“We don’t welcome that kind here,” the bartender glared at the crew. Confused glances shot between them.

“Um, pardon me, but I can say that some of your other patrons have more.. reputation than us,” Leon gestured. It was true. Bounty hunters, slave traders, other pirates even Royan recognised were among the diners. And she couldn’t be talking about Keona unless she could see through that travelling cloak she wore to hide her unusual physiognomy. Being one of the most recognisable pirates in a bar full of other outlaws is usually not a very good idea.

“You are welcome. Just not that one,” the old woman continued. The crew turned to Keona again. “Sorry, luv. The cloak stays on,” Keona responded. “Nah, not you,” the woman continued. “Him,” and gestured to the figure behind Keona.

Antares. Blood-drinker,” the old woman hissed, pointing straight at Luc. He responded with an empty smile and a small acknowledging nod.

Royan frowned. “If he’s already with us you should know there won’t be any trouble,” he explained. “Unless wanted,” Fang sneered. “Whatever. Everyone except ‘vampire’ ok,” the old lady warned and went off to serve other people. A few people at the bar were looking on, their faces hostile. Probably regulars.

“Wow, that’s rare. Hostility to Luc,” Talon commented. “As Antares,” Jai-Ran added. Luc merely shrugged.

“I don’t understand. Why doesn’t she like Luc?” Keona asked. “Same reason people don’t like you and me, captain,” MARS explained. Keona looked up at Luc. “He doesn’t look funny?” she tilted her head. “Well, neither does MARS; but its somewhere along the same lines,” Leon remarked.

Luc noticed Keona’s still confused look. “You’ve never seen an Antares before, right? Besides me?” he asked. “Nope,” came the reply. “How far out did you come from?” Fang asked incredulously. “What does that have to do with this?” Keona asked.

“The Antares race is the biggest power from the Cruxail system. They govern most of the galaxy from capital ships; and they can be pret-ty callous about how things are carried out, which explains the racism. And the fact that they live off blood is very unsettling to quite a few,” Royan explained.

“Bureaucrats’ another word for warlords,” Jai-Ran whispered.

“No offence,” Royan turned to Luc. He shrugged back with a careless smile. “Why do you think I’m out here?” he grinned. “You don’t appear very Antares-y, which is already freaking strange. Why still the hostility?” Talon asked.

“I probably look even funnier than what they already are uncomfortable with. And from what I see, these aren’t the laughing type,” he gave a crooked smile. “What would you look like?” Keona asked.

“Well, if I still followed tradition, my hair would be long, my face clean shaved, no cigarettes and my authority clear,” he said thoughtfully, and grimaced at the visual memory. “Basically not even a ‘not welcome’. Just straight knife to chest here,” Leon chuckled.

Keona noticed more and more hostile looks and whispers coming from the bar. It was a little strange, them being directed at not her; but at the same time she’d rather not have anyone stare at any of her crew like that. “Why don’t you guys tuck in? Luc, smoke?” Keona angled towards the door. He bowed slightly and exited the bar, behind Keona.

All the while Luc followed Keona, he noticed the heat radiating from her despite the thick travelling cloak around her, and her long tail twitching under the fabric.

They wound up in a slim alley down the road, isolated and quiet. It was so narrow that Keona and Luc were practically chest to chest when leaning on the opposite walls. Habitually, he pulled out a black cigarette from his inner coat pocket and her tail unwound out from under her cloak and snaked up to meet the cigarette tip.

They stood in silence for a while as he lit his cigarette and took a deep long puff. Pink plumes that smelt sweet of cloves and spice were exhaled out to the cold night air. Keona slipped her hood off, exposing her wolf-ears. They stuck out to the side but in turned forward; she was worried, but calm. The heat she radiated was no longer flickering, instead it was a steady, comfortable warmth – like standing near an oven on a cold day.

“I’d explain if you ask, y’know,” he clarified. She put her head against the wall and shook her head. A soft smile tugged the corners of her mouth and eyes. “Not even curious?” he exhaled more pink wisps. She thought for a bit, and shook her head again. This time her ears were perked up; she was calm and happy. The heat she radiated was warmer. His nonchalant gaze softened. “Thank you, Keona,” he said softly but seriously. “Bougie,” he added affectionately.

His past was something he’d rather not explain. Explaining meant remembering, thinking back – reliving. The guilt of his past actions still lingered in his heart, burned more painfully than her fire. Her not probing into it forcefully was a blessing. But he would tell her, if she requested it. To her, and only her would he willingly recall. She deserves to know. Why he is so distant, so cold. If she wanted to.

He had to be realistic. Antares outlaws were as rare as sentient robots, like MARS. There are known communities, but they stuck out like sore thumbs and were generally uncomfortable to be around by other races and species. If anything, the Antares outlaws are to be more feared, coming from such hostile origins. Blood-feeders, rigid traditionalists, one could only assume a deviant would be even more radical than the nationalist.

Keona was ignorant to the Antares; but she was no stranger to the hurt,to the fear of inflicting pain onto others. She could see how much Luc was hurting inside, desperately trying to atone himself for whatever horrible things he had done. He accepted her, loved her even for the fire she emitted; for everything other people would call her demon for. So, she would do the same for him.

Writer’s note: Bougie is a literal French word for candle. I got it from Google Translate 😛 and have no idea how the French language works so I don’t think I am using it properly in this context of an adoring nickname, although the word sound quite cute when read out. Apologies!