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Give a little

Posted on Sat Jun 13th, 2020 @ 9:38pm by Ayla Seton & Alden Loxley

Mission: Mission 1: Gearing Up
Location: Geronimo:Ramp & Beyond
Timeline: Sometime after Landing

It was always a fine line, it seemed, in wanting for new crew and the new crew one actually got. Thus far things aboard the Geronimo had been quite interesting. First there was the drunk pilot fiasco, if only the captain had just let her shoot him to begin with, then had come the blackout. Thankfully though, that had resolved itself. Maybe not thankfully for Millie. That red headed sure had fooled her and Ayla didn’t like that. It made her realize that she needed to be more cautious. She could only hope that Moira wasn’t some secret sabotager waiting patiently in the wings.

Such were some of the things she found herself pondering as she doubled checked her pistol at her side, the knife tucked secretly away down the calf of her boot. She was still dressed as she had been when she’d given tweedle dumb and tweedle dee the tour, except now Ayla was heading out for supplies.

More people on the ship meant more food was needed.

Ayla bounded down the metal stairs, boots clanking, the sound echoing along behind her as her blue gaze scanned the hold. It seemed to be empty, except for the figure sitting on the ramp.

It felt tense. The ship. With the woman out cold in the infirmary, and the new passenger. With the way they'd been brought on board via the dude with the robot eye and the sense that the second in command was about to shoot him and/or Jonas at any time.

Alden had taken himself out of their immediate sphere of concern and remained in the cargo area. That seemed to allow things to continue to run as smoothly as they ever might. Seemed there'd be some sort of incident, but the details weren't exactly being advertised. He'd run his own ship before, he could understand the logic in that secrecy. No one liked to admit weakness.

He sat now on the side of the ramp, letting his legs dangle and his boots swing lazily back and forth and keeping out of everyone's way. His pack, with all his current worldly possessions still rested against his side, propped up against his right thigh. The guitar, idle like he was, leant against the pack. Alden didn't turn around as he heard footsteps on the stairs, but he lifted up one arm and waved in their general direction.

What in the gorram hell was he doing? Alden. That was his name. Or at least she thought it was his name. She paused briefly, fingers tapping gently on the butt of her gun before continuing in his direction and onto the ramp. Seemed a mite odd in a way, having been there waiting for the ship to land and yet now there he was...on the ramp.

Maybe she should have been a bit nicer. Maybe she should have spoken, said something. Instead Ayla crossed the hold, and was headed down the ramp before she stopped. And turned. Clear blue eyes settled on him as her hands came to rest on her hips, "There are more comfy places to sit."

He didn't get up, but he did turn around to look at her. He'd heard the tippety tap of her fingers and guessed by her stance that had been on the gun. She was petite and taciturn, pretty and guarded. Ayla.

Alden canted his head to the side and locked his gaze with hers. Blue to blue. He gave a lazy shrug and didn't smile as he returned comment.

"There are friendlier ways to say hello," he said.

The hint of amusement played at one corner of her lips, though, there wasn't much to keep it from showing as it crept into her eyes. Ayla supposed he was right. Well. There wasn't any supposing about it, not really. He was right. There were friendlier, even nicer ways she could've said hello. But she hadn't. And it had been years since she'd been the friendly sort. Life had a way of molding you. Of shaping you from the person you thought you would always become into what you actual end up becoming. Interesting. Life was interesting.

"Suppose so." She responded, shoulders lifting in what could be an apologetic shrug. "Though, it's a sturdy place to be sittin'. Got plans?"

For a second he wasn't sure, but then a hint of brightness hit those clear blue eyes and he knew. Just knew. She at least wasn't stone cold. It was enough for now. She played it close, so likely there were reasons. Reasons he wasn't about to ask after any time soon.

"It's cold," he said, and kicked his legs out into open space. "And nope, no plans. No plans whatsoever. Just sittin' and waiting and...." Alden gave a self-effacing smile. "And getting bored is the honest truth." That wasnt't a loaded statement or a hidden request, not consciously at least. He was just telling her the truth of that moment.

Honesty, in Ayla’s opinion, was a quality that was not highly overrated. If anything, she approved of it and frankly thought the whole verse could use more of it. Or well, people that were honest anyway. Even the smuggler could be an honest person.

“Shi Ma? Shiny. Let’s go.” She gestured with a nod of her head towards the warehouse. Ayla hadn’t thought about inviting him along, it’d just sort of happened, but it wasn’t a bad idea. “If’n you can bare to be parted from your security blanket.” This time she nodded towards his things.

Let's go. Alden raised both eyebrows and pursed his lips for a second or two, then stood straight up to his full height and bumped his head on the low entranceway. "Ow," he said, rubbed his skull with one hand and grinned.

"Sure, Zhan Shi," he agreed without further hesitation. But he only dropped his guitar into a safe corner of the hold, the small backpack remained on his shoulders. "Security blanket stowed," he added with a smile as he strolled down the ramp to stand on the warehouse floor.

"Lead on," Alden suggested politely, and he swept his arm out in a gracious invitation.

Comical. That was the word that sprang into her mind at the small scene. The expression that crossed his face was enough before he stood and knocked his head. Ayla cringed, not bothering to hide her own expression as Alden rubbed his head. It was times like these that she was rather glad that she was on the short side of things. And then he grinned. And strolled past her and down into the warehouse.

“Great.” At least he had stowed the guitar. With quick roll of her eyes Ayla turned to follow, and lead the two of them from the warehouse. If she remembered correctly, getting to the shops would take too long. Ayla, though, wasn’t one for small talk, yet found the trek with Alden a bit awkward.

Eavesdown Docks. Again. He settled into a comfortable walking pace a little ahead of the lil female spitfire and kept his hand close to his Model B. It was dangerous out here, and though most of that concern had been related to Eye Dude and his Laser Dot Army, there were other issues Alden knew about.

He didn't feel the need to chatter unnecessarily, but he wasn't the silent type either.

"There's a festival going on right now," Alden said, conversationally. "Food, drink, dance, y'know the usual." He grinned, and added with a sense of tongue in cheek humour. "Any of that your scene, Mei Mei?"

Even though the walk was a bit on the awkward side, it wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Ayla noted the way he walked a piece ahead of her, but still kept himself within distance and pace. It gave her the opportunity to let her guard down slightly, and well, take in this person she’d invited along on her errand. He was tall, muscular, and walked with what she would consider an easy gait. And well, he seemed a bit easy going. There was just something.

Not wanting to get caught eyeing him, Ayla shifted her gaze to focus ahead of them. A festival meant people. A crowd of people. What she wanted was to get the supplies and get back to the ship. But...food did sound appealing. “What sorta food?”

No one leapt out, called at them or paid them much attention at all as they moved from the immediate vicinity of the warehouse and into the Docks proper. The streets this end of town were quieter, the majority of the population enjoying the festivities, and they could both hear the happy, loud noise of people and music. Multi-coloured lights shone like a thousand artificial stars, their intensity above human heads blotting out the chance to pick out real ones up in the night sky.

Alden chuckled at the curt question. This one - this slender bombshell - wasn't a talker. She played it close and confidential, unwilling it seemed to let down that guard she kept about her. That was okay, obviously, and quiet wasn't a bad thing, but he couldn't help wondering what it took to break down that barrier and see beyond. Time, perhaps. Reasons to trust.

"Well," he said, conversationally, feeling a need to fill the air around them both with friendly words. "Pretty much anything you can think of, really. Eavesdown is a mess of people from all over the Verse, and there are street vendors and stalls to cater for most of them. Tapas, barbeque, pasta, all kinds of fruit and veggies. Marinated meat, kebabs, cotton candy, home baking, doughnuts, noodles... Whatcha fancy? You pick and I'm buying," Alden offered, as he led them closer to the noise.

Part of her realized that she wasn’t being too friendly, but it was just harder with the opposite sex. Females, like Moira were just easier, and she knew where it stemmed from. Her past. Plain and simple. She knew it, yet at the same time, didn’t quite know if she was ready or able to put it behind her. Only time and circumstances would tell.

Alden sure seemed to be a talker, that was for sure. Ayla turned her gaze towards the sounds of the festival, her eyes focusing on the twinkling of the lights. How long had it been since she’d been to anything of the such? She couldn’t recall any, not since she was a teenager. Not since before her mother had died. It was tempting. So mighty tempting. Especially with the way that the scents, the wonderfully enticing smells of everything Alden named off seemed her and her mouth water.

There was no denying, or hiding the intrigue that had crept into her gaze as she shifted it back to him. It was such a simple question, yet, Ayla struggled with just how to answer. What needed to be done was to get to the shops, get the supplies and food for the ship and get back. But there was all those swirling, invitingly delicious smells permeating the air. She blinked at him, the guarded, don’t talk to me facade slipping, “I don’t know.” Everything, she really wanted just about everything.

He grinned. Beamed a stupidly open boyish grin that brightened his eyes and shone from his very being. I don't know. Great. Good skills. But Alden rallied, shaking his head in friendly amusement and rising to this taciturn challenge.

"Well," he said, his tone implying he was more than happy to work with this difficult customer. "If you don't know, then we need to get you some food samples." He didn't offer his hand to Ayla, but he did shoot her a second grin and stride off boldly towards the lights. The people who wanted to kill him out here were mostly dead already, right?

"C'mon," Alden told her lightly, in more of an enthusiastic encouragement than any sign of a command instruction. "Let's go see what we can try. These guys don't mind sharing a few free samples, specially on account of I'm gonna be picking up some supplies too now."

He led the way, and trusted that Ayla would follow.

Give the girl a gun and she wouldn’t have a second thought about using it to do a job or protect herself. But ask the same girl what she fancied to eat and it was like asking her to make this big life decision. Choosing what food you fancied or wanted wasn’t, or at least shouldn’t, but such a big decision and yet there Ayla was inwardly debating on just that. Thankfully, her companion had more wits about him and made the decision. Alden grinned and it was amazing that something like that could change a person’s appearance in such a manner. But then, she hadn’t actually paid that sort of attention to such things. Mostly it was dealing with people who didn’t smile or their smile meant something not nice.

Alden’s was friendly. Nice. Like there was not a care in his head. Ayla gave one last glance in the direction he was not heading, towards the shops, before falling into step behind him. “They actually give samples?”

"You gotta ask real nice," Alden said, amused that she wasn't aware of this face. "Trust me."

He sauntered up to the first stall, one covered with sweet treats, pastry wrapped in honey and nuts, small cakes and such. The vendor was a tall, thin man with long blond hair and a neat beard, who gave Alden an upward nod on his approach.

"Evening, good sir," Alden said, casting his interested, hungry eye over the bountiful wares before him. "I wonder if I could be really cheeky and ask for a small taster before I decide what to buy my shy friend here?" He smiled, and indicated Ayla with a lazy wave. "She's never tried baklava before." He flashed a credit note, to show he was serious. "But I love it, so either way you're gonna get a sale."

"Of course!" The stall owner's decision was quick and brightly spoken. He produced a wide oval platter from a shelf behind him and placed it upon the counter. "Be my guest."

"Trust me." Two simple words that Ayla repeated in her head, not entirely realizing that she was in fact doing just that as she followed into the festival grounds and up to the first booth. All the smells were even more impossible to ignore now that she was there. Here.

She tossed a quick glare up at him, but it was immediately replaced with curiosity as the small cake came to rest on the counter. How in the gorram hell would he know if she had ever had...whatever this was before? Sure, it was the truth, but he'd just assumed she hadn't ever tasted it. And she wasn't shy. But all those swirling thoughts disappeared at the first bite.

It was flaky, yet gooey and sweet. Her eyes nearly rolled back in her head as she popped the rest of the small sample into her mouth. "Wo De Tian A... I bet Moira would like this." Ayla pulled a few credits from her own pocket to slid across the counter.

Maybe this wasn't a bad idea after all. Her gaze shifted away and started scanning the other stalls. Alden had said something about noodles. And doughnuts.

Alden didn't understand the glare, so he just rolled forward from that moment with an encouraging smile that broadened swiftly as Ayla was tempted into trying the sweet treats. "Good stuff huh?" He agreed with a question, then nodded. "I'll buy enough for everyone."

He was handing over the credit note in exchange for a boxed up selection from the stall when Ayla cast her glance to the wider field. "Thanks, my good man," Alden said to the vendor, then he lightly nudged his current company in the arm with the tips of his free hand's fingers.

"Whatcha wanna try next?" He asked Ayla, as he wrinkled his nose and sniffed the air like a dog might. "Sweet, sour or savoury?"

The touch, the lightly gentle, barely there prod didn’t quite register with Ayla’s attention was focused elsewhere. There were so many booths and stalls, each filled with their own enticing aromas and a few with sizzling sounds. What did she want to try next? This tasting venture had surpassed the need to stay on track for gathering and purchasing the supplies for the ship. But in reality, wasn’t this technically still doing just that?

There. That one. A quick, darting glance over her shoulder at Alden, “Savoury.”

She didn’t reach back and tug him to come along with, instead she pointed towards the one she had already picked out and lead the way. It looked interesting, the way there seemed to meat stuck onto sticks. Kebabs was what the sign read. The smell though, was mouth watering.

Alden nodded. "Good choice," he confirmed, and slowed down a little so as to walk in her wake and let Ayla take the lead. He was intrigued to see if this was something she already knew, or a food she was keen to try. Spicy deliciousness awaited her, whether she knew it or not.

"Hullo there! Would you like the lamb, pork or chicken?" Asked the lady behind the stall, and she directed Ayla's attention to the cooked, marinated meat laid out in metal trays keeping warm. "Hot sauce, herb sauce or mild? Salad or bell peppers? Flat bread or pitta?"

Standing beside her, Alden took in the bountiful wonderment of the food before them and waited patiently for Ayla to choose first. She didn't walk much, this one, and he felt a need to take a metaphoric step back, to give her a little space to think and decide on her own.

She took it all in, everything the woman named off like it was second nature. Only, Ayla wasn't sure about all of the things. What she wanted for the moment was to see if the meat tasted as delicious as it's aroma promised. From the corner of her eye Ayla could see Alden standing there beside her, unusually quiet. Strange, in the short amount of time she'd been around him she'd already realized that he liked to talk.

The whole of it sounded appealing making her want to just order the chicken, with hot sauce, salad and pita. She was hungry, but..."Can I try the lamb?" The lady gifted Ayla with a simple, curt nod before poking a bite of lamb onto s small sampling stick and handing it over. "Xie-Xie."

Alden raised an eyebrow as Ayla looked at the lady, but avoided turning to make direct eye contact with him. She was a curious one, this one. Fierce and direct, easy on the eyes but miserly on her word count. He wondered if that was just for his benefit on account of his currently unproven and new status, or if Ayla was like this with everyone. He imagined, from the less than twenty words she'd spoken since they'd left the ship, that she talked a lot more with this Moira. He wondered vaguely what she'd report back on their return.

Staring out into the crowded docks, Alden scoped their surroudings, keeping a wary eye for any sign of trouble. Nothing dangerous was immediately obvious, but there was a lot of noise and motion to choose from. He turned back, to see how Ayla had enjoyed her kebab taster.

"Can I get a mixed kebab in a flatbread with the medium spice, some lettuce and tomato, please?" Alden asked, offering a friendly smile to the vendor. "And whatever the lady wants."

The point of sampling was to try new things and such was the reason she had requested the lamb. Ayla wasn't disappointed. But now came the hard decision of whether or not she wanted chicken or the newly tasted treat that had been more delicious than she had hoped. This was way more of an interesting way to gather supplies for the ship. If treats, tasty treats, like they were finding here at the festival could be bought and taken back to the Geronimo, then why not do just that.

Though standing there, her head finally turning to the man beside her, Ayla couldn't help but wondered about just what sort of man he was. She'd had her dealings with all sorts thus far in her life. More so with the bad sort. But her crew aboard the Plymouth had become more than just crew, more than just friends. They'd become a family. Until the unthinkable had happened. And now here she was.

"What are you doin'?"

Alden canted his head to the side and gifted Ayla his full attention for a moment. He scrutinised those big blue eyes that regarded him with a seriousness unbecoming for her cherubic features. Was that a criticism or a general question? It was hard to tell with so little information to go on, Ayla didn't give much away, and she seemed to have a word count for each encounter, her conversational skills at least in his company largely confined to simple questions and very short sentences.

The grin returned, and he looked from the stall vendor as she gathered together ingredients for his wrap and then back to Ayla.

"Getting us some food," Alden said, his tone coloured with surprise amusement rather than sarcasm. "Isn't that what we came out for?"

The question was simply asked and had little to do with what they, he, was actually doing, but more to do with the fact that he was aiming to buy her food. He had called her lady, that hadn't gone unnoticed like his brief nudge had moments ago. Ayla was gifted with him turning his focus to her as he seemed to ponder of her question. Had it been confusing? Was he thinking of the right thing to say to keep up this act of friendly? Normally such would have Ayla dropping the eye contact and looking way. Sometimes such things were a bit too intense, too intimate.

Such wasn't the case here. It seemed to be nothing but honest. Friendly. There was something with Alden, it seemed. Maybe it was his laid back nature. It didn't hurt that he was a bit easy on the eyes either. Not that she should be noticing such a thing. Then his grin was back, sliding into place with a practiced ease and a simple answer that was filled with amusement. "Yes. But why are you buying my food?"

Alden didn't overthink it as Ayla regarded him back. He pushed his curiosity to the side, avoided musing deeply on this female conundrum and simply accepted that this was how she was, and how she would be. People were more than entitled to be who they were, and he had no plans to start trying to change any of them for the better or worse. He would, however, continue to be him, whether the rest of them liked it or not, because being himself was his default setting.

"Because you're hungry?" He said, and also sorta asked at the same time. She was hungry, wasn't she? She'd asked for a sample of the meat after all. Then the penny dropped. "Oh," Alden added with an upward nod that curtly repeated downwards. "You don't like people paying for you?" He asked, his smile coveting an impish gleam in his eyes now. "I guess I didn't think of it like that. Here we are, I thought, both of us hungry, and me with enough money to buy us both some food." He shrugged nonchalantly. "I didn't mean any offence by it, Mei Mei."

Ayla did nothing but blink as he answered her question. Such a simple answer that seemed quite honest. Almost as if he wasn’t entirely sure just why she had asked such a question. It was telling though, watching as the realization hit, watching how his features shifted. Her gaze narrowed slightly as the shift in his own gaze happened. Alden was starting to become a curiosity. She couldn’t tell him the real reason, tell him that it wasn’t that she didn’t like others paying for her because they, more times than none, wanted something in return. She replied with a small shrug. Should she let him and see what would happen, a test of sorts?

Mumbling a slew of something unintelligible under her breath, Ayla relented, “Okay.” Then to the lady, “I’ll take the same.”

Honestly, he didn't get it. But Alden sucked up that potential negativity, shot a winning smile to the vendor and handed over the credits in exchange for two wraps. "Thank you kindly," he told her, and he shifted off to the side where there was a mostly empty picnic bench set up.

A couple sat close together at one side, totally rapt in each other's company, so Alden took a seat at the opposite end, and began to quietly wrestle with his food. He cast his gaze outward to the distant stage upon which a group of prettily dressed people were dancing to a merry little three piece country band and let his terse company enjoy his silence.

"You like it?" Alden eventually asked Ayla, after he'd devoured a good few mouthfuls.

Samples were one thing, but food was even better, especially when it tasted like this. Giving the woman a small nod of thanks, Ayla took her wrap and followed Alden to the table. It was a simple setup, much like she recalled from her days back before, just a standard picnic table. Only it was currently occupied on one side by a couple that looked to be totally infatuated with one another. She let her gaze wander past them to other things like the people laughing, joking and generally having a good time. To the stage that was currently occupied and entertaining the festival goers. In a subtle way it made her wonder just what her life could have been like if her mother hadn’t died. Or hadn’t settled down with him.

If wishes were horses…

Ayla let out a weary sigh before sliding onto the bench across from Alden, the couple still holding each other rapt attention. She’d taken a few bites and let her gaze wander about again when Alden voiced his question. Oddly enough, the silence between them had felt a bit...odd. Not that she was doing much of the talking. Inquisitive eyes took him in; sure he was tall, blue eyes like her own and much, much shorter hair than his buddy Jonas, but there was more to a person than their looks. It was the real them, the one underneath all the visual things that bespoke who a person was. She could look at herself in a mirror and think of herself as anyone else with the beauty she saw staring back at her, but she had too many scars that still hadn’t healed.

And then she realized she’d been staring. Ayla felt the blush, the heat that crept up the back of her neck and turned her eyes downward to the wrap, “I do. Ain’t gotta ask if you do.” She nodded towards his mostly consumed wrap. “Think they got fresh foods we can get here to take back to the ship?” Jonas bringing along the peaches and mangoes had both fresh fruits and vegetables on her list.

He'd eaten the gorram thing pretty damn swiftly, he had to admit, but Alden wasn't ashamed of his appetite any more than he was uncomfortable with being stared at. He caught that intense - judgemental? - gaze from across the table on the side of his vision as he took in their surroundings and he let Ayla have her time to observe him. Maybe, he considered in the privacy of his own head, she'd get a bit more comfortable around him. Maybe she woudn't. But hell, she hadn't shot him yet, so he was calling that a win as far as newly forming relationships with folk went.

Alden grinned as he refocused his gaze and caught the red in the young, ornery woman's cheeks, but she looked down. He exhaled, unsure what her issues might be and unwilling to ask what might end up being deeply personal questions and risk alienating her completely.

"I was hungry," he said, with a shrug and a smile chasing his words. "And you were staring at me," Alden added, his smile becoming a big dumb grin. "Do I have chilli sauce on my face?" He asked, acting the innocent in an attempt to break the very real ice between them.

Ayla was rather perturbed at herself and refocused on taking a few more bites of her food. But leave it to him to not answer her distracting question and focus on the fact that she had indeed been staring. Blue eyes lifted again to meet his, a fleeting flicker of amusement sweeping past her defenses, “Was I?” She knew full well she had been but well, it wasn’t like she was gonna just freely admit such a thing. Ayla let her gaze drop, taking in that huge grin and then letting her gaze wander over his face. There was something almost contagious about him.

Her lips twitched upwards, the subtle smirk barely there as she looked away. Was he really concerned over having something marring his handsome face? “Maybe.” Ayla paused, “Maybe not.”

There was something, briefly, oh so briefly, in those eyes as she momentarily allowed him to see into those blue internal skies. Nothing overt, nothing beyond that look, but it was... something.

"Yes," Alden nodded emphatically, overly expressing himself and playing the fool for a reason. "You were." She was in there somewhere, hiding, and he couldn't resist poking to see if she'd come out. Even a little bit. She'd asked him to ride shotgun on this food shopping trip, after all, and he didn't think it was because she trusted him to watch her back. Or her front.

And there it was. A merest, tiniest hint that she had a sense of humour buried under all that serious, protective outer armour. Alden pretended not to have seen it, and he set about brushing his fingertips demonstratively about his mouth and cheeks in the hunt for that pesky sauce.

"You have some too..." Alden said, finally. "On your nose." He touched his index finger to his own nose as if to help her find that errant stickiness and somehow he managed to keep his expression absolutely deadpan, at least for a moment.

“Nah,” She started, after swallowing the last bit of her wrap. “I’m thinkin’ maybe you’re projectin’ or something. Or maybe, you’re just mistaken.” The teasing remark was there, subtly, whether he would pick up on it or not. Ayla had no experience in being anything except herself. Alden here, he seemed the friendly sort and maybe there weren’t any underlying motives for his paying for her food. Time would tell and she had weapons just in case. Almost one of the reasons she had found herself running into that spot of trouble back on Albion. If she hadn’t been kicked off the Plymouth she wouldn’t be sitting here right now watching a man of his size comically wipe at his face in search of sauce that wasn’t actually there.

Ayla watched as he directed her attention to his nose and told her she had some as well. Deep down in her gut she knew he was wrong, but there was that tiny little flicker of what if he wasn’t. She scooped up a napkin, wiped the tip of her own nose and held it out for inspection. Which, presented like a stain free napkin. Blue eyes rolled as she balled the napkin and tossed it across the table at him, “Kuh Ai.”

"Why thank you kindly, ma'am," lampooned Alden with an easy grace as he caught said napkin and briefly held it against his chest. "I'll treasure this forever and always," he added, with a dumb grin that made his words a friendly joke as he immediately put the tiny paper towel down beside him on the table top. "Well, always better to be sure, Zhan Shi," he added. Whatever else she was, this one was a fighter if anyone was.

"So," Alden turned semi-serious. "We gonna pick up those supplies of yours?" He asked, then jabbed a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the stage with the dancing. "Or you wanna dance?" He doubted that. "Either way, we probably should get a move on, might possibly be a few folk on this rock who aren't too friendly towards me. Which," continued lightly and with a relaxed shrug. "Ain't my fault, but that don't really matter right now. Rather not drag you down into it."

Alden’s theatrics were, for lack of a better term, slowly but surely chipping away at the wall Ayla had wrapped around herself. It was for her own safety, mainly. Most times people let it stay, never bothering to see what was underneath. Well, men mainly. Women got a pass, depending. But even with the few conversations she’d had with Moira, there was still a semblance of that wall firmly in place. She offered a snort in response, “I’m sure you will.”

She gathered her trash and rose. He was of course right. “I can hold my own.” Simple statement that was more than likely mostly true. Ayla shrugged a shoulder, her gaze narrowing in on him, “Ain’t dancin’.” Though no sooner than the words left her mouth her gaze shifted over his shoulder. The music had a nice beat, and the people dancing sure seemed to be enjoying it.

He’d piqued her interest now, though, “So what did ya do? Sleep with the a married woman...or man? Got a vengeful scorned lover hot on your heels? Steal somethin’ from the wrong person?”

"No dancing, got it," was all Alden said to Ayla's little speech. He picked up his own detritus and strolled a couple of paces to drop it in the recycling container, then turned back to regard his companion. "Wow," he noted with a soulful shake of his head. "Such a negative opinion you have of me."

Alden debated for an obvious second or two, the decision making process intentionally dramatised through his facial expressions. Then, as they walked away from the crowds about the food stalls, he opted to share.

"What I did," he said, truthfully. "Was get left behind by my ship and crew for some reason that still eludes me," Alden didn't let on to the fact that he had a ton of money as a result, a fact that might have helped Ayla understand his confusion. "Then - despite not doing anything wrong - I kid you not, I was chased down by a merc, beaten up and shot. Apart from that," he shrugged, "it's been a pretty wonderful couple days."

Odd as it seemed, Ayla got the impression she had struck a nerve. Not odd that she had struck one, but more in the fact that it actually bothered her that she might have done so. What she did, though, was cross her arms and shrug. Guilt wasn’t something she was used to feeling. But what could she say, really? They didn’t know one another.

She listened as they walked, how could she not? But it sure wasn’t what she expected. Though something told her he was leaving something out. Reaching out, Ayla laid a hand on his arm silently urging him to stop before letting her hand fall away. Certain secrets were meant to be kept, she couldn’t fault him there. Her lighted on his before shifted to glance over his shoulder, “Got booted, myself. New owner didn’t take too kindly to the word no.” Ayla shrugged in a failed attempt to blow the meaning behind her words off. She wasn’t sure why she was telling him any of these, but the words didn’t seem to want to stop there. “Wasn’t chased by no mercs, mine was goons. Weren’t too smart, but their boss sent ‘em after me. He didn’t want to pay, so I didn’t finish the job.”

Another quick glance up at him and shrug later, she turned, ready to get back to the errand.

Alden's gaze steeled minutely as she touched his arm, not an obvious sign of the threat to very real pain lying beneath his jacket and shirt sleeve. That was a weakness he wasn't prepared to show out here in the open, or to a stranger, however pretty she might be. He learned - sometimes - from his mistakes.

"Booted?" He asked, head canted to the side in confusion. But there was something about the way she said 'no' that sent a little subconscious signal rushing back to his brain. No means no.

"So, he wanted to take from you for free, and not pay for the job you did for him?" Alden asked outright, his emphasis on the 'and' in that question. Ayla didn't look like she wanted a big discussion on this front, but he figured she dumped that information out there for him to pick up on. Or not. Alden frowned darkly. "He hurt you?"

She hadn't consciously meant to reach out and touch his arm, to invade his space, like she had. Hell, she much preferred not having hers invaded as well, but she had. Ayla nodded, "Yeah. Booted. You know -see ya later, you're fired. Booted." It was a simple enough explanation. Details about how he'd made certain advances weren't needed to be said. Though she did shrug her shoulders. That ship, that crew, had been her home for ten years. And now she was starting all over again.

"Pretty much. Wanted what he wanted and wanted to keep his money and not pay up. Tends to happen quite a bit." Though that could have been because they thought since she was a young woman they could pull one over on her. "Him? Nah."

"So you got shot, huh?"

"I did," Alden answered, simply. "Wasn't even my fault, far as I can tell. Some folks just want everything, the job done, the payment they're sposed to handover, and every gorram thing along with it." He canted his head, regarded Ayla for a moment and kept quiet. There was something about the way she'd answered - Him? Nah. - that spoke of other evil men in her past. Alden left that well alone.

"We need to head back?" He asked and looked worried. "Ship won't leave without you, will it?" Her maybe not, Alden figured Stanton wouldn't be too concerned about abandoning him here. He didn't need that happening twice in as many days."

"Yeah. In a bit. Gotta few more supplies. But I'm thinkin' we can hit them quick like and make our way back." The list hadn't been too long, but supplies always seemed to be needed. Ayla let out a small laugh before turning towards the nearest shop, "I certainly hope not."


*"Is that so?"

 

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