“Lothal was just a battle won, not the war.”
Zeb snorted, shooting the human at his side a fondly exasperated look. “Of course you’d say that. You’re a downer, anybody ever tell you that, Kal?”
“You have, repeatedly, Garazeb.”
Zeb flicked an ear in amusement, accompanied by a “pah!” which only made Kallus look more amused. He considered it a win – Alexsandr still didn’t smile often, or easily. It was a real shame, his smile did things to Zeb, thoroughly mushy, sappy things which would get him thoroughly mocked if Chopper knew of them. Let alone Ezra… No, he shied away from that thought before it could fully form.
Standing on top of the tower where it had all begun, looking out over Lothal’s plains, Kallus’s hair and Zeb’s fur were being ruffled by the wind.
Zeb found himself reaching for Kallus’s hair and ran his fingers through it, only ruffling it more under the pretense of combing through it.
Kallus narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Are you grooming me?”
He gave another snort and dropped his hand. “As if. Not enough fur on you to bother.”
They fell back into companionable silence watching the sun bathe the landscape in orange as it slowly sank below the horizon.
Zeb’s claws dug into the durasteel of the railing. “Where are you going to go now?”
He could read uncertainty lurking at the corners of the placidity in Kallus’s eyes when he lifted his head to meet his gaze. He asked, almost casually – he almost pulled it off, too, but only almost, Zeb knew him too well, “Where are you going, Garazeb?”
Yavin 4 was still as miserable as it had been the last time Zeb had been stationed there.
Kallus liked it. it was the first place in the Rebel Alliance that was all his own, where people had never known him as the ISB agent hunting them.
“It’s not Lothal,” Zeb grumbled as they perched on a stone protruding from the wall of the pyramid, the perfect lookout for a couple willing to climb a little for privacy. Within his own mind, he added, nor is it Lira San. “It’s too hot and sticky for a Lasat.”
Kallus chewed on his bottom lip. “We could leave.”
Zeb marveled quietly and wondered when exactly it had become we. They had never spoken of it, never put it into words which one of them wasn’t skilled at weaving and the other far too skilled for his own good. You and I had simply become we all without their conscious permission.
Zeb hemmed and hawed and scratched the fur at the back of his head with a claw. It felt stifling in Yavin’s humid heat, even short as it was. His eyes found Kallus again. They always did. Alexsandr looked at peace. He looked like he belonged perching on this crumbling, thousands of years old stone, looking out at green that stretched to the horizon.
There was so much untouched green on Yavin 4.
“The trees are alright,” he muttered, ears flat against his skull, head lowered. “I mean, climbing them. They’re finally a challenge. The puny little things on Lothal were only good for climbing if you have no claws.”
“The trees are as good a reason as any to stay,” Kallus agreed.
Zeb closed the door to their quarters behind him. He shook himself, snow and ice flying every which way, fur standing on edge before it smoothed again, and snorted in disgust. There were still clumps of ice clinging to his fur, which he kept trying to pluck off. Incidentally, this was only the second-greatest indignity, after the ridiculous rubber sole socks he had to wear to keep his toe beans from freezing.
“Karabast, Kal! You know I love you, but if you make me stay on this frozen ice ball any longer I’ll feed you to a wampa!”
The bundle of thermal blankets on the lower bunk bed moved and shifted until it regained human body shape and finally even revealed a familiar face.
“You love me?”
Zeb froze. He forced a laugh and shuffled his feet. In the ridiculous socks, he couldn’t even dig his clawed toes into the ice. Even so, his feet were suddenly extremely interesting to him. “I figured you knew.”
Of course he knew! He was Kallus, who had always figured out Zeb before he could figure himself out – all the while being too blinded to recognize the Empire for what it was, but Zeb had never said he was perfect. And they’d never needed to put it into words before, right? Zeb grumbled to himself, he felt uncomfortably hot and flushed in Hoth’s icy cold and really, he could have done without that.
Kallus remained quiet for far longer than Zeb felt comfortable, and why was he still silent anyway? It wasn’t like him to be speechless. But checking on the whys and hows would mean ending his close study of his toes, and it would run the risk of meeting his eyes.
“I did.” Zeb’s head jerked up, eyes meeting Kallus’s despite his best intentions not to. He looked about as awkward as Zeb felt. For him, looking awkward meant looking like nothing at all but they’d been together for years now and Zeb had long since learned to read him, too.
“Yeah, then…” He trailed off again and sat on the edge of the bed. It was stupid that they’d gotten a bunk bed, they only ever used one, but regs were regs and Kallus had gotten pissy about damaging Alliance property when Zeb went about tearing off the upper bunk bed. He could be such an Imp sometimes. “Don’t know why you’re making such a fuss about it if you knew.”
Kallus sized him up with the intensity he would normally aim at a particularly infuriating strategical problem. He still bore this carefully neutral facial expression. “Turn around,” he said. His Coruscanti accent was more distinct than usual; he tried to soften it these days. “Garazeb, turn around for me. You’ve got clumps of ice sticking to your fur everywhere, I won’t have you melting all over the mattress.”
That was neither an answer nor an explanation. Zeb turned around for him anyway.
Gentle fingers pried clumps of ice and snow from his back, soothing away the sting whenever they had yanked too hard.
Zeb’s eyes fell shut as Kallus’s care lulled him into quiet contentment, his breath evening out. Even his annoyance had faded away by the time Kallus was finishing with his legs, soothed away by caresses each of which was an unspoken I love you. They had never needed to put it into words, not until he’d gone and blurted it out anyway.
“There, all done,” Kallus said, his hands lingering on Zeb’s leg. “Now you’re allowed to join me in bed.”
He grumbled a little at Kallus’s generosity and grumbled a little more when the human snarked right back at him, and refused to take off the jacket he wore even in bed. They kept up the snark right until they turned off the lights and settled into a comfortable compromise between intimacy and warmth.
Zeb had nearly forgotten his earlier chagrin, and was halfway to falling asleep, when his keen Lasat ears picked up a murmur of, “I love you, too, you know…”