Altair quirked a brow as she complained about taking her shoes off. Oh man, this was going to be just great. His gaze flicked down as he sucked his teeth, “Uh uh,” He shook his head, “Socks off too, missy,” He said with a grin appearing on his face. He almost suggested taking off the jacket as well, but she would realize soon enough how useless it would be for a lesson. Probably when it got an unpleasant tear through the expensive material.
He wasn’t convinced she knew anything about fighting, but he knew better than to say anything aloud. Altair loosened up and bounced a few times on the balls of his feet, “All right, since you prolly don’t want any murder charges on you, your goal would be to knock someone out or give you a shot at runnin’ away,” He couldn’t imagine what other uses she could ever have for fighting. She was some random chick (a wealthy one), the most she’d have to deal with was getting creeped on walking home.
“You can carry a blaster or a knife if those are legal,” He explained, “Your fists will prolly be your last line of defense,” Altair said.
He got into a stance, shifting his right foot back and holding his arms up in defense, “Stand like this. But if you’re left handed, have your left foot back instead. Keep your arms up to guard your face,” If she did that, he would then proceed to show her how to do a basic jab cross, going over the positioning of her feet, arms and torso.
"Now try an' pop me in the face," He said rather cheerfully.
Uh-oh? That was never the expression a beginner wanted to hear. Had she already made a mistake? The half-Sephi instinctively looked down, following Altair's gaze, but saw nothing amiss. "My socks?" she repeated, picking up on the Tiefling's grin and internally exhaling, relieved that she hadn't exposed herself as a novice three seconds into their lesson. She almost said no—used to having things her own way—but remembered that whenever she was with Altair, she wasn't a princess, and she didn't give orders. Here, she was the teacher, and she the pupil. Slipping her socks off without another word, she wiggled peach painted toes against the mat, getting a feel for it. They matched her manicured fingernails. Out of curiosity, she asked in an almost playful tone, "What makes you think I wouldn't want to murder someone?" She would probably be amused by his answer, no matter what it was.
Reyna didn't loosen up as Altair did, instead crossing her arms and pressing her lips together in thought. She would've looked totally indifferent and uninterested, except that she leaned forward, rocking back and forth. Inside, she was invigorated. Excited. She felt alive at last, knowing that this was the first step toward a better future. For herself, the legacy of her loved one's, and—if everything went according to plan—for Onderon.
Ears straight up with interest, she watched Altair with rapt attention, not willing to miss a single, solitary detail or movement. This meant more to her than he could've realized or she could ever convey, but she understood just how fortunate she was to have run across the Tiefling. Someone willing to train her. Someone that knew what they were doing.
Once he was in position, she followed his lead, sliding her right foot back to match his own, not hesitating to follow his directions until he told her to "pop" him in the face. She stared at him with a blank expression.
"Pop you? You mean... hit you? Actually hit you?" She hadn't realized that the training would get this intense so quickly. Still staring, she searched his face to make sure he really meant it. Perhaps this was her chance to really impress him, to prove that she had potential. What was that move Cassian had told her about? The carrot chop? She was sure it was something like that. She'd seen it several times in action holofilms, and it always left its opponent out cold. That wasn't her intention with Altair, but she did want to impress him.
Sure that he really meant it, she wound back and threw the basic jab cross he had shown her, following it up with a sloppy chop toward his neck. @Sreeya
Altair snorted when she asked how he knew she wouldn’t kill someone, “Because you got all prissy about removin’ your socks just now. Wouldn’t dream of breakin’ a nail,” He quipped back with a grin. He remained within striking range to see how she would hit, expecting her to demonstrate the usual jab cross. Altair’s goal was to defend against it and show her how to follow up. As she put out her jab and then cross, he brought up his respective arms to defend, “You’ll wanna keep your knees loose so you don’t lock up and you can bob and weave,” He explained, “You keep your arms up at all times to block the jab cross and it frees you up to come in for a torso-”
Altair saw her reel back for a move he hadn’t taught her. Instead of stepping to the side, out of morbid curiosity, he simply stood there to take the strike. The blow landed on his very muscled traps and Altair quirked a brow as he crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her. She was hunched over, off balance and caught in the stupidest pose with her face inches from his. The tiefling stared down at her with his brow raised.
“The hell was that?” He asked before he casually took one step to the side. The abrupt loss of friction from the carrot chop and her dramatic wind up beforehand meant she would topple forward to faceplant on the mat. The tiefling remained standing, his tail swishing back and forth in amusement.
“Never let anyone get you on the ground,” He said, “I’ll show you some ground moves, but your goal is to never end up there in the first place. If you drop, first try kicking out, then plant a hand and hop back up on your feet as soon as possible.”
Altair got into stance again, “Let’s have fun. Show me all the tricks you know,” He said with a smile.
Prissy? Was that what he thought of her? After they'd danced the night away in a two-bit tavern that reeked of ale and pipe tobacco? Altair's answer did not amuse her after all, and she stared at him with a haughty dignity in her bearing. If she'd been inclined, she would have looked indignant. "You don't think me capable?" That she asked, surprised to discover she even cared. The impromptu chop had taken him by surprise, but that was all. It landed, all but bouncing off the Tiefling's tight muscles. It was Reyna's features that twisted with pain, not his, as her fingers caved in. She answered, "...the carrot chop?" realizing only as the words left her mouth that that probably wasn't what the move was called.
As soon as Altair stepped aside, she pitched forward and landed on the mat with an uncharacteristically ungraceful thud. The half-Sephi maintained fleeting eye contact as she rolled over onto her back, propping herself on her elbows as the sunlight fell on her chestnut hair. Judging by the way his tail swished back and forth, the Tiefling was enjoying his victory. He stood over her grinning, and she remembered what he'd told her in the tavern a week ago—that his tail was indicative of what he was thinking about.
That hadn't gone how she had envisioned it—how it always did in the holofilms. She must have done something wrong. Perhaps she hadn't thrown enough force into the jab. Or perhaps she'd been standing all wrong. Or perhaps she should've just come right out and admitted that she didn't know anything about combat in all its many forms. From her position on the ground, looking up at Altair, Reyna realized just how out of her element she was. On the dance floor, she had been the virtuoso, but now she was in Altair's playing field.
"All my tricks?" she said, arching an eyebrow. Planting her hands beneath her hips for support, she raised one leg and threw a kick at the Tiefling's stomach. @Sreeya
“Carrot chop?” Altair asked incredulously, tilting his head, “Actually I ain’t surprised…that’s probably how you chop carrots too,” He paused to imagine that and it was too much. He ended up bursting into laughter picturing her with an oversized knife and doing a dramatic chop with a loud, passionate yell and everything. Altair was so focused on laughing that he actually wasn’t looking when she abruptly kicked out from the ground.
Except she couldn’t aim quite as high as she thought.
Altair’s vision exploded and he dropped to the ground right next to her. He was curled up in a fetal position, resisting the urge to vomit. Altair’s hands were clutching desperately at his very poor family jewels. The tiefling rolled around in agony.
“That’s…one way…to bring someone down..” He whimpered with a voice a few octaves too high as he blinked through tears. Altair was sure he wouldn’t be able to have children after that. Mama Din would be so furious.
Altair burst into unrestrained laughter, and if Reyna had been as tipsy as she had been that first night in the tavern, she would have, too. It was an infectious sound, almost enough to make her completely forget why they were here in the first place.
It was short-lived. Laughter gave way to a shark intake of breath and a groan. Reyna realized what she’d done as soon as his eyes widened. For the first time that day, the princess exhibited real, tangible emotion, placing a tentative hand on the Tiefling’s shoulder, not sure if he would want her to touch him or not.
”Altair, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to!” she spoke quickly, as if the faster she got the words out the faster the situation might rectify itself. She peered over his shoulder, trying to see the expression on his face past all of his horns and his thick hair. ”Is there anything I can do? Anything I can hold?” She fumbled over her own words. Given the nature of the situation, that was a bad idea, and she regretted the suggestion right away. ”Or… or can I get you an ice pack or something?” She had no idea what to do or what would help. If she weren’t so concerned, she might have have felt proud of herself. That she could take down a full grown Tiefling male with one blow. It was purely luck, she realized, as Altair had been distracted, but it banished any small, lingering doubts she might have held. Doubts that she wasn’t cut out for this.
”I’m so sorry,” she said again, her voice more hushed and gentle than it had been before. Far less urgently, she added, ”I should have just come right out and told you that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never thrown a punch in my life.”@Sreeya
Altair was still whimpering on the ground when he heard her streams of apologies. He could only muster a silent thumbs up to let her know it was okay. It was a lie, he wasn’t okay, but he wasn’t going to be a wimp either. However, when she blurted out asking what she could hold, Altair began to laugh, half coughing from his agony and half finding her panic hysterical. In the end, he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.
“Well you did get me down, so now I owe you somethin’ again,” Altair said with a grin. His gaze lingered on the ceiling for a moment, observing the panels, “This would make a great place to raise plants,” He mused aloud without thinking. His mind wandered back to his farming days and all the crops that could be grown here. The lighting was excellent and the location was prime. Altair stared in silence for a moment. You could take a boy out of a farm, but you could never take the farmer out of him.
Altair curled his knees towards his chest and sprang up on his feet in one fluid motion. He extended a hand to help her off the ground with the smile, “It’s okay, Zelle,” He reassured her, “When it’s a matter of survival, you gotta use every trick in the book. Always do what you need to get someone down, even if it’s a solid kick to the ‘nads,” He gave her a wink.
“Let’s keep practicing the jab cross and defense,” Altair said, “When you got strikes comin’ at your face, bob down and slam them in the ribs. People goin’ for your face will leave their torso wide open.”
He stepped in a few times to correct her as they practiced, gently repositioning her arms to guard her face if they ever started to slip. Altair walked around her, reaching out to grasp her wrist, “If someone grabs you like this and tries to drag you away, loop your other arm around to grab your own hand, rotate your wrist towards my thumb and pull,” If she did it correctly, she’d yank her arm out of his grip easily, “Follow it up with a solid slug to the face and you’ll be out of probably 99% of shady situations.”
"To say that I owe you something would be more accurate, don't you think?" she asked, staring down at her feet and focusing on her knees. Exhaling a deep breath, they sat in silence for some time. Altair lying on his back staring up at the ceiling, Reyna sitting beside him, both of them soaking up the sunshine. Dust particles floated in the air, irradiated by the afternoon beams. Reyna wasn't sure what to say after that. Another apology would be inordinate, she thought, and yet that was all that came to mind. No clever jokes, no amusing conversation pieces she had picked up in her social circle lately. Nothing but the nagging, sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that she had no right to ask him to stay after that. Most men wouldn't, not after they'd been emasculated, even involuntarily. She wouldn't blame him if he walked away and never looked back, but she hoped he wouldn't.
Sitting there, the silence stretched on, until Altair spoke up at last. The half-Sephi's lips lifted into a smile. "Funny you should say that. This used to be a community garden when I was a little girl. I used to come here with my mother." She looked around, replaying the memories. "Back when people still cared about the neighborhood." Charitable projects always took the back burner in the midst of tragedy. The death of Onderon's Queen. The war with the Sith. Times were hard, and many found it difficult to look beyond themselves.
She started to ask what "the nads" were, that an expression she'd never heard before, but she realized what it probably meant before she could embarrass herself further. Some questions were better left unasked.
The Tiefling was an excellent teacher. Patient when she made mistakes and forgiving when she made them again. He guided her every step of the way, never letting her wonder for long what the next step might be, gently correcting her posture and stance whenever needed. She listened to his instruction, pointed ears bending toward him with marked interest.
"I was worried you might change your mind after I... kicked you," she began, not sure how else she might word that. Looping her arm around, she tried to pull her wrist free from his grip. She hadn't had any luck so far and had worked up a sweat, the leather jacket she'd worn tossed aside along with her boots and socks. "I'm glad you didn't."@Sreeya
Altair couldn’t help but smile at the way her ears swiveled towards him in full attention. What the hell was it with these pointy eared chicks that always gave him the warm and fuzzies? He focused his attention back on the task at hand, his tail almost waving out of control briefly before he settled it down. Altair looked around at the building once more, pondering to himself, “Why don’t we turn this place into a garden again? I know the kinda shit that would grow real nice here all year ‘round without too much care.”
He patiently let her try the grip release over and over again till she finally got it, “Yay!” He clapped cheerfully, genuinely happy to see her succeed. Altair grabbed her wrist again to let her try again - it was one of those things that you got down if you managed it just once. He paused briefly when she spoke, surprise on his face. Altair shook his head with a grin, “I love fightin’,” He explained, “I ain’t ever gonna be mad that someone got me on the ground. In fact, I give mad props for it.”
Altair stepped back, “Now let’s try a kick. Kick with the ball of your foot as an offensive kick towards my stomach,” He pointed to his torso, “In this spot called the solar plexus. You kick someone there, it knocks the wind outta 'em and folds 'em in half,” Altair looked back at her, “Pretend you’re kicking down a door or aim at a target through me to gather up the oomph you need,” She wasn’t Force sensitive, so he had to get creative with the terminology, “Kick with the foot you have in the back in your stance for maximum damage,” Altair held his palm up to catch her kick.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you land a nut shot this time,” He said with a teasing grin.
Dark eyes scrutinized the warehouse, lingering on the soiled concrete pad, the stripped metal walls, and the skylights—the majority of which were cracked or completely shattered. "Do you really think we could?" she questioned, not completely convinced. There was a gleam in her eye at the suggestion, imagining the building restored to the glory it had once known, just as it had been when she was a little girl. To look around, her mother's legacy was dead, the impact she'd had on the citizens of Onderon forgotten to time and hardship. Even Weylin, her own flesh and blood, never talked about her anymore. But Altair, with his casual confidence, gave her hope. The half-Sephi's gaze settled on him, unwavering. "You'd do that?"
A stranger. An off-worlder, at that. The last few months had been full of disappointments, and in her loss and grief, her faith had wavered. Daily, crying alone in her room, she wondered if the gods had turned their backs on her. Forsaken her, left her alone, and punished her for her misdeeds. Nevertheless, Altair was like a guardian angel that had swept into her life. Father, and Cassian, too, for that matter, would've balked at the suggestion—an angel with black wings and four great horns instead of a halo. Altair was not surrounded in aureole or adorned in a robe of pure white as sacred artwork would suggest. Reyna understood that he was an ordinary man, but she also trusted. Trusted that through ordinary men the gods that watched over Onderon worked their providence. They'd sent him to protect her, to guide her, and to revive her hope.
It was naïve, perhaps, to tie her hopes to a man she had only met a week ago. A man that was too good to be true. Anyone else she might have accused of trying to get her into bed, of sneaking their hands into her pocketbook, but Altair had made no advances. Even when he could've tried, that night at the tavern. Foolish even, perhaps, but what choice did she have? Her brother would've tried to stop her. Onderon couldn't know. The free worlds would never band together. The Jedi had refused to train her because she wasn't force-sensitive. The only person she could trust right now was herself, and anyone willing to help her along the way.
Altair was willing. More than willing. In a week's time he'd given her much and asked for little. Did he realize just how much that meant to her? Staring into his violet eyes, she knew that the answer was no. He couldn't possibly understand. Not one to leave words left unsaid, she sought his hand and clutched it in both of hers, with all the intensity and the earnest of two friends that hadn't seen one another in years. "The gods sent you to me, Altair. I pray that I will be able to repay the kindness you've shown me."
Just as quickly as she had grabbed ahold of him, her hands slipped away, and her eyes bounced around the room. She could already imagine what it would look like. "We could put a fountain there, in the center!" she pointed, ears bobbing. There'd been a fountain there when she was a child, before the nobleman that had donated it had his servants steal it away in the night.
Back in position at last, but her mind still elsewhere, she raised her right leg, ready to kick, and teased right back, "You better hope not. You don't have any to spare now."@Sreeya
Altair caught her staring at him with a faraway look in her eyes. What was it about offering to build up the garden again that struck her so? He stared right back, his tail swishing back and forth almost out of control.
“Why’s it a big deal?” He asked, genuinely surprised at her reaction. He saw the look on her face and his gaze briefly panned over to the broken flower pots and soil left over. Altair stared at it, his own mind traveling far away for a moment. Eventually, a warm smile appeared on his face as he continued staring in that direction, “...because it’s a bit of home,” He said barely above a whisper. He didn’t know if he was speaking for himself or her, but it felt right all the same.
The tiefling shook himself out of his thoughts as he looked back at her, his eyes widened at her words. They were profound words, something he hadn’t expected from her or had ever heard. Altair had often felt guided towards his actions in many ways, and he liked to consider it the will of the Force. He couldn’t share that out loud with Zelle, but her words humbled him nonetheless. He didn’t protest when she took his hand, his limb heavy in her grip as he started to process what she was saying and doing.
“You don’t owe me nothin’,” Altair said after a moment, his face turning purple from the intense way it heated up. He wasn’t used to people outright suggesting he was a good person or hearing that someone actually wanted to do something for him. Such mentalities didn’t exactly exist within the Sith. A part of him felt guilty for not revealing what he was, but he kept reminding himself that this little chapter would close in a few days. He would finish teaching her, they would part ways, and that would be the end of it.
He followed her gaze, smiling at the vision she had for the building. His eyes lingered on her ears instead of looking at the direction she was pointing, “With ceilings like these, you can have it be a birdbath fountain,” Altair explained as he looked around, “Could line rows of perennials over there. You got some offshoot cousins of purple king’s crown we can plant there,” He pointed elsewhere. For the next few minutes, he excitedly mapped out what a garden would look like complete with lots of trivia about the types of flora and how to care for them.
Altair finally returned to the training, waiting for her to kick. He only scoffed at her remark before she kicked him. He took the hit with his palm, catching her foot there, “Good, now stay balanced,” He said while holding her foot. She would likely wobble around, but he wouldn’t let go, “Center yourself. You don’t wanna topple over anytime you kick. When you do, snap your leg back quickly or you risk overextendin’ and gettin’ hurt,” Altair finally released her leg to let her try again.
After they practiced for another hour or so, he paused briefly to look at her. She was drenched in sweat and her movements were starting to get sloppy. Unlike him, she didn’t train for hours each day and wasn’t accustomed to combat. Altair wouldn’t say any of this aloud, “Man, I’m starvin’,” He declared as he stretched out his limbs, “Wanna get some grub?”
"A bit of home," she hummed to herself, echoing the sentiment Altair had just expressed. A bit of home. A bit of her mother. A bit of the unattainable past. A bit of the future and brighter days that she hoped laid ahead of Onderon. She didn't notice the way the Tiefling's face all but turned purple with embarrassment as she praised him, but if she had, she would have found him all the more endearing for it. An arrogant man full of his own virtues and goodness never blushed, far too preoccupied looking down on everyone and everything around him to notice when someone looked up to him.
"You're wrong," she disagreed in an airy voice, as light as the dead leaves that fell from trees outside the windows of the warehouse. "I owe you more than you will ever know." At least she hoped he would never know. He was young and full of life, and that was a burden that was not his to carry. It was hers. "And I will repay you." No matter what he said.
A birdbath fountain. He'd taken her idea and made it even better. It brought a real, genuine smile to her lips that even reached her eyes as she listened to him lay out all of his plans in detail. "That sounds beautiful," she said as soon as he'd finished, her mouth dry. "I can't wait to get started. When can we get started?" She stared at him bright eyed, expecting an answer. She had no intention of letting him do all of the work himself. She would follow in her mother's footsteps, at least in this. She rambled on, "I'll furnish us with everything we need if you will provide me with a list. There she'd have to watch her step. Pour too much money into the project, and he was liable to get suspicious. "I have some... friends that would love to see this warehouse restored. I'm sure they'd be willing to assist us, financially."
When he suggested they call it a day, she breathed a secret sigh of relief, and her ears perked up at the mention of food. She hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. "I'm famished," she agreed, gathering her shoes and pulling the leather jacket back on over her drenched tank top. Out of necessity she'd taken it off, but now, walking out into the chill autumn air, she'd wear it again.
They walked in no particular direction—the only destination Reyna had in mind was the tavern outside of the walls. She wasn't sure where else to go. Anywhere else, and she risked being recognized. She made conversation as they walked, hoping he wouldn't pick up on her dilemma. "Am I your first pupil?" He'd mentioned he loved fighting, and he was proficient. It was possible that this was how he made his living.
A horrible, ear splitting sound interrupted their conversation. An engine sputtering to life, vibrating as metal shook and scraped against metal. It was a miracle it didn't fall apart before their very eyes, smoke spilling out of all of its welded joints. It was attached to a rundown food truck that floated overhead, cruising the streets and looking for customers. A man with a big, unkempt beard and a half burnt cigarra hanging out of his mouth stuck his head out the window. "HEY!" he called out in a booming voice, waving them over. "Want some vittles?"
Vittles? That was a new word, and whatever it was, it sounded extremely unappetizing. Reyna looked away immediately, not wanting the man to recognize her, and to Altair, so that—without context—he might assume she was looking at him for permission. @Sreeya
Her excitement was infectious, and it was a topic Altair was actually passionate about. However, his smile visibly dampened when she asked when they could get started. With his new roles and titles, he didn’t have as much freedom to whimsically do whatever he pleased. Sometimes he missed those days and he knew they would become even rarer the further up he went in rank. However, he wouldn’t completely squash his free time, “Tell ya what,” He said cheerfully, “Let’s do a little bit of work in here each morning before I train ya. I can be back on the planet uhhh a few weeks after that to do some more work.”
Altair couldn’t help but snicker when she said she was famished. It was another one of those terms he didn’t hear in everyday speech except from wealthier people. He noticed she began to walk back towards the tavern and he was a little surprised. While the food was decent, it was certainly no place he would return to every day for a meal. Nevertheless, he was easygoing and didn’t care either way.
“Naw,” He said, almost blurting out too much about his Sith life, “My school had a combat sports team and I was captain. So I taught a lot of people,” Altair grinned, “You were one of only a handful that landed a crotch shot though, and definitely the only one that landed it first lesson,” He didn’t elaborate too much on his life beyond that. Sometimes he despised having to keep his Sith affiliation lowkey. In most cases he wore that title openly, but he knew Onderon’s history with Sith and he was in no rush to burst Zelle’s bubble.
When the man in the food speeder asked about vittles, Altair perked up, “Now we’re talkin'!” He said, looking over to see Zelle looking at him nervously. Altair quirked a brow, “Oh come on, it’s better than Millie’s cookin’. 'Sides I increase the chances of her poisonin' me with each meal I have at the tavern,” He said as he reached into his pockets for some credits, “Hook me up with two kebabs on a stick and slather on summa’ that special sauce, chief!”
It was unclear what the meat was from and Altair didn’t bother to ask. He grabbed a stick and handed one to Zelle, both looking greasy and extremely questionable. He smiled before taking a bite, “Oh daaaamn this is exquisite,” He said happily. It was incredibly spicy, but of course it suited Altair just fine as he came from a family of spicy cooking. How would Zelle fare?
Every morning before they trained. It was a start. A good start. "Sounds like we'll be spending a lot of time together then," she stated, ears bouncing as she walked. "I like that." If everyone had an Altair in their life, the galaxy wouldn't be able to find it in themselves to harbor prejudice against Tieflings. She was sure of it. The captain of his combat team. At least that explained his prowess when it came to hand-to-hand combat. He wasn't one of those underground fighters after all. "I guess I should be proud then," she chuckled, more out of habit than authenticity. "But I feel more guilty than proud. I hope it doesn't hurt anymore."
Altair appeared to be excited about "vittles"—whatever those were. Reyna, on the other hand, was wary. The food truck didn't look the least bit sanitary, and it didn't look like it had ever seen water a day in its life. In fact, it looked as if it had lived many lives—the scrap pieces of various repulsorcrafts pulled from junk yards and welded together into a hideous amalgamation. She could only imagine what the inside looked like.
"I'll... I'll wait over here," she told the Tiefling, her face still tuned away from the vendor. Running a hand over her hair to smooth an errant strand that had slipped from its ponytail while training, she added as the first excuse that came to mind, "I must look a sight." She probably did, too, after that work out, so she didn't feel the least bit of guilt over the deception.
Shoving her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket, the half-Sephi wandered over a bench bolted to the sidewalk underneath a sycamore tree that hadn't been trimmed in years. Its branches hung low and rustled in the breeze. A few squirrels ran up its trunk as she approached, disappearing into the foliage overhead. She sat down, the bench creaking under her weight, and waited, pointed ears listening in to Altair's conversation with the driver.
Special sauce? She didn't even want to know what that meant. When the Tiefling joined her, she graciously but reluctantly accepted the kebab he handed her and said, "Thank you," but didn't take a bite. She just stared at it, turning it over to examine each side. Grease practically dripped from it, and the kraft paper at the base of the stick was already soaked.
"Are you sure this is safe to consume?" she questioned, giving it a skeptical sniff. Seeing that Altair had already taken a bite and was going on and on about how "exquisite" it was, she decided to take the plunge and sunk her teeth into the meat. She chewed, her expression entirely neutral and unmoved until her eyes began to water, and she coughed. "It's spicy!" she spluttered, waving a hand in front of her tongue. @Sreeya
Altair wasn’t sure why she was so intent on anyone not seeing her, but he began to notice it more and more even with her excuses. Altair had entirely too many siblings and knew too many Sith not to spot bullshitting from a mile away. He almost asked about it, but he stopped himself. Duh! She recently had a bunch of thugs jump her. No doubt she was still processing the trauma and on edge around people. Altair made a mental note to avoid crowds whenever they walked anywhere together.
“Well, it’s a pretty nice sight I think,” He gave her a grin, walking over as he handed her the food. If she paid attention, she would notice that his tail swished around each time her ears wiggled, an involuntary action from them both.
Altair shrugged vaguely when she asked if it was safe, “I mean, I doubt Jim Bob o’er there is trynna poison his customers. The lawsuits would put him out on the streets worse than he already is,” He took another bite, satisfied with his sound logic. When he saw her reaction, Altair couldn’t help but chuckle at her reaction, “Oh come on, what kinda food do you eat anyway?” He eyed her kebab, “You can take the sauce off and it ain’t so bad then. Or you could gimme yours. But don’t throw it away!” Wasting food was pretty much a crime in the Din household.
Altair walked over to a nearby bench and sat down. He took a few more bites before he looked at her, “So where you from, Zelle?” He asked, “Somethin’ tells me you don’t have a permanent residence at that tavern.”
”You really think so?” she asked, ears noticeably peeking up. As a princess, she was accustomed to receiving compliments from male admirers. Even Cassian’s courtship and the rumors that circulated about them didn’t deter suitors, and they had continued to shower her with compliments and gifts. All of the attention had been exciting at the beginning as a young, flourishing girl coming into womanhood with great expectations and even greater impulses, particularly whenever those masculine blandishments produced a jealous reaction in Cassian and stirred the Zeltron to action. Over time, however, the excitement of it all faded. The overtures, the gifts, the endearments whispered in her ear while dancing—it didn’t satisfy. She’d wanted something real. Something lasting. Something Cassian had always held back. Since his death, men had either come onto her with no subtly or walked on eggshells around her. Altair did neither. He wasn’t trying to trifle with her affections. He wasn’t coming onto her, and he wasn’t making up sweet sounding lies to tickle her ego. He was simply giving her a compliment. Nothing more, nothing less. A genuine compliment with no strings attached and no expectations. ”I conjecture that we make quite the picture then, sitting here under this great tree with the leaves around us,” she began with upturned ears. ”Because you’re a pretty nice sight, too.”
Dark eyes settled on him after that, studying his face as he ate. She noticed the way his tail whipped back and forth and remembered what he had told her that night in the tavern. ”You told me that your tails is indicative of your thoughts. Does that mean you’re happy?”
Reyna would have thrown the kebab away in the nearest trash receptacle, but Altair’s adamant reaction to that idea made her hesitate and think better of it. So long as he didn’t mind eating after her, of course he should have it. Judging by the way he ate the first, he needed it a lot more than she did. ”Perhaps you’d better,” she said, handing him the kebab. ”I’m not used to such…niche flavors.” She didn’t know what else to say without sounding rude. Hands held out, she looked around for a napkin, but the vendor hadn’t given them any. She wasn’t about to wipe them off on her pants, as her mother had raised her better than that. She would just have to wait.
”I was born and bred here in Iziz,” she said, still determined not to lie to him if she could avoid it. ”I’ve lived here all my life.” She imagined she always would, so long as the Sith didn’t take over the planet. ”And what about Altair? Where was he born? You’re not from around here. I can tell by your accent.”