Keeping a firm hold on Janson’s arm, Hobbie leaned sideways and quickly scooped up a fresh bottle of the local brew as the two pilots stumbled through the crowd. A few moments later, he spotted a small alcove facing the large plaza they were exploring and began to steer his wingmate towards it.
Janson laughed as he was tossed against a sturdy duracrete wall and Hobbie stumbled to a halt beside him. “And I thought this whole trip was going to be boring,” he wheezed. “Or full of shooting. Like the last mission with Celchu. Lot of Imps on that one.” He paused, letting his head fall back against the wall. “We had Imps.”
“Got away from them, though,” Hobbie noted, remembering the sudden panic as two cruisers suddenly flashed into view.
“Blind jumps are exciting.”
“Terrifying, I think you mean.”
“We’re fine. Made it here, didn’t we? To this place- It’s- What’s this planet’s name again?”
“Niopra,” Hobbie replied. With unsteady hands, he refilled the crude wooden mug that had been his companion for the past several hours.
“Me,” Janson insisted, thrusting his own mug forward. “More.”
Hobbie eyed the other pilot for a moment with a certain amount of skepticism. Ace pilot he might be, but Wes Janson was still weedy and gangly. Nearly twenty years old, he looked closer to sixteen or seventeen. And judging by the glassy look in his eyes and flushed cheeks, he was more than a little intoxicated.
Sudden shrill laughter broke through the air, tearing Hobbie’s attention away from Janson. Two young human women stumbled by the alcove, hands clasped tightly together as they laughed and giggled, heading determinedly towards the far end of the plaza.
Seeing Hobbie’s attention wander, Janson reached out and tipped the bottle and began refilling his mug.
“Not too much,” Hobbie said as he turned his attention back to Janson. “We leave tomorrow. Once we have, um, fuel. They’re refueling our ships.”
Snorting, Janson took a long pull from his mug. “That’s tomorrow. Flying’s easy. Drink now. Party now. Do- whatever the kriffing hell people are doing here.”
“It’s a festival,” Hobbie deadpanned. “Be festive.”
Janson threw his head back and laughed. It was easy to make him laugh, Hobbie had discovered. Easy and the sound of it had a knack for loosening the knot of worry that was his constant companion. Unaware of Hobbie’s idle musings, Janson pulled at his arm, dragging him away from the alcove.
“Come on,” Janson said with a grin. “That sounds extra festive,” he declared, jerking his head towards a large cluster of people cheering at one end of the plaza.
With a snort, Hobbie took a gulp from his mug and let himself be dragged back into the crowd.
A bright, yellow light suddenly fell across Hobbie’s face, causing him to grimace and groan, then try to roll away. Instantly, a sharp pain stabbed through his temples and a wave of nausea swept through his stomach and up his throat, leaving him flopped helplessly on his back. As he dragged a blanket over his face, trying to block out the light, he realized that his mouth was bone-dry and that he ached all over. As though he’d run a marathon the day before.
The sound came from beside him, then the bed beneath him wobbled slightly as a warm body rolled over and pressed close to his side. A face buried itself into his shoulder and he felt soft puffs of hot air on his skin from his companion’s slow, deep breaths while an arm loosely wound itself around his.
A nagging sense of responsibility began to tug at Hobbie’s mind, a vague awareness that there was something he needed to do today. But he just couldn’t get his thoughts in order enough to remember what it was. It was important though, right?
“Stop thinkin’ s’much,” a voice mumbled into his arm. “Sleepin’.”
Hobbie waited until the heat of the sunlight had faded somewhat, then reluctantly pulled the blanket off his face and set to work opening his eyes.
Finally, Hobbie got his bleary vision working again. The first thing he saw was a wide, wooden ceiling above him glowing faintly in the light of the rising sun. Blinking, he looked around and spotted several large windows with drawn curtains made from a light, unevenly woven fabric. Craning his head for a moment, he realized the bed was set underneath another large window and that there was a small gap in the curtains through which light had managed to find him.
This… was not the Redemption. Suddenly uneasy, Hobbie forced himself to look down at the warm body curled up next to him.
Brown-black hair fell across his companion’s face, obscuring everything that wasn’t pressed against Hobbie’s arm. A bare arm was hooked around his and, Hobbie suddenly realized, he could feel the warm press of flesh against his body further down. There was a sharp hip and a hairy leg, and sithspawn, a chill went up his spine as he remembered who he'd been on the mission with.
The Boss was going to kill him. Narr was going to transform into an enraged rancor and rip him to shreds for this. Then Antilles would set fire to whatever was left of him, and even Luke might deliver a kick or two just to round things out.
Janson- Wes- It was Wes now, wasn’t it? They’d jump-skipped straight to a first name basis now, hadn’t they? No more polite distance, no more ‘getting to know you’ feelers. Not if they’d done what he thought they’d done last night.
Wes was indisputably the baby of Rogue Flight. A seasoned pilot with plenty of kills under his belt or not, he and Luke were still the youngest. And Luke at least looked like he’d finished growing, whereas Wes was still an always hungry teenager with gangly limbs and a lean body that was still building the muscle and strength his broad frame hinted he’d have someday.
Luke had an eerie, almost mystic quality to him at times that belied his apparent youth. He had similar flashes of naivety and wonder that Wes had, but in other moments, he seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. His sense of duty and responsibility were so strong that he was capably serving as Antilles’s second-in-command as they carried out their various missions.
Meanwhile, Wes was just… Wes. Cheerful, almost manic sometimes. Always looking around with fascinated eyes. He was deadly in a fight, never hesitated to pull the trigger either in an X-Wing or on the ground, but there was still something almost innocent to him. Out of all of the pilots in Rogue Flight, he’d grown up the furthest from the direct touch of the Empire’s dark influence and it showed.
Well. Had shown.
Who knew what things would be like now that Hobbie may or may not have spent the night drunkenly deflowering him?
Wes had quickly proven himself popular with many of the female members of the Rebellion, but Hobbie couldn’t ever remember him paying any special attention to any of the males. Of course, Wes also hung out with Antilles more than him, so what did he know?
Well, he knew they’d both gotten drunk, more than they’d intended on that emerald brew. He could feel a distinct dried graininess on the sheets below him. And notably didn’t feel the ache of having been on the receiving end of any coupling. (Not that he’d had any interest in that since the Academy.) Which, logically, meant Wes had been the recipient of whatever enthusiasm they’d been able to work up.
Biting back a groan, Hobbie automatically raised his hand to run it through his hair- then froze.
Reddish-brown lines and patterns were wrapped around his hand, wrist, and arm. The swirling loops and spirals followed the curve of his arm, wobbled slightly around jutting bones. A memory suddenly flashed through his mind, bright and shiny and blurry at the edges. Something like a net wrapping around his limb as he clutched at Wes’s hand, the narrow strands holding them together. The cool feeling of something damp spreading across his skin as a voice said words about honor, protect, for all time. The roar of an approving crowd as Wes laughed and repeated them, then cocked his head expectantly as Hobbie did the same.
Sithspawn. They’d definitely done more than just fool around.
A knot forming in his gut, Hobbie carefully rolled onto his side so he could shake Wes awake.
The younger man let out a soft whine as Hobbie extracted his arm, then rolled over onto his stomach and buried his face in a pillow.
“Come on, wake up,” Hobbie prompted as he reached out with his tattooed hand to shake Wes’s shoulder. His voice sounded rough and hoarse, and he suddenly realized the ache in his throat was from more than just drinking all of the previous day. Face coloring slightly, he gave Wes another shake.
When a flailing hand failed to dislodge Hobbie’s persistent efforts to wake him up, Wes reluctantly peered up from the pillow and rolled onto his side, wincing slightly as he moved. Bleary eyes focused on Hobbie’s hand, following it as it awkwardly came to rest on the bed between them.
“What’s on your hand?” Wes asked in a raspy voice.
Hobbie looked down for a moment, considering. “I think we might have gotten married yesterday,” he admitted.
A thoughtful look crossed Wes’s face. He pulled his free hand up to his face, turning it over to check for matching marks. Nothing.
“Try the other one.”
With a soft sigh, Wes pushed himself up on his arm and looked down. Sure enough, similar marks decorated his right hand and arm. “Huh.” Flopping onto his back (with another small wince), he held his arm up in the air, studying the marks in fascination. “Do you think these are permanent? I mean, they’re not bad, but they’re a little more abstract than anything I would have chosen.”
“I don’t-” Shaking his head, Hobbie forced the idle question away. “Did you hear what I said? I think we-”
“Had a Canto Bight wedding,” Wes interrupted. Looking unconcerned, he shrugged. “It happens. We had been drinking.” Then, he paused for a moment before snorting. “My family tends to produce… very friendly drunks. Accidentally getting married isn’t the worst thing that could have happened.”
“What does that mean, exactly?”
“It means Mom tells stories she shouldn’t after she’s had a few. Incidentally, if Skywalker ever learns a Force Mind Wipe power, let me know? I have a few memories I’d like removed,” Wes said as he made an unhappy face. “Ugh. There are some things parents should never tell their children.”
“You’re not taking this seriously,” Hobbie retorted, his voice somewhat accusatory.
“Hobbie, we got married on a planet so small and insignificant that our charts don’t even have a name for the system, let alone its single inhabited planet. We had to talk to people to find that out. In the grand scheme of things, this is pretty minor.” Folding his arms behind his head, Wes grinned. “Besides, it could be worse.”
“I could be female and impregnatable?”
“That’s how I came to be in the galaxy.” Wes scrunched his face again. “Like I said, Mom overshares when she’s drunk. Again, Skywalker learning Force Mind Wipe powers would be amazing.”
“I’m- I don’t-”
Hobbie could feel the blood vessels pounding away in his skull. Helplessly, he collapsed back against the soft sheets and stared up at the ceiling. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but chatting about how Wes was the product of drunken shenanigans similar to what they’d done the night before hadn’t been anywhere on his scopes.
“There’s one other thing you’re overlooking.”
There was a new tone in Wes’s voice that immediately caught his attention. Before he could react, Wes suddenly heaved himself up, swinging a leg over Hobbie’s torso and coming to a rest straddling his hips. Startled, Hobbie jerked his arms up and out of the way until Wes was settled on top of him.
As knees and powerful thighs squeezed his sides, Hobbie let his hands come down to rest on Wes’s legs, tentative and light. Looming above him, Wes smirked, eyes dark and pupils clearly dilated.
“They told us yesterday when we landed that they wouldn’t be done refueling until at least midday today. That their equipment is old and they don’t have enough fuel on-site for both our ships so they’d have to bring some in.” Wes’s voice dropped to a lower register and he leaned forward, arms coming down to bracket Hobbie’s shoulders. “Which means we still have a lot of time to kill before we can leave.”
Almost unconsciously, Hobbie’s hands slid up to Wes’s bony hips and gripped tight. Hell, he thought as Wes bent down and kissed him, it isn’t like I could get in more trouble.
It was over an hour later when Hobbie finally managed to pry Wes out of bed and push him into the shower. The younger man had proven to be quite enthusiastic about their new method of passing the time and, honestly, it hadn’t taken long for Hobbie’s feeling to match his.
But they did need to start preparing to leave and rendezvous with the Redemption.
“You know, I’m pretty sure it’s traditional for newly married couples to spend most of the day after the wedding in bed,” Wes insisted as Hobbie pushed him into the shower. “Mom used to say that after she and Dad got married-”
“I absolutely do not want to hear more of your mother’s dirty stories.”
“I didn’t want to hear them either, but they’re all stuck in my head. May as well use them!” Wes let out a small yelp as Hobbie reached in and turned the water on. Once he’d found the corner of the shower stall furthest from the cold spray, he just grinned. “Suffer with me, Hobbie.”
Testing the water with his hand, Hobbie leaned against the frame of the shower door. “Are you talking about the cold water or the fact that your mother rambles about sex when she’s drunk?”
After taking a moment to consider, Wes waggled his hand in the air. “Either. Both. The point is, you should join me.”
Hobbie could only snort in reply. It wasn’t long, though, before the water had reached a tolerable temperature. Stepping into the stall, he pulled the transparent door shut behind him and stepped into the spray.
For a long moment, he just enjoyed the sensation of warm water hitting his back and sliding down his skin, standing still with his eyes closed. Sensing that Wes was staring at him, he reluctantly opened his eyes again.
“You actually look kind of happy right now,” Wes said, fascination in his voice. “This planet is good for you, I think. You usually just look kind of constipated back with the Fleet.”
“We don’t have the threat of imminent death hanging over our heads at the moment.”
“Aw, and I thought it was my scintillating company.” Grinning, Wes groped at the small shelf tucked into the corner over his shoulder and grabbed a chunky blue bar. “This smells like soap,” he said, offering it to Hobbie.
Taking the bar, Hobbie turned slightly so he could scrub at it under the water, working up a lather while hoping that the mostly human-looking population on this world meant the soap was safe for humans. Meanwhile, he cast a surreptitious look at Wes.
The man looked perfectly relaxed as he stood leaning against the tile wall, hands tucked neatly behind him. With Hobbie’s body blocking only part of the water spray now, a fine mist of water had managed to reach him, clinging to his hair and eyelashes. The beginnings of a few scattered pinkish red bruises dotted his hips and thighs, matching the ones Hobbie could feel developing on his own back and shoulders.
“So what happens after this?”
Startled, Hobbie jerked his eyes back up to Wes’s face. His posture was still calm and relaxed, but if he looked close, Hobbie realized there was a hint of tension in Wes’s face, a slight tightness around his eyes. Not quite so calm, then.
“What do you mean?”
“When we get back to the Fleet. Is it you, me, and the hyperspace ways after this?”
Hobbie blinked for a moment in confusion. Then blinked again as he ran the statement through the Wes-focused filters his brain had started developing. Oh. He was asking about…
“I hadn’t thought too much about it,” he admitted after a moment. “I guess… we can see what happens?” Hobbie frowned again as his voice trailed off.
“They do say that what happens in Canto Bight stays in Canto Bight.” Wes laughed softly, the tension in his face seeming to ease off.
“Maybe not everything.” The words slipped out before Hobbie could stop them and he could feel heat spreading across his face.
Wes’s eyes went a little wide at the unexpected reply, then a small smirk flitted across his face. His gaze flickered downwards, then he nodded slightly. “Looks like the tattoos aren’t permanent after all.”
Sure enough, the brown ink was running off his hand, the soapy water turning an odd orange color.
“That’s a shame, you probably needed that to help convince the Boss about what happened here,” Wes teased.
“What?” Hobbie demanded.
“Please. The minute you see Narra, you’ll be spilling the whole thing. You couldn’t keep a thing from him even if you wanted to.”
Determinedly scrubbing off the last bit of the brown ink, Hobbie glared. “I could, too.”
“Derek Klivian, leave something out of a report? I’d pay to see that.”
“I’ve done it before,” Hobbie shot back. “And you’ll end up telling Antilles everything over Corellian whiskey and sabacc.”
Wes gasped softly, eyes going wide in mock hurt. “Me? The man who’s pulled off some of the greatest pranks the Redemption has ever seen?”
Hobbie felt a smirk spreading across his face, a match to the one stretched across Wes’s face.
“You have something in mind?”
“Well, to be properly thematic,” Wes drawled, “I think whoever spills the truth first should have to spend a few days in one of the lovely gowns we saw in the festival plaza yesterday.”
“Assuming we can get one,” Hobbie noted.
“I’m sure we can manage.”
Wes would break first, Hobbie was certain of it. He let his tongue wag at the sabacc table and Wedge would be sure to ask after every detail of their mission. This would be easy.
Still smirking, Hobbie extended his hand, and with a short laugh, Wes reached out and shook it with his own. The brown tattoos on his hand were still intact, and the water striking their clasped hands brought back the memory of getting married in the plaza the day before.
Perhaps it was the memory of the excited crowd and the buzzing in his head, or the full body ache reminding him of how they’d celebrated after. But just as he should have been letting go, Hobbie found himself tugging Wes closer, and wrapped an arm around his waist once he was standing close.
Their lower bodies brushed together and Hobbie knew he wasn’t the only one thinking about the last several hours.
“Dear,” he said in mock greeting.
“Husband,” Wes laughed as he looped his arms around his neck.
“You’re going down,” Hobbie vowed right before kissing him.
Coming next, the Rebellion is close to moving to Hoth when the Rogues have to deal with a tricky situation - and its aftermath.
Chapter 2: 2.5 ABY
Commander Arhul Narra, Renegade One/Red Leader
Ryoo Bailo, Renegade Two
Ravra Hart, Renegade Three
Kanet Ving, Renegade Four
Tyther Mundy, Renegade Five
Kir Rebeyr, Renegade Six
Luke Skywalker, Rogue Seven
Hobbie Klivian, Rogue Eight
Tycho Celchu, Rogue Nine
Wedge Antilles, Rogue Ten
Wes Janson, Rogue Eleven
Zev Senesca, Rogue Twelve
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Wes drummed his fingers absently-mindedly on the control stick while his free hand beat out the counterpoint to the music playing in his cockpit on his leg. Force, this was boring. And not just because he’d already listened to the album a dozen times over the past several days. “Kate, any updates from the cargo ship?” he asked.
The droid tucked into the socket behind him let out a sad, almost mournful mechanical whimper as words flashed across the datascreen in front of him: The Caravel is still refueling. There has been no progress made on repairs to the malfunctioning primary fuel line.
Groaning, Wes thumped his head back against the padded headrest of his seat.
“Leader, Five,” came Mundy’s nervous voice over the comms. “How much longer are we going to be here?”
“As long as it takes, Renegade Five,” Commander Narra promptly replied. As always, the leader of Red Squadron’s voice was steady and calm. All the better to set a good example for the Renegade and Rogue Flights that made up the squadron.
“Here’s something,” Luke suddenly broke in over the comm. “I’ve been chatting with the Caravel’s main engineer and we think we may have figured out a fix for the fuel line. It’s going to take a while to get it finished, and we’ll need plan for one more stop-over to reroute more fuel. But after that, we should be good to finish the trip to Echo Base.”
Cheers erupted over the comms and Wes couldn’t suppress the sudden jolt of energy Luke’s words gave him, wriggling in his seat at the thought that they might finally, finally be done with this mission soon. “Hear that, Kate?” Wes asked gleefully. “The end may finally be in sight for this hell trip!”
The chirp that played through the cockpit speakers was considerably more cheerful. The datascreen flashed again: I have queried R2-D2 and received specifics concerning repairs to the Caravel. The mission is now projected to be complete in three hours and forty-six minutes, and the return to the Redemption in five hours, twenty-eight minutes. In total, we will be fifty-eight hours and nineteen minutes behind schedule by the end of the mission .
Sighing, Wes nodded as he read R4-K8’s message. “At this point, I’ll take it.”
The comm crackled again. “Caravel to the convoy. Sorry for the delay,” apologized the captain of the lead cargo ship. “We’ll be ready to proceed in about ten minutes. Our navigator has calculated the jump to our next, and hopefully last, stop-over point. Sending the route now.”
“No hurry, Caravel,” Narra replied. “The safety of you and your sister ships is our primary goal. Take all the time you need. We’ll proceed at your pace.”
Wes immediately thumbed his comm. “Lead, Eleven, a little hurry up on their part wouldn’t be the worst thing in the galaxy.”
“Less chatter, Eleven,” Narra retorted with some amusement.
“This is Eight. If we rush the Caravel, they might explode and take Aiol’s Talisman and the Sapphire Gate with them. And possibly all of us. I’m fine waiting.”
He shouldn’t roll his eyes at every one of Hobbie’s pessimistic thoughts, Wes had learned. His eyes would probably fall out of their sockets if he reacted every time. Thumbing his comm, Wes readied a scathing retort-
“Lead, this is Six. A Star Destroyer just dropped out of hyperspace.” The low-powered transmission added a harsh layer of distortion to Kir’s voice. “I’ve set down on the moon and reduced to minimal power. No sign of detection yet. Recommend you stay in geosynchronous orbit.”
The sudden announcement sent a chill down Wes’s spine as his breath caught in his throat. Clenching his hands tight on the yoke, he forced himself to breathe normally and glanced at his datascreen. The info Six’s astromech had transmitted to the squadron flashed quickly over the screen. The I-Class Star Destroyer appeared to be on route towards the second planet in the system from the edge of the system - and would pass close by the hidden convoy lurking behind the third planet.
Commander Narra’s voice cut through the sudden nervous chatter flooding the comm. “Caravel, how soon before you can make the jump out of the system?”
The transport’s captain quickly replied in a strained voice. “We’re putting repairs on hold and cutting off the remaining fuel transfer. We should be ready in five minutes, maybe sooner.”
“Acknowledged. Transmit once you’re ready and we’ll clear the path.”
Wes flexed his hands again as Narra growled orders to prep the convey, hoping his gloves would absorb the sweat forming on the palms of his hands. Tension was high throughout the squadron, and after spending days in their X-Wings, no one was at their best. A fight right now would probably be bloody and filled with casualties.
“This is going to be just like Maldra IV,” Mundy whimpered over the comms.
“Settle down, Five,” Narra barked. “The Imps don’t know we’re here. This was an unscheduled stop.”
“Why else would they be here? There’s nothing else in this system they could want! Just us!”
“Five, this is no time- Sithspawn! ” Narra swore vociferously as Five powered his thrusters and shot away from the convoy. “Eleven, Twelve, after him! If the Imperials detect him, we’re all in trouble.”
“Acknowledged, Lead,” Zev said, quickly cranking his X-Wing around to chase after Five.
Even as sickening dread began to fill his stomach, Wes copied the maneuver and tucked in close to his wingmate. It’s happening all over again, he realized, unconsciously starting to rock slightly in his seat, urging his X-Wing to fly faster.
“S-foils in attack position, Eleven,” Zev ordered. “Power your lasers and pray we don’t have to use them.”
We will, Wes thought bleakly, wishing time would just speed up and get this over with.
Unaware of his wingmate’s inner turmoil, Zev’s voice crackled over the comms as they followed Five’s circumnavigation of the planet. “Five, stand down! You can’t get away on your own.”
“They’ll kill us,” Five whimpered. “They slaughtered thousands at Maldra IV and didn’t care that they were refugees. If we stay here, we’ll die, just like them!”
“We’re not staying here, Five,” Zev immediately replied. “Not for long. We’ll get out of this system alive, but we have to stick together.”
As the argument began to rage, Zev pleading and coaxing, Five terrified and panicked, Wes mechanically lined up his shot. Can I do this again? he thought as the targeting reticule lit up. Shoot down another panicking squadmate? A countdown flashed onto his datascreen, marking the time left until he had to fire. It wasn’t a lot.
“Dammit, Five,” Zev finally snapped. “If you want to get yourself killed, that’s one thing. But making your own squadmates shoot you down is low.”
“Shoot me-- Zev, we can get out,” Five pleaded. “The three of us. We- we can escape-”
“You have five seconds to come about before we have to take the shot. Four seconds. Three. Two-”
Five let out a terrified wail, but banked his X-Wing, cutting his desperate bid for safety short.
DO NOT FIRE, K8 flashed onto the datascreen. Threat neutralized. Our course did not pass into the projected detection range.
“Thank the Force,” Zev sighed. “Five, set course back to the convoy. We’re getting out - all of us. Eleven, you still with us?”
Realizing his teeth were chattering, Wes clenched his jaw for a moment before replying. “I’m here, Twelve,” he choked out. “Kate says we should be in the clear.”
“Good. The Caravel and the rest of the convoy should be ready to run for the jump point once we meet back up with the others. Five, stay close.”
“We’re going to die, Twelve,” Five whispered.
“Not today, Five, not today.”
“Not today,” Wes whispered to himself. “We’re not-” His voice cut off with a sudden choke as his throat locked up.
He couldn’t stop shaking.
It seemed as though almost no time had passed when Red Squadron finally docked with the Redemption.
“Let’s never do that again,” Wedge groaned as he hoisted himself out of his cockpit.
“Is there a particular aspect of that hell mission you’d like to avoid in the future?” Celchu asked as he copied his wingmate’s actions.
“Just pick one,” Hobbie grumbled. Hissing, he stretched his arms and rotated his shoulders. Then glancing up, “Wes, you getting out?” he called up to the younger pilot.
“Out? Of the cockpit? Don’t be crazy, we live in here,” Wes called back. “We fight in our X-Wings, we sleep in them, eat in them, sh-”
“Alright, that’s enough.” Looking more than a little peeved, Zev hoisted himself up the ladder the techs had rolled into place and grabbed Wes’s arm, pulling upwards.
Wes let out a yelp as the tight grip dragged him up and out of the cockpit, his stiff legs bouncing off the control panel as Zev unceremoniously hoisted him over the side of the ship. “I was getting there,” he said in a testy voice, clutching hard at the rim of the cockpit for balance.
“You need a shower,” Zev informed him as he started climbing back down the ladder.
“Like we all don’t smell like bantha sweat!” Wes called after him. Irritation shot through him like a blaster bolt. Swinging his legs down onto the top of the ladder, he sat for a moment on the rim of his cockpit, painfully aware of the ache that had spread through his entire body over the past several hours and the sweat that had soaked through parts of his flight suit. For once, the cold air of the hangar bay actually felt comforting to his overheated body.
“Hit the showers,” Narra’s voice suddenly ordered. “Get some real food and rest. You’re off duty for the next thirty-six hours starting now. Make it count.”
Peering down, Wes saw his commander glancing around, catching as many eyes as he could before steering Mundy away and towards the exit. Wes averted his eyes from Renegade Five, suppressing a shudder. He didn’t know what was going to happen to the pilot, and frankly, he didn’t care. He just knew he couldn’t fly with him ever again. Not after-
Wes felt his brain glitching, the memory of chasing down Five, of chasing down Kissek Doran flaring hot and bright in his head. The two scenes were achingly clear, but then seemed to blur and overlap. In both, he shook as he watched the ship racing ahead of him/them while clutching at the pilot’s yoke/gunnery controls, ready to fire-
Giving himself a shake, he forced himself into motion, struggling to get his suddenly panicked breathing under control and to derail his thoughts as he hurriedly clambered down the ladder. He’d spent most of the flight to Echo Base and then to the Redemption doing his best to stuff the incident with Mundy into the sealed storage compartment in his brain labeled “Doran”. He couldn’t lose it now.
(He didn’t have Piggy to talk him out of a panic attack anymore. He couldn’t break.)
Once safely on the floor of the hanger bay, Wes hurried after his squad, eyes scanning for the other members of Rogue Flight, instinctively seeking out Hobbie’s close-cropped blond hair for reassurance. Just as he entered the locker room and caught up with the others, a groan passed from one member of Renegade and Rogue Flight to the next.
“What? What is it?” Wes demanded, trying to peer around the other, mostly taller pilots.
“The showers are broken,” Hobbie groaned, picking at his flight suit with his hand.
No, no, no- He wanted out of this flight suit, with its smell of sweat and panic and dread-
Somehow, Luke spotted him at the back of the cluster from where he was facing the pilots and pointed a finger at him, clearly assuming he was preparing to do something rash. “Do not even think about stripping down and heading back to your bunk naked,” he ordered in a firm voice. “I’ll call Laundry, ask them to make a special pick-up at all of our quarters just this once. Use the sonics near your quarters and stuff your flight suits into a- a- pillowcase or something for them.”
“Those things are tiny.” The thought of jamming himself back into such a small space made his skin crawl. Something in his tone, meanwhile, must have been off, because he got a few sideways looks.
“Look, I know this isn’t what we were hoping for after a mission like we just had, but we’ll just have to make do.” Luke looked just as tired and stressed as the rest of them. Perhaps more so. Scrubbing at his face, he looked around at the cluster of pilots. “Drop your gear off, grab your clothes, and go find the sonics.”
A small curdle of guilt coiled in his stomach at Luke’s obvious exhaustion. Biting the inside of his cheek, Wes forced himself not to fire off another remark and reluctantly trailed after the other pilots as they slowly scattered towards their individual lockers. Complaining to Luke wouldn’t get him anywhere, no matter how much his skin was itching and crawling with filth.
“You alright?” Zev asked as he started stowing his helmet and other gear in his locker. The older man was casting him wary looks over his shoulder.
“I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be fine?” Wes snapped back. The feeling of irritation and annoyance surged within him, even stronger than before. His sweat soaked flight suit was rough and heavy against his skin as he dragged off his life support gear and emergency straps. “Everything’s great.”
Before Zev could reply, he grabbed the duffle that held his change of clothes and slammed the door to his locker shut. Without looking back, he stormed out of the room.
Hobbie watched, staring frozen as Wes vanished around the sharp bend leading towards the exit. After a few heartbeats, he shifted his eyes towards Zev, who grimaced.
“I can bunk with Skywalker tonight,” Zev said. “Mind keeping an eye on Wes? He’s pretty wound up about something.”
“Me? You’re his wingmate.”
“He likes you more.” Shrugging, Zev turned back to his locker.
As a blush spread across his cheeks, Hobbie hurriedly finished stowing his gear in his locker and grabbed his bag. There were days he wondered if Zev knew about Niopra somehow, if Wes had accidentally alluded to it while jabbering at his wingmate.
He trusted Wes enough to believe that he’d fess up if he’d lost the bet they’d made on the small colony. Or at least, he trusted him to look guilty if he’d let slip the truth about their accidental “marriage”. A marriage that wouldn’t even be recognized on any other planet.
No, it was much more likely that Zev was thinking more that he and Wes tended to socialize together in their off hours, and had done so more and more since Niopra. That Wes managed to drag him into all sorts of hijinks all over the ship, within their squadron, and during their rare opportunities for leave. And that Hobbie, in turn, had managed to help the enthusiastic teenager stabilize some as he hit his early twenties, slowly growing a bit less manic and impulsive, and becoming somewhat more thoughtful and measured in his actions.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Hobbie promised as he closed his locker. Zev offered him a distracted wave and Hobbie took that as his cue to leave.
Fortunately, it didn’t take too long to make his way to Wes and Zev’s quarters. The regular crew passing him in the hallways and sharing turbolifts were rather notably giving him a wide berth. The sooner he got into the shower, the better.
Wes and Zev’s quarters were identical to the ones Hobbie shared with Luke and were, in fact, just a few doors further down the hallway. Palming the door controls, Hobbie slipped into the room and glanced around, confirming Wes was likely already in the showers.
The quarters the squadron had been allotted were little more than converted closets. Beds were bolted to one wall in bunk bed fashion, one on top of the other. Small storage niches had been carved into the wall near the head of the beds with ports for recharging datapads and comlinks, as well as a bedside chrono. There was room for a storage crate underneath the lower bunk for storing the personal belongings of both pilots and a small fold-down desk facing the beds.
The rooms were miserably small, overall. But since pilots spent so much time in their snubfighters, the Redemption hadn’t seen fit to afford them larger, more permanent quarters. And really, with all the training and recreation facilities on board, they only used the rooms for two things: sleeping and, well, the other way Wes and Hobbie spent some of their time together when they could slip away unnoticed.
Sighing softly to himself, Hobbie balanced against the wall while he awkwardly undid the laces of his boots and dropped them onto the floor. Then, hoping Wes had remembered to take something with him to the showers to stuff his dirty clothes into, he hitched his bag higher onto his shoulder and left for the refreshers.
The shared ‘freshers were relatively empty and Hobbie immediately spotted Wes’s spare clothes and a partially filled pillowcase sitting on the bench standing in front of two of the shower units.
Dropping his bag on the bench next to Wes’s, Hobbie started to strip, pausing here and there to stuff dirty garments into the pillowcase as he peeled the stiff, stained items off. “Hey, Wes?” he called out as he dragged off his undershirt.
There was a brief pause. “Yeah?” answered a muffled voice.
“Zev wanted to go over something with Luke. Mind if I crash with you tonight?”
Just as Hobbie was shoving his last few pieces of clothing into the pillowcase, Wes’s voice spoke up again.
“Did Zev mention what he wanted to talk about?”
There was an odd note in Wes’s voice, too vague for Hobbie to put his finger on exactly. Gnawing on his lip for a moment, Hobbie glanced around the quiet ‘fresher, then sighed before reaching out to hit the door controls. This wouldn’t be as comfortable as the shower on Niopra, but they’d squeezed into the Redemption’s sonics together before. It was doable, just… cozy.
Inside the tall metal tube, Wes blinked, startled, then automatically backed up when Hobbie stepped into the shower. Once the door slid shut behind him, the shower released another spray of soapy water, barely enough to coat Hobbie’s entire body, and started up the sonics once more.
While high-frequency, low amplitude sound waves began to vibrate the liquid mixture and cleanse almost a full week’s worth of sweat and grime off his body, Hobbie gave Wes a thoughtful look before answering.
“I think it was something to do with Echo Base,” he finally replied. Knowing Zev, that would come up anyways once he and Luke had settled in for the evening. A trader to the core, Zev was always thinking about goods and supply lines, all things they were still establishing for the new base. And the last thing he wanted to do right now was make Wes feel like he was being singled out. He’d clam up completely, locking away whatever was clearly bothering him.
Even now, Wes stood with his shoulders hunched and his arms folded across his chest, elbows pressed tight to his sides in the cramped space. His fingers were drumming a rapid staccato on his arm as he fidgeted, shifting his weight from side to side in the narrow tube. And while there wasn’t a single pilot from Red Squadron who didn’t have dark circles under their eyes, Wes’s were especially pronounced.
In the dim light in the tube, Hobbie could see Wes’s eyes flickering as he processed the vague excuse Hobbie had offered. Suddenly inhaling sharply, he nodded, a quick, jerky gesture. “That makes sense,” he agreed.
Some of the worry on Wes’s face seemed to ease off, but the fidgeting and constant motion didn’t stop.
“Are you all right?” Hobbie asked, peering closer at him. “You’re twitching worse than a glit-biter on Hoth.”
Fire erupted in Wes’s eyes as his temper lashed out. “I’m fine! Why does everyone keep asking me that?!”
The Wes-focused portions of Hobbie’s brain sounded an alarm. Without any hesitation, he stepped forward, closing the centimeters wide gap between their bodies, and enfolded Wes in his arms. Wes had a breaking point, Hobbie had learned, where words stopped helping and more direct action was needed.
As Hobbie shoved Wes against the back of the tube, Wes’s hands, pinned between their bodies, flailed, his fingers arching and digging into Hobbie’s chest. He bucked, trying to shake the other man off, but Hobbie held firm - barely. Wes had filled out a lot over the last two years, almost looking his proper age of twenty-one, and it wouldn’t be long before he was finally strong enough to overpower him. For now, though, Hobbie still had an edge over him.
Hobbie pressed harder against Wes, forcing his back to arch slightly over the arms Hobbie still had wrapped around him. Wes bucked again, twisting his hips and trying to drop his shoulder to shove Hobbie back, but he couldn’t get any leverage.
Or rather, Wes couldn’t get any leverage that didn’t require actually hurting Hobbie or tapping out like they’d been trained to do when practicing hand-to-hand. After the first time Wes had worked himself into this state, Hobbie had insisted afterwards on discussing the matter. The conversation had been more than a little embarrassing, but they’d settled on some ground rules so neither of them got hurt on these rare occasions when Wes just needed someone to hold him down and let him rage. And tapping out was a easy, yet straightforward way to signal when something had gone wrong.
Finally, after a few more moments of struggle, Wes went still, practically vibrating with tension. Then, just as abruptly as he’d erupted, he sagged, head drooping forward to rest on Hobbie’s shoulder while his body went slack. Suddenly, instead of holding him in place, Hobbie was the only thing holding him upright.
They stood still for several long moments, long enough for the sonics to finish their work and jets of cool air to suddenly start blowing, drying off the remaining moisture and making them both shiver.
Hobbie didn’t move even when the jets clicked off. He could still feel minute tremors running through Wes’s body and he doubted they had anything to do with the temperature of the air around them.
Finally, he pulled his head back slightly. “Wes?” he asked in a soft voice.
When the other pilot raised his head, he simply looked tired. “I just-” he broke off for a moment, gaze briefly shifting away. “I just need to stop thinking for a while. Can you- we-” He broke off again, biting his lip.
Loosening his grip slightly, Hobbie searched Wes’s face. What he was looking for, though, he wasn’t sure. “Are you sure that will help?”
It was a relief to see Wes consider it, to truly ponder Hobbie’s question. Because Hobbie didn’t want to take advantage of the younger man or make things worse. Wes was too important to him to do that.
Finally, though, Wes nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think it will. It’s- there’s too much in my head right now and I just need it all to stop for a while.”
Taking a deep breath, Hobbie noted that Wes’s tremors had stopped. His heart rate was slowing and the flare of anger from earlier had faded away. He did seem to be doing better. “Alright, then,” he replied. “But not here. And you go to sleep afterwards and get some real rest.”
“Okay.” Wes grinned faintly, looking relieved. Leaning forward, he suddenly pressed his lips against Hobbie’s and flattened a hand against his chest.
“Hey, I said-”
“I know, I know.”
Shaking his head, Hobbie backed up to the door of the shower, untangling himself from Wes. As his hand hovered for a moment over the door controls, he spared a moment to pray no one would be lurking outside.
Luck was on his side for once, and while several of the shower units were now occupied, no one was standing around outside them. And a glance at the belongings piled outside the units strongly suggested that none of the other bathers were pilots, which was even better.
Wes climbed out of the shower after him and they dressed, luxuriating in the feeling of clean clothes against their skin. Suddenly full of energy, Wes seized the stuffed pillowcase and his duffle, swinging both over his shoulder. And when he strode out the door, bare feet quiet on the metal floor, Hobbie was right behind him.
As the Laundry droid left the small room, Wes let his head fall back onto his pillow. The droid didn’t care that the room’s organic inhabitants were crammed together on the top bunk and probably wouldn’t even make a note of it in its memory banks.
Which was for the better. Hobbie was still feeling shy and protective about… whatever it was that was going on between them. It was strange all the different things that made Hobbie clam up, Wes thought to himself as his fingers idly traced the invisible line that marked the end of his friend’s arm and the beginning of the prosthetic. Hobbie had no trouble flirting with women (even if he was terrible at it) and could negotiate terms with a professional companion without any sign of embarrassment.
But this? For whatever reason, Hobbie was oddly protective of it and didn’t want anyone else to know. For a moment, Wes wondered if it was because of something to do with himself. But that didn’t feel right, so it had to be something else. It could just be that they existed in a wide, gray space, more than just friends, but far too aware of the risk of death to label themselves lovers. Married, but only on a planet so insignificant even the Empire hadn’t taken notice of them. No, he and Hobbie were somewhere in between all of that. And keeping the others out did prevent them from trying to put labels on it.
Oh well. Taking a deep breath, Wes shut his eyes and tried to let his overtired mind drift to sleep. It was a tight fit up on the top bunk, narrow, cramped, and neither of them had been able to sit up all the way without banging their heads on the ceiling. But they’d made do. And despite Hobbie’s insistence that Wes go to sleep after they’d finished, he’d been the one to drop off right after. Which also meant Wes was still basically pinned underneath the lanky pilot, a thin sheen of sweat forming where Wes’s back was pressed against Hobbie’s narrow chest.
He’d spent most of the week trying to sleep sitting upright in an X-Wing. He could manage a few hours with Hobbie’s bony knees digging into him.
His nerves were still thrumming a bit from his earlier outburst, causing his stomach to twinge occasionally, and promising the return of some bad dreams he’d thought he’d finally left behind him. But Hobbie’s presence helped. He was solid and warm, and would help him figure out what was real and what wasn’t later on. Even as he dreamed about having to shoot down his friends one by one, he knew Hobbie would eventually twitch, kick him, or jab an elbow in his side as he slept. And then he’d remember that the nightmares were just that - terrors made up by his malfunctioning brain thanks to the horrendous events of the last mission.
It wouldn’t be good sleep, but it would be sleep. And with a little more distance between him and everything that had happened, he’d be able to be himself again - a pilot, a prankster, and a loyal Rebel soldier. Everything he needed to be to keep going.
And besides, he thought as he stretched out as best he could. If he woke up early enough, he could probably get Hobbie worked up for Round Two the next morning. Some well placed teasing about feeling like a neglected spouse…
As Wes finally drifted off to sleep, there was a small smile on his face.
Coming up, in the months following the evacuation from Hoth, the Rogues get an easy mission escorting a negotiator to the agri-world Taanab.
Chapter 3: 3.5 ABY - Part 1
Author’s note: This chapter includes some minor descriptions of self-harm. Didn’t realize this would be a thing in this until I was writing it. Story tags have been updated.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Wes threw a cheerful wave as the two Green Squadron pilots left the briefing room, weaving past the pilots of Rogue Squadron filtering into the circular space. As Wedge stepped down to the holoprojector in the center of the room, Wes nudged Hobbie’s side and grinned. “They’re totally into us.”
Snorting, Hobbie shook his head. “They want those recordings you have. You’re the one trying to add yourself into the mix.” There was a momentary pause. “How did you get those, anyways?”
“I have connections.”
“Connections that have studio recordings of Iridium Dream ’s last album? No one has those. The Empire locked those down decades ago.”
Steepling his hands, Wes propped his feet up on the back of he seat in front of him. His expression was filled with mischief. “If the Empire didn’t want people to pay attention to bands like Iridium Dream , they shouldn’t have started arresting artists and locking them up right and left during the early years. That’s literally the only reason a niche heavy isotope group could end up being famous all over the galaxy.”
“You’re avoiding the question.”
Instead of directly answering, Wes simply smirked. “Everyone has connections. Wedge has smuggler people, some folks have information people. I have music people. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Tycho, dropping into the seat in front of them, paused long enough to bat Wes’s feet off the back of the chair with a stern look.
A hurt expression crossed Wes’s face, but before he could comment the room’s pressure seal activated, causing everyone’s ears to pop.
Standing next to the holoprojector and the room controls, Wedge cleared his throat, calling their attention. “Alright, Rogues. We have a last minute mission ahead of us, but, Force willing, it should be fairly straightforward for once.”
“And now you’ve jinxed us,” Tetry sighed from her seat on the first row. Folding her long legs under her chair, Rogue Four planted her elbows on the armrests and waited expectantly.
Amused, Wedge said, “We’ll see. The mission is of high importance to the Fleet and will take us to the Inner Rim. No one’s expecting trouble, but we’re going to be on hand just in case.” He reached over and tapped the holoprojector controls. A planet appeared in the air over the projector. As it slowly rotated, large green landmasses and long waterways drifted into view. Wedge glanced up, grinning slightly when he saw Wes perk up in his seat.
“Negotiators from the Rebel Alliance have been in discussions with representatives of the Keillor Cooperative on Taanab for food supplies. We’re not currently low, but it never hurts to secure new supply lines. We’ll be accompanying the negotiator for the final round of talks on the freighter ship Bright Walker. There should be just enough room for our X-Wings and a shipment from the Cooperative on the freighter - hopefully, the first of many.”
“What kind of Imperial forces should we expect?” Tetry asked.
“At last count, there’s a single Corellian-made gunship and an Imperial Starcutter that occasionally does customs inspections. There’s also only a single garrison on the surface itself. Overall, the Empire has never worried too much about Taanab and only assigned these two ships there fairly recently.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Wes said. Folding his arms, he cocked his head to one side. “The Empire’s never cared what happened as long as its corporate partners were happy. And it took some random smuggler dealing with the Norulac Pirate pests a little while ago to make them feel like they needed to save some face by assigning actual Navy ships for planetary defense.”
“You sound well informed,” Tarn commented from nearby.
Wes grinned at the other pilot. “It’s my home planet. And let’s just say my parents aren’t fans of the Empire. I get all the local gossip whenever I get mail from them.”
Tycho turned slightly in his seat, hooking an arm over the back. “And the Keillor Cooperative?”
“That’s all the farms that aren’t on the equator or part of the big agricultural conglomerates. My parents are in it. And like them, most of the members prefer to avoid Imperial interference.” Threading his fingers together, Wes propped his hands behind his head. “Any chance I could swing a visit home during this? It’s been a while.”
“We’ll see how things play out,” Wedge replied. Looking around the room, he gave the assembled Rogues a small nod. “Pack your bags, pilots. We depart in five hours. Our ships are being transferred over to the Bright Walker as we speak. Plan to spend most of the trip and time orbiting Taanab on stand-by. We’ll figure out the exact logistics of deploying once we see how our ships have been stored. The Walker will be docked at the Banthal stardocks over Taanab for a few days and a few of you may even be lucky enough to accompany the negotiator planetside. If the Force is on our side, we’ll slip in and out of the system without the Imps even realizing it.”
“And if we aren’t lucky?” Hobbie asked.
“Then we’ll do what we do best: eliminate a threat to the galaxy.” Nodding once more, Wedge toggled the room’s pressure seal. “Report to the Bright Walker by 1300. I’ll see you all onboard.”
With the possibility of visiting home on the horizon, Wes didn’t find himself missing the lost opportunity to further improve relations with certain members of Green Squadron. “We’ll have plenty of time to catch up when we get back to the Home One ,” he said to Hobbie as they sat in the small lounge that had been carved out of a storage room for the pilots.
“I still don’t see why you keep trying to drag me into this,” Hobbie replied with a certain amount of exasperation at the now over-discussed topic.
“Hobbie, she has a friend. A friend who think you’re cute. Why wouldn’t I try to help make sparks fly?”
Rolling his eyes, Hobbie returned his attention to the datapad in his hand.
A flicker of frustration ran through Wes. It wasn’t like Hobbie not to poke back, especially in situations like these where they’d been crammed into a tiny ship for days with no hope of relief. He couldn’t even go mess with the laundry or Dixie’s X-Wing like he wanted to. No, he had to be on his best behavior if he was going to have any chance of visiting his family.
Movement caught his attention just as Wes slumped back against the small couch. Turning his head slightly, a frown crossed his face when he realized Hobbie was gingerly rubbing his right knee. “Is the new prosthetic bothering you?” Wes asked.
Hobbie’s hand froze, then he jerked it away as a slight flush spread across his face. “No, it’s just-” He paused for a moment. “It’s fine.”
Wes watched intently as Hobbie shifted on the couch, trying to get back to the novel he was reading while also keeping his hand off his knee. This wasn’t the first time Wes had seen Hobbie worrying at the invisible seams where flesh became machine, but it had been happening a lot more since Hoth.
For a moment, an all too familiar twinge ran through his brain, the hint of a glitch starting, ready to replay the memory of the evacuation in true holographic clarity.
Rather than relive the the terror of helping Wedge drag Hobbie’s battered and bloody body free of his crashed speeder or the sheer number of dead they’d left behind, Wes sprang to his feet. He snatched Hobbie’s datapad from his hands, glancing at the screen long enough to mark his spot before turning it off and shoving it into one of the pockets of his day uniform.
Ignoring Hobbie’s protest, Wes grabbed him and hauled him up as well. “Come on, it’s boring just doing nothing.” Hooking his arm through Hobbie’s, he started determinedly dragging him towards the door.
“I wasn’t doing nothing,” Hobbie hissed. He went rigid, trying to resist, but the five extra centimeters he had over Wes were nothing compared to how much Wes outmassed him. As Wes continued to drag him towards the door, he sighed and gave up his protests.
Which was a relief. With his brain teetering on the edge of reliving some very unpleasant recent memories, the thought of being alone right now was terrifying.
“Come on, we’re supposed to be docking soon!” Wes said as he dragged Hobbie through the narrow hallways of the freighter.
“And then waiting for all the forms to be processed,” Hobbie countered. “We’re not supposed to go anywhere near the hold just in case customs wants to do an inspection-”
Hobbie continued with a scowl. “We still have hours before Wedge even announces who’s on the ground team for the mission tomorrow. Let alone if the situation looks safe enough for you to go visit your family.”
A new wave of frustration swept over Wes and he came to an abrupt halt in the corridor, jerking his arm out of Hobbie’s with unmistakable annoyance. “Well, then, what are we we supposed to be doing right now?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m-” Breaking off, Hobbie grabbed Wes’s arm and dragged him to the side. A harried looking member of the crew hurried down the narrow corridor towards them, turning sideways in order to squeeze by. Once the hallway was clear once more, Hobbie continued. “I’m going back to the lounge to finish my novel. Give me back my datapad.”
Wes could feel the weight of the device in his pocket. Narrowing his eyes, he chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment before grabbing Hobbie’s arm once more. They weren’t far from their bunks. There’d be some privacy to argue in there. Snatching Hobbie’s arm once more, he quickly dragged him further down the corridor.
For once, the makeshift bunk room was unoccupied when the two men entered. “You’re not reading,” Wes snapped once the door was secured behind them.
“If you’d give me my datapad back, I would be!”
“No, I mean you’d just go back to the lounge and pretend to read. That’s all you’ve been doing. You’ve been staring at the same screen for hours.” Folding his arms, Wes leaned against the wall next to the door. “What’s going on?”
Glaring, Hobbie replied, “Nothing.”
“That’s rancor shit and you know it.” Thinking back through the past several hours, Wes could only think of one thing Hobbie had been doing. And the implications were alarming. “You’ve been fussing at your knee all day. Did the medics mess up your new prosthetic somehow?”
“What? No, it’s- it’s fine. It’s just like the old one.”
“Uh huh.” Not believing him, Wes pushed away from the wall and dropped down onto his bed and pulled out the datapad. “If you don’t tell me, I’m removing the marker and resetting the novel back to the beginning.”
Wes watched as Hobbie struggled with himself. Now that he was looking, really looking, he could see the signs of weariness he’d been missing. Hobbie was standing with his back bent slightly, his weight shifted over onto his non-prosthetic leg. He looked more like someone fresh out of the Infirmary than a man who’d been using prosthetics for years.
Sliding closer to the head of the bed, Wes dropped the datapad down beside himself and patted the blanketed surface. “Sit down. You look like you’re about to fall over.”
Reluctantly, Hobbie joined him. Once he was seated, he sighed softly and took a moment to stretch out his long, gangly limbs.
Wes followed the line of Hobbie’s legs with his eyes, remembering what they looked like under his clothes. Lean calves with distinct muscles, knobby knees that always seemed sharp, and strong runners’ thighs Wes loved straddling. He’d also always been impressed with the prosthetic that made up Hobbie’s right leg. Thanks to the efforts of Medical’s prosthetics unit and Hobbie’s own diligent maintenance, there was little perceptible difference between the organic and inorganic limbs.
It wasn’t shocking, though, that Hobbie wasn’t as comfortable with his artificial limbs as he wanted everyone to think. Wes had seen him doing maintenance on the limbs, checking over the internal components while cursing under his breath the entire time about the hassle. Had been in pilots’ lounges and in bed with him while he traced over and scratched at the hidden seams, sometimes contorting himself into awkward and nearly painful positions so he could reach.
It definitely wasn’t unthinkable that Hobbie was having issues with his prosthetics that had nothing to do with their mechanical functionality. What worried him and made his gut clench was the thought that he hadn’t noticed Hobbie struggling more with his artificial limbs.
Once Hobbie finished stretching and his legs were tucked back against the bed, Hobbie started to reach for his left arm like he always did when he was stressed, fingers unerringly searching for soft, vulnerable skin.
Quickly, Wes grabbed his hand and clutched it with his own. He hated the red marks Hobbie left behind when he started digging at the line between his organic flesh and synthflesh. Fortunately, they were only something he left with his right hand; for whatever reason, he never left marks with his artificial left hand.
Threading their fingers together, Wes forced himself to sit and wait. It wasn’t easy. He wanted to break the silence with noise and words to make Hobbie laugh or groan, and then put his worries aside for a little while. This wasn’t the time for that, though. Hobbie had learned to deal with Wes’s black moods, with the days where he needed someone to force him to be still. How could Wes do anything less than his best to help Hobbie in return?
“The prosthetic is fine,” Hobbie eventually said, staring down at the floor. “It’s just that… ever since Hoth, my leg feels like it’s being sliced off by the TIE fighter all over again. A flash of heat followed by horrible cold setting in.”
“That sounds awful,” Wes murmured unhappily, tightening his grip on Hobbie’s hand.
Hobbie squeezed back. “I don’t know if it’s because of the evacuation, or waking up missing my leg in a bacta tank afterwards, but… There are days where it feels like the prosthetic won’t support me even though I know nothing’s wrong with it. And it’s just so damned heavy. The same as the prosthetic arm. I hate having to carry all that extra weight around all the time. I shouldn’t have to,” he finished bitterly.
Feeling helpless, Wes bit his lip. He didn’t know how to fix this, how to make the traumatic loss of Hobbie’s original limbs less painful. “Don’t carry it for a while, then.” Swinging his legs up, Wes crossed them and swiveled to sit facing the end of the bed. Tugging at Hobbie’s hand, he pulled him closer. “Come on, feet up. We have time to kill, so go ahead and stretch out. If you’re good, I might even be willing to read to you.”
“Because you know how to read,” Hobbie muttered. Hesitating again, he eventually pulled his hand free and stretched out on the bed, his head coming to rest in Wes’s lap.
Running a hand through Hobbie’s short, strawlike blond hair, Wes picked up the datapad and turned it back on, thumbing through the menus and pulling up the novel Hobbie had been reading (or rather, not reading) earlier.
Wes opened his mouth to start narrating, then paused, blinking. His eyes flickered as he re-read the first few lines on the screen. “Is this porn?” he demanded in an incredulous voice.
Below him, Hobbie froze. Then, his eyes went wide and he surged upwards, grabbing at the datapad.
Twisting, Wes easily dodged the clumsy attack, eyes glued on the screen. “Better question: is this good porn?”
“It’s not porn! It’s- it’s just a short sex scene. In a very serious story!”
“You spaced out reading in public with the screen set to a sex scene?” Grinning, Wes pushed Hobbie back onto the bed. “I’m so proud I think I’m going to cry.”
“You’re a barbarian.”
“Says the man reading sexy stuff in public.”
“Just give it here.”
Wes didn’t try to dodge this time when Hobbie reached for the datapad, yielding it up without protest.
After giving Wes a short, suspicious look, Hobbie focused on the screen, thumb manipulating the controls. Words flew across the screen as he skimmed forward in the text.
“That’s not a short scene,” Wes commented, twisting his head slightly to watch the rushing words while his hands slid back into Hobbie’s hair.
“Maddox and Tahnk have spent the entire story building up to this moment, don’t you dare insult them,” Hobbie retorted. Finally, he stopped his hurried scrolling, and held the datapad back up.
“Hobbie Klivian, closet romance fan,” Wes teased as he took the device back. “Who would have thought it?” As Hobbie sputtered softly, Wes ran his eyes over the screen, finding the start of the next section of the story. Clearing his throat, he began to read.
Early the next morning, wind whipping his hair into a mess as Wes drove a speeder towards his family’s farm, Hobbie felt considerably less like he was dragging duracrete weights around anytime he stood up. Time had flown by quickly in the quiet bunk room last night; Wes’s deep voice was well suited to narration and he’d never once complained about not having anything to lean against and rest his back. He’d ended up falling asleep to the sound of Wes’s voice.
Even better, the irritation where prosthetic met flesh had faded away. Instead of trying to make the itch go away by scratching until he bled, Hobbie had been able to focus on Wes reading out loud until his prosthetics weren’t bothering him anymore. He knew the itch would be back at some point, but for now, he could almost pretend he was whole again.
Plus, he had the upcoming distraction of meeting Wes’s family for the first time.
“I can give you forty-six hours,” Wedge had told Wes once he and several others had been asked to report to the hangar bay the next morning. “One local day. Keep your comm on you, though, in case something comes up. You’re also not going alone. I imagine you’re fine with Hobbie accompanying you in case there’s trouble?”
A rare smirk had crossed Tycho’s aristocratic face at that point. Elbowing Hobbie’s side, Tycho said, “Looking forward to meeting Wes’s folks? I bet it’s somewhat intimidating, isn’t it? It’s okay to be nervous.”
Hobbie promptly replied with an elbow of his own.
In short order, he and Wes were dirtside and loaded into a small speeder heading away from the capital city of Pandath.
“How far it it to your folks’?” Hobbie called over as they flew across a well-organized landscape.
“A few hours,” Wes replied. “Arcon Agricorp owns all the land around Pandath. Independent farms like ours are closer to the poles where the weather’s usually cooler and there’s almost no sunlight in the winter, even with all the orbital mirrors and weather satellites.”
“That sounds terrible.”
Wes snorted. “We can’t all be from planets that are mostly cities and beaches.” Leaning sideways for a moment, he lowered the volume on the music station playing in the speeder. “So my parents are Ressik and Kay - I’ve told you about them before.”
“You’ve told me your mother tells embarrassing stories when she’s drinking.”
“Yeah… That’s… really not fun,” Wes admitted. “Dad doesn’t drink much, though, so he usually reins her in once the stories start involving him.”
“But not before then?”
Wes’s grin was answer enough.
Shaking his head, Hobbie shifted slightly in his seat, eyes lingering briefly on a herd of gigantic robas browsing a field for sustenance. “You have siblings, right?” he asked. “Do you think they’ll all be home?”
Shrugging, Wes continued to steer them over the rough dirt road. “Not sure about Corlisa. She’s old enough to be on her own. The others should be there, though, if they aren’t busy with school stuff.”
“How many of them are there?”
“Five besides me.” Wes shot Hobbie a quick look. “If they’re all there, this is going to be fun, Mr. Only Child.”
Snorting, Hobbie crossed his arms over his chest. “Whatever you think is going to happen, I’m not giving you the satisfaction.”
“We’ll see about that!”
The endless rows of fences, crops, and animal pens suddenly faded away, leaving them surrounded by the deep green wilderness.
“Hold on!” Wes called out, and suddenly the speeder roared and lurched as he accelerated. “Now we get really get moving!”
The rest of the journey passed quickly and Wes capably avoided herds of wild livestock that wandered into their path. He was also careful to give plenty of space to the miniature rancors that apparently roamed the planet’s surface; miniature in this case simply meaning they only grew to be between two and three meters tall and lacked the intelligence and sentience of their full-sized brethren.
“Why?” Hobbie pleaded after Wes dodged a particularly large and aggressive rancor. “Just… why?”
“I think Core Foodstuffs had the idea once that they’d make a great meat source. Didn’t take long to realize that was a really bad idea.” Wes grimaced slightly. “Unfortunately, by then, enough of them had escaped that it proved impossible to round them all up. The sharpshooter patrols take them out whenever they can, but they’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding the droids.”
“That is- that is so dumb.”
“Yup.” Flashing Hobbie a quick grin, Wes then glanced around and started to reduce their speed, soon leaving the dirt road behind so they could fly over empty fields. Weaving by several buildings and homesteads, they eventually reached a new road and a fence line that made Wes cackle and drum his hands on the steering controls. “Home sweet home!”
Curious, Hobbie craned his neck to study the clustered buildings up ahead. A single story dwelling stood closest to them, while a smaller structure faced it from across a worn path. More buildings loomed beyond these - a barn, a short tower-like structure, and others of various sizes.
As Wes streered the speeder onto the property, they passed a large, rusted piece of farming equipment lying like a barricade near the front gate.
“Why does it feel like we’re driving into a killzone?” Hobbie asked as they passed the house. Something about the way the buildings were laid out was making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
Chuckling, Wes replied, “Like I’ve said before, my parents aren’t fans of the Empire.”
Twisting around in his seat, Hobbie stared at the rusted tangle of metal lying near the road and suddenly had a vision of how effectively the equipment could be used to block ground traffic. And the taller structures, he realized, all had windows facing the impromptu courtyard ringed by all the different buildings. The windows provided excellent sightlines to the clearing down below.
Suddenly, Wes’s finely tuned tactical senses began to make a lot more sense. Such considerations - and paranoia - had clearly been a part of his life from an early age.
Wes brought the speeder to a halt inside the barn, carefully parking it off to the side. Flipping the engine off, he turned to face Hobbie, draping his arm over the back of the long seat. “So what do you think?”
“Mom’s going to kill you,” a dry voice promptly answered.
Blasters appeared in the two pilots’ hands in the blink of an eye. Then, growling, Wes lowered his and leveled a dark look at a skinny blond teenager looking at them with an unimpressed gaze from one of the animal stalls.
“This is how you get kriffing shot, Kolt.” Shoving his blaster back into its holster, Wes climbed out of the speeder and crossed his arms while he waited for Hobbie to join him. “Meet my brother Kolten, Hobbie. Kolt’s tolerable when he isn’t playing at being a Mistryl Shadow Guard.” Squinting slightly, he added, “You’re a lot taller than you used to be.”
Rolling his eyes, Kolten stepped out of the animal pen, clipping a multitool to his belt as he secured the gate. “It’s been four years since you ran off. What did you think was going to happen?” Crossing his arms over his oil-stained coveralls, he jerked his head towards Hobbie. “Who’s that? And why are you here?”
“That’s nice, I finally get a chance to visit and you decide to be a jerk.” Narrowing his eyes, Wes continued. “This is Hobbie. He’s a friend, came with me in case of Imperial trouble.”
“Whatever.” Grabbing his multitool, Kolt turned back to the animal pen. “Mom’s in the house. I have to get back to work. We can’t all be gallivanting across the galaxy.”
As the sound of mechanical work began to float out of the pen, Wes grabbed Hobbie’s arm and started to pull him away. “Well, he’s turned a bit nasty,” Wes said in a dry voice. “Let’s go see if there’ve been any other dramatic changes while I’ve been away.”
“You should probably just assume there have been,” Hobbie replied, let himself be led out of the barn.
Admittedly, this wasn’t a type of situation Hobbie was very familiar with. He’d grown up an only child and much younger than any of his cousins. Few of his friends growing up had come from large families - families on Ralltiir tended to be small. Everything about his upbringing was a direct contradiction to Wes’s: no siblings compared to Wes’s five, growing up helping out on the farm versus being pushed to just study and succeed in school. Even the stories Wes told about his family were different. They were filled with laughter and fights and hijinks. Hobbie’s childhood had been much more… clinical. Controlled. Constrained.
No wonder he’d bolted straight to the Imperial Academy at the first opportunity. Learning to fly had meant freedom, even with the high death rate for new TIE pilots.
Wes kept a close hold on Hobbie’s arm as they crossed over to the Janson family’s personal dwelling. Instead of heading to the front, they circled around the building and followed a narrow path that ran alongside a quietly trickling creek to the back.
“Door should be open,” Wes said as he urged Hobbie to climb a short flight of steps up to the back entrance with a hand pressed against the small of his back. “Head straight in.”
Reluctantly, Hobbie did as instructed, taking care on the worn stone steps. A flicker of sensation crawled around his arm, like the ghostly feet of an insect crawling across his flesh that just begged for him to reach over and forcibly dislodge. Instead, he gritted his teeth and reached for the door controls.
The building interior was both cooler and darker than the heat beating down outside. Hobbie couldn’t help but feel hesitant as he stepped over the raised threshold and into a short entryway. As he walked forward, the door slid shut behind him and the space plunged into darkness, the only illumination coming from a thin gap between the panels of the heavy curtains draped over the doorway up ahead.
Tucked close at his back, Wes nudged him, pushing him forward.
Parting the curtains, Hobbie found himself in a kitchen. More curtains decorated every window. Most had a thin, gauze-like fabric drawn over the glass to filter out the worst of the light outside while heavier panels hung on the far ends of the curtain rods, ready to block out Taanab’s intense daylight. Given the planet’s slight axial tilt and how far north they were, summers probably meant months of endless daylight.
The dark haired woman standing at the kitchen sink didn’t notice the door opening, not with loud music roaring from a speaker on a nearby counter. Hobbie could just make out her singing softly as she scrubbed away.
Wes suddenly appeared at his side, grinning widely. “Hey, guess who?” he called out.
Instantly, a loud shriek pierced the air. Wes cursed, then suddenly Hobbie was slamming into the ground to lie prone on the floor, nose smashed against dirty tile. Just as he felt Wes’s body drop down onto of his own, there was a loud thunk and bits of plaster rained down on their heads.
His face throbbing, Hobbie tried to shove Wes off of him. “Get off me, you nut,” he hissed. “What the hell?”
The sound of a complex mechanism being worked suddenly filled the kitchen, an ominous ka-chunk that highlighted the sudden absence of music.
“Stand up, hands in the air,” a woman’s voice growled. “One wrong move and I’ll be painting the walls with your guts.”
“Kriffing-” Breaking off, Wes rolled off Hobbie, twisting his head around to peer past the cabinet he’d shoved them down behind. His hands went into the air, then carefully pressed against the cabinet. Sliding them up, he rose to a crouch and peered over the countertop. “Mom! Put the Sith damned shotgun away! It’s me!”
Hobbie rolled onto his back and gingerly touched his face, then glanced down at his fingers. No blood, at least. Then, eyes flickering up, he froze when he saw a still quivering kitchen knife embedded deep in the plaster wall right where his chest had been moments earlier. A few drops of water still clung to the vibrating utensil.
“There were two of you,” the woman’s voice growled again.
“Yeah, I brought a buddy with me. In case we ran into some Imps.” Wes’s hand reached back down and groped for Hobbie, fisting his jacket once it had found him and hauling him upright.
Dreading what he was going to see, Hobbie gripped the edge of the counter and peeked over.
The woman stood firm in front of the sink, a long rifle-like weapon held tight against her shoulder and the sleek, almost unnervingly smooth and unadorned barrel pointed directly at them. At a glance, Hobbie suspected the weapon was a slugthrower, and while he was normally dismissive of the low-tech weaponry, the business end loomed barely a meter from his head. At this distance, even a glancing shot could be fatal.
“Mom, put down the shotgun,” Wes said in a firm voice as he rose to his feet.
Nervous, Hobbie let himself be dragged fully upright as well.
After several long, heart-pounding moments, the woman snorted and lowered the weapon. She turned away briefly, returning it to a rack on the side of one of the overhead cabinets, before spinning back around and lobbing a wet dishrag directly at Wes.
“What the hell were you thinking? Sneaking in the backdoor like that.” While Wes peeled the wet cloth off his face, she pointed an accusatory finger at him. “Four years! You’ve been gone for four years! I could have shot you, you brat! What were you thinking?”
“Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh?”
“Laugh, he says.” Shaking her head and staring briefly at the ceiling, the woman fixed her dark eyes on Hobbie. “Kay Janson,” she said, extending her hand. “I take full responsibility for whatever drama Problem Child over there has dragged you into. I clearly dropped him on his head too many times growing up.”
“Hobbie Klivian. I- I thought the ideal number of drops was zero,” Hobbie replied in a bit of a daze as he shook her hand. The contact was electrifying. Kay had every bit of personality her son had and then some. Everything about her was just- incredibly intense. He could practically see energy crackling around her.
“Klivian.” Pursing her lips, Kay withdrew her hand and studied him with narrowed eyes. After a moment, she let out a short laugh and strode over to the humming chill box near the sink. “Sit,” she barked.
Mystified, Hobbie trailed after Wes and joined him at the large table sitting in a nook just off the kitchen. As Kay buzzed around the kitchen, Hobbie felt a familiar itch starting up again on his arm and leg, and almost without thinking, he propped his prosthetic leg up on his knee under the table and started to rub at the junction of flesh and synthflesh through the cloth of his pants.
The pressure wasn’t enough to relieve the feeling of irritation, though, and just as Hobbie was starting to consider shoving his pants leg up to better reach his skin, Kay strode over and placed a small plate and fork in front of him.
“Have some pie, Hobbie,” she said. “Caf? Wes, go get the mugs out. I started a pot.”
“Yes, you. Dumbasses who try to trick their mothers into shooting them don’t get pie. They get chores.”
Grumbling under his breath, Wes pushed away from the table and stalked into the kitchen, leaving Hobbie to face Kay Janson alone.
“Zero drops are ideal, of course,” Kay said in a bland voice. “But Wes was a fidgety toddler and didn’t have any survival instincts. One minute, he’s fast asleep, the next he’d be wriggling out of your arms and falling head first onto the floor. Kept doing it, too. Ressik and I thought for sure we’d done something wrong. Almost didn’t have any more children, but fortunately, none of the others were quite so bad. Or maybe we were just better prepared by the time they came around. Eat the pie.”
Bemused, Hobbie picked up the fork and dug into as he’d been ordered. He knew how persistent Wes could be at times. It seemed that was an inherited trait. A few moments later, Wes reappeared with three mugs of caf.
Shifting her attention off Hobbie, Kay picked up one of the mugs and focused her gaze on Wes. “What in hell are you doing back here? There’s an Imperial garrison in Pandath now. And you have a warrant out for you.”
“Yeah, the garrison’s troops all conveniently have food poisoning,” Wes replied in a cheerful voice. “Marcris told us about it back in Pandath.”
“And what are you doing talking to Marcris Crorett?” Kay shot back. “Got some business with the Keillor Cooperative?”
“That’s all above my paygrade,” Wes said, waving his free hand. “I just happened to be on hand when he started chatting with my boss. Turned out I could get a little bit of time off, so I thought I’d come see how things were going since I was in the neighborhood.”
“How much time?”
“One day cycle, unless there’s an emergency.”
“And you didn’t bring a bit of luggage with you, did you?”
Taking a sip from his mug, Wes shook his head. “Now that could have looked suspicious if we got pulled over, wouldn’t it? Luggage means off-worlders to law endorsement. Without bags, they wouldn’t have any reason to want to search us. Got anything we can borrow?”
“For your friend, sure. He’s close enough to your father’s build to find something for a short visit. You though- You’ve filled out more than I thought you had. All I’ve had to go off of are the holos the Imperial Security Bureau puts out of known Rebel agents.” Kay studied Wes over the rim of her cup with a grim expression. “Four years, Wes. Four damned years with only the occasional letter from you letting us know you’re alive. Meanwhile, the Empire’s doing everything it can to brag about every crushed Rebel cell and movement. Glorifying the ships they’ve shot down and the so-called traitors they’ve captured and executed.”
The guilt that swept over Wes’s face was unmistakable. Setting down his fork, Hobbie said, “We aren’t allowed too many communiques outside the fleet. It’s a huge security risk.”
“I understand the reasons perfectly well. What I find hard to believe is that the Rebellion only allows its fighters to send two or three letters a year. How many do you send home, Hobbie?” Kay asked.
Wincing slightly, Hobbie’s eyes dropped down to his plate. “Well, none. Even if messages could get through the blockade around Ralltiir, my parents weren’t very… enthused with my decision to leave the Empire and join the Rebellion.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Wes muttered.
A heavy silence fell on the room. After several long, uncomfortable moments, Kay set her mug down with a decisive motion and spoke with a voice as cold as space. “If your parents can’t see the Empire for what it truly is, then they’re fools.” Pressing her lips, she stared off into the distance for a moment. Then, she gave herself a small shake. “For now, though, you’re more than welcome here.”
Rising to her feet, Kay began to clear away their mugs of caf away from the table, snatching up the containers with sudden, jerky motions.
“Is my room still here, or have you turned it into something else?”
Shrugging, Kay started dumping the undrunk caf into the sink. “Some things have been stored in there and you’ll need fresh bedding, but everything else should be as it was. It’ll be tight for two people, but I imagine you’ll make it work. The only alternative right now is the couch in the family room and I’m assuming you aren’t interested in getting up early to help with planting season.”
“No thank you,” Wes replied making a face.
“How about you, Hobbie?”
Shrugging, Hobbie dug back into the final bites of pie. “My parents are bankers. Never been on a farm before.”
“Then this could be quite the learning opportunity for you,” Kay replied. “Wes will show you where everything is. Help yourself to whatever you need. We’re used to sharing.”
Wes’s hand suddenly darted out and snatched up the last piece of pie before Hobbie could scoop it up with his fork. Grinning, he swallowed it down before Hobbie could try to reclaim it. “Come on,” he said after swallowing. “Let me show you around.”
Shaking his head, Hobbie followed after Wes as he dashed past the kitchen (lingering long enough to give Kay the fork and now-empty plate). In short order, he’d been shown where to find the refresher, laundry, and Holonet terminal.
There was something surreal about standing in Wes’s childhood bedroom as they ended the short tour. The walls were decorated with holos that had flickered to life along with the room lights, featuring various spacecraft and a few popular actors and actresses Hobbie remembered from his own childhood. A small desk stood tucked in the far corner of the room with a stack of datapads and a tidy row of small, fuzzy animal figures standing at the back of the desk. There were also piles of random junk shoved into corners and against the wall. Wes had taken one look at those piles and let out a few annoyed mutters about his room being used as a dumping ground.
Dropping the linens he’d grabbed from a closet on the main floor onto the bed, Wes collapsed onto the cushiony surface and gave Hobbie an expectant look. “So, tell me,” he began, spreading his arms wide. “Is it all you thought it would be?”
Snorting, Hobbie shook his head somewhat incredulously. “I’m surprised all your stuff is still here. My mother tossed most of my things and turned my bedroom into a guest room after I left for Prefsbelt Fleet Camp. Apparently, she didn’t think I’d be coming back from the Academy.”
“She did what? That’s one of the most awful things I’ve ever heard.”
An odd flutter filled Hobbie’s stomach at the obvious sound of shock and outrage in Wes’s voice. A faint flush touched Hobbie’s cheeks as Wes let out a few choice words about what the other man perceived as a “cruel and selfish” act.
“It’s better than having my old room end up as some kind of- of shrine,” Hobbie finally mumbled, waving a jerky hand at the surrounding space. “How old are those medals, anyway?”
Wes’s eyes flickered over to a small array of metallic medals hanging near his desk. “Don’t knock those, I worked hard for them.” He grinned. “Youth Agricultural Learning League. It’s practically required for Taanabian younglings to join. Amongst other things, you get to raise a livestock animal, show it, sell it, and eat the tasty, tasty end results. I got first place at Regionals when I was sixteen with a nerf named Medium Rare.”
Suppressing a laugh, Hobbie shook his head again. “Of course you did.”
“Besides,” Wes continued, “it’s pretty clear that Lisa and Kolt, at least, have been using my room to dump stuff they don’t want anymore. Mom’s been tossing stuff in here too. There’s clothes-” he poked at a small stack of shirts sitting near the foot of the bed, “-and she put up that thing over there.” Squinting, he started for a moment at a small framed certificate hanging on the wall near the closed closet door. “What is that, anyways?”
Hobbie took a few steps over and peered at what appeared to be a heavily embossed piece of flimsi “It’s- oh. Um.”
Wes was by his side in moments, staring at the item on the wall with him. “Son of the Sith,” he swore. “How the hell did she get that?”
A series of swirling loops and spirals filled the certificate’s background. At the top, the distinctive shapes of the cursive form of High Galactic simply read: “Certificate of Marriage”. Below the oversized title, their names had been printed along with the specific date, time, and location of their accidental wedding on Niopra years earlier.
“No wonder she gave you pie,” Wes muttered under his breath. He stood frozen beside Hobbie for a long moment before exploding into motion. “I’m just going to go ask her about this. Be right back.” Palming the door controls, he disappeared from the room.
The air in the room felt still and dead as the sound of Wes’s heavy footsteps racing up the stairs faded away. Turning his attention away from the door, he looked back at the certificate. How had Kay gotten it? To this day, the events on Niopra were a blur, with only a few moments standing out through the haze of alcohol. What he did remember wasn’t a bad memory. And as far as he could tell, neither he nor Wes had any regrets about what had happened there.
All the same, their so-called marriage wasn’t registered with any off-world authority and the bet they’d made afterwards had sort of fizzled away. It was, at most, a running joke they’d ended up keeping to themselves. Which was nice, in a lot of ways. No one in the Rebellion had much in the way of privacy or personal effects; having something that was just theirs was… good.
Suddenly uneasy, Hobbie rubbed the back of his neck. If Kay had somehow gotten an actual marriage certificate, then it was likely the entire family knew about it. And he couldn’t figure out if that was a good or a bad thing, or how it might influence what everyone thought of him. He knew how his family would have reacted and it wasn’t with welcoming arms...
The crawling sensation came back, skittering across his arm even as a flash of heat sliced through his leg. A tingle lit up in his left hand and fire suddenly raced through the artificial nerves. His prosthetics seemingly doubled in weight, almost dragging him to the ground. He could have sworn his heard a creak coming from the artificial leg Medical had slapped together after fleeing Hoth. Breath hitching, Hobbie shifted his weight off the suddenly fragile limb, terrified it was about to break and send shards of molten metal shooting up through him. The on- and off-again pain he’d been feeling since the Battle of Hoth erupted and tore through each one of his prosthetics.
The door flew up and Wes stalked into the room muttering to himself. “-was useless. Just asked me what else she was supposed to do with it-” His voice broke off when he spotted Hobbie, standing frozen and rigid right where Wes had left him.
Terror filled every centimeter of Hobbie’s being, but he couldn’t stop staring at the certificate mounted on the wall. His head was swimming from so many things - the fire lancing through his limbs, jealousy over Wes still having all his things from his childhood, the exhaustion that had been plaguing him since Hoth, the worry over what Wes’s family thought of him and would think when they found out the marriage wasn’t really real-
Wes inhaled softly before strolling over, speaking as though nothing had changed. “So I guess someone on Niopra sent the certificate here,” he said. Once he reached Hobbie’s side, he took hold of his arm and gently tugged him towards the bed. As Hobbie stumbled after him, Wes swept away all the things sitting on the bed with his arm. “They must have asked for an address and I would have given them this one. Not that I remember any of that, of course. That was one heck of a crazy party. Did we ever find out what it was being thrown for?”
Hobbie let Wes push him onto the bed and managed to find the energy to roll over and hide his face in a somewhat musty smelling pillow.
“I guess it doesn’t matter,” Wes continued without pause. “We had a good time.” The bed dipped as he sat down on the other side. Hobbie felt his boots get tugged off, one by one, then a broad hand ran through his hair as Wes sat beside him.
“It’d be fun to take some of the Rogues there if we can ever manage it. See how they handle the green stuff. I bet Wedge would wake up in a pretty compromising situation the next morning. Either with Luke or Tycho.”
Bringing his prosthetic arm up to his chest, Hobbie let his organic fingers curl around the pillow corner as he tried to focus on Wes’s voice. The bed shifted again and a thin, soft blanket was suddenly draped over him. Once he was fully covered, Wes let out a soft sigh and stretched out next to him, wrapping an arm around his waist.
“Lunch won’t be for a while,” Wes murmured, then yawned. “Wedge got us up so early that a nap sounds great. Mom will send someone to get us once the food is ready. So go ahead and sleep if you want. I’ll be right here.” Wes continued to talk, his voice growing deeper and rougher as he started to drift off.
Rolling onto his side, Hobbie pressed his spine against Wes’s reassuring warmth. Wes’s voice was as soothing now as it had been back on the ship. Closing his eyes, Hobbie focused on a meandering story involving a speeder, rope, a plasteel tub, and a large drainage ditch. A hand crept out until it found Wes’s. Slowly, comforted by the hand holding his and the chest rumbling against his back, Hobbie fell asleep.
Coming next, Janson family shenanigans
Chapter 4: 3.5 ABY - Part 2
Posted this on mobile, will fix issues later
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Wes. Wes. Hey, Wes. Wes. Wes. Wake up.”
The insistent voice was hovering nearby, Hobbie realized as consciousness dawned on him. He really should be more alarmed than he was, he thought sleepily.
“Weeees. Get up! Mom says we can’t eat until you’re up!”
Wes let out a wordless grumble and a face pressed harder into the back of his shoulder.
It was hard to worry about the voice begging for Wes’s attention. Despite a faint hint of dust tickling his nose, Hobbie was perfectly comfortable and warm. A familiar strong arm was wrapped around his waist and a broad chest pressed against his back. The bed they were sharing was soft and big - much bigger than what they were used to.
The unknown speaker let out an annoyed huff. “Wes!” the speaker hollered and suddenly the bed lurched beneath them. Small knees dug into his side as a body clambered over them.
Adrenalin jolting him out of his restful state, Hobbie propelled himself away from their attacker and Wes’s sudden flailing. As he found the edge of the bed, Hobbie rolled out from under the covers and off the mattress. Once he hit the floor, he scrambled to his knees and turned to look back at the bed.
Their attacker, and the owner of the insistent voice, was practically Wes in miniature. The two had the same tousled hair and dark eyes, and the expression of wounded innocence on Mini-Wes’s face was very familiar.
Feeling far more secure than he had moments earlier, Hobbie took a deep breath, trying to slow the frantic beating of his heart, and rested his arms on the bed, watching in fascination the amusing scene unfolding on the bed.
“Lemme go!” Mini-Wes protested, squirming as he frantically tried to free himself from the headlock Wes had him in.
“Like hell,” Wes growled. “How many times have I told you not to jump on me when I’m sleeping?”
“Mom told me to get you up so we can have lunch!”
“That doesn’t mean you get to use my kidneys as a repulsor field!” Wes began to grind his knuckles against Mini-Wes’s scalp, further messing with the already disheveled curls. “Say you’re sorry and I’ll let you go.”
Hobbie leaned back as a small foot kicked towards him. Mini-Wes struggled against the arm Wes had wrapped around his shoulders, ineffectually trying to free himself from the hold.
“Say it,” Wes repeated in a threatening voice.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Mini-Wes finally yelped when he realized he couldn’t push Wes’s arms away.
Instantly, Wes let go and Mini-Wes tumbled onto the bed. After taking a moment to gather his wits, Mini-Wes scrambled towards the foot of the bed and hopped off, quickly taking himself out of reach and heading for the door.
Right before he left, Mini-Wes grinned over his shoulder. “Mom made gooey bars, so hurry up already!”
Once the door had slid shut once more, Wes collapsed back against the bed, groaning as he pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes.
“So who was that?” Hobbie asked.
“Sean,” Wes replied in a muffled voice. “Brat’s the youngest. He’s, um, twelve standard years, I think.”
“Math is hard.”
“Sure it is.” Pushing himself to his feet, Hobbie took a moment to adjust his clothing and put his boots back on. He felt better than he had before, rested and more level headed. More importantly, his prosthetics didn’t feel so… foreign anymore. They felt like they were a part of him again.
Looking back at the bed, a flicker of exasperation ran through Hobbie. Wes had rolled over and buried his face in a pillow, fully prepared to go right back to sleep.
“I’m with Sean. It’s time for lunch. Get up, Wes.”
Wes whined as Hobbie walked around the bed and started dragging him to his feet. “Why isn’t anyone letting me sleep?”
“We’re hungry,” Hobbie replied. “Get moving. I’m not facing your family alone.”
“They’re not going to bite you,” Wes said.
“This is the household that produced you. My base assumption is that they’re all insane on some level.”
Tilting his head to the side, Wes considered Hobbie’s statement for a long moment. “You know, you might be onto something. Did I ever tell you the story of Mom and Dad’s first date? It featured a shoot-out with a swoop gang on one of the lower levels of Imperial Center.
Hobbie sighed and gave Wes a push towards the door. “You’ve never mentioned it, but I’m somehow not surprised.”
“They won,” Wes added helpfully. Then, grinning, he grabbed Hobbie’s hand and dragged him out of the room.
“So, how did you get the nickname Hobbie?” Kay asked right as he took a bite from the leftover roba casserole she’d served for lunch. “That’s quite different from Derek.”
Chewing quickly, Hobbie glanced around the room. Across from him, Kay watched with an intense, almost predatory gaze while Wes’s father worked on a datapad at the end of the long table. Kolt, the brother who’d greeted them in the barn, sat next to Kay with his head propped up on his hand looking bored. Meanwhile, Wes’s sisters were distracted with their own interests; Lisa was exchanging rapid messages on a small communications pad and the twins, Valeria and Vanessa, were whispering back and forth at the far end of the table, not paying any attention to anyone else. Finally, Sean was fidgeting in his the seat next to Hobbie, torn between wanting to escape from the table and being grown up enough to stick around and socialize.
“It’s based on the serial number I was assigned at the Imperial Flight Academy,” Hobbie replied after swallowing. A flicker of nerves sent a tingle down his spine when Kay’s eyes narrowed. A glint of light reflected off her fork as her hand clenched. She really didn’t like the Empire, did she? “Some of the other officers who defected to the Rebellion with me kept using it and I guess it stuck,” he quickly added.
“That’s an old clone troopers custom,” Wes’s father commented in a Core worlds accent. “I’m surprised the Empire allowed it to continue.”
“Yeah, well, they can’t make people stop being people,” Wes said, jumping into the conversation. Under the table, he shifted his leg so it was pressed up against Hobbie’s, while above it, he playfully elbowed Hobbie’s side. “As much as they probably want to.”
“It does encourage more individuality than they probably want,” Kay agreed, visibly forcing herself to relax.
“It wasn’t something the instructors encouraged. They did everything they could to make us uniform. The only times you were allowed to stand out was in regards to military duties, and even then, they just wanted to know where to funnel you so you’d be the most useful.” Involuntarily, Hobbie ran a hand through his hair. “It almost took a year for my hair to grow back. They kept us all shaved bald.”
“I’m not sure I can even picture you without hair,” Wes said breathlessly. He studied Hobbie for a moment with wide eyes and the barest hint of a grin on his lips, heralding a burgeoning idea for some prank or another.
Kolt scooped up another bite of casserole. “So you are the Derek Klivian that married Wes two years ago,” he said in an almost accusatory tone.
Lisa’s head snapped up, sending her loose dark curls bouncing. She grinned, her round cheeks dimpling. “Tell us all about that! I want to hear everything.”
“You should have heard the way Mom carried on when the certificate arrived,” Kolt said.
“I didn’t ‘carry on’!” Kay exclaimed. “I was just surprised-”
“You did let out a few colorful phrases,” Ressik interrupted. Looking up from his pad, Wes’s father gave his wife an amused look.
‘“And mutter about getting your hands on the person messing with ‘your baby’,” Kolt added. For a moment, he met Wes’s eyes, smirking slightly.
“Aw, Mom, seriously?” Wes groaned.
“What? We hadn’t heard anything from you since you left!” Dropping her fork onto her plate, Kay crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back in her chair. “You skulked out of the house in the the night before starting the ICAE, and the only reason we knew you weren’t just skipping exam week is because Marcris Crorett saw you boarding a transport ship with a bag slung over your shoulder. Then, after almost two years of comm silence, instead of getting more than a letter or two from you, we getting a kri… we get a marriage certificate! How, exactly, was I supposed to react?”
Face visibly flushing, Wes squirmed in his seat. “I kept meaning to write,” he muttered. “But things were busy. And there were operational security concerns and… things happening.”
“The Alliance was pretty hectic in the days before the Battle of Yavin IV,” Hobbie said, jumping in to support Wes. He couldn’t ignore the glimmer of surprise that ran through him, though. Wes loved his family and chatted about them all the time - to Hobbie, at least. He couldn’t imagine him choosing not to write home at all, even with the heightened security they all lived under.
(There was also a tiny bit of awe at Wes’s audacity. Just up and leaving home? Refusing to take the required Imperial Citizen Academic Evaluation? He would never have been so bold when he was living at home. And definitely not at the age it was usually administered.)
A low growl emerged from Kay as she planted her hands in the table and leaned forward. Wes shifted slightly as well, his spine stiffening and body bracing in the way it always did when preparing for a fight.
Without looking up from his datapad, Ressik reached over and laid his hand on one of Kay’s, his fingers curling around her hand.
Kay went still for a moment, then the tension seemed to drain out of her. She still managed to level a harsh glower at her oldest son. “Don’t you dare go so long without sending us something again.” The intense glare suddenly shifted to Hobbie. “You seem sensible. Make sure he doesn’t slack off on communicating with us again.”
Beside Hobbie, Wes was undergoing a similar unwinding as his mother. “I can manage it on my own,” he protested.
“Apparently not,” Ressik replied.
Letting out a snort, Kay rose from the table and took her plate to the sink, finishing the final bites of casserole as she walked. Moments later, she returned with a small plastiform container. Opening the lid, she revealed the promised “gooey bars” - layers of thin pastry interspersed with a gooey looking filling atop of cake-like base.
The remaining bits of casserole on everyone’s plates vanished quickly as Wes and his siblings eyed the homemade dessert. Before anyone else could reach in, Kay used a clean knife as a makeshift server and deposited two bars on Hobbie’s plate before serving herself.
“It’s fine if they’re not to your taste,” she informed him. “Wes’ll finish whatever you don’t want, but feel free to help yourself to more if you do enjoy them.”
As the container began to circulate around the table, Lisa leaned in again. “Wes hasn’t shared all the details from your wedding. You have to tell us all about it!”
Slightly panicked, Hobbie shot a worried look at Wes, who met his eyes briefly.
“So, we were scouting potential new bases for the Rebellion,” Wes began slowly. “Through a series of events that really aren’t important, we ended up on this little backwater world that the galaxy didn’t seem to take any notice of. It was too remote for the Rebellion to make use of, was nice enough to stop over at while we made some small repairs and refueled. There was a local festival going on and, uh, once we’d been drinking for a while… Well…”
Kolt started laughing. “You’d have ended up like Mom if you were a girl.”
“Your father and I were completely sober when we got married,” Kay said sharply.
“Which was after Wes was born.”
As Kolt continued to heckle their mother, Lisa visibly wilted. “Oh. So it wasn’t… Another Janson brought low by alcohol,” she sighed. Then, brightening, she gave Wes and Hobbie a hopeful look. “But even if you did get together when you were drunk, you’ve stayed together! That means it turned into True Love, right?”
“I definitely can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have flying as my wingmate,” Wes said carefully. He shot a quick glance at Hobbie, amusement dancing in his eyes.
Hobbie couldn’t surprise his own amusement at Lisa’s romantic ideals. He and Wes weren’t… their relationship wasn’t… Well, whatever their undefined relationship was, it was important. And that was good enough to keep from smashing a young girl’s dreams.
“Reports on the Holonet say that the Empire is cracking down on Rebel units in the Western Reaches,” Ressik said, setting down his datapad. “Were you two caught up in that?”
The good feelings that had filled Hobbie slowly melted away and he and Wes both went still.
“We made it out,” Hobbie said shortly.
“Enough of us,” Wes added grimly. “I hope.”
The conversation shifted then to the Rebellion and the fight against the Empire. While they couldn’t go into much detail, the two Rebel pilots could correct Imperial propaganda and share some bits and pieces.
Beside Hobbie, Sean began to fidget, growing bored with the adult conversation. Finally, he slipped away from the table and disappeared. A few minutes later, just as Wes was complaining about their lackluster hygiene facilities, he reappeared.
“Dalherb’s gone into labor,” he announced, tugging on Ressik’s sleeve.
“One of the nerfs,” Ressik explained to Wes. He turned his attention back to Sean. “Are you sure?”
The boy nodded. “I think the calf is breech.”
“Damn. Wes, come help,” Ressik ordered as he rose from the table.
“What? I’m on leave! Make Kolt help.”
“You’re better at turning the calves than he is. Hurry up.”
Kolt smirked while Wes mumbled curses around the gooey bar he’d stuffed into his mouth.
Grabbing a simple hat and sunshades from a set of hooks by the door, Ressik shot a quick glance at his other son. “You too, Kolt. The calf will need to be examined and possibly medicated after it’s born.”
In short order, Hobbie found himself alone at the table with Kay, Lisa, and the twins. “What did Ressik mean when he said Wes is good at turning calves?”
“When a calf is breech, it’s backwards. Coming out feet first instead of head first,” Lisa explained. “The big farms on the equator have veterinary droids to take care of breech calves, but up here in the poles it takes so long to get a vet in that we usually handle it ourselves. Sometimes breech calves deliver just fine, but other times they need to be turned.”
“Wes is going to stick his arm up the mom nerf’s butt,” Valeria announced from the end of the table.
Hobbie looked at the twins, startled both by her words and at hearing one of them speak for the first time.
Vaneesma giggled from her seat next to her twin, propping her chin on her hand. “Wes has longer arms than Kolt, and Dad’s always happy to let someone else do it if he can.”
Blinking, Hobbie mentally reviewed what he knew about nerfs. Then compared the lone specimen he’d met while on a field trip on Ralltiir to Wes. The size contrast was startling. “Is it possible to get a recording of this? I… know some people who’d find it, um, fascinating.” It’d be months before the other Rogues would let go of this. Assuming he shared the footage.
Evil smiles spread across the twins faces. Then they shot up and raced for the door.
Kay suppressed a laugh. “Have another bar,” she suggested, carving out another piece. “I can see you keep Wes on his toes.”
“I do the best I can. He’s tricky. And smarter than he likes people knowing.”
“He’s always been that way.” Sighing, Kay leaned back in her chair. “He was only seventeen when he left home. Despite our best efforts, I know we’ve sheltered the children and kept them relatively shelter from the E mpire. Wes has changed. A lot. More than can be explained by just growing up.”
“This fight… It’s intense. What we’re up against is so massive and powerful, it seems foolish sometimes to even try to take it down. We have good days and bad days. Right now, we’re in the bad days. We lost a lot people recently. Being able to come here and get away from all of that…” Hobbie’s voice trailed off. How could he explain the enormity of the fight against the Empire? How he and Wes lived out of their go-bags and dressed in whatever civvies they came across and their pilot uniforms? Every moment of every day, they treaded water in the pool that was the Rebellion. This small escape was like being thrown an inflatable life preserver. It wasn’t a permanent solution, but let them rest for a short while.
Lisa suddenly materialized at his side, causing him to start in surprise He hadn’t noticed her leaving, which was surprising given that she was a true farm girl and built with the power and muscle density to break him in half if she wanted. She solemnly held out a small patchwork quilted sac with a strong, callused hand.
“This is for you. And Wes.”
Confused, he took the bag. It felt like rocks. And turned out to be rocks when he poured them out onto the table.
“Dioptase,” Lisa said, picked up a green, semi-translucent stone. “It’ll help you let go of worry and past hurts. And this purple one is Lepidolite. Keeping it in your pocket will help provide you a sense of peace and serenity.”
Hobbie gave her a blank look. “These are rocks,” he said as she continued to describe the different stones.
“Crystals. Healing crystals,” Lisa corrected. “And next, you’re going to go lie down on the floor in the living room and let me realign your energy. You’re full of negativity.”
As Hobbie’s eyes went wide, Kay intervened. “She wants to give you a massage. No candles,” she added, looking at Lisa. “My living room hasn’t caught fire once since you brother left. I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I can use artificial lights,” Lisa agreed. “But I’m going to need my heavy-duty incense.”
“Set it up on the window sill so we can air the room out afterwards.”
“Don’t I get a say in this?” Hobbie wondered.
“That’s the negativity energy talking,” Lisa declared. “Now come on.”
Wes stomped into the refresher, feeling somewhat peeved that he couldn’t slam it shut. He’d saved a calf, not contracted a virulent plague. He’d worn a pair of extra long gloves and scrubbed down after turning the calf. But instead of acknowledging his heroism, Lisa had shrieked when he’d come in, Mom had yelled, and Val and Nessa wouldn’t stop laughing. Even Hobbie had joined in the heckling with a few pithy, sarcastic comments. Traitor. Wes was stealing all his desserts for a month. As he sulked, he pulled out extra towels and tossed a few select items into the shower.
“The Rebellion has terrible doctors.”
Jerking, Wes spun around. Lisa had followed him into the ‘fresher and was now leaning against the sink counter, arms folded over her ample chest. “It took me two hours to realign Hobbie’s energy center so it wasn’t in a negative feedback loop and I had to give him some of my best crystals to keep it from getting that bad again. I’m going to make a handout for him. Make sure he uses it.”
“Crystals,” Wes repeated in a flat voice. Groaning, he buried his face in his hands. “You jumped full-on into the crazy, didn’t you? I thought healing crystals and magical energy centers were just a fad sweeping through your level in school.”
“It wasn’t a fad and it’s not crazy. Crystals, oils, and incense really can help.” Pausing, Lisa narrowed her eyes. “What’s also real was the one point five micrometer misalignment in several of the synthetic nerves in Hobbie’s prosthetic arm. I can’t imagine how many bad sensations he’s been getting from that, especially on top of all the things his bad energy was causing.”
“There’s a problem with his prosthetic?” Wes asked, suddenly alert.
“There was a problem. I fixed it.” Lisa gave him a level look. “Just the mechanical problem, though. It’s obvious he doesn’t like his prosthetics and that’s causing a number of other issues. We don’t have time for you two to stay and let me try and help with those, though.” Lisa raised a hand as he opened his mouth to speak, anticipating his next words. “I’m not joining the Rebellion, Wes.”
“You wouldn’t have to be a fighter, we need medics. You’d do well. And there’s a guy I’d like to introduce you and Dad to. He’d appreciate even a single conversation about you-know-what.”
“I don’t have medical training, Wes, and I’m not going to have time to get it.” She shook her head. “And you know full well why none of us will talk to your friend, whoever he is, about… that.” She passed her hand through the air. “If the Rebellion fails, we don’t want to be on the Empire’s radar any more than we already are.”
“I know, I just feel bad not saying anything.” Sighing, Wes ran his hand through his hair. “Hobbie’s really okay?”
“I realigned the nerves and interrupted the negative energy flow. He’s fine for now, but all that will come back.” Lisa studied him for a moment, eyes narrow. “You could use some help too. Your doctors are terrible if they’re letting their pilots wander around in this state. You and Hobbie are both carrying a lot of darkness in you. You need to read through the handout I’m going to write too”
“War’s messy, Lisa,” Wes said. He eyed his sister for a moment. “You’re positive I can’t convince you to come back with us? If you were able to repair Hobbie’s prosthetic, there’s a lot of good you could do in the Rebellion.”
“Wes, war is a terrible place to raise a baby.”
His thoughts screeched to a halt as suddenly as a speeder accident. Wes stared at his sister, blinking rapidly. “A baby,” he repeated blankly. “You’re having a-”
Lisa smiled and patted her abdomen.
“At lunch, you said we’re all done in by alcohol,” he realized. “Us. Who got you drunk? What happened?”
Rolling her eyes, Lisa snorted. “No one maliciously plied me with alcohol, Jos and I got drunk together. Things happened. The wedding’s going to be after the baby comes. And Jos already has a lead on a farm for us.”
“You mean Josgray Raynstaf?” Wes said in dismay. “That little twerp who never met a mud patch he couldn’t fall into?”
“He’s taller than you are,” Lisa shot back. “And has cleaned up quite nicely while you’ve been away.” She pushed away from the counter and grabbed his shoulders, spinning him around to face the shower. “Bathe. You’re still icky. We’ll talk more about this later. Ta.”
Wes let his head fall back as Lisa left the refresher. Screaming seemed like such a good idea right now. Mom would kill him, though. Either figuratively or literally if she thought there was an intruder and grabbed the shotgun again.
He stripped down, dropping his clothes onto the floor near the laundry receptacle, and climbed into the shower unit, which immediately released a spray of hot water when he activated the controls. The array of cleansers inside was a mix of old familiar products and a number of new ones. The pounding that had started in his head began to grow.
For a long while, he just stood there under the water, trying to clear his head of any stray thoughts. He was here. He was home. It was fine. It was all fine. It was fine that things had changed, he’d known that was going to happen, had expected it-
Blinking his eyes open, Wes peered through the gap between the door and the wall of the shower and spotted Hobbie’s familiar tan shirt.
“Lisa said you needed something?”
“No, it’s- She’s just walking around dropping thermal detonators and then flouncing off,” he replied.
Hobbie didn’t answer right away and he quickly vanished from view. Frowning, Wes stood quiet and still, trying to hear the other pilot over the sound of the flowing water. Then the door of the shower swung open and Hobbie stepped in.
It was a scene they’d played out hundreds of times on countless ships and planets, one of them jumping into the shower with the other to talk, console, or distract the other.
Wes automatically backed up, giving Hobbie space. The shower was larger than any shipside unit and had the benefit of having a second shower head installed. Reaching out, Wes activated the controls and after brief sputter, a second stream of warm water began to flow.
“Using this much water isn’t going to be a problem for your parents, is it?” Hobbie asked as he stepped under the second shower head.
“Nah, we’re tapped into well water here,” Wes said. “Got scrubbers and filters cleaning the water before it gets into the house and the heater stores up solar energy so that’s never an issue.”
Hobbie took a few minutes to give himself a quick scrub, wiping cleanser off his face with a cloth and letting the last remnants of their time on the Bright Walker . When he was done, he gestured for Wes to turn around and started to run soap across his shoulders. “You sounded kind of upset,” he said tentatively.
“I’m not upset, it’s just…” Wes paused, his eyes drifting closed and Hobbie’s hands began to drift down his back. “I knew things kept going here and things changed while I was away. I knew that was happening. It’s just kind of jarring to experience it first hand.”
“I can imagine.”
“I mean, Kolt’s turned into a complete jerk, Val and Nessa are even more self absorbed than before, and Lisa? Lisa is pregnant and engaged. When did that happen?”
“That is a lot,” Hobbie said. He went still, hands resting on Wes’s shoulders, which he then gently squeezed. “They’re here, though, and happy to see you. Even Kolt, I bet.”
“There is that.” Slumping down slightly, Wes reached up with one hand and covered one of Hobbie’s. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” After a moment’s consideration, Hobbie stepped closer, pressing their bodies together. “You sister may be a little nutty, what with all the rocks and incense and energy stuff, but she’s at least as good at you at giving masssages. Maybe even a bit better.”
“Heresy,” Wes muttered. Hobbie’s proximity was getting distracting. “Meaning, what, exactly?”
“I don’t know what she did, but I haven’t felt this good in months.” Stooping down, Hobbie rested his head against Wes’s. “Let me make you feel the same.”
Wes breathed in, taking in the scent of water, soap, and the barest hint of Hobbie’s natural musk. Twisting around, he angled his head and caught Hobbie’s lips. A distraction was the perfect idea.
So this visit to Taanab js turning into quite a thing. I got hung up for a while trying to fit everything that needs ti happen into this chapter, but I’ve decided to just let it spread across as many chapters as it needs to. See you soon!