15 years BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin)
Xander Caden looked over at his sweating wife with dreamy eyes and nodded slowly in affirmation, returning his gaze to the two newborns in their arms. One was lighter-skinned, with light brown hair and gentle, ice-blue eyes that were alternating between the both of them. He had stopped crying, much to their surprise, less than ten minutes after birth, just five minutes before his much more impetuous brother came out, vocals blaring at max. He hadn't stopped crying since, although it was less crying and more…raging, as if he were a force of nature begging to be released. His appearance was as different compared to his brother as his behavior, with jet-black hair and dark blue eyes that were narrowed to slits in his infantile rage. Telia giggled at his baby pouting and the wild flapping of his flabby arms, gently poking her son in the stomach and watching in delight as he suddenly stopped screaming, instead opting to stare at her with confused eyes.
"This one's a fighter," she cooed, nuzzling his soft baby skin and breathing in his scent before looking over at her husband. "Takes after his father."
Xander slid into bed next to his wife and pressed his hip against hers, cuddling close as they held their newborns next to each other. "I don't seem to remember his mother being such a bad fighter herself."
Telia snuggled closer to him. "But only his father has such perfect hair." She mock pouted as she ran a hand through her own. "Mine is so coarse and grainy."
The man pressed his lips to her head. "You ever hear me complain?"
She ran her free hand over his chest as her head leaned on his shoulder. "Mmm, never."
They both lay there for a long time, staring at the gentle rise and fall of their children's chests in parental glee. They had waited so long for this, and now, they were perfect. Xander ran a hand through his younger son's hair, smiling gently.
"So what are we going to call them?" he asked his wife.
She smiled at him, then at them both, turning her gaze to the calm one, who was staring at her with wide eyes and an open mouth. She smiled wider. "Alen. Alen Li-am, after a great ancestor." Telia ran a hand through his thin hair as her husband waited for her to explain. "He was a Jedi Knight over three thousand years ago during the war between the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire. Ever curious, ever questioning."
"And opposed to the separation of emotions from Knighthood, I'd wager."
Telia gave him a cheeky smile. "Well, considering he eventually ended up marrying his own apprentice, I'd assume so."
Xander's eyebrows went far up. "Woah…not…exactly the answer I was expecting." He shrugged in approval. "Kandosii."
Telia scrunched up her face. "Still can't nail down what that means, for the life of me."
Her husband scratched the back of his head. "It's…complicated. Like most phrases in Mando'a, it has multiple meanings ranging from technical to colloquial. Technically, kandosii means 'relentless,' or 'indomitable.'"
Her face flashed realization. "Your ship, the Kandosii'tal—Indomitable Blood."
He smiled and nodded. "Exactly. In that case, the meaning's literal. When used colloquially, though, it means something more like…well, it's a compliment, or a cheer. Effectively, 'kudos.'"
"Ah." She stroked little Alen's thin hair, turning her gaze to the unnamed boy after a while. "What about him? He certainly has your temperament."
Xander smiled as he watched the infant grab his thick index finger with both tiny hands, then bring his gums down on it hard. He chuckled lightly along with his wife.
"Barely an hour old and already taking after you."
He pouted at her. "I'll have you know that I rarely ever use my teeth in a fight." His mouth curved in a smirk as he looked back at the baby. "Or, in his case, gums."
Telia giggled. "Well?"
Xander wore a frown of concentration as he racked his mind. "Xel. Xel Caden."
"Any particular reason?"
"Xel was the name of a man I knew in the Outer Rim. One of my closest friends before the war. Not much of a fighter, but he gave his heart and soul to help me whenever I needed it." He ran a hand over the boy's head gently. "I fully intend on him being a fighter, but without that dedication, that loyalty…he might as well be muscle for hire." Xander scowled slightly. "And no son of mine will ever share that title as long as I have any say in the matter."
She pressed her lips against his cheek and whispered in his ear. "I know. You're far too honorable for that."
Xander looped his free arm around her shoulders and pulled her body against his tightly, staying silent for a long time as he enjoyed the company of his family. "Ner aliit." My family. "Beautiful."
Her smile faded. "And temporary."
His eyes screwed up tightly, and he sighed. "What are you talking about?"
"Why do you ask questions that you already know the answers to? I can feel them, Xander. I could feel them the moment they were conceived…and I know you can too."
He sighed again, heavily. "I had hoped…I was wrong. That I was just imagining it."
"No, love. I…I almost wish we were…but we're not. As they grow, so will their presence in the Force, and there will come a point when we will be unable to hide them."
"Are you sure? There must be a way to—"
"You can barely keep yourself hidden, Xander, much less two children, and I'm not talented enough to keep them both hidden and still perform normally."
"Then we teach them. Our family isn't meant to be separated, no matter how dire the circumstances."
"Xander, please. You know what the Empire will do if they discover their existence. The Emperor will stop at nothing to possess them, and sooner or later, he'll succeed. Our only chance—their only chance is in anonymity. You know I'm right."
His fists clenched around the baby wrappings of Xel. "Yes, I know…damn you. We'll have to separate them." He ran a hand across his sons' heads. "But not yet."
"No," she agreed, leaning back into his shoulder. "Not yet."
13 years later
Coronet City, Corellia
2 years BBY
"How much exactly?"
"14K alive, 10 dead."
Xander's eyebrows raised within his Mandalorian helmet. "Quite a haul. What did he do?"
The CorSec officer's eyes narrowed and lips pressed together as he averted his gaze. "Something…disgusting. Trust me, you don't want to know."
Xander nodded slowly. "I see." He turned his head to look behind him, spotting a slightly shorter body in a blue and silver suit of full Mandalorian armor. Although he was standing straight with perfect posture, Xander could tell that his son was having trouble adjusting to the weight. He gave him a nod and turned back to the officer. "We'll take the job."
The man, a balding lieutenant, sighed in relief. "Good. This psycho's escaped justice long enough." Xander nodded and turned for the door, but the officer grabbed his arm and leaned in close, whispering. "Look, the department posted this bounty, but between you and me, this guy doesn't deserve to live. I'll pay you the full fee no matter how you get him, dead or alive."
"I appreciate the gesture," Xander said, gently pulling away from his grip, "but I'm a man of honor. I'll bring him in—alive."
The lieutenant gulped and nodded at the harsh tone that came from the t-visored helmet's vocalizer. "Y-Yes sir."
Xander turned away and motioned to his fully armored son, striding for the door with his typical fast pace as they exited the precinct.
1 hour later
Coronet Spaceport, Corellia
"So where was he seen last?"
Xel couldn't quite understand the mess of strange sounds coming from this Aqualish's mouth. The language didn't agree with him, although he picked up a phrase or two, just enough to get the gist of the conversation.
"I see," his father said, index fingering the knife at his shoulder absently as the alien continued in his explanation. "Well," he said after another minute or so, reaching into a pouch at his belt, "you've been very helpful." He slapped a twenty-cred chip into the alien's open palm. "Thank you." As they walked away together, Xander could feel his son's discomfort. "You okay?"
"Hm? Oh, yeah. Just…" He grunted as he swung his right arm in a slow circle. "Just breaking it in."
"I meant the job, but that too."
"Oh. Well, I mean…you've got the lead here. I'm just the student."
Xander smiled behind his helmet's faceplate and laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "You're more than that, Xel."
"I know," he said, squirming slightly at the fatherly contact. He was sure they were being stared at. After all, most of the galaxy believed Mandos to be cold, ruthless killers. How would it look to have the auretiise see how they really were around each other?
Xander smiled wider and chuckled almost noiselessly, pulling his hand away as they kept walking back to the ship. He knew exactly what was going through his son's head, having once been in the exact same position with his father. Sooner or later, Xel would learn that it didn't matter what the auretiise thought of them. Mandos were Mandos, and no one's notions, preconceived or otherwise, could change that.
They reached his Kuat Heavy Striker a few minutes later, the beast of a ship representing home as much as transportation. Aptly named, the Kandosii'tal sported over a half-dozen heavy turrets and turbolasers alone with armor to match. Its engines had been refitted over a dozen times, and the power core was meant for a ship twice its size, allowing it greater draw for its weapons and propulsion. A mastery of Mandalorian engineering, the modifications to the vessel were worth more than the ship itself. In addition to the craft's considerable weaponry and other systems, a Spartan, three-man crew deck had been built into its hull, allowing Xander and two others to live on it for an indefinite period of time. It was the perfect vessel for Mandalorians, the very essence of nomadic life.
Xel gave out a long sigh of relief as he popped the seal on his helmet and pulled it off, setting it on his personal weapons locker in the crew deck. "Home sweet home." He ran a hand over the beskar helmet, admiring the sigils carved into its near-indestructible surface before doffing the rest of his armor, folding the flight suit neatly and stacking the armor plates in a way that would allow quick donning. Dressed in a black jumpsuit and boots, he made his way to the cockpit, where his father was tuning the systems and performing the pre-flight check. "So, did we have any saboteurs this time, buir?"
Xander involuntarily winced at the reminder of the previous month's…excitement. "No, ad'ika, not this time. Coronet has much better security than Nal Hutta…and much better crime rates, current mission aside."
Xel plopped into the copilot seat of the vessel, checking his side of the instruments as meticulously as he did every time. "So Dad," he said after a while, "what we do...bounty hunting..."
"Why do we do it, exactly?"
"It's...something like the family business."
"No, I mean…if they wanted to get this guy so badly, why didn't they send one of their own to pick him up?"
Xander pursed his lips and shook his head, right hand reaching absently for the ignition switch of their sublight engines. "It's politics, son. Jurisdiction. Criminals run to seedy places like Nar Shaddaa—and basically every other world under Hutt control—because they don't extradite criminals. With very few exceptions, if you commit a crime in a 'civilized' section of space and manage to get that far, you're safe. Hutts aren't too choosy about the company they keep…not most of them, anyway."
"And they can't send in one of their agents because…?"
"Because if they do, they'll be breaking galactic law and risking their necks not only against the target they're after, but the veritable sea of criminal shabuire that would just love to put two in their back."
"So they send in bounty hunters to counter both dangers."
Xander nodded. "Since we're independent contractors, we're not bound by jurisdiction, and since bounty hunters are, in most cases, viewed as criminals in their own right, we don't draw too many stares."
Xel nodded in understanding and double-checked his last readings. "Okay, all good here."
"Good on my end. Ready to fly."
The younger Mando smiled widely as his father expertly took them upward, turning right 90 degrees before kicking in the sublight engines and jetting them into the air, arcing out of atmosphere into the void of space.
"Hyperdrive online." Xander flicked a switch. "Coordinates locked." He gave his son a nod. "Punch it."
Xel grinned and pushed the lever between them forward, bracing himself for the familiar jolt of rapid acceleration. Star points in the black beyond their viewport turned to streaks of white as they accelerated past the speed of light, breaking off into the blue tunnel of hyperspace. No matter how many times they jumped, Xel never got tired of it, the thrill of the movement, the snap of the ship, and the amazing quiet that followed once they were on their way. It was all so jolting and contrasting and…freeing. Although it had once been hard for him to accept, he now understood the appeal of a nomadic lifestyle, and why so many Mandos could choose and had chosen to live this way.
"And we're on our way," his father remarked, leaning back in his chair and sighing. "You should get some rest. Won't do either of us much good if you pass out in the middle of a fight."
Xel rolled his eyes. "Buir, you and I both know that'll never happen."
Xander grinned. "Of course not, but you've hardly napped these past few days, and I don't want your response time being sluggish."
The boy sighed heavily. "Fine, but let me know when we're close. You are not leaving me on the ship again."
Xander's smile faded. Last job, the one he'd promised would be Xel's first, he had left his son on the Striker with no way to find him, but not because he'd forgotten. He genuinely hadn't wanted Xel along for that bounty. His son had matured greatly for his age, even among Mando boys, but there were still some things he wasn't meant to see. The memory of that mission still left a darkness on his mind, and he shuddered to think how that would have affected Xel. He shook his head and snapped himself back to the present.
"No, son, not this time." He rose and clapped the boy on the shoulder. "This time we hunt together." Xander gently shoved his son in the direction of the crew deck. "Now get some rest."
They had visited a half dozen seedy clubs and dives that Xander knew from experience were frequented by criminals and fugitives. Thus far, they had discovered that their target, one Len Taekis, a Twi'lek, was made of smoke and mirrors. Rumors and hearsay were all they had to go on, and Xel was getting aggravated. At this point, he hoped for a lucky number seven. As always, their entrance drew more than a few heads. Wherever they went, Mandalorians had a reputation that preceded them. One walking into a bar in full armor just for pleasure was about as rare as a Hutt with two tails. It was no surprise, then, that many of the patrons, some hardened criminals, gave the, not one, but two Mandos a wide berth as they strode up to the bar. The taller one in blue-gray armor laid his left forearm on the counter as his right reached for a holo at his belt.
"Len Taekis," he said, laying the picture within view of the bartender.
The person behind the counter, an Ithorian, shook his massive head before speaking in his native tongue, a language that Xel could actually understand. "Not one of my regulars, for sure."
"He wouldn't be," Xander said quietly in his vocabulator-distorted voice. "He's a recent fugitive."
The Ithorian's four throats sighed powerfully in understanding. Anyone and everyone who ran a club on the Smuggler's Moon knew the endless cycle of crime and flight that their world saw. "I see. I don't keep an eye out for that sort of thing, but you could ask Chell." He nodded to a smoke-filled section of the bar, where a green-skinned Nautilan was breathing in the heavy, sweet-smelling steam produced by his pipe.
"My thanks," Xander said to the 'tender, slapping a cred chip on the counter before striding off. "Xel, stay at the bar and keep an eye out. I've got a bad feeling about this."
The boy nodded to his father and kept his head on a swivel, sharp mind automatically marking all the exits and entrances, the tight, shadowy corridors, anything and everything that could be used for an ambush.
Xel turned his armored head toward the source of the voice, revealing a scantily clad Zeltron in his view, her finer assets barely obscured by the thin fabric she wore. Not even the heavy smoke from the Nautilan's pipe, which was drifting toward them with an outflow of air, could obscure the fact that she was very attractive.
"Ma'am," he said respectfully, dipping his helmeted head slightly in greeting.
"You lookin' for somethin'?"
A sly smile came to the red-skinned woman's face as she posed suggestively. "Really?"
"Not the way you think." He patted his hips, where two Mandalorian Assault Pistols were holstered.
Her eyebrows went up slightly. "Ah. I see." She didn't seem put off in the least, opting to lean her side against the bar as he was doing, the two facing each other. "So who's the unlucky fierfek?"
Xel's eyes narrowed. "I'd rather not say." His lips curved slightly upward as he laid a hand on her arm. "He's a dangerous fellow, and I wouldn't want a nice girl like you to get in any kind of trouble."
She put a hand to her chest and batted her eyelashes at him appreciatively. "Such a gentleman. Not a common trait these days."
He scoffed. "You only think that 'cause you're never among Mandos. With exceedingly rare exceptions, we treat our cyar'ike right."
He coughed discreetly. "Excuse me. Sometimes I forget who can speak our language."
"Guess that's because you're always around Mandos."
"That'd be my wager, yes."
She was silent a while. "So, you here alone?"
He raised an eyebrow inside his helmet and struck a pose. "Why? You lookin' to steal me away?"
She smiled and looked away mock demurely. "Maybe."
He sighed audibly. "Sadly, I'm on the job, and as much as I'd like to…" He ran a gloved hand through her raven-black hair and brushed his fingers over the back of her neck. "I don't mix work and pleasure."
She pouted exaggeratedly and leaned away from the bar. "Shame." She leaned in close and whispered huskily into the side of his helmet. "Maybe once you've tracked down your prey, you can put me on your hit list. I'd certainly like to see what those…guns of yours can do."
He smiled malevolently. "Maybe you will," he purred back deeply, gently grasping her hand for a moment before letting her glide away. He watched the sway of her hips as she strode out of the club and out of sight. His eyes narrowed to slits inside his helmet as his voice turned darker. "Maybe you will."
1 hour later
"Are you sure about this?"
Xel nodded emphatically. "Between the intel you got from the Nautilan and the conversation I had, this is definitely the place."
Xander looked at the abandoned industrial building dubiously. His contact had mentioned that Taekis was in business with a Trandoshan gang that ran this area, but to be so specific…
"What exactly led you here?"
Xel sighed heavily. He had explained this to his father at least a half-dozen times in the last half hour, but as he reflected on the conversations, he realized he was probably talking a thousand miles a minute. "Okay, there was this Zeltron that walked into the bar." He saw his father's eyebrows raise massively. "No, it's not the beginning of a joke. She strode right over to me and struck up a very…suggestive conversation."
Xander stared at him for a few seconds. "And?"
"And she came on to me before she found out I was on the hunt."
His father's eyes narrowed. "How much did you tell?"
"No specifics, except that our target's a dangerous man. She was…touched by my concern for her safety, and complimented me for it."
"How exactly does that help us find Taekis?"
"I put a tracker on her neck when she thought I was admiring her hair."
Xel scrunched his face up. "I…I don't know exactly. Something just felt…off about her. I don't know how to describe it. It was…like a gut feeling, except…I don't know, more…real? More certain?"
Xander's lips parted slightly, and his eyes narrowed almost indiscernibly. "I see," he said firmly. He could remember all too well the first time he felt that way… "No harm in investigating, then."
Xel's face flashed surprise before he nodded. "Right." His helmet went on before he checked his weapons and equipment. In addition to his Mandalorian APs, Xel was packing a serrated durasteel knife on the right side of his belt and a pair of wrist rocket launchers with extra power packs. His left gauntlet sported a grappling hook in addition to a liquid cable launcher at his belt. His suit was beskar'gam, a rare full set of Mandalorian iron armor, a near-indestructible metal resistant even to lightsaber strikes. His father had a similar set with a Mandalorian shoulder cloak, though the silvery color of his armor was much darker. Xel had once asked Xander what it meant.
In Mandalorian armors, colors were chosen very specifically, and were often symbolic. This was certainly Xander's case. The dark blue that comprised the pauldrons, gauntlets, and other highlights of his armor represented reliability, and the gray that served as the majority of his color scheme stood for mourning. Specifically, mourning a lost love. On his right pauldron was the symbol of Mandalore in red, and on his left in orange—honoring his father and a lust for life. As Xel prepared to enter the building, he couldn't help but wonder about the story behind the left pauldron. Considering the predominant gray scheme of his armor, he would think that gold, the color of vengeance, would feature somewhere, but it didn't, although there was a fine line between orange and gold.
Xel's own armor was essentially a bare canvas apart from the blue highlights. The bright silver was not symbolic, and no other color schemes featured. He was too young, too untried and inexperienced to truly have something to dedicate his beskar'gam to. Both of them sported jetpacks with designs congruent to the rest of their armor, shying away from the missile-mounted packs carried by most Mandos to favor a streamlined design built for distance and speed. His father was packing a pair of Mandalorian APs and a BlasTech T-27A2 Assault Blaster Rifle, codenamed the Blackjack. With a compact design, three modes of fire, and a side-mounted grenade launcher, the rifle was the perfect tool in armor-busting crowd suppression.
Probably came in handy during the war, Xel mused as he followed his father to the edge of the building they were perched on. Xander gave him a nod before diving off the structure with his son in tow, both of them activating their jetpacks and curving back upward, using their previous downward momentum to rocket toward the building. Landing softly on a windowsill, Xander motioned for him to activate helmet comms. Xel complied with a nod, turning off his external vocabulator in favor of helmet-to-helmet communication.
"Not sure what we're going to find in there," Xander said over the link, "but if Trandos are involved, be extra careful. They're strong as haran and just as vicious. You definitely don't want to go up against them in close quarters."
"They can't possibly pierce this armor, not with their teeth or claws, anyway."
"I agree. The armor may make you impervious to their strikes, but your flight suit isn't quite as indestructible. They'll find the gaps and dig in if you're not careful, so if you do have to get close, cut and run. Literally."
With a nod of understanding to each other, Xander activated a plasma torch built into his right gauntlet, cutting away a grate that led to the building's ventilation system. They both clambered in, going through one darkened vent after the next until they reached the ceiling of a large, open room about 40 feet tall. Xander tapped the side of his helmet twice, activating a long-range microphone on the antenna of his helmet, which shifted forward and down to line up with his eyeslit. He transmitted the feed to Xel.
"How soon can you get me offworld?"
Voice. Male. Taekis, I'd wager.
"Depends on how much you can pay."
Deep-voiced hiss. Reptilian. Trando captain.
"Look, I already paid you to put me up here for two months in advance. Take your money from there."
More hisses. "Not good enough. Maila said she ran into a Mando earlier. Was standing at a bar with your holo laid out on the counter."
My thoughts exactly. Xel mentally facepalmed. How could he have forgotten to conceal the holo?
"Wasn't alone, either."
That drew the attention of both hunters.
"Oh? Do tell," Taekis added with some bite.
"Ever heard of Dengar?"
Dengar? By the sudden tension in Xander's frame, he recognized the name.
"No…no, no, no, you're telling me that Fett and Dengar are after me?"
"Not Fett, Tails, a Mando. Wrong armor. Still means trouble, which means extra pay for us not to just cut you loose."
"All...all right, fine. Just…get me out of here before one of those lunatics puts a bolt between my eyes."
"Little late for that!"
Xel could almost feel the mental head-bashing on his father's end as the harsh voice of their Corellian competitor bounced around the metal walls of the warehouse below, along with the sound of a repeating blaster rifle opening up on the Trandos. Two fell to Dengar's ruthless assault before the reptiles even had a chance to fire back. Taekis was already running for his life and had rounded a corner in the building. Xander nodded to his son, and they kept moving through the ducts, the older man keeping track of their target's movements by monitoring the amplified sounds of his footsteps. When they were right above him, Xander gave the signal, and they blasted a hole through the floor of their tunnel, free-falling 20 feet before kicking in their jetpacks, three barrels leveled against the cowering Twi'lek as they lowered to the ground.
"Please don't kill me!"
Xel could hear the snarl in Xander's voice when he responded. "Stop sniveling, hut'uun." Coward. The ultimate insult among Mandos. "You're not dying today. Xel, cover him." Xander lowered his rifle and marched over to him, slapping a pair of stun cuffs on his wrists before hauling him to his feet. The elder Mando nodded toward a back exit a moment before a plasma bolt smacked into the ground between them.
"Hold it." Dengar approached them cautiously, his rifle leveled against Xel's dual pistols. "That's my bounty."
"Not anymore," Xander responded with no small amount of disdain. "Your antics at the front cost you precious time, and as we all know, time is money. It's over."
Dengar smiled maliciously. "Is it now?"
"Do not test me, hunter. You may be used to hunting the scum and lowlifes of this galaxy from one end to the next, but if you go up against me, you'll find yourself on the wrong end of a hunt."
The two master hunters faced off for a very long, tense moment before Xel spoke up. "Is 14K really worth dying over?"
Dengar gave the boy a long look before turning back to his target and the taller Mando. He shrugged and lowered his weapon after a few more seconds. "Fine. You win this time, but Xander? You are no Boba Fett." He and the Mando exchanged a long glaring session. "Just remember that."
Xander sneered. "If you ever run into him again, tell him that Xander Caden says that he owes me a buy'ce be ne'tra gal."
Xel was sure Dengar had no idea what that meant, if the warning expression on his face was any indication.
The two hunters and their bounty left the warehouse without further incident, getting back to their ship in record time and sending proof of capture to Coronet. Upon takeoff, Xel checked his personal comm. channel and found a holomessage waiting for him.
"Hello there handsome." Maila was standing on the other end wearing the outfit he'd seen her in last. She was leaned against some kind of furniture, but the picture was distorted for everything except her. "I have to say, that was a very sneaky move on your part, back at the club. Very sneaky and very naughty…but I'm not going to complain. All's fair in love and war, and the Twi'lek was getting on my nerves anyway." She gave a seductive smile to the camera. "I have to say, it was quite a thrill, finding out I'd been outsmarted. You were right about me not knowing your kind. Everyone thinks they're just a bunch of trigger-happy armored morons, but you're not, are you?
"A good hunter needs more than just firepower and muscle. It takes wits, cunning…manipulation, even." She smiled at him predatorily. "Thus far, you've proven that you have all three. Well done." She rolled her head in circles several times. "If you're ever on the Smuggler's Moon again, I may have business for you…and pleasure. Since you don't mix the two, we'll have to schedule them for separate days. I'm looking forward to it. Oh, and in case you didn't catch it, the name's Maila. Maila Yar. Be seeing you." Maila blew a single kiss into the camera, and the message ended.
Xel let out a long breath and ran his fingers through his jet-black hair, slumping back onto his bed as exhaustion overtook him, a small smile coming to his face. First job and I'm already getting propositioned? Thought it took Dad at least 20. Setting that aside, he gave into the blackness and numb bliss of sleep.
Coronet City, Corellia
"That went well."
Xel could only nod in agreement, patting his pockets with purpose to make sure that it was all real. 7000 credits now sat in his possession, the first haul of his first job in the family business.
"There's more where that came from if you keep up the good work."
Xel looked up at his father and smiled as they strode back to the spaceport. "You know I will."
Xander gave his son a friendly pat on the back. "That I do, ad'ika. After all, you are your father's son. I've known that since the day you were born, and so did your mother."
Xel's smile vanished behind the helmet's faceplate, and he paused mid-stride for barely a split-second. "You...don't mention her a lot."
The elder Caden let out a long sigh. "No, I don't...but I should. There's so much you should know..." Another sigh. "But not yet."
"That's what you've been saying since I was old enough to ask."
"And I'll keep saying it until you're ready. I promise you, answers are coming. Soon. You believe me, don't you?"
Xel pressed his lips together firmly before nodding. "Of course, buir. You always keep your promises."
"And no matter what, I want you to do the same." He bumped the front of his helmet against the upper side of Xel's, the only way to kiss someone in full armor. "Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum, Xel."
The boy smiled and looked down as his father looped an arm around his shoulders, the fatherly action not making him as uncomfortable as before. Xel was no longer fresh meat, no longer new to the family business. He had overheard Xander talking to his adoptive brother Teras over holocom on the trip to Corellia. His father had called him "mandokarla"—the right stuff—and that more than anything gave him a feeling of pride and acceptance. So he looped an arm around Xander's shoulders right back.
"Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum, buir."
I love you too, Dad.