Blind Justice

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    A one x one between @Lillian Gray and @Kitsunemage
    The original rp thread can be found here.


    The world is strife with war, both sides unsatisfied with the bloodshed on the other lands. No one remembers entirely what started the war, both sides blinded by propaganda and the honeyed words of the highest politicians. There is the Republic, a force of seemingly inherent good, with the government at its center to control its members in an organized manner. They stay in Lindon, their capital in the West. On the other side are the Rebels, a misfit group of men and women who fled the tyranny of the Republic. Too long they waited for revenge, that they must now claw for with their own bare hands.

    Some say it was simply corruption which created the group of Rebels, others are on a wild head hunt for only the top of the Republic food chain. In any case, justice is demanded, but a war must be one to decide the fate of the world.

    This is the story of two girls, twins, Misses Theresa and Jessamine Astor. They were raised together in wealth of the Republic, brought up by a prominent name, Astor. Both knew the comforts and glory of having a spare coin in their pockets, and never forgot that their word was what mattered most. It was because of their bloodline, their lineage, it was wealth that made them important.

    Tessa has long stayed true to her Republic government, while Jessie strayed after their mother's death. Destiny forced them together, and put them in a unique situation. Tessa has been given her mission, pose as her twin sister on the Rebel side, while Jessa sits pretty in training for her. Simple, right?

    Tensions rise, while twins explore an opposite world long forgotten to each other. Here, where justice must be exacted on some party in one form or the other, all are blind to the big picture. Between Republic and Rebel, someone must pay.​
    #1 Lillian Gray, Jan 9, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2015
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    The Republic
    Lindon: The Republic Capital. Surrounding lands are held by the force as well, reaching only as far as the central continent, around the city of Aoke. The city prides itself in being the height of technology and offers many luxurious comforts to its residents. Only the members at the height of societies wealth are allowed to live within the center of Lindon, and must be of some military standing.


    The Rebels
    Bexley: The Rebel Capital. It is not common knowledge where the actual capital is, but this is the Republic's best guess. The most traffic goes in and out of the mountains nearby, but much of the intelligence suggests its location is here.



    The Republic (open)

    Air Navy Officer,
    Theresa "Tessa" Astor


    Age: 24

    Height: 5'8"

    Eye Color: Silver Blue

    Hair Color: Blonde

    Personality: Quiet when she was young, Tessa has since matured a careful confidence. She approaches every situation with thought, and care. Sure of her next move, of how to help the people around her while taking the least risks. Respected by her peers, but often overlooked due to her preference of talking one on one, rather then speak to a group.

    Bio/History: There was nothing lacking from Tessa's childhood. Her mother and father loved her, she never lacked for anything, and she and her twin were inseparable. She can fondly recall the ridiculous adventures she had always been dragged on, from scaling the neighbours fence, to breaking into an abandoned military bunker. Not that it had ever been her idea- her twin was the one who came up with all of the wild ideas. She was the one who kept them both out of trouble at the end of a mischievous day.

    It all changed quickly, when her mother died.

    Her family fell apart before her eyes. Her mother, faded from every photograph. Her sister ripped from the corners- Her fathers face scratched out in ink. She fell to the only thing she could think of, to keep what remained of her family safe. The republic military. It gave her a way to hold onto her ideals. To keep the people she cared about safe- despite what others may think of the military after the unfortunate incident. Not that they would come out and say it- but it was an open secret, with all of the rebel propaganda circling the cities close to the incident.

    She rose in ranks quickly, her firm belief in doing the right thing trumping many of the power hungry contenders for positions. She knew it was only because the upper ranks believed her to be malleable, easily controlled. Let them think. She would be patient, bide her time, and make the world a better place. One step at a time.

    When Tessa isn't on the deck of whichever airship she may be posted to that day- she is almost always in a library. Any library, with any book she can get her hands on. It didn't matter if it was the fundamentals of alchemy, some complicated mechanism based tome with more diagrams then words, or a love story saccharine enough to bring tears to the eyes. If it had words she would read it. She never dresses up beyond her normal military uniform, and is never seen without her compass, a gift from her sister the year before they separated. Simplicity suits her.

    Through the use of alchemy, Tessa found she had a talent at manipulating air flow with the use of heat. Creating mirages, deceiving vibrations, and minutely changing the weather in small confined areas. Her preferred element is fire.

    Navy Captain, Dael Cooper
    Age: 27
    Height: 5'11"
    Eye Color: Grey
    Hair Color: Dark Brown

    Personality: Dael has never had much tolerance for stupidity. Luckily he makes up for it with an overwhelming compassion, forgive and forget is one of his personal motto's. Still, that doesn't stop him from running a tight ship- with everyone doing the jobs they were hired for- no more, no less. Quicker to smile then to frown, he's more contemplative then outgoing. Willing to let others take the spotlight and merely observe.

    Bio/History: Dael had always had a bit of a hero complex. He takes every death personally- and strives to make up for every tear shed in battle. Not a disposition particularly wanted in the upper echelons of the military. Still, there was no denying his skill in battle, or his crews willingness to follow him to the grave and beyond if he so required.

    He was born in a military family, raised for the position, trained for the position- and ultimately obtaining a high rank in the military mere years after graduating from the academy. He wowed those who watched him with a charming smile- and a sword that quickly cut to the core of all the problems he faced. He doesn't say much- then again he's never had to. With an ability to almost emphatically understand people he meets, he knows how to find the centre of a problem.

    Tactic minded, and strategy oriented, everything has it's own little place in his mind. Perhaps that's why he's never had much affinity with alchemy- preferring the cold hard blade of a sword, or the sharp retort of a pistol or canon. Crude ways to fight, perhaps, but effective. And much less permanent then some alchemical means of fighting. You can never 'unsee' a man melting from the inside out.

    When not in uniform, He prefers casual loose clothing- White dress shirts and plain pants. A little known fact about the prestigious captain is his love of air gliders, and any height with a view. The sky had always been his dream, and now that he's achieved it he'll never let it go without a fight.

    To make up for his lack of alchemy, Dael often carries a small arsenal of weapons. From a sword permanently belted to his side, to the knives hidden in various places around his body. Accompanied of course by small, hand sized canons, and a few more..miscellaneous weapons. It takes him quite a while to disarm.

    The Crew

    Thatcher, designated scout on the Esper. Relied on for his stealthiness- despite being rather tall. Good with daggers, and alchemy involving illusions of any kind.

    Buri, a serious girl who doesn't say much- naturally rude and dismisses anyone who doesn't first prove themself. Despite this, she's an incredible weaponsmith.

    Hewlett, traditionally carries a war hammer to battle, and is surprisingly strong despite his short stature. Also the ships carpenter.

    Quinn Skyre, Theresa's friend from her posting with the Alexandrian fleet. A perpetual womanizer, will flirt with anything in a skirt, but has a soft spot for the serious blonde officer.

    Doctor Freemont, the Espers only Bio alchemy specialist. Works hard, and worries about her patients. Well trusted and liked by many of the crew.

    The Rebels (open)

    Rebel Captain Jessamine "Jessie" Astor

    Age: 24
    Height: 5'8"
    Eye Color: Silver Blue
    Hair Color: Blonde

    Personality: A lively character, she finds a way to fit herself into any situation and make it her own. She loves the idea of an adventure, and follows through with most if not all her crazy schemes. Within the Rogue community she is well known and loved by those around her, praised for her knowledge of the Republic Military.

    Bio/History: From the time she was a child, Jessie knew something was wrong with the world she lived in. Everything seemed perfect, and that was just it, there was no fun in anything. There was no trying, no effort, nothing. If she wanted to become the top official in Linden? By the Gods, she could have done it with the snap of her fingers.

    It was so...boring.

    Not to say that she didn't appreciate the life that was handed to her. Posh parties filled with high standing officers of the Republic Military. That was never the life for Jessamine though. She never wanted to be one of them, a soldier fighting some invisible war. She wanted to see that the world was not run by a government with a mindset for war with unnamed countries across the seas, not even a drop of knowledge beyond their existence. The Rebels cause matched their own. The Republic's demise, and a world returned to its people through a new leader.

    At the age of sixteen she left, abandoned her family and twin sister to join the Rogue Airship Captains across the continent. She never looked back. The reason some ask? Jessie never hides her disdain for what happened. Many citizens just outside the Capital became strangely ill with a disease no one knew. The symptoms ranged from sores on the hands and arms, to bloody chunks of lungs being hacked up on the streets. It was a grotesque problem until the military stepped in, but not before her mother died at the hands of the disease. Jessie called out her suspicions, as did many others, that it was the Republic's doing. They'd been testing in chemical warfare and it had gone too far. In any case, it was the last straw for the girl.

    On a regular day, she can be seen sporting tight fitting leather corsets, varying from under bust get up, to rather elegant corset tops. One thing is the same, a shortblack jacket she's had since leaving her home (grateful it still fits to the day). Jessie bears no trinkets from home, she let them all go into the sea when she left. Of course, that's what she tells her Rogue brothers and sisters. On her middle finger on her left hand sits a gorgeous puzzle ring her sister bought her for their birthday.

    Her taste in alchemy revolves around deception, using steam made from the air in order to get around the rather uniform ways of fighting the Military is used to. Water is her preferred element.

    Rebel Captain Clint Anderson

    Age: 29
    Height: 6'3"
    Eye Color: Dark Brown
    Hair Color: Black

    Personality: A stern and disciplined man. His humor is good when the mood is right, but typically he is a serious individual. He lightens up around his cohorts and fellow rogues, but has a hard history with the military he prefers not to talk about. The topic turns him instantly sour.

    Bio/History: As a child, Clint grew up just east of Lindon in Farnworth. He idolized the Military and its proud branches, the Republic it was called from time to time. Navy, Army, Scouts, name it and the boy could list off the highest ranking officer and the uniform as if it were on his own back.

    The years were not kind to him, however, and through time he learned to despise the city he once believed to be a work of God. At the age of 20 Clint was married to a young girl as a dying with to both his parents, lost to a rogue raid. They were both avid Military supporters and hated the rebel group in the East. This young girl, Melissa, was only 17 at the time of their union, but it mattered little. Within a year of their marriage, they were to have a son. But it was never so. In another supposed raid, Clint watched his wife die at the hands of a man from the military. The Military he had once revered. As it turns out, Farnsworth was to be eradicated to cut the losses of the small island community.

    The apparent raids, which happened on a yearly basis, were an act of not the Rebels, but the Military, and he was outraged to learn the truth. They wanted to thin the population so as not to be burdened by the liability of the small town.

    Clint switched sides then and there, vowing never to return to the Republic which abandoned him and his wife. Since then, he's found comfort with the new rebel group, and believes more in their cause to see the Republic shattered, and the lands returned to the people.

    He is often seen in a brown leather jacket with a small brass locket around his neck. No one knows what significance the item holds to him.

    His alchemical abilities revolve around mending and repair of the human body, a difficult road, one learned through years of tedious practice in place of the lives he could not save during countless raids in his youth. By studying the makeup of the skin, bones, and internal organs, Clint is able to make quick mends which aide in stabilizing critically injured men and women. Besides this, he sticks to brute force to overpower his enemies. Although it would be easy for him to simply break apart the bone through alchemy, he likes to keep the fight clean and fair.

    Most of the time.

    The Crew
    Deik Mallone is the scout of the Taivas. He's a bold man, in need of adventure else he gets bored.

    Not much of a talker. Rodney Pale does what he's told, and he does it well. Most of the thoughts he has revolve around how to improve his weapons. Is most often seen in his quarters, working on repairs for various crew members.

    William Varez is ever the drunk, but a fabulous cook. Suspected of being gay, not that anyone cares.
    #2 Lillian Gray, Jan 9, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2015
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  3. This rp has transferred over from another site, all original posts can be found here.

    Chapter One, black
    3rd Month, 15th Day


    "I said I'll be fine." Words spoken hours prior turned to horror.

    What was supposed to be a simple pit stop in Mirefield became a nightmare for the Captain of the prized Taivas, second to none among the rebel crew. Although small, her speed was top notch among other such sky vessels, airships they were commonly referred to as. Jessamine Astor had the privilege of leading a crew on the famed ship, aided by none other than Clint Anderson. The Bear. His size had earned him quite the reputation among the Republic forces.

    But, such tales were not how Jessamine's adventure began.

    She raced down the streets of Mirefield, a large trading post in the center of the country, common ground among the Sky Navy and Rogue, that day was an exception. They'd been looking for a Captain to take advantage of, and boy had they found her. Lucked out on the twin of a prestigious Captain of the Navy. For a moment she'd almost been mistaken for her sister, but the sarcastic tone and skittish nature set off the alert of the Republic forces.

    It all went downhill from there. She could run fast enough, her crew didn't know where she was, and finally she ran face to face with a Republic soldier and it was lights out. Ill prepared and out of breath, he managed to overtake the woman, spirits were high all the way back to Lindon.

    "...sixteen counts of evading the law, four counts of treasonous slander-" The offier read a long list of crimes, some brought about humorous memories from the past, others unfamiliar to Jessie's ears.

    "Oh, please, you'd better add a few more hundred counts of slander. Only four?" The woman laughed, although bound tight in thick iron chains, standing flat against the stone walls of the Lindon prison cell. "I curse you at breakfast, lunch, teatime-"

    "Four hundred counts of slander, one count of abandonment of the home country of Netima-"

    "That was almost ten years ago, eight, you can't seriously still be trying me for abandonment?"

    The officer pinched the bridge of his nose, counting from one to ten to control his anger towards the rogue woman. She only laughed in response to his remain calm. It only made it worse. The next thing she remembered was a stern kick in the ribs, and a thick slap against her face.

    Lights out.

    3rd Month, 16th Day


    To say she had been surprised, would have been an understatement.

    Covert operations, under the cover of night. Being roused from her bed, told she had one hour to prepare herself for emergency re-posting; well, that had been something she had come to expect. Travelling via the Navy's fastest air vessel, built for a small crew of ten people- a little surprising, but still well within the events she had conceived as possible. But this...?

    Coming face to face with her sister- her twin, her other half- after years of separation... It was like finding a piece of herself again. Only to have it cruelly ripped from her chest upon realizing the bars that separated them, and the bruising on her face.

    "Forgive my frank speech, sir. But what in the hells is this?" She couldn't tear her eyes away from her sisters form, shackled and imprisoned just beyond her reach. What a cruel joke of fate. Like two sides of an odd coin.

    "I had thought, it was fairly obvious. Your sister, one Jessamine Astor, I do believe." Tessa had to bite her tongue to keep from snapping. Obviously it was her sister, but what was she doing here? Why was she behind bars?

    Why did they have to meet again like this, after eight years of thinking she might be dead, on opposite sides of cold steel bars?

    "Oh, I'm sorry sir, are we using my name now?"

    Jessamine spat at the door to the cell and began to thrash against her shackles. She, too, was surprised to see her sister standing so close, but it didn't come as much of a shock to see her in Lindon. After all, it was the Republic's capital, and their home. Seeing her here really wasn't as surprising as she thought.

    "Quiet, you." The officer spat right back.

    "There we go, you, I'm a little more familiar with that one." Jessamine chuckled and retreated back towards the wall. The officer was so easy to mess with, his face red and taut from all her mockery.

    "I heard there's an important job for you. One for her as well." The officer sighed at the mention of the Rogue, again. "I've just received the files, here you are."

    He handed a thick folder to Theresea and snapped his hand back against the cold bars of the cell after watching Jessie rattle towards them. It wasn't an escape attempt, not even an act of rebellion, she only wanted to adjust her sore limbs. She was ninety perfect sure her rib was broken, and had Clint been there he would've patched her right up, but he wasn't. He was probably worried sick somewhere else.

    "You're going to try and put me to work? Ha!" Jessie scoffed. "Fat chance."

    "If you fail, the Republic will kill you, and your entire crew will be wanted as criminals, your ship taken, and shame brought to your family."

    "Shame?" She outright laughed in his face. "What do I care for shame?"

    "And if you, Miss Theresea Astor fail, the Republic may soon well fall."

    For all the time that had passed... She hadn't really changed all that much. It was almost enough to bring a smile to Tessa's face, had it not been for the...circumstances they were both under. She caught her sisters eye- the betraying twitch of a smile at the corner of her mouth giving way to a worried frown. She wasn't a stranger to getting her sister out of trouble... but after all these years?

    Who knew what she'd been up to?

    Well, Tessa would find out soon, when she opened the thick pad of papers. What job could possibly... Dread coiled like some thick slimy beast in her stomach. If she hadn't know better, she would have sworn she'd turned green.

    "Jessie... What have you..." Her brows furrowed in concentration, teeth sinking into her lower lips as her eyes- achingly similar to that of the girl in the cell- scanned the papers rapidly.
    "No. There has to be some kind of mistake. You must..." The officers look stopped her words cold. Across between smug confidence, and some sickly joy at her disbelief.
    "I haven't been trained for these kinds of missions. There's no way I can do this." Please don't make me do this.

    "You are the only person who can do this, and it is not an optional assignment. Her life depends on your compliance of course- her offences more then add up to a death penalty. We're willing to be...lenient, if she can be of some use to us."

    In all the years they'd been apart, she'd never seen a look like that on her sister's face. Horror, pure horror rippling through her very being as she scanned over the document. Jessie had no idea what it said, an inkling of an idea forming in her mind, considering their twin status, but nothing substantial. Nothing concrete.

    "Your orders are to take your place among the famedTaivas and impersonate your twin sister, discover what you can about the allegations of a plan to take priceless artifacts from the Esper." The officer read his order as if he'd been mumbling it under his breath all night, it was concise and to the point, a bit of boredom in his tone.

    "And won't they notice when the lovely Captain goes missing?" Jessie rolled her eyes. The Navy hadn't thought that part through at all. "Theresea Astor is a popular name among the Rebels you know, and her sudden disappearance will warrant some suspicion."

    "That is why you will be taking her place."

    I'm sorry, what did he just say?

    "Yes, because that'll work, I'm not playing this game."

    "Then you both die." The officer said plainly, shrugging his shoulders. "Either way, you're to be executed."

    Jessie couldn't believe her ears. She'd been caught, and there was no escaping the claws of the Republic now. They had her sister wrapped up in their schemes, that she couldn't handle. Although abandoned the Rogue didn't dislike her sister, she still harbored a special kind of love, one which could only be held by twins. They looked alike, did things, everything together, it was Jessie's fault really for abandoning her instead of taking her along.

    At the very least, she might as well see her through to the bitter end.

    "No. No, you can't do this. This is extortion!" Tessa dropped the file by her feet, chin lifted into the air proudly. By the gods, she was an Astor- and she wouldnot cry.

    "You don't have a choice. You can take this, or die. Well, who are we to say that you two little devils haven't been working together all along? For all we know you're quite practiced at pretending to be one another." He didn't say it. Didn't have to say it. Tessa knew what that might mean. Without probable cause to deny it, she could be charged under the same crimes as her sister.

    Crimes of which the penalty is death.

    "Now, You two might as well catch up. There will be plenty of work to do- you leave at 1200 hours." The officer stepped out of the room, his boots echoing down the stark halls and empty cells until they faded from all sense of hearing.

    "Jessie- ... Jessamine." She turned to her sister helplessly. She might not be the one chained, but she was shackled all the same. Her fingers drifted down to a golden chain, hanging from the pocket of her uniform. It was well worn, obviously from the way her fingers rubbed the links while distressed- betraying her worry and the strange sense of helplessness in her eyes.

    this wasn't right. But she had no other choice.

    "You still carry that thing around?" Jessie's voice just barely echoed across the cell, pained and honest now that the officer was no longer around. Her ribs ached and her face was just starting to numb from the beating she'd received. She knew she looked horrible. There had to have been blood on one of her eyebrows, she could feel it crusting in her eye.

    It wasn't to say she didn't have her own trinket. Still shining on her left hand was the ring she'd received from Theresea, it glowed softly in the dank room, reflecting what little light there was.

    "I'm not going to let you die." She mumbled. "One of us has to get out of this, hell, it'd better be you. I'm the one who got us here in the first place."

    When it was just the two of them, Jessamine could relax. Well, relax as much as one could chained to a wall. She spoke earnestly, so afraid that she'd lose her sister and be alone in the world. The reverse was probably true, and it was selfish to wish to keep someone else alive to avoid being without them.

    "Maybe you'll come over to my side." She teased.

    That made her smile. At least a little. The silver glint of the ring she had given to her sister, still proudly born on her finger. She pulled the compass out of her pocket and popped the false back, flashing a small painting of the two of them when they were younger- both grinning brightly, hair slightly mussed as though they had just gotten back from some kind of mischief.
    "Like I could ever leave it behind. At least I never get lost now."

    Theresa leaned her forehead against the cold bars, closing her eyes to try and pretend that maybe they'd met under different, better circumstances. It couldn't work, with the dank smells of the cells around them and the hint of copper in the air. Blood.

    "Please. We're both going to get out of this- no matter what I have to do to make it happen." It was more of a plea then an assurance, but it was the best she could do under the circumstances.
    "What...What is it like on that side?"

    "I think that'd be the point of a compass." Jessamine laughed, too girlish and sweet for someone of her position, but it was her own.

    The falsities came next. They'd both get out of it. Sure thing, Tess, let me just wave my magic wand and deem myself an ally of the country. She wouldn't say the words out loud, but her twin might have had some idea of the thoughts in her head. It had been eight long years since they'd seen each other and neither of them seemed to have changed one bit.

    "On this side?" Jessie scoffed once. "It's no different then yours really. There's an order, a system, we have people who follow us, and those who don't, but that's probably not what you're asking, is it?"

    She shifted, the chains rattling heavy against the cold walls. Jessie wanted something to drink, wanted Clint to fix her bones, where was the bastard? It had taken him an awful long time to find her, if he had, there was still the chance they wouldn't brave the Capital for their Captain. One huge chance. It was simply too risky, and far too soon.

    "My side knows what we want." She said coldly. "We don't need a war, but with the title of Rogue, or Rebel on our heads, it's impossible to avoid combat. I have friends just as you do, but the ideals are backwards. The Republic only wishes to conquer the territories before them, but us rebels would see peace between the lands. It's not ours to own, not yours either, we all live in this world and it's not going to change any time soon."

    "They'd see us burn. Rot in our cities. And for what? A little bit of peace?" Jessamine grew angrier now that politics were involved. "I'm about to die, no matter what I do. Yes I've killed men, and yes I've abandoned the Republic, but I'd rather die for my cause than in one of the bloody Sky Navy's ships, wearing a false uniform like you do."

    "And take me with you?" The words were barely a whisper, but held more then the simple question they proposed. Would she really take them both down, drag them both into the depths of hell for her own pride?

    "Look, I don't know what's happened to you since you left. I can't begin to try to understand. But I won't let you die. No matter what i have to do." Tessa straightened with a sigh, long fingers combing her hair back from her face in a time worn gesture she'd used since their childhood.

    "What can you tell me about the leaders of the rebellion. You know I'm going to do this regardless of whether you agree or not- so the least you can do is give me enough information so I don't kill myself." Her eyes were steady, free of any doubts. She wasn't the little girl who simply followed her sister any more.

    "You're with them, why bother caring about who comes with me." Jess growled back. She hardly cared now that she was locked in a cell. They'd grown up half a country apart and their ideals had certainly strengthened. At her request? Jessie burst out laughing.

    "You think I'm just going to give you information on the leaders just like that? Hello? Rebel Captain here?" Jessamine giggled through a broken face. "I'll give you their names, the ships come with that. But there's not a chance in hell I'll be giving you any information today. For all I know this is a ploy to get information, and I won't be a rat."

    There was Alex Wolfstein in the North, riding theBane through the skies. Several Captains took refuge at Almora Mountain, finding the peaks and caves most essential for evading any Navy attacks. The huge caverns towards the South made for excellent cover. Their names and ships would remain a secret, Jessie wasn't about to tell her own sister even. To the East was a man called Thorn, just that, his ship was titled Fair Lady, and he'd once shared the story while Jessie had to work with him a while back. The two, Wolfstein and Thorn, commonly worked with Jessamine, a bit of a crew formed, an alliance between the three in a world of Navy and Rogue.

    But the most important man of them all remained in Bexley. He wasn't any Captain of the Sky, but a man of tact all the same. He led many ships, and so he was called Captain, but he never once touched the helm. His name was common among even Navy scum.

    Zachariah Beckett. Even Theresea had to know his name.

    "Would you like to tell me anything about your Navy Captains?" She taunted. "Oh, wait, no. It wouldn't be relevant to my position, pretending to be a soldier in some Godless war."

    All information she had already known. There were always skirmishes with the rebels- the captains and ships easily identifiable. It would be the first priority of course, to learn the names of the men wanted by the capitol.

    And Jessie...Jessie had changed so much... Not the anger in her, no that had always been there. It had just come closer to the surface. It was... hard to conceive how callous she was being. How cold. Tessa's hand tightened on the bars, sparks igniting from the metal plates of her glove and throwing the room into sudden relief.

    "I have no problems telling you about our officers. No doubt it's things you already knew."

    There was Alta Briggenshaw, captain of the Eschalon, a relatively small ship focused on quick hit and run missions. She wasn't very well known for her battle skills- but her nimble flying made her the perfect choice to patrol the mountainous areas of the country. There was the Dawn Flyer- one of the biggest ships in the fleet. It boasted the largest crew in the navy, but didn't lack in speed. It could be a little cumbersome to turn, but captain Dalton made up for that with a gregarious amount of weapons. Probably one of the better known captains was Eduard Raegin. He was boastful, hard to get along with, and commander of a small fleet of experienced battle ships. The Alexandrian fleet.

    "And of course, captain Cooper. I've never met him personally, that should make it easier for you to pass as me... You'll...I'll be stationed with him, starting tomorrow." Tension crackled between them like low burning coals, it made Tess want to curl up in a corner and long for the old days.

    "If you don't do this Jess, it's as good as letting me die... and I know some small part of you still cares about me.Me, not the navy officer, but your twin. I can't do this without your help. Please."

    "The Republic lies and twists the truth. You're in there, and I'd do anything else but give you information which would lower the Rebel stance. Do you understand what that knowledge would cost us?" Jess pulled hard against her restraints, seething with new anger.

    They'd taken her. Taken her sweet sister and put the same lies in her heads. The Republic was not a strong empire, not an understanding nation with an ideal on its shoulders, no, she couldn't see that. Not while the Navy colors still were emblazoned on her chest so pridefully.

    "I honestly don't know much about the mission, rightfully so." She explained. "Because here I am, captured, a weak position for the Rebels wouldn't you say?"

    Jessamine was done talking to her sister. Such a reunion was for another day when her ribs weren't aching and her head throbbing. No, such reunions should never have happened at all. There wasn't a connection left between them other than blood which could coerce Jess into giving up locations and names of the top Rogue officials. Not even death.

    "Get out of my sight." She hissed. "It's easy to be me, that's all you need to know. Just don't do what you'd want to."

    "Then I suppose I should go on a murdering rampage, and leave you here to die!" Tessa snapped, the words like bitter ashes in her mouth. "That's the opposite of what I want to do right now, but I suppose that's what I'll have to do to be you." Tess waited for a few more moments, but her sister was stubbornly mute. That hadn't changed either. Once she got an idea in her head- she was impossible to deter.

    "Fine. I'm going." Tessa slipped a small piece of paper out of her back pocket, eyeing the picture with frayed edges- and the happy four year old boy giving the camera a wide gap-toothed grin.
    "You can keep this. His name is Johnathon. Though I suppose to you he'll just be another family member to leave behind." Tessa let the paper slip through the bars, flutter through the air and come to rest just beyond Jessa's reach.

    She left without saying goodbye.


    "Are you ready to leave?" Tessa glanced up at the navy official, feeling strangely exposed despite wearing more layers then normal. She felt almost...naked without her uniform on. She took the time to adjust the hem of the cuff of a worn leather jacket.

    "Not really. But I'm going anyways."

    It was still the same day, time passed slowly, Jessie was never able to grab hold of the picture her sister had thrown at her. At first, the meaning of her words didn't make any sense to the Rogue, but set in once she spoke of family. They had a brother, and while only shared by half of their blood, he was family all the same.

    At least I won't be a disappointment to him, he doesn't even know me.

    When morning did come, 1200 hours on the dot as the official had said, Jessie was released from her cell and forced into a military uniform. Her body ached under the tight corset and thick material, she inwardly cursed the design of the tight fitting top. The officer never greeter her though, nor did her sister, it was goodbye before they'd even had the chance to say it.

    It was a different officer, a woman in fact, who came to escort her from the cell and to a shining airship. She hardly took a second glance at it. The Captain, she'd be meeting him soon enough, might not even know that the girl he had on his ship wasn't the famed Theresea Astor, but her sister. An impostor for the sake of keeping face.

    She prayed to whatever Gods would listen that Clint would see right through the facade.

    Chapter Two, black

    3rd Month, 16th Day

    “Sir! The new recruits are coming in today, did you want to greet them?” Dael looked up from his pistol, one small streak of black across the bridge of his nose making it quite obvious exactly what had been on his mind. That damnable jamming problem he’d been having.

    “Right. That was today, I’ll be down in one moment, I just have to...” Dael reached for his coat, frowning when he finally realized how grimy his hands had become. He picked up an already greasy cloth with a sound of disgust.

    “Yes, sir. I’ll gather all of the new recruits in the mess hall.” Dael quickly located some water to clean his hands, threw his coat over his shoulders- and meticulously buttoned the front closed. A quick scan of his quarters revealed nothing out of place, and the streak of grime on his nose as he caught his reflection in the mirror.

    He was still in his quarters when the communicator went off- spitting out a small piece of parchment. It wasn’t any good for long ranged communications, but for short ranges like this? It certainly had it’s uses.

    “Theresa Astor?” Grey eyes scanned the crisp parchment. Blue eyes, Blonde hair, 5’8”. In training for captain.
    All words that stood out to him on paper. They'd never sent him a captain trainee before- something about not being firm enough with the recruits. Interesting.

    After the entrance speeches- something he’d memorized from the military handbook, and probably something the majority of the recruits had no doubt heard numerous times- the assignments were handed out by his second- Evan. All except for one.

    Theresa Astor. She was easy to pick out- one of the only women in the new recruits, one of only two blondes, and the only blonde with blue eyes. Not that he had really needed the description. There was just an...edge about her, something that made her stand out from the rest of the eager recruits fanned out in front of him.

    “Welcome aboard, Miss Astor. You’ll be working with me.” Dael held out his hand, a soft smile capturing his lips.

    Jessamine listened to the speeches, already bored after a few words in. She tuned out the rest of some man's words. He was taller than her, brown hair, but from a distance she couldn't tell much else. He had some facial hair and a spot of grime on his nose which she couldn't ignore. A messy guy? Was he just lazy? She hardly had time to think about it, he approached her soon after his speeches were over.

    She held out her hand to shake his own, thankful for the small luxury she was allowed aboard the ship, a thick black coat she'd grown attached to as a teen. It covered the bruises from the beatings she'd received in the cell. Another minute or two and she was terrified of passing out. Her ribs were definitely broken.

    He was polite enough it seemed, but he was still with the Republic, and she couldn't hide the slight disdain on her face, a frown at the edge of her lips which was quickly replaced with a pained grin.

    "A pleasure, Captain." Was all she said. She hardly caught his name. Cooper, something Cooper. "Dael Cooper, correct? I like to keep things straight."

    Not entirely a lie.

    Dael lifted one eyebrow, taking in the worn black jacket. Not exactly military make, but functional enough. Also not in keeping with someone who likes to 'keep things straight'. Normally the people who follow the rules follow all the rules. Unless she was just incredibly good with names and faces.

    "That's right. I hear from the brass that you're well on your way to a promotion. What kind of experience have you had leading before. I'm afraid I haven't gotten around to reading your full file yet. I didn't want to be late for our first meeting." He motioned to a side hall- one that would inevitably lead them to the bridge of the ship. Evan would bring the rest of the recruits down this way soon enough for their first official tour, but he wanted to give the girl a chance to see the area first.

    That and there had been something off about her smile. Not necessarily insincere, but certainly not genuine. He would have to keep a closer watch.

    "I rose through the ranks quickly I guess." Jessamine laughed awkwardly, a pain growing in her chest, to keep the conversation flowing while she racked her brain for some memory of her sister.

    She trained hard, she was good at that. Tess read like crazy. She was kind, much kinder than Jess was appearing, she'd have to lighten up the attitude before it stuck. Her moral compass always pointed her in the right direction, that's what really got her through. Where Jessamine would want to take down the enemy, she was right alongside them settling for peace or reasoning out a fair solution.

    That's what she was good at, and now Jess would have to be, too.

    "Excuse me." Jess mumbled awkwardly, pulling a latch of her corset uniform off to give herself room to breath. "As far as my leadership skills go, I've had opportunities to command through being an Officer. My morals are better than my aptitude for mischief it would seem."

    Did that sound like something Tess might say? She had no idea.

    She followed him to the bridge and took in the sight. It was identical in layout to her own. A chair for the Captain to sit, able to command on all sides. It was on a raised platform. Behind her was a pathway which led out towards the deck, and around towards other cabins within the airship. Beyond the Captain's seat were various different men and women, watching gauges, transferring information, sending signals and letters and everything of the sort. Yet, it was deathly quiet, they all worked in uniform silence.

    "Stunning." She murmured.

    "Isn't it?" He lowered his voice as well, leaning over so Theresa could still hear him well, without risking disrupting the work of the various people around the bridge. No doubt they were all focusing on attaining lift-off. A more difficult feat then one might imagine with such a small area for landing and take-off.

    Dael stepped up to the controls, nudging a few levers and toggling a few controls.
    "An interesting choice in alchemy specialization. How did you come to that decision?" Dael continued fiddling with the controls, turning the soft hum into a shuddering beneath their feet as the engines kicked in.

    Crap! What does she specialize in?

    Without causing too much suspicion, Jessamine smiled to buy herself some time and tried to ask some exploratory questions when it came to her. Air, manipulation. Duh. It was the same thing Tess practiced before Jessie left, they both enjoyed manipulating the air around them, only the base came from different areas.

    She'd really have to practice her fire alchemy, water was more her taste.

    "I like to think that it's the same as the air, it changes, allows us to fly." She said vaguely. "After spending so much time aboard the ships, can you really not see where I was inspired?"

    Jessamine laughed politely, then she coughed, and kept coughing, and her lungs felt like they were on fire. No one had treated her kindly being held up the cell, the bruises and scrapes along her skin were cleverly hid beneath her uniform and the coat (and now she was just plain hot) but nothing could heal broken ribs but medical attention.

    "Excuse me, again, my apologies." She wheezed, trying to keep her focus on the controls instead of her chest.

    "Woah now- Larson! Take the wheel." Dael tugged on Theresa's arm carefully, pulling her off to the side as one of the other officers on board scrambled to take over steering, it was a routine take-off. He would be fine.
    "Are you alright? Stupid question." Coughing usually indicated lungs- but her voice wasn't hoarse, she wasn't wheezing. Her chest then? She had attempted to adjust her corset...

    Her coughing wasn't getting any better. Chest it was then.

    "Excuse me for this." Dael pulled a small knife out of a sheathe on his belt. Nothing more then a small pocket knife really- but still effective as he sliced up the front of the corset- leaving her in a light cotton under shirt. Standard military attire. He immediately shrugged out of his jacket, draping it over her shoulders carefully.

    "I'm fine." Jessie panted. "You also owe me a new-" A groan of pain. "-corset."

    He'd placed a hand on her in order to cut open the corset, and she had to bite her tongue to keep from crying out. The pressure was lifted soon enough, but the pain was still there. Up close, it would only be more obvious there were some cuts on her face. The girl had tried to hide them best she could with her hair, but there was one on the corner of her lip which was hard not to notice.

    "Really, please, I'm-" Not fine.

    Jessie needed to make up a story fast, something which wouldn't cause any suspicion. But she didn't have enough time. There wasn't a good enough excuse without admitting she'd taken a serious beating. That wouldn't bode well for her sister, putting a major injury on her record, yet having no problems from then on.

    Think, you fool!

    "I was just on the wrong end of a training exercise." She chuckled, a bad idea, more coughing. "Show me the rest of the ship." Jessie ordered him without thinking of her place. Anything to keep going, to keep up the facade. She was doing a shitty job so far and it'd only been a few hours.

    "Well then, why don't we start with the medical bay? We've got very nice facilities there- and a few spare uniforms as well. On our way you can tell me exactly which idiot couldn't control himself enough to prevent such injuries." His tone was jovial enough, in fact from the outside he might even seem cheery. Up close it was easy to see the lines of tension in the corners of his eyes.

    "What were you practising? Baton work?" He didn't say anything of the sort to the girl in front of him as they marched down the halls- people naturally moving out of his way with a respectful nod- but the medical bay could also double as jail cells if need be. One of the few rooms in the ship with no way to unlock it from the inside.

    He didn't know a single training instructor who would let things get this bad, and not send her to the medical bay for immediate attention.

    Now was as good a time as any to blame the officer who held her in the cell that same day and night prior. It was his doing after all, and watching him squirm, trying to keep her intentions hidden while defending himself? That was something she wanted to see.

    "Earth alchemy." She lied. Officer Nordy, she'd caught the name sometime before leaving, grateful now that she could use it as an excuse. "Nordy, that was his name, he sent a pillar at my chest."

    Would it work? Would he believe her? So long as no one took a good look at her face, then she'd be fine, that's what Jessamine figured any ways. Only when they arrived, a polite woman greeted them, and her hands were instantly on the girl's chest, feeling for any signs of distress upon explaining the situation. She introduced herself as Doctor Freemont.

    Instead of reaching for a thermometer, the woman touched her tan hand to Jessie's forehead and was shocked to find a rather large scrape running beneath her bangs. Already, she'd been caught, and she wasn't proud of it, not one bit.

    "My word, Miss Astor, are you sure it was alchemy? This looks too straight, too clean." The woman, the doctor, shook her head. She went back to exploring her chest just on the skin, frowning as she found a few broken spots. "And your ribs, at least two broken. What have you been up to?"

    "Officer Nordy...he just." Jessie let the words hang in the air, leaving their imagination to fill in the rest for the time being. "He couldn't control himself." Not a lie. "I tried to tell him, but I think he got a little excited." Not exactly a lie either.

    "I can't believe this." The Doctor shook her head, and for a moment, Jessie thought she was exposed as a fraud, but the good doctor was only musing over the pain inflicted on her body. "Lucky for you, I practice the bioalchemy. It's not going to cure you, but we can at least get the bones back into place for now."

    “Nordy.” He was familiar with the name, and it was true that the man used earth based alchemy…but it had been a long time since any man in the wardens sect of the military had attended any training sessions outside of their own division. Theresa, at least the Theresa on paper, had been stationed with Captain Hewlett- not too far from the capitol, but certainly far enough to make any accidental training session with the wardens improbable.

    But not impossible.

    “Well, I leave her in your capable hands, Doctor Freemont. Get some rest today, Officer Astor. Training will wait.” And give him the opportunity to do a little pre-emptive research. She certainly didn’t seem to be lying- he could usually tell, so she was at least telling a partial truth. But it was always better to be safe than sorry. That and he couldn’t deny he was curious about this girl who was sent to him for training. He offered her a soft smile before he turned to leave, with the distinct feeling that he was forgetting something.

    As it usually did, the bioalchemy took a few hours to properly heal a pair of broken ribs. It wasn't to say that Jessie was used to breaking them, just that the process was similar. She'd seen it a thousand times from her first mate, Clint. Although, he was admittedly better than the doctor here, she couldn't exactly speak up and point out a few minor issues with her alchemy.

    Jessie spent the night in the sick bay, locked inside one of the rooms it made her feel on edge. If anyone found out the slightest bit of information as to who she was, it would be all over, and she was already contained in the cell. Her ribs ached, and her face was sore. The good doctor hadn't dared to use alchemy on her face, somewhat of a small blessing.

    She didn't know what to do, what to think. That's when Doctor Freemont came over to the door and opened it without a word. She eyed Jessie suspiciously, glancing from the girl, to a paper in her hand.

    "Your medical records, they just came in today. I'll be seeing you again for a check up, is that clear Miss Astor?"

    "Yes." Jessie gulped. What did she know?

    Doctor Freemont waved her forward and gestured towards the door. "You'd best take a break from here, it can get a little stuffy. I'd be happy to show you to your quarters, but I'm a little busy as it is, please understand." The entire time she spoke, her eyes were glued to the paper in her hands, but Jessie hardly cared to notice before she was bounding out the door. Only a minor pain throbbed in her chest.

    She had to wonder though, how Tess was holding up.

    Chapter Three, black


    3rd Month, 16th Day

    The plan was simple. From the capitol where Jessie had been detained, Tess was to travel by airship to the border close to where Jessie had been found. It was supposed to be easy- get a little roughed up, hide out in a small abandoned house for the remainder of the afternoon until night fell, and then sneak across the border and hope to run into some ‘friendly’s.

    Meaning the rebels, of course.

    This whole ridiculous thing was one giant NTK operation- a need to know basis only. No one on the ground knew about it, apparently. Hence why Tess was currently running for her life. She slid further into the alley, trying to control her wildly beating heart. Air puffed between her lips, forming clouds of vapor with every strained breath in the uncharacteristically cold night. It’s a good thing the clouds hadn't decided to open up yet- knowing her luck she’d get snow, then her position would be all but betrayed.

    She supposed she should be thankful for small favors, but she really didn't feel all that thankful.

    Shrinking even further back into the shadows of the alley, Tess prayed that the pounding boots of her followers would pass by her position. She watched wide-eyed as blurred shadows darted by the alleys mouth. Seconds counted by like the beating of her heart.


    The last heel of a boot disappeared behind the wall that concealed her from sight.


    The boots drew further away- clattering down the street perpendicular. Yes, please just keep going.


    One pair of boots slowed to a stop.

    “Sir?” Young, Male. Hesitant- so not the on in charge.

    Oh goddess no, please keep going.


    “Shouldn't we check the alleys too?”Tessa stifled a groan in her arm, closing her eyes to keep a small trickle of blood from blinding her. Her entire body tensed, ready to bolt at the first signs they were heading back in her direction.


    Tessa crouched low to the ground, her muscles trembling with the effort to stay still when her instincts were screaming at her to run- run as fast, and as far as she could.

    “Jessom!” Tessa flinched, nearly saying ‘to hell with it’ right there. “Get back in formation! We’re going to lose the damned rat!”


    Tess sank back into the alley, finally releasing the breath she hadn't known she’d been holding.

    “Fuck.” She ground out,
    covering her eyes with one hand. That had been too close for comfort. Now all she had to do was get out of this gods forsaken city, and find the rebels without getting caught...

    One step at a time Tessa. One step at a time.

    Where the hell did she go?

    It was on every crew member's mind. Their Captain hadn't come back, it had been two weeks she was in the city, and no one knew that only days prior she'd been taken by the Republic, flown to Lindon, and replaced by her sister. Not a person knew where she was, and it was Clint's decision to finally land and explore. Mirefield, that's where she was headed.

    Still, no one could find her.

    The sound of Navy boots against cold stone made its way to Clint's ears and he ducked behind alleys with practiced skill, casually maneuvering the streets like a true rogue, keeping far from trouble.

    "Shouldn't we check the alleys, too?" A voice called far down the street, and Clint prayed they wouldn't. Luckily, his prayers were answered and a superior officer called the man back into formation. Amateurs. He thought to himself, a rebel would have gone swinging down the alley with every weapon he had. It was easy to hide in the shadows.

    "Fuck..." Came the echo of her voice.

    He waited a moment, clutching the locket around his neck for luck before bolting towards the alley, checking once for the familiar blonde head of hair, before scooping the girl up easily and charging away. Clint was a heavy man, a huge man, and he didn't want to be seen running by the Navy. He needed to get far away.

    With his girl over his shoulder he ran, people jumped out of his way, terrified that he'd perhaps come after them next. It all looked so suspicious from the sidelines, but those who knew the rebel presence simply laughed at the great beast of a man. The Bear, Clint Anderson.

    He didn't stop until he was near the loading dock, screaming orders at the crew in the dead of night. Lights flickered on the small and sleek airship, the Taivas. What she lacked in size, she made up for in speed and cannon fire. The crew was a small lot of a mere thirty men. Thirty was all Jessie and Clint wanted on board, all they trusted.

    "I found our Captain!" He bellowed across the deck, cheers erupted from the small crew.

    An abrupt start to a covert mission.

    Well. That had been easier then expected.

    Not that she should really be praising herself. She was here- alive and without having to kill anyone. All because of a simple mistake- she'd let her mouth get the best of her. It happened to be fortuitous this time... but next time? it could very well cost her her life. To be honest, when the tall, bearded man had come around the corner and tossed her over his shoulder- she had been about ready to stab him. Or burn him.

    she was glad she hadn't.

    Now there was only the question of...what to do? She didn't know how to act what to say. What would her sister do?

    "Ow. Put me down you brute." Her words were laced with laughter, her hand lightly smacked the mans back. It was hard to feel lighthearted when her heart wanted to drop into her stomach.

    "Brute?" He laughed loudly, not caring now that they were aboard their ship. Although she held the title, Clint himself had the privilege of owning several others. He simply didn't have the aptitude for flying, directions were useless, but he was capable of steering. A strange man no doubt, but his skill was still clear.

    "She called him a brute, she must be mad." A man snickered at the both of them.

    Clint set her down gently and picked up her limbs, starting with her arms and working his way towards her face. She looked fine, better than really, she was missing a few scars. It seemed odd, but not unexplainable. Still, Clint huffed and let her go, ruffling her hair a bit before crossing his arms thick across his chest.

    The crew dispersed and returned to their posts in order to get the airship in the sky. Clint turned to his Captain and eyed her up and down, already he could tell that something was up. "What happened?" He asked quietly, not a hint of curiosity in his voice, not really, but Jess would know. She'd know he was dying to understand what had happened to her in the last two weeks.

    And the lying began. What could she tell him? Oh hey, I’ve only been working as a navy officer, and the only reason I’m here is because I’m being forced to pretend to be my sister under threat of death. Because that would go over incredibly well. Add to that how familiarly he was touching her…she had to fight the urge to squirm under his hands. He was a rebel- and he was huge, but…She was supposed to be Jess. So he wasn’t actually touching her, technically. It helped that his touch was almost clinical- similar to that of a doctor…

    An idea sprouted in her mind. It was plausible- it would certainly account for the amount of time he said she had been missing, and maybe even help explain away anything else she might slip with. But this was hinging on so many things- that this man in front of her was someone close, fairly high up the ladder…

    She’d have to trust her instincts on this one.

    “…A lot,” Tess broke off eye contact, chewing on her lip nervously. How the hell did she bring something like this up? “but not here. I need your help with something. They-“ Tess took a step forwards, heading for one of the only doors leading further into the ship. A wave of dizziness cut her off- making the room spin. She stumbled, wavering as she tried to catch her balance. Damn. That sound alchemy user must have done more damage then she thought.

    "Easy now."

    Clint held her up, placing an arm around her to support her, hand resting just in the crook of her arm. He didn't say much really, his size did most of the speaking, but typically in combat. On board, the silence felt foreboding and malicious to some. The crew was an exception of course. Had he known this wasn't the real Jessie, it wouldn't have startled him to find out he was scaring her.

    He took a glance towards the deck, counting the crew with his eyes. Most of the men would be there, playing a sort of pirate to the ship. It was unnecessary to have even thirty aboard, anyone not at the controls felt pointless, but Clint wouldn't say anything. Just more prying eyes and ears.

    Without a good second glance he pulled her aside into the nearest room, her personal quarters. His eyes narrowed and he examined her once again. Her ring was gone, the typical shadow around her finger all but nonexistent on her hand.

    "I'll ask you again." He spoke low. "What did they do?"

    This isn't my Jessie.

    "Short range tracker. Get it out." Tess shrugged out of her jacket, baring her arms and shoulders to the air on the ship. It wasn't necessarily cold on board, but she couldn't get rid of the shivers that travelled up her spine and sent goose bumps over her arms. She held out her right arm, pointing out the small mark on the surface of her skin at her shoulder. It was crudely healed- obviously recently planted.

    "I don't know what they can hear, but we need to get rid of it- and get out of here." Please believe me. Please. Tess felt like her heart would get caught in her throat, like it might burst out of her rib cage and leave her at any moment. She had to be convincing. But how could she be? It had beenyears since she'd seen her sister. And the only reference she had aside from her younger, happier days, were moments full of spite and hatred.

    Hatred. Jessamine hated her. Her Jessie...

    Tess had to bite her lip to keep from crying. To keep from screaming at the injustice of it all. Her fist clenched against her leg, throwing the tendons in her hand into shadowed relief. Gods. Not even ten minutes and she was already breaking down.

    Clint didn't question her, but it was clear as day something was off. The tracker was recently planted. But, there hadn't been enough time for it to have happened. Trackers weren't in the arm either, not Navy style, no. They would've put it somewhere else, somewhere less noticeable.

    He was suspicious. Very, very suspicious.

    The man pulled a short blade from his belt and slit open her arm easily, it would sting. He plucked the tracker out with his bare hands and was quick to recover her arm with his hands, mumbling to himself as the alchemy fixed her right up.

    "That is not what I meant." Clint had his hold on her, and he pulled up her hand, her left hand. "Your ring is gone, you're more cautious than to get caught by Navy for two weeks, and the moment you knew that tracker was in your arm you would've pulled it before I could."

    His eyes narrowed, his grip tightened. Something wasn't right, he didn't know what they'd done. Brainwashing? Some sort of twisted trick?

    "What did they do to you, Jessie?"

    He knew about the ring.

    She couldn't even find it in herself to be surprised that he knew bio-alchemy. There had been something about his touch that just seemed to make it fit: despite his terrifying appearance. But all of that was just noise in the background. He knew about her. He knew about Tess- unless she had never explained it to him...? Somehow, that hurt worse then having to bear her hate.

    "They took her." Tess clenched her hands together, trying to stop them from shaking. It wasn't working.
    "They took her, and they changed her." They filled her with anger. "and I'll never get her back." If I tried, she'd only hate me forever.

    Clint kept his arm on her, shaking it slightly in confusion. "Took who?" But he already knew the answer. The girl before him had to have been her, the only other person it could've been, Gods strike him down for being so slow.

    Theresea Astor, Navy Officer, Captain in training.

    "Listen to me, and listen well." He instructed her. "I'm no fool, I knew you weren't Jessie the moment I picked you out of the alley. The crew? They are fools." Clint let go of the girl's hand on knelt on his knees in order to feel more at level with her face. "But you have to tell me, now, or I'll drop you right back off on the ground and see to it I find Jessie."

    "Then she's as good as dead." There was no way to put it nicely. If she couldn't infiltrate the enemy base... then Jessie was dead.
    "And so am I."

    She couldn't think. couldn't breath. All she knew was she'd failed before she started. Of course Jessie would make close friends, people had always been drawn to her like flies to honey. The only close friend she had ever she wouldn't dwell on it. Thinking was hard enough- and damn it, why was he still touching her?

    "They have her stationed as me on a navy ship. If I don't get the information they want? They kill her. If she fails at passing as me? They'll kill her. And probably me for good measure when everything was said and done." Now... she really didn't know what to do.

    "Fucking..." Clint growled. There weren't words to describe how he felt.

    Jessie had been caught so easily then? When he got her back, that was a story he wanted to figure out. Still, he sighed and let go of the girl in front of her out of pity. He didn't mean to scare her, she looked so close to tears. Clint stood back up and rubbed his hands along his face, scratching at his beard for a while. What was he supposed to do?

    "Theresea, alright?" He gestured his hands towards her, clapped together in a silent prayer. "I don't care who you are. Don't care what you do, so long as you can at least try to be like our Jessie. The crew loves her, and you're lucky for that. They won't notice if you act funny, not at first, but you'd better damn well pick up on when you get a funny look."

    He cursed under his breath. What else? What else could he do to keep this girl in line?

    "Don't screw up." He warned her. "Jessie's our sister here, and I won't see her dead. We'll get her back, alive, and then we'll decide what to do with you."

    And then we'll decide what to do with you. That was soincredibly reassuring.Tessa didn't know if he realized how that looked from her perspective. Looming over her, tension rolling off of him in waves- and basically saying, 'we'll use you until we have her back. Then we can dispose of you if we want.' A bubble of laughter rose in her chest, one she stifled with a hasty hand.

    "You don't need to tell that to me. I came here with the intention of saving my sisters life. I won't do anything to jeopardize that. I won't let you do anything to jeopardize that..." An amusing thought, if looked at on a purely physical level. A girl almost half his size threatening him?

    "Now if you'll excuse me... I.." What, I what? What else do I have to do? Who else could I talk to?

    "Would it be strange... if I asked you what she was like here?" How did she act around her crew? Was she the same cheerful mischievous girl she'd known, or was she full of anger and pent up fury?
    "Was she happy?"

    "Of course she's happy." Clint scoffed. "But I'm not telling you a thing. You and the Navy? You screwed up big time, followed the wrong crew."

    The anger came, as much as he hated it. The pain, loss, the emotions swelled through him like a storm, on the brink of destroying the lands he called home. Clint clutched his locket to calm the swell. He wouldn't give her the satisfaction of being able to call him a brute again. That wasn't what the Rogues were. They weren't uncivilized men with a cause for destruction. None of it was true.

    If only she really understood.

    "If you think for once second I'm letting you out of my sights though?" Clint gave her an icy stare. "You'd be wrong. You're Navy. I'm not. I don't trust you, that's something you gotta earn. I can put the Navy in the past if you show me you're worth it. You don't earn that by thinking I'll screw up an attempt to save my Jessie's life."

    My Jessie. Always my Jessie. Clint had the phrasing set in his brain. They weren't lovers or even romantically involved, she'd just always been his. Fast friends from the moment they'd met, she'd been taken by the same force which took his wife. It shook his core to think that an organization could be so skilled in one thing. Taking. Destroying. Pain.

    "Let's try this again, alright?" Clint growled, wanting to put the past aside. "My name, is Captain Clint Anderson, under Jessie Astor of the Taivus. You're Navy. And you won't learn a damn thing without my permission."

    "Well then, Captain Clint Anderson." Anger pushed her to her feet. It didn't do much to improve her intimidation, but there was no way she could sit anymore. She had to move- walk, pace, run- Just something before she did something incredibly stupid.

    Like punch him. That might be just about right up there.

    "I apologize for being soo presumptuous, in assuming that you might want to tell me what my twin sister... What myTwin was like while she was here. After all, it's only herlife on the line if I can't accurately portray her." Like shards of ice- that's how she'd heard her glares described as before. Like shards of ice driven under the skin. She leveled one at the man in front of her, crossing her arms over her chest defensively.

    The sarcasm in her voice was so obvious, it could almost be called mocking.
    "So please, grant me your permission to know the gods be damned names of the people who are supposed to be mycrew!"

    "You're not getting anywhere like that." Clint's eyes narrowed.

    He was larger, stronger, and had far more information about Jessie than she could even hope to know. Clint would go so far as to say he even knew a few things about Tess himself. Jessie talked about her childhood when she got drunk, especially with Clint, and the things she had to say about her sister weren't always kind but there was information there at least.

    "Jessie a smart girl, puts the crew above her in a fight. Did you not see the scars? She's defended each and every man here, saved their life, at least once." Clint spoke quietly, his voice void of any anger to keep the situation as calm as it could be. "But she's also a hot head. If she wants to do it, she will. If she gets angry, she just does."

    "As for the crew, there's only a few names you need to know. There are thirty men aboard, including us." Clint moved away from Tessa and rummaged through the bottom dresser drawer in Jessie's room. There was something there the girl would need to have. "I'm the medic as well as first hand, if you need something, it's me you go to. Deik is our scout, Rodney our weapons expert. The cook's name is Will, and you're the only female on board, so get used to it fast as you can."

    Once Clint found what he was looking for he smiled sadly. A stupid request Jessie always made before she left the ship on her own. Take my guns. She'd ask. The importance of her hand crafted twin pistols was too important to risk capture. Always too risky she'd say.

    "And these." He pressed them into Tessa's hands. She would need them in order to really pull off Jessie. "Don't lose them. Jess and Tess. And don't ever talk to me in that tone again, not about your sister." Clint pulled his hands away and headed for the door. "One works with fire, the other steam, I think you'll know which is which."

    She named her goddamn gun after you, after all.

    Well... Tess had never thought she'd see the creation of these particular weapons. A smile spread across her face, at a memory of two young girls, blonde heads pressed together as they scribbled in the sand together. Prancing around a beach and mock fighting, with many shouts of 'pew pew!' and 'you're dead! No, you!'. She couldn't believe the sight in front of her. She carefully placed the guns on the bed behind her, hastily wiping away the lone tear that escaped.

    "I know what you probably think Captain Anderson. I can't even begin to put myself in your shoes. But I never forgot about her. Never. I'm not here as a navy soldier, or a rebel. I'm not here for you, or for me. I'm here for her." Tess offered Clint the worn compass, false back opened to reveal the small painting of them both, smiling. It was obviously loved, the edges of the picture frayed as if often taken out and looked at. The chain was shined with frequent rubbing, and the metal warm from the heat of her palm.

    "Keep it for me. You can give it back when we get her out of there alive."

    "My Jessie never called me Captain. You'll do the same." He told her, not a hint of harshness in his voice, but more of a tip if anything. "And I'm not taking it, that burden is yours to bear."

    Clint exited without another word. That's just how he was. When he wasn't upset with a certain Navy girl on board, he was silent. The giant didn't speak up much except to offer wise words or the occasional directional hint. He really was a brute, to his dismay. It's just how he was though. Clint Anderson, stone cold since the day he left home.

    "So you found the Captain?" A joyous Deik clambered down from the roof of the ship, just next to an old fashioned wheel. It's purpose was long wasted on pirates of old, more for show than anything else.

    The Taivas had the appearance of a small pirate ship. There were no masts, not many at least, because to say there were none was false. Two main rods shot up into the sky, ropes and sails hung off of them like any normal ship, only the sails had been upgraded from the older times. Solar powered, and technically advanced to respond to controls from within the ship.

    "Yeah, I found her." Clint played along with the dirty secret.

    It was going to be a long, long day.

    3rd Month, 20th Day

    Tess had known it would be hard to pretend to be her sister. but not this hard. She had to completely erase all of her instincts- go against everything she'd been taught, or learned on her own. She had to rely on some vague sense of herself that she hadn't really touched upon since she was a young girl- before her mother died.
    Before Jess abandoned her.

    It had only been a few days, and she was already exhausted. Every day she had to paste on a whimsically cheerful smile. She had to be exuberant, loud- joke with people she'd never met before and make it all seem natural. When all she wanted to do was sink into the background, observe those around her, and curl up with a good book. If it hadn't been for Clint, discreetly pointing her in the right direction when she fumbled... Tess shook her head, trying to keep thoughts like that from poisoning her mind. She couldn't let herself fall in a rut.

    Tess pulled her errant hair back out of her face, tucking it behind her ears to keep the high winds from blowing it back into her vision once again. She'd taken to coming out on the deck whenever she wanted a break- whenever the strain of ignoring everything about herself made her feel like snapping. The wind was bracing- filling her lungs and emptying them at the same time, forcing her to narrow her eyes until the horizon was a mere line in the distance, shrouded by her lashes and the clouds.


    Here, she could be herself. At least for a little bit. Just for a while.

    "You're doing alright." Clint strode up beside her, admiring the view. He saw it every day, the sun on the horizon, laced with thick white clouds which could easily show a day's weather if needed. But it was never any less gorgeous.

    Then he walked away, as if he hadn't said anything at all. There were plans he had to make, in secret, because of their lost Captain. He had to do it all as if there wasn't a thing wrong. Outing Tessa meant outing Jessie, too, because the crew would only try to throw her off the deck and down to the land below. Dead Tessa, failed mission, dead Jessie. It all revolved around whatever mission she was blabbering on about. Clint didn't even know, as much as he wanted to, it was simply too hard to get the information from the top. They weren't connected there.

    In the privacy of the kitchen, he chatted lightly with the cook. They'd need to make a stop for food, something easy. This time he wouldn't let the girl out of his sights, even if it wasn't Jess, the crew wouldn't forgive her if she got lost again.

    Tess smothered a laugh with one hand. Watching as Clint walked away over her shoulder, one hand wrangling her hair away from her face. His comments had been like that for the last four days. Rarely had she ever gotten more then a single sentence out of him. Normally resorting to some serious interpretation when all he had to offer were two or three words.

    And his ability to tell what was on her mind was almost uncanny. Uncanny, and incredibly unsettling.

    Still... Tess was glad Jess had someone like him at her side. He would keep her out of trouble as much as possible. That wasn't saying much for Jess... She always managed to find the thickest chaos to sink herself into. But at least he'd have her back.

    "Time to rejoin the fray." Tess muttered under her breath, walking back into the ship with a last lingering glance at the horizon.


    "So what else were we landing for?" Tess directed the question at Clint. Not that someone else couldn't have answered the question for her, but she'd decided that she'd try to make him talk as much as possible. Call it her petty little revenge. Or maybe just mischief- she couldn't tell at this point.
    "Just food?"

    Tess carefully guided the ship into it's landing position- barely a shudder travelling through the floor as she touched down in a clearing on the outskirts of town. She was glad that she'd taken the time to learn to fly the smaller ships, being posted in the Alexandrian flee as she had been for so long. She couldn't imagine not being able to fly a ship and having to try and pretend to be Jess.

    "It really is just food." Clint answered. He waited for the airship to be firmly planted on the ground, hovering close over Tessa's shoulder in case the worst were to happen. Still, he had to say he was pleasantly surprised to find out she really could fly the ship. There was little hesitation, and she landed without so much as a thud on the upper decks.

    Off the ship, Clint had the list, and he had the make believe Jessamine at his side. His eyes stayed watchful, always glancing to her to make sure there was still a blonde headed girl at his side. It was hard to forget that she wasn't the Jessie he was used to, but an imposer, a twin, only looking for rogue information. Happily he would've thrown her into their small prison cell, had it not been Jessie's life on the line.

    With no other prying members of the crew, he stopped and pulled her hastily into an alley. Again he lowered himself to be just eye level with her, as if she were a child. "Now, tell me exactly what you're looking for." He ordered her.

    "Well, glad to see you still have the same wonderful manners." Tess muttered to herself, carefully brushing off the arm of the jacket he had grabbed when he cornered her into the alley. Really, she was getting tired of him constantly looming over her like she was some kind of venomous snake. That and it irked her- how short she was compared to him. Guys with that much muscle shouldn't be allowed to grow so tall.

    "I was looking for pomenana's, they're really good- and I've been having this particular craving. You know I really am capable of looking for myself." Tess crossed her arms across her chest (An action that was beginning to feel irritatingly familiar), refusing to be intimidated or looked down upon. Well, she couldn't refuse to be looked down upon. He managed that quite well by himself both literally and figuratively...
    But that didn't mean she should let it get to her.

    "Aside from that I suppose food, since that is what we're here for."

    "Are you really that dense?" Clint asked her seriously. "I meant, what does the Navy want, what do you, by extension, want?"

    Pomenanas. She turned a conversation from military need into what she desired for her dinner. The fruit was expensive and not something the crew could typically afford, but maybe it could be used as a bargaining tool. It only depended on how badly she wanted it. Her sister's life for some fruit.

    "I don't plan to fly around in circles until you find your pockets filled with knowledge of our side, but I will if you don't know what you want." He warned her. "What kind of information do you need, where are we going,Captain?"

    No games. No nonsense. He wanted to get straight to the point.

    "I'll not let her rot on your side. We're bartering now, I'll tell you what you need, and we get Jessie back."

    "Well, unlike some people I am not a mind reader." Tess started by pointing out. Honestly, what other conclusion did he expect her to come to? Talking about food, in a market, and suddenly he asks her what she wants? That could be taken in so many different ways!

    "And you know exactly what kind of information they'llwant in exchange for Jess. Even then, do you really think they'll simply let her go? No, they're going to throw her in prison to rot for the rest of her life. Our best chances of getting her out of this are while she is still pretending to be 'me'" It didn't matter what crimes she had committed, or even if after all of this they went on to continue being on the opposite sides of a war. She had her own ideals, her sister had her own ideals, and there was no way she could change them easily.

    Life in prison wasn't a life. Not the way she had seen prisoners being treated.

    "Leaders, locations, weaponry, numbers- they wanteverything. But most of all? They want the head of the snake." Probably not something he would be willing to give up. Not even to save Jessie, considering how astute he was on withholding information from her.

    "I've been trying to think of something- anything to get her out of there in tact. But I just... I can't get around it. If I make a wrong move, she's dead. If she makes a wrong move, she's dead-and by extension me." The crew would tear her apart for pretending to be their captain. Even if they somehow didn't, she'd never be able to go back to the navy.
    "Every instance I can think of where we get close to her...just...ends in failure."

    "They want everything in exchange for one Rebel Captain? Are they all so ignorant there? We aren't going to trade much for her. Jessie is high up, sure, but she's not at the top by any means."

    She was popular enough to be caught and recognized, infamous enough to be placed in the middle of a trade between sisters. It was so convenient, and maybe it was the only reason she'd been traded. Convenience. The luck that twins would be on two sides of a war, it was indescribable.

    "If we don't think of something she's dead." Clint growled, the anger rising again along with fear. It was just like Melissa all over again. His family and friends, it was just like then. "I will not let them take her, do you understand, now think. I'll exchange information if I deem it safe enough for you to know, but no top dogs, no weapons, nothing! I want her back, and we're going to do it without losing any heads."

    Clint wasn't being cruel. He just knew, the life of one Rogue in the eyes of them all was nothing. Nothing on both sides. A single soldier didn't win wars, and she'd be lost of not for her sister. They had to do something, and Tess wasn't giving up anything useful, that was for sure.

    "Exactly. This isn't about the rebellion and the navy right now. Any information we give them? They'd consider it a show of faith. You forget that the idea was for me to be aninfiltrator, no one was supposed to know I was learning anything. It's not going to be an exchange- they're... They're blackmailing me." Tess spat the words out, lifting one hand to cover her eyes.

    "They aren't going to ask for an even exchange. They expect me to do my duty to my country, until I am physically unable to do so. Either until the rebellion leader dies- or I do." That was it. There was no reasoning with the law. The law is blind- but it's just. If one sacrifice is required for the good of the world... one girl for the head of a rebellion..

    They wouldn't hesitate.

    "Are you willing to give information that will get you nothing?" Tess stared up at him, challenging him with her gaze. So similar to Jess, Jessamine, not willing to yield on this. "Consider this my show of faith. I'm not going to accept information that would put you at a disadvantage- with nothing to gain." True, it would bring her one step closer to making sure Jess was safe... But something inside her knew Jess would never forgive her if she did. Jess was either getting out of there alive- or she would die. She wouldn't settle for a half life trapped behind bars.

    "Hm." Clint smiled. She gave up information so easily. Her mission, her goal, and she was ready just like that to turn on her country because of her sister. "Either you're the best liar I've ever met, or you're more of a Rebel than you think."

    The man walked away laughing at her. Information then, was it? Clint could provide something. He could lie. He could cheat his way until he got Jessie back, they only had to find out where she was. Perhaps that was something the other Miss Astor could share. His boots thudded against the ground, his hand waved to her, his back to her face.

    "Come on my little Rogue in training, we need food."

    At least she's useful.

    No. Maybe she was wrong about him. There was something so smug in that look- so incredibly superior. Maybe it was her imagination, or her intuition on the fritz... but it had never lied to her before. Her show of faith was wasted on him. Pasting a wide grin on her face, just edging on sarcasm- something she'd perfected over the last couple of days regardless of her frame of mind- Tess followed after Clint.

    "Well, I hope that includes pomenana's. I think I saw some at the stand just down the street." Well, all she could do for now was wait. Wait and collect information by her own means- talking to the crew, familiarizing herself with the ship. After all, there was nothing wrong with the captain looking through some paperwork, was there?

    At the very least, she might be able to tweak his tail a bit.

    Clint went about his way collecting food for the trip, laying down gold when it was needed, crates of food piled left and right into the small ship. One of the downsides of having a small ship meant no space to store anything. Luckily, there were ways about the ship the crew understood. The best hiding spots, hidden boards along the bottom, they always found a way.

    There was one small purchase he made alone, an extension of peace between him and the Astor girl. He left a small bunch of pomenanas. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Chapter Four, black
    3rd Month, 27th Day

    "Well, it certainly looks better." Doctor Freemont shrugged, her lip pursing contently at the job. Jessie hated the feeling in her ribs. Whatever she'd done, she was no Clint. Her bioalchemy was too precise. Instead of feeling for the individual's own body structure, she must have been working straight out of a textbook. All the same, the help was appreciated.

    Jessie wasn't having a hard time blending in. No one really knew her, so it was easy to pretend to be her sister. She'd learned so much more about her, having looked at her own file after a particularly bad day. After having screwed up so many reactions she had to know what her sister was really like.

    With the file in memory, she felt better out on deck, mixing in with the crew. Not that she was making any friends. It was easier to pretend to be a good girl by being quiet, giving only well thought responses.

    "It feels better." She lied. Still irritated by the uniformity of the heal. "Are you sure there's nothing you can do for...well."

    On her forehead was the budding scar of a nasty cut from the bars of the cell. The doctor wouldn't heal it, something about not wanting to mess up the facial structure. Apparently it was forbidden in the Navy. Odd.

    "I will not. Now, we're done for today, light exercise, as usual. I can report your progress to the Captain if you like."

    "That's fine, I'll tell him myself." Another lie. "But thank you."

    "Knock knock." Dael rapped the open door with his knuckles, straightening from his position leaning against the door frame. He flashed both girls in the med bay a small smile, staying in his position at the door.
    "Hope I'm not interrupting the check up, doctor."

    Doctor Freemont shook her head, checking her clipboard once more with a small frown.
    "No, we just finished up captain. I would make her take it easy for another few days until we're sure everything is all healed up." With a final click of her pen, Dr. Freemonts clipboard fell back to her side.

    "Fantastic. Then I'll need to borrow you for a while, Miss Astor. Walk with me to the bridge." Dael offered his arm, angling his body to walk out of the doctors office.

    Reluctantly Jessie stood and followed Dael out the door. She didn't want to accept his hand, the rivalry running deep in her veins, but that wasn't who Tessa was. So, 'Miss Astor' accepted his help and walked out after him. Since the broken ribs were discovered, she hadn't had to wear a tight corset, settling for a thick black vest, the men's uniform. It fit much better than the women's uniform, but it certainly set her apart.

    "I'm doing fine." She huffed. "Nothing for my face, so, you'll have to pardon the scar." It was nasty, ragged, and certainly not clean.

    What did he want though? She tried to recall if she'd said something odd, but nothing really came to her. Not yet. Maybe it was just about her training as a Captain. Little did he know, Jessie was already full well capable of flying an airship - of any size. Tessa on the other hand had very little experience in that matter. She could fly, yes, but what could she do?

    "What is it you need from me, sir?"

    "Well, since you're mostly recovered now, I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize you with flying some of the larger airships. You've piloted small crafts before correct? In the Alexandrian fleet?" Well, it wasn't really a question. Dael had finally found the time to completely read Theresa's file. She had led an..interesting time in the navy. Worked under three different captains, piloted three kinds of craft- all small, but the variety would certainly be useful.

    The strangest thing being, she had never had any reports written up for fighting. Either taking training too far, or brawling outside of the field. Yet here she was, healing from broken ribs and various other injuries. Facial, torso- both of them would have been good cause to end any sparring session.

    "We've also had another couple of recruits come on from the fleet. I'd like you to lead the tour for them." Dael opened the doors to the bridge, using it as an excuse to let Tess take her arm back. He'd been getting nothing but vibes of discomfort.


    Jessie took back her arm and walked briskly out onto the bridge. She wasn't entirely uncomfortable, the added support lifted a small load off her chest. Once she was standing on her own two feet, the pain came back, and she groaned in misery. Let's just get this over with. She wanted to say, she would've said it had she been aboard her own ship. Training recruits, showing them around, a waste of time if you asked her.

    "Thank you." She said politely.

    The air hit her face like a fresh bath, cleansing her skin from the hot uniform. This was where she belonged, outside at the very least with the wind on her skin and the clouds at her feet. She stretched her arms up once, teetering slightly as her chest contorted with her new position.

    "You want me to lead a tour?" She giggled, too pleased by the outside to act the part of her sister. "Aren't you worried I'll scare them off with my big ugly scar and my men's uniform?"

    "Well, I'm sure they'll toughen up after the first hour or so." His eyes glimmered with a hint of mischief- betraying the fact that he was joking with the blonde girl in front of him- still beautiful despite her injuries and state of dress.
    "I'm sure they'll be absolutely charmed."

    Briskly Dael led them both over to the controls- spread over a large area in an almost circular fashion, with a swivel chair in the center to make motion range easier.

    "Okay. Things you probably already know- the sails here on the esper are not solar sails, unlike a lot of smaller craft." Dael indicated the sails visible from the control area. Two on the front of the ship, one smaller in the front, another larger behind it. Directly behind them there were also a few sails. All of them made of a strange sheer fabric that shimmered in the light of the afternoon.
    "Instead our solar power comes from more traditional panels on the sides and front. Maximum solar energy at all times save noon."

    Gesturing now to the wing-like structures on either side of the ship, decorated by a multitude of something that look like propellers... only facing the wrong direction.
    "Then we have our wind turbines. It took a while to get them positioned just right-" Dael cut himself off with a cough and a sheepish smile.
    "Well, the wind energy keeps us up all hours of the day. Once she gets going, she'll never lack for power. Now, you can't see it from here, but we also have turbines placed at the bottom of the ship as well. So, in the case we lose power, and start dropping altitude..." He turned, looking at her expectantly, waiting for an answer to his statement-posed question.

    "They'll charge up, and we get back in the air." Jessie answered easily.

    She sat down in the chair, giving a half spin for good measure. Comfortable, she made a note of getting herself something like a Navy issued Captain's chair. Although, she'd probably be spending a lot of time in that spot as a trainee. She reviewed the controls in her head. Her ship was a lot smaller, but the mechanics were the same, they were simply lacking a few sails on the Taivas, while theEsper had different means of power. Lots of means, honestly.

    The turbines, solar, everything mixed together with the wind itself would prove efficient in transferring all that pent up energy into a means to move. Jessie thought it was a marvel, and good information to bring home with her.

    "Will I be attempting to pilot any time soon, or would you rather I stick to tours?" Jessie turned her head slightly to ask, so her lips were visible past the platinum hair. "Oh, sir?" She added the formality before she forgot.

    After everything he had read about Theresa Astor, paper perfect officer in the army, not once had he imagined she would be the type of person to forget formalities. Not that he in particular minded- the navy officials had always told him he skirted the uniformity of the forces too many times for their liking- but it was certainly something to note. Especially after the disturbing news he had received from Doctor Freemont the previous night.

    "No need to fret, Officer Astor, we don't often get new recruits. These are just the stragglers that couldn't make it with your group due to mission orders. Although I do believe there are-"

    "Holy- Tessa?! So that's where you've been you- er..." The man who had jogged up to the girl and man at the console abruptly stopped, catching the glance the captain sent in his direction. Now that he could see it was the captain of course- the star badge on his chest had been hidden from view.
    "Shi- uhh," He snapped a salute, trying (and failing) to keep a sheepish grin from overtaking his lips.
    "Officer Skyre reporting, captain Cooper sir!"

    "Well, as appreciative as I am to have crew members who already know each other, this is a deck, not a playground."

    Mother of God, no! Who the hell is he?

    Jessie scrambled to make a reply, but they were stuck in conversation anyways, which gave her time to silently slink out of the chair and next to his side. Her stance was still awkward, healing from broken ribs was never easy after all. She still gave him a salute to be polite, even if it was unnecessary, at the very least to hide the gash in her forehead.

    "It's nice to see you again, Officer, but the Captain is correct." She nodded seriously. "We'll have to catch up later, for now, I suppose- ah, I must be giving him the tour, correct, Captain?"

    She made sure not to miss a single title that time, she wouldn't forget, the mistake could have cost her gravely. No one could know. Not a soul could know she wasn't really Tessa, but in fact Jessamine Astor. Twin, rogue, and wanted. Then there was this new recruit, Skyre, he already knew Tessa and that would prove to be a problem. She'd have to be extra careful.

    "Perhaps it'd be bet if you led, Captain Cooper." Tessa suggested, leaning over slightly to feign pain, trying to get out as quickly as she could. "I'd like to return to ask Doctor Freemont a question, if I may be excused, sir?"

    Dael frowned, nodding his head at Tess in assent. He hadn't realized she had been in so much pain. Perhaps he should have continued to assist her, despite her discomfort.
    "Very well, then we'll make the medical bay our first stop and continue on from there." Dael turned to organize the rest of the recruits, leaving Officer Skyre- Quinn Skyre, to help Tessa. He certainly seemed to know her, even if she had stayed rather professional.

    "Tessa!" Quinn stepped up beside Jess, hand gently resting on her shoulder.
    "Are you okay? I don't think I've ever seen you have to go to the med-bay before- not unless there'd been a serious skirmish. Don't tell me I missed the party." Quinn offered Tess his normal charming grin- something that accented the single dimple he had on his cheek, and he claimed drove the ladies wild.

    He used it on Tess at every opportunity.

    That and he was just a naturally cheerful kind of guy.
    "Want me to carry you? You know I wouldn't even charge you"

    It wasn't so much of a skirmish as it was a brutal beat down. But, he was close enough to the twisted truth that she'd just roll with what he said. It was so much easier that way, letting everyone else fill in the blanks.

    "I broke some ribs in an accident. It's nothing serious, and no, I'd rather not be carried thank you."

    Jessie waved her hand at the boy. The crush radiated off of him obviously, which was starting to creep her out unfortunately. His single dimple was always leaned toward her. Was he doing it on purpose? She had to think, Tess wasn't likely to accept his advances, that much was for sure, otherwise Officer Skyre would've known Tessa was on board. They would've kept in contact, right?


    "I can still walk, Officer." She barely teased him, keeping the formality in place in case she assumed wrong.

    The curses were running wild in her head.

    "Ah," Quinn clutched one hand to his chest mockingly, "There goes that wonderful tongue of yours again. I swear if you don't stop flirting with me my heart might just explode." There was that mixture of exasperation and grudging affection that Tess gave so willingly. Quinns eyes over Tess' shoulders gave away the approaching Dael, who offered her his arm once again.

    "I would be remiss if I didn't offer a lady my arm when she was injured. Seeing as I was the reason you came out here." Dael offered Tess his arm once more, offering the Astor girl a small smile. It was just as sincere as Quinns rambunctious grin, but lacking that interest Quinn so obviously exuded.

    Jessie appreciated Dael's arm much more than she did Skyre's. The former seemed more genuine in seeing her taken care of, while the latter...his flirtation was a bit too much for the rogue to handle. She was used to being surrounded by men and their taunting, but they were just that- taunts. Here though they had a hint of something more, real emotion for someone else. It was something Jessie hadn't come close to experiencing in all the years of her life (and she was not proud to admit it).

    On the short walk to the med bay again, Jessie knew she had to do something, else look the fool in front of a new bunch of recruits and ruin her sister's life. If the doctor didn't find an issue. It had to be fast, and had to be as inconspicuous as possible.

    She took a breath in to calm herself. As they turned the corner, Jessie 'accidentally' walked into the corner wall, and in that brief second of time when no one could see her spare hand, she pressed her hand flat against her chest and mumbled a few small words Clint had taught her.

    "Alright Jessie, when you want to mend, you need to focus on the spot you want to heal." Clint pressed his hand against his arm, taking hers and placing it just parallel. "Don't listen to the textbook crap on uniformity, it doesn't work. Everyone is different."

    "What if I don't have a feel for it?" Jessie had asked, much younger then.

    "It'll still work, just not as well." He explained. "All you need to know, is don't stop. Don't stop the alchemy or it'll be worse than when you started. Bioalchemy rips apart the body in order to repair it from scratch. Never step."

    Jessie took in one more cautionary breath and stopped the alchemy, as he'd warned her to never do, when a pang shot out from her stomach. Instantly, something forced its way to her throat and she found herself becoming sick. She had to slap a hand over her mouth to keep from throwing up, but it wasn't that, the iron taste in her mouth threw her off guard.

    "Never stop." Jessie had repeated. "But, wouldn't it be just as bad to incorrectly heal something?"

    "That's the beauty of bioalchemy. You can always try again." Clint had laughed, Jessie chimed in.

    It wasn't funny any more. The laughter they'd shared over failure of reconstruction, it was a huge deal though. Jessie didn't realize how serious he'd been, she took it all for granted as her chest felt like it was being torn in two, worse than the original broken ribs. She removed her hand from her mouth and used her hand to steady herself, waiting for another shock of pain.

    Never stop.

    If Dael were completely honest with himself, he would admit that he hadn't been paying attention to the small tour he'd been giving. The words kept coming unbidden from his mouth, droning on about something or another in a routine he'd practiced since he became the captain of his own creation, but all of his attention was focused on the girl beside him.

    Watching for the slightest hint of pain, a hitch in her breathing- anything that might have indicated she was having difficulties walking. The doctor had said she was fine- and he had to trust her. Not trusting in his crew would be like not trusting in his ship to carry him wherever he needed to go.

    He was quickly proven wrong.

    The tug on his arm was enough to draw his grey eyes back to Tess' form, his free hand reaching up to steady her when she bumped into the wall. What happened next was too shocking for words. She instantly paled- one small hand lifting to cover her mouth, a single line of red creeping from between her fingers.

    "Theresa?" No, he wouldn't panic. Think logically about this. She stumbled, and Dael automatically threw up his arm to steady her. Even her skin was becoming clammy-

    He stopped thinking, placed one arm behind Tess' back for support and the other under her legs- carefully pulling her to his chest in a fashion he hoped wouldn't cause any more damage.
    "Skyre! Get the damned door!" He hurried after Quinn, moving at as fast of a pace as he dared. Tess merely got colder in his arms, and Dael swore under his breath. No, he wouldn't let a crew member die on him like this.


    The rest of it was a blur- Freemont directing him to place Theresa on a cot over by the sink, flurries of movement as she shouted directions to her assistant and Dael- who followed with single minded determination.
    Damnit, he was going to give that warden hell for this.

    "What the hell did she do?" Doctor Freemont snapped. "Get rammed by a bull on the deck? Her lung is punctured, ribs broken again, Captain, what just happened?"

    The truth was far simpler than any lie or uncertainty. Jessie had done this to herself, but she wasn't able to admit it in her state. Her skin was white as the table, glistening with sweat from the torture she was putting herself through. All to hide a simple little lie, that she was in fact fine. Now all she'd done was spiral the situation out of her control. What if she died? The warning echoed in her head.

    "Never stop." She murmured quietly, gripping her chest.

    The Doctor pulled her hand aside, resorting to quick response rather than the right one. She pushed Dael and Quinn out of her way and stood on her toes so she could lay her hands flat on Jessie's chest. The latter screamed when the pressure met her broken bones, but soon enough she could feel the twisting bone and flesh working its way back together. It was just a quick repair, though, she could feel it.

    "Theresea?" The woman asked, pulling a small light from her pocket, flashing it across her eyes. "Are you with me?"

    "Never..." Jessie mumbled. "I'm, yes, I think. It hurts."

    "Good, I thought I'd lost you for a second." She admitted. "And yes it's going to hurt, that...that might have been my fault. The original hold I had on your bones must have come apart. Strange, like the bioalchemy came apart." The Doctor was embarrassed to admit the failure, but she had to admit it in order to get over it.

    Jessie rolled on her side against the Doctors wishes, but a second later spit up a fair amount of blood onto the floor. The remains of the process of a broken body. She still didn't feel whole.

    I'm an idiot, an idiot! Clint is never going to let me live this one down.

    "Hey, get out, now!" Freemont ordered her Captain. "At least take a step back, giver her some air."

    Dael stepped back, like the doctor had firmly suggested, dragging a shocked Quinn with him. He needed to do something now, instead of merely fretting over something he couldn't entirely control. There was nothing he could do for Theresa, and there was nothing he could do for the Doctor aside from making sure no one got in her way.

    "Doctor, come find me when you can. I want a full report." And now, he needed to get in touch with command. Someone needed to have a serious talk with the warden. Dragging the reluctant Quinn out behind him, Dael turned to the rest of the newly transferred recruits.

    "The doctor has things well in hand, I'll bring you all back for introductions later. Next we'll head..."

    An incident report has already been received... we are already aware of the incident... No matter how many times he looked at the reply in his hands, it just seemed wrong. Incidents like this were treated very seriously, especially in times of war. And yet, from the looks of things, nothing was going to be done about it.

    There were no two ways about it. Something was wrong, and it was highly unlikely they would tell him any more about it.

    3rd Month, 29th Day

    A good deal of time was spent in one of the sick bay rooms. Doctor Freemont had opted to keep it propped open so she could get some air, being alone in the confined space made her feel a little too claustrophobic for an airship. The walls were a soft shade of baby blue, enough to give the eyes color to look at while avoiding a catastrophic headache.

    Jessie's body could hardly keep up with the transformation. From broken ribs, punctured lungs, and buckets of bile and blood, she'd broken out into a fever. She was just glad the worst was behind her. Never again, she swore it, she wouldn't touch bioalchemy without Clint's hand nearby. This was a huge screw up on her part. She'd merely wanted to give the doctor something to look at and instead, she forced her to doubt her own abilities.

    She needed air, was dying for a breath of something fresh in her lungs. That was impossible though, she could hardly stand without keeling over in pain. No one came to visit her, no one knew her but Officer Skyre and Captain Cooper.

    The Navy would probably just let her die.

    "I don't understand what happened, captain. She was healing up nicely- I could have sworn my bio alchemy was taking. It was like the entire process just suddenly reversed itself." Doctor Freemont looked just about as troubled as Dael felt at that moment. She was flicking her pen again- a habit Dael recognized for whenever she was worried. She did it often when he injured himself.

    "And another thing, her medical records just don't match up. The blood type's there- physically there isn't anything different- but I found no traces of any of the vaccines Theresa is written down as having. It was like she simply didn't get them." Dael dropped his head into his hands tiredly, rubbing to try and bring some vigor back into his expression. It wasn't often that he managed to get a full nights rest- it was always worse around this time of year.

    "Alright. Thank you, Doctor. I'll see what I can find out. Go and rest, I'll look after her for a while." Dael stood, effectively silencing the Doctors protests with a smile.
    "I'll wake you if anything happens. But we need you in top condition."

    "Absolutely any changes, and you come get me." Dael chuckled, waving the Doctor away. She relented with a sigh, heading back to her rooms just off of the medical bay. He would need to request a second doctor for the Esper- the crew was just growing larger and larger. One wasn't going to cut it any more, no matter how Careful Dael was to keep everyone in top condition.

    Shaking his head to evict the depressing thoughts, Dael padded up to the door of the room Tess was currently staying in. He slipped through the crack, freezing when he saw her eyes open.
    "You're awake. How are you feeling?"

    Jessie shrugged, regretting the action immediately. She sat up to be polite, giving a small salute and an even smaller, "Captain."

    Where to begin? She knew exactly what was wrong with her, problem being she couldn't share that information freely. The fever made her somewhat silly, her face red and her chest swollen under the medical garb. No more uniforms for her, only loose fitting clothing and small white slippers until she was a functioning soldier.

    "I feel like I've been run over, sir." She laughed, hacking up a lung into her fist. "Excuse me."

    This is bad, really bad.

    "Was there something you needed?" Jessie smiled, her eyes shining. Either from the sweat or from a bit of kindness, both stemming directly from her pain no matter which. "As you can see, I'm a little out of commission."

    A worried frown crossed Daels lips, and he hurried over to Theresa's bedside.
    "No need to sit up, I'm just here to check- No, that's a lie." With a wry smile, Dael sat beside Theresa's bed in the chair specifically meant for visitors. That coughing worried him- he didn't want her somehow hurting herself again.

    "I was worried. Please, don't strain yourself." He felt strangely helpless here, having to sit there knowing there was nothing he could do to help her. It was times like this he wished he'd specialized in something useful like bio alchemy- but then of course he had to remember how disastrous his last attempt at any kind of alchemy had gone. He still had the scar on his leg from when the burning desk collapsed on him.

    "You look flushed. Do you want a glass of water- anything at all?" He lifted one hand to Tessa's forehead, his frown deepening at the waves of heat coming off of her skin.

    Jessie flinched at his touch. It wasn't what she expected, although she'd heard rumors of his kindness, his lack of formality in the close proximity made her nervous. She averted her gaze with his hand pressed on her forehead, embarrassed in her weak state.

    "I'm alright, really." She mumbled. "I can come back tomorrow and get back to work, it'll be fine."

    It wasn't fine. Nothing about this was fine. Her sister was going to die if she didn't keep up the act, and she was fooling around trying to think of ways to disguise herself! She hadn't even perfected her personality, there was almost no time to practice Theresea's preferred element. Fire. It was the complete reverse of what Jessie was used to and might take weeks to get just right.

    More importantly, she was just bored. It was hard enough hiding her identity, but she needed something to do. Maybe if she had something to work with, there was always time to make a new gun, seeing as she'd lost hers back on the Taivas.

    Another time.

    "You don't need to worry about me, I'll be fine." She lied. She hadn't heard the report about her reported incident. There'd be no help for her, because the top officials already knew who she was, and they'd rather see her rot than give her any medical help. Worry and a little concern, although she hadn't a clue, would have done some good for her.

    "Nonsense." She definitely had a fever. Dael stood from his seat, walking over to the sink to dampen a cloth.
    "An important part of being a captain is looking after yourself. You need to rest, and heal. I don't need you collapsing on me again, after all." He tried for a light joke- to lift the rather dark atmosphere in the room. It was difficult to say whether it would work or not. Perhaps it was a little too early to joke.

    Dael wrung out the cloth, flicking his hands to get rid of the last drops of water clinging to his fingers.
    "Here. Put this on your forehead. And lay back- I won't write you up for being injured." He pressed the cold, damp cloth into Tessa's hand. Even testing her temperature had felt a little too intimate. It might have just been the flush on her cheeks, but he didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable again.

    "Now, miss Astor. What would you like to drink? We have the outstanding choices of Water, orange juice, and a wonderful apple juice straight from the box."

    Jessie absolutely hated being waited on. She was a Captain already for God's sake! She didn't need Dael telling her how to heal, how to be, and if it were her ship she'd be up and at the helm even with the broken ribs. Why? Because right at her side would have been Clint, and he would've made sure she was just fine.

    Gods she missed him.

    Still, she rolled her eyes at his question and laid back as she was commanded. "Orange, please." It was rare for her crew to carry orange juice. It was too expensive in the East, and they hardly got over to the orchard ranges to buy anything less expensive. They had to settle for other fruits to keep away disease and hold up their immune systems. It was a comfort she missed back from the time she was nothing more than a daughter of a rich man.

    Her head hurt, her insides churned, but the taste of that sweet orange on her tongue made her shiver. She didn't think she could miss something so much. "I love this stuff." She mumbled to herself, sipping quietly at the beverage.

    "Not to be rude, Captain, but why are you really here? Surely not to visit. I'm just a member of the crew."

    Jessie didn't mean for it to come across as anything less than inquisitive. This was the Navy, surely their Captains didn't have the time to care for each member of the crew? Something suggested he was different, be it the caring tone in his voice, or the fact that he was there at all. Dael Cooper was more than met the eye.

    Her irritation was plain as day, and for some reason it amused Dael. Not that she was irritated- no, he wasn'tthat... well he didn't have a word for it, but he was amused at the apparent reason for her irritation. Was she really that used to going without anyone to care for her? It occurred to Dael then, that she might have made a few enemies with her rapid rise in rank. She certainly seemed like the kind of girl who couldn't be easily controlled.

    He knew his own rise to captain had made quite a few people uneasy. He'd never been the kind to listen to stupid orders.

    "Do you want my honest answer?" He didn't even have to wait for a reply- the answer was clear on her face.
    "Every single crew member is vital. We all have small jobs to do- be it cooking or crafting, or even just fighting. But, we all have to think like one unit. If I, as a captain, don't show my crew that they all matter to me, how could I possibly ask them to follow me into battle?" It was a conundrum of the military- and not one that all captains decided to address. When you joined the military, it was your job, something you had to do to make money. To make a living.

    But the rebels? They joined because they believed in their cause. What man would be more willing to die in battle? One who was simply fighting for money? Or one who was fighting to protect something they believed in? A man with a cause is a dangerous man, but a man who has something to protect? By far more dangerous still. Loyalty was a good substitute.

    "Well, admittedly I find you rather interesting as well."

    Interesting. Hm.

    "Apparently not all the crew is equal though." Jessie sighed and closed her eyes, hoping he wouldn't pry into her own muses. The Navy wouldn't care if she died, even if she was pretending to be Theresa Astor. What did that say about their ranks then? That the one man meant nothing? They'd gladly see her rot on the rogue side before they simply gave up the information. One man never mattered.

    She closed her eyes and pressed a hand to her chest, focusing more on her breathing than anything else. It's how she'd occupied her time in the past couple of days. Any time she stopped, it only hurt again.

    "I'm no more interesting than any other man or woman on board." She replied, finally. "You'd best not get too close, Captain, I'm cursed I'm telling you."

    I don't want you to know. Otherwise Tess won't come home.

    "I beg to differ. You are quite interesting." It wasn't something he could put his finger on, however. But there was just this.. energy within her. Something that he could see peek through occasionally- and yet something she tried to hide. It might also just be the mystery surrounding her that piqued his interest- for all that he could find everything he should want to know on paper.

    "And maybe I'll be able to drain a little bit of that bad luck off. I've been known to be quite lucky you know." That was an utter bald faced lie. If anything he might rub off even more bad luck on her- thankfully his bad luck usually confined itself to his love life, or regretfully- both seemed to work in this case. Although, he supposed he'd prefer the multitude of bad dates over spontaneously exploding ribs.

    Dael grinned at Tess, leaning back in his chair to settle in for a long night.
    "Perhaps I should see if I can get a priest on board then- I hear they're quite handy with curses."

    Now that was something she'd given up long ago. Most of the Rebels she dealt with didn't deal with priests. They worked for the Navy, and thus, believed most of the Rebels and Rogues to be nothing but evil. Maybe that's where the curse came from. A priest somewhere knew that she was on board and silently whispered her name. That would have explained it.

    She couldn't keep in the scoff that escaped her lips.

    "A priest couldn't save me if he tried." She remarked. The fever was getting to her and it was harder to keep up the facade. The longer Dael talked, the more irritated she became. He cared, he was kind, it was too much for her to take in. This was a false front, it had to be!

    "You're much too casual." She warned him.

    Getting close would only ruin it all. She couldn't be discovered. Her life could be taken on accident, her sister would be safe with Clint, but that was no life. What would really happen if Dael found out, would he give her up? His personality seemed to refute it, but, Navy colors rang clear in her mind.

    "Get out." She told him. "I mean, my head, it's too bright. Please, just go, you're too much."

    I won't fall for it. I won't fall for these games.

    He'd felt a little disappointed, when she made her first warning. Not everyone was comfortable with their captain being casual with them- and he would honestly have regretted missing the chance to get to know the blue eyed girl. But her next words changed his mind completely.

    She wasn't uncomfortable with his being captain, she was uncomfortable with him.

    "I apologize, Miss Astor, but I won't be able to fulfill that request. Doctors orders, you need someone to watch you." Of course, the doctor had ordered no such thing- but he had promised he would watch over Theresa, and watch her he would.

    "Though I suppose if you're uncomfortable with me here, I could always call upon your friend.. what was his name? Officer Skyre?"

    "He hasn't changed in the slightest." She chuckled.

    I have no idea who he his.

    Jessie pressed a pale hand to her temple, the cloth was once cold as ice against her forehead but in the minute it sat, it warmed to a sickly lukewarm feeling. Water dripped past her face, mixing with sweat, only making her fidget on her bed. To avoid a situation with Dael, she pressed a button on a small device next to her bed and within seconds Doctor Freemont was at their door.

    "What's the matter, Miss Astor?" She asked sweetly. The Doctor gently slid her way next to the girl and touched her forehead before taking her temperature with a small silver device. "103, well, that's no good either but it'll have to break."

    Doctor Freemont left the room momentarily and came back with a needle as long as her middle finger. Jessie groaned at the sight, but didn't have much say in it. Before any objections could be made, the Doctor slid the needle in her arm, pressing down on the end while shushing Jessie, brushing a free hand over her heated forehead.

    "This'll help for now, but you might feel a little strange." She warned her, then turned to Dael. "Are you planning on staying, Captain? There are other places besides her bedside chair. You're welcome to a bed if you are going to be late."

    "He said- he's." Jessie could already feel the partially numbing effects of the medication. "Playin' watch guard." Her words slurred and she groaned again, hating the way it made her head feel to be so out of it.

    "Sorry doctor, I just wanted to give you the chance to rest. You must be tired." Glancing around the room his eyes settled on the couch opposite his current seated position. That would do for the night- he wanted to be close by just in case something ended up happening. He wasn't brushing off the possibility that this entire thing had been an attack by some unknown enemy.

    Perhaps delayed activation alchemy. He'd heard of things like that- and the bump into the wall might have been enough to set it off.

    "I'll stay close by, in case you need me." Dael grabbed a pillow, plumping it behind his head as he stretched out across the couch- a sight that might have looked a little comical is he hadn't managed it with such grace. Smothering a yawn with one hand, Dael settled in for a little nap, lightly dozing so he could wake up at the slightest sign of disturbance.

    "Really, Mister Navy, you don't have" Jessie was drifting fast.

    The room around her felt like it was spinning, and she was falling down some rabbit hole with no bottom like Alice in Wonderland. Falling, drowning, gasping, all of it at once and then something else. She felt like a pawn in a bigger play, a bigger game, and it was true. Jessamine and Theresa Astor were nothing more than toys in a gentleman's game of war. Whether or not they lived, did it matter?

    Of course not.

    "I'll get her back." She sighed, promising in her dazed state. "We'll be fine."

    Only a minor slip up, one she wasn't sure if Dael would even understand. She wasn't even thinking about it before she drifted off into a drug induced slumber. That was as good as it would ever get.

    'I'll get her back.'

    Words that could have pertained to anyone, really. Absolutely anyone in the world, and it might have even just been a dream. But there was something prodding at the back of his mind- shouting for his attention in the most annoying way possible. Like the sensation of a word resting on the tip of his tongue- the general meaning apparent to him but the specifics eluding his grasp.

    He was on his feet in a second, muttering a hurried 'I'll be back' to a confused Doctor Freemont, before exiting the medical bay and making for his own rooms. Where he had left the papers for all of the new recruits.

    Theresa's file was right where he'd left it- sitting center on his desk next to the long range communications device. He passed over the recent files, grabbing instead the significantly smaller packet he had merely skimmed. Birth information- hometown, family name, hospital, vaccines- every doctor who had ever come into contact with her and every family member close enough to mention.

    Like puzzle pieces everything clicked into place. Why would the navy go so far to neglect her medical treatment? Why had she 'sparred' with a warden? The vaccines, her uneasiness, her difficulties following along with some simple navy conduct.

    She wasn't Theresa. She was her twin. But if that were the case, then where was Theresa? All of the records merely stated that Jessamine had been reported missing, and not heard from again. But now, she was here.

    There was one more piece to the puzzle he needed. Something he could only guess about, and there was only one person who could give him that answer.

    Chapter Five, black

    3rd Month, 20th Day


    Deik, the scout of the Taivas sat perched in his usual spot. Already high above the clouds, he was even higher, stuck up by the sails. It was highly unnecessary to be among the coils of rope, but he liked that spot best. Rumors were spreading about their Captain, and he was always the first to hear the lies and truth from it all.

    "Clint!" He called down. "Where's Captain?"

    "In her Cabin!" The man called back.

    Deik smiled wryly, and called again. "Clint, where's Captain Jess?"

    The look on Clint's face darkened and he called the man down. He didn't like it when rumors spread, especially not ones of this nature. It only riled the crew when they didn't need to be. Tessa didn't deserve to be punished for her place, no, not when her safety would bring back their true Captain.

    "You'd best nip that rumor in the bud." Clint warned him.

    She'd been getting a lot of strange looks from the crew lately. Not that Tess was clueless as to why- she was always just a little too late to join in on the joke, or just a little too clueless when old stories were told around the table. It probably didn't help that she was a complete light weight when it came to spirits of any kind. Honestly, it was just a matter of time until someone said something, and everyone caught on. That's assuming they hadn't already.

    Probably a bad assumption to make- but one she desperately wanted to be true.

    As it was it'd been only days since she had met up with Jess' crew- almost a week, and she was no closer to figuring out a way to get Jess to safety. Perhaps if she had someone she could trust... but there was no need to linger on it. For now she would just focus on what she could do.

    Gather information.

    None of the good stuff, unfortunately. Clint had been very careful to make sure she didn't get her hands on anypaperwork that might give information on the identities of the other rebel officers. Or even a vague guess as to what the identity of the leader might be. But she had managed to find where the crew kept the records of all the expenses. That was what she was currently flipping through- records of old purchases, and locations of major cities with surplus of certain resources.

    Kicking her chair back onto two legs, Tess hummed under her breath- idly tapping a pen against her leg in some random tune. There was definitely room for improvement, though she wasn't sure how the crew made the money they needed for all of their expenses...

    "Now where did you find that, Miss Astor?"

    It wasn't Clint, no, that would've been too easy for the make believe Astor to slip away from. Deik stood in front of the door, barring it with his broad shoulders and a smile on his face which hinted at a secret. One he was dying to confirm. There was really only one way to do that, and should it have been Jessie, she would've only slapped him away with a laugh and offered him a shot of whisky.

    Not her, there wasn't a chance in hell.

    He strolled casually over to the girl and glanced down at her hand once. The ring was missing. That girl loved her ring, it was a gift from her sister. And yes, everyone knew about the famed Theresa Astor, and why wouldn't they?

    "Jessie's really proud of you, did you know?" He teased. The information would simply come to him. "A trainee Captain, coming right out of the Alexandrian Fleet. Anyone would be proud of a girl for that."

    Just try to deny it.


    There were no two ways about it- she was tuck. She could deny it- try to play it off as a joke, laugh a bit. But in the end it would come out. On the other hand, she could admit it, and maybe get someone else on her side... but the chances were slim. Either way she'd only be delaying the inevitable. It was also unnerving... How had he known that Tess had been transferred from the Alexandrian fleet? It had happened at the same time Jess had been capture. It was the reason for her transfer. Did she want to take that risk? It wasn't just her life on the line. It was Jessie's as well

    But Jessie had already entrusted her life to her crew.

    "Somehow that seems wrong coming from a rebel." It was also hard to believe. Especially after the greeting she had received after finally meeting her sister for the first time in years. Not for the first time, Theresa wondered why Jessie didn't take her along.

    "And just so you know I found these," Tessa waved the papers in her hand, placing them back down on the table after another cursory glance, "Where they'd probably always been. When was the last time someone looked at them?"

    "I'm being serious, she's damn proud of you." Deik repeated. "If you were a Rebel she might have been more open about it, but you're Navy, so it also kind of pisses her off."

    He shrugged, walking over comfortably to stand over her and peer down at the reports. She was interested in them for some reason, but what was it? Scrolling, scanning, he tried to find something of value but it only listed expenses. There weren't serial numbers or even descriptions of what was purchased from time to time. It wasn't Clint's writing, but one other member, he was a pretty lazy guy. Joey? Boe? He couldn't even remember.

    "That'd be...Boe, I'm going to go with Boe." Deik nodded. "He's our little coin master, an accountant really. We get some of our funding from the higher ups, lots of Rebels do."

    They plundered, sure, but he wasn't about to admit that to Theresea. It wasn't as simple as that. When they encountered a Navy ship, if they took it, they did, and what they won? Theirs.

    "Something catch your eye?" He asked in reference to the papers in her hand.

    Some of their funding came from higher ups. It might just have been a reluctance to tell a navy officer how they came up with the rest of the money- but considering how candid he had been so far, Tessa highly doubted it.

    "Well, honestly I'm curious about her life on the ship. How she ran things, where she went, what she was doing. We have eight years of catching up to do- and the only clues I have are things I find lying around. And whatever I can glean from talking with the crew." It was all true- but not the real reason she was looking at the stacks of paper. From talking with the crew about things they had done in the past- she'd managed to piece together small periods of time when they were in specific places. With just two dates that she knew they had refueled, and where, then following the largest sums of money on the basis that they were the cost of re-fueling, she could figure out approximately where the ship had been over the course of years. Using her conversations with the crew and whatever other papers she could find that mentioned dates and places they had been.

    It was fact many variables could throw it off- practice drills (if they had those), backtracking, battle, the costs of new parts for the ship... but even having a general guideline... It showed how far her sister had gone, how much she'd seen in their eight years apart.

    But it also showed which areas she frequently flew back to. Letting her narrow down where the rebellion headquarters might be.

    "Well, admittedly, this isn't the best way to do it. But Clint is a very careful man. He's keeping me on a tight leash."

    "He's right to be careful." Deik snorted. "Look at you, you're snooping."

    He tore the papers from her hands and looked them over carefully. It was nothing more than fuel stops and a few purchases. Some of his own scribbled notes were on the pages from what he'd seen with his own eyes. Navy ships, their comings and goings, if they got too close to something. General things really, but there was enough information there to give the young Astor an idea of where the most important places were.

    "I can answer your questions thought." He replied.

    The Rebel man pulled up a chair and sat across from Tessa, folding his hands after resting his elbows on his knees. Hunched over, he felt most comfortable, it stretched out his sore back from having to stand above the clouds all day.

    "On board, the crew loves her. She runs a fair ship, not some Rebel party, we do what we're told. No plunderin' that's her rule. She feared the day she'd find your ship and we might accidentally take something which could not be replaced." A life. Yours. "Other Rogue ships might, but not us. Never."

    That kind of information was fine to share. He knew that, it didn't feel wrong to offer it up to her. It wasn't to say they wouldn't attack Navy vessels, or take what they could only after a fight had been initiated. Honestly? they avoided the Navy on a good day.

    "She wanted to stop in town, we left her two weeks beforeshe supposedly rejoined us." At this point he eyed her, there were no secrets. "But, Miss Tessa, she must have been taken. It was only supposed to be a quick routine stop. She wanted to refuel and replenish, alone, as she often did. Didn't want us losin' more crew than we needed so close to the Republic."

    Was it even making sense to her? Would the information give away more than he wanted? Of course not. A routine stop, a hint that they didn't attack. There'd be no names, nothing, unless she asked the right questions and stepped among the right circles.

    "If you want something, you ask here." He told her. "You're supposed to be Jessie, and she wouldn't snoop among her own crew. Had you just asked someone for these records?" Deik shook the papers in his hand. "Someone would've given them to you. Not Clint, but anyone else. I'm not saying go snooping, but I'm saying, you need to pick up your Rebel act Miss Theresa Astor."

    "If I had question I could easily ask, I would. How do you think it would look to the crew if Jessie suddenly started asking about herself? I can't think of any better way to hasten their suspicions. Likewise, every other question I would have, Jessie would already know." like where were they going, what were their plans, who should she trust- they were just things she couldn't ask the crew. And wringing words out of Clint was a tiring chore that often left her exasperated and more confused then when she had begun.

    "I'm not going to lie to you, and say that I'm not looking for information. Anyone in my shoes would... but I also want to say that everything I'm doing- I'm doing it for Jessie. I just..." She just what? There was no just about what she wanted. It was so complicated and convoluted- she wanted Jessie safe. She wanted them both to be home, together. Not having to worry about war, or rebellions, or lying to those around them to save each others lives. She wanted them both free, her family together.

    She just wanted to be home, and safe. With the people she loved.

    "...I just-" A rumble interrupted her sentence, and her head snapped up to the source. That sounded like...

    A crash, and the sound of splintering wood and metal confirmed her fears. She jumped to her feet, easily steadying on the shaking ship- turning and vaulting over a fallen chair to rush for the bridge. Stumbling as another crash shook the deck beneath her feet. Damnit! Why now? She still hadn't come up with a way to free Jessie-

    Theresa skidded to a stop just before a gaping hole. Wind whirled through the opening, tossing her hair around her face wildly and forcing her to squint through the gale. Her heart started pounding in her chest.

    She couldn't afford to turn back and find another way now.

    Taking a few steps back, Tessa prepared herself to jump. She had to get to the bridge- had to find out what they were dealing with.

    "Don't!" Deik reached out and pulled her back. "They'll want you as Captain, and Clint won't dare risk you being anywhere but hidden. If you're going...then- then."

    He groaned and pulled his coat from off himself. Without asking, he slung it over her body and pulled the hood up, drawing the strings quickly as he could. His deft hands pushed her bright strands of hair so they were hidden deep in the coat. She'd have to excuse the close contact, another rock of the ship sent him hurdling towards the ground. He smacked his nose on the floor and made another groan.

    "There! Now go, gods know you have the same temper as your sister I bet." He whined, pinching his skin to keep his nose from bleeding.

    Tessa crouched in front of Deik, trying to keep her balance on the shaking ship. She reached out for a brief moment- lightly touching the tips of her fingers to his cheek to get a closer look at the damage. Possibly broken- but not serious. She would have to make sure Clint took a closer look, but he appeared to be fine.

    "Thank you, Deik." Tessa offered him a bright smile, one of her first genuine grins since she had found her sister in a jail cell. She appreciated the gesture- and the trust he might not have realized he had given her. As soon as the ship steadied Tessa vaulted to her feet, legs pushing off of the unsteady ground into a run-

    And then she was airborne. The wind tearing at the rapidly tied jacket, the ground passing a dazzlingly long way below her. It was a rush that she would never be able to describe- that flash of cold, the way time seemed to slow down as her feet left the hard deck. It was over as quickly as it began, shocks traveling up her legs as she continued to pound down the hall, bursting through the entrance to the bridge.

    "Clint! What have we got?"

    At first, Clint hardly heard her. He was back to back with his best weapons man, Rodney Pale. He was a man of the Western cities, known best for their skill with small knives. Not thieves, he'd tell Clint all the time. Never a thief, and always an honorable swordsman. His word was true that day.

    The red headed boy swung a pair of knives in his hands as if it were a brush, painting the world in blood and scars all around him. His stance was more of a dance than a real fighting pose, his feet often found their place long before the enemy could track him with his eyes. That was their Rodney, weapons master.

    "Get over here, runt!" He teased her. "Navy, check on Will, haven't seen him.!"

    Gods he prayed she knew who he was talking about. Besides the scout, and his partner in battle, Rodney, there was only one prominent member missing from their merry little band. William Varez. Wonderful man, best not pissed off though.

    "Find his ax, too!" Clint screamed across the bombarded deck. Navy soldiers surrounded them left and right, all dressed up in their intolerable corsets and proud vests. Emblazoned in black, the crest of the Republic and Navy sat proud on most of their uniforms. They'd sell for a pretty penny, that was for sure.

    "I don't need no help, little Clintlock!" Rang the rusty voice of Will. Turns out, Tessa wouldn't have to go looking for him after all.

    The man stood near seven feet tall, a giant compared to the rest of them. His grizzled beard and angered look made him all the more fierce, once you could look up and see his face after all. A huge battle ax was slung over his shoulder like an ancient warrior, and that's how he preferred it.

    "Don't call me that, bastard!" Clint was laughing as the slaughter went on. Clintlock was good Will's way of mocking the man, he wasn't short at all, but in the face of the giant he was just that much shorter, enough to make a difference.

    It was Deik who joined them last, and for once, Tessa might have been able to see the crew all working at once. Thirty men, brothers in arms, all led by their sister. Jessamine Astor. They knew the girl before them wasn't her, knew it by the look in her face and her attitude on the field. The hood on her head, and the way she hid. They all knew.

    "Tessa!" Clint yelled, none of the crew even blinked at the mention of her name. "What are you waiting for?"

    We all know.

    "Jeez. What was the point of disguising myself if you were just gonna yell my name across the battlefield." Tessa muttered, finally slowing from her headlong sprint. Still, she couldn't help the smile that rose to her lips from Clints call. It felt good to hear her name like that again.

    "Just waiting for an invitation! What took you so long?" Well there was no point in hiding any more. One tug untied Deiks work- long slender fingers threw back the hood and freed her long golden locks, falling to frame a face with steady blue eyes. It was amazing- the flow of battle around them. All working in concert, helping each other, covering for each others weaknesses and boasting each others strengths. And she could also see the hole that her sister had left. A missing note in an otherwise perfect symphony.

    How did that go again Jess?

    "Okay Tessie, First, you gotta use the steam gun-"

    "What are we gonna call it?"

    "I don't know- we'll think of something. Anyways, first you use the steam to make a big cloud!"

    The metal guns twirled on her fingers in a nostalgic gesture, triggers expertly dancing around her fingers as she whirled with the motion-releasing a large cloud of steam to obscure her from view. How much time had she spent in her early childhood perfecting that move with Jess, Using guns they'd snuck out of their fathers vault? Honestly, it was a miracle they'd never managed to shoot each other.

    "Next- you gotta charge forwards-!"

    "No- you can't do that! That's the first thing they'd expect."

    "Well, if you don't go forwards, where else are you gonna go?"

    "umm... up?"

    Ducking under the blind swing of a sword, Tess prepared herself for another jump. Using that small nudge of alchemy she'd learned from the academy to improve her physical capabilities. It was only a matter of increasing the rate of energy production using heat. Her specialty after all. As soon as the whistle of the blade abover her faded, Tessa leapt into the air, aiming as soon as she breached the top of the cloud of steam.

    "Yea! Then all you gotta do is stick the landing!"

    "Shouldn't you shoot first?"

    Arm, leg, shoulder. Tess fired as fast as she could aim. Hitting every target she aimed at- and never making a lethal shot. Each bullet trailing fire as it traveled through the air, expanding into a ball of fire to burn and blind the surrounding navy soldiers. Incapacitate, never kill.

    "But what if they start shooting at you?"

    "Well then you just shoot steam in their faces."

    It was just how she'd imagined it would be. Using the steam to cover her tracks, acting as a shroud that blinded her enemies and kept them unawares of her movements. She darted through the throng, sometimes taking to the air for a few well placed shots, other times keeping low to the ground and expertly tapping on knees and ankles- dropping her enemies to the ground in pain. In what felt like mere seconds she was at Clints side- fitting herself into the hole that Jessie had left in their battle strategy.

    She was rough around the edges- sometimes jarring against misplaced notes, too yielding when it came to Deiks harsh staccato's, too stiff to will's strong tenors, and sometimes overshadowing Rods careful presence.

    But Tess had to admit that there was some truth behind the say 'To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.' She felt like the longer the battle drew on, the closer she came to understanding the rebels around her, and the camaraderie they fought for.

    "How the hell did they sneak up on us?!" Tessa directed at the rebels around her, hastily back-stepping another sword as Rod darted in on his side- efficiently removing him from battle. She didn't know how much longer Jess' guns were going to last. They'd never really thought to work out specifics of engineering and alchemy when they were children.

    "Sneak?" Deik scoffed from across the field. Will kept him guarded so the rebel could shout at Tessa. "I was trying to help you stay hidden that's how!"

    "They came from below us." Clint gave her a new answer, in place of Deik's irritation. In the heat of battle it was best not to discuss anything too serious. "Just fight, don't talk!" He ordered the crew.

    Rodney was all over the place, filling in for the steps he was used to pairing with Jessie. They'd made some fantastic combinations with her steam, and he missed the added touch. In a rare fit, he spoke up, stepping his way over to Tessa and keeping his back to her, just in case. They had full view of whoever came at them, and he turned his head back to speak.

    "Shoot in the air, fire and smoke." He told her. "Make it rain."

    Make it rain? Tessa spared a glance from the corner of her eye- resisting the urge to turn to face the man at her back. It seemed she still couldn't completely overcome all of her navy instincts that told her the man at her back was the enemy. It didn't help he was so gods be damned silent when he fought.

    "Rain? I think I can do that." It would be awkward- she needed more application of water based alchemy, and less fire. It was a good thing she'd been practicing over the last few days, back when she was trying her hardest to pretend to be Jess. Though what he intended to do with it she had no clue.

    Spraying fire in front of her in an arc, Tessa used the rising heat like a mirage to mask her movements. She immediately lifted the opposite gun, pouring clouds of steam into the sky, and manipulating the heat of the area directly above her. Almost immediately Tess could feel a change in the air around her- moisture sunk into her clothes, making the cloth cling to her like a second skin. Her hair darkened with water, dripping from the sheer moisture in the air.

    And then it began to rain.

    Slowly at first, until the cool and hot air started mixing, and a light breeze sprung up in the ship. Droplets of water struck her upturned face- blinding her briefly to the soldiers in front of her. Pain lanced up her side, warmth spreading along the line of her hip quickly reminded her to keep her eyes up front.

    "Damnit- I hope you have a good plan with this."

    A damn good idea, that was for sure, he couldn't help but think.

    Rodney had closed his eyes, along with some of the other crew members. They could spare a moment of pain by navy hands in order to avoid the sting of the pressure changes and water in the air around them. At once they were all back to their positions, but Rodney was smiling among them all.

    He ran his hand down the flat edge of his small dagger, runes illuminated beneath the tips of his fingers as they glided over the smooth metal. Within seconds the rain emitted a crack of thunder, and Rodney kicked into gear.

    The man revealed a hidden set of blades, all smaller than his fingers, and he threw them into various navy personnel's arms and legs. Something about being careful with them, that's what Clint had said. Nothing about this would be careful though, a little electric, shocking, all other puns aside.

    Rodney activated the runes on his small daggers, all set in flesh, and within seconds lightning struck them down. They'd live, if they were careful at least.

    "Yeeeah!" He cried, one of the few things he'd actually say in combat. Simple cheers and screams.

    His favored element? Hopefully Tessa didn't have to guess.

    Lightning. Now everything made sense, and Tessa had an idea of how to help him. The daggers that conducted electricity were easy to pick out, shining brightly even through the haze of rain and battle. A small application of heat at the pooling water beneath their feet lifted clouds of steam- joining navy soldiers with each other in arcs of lightning.

    Now Tess could see how Jess had worked in tandem with the man at her back. Every person had their place it seemed, and Tess felt like a poor substitute.

    The battle dragged on, waves of navy soldiers seemingly unending in the now storming room. Footing was difficult with the soaking deck, and Tessa had no idea how much longer she would last. She could already feel the beginnings of a creeping chill, the draining exhaustion that always told her when she had used too much energy, too much alchemy. It didn't help that water was not her specialty.

    She had to stop them from coming.

    "Cover me!" She gasped out, ducking away from Rodney and lurching towards the railing surrounding the deck. If they had come from below, then they had to have some way of getting soldiers aboard the ship. She had to take out whichever way it was.

    "Wha-" Rodney turned, but was distracted by a new partner to dance with.

    William had time though. Time to back up the small girl who seemed to have an inkling of an idea as to how to get rid of the fleas. He jogged to her side easily, swatting at Navy soldiers left and right. They feared his size and turned to other rebels to pick on. Being tall and massive was as easy as it looked on the battlefield.

    "What'dya need little Miss?" He asked her, grinning on one side of his serious face. The other held a cigar. Even in the middle of a fight, it helped keep him calm. "I'll give you a hand."

    Throwing herself at the railing, Tessa quickly zeroed in on the allied enemy ship. It wasn't large- but broad. The flattened hull indication a scout ship, with canons that had a limited range of firing. They couldn't fire down. Which meant that the rebels ship was in a very bad position right now. But that only left one method of transport for the navy soldiers.

    Tess grinned up at the man who had come to her side to help. Taking one last brief look around to find what she needed. Rope.

    "Glad you can help." Taking advantage of the respite the large man offered her, Tessa grabbed a spare length of rope. carefully knotting the end into something similar to harness. Thanking silently the knots she had been forced to learn as one of her basic most skills in the navy.

    "Hold this." Tessa passed the large man the other end of the rope, slid her arms into her make-shift harness. Then, after one last smile at the large man, she jumped.

    Will could've used an extra second to plant his feet, but there wasn't much point. He weighed nearly twice as much as she did, but the jolt as she dropped made him lurch forward for a second. "Deik!" He called. Holding the rope in one hand was easy enough, but it was hard to swing at the soldiers behind him.

    The scout came up and sliced easily through the crowd, parting the soldiers into a disarray, something they weren't used to fighting in. His style was very lean. Whereas Rodney was slick, Deik was something else entirely. Fast, slick, he liked water just as much as Jessie did. Only, he kept it on the ground.

    Deik froze the ground solid from the rain Tess had brought forth, watching as the soldiers slipped all around.

    "Hurry up Tess, we don't have all day up here!"

    The words of her temporary crew mates were lost to her ears- whisked away by the wind that rushed past her. If the ship was below them, and they were still getting reinforcements, then there could only be one method of boarding. Gear climbers.

    There, one of the canon shots that had blown through the lower hull had been an anchor- attaching a long thick rope to the ship below them. Already she could see another group being lifted by the mechanism that let them travel up the rope quickly.

    "There you are." Tess holstered the steam gun- it would be useless out here- and cradled the second with both hands. She would have to be completely accurate. Between the wind and the distance between them, she would have to strike before they found out she was here. Narrowing her eyes, she took in a quick breath- and fired. Three quick taps on the trigger, holding the bullets until just before they hit the rope before letting them expand.

    Quickly eating through the fibers.

    "Alright! Help me up!" Hastily holstering the second gun, Tessa started pulling herself up the rope. Hair rising on the back of her neck at the sounds of bullets firing from below.

    "Up?" Will peeked down and saw the Astor girl climbing herself back up the rope. He shrugged.

    The strong man pulled once on the rope, getting her swinging from side to side. Once she was rocking, he yanked hard on the rope and watched her fly up into the air. He waited a second, watching her shadow on the deck as well as her body flying through the air above him, and caught her with both arms. The rope fell easily behind him.

    "Well." He pulled the cigar from his mouth and offered it to her, unsure if she'd accept. "That was a good plan little lassie."

    Once the lifeline had been cut, plenty of Navy soldiers sent themselves flying free off the Rebel vessel. Rumors and lies spread by their own kind made the ships seem worse than they were. After all, the Taivas was home to a band of misfits, and they never once lived up to the reputations the Navy set. That didn't keep them from lying about it though.

    "And stay away, or we'll put your blood in our soup and throw your bits from the sky!" Deik yelled over the side, Clint chuckled alongside him.

    "Keep your mouth shut, they'll think us rabid." Clint sheathed his gun and deactivated the runes on his gloves. The easiest way to use alchemy was the premade runes after all, he liked them best. "Miss Astor, how'd you feel fighting your friends?"

    Then the eyes were on her. Not looks of shock or hate, but worry. Looking around it was hard not to see the pain on some of their faces. That moment came for them all, of course, when they had to fight their Navy brothers and sisters. They all understood that moment. Clint thought she might be overwhelmed was all.

    There was no more pretending- not that there had been in front of Clint in any case. But this...was a little different. All of the eyes of the crew on her, no disgust or anger, just pure concern for her well being. She hated being in the spotlight, she hated being wet, she hated seeing the mixture of water and blood on the deck from a war that she loathed.

    What she hated the most? The knowledge that no matter how careful they'd been, someone was going to lose a father, brother, mother, or sister. Some family would be torn apart by the knowledge of what the rebels had done, and the cycle of hatred would only continue until one side was beaten, crushed under the boot of people who ought to have been their family.

    Her hands would be stained permanently.

    "I feel like I want the ground to swallow me whole." So she stood there, feeling lost in clothes that weren't hers, with people she barely knew- dripping a mixture of water and blood onto the deck of a ship that wasn't hers.

    "That can certainly be arranged." Deik grumbled. "Can I have my coat back?"

    Clint elbowed his partner in crime and waved his hand in the air to dismiss the crew. There were new repairs to be done, they'd be needing to stop and soon, before another ship found them in ruins. The closest town was Aoke, seeing as he wanted to avoid landing in any forts for the time being. They could patch up there and be on their way again. East, it would seem, was safer for them all.

    Now, with Clint just a short foot away from Tessa, he made sure Will was out of sight. It was just the two of them, face to face. He placed a hand on her shoulder and for once didn't meet her level. It was demeaning, rude really, so instead he only looked down at her face, scrutinizing each detail of her features.

    "Tessa, are you alright?" He asked her quietly. "Do you want to go somewhere else?"

    Clint was just afraid she'd have a meltdown. She'd taken part of the slaughter of her brothers and sisters. How did that feel?

    Tessa refused to meet Clints eyes. Murderers all of them. He could pretend concern, but the way he looked down on her betrayed him. Even the warmth of his hand soaking through Deiks wet jacket was unwelcome to her chilled body. She felt merely...numb.

    "I'm fine."

    She pulled away from Clint, shrugging out of Deiks jacket and tossing it to him.
    "Sorry about that." She offered him a soft smile, arms unobtrusively wrapped around her waist, and quickly stalked away; intent on being alone.

    Clint followed her anyways. Fine didn't cover it. He waited until she was inside her room, gave her a solid minute, glancing between Deik and Will as he waited.

    There was a big hole in Deik's jacket, and at that he groaned. Will only managed to laugh at his misfortune. At least they were at ease then, bickering back and forth as to how soon he could have his jacket repaired. Deik didn't care about much, but he got a little too close to his jackets.

    "Tessa, I'm coming in." He told her. Again, he waited a second, but decided that barging in was the best answer. This way she couldn't avoid him.

    When the door had closed behind her, Tessa could feel everything hit her at once. People she'd probably killed, all for the selfish reason of saving one of the only people in the world she loved- regardless of the distance that had come between them. She had ruined families, under the pretense of saving her own. A hypocrite of the highest order. The only thing that kept her going, kept her from breaking, was the knowledge that she had to take care of herself first.

    After all, if she bled out, then all of these sacrifices would have been for nothing.

    Robotically Tessa started at the laces of Jess' corset. Pulling the fabric away from her waist with a hiss of pain. It was still bleeding sluggishly, though the pressure of Jess' damned corsets had helped keep that in check.

    Damnit, Tess lowered her face into one hand, squeezing her eyes shut to try and keep the tears at bay. She couldn't afford to break down, she couldn't afford to cry-

    Her heart jumped into her throat when the door abruptly swung open, and Tess leapt with a gasp for the nearest covering she could find; a blanket. Pulling the blanket to her chest for modesty's sake, Tess turned to the door with a glare, and a flush highlighting her cheeks.

    "Get out!"

    "No, and you're a fool for keeping me away!" Clint roared. "For Gods sake, we all know who you are, all know where you come from, and you're shaming yourself being so modest."

    He wasn't referring to the way she covered herself up. Clint was talking about the modesty she pretended to have after killing so many Navy troops. Even by her hand, she hadn't touched nearly as many as the crew, and still she was miserable. He wouldn't accept that. Couldn't accept the hypocrisy she spewed. At least, he figured that had to be going through her mind.

    He'd had the same thoughts once.

    "Put something on, so I can talk to you." He spat. Angry. Clint worked his way through Jessie's clothes and tossed a thicker sweater her way. It was simple, black, and would cover her just fine. "Do you want to die here? I want Jessie back, you want Jessie back, so stop being such a royal pain."

    Tessa lifted one arm to stop the incoming sweater, angrily balling it in one fist while the other continued to clutch the sheet to her chest.

    "A pain? Are you out of your bloody mind?!" Tessa shoved one arm through the sleeve of the sweater, awkwardly dragging the sweater over her head with one hand before dropping the sheet. She would not let him see her in a weakened state- at least he had picked a black sweater.
    "I'm giving everything I can possibly give to get Jessie back! Going against all of my morals, everything I've believed in!" Dashing away the tears in her eyes- Gods, why did she always cry- Tessa continued. Quieter, as if the words would break her if spoken too loudly.

    "How many people do you think died there? How many fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters- how many wives will go without their loved ones because of us. How many children are going to be raised without a parent, and come after our next generation with nothing but vengeance in mind.

    I'm not okay with it. I'll never be okay with it- but I understand what needs to be done. The sacrifices that need to be made for my selfish desires. So I'm fine. I'm fine."She repeated the words to herself, as if she needed to hear them to firm her belief in her words. Like she needed to convince herself that the words were true.

    "And you don't think it's the same on this side?" Clint retorted loudly.

    His anger rose. How could she be so blind? It wasn't only the Navy which had families, lives, other things to worry about than snatching a pile of rogue men and women to take back with them. They wanted to go home just as badly as the Rebel's did. Only for them? They'd never be able to return.

    "What do you think happens when a Navy crew wipes out a fleet of Rebel ships?" He yelled. "Your beloved Navy wipes out more of us than we do of them, and how many families do you think suffer because of that?"

    Clint's face was hot with anger, he went to the locket around his neck for comfort, an automatic response.

    "Deik's brothers were all killed last year by a Navy invasion. William used to have a sister, a mother, a father, and do you know what happened to them? Tortured. His sister was raped so many times, the reports got back saying they never knew which bloody man was the father of her bastard kids. She was married! And you think that killing a few of your brothers is bad enough? Rodney's got no one! The Navy annihilated the West years ago, he's the last in his name!"

    If that wasn't bad enough for her, there were other stories. More men and women than he could count on one hand that had suffered at the hands of the Republic Navy.

    "My own wife and-" But that's where he drew the line. He gripped the locket even harder. "The struggle is the same on both sides, what does it matter to you if you ruin a few lives on the other side? You've already done more damage than you know."

    "You think I don't know that? That the navy has killed just as many people as the rebels?!" Tessa had never been good at conveying her thoughts and emotions into words. Trying to succinctly describe everything she was feeling- and his complete and utter inability to see was driving her to the point of blind rage.

    "Someone needs to stop the cycle! We just keep fighting and fighting- but the only thing that will result is more violence! Look at us! We're prepared to go through hell and back for one girl, in the grand scheme of things it makes absolutely no sense!

    The people we kill, their family will look for revenge on those close to us. our children will kill their children. Their children will kill our grandchildren- So forgive me for being upset about ignoring every fiber of my being! Does it change anything I'm going to do to save her? No.

    So why the hell are you so fucking angry!

    "They took my child from me!" He screamed not an inch from her face. The crease lines from his anger clearly showed on his defined features, black hairs tangled themselves from the small bun he kept so meticulously tight on the back of his head. "He wasn't even born, and I watched as they ripped by unborn child from my wife's womb. And you want to know why I'm angry?"

    Clint took a step back, combed back his hair, but he went right back to scolding her for being so ignorant.

    "You don't think about things on my side. all you care about is them." He snapped. "If you believed in your own ideals you woul've stayed put in your room and not laid a finger on anyone! But you fought. You fought hard, and you worked with us to keep them at bay, now what does that say?"

    "Do you want to stop looking for Jessie then? Just give up? Because that goes against your being, too!" He screamed. "So you have to think, what are you fighting for, really? You were willing to kill Navy men today, but you aren't willing to do it any more to save your own sister? Your flesh and blood? She would die for you!"

    Had the years made her dense? All Jessie ever talked about was getting Tessa back. Tessa didn't seem to care a lick about that. All she wanted to do was keep her morals up without bloodshed when the world didn't work that way.

    "Death will happen, on both sides. Did you see that ship today? It attacked us. We don't scout out Navy unless it's entirely necessary. Don't you think I want this cycle to end as well?"

    Clint had to loosen his grip to save his knuckles from the bone white state they were in. She'd pushed him too hard, and he wasn't going to step down.

    "When the hell did I ever say I was going to stop trying to save Jessie?" No, she wasn't going to back down from this. He wasn't the first to lose a child- gods, she couldn't even imagine the pain. She had no empathy to give, because that was one thing she just didn't understand. The pain of losing someone so permanently, without the slightest chance of bringing them back. But she couldn't back down.

    "Why don't you open your eyes and listen to the words I'm saying! I'm giving up everything for her- All of my ideals? My beliefs? They'd be nothing without my sisteralive. So yes, I fought, because the best chance I have of saving my sister lies with her crew!" Tessa could feel her strength flag, wetness creeping down the leg of her pants following the dull aching in her side.

    "I fought, and I'll keep fighting. Until my sister is standingright here, safe and sound. After that? You can consider me permanently out of your way. I won't bother you with my presence any longer." I doubt I'll be here any longer then that anyway. Distressed, Tessa staled over to the window- craving the sight of the sky, clouds- anything to try and calm her down.

    "Just listen to yourself. Accusing me of giving up on Jessie, and berating me for fighting at your side all in one breath! You can't have it both ways- either I'm trying to save my sister or I'm not. Whatever the hell you decide, let me know. Because it's obvious that you'll think whatever you want anyways."

    "You're blind." Clint said quietly.

    He couldn't convince her of a damn thing. The world was so black and white in her eyes. There was a quest, she wanted to change the way things worked, but she'd have to get blood on her hands. People died all the time in war, and if she stained her hands, it meant going against her morals. Everyone else fought her battles. To save Jessie she'd kill a thousand men it seemed, even of her own kind.

    "Would you fight the same men to save someone like me?" Clint asked her. "At what point do you get to decide the value of a life?"

    Blood was smeared down her side. Silently, and angrily, he stepped towards her and placed two of his fingers along her spine, fearing that any other touch would send nails his way. He whispered his words, checking over her body for repairs, and silently did his work. She would never understand the pain.

    "Cover the wound with the gauze, top drawer on the left." He instructed. "Sleep on it for as long as you can, come see me if you're feeling ill." As soon as he was done healing her wounds he stepped back and away from her.

    Tessa paused, unsure of where she should put her hands, or how she should stand- her first instinct was to push him away, after everything he'd said. And still, despite the heated words they'd been exchanging only moments before, and the anger she could still see in the tense lines of his face, his hands were careful on her side. Almost gentle.

    "At this point, I don't even think it would be worth saving myself..." The words were muttered, and Tess went back to avoiding Clints eyes. Hand unconsciously returning to her side during his instructions. She herself was everything she hated about the world- and yet she wouldn't change it. Couldn't change it. She couldn't imagine a world without the ones she loved.

    Hesitantly, Tessa reached out, fingers barely brushing against the back of his hand. All of her focus on that one spot of brief contact- like if she tried hard enough she could convey everything she was feeling, and all of her thoughts.

    "For what it's worth... I am sorry. That you've suffered. And I can't think of anything in the world that could make up for what was done, but if it existed... I would do it in a heartbeat."

    Clint's face was like a slate of stone. There was no emotion or expression in his tone either to suggest what he was thinking, he'd simply reverted back to the calm and collected man he usually was.

    "You don't understand what it's like. I do not want your sympathy, I want change." He uttered. "I would have seen that not a single man on that crew was harmed, but they attacked us. Defense crosses the thin line of revenge and war."

    He pushed her hands away from his. She truly didn't understand what it was like to live in the real world. People weren't brought back from the dead. Wars meant loss, and she hadn't experienced something like that yet. Until then, she'd keep her ideals, her silly little games where she could keep the ones she loved so long as the rest stayed out of the way. So long as she could advance, to change the system.

    It was selfish, and he hated it.

    "Every life is worth something." He went on speaking, "But you and I do not get to decide the cost. Lives are lost, and in the end, only then can we tally up the marks and see what we've done."

    The world is a horrible place. Justice is blind to everyone, patient with those who know how to work the system best.

    "Get some rest." His voice was barely audible, and he left without another word of explanation.

    Chapter Six, black

    4th Month, 2nd Day

    "Yes, sir!" Dael sighed, running his fingers through his hair tiredly, eyes fixed forwards form his position on the bridge. Ever since he had come to the conclusion of exactly who 'Theresa Astor' was, he'd hardly gotten a wink of sleep. A combination of a new mission, and the sudden surprising visit of Judge Alder... The only rest he'd been able to get were during his brief visits to the hospital.

    And he still didn't know what to do with her.

    All of the evidence led Dael to believe that the higher ups were aware of the deception. Heck, they were probably behind the whole thing. The only question was:Why? And the disturbing report he'd received...the entire reason for Judge Alder's appearance... He would have a lot of thinking to do again that night.


    "Ow... Doc, no need to be so rough on me." Doctor Freemont frowned at the man sitting in front of her, ignoring the charming, easygoing grin he offered her. It was obvious that whatever she was doing didn't really hurt. Thatcher just enjoyed complaining.

    "Well, if you didn't break your arm falling out of a treethen I wouldn't have to be so rough with you. Now sit still so I can do my job." Thatcher chuckled, reaching one hand up to scratch at his salt and pepper hair.

    "I'm getting too old for this job." Doctor Freemont sighed, putting the last touches on the binding around Thatchers arm before pulling back.

    "Then retire and make my job easier." Thatcher's grin never faded, he seemed to enjoy the exasperation he caused the good doctor. In fact he quite enjoyed the tired looks she sent in his direction. Doctor Freemont ignored Thatcher, turning instead to Jessamine with a small smile of her own.

    "Looks like you're just about ready to get out of here again. How are you feeling?"

    "Better." Jessie shrugged. She was in the middle of eating her midday meal, spooning mouthfuls of tasteless pudding into her already stuffed face. It wasn't a pleasant meal, but it was packed with vitamins, a special brew of the Republic's design. Eating it almost made her nervous there was some sort of mind altering drug inside, but it'd been so long since she'd come aboard that it was hardly an issue any longer.

    There was one thing she really wanted to do though, finally get back to the deck and let the wind kiss her face. Gods, she didn't realize how much she missed the view. That, and she wanted to get back to secretly practicing her alchemy. It was hard to do in the confines of the medical bay.

    "Am I allowed out today?" She asked, peering over at the strange man she was patching up.

    He looked older than most of the crew, peppered hair combed back over his head. She didn't even know his name. There were still so many to learn in so little time. Hell, she hadn't even figured out that Skyre's first name was Quinn for a full day!

    "Outside?" The doctor looked her up and down once, but eventually nodded her head, standing up to examine her vitals. "Stand still."

    She did. This was a typical trick Clint would do from time to time. With a simple touch of her hand on Jessie's chest, she was able to check the entire body for any repairs. It felt like a tickle in the back of her throat, and nothing more. Once she was done, Jessie started to clip together her standard issue corset. A larger size had been issued due to her chest problems.

    "You appear to be alright." She waved her on, and returned to Thatcher. "Go, go Miss Astor, I don't want to be seeing you again soon!" She chuckled.

    "Got the go ahead from the doc, eh?" Thatcher stood from his seated position in the bed opposite Jessie, stretching out surprisingly long legs. He offered her a wide, white-toothed smile and a hand.

    "Names Thatcher, don't think I've seen you around. Mind if I walk with ya', you've got that eager look about you, and I could use some fresh air myself." Thatcher was turning on the charm as high as he could manage. An easy feat for him, considering he spent most of his time blending into various atmosphere's. He wasn't the intelligence lead on the Esper for nothing, after all.

    Jessie smiled politely, she'd been planning on trying something first before she went back to alert her Captain of her recovery. It was a small sport that her own crew had perfected thanks to her water based alchemy, but, Thatcher would only keep her from that for a while, it wasn't a big deal.

    "Theresa Astor, Captain in training, it's good to meet you, sir." She'd somewhat perfected her jargon since staying in the medical ward. It was easy to pick up on the little things after listening to other members speak it, day in and day out.

    They walked for a short time, Jessie eyeing up other men and women carefully, trying not to stick out too much. The corset felt tight around her waist, making her sick to her stomach outside the regular confines she was familiar with. She focused on breathing for a minute before attempting at a conversation with Thatcher.

    "My apologies, I've been in the med bay for quite some time, I'm not familiar with you, Thatcher." She explained. "Of course, we all are here under Captain Cooper, but who are you exactly, sir?" She was able to grin slightly, showing she wasn't trying to be rude or ignorant.

    "Ah, Officer Astor. It's a pleasure to meet you as well. And no need for formalities," Thatcher threw a wink in Theresa's direction, "After all, I'm not much of anybody on this ship." Opening the door for Theresa, Thatcher followed her out onto the deck and took in a deep breath of the crisp air.

    "Oh, looks like we're already preparing to land." The deck was a flurry of activity, with men running around, tugging on ropes and folding the sails. The wings, normally perpendicular to the hull of the ship had folded back twisting to point the wind turbines down. Dael himself was at the prow of the ship, giving orders through a short range com- controlling the large airship from a smaller set of controls right by the figurehead.

    "Ha ha, luckily we're both excused from duties at the moment. It's always a zoo out there landing this beauty."

    Surely that couldn't be right, someone of his age had to have been substantially important. Otherwise he was nothing more than a late recruit, but Jessie hardly doubted that was the case.

    "Where exactly are we landing?" Jessie suddenly asked. She hadn't gotten word of that information. "I really have been stuck in the med bay for quite some time." Also in that time she'd rather perfected keeping herself together instead of falling apart. After the first break down, she'd only tried it once after. It pained her just as much, but she figured waiting the extra second would make it hurt less. It kept her where she wanted to be, safe, away from anyone with prying eyes.

    She lulled to the side of the vessel, her elbows rested on the railing as she gazed out at the clouds around them. They rose quickly as they descended to the ground and she sighed.

    "Thatcher, do you want to try something with me?" She asked innocently enough.

    Thatcher blinked, not hesitating for a second before tucking his hands into his pockets with a nod.
    "Sure, what can I help you with?" He kept his eyes deceivingly peeled, despite the casual way he stood- as though he hadn't a care in the world. He was always careful, sure to keep an eye on everyone and everything around him. Which was why, even though he noticed the large arm swinging behind him, he didn't dodge. He still needed to keep an eye on this blonde girl in front of him.

    Something just didn't ring as right.

    Hewlett slung his arm around Thatchers neck, pulling him down to his level with his neck tucked under his arm in a headlock. The red-head grinned, fiercely rubbing his knuckles into the older males head- very much like a brother might pester a younger sibling.
    "What- you getting slow in your old age, geezer? Quit hoggin' all the pretty girls." In a move that was difficult to see, Thatcher twisted out of Hewletts grasp and turned the tables on him. It was an old tradition the two had, one that was hard to let die even if they weren't boys anymore.

    "I don't have to hog them," Thatcher sniffed, "They just happen to like me better."

    "I don't recall picking a favorite." Jessie teased. "Now, follow me."

    She took some steps away from the railing, waiting for her new friends to follow suit. Although that wasn't where she wanted to go, not yet, as soon as she was a few paces from the rail she stopped and turned around so she was facing it once more. Jessie raised a hand and waved the boys aside before bolting right for the railing and throwing herself over the edge, laughing.

    "Jessie, no! What if it doesn't work?" A young Tessa asked her sister, who could only shrug.

    "Then I guess we break our legs, now come on, I'll do it!"

    Jessie fell through the sky, the ground fast approaching. Waiting, she gave it a few seconds with her hands tucked behind her head before sliding her hands out like they were wings. Although they weren't, she still felt like she was flying of course. There were alternative means to getting around in the sky but this was her favorite.

    "On your feet, keep them straight or it won't work!" Jessie scolded her sister as they fell from the tower.

    "Thatcher!" She called from below, knowing he couldn't hear, before finally she snapped her fingers and let the alchemy take over. Her feet felt like they were in a separate space. Warm air surrounded them, then cold, and the pressure boosted her back up until she could glide through the air as if she were on skates.

    "Thatcher, don't you trust me?" She called, this time he couldn't ignore her.

    As soon as Theresa stepped off of the edge, Thatcher lunged for the rail, letting Hewlett fall to the ground rather ungraciously. God damn it he was getting too old for this.

    "Captain!" The call wasn't necessary, Dael had been keeping an eye on his new blonde haired crew-member, watching in case she ended up getting injured again. Sudden collapse? It was possible, he had concluded. But jumping off of the side of the ship?

    He thought he was the only one crazy enough to do that.

    By the time he had made it to the rail, hands clenched into white knuckled fists on the metal surface, Jessamine had already begun to even out- whatever was slowing her fall was invisible to the eye, but from her call it was obvious she could include someone else. Alchemy, no doubt, since he saw none of the normal signs of mechanical flight.

    "Well, are you going to join her Thatcher?" Thatcher shook his head at his captains suggestion, a distressed expression crossing his face as his fingers ran through his salt and pepper hair.

    "Sorry Cap'. I'm getting too old for this kind of stuff." Dael had to stifle a smile at that. Hadn't Thatcher been the one urging him into crazy things when he was simply an officer himself? Not that Thatcher had ever taken part in them, but Dael had always seen it as the older man testing the mettle of his soon-to-be-captain.

    "Well, no use keeping a lady waiting then." With a formal nod, Dael levered himself over the edge- fighting back his own instincts that told him he was jumping to his death. She's a rebel, the enemy, he didn't have his glider; so many things could go wrong.

    But he wanted to feel like he was flying of his own accord.


    Jessie watched him fall past her. The alchemic pressure she'd forced on her own heels kept her up, but not him. He was falling pretty fast, and didn't want him to screw up the careful pressure changes.

    She let the pressure dissipate, a strange orb of water bursting around her ankles as it readjusted into the atmosphere. Then she, too, was falling, stretching her arms towards her Captain so he wouldn't plummet to his death. There wasn't even a second thought about saving him. That's what she had to do, make sure his death didn't happen, especially as Theresa.

    Talking was useless with the air in their ears. Jessie grabbed hold of his coat before reaching in more, and more, until her arms were wrapped tight around him to keep the balance in check.

    "Hang on!" She screamed over the rush of wind.

    Again, the same as before, she muttered the careful spell of sorts. Alchemy felt like magic, but, there was always an exchange required. All she was doing was adjusting the pressure, which never required much, but the jolt from falling to rising always scared first time jumpers.

    Just as she was used to, they adjusted, and were soon rising up towards the ship. The pressure was centralized around their feet, this was her preferred spot. That way? She could walk on air, quite literally.

    "Afternoon, sir." Jessie saluted him, pulling her hand away to do so knowing they were safe now. She stood up straight, her feet keeping the control now. "Officer Astor reporting, I've been cleared from the med bay."

    If he said the fall hadn't effected him at all- well, he would have been lying. When he had plummeted pastTheresa Jessamine, he had thought for sure something had gone wrong. He had made his career on chances like this, and he'd almost been prepared to use that- until he felt a small hand grab the back of his coat.

    Soon they were bouncing back upwards, and it might have felt like gravity had reversed if it weren't for the intense wind blowing back up at them and Jessamine's careful guiding. Excitement bubbled in his chest, bursting forth in a full blown laugh that might have taken most of his crew by surprise. He couldn't tell if the pounding of his heart was from the fear of the fall, or the pure joy he felt standing on thin air.

    "Well, this is certainly a different way to tell your commanding officer you're fit for duty." He had almostgotten the trick of staying balanced on the slippery air. It almost felt like walking on a bubble, with the way the air was slipping and squishing under his feet. He placed one hand on Jessamine's shoulder to stabilize himself.

    "I have to say I'm glad you caught me. It might have looked quite bad if the captain of the Esper ended up killing himself by falling off of his own ship."

    "I hadn't expected to see you. I was waiting for Thatcher."

    Jessie had an easy time balancing, this was her favorite means of entertainment, playing in the air really. Her feet shifted back and forth, constantly sliding and positioning themselves in better pockets.

    "Captain, you need to balance a little better." She informed him, a smirk on the corner of her lip.

    Something had been off about him in the past week. He hadn't seemed the same since her one delirious night in the med bay. For the life of her she couldn't remember what she said, and if it were incriminating or not. She'd thought an awful lot about her sister, promised to do what she could to promote her.

    At least when I'm dead she'll have a place up top.

    Jessie didn't want to go back on board though. She wanted to be back with her crew, laughing and singing the shanties of old pirates, whether or not they existed wasn't up for debate. She missed Clint, Deik, Rodney and Will, all of them were probably fine without her. It was how they functioned after all. Still, she was their Captain, and she liked to think that they were looking for her, that they knew it was her sister in her place.

    "Let's get back." She said glumly. "We're landing soon, correct?"

    "Correct. We're here to pick up something important. I hope you'll tell me more about this little trick though- I'm always looking for ways to improve my own gliders." Finally managing to find the right way to stand on the slippery air, Dael managed a small triumphant smile.

    "Remarkable. I fear I'll have to hold onto you on the way up. I'm not sure how I'll fare while moving." He couldn't help but wonder, as he took in the reluctant look the blonde girl gave the navy ship, if she was anything like her sister. Jessamine Astor, and Theresa Astor. On paper, this girl- awkward around authority, free to the point of insubordination- was nothing like her sister. And yet they had been close enough once, that Jessamine could pass as Theresa to the point that she fooled even Quinn Skyre. Presumably a close friend.

    How much of herself was she hiding under this mantle of her sister? The curiosity that he tried to tamp down only strengthened. Was this the real Jessamine? The girl who liked to fly, and showed no fear jumping off of the side of a ship even after having been gravely injured not two weeks ago?

    "Sorry." Jessie smirked, her eyes narrowing playfully into a common look of hers. When she was in a particularly mischievous mood, that twinkle in her eye would shimmer, and before Dael could say another word she let the pressure around his feet dissipate.

    She watched him fall for a moment. It was innocent fun, she wasn't trying to hurt him, and soon after she picked him up by the collar of his shirt. The runes for the alchemy were hidden on small cuffs on her hands and shoes, either on gloves, a bracelet, or the simple carvings on the bottom of her boot.

    "You'll never know my secret." She whispered in his ear.

    The double meaning in her words wasn't originally implied, but it was too sweet to pass up, and she let the words simmer in the air between them until they were back on deck.

    "I apologize for my behavior, sir." Jessie pushed Dael over the edge, hovering for a second longer before resting her arms along the edge. All it would take to ruin her balance was if she misplaced her boots, it was the only flaw in her system. Thank the gods for that.

    Dael thought he had landed rather gracefully considering the circumstances- and his fingers idly tugged at the lapels of his jacket to straighten the heavy fabric. Had he been any other captain- that might have been cause for dismissal, if not arrest for contempt of a superior commanding officer. But she wasn't an ordinary navy soldier, and he wasn't the average Navy captain. Returning her mischievous smile with a rather deceiving one of his own, Dael turned back to the still floating girl.

    He'd noticed something very interesting during that last drop in altitude- the symbols in the bottoms of her boots.

    "I'm more then willing to forgive, if you'll accept my apology as well." He didn't give her a chance to contemplate his meaning, before ducking with a sudden sweep of one leg- hooking her feet out from under her in a way that would let her fall away from the railing. He didn't want to put her back in the hospital with a head injury the day she was released for her ribs.

    From his crouched position it was easy to stretch out his arms and catch the falling girl, his smile widening into a boyish grin.

    "There. Now we've both caught each other."

    For a second she felt gravity pushing her down, the alchemy dispersed with the sweep of his hand. Then, she was falling, terrified, she was used to the intentional jump and the graceful save. Something about not being able to save herself scared her beyond measure.

    She didn't hate heights, necessarily, simply what came from a misstep. It showed in her face as he caught her. Frozen, her hands were wrapped together in a sort of pleading motion.

    Then she scowled. Angry.

    "I would like to request that you never do that again, do you understand?" Her voice was low so that no other soldier could hear them. Then she was up on her feet, brushing herself off as she glowed hot with anger. She'd been made a fool of, and she wasn't fond of the feeling of embarrassment. "May I be dismissed?" She asked calmly.

    In truth, it was heights. She hated them. Hated knowing that she was hundreds of feet in the air, thousands, with no way to save herself if she fell except for the runes on her boots and he'd so easily spotted them!

    She tried to keep from whimpering as she checked to make sure the marks were still intact.

    Her vehement anger took him by surprise, finally dragging him back into the present. So she could dish it out, but she couldn't take it? That, and private though it was, her show of temper bordered on disrespect... Had anyone else heard her...

    Dael knew what he had to do now. With Judge Alder on board, she couldn't afford the slightest mistake. It surprised him how much he didn't want to see the girl unjustly punished. At least, unjustly for the crime of insubordination. Judge Alder was not well known for his mercy, and despite what she may have done to get herself in her current position... As of right now, she was a member of his crew.

    "In just a moment officer Astor," Dael himself kept his voice low enough that neither one of the crew members standing just off to the side would be able to hear over the roar of the engines, the use of her 'rank' rather then the informal Miss as a gentle reminder of who she was supposed to be.
    "I thought you should know that you were bordering on insubordination. Had I been any other captain- and had I not known about your specific circumstances- that tone of voice would be highly inappropriate."

    Offering a soft smile to try and lesson the blow of his admonishment, Dael stepped forwards and clasped her shoulder in one hand. Leaning close to lesson even the slightest chances that someone might overhear, and using her body to shield his mouth from the no doubt intently watching spy master, Dael delivered the rest of his advice.

    "Apologies once again, Miss Jessamine. I caution you to step lightly, however. There are not as many friendly eyes as I would like on this ship." With one final squeeze, Dael left before she could respond. Let her think on it, and come to him later. She would have questions, and hopefully by then he would have answers. Until then, there were things he had to accomplish.

    With a low whistle, Hewlett approached, eyes fixed on the retreating captains back. Oblivious to the expression of the girl in front of him.
    "Would you look at that. He must like you- remember the last time you dropped him Thatch'? By the gods I've never seen you so- Omph!" Hewlett was cut off by a quick jab to the ribs, the rest of his sentence being overtaken by breathless curses.

    "Indeed.." Was Thatchers only reply, his eyes carefully watching every minute change on the girls face. What on earth had that been about. He needed to know.

    Jessie was in a daze. He knew. Nothing had prepared her for that moment. She wanted to curse, to scream, to jump ship to hide her face from Dael Cooper. He knew and he hadn't said a thing until her temper rose. The girl wrung her hands, pressing them to her mouth in the end to cover the gasp which escaped her pink lips.

    Suddenly she was aware of Thatcher's eyes on her and she froze all expression. Her brows were locked in confusion, her lips in surprise, and her eyes reflected fear. Fear for her own life, her sister's, and her crew all showed through the shimmering blue eyes she'd inherited. Her sister had the same ones, but they were still different people.

    I couldn't do it. Couldn't be Tessa, I'm going to get her killed.

    Gods she wanted to punch something, or even cry! She moved her hands to cover her eyes for the briefest of moments before wiping the earlier emotion clean from her pale face. All that showed her true feelings were her eyes, still reflecting horror.

    "I was quick with my temper however, and I must apologize to him for my actions later." She murmured. That's right, she would have to be more careful.

    The new man, Hewlett, reminded her somewhat of William except without a beard to match. His red hair was different from Will's, also. They were both large, hulking people. She wasn't intimidated by his size. It was Thatcher who worried her. His scrutinizing looks and careful eyes made her more wary around him now. He said little, wouldn't admit to his position earlier when she asked. Something about that didn't sit right with her, but there wasn't anything she could do but be polite.

    "I-I need to lay down for a moment." Jessie decided that was the best excuse. "I've only just got out of the med bay, and this is a little too much excitement for me."

    She made a small salute, playing it safe being so unsure of their ranks and titles.

    "Ah, we'll let you rest then. I'm feeling a bit famished myself, I'll probably drop by the mess hall first. Hewlett would you care-" A sheepish smile bit off Thathchers words, Hewletts morose expression saying everything for him.

    "Damned anchor duty. I can't grab lunch till the ship has landed." Chuckling wryly, Thatcher turned with a wave. Poor Hewlett- never turned down the opportunity to grab a bite at the mess. It was a wonder the man wasn't rotund.
    "Well, I'll see you around... Astor, wasn't it?" Hewlett quickly brightened, giving the blonde haired girl a cheerful wave before trotting off to the starboard end, disappearing behind the cabin. He immediately turned to see Thatcher, waiting with one hand in his pocket as he always did on 'business'.

    "You don't waste any time. Why do you always have to check on the pretty ones." His words were mournful, and Thatcher gave a small exasperated shake of his head.

    "Whenever the captain stops being interested in them." Hewlett could do nothing but grunt his agreement. The captain had notoriously bad taste in women, a reputation not helped at all by his near obsession with all things mechanical. It was a running joke with the crew that one day their captain would manage to make a perfect girlfriend, before he could find a live one.

    "Then what do you want from me?"

    "What makes you think I want anything from you?" Hewlett gave Thatcher a look, one that told him he wasn't fooling him. It was just the nature of the man- to be vague about everything and non-commital about everything else.

    "You always have lunch at the exact same time every damned day. Borders on compulsion. That and you're waiting here for me." Perhaps Hewlett wasn't as oblivious he appeared.

    "Here's what I want you to do..."

    Jessamine retreated to her cabin, holding her hands flat against the door while she simply breathed. He knew. When had he figured it out? Did anyone else know besides him? She just had no way of knowing, even as a Captain in training, an Officer, Jessamine didn't have access to files like that. Especially not here. Someone knew, Dael knew, gods she was afraid.

    She paced past the properly folded bed, ignoring the clothes laid out for her on the dresser, and walked straight to the window to throw it open. It wouldn't be too late to jump ship, fly away until she got back. It might just work, too.

    For those few seconds, she sat in her window, her legs dangling out the other side while she rested her head against the wooden pane. There wasn't much she could do at this point, if Dael knew, it was likely the whole Navy would be on her tail and she'd be dead by morning. The odds weren't in her favor.

    "I couldn't do it..." She murmured out the window. "I just couldn't..."

    Jessie smacked her head against the pane with every syllable. Smack. She'd failed. Smack. Her head would be on a spike if the Republic wanted it badly enough. Smack, smack, smack.

    Knock. Knock. Knock.

    It was easy to tell from the slow pounding knocks on the door, that whoever happened to be on the other side was irritated beyond belief. Buri was always irritated beyond belief, and honestly what kind of captain made others act out his apology for him. Muttering under her breath about captains who needed to learn their place, Buri lifted her hand in a fist and once more pounded on the door.

    Exactly three knocks every single time.

    "You'd better be in here girl! I've already been to the mess hall looking for you. And I swear by all things holy I willleave- gods damn what the captain says." Crossing her arms over her chest, Buri glared at the door fiercely. She wouldn't leave, not really. But she didn't want the girl who resided in this room to know that. There was no way she'd ignore a direct order from captain Cooper.

    So she waited, with all the patience of a twice scorned woman. Or a blacksmith. She would much rather force her way through her problems.

    Jessie sighed. She couldn't refuse anyone on the ship any more. Even if that meant obeying and complying to each and every rule, she would drop the attitude, drop the personality. Being a mindless woman was better than getting her sister killed. If anything, Tessa could blame it on the ribs she hadn't even broke it, chock it up to nerves and stress.

    The Rebel Captain could never do that. After all, she was going to die.

    That realization finally set in, too. Jessie was going to die. Nothing in the world could prevent her from living, because if she did, that meant Theresa would die. She wouldn't have that blood on her hands, it wasn't something she'd be able to live with for the rest of her life. The knocking on her door resumed, pulling her from her morbid thoughts.

    "I'm coming." She called.

    Jessie opened the door, her eyes stared towards the floor at first before they met the woman in front of her. Sturdy, good posture, she screamed military from that alone. The other was nothing like that. Messy blonde hair, poor posture as she leaned glumly against the door, it was a far cry from what she was supposed to be.

    "I apologize, I the middle of something."

    Buri gave the girl an odd, unreadable look. It wasn't something she would ever tell anyone- but she was familiar with that look of defeat. The captain had saved her from circumstances that had left her eyes just as empty. She knew the feeling of knowing that there was nothing in your power you could do to change your fate.

    But she had never seen those eyes on the Esper. At least, not after Captain Cooper was done with them.

    "What were you doing? rolling in your bed?" It was hard to keep up her spiny exterior in light of the expression on the girls face, so Buri quickly turned and began her rapid walk down the hall. Boots clomping with a tone of finality.
    "Well, come on then. I have work to do."

    "Come where?" Jessie called after her. Standing there was useless though.

    She sighed, shutting her cabin door behind her in a hurry to catch up with the strange woman. Besides the questions, she hadn't said much at all, not even her name. Even in the Navy people were like that then, like stones she couldn't read, they'd never give a name. Sometimes she was expected to know a face before she'd ever met them. Was this one of those instances?

    "Your name?" She asked.

    The pair of girls walked side by side down the hall, the Officer Astor a few paces behind though, unsure of where exactly they were supposed to be headed. She'd said shehad work to do, not necessarily Jessie.

    "Buri." Taking a quick left, Buri headed down a set of stairs. Surprisingly graceful for all of her tense movements.
    "You're Theresa right?" Honestly, was this girl slow? Buri shot another glance from the corner of almond shaped eyes. She'd been told to expect her, hadn't she?

    "Well, Theresa," Buri didn't even wait for confirmation. She didn't make mistakes, so she knew this was definitely the girl. "We are going to the forge." She said the words slowly, in a manner that might be construed as condescending if it hadn't been for the absolute lack of superiority in her voice or the way she held herself.

    She turned, using one muscled shoulder to shove in a rather stiff door- she kept forgetting to oil the hinges- releasing a wave of heat into the corridor. The room was dark, lit mainly by the orange glow of low burning coals. The heat had even been suffocating to her at first- but now she welcomed it's embrace, taking in a deep breath of the smoky, metallic air.

    "Boots off. You can find other ones over there in the corner." Buri waved at a jumbled pile of spare working clothes, stripping her uniform jacket over her head- leaving only a loose white under shirt with the sleeves torn off. She firmly tied a thick hide apron over her clothes, the muscles in her arms working quickly with every motion of her hands.

    Jessie was at a loss. She took her shoes off in a daze and pulled an apron from the pile. The corset made her hot, but she could manage. Heat wasn't her element, but there was no way she was taking it off again, risk taking another blow to her chest. It just wasn't worth it.

    "What exactly am I supposed to be doing?" She asked.

    She was just confused. Her was this girl, Buri, parading her down to the forge without so much as an explanation, not a good one really. What was she supposed to do? Follow blindly into the heat? Maybe Tessa was supposed to be able to work there, fire was more her choice after all, but Jessie was clueless now.

    "Buri." She called. "Please, explain to me, I wasn't expecting you or this at all."

    Jessie stood there, panting in the heat and without her usual boots. It made her uncomfortable to be without them in the air, as she'd dwelled on earlier. Buri wasn't acquainted with Jessie either, just a stranger, so what could she help her with exactly? She still followed after blindly.

    "He didn't tell you?" Buri gave Theresa a strange look, holding that look for a few stretched out moments before sighing and smacking her forehead with her palm.

    "Of course he didn't tell you. Because everything in his gods be damned addled brain is some kind of secret." Gruffly Buri swept up Theresa's discarded boots, turning them over to look at the marks on the bottoms. They were well done- and despite her inhibitions she was impressed. She left the overturned boots on the anvil.

    But she could still do better.

    "Pressure equalizing and air flow. Heat and cold- not bad. The medium could use some work. That is why you're here. As if I'm not busy enough already, but now I have to take part in Captain Coopers personal apologies." Falling silent, Buri picked up a set of sturdy black iron tongues, using the tool to stoke up the forge fire while one leg worked the pump.

    "Come here and work this for me. We need to build the fire back up if I'm going to melt the copper. Captain Cooper told me that you seemed concerned about the signs on your boots. He asked me to help you make a more...permanent solution, and hide them." Two quarts of oil, probably two copper bars- perhaps softened with an alloy of gold. The difficult part would be inscribing the symbols on the softened metal- and then keeping it soft and supple without ruining the inscribed marks.

    Perhaps brass would be a better medium? No, she would be better off sticking with her initial instincts. They were always right, after all. Buri's eyes gained a far-away look, lost in her own thoughts and musings.

    "Tell him if he wants to apologize he should do it himself." Jessie growled angrily.

    Something about Buri she liked. Her hard attitude gained Jessie's favor quickly, knowing she could talk smack about Cooper (or at least presumed she could) made her feel a thousand times more at ease than before. Jessie picked up the various alloys before getting to work. Alchemy, using it at least, was what she wanted to do most in that moment. She sat on the ground in front of the forge and traced her finger on the ground in order to get the proper workings in place.

    "For things like metal, I could try to..." Jessie shook her head. "Never mind."

    If they used alchemy to hold the runes in place that would work wonders. Pressure, even water, standing in place of the runes would hold it much better than a replacement metal. Either that, or they'd have to wait until whatever Buri was deciding to make had cooled down enough for them to reheat the space the runes might go.

    "What exactly are we making here?" Jessie asked, tilting her head to the side in question while her hands worked at keeping the fire going. It was as easy as breathing, and eventually, the forge and her rhythms did indeed sync. One breath in was the same as a burst of fire from the forge, an exhale pushed the flames back.

    Her eyes trailed to the metal again, watching Buri work at it, her muscles glistening with sweat in the heat of the forge. She was far too muscular for her own good, Jessie was honestly a little jealous. With arms like those she might be able to fight off Clint when he was an a particularly playful mood.

    "Hah!" Buri smirked, her lips curling on one side as she finally tapped the runes embedded in the bellows- making them work of their own accord so she could get to work softening the already purified copper bars.
    "Damned right he should apologize himself. No doubt he will. But until then give him hell." Buri seemed much too cheerful at that- she honestly enjoyed seeing her captain being given a hard time. It meant that it was something she had to do much less.

    "I won't go into specifics, but the end result should be a sole to be placed at the bottom of your boot, in between layers of leather and the bottom there. If there's anything you can think of adding to it, now would be the time. Once I get the formula in there- it will stay there.Permanently. No one has ever managed to destroy an artifact I created without the use of force that would leave you dead." Buri gave a satisfied smile, tapping her own boots against the ground. They immediately gained weight- easily giving her further leverage and strength for when she began to hammer out a plate of metal to measure and cut.

    "There's a charcoal pencil on the desk over there and some parchment. Old fashioned I know- but regular paper singes much too easily. Draw exactly how you want the symbols inscribed. Don't worry about preservation runes, I'll inscribe them myself."

    Jessie took her sweet time making sure the runes were exactly as she needed them. The size was larger than before, but she figured it wouldn't be an issue. This way, she'd feel more confident with the large runes on her heel. If they were actually in the sole as well, no one would be able to see them. That all put her at ease.

    She almost muttered thanks before she realized, Buri was doing this for Dael. Had it not been for him nearly throwing her overboard without protection, they wouldn't be in the forge crafting her a new symbol. Jessie scowled, muttering about giving him hell.

    "It's not that I don't trust you, but I'd like to inscribe the runes myself." She spoke up. A little was mistrust, being honest, but Jessie always marked her own runes, always. If it wasn't by her hand, often times it just wouldn't do. "Or would that be too difficult?"

    Jessie waved her hand, dismissing the request entirely. Buri knew what she was doing. So she sat back down on the floor after handing her the runes, too dejected to do anything else. She picked at a small tendril of flame, playing with it by marking the ground with silent runes, watching it lick the open air before she fizzled it out.

    That's right. I'm going to die anyways, what does it matter if my boots still have runes on them. It won't stop a bullet.

    "May I be dismissed when we're done?" She asked quietly. Her voice couldn't carry over the sounds of the bellows working and the fire cackling madly along with Buri's handiwork. Jessie would've been surprised had she heard the question. She wanted to go back to solitude, it was easier to be Tessa when no one was watching.

    Because then, she simply didn't have to try.

    "What!?" Buri glared at the girl in front of her, arms continuing to work despite her inattention. As if her body had already memorized the movements of removing the reddened bar, and laying it flat against the anvil.
    "I'll have you know you'd be hard pressed to find any work finer then mine! Be grateful!"

    Muttering under her breath Buri turned back to her work, Kicking her weighted boot against the side of the anvil- which was also her own crafting- to activate the runes on it's side. Immediately light diffused around the metal slab, and the block of iron almost seemed to...hum, under her hands. Like the metal was singing to her.

    She quickly struck up a rhythm- each beat perfectly timed with an intensification of the humming vibrations. Tuned to the movements of her muscles and each breath as it escaped from between her plump lips. They were perfectly in sync- her and her creations. The copper bars rapidly spread out beneath her, quickly forming into two perfectly identical plates- never losing their faint red glow.

    The alchemy was thick in the air- from the runes she had planted in her shoes in much the same fashion as the ones she would be working to do now, to the tiny tattoos- underneath her nails that allowed her to handle the glowing metals without flinching, or burning from the heat.

    Perhaps she was just showing off- but she felt like she needed to proved herself to the girl now morosely sitting on the floor.

    "What are you, a mouse? Speak up, and get over here." Scowling- as was her normal expression- Buri dropped her round headed hammer back into it's holder on the anvils side, dipping both of her hands in the oil she had procured beforehand. Briskly rubbing the lengths of metal down with the special concoction- her masters creation- that aided in the setting of alchemy. That woman was a wonder with anything living. Strange how an apprentice apothecary ended up becoming a smith.

    Thrusting a small inscribing device into Theresa's hands, Buri picked up one of her own- beginning on the runes that would hold the entire thing in place, and keep the metal from becoming too rigid to work as soles.
    "You work on that one, I'll work on this one. We'll switch once we've finished our respective sides. But don't blame me if the alchemy work is subpar." Sniffing her disregard, Buri began on the holding runes. Jeez, turning down the perfectly good opportunity to have a master arti-crafter do the runes for her.


    Jessie did as she was told, but there was hardly any passion in the motions. She had to sketch out the runes on the parchment first to make sure it was just as she wanted it. Several times she did this, over and over, almost forgetting what she wanted to do.

    Right. You're making new soles for your shoes.

    After she assured herself she was ready, Buri seemed to think her work would be subpar, and it certainly didn't help her spirits. So what if she was subpar? It wouldn't matter in a week. Even tomorrow, she could be at the hands of the Judges and Captains high above her. Then what? Nothing but death. With this in her head, it was easy to take her time on the soles. If it was the last thing she did, at least she could make it somewhat beautiful.

    So she etched, carefully, a pair of runes which simulated air pressure. It was a simple combination she'd figured out as a child. Jessie examined her handiwork dully before passing it over to Buri.

    "Here then." She traced her finger along the metalwork, Buri's etchings were a thousand times better of course.

    Buri's eyes briefly swept over the etchings, her head giving a small nod. "They'll do." More approval then Buri gave most people, that was for certain. The rest of the process was quick, minute measurement changes to properly fit into the boots Tessa favored, having her step on the plates to properly fit the soles to the arch of her foot. Then, within another quarter of an hour, The soles were placed in the boots- and Buri was done.

    Done with the job, and quite frankly, done with this girl, whose eyes seemed to die a little more every passing second.

    "Alright. you're all fitted. Go try them out- and get out of my forge." Buri crossed her arms, contemplating the wisdom of throwing in the words she so desperately wanted to say. Every time she looked at the blonde she could feel an itch scratching at the back of her mind. It was irritating her- not that it took much to do that. With a sigh, Buri uncrossed her arms and scratched her head, knocking a few strands of short hair loose from the knot she'd formed at the back of her head.

    "Look. I don't want to know your problems, and quite frankly, I don't care about your problems. But I find itinsulting, to see you standing here moping like some wretched damsel in distress. Anywhere else, I wouldn't give two flying-" Buri quickly curbed her tongue before she went off on another tangent of swearing, "but not on this ship. Now get out. I'm done with you."

    As if punctuating her words, Buri turned away from Theresa Astor and went back to the bellows, giving it another good few manual pumps- stoking the fire up to a higher degree of heat to begin working on another alloy. The captain wanted another part built for his gods be damned flyers, and Buri was the only one who could do it. She wouldn't let anyone else touch the creations that kept Dael safe in the air.

    While on the other side of the ship, a vase of flowers was placed in a certain cabin. Riotous blooms of gold and orange, tall leafy strands of accenting white and green. Petals still dripping with fresh dew, and stems still raw from picking only moments before.

    Jessie felt like she'd been scolded, the way Buri talked to her. And they'd been getting along so well, it was painful to think the small friendship that had formed was nothing more than a mutual distaste for the Captain's ways. A pity really, but a blessing. Jessie didn't want to make friends here, she only wanted to get out, wait for Theresa to come back so she could be killed.

    She paced back to her room slowly, saluting those she needed to and nodding to others. That part was getting easier at least. Her new boots made the same low scuffle they did as before, the only difference being the metal inserts hidden inside.

    Jessie placed a hand on her cabin door and pushed herself inside. She felt exhausted after her time in the forge, sticky and hot beneath the layers required by the Navy uniform. Could the day just be over already?

    Her eyes stopped on a freshly picked bouquet of flowers, confusion first crossed her face. Then she sat in front of the arrangement. Dael Cooper, she groaned, a sap.

    Did he really bring me flowers?

    Jessie stroked the flowers with one of her hands, smiling at least. A sap he was, but if he'd brought them, it made her feel a little better to see something from the ground.

    That big...idiot.

    "Dael." She sighed. He knew. One man knew the truth and that'd be it for her. So, all she could do was sit there and stare blankly ahead. Maybe it'd be over soon enough, her sister crowned a hero for her efforts.

    You are to be advised that we have recieved information about an impending attack on your ship, the Esper.... the measures that have been required to be taken are as follows:... We are entrusting you with success in this, as in your current assignment transporting the 'crown'...

    Dael rubbed his face with one hand tiredly, tossing the papers back onto his desk haphazardly. Behind him a clock chimed eleven times. This looked to be another sleepless night, with all the preparations that still needed to be made for the excursion into the catacombs they would need to come up with for the following morning.

    The crown was already supposed to be in navy possession... but there had been...complications. Add onto that a rebel- potentially a spy (though he was rather hesitant to believe that with the complete and utter lack of snooping she had been doing, even with him offering her information on a silver platter)- currently living on his ship for unknown reasons, and information about an attack? And the procedure that the highers ups had given him to deal with it?

    A knock startled Dael out of his thoughts.
    "Captain Cooper, I presume you aren't busy?" Dael settled himself back in his chair. He hadn't even been able to get up, before the door had swung open and Judge Alder had entered. Even with the question he had posed upon entering (without permission) it was obvious from the way he made himself at home in Daels office that he fully intended to take his time, whether Dael was in fact busy or not.

    "Of course not, please have a seat." He had to fight to keep the dry tone out of his voice, though from the look Alder shot him as he sat he hadn't entirely succeeded.

    "I'm just dropping by for an update on miss Astors training. I understand she was in the medical bay until recently." There was just something so...stiff, about the judge sitting in front of him. It wasn't something Dael could put his finger on, he'd met plenty of his superiors who took the same condescending approach to their subordinates, but Adler somehow made every encounter unpleasant. Even if his words never gave any insult.

    "Yes, she was just released from the medical bay today. I haven't had much time to train her quite yet, but she's incredibly bright. I'm sure we'll have no problems once we get started." Alder nodded, leaning back in the chair with an almost thoughtful expression. The lines and crags on his face turning shadows into veils, and making appear even older then his age of 53. Average, for a judge, though his solid stance and still dark hair bespoke a life of hard work.

    "I see. I was a little concerned, since there had been prior...problems, with miss Astor. It's good to see she's settling down." Right. There isn't an ounce of concern throughtout your entire body. Dael knew, since Alder was the one who had refused to take disciplinary action on the officer who had injured Jessamine in the first place.

    He should have owed it to her to at least hold up a pretense of equality.

    "She seems to be adjusting nicely. It helps that one of her co-workers from the fleet made the transfer as well."

    "Ah yes, officer Skyre, I do believe. Hard working lad, just like his father." Gerald Skyre, a general in the navy.

    "I have no complaints, to be sure. Theresa is making fantastic progress, despite her injuries, and our other recruits are doing just as well."

    "Good. Then I'd like to go over the supplies you've requested as well." Sweeping aside the papers Dael had been reading, he settled himself in for a long, and dry conversation. looks like he wouldn't be getting much work done tonight either.

    The night treated Jessamine no fairly than it did any other soldier. It was well past two in the morning, and the girl tossed and turned restlessly in her bunk. Although she had a whole room to herself, the bed was still somewhat small. She was both a rebel and a captain in training, so it really didn't warrant anything more than the space she was given, she shouldn't have had it in the first place considering her mysterious rank among the other true Navy men and women.

    Her eyes trailed back to the flowers, fingers reaching in the dark towards the fresh blossoming petals. She hadn't spoken to Dael yet about her situation.

    Maybe he's up.

    With that thought in mind Jessie rolled out of bed lazily. Her hair was in tangles around her soft face, pale skin glowing in the faint light cast by candles in her room. Tall shadows crept around her, an informant at every corner. There was always someone, something that would make her situation worse. Be it another medical incident, or Dael's admission having spread too far. Then what? Then she'd be gone.

    She felt like she wanted to move past it, she was better than this for God's sake! Jessamine Astor was a high ranking Captain for the rebel cause, and yet, she couldn't motivate herself to flee. It would only kill her sister. Staying meant certain death, so, what could she do?

    Dael Cooper was her only way out.

    Jessie donned her black coat from the beginning of her time on the ship, finding the Navy apparel to be too much. Then again, the rumors which might spread seeing an out of uniform soldier at her Captain's door? The rebel was quick to tighten the corset. Best to nip that bud before it even bloomed.

    It wasn't a long walk to the door, just a heavy one. Each step brought about a new uncertainty. The first and foremost being, was he even awake? Then what? She'd barge inside and demand answers, at two in the morning he'd be right to send her away. No, she wasn't a recruit any more. He knew her status, sending her away based on military order wouldn't do a thing.

    Her knuckles were raised in the air, poised to knock. Jessie couldn't hardly take it, she was scared of what might happen. But before she could stop herself, knuckles met hard wood and the sound echoed both in and outside the room. She bit her lip hard before turning on her heel to run.

    I should go.

    His wanderings hadn't been any more productive that night, then they had been recently when he had ambled off on a line of thought. The walking helped him think, he'd come up with many great ideas in the past by simply wandering wherever his feet could take him on the ship, but tonight didn't seem to be one of those nights. He was just about to give up for the night when he spotted a head of blonde hair ducking into the hallway to his rooms.

    Now, where would she be going at this time of night. There was a chance that she was a nocturnal wanderer like he was himself, it wasn't uncommon. But he always liked to err on the side of caution. So, as she stood before the door of his room- looking uncertain, if her hesitation was anything to go by- he stayed unobtrusively around the bend of the hall. And then she made her decision.

    He stepped around the corner just as she knocked, prepared to invite her into his office- but he hadn't been expecting her to turn and run. Not that he could say that he was sorry they had collided.

    "Well, good evening," His arms automatically lifted to steady her, though he quickly let her go "or I suppose it would be 'good morning' now." Stepping back from the disheveled girl, Dael had to cover his mouth quickly with one hand to hide the quirk at the corner of his lips. Her hair was still mussed, as though she had just spent the night tossing and turning. He probably looked no better himself but... Cute.

    "What can I do for you, Miss Astor?"

    Jessamine saluted him in case there were others watching before rudely shoving him into his own cabin, her following close behind. No point in courtesies any longer. She wanted answers, and she'd get them, first and foremost she wanted to know when. When had he figured it out, who'd told him, and how soon would her execution be for failing?

    "Who else knows?" She asked in a panic. "Tell me."

    She resisted the urge to press him hard against the wall as she might if she were angry, but that wouldn't do much for her position. Her eyes relayed the fear she didn't want made obvious in her voice, though that was faltering fast. Jessamine, as much as she hated to admit it, was terrified of the secret which he'd shared. He knew. He knew. And if someone like Dael knew, others had to, or it wouldn't be long until they figured it out. The girl cursed herself for not acting the part of her sister a little better.

    "Tell me!" She repeated, the terrified tone of her voice echoing in the dark space.

    Her hands balled into fists at her sides. Jessie wouldn't cry, but she also wouldn't be angry. Gods, what was she supposed to do now? The fearless Captain standing at the hands of the Navy. Clint would have laughed and laughed to see her so distraught.

    "Have you told anyone else? So help me god, if you have, Tessa is going to die!" Jessie cried out, keeping her voice a whisper, a terrified and lonely call. "I'm going to die in any case, but I won't let you-" Jessie shook her head as the tears threatened to spill. "I won't let you drag her down, too. Now tell me what you know!"

    Sometimes he hated being right.

    The panic he could hear in her voice made him frown, and he stretched out one arm blindly to the lamp he knew was placed near the entrance. As soon as the flames flickered to life and he saw the tell-tale glimmer of tears in her eyes, he knew that the worst case scenario had come to fruition in his mind. That or she was a brilliant actress. But considering how quickly he had figured out who she was, he doubted that was the case.

    She wasn't a very convincing navy officer.

    "I would tell you to calm down, but that seldom helps. You don't need to worry, I haven't told a single soul." He wasn't sure how to even being going about consoling her. Had she actually been a crew member, he would know how to help- but not only was she not a crew member, she was also a rebel.

    And something told him she would not appreciate him putting his arm around her shoulder.

    "No one is going to be dying on my ship, Jessamine. I can promise you that." He hoped his reassurances would be at least mildly soothing. From her words he could come to a vague conclusion, and now that he knew, he could make steps to prepare for all potential outcomes. Hopefully.

    "I think I have a good idea about what's going on, so how about I make us some tea, and we sit down."

    "I don't want your bloody tea." Jessie sniffed, but she sat down in a rather expensive looking armchair.

    Their rooms seemed to be about the same size, only Dael had a few more luxuries in place. Surely it had to do with his status as Captain and hers as a secret, undercover, rebel whatever her title was. She couldn't be sure with the chaotic deal that had been struck.

    She curled up in the chair with her legs tucked at her side and her head resting on one of the arms. From above, she looked like a child hiding in her father's arms when she got in too much trouble. Although now she was no child, and her father wasn't there, Tessa wasn't there, to bail her out when things got hard. Jessie rarely thought about the circumstances, rather she'd brashly head on to the goal she wanted to reach. Thus , causing all the problems in her life.

    "If you have something else...milk, I'll take it instead." She murmured weakly from her spot.

    For a second she thought about running again. If she did that, Tessa could at least be warned in time on her crew. She'd resent Jessie though. Tess wouldn't be able to return to her life among the Navy crew, and if she did it would be with a much lower rank and a heavy heart.

    "How did they not tell you? Bastards." Jessie growled. "That the esteemed Captain Astor was on your ship, posing for her sister? It doesn't matter. I'm set to be executed when this is all said and done, may as well just get on with it. There's not much I can do here but destroy my sister's reputation."

    Her accent came through, dropping the formalities she was used to. Jessamine Astor was finally showing through.

    Dael turned to the small cold storage he had in his rooms, quickly grabbing a small canister of milk to pour a glass for the belligerent girl.

    "Well, if they don't know that I know- which they do not- then you should get that idea out of your head right now. I have never lost someone on this ship- and it will not happen any time soon." He crouched down in front of the arm chair she had claimed and handed her the chilled glass of milk. Despite her valiant words, there was something so...vulnerable about her right now.

    "I won't let you die, Jessamine Astor, as long as you are a passenger on my ship." Dael sat back against the small coffee table, stretching his legs out in front of him in a rather casual fashion, flashing Jessamine a charming smile. It was more intimate this way, with them both on eye level, shielded by the table and the arms of her chair.

    "Now that that's out of the way, I have to say I'm curious... how did you end up in this situation. I'm sure I have the gist of it... but well, I can help better if I know what I'm looking at."

    "You don't understand at all." Jessie accepted the milk and sighed heavily while staring at the creamy liquid. She took a sideways sip, being careful not to spill on his furniture. Why though? She didn't care for being careful around Navy, but, Dael was being kind to her. The cautious seemed necessary, and less of a courtesy.

    "I was captured in Mirefield." She started to explain her story, leaving out the bits of her embarrassing capture. "I was be honest when I said it was Officer Nordy who beat me, only in a different way. For quite some time I was tortured, but, you'd probably rather not hear the gory details, hm?"

    To think, it wasn't that long ago. Her ribs were healed, a scar remained above her eyebrow where Nordy had slammed her face into the bars of the cell. The bruise on her ego had long faded, allowing her sister to see her in such a butchered state. That was the past though, however recent it was.

    "She was assigned to be a spy on my ship." Her voice started to waver as the fear returned. "What idiot would pass up the opportunity to make use of a rebel and Navy set of twins, we almost set ourselves up for this...or I did the moment I left. In any case, if Tessa fails, I die. And do you honestly believe the Navy is going to let me live after this?"

    Jessamine looked dead into his eyes to assert her point.

    "I'm a rebel, I've been on your ship for a long time. I've learned things. I know things. Like it or not Dael Cooper, I'm going to die."

    Dael allowed himself a fleeting, wistful smile.
    "I may not understand everything you've been through, but now that I have the vague picture, there are a few things I know for sure. They put you on my ship, because they knew that even if you were found out, I wouldn't kill you. Or turn you in." They knew of course, because he had done something similar in the past. He had, of course, gotten into a lot of trouble, and it had delayed his promotion to general for the foreseeable future.. but it wasn't a decision he had made lightly. Or one he had regretted.

    How could he not try to help this girl, who hadn't even wanted to be a spy in the first place?

    "Any other captain would have had your head by now. That's probably why they all have mixed feelings about my moral compass." He waved his hand in the air, indicating this mysterious 'they' being of course the council. The ones who pulled all the strings and made all the decisions. They both loved, and hated his unpredictability. It was useful, in the right circumstances. But dreadfully crippling to their 'strategies' as they had so delicately put it one evening.

    "But the one thing I do know, is that you should never give up. I can't tell you the hows, or the whys... but I want you to have faith in me. Which sounds a lot cornier out loud then it sounded in my head." Dael chuckled, sweeping his dark hair back from his face.

    Jessie curled up tight into the chair, her own boots feeling foreign under her body. This man was such a dreamer, the reality of the situation wasn't clear to him it seemed. She wasn't put on his ship for any purpose, the council didn't care if she lived or died, not really. In the end it might have made a better story for her sister. Undercover Navy soldier comes back alive from the clutches of the Rebel forces. That'd make a nice headline on some newspaper Jessie would never see.

    "I just..." She doubted him. "You expect me to trust you, trust anyone here?"

    Smaller she felt, the more she kept herself huddled inside her own personal space. Her head rested carefully on the arm of the chair off in her own little world. Deep inside the mind of the Rebel captain, she was a fighter for a good cause, but here she felt small and weak. She had no power in the lower ranks, not where she currently was. With Dael at her side, maybe, but still. His dreamer, go-getting attitude only seemed to make her nervous.

    He doesn't get it.

    "I've accepted that I'm to be executed, accepted it the day I switched sides. I have to work hard now for my sister, but it all feels wrong." Jessie murmured. She paused, pondered a thought, and turned back to him with curiosity. "If I ran, would you chase me?"

    "That's why I'm asking you to trust me, I'm not telling you. Perhaps I'm being unrealistic, but I prefer to think of it as refusing to accept any other reality. This ship.. it's a safe haven for those who never quite fit in. I think one girl with a heart capable of accepting even death to protect her sister, would more then fit in. As for your other question..."

    She only seemed to retreat further, the longer the conversation went. There were so many misgivings- so many doubts- that he could see in her eyes. She wouldn't believe him, not now. But he knew she would, eventually. He would merely keep at it, prove his intentions through the actions he took. Shifting forwards onto his knees, Dael crouched in front of the chair- catching her eyes with his own and holding them.

    "I would only chase you, if you really wanted me to. But if I do, and I catch you..." His trade-mark smile was gone now, replaced instead by a look of fierce concentration, "then don't ever expect me to let you go."

    Jessie couldn't help but smile at how much of a dork he was for saying something like that. He'd never let her go, would he? Well, as soon as she did jump ship, she'd take him along with her. That wasn't exactly the greatest idea though, seeing as it was off to the gallows with this traitorous girl.

    "Dael Cooper, you're the biggest fool I've ever met." She chuckled.

    Admitting to the feeling of ease would be a mistake. He was Navy, she was not. They'd part ways sooner or later so getting attached to the one man who'd shown her any kindness? It felt like it might be poor taste. Besides, even if he meant a single word of what he was saying, there were others who needed her. Then they'd all be back to playing pirates and soldier, shooting each other in the sky until one day one of them fell.

    "I should leave."

    She stood quickly to avert his gaze. Staying any longer would put rumors in the air, ones she'd already thought of when she dressed herself. The longer she lingered, the worse it would be, and that wouldn't help her situation in the slightest. So she headed towards the door without waiting to see Dael's reply, her milk left cold next to the chair, only sipped at. With her back turned to Dael, she was biting her lip anxiously. Was it all an act, or was he sincere? That would be for her to decide.

    "Goodbye, Dael. I'll see you in the morning."

    He nodded his reply, despite the fact that she couldn't see it, his mouth suddenly dry. He'd never thought about it- never gotten close enough to see- but she really was beautiful. That might have been the first genuine smile he had ever managed to get out of her, and damnit- he wanted to make it happen again.

    "Jessamine..." Dael bit his tongue, shaking his head to remove that line of thought "No, it can wait until morning. Good night, Jessamine." He opened the door for her, and closed it gently behind her- pressing his forehead against the cool surface as soon as it clicked into place.

    "Daeleron Christopher Cooper," he whispered to himself, "You really are the fool, aren't you." Running his fingers through his hair once more, Dael turned to contemplate his room. It was.. three. He could go to bed, try to salvage his nights rest, or continue working on the growing pile of paperwork on his desk. With a sigh, he pulled out his chair and picked up his quill- old fashioned though it was, it helped him think.

    He really needed the help.

    Jessie, try as she might, found no sleep. Visiting Dael had only made her think too much, and now her head was swimming with thoughts of him. It made her face contort into confusion every few seconds, as she tried to imagine what it was that made her think of Dael, but the harder she thought the more her mind was filled with him.


    Dael, Dael, Dael.

    "Get a grip." She scolded herself. "He's just a good actor, he doesn't care."

    In the early hours of the morning she tried to convince herself that was the truth. Navy simply didn't get along with Rebel and that was that. He had no reason to put any faith in her, no reason to restore her to her sister or back to her ship (especially not to her crew). But something in his voice made him seem so genuine, and she honestly wanted to believe that he had her back. So what reason did she have to trust him at all? For all she knew it was a trick in order to send her to the block faster.

    It was like joining the Rebels all over again.

    Back when she was only a recruit herself, not a soul trusted her with anything. It was standard procedure for those fresh off the Republic side. She'd been pushed around, bullied by her superiors, it was common among Rebels of course. What trust could there be among men who deserted their leaders? In time she'd learned to trust those around her, and those bonds were stronger than any ties she had back home. There may have been false names, false identities built off lies to escape the Republic, but it felt more real than the blood in their veins. They all had a cause, and together they'd see it through.

    There was no confusing ruse named Dael Cooper.

    She felt the rays of morning light on her face and figured it was her cue to start the day. No point in wallowing, she forced herself up and back outside into the open air. She still had to pretend, after all, the game was still on.

    "Are you sure this is wise, Captain?" Dael turned to Thatcher, the uncharacteristically serious expression on his face giving away his thoughts. "You know how much I hate it when you do things like this. Take Buri with you- she knows artefacts. Heck, take any of the officers on this ship- Reynolds, Greks- We don't know the newbies yet."

    "You worry too much Thatcher. Her skills will be useful, and I am training her for a position as captain." Dael could see the indecision on Thatchers face. He hated pulling rank like this, but he needed Thatcher to trust he knew what he was doing. "This is an order, Thatcher. You are staying here on the ship, and I am taking both Quinn and Theresa with me."

    Thatchers lips twisted into a grimace and he glared down at the cast on his arm ruefully.
    "At least take Hewlett with you as well." He couldn't say that he worried about his captain. In a physical fight, Dael would win nine times out of ten- he was that good with a sword. But he was useless around Alchemy.

    "Hewlett is coming too. Now, make sure you keep a close eye on Alder. I don't like the fact that he's staying longer then normal- Ah, and here is the last member of our excursion." He turned as soon as he caught the shine of blonde hair in the sun. He'd been twitchy all morning, every blonde haired crew member turning his head in his search for the girl who had visited him the night before. And no matter how much he told himself it was just so they could get started with the mission, he knew he would only be lying to himself.

    "Officers Skyre, Astor, and Brighton, fall in!"

    Jessie didn't question the order and fell into line between Skyre and Brighton. Her hand was raised in a salute at her temple, eyeing her Captain no differently than usual. Her brow raised in question and her lips puckered at the ever present question she wanted to ask. She said nothing, keeping in line as she'd be warned to do.

    By Dale, nonetheless. Great. He actually gives good advice.

    "Sir, I haven't been informed of the situation." She said with the utmost authority.

    She was tired, and certainly a little cranky after having spent most of the morning worrying about what her place was on board, especially now that she had other things to worry about. The Judge was on board, she'd caught that bit from Dael only seconds before falling into line. That was a major concern. Of all the people to know, he'd be one of them, no doubt about it.

    For a moment Dael was confused, and it took him longer then normal to formulate a reply. Right, she had still been stuck in the medical bay until the day before. Perhaps he should... No, he wouldn't insult her by assuming she couldn't handle it if the doctor had named her fit for duty.

    "You three will be with me, as soon as you've all been briefed we'll be disembarking to join the ground team. Many of you already know that the Esper has been dispatched to bring a certain Artefact back to the capitol. Well, things have fallen behind schedule, and we will be going in to support the retrieval team. You've all been selected for the skills you possess.

    I'm not going to lie and say this will be easy, it's not. That would be why they needed to send us in to clean up their mess. If any of you don't want to take part, say so now. I don't want any hesitation to put your team members at risk." Hewlett looked as sturdy and reliable as ever- a confident grin stretching across his face at the prospect of facing a few challenges. Quinn looked just as determined to go join them as well, glancing at Jessamine from the corner of his eyes.

    "A few of the things the retrieval team has faced so far would include pitfall traps, poison gases, fire, water, invisible bridges and darkness that couldn't be penetrated by any kind of light. So far they've explored twenty three dead ends, seventeen paths that ended up simply looping back on themselves, and the one path that they believe leads in the right direction has stumped them.

    So the mission i'm setting before you is this: join the retrieval team for the Artefact, and bit by bit conquer the traps to the anti-chamber. Now is the time for any questions or stating if you want to be removed from the retrieval team."

    Well that actually sounded like a bit of fun. But, hang on. Artifacts? This sounded vaguely familiar...there was something she should've known about this mission that she felt as if she were missing out on. Not something she'd learned on the Navy side, something else. She shrugged it off as a gut feeling and maintained her salute.

    "I'm ready if you are, sir."

    This seemed to get a good response out of Skyre, who nudged the girl playfully. It was discreet, nothing that might have been caught from any prying eyes. She rolled her blue eyes and lowered her hand.

    "Let's get moving then, shall we?"

    The group headed off of the ship, dazzlingly handsome in their Navy uniforms, and ready for anything it would seem. Jessie didn't really know what she was getting herself into. Artifacts of unknown value? Seventeen looping tunnels? What exactly was this thing? It was guarded so heavily she almost thought it to be cursed for a moment. Maybe it was, who was she to say, the prospect of delving into some ruins struck her as funny. Like a pirate almost.

    Getting off the ship was easy, getting into the old ruins- not so much. There were checkpoints to go through, papers to fill out and sign, people and supplies to gather, and the usual long disclaimer for anyone entering the caves. It was all very dry and 'military', reminiscent of the welcoming speech Dael had given the new crew members on Ther- Jessamine's first day on the ship.

    "Well, that was all very anticlimactic don't you think?" Quinn leaned over to whisper to Theresa conspiratorially, a roguish grin parting his lips. "Way to build us up and then weigh us down with nothing but rules. I swear, they must want us to sniff the damned ground before we step on it." Quinn tucked his hands into his pockets, fingers fiddling with the stone he kept there.

    He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something off about Tessa today. She seemed almost...grumpy. If that was a word he could have ever used to describe Tessa.

    They'd hardly breached the first chamber, and Jessie had signed upwards of a dozen documents giving her passage into the old tunnel. The alarm bells in her head were going off like crazy, something felt so wrong about the whole situation, but she settled in and braced for the worst. Someone shoved a new form into her hands, as she scribbled away new signatures (forged no less) she heard Quinn's voice in her ear.

    "A bit, yes. Just making sure it all smells like sunshine and daisies." She smirked.

    After giving all her permissions, they were allowed to go deeper inside. It was about time, too, she was getting tired of all this useless writing she had to do. What good was paperwork in a deadly cavern? She'd have to sign her name if she fell and died!

    Jessie peeked ahead, Hewlett mainly getting in her line of vision. He was a a big guy, hard to see around without looking so obvious. So far he'd hardly said the two words to her, so she wasn't sure what he was like. Quinn, on the other hand, she had down perfectly. Annoying, talkative, and much too close to Tessa. It was dangerous staying by his side, she risked exposing herself when she didn't want to be seen.

    "I'd just like to see what it is we're risking our lives for."

    "Hmmm. They are being very hush hush about it aren't they?" A mischievous spark entered Quinns eyes, and one arm snaked around her shoulders. "You know, if you'd like you can ride on my shoulders. Then you could see over that hulk there- oof"

    "Eyes up front Quinn." Hewlett tucked his arm back by his side, offering the irate officer an innocuous smile. "We need your sharp eyes to spot the coming traps." Quinn sighed, offering Hewlett a salute and Theresa a rueful grin as he stalked up to the lead of their group beside Dael.

    "I would apologize for him, but I think you'd know better then I do whether he'd actually be sorry or not." With a somber expression, Hewlett fell into step beside Tessa, the smallest hint of a smile giving away his joke. "So instead I'll apologize for the male species as a whole."

    Jessie would have normally thrown whatever man decided to wrap an arm around her shoulder so casually. She held in the rage she felt towards the otherwise innocent man until he slunk away. He made her skin crawl, she hated being touched by him, but she'd never admit to it. The danger there was in being around him was enough to drive her mad, but she always had to be so careful, she had to play back with him or he'd know something was wrong.

    Thank god for Hewlett.

    "Sometimes I can't tell." She admitted honestly. "You need not apologize for everyone though, just Officer Skyre for now."

    The girl raised her voice at the end so he might hear. Indeed he had, the man waved an arm from the front of the group lazily above his head before turning his thumb up. The message received, she grinned triumphantly.

    "I did want to see though, I have to admit." Her cheeks turned rosy at the genuine admittance. "This is absolutely fascinating."

    Hewlett gave Theresa a big sheepish grin, hunching his shoulders a little to try and make himself as small as possible.
    "Sorry bout that. Being big's not always a good thing. Only mostly." He winked jokingly, liftig his own eyes to take in the area around them. The cave system had started out plainly enough, but now that they were getting deeper... It was easy to see why they thought they had found the right place. The walls grew smoother, the further they walked. Carefully places stones seamlessly melding into the rough cave walls. Small sigils in some strange language- similar to the glyphs used in alchemy, but fundamentally different. It was beautiful, in a way, though it was all put to shame by the central cavern hub.

    If you could ignore the bustle of people, the tents that had been erected in the center of the open floor, then the sight before them was absolutely breathtaking. Stone floated throughout the ceiling, glowing with a pure blue-white light. Like miniature suns, defying the gravity that held everyone else to the ground. Great arching pillars reached up to a central crystal, vibrating with a dull thrum that seemed to seep into the very marrow of your bones. Glowing runes scattered alnog the walls blinked in various colors, surrounded by white coats running tests or decryptors trying to piece together what had to be an ancient form of alchemy.

    And then there were the pathways. Like small dark stars, littered among the cavern walls. Many of them left dark, like black voids in the sky.

    Hewlett whistled low, tucking his hands into his pockets.
    "Now you don't see something like this every day. Look at the crystals, they almost remind me of an observatory."

    The more she looked, Hewlett just reminded her of Will. They were both massive, huge hulking men, and their personalities matched a bit. They spoke in the same deliberate tone. She missed him, missed all of them. But, it was hard to think of home when she was surrounded with what could only be described as magical.

    The stones lay just out of her reach, but she yearned to hold on in her hand, to see if it felt as warm as the light it radiated into the cavern. She found one close enough on the edge of the wall and was surprised to feel it vibrating under her steady hand. It was all so spectacular. Nothing in the world could compare to the sight of a thousand glowing crystals deep below the earth. The only thing which might improve the sight would be the subtraction of the white tents and various people scattered around the room.

    "It's beautiful." Jessie commented, her breath hitching in. The very act of inhaling felt like she might disturb the peace around her.

    Her hand lifted from the buzzing stone, and it made a small clink against the metal of her ring. The reverberation spread to surrounding stones and she jumped back, surprised at the small reaction.

    "Don't touch anything!" A man yelled at her, annoyed.

    "My apologies." She bowed her head.

    Dael chuckled, not bothering to hide his amusement from the irate scientists. The entire reason they had come here was to help solve the mysteries the scientists couldn't. They needed physical ability to try and overcome the traps lying between them and their goal. They were asking them to touch things- ironic, considering all they had to go through to get into the damned place. And for some reason, despite her lowered head, Dael had an inkling that Jessamine wasn't sorry in the slightest.

    "Ah, captain Cooper. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance." Another scientist in a white coat approached, her long dark hair pulled back from her face in a tight knot at the nape of her neck. Dael saluted the woman- the one he assumed to be Xiu ming, the lead scientist on the recovery team. He couldn't think of anyone else who would know who he was merely by sight.

    "And you must be Miss Ming. The pleasure is mine." Xiu Ming frowned, eyeing the trhee people he had brought along with something akin to distaste. He already didn't like this woman.

    "Quite. Is this everyone here?" She scoured the group with dark eyes once more, giving a small noise of disdain before turning on her heel without waiting for Daels reply.
    "I was expecting more. But they will do. The beginning of the gauntlet is over here."

    Throwing a bemused look over his shoulder, Dael followed the petite woman, briefly ducking down to adjust the tie on his boots- and palm a small blue crystal shard. They had to be there for a reason, he doubted that whoever had taken the time to set up all of these traps had set this up merely for the sake of beauty. Not if they wanted to keep people out.

    "As of right now we are approximately three miles underground- the path we believe to lead to the 'crown' extends for another seven, as far as we can tell. The path isn't straight, so you can expect that it will be longer then our initial estimates. Whichever civilization created this place was quite adept at alchemy- these aren't the same formula's we study today. I've had to bring in a few...history majors." She said the words with something akin to disgust, standing to the side with a sharp click of heels as she held open parted white sheeting covering the entrance to the tunnel. Following as soon as the last person ducked through into a hall.

    Jessie covered her mouth with her hand. She'd heard this story before, but as a child. This crown was supposed to be immensely powerful, but no one had ever been able to find it. It was just a legend, a story. The crystals around her seemed to glow with an old power, and she stifled a gasp. Could it be the same legend? The same tale she'd been told before bed to calm her thoughts and give her dreams? She prayed not, for the ending wasn't always good. This gauntlet would end in death, tears, and a craving for the sun.

    She still recognized some of the symbols around her, from old literature no less. Some of the runes had the makings of common symbols of the present era. Bases, she thought.

    "As you can see here..." One of the history minds droned on. Jessie automatically tuned him out in order to focus on the room around her. Seven whole miles of hell awaited them, and she was less eager than before to be off the ship.

    "What's wrong with you?" Quinn was fast at her side at her look of distress.

    "Nothing. Just trying to understand the..."

    "The runes around us are all very, very old, you can see in this tome here-"

    Jessie nodded her head, pointing lamely to the man speaking. "The runes. Just trying to understand, the uh, runes."

    There was reason to fear the dark, fear the places she wasn't familiar with. After all, if the stories and legends proved true they'd face countless traps from the moment they stepped beyond the safety of the military tents. Sharp turns, drops which would lead to seemingly nowhere, and the mysterious runes which guarded the crown. She wanted none of it, and if she had the opportunity she'd leave, come back once she had a better grasp, a bigger team.

    "The runes, yep." She repeated, letting out a long bated breath.

    "Oh yea, didn't you take some history yourself?
    I forgot that these things fascinated you. Probably why they transferred you in a hurry eh?" Quinn grinned, throwing his arms behind his head lazily, not even bothering to listen to the history buffs drone on. He wasn't here for his knowledge- he was here for his good eyes. A well known sharp shooter, and he didn't letanybody forget it.

    "...and as far as we know, these are the translations we've managed to pick out from the runes we've seen. It's not much, but there are a few key things here that might just help you." Handing Dael a distressingly small pamphlet, the ruins expert snapped his book shut, sending a small cloud of dust into the air. Dael unobtrusively stepped back. He wasn't a very dignified sneezer.

    "Thank you for all your hard work. I'm sure these will come in handy." He ignored the small condescending mutter from the lead researcher standing beside him, and instead turned to her with his normal casual charming smile. "Well then, we've been debriefed, now if you would be so kind I'd like to get as far as possible tonight before we have to rest."

    "This way." Xiu Ming walked a little bit further, remaining obstinately silent- her disapproval radiating off of her in waves.
    "Just down this tunnel. You'll find a description of how to get past the first few traps in those notes. After that, you'll be on your own." Without waiting for confirmation, Xiu Ming stalked off, her heels echoing through the wide tunnels as they faded into the bustle of activity at the entrance.

    "Well. I suppose we should get started then."

    Jessie had so many questions, but there was no one left to answer them as Xiu Ming left them at the entrance. She held the little card with translations, thick white paper with neat typed responses to the possible meanings of old runes. Some of them were off, just in meaning, she recognized them from her studies with Tessa. For the time, she wouldn't say anything, but the gist of it was correct. Runes of fire, invisibility, air, all things which gave reason to worry about what could be further within.

    The crystals seemed to disappear for a time, the only light being the artificial lamps provided by the researchers. It was dark, eerily so. Each step forward left a chasm of black behind them the longer they moved on, Jessie started to get the feeling they'd never get anywhere, that it was all a ruse.

    "What exactly are we supposed to be watching for?" She asked to no one in particular.

    Never one to miss a perfect opportunity, Quinn sidled up beside Theresa with a grin. He made a show of leaning close, watching Hewlett's disapproving stare from the corner of his eye. An expression that only made his smirk that much wider as he brought his face close enough to put their line of sight on the same level.

    "Over there, you see those runes etched into the surface of the stone?" Quinn used the arm furthest from Tessa to point, using the action as an excuse to turn his body towards her, trying to line up the direction his finger was pointing with the faintly scratched runes in the stone.
    "They're markings by the researchers no doubt. Marking the trigger points. All of these ones have been disabled.Our first trap should be just around this corner."

    "Which is why you should be watching where you're going, instead of flirting." Quinn smiled impishly, backing away from the blonde haired rebel-in-disguise with raised hands.

    "There are no visual trigger ques, so be on your guard. It's a simple fire trap, so Theresa, we'll need you to help take care of this one." Dael scanend the notes they'd been given one more time, frowning at the infuriating vaguness of it all. It was like they'd been purposefully trying to give as little information as possible, under the pretense of helping.
    "Quinn, I want you at the front of the formation. Theresa, you'll be with me in the center, and Hewlett you'll bring up the rear. The real trials will start now."

    It just seemed too easy. Far too easy to have stumped teh research and retrieval team that had been sent out here. There had to be an ulterior motive somewhere- he just had to figure out what.

    Jessie nodded her head, appreciative of Dael's stance. Quinn was being a little too touchy feely for the girl, and his eyes would be better used at the front of the group. Hewlett's frame moved behind them, whatever the trio before him couldn't see right away, he'd be left to pick up their mistakes. She just hoped that it would be enough.

    "Right." She nodded her head with the order. Fire wasn't usually her preferred element, but she'd have to manage. There'd been ample time for her to practice in secrecy.

    The girl held out her palm so that she might trace the necessary runes when the time came. For now, she readied herself by drawing up a thin layer of water around the group. In some ways, it might help to deter the flames, although she couldn't be sure how large they were. There'd be some small bit of time for her to react to whatever came their way.

    As she worried herself to pieces, a spot on the wall glowed silver with a new rune. A small orb of flames shot out from the spot, and it was small enough at first to only evaporate the shield of water. That wasn't all. In the next few seconds a wave of fire rained down from the ceiling and Jessie forced her companions down with a shock of air. She threw her hands up and pulled the fire into a large collective sphere above her hand, circling the air until she'd collected it all before aiming it down the hall. It was better than being in their face.

    "There's one." She panted, that had surprised her. "One Theresa, zero for the caves."
    #3 Lillian Gray, Jan 9, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2015
    • Love Love x 1
  4. Chapter Seven, black

    3rd Month, 25th Day
    Tessa's arms trembled with the strain of holding her body weight on the narrow ships railing. Sweat trickled a small path down her back, leaving a line of sweet chill- a chill that burned against the warmth from her exercise.

    Her injury certainly hadn't put her out of commission for long, the slim pink mark on her toned stomach was the only indication that she had even been injured in the first place. Whatever Clint had done to her, it had certainly worked. He was a miracle worker, that was for sure.

    That didn't keep him from being infuriating.

    Feeling a flush rise to her cheeks that had nothing to do with her current position balanced precariously on the outer rail, Tessa ran over the last argument they'd had in her head once more. It seemed like every time they talked, their conversation just ran in circles. She couldn't understand why they didn't see eye to eye- after all of the thinking that she'd done she'd come to the conclusion they both wanted the same thing. They just had different ideas about how one should go about it. So why the hell did it degenerate into a screaming match every time the two of them found themselves in a closed room alone together?

    Maybe she should thank him... try to make some semblance of peace between them.

    Carefully placing one hand over the other, Tessa turned to face the horizon. It was still just as beautiful upside-down, like the world was falling endlessly into a great white-blue ocean.

    She would apologize. And thank him for the healing he had given her. They would need to make peace if Jessamine was to get a legitimate rescue from them. Her boots thumped back to the deck, accompanied by a small sigh as she dragged her fingers through her hair- releasing the curly blonde locks from the tie she had haphazardly thrown them into. But first, a change of clothes. And maybe a shower.

    Just of the deck, Clint had pulled Deik aside to talk tactics. They were currently flying near the borders of Aoke, just north of where they found Tessa. It was common knowledge by now that their captain had been taken prisoner by the Republic forces. The only thing was, no one knew where she was stationed. All the information they could pull was hush hush, her name wasn't on any registers, at least not as Theresa Astor. It was starting to look like they'd never find her.

    Deik circled the room lazily. It was supposed to be a cabin meant for meetings and such, but he occupied it as his own space. It had the best view of the deck, and as the eyes of the ship, he found it suited him best. Clint's quarters werent' far off, so the two often spent time pondering an action plan inside. Set in the center of the room was a large table with a map of the country, small chess pieces were used to mark the locations of whichever ships they could.

    "We could stop at Aoke, see what people there know." Deik suggested.

    "Aoke leans towards the Republic, it'd be hard to get anything there." Clint countered.

    "Where else are we going to find information about a Republic Navy ship?"

    "It's too close, I don't want to risk it." Clint waved away the idea and pointed to a map set on the table between them. "What about Joywood?"

    They bantered back and forth about the best locations, until Clint could hardly think any more. It wasn't like them to argue, but tensions were high without their Captain to keep them straight. They all wanted her back, the boys all needed her. Deik sighed, Clint sighed, collectively they were done for the day without having a destination in mind.

    "Let's just, set a course for Joywood then." Clint blurted. "I'll go see if there are any new allies in the area who might have some information."

    Clint exited the room with the door slamming shut behind him. He combed a hand through his hair, thick and black and unusually unruly from the stress. He wasn't getting along with Tessa, as much as he wanted to. They both had the same idea, to get Jessie back, but they were going about it in completely different ways. She'd kill for Jessie, Clint just wanted to be in and out before it got too chaotic. If only things were that simple.

    She stared at the mirror for a long time, before she finally managed to find the motivation to do what she had promised she would before. That being attempting an apology of some kind, and thanking him for healing her. Though she had no idea what she would apologize for, she had to try something. Right?

    Tessa shook her head, loosening the still drying blonde curls. She couldn't afford to second guess herself. She would start with a thank you- and see where it went from there.

    Finding Clint was easy, despite how quiet he was normally. He had a huge presence, like an aura of something akin to command wrapped in calm (Truthfully, the slamming door helped. It was a sound she'd grown to associate to him on the ship). She could see why Jessie had chosen him for her second. He was a great fighter- as proven by their skirmish with the navy- his healing skills were positively outstanding, and he had the kind of personality that would ground her. Keep her from doing stupid things.

    "Clint..." Tessa tucked her hands into the back pockets of the most conservative set of pants she could find in Jessie's wardrobe. It was times like these that she missed her comfortable clothes- she'd even been half tempted to see if any of the boys on the ship would be willing to loan her a few loose shirts. "Did you have a moment...?"
    Tessa had no idea what she was doing. She felt awkward as all hell standing here in the hall, and it showed on her face. In the way she bit her lower lip, a habit she'd never been able to rid herself of when she was nervous, and her lowered eyes.

    Clint nodded his head, saying nothing as he was prone to doing, and waved his hand in motion to follow. He led her to his quarters and shut the door behind them both with a long and heavy sigh. This wasn't really the conversation he wanted to have, not now. The ship needed a Captain and that's not what Clint was. He was a good man, in terms of fighting and healing at least, and he did indeed keep Jessie from doing anything stupid. However, Clint wasn't the one who made the plans, he hated being the leader. It wasn't something he felt suited him.

    Of course, there would always be those who disagreed.

    "Look, Tess-Theresa." He spat, angry at first, but he hadn't meant it to sound that way. "I'm sorry."

    The stress that had pent up in all the previous days threatened to pour out of him if he didn't keep his mouth shut. He groaned. Clint turned to face her with his hands raked through his hair, his eyes were closed in deep thought.

    It wasn't her fault Jessie was gone, not really. As much as he wanted her to leave, it was only because she was a girl of the Republic. So far she'd proved herself in work, her effort was always one hundred and ten percent, even if the results didn't always show right away. That'd take time. He was constantly reminding himself that Tessa was working towards the same goal. Jessie.

    "I'm sorry." He finally said. His eyes opened, dark brown orbs which searched for the answer as to how to get his Captain back through her, Tessa. "I'm sorry you ended up here, trying to get her back, but we will. I don't know how to say this, words aren't my specialty, but this fighting isn't gonna get us anywhere - agreed?"

    Tessa didn't think she'd ever seen Clint quite as out of place as he looked just then- frustration etched across his face as he attempted to apologize to her. Her- a girl of the republic, a navy officer, and the twin of the girl he'd looked up to as his captain. She didn't know whether the bubble of laughter in her chest was genuine, or borderline hysteria- so she stifled it before it could come out. She'd taken his stoic anger as an anchor, something she knew to be constant. And yet this was what she had wanted, wasn't it? A cease fire between them?

    His words made her apology easy. The words came more naturally to her then, then they had every other time she'd rehearsed to herself in the mirror. Just knowing that he wanted some kind of cooperation between them was more then enough to snuff out the dread that had made it's home in her chest.

    "...I've come to the realization," She started carefully, thoughtfully, like she was thinking over every word before she spoke, "that I'm not sorry I'm here. I never wanted it to come to this- that's true. And I would have preferred if Jessie had stayed free, here. She belongs here more then she ever did at home- and I don't even need her here to see that. But I'm glad that I can be here to help. If I had the choice between being here, or back on whatever navy ship I would have been posted when this all happened.. Then I would choose to be here. Where I can most effectively help."

    Running her fingers through her still slightly damp hair, she continued. "I'm.. I'm sorry I've been so difficult. I know I'm not exactly what you wanted in terms of help, I haven't been.. the easiest person to deal with. Actually, the entire reason I wanted to talk to you was to apologize.. and thank you. For.. well, you know." Theresa vaguely waved her hand over the area she had been wounded only days previous. She could feel heat creep across her cheeks, and her shoulders tense in preparation for whatever curve ball he'd throw at her next.

    Clint smiled.

    When he smiled, his features softened, revealing an inner feature of the normally rough man. The creases in his face all but dissipated into his skin and his eyes glowed. Just as soon as the grin on his face could be seen, he covered it with a thick hand to silence the emotion entirely.

    Being happy, that was a hard emotion.

    Her confession struck a chord in his being. She admitted that it was best to stay on his side to help, Republic Navy or not. While she wasn't sorry she was here, she acknowledged her stubbornness. Either way, that was something he could be used to thanks to her sister. It must have run in the family, he thought. Finally though, there was a side of her coming out that Clint could talk to without feeling the burn for revenge.

    "Healing is what I do. I've seen worse." Clint shrugged, when he removed his hand from his mouth the creases were back, hard lines on his face. "How's it feeling, no pain, everything else alright then? Sorry, a reflex."

    Clint waved his hand to dismiss the questions. What did it matter, she was fine. Although her face was flushed, maybe she was hot? In any case, he tried to keep the conversation on track, wherever that was anyways.

    "We're headed for Joywood, are you familiar with the area?" He asked. "I thought you should at least know that much, we'll be stopping in a week, maybe more. We don't know what happened to her once she got on that ship, the Taivas. It's like she's vanished."

    To say she was dumbstruck might have been an understatement. She had to keep herself from openly gaping at the man standing in front of her. Not only had he accepted her apology (She'd been unsure what to expect, really) and quite graciously at that. He'd smiled.She might have been sad at how surprised she was, if it weren't for the fact that she was just struck by the fact that... well, he really was handsome, when he smiled.

    Not that he was unattractive when he was scowling- like normal- but there was something somehow unapproachable about him that just warded away her eyes. Now, with one hand quickly lifting to hide his smile (as though it had been unwarranted or somehow wrong) she finally had the opportunity- and the inclination- to study him.

    His dark hair was mussed, like he had run his fingers through it one too many times over hours with too little rest. The lines around his eyes and mouth were like dark etchings of the stress they were all under- somehow worsened by the withdrawn expression on his face. And his eyes- she'd initially perceived them as black, but she could see now that they were a dark brown. Like warm chocolate- and far more gentle then she would have given him credit for.

    "It's fine...thank you," Her reply was delayed- in fact she'd almost forgotten he had spoken. "You're quite talented at healing. And I'm not familiar with Joywood- I wasn't out towards the border very often, unfortunately..." Now that she was put in this situation, she wished she'd taken the opportunities to explore the further reaches of the Republic when she'd had the chance.

    "I'm not quite sure why you're heading there- and I won't ask," She hastily tacked on. She wasn't going to fish for information, not after just having made peace between them, "But... and this is only if we run out of options... I might have a way for us to get some information. But it's risky." Incredibly risky. "And I wouldn't ask you, or Jessie's crew to go along with me on this... but... Well, never mind. We'll see what happens."

    Clint perked up at the mention of having an idea. Any idea was better than his at this point, it was little more than hopeful reconnaissance with a dash of luck. Deik was the man for the job, the eyes and ears, but there'd honestly been not a drop of information leaked from any of their Republic sources. No public mentions of her name, her ship, it was as if they'd simply vanished. That was interesting, they must have been doing something rather important. It'd only make Jessie a thousand times more difficult to find.

    He hesitated for a split second. "Joywood is the closest city out of the Republic's grasp, or at least their influence. It's safer to stop there right now, especially being Rebels." Clint said slowly, watching her face as he spoke, being ever so careful not to reveal anything he didn't wish to.

    "We've got some allies in Aoke, we're just a few hours away, but it's too risky. Landing there, and we'd be stuck for months if we were caught." He waved his hand and shook his head. "Not a chance."

    "If you've got an idea, I want to hear it. We can decide how risky it is then."

    Tessa nodded, fiddling with the chain from her pocket as she gathered her thoughts.
    "Right. Well, my thought was this: if we could disguise the ship as one of the Alexandrian fleet's ships, then we might be able to get information from an officer there.

    Because the fleet has so many off-ships with their own captains, it's hard to keep track of everyone in command of one of the ships. So they came up with a code system. It only changes every few months." Her fingers itched for a pen or pencil- even a marker to draw out her plans. It wouldn't make sense to most- merely scribbles on the blank expanse, but it helped her keep things on track. Like her fingers were dancing with her mind.

    "So, if we can make the ship look convincingly enough like one of the fleets, with a little help from illusion, then we could get close enough to talk. We'd have the codes- since that was where I was posted... but it just hinges on too much luck.

    If the ship we tracked down had an officer I knew from my time there... then we'd be out of luck. If the disguise didn't hold up- if the illusion failed, if the codes changed early... There are just so many things that could go wrong... And then just to make it all worse... If we were exposed, then we'd be in the middle of republic territory."

    Blending in with the Republic wasn't something Clint liked imagining. It wouldn't be hard, by the way she talked of the mix of ships within the fleet, but if anything went wrong it'd be his head on the block. His face soured and the creases crew harder into the skin on his face. The man had a long and vengeful history with the Republic, and there were sure to be faces which might recall some of the crew on board. Clint might have to pass up the idea, but it was a good plan.

    Clint paced to the window in the room. He placed his hands against the sill and let out a heavy sigh. What was he supposed to do? Making decisions was Jessie's responsibility, he merely stopped her from doing something too stupid. This certainly fell into the category,stupid, and very very dangerous.

    "I don't like it." He admitted. "It's dangerous, I can't risk us all."

    The man turned his head to stare sideways towards the girl, offering a shrug of his head in apology. Perhaps after Joywood.

    "We don't even know where the fleet is, and suddenly appearing in the masses could be cause for question. I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but you're right, it's risky." Clint turned back towards the open air and fiddled with the locket on his neck.

    Risk. Gods, the word was that of dread. Clint didn't deal with loss very well, not since what had happened to him some odd years ago. He'd never forget, his mind wouldn't allow him to be rid of the slaughter of his friends, family, on the hands of the Republic their blood was spilled. Losing anyone at the course of his mistake might be reason to send him to madness. Losing anyone at the hands of a Republic girl's idea...he wouldn't be able to live with the results.

    "I can't have you off the ship in Joywood." He announced. "Too many eyes, but we've a few days yet. Let me know what you want...I'll pick it up."

    Tessa nodded, forgetting for the moment that his back was turned to her as he peered out the window. She had thought that would be his response, but without any information to go by... She was even at a loss of how togather said information without resorting to her navy contacts. She'd always been an up and up girl. Not something she'd ever had cause to regret before now- nor had she ever thought she'd have cause to regret.

    "I understand. Told you it would be risky." She allowed herself a small, dry smile before moving to join him at the window. It was nice, not being at each others throats for once. But now she was left with absolutely no idea what to say- how to continue the conversation. Apology done and her vague ideas aired, she had nothing else that direly needed attention. And yet, she wanted to firm their fragile peace, and get to know this man Jess trusted with her life.

    "Everyones been worried about Jess.." That was good, if a little pointless. Come on Theresa, you can think of something. "How have you been holding up?" Great. Why not just insinuate you think he's having a hard time holding it together. But she she wanted to know how he was doing, genuinely concerned for the stressed lines she could see carving a path through his face.
    "I mean... I don't think any of us are really getting a good nights sleep. I don't- oh... I'm botching this terribly." Tessa dropped her face into her hands, rubbing her cheeks vigorously to try and give herself some vigor- anything to make the words she wanted come to her call. Why couldn't she just talk normally? Why did it have to be so awkward?

    "You know why your sister is such a good leader?" Clint asked Jessie. He assumed she'd shake her head, say no, the girls hadn't seen each other in years.

    He leaned away from the window and turned to look at Tessa. They shared the same face, the same looks, even sounded the same to him. Only problem was their personalities. Where Jessie was crude and ready to punch a man in the face for looking at her funny, Tessa wasn't. He appreciated the thoughtful nature behind the same face as his familiar Jessie. She actually gave two seconds of thought to a plan, used the word risky (something not in Jessie's vocabulary it would often seem). Jessie merely flowed with the currents given to her, and Tessa was like some sort of spark. Their elements were truly beginning to shine.

    "We don't need her." Clint said curtly. "When she's gone, we sure as hell miss her, but we function. We press on, because we know that she's not above us. I'm five years older than her, and even I know in my heart we're equals here."

    For a man of few words, he was being awfully descriptive.

    "So, I'm fine." Clint answered her question. "I know that even without her, the crew will be okay, we all know that. But it doesn't mean we don't want her back, she's our sister. Does that make sense?"

    His eyes landed on her face once more. Soft as she earlier described, looking for a shred of understanding in her blue gaze. Of all the people, she understood Jessie's temper, her wild spirit. So Tessa should have understood what Clint was talking about. Still, they both were dying to have her back. That much was obvious.

    Eloquence she had failed to reach.

    "I think I can understand the drive of familial bonds.." Tessa's lips quirked at the corners, and she could feel a lot of the tension that had been making it's home in her shoulders slowly leak away. It left her feeling oddly... peaceful. Not something she'd often felt of late, she could count on one hand the number of times she'd felt that way since her sister left. Perhaps it was Jessie's lingering presence here.

    "I understand, but that doesn't make it any easier. The crew will go on, you can function... but you were close weren't you? You and Jessie?" She actually had no idea what their relationship was. He'd just said she was like a sister to the crew... but was that really all she'd found?

    "I know for a long time after she left, I didn't know what to do with myself. What do you do when half of you is missing? I kept turning to share a funny joke, or mock the stuffier family members like we always did. And every time, I would just...suddenly realize she wasn't there. And it was surprising every time. I just.. couldn't imagine myself without Jesse." This was turning into too much of a sob fest. She didn't want to burden him with her scars, or feelings.

    "Sorry. Nostalgia. Because once again I find Jessie is missing, and it hurts a little less- I know what to expect. Only this time, I'm not going to let her go."

    Clint had grasped the locket harder and harder until his knuckles had noticeably paled with his vice grip. What did you do when half of you was missing? He knew the answer to that question but he wasn't going to share. His solution hadn't worked, and he wasn't about to offer his halfhearted advice.

    "I don't know." He lied. "Jessie and I are close, but I truly regard her as nothing more than a sister. I watch out for her."

    He didn't like where the conversation was headed. It brought up old memories he'd tried hard to forget. His wife, child, what was he supposed to do but lie? Clint would let her get her story out, miss Jess, but he wasn't about to spill his lifelong problems with pain and loss.

    "What are you really going to do though?" Clint asked, driving the conversation away. "Once you get her back, do you think she's going to come home? The Republic has just kidnapped her and charged her with impersonation. She's going to die if we don't save her, keep her safe on this side."

    Clint had to hit her hard, and he knew it would hurt.

    "She's never going back."

    "I gave up on that the day she left." Her voice was blunt, missing the normal lilting tones. The blank stare that she sent his way might have been considered frosty. How could he think she still held hopes of her coming home? She had none. No hopes- not even dreams anymore. Those had long since faded. Did she really seem that pathetic?

    "When we get her out, she'll come back to her ship. She'll be safe." She crossed her arms over her chest- in a manner that almost seemed defensive. She knew that Jessie wasn't coming back. She knew- but was there any reason for him to use it like a weapon to attack her? She hadn't missed his pained expression. He knew what that kind of loss felt like.

    How could he use that against someone else- knowing the pain it would bring.

    "Do you really think me that naive?" Her words were barely a whisper, lips tight with some overpowering emotion she couldn't name- the closest she could come being a cousin of sorrow wrapped in anger. She ran one hand down her face wearily. Maybe their truce had been too good to be true. "I'm going to leave," She started, as if daring him to contradict her words, "Before we end up in each others faces again. Good day, Anderson."

    "Theresa-wait, that came out wrong." He pressed a hand to his temple.

    Had it really? What he said was true, but she was getting so angry about it anyways. Although it really need not have been said, he still said it. They were only in the beginning start of their truce and he'd fucked it up (his own thoughts actually).

    "It's the truth, we both know it. I'm sorry." And he apologized again. "I'm trying to be peaceful, but I'm used to butting heads to work sense into Jessie. You're far too thoughtful for my own good."

    He chuckled and let his hands fall to his sides. There'd be no second smile, but he was willing to at least apologize. Time and time again, he'd apologize so long as it made him the bigger man. She could yell and scream and fight and kick, everything from slapping to all out throwing him overboard. That was something he could handle, if she were angry at him instead.

    "I'm not used to working with Navy, alright?" Clint sighed. "You're like a thorn in my side, but a lot prettier than some of the other goons I'm used to dealing with."

    He hadn't meant for it to come out as complimenting. His cheeks flushed under his hands, raised back up to his temples in frustration. This was going to be a long war it would seem.

    Tessa's shoulders started to shake, her hand lifted to her mouth to stifle the small whimper that escaped. It was too much, she just couldn't keep it in. She'd always prided herself on being able to keep her head- but something about this man pressed every button she had.

    And not just the bad ones, it seemed.

    Unable to hold back her mirth any longer, Tess burst into a full peal of laughter. It was a laugh that lit up her entire face, making her eyes- just as blue, and at that moment as carefree as Jessie's- shine with the force of her emotions. One hand fell to her waist to clutch at the stitch that suddenly formed where the last remnants of her injury twinged vengefully.

    "oh- ow, ow-" Her laughter regressed into small chuckles, tears clinging to her lashes from the force of her laughter. She flashed Clint a bright grin, chest heaving in an attempt to catch her breath without further aggravating her still healing wound.

    "Sorry- I just... thanks, for the compliment. I do strive not to be a.. to be a goon." She had to fight to keep her face straight saying that word. It had just sounded so strange coming from him- he was far too sober for his own good sometimes.

    "I'm sure we'll both get used to this... eventually. At least I hope we do before one of us kills the other."

    Clint jumped back in surprise, her outburst hadn't been what he was expecting at all. Her eyes were shining, and for a second he thought he saw Jessie. But it was Tessa, just Tessa. They didn't sound the same at all when they laughed, the girl in front of him was so bright when she laughed. There was something almost innocent about her then. For a moment, he let her go, they were in their own bubble without the stigma of Navy and Rebel on their chest.

    "I'm not going to kill you." Clint frowned. "I already told you, that's the last of my concerns when it comes to you Navy goons,"

    He said the word again, smiling but not nearly as fantastically as before. The hard lines in his face were still clear as day and he was clutching the locket for comfort.

    "I'm glad we had the time to talk." He admitted awkwardly. "I'll let you know when we're about to land, for now just...stay out of trouble alright?"

    Tessa nodded, humming her agreement rather then voicing the words the both of them knew. She wasn't incredibly likely to get into trouble, not on this ship. Padding back to the door, glad that their encounter had for once ended on a good note.

    "Oh.. um, if that offer still stands..." Tessa turned, face heating bashfully again. She hated asking for things- even if the offer had been made by him. She hated feeling like a burden.
    "...a book?" She retreated to the door quickly, fumbling for the knob behind her blindly.

    "It doesn't have to be anything interesting- I just kind of.. miss the words, you know?" She could feel the heat on her cheeks intensify. Missing something like reading, she'd been heckled for that on a navy ship. It wasn't her fault she found everything she could get her hands on fascinating. She craved knowledge.

    "Right- leaving now. I'll see you... around?" Somehow, Tessa left feeling mildly confused. And lighter then she'd felt since she saw her sister trapped behind bars.

    4th Month, 1st Day


    Since his encounter with Tessa, things had been working a little more smoothly. Where they used to argue and glare at one another, screaming matches that would rage over what course of action to take, they were now being civil with one another. She was even welcomed to meals with the best of the crew. Deik especially wanted to get his hands on as much Navy information as he could, but, it wasn't happening as quickly as he wanted.

    They passed Aoke, and it was a good decision in the end. A republic ship had been patrolling the area, it was all lit up with a coming festival in thanks to the decimation of a series of Rebel vessels. As they passed by in the dark, every man held his fist over his chest. There were no words spoken for their fallen comrades, wherever they were now, they were in betters hands. Clint decided then that Joywood was the best destination.

    "Think we'll find anything?" Deik had asked.

    Clint shrugged in silence.

    They descended on the city, Clint waited by the rail with a hand gripping the edge. He turned to face his crew, Tessa included among them. Her blonde head of hair could be seen anywhere on the ship, mingled in with the masses of deep dirty browns it was easy to spot. Clint nodded his head towards her in recognition, but otherwise said nothing. She wanted a book, and he still remembered whether or not she did.

    "Listen up!" Clint roared over the men, and one woman. "We're in Joywood, and we won't stay for more than three days. You hear me? If you miss the ship's departure, we are not returning. This is of the utmost importance. Find what you can, all information in regards to one Jessamine or Theresa Astor. If you so much as see the word Taivas, I want that document, or conversation, however you find it!"

    The crew nodded in deep concentration. Clint wasn't one to rally, but for once he threw his fist in the air, shouting their Captain's name once, and all else followed. "Jessie!"

    It was touching, how in sync the crew was. Both in their actions the day they passed the festival at Aoke- something she hadn't quite understood until she saw the banners flying in the wind- and in their united front in looking for Jesse.

    And Tessa was stuck there. On the ship. Completely unable to do anything to help.

    She nearly drove herself mad, pacing back and forth across the deck. Blue eyes raking the surrounding area from beneath the shade of the hooded cloak she'd managed to find in Jessie's wardrobe. She probably looked ridiculous- it was much to warm for such heavy clothing, but she felt the need to conceal her identity at least somewhat.

    And she couldn't stand staring at the same four walls again, not for another three days.

    So she was back to pacing. Back and forth, left and right, fingers impatiently rushing away the locks of gold that fell into her face. She was so preoccupied with wearing a hole into the floor- or maybe her boots would give out first- that she almost missed the barely perceivable tap, tap, tap coming from the window to Jessie's room.

    Clint was busy on land, now that they had actually arrived. Deik had bid him a fond farewell and they parted ways almost immediately upon touching the ground. His heavy boots felt odd there on solid earth, they didn't echo like they did on board against the wooden deck. It was strange, he should've been used to the sensation of changing between air and land but he never expected it to be so heavy.

    They had contacts they could visit, and that's exactly what Clint had in mind. Deik was visiting with some ment from Bexley, the heart of the Rebellion forces. They were closer, better acquainted than anyone else. The Taivas was a popular name, growing in infamy among the Republic, but in graces on the Rebel side.

    "Good afternoon." A woman greeted Clint. He nodded his head.

    "Hello, sir." A petite black haired woman came up and folded her arms around Clint's. He never took it as strange, some informants liked to feign a little romance. "Can I interest you in a little walk among the flowers?"

    "Perhaps, it depends on what you have to say." Clint spoke quietly. The girl smiled at his answer and began to lead him on. It was something at least, he told himself.

    The noise made Tessa pause in her pacing, warily staring in the direction she had thought she'd heard the sound. The pent up energy running through her ready to start making her pace once more until she caught that barely perceivable tap, tap, tap again.

    It was an oddly familiar sound, one that she couldn't place until she stalked around the corner- intent on finding the source. When she saw the small clay bird, she honestly couldn't believe her eyes. How had it found herhere? She didn't think that his alchemy could stretch that far. Then again, the poor thing looked worse for wear.

    Tessa picked up the small bird carefully, cradling it in her hands. A small piece of home- or at least, something she hadn't ever thought she'd see again. They must be closer to the border then she thought. She smiled at the small crudely made bird- though Quinn would snap at her if she called it 'crude' to his face- and promptly crumbled the clay in her hands to get the small message inside.

    "So what's with you and the captain anyways? You don't normally do the whole sucking up thing (Yea, probably just my jealousy talking- but hey, I never pretended otherwise) but do I detect a little hint of like in there?

    On second thought, don't answer that question. Not sure if I want to know.

    See? Still not proofreading my messages. Or taking stuff out. (Ha ha, don't scowl at me, you know I only jest. Kind of) Anyways, remember that night- the one before you transferred? Are you still having those nightmares? This is where I'd normally insert some joke about running to my arms for comfort, but...

    Talk to me, Tess. You don't know what kind of strings I had to pull to follow you over here. I won't let it drop- I just... I need to know you're all right.


    Tess sat there for a long while, finally still in the wake of the message. Her fingers absently toyed with the edges of the paper, fraying them. She recalled him telling her the range on his alchemy before- well, boast about it- and to be honest... It was rather impressive. But this gave them something to go on. Somewhere to start looking- even if they could garner nothing from the message itself.

    Now they had another name to look for as well, if Quinn had really pulled strings to get transferred to the same ship as her. She just hoped that he didn't get in over his head. Well, there was nothing for it now. She stood in preparation to leave the ship- ignoring Clints advice to stay on board. The would need this information sooner rather then later.

    Now all she had to do was find someone.

    "Well that was a waste of time." Clint announced.

    Deik sat lazily across him with his boots on the small bar table. The place was packed, enough to keep their conversation perfectly hidden in all the boisterous chatter. Half the men were drunk, the other half weren't listening. Hiding in plain sight was Deik's idea, didn't want any information falling into the wrong hands.

    "You're telling me." Deik agreed. "I talked to four of my contacts, four, and not a one has heard of where Jessamine is. Excuse me, our little hidden girl, Theresa. This is so confusing."

    "I found out a little at least." Clint shrugged. "According to our own little Miss Astor, she's gotta be in a major fleet. I've heard rumors the Alexandrian is nearby, the only ship I couldn't find any information on was the Esper."

    "You used a lack of information as information?" Deik questioned. A smile broke out on his face and he shifted his feet. "Nice."

    "In any case, we should get back for the night before it gets dark." Clint pulled Deik to his feet and placed a few coins on the table. They hadn't ordered anything worthy of what was there, but it said something else. We weren't here.

    So Clint and Deik stumbled back to their ship, Deik had an eye for the women who passed. Clint did not. He'd pull on Deik's collar when one got too close so that they would make it back to the ship with the both of them having their wits.

    "Is she still mad at you?"

    "No." Clint shook his head.

    "So you made peace?"

    "Yeah." Clint nodded.

    "Anything else?" Deik asked. Clint shook his head and the man sighed loudly. "Let her help, I swear, she's a good kid."

    "We'll see."

    At the first sign of footsteps in the brush, she'd done the first thing that came to mind. She'd climbed a tree. Well, it wasn't as much 'climbed' as 'floated'- but the gist was still there, and before the two voices came into sight she was hidden in the foliage above. She couldn't hear the voices over the thrumming of her heart in her chest, and she was grateful for the dull colored cloak she had managed to find that concealed Jessamine's normally vibrant attire.

    She was relieved when the two men came into view. She hadn't even had to go out into the town proper to find them- though that didn't stop the sting of nervous energy she felt as she relaxed against the rough bark. Well, hopefully he wouldn't be too irked with her. She had a good reason to be here. She tossed an acorn thoughtfully in her hand- lightly tossing it in the boys direction as they passed below the tree she'd found as her perch.


    The acorn smacked Deik in the forehead, he muttered a 'hey' before scratching the spot. Both of the men looked up in the tree to find their little Tessa hiding with a cloak pulled over her head. Instantly, Clint was at the base of the tree reaching his hands up to grab her feet.

    "Get down, now." He scolded. "I don't you to stay on the ship for a reason!"

    Deik wanted no part in the argument. Whistling as he walked by, he mentioned a little too loudly. "When your lover's quarrel is over, you can find me in my room." Then he strutted on by, hands deep in his pockets and a happy tune being whistled from his lips.

    Clint was too irritated to be bothered by Deik, and he jumped up, grabbing the corner of Tessa's cloak. He only meant it to be a gentle tug, but as he fell back down to the floor it turned into a yank. Still, he wanted her down. If anyone saw her it would cause problems for both sides of the Astor situation.

    "Here I thought you'd actually listen to me for once."

    She'd managed to pull her feet out of his reach. Mildly irritated that he would even attempt something like that. She was about to come down of her own accord anyway- it's not like she wantedto spend the night in a tree. "Oh just hold your horses. I'm coming down." Then of course, he had to snatch at her cloak.

    "What are you- Hey!" It didn't matter that she clutched at the branch she had perched on, the bark didn't give her enough grip to keep herself on the branch. Her stomach jumped into her throat as the sensation of weightlessness kicked in for a brief moment- suspending the leaves above her as if frozen in time. She quickly clenched her eyes shut against the inevitable impact.

    "Watch out!" Clint tried to issue a word of warning, but it was his own fault for pulling her out of the tree and into his arms.

    He held her awkwardly in a bridal style, knelt over from the heavy impact of Tess falling on him. His face was awfully close to hers and a red heat flushed his cheeks because of how awkward he felt being in close contact. The hairs on his chin were close enough to tickle her nose before he pushed out his arms a little further. With his head bent low and his eyes avoiding her stare, he had the thought to ask if she was alright.

    "Careful now." He teased. "You might hurt someone."

    Clint held her in his arms for a while. He debated carrying her back to her cabin, locking the door, and keeping her inside. His orders had been clear. She wasn't to leave the ship for three days, and within the first evening she'd decided to lounge around in a tree off the ship.

    "Did anyone see you?" He asked seriously.

    Somehow their eyes had been finding the other a lot in the last couple of days. Clint's warm brown eyes laid gently on her face, she wasn't hurt from what he could tell. He'd only take a moment to admire the color of her eyes beneath the cloak.

    The sharp retort that had come to the forefront of her mind died on her tongue. Was he... blushing? She could feel a responding flush rise to her own cheeks, making the blue of her eyes seem that much brighter beneath the shade of her cloak. She had to fight the urge to tug the rim of the cloak lower over her face, in an attempt to hide that tell-tale sign of embarrassment. Because it was just embarrassment, and not the warmth of his arms around her, or how close his face was to hers.

    Theresa Astor, who are you trying to convince?

    "S-sorry... I don't normally make a habit of falling out of trees." The end of her sentence revealed her dry humor, and she lightly cleared her throat to try and bring some strength back into her voice.
    "I didn't hurt you.. did I?" That was probably a stupid question. Of course she didn't hurt him- how could she, when she considered the ease with which he had caught and held her.

    "I... I only just left the ship. You two were the first I encountered..."
    Why was he still holding her?

    Clint nodded his head in silence. He was retreating into a shell, one of introverted tendencies and few words spoken. What was there to say? He had his Captain's twin in his arms, blushing like a fool as he gazed into the eyes they shared. No, he told himself. They were indeed different. Jessie had a fire in her eyes, where Tessa had something else. It was a soothing sensation.

    "No, I'm stronger than you think." Clint stumbled over his words.

    Put her down! His subconscious screamed at him.

    He lowered her feet to the ground and stood her up. After, he brushed himself free of debris and started back towards the ship so Tessa couldn't see his face any more. Somewhere behind the grizzled shadow of a beard there was blush forming. He hadn't been so close to a woman since his wife died, certainly hadn't held one like that. It went without saying it stirred up some powerful memories, and they brought more pain than comfort.

    "I bought you some pomenanas, and a book." Clint waved the tome in the air in one hand, the pomenanas were in a small sack tied around his belt loop. They'd been a burden since he picked them up. The man nearly forgot them in the bar with Deik, so his waist seemed the best place. He didn't turn to face Tessa again. "You like those right? Come on."

    Gods forgive me.

    He couldn't help it. He missed her. The longing he felt for the woman he once shared a life with came back stronger than ever and he had to fight to keep it concealed. He inwardly cursed Tessa for stirring up the emotions he tried so hard to keep locked away, but it was his own fault. Clint had offered the peace. He was forced to work with her now and nothing would stop that.

    Clint continued to wave the book in the air, hoping she wouldn't get close enough to see the torment etched on his face.

    If there was one thing Tessa could recognize, it was the grief of loss. She saw it long ago when her mother died, in the face of her twin and her father. She saw it everyday- less so, recently- after her sister had left when looking in the mirror. And she saw it in the quick flash of emotion that spread across his face as he turned away from her. Just like she'd seen it the other day, when his fingers had clutched at the locket around his neck.

    She could even see it on the faces of some of her fellow soldiers, when they returned from battle.

    She felt helpless, she didn't know what had triggered whatever memory was causing him pain. She didn't know what she could do to help- if there was anything she could do to help... And had it not been for the last couple of days, she wouldn't have even tried. His scars were his own. Everyone had them.
    She felt like she had to try.

    "Clint..." She jogged to catch up with his long strides, placing one gentle hand on his shoulder- exerting the smallest pressure, just a bare brush of her palm on his arm. She didn't know what to say, the words wouldn't come to her.
    "It never really gets better... does it? You only ever learn to cope with it..."

    He didn't want her sympathies. Hell, he couldn't even wish for her to come back. The grief he felt in the nightmares where he relived the horror was enough to convince him. What happened was done. He was a rebel because of it, and there was no going back, but to say it never got better?

    She had no idea how right she was.

    "I don't know what you're talking about." He lied. Clint wiped a hand over his face to reset it, when the hand was gone he was back to normal. Normal being the stone cold set of eyes the crew had become accustomed to. Sharing such private information with a Rebel girl, he felt foolish for having a shred of joy with her in his arms. It wasn't fair, wasn't right, his body played tricks on him and before he knew it he'd be in love.

    The ship was but a few paces away and he plucked the fruit from his side and pushed it into Tessa's hands without giving her eyes another look. If he did, it would be too much for him to bear. The book was next, and it dropped to the ground and opened to a random page. He hadn't even told her what it was.

    "It's a kids story book." He huffed. "There was nothing else."

    Clint hurried away from her without saying anything. From on board, the slamming of a door could be heard behind the sound of heavy footsteps. Deik appeared from seemingly nowhere to click his tongue at the noise. He strolled up to Tessa and took the items from her hands.

    "Sorry about him." Deik apologized. "He's not...good with women."

    She almost didn't register Deik walking up to her, almost couldn't comprehend his words in the wake of Clint walking away. It left a surprising sting in her chest, one that made her tongue feel thick and clumsy. She threw Deik a grateful look, one hand running through her no doubt wild blonde hair, while the other found it's way to her hip.

    "Well. I wouldn't say I'm the best with men either." She stared down the hall he had disappeared into, a frown tugging at the corners of her lips.
    "Thank you.. Deik. You don't need to explain his actions." She did understand, perhaps a little more then she should. She understood the cold facade that one might put up to try and push others away. Keeping a careful distance, not letting anyone get too close just in case they might hurt you the same way. Because feeling was dangerous, and caring was worse.

    "Although... I didn't get to tell him the reason I left the ship in the first place." It would have to wait until tomorrow. She'd make sure to get up early and catch him before they left for town again.

    He shrugged with her effects in his hands. It wasn't a huge deal. Clint could be a little too much to handle at times. Jessie and Clint, they just balanced each other out. Although, it usually wasn't in the best ways. Clint was harsh, and Jessie had too much fun. There was no middle ground between them, only the worst of extremes. It was most likely why, Deik assumed, they'd never been anything more than friends.

    "You can tell us later. I don't think he's in the mood." Deik sighed. It was one of those days it looked like. When Clint got a little too frustrated, or a wee bit too emotional, all hell broke loose. Talking to him was pointless in his moods.

    "Has anyone ever told you what happened?" Deik leaned in close, whispering the question in Tessa's ear. "To Clint I mean?"

    He assumed she didn't. No one openly spoke of what happened to Clint, the horror of the attack was almost unbelievable, even to the best ranking Rebels. An entire city, massacred in one night by the Republic, hushed in the newspapers due to its remote location. It would have gone unnoticed, but the Rebels made it known. The Republic was so close to have eradicated Clint's home town off the face of the map.

    "Theresa." Deik bit his lip, was it his story to tell? "You need to know, but, I can't tell you the whole story. It wouldn't be right."

    Deik led Tessa on board, speaking quietly as they walked with the facade of casual conversation.

    "His entire town was wiped out, you probably didn't hear about it, being from the Republic. His parents, wife, and...well, no one made it. He was going to have a boy, the girl she was..."

    No more he decided. It really wasn't his story to share.

    She didn't need to hear any more. No, she didn't want to hear any more. Not from Deik. Tessa lifted her hand, placing it squarely over his lips to keep him from saying anything else. She was glad his hands were occupied with carrying the things Clint had bought for her. Perhaps that was why- despite her curiosity- she wanted to wait, and hear it from him instead. He'd remembered she liked pomenanas.

    She smiled as she carefully extricated the fruit and book from Deiks hands, arranging them in the cradle of one arm so she had one free hand to open the door to Jessie's room.

    "I'll hear it from him, whenever he's ready to tell me. I might be waiting for a while," She added wryly, "but I wouldn't have it any other way." It was her way of honouring Clints loss. Whatever it was. She wouldn't pry, she wouldn't ask. But she could understand. And maybe, someday he'd share.

    "Before you go... Do you have a map of the area? Even a continental map would work. Something with accurate measurements."

    Deik pursed his lips under her hand and his brows furrowed. He'd been cut off before he could stop himself, he wasn't used to being told to, at least silently, shut up. It was his own fault for going on about stories which weren't his. Of all the things, he thought, Clint's story was the last she'd want to hear.

    There was a loud crashing from Clint's room and loud curses erupted from the locked space. Deik did his best to not look, but at the second sound of a crash through glass, he had to give it a glance.

    "I'd love to, but, if he found out?" Deik shook his messy head of hair. "Not a chance Missy, not unless you have somewhere to actually be. I doubt you do, we've only been in port for a day."

    Deik crossed his arms, shifting on his feet nervously. If she was anything like her sister, there might be an argument, a little foot stomping. Jessie was known for her temper, but Tessa was not. Hopefully she wouldn't play any of those cards, Deik didn't know how to deal with Jessie-tantrum. That was Clint's job.

    Tessa would have deflated, if she hadn't flinched at every crash that sounded from Clints room. Right. They didn't trust her. Well then, she would have to wait until the morning. Or search Jessie's room- surely she had a map ofsome kind. Even a general one would work.

    She nearly dropped the bundle in her arms on the second crash.

    "Alright." Tessa nudged open the door behind her, ducking inside to drop the book and fruit on her Jessie's bed. "Alright... I'll think of something else then. Thank you, for helping me." Tessa nodded towards the bed, and the stuff that Deik had helped her carry. He didn't have to, of course, but the gesture was sweet.
    "Let me know.. if there is anything I can do to help." She nodded her farewell, and closed the door behind her. Closing off whatever reply Deik might have given her. Resting her forehead against the cool surface of the door.

    She couldn't fathom the connection she might have had that would bring up whatever memories caused him so much pain. If it had been her sneaking off of the ship, then surely instead of running away, he would have done what he normally did when she pissed him off. Which would be yell at her. Tessa opened the window, grimacing as the sounds of destruction strengthened. The stupidest idea possible passed through her mind.

    So of course, she had to climb out the window- and perched precariously on the windows ledge, reach over and tap gently on Clints window.

    "Son of a bitch, Tessa, what?" Clint screamed at the window. His mind hadn't even processed how she got there, so used to Jessie's 'catwalk' she called it, where she'd just walk on air in order to get where she pleased.

    Yet, there was Tessa, leaning out of her own room just to knock on Clint's window. Before he realized it he was throwing something else her way, but he stopped mid swing and the chair in his hands clattered the ground just before the glass pane.

    His frustration was mixed with grief, the emotions he hadn't felt in ages he felt for a girl from the Republic. Surely the Gods had some sort of sense for irony, otherwise it wouldn't have happened. He tried to reason with himself. She was female, yes, that didn't mean he found her attractive. The correlation boiled down to gender, but there was something there.

    Yes, Clint appreciated the work and effort Tessa put forth, but that was it. His moods happened from time to time, but that second couldn't have been so bad. There was no one to blame but himself for his anger, he couldn't scream at Tessa for simply being a woman.

    "Get back in your damn room before you fall out!" He screamed. "And stay in there this time!"

    Clint fell to his knees in the middle of the room and gripped his locket hard. I will not feel anything. He told himself. If I keep it in, it won't hurt me. She's gone, she's dead, she's not ever coming back. It's over.

    God help me.

    She ignored every voice that told her this was a bad idea. Every instinct that screamed at her, telling her to turn around and just walk the other way. She'd gone through her life after Jessie left, just skating by. Avoiding emotional attachments, and extricating herself from any situation that would put her in a position of comforting- or even sympathizing. She could barely hold herself together, let alone someone else.

    But something about the picture of Clint, falling to his knees- his hands clutched around a treasure that she had no inkling of the significance. He was the kind of person who had to be whole. He was an anchor for those around him, something to fall back on, like a safety net to catch those who fall. So she did another stupid thing, in opening his window. And yet another as her feet ate up the space between them.

    She thought the smartest thing she might have done by far, though, was dropping to her own knees in front of him, and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Like somehow she might be able to hold him together, offer some kind of peace of mind. Maybe bear the burdens of his pain for a brief moment.

    "I said-" Clint called weakly to her. He felt powerless.

    Her steps came closer, and he wanted to look up. To acknowledge that she was there and he was fine, but he wasn't. Clint was falling apart like a fool and he couldn't explain why. Well he could, but, ever since that day emotions had been hard. The day everything disappeared from his life. Feeling anything but cold and calculating was atypical of Clint. Maybe it was because Jessie was gone. He didn't deal well with loss, and he had to fight hard to get her back from the clutches of the same force which had decimated his home. These events, the past, mixed in unpleasantly with the present situation at hand. If he didn't get Jessie back he'd feel like a failure, having her twin wasn't any sort of success.

    When the Astor girl's arms wrapped around his shoulders he leaned into the embrace. There was nothing so sweet as a woman's touch, he openly sighed at the feeling and how calming it was. Clint leaned his head forward, his tousled black head of hair rested below her breasts. His shoulders slumped in a relaxed posed, and Clint let Tessa hold him there. No one would be able to see how he relished in the feeling of her hands wrapped around his frame in a moment of weakness. He let himself be comforted for the moment before he reeled back from her hand.


    "Get out!" He screamed. Clint scrambled to his feet, falling over a chair he'd thrown and then scrambling up again. No more was his posture slouched and easy, but rigid and frightened as if backed into a corner. "Don't touch me, get back to your cabin!"

    He didn't have anything to say. He'd let her do it, it was his fault. There was more for him to bear now, the torture of having such a sweet temptation on board at all times. He wouldn't let it go any further. Clint wouldn't take any chances with Tessa. He'd fought for so long to keep love a distant part of his life, comfort and care were a slippery slope. At least with Jessie it was easy, she was more like a boisterous boy than a woman. The rest of the crew were men, but Tessa? The girl was sweet, beautiful just like her sister, and the ferocity in her eyes...

    Stop! Stop it right there you fool!

    "Please." He begged her. "Just go." His face softened and his eyes pleaded for her to leave. He didn't want to get any closer to any one.

    No emotion.

    There'd be no pain.

    Clint didn't want to fall in love.

    If he had just broken away immediately. If there wasn't this expression of pain- mixed with a desire he wouldn't allow himself. If, if, if.. There were so many things that would have made her choose differently, made her give him the peace he wanted. But there were too many things to make her stay.

    It was something she'd noticed over the last few days, now that her very presence didn't raise his hackles. Now that she didn't have to pretend like she enjoyed being the center of attention, and could fade into the background. Everyone respected him, and for the longest time Tessa had to question it. She couldn't see it, and in looking missed it entirely.

    He had the greatest capacity for love- and yet he refused to use it.

    "No." It wasn't said with spite, as she rose off of her knees and stood in front of him. Closing the distance- but sparing him her touch. It surprised her how hard it was to resist, how much she wanted to comfort him, after so long of running away. She couldn't even begin to understand.

    "You don't... you don't have to talk about it. I won't force you to. But it can't be wrong to accept comfort from someone else... From..." Me.

    "Are you deaf, please, just leave!" Clint ordered her, torn now with the way he was treating his crew member. Then again, she wasn't really true crew, it didn't mistake the awful taste in his throat when he had to scold her for doing something as easy as comfort.

    He raised a hand and pointed angrily towards the door. Why wouldn't she just go? Clint wasn't in need of her, he didn't want her there, but he yearned for her all the same. It was so contradictory to be begging for the hand of a Republic spy that he didn't know how to feel about it. Conflict was an easy emotion readable on his face.

    "I swore, never again." He hissed. "You're ruining me."

    If I don't feel for those I care about, the pain of losing them is lessened. If I don't get Jessie back, I'm a goner, if you don't get Jessie back, you're a goner, so let's just do what we came for and get out!

    That's what he wanted to say anyways. That it all depended on getting Jessie back, and that when she arrived, Clint could go back to reprimanding the mischievous Astor twin and avoiding the other. Life would go back to how it was before. Simple, Rebel, life. He wouldn't have to worry about how he was treating one girl in comparison to the rest of the world, or that maybe he really needed a woman in his life. The thoughts jumbled around in his head as he struggled to make sense of what he wanted.

    "I'm undeserving and unwanting of anyone's comfort." He told her. "I don't need it. I don't."

    He jabbed his finger again towards the door, taking a hesitant step back away from Tess.

    He was scared. A feeling she could empathize with. He was a rebel, they were complete opposite forces. There should be nothing between them- could be nothing between them. When they got Jessie back... She didn't know what would happen to her. Would they let her go back? Would she want to go back. If she took this step right now, it would be answering that question. She wouldn't go back.

    She hesitated.

    It was a selfish way of thinking. Hesitating in offering comfort to someone who needed it- despite his claims otherwise- merely because she was afraid she wouldn't be able to let go. If she had to go back, if it was the only way to save Jessie, would she be able to do it knowing she would be leaving him behind?

    "Fuck." The epithet was barely a whisper, an expression of everything she felt and how unfair the whole situation was. In the end, what got her was his reluctance to accept her help. Maybe she was misguided- but no one deserved to be left in pain like that. Everyone deserved a little bit of comfort. Navy or rebel.

    "Clint.. you can't really believe that. That you don't deserve to be comforted. That you don't deserve to find peace. You can't-" Her voice cracked, and she found out her hand was shaking as she lifted it to cover her traitorous mouth. Her determination was wavering. She reached out one last time, making the offer they both knew they couldn't accept. And gods damnit- she couldn't stop the shaking in her hands.

    Clint didn't say anything, as he was prone to silence to begin with. Just by rejecting her he was making the situation difficult, if he could only let her see how difficult it was to accept her help and be gracious about it. Republic was republic, but she was still a kind and generous woman.

    Of course he didn't believe what he was saying. Not really. He knew that everyone deserved a little peace and comfort, but he felt like it was too long overdue to matter. It had been eight long years he silently brooded over losing his little family. Eight years of pent up frustration all directed towards the people who'd taken them from this world. It couldn't be undone with a touch or kind word, as much as he wanted it to be so.

    Of all the things he needed, it wasn't comfort, he simply needed to forgive.

    That's what he really, desperately needed.

    "I can't forgive them." Clint muttered softly. He pressed his hands to his face, bending forward slightly in a slouched pose. "It's been too long, I should've found peace, but I haven't."

    Tessa's hand found him, and he tried his best not to recoil. He deserved it, he told himself. While he was appreciative of her gesture, there really was no meaning to it. Clint, it was something he had to do on his own. No one girl, especially not a girl form the Republic, would be able to help him move past the stain on his soul.

    He was speaking in phrases, nothing she should've understood. So then, why did she? Clint raised his head slightly and wondered if she even knew what he was talking about. Still she'd help him, without understanding the gravity of his pain, she'd offer a hand to help the other side.


    At that he had to feel somewhat weak. She could do it, she could aid an enemy. Clint looked an utter fool in the moment, and he felt positively weak. He was more like a frightened child, a hulking six foot tall child, but nonetheless his behavior was atrocious.

    "Have you heard of Farnworth, Tess?" He asked. Her response would gauge either the beginning of a long story, or a swift kick out the door. He wasn't sure which felt more appropriate.

    "... I've heard the republic side of things. Farnworth was the old town to the east of Linden." She hesitated before continuing, eyes firmly on the spot where her hand met his arm. She couldn't tell if it was his heart that was causing the pulsing in her hand or her own. Just the name was laced with so much sorrow, so much regret and pain...

    The version she had heard, the version they had all heard back at the academy- six years ago- was not one that could hold so much regret. The town, was one of the main headquarters for the rebellion forces. The people who lived there supplied the rebellion near the capitol with weapons, food, and shelter when needed. There was a traitor in their midst. When the navy came to apprehend them, the town resisted. It was a massacre, with half of the town siding with the navy, and the other half killing with impunity. There were no recorded survivors.

    "...What happened...?"

    "It was eight years ago, The Republic kept it hidden so well, reports didn't come in for a full year after." Clint scoffed.

    Was this really the best time to share? He'd been so angry, and for what though? This was the reason. Clint had so stupidly become upset with how close he was getting to Tessa, it all spawned from this one event. He wanted to curse himself for how he was acting around her. Throwing tantrums, those kinds of things were done in private and not in anyone else's face.

    He sat Tessa down in a chair at a small table in his room just at the foot of his bed. That's all there really was, a bed and a table. He was a simple man and required nothing more than the basic amenities. That, and a little liquor. There was a large cabinet next to the door to his room as well as two large plush chairs with a small coffee table between them. That was Deik's addition, so he didn't feel so uncomfortable when he came to visit. Clint walked up to the cabinet and pulled open glass doors on the upper half. A story this somber deserved a drink.

    Clint returned to the table with two small shot glasses and his favorite brand of whisky.

    "Drink." He said dryly. "You're not gonna like the story anyways. It's about time you heard it. I'm sure you've heard all the reasons others joined the cause, but, if Deik hasn't spoiled this one already..."

    He poured himself and Tessa a glass of the whisky and held it in the air for a moment in a silent cheers before downing it and slamming the glass on the table. Where to begin?

    "Farnworth was on the brink of being a war zone. Lindon was losing control, the Rebels wanted it for themselves. It was a good location. The ports were massive, reaching the area by land could take days. A great spot, really." Clint poured himself a second shot of whisky but held it in his hand, swirling the amber liquid. "Lindon was losing control. They couldn't take the shame of losing such an important location, so they made something up.

    "I was married, when they attacked. Did anyone tell you?" Clint fumbled with the locket at his neck when he was done staring into his whisky, revealing some small significance about the thing. "I was only 20, she was 17. Melissa. My parents always wanted me to find someone, they had some friends, and made it happen before they died. Unrelated." He dismissed the last part. While his parents also had some hand in a Republic incident, their deaths weren't relevant to the story he wanted to tell.

    "A year later I found out she was pregnant." Clint smiled softly at the memory of her little round belly. Melissa had a way about her, always doting about and never really remember that she was indeed rather large after being impregnated. Normally she was so small. "We were gonna have a boy."

    He returned to the topic of Farnworth. "It was only a few months before she was due and the Republic came. They burned our fields, poured oil and rubbish in our ports to kill the fish, set fire to the oil to get rid of the boats. That was just the first wave. Once there was enough panic they sent in soldiers to kill off the survivors. Lindon wanted us gone, because they couldn't deal with letting us become Rebels.

    "I don't care what you heard. That's what happened. Lindon wanted us gone rather than converted. So we were cut from population charts, according to the world we were dead already. This gave the soldiers all the more reason to be brutal. They raped, pillaged, stole from everyone they could - and why not? We weren't alive.

    "I was going to be a soldier. I was waiting for a confirmation to come through, I was going to be a Republic man, move closer to the Capital so I could take care of Melissa and our son..." Clint resumed swirling the whisky in his hand, just to give it something to do. "I was working, out in a field when it happened. The first wave, when the ports were blocked. I had to barricade in my own home with Melissa, and I left her for one hour, one goddamn hour, and when I came back..."

    A story for another time.

    "She was..."

    Some other day.

    "She was gone." Clint swallowed hard. That was something entirely gruesome which Tessa probably wouldn't want to hear. "A soldier had killed her, and my son. Her parents were killed, my neighbors, friends. I broke the man's neck who killed my wife right then and there, and then I ran.

    "Farnworth is gone now. Nothing but ruins. Military claims they use it for exercise, training, chemical who cares what, they claim they're using it. It's not true. There's nothing left but piles of ashes. The military set fire to everything once the fighting had stopped. I couldn't even bury the bodies, there weren't any left." Clint pulled at the locket.

    "I don't know how to handle loss." He admitted. "How do you deal with that, Tess? Everyone I knew, gone, and I was the only one to survive? There were others of course, it's not to say I was alone, but I am. I think that's why I need to get Jessie back, Tess, I just can't handle something like this. I'm not cut out for losing the people I care about. So I don't care. Don't want to, don't need to.

    "I was upset because you just. Tess, you're a sweet girl, you just care too much. You'd do anything to get Jessie back, and all I can do is wallow in the past pain, focused on why I need her back instead of just bringing her home. I'm sorry."

    There wasn't a whole lot else to say. He'd said his story, gotten upset, and he felt he'd adequately described what he was feeling in that moment. Only problem was, it didn't entirely relate everything he was feeling. Tessa had sparked something there when she fell into his arms, something so drastically simple in nature, but complex to the inner workings of his mind. He cared enough to catch her, but not enough to be kind in the end. And he was angry for how he'd acted. Like a fool.

    "I can't go through that again. I'll save Jessie, she can come home again, and everything will go back to the way it was. I need that."

    He was right. She needed the whisky.

    She sat through his story in quiet contemplation, each word laying a weight on her soul that she just couldn't seem to lift. How he could bear it, even after all these years...

    She tried imagining if it had been her in his shoes. If she had left to go to work, and one day come home to find her comrades had killed everyone in her home town. She felt a pang for her mother, who everyone knew had suffered at the hands of a military mistake- for all they denied it- her stomach twisted at the thought of her father, even as withdrawn as he had become after their mothers death, being killed with impunity. And at the thought of her sister... if someone like Quinn had to kill her sister-

    Tessa had to shake off the thought, and the curious sense of numbness that came with it. No, Quinn would never do that. Many of the people she knew would never stoop so low as to murder unarmed citizens. But she also knew of a few who would. And worse, for someone you loved with all your heart- the thoughts that lie in that direction scared her. With everything she was willing to do for her sister, what would she be capable of for someone she loved from the bottom of her heart?

    "And here I am, like a specter spitting in the face of your memories." Tessa shook her head, downing one last shot of the whisky. She knew she'd had too much already- she never could hold her alcohol- but she needed a little bit of that fuzz to block out the images that wanted to haunt her.

    "The military.. we're supposed to be defenders. We're supposed to protect people.. people with families. With homes, lives, neighbors, friends, and lovers." She had to keep herself from quoting Quinn, we are the shields that guard the ones we love. "I can't... I can't apologize for the atrocities of others... gods, I can't think of any way anyonecould ever make that right... I can't even..." help you find the forgiveness you crave. But that was in the past now. He didn't need her to try and make up for past mistakes. He needed peace- he deserved peace.

    "Clint... nothing can ever make what happened right. You've endured so much...but... but it's been eight years." At this, Tess carefully got to her feet, hating the way alcohol makes even these small movements difficult, and made her way over to Clint. "You deserve to find some peace. Maybe... maybe it's time to try something new." And then, with a courage born from whisky, Tessa leaned over to gently press her lips against his forehead.

    "There. Now no more throwing things. Though I don't know where you found things to throw-" She straightened too fast, the lightheaded rush making the room swim around her eyes. Definitely too much whisky.

    Clint pursed his lips when hers touched his brow, there was nothing more to say on the matter if her stomach couldn't hold the liquor he'd offered. Straight to her head, and her worry would be straight to the floor. He sighed and stood up to steady her swaying motions.

    "Come here, Navy girl." He teased. Teasing wasn't like him at all, but, it reminded him of when he was with Melissa. He hadn't thought about her in so long now that it was somewhat of a happy memory on its own. Clint would get a little too tipsy, and she'd be there at his side in a heartbeat to make sure he didn't fall. Now he was doing the very same thing for Tess, as if the roles had reversed.

    He wrapped an arm around her waist and led her carefully to the bed. It was all he could do not to laugh, she was drunk off of his whisky, nothing more than a few shots. He'd have to teach her to hold her liquor a little better than that. All his men he could drink with, but, Tessa was already drunk. Clint himself felt nothing more than a buss, it was enough to keep the sorrow at bay for the time being. Later though, well, he'd need a new bottle before they left port.

    "Lay down for a while. Forget about me for now." Clint assured her it'd be alright and laid her down carefully, pressing a hand against her forehead before sweeping it back over her blonde, silky hair. What was he saying. Her and Jessie? They were completely different people. He resisted the urge to brush her hair for a while, to linger on her blue eyes, to stare at her soft lips while they were still somewhat somber enough to hold a conversation. They'd been less heated, but this moment was the quietest of them all, following a maelstrom of whirling chairs of course, so he couldn't say it had been completely calm. When he stopped to think about it, she really was a beautiful girl.

    Clint wanted to be far from the story of his life, so he just shut up. He'd talked enough for the day, he probably wouldn't say a word about it again that was for sure. To save Tessa the imagery he'd even left out the most gruesome parts. Those would definitely be for another time.

    "Can you follow a simple order this time?" He asked. "Stay, sober up. I've got work to do now."

    "Sir yes sir." Her voice was soft, and despite the alcohol un-slurred. She never slurred when drunk, thankfully, but standing was definitely an issue. She was lucky he had helped her to the bed. She didn't want to think about what kind of a fool she would make of herself attempting the feat on her own. She also didn't want to think about the fact that this was his bed, and smelled decidedly like him. Tessa fought the urge to bury her face in his pillow.

    "And thank you... for, for helping me. And sharing." She flashed him a sweet smile, before sinking back into the bed with a small, comfortable sound. Only to shoot up with a gasp seconds later, hand reaching out to grab his wrist. She managed it the second try.

    "Oh- Jessie. She's in a weeks flight from here. I'll explain it when I'm not...not..." She struggled to find the word, eventually settling on "drunk." Entirely un-eloquent, and unlike her. But she had to tell him before he left to go searching again. "Please, trust me on this..?" She gave him a beseeching look, holding onto his wrist for a few seconds longer then necessary, to try and press the importance of that information into his skin with her fingers. He had to believe her, this time.

    "You're failing to follow a simple order Miss Astor, now rest." He chuckled a little watching her become so excited. Clint pressed his hand against her shoulder, easing her back down onto his bed.

    A weeks flight was still a long ways to go. Clint couldn't go acting on her word without a little more information and supplies to get them there. A week in any direction could be both Rebel and Republic territory depending on which way they went, and that would be the most important part. The different between preparing for a fight, or a cakewalk towards friends. In any case, provisions would need to be purchased.

    "Rest, Navy girl." He told her once more, pulling her hand off his wrist at the same time. "We can talk when you're sober."

    Clint turned to leave, making sure his exit was as quiet as a mouse, barely making a noise with the door he usually slammed shut. He wasn't sure how to feel when he left, he'd shared his story sure, but what did it matter to someone like her? There certainly weren't any new alliances or bridges being formed just by talking about the past.

    He still wasn't sure.

    Deik was fast on Clint, he'd been waiting for him to come out once the noises had stopped. It was either that or barge in after he knew who was on the other side. Clintand Tessa.

    "What did I say?" Deik smirked, pulling Clint close with a lean arm around his neck. "The seeds of-"

    "Shut up." Clint growled. His mood soured with Deik's arrival, and here he'd been having such a nice conversation before. "We need supplies, come on."

    "Yessir." Deik said cheerily.

    Chapter Eight, black
    4th Month, 4th Day

    They'd already been in the ruins for two days- and Dael could see why it had taken the research department as long as they had to get only this far. The traps had started out simple, fireballs triggered by proximity, pitfalls lined with spikes (original, really) and dead ends with deceptive trick 'doors'. Things were getting increasingly complex. It was a good thing (as they'd found out purely by accident) the traps did not reset until everyone had made it out. So, by taking turns, they'd all been able to get a good nights rest inactual beds.

    It was fairly logical, once he thought about it. Whoever made the series of traps obviously intended for the artifact to be retrievable. What would be the point of retrieving the artifact, only to have it destroyed by some accident on the way back out?

    "You'll be fine without us? You know I'd be more then willing to stay if you needed me here." Dael didn't miss the small innocuous looks Hewlett sent in Jessamines direction. Whether it was due to any suspicion on his part, or if it was merely concern he wasn't quite sure. But knowing Thatcher, and his relationship with the burly man, it was more likely the former.

    "We'll be fine, Hewlett. Get out of here and get some rest. We need everyone in top form, which means rest- and actually sleeping." That brought a grin to Hewletts face, unabashed and unashamed of his captains allusions to his drinking.

    "You know me too well captain. Alright, then we'll head on out. Don't get into too much trouble while we're gone." Hewlett whistled through his teeth, catching the attention of Quinn (Who looked entirely too comfortable, while Jessamine looked entirely too uncomfortable) who stood with a rueful grin, his arm splinted to his side after a rather unfortunate collision with the floor. Well, the wall. Dael wasn't sure how to treat the last trap, with it's changing gravity.

    "I could never manage as much trouble as you, Hewlett. Now get out of here, before I make that an order." Hewlett chuckled, dropping his hand on Quinns good shoulder to steer him back out the hall they had just emerged from. Their conversation faded down the echoing halls slowly.

    "I feel like you do that on purpose."

    "Do what?" Hewletts gruff reply.

    "Try to keep me from talking to Tessa."

    "Since when could you call her Tessa?"

    "..." Quinns sigh could even be heard through the echoing halls, and it was a while until their voices faded, along with their retreating footsteps.

    As the last traces of their retreat faded, Dael finally let himself relax, rolling his head back to stare at the ceiling with a look that could only be described as exasperated.

    "I don't think it's just me, but handling those two is an exhausting feat."

    Jessie was tired, plain and simple. It'd been two days they'd delved into the caves and with little result other than Quinn's broken arm, and their battered spirits to keep them going. She was becoming more and more exhausted with keeping up barriers and protective charms for all of them, the alchemy was getting to be too much to handle. They had to keep going though, they had to see it through to the end.

    "You're exhausted?" She teased, but even that took an excruciating amount of effort on her part. "We've been carving away at these caves only to get a few more feet in every hour, it's terrible."

    Jessie threw herself onto the cold stone of the cave floor, they'd been resting to regain some of their strength. Of all the time they'd spent down there, never once did she offer to go back and rest. They needed her up at the front, and she was fine sleeping on stone. In any case, she didn't want to be alone with so many Republic in a cave, one wrong step and it would be all too easy to become captured down there.

    "It'd be easier to just power through it, rest in the ending chamber, and pray we make it out again. I'm tired. The gravity changes did a number on my head."

    They'd all been thrown, rattling them uselessly. Jessie would be fine, but what was next was all too strange. It was a pitch black room, no matter how hard they tried to light it, it never would. Her flames were extinguished all too quickly and they had to wait, come up with a solution as to how to pass.

    "Maybe we took a wrong turn." She suggested at the new obstacle."

    "I wish we could." Dael shook his head, dropping into a crouch beside Jessamines prone form. It looked like it was all getting to her- the caves, the facades she had to upkeep... They all needed to relax.
    "But we all need to be in top form. If we hesitated for even a second, it could be disastrous."

    Dael carefully lowered himself into a seated position, one arm propped against a raised knee while the other held his torso aloft.
    "I don't think it's a wrong direction. Why would they protect it this carefully if it was? There just has to be something we're missing. Something they had, that we don't." But no matter how much he thought about it, he just couldn't grasp the answer. He could feel it there, in the back of his mind- just avoiding all attempts he made to find it.

    "Well, let's not think about that for now. We're supposed to be relaxing." The words were wryly said, he knew that without a distraction they would both continue to think about it until they came up with a solution. Or, if they never came up with a solution, they might be driven mad first. Not a very pleasing prospect. He quickly searched for something they might be able to do to pass the time- or at least get their mind off of things for a brief respite.

    "That's it. I'm going in." Jessie declared.

    It was dark, they couldn't light the way, but that didn't mean it was impassable. There had to be some way to cross. She tapped her boot against the floor of the cave as she stood up on her feet, already she could feel the slight heat from the activation of the runes in her soles. Jessie walked forward towards the dark, hand outstretched into its blackness.

    "Give me a rope or something, so you can pull me out." She waved her hand back towards Dael. Screw the relaxation, she wanted to get out of there! "We have to be able to go in, there's no way it'd simply be a dead end, you're right. And don't ever repeat that."

    She waggled a finger at him, she hated to admit he was right. This was most likely the correct path, seeing as there was another trap. Jessie found the rope herself, tying it once around her waist with a solid loop, and she handed off the other end to Dael without waiting to see if he'd take it. He would. Dael wouldn't let her do something stupid alone.


    "I'm going in then." Jessie declared again her intention. She reached her hand towards the black, watching as tendrils of smoke come out to greet her. It wasn't much to worry about, and she even waved towards Dael. That was before a thick haze reached out, shaped like a glove, and gripped her around the waist. In an instant she was swallowed by the dark and out of sight.

    Any protests he had died on his tongue. He was concerned for her safety, yes, but at least she wasn't jumping in without thinking. She was taking precautions. Still, he would have rather the roles been reversed- even if her alchemy made her position more logical. He'd made a promise to keep her safe, and it was one he intended to keep.

    Well, he couldn't deny that he liked her can-do attitude.

    "I'll only keep that promise if you come out in one piece." He couldn't help but tease her, hoping to try and alleviate his own inhibitions. Not about testing out the trap- they would have done that eventually. But about her going in alone.
    "I'll pull you out at the first sign of danger."

    Watching her walk into the darkness alone might have been one of the hardest things he had ever done. It was times like this he cursed his lack of talent with alchemy. With every careful step he could feel his tension rising, his knuckles white with their grip on the rope. Then the darkness swallowed her. At first he hesitated- she'd disappeared so suddenly, but he hadn't heard her scream.


    He didn't call again, arms straining to pull on the rope that had suddenly become dead weight in his hands. He had to swallow a shout of frustration as the end hissed into sight- trailing against the stone floor. Without Jessamine. He didn't even hesitate to run into the darkness after her.

    "Jessamine!" His heart had leapt into his throat- he had never broken an oath before and he refused to break one now- Something grabbed his legs out from under him, sending him flat on his back. Stars blinded him, his head throbbed as whatever had grabbed his ankles lifted him into the air- a strange sense of disorientation as he felt suddenly weightless, then the pressure. The smoky darkness, started creeping down his legs. A flash of blue caught his eye- and he grasped at the color, anything aside from this accursed darkness. The light seemed to almost repel the curling smoky black, and as his fingers wrapped around the warm gem, inspiration caught him.

    He thrust the gem in his hands at the darkness clutching his legs, choking back a shout as it lifted away and dropped him back to the ground. His pained epithet was lost in the dark, but he was quick to scramble to his feet- holding the crystal aloft to ward off the darkness.
    "Jessamine! Answer me!"

    She couldn't give an answer. Jessie was deep off in her own world, almost as if she were asleep. Her body was only a few feet inside the darkness, sprawled there further inside the cave face down in the dirt. She was breathing, at the very least, if only Dael could see her.

    "Jessie, we can't just leave!" Tessa was scolding her sister as she tried to sneak out the back of the mansion they lived in. Their mother and father were the hosts of a military event, him being the important man he was. It was all pomp and circumstance, nothing she really cared for. He twin tried to usher her back inside.

    "No way!" Jessie stamped her foot impatiently. She was nine, and she didn't care much for the parties. "This is boring, I'm going to Tucker's house. At least he knows how to have fun."

    "Jessie, no!" Tessa reached out to grab her sister-

    A flash of light broke through the smoke for a second and she could see Dael through a sliver in the darkness. She reached her hand towards him, he'd pull her out right? What about the rope? The hole closed and she fell back into the trance.

    "You're so boring, Tessa!" Jessie stuck her tongue out and ran. Something felt wrong about the memory as she turned to run. Tessa had followed after her, they made amends. Only this time, Tessa stayed planted in the grass, both fists at her sides. Jessie turned back to reach for her when thick black tendrils pulled themselves from their shadows. The girl screamed in horror, her nine year old self became self aware, and she was now the twenty four year old Jessie stuck in the cave. Still, stuck in the dream, she had nowhere to go.

    "You'll stay here with me." The phantom Tessa growled at Jessie, reaching forward and grasping her throat. "In the dark, where no one will find you."

    She prayed for light.

    It was her hair, that finally guided him to her in the end. That same platinum blonde hair that had stood out to him the moment he had laid eyes on her- standing at the dais and welcoming the new recruits aboard. It shone in the faint light of the crystal in his hands, like a beacon, and had him immediately picking up pace to reach her.

    Why was she lying there- so still? Her face was pale and her shallow breaths could barely be heard in the stifling darkness. A shadowed specter hovered over her. There was something malicious in that darkness, it's insubstantial form vaguely female in shape and it's claws held over Jessamine's throat. He didn't recall breaking into a dead run, until he skid to a stop next to her- tearing holes in the pants of his uniform and bloodying his knees in his haste to dispel the smoke demon that tormented her.

    "Jessamine?!" He quickly pulled her into his arms, half in his lap, and held his ear by her mouth. She was still breathing. "Jessie- wake up. You aren't allowed to go anywhere. I haven't dismissed you yet." He threw in the joke weakly, his brows knitted together in worry until he caught that first glimpse of brilliant blue- shining like the crystal in his hand. He promptly crushed her to his chest, with one hand buried in her hair. He still couldn't make his heart calm it's frantic pace. He was normally more composed then this.

    "Let's not do that again..." He murmured hoarsely, his face pressed to her hair.

    "You've not been dismissed!" The phantom hissed at her, rising out of the image of Tessa as a child into something more grotesque. He hovered over her in the grassy fields of her memory, waiting for the opportune moment to strike her down. Jessie couldn't react, her voice quieted by the presence of the specter. It was too much. Too much.

    "Let me go, it's just a dream, just a dream!" She screamed at the phantom. It laughed at her until a light dispelled it. The hand around her throat dissipated into nothing but black ash against the grass. Shining crystals sprouted in the dream until a white light filled her vision.

    Something pulled her from the dream and she sat up, gasping for air. Her hand gripped the first thing it could, and that just so happened to be Dael's shirt. She felt stick with sweat, ready to hurl herself at the first thing with any dark stains nearby. It didn't help they were in a cave, where shadows and corners were filled with the dark, where it that thing could possibly be lurking.

    "Dael?" She asked, tired. "What am I doing on the floor?"

    She tried to sit up, but was overcome with dizziness, so she laid back down and she noticed Dael's hand wrapped in her hair. Something must have gone wrong for her to be so woozy. She'd entered the dark, and it felt like a dream. It didn't make sense what had happened but this was ever stranger.

    "I don't feel so good." Jessie moaned, turning her head in case she wretched, that way it wouldn't be on Dael. Her fist was still wrapped in his shirt, the only strength left in her holding on to that small bit of fabric. "What happened?"

    Dael's shoulders shook with repressed laughter. He probably shouldn't be laughing at a time like this- but they'd survived, hadn't they? He closed his eyes, and savored one more moment with his fingers buried in her soft hair, before pulling back with a small chuckle.

    "That is exactly what I would like to know the answer to. Here, hold this." Dael pressed the blue crystal in her hands, trusting her to keep the shadows at bay with the only light that seemed to work in this damned place. The only thing the ancients had that they hadn't. Of course now that the answer was in front of his face, it seemed so incredibly obvious.

    "First things first, I'm getting us out of this damned Area." He scooped his now freed arm underneath Jessie's knees, and carefully lifted her in his arms; wincing at the stinging in his knees. Come now Dael, you've faced worse. He was careful to keep from jostling her. The last thing this night needed was him sitting in puke stained clothing. Or stripping- he doubted she would appreciate that all too much either. He was probably pushing the limits merely by carrying her- and his improvised embrace earlier.

    He walked in silence until they emerged back in the area they had started- by their packs and sleeping bags, and the lone lantern that only seemed to penetrate so far. He was gentle when he lowered Jessamine to the floor, on top of a bundle of blankets, and casually wiped away some dirt smudged on her cheek.
    "There. Much better." Dael flashed her a roguish grin, his paler then normal face and the scrapes and bruises on his hands and knees the only signs of their trial.

    "I'm not sure what it was, but that crystal seems to be the key to keeping it away. Hope you don't mind holding onto it for me." Don't ever let that thing grab you again.

    Jessie closed her eyes with the crystal in her hands. Like hell she was going to let go of it, the memory she'd once found amusing was now terrifying, a childlike image of her sister replaced with the black specter from the caves. She gripped the crystal harder, trying to keep the memory at bay so it couldn't haunt her outside the darkness.

    The cloud was still there, waiting for another innocent victim to step forth. This was one bit of alchemy she didn't dare think of how it was conjured. It was dark, evil she thought with the way it was so quick to go for the kill. At least that's what she had to assume what with it's hand wrapped around her neck, ready to wring her out.

    "Don't touch me, idiot." She sighed, it was the best insult she could come up with for the time being. "Thank you."

    They'd have to wait for the group to come back before pressing on, getting through the haze without the crystal was impossible now. They'd figured out as much. Before she drifted off, Jessie turned on her side and pressed the crystal into the dirt, her hand resting atop a jagged yet polished edge. She muttered a small spell, a barrier, using the crystal as a host for the walls which raised around them.

    It fluctuated with her breathing, rising and falling with her chest as she fell into a deep sleep. She really needed it, exhaustion had finally taken its toll.

    "No thanks needed." He would have to wait until the morning to ask her- if she was willing to share any more of her story with him. He couldn't attest to what had shaken her so, though fighting against an unknown assailant with no way of fighting back would certainly be on the top of his 'never do this crap again, Dael' list. There was something about the way her hand rested on the crystal that made him glad he'd offered it for her to hold on to. After all, what would his promise to save her be if he merely let the darkness take her to some unknown fate.

    He fought the urge to laugh at her peaceful face, though he couldn't stop the smile that overtook his lips. He watched her for a while before lightly dozing off, contemplating the new thoughts that were running circles around his mind. Thoughts he would no doubt have to put on hold until some other time. With the way things were going... he worried that he might never get around to it.

    His dreams were filled with the color blue.

    He didn't wake until she stirred in the morning, his awareness falling back into place like the sharpened edge of a knife- quickly and abruptly. And painfully. Sleeping leaning up against the wall might not have been the best idea in hindsight. He stretched with a groan, one hand lifting to rub his cheeks- in dire need of a shave, though it was a luxury that would have to wait.

    "Remind me never to sleep like that again."

    "Mhmm." Jessie nodded.

    She'd assumed a stand in front of the black fog. Sleep only helped her for so long, and she'd awoken after just an hour's rest. The darkness called to her, and she ached to be rid of the cursed mist. It hadn't tried to grab her with the crystal in her hand. This gave her some strength, but her body was still weak and near exhaustion once more.

    Keep going, she told herself.

    Jessie tapped her foot impatiently. Her head nodded forward sleepily, and she snapped herself back to attention. There was one more thing she could try, a strange combination, but if she enacted a barrier inside the cloud it might just dispel the mist. It seemed reasonable despite her groggy state.

    "Wait here." She said thoughtfully.

    She walked easily into the mist, it parted for her with the crystal in hand. Once more it swallowed her whole but this time the dreams and memories were left where they should be - long in the past. The specter floated around her, waiting for the opportune moment to strike again now that she was in its clutches. Jessie yawned lazily before holding out the crystal. She placed a hand on top of the crystal, inscribing small runes with the tip of her finger. They glowed as they were drawn, and a barrier was made.

    The specter raced around the room as the light came after it until it disappeared in a puff of smoke. As in her dream, the cave floor was merely stained with black dust, and it was no more. Jessie fell to her knees with her head dropping down to her chest. Gods she was tired. Just another room, she said, then they'd be done and free.

    "There, Dael. I've solved the-" A heavy yawn. "-The problem."

    "Gods damn- Jessie!" His heart had nearly leapt right out of his chest when she had walked into the dark fog again, and he could do nothing but stand by the sidelines helplessly as he waited for her to re-emerge. Though the dispelling of the specter completely was better- it was still irresponsible of her. She needed rest. It could have waited another little while.

    "Yes, and created another one." His words came out sharper then intended, ground by the fear that he could still feel from their first escapade into the dark. He rubbed his temples with one hand, padded over to the exhausted Jessamine and scooped her up in his arms again. Despite any protests.

    "You need to rest." He deposited her back on the sleeping bag, giving her the most exasperated look he had in his arsenal. "We're going to need your skills in this last stretch. I need you to stop worrying right now, and focus on regaining some of your energy."

    "Stop picking me up!" She whined, throwing her head back in protest as her limbs fell into a dead weight in his arms. "I'm not a child!"

    Dael placed her back on the ground, almost tucking her in the sleeping back despite her grumbling. It didn't take long for her to settle down, the crystal finally falling out of her hand now that it was no longer necessary to grasp onto for dear life. The specter was gone. It couldn't taunt her through her memories any longer.

    In a bit of a fog herself, Jessie turned to find Dael, vision blurred with sleep in her blue eyes. "You're worried about me." She said matter of fact-like. At least that's how it sounded in her head, what came out was a giggly little girl on the verge of sweet dreams.

    "No one worries about Jessamine Astor. She's too crude, not worth saving at all." She smiled with tears in her eyes. Her crew was so late in finding her. Maybe they had decided to leave her behind after all. It wasn't worth the risk of being caught, good men, damn good men would lose their lives in order to save her, but it wasn't worth the effort.

    Jessie closed her eyes, hastily wiping away the coming tears. That was it then. It had been quite some time with absolutely no news from her crew. No one was coming.

    "You didn't leave me behind." She murmured. Dael had come rushing to her side as soon as he could, crystal in hand, holding her there in the caves with no witness to declare it. There were no eyes watching him down there, so the act was genuine she believed. "Dael Cooper,"

    He'd never get to find out what she wanted to say. Jessamine drifted off into a peaceful slumber, where her sister was a simple child in a garden, and the grass was ever greener. This was good enough.

    Dael shook his head, sitting silently through all of her exhausted musings. Honestly, this girl would likely be the death of him someday. But...

    He inspected her calm features, the last lingering traces of the shadows that had haunted her sleep evidently gone. She truly was beautiful, even when her face was screwed into an expression of stubborn determination, but especially so when she smiled. He still couldn't forget that smile, or the way it made her normally bright eyes shine and softened that wildness she carried like a mantle.

    "I promised, didn't I?" It was the only response he could give. She'd asked him once if he would chase her if she left, and his reply was only if she'd wanted him to. He still wasn't sure if she'd wanted him to chase her, but he was pleased with the end result regardless.

    "You'll always be worth chasing." Words he didn't think he'd have had the courage to say if she'd been awake, nor would he have gently brushed a lock of golden hair off of her cheek. Well, she would sleep for now. He'd have to send Quinn and Hewlett back for more of those crystals- just in case- and only then would he wake her up. All that would be left was the final stretch, unless the researchers were wrong about the length of the caves. Well, he would merely have to look on the bright side.

    They were all still alive.

    Jessie slept for a half a day, setting back the expedition a little longer than some researchers might have liked. She smiled sheepishly when she found out there was even a schedule to stick to, as if their fighting through dangerous cave systems could adhere to a timely excursion.

    Waking up she felt sore, but much better than previously. The dark had indeed disappeared, at least the lingering hole in front of them. The rest of the caves were enveloped in shadows from long pillars of rock and stone. She stretched her arms, still laying peacefully on the ground. Were the boys back yet? They could move on if they were there...

    "Morning, afternoon, night." She grumbled. "Whichever it is." Time was a difficult matter down here.

    She sat up and rummaged through her pack until she found a hard loaf of bread and some warm cheese. It was all she could do not to spit out the warm paste. The researchers were still up in the main room with warm teas and cakes, she couldn't help but be jealous as she chewed on the meal she supplied herself.

    "Sorry, I'm awake now, ready to go?"

    Dael smothered his smile with one hand, and carefully extracted the no doubt growing stale food from Jessamine's hands. "We'll be good to go as soon as Quinn and Hewlett get back. They'll be bringing something fresh to eat, as well as a few more crystals, just in case." And they should be here any minute, though it was likely easy to tell with the echoes growing in volume from some boisterous tale of Quinns.

    "I would ask how you slept, but I feel like I already know the answer." His expression was as somber as he could manage, but he couldn't hide the glint of mischief in his eyes. He was teasing her, again. He'd have to reign that in somehow before his two subordinates arrived. A difficult feat, considering she looked especially disgruntled.

    "Come, let's get all this packed up, and we can be off as soon as we've eaten."

    By the time Quinn and Hewlett had arrived, the camp was packed and ready to go. Quinns arm looked good as new, which he proudly showed off with an armful of goods from the research breakfast banquet. At least, it had seemed like a banquet compared to the stale rations they'd been eating. At least it was cooked.

    "Hey, look Tess. Pomenana's. Stole em from the head researcher. They're your favorite right?" Quinn grinned rakishly, holding up his haul of three small fruits.

    "And damned near got caught doing it too." Hewlett grumbled, but Quinn merely laughed him off, handing out a breakfast of soft biscuits with melted cheese and sliced sausage.

    Jessie's stomach churned at the sight of the pomenana. Her sister loved them, couldn't get enough of the darn things, but Jessie hated them. One wrong exchange with a rotten pomenana had set her off for good. Their sweet scent was grossly overpowering to her nose, but she was Tessa, and she'd have to stomach one long enough to be able to get rid of it later.

    "Quinn!" She scolded him first. "You shouldn't have done that, we could've bought some when we got out!" Jessie punched him playfully in the arm while snatching up one of the things. Already she wanted to vomit. It was a hybrid between a pomegranate, a rather rare fruit, and a more popular banana. It peeled the same as a normal banana might, but the inside was a soft pink hue which broke apart in seedy chunks.


    Jessie took a small bite, contorting her face into the best look of normality she could before turning away to stick her tongue out. At least Quinn and Hewlett couldn't see her doing it. She found more comfort in the warm biscuits Hewlett provided.

    "We got rid of the fog." Jessie nodded her head back towards the next area, blonde curls following after in a tangled mess. "No thanks to you."

    "Hey, we were gone." Hewlett joked right back with the girl. She liked him, nothing was complicated with Hewlett.

    "It was...well, we got it." Jessie took a bite of her biscuit to hide the distraught features on her face. It was difficult, having removed the fog they could move on, but she was afraid to know what else could be in the cavern. They'd only breached a good mile or two, and the researches estimated seven. Seven! If a specter was only the second mile, what was at the end, waiting for them in the dark?

    Almost as though Deal could see the teasing words forming on the tip of Quinns tongue, words that might hit a little too close to home with the events of last night, he interjected with a thoughtful: "We should prepare for anything. The difficulty of the traps will no doubt grow from here on out." Quinn deflated with a nod, shoving the rest of his breakfast biscuit in his mouth.

    As soon as the last crumbs of food disappeared (With the exception of the Pomenana Dael witnessed Jessamine hiding) Deal led the way through the once darkened hall and into a new stretch of hall.

    "...What happened to your knees, Captain?" Dael glanced down at his legs, amused. He looked like a boy who'd tripped and fallen playing sports, or something of the like. Hardly a normal injury for an adult.

    "Maybe I'll tell you some day." But there was no promise in his words, and Hewlett merely laughed it off.

    "Alright, Quinn up front, Hewlett in the back. Same positions as before."

    Jessie fell back into the familiar pattern of traps. Countless shifts in pressure, fire balls which rained down on them endlessly, but there was no other dark fog like the one they encountered and for that she was grateful. She never got the chance to thank Dael for switching over the topic of conversation, explaining what happened would have been rather difficult for her situation.

    Quinn never seemed to leave her side, in fact he was closer now that he wasn't whining about his arm. So Jessie was just as bothered as before, and the motley crew pressed deeper into the winding path beneath the earth. The traps were almost too simple, and it worried her. Just as her worries were at their worst, a new problem would arise, and they'd stop. Think. And persevere.

    There was a particularly amusing mix up of runes when Jessie switched one to be upside down. Instead of a deadly rain of spikes and ice, puddles fell form the ceiling in large globs of mud. One hit Quinn square in the face, and she'd nearly split her sides watching it happen with laughter. The humor was needed so far down.

    "How are you holding up?" Jessie asked Dael quietly. They hadn't talked much with Hewlett and Quinn having returned, and she wanted to check up on him. He'd been kind to her, and she still wasn't one hundred percent sure what had even happened. "I could fix up your knees, my bioalchemy is decent."

    "Thank you for your concern, but I would rather you saved your strength." The ease of the traps had been worrying him as well, and he was keeping a doubled lookout for any possible tricks that might be lying in wait. The fact that there were none surprised him. He had a theory however, one that would have to be tested at the next mile mark. Wherever that was, the equipment they'd been given to keep track of their progress had started going haywire a little while back.

    "Never know when you'll need it, and I'd rather you have the extra strength then save me a little stinging." He leaned in close, careful to pitch his voice so it wouldn't carry in the echoing halls.
    "Are pomenana's really that bad?" He leaned back, a small startled chuckle drawn forth at her disgusted expression. Evidently so.

    "Hey cap? Come look at this." Dael's attention immediately returned to Quinn, who had paused in the middle of the hall, eyes fixed on something Dael couldn't see.
    "Look up there- it's an open rune. But not like the pitfalls we've seen, this one almost looks like... Like it would be powerful enough to swallow the esper whole." Quinn blanched, feeling vaguely sick. Something with that kind of power could probably drop the entire cavern out from underneath them.

    "Do you see the trigger?" Quinn shook his head, still trying to puzzle out the rune in his head.

    "It's almost like.. it's already active." Deal had to wonder what de-activating it would do. Perhaps it was some kind of anti-trigger, and would cause a cave in on top of them when they passed it.

    "...We'll take a look around, see if we can find any trigger-" And unearthly groaning broke his sentence, forcing his teeth shut with a clack as the sound vibrated down to the very marrow of his bones. Darkness started creeping around the bend just down the hall, tendrils of smoke like inky blackness crawling and creeping across the ground.

    "Make sure you have your crystals on hand. Hewlett, I want you up front with Quinn. Don't lose each other no matter what." Buddy system, along with the crystals Hewlett and Quinn had managed to pilfer. That was the only solution he had come up with to combat the darkness.
    "Don't dispel this unless you absolutely have to, Theresa. We should be able to walk through fine with the crystals."

    As more of an assurance for safety, Jessie pulled up small individual barriers, using the crystals as a base. She walked to each man, tracing her finger along their crystal and watching the shield go up. If their crystal was even remotely flawed or sustained any cracks, the shield would go down and the darkness would come in. She knew the horror which awaited them, and wanted everyone to stay in the light.

    "Don't drop it, don't break it, don't touch that thing." She warned.

    "What is it?" Hewlett asked her, examining his own glowing crystal in the palm of his hand. Jessamine immediately closed his hand around the thing. If he dropped it, he would have less than a good time in the dark. She hated to think what memories could be distorted in the mind of the ever so kind Hewlett.

    "Just don't touch it." She snapped.

    The empty rune was something Jessamine had encountered before, but it was far less important than at the second. Before, the anti trigger was replacing a small artifact, and a door had opened, otherwise previously shut. Things like open runes were tricky. Honestly? She had no idea how to deal with it. If it were to be triggered, or deactivated in this case, it was very possible the mine would collapse beneath them. She carefully traced the outer edges of the rune, making a mental note of its kind.

    Meanwhile, the shadows crept closer to the four, aching for a victim to pry on. The light from the small personal barriers pushed it away so not a tendril could come closer. Examinations were up and they had to move on, despite her growing fear of the dark. Dael had told her not to dispel it, but what if it came back when they were sleeping? Gods she hated to imagine what would happen if all four of them were trapped by the power of the strange dark specter.

    "Dael, are you sure?" She asked tentatively. "That thing will come back, you don't know what it's capable of, it's horrifying. Let's just get rid of it, one less thing to deal with."

    Was he sure? Not entirely. But he had this nagging feeling, with that open rune above them and the shadows creeping in from down the hall, that dispelling this shadow might be a very bad idea. After all, why would they throw the same trap at them twice? If they had the crystals, then they would already know what to do- wouldn't they?

    "We should get an idea of what's happening in that room around the corner first. It's not like them to throw the exact same thing at us again." He couldn't keep his eyes from searching the darkness, frowning at the chills that made their way down his spine with every irregular movement in the fog.

    "Besides, The last one didn't creep beyond it's contained area... and it took so much energy out of you to dispel even one." He tried a convincing smile for comfort, and while it may have come out a little more worried then comforting- he was determined to continue on as they were.

    "Alright, let's move on." Even with Jessamine's barriers, and Dael's assurances, Quinn and Hewlett stuck close to the main group. It made any kind of conversation with Jessie impossible- any of the comfort he wanted to give inadvisable. He doubted Jessie would want to be seen as weak by either one of the men accompanying them. So together, as a group, eyes warily searching the dark with every sudden shift or swirling grasping tendril disintegrating on their glowing barriers, they moved forwards. Slowly, and carefully, one step at a time.

    But what they all saw upon entering the next room, made them stop.

    It could hardly be called a room, or a cavern, it was so large. The source of the leaking shadow was revealed by a cracked crystal, it's glow dimming by the entrance. Aside from that one flaw, the entire floor was ringed by crystals, keeping the shadows dripping from above at bay. Something akin to lightning rippled along it's surface, lighting the outline of some giant monstrosity. Red eyes burned through the dark, flaring upon their entrance. And that unearthly groan- whatever it was, was coming from that thing above them.

    Vaguely reminiscent of a giant suit of armor, the shadows twined around it's arms and legs, the creaking of joints being the only indication that it was struggling to escape.

    "That's the biggest damned golem I've ever seen..." Quinns voice was hushed- in awe or fear, Dael couldn't tell. But whatever it was, for whatever it's purpose, there was a hostility in it's gaze that he did not like. And it looked like the shadows were the only things keeping it at bay.

    "I take it back." Jessie shook her head slowly, her eyes never lost contact with the creature's. It was massive. She didn't fear it, knowing the tendrils kept it far at bay, but moving closer still felt wrong. Her feet simply wouldn't allow the motion. "Let the shadows stay, what is that thing?"

    She looked to Dael for an explanation, he'd have to know something about it right? The researchers trusted him, he was Captain, he had to know a little about the monstrosity in the cave. Was that what the rune from before had activated, possibly it was correlated to the crystal inside the room, keeping the golem right where it should be.

    Jessie took a step around the room. The golem's eyes watched her in her deliberately slow pace, making her feel uncomfortable knowing it was there watching. If she had to guess, she'd stay it was still alive, the groaning of its joints proved her to be somewhat correct.

    Her foot tapped against a crystal on the floor and a thick tendril shot out towards her face, just close enough to tap her forehead. For the briefest of moments she saw a new memory, this one more recently of when she was imprisoned, being tortured by Officer Nordy. She staggered back before it could do any damage, darting her sight down to see that the crystal she'd stepped on was no longer illuminated. When she removed her foot, it lit back up. So even in here it was hardly safe.

    "Don't step on the stones." She warned. "If you're swallowed up by the tendrils, it'll be hard to get you back."

    "You're a liar, and a Rebel, now shut up before I make yo-" Nordy shut up when Jessamine slammed her forehead into his. The small table between them had been removed when she used it to jam up against him. The cell no more than the size of a public bathroom was their interrogation chamber for her.


    Just before he could slam her face into the cell bars, she was back in the room. The brief moment was enough to send a shiver up her spine and a scowl to her face. Jessie instinctively brushed over the scar just above her brow.

    "That, would be a golem of monstrous size." For the first time since they'd 'met' there wasn't a hint of flirtation in Quinns voice. He had an almost somber expression, as he stared up at the hostile artifact.
    "Look there, at the cuffs on it's wrists." He pointed up at the metal ringing the cuff of it's hands, the dark steel reflecting the pure light of the crystals, making it eerie rather then comforting."Those are binding runes. I've never seen any quite like it. And the amount of energy that must be required to keep that thing going!" Quinn shook his head with wonder, eyes still fixated on the metal creature above them.

    Golems were a specific form of alchemy- a form he specialized in. Creating a golem took a number of things- equations to 'program' the entity to do what it was made to do and nothing more. The more complex the equation, the more energy it took to maintain. The higher the distance between the source of energy and the golem, the more energy it took- unless an equation was included to draw from a charged source of energy. Which Quinn hoped was the case in this golems instance.

    A golem that large, with no limiters as far as he could see, would require someone with a skill in golemancy he could never hope to match.

    "I wonder if there's a specific order we need to step on the crystals." Hewlett, with his arms crossed over his chest, was determined to figure this one out. He wasn't always the sharpest thinker- he prefferred simple solutions to complex problems- but so far, there hadn't been much use for his simple thinking. There had to be an easier way to cross it, then trying to step on every individual crystal to see if it would... unless you didn't step on it at all?

    "Hey, Theresa. Think you could use that floating trick to get across?"

    "If you can walk well enough." She responded. Jessie wished she were joking, but watching Dael struggled to stay on his own two feet almost a week ago gave her enough reason to be serious about it. "Maybe one at a time, but certainly not all of us at once. Try it."

    She tapped her foot against the ground quickly, then pushed off to get a few inches above the ground. Jessie was used to walking this way, so finding her balance was simple as walking like normal. She moved to Hewlett and before he could give any objection, she adjusted the pressure under his feet and hers. He jumped into the air comically before nearly falling back and slamming his head into the ground. The pressure adjustment prevented him from falling completely, just enough to get a good scare though. Jessie held her sides laughing, watching him try to get used to walking on a ball, as Dael so excellently put it.

    "I don't think we need to step on the crystals at all. So, floating as you put it, is a better solution." Jessie smiled politely.

    The girl reached for Hewlett's hands, walking backwards as if teaching someone to skate for the first time. Her hips stuck back awkwardly as she waited for the large man to take another step, each time scooting forward with barely more than a baby step. She took her time though, being patient with her alchemy. She glanced up, hoping the other boys weren't staring overly at her baby the big guy.

    "That's it." She encouraged.

    Jessie turned her head to see the golem staring right at them. Something was different though, the groaning had stopped, and its eyes seemed to be locked on the pair moving through the air across the room. She pulled Hewlett forward just in time to see its arm move towards them.

    She pushed Hewlett to the edge of the room and crossed her arms defensively in front of herself as the massive limb came swinging her way. It connected with her defensive pose, and the golem creaked under its restraints, trying ever so hard to get a good swing in at the intruders. The shadows danced around the arm, trying to contain the mess. Luckily, she wasn't grounded, at it didn't little more than slide her around the room on her own floating feet.

    "Hewlett, you alright?" She called, Jessie had a hold on the golem's arm as she peeked above it to get a good look across the room when it tried to move again, this time unsuccessfully. "I don't think it likes us doing that."

    Yes, that woman was definitely going to kill him one of these days.

    "Get back down here, Theresa. We'll think of another way to try and cross!" He didn't voice his worries, but he was sure it showed in his eyes, and in the worried crease of his brow. The only thing that kept him from scolding her once again was her lack of injury, or apparent lack. He would have to ask discreetly, later. She seemed like the type who might hide something of the kind to avoid showing any weakness.

    Hewlett cursed violently behind him, struggling and failing to regain his footing.
    "Someone get this damned thing off of me!" If the situation had been any less threatening, he might have laughed at Hewletts predicament. He knew how hard it was to keep balance with that particular spell- but trying to regain his footing after he'd been knocked down? He had to take pity on the poor man, and trotted over to help him up.

    Quinn, meanwhile, busied himself with a small trinket- a miniature humanoid-esque statue standing in front of him. He already had a good idea of what they could use to figure out the best path.

    Jessie laughed. At the snap of her fingers, Hewlett fell to the ground in a heap. He growled and rubbed his head, hoping it wasn't swollen because of the drop. Her alchemy was strange, but not unheard of.

    "You've just gotta get a grip on your balance." She shrugged. That was a mistake.

    When her arms parted from their defensive stance the golem took an opportunity to swipe at her. It's massive stony fist came crashing her way, the girl had seconds to respond and she was just one short. Before jumping out of the way it smashed down on her leg, the disgruntling crack of bone echoed throughout the cavern. That hurt, that really, really hurt.

    "Son of a-" Jessie bit her lip in agony. She deactivated the runes so that she was lying on the ground now, curled up around her bum leg. It snapped just above the ankle, she could feel the protruding bone but didn't have the stomach to look.

    Thank the Gods for bioalchemy.

    "I'm fine, I'm fine." She hissed, placing her hands on her leg to start the healing process. In a matter of minutes she was fine, nothing but a dull ache in her bones and blood covering her ankle. "When did its arm become free? Quinn...what is that?" She gestured to the figure.

    "Damn it J-Theresa!" Dael carefully skirted the ring of crystals, stopping in a kneel next to Jessamine's prone form. Only to watch as she used Bio-alchemy to heal her own injury. Interesting, he had no idea that she had that particular talent.
    "You need to be more careful."

    Quinn glanced between Dael and Jessamine, his brows furrowed with confusion. As far as he knew, Tessa hadnever been able to use bioalchemy. At least, not to the ability of being able to heal broken bones. And she had certainly seen his Golem before- she'd even jokingly named him von snufflesworth the third. For no particular reason, as she'd told him.

    Something was off here.

    "Tessa... are you sure you're okay? Do you need me to carry you back to the hospital again?" He threw in teasingly, with a lighthearted grin to match. Waiting for her answer.

    Jessie stopped. She couldn't believe she'd been so stupid! Her sister had never touched on the subject in her life, whereas she had years of experience under Clint. Her eyes darted to her leg, hands trembling over the spot out of fear. This was a major slip up she hadn't meant to happen.

    "You know, haha, no I'm..." She stuttered. "I'll be fine just let me..."

    Get a grip, idiot! They're going to catch you, and then what? Then what!

    The girl pressed herself against the wall of the cavern and closed her eyes. None of this was going according to plan any more and she wanted out, but they were all stuck down here without a clue what to do half the time. Quinn had his golem, something she should've been aware of.

    Shit, shit, shit!

    "Dael." She mouthed. "Gods, help me."

    He was never one to say no to a damsel in distress.
    "Theresa, are you alright?" Dael moved his hand from her leg up to her face- the side opposite of Quinn. He frowned, cracking a small vial near her ear- willing her not to flinch as the warm liquid ran down the side of her face. It was a simple mixture of starch and coloring- a trick he'd used before to fake injury and pull a surprise ambush. He'd carried a small vial ever since.
    "...looks like you hit your head." His frown deepened. "Hewlett, grab the spare blankets. I think she might be going into shock- I don't know if what Doctor Freemont taught her will be enough to hold us over until we get her to the medics."

    "Sure Cap." Hewlett caught on quickly, quietly fetching the blankets, and helping him wrap them around Jessamine. He didn't ask questions, thank the gods for that.

    "Quinn, see what you can do with that Golem. I'm going to run Theresa back to the main camp. Don't take any risks." And then, for the third- or was it the fourth?- Dael hoisted Jessamine into his arms. She was surprisingly easy to carry.

    Maybe she was going into shock. Her heart raced a million miles a minute, the realization settling in her gut uncomfortably as beads of sweat trickled down her face, mingling with the starch mixture Dael had broken beneath her ear. It looked like blood, felt slick like blood, but it wasn't. Jessie didn't fight Dael's grip and that was the worst part, she was accustomed to being held like a child, breaking down after a long day.

    "I can't do it." She said quietly. "I told you."

    His steps echoed in the empty caverns, her heart beating more loudly than anything else. Jessie pressed her face into his shoulder, resisting the urge to cry but unable to control the few drops spilling past. At least he wouldn't see with her head buried in his jacket. Her fingers gripped the fabric as if her very life depended on him. Well, it did.

    "I messed up bad, Dael." She groaned into his coat. "How the hell am I supposed to be her? I left her, I don't know anything about her, I'm going to get us both killed."

    She slammed a fist against his chest in frustration, clenching her teeth in agony. This was so wrong, how could she have been captured so easily? Their lives thrown around because of her mistake. Although it was nothing new really, Jessie had been getting her sister in trouble from the time they were toddlers, so why would it be different now that they were adults?

    "I can't do it." She repeated.

    He surprised himself when he dropped to the ground, and wrapped both arms around her shoulders. Holding her to his chest as though maybe, with enough force, he could hold her together so she could stop worrying about it. He could no longer hear Hewlett or Quinn, back in the golem room, but he still kept his voice low- at barely a whisper. The words were just too treacherous to speak at full volume.

    "Now that is not the Jessamine Astor who ties a rope to her waist, and runs face first into the darkness." Did she remember? Or was she even conscious when he had held her like this the first time? Just as before his heart was picking up pace in his chest, twisting with her shared pain. He still didn't know the details- they'd never talked about it. She had too many secrets, and was too brave to share their burden.

    "I'm beginning to believe you can do anything. You've fooled them this far, and now you've got help." Dael lowered his chin to the top of her head, closing his eyes to try and savor the feel of her in his arms. Feelings he shouldn't act on. He shouldn't even be holding her.
    "You're the bravest girl I know. If you'd like I can get Hewlett. We can push him around a little more, see if that'll get a chuckle out of you."

    "No!" Jessie choked. "No more of this, no more!"

    She tried to push away from Dael, but his grip was stronger. He caged her with his arms and his words. Jessie? Brave? Her whole life she'd simply been avoiding the difficulties in life. Jessie wasn't brave. She ran into the dark because she already knew what would happen there. She'd either die at the hands of a specter or dispel it, it was a good chance either way that something would finally go right.

    "All I do is run away from-from everything!" She cried, her voice beginning to echo down the hall. "I'm a rebel, I left my sister because I was a little upset with how things worked, look at me."

    Jessie pushed herself off of Dael, holding his face so he could only stare at her eyes, raw with tears she felt no shame in shedding. They were justified, her pain was coming to a breaking point and she had no idea what would happen once she had enough. She was so close. Almost to the point where she couldn't hide who she was and that meant death, she couldn't even salvage a useful time frame for her poor sister, who'd have to return to her faults.

    "I'm done." She cracked a sad smile, scoffing at the realization. "I can't win this war, I can't fight it, I'm on the wrong side - I can't win here."

    She stroked his cheeks with her thumbs, she still wanted him to look at the face of a failure so he might never make the mistake to trust another. When it would be discovered who she was, Dael wouldn't be any less punished, oh no, because now he knew. He was in on it and that made him just as guilty as her.

    "I can't."

    "You are no coward, Jessamine Astor." His words were a deep rumble in his chest, his grey eyes smoldered with the force of his convictions. How could a girl, who was forced to face her enemy every day- pretend to be one of them, pretend to share their morals and goals- all for the sake of her sister ever be considered a coward?

    She was brave when it counted. Willing to do what it took to pull through, regardless of the consequences to herself. Reckless, stubborn, fierce, filled to the brim with justice... And fuck, her eyes were so bright, her cheeks flushed- making him sink into that blue gaze.

    And he knew his words would never reach her. Just like they hadn't that night on the couch- not until he jumped into the darkness after her. She had heard too many empty promises to believe a simple speech.

    His hand threaded through her hair.

    Gods he was so stupid.

    His fingers twining around those golden strands.

    There would be no going back.

    And he pulled her back into his chest, his lips descending to devour her own, his eyes closing on the shock in her own. He never wanted to go back.

    Jessie saw his intentions in his eyes before his lips were on hers. Why stop him? Maybe because she was a dead women, no one was there to witness it anyways, but a part of it felt, well, nice. His hand tangled in an already messy mop of blonde hair and she froze. What could she do but let it happen? The Rebel and Navy soldiers intertwined together in some sort of twisted fate that they might find the smallest comforts in each other.

    Dael Cooper had been nothing but kind ever since her joining the ship. He was a kind and honest man, doing his work like a good Republic soldier. Yet, he didn't stick to the path others followed, he had his own mind about where it might lead, avoiding typical dead ends and roadblocks, jumping over authority with ease and tact. Not only that, but he was a damn good leader, his crew would follow him anywhere. It was true, what the soldiers said, he cared for his crew with all his heart.

    And then some.

    "Dael...I-" She was the first to pull away, biting her soft lip in hesitation. "Do you really mean that?"

    Jessamine, the once strong and willful woman, had broken. It took a crew of Republic, an Officer to break her ribs, Thatcher, Hewlett, and Quinn, all of them. It took a squadron of people to finally push her to a breaking point and she truly broke. What was good, evil, what did it matter? She was to be executed by one side, the same side to show her compassion and trust, false or not. On the other side, she was abandoned, at least that's how it felt. She understood the reasons, but dying for a noble cause was never so fulfilling as it was made out to by. She was no martyr, no one even knew she was gone.

    "You're such an idiot." She cried, reaching forward to grip his coat, sobbing into his chest with heavy breaths of air. Jessie felt broken, she was, but there was still one thing doing his best to keep her together. His arms were wrapped around her.

    Dael goddamn Cooper.

    There was nothing else he could really say to that. Did he mean it? He didn't even know, but the thought of leaving her there to put herself back together was unthinkable. So he did what he did best- he just acted on what he thought was right. It was right to have her there in his arms. It had been right to kiss her- and now, with him gently rocking her back and forth and his fingers working their way through her curls in careful strokes- well, that was right too.

    He held her until her sobs quieted, and her tears regressed into the lingering sniffles of a good cry.
    "There. That feels better now, doesn't it?" He smiled into the top of her head, and pressed his lips there in another small kiss. "I hope you know you're getting my shirt wet." The words were teasingly said, he was hoping for a small watery smile. Or even a chuckle.

    "Good." She sniffled. Jessie didn't feel like giving in and smiling, but he was so calm about it, so casual about her tears that one inevitably slipped past her lips. If he couldn't see it, he could feel it with her face pressed hard against his chest.

    This certainly complicated things, she thought. Having any romantic involvements with another officer was grounds for punishment, at least on the Navy side of things. Rebels married each other left and right, fought alongside their brothers, sisters, past lovers. None of it mattered there. Now she'd have to keep up several facades all at once. She'd have to be Theresa, and she'd have to act like Dael didn't care as much, at least in front of other people.

    "We aren't really going all the way back to the med bay are we?"

    Jessie sighed, pulling herself away to look up into his dark eyes with her own. He didn't seem angry with her for slipping up, that much was good, he actually looked rather upset. Maybe he felt bad, she wasn't sure, couldn't be sure about how he really felt. It was all so beautifully complicated she never stopped to ask herself how Dael perceived the Astor twin.

    She pressed herself back onto Dael, hands gripping at his uniform without thought. In the deep caverns there was no where else to go but up, and if she had to go any further it might as well have been with him. Gods she thought she sounded ridiculous. Jessie was still an esteemed Captain, and she was cavorting with the enemy, that wouldn't look good on any resume when or if she got back. If anyone saw them, caught them, it would spell trouble for both twins in the future.

    So long as they lived, that was always the bottom line.

    "We've got to keep going, get that stupid crown or whatever it is, so I can get back to being a knock off Tessa and the Navy can pretend they care about me."

    There. Dael could feel his smile widen in response to her own. She deserved more then tears.
    "No, we aren't really going all the way back to the med-bay. Not if you're confident you've healed the break. But we can't go back yet either. They need to at least thinkwe've been gone long enough to get you healed."
    Dael brushed away a last lingering tear clinging to her lashes, and finally loosened his grip on her. Now that he was sure she wouldn't try to get away.

    "And I thought you'd figured it out that this navy boy cares about you." She was certainly stubborn. He would just have to use every possible opportunity to prove it to her. Out of the eyes of his comrades. He hated lying to his subordinates- hated lying, period. But it would be worth it, in his eyes, for her to not feel so alone.

    "...I have a question for you, miss Astor. A very serious question."

    "If we went back to be healed, you need to fix up your knees." Jessie gestured with her chin to the scrapes on his knees. Gently she placed her hands just above the marks and let the alchemy do its work. It always took a little time to get the job done, so she talked while the skin mended.

    Dael wasn't a liar, no, so she found it difficult to believe he'd show affection openly. It was so secretive, it would have to be, but it all worked out so perfectly seeing as she was playing the role of her sister. If one secret was discovered, the other would come soon enough. They were best kept under wraps in tandem.

    "So long as you aren't asking for me to marry you, we've only just met Mr. Cooper." Her lips made a popping noise when she pronounced his name. "What's your question?"

    Her mood was somewhat lifted, and she had no idea what Dael had in mind. So whatever he had to say must have been interesting, at least, that's what she figured.

    Dael waited until she'd finished with his knees- her hands were warm even through the fabric of his pants, he was glad she'd thought of it. It hadn't even occurred to him, as focused as he'd been on helping her keep up her charade. It was strange, how much he seemed to want this to continue. Whatever this was.

    "Well, mi'lady." Dael stood carefully, testing his 'new' knees. She certainly was a good hand at this- she might even be better then doctor Freemont. "I don't know you quite well enough for that yet, but would you honor me with this dance?" He held out a hand for her to take, his smile warm and inviting.

    "There isn't any music, but I'm sure we can improvise."

    "You want to dance?" Jessie snickered. "Right here? Right now?"

    They were supposed to be spelunking, fighting shadows and golems ahead. They were supposed to be pretending to play Navy soldiers deep in the dark.

    She accepted his hand, but not after executing a polite curtsy as she was taught to do as a child. Her prestigious upbringing had allowed her that much. Jessie raised her head and placed a small hand into his, warmth radiating from both their fingertips.

    They were supposed to be enemies, not friends, not whatever this was, Jessie thought. They were supposed to be so many other things than the current situation suggested, and they certainly weren't supposed to be dancing in a cave.

    But they were.

    Jessie rolled her eyes at the absurdity. She was never much of a dancer, that was her sister's tune, but then again she was supposed to be her. Her hands placed themselves of their own accord and she waited for Dael to take the lead. She glanced up with her shining blue eyes and laughed again.

    "He wants to dance, he says." She chuckled. "In the dark, terrifyingly dangerous caves."

    "Are you scared?" He teased lightly, pulling her closer and starting on a basic waltz. She had some practice at this- he should have been surprised, but it almost made sense, with her upbringing.
    "I wouldn't worry if I were you. I think you're far more dangerous."

    He spun her out with a chuckle, pulled her back with a flourish and dipped her carefully. Her skin seemed to burn an imprint on his hands, and her scent enveloped his senses. A spell he would have to break all too soon. She was right, now wasn't the best time for whatever...this was. But he figured he would enjoy it, while it lasted.

    "Tell me about yourself. What's your favorite color?" The question popped into his mind out of the blue, and escaped him before he could reign it in.


    Not possible. And yet, there it was right in front of him. When he had heard the shout echoing down the stone halls, he had to check in on them. He'd thought that maybe a trap had reactivated, that they'd been ambushed by someone or something. He wouldn't put anything past this place.

    What he found was almost worse. Theresa, his Theresa in Captain Dael Coopers arms. Letting herself be comforted by him, when she'd only pushed him away every time he'd tried. His heart gave one traitorous wrench when she gave him her hand.

    He'd missed almost all of their conversation, from the thrumming of his blood in his ears. But he didn't need to hear, to understand what was happening. He grit his teeth against the pain, and slunk back down the hall. Hewlett would no doubt be looking for him. He'd gone off with a half-cocked excuse, after all.

    And he just couldn't watch any longer.

    Dael Goddamned Cooper.

    Jessie thought she heard the pitter-patter of footsteps down the hall, but she put it to the blood rushing to her head as Dael dipped her down. It was supposed to be a waltz, yet he was twirling her in every which way, it was more exhilarating than the parties she was used to as a child.

    "My favorite color?" Jessie shook her head in disbelief. He was an oddball. "Blue, I like blue."

    They swirled in their small circle, Jessie unknowingly casting a dangerous spell over Dael. He had his own enchantments and quirks she found pleasing, but, it wasn't comparable to the scent of Jessie Astor. She had her way about her, a beauty unparalleled and unknown by even the girl. She didn't know what she was doing, didn't understand that Dael Cooper was falling hard for the Rebel.

    "Why did you join the Navy?" She asked in response.

    Blue. He was beginning to like that color a little more every day. But her next question made him sink into silence, their dance slowing until they were merely swaying. Then they stopped, and Dael bowed over her hand.
    "Perhaps a story for another time."

    There hadn't been a surer way to tamp down the embers that had been growing in his heart. It was... a hard question to answer. Why had he joined the navy? His father. That was the reason on all records, and the real reason. But the why's were more then a little different.

    "I'll tell it to you, sometime. But... not tonight."

    Jessie's heart sank as she realized she'd screwed up yet again, this time in matters of romance. The sparks in the air simmered down with their dance, swaying was all they could keep up with. She lowered her head, kicking a pebble on the ground with embarrassment.

    "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-" She shook her head.

    It was about time they got back anyways. They'd fooled around enough with their dance, besides, Hewlett and Quinn were still trying to figure out how to get past the golem in their path. Maybe it had been enough time for them to figure out at least part of the solution. The two added minds would help them, and they were in ample condition to help now.

    Jessie pulled her hands from Dael's, what was she doing? The heat had gone to her head and her face, glowing red hot now with a small bit of shame. She wouldn't be able to keep this lie up for very long. Someone was bound to found out, little did she know someone already had.

    "Let's get back." She suggested.

    Before Jessie left him, she pecked his cheek, mumbling a small bit of thanks before going on her own.

    Chapter Nine, black
    4th Month, 2nd Day

    "Tessa! come on!" Tessa followed the young blonde head, her throat growing tight and her tongue sticking in her suddenly dry mouth at the sight of the familiar surroundings. It had been a while since she'd had this particular dream... perhaps it was about time she was due. She didn't try to resist the tug that drew them both closer to the river bank, her sister laughing cheerfully.

    It was always worse when she tried to resist it.

    "Tessa! Look! Someone dropped a coin in the river!" Tessa lunged for her sister, pulling her back from the river side just as she stumbled.

    "Careful! You'll fall!" Jessie merely laughed her off, this time grabbing for a branch as she leaned over the water.

    "I never fall!" Except that day she did. The branch snapped, sending Jessie tumbling into the water. Tessa followed, diving into the waters with her. It was cold, the water was so murky, but that day had gone quite differently. They had both emerged- breathlessly laughing and soaked from head to toe. Jessie triumphantly holding up the coin that she had spotted.

    Her dreams were always different.

    Tessa dove into the water after her sister. Searching blindly for any sign of her blonde hair- those laughing blue eyes. Where was she- Jessie! She surfaced to an ocean, no land in sight as far as the eye could see.
    Waves capped over her vision, making her splutter and cough as the taste of copper entered her mouth. The water turned red around her, and something bumped against her leg. Tessa whipped around, eyes searching for that head of familiar blonde hair. She was alone. Claws yanked her under- water filled her mouth and nose, pressure built on her chest. No, please! White eyes met her own, clouds of red escaping the gaping mouth of her mother.

    Tessa squeezed her eyes shut. She didn't want to see what she knew would come next. Bodies. Bodies of everyone she cared about. Her mother, father, little Johnathon, and Jessie. Then would come Quinn, and all of her friends from the ship. All because she failed. She couldn't save them. Her eyes were forced open, and she was made to watch. This time, with one more body to join the fray.

    Tessa woke with a strangled gasp, stumbling from the bed with the sheets tangled around her ankles. She lurched to the window, fumbling with the clasp. She needed air- she needed the sky- Please!

    The window opened with a shudder- wind ripping through the open frame to tangle her hair around her face and chill the sweat on her skin. She gasped in the crisp night air, trying to force oxygen into her lungs. She hated that dream... She hated the sickness that had taken her mother, and her slowly dying family.

    Clint fell asleep in an awkward position in the armchair just near his door. It was a luxury in his opinion, something wanted and craved, but not by the one who used it. Clint hated the damn thing, but he slept in it anyways. Tessa was in his own bed and he wasn't about to crawl in with her. Even using her bed, seeing it as a tradeoff, felt like it would be frowned upon. So he sat with his neck crooked and his feet hung over one arm. It was the best he could do besides the hard wooden floor of the deck.

    He'd tucked her in, watching her awkward tossing and turning at first made Clint believe she was cold, but it only got worse as the night went on and he concluded she was having a nightmare.

    "There is a house built out of stone..." Clint sang in his low voice, humming the rest of the tune with ease. It was something from home, one of the only bits he took with him when he left. At the sound of his voice she almost seemed to quiet, either that, or he was drowning out the sounds of her motion.

    Tessa lurched out of bed and Clint snapped his eyes open, sitting up in his chair to watch her. She leaned out the window as if she were going to be sick. So he watched instead of acting at first, if she was only feeling a bit ill, it was nothing to concern himself with. She had, after all, had a decent amount of alcohol that previous afternoon.

    He piped up anyways.

    "Tess, feelin' alright?" He called to her from his spot in the chair.

    Tessa muffled a sharp gasp with one hand, whirling to catch sight of the raven haired captain draped- rather uncomfortably, by the looks of it- across a small arm chair. She immediately deflated bak against the wall, and ran her errant hand over her face wearily. Trying to fix that sense of disorientation. Right, she'd fallen asleep in Clints room last night...

    "No..yes- well..." What was she even trying to say? "It was just a nightmare..." She finished rather lamely, turning to close the window carefully as another gust of wind chilled her further. She rubbed one arm nervously.

    "I'm sorry... you should have woken me up- I didn't mean to steal your bed..." Traces of her nightmare still lingered on her face, in the haunted look in her eyes, and the way she carefully placed her feet. As though to make sure the ground still existed. She sank back against the wall- needing that sense of the solid, of something real to ground her in her own mind.

    Clint sighed before rising from the chair. She looked far too miserable for it to be anything normal, as far as nightmares went, he'd been known to have terrible ones himself. He wouldn't put it past her if she was having a dream right now about Clint breathing fire and ordering her to slay a thousand Navy soldiers, her own comrades, it's about the best he could do in terms of imagination though.

    "Just a nightmare?" He asked. Clint walked slowly towards Tessa and sat before her on the ground cross legged. His arms rested on his knees. "Do you want to talk about it?"

    He was too tired for games, so he got right to the point. Either way he wasn't much of a talker, preferring to listen to her horrible dream instead of doing his best to console her. Talking his way through why it wasn't real didn't suit him, because in many ways, dreams represented a whole lot more than they showed. They may have only given images of falling too fast, rivers of blood, or something insignificant as an old memory, but they held far more meaning than the simple images of peace or horror. Inner turmoil had a lot to do with it, he'd know, Clint lived through a firestorm.

    "I'm a decent listener." Clint yawned. It was still fairly early, a few more hours of sleep were to be had, but he didn't mind losing his bed or the few moments of slumber. She looked like hell.

    That made her quirk a small smile. He would have to be a good listener- after all if he didn't listen, what would he do with all the free time he gained by not talking? Clint was an observer, more so then she was. It was nice being observed for once. She didn't even mind the source as much as she once had.

    "It's the water... it makes me feel like I'm drowning." Tessa brought her legs of to her chest, resting her chin on the rumbled fabric of her knees. It was a comforting position. Made her feel smaller, less significant.
    "I can never reach dry land, no matter how hard I try. I just keep getting dragged down, forced to watch as my friends, my family... Everyone I've ever loved dies of a sickness I can't cure. And they all stare- asking why I didn't save them. Why I wasn't better. And it always ends with Jessie, and..." She couldn't tell him that.

    "I just... I feel so helpless. I can do nothing but stand around, and worry. Worry until my mind is spinning and I can't breath." I'm stuck on a ship where no one trusts me, forced to know that every move I make could mean the end of my sister. Could mean the end of me. And all I can do is sit here, because no one will let me help.

    And in the end, Jessie is always the one who kills me.

    "Sorry. It must seem silly to you... It's just a dream, and you have to live with the memories..."

    "Dreams can be just as painful as memories." Clint said.

    Her dream was calmer than he thought, better than the fire breathing monster he imagined for himself. She bore too much responsibility for a young girl, and Clint did consider her young. Stuck in a world where no one trusted her because of her Navy status, it was something they all should've remembered.

    "When a recruit comes to the Rebel side, no one ever trusts them. Jessie went through it, I went through it, so did Deik and Will, and Rodney too."

    Water was her sister's element, Jessie's, he knew that well enough. It made sense she'd be drowning in a vast sea, all the problems stemmed from Jessie no matter how you looked at it. She was tied down by the reputation her sister had set, and now the obligation of saving her, and in that everyone could be dragged down to the bottom of the sea. She had to be the better twin because Jessie wouldn't, not that he was blaming her, it's simply how things were.

    "But you aren't drowning, you're in the air, far from the ground. The clouds aren't going to swallow you up, are they?" Clint reached out, tapping her chin up with two fingers. "You're a part of the crew, we won't let you drown."

    Tessa's lips stretched into a grimace, she couldn't keep his eyes for longer then a moment. It was the small, brutally honest part of her that made her say: "But I'm not. I'm not a part of the crew, you've made that blatantly obvious at every turn." Tessa rubbed at the tingling on her chin, she could still feel the warmth from his fingers.

    "I'm used to directing my own life, deciding where I want to go. And now, I'm stuck on a ship where no one trusts me, and I'm not allowed to help my sister. I'm not even allowed to help myself." Suddenly it all became too much for stillness, and Tessa rose to her feet. Trying to work off the worry that was building pressure in her chest. Compounded by dreams and cemented by the distrust she faced every day.

    "The clouds may not swallow me up, but I can drown just as easily up here" She had to find some way to focus this energy- the pressure in her chest that was building like an explosion. Before she erupted on someone. And knowing Clints penchent for pressing all of her buttons, she had a pretty good idea who would face her meltdown.

    "And I'm not even allowed to try to swim."

    He could be honest, too, but the harshness in his tone wasn't even there. He knew what happened when he pressed her too hard, and being in a shouting match wasn't what anyone wanted to hear in the early hours. Clint sighed, pressing two fingers to the bridge of his nose in frustration.

    "I don't know what you want me to say to that." He waved his hand absentmindedly in the air. "Of course we don't trust you, you're Navy, it comes with the title. And we'll help your sister when we actually find her, Joywood was a bust. As for you?"

    Clint rose to his feet, watching her pace, as if she might explode with another step. They both had to tread carefully if they wanted to avoid anger. It was something they were both working on with their new found peace treaty of sorts.

    "You need help, but how are we supposed to help you?" Clint asked her honestly. "Thirty men, including myself, and we have one girl. We don't know what the bloody hell you want." He chortled quietly. "We don't know, we're trying to get Jessie, but what else do you want from us? Swim, run, fly for all I care, I don't know what else to say."

    Tessa stilled at that, covering her eyes with her arm. She wanted to scream. She wanted to shout and cry, she wanted to hit something just as much as she wanted to be comforted. Turbulent controversies.
    "I just want to help." She could hear the weakness in her own voice- but she'd already learned that vulnerability and Clint did not mix.

    "How do you think you would feel in my shoes? Someone you love, stuck among the enemy. But the only way for you to save them, is by joining the same enemy who took them from you. All you want, is their safe return, but I just stood in your way. No, Clint. You can't know where we're planning on going. I can't trust you Clint, so of course you can't see a map. Stay on the ship Clint, who knows what trouble you'll cause in town. What secrets you'll discover, or what information you'll leak." She had to pause, to shore up her weakening will.

    "You could want, and care for nothing but their safety. But never get anywhere, having to rely solely on powers outside your control. It's like tossing a set of dice- A gamble. You don't know these people, what they're capable of. You say all you want is the safety of your loved one, but you aren't even allowed to want that. Because they want it- they need it so much more." She turned back to Clint, propping her hands on her hips to try and give herself the fire she needed. Something Jessie might do. Maybe something that would get through his thick skull.

    "I don't need your help. I want to help. There is so much I could offer if only you'd let me."

    "I know exactly how you feel." Clint said somberly. "My wife is gone, my Jessie gone, I'm not dense, I know how you feel."

    He stopped talking and went to his liquor cabinet. Not only did it house the alcohol, but it was where he kept his maps. On the top shelf, behind an especially aged bottle of wine, there was a folded piece of paper and a few chess pieces. The other half of the set was in Deik's room, but this would have to do for now. Clint pressed the map to the coffee table and started to arrange the pieces. The King was on Joywood, the Queen off the grid. Ship and Captain separated.

    Clint left a few pieces to the side of the board, others made known the locations of ally ships. For enemies he used pawns, there were just enough to make it clear how outnumbered they were. This was why stealth was key, the Taivas was always in a jam, so they couldn't just merge into a fleet to look for Jessie. It was suicide, but if Clint was going to get anywhere with her, he'd have to consider the idea.

    That is of course, once they found out where she was even posted. Clint still hadn't found out.

    "What else do you want?" Beneath the surface he was irritated, but he couldn't let it show. She wanted to help? Fine. Maneuver around the hundreds of Navy ships? No problem for her of course, she was on their side.

    Clint wanted Tessa to see how selfish she sounded. She was placing herself in the middle of a Rebel ship (on orders or not) and she expected to be given all the knowledge she could get her hands on. The Rebels were capable of getting Jessie back without her aid, they didn't need her. Gods he wished she would see. She wanted to help? Fine, Clint would give her everything, let her run the ship for a while.

    "Never mind. Just figure it out then. Stop assuming we're here to serve you." Clint huffed, leaving her alone. He headed to Deik's room with no other thoughts in mind. She could take her time.

    Obviously, he didn't understand. Tessa burned her stare into his back as he left, staring at the door to his room for a long while after he had already left. Why was it so difficult for him to believe, that all she wanted was to help? She didn't want to take control of the whole damned thing- she knew what her limitations were. She wasn't Jessie, to recklessly run ahead regardless of the consequences. She'd always been the one to take a step back, and think about the problem.

    Well, now she had another problem to think about.

    Disregarding the locations of the rebellion forces, Tessa focused on the locations they'd found on the navy ships. It would be all the information she was given- but it would also be all she needed. She immediately started in on the map.

    Patrol routes, patterned flying, even if all she had was three out of five ships in a squad she could tell where they had just been, and where they were going. She could tell which were outlying flyers, which were heading into rebellion territory, and which were leaving it. She knew, from the map, exactly which ships would have been within enough time for Quinns message to have reached her.

    And from the map, she could tell which ships strayed off of their normal routes.

    So now she had names. Names of ships and captains, all the possible ships that Jessie could be on. All from looking at a damned map.

    The next morning, she extricated Deik from Clint.

    "Make it count." The list was much smaller, then a general consensus they'd been going after. And now, hopefully, she had it in the right hands.

    4th Month, 3rd Day

    "What about this one?" Deik pointed to a large formation near the North of the map. Edinburgh. It was a small outpost with plenty of rocky formations nearby. It wasn't highly populated, more of an air stop really than anything else. It was either that or Blackwood Cove. They were the only notably different formations on the map. The Cove was a month's trip away, and not because of the distance. It was Republic controlled and required more caution than any other route.

    "Edinburgh?" Clint raised a brow.

    "It was just a rumor, but, a lass in Joywood told me this morning-"

    "This morning?" Last Clint checked, it was still early. "Deik-"

    "Point being, a lot of recruits were transferred there recently, but they've taken a small crew on a little side trip, something entirely top secret. What if it's Jessie? The uh...uh." Deik snapped his fingers in the air, trying to recall the name of the fleet. "Alexandrian Fleet, Eduard Raegin. I don't know much about the man other than the fact that he's a good soldier, great leader. If she's anywhere, it's gotta be here, wouldn't you say?"

    "Yeah, but the Cove-"

    "Screw the Cove! Navy doesn't go there any more. This one, it's gotta be." Deik jabbed the map pointedly, he was adamant Jessie was there. It was a decent guess, but it was just that. Guesswork. They had no way of knowing, unless Tessa had something in mind.

    "It'll take another week to get there, and it's heavy Republic territory." Clint fell back from the map and began to pace the room. He didn't care much for Tessa's intrusion, only that the information was solid. She didn't have any reason to lie, he could see that, he just hated the way she felt she was privileged with the information in the first place. It wasn't her right, and yes, she'd still need to earn a spot on the ship if anyone was going to help her out or accept hers in return.

    "What else have we got?" Deik threw his hands in the air. "Come on, Clint! Let's just go, what else are we going to do? What, you said Tessa wants us to merge in with the fleet, let's do it! We could learn so much, just think, what if someone higher up needs us!"

    The Taivas was a high ranking stealth vessel sure, but they weren't that important in terms of the so called rebel big wigs. It was a good idea, a long shot, and certain death awaited them. Deik and Clint made their resolution and he stalked off.

    Clint did the last thing he wanted, going to find Tessa and sighing heavily before making the request.

    "What do you know about the Alexandrian fleet?" He asked. "We're doing it, your plan."

    Tessa looked over the edge of her book, the one he'd given her the other day. It was only childrens stories, but she savored every word like it was precious. She finally felt like she could settle down, the worry wasn't as much of a burden.

    "Are you actually going to let me help this time...?"

    She wasn't just going to put the entire burden on him again. She wanted to help- in any way she could. She realized there wasn't much she could do in terms of gathering information, or supplies. That was best left to the ones who were familiar with the area.

    "I know every nut and bolt on most of those ships, and i'm more then wiling to tell you. But I want to know that you'll let me help you."

    "So eager to help a Rebel..." Clint scoffed.

    Of course. He wondered if she'd ever see it his way, that she was being helpful sure, but it was rather obnoxious. No, he reasoned, she probably wouldn't understand how she came off to Clint. Like everything she did was to help, that he was getting in her way. In some ways it was true, in other ways it was the only thing he could to do defend the locations of his allies. She wanted to find Jessie now, but the next day she'd be right back in her fleet hunting them down.

    At least, that's what he tried to think. He saw that she wanted to help, and that she'd do whatever it took to get Jessie back, but so would Clint. She wasn't the only one who cared for the girl, and he just wanted her to admit it!

    She knew every bolt? Good. "You'd better." He warned. "There's a good chance we'll all die if we're found. If we do, so help me God, you'd better get her back."

    "I wouldn't be able to face my sister again, if I managed to get her crew killed.. She's the one with the hare brained schemes normally.." Tessa went for a smile, but fell somewhere short of sincere. She hated that they'd gone right back to where they'd started. He'd finally given her what she'd wanted- a little bit of faith. But it didn't feel right. Or earned. It felt forced, and the cold shoulder he'd given her only compounded that fact.

    "Clint..." God damn it. She didn't even know where to start. "I'm sorry." There you go, that's a good beginning.

    "I would say I'm not normally this pushy, but I doubt you'd believe me... I've just.. been going a little crazy, these last few weeks." Carefully closing the book in her lap, Tessa stood and placed it on Jessie's small desk- next to a map. A spare she'd found lying around the ship. Well... Clints quarters. She'd replace it next time she got into town. She picked up the square of paper and handed it to Clint, the eastern continent covered in scribbles and notes.

    "Of course that's not an excuse but... here." This was her way of apologizing, as much as it went against all of her navy instincts. He'd shared rebel positions- many of which had never even occurred to her. So now, she had to return the favor.

    "I know I can promise never to share the information you've given me, but that doesn't mean you'll believe me. So take this. Bunkers, weapon cache's... I can't promise all of the information is entirely up to date... but it's something."

    Clint...wasn't expecting that.

    He held the paper in awe, there were far more ships than Deik and himself had calculated, some much closer than he cared to admit. This was valuable information she was giving up, she didn't have to, but it was a good apology. Clint was stunned into silence, not a difficult feat, but hard to notice. He liked that it was difficult to tell, it gave him an opportunity to examine the paper.

    "No...thank you." Clint cleared his throat and waved the paper. "This is great, fantastic."

    The man extended one arm out to grip her shoulder in appreciation, his eyes glued to the scribbled notes. There was one thing missing though, the Alexandrian fleet. Maybe Deik was right. If Tessa herself didn't know where it was, and they were trying to hide for any reason, it was likely that's where Jessie would be.

    "We have reason to believe Jessie is mingled in with the Alexandrian fleet." Clint told Tessa. "They've been trying hard to stay off the grid, in any even, it'd be good if we check out what they're up to. Are you familiar with the fleet?" He didn't wait for an answer. "At any rate, we'll be merging with them as soon as we can, another week tops."

    Tessa could feel a smile creep across her lips- this one succeeding in sincerity.
    "A week, eh? Then I suppose we've got a lot of work to do. That's...assuming you still want my help?" She wished she could say she was teasing, but it was a legitimate question. She'd give him all the information he needed, but she had an idea... something that might help them out if anything happened to her.

    Not that she'd phrase it that way.

    "Thank you.. for putting up with me." Tessa pat Clints hand on her shoulder, liking the warmth of his palm on her shoulder. She liked it much better when they were getting along.

    "It's all I can do not to throw you off the ship." Clint sighed, but there was obvious and thick sarcasm in his voice. This was indeed much better than their usual banter. "I'll accept your help, but try to remember the crew will be wary."

    Some of them still objected to having her on board, but he'd keep that quiet for as long as he could. Jessie and Tessa, they looked far too similar for him to feel comfortable throwing her to rot in some port. That wouldn't sit right in his stomach, they were family after all. Throwing one twin out was detrimental to the other, neither would be able to live it down. A terrible situation if you asked him.

    "If you need something, you come to me." He commanded. "Information, men, supplies, I don't care what it is, but you tell me first. I don't want these plans slipping, do you understand? Deik and Rodney will be the only ears this information reaches."

    She probably knew how dangerous information could be. It was a weapon on its own if used correctly. While his men weren't untrustworthy, he didn't want the wrong impressions being given out before he could explain the plan. Nor did he want them knowing it was Tessa's plan.


    "Aye aye, captain." Tessa raised her hand in a sloppy salute, a silly grin accompanying it. She understood the gravity of the situation- and she would make sure to be discreet....

    But that didn't mean they couldn't have fun with it, in the meanwhile.

    "You know... I have to admit, I had my doubts about you in the beginning." Beginning, middle, heck- it wasn't even the end yet and she still wasn't sure she had no doubts.

    "You aren't very inspiring when you scowl at me."

    So what did he do? Scowl.

    "You're not very inspiring when you pick on your senior officers, and that's what I am to you, private." Clint pressed a hand to his temple. Why did he bother being kind when she turned on him like this? "Go on, get your preparations, whatever you need, I'm going to my own cabin."

    Clint left the scowl on his face, he wasn't supposed to be inspiring, that was Jessie's job as Captain. In truth, he was more of a medic than a first hand. He never wanted to be one. His revenge burned deep but he lacked certain qualities which made him the leader men would follow. Of course, little did he know, the crew thought far from his own opinions. When he tried, Clint could be brave, demanding, and encouraging to a fault. He could send men to their death, and they'd still cry for the rebel cause.

    "Good day." He saluted her with his back turned before leaving the room.

    Maybe Joywood wasn't a complete waste of time.

    Tessa's quiet laugh followed him out the door. She'd only been teasing- he really needed to learn to lighten up. Even with Clint's scowl, she found it hard to put a damper on her good mood. She finally had something to do.

    For the rest of that day, Tessa locked herself in Jessie's room, completely lost in her preparations. There were sketches to draw up, plans to flesh out. Lists of materials to write down and runes to figure out. She didn't let any detail escape her notice, any small thing evade the grasps of her memory. She would not fail them in this- she wouldn't be the cause of killing Jessie's friends. Her family, as much as it pained Tessa to admit.

    It had been a long time since Jessie was hers..

    It wasn't until the sun had set, that Tessa finally finished getting her thoughts on paper. She had a fine hand with a pencil, so the diagrams were readable. The dimensions she had written would make up for what her drawings lacked. She had chosen the best ship out of the Alexandrian fleets choices to match the Taivas to, compiled a list of commanding officers she knew to fly that particular ship (as well as the best choices out of the crew to match their voices, from what she could remember and who she'd met personally). Then all that was left was to give the information to Clint.

    She could have gone to Deik, or Rodney, as Clint had pointed out earlier... but she was hesitating outside Clints door before the thought had even occurred to her. Neither one of them had gotten much sleep last night... Would he even be awake? She stood there for a good two minutes before deciding to shove the papers under the gap in his door.

    Clint wasn't asleep when he heard the papers being jammed in the slit beneath his door. He rose his head from the pillow where he'd been laying, his eyes found the stack of notes, and he crashed back down with a happy sigh. Things were starting to work, thought he didn't like to admit it was all because of one Navy girl. Though he was alright with saying it once remembered she was on their side for now.

    "Thank you." He mumbled as he swiped them up off the floor. The longer he looked, the wider the grin on his face. There was so much information here he had half a mind to hug the girl, but she wasn't there, and he still had a mind looking after him.

    Clint sat down in an armchair and set the notes on the low coffee table. After some deliberation alone, he decided a second opinion was good. Rodney and Deik would need to see this. Deik being their scout, it was best he knew what to look for on the road ahead. Rodney being somewhat of a weapons expert would put him in a good position if things went sour. His skill and tact had gotten them out of a few binds, he just preferred to work in the background, which is why Tessa had hardly seen the loner.

    It was far too late in the evening for Clint to want to make plans for a weeks journey. He left the notes scattered about the table and returned to his bed. There, he finally was able to shut his eyes, breathe in heavily before exhaling comfortably.

    The sheets smelled like Tessa and whisky.

    4th Month, 4th Day

    "Ouch!" Tessa shook her hand, sticking her stinging finger into her mouth with a scowl. She was perched up in the crows nest- above all of the activity going on below- leaning over a small crystal that Deik had managed to scrounge up for her. Working on the runes she would need to set up for the elaborate Illusion they would need to hide what they couldn't disguise with handiwork.

    And so far, it wasn't agreeing with her.

    Tessa sighed around her finger, and moved the crystal and engraver off of her lap before leaning back in a stretch. Her sleep last night had been heavenly- and she'd woken up practically with the sun, immediately seeking out Deik (Who she'd come to know as the go-to guy for all of her shiply needs) to start on what she could.

    And since she doubted Clint had given the rest of the crew notice, she'd taken up a position- hiding- among the clouds. It didn't hurt that she always thought better in high places.

    But now, she'd been working for the majority of the afternoon- and probably missed lunch, if the growling of her stomach was anything to go by- and it was time for a break. She made quick work of the ladder down, and wandered into the mess- Kitchen? She was too used to navy terminology- to see what she could scrounge up.

    "Hey Will, what's on the menu today?"

    It was more of a mess hall than a kitchen. It was a room with two long tables, enough to house only the men they needed and nothing more. Small stools were the only available seat, but at the end of one long table was an elaborate golden thrown with plush seats of red velvet. There was a story behind the thing, waiting to be asked.

    Along the far wall was a window like hole, and a door on the far side. This is where Will worked, the kitchen was visible at all times. Will peeked out at the sound of Tessa's voice, a smile on his face before she could get two words out.

    "You missed lunch, dear, but I can heat up what's left over or make you a sandwich." Will crossed his arms and set them on the sill of the open wall. His beard just tickled the edge of the spot, a few trays on one side, skid marks throughout the whole. "That'd be a chunky beef stew for you, heatin' it'd be no problem for you."

    He winked, that's just how he was. It wasn't even flirtatious, just his personality to be flamboyant and huge. The man was taller than even Clint. People were usually surprised at how easygoing he was.

    "What're you up to then?"

    Tessa couldn't help her returning smile, or the quiet laugh- far from the one she'd used when pretending to be Jessie- as she pulled a chair out and fell back into it gratefully.

    "Anything you make sounds good, but that stew sounds particularly tempting." Reaching back to tighten the tie she'd pulled around her curls to keep them out of her face while she worked, she flashed him a cheeky grin.

    "And you know, the usual. Making trouble, tweaking the bears tail."

    "That poor bear, be sure to show him some lovin' later. Can't have him too rustled." Will knew exactly who she was talking about. There wasn't anyone else on board as big as him, and what with the dark hair and equally dark features on his face, it was easy to compare him to a bear.

    Will tapped one of the burners, runes igniting to heat the stew Tessa had requested. When he found out she was Navy it was no surprise. Their tastes had been completely different, he could tell in the way they used their salt and by what dishes they'd take. It was astonishing how much a man could tell about a girl by what kind of coffee she took with her breakfast or lack thereof.

    "Be careful of the fangs." Will warned. Tessa had already seen one tantrum, one breakdown, she didn't need to see another - not that Will knew about it. It was hard to ignore the clatter of furniture on the small ship though.

    He poured a small bit of stew in a bowl for Tessa and slid it across the bar for her, turning to grab something for her to drink. Water was always on hand, but they were in luck, because they were still docked he'd been able to swipe some apple juice that very morning.

    "Here, hope you like it, don't tell Deik he'll drink the whole barrel."

    Tessa chuckled at the interesting imagery, gratefully taking the offered food and drink. "You really know how to make a girl happy. Don't worry, I'll try to resist." That first spoonful, tasted like heaven. It didn't matter that it was technically left-overs, she couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten something to eat. She had to force herself to eat slowly. Knowing her, she'd survive the battles, and end up falling to death by beef chunk.

    "And as far as Clint goes, I can try, but that doesn't mean he'll appreciate it." But, that was encroaching on touchy subjects, and she'd been looking forward to the opportunity to really talk to the energetic man.

    "So, now that I can... what's with the throne? It's been killing me." It was so... elaborate, ridiculously so. And not at all like most of the tasteful- functional- furniture she'd seen around the ship. It was glaringly out of place, and she wanted to know the story. If Jessie was involved, then it was sure to be interesting.

    Will turned to the thing and laughed, of course Jessie was involved with something like that. It was her damn chair! "Every time your sister comes down here to eat, she sits in that chair, puts her feet up on the table, and it's funny every time." Will shook his head, small giggles escaping without his wanting. It was almost too funny for him to talk, at least how he remembered it.

    "Every heard of Hampton? Just West of Lindon, there's a crazy general there who wanted a palace of gold. Well, he got it, I'm pretty sure it's a military headquarters now. Still golden of course."

    Will stroked his beard as he continued to speak, every once in a while gesturing towards the golden throne. The red velvet was just as clean as when they found the thing, Jessie liked to keep it that way, and it was generally understood no one else was to sit there.

    "It was the furthest West we'd over gone, we were going to get Rodney, and we came across a heavy vessel. Wasn't Republic or Rebel registered, so we got curious. Well, it was Navy all right, attacked us as soon as we got too close.

    "Jessie fell off the ship at one point, before she perfected that neat trick 'o hers. We thought she was lost. Well, that girl is a hell of a surprise to us all. Clint jumped over to go get her, rope tied around his waist like an idiot, as if it'd go far enough.

    "It did go just far enough though. Took less than a minute, we heard Clint laughin' like a mad man! He hadn't even fallen a hundred feet, so we hoisted up the rope. He held on to the back of that chair, our little Jessie was sittin' in it like a Queen. She was holding a piece of the Navy ships wreckage in her hand like a scepter, and I'll never forget the look on the crew's face. She looked at us, said 'Gentleman, this is mine now.'"

    So much for avoiding death by beef chunk. Tessa had just been working her way through a particularly meaty piece, when Will hit the punch line. She could just imagine it, Jessie sitting on the chair, legs crossed imperiously, and chin raised haughtily in the air- all complimented by that trouble-making grin. Tessa laughed so hard she choked, and when she was done choking, thanks to Will pounding on her back encouragingly, she continued to chuckle while wiping the tears from the corner of her eyes.

    "Now that- oh goddess, that sounds just like Jessie. She always was the impish sort." Between her and Jessie, they'd always managed to charm their way out of trouble. Jessie with her catching charisma, and Tessa with her earnest pleas. It was no wonder they'd never grown out of it.

    "Did she ever tell you the story of the caramel cake?" At Wills questioning look, Tessa gave him a wide grin. "Don't you ever tell her I told you about this- She'd kill me." Sitting back in her chair, Tessa started on the story, using her hands to animatedly illustrate her story.

    "Sometimes I think Jessie just looks for trouble. It was in the market, and our parents had given us each a few coppers to go buy some sweets. Well, Jessie was being very particular. She wanted something with caramel- anything, it didn't matter, as long as it had caramel. I think we were out there, walking around for a good half hour before she finally spotted something.

    But that particular cake, wasn't for sale. It was cooling on a window sill, three stories up.

    Well, Jessie wasn't about to let that stop her. She got that stubborn look- you probably know it well- and without even giving it a thought, she started climbing up the gutter. Well, it turns out it was an old house. She was just within arms reach, about to grab the prize, when one of the bolts snapped. The gutter shuddered, she missed the plate, knocked it off of the sill and straight onto her face.

    Obviously her first instinct is to get the cake off of her face, so she lets go with one hand, and the top of the gutter comes off of the wall, her other hand slips, and as she's falling her skirts get caught on one of the bolts. So now she's hanging from the side of the building, face smeared with chocolate and caramel, from the back of her skirts. Upside down no less.

    Well, I had to help. So I go over- and I'm laughing my little ass off at this point- and shake the bottom of the gutter. There was no way I was climbing up there with her. Well, the rest of the gutter comes right off the wall, I fall back into a puddle of mud, and Jessie ends up crashing into the stall that was sitting in front of the bakery. Cake goes everywhere, I ended up getting a vanilla right in the back of the head, Jessie is literally a walking confectionery at this point, and then the baker comes out.

    Needless to say we ran all the way home. Covered in cake, and mud, and the eggs the baker had thrown at us as we dashed off. But the topping of it all, was that Jessie's dress had ripped in the fall. So she walked around town with the back of her knickers hanging out.

    I've never seen our parents give us a stranger look then that day."

    Now it was Will's turn to laugh, his boisterous voice ringing out in the small mess hall. It was good he was neither eating nor drinking anything, or that would've been spewed from his mouth in an instant. He slammed a fist against the bar as the laugh died down, trying to imagine his Captain like that, it was priceless.

    "Oh, that sounds like Jessie." Will guffawed. "No wonder she gets so red when we have cake around, ah! It makes sense now."

    They shared a good laugh over the two stories of Jessie. One being funny, something worth sharing, the other being a story that should've been lost. It was good one of them was wiling to share. Will would use that story for as many years as he could to get Jessie to work in his favor. Friendly blackmail of course.

    "When we get her back, I'm going to make a big cake." Will was still chuckling as he spoke. "Tessa? I want you to take it, smash her face right into it."

    "Oh gods!" Tessa dropped her face into her hands. She could only imagine the revenge Jessie would cook up for her. If Will was going to blackmail her- that was bad enough.
    "I think I'd rather keep my dignity."

    But she still couldn't keep the small giggles from escaping.

    "I don't even want to imagine what kind of prank she'd think up to get back at me. No, wait- I think I can guess." Tessa flushed a pretty pink, and laughed off her own embarrassment. Jessie had her own share of stories that would make Tessa hide in her room for months to come.

    At least she wouldn't be here to see them.

    "Well, thank you for the stew, Will. It was wonderful. Has Clint eaten yet? He strikes me as the type who works too hard."

    Will shook his head. "Nah, I've been bringing meals to him. He's been awfully stressed, you're right, he works too hard. In fact..."

    The chef pulled out a small container with a large portion of stew and a small capped cup. The former was warm, the latter just a simple glass of tea. Surprisingly, Clint liked sweet tea, he claimed it calmed him after a long day. Will wasn't there to make judgement though, just to cook.

    "Would you take this to him? Haven't seen him since yesterday mornin', he hasn't been down to eat." Will pushed the container into her hands and nodded his head in thanks. "Make sure he eats it, or it's Jessie I'll be gettin' stories from. I'd like to hear more about the trouble you two get into."

    He winked her way again and turned into his kitchen, time to clean.

    Tessa rested one hand against her cheek, to try and cool her happy blush, laughing at Will as she gathered the stew and tea in her hands. Carefully balancing them to avoid spilling a drop. Even if they were covered- she didn't want to risk it.

    "I'll be sure to do that then, though I have a strange suspicion that you'll be getting those stories anyways." She left the kitchen with a wave, followed by Will's rambunctious laughter. And she was pretty sure she knew exactly where to find Clint.


    "Knock knock." Tessa rapped on the door jamb, holding up the food balanced on the palm of one hand like a peace offering.
    "I come bearing gifts."

    Clint hadn't so much as gotten out of bed, his shoes were still on and his face was pressed into his pillow. It didn't smell so much like Tessa anymore, and more like the whisky he'd had before bed. He needed it, too, another nightmare willed him to stay awake.

    He heard the knock, grunted once, but eventually sighed and moved to the door. Clint looked like a mess, there in the open doorway his hair was pulled loose from its natural state, tied up at the back of his had. His beard was getting too long and he reeked of alcohol. It wasn't his fault, he blamed the nightmare.

    "What's this?" Clint grumbled. "Are you Will's kitchen girl now?"

    It looked to be some sort of soup, and a usual iced tea. Will would know that Clint was stressed, it was in the man's damned blood to know that sort of thing about people. All the same, he appreciated the subtle efforts and making him feel better.

    "Not quite yet." Tessa mumbled, though when Jessie started telling him her own stories... well, things might change. "But I am here to see how you're doing. Will said you hadn't been eating." And it only took one look for Tessa to see that Will was right. He... quite frankly looked like a mess. A shadow of that same haunted look she'd seen the night he told his story.

    "You look like you need an ear.. just so happens I have one to offer." Pressing the container of stew and the cup of tea into Clints hands- so he wouldn't be able to close the door on her- Tessa gave a small empathetic smile. "Clint... Are you okay?"

    Her words were tentative, her offer sincere. She didn't like seeing the sturdy man like this. He deserved so much more then this. Anyone who could put up with Jessie- and her- for more then a week did.

    Clint saw what she was doing, putting the food into his hands so he couldn't shut the door on her. He had feet, but he doubted their stability in his early morning haze. Without much objection he motioned for her to come inside without saying a word, pointing towards his set of chairs with his chin.

    It took a while for him to get back to Tessa. He stood the whole time, spooning mouthfuls of broth into his mouth before stabbing at bits of beef. Truthfully, he still wasn't hungry. There was more work to be done, acquiring runes for Tessa hadn't been easy, and they'd need more. He had to plan out a route to get to the damn location, making sure they had enough supplies without having to land or interact. There was a lot of stress on his mind and then the damn nightmares came.

    When he sat, the stew was gone, all eaten, and he sipped at the tea. His eyes were vacant and lost after his restless night, and he wasn't really in the mood to talk to Tessa about it. She wouldn't understand, what it was like, to watch friends and family being burned to ash.

    "I'm still here." He muttered.

    While they were gone, he had to keep going. It was hard, he didn't want to do it. There was a life for him in Farnworth and it had been taken. His feelings for his wife had long died, he was moving off of memory now, but a child he could've called his own? He pulled hard on the locket around his neck until the chain broke, like it had plenty of times before this one.

    "They're gone."

    Tessa bit her lip, kneeling down in front of Clint. She carefully picked up the two broken ends of the chain, and in pinching them together added a hint of heat. Enough to meld the two ends together. It was a temporary fix... just like whatever he had done to keep going for this long. He needed to find some way to truly mend his heart.

    She carefully tucked the mended end back into his hand, and placed her own over his clenched fist.

    "You're here. And now there are others relying on you. Other people to live with, and live for." Probably more people then he thought. And Jessie was only at the top of what was beginning to look like a very long list.

    "I'm sure," She said with all the conviction she had, "That your wife would want you to be happy. You're doing everything in your power to find justice for your family. That's more then most good men can say. And there are so few great men left in this world." Great men die young, as the saying goes. They take on too much, bear too many burdens. Almost all the stories of heroes end in tragedy.

    "There are." Clint knew that. "But there are so many gone now, an entire city wiped out."

    He held the locket in his hands. If Tessa were only to look, she'd see the single diamond along the top edge. After all was said and done, the only thing Clint could find was the ring he'd used to propose. It was all he had left of her, that and the ashes scattered around the scene.

    Clint set the locket on the table and pressed his hands to his face. He almost never took it off, just letting it sit even a foot away was like releasing a heavy burden, but he wasn't ready to let go yet. There were people he had to avenge, and it wouldn't be done until the Republic paid for what they did. He still had to find out who'd issued the order. He had to know, Gods he had to know, so he could turn that man to dust.

    He swore, after all.

    "She didn't even love me." Clint admitted through clenched teeth. "It was an arranged marriage. After all that, all the misery, having to put up with me, and I let her down."

    Clint reached for the locked and pressed it to the space below his lips.

    "Nothing but ash." He tapped the locket once. "It's all that's left."

    Somehow, Tessa had a hard time seeing that. That a woman wouldn't fall for the man in front of her, given time and patience. He had a heart of gold, for all his prickly shell. And she had no idea how much of that was from the pain of losing everything he cared for.

    "You haven't forgiven yourself." It wasn't a question. She could see it plainly. Many soldiers who came back from battle alive wore the same haunted expressions. The same guilt for surviving where friends and brothers perished. The only cure was time, and love. Love from those they had left.

    But Clint had no one left.

    Tessa looked up at Clint with wide, sympathetic eyes. She wondered if he would allow her to hold him.
    "If you had been there... then you would have perished with them. At least now, there is someone fighting for them. I can't even begin to imagine how much it hurts... but I... Clint, you can't keep going on like this."

    He was getting ready to snap, like the chain from the weight of the burdens he carried. He needed someone to help him carry the weight.

    "And why should I?" Clint asked. He wasn't angry with her, more with himself for running. "I can't forgive myself, I ran, I wasn't there for any of them, all I wanted... I was just going to get food, I was gone for a moment."

    He stood up out of his chair, clutching the locket as if his life depended on it. Clint paced nervously back and forth between the chairs. Of all the things, he wanted her to go, before he started throwing them again like he had the other night.

    "How can you fight for them?" Clint looked to her with dejected and hollow eyes. "Knowing they killed your mother, too? Jessie told me what happened. How?"

    Clint knelt before her, pressing the locket into her hands somewhat forcefully. He closed his hands around hers and never once let his eyes lose track of hers. She had to feel the pain, understand the burden he kept so close to his heart, when she fought for the people who'd killed so many.

    "The Republic only takes." He croaked. "They take, and they take, and no one will ever know because they're liars. You aren't a liar, Tessa. You're kind, passionate, and you'd do anything to see that one girl lives- anything! So why?"

    His heart was breaking all over again to see such an innocent girl be sucked in by the corrupt morals of the Republic. Clint pressed his head onto their hands, and for a moment they could both share in the burden he felt. Again, he asked her the simple question, his voice finally cracked.


    Tessa clutched the locket Clint had pressed into her hands. Maybe she could take some of that burden from him. But it wouldn't be given freely, and she had no right to take it.

    "I didn't always want to be a navy soldier." As if she could sense the anger those words caused, she continued hastily. "Please, bear with me. I didn't always want to be a Soldier... Or even a member of the navy." The locket was warm in her hands, from the heat of Clints worrying. It would have been comforting, if it wasn't branding her skin with the fervor of his questions.

    "I wanted a small house, in a small town. I wanted to be a teacher. Start a school, for kids who couldn't afford to go otherwise. I know me and Jessie had our wild fantasies as children... But... All I wanted was a loving family, a few small children of my own, and to help in my own way."

    She could still see it now, the house she'd planned on having. It would have a white picket fence, just like the houses in the stories. She would have a backyard that looked over the ocean, on top of a cliff so she could look up and feel like she was jumping into the sky. It would have a library, with all the books she could ever want to read. On any subject imaginable. And above all she would have someone she loved.

    "And then our mother died. And Jessie left me." Tessa pursed her lips, remember how torn her father had been. He'd lost his wife, and one of his daughters all in one fell swoop. "I couldn't leave my father... And I knew Jessie would manage. She always had. So I stayed, and I took care of him. But he could never look at me the same after that.

    Eventually, he healed. And I... I decided I was going to join the navy. It's not that I didn't see what was going on around me. I know the navy isn't as the republic depicts it. But... someone needed to change it. I had a feeling Jessie would be here on this side... All I could do was hope we never found each other on the opposite ends of a blade...

    I suppose, I hoped if I sacrificed my own innocence, I could spare someone else the suffering. And maybe, one day, if I made it far enough I could change things. Make them better." She glanced up from their joined hands at Clint, drinking in the pain in his steely grey eyes.

    "At least you're one of the good ones." Clint whispered. "You actually want to change, you aren't heartless, you wouldn't-"

    Wouldn't burn down an entire city to ease the burden of responsibility. She's a good girl. Tessa is one in a million.

    With his head rested in her lap, Clint felt comfortable staying silent. The locket was safe intertwined beneath both of their hands. Clint's felt cold, calculating his next move at every moment so that he could breed more hate and revenge. Her's were warm. They were small, but they had more heart than he did.

    Clint didn't raise his head for a while. His eyes were ringed in thick purple circles, now that Tessa could see him up close he was somewhat ashamed of letting himself slip so far. His hair was a greased mess, his face taunt with his restless night. It'd be best if Tessa simply left so he could have one more afternoon alone. She didn't need to be a part of his brooding.

    "Go." He commanded. "We leave in a few hours. Will should be out, collecting supplies. You should make sure there's nothing else you need."

    He finally pulled his hands away and wrapped the chain back around his neck. The burden didn't feel so bad now, but he didn't really notice. It was still there, ashes from his past.

    She would have been content to hold him the entire night, if that was what he had needed. She might have even said no, and stayed to offer what comfort she could, if she hadn't heard that barest hint of light peeking through in his voice. But she could only help him so much, at some point he needed to help himself as well.

    "I'm fairly sure we have almost everything we need... But I'll go double check to make sure." But before she stood there was one last thing she had to do. An impulse that took over her. She leaned forwards, and pressed her lips to his forehead.

    "Get some sleep. And.. if the nightmares get too bad, I'm always up for a midnight chat. Or a drink, if you don't mind me passing out on you again." Before her bravery could fail her, she wrapped her arms around his shoulder in a brief hug, and scurried to her feet.

    "I'll be around, Mr. Anderson."

    Clint pursed his lips as he watched her go. She was too good for someone like him. The touch of her lips on his forehead was just as sweet, he raised a hand to brush over the spot, wiping it away felt rude. It was like he was back home, his crew was all the family he'd lost, and Tessa was-

    He wiped away the kiss quickly and frowned. Nope. Tessa was Jessie's twin, a Navy soldier, a good girl...


    The Rebel soldier threw himself right back into bed, only this time he was able to rest. Nightmares didn't haunt him, there was only the empty field from his memory. Far away on top of a grassy hill were the blonde haired twins, waiting for him with extended arms.

    The Astor twins would never let him off easy.

    Chapter Ten, black
    4th Month, 6th Day
    "So I figured if we used this guy to test out the crystals before we stepped, then we'd be able to find a path. Pretty simple, but it should work." By the time Dael and Jessie had returned, Quinn had set up his golem. It was certainly smaller then the one trapped on the ceiling- only about the size of a small toddler. But he'd already proven that it was capable of triggering the flickering crystals.

    "And you can control this remotely, correct?" Dael frowned at the small golem. It certainly didn't look all that inspiring, both size-wise and in looks. It was made of clay, and didn't appear to have any arsenal aside from it's fists. And what fists that size could do, he wasn't sure. "Can you see through the golems eyes? I would rather us be outside the room if at all possible when we attempt this."

    "Yea! Shouldn't be a problem Cap'. I've got recording crystals set up in this things eyes. We can watch everything from out in the hall." Quin grinned, his normal cocky grin, up at Dael. He was surprised Tessa hadn't said anything to him yet about his unfortunate habit of playing with the collar of his shirt when he was angry. It was something she'd always noticed, and now seemed to be oblivious to.

    Probably because she only has eyes for the 'captain'. He couldn't help but think, bitterly.

    "How are you doing, blondie?" Hewlett finally straightened from the preparations Quinn had set for him. Installing another small recording crystal up on the wall so they would have an overview of the room as well as the first person point of view.
    "They manage to fix you up?"

    If only Dael knew that 'Tessa' wasn't noticing his usual quirks because it wasn't really her. Sure, he tugged on his collar a lot, and she saw it from the corner of her eye, but it was nothing. Jessie truly didn't notice that he was angry, she didn't think anything of him other than the fact he was overly flirtatious.

    Jessie looked down to her feet and extended both arms, twirling around to show that she was overall unharmed. There was a little blood on her clothes, but all of them were beat up from the tunnels. It was to be expected they'd have some dirt and crud on them.

    "I'm alright." Jessie replied. She was distracted from her time in the hall with Dael, her cheeks flushed bright red with the memory and she hoped Hewlett wouldn't ask about it. "Figure out a way to check on those crystals?"

    "Yeah, Quinn's got it under control." Hewlett pointed his thumb over his shoulder to Dael and Quinn. Then, almost as if he was giving her a hint, he let her know about Quinn's abilities. "Golemancy, isn't that something?"

    "It is, I never had a hand for it." Jessie shook her head.

    "No, you didn't." Hewlett chuckled.

    Did he know? Jessie sure hoped not. She was a bad actor, but if she didn't work a little harder, it'd be another day or two before she was thrown out and kicked to the curb. Jessie stepped out of the cavern, towards the entrance where another set of crystals was set up so they could view what was going on inside without actually being there. That, and she didn't want to be so close to the black thing they encountered. It was dark alchemy, something that shouldn't have been meddled with, especially not with the dreams it corrupted. She wasn't ready to have yet another perfectly wonderful moment with Tessa ruined in her mind.

    Jessie pressed a hand to her face, taking a second to compose herself again. Tessa, be Tessa, what would she do?

    "Alright. Then we're all good to go." Quinn pat his golem on the back- similar to the way a friend might congratulate a friend. It immediately sprung to life, it's eyes glowing with the small clear crystals that functioned as both a recorder and sight for the small clay automaton. It peered up at Quinn, it's joints grating with every movement.

    Dael nodded, waiting for Quinn to hightail it back to the hall before ushering Hewlett and Jessie back with him. He wanted to be prepared for anything.

    Quinn immediately set up the glyphs he needed to control the clay golem, marking small runes in various positions around him. A small, rounded mirror served as the 'lens' through which he saw. A second one connected to the wall, allowing them all to watch as the golem made it's way cautiously through the minefield of crystals.

    "Look at that. It's like the shadows don't even care about it." Hewlett leaned over Jessie, trying to watch the small mirror along with everyone else. His hand resting heavily on her shoulder. The golem walked almost unimpeded through the tiled floor, backtracking every time a crystal winked out.

    Jessie found herself immersed in the golem's movements. No one on her ship practiced the art, and it really was an art form. So watching the small creature move on its own with a little help from Quinn was miraculous. Each time a crystal turned dark she found herself sighing in disappointment. When it made a good move, and the crystals stayed bright, Jessie wanted to cheer.

    The golem was almost through when it made one unfortunate turn. Not only did the crystal beneath it turn dark, but in response something on the ceiling gave way and the golem's second arm was released. It still could only reach down to the ground, but its massive size was concerning, Jessie had already felt the blow it could deal out. So long as the runes in her boots were activated it would hurt a little less, but not by much. It was a slide versus a throw.

    "Look-" Jessie pointed to the glass, as if no one had seen it but her. "It's arm is free, shit."

    Perched like a bird on the ground with Hewlett standing over her, she hardy noticed his thick hand on her shoulder any more. It was more like a necessary hand to keep her grounded while she watched.

    "Do you suppose we might accidentally, you know." Jessie shrugged. "Let the thing out? How do we fight something like that?"

    "Don't worry about it. It might be big, but it should have the same weaknesses as any golem." Quinn muttered, almost distracted if the fierce concentration on his face was anything to go by. He was trying to find some clue, some reason for the extinguishing of the lights. There had to be a pattern, some way for whoever was supposed to navigate this trap to actually see which steps to take.
    "My worry is those shadows restraining it. Never seen anything like it before."

    "No need to worry about those, Theresa managed to find a good way to deal with them. But I would prefer to avoid confrontation wherever possible." They all needed to conserve strength. And dispelling even one of those took quite the toll on her. Granted, she was already exhausted from her ordeal with the nightmares, but they would be no better off this time. And there was still a journey ahead of them yet.

    Dael inspected his arsenal, just in case. His guns and knives, small black-powder bombs, grappling gun, sturdy vials of chemicals for various uses. And his sword, one of his most precious possessions. He almost missed what happened next.

    The golem stepped into the center of the ring, freezing in place as ice crept across the floor of the room.
    "Shit." Quinns muttered oath was met with the grinding of stone on stone, and from the golems eyes, what happened next surprised them all. The walls slid down, crashing into the crystals and plunging the room into darkness. One of the mirrors, the one that had been attached to the wall, fizzled out and resumed reflecting the surprise on their faces.

    The groaning of joints sounded through the halls again, and the entire cavern shuddered just as the camera attached to the golem fizzled out as well.

    The mirror reflected their faces. From Dael to Hewlett, they all stared in shock at the crystalline surface. Jessie reached out and wiped her hand over the surface. A moment ago they'd seen the room from the wall, and now, nothing. The crashing and grumbling from inside the room didn't bode well for any of them, and before the golem could get very far Jessie began to seal off the entrance into the cavern.

    Too late.

    The golem's hand shot out in an attempt to grab her, being too large to fit into the opening itself. So, she went the only way she could without stumbling on her ass, straight between its legs and into the cavern. The whole way inside she was screaming, trying to get something of a barrier up before she did anything stupid. Well, at least more stupid than running straight into danger.

    Jessie did the only thing she could, jumping into the air, distorting the pressure so she could jump around at her will. Dael knew it, Quinn had seen it, so had Hewlett. Now the problem was staying out of reach of the golem, if she knew what to do that'd' help.

    "Quinn, I need you!" She called, doing her best to dive back into the entrance, only to be cut off by a monstrous fist. Black tendrils swirled around the golem's head, keeping it somewhat occupied, so there was at least something keeping it at bay. When they got too close Jessie felt sick, and she had to slither back to the edge of the wall.


    "Tessa!" Quinn lunged to his feet, scrambling in the direction of the darkened doorway. It didn't matter that he'd seen her and Dael together only moments ago- the image still burned on the front of his brain. She was in trouble, and that was all he needed to know.

    "Damnit- Skyre!" Dael grabbed Quinn by the collar of his shirt, keeping him from running into the room. "What's the golems weak point?"

    "Runes at the back of the collar normally- on something that size it's probably got two or three. Maybe at the waist, or on the arms." He pulled away from Dael, running for the room once again.

    "Hewlett! I need you with me, distract that thing as best you can!" Hewlett was right behind him, sprinting headlong into the room behind him. Quinn immediately ran for Jessamine, fiddling with something in his hands.

    "Tessa! Hang on!" From his cupped hands flew a clay bird- carrying in it's claws a bright blue crystal- with the instructions to keep the darkness at bay.

    A whistle pierced the air, drawing the golems attention to the barrel chested man now standing at it's feet.
    "C'mere you big brute!" The golem reached down- fast for it's size- and came up with nothing but air, and a new addition to it's shoulder. A metal claw, and climbing the wire attached a certain dark haired captain.
    "C'mon you! down here! What're you too slow?"

    Jessie knew what to do with the crystal, it'd be easy to dispel the shadows. The problem was, the shadows didn't need to be gotten rid of. They kept the golem in place!Think Jessie think, there's gotta be something. At the very least she could corral the shadows back towards the golem, locking it away. They'd be safe from the tendrils so long as they were working on the large brute.

    "Dael, I've got an idea!" She shouted down to the busy Captain. "Just, keep it busy!"

    "What do you think we're doing, Tess?" Hewlett laughed loudly up at her.

    True enough, she reasoned. The three seemed to be handling the beast rather well, while Jessie had no idea how to attack it. She went back to her idea, hoping it would be enough to at least reroute the black figure back to the golem. Jessie moved closer to what she'd consider the middle of the room. She stretched her hands out as far as they'd go and began to speak in a low voice, names of runes nearly forgotten. A slow barrier pulled itself up around the room, extended by small shards of ice. It looked more like a web, and Jessie didn't care if she wasn't supposed to be good with water as an element, it was a solution to their problem.

    The tendrils wouldn't touch the edges of the barrier Jessie brought it in in small shards, dangling in the air like snow. This, too, they wouldn't come close too. Because she was using the crystal as a base, it slowly dissolved within the icy barrier. Soon enough, it was gone, but they were all encased within the circle. It was better than nothing.

    "It'll keep the dark in." She panted, holding her hands near each other to keep up the circle. "Might slow it down."

    Keep the golem busy. Easier said then done. The claw was firmly wedged into the joint at the Golem's shoulder, giving him a gerat vantage point to set as his goal. Climbing should have just been an easy task. But he wasn't used to climbing something that moved so wildly. Every swing of the golem's arms sent him veering away from it's back, forcing him to brace himself for the impact of slamming back into the hard metal surface. Grimly he forged on, soon falling into a pattern of using the momentum caused by the golem to reach higher and higher, until he was just shy of the shoulder.

    "Watch it!" Hewletts shout barely reached Dael in time, giving him the opportunity to brace himself as the giant lifted both arms over it's head, and slammed them into the ground with so much force that boulders began falling loose from the ceiling. Shattering against the floor, and the golems back and pauldrons. Dael swore as it jerked back up, colliding with his side with bruising force.

    That's gonna leave a mark.

    "You okay cap'?!" Dael raised one hand, the other busy threading the remaining wire through his belt so should some freak accident knock him from his perch, he could still recover in time. The golem continued it's rampage. He could only pray that Hewlett remained fast enough to avoid it's clutches.

    Carefully stepping his way over to the Golems collar, Dael quickly saw exactly what Quinn had been talking about. Lines of runes, glowing in their setting, that flashed and lit up with every movement the automaton made. Well, that made things easy enough. Dael pulled a vial from his pouch, waited for the flash that indicated the golem was about to strike, and smashed the vial of corrosive liquid against the back of the golems neck.

    Then he held on for dear life.

    Quinn was right beside Tessa in seconds, lingering just below her floating form. He could see his clay bird- crystal clutched in it's tiny claws- darting in and out of the small web of ice, pushing small tendrils of dark smoke back inside the containing globe when it managed to sneak out the cracks.

    "Tessa, come here." The urgency had gone from his voice- of course Tessa would be able to take care of herself. But she was still struggling to hold the shadow on her own. He reached out to his blonde haired 'friend', his fingers just barely brushing the bottom of her boot. It wasn't much contact, but it would have to do. Warmth crept up Jessamine's leg, accompanied by a burst of energy- originating from the point where Quinns finger met the bottom of her shoe.

    Jessie let herself fall to the ground, deactivating the runes in her boots, so she could get closer to Quinn. She didn't need a single finger on her shoe to keep the barrier, she needed some of his energy. Wordlessly she gripped the sides of his arms, digging into his skin as she lost some of the control on her muscles. The strain of keeping up the barrier was beginning to catch up with her, if Quinn didn't hold her steady she feared she'd soon collapse.

    "Grab my arms." She demanded, albeit weakly.

    As the barrier grew larger, thick slabs of ice replacing the earlier dainty crystals, Jessie felt herself succumbing to a trance like state. It happened from time to time when an alchemy user pushed themselves too far. The body kept pushing, expending whatever source of energy it could, while the host blacked out. She didn't want to slip into the trance, but the golem was still moving.

    Her grip grew harder, she felt drained, and the barrier continued to grow until the black tendrils had nowhere to go but back towards the golem. What with all the protective crystals they held, there really was no other place. Jessie's eyes lolled back into her head, her body swaying lightly under Quinn's grip.

    "Hurry up." She murmured between runes.

    "Hey, ouch!" Hewlett was poked by a newly formed icicle. "Tess, that's good!"

    Jessie couldn't see the golem, nor Dael's corrosive mix slamming into its neck. She was so intent on keeping the darkness in that she almost forgot what else was in the room. Right. A hulking golem.

    She didn't have to tell him twice. As soon as she was within arms reach Quinn was already yanking up her sleeves, his hands grasping at her forearms to offer her everything he could give. Energy, in one of its purest forms was only heat, and he and Tessa had always synchronized perfectly. Fuel to stoke the flames- she was always so warm, so willing, so quick to accept those around her-

    He came up against a wall.

    It was so abrupt, so sudden, that Quinn almost faltered. A hesitation so slight that it would be imperceptible to anyone save the two standing arm in arm. Had he really done such irrepairable damage to them that night? Had he pushed her away so thoroughly that she was no longer willing to accept his hand when he offered it? No. He refused to believe that. It had to be the alchemy she was working. He used his normal workaround for those without the same affinity to fire he and Tessa had shared. Soon, he could feel her faltering reserves of energy bolstering, until she was once again live in his arms.

    The vial of liquid had an immediate- and devastating- effect. Smoke began to pour off of the metal collar, an acrid tang that left the taste of copper on his tongue. The golem jerked, a soundless scream that he could feel in the grinding of joints as the arms suddenly went limp.

    "What the hell did you do?!" Dael peered over the golems shoulder at Hewlett on the ground, sprawled out where he'd been thrown last. He'd come this close to being a pancake. Thank the gods for Captain Dael Cooper.

    "Good things I hope- woah!" It was as though everything happened at once, the crystals that captured the golem, sealing off it's forward movement and slowly pushing it back into the wall. Shadows swarmed over the metal carapace, flitting in front of Daels face, crisping to ash as they got too close to Dael's crystal- the only thing protecting him from the dark beings.

    He lost his footing, sliding back with a dull thud as he collided with the suit on his already bruised side. Something inside of him cracked, and he could feel the heat that always preceeded pain when the adrenaline wore off. Fuck fuck fuck- Yanking his dirk out of it's sheath, Dael started sawing at the metal wire keeping him tethered to the golems back.

    It was all much too close, Daels sudden fall and the golems collision with the far wall. Hewlett watched with baited breath as the captain tumbled through the air, only breathing a deep sigh of relief as he caught himself on the long draping tabbard of the automatons waist, the rip of fabric like a physical sense of relief as the captains fall slowed.

    Quinn shook Tessa, as soon as the golem fell against the wall and the captain tumbled free.
    "Anchor it Tessa- anchor it and let it go!"

    Jessie felt unable to control to herself any longer, lips moving though she herself did not command the words to leave her mouth. Old runic phrases, studies she nearly forgot from a time long ago with Tessa. Ice, barriers, solidarity. The golem fell, but she continued to speak. It was defeated, the shadows mostly fizzling away as they reached Dael or the edge of the circle, but Jessie couldn't stop herself.

    "Anchor it Tessa-anchor it and let it go!" Quinn was screaming at her, but his voice was just above a whisper in her ear.

    She felt his grip, tightened hers in response. As she spoke the words now her breath was icy, spouting fog as it might on a Winter night. Their affinities didn't match, and she'd figured it out in his exchange of energy. He was hot like fire where she was fluid as water and sharp as the ice she conjured. If Quinn didn't know it before, then he did now, something was different about his 'Tessa'.

    "Tessa, let it go." He told her again.

    In a burst of energy, she did let go, stumbling forward into his chest and completely exhausted for the second time in the few days they'd been in the caves. The barrier erupted into a flash of flame, sending shards crashing to the ground and sparkling in every light. It was a rather dramatic end to her barrier, watching it be both frozen and aflame. It seemed Quinn's energy finally reached through, taking her over.

    "Ha." Jessie huffed. "It actually worked."

    "Damn idiot. Of course it worked!" Quinn grinned halfheartedly, pulling Jessamine into a headlock. If it had been any other day, any other time, he might have kissed her then. Damn whoever might be watching, or what they might think. But the impulse was strangely missing- taken instead by the burning image of Theresa Astor crying in the captains arms. "Nothing we ever did together could fail. I thought you knew that already."

    "Hey captain, you alright?" Hewlett picked Dael up by the shoulders, setting him on his feet. It bothered Dael, sometimes, how easily Hewlett could manhandle almost everyone on the ship. This was not one of those times. He felt like one giant bruise- and that last jarring fall had made his arms feel like they were going to rip out of their sockets. He would be in no shape to climb any more giant golems any time soon.

    He hoped the next one was made of a softer material.

    "I'll survive, but I've certainly come out of scraps in better shape." Dael rolled his shoulders with a wince. His arms stung with that freshly pulled muscle feel, and his ribs gave a sharp stab of pain every time he moved, breathed, or even stood in place. It wasn't until that moment that he even noticed the burns on his hand- from the vial of corrosive liquid he had splashed to erase part of the golems rune system. Hewlett whistled, carefully turning Daels hand in his own.

    "That's gonna sting later. I'll get the med kit, we'll need to clean it up." Dael shook his head, trotting over to the celebratory Quinn and Jessamine as he waited for Hewlett to return. Stiffly, and slowly, but as quickly as he thought he could manage without limping or wincing.

    "Are you two all right?"

    "Hey..." Jessie stumbled with his arm around her. She was dizzy, and he certainly wasn't helping her walk. "Give me a second."

    But, what he said after, that they could never fail, in that moment she was jealous of her sister. These people were so loyal, as her own crew was to her as Captain, but it felt different. Quinn clearly cared for Tessa, whether or not she was blind to see it, he was an idiot in ways but a sweetheart in others. She almost felt bad for having to shove him off, play pretend, when he was doing what came naturally.

    "I just want to lay down for a second." Jessie waved off Quinn, releasing herself from his hold, and sat flat on the ground with her legs crossed. In a flash, she was flat on her back, sighing into the crystalline air. The last remaining specks of ice fluttered down from the ceiling. She reached up a hand to touch one, finding the effort to be a strain on her body. "Just a second." She repeated, eyes closed and ready to sleep right there on the cold floor.

    "Tessa, get up off the floor, you don't want to be sleeping there." Hewlett chuckled at his comrade. "Come 'ere."

    He reached down to pick her up. She flailed like a rag doll, groaning lamely, so he set her back down and let her be.

    "Thank you, Hewey." Hewey? Where'd that come from."How are you guys doing?"

    Quinn shook his head at Theresa's antics. She wasn't normally this silly after a battle- she was the kind of person to sit down and think about what had gone wrong, and how they could fix it in the future. Maybe the doctors hadn't done as good of a job clearing up that concussion as he'd thought. It felt... a little bit strange, how intent he was on ignoring the little voice that was telling him something wasn't right. Because he just wanted so badly to know that everything would be okay. That she was safe, here, with him.

    "We'll take a short break and regroup before we continue on. It looks like Theresa's barrier will hold." Dael crouched carefully, falling back into a seated position as soon as he deemed it was safe. Hewlett, to his credit, folloed his captain to the ground. He sat there cross legged, and tended to Daels hand- wrapping it in gauze and tying the bandage neatly. Hewlett really did look a bit ridiculous sitting cross legged on the ground like that. Men as large as him should stick to chairs.

    "Speaking of, where'd you learn that bit Tessa? I've never seen anything like it. You been digging in those old tomes again?" Quinn flopped down next to her, determined to rest if that was what the captain had decided. Now, with the adrenaline wearing off he could feel the tug of exhaustion from pouring so much of himself into Tessa. The kind of tired that made his jaw crack in a yawn and his eyes droop.

    Jessie, with her eyes still closed, reached a hand towards Quinn. It slapped against his skin as he laid down beside her. "I've always known." She said honestly. Tessa would have too. It was years of knowledge poured into their head one summer, so she was surprised to have remembered it at all.

    Did Tessa ever talk about her twin sister? Probably not, she had to assume. Jessie was a shame to the family. A Rebel Captain fighting on the wrong side, she wouldn't have been surprised if Tessa never gave her a second thought. It wasn't true though. Tessa cared a great deal for her rebellious twin. She just didn't know it, separated by thousands of miles.

    "I learned when I was young." Jessie opened her eyes. " mother taught me."

    Before she died.

    Jessie left it at that, not wanting to talk about it any more. Yes. Her and her sister had learned the knowledge of old runes, and the one to have taught them was indeed their mother. Ever the scholar, she didn't want the old ways to die out. Jessie loved those lessons, cherished each and every minute she spent learning about old alchemy with her mother and sister. It was their little secret, it was going to be a surprise to their father when they joined the military, but that day never came.

    Their break wasn't nearly long enough, in Dael's opinion. His joints still ached, his shoulders still burned- and he was pretty sure he'd bruised his ribs. Luckily nothing seemed to be broken, but that didn't keep him from being one big knot of pain when it finally came time for them to move on. And he couldn't let anyone know how injured he was. He didn't need Jessie wasting more energy trying to heal injuries that weren't life threatening.

    It seemed whatever they had done to trap the golem held remarkably well. Where before the automaton could twitch, and move, now it was as stationary as a statue- if one could ignore the burning coals where it's eye sockets should be. It might also be in part due to the loss of use of it's arms- but Dael had to admit, she'd wedged it in there tightly.

    Alchemy was certainly a useful thing. It was too bad he'd never had the aptitude.

    So they forged on, taking the smaller traps with so much ease it seemed ridiculous- although anything might seem easy after facing off against the golem- eventually coming to what Dael hoped would be the last leg of their journey.

    "We have a few choices here, we can wait- rest and pick up again in... morning? I don't even have any concept of time anymore. Regardless, we can pick up again after a small rest." They'd done nothing more then peek through the archway at the end of the hall. So far every 'room' they'd encountered had had some large trap or another. They would all need to be mentally and physically prepared before tackling it.

    And they were all getting tired.

    "Or we can see what this next room has in store for us."

    Jessie paced up to the arch, feeling drawn towards the strange energy coming from the other side. The hairs on her arms stood up to attention while her body screamed for her to go back. Something was in there, but what? It wasn't as large a room as before, so there couldn't be a twin to the golem they encountered earlier. She poked her head barely an inch inside and saw something amazing.

    The entire room was covered, floor to ceiling, with a seamless opaque crystal.

    She had enough restraint to pull herself back out of the room, but before she left she thought she heard a voice."Miss Astor, where are you?. Jessie whirled her head around, but no one was there. That was odd. The last time she heard voices of any kinds it was because of the black fog's enchantment on her head. There was certainly no fog in that room.

    "Tessa, stay away from that." Hewlett pulled her back to their small group. "We don't know what's in there."

    "I only wanted a peek..." Jessie mumbled. Something was wrong about that room.

    For the moment, they rested. Getting what little uncomfortable sleep they could on the cold ground of the caves. Somewhere in the distance the constant sound of water dripping onto stone kept her from sleeping well, waking her up every so often to remind her that she was stuck there. Jessie curled up against Hewlett's leg, finding it was warmer than the ground, and ten times softer despite the layers of muscle. She didn't want to get too close to Dael, risk uncovering their small passionate moment, and she felt uncomfortable around Quinn. Hewlett was her small savior, providing respite when she desperately needed it.

    "...Miss Ast..." The small voice echoed from the room. She ignored it. They'd figure it out later.

    Morning, afternoon, evening- whichever time it actually was when they all woke from their restless slumber (Dael's watch had stopped working around the same time as the equipment the researchers had given them. It seemed like anything that relied on magnetic fields or electrical signals were entirely useless) was not quite late enough. Sleeping on the hard ground did not a good rest make, and it showed on everyone's faces as they munched on now definitely stale bread and smoked meat. They didn't even have any cheese left.

    "What I wouldn't give to have Tiadora down here right now. Bet she could manage to whip up something delicious with even this fare." Dael chuckled at Hewlett's muttered lament, picking crumbs off of his too hard bread and letting them fall to the ground. He had no appetite this morning. Even chewing hurt.

    "Only if she had her spices with her. But then we'd all be in for a treat with nothing to cool the burn." Hewlett grinned. It was well known that the red-head loved spicy food- the spicier the better. And Tiadora was exactly what he wanted in a cook.

    If it couldn't be spicy, she wouldn't make it.

    "I took a look at the room- no don't glare at me," Quinn held his hands up in surrender, an impish smile coating his lips. "I didn't even take a step inside. There are no trigger points as far as I can see. Not even any runes. The entire thing is just...crystal. Prettiest thing I've ever seen." Dael released the breath he'd been holding to scold Quinn. They were all tense, and it would do no good to lift tensions higher when nothing ill had come of his actions.

    "Just to be safe, send in one of your golems first. Even a small one to see if it's proximity triggered." Quinn saluted, standing to scavenge through his pack for another one of his smaller style golems. He really wished Von snufflesworth hadn't been crushed- it had cost him a fortune to make the first time.
    "I hope every one got enough rest. Today should be our last day in these gods forsaken caves."

    They watched lazily as Quinn sent his golem in. Jessie especially had her eyes glued on the small creature, as uninterested as she was as it moved in one slow step at a time. Nothing happened. No triggers were activated, it just walked across a field of crystal, and came out unscathed. It was odd but not unexpected.

    "If nothing is going to happen, I say we go in." Jessie declared. All at once, three voices were telling her no. She smiled sheepishly, that was just her attitude, go in and get it done.

    "Tessa, you're dead beat from that barrier, let one of us go first." Hewlett offered.

    "Fine, fine." Jessie waved a hand towards him. She was rather tired.

    Hewlett rose to his feet, taking a few cautious steps towards the door. At his sides, his hands waved nervously. Being a human guinea pig was no fun, but it came with the job. He looked back once before stepping down on the crystal floor. Nothing happened at first, and he was somewhat glad for the silence. The brute took another step inside, walking on the crystal was rather enchanting. It glowed beneath his feet, as if taking in small bits of energy from him.

    "How are you feeling?" Jessie called.

    "It's really nothing." Hewlett answered.

    "Nothing?" A voice echoed. Hewlett whirled his head to find the source. "If I smashed you into the pavement, then it'd be nothing."

    They'd all guessed wrong. The room wasn't empty. A figure appeared in the crystal along the floor. Hewlett peered down to see what it was, and found his reflection staring right back at him.

    "What are you gonna do, cry?" It spoke.

    Dael approached the crystal room with caution. "Hewlett?" He could have sworn- the room was empty. There was no one inside save for Hewlett, staring down at his own reflection with a look that could only be described as poorly concealed rage.

    His reflection smirked at him.

    "What? Got nothing to say to me? Well I have plenty to say to them." The reflection whistled loudly, the piercing sound echoing throughout the hall. Somehow Hewlett knew that what was about to happen would be bad. He backpedaled quickly- but not quickly enough.
    "Yo, toots with the nice ass!" It began, "Miss Astor." The words were almost mocking, like it knew something the others didn't. Hewlett flushed a deep red. He may or may not have admired her behind at one point or another- but she felt a little more like the sister type, and he had instantly squashed those thoughts. "Just thought you should know, that our little boys been watching you. Those flowers on your bedside table? Well, he planted an audion crystal in them. Every little secret you whispered is being transferred directly to our good friend the spy master."

    Dael tensed, and Quinn muttered a dark oath under his breath. Neither of them looked happy with Hewlett. But he wanted out of that damned cave.

    "What?" Jessie screeched. What had she said, what had anyone said in her room? She didn't say a whole lot inside, but behind closed doors she could speak freely about what she wanted, who she wanted. The Rebel smacked a hand over her mouth, face flushing red. There were times she spoke ill of her comrades, that much was idle chit chat between her and herself, but she'd said a few incriminating things in her time.

    "Don't listen to it, it's lyin'!" Hewlett tried to cover for himself, but the image at his feet begged to differ. It babbled on about how he was lying, and it was hard to tell. The large man stumbled back into the group and the image disappeared, it's voice stopped speaking.

    "Thatcher is spying on me?" Jessie asked. There was no answer, and only shame radiating off of Hewlett. "What the hell?"

    One thing was for certain, whatever was in that room seemed to have some insight on the person there. She was definitely not taking a step inside until they got rid of it.

    Dael had never been so furious before in his life- not only had he and Thatcher ignored a direct order, but they'd done so and unknowingly placed the life of a fellow officer on the line. The only thing he had ever asked from his crew- beyond doing what they could with what they could- was trust. And they had broken that completely.

    "You sonofa- don't you have any god damned pride?!" Quinn grabbed Hewlett by the front of his shirt, throwing him up against the stone wall. She was a fucking lady- an officer in the navy! Not only was this a breach of privacy, but this was Tessa. She deserved so much more then such mistrust. Hewlett closed his eyes, shamefaced. His hands clenching into fists at his side.

    "Officer Skyre!" Dael grabbed Quinn by the shoulder- gently- and slowly levered him away from Hewlett. He was just as angry- rightly so- but there was a time and place for everything. They couldn't fall apart now.
    "This is not the time for that. Right now, we need to put this discussion on hold. But you can rest assured, when we return, Hewlett and Thatcher- as well as everyone else connected to this little scheme will be punished appropriately." Even if his impulse right now for 'proper' punishment was a swift punch to the face.

    "Look- you two stay here, and don't move. Theresa-" Damn it. There was no way he could let her walk through that room. "just- just make sure they don't kill each other."

    He lingered for just a moment, to make sure the two wouldn't immediately jump at each others throats, before nodding to the pale faced Jessamine. He would have to figure this out. And pray that they didn't find out from him the secrets Jessie was trying to keep. He had deeper shames to hide.

    Before he took that final step onto the crystal floor, he thought hard about all of the things he hated in his life- the things he regretted, the things that made life seem worthless. All he could think of was his father. His father and the belt descending over and over- his mother cowering in the corner.

    It was with these thoughts that he finally stepped out into the crystal room, like a lamb to the slaughter, and tried to figure out how the hell to get rid of this uncanny apparition.

    "Tessa, please-" Hewlett begged of her.

    "Save it Hewlett, I don't want to hear it." Jessamine cut him off with a raised hand to his face. There was so much shame on his face, she could feel it in herself when she looked at him. It probably wasn't even his fault, it was Thatcher. Something about him never sat right in her gut, but it was too late to say so.


    "I trusted you!" She screamed at him. "That's all I ask of my comrades, a little trust! I fought for you back there, and you've been spying on me? How could you!"

    It was more out of fear that she yelled. What did he know, if anything at all? She just couldn't know without asking him, and she couldn't do that. If she did it was over. Quinn and Hewlett might not have known, and it saved her enough to get by. They couldn't know, which is why it was so important that Dael figure out what was going on in that room.

    As for Quinn, if he stepped forward there'd be other feelings admitted. Did he want Tessa knowing how he felt?

    Jessie paced toward the room, but she had no intention of slipping inside. She watched instead, making sure no harm came to Dael. After all, he was the only one left who could save her any more.

    "What's the matter, boy?" Chills ran down Daels spine at the familiar words. Words he'd heard a lot growing up in that mans household. "There isn't anything wrong, is there? You can tell me boy." Mocking, almost with glee, the reflection followed him throughout the room. It was literally attached to him, copying his every movement- all except the expressions. It wore a grim smile reminiscent of that of his father.

    Ignoring the shadow as best as he could, Dael stalked towards the far exit. He would be the test, the one to find out if the exit was trapped. He came up short against an invisible curtain of light. As solid as the walls of crystal around him.

    "Oh, you didn't think you could leave-did you? none may pass until all has been laid bare. Only the worthy may pass." It laughed beneath him, suddenly switching to the reflection on Daels right. Revealing it's expression for all to see. "And you are most certainly not worthy. What a coward you are, Daeleron Christopher Cooper. Content to watch your mother die, at the hands f your own father. Too scared to go for help, too cowardly to save the one woman who actually cared for you." Dael grit his teeth against the cutting words, taking in every inch of the walls as best he could. There was nothing there. No runes, no hitches or grooves- just smooth crystal.

    "And what do you think you're doing now? You think you can save her? He's still out there- ready to tear away everything you love. You can't protect her, her lies will come out, you'll both be buried in-" Dael left the room as swiftly as he entered it. Cutting off the phantoms words. He shook his head mutely.

    He hadn't found a way out of it.

    The four brooded together, trying to determine a way out. There was a wall of light then? Jessamine wrapped her arms around her knees. Hewlett was really a spy, Dael had a dark past of abuse, and she hadn't even seen Quinn's story yet. There wasn't a way past this one unless they let the crystal talk, that's what it had said to them, wasn't it?

    "What was it talking about?" Hewlett asked shamelessly. Then he remembered what had been said. "Right, never mind. Trust issues."

    Jessie looked into the room, one of them had to be worthy. Something had to be done. She didn't want to be the one to go in, but one of them would have to brave it. Hewlett wasn't going back, for fear of risking Thatcher's plans. Quinn didn't seem too eager to step forward, and Dael, well. He just looked defeated after his trip into the crystal room.

    Aside from their problems, Jessie couldn't help but notice something. It was creeping closer. Since their first step on the surface, it had been reaching forward towards the group. So it was either go forward, or back towards the traps and the golem. She wasn't even sure if it was dead or if the ice was still holding, so it was all up in the air.

    "Plug your ears." Jessie demanded. "I'll go sit inside, see if it deems one of us worthy at least."

    This way no Navy man would be harmed. They could figure out their issues alone, and well, Jessie didn't have much to lose. Dael knew. Hewlett probably knew she had to figure. All that left was Quinn, so the question remained.

    What secrets did Jessamine Astor have?

    The boys could do nothing but watch as 'Theresa' approached the crystal room. It was getting closer, creeping towards them like some mindless fog. Coating the floors and walls with pure reflective crystal. They all had mixed feelings, as they covered their ears as best they could.

    Hewlett, with grim determination. He'd betrayed a comrade once, and would not do so again despite his burning curiosity. Quinn with a look almost akin to pain. He didn't want his Tessa to have to face whatever lashing words the creature might have for her. And Dael... quiet contemplation. They all had demons, memories they would have to face one way or another. What was hiding behind the façade she had so carefully constructed. What kinds of regrets did the girl with the frozen blue eyes have?

    But the room remained grimly silent, for a long time after Jessamine entered, her reflection in the floor slowly spreading into a grin that threatened to crack her jaw. It looked painful- macabre, such a gruesome expression stretched across a familiar face was disturbing.

    And it could just as easily have been Theresa, standing trapped under the crystal.

    "You didn't think that would work, did you?" It taunted, it's grin growing further- as if that were possible. "Only the honest may pass. Those who hide their secrets from others should never have a hand on the crown. They will all hear- or none of you will pass."

    "You never said they had to hear it, just that we had to let our secrets out!" Jessie yelled at the crystal. She tried to push herself into the air, but a pair of crystalline hands shot out of the floor and pulled her back down, forcing her to land uncomfortably on her rear.

    "Ah-ah! You must stay on the ground with me." The voice giggled, the whole room shaking in response. It was like listening to the chandeliers of her childhood when she jumped on the ceiling too hard, her father coming after her to yell at her.

    "Jessamine! Jessamine Astor, would you stop-"

    "Miss Astor." The crystal cooed. "Shall I tell them your real name?"

    "No." Jessie said sternly. "We'll find a way out."

    "May I proudly introduce, Miss Jessamine Astor, Rebel Captain and twin to the Captain in training, Miss Theresa Astor!" The crystal's voice boomed loudly into the room, there was no way the boys hadn't heard and she panicked. Jessie stumbled back, picking herself up to rush to the exit, but the same crystalline hands held her down.

    "Let me out!" She demanded.

    "Jessie, Jessie!" The crystal was mocking her now. "We have a few secrets to let loose!"

    The crystal pulled itself up out of the floor, forming a replica of Jessie, only instead of skin it was a translucent copy of brilliantly crafted alchemy. It picked up Jessie by the collar on her shirt and held her in the air.

    "They say you killed a man, that's why you left, but I see that's not true." The crystal frowned. "Boring."

    "Dael!" Jessie screamed.

    "What about this, you remember Nordy?" The crystal laughed at her. "What he did to you in that cell, and how you simply let him. He beat you, destroyed you, and just when you thought he was done, he started all over again. You even feigned a little injury to stay hidden among your Navy friends, hm?"

    "Quinn!" She cried.

    "Bioalchemy is a curious thing." The crystal jabbed its fist into Jessie's ribs and she spit up blood, reliving the horrible pain of breaking her ribs. Over, and over again. She coughed a new puddle of blood each time the crystal connected with her stomach, until she couldn't take it any more and began to sob. The pain was too much. "What about why you really left? Why'd you go?"

    "Stop!" Jessie pleaded with the crystal.

    "What department did you work in before you left? It wasn't bioalchemy, or any elemental lab, no. Your father had you somewhere you disdained to stay. Chemical warfare, you liked it there didn't you? It was easy work, but you didn't know who you were testing on, never asked. After all, it was part time work for a halfhearted Republic girl-"


    "You killed her." The crystal smiled. Jessie held herself on the crystal floor, unable to move. She'd nearly forgotten about the accident, since it wasn't her fault. It wasn't!

    "Hewlett." Was her last final cry. Any of them. She pleaded for them to take her away.

    The crystals revelation had an effect like toppling dominos. One by one, the words reached them- sinking into their skin and poisoning them from the inside out. First was Dael- he had known, after all. He had known, and all he could do was close his eyes as the words reverberated throughout his bones. He had failed. So much for his promises, his word was shit.

    Next in line was Quinn. He had known- some small, hidden part of him had realised long ago that this wasn't his Tessa, wasn't the girl he'd fallen in love with. She had the same face, the same eyes, but her smiles were always one beat behind, her kind words like strange sounds on her tongue. She was too brusque by far- and she'd lied to him. She'd lied and Tessa was out there somewhere- Fear bloomed in his chest. No. There was no way she'd died.... She had to be alive. She had to.

    The last to clue in, was Hewlett. He was so sure that the spying had been unnecesary, Thatcher had never said anything to him about it after that. But suddenly it all made sense- the offhand comments she'd make occasionally, they'd seemed strange at the time... but now they were incriminating. And all he could think was, he was right. And knowing he was right didn't make the tight knot of guilt in his stomach any less tense. If anything, knowing he was right only made him feel sick. Because there was only one punishment for traitors, and the crime for impersonating an officer was heavy indeed.

    Her cries for help were the only thing that snapped them out of their gloom.

    To their great credit, not a single one of them hesitated in standing and rushing for the crystal room. It didn't matter what feelings of guilt, sorrow, or anger lay under the surface- nothing that could make another human being make that sound of despair could ever be ignored. Friend or foe. To their frustration, not a single one succeeded.

    "Jessamine!" Dael was the only one who called out, he had known her name- by now it was familiar on his tongue. He was so focused on the figure holding her- the red of her blood staining the clear crystal a scarlet ruby- he almost missed an apparition of his own.

    Three more figures rose out of the floor, Smooth crystal faces void of any emotion. Dael was looking at a reflection of his father, in it's hand a smooth strap made of ice. Each snap as it smacked against the palm of one crystal hand cracking like a gunshot- landing like a physical bullet sinking into his skin.

    Hewlett stood confronted with an image of himself, how could he have been so distrusting? Spying on a girl based on a hunch. The hunch had been right, but that didn't get rid of the bad taste it left in his mouth, or the helpless anger he felt at Thatcher for forcing the decision on him. He was quick to pull out his hammer, and smash it into the mirror image of himself, grim determination on his expression.

    And in front of Quinn, stood a perfect image of Theresa. He knew it was her- there was that quirk, one side of her lips lifting higher then the other in a sheepish smile, giving her one lopsided dimple. Something he'd teased her about mercilessly. And she always blushed. Her eyes were chips of topaz, and her skin transluscent- cold. But when she opened her arms to embrace him, he couldn't resist. If this would be the last time he could ever hold her, his last chance to whisper those words she'd never hear... There were tears in his eyes when he clutched the cold stone to his chest.

    And then cries of pain, as the crystal closed around him and squeezed mercilessly, wearing Tessa's kind smile.

    It was enough to distract Dael from his opponent, the clear strap striking out. He barely managed to lift his arm in time to block the blow. But unlike the times he had protected himself from his father, this was not that leather strap he'd become accustomed to. The crystal struck his arm with blinding force, his arm Cracked! in a sound that echoed as loud as the snapping of breaking ribs. It gave him the clarity he needed to face his demons.

    "Hewlett." His voice was colder then the crystal beneath their feet, his face an expressionaless mask to hide his rage. Hewlett blanched, nodding once in understanding as he ran to assist Quinn. He had never seen the Captain so furious. The crystal was immoved by Daels cold silence, and unconcerned when he drew his blade, and twisted the handle to release the alchemy stored in the crystal at it's pommel.

    He only needed on arm anyways.

    He struck at the creature viciously, his sword releasing a scream as the vibrations from the blade tore the crystal apart, the small crystal drops falling to the floor to sink back into oblivion. His sights immediately set on the thingholding Jessie in the air.

    It turned it's face towards him, dropping Jessie unceremoniously on the floor. Her pained sounds only furthering the strength of his rage. His sword whipped out- lightning fast- and the crystal crumbled before his eyes, his sword piercing where it's heart should have been. He wished he could watch it bleed.

    Wasting no time, Dael sunk to the ground after Jessie.Fuck, What could he do? He didn't know bioalchemy, she wasn't a damned doctor.

    "Jessie." His voice echoed through the now silent room, his hand reaching out to her cheek as his sword clattered to the floor.

    Jessie reached a bloody hand to meet his face, cupping his cheek gingerly. Their biggest secrets had been spilled, although Quinn's seemed the most innocent of them all. Where Jessie had killed, Hewlett had betrayed, and Dael had stood back from an abuser, Quinn only loved. The gemstone eyes of her sister's form twinkled with innocence, the arms around Quinn's body screamed in murder.

    Hewlett pried at the form of Tessa, anything to break free, and Jessie did the only thing she could think of doing. They had to be honest with each other right? Get all their sins out in the open, all their fears and secrets, so she spoke.

    "When I was ten years old, I stole some of my father's liquor, just to see what it tasted like." Jessie laughed, a thin line of blood formed at her mouth, trickling down past her cheek and towards the floor. "At night, I liked to form ice crystals outside the room to scare Tessa."

    The crystal stopped squeezing Quinn, looking towards Jessie in confusion. She told stories of how she tricked her sister, got them into all sorts of trouble, and the longer she spoke, the weaker the crystal beings hold was on Quinn, until Hewlett was able to pull the man free and smash the thing to pieces.

    "When I was sixteen, I worked in the research department for chemical warfare." Tears started to stream down her face, but she continued to speak. All the secrets she could muster. Nothing could be left out. "Myself and the head of research, we discovered the chemical which we then leaked into the city. I told him not to, that it would kill millions, but I was just a little girl. I had no place to be there, and when my mother died I left out of guilt."

    Hewlett seemed to catch on. The more Jessie talked about her misdeeds, the quieter the crystal became. "I spied on you, Tess-Jessie. You're Jessie, aren't you?"

    "Yes, you spied on me." Jessie started to chuckle, coughing instead a new line of blood. "To be fair, I yelled at you about trust when all I did was parade around like I was my sister." Hewlett's expression softened, though the guilt was still there.

    "I was captured in Mirefield, and when I was taken in Officer Nordy beat me for days. Longer than anyone knew about...and then, he-" Jessie bit her lip, turning her head to see who was listening. Everyone. "He raped me in the cell. After, Tessa came in and we switched places. I don't know where she is. Where my crew is, I honestly don't know."

    "He was the one to break my ribs, but I did it again so I wouldn't have to mingle with the lot of you." Jessie laughed, this time she was spared a bloody lung. "It was such a bad idea, a really, really bad idea, I only have the faintest knowledge of bioalchemy."

    For a while it was quiet, Jessie held on to Dael in pain. Hewlett and Quinn sat side by side, musing about their own secrets just loud enough to hear. Nothing could compare with a secret traitor it would seem, because overall the crystal stayed quiet. From time to time it would laugh, tell someone they were lying. Usually it was Hewlett. He wanted to save himself the embarrassment of an awkward moment with a few lady friends. Jessie closed her eyes as it went on, leaning heavily into Dael for support. She wanted to sleep.

    "You still have many secrets to share." The crystal spoke, quietly this time. It seemed to have lost the energy to form itself into anything more than a voice.

    "There's too many." Jessie panted. She could feel the exhaustion setting in. These caves were hell on them all.

    "At least you're being honest." It said. "But that's still not enough."

    The crystal wall was still up, and although they'd weakened it with the small sharing of secrets, it wasn't near enough to rid the cave of the being. It held too much information, secrets it knew from the past which might never be shared, the four couldn't hope to give it what it wanted. So how then? Jessie was at a crossroads. She'd spilled all she knew, everything important, and it still lingered.

    "She's going to die if you don't leave soon." The voice spoke.

    "That's fine." Jessie argued.

    "You know it's not." The voice, which only knew the truth of things, seemed smug at her declaration. Of course Jessie didn't want to die, but she could feel it in her chest. Her ribs were broken again and her skin turned a sickly pale shade. She'd taken too many beatings, tried to hard to keep up with the pace of the caves, but no.

    Jessie didn't want to die.

    Dael sat silently throughout Jessie's confession, keeping her close. Carefully wiping away her tears when they fell. It didn't matter if Quinn or Hewlett saw the tender actions, there could be no lies between them any more. They would inevitably find out, and he could only hope that whatever this was... had garnered enough trust between them to keep their secrets.

    Gods, he wished he could do something-anything. He couldn't let her die, and watching her slowly fade in his arms was one of the most excruciating things he had ever experienced. He didn't want to know what would happen to him if she died. He would probably crack, at last.

    "You will." They'd all gotten so used to the crystal's whispering, that it barely registered any more. And Dael closed his eyes. No, he couldn't just sit here and accept it.

    "My family had always seemed perfect, from the outside. High ranking navy father, with a beautiful wife who loved him more then anything, and a brilliant son who took after his father in so many ways. They had the same hair, the same faces. I looked just like him, when he was younger. But I had my mothers eyes." Dael cracked a small smile, recalling the small inside joke him and his mother had shared.

    "It was ridiculous, because my mother and father had the same color eyes. Inside... everything was different. I had to be perfect, keep up appearances. I couldn't fail at anything, or I would find myself waking with bruises and broken bones. He would beat me, for the smallest things. A 'B' on a report card, a fight at school. Sometimes even looking him directly in the eyes would set him off. Those were the nights he would drink.

    I didn't know, that my mother had shielded me from so much of his abuse. Not until far, far later. He used it like a weapon against me. My ignorance. But that was after... After he killed her. He made me watch." There was the bleak expression he had to hide every time he encountered his father, the coiled ball of rage that burned like a coal in his chest.

    "He made me watch as first he beat her, then raped her-" At this, Dael's voice cracked, and his hand tightened on Jessie's. He had another name to add to his list now. "and I did nothing. I stood by and watched as he choked the life out of one of the most vibrant people I have ever had the pleasure to know. He'd broken me..."

    "Lie." Dael chuckled grimly. It was barely even a breath of wind now, though they could all hear it clearly like an echo inside of their skulls.

    "Right. I was a coward. I was afraid... I could have stepped in at any time. But I just stood there and watched, as she pleaded with me to help her. To save her. I might as well have killed her myself." Dael took in a deep breath, ignoring Hewlett's murmur of 'captain'. He wasn't done yet.

    "To the rest of the world, my mother simply disappeared. Missing, they said. My father showed a brave face to the world, there were no end of condolences. I... I wasn't at my best. People began to speculate that perhaps I had been the one. The reason behind her disappearance. I was..unstable. Until I joined the navy.

    It's funny that he was the one who pressured me into it. And it gave me what I needed- the strength to push forwards, and a goal to work for. I vowed I would do everything in my power to save the ones I love from then on.."


    "and I swore that I would kill my father."

    "That's treason." Incredulity dawned on Hewlett's face. He had known Dael for so long now- they'd been recruits together, even though Dael had risen through the ranks far faster then he had. Mostly due to the influence of his father, one of the generals responsible for the war with the rebels.

    "Treason. And something I've planned ever since I joined as a recruit. But it wasn't enough to kill him, I wanted todestroy him. Break him the way he broke my mother." Dael lifted Jessie's hand to his lips, kissing the warmth back into her fingers.

    "I will kill Nordy too, I can promise you that much."


    "...Miss Jessamine Astor... You are not allowed to die." The crystal waited with baited breath, of course he would have to say it. He had hoped it could wait. It was too much, too soon. Though perhaps they weren't quite as far apart as they'd initially thought. The divide that separated them didn't seem quite as deep and daunting. "I love you, and you are not allowed to die."

    A deep sigh echoed throughout the chambers.

    "Save her." Silence greeted his statement. "I know what you are. Save her."

    Crystal began to drip from the ceiling, falling like soft rain. He could feel the question in the air.

    "The stories... at the end they all have one thing in common. They are confronted with their fears, and made to prove their worth. You are the crown. Now save her!"

    Jessie's hand dropped of its own accord, her eyes drooped shut. Dael demanded that the crystal save her. She didn't know what that meant, what the crown was supposed to do. Things didn't grant wishes any more, she thought, it wasn't possible. He kissed her hands, promising what he would and the crystal proved it to be true each time. There was no greater assurance in knowing the truth. Only, the crystal was right. She wasn't going to make it out alive unless one of them pulled some sort of magic trick out of their belt.

    "Dael." She murmured weakly. "I don't want to die."

    Hewlett and Quinn moved from their places in horror to watch Jessamine. She looked close to death, felt it in her bones, and the crystal continued to rain overhead like it was an average day in Spring. Jessie fell further into Dael, her body becoming limp and heavy all at once in his arms. There was nothing they could do but watch. Dael had his limp arm, Jessie spewing up blood from the memories' attack.

    "That is what you want then." The voice seemed closer than normal. "To save her."

    It conjured itself into one final form, melting off the walls and standing in a figure which resembled a woman. There were no defining features but a sad smile on her lips. She stepped forward, placed her hands on the dying girl and began to murmur old words. There was no way of knowing that this was an old form of bioalchemy by look alone, but in feeling it was the same. Jessie panicked at first, squirming beneath the crystal's hands, whimpered when she felt her chest rearranging itself, and ultimately she caved when the process was over, dead weight in Dael's arms.

    But, she was alive.

    "You have all earned your reward." The being spoke. "I already know what you seek, a crown of pure crystal, said to give the holder anything they desire. It's true." It smirked then. "For the most part."

    All around them the crystal seemed to thin, swirling in a mist between Jessie and Dael. The being disappeared, leaving a small crown of crystal in its place. The voice was silenced, the crystal disappeared from the wall, seemingly pouring all of its energy into the one last act.

    The crown. A misnomer if there ever was one, it looked more like a small tiara. Delicate spires of crystal rising from an age worn base, it was cracked and used, some of the crystal clouded with age... but they could all feel the power coming from it. The crystal practically hummed with it, the air shimmering around it as it finally settled back into it's true form. Then, it just innocuously lay there. All of that work, for this, but... It was done. They would never have to see these gods forsaken halls again.

    "So she's gone..." Quinn's voice cracked, his head falling back against the now stone walls. He looked...defeated. None of his happy vibrancy was left- how could it be, when the woman he loved was in the middle of a rebelcrew, doing exactly what Jessamine was doing for her. Tessa wasn't an actress, she was terrible at hiding how she felt. "Tessa she... please, tell me she's still.." He couldn't even finish the words. Couldn't voice it. He was afraid that if he said the words out loud, they may actually come to be true.

    "We'll find her, Quinn." Hewlett's hand fell onto Quinn's shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze. They were all battered and bruised, and he could still feel the guilt from his deeds.. but in light of both the Captain's, and Jessamine's revelations... Well, he couldn't let himself fall apart over it. They had all been through so much, but Quinn... He was a good kid. He deserved to have his happy ending at least. He helped him up, trying to ignore the way Quinn's shoulders slumped and his feet dragged on the ground.

    "...None of us will ever speak of what happened in these caves." There was grim determination in Dael's voice, and a certainty that everyone could feel. Of course, he would be distressed if his plans ever got out- it would make his life's goal end in failure for certain. But he was more worried about the girl in his arm. Fuck, if only he had both of his arms. He just wanted to hold her. "This crown... it's too powerful to reveal the secrets of." On that, Hewlett and Quinn could agree.
    "Can you stand...?" He couldn't keep his hand off of her, touching her face, her neck. He still wasn't positive she was still there. She'd been so close to dying in his arms. "I can carry you out, but not like this. You'll have to get on my back."

    "I can take her, captain. You need to get that arm checked out." Hewlett offered, crouching in front of Dael and Jessie. Dael pinned him with his gaze until he shifted uncomfortably. It was Jessie's choice. Hewlett wouldn't touch her if she didn't want him to.

    Jessie groaned in the affirmative, but that was all the noise she could make. As usual, she was out of commission and damn tired. Hewlett turned her back on her, and careful she was hoisted up onto his broad back. She wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs around his torso, and suddenly the world got six feet taller.

    "Quinn." She grumbled. "She's alive, don't worry...crew wouldn't"

    She was less in pain and more just tired. Her eyes closed, but she didn't want to sleep. They had much to talk about together, the four of them. Hewlett needed a good scolding, and Jessie felt like she was responsible for making sure Quinn perked up. He loved her sister and she'd see to it that they were reunited, and then they could talk about their complicated relationship.

    "I'm sorry." Jessie began to sob again. "I'm sorry."

    It was her fault they'd get in so much trouble. Hewlett would have been spared the charges of spying had it not been for her getting captured. She cried into Hewlett's back until she slipped into unconsciousness.

    "Poor thing." Hewlett murmured. He adjusted his hold on the sleeping girl, looking to Dael to see if he was still angry. "She's out."

    Dael couldn't even muster the energy to bring up his normal happy mask. His father was still alive, and out there. As much as he tried to forget from day to day, to enjoy himself, the memories were so close to the surface now. But... one look at Jessie softened his features. He managed an iota of composure.

    "Let's get out of this hell-hole." Dael leaned down, carefully scooping up the crown in his one good hand, and retrieving his sword from the ground nearby. Even that small action made him groan, and remember the beating he'd taken by the golem to go along with his broken arm.
    "I'll be happy if we never have to see this place again."


    There was much activity when they emerged from the caves, Jessie passed out on Hewlett's back, and all save her with cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Dael and Quinn were immediately rushed to the medics, Where Dael's bruising was healed to an extent, and his arm was set and wrapped. He wouldn't need a cast, thanks to the talented bio-alchemists in the research camp, but he would have to avoid using the arm for a couple of days at least. Quinn's injuries.. were more extensive. He was relieved from immediate duty, and made to rest in the medical bay. Much the same way Jessie had when she first arrived.

    The head researcher was eager to get her hands on the crown to start running tests. Of course Dael refused, unsympathetically telling her the Esper would be taking possession of the priceless artifact, seeing as that had been their reason for being there to begin with. At this point, he wasn't sure he would let anyone other then the four lay a single finger on it. He was scared what might happen if he did.

    For the time being, the Esper was grounded. He could have the artifact, but they would have to wait for the paperwork from the capitol. Meaning he was being kept there for one reason or another. Not that it mattered, their secrets would never leave their caves. Quinn's silence bought with promises that he would help him find Theresa. A promise he intended to keep, doubly so since Jessamine was worried about her as well. He didn't know how things would work out when the twins were reunited, but he would deal with that when the time came.

    And Hewlett...

    Dael tapped his fingers on his desk impatiently. Staring into one of his closest friends eyes. He hated this aspect of his job. They'd trained together, worked together, and Hewlett had always been someone he could rely on. One of his most loyal crew-members. And now, he had to find a fitting punishment.

    "You know I don't want to do this, right?"

    Hewlett sighed, running his cuffed hands down his face wearily. It had been a long day. the caves seemed almost like a memory, even though they had only emerged early that morning.
    "Don't kid yourself. You know you'd love to plant a fist in my face right now."

    Dael chuckled, leaning back in his chair and giving it an idle twirl. Not very captain-like, but he couldn't bring himself to care in front of Hewlett any more. The man knew he was planning on committing treason, and murder in cold blood.
    "Military rules are very clear on your actions. You defied a direct order from a superior officer, and spied on a fellow crew-member. Who also happens to be a superior officer." Her rank was technically higher then his.
    "Suspension, without pay."

    Hewlett nodded grimly. He'd seen it coming, though he couldn't help the relief that he wasn't being dishonorably discharged. Dael was picking the lightest of the punishments.

    "I can't tell you for how long, but I'll need you to turn in your military identification." The words were a formality, Hewlett's identification was already on the desk between them. Next to the keys to Hewlett's cuffs. Dael trusted Hewlett not to make a run for it, and Hewlett appreciated that trust. As damned backwards as it was. "But I have a job for you, Hewlett."

    Hewlett looked up, brows knitted together in confusion. He stopped his plans to go visit his parents.
    "A job? Sir..." Dael shook his head, cutting off the words.

    "I can't go through normal military channels for this, Hewlett. And I won't say it's risk free... this is me asking you as a friend. I need to find that ship." He didn't have to say which one, they both knew. Comprehension dawned on Hewlett's face. "Of course, I'll wire the funds you'll need directly into your account. And you may wish to speak to Jessamine before you leave... but I hope you'll help."

    "Like I could say no." He still felt responsible, in part, for Jessie's plight. Sure, Thatcher would have found some way to get a wire in her room, but Hewlett had made it easy for him.

    "Good." Dael nodded, standing from his chair with a salute. "Then I'm going to head up to the bridge. Take what you need from the ship Hewlett." They exchanged a nod, and Dael walked out. Leaving Hewlett with the keys to his own cuffs, and his identification. He would need it, for some clout with the more resistant informants.

    4th Month, 10th Day.


    "...never seen anything like it!" Someone exclaimed from nearby. Jessie rolled her head, trying to find the source, but she was too tired. The next time she woke up, she heard bits and pieces about where her comrades were. So far, no one had come to put her in cuffs. Hewlett had been though. A medical worker had seen it happen.

    "Crystal, mhm." Someone affirmed. This was the third time she felt some bit of consciousness, her bones were sore and her chest felt oddly free of pain. It was too comfortable this time, and she gripped the sheets from under her. When she inhaled, she caught the scent of something familiar. Flowers. On her bedside table was a fresh bouquet of flowers. Jessie waved her hand, swirling the water with alchemy from the bed, finding nothing intrusive any longer. Whatever crystal had once been inside was gone now.

    "She's awake." The voice was familiar this time. Doctor Freemont leaned over Jessie nervously, waiting for her to crack a joke or at least say something. Jessie stayed quiet, finding it much too difficult to do anything. "Tessa? You've been asleep for two days."

    "Two...?" She mumbled weakly. The doctor helped Jessie sit up in her quarters, fluffing some pillows for her.

    "Yes. The report said it took you a day to get out of the caves, and I've been monitoring you now for a while." The doctor waved whoever else was in the room away and checked the room for something, although Jessie was unsure of what. After her careful examination she threw down a pile of medical records on Jessie's bedside table. "Jessamine."

    The girl smiled. What was one more person? It seemed by the time they took off, the whole crew would know her true identity. Doctor Freemont smiled in return and sat at Jessie's side. She placed a warm hand over Jessie's, rubbing it lightly. Of course she would know, she had access to medical records dating back to the time the Astor twins were children.

    "Where's Dael? And Quinn, Hewlett?" Jessie asked. "I want to talk to them."

    "And you can, but only when I figure out why your skeletal system is suddenly reinforced with crystal." Doctor Freemont arched her eyebrows in surprise. "I've never seen anything like it, what exactly happened down there?"

    "...I'd like to talk to Dael, please." Jessie requested. "I'm not sure if I'm supposed to talk about it."

    Doctor Freemont had to hold back a smile. Dael would certainly be happy to hear that. It had been difficult keeping him out of the room every time she needed to do an examination. He was as stubborn as a rock- and it was easy to see how worried he was abut this girl. He'd told her the girls identity, soon after they realized the changes that she had undergone. And she had sworn she would never tell another soul. It might be pushing it a little bit, but she could claim doctor patient confidentiality.

    "Alright. He's probably waiting just outside anyways." He was always there when it came to the Astor girl. Doctor Freemont gave Jessamine's hand one last comforting pat before leaving the room, her voice- muffled by the wall between them- quickly growing closer. She re-emerged with Dael, who was looking particularly sheepish. His hair was mussed, like he'd been running his fingers through it far too much, and the dark circles under his eyes gave away his sleeplessness. But they lit up when he saw Jessamine awake.

    "You really should know better. You have plenty of work that needs to be done." Her scolding fell on deaf ears as Dael took the seat next to Jessie's bed, replacing the doctors hand with his own. He was past the point of caring- the Doctor knew, in any case.

    "I'll try to be good, Doctor." She shook her head at his assurances, and made her way back to her office to give them some privacy. She wouldn't be able to hear their conversation if they were quiet, but she would be close enough if they needed help.

    "Don't let her move around too much. We need to figure out exactly what this is before she can be considered fit for duty again." And then the door closed behind her, and they were alone.

    "How are you?" Dael's smile was warm. It was good to see her awake once more.

    Jessie got up on her knees, tackling Dael in a warm embrace. She tucked her head into his neck and let the blonde hair of hers tickle his nose while she rocked them both from side to side. It was so good to see him, after all that'd happened she was pleased to know he'd been trying to visit with her. So it wasn't just a moment of passion in the caves, he cared for her, and she'd have to get used to that.

    "How am I?" She choked. "Daeleron Christopher Cooper, how am I?"

    Recently it seemed Jessie had been letting more of her emotions loose, and she liked it. Liked him, maybe loved him, too. He'd admitted it and the crystal entity they encountered knew if he was lying. Dael wasn't. He really, truly loved her.

    "That's the best question you can ask me?" Jessie teased.

    She pulled her face from his neck, curling up so she might settle against his chest. It was far more comfortable than the bed, she could feel it sinking from how long she'd been laying there. This way she could listen to his heartbeat.

    "I've got crystal bones now." She announced. More curiously, she asked. "Why is that?"

    Dael returned her embrace easily, grateful that he could wrap both arms around her now. She still smelled like the caves, and dust. But she also smelled like her, and that was more then enough for him as he buried his face in her golden locks. He'd been so scared that she would run from him. His laughter rumbled in his chest, and his voice was husky when he replied.

    "I could do better I suppose." His eyes closed, and he just...held her. Just for a moment. "As for the bones, it probably has something to do with the crown. I don't care. I'm just glad that you're safe and whole again. It was starting to feel like you'd never recover." She seemed accident prone. Or a magnet for trouble. There was always one crisis or another- it kept him on his toes, and his heart on a string... but he wouldn't have it any other way.

    "How about this." Dael tipped her chin up with two fingers, carefully pressing his lips to the corner of her mouth. "May I kiss you, dear lady?" His eyes sparkled with mirth. He hadn't felt this good in a while. "Is that a better question?"

    There was no need to ask a silly question such as Dael's. Jessie's lips were hard on him before she could voice her permission. It wasn't necessary, but it was a better question. She was fine, perfect now that he was at her side again. They'd both be alright and they'd survived the horror of the caves, Jessie with a bonus crystal skeleton and Dael with her. They had each other.

    "That's better, Dael Cooper." She breathed against his lips. Jessie tugged on his lower lip before capturing them, completely intoxicated the moment he walked in the room.

    He cares for me.

    The act alone was more than she could say for anyone in her past. Her sister probably hated her, her father for certain never wanted to see her again. Nordy was on her death list, and the only people who held high enough value to be considered family were miles away. Clint, Deik, Will, her whole crew was waiting for her. However, Dael was here. Right here in her arms.

    "I'm still tired." Jessie mentioned. "But, you can just tell Doctor Freemont that you're keeping a watchful eye on me, right? Dael, I don't really remember what happened in the caves, after I stepped in the, for the sake of the story, you might have to tell me."

    She rubbed the back of her neck sheepishly. It was hard to remember what had happened after the crystal being had slammed itself into her stomach. The pain overwhelmed her, and everything after, mostly everything after, was a blur.

    Dael groaned against her lips, drawn forwards when she pulled away. Like magnets, he only barely kept himself in check. What that woman did to him...

    "As far as everyone else knows, the crown swore us to secrecy. There is no talking about what happened that night. But if you must know, then I suppose I'll have to tell you." He squeezed her waist, tugging her back into him with demanding force. "But I can promise you, that if you keep kissing me like that we won't get very much talking done." Dael buried his face in her neck, to try and cool his ardor. He didn't want to scare her away, but it was very hard to resist with her lips on his and her moving in his lap like that.

    "You will be the end of me." But somehow, Dael didn't sound too distressed.

    Chapter Eleven


    4th Month, 10th Day


    They'd been in the air for six days, having left on the fourth from Joywood. It was no pleasant trip, as they got further north the air crisped around them, leaving the Rebel crew scorned and freezing on the deck. Rodney looked especially glum, he'd grown up on the outskirts of a desert, and being in the frigid temperatures of the North did not sit well with the Westerner. What little was already seen of him, he was all but nonexistent now, retreated to his quarters for every meeting necessary, only coming to the commons to eat, taking several meals at a time.

    Clint didn't particularly mind the cold. His home was just off the coast, and he was used to rainy days just as much as foggy or sunny ones. He hadn't seen snow there, in Farnworth, but it became more common the closer they got to Edinburgh. It was just on the border of the Summer and Winter fort line, where the air was coldest and the ground constantly in a state of permafrost.

    "There've been sightings of ships from the Alexandrian fleet." Deik reported, albeit lazily, as the pair of men sat together on the deck. They were the only ones who really didn't seem to mind the shift in temperature. For Deik, it was actually quite nice. He was born in Finnigan, one of the closest towns to the North.

    "Any news otherwise?" Clint asked.

    "No. We're a bit behind schedule, another two days, tops. If we work through the night we'll get there in barely one." Deik informed Clint. The crew never seemed to mind staying in the belly of the ship, it was warm there, and working the engine would be preferable to sleeping in cold quarters.

    "Then we do it." Clint shrugged. "The faster we can get there, the better."

    "Aye aye, Captain." Deik snickered, Clint groaned. He hated being called Captain, it really didn't suit him. "Where's our little Astor girl?"

    Clint's frown turned into a huge grin as he pointed up into the bird's nest of the ship. "I told her to take your place up top, someone has to look out for the fleet." Deik punched Clint playfully in the arm, it wasn't his fault Clint wanted to talk to him so damn much, at least talk as much as Clint usually did. "It was either that, or scrape the ice off the deck, without alchemy."

    "You're too cruel." Deik laughed.

    "I'd better go check on her anyways. She knows more about the damned fleet than I do." Clint huffed. He got up from his place on the deck and headed towards the tallest of the only two masts. As quickly as he could he clambered into the bird's nest and pulled himself up. It was times like that he missed Jessie's ability to walk on air, something he'd never taken to.

    "Tess, see anything?" He asked casually.

    Tessa smiled at Clint, her cheeks rosy from the cold wind. It made her eyes even bluer, in comparison to the grey sky. She had managed to find a woolen hat somewhere- pulling it down over her blonde curls in an attempt to keep warm. Bundled up in several layers she looked... much rounder. Tessa didn't take very well to the cold.

    "No ships. But look, you can see the snowflakes forming from up here." She directed her gaze upwards, to the low hanging grey clouds. This close, they almost seemed to sparkle with the formation of ice crystals and snowflakes. Tessa lifted her hands to catch one of the falling flakes, watching it melt into a single droplet of water in her palm. But that was cold. She immediately lifted her frozen fingers to her lips and blew on them, rubbing her palms together to try and generate some friction.

    "I feel like we're close though. I don't really have a reason but..." It was just like when they were younger. The twins had always known when the other was hurt, as long as they were close by. It may have been years since she had been together with her sister, but she had this feeling of warmth. She couldn't explain it. It kind of felt like... hope. "I know she's safe. And soon, we'll be there to get her out."

    "Give me your hands." Clint coaxed her freezing fingers into his large hands, which weren't very warm either. "Just wait."

    He traced his thumbs against her skin, waiting for her body's responses to kick in. Clint watched, waited, he knew what was going to happen and he wanted to see how she reacted. He'd triggered a function in the body which sent more heat to her hands, pulling it away from her chest for the time being. In the long run it was a poor exchange, to trick the body into thinking it was warmer than it really was, redistributing heat into the proper areas.

    "Bioalchemy is the only thing I can do, I never learned anything else." He mentioned.

    Bioalchemy was the only trade he knew, and he'd use it to give her a few minutes of warmth if she was to be stuck in the clouds. He stopped tracing on her hands, looking into her eyes to wait for that reaction. When he'd tried it on Jessie for the first time she laughed, finding it to be counterintuitive to the body's functions. For the winter months it could mean the difference of all digits on his hands and feet.

    "We'll get her back. I promised you, didn't I?" He honestly couldn't remember, but if he hadn't said anything he was now. Jessie had to come back, although Tessa's company wasn't bad at all. He'd grown used to her walking around deck, where some still saw her as Jessie. Clint could tell though, they had a different pace, Tessa had dimples Jessie didn't. Their eyes glowed in different hues, and Tessa had more passion at times, she knew what she wanted.

    He liked that.

    "I'm sure Jessie would want you to stay, for a while." Clint suggested. Although, he still wasn't sure if it was his own words, or him taking over for the Captain. Either way, a few more weeks, months of traveling with her? It wouldn't be so bad. Not at all.

    Her fingers tingled as warmth flooded back into them- and while the alchemy was probably the main perpetrator... She couldn't deny that his fingers, wrapped around her own, helped. Even her face warmed- and she prayed that the pink on her cheeks from the cold would be more then enough to hide her blush. Her grin turned shy as she met his eyes.

    "That you did." She was sure he'd promised it at some point. But she couldn't recall off the top of her head- her thoughts were coming up disturbingly blank. Blank save the warmth of those brown eyes.

    They'd been getting along well, for the last couple of days. She was sure the crew noticed, it was hard not to when their exchanges didn't end with one or the other stalking off in a rage. She'd hadn't even heard any more over-turned furniture from the room beside hers. A good thing, in her opinion. He didn't have much furniture left to lose.

    "I'm glad you're here." A sudden impulse for honesty made her admit, and she tugged at her fingers sheepishly. He probably didn't want to hear that- she was just a navy officer on his ship. "I mean, I'm sure Jessie would want to have me here-" Her words were cut off by something flying into her face, grey brown wings fluttering impatiently as she reeled back and snatched at the irritation. Her hand clipped one clay wing, sending it flying into the basket of the crows nest. One wing cracked off, and it twitched pathetically in her direction.

    Tessa's mouth went dry, and she dove for the clay bird. She recognized this work. Another message. She ripped at the clay container impatiently, her fingers shaking as she spread the sheet out in front of her.


    I don't even now how to start this... Well, I guess I should start with Jessamine. You're probably driving yourself crazy with worry. But she's here, and she's safe. Better then ever, in fact. That girl really knows which friends to make, that's for sure. She really does remind me of you in ways, but I'm kicking myself for not seeing it sooner.

    Please just... let me know you're safe, somehow. I'll watch out for her, for you, and of course Dael (That's Captain Dael Cooper) probably won't let his eyes off of the girl. Lovesick. Can you imagine that? Shit... I probably shouldn't have even told you that much but... Look out for yourself, and come back home quickly. I don't know what you're out there for- but it's probably some selfless bullshit that'll only get you in trouble. Be selfish for once.

    Captain Cooper's sent out one of his men to find you. I hope that if you get this, you'll look for him too. He should be able to help you. Guy named Hewlett. We're north east of Edinburgh. Maybe about a days flight. But don't talk to anyone else. Only four of us know. We'll take it to the grave.

    I just... I just want you back, Tess.

    Come home.


    "Golemancy?" Clint muttered. He traced runes over her hand again to turn off the body's unnatural reaction. The only thing keeping her warm now was his hands, at least until she pulled them away. The small bird had been carrying a note, and she read it without a word.

    It didn't look good. At the very least he had to assume it really was for her, from what he knew about golemancy. The sender had to have something of hers to get it so far away, and here the bird was, flapping awkwardly away on the ground. The first order of business was to fix it. Clint gathered the pieces in his hands and did his best to mend the creature. It was still almost like fixing a real bird, he told himself, it was living in a way, so the repair didn't look so bad.

    He skimmed the note over her shoulder, whoever wrote it had strong feelings for her. Something dropped in the pit of Clint's stomach, and he leaned away to give her some privacy.

    "It's from their crew, isn't it?" He asked. "Tessa?"

    Carefully, he reached for her hand. Their time was coming to a close, and yet, he felt like he hadn't gotten to know her as well as he'd liked. She wasn't all bad, just on the wrong side for Clint.

    It felt like maybe she could mend that hole in his heart, a Navy girl fixing all the wrong that had been done to him in his life. She wouldn't replace Melissa, or his son, mother or father, friends, but she was trying to do some honest good at that was all the proof he needed. Clint laced his fingers in hers, hoping she wouldn't say anything about it, just keeping working forward.

    A wide grin spread across Tessa's lips, growing wider every second as she read, then re-read the note. Jessie was safe- and not only were they on the right track, they'd been nearly spot on with their estimate. A day and a half away. Two, if they were slowed down by anything. And then Jessie would be safe. Really safe, back where she wanted to be.

    "Clint! She's okay!" She gave his hand a return squeeze, turning to hug him joyfully. Jessie's safe, she's okay! It was like a mantra in her head. She'd never really doubted it, but just knowing left her feeling giddy.
    "She's safe- and we're so close!"

    Tessa pulled back, eyes reading over the note again as though she couldn't really believe it herself. She'd made it. Joy bubbled in her chest, forcing it's way out of her in the form of laughter. She let go of Clint's hand to jump up and wrap her arms around his neck. She just... couldn't think of any other way to truly express herself.

    Clint had to be happy for her. She was getting what she wanted, her sister would come home, a good man was looking for her. Hell, there wasn't another thing she could've asked for.

    She threw herself on Clint and he slipped onto his back awkwardly. Bubbling laughter made its way to her chest, and he echoed the noise. He couldn't really be upset about her happiness, he was just so happy for her, and Jessie would be coming back soon. It was a good day indeed. Clint wrapped his arms around Tessa's back, the golem bird in his hand, finding that he shouldn't let go just yet.

    "We're almost there." He chuckled. It was such a rare emotion for him to be happy about anything, and he was smiling beneath Tessa's frame.

    "Everyone to their stations, move, now! Clint, where the fuck are ya?" Deik's voice rang out in the air, shouted from a makeshift megaphone he crafted from his hands. "Incoming!"

    From seemingly nowhere a Republic striker came out of the clouds. They'd had problems with these kinds of ships in the past, their small size allowing them the same maneuvering skill as the Taivas, but their firepower was far more advanced. A massive cannon was mounted on the back, firing wildly towards the enemy Rebel ship. On deck, the crew was going wild, trying to mount a counter attack before it got too bad. The cold wasn't where they wanted to be, and the air was still thick with snow.

    The entire vessel rocked in the air, throwing Clint and Tessa in the birds nest. He wrapped his arms around her defensively to spare her from the jostling. They slammed into the small wall, but not before another attack on the ship, sending them flying into the opposite side. He feared they'd be thrown in the air if they couldn't get down to the deck.

    "Tessa, hang on to me, we're going do-" Clint started to say when another shot met the ship. Panic ensued as it spiraled out of control, this time throwing them both from the nest entirely.

    Clint panicked, Tessa fell away from him despite his grip and he struggled to reach his hands out to grab hers. They were falling fast, nothing but blankets of snow and a vast array of mountains to meet them now. The ship was the least of his concerns, but it too was falling, far away from the pair in the birds nest.


    She couldn't breath. The sky that had seemed so welcoming before, now seemed menacing. The gentle grey clouds, slowly forming ice crystals, were now a great looming abyss- spinning in her eyes as the world flipped and rotated- making her stomach turn with it and her eyes clench shut.

    The wind stole the breath from her lungs, whipping against her cheeks with a sting like a thousand tiny knives- her hat flew off, releasing a tumble of curls that snatched and yanked in the merciless wind and- Oh god, she didn't want to die-


    Tessa's eyes snapped open, narrowed against the torrent of wind and snow- looking for that familiar head of dark hair. He was so close- if she reached out she could almosttouch- as soon as their fingers met, he pulled her into him, wrapping his arms around her. And then they were falling together, tumbling through the falling snow at an alarming pace. Gods, if only she had some kind of booster, or alchemy to give her wings-

    "Clint!" She had to yell over the whistling of the wind, the ground was approaching fast and they would need to be quick. She squirmed in his arms until he was holding her from behind, his arms wrapped around her stomach.
    "Whatever you do- don't let go!"

    She fumbled at her waist for Jessie's guns- Jess and Tess. She held the fire gun carefully in her hands, forcing the alchemy into it with no subtlety. She prayed that it would be able to hold on. Just a few more seconds.

    She clenched her eyes shut against the blinding gout of flames- her stomach twisting as they floated for a brief moment.

    Their second fall was much shorter- and much less deadly.

    Clint's arms were still wrapped around her, his back in the snow. It fell about them, moving on despite their crashing down, nothing else was in sight but those white specks floating down to earth. He opened his eyes just as one small piece tipped against his eyelash. It stung beyond measure, all of him hurt.

    He groaned, shifting in the snow. It fell off him in chunks, like they'd been laying there for a while. They probably had been. The sky was darker and the air colder than before, if at all possible. Even so they'd fallen quite a ways from up above, so for it to still be cold, a considerable amount of time had to have passed. He just couldn't tell what time it was though.

    "Tessa." He breathed. Something was broken, he could tell automatically, but Clint could wait.

    The rebel gripped her tight around the waist, his other hand sliding up until it found her chest. He left his hand there, examining her without being too intrusive. Clint's alchemy made its way through her system, finding cracked bones, broken ones, all sorts of problems. There were certainly plenty between the two of them. He thanked his lucky stars for have studied bioalchemy, any longer, and they'd both be dead.

    Clint slid out from under Tessa and immediately pulled his leather jacked off himself. It wasn't much, but she could absorb the small amount of heat from it while he worked on her. He placed his hand back on her chest, lowering his face to whisper in her ear.

    "If it hurts, just take my hand." Clint ordered her. "Break it, just don't let go. Don't let go, Tessa."

    He leaned over her in a protective stance. No one was dying on his watch, not when he was able to help. Clint cursed and thanked the Gods all in one collective breath. Then, when he was ready, he mended her bones. If she hadn't experienced bioalchemy before, it was going to hurt.

    "Stay with me."

    Cold. She'd always hated the cold. It always stung at first, like she'd pressed her skin against thousands of needles. And then it burned, like the time she'd accidentally set her jacket on fire. Her skin singing, and bubbling, and finally granting her the blissful relief of pure numbness.She could probably lay there forever, numb to the world, snowflakes lazily drifting before her eyes, if only she wasn't so cold.

    She made a sound of protest as Clint moved beneath her, too weak to do much more then that. Her arms felt like noodles, and everything was just one giant ache. Warmth settled over her chest.

    "...mmm... Clint..?" Her tongue felt thick in her mouth, and she could barely keep her eyes open. She scrunched her nose, turning her head to the side and away from his ticklish breath. "' tickles. Why would I let go...?" She could barely understand his words, but she did understand one thing. Her hand blindly groped for his.

    "What... That feels weird.." It started as a shifting beneath her skin, the hair on the back of her neck lifted at the strange sensation. Was he healing her? Well that wasn't so-

    Something in her chest cracked, and for just a moment, her breathing stopped. Fire swept through her, setting all of her nerves alight. Her hand tightened against his, and a whimper tore from her throat.

    On the next one, she screamed. But she didn't let go.

    "Just hold on." He urged her.

    Her face contorted in pain, and then she screamed. It was horrible. Clint couldn't stop, didn't stop for that matter, as he had to finish the task at hand. He kept his hand on her chest, the other wrapped around hers. The contact would help to distract her from the pain of mending. At least, that's what he hoped it would do. A soothing hand was more often appreciated than not.

    "A little longer." Clint pleaded with her to hold on to him. She could break his hand, dig nails into his skin, that was all easily mended. Her bones would be sore, her whole body sore, but she had to be tended to before one of them blacked out, and it certainly wasn't going to be her. Not after all this time they'd spent looking for Jessie. It wasn't fair. Clint knew how to deal with the stress of broken limbs, she didn't, it was evident on her face.

    It was an hour, maybe two, before Clint was done. As soon as he was sure Tessa was mostly whole, he released himself from her systems and dropped lazily at her side. He grunted, remembering his own broken body. For her though, he had to stay awake. If it took too large a toll on her body, she'd be out like a light with no one to protect her. So Clint forced himself to sit up in the snow, moving was an impossibility, and he cradled the girl in his arms. What little warmth he could offer up as a second person, he sent her way, rocking back and forth so that she might find rest.

    "We're gonna be okay." He repeated like a mantra. "We're gonna be just fine."

    Tessa nearly drifted off, wrapped in his arms and exhausted- mentally and physically from the forced healing. Her bones ached down to their very marrows, but now she was comfortable, and there was no way she wasn't safe with him there. She didn't know how Jessie managed it, breaking so many bones when they were younger and seeing the healer. Jessie. A bolt of alarm shot through her.

    Jessie, Jessie, Jessie. No, that's not right. Why was she worried, Jessie was safe, Quinn had told her so. So why was she worried? Jessie...Jessie...


    There it was. But he was here with her. And she was safe- her eyes opened to snow, through the curtain of dark hair that must have tumbled out of it's normal tie during the fall. The fall. She could feel herself slowly becoming more alert, her eyes blinked wider as she tipped her face back to look at him.

    "You're bleeding...Clint." She reached up one hand tentatively, lightly touching his temple where the blood was stemming from. Leather slid off of her arm.
    "what just...? Christ- Clint, you're freezing!" His jacket was wrapped around her- she tried shrugging it off around her arms, but her body wouldn't move the way she told it to.

    Clint opened his eyes. He was too exhausted keeping them that way, but he hadn't fallen asleep. His hair brushed over his face, indeed having lost the tie which normally kept it back. It was oily and wet from both the days without a decent shower and the snow all around them, flecks of it remained in between his dark locks.

    "I've been regulating my t-t-temperature." Clint's teeth chattered together. Alright he was cold, but he hadn't properly healed himself yet, so a bit of cold would be fine. Once he mended his own bones he'd feel a little better. "I'm f-fine."

    He looked around, finding that the only thing he could see was the white of the mountaintop. The range wasn't all that large from what he remembered. Clint tried to get a decent bearing of where they were, scanning his memory for how close they'd gotten to Edinburgh. They'd taken a bit of a longer route, trying to stay far from the coasts near Edinburgh. Republic ships were sent there on a daily basis for patrol, some coming all the way from Lindon, a trip which took a month and a half by air, at least with the Taivas. There were always faster means of transportation. In any case, he pushed the thought aside and went back to triangulating a location.

    "Northwest of Suttenden...West of Cast-termary." Clint stuttered with the cold. "We need shelter."

    Clint turned his head around again. The blaring white snow greeted him once more, but this time he was looking for a dash of gray. Anything which might show the mountain's bare face. If they had the mountain to work with, he could at least work on forming a shelter of snow. A small igloo was better than facing the wind at every minute.

    "T-Tessa." He looked back at her in his arms, trying desperately to give him his coat back. He wouldn't have it. "I need you to help me, we n-need to f-f-ind."

    It was no use. His teeth would stop chattering the longer they sat there. Clint couldn't stand, he needed Tessa to find somewhere safe to hide before he even thought about healing himself. He'd be out, just like she was, and there'd be no hope of staying remotely warm.

    The longer she was awake, the quicker she could feel her energy returning. She was still exhausted, but she could help. She took Clint's hands in her own, pressed her lips to his frozen fingers- trying to bring some semblance of warmth back into them as she let the alchemy flow through her hands. It was a trick Quinn had taught her- she could never quite perform it as well as him, but even a small bit could mean the difference between life and death.

    Heat flowed through her hands, at first in small trickles, and then in an even stream. When she was finished, she was panting. She was far too tired for this- but it was necessary.

    "Sorry... just... give me a moment..." She closed her eyes- only for a second. She was afraid if she rested too long she might never wake up. With the snow bearing down on them, and what looked like a storm on the horizon, they needed to find shelter. Just like he'd said.

    "Take- take your jacket back. Heal yourself. I'll think of s-something." She shrugged out of the leather jacket, instantly feeling colder as the engulfing leather parted from her body. She wouldn't take no for an answer- and tried as best she could to drape it over his broad shoulders.

    They needed some way to find a cave, or build out of snow... she started running over every single bit of Alchemy she and Jessie had ever thought of- everything she knew about water and ice.

    Clint was insistent she keep his coat, but, he could refuse when he was so cold now. She draped it easily over his shoulders and he huddled in the warmth he'd stolen from her. His hands were at least heated from her kiss.

    All he could do was wait, and watch. He peered through the snow around them desperately in need of a shelter of some kind. Just when he was about to give up and lay back, he spotted a patch of gray. It was no cave, but, it'd make one side of a shelter a whole lot easier. Clint tugged on Tessa's sleeve and pointed to the disappearing spot. The snow made it impossible to keep track of the one small slab of stone.

    "T-there, do you see it-t?" Clint jabbed his frozen finger in the direction of the slab. It wasn't too far away, she could make it on her own. "We can b-b-build against it, block out th-th-e wind"

    Clint would've sent her alone had it been any other, less snow capped, situation. Instead, they'd have to both make it, or neither would. He pressed his hands to his legs and forced them to be anything but broken. A full fix would have taken longer. Just leaving them sprained was good enough for him.

    "C-c-come on."

    They helped each other to their feet, Tessa leaning on Clint just as much as much as he was leaning on her. Their progress was staggered- halting. Every time one of them would stumble in the snow, they would have to pause. Help each other back up.

    Tessa was ready to drop, by the time they reached the bare expanse of stone. It was smaller then she'd thought- it had been further then she'd thought. It was colder, then she'd thought. All she wanted to do was fall into the snow, and close her eyes. Drift away. It would be a peaceful death, at least. The cold would numb the pain. But she couldn't abandon Jessie... and...

    Her eyes found the dark haired man beside her.

    She collapsed against the cold stone wall, sketching runes in the frost. Even with her palm laid across the sigils, she couldn't find the energy to make the alchemy work.

    She needed more power. He knife was easy to slide out of it's boot strap- she couldn't believe it hadn't fallen out during their tumble. And when it slid across her hand, it bled sluggishly. Too slow, for a wound of that size. She was too cold. Retracing the runes in blood, gave it enough power to start. Stacking blocks of snow around them, blocking off the relentless wind and snow.

    Her eyes closed. She just needed to rest, for a little bit. She was only going to close her eyes for a second...

    Clint was immediately on her once more, healing the cut to her hand. Blood wasn't something he could replace or fix, and if she lost too much it'd only be a quicker death. He placed his hand over hers, healed the cut, and pulled her back into the safety of his arms with his back against the rock face of the mountain.

    She closed her eyes, and that was it. Tessa was asleep in his arms, but at least they were warm. Clint held her in the same fashion as before, tucking her legs up into his arms along with the rest of her. It'd be uncomfortable for him to sit there, her feet jabbing into his thigh, but someone had to stay awake.

    He hummed a tune, nothing noteworthy of remembering, so that he might not drift off. No, he had to stay awake.

    Clint could feel the temperature rising inside their igloo. There was still no way he was about to rid either of them of any clothing. It was far too cold to consider. Skin to skin contact would've helped the process, but Clint was too humble to allow it. For both parties.

    "Just sleep." He urged her, no problem in that. Her eyes were already closed.

    Everything was sore, sore and stiff- no doubt from the position she'd slept in. She woke with a groan, burying her face into the warmth at her side. She couldn't recall ever falling asleep like...

    Her eyes snapped open, and she nearly fell out of Clints lap in her scramble to sit up. The wind was still howling outside of their little snow shelter, but it was warm. Especially wrapped in Clints arms. It was also very, very wet. Their combined heat had begun melting the inner surface of their little shelter- and the snow had no doubt melted on their clothes.

    "...mmmff. I'd hoped this was just a nightmare." Her jaw cracked in a yawn, and she finally turned her attention to Clint. His hair was messy, hanging in his face in limp strands, dark circles dominated his eyes making them look sunken and pained..

    "You haven't slept yet." It was more of a statement then a question. She tentatively reached up one hand to touch his cheek. "You saved my life..."

    "Of course I did." He sighed. Clint was tired. Tessa had slept for hours on end, and he'd done nothing but hum through the night. "You're Jessie's sister, and she'd beat me sore if I let you die here."

    Of course, it was less for Jessie and a little more for himself. He'd let so many die before, he couldn't bear to ever lose someone again. It was his own damn fault, and while normally he'd be angry for trying so hard to keep his crew alive, all he had to worry about was one blonde headed Navy girl. There was a part of him which couldn't let her go. He wouldn't let her die when he was right there.

    He relished in her warmth. She was fine, her systems operating normally, but Clint was not. Now that she was awake he didn't feel guilty about taking time to mend his wounds.

    "Scoot off me." He said. "And you stay awake, I need to fix myself now."

    Clint tried to laugh, but instead he had a coughing fit. He forgot about the ribs. They were so easy to miss. He placed a hand over his own chest, assessing his vital organs, checking on bones and muscle. A lot of it was broken, a lot of him needed repair. There was just only so much he could fix by himself. Slowly, he began to heal, his face never contorted into a foul expression. He was too used to the pain associated with bioalchemy's fast repairs. His face did begin to sweat, skin a sick pale color the longer it dragged on.

    "We need to stay together for warmth, do you understand?" He asked through clenched teeth. "I need you to stay next to me."

    Don't go.

    Maybe it meant something else.

    "Like you could get rid of me. You tried that, remember?" She was only teasing, trying to lighten the heavy atmosphere that had fallen over them like a thick blanket. It was hard to believe that only a few weeks ago he was threatening to kick her off. And now... Well, she wasn't quite sure what they were now. Not enemies, not anymore.

    Still, separated from his body heat, she could feel the chill of the icy walls overcoming her. Her clothes clung to her, stiffening in the cool air as the water frosted. She couldn't imagine how he was feeling- healing himself like that. How long had he stayed vigil? Why had he looked after her first, forgoing even healing himself until she'd woken up?

    "Let me help.." She didn't know bioalchemy, but she could give him the energy he needed. She placed her hands over his, and let the alchemy flow through her hands again. She was rested, he was not. And she was not going to let him die- no matter what. She thanked Quinn, for teaching her how to transfer energy. She'd never thought that one day it might save someones life.

    "No!" Clint urged her away, but he knew what would happen if he stopped the process. So did Jessie, but that was a story the two had yet to share. He wasn't going to be happy, hearing that one. If he stopped his wounds would only worsen, stuck in a half healed state, in which some bones were still moving and protruding into the mix of muscle and skin.

    What she was doing was a form of bioalchemy, whether she knew it or not. It was a difficult task as well, and Clint was honestly surprised to see that she knew how to transfer energy. It was a deeper skill within the alchemy of bioalchemy. Some people never learned how to transfer their energies, but once a person was shown how they never forgot. Many top tier alchemists knew the transfer runes, and saved them in binds. Clint knew it, Jessie knew it, but beyond that he'd never met anyone with the aptitude.

    But, as he said, there was no stopping once the process began and so he had to accept her energy.

    "Where did you learn to do that?" He asked, teeth still clenched in pain as he fixed a rough patch in his shoulder. There was still blood on his temples, but no open wounds. "Do you even know how difficult that alchemy is to produce? It took Jessie three months to get it right."

    "Three months?" Tessa chanced a brief glance at his eyes, warm, brown- she refocused on her hands, sorting through her thoughts amidst the jumble of alchemical formulae.

    "Heh, it was the golemancer. The one who sent me that note. Quinn." She thought to add. Had she ever talked about her friends before? Had he? She knew about his family, and the tragic massacre that was his hometown... but had they ever traded happy stories?
    "It was a trick he learned to transfer energy into his golems. We both favor the fire element so... I guess it was pretty easy for me to get the hang of once he explained it." Tessa tried for a smile, slowing the rate of energy transfer to a small trickle, before ending their contact.

    "Sorry, I still can't do it for very long..."

    "I'm just amazed to see someone else doing it." Clint admitted. "Having the same affinities would"

    He threw his head to the side, letting out a long and pained groan. Most of his body was repaired, bones back in place, and muscles happy to be in working order, but that didn't mean he wasn't sore. While happy to be healed, he was in pain still. That was the downside to bioalchemy on the spot. There was nothing to shut out the pain up in the mountain, he could bite on a chunk of ice but that wouldn't get him very far.

    "Don't do that again." He scolded her. "It takes too much from you."

    Clint reached out one of his hands, sending a quick jolt of energy her way. After years of practice he was much faster at the transfer than Tessa, it was easier to determine how much he was giving away as well. He could put percents on things, gauge how his body would react. Tessa didn't need to give him anything. They were still stuck on the mountain.

    "Now please, come here you Republic bastard." He laughed, a pained smile on his face, but a smile all the same. "I'm cold."

    She was more then willing. More then willing to tuck herself back into the protection of his arms- she had started shaking again in the brief time they'd been apart. It was strange how comfortable it felt- it was a matter of life or death, certainly, but...

    Well, in any other situation, she might have enjoyed the contact for what it was. contact. Tessa wouldn't even remember if she'd been held like this before.

    "I guess I s-should leave it up to the experts, shouldn't I?" Tessa tucked her head into his shoulder- pressing her nose up against his neck. She wondered where they would go from here.
    "What I wouldn't give to be dry again." She couldn't help but chuckle. Wouldn't that be the dream- to be warm and dry.

    "Christ!" Clint jolted away from Tessa when her nose made contact with his neck. "That's cold!"

    He shivered madly before settling back with his arms around her. So long as she didn't brush her nose against him again, he'd settle for being curled up with her. Even if she was Republic. That was long in the past between them, it hardly mattered really. There was still one more thing he could do though. She wanted to be dry, right? That was something he could do.

    Clint gripped the edge of her clothes, waiting a few moments before muttering a few words. He didn't want to explain how, but, he pulled the water away from her overall and sent it into that one spot on her clothes. It was sort of like osmosis, he thought, it was the only way to explain it. He pulled all the water from her clothes and let it settle in one spot. While it wasn't dry, it was a start.

    That was all he could do before slumping against her. His head fell on hers, lips parted in a silent snore. He'd spent a day healing and mending their bodies, he deserved some goddamn rest. Clint sat back, gripping for the locket around his neck before drifting off. Be it the cold or the exhaustion, he almost didn't notice.

    It's gone.

    He bolted right back up, smacking at his chest. Clint panicked. It was gone. Gone! "No!" He spat. "No, I can't, no, fuck!" But, he was just so tired. His eyes began to droop down again, his hands gripping at air. "It's gone, no, I've lost her."

    Clint fell back into Tessa, his hand held tight in a fist over where his locket normally was.

    "Clint- what's..?" She didn't have to finish her question. He was clutching at his chest- at first she'd thought maybe there was something wrong. Physically something wrong... But this... This was somehow worse. Physical wounds could be healed- especially with Clint there. This was irreplaceable. She knew what kind of value treasures held. Without her compass, there were so many times she never thought she'd be able to make it..

    "...Rest." She said firmly, slamming her palm against the stone wall behind him, next to the alchemical symbols drawn in her own blood. Morbid... but useful. If she just altered it here- she could set it to give off heat. For a little while. Her energy dropped.

    "Look just...stay here. I'll be back." She silenced his protests with one hand. She knew he would protest. Or at least grumble. "You can't get rid of me, remember?"

    As quickly as she could manage she was back out in the snow, and the wind. Grateful for Clint's warmth, that still lingered around her shoulders. Grateful for the energy he had given her. She wasn't going to come back without that locket.

    The snow stung her cheeks, forcing her to narrow her eyes against the wind. It would be impossible to see anything. Between the dark that had fallen, leaving the air sharp like daggers, and the wind and snow that blustered...

    She stepped into the snow, following their stumbling tracks back to their landing site. It was a place to start.


    She'd been out there for too long. She'd long since gone from having to pull back her alchemy from warming her entire body, to just her hands and face. And now, even those last vestiges of energy were leaving her. If she wanted to make it back...

    "F-fuck.." She couldn't control the shudders that wracked her body. How long had she been out here? Almost twenty minutes. How much longer? Five minutes ago. But she still didn't have the locket. She was getting desperate.

    Think, Tessa THINK. How do you find a small, metal locket, in the middle of a snowstorm. A giant magnetic. Her minds sarcastic reply. She didn't have a magnet. All she had, was alchemy, and a compass. Tessa crouched, blowing warm air on her hands to try and conserve her warming alchemy.

    A crazy thought crossed her mind. Tessa fumbled with the compass, placing her free hand against the snow. This had better work.


    Tessa stumbled into the small shelter, her teeth audibly chattering- curls plastered to her face in wet ringlets. All efforts Clint had made to dry her off were now pointless. She was soaked to the bone. She could barely move, her fingers were red and chapped, the beginnings of frostbite.Gods, she was tired.

    "C-c-c-clin.... I-" How did her tongue get so numb. Her hand jerked out, and she nearly let the chain slip through her fingers. It was stiff, and the edges were coated in snow.

    "Tessa?" Clint stood in their small shelter, her voice had woken him, and he wasn't sure how long she'd been out there. Thank the Gods she had half a mind to make it tall. "How long were you-!"

    He crouched in front of her, taking in her hands and examining them first. The extremities were always the first to go, and hers were frozen over, nearly blue at the tips of her fingers. He pressed her icy hands together and rubbed his outside of hers. Bioalchemy could do so many things but it couldn't restore her hands without ruining her frozen insides. If there wasn't enough heat to keep her heart warm, he wasn't about to drag it out to the rest of her body. That nifty little trick he'd shown her in the birds nest was really only good for minor cold.

    "Get against the wall." Although he demanded it of her, he was the one to pick her up and set her in the snow against the rock face. It was still breathing warmth from the bloody runes she'd scrawled.

    For a while he was even able to forget about the locket she'd gone to retrieve, and it sat at the entrance of their igloo in the snow.

    She just wouldn't warm, no matter what Clint tried. Her lips were blue, her hands were blue, and he had that sinking feeling if he took off her boots, her toes would be blue. So much for his bioalchemy being useful. Clint took off his jacket and wrapped it around her once more, it provided more heat than it did in the outside with the wind blowing in their faces, and it helped a little. He pressed a hand to her chest, gauging her temperature.

    He did the only other thing he could think of, a bit irritated because he'd sworn it off, said he was too humble for it. Clint adjusted the jacket so it wrapped around her front, leaving it there as if she was wearing it backwards. He slid behind her, taking the heat from the wall, but using himself as a new source. Holding her wasn't good enough, his body could only provide so much warmth, and she did need more. Without so much as a word he peeled off the dark long sleeved shirt he was wearing and draped it over his shoulders, exposing his scarred chest. Not that she could see it anyways. Clint pulled at the bottom of her shirt now, cursing himself for his terrible moment of silence, just enough so that her back could lean against his skin. He pulled her close, took his jacket, and draped it over the both of them.

    Clint didn't want to say anything about the action, stripping down to his briefs would have been easier, but he wasn't going to invade her privacy unless she were any more frozen. He'd find out in a few minutes if she didn't heat up, still cursing himself for being so damn awkward about it.

    His arms wrapped around her stomach in an anxious embrace, searching for her hands so he might hold them again.

    Tessa was more then happy to let him take over. She could barely move- her fingers didn't want to listen to any of the directions she gave them. and that numbness that had crept in... it left fire behind. Her skin was cold-too cold, her clothes stiff with encrusted ice. Like she was wearing a damn Popsicle.

    And her eyes- god, it was so hard to keep her eyes open. So much more comfortable to just let the exhaustion pulling at her limbs take over. why not? It told her, just go to sleep. Everything will be fine if you just sleep. She whimpered when Clint shifted behind her

    "sto'... m-movin...C-cli- ah!" Tessa arched away from his chest, it was hot. Too hot, it seared her skin and as his hands found their way around hers she felt as though she'd stuck her hands in fire.

    She thought he was too warm, Clint thought she was freezing. He insisted on keeping her warm, and so with his iron grip he pulled her back closer to his chest. Clint hated the feeling of her icy back on his chest, feeling a bit frozen himself, but she fought him, slumping awkwardly away.

    "Hey, hey!" He called her name a few times. "Don't fall asleep on me, Tess? Stay awake."

    He slapped the side of her face a few times, gently as he could without being too soft, then he slipped them back around her waist. She desperately needed to stay awake if hypothermia was setting in. Clint couldn't stop that, like he'd thought a million times, he couldn't generate heat without taking it from somewhere else. Already he was subtly making transfers from the wall, through himself, and onto her but it wasn't enough. She shivered in his arms.

    "Don't fight me, you need to warm up." Clint's voice was quiet this time, soothing her instead of showing frustration. "What am I gonna tell Jessie if I bring a frozen body down from the mountain, hm?"

    Clint rubbed his hands against her bare sides, keeping himself moving slightly to generate that extra bit of heat. He looked like an idiot, trying to spare her from being indecent, yet at the same time his hands were all over her skin. So much for that.

    "Come on, stay awake."

    Why wasn't sleeping a good thing? It seemed like a very good idea to her. A hot brand slapped her face. But Clint didn't want her to sleep. Why didn't Clint want her to sleep?

    Tessa's thoughts were jumbled, confused. She could barely string two words together without forgetting the meaning behind what she'd planned to say. But it sunk in, slowly. He had to keep her awake, and she was too cold.

    "S-s-sorry. I... I'm awa'." She couldn't even get the words out of her mouth through the chattering of her teeth. But her back was slowly recovering from the burning. It was still hot against her skin but... that was when she figured out what he was trying to do. The training she'd done years ago, for surviving in cold climates finally came back to her. Her wet clothes weren't helping- they were keeping her skin cold, and not letting the heat penetrate.

    Tessa hesitated. She knew what she needed to do- andgods, she was so cold. She didn't want to die, for so pathetic a reason as modesty... but this was Clint. If she'd had the ability, she would blush at the thought of him seeing her anything less then fully clothed. And she would have to get very, very disrobed. But he's adoctor. Surely he's seen it all before. Heck, he had a wife and child on the way at one time in his life...

    Tessa shifted in his arms, trying to hook her rebellious fingers underneath the already lifted hem of her shirt.
    "N-need to-"

    Between all the clothes they had, not a one was dry. Clint gripped the edges of her shirt again, calling all the water to one point before wringing it out. It was better than nothing, he thought. He started for her pants, hooking his finger to a belt loop, and did the same.

    "Slow down, Navy girl." He cooed quietly. "Save your energy, what do you need?"

    Clint stopped rubbing his hands against her skin and saw what she was going for. Her hands reached down towards her pants, and he couldn't help but turn red. They could be closer, drape their clothes around them, and it'd work for a bit more warmth.

    You're a grown ass man, one half naked girl isn't going to ruin you.

    He sighed inwardly. Still, he stopped her hands at first, reaching around to her front to undo the button, searching for a belt if he had to undo that too. Clint wasn't eager to be stripping either of them of their clothes, even if he knew it was the smart thing to do.

    "I'll say it, this is no time to be modest." Clint broke the silence. "We don't need to strip down all the way, we don't have anything that'll cover us both, but it'd help just until you were warm again."

    Tessa closed her eyes tiredly. Wishing she could blush-anything to try and get across how... well, not necessarily uncomfortable, she was but.. embarrassed? Mortified? It was bad enough that she knew she had to get out of her damp things to warm up... but to not be able to do it herself?

    It brought a level of intimacy she wasn't prepared for.

    And then there was... that. It didn't really matter if they didn't need to strip down all the way. Jessie didn't own a single pair of decent underwear. So when Clint finally managed to get her belt and pants down over her legs, she was left in nothing but a lacy scrap. They could barely count as fabric, let alone clothing.

    "I-i'm going t-to... kill J-jessie."

    To be technical, Clint wasn't even the ship's doctor. He just knew a lot about bioalchemy and how to use it. After studying the body for a few years, yes, some might feel comfortable referring to him when they were sick. However, sickness and broken bones were different. Bioalchemy dealt with the physical aspect of the body, as well as the energies being spread. There were other practices which focused even on viruses, illnesses and chronic pains. But that was another matter entirely.

    He wasn't about to tell Tessa that.

    "We have to get out of here first." Clint reminded her. His eyes trailed down to the lacy bit, barely hanging on to her waist with how tiny it was. It was a bad decision to look down, he only reddened, and his pants felt a little tighter than usual.

    Clint pulled the pants away from her, setting them against the wall so they'd dry faster if it was possible. She was effectively naked, and he felt bad for having taken the first step. If she wasn't comfortable with this, she'd never be able to look him in the eye. So, he moved with deliberate slowness, never once trailing his hands near her chest or her thighs without doing so carefully.

    A change in position was called for. With her alchemy heating the wall, it was best she be near it instead of using Clint alone. So, he picked her up in his arms, rolling on his feet until he was away from the wall and she was against it. He made sure to lean her away from himself, so she wouldn't show anything unnecessary. When he noticed the rock extending beneath them he thanked his lucky stares. The snow began to melt, he brushed more of it away, to reveal a gray slab beneath them. It was far better than lying in the snow.

    Grown ass man, remember? Get a grip.

    Clint, with his back turned to Tessa, pulled his pants away from his body put placed them on the ground where he'd lay. He at least had to try to use his clothes for warmth. This was truly the worst, but he would get through it, would Tessa? She was exposed, stuck between a rock and Clint. All because he'd lost his locket.

    "Come here." He sighed, chuckling at the situation. There was no other way to respond.

    Clint laid behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist and settled her head in his chest. When he was sure he had her in his arms, he wrapped his legs around hers, pressing even his toes to hers. It was a good thing he was so tall, and she of only an average height. Otherwise, his awkward embrace wouldn't have worked.

    "Don't sleep yet, not until you're warm."

    "I d-don't think I'll ever be w-warm..." But it was working. She could feel the numbness creeping out of her limbs, the fire receding leaving her skin tingling. Like when she slept on her arm wrong, and it the morning it was asleep. Pins and needles, accenting everywhere their skin touched. And... it was a lot. Pressed between Clint and the warmed stone wall she had no where to go.

    Her stomach flipped.

    Should be she affected by his arms around her stomach, or his chest pressed against her back? No. She was navy, and he was rebel. They never should have been close enough to make something like this possible, let alone necessary. And yet, there they were... And Tessa would be lying to herself if she didn't say that a very large part of her loved the feeling.

    She shifted in his arms, pressing herself further into his embrace- a sharp inhale passing through her lips as she pressed against his blatant arousal. There was the blush she'd been missing this entire time. She quickly arched away from him, her heart picking up it's sluggish pace. She wanted to curse Jessie... but she also had the strongest urge to thank her.

    "I...." She had to be crazy. "I-it's okay.." She was definitely crazy. Tessa turned in his arms, as adeptly as she could manage with her limbs still not functioning correctly. But this time, her stutters weren't from the cold. Her awkward movements- making her brush up against him- weren't from the chill in her skin. It was the way her heart picked up, and her stomach twisted with a responding desire.

    She was facing him now, her hands spread across his chest and an uncertain blush on her cheeks.
    "This is... comfier.."

    There shouldn't have been an attraction there at all. It was an impossible romance between two people who bickered and fought until the sun went down on most days, only taking a short break while they slept, and got right back at it in the morning. They hated each other when they first met. Clint had his ideals about being a Rebel, and Tessa about being a Republic soldier. However, they could both agree on the one thing which brought them together. They desperately needed to get Jessie back. In time, that allowed them to stop their fights. Clint had shared his deepest wounds, and she was still there, desperately clinging to him for the warmth she needed in order to survive. In turn, she'd grown to be one of the crew, even if she didn't see it. There was a level of respect there that Jessie couldn't match. It was different, a new breed of importance among the men.

    She was the one who'd bring their Captain home. A savior, their savior, and leaving without her was damned impossible.

    So, was it even an emotional attraction at all, in place of the physical need they craved from each other in that moment? Clint said yes. She was strong, and he wanted someone like her to carve out a path of his own, to forget the horrors of his own past. He just needed her for a little longer.

    Tessa turned into him, and he responded by adjusting his arms, one held her around the waist, the other made a small rest for her head. She was still pressed hard against the stone face, heat growing in the small space between them. Clint should have tried to hide the blatantly obvious erection he sported, but he told himself it was natural. It was. She was an attractive girl, holding on to him for that bit of heat.

    "Just stay warm." He said quietly. His hand curled up from beneath her head in order to stroke her hair. After one quick check, a simple tap on her temple, he was more able to gauge her temperature. He trusted that if she did fall asleep, that she'd live. Thank the Gods.

    Clint leaned his head towards her until his lips brushed softly against her platinum curls. He leaned in, pecked her once on the forehead, and didn't say another word besides, "Sleep, my little Navy girl."

    His actions were achingly sweet, his words tender. Tessa had to close her eyes to try and savor the sensations. She loved having his fingers in her hair, his arm around her waist. Every breath she took pressed her chest further into his, until she swore she could feel their hearts beating beside each other.

    "I..." His scent enveloped her, a mixture that was so uniquely his that she couldn't even compare it to any one thing. It was heat, and musk, and medicine- Tessa curled the hand over his heart into a fist. She pressed her face into his chest shyly, her breath fanning across his skin. "I'm not sure... if I'll be able to sleep."

    She was exhausted, physically and mentally, but she didn't want to sleep. She felt like morning would bring with it an end to their closeness.. And maybe, she just wanted to do exactly what Quinn had told her to. Be selfish for once. She wanted so bad to be selfish. To do something for herself, something that made absolutely no logical sense, and yet made all the sense in the world.

    And after all, what would she be putting on the line?

    Tessa spread her fingers again, the tips just barely tracing a scar that spanned across his pecs. Her head tilted back, and her lips found the only thing she could reach; her kiss barely a breath against his neck.
    "It's your turn to rest..."

    But please, don't.

    Clint smirked, pressing his face back into her hair, combing it with his hand. She seemed to like it when he did that, judging by her content reaction. The hand around her hip pulled her closer, she sat safely nuzzled against his frame, and he didn't find, couldn't find, a single thing wrong with that.

    She brushed her hand against him, shivering as she moved over one of his scars. A long distant memory of course. But that sweet smell of her moved over him and when she was but in inch from his face, he stopped, let it all soak in, and his shoulders relaxed. He felt at ease, after all the years of suffocation, how he drowned in his past, he felt free. Right now it was him, her, and the focus on the both of them needing to stay alive.

    There were no restrictions, no dead man was coming after him, no ghosts would haunt his memory here.

    "Tessa." He finally breathed, "I can't rest until I know you're alright."

    Clint pressed his forehead to hers, nudging at her face with his nose. It was cold, unlike the rest of him which basked in a shared warmth. He genuinely smiled at the sight of Tessa's face turned up towards him, and carefully, just as every other action had been, he leaned in and pressed his lips lightly against hers.

    It was long overdue that Clint move on from his past.

    She melted. It was the only way Tessa could describe the heat the blossomed in her chest, and trickled through her veins to pool in her stomach. All of his movements were so careful, so exquisitely gentle...

    Tessa sighed against his lips, tilting her head to deepen their kiss. She didn't want it to end- not ever. And when they parted, she lingered close. Relishing in the butterflies that assaulted her stomach with every warm breath.

    "If I said the same... it wouldn't change anything, would it?" A small smile sprouted on her face, growing into a wide grin. She'd taken a risk. She'd been selfish. Maybe, he was being a little bit selfish too.. but.... one look at him cemented her joy. "I'll sleep on one condition."

    She returned his earlier nuzzle with one of her own, warming the tip of his nose with hers.

    "Just... don't let go..." She wanted to kiss him again. Press her lips to his and never sleep again.

    "I won't." Clint tightened his hold on her, planting one last bit off affection into a kiss in her hair. He wouldn't admit that he too felt the butterflies in his stomach. It had been years since he so much as touched another woman, Jessie just didn't count. They didn't fool around, but the way Clint manhandled her during was so different.

    Tessa had a curve about her, his hand rested lightly in that spot along her hip. She was slender, yet with just the right amount of curvature in the best places. Her pale skin was only illuminated with a blue hint by the surrounding snow, and if her eyes were open he might have called it magic, the way she seemed to radiate that hauntingly gorgeous gaze. Simply put, he thought she was beautiful.

    He reaffirmed his hold on her, winding his legs around hers to make sure they were the warmest they could be. Briefly he had to pull away so he could drape his leather jacket over the both of them as best he could. It was tight fitting, and therefor didn't offer a lot in terms of coverage. For the time being it would do, it could serve them both, keep them at least shielded from the wet snow around them.

    "Now sleep, before I start to worry." He told her softly, coming out husky and warm compared to his usual gruff tone. She might have thought it an odd tone, but a pleasant one nonetheless.

    Tessa shivered. His voice was like electricity- sending ripples of energy just beneath the surface of her skin. She pressed her forehead to his chest, her fingers were still carefully splayed over his heart... Thump-thump. Thump-thump. It was a rhythm she thought she might be able to listen to for the rest of her life.

    But the night would have to do.

    "Then I guess I'd better sleep..." Tessa couldn't understand how she'd come to have such tender feelings towards him. From the start they'd been at each others throats.. and if it hadn't been for Jessie... she might never have given him a chance. And he would have done the same. She would have missed out on so much.

    It seemed like they'd barely had any time together, for as long as they'd been forced into proximity. She'd barely gotten to see this side of him that cared so much he couldn't let go of his guilt. A guardian's soul. Someone who took too many things into his heart until he could barely hold it all together. And yet he kept going. And now, he was adding her to that list.

    When morning came, Tessa thought as she drifted off. It would be too soon.

    Clint never let her go, not once through the night did his arms slip away from her mostly naked body. His eyes certainly wandered, but he didn't touch her aside from the gentle kisses he'd drop from time to time. He was dead tired, and keeping his head up for any longer would have put his body into overdrive, but he gave in. Tessa was asleep, they were both warming up, and he figured it'd be safe.

    It was a relief when he didn't have a nightmare. His dreams were filled with snow, of a better time closer to town, but the flakes fell more innocently. Blonde curls raced ahead of him and he struggled to keep up. She'd turn around, blue eyes and it would have been impossible to tell it was Tessa had he not been holding her so close. It was her alright. He just knew.

    The feeling was good, his heart even felt warmed with the emotions flooding through him. It was something he hadn't felt for years, not since before Melissa had passed. The feelings were harmless, innocent, and he relished in them for as long as he could before it was once again time to wake up and decide on how to survive the day.

    "Tessa." He nudged her face with his nose, frozen over again. "Wake up." Clint encouraged, kissing the top of her head.

    He was warm again, and then a little cold. They needed to get dressed, but he didn't want to move Tessa. She was asleep, curled up against his chest in innocent form. Clint leaned himself back so he could admire her face. Without her struggling to keep awake, her muscles softened her features and she looked cute laying in his arms.

    "Or not." He chuckled. "Stay asleep if you want."

    "mmmf..." Tessa scrunched up her nose, burying her face in Clint's scarred chest. No, she wasn't ready to get up yet. She didn't want to leave his embrace, wake up to face the morning sun and the snow. Tessa laced her arms around his, and wedged one leg between his. Entangling their limbs.

    No, she didn't want to get up quite yet.

    She'd had the most wonderful dream, of flying, falling. They were all the same thing in the end, but this time, someone was there to catch her. Ready to save her the pain of another fall, and pull her back to her feet when she lost them. She'd dreamed of the smell of the ocean, and clouds painting the horizon a million different colors.

    Cold breached her defenses in the form of Clint's nose. Tessa squeaked, pushing away from Clint to try and keep his nose away from her skin. "Clint!" She laughed, finally opening her eyes to the brightness of their impromptu igloo. Blue met brown with a smile. "That's cold."

    "It is." He said simply. His nose was cold, that was a fact, and he smiled at seeing her reaction. There was little he could do about his cold nose but stick it further against against her face, freezing her skin.

    Clint felt more alert than the previous night, having slept, and he remembered small details from what had happened. They shared a kiss, yes, and he'd kept her warm through the heat of their bodies and his leather jacket they'd survived a cold storm in the mountains. Not many could say they'd slept in an igloo through a mountain storm. He adjusted the leather jacket so it covered more of her than himself, she being the priority.


    "Get dressed." Clint breathed against her skin, taking in her sweet scent as he brushed his lips along her neck. "We'll have to move today, further down." He planted a kiss against her jawline. Then another. "While it's sunny.

    Maybe, they could stay a little while longer.

    Tessa's breath caught in her throat. She had gone from laughter to breathlessness in seconds. His lips were like brands on her skin, warming her and leaving irrefutable marks; ones that while invisible to the naked eye she knew she would never be able to erase.

    "That's... A good idea." Her eyes closed of their own accord, lips parting with a soft sigh. She wanted to move, she really did. Her head tipped back, baring her neck to his ministrations.
    "But you aren't being very convincing..." Her voice was barely whisper, laden with heat.

    "No, I'm not." Clint sighed.

    He gave in to one last kiss, taking her face in his hand, and brought himself down to her. For one second, he only let it last a quick second, and then he was gone. There needed to be some self control in place, else he feared Tessa would be too much. He did believe too much of a good thing could be bad, especially if things went sour, and she disappeared forever. So, he refrained from capturing her lips once more, despite the urges which screamed and begged for more.

    Their clothes were scattered in a pile either beneath or behind them, half soaked from the snow and still warm from either the rock or the heat, he wasn't sure. Clint picked up the remnants and handed them to their respective owners. He slid his long sleeved tee over his head once more, sitting up during the action to make it easy. It became cold, and he desired nothing more than to curl up at Tessa's side again. His body told him it was for the warmth, but, his heart said otherwise.

    "We need to move today, get down off the mountain." Clint said curtly. "Are you...are you up for it, how are you feeling?"

    It was one of the first times he'd asked such a question. He realized he never stopped to ask, because they were usually bickering, but now he was honestly curious if she was alright. Clint reached a hand out against her chest to check her vital signs. Nothing abnormal, save the quickened heartbeat at his touch. So, he assumed the best. Everything else, her little noises when he shifted his hold, or kissed her, that was obviously something besides the slight bought of hypothermia.

    Clint waited until she was dressed before curling back up around her, this time in a seated position. They still had much to gain from each other's company, and they didn't have to leave quite yet. A plan needed to be formed, thoughts shared, so they could get back as soon as possible.

    How was she feeling? It was a loaded question, to be sure. She was cold, from the chill in the air. Warm, from his arms wrapped around her shoulders, and her head tucked into his chest. She wanted to jump up and run circles around everything, and she never wanted to move again.

    But mostly, she just wanted to kiss him.

    Of course that wasn't what he had intended with his question... and kissing him appeared to be detrimental to her thought process. No matter how much she wanted to just lose her mind, she had a job to do. They both did.

    "I'm fine, now. All thanks to you." She pressed her hand briefly against his chest, smiling at the way her own heart picked up. It was strange, being free to touch him like this. "And you're right. We need to meet up with the rest of your crew. I'm a little worried about the ship... but there isn't much we can do from here. I'm sure they're all safe but.." Tessa but her lips. During their dizzying fall, she was sure she'd seen the ship going down. If that was the case, then they might be in even more trouble then they'd thought.

    A day and a half flight, would be a week or more on foot. Jessie would be long gone.

    "Oh!" Tessa scrambled off of Clint's lap, returning moments later with the forgotten locket. She pressed the freezing metal between her hands, trying to bring some warmth back into it. "Can you believe I almost forgot the reason for...last night." Pink highlighted her cheeks. She didn't have a word for whatever it had been. Words seemed inadequate, in any case.

    Clint covered her hands with his own. She sat in his lap like a child might, keeping herself close to the man who'd provided her with life in the previous night. It was all but natural to want to come back to those protective arms, and he wouldn't ever stop her from that day on. So they sat, his hands enveloping hers with the comparison of massive bear paws to a small bird's, but they both held the locket until Clint pulled it from her grasp.

    He tapped the cover, alchemy working it's way to undo the lock he'd set in place. It wasn't a lie when he sad he only knew bioalchemy, this was simply the only other trick he knew. Around the edge's of the locket, two snakelike bands of metal fell away from the main face, finding their way to his hand before wrapping themselves there. A pair of golden rings adorned his finger, one fitting snugly on his hand, the other just barely sliding onto the tip of his finger. One for Clint, the other for his long dead wife.

    "I don't know what I would have done..." Clint murmured. "If I had lost it."

    It was the first time since he'd forced the locket shut that Clint was seeing what was stuffed in the inside. Slowly, he pried it open and discovered the same ash he'd placed there eight years ago. It was only a few small pinches, a few even fell away as he opened the top, unable to adjust to the new small plate.

    " is also time I learn to let go, Tessa." Clint said with equal silence to his previous statement. "And I have you to thank for that." Clint shut the locket, it snapped into place, and he tapped the cover once more. The two wedding bands snaked their way back around his hand and sealed the edge once more. "That time is not today, but, I still need to..."

    He couldn't find the words. He was grateful and mournful all at once. After eight long years of pain and suffering, he felt more able to let go of his past. Melissa wasn't coming back, she was ash in the ground somewhere along the coast of Farnworth, as was their unborn child, friends, family, everyone Clint knew minus the few survivors such as himself. It was time he moved on. Tessa had nearly been overcome by the mountain's cold because of his obsessive desire to keep the locket in his life. But he knew, just only affirmed, that nothing could fill the hole in his heart where Melissa once stood, but there was a girl who could at least hold it together.

    Clint placed the object of his affairs deep inside his pocket instead of around his neck, with his free hand he tilted Tessa's face back towards his own, murmuring a silent thanks to his savior.

    "Thank you." He breathed softly against pink lips, sealing the space between them in no time at all as he pressed hungrily for a taste of Tessa. His hand pressed her close to him, another reaching around to her back, whatever he could find of her to hold on to.

    "Thank you." He said again, his lips going straight back to hers.

    Tessa was glowing. She knew it was easy to see the joy radiating from her smile. She was glad, that if only one good thing would come of this, it would be the wounds on his heart beginning to heal. She couldn’t even say as much, before his lips captured hers once more, barely able to catch her breath between each searing press of his mouth.

    She eagerly returned his affections. Arching into his hold to get just that much closer, her teeth catching his lip, and her fingers locking into his hair.

    “We should…” She muttered between kisses, “We should go…” He tasted like snow, and cold and Clint- and she knew, that if they lingered any longer, she wouldn’t be leaving this igloo any time soon. The friction between them was a palpable thing. It was with reluctance that she finally pulled away, her kiss swollen lips hovering just above his.

    “While the sun is still up…”

    Clint was the one to pull Tessa to her feet, but his lips never left hers. He wasn't exactly ready to relinquish the new romance between them, he rather liked the shared heat of their bodies pressed together but they really did have to move. There'd be no point in enjoying each others company if they couldn't make it off the mountain. Before he left, he wiped his thumb across the blood runes, cancelling out the heat it produced.

    It wasn't a large expanse, nothing like in the East, where many of the Rebel headquarters lay. No, these mountains were still fairly short in comparison, but just tall enough to have the snowy caps the Western counterparts lacked. Clint stepped out of the igloo, somewhat pleased to find that there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and he could feel the sun on his skin.

    "Mother nature seems to favor us." Clint groaned as he stretched his sore muscles. "Clear skies, a little bit of heat."

    He let his hands fall back at his sides, extending the one towards Tessa in good graces. They had a long way to go, and there was no end in sight.

    They began down the mountain, sticking close for warmth and the sheer enjoyment of proximity. Heading in the direction they believed the ship to be last. After all, what other choice did they have? Stuck in 'enemy' territory (her idea about using smoke signals had been shot down. Even if she could talk them onto a navy ship. Too risky.) There was no where else to go but down.

    They had no clues- nothing aside from their recall and that brief spinning memory of falling. Every time she thought about it, her bones ached. It was a miracle- Clint's miracle- that she was even standing right now.

    And Clint. Every time she thought about him, she felt warm. And the looming presence of Jessie brought more then just joy- it brought a pang of sorrow. Soon she would have to leave him.

    "So where do you think they went?" Tessa lifted one hand to shield her eyes- not that it was any use. The light of the sun reflecting off of the snow made the assault on her vision two tiered. She would have to completely blind herself in order to block out the piercing rays. "Do you think they've noticed us missing yet?"

    "That crew just lost their Captain, and now the next best man." Clint shaded his eyes from the sun, it was surprisingly bright out for the afternoon, and he still wan't able to see more than a few miles in any direction. The mountain range was certainly on a decline, in the distance there were caps which weren't tipped in snow. That had to be an advantage.

    He reached for her hand, finding a little comfort so long as she was there.


    "What do you mean they aren't here?" Deik roared over the crew. Their ship was smoking from the engine room, no one could go down without goggles. Even then, it only protected their eyes from the smoke, it didn't do much for visibility. "Do another head count!"

    "Deik, they aren't-" Will held up his hands, trying to sooth the furious scout.

    "We need to find them! Clint and Tessa are the only two who know what the hell's going on!" That much was true. Deik and Rodney had been well informed the whole time, knowing their destination and even the name of the fleet. However past that they needed Tessa in order to get further into the Navy ranks. They'd already lost one Captain, they didn't need to lose Clint, too.

    "Stop talking." Rodney said quietly. The crew went from screams and roars to shocked silence. Rod...just didn't talk. He spoke even less than Clint did. Although the latter was becoming more talkative since Tessa's arrival.

    "Rodney, go back to your tinkering, we need to find out where to go."

    "First, we need to fix the ship." Rodney spoke calmly. "We're at Edinburgh's doors, we land, we get it fixed, and we go."

    No one dared argue with that. Rodney never spoke, and when he did he was often times correct. The crew couldn't do anything.while their ship was in disrepair. So, they landed in Edinburgh for the time being and had to forget about their missing mates. That's all they could really do.

    "I don't suppose you have any fancy life sensing skills?" It might have just been wishful thinking. Their climb down the mountain had so far been filled with random crevasse's, surprising cliffs, and invisible drops buried beneath the snow. They'd been kept on their toes- and hadn't gotten nearly as far as they'd hoped to be.

    Now, they were on the cusp of being snow free- the sun was setting... and Tessa was starving. She couldn't remember ever being this hungry before

    "At this point, I would be willing to eat a horse. Literally a horse." Tessa wilted against Clint, resting her head on his shoulder as they walked. She could say one thing- her hand had never been cold despite her lack of gloves. So far, he'd saved her numerous time.

    "I do, actually." Clint wondered if she'd be surprised. "It doesn't extend very far though, so, all I can sense is you...and that bug over there. Hm, surprising."

    They walked a little further, the snow melted around their feet and for once they could see dirt and grass instead of stone or wet snow. He lifted her over a small crevice, setting her on the other side with ease before jumping over himself. After walking again for a while, they could see trees in the distance, and it both worried and set Clint at ease.

    "Come here." Clint turned to Tessa, lowered partially on his knees with his back facing her. "I'll carry you."

    It was an honest offer. They'd been working their way down the mountain, and she had to be tired. Now that the terrain was at a smaller slope, he didn't mind much having to carry her. Plus, he was just trying to do his best to be kind. She'd already made him more talkative, now if they could work on that cold heart.

    "Once we get to the treeline, we can start looking for food."

    Tessa shook her head, an indulgent smile on her lips. Yes she was tired- but he had to be as well. She placed her hand on his shoulder, giving it a light squeeze before stepping around him.
    "Thank you... but I'm fine. I'm sure I've been through worse, even if I can't quite recall it at the moment."

    Pink lips parted around white teeth, her grin turning cheeky as she turned to walk backwards- her hand fondly patting the guns at her side.

    "And that's good news. Should be easier to find some food. Of course, this just means we need to conserve your strength wherever we can. You'll need your energy if anything happens to us- if we're gonna survive out here."

    "We'll be fine." Clint watched her walk backwards, far too confident what with all the rocks scattered around. If she fell because of how cocky she was being, he wouldn't heal her scrapes and bruises.

    Alright so he would, but she needed to be careful. Clint was worried about how she was holding up. Bioalchemy could only heal so much, and if she developed a fever, or a cough, or anything with the immune system went wrong there was basically nothing he could do to help her. He jogged up to her side and swiveled her around so she was facing the right way. He was panicked for no reason at all. They were both fine, so long as they didn't get sick. Someone would find them, save them, and they'd be alright.

    "Don't trip." He warned her quietly, and as kindly as possible. "You should conserve your own energy, I know my limits."

    Clint had never talked so much. It was odd, yet satisfying to speak to Tessa. The butterflies returned to his stomach as he both worried and cared for the girl at his side. He picked her up from time to time so she could get over the rare crevice or rocky patch. It was that same anxiety and growing passion which compelled him to do it.

    By the time they reached a few scattered trees, it had long grown dark. Clint simply wanted to get there. They were tall pines, with low bearing branches which snaked up into the dark sky. The stars were back, clearer than before considering their hideout in the igloo. He started to sense more lifeforms around them. There were bugs, a rabbit somewhere in the distance which darted off at the sound of footsteps, and something else. Clint stopped, grabbing Tessa when he did so.

    "I think..." Clint mumbled. The entity moved closer, then there were two, then three, a small pack of something. He had a feeling he knew what it was so he threw Tessa up onto a low branch and clambered up after her. "Climb." He commanded. "Get up!"

    In a few short seconds after having climbed up the tree, the howling started and Clint groaned. Wolves. They ran past the tree the pair were hiding in, two stopping to sniff the air before howling loudly. The remainder of the pack returned, and they tried to find the scent they'd picked up. Clint reached his hand to Tessa and clapped it over her mouth, signalling for her to be silent.

    They could smell the pair, sure, but making any more noise would only keep them around for hours to come. Clint wanted them to go away.

    Clint was... unbearably sweet. They'd never done much talking before- not unless it involved screaming each other into a rage. And even still, he was silent more often then not. But it was like they had suddenly broken through a dam- All of the hostility, the fragile truce they had built, it seemed a thing of the past. But she didn't need the words- she could feel his sincerity with every touch, every small gesture and smile...

    She didn't hesitate to trust him- perhaps blindly- when he gave her an order. When he told her to climb, she climbed without any second thought. Only stopping when he did. She had her answers soon enough, and was glad he'd acted as quickly as he had.


    She didn't need his hand to tell her to be silent, her heart leapt into her throat, choking her and cutting off all of her words. One hand dropped to land on Jessie's gun. The other, rose to grab Clint's, her fingers twining with his. It must have only been a few seconds, but it already felt like an eternity that they'd been stuck in among the trees.

    Tessa jumped, when the wolves at the base of the tree started to howl. Her fingers tightening around Clint's hand. They don't know we're here. They only smell us. She repeated the chant in her head like a mantra. It's fine, they'll leave soon. They won't find us-


    The wolves looked up, amber eyes searching the leaves for the source of the sound. The branch they'd stopped on- it had begun to snap.

    Clint reached out with both his hands and pulled Tessa up by the collar of her shirt, straining to keep her just above the branch. It relieved some of the pressure, and the eyes stopped their search, moving on to another branch on another tree. He could breathe easy knowing they'd moved on. However, with wolves on the prowl he knew their struggle to survive would only be that much harder.

    He watched them go, waited until he couldn't even sense their presence. There was but one left, and Clint couldn't even see where the wolf was. It didn't feel good, in terms of energy, but he let it slide for the time being.

    "You alright sleeping up here tonight?" Clint whispered. "I am."

    Tessa took that as a sign that the wolves had gone, and slumped in Clint's grip. She felt weak all over. So much for survivalist training. She hadn't even thought to test the strength of her branch.

    "That.. sounds fine to me. Got any rope?" Her words were just barely over a whisper, nearly drowned out by the scuffing of cloth as she carefully moved to a different- sturdier branch. She prayed that the night wouldn't bring any nightmares- for either of them. The last thing they needed was to survive the mountain and the wolves, only to be killed by falling out of a tree.

    "We should- should sleep in shifts. To keep each other in the tree." And they would have to find food in the morning. Her stomach cramped at the thought. She was already running out of energy- would she be able to make it to the morning?

    "No rope, sorry." Clint sighed. "I'll watch you, alright? Get some rest, It'd be best anyways. I can still sense what's here, so if they come back too soon, I'll know right away."

    Clint took the first shift, there'd be no arguing about it. He slipped down to her branch and did his best to keep an eye on her and the ground. They didn't have any rope, nothing but the clothes on their back and a pair of pistols. Clint wasn't armed when he'd gone to find Tessa in the crows nest, and while normally it wasn't an issue, it was certainly turning out to be one.

    So he waited, reaching out to lay a hand on Tessa if she stirred too much, she'd wake up eventually. If she didn't take a shift, that was fine. All of that was fine, he simply wanted to see her get through this, selfishly that's all he desired. Clint was fine getting two hours of sleep, and he didn't dare rest his eyes with wolves nearby. That much was a given.

    Her sleep was fitful, and she gained it in bits and spurts. Every time she would shift, she would get a dizzying sense of vertigo until Clint steadied her. And when she woke, five hours later- fully woke- she felt like she'd only gotten two hours of rest.

    "That's it, I'm done. If I wake up like that any more I'm gonna be sick." Tessa clambered upright, pushing a few limp curls out of her face. She was a mess- between the fall, her night in the storm, and their hike, she was wrung out. Tired, and weak. But she needed to hold on- just a little bit longer.

    "It's your turn, Mr. Anderson." Tessa stretched, her spine cracking uncomfortably. What she wouldn't give for a bed-

    Or another igloo. The thought brought an unbidden smile to her face.

    Clint stood up, staring towards the voice which called to him from above. He couldn't sit still knowing their were wolves around, so he'd climbed down from the tree, the logic behind his decision to come down didn't make much sense, but he had. After having climbed down from the tree, he found the source of life from earlier which had been bothering him so much.

    Tucked away in his arms was a disfigured pup, his eyes barely opened at it was clear he'd been left behind because of his lame back legs. Clint held it in his arms. An instinct had kicked in, telling him to watch over it. Not a single wolf had come back all night to claim the poor pup, and if he left it alone it would die. That didn't sit well with him, that instinct just kicked in, that's how he explained it.

    "Tessa, you'll never believe what I found." He called up. "Don't be scared, not a wolf too close to us, not that I can tell."

    "Scared?" Tessa peered down from the tree, blue eyes searching for Clint's form in the darkness. She'd heard his voice, but couldn't see him. Tessa rubbed her eyes tiredly, wincing as she got sap from one of the trees in her hair.
    "I'm coming down, I can't see a bloody thing up here."

    She made quick work of the tree, her movements stiff from the awkward sleeping position she'd had to use. Her muscles weak with hunger and exhaustion. Her hands were trembling by the time she made it to the ground. She prayed that the wolves wouldn't be coming back any time soon.

    "Clint, what did you fin-" She stopped short, as soon as she saw Clint. And a little ball of fur i his arms. "Clint." She said carefully, closing the distance between them. How could she possibly be scared of something so small?

    "I hope you aren't planning on eating that."

    "Eating it?" Clint scoffed. "Tessa, it's a pup, I couldn't just leave him..."

    He sounded off from his usual self, caring instead of cold. That was something Tessa would have to get used to, she brought out the nature in Clint he'd almost lost eight years ago. There was a man somewhere who had that capacity to love, as she'd thought a thousand times, but never outwardly spoken. He could be that man, he just needed a little time.

    "His ears perked up when some deer passed, I wasn't nearly close enough to get them, so don't scold me for not finding food." Clint turned his attention back on the pup. Suddenly, he had the intense desire to keep the thing. What with Clint having held him for close to an hour, his parents weren't coming back. His leg was subject to question, too, Clint saw it was a birth defect, as well as him being far too small, it was likely he was a runt. Clint felt, well, bad for the thing.

    "Don't move." Clint watched as the pup's ears perked up again, his head turning towards a spot past their hiding tree. "Over there, do you see it?"

    In the distance was a buck, a rack of horns taller than Clint had ever seen. It was both impressive and a source of food. He took a step forward, being careful not to step wrong. There were twigs, pine needles, and a few leaves mixed in with the grassy underbrush. He held out a finger to point out the meal.

    "Can you shoot it from here?" Clint asked.

    Tessa shook her head, smiling at Clint. She hadn't been expecting him to leave the pup- but she was glad that he wasn't planning on making a snack of it. She might be hungry, but she wasn't that hungry. Eating a puppy- even a wolf pup- seemed far too desperate.
    "I wasn't going to scold you Clint. I'm glad that wasn't your intention." She started, offerring her fingers for the pup to sniff. "He wouldn't make more then a mouthful anyways." She threw in, teasing.

    Honestly, this man was finding ways to surprise her every day. Were there no end to the strange things he would do? She couldn't say it had been the last thing on her list of things that were unlikely for the stoic captain, but it also wasn't on the bottom of the list. Picking up strays... Though... Tessa couldn't help an unbidden smile at the thought. She was a little bit of a stray herself.

    "Don't move." She froze immediately, showing the same kind of trust she had earlier when the wolves had shown up. If they'd come back- smelled the pup on them regardless of abandonment- She turned slowly, nearly falling over with relief as she caught sight of the stag standing not too far off.

    "Can I?" Her only response to that was to carefully set her stance, drawing Tess (it still felt weird, calling the gun her own name) and looking down the sights. Her hands were shaking. Tessa bit her lip, taking in a deep breath through her nose to try and steady herself.

    She knew before she even finished pulling the trigger that she had hit her mark.

    The sound of the gun sent birds winging into the night in a flurry of lost feathers and raucous squaks. Drowning out the sound of the stag falling to the ground, and Tessa's relieved exhale.

    "Now what do you think are the chances of the wolves coming back in this direction? If you think they're pretty slim, then you should go rest while I do something about that." She nodded in the direction of the stag, holstering the gun (and thanking Jessie every step of theway) and picking her way through the undergrowth to their catch.

    "We'll have some time, they probably aren't used to the noise." Clint still said it quickly, if they did come back he wasn't risking staying on the ground. He followed Tessa just in case, the pup in his arms looking curiously towards the fallen stag. His ears were still perked up, sniffing the air to confirm what he knew was food.

    Clint was sure she had a knife on her, and there was no good having the both of them work on carving up their meal. So long as they could get it somewhere the scavengers and hunters wouldn't find it, that was the best thing to do. If the wolves came back, and they weren't done, Clint would give up the whole hide to the predators, not wanting to become a meal himself.

    "Here, actually." Clint remembered her fire affinity. "I'll skin it, start a good fire. If we're fast, we can cook it before anything comes back."

    He set the pup down, watching with a pained expression as it hobbled up to the dead stag. It yelped, then growled, before pouncing on its face and bit at the ear. Clint shook his head, amused and saddened at the poor gimp the pup had. If he had the time, or the need, he'd be able to fix it, however their main priority was staying alive, much to his dissatisfaction.

    "Give me your knife." He held out his hand expectantly.

    Tessa rolled her eyes, ducking to pull the knife out of her boot and pass it- hilt first- to Clint. There would be no getting him to rest until they had taken care of the beast, and they were both safe once more. That, and she knew that if she were given the knife to skin the creature, she would end up mangling the poor thing. A hunter, she was not.

    "Alright, but you have to sleep while it's cooking. Or at least try. The fire should keep away the wolves, if we make it smoky enough." Not difficult, considering she would be hard pressed to find any truly dry wood in the area. Thankfully it was still dark- the smoke would be hidden in the night. But it would certainly smell enough to ward off even the hunger of wolves. hopefully.

    "You might want to restrain that one as well," She motioned to the small wolf pup, tearing at the stags ear with small teeth. "No telling how he'll- it's a he right? Well, no telling how he'll react to the fire." And the cries of a pup might just be enough to bring the pack back. Fire or not, abandoned or not.

    Tessa knelt, to begin digging out a small pit for the fire. The last thing they needed was a forest fire giving away their position. Or killing them. She wasn't certain she'd be able to contain it with how little energy she had left.

    Clint made a noise which could have suggested he'd try to sleep, somewhat positive, but he already knew his mind was thinking otherwise. They had a new pup, and then he needed to keep awake so if there were someone nearby he'd be alert for it, Tessa wouldn't have been able to tell. Keeping so fine tuned into the area nearby wasdraining his energy reserves. A bit of sleep would do him good, but Clint was still just as stubborn as when they were dropped in the damn mountains. That hadn't changed.

    "It's a boy, aye." Clint chuckled. There was no doubting that. "He's just got a bad leg, hasn't so much as howled in the last few minutes, think he can?"

    The image of Clint later trying to teach the pup to howl, for some reason he grew excited. He wanted to be able to take the wolf back with him, teach it to hunt, watch it grow. There was no denying the parallel between that and the family he never had. Instead of a wife and child, he had Tessa and a wolf pup.

    He made quick work of the stag, tossing chunks of raw meat towards Tessa's way from time to time. The pup got off with a small portion of the stag's leg, chewing happily on the raw meat at the base of a tree. He still didn't whine or growl, not so much as a peep from the beast. Clint was a little worried on how it'd do on its own, but no matter. They had important things to deal with at the moment.

    "I still don't sense anything." Clint informed Tessa. "Keep going."

    He didn't have to tell her more then once. She cooked the meat as quickly as she could without risking some dangerous contamination- and she was by no means a chef. Cooking being an art she'd never quite perfected, always pushed to the wayside by alchemy, or tactics, or some other important task that demanded her attention. It was cooked, but it wasn't pretty. Uneven, charred, and in one sad case literally on fire.

    That was an embarrassing moment she quickly covered by tossing the offending piece of meat straight into the flames. The smell made her more nauseous then hungry.

    "You know what, next time... you're doing the cooking." Tessa held her portion of meat speared on a sturdy stick. The meat in front of her looked entirely unappetizing- but she was too hungry to be squeamish. That didn't mean she had to like it. At least the charred bits added some flavor to the otherwise bland meat.

    Silver linings and all.

    "You assume I know how to cook." Clint chuckled. "I haven't cooked a meal since I met Will. Bastard is too good, I don't dare touch a pot."

    Once he was done with the stag, he picked up the remaining corpse as best he could and stalked back into the woods as far as he dared to go. He could smell Tessa's fire as he walked on, the sweet smell of venison rose into the air all around him, and he breathed a happy sigh. The wolf pup followed him for a while, but his leg was eventually too much, and he sat down in the brush. Finally, he let out a small howl. It was barely audible, and more like a cry of pain than anything else. Clint stopped and turned towards the pup, and when he did, the beast wagged his tail like mad.

    "I'll be back." Clint promised. He took a few more steps forward and the pup howled again. "I will!"

    Clint almost lost sight of the fire when he found a good spot to dump the carcass, best that it be far from their hiding spot. The pup had followed after him, barking and howling with a new energy. It wanted something but couldn't express it. Laughing, Clint turned back and returned to his new little friend, he only stopped barking when Clint was within arm's reach.

    "What do you wa-" Clint stopped when he heard the thick growling. The pup at his feet lowered his ears, tail going right between his little legs. As slowly as possible, Clint turned, and stood face to face with a massive black wolf. It barred its fangs at Clint, and in return Clint froze.

    He'd learned how to deal with fighting people, not beasts.

    The wolf barked at Clint, Clint growled back. He crouched low, his hands stuck out on both his sides to make himself appear at least slightly larger. This worked for a second, but the black wolf sauntered forward with a snarl. Clint panicked. In a quick dart of his hand he picked up his pup by the scruff of his neck and threw a pile of dirt towards the wolf. It was enough to confuse it, and give Clint the few seconds he needed to clamber into the nearest tree. He hopped between branches, the fire back in sight.

    "Get in a tree!" He screamed in the direction of the fire. The black wolf stalked the area.

    Tessa might have been content to stay where she was, snacking on the unappetizing meat if it hadn't been for the frustrated cries of the young wolf pup. At first, Tessa had laughed. Clint was taking away his catch- and the image was almost sweet. But the cries continued, and Tessa finally noticed the left-over hunk of meat sitting where the pup had left it. Abandoned.

    That didn't feel quite right. The wolf pup was starved looking- no meat to spare for the crippled in a pack. She had never seen a hungry animal willingly leave behind food, not unless there was something more important.Danger danger. So she stood, cautiously making her way through the trees. It was fine, everything was fine- there was no way Clint would have let anything slip past his senses.

    Except he was exhausted- had he even managed to get any sleep the night before? They were both running on fumes. Had he even eaten anything yet? But it was Clint, he was cautious, he would be fine. She broke into a trot when the pup stopped howling.


    "Get in a tree!" Tessa brushed a low hanging branch out of her way- stopping dead just in time to hear his words, and see the wolf. It was the biggest damned wolf Tessa had ever seen- not that she'[d seen many. In fact, the ones they'd seen earlier that night might have been the first. But it was huge- standing up to her shoulders at the very least, with fur that blended into the shadows of the trees and eyes that glowed in the dark. It whirled around, at her voice, lips lifting in a snarl.

    "Oh fu-" Tessa stumbled back, and the wolf leaped. She wouldn't make it- she was going down. She lifted her arm between her and the wolf, the sound of their combined weight hitting the ground punctuated by the scream that tore from her throat. Pain lanced up her arm- as the wolf tossed it's head- ripping and shredding her arm. Hot splashes of blood flecked her face and it was all she could do to keep those vicious fangs away from her throat.

    More howls rose in the distance.

    Clint leaped from the tree, he had to drag the poor pup along with him, until they both hit the ground with a loud thud. The pup jumped out of Clint's arms and bounded towards the black wolf, there was little it could do but nip at his heels. The black beast turned to meet the minor irritation and growled with ferocity. The pup didn't reign in his nipping, yelping and doing his best to keep the black wolf away from Tessa. It worked for a time, that is until the black wolf's jaws found the small pup's leg and threw him off to the side. The pup yelped, but didn't limp off, he stayed put even in pain.

    "Tessa, get away, go!" Clint screamed at Tessa, both getting her and the wolf's attention. It snapped its jaws shut and began a slow circle. Earlier, Clint intimidated the beast, and although it wasn't fearful, it didn't know what Clint was capable of. Tessa had been easy pray to clamp its jaws around, but not the towering man.

    While the wolf circled, Clint moved towards Tessa, one arm reaching to pull her up by the scruff of her shirt. Her arm was torn to shreds, there was only so much he could do for her, but it wasn't the time for that. In another quick move, he threw her up and over the lowest hanging branch he could. Her legs dangled on the one end, her feet hanging just around his elbows.

    The wolf lunged again, but Clint was ready. He gripped its jaw shut just before it could clamp around his arm, and he slammed down into the dirt. By the look of the black wolf, Clint could make a decent assumption now. It was definitely the alpha. His size dwarfed those of the coming flashes of fur. None made a move on the wrestling pair, no one should have had to help the alpha. Clint knew he had to get out fast, and he wanted to take the pup with him. Other wolves looked like they wanted to pick a fight.

    He focused for a moment. His hands were clamped around the wolf's jaw, but its paws still had access to claw against his chest. Jagged claws scratched against his chest as Clint tried to get a good focus on the wolf's systems. He didn't want to resort to using bioalchemy to ward off an opponent, but the situation left him no choice.

    Clint put all his energy into contorting the alpha's hind legs. They twisted and broke under Clint's touch until he yelped in pain and fell to the forest floor. It couldn't even crawl away, and Clint hated what he'd done. As quickly as he'd broken the legs, he fixed them again, and the alpha scurried off. The intense amount of pain it was in scared it enough to make it run off.

    Wolves around them were frightened, but unsure as to why. Their alpha had run off without so much as a fight. Clint barred his teeth before the rest of the group, and they shied back. Before clambering up into the tree, he cradled the pup in his arms and shoved up. Tessa was waiting, his pup was waiting, everyone needed his medical attention.

    "Tessa, hey." He set the pup down on the branch, holding him up with his legs. Clint extended an arm towards her. "You with me?"

    "I- I'm with you.." for now. Her voice was weak- and it scared her. Oh god, how much blood had she lost already? She'd barely had the energy to drag herself onto the branch Clint had physically tossed her onto. Her jacket was balled and pressed into her arm- like that was somehow supposed to keep her from bleeding out. She didn't have enough strength to put pressure on the world.

    She was cold, so damned cold, and it had nothing to do with the chill that still nipped at the air. It was the bone deep kind- like the one time she'd been shot, and left to die by some thief. Left there the entire night through, until someone had finally found her.

    "You'll have to... teach me that trick. Seems..." Tessa groaned, trying to push herself further up the branch. Laying back the way she was made her feel like she was going to fall asleep. The pain in her arm helped wake her up. "...seems useful." She finished meekly.

    And then the wolf started howling again, flattened on the branch the way he was, his eyes wide enough to see the white's all around his iris'. As soon as attention was drawn to him, he stopped, quivering on the branch. What the hell had gotten into....?

    And that was when Tessa felt it. It wasn't enough, the airship crashing, getting stuck in the mountains, running into wolves. She could feel it at the edges of her senses, a heat far greater then the paltry campfire they'd started.

    The forest was on fire.

    "Clint- Clint we have to go-" Her words were cut off by a harsh cough, they could finally smell it now, the smoke. Like black fog it had coated the sky, blocking the view of the stars. Between the clouds and the thin slice of moon, it had hardly been noticeable. But now, it was in the trees. Choking their lungs and making even breathing difficult.

    "Fire!" She croaked out, not that it was necessary. Now, the orange glow of flames was visible through the trees.

    "What?" Clint turned to see the flames roaring into their cover. Wolves be damned, not a one would attack them when they themselves were running for cover. He braced himself for a quick jump out of the tree, but not before he grabbed Tessa and threw her on his back.

    She was bleeding heavily out of her one arm, and Clint could feel the life being drained out of her with each crimson drop. They landed on the ground, pup thrown over Clint's shoulder along with the girl. He was exhausted, having not slept a wink for the last few days it felt like. However, he had to persist, because if he stopped now they'd be burned into black char along with the rest of the woods.

    "Don't you fall asleep on me." Clint groaned with the extra pressure on his back. The wolf pup nipped at the back of his hair, and he had to brush the beast away. Clint was purely amazed how strong the pup's grip was, and pulled him away from his back to cradle it with one arm instead of dangling him over his shoulder, that's where Tessa was.

    He moved as fast as he could, but it was never fast enough. Flames licked the trees around them, and more than once he had to stop to avoid a flaming branch falling out of the sky. Clint could only do so much though. He coughed and hacked his way through the forest until they came upon a lake.

    Thank whatever Gods are here today.

    With great haste he sank into the waves of the lake until he was waste high. The pup in his arms squirmed uncomfortably, and no doubt he was fearful of being unable to swim. Clint adjusted Tessa on his back, making sure she stayed right there instead of slipping away form him.

    "Can you move, Tessa? Can you hear me?" He asked.

    They'd need a miracle to get out of this.

    Tessa blinked, trying to clear the spots from her eyes. It had been warm- hot, too hot. And now it was cold. But not the good kind of cold, when it bit at her skin and left her feeling fresh and awake. It was a numb kind of cold, like she was losing all sense of touch.

    "I'm.. here." She felt tingly all over, like her entire body had gone to sleep on her. She almost had to laugh at the sensation. The pins and needles would hurt like a bitch when this was all said and done. If, her mind morbidly whispered. You're dying.

    "Clint... Y--you need to save Jessie..." Bio-alchemy could only do so much, and she refused to let him kill himself trying to keep her alive. "Find the... the ship. I wr-" Tessa nearly swallowed her tongue when the roar of the flames picked up. It was like a monster. growing louder and louder until she could barely hear the crackling of the branches. Like they were walking into the gullet of some great beast-

    Or the engine of a ship.

    Light washed over the pond, highlighting the two struggling figures in the water. Hewlett didn't even need to think, as soon as he saw that flash of blonde hair. There was no way this was a coincedence. A rebel ship spotted- and presumably downed- nearby, fire in the mountains, and that now familiar head of blonde hair? He didn't recognize the man with her, but he was hopeful. Maybe he'd finally struck gold.

    "Get us closer! I'm going to grab the rope and pull them in!" The soldier saluted, navigating the small ship as close as he dared without causing too much disturbance in the water below.

    "Hey! can you hear me!" Two faces turned up towards the opening bottom hatch. Hewlett tossed the long coil of rope- looped at the end in a makeshift cradle- down towards the surface of the water. "I'll pull you up! Hold tight!"

    Clint didn't question the military ship above him. He quickly hoisted himself into the rope loop, and was just as hasty to move Tessa into his lap so he didn't lose a hold of her. The wolf pup walked awkwardly over the both of them, an odd trio to be found in the middle of a burning wood. As soon as he had adjusted himself into the awkward cradle, the rope began to tug around him, pulling them all up towards the hull of the airship.

    "Hey, hey!" Clint all but slapped his hand along the side of Tessa's face. Her skin was pale, ice cold and she was beginning to be unresponsive. "Tessa, you gotta wake up, you hear me?"

    He wasn't about to lose anyone else, not while he could still do something about it. Clint pulled her close to his chest, eager to get her warm again despite the grim fact of the situation. Tessa was dying.

    Clint shot out of the cradle and into the ship once they were close enough and the pup jumped away. He wanted to be on solid earth, even if that meant fabricated boards of a Republic based airship. The pup didn't know the difference. Solid wood was solid enough.

    "Don't fall asleep." Clint ordered her. He pulled his jacket away and wrapped it around her chest. Keep the vitals warm. "Somebody get me a goddamn medic, now!"

    The angered rebel, though none knew his status, screamed at the confused deckhands. Not a one dared to argue with their new captive, his stature was fierce like that of a bear protecting her young. Clint hunched over Tessa, even now he wanted to sleep and be done with it, but there was work yet to do. He pressed his hands on the blonde haired girl's arm, one above the gaping wound, the other just below.

    He mumbled a few words, his own life's energy poured into healing the wound. His voice grew louder, louder, until he growled her name and forced his body to work the bioalchemic process it was trying so hard to stop. It could have killed him, probably should have, but Clint was a massive man and ever so hard to kill.

    "You can't leave me yet." Clint closed his eyes. "Don't you go."

    The deck was a flurry of activity- a difficult feat for a small crew of no more then ten members to accomplish. But there it was, like a hive of overturned bees, as the crew tried to make sense of the chaos. Finally, after much arguing, Tessa and Clint were set up in the medical bay, Tessa attached to various machines and liquid drips, and Clint being watched by the disgruntled medic.

    "I am perfectly qualified as a doctor thank you very much- and I don't need that one telling me any different!" Hewlett rested his hands on the doctors shoulders heavily, trying for a small ounce of sympathy. Dael had hand picked every single one of the men for this particular venture- all for the wonderful ability to keep their mouth shut. Hewlett had known why this doctor was so inclined within moments of meeting him. The good doctor was miserly with words- and scroogish when it came to his job. He hadn't been impressed by Tessa's companion.

    "They made it this far, McCoy, I'm sure they'll be fine now. I need to speak to them, privately." The doctors mouth stretched into a grim line, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Please." Hewlett added on. The doctor left without another word, the door to his office slamming shut behind him. Hewlett could hear the grumbled mutterings from behind the solid wood. Great. Now he'd offended the doctor as well. Running one hand over his face wearily, Hewlett took in the sad looking motley in front of him. Two bedraggled, exhausted, and injured people, and one small crippled wolf pup.

    How the hell did he even start?

    "My names Hewlett, now that I finally have a chance to introduce myself." That was a good start, though all it earned him from the pale blonde was a confused blink. She hadn't said more then two words- and he could see why. She'd almost died of blood loss.

    Clint had his large hand wrapped around Tessa's petite one. He wasn't about to leave her side, not when hew knew what side he was on now. No one knew his name and he liked it that way. If anyone knew he was a Rebel, he'd be put to the firing squad before sunrise. Somewhat infamous, Clint rather wanted to avoid the death penalty because of his name.

    The doctor had tried to get Tessa to speak, but her voice was lost just like most of the blood in her system. She'd noticeably paled and the lights only served to illuminate her sickly hue. Clint cursed himself for not having been able to see what was coming. The wolves were right there on the prowl, but Clint hadn't been able to detect them at all.

    He was so damn tired.

    Hewlett introduced himself, and Clint didn't bother to respond. If he gave a real name, it wouldn't be long before death came around. He still had to protect Tessa, get her somewhere safe, find her sister. They couldn't do any of that if he so much as gave a whisper of his first initial.

    "What do you want?" Clint asked. His hand gripped tight around Tessa's.

    Well. This was going smashingly well so far.

    "We've been looking for you, well, more specifically.. we've been looking for her." Hewlett nodded his head in Tessa's direction, quickly lifting his hands to show he meant no harm by it. The dark haired man had been touchy enough when it came to his blonde companion. And he really didn't want to have to tell Tessa- Jessie, he corrected himself in his mind- that he'd had to hurt one of her former...current crew members. Damn, it was all so confusing.

    Twins. Who'd have thought.

    "Her sister is very... concerned. And the captain is aware of their..." He threw a hesitant glance to the doctors closed doors. His grumbling had ceased, and Hewlett had no doubt he was listening closely. "...Unique circumstances."

    Hopefully that would be enough to keep the man from getting too out of hand. He looked just about ready to drop, and the last thing he wanted was either of them dying of exhaustion before he could reunite the two twins.

    "He sent me to help, in whatever way I could."

    Clint froze in place. He turned his sunken eyes towards Hewlett and blinked hard for a second, maybe two, it felt like too much time had passed with every draw of his eyelids. Each passing moment felt like an eternity and his body fell hard towards exhaustion the longer he forced himself to so much as breathe. But, he kept a grip on Tessa's hand like no other, he feared that when he let go she'd be engulfed in the flames behind him. He wouldn't let her fade, couldn't let her.

    "I don't know if I believe you." Clint finally stated. "You don't know who I am, you don't know who she is, what's that, you could be rebels for all I know."

    Of course, he did know better. It was best not to trust strangers on the road however. Clint knew that this particular stranger was military by the way he walked, talked, hell even the hairs on his head stood to attention, would at least if Clint ordered the command. Hewlett was a tough looking character, but he was certainly no rebel. Clint had to test him, he wanted to see his intentions instead of have false accusations thrown in his face.

    "What's this Captain's name? Hm?" Clint hummed. "What if she's not a twin, then what?"

    Clint turned away from Hewlett to check again on Tessa. Her vitals were fine, they were just fine now that she'd been stabilized through medical drips and machines alike. It was far more than his bioalchemy could do on its own, that much was obvious.

    "Convince me."

    He'd been expecting this, really. Still frustrated him, but he'd been expecting it. Though it was good to get a confirmation that this really was the right girl. Not that he could mistake a face like that, but hearing the word 'twin' from his lips was all the proof he needed to pull a worn scrap of paper from his pocket.

    It was a picture, of Jessie. Taken when she wasn't looking- mischief in her eyes as she crept up on the captain, and the smile on Dael's face as he pretended not to notice.

    "Captain's name is Dael Cooper. Her name is Theresa Astor, and her sister is Jessamine. Never said they were twins," And he hid a small smile at this, "But I guess it's pretty easy to tell. Damn. I didn't think two people could really look so alike, twins or not."

    He passed the picture to Clint, so he could see for himself that it really was Jessamine in the picture.

    "And if you don't believe me, when that one wakes up you can ask her. She'll be able to tell you she's never met that man in her life. At least, That's what the captain tells me." Hewlett shrugged his shoulders, and leaned back into the chair. He still couldn't quite believe his eyes. It had been pure luck, when they found the two in the pond. Pure, dumb luck. But damn, was he glad they'd made it in time. There would be no facing Jessie, not after his... betrayal, if he couldn't save her sister.

    "Trust me enough to give me a name?"
    #4 Lillian Gray, Jan 9, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2015
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  5. "Ah, fuck." Clint cursed. In the end, he'd blown it.

    The man, Hewlett, handed him a picture of Jessie. Clint let go of Tessa's hands so he could examine the photograph. He knew it was her, the look in her eyes unmistakable, despite how closely they matched that of her twin sister. Tessa could make that look all on her own, but it had a different light to it. Where Jessie was earnestly mischievous at every twist and turn, Tessa was a little less purposeful and more accidental. Whisky usually had something to do with it.

    "She looks well." Clint mused, lightly tracing over the slightly faded image. "Here, Tessa."

    He turned, and with both hands extended the image to hold just in front of Tessa's face so she could see without exerting herself. She was tired, probably asleep, so he left it on her chest, and tucked one of her hands over the image. That way, when she woke, it would be right there. The Astor twins could finally be reunited in spirit. He watched her chest rise and fall with a heavy labor, concern marked his face the moment they arrived on the ship and had only grown into thick creases on his brow.

    "I don't think you want to know my name." Clint responded wearily. "My reputation has gone far, and you might suddenly find that my place is over the side of the ship."

    After the massacre at Farnworth, Clint had vowed to take all sorts of revenge against every Republic crew he could get his hands on. Some vows went through more than others, but there were still a few men, the ones who had ordered the slaughter. They'd know Clint Anderson by eyes alone, and giving up his full name would earn him trouble. However, they had Tessa. If they had her, they were bound to know something about him by relation alone. Unless, Hewlett was indeed harmless, then his name would mean nothing.

    "...It's Anderson." Clint watched the rise and fall of Tessa's chest as he spoke. "Clint Anderson."​
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  6. Hewlett whistled lowly, his hands scrubbing at his face. Clint goddamned Anderson. Knowing Jessie was the captain of a rebel ship was one thing. But the ship that held Clint fucking Anderson? He was well known for his brutality. And yet, Hewlett couldn't see any of that in this man who treated the woman before him with such tender care.

    "You're right. I was better off not knowing." He really needed a smoke. "But I could hardly tell Jessie I threw her first mate off the side of the ship. Besides. Technically I'm on unpaid suspension. I'm here outside of military orders."

    He clapped his hands against his legs and stood, knocking on the arm of the chair as he rose for luck.

    "You look like you could use a good sleep. Or maybe a good coma. We can talk more in the morning, after you've had some rest. I'd say don't worry but..." Well, his suspicious nature spoke for itself. Doubtless the man would not relax as long as he was in enemy territory. "At least you don't have to worry about any of us pulling anything."​
    #6 Kitsunemage, Jan 9, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2015
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  7. Clint waited for Hewlett to leave before turning to face Tessa again. A monitor buzzed on his left, indicating there was still life in her otherwise tired features. They'd spent too many days out in the cold without proper gear or will, and had it not been for one single night of shared heat, he doubted Tessa would've had the strength to power through it with him. Clint was running purely on adrenaline and the overpowering need to keep one girl safe. A whole lot hinged on her being alive and well, that's how he intended to keep her.

    "You rest now, Theresa Astor." Clint murmured. He picked up her hand and kissed the back tenderly, the only part of her skin not battered or bruised from his previous manhandling. She was burnt, bitten, and bleeding.

    The silent patter of three paws, followed by the slow drag of a lame leg, caused Clint to turn down to the pup he'd nearly forgotten about in his haste to see Tessa mended. It looked up to Clint, eyes unyielding to what it really thought about the man, before his tail began to wag and his tongue lolled out as the beast panted with some kind of animal joy. The man snickered quietly at the sight. After all that, being stuck in the mountains for days, and Clint ended up with a wolf pup to call his own. Although, the leg still needed looking after.

    Clint picked the pup up by the scruff of his neck and set him down beside the sleeping Tessa. He knew his next actions would warrant a little upset from the animal, but, Clint hoped there would also be understanding. He placed his hand over the one lame leg and paused before working on forming together a proper leg. It was different than a man's, the bones aligned in new places he hadn't yet tried, and despite the wolf's whimpers he persisted.

    Inevitably, it was too much. Clint forced himself to see it to the end before his body gave out and collapsed in a heap on the bed. His arms folded beneath his head, Tessa's chest continued to breathe in an unsteady fashion before him. He feared the worse. That she'd never wake up, and the pup might gnaw off his nose in anger.

    Just before his eyes closed, he felt the gentle nudge of a wet nose, and for a moment in time he thought he heard someone calling his name.

    4th month, 15th day


    On an airship with a destination unknown, Clint and Tessa could finally get some goddamn rest.​
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  8. Tessa adjusted the collar of her jacket again. It was strange- it hadn't been long since she'd last worn one of these uniforms. It was not too long ago, in fact, that she'd felt naked without it. But now, it felt strange to be wearing one again. Maybe that was why she couldn't get her damned collar to lay flat.

    Her fingers smoothed over the crisp fabric again in a vain attempt to fix something that was probably just fine. Probably just fine... She looked different. And it wasn't just the lines of worry that had found homes at the corners of her mouth. Her eyes were both warmer, and paler simultaneously. Her hair lacking much of it's healthy shine. She looked like a stranger to the uniform tugged around her shoulders.

    "I guess it's only to be expected, eh pup?" Tessa glanced down in the direction the wolf pup had been sitting not too long ago- and wasn't surprised to see him gone. Ever since she had woken up and found the pup healed (something she'd scolded Clint for profusely. He should have at least rested first), she hadn't once seen it sit still for any length of time. At least that was something to smile about.

    And he seemed to be rather attached to her C...

    Red flags of embarrasment waved on her face, stark against her still too pale skin. Her what? Her Clint? The inevitable separation coming in the future seemed all too close now, with a navy uniform covering her limbs and a navy ship beneath her feet. He couldn't be her anything...

    Tessa turned away from the mirror with a small sound of disgust, her boots clipping against the floor with an achingly familiar sound. She didn't know wether to hurry, or take her time. She wanted so badly to stay... but wouldn't it be better to just get the whole thing over with in one go?

    "You're up! That's good to see. We were beginning to think you'd never... well." Tessa smiled at Hewlett, who looked decidedly uncomfortable. She couldn't quite place it- but everytime she talked to the man, there was this look that crossed his face. And for the life of her, she couldn't place it. "Come on, I'll take you up to the deck."

    "How'd you know I was going for the deck?" Hewlett paused a moment, a sheepish smile finally spreading across his face.

    "Sorry. Theres- I mean, Jess does that. Whenever she got out of the medical bay, first place we'd see her was up on the deck."

    "That definitely sounds like my sister... Alright, I could use some fresh air. Why not."

    "So Jessie really is okay?" The wind felt good on her face, especially now that they were out of the mountains and out of the bitter cold. "I was worried... well, I was worried that she'd find trouble."

    "Oh she found plenty of that. Damn girl must've gotten cursed by a leprochaun or something. But she's managed to make it out of them all in tact. Mostly. At least the captain is keen on her staying in one piece."

    Captain Dael Cooper. Who would have thought. Tessa peeked at the picture Hewlett had given her and Clint, unable to help her smile. Her sister looked so... happy. Even if it was strange seeing her in a military uniform. She couldn't help but wonder... would Jessie even want to go back? Would she choose love over duty, and her beliefs?

    Indecision tore at her will.

    "Thanks, Hewlett. I'm glad to hear she's really safe. Where's Clint?"

    She needed to see him... just for a little while.

    Just a little while.​
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  9. "Speak of the devil and he shall appear." Hewlett grumbled, as the heavy footsteps of an unknown source made their way up behind the pair.

    Clint was still tired, thick and heavy purple bruises sat perfectly under both his eyes. Even after sleeping for so long, there was no rest. His back was in pain from sitting at Tessa's side all night, but he wouldn't have exchanged the encounter for a full bed. His hair was clean after a long and necessary shower in the communal bath, and he smelled like standard issue soap. He combed a hand over his black hair and tried to avoid looking at anyone in particular. He wasn't wearing what he was used to, his leather jacked was nearly torn to shreds, and left back in the med bay on Tessa's bed.

    When he stepped out, it was obvious he was uncomfortable in his new uniform. It was the only thing on hand, really. That's the excuse he came up with for himself.

    "I'm here." He groaned. In the light it was easy to see why he was so bothered. The thick wool Republic uniform stayed tight over his chest, and he hated the feel against his skin. Everything about it felt wrong, and he wanted to shrug out of it as quickly as he could. Problem being, he didn't have any other clothes that weren't ruined by fire, sweat, or ripped to shreds.

    "Ah, Tessa, come 'ere." Clint smiled wide, only for her. Hewlett was a byproduct of the situation of being on an undercover Republic ship, and nothing but background noise.

    He swooped in and picked her up by the sides, twirling her in a circle before pulling her down to plant a kiss on her cheek. That was the Clint of old, when love and adoration shone through his tough exterior shell. In an instant, the smile faded to a smirk, as he stood next to Tessa.

    They'd only be together for a while longer.

    Just a little while.​
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  10. Tessa's face lit up as soon as she spotted Clint. It was the kind of light that really made Hewlett think, as the girl practically lunged into his arms, and laughter bubbled from her lips. The same kind of light he'd seen in Jessamine's face when she stared at the captain. It was in that moment that the two girls truly looked identical. If Jessamine had been there, both of them smiling like that...

    "I hate to break this up..." Tessa started, a cross between guilt and embarrassment firing her cheeks, and shot a sheepish look at Hewlett. His interruption didn't stop her from wrapping her arms around Clint in a hug, or from burying her face in his chest. The standard soap smell was disappointing-even if it was an improvement on the way they had both reeked. "...but we gotta decide where we're going next."

    Tessa shared a look with Clint. He could do the talking. She didn't want to accidentally say something he wanted kept a secret. They'd built too much trust, and for all that she was still a navy girl... She didn't want to betray the faith he placed in her. Not ever.

    "You two got any notion of where you need to go?"​
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  11. Clint had both his arms extended around Tessa in a protective hold, his back turned sideways as if to block Hewlett's stare. It wasn't obtrusive or strange the way the Republic man looked on, Clint only wanted to keep Tessa safe now that he had his arms around her again. She was there, whole, and that smile on her face lighting up the world anew. He'd never felt so alive, so liberated before.

    "I have a heading." Clint responded, hist tone instantly dropped to a formal glower of his former self. Tessa brought out the best in him, but any other Republic man, or woman, never would. "But first, my crew. I can't go anywhere without my crew."

    It was a vague enough answer where Clint didn't need to go into immediate specifics. There'd need to be clarification on the downed Rebel ship, and he prayed that they made it out alive. Smoke and ash had blurred his vision before Clint and Tessa ended up falling out of the crow's nest. The last images were of a Republic Striker blasting cannons into the hull, or at least attempting it. Rodney had a few tricks beneath the hull of the Taivas, but there'd only be so illusions until the real firepower was put on display, and that would only run out. It all amounted to cannons and alchemy, and they were low on morale as well.

    The prospect of survival wasn't good.

    "We were shot down over the Castermary range, coming up from Joywood." Clint explained, bare minimum details were all that were required, but Hewlett probably already knew why.

    "You were looking for Te- Jessie." Hewlett supplied the information, and Clint nodded.

    "We had a hint that she might be in Edinburgh." Clint said, raising an eye to see if his suspicions would finally be confirmed. "But my crew comes first."

    Clint's arms wrapped more tightly around Tessa. His crew came first, he meant it. Tessa had become more of a formal Captain than she knew. Her work wasn't bad, she fought well in combat, and he'd be damned if he let her go now because of pompous titles. Her ideals were one in a million, and Clint would fight to keep her safe. Suddenly, Hewlett felt like more of a danger. He was one step closer to losing her back to the Republic side.


    He couldn't act on his impulses to keep her safe though. No one had made any threats.

    "Have you spotted any Rebel ships in the area?"​
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  12. "Us? No. And you'd better hope that no-one else has." Tessa reluctantly separated from Clint at Hewlett's words. It felt wrong, showing so much affection on the deck of a navy ship, especially during such a serious topic. No, not wrong... just... embarrassing? She was so used to keeping herself under tight control in uniform. The last few weeks had been freeing- she'd been able to speak what was on her mind, let loose all of the feelings she was keeping in...

    And now she was on a navy ship again.

    "The only reason we found you, was cause we got wind of reports of an altercation with a rebel ship in the area. They were damaged, but the pursuing ship suffered engine damage. We haven't heard anything since then- so either they went down, or they've been lying low." That... wasn't good news. But at least they hadn't been caught yet. "Have any idea where they'd go?"

    "Think they'd keep course for Edinburgh?" Tessa looked up at Clint, a worried frown creasing a line between her brows. "Or do you think they'd circle back to look for us?"​
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  13. "What day did you say it was?" Clint asked.

    "Fourth month, fifteenth day." Hewlett answered.

    Clint paused. That meant they'd been in the mountains for a good four, solid days. Deik only had so much patience, and he'd likely have taken charge the moment he saw the two were missing. Clint had no doubt in his mind that they'd looked for Clint and Tessa for a day, but after the second the morale would have been low. A gunfight, two high ranking rebels gone in a flash. That settled it. They weren't on the move, if they'd even tried at all to look for Clint and Tessa.

    "They would've looked for a time." Clint murmured. "Don't think they'd leave us behind so easy, what with Jessie gone and all."

    He relinquished his hold on Tessa after she pulled away. A small frown formed on his lips, but could easily be mistaken for his typical scowl. His mood would only sour the longer they stayed in the military presence. Clint simply didn't enjoy the company of men who were associated with the Republic, past grievances and all.

    "Edinburgh...probably." Clint agreed. "Hewlett, be careful with that information. Just remember who you've got on board. Clint Anderson. If anyone finds I'm missing all because I was supposedly saved by a Republic vessel? You'd be shot down in a heartbeat."

    He completely released Tessa now and stalked away. Clint was in no mood to talk tactics with the enemy any longer. Far too much had been said about what they were doing and where they were going. The entirety of his frame tensed up, the wool of the Republic uniform pulled around his shoulders and accented the thick muscles buried beneath. With an annoyed grunt, he returned to the medical bay and slammed the door shut.​
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  14. Hewlett stared after Clint's retreating back. Tessa couldn't blame the man- after all, being faced with that much hostility was rather.. daunting. He was lucky though- at least he was around the same size. Tessa had to deal not only with his hostility at first, but also being towered over. Not a very fun combination. Especially not now that she was already missing his arms around her.

    "Well. That went well." Tessa had to laugh at Hewlett. At least he was looking on the bright side.

    "You get used to it after a while. Don't worry, I'll talk to him. Set a course for Edinburgh?" Hewlett nodded, and watched Tessa as she walked away. So much like her sister, and yet at the same time... She just lacked that edge, that feeling as though she would spontaneously do something crazy.

    Damned twins.
    "Clint?" Tessa peered around the door carefully before entering. The last thing she wanted was to get more furniture thrown at her. She was relatively sure that he would do no such thing now... but wasn't it always better to be safe then sorry? Regardless, whatever he decided to throw at her (emotionally or otherwise), Tessa was determined to spend some time with him. It would take them a while to get to Edinburgh, and there was nothing for them to do on the ship save wait.​
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  15. Clint flopped down on the bed and stole Tessa's IV. The current ship doctor looked at him funny, but who was he to complain? Clint would be there and gone in a heartbeat, and the missing fluids nothing more than a slight expense. It was too costly for rebels to afford on a regular basis, and Clint dared to say he hadn't seen the liquid since his days in Farnworth. Bioalchemy sufficed for the injuries most days.

    The pup had soon joined Clint on the bed, his nose nudged against Clint's hand and he lifted it to scratch the young wolf's ears. He hadn't yet given the animal a name. Nothing suitable popped into his mind when he looked at his face. There were no significant color patterns, no birth marks, only the one lame leg (which Clint had repaired) and the story of how he was air lifted from a forest of fire.

    "What am I gonna do with you?" Clint asked. The wolf looked up at the call, panting with pleasure at his master's touch.

    "Clint?" A familiar sing song voice called.

    The rebel wasn't throwing anything, he wasn't in a rage. Quite the opposite. He sat cozily in Tessa's bed with the IV in his arm, basking in the artificial strength it seemed to give him. Clint stayed down, rubbing the pup with one hand and motioning for Tessa to come forward with the other. Only, his anger grew the longer he sat put.

    "I'm sorry." He said almost immediately on her approach. "I should have been more, well. I just can't, Tessa, I can't do that. What am I even saying?"

    The man closed his eyes and sighed. Being kind to any Republic personnel, save Tessa, was beyond his capabilities. The anger swelled in his chest, memories flooded his mind, eager to remind him of the past pain and horror of Clint's mind. His only encounters with Republic had been sour and left a bitter taste in his mouth. Tessa was the only difference, something about her had changed him, yes, but would it be enough?

    "I lost my family, now Jessie, my crew, the ship?" Clint let out an exasperated sigh. "I can't keep doing this, Tessa."​
    #15 Lillian Gray, Jan 13, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
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  16. Seeing his helplessness... It just made her heart ache. She tried to see it from his point of view. Yes, he was being forced to sit on the same ship as his enemies, just like she had been for the last month... but she hadn't had her family slaughtered by rebels. She hadn't had a family torn from her grasp, unless you counted her sister defecting.

    She didn't count that. It had to be killing him, merely standing on this ship.

    But his words just about killed her. What did he mean? Did he mean he couldn't keep doing... whatever it was they were together? That was a thought that brought a sharp pang to her stomach. Or did he simply mean...he was tired of fighting? Of constantly losing, of war and strife.

    "You don't have to be. You can just stand there quietly then. Be my intimidating body-guard." She was teasing him, hoping to lighten up the mood. She smoothed out the sheets beneath her hand as she sat. Wanting to touch him, but too scared after his words.

    "Have you thought of a name yet?"​
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  17. "No. Not yet." Clint replied.

    He pulled the IV from his arm, military coat long discarded, and left it to fall lazily to the floor where it twinkled noiselessly against the wooden panels of the deck. It has served its purpose well enough in the short time Clint had use to it. All it was, was a luxury he was often times unable to afford, but that wasn't important now. He knew there were other pressing matters which didn't involve the use of high end medicine.

    "Come 'ere, Tessa." Clint smiled with a sad expression masking his features. It wasn't nearly as heartfelt as his earlier expression, seeing her there on the deck with the sun on her face. She looked alive in her spot in light. Her clean golden hair, so like Jessamine's, billowing in the light breeze against the clear open sky. In her eyes, that same light was reflected by her two blue orbs.

    That was no place for him to be. Not at her side, he was undeserving of the honor.

    Clint sat up, using one arm to prop up his body and the other to reach out and tuck a strand of hair back behind her ear. He left his hand to linger on her skin. Where his hands were course and dry, her pale frame was soft and still filled with the youth of his own past. He continued to gaze up with that same smile until he forced his eyes to drift away. They'd constantly be locked with hers if he never made himself be proper.

    "Is that what I am to you?" Clint smirked. "A body guard?"

    I don't deserve this either.
    #17 Lillian Gray, Jan 13, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
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  18. Tessa gave him, the look. That look, a mixture of adoring indulgence and just a hint of amusement. One that seemed to say,
    you can't really believe that.

    "Sorry, I don't make a habit of kissing my body guards." Her reaction to his touch was immediate. Just a slight lean, to press her cheek against his hand. Her fingers reaching up to cradle his. It didn't matter that his hands were rough, and calloused. They were warm, and gentle. Capable of so much good. They were healing hands.

    As if to show her appreciation, Tessa turned her head to press her lips to his fingers in a kiss. It was chaste, sweet. It might have been innocent, if she hadn't had their night in the mountains on her mind. If she didn't want his lips where his hands were at that very moment.

    Oh, she had it bad.

    "Guess I'll just have to find another job for you."​
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  19. Oh if her lips weren't so sweet, or her words filled with so much adoration, Clint wouldn't have had the conflict in his heart. She tore and ripped at his every breath, stealing each one with a kiss or a sigh. Through ruin, pain, he would persist because it amounted to one thing. One simple phrase he was too afraid to admit to. When had it happened, he wondered? When had every action become a siren's call to his very manhood?

    "I'm your captor." Clint supplied an answer. "Your healer, your Captain, your enemy. I am all of those things, Theresa Astor, but what do you want me to be?"

    There was honest inquiry in his question. When all was said and done, they boiled down to one Republic girl and one Rebel man. They were incompatible by every book and every wise bit of advice in the world, but Clint wanted to believe differently. The two sides had once been united, and then whatever attraction was there would have been commonplace. She'd reminded him of the humanity that all people desired and possessed, and that was something Clintn was in desperate need to be reminded of. Tessa was a girl, and it wasn't just her inner nature which compelled her to be good, but it might have been that of every man, woman, and child's. People were good, he'd simply forgotten through time and loss.

    Tessa had given him plenty to believe in again, but would it last? She'd be gone, out of his life, just like the rest of his friends and family. There wasn't a thing he could do to convince her to stay, but let his hands linger on her face a moment more.

    "How are..." Clint started to ask, but diverting the subject felt like a shame. He crouched forward and placed a second hand on Tessa, this one placed near her chest to check her vitals. "I thought I'd lost you."​
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  20. What do you want me to be?

    There were so many things she could say, so many words that might have tried to describe exactly what she wanted from the man in front of her. But nothing could come close, it was all too complex, too twisted and lost. Like every path they could possibly take only looped back on itself, and kept them spinning. There was only one thing she was sure of. A breath parted her lips, tongue tracing the word;


    "Please... You can't get rid of me." Was what she said instead.

    Her heart skipped, when his hand pressed to her chest. Heat seared straight from his touch, to her stomach, to her breasts, rising in her cheeks now that she was capable of thinking of anything other then survival.

    "Thought I told you that already."​
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