ysen l'ar

It was well into the middle of the night when Tuhor Malikie came home. He was more than tired; he wore the bone-weary exhaustion of a man who saw too much, did too much, but never enough and it sat on his shoulders like the weight of an entire lifetime. Did I save the right people? Did I move fast enough – can I do better? What am I going to tell the wife of the man who didn’t come home this time? What would I want someone to tell Ysen if I didn’t come home?

Ysen.

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so loud: a ysen ar'avarashad playlist

lupe fiasco [ft skyler grey] - words i never said

and it’s so loud inside my head

pos - low light low life
you crave the arrogance the rich folk ooze

sage francis - crack pipes
we can fight and make up before you leave

aesop rock - none shall pass
pass that buttery gold, jittery zeitgeist

our lady peace - wipe that smile off your face
see i’m not your friend and i won’t pretend

OK go - here it goes again
and you leave me with my jaw on the floor

the shins - australia
but nothing happens every time i take one on the chin

kanye west - touch the sky
(come up in the spot lookin extra fly)

sage francis - the best of times
but trust me, kid: it’s not the end of the world

xxviii. beliefs

BY ACCEPTANCE OF THIS COMMISSION, I SOLEMNLY PLEDGE:

To consecrate my service to the preservation of life; that the health of those I serve shall be my first consideration; that those secrets which are confided in me shall remain in my confidence always; that I will maintain by all the means in my power the traditions belonging to my profession; and that by no creed or allegiance shall I judge another unworthy of my care. I make these promises freely, and upon my own honour; that I shall preserve all life, and do no harm.

Ysen lay back on the bed and tilted his datapad to one side.

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xv. downtime

It made him happier than he expected to see his old man in the clothes he’d gotten him: cleaned-up, clean-shaven, his eyes more blue than grey in the cool electric light. He looked good. Content lifted his shoulders and took years off his face. Ysen had always been the sort of person that thrived on the approval of others, but this was something else. 

He was just a little bit drunk by the time Tuhor left the card tables and came back around to sit with him. “I am sssso bad at sabacc,” Ysen explained, leaning too far forward. “I get, get, get, get, get get, get, I get nervous. I could’ve won. I got nervous.”

The captain laughed. “You want to know something?” he asked. “I’m no good at it either – but they can’t read my face. That’s half the win right there.” He turned toward Ysen, forearm on his knee. “Here,” he coaxed. “Give me your best sabacc face.”

“I can’t do it,” Sen declared. His face went blank and still for the space of half a second before it broke. Before Tuhor could laugh he sputtered out a, “no!” and a “no, wait. I’m going to do it again.”

He tried again and Tuhor laughed at him again, so he leaned in and made the face again, right up against his – and then the captain was kissing him, slow and easy and before he even knew how it had happened. His fingers curled around the lapel of the old man’s new shirt. His breath burned with whiskey and he smelled like soap and cologne that he couldn’t ever remember him using before. Beginning to end, something about it made his heart skip beats.

Too much. He threw his arms around Tuhor’s neck. “I like you so much,” he insisted, dragging his fingers down the sides of his face, digging them into his shirt. “Don’t ever go anywhere. I don’t even care if you’re a creep old man. You’re the, you’re the, you’re the best thing.”

He regretted calling her as soon as he arrived at the cafe on the promenade, but it didn’t stop him from staying. Yes, he had nowhere to go and no one to talk to that wasn’t already burden with other troubles, but more than that, there was no one who would understand. Not the dozen teenagers that Ysen and he spent their time with, not Jack Morten, not Alyrian or Tucio.

It was an unsettling realization that struck him as he sat across from Pasche with nothing but a cup of coffee and a cigarette between them. You’ve got no one, old man. No one but her.

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    Ysen hit him first.

    And hit him hard – hit him with the manic energy of someone who had never been a fighter but was furious all the same, so furious they had forgotten who they were. One moment he had been rattling away in his mile-a-minute clip and the next he had gone silent and still, and in the next after that, he hit him. 

    Even years later, recalling it with the clarity of a sort of calm, wistful disappointment in himself, Galen Alshain never remembered the moment the rattataki’s fist hit his face. One second he was staring Ysen down, and the next his nose was numb and his mouth was wet and his face was flushed and his vision was hot with stars. And Sen, somewhere, was yelling: don’t call me that don’t call me that again don’t ever call me that again

    He felt his knuckles hit the rattataki’s face before his brain ever even sparked up the command, and the moment it did he knew in the core of him that something had gone wrong. He felt bone grind under his fist and blankly knew: that’s Ysen’s face. That’s a Part of My Friend Ysen’s Face. But once he started, he couldn’t stop, and he hit him again and again and again and again.

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xx. love and lust

   Captain Tuhor Malikie caught him by the hip when he came around the corner. 

   His grin smelled like whiskey. He pressed it up against the side of Ysen’s neck. “Where you going, pretty boy?”

   "Anywhere I want,“ Ysen insisted, reaching for the doorframe and a leverage to escape. "Go away,” he added. “I’m making a, making a, making a, making a drink for somebody. Let me go. I’m–”

   Mid-sentence, Tuhor caught his reaching arm by the wrist, walked him backward until his shoulders hit the wall, and kissed him.

   The rattataki’s face flushed a warm grey, but his shoulders went slack just the same, and his fingers curled around the back of Tuhor’s neck. Suddenly slow-moving, he scraped the taste of whiskey off his lips with his teeth. “I was gonna get a drink,” he muttered, closing his eyes. 

   The old man nudged his chin up with the bridge of his nose and left a kiss just below the curve of his jaw. "It can wait,“ he promised.

    Ysen opened one white eye. He could hear voices filtering down the hall – laughter. Jenk Nendo chirruping a punchline. Ra'al’s barking baritone. Lyr Cody’s quiet protest. He pushed at Tuhor’s shoulder. "There’s still people here,” he pointed out, but the captain ducked his head and kissed the side of his neck again and then again, over and over, and by the end of it he was laughing and his stupidhappy grin had betrayed him. 

     "I’m going to make a drink,“ he repeated, squirming out from between the captain and the wall. But he paused, and he picked up his hands and touched the sides of the soldier’s face, dragging his fingers across the sandpaper scrape of his stubble. "I love you,” he added, a little too quickly (and with full too much sincerity). “I’ll get you a drink, too.”

xix. not your strong suite

   He hated when people pointed it out.

   He hated it when they pointed it out, because when they pointed it out he thought about it, and the more he thought about it the harder it was to say something, and the faster his effortless mile-a-minute clip hung up on I think think think think think think think or but what what what what what what what and everything he had been about to say evaporated out of his mouth. It made him want to claw his face apart. And he hated the idiot smiles with which people greeted it, nodding encouragingly, saying nothing, patiently reminding him that they were, in fact, Still Listening, and he could take All The Time He Needed.

   He didn’t need any time. He knew exactly what he wanted to say. He knew it before he opened his mouth to speak just like he knew what he wanted to write before he tried to write it down, but then he tried to write it down and hey, what a surprise, his head might as well have been full of sand.

   And he knew when he was wrong, and knowing made it worse. He looked at it and knew that writeing wasn’t a word, but he felt like he knew writing wasn’t a word, either, and neither was wreiting, and if you spent ten minutes staring at writeing and writing and wreiting everyone was going to think you were an idiot so you just picked one and wrote it down because whatever you chose you were probably going to be wrong, anyway.

    Why even bother.

i. introduction

   "–I’m not really from Nar Shaddaa,“ he confessed, because in the wake of what Tuhor had told him even the smallest and stupidest lie felt like an anchor. "I, uh, I grew up, uh, I grew up on Rattatak. Uh, we lived in like this, uh, my aunt had a well so the house was like, the filter was on top of it and the house was,” he gestured aimlessly, “around it so that people couldn’t get to it.

   "But it ran out. And then when I was like eleven? I think? I went to go get food one day and this guy tapped me on the shoulder and – I mean, you can guess. So she, she, she, uh, sold me to some trader.” Ysen shrugged. “I was there for a while, on a ship, and then some other ship. And then I ran away. I, uh. I came here when I was like thirteen. I gave out coupons for a while. And ripped tickets at a casino. And then the sail barge. And I – I don’t have an apartment. I just lived in a hostel." And that was all. No stolen ships, no shady spice deals, no hot-shot pilot, no street gang warfare, no high life: none of it at all.

   Ysen sat up on the bed with his legs crossed and his arms hanging limp in front of him, absently scrubbing his hands down his biceps or scraping his fingernails over his knees for lack of anything else to do. "It’s stupid,” he finally said, “I know it’s – I know it’s not the same thing.”

   "No,“ the old man admitted, and he eased an arm around him. "It’s not. But it’s not stupid, either.”

2

“She told me about Ord Mantell,” Ysen finally said, and he left it open-ended to see what the old man would say. He watched him without watching him, but he did not shy away, either – and if anything at all, horribly, miserably, what he really wanted was to be closer.

For a moment, Tuhor said nothing at all. His face was distant – that same terrible, far-away look that he wore at the cantina some nights. Ord Mantell.

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Please believe me: I love you. I’ve killed but I’m not a murderer and I’ve run away but I’m not a coward, and I’m here because I love you. If Ysen heard all of the things the mercenary did not say, he gave no indication – but an odd expression sort of tugged at his face and he dropped his head against the slant of the soldier’s breastplate. It made him feel – he wasn’t sure. It wasn’t the first person to tell him I love you, but it might have been the first person to mean it.

He finally nodded, quietly: for better or worse, that boy believes you, Tuhor.