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Even with most of the Rebel Alliance stationed there, the big stone hallways of Yavin IV's ancient temples were often deserted. Wes hadn't expected to meet anyone, hadn't really planned to be around people right now, but there was somebody trying to scramble up off the floor partway down this particular hallway, leaning on one wall. After a moment, Wes realized why the person's silhouette struck him as odd: he had only one arm and, below his knees, only one leg.

As Wes watched, the man -- tall, skinny, dressed like Wes in the oversized one-size-fits-most clothes that Medical provided for their patients -- managed to get up to a standing position, balancing on his one foot with his hand against the wall. He cast a dour look at the crutch that lay on the floor near his foot, then took his hand off the wall and very carefully tried to bend over and pick up the crutch. About halfway down, he started to fall forward, overcorrected, and tumbled backwards onto his butt.

Wes winced, trying not to snicker. That had to have hurt, but it was also funny as hell.

The man looked around, spotted Wes, and gave him a dry, unamused look. "If you think it's so funny, why don't you try it, junior?" he asked in a clipped Imperial-sounding accent.

Wes bit the inside of his lip, fighting a grin. "Sorry, I shouldn't laugh," he said. "You were just so close, and then… boom!" He waved his hands, imitating how suddenly the man's one foot had gone out from under him.

"Well, from the outside, it probably is hilarious," the man admitted, sitting up and tucking his foot under his other thigh. "But from my perspective, my ass hurts now, and it's very frustrating to get so far and…" He gestured at the floor, his crutch, and the general situation.

"Yeah, I can imagine," Wes said, sincere for a moment. How long had the guy been trying to get up before Wes happened along? "You want a hand up?" he asked, taking a couple of steps closer.

The man pouted slightly. He had a face built for pouting, long and full-lipped, with mournful blue eyes and dusty blond hair. "Would you judge me harshly if I said yes?" he asked.

"Hell no," Wes said. "You're doing a lot better than I would be." He balanced on one bare foot for a minute, waving one arm in the air, then abruptly put his other foot down again before he fell on his ass. "C'mon," he said, offering his hand to the blond man, "let's get you up."

The man took Wes's hand and pulled himself up. Wes let him hoist himself up rather than pulling him. Then the man tried to bend over, leaning on Wes instead of the wall this time, and reach for his crutch again. You had to admit he was persistent.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa there," Wes said, catching his new friend before he overbalanced again and fell on his head. "Let me get that for you."

The blond man straightened up, looking slightly perplexed. "Oh," he said, reaching out to balance himself against the wall again. "Very well. Thank you very much."

Wes picked up the crutch and handed it to the man. "Sorry I laughed at you," he said. Okay, he was mostly sorry. It had been funny, though.

~~~

Hobbie took the crutch and tucked it back under his arm, watching the young man dubiously. Who were his parents? Was he some Rebel General's kid? Oh no… Hobbie felt his stomach drop. Was he a soldier too? How young did the Rebellion recruit? He'd known they must be desperate for personnel, but -- for all his stocky, muscular build, Hobbie's rescuer couldn't be more than fifteen or sixteen.

"Oh," Hobbie said awkwardly. "It's no trouble. I imagine there's not much else to laugh at, really." The boy was dressed in hospital clothing similar to Hobbie's. Had he been ill, or wounded in battle? "So you're welcome," he joked. He balanced his weight on the crutch and took an experimental hop. "Much better."

The boy gave him an odd little half-courtly nod of acknowledgment. "Gotta get our laughs in where we can," he said cheerfully. "Where were you headed? Or should I just kark off and stop making a nuisance of myself?" He rounded off that question with a broad, self-deprecating grin.

"Well," Hobbie joked, "I was headed down to the mess when I decided to make someone feel dreadfully sorry for me and offer to get me lunch." He tilted his head in a half-shrug and smirked down at his rescuer. "Looks like my evil plan worked."

The boy threw back his head with a peal of laughter. "I like you." He stuck out his hand as if to shake Hobbie's hand. "Wes Janson." Then he seemed to realize Hobbie's only available hand was busy holding on to his crutch, and pulled back a little, looking awkward.

Hobbie adjusted his stance, leaning carefully on his crutch, and shook the offered hand. "Hobbie Klivian. Or, well, Derek Klivian, but everybody calls me Hobbie." Truthfully, he thought of himself as Hobbie; Derek belonged to the distant past. "Please call me Hobbie. It's a pleasure," he said politely. "Are you…?"

"From around here? No. With the Rebellion? Yes. Pleased to meet you? Definitely." Janson favored Hobbie with a flirtatious dimpled grin. Either he was the least awkward teenager Hobbie had ever met, or he was older than he looked.

Hobbie chuckled. "You may regret that," he said as he started making his way carefully down the hallway toward the distant mess hall. Janson kept slow pace with him, staying within arm's reach. "So," Hobbie asked, "are you a soldier, a pilot, or a senator from some world that elects children?"

Janson snickered. "Hey, the Princess is my age and she's a senator," he pointed out.

Hobbie nodded. That made more sense. "Well, she is her father's daughter, after all," he said. Leia Organa had inherited all of Bail's fire. "For all I know, you're from Naboo and might have been a senator for years. But you're nineteen?"

Janson rolled his eyes dramatically. "Every time," he said, sounding absurdly world-weary. "Every kriffing time. Yes, I am in fact old enough to legally fly, fight, drink, fuck, and sign a legal contract on most worlds in this galaxy. Do you want to see my identicard?"

Hobbie lifted an eyebrow and cast a sidelong glance at Janson without stopping his slow but steady progress. "Tad touchy, are we?" he asked mildly. "You just have brilliant genetics, considering you look maybe fifteen. But I suppose that's no way to speak with my rescuer," he added. "I apologize, and if it helps, I'm only twenty-one."

Janson gave him a comically thoughtful scowl for a moment, as if considering whether to forgive him, then nodded. "Apology accepted," he said. "So what do you do around here? Pilot?"

"What a relief," Hobbie said, dry as dust. "I'd hate to lose the one person who hasn't written me off or ignored me yet." He tilted his head in a bit of a shrug. "Yes, I'm a pilot. I brought the Rand Ecliptic over. But I have noticed that you haven't answered my question about what you do around here."

"Wait, you're the guy who stole a whole ship from the Imps?" Janson exclaimed, literally bouncing up and down. "I heard about that one! That was amazing! That was so cool."

Hobbie flushed. He wasn't used to being the target of such enthusiastic adulation. "It wasn't just me," he deflected. "I mean… there were two different groups trying to do the same thing and it got botched. That's what happened to my arm." He gestured with what remained of his left arm to illustrate. "But I was named captain, so I guess that's something."

"I mean, that's still pretty cool," Janson pointed out. "Not your arm, I mean. The getting named captain."

"Well, Biggs--" Hobbie caught his breath. Shit. "I mean, they felt guilty that I got injured saving them. I think losing the leg was worse. At least the damn infection afterwards." Hobbie paused. "Uh, I can be out of bed. Sort of."

Janson snorted a laugh. "Same here."

Hobbie exhaled. "Good to know I'm not the only escapee. Best that we stick together then."

"Absolutely," Janson said, grinning up at him as they continued to walk.

Excellent. He had an ally. Hobbie smiled slightly. "So, what were you in for?" he asked, then blanched slightly, realizing Janson might have survived Alderaan or been in the battle. "Oh. I apologize. I… that's rude of me. I…"

Janson shook his head cheerfully, don't worry about it. "Hesken's fever."

Hobbie winced. "That's nasty this late. Are you one of the unfortunate ones it skipped over when you were young, or is this a return?"

"Return," Janson said, crinkling his nose in an unreasonably adorable fashion. "I had it when I was a baby, but I guess it didn't take."

Hobbie nodded, sympathetic. "It's a bloody wonder you're not in bed still," he said. "But I'm very glad you're here. I mean, who else would rescue me?" They were nearly to the mess hall. If he'd been left to his own devices, he suspected he might still be scrambling on the floor.

Janson grinned awkwardly. "Eh, someone would have come along," he said.

Hobbie huffed a silent almost-laugh. "Yes, but they wouldn't be enabling my escape," he said. "I think I prefer this rescue as opposed to the other."

Janson smirked happily. "Next time you can rescue me," he said.

Hobbie actually laughed aloud at that. "Of course," he replied. "I'll toss my crutch at anyone who gives you trouble."

"I'll hold you to that," Janson promised with a snicker.

Hobbie smirked at him. "If you thought the first act was funny, just wait until I attempt to fight with one arm and one leg." Reaching the mess hall, they turned toward the food line. "Rations or rations?" Hobbie asked wryly.

"Maybe they'll have some edible plants or something," Janson remarked optimistically. "Even a dead animal. There's a whole jungle out there, maybe they have rancors." He collected two plates from a stack as they joined the end of the line.

Hobbie blinked at him, faintly horrified. Rancors as in the giant predatory carnivores one saw in zoos and Holonet nature shows? "You can eat those? They're huge!" he said. "How would you even kill one?"

Janson gave him a deliberately wide-eyed, innocent look. "Shoot it in the eye," he said, just a little more casually than necessary.

Hobbie narrowed his eyes. "Meaning that's how you personally kill them?"

Janson shrugged. "Sometimes." He looked almost shy for a second.

"How in the hell? You're that good?" Hobbie asked, impressed.

Janson looked intensely smug. "I mean, the escaped rancors we have on Taanab are only three meters tall," he said, in that overly casual tone Hobbie was starting to figure out meant he knew he was saying something outrageous and was fishing for a reaction.

Still, sometimes a reaction was warranted. "Why?" Hobbie asked, horrified. "Why would you import rancors? That's… I'm so sorry. I mean no offense to your homeworld. But that! It's madness!"

Janson grinned broadly. "One of the farm corporations decided they'd make a good herd animal. They, uh, didn't."

"That's insanity," Hobbie scoffed. "I believe you. However, it's insane. I'm glad you're as good as you say."

Janson preened a little. "Sometime I'll show you just how good I am," he promised. "If you want."

Hobbie grinned. "Once I get a leg, I'll let you."

"Deal." The line for food had been long, but it moved fast; they were up to the area where they could choose from the strange assortment of foods the Rebellion offered its personnel. "So, uh, rations or rations?" Janson asked, his dark eyes twinkling as he quoted Hobbie's joke back to him.

"Well, I think rations would just hit the spot," Hobbie smirked.

*****

Once they had their food, such as it was, they headed over to one of the small tables scattered around the mess hall. Janson set down both trays, then pulled out one of the chairs for Hobbie with a deep bow and a flourish. "Your throne, my lord," he said with a friendly grin.

Hobbie considered the gesture and didn't find it to be patronizing. It was sweet. "Thank you very much," he said graciously, easing himself into his seat. Not bad for a one-armed, one-legged dumbass.

~~~

Wes took his own seat, grinning broadly. "You're welcome," he said politely. Without thinking, he gestured over his plate, the Taanabian sign to avert evil, before picking up his fork. Then he looked up a little shyly to see if Hobbie had noticed -- he hadn't meant to do something so backwater in front of his cosmopolitan-sounding new friend.

Hobbie pursed his lips, clearly a little lost, but politely mimicked the gesture.

An embarrassed little giggle escaped Wes. He set his fork down and rested his chin casually in his cupped hands, hoping it wasn't too obvious that he was also trying to cover his cheeks and hide the hot flush he felt there. "Hobbie," he said. "Look, I... look, just don't do that. It's a stupid little Taanab thing, nobody else does it, I've been trying to stop. You'll make yourself look like an idiot and you're way too--" He stopped suddenly, looked away, and grabbed his drink and took a gulp of it in order to have an excuse to stop talking.

"Oh," Hobbie said, his ears flushing pink. "I was trying to be respectful of your culture. That's… that's how the Rebellion operates, correct?"

Kriff. Hobbie was so sweet and so earnest and… kriff. "It is," Wes said, nodding half to himself. He hadn't heard it put in quite those words before, but really, that was the whole point of the Rebellion, wasn't it? "It absolutely is. I'm… you know, that's probably a really good attitude to have. But yeah, that's not a Rebel thing, just a Taanab thing. I don't want you picking up bad habits from me," he finished, trying for a charming smirk and twinkling eyes. Sithspit, he really wanted this guy to like him.

"That corresponds with what I expected. I appreciate your candor in this matter," Hobbie told him. "Taanab... farm world?" He picked up his utensils and began eating.

Aww, and he got so adorably prissy when he was feeling shy or awkward. Wes really wanted Hobbie to like him. Either as a friend or… well. Maybe not move that fast when he'd barely met the guy.

"Breadbasket of the Mid-Rim," Wes said, nodding. "We export enough food every year, crops and animal products, to feed over a dozen planets. I don't have this year's exact numbers." He quirked a self-deprecating little grin; his fellow pilots in the Tierfon Yellow Aces had teased him about his encyclopedic memory for everything from Taanabian import/export statistics to Y-wing part designations.

"Then I owe you a great debt," Hobbie said, "as well as my regard for your excellent memory. My world imports all its food, much of it from Taanab. We have no facilities for growing food, other than as an intellectual pursuit, and that's only indulged in by the very elderly. That and flowers. It is a rite of passage for an interested party to raid flower gardens," Hobbie explained.

"Oh? Where are you from, if I can ask?" Wes asked very casually, taking a bite of his food. Hobbie sounded Imperial, which made sense for someone who'd stolen a ship from the Imp Academy -- a whole ship! Wes was still bouncing a little internally over that. This guy was definitely way too impressive and badass to be hanging out with someone like Wes, and two whole years older as well, but he could dream, right? -- but beyond the obvious accents like Corellian and Outer Rim, Wes was still getting the hang of differentiating non-Taanabian accents. Imperial meant Core, maybe? Probably?

~~~

Hobbie froze, hesitating. Should he tell him? What were people told about Ralltiir? Were they told about Ralltiir? Still, Wes had no issue telling people about his home. He should do the same. Hobbie forced a polite smile on his lips. "I'm from Ralltiir. I suppose the accent gives it away." That's how it had been in his training. Their accent drift was small but noticeable among natives of Coruscant. That's what Ralltiir got for trying to be their echo but still maintaining their traditions.

Janson laughed. "I got maybe 'vaguely Imperial' off your accent. I never heard of Ralltiir, where's it at? Core Worlds?" He seemed genuinely interested.

"Yes. Ralltiir is coreworld. We're extremely close to Coruscant," Hobbie told him, using his utensils to do a rough lightyear distance display. "We're often considered their little sister."

Janson tilted his dark head quizzically. "Sounds cute?" he offered.

Hobbie shrugged. "If only it were," he said. "We're a money world. About a year ago, the Emperor blockaded the planet. Her Highness Princess Leia was instrumental in assisting a Rebel cell there recently, but the planet was swiftly brought back into line. The Families prefer it, honestly. Even before the blockade, Ralltiir was fairly isolationist. It's an.... interesting place to grow up."

Janson nodded, looking interested. "Blockaded, huh?" he said. "I'm sorry to hear that. Uh, if I can ask, though -- how does that work? Money transfers still happen, right, because all that is over the Holonet?"

Hobbie nodded. "It's completely done by holonet. The Families control the data streams and the markets react accordingly."

"The... families," Janson repeated. "You've said that twice now. I feel like maybe I should be getting something from that that I'm not getting."

Hobbie tilted his head. "My apologies. The Ten Families are what work as ruling classes. Each Family controls an area of Ralltiiri trade and it branches from there. I'm... I'm very used to everyone just knowing."

"Sounds like," Janson said with a friendly smile. "Taanab is run by agricultural corporations. There are some independent farmers, like my folks, but all the best cropland and grazing land is split up among the projects -- the big corporate farms."

Hobbie smiled. "Independent farmers... What an amazing thing. All the Families bought into the Imperial rulership. They like it. Makes it easier for them."

Wes nodded. "I can imagine it would. The corporations on Taanab would kind of like to buy us up or kick us out too, but the independent farms are all closer to the poles where the orbital mirrors don't reach as well, so they haven't actually done anything systematic about it."

"I'm pretty sure my family hates me. I just lost them a lot of social status among the Families for stealing an Imperial ship," Hobbie said proudly, his grin a little vicious.

~~~

Wes blinked, a little startled by all this new information at once. Hobbie was... what, his planet's equivalent of the son of a project owner? Or did "my family" mean something else, the way "the families" did? And his family hated him for becoming a Rebel, and he seemed... not upset by that. That was... a lot of information to process at once, and Wes was not remotely sure how it would be polite to react. Manners on Taanab covered things like "don't talk with your mouth full", not... this.

"Um. Tell me if I'm being incredibly rude," Wes said awkwardly, "but, uh, when you say your Family's status. You mean like parents, sisters, brothers, or you mean you were like an employee on one of the projects?" Kriff, he'd deserve it if Hobbie just threw his plate at Wes's head and stomped off. Or as close as he could get with one leg. Kriff, what if Wes was mortally offending him and Hobbie was just taking it because he was afraid Wes wouldn't help him any more? Kriff. "Seriously, tell me if I'm being rude, please," he continued. "I won't be offended, I promise. I know there's a lot of important Core Worlds manners I just haven't had a chance to learn yet."

Hobbie ducked his head. "Sorry, the terminology makes it hard to follow. My deepest apologies. I meant my birth family and their social status among the ruling elites."

"Wow," Wes said, impressed. If the son of a project owner had stolen -- Wes still wasn't over this -- an entire Imperial training frigate and defected to the Rebels with it, there would definitely have been gossip. So much gossip. "So you wrecked your family's status when you came over here. You sound like that might've been a perk for you?" This sounded like a story, and Wes loved a good story. People were at their most interesting when they were telling stories about themselves.

Hobbie shrugged. "We're not close," he hedged, then shrugged. New start, new beginning. "An unplanned child is very bad on my world. I wasn't planned for. So honestly, it's hardly the first time I've ruined their status."

"Ooh," Wes said sympathetically. He started to reach out and pat Hobbie's hand comfortingly, then changed his mind -- he was lucky enough to have a good family himself, but he'd had school friends whose parents hadn't liked them or wanted them. He never really knew how to help, but he kept trying. "You want a hug?" he asked, standing up.

~~~

Hobbie looked at him, surprised. Normally no one wanted to touch him. He was a worthless drain of resources on his world. But Janson -- Wes -- wanted to hug him. "Is that..." He stopped. "Yes, please?"

~~~

Wes stepped around the table, swallowing down the rush of anger within him. He recognized that hesitation. Whoever had taught Hobbie that he shouldn't want to be hugged, Wes wanted to punch them right in the teeth, project owner or not. But those assholes weren't here, so -- Wes leaned down, a little awkwardly since Hobbie was still seated, and wrapped his arms around Hobbie's gangly frame, hugging him fiercely. Hobbie hugged him back, a little awkwardly, but seeming to relax very slightly.

Wes continued to hold Hobbie tightly, shifting his grip so he could balance a little better, but not letting go. He rubbed Hobbie's back gently, trying to pack as much comfort as possible into the hug. He wished he could reach up and stroke Hobbie's hair -- it felt so soft and fine against his cheek -- but that seemed a little too forward. He could feel Hobbie's timid, dignified little breaths warm on his collarbone where Hobbie's face was nestled into his neck. Hobbie's one-armed attempt at returning the hug was shy and clumsy, not surprising when Wes considered how few hugs he'd probably ever gotten. No problem, I can fix that, Wes thought, then caught himself, blushing hotly. As much as he wanted to make Hobbie completely comfortable with hugging and being hugged, that was Hobbie's call to make. Still... he hadn't pulled back yet. Wes tightened his arms around his new friend a little more.

Hobbie smiled and rubbed Wes's back, seeming to realize that he was the one in control here. He patted Wes's back gently and pulled away slightly. "Thank you."

Wes let go and straightened up, stretching a little. "Better?" he asked, smiling down at Hobbie. He knew the smile was soft and fond, a little more openly affectionate than the smirk he'd been aiming for, but damn it, he liked this guy.

"Very much," Hobbie said, returning the smile. "You should eat, though. There's no telling when the nursing staff will realize my departure."

"Or mine," Wes admitted, grinning. He sat back down in his chair and started eating his rations again. "So what do you think? After lunch, if they don't catch us, should we head back or keep exploring?"

Hobbie swallowed his food. "I'd rather explore, but it's a bit harder getting around like this than even I had expected. So it might be best for me to take my chances with the doctors."

Wes tilted his head and batted his eyelashes, trying for something between an endearing smile and a mock-pout. "Aww. You don't want to keep leaning on me?" he asked, squaring his shoulders a little to show off his muscles. Maybe Hobbie wasn't even into guys, but then again, maybe he was. Or if he wasn't, maybe he'd just take Wes's flirtation as a joke, like it usually was.

Hobbie chuckled. "No, that's been great. But I'm pretty much a hindrance to your escape, don't you think?"

"Hey, I'm perfectly capable of hindering my own escape," Wes objected cheerfully, ignoring the little thump of his heart tripping over itself in his chest. Hobbie liked leaning on him. Calm down, Janson, he told himself. Maybe he just likes having someone helping him get around. Without a pause, he kept talking over his own internal monologue. "It'd be embarrassing to get caught and hauled back, though. Maybe we should go back before they catch up to us. Do you think if we apologize very nicely they'll let us have our beds closer together?" Shit, shit, shit shit shit. "I mean, so we can talk. If I haven't made a total and utter nuisance of myself," he continued with his most charming grin. He was not going to think about getting into Hobbie's bed. Definitely not at all, and certainly not into his hospital bed. Not thinking about it at all, absolutely not.

"Well, while I'm assured of your capabilities, I'd rather not be the cause of your hindrance," Hobbie said with a teasing look. "I'd like that a lot. I've been in and out of things, like I said. It'd be nice to have someone to talk to who isn't taking readings and generally asking me questions about my state of being," he concluded wryly.

Wes knew he was grinning like an idiot, probably blushing clear to the tips of his ears, but he couldn't help it. Hobbie wanted to talk to him some more. He tried to ignore the way his pulse was thudding in his neck and took another bite of his rations. "We better finish our food first," he said awkwardly. "We put in enough effort to get to it."

"Absolutely." Hobbie glanced at his tray and gently poked his dessert. "... What is this?" he asked curiously.

Wes scooped up a spoonful of the matching sludge on his own plate, shut his eyes -- it really did look very disturbing -- and popped it into his mouth. "Chocolate," he reported after a moment, opening his eyes. "Chocolate and something, I think. Something tangy."

Hobbie gamely ate a bite and made a face. "I'm not a fan. Would you like it?"

"Sure." Wes shoved his plate over for Hobbie to scrape the offending dish onto it. "I can always eat." Since joining the Rebellion, he'd learned to eat what he could get whenever he could get it.

Hobbie nodded, shoveling the dessert onto Wes's plate. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind."

Wes grinned and dug into the dessert. "Not a big eater?" he asked. "Or just still feeling under the weather?" About halfway through the second question, he kicked himself mentally, realizing that Hobbie might not have been offered enough to eat growing up, but the words were out of his mouth now.

Hobbie shrugged. "Both. I don't tend to eat much anyway."

Wes nodded. He wasn't going to pester Hobbie, but he made a mental note to keep an eye on his new friend and make sure he ate regular meals. "Uh, if I can ask," he said, talking between bites as he continued to eat. The dessert was really good, if odd-looking, but he could see how the tangy aftertaste could be weird for some people. "Um, you said you had an infection after you, uh." He gestured, realized he wasn't being very clear, and took a nervous breath. "Uh, lost your leg. Did you... I know we're really short on bacta, so um, I'm just wondering..." This wasn't going to get any less awkward the longer he danced around it. Maybe he just shouldn't have brought it up at all, but he had, so the only way out was through. "Did you just get over it really quick? The battle was only three days ago." There, it was out. Now he was going to have to admit he hadn't been in the battle. Great work, Janson. But he was curious, and he'd let his mouth run away with him. He really needed to stop doing that.

"I wasn't in the battle," Hobbie told him. "I've been out for… a week? Maybe a bit longer, but I wasn't out there."

Wes froze for a minute, staring at Hobbie, still holding a spoonful of the chocolate dessert. It started to ooze off the tilted spoon; Wes hastily put the spoon back down on the plate before he spilled anything on himself. "...for real?" he managed.

~~~

Hobbie looked at him, knowing this was the breaking point. He wasn't so awesome now, was he? "Yes," he said. "The infection ended several days ago. With everything that is just… happening, I haven't gotten a new leg, so I've been… resting."

~~~

Wes could feel himself shaking. He put his hands flat on the table, trying to steady himself. "I -- I..." he stammered. Then, shutting his eyes, he took a deep breath. "I wasn't in the battle either," he blurted out all at once. "I was out sick too. I thought I had to be the only one. What kind of a loser gets sick right before the battle of the century?" Shit, shit, kriffing hells. "Not to call you a loser!" he continued, knowing he was just digging himself deeper with every word, but too nervous to stop. "You're not a loser, I absolutely don't think you're a loser, you're amazing, I just... oh, kriff." He still had his eyes shut. Maybe Hobbie would just go away and Wes wouldn't have to face him. Sithspit, that couldn't happen though, could it? Hobbie was going to need help to stand up. Wes had just mortally insulted him and Hobbie couldn't even kriffing leave. Wes just ducked his head and sat there, eyes still shut, unable to think of anything to do that wouldn't involve him opening his eyes and seeing just how much his new friend suddenly hated and despised him.

"Of course you weren't. You were sick," Hobbie told him calmly. "One of my Academy classmates also got Hesken’s fever late. If it was anything like her case, your fever was so high, you wouldn't have been able to pilot very well. Do you think so low of yourself because disease struck you? It's not like you purposely infected yourself."

Wes felt his whole face flushing hot with shame. A little knot of painful, directionless, resentful anger grew in his chest. "To hear some of the new pilots talk, you'd think I did," he said bitterly. "The ones who got here after the battle, in the last day or two. I overheard some of them. They all think--" The words stuck in his throat and he stopped talking.

Hobbie scoffed. "Who cares? Were they the ones sick? No. Their opinions are less than nothing."

Wes peeked out from under his eyelids, not looking up to meet Hobbie's eyes yet, but he reached out as if to take Hobbie's hand. "Thanks," he said in a small voice. Hearing that clipped, disdainful voice dismiss the memories that plagued him... it seemed to untwist the tight little ache in his chest so that he could breathe again.

Hobbie reached out. "You're welcome. They weren't a part of that damn battle either."

Wes gripped Hobbie's hand and clung to it. Hobbie didn't hate him, didn't think he was a coward. More than that -- Hobbie understood. He hadn't been in the battle either. Wes didn't feel so impossibly alone anymore. "Did you... I just transferred here," he said shyly, still holding Hobbie's hand. He wanted to talk about Piggy, about how he'd lost his wingman and closest friend, ask if Hobbie had lost anyone close to him, but he didn't know how to start. Maybe that was too much all at once anyway. "Did you... lose anyone, in the battle? The guys on your ship? If I can ask. Sorry. I only knew a few other pilots, transfers, and they're... gone." He shrugged awkwardly.

"Everyone I came over with." Hobbie said. "We weren't... close. In fact, I'm pretty sure before everything went down, everyone on that ship hated me," he said with a shrug. "Darklighter and I became friends, I suppose. But... everyone I knew is dead now."

Wes risked a glance up. Hobbie looked thoughtful. Mournful, but then he always did. "I'm sorry," he ventured.

"I'm sorry for your losses as well. But we'll manage," Hobbie told him. "Shall we be off?"

Wes nodded, managing a small smile. "Just a second," he said, bouncing up from his chair. He collected their dirty dishes and dashed off to put them in the appropriate receptacle, then hurried back. "You ready?" he asked, leaning in from Hobbie's left side, ready to wrap his arm around Hobbie's lean waist and help him up.

"Ready." Hobbie told him as he reached up. Wes lifted him onto his feet. He grabbed his crutch and smiled. "Lead the way."

FIN