Hawk Squadron: From Gue'la to Warrior Pt. 13
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The bar that Rook and Kaerin were to meet at was constructed shortly after the training facility was built, the Tau understanding the need for pleasure and leisure just as any other life form would. It was fitted in what appeared to be steel, fashioned in a way that it fit in with the rest of the City, painted in a striking off-white. But inside, Tau engineers had gone through some lengths at designing the bar so it was more adept for humans. It combined a lot of Tau technology with a very cozy look one would expect on a very fertile world.
Instead of the inside itself being made of concrete or whatever the Tau equivalent was for it, the walls were constructed of wood, precisely cut in individual bricks, and then fastened together with some unknown sticky substance that hardened within only a few minutes. The chairs were modern looking, silver and cushioned, which twirled three-hundred-and-sixty degrees around.
One of the more dramatic features was the stage which lit up the left corner of the room, and allowed several Tau or Human instrumental groups to perform various relaxing or uplifting melodies. Rook noted that tonight a joint Tau/human group played called the "Veterans." Their theme was strictly military, wearing various shades of BDU's with patches torn from certain areas and campaigns, completed with green and yellow bandannas around their heads or necks.
Rook didn't care much for the music they played, mainly because it had a hint of romantic appeal, and with Kaerin running late, the song played the tunes of too many dates gone bad. Date…is this even a date? Rook shook his head, he wouldn't do what he usually did in cases like this. He promised himself he wouldn't worry and he wouldn't rush to conclusions.
Too many times in the past he found himself chasing after someone because of his own false assumptions based on inaccurate readings and friendly flirting, only to be hurt in the end. He wouldn't allow that to happen this time, not with Kaerin, not when she was a member of his unit. He'd treat her with respect, compliment her where it was due, remain cordial and if it came to be that they were both mutually attracted and perhaps wanted to take it to another level, that decision - and all the worry that goes along with it - would have to wait until then.
With that realization also came a sour taste to his mouth, and Rook was very certain it wasn't the locale ale. The fact was he'd been nervous and excited about this meeting ever since he had met Kaerin earlier. He looked again at the time as he had done several occasions in the past few minutes and felt his palms start to sweat as he kept thinking about it.
However she did show up. He spotted her, across the room. Her face was drawn with the expression of exasperation and relief as she spotted him as well. Rook breathed in a deep breath and sighed, composing his nerves and allowing himself to dawn a cool smile. She approached him seductively, it seemed, although probably not intentional. The kind of walk one takes when hunting prey, and Rook had to admit, had he been a wild animal, the smoothness of her walk would have made it hard to determine whether she was friend or foe.
He was also caught off guard by her attire. Wearing a tunic with a low-cut neckline that, had she knelt down for any reason, would have revealed some cleavage. The pants she wore were equally radiant, matching the same dark blue color as her shirt. The belt she had finished the ensemble nicely, leaning off her left hip with what appeared to be a stun-pistol dangling from a leather strap that attached to the leg holster.
Rook cursed himself for not changing out of full dress.
"May I sit here, sir?" Although formal, her expressions and tone of voice were playful. Rook nodded and she took the seat next to him.
"If I buy you a drink, will you shoot me?"
She blushed, and suddenly he felt all his anxiety drain from him, leaving him comfortable and a bit vulnerable as well. She unbuckled the holster and set the stun-pistol on the counter-top. "That depends on the nature of the gesture."
"Well, I'm not one to back down from an opportunity. So what will it be?"
She reviewed the menu quickly - apparently not too enthused with the contents - folding it back up and returning it to a slot in front of her. "I suppose whatever the local ale is."
Rook nodded, "Well, the local ale is the only ale. It's not too bad, but it's all they have. Tau don't prize themselves as drunkards. The only reason they have any alcohol available at all is for us."
She nodded, "Like an owner to their pets."
"Sometimes." Rook glanced at the clock, "I hope you're more prompt on the battlefield then you are at meeting me."
She blushed again, flashed him a smile, "Sorry, but I was held up at the Shas'O's. Debriefings can last longer then I like sometimes. Especially when Tau are giving them." She rolled her eyes, "They have to talk to each other in Tau before they can ask me what even happened, the problem is Tau takes forever to speak sometimes, so what would normally takes us five minutes lasts twenty with them."
"I hear that. My old drill leader, Va'tol, he could curse up a storm in Tau, and it would take him forever to get out a sentence sometimes." Rook took a sip of the ale, a greenish hue to it, letting it burn down the back of his throat. He winced as to lessen the bite.
She gave a half-cocked smile which made her more devilishly attractive, "Before I joined the Auxiliary forces, I never knew Tau even had curse words."
"They have them alright. I don't think humans have words for some of the Tau ones. But they're also on a whole new plain of cursing then we are."
She laughed, "I suppose you're right."
Rook peered into his glass, wondering if he should chance another sip, "How did you come about joining the Tau military anyway?"
"That's been bothering you all day, hasn't it?"
"I suppose as much as it would bother me to have a bolter pointed at my face...we all have our reasons of course. I just wanted to know yours."
"I prefer not to say." She looked down. Rook took that as a clear sign to change to subject.
"You know what I'm grateful for?"
She looked at him curiously.
"I'm glad the Tau have adopted the normal hand-shake-and-baby-kissing-routine for diplomacy."
"Why is that?"
"Well, just imagine if their way of greeting foreigners was to pelt them with small statues of ethereals."
"Point taken." She gave that same addictive smile again, "You have a unique sense of humor. Where were you from originally?"
"Viceria. Although you won't find it on any starmap now. The Imperium eradicated all Nid life from it years ago, and of course by purging it from space, they made the planet nothing less then a dead shell." Just talking about his old homeworld in such a way made his heart sink, but he knew there was truth in it.
Several years ago, some more survivors from Viceria had talked about seeing a large Imperial fleet outside the system as they left on their transports. They recalled watching the Imperial ships pulling out any defense forces from the planet, which only mean an orbital bombardment was about to commence. There was no way that the Imperium would allow any of their planets to fall under Nid infestation.
Kaerin gave a sympathetic look, "I'm sorry." She rested a hand on his shoulder. Her touch was light and it brought him some comfort, as if her skin removed some of his inner pain.
"It's not your fault. Every time I think about it I get kind of light-headed. But then again, it seems that if it didn't happen, I wouldn't be here."
Kaerin nodded, "It's funny how we always are so quick to look back at things, and how fast we are to ignore the situation now, always forgetting to look ahead at where we could be and aim for that. I think that's part of the reason why I'm here with the Tau instead of the Imperium. At least here we aim for the future and aren't so stuck in the past. We can't better ourselves if we are too busy looking behind and mourning."
He was comforted by the truth of that, and found her reasoning on par with his in the scheme of things. He had joined up to rebuild and to keep a promise, and both of which involved working towards a goal. Working towards a brighter future. He caught her her looking into his eyes, and he found her searching them, not knowing what exactly she was trying to find. She blinked and took a quick sip of her drink, winced, and looked apologetic.
"I'm - I'm not quite sure." At first she stared intently at her glass, something hinted pain in her eyes before she looked up and pulled his lips to hers. For a few long moments, he held her there, taking in every bit of sweetness he could before the moment ended.
But it didn't end. Kaerin pulled him in tighter, her hands tracing his spine in a feather-light motion. It enticed him, brought him back into the moment. With each heavy breath, every slip of his fingers, he wanted her more, and deep down he didn't want to stop.
But, he didn't know why. Perhaps it was his instinctual nature, he found her attractive, desirable. And the fact that she had initiated the kiss proved to him that she had felt similarly. It was flattering, the fact that it felt good as well was merely adding to the emotions flooding through him.
As much as he wanted to believe that, wanted to tell himself that this was primal, he wouldn't except that. There was something that just didn't feel right about this. Something that haunted him, even as he embraced the kiss.
He broke their connection, reluctantly. She looked him over, smiling. "Sorry," She bit her lower lip, "Did I break protocol?"
Rook shook his head, thoughts still racing through his mind like the blood ran through his veins. "No, we're both consenting adults here, I think."
She laughed, "What? You think that we're both consenting or that we're both adults?"
Rook frowned, "Both?"
Kaerin's smile faded for the moment or so it took for her to catch on, "Just what I need, a commander who's handsome and funny." She gave him a soft punch in the arm, "Know where I can find one?"
Rook almost choked as he took another sip of his ale, "Ouch. Rough."
Kaerin glanced at her wrist-chrono. "It's getting late, and we have a mission in a few hours." She stood up, as did Rook.
"You're right." Rook sighed, realizing that his other responsibilities would weigh in on him the next few hours. Planning, organizing, weapons inspections, "I should probably go and check on everyone and make sure they're not doing something they aren't supposed to."
"You should start getting used to that."
"What, checking on the Hawk's? I'm growing used to their shenanigans."
"No, I was referring to me being right. My old commanding officer found that I'm right more often then I'm wrong. Although I do hear the Hawks have a bit of a reputation for being trouble-makers."
"We tend to get in trouble a lot. And I expect the same from you now that you're part of the unit."
She raised an eyebrow, "An order?"
"Yes ma'am. The enemy has developed a strong impression of what we're like militarily. It's time we showed them that generalizing will only lead to their defeat."
She flashed another adoring smile, "I hope you're right, commander." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, "Escort me out?"
Rook linked his arm in hers, "It would be a pleasure."
The evening air was just as dense and hot as it had been earlier in the day. But it seemed to grow more stuffy out, as if to suffocate Rook as he thought about the time he'd spent with Kaerin, and how it ended with morale-diminishing effects. It wasn't that Rook didn't like Kaerin and he was fairly certain that she felt something for him as well. And the kiss only enforced this opinion. But several creeping positions he had been placed in were making his stomach churn as he considered them, walking around looking for the rest of the Hawk's.
The first - of course - were the words of the Shas'O. Time was slowly ticking down to his first real engagement, and he knew no details, no enemy strengths, actually he had no idea about anything. Rook was coming to the realization that there were even more hidden reasons why the tests were changed so quickly at the end. That there had to be more to the tests, being pitted against the Tau, a numerically superior force, having only a small cache of weaponry and with no details. It interconnected with this mission which he was embarking on in just a few hours, and he was sure of it despite the lack of information from Tyon'fa and Nol.
How would he function? How would his command function? Would he carry out his orders with the same efficiency he showed during the tests? Would he fail? Would he die? So many questions bogged him, and he had no answers available to comfort his mind. And he couldn't afford to add another factor - Kaerin - into the pile. Especially not right now.
The second thing was directly related to the relationships within his Squadron. That is to say, that his relationship with Kaerin would probably effect those relationships for better or worse. Even still, he couldn't have considered all the possibilities, and what would happen if he and Kaerin had decided to start a relationship. His results staggered him a bit.
He tried to suggest to himself that getting involved in his unit would only promote less discipline. The idea behind that conclusion seemed sound at first until he recalled that discipline was never really worth much in the Hawk's. Rook was independent, and valued the tactical role of independence. Too much discipline may be good for front line, hard hitting Tau units, but because the stakes were higher, his unit was ordained more elite and at the level he admired his units efficiency, higher discipline would only disrupt that.
Further, considering Ralus and Briggs, along with some others, he didn't know if it was possible to be any less militarized then they already were. Rook didn't frown upon relationships between members of his unit, and never would. And he didn't think any of his squadron-mates would feel differently in his regard. In fact, some of his team would probably cheer him on. But for how long?
Another downside he focused on, to no real avail, would be that he would have no time to spend with her if they did get involved. Of course this idea was just plain ridiculous. He'd probably end up seeing her more then he'd see somebody outside his unit. Plus combat would offer them an uncommon bond that many couples that are outside of the service would ever have. Combat would give them both an understanding of each other, and would bring them closer together, and allow them to work through things more effectively in their personal life, so the fact that they were in the same unit only made more sense. It would be something he and Kaerin would do well with especially in the engagements to come. We need this now, especially before battle.
The idea of "battle" bothered him. It through other things into his mind and slowly he found some reasonable doubts about the relationship. Although definitely attracted to Kaerin, the effects of his attraction could be devastating in a time of war. He knew he was professional enough to be sure he wouldn't let emotions creep into his decision-making, he wasn't totally sure how comfortable he would be if the situation arose where he would have to leave Kaerin behind after having an intimate relationship with her.
Not only would he have to take into account his actions on that battlefield, but how would he be able to live with himself afterwards? How could he look in the mirror knowing that not only could he have lost the woman he might have cared about, but also have given the orders that killed her?
Aside from all of that, there was another pressing factor. What would society dictate in a case like this? How would the Tau feel if they found that one of their current most-promising gue'vesa units consisted of heated intimacy within it's rank structure? That might even be called conspiracy to commit scandal in some levels of government.
Knowing that a leader such as Rook would engage in such affairs with somebody not equal to his pay grade? That would probably be good for those Tau who don't want to see humans like Rook succeed in the service. And it would destroy his Hawk's reputation - whatever heroic personalities they may have adapted by now - and also defeat any chance for a unit to follow in their footsteps.
Even worse, how would his fellow Hawk's react? He thought more on what he had given himself as an answer earlier. Sure, at the start, they would almost certainly be happy for them, but what if they started to think that Kaerin was getting special treatment? What if Kaerin fought well, got a promotion? Even though Rook was fairly certain he'd never let that effect his judgement, that he'd never fall into playing favorites, he had no reservations or false impressions about the rest of his squadron. They wouldn't believe that every decision he made was unbiased. And the more Rook thought about it the less he felt he could be as unbiased as he'd want.
There was always the chance he would give something - whether it be a promotion or a medal for merit -to her, and there would be nothing substantial to prove that it wasn't based upon his feelings for her. And that bothered Rook to no end. Not just because it hurt his reputation, but that it would detract from the honor of the rank bestowed upon her, and also from her actions as well as his own reputation as a competent officer. After doing everything to try and gain the respect of his command during training, to lose it now would be worse then committing suicide. In this case, suicide would probably look better.
Rook banged his head against a wall. Things in life were never easy, but just once he wished life would cut him a break. With a mission in under a few hours and a beautiful but precariously career-ending woman down the hall from him, he wondered if combat could actually be much worse. His answer would come to him soon enough…