There was a deep hollow, something past hunger, growing in the pit of his stomach. Exhaustion pressed heavy coins on his eyelids, burning faintly and smelling of blood. His body ached with a hundred bruises and wounds that would plague him for as long as he let them fester. All matters he had been too busy to attend to.
He relaxed in his seat, hands falling off the ship’s controls into his lap. Hyperspace afforded him solitude as well as time. Enough of it to eat and sleep, he hoped, though right now there was no too great a length of time he felt he could sleep.
The Asset—no, not an asset, a liability now, if anything—the kid cooed in its seat behind him, fussy and only quieting when he turned to look at it. Which he did now, turning himself around with a weak push of his boot to the deck, and found it sucking on the acceleration bearing he’d given it earlier.
It blinked at him.
“I can’t watch you,” he told it, perhaps meaning right now or perhaps offering a general assessment of his skill at caregiving. “I have to sleep.”
The thing cooed some more, drooling onto the bearing. He reached over and took it from its tiny paws, wiping it dry with a corner of his cloak before turning to screw it back onto the lever.
Noises of protest followed, and continued until he made the enormous effort to stand up and scoop the kid up out of the chair. “We’ll eat first,” he assured it as he ducked out of the cockpit. Its attention was already turned to his vanbrace, nails scraping at the alloy. It was trembling in his arms, either in excitement or fear he could not tell.
He walked them both into the cargo bay and set the kid down on a crate, then pried open the pack of rations he’d been given as payment for a job. They’d lasted him months so far, and seemed they would last many more months still.
He grabbed a bar wrapped in foil paper and peeled off one corner, looking back over to the kid. It was quiet now, just watching him.
He extended his hand and offered the open ration bar, and its eyes drew down to it. Tiny hands flexed as it considered the meal, though it did not reach out for it.
“Come on,” he said impatiently, grabbing one of its hands and wrapping it around the bar. Once it had a firm hold, he turned back to the pack and grabbed one for himself.
The kid continued to stare at the ration bar while he consumed several of his own, pausing only long enough to draw in breath. They were dry and brittle and nearly tasteless, but they stopped the aching in his gut and throat.
By the time he was done eating enough to take the edge off, the kid still hadn’t touched the bar, instead preoccupied with the crinkling noise made by the foil paper. When he broke off a piece and offered it right in front of the kid’s mouth, it turned its nose up.
“You’ll eat frogs but not rations,” he said tiredly, nudging his helmet up enough to eat the rejected piece of ration bar for himself. “Alright.”
The fresh food he had on board was limited to some leftovers taken from a meal at a cantina, something he’d been saving for an especially long jump, but he wasn’t the only one he had to take care of now.
The thought still disturbed him greatly.
The kid took to the leftovers with far more vigour than the ration bar, seemingly swallowing the food whole without needing to chew. He didn’t know if he should be trying to inhibit that behaviour or not, but it hadn’t choked on anything yet, so perhaps that was just how its species ate. Afterwards, it settled back on the crate, its large eyes and ears drooping, and he didn’t need to be told what that meant.
He pulled his bunk down from the wall and sat down heavily atop the thin mattress. He could probably leave the kid on the crate, he thought. It didn’t seem to move all that much in its sleep, and it looked comfortable enough.
“Goodnight, kid,” he said quietly. Its eyes opened for a moment at the sound of his voice before closing again, and when it settled deeper into its own swaddling, he pulled his feet up and laid down on his bed.
Sleep did not come to him, though not for lack of wanting. He needed it desperately—once they exited hyperspace, they would be running again, and there would be no guarantees of when he’d next have a moment to rest.
And he wasn’t the only one he needed to look after now. Each time that thought materialised in his head felt like the first time, accompanied by a dull pang that felt strangely like loneliness. He pressed the thought back, resolving not to dwell on it.
He stared up at the ceiling instead. The panelling above his bed was crooked and dented, a reminder to not stray too far from his ship on any planet home to Jawas. Kuill had gone a good job of fixing up Razor Crest, far better than he could ever hope to do himself, but it still needed to be looked over in a maintenance bay by a professional.
Another thing that would cost money. Something that would be significantly harder to come across now.
Engrossed in brooding about his sudden commitment to a pauper’s life, he didn’t notice the soft sound of pattering feet on the deck until he felt a tug at his bedsheets. When he sat up, hand on his gun, and looked over the edge of the mattress, two big dark eyes stared back at him.
“How did you—” He looked over at the crate, stacked too high for something so fragile and small to climb down from, and then back to the kid again. It cooed at him and tugged at the blanket. “You’re cold? Is that it?”
He sat up, groaning at how much that hurt, and picked up the child. It grabbed at him, blinking sleepily. He looked around the bay, wondering what he could wrap it in.
“I have a tarp,” he said doubtfully, then glanced down at his bed. “Or I could give you my blanket. It’s not very warm though.”
The kid of course did not respond to his offer. Instead it wriggled in his grasp, grabbing for his belt. He set it down his lap, bracing his arm on his knees so it didn’t tumble backwards. It waddled forward, though not to his belt—it shoved itself into the crook between his arm and ribs, tucking its head down.
“You can’t sleep with me,” he said, feeling it settle deeper into his side. “I’ll squish you if I roll over.”
It continued to ignore him. He gave the bay another pass, looking for any other space to put the kid, and turned up empty—unless he wanted to try the crate again. His ship was woefully unequipped to house an infant.
He sighed. “Fine.”
He laid back down, maneuvering the kid so it was settled more comfortably beside him. It was still trembling faintly. Did it always do that? Was it cold? Was it scared of him?
He pulled his cloak out from under him and spooled it up around his hand, then draped it over his body so he could tuck the ends around the kid. It grumbled at him at the movement, perhaps annoyed it was being disturbed while it was trying to sleep.
“I know the feeling,” he whispered, and it grumbled again.
Now swaddled in his cloak and nestled between his arm and his body, it quickly went to sleep. He shifted around to get comfortable, being careful not to jostle the kid too much, and stared back up at the crooked, dented ceiling.
When sleep did finally take him, it was light and fitful, full of jolting reminders that he had an infant sleeping beside him and that he could, with his own body weight, kill it at any moment. The child was oblivious to this cycle of fitful sleep and intervals of terror, but it did finally stop trembling.
A good thing, surely.