The inmates had a custom. They'd go around, one by one, and sound off planets. Not just any planet, but the planet. The one they'd ask to be taken to when their time was up and they got their free ride to anywhere in the galaxy. A lot of names came up. Some just wanted to go home. Some - most - dreamed of more exotic locations - Rydia, Loriaxa IV, Etrydia. All gorgeous planets, all filled with luxury, all places that restricted ex-cons to the starport.

Aurora never came up, and with good reason. It was a backwater planet, just at the edge of the Imperium, close enough to be considered civilization, if barely, and far enough from the rim that it didn't have to worry about border raids and constant warfare. Ninety percent of the planet was barren rock. The rest of the planet was made up of small pockets of green hidden under protective domes. There was no naturally occurring water. Everything that wasn't rock and dust and air had been brought to this remote hell-hole of a planet, part of an insane noble's idea to build his own private pleasure planet, at least until he wizened up and realized exactly how much it would cost to turn a planet made entirely of rock into a lush garden.

His father had likened it to an old Earth joke, something about an ice land and a green land and their names being reversed. Talor never got the joke. He'd never cared enough about history to look it up and his father had never cared enough to explain. His father had had a wife on Aurora, which was another thing he'd never explained - why her, why that planet. It had never made sense, not until he was caught and his true lineage was revealed.

The shuttle sets Talor down outside of the New Carthage dome, amidst a loose array of parked personal craft starships. A dry wind blows over the plain, carrying a small amount of sand with it. Twelve more domes rise up in the distance, doting the landscape like artificial mountains, their protective covers glinting in the sunlight. The prison shuttle plank starts to retract the second he puts his feet on the ground. He doesn't turn to watch it go. That part of his life is over, for now and he's not sorry to see it go. He only has eyes for the future and the future lies inside New Carthage.

There are no locks on the bay doors. The outer door retracts as soon as he approaches. When he steps inside, there's only a brief scan, his skeletal structure confirming his race and marking his name down on the log. Air hisses around him as the outer door closes and the chamber takes a moment to clear the air of any foreign germs he might track in. A blue light traces over him and then the inner door opens, giving him a clearer view of the town of New Carthage.

Noise assaults him. He's used to noise. It was hard to find a moment's silence on the prison colony. Someone was always making noise - screaming, shouting, snoring. This is a different kind of noise. Where the constant ambient cacophony of prison was grating on his nerves, this is almost like a salve. It reminds him of home, of the bazaar on Letrixia XII though without the overpowering smell of spices that seemed to permeate the entire station. Music pours out of the open doors of a bar up ahead. People wander the streets, laughing, talking, happy. Peddlers shout their wares from a mass of stalls up ahead, hawking produce and handicrafts and trinkets from off world. Most of the people looked human and the few that don't - like himself, with his lime green skin and ridged ears - earn barely more than a passing glance of interest.

He exits the chamber slowly. The doors hiss shut behind him, sealing him inside the strange little bubble of civilization. Two women lounge on the open porch of a building off ahead to the right, decked out in full skirts with ruffles and layers. Lacy fans flutter in their hands and as they catch sight of him, they lean forward, their smiles wide and their cleavage overflowing. He gives the blonde in the blue dress a lingering look before he turns away. He has business to attend to.

Then again, his mother always said that a whore knew the lay of the men in a city the best. He turns and ambles up to the porch.

"Good evening, ladies." He tips his hat towards them.

The fluttering of their fans increases. The blonde bats her eyelashes down at him. "Good evening, sir."

His grin twitches upwards at the corners. He doubts they'd be 'sir'ing him if they knew who he was. Or maybe they would. Prostitutes are an eclectic lot.

"I'm looking for someone."

The brunette rests her elbows on the porch railing and leans forward, almost shoving her cleavage in his face. "What a coincidence. You've found two someones."

His smile widens. "I'm looking for a man."

To her credit, her smile never falters. "We've got some of those in here too." She brushes the edge of her fan over the side of his face. "We've got all sorts of things inside. Would you like to take a look?"

She's good. He respects professionals. He digs inside his pocket and pulls out an imperial credit. Her eyes gleam as he hands it up to her. "I'm looking for a specific man."

The brunette palms the coin and swipes it over her waist. A tiny device, mostly hidden among the ruffles, beeps and flashes green momentarily. Both women lean closer. "And what man might that be?" the blonde asks.

"Atri Landrin."

Their expressions sour instantly. The brunette pulls back and starts fanning herself rapidly. "You don't want to see him. Trust me."

Talor raises an eyebrow and keeps smiling. "Oh, but I really do."

The blonde glances around, as if to make sure no one can overhear. "You shouldn't. His father was a..." She pauses and glances around again before leaning over the railing to whisper in his ear. "...a pirate."

He fights to keep his expression pleasant. "Is that so?" His tone betrays him but the women seem oblivious to the edge on his words.

The brunette nods. "It was quite the scandal. All this time, lording it up like he belonged and then it turns out he's a ruddy pirate. His poor wife. Broke her heart."

He thinks of his own mother and resists snorting. "And the son?"

The women exchange a glance. "Well," the blonde drawls, "you know."

"Sins of the father?"

They share a knowing look. The brunette sidles over to lean against one of the support beams. "He's a bit of a pariah, that son. Keeps himself to that farm of his. Hardly comes out at all."

"Oh, no," the blonde counters. "He has. I saw him just last week at Lord Haversham's party."

The brunette's eyes sharpen. "Did you now? You didn't mention."

"Well, I-"

Talor coughs, interrupting their chatter. "Which farm would that be?"

The blonde sighs and gestures to the south west. "Rossin Dome. It's just south of the city. Follow the markers and you can't miss it."

He tips his hat and turns away.

"You shouldn't go," the brunette calls after him. "He's got pirate blood. You shouldn't associate with that sort."

Too late for that.


Rossin Dome is an hour's ride south of the city. He manages to rent a beat-up cycle off of an old man at the market who doesn't care what he does with it as long as he brings it back before he leaves the planet. He also puts in an order for some clothes. He left the prison colony the same as he entered it, with nothing more than the clothes on his back, a handful of credits, and his father's compass. He plans to be here a while which means that more than one change of clothes is a necessity.

The dome isn't locked. He wonders if any of the domes are. Anyone can just walk in and make off with whatever paltry valuables the locals have. Judging by the looks of the manor set inside Rossin Dome, there isn't much of value to make off with.

A large barn sits near the opening to the dome. He leaves his cycle leaning against the side of it. The wood creaks, as if protesting yet another burden on its aged frame. Farmland stretches between him and the manor house, more green than Talor has seen in years. The air smells different here. It's been a while since he's been on a planet where things grew and he forgot how alive that makes the air seem. There's a path cut between fields, winding its way to the front door. Talor studies the land around him as he heads towards the building.

Rossin Dome is a sizeable plot of land. Tilled land fills the front half, with a multitude of plants sticking up from the ground in neat rows. Talor has no idea what the plants are. He is familiar only with the end stages of a plant's life. Usually they come to him already on the plate. Orchards stretch out behind the manor, towards another hatch at the far end of the dome and a scattering of low buildings. There are a few people moving about the fields, busy running the machines that did most of the work on the farm. Some glance up as he passes but most ignore him.

The manor house seems to be the worst out of all the buildings on the farm. Its white paint is faded and flaking off. Two windows are broken and patched over, though he supposes a few broken windows aren't much of an issue in a temperature controlled dome. Most of the shutters are missing from the second floor windows. The wooden floorboards of the porch squeak as he crosses to the front door.

He knocks and waits.

He knocks again and waits some more.

On the fourth round of knocking the door is yanked open and he comes face-to-face with a slightly flushed young man with bright red hair and dirt on his jeans. Whatever the man had been prepared to say is forgotten as he looks up at Talor. His mouth slides shut and he straightens, giving Talor a quick once over.

"Can I help you?"

For a butler, he's quite rude. "I'm here to see Atri Landrin."

"And you are?"

"Talor Landrin."

The door slams in his face. He knocks again with no answer. He tries the knob. The door opens easily, giving him a good view of the redhead's back as he storms deeper into the manor.

Talor follows him, intrigued. The interior of the manor is as bad off as the exterior and only manages to get worse the further inside he goes. If Atri had money, it certainly didn't go into the upkeep of his house. The redhead retreats into a small study dominated by an oversized desk that doesn't match anything else in the room. The wood is scraped and chipped in places and the top off-color, as if it'd been sanded down more than a few times.

He leans against the doorframe and smiles as the redhead looks up at Talor from where he's settled behind the desk. "Atri, I presume?"

The glare Atri points at him is positively murderous. It's both amusing and endearing at the same time. Considering that this is their first ever meeting, he can only guess as to what he - or more likely his father - has done to earn such rage.

"Go away."

He can't help himself. In prison, he learned not to push buttons, not to cause problems because they tend to spiral out and affect the whole compound. He's under no such restrictions here. How can he resist when Atri's triggers are laid out so nicely for him? "Now is that any way to talk to your dear brother?"

Atri's fists curl against the wood. "You're not my brother," Atri hisses. Such fire in this one. His hair color is obviously a warning. "We may share the same cursed father but you are not my kin."

Talor uncrosses his legs and steps into the room, breaching the barrier of Atri's space. There's no doubt that this room is Atri's. It has the feel of frequent use to it, a distinct personality on display on the shelves that fill the walls on either side of the room. "I'm afraid genetics disagrees on that point. Technically, we're half-brothers but brothers still."

The flush that stains Atri's cheeks is rather becoming. "Get. Out."

He affects a long-suffering sigh and sinks into one of the two upholstered chairs set in front of the desk. A spring pokes into his hip and he has to shift a few times before it stops. "I'm in town on business for a few days and could use a place to stay."

"May I suggest the nearest black hole?"

"I'll pay."

His words have a visible effect on Atri. He can see the emotions warring inside of him, his hatred for Talor losing against his obvious need for money. Still, Atri's not willing to give up without a token protest, it seems.

"You'd have to pay a lot for me to let your pirate scum hide stay here."

Talor grins widely, knowing victory is already his. "I can."

The look on Atri's face reminds him of reluctant whores, hating what they have to do but needing the money too desperately to say no. That thought brings another to mind and Talor gives Atri another once over. The boy wouldn't make too bad of a whore, if he let go of his stupid noble pride. He can picture Atri bent over the desk he is currently hiding behind, taking it up the ass from a bloated john. Now there is a pretty sight.

Atri's eyes narrow and Talor can see the words forming on Atri's lips. He waits, letting Atri's desperation curb his temper.

"Fine," Atri spits out. "But money first."

Talor's eyes sparkle as he stands. Who said it was a bad idea to mix business with pleasure? "I'll be back tomorrow." He's got enough coin to afford him a room for the night until his supplies came in.

Even as he leaves the house he knows he's not going to end up in a hotel. The memory of the blonde's pretty eyes and the wry twist of the brunette's lips are beacons, pulling him into shore.

Maybe they have a pretty little redhead hiding in the back, one that's small and pouty that he can bend over a desk.


Xtryl is a small goblin-like man, about the height of an average dog with the same amount of spikes as a puffer fish. He waddles as he walks into the bar, drops a heavy-sounding bag on the floor at Talor's feet, and scales the stool next to him with a minimal amount of grunting. Talor signals the bartender and a drink appears in front of Xtryl, identical to the half-finished one in front of Talor.

"Crappy planet." He wheezes twice to punctuate his displeasure, the sound loud and discordant and familiar.

"I didn't pick it."

Xtryl grunts again. There's a momentary pause while he fumbles with his drink, nearly dropping the glass twice before he gets it to his lips. He grimaces at the taste of the alcohol. "Your mother sends her regards."

Talor can't help but smile at that news. "And how is mother?"

The glass clinks against the bar as Xtryl sets it down, empty. "Profitable. Business is good, both hers and ours."

"That's good to hear." He sips his drink and waits for the inevitable question. He doesn't have to wait long.

"She wants to know when you're coming back?"

His mind drifts to Atri, all fire and anger. He wonders how long it would take him to break Atri, to whittle him down until he's pliant and eager. Too long, likely. Shame. "A few weeks, maybe less. There's a man here I need to see." He gives Xtryl a sidelong glance. "An old friend you may remember. Shennigan."

Xtryl lets out three sharp whistles, loud and high pitched. The other patrons wince and shoot them covert glares. Xtryl's claws flex against the wood as if eager to shred it, or more likely the person Talor named.

"You found him?"

Talor shakes his head. "He's here somewhere. It's going to take a few days asking around."

"I can have the rest of the troupe here in a day."

Talor leans back on the stool and grins. It's good to be back with proper villains. "No need for all that just yet, but if you could spread the word, just in case. Covert, of course. Don't want the quarry spooking." He doesn't want Shennigan going anywhere before Talor finds him. Revenge has been a long time coming and he's had years to think about what he was going to do while he sat in jail and Shennigan ran free. Free and with Talor's gold, nonetheless.

Xtryl grunts his agreement. Silence stretches between them for several minutes while they stare at their glasses. Talor throws the rest of his back and pushes the glass to the far side of the bar.

"Where are you staying?"

Talor glances over. News of his father's fall never mentioned his family. There were rumors, of course, but good money was spent by those still loyal to his father to keep names and number of children out of it.

"Rossin Dome," he answers finally. "Small farm south of here."

Xtryl grunts again. If he finds anything odd with the arrangement, he keeps it to himself. He turns on the stool and hops off, his landing unsteady. "Back in five days." Then he trundles off, leaving the bag behind.

Talor waits a few minutes longer before picking up the bag and following Xtryl out.


There's a bit of a commotion on the farm when Talor returns. His cycle is weighed down with two bags - the one Xtryl had brought him, full of weapons and Imperium credit sticks, and his newly purchased clothing. He squirrels the credits away into the multitude of pockets in his new clothing. The sheer mass of that much money weighs him down but he feels better having it with him than leaving it with the cycle. He's lost enough money to greedy thieves, no reason to chance losing more.

One of the machines is sitting in the middle of the main path through the field. There's smoke billowing out the top and a pair of legs sticking out from beneath it. He saw it running yesterday, spraying water over the crops as it moved automatically over the fields. A small crowd has gathered around it, staring down at the man beneath the machine. Atri is nowhere to be seen, which only further cements Talor's opinion of his half-brother. Nobles, he found, were all the same - stuck up, vain, and too proud to actually work for their money. No wonder the farm seems to be falling apart if the little lord can't be bothered to oversee his own business.

As Talor approaches, he hears a string a cursing coming from under the machine. The frame shudders, letting out a high pitched whine and another cloud of smoke. For a minute Talor thinks the machine is going to cave in and crush the man beneath it. There are two burly men on either side of the supports holding the machine up, crouched low as if expecting the exact same thing. A woman in a green sundress and two children stand nearby watching. They glance over at him as he nears. The older of the two children, a dark skinned boy that looks to be in his late teens, keeps staring long after the others have turned back to the machine.

"Who are you?" The boy demands once Talor is a few feet from the machine.

There's something about the boy that seems off. He's short, about the same height as Atri only twice as imposing. He holds himself like he's prepared to physically stop Talor from coming any closer.

"Talor Landrin. I'm here to see my brother."

They all turn to stare at him, though anything they might have said is cut off by a loud "Fuck!" from under the machine. There's a loud bang, followed by more cursing as the man beneath the machine wiggles free. Talor's eyebrows shoot up as Atri appears from under the machine. He's covered in dirt, with a screwdriver in one hand and a streak of oil running across his cheek. He glares at Talor as he sits up and rubs a hand over the red mark blossoming on his forehead, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he's smearing more oil on his face.

"What the hell do you want?"

Talor is starting to wonder if that scowl is a permanent fixture on Atri's face. He grins. Seems that Atri didn't expect him back at all. Talor's glad to be able to ruin his brother's expectations.

"We made a deal yesterday, remember?"

The war of emotions is back on Atri's face. Anger wins this time. "Fuck off." It's nice to know they had an equal amount of hatred for each other, even if Talor is much more subtle about it.

"Okay." He shrugs easily and fights to keep the smug grin that threatens to appear off his face. "I'd be more than happy to go spend my money on whores and beer if you don't want it." He turns to go, counting his steps as he walks away.

One of the others says something, their voice too low for Talor to catch. Ten steps later he hears Atri curse and scramble to his feet.

"Wait."

Talor pauses and turns back. The others are whispering to each other, all save the dark boy who keeps staring at Talor. Atri runs to catch up to him. There's a certain grace to his movements that Talor instinctively responds to. It only increases his desire to see Atri defiled.

Atri slows to a walk and grabs Talor by the arm, pulling him further away from the group gathered around the machine. His hand is tight on Talor's arm, though not uncomfortably so. Talor knows about fifteen ways he could break the hold and put Atri in a world of pain. He resists the temptation. Something about the dark boy's stare makes outright violence seem unwise, though Talor would never admit to being cowed by a teenager. He's just being subtle and drawing out his fun.

"Change your mind?" Talor lets his grin show this time.

Atri grimaces and stares off towards the edge of the dome. His arms cross over his chest. It takes him a moment before he can force the words out. Talor enjoys watching him struggle. "Yes," Atri says, his tone strained. "You can stay."

He can't resist baiting Atri. "I'm beginning to think the whores would be a better choice."

A pained look crosses Atri's face. "Please." He shifts on his feet, his gaze drifting to the ground. "I could really use the money." The last is said in a near whisper. It's wonderful watching a noble's pride crumble.

Talor turns to look at the machine. The smoke is starting to clear from it but it's obviously not going to be functioning any time soon. "You know your way around machines?"

Atri glances up at him, startled out of his anger by Talor's question. The change of topic is disarming. He relaxes slightly, shifting away from being defensive. It gives Talor a glimpse of what he assumes Atri is like around people who aren't part family. "What? Oh. Well. A bit."

"Are you any good?"

"No, not really." The self-deprecating look that crosses Atri's face is almost endearing. Almost. It makes him seem young and almost shy. More of the anger drains out of him. His hands fall to his sides and he tucks them into his pockets. He's looking everywhere but at Talor.

"Why not just hire a mechanic?" He saw signs for one in town. It isn't that far a drive to have him come out to the farm.

The same defeated look from earlier returns, mixed with a reemergence of the scowl. Apparently Talor isn't the only one that look is reserved for. There goes the thought that he is special. "Because he charges double."

Talor remembers what the whores had said when he'd first come to town looking for Atri. It made sense now why the farm was falling apart. He would have sympathized but that would have involved forgiving Atri for what he was - a nobleman and the son of his father's wife.

He nods towards the machine. "Can you fix it?"

Atri sighs and shakes his head. "No, but I have to. It's the only one we have and we're stretched too thin with labor to do it all manually." He has the look of a drowning man, waiting for a life preserver.

That's the in he's been waiting for. "How much do you need?"

Atri turns to him with a mixture of caution and hope. He's seen that look before, countless times. It never ends well. Atri is desperate. Desperate enough that Talor can ask anything he wants. He knows what he wants. Atri hesitates a brief moment before answering. "Thirty thousand credits."

Talor raises an eyebrow. The mechanic really is cheating them. He almost feels sorry for his brother. He delays responding, watching the emotion play out on his brother's face. The hope starts to fade. Talor waits until it's nearly gone before speaking. "Okay." He pulls a bag out of one of the inner pockets of his coat. It has more than thirty thousand in it but he isn't going to haggle over the change.

"What did you want in exchange?" Apparently Atri isn't dumb enough to expect something for nothing. A bit of the defensiveness creeps back into Atri's voice.

It's hard not to grin like a maniac. He has Atri. He has him right where he wants him. This is better than what he originally planned. He thought, while he was here, that he could embarrass his brother, maybe fuck with his business, but he is already disgraced and ruined. Talor is looking forward to pushing him deeper.

"I am missing out on whores for you. I expect you to make that up to me."

Confusion fills Atri's eyes. Poor innocent boy doesn't get it. "What?"

Talor steps forward, bridging the gap between them until he's well within the bounds of Atri's personal space. It makes Atri obviously uncomfortable. "I want you to be my whore."

Atri stares at him, his face pale. Anger flushes across his face and he parts his lips, probably to tell Talor to fuck off again. Atri's eyes flick to the bag of money Talor's holding. He licks his lips. Talor's eyes follow the movement and he watches the anger drain away. The disgust and revulsion he expects are surprisingly absent from Atri's face. Instead he just looks scared and defeated, enough that Talor almost reconsiders. Atri answers before he can.

"O-okay. But you can't tell anyone. It stays a secret." He expected protests about the fact that they were brothers but Atri offers none. Maybe incest isn't such a taboo on this backwater little planet. Or maybe the money's important enough to Atri to overlook that. He's seen people do worse for less out of desperation.

Talor grins. "I can live with that." He reaches out and grabs Atri's hand, a small thrill running through him as Atri flinches. He turns the hand palm up and drops the bag of credits into it. Atri's fingers curl around the bag, gripping it tightly. He doesn't look up as Talor steps away. "I'll just get my things and go find a room."

"Top of the stairs. Third door on the left."

The desperation on Atri's face makes Talor's stomach churn. He quickly turns away and heads towards his bike. Part of him, a very tiny part, almost feels bad for what he's doing. Then he thinks of the manor and what it would have looked like when his father lived here. He thinks of the pretty picture they would have made, the happy family living the high life while Talor's mother whored herself out to keep a roof over their heads. They're much better off now than Atri is but that doesn't erase everything they went through before.

The room Atri directs him to is decently kept, with only a minimal amount of dust layering the furniture. He hears footsteps in the hall and turns, expecting to find Atri. The dark boy stands there instead.

"Can I help you?" He lets his voice go cold. The kid gives him the creeps.

The boy leans against the doorframe. It would have been imposing except for his thin build and lack of height. "Why are you here?" His voice is deep. It reminds him of the earth, heavy and unyielding.

Talor lets his hand rest on his hip, near the laser gun hidden by his coat. "I hardly think that's any of your business." He's had years of practice being intimidating. It doesn't seem to have any effect on the kid.

"Child," there's a distinct insult in the way the boy says the word, "do not vex me."

"Child?" He stares at the boy, incredulous. "Child?"

The boy straightens and takes a step into the room. White marks appear along his skin, flashing up his arms and over his face, giving him a distinctly alien appearance before they disappeared. "I am far older than I appear and far stronger. Now, why are you here?"

Talor licks his lips. Suddenly his plan for revenge seems like a poor decision. "I have business in town. Atri and I have an arrangement that includes me staying here until that business is concluded."

It isn't entirely a lie but the way the boy-alien thing looks at him makes him feel like he's been caught in one. The boy takes another step closer. At this distance Talor can make out the pale blue irises in the boy's eyes. It reminds him of clear skies. "Know this. Atri may allow you here but if you harm him, I will be most displeased."

Talor nods as thoughts of exactly what he plans to do to Atri later run through his head. He should be flippant, should offer up some sarcastic remark but he can't think of any. All he can think of is Atri and this strange not-boy who seems overly protective.

"Who are you?"

The boy smiles instead of responding and walks away, leaving Talor incredibly confused.


He finds Atri in his study that evening. The look Atri gives him as he walks in is far less hostile than previously, though there's a new level of uncertainty to it, his anger tempered by shame.

"Get your machine fixed?"

Atri's eyes follow him as he shuts the study door behind him. "Yes. Thank you." His voice wavers. For a minute he expects Atri to bolt. Neither of them move. Atri turns away first and stares down at the desk. "You didn't have to give me the money. I'm not worth that much, but thank you. You really helped me."

"I'm not doing it for free," he reminds Atri before he can get too grateful. Atri thinking pleasantly of him would sour things and he's come too far to back down now. He should be concentrating on the man who has his money, but he's been waiting far longer for this revenge than he has the other.

Atri puts his pad aside and stares at him, waiting. Talor can tell he's afraid but trying to hide it. He doesn't hide it very well. But at least the fear seems to have tampered the rage. He's desperate enough for money to put aside his hatred and fufill his end of the bargain. It's sickeningly noble.

Talor knows what he wants Atri to do but he hesitates.

"You have a strange staff."

"Pardon?"

"The boy."

Apparently that's all he needs to say because comprehension flicks across Atri's face. "Oh. Etreya. He's... eclectic." A small smile forms on Atri's lips. "He's been living here for a long time. Longer than I have, though he won't say when exactly he came."

Talor arches an eye. "And mommy dearest won't say?" He's been wondering where the woman of the house has been hiding. He hasn't seen a hint of a feminine presence in the house.

The anger returns full force, so sharp and sudden that Talor almost takes an instinctive step back. He stops himself.

Atri surges to his feet, his hands curled into fists on top of the desk. "She killed herself. Right after our pirate scum of a father was executed." He spits the words like venom. Talor expects him to start biting or hissing soon.

He hadn't expected that. Atri would have been about seven when their father had been arrested. The rosy picture of a happy family home he thought of earlier shatters. Instead he thinks of what it would have been like to live in the giant house all alone while the scandal of a disgraced father and a dead mother pushes everyone away. He can see now why the strange boy might be a little justified in his protectiveness.

A knock at the door startles him. It opens as Talor is turning and an unfamiliar man in a suit lets himself in.

"Pardon the intrusion, Mr. Landrin." The man bows as he enters, skirting around Talor with a hesitant glance. "My Lordship sent these for you." He places a bouquet of fragile-looking white flowers on Atri's desk.

Surprise fills Atri's face. Any trace of his prior rage is gone, hidden behind a polite mask. He smiles, a small, pleasant smile that makes Talor's stomach twist. He isn't jealous, but he has the irrational urge to stomp on the flowers until they're torn and tarnished. His hands curl at his sides but he doesn't move.

"Thank you." It sounds so much nicer when Atri says it this time. Like he means it more somehow. There's a card attached to the flowers, an old fashioned, traditional scrap of paper. Talor can't remember the last time he'd seen someone actually use paper. Atri flips the card open, his smile turning softer as he reads the inscription.

That look makes Talor want to hit him, to chase any trace of happiness from his face.

Atri pulls open a large drawer on the side of the desk. He drops the card inside and pulls out a similar card, the paper tinged slightly pink. There are silver etchings on the top of the card. Talor's eyebrow rises as Atri pulls an ancient looking pen and inkwell from the drawer and slowly inscribes a word on the top of the card. He blows on the paper, his lips obscenely puckered, before laying the card flat again and handwriting a response.

The strange man takes the card as Atri offers it, bowing low again before scurrying out of the room. As he goes, Talor catches a glimpse of the word - not a word but a name - written on the top of the card. Harper. The door clicks shut once more.

"What was that?" Talor demands. The harshness of the tone scares the smile off of Atri's face. He's somewhat sad to see it go.

Atri swallows and looks at Talor with a closely guarded expression. "I..." He hesitates, his mouth moving but no more words forthcoming for several seconds. "Courtship," Atri finally says, straightening where he stands. "I am being courted."

Talor's brow furrows. "You're what?"

Atri shifts on his feet and stares at one of the bookshelves on the right wall. "There's a man in town that has expressed overtures of affection."

It takes Talor's brain a minute to put all those words together into a semblance of meaning that he understands. "So he wants to fuck you?"

Atri's lips curl into a grimace and he nods. "More than that, but yes."

"So why don't you just..." He gestures vaguely between them.

The blush that stains Atri's cheeks goes straight to Talor's groin. "There are formalities. Which is why I asked for your discretion regarding our..." The blush deepens and Talor feels a thrill of pleasure knowing that it's because of him. "...more crude arrangement."

The word hits him like a slap in the face. "Crude?" His boots echo loudly on the floor as he steps forward.

Atri swallows suddenly and wisely keeps his mouth shut.

"Not crude enough if a bag of money can get me through all the little formalities you nobles like to dance through." The words come out harsher than he'd intended. He forgets any sympathy he felt for Atri as he walks up to the desk. "What would you do if your little noble friend flashed a bag of money at you? Would you get down on your knees for him?"

Atri opens his mouth to answer but Talor doesn't give him a chance. He reaches forward and grabs a fistful of that fiery red hair. He pulls a bit too hard. Atri's face makes a loud smack as it hits the desk. Talor holds his head there as he circles the desk, his fingers twisting in Atri's hair. To his credit, Atri doesn't cry out. He doesn't even try to struggle as Talor moves to stand behind him.

"I paid for this," he reminds Atri. It's unnecessary, but he needs to say it, a reassurance more for himself that Atri.

His hand trails down Atri's back, feeling the shivers at Atri trembles beneath him. His hand moves down to squeeze Atri's ass. It's pleasantly well formed and actually having Atri here, bent over for him, is better than he'd fantasized. He unfastens Atri's pants with one hand and shoves the fabric down, exposing Atri's ass to the open air. It looks even better without fabric in the way.

Talor pulls a bottle of lube from his pocket, glad he'd thought to come prepared, and presses the tube between Atri's cheeks. He squeezes a generous amount directly onto Atri's hole before setting the tube aside and shoving two fingers in. Atri makes noise then, though not enough for Talor's liking. The small, soft cries that fall from Atri's lips are nowhere near the kind of screams he wants to wring from him. He shoves his fingers in harder, his hand making wet squelching noises as he rubs the lube into Atri's hole.

Atri's hands curl against the desk. He whimpers, and makes a soft sound, almost like a plea. Talor has him pinned to the desk, hips tight against the wood while he presses Atri's face against the desk. He could break Talor's hold if he really tried. He doesn't. Atri's feet slowly shift wider apart as Talor fucks him with his fingers.

The realization makes Talor laugh. His hand stills and pulls out. He's smiling when he looks down at Atri's sprawled form. Atri's eyes are squeezed shut but he opens them after a moment. Talor watches him for a long minute before he undoes his belt and pushes his pants down. He knows Atri can see him. Atri's eyes widen as Talor spreads more lube over his thick, green cock. There's nothing holding Atri down now, nothing but his desire for Talor's money and his honor at striking a deal.

"You'll do anything for money, won't you?"

Shame fills Atri's face. He closes his eyes and says nothing. Talor laughs harder.

He presses against Atri's entrance and circles the head of his penis around the hole, picking up some extra lube from what'd been left on Atri's skin. Atri gasps as Talor pushes his way inside. He can feel Atri's shivers vibrating around his cock. Atri whimpers again, his eyes squeezed tight, his knuckles white. Once he's fully sheathed, Talor pauses. Atri's breathing comes in loud gasps. It has to hurt, but he doesn't complain, doesn't ask Talor to stop. His resilience is almost admirable.

"Such a tight little whore," Talor says to distract himself from kinder thoughts.

Atri blushes and opens his eyes as Talor's hands settle on his hips. His hair is in disarray from where Talor had grabbed it. It only enhances his appearance, making him seem more wanton. Talor groans as he pulls out and slams back in hard enough to drive Atri's hips into the desk. Atri whimpers, a small tiny sound and it's not what he needs at all.

"Fuck," he says and does just that. "Fuck you're tight."

The way Atri's body squeezes around him is almost maddening. It feels good. He has to force himself to keep talking. All his body wants to do is pound into that tight hole.

"Slut."

Atri's blush deepens. His eyes settle on the flowers, lying inches away from his clenched fist. Talor thrusts in and up hard, making Atri's eyes close as he groans. He does it again and again, building up a hard and fast rhythm that keeps Atri's eyes closed and off the flowers.

"You're my little whore. Bought and paid for and you're going to do what I want. Everything I want. All mine. All mine for a bag of credits."

Atri's whole body starts of flush, slight redness spreading down from his face to his neck and shoulders. The sounds of his groans are only half-pained and it's the other half, the rising catch to Atri's breath that drives Talor on. He pulls them back away from the desk. Atri slides easily, unclenching his hands to press against the wood, giving them extra traction. His back arches, lifting his body so that the only parts still touching wood are his hands and his forehead. He's breathing hard now, panting at every thrust.

Talor's hand slips down from Atri's hip, curving around until he finds the hardness between Atri's legs. He wants to make a joke, wants to taunt Atri about liking the way Talor fucks him but he can't. He doesn't have the breath for it. Instead he squeezes the flesh in his fist, making Atri whimper, and then relaxing his fist slightly. He jerks Atri in time to the rhythm of their hips. Atri is pushing back, he realizes suddenly, shifting his hips backward to meet Talor's thrusts.

Fucking Atri feels like victory. He's soaring from it and the realization that Atri wants it, that Atri is actually enjoying everything Talor does to him, makes him come. His thrusts turn hard and erratic as he spills his seed. He lets go of Atri's hip to pull him back by his hair. All he can hear is Atri's desperate moans. Atri whimpers as Talor jerks him off, rough and fast and with far too little finesse as their hips still.

Warm liquid spills over his hand and he smiles as he lets go. Atri slumps against the desk, face buried against the wood, breathing harsh and erratic. Talor takes a step back and surveys his handiwork. His seed drips down Atri's legs. There are red marks on his hips from Talor's hands. Atri looks thoroughly wrecked and Talor feels a large burst of want as he stares at him. He wants to do it again. He wants to stay here and fuck Atri until he can't stand up, can't leave, can't answer any more little missives from a certain nobleman.

The possessiveness that washes over him is unexpected. It hits him like a cold shower. He wipes his hand on the back of Atri's shirt and quickly pulls his pants back up. Atri's breathing has slowed slightly but he has yet to move. Once Talor has his belt bucked, he smacks Atri hard on the ass, hard enough to leave a red handprint against his flesh. Atri jumps and gasps but he still doesn't lift his head.

Talor pulls a few loose credits from his pocket and drops them on the desk next to Atri's head. The sound of them makes Atri wince.

"We'll have to do that again soon," he says as he circles the desk. "I can see now why that noble wants you. You're a great fuck."

He shuts the door behind him as he leaves, feeling a slight tinge of regret as the latch clicks shut. He walks away without looking back.


Etreya finds him at the bar the next evening. Talor isn't surprised to see him, only surprised it took this long. So far he's had little luck tracking down Shennigan. There's only a handful of people who've moved to town of late, and the ones he's managed to track down look nothing like Shennigan. He's still got a fair amount to go through. There are faster ways to search, but he tells himself that this way is more thorough. It has absolutely nothing to do with wanting to stick around longer and get another chance at Atri's ass.

"You wouldn't happen to know anything about that bruise on Atri's face?" Etreya says as he sits on the stool next to Talor, the same one Xtryl had occupied the day before. He stares straight ahead at the mirror that runs the length of the bar, his hands clasped calmly in front of him.

Talor curls his hands around his glass. He's an expert liar but it feels somehow more difficult to lie to the stranger next to him, as if the truth wanted to come free from his lips. "He has a bruise?" He says instead, acting nonchalant. "I hadn't noticed. Been gone since early morning." That part is true. Logically he knows the bruise should be there. He's the one that put it there, after all, along with a few less conspicuous ones, but he hadn't seen Atri at all this morning.

"He said he hit his head on a door." Talor resists the urge to shake his head. Atri sucks at lying.

"Then that's probably what happened. Is he usually this clumsy?"

"No." Etreya draws the word out, making it sound like censure. "He isn't. He's been limping as well."

"How unfortunate." A hint of sincerity creeps into his voice. He feels a little bad about that. He'd intended to hurt Atri but part of him wondered if maybe, just maybe, he hadn't gone a little too far.

Etreya turns towards him, his blue eyes as cold as ice. His voice drops low, though his tone remains polite and even. "The only reason you are still sitting here is because Atri insists, quite vehemently, that you had absolutely nothing to do with his injuries."

Talor takes a sip of his drink to hide his sudden nervousness. He's been in a lot of fights in his time, but he's met few people that have the same type of deadly aura around them as Etreya does. Still, he's never been one to back down when pushed.

"Why do you even care? What's so special about Atri or this place to make someone like you work on a farm?"

Etreya's eyes pierce through him and they sit in silence, staring at each other for several minutes. Etreya is the first to look away. "I have lived on this planet for a long time. Since its inception. Atri's family has always been friends to me and thus I give them the respect they've earned." He turns to give Talor that piercing stare again. "You would do well to remember that." He stands and sets his hand on Talor's shoulder. His touch feels like ice. Talor shivers involuntarily. Etreya's breath ghosts over Talor's neck as he leans close. "If any more mysterious injuries appear on Atri, I will not be as forgiving, regardless of what Atri says regarding their origins. Is that understood?"

Talor nods slowly.

Etreya's hand withdraws. Talor can still feel the pressure against his skin. He watches in the mirror as Etreya walks away. Once the doors close behind him, Talor lets out a shaky breath. He lifts his glass, stopping before it reaches his lips and stares at the frost that surrounds the rim.


It's two days before Talor finally catches Atri alone again. It seems like every time he tried to talk to him, someone else was already there. Usually that someone is Etreya. Every time Talor comes close, Atri's expression shifts into an unreadable mixture of emotion that's part sadness, part gratitude, part something else. It makes Talor regret what he's done. He can't look at Atri and not feel a tiny bit of remorse, not with that bruise covering a good quarter of Atri's face.

Talor catches Atri in his office again. He'd been waiting down the hall, watching for Etreya to leave. As soon as Etreya rounds the corner, Talor moves in. He shuts and locks the door behind him, so that no one can disturb him this time. He's had absolutely no luck finding Shennigan and the frustration is driving him mad. He needs some kind of release. He could have had one of the whores but he doesn't want them, not when he as his own whore so close by.

Atri stares up at him from behind the desk. He makes no move to get up as Talor circles the desk and leans back against the wood. This close, they're almost touching, his leg centimeters away from Atri's arm. His fingers brush lightly over the bruise on Atri's face before he even realizes he's lifted his arm. Atri winces but doesn't pull away.

"You've been busy," Talor says.

The look on Atri's face makes Talor want to kiss him. He doesn't. His thumb traces the edge of the bruise. He's beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, he's been too rough. That maybe Atri doesn't deserve his anger. The way Atri looks at him is so fragile. It would be so very easy for Talor to break him and if last time was any indication of future events, Atri would let him. Talor could crush him, but he's not entirely sure he wants to anymore.

Atri's mouth opens and Talor lets his thumb brush against his lips. Atri's eyes widen but whatever he's about to say is lost as someone raps loudly on the door. They both jump. Talor pulls his hand away and stares at the door.

"Atri?" Etreya's voice carries through the wood. He raps again, and Talor can hear the hinges rattle.

"It's okay." Talor stares down at Atri, his lips a hard line. Atri glances up at him and then calls out again, a little louder. "It's okay. I'll stop by later."

There's silence on the other side of the door for several minutes and then finally the sound of movement as Etreya walks away. Talor lets out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. He hadn't noticed how tense he was been until it drained away.

"Sorry," Atri says. He looks up at Talor with the faint hint of a smile. Talor doesn't like that smile. It reminds him too much of the way his mother would look at him when she came back from a night on the streets.

His mother would like Atri. She'd want to fix him. She'd coddle him and threaten to beat up anyone who hurt him, even Talor. His mother is like that. She's kind and fierce and protective. Talor's nothing like her. He hurts people. He kills people. He's a pirate and a thief and a murderer. Looking at Atri makes him think that maybe he could be more than that.

He shifts, turning sideways as his hands slide under Atri's armpits, pulling him up. The chair gets kicked out of the way as he pushes Atri down onto the desk. Talor follows him down, turning Atri's head to the side using a handful of hair as a handle. His lips descend on Atri's exposed neck. It's as close as he'll let himself get to kissing him and surprisingly tender. Atri shifts beneath him, his legs opening up to let Talor settle between them. His hands move to Talor's belt, undoing it by touch alone.

There's no hiding that they both want it. Talor nearly rips their clothes getting them off. Minutes later, Atri is naked, sprawled across his desk with his legs up over Talor's shoulders. He's still got his shirt on but his pants are down and that's all he needs. He starts slower this time, rocking his hips against Atri's thigh while he presses his fingers in one at a time. It's not entirely gentle but it's the closest he's ever gotten.

He takes his time sliding into Atri. It's just as good as last time and he's in no mood to rush. His fingernails dig into Atri's hips. There's going to be more bruises there, and on Atri's neck but he hopes Etreya won't mind too much. Atri is moaning, his breath hitching with each thrust and there's absolutely no resistance in him as Talor fucks him. Atri is like putty, bending in Talor's hands. He opens up for Talor, lets him in, lets Talor take everything he wants.

It's more than Talor deserves. The guilt starts building up again and he takes Atri in his hand to assuage it. Atri starts moaning louder, half formed words cut off every time Talor thrusts in. He thinks he hears his name in there, along with a few curse words and some supplications to a deity. His free hand covers Atri's lips, cutting off any more words.

He doesn't want to hear his name. He doesn't want Atri to thank him. He wants to find his money and get off this planet and forget that he ever met Atri.

His body has other ideas. His hips slow down, drawing it out so that he's fucking Atri in long, deep strokes. Atri's moans vibrate against Talor's hand and he feels it like Atri's mouth is on his cock. He leans back, pulling away except for his hips and his hands. Atri stares up at him, eyes wide and pleading. He looks debauched, thoroughly fucked and defiled. Talor's the one who did that to him and it doesn't feel like he imagined he would.

He feels like he lost. He's not sure how. He has Atri, weak and pliant beneath him. He's got enough money to keep Atri under his control for a long time but he doesn't feel like he's in control. Atri isn't even touching him. His hands are clenched tight against the edge of the desk, keeping him from sliding too far away from Talor's hips. Talor's the one moving, setting the pace with his hips, only it's not entirely his control. He shifts, adjusting the speed and angle each time Atri moans, trying to find the spot that will make him moan the loudest. Atri is shivering beneath him and it's not from fear.

This isn't what he expected it to be. Atri isn't who he expected him to be. Talor still hasn't gotten the whole story. He doesn't know who it was that got to Atri first, who put all the cracks in place for Talor to find, but he wants to know who it is so that he can punch them. Maybe it wasn't even one person. Maybe it was the whole town, knocking him down slight after slight and Talor was just the finishing blow.

Atri arches against the desk, pulling Talor from his thoughts. Atri's voice is loud, even muffled as it is by Talor's hand. His chest is heaving, his eyes unfocused. He lets out a low keening moan against Talor's hand and then his body seizes up as release hit him. Talor gasps, balancing himself with one hand against the desk as Atri tightens around him. He groans and pushes harder. His own release follows seconds later.

He lingers afterwards, hesitant to pull away just yet. Atri stares blankly at the ceiling. He pants loudly through his open mouth, sucking in deep breaths of air now that his mouth is free. The corners of his lips are turned up in an almost smile.

A piece of paper on Atri's desk catches Talor's eye. He picks it up and leans back as he flips it open. It's an invitation. Atri's suitor is throwing a party for all the nobles in town two days from now and for once Atri isn't excluded.

Talor steps back abruptly, making Atri gasp as they're pulled apart. He uses Atri's shirt to wipe himself off and pulls his pants up. It all makes sense now. He knows why he hasn't been able to catch sight of Shennigan out on the street. Shennigan isn't out on the street. He's holed up, just like every other noble in this town, off in one of the private little bubbles.

"You're taking me to that party," Talor says as he slaps the invitation down on the desk next to Atri.

Atri looks dazed and more than a little confused. "What?"

Talor fastens his belt and straightens his clothes. "The party. I'm going with you."

Atri sits up quickly. His tone shifts from confusion to outrage in an instant. "What? You can't."

It's surprisingly hard to force coldness into his voice, to steel his face into a harsh grimace. "It wasn't a request." He drops another handful of credits on the desk. For a minute it looks like Atri is going to slap them away. His hands clench against the desk. Talor can't help throwing in another jibe. He's come too far to let sentimentality ruin it. "Remember our deal. I'm going, or the entire town will know you've been taking it up the ass from your brother."

Atri pales. After a moment's hesitation he nods, then looks away. It hurts to look at him so Talor turns away and walks out the room.

He tells himself he's doing what he needs to. It doesn't make him feel any better.


The party is crowded and stuffy and full of people that make Talor's skin crawl. He stays back, partially hidden between two tall ferns in the corner. He's blocked from view but he can see out. He surveys the crowd and waits.

Atri stands alone against the wall. He has a drink in hand, mostly untouched. There's a wall of empty space between him and everyone else. It's like he's radioactive. People skirt around clumps of people to avoid coming closer to him than they have to. No one talks to him but everyone looks at him, casting glances in his direction when they think no one's watching. Some are unkind. Most just seem curious. Atri tenses as a group of girls nearby titter and all look in his direction at once.

He obviously knows he's been watched. He knows but he pretends he doesn't. He's pretty decent at it. Atri probably has most of them fooled into thinking he doesn't care but Talor can see the cracks. He watches from the corner as Atri slowly crumbles the longer his suitor, Lord Harper, takes to arrive.

There's a brief fanfare at the entrance. Atri's eyes light up as he turns and catches sight of the new arrival. He looks hopeful and also a bit sad. Harper is a rich man if the lavish party is any indication. It's no wonder Atri doesn't want Talor to mess it up. The man has enough wealth to secure Atri's farm, to keep it from plunging into ruin. He's also the only noble on the planet who'll talk to Atri.

It's a smart match, one that Talor would have made had he been in the same position.

Still, it seems too convenient and Talor sees why the minute the crowd allows Harper further into the room. His hands curl into fists as rage curls in his stomach. Harper's face is disgustingly familiar. Shennigan looks pretentious in his fancy clothes. Talor wants to march over and rip them off of him. He waits instead, anger building as Shennigan sails over to Atri and pulls him into a lurid kiss. A blush spreads across Atri's face, conscious as he is of all the eyes on them.

Jealousy curls like a snake in his belly, sharp and poisonous.

He meant to wait, to approach Shennigan covertly, but he can't stop himself as he moves forward. A few of the nobles glance at him, their curiosity turning to horror as he pulls a pair of laser pistols from the holsters on his back. Two guards step forward and are gunned down before they can take a second step. Shennigan turns smoothly, the hand that had been caressing Atri's face sliding down to his neck, choking him while Shennigan steps behind him, using Atri as a human shield. Atri's hands rise to the hand at his throat. Talor already knows it's a futile gesture. He's felt how weak Atri is. Shennigan is much stronger.

"Drop the guns," Shennigan orders.

Another guard steps from the shadows. Talor fires on him, but he dodges, ducking back behind a pillar.

Atri squeaks as he's lifted off the floor by Shennigan's grip. Etreya's not going to like that, but there's not much Talor can do about it. Technically, it's not his fault.

"I want my money back."

Shennigan takes a step backwards, dragging Atri with him. Atri's starting to turn blue. He doesn't have long. "You're not getting your money."

"I am."

Shennigan just laughs. "Not if you want your brother alive."

Dark shadows move past the windows. A scattering of nobles fill the exits, watching from what they assume is a safe distance. No one moves to help Atri or Harper. They're both outsiders, left to their fate. Talor hates nobles.

"I don't."

Shennigan looks stunned for a moment, and that's all the distraction Talor needs. He shoots, aiming close enough to graze Shennigan. It startles him enough that he lets go of his hold. Atri falls to the ground and doesn't move. One of the shadows detaches from the window and darts forward, tacking Shennigan from behind.

The ballroom erupts into chaos. Shennigan's guards stream forward at the same time as Talor's men burst through the windows. Laser fire streams across the room. Talor ducks low and closes the distance between Atri. For a minute he thinks about going after Shennigan but the wet thuds coming from Etreya's fists impacting with flesh deter him. The room has gone cold.

He drags Atri out of the way, pulling him out onto a balcony. At first Talor thinks he's unconscious but as soon as they stop moving, Atri's eyes flutter open. He looks up at Talor with a pained expression. There are tears at the corners of his eyes. Talor tells himself they're from nearly dying rather than anything Talor said.

Atri's hand clutches Talor's sleeve, stopping him before he can return to the fray. "Did... mean... that?" Atri's voice is a low wheeze, barely audible over the fight.

He hesitates. He wants to pretend he couldn't hear him, to forget he ever heard the question. After all he's done to Atri, Atri deserves better.

"I didn't." He's fairly certain he didn't mean it. Mostly. Probably. "It was a distraction." That much is definitely true. It'd worked better than he'd expected.

Atri lets him go. Talor hesitates again. He leans down, placing a kiss on Atri's forehead before stepping back into the room. He needs to stop Etreya before he kills Shennigan. That pleasure is his and his alone, but before that, he needs to find where Shennigan hid his money. He doubts he'll have any difficulty getting the answer out of him.


Xtryl hops from foot to foot on the gangplank, impatiently waiting. Every few minutes he lets out a series of grunts and hoots meant to hurry Talor along. The sun is setting on Aurora, casting everything in a golden hue. He's beginning to revise his initial opinion of Aurora. It's not such a bad planet after all, though that has more to do with the people on it than the landscape.

His hands linger on Atri's sides. He feels warm, like the sun, his warmth spreading up Talor's fingertips and into his chest. He's reluctant to leave. Before all he'd wanted to do was leave when he had to stay, and now he wants to stay when he has to go.

Atri is smiling at him. It's that same sweet smile he'd seen before, with the flowers, only this time it's directed at Talor. Sometime over the last five days their hatreds have melted away. They've been blaming each other for things neither of them had had a hand in. The sins of their father died with him, though they've each been too blind to see that.

Talor's grin widens. He can't resist a parting jab. "I thought you hated pirates?"

"I thought you hated me?" Maybe he wasn't as subtle as he thought. Atri shifts closer, his hands toying with the lapels of Talor's coat. His gaze drops to his hands and a hit of shyness creeps into his voice. "I made an exception. For you. All pirates but you."

He can't help but smile. "I can live with that." His hands find Atri's chin, tilting it up so that he can kiss him. It's their first kiss, and also their last for a while. A few months at least, while Talor reasserts his control over the organization their father left behind. Still, it's a pretty good kiss, much like kissing a live wire the way it makes his skin tingle and electricity course through his veins.

The need for air brings them apart. Xtryl stomps loudly on the metal gangplank. Talor steps back with a smile.

"I'll be back."

Atri's fingers linger against his. "If you don't, I'll come find you."

He pictures Atri in the midst of Talor's usual crowd and grins. Maybe next time he comes to Aurora, he'll bring mother. Atri could use a bit of parental chaos in his life.

He nods at Etreya as he backs away. The not-boy had been watching them the whole time, his gaze fixed on Atri. "Take care of him."

"Better than you will," Etreya shoots back. Atri blushes and glances between them.

Talor watches from the hatch window as the gangplank closes, sealing him into the shuttle with Xtryl. He keeps watching as they lift off from the surface. Atri shrinks down to a speck against the landscape and then disappears entirely. Their shuttle settles onto the deck of the main ship - his ship - and he finally turns away.

His revenge is over. It is time to go back to his real life, the one he had before Aurora and Atri and prison. It is time to become a pirate captain again. He is his father's son, and now he has a bride on Aurora to match.