I've been tryin' to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore
--Don Henley, "The Heart of the Matter"
The airlock finally shut behind him, he leaned against it, grateful for the much longed for privacy. A Jedi might not crave danger, adventure, or excitement, but it was not unusual to wish for a little time alone.
It had been a rather long stretch of missions. Jedi were spread so thin these days, more often out of Temple than in, that he sometimes wondered if he would recognize the galactic capital should he ever get back to it.
Now that's a bit of an exaggeration. Coruscant was not a planet one ever forgot. Even though it was constantly in flux, it was always recognizable.
Besides, some things stayed the same. Or at least were still there. Certain people. And he was pretty sure they would be recognizable.
He hadn't been gone that long.
And the sooner he got moving, the sooner he would be there. Finally. With effort, he pushed himself to stand, then headed up to the shuttle's cockpit. The station's flight control droids gave him clearance to leave, and with a touch of Jedi-enhanced speed, he finished programming the hyperdrive and blasted his ship into hyperspace.
Years ago, it would have been a real live person negotiating his departure. Today, only droids. With the war dragging on and the clones marching ever toward their expiration dates, civilian jobs were being replaced with more and more complex droids to free up people for military service. He wondered whether it should bother him more that he had no one breathing to talk to, or that he preferred it that way. The hyperspace computer beeped, confirming all systems were functioning within acceptable parameters. With no one to answer to and nothing more to do beyond monitoring the systems, he turned down the cabin lights, untied his hair and leaned back in the pilot's seat. Ten hours until he came out of hyperspace. Twelve hours until he would be home.
And with luck, twelve hours and fifteen minutes until he was with the person he missed most.
Outside the ship, the stars streamed by, faster than light.
He came awake a standard hour before his hyperspace jump was scheduled to terminate. A few minutes in the refresher had him back to mostly presentable. The sleep had done him good, but he didn't want to be seen looking like he had just rolled out of the pilot's chair when he disembarked.
Even though it was true.
Washed up and tidied, he examined his face in the mirror. There was no denying it now; he was definitely getting old. The color was draining slowly from hair that couldn't pass for blond much longer; the smile lines under his eyes had morphed into crow's feet. He was a bit too thin. They were going to make him eat when he got home, that much was certain.
He pulled out the fresh tunics and pants from his locker, his 'going-home' clothes that were always clean, neat and free of holes, not to be put on until duty was done and Coruscant was practically in sight. The last trip home he had jumped the blaster and had dressed as soon as he had made the jump, only to come out of hyperspace two hours later to find orders sending him back out again. It had taken him a standard month before he had found a laundry facility that would press proper creases for his next hypothetical homecoming.
He would not compromise on his appearance. He would notice if he arrived looking unkempt.
He hoped there wouldn't be any problems when he arrived. Not that he couldn't expect certain . . . tensions.
You should have dealt with that years ago.
He stared out the cockpit window a moment as he settled back in for the jump to real space.
He forgave him. You should have too.
A chime brought his attention back to the controls, and the stars slowly drew back into their familiar constellations. Coruscant, the bright, polluted, populous center of the Republic, loomed ahead.
You did forgive him. Just like he said you would. Even after everything that's happened, he still knows you best.
He sent out a hail signal to flight control. Almost home.
Two hours and fifteen minutes. He is waiting.
He is waiting.
* * *
He stumbled, nearly missing the step down as he reached the bottom of the boarding ramp.
He is here.
"What are you doing here, Dear Heart?" He moved to embrace him but was rebuffed. Unsure of this strange welcome, he took his lover's hands, and looked around the landing bay. "You know you aren't supposed to be in this part of the Temple alone. Where's Bant?" Across the bay, a starship powered up.
Another Jedi being sent out for Sith knew how long.
A one-man ship.
"You're . . . late . . ." With the powerful engines beginning to roar, he couldn't quite make out the words.
"I'm late? I'm not late, Love. I'm right on time. In fact," he glanced over at the chrono. "Because you came down here where you're not supposed to be, I'm back in your arms a full twelve minutes early." He forced a smile, hiding his sudden anger at Bant, or Tahl or Master Kit, or whoever the Sith Hell was supposed to be watching him. If they let him get this far, who knows what could have hap—
Banishing those thoughts for the moment, he leaned down, a kiss to his forehead, his lips tracing a gentle path across the scarred temple.
The ship finally left the hangar, leaving a silence almost as loud.
"Why don't we get you inside and cleaned up and then I'll call Bant," he tried not to grate on the name, then frowned. His love was glaring at him, the same glare he always made when he thought he was being dismissed.
"YOU'RE TOO LATE!"
The harsh scream echoed off the metallic hulls. The droids paid them no mind.
Truly anxious now, he gripped his lover by the shoulders, sensing the deep turmoil beneath the surface. For all that this man had been through, he still could hide so much. The Force whispered a warning, not of danger, but a cold wind of fear before the coming storm.
"What's the matter, Love? What am I too late for?" He searched his mind desperately. "I thought Master Qui-Gon's party was in three days."
The wind kicked up, and the sudden cold chill settled into the pit of his stomach as the words left his lips.
Oh Force, what happened . . .
"Did you . . do something, Love?" He didn't want to ask.
"YOU'RE TOO LATE, GAREN! YOU'RE TOO LATE!"
He almost wanted to cringe against the emotional assault, but he couldn't. He had to play the strong one.
Even though he never would be.
"YOU'RE TOO LATE, GAREN! THEY HURT HIM AND HE'S GONE NOW!" His chest was heaving. "HE'S GONE AND NOW WE CAN NEVER HAVE CAKE AGAIN!"
Cake? Birthday cake?
"Um, I'm sure we can get you some, some cake, Love," he rubbed at Reeft's arm, but he could still feel the chill, even through the tunic sleeves. Reeft's body temperature was normally a bit cooler than his own, but he shouldn't feel that cold. Force, what happened? He looked into his eyes, hoping his voice and a little Force could soothe his partner enough to get him back home. "Even if there is no party, we can still have cake."
Reeft looked down at the floor, all the fight suddenly draining out of him. Garen knelt down, clutching at his hands, trying to keep him from shutting down and shutting him out.
"What's the matter, Love?"
"He's gone, Garen. You're too late." Reeft swiped away sudden tears before meeting his eyes. "We can't have cake because he's not coming back." Half-falling, Reeft knelt down and Garen caught him. Once safe in his lover's arms, the Dressellian began to cry in earnest. "He's not coming back, Garen. They hurt him and now we can't have cake."
Only knowing something very bad had happened, Garen stroked his head and back, letting him cry. He was in no hurry to face the bad news beyond the hangar doors.
"It's alright, Love. Cry it out." Crying often seemed to help.
"I should have known you'd be here."
Garen stiffened at the familiar alto and bit his lip against an acid reply as he shifted Reeft to his shoulder to glare at a face all too recognizable.
"Should have known? How about you should have been with him? Where in the hell were you when he got all the way down here, Knight Eerin?"
He expected her to scream back at him. He was so angry at her that surely she would feel it and respond accordingly, Jedi vows be damned. How dare she let him just wander off?
She glared at him with her good eye. "Actually, Knight Muln, I was in the 'fresher. Usually your husband behaves well enough to let me take a piss without wandering off. Unfortunately, just as I sat down, someone must have started broadcasting they were back in town, because when I came out, he was gone."
He opened his mouth to retaliate in a manner which, if observed would likely lead to disciplinary action from the masters, when she looked away. Suddenly she was as forlorn and downtrodden as the man in his arms. The cold feeling returned.
"I'm sorry, Garen, you didn't deserve that. It's just . . it's just been a hard couple of days, with everything, and he was up half the night and he's been terrified for you ever since it happened."
Bant was pale, drawn. Dry. Her usually moist skin was flaking, even though her robes were still damp. A sure sign of deep distress.
"What happened, Bant?" he finally asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"They hurt him, Garen," Reeft mumbled into his shoulder before pulling away to wipe his nose on his sleeve. "He won't come home now."
Garen looked to Bant, no longer angry, just wanting to know the truth before fear ignited into anger once more. Bant looked away; her blind eye seemed to stare right through him.
"They killed him, Garen," she said softly, each word painful to say. "The Sith."
"They killed Obi-Wan." She crumpled in on herself, not falling so much as slipping to the floor in defeat. "He was on his way home, Garen." She was sobbing freely now. "He was supposed to be coming home."
Garen slid along the floor, pulling Bant to his other shoulder, and the three friends mourned quietly for the fourth who would never return. Bant continued to cry. Garen wondered if this was the first time she had allowed herself to since the news came out. He wondered how long ago it had happened, how long his friend had been dead.
Obi-Wan was dead.
Obi-Wan is dead.
Reeft lifted his head and stared at him for a long moment. He was just about to kiss him in reassurance when his lover spoke.
"He knew you would forgive him, Garen. I told him. He knew."
With a cry of pain, Garen began to weep.
* * *
We shouldn't be doing this.
With a sigh, Garen picked up the small tea set he had purchased for the party and looked it over.
Why did they insist we go through with this?
To be perfectly honest, it wasn't really a set, which was exactly why he had bought it. He had been on a backwater planet, close to absolutely nothing, when Reeft had sent him a garbled message about birthday cake and to ask him to bring home balloons. A day or so later, Bant had sent a message explaining that a party was in the works for Master Qui-Gon's seventy-fifth birthday, and she'd tell him if Obi-Wan was coming only if he promised he would come himself.
He had heard the unspoken jab at his masculine pride. Obi-Wan finally would be come home. He was welcome to attend if he buried the hatchet.
He had actually thought about it for a full four minutes before he kicked himself. It had been ten years. He had gotten over the incident. He had gotten over his hubris. He understood, even if he would never like it.
And Reeft wanted balloons.
So he had picked himself up on his first free afternoon of the mission and headed over to the local craft market. Master Qui-Gon had always loved hand-made things wrought from natural materials, and Obi-Wan often liked to 'read' an object's Force signature; even as a child his aptitude for the Unifying Force made him a natural for sensing weak remnants of the Force signatures of those who had used and made such things.
He had passed by many different artisan's booths. Tapestries, apparel, toys. He did buy a small stuffed creature for Reeft, who he knew would love the feel of the downy 'fur'. But he didn't see anything that really spoke to him about Master Qui-Gon.
And then he passed the booth of the local tinker and reseller, and there it was. It wasn't even supposed to be displayed as a set. It was just a mixed assortment of mismatched tea service items. A golden teapot with green and red lilies on the sides and lid. A bright green dairy carafe. A white sweetener bowl with prim blue stripes on the rims and knob. And two utterly mismatched cups and saucers.
He had almost laughed when he had seen the cups. One cup was huge, better suited to caff addicts than sophisticated tea drinkers. While still porcelain, it was the color of pewter with delicate botanicals picked out in green. With his own talents tending more toward the middle than toward either the Living or Unifying Force, Garen could sense little from the cup itself, but it felt . . . right. And then he looked down at the other cup. At first glance it had seemed almost dainty compared to its companion. Also porcelain, it was much smaller, clearly suited to tea over caf, too small for guzzling but too large for those highly sweetened, overly-caffienated beverages that could simply not be drunk in anything but minute quantities. He had picked it up to look at it more closely. It looked plain, pure white in the shadows, but when he brought it into the sunlight, the surface suddenly sparkled into bright, prismatic colors as if it were carved from an impossibly large opal.
It reminded him of Obi-Wan's smile, rarely seen but dazzling.
It had been too long since he had had a reason to smile.
Frowning at the cup and saucer, Garen lifted it carefully out of the box, placed it on a high shelf in his closet and locked the door. When he had unpacked from his mission, after he and Bant had composed themselves and put Reeft down for a nap, he had found the box and had been tempted to just smash the whole lot. He had wanted to, but it seemed wrong somehow. And Reeft broke enough plates.
He supposed he could give it to Master Yoda or something. It was just the right size for a portion of that hideous slop he called food. The delicate handle would well suit his crabbed little hand. The ancient master would probably enjoy meditating on the dancing light of that cup in the sun.
It looks like his urn.
Eyes shut, grimacing against the pain, Garen sank down to his knees in meditation.
It was so hard pretending to be the strong one.
* * *
He rose from his meditation to find Reeft sitting across from him, an odd expression on his face.
"Why are they having the party, Garen?"
He tried to smile reassuringly. "It's still Master Qui-Gon's birthday, Love. He's not going to turn seventy-five again."
Reeft nodded as his husband helped him into his 'nice' vest, teal shimsilk with a slight iridescence. A sophisticated piece that when seen across a room could make Garen forget everything Reeft had lost. Everything they had lost.
"Do you think he'll have another one next year? He didn't have one last year, or the year before . . or . . or whenever."
A ray of sunlight danced across the silk on Reeft's back.
Light from the Warrior's Flame played across the tall slender urn, hidden colors flashing then vanishing back into the porcelain.
He stared at the play of light.
"That's not him!"
He had yelled. They had never heard him yell before.
Not in the field. Not in the Temple. Not in anger, nor in jest.
"That's not him, Mace!"
Everyone stood, aghast as he had raged at the perfect white urn, glistening in the light of eternal flames.
Mace stared at him, wrinkled eyes wide as if frozen in horror.
"You promised you would bring him home! That's not—,” He had choked on the words as Bant and Tahl reached him, pulling him into a hug to douse his rage in.
"That's not him," he sobbed, shaking his head. "He promised he was coming home."
Yoda's gaze never left the flame.
"Ow." Garen looked up, startled. "You hit me." He looked down at the stuffed toy at his feet. "With a peko."
Reeft rolled his eyes in an exaggerated fashion. "You weren't listening, Garen."
"I'm sorry, I was lost in thought."
He almost laughed. "I noticed." His face grew serious, then sad. "You were in the wrong moment, Garen. Don't leave me alone while you're still here."
He closed his eyes until he swallowed down sudden tears, then forced himself to smile. "Come here, Love. Let me tie up your vest. You don't want to go to the party with your clothes hanging open."
Reeft complied, hugging him, then allowing himself to be dressed. As Garen finished his last knot, he poked him gently on the forehead.
"You need to tie up yourself. You don't want to go to the party with your mind hanging out."
"My mind hanging out?"
Reeft tapped his own temple. "Yes. You've got a big hole."
He blinked. "I've got a hole in my shields?" He looked inward, startled. He didn't have a hole in his shields, but Reeft was right. Most of his guards were down.
Far more than he usually released while in Temple.
"Since when?" he asked, mostly to himself.
Reeft shrugged. "Since Bant told you. You're much better now than you were at the funeral." Garen stared at him, his jaw dropped. Reeft shook his head, dismissing the faux pas as so much spilled milk. "Don't worry about it." He tapped his temple again. "I was extra noisy so everyone just thought it was me."
Garen blinked again. The tears were getting harder to swallow.
After a long moment, he picked up his gift and the birdfeeder Reeft had painted for Master Qui-Gon. "Come on, Love. We don't want to be late."
Reeft looked down at the birdhouse he had worked on for Obi-Wan. A gaudy thing it was, bright colored spots all over the walls with a cotton puff in the chimney and a roof seemingly thatched of silver glitter. It sparkled in the light thrown off the cloud cars streaming by their windows. Like Obi-Wan's teacup, it too was being left behind.
He had sparkled too.
Garen looked up at his husband.
Maybe we all did back then.
"Can we put Obi-Wan's bird house in our tree? By the stream, in the Big Forest Garden?"
Garen smiled, but his lip trembled. "Of course, Love." With one last check to his re-formed shields, he made his way for the door, gifts in hand and husband in tow. Reeft took the bird feeder off the top as they went. He preferred carrying his own presents.
They entered an empty lift and headed down to main hub so they could walk to Qui-Gon's tower. Garen turned to gaze at his husband, but looked away when Reeft noticed.
"What are you thinking now?" Reeft squeezed his hand. He couldn't tell if it was to reassure him or to comfort himself.
"Did you feel him?" He squeezed back gently. "Did you feel him yesterday, when we were at our tree after the funeral?"
Reeft shook his head solemnly. "Not yet. I didn't feel him. Just like Master Dyas."
Garen nodded. "Me neither."
* * *
Despite his reassurances to Reeft, Garen found the party to be a painful trial to endure. Three hours of putting on a brave face and pretending to be cheerful and happy and that he didn't notice that Master Qui-Gon was somewhat . . . medicated.
Under other circumstances, he supposed it would have been pleasant. Plenty of good food, good friends, warmth and safety. Music discs of Ithari celebratory chants playing softly in the background. Bant, Tahl and Anakin buzzing about, serving guests.
Well, Anakin buzzed about. Bant sat by the buffet, monitoring the food and checking the chrono as if it were a pot set to boil, while Tahl fussed over the birthday boy, whose smile grew fainter every time he looked to the door to greet someone new.
Garen had the sinking feeling that he was still waiting for Obi-Wan to come through the door.
He promised he was coming home.
Thankfully they had abstained from singing and blowing out candles. Garen half-expected Master Qui-Gon would insist they wait for Obi-Wan, so that they could recreate the a capella quartet they had driven their elders crazy with in their youth. Bant sliced out generous cake portions while Anakin passed them around the room on a tray. Determined to carry on until the bitter end, Garen took some cake for himself and Reeft, squeezing Bant's arm in support when she looked as if she would burst into tears right there at the table. She had looked so drained yesterday that he had volunteered to go pick up the cake from the Temple kitchens himself. Fortunately, it had been an in-house job; the cooks had taken the initiative and had removed the "and Welcome Home, Obi-Wan" from the icing order without being asked.
Across the room, Tahl was gently trying to get a reluctant Qui-Gon to take his piece of cake. Confused, he looked at the chrono, then at the door for a long moment.
The expression on his face was heart-breaking.
Unable to think of anything to say that would help, Garen swallowed down his own emotions and returned to Reeft, still sitting on the rug near the room's large holo-comm screen. It had been a gathering place for young padawans at least as far back as Garen could remember. Astrophysics problems, romantic dilemmas and quite a few sabacc games had been puzzled out here, always under Master Qui-Gon's careful eye. There were some newer stains and burns in the rug from Anakin's many mechanical projects, not to mention a few Garen had put in it himself. Even now, the next generation of Jedi sat in this place, seeking its familiar comforts; Anakin's daughter, barely old enough to understand what had happened, snuggled up against her father's padawan, a truce called in their often comical battle of wills. Leia clutched a pristine, stuffed v'elv cat, looking at the all the tall strangers warily. For his part, Padawan Solo uncharacteristically picked at his food, as distressed at the whole ordeal as his master, though he had only met Obi-Wan once, and hardly under endearing circumstances. Then again, Bant had mentioned Master Qui-Gon mentoring the boy until Anakin took over his training, and even the master had once referred to Han as Padawan Number Four and a Half. He may not have known Obi-Wan well, but this was still a huge blow to his family. It was little wonder the boy wasn't hungry.
Then again, some people are always hungry.
Reeft turned to him, and Garen presented him with his fresh slice of cake with a flourish.
Reeft looked at the cake for a long moment, then shook his head.
"No. Thank you, Garen."
He could not hide his surprise. "But you love cake, Darling." He sat down next to Reeft on a low bench, concerned when his husband only stared at the rug and shook his head. "Bant said it had the mixed berry filling you like so much."
Reeft stiffly raised his head and to glare at him. "He's not coming home, Garen. No cake!"
Alarmed, Garen put the cake aside and held up his hands in a placating manner. "All right Love, I'm not going to argue about it. You don't have to eat it if you don't want to." Reeft nodded and Garen passed their slices on to a pair of older initiates from Qui-Gon's meditation class, wondering when the master had given up teaching sabre classes. The youngsters smiled wanly, and like Han, picked and played with the cake more than ate it, but at least it wasn't obviously going to waste.
Somehow Garen thought it would be best not to plague Master Qui-Gon with leftovers from this particular party.
Garen sighed and stretched his back, lingering scars and old injuries protesting. And all I did was sit here. He looked around at the assembled Jedi and friends. Everyone was getting old. Old, worn and tired. Bant, who normally forced herself to keep active and engaged, sat alone, almost listless, as if the struggle to walk or even look at her fellow Jedi was just too much of an effort today. Bail Organa, usually the subtle life of the party, nursed his punch and barely spoke. Anakin, the unflappable knight despite the turmoil of his youth, seemed anxious, overly eager to keep the party moving despite the depressive air. Garen noticed that the young, sun-kissed slave boy from Tattooine had grown old enough to have strands of silver in his golden locks. Even Tahl, so strong despite her blindness for as long as he had known her, looked suddenly frail and tired. Uncharacteristically harried, she fretted over Master Qui-Gon.
Master Qui-Gon had been many things to all of them over the years. To many a teacher, to few a student. A mentor, a friend, a father figure, or something more. He had lived a long, full life, and had always been a vibrant, quiet man for as long as Garen had known him. In the early years of Obi-Wan's apprenticeship he had been distant, sometimes cool, but little by little he had opened up like the first buds in spring. Despite the disagreements between them, Garen had no doubt that Obi-Wan had been the sun that had melted the frost that gripped his master's heart. Even though he had not stepped foot in the Temple in fifteen years, his light had still reached them, as surely as the sun above shone down on them, its rays traveling through the chill vacuum of space.
But now night had fallen, and it seemed as if dawn would never come again.
In a way, he mused, Obi-Wan was the only one among them who would never grow old. Or at least their memories of him. It was not that he didn't age; Garen had seen the occasional holo transmission, and while he had still been angry, he had done his best to ignore them, but even he could see that Obi-Wan had lost the fresh newness of youth. But somewhere in his heart, somewhere where he could still hold warmer memories, before the bitterness and anger, he had denied it. In that same place where Bant still rolled both eyes, where Siri still walked in the light, where Reeft was still . . . whole . . . in that place Obi-Wan was still the same shining youth that had walked out of the Temple to take on the darkness in the galaxy. The memory of him remained unchanged and he had never returned to discredit it.
Now he never would.
Reeft tugged at his sleeve and Garen blinked away tears that threatened to fall before giving his husband his full attention.
"What is it, Love?"
"Come on," Reeft stood and tugged him to his feet. "I want to show you the quilt we made. Ani said we could look at it but we have to leave it in the room."
He looked over and caught Anakin's nod before he allowed Reeft to lead him off to the padawan room in Qui-Gon's suite. Few party-goers took any notice of them, and those that did likely assumed they wanted a moment alone, or that Reeft needed a break from the crowd.
Reeft led him through the door and shut it behind them as Garen brought up the lights.
He gasped in shock as he saw the bedcover. "Reeft? You and Bant made this?" Garen walked around the bed, admiring the quilt from all angles. "Force Love, it looks just like the old one."
"It's not exactly the same." Reeft turned over a corner at the foot of the bed. "Obi-Wan said that the binding wasn't right on the old one. He said he wanted to make a stitch like this on the back . . . but he didn't have time." Garen ran a finger along the neat stitches, feeling the faint Force signature that had been left by his lover's hand and marveling at the work. For all that had been taken away, Reeft could still surprise him.
"You did a wonderful job, Love."
Reeft smiled faintly as he lay the cover back down and smoothed away the wrinkles. "Do you think . . . do you think he likes it, Garen?"
"Who? Obi-Wan?" It took him a moment to figure out who Reeft had meant. He just wasn't used to talking about his estranged
agemate so casually.
Reeft nodded, somewhat sheepishly. "We . . . we told him we had a surprise but we didn't say what." His lower lip trembled and his whole face puckered with emotion. Garen hurried over to pull him into a hug. "We didn't tell him in the letter, Garen, and he didn't know and I tried to find him in the Force when we were at our tree and I couldn't and I wanted to ask him if he liked it because we worked really hard on it and he didn't get to see it and he's dead now." Reeft was crying against his shoulder.
Garen held him, rubbing his back soothingly. "I'm sure he loves it, Reeft. I'm sure he's with us right now and he can feel just how hard you and Bant worked on it and he wishes he could tell you."
"Then why can't we feel him?" Reeft wept. "Why didn't he come back like he promised?"
That's not him!
Apparently, they weren't the only ones who couldn't feel Obi-Wan in the Force.
"I don't know, Love," Garen sighed, kissing Reeft's crown. "I don't know. Maybe . . . maybe they just hurt him too badly and he couldn't come back. Or maybe he had a lover and he's with them now." Reeft nodded against him, sniffling, and Garen dug out a tissue from his jacket. "Or maybe he is here, and we just can't feel him because we're all so upset."
Reeft lifted his head and wiped at his nose. "So you think he would come to see his surprise?" Garen nodded and Reeft wiped at his eyes. "Good, 'cause we worked really hard and I want him to see it, and he said he was looking forward to it."
Garen started a moment, replaying back their conversation. "He said he was looking forward to it? When did you speak with him?" He tried not to get upset, it's not like there was anyone left to be angry at, but old habits die hard.
Reeft shook his head sadly. "No. He wrote a letter to Bant and told her to tell me that he was looking forward to it. He never commed me."
He better not have com—
He took a deep breath. You forgave him, remember?
"Did he usually send your messages to Bant?" He looked his lover over carefully. Reeft didn't seem upset by the correspondence.
Of course he was never the angry one, even though he should have been.
Reeft shrugged and pocketed the tissue. "He used to ask Bant how we were doing, and if we were happy. Bant used to write stuff to him for me too."
Of course Bant had never mentioned this to me.
"He never just wrote to you directly?"
Reeft looked him in the eye. "He didn't want to piss you off, Garen."
"And he knew you wouldn't stay mad at Bant if you found out." Reeft slowly sat on the quilt and tugged Garen to sit beside him, still looking at him intently. Intensely. "He loved us very much, Garen. That's why he did what he did and that's why he never got mad at you back." Reeft cupped his cheek, frowning at him. "He wanted us to be happy together, Garen. He wanted you to be happy."
Garen stroked Reeft's head, smoothing over wrinkled skin, jagged scars, tear tracks, trying not to think of yesterday's Council meeting.
He wanted you to be happy.
"I know, Love. I know." He patted his pockets, looking for another tissue. Reeft grinned slightly and pointed to the dispenser on the end table beside him. Garen turned around and reached for one, his gaze falling on the assorted knick-knacks and bric-a-brac on display. As he wiped his eyes, one object in particular caught his notice.
"Reeft," he asked as he picked up a dark, lacquered box, as long as his hand. "Is this what I think it is?" His fingers traced the delicate painted orchids on the lid, and he looked around, noticing finally that many of the other items in the room were equally familiar.
'This is where you keep them? Sheesh, Kenobi. It's like an orgy in a box.'
'Shut up, Muln. At least it's more discreet than in my utility belt, unlike some people I know.'
Reeft peered at the box around his shoulder. "Do you think he took the condoms out before he left the Temple?"
Garen could not quite hold back a hysterical laugh. It was either that or start crying again. "He probably needed them. All those damsels to rescue and then educate in the ways of the Force."
Reeft clung to him, giggling. "Open it."
"What?" It was one thing to laugh like a ninny, but even he wasn't angry enough to violate Obi-Wan's private life.
Reeft rolled his eyes. "You always did before." He lay his head against Garen's shoulder. "It would make him laugh."
It would make you laugh, Love. He almost hoped Obi-Wan would forgive him, but decided it would just make them even instead.
He opened the box, and in that moment knew Obi-Wan would have forgiven him far worse.
"Look, Garen." Reeft pulled a small holo-print out of the box. "It's us. At our tree."
Together, they gazed at the holo of the three of them, taken on a much more innocent day, before the Sith, before the war, before the galaxy had gone insane, a mere two decades ago.
'You two go first!'
They all shined back then.
'Why? Aren't all three of us supposed to be participating here?
'Because you're both human. I don't know how humans do it.'
'We are? I thought we were Jedi.'
Laughter. Bright, happy laughter.
'Don't worry so much, Reeft, just watch more holofilms.'
Reeft's eyes widened.
'Not those holos. Oh forget it, just do this.'
And he had kissed him. Reeft had watched them with hungry eyes, and somehow he had known, deep inside, that he and his lover were destined to be together . . . forever.
But his first kiss had been with Obi-Wan.
His only other lover. His only human lover.
Their only other lover.
Reeft pulled a small jar from the box, an intimate gift, now empty of the high quality lubricating cream. When he unscrewed the lid, a faint musky scent drifted out, bringing memory into sharper focus.
'I say we should do it. We're adults now, we're all good friends, we trust each other and won't laugh at each other. Who better to do it with?'
'You're right, Garen. Even I have this kissing thing down, mmm, and we've talked it over. We're all together tonight, who knows when we'll have that again.'
'True. And our masters are out tonight. It's unlikely we'll be interrupted.' Rustling. 'Another opportunity like this will not come our way soon.'
'Let's do it! Garen has the barriers and I brought some fruit to help keep our strength up. And Obi-Wan, you have the glow lights, so we can actually see what we're doing.' Reeft began tugging at his tunic. 'What are we waiting for?'
More rustling, as branches moved, the leaves swishing softly. Reeft had latched onto his neck, suckling noisily. His blood began to rush in his ears and he felt warm, so warm as hands roamed. More rustling, and oh, they were both coming to him and they were going to let him try it first . .
The leaves rustled again and then there was a thump from below. Reeft stopped suddenly and it was only the concern in his future husband's voice that silenced his protest.
'Obi-Wan! Are you alright?'
He could barely see in the dark, but then it could have just been his arousal dulling his vision. Below them, Obi-Wan cleared his throat.
'I'm not losing my virginity in a tree.'
'But Obi-Wan, it's our tree. We've talked about everything here.'
'We kissed here.'
A long moment of silence.
'Do either of you want to explain to our masters why we fell out of a tree naked with splinters in our asses, or do you want me to?'
Another long silence.
'Reeft dear, our good friend has a point.'
Reeft squirmed against his erection and he gasped. 'So do you, but I think you're right. His is better.' He pulled away. 'I'm not explaining that one to any of the masters.' A kiss. 'See you in a few, Garen.'
He moved away. 'I'm coming down, Obi-Wan.'
'If we pool our credits, a temp room won't be so bad between the three of us.'
'Not to mention that there aren't any showers in trees.'
'Hurry up, Garen! I want to try sex in the shower tonight too!'
With effort, he calmed himself and jumped. For the briefest moment he was in free-fall before his friends steadied him with the Force, cradled from gravity's will until his feet touched the ground.
Before the next dawn all three of them had learned a new way to fly.