Coruscant after dark was a mess of intersecting, tangled glowing lines, the holo-screens showing regular updates of news from the Senate or the war or other such things, the noises from the constant traffic of airspeeders provided a sort of background cacophony, a white noise lullaby. Night was a mythological construct here, on the planet where darkness was as easily warded as childhood fears with various artificial lights, but where the sun and the sky was a prized commodity, a privilege and a dream in the lower levels of the city-planet.
In the bar, their conversation was drawing to an end. Or rather, a new beginning.
“Tell me about you, Orson,” Galen had said earlier, amidst the buzzing conversations and the faint lighting. Krennic watched him—the man he loved—expression carefully betraying nothing, a thousand possible answers flitting through his mind like the glowing lines crisscrossing Coruscant. “You know so much about me, and all I know of you is that you’re someone important to the Republic now.”
In the faint artificial light, Galen could have been anyone, but he knows him too well to know that such a thing wasn’t possible. One: Krennic had always loved him, for as long as he remembered, glowing parallel lines going back so far as when they were younger. The world was a lot softer back then, although that is, of course, subjective. All things relating to human and all sentient beings were. Two: it was impossible to cut Galen out of the picture, to simply omit him and the lines he had mapped and etched in Krennic’s life and pretended that he had (never existed) never been the one who had always mattered the most.
Three: Krennic had just lied to him.
The younger man smiled, artfully leaning forward and brushed a stray lock of hair from Galen’s face with meticulous care. His answer was carefully chosen, his expression painstakingly constructed.
“What do you want to know about me?” He (echoed) asked, his blue eyes shrewd. “I've told you about my projects, past and present. I've shown you my accomplishments around Coruscant. You've visited me in my office at the Corps of Engineers' headquarters. You know what sort of work I'm doing right now, the kind of people and societies I was involved with. You know where I live. You even know all of my favourite songs,” he added, laughing, but it was with a practised air instead of raw authenticity, “what more do you want to know about me? I think you’ve got it covered, too.”
Galen flinched back momentarily, from the sudden movement, but regained his composure quickly and smiled back, holding Krennic’s gaze, his own gaze searching, wanting, discovering. Krennic could feel his heart skipping a beat liberally, knowing full well that the other man had read through his vague yet seemingly substantial answer.
“I want to know your mind again,” he said, deliberately, but amiably, reaching for his drink. There was a pause, a heavy once, and Krennic felt himself holding his breath. “How you feel and what you think about everything. I feel like you know everything about me and yet, the only thing I know about you is what you do and what you have.”
And that’s not enough, was the unspoken statement. The older man’s gaze adopted a more intense quality now, as he trained his index finger over the edge of the glass he was now nursing, and he tilted his head slightly, studying him. Krennic was familiar with the look. He had been subjected to it in certain situations, a couple of times before. It was a sign—memories of it flashing in his mind like possible routes on a nav computer—and Krennic felt himself shying away from that searching gaze, now taking on a precise, laser-like quality. Galen took a deep drag of his cigarette, blowing out a lungful before continuing, smoke drifting between them like a phantom dredged up from the past before dissolving in the controlled air of the bar. The space between his previous statement and the next could have been the void between the stars, stretching forever.
"You reminded me of a kyber crystal. There's what everyone knows about you, what those who watch you closely know, what those who worship you know and then the factual information—all good and give a general idea of what you are, but there's so much to you. You are so complex and have so many hidden secrets that only you know about. But like with the crystals, I'm determined to figure you out better than anyone else.”
He did not touch him—they remain apart, even sitting so close together, knees almost touching—but Krennic shuddered, as if Galen had just pried him open and dragged his heart—no, his soul—out for everyone to see. He stole a glance at the other man, only to find out that the deep focus and the gripping intensity was gone, replaced by his usual slightly distracted yet distantly amiable air. It was as if that Galen, the one who saw him, who truly saw who Krennic is on the inside, was not only gone but never existed, a mythical place that he caught a glimpse of and then as soon as he did, it was gone in a flash. Krennic could feel a very specific sort of disappointment bubbling up within him, and took another gulp of his drink.
“I think if we drink enough, we can imagine we have a clearer and darker night.” Galen continued, as if nothing important had just transpired between them, an invisible filament, another that binds them ever closer in the web of tangled lines they were trapped in.
Krennic tried to shook him off, tried to find solace not only in the pleasant buzz of his alcohol, but also in his own cigarette, but this time, he did not find it. Still, he took another drag, and still, he felt the oddly familiar yet strange feeling that arrived, always, after one of these impromptu readings. It always left him feeling naked and vaguely invaded, even more so than when he’s actually naked in bed with him, and there was a shock mixed in this time, too. No one has ever said that before, to him. No one has ever said that they wanted to get to know him, to unwrap the heart that he had learnt to hide so well for years. Most of the time, people just wanted something from him when they say or imply in any way that they wanted him. A favour, a little influence, something sexual, perhaps a leverage of sorts, but never...this. This is not the sort of thing that happens to him, especially not from the man he loved. Especially not after he had just lied to him and manipulated him so consciously. Krennic swallowed then, hard, and not only the drink, feeling heat rising to his cheeks.
“Galen…” He sighed, not really knowing what to say to something like that, not even sure if there’s anything to say to that. There was certainly something intimate in that, something that transcended physical touch, and he had to admit that it turns him on a little, although it mostly scares him. He doesn’t want to let him down. He doesn’t want to hurt him. And considering what Krennic had just told him during dinner about the work proposal—that Galen would be in for an energy research project for the Republic, and that it will only be used for military purposes when and if it becomes necessary, essentially—he had probably done both at the same time. He forced himself to meet the other’s gaze, sighed again when he realised that the terrifying perceptiveness had gone altogether from the older man. In a way, it was a relief, but on the other hand…
Krennic had never experienced being seen before. And if anyone could do it, Galen would be the one. Galen, who’s the only person he had—and will—ever loved. Galen, the only one who truly matters.
He smiled again, genuinely this time. There was a certain relief in all of this, a particular sort of salvation in Galen’s company. Guilt would certainly bring him down the moment Krennic gave it the time of day, but in the moment, being with him—that’s more than enough.
“If the alcohol didn’t kill us first,” he joked, finishing his cigarette and stubbed it in the ashtray on the table. “But yes. I have to say I'm inclined to agree, this once,” he quirked another slight smile at his own private joke, studying the other man, “and then, perhaps, we can have stars. Do you remember the sky over Brentaal? I remember. This one time after a party." The edge of the memory appeared like the glimpse of a planet over a viewscreen, revealing itself in all its glory after the mottled void of hyperspace, and Krennic could feel his tone softening along with his gaze. This was a treasured memory. This was something he would pull out and relieve, played again and again like one of those simulators they included in the regulation training syllabus, if only he could. “When I first kissed you.”
He did not know, as of yet, what he intended or where he wanted them to go with this, even as he felt the familiar tinge of an equally familiar yearning. Perhaps Galen’s words had encouraged him to seek more emotional intimacy. It has never been an easy matter for Krennic, and perhaps...perhaps he subconsciously hoped that since they managed to rekindle their physical intimacy the last time, and recovered their old companionship, maybe this time they could rediscover, again, the old connection that transcended both, too.
Perhaps this time, they could truly be lovers again. That was his only hope.
“I surely hope we won’t die of alcohol poisoning tonight,” Galen voiced, a touch of distant humour in his voice, before falling into comfortable silence, filled with the sound of music and the background chatter of the bar’s other patrons around them. Krennic focused himself on the moment—not on Galen, but on the moment—suddenly finding his surroundings, despite being familiar (he frequented this particular bar often, after all, and that was the reason why he chose to brought Galen here after dinner) very interesting. The closest people nearest them were two Twi’leks—one male, one female—and a human, female, and they seemed to be already immensely intoxicated and also deeply immersed in a heated, interesting discourse about the current state of galactic politics. Krennic could very much tell where it’s going, and sipped his drink slowly, savouring the amber liquid, keeping an eye on them.
Still, still, he could feel himself hanging on to Galen’s silence.
“Yes,” the other man finally acknowledged, savouring his own drink. There was no hesitance in his voice, and there was the ghost of a gentle, nostalgic smile playing on his lips, a well-remembered one from Galen’s repertoire of smiles. Krennic remembered every single one of them, kept a private catalogue of them in the archives of his mind. “I remember that night. It was my first kiss,” he admitted, his smile faintly widening in private amusement, “it was a terrible kiss. Still one of my favourite kisses.”
How he wanted to kiss that smile. How he wanted to tell him I’m sorry, I lied to you and it wasn’t the first time I did. How he wanted to lay down every mistake he’d made, every wrong he’d committed, every hurt he’d caused, on Galen’s feet, not even asking for apology, just understanding.
Just a chance to not lost that smile again. In an entire galaxy with trillions of stars and billions of stars and millions of planetary systems, that’s all that matters. That’s all that Krennic would have asked for.
“Did I ever tell you I was in love with you but I never knew you felt the same way?” Galen continued, completely oblivious to Krennic’s inner emotional turmoil. I'm not good at reading people. And you are...you. I'm always confused about why you took notice on me. When you kissed me, I felt like I made the biggest discovery in history,” he sighed, eyes clouded with memory, fingertips tracing imaginary patterns on the rim of his mostly empty glass. “I felt like…it was meant to be,” he added, and despite the faintish lighting, Krennic could see the red tinting his cheeks. “I’m not a believer of fate, but it does seem that way to me.”
“It does,” Krennic told him in response, voice barely a whisper above all the background noise. But he knows Galen heard him clearly enough. He always did. “I was in love with you, too, but I…never knew you felt the same way, too. Because I’m me,” he admitted, thinking of parallel lines, Coruscant from space, and first discoveries. The thrill of that kiss, that night, long ago. The way they discovered each other. All the gaps they filled when they were together, all the ways they were different but similar, glowing lines crisscrossing and intersecting with each other, visible from the cold perch of the stars. All the ways they completed each other, and yet, emphasised the empty spaces they already carried. It might as well happen to someone else. It might as well be a lifetime ago, an era ago, a millennia ago. Krennic bit his lower lip. “And I’ve always been confused about why you think you are not worth noticing,” or beneath my notice, he added mentally, “because I don’t know why, either, that I didn’t notice you sooner. Why our paths did not cross sooner.”
A question flitted through Galen’s expression—fast enough to be unobtrusive, but not quite enough to escape Krennic’s attention entirely—and Krennic knows exactly which part of his words left that distinct impression (bothered him, it always bothered him when Orson shows just enough of a glimpse of how much he actually valued himself), but it was quickly replaced by Galen's version of surprise. But he waited, understanding that Krennic had more to say, and for that, Krennic was grateful.
“I’m glad you felt the same,” he started, lifting his gaze slightly to meet Galen’s, before dropping it again to a relative space somewhere between his nose and jaw. "I wouldn't know what to do if you...if you didn't feel quite the same way. It means everything to me.”
In the space of that moment, he could tell that a heavy weight has been lifted off Galen’s shoulder. That was confirmation, more than anything—even more than Galen’s admission of his love, his promise to commit to Krennic, or the night they spent together—and Krennic marvelled, at least for the moment, at the profound depth of both his—well, their—ignorance and the other man’s love for him. I love you. You’ve never been merely a quick fuck. If he still had any lingering doubts left—if any—they were all extinguished now, although, knowing his own demons, they won’t stay down for long.
“It does to me, too,” Galen said, the softness of his tone matching those of Krennic’s, “I’m just…glad that you happened to be assigned to pick us up from Valtt, and to work with me here. It made it possible for us to get a second chance.”
A second chance. There was hope in there, buried once but now once more unearthed, once more uncovered, face turned towards the sun in the hopes that the light would extinguish the darkness and the fears, once and for all. A second chance. Krennic turned the words around in his mind like a prized artifact, finding bitterness and guilt seeping through him like stillborn water. The voice in the back of his mind, the demon in the dark, the vacuum between his conscious thoughts said: a second chance, for what? More lies and deception?
More omitted truths?
He felt a certain amount of weight being lifted from his shoulders, too, but unlike Galen—light did not manage to slip through his cracks.
“Do you want to know something?” He prompted, with a seriousness that was completely out of place, and a gravity of someone who was on the verge of unspooling something vital from somewhere deep within himself. It had been eating Krennic from the inside out, all of this, and Galen's admittance after admittance, the raw painful (devastating) honesty of the man he loved, and he can't bear it anymore, he had to let him know at least one. He deserves at least one grain of truth, Krennic rationalised. If he can’t have the entire tapestry, then let him have at least a thread. “I was not assigned to you. I had been looking for you,” he said, with a touch of vicious determination, shying away from the other, as if afraid of being reproached. As if afraid he would be crucified for that. “And I found you. I found you,” he affirmed, the determination still there, steel and fire, but his gaze turned pensive after a moment. He felt fear flickering inside him for a moment, a dark, baleful fire, a familiar creature. “And that’s all that matters, don’t you think? You know I don't care much about fate or the Force or whatever, but I made it work that one time. Wouldn't you agree?”
It was a half-hearted attempt, certainly, to convince the other man, and Krennic sighed, rubbing his eyes, suddenly feeling very tired. “I don't think these subject matters are appropriate for this...place. I still want to talk, very much, we do have a lot to talk about. Would you like to go somewhere more private? Or would that be too much to ask for tonight?”
He forced himself to meet Galen’s gaze, again, hoping that his own betrays nothing. Galen’s expression, this time, flickered too fast for Krennic—in his drained, fearful state—to make out, from pure surprise to something close to anger, to concern. Galen’s fingers reached out, a point of light in the suddenly darkened world, a brightly shining beacon, and Krennic flinched from his touch, as if it was the sun, and he was flying on wings of wax. Galen frowned microscopically, for a milisecond, before his fingertips touched his cheek, gently caressing him. Krennic could feel something hard in him melting away.
“Thank you, Orson.” He said, lingering for a second (a year, a decade) before withdrawing his hand, but Krennic still felt the ghost of it on his skin. He thought, if all his touches left marks—lines—on his skin, he would be covered in crisscrossing lines, a luminous tapestry of tenderness. Here is where you touched me, he wanted to tell him, and where I survived. “I never realised…I never realised how hard it must be…for you, too. I spent all these years without you thinking that you were doing just fine without me. I never thought…” He trailed off, and Krennic bit his tongue. There was one unspoken ghost sitting between them tonight. One unspoken ghost who begets another, and one unwanted issue. Galen’s eyes widened imperceptibly in sudden realisation, an epiphany. Krennic wanted to know what he thinks, how he came to whatever light illuminating his mind right now. They always wanted to know too much of each other’s minds, jealous, even, of the thoughts filling them, of the skull as a vessel. “You’re not a soldier. You’re a dreamer.”
“But what happens to the dreamer when the dream was broken?” He bit out, shaking his head. “Now you’re getting off-topic,” he said, but immediately regretted it, as a heavy cloud settled on Galen’s face. “I’m sorry,” he apologised, with considerably less difficulty than he would have thought, “I didn’t mean that. I’m…tired. Let’s go back to my place. If you want to, of course.”
Krennic didn’t say it, but he knows that the older man knows. I don’t want to be alone tonight, was the unspoken part, the monster in the middle of the labyrinth. But there was nothing sexual in his invitation this time, nothing that implies anything of the sort. That is not what he wanted tonight. Please, he thought, glancing at the other man. As if reading his mind, Galen favoured him with a slight smile, and Krennic felt momentary relief settling on his shoulders, like the faintest touch of an angel’s wing.
“I want to. I’ll stay with you tonight.”
It was the best response he could grace him with, and Krennic smiled back, fingertips touching the other’s hand. “Thank you. I have something I wanted to show you .”
“Is this what you wanted to show me?”
There was no hint of scepticism in Galen’s tone of voice, no askance in his gaze when he glanced at Krennic. In fact—although it could possibly just be Krennic’s own overactive imagination—he could hear a faint note of awe in it, like the soft sigh of an angel. He smiled, slightly, moving closer to Galen’s side.
“Yes,” he told him, a hint of stubborn playfulness creeping into this voice, “I told you, we can have stars.”
The humour wasn’t lost on the man he loved, since he smiled, too, although Krennic spotted a half-moment of uncertainty. “You did. But I thought you mean…”
“Well, this is the closest we have,” he said, making a sweeping gesture to the city-planet that was hardly sleeping, the persistent noise of the airspeeder traffic forcing him to raise his voice a little. “And besides, I wanted you to see this…for a reason.”
Galen waited, and Krennic swallowed, a little nervous, hoping that he had lit a cigarette earlier. They were now standing on the rooftop/balcony of his apartment, overlooking the city, and, above, there was a sky, strange and distant and filled with stars, although still obscured by the tall towers and dimmed by all the artificial lighting from the city-planet. However, that is not the direction they were looking. Krennic was gesturing towards the city spread out underneath them—and above, too, because they were hardly on the topmost level, although, he thought, someday he will be there—the sheer dips and contours of the buildings, the endless stream of vehicles after vehicles after vehicles, all the light, no matter how artificial it is, and, if you lean far enough, you can glimpse the eternal darkness of the lower levels, shrouded in mystery and filled with all sorts of seedy establishments. The dregs of Coruscant were an entirely different species altogether, even from all the sorts of scum and villainy that littered the galaxy like garbage.
“I hope this isn’t another object lesson,” Galen said, thoughtfully, but with the faintest hint of reproach, enough to make Krennic recoiled slightly. You don’t want to lose him, the voice in the back of his mind said, the demon in the dark, but you are losing him.
“No, no, this is nothing of that sort,” he quickly reassured him, the memory of their stop at Grange still fresh on his mind, too. That had been the right decision, of course, the first step in securing Galen’s support and eventually acquiescence to join the Special Weapons Group—although of course he doesn’t know—but tonight, he doesn’t want Galen to think of that. He stopped himself from fidgeting, laced his fingers instead on the balustrade separating them from the rest of the city and a long fall, stealing a glance at the other man before fixing his gaze to the vista in front of them. “I wanted you to see this because this is my world,” Krennic started, his own voice sounding far and strange, as strange and distant as the stars above them. “No matter where I come from or who I was. You told me…you told me that you preferred fresh air and open sky and grass, but also that you never expected me to drop all of this and leave. You were right, of course,” he leaned forward, only far enough to glimpse just the tiniest crumb of that fabled darkness, and he could feel Galen’s gaze on him, curiosity and concern blending into one. “This is my world,” he pulled himself back, turning around to lean on the railings, but tilting his head to hold the other man’s gaze. “And those were my stars.”
He laughed, then, a curious sound in this world of metal and transparisteel, machines and vehicles and artificial lights and the endless search for personal power and worth, and the truth is that he did realise how ridiculous it sounds. He was half-expecting the other to either join him in the laughter—with him or at him, even if the latter is pretty much physically impossible to Galen Erso—or turn around and leave, go back home to his wife and family.
That jolted Krennic out of his reverie. That, and Galen’s familiar calloused hands pulling him close, and the equally familiar—welcomed—feeling of his lips on Krennic’s, a gentle, searching kiss which Krennic returned with a little more passion.
“It’s beautiful,” he told Krennic, smiling that faint persistent smile of his, fingers still clutching the fabric of his shirt. “I liked your stars, Orson.”
He gulped, hands settling on the other’s waist. “I still needed to talk to you about something else.”
“What is it?”
Krennic draws back, and Galen lets him go, reluctantly. He leaned again at the balustrade, staring at the sky. For once, when he looked at it, he didn’t immediately think of the war out there, in full swing, with both parties thinking that they were in the right. A war that he had contributed to.
A war that he will help finish.
“The night before you got married,” he started, only stealing the briefest glance towards Galen, who seemed troubled already. “When we last had sex, before we went our separate ways.”
“Why didn’t you come to the wedding?” Galen cuts him off, before Krennic could continue, a harsh note slipping into his otherwise patient voice. “I was waiting for you. Lyra…Lyra said you wouldn’t come. And you proved her right that time. Why didn’t you come? Where were you?”
He was almost judgmental, a righteous indignation that Krennic recognised could only belong to the creature that he calls his wife. Krennic withdraws from the railing once more, this time turning around to look at the other fully.
“I was getting to that,” he bit out, furious at Galen for being angry at him, and furious at himself, too, for bringing up the topic. He swallowed back the automatic, cold remark—it was none of your business, wasn’t it, like it was none of mine to watch you pick her over me—and forced himself to think straight. “Lyra did say a lot of things about me, did she?” He can’t help but let that one out, though. “That does sound like the Lyra I know and love. What else did she say about me? Did she tell you that I was too jealous to come?”
“Forget about Lyra,” Galen said, frustrated, “were you too jealous to come, Orson?”
That was it. Krennic slammed his fist on the balustrade, feeling the other flinch and withdraw from his anger. He doesn’t care. He never (always, when it comes to Galen) does.
“I am, indeed,” he hissed, forcing each syllable through his teeth, as if swallowing a vibroblade, “too jealous to come. So she was right. How about that? Does that satisfy you? Is that what you wanted to hear, Galen?”
Instead of flinching again, Galen hunched his shoulders, but only momentarily, because he draws himself upright again soon after, eyes shining with a quiet sort of determination that Krennic recognised. We did know each other too well, he thought, wryly, and that will be our undoing.
“No,” he responded, quietly, but there was a force behind that, and Krennic listened, “save me your self-pity, Orson. I did not come here for that. I did not,” he continued, and, to Krennic’s surprise and marvel, he pulled him close, again, this time drawing him into an embrace, his arms enveloping Krennic’s body, tense with anger and surprise, “come here to be burned. Don’t burn me,” he added, tenderly, and Krennic could feel all the fury drained out of him, all the red-hot dust of it collecting inside him all these years (alone). “I was only trying to help you.”
There were silence and the sounds of an entire world, then, filling the space between and all around them, and above, there were stars. There were always stars. Krennic could feel himself relaxing, perceptibly, wrapping his arms around Galen, too, and burying his face on the fabric of his shirt.
“The last night we spent together,” he started, shifting his face so he could tilt it slightly, trying to look at him, “I told you I loved you. You didn’t respond. I think you must be asleep by then, from all of the alcohol. I spent all these years believing that you didn’t love me. Believing that I…wasn’t enough. And that’s why you chose her over me.”
Another silence, a thickening one, and Krennic suppressed a sob, burying his face again on Galen’s shirt. The world was quieter here, softer, simpler. There were no wars, no mobile battle stations, no Separatists. Just the two of them, with an entire city-planet laid out underneath them, stars above them.
Galen’s fingers threaded his hair, softly. Hesitatingly at first, as he always did, but then confidently, finding his way, mussing it up. “I…I spent all these years believing I’ve lost you,” he said, and Krennic could hear the pain in his voice. “All the people you’ve had after that…I believed you’ve moved on. So I tried, too. And the worst part of it is that I deserved it, Orson. After all I’ve inflicted on you,” he added, and Krennic felt him shift, slightly, his fingers clutching him tighter. “That’s the least of what I deserved.”
You don’t know half of mine, Krennic wanted to say, you don’t know what I needed to do, in order to survive.
But instead of that, he draws back slightly, hoping the other man won’t notice the slight condensation of liquid on the corner of his eyes. Galen looked positively wrecked with guilt, and Krennic felt—Krennic felt terrible. You see now? the demon in the dark screeched. All the things you do to survive. It was nothing. It was all for personal ambition.
“I never did move on,” he admitted, looking up at the other, even if Galen avoided his gaze. “You were the one and only, Galen. The only one who ever matters. The only one,” he said, slowly, never taking his gaze off the other, “I’ve ever loved. I don’t think I could love anyone else.”
“Really?” Galen muttered, although the disbelief never did quite manifest full force. “You were…you never did move on? From me? And you-“
“I loved you, yeah,” Krennic cuts him off, chuckling, “and I still do. Now can you just stop doubting me and kiss me?”
Galen quirked a smile, and, despite what Krennic said, he kissed that smile, the smile--and the man--that he fell in love with, not waiting for the other to take the initiative. He kissed him back, and Krennic never wanted to stop, lingering in the kiss, existing, fully, there.
When he finally draws back, he saw that Galen’s eyes are stars, too. It was a beautiful yet overdone comparison that would never work anywhere except perhaps in the most verbose and flowery of Alderaanian poetry, but he doesn’t really care. In the moment, the way Galen looked at him—still with the same enchanted air, still the same patient tenderness—was all that mattered in the galaxy.
“I love you too,” Galen said, and Krennic believed him.
(but he was indebted to you, the demon in the dark said, menacingly. krennic thought, a heartbeat later: he doesn't know. he doesn't know that i've lied to him. he knows me, but not enough.)