Deneb Station was alive with lights and motion, every ship in stardock running fully lit and firing its energy weapons into the darkness all around the aging, but still intact, facility. It was a celebration of survival. Everyone at Deneb knew how close they had come to getting blasted out of the stars.
And they also knew who to thank for their survival.
In the station's galley, all the best from the larder had been brought out and prepared like only spacer cooks with decades of experience could. The food was spiced within inches of explosion, the libations were flowing freely and the music was deafening. Throughout the station, no one was quiet or alone. Even the dock workers were taking a well-deserved few hours to just celebrate life. Life and the continuance thereof...
A mug of something cold and foaming lifted into the air at the heart of the galley throng. "A toast to the finest warrior drew in space!"
The response was like thunder. Three dozen men and women, all armored in one way or another, raised their drinks and shouted at the same time.
"And a toast to our ships; the fleet that would not fall!"
Again, a roar of agreement. Glasses were raised. Drinks were drained and refilled.
"And let us not forget," the commander-soldier speaking said with a wide smile, "a toast to the Archon that made this all possible!" He tipped his mug towards the man of the hour, the only 'Mandalorean' still wearing a helmet.
Behind his visor of alloys and glass, Jeht was feeling remarkably nervous. Never exactly a social creature on the best of days, all this attention was making him quite uncomfortable. Had it not been for Maya's insistence that the troops needed him here, Darrus would have already retired to a private chamber for the night.
"All hail the Silverguard and the savior they sent us!"
The reply boomed through the hall. Of all the toasts, this one echoed the loudest. "Hail! Hail! Hail!"
Darrus winced at the noise and the focused attention of everyone in the room. They were looking at him now. They were all expectant. They were calling him a savior. Part of him wanted to run. The rest of him wanted to vanish.
Instead, half at Maya's telepathic prompting, he raised his own mug and nodded quietly, hoping that would be enough for them all.
It apparently wasn't. The room went silent.
"Say something to them. Something encouraging."
He glances sideways at Maya, sitting beside him with a drink of her own. Mentally, he asked, "Like... what?"
Beneath the table, she patted him consolingly. "Let them know you are proud of the job they did. They are warriors. They want to know they fight well."
He sighed quietly and started to speak. Before he could even get the first breath past his lips, Maya cut him off quickly with another short, telepathic burst.
"Take your helmet off, silly."
Jeht cringed. "Do you really think that's a good idea? I don't exactly look normal, Maya." His pale skin and black hair would not be a serious issue but the total lack of white or color in his eyes would probably make an impression. If these people were expecting something specific, taking off his helmet was possibly the worst thing he could do.
"I will watch their emotions, Darrus. If any of them become apprehensive about the way you look, I'll let you know and we can get out of here before they react. All right?"
As they were conversing, the commander lowered his drink slightly. "Sir? Is everything all right?" Around him, people were starting to look nervous, shifting and staring at Darrus with curious eyes.
The time for discussion was clearly over. Time to act.
Darrus put his drink down and reached up to his chin, popping the respirator lines and unlocking his helmet. With a soft hiss, the faceplate split down the middle and slid back into the helm in both directions. Taking it off completely, he set it down on the table, retrieved his glass and looked up into the concerned gazes of the many people crowding the main table around him.
"I don't talk much outside combat," he started. His natural voice, barely more than a whisper, was loud enough to be heard by everyone in the suddenly silent room. "So you'll have to forgive me if this takes a moment."
Instantly, he could tell he'd said the right thing. Mentioning combat set the Mandaloreans at ease. They were obviously used to battle leaders with more savvy on the field than in the barracks. Maya reassured him quietly, confirming that suspicion. he'd disarmed the moment but he had to keep this momentum going or risk losing this goodwill.
"I have led troops into battle for years. I've seen wars fought among starts that no one has even named and killed people on planets that no one will ever remember."
All of that was true and because it had a weight of honesty behind it, the people in the galley accepted his words without question. The Clone Wars had taken through a general's journey, one that these soldiers could definitely relate with easily.
"But tonight, I saw a handful of men and women with virtually nothing take down an enemy with virtually every advantage. This night, those who opposed us are frozen among the stars while we burn in the fires of the righteous. They died. We lived. Be proud of this victory."
He paused long enough to look through his drink at the beaming faces of the Mandaloreans at the table. Even the commander was now smiling, all trace of suspicion or worry gone.
"And be proud of yourselves. Many stood as one and as one we stand triumphant now. You all salute me, but it is I who should salute you." Darrus raised his glass and downed its unknown contents in a single quaff.
"Well done, men. Well done."
The applause was louder than the roar of a thousand engines. The room exploded in cheers and activity, drinking and revelry. The commander at the other end of the table stood tall and rpoud, returning the gesture by finishing his own drink and bowing his head in deep respect.
"Darrus! That was incredible!"
He leaned against her, sighing and closing his eyes. "Maybe. But that speech was even better when Master Windu gave it after the Battle of Tirilis V."
Maya could not help but laugh into her glass, instantly frothing what was left of her drink.
She grinned up at him. "Yes, love?"
He rested his hand on her shoulder. To the rest of the room, it just appeared to be a gesture of companionship or affection. Only Maya could tell it was something else. Only she could feel that Darrus was suddenly resting more of his weight on her.
"I have no alcohol tolerance at all. Could you help me get out of here before I pass out?"
He was already swaying slightly. One drink and he was plastered. Maya had been the owner of a bar and now she was hopeless over a man with the beer stamina of a sun-addled Jawa. The irony most definitely wasn't escaping her.
But speaking of escape...
"Oh course, Darrus. Just lean against me and stay still when I stand. I'll walk you out of her and make it look like you are taking me to your chambers for some 'private celebration'."
Maya made a big show of fawning on him as she guided him through the galley. The envious looks and warm leers were all rather complimentary and nothing she hadn't dealt with before. No one here would question why Darrus was leaving so quickly. Between body language and slowly undoing his armor as they walked, she was making that pretty obvious, after all.
Besides, Maya thought to herself as they left the mess hall and the raging party behind. An inebriated Darrus was a prize in and of itself.
She'd never take advantage of him, drunk or sober, but there were a few questions she'd been meaning to ask...