin's information, any number of sectors might have reason to come after Aml. "What's the fastest way out of here?"
Bey turned and shooed them deeper into the alley, her face saying everything that needed said.
To Bey's relief, the Aml led them to a turbolift that carried them up the next three hundred levels.
Where she had come from, turbolifts and other access points had been intentionally destroyed centuries ago, to cut their piece of the underworld off from Imperial influence. It was the reason it had taken her and Jak so many hours to get up this far.
It gave her a pang of sadness knowing they had just abandoned their speeder bike. It had been their last possession of any significant worth, and it had served them well. Her decision to leave Coruscant had started as a whim, but it had become a series of sacrifices. Would it be worth it?
The level numbers flickered on the turbolift readout as they climbed.
She'd left behind almost everything she knew and almost everything she owned. True, she hadn't ever had much, but she'd always had enough to get by. Now, everything she had was in this lift with her. And most of her credits were going to Aml for passage.
Her hand reached out of its own accord and grabbed Jak's.
He smiled and pulled her closer, ruffling her hair and antennapalps with his free hand. "Scared?"
"Pff! Yeah, right." She kicked his boot and tried to pull her hand away, but he kept hold of it.
At level 1802, Jak and Bey followed Aml out of the turbolift at a brisk pace.
"Maybe it was a clean break, maybe not." Aml quickened his stride through the corridor. "Doesn't pay to take unnecessary chances."
Bey was whipping her head left and right, like a kid at a theme park. Jak had been up this far before, on vacations, and honestly, it wasn't that must different than the level where he'd grown up. A bit cleaner, a bit brighter, a bit less claustrophobic. The people here looked less inclined to pick his pockets or shove a shiv into his ribs for a few credits.
Bey took a huge breath. "The air is so clean up here!"
Jak doubted that, but it certainly smelled better than the 1300's.
"You said that there's over five thousand levels?" Bey was almost running to keep up with their longer strides.
"Yep. Not solid levels, but there's skyscrapers and things that keep going up. It's not like a flat surface. Things thin out as you go up." Jak hadn't seen the surface with his own eyes, but he had seen holos of it. "You'll see."
"Here we are." Aml turned right at a glowing sign that said, "Landing Platforms".
Jak couldn't wait to push outside and point up at what would probably be a distant speck blue, but before they reached the doors, Bey's grip on his hand tightened. "Someone's coming."
He checked over his shoulder and saw nothing but a few normal pedestrians going about their business. "Who?"
"I don't know. I hear a bunch of boots hurrying towards us. 'This way,' someone is saying."
Aml looked confused. To human ears, there were nothing but normal sounds.
Jak knew better than to lollygag. "Where's your ship? Let's go!"
"Right." Aml led them through the doors and into a cavernous expanse lined with platforms, many with ships parked on them. He jogged out along a catwalk that stretched out to a platform with a blocky little freighter perched upon it. "This way."
Bey broke into a sprint. Jak followed suit, trusting her even though he couldn't see what she was running from.
As he glanced behind, he saw them. A squad of stormtroopers crowded through the door behind them. He knew he and Bey could get to the ship before the troopers could arrest them, but that reassuring thought evaporated when they opened fire.
Jak gawked at the red bolts flying past him as he juked back and forth along the catwalk. Not even a stun bolt or a "Stop where you are!" Just what had this smuggler done? Or did stormtroopers treat everyone this way?
Aml reached the ship first, dropping the ramp. Aml disappeared inside. Bey scurried to the top and took a knee, firing back at the troopers.
"Ah!" Jak felt fire tear through his flesh, and then another. He stumbled at the bottom of the ramp, twisting as he fell. His head hit the edge of the ramp. Pain jolted through his skull. Blackness engulfed him.
"Jak!" He distantly heard Bey screaming his name. At least that meant she still lived.
Pain struck him across the face, dragging him back to consciousness. Bey crouched over him, hand upraised, determination burning in her eyes. "Get up, you idiot! I can't carry you!"
Bey tugged on his hand, as if she could somehow move a man three times her weight up the ramp of the smuggler's ship. "Please!"
He looked down and saw his blood all over the ramp and her. He'd been shot in the side. Somehow, that reassured him. He'd been shot there before, and he'd survived.
Blaster bolts whizzed over his head. Crying out, Bey clutched her left arm to her ribs. She dropped to her side, and fired off a few blaster shots with her good hand.
"Get in!" Aml yelled from inside the ship. "We gotta go!"
The ship shifted, taking off. Jak felt himself slipping, and then the adrenaline kicked in. He heaved himself to his feet, ignoring the agony in his side, caught Bey's shirt, and threw himself and her into the ship. The ramp began to close behind them.
Bey whimpered, and he saw blood squirting out of her arm. The blaster shot had only grazed the inside of her elbow, cauterizing it, but her charred flesh had split open at the artery.
He wrapped his fingers around her elbow, clamping down as hard as he could. She yelped, but it slowed the bleeding.
"I saw the sky." She lifted her good hand to point up at where the dot of blue sky had been, but her finger shook and the ramp sealed, leaving them in the dim lighting of the ship.
As he lay next to her, his blood pooling with hers, he cradled Bey's head with his free hand. "Bey. Baby B. Hey. Look at me."
Her eyes, which were screwed shut against the pain, opened. Her breathing came in sporadic gasps. "It hurts, Jak."
Maybe he'd have to apologize later, or maybe he'd never get the chance. He pulled her to him and kissed her squarely on the lips.
Then he passed out again.
Jak woke in a hospital bed, to the sound of familiar voices: the smuggler and Bey.
"What's your opinion of the Empire?" the smuggler asked Bey.
"Frak 'em." Jak pried one eye open. "Regime of oppressive scumbags."
"I can't say that I've got a good opinion of them," Bey added, more diplomatically. She had a bandage inside her elbow, but otherwise looked fine. "They nearly killed Jak back there."
"They must have caught wind of my cargo," the smuggler admitted. "I hadn't planned on taking on passengers as well, but without you two, I never would have made it out of there alive. Good thing I got you medical help in time. You've got some experience with fighting?"
"You could say that." Bey didn't elaborate.
"You two looking for work?"
"You could say that, too." After a moment's thought, she added, "That is, as long as we get to work together."
"We're short on manpower in the Alliance. Especially fighting units. We need to fill some commando units. We will provide training, but just so you're aware, there are rules against relationships among members of the same unit."
"Oh, we're not a couple," Bey asserted quickly. "We're former detectives. We were partners for years. So, if you want us, we're a package deal. We work together. Jak, how do you feel about going commando?"
"Who says I'm not already going commando, Bey B?" Jak smirked as she punched him in the arm.
She seemed to have forgotten he'd kissed her. Maybe she'd passed out before he had. Or maybe he'd hallucinated it while bleeding out. Probably for the best.
A week of shuffling from ship to ship and planet to planet later, they were thrown onto a jungle world for their first day of commando training.
Bey had plenty of regrets as she wriggled through mud and blew apart targets in the miserable, damp heat, but the Rebels had been true to their word and not split her and Jak up, which was all she really cared about.
The last time she'd seen her mother alive, they had been arguing about Jak. Bey had replayed the conversation many times in the last two years, but now she understood what her mother had been getting at.
Jak was everything to her. The problem with him was that he never meant what he said. He flirted with her only to tease her, and no matter what she said in return, he always laughed it off. She didn't have a clue what to do about it.
She'd grown up with no reference for getting a man's attention, and even though she'd pieced together the social cues from watching holos and other people, nothing subtle ever worked with Jak. She thought about forcing the issue, of kissing him, of doing something—anything—he couldn't shrug off, but it was as if an invisible barrier stopped her every time. She couldn't do it. She couldn't step across that line, and she didn't understand why. Perhaps it was fear of rejection. Fear of losing the only side of Jak she currently held claim to.
But he'd kissed her.
By signing them up with the Rebels, Bey had tied their fates together a little while longer. She took every opportunity to get Jak alone, but he'd only patted her on the head and made his usual wisecracks. She hadn't imagined the kiss, had she? Or maybe it had only been the fear of dying that had driven him to do it.
Exhausted from the training, she finally got her turn at the showers and then staggered her way back to the barracks, such as they were. The Rebels had commandeered an abandoned office building, which didn't exactly lend itself to housing. Each of them got a tiny office with a bunk in it.
She stopped at her door, and then turned right and found Jak's door instead. It took her three tries to finally knock.
She pushed the door open to see Jak sprawled facedown on his bunk. He pushed himself into a sitting position when he saw it was her. "What's up, Bey?"
She stood there uncertainly, feeling lost.
"Having second thoughts about being a commando?"
As usual, when she didn't know what to do, she borrowed from someone else. "Detective Eagerman . . . what exactly are your intentions with my daughter?"
She saw from his face that he recognized her father's question.
He answered the same as he had before. "To keep her alive as long as possible. What else would they be?"
It hadn't worked. She had to ask her own questions. "Back on Coruscant, did you kiss me?"
"Uh. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation."
"For an arm wound."
He hesitated. "Alright, ya got me."
"So," she forced herself to meet his eyes, "all those comments you made over the years . . . You weren't joking?"
He sat up straighter. "I was absolutely joking, Bey. I made sure you never took me seriously."
She struggled to make sense of that and failed. "Why?"
"At first, you were barely more than a naïve kid. Ya looked up to me, even though you really shouldn't have. You were so impressionable, anything I did, you did. Anything new I showed you, you threw yourself at head-first." He smiled faintly. "It's what made you so much fun. I could say anything, and you'd fire it right back at me. No matter what dumb crap I said, it always made you smile."
She stared at the floor.
He softened his voice. "And then you lost your family, and the only thing I cared about was helping you get through it. I said anything and everything to get your mind off it. But I was never trying to . . . get you to look at me another way."
She bit her lip.
"Honestly, it wasn't until Leyla's comment that I even took a moment to seriously consider it." He knitted his fingers together.
"And then you said you weren't interested." She frowned.
"No," he corrected her carefully. "I said I had never thought about ya that way. And I wasn't lying. Bey, come on. What do you want from me? Every time someone suggests we're a couple, you immediately insist it isn't like that. What am I supposed to think? And here you are grilling me about my intentions and I still don't know if I should be apologizin' or kissin' ya again."
He leaned forward. "Ya gotta tell me what's going on in that head of yours. I can't read your mind."
She clenched her jaw. "I don't know how!"
"Oh, come on." He shook his head in disbelief. "It's not that hard. If you're not interested, just tell me to bugger off, and nothing will change. Either way, I'm not going anywhere."
"When was the last time you saw me in a relationship, Jak?" Her eyes welled with frustration. "When?"
Never. Bey was so good at emulating anything she saw, it was hard to keep track of what she knew absolutely nothing about. They had swapped so many inappropriate comments, that Jak had entirely forgotten that Bey rarely talked about any serious feelings and she'd never shown any genuine romantic interest in anyone.
Despite that, he thought he saw what she was trying so hard to get at.
"Aw, for pity's sake." Getting up, he took her into his arms and kissed her tentatively.
She froze in place, not responding. He broke away immediately. "Ya gotta give me somethin'. Kiss me back or punch me in the face, but just let me know where I stand."
She blinked at him, her cheeks turning pink and then red. "Sorry. I've never kissed anyone, Jak. It doesn't mean I don't want to."
He supposed it was close enough to an answer. She had that blank look she always got when processing a new situation. "Ya had me worried, Baby B. Look. It's fine if you need time to figure things out. I mean, technically we're not allowed to be in a relationship here anyway."
She gave him a recriminating stare, the blankness fading from her face. "Well, I am not going to tell them, are you?"
"No." He grinned wickedly. "But seriously, we can take it slow if—"
Standing on tip-toes and pulling him down by his shirt, she leaned in and pressed her lips to his in a perfect mimicry of his own tentative gesture. After only a moment, however, she was no longer copying anything. She kissed him until she left him breathless.
As he came up for air, he proclaimed, "Sir, I'm afraid my intentions with your daughter right now are anything but pure."
She giggled madly and dragged him back down to her level. She murmured in his ear. "In case you forgot, I don't like taking things slow."
"Good." He picked her up and tossed her into the bunk. This time, he didn't walk out. "Neither do I."
The End- Where will Jak & Bey show up next?