It was her laugh that had done him in.
Bright and cheerful and full of heart. It was infectious, compelling anyone fortunate enough to hear it to want to join in. It was like she radiated this warmth, this light, and the sound of it echoed within his mind long after he'd left her.
It was a fairly short mission, more of an exploration than anything, but it took him and his brothers away from her village long enough for him to realize just how attached he'd become to the girl. He had never planned on falling for anyone. This life of his was far too dangerous and chaotic and busy and unfair for him to even entertain the idea that he could include someone else in it. But there she was, seemingly waiting for him to show up to her planet on some random mission so they could finally complete each other. He had held himself back as long as he could, kept his feelings properly ignored....
And then she had laughed.
He dreamed about the sound. Could feel it coursing through him like a thousand volts of an impossibly pleasant electrical current. He would never get enough of it, he knew that now, being so far away (the next town over) and for so long (two days). It sure would complicate things, once the full mission was over, but for now he was determined to let himself pursue this... this... whatever this new sensation was called.
So when the scouting trip finally wrapped up and their speeders zipped back across the plain, Hunter had never felt more alive and eager to see someone in his entire, battle-hardened existence.
She was not waiting for him as eagerly as he had hoped. In fact, she was't waiting for him at all. The other villagers casually dismissed her absence, pointing him in directions that were unfruitful and frustrating. He finally stopped taking their advice and put his own tracking stills to use, following his senses through street after street until he finally made out her lovely figure sitting alongside a watering hole. He found himself holding more of his breath as he neared her. Her laugh may had stolen his heart, but her beauty had been the first thing to catch his eye. It was an unconventional beauty, but a beauty nonetheless.
"Hey," he announced himself so he wouldn't scare her. As he said the words, he could feel that something was off. She had a different sort of air about her this time, more subdued and tired. But she quickly tried to cover it up, turning toward him with a smile as welcome as ever.
"You're back," she whispered as if she couldn't believe it. She scooted over to make room for him to join her at the edge of the basin, even though there was no one else around.
"I'm back," he repeated as he settled next to her. He hung his arms awkwardly over his knees.
"Well? Mission success?"
"We got what we needed."
She looked at him with wide, imploring eyes, so he chuckled and began recounting some of the details. He was used to giving mission debriefs, or analyzing things with his brothers for future improvement. But this, this simple act of sharing how his days went, telling a story about a part of his life he all-too-often took for granted, was different territory for him. He found himself glancing at the girl constantly, gauging her reactions to know if he was being too boring or confusing. She maintained her interest, eating up most of his words with such enjoyment... only the details of a minor flesh wound Tech sustained after tripping over a log made her turn up her nose, so Hunter quickly moved on with the story.
"And how about you?" he eventually asked, deciding he'd had enough talking about himself and wanting to hear from her now. Her mood had perked up considerably but he was still concerned about her previous state. "What'd you get up to while we were gone?"
She gave him a knowing look, though he wasn't sure what it was that he was supposed to know by it.
"The first day wasn't so bad," she sighed a little. "The elders had us redistributing supplies most of the day, so that kept me busy... and distracted."
She self-consciously tucked her hair behind her ears, which he only just noticed were flushed.
"But yesterday... It was tough. I didn't feel like doing much. I had a shorter temper. Ended up arguing over nonsense. Cried a few times."
Hunter snapped to attention at that, as if he was back in the training rooms of Kamino being addressed by the commanding officers.
"What? Who made you cry?"
He looked around as if the offender was still nearby, lurking in some unknown shadow. The thought of the sweet and beautiful girl next to him shedding a single tear made him feel annoyed and even a little sick. Who could ever hurt her like that?
It took him longer than he should have to notice she was giggling at his reaction. He frowned down at her, utterly confused.
"What? I just want to know who."
She playfully pushed his shoulder. "You did, silly."
He still didn't understand, which only made her laugh more. There it was, that gorgeous, magical sound he'd been longing to hear again, and yet he couldn't savor it, not when she'd just told him that he had somehow been the cause of her suffering.
"What did I do?"
She shook her head incredulously. "I thought it was obvious...."
When he still didn't show signs of catching on, he could see her face slowly falling, retreating ever so slightly.
"Hunter, I missed you," she said, quiet but confident.
By the way Hunter felt all his senses simultaneously stop and go into overdrive, she might as well have said she loved him. He had never been missed by anyone, ever. And to hear it coming from her, the one person he had missed himself....
But then the reality of what her words meant sunk in. Yes, she cared for him enough to feel glum in his absence, but he didn't ever want her to feel such a thing again. The simple truth still remained: she had cried because of him.
"Oh, hey, I'm... I'm sorry," he found himself moving closer to her, wrapping a protective and soothing arm around the back of her shoulders. "I missed you, too, Cyar'ika."
She lit back up at that and leaned into him. He rested his head atop hers.
"So, so much..." he whispered into her hair.
"What are we going to do, Hunter? It's only a matter of time before you have to leave again, and you won't be coming back. I don't want to keep you from your life, but I just don't know if I can handle it."
He could feel every part of her as she laid against him. Her breath, her heartbeat, her warmth. It grounded him in a way nothing ever had before. His mind was usually active with thoughts and strategies in situations like this, when options were few and far between but the will to find the perfect plan of action was still strong. However, in this moment, that part of him quieted. He couldn't explain it, but he just knew a solution would present itself eventually. There was no need to rush for it now and miss out on the simple peace of the moment.
"We'll figure it out," he reassured her, turning focus to bask in her.
Her beauty had caught his eye, her laugh had captured his heart... and her presence would sustain him. He was sure of it.