Full Time Job

Chapter 19

Chapter 19.0 – The Beast Awakens (Day 24)

Long before the first sunrays peeked over the snow covered mountain top, Jango was woken again. Tomoe had moved against him in sleep, but not in a good way. She shifted as if she was having a nightmare, even talked in sleep. Boba woke and rubbed his eyes “What is it, mom?” This had never happened before. He brushed his hand over her check to wake her. She threw her head in avoidance and rolled on her back, her left elbow hitting the metal floor with a clang.

‘Side effects?’ Jango knelt abruptly and ushered Boba behind his arm. Whatever she was fighting, he was glad that he had taken her saber away already. She came around with low animal cry that reminded him of the little beast in the shower. She sat up, clutching her throat.

He held her before she could trash some more or hit something else. Her short nails dug into his upper arms. He could feel it even through the body glove. “It’s just a nightmare, Tomoe-chan...” she stared at him without true recognition, “It’s alright, and it’s just us.”

She sagged and he let her cry against his chest. “It’s better now, isn’t it?” he patted her back and wondered what he was doing here, “Wake up... what was it you dreamed?”

“I’ve become an animal...” she whispered.

Yesterday’s talk about the crazy attacker and his hawk and the nightly visitors plus the side effects of the sleeping gas had probably screwed with her subconscious. Tomoe was very responsive and he had been pushing it. “Just because you smell a little rank, you don’t grow a couple of additional paws and prance around like Mird...”

He dearly hoped now that wasn’t the breakdown he had worked on for so long. It didn’t feel right. He wanted her to smile and tell him that she was alright.

“Yes...” she swallowed her tears and tried to sober up, rubbing her sleeve over her face, “what time is it?”

“Four thirty,” he let go as her grip on him ceased. Her acceptance of him in her private zone had been a nice surprise, but it could not last... yet. “Still dim outside, but since everybody’s already awake; we can as well have breakfast until the sun comes up.”

She agreed instantly, “Sorry for waking you early... we should get going.”

Boba padded over to snuggle underneath the blanket again until mom handed him one of her steamed washcloths. The air felt colder than when he had lain down... but he was getting used to it since they had moved over from Tipoca. Comfort was defined differently here.

Jango handed her saber back “I took this when you started trashing... you were not yourself.”

“Thank you.” She accepted it back casually, stood, pushed it under her belt, rushed over to the water dispenser to soak a washcloth with warm water, hurried back to Boba, washed and wrapped him up and got dressed herself before his father could attach the shin guards to his body glove.

‘Huh?’ Jango stood back and arched a brow at his son who met his gaze for a long moment then voiced his disapproval of the early morning ruckus. “I can do that myself, mom, really …” She didn’t care but prepared shig. Jango caught her snipping salt from her little bag into the corners of the TIV. What was that? Usually she was cleaning up any crump and polished meticulously? She rushed along as if she was ticking off a secret checklist in pursuit of a new speed record.

She finally calmed a little and sat down for breakfast. Once her breathing had returned to normal, she asked to be tasked for today’s repair.

“Well…” Jango knew his breaks for chewing on a piece of food board riled her - hopefully enough to tell him what was wrong without him invading her privacy. Things had been going well and he would rather avoid another set-back. “I finished the sublight yesterday. Once we have rigged the landing gear, we can start the engine and test it. I can’t have anybody working outside while I do that...”

“Let’s go then.” Tomoe swallowed a half filled cup of hot shig in a single draw.

While Tomoe had worked on their common goal with a mixture of polite interest and mild annoyance before, in a sedate pace, she was now working as if… well, she hadn’t looked that out of it when she knew the Cuy’val Dar and all of the GAR on her heels. For once, it hadn’t been him?

“No hurry.” Jango remained seated. He suspected that crazy guy yesterday had something to do with her agitation. But why now?! He didn’t like his mission interrupted by this. He would dig his adversary out from whatever stone that womprat was hiding under and shoot him. For that, he needed to replace a couple of fried relays in the sensor array. ‘Should have done that yesterday when I had him in the crosshairs,’ he thought. Now it would cost him precious time. “There are still the sensors and the shield generator and…”

“Can I fix the shields, dad?” Boba had found a delighting box with spare parts. Not playthings, the real deal!

“Sure. Tell me if you need help or when you are finished so I can check it out.” Jango told him generously and hoped Tomoe would forget to ask for the origin of some of the box’ contents, but she had other things on her usually cautious mind, obviously…

“Does the hyperdrive work?” her inquiry raised Jango’s eyebrow yet again, “…are my words not correct?” she fussed as he didn’t answer right away, “I mean the thing that enables a spaceship to go faster than light for interstellar travel?”

“That’s a hyperdrive, alright.” Coldness ran down his back… “You insist that I leave planet right now?” If she could not make the right decision, he would have to shut her up. Vau and Gilamar were around. He would have to take her out of Boba’s sight and…

“Yes… we need to leave,” she knelt down again, “please take me away from here,” she begged as her long black hair sunk around her shoulders.

‘We?!’ If he hadn’t remained seated, it would have put him on his ass. “I can do the remaining repairs on the resort parking lot if it isn’t save to do it up here,” he told her carefully, as if threading thin ice.

“Good.” She fought to keep her face straight, but for one who knew her, the ‘whatever, just do it!’ was written all over her features.

“Let’s take the remaining repairs down there.” Jango agreed and leaned over to brush her cheek gently. She didn’t flinch, holding out her jaw to him as if daring him to backhand her. No more questions. If he had lashed out at her, she would have turned her face on the other side to accept the next strike.

Couldn’t she see he didn’t want to abuse her? It was insulting and it cut into him worse than the outlook to go outside and shoot her. He was put off, definitely not in the mood to try how far he could take his gentle teasing with her right now. He wanted it, yes, but not like this! He rose slowly, pulled her to her feet and against his chest, holding her close for a moment.

Cyar’ika… you’ll feel better after a hot bath and a good night’s sleep.” He finally tried to reassure her at least a little before they went to get the job done.

They had just bolted on the last of the landing gear as Tomoe went all pale and ran off to the side. The sounds of retching suggested belated morning sickness. If there had been something wrong with yesterday’s meat, Boba and he would feel it, too. He approached with the water bottle and a cloth. “You’ll be alright once you settle down. I’ve been told its normal for the beginning months of pregnancy.”

“Please take me away from here,” she repeated her request in low voice once she had taken a swig, spat it out, drank again and wiped her face clean.

It was like if she had lost her will. At least she didn’t struggle as he gathered her up, herded her inside over the boarding ramp and through the main hatch and then closed her seatbelt. He was pretty sure she wouldn’t have complained if he had taken the TIV right into the orbit and set course for Kamino. Not because she suddenly loved him so much, but because she did not care. He had not been redeemed; somehow he had become the lesser evil and she was still fighting to survive...

But who had hurt her worse than him? Whoever it was, he wanted to kill him for her... and for their child, and their family.

He took her face between her hands, looking into her eyes with gentle assuredness. “Not like this, Tomoe,” he voiced his concerns to her, “I’m not a doctor, but you look like you had a mental breakdown. You are going to relax, heal your mind and then make your own decision,” he promised her before he sat in the pilot’s seat and concentrated on the pre-flight checks.

As Jango brought the TIV down on the parking, the repaired landing gear screeched horribly but held up. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Tomoe’s work, but he would ask for a couple of sandbags in addition from the resort.

He laid his hand on Tomoe’s when she retrieved her comlink to call a ground transport. “Let’s walk the way back to the resort. You look as if you could use some fresh air and some light movement will do you good.”

Jango shut down all systems and picked up their picnic basket to walk his little family home through the cedar wood that covered the hills over the resort. The sun shine filtered warmly between the trunks, birds twittered, mosquitoes and flies danced in the rays of light hovering between the cool shadows. ‘What is wrong with coming home late from a field trip?’ he would challenge who ever asked stupid questions like where they had been the last two nights and why they were covered in mud. ‘I’m here on holiday.’

Once they left the White Mountain Range behind them, Tomoe had calmed noticeably. Maybe it had been just another example of superstitious poodoo like the angry goddess of the mountain sending avalanches at them. Stupid incidents happened, especially to careless people. He wasn’t careless.

They entered the cottage and Jango sat her down by the fireplace then sent Boba to shower and change first then get them a light lunch from the main house kitchen while he started a tea. The small shower looked invitingly, but he would have to watch her from now on. The girl knew too much and she had become totally unpredictable in her present mental state. Not that she was very talkative. She just sat there as if waiting for her execution, but ready to switch to frenzied activity any moment.

Once back in her familiar surroundings she watched him doing things - wrong most likely, at least not according to the local customs - and tried to drop back into her serviceable routine, but he would not let her. The cottage and the TIV could wait until she told him what was going on with her.

“I need to inform Norio-sama that we are back home...” – “Done that already.” Boba pushed the slide door open, loaded with lunch boxes. They ate in depressed silence, then Jango put Boba on his piled up homework and told Tomoe to get some rest instead of sagging over her bowl with her eyes half closed.

“Can you do the repairs alone?” she inquired helpfully but didn’t complain as he dragged a blanket out of a built-in closet for her. “You lay down now.” Of course she complied, quicker than when he had called her his slave. So this was how far the power of command went. It wasn’t enough for him. It didn’t change anything for them. Once she looked asleep, Jango placed his helmet on the shelf in the alcove and let the range finder monitor the room to alarm him if something moved while he took a shower.

A generous amount of hot water made him look and smell like a clean human being again, but he was still by no means wiser. Once she woke, he would make Tomoe take a bath, and if he had to drag her there then scrub her down from head to toes personally. She wanted to come with him because she had become as barbaric as him or Vau’s retriever overnight? Bad argument. He would clean her up in the local healing water and see whenever that changed her mind ...or make her at least tell him what was wrong NOW.

Tomoe woke with the late afternoon light shining on her face. She realized that the blanket on top of her was too warm. She was sweat bathed and reeked underneath ...and that Jango Fett frowned at her from a corner of the room while the typing of Boba’s notepad could be heard from the next room. Oh yes, she had agreed to go with him. It was what he had wanted, what he had pressed her to do? She would have him expected to look happier than that?!

“Would you like to take a bath?” there was no raise in his neutral tone, nevertheless the gravelly voice bridged the distance between them easily.

She definitely would... “Yes. Thank you,” she stood, hung the blanket to air it and retrieved a fresh cotton robe, a sash and the bag with her personal hygiene items. “I’m at the servant’s bath.” She excused herself with a little bow and slipped into her wooden sandals waiting by the steps.

Feeling Jango’s intense gaze between her shoulder blades, she padded over the stones of the garden path that led up to the little shed. She dropped her jacket, pants and underclothing in a basket and scrubbed the reminders of volcanic mud down carefully. She washed her hair and wrapped it up under a towel before she entered the steaming tub.

Maybe there was nothing about it. Nothing exceptional would happen with her or her child. She had just acted on a nightmare, a crazy vision, afraid of a crazed witness of old times. How stupid. All she had was the same old problem with Fett. She realized that she hadn’t been playing fair in the emotional tumult of the nightmare, but curiously it had put Jango off like no reasonable thing she had said or done before.

She had been acting very foolish indeed. Courage! Maybe she could be freed of him after all by playing the lunatic? But right now, she was floating in the salty water. The balmy warmth was soothing. Her eyes fluttered shut…

“Don’t worry, I’m taking care of you, mommy...” a voice whispered.

Whatever her plans considering the new act were, hearing voices wasn’t a good sign for her mental health. Maybe she could just fill her ears with water and it would go away like a tinnitus.

“I always wanted to have a mom instead of always being one – as much of a honor it is, sometimes it is hard being the first one all the time. And it will be so much fun having a sibling and an older brother for once... five is a lucky number, don’t you think so? We just have to take care of dad soon, he’s the jealous type and will probably mind my presence... he’s got issues with some of my abilities, hasn’t he?”

“Sibling?” so her child hadn’t turned into something alien to her, an infection eating her inside out... “Moro-sama?” This was impossible. She wasn’t dreaming, nor had she entered a ceremony to call spirits to her. She wasn’t a medium who received spontaneous visions... never wanted to be one – for good reason!

“Yes, it’s me, cub, we will be very close for a while.” Moro purred on, “Throwing salt or drawing protective circles won’t breach what should never be broken. No need for formality with me, –sama here -sama there, mom,” she continued casually “I can see why dad is hesitant... there’s a guy here pestering me with what he calls the ‘living force’. He thinks it’s carried by little beings that lived inside of his mortal body... I wonder how he explains his own existence right now – but then, logic isn’t their strength, obviously. ...no wonder they are messing up the balance.

I dropped some hints to him for fun and now he is convinced that I can see the future. Can we? I doubt that... I mean, we could give it a try when you feel up to another ride... I’m a little being inside you, too, at least for a while... but I think there are lots of strings attached, lots of decisions to be made, many futures to see. But I think there will be more like him arriving soon and that’s a pretty annoying outlook. They hang around here unhappy, concerned, bloodless, boring and worst of all: unloving. I swear they are like... my kin doesn’t have a word for such useless things... so let’s refer to the human expression... yes... party-leftovers. The ones nobody wants to eat or take home. It’s not funny.”

Tomoe had no idea what Moro was talking about, so she listened and stuck to the obvious “What do you want from me? You certainly can’t expect this body to carry and bear you? How can I raise you, mother? What will people think?”

“Why not? We have shared our minds and bodies before... I missed you when I wandered so far away from you, when you didn’t call me to you. And when you finally called for me, invited me over on that cold salt-water-world, I was amazed what had become possible in the meantime. So much energy... so much focus! Over thousand years I had never experienced a symbiosis like that, and that says something. Whenever you were supposed to or not, you were so ready to take me in and fly with me, fly with me so far, it was exhilarating!

I’m not concerned what people think. They don’t know us. I’m alive and I want to live my fill. And I want you to live. You are my human family. I think you’ve got yourself a nice lever to the new ways. He’s made this possible for us after all, he’s quite a shapely example of your race, he will kick any butt that comes into our way and most of all: he tries hard to put things right for you, because he truly loves you...”

“What... no...” this was so confusing... she should really stop having heated arguments with herself!

“...or would you rather be stuck with a short green humanoid with a grammar problem and no compassion?”

“What?! But... I can’t do this... we will die, all ... of us. I mean... you are already dead but we... that’s just impossible...”

“Shut up, cub, with the new means nothing is impossible. Change happens. I like it here ...and later, I want to have a good look around. Go to him tonight. Tell dad exactly what he has to expect. I want to live with you, experience everything while we are together.”

“He will kill us as an abnormity if he finds out!”

“Don’t be so sure about that. He loves you. Don’t waste that, help him deepen his feelings. Be fair and give him a chance to trust you, then you might be surprised what you find buried deep inside him... Go for it. Don’t be afraid.”

“Uhh...” Tomoe swallowed. You didn’t tell a goddess ‘no’, you simply didn’t. Especially not the one that held her wing over her and Moronoko while growing up and who had saved her life and the body that she felt was no longer her own. “I will Moro-sama.”

“I’ll protect you... mom,” the voice whispered as it faded away.

Tomoe was still confused when she exited the tub and got dressed, her head still spinning with the news. Good news. She tried a smile. It would take her a while to think that through. ‘C’mon, nothing changed to the worse. You promised to return to Kamino, but he didn’t go for it, so we are back where we were before.’

While he definitely held his focus, Jango’s behavior had been quite fair, actually, despite the pressure resting on him. She could not see his face, but it showed in the way he held his shoulders, waiting in the shadows of the veranda for her return. It was a dilemma. His aim in life forbade him to let her go, nevertheless she could see that he tried to treat her decently. They were stuck in more than one way. While he kept guarding and protecting her at the same time, the TIV would not repair itself.

She hoisted her laundry basket on her other hip and smoothed her damp hair back “That was good, thank you.”

“Feeling any better?”

“Yes.... How are the repairs coming along?”

“Feeling safe again?” His gloved fingertips brushed her cheek. This time she didn’t stiffen. Good. He reached into a pocket and showed her a circular shape filled with electronics “I cleaned and fixed the transmitter. I could go and install it until dinner ... can I leave you here with Boba for one hour?”

“You can. What would you like for dinner?”

“I’m sure you can think something up for us.” He retrieved a monitoring device of the kind he had used on Oniro. “Please wear this so I know if you are in trouble, whenever it comes from the inside or the outside. This is a heart monitor, this side is attached to the skin... and this is the microphone... if you feel this terror’s coming back, just call me. I’ll take the jetpack then.”

Of course Jango wouldn’t go unless he knew that things were under control. “Alright.” Tomoe put down her basket on the wooden boards of the veranda and took the device between her fingertips. It was different from the anklet he had put on her. He had asked beforehand, he was honest and informative and she could remove it with her bare hands whenever she wanted. She turned away from him for modesty, lifted the overlap of her cotton robe with her left and stuck the electrode to her chest, then sorted out the cables and put the bean comlink in her ear.

Jango inclined his head for a moment as if listening or modifying settings. “Thank you.” Once he was sure she wouldn’t make a scene in front of his son over the listening device, he followed her inside and took off the helmet. “Boba, I’m at the TIV for an hour. Take care of mom in the meantime, will you?”

Boba looked up from his notepad with a thumbs-up “Sure, dad, just one more lesson.”

“Good. Mom can help you.” He turned to Tomoe, suddenly filling out her whole frame of view. He didn’t need to tip her face up to him this time. He ran his fingertips lightly along her earlobe then trailed down her neck. She was too surprised to find his lips so he let his breath stroke her cheek then kissed her forehead before he replaced the helmet and walked out.

The chauffeur didn’t ask any stupid questions when he entered the garage but took him back to the TIV right away. Once the com was back online, he would have a word with Gilamar about sedatives and side effects.

While Boba went back to his homework, Tomoe knelt in front of the alcove and concentrated. ‘Moro?’ she tried to fill her confused mind with nothing but her name.

‘Yes, mom?’ The elder answered cheerfully, obviously enjoying the reversed positions.

‘One more thing before I go... to I know that I’m not crazy or having another weird dream spawned by wishful thinking. Please tell me something I don’t know yet, just a little piece of information that I can check easily.’

“Tsk tsk tsk... you should learn to trust your feelings, mom. I’m as real and alive as you are. But if it eases your mind, there’s a little green guy on the council that leads the Jedi. Ever heard of him?’ – ‘I don’t think so...’ – ‘his name is Yoda. You can ask dad for verification.”

‘I don’t think that’s a good idea...’

“Up to you. But I think it’s a good start to take interest in both, dad’s allies and adversaries.”

‘I will, Moro.’

She stood to prepare the cottage for the evening and to get dressed in proper robes. Somebody had taken care of things while she slept, the picnic basket was tidied up, kitchen was neat and the fridge was filled with what she needed to prepare dinner. The precise settings carried Ukon’s handwriting and followed their routine of sharing what she brought home from the rare hunting or fishing trips. She would have loved to have a nice long chat and ask the old lady for her opinion, but this was not possible. It would make Jango nervous since Ukon spoke no Basic... and she had her own guests to attend in the Suzuki-Cottage. Okasan wouldn’t let anybody loaf around when there was money to earn.

Tomoe started dinner and thought how to transfer the information to Jango gracefully. He was the jealous kind. ‘Hey Jango, I’ll be mother of a beast’ probably wasn’t a good idea... Of course he could not know the bond they had, but if she could help him to understand their relationship, it could lead to some acceptance. In the meantime, Moro was fond to develop her newfound ability and kept chatting with mom. After all, humans were renowned for their multi-tasking abilities.

“The dilemma is that your and our kin alike want to touch the divine, to experience with all your senses. We love you and you love us back, therefore we are eager to thin the veil that will be between us forever. But once we have become touchable matter by acting on our compassion, we find ourselves in the same boat as you are. Yes, we hold our cover in good shape, for example we don’t get sick or age, and even though we don’t like the touch of denaturized iron, we had little fear of the human weapons of old.

It was a nice institution until mankind started throwing bolts of energy around or even transform matter into energy. As different as we are, our transformation can be undone because the matter gives up to energy. Of course we are ‘alive’ in our very own definition of that word, therefore we can’t die, but we have to change to a higher form. I won’t lie; such a change hurts terrible because of the mass inertia and gravitation... I like the opposite process so much better, wrapping up my essence in layers and layers of soft tissue while listening to mommy’s heartbeat.”

‘Won’t it be dangerous?’ Tomoe inquired.

“Our tree of development began in the ocean, that is why our connection is strengthened by salt water, the more and the colder the better. As the human embryo moves through the stages, my sister and I will look very similar until the modifications of my higher life form are developed. I won’t drain you, mom, but I want you to eat well... and don’t forget how I love fish.

Anyway, maybe you could use some help on the outside. I’ll be very small and blind in the beginning and every start is a little confusing. But when my sister and my children can do it, so can I. Ask dad to call the doctor for you to be safe... the one he asked to check on you last night? His device sounds funny, all blips and whistles, I thought of joining the tune... imagine how he would have looked if he had got an echo... but hiya... I can do all sorts of exiting things from here... Look mom, without lookiiiiin...”

A horse radish lifted from the cutting board in front of her and hovered in the air, spinning slowly around its own axis. Tomoe pounced like a cat and pressed it back down, “Stop it... please!” Oh noooo... She could probably skip questioning Jango about the Jedi council, since Moro was working on her childish behavior already.

Then it dawned on her ‘Last night?!’ she inquired.

“Yes, you were sleeping really deep and dad sent them away again. His new developed respect for you borders to the fussy sometimes.”

‘Does he know?’

Moro barked a laughter “He knows that you are well and that you are pregnant, yet the finer details will slip his notice a while longer. I thought it was up to you to know and tell.”

Chapter 19.1 – The Peach Boy (Day 24)

When Jango came home, he noticed that Tomoe was not only dressed up as carefully as the evening when she had served Oniro. She had set up a wide and comfortable looking bedding and a gorgeously dyed mosquito net in the second room already. Royal treatment? For him? Tomoe certainly knew that he preferred sleeping in the pilot’s seat of the TIV... unless... No, he wouldn’t dare to hope that. She wasn’t ready to kiss him yet and such hopes would only lead to disappointment.

She was quiet and there was a certain tension in her that had not been there before. Like a nervous feline, her toes dug a little deeper into the mats as she served up dinner, the trail of her robe swishing over the floor as when she turned a little too briskly. There was a plate with finely sliced raw fish, black salty sauce and spicy green and white radish, followed by the rest of goat meat in a stew. It had taken a while but Tomoe had finally learned that he wanted her to sit with them during dinner. He loved her cooking on the fireplace. It was the perfect excuse to watch her hungrily... it gave him an alibi just in case... the dessert consisted of small cooled and sliced pancake-rolls that had been filled with a fruit paste, …yes, he did notice.

Sitting in the shadows right outside of the fire shine, his dark eyes followed her as she put Boba to bed upstairs - her sleeping place. ‘Let her be’, he thought. He could pick up his son later, while she called the limo. He hoped that she would use the moment of privacy to talk to him. He would not force her. Oniro had been right. The bond to Boba had become his strongest argument in this mine field of social relationships.

He could hear her telling Boba a story in low voice; he had to listen closely to pick up the words... The story was a longish one and had to do with a giant peach, a boy, a bunch of animals and monsters and lots of fighting...

Once upon a time there was an old man and his old wife living in the hills not too far from here. The old man was a woodcutter. He and his wife were very sad and lonely because they had no children. One day the old man went into the mountains to cut firewood and the old woman went to the river to wash some clothes.

No sooner had the old woman begun her washing than she was very surprised to see a big peach come floating down the river. It was the biggest peach she'd ever seen in all her life. She pulled the peach out of the river with a bend stick and decided to take it home and give it to the old man for supper that night.

Late in the afternoon the old man came home, and the old woman said to him: "Look what a wonderful peach I found for your supper." The old man said it was truly a beautiful peach. He was so hungry that he said: "Let's divide it and eat it right away."

So the old woman brought her biggest knife from the kitchen and got ready to slice the peach in halves. But just then there was the sound of a human voice from inside the peach. "Wait! Don't cut me!" said the voice. Once the old woman cut into the peach carefully, it split open, and a beautiful baby boy jumped out of the peach.

The old man and woman were astounded. But the baby said: "Have a nice meal and don't be afraid. The Gods of Heaven saw how lonely you were without any children, so they sent me to be your son."

The old man and woman were very happy, and they took the baby to be their son. Since he was born from a peach, they named him Momotaro, which means Peach Boy. The fruit had not only tasted like heaven, once they ate from it, they lost half of the years pressing down on them. They loved Momotaro very much and raised him to be a fine boy.

When Momotaro was about thirteen years old, he went to his father and said: "Father, you have always been very kind to me. Now I am a big boy and I must do something to help my clan. In a distant part of the sea there is an island named Ogre Island. Many wicked ogres live there, and they often come to our land and do bad things like carrying people away and stealing their things. So I'm going to go to Ogre Island and fight them and bring back the treasure which they have piled up there. Please let me do this."

The old man was surprised to hear this, but he was also very proud of Momotaro for wanting to help other people. So he and the old woman helped Momotaro get ready for his journey to Ogre Island. The old man gave him a long cutting blade and armour made from thread and bamboo, and the old woman fixed him a good lunch of millet dumplings. Then Momotaro began his journey, promising his parents that he would come back soon.

Momotaro went walking toward the sea. It was a long way. As he went along he met a dog laying by the dirt track. The dog was a rugged animal, its ribs poking against the spotted fur since it hadn’t been feed for days. The lonely dog was moody. It had run too far to be kicked out from the shadow of the old thick tree by just anybody, so as the jolly boy disturbed his afternoon nap, it got angry.

The dog growled at Momotaro and was about to bite him, but Momotaro saw what a poor animal it was and gave him one of the dumplings. He then told the spotted dog that he was going to fight the ogres on Ogre Island. To Momotaro’s surprise, the dog agreed to come along too and help him, since he had no home to go back to after an ogre-raid he couldn’t fend off alone.

Momotaro and the spotted dog kept on walking and soon they met a monkey. “Led on a leash by a kid? What happened to you ol’ dog?” the monkey mocked. – “Still enough fight left in me to bite your red bottom!” The dog barked back. But when the spotted dog and the monkey started to have a fight, Momotaro explained to the monkey that he and the spotted dog were going to fight the ogres on Ogre Island. ‘This must be the greatest adventure in my life,’ the monkey thought and asked if he couldn't go with them. So Momotaro gave the monkey a dumpling and let the curious monkey come with them.

Momotaro and the spotted dog and the monkey kept on walking. Suddenly they met a pheasant. The spotted dog and the monkey and the pheasant were about to start fighting, but when the pheasant heard that Momotaro was going to fight the ogres on Ogre Island, he asked if he could go, too. While only his speed had saved him from the dog chasing him once or twice, his long-time adversary looked well-fed now and the kid by its side didn’t open the hunt. The ogres had burned down the wood he was usually hiding in. The pheasant was eager to get them back for that in their home. So Momotaro gave the pheasant a dumpling and told him to come along.

So, with Momotaro as their general, the spotted dog and the curious monkey and the speedy pheasant, who usually hated each other, all became good friends and followed Momotaro faithfully. They walked a long, long way, and finally reached the sea. At the edge of the sea Momotaro built a boat and they started across the sea toward Ogre Island.

When they came within sight of the island, they could see that the ogres had a very strong fort there. And there were many, many ogres. Some of them were red, some blue, and some black.

First the pheasant flew over the walls of the fort and began to peck at the ogres' heads. They all tried to hit the pheasant with their clubs, but he was very quick and dodged all their blows. And while the ogres weren't looking, the curious monkey slipped up and opened the gate of the fort. Then Momotaro and the spotted dog rushed into the fort and started fighting the ogres too.

It was a terrible battle! The pheasant pecked at the heads and eyes of the wicked ogres. And the monkey clawed at them. And the spotted dog bit them. And Momotaro cut them with his blade. At last the ogres were completely defeated. They all bowed down low before Momotaro and promised never to do wicked things again. Then they brought Momotaro all the treasure they had stored in the fort.

It was the most wonderful treasure you can imagine. There was much gold and silver and many precious jewels. There was an invisible coat and hat, a hammer that made a piece of gold every time you hit it on the ground, and many other wonderful things. Momotaro and his three friends carried all this in their boat back to the land. Then they made a cart and put all the treasure in the cart and pulled it back to Momotaro's house.

How happy the old man and woman were when they saw their son return safely from Ogre Island! They were very rich now with all the treasure that Momotaro had brought. The dog, the monkey and the pheasant never argued again and they all lived together very, very, happily...

When Tomoe finished her narration and pulled up the padded blanket, Boba knew all too well it was still early. Mom had told him a good, long story, yes, but he could close his eyes, breath evenly, fake sleep and listen. Adults always made the mistake to think silent kids in bed were sleeping like babies.

When Tomoe came back down, she cleared the plates, bowels and cups from around the fireplace and did the dishwashing. ‘Procastrating, are you?’ Jango thought and picked up another piece of electronics to repair it in the soft blue shine of his helmet lamp until the all-times-helpful Tomoe brought him a candle stand. At least it looked like he would get around the cup of bitter green glob tonight… whenever it was a cultural treasure or not.

Instead of feeding the fire once more, Tomoe let it burn down and sat outside on the veranda with her flute. It was darkening outside, but the air was still warm from a sunny day down at the sea side. She couldn’t sleep yet. She felt as if she had slept all day.

Fett was not pressing her. Maybe it was because of the missing pressure that she felt so well... It was like the captain had picked up his chair and left tonight. Yes, he had been insistent, stressed his interest mercilessly, but now he gave her the freedom to step forwards. Maybe he cared for her indeed... Maybe she would not have to part from Boba. Maybe she could mend her broken hopes. ...Jango...

But for that, she needed to tell him. No way to base a relationship on dishonesty, let alone one that was constantly tipping to violence. There was still the chance that the day would end in tears. Maybe somebody would get hurt. Maybe somebody would die. Better now than later. Once she allowed her hopes to bloom, she wanted them to be real. She deserved it. She put down the flute after the last tune and took a deep breath.

“Jango, we need to talk,” she said without turning around.

“Good.” Jango came outside a moment later. Of course he had kept his ears open all the time. “I prefer mysteries that are solved." He sat beside her, his socked feet resting on the polished steps of the veranda. He wasn’t used sitting on the floor all day.

“I won’t have one but two kids,” Tomoe started to explain in low voice once he was seated.

She certainly got to the point after all. - “Twins?” Jango tried a cautious smile. Gilamar had warned him that could happen... but he hadn’t acted against the doctor’s advice lately?! He would have done a lot to avoid that ...but then, women had twins all the time. It wasn’t easy, but together, they would manage.

“they are six days apart.” Tomoe informed him. “You are the father of one of them. It will be a girl child. The other...”

Jango frowned, did the maths and jumped to conclusions. “Vau?” That would explain old psycho’s interest, in fact.

“No. Walon Vau did as you commanded him.” Tomoe cut him off brusquely and continued at once, “the other one is not human.”

“How can that be?” His mind was racing. Damn slavers! While human-twilek ‘relationships’ weren’t uncommon with all the Twilek girls enslaved or working in the entertainment branch, they could not procreate, ...let alone... he didn’t even want to think about that. The Wookie?! It shouldn’t be possible... but then he had seen claw marks hugging her bottom... was there a beast growing inside her indeed - half human, half Wookie? He should never have handed her over to Oniro’s clan. Or at least he should have picked her up on the way to the market. Or... There was such a thing as too much. As much as he hated the consequences, it was his duty to sort them out. He owed her. ‘Do your recce, begin at the beginning.’

Tomoe watched his train of bizarre thoughts rush over his features. He certainly deserved it, that realization. But soon the shock gave way to this determination that continued to amaze her. He was hard to others, but also - maybe even more so - to himself. She could respect that attitude.

“How do you know?” he finally asked.

“The first broken shards of disjointed memories came up last night. They frightened me and made me sick, but then you helped me to settle down and complete the picture. I have to thank you for that.” She bowed and tried to reign in her breath while clinging to the formal form of her announcement. “In return I shall share the knowledge I carry inside of me - Her sibling is my brother’s mother returning to our realm.”

“Your... what?”

As many cases of trouble he had blown up in his life, Fett was not hearing impaired. Spiritual concepts where simply not his strength, so she tried to explain it another way. “The other twin is a Hi-inu, the first one who ever came to be. Her name is Moro.”

There was a long pause. Then he realized that she didn’t suggest that it was his fault. It helped him to relax a little, but it was still their problem. Together they would sort it out.

“Biologically, that is not possible,” Jango stated coolly, yet expectantly. “The DNA and the body chemistry based on it are too different, even between most humanoid races.” He couldn’t tell her that Gilamar’s scan had not picked up anything unusual, but he could certainly discuss plausibility from a theoretical point of view. She was fine physically, and her mental problem had undergone an interesting metamorphosis. What mattered to him was that she didn’t look sad or frightened anymore, so he could probably live with that. Nevertheless he would try to convince her how baseless her psychosis was, try to heal her completely.

“Unlikely, but not impossible... like some things you did with your own genetic material. Years ago, Moro died to protect me. Now I live to bring her back to life.”

“How?” He had used the help of the Kaminoans to have a son before even knowing his mother. What did she do? ...Presuming that she did anything at all and her theory wasn’t just part of that psychosis.

“I invited-in her spirit and she liked it a lot. Somehow my body was able to accept her and she stayed with me. She will shape her own body according to her will and picture, which is not human but the one of a hi-inu, like Shioko. I have not heard of such a thing, either, but then I had not heard of bacta before. So this is how things are.” If he dealt in absolutes, so could she. Whenever he took it serious or not, there was no way to change a thing about it, so it was ‘Take it or leave me’ for him.

He said nothing and didn’t move a muscle. She raised her chin “In case you decide to try and kill us, be aware that we will defend ourselves.”

Jango felt that he was in no position to complain, but... “I don’t want to... shab... Tomoe, I’m not going to kill you.” He wasn’t a murderer and he didn’t want to be the lesser evil. He wanted to be everything for her. She sat there calmly as a statue, awake and ready to take him on, but not in the blade- and teeth-bared style in which she had answered his threats before. It spoke for her newfound self-confidence. Good. He decided to simply ignore her challenge and stay on the point, the only one that truly mattered in all the weirdness that was his life. “Are you okay… is there a risk for you and the kids?”

“I cannot deny that. There are no experiences on this. That’s why I think it would be a good idea to go back to the place of their conception. I can bring the knowledge of my homeworld with me, but it won’t work the other way round. I always wanted to have my child. That there are two now doesn’t change a thing. I want them both. Let the priests fuss about the divine honor or hellish curse, I simply love them. Moro is a part of me, one I have been missing for too long.”

“Whatever, I won’t believe this until I see it. For me, you come first. I’m happy when you are happy. I won’t take you with me unless you want me to – and not because you are frightened or submissive or too broken to fight back, but because you know it is for your own wellbeing and for the good of our family. Because YOU want to come to me.”

While she still looked at him wordlessly, Jango stood, his long forgotten joints cracking.

“Boba will be delighted if you tell him. He always wanted a little sister,” he noted and excused himself, “it’s been a long day.” His movements were jerky with tension as he went back inside.

No more deals. He wanted her to come to him and for him. Once he passed through the main room, Jango spotted Boba peeking through the first floor railing and signaled him to be quiet. His boy understood. They would play mom’s game tonight.

He closed the slide door to the second room behind him smoothly.

Chapter 19.2 – The Captain’s 99th Night (Day 24)

Music recommendation: “Loki” by Annborg Lien

“Uhm... that wasn’t too bad, was it, Moro?” Tomoe sat back and tried to overcome her surprise.

“Yes, and...?” Moro nudged her, “You want to sing our song tonight, all alone with the moon? Start over with the other inconvenient point tomorrow?”

In fact, Tomoe was perfectly comfortable to lean back against the solid wood of the veranda column and listen to the crickets. “I would not mind...” The air was nice and warm down here by the sea, a cedar scented breeze coming from the hills “What other point?” she inquired lazily.

“Well, dad didn’t believe you a single word, in case you didn’t notice. Not because he doesn’t trust you, but because daddy is a practical man, he needs a proof he can see and touch. And he hates the amateurs. Let’s show him we are not.”


“He calls them Jetiise.

“Don’t tell me...” Tomoe covered her face in shock as realization hit her. “No, I can’t do that to him. Do you even know what he went through?”

Moro chuckled knowingly as her mom’s defense. “Of course I do... I’m small, but not deaf... I think he can spot the difference. Our old schemer isn’t stupid. In you go.”

“He won’t respect me if I hit on him like that...”

“Now you sound like your own granny, all morals and pride. Don’t let that get into your way. Dad will respect you just the more because you take the matter into your own hands when others would be scared witless. Don’t you realize that he cannot take the last step after what he did? You have to help him. If you want him, it’s time to unpack your charm, mommy...”

“Who says I want him?” Tomoe swallowed the lump in her throat.

“C’mon, I might be an animal, but I’m far too old to be that stupid.”

Did she have a choice anyway? Maybe she had been outmaneuvered the moment Moro died... or when her parents died... or when she had chosen a profession that required her to serve people who didn’t care much for her or her kids in general. If she made him leave, she would never see Boba again. If she could survive that and was fortunate enough to survive the birth of the twins, they would end up in a zoo, or become outcasts to be picked off by a mad warrior who would try to misuse small Moro for his own ideas and waste no time to kill the human twin as the abnormity... or she would become a killer for hire under the doubtful protection of an amoral gang of criminals.

End of the line. She had reached a point where she could not proceed without allies.

With Jango’s help, her kids would be safe and she might live to see them grow up, to see Boba grow up. It didn’t look like he would mistreat her again. She had given him sufficient reason to try... but he continued to behave, even to care. It was as if he had grown out of that brutal behavior with the self-confidence he had gained. It would end the suffering on the outside, but... could she bring herself not only to respect his stubborn and courageous personality, to respect his abilities as a warrior, but truly accept him? He would request that. Could she accept him as a man, accept his touch?

She wasn’t sure. But she knew he was waiting for her to find out. Inside.

“Okay...” Tomoe shrugged and smoothed her collars. “I guess we are in one boat anyway. Wish me luck.”

Jango had already shed his armor plates when she peeked inside the second room. Beside the high paper lantern, he knelt next to a neat weaponry stake with his wide back to her, wearing his grayish blue body suit. Only the T-shape visor of the helmet stared back at her as she widened the crack of the door, stepped over the threshold and immediately closed the panel in her back without changing hands.

Digging her toes into the mat, she smoothed her sleeve back down over her wrist. She felt awkward when he slowly turned to her on one knee. Thankfully, he didn’t stare down at her or inquired what she was doing in his room at night... With her mind so blank, she couldn’t have told him. Instead, she was greeted by a soft smile that lit his whole face. While he had the talent to make her run away, right now he gave her the courage to shuffle a little further into the room.

“I wanted to tell you that I trust you now... and ask for my knife.” Uh, that didn’t come out right! He arched a brow and she went down on her knees quickly to level with him. “I need to show you something before you can decide if you trust me... us... as well,” to keep her hands from fussing around, she spread a brocade cloth on the mats between them, “I suppose it will be hard for you, even hurt your feelings, but I don’t know a way to avoid this pain in order to help you to understand, make you see and experience so you can make up your mind.”

“Your knife?” That was definitely not the desire he had been hoping for, but with Tomoe some more information would never hurt. Jango retrieved her cherished blade from his utility belt on the armor-pile. He placed the lacquered sheath on the cloth to settle his part of the agreement. He had promised to give it back one day in return for her trust. Should it be tonight? She was all wide eyed concentration, but there was no dishonesty on her face when she settled back on her heels. “I have already made up my mind a while ago, but show me anyway,” he told her, speaking around a thick lump building in his throat.

“Moro is not just what we usually refer to as an animal. She is a first one... an honored ancestor spirit, a goddess if you want to use the word. She is also a child who is anxious that her father won’t like her... or what she can do.”

He wondered what one thing had to do with the other and decided to play along. “What are Moro’s intentions?” Underneath his clipped business-like tone, Jango still thought he could take it easy. The air would be out of that particular act in nine months at the latest. Then Tomoe would be a little surprised and they would all be very happy with their firstborn, second child. He wasn’t about to tell her now, but if it turned out like Boba, like a real Fett, the toddler would be a handful and the young mother’s mind would be tied firmly to the here-and-now.

“She wants to be reborn by me, to grow up with her family and to continue to gather experience thorough the worlds.” Tomoe explained.

Didn’t sound like trouble, quite the opposite, it summed up Jango’s idea of a sentient being. Everybody should go for it, especially Tomoe. If she had to bring an imaginary friend to make up her mind, it would be fine with him. Sooner or later she would find out that she had it all herself. “What can she do?”

“I don’t know about Moro’s limitations, or if there are limitations at all. I do not have control over what she does. I can just ask her to do or do not things and hope that she respects my wishes.” Her eyelids sunk for a moment and when she looked back up, the knife hovered a foot over the cloth. Picking up the corner of her long sleeve in her left, Tomoe moved her right palm through the air above and underneath the knife without touching it. “This is not a trick.”

“Hmm...” So there was the connection. She asked for her knife and offered up some valuable, very personal information in return. Jango smiled openly. He had ‘called’ his blaster to him with an electromagnetic field in his gloves before. He pulled the cloth out swiftly and shook it out. The knife didn’t as much as waver in the air. “Neat trick, but I’m afraid that doesn’t make you a goddess. Jedi can do that as well, and they are definitely not gods. They can be wrong, they fail and they can be killed like any other being.”

“I’m not doing that.” Tomoe hurried to assure him, but she could see no fear in his expression, no hate, and no aggression... just light amusement. Oh, how naive had she been around him! Jango was so much more than his revenge; he was a powerful and courageous warrior. Unafraid of the gods, he trusted only in the power that rested inside of him… and in her, too? She picked her sheathed knife from the air and settled it under her sash carefully. “It is Moro’s will and power,” she explained, “she is not hostile towards you, just the opposite; she would like to call you her father.”

“Floating things or not, I’m not afraid of you or Moro.” Jango stated firmly. He didn’t care whenever Tomoe or Moro could tap into ‘the force’. None of them was a member of the Jedi Order. She trusted him. Her honesty was stronger than the frightening anger that was bundled up inside of him. Because she was the one. “Look, I can float things or even myself with an antigrav panel, magnets or a jetpack. That didn’t give you a fit, either... So what? I suggest we skip the shock-and-awe phase and adjust to this new development.”

Damn, he wanted to hug and kiss her, yet he couldn’t! His cyar’ika was so distant tonight. He could see she was still uncomfortable around him. How could he get to her, tell her what he really wanted, make her understand? It was like trying to charm a bird out of a tree. Patience, Jango... behave! To keep his fists from clenching, he folded up the cloth and handed it back to her as well.

“You talk to Moro?” He tried to continue on her topic.

“Yes... since a few hours I can,” she admitted and wondered where this would take them.

“Must be an amazing experience. Can I, as well?” Jango slid up beside her as she stored the once-barrier of the cloth under the overlap of her robe neatly.

“I would like to know... maybe you’ll dream of Moro tonight when you open your mind.” Tomoe offered, dropping into her serviceable routine that would grant her proper distance with most clients. Yes, they managed to talk politely now, but she just couldn’t see herself getting any closer to him. Nevertheless, Jango continued to deny taking that role and treated her as casually as a family member.

“He would have to come a lot closer for that. Be charming, mommy...” butTomoe didn’t exactly feel seductive right now, more like sitting between two chairs, much overwhelmed and even more confused. “I would love to be introduced,” the inner voice poked heragain. - ‘You are not helping it, Moro...’ she thought as loud as possible without speaking the words. She had to concentrate on Jango, NOW! She jumped slightly as his thigh brushed along hers lightly... a part of her wanted to run, flee from his crushing grasp, but the other wanted to stay, to be safe in his arms and to be told that everything would be alright.

Jango didn’t like the absent look on her face. “I would love that, if my dream includes you as well, cyar’ika...” he told her and wondered how to win her attention again. Brushing his lips over her cheek worked at the first try. “Tomoe...?” As she turned to face him, he pulled her on his lap easily, caressing the nape of her neck while he plucked out the silver hair pin with nimble fingers.

Long black tresses spilled over his hands. Once more they carried that faint scent of grass. “Like this... it is a dream,” he breathed in deeply, “Can’t you see how I want you, all of you? What sort of man would I be, if I could not respect all of your personality and love all of our kids? I do not care about bloodlines. Your news make me a very happy man...”

“That’s...” she had made her decision when she stepped over the threshold, “good to hear.” She would give him what he wanted, her body in return for a powerful ally to raise her kids. That was the deal. She knew his preferences. His coupling would be rough, but she wasn’t in danger. She would not struggle; therefore he would not hurt her.

“Please don’t stop talking now, stay with me tonight,” his calm yet insistent voice interrupted her unpleasant strand of thoughts.

“I would like that,” she agreed and put her arms around him to steady herself.

He instantly knew that she was lying... she was certain that she was not going to like it. Nevertheless, she kept up her composure. He could feel the goose bumps on her lower arms as he held her. “Kiss me... please try me,” he whispered. She had to get a lot more comfortable if he was to enjoy this.

She did kiss him, as carefully as if she was handling ordnance for the first time... with the hand book on the side. There was no trace of the spiteful passion when she had kissed him first, more like searching for something... him? Or herself? He kissed her back gently, but he didn’t want to shut her up for long, for that would exclude him once again. He leaned back a little, smiled approvingly and shifted the sweet burden on his lap. The body suit was getting tighter by the minute and this would take a while... “Tell me about Moro,” he requested.

“Well, she...” This was no longer about Moro. It was about her and what she could take... or not take. She could feel his readiness through the layers of sturdy fabric and finest silks against her thigh. If he would just get over with it, so she could continue to sleep?!

“Yes...?” He watched her withdraw “How did you come to know her? Just begin at the beginning...” A mischievous grin came on his face “You may kiss me good night afterwards,” he offered and rubbed his nose against hers playfully, “like a good boy.”

Instead of grinding her into the mattress, Fett started flirting using the most ridicule phrases?! “You aren’t...” blurted out before she remembered she wasn’t to complain tonight.

“A good boy? Oh, today I was.”

He managed to throw her from one mood into another with a word or two. Somehow, it always worked for him and his crocked smile. It was embarrassing or at least unbalancing. “Well, I wasn’t always a good girl...” she escaped his scrutiny by conjuring the past,

“I don’t even know when I first met Moro. I guess my father took me when I was still a toddler and introduced us by scent. Later I went to Moro or into the forge to my grandfather whenever my grandmother and my mother argued... usually about what was best for me. My grandmother had been raised in the ways of the warrior class, but my mom was a town girl, the daughter of a top rank courtesan; lovely, intelligent and well trained in arts, but inexperienced in leading a warrior homestead.

My grandma was not happy with my father’s choice. But he had insisted and my grandpa had supported him to put his feelings over the political gain of our clan. As an inspector, my father couldn’t be around most of the time, especially not since he had to work just the more after failing the dynastic expectations.

I had no patience and often ended up with dirty nails, wrote like a man and dropped out of the koto-classes my mom offered to all the girls in the neighborhood. That I drove the weaving women crazy with my inattention whenever I didn’t smell of fish and charcoal like a commoner, angered my grandma who wanted me to learn how to rule the house after her demise, to hold things together and not run around carefree like a lowly servant.

I had little interest in humans in general, and preferred swimming with my animal-brother ‘noko, but I repeated to Moro whatever I had learned. She listened and held her wing over me while I played the flute to the song of her clan. I grew stronger and taller than other girls, skilled with the spear and handy with the tools in my grandfather forge. I had the instincts of an animal, frolicking or hiding away from guests depending of their temper... In other words, I was completely useless.”

Jango huffed and raised a brow, ‘Useless?!’ he thought - it was already fascinating to just imagine, his cyar’ika growing into the gorgeous woman she was underneath that cultivated shell. So far away! How he would have loved to be the boy next door... no, they really didn’t know what was good, here... their loss, his gain.

“But for the old sword smith and his younger brother, I became the grandson he never had. Nevertheless, my grandmother preferred to blame my mother for not trying hard enough with my father ...until I grew old enough for her to notice that teaching me her precision with the halberd and the short sword kept my robes clean and me from hanging around outside. This talent we had common with my grandmother also kept my mother safe and sane, so I kept working hard to please her.

I never wanted to lose this duality, but then the provinces started fighting, my father in the middle of it. When the reports of the total destruction came, nothing could have held my mother back. She didn’t take care of the keep like a warrior woman; she went to help the love of her life. They died together. The radiation damage didn’t leave any bones to pick out after the incineration of the mutilated bodies.

It was the end of the world and the broken remains became unsteady, incomplete. Some of the old ones went out to fight and to die with the old way. Others tried to adjust and keep at least their home turf intact, to pass on a little something to the next generation. The new governments didn’t fulfill their old duties, and didn’t like what was passed on. What they considered useless had to be destroyed.

They sent troupes to make an example, peasant boys pressed in uniforms and given blasters and other imported weapons. You have seen the impact. They couldn’t run away from their officers, so they managed to kill my grandparents, but Moro’s clan scattered and she pulled me down the stream to keep me alive. We vanished in the river delta before her mortal body decomposed. I was cut from her sanguine spirit forever... or so I thought.

They say the marshes are cursed, and indeed, the clan has no reason to love humans with fire weapons. But there is life in it and the constant stream of sweet and salty water purifies the evil people bring into it. When I was ready to push myself to leave it again, I revived some human grace with what the Harada had stowed away. Not much, just enough to get myself a job at the resort. I bet this service wasn’t what my mother and grandma had in mind when they taught me, but it kept me alive... You see, they all died wanting me to live, yet they left me behind, unbearable lonely.”

Tomoe shook her head, tears dropping on her white damask collar “No, we cannot fight like that all the time, Jango, it is impossible to hide such things from a child.”

“Last thing I want, Tomoe.” His calloused thumbs smoothed over her cheeks gently as he kissed her tears away. He found her lips had become warmer, more responsive. Just keep her talking, caress her, kiss her... stay in touch... “How could you contact Moro again... take her into your body, you said?”

“I called for her when my loneliness got the upper hand. Spirits can travel far when the body becomes unbound. It helps to open knots, to fast, to purify and balance one’s surroundings or inhale incense... there are no creative limits, yet the human spirit is weak and lonely, always in danger to get lost. But it can be strengthened with the help of an animal spirit, to connect it to the force of live itself... I skipped most of the ceremony, simply unknotted my belt and called for help. Moro answered. We connected and we travelled... and we never split again completely. Maybe because neither of us wanted to.”

“Hmm...?” Jango felt by no means wiser, he just knew that this was what he wanted, too. Badly. “I can see why you need to open knots... plenty of them. It’s like a gift wrapping,” he plucked out the end of a silken tie to play with the fluffy tassel. “One I would like to unwrap in order to make you perfectly comfortable tonight...” while she didn’t guard the end of her sash as jealously as a certain blanket, she didn’t look terribly exited, either... “Are there any regulations concerning zippers?” he poked her with another joke.

“I don’t think so...” she mused and ran her hands over his collarbones searchingly. This shouldn’t be hard to figure out. She certainly wasn’t too clumsy to undress him in the time it would take him to work his way through the layers of silk protecting her. He raised his chin and she slid a little closer on his lap to work the zipper through the sturdy environmental seal around his neck and down his chest. He was clean shaven, the material was cool, his skin was warm... and he didn’t smell bad. Yes, she could do it.

Suddenly his hand came up and slanted over hers firmly. As she looked up, his darkened gaze caught her eyes. Unbending resolve had pushed his light amusement aside. A shiver ran down her back. How had she angered him? While he had invited her inside - well, sort of - she certainly didn’t want to be there when he went into bad mood.

“I thought we had agreed ‘no more deals’, Tomoe.” He didn’t yell, his voice was low and emotionless. She felt the muscles of his arm tense and harden but he didn’t tighten his hold around her, “Please think... for our sake, and tell me, what you are doing?”

‘I’m trying to seduce your brutal, demanding side into not hurting me, because I’ll have to sit for hours tomorrow’ sounded like a turn-off, so she picked different facts, a honorable explanation for her own sanity. “I... am… undressing the father of my children,” sounded natural enough.

“Why? ... You could just kiss me good night now and leave, I... wouldn’t mind.” Well, as reasonable as he managed to sound, it was a big fat lie - at least some bold part of him she was sitting on would definitely mind. ‘Shut up down there’… “Please, I need to hear it from you, Tomoe. Why?”

“Because it is the right thing to do.” She realized she was parroting him and gulped. But it was true. Around him, there would be none of that prejudice that was pressing on Boba here. Moro had told her that nobody else would love her like this – true, since she was the last of her kind... well, the last reasonable one. Was she acting reasonable? She didn’t really care as long she sounded reasonable. “You are unique... it will be good for the children... I wonder you have to ask.”

Ouch, intended or not, that last barb hurt. He shrugged it off. “Skip the flattery. It’s not so unique among Mando’ade, you know. I am the best of them, yet I need to ask.” What was there to grin? ‘Don’t do that to me...’ His icy eyes seemed to bore into her even more. “Am I the best for you, Tomoe? There is no point messing around any longer. I won’t hold you up, I’ll always take responsibility for our children, but if you don’t plan to leave right now, then stop being so dutiful - please stop torturing me!”

There, it was out. He watched her jaw drop.

“And if you stay,” he noticed his arm around her shoulders was shaking with tension and rested it over her lap easily, “...then tell Moro to be a good kid and listen into another direction while her parents sort out themselves... cause there is such a thing as a point of no return for me,” he breathed, “Let us free ourselves tonight, here and now.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” She pleaded and realized that he truly wasn’t doing things by halves. She nuzzled the dark, soft spot under his chin, his purr shaking her to the core. “Yes, I really think you are best.”

His voice resonated close to her ear, his hot breath again along the side of her, “Please show me you have no fear of me. Let me show you that you are safe with me.”

There was something inside of him which she couldn’t appease by throwing a piece of her at him at a time. He told her how he felt, because he really cared. ‘Stop treating yourself like trash!’ He would tear down the wall, take all and give all his pride would let him. Yes, he was a hungry beast. He would not back down ...and she would not run. Because he was not the enemy. He had battled their inner enemies and he had been victorious. Now he knew too much, understood so much, saw right through her fears...

Yes, she would take his challenge, ride the glorious beast tonight and not get bitten by remorse tomorrow. Not because it was inevitable, but because it was her right to consume their bond, to live a life without fear. He would not disappoint her. She would answer his call, take his hand and set her bare foot upon his slain enemies. With courage she would walk over the carcasses of greed and sloth. Such was the way of the warrior.

Tomoe straightened her back, dug her hands into his beautiful, thick hair and kissed him. For real. “Show me. Let’s get a rid of my fears once and for all.”

Jango saw Tomoe’s eyes light up, the dignity and strength of her upbringing returning to her. She was like a bird ready to take flight, no longer the angry tormented self but her true passionate self was struggling to break through. Just holding her warmed Jango’s heart. This was the Tomoe he needed right now, this was the mother his family demanded. He fought down the urge to crush her against his chest in eager response. He had to remind himself that only by releasing her he could get what he wanted. Not trusting his fists, he turned up his open palms and left it to his lips to explore her face and throat.

Leaning backwards on his lap, Tomoe removed the cloth and knife from her belt and placed it by the cushion, as to mark her territory next to his pile of armor. Jango stopped nibbling her earlobe to sneak a peek as she stored away all the items she had tucked under her collar and sash in the pillow box. To his relief it already held all they would need tonight. “Good,” he whispered and returned his attention to her slender neck. The pulse point jumped under his lips as he pulled the knot of a decorative ribbon loose with nimble fingers. It fell apart, but to his disappointment not much more gave in to gravity.

As fond of unpacking ‘presents’ as he was, of course the man had no idea where to begin undressing. She had to show him or this would deplete their patience tonight. Breaking away from him with a small smile, Tomoe slid over to the high paper lantern by the wall and began to untie the voluminous bow on her back. A river of brocade and sheer silk fell in swirls on the hem of her loosened robe. His hands felt so empty and he found himself throbbing with impatience and curiosity as she moved to unwind the seemingly endless sash. How had she changed? The feeling was more acute than it would have been had he been meeting her for the first time.

Finished with the sash at least, she turned to face him. Jango still knelt there in his full body suit, but his intense gaze felt like a drizzle of warm rain. The weight on the hem caused the opened outer robe to slip from her rounded shoulders and to settle over the high hanger of the lantern. It left her standing in the light wearing a single silken underrobe which was covered in a design of iris by a stream, the flowers dyed in deep indigo with pale green foliage dotted with delicate dewdrops.

It was nice, but Jango felt little mercy for niceties that denied him to see anything of her skin between her throat and toes, impatient as he was to have her in his arms. With a slightly frustrated groan, the big man was suddenly right up alongside her, brushing against her like a prowling cat, his move coming almost out of nowhere. Again his mouth came down on hers hard, practically drawing the air out of her lungs. Catering to his urgency, Tomoe used her foot to push away the discarded robe and dug for the ends of the blue and white woven undersash, but then she seemed to rediscover some sense of order.

He felt her undoing the zipper and fastenings of his body suit while he locked his gaze to the opposite wall, for breathing in the enticing scent of her hair alone was mocking his resolve. Standing so close to her reminded him how small she was compared to his bulk. While he politely kept himself from shredding her underrobe to pieces, she peeled off the tight layer of the bodysuit, revealing his naked torso.

At the slightest brush of cool silk that denied his skin from touching, his hard muscles flexed underneath a collection of some old and one new scar. As she took a step back to figure his waistband, his gaze wavered and he caught her watching him with fascination and lust in her eyes. Her slender hands fumbling to ease the tight constraints of his pants while exploring every inch of him didn’t help him to regain any of his pose, either.

His agile fingers were already busy undoing the ends of the undersash as he had to look up again quickly. He’d never had a woman who was so obsessed with his body. Last night it had been only his chest that had attracted her attention; today it was something that pleased him so much more. His greatest fear after hurting her was that she would now be afraid of his large size and immense power, but it was just the opposite, there was a look of sheer fascination in her eyes.

A soft tremble of arousal coursed through her as she felt his hands spread open her underrobe. He detached the heart monitor from her skin and cupped her shoulders to slide both the silk robe and her underlayer down gently. She faced up to him and met his gaze unafraid. The white skin of her naked body shone like gilded ivory in the lamplight. Jango inched backwards, his eyes fastened on her with an intensity that shook her core. Could he trust his senses? She looked as beautiful as he had ever seen her.

He was almost startled that the moment didn’t burst like a bubble of soap that had been hovering in the air just in front of his nose for too long, shimmering but untouchable. He exhaled sharply at the sight of her perfect mounds. He didn’t dare to put a finger on her at all at first, too afraid to grab her too eagerly but then she stepped forwards, out of the robes which had fallen around her feet in a heap.

His hands came up instantly to cup her round breasts as she rose on her toes to kiss him. He noticed how responsive her nipples reacted to his calloused thumbs while his palms enfolded her sides. Once her sensitivity had been useful to subdue her, but tonight he was thankful for any information that enabled him to please her better. His fingertips rubbed around her pink areola, watching as the point in the centre hardened and extended out to him.

He teased and pinched both her nipples between his thick digits to hurry her up while she undid the rest of his clothes until he was standing naked next to the bedding. To her own surprise, she found him a most impressive sight. He had made her painfully aware of the fact that he was a warrior with powerful built, that he was fit to fight and subdue her - but what her hands discovered as she revealed him to herself took her breath away. He was so strong and powerful and untamed – and it was all for her. He could tell from the widening of her eyes and her small gasp that she was not disappointed in the thick, fully aroused size of his cock. Right, he had never granted her a good look before. Today he would let her look her fill at what was soon to unite them and cater to their needs.

Obviously fond of giving as well as receiving, she kissed his chest, searching out his dark nipple with the tip of her tongue, tracing it and then kissing it until she’d sucked its erect peak into her mouth while her daft hands continued their journey south. He reached out and cupped her jaw line, his fingers pressing at the back of her head as he caught her investigative hands before she could grasp his loaded weapon. He would need her soon, but he had to make sure that she was ready for him as well - which meant he had to buy time. “Enough,” his voice quietly commanded, “You must tell me you want this.”

She complied and moved her talented hands away from his pounding erection to touch him along his strong hips gingerly, feeling the striations of their muscles. They trailed back upwards, his stomach trembling as her fingertips dragged through the definition lines of his strong abdominal wall, up his big pectoral muscles. Carefully avoiding the fresh scar, she smoothed her hands over the hulking deltoids and trapezoid muscles. “Yes!” She moaned as if speaking out for her filled hands, “I have no fear of you, just let go, Jango, unleash the beast...”

A quick dark predatory grin quirked up his rugged face. Yes, he would do that! And his stiffened member again twitched at the stream of images that flooded his mind, mounting his girl from behind like an animal, or have her against a wall, her body shaking violently as he rammed a decade’s worth of suppressed desire into her again and again, hard, solidly, showing her how strong he was... but this was not the time to let himself chase such thoughts.

Two weeks ago he would have grabbed her, turned her around, bent her over and showed her what kind of beast he could be. But no matter how much he wanted to just tear into her that instant, his resolve had grown as strong as his lust since she was giving herself to him freely. In return, he now required her pleasure if he was to accept what she offered so generously. And for that, he needed her completely crazy.

“I will, in time,” his large hand slid down gently from fisting in her ebony hair, brushing away some long strands which reflected the candlelight with a bluish gleam. No, she didn’t know what monsters were lurking deep inside of him, and hopefully she never would. She rolled her head back as he caressed her neck and cheek gently once more, hesitant but heartfelt as he learned the moves of the graceful dance of intimacy.

Tomoe closed her eyes, taking Jango’s admonishment to heart, she opened up and enjoyed his gentle kisses on her sensitive neck as he trailed a line down her midriff and the arc of her ribcage. She could feel his large hands move along her thighs. Why was he staying away from just the area that she was dying for him to explore? Wiggling against his muscular chest as he sunk on his knees in front of her, she hoped to end the teasing of his slowly stroking hands, but the hunter wouldn’t stop stalking his prey.

Instead of homing in on the core of her pleasure, she felt his hands smooth over her hips to her firm buttocks, cupping them as he began to kiss her abdomen, tasting her skin. This close, the scent of her arousal was maddening as it dampened the soft triangle of black curls below. Nevertheless he kept taunting her purposefully, “I have had my fill of quick ’n’ easy glass vat reproduction,” he whispered, “from now on, I want to make good, slow, old stylish love to the mother of all my kids.”

Without pausing his worship of her still lean hourglass shape, Jango smirked up at her and she gasped. There, his fingertips had found another sensitive spot were her buttocks joined her thighs. She was so responsive to his explorations, how she could sit at all was beyond him. Maybe harder wasn’t automatically better.

She was already blushing like a peach at his words, but he decided to continue teasing her until the heady sweetness broke out of her and she was dripping like a ripe fruit. For now he relished in the salty taste of her smooth, freshly bathed skin. She shivered where his breath touched her, made her feel hot and cold at the same time. Since he had fended off her all too talented intelligence, he could hold out a while longer until he gave in to rapture. He decided to devour her sweet core for aperitif before he would commence pushing into her inner defense ring for real. And if it took all night, for once they would not be interrupted. Somewhere out there, his uncalled reinforcements would make sure of that.

He adored the soft rounding of her abdomen against his cheek as she took a deep breath to steady herself. She was lean and strong like a saber blade, maybe even more so than the day when he had so stupidly tried to force her to submit to him with bruising grip and a battering ram. Today those firm walls protected their little ones and her trim muscles relaxed under his big warm hand as if to invite him in as well, waiting for him to complete them. It was nothing short of a wonder. ‘How do I deserve this?’ he thought with a low moan, dipping his tongue into her belly button just to feel her wiggle in his arm once more.

From the desperate hold she had taken on his broad shoulder, she would have gone down with him like molten wax, had he not supported her buckling knees in the croak of his arm. It was time to call his fingertips away from the tender skin in the back of her knee, running his right hand upwards her long lean inner thigh. The muscles of her calf played against the inside of his knee as her toes dug into the mat, seeking for a better stance.

A small, hitched sigh escaped her as his first knuckle finally brushed over the soaked curls between her legs. Then his thick digit straightened up to part her folds and nudge itself deeper into the evidence of her arousal. He was about to make the dive for the pearl in her dripping honey pot as he heard her voice again. “Uh hu?” he looked up at her with a sheepish grin, and slowly withdrew his probing hand to lick his fingertip sensuously. Not bad, but she had tasted even more delicious without that hint of bacta. No treasure without a catch. They would take care of that better sooner than later.

Cyar’ika... turn out the lights, please,” she begged him, her legs trembling more as she looked around. Since his bulk stopped blanking out her shadow, their continued play on the paper screens was probably more interesting than watching the rise of the first summer moon over the garden.

“Why so urgent?” Jango let her slip gently from his arms onto the mattress, pulled up the linen coverlet in his back and reached for the pillow box. But he had no intentions of putting out the light. Their prescribed safety measures gave him a perfect excuse not to dig around in the dark, but in fact he wanted to see every detail of her expression, every inch of her body as she writhed with pleasure. Among all his experiences, this was the richest... and he wanted to savor it with his eyes wide open.

Tomoe looked to the side briefly, but couldn’t take her eyes from him for long “We... probably entertain half of the resort,” she whispered urgently.

“Ahh... I take care of any complaints,” obviously untroubled by her need for modesty, he brought his face close to hers again; he gently placed his mouth against her lips, “...in the morning.” He added and held her there, ignoring the pain in his side and the arm that was supporting her head and his weight, but eventually began to move his lips over her body, choosing, one after the other, even softer, silkier spots – the tip of her breast, her earlobe, an eyelid, a place under her chin.

He didn’t mind to announce it to the whole place that she was his. He doubted there would be any complaints. Crouched over her like a golden tanned predator to keep his weight from her, he wanted to purr “all mine” until she wrapped her arms around his neck and sealed his lips with a kiss. But no oh-so-talented scratching behind his ears would turn him back into a pussycat now.

His free hand ran down her side and leg, closing around the back of her left knee her as she opened her thighs up for his entry. But he had better plans than to settle into a position he had used to subdue her, to grind her into mattress with his superior weight once more. As much as he needed to be in control, he wanted to make a difference. “Relax,” he commanded in a throaty whisper. ‘Oups – the bad word’, he reminded himself but it looked like he had been forgiven, “Let yourself enjoy this,” with that, he rolled them on their sides, pulling her with him by his hand on her hamstring.

She arched her back as he finally closed the gap between their bodies, her flexibility made up for the height difference as she lifted her face to him, his lips fusing with hers, her taut nipples rubbing his chest. His rippling abdomen melted against hers and his poking rod slid down her belly until it nudged her moist folds. Feeling her grind into him eagerly, he tightened his hold on her leg and pulled her thigh up and over his hip. He would tease her no more.

He’d chosen this position because it did not allow him to thrust deeply, but instead kept them face-to-face and embracing each other tightly. What he truly desired was to be as close to her as he could be and do nothing more than she could take already. She removed one hand from the tight hold around his neck. He groaned and his big brawny body shuddered as she ran a finger lightly down his throat in spite before she passed her hand down between their bodies to wrap around his large sheathed erection, her grasp resolute enough to make him breath down her neck hotly in expectation.

He felt her heart pounding against his palm as he spread his hand over her back to support her when she pressed the sweet seal on his offering in a slow circling motion of her little round butt. Spurred on by a sudden fusion of love and lust, he pushed himself into her centre, gently, yet hurriedly, and as deep as he could before he was overtaken with the feeling of being inside her once again.

“Yes!” Her grip around him was wide and deep, as firm as her hand’s as her body hugged his savagely hard rod in tune with her inhale. Gradually he felt her relax, loosening a bit around him. He couldn’t possibly keep still any longer. When she withdrew her slender hand, he was already driving into her with short, slow, intense thrusts, opening her up more and more as they continued to cling to one another. She stroked her palms over his back and shoulders, feeling the steely strength of him under her fingers and around her and against her, everywhere and anywhere she could reach, and she delighted in the feel of him, so solid and real. He was so different from the previous times, for he was utterly tender with her now.

Her breath quickened each time he moved, and he could feel it hot and moist on his shoulder. A stab in his side would have reminded him whenever he pulled her leg too hard, yet he paused, looking down at her, ready to calm any of her fears. Of course she was a poor second to him in hand-to-hand fighting, but that didn’t mean anything in bed. His Cin’ciri wasn’t made of porcelain. Her light yet strong and agile body gave as good as it took, impossible to shake down, like snow falling on a Wampa fur or sticking to a mountain flank. Her inner thigh felt like velvet on his side, and her heel nudged the small of his back urging him on as she wrapped herself around him. Again her tongue entered his mouth, dancing with his.

Creation, he must feel more of her! He nearly pulled out, and drove into her deeply, holding her there for a moment as her tightness and his great need and desire unleashed the beast that lurked inside him. Taking a good hold on her heart-shaped butt with both hands he turned over on his back. She fluently rolled with him to straddle his hips and bury him deeper inside of her, containing him fully as he took her weight. Her hips picked up the rhythm of his trusts, her lower back rolling in his guiding hands.

He learned that the up and down he put on her shapely outside in tune with his trusts was just the beginning of what her insides could do to his member once she straightened up, her fingers digging into the thick muscles of his shoulders. So eager to please him! He looked up into her passionate face and gave a slow smile of gratification while his fingers went up to rub the rosy, velvety crests. He hadn’t done much to her yet, nevertheless she looked absolutely pleasured by his actions. A sheen of moisture highlighted her curves as she bent backwards gracefully and let him make love to her.

He was electrified with her lust for him; this was more than he had hoped for. She didn’t just allow him to fuck her; she was using him for her passion as well. He leered, happy with the hunger she displayed as he found the pearl of her pleasure and rubbed it in tune with the rocking of their joint bodies. He could play her with a single fingertip, yet she wanted more and he would give her more. Sliding his hands over the quivering surface of her tummy with his fingers spread wide, he grabbed her firmly by her hips again. Pressing his broad shoulders into the mattress he drove his thrusts wickedly upwards into her. Since he had made sure it was save to put more force in his motion, he admired his own strength as he looked up at her magnificent plump breasts bouncing with each of his thrusts.

Jango gritted and ground his teeth as her body tightened up around him in preparation of her climax and he felt his own maddening rush of vibrations. Tomoe tried to stifle her moan in her hand with little success, her body beginning to convulse fiercely, pumping his already hypersensitive organ. The beast was no longer fulfilled to be trapped beneath her. She had played him long enough, he had to give it all to her now, there was no stopping! It broke free and rolled her to her back, driving his cock into her with one great, hard and deep thrust that broke the seal of tightness her contractions had formed. A mewl hitched in her throat.

‘Bad idea!’ his conscience yelled in the back of his head and fought to tackle the beast before it could ravage his love further. “Have I hurt you?” He asked breathlessly with concern in his eyes, an ice cold shiver running down his back, squishing the heat in his groin. He had broken his one rule tonight, given in for a second and now he would lose her forever…

“I’m fine...” She couldn’t just smile reassuringly while utter darkness fell over his expression. This wasn’t the moment for a lengthy explanation that she was alright, that he fulfilled her hunger to be safe, to be loved, to be no longer lost and lonely. He had been a slave to his failure for too long. If she wanted him to be free, if she wanted him to join her in climax, she had to lead him out of his cage with boot to backside. “I said: let it out!” she commanded. Underneath his startled, awkward bulk, Tomoe twisted like a cheetah, her hand came up, nails slashing over his pectoral. “Now!” She drove her heel into the small of his back to spur him on.

The burning scratch shattered his concerns; he instinctively caught her wrists, held them over her head and gave in to his desire. She panted with the pleasure of feeling his heavy weight on top of her, pinning her to the mattress; the tightly leashed strength of his taut muscles and the heat of his body combining to envelop her in a cocoon of exhilarating sense of desire, and danger, and surprisingly, utter safety. Her body was at his mercy, but she was in ecstasy at that thought.

She loved his roughness, the wild savagery of his hunger. It spoke to her beyond words, found the path to some deep inner sanctum - a raw source of sexual energy that had never been really explored - she had always known it existed within her but had never been able to tap into it before, and she knew with every fibre of her being that he was the one to get her there.

He could feel that he was close, his cock swelling, pounding, ready to gush, and this time he did not try to stop himself. He could let go, he was free of any foreign or self induced bounds, he was coming home. Two bodies tensed, twisted, fought for release, begged for climax, and then exploded into one another.

He collapsed on top of her as he tried to at least regain his breath. His warmth weight slanted over her gave her a frame of reference as the world around her swayed like a boat on the waves. Yet within seconds, the thought of how heavy he was gave Jango the inspiration to flop over onto his back beside Tomoe, his chest heaving.

She moaned out her loss.

“How do you feel?” He gasped, half expecting a casualty report like in the aftermath of a great battle.

“Good.” Still stupefied, she rolled over and propped herself up on an elbow to inspect his chest for damage. There were three parallel scratches visible on his golden tan, but thanks to her neatly manicured short nails, she hadn’t drawn any blood.

“Why?” he inquired, stroking her cheek. He was back to gentleness impersonated, yet the mere memory of her sudden outburst made something deep inside him twitch with excitement. The sweat sting on his chest certainly was a small price for what he had experienced.

“I felt you were holding back,” she explained, “Please do not hide your strength from me. I love your strength, your body, your fierce spirit. I wished you would let me feel the entirety of all of them... and it looked like you were in need of an extra-invite.”

“Uh hu...” he huffed and pulled her over him like a blanket, kissing her deeply. Afterwards, he reclined on his back holding her close, her head on his chest. His hands tangled through her long hair, enjoying its soft, silky texture. He rested his head on the cushion, feeling pleasantly exhausted. The room went quiet but for the sound of their gasping lungs that proved they hadn’t gone deaf.

After a while, he nimbly if not a bit wearily got to his feet, cleaned up briefly and began to snuff out the candles, then opened the picture window, just a crack. A ray of moonlight painted a stripe on the mats at their feet. All the while he was watching her through heavy lidded eyes. An air of relaxed satiation and a certain male arrogance surrounded him; it glittered in his eyes as he let his gaze roam over her flushed form reclining on the mats, as possessive and tangible as a touch.

He spread out the gauzy mosquito net and slipped next to her on the futon, pulling her close. He radiated warmth like the healthy animal he was, and she felt as warm and cozy as if the covers were tucked around her and not lying in a tangled heap at the foot of the bedding. She slid her right hand over the arm about her waist, threading her fingers with his. A deep, quiet pleasure glowed inside her, and she was utterly content here in his arms.

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