“Open your eyes.” The voice was low and husky, heavily accented.
A ship’s engine, humming just on the edge of hearing. Metal clanking against metal a few years away. And… breathing, warm on his face. Close, then.
“Are you in there?”
The slap, when it came, was sharp and stinging, and Bodhi gasped as he opened his watering eyes.
The man leaning over him had a kind face, Bodhi noted with exhausted irony, brown eyes bracketed by worry lines and a sensitive mouth that looked like it didn’t smile much.
“He’s alright,” he said over his shoulder to someone out of sight. “I’m Cassian,” he said when he turned back. “I’m taking you to Naraka prison. I have food for you. I’m sorry to have hit you, but you need to eat. The warden told me you haven’t touched food in days.”
Bodhi closed his eyes again.
“You have to eat,” Cassian said again.
“If he won’t eat, do you wish me to hold him down while you force-feed him?” someone inquired.
Bodhi opened his eyes again to see a KX series droid looming behind Cassian’s shoulder.
“That won’t be necessary, Kaytoo,” Cassian said. “Prepare the ship for departure, please.” He turned back to Bodhi and attempted a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Even just a few bites would help.”
Bodhi turned his head away and Cassian sighed.
“I’ll be right back.”
The ship’s engines fired with a roar to full power and the hull vibrated as they lifted off the launch pad.
Bodhi’s wrists were bound, but his feet were free. He still wore the jumpsuit they’d issued him in the jail, torn at the shoulder from the scuffle the night before that had left the bruise on his cheek and cut above his eye.
“Who hit you?” Cassian was back, kneeling in front of him.
Bodhi rolled his head along the wall and fixed him with a look.
Cassian had the grace to flush, shifting his weight. “Who else hit you?”
Bodhi looked away, down the length of the cargo bay, and Cassian sighed.
“Did you take a vow of silence?” Cassian inquired. “Or has it all been said?”
Bodhi looked up at that, meeting Cassian’s eyes briefly before jerking his away again.
“Alright,” Cassian said. “You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to. Here.”
He produced a key and took the shackles off Bodhi’s wrists. Dropping them on the deck between Bodhi’s feet, Cassian rubbed his arms where the cuffs had pinched cruelly tight.
Bodhi hissed through his teeth as the circulation began to return in prickling waves.
“It’ll fade in a minute,” Cassian said. His voice was gentle. “Can you walk?”
Bodhi hesitated and finally nodded. He wavered as he eased himself to his feet, and elected to ignore Cassian’s hand on his elbow, gently directing him toward the door at the far end of the bay.
They stepped through into a narrow hall and Cassian opened the first of four doors on the left, ushering Bodhi inside and pointing to the bed in the corner.
“Go ahead and lie down while I put in the coordinates for our jump,” Cassian said. “And then I will come back and perhaps we will revisit the topic of you eating.”
When Cassian returned, Bodhi was pretending to be asleep, on his side facing the wall.
Cassian huffed a quiet laugh. “That’s not going to work.” He sat on the edge of the bed and touched Bodhi’s knee. “The trip will take about a week. You have to eat.”
Bodhi stared at the wall.
“It’s not just rations,” Cassian said. “I have real food. I picked up some goldfruit at the market, and I have some gruuvan shaal that was made fresh this morning.”
Bodhi’s treacherous stomach growled and Cassian stood.
“I’ll be right back.”
Bodhi swung his legs off the bed while Cassian was gone, some vague idea of barricading the door or getting the jump on him driving him, but there was no way to lock the door from the inside, he quickly discovered, and nothing that could be used as a weapon. The only furniture besides the bed was a table, bolted to the floor, and two chairs, also bolted down.
Cassian clearly knew what he was doing. Besides, even if Bodhi could overpower him, there was still the droid to contend with. It was pointless.
When the door opened, Bodhi was sitting on the bed, head in his hands.
Cassian hesitated, then set several plates on the table. “I thought I’d keep you company, Kaytoo’s spouting statistics again.”
He sat down and bit into a goldfruit as Bodhi watched. Cassian hummed, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and rapped a knuckle on the table.
“Sorry the room’s so empty. This is the ‘containment’ unit. These old YT-1250 models are pretty bare-bones.”
Bodhi jerked his head up. “This is a YT-1760,” he said.
Cassian raised one eyebrow. “Is that so? How do you figure?”
“For one thing, a 1250 only has room for five passengers. This has eight rooms. For another, the 1250 is longer—this is a shorter ship, and you’ve clearly added quad laser cannons, which you couldn’t do to a 1250. It’s only equipped for double laser cannons.” He fell silent and gulped as Cassian took another bite of fruit.
“Tell me more,” Cassian said calmly. “How fast can a 1250 go versus a 1760?”
Bodhi lifted his chin. “The 1250 can only make it to 800 kilometers an hour without mods. The 1760 can hit 990, and that’s before you add in all the modifications and tinkering you’ve clearly done to this one. You’ve spent a lot of time on her.”
Cassian inclined his head, smiling faintly. “You picked all that up in just the short length of time you’ve been on board? You really know your ships.” He slid one of the plates closer, a silent invitation, and Bodhi swallowed hard as saliva flooded his mouth.
He stood, favoring his shoulder, and crossed the small room to ease into the chair across from Cassian, who was still eating and not looking at him.
The goldfruit was tart and sweet on Bodhi’s tongue and he closed his eyes to savor the taste. When was the last time he’d had goldfruit? This would probably be his last opportunity, at any rate.
His stomach cramped and clawed at his spine as he swallowed, and Bodhi doubled over, taking small, shallow breaths through his nose until the pain lessened.
“That will happen when you haven’t eaten in some time,” Cassian said. There was sympathy in his voice. “Finish the fruit but perhaps not the meat right now.”
When Bodhi was done, Cassian showed him how to use the microscopic sink in the corner to wash his face and hands.
“Rest,” he suggested. “You’re still healing.”
He gathered the plates and left without looking back as Bodhi staggered to the bunk and collapsed onto it. He drew his knees to his chest and closed his eyes.
Shilsa stood beneath him as Bodhi teetered on the top of the garden wall, her arms up and golden eyes bright with laughter.
“It’s not funny,” Bodhi hissed.
“Just jump, you coward,” she whispered back.
Bodhi grumbled and jumped. He landed in the soft lavender grass beside her with a grunt, and Shilsa stifled a laugh, clapping a hand over her mouth.
“If he hears—” Bodhi warned.
“I know, I know.” She dragged him to his feet and along the path, bright with the twin moons’ silver light. In the gazebo at the far end of the garden, twined with climbing roses, Shilsa pushed him onto the bench and flopped onto the floor at his feet.
Bodhi brought his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them, and peered down at her as she lay with her scarlet hair flung out in a silken aureole around her head.
“When I get out of here,” she said dreamily.
Bodhi rested his cheek on one knee and closed his eyes. He’d heard this before.
He woke with a stifled gasp when a metallic knock rang on the door. The droid opened it and peered inside at Bodhi, propped on his elbows, hair in his face.
“Have you rested enough?” Kaytoo inquired. “Cassian is tired and I would like some company.”
Bodhi shoved his hair out of his eyes and stared at him. “I’m your prisoner,” he said carefully. “What if I—”
“What if you what?” Kaytoo said, cocking his head. “You might be able to surprise Cassian, but the odds of you removing both him and me from the equation have a 97.8% chance of failure.”
Kaytoo’s spouting statistics again. Light began to dawn. Bodhi sat up, muffling a noise as the movement pulled on his shoulder.
“Are you injured?” Kaytoo asked.
“Sprained shoulder,” Bodhi said. “I’m fine.” He stood and followed Kaytoo back down the narrow hall to the nose of the ship, where Kaytoo gestured at the co-pilot’s chair.
“Can you fly one of these?”
Bodhi’s hands twitched at the sight of the console and he fought the urge to sit on them. “I—yes.”
“I thought so,” Kaytoo said. He sounded satisfied. “You were a cargo pilot before, weren’t you?”
“How did you know?”
“It’s in your dossier,” Kaytoo said. “Cassian and I both read it, of course. You’re well-versed in most light freighter classes, aren’t you?”
He played me. Somehow, Bodhi couldn’t muster anger at how Cassian had tricked him. He’d needed Bodhi to open up, and he’d found the key. And yet—he hadn’t used it against him. All he’d done was ask Bodhi to eat a piece of fruit and take a nap.
“Where is Cassian?” he asked.
“He’s resting, as I said previously,” Kaytoo informed him. “This is his sleep shift, in order to maintain peak Circadian rhythms.” He leaned closer to Bodhi. “He doesn’t like it when I tell him to go to bed.”
Bodhi swallowed a nervous laugh. “How long have you been with Cassian?”
“Five years, seven months, and twelve days,” Kaytoo said. “My memories start the day we met, of course. They had to reprogram me, so I have no recollection of prior events.”
“And you—help him? Fly? Is this all you do?”
“Sometimes we have more prisoners to transport,” Kaytoo said. “But this time you were the only one going to Naraka. I believe there are two freed inmates there waiting for us to pick them up.”
“You’re a glorified air taxi service,” Bodhi said.
Kaytoo cocked his head and considered. “Yes, I suppose that is an accurate summation.”
“And how long is the trip?”
“About a week. Would you like to help me work on the converter cells in the right quad cannon? I took it off the turret when we were at the port, but fixing it will require more than two hands at times.”
“Why not,” Bodhi said, and followed him back through the ship.
Several hours later, Bodhi was flat on his back and covered with grease under the huge gun that Kaytoo had hung from a hook in the ceiling of the cargo bay.
“Hand me that socket wrench,” Bodhi called.
But when the wrench appeared, it was Cassian’s hand holding it out to him, Cassian bending to look under the weapon at Bodhi with a quizzical smile.
“Um,” Bodhi said, and took the tool.
Cassian straightened, head disappearing from view and replaced by his legs. Excellent legs, Bodhi thought, and mentally smacked himself for noticing.
“Kaytoo, you know if the quad cannon falls on the prisoner and squashes him to jelly on the floor of my ship, we lose our payment for this job, right?”
“The chance of the cannon falling is less than eight percent,” Kaytoo said, unruffled. “Bodhi is perfectly safe. Probably.”
“Probably?” Bodhi scooted out from under the gun and wiped his forehead. “Maybe you should be the one under there.”
“But then who would lift it back up if it did fall?” Kaytoo pointed out. “Cassian has puny arms, look.” He reached for Cassian’s sleeve and Cassian dodged back with a laughing curse.
“Leave off, you.” He turned to Bodhi. “Would you like to use the ‘fresher? After, maybe you can eat some more.”
The ‘fresher turned out to be beside the galley, and there was a neat stack of clothes on the floor next to the stall.
Cassian’s eyes crinkled as Bodhi picked up the loose-weave linen shirt and shook it out. “They might be big on you, but better than what you’re wearing.”
“These are yours,” Bodhi said, feeling stupid.
“It’s not like Kaytoo has anything to spare,” Cassian said, and that was an actual smile curving his lips, amusement in his dark eyes, and Bodhi was spellbound.
He shook himself and cleared his throat. “Yes—thank you.”
It felt good to be clean. The last time he’d been this warm and dry—he shied away from the thought and pulled the borrowed clothes on.
They smelled good, like how he imagined Cassian might smell—like toasted roti and vanilla, and Bodhi lifted the shirt to his nose and took a deep breath.
The knock on the door startled him and he dropped the fabric as heat stained his cheeks.
“Food’s ready,” Cassian called.
Bodhi found him in the galley, slicing another goldfruit.
“Catch,” Cassian said without looking, and tossed him a piece.
Unthinking, Bodhi stretched to reach it and flinched as his shoulder protested, just muffling his noise of pain.
Cassian glanced up. “Sit.”
Bodhi obeyed and Cassian set the tiny knife—less than an inch long blade, barely a weapon—on the cutting board and bent to examine him.
His hands were gentle as he pressed and rotated the shoulder joint, never pushing for more motion than Bodhi could bear.
“It’s a pretty bad sprain,” he said when he straightened. “You shouldn’t have been working on the cannon with Kaytoo.”
Bodhi lifted his good shoulder as Cassian produced a first aid kit and brought out several swathes of fabric.
“I’ve had worse.”
Cassian paused in wrapping Bodhi’s right arm to his chest. His eyes were sad when they met Bodhi’s, but he said nothing as he continued tucking the bandage in place.
His hair was inches from Bodhi’s nose. It looked soft, the satin strands falling forward over Cassian’s high brow as he furrowed it in concentration.
Bodhi breathed carefully through his mouth, holding as still as possible as Cassian finished wrapping the sling.
“There,” he said, straightening. “How does that feel?”
Bodhi relaxed by increments and glanced up at Cassian with surprise. “Oh—that’s better. Thank you.”
Cassian bent to put the first aid kit away and turned back to the cutting board. Scooping the contents onto a plate, he set that in front of Bodhi.
“Eat a few more pieces,” he directed. “If your stomach handles it well, then perhaps the gruvaan shaal you did not get to try earlier.”
“Is this really all you do?” Bodhi asked after he’d swallowed the first mouthful.
Cassian rested his hips against the counter and raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“This—” Bodhi waved a slice of goldfruit through the air and Cassian tracked his hand as it moved. “Taxi service. Shuttling people from one solar system to another. Doesn’t it get old?”
“It pays the bills,” Cassian said, shrugging. His eyes creased again. “And sometimes there are… perks.”
He turned to the stove, leaving Bodhi gaping at his back. Surely Cassian hadn’t meant that the way it sounded.
“Do you like spiced caf?” Cassian asked over his shoulder.
Bodhi mumbled an affirmative and Cassian poured him a cup.
“Stomach feeling alright?”
Bodhi nodded, wrapping his hand around the warm mug and inhaling the fragrant steam.
“Good, let’s try some real food.”
The gruvaan shaal was delicious, although Cassian apologized for having to reheat it.
“Makes the lizard meat tougher, but it would taste terrible cold.”
“Tastes fine to me,” Bodhi said through a mouthful. He felt like his metabolism had been kicked into high gear, and he was suddenly so ravenous he couldn’t get the food into his stomach fast enough.
Cassian laid a hand on his wrist and Bodhi froze in the act of lifting his fork.
“Slow down or you’ll throw it all back up again,” Cassian said.
Bodhi forced himself to chew and swallow more slowly. “So are you going to lock me back in my cell after I eat?”
“I was thinking you could go back and lie down again,” Cassian said, “but you’re not going to be locked anywhere. I would prefer either I or Kaytoo was with you when you’re out of your quarters, but you can go anywhere in the ship you want.”
Bodhi took another bite as he considered. “Alright,” he finally mumbled, looking down at his plate.
“Can I ask you something?”
Bodhi hunched his shoulders but nodded.
“Why did you do it? Murder him, I mean.”
Bodhi glanced up. There was sincere curiosity in Cassian’s eyes, no malice or greed for gossip. Bodhi looked back at his plate.
“Because it had to be done.”
“Were you in love with his wife?” Cassian held his hands up before Bodhi could answer that. “No. Too far. I’m sorry. Finish your food and then you can rest.”
Bodhi ate in silence. When he was done, he followed Cassian to his cell and lay down. He was exhausted again, desperate for some real sleep and not the nightmarish dozing that had been plaguing him for weeks.
Cassian hesitated in closing the door.
“I wasn’t in love with her,” Bodhi said. He rolled over to face the wall and closed his eyes.