She stood on the boarding pier for the party barge. She stood alone, head high and spine tall. A gold clutch was held in one hand; the other remained empty. That wasn't to say she went in unarmed, of course, but most wouldn't have been able to tell right away. Long white hair was draped down her spine; the barest makeup was traced, merely to enhance her features. But while most wore demure cuts of high fashion...
She didn't flinch away from being noticed.
Gold glinted over curves, draping over one shoulder sheerly while the other remained bare. She moved with a stealthy grace through the small crowd, and many parted to give her space. Amber eyes panned for her partner. She was told the Rangers had sent someone in to go with her, but not who. She supposed she could wait. Meantime, the party barge drifted closer. From here she could hear the music, the deep bass pulse in her veins. This was wealthy, high-class. But even they could be so bestial in their tastes.
She shifted in her heels. Somehow, this night felt different. Somehow, tonight would not be forgettable... but briefly, she also wondered if risking her career like this in aiding the rangers was truly wise. Only time would tell.
Nar Shaddaa. The Smuggler’s Moon. The twisted, lawless version of Coruscant. It would take a million Sector Rangers thousands of years to pacify even a single sector on the urban world. Corran Velt struggled to ignore even the most minor of infractions, so even stepping foot on this world of cut-throats and outlaws made him nearly sick to his stomach.
It had to be endured, nevertheless. An old case file from Ranger Lorcan had pin-point details on a prominent spice smuggler on the upper levels of Nar Shaddaa. The Sector Rangers wouldn’t get a better shot at the smuggler than now. Corran suspected Lorcan would have taken the mission himself, but rumor was the rugged Ranger had gone off grid. Despite what others said, the junior Ranger counted Lorcan among his friends. The man had saved his life so many times that Corran was probably going need to offer a Wookie life-debt to break even. The young man owed it to Lorcan to finish this case in his stead.
The crowds grew thinner as Corran approached the barge moor. He fiddled with the party invitation in his pocket. The festivity was clearly quite exclusive as only small groupings of upper-class elites stood in their jovial circles, partaking in their pre-party drinks. At least the Ranger wouldn’t be solo. The mission briefing mentioned a physician, possibly defector, who would help Corran make contact with the spice smuggler and provide cover for his disguise. No name or description was given.
As the young man made his way through the gathered affluent guests, he tried to focus on the undercover training he'd undergone before the mission. Stand up tall with assured confidence. Speak in a different tone. Be a white-collar criminal with black-collar deeds. The mental list was interrupted by a startling sight. The woman's back was to him, but it felt unmistakable. The glacial-white hair, the marble skin, the ethereal stance. No... that's impossible. The Ranger's thoughts protested while his face remained stoic. The possibility of her being here almost made him break character. Almost. The mission brief said physician... like a doctor.
With methodical steps, Corran would approach the white-haired and golden-draped woman from behind. "I'm surprised to see you here. Pleasantly, but surprised nonetheless." His voice sounded more reserved, but playful in a way only the privileged could be. Though something was slightly off about the accent. Something subtle. If she turned around, she would be greeted by the face of Corran Velt, dressed in tasteful and modern fashion, complete with a thin golden tie and a golden stripe tattooed above his right eyebrow that hooked down the temple. It complimented her dress and eyes, in a twist of good luck. Hopefully an omen for things to come.
At the voice, she felt her spine stiffen slightly. It was impossible, some sort of joke really... but as she slowly turned, the face was unmistakable. Blue eyes. Blond hair. The wide shoulders, the stance... a subtle smile touched her lips, amber eyes sweeping him head to toe. "Well now. You scrub up well there... I am surprised as well." Her voice was light, calm, as her gaze finally rose to meet his once more.
He certainly did. If she didn't know any better, he would have fit right in if he didn't seem to feel so discomfited. Perhaps it was his first time planetside to Nar Shaddaa, and she felt an odd surge of protection.
Her arm twined with his, giving him a subtle grin. "I believe this is called serendipity.." her voice was low in his ear, falling from dark lips. "But welcome to a piece of my world. And follow my example."
She didn't wait for a response, but pulled him along with her, eyes focused ahead. Again, others seemed to move out of their way, but a few remained stubbornly in it, and she cleared her throat subtly, her voice laced with ice.
"Please move, we have friends waiting."
A couple slowly turned. Though the male was human, he was short, compact, with a leering scowl and dark, closely shorn hair. Linked to his arm was a violet-skinned Twi'lek in bright gold as well, both openly glaring at them. Doc seemed unfazed.
"Move. I don't have time to waste on lower-level thugs."
And move they did... begrudgingly. Soon, they would be able to board, but she wouldn't put it past that those two considered themselves hot poodoo, and would be trouble. They would make a useful distraction for later.
The undercover Ranger’s eyes widened as Doctor Ilana Morata turned around and welcomed him with a feline grin. The last time he had laid eyes on her, she was brutally beaten and bruised. Ilana had been attractive then, despite her condition. She was overwhelmingly resplendent now. Corran blinked once and gave his head a subtle shake to return his composure.
She quickly wrapped her arm around his and took the lead of the situation. The young man was privately thankful for that. Spycraft wasn’t exactly his specialty. Though, what did she mean ‘a piece of her world?’ The evening together could provide some answers.
Despite not looking like an intimidating figure, Dr. Morata exuded force as she brushed aside other party-goers in their way by aura alone. Only a squat, sneering man and a purple Twi'lek gave them any resistance. Ilana dispensed with the pleasantries and verbally battered them out of the way. Corran considered himself lucky to have discovered her wounded; he may not have survived the encounter otherwise. The man simmered but the eyes of his Twi'lek partner looked absolutely volcanic.
After socially flexing their way ahead of others, the barge pulled into its moor and walkways extended to the ship itself. A handful of couples and groups were ahead of them and the line was progressing slowly as two guards checked invitations at the end of the catwalk. Corran glanced out of the corner of his eye at the window holding his arm. "You look radiant tonight," he said, returning in kind the compliment she supplied earlier. The young man's posture was rigid and he moved rather stiffly. He clearly was uncomfortable with the whole environment.
They shuffled forward again as guards waved another couple through. Still looking forward, Corran asked in a stoic voice, “You do this kind of thing often?” The question could be answered in a variety ways. Go to high-brow parties frequently? Operate under disguise? There was a subtle cue for the real question - did she help the Rangers with work like this normally?
The pair were next up. Corran offered his invitation. The Weequay guard examined it carefully. She glanced up at his face cryptically, then back down to the invitation. After a pause, she waved them in. The top floor of the party barge had a wide around of chic lounge sofas along the rim of the barriers. They allowed open air for conversation and looking at the scenery. A bartender in a circular station offered drinks and mixed them. Down below, shielded from prying eyes, more... unique tastes were catered to. With a relieved sigh, Corran looked at his partner for the evening, "Well, shall we?"
He was clearly out of his element, which made her question why he pursued it in the first place. Many emotions pressed around her in the air; it would take all her mental fortitude tonight to hold herself together. For once, she was grateful for a familiar partner in this to wade through the proverbial tide of faceless wealthy denizens, though his code as a Ranger to arrest a vast majority of them all had to be nerve-wracking. At his first question, she glanced up sideways at him, the faintest of smiles still perked on her lips.
"Go to parties? No." Her eyes seemed to gleam with something, but it wasn't necessarily humor; she was, in a way, enjoying this. It was refreshing she wasn't the only one discomfited with their surroundings; she hated these types of events, the miasma of toxic emotion and rank fear, anger and jealousy ripe with resentment and bloodlust. If he even had an inkling of what she could sense, perhaps he would bow out... but somehow she doubted it.
Instead, when she presented her card to the guard before her, his eyes went wide, and he nodded. "Doc, good to see you again, welcome--" came the hurried voice, and she merely nodded once, bringing him in with her. Hearing his sigh, however, she shook her head subtly. "Not right away, or you'll stand out," she replied quietly, glancing about covertly. "And you look about as nervous as a Loth-cat in a pen full of Cath hounds. A drink first... that is, if that's to your tastes to relax?" the last was stated as an open question, arm still twined with his. Though this was a world she was familiar with, it was his call. He was the Ranger, she was merely here to guide and consult as needed. And it looked like he needed something to ease nerves a little bit...
But he called her radiant. For some reason... it was a compliment she knew she would hold onto for a long time. It almost made her wish they were here for pleasure instead of business.
For someone who claimed they didn’t go to parties often, Corran noticed that the guard seemed to treat Doctor Morata as something of a celebrity. Their humbled, hurried reaction made it clear the doctor was a known figure among this group. The Ranger felt that innate desire to search for the truth required of investigators, but swallowed it. She was here to help, after all. Those connections provided the clout he would need to get the job done.
Corran winced internally at the helpful scolding Ilana gave him. Her connections and clout weren’t the only thing he needed, it seemed. She displayed a certain competence for clandestine activities that the Ranger didn’t even consider. The young man glanced around at other guests. Many had drinks in their hands of various types. On top of helping him ease up, getting a beverage might help the tense Ranger blend in. “I think a drink would help,” Corran replied, somewhat bashfully in a whisper.
The young man let his elegant partner led him to the bartender. Normally, a frothy beer would be the preferred drink of choice. Given the environment and accompanying guests, something of more opulent taste would be required. The bartender provided a caramel-colored liquor in a tumbler, complete with a large ball of ice. On an entirely urban world, the water might have been expensively imported or rather smuggled.
Corran took a sip of the alcoholic beverage. His face puckered and he smacked his lips together a few times. “I suppose this is a bad time to tell you that I’m a bit of a light weight,” the young man admitted, clearing his throat to speak through the stronger-than-expected liquor. The last alcohol Corran partook in was the bar in Corellia after the funerals following the Ranger Station Massacre. Sobriety wasn't intentional; he just wasn't one to drink often. If it helped the Ranger act more natural though, he'd take all the help he could get.
A smile ticked at the corners of her mouth at his reaction to the drink, taking a small sip of the pale rose she had gotten for herself. Typically, she indulged in the harder variety, but tonight called for something lighter, something to smooth the ragged edges and keep a mostly clear head. "Thankfully, you don't have to drink it all down," she replied softly, slipping a credit chip discreetly at his elbow to cover for both of them. It vanished by the nimble-fingered bartender in a move so smooth she almost missed it, and she made a mental note to make sure her clutch was never out of her sight.
This was an ocean full of sharks, and they were stuck on a desert isle.
"I have some tolerance," she demurred, but that was putting it mildly. Alcohol seemed to hardly have an effect on her, much to her eternal frustration. Amber eyes flicked up to meet his steadily, head tilted slightly. "Better, though?" came the innocent inquiry, taking another sip of her drink.
Truth be told, she favored rougher crowds as well. Shindigs like these were boring as watching grass grow, for all their elitist 'entertainments', the emotions were always the same sleezy, disgusting, useless combination.
The dark-colored liquid was starting to have the desired effect. Corran felt a warming in his chest and his spine went from a durasteel rod to something more organic. He took another sip and sucked air through his teeth. By his own estimates, he could nurse the beverage for the rest of the evening and be fine. Staying lucid enough to complete the mission aside, the young man didn't want to beclown himself in front of Ilana. The Ranger noticed her paying for his drink and raised his glass in toast, "You're a pretty good date, Dr. Morata. I must be lucky." The alcohol had lubricated his social skills alright.
The young man nodded as she spoke, still feeling the onset of the liquor's effects. He got the feeling she was being modest about her endurance. His imagination couldn't conjure up thoughts of the Arkanian drunk. She was too poised for such things, in his mind. In a way, the Ranger was envious. He avoided most vices because he knew he couldn't handle them in any appreciable amount. Being able to partake with little or controllable side effects? That was an ability he would search the galaxy for.
Corran tilted his chin and eyes upward in thought when asked if the drink had eased him enough. His jaw shifted from one side to the other. The young man leaned forward and ran a free hand through his tightly groomed hair and ruffled it. The blond locks returned to the natural messy bangs he always had. "Much better," Corran replied with a confident grin.
A pressure at the back of the Ranger's thoughts forced him to remember the objective of the evening. He was on a hostile world, surrounding by gangsters and scum of the worst variety. Ilana just made it... pleasant. Corran feared she would be more intoxicating than any other drink on the barge. Last time she had the handicap of serious injury, but now...
The young swirled the tumbler in his hand, "So, what's next, Doctor?"
Even without empathetic senses, she could see him starting to lose the edge of professional tension; in a place like this, these people hadn't been tossed to prison for one reason, they had a good sense about Rangers and other authority, or at least were able to keep out of their way. She set her wine aside, but had to utter a slight smirk at how he already was 'roughing' up, with his hair and pose. "Good," came the simple reply, nodding once.
At the question of what was next, however, she hummed once in contemplation. A few faces were vaguely familiar... but for the most part, the crowd swirled and eddied in a wide variety of bright colors and chattering voices, laughter and hushed tones. "Now..." she paused, eyeing the crowd. "We enjoy ourselves until we find our man."
Simple, easy plan. Not easy to kark up, and if things went sideways they could always book it at the next stop. Amber eyes flicked up to his, head tilted slightly. "Is there anything you'd like to do meantime, Corran?" She noted the edge of professionalism he used, and in its' way, it was sweet. Not many called her 'Doctor', and hearing it made her feel a small edge of pride. However, this was meant to be a place of leisure, and she was certain not many Rangers got to enjoy themselves before, during, or after any missions. Perhaps letting him enjoy himself a little bit would allow them to find their person better.
Hearing his name come from her lips immediately gained his attention in an introspective way. It wasn’t the first time she’d spoken it but it felt different. More casual. Closer. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy it. Corran felt a little nervousness over walking that dangerous tight-rope so many cautioned to avoid: mixing business and pleasure. His eyes drew up to Ilana's amber stare, drinking in her golden aura. The nervousness was soon suppressed with anticipation. “I have nothing off the top of my head,” he replied with playful optimism, “but I’m sure something will catch our attention.”
The young man offered his arm to Ilana to explore the confines of the barge. While the top deck was primarily for hushed and boisterous socializing alike, the aft of the top floor offered a descending stairwell. Corran wondered if each layer of the vessel offered increasingly debased interests of the clientele. A servant in a silver-film vest welcomed them downward. The second deck was comprised almost entirely of games of chance. Everything from the strategic game of Dejarik to the uproarious game of Sabacc. The starboard wall offered another bar with two servers. Servers of all types wore revealing and alluring attire, providing platters of drinks to any and all. That’s when Corran was struck with an idea.
“I’ve been told it is best to attract prey rather than chase them,” the undercover Ranger began, “Gather enough attention and we might find who we are looking for.”
While gambling is synonymous with incredible risk, the young man had every intention to put his thumb on the scale. While being a shipmate on a bulk freighter that stopped in every type of spaceport in the galaxy, he saw every type of vice available for spacers to partake in. The disciplinarian captain allowed very few on his own vessel and Corran became skilled at one in particular: Hintaro. A game of dice, high stakes, and high rewards. To the casual viewer, it seemed a game entirely based on luck. How can one predict the roll of the dice? The young man recognized the secondary game being played – the mental game. To bluff, intimidate, or bait your opponents into giving you what you wanted. It could make a suitable trap for their smuggler. If the Ranger attracted enough on-lookers through a series of entertaining rounds, the bait would be set. A beauty at the young man’s arm would make it that much more enticing.
Corran gestured to a nearby table of Hintaro, a confident and flirtatious glint in his blue eyes, “Would you like to see if you’re my good luck charm?”
Seeing him gain confidence in this sort of sphere was quite a view. She was surprisingly at ease; the emotional 'chatter' seemed less, or if it was overwhelming she felt somehow better at tuning most of it out. And at a game of chance, no less... a realm in which she enjoyed immensely the skills she learned to use since her realization of the Force. A small, private smile with the glimmer of returning flirtation would gleam in her own eyes, white-haired head tilted subtly to eye him better.
"I think I would love to," came her quiet response, lightly nodding towards the table. Though she'd never played, herself, she could learn the rules as they went along. And could even, perhaps, subtly 'influence' in her own way. She wanted to be useful, and if she was part of laying out the trap, she was intent to play out her part.
A glimmer in the eyes, a smile of piqued interested, an endearing tilt of the head. Was Ilana interested in spending time with him, beyond the necessity of the operation? Did that make this a... date? Corran wondered if she did such things often. He was certain the beautiful woman had countless suitors. If the young man could make the evening enjoyable for her, he would exert all his talents to that end.
The pair approached a gambling table with six seats, though it currently sat only two other players. “Room for more?” The young man inquired of the Dealer, a male Twi’lek with dark green skin. The dealer regarded them both. “And your name is...?” He asked dryly. “Just call me Scipio,” Corran replied with a smirk, pointing a thumb at the temporary golden tattoo above his eye - a known mark for the wealthy from that world. “Of course, sir,” the green Twi’lek said with visible disinterest. The other two players were a lanky human man with sleepy eyes and a serious Devaronian woman.
The rules to Hintaro were simple. The shooter rolled two dice and a 7 or a 11 were automatic wins. They would collect all bets on the table. A 2 or a 12 were automatic losses. Any of the other numbers would set a “bar” and all players would bet on a specific number, which if correct, they would collect all the bets or split the winnings with the others who did the same. A less risky way to bet on was “high or low” on the bar. If someone rolled a 6, and you bet low, any number lower than six you’d win your bet back and a small portion from some of the losers. For everyone else who bet high or on a specific number, the House collects their bets and shares them with the shooter, if they won their own bet. The dice would then rotate to a new shooter.
Dr. Morata had met Corran the man. She had met Corran the Ranger. Now she would see Corran the spacer, the trader, the rowdy youth. Some of what she would witness was acting, but a good portion of it was old habits. The young man exchanged his own credits for some chips. If he lost it all, that’s on him and not the Rangers. If he won a pretty sum, well, he’d make sure to report it. The first two bets Corran placed were conservative high or low bets to gain some extra gambling money.
When the dice were finally passed to them, Corran hefted them in an open palm before signaling the dealer. “The Miss and I will take turns rolling, but count us as one player,” the young man said, scaling the dice in his hand and gesturing to Ilana. The green Twi’lek nodded, with complete indifference. A knowing and pleased grin appeared on the undercover Ranger’s face. This is where the fun begins Corran threw the dice with youthful vigor. They clattered to reveal an 8. The safe call was to bet below the bar, but playing it safe wouldn’t draw attention... or be very fun.
“Bet on 10,” Corran said, the same grin on his face. The other two members of the table gave looks of disbelief. Shaking the dice in both hands, like a bartender mixing a drink, the young man leaned over and gave Ilana’s cheek a quick peck. “For luck,” came the excuse. The dice flew and clattered against the table walls. They settled and everyone leaned in. Two fives glittered in the light. For the first time, the Twi’lek dealer looked surprised, before confirming the roll and sliding the chips to the two table new-comers. Corran didn’t react, his face holding steady with a confident smirk. It was just the start.
Watching the personality shift was like watching a veil fall away. Seeing him so engaged was intriguing by itself, but added to that appeal was a certain level of roguish charm, and not for the first time did the good Doctor feel as though there was more to his past than he let on. Then again, she had played a similar hand before... perhaps she could allow him a little further into her world. She was putting her reputation on the line here, and he was playing bold.
The kiss, however, meant she could play it up as well. A soft chuckle slipped past her lips, her voice low as she leaned in against him.
"You keep kissing me, that will be luck enough." Amber eyes glittered; was she teasing him? Undoubtedly. But she was also teasing the audience, which slowly started building with his own skills. She had to admit, he was good with the underplay; hers were more with cards, chance, but this was an opportunity to learn.
A credit chip glimmered from her hand, as she had also gotten her own. Where he bet small... this was an amount that would have staggered even the most generous of patrons.
She gave him a demure smile, fingers ghosting along his jaw in a light, promising touch. "Don't disappoint me, now. Play your best game, and show me your best." This was not only for show, though many wide eyes stared at the Doctor's laid out bet. This wasn't her game; someone had to play sentry for their mark while the other played to draw the crowds.
She had full faith he'd put her credits to good use.
Another mystery added itself to the many mysterious layers of Dr. Morata. The credit chip alone was vastly larger than any Sector Ranger’s annual salary. Corran knew that being a medical doctor paid well, but he didn’t know it paid that well. Perhaps it was inherited wealth - Ilana did have the airs of an aristocrat in a way. Regardless of how she earned it, the extravagant display of wealth garnered substantial attention. A few of the gathering on-lookers beckoned their friends or dates to come view the spectacle.
The spectral touch of the timelessly beautiful doctor caused goose-bumps to rise down the Ranger’s neck and back. She implored him to not let her down and try his best. Even though the young man was certain Ilana was playing it up, he felt a compulsion in his chest to meet her expectations. It wasn’t because she had any control over him or that he was submissive to her - he simply just liked her. That was enough.
While the sizable credit chip was enough to draw plenty of eyes, a story would bring an audience fit for a theater. The tale of knight fighting for the glory and honor of his lady was compelling enough - throw in a comeback story and you’ve got a recipe for gathering the attention of the entire barge. Corran caught the retracting hand that had recently caressed his face and gave it a reassuring squeeze. His eyes held a certainty as they gleamed into her amber stare, “Trust me.”
The next few rounds were a dramatic see-saw of highs and lows; high bets and chaotic dice rolls. When Corran’s luck seemed to have turned, a few watchers would depart, but only for them to return when the wail of exhilaration and surprise reverberated from the gathering crowd around the table. Of course, some of the losses and wins were truly random chance, but the undercover Ranger faked mistakes and hid well-placed strategies. Every victory seemed genuine as he whooped with joy, smirked with confidence, or cringed in defeat. The other gamblers at the table tried to outfox him on bets and stoic faces, sometimes they did, but Corran had played more slick spacers in his youth.
A nearing crescendo of tension could be felt. The high-rolling ‘Scipio’ was down quite a bit. The bar had been set at four. Sandwiched between the automatic loss of rolling a 2 or a 4, betting on anything other than the Over was suicide. Corran slid all his credit chips on 3. “All in,” he confirmed. A few on-lookers gasped. Many shook their heads. This was the pinnacle moment. The comeback opportunity to win back all of Dr. Morata’s credits, along with an additional hefty sum, and complete the young man’s quest to win her honor and affection.
Corran carefully examined the dice in his hand. His eyes flicked up to meet hers. Blue met gold. The dice rose to hover in front of her full, forbidden and dark lips. “Share with me just one last dollop of luck?” The young man asked, a coquettish glint in his eye. Regardless if she bestowed luck in anyway of her choosing or made Corran wrestle with fate on his own, he would roll the dice. With bravado only a young man can muster when trying to impress a woman, he would hurl the dice with gusto in defiance of all the sense in the galaxy.
She had to say, she was duly impressed. As the game went on she adjusted to the rules, and grew a new respect for the Ranger by her side, watching him play the crowd with expertly-timed highs and lows. It was not manipulation of the obvious kind, but it was just subtle enough even she could appreciate its' value. She watched him intently, every facial expression and emotional change, and through it all he seemed the most of himself than she had ever known him to be... and she found herself all the more curious. Her limited brushes with the law usually didn't dictate they were experts at any gambling; rather the opposite.
At his latest bet, however, even she found her brows raised subtly. In truth, this amount was the vast majority of her savings. Being a doctor was a well-paying one, but equipment and supplies were expensive. So was maintaining her newly acquired ScoutMaster; yet if he lost, she supposed she would scrimp and save as she always had. Being stuck here was not the worst fate, after all.
There were never a shortage of patients here.
At his question of luck, however, she glanced up at him... and caught the look in his eye. An answering glint seemed to spark in amber eyes, before she leaned up. Her lips seemed as though they were to press against either the dice or the knuckles of his hand---
before another idea struck. Instead she changed, tilted her face up to brush him the lightest of kisses against his jaw, teasing with a light whisper.
"Hit me with your best shot, cowboy."
She then leaned back, amber eyes glittering speculatively to gauge his emotions, his expressions... and then the dice clattered on the pseudo-velvet. She didn't turn her gaze from his face, but heard a collective gasp.
And then sudden, deafening cheers. She visibly cringed then shuddered at the sudden sharpness piercing through her skull, the loudness, the sudden, keen overwhelming of so many voices, emotions, sensations making her forget, for just a moment, where she was and who she was with. So she did something she hadn't done in years.
She curled in against him, eyes tight and face drawn with pain. Perhaps it might have looked like shyness with those around them, but her shoulders drew up and her jaw stiffened, trembling ever so slightly.
Few things gave Corran pause when he was focused on a goal. Not riches, not personal hobbies, not even exhaustion in some cases. The youth was often single-minded like that. It didn't matter if the dice game ended in victory or defeat as long as the targeted spice smuggler made an appearance. That was until he felt it. A mere brush of the lips along his jaw line. It was like a winter breeze rushed past his neck. In that moment, Corran wanted nothing more than to please Ilana. He felt taunted, or tempted, to deliver whatever she wished. The sweet whispered words all but drove his obedience. Maybe it was because the young man was embracing his long buried demeanor or that his discipline had faltered without the badge. Right now, Corran was too enamored by Dr. Morata to do anything than his best shot.
The dice flew and clattered on the board. The collective breath held like a dam. The Ranger could feel Ilana's observant eyes. His own stared out from focused brows, as if willing fate to bend for him. For her. The dice settled. Three total dots looked skyward. The jubilation was immediate and powerful. A random onlooker would assume everyone around the table just won. Corran felt an immediate loss of tension in his spine as the reality washed against him. It had taken all his guile, wit, and vigor to get to this point and... he actually succeeded. The young man ignored the throng of jubilee and the hoard of chips to share in the victory with his personal patron of luck, a smile on his face. Instead, she greeted him by holding to his chest, eyes closed and face contorted in agony.
While others may have assumed Ilana was being bashful or blushing with joy, Corran recognized this reaction wasn't common for what he knew of her. There wasn't any immediate physical indication of wounding. The young man instinctively threw his arms wound the cringing woman and began to withdraw her from the table. "Sir, sir!" Called the Twi'lek dealer, "Your winnings!" Corran only slowed their departure enough to grab the bounded credit chips and shove them into his pocket. The stack seemed a hair smaller than the winning amount. The dealer likely took his own tip off the top. It didn't matter. Ilana was more important. Politely brushing off a few well-wishers along the way, Corran would attempt to guide the doctor up to the open-aired top deck where the crowd was much smaller. "Ilana?" The young man asked with sincere concern, rubbing her back in an attempt to sooth, "Are you alright? What's wrong?"
A rush of gratitude hummed in her chest as he led her away from the crowd. It wasn't a missed opportunity yet, but in a way she caused the setback of their plans. She kept her shoulders stiff, anticipating to hear a Ranger lecture her on sticking with the plan, on keeping her cool. It was what she knew Lorcan would have done, but nothing shocked her more to hear concern, and to feel it, a palpable, real consideration...
And she tilted her face to stare up at him in disbelief. He was even touching her willingly, soothing her perhaps, and her gaze faltered, lowering to the ground. She staggered to the closest railing and took a deep, shuddery breath of air so laced with chemicals that calling it 'fresh' was laughable. But it beat the lower levels, so she closed her eyes and willed her heart to slow, her breathing to steady. Her hands gripped so tight to the railing that white knuckles turned even paler, standing out enough in such a clenched grip.
"I'm sorry," she hissed through her teeth, eyes still clenched closed. "I just can't... I can't take too much of crowds... people, all those sounds and emotions just slamming in..." she sucked in another breath, trembling so hard even her hair shifted, and she bent over slightly, as though physically wounded. "I thought I had a handle on it, but it shifted so suddenly and it just hurts so karking mu--"
She froze mid-sentence, then clenched her jaw again, exhaling shakily. "They... caught me off guard, is all," came the quiet rasp of her voice, finally daring to open amber eyes ever so slightly. She suddenly looked worn, slightly lost. Her grip loosened on the railing, and she forced herself to be still, to feel the crowd mob ebbing away. When it was to a manageable roar once more, rather than a splitting overcharge. She felt worn thin, like the slightest breeze could send her tumbling away, off the barge, to disconnect and finally find silence...
She snapped herself from that thought by pressing into him. Having a physical, living anchor that seemed calm helped marshal her own thoughts, and she could feel the cold sweat easing off her spine, her heart slowing and her breath deepening.
"Sorry," she muttered again, finally letting go. She forced herself to take a step back, to get her thoughts back in order, to focus on their task. "So you've won," she spoke, nodding once. "One day I'll take you to a proper casino; we can clean house." It was a weak deflection, an attempt to move on, but perhaps he wouldn't want to. And much as she would have enjoyed the pleasant company, she already wanted off this ship and back someplace alone, someplace quiet and still
Someplace where she wasn't equally disturbed and oddly, headily elated that someone could touch her after all, and not instinctively withdraw right away. It wasn't anything odd, but it was unexpectedly nice.
Thoughts struggled to form when Ilana stared back at him in disbelief and discomfort. When she parted from his touch and gripped the railing, Corran gave no resistance. The plan had seemingly gone awry and some Rangers would seethe with frustration at the turn of events. The young Ranger didn’t feel that way. Dogged determination to follow the plan had caused the death of tens of Rangers at Outpost Blue. Succeeding at any cost wasn’t a price worth paying. That was doubly true for civilians. Sector Rangers, when they volunteered, accepted the risks they would be asked to take. Civilians took no such oath and, even when in service to the law, required greater protections. The strained knuckles as the doctor strangled the railing suggested she was clearly in need of support.
When she spoke, her voice had lost the methodical, sterilized tone of a professional. It was raw. Pure. Unfiltered. The young man hung on every word and every physical cue her shuddering figure offered. Ilana used words that made it seem like the very emotions of others physically overwhelmed her, at least in large numbers. Even hurt her. Was this natural for Arkanians? Corran didn’t know enough about their species. Did that mean she could sense individual feelings? Like… his?
The doctor appeared to regain her composure. Had it passed as quickly as it came? She pulled away from the railing only to lean into Corran’s torso. His arms embraced her tightly for a moment, before loosening to enable her the freedom to withdraw at will. The Ranger wasn’t sure if any of this helped, but it felt natural to him. A helpful thing to do when someone was in need of comfort. The moment was brief; Ilana pulled back and snapped back to her manicured self.
Corran didn’t immediately respond to Dr. Morata’s about-face deflection. His blue eyes stared at her, searchingly. They glanced to the railing that only moments ago had been the only thing holding her upright. As much as Ilana wanted to move on, Corran wanted to know more. He’d at least meet her halfway, for now. The young man sauntered over to the very spot on the railing where Ilana had just been, turned around, and leaned his back against it. “There’s no need to apologize,” Corran said seriously, “But speaking of winnings…” The Ranger’s hand reached into his coat pocket and brought forth a bound stack of credit chips. A welcoming smirk crept up on his face, “Your life savings for your thoughts?”
It wasn’t a threat or even a bribe. The credits were her money and would be duly returned to her possession, but temporary leverage was better than none. If the angelic beauty did draw closer, Corran would hold the credits just out of reach and ask in a curious whisper, “Are you… different?”
Any good Ranger was naturally curious. It helped with investigations. Doubly true when it came to understanding who you were working with. In a galaxy of possibilities, Ilana could have any number of genetic enhancements, mental cybernetics, or even something unique to her birth. Corran hoped to find out what. If he knew, the more the Ranger could keep her out of harm's way and selfishly, know more about her.
So it seemed he wouldn't let her off the hook about what happened so easily. She should have expected it, but honestly it was the last thing she wanted to do. She eyed the chips, then him with speculation. Had she imagined he actually held her tightly, or did he even care? And why even bother? Didn't he feel the slightest twinge of an instinct, to keep back?
He seemed to enjoy teasing her with the smirk, holding the credits aloft out of her reach. Didn't stop her from stepping in to try and swipe them, however... but it seemed an answering slight expression twitched back in response. She huffed quietly, shoulders dropping. "So much for my paltry thoughts..." she muttered in wry humor, perking a white brow at him. But as his question registered, the emotion dropped.
Her face seemed to become like a mask, cold, remote, almost hard. Amber eyes reflected nothing, her lips set in a neutral line. For a few beats, she said nothing, merely gazing at him. Little would he know, she was remembering this moment, as though he would turn on her. Seeing him fascinated, funny, considerate, even compassionate. If he turned on her, she wouldn't bother remembering that man. But this moment of glitz she wouldn't forget.
She then took a deep breath. Arm crossed tightly beneath her chest as she turned away slightly, unable to meet his eyes. Through the icy change, shame flooded in her chest. Her nails clenched slightly, dimpling into pale flesh when her voice rasped low.
"...Imagine a roomful of people talking. Low sounds, nothing much. Some are angry, discontent, depressed, or just bored. Sometimes they raise up, but you can focus on something, make them fade a little."
She gritted her jaw, nails digging deeper into her arms, self-resentment warring with the shame. "And sometimes they slam into you, so many voices that just bite into your mind, burrow under your skin, make you feel small, spineless, weak."The last word was almost spat out, and she shut her eyes, trembling again. "I always feel every emotion," she finally ground out, but when she opened her eyes she forced herself to look up at him again. She couldn't quite pin down why she wanted to be honest... but perhaps the main reason was, she wanted someone out there in a soulless galaxy to know.
"Drinks help. Smoking cigaras, on occasion. But no drugs," she shook her head slightly, a frown denting between her brows. "I can't... tune anything out unless I'm too numb to care." He would see plainly then how exhausted she truly was, just how much she ached to sleep it all away, fade off. "I have to keep control," she finally whispered plainly, golden-eyed stare meeting those of blue. She braced herself for judgement; he would, but she hoped above anything else he wouldn't pity her.
That was a luxury she couldn't even afford for herself.
What started out as curiosity turn to perplexity. From perplexity to deep thought and eventually to regret. All these emotions were plain as day on the Ranger's face as his expression processed through them. He never took his eyes off her; drawn in by the aura of anguish. The way Ilana spoke of this... ability, this power; it wasn't something others had. It was unique to her and it burdened her. For a completely average human like Corran, it dawned on him that this kind of power could be so... isolating. Feeling all the darkness in the hearts of everyone you meet. That false kindness others wore every day to get by in public meant nothing to an ability like Ilana's. The young man imagined she felt every fear, every hate, every sadness. It was impossible for him to fathom.
While others might feel embarrassment, rage, or dismay at learning their deepest feelings or desires might have been exposed, something else was happening within the Ranger. His thoughts weren't on himself at all. They were on her. When Ilana turned around, her amber stare would find Corran's eyes looking back, still adsorbing all that had been said. His gaze flicked down to the bound credit ships in his hand. Corran began with a soft sigh, "I'm sorry, Ilana... It seems I short-changed you." No amount of money would ever cover the cost of what had been shared. With careful steps, the young man approached the doctor while playing with the credits in his hand. He stopped just shy of her personal space, but within arm's reach. "You're one of the strongest women I've ever met." Corran's eyes held an admiration. He would reach out for her elegant hand, and if he wasn't interrupted, would gently pull her into an embrace. If she could always feel emotions, the Ranger would make sure in this moment she wouldn't need to sense his.
Maybe it wouldn't be enough. A hug was something so primal, so simple. The winter-haired Arkanian might have found such expressions infantile. To Corran, they were an affection deeper than a kiss. They kind of thing that can only convey support, trust, and sincerity all in a single action. Even if Ilana rejected him, he would understand it and wouldn't feel any ill-tidings. The young man chose to believe in the best of people; Ilana didn't have that luxury. She saw what people were. Yet here she was, in the Rancor's den, helping him and the Rangers. That was a strength and bravery he hoped to emulate. Even with all that strength, though, it was okay to lean on someone. Corran hoped, in this moment, Ilana would lean on him.