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One

It's chance that Bodhi even hears of Erso's preference for takhal nuts. He's in line in the canteen, tired from a long flight but knowing he needs to eat before he'll be able to sleep. He has a tray sliding along the counter-edge – white plastic (the tray and the counter both) just like everything in an imperial base is white plastic – and a plate, filling up with spoonfuls of rice and bland, mass-catered stew. There's never anything much more exciting than this, since it's cheap and filling and nutritious, and it's generally palatable to most of those who go in and out.

Bodhi is grateful for it, of course, like he's grateful for everything that the Empire has given him. Food and board are part of his pay, and that's more generous than some employers would be.

But he misses the smells of home, the tastes. He supposes there probably is sidi gourd or tangaroot in this, somewhere, but if so it's been cooked down to nothing but mash and the flavor is nothing but an echo. He never goes hungry, on base, but he never feels quite satisfied, either.

Erso is two people ahead of him, serving himself just as the others do although surely he must have access to the officer's mess instead. Perhaps it's just that he's taking the chance for conversation with the woman between them; she's new enough that Bodhi doesn't recognize her, but she has a scientist's insignia on the sleeve of her uniform. It wouldn't surprise him if Erso was trying to make her feel welcome.

The woman makes a comment about the food, too soft for Bodhi to make out more than the general sentiment. Then it's Erso's voice he hears. "Yes, it's much the same here as anywhere I suppose. A universal constant." The mild humor makes Bodhi smile even as he takes a spoonful of something decidedly... brown. Small talk about the food is as common as small talk about the weather; he's found that to be much the same everywhere as well. "In my youth I was partial to takhal nuts," Erso continues, "and I've learned to find this as familiar as those once were."

Bodhi hears it without really taking it in, finishes filling his plate and goes to sit in a free place at one of the tables. He has an old story to read on his viewscreen, pre-Empire but approved by the censors so he'd been able to pull it from the data library for free. It keeps him occupied enough that he can shovel the food in without thinking about it too much, and by the time his spoon scrapes against the empty plate and he looks up again, Erso and the other scientist are gone.

-----

A week later he's on Jedha, making another cargo run. Loading up always takes a bit of time and since it's all kyber crystals these days, that part is supervised by stormtroopers and specialists. He is left with a slim carving of time for himself, most trips, to visit the temple and leave an offering – meager as it generally is – and then walk back through the market to pick up a small luxury along the way. Something familiar, something to remind him that this used to be home.

He doesn't have many credits to spend and so the choice is always a difficult one. Does he buy something hot and spicy and thick that he'll have to eat now, a burst of flavor in his mouth that leaves him with only a memory to savor until his next visit? Or does he buy a jar of pickled lemon peels, something that he can carry with him and dole out across the top of each meal for weeks, just a hint of sour to cut through the relentless blandness of canteen stew?

He's still trying to decide on today's choice when he passes the takhal nut seller. The smell of it fills this entire corner of the market, blossoming in a thick cloud. The man has three vats going at once: sugar sweet, fire spice, and fire sweet combined. It's a familiar smell, far more ingrained in his memory than canteen stew. It makes Bodhi wonder how long Erso's been on Eadu that he's come to feel otherwise.

His feet have slowed without his knowing it, and he's brought back to himself by the angry huff of those who have to move around him in the street. Here, he is just at the edge of the shadow cast by the sphere that hangs overhead.

Someone pushes past him aggressively, but Bodhi is already turning, moving quickly to slip through the traffic until he finds himself in front of the takhal nut stall. Light glimmers across the syrup that coats the two sweet vats, and he can see motes of spice in the air over the fire nuts.

They won't stay hot, of course, but they're still good even cool, and they'll keep until he's back on Eadu. Parceled out, they could last for a long time.

"How much for a bag?" he says.

The seller grunts. "Fifteen creds."

Bodhi considers. He has that much, but not a lot more. "Two bags for twenty," he says, and they haggle to two bags for twenty three credits before they're both satisfied.

He gets one sweet, one spice. When he gets back to the ship, the loading is almost done; as they put in the last few crates Bodhi allows himself three nuts from each bag, then twists the tops firmly shut and stores them away in his carryall.

-----

By the time he gets back to Eadu, the truth of what he's doing has begun to sit like a weight on his shoulders. It's strange, no doubt about that – to buy a gift for a man he barely knows.

Perhaps it is just that he still remembers his first arrival on Eadu, years ago now. The exhaustion of a long trip had left him too muddled to navigate the sprawling, mostly-unlabeled hallways of the base, and the stormtroopers supervising the offloading had been brusque to the point of rudeness. They hadn't told him where to go to log the flight, where to be assigned a berth. He'd encountered Erso by chance, wandering the halls, and Erso had offered him a smile, a sincere greeting, a few tips about the amenities on base. That moment of real kindness was the first and last that anyone here on Eadu had offered him.

Or… maybe it's for himself more than Erso. Not to return kindness as a debt but a chance to be kind. The Empire has no time for anything but efficiency and Bodhi is beginning to find that he misses home, not for the food or the music or the heat but for the people there and the intangible force that connects them. He misses the warm, open courtyard of the temple, well lit, where anyone could come to read or play games or be taught; the friendliness between the sellers at the edges of the market, sharing meals between them when business was bad; his grandmother weaving a shawl for a new widow who was facing the prospect of losing everything to pay her husband's debts; his mother cooking at the stove, always a little more than they needed, always enough to give some away though it stretched their finances to the limit. Bodhi had spent many an evening like that, sat on an upturned crate and washing the dirt from the tangaroots, handing them up so that his mother could slice them thin.

He had put all of that aside, for a time, because there were few enough jobs on planet that didn't involve farming, an endless slog in the dust and in the heat, scraping just enough to get by. Imperial work was the most sought-after, of course, and Bodhi had been marked for piloting relatively young, having good eyes and quick hands and a mind for calculations. His family and then his foster family had worked hard for him, had sacrificed so much to make sure he had all the right advantages; when the job came open, there was no question that he would take it. But it worries at him now and again, the Empire and the way it is and the way he has fitted himself into the space that he has been given.

So now he is here in the white plastic hallway of Eadu base, with two bags of takhal nuts cupped in his left hand, trying to decide what to do with them.

He will make a gift of them, he's determined that much, but how? They do not really know each other, he and Erso – only those first few minutes of kindness, only the occasional meeting of eyes and sharing of casual smiles since then. If he makes a show of it, or even simply hands them over in the canteen or in the hallway, he's fairly sure that Erso will think he's angling for something. Perhaps a promotion, a word in the ear of the cargo team leader. Perhaps just a luxury in turn, a bit of food from the officer's mess or access to better quarters. That's no reflection on Erso's capacity for gratitude – it's merely how things are, here. Bodhi would have thought the same himself.

In the end, he waits for a time when the science workrooms are empty and dark and quiet, then slips inside and leaves the bags in the top drawer of Erso's desk without even a note.

 

Two

Erso is watching him.

Bodhi knows this because he has been watching too. At first it was merely to find some sign that Erso had received his gift, that he is pleased by it, if only a little. For the two days of his mandatory rest period he sees nothing and so when he leaves for his next run, Jedha and back, he tries to put it out of his mind. His kindness is done, and that's reward in itself, or should be.

But when he returns he cannot help looking again, still. Finding reasons to glance at Erso out of the corner of his eye when they happen to be in the canteen for the same meal, lingering at the media download terminal when he catches him there. And the more he looks, the more he finds Erso's eyes on him, measuring, assessing. Bodhi keeps looking even after that; he tells himself it's because he wants to know what conclusion Erso will come to.

In retrospect, it isn't a surprise that Erso has identified Bodhi as the gift giver – he's head of the science team and almost certainly has access to the surveillance feeds for that whole quarter of the base. Perhaps Bodhi ought to be dismayed by that. But Erso's eyes on him aren't suspicious, just… careful.

Bodhi has spent the last few years working for the Empire trying hard not to draw attention. He's a solid worker, reliable and efficient but not flashy. Not the first to be given the shit missions but not the first for the exciting ones, either. Someone to take for granted. If he occasionally wishes to show off the full range of what he can do, that's understandable enough, but he's managed to overcome the urge so far.

But Erso's gaze sends little prickles across his skin that tell him that desire isn't subdued entirely. He likes being looked at, being seen. He hasn't been seen in so very long. He tells himself that in this small way it is safe enough.

On the eve of his next run to Jedha they pass each other in a hallway. Bodhi allows a himself a flickering sideways glance; Erso puts a hand on Bodhi's shoulder to stop him, looks up and down the hall as if he wants to make sure they are alone.

"Thank you," he says quietly.

Bodhi feels warmth bloom in his stomach, like the cloud of scent over the nut seller's stall. "You're welcome," he says. It might have gone no further than that, but for the way something eases in Erso's face at the simplicity of the reply, the crow's feet at the corners of his eyes softening. As if he had been bracing for a request in turn, as if kindness is as strange and necessary to him as it is to Bodhi. His hand is heavy on Bodhi's shoulder but the grip is a little off balance now, like he might want to turn it into something else. He is a beautiful man, stocky and worn and sharp-edged. Bodhi likes beautiful men.

He lifts his hand, curls his palm over Erso's fingers. "Would you like—" He leaves the rest of the sentence hanging, in part because any words he might use seem inadequate and in part because even this small touch is enough to make his skin prickle. How long has it been since he touched someone like this? Too long. Erso's hand is warm; the pupils of his eyes have flared wide and dark. Perhaps it's been a long time since he's touched someone, too.

"Yes," Erso says. "That is, if—" The implied question is clear enough; he looks uneasy asking it, but Bodhi isn't offended. It's the way things are here, normally. A trade for a trade.

"Freely offered," Bodhi says and then, slyly, "You are very beautiful."

The smile that makes its way onto Erso's face is lopsided, something almost like a grimace. As if he's unused to the way it fits his skin. It sets Bodhi's heart to racing. "Come, then," Erso says.

-----

They go to Erso's quarters without touching, merely walking down the hallways as if they happened to be moving in the same direction. The door hisses open with a touch of Erso's palm to the plate, closes again behind them. He locks it with a touch and Bodhi takes the opportunity to look around.

It is a plain room, white, with a desk and a wardrobe and a bed, a door leading to a small washroom. Bigger than the pilots' quarters but not by much, and barely more luxurious. It has the same stark white lighting. There are a few items set along the edge of the desk, carvings of abstract shapes and something with string and hanging beads that sways gently in the air. A small, intricate model of the sphere. No holos.

Bodhi turns back to Erso after this perfunctory assessment and finds the man watching him with that same measuring look. It could be merely coldness— but to Bodhi's eyes it looks more like self-protection.

He steps in close, slides his hands up over Erso's shoulders until he can curl one at the base of his neck and draw him into a kiss. Erso makes a soft noise in the back of his throat, his hands coming to rest on Bodhi's hips, tugging him closer so that he can lean back against the door and take Bodhi's full weight. Pressed close like this it's easy to kiss, soft and seeking and sweet. Erso's lips are broad and thick and lush, his mouth warm in the cool air of the room. At first he's a little tense, but Bodhi doesn't press for anything more than kisses and slowly he relaxes, letting the kiss turn hotter and deeper. Soon enough they are both loose-limbed with desire, Bodhi's lips sore from the buzz of Erso's stubble and the scrape of his teeth.

At last he turns his head aside and mouths his way across the sharp line of Erso's jaw, tasting him. It's easy to trace the shape of it with kisses, with the wet tip of his tongue and the softest hint of his teeth. Erso groans and eases his fingertips under the edge of Bodhi's jumpsuit to skin, pressing in just enough that his fingers make dimples in the small of his back. Bodhi thinks he could get off just like this, rutting himself with aching slowness against Erso's clothed thigh, only the faintest touch of skin on skin. But Erso merely tips his head back, baring his neck in what can only be a deliberate gesture. Bodhi groans and kisses down the line of his throat, into the vee of his robe and then up again in a slow, careful caress.

When he gets back up to Erso's ear he realizes suddenly that he does not remember the man's first name, if he had ever known it.

"What shall I call you?" he murmurs.

An intake of breath. "Galen."

A beautiful name for a beautiful man. "Galen," Bodhi says, and he can feel the resulting shiver against his chest.

"And I, you?" Galen says, his voice low.

There are any number of things that spring to mind, but in the end he merely says, "Bodhi," instead.

"Bodhi the rook," Galen says. He reaches up to caress Bodhi's hair with rough-edged fingers.

And now it's Bodhi's turn to shiver. He had hardly given a thought to how it would affect him, but he has not heard his given name in another's voice in years – Rook, yes, or Pilot Rook, or merely Pilot 4615. But 'Bodhi' – ah, it sounds as sweet as fig on Galen's lips.

He reaches for the tie of Galen's robe but stops short of unfastening it, just lets his hands rest there. They are two grown men and perhaps it is absurd to be so careful – but the Empire has as little time for tenderness as it does for kindness. If he could give Galen one gift of that sort, why not another? "May I?" he says.

Galen nods without speaking and Bodhi works the knot free, leans back a little so that he can push aside the two edges of the fabric. Galen's chest is broad and strong, thick with hair, and he's breathing hard enough that it makes him shake. It's a rush to think that Bodhi can be the cause of that.

He rubs his palms down over muscle, to the place where Galen's ribs stick out just a little too prominently, to the dark trail of hair leading into his trousers. It's soft under his fingers, like the bits of silk he'd sometimes seen in the market on Jedha; he'd only been able to touch them once or twice, but he can still remember the feeling. Galen moans, just barely audible.

"Come," Bodhi says.

They cross the few steps to the bed in seconds. Bodhi pushes Galen gently down onto the edge of the mattress and then goes to his knees.

"Ah—" Galen says. His eyes have gone hooded and dark. "You needn't—"

"I want to please you," Bodhi says. He finds that he wants it very much. This – not sex, but sex like this – is new to him. To both of them, he thinks. But his prick is heavy in his briefs and his face is hot and his mind is sinking down – down into the dark and the quiet, down into somewhere like the space between stars. This is something else he needs, like kindness and tenderness.

Galen nods again and Bodhi slips off his shoes, setting them aside and then removing his socks one by one. It's easy to make each touch a caress, to let his hands linger on each bit of exposed skin: toes, feet, ankles. Then up, coarse fabric under his hands to Galen's waist, unfastening the knot of his belt. Galen hitches his hips up just far enough to let Bodhi pull the fabric of trousers and breeches down and away.

The harsh white lighting of the room is undimmed and yet Galen is even more beautiful like this, nearly bare but for the robe hanging half down his arms, chest and thighs flushed under Bodhi's gaze, prick rising hard and thick from the dark hair at his groin.

Bodhi dips his head and kisses along the line of Galen's prick, using one hand to hold it steady as he works softly down and then up the underside. The taste is much as he remembers from his brief forays back during his pilot's training, bitter and salt but not unpleasant. Galen moans, the loudest noise he's made so far. He shrugs off the robe and puts his hands in Bodhi's hair, not pressing but just rubbing slow circles into his scalp as Bodhi kisses his prick, tastes it, teases the length of it with his tongue or his fingertips and sometimes both at once.

At last he parts his lips and takes it into his mouth, begins to suck in earnest. This, too, he takes slowly, a little more each time that he bobs his head – because he's long out of practice, because he wants to savor it. Time seems to slow with him, the white plastic of the room and the hum of the air vents falling away until all he is left with is the pleasure of the physical. His fingers tease the curve at the base of Galen's prick; he fills his mouth and sucks and pulls back to breathe and fills it again; the muscles of Galen's thighs flex and release; Galen's blunt fingernails scratch shuddering paths through his hair; Galen is groaning steadily, as if he has finally lost the last vestiges of his control. He is murmuring, too – Bodhi hears the words only distantly, but they burrow down into his skin, lodge themselves somewhere deep.

"You are so good," Galen says. "So good, so sweet. Ah, your mouth." He smooths back the curl of hair from Bodhi's forehead, and when Bodhi looks up he can see pink in his cheeks, the soft, parted shape of his mouth.

"Ah," Galen says, and, "Bodhi, sweet Bodhi," and, "yes, oh yes, yes" as he spills thick and hot into Bodhi's mouth.

After, Galen pulls him up onto the bed and caresses him with strong, careful hands, kisses his cheeks and mouth and eyelids, strokes over his chest and his thighs and his prick. Bodhi loses himself in these soft pleasures, and when at last it all spins up and through him he comes with a sigh, clinging to Galen's arms lest he float away entirely.

He falls asleep to Galen's hands stroking carefully through his hair.

 

Three

He stays with Galen when he's on planet, now – he accepts his billeted spot in the barracks just because it's easier not to complicate the system, but he doesn't sleep there. Instead he finds his way to Galen's quarters, lets himself in with a touch to the keyplate. (The first time, he'd raised his hand to knock and found the door opening automatically. Then he'd had to go in and sit on the edge of the bed and just breathe for a while.)

Sometimes they do no more than talk, Bodhi leant back against Galen's bare chest, skin to skin, tracing his fingertips over the curve of Galen's kneecap or the long stretch of his thigh. Anecdotes at first, tales of Bodhi's sights in the market on Jedha and on other planets before he'd been assigned to this run permanently. Galen's stories are even more varied than his own and often leave Bodhi breathless with laughter.

As they get to know each other better, other stories begin to slip in. Bodhi finds himself talking about his mother and his grandmother and his foster mother, all now long dead, the way they'd taught him all the things he needed without seeming to. As his mother cooked Bodhi washed and measured, learning mathematics, spacial relationships, the science of chemicals working together. As his grandmother wove her threads into cloth he learned patterns, iterations, shapes fitting together, the way the fabric changed color in different lights and why.

Galen, in turn, talks about farming, laying out the fields and tilling and working with his hands in the dirt. The soft rain that was nothing like Eadu's rough, ever-present downpour, the fragrant growth of green shoots and dark purple flowers before the fruit. Bodhi gets the sense that Galen wasn't alone on Lah'mu, but he never talks about who was with him, then, and Bodhi doesn't ask. Galen doesn't talk about how he'd come to be on Eadu, doesn't talk about his work now, building the sphere. Bodhi doesn't ask about those, either.

Galen's hands move restlessly over Bodhi's chest as they talk, something between a caress and an absent-minded reassurance of his presence. It feels incredibly good to be touched like this and Bodhi finds that he's hungry for it as much as he is for food.

Slowly they begin to learn each other. Galen likes Bodhi to initiate sex, likes to be offered things that he can either take or refuse. Bodhi, in turn, likes praise, to be told that he is good and sweet and that he's done well. He likes Galen's hands in his hair, fingertips tracing a long line down his throat or up the soft skin of his thighs, palms over his hipbones, his stomach, the inside of his forearms.

He likes to laugh – they both do. Not the mocking sort of laughter, not here, but laughter nonetheless. The laughter of happiness, if only for a moment.

When Bodhi is away, he buys Galen gifts from the marketplace – more nuts, dried figs, a bracelet made of woven strands, one as green as forest and the other gold like the sands of Jedha. Galen never leaves the base and in any case there is nothing he could buy that Bodhi wants, but what they have together isn't anything like unequal. Bodhi knows what everyone else thinks, because pilots are never short on talk about other people's business and even on a base as large as Eadu, these things get around. But it's easiest to let them think what they think, and anyway it doesn't matter. It isn't unequal – and even if Galen doesn't quite understand what Bodhi is getting out of it all, he at least seems to understand that it's something precious.

-----

One night Bodhi comes when darkness has fallen over Eadu. It's almost too late to disturb anyone; after logging himself in Bodhi hesitates at the door to the barracks, but something makes him turn and go to Galen's rooms instead.

He lifts his hand to the door plate and the door hisses open. Inside, the lights are still on, though Galen is sat on the end of the bed having obviously just lifted his head from his hands. His mouth turns up in a smile as he sees Bodhi, but the edges of his eyes speak of a weariness that he can't quite hide.

"You're here," he says. He pushes himself up from the bed; the movement is slower than usual, unwieldy, as if he is carrying a heavy weight across his shoulders but can't bring himself to set it aside.

And suddenly Bodhi knows that Galen does understand what Bodhi is getting from this, because he is serving something, too. Not just the Empire – they all do that, of course, because they must – but something else. Not Krennic, not Vader, not even the abstract service that people sometimes have for their work. Something bigger.

Bodhi thinks he might even know what it is. He knows it well enough not to say it.

"How was Jedha this run?" Galen asks. "Anything amusing in the market?"

Bodhi puts his hand in his pocket, touches the little bottle of oil that rests there. It's the sort of thing that is impossible to buy on-base and is therefore much sought-after by pilots whose routes take them only to other bases. On Jedha it's reasonably available, though Bodhi had needed to save up a little to get it.

He'd had ideas of what he hoped to use it for. He crosses the room instead, hearing the door hiss closed, and lifts his free hand up to smooth over Galen's face and down to his shoulders. He chooses his words carefully.

"A few things," he says. "But it's late. Will you lay it down with me? Just for a little while?" He keeps his voice light, casual enough to obscure the fact that he'd said 'lay it down' from any possible listeners.

Galen goes very still under his hands. "I—" he says, and then his flimsy facade drops away for a brief, devastating second. "Yes. Yes. Just for a little while."

Bodhi takes charge then, gently but firmly, removing Galen's robe and trousers and breeches. Galen recovers himself a little during this, but he offers no protest when Bodhi tugs back the sheet and spreads a towel from the washroom out across the bed before guiding him down to lay on his stomach. After a moment's consideration Bodhi strips off his own shirt as well, tossing it aside and then climbing up to straddle Galen's hips. He slips the bottle of oil easily onto the table beside the bed; it's a squat shape, made of reddish clay, and it looks incongruous against the vast expanse of white plastic.

Galen's hair is a soft, tousled sweep across the pillow; from here, Bodhi cannot see his face, but he can see the planes of his back, muscle and skin and bone, stretched tight. He has no experience with this sort of touch but his hands are used to finding the way. He lays them flat on Galen's shoulder blades, just where the edge of the bone curves into the hollow below, and feels him sigh out a breath.

There is a memory in this: himself, perhaps ten standard years, tall enough then to reach the countertop easily. His mother standing behind him, her hands over his, showing him how to cut the tangaroot, how to hold the knife. She had never let him do this before, lest he injure his pilot's hands, but this time was different. She pitied him, he realized; it was not like the pity she felt for the new widow, not like the pity for the beggars in the market. It was something that encompassed the both of them. If he had known what it was, he is sure he would have wept.

He shakes the memory away and pours a little oil into one palm, setting the pot aside and then warming the oil between his hands. At the first touch Galen tenses, then visibly forces himself to relax. Bodhi doesn't mention it, but he does start talking.

"The tanga plants are sprouting," he says casually. "A bit late in the season." The murmurs in the market had attributed the seasonal irregularities to the presence of the sphere overhead, but this isn't the time to mention that. "Some of the stalls at the north edge were selling shaved leaf salad. I've never liked it, though – too… green." As he speaks his hands spread oil over Galen's back, a soft caress and then easing into a firmer touch. His thumbs dig into shoulder muscles, testing where things are knotted and beginning to work them loose. "I saw Noch'uyl again, but he was still waiting on that shipment of figs. He said the preserves should be ready by my next visit."

Galen hums acknowledgment.

Bodhi presses harder, rubbing careful circles. "I saw a Chistori, which was new to me. I had to ask Kelon what species it was." His hands go up the sides of Galen's neck, nudging his hair aside. "They don't like takhal nuts, it seems, but he didn't know much else."

"Poor taste," Galen murmurs.

Bodhi laughs, his hands moving back down to Galen's shoulders. "Yes, terrible. Poliandra asked if you would teach me the song about the hajjog's daughter, if you know it. She heard about it somewhere and thought you might."

"Mmm," Galen says. "Yes, I think—" The word cracks as Bodhi uses both hands on his left shoulder, one straightening the muscle and the other pressing hard against a knot. It gives way, and Galen has to breathe hard for a long moment before he can continue. "I think I know the one she means. I'm surprised you haven't heard it."

"Perhaps I'll remember when you sing it to me. Not now." Bodhi's hair falls in a curtain around his face as he carries the massage down over Galen's arm, bicep and elbow and forearm and wrist. No obvious knots here but Galen's hand is tensing and releasing, a slow flex of fingers. Bodhi takes that hand in his and rubs the heel of the palm, the center and then each finger one by one until they go limp. Then he works his way up and across to start again on the other shoulder, getting the worst of it out and then down the other arm.

His hair tickles his nose a little; he could reach up and brush it away, but he doesn't.

When he finishes this arm it's back to the shoulder blades again, thumbs into the hollow beneath each one – this place seems more fragile somehow and so he keeps his hands gentle, working across the broad expanse of Galen's back, more caress than massage. Then down to the muscles just above his hips; there are knots here and so Bodhi presses in with the heels of his hands, a slow pressure, and then rolls the edges of his thumbs down, rocking back and forth until something twists loose.

He's run out of things to say but Galen doesn't seem to mind. Bodhi shuffles backwards so that he can work his caress down again, not lingering here but moving easily to the long stretch of his thighs. Galen's forced relaxation is beginning to ease into something like true relaxation. There is silence in the room and in Bodhi's head. They have begun to breathe in unison.

Now the backs of Galen's knees – careful here – and then to his calves which can take a little more pressure. The muscle seems stretched, as if he's been standing for too long. A few soft pinches working down the backs of his ankles. He treats Galen's feet like his hands, massaging from heel to arch to ball to toes, each one in turn. By the time he's done both left foot and right, Galen is limp in the lassitude of sleep.

The oil from his hands is almost gone now. Bodhi slides his hands up the backs of Galen's legs, twists himself sideways so that he can kneel beside him without losing the connection of the touch. He stays there for a long time just tracing patterns on skin with his fingertips. Eventually his own eyes begin to close and so he strips off his trousers one-handed, lying down and pressing his face to Galen's shoulder. He tugs the sheet up over the both of them and whistles off the light.

 

Four

Galen begins teaching Bodhi signs, shapes to make with his hands that mean letters and words and thoughts. They do it with the lights off and under the blankets, Galen's hands to his hands, molding them and then whispering their meanings into Bodhi's ear like endearments, in between actual endearments.

Bodhi groans and arches his back and breathes heavily, as if Galen's hands are on his prick, as if his fingers are splitting Bodhi open in slow increments. It isn't a difficult pantomime. Galen's hands are a beautiful thing, even to touch alone. There is the softness of his knuckles, skin slightly loose over the joints; there are the calluses on his thumbs from days of work; there is the tendon that runs down the inside of his forearm, twisting and turning as he moves; there are the thick veins that stand out across the backs of his hands, branching like rivers; there is the knob at the side of his wrist, solid and unyielding.

His fingers curve over Bodhi's, forming the spread palm that means flight, the folded thumb that starts his name, the arch of fingers like talons that means fighting and then held out for a long moment that changes it from fighting into war. Some are signs whose significance is obvious, while others seem to have no purpose at all. But he learns them nonetheless, sets them down in his memory next to the navigation codes for Eadu and Jedha, the children's teaching songs from the temple, the recipe for tangaroot stew, the intricate curved pattern of his grandmother's skirts.

There are signs for tools and plants and species names and ship models. Signs for emotions – fear and pride and shame and determination. The sign for decision, the sign for betrayal. The sign for justice. The sign for Jedha which means home. The sign for force which doesn't mean force but something else, a little bit like truth and a little bit like fate. The sign for the sphere.

There are two alphabets that he must learn from beginning to end and Bodhi knows that he will have to be prepared to say more than just what he's been taught. He might have to say things that are his own. The thought is both exhilarating and frightening. He's been in service of the Empire for years now. The six months with Galen have given him the chance to make choices but only here, only in this small part of the universe that they have carved out together. How will he know what to do when he is cut free?

(How does he know that he will be cut free? He just knows.)

They pretend it's sex but it isn't quite pretend – Bodhi thinks he could probably come just from this, hand to hand like the priests in the temple at the midwinter ritual, touching and parting and touching only to part again.

Galen teaches him the sign for 'I love you' and Bodhi signs it back to him with hand pressed against skin, keeps on signing it until Galen groans and trembles and then reaches down to stroke his prick in earnest. When Bodhi comes he turns his face for a kiss and finds that Galen's face is wet in the dark, and so he turns over and kisses him harder, reaches down between them for Galen's prick and strokes him slow and deep and thorough so that Galen can make no sound other than breath.

-----

The pace of life on the station is speeding up. Bodhi's rest periods are shortened by an hour and then six hours and then twelve hours; many of the other pilots grumble and Bodhi makes the right noises when among them but doesn't join the few who make formal complaints. Those that do complain go out on their next run and don't come back.

Galen looks more harried now and their time together usually consists of only a few stolen moments, a kiss and a desperate coming together of body and body. If they're lucky they will have time for a few murmured endearments before one of them has to straighten his clothing and go on with barely a glance back.

When their schedules do synchronize enough to give them more than an hour together it's usually at night, both of them needing sleep more than anything else. But Galen gathers him close and presses his face into Bodhi's hair and the feeling of skin on skin is enough. It's enough.

When Bodhi is on Jedha there is no time for the temple now, no time for more than the closest rows of the market. The vendors can feel things changing, too – there is less singing and less haggling and fewer people in the market overall than there used to be. People are leaving, if they can pay for a berth on a ship, or trying even if they can't. Bodhi's run is only to an imperial base and so he's in no danger of stowaways, but he knows it's a problem. Most are caught and sent to prison worlds, places of hard labor. Some of them fight and are killed in a short burst of blaster fire. Some of them, he thinks, must make it away successfully, but he has no idea how many or where they go.

There are more stormtroopers in the market, white plastic uniforms that stand in stark contrast to the warm gold of the sand. Overhead Bodhi can see the pockmarks of the sphere smoothing out, leaving only a few large circles like eyes staring down over the planet. It's beginning to look like the model on Galen's desk.

He doesn't know what will happen when it's finished.

 

Five

Bodhi is hungry and under-slept when they meet for the last time. They've not seen each other in weeks despite Bodhi's four runs from Jedha – according to gossip, the scientist team is working flat out to a deadline although no one seems to know just what the deadline is. On this run Bodhi's had only six hours of rest time; he'd spent most of them sleeping in Galen's quarters, alone. They have an agreement to be there whenever they are free, to increase the chances of actually seeing each other, but freedom is hard to come by. There is no way to make time where it hasn't already been given – it isn't even safe to try. (Hardly anything is safe, these days.)

He has only another hour at most, enough time to eat and make it for load-in but that's probably all, and so after a hasty shower he scrambles into his jumpsuit and heads for the canteen and another batch of tasteless stew. But he's only rounded the first corner when he meets Galen coming from the other direction.

Galen's expression does something complicated at the sight of him and then casual affection slips onto his face like a mask. "Bodhi!" he says.

They've spent weeks and months pretending to be nothing more than this, but that doesn't make it hurt any less. Bodhi forces an equal smile onto his own face. "I've missed you," he says. He goes to Galen's side, steps in close and kisses him with as much easy sweetness as he can muster. "I'm going out again now," he says when they part. "I wish I could stop a while with you." It's true – easiest to hide a lie in something true, after all.

"I wish you could," Galen says. He hooks the fingers of one hand into the belt loop of Bodhi's jumpsuit – the other hand curls itself into the hollow of Bodhi's right palm. It's a slightly odd position, but it's explained almost immediately when Galen's fingers twist into a familiar shape.

Are you ready? Galen signs.

Bodhi swallows hard. He hadn't thought this would come so soon. Perhaps he'd hoped, in some small part of himself, that it wouldn't happen at all. Cowardice, that, but not unexpected. Not unforgivable, if he is ready to cast it aside. If he is ready.

He lifts his face to Galen's, kisses him again to hide any nervousness that might be lingering in his expression. It's now, Galen signs. If you want justice, if you want to be proud. If you are willing to fight.

The memory comes back to Bodhi again now: his mother's hands over his hands. It had been their last night together, the last before she gave him up to safety and a better life. She'd been killed only weeks later in a raid, but his foster family didn't tell him that until he was shipping out for his first imperial job. He had tried not to think about it, but he'd never forgotten. And he'd never forgotten that last night, her hands over his hands, teaching him how to hold the knife. In the last moments they had together, she took her hands away and it was only Bodhi holding the knife.

Are you ready? Galen signs. He doesn't say, Are you ready to die for this? He doesn't say, Are you ready to die for me? They aren't at all the same thing, but the outcome won't change.

Bodhi stills Galen's hand with a touch of his thumb. I'm ready, he signs.Tell me what to do.

Galen kisses him slow and deep, and between them in their joined hands he tells Bodhi what he needs to know. Jedha, Saw Gerrera, the rebellion, the sphere, a weakness. Someone to find. Jyn, her name is, Stardust, his daughter. The sphere, death. Justice. Hope.

Bodhi closes his eyes and tries to memorize it all, the facts and the instructions and the physicality of this moment, almost certainly the last one they will ever have together. Galen's mouth is broad and desperate and aching against his own. The hand on Bodhi's waist worms its way into his back pocket to tug him closer. There is something rigid in Galen's palm, a little flat square. He drops it into the bottom of the pocket and leaves it there.

They carry on kissing until it's almost too long. "I have to go," Bodhi says. "I— it's almost time to load in."

"Of course," Galen says. It comes out even. "Perhaps on your next run we'll have more time," he offers.

"Perhaps," Bodhi says. He looks down at their joined hands – he cannot help himself. There is a threadbare bit of string hanging from the inside of Galen's sleeve, two strands intertwined, green and gold.

Trust the force, Galen signs, and I love you, and I love you.

He takes his hands away. It is only Bodhi holding the knife.

"Fly true," Galen says, and it's a kindness to both of them when he turns away.