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Once, a lifetime ago, Mordecai made the joke that if bisexuality meant he could only like two things, he was picking heat and birds.

He was seriously considering changing his answer.

Not the birds part, because holy fuck did he love Bloodwing with every part of his stupid, beating heart; the ‘heat’ part. Artemis, his birthplace, had been cold most of the year, the planet a touch too far from its star for most. But Pandora, and the Dead Sands in particular? Mordecai felt like he was dying.

Mordecai might actually be dying, now that he's thought about it. He's been surviving by following Bloodwing for days now; she's both smart and higher up than him, so she's his best chance of finding water and shelter. But she hasn't left his shoulder for hours now, and it's getting close to the hottest part of Pandora’s day cycle.

He came to this planet years ago looking for, well, anything, really. He was twenty-four and angry, with only a hatchling Bloodwing (won at drunken poker) to his name. He’d always cared too much, though, and somewhere along the line that bird became the most important thing is his world. He thought he’d found somewhere he- well, belonged was a stretch, but he wasn’t completely miserable.

But Bloodwing was not food, so he wasn’t going back there anytime ever.

She cooed softly into his ear, as though to pull him from his thoughts. Her feathers were fluffed to dissipate as much heat as possible, and she was panting. Mordecai himself had stopped sweating over an hour ago, so he was probably in trouble.

He tripped, and Bloodwing launched from his shoulder with a screech, the force of her takeoff fucking up his balance even worse. His knees and elbows hit the sand and he retched, head spinning. This was bad, very bad. He was vomiting water he couldn’t afford to lose, he couldn’t get his feet back under him, and he was definitely going to die here.

Talons gripped the scarf wrapped around Mordecai’s head and neck as Bloodwing pulled him up and forward. Once he’d found his footing again, she fluttered to the ground and hopped a short distance ahead, watching her master with dull eyes.

“What’re you doing, Blood?” Mordecai whispered, the taste of bile still sharp in his mouth. He staggered a few steps to catch up, but she hopped out of reach again. When it kept up like that- him catching up, her moving ahead again- he realized what was happening: she’d seen something during her short flight, and she was leading him there. “Good girl,” he rasped, leaning against the canyon wall for a moment. Bloodwing shrieked at him, but it wasn’t angry. “I’m fine, mi pollito, just hang on.” The rock made good support, and he used it to keep him steady for his next few steps. He rounded the corner and saw it.

The Town of Oasis.

He was never going to make it. A wide stretch of flat sand lay between him and Oasis; if dehydration didn’t drive him to his knees again, the sand worms would get him.

Mordecai tucked himself into the meager shade of the canyon wall and called Bloodwing to him. “You think you got one more flight in ‘ya, girl?” She trilled softly, and Mordecai wrapped his goggles around her leg. “Go get someone, huh? They may shoot me, but I’m dead either way. Go!”

She took flight, a dark silhouette against the bright sky, his goggles clutched in her talons.

Mordecai wasn’t conscious when the hovercraft found him.

The people of Oasis were some of the few good folk on Pandora. They shared what little they had with other, and extended that to Mordecai without question or hesitation. Leaving was the hardest thing he’d done in years, but she was still nearby, and she wouldn’t hesitate to hurt these people if it meant killing him.

Captain Scarlett didn’t take well to deserters.

So he took the water and the fruit they pressed into his hands and headed north through the Rustyards and into Sunken Sea.

Everyone on Pandora knew about the Vault.

Wait, that was a little too general.

Everyone on Pandora with more than three brain cells knows what a Vault was, and most of those are at least tangentially aware that Pandora has one. They seemed a distant fairy tale in Wurmwater, what with Scarlett’s crew being far too preoccupied with general survival, so Mordecai had lived on Pandora for seven years without paying the Vault and its Hunters any mind.

The other passengers on the bus were Vault Hunters. There's three, and they seemed to have accepted him as one of their own. That was enough to tell him they're from off-planet; you don't trust anyone on Pandora unless you know you're useful to them. They were less likely to kill you that way.

These Vault Hunters were gonna get themselves killed, Mordecai knew, but it didn't matter. If they were dumb enough to talk shop in a bus run by Marcus Kincaid , they probably deserved it. Who did they think sold the bandits weapons in the first place?

Mordecai’s fingertips brushed the handle of his revolver. It was likely the only gun on the planet that hadn't passed through Marcus’s hands first. He shook his head and dropped his hand back into his lap.

Fyrestone was coming up soon, and the little town was beyond Scarlett’s reach. It had to be, because Mordecai had never heard of it out in Wurmwater. The bus rattled to a stop, and Mordecai stood to leave- and so did the Vault Hunters.

“All of you, eh?” Marcus said.

Mordecai ignored him, ignored the Vault Hunter that stopped to talk with him. His eyes were on the sky, on the dark smudge in the distance that was his bird.

She was a good girl.

“Welcome to Fyrestone!” said a bright, mechanical voice. “I am CL-”

“I'm registered,” Mordecai said flatly. There had been a Claptrap unit in Oasis, and Mordecai, death a shadow clinging to him still, had forked over all the money he had to create a New-U account.

For an obscene monthly subscription, he was fucking immortal. God bless capitalism.

“Wonderful!” The Claptrap turned its attention to the Vault Hunters. “Welcome to Fyrestone! I am…”

Mordecai tuned them out, letting his eyes find Bloodwing again. She was closer now, her shape distinct enough he could tell she was carrying something.

Aw, his girl brought dinner.

“Hey! Hey, you, with the sword!” The woman from the bus jogged to his side. She squinted up at the sky. “That doesn't look like any rakk I've seen,” she murmured, hand dropping to the SMG at her hip.

“Because she's not. What do you want?”

“She? Oh, she's yours.” The woman extended a slender hand. “I'm Lilith. The idiots are Roland and Brick.”

“Hey,” Roland protested, and it had to be Roland, because there was no way the mountain next to him was anyone but Brick.

“So….” Lilith dragged the word out, awkwardly lowering her hand. “You are?”

“Shut up. Listen.” Mordecai told her. He cocked his head.

“What-” Lilith started, but Mordecai pressed his hand over her mouth. Was that…?

“Get down!” he yelled across the street to Roland, tackling Lilith in one smooth motion. He sensed more than felt a bullet pass through the space his head was a second ago as three-four-five cars launched themselves over the gate into Fyrestone proper.

Mordecai rolled, drawing his revolver as he went, aim-exhale-fire-

One of the cars exploded as a bullet struck its fuel tank.

A chilling screech sounded as his hearing cleared, and Bloodwing dove down, dropping her kill on one bandit and raking her talons across the face of another. She pulled up out of range of their guns and circled, waiting on. The car careened wildly, slammed into the rock face, and there was a second explosion.

Mordecai held out an arm and Bloodwing landed there, taking the opportunity to preen.

“Good girl,” Mordecai praised her, tucking his fingers under her feathers to scratch lightly. She clicked her beak with delight.

He saw the quiet awe on three faces of the Vault Hunters, reaffirming what he already thought: without help, they were going to die.

“I'm Mordecai,” he said, “the Hunter.”