Chapter 1: Smile
A smile - it was unusual to see it on her face. Embo would have been lying if he said he didn’t enjoy it; he loved the way the corners of her eyes crinkled, the way the small dimples appeared on her cheeks... the way her whole face just lit up. Sugi looked so free in those moments when she expressed herself, and it made his heart skip a beat.
He had just come back from collecting another drink for everyone when he saw the smile on her face - despite the dim lights of the club they were in. He stood there dumbly for a good minute before someone noticed him. He distantly heard Latts asking him if he was okay, to which he nodded. He then placed the tray on table and moved back to his spot next to his purple haired companion.
She watched him for a moment before her attention was pulled away by one of the other people in their party. And so he just stared at her, admiring her beauty; her hair had been pulled into a messy bun atop her head, and her make-up had been done in the back of the taxi they had taken to the club. Sure, he had seen her done up perfectly... but it didn’t compare to the five minute look she wore most of the time. It was simple and it got the job done and it was just her.
Another chorus of laughter broke out from the table. His gaze softened even more as Sugi threw her head back, a loud laugh leaving her lips. Gods, she’s perfect, he thought. Her hand ran over her eyes before her gaze landed on him.
“You sure you’re okay, big guy?” She asked.
“Mhm.” He hummed. “I was just thinking.”
“About what?” She leaned in closer to him, resting her chin on her hand.
“About how much I like it when you smile.” Embo replied, moving closer to her until they were only a few inches apart.
Embo nodded, a warm feeling growing in his chest as she smiled, wide and happy. She pressed her forehead against his and he chuckled.
“Maybe,” She started, running her finger over his chest. “I’ll have to start smiling more often.”
A grin pulled at his own lips behind his mask. “I think I’d like that.”
Embo frowned as he rifled through the bag at his feet, trying desperately to find his keycard. He knew he had grabbed it that morning before he left; he explicitly remembered pouring himself a cup of caf to go, grabbing his bag, and then grabbing his card… actually-
“Shit!” He said, standing up straight and giving his bag a kick. The damned card was still on his kitchen table.
He looked over when he heard a small chuckle and found his new neighbor sitting on the floor in front of her door. He didn’t know how he hadn’t noticed her before but there she was, in a little red dress with a cig between her lips.
“You locked yourself out too?” She asked, taking a drag from her cig.
Embo sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Yeah.”
“I haven’t had the chance to introduce myself yet.” She said. “I’m Sugi.”
“How?” Embo asked, his brow ridge furrowing.
“The Duros across the hall told me who you were.” Sugi responded.
Embo rolled his eyes and muttered, “That sounds like Bane.”
Sugi pat the floor beside her and he moved over, sitting down cross-legged. He let his head fall forward and tipped his hat down slightly; he closed his eyes, letting out a long breath. Embo could feel the Zabrak’s eyes on him but he ignored it. At least, for the first five minutes. But then, he couldn’t stand it anymore. His eyes snapped open and he looked over to her. Her bright golden eyes widened slightly before she looked away, bringing her cig to her lips again and taking a long drag. He watched her for a moment longer then let his eyes close again.
This was normally the time that he would chill on his couch and watch the holovision but instead, he was stuck outside of his apartment next his neighbor who smelled like she had spent the night at a club. However, there was no way he was climbing up forty stories just to get in through his window; even if he wanted to, he was fairly certain that he had locked the window last night.
“Have you called the landlord?” Embo asked, his eyes still closed.
“Yeah. He said he wasn’t willing to come here this late at night. We’re locked out until the morning.” Sugi answered, sounding rather bored.
He could hear Sugi moving around and he cracked open an eye, peering at her from underneath his hat. She was grabbing something, though from where Embo sat, he couldn't see what it was exactly; he got his answer a moment later when she turned to him with a bottle of booze in one hand and a corkscrew in the other.
“Iridonian wine?” She asked.
He frowned at the items in her hands. She gave him a friendly smile and he contemplated for a moment longer before shrugging and accepting them. He carefully twisted the corkscrew into the cork then pulled the small wooden cylinder out of the top. He popped his mask off before bringing the bottle to his lips and taking a swig; it was drier than the wine Embo was used to but it wasn't bad.
“Why do you have this with you?” He asked after he'd swallowed the alcohol.
“Today was grocery day.” Sugi replied, gesturing to the brown flimsy bags next to her.
Embo nodded and handed her the bottle. She took it with a small 'thank you' before she brought it to her mouth, chugging the contents. He watched with wide eyes as she downed nearly half of the wine in one go.
“Okaaay.” He murmured.
She let out a laugh and then placed the bottle on the floor.
About an hour in and they had finished the wine. Sugi was laughing like a maniac and Embo was honestly surprised that they hadn't woken someone up yet. He figured it would only be a matter of time though.
He couldn’t help but let out a laugh of his own when Sugi slowly started to slide onto the floor. His gaze followed her as she landed softly in front of her door and continued cackling. And, just as Embo had suspected, they had awakened someone.
The door across from Embo’s opened and a tired, angry looking Bane stepped out, his eyes narrowed. He looked between the both of them and his shoulders slumped, a sigh leaving his lips.
“You forgot your keys again?” Bane asked, addressing Sugi. The Zabrak giggled.
“Yeah.” She slurred.
Cad seemed to think on this for a moment before grumbled something unintelligible as he stepped back inside of his apartment. “You guys can stay here until the morning. As long as you’re quiet.”
'I doubt that', Embo mused as he looked over to Sugi, who was laughing in between hiccups. But, he slowly stood, taking a moment to steady himself before moving over to Sugi and helping her up. He then carefully began walking her towards Bane’s apartment. She let out a small, displeased sound and he looked down at her.
“The wine.” She whispered, reaching towards her flimsy bags.
“No, no. In the morning.” He replied.
She huffed and muttered something about how much that wine had cost her. However, after a moment, she let him lead her into Cad's apartment. Embo closed and locked the door behind himself before walking her towards the couch that sat in the corner of the living room. He helped her lay down and grabbed the blanket that he knew Bane kept under the couch. He unfolded it and wrapped it around her then gently pat her shoulder.
"Sleep well." He said, before moving over to Cad's recliner and curling up on it.
They're both just big idiots and I love them.
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Embo ran down the crowded streets of level 1313, pushing his way through the mass of people. He could hear sirens and shouting behind him but it was getting farther away. He knew he needed to break the line of sight and so he frantically looked around for a corner he could turn or a building he could scale quickly.
A large open space between two buildings caught his attention and he smirked. It was the perfect opportunity. He weaved his way between two people before darting in that direction. He picked up his pace as he approached the gap, a small chuckle leaving his lips. He was going to get away! However, as usual, things didn’t go his way.
Instead of running through the gap and evading the police, he ran straight into… something. He landed on his ass on the ground, his brow ridge furrowing in confusion. He stood and glanced over his shoulder, his heart skipping a beat. The cops were gaining on him now. He reached out towards the gap and his hands connected with cold duracrete.
He looked behind himself again and began hastily running his hands over the barrier, trying to find a door or an opening of some sort. He felt a small bit of hope when his hands ran over something made of metal. He felt around it, a sigh of relief leaving his lips when his hand pressed against a door pad. He heard a small buzz and he glimpsed over his shoulder again.
“Come on, come on, come on.” He said, listening as the scanner ran over his hand print. He now realized that it probably wouldn't work, but hey, at least he tried.
His eyes widened when the panel suddenly started to spark. He yanked his hand back and cursed. Now he was definitely screwed.
However, much to his surprise, the door slowly slid open. It took his brain a moment to process that, yes, he could actually get inside, but once it did, he practically jumped through the doorway. The door choppily closed behind him before automatically locking; he frowned when he realized that he could have just locked himself in a building with a creep.
He grabbed his bowcaster off of his back and looked around, taking in the look of the building. It seemed to be some kind of warehouse; it was fairly clean and it smelled like oil and metal. He took a step forward, his eyes widening when he saw the droids lining the walls; many looked like they were made up of scrap pieces and it made him wonder if any of them were even functional. He made a move to continue onward but stopped when he heard electricity crackling behind him.
He whipped around and let out a curse when he saw what was behind him. It was a magnaguard, twirling it’s electrostaff in its hand. He raised his bowcaster, aiming a shot at its head. If he could land it, it might destroy it; his finger rested on the trigger and he began to squeeze. He jumped when he heard a loud scream, the bolt from his bowcaster grazing the top of the magnaguard's head.
He whirled around, pointing his bowcaster towards the vast warehouse. It wasn’t hard for him to find the source of the scream; a small red Zeltron stood in the center of the area with a datapad in his hand. Embo lowered his weapon and straightened his stance.
“Calm down. I look a lot worse than I am.” He said, looking down at himself. Sure, he was covered in blood but that was beside the point.
“How did you get inside?!” The Zeltron asked, his voice echoing the space.
“It was the door. It malfunctioned.” Embo replied.
“Oh no.” The Zeltron turned away and looked down at the datapad, beginning to tap away at the screen.
Embo eyed the magnaguard for a moment before walking towards the Zeltron. The droid followed after him, it’s electrostaff still twirling in its hand. He stopped a few feet away from the boy (only because the droid literally stepped between them) and cleared his throat. The Zeltron startled and turned back to face him, moving behind the magnaguard slightly.
“I’m sorry. It wasn't my intention to break in. I was just running from the police.” Embo said.
Embo swallowed as he realized that he’d made the situation worse. The Zeltron was now pacing back and forth and rapidly pressing things on the datapad.
“Oh, this is bad. This is very, very bad.”
“I’ll go as soon as they're gone. Then we won’t ever have to see each other again.”
“Yes! That’s good.” The Zeltron replied.
“Is there anything I can do? Like, give you credits for the door or something?” Embo asked.
“I don’t know about anything…”
“Could you… help me move?” The Zeltron questioned. “I mean, now that the cops know where I am-”
Embo’s brow ridge furrowed as he looked at the pacing Zeltron. He had way more important things to be doing than helping a random mechanic (or whatever he was) move. And yet, he found himself actually debating it.
“-and it could end in my death. So, what do you say? You can say no, it’s just that you look strong. The droids are kind of heavy and I don’t know anyone…”
“Sure.” He blurted out.
“Um… I guess?”
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Embo stared down at his cup of tea, watching the steam rise off of it. The frown that rested on his face deepened as the sound of another broken sob reached him. Almost every day for the past two weeks, he had heard his neighbor crying in the shower through their very thin apartment walls. He was beginning to grow concerned; he was still hesitant about talking to her though, as he didn’t want to overstep his boundaries.
He waited for the telltale sound of her shower turning off and, right as his chrono changed to read 4:30 a.m., the water shut off; he listened carefully to see if he could hear her crying still. Most days she would stop crying almost right after she got out of the shower but occasionally, he could hear her crying herself to sleep. Tonight seemed to be one of those nights.
He ran his thumb over his knuckles as he glanced over his shoulder to their connected wall. He could faintly smell the smoke of one of her vanilla cigs wafting through the shitty ventilation system and he bit his lip. He didn’t want to bother her but he couldn’t help but feel worried; and so, he rose from his chair, his tea now forgotten. Even if she didn’t want to talk with him, he wanted to let her know he would be there if she ever did.
He made his way out of his apartment, trying to shut his annoyingly noisy door as quietly as possible; his other neighbors were not early risers like himself and he had been snapped at more than once by the old Neimoidian lady who lived across from him. He took slow, calculated steps down the hall because the floor had some creaky spots and the old lady had also gotten after him about that as well.
He stopped in front of his crying neighbor’s door and gently knocked. There was a sudden rush of movement from inside followed by a ‘just a moment’; he could hear the sound of hurried footsteps approaching the door before it was thrown open. Embo was greeted by the sight of his neighbor in a tight red tank top and baggy blue sweatpants. Her hair was wet and tangled around the horns on her head.
“Look, I know you told me to stop smoking but I was feeling stressed tonight and-” The burst of words came to a halt. “And you’re not the landlord.”
Embo smiled at her from behind his mask. “Hi, I’m Embo. Your neighbor to the right.”
The woman ran her fingers through her damp hair and sighed; she then crossed her arms over her chest and rested her hip against the doorframe.
“What did I do now?” She asked.
“Nothing.” Embo replied, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “It’s just… the walls are thin and I heard you crying in the shower...again.”
“I’ll make sure to do that somewhere else from now on.” She hissed, turning to go back into her apartment.
“That’s not what I meant!”
The woman paused and looked at him over her shoulder. “What did you mean then, hm?”
“I… am worried is all. I wanted to make sure you were alright.”
His neighbor turned back to him, her fingers carding through her hair again. She looked down at her feet as she shuffled them; and they stood there like that for a good minute, her playing with her hair and him with his hands in his pockets as he gently swayed back and forth.
“Um… thank you.”
Embo looked down at her, his eyes locking with hers; they looked a little red and puffy but they were also bloodshot. There were dark bags under them that made it look like she hadn’t gotten a decent night's sleep in months; maybe that was the case. Despite all of that, they held a sort of fiery intensity to them that almost had him hypnotized. It took Embo a moment to remember that she had said something to him.
“You’re welcome.” He finally managed to get out. “Do… you want to talk about it?”
His neighbor chuckled at this. “Work is rough.”
He nodded in understanding. Before he had taken up bounty hunting, he had to work two jobs a day to pay his rent and be able to eat. Sometimes even with hunting, he would still have to find something else to pay the bills.
“I’m Sugi by the way.” His neighbor said, sticking out her hand. He frowned at it slightly before hesitantly taking it in his own and giving it a light shake. He still didn’t understand why people greeted each other that way; it felt so unnatural to him. “Why don’t you… come in for a bit? If you have the time that is.”
Embo smiled at that. “Luckily enough, my schedule is free.”
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Cad stared down at the dirty alley below him. A few people bustled around but he paid little attention to them. He had a job he needed to get done or else he wouldn’t get paid; he was determined to get his target since he had been tracking her down for a week now. He sure as hell wasn’t about to let her slip away again. If his sources had been correct, she was in the building across from him.
He shook his head to clear it; he couldn’t be distracted. The first shot he fired would be vital. If he missed, he doubted he would be able to get another shot.
He shifted the rifle in his hand, training it on the door the target was going to come through. He peered through the scope to make sure it was in a good position before adjusting the zoom. He glanced down at his wrist chrono and nodded. Ten seconds. He quickly rubbed his eyes then looked through the scope again; he counted down the seconds in his head, taking a deep breath.
The door slowly opened and a young human woman stepped out, clothed in a bright purple dress that looked far too fancy to be worn on Nar Shaddaa. Two large men flanked her, both carrying hefty rifles. He trained the rifle on the woman’s head before pulling the trigger. The bolt flew from the rifle, hitting the wall just above the woman’s head. He let out a curse and ducked behind the short wall surrounding the roof he was on as one of the men began shooting at him. How had he missed?
The people in the area began to scream, running in every direction. He continued to curse as he unholstered his pistols, flinching as a chunk of duracrete broke off of the wall and flew over his head.
He waited for a moment longer before standing up peering over the wall, trying to find his target; he caught sight of her purple dress amongst the crowd of screaming people and lined up a shot. A laser bolt soared passed his head and he ducked down again.
He counted to three before standing and lining up a shot. He quickly pulled the trigger, watching as the red bolt shot through the air and connected with the back of the woman’s head. She fell to the ground and he ducked back down; one of the men shouted at the other and one more bolt hit the duracrete behind Cad’s back before the shower of bolts stopped.
A smirk pulled at the corner of his mouth as reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigar; he placed it between his lips before grabbing his lighter and lighting it. He took a deep inhale and let his head fall back against the wall; he let his eyes fall shut but only for a moment. He knew he still had to get to his employer’s place and collect the bounty.
He slowly stood up, adjusting his hat as he walked forward. He took another drag from his cig before letting the smoke billow out of his lips. He glanced over his shoulder when he heard sirens, his smirk growing. He jumped down onto the building’s fire escape and slowly made his way to the now busy streets below him.
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