His lodgings turned out to be a rented room in a modestly busy inn built into the slope of the great southern wall, only about a ten minute walk from a small space port. The inn was set roughly four stories up, and they had to climb a winding stone staircase passed a small theater and a noodle shop. The inn took up about five stories on it's own, and when she stretched her head back she could see a dozen more levels of windows and open doors, progressively fancier and more expensive looking as they went up. When they reached the first level of the inn, Jyn could just see the Temple of Kyber rising above the tops of the nearest buildings. The roaring of landing and departing space craft made for a constant, if muted, background to the noise of the street crowd. Jyn mentally marked her location by both the Temple and the port, and figured that if this really did turn out to be too good to be true, she’d have a convenient means of escape nearby.
“I don’t like the main door,” her friend said quietly as he steered her towards a side entrance, his arm tensing just slightly around her like he anticipated an angry response.
She leaned her head to see the big front door was wide open, lights strung up all around it, and a bearded, dark skinned man in grey robes who had to be the owner bustling among the incoming crowds, cheerfully welcoming every pilgrim like an old friend and offering drinks. “Too busy,” Jyn agreed, and felt her lip curl slightly with mild disapproval. “Too friendly.”
He looked at her with humor in his eyes, though his face stayed serious. “The owner is from a long line of Jedhan innkeepers. He considers the old laws of hospitality to be sacred.”
“The laws say you have to greet everyone as they come in?”
“The laws say that any being you welcome into your home is yours to honor and protect, so long as they honor you in turn,” he reached up with his free hand and tapped lightly on a long line of swirling Jedhan script that was enscribed down the hallway of the lodge house in swirling red and gold paint. Jyn couldn’t read the flowing letters well, but she remembered some of the street vendors’ wares and picked out the old Jedhan word for guardian and protect. She assumed the script must be a reminder of whatever law the innkeeper followed, painted all along the middle of the walls on either side, curving away around the corner. He led her down the entire hall, to a narrow door set at the very end, near yet another side entrance. A window with thick glass was set into the wall opposite of the door, and Jyn approved. Multiple possible exits, she thought. He came to a stop in front of the narrow door and reached into his heavy jacket for some kind of key card.
“What does shaking everyone’s hand have to do with protecting them?” Jyn grumbled, largely to fill the silence as he keyed in the door and typed a code (771974F, she stowed the information away, just in case) into the lockpad.
“I think that is just his personal preference,” he raised an eyebrow at her as the door slid open with only a little creak. “He is a…people person,” he said the phrase carefully, like it was foreign on his tongue. Jyn could empathize; she didn’t understand how some people seemed to just…like being around others, all the time. It seemed like an exhausting way to live.
Jyn twitched her shoulders in a tiny shrug, but they were both so tightly pressed together that she knew he felt it. “I don’t like fuss.”
“No,” he replied quietly, withdrawing his arm and walking into the small room. “You don’t seem the type.”
And how, Jyn almost asked, would you know? But that was the point, wasn’t it? That they weren’t asking questions, especially those kinds of questions. She was here for…for what, exactly? Another quick fuck in a dark corner? A few more minutes of something that felt like safety? De nar ere’bus haalas, this was such a bad idea. She must have gone completely crazy, to let a strange man drag her into his dark room…except, well, the argument fell a bit flat when he wasn’t actually dragging her, was he? Jyn hovered in the open doorway and watched him flick on a small, blueish lamp, shrug off his heavy parka and hang it neatly on a hook by the reasonably comfortable-looking bed. A small fresher was visible through a door across from the bed, and worn backpack was propped against the nightstand. Far from coercing her, he seemed to be making a point of not even looking at her, casually sitting on a plain but well-polished chair and pulling off his boots. She had the feeling that if she simply turned around and walked away, he wouldn’t even try to stop her. He might be disappointed, but he wouldn’t stop her.
Her shoulders felt cold where his arm had been.
Jyn stepped in and tapped the door release. Only once it had swooshed slowly closed did he look up from his boots, and his smile was small and careful but so warm that Jyn had to bite her cheek again to stop the flush from spreading across her face. Jyn shifted her weight for another moment, wondering if there was something she was supposed to say, or if she should just, what, strip down? Grab him and throw him at the bed?
In the gentle light of the blue lamp, he looked almost unreal. He looked even thinner than she expected without the parka – maybe he wasn’t as successful a smuggler after all. But though the sharpness of his jaw and the shadows in his eyes spoke of a hard life, his skin and hair were healthy, no scurvy or other signs of starvation. His clothes were worn but clean and well-maintained, and his boots, now that she had a good view of them, were of fairly high quality. No, whatever it was that hollowed his cheeks and left him just a touch too thin was not a lack of food. She supposed he had his own demons – and she’d promised not to ask. She didn’t want to ask.
Jyn lifted her eyes from his boots to his face, and found him giving her the same measured, considering gaze she was sweeping over him. She saw him taking in her own thick, scuffed boots, her patched trousers and the visible edges of at least two shirts under a sleeveless jacket. Her fingerless gloves were frayed but well-oiled, with an extra strip of leather worked over the knuckles for padding. Jyn knew she was not very intimidating at first glance; her clothes were baggy enough to hide the definition of her muscles. Her face was too delicate, her eyes too wide to look like someone who knew seven ways to destroy a human male’s testicles with her bare hands. A few years ago, a Pathfinder had told her once that she looked like one of those fragile Corellian dolls going through a rebellious teenager phase. Since she had actually been a rebellious teenager at the time, Jyn had not taken it well. (That particular Pathfinder had spent the night in the medward with an ice pack in his lap and still tended to flinch when he saw her around the base.)
She wondered what he saw, as he raised his eyes to meet hers again. Since she was still lingering uncertainly by the door, she probably looked a far cry from the woman who had pulled a knife on him the moment they met. The thought made her irrationally angry, and mentally she told herself to stop being such a snotbrain and muscle up. She’d made her choice.
The smile was back in his eyes, and she just knew that he was watching her shake off the nervousness with a strange sort of fondness. Jyn decided that she wasn’t in the mood for fondness.
She stalked across the room, watching his hands, his eyes, one final sweep to look for the catch, the trap. If he was pulling anything, this would be the moment he would do it, she figured.
He sat very still in the chair, hands splayed on his knees, face impassive but eyes locked on hers. She reached his knees, stopping just short of touching him, and still he did not move. He barely seemed to breathe. Slowly, carefully, she stretched out her hand and let her fingertips hover a breath away from his cheek, looking him right in the eye and waiting.
“Yes,” he said softly. “If you do.”
The uncertain knot in her gut eased, and briskly Jyn pulled her hand back (he didn’t move, but a surprised sort of disappointment flashed in his eyes before he caught it) so she could strip off her gloves and toss them onto the night table by the blue lamp. Then she snapped open the clasp to her synth-weave belt and let her truncheons and back-holstered vibroblade slide off her thighs and waist, hanging the lot over the corner post of the bed. Before he could react to that, she leaned over and slid both her hands across his cheekbones, over his ears, and into his hair, tilting his face up so she could bend her head and kiss him. It was a little awkward, because she was still leaning over his legs and refusing to balance on him, but she didn’t try to push closer and he didn’t pull her in.
However strange the angle, the kiss was just as warm, just as welcoming as it had been in the street, and Jyn took a deep breath as he opened his mouth and let her slide her tongue along the inside of his lip. She took a moment to appreciate the last faint taste of the tea, and then pulled away carefully.
His hands were still on his knees, although now his fingertips dug into his trousers and his knuckles were a little paler. Thoughtfully, Jyn shrugged off her light jacket and after a moment’s consideration, turned and hung it on the hook, directly over his parka, shooting him a look over her shoulder as she did. He gave a soft huff of laughter and nodded, and Jyn matched his slight smile as she unwound her scarf and flung it casually over both coats. Then she stepped a little closer, this time letting her knees touch his, and this time held her fingertips just over his shoulders. It took him a moment to realize that she was waiting, possibly because he seemed to be staring at her mouth, but when she quirked the corner of her lips at him he blinked and glanced at her wrists. He met her eyes again and raised his eyebrows, but she kept her hands where they were until he nodded. Then she settled her palms against his shoulders and leaned in again to kiss him. He lifted his mouth to meet her eagerly, and this time the kiss was just a little more urgent, a little less soft.
She broke it off again a moment later, and pushed away to reach for her overshirt’s buttons. He let out a long breath and shook his head. “You tease,” he said softly, and Jyn smiled as she flicked the buttons open one by one.
“No,” she replied, because a tease was someone who didn’t intend to follow through. She shrugged out of the overshirt and dropped it on the floor, leaving her in just her plain cotton thermal top, dark grey trousers and her boots. Gently she nudged his knees with hers, and he let her step between them – an act of trust that made her stomach clench, if she allowed herself to think about it – and she held her hands over his chest until he nodded again. It was easier to lean down this time, balancing with his heartbeat under her hand. He licked inside her mouth and she scraped her teeth lightly over his tongue, flexing her fingers against his pectoral muscles and feeling him arch up a little, pushing against her hands. This time when she pulled away he let out a small noise in the back of his throat, a not-quite groan that rekindled the shower of sparks in her belly.
Jyn’s own patience was starting to fray, and she grabbed the edge of her cotton shirt and yanked it over her head, and when her vision cleared she saw that his lips were pressed tight into a thin line and his hands were definitely clamping down on his knees hard enough to look painful. But he still sat, completely unmoving, waiting for her cue.
So this time, Jyn pushed a little closer between his legs and rested her hands just over the backs of his. He tilted his head a little, and for the first time he looked hesitant. Finally, though, he relaxed his fingers and lifted his hands slightly until they touched her own, and Jyn wound her fingers around his wrists and lifted them to her waist. Still, he stopped just shy of touching her and looked at her with the same question she’d asked him before. Jyn nodded, and tried not to jump when he slid his warm palms over the bare skin above her trousers, fitting his hands around the curve of her waist.
The restless feeling was back, tensing her muscles, making her skin feel flushed and a little too tight, but when she moved to kiss him again he remained obstinately gentle, almost infuriatingly slow. And this time, he was the one to pull back, pulling his hands away from her waist and capturing her hands. The look in his eye was almost challenging when he tugged on her wrists, dragging her hands down his chest to where his own plain brown shirt was still tucked into his trousers. He let go when her fingers were only a millimeter away from his belt buckle, and then set his hands back at her waist.
“Tease,” Jyn muttered at him, mostly just to annoy him.
“No,” he replied, eyes crinkling with muted humor.
She had started this game, but it was becoming clear to her that he had far more patience than she did, which meant he was definitely more likely to win it. So Jyn changed the rules.
Deftly, she unhooked his belt and tugged his shirt free, and before he could react, she threw her leg over his and slid into his lap. His hands twitched around her waist, and he lifted his head in surprise. Jyn paused only long enough to make eye contact, long enough for him to nod, to give permission, and then she pressed forward and kissed him as hard she could. She thought he would fall back, let her control the kiss, but instead he surged up, hands sliding up her back to dig into her bare back and mouth hard against hers.
Jyn gasped slightly, unprepared for him to turn the tables on her, and he immediately backed off, hands gentling against her skin. “Sorry,” he said in a hoarse voice, but Jyn shook her head and shifted closer on his lap, not quite pressed against him but close enough to feel the warmth radiating from his body. She reached down and grabbed the bottom of his shirt and tugged it slightly, chin tilted down and eyebrows raised.
He chuckled again, a brief, low sound that rolled down her spine and made her legs tighten around his thighs. He felt it, because he leaned back and dropped his hands to her legs, the smile back in his eyes. She tugged again, and he nodded and helped her pull his shirt off, and though he tried to snag it from her hands, she tossed it over her shoulder to land somewhere near her own and immediately occupied herself with raking her fingers through the dark hair on his chest. His breath caught slightly as her hands trailed down his belly and brushed over the button at the top of his trousers. In response, he ran his hands down her legs to the tops of her boots, and when she nodded, prepared to shift away so that she could pull them off, he surprised her by tugging the laces free on both sides and hooking his thumbs into the tops to shove them away. Neat trick, she thought, followed quickly by clever hands. Her thoughts after that were slightly incoherent, and she only just noticed when he deftly stripped off her socks too.
He leaned forward slightly, his arms going around her as if to hug her, but then she heard two soft thuds and realized he’s tossed her boots onto the pile of her shirts, and she smirked at him. So he was some kind of neat freak, it seemed. The thought was a little funny, but it also reminded her how little she actually knew about him.
“Hey,” Jyn dipped her head so she could look him in the eyes, face serious. “You have to tell me if there’s anything…anything you don’t like,” she fumbled for the words. “Anything you don’t want.”
He didn’t respond for a long moment, only looked up at her, considering and careful. Jyn concentrated on keeping her breathing slow and even rather than holding it entirely as she waited. At last he said, “I don’t like to be tied up.”
Jyn nodded. “Me neither.”
He took a long, deep breath and closed his eyes briefly, as if he’d thought she would react badly and was relieved now by her easy response. “I don’t like to be called insults,” Jyn said softly, and he opened his eyes again. “Like bitch or whore. Not here,” she clarified, tilting her head first down towards the bed and then towards the door. “I get plenty of that out there.”
He reached up and placed one hand gently against her face. “I don’t mind…rough,” he said very slowly and carefully, like he was pulling each word from somewhere deep inside himself, “but please don’t ask me to hurt you.”
Jyn blinked, and then despite herself laughed aloud. It was a soft sound, and she smothered it quickly. “I guess I get plenty of that out there, too,” she chuckled, then paused, because he was staring at her like she’d just smacked him across the face. “What?” she demanded uneasily.
“Creo que podrías romper mi corazón,” he said in an oddly detached voice.
Jyn frowned at him. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” he cleared his throat and shook his head a little, like a man emerging from underwater, “it means that I like your laugh.”
“Hm,” Jyn eyed him suspiciously.
“But it’s true,” he told her firmly. “I would like to see you laugh again.”
Jyn smirked at him and rolled her eyes slightly to cover the odd little twist of pleased awkwardness that comment evoked. “You plan to tell jokes all night, stranger?”
“Stranger?” His mouth curved up into that damn half-smile, the one that ignited her nerves and made something go tight in her chest. “Is that what you’ve been calling me?”
Only at first, she thought, but still retained enough sense not to say out loud. Instead she shook a lock of hair out of her eyes and said, “Why not? What have you been calling me?”
He ran a hand up her back, dragging his fingertips along the curve of her spine before cupping his palm around the back of her neck. He leaned up and pressed a soft kiss to her neck, and Jyn shivered slightly at the touch. “Stay long enough,” he murmured against the hollow of her throat, “and you might find out.”
After, stretched out on the bed above him, Jyn slowly pulled away and sat back, still on his lap, but allowing him time to recover while she simply leaned back and enjoyed the view.
To her surprise, he sat up, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close again. He wasn’t ready again, was he? Jyn tentatively returned the embrace, and wiggled closer experimentally, but no, he wasn’t hard against her already.
He was just holding her.
It felt…was nice the right word? Warm, comforting. Yeah, alright, nice.
Fuck, it wasn’t like she had a lot of context.
“There’s a sonic in there,” he said in her ear, as if he could read her thoughts, and tilted his head casually towards the fresher.
“Me first?” she asked in mild surprise, though she supposed she really shouldn’t have been, considering that he’d made sure she came first, too.
“Mm.” He rested his chin on her shoulder and leisurely ran a hand up and down her back. “It’s a bit small, or I’d offer to share with you.”
Jyn considered it, and then nodded. “Thanks.”
And then she stayed right where she was. Once she was up, she knew, once she was clean, she would get dressed. And then she would leave, because it was the only sensible thing to do, the only smart thing, the only thing she knew how to do.
He kept up his steady caress on her back, and didn’t mention it.
But even her newfound madness couldn’t overcome years of conditioning, and eventually she couldn’t stand being naked for so long, and reluctantly squirmed out of his arms and off of his lap. He let her go with the same sluggish moves, like he was forcing himself to move away, and she avoided his eye as she made for the fresher. She almost closed it, but one last surviving thread of suspicion told her to leave it open, so if he pulled anything she would see it coming.
It felt ridiculous, but then, better ridiculous than, well, stupid.
He was right, the fresher was so small that the toilet was nearly under the sonic panel, and she took the most efficient shower of her life, in and out in under three minutes. Even so, he’d already managed to separate and fold both of their clothes, only leaving his trousers draped neatly over the back of the chair. She raised an eyebrow at him as she made for her stack, and he shrugged and dropped a kiss to her cheek as he passed, and she brushed her hand across his hip in turn. He showered almost as fast as she had, and she’d only managed to get her trousers and undershirt back on when he came back out and slid into his trousers.
He watched her reach for her boots, and she straightened under his scrutiny, one boot in her hand. “What?”
“You’re welcome to stay,” he said quietly, and Jyn nearly dropped her boot in shock.
“I…can’t,” she replied at last.
He nodded, and his face was already starting to smooth out to the distant, polite expression he’d worn when the Decraniated had approached them. It sparked a strange sort of revulsion in her, an anger she wasn’t ready to examine but wasn’t able to ignore. Now she did drop the boot, and moved so fast to him that it was just shy of a charge. Rougher than she’d been all night, she grabbed his face and dragged him down, kissing him like a blow, like a bite, like a challenge. He fought back, hands painfully tight in her loose hair, bending her backwards as he used his height to his advantage, but Jyn gave as good as she got, and she was the one to end it at last. She left him breathing hard again, lips swollen and hands opening and closing restlessly on her shoulders, like he was arguing with himself whether to let her go or yank her in again.
“I can’t,” she whispered, “but I want to,” she confessed, and the last of the mask slipped away. He looked down at the floor for a moment, then back at her, nodding, a sad understanding in his eyes.
“I feel like I know you,” he told her.
“That’s crazy,” she said solemnly.
She brushed his hair out of his eyes and smiled. “Me too.”
Then she dropped her hands and stepped away, reaching for her boots again. This time, he simply stood there, not moving until she was fully dressed. As she wound her scarf around her neck, he held out his hand, her favorite katar knife on his palm. She picked it up, hesitated, then set it back. He startled, looking from the blade to her, and Jyn felt that strange madness rushing through her blood again. She wrapped his fingers carefully around the little blade, lifted his knuckled to her lips to press a brief kiss to them.
And before she could think about it anymore, before she could get herself into even more trouble, she turned on her heel and walked out the door.
She was six blocks away before she realized the warm wetness on her face was tears.