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Through Friendship and Fire

Coopers Cooler
Writer
Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.
A. Landers


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Location : Holding Cell, Sundari Palace
After the events of the Dread Thread

They had taken his weapons and his armour from him. The strange thing was, through it all, not a one of the Mando'ade spoke a word to Kaine. No Australis vode, he saw Mantis, Skirata, Raxis, Wren, Kryze, Talus, Raven vode, but none of his own aliit. That made sense, they weren't going to take chances, not with such a senior member of the Mando'ade facing such serious charges.

Elsewhere, Australis vode had been arrested and had surrendered to a man. They'd followed orders. Despite fears in some quarters it had been no coup attempt, no politican chicanery or assassination, just one battered old vod who was moved by circumstance to act rashly. His will somewhat restored by the events immediately following Adara's salvation, and the restored Ysalamiri effect around the Palace kept the voice in his head mercifully silent.

Kaine himself didn't speak, and was led, unshackled, but guarded by four serious vode, to a spartan holding cell complete with a foldout cot, refresher, and very obvious bars. The lock clanked as they secured their prisoner. With nought to do but sit and wait, Kaine sat himself down on the cot and stared at the wall. He'd waited years stuck a prisoner in his own head. Compared to that, what was a little cell and a few bars, eh? He sat, wearing just a plain black coverall, and waited. Someone had to come see him eventually, didn't they?



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When it slammed shut, the door was incredibly loud, in the small, dank, spartan cell, where the aliit alor of Clan Australis awaited the judgement of the vode for what he had done.
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[member="Yasha Mantis"]​
 
“What was vile has become precious. What is now precious was never vile.
I have always known the vile as precious: what is vile I know not at all.
What was cruel has become merciful. What is now merciful was never cruel.
I have always overshadowed Jonas with My mercy, and cruelty I know not at all. Have you had sight of Me, Jonas, My child?
Mercy within mercy within mercy.
I have forgiven the universe without end, because I have never known sin.
Do not lay up for yourselves ecstasies upon earth, where time and space corrupt, where the minutes break in and steal.
No more lay hold on time, Jonas, My son, lest the rivers bear you away.
What was fragile has become powerful, I loved what was most frail.
Thomas Merton, Firewatch
Yashaheader.png

No resounding footfalls echoed through the holding cells in the sub basement of the Sundari Palace. No guards or other prisoners were brought this low, the Clan Australis Vode locked away in barracks under secure guard on the other side of the city. Desert sand was their keeper, yet no sand remained here in the subterranean chill.

Nothing remained but thought, and upon that framework, the potential to salvage or suffocate [member="Kaine Australis"].

Stagnant isolation was the only gift offered the disgraced Alor. He was, for a harrowing time, deserted by any other living being, detached from outside life and fed by a droid, which dropped his meal from the grate in the ceiling. The only indication of the passage of time was his beard growth and the ration packs dropped, inconsistently timed, from above.

No pattern to cling to. No voice or shift in monotony for the man who murdered the Bral.

Her footsteps were as silent as water on a still ocean, a layering of the silence already plaguing the Mand’alor’s personal cell blocks. How she came to the door so quietly was as mysterious of being devoid of armour for the first time around Australis. Stocking feet, loose black linen trousers and a simple sleeveless grey tank were all the armour she had against the chill of the cell, as a six and a half foot tall, fresh faced and dour young woman opened the cell door, entered, and locked herself in with Kaine Australis.

Devoid of the cosmetics usually applied to her semi-revealed face, Yasha Mantis appeared as she was, an Epicanthix beauty, whose soft raven hair flowed in a loose plait down her back. The tank revealed a litany of healed wounds.

Bite marks, slug holes, beskad slashes which peeked across her arms, scattered across her neck and down to the map of her body covered in cloth. Slender hands, calloused yet tempered with lotion, pressed into her pockets. To say she was beautiful was a euphemism. Mand’alor the Infernal was slender, tall and despite her height, delicate in proportion. It was this young mother who came to Kaine, this child of wolves.

"Su cu’yar, Kaine… so we’re not dead… Adara’s in perfect health… Jaster says she’ll be fine… I have Bethy, she’s… she’s staying with me while we get this sorted. Might go up to Gray and Baiko’s place in Concordia. Just… take comfort in knowing Bethy’s okay. Panicking and eager to see you, but she’s okay.” She stared at the man, who saved her daughter. The man who destroyed the Bral. Leaning against the brick wall, she felt the cold slice into her skin and shivered.

“I need you to tell me what you’ve done, Kaine, because I’m concentrating right now on what you say next.” Yasha shrugged off the wall and sat beside Kaine, elbows on her knees. “If you only tell one person, let it be me. There are no cameras or recording devices in here. It’s the most private place I know.”
 
Coopers Cooler
Writer
Silence was his constant companion. Silence and time. Kaine had lost the passage of time once he fell asleep the first time. He'd figured the food dispensers were random, having had two drop out within hours of each other, then nothing for almost a full day, what he thought was a full day, he'd let it go, and resigned himself to the waiting.

Compared to being trapped in your own head, a silent, impotent passenger, this wasn't so bad. In here, he could talk, sleep, think, busy his mind with a thousand details, plans, reminisces. Just pinching his arm to feel something was a technique denied him during his former captivity when Vesull had possessed him utterly. Here, he was content to wait as long as it took.

Kaine didn't notice Yasha's approach until the cell door clicked shut, and she was here, with him. Yasha's presence was something else. Without the Force, which was really totally unnecessary anyway, her bright and strong and indomitable aura filled the small room. You could not help but be aware she was there. He was surprised to see her without her beskar'gam, that wasn't something he'd seen before. The depth of trust it showed humbled the General.


Renewed now upon seeing his Mand'alor, the feelings, the pain, the resolve of that terrible day, all came flooding back. Combined with his captivity, and Yasha's show of trust and faith in him, Kaine was denied all choice in the matter. His loyalty, and sense of duty wouldn't let him renege on his responsibilites. As his leader, and as Adara's mother, and as his vod, he owed her the whole unvarnished and unedited truth.

Kaine sucked in a deep breath and raised his eyes to his Mand'alor.

He couldn't help but admire her. Such power, such raw concentrated violence. Such strength of will and depth of fighting spirit, in all his years, Kaine had known many warriors, skilled, fierce, and true. He had never met any he had admired as much as Yasha Mantis, surprisingly, he admitted to himself, not even his own mentor, Reyn Skirata. His mentor and friend had been good, but the Hell Wolf, she was Kad'Harangir made flesh. The scars, the marks, the healed wounds left by countless battles. Each was a badge of honour. Kaine knew war, and old warriors knew each other by understanding; and despite her youth, Yasha understood.

I couldn't let Adara die. I would have done anything to save her. There was nothing I could do.

He took another breath. His eyes were steady, blue orbs fixed on Yasha's face. Damn you, Australis, she's suffered enough, he told himself. But she needed to hear all of it.

She died in that room. The doctors failed. The shabla dikut'la Manda failed.

Kad, she'll probably kill me herself when I tell her. She's the Mand'alor though, it's her life to take.

I broke. I gave in. I surrendered. I didn't save Adara, Yasha.

My father did.

Darth kriffing Vesull saved your baby girl.

Cat's out of the bag now, Kain'ika. Shab, Raxis must already know what happened, Baiko, too. No point in hiding this from her. You needed to tell her. If she kills you, you went out with honour. Chin up lad, at least you did the right thing. Hell of a thing to put on a man's tombstone, not that Mando'ade were big on those...

Kaine certainly felt that he was about to find out. This was a man at the gallows, admitting his crimes, and trusting to the afterlife to sort it all out.


[member="Yasha Mantis"]
 
A man defeated lived in the solitude of his confinement. His beard enmeshed Mand’alor the Infernal of the days he’d spent down here. Days where she watched over her daughter, where the Council met to discuss his fate? While the discussions continued on, one decision had to be made.

And it was hers to decide.
Amber eyes, which fathomed terrors beyond the natural world, and the tender joys of family beyond genetics, tipped past the edge of Kaine’s cerulean irises into the man himself.

Throat working as [member="Kaine Australis"] opened before her eyes, Yasha stood numb to all else, and listened. A curious thorn, the essence of Kaine Australis was not the shabla General, who had a proclivity to firing the biggest of guns. There was a passion and love to the man, which superseded all alarum. A gentleness in the way, even in armour, he held Yasha’s infant girl.

Yasha Mantis’ fist collided with the brick wall, masonry and dust descending from the hollow of her knuckles. It was hard, at times, to remember the strength of an Epicanthix. Harder still when that Epicanthix was a woman in the flower of youth.

A Sith Lord saved Adara Mantis’ life.

“Do you know how reckless that was!? You brought my baby back to life! We don’t kark with death, Kaine! I’ve learned enough from Ember Rekali and Kaine Zambrano to know that never ends well!” Yasha’s voice echoed off the brick walls, pinging around their ears in an oppressive shriek.

“Do you think I don’t know the costs!? Kad and Nussyn above and below. There’s a reason we don’t kark with death! The balance of mortality must be maintained! Do you have any concept… at all... of what would happen if Chaos once more broke into the universe as it has before!?”

Yasha beat her nubile chest with the fist, which struck the wall, “I love my daughter! I… I love my daughter, but…” Yasha struck herself again, other palm leaning on the wall for support. “… I… I love my little girl…”

Resigned steps padded to the palate, where Kaine sat. A young woman tempered by the force of her times sat beside the man, who admitted to giving her newborn child the Devil’s baptism.

“Death is… unravelling in piecemeal strands. It’s a calling most aren’t fit to accept. They… fumble with it. Stumble over it gurgling for that one last breath.” Amber eyes staring at the floor, Yasha let her forearms prop on her knees, spread shoulder-width apart as a soldier did to bear weightious burdens. “All creatures who cannot accept their calling are either victim to its’ tortures, or claw back from the dark… you’ve never seen the Warlock Gate from the other side, walked through the Garden of Thorns, or fought unrelenting in the Field of Blades… All who refuse to join Manda, who do not die well… they enter a horrific holding pattern and end up falling to a blade, or to the espers of pride or to the consoling isolation of one last friend. To live is… walking through a fog while looking at a glass darkly. I don’t know how to live, Kaine… I only know how to kill and to die.”

The cloak of silence once more hung across the pair, as Yasha shuddered out a deep exhale. “Dad would tell you it was Manda calling Adara home. That the separation we feel is a temporary state of parting… eventually to be reunited in what feels like a blink of the eye… Kaine, look at me.”

A calloused but tender hand slid onto Kaine’s cheek, nudging him to look at a face wiser in such matters than the years she survived. “I have been encased in death longer than I have experienced the joys of life. Thirteen of my years were spent in the Netherworld, another four in abject war. I am, above all, a prisoner of time, sent back to this series of moments to string each pearl onto the necklace of Mandalore’s eternal becoming. I clawed past Death to return. Twice. To fight the echoes of fracturing minds and salvage a culture I barely knew but for the war drums thundering in my heart… I cannot fault you for what you’ve done, although as Mand'alor I should.” Her voice ended in a thick and hearty whisper, teeth clenched in the syllabic ending.

“I, as a mother, can find no fault in you for giving me my ad'ika… but I will decimate this Darth Vesull to ash for what he caused you to do.” Her hand drifted from his cheek to his chest, resting there in another strung bead of silence in the tomb of their past.

“We cannot simply pick up and move on. We must return to the moment of folly and work a path of reparation from there. Adara would have been in no danger if the Jetii listened to you over Barataria. It was the struggles of my wounds and extended labour that damaged her. If the Jetii obeyed your demand to allow my and Cassiopeia’s rescue, you would not bear the demonic ache I see in you now. That evil had to be reworked… and now this evil… this… Darth Vesull… he will be destroyed. What would you have me do, Kaine Australis? Would you have me strangle the life out of my General to recompense for Adara’s every breath?

I refuse to lose you... and I am exhausted by lingering within peoples' passive expectations.”
 
Coopers Cooler
Writer
Kaine stared down at Yasha's hand on his chest. There was nothing between them now. No beskar'gam, no vode, and now, no secrets either. And now, here, he was supposed to ask her to kill him? To release him from the responsibility of the curse he'd brought to all of them? He asked himself, over and over. Would he do that? Could he ask this young woman to take on the pain of loss, tainted by betrayal, once more? To force her to accept abandonment, to take his life in payment for ridding Adara of any risk from the threat Vesull represented?

He could not put that on her. There, looking into her beautiful fierce eyes, he saw something he'd never seen before, and that shocked him more than Darth Vesull reappearing after three decades, more than seeing the Lord of the Sith kneeling to a young woman he'd never met. Something that he would swear on his childrens lives he'd never seen before this day, before this moment.

Vulnerability. Maybe it was the lack of armour that made the unsubtle General able to take the time to stop and see what was in front of him, maybe it was the long days of confinement and solitude. He was certainly more calm and at peace than he'd been before. The lack of Vesull's presence saw to that, at least for now, they would be alone to deal with what had occurred.

Before he could stop himself, he extended a hand, gently to cup her chin.

I won't ask you to kill me, Yash'ika.

Why had he called her that? To his knowledge, apart from the one time on Concord Dawn in jest, he'd never used the diminuative form of her name. Little Yasha. There had never been a little Yasha, not really. From early childhood she'd fought. She hadn't had time to know being little, being a child, never been afforded such a luxury. Such a spartan, martial existence for so long. Like the Vongese war, he figured, but that hell only lasted less than half a decade. She needed this, he realised, shocked again. She needed to be shown that there was more to life and more to being a Mando'ad than pain, suffering, steadfast resolve, and passion for the fight. She needed love. More than that, to understand love, that unconditional love for family, aliit and vode, where a Mando'ad would die for a brother, or survive for a sister, or return home once more for a mother, or go to war once more for a father. They didn't fight to fight, they fought and killed, for those they loved.

What he had done, the terrible price he had paid, and was prepared to pay, he had done out of love for her.

Yasha knew to kill for the dead, as Kaine had done. They'd both lost more people than either could remember the names and faces of, he didn't doubt. War was like that if you went on with it long enough. What he had to teach her was that you could kill for the living. Fight to protect those who protected you in other ways. That was also part of being Mando'ad. The six rules were quite clear about the importance of family and children.

Kaine met her eyes, held her chin, gently, his fingertips softly brushing her cheek.

I'll do whatever is required to make this right.

He meant it.

[member="Yasha Mantis"]
 
Yasha’s lungs caught. [member="Kaine Australis"]’ fingers brushed across her olive skin, holding her to a steady berth. How dare he touch her!? How dare the Alor of Australis lay a finger on Mand’alor the Infernal, as if he knew her…
… as if he saw her through the lenses of her amber eyes and red knuckles.
Swollen, pugilistic knuckles.

Never before now was Mand’alor the Infernal closer to her intrinsic reality, that of a twenty year old grasping at life like a child pulling grass from the soil by the root.

She’d spoken to clarify the importance of death and the cost of living. She should have stood tall and firm, the impervious Alor, and struck out to maintain the balance of disregard for the Force on Manda’yaim. She should have bellowed and slapped away the hand on her chin. The assuaging fingers of a terrifying warrior brushing across her cheek.

Yasha Mantis ought to have thrust her knuckles into his throat then and there. To suffocate the essence of Kaine Australis until his shaking body hit the palate, slumped ignoble onto the floor.
It’s what Ra would have done.
It’s what Preliat would have demanded of his daughter.

The roar of her former mentor and parent’s violence passed upon the river to the pasture of a divine forgetfulness, numbed out of her by the defeat of her encasement in beskar’gam.

“I am compelled to do my duty by our People! That duty alone is the only reason I live. It is all I have.” He spoke in a kinder whisper than she deserved, this derelict clockwork war monger. Whispered her name as Kaden had, as Gray had.

Yash’ika. Mand’alor’s little Queen.

She tipped her cheek into his fingers, wanton for one last breath’s reprieve from the worst of it all. He saved her daughter… and there was no saving him.

Yasha yanked her hand on his wrist, fingers crushing down hard enough, given constant pressure, to shatter the bones in Kaine’s wrist. “You will answer for the Brals. The decision of what that answer demands is yet forthcoming…”

Her lungs worked hollow in her bone cage, bruises from her injuries on Garos still appearing under her clothing. What was this curious love she felt seeping across her sinner’s skin? What was the luxury of Kaine’s whispers to a girl, who’s heart was hard for all but the collective ‘We’, which created Manda’yaim’s populations? A hand slipped into her pocket, pulling out a simple plastic tube marked with a biohazard symbol.

Bending Kaine’s arm down, Yasha looked nowhere but his eyes as she slipped the Cure into his palm.

“I cannot guarantee you the reaction your body would have. The Cure presents different symptom to everyone, but the same end result… one needle.” Yasha’s throat bobbed as she swallowed in the dry air of the cell, fingers drifting across Kaine’s skin as she removed her hands. Her sock-dressed heels pulled up to the palate’s edge, and Yasha wound her arms around her knees.

“I didn’t get a needle to the bloodstream, although I wish to Kad I had… it would have been far easier than… what did Ember call it? Something I need an Ithorian Priest to fix? I am not Vong-shaped, Kaine… oh… blast it all…” Yasha sunk her cheek down on her knee, facing Kaine.

“Mama was dying. She’d gotten impaled by a terror bird, and her wound smelled funny. A six year old didn’t understand sepsis, but I knew when Mama’s skin got clammy and she stopped waking up that I had to do something. So, I bundled her up on her cloak, and I heaved and I tugged and I stumbled pulling her by inches out of the Blood Plains toward the Warlock Gate. How’d you think a six year old survived the Netherworld without dying, Kaine? It wasn’t solely my genetic immunity to mentalism, although that helped a feth-ton. I fought off demons in her name, I took every path I could find and I pulled so hard my fingers bled… Mama wasn’t moving. Moaning a little, once or twice. I stood before the Chaos and challenged what in my infancy I could only call a god to give my mother’s life to me. I was so little. How was I going to find the right hidey-holes, like Mama? How was I going to sneak up on the monsters that needed killing if Mama didn’t distract them? The Chaos asked it of me and I gladly ripped apart my own soul, shedding off a piece of my eternal self to leave behind, locked for eternity in the Netherworld… and I didn’t feel the whispering wind on my face anymore. And the ground didn’t shake when I got mad. And I couldn’t see Daddy’s face anymore, when I slept and reached out to tell him how alive we were if he only put down that bottle and kept looking. I didn’t need a needle, Kaine. My path was agony and I charged it like a lone Mantis… but maybe you can use the needle. Maybe the Manda will take it easier on you.”

Words she spoke to no creature living or dead poured out of her mouth and in the sacristy of the sinner’s cell, Yasha gave a twice-measure of herself to Kaine Australis. She poured her soul out before him, allowing it to solidify so he and he alone knew the Infernal, and knew the mother of the life he saved.

“You used the Force on Mandalore, Kaine. I cannot play favourites with you. I cannot go against the law, because your loyalty has taken and filled my heart… you, who stood beside me then, and stay beside me now.” Reaching to the plastic tube, Yasha popped the cap and watched it scatter to the ground. “I’ll be damned to fragment my soul in another thousand pieces, before I let you do this alone.”
 
Coopers Cooler
Writer
The incredible weight of her words washed over Kaine, through him. He barely registered that his wrist was probably fractured, nor did he feel it at first when Yasha slipped the Cure into his hand.

He had faced down Yuuzhan Vong, Sith and Jedi, Masters, Witches, and war machines of all shapes and sizes. He had defied them all. Nothing whatsoever in his experience compared to the sacrifice made by a small child all those years ago, out of love. What was what he had done against that? Precious shabla little, that was what.

The name Yash'ika took on new meaning for him. Neverchild. Never allowed to be a child, because it was not in her. Chaos, the Galaxy, the Force, the Manda, the White Current, shab, maybe it was the great big Hutt in the sky. Whatever was responsible, it had taken Yasha's childhood from her. Whatever happened to him, the Galaxy could go to hell, he'd given her back her motherhood and told fate and whatever else to shove their objections.


And now she put the answer into his hand. Just like that, and it would all be over. Risk, to be sure, no one knew what shabla Vongese poodoo would do, but, hell, what was a little more risk to an old soldier, when balanced against salvation? Pain, death, suffering, it didn't matter if you protected the ones you loved. Those you trusted. Those you cared about.

She had sacrificed so much already, even a part of her own soul, had known barely anything but woe, and yet she forgave him. Yasha's trust in him, her stubborn refusal to let this disgrace taint him, to forgive him, to place the very answer to his woes into the palm of his hand, like she would just make it all alright again.

It will be alright. It will be alright.


All at once Vesull screamed in his mind! NO!

That did it. Vesull's blind desperate outrage chilled Kaine, but Yasha's indomitable strength of will, and self sacrifice, her amber eyes boring into his, gave him the strength to resist this time, to do what had to be done. He spoke the word, and did the deed.

Yes.

Before Vesull could stop him, Kaine gripped the syringe in his good hand and rammed it into his own chest, his thumb coming down hard right on the activation trigger. He steeled himself, expecting pain, which came in waves, burning outward from the syringe as the parasites took hold, spreading devouring and burning.

How long does this pleasant sensation last? Kaine was mirthful, because he could hear Vesull's impotent screams, slowly fading. He was happy. Kad, he was supposed to be suffering here, but it was like coughing up something foul, better out than in, and Vesull's despair and abject knowledge that this was it, that he was done, was like a soothing song. Kaine savoured it even as his body burned with pain, and he clutched out for Yasha's calf, the nearest thing he could grip in his agony.

He forced his stinging eyes to stay open, the tears stung, some pain, some of joy and admiration at the amazing woman that sat here with him now, the disgrace of Manda'yaim, suffering his sentence for saving her baby girl, he'd chosen an inconvenient method, but she made things alright again.

It would really really, be alright, her eyes told him, and her strength seemed to energize him in a way he hadn't felt before. She was a font of strength and resolve, and together, they made each other better. That, he mused as he burned, was a good foundation for a lasting partnership. And she did have really beautiful eyes. Then, despite desperately and somewhat childishly not wanting to lose face in front of the Mand'alor, Kaine passed out from the pain.

[member="Yasha Mantis"]
 
“The new man lives in a world that is always being created and renewed.
He lives in this realm of renewal and creation.
He lives in life.
The old man lives without life. He lives in Death and clings to what has died precisely because he clings to it.
Yet he is crazy for change, as if struggling with the bonds of death.
His struggle is miserable and cannot be a substitute for life.”
Thomas Merton, March 18, 1959

The moment he took the needle to his chest, Yasha put her arm around his shoulder and the other anchoring the back of his neck. Yasha pushed her forehead to his, holding him firm and steady as the waves of pain rocked his body. Amber eyes continued to gaze unapologetic at the raw and red rimmed eyes of a suffering man.

“I’ve got you, breathe. It’s going to pass. This pain will fade. You’re going to be okay.” Yasha held him, his body shaking from the pain, in her arms. His hand clutched her calf and she let him, feeling the death grip his fingers used for some form of humane relief. “I’ve got you, Kaine. Breathe.”

She saw the moment his cerulean eyes glazed over that [member="Kaine Australis"] was going down, and lowered him carefully first into her shoulder, then shifting off the palate, laid him down.

Yasha checked his pulse, feeling the thud, thud, thud of his blood flow between her fingers. A brief moment of syncopation stole across her bow, furrowing into the way she laid his head on the thin cot.

He trusted her.

Kaine Australis was her once and future General. She was his once and future Mand’alor. He was the security of knowing that loyalty wasn’t stolen but bred by sincere and appropriate action for the health and plenty of her People.

Stay the course, his eyes said, as he went under. Stay.

His bodyweight was no greater than many of the lighter burdens Yash’ika carried in her time. There was no gurney, no calling for medical staff, there was a leader who promised to see Kaine through, and a set of stalwart, strong arms.

Yasha laid Kaine on an actual bed, covered his body with a thin blue blanket and moved to bring a bowl of water and a cloth to wash the sweat soaking down his face. A single chair resided by the thin wood desk, and Yasha pulled it over to watch over Kaine Australis at his bedside.

He would, given time, open his eyes. The danger of his Force Powers passed, Yasha laid Kaine in what would become the room of his incarceration, a door or two down from her own small room in the Sundari Palace. Guards posted at the door heard nothing of that which happened within, Yasha ensured privacy until Kaine got his bearings.

She knew he still had to stand and speak for what he did, what he ordered his Clansmen to do. Best allow him to prepare in spartan comfort, at least then Yasha could bring [member="Beth Australis"] to see her father, without being ashamed.

Yasha owed Kaine that much.

Now in his cell-room, Yasha cradled Adara in one arm, wiping Kaine’s brow with the cold, damp cloth. Unbeknownst to the Infernal, she hummed a song she’d heard Ra mumble, when he took too much to the drink and got sentimental and thought himself alone. Yasha fussed with her baby’s knitted toque, settled the onesie on her arm better, then reapplied Kaine’s cold cloth.

He would wake up. He would. The Cure wasn’t deadly to anyone…

… Except a Sith Lord, who took advantage of his son’s utter and agonizing desperation.
 
Coopers Cooler
Writer
The dream was feverish. Myrkr was on fire. Not the Myrkr the Alliance had scorched. Old Myrkr. Home of the first Clan Australis. Their home burned. Bodies lay everywhere. "Where is our alor" the question on every face, dead to the last. Nothing lived in what had been his home. As he trudged, scorched like everything around him, he saw them there, what had been his family, his friends, his aliit, all dead.

He knew in his heart that there had been survivors, and from those survivors the aliit had been reborn anew. But his failure to protect those he loved would never leave him. He owed it to the dead not to make the same mistake twice. He would not leave his people alone again.

Forward then, and in time Kaine came back to the medical room. The moment he had broken. He'd thought he was giving up his own life, a price he would have paid gladly to save Adara's life. Thanks to Yasha's love and trust, he had been redeemed. Vesull was gone. The weight of that terrible failure was gone with him, and he saw in the room Vihn; his firstborn son, once a Jedi, now long gone, Arla, his first daughter, terribly fierce, headstrong and sure, and Natasii, beloved Natasii, always there to remind him of his duty. He hadn't always listened then, young Kaine hadn't been wise. There had been many lessons since, and Kaine Australis did his best not to have to learn them twice. He had not betrayed those that had gone before; he had honoured them.

It was for the living that he strove now. For his Caz, who was his rock, who knew and felt him better than he knew himself. For his Nibsani, so full of life, love and peace, who tempered his rage and reminded him to see happiness and joy. For Adara, the newest vod in the ever growing Mandalorian family, for whom he had risked all. And for Yasha. Yash'ika. Mand'alor. Partner. Friend. Confidant. Trusted ally. She who had walked with him through fire.

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Kaine opened his eyes, which felt red and sore, he tested his neck, which hurt, but not enough to prevent movement. He saw he was in a different room, lying on a reasonably comfortable bed. He sat up, resting on one elbow, his left, and realised his wrist didn't hurt as it should have. He tested it, fully healed.

Strange, he thought, I could have sworn it broke. How the kriff long was I out? Kaine tested his legs. They didn't hurt like a long starfighter trip, let alone the days it would have taken to heal a broken wrist, even with Bacta. He was free. He ached, he was exhausted, even a little delirious, a little woozy, but his spirit was aflame. He was free. It was alright. It was alright.

Then his eyes found Yasha and Adara. He smiled. There was only one way Kaine knew to express to her what he felt for her in that moment, his saviour, and the one he'd saved.

Ni kar'tayli gar darasuum, Yasha Mantis.
The words had a deep and personal meaning to Kaine. Mando'a wasn't an exact language, there were no other words for him to express what he felt. He'd never felt this exposed, except with Caz or Nibsani, and neither of them were so physically imposing or put his experience on the battlefield to shame. She was his superior in almost every way. Yasha was no empath, no streetwise former slave. No soldier boy forged in a nasty galactic brawl.

She'd lived hell. She was a survivor. Kaine could teach her nothing of war, but he would teach her how to love. Adara needed a mother more than she needed a Mand'alor. The vode would help. Together, they would all heal the wounds of the past month. Kaine would stand and accept the judgement of the vode. He could do that. He could do anything, with this amazing woman standing beside him.

He smiled, and his eyes smiled with him, full of unconditional love, deep gratitude, and unswavering devotion tempered by undying loyalty.

[member="Yasha Mantis"]
 
Adara nudged and strained her little body, resting against her mother’s unarmored chest. The neonate child finished her feed, eyes closed as she nuzzled into her mother’s shoulder. Yasha continued to hum to her daughter, standing up to pace around as she adjusted her tank top.

Kaine’s rise to a wakeful state caused Yasha’s humming voice to lilt off to silence. “Jate vaar’tur (good morning), Kaine. I thought you were going to sleep forever. I bet you’re thirsty, here, let me get you a drink.”

There was a water jug on the table, two glasses sat beside. He would be thirsty, the worst of his cure was consumed by fever, wasn’t it? Patting her daughter’s back in smooth, careful motions, Yasha dipped Adara down to lay squirming beside [member="Kaine Australis"]. It must have been a stroke of prescience for the words which tumbled out of Kaine’s throat and perused his lips next.

“What?” Yasha cleared her throat, “Wh-what did you say?”

Had the General known for his infamy, his tactics, fallen for a twenty year old girl? A wounded soul crushed and rebuilt by the plates of beskar, which made up her armour? The Epicanthix, who used to stutter uncontrollably found her pursed lips betrayed her. Tempered her into a momentary mental revolt.

Australis gave soul and body to bring Yasha’s daughter back to life, sacrificing the essence of his own mind and welfare to see the babe whose hands reached clumsily toward the big blob by her side.

A love born of trust and shared battled tied together with the hope of this new life. Where was Kaden, the man who should have been standing by their daughter’s bedside? The more Yasha felt the fervency of Kaine Australis’ words, of Gray Raxis’ words and Cassiopeia’s, the more Yasha realized a fickle love was none at all.

Somewhere in the universe, Kaden Mantis broke, and in the shattered bits of what should have been their lives, someone stood forward and mirrored what her adopted father told her, what her best friend portrayed.

Australis was attempting to teach a cruel and unloveable creature what life was, what abundance was. Amber eyes widened, pale lips pouting as Yasha stood in middle of reaching for the water.

“Kaine?” Yasha moved to sit on the bed beside him, gently draping the back of her hand on his forehead. “You… you’re feverish, hold on I’ll get you a fresh cloth, How are you feeling? Are you awake or...” He smiled and it was real. He looked a her across the room and she felt her lungs twitch. “How… ah… is your wrist? And… ah… wh-wh-wh… what do you mean you love me?”

How could he?

How could anyone love the immutable thing?
 
Coopers Cooler
Writer
That ever present warmth and relaxation that came to Kaine whenever he was among family, no matter where they were in the galaxy or what was going on, be it calm or storm or battle, came back now. Things were right and proper and how they shabla well should be.

Carefully he reached out his arm around Adara's tiny form to keep her from rolling off the bedside, not that she was liable to be rolling just yet. Early days for this one. Shifting his weight carefully he leaned down to let the tiny hands touch his bristly chin. They didn't recoil, happy to poke away. Smiling, Kaine leaned further and kissed her little forehead.


Ni kar'tayli gar darasuum, ner cyar'ika.

He spoke gently to little Adara, and he meant those words literally.

He'd put his very existence on the line to save this little life, and he'd be damned if he was going to let anything happen to Adara, or her mother. Not that Mom'alor; there was that name again, needed protecting, by him or anyone, she was Kad'Harangir, and her wrath was terrible to behold. But she did need support. To teach Adara to love, Yasha needed to learn to love, and if the shabla Manda had meant the baby to die, then as far as this old buckethead was concerned, it had also meant Kaine to tell it to kriff itself and deal with the problem.

Vesull had been destroyed, and Kaine had been redeemed, by Yasha. The woman he had come first to admire, then to respect, then to trust, and finally to love. He would teach. If that wasn't the Manda's will, then so far as Kaine saw it, the Manda could come and speak to him when it felt like making a complaint. Fate, the Force, the Manda, or just luck had brought Kaine and Yasha together, forged their partnership. Who was Kaine to deny what the universe was screaming at him.

Kaine settled Adara where she was comfortable, and rocked her a little, gently, as you did with a baby. Babies slept a lot, when they weren't having other needs met. He saw Adara's lids were fluttering a little. Smiling, Kaine met Yasha's eyes.

There was nothing but love, respect and trust in his blue eyes. No walls, no guard, no barriers. Babies had a way of bringing out the gentler side in most beings. Kaine was no exception. It was easy to love babies, and, he had found, sometimes, when you met the right person in the right circumstances, you grew to find it easy to recognize love when it found you.


You heard what I said. I'll never abandon you, and I will never stop loving you.

His eyes never left hers, soft, but unyielding in their resolve. To Kaine, Yasha deserved no less from him than absolute loyalty.

[member="Yasha Mantis"]
 
Healing was a battlefield upon which Yasha had so little experience. Her life saw less and less of the healing loves of a father and daughter, between siblings, spouses, dire friends. The Mand’alor was the companion of ruin, and a survivalist’s disaster was her keeper.

[member="Kaine Australis"]’ declaration hit her with the tidal essence of that all consuming portion of the Resol’nare Yasha had yet to understand. A Mandalorian did not go and fight for glory in glory’s sake. Beings of an eventual collective paradise, Mandalorians fought hardest and surged loudest for the families they adored and protected.

Australis was an exposed nerve, throbbing into the room with the honesty of a naked mind, an armouries love. Kaine’s warrior’s arms nestled Adara in the calm of his happiness. The infant cooed, burbled and sunk into those heady, secure arms. The longer Kaine held her daughter, whispering affection into the girl-child, kissing her with a father’s heart, the more an aching absence rose in Yasha’s ribcage.

Kaden should have been holding Adara like that. Where was Kaden, when Adara was dying? Where was Kaden when they returned, broken and barely breathing, from Barataria? The room Yasha and Kaden shared was empty of all traces of her riduur.

A shadow tempting Yasha to make monument of his lack.

Love was abundance of sensation. Untempered by the events which threatened to eliminate all to apathy’s frail bastion. The young mother eased to sit on the couch across from Kaine’s bed, pulling one knee then the other up on the couch for her arms to reach round. This was love. Consuming, omnipotent in its’ virility.

Outside of the love [member="Gray Raxis"] had for his daughter, had Yasha ever felt such a profound series of sensations? Vulnerable and open to the unyielding potency in Kaine’s eyes, Yasha tipped her chin onto her knee.

“Kaden will come back… he will… he loves me, always has…” Yet, as she spoke the words themselves fell empty and shattered on the floor. Yasha stuttered in a breath, still raw from her repairing ribs, and shifted to place her cheek on her knee instead. “I know what love is…”

The whisper broke upon the room, joining the piecemeal shattered ephemera of Kaden Mantis’ desolation. His absence. Now another man was holding his child, cradling Adara with the utter devotion he should have displayed every second. Kaden’s love had conditions. Although Yasha had no comprehension of what Kaine Australis meant by his love, she knew it to be as longstanding and integral as the Manda, itself.

Words soaking Yasha’s tongue died upon it, as the young woman stuttered in another breath. This was, above all, a temple to the safety and lack of judgement Kaine gave her with his promise. Even in this miniature prison, locked away deep in the Sundari Palace, Yasha Mantis became privy to the first worlds-shattering love she’d known since Gray refused to give up on the girl he adopted. A thread in her mind reminded her that she should show no fear, nor sadness. That the Infernal should be emotionless and strong. Perpetually composed.

“I wasn’t enough. I was never enough… not with Mandalore on my shoulders. Kaine…” Days from giving birth on Barataria, and leading the negotiations on Hapes, Yasha had not given herself the time nor the space to heal. Rubbing her eyes with the heel of her palm, “I was supposed to be making sure you were alright… you switched it on me, you boob! I should break your other wrist!”

Yasha’s sniffles threaded through the small space, as Adara rocked to sleep in a loving pair of living arms.
 
Coopers Cooler
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Kaine listened to Yasha's voice, and he could tell she was struggling with the emotion of the moment, and he suspected she hadn't been shown much unconditional love in her time. He knew that she'd been through far more war in her short life than he had in his extensive experience, but clearly she hadn't been through nigh any of the good and decency that could be found in this shabla Galaxy. Kaine knew what he had to do.
He looked down at the sleeping form beside him. His arm settled Adara carefully on the bed and tucked her into the coverlet so she was kept warm and couldn't escape, but not so tightly she would smother. Then he sat up and carefully moved around the sleeping baby till he was sitting on the edge of the bed, putting his feet on the ground, which was cold after the warmth of the bed.

Kaine looked up from his feet, and smiled over at the new mother.

She was radiant. Tired, injured, dealing with a flood of emotions that would have floored a dozen beings, yet here she was, cursing that she couldn't be strong for him. Pride in his Mand'alor, in his friend, surged in Kaine. How could Yasha not see how others saw her? Her people loved her. How could they not? She was smart, brave, tough, wise, and kind. She showed love and loyalty to others when life and her own family had showed her precious little.

Mockery wouldn't do here, like it might with a raw recruit. She'd likely kick his head off. Words it would be.

You're enough, Mand'alor. You are what we need you to be. You've always been that. Now you've got to learn the hardest lesson. Not motherhood, beings have been managing that with no issues for millennia.

You're going to learn to accept love. Unconditional love.

I realised it for the first time myself when I saw Adara in that room. How i felt about you personally, I mean.

Kaine cursed his face getting hot. He wasn't a shabla schoolboy, but Kad damn it she was less than half his age, like Nibsani. Fifty four wasn't ancient, but he was very much older.

I love you, your people love you. For who and what you are, Yasha Mantis, Mand'alor the shabla Hell Wolf.

Let us love you. You don't ever have to face this alone.

Stupid eyes, cursed Kaine, he felt them getting wet again, willing the tears not to come, he was going to embarrass himself. He reminded himself there were no eyes, no cameras, no holofeeds here. It was just the two of them. It was easier when he thought of her as Yasha and not Mand'alor. Silly old fool.

[member="Yasha Mantis"]
 
“You’re enough, Mand’alor.”

Permission granted, Yasha let her legs flop off the couch seat to the floor. What a curious wonderment love was, which made sinners of some and saints of others. Growing as she had, Yasha held to her chest the lie that loving her was a cost too high for any to agree to pay.

Her father hadn’t paid it. Her uncle hadn’t paid it, in the end. Her riduur hadn’t paid it.

Shabla [member="Kaine Australis"] paid it. He paid for it in the gentle rise and fall of Adara’s recovered chest. He paid it by giving his soul to a Sithly father, who gladly supped upon it. How was it that a grizzled warrior like Australis could teach Yasha more about accepting and doling out love in one string of close-knit moments, than she’d felt in all her years combined? Was it a touch of the Manda, which clung to the man? That indomitable will, and unrelenting push toward his goals?

Cerulean eyes bored into her, searing through her retinae, binding her optic nerve and shunting to her brain like the doorknocker Skosk Australis loved most to use in battle. For all his years, Yasha had never seen eyes so beautiful.

Her heart skittered around her ribcage, a rush of blood to her olive-toned cheeks.

“You’re enough, Mand’alor.”
Absolution.

Kaden’s disappearance flowed down the river of her past, rippling little, to eventually fade in completion. Naturally pouting lips pursed up at the edges as Kaine spoke of his inner realization, while he watched over Adara. Cheeks reddening like hers, Australis looked fit to be tied.

“I could… you know, get used to people loving me.” Yasha’s eyes scanned up to Australis’, then flung down to his naked toes, climbing back along the edge of his body to linger on his shoulder. “Unconditional… Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before… except for Gray… I thought all love has limits. Places it won’t go… you taught me that’s aruetiise speak…”

Sliding off the couch, Yasha walked to the bed where Kaine rested, sat beside him, and tipped her head on his shoulder. She missed her sweater in the cool of the room, hugging her arms across her chest.

“You still haven’t told me how you feel, Kain’ika. Dastardly gentleman warrior that you are… wait... how did you do that? How did you get Adara sleeping?”

The road before them was longer than Yasha wanted to admit. Destruction of the Brals would not go without punishment, and Yasha counted on her fingers the number of years Kaine might very well be locked in this one room. While that was a discussion for another time wrapped around the authority and magnitude of the Infernal’s Council, Yasha prayed his internment would grant more moments like this.

Opened, revealed and liberated from the woes of the outside world. A loose and whispered chuckle peppered out of Yasha’s lungs. She winced and put a palm to her ribs.

“Remember Ploo? I’ll never forget rushing in there on Solus to save your pansy backside. Taking on a cyborg Rancor with a couple of pistols… Kad… Figured right then, you were it. My General. It’s not a fancy title like Warmaster or Al’Ori’ramikad, but I knew the second you sat there trying to fix your tech on the back of my bes’uliik, that this was the Mando’ad I could learn from… even if those lessons were about what not to do in the presence of EMP and angry Rancors.” Yasha’s chuckle broke across her ribs again, and for one moment she tucked her chin a little closer on his shoulder.

“I realized on Ploo that if I was going to fight back to back with anyone in the entire Mandalorian Empire, if I was going to defend and extoll our people with any aide… the best choice was you. You’re always going to give me the ability to focus and do my job, aren’t you? ‘Cause I know for a fact you’ll still call me on kark, when I do something stupid. Like, say, thinking that I’m terrible and unloveable?”

A broken hiss of a sigh echoed through Yasha’s healing ribcage, as she looked out at the couch she vacated seconds before. “Thank you for loving me, Kaine. Let me keep you safe, in the only ways I know how.”

Love, while bud-like and fragile, began to unfurl. She could accept it, couldn’t she? Love without end and without restraint? “Why else do you think I’m always armed with my hammer?” Yasha grunted, wiggling underneath his arm against the slight chill of the room. “You and my Mandalorians take such looking after… especially you.”
 
Coopers Cooler
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Remember Ploo? Even with all he'd seen and done, Ploo wasn't going to be forgotten any time soon. The thrill of battle among these Mando'ade. Saving the children, taking down those shabla slaver scum. The rush of pride as young Elenn had gunned down the childrens' chief tormenter without hesistation. Seeing those kids get to safety, clearing the place out, Deram Carid at his side. And then the karking DEMP gun and the shabla rancor. He'd nearly bought it, until one of the most magnificent sights he'd seen in all his days..

Ploo, when I saw you fall from the sky, hammer in hand. That's my Mand'alor, I thought.

He put his arm around her, careful not to squeeze too hard, but gently pulled her towards him, letting her head rest on his shoulder by his neck. Close enough that she could bite me, he thought, idly. One was always a little careful around dangerous things, and Yasha Mantis, though calmer and more relaxed than he'd ever seen her, was still to be treated with care and due respect, even in private. Kaine would never shirk his duty to her.

I want to see that another thousand times. I want to be your General. That's all I want. To be your partner. Your support. I don't ask anything in return. That's the part i know about how this works.

His voice got a little heavy for a moment. Loyalty was very important to Kaine, and he did not give it easily. He spoke honestly and acted with honour.

Yasha, I don't know how this is supposed to work. I love you. I love Caz, and I love Nibsani. Each in your own way. There's no script for life. The way I see it, there are no rules that govern how a Mando'ad lives and loves. There are only six rules.

He gently lifted her head with his hand so he could see her face. Look into her amber eyes.

Together, there isn't much we can't solve. We will find a way. It will be alright.
Those final words gave him the resolve to show his courage, to take that next step.

Very slowly, like he was about to pat a vornskr in the wilds of Myrkr, but instead in a small room, in the Sundari Palace, with a sleeping baby Adara and a strangely healed wrist all gone from his mind, nothing in it at this moment but the beautiful, loving young woman who had been sitting cuddled up in his arm, but now looked at him with her lovely eyes full of hope, Kaine leant forward, closed his eyes, and kissed her very gently full on the lips.

There was no other way left for him to express his love. His admiration for this beautiful and fierce woman that had already taught him so much he hadn't known about himself in such a short space of time. Kad, together, they could reshape the galaxy into something worthwhile. And if not, they'd shabla well put the Mandalore Sector in order. Like he'd said, the Mando'ade together, there wasn't much they couldn't put right.

[member="Yasha Mantis"]
 
“I wouldn’t have taken so long to get there, if I wasn’t violently morning sick on the Shereshoy when you lot began the initial assault. Gosh, Kaine, I was sick in my buy’ce… that sanitation rush-job is not one I would wish on anybody.” Yasha burbled out a loose exhale, deflating as she cuddled into the warmth of him. Eyelids growing heavy, Yasha stiffled a squeaking yawn, lips smacking lightly as she released some of her tension to the embrace.

“Took me eighteen minutes to get Ambrose and Solus Rekr to agree to take me down to the surface in the first place. That old bes’uliik knows things… at any moment, wham! The blast cocoon goes up and it’s ‘keep Yasha safe’ no matter what I do to control it. Shia says it needs a defrag, but… I’ve never had the nerve. My bes’uliik thinks its’ people and I’m not about to kill that illusion.” Her smirk faded as [member="Kaine Australis"] spoke of another thousand times riding into battle side by side.

There would be a thousand battles to ride through, of that Yasha was emphatic. Whether battles against insurgents, invading enemies or battles taken for the good of the vode, the Mando’ade would steep in crimson and soak in salt water. Would he make it a thousand battles?

Would she? “Then be my support. Be my General, help me lead the troops and throw down, when I’m tangled up… Kaine, what are you asking me? We’re both married and…” Hugging her arms across her chest, Yasha slid one foot up onto the mattress. “… I need to feel safe for a while. Kaden’s breaking my heart.”

Less than a week before, Yasha Mantis laid choking for air on a filthy floor in a Baratarian den of thieves. What should have been a harrowing, but beautiful moment in her life was dashed to wreak chaos on Silver Jedi and Mando’ade alike. The scars of Barataria, while fading physically, would remain for years to come… and she to that day did not know Kaine Australis heard every sound she made.

“You were right when you said I had to learn how to accept love, Kaine. All I know about myself is the duty which binds me to the Mand’alor’s throne. It’s one I’m fit for, I love being the Infernal… it’s… it’s all I’ve known to be… but that doesn’t detract from the fact that I’m a twenty year old girl, who’s riduur just left a day after our baby was born in a twisted Sith’s idea of a war’s first battle. What if Kaden’s just gone to clear his head? I know he hasn’t answered my holos and his beacon isn’t… but… he’s my best friend… And everyone talks about him as if he’s just… gone. The father of my child, gone… why did he go somewhere I couldn't follow?Teeth grit, Yasha moved imperceptibly away from the Alor of Clan Australis. His fingers on her chin beckoned her to believe the security of his convictions.

It will be alright.

A vulnerable young mother looked into the face of her infant’s saviour as he ducked in for a tentative kiss. Yasha’s throat constricted as her back jutted ramrod straight. Amber eyes cranked open in alarum, her first kiss from a man who was not her husband.

Kaine was wise, when he realized how dangerous a thing the pretty, slender Epicanthix was. Dangerous, and temporarily vulnerable to a man, who now knew her better than anybody else.

They were too close for a punch. Yasha’s elbow snapped back, and struck hard enough on Kaine’s cheek to break his orbital bone. Panting, Yasha scrambled to the back corner of the bed, wedged in the corner of two walls. Her chest thrummed with quick breaths, amber eyes wide as Concordia’s orbit. Gaze flickering to her slumbering baby, Yasha brought her knees up to her chest, hands out in front of her.

“The KARK was that!?” Yasha yelped, as Adara stirred in the bed. “I wanted comfort! I needed a … a hug not some… really kind of sweet when I think about it, but i shouldn’t think about it, kiss! The kark!? I…. am…. married. I’m married… you’re my best friend’s father! I… oh no… did I break you? Oh no. Kaine, I’m… I’m sorry but I was surprised and then you were like, right there and son of a bee-riding nephew’s dog-owner, the feth were you thinking!? ….. How is Adara still asleep!? You’re like… baby magic!”

Yasha’s eyes stung not from tears, but from fatigue. Her legs shook not from fear, but exhaustion. It was this physical exhaustion, which made the Infernal lenient enough to pull back without ripping Kaine’s spine from his rugged body.

“Did… did you bleed on me!? Kad-dang it. Why couldn’t you just give me a hug!? A… a safety cuddle!? How is my baby still asleep!? I’ll string you by your toes, Australis!” The fear of unknown quantities and measures stole across Yasha Mantis. She scrambled to her daughter’s side, curling around Adara’s tiny body and hemming her in. Amber eyes stared up at Kaine Australis, wide and shaken. Inept at deciphering what the man would do next.
 
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Silly old fool indeed. Yet again Kaine had done what was necessary, but not what was necessarily in his best interests.

Crack!

Kaine heard and felt the crack of his jaw. He'd felt the instant Yasha became hostile, and was quick enough to move his head about an inch, which served only to put his jaw where his eye had been, and it took the brunt of Epicanthix aggression about as well as a woodland twig took a size 12 boot sole.

His spatial awareness told him exactly where Adara was at all times, he was very used to babies, being around them, and how fragile they were, she was in no danger while he was around. He sat back letting his weight fall perpendicular to where Adara slept, and banged the back of his head on the wall.

That did it.


Kaine began to laugh, clutching hand immediately to his jaw, which helped a bit, but the laughter kept coming.

Shab, Yashika!

It was a struggle to get the words out, even holding his broken and extremely painful jaw together. His eyes smiled at her. He couldn't help it. He wanted to speak, to tell her it was alright, but the pain and the broken jaw.

His hands went to the back of his head, to cradle the bruised top of his skull, and he was shocked to find his jawbone didn't fall away when he let go.

That was odd, just like his wrist. Was this part of the vongese kark they put in the Cure? The pain was subsiding too. Gingerly, carefully, Kaine put a hand to his jaw and prodded. Bruised maybe, but not broken like it had been only seconds ago. Interesting.

Kaine sat back up, careful not to disturb Adara.

He was still laughing, quieter now, not loud enough to wake the baby, but still mirthful. His voice was serious, because he wasn't joking.

Yash, your husband isn't here with his aliit, and he isnt off fighting a war. We're mando'ade, we know what that means. I'd be concerned for his honour, if I believed he still had any. If Kaden wants to object, then let him explain why he thinks he can tell the shabla Infernal what to do while he isnt here.

His eyes gleamed, despite himself, he was enjoying the fact that for once, he had very little to fear from an angry Yasha Mantis. She'd broken him twice, and yet somehow, he was whole.

If you want to keep hitting, let's keep it away from Adara. Even as the daughter of Yasha Mantis, shes a bit young for this level of violence.

He grinned.

You deserve to be kissed, and probably by a much younger and better looking man who isn't here.

I reckon you've earned at least that much. If it means a few broken bones...


Kaine wiggled his not broken jaw with his not broken wrist.

Those seem not to be the long term incapacity they once were.

[member="Yasha Mantis"]
 
The Infernal was intimately aware of the symphony which occurred, when bones cracked. [member="Kaine Australis"]’ jaw was a doozy. Yasha barked out as he fell near Adara and smacked his head against the wall.

“My wall! Don’t dent my wall!” Yasha couldn’t help the burble of words, which struck out of her lungs as Kaine swore. The skeezy-geezer deserved it.

Yasha stuttered, then burst out laughing in a ball of nerves and reciprocal hilarity. She threw a hand over her mouth, as the loudest snort she’d ever heard filtered out of her nose, chased by laughter so infectious that Yasha Mantis ended up flopping over on the bed clinging to her ribs.

“Ow! Oh! Oooooocow! Kaaaine, the laughter hurts! The laughter hurts! Aaaahahahahahahaha your face is messed! Oh… ow! Ow! Nooo…” Struggling to control her laughter so she could breathe, Yasha rolled around a little on the bed, knees pulled up to her chest. Coughing out a few more peals of laughter, Yasha brushed her eyelids on the coverlet to dry the tears. She gulped at the air, looking up at Kaine as he gingerly sat up and worked his jaw. Rubbing her eyes with the heel of her left palm, her other arm around her ribs, Yasha sniffled.

That laughter hurt so good.

“How dare you talk about my Kaden like he’s not coming back!” Yasha yelled, bellowing it out to stop the realization she held in her flattening gut. Shutting her eyes, Yasha felt along the blankets to touch her index finger to Adara’s miniature hand.

“He’s not… you don’t think he’s coming back. Do you? You think he’s left me… that’s what people do, Kaine. People leave. It’s the inevitable written in the stars.” Maybe it was the inevitable written in the Mantis’ star charts.

Pushing up gingerly, Yasha sat cross-legged on the bed and frowned. “And taller man… shorty.”

Looking to his rapidly repairing jaw and wrist, Yasha raised an eyebrow. “As much fun as it would be to see you think you’re invincible, then end up in a body cast? I did warn you the Cure has different symptoms for different people. Whatever effect it had is temporary… you still want to get beaten up by a girl, Austr’ika? I promise not to decapitate you with my bare hands… might even take it easy on your transparisteel jaw.”

The flicker in Yasha’s eyes played back as a reminder of the Infernal in her easier days. Proof that the darkness plaguing the young Mand’alor was lifting, and she saw a way out of the soot and ash of her beginnings.

Easing to the edge of the bed, Yasha went to stand and coughed, shoulders raising from the ache in her ribs. “Don’t…. don’t ever get caught in an explosion that throws you through a building, then go into immediate and painful labour… it’s… not fun…. ow. I can probably synthesize the suck, though… just pass me that water glass and give me three punches to your person. Break you good, Austr’ika… I can be mad that Kaden didn’t divorce me properly later. Preferably over a bottle of tihaar… which I may have hidden somewhere in this room before you woke up from your sixteen hour nap.”

Cocking her head to the side, Yasha stood up, then wheeled around and kicked her foot onto his chest, shoving him down onto the bed hard enough to hear a crack-pop in his ribcage.

“Kiss me without my permission again, and I will kick you to death. Understood, Kain’ika? Kaden might’ve left me, doesn’t mean I’m ready to immediately move on. Love me, just… don’t kiss me. Not unless I’m ready.” She ground her heel on his sternum, leaning forward to look into his cerulean eyes.

“RRRRGH it’s annoying you look so pleased with yourself… fething Australis.” With a great harrumph, Yasha spun her foot off him, padding across the small cell-like room to punch at the wall by the couch. A thin metal plate bent, and Yasha removed it, revealing a bottle of tihaar. Calculating the hours before Adara needed to feed again (and the amount of time she had before procuring more milk for the child), Yasha grabbed the neck of the bottle and seeing a corkscrew, twisted the glass neck and sheared it off in one clean go.

“Break a bone in your body every five minutes… see how long it lasts… oh don’t look so smug!” Yasha tipped the bottle to her lips and took a long drag, gulping down with a shudder as the tihaar burned down her throat. “…. wasn’t even a good one…. Smug’alor the Cheeky… what you are… what’s next, Dead’alor the Copped a Feel?”

Padding back over to Kaine, Yasha pouted and let her eyes narrow. She took another drag from the bottle, holding it to her chest, before deflating with a sigh and passing it to him.

“… I’m cold. Being pregnant sucked… but Adara’s gorgeous so I can’t complain… I will break you, if you defy me, Kain’ika. Break. You.”
 
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It was true, he was enjoying himself, and was rather pleased with himself all told. Bit by bit, Yasha was being restored to herself. That love that she had given, but had never truly known in return, was working itself on the young fiery Mand'alor. He could see it. He'd done it. It was a small victory, but in teaching someone as phenomenally headstrong and fierce as Yasha Mantis to love, and to be loved, any victory was laudable. And, there was no Mando rule about not having fun while you did your duty to those you loved.

Kaine even enjoyed when she pinned him to the bed with her heel. He understood. The message was clear. Don't ever frighten me like that again. Kaine resolved to do his best not to. Tihaar would help, it always did. His eyes did the rest. He knew how hard it was to stay mad at him when he was in a playful mood, it had kept him alive many many times.

He held out his left hand to accept the bottle of mando spirits. With a playful grin, he patted the bedside next to him, then held his right arm as wide as it would go.

I won't defy you if you promise not to break me. Come here and get warm.

His voice was serious but inside Kaine a little boy, from a time when he was free of the will of Darth karking Vesull, spoke in a little voice. "She called me Kain'ika." It was a happy little voice. Beside him, a little girl slept peacefully, while he contemplated the bottle in his left hand.

[member="Yasha Mantis"]
 
Dominance of her person restored, Yash’ika Mantis huffled out a deep sigh and watched the grin on Kaine’s face. There was safety here once again, built upon the display of Australis’ forwardness and Mantis’ restraint. All was right in the universe, order of the spheres restored by Kaine’s act of goading her on to remembering who, and what she was.

Yasha Mantis, the Hell Wolf. Nobody’s meek and fragile leaf.

“Reneg on that and I will break. You. In itsy-bitsy pieces.” Yasha squinted, poking her finger on his nose. She flicked his healing jaw, and fought off a self-satisfied smirk. There he was, the obstinate [member="Kaine Australis"] patting the bed and keeping watch over both mother and child. Penance was shaped by the warmth of his body heat, and although she could have easily gone back to her room in the Palace, an inner desire to avoid isolation stroked across her cheek with a soft pink hue.

She didn’t want to go back to her room, where Kaden once laid on ‘his’ side of the bed, where they had their pearl-like string of moments before the collision separated for other trajectories. Besides, Yasha thought, Adara was sleeping.

The baby was actually sleeping safe and sound.

“Just until Adara wakes up… I, um…” Deflating, the exhausted new mother wriggled her way into the place on the bed Kaine patted, using Kaine’s arm for a pillow. She tucked her back against his chest, a slight shiver to her from the room’s chill and her healing injuries. Grabbing at the blanket, Yasha tried and failed to cover them both to the shoulder, instead only tangling up her arm before yanking it out in mock-frustration.

“Dang. You are warm… no fair... that's cheating.” Nuzzling in, Yasha wriggled to lie on her other side, facing Kaine. Her eyes lidded with fatigue, mumbled nonsensical words in Epicant, her native tongue. She tucked her forehead under Kaine’s chin, one last effort the use of a finger to poke at Kaine’s healing jaw. Her hand slumped across his face, the Infernal’s lungs in and ex-haling in an exhausted sleep.
 
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