Coriolis Effect - pt. 17: “Arrangement of Operations”
A/N: Well, what can I say? Other than the fact I can't keep a consistent schedule? Hopefully this doesn't disappoint. More action will be coming soon. This was just a rough transition chapter for me and I had a difficult time trying to tie together everything I want to. I've been dreading these last few arcs here since the first chapters I drafted out. Still some plot twists, spice, and development left to come. I'm just attempting to make sure I don't crash a burn at the end of this work.
I do have some little one-shot blurbs coming as well... Hopefully in the next day or two. Nothing great. But it's about one of the more... well-known pilots. I'm hoping to make him my next full-length fic. If you're interested let me know.
Anyways. That's all for now.
Frustration beyond management.
Everything was coming to a head.
It felt as if everyone in the war room was holding their breath. Waiting for the final hour to finally admit that Kenobi’s plan was downright dangerous, and everything hinged on the gut-feeling that the compromise on Geonosis hadn’t been discovered yet. No outside help. Recon for outside information was a far stretch at best. And the 212th -despite sitting in on most of the mission briefs- weren’t even going to be making the trip for the gala event anyways. Echo had never found himself feeling quite this out of place amongst a group of Captains, Commanders, Sergeants, and Generals.
Cody stood at the far end of the war room table with an almost permanent look of pensiveness creasing the crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes. Staring down at the holomap and surrounding information on digital displays covering the room. At his side was General Kenobi looking as cool and collected as ever. Not nearly as concerned as he should be. However Echo had a sneaking suspicion that he was just damn good at shielding his apprehension. After all, the mission itself felt like something that the other general in the room -Anakin- would’ve dreamed up on the fly less than one parsec away from a battle zone. Even. The younger Jedi was asking a lot of questions that normally never got asked. Echo had personally seen Anakin fly into danger without batting an eye. However as he got the chance to examine General Skywalker, there was a tinge of… hesitation floating in his eyes. Even Rex, who’d decided to take up a post next to him radiated a thick feeling of nervousness. It didn’t take much to assume the tension in the air was what had Hunter grimacing and rubbing at his temples.
“I still don’t understand why we can’t have someone else go under for this,” Echo nearly growled. “Isn’t there anyone else who knows what’s going on? Or at least smart enough to be briefed on the essentials beforehand?” He paused for a moment, sighing.
“Forgive me, Generals. I’m in no place to make demands. But I feel it would be a mistake to assume there aren’t spies on Republic payroll hired specifically for this kind of thing.”
Echo scanned his attention to General Kenobi who didn’t look the least bit offended. With over twelve meetings held over the last five days, decorum had been practically thrown out into the Jedi Temple hallways. No one wasted their breath addressing anyone by title at this point. There wasn’t enough time for it. And save for Tech who subconsciously insisted on calling Rex “Cap” no one took time to even address the informality. That being said, it was the first time tensions had risen to the point of Hunter stepping out of line. Even if it wasn’t by more than a little bit.
“Corporal, I understand your hesitance,” Kenobi said calmly. “If I am to be honest with you, I haven’t had a single moment of question as to what your collective worries are surrounding this assignment.”
Echo hated being reminded of the fact. His removal from direct contact with Jedi’s came as a bittersweet realization, but when in the presence of one, he’d long forgotten just how perceptive they could be should the need or desire arise. And with six clones overpowering two Generals in a war room, there was no mistaking why Kenobi left himself open to their thoughts and feelings.
“However, you are correct that the Republic has many resources available at our disposal for such a situation as this,” His answer was just as diplomatic as always. “Our collective problem resides in know who and when someone can be trusted to carry out the plan we have formulated.”
The seemingly endless question no one could find the answer to and the basis of all their problems. Everyone had tried for weeks at this point to avoid getting too close to the Separatists and their business dealings. Kenobi had reached out to trusted companions across the galaxy, Skywalker had done the same. And from what Cody and Rex had relayed over comms and after meetings, they too had turned to friends acquaintances, and even the Corrie Guard to try and get some type of helpful information. All they could learn was what everyone else already knew. Which wasn’t a whole lot.
“I understand that. But I don’t think sending one person into an entire mansion of Separatists is a safe way to go about this,” Echo responded. “At least let one or two of us go in with her.” He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from wincing at the sound of himself damn-near begging. But for all it was worth, everyone in the room save for Kenobi thought the plan was voluntary manslaughter.
“Echo… she’s the only one who can speak to them in a believable way.” The General protested.
“It is not of good conscious to send any of you into what could be a very dangerous situation. But I must defend my reasoning.” Kenobi took a few steps away from the table and settled himself down into one of the many chairs settled around the room.
“If I was to send anyone and their knowledge of the weapons being sold fall short, it would be an immediate threat to not just our operation but to the entire stability of the war!” He said with a frustrated sigh. “I have no objections to your accompaniment to Naboo. It’s all for the better that there are more eyes on the gala to see any suspicious activity or recognizable faces. But I do not want to underestimate the lengths to which our enemies will go to ensure that their stolen goods are sold to their allies and not a stranger whom has lucked into an invitation and the immense amount of money necessary to even think about attending the auction.” He explained.
“Maybe she isn’t ready for that kind of work yet, Obi-Wan.” Anakin, who had been mostly silent for the meeting finally spoke up in a weak attempt to help out Hunter.
Kenobi looked to him with a somewhat disbelieving expression.
“Capability has nothing to do with enthusiasm.” Echo found himself gritting out the words before he could even stop himself. Everyone in the room snapped their attention to him and suddenly all that tension in the air had been magnetized to him. The thick weight of expectation to explain himself rode heavily on his shoulders and chest making it hard to breathe let alone form his frustration into some semblance of understandable words. Surprisingly it didn’t take long to figure it out.
“We’re been going over this plan for days. Memorizing entrances and exits, speaking to contacts about how this gala is going to proceed and where we’re supposed to blend in best on surrounding rooftops to avoid being seen. Everything is nearly perfect except for one small detail no one wants to talk about.” He breathed heavily, trying to control himself.
“No one asked Duchess if she was even willing to put herself on the line for this.”
That weight got just a little heavier.
“Her available mission details with Phantom Squad are… impeccable. And I’ve seen her work in the field up-close, but it’s dangerous to send her into Separatist hands less than a week after seeing them nearly torture her- one of the squad to death.” Echo could feel a stinging sensation in the back of his throat.
Kenobi’s eyes softened in that moment, looking about the room to all of the men standing there. Waiting for his word. Helpless to do anything but follow orders despite all the informality they’d been lucky enough to experience. All of the Batch present knew that their time was running out, and with both Crosshair and Duchess still so far away from what they all deemed normal, it was cutting into their patience. And more so, the protective nature they felt for both of them. This wasn’t an issue of who was the right man for the job anymore. Everyone was clear on the fact that Duchess could handle it the best, with the least amount of effort. It was her mentality that they feared for. And General Kenobi hadn’t bothered himself with experiencing first-hand what her condition was not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.
“I have sent her the mission request myself. Has she not been aware that this mission as it stands presently rests on her decision?” Kenobi asked with an eyebrow raised.
Finally Hunter found his words with a certain nervousness about them, “Not at present. She was advised by the infirmary to rest and we have not been keen on letting her worry about this until we’re certain she’s up to the task. Not just okay with accepting the responsibility.”
Kenobi gave a short of chuckle, seeming to understand just what they had been trying to get across all this time. “I have to say, that sounds very familiar. For duty to oneself can go ignored when the need of others seems more significant.”
Anakin looked to him with a accusatory expression. “You wouldn’t be talking about me would you?”
“Oh, of course not. You’ve never been the type to put yourself in unnecessary danger to save someone else… Only to end up needing saved yourself now, have you?” His somewhat sarcastic humor wasn’t the most well-timed, but it seemed that the longer they all stood there, a certain recognition had come about and now the question of Duchess’ involvement wasn’t so important anymore.
Kenobi took another glance around the room and took in a deep steadying breath through his nose. “I see that there are some decisions that need to be made. Alongside a few smaller details that need to be arranged should there be a change in planning. Either way, I must inform you that Anakin and Captain Rex’s presence today was not for posterity alone.”
“That’s right. Since Obi-Wan can’t oversee this mission through, Rex, the 501st and I will be taking lead of operations on the day of the mission.” Anakin added, trying to be as welcoming as he could.
“Given we are so… cautious, I am most regrettable about the whole situation. It seems there have been threats against a number of diplomats planning a rather long campaign of sorts. Hoping to find more allies in these challenging times. However the threats to their lives are strong enough that myself, the Marshal Commander, and a large portion of the 212th will be at their disposal for the duration of their movements.” Kenobi explained.
“Don’t worry about anything,” Anakin reassured, “I’m completely briefed, and as of today I know good and well what is at stake for all parties involved here. Besides, Naboo will be a very easy to navigate. If it’s helpful we can even leave a couple days early. I have a few connections on-world that could make the trip a lot less… hot and heavy. If you know what I mean.”
It was enough to calm Hunter down at least. Echo still wasn’t sure how he felt about it even if General Skywalker didn’t plan on barging in guns-blazing the day of. A few days on Naboo didn’t mean they wouldn’t be putting Duchess in a real pinch. But Kenobi -despite being cordial- had given his well-spoken ultimatum. It would be completely up to her. And she only had a day or two to decide given that Anakin had his wishes to leave in more than enough time. But with just enough time to give a formal goodbye to Kenobi and Cody giving a curt nod as he trailed hesitantly after him there wasn’t much room to think on the topic any longer. To Echo’s slight relief, Anakin dismissed himself as well, leaving Rex to speak to them alone without the pressure of either Jedi breaking down their necks or looking into their heads.
Rex settled his hands on his hips and stared down at the holomap for a moment.
“Well that was a shit show…”
Over to his right, Tech spoke up. “Although a ill-mannered statement, I must agree. Does General Kenobi sense something that we have not yet?”
Hunter stalked over to a chair of his own, sitting with his chest to the backrest and crossing his arms over the top. “No. He’s just nervous. But about the wrong thing.”
“What do you mean?” Wrecker chimed in.
“The General is more worried about the traitor and them being part of the Republic. No doubt keeping this low-brow isn’t easy, but no one is safe. And that’s what has him pushing this risky mission down Dutch’s throat. I don’t care for it.” Echo grumbled in answer.
“I don’t like it either,” Rex added in rather quickly. “You showed me her charts Echo. She’s lucky she can walk around well. I don’t think playing the part of a rich Separatist enjoying their spoils will be easy. Even if no one asks her to the dancefloor before the auction.” Echo simply nodded, already fully aware of the limited yet still demanding task of physically showing up to the event let alone blending in well.
“I am unsure as to Duchess’s motivation to complete the mission, but it is a fair assumption that -should she be willing- what the extent of her preparation would require?” Tech asked, reviewing what Echo could only guess were notes from the meeting.
“Well, aside from the technical information we all know she would need, I’m not exactly sure. I don’t know how often you boys get invited to upper-class galas, but I haven’t.” Rex admitted rather humorously. “That pre-mission checklist is one I sure would like to see though.”
“Your point being?” Hunter asked, raising his head away from resting on his arms to get a better look at the Captain.
Echo decided to spare his Sergeant, “When was the last time you thought about wearing high heels for an assignment, Hunter?”
Duchess had never seen a release examination before, but Crosshair’s what almost unbelievably difficult. Breathing tests, brain function performance compared to his baselines, cognition tests, reflexivity, and last but not least, an all-out stress-test. She likened the first half of it to the testing that many cadets had to pass before becoming fighter pilots. Small volts of current passing through muscles, and the nuanced information being recorded and deciphered through the machines hooked up to Crosshair. Over two hours of electrostimulation and he still didn’t seem the least bit exhausted. Duchess was at a loss for words. But the testing didn’t stop there. His last request for the test?
Dutch nearly passed out hearing that. Given everything she’d come to know about the sniper, not only would Crosshair outlast most regs out of sheer physicality, but he would purposefully use every last ounce of mental and physical strength to remind everyone judging his performance that he was better. Elite. Overengineered. Built for punishment and hungry to prove it. Kix had been genuinely kind enough to offer him the choice of water or land. And to her utter shock, her sniper chose land. Foregoing the ease on his joints and the less varying ways to further punish his body in the days following his bacta treatment. In typical, frustrating, fashion Crosshair chose to run.
Being an “officer” meant Dutch didn’t have to participate in her own trials. Someone else might’ve felt relieved. Duchess did not. It made the painful reality of Crosshair’s situation all the more painful. A life forced into wartime servitude and could be taken away just as easily. A fucking joke. A fucking tragedy a best. Worth doing something irrational a worst. Either thought process did nothing to placate her frayed nerves as she waited in an adjacent room for her sniper to reemerge. Hopefully with Kix close behind carrying good news for his results.
She had declined to be present in the room whole the test commenced. Despite Kix being more than willing to allow her in and Crosshair being silently unsettled with the idea of her being out of his sight. Duchess couldn’t deal with the visual though. Everyone had already been through enough and the more she stressed herself, the longer it would take to heal. The Batch wanted to meet with her anyways, and leaving abruptly in the middle of Cross’ test. Wouldn’t be conducive to very acceptable results. Though things would’ve been different had she been able to speak to him.
Muscles in her thighs and the arches of her feet started aching when she heard boot falls echoing from down the stark, white, hallway. Four pairs, all distinct, and a metal clang that assured her of who was approaching. When she saw the first flash of black and red paint, a sudden feeling of weakness overwhelmed her. Heavily enough that she rested her back against the wall and slid down until she sat comfortably on the floor. Maybe it was purely physical and the remaining symptoms of her sleepless, foodless, week that made her feel so tired so suddenly. Duchess felt a sneaking suspicion that have 99’s around just allowed her the opportunity to put her anxiety and fear aside for a little while. Over and over, hey proved nothing bad could happen to her when they were around… Keeping in mind she allowed them. True to that suspicion upon their first look at her, their leisurely pace quickened seeing her sitting on the floor.
“What did Kix saying about your blood sugar?” Hunter asked with a more fatherly tone than friendly. Chastising in a gentle, yet stern kind of way.
“I’m not feeling lightheaded, my hands aren’t shaking and I don’t feel the least bit dizzy either,” she explained calmly. Watching their apprehension drain into a somewhat level temperament after sensing that she was telling the truth.
“How long has he been in there?” Wrecker asked rather nervously, looking at the door like he could see through it if he stared hard enough.
Duchess knew the feeling well.
“One hour and…” she trailed looking down at her chrono. “Eighteen minutes.”
Everyone shared glances and right away Tech, Wrecker, and Echo excused themselves into the observation room Kix monitored Crosshair in. She understood totally why they were so anxious to see their brother. Since landing on Coruscant everyone -except her and Cross- were involved in the long, strenuous, painstaking, tension-filled meetings. It left no time for visits and even less space for mental anguish and worry over treatment plans or what Kix was doing to heal Crosshair. Whether Duchess liked it or not, the Batch were expected to be soldiers first and brothers second. It broke her heat and stoked a damn-near lethal fire rekindling itself in her chest.
Left behind in the hallway with Hunter, they had some time to catch up on… well, everything.
“I don’t need to tell you because I’m sure you know… But his is going to take quite a while.” Hunter stated rather abysmally.
Dutch nodded. “He really can’t stand being perceived as anything less than…” She struggled to find the right word.
The Sergeant found it for her.
“Flawless,” He smiled sadly, “He refuses to be anything short of perfection.”
“Utterly ridiculous,” Dutch grumbled back, wondering how she could even begin to tackle the task of breaking her sniper from that awful train of thought.
“It’s always been that way for him. For us, performance was top priority, but Crosshair took it much more personally.” He said, beginning to ease himself down to the floor alongside of her.
“Crosshair always stuck out as a cadet. Tall like Wrecker, but not nearly as physically intimidating on first glance. So he took a lot of punishment for being different. More than any of us really. Especially because Cross would take heat for something we did. And to make things worse, he couldn’t prove himself even if he wanted to.”
“Because you were trained separately from the regs?”
“Yes and no,” He replied cautiously. “We didn’t train with regs often, but when we did it normally didn’t change their opinion of us. With our enhancements, skill came… easier. That didn’t mean it was effortless,” He paused to catch his breath. “Crosshair wanted to be seen as an equal more than anyone. But being a biologically crafted sniper meant that even the most difficult shot wouldn’t be impressive,”
“They just expected it from him,”
“Yes. So when he got any chance to prove his worth, he would do it. Any he never grew out of it.”
Hunter looked down both ends of the hallway with a surveilling gaze. One Dutch caught onto right away. There was business he wanted to discuss. Even the Batch was excluded and she knew exactly why. They had already discussed the mission once in each other’s confidence, and Hunter had been just as hesitant to make it remotely public. All things considered, it was the smartest plan of action.
“What did the General say today?” She asked hoping to kickstart the conversation.
“One minor change, one major one. We’re supposed to lift off for Naboo in three rotations,”
“That’s hardly worth making a big deal about,” Sometimes she couldn’t help but think Hunter’s worries were worse than her own.
“Also, Skywalker and the 501st are heading the mission now,” He added, looking to her with a scrutinizing expression.
Duchess knew she should’ve felt a certain sense of apprehension about such a large change she close to mission time. But knowing that it would be Rex coming along soothed what little nerves she held. As far as her own information went, everyone aside from Hunter thought she still was unaware of the plan. Hunter and herself decided that for everyone’s benefit and safety, he would brief her as information came to him, but they would wait until the last minute to declare that she would be taking on the mission and what responsibilities came along with it.
Hunter didn’t want any information being old enough that it could fall into the lap of someone who did not have the best intentions. After all there was a traitor present, and even though Kenobi and Skywalker were doing everything right, it didn’t make them immune. For Duchess, she didn’t want Crosshair to find out yet. And Hunter was the only person who could keep that kind of information to himself as long as she needed him to. She hated keeping anything from him, but the last thing he needed to worry about was her going undercover. Every single memory she had of his feeling about her going headlong into a mission were all marked with an overwhelming sense of worry and protectiveness well-masked as anger and sarcasm. If he was going to get off Coruscant in the next two rotations, he couldn’t know what the mission was, or how deeply she was involved. Really… no one could know until absolutely necessary. It would ensure her cover was as believable as possible.
“What about the rest of the Batch? Are they still fairly convinced I don’t know anything?”
Hunter chuckled, “Yeah, I’m fairly certain. Echo practically threw a fit over Kenobi volunteering you. Tech assumes you’ll accept, but he doesn’t have enough facts to put the pieces together. Rex is good at keeping a secret, so you have nothing to worry about there,” He nudged his shoulder into her, trying to get her attention. “They’re all worried about you…”
“And I am too,” she sighed, “You need to try and calm Echo down before he does anything hasty. I’d hate to have to break the news to him just so he doesn’t go AWOL trying to save me from something I’ve already decided to do,”
Duchess tried not to let that idea get the best of her.
“But from what you’ve told me, everything should be fairly cut and dry.” She tried to calm the Sergeant down. “Blend in, listen for anything having to do with the Republic and what they’re doing to fight us, go to the weapons auction and-”
Hunter cut her off, “Don’t bid until we give you confirmation.”
“Right. No bids until I get the go-ahead, and then play it casual for a few hours until I get welcomed to the back to pick up my weapons. From there, a crew will be there to pose as my goons…” She couldn’t help but change topic for a second.
“Finally, I get my own goon squad. It’s about kriffing time,”
Hunter’s skyward turned eyes and smirk reassured her it wasn’t just personally amusing.
“But that squad will bring a cargo ship to a loading bay holding the crates, and we bring them back safe and sound,” She finished, expecting Hunter to give a satisfied nod. Only when he didn’t, she frowned. “Did I forget something?”
“No you didn’t,”
“You’re afraid getting the weapons back is all we’re going to accomplish, aren’t you?”
Hunter sighed, “It’s not that I don’t trust your ability to listen well enough. I’m just not sure we’re going to hear sensitive Separatists movements at a kriffing gala. Doesn’t that sound just a little reckless to you?”
“From my experience, people talk about things they don’t know about more than things they actually do. I would venture to say that a lot of these people know where these weapons are coming from, and who’s supplying them. They might not know a specific name, but I highly doubt there isn’t a well-placed rumor floating around,” Duchess nudged into his shoulder lightly, “Let’s just hope I look convincing enough in a budget-bought gown.”
Duchess couldn’t help but giggle at the thought of herself in some stupid dress. Make-up, hair done, and some dress she’d have never bought otherwise. Part of her was excited for the opportunity to dress up. It had been so long she couldn’t even remember wearing something other than fatigues or a dress uniform. Even to that extent, medal pinning ceremonies weren’t something that Phantom Squad attended in the first place due to their status in the army. Therefore dress uniforms typically stayed in the closet at the apartment she lived in before leaving for Kamino. Since then, they’d been in that chest on Kamino, awaiting her return for when shore leave dictated a visit back to the water-covered planet.
In the past rotation or so, she’d dreamt up a few ideas of what she might like wearing. For all intensive purposes, anything within her price range was not going to appear very extravagant. So, her musings were kept to a minimum and only brought out of the recesses of her mind when she needed something insignificant to keep her busy. A few shops she was familiar with had clothes that might suffice, but with what money she had left over -a maybe a paycheck she’d been unable to collect- there could maybe be enough to fake real money and power.
Hunter seemed to notice her deep thought.
“If I didn’t know better, I would say you looked excited for the idea of dolling yourself up for this,” A little well-humored smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth and crinkled the skin around his eye.
“I am a little, but I’m not going to get my hopes up,”
“Why is that? What’s a little fun for yourself? After all, I’d say you deserve a moment for yourself after all the kriffing trouble we’ve had,”
“The Galactic Bank of Duchess is running low. Has been since I took out that deposit I gave to you in case we needed a cushion on mission. I guess I didn’t think we’d wipe out that much of it so quickly…” She explained, not sad about where the credits had gone, but a little let down that the money needed spent in the first place.
“Don’t worry about it, Dutch. We’ll get something together in time,” He reassured lightly, “But I do have a question I’m sure you don’t want to answer yet,”
“What’s that Sargent?”
“When are you going to tell him?”
Duchess felt her chest burn with guilt in that moment. It’s was the one part of the mission she had no plan for, and no real way of easing into it gently. Crosshair wasn’t going to like it one bit, but there wasn’t any way for him to stop her once Hunter submitted the documents she had already signed three rotations prior. Her sniper fighting the order wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, but worrying him too much would be just as detrimental. That was the reason she asked Hunter to keep the details of the mission between the two of them in the first place. Crosshair needed rest. Not to fret over the nuance of her playing dress-up and acting the part of a bad guy for an evening. It was hardly the first time she’d done so. And something told her it wouldn’t be the last.
“What happens now?” she questioned.
“I talked to Rex for a moment after the meeting. Said something about getting you ready for the mission. What kind of preparation that was, I don’t know really. But I’m supposed to leave out in the next few hours and meet with him again,” Hunter informed her evenly.
“How are you going to get around disappearing from everyone?” Her curiosity got the best of her.
Hunter laughed, “Easy. Fake a headache,” He tapped his temples for a moment. “I hardly ever fake it, so they won’t question me if I say I have one,”
Duchess nodded, “What should I do? While we wait for… whatever Rex has planned?”
“Do what you do best. Take care of the man who doesn’t want anyone taking care of him,” Hunter gave her a pat on the shoulder.
“Even when he needs it.”
What is she doing?
She needs to eat again.
It’s been two hours, and I know she hasn’t done it on her own.
Where are my brothers?
Are they with her?
Echo will make sure she eats something.
Crosshair couldn’t be the least bit bothered by the electrodes sticking to his skin or the sweat dripping down the center of his back and down the sides of his face. Every inch of his body was naggingly sore, but it was nothing he refused to push through. Save for a severe ache deep in his right shoulder, everything else could be ignored. Well enough that after two hours of nonstop movement, Kix still hadn’t called off the test for worry of his health. Long enough that Crosshair was certain he could stop at any time he pleased and go back to doing what he really needed to.
She’s been quiet all day.
I don’t like it.
Ever since they’d woken up together after his treatments had ended, Duchess hadn’t been acting right. Not overly different, but enough that he could tell something was different aside from her palpable nervousness. Crosshair didn’t pretend that he knew everything about her, but he did have a confidence that it wasn’t just lingering exhaustion, anxiety, or dehydration influencing her lack of desire to talk to him. She had barely said two sentences since morning for fuck’s sake. That knowledge alone kept him running at a steady pace.
It gave him time to think; Time to think of the right thing to say.
I love you.
A headache didn’t even need to be faked for Hunter to get away easily.
Duchess was still waiting on Crosshair and the rest of the boys were getting a little bit of rest while they could, knowing that sometime soon Cross and Dutch would both need to sleep and someone else would need to watch over them. The perfect rotation for a family that knew exactly what to do when it needed done. But he needed to do his own work to make sure everything kept working out smoothly and Duchess was well prepped for this mission. Sure, it was a stressful time. He’d been in worse and handled it better. Been in easier ones and royally fucked up. It was a human response to feel this tense all the time. To miss sleep because he was thinking so much. Refuse a meal here and there to spend the time more efficiently. Overstimulate himself amongst the lights and sounds of meetings with the Generals to ensure that the mission was low-risk.
He just didn’t expect it to be so fucking difficult.
Hunter didn’t realize how hard it was becoming to keep forcing himself through the steps of a mission that shouldn’t have been so difficult. They weren’t failing. But they hadn’t completed it yet. As if someone was watching over them so closely and planning their decisions so meticulously that nothing they could do was nearly productive enough. Two steps forward and three steps back didn’t even begin to cover the feeling that boiled deep in his gut. There just wasn’t enough information slipping through the gaps for them to catch up quick enough. Hunter hated feeling useless. Especially knowing that his enhancements -brutally ingrained into him- were of completely of no use to anyone for any reason right now. No smell. No sound. Nothing. Useless. Save for the slight possibility that Rex had some Jedi Mind-Trick up his sleeve that could help them get their next foothold on an icy slope that dropped off into a deep ravine of failure.
“Sergeant, you look like you need some sleep and caf. In that order,” Rex greeted him, clapping a hand over his armored shoulder.
“Caf first. Sleep later, Rex,”
They began walking through the gates to the base and towards the closest taxi service zone marked by paint on the sidewalk.
“Well… how are they doing?”
Hunter didn’t know where to begin, or explain what was more important. “Duchess is airing on stir-crazy waiting on something to happen. Some good news, a mission, literally anything to make her feel like she’s worth the air she’d breathing. Crosshair was in exhaustion testing when I left. Someone will send a comm when he finally decides he’s had enough time,”
Rex gave him a disbelieving look, “Enough time to do what? Kill himself?”
“If I know Crosshair well enough, I’d say so he can clear his head. I don’t know exactly what is going on between them, but it’s what I would consider serious. And from what I can tell it isn’t exactly… resolved,”
Rex gave a humph of a sound through his nose. “That sounds a bit messy. You’re not concerned about it?” He posed the question with a genuine curiosity that only two unit leaders without romantic relationship experience could ask each other.
Both of them quickly got into the back of a speeder that pulled up upon seeing them waiting in a pick-up zone and Rex gave an address that Hunter was totally unfamiliar with. Hunter took the time of getting settled in the back of the vehicle to really think about that question as thoroughly as he could with the somewhat limited and unlimited experience he’d garnered about relationships, Crosshair, Duchess, being a brother, and everything else in between. It was after a few minutes of sitting there did the Sergeant come up with a response that he felt confident with.
“I wouldn’t say concerned in a negative way. I don’t think Crosshair is truly irrational. He can overact sometimes. But it’s never came to a point that I’ve felt his judgement was untrustworthy. And Duchess has one of the most level heads I’ve ever seen despite everything I know she’s been through, and everything else I don’t know about,”
Rex nodded, listened intently.
“But when those two are together, there can be these moments of miscommunication. And not a simple kind. Because both of them say exactly what they’re feeling, but it doesn’t always come out right. And that can cause tension,”
“You mean the verbiage? Or timing?” Rex interrupted politely, attempting to understand as best he could.
“Timing for sure,” he affirmed.
“What happens then?”
Hunter tried to formulate the right words, “It’s almost like they circle around an issue,” he said holding one hand out in front of him steady and circling a finger from the other hand around the former. “Just working at each other from opposite ends until they somehow, silently, decide that the issue needs addressed and that it takes both of them to either fix it, or make total sense of it,”
The Sergeant looked to Rex who had a very fond smile on his face, “Have you ever thought about marriage counselling?”
Hunter rolled his eyes and groaned, letting his head hit the headrest with a dull thud. “Honestly Rex, I thought you of all people would understand,”
“I do understand Hunter, but if you know how they work out there problems and it works for them, I wouldn’t worry about it. It would be different if they never worked anything out and let it fester like an infected cut,” Rex sympathized. “I’ve had to solve a lot of problems with shinies… 501st men… kriff, even some of my ARC’s. But none of them had the idea to work through it together like that,”
“I just don’t know how to help either one of them when things get like that. And I don’t want either of them to get hurt,” Hunter tried to reason through his own feelings, wondering how a question Rex had asked sent him into a deep-dive on his own emotions.
“So they have a cool-down? How many times have you needed one with your vode?” Rex asked with a chuckle, “Sure yours might come on a shorter time-frame due to mission duties, or other things… But when it comes to a relationship, I have a feeling that they have a much longer expiration on dealing with issues that come up. Imagine a relationship where you aren’t being controlled the entire time…”
Hunter couldn’t imagine a dynamic like that. But he did see the sense in what Rex was saying about Crosshair and Duchess. There was undoubtedly something going on that he wasn’t privy to. He had a strong feeling it had to do with… well. Feelings. An issue he wasn’t even going to think about when it came to Crosshair. There was hardly a reason for Crosshair to discuss feelings with him on a good day, especially not a bad one. And for the past week alone, there was a lot to unpack. Even for a clone who had more than their fair share of issues to deal with and not nearly enough time to sort all of it out healthily. By the time Hunter had put most of his worries and issues to rest however, the speeder had stopped and Rex was exiting out with one hand held on the door to leave it open for Hunter to follow after him.
“Where are we exactly?” He asked, looking at the nose-bleed inducing sights of high-rise buildings all around him and the equally gut-churning sight of just as much building below him as well.
“Residential living for Senatorial staff, and other Republic officials that don’t live within the campus grounds,” Rex explained, looking down at his vambrace when a small alert pinged softly.
“We’re here to see a government official? This late at night?” Hunter asked a bit tensely, finding some of his decorum as they both were ushered through the entry doors to the high rise by a well-polished and heavily greased droid that didn’t have a single millimeter of rust or stay wire within sight.
“To be vague, yes. To be specific, they’re expecting us. So there’s not worry about disturbing anyone,”
The elevator they stepped into was controlled by yet another droid with just as much painstaking maintenance as the other one. Even in the reflection of the marbled walls and bright lights embedded in the celling trim, Hunter couldn’t spot a single blemish on the gold metal.
“I know we’re expected to keep a lot of our movements low-key, but this is making me nervous Rex. What’s going on here?” He asked, turning to face the Captain’s right side. The vibroblade sitting in the sheath on his forearm beginning to feel slightly heavy with a possibility of need to defend himself. Not against Rex, but what could possibly be waiting on the other side of the elevator door.
“It’s a meeting with a Senator. I’m owed a debt, and this was my payoff for it. I knew Duchess was going to need some help when it came to getting everything in order for the mission, and there was only one person I could think of who could really ensure that Dutch looks the part,” He explained as best he could, decorously avoiding a name of this Senator.
“Dank Farrick Rex! Just tell me who-”
Before Hunter could get the rest of the demand out of his mouth, the doors opened and a warm yellow light spilled in from a large penthouse. Two people stood with open posture and a first-glance non-threatening appearance that instantly made Hunter’s bristle begin to lay down flat against his neck. It wasn’t until he saw one very familiar silhouette and one that vaguely reminded him of many times the batch and himself had sat watching Senatorial meetings on the holo.
“General Skywalker. Senator Amidala. Thank you for seeing us so late,” Rex’s voice from behind him was cordial, but easy.
Unusual for a situation that Hunter would’ve found very tense. Even now his neck felt tight, and his hands were clenched so tight that the leather between his clammy fingers were squeaking with pressure and friction. He had no idea what he was walking into. And the arm that the Senator had looped through Skywalker’s made Hunter feel like he was certainly behind on the curve in more ways than one. Even for a Sergeant who was expected to think on his feet at all times, he was really missing the back-up that his brother’s constantly provided. He needed Tech’s quick wit, Wrecker’s easy ability to make friendly conversation, and Echo’s immense talent of reading social cues and the formality of Coruscant and it’s more… refined populations. Everything Hunter felt he lacked, he was feeling it to the fullest extent at that moment.
“So this is the Sergeant I’ve been hearing so much about,” The Senator said gracefully, taking a step away from Skywalker. Her manicured and soft hand reached out towards him, “It’s a true honor to meet you Sergeant Hunter. Your service is… invaluable to the Republic and people like myself who depend on you and your brothers,”
Hunter took her had out of pure instinct, hearing her kind words but not quite feeling the full effect of them right away.
“I can assure you that I am nothing but supportive of your current situation. And I will be doing everything I can to help you in the next few days,” she added softly.
“Thank you ma’am,” He spoke back.
“Please. Call me Padmé. I consider myself nothing more than civilian, and you shouldn’t think of me as anything otherwise either,”
Duchess’ were the first pair of hands that touched Crosshair once his stress test was deemed complete. Four hours and some change was spent in that singular room. To what extent she truthfully didn’t know. She didn’t stick around to ask Kix questions -being far too concerned about getting Cross back to their barracks. But from what she heard murmured by Tech whom she’d passed by in the hallway, he’d ran steady through the entire time. Not a dead sprint by any means, but fast enough to leave his shirt utterly soaked and his skin damper than if he’d just stepped out of a shower. Her sniper felt hot to the touch -not feverish- but hot. His ribs heaved up and down under her hands, steady and deep. Most importantly one arm wound tightly around her waist and stayed there with a hand fisted into her shirt. Concreting himself to her. Instantly walking along without a word spoken to their closeness or a single mention of what anyone could say about the image before them should the pair come into sight.
Duchess felt his protectiveness and exhaustion all at once. The weight of his body lying on her enough to remind her he was there in all aspects, but not enough to make her feel a struggle to move with him. Yet his breaths were labored and droplets of sweat ran off him onto her shirt and on the top of her head. Her main thought was to get him some water. The quicker the better. She determinedly got them down the winding hallways. Doing whatever she could to avoid any prying eyes. Ignoring looks from emotionless buckets snapping in their direction and near-identical faces that shifted when pairing the two of them together. The barracks wasn’t far. By design she supposed. Thankful didn’t begin to cover her feelings as they got through the doors and Crosshair stopped for a moment.
“Shower,” He said resolutely, leaning the both of them in the appropriate direction.
Duchess didn’t waver on the order. Only moving away from him once she was certain he could lean against the sink counter where she could turn on the water in the refresher and wait for it to get reasonably warm. Over the sound of water hitting the duracrete floor, wet fabric peeling away from skin could be heard behind her. She didn’t dare turn around, simply for Crosshair’s own privacy. Putting a hand in the stream, the back of her hand felt comfortably warm and Duchess did what she could to bide her time as respectfully as possible. Even when he was comfortable, she still didn’t know how to handle herself. Whether it was right to assume they were both on the same page and to take his behavior for the new normal, or begin to try and work up the nerve to admit her feelings again in the case that he truly hadn’t been able to hear her.
It wasn’t until she heard boots thump to the floor that she knew her time was done. Planning to give him as much space as he could possibly want, she took a step back and kept her head low. A scent of salt, sweat, and Crosshair filled her senses as he brushed up against her back to slip into the open stall. A genuine sound of relief echoed softly against the walls when water first touched his skin. Pitter pattering against what Duchess pictured to be tattoos, fresh scars, and the utterly devastated muscles flexing below. Imagining his closed eyes and flexed arms reaching up to slick the heat off his head and rinse the palpable fatigue off as best he could. Duchess wished there was something she could do. A switch she could flip so that this awkwardness would evaporate. So she could be everything Cross needed without feeling hesitant.
“I’ll go grab you one of my towels,” She said softly, keeping her eyes on the toes of her boots as she spun around towards the door to the main barracks hall.
The quarrel ended before it began. Especially when a vice-like grip from his hand encircled her upper arm and the other caught a deft hold on the back beltloop of her pants. The unyielding pull to walk backwards into the stall was unavoidable and Duchess easily listened once again. Letting him guide her over the small lip that kept water from spilling onto the main floor. Patient. But nothing short of demanding. Water splattered down on her blacks and nearly had them soaked before her back hit Cross’ chest. Her boots already had a healthy level of standing water, and her best pair of socks squished uncomfortably. It would’ve been convenient for him to at least let her take her clothes off. But she assumed there was a good reason why he’d been so against the idea.
“Let me,” He murmured quietly, giving a small tug at her shirt.
“Get cold this way,” He reasoned unnecessarily, after Duchess raised her hands above her head; Going just far enough to brush her fingertips against his hair and the tips of his ears.
The shirt peeled away and hit the floor with a instantly forgotten wet slap of a sound. Crosshair reached for the button and zipper to her pants carefully, and undid them with enough patience to let her bend over to untie her waterlogged boots and pull the entire half of her ensemble off completely. He didn’t touch her or even make a comment about her… admittedly suggestive posture. It was only after she had straightened up did his cold fingertips slid back over her skin. Choosing to only begin when he knew she was ready and prepared for him. Duchess knew it was out of pure respect that he didn’t grope of get too touchy when she was in a compromising position. He liked her when she was strong, and taking advantage of the weak moments like that didn’t strike Crosshair as the right way to act. Duchess loved him for it.
He spent a long while tracing the dips and swell of her hips. Tender. Leisurely. With a trigger finger dragging just a bit heavier than the others. A bit sluggish, but Duchess knew better than to assume he was too tired to do more. He was going out of his way to be outstandingly gentle with her and she didn’t know what was happing -or why- this was what he wanted.
Duchess stayed liked that with him for what felt like a peaceful eternity. Just feeling his complex presence again in its purest form. The dichotomy of soft hands yet knowing they could create utter destruction should it be necessary. His protective posture guarding her away from the open gap in the stall, reminding herself of just how virile his strength was when directed towards someone with ill-intent. His steady breaths slowing to what she remembered best and the utter devastation she knew when that inhale and exhale were labored and pained beyond what anyone should ever experience. Crosshair held vulnerability in an beskar fist. Like he was terrified to lost control of it. Fearful of how soft he could become and what risk that would allow to infiltrate his life. Yet there he stood. Holding her close in lukewarm water with a silent plea that she not leave.
His eventual next move was to put soap in her hair. Massaging until thick lather threatened to fall down her forehead. But he gently guided her head back with one hand curled under her chin. Rinsing all the soap off and slicking the stray drops of water and bubbles away from her eyes. Tracing the other hand up and down her side. Squeezing softly when his fingertips dimpled soft flesh Duchess considered unworthy of attention. His thumb brushing over what she knew to be a thin and raised scar on her temple from where his armor had cut her so long ago. She had enough of a though to marvel at how one simple interaction had changed nearly her entire life. The fact that one mistake led her to a back to Coruscant where she stood skin to skin with a sniper that had got closer and deeper to her than anyone in the galaxy every truly had before.
It was Crosshair's kind of affection.
Not poetry or flowers. No chance of a slow dance or dinner date. Duchess couldn't care less. It was more attentive this way. No grand gestures to hide behind, or preplanned way of ensuring his affection was displayed perfectly for everyone to see. It was nothing more than the pair of them alone. In a hell of a situation at that. Yet somewhere in one man's unknowable mind, a shower for both of them was deemed of the upmost importance. He didn’t need words to show how he felt in that moment.
Duchess could feel his steady hands and a warm breath on her neck. A near imperceptible sway in his body weight moving them both from side to side like tenderly shushing an infant’s cries and fussing. Crosshair wasn’t just soothing her, but he was easing himself out of the strain and tension that had been coursing through him for over a week. Finally having the chance to reassure himself that everything could go back to normal now, and he hadn’t the need to feel so defensive of every small detail he could cling to.
Everything will be okay ner’ramser. She thought calmly.
It was the first time she’d believed it herself in weeks.
“What I need is time with her,” Padmé said with a certain tone of stress.
Anakin -sitting at her side- nodded understandingly. “I get that. We just don’t have that much time to get Duchess adjusted to the ins and outs of fashion faux-pas without abandoning the necessary steps to prepping her,” He explained.
“I doubt the she is unable to adjust, Anakin. You’re assuming that she isn’t talented in the art of a well-planned con,” Padmé chided him, standing from her place next to him on the couch to begin pacing her own living room gracefully. Hunter wondered why she felt it necessary to wear a dress with a train on it in her own home in the middle of the night.
“We need to reach some sort of agreement tonight. All of us. Otherwise we’re wasting time we don’t have. And without some sort of plan, Duchess is going to go in totally blind whereas we could’ve found a way to help her more than the Republic is willing to go,” Anakin spoke up, raising out of his own chair. Finding a path towards the windows overlooking the city’s skyline where he leaned against the wall with a pensive stare towards the Jedi Temple.
One hour had turned to two, and two had become four. Between a Senator, a Captain, a Sergeant, and a General, there was no good reason to explain why they couldn’t have found the best solution to the missing gaps and concerns facing Duchess’ looming mission. There was a question of her handling in the specific social circle at hand and whether or not she was equipped to handle the possible question of her fabricated power within that circle. The age-old worry of risk menaced just as severely. And had it not been for the Senator suggesting that as long as her clothes could conceal a weapon of some sort, they would still be stuck on that particular topic.
Rex had conveniently become their best delegate of strategy who only spoke up when there was a question of tension in the room. Working efferently as diffusing tension. Anakin was proficient at pointing out the weak points in suggestions, Padmé offered out-of-the-box suggestions that often held plausible success and Hunter remained steadfast as the gauge as to whether or not Duchess would be open to certain suggestions since she could not be there to speak for herself. For the majority of their time spent throwing around ideas and hoping one would gain traction, it seemed that the one major block was getting Duchess to the Senator for at least enough time to make sure that everything was smooth and believable to the eye.
“I have no doubt in Obi-Wan’s belief that she is ready for this kind of mission. There are nuances to which I would like to discuss with her on the very topic you are worried about,” The Senator said sternly. “I do not tolerate any threat to democracy. However I will not question the talents of a smart woman who is openly willing to do what must be done to ensure freedom. She must be given every affordance, including one to faith,”
And with that, Hunter watched as she removed a small comm device from a pocket hidden in her dress;
“Please clear my schedule for the next three rotations, and prepare for a departure from Coruscant for Naboo. I will be making a personal trip and require a few things be either rescheduled or cancelled.” She stated firm and concisely, keeping a steady gaze on Skywalker the entire time.
“Right away, Senator,” A woman with a strikingly similar voice to Padmé’s answered.
“Now. How much time do I have -exactly- before that transport leaves?” she asked, directing it to everyone and anyone in the room.
“Two rotations,” Hunter replied.
“Can she be brought to me without the rest of your unit being alerted that something unusual is happening?”
Hunter tried to answer as helpfully as possible, “I can get her to you, but I don’t know how long she can be away without suspicion being raised. That is, high enough suspicion that I can’t come up with a good enough excuse,”
Padmé thought it over for a moment, “I can manage that easily,”
“We’re still in session over how to best get her to blend in,” Anakin interjected, sounding upset that his uncertainty wasn’t being listened to.
It was at that moment Hunter saw a glimpse of mischief glint in the Senator’s eyes. And it seemed that he wasn’t the only person to notice it either. A flicker of something dangerously coy and sly. A look he imagined other Senators were terrified of when on the opposing side of it. Patient and cunning, yet explosive and dangerous all at the same time. For a split second it looked like Crosshair when he finally had a target in sight and knew exactly how his shot was going to line up. Like watching the target fall before he had even pulled the trigger. The Sergeant definitively saw a small piece of what made Anakin Skywalker and Padmé such a very unique yet impeccably matched pair. She could match his tenacity and drive.
“Captain Rex, there is a brilliant strategy I plan to employ,” She spoke, grabbing Rex’s attention after not being spoke to for a long moment.
“Pardon me, Senator. I’m unaware of it, but I would love to learn,” The blonde answered, nearly falling out of his chair he was sitting so far out on the edge of it.
“The best way to blend in, is to not blend in at all.”
Hunter looked all around the room to gauge the expressions before deciding on how he felt personally. It wasn’t what he would have considered the first move. Or even the second. After all most people needed some form of conformation to reassure others that they belonged within a group. The same reason that an outfit change on undercover missions was so very important when preparing. Hells, it was the whole reason the Senator was getting involved. But now that she had made up her mind, there was a question as to how far Padmé thought such a ruse could be stretched before it finally broke. Kenobi’s idea of her being implanted as a shadowed cornerstone of Separatist workings definitely couldn’t be backed up, let alone afforded if it came down to how many credits could be liquidated and given to Duchess in the mere case of emergency.
“How do you expect her to do that?” Hunter asked, still not decided on the idea.
Padmé smiled, “I saw her file. Rex sent it to me early this morning before we set up the meeting. I believe that the best way to avoid her becoming targeted for being different is to make sure that everyone in the galaknows she’s different. At least… for the time being. Besides, I’ve heard of her best traits is – well – how should I put this… feminine distraction. That, paired with her knowledge of the stolen goods in question, it would be almost too easy for her to simply be an ‘interested third-party’.”
Anakin pushed himself away from the wall, with his own surprise at figuring out her plan.
“You want her to waltz right in and charm everyone into thinking she’s just a Separatist sympathizer who’s got enough credits and knowledge to buy a whole armory worth of who knows what?”
“Of course. Neutral territories and governments do that all the time,” Padmé sighed. “Pose her as what she truly is in her work. A private military weapons contractor. Only, no ties to the Republic or the Separatists. They would be extremely welcoming to new credits, valued knowledge, and a beautiful woman who can appear very sympathizing towards their cause,” She explained.
Hunter looked to Rex who had caught on the back end of a very deep thought. One he came out of with a sense of understanding and a looking of plausibility that Hunter -despite his hesitation- couldn’t really disagree with. Sure, it sounded… A bit underdeveloped as a cover. But no one would suspect Duchess. Just like they had left behind evidence of chain codes because of the niche audience that would understand them, no one at the gala could believe that Duchess was one member of that small group who would comprehend what exactly all the data and possible information sitting out in the open could mean.
She could walk right in and be nothing but a guest. Sure, she could still bid on the weapons and secure them just like Kenobi wanted, but there didn’t need to be such a large ruse behind it all. No ties to Separatist government, no Republic ties either. No messy backstory or a need to explain herself more than a casual ‘I’m looking into my war-time business options’. She could be like everyone else there. Personally invested. Not politically. Essentially, Hunter knew Duchess could pull it off. All she would need to reinforce the story would be to know about the weapons being sold. And he was certain that all she would need was one good look at any of the stolen shipments and know down to the detail what they were, and how to play them to her benefit.
It seemed that everyone in the room was looking at him. In limbo for his leadership of Duchess and in-lieu opinion. Four hours of discussion and it came down to the simplest of solutions. Let Duchess go in just as she was. No data trail, no identifications to forge, just have her appear out of nowhere and win over their trust. The Sergeant had witnessed her do it time and time again without being part of a mission. With an ease that he couldn’t imagine was easily learned. It was just in her nature. Like the Gods had crafted the talent just like the Kaminoian’s had manipulated his genes. Even the most concrete-minded man Hunter knew had fallen victim to her charm. Moreso than anyone really. If Duchess could do what she did to Crosshair with genuine character; There was no telling just how much the Separatists would love to have her on their side.
He steadied himself and shifted his forearms to his thighs with a nod, “I’m confident that will work. She’ll be the first person I talk to when we get back on base,”
Everyone seemed pleased to say the least.
Padmé rubbed her hands down over her gown with thoughtful hum, “Sergeant, would you please have Duchess brought to me as soon as you can? I’ll send you with my private comm information so I can get at least a few minutes notice,”
Instant confusion hit him, “I thought we were sending her in… Like she is?”
The Senator laughed happily, walking over to rest a hand on his shoulder. “Hunter. You’re a brilliant man, I’m sure of it. But you must understand I’m not going to pass up such fun opportunity,” her grin brightened.
“Opportunity to do what?” he asked, looking up at the woman.
Not a hair out of place. Every inch of silk and satin material on her dress steamed and stitched perfectly. Padmé Amidala was truthfully the embodiment of perfection. Hunter just didn’t realize until then that it wasn’t only her personality that desired it, but her career that dictated just how often she could allow herself many of the freedoms she fought for in the Senate. Her image was one that needed to present itself as constant, trustworthy, professional. It wasn't until she spoke that Hunter realized that within her power, she had given up so much in the way of creativity and genius that he saw flowing abundantly in her.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to dress someone up like a villain.”
Taglist: @cagrame @justanothersadperson93 @[email protected]
@weirdpurppleunicorn @[email protected]
@phoenixhalliwell @discofern @liadamerondjarin @[email protected]
@bbobafettt @sir-pineapple @imabeautifulbutterfly @catbustours @punkystrangeling @lightning-wolffe @cyargent @imalovernotahater @2clones-1kamino @[email protected]
@in-the-crosshairs @kaorikoizumi @tza-345211896246498721347 @fangirl-goes-nova @marvelobsessiononastick @underatreedrinkingtea @foodandbookspleas @counterfetts @hannivanhart @leotatombs @troubleonryloth @dumfanting @jabbas-lightsaber @thefact0rygirl