The men stationed on Eadu said there were days when the storms quieted and the gray air stilled, but Bodhi had never seen one and, he supposed, he shouldn't want to. The storms were why Bodhi Rook was assigned to Eadu, why Bodhi Rook could fly simply into the face of natural fury and not into a war zone: Bodhi Rook was steady and otherwise unremarkable, otherwise without use. Under his hands, ships descended neatly and safely despite the seemingly constant gale and rain, and for this, for the good of the cargo he transported, the hangar at Eadu seemed as much a home as he'd had these several years.
That was not to call Eadu comfortable. The hangar was simply familiar, and into its chill echo, he could disappear until the next departure. He played cards with his crew, slept in the little dormitory for such temporaries as they were, ate food that was surely better than could be had in many parts of the galaxy now but that he could not remember afterward. Very, very rarely, he crossed paths with another pilot who would trade spices for the credits Bodhi collected and seldom spent, and Bodhi would carry his meal from the canteen to his ship and let the raw bark of cumin and za'atar and sumac and harissa stutter in his throat, sprinkled on dishes that didn't suit the spices but that still tasted of something. Only when he was on his ship, on a long journey, did he dare use them correctly, but that happened so rarely. Bodhi knows himself not to be strong of will; when he has the spices, it’s too hard not to consume them at once, and it hurts less, in his heart, when they don’t taste quite right.
So when he is summoned further into the base at Eadu, when he is told the chief engineer wishes to meet him, he wants for this to be a mistake: another cargo pilot, another Bodhi Rook, another small brown man from a broken place. But there is no other exactly such as him, and when he says the technician must be mistaken, Bodhi is informed that Galen Erso is never mistaken.
When Bodhi is brought into what must be the man's private office, he thinks that yes, the technician must be right because Erso doesn't look like the type to be uncertain.
Erso says nothing until, after a long and awkward silence, the technician leaves them alone. Then he says, “So you're the pilot.”
Every fiber of Bodhi's being wants to cry out No. No, not him, must be someone else. He doesn't even have a reason to feel so. He knows nothing was damaged and nothing has been missing. He has been over the manifests himself three times over, every time. And yet he's heard so many stories, so many whispers here and there if what has happened to people who've been noticed. In his mind, being noticed for the good might even be worse. Bodhi is only a mover of items: tools, spools of special wire, lumps of metal, and, more recently, kyber crystals in their protective casings. But pilots who get noticed move to other vessels, become squad leaders if they don't die, and not-dying there is usually predicated on making sure someone else does. If he was retested, he might forget to fail. So he tries to protect his conscience by invisibility. He has even taught himself to stop telling silly jokes, the little puns his sisters had liked. To be liked is to be noticed, as surely as to be hated or thought incompetent. And now Galen Erso has noticed, and Bodhi doesn't even know which reason it is. Both promotion and punishment fill him with dread.
But all Erso does is hold out his right hand. “I simply wanted to say thank you in person. You have made my work easier.”
Bodhi shakes the man's hand, and he has let go before he realizes he wishes he hadn't. Erso's right hand radiates heat like a sun-warmed stone, and for that half a breath, Bodhi's hand had been less cold. The fleeting sensation of heat only makes him remember how the chill in him never leaves while he is on this planet.
Bodhi says, “You're welcome,” because it is polite and is a good prelude to dismissal. He doesn’t want to make Galen Erso’s work easier, whatever it happens to be, but nor can he make it harder. His shoulders tip toward the door, and a little shiver shakes him. Before his palm felt warmth, his body had settled into its usual indifference; he’s learned to not even notice himself. But Erso has changed that for the moment, and now he’s looking at Bodhi, differently than he had before.
What Erso says is, “You're cold,” in a way that shows him to be the scientist he is: a simple observation of fact.
There's no use in denying it, and there's no curl of disgust in Erso’s voice, the way the Troopers sometimes say it, like preferring hot to cold is some kind of moral deficiency. So Bodhi says, “Yes,” and he pins his fingers beneath his elbows. It's not a regulation stance. Let Erso think him competent but undisciplined.
Something about his answer makes Erso smile, though, and his is the first smile from an officer of such an advanced rank that doesn't make Bodhi's blood run colder.
Erso says, “You're about to be sent out again. To Jakku,” he says. “You’ll like that. Come back when you return.”
It is as much a dismissal as any, and Bodhi only salutes, though he wants to thank Erso in return. Jakku. It's a barren desert, a wasteland in most respects, but the sun bakes it blissfully dry, and no one complains if he stands under the sun's fearsome heat while whatever cargo is loaded.
He is on Eadu for three days before Erso sends for him again. Bodhi follows the technician that was sent with a great deal of trepidation. The technician eyes him warily when Erso dismisses her.
For more than a few minutes, Erso says nothing else at all, only continues to sit, bent over something on his desk. A bright lamp throws the surface and half of his hands into sharp relief, and thrusts the rest of his face into darkness. When last Bodhi stood here, the desk was perfectly neat, holding only a datapad. Now, there is detritus everywhere: bits of snipped silver wire and solder, polishing cloths and a laser cutter, but also a very old-looking set of jeweler’s chisels. He had thought Galen Erso an engineer, a theoretician, a scholar. Bent this way, he looks more like a tinker, like the sand-scrubbed denizens of the bazaar. The thought breaks almost immediately, though: none of those hunkered crafters wear an Imperial uniform. None of them are so wreathed in authority, in impunity. When Bodhi left, the bazaar was mostly a place for hawking scraps. When he is on Jedha now, he doesn’t leave the ship. He is the pilot. The ship is where he belongs.
Erso glances up, not far enough that their eyes meet, but far enough to say, I see you there. “You didn’t come back.”
“I came back.” His ship rests in the hangar, as plain as the daylight he misses already.
Erso smiles again. “I meant here.” To this room.
Bodhi doesn’t know what to say, so he says nothing, and he wonders what Erso is so intent upon, but he doesn’t get closer.
Erso tells him to sit, then to help himself, to sit again. One elbow wags toward waiting glasses, a pitcher on a table in the next room. When last he was here, there was no next room; there was a door, firmly shut, separating this small work space from the place Galen Erso sleeps and drinks and sits to read. Bodhi knows he should leave, right now, for six reasons, but he’s curious about the pitcher and this room is warmer than any of the others he has access to on Eadu. Even the bathing chambers in the barracks are colder than this.
But Bodhi is not stupid. He pours yellow liquid into two cups, puts one within Erso’s reach, and he does not bring the cup to his mouth until Erso does. By the look Bodhi gets, Erso knows that, and he’s only drinking in courtesy because all of his attention is bent upon the little tangle of glass and wire before him. But when nothing happens, Bodhi sips, and he almost spits it out: ananas juice, as sweet as his best memories. The juice bulges his cheeks for a moment, and when he swallows, the taste brings a pucker not to his tongue but to the bridge of his nose. How long had it been since he’s tasted this? He puts the cup down with difficulty, hopes Erso can’t see that it’s already half-empty.
“There are some here with a fondness for such things,” Erso says, though he doesn’t look up.
“Not you.” The cup on the desk remains nearly full.
“I find it too sweet by half, though the flavor itself is quite good.”
“You would like it the way my mother drinks it, then,” Bodhi says, and then wishes himself dead twice over. He should not be here, should not be sharing stories, should not mention the family that has already fled Jedha City. He should not think about them, should not try to guess where they might be. The farther away they are, the better off they will be, and if he doesn’t know where they are, if he cannot find them, they are harder to use against him. Some part of his mind says he has no reason to fear that; Bodhi Rook does his job, does as he is asked, unremarkably. The part of his mind that feels like it is both buried behind his lowest ribs and also lodged in the too-present space between his eyes says he is wise to pretend they’re entirely gone.
“How is that?” Here Erso looks up for a moment, right at Bodhi’s face.
Doubling back on the comment now would be worse. Bodhi says, “In the hottest part of the day, she mixed it with cold perle tea, only a spoonful to a whole cup.” She said the clean, gently bitter taste was refreshing. She told him he would grow into it, with time. He’d tried. The vibrant green, like the little shoots that crept over the temple walls in the early morning, before the sun crisped them to flat gray, looked the way she described it. But always the taste stung too sharp.
Here, Erso takes another sip, holds it in his mouth a moment before swallowing, like he’s imagining it. He does it again, then pushes the cup unmistakably to Bodhi. “My late wife, my Lyra—she loved perle tea. She would have liked that, what you describe.”
Bodhi drains his cup, pours the contents of Erso’s into his own, and two drops of the sweet liquid fall on the thigh of his trousers, which is embarrassing but less so than drinking from the same cup. A very small curl of smoke wisps up from the iron in Erso’s left hand. He was using it right-handed a minute ago. The acrid smell of singed metal becomes the scent of his mother’s bitter tea and Bodhi wants to leave. He thinks he could. He doesn’t.
When he has drunk both cups and his blood is fairly racing from it, and he finds a moment where Erso seems to be content with his work, rubbing something small and disc-shaped with one of the cloths, he says, “Why am I here?”
Erso looks at him like he’s an idiot. “Because you’re cold.”
“I’m not.” Not right now. Not here. More to the point: “And if I was, what do you care?” Eadu is a cold, damp place. Bodhi’s not alone in finding it so.
“I’m not entirely certain that I do care. It’s only that I think I found a partial solution for you, and I thank you for that, as well.” He holds out the little disc, keeps holding it there until Bodhi takes it.
It’s a flat round half the size of his palm and only as thick as a coin, the old money that gets you things in Jedha City that credits cannot buy, made of something clear—not glass but rather stronger-feeling—ribboned through with wires connecting to some kind of very fine matrix. In its center, a delicate mesh holding a very small fragment of something. Bodhi holds it toward the light that Erso moves for him, and the shard—barely more than a speck of dust—glints like moon opal. But there are no moon opals on Eadu. What there is on Eadu is kyber, and Bodhi knows this because he has brought it here. This is the first time he’s seen any of it outside of the storage cylinders. He would put it back in Erso’s hand except the man’s arms are crossed over his chest. Bodhi Rook wants nothing to do with kyber crystals, nothing to do with gifts from Imperial officers.
As he turns it over, he’s not entirely sure what its purpose is, what it has to do with anything besides being a very pretty piece of work. He puts one finger on the silver coil in the round’s center, and at once, the little fleck of crystal hums a faint silver blue, like moonlight, and his palm heats. The warmth radiates to his fingers, feels like it travels all the way up his arm, like the heat intensifies, and he waits for a burning feeling that never comes. The little disc only rests in his palm, and when he covers it with both hands, it might feel as a sun-warmed rock feels, and if he closes his eyes, it’s like he’s standing in sunlight.
It’s kyber. It’s in his hand. He puts it back on the desk. “I’m not—” The Temple of the Whills was a Jedi temple. The kyber crystals are for them, and apparently now for Imperial scientists, who will do with them things Bodhi does not want to know. There is another use of kyber in the Empire Bodhi has heard of, too, in a lightsaber that spits red.
“No,” Erso says, “you’re not.” But some small, strangely sad-seeming shift takes one corner of his mouth. “But the Force sees you, sees who you are, pilot.”
Who he is is no one at all. But the words fall out of his mouth. “You’re a believer?”
“Anyone who works with kyber crystals and believes nothing of them is a fool.” Erso picks up the disc and presses his thumb squarely to the center, where skin’s faint moisture completes the electrical circuit, and together they watch the little light change, flicker, shift between perle green and a red gold, like sunset, like a guttering candle. Erso holds it, then, only by the quartzite housing, and the light goes out.
“You can make the kyber cease to do that,” Erso says, “make it steady and blind.”
“Why not do it in this?” That the colors are different troubles him, and he is thrown, Bodhi guesses, by Erso’s choice of words. There was a blind monk at the temple, a man who tried to talk to him the last time Bodhi walked out of the city wearing the clothes his mother made for him.
“Because it is inelegant, ugly.” This thing he has made is beautiful. “And unnecessary, you see.” He puts it again in Bodhi’s hand, and the light returns, pale and clear. “There is a housing you can slide out, if you prefer to wear it as a pendant. When it is coldest, that is what I recommend.”
So the circuit will complete against his chest, and that warmth will radiate out. “You thanked me for you having found a solution to my coldness.” He’s not even sure how to make it a question.
“Sometimes I have trouble sleeping. Your problem gave me a productive outlet for those hours.” His mouth turns up again in that peculiar way. “It isn’t proper to work on my larger projects then. For those, I must be rested. You gave me a bit of fun,” he says, “and I found the sleeping easier, thereafter. So yes, I thank you. Director Krennic thanks you, too.”
Bodhi hopes the clutch in his chest does not move into his face, but Erso’s expression says it does. He scrambles, shoves the little disc into his pocket. He says, “You’re very kind. Thank you.” He does not want to think about Director Krennic and his snake’s smile, either.
Erso says, “When you return again, come back—here—and tell me whether it helps.”
Bodhi is only two steps into the hallway when he thinks he could return, report back with the confirmation Erso wants: the little disc, curled close in his hand, is perfectly warm. When he goes to his bunk, he splits a shoe lace and hangs the thing from his neck, and under the sheltered dark of his blanket, where he covers even his head, it glows faintly, as though it can feel his breath, as though it is alive. If he considers it too long, it terrifies him, but the fact that even his feet no longer feel cold pushes him quickly into sleep. He has not slept so well in ages.
When he wakes, though, the fear returns, and he should leave it behind. He is only a cargo pilot. He should not have gadgets designed by Director Krennic’s chief scientist because that’s what Erso is—and it’s not simply designed by him; it was made. Crafted, the other half of his brain supplies, the unhelpful half, the half that says remember and fills his hands with scenes of the last time he felt rested. He would throw the thing away, except there is ice mixed in with Eadu’s winds this morning, and somehow, someone else picking it up would be worse. If someone else finds it, maybe it can be traced back to him. Better to leave it where it is for now, a quiet, warm light too dim to shine through his shirt but always there, against his skin.
While he prepares for another trip out—this time for scarletite wire and rubirium—his hands and his feet do what they always do: the cross-checks, the inspection, the flicking of switches in their particular order. His body and his ship and the crew are going to Hishna II, a rocky little moon that is little more than a mine and a production facility, but his mind is on the sands beyond Jedha City, where he’d once walked with his older sisters. He’d held their hands too long, he eventually understood, something no young man of eight years should do, but he was short and they were tall and Jyoti and Nilam swung him between them for as long as he could remember. That was his first taste of flight. When the date palms were still living, he was light enough to climb them without making the trunks bend at all—a kindness in the face of Jedha’s own hard weather. Jyoti said the dates that were picked by hand, rather than cut, were sweeter. When a young woman Nilam loved joined the temple guardians—and thus left Nilam—Nilam began carving the date pits.
The sweetness is gone from my mouth, she said, but what remains is worth having, isn’t it, Bodhi? The one that she made for him looked like a cricket, its legs bunched close as if to spring. He doesn’t know where it is anymore.
It’s not a lie. He remembers where he left it, in a crack in the ruined temple steps. The blind monk was there. Nilam’s sweetheart must have been dead. He never saw her after the Jedi were killed. Nilam only looked for her once, Bodhi thinks, but she never told him what she found. He wants to say that Nilam was not the same after that, but that is untrue; they were all changed long before. They changed when the Imperial ships came; they died when the blasters scorched the holy walls, and if their bodies kept moving after, so they did.
He doesn’t know where the cricket is now; that is true. Sometimes, he dreams that it’s leapt away. Because it’s a dream, the little cricket jumps backwards, to twenty years ago, when the stone was whole. His mind jumps to the night before: Galen Erso, bent over his work, the same posture Nilam held. But Nilam’s hair lay hidden beneath her scarf, and Galen Erso’s fell forward from his ear, adding to the shadow.
The next time he goes back, they don’t even talk about the disc. They don’t have to; Erso knows he’s brilliant, knows the device he made works. That is why Bodhi nearly throws the thing into one of Eadu’s depthless chasms: he’s heard enough rumors about the weapon that they can’t be rumors alone. When he asks Erso about it—because if Erso was going to have him thrown into some prison for some kind of impropriety, he would have done it before he wasted the time obtaining an actual ananas fruit, which sits, only half ripe and cut improperly so it browns at a glance and still so delicious Bodhi can hardly bear it—Erso only says that it’s true.
“That is my work,” he says, and it’s the way his voice cants, the way his whole body saddens—but doesn’t shrink, doesn’t go quiet—that keeps Bodhi in his seat, keeps him from throwing the disc, his fists, his own cowardly words at Erso’s lined face.
Bodhi knows what Erso looks like when he’s proud, when he’s pleased—that’s what that expression was, he’s sure, when Bodhi’s skin lit that little module of scraps and genius—and this is not that. It isn’t the moon-faced shame he’s used to seeing, either, among some of his own kind, the ones who’ve capitulated to the oppressors the way he has, the ones who keep feeling the feeling that he told himself wasn’t his right to keep. Wallowing in a lifetime of shame is false; it’s why he’s stopped doing it. Because if a body was really ashamed—if it was truly so unbearable—one would do something about it. No one could go on forever like that, sincerely. Bodhi has come to see when it’s not sincere. And it’s pathetic, and suspicious, so he’s given it up. What replaces it is mostly despair, sometimes bravado, sometimes blind rage. It depends who’s watching, depends how far from the hangar he is, how far from his ship, his crew, and now, whether the scrap of kyber crystal is with him. It changes things. He’s not sure how, but it does. Most of the time, he’s certain he’s simply given up, in all of the ways. But this thing, hovering against his chest or curled in his fist—his body feels content enough that his mind can remember: Jyoti, Nilam, his parents. How the date palms had given better fruit when the Jedi were in the temple than after. The trees are entirely gone now.
So he should curse Galen Erso. Should spit on him. And maybe he would if it wouldn’t mean Bodhi’s death, which he already knows he’s too cowardly to face, and if it wouldn’t mean cruelty to the one person who has been legitimately kind to him in ages. So he does something crueler. He asks why.
Erso fetches a small holo-player from the room where his bed is; Bodhi has seen the square of it, the thick blankets. Erso touches it, and there is an image of a woman and a child, a little girl.
“This,” he says, “is my Lyra. And Jyn, may the Force watch over her, if she yet lives.”
Because the wife is dead. He told Bodhi that the very first time they spoke. Bodhi knows now that the two things are connected, this weapon and the dead wife, and now Bodhi is connected, too, because even if Bodhi isn’t the one who knows how to do anything with the materials he flies in, he flies them in. He remains his steady, unremarkable self, everywhere except these rooms.
“I think she would be younger than you,” Erso says. He names a year, and it’s not according to the Imperial calendar, but neither is it according to the Jedi calendar, which all of Jedha used, as it was convenient, the temple so close. And yes, the girl would be younger than he is, because Bodhi remembers the year: he turned five, and his greatest achievement had been coaxing a riksa lizard to his palm. A young man with long hair and a serious face gave him a little piece of red metal, snapped free of his bandolier, as a lure. Bodhi remembers seeing the man near the temple strangely often, though he had nothing to do with the Jedi, or the temple. Mostly, he remembers that the lure worked, and the lizard, with its frilled ruff, sat on his palm and stretched its sticky tongue again and again to the bit of metal. Bodhi had called the lizard Rohit, red, like the things the lizard liked, including the small, bitter berries that made humans deathly sick but that grew on vines that also spread sweet-scented white flowers as broad as serving trays. Rohit had the good fortune to die before the empire came, a short life as privileged some creatures. Bodhi buried him at the base of the temple wall, though surely he shouldn’t have done it. Surely it was sacrilege. But it was the blind monk who stood by the gate, and he couldn’t see Bodhi in the dusty corner, though the man who’d given him the lure surely saw. He was on a rooftop, watching, the way he always did. When Bodhi walked away, the blind monk said, “Young man, the Force is with you, and with your friend, who will be with you always. There is no life too small to be one with the Force.”
Bodhi had run home, and he’d cried. Jyoti sang to him, combed his hair between her fingers. He doesn’t know where Jyoti is now. Safe, he hopes. Above all else, he hopes she is safe. The threat to her safety is men like Galen Erso, but Galen Erso is still staring at his wife and his daughter, as thin and as flickering as starlight.
Erso says, “I thought it would be a comfort to me, not knowing whether Jyn yet lives.” He is looking at his own hands as he speaks, which means Bodhi turns his eyes there, too, for those hands are to blame; the hands and the mind, the whole man, together. “But it is worse, not-knowing, knowing that anything I could do to find that knowledge would only bring her harm, hunting, pain.” A breath shudders out of him, somehow. Bodhi hasn’t seen him inhale. “At least I know where Lyra is, that no worse can come to her.”
He tells the story of how that came to be, then, his voice too clear, too even. Bodhi knows the voice. He has heard it come from his own mouth, when he’d had a friend once, a dockworker on Tulti. There were children in the temple, training to be Jedi, but children. They died. But they fought. With everything they had, they fought. Galen Erso’s wife had fought until she was shot, a moment where she knew, surely, she must die. But in that moment, perhaps she bought time for the girl, for Jyn. That was what Erso clung to, Bodhi could see, and it feels like it is someone else’s hand that reaches, someone else’s hand that touches Erso’s warm fingers.
Erso’s head lifts, a wan smile upon his lips. “Thirteen years,” he says. “Have I bought her enough time? Is there any hope?” Because this is Galen Erso’s life: he builds a thing that could destroy everything in the galaxy, so he could save one little girl, who might already be dead. She was left under the care of a madman. Bodhi remembers Saw Gerrera’s name. No one on Jedha was ignorant of him.
Erso’s hand turns under his, knots their fingers together so hard and so fast that Bodhi jerks, every synapse and dendrite flush with flee, but he doesn’t pull free. If he wanted to, he knows, he could. He could throw the empty glass at Erso’s face. He could kick his knee, his shin, his groin—they are sitting so close. But it’s only what passes, skin to skin, that makes him understand: Galen Erso is a traitor to the Empire.
Bodhi says, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Erso laughs, and the sound is upsettingly rich, like the memories of Bodhi’s mother’s cooking.
“And I for yours,” he says, and the laughter is gone, all at once. Erso says, “Will you come back?”
Bodhi does what he seldom does. He tells the truth. “I don’t know.”
In his bunk, he holds the little light fast in his palm. It’s warmer against his chest, but here he can see it better. Does its light flicker? Is it more yellow than it had been? The more he stares at it, the less he knows what he sees. But he wants it to be the pure blue-white it had been before, and he holds it tight. He thinks of the monk and his watchful friend, of Rohit, of Jyn Erso, Force be with her, wherever she may be.
He does come back. He tells himself it is only to repay the kindness Erso has shown him—warmth and a taste of home—and in such a fashion, he brings a gift: kabuli chana, cooked slowly and gently in nanna milk and with a whole fistful of spices.
When the shock that Bodhi has returned at all passes, Erso’s attention turns at once to the crock, to the heady fragrance rising from it. “How?”
The grin that Bodhi feels, his teeth unshuttered all at once, is sudden, sweet. “An idling engine can do many things.” The pilot who trained him unscrewed one of the floor plates above the reactor to warm his contraband liquor. Bodhi has learned that nothing can be cooked—only burned—in the jump to hyperspace, but while a ship lingers in some administrative queue, there are many possibilities. Mostly they use it for liquor, if he’s honest; cooking is so much heartbreak, and sharing it with Erso is only more of that in waiting, but there is a bittersweetness to these moments that Bodhi has come to crave.
That night, they do not talk about what Galen Erso does on Eadu. They eat, and Bodhi laughs at the delicateness of his palate: Erso enjoys the flavor but finds the spices too hot for his tongue. Still, he won’t stop eating, and there is real hunger, real joy in his watering eyes. He wipes them with the back of his hand, licks his spoon clean, and asks how the dish is made.
Bodhi tells him his mother’s recipe, of which this is a poor, poor copy. But Bodhi did not have two days or an open flame for toasting spices or fresh ghee to receive them.
“Your people—they don’t put flavor in their food?” Bodhi says, and it’s not strictly true. Imperial officers, the high-ranking ones like Erso, have nearly anything they want. Sometimes, the woody, pungent scent of ruby terfez lingers in the hallway past the officers’ mess, like extinguished incense. He’s smelled the same in here, once, and caf of a much higher quality than is common elsewhere on the base.
“My people,” Erso says, but the words get swallowed. What he does say is that he didn’t understand food until he grew it, until he ate a carrot he’d rubbed clean on his sleeve, still the same temperature as the dirt he’d pulled it from.
“You were a farmer?” Bodhi can’t picture it, not this angular man, all squared corners and clean hands. Even when he built the little disk, there was nothing to dirty him. Galen Erso is too precise for solder burns, too careful for smudges.
And he means before—before here. When his wife was alive. When his daughter was beside him.
Bodhi says, “Very little grows on Jedha. The only thing I knew fresh—from my own hands picking them—were dates. But,” he says, “there were places, near the oases, that could grow these beans, and they were dried, and they traveled well. And they grew things at the temple, so much, really, that the whole city tasted it.”
Here they are again.
Erso looks down at his empty plate, rubs his thumb against a smudge of the rich sauce, and brings it to his lips. Bodhi watches more closely than he means to, and he finds that when he does the same, Erso looks as well. There is nothing more than the wanton glances, things they cannot begrudge each other, not now.
Is it inevitability that they end up here, in Galen Erso’s bed? Bodhi supposes, by the logic of the universe, that it makes sense: where else would they go, two such as them?
After he learned the truth, Bodhi thought he could stay away, but the knowledge only drew him closer, even after he had done what he could to even the scales of obligation and favor: why tell Bodhi? And it’s been so long since anyone has told him anything. His friend on Tulti has been dead for two years. Bodhi had been told it was an accident: a shipping container slipped. But Bodhi knows that there are no accidents, not really.
Erso—Galen, he is told to call him now—says it is because he thought Bodhi would understand. Not without judgment. There must be judgment, and for this, Galen says he is ready, willing. Bodhi feels something curl tight in his stomach; not only lust, but shame, kinship—if each of them must act in accordance with their own power, in their own proportion, Bodhi and Galen are the same. Bodhi Rook is not a genius as Galen Erso is, but Bodhi Rook contributes tools to the Empire’s power all the same. In accordance with his own power. He is the pilot.
“But power is a fragile thing,” Galen says. “That is what no one who has it wants to admit, but all of them know, must know, if they’re anything but fools.” Galen is the one who stands, who leads the way into the next room, who removes his clothing first. In such confidence—that no one will intrude, that no one is watching, that Bodhi will follow—there is power, and the power is true: Bodhi replies in accordance with his own because he follows. He defers. And Galen pulls Bodhi’s hands to his body—warm, now, as they have been for many months, because of Galen—and presses their mouths together.
How long does the moment remain only exactly that, loneliness sewn up between two mouths, tongues like needles passing a feeling they both know too well? Long enough. But Bodhi hasn’t felt cold in this room in so long that it’s easier to remember heat, what it could turn into, what it does, deep in his gut.
Bodhi is the one who makes the first sound, who clutches harder, and he expects Galen to return the gesture, more firmly still. He expects Galen to press him down or turn him to his knees, and Bodhi thinks he would go easily enough for the first. Maybe for the second, maybe now, when there is so little left for him to lose.
But Galen presses his forehead to Bodhi’s collarbone, keeps his hands steady on Bodhi’s hips. Finally, he lifts his head. “Would you take me?”
Bodhi very nearly says where? Then the meaning sifts because Galen is pulling him down to the bed, pushing the shirt from his shoulders because his chin has fallen forward seemingly of its own accord.
Still, he says, “Really?” and Galen laughs, a startled, bright noise that makes Bodhi think yes all at once. And Galen kisses him again, answering with the press of his tongue, the way he puts Bodhi’s hand at the base of his spine.
Bodhi is the one who has to move his hand, though, who rubs softly with his thumb in the dense warmth of between. “This power, you do not think it fragile even here?” Especially here. There was power in the young woman, power she wielded over Nilam in her choosing, but Bodhi understands now, that Nilam had power, too: she let her go. What they are doing at this moment, Bodhi thinks, is both choice and release, but he doesn’t yet know that he is choosing, what he is letting go. That knowledge can only come after.
“Especially here. What a being chooses to give freely—” Galen’s shoulders shrug, but he looks at peace with the idea, like it would be no hardship. Bodhi isn’t sure he could say the same, having never done that particular act.
Then Galen says, “Please.” And he pulls Bodhi closer even as he’s shifting to lie on his stomach.
He is not so frozen as to keep himself from following, not with all of this promise, all of this illicit possibility, but he can’t keep the word why from his mouth. Why this, why not their hands or their mouths or anything else?
Galen doesn’t answer him until Bodhi is pressed against the full length of his back, until even the greatest exertion of his self-control still sees Bodhi rubbing gently against the curve of Galen’s buttocks. He says, “Because this way, I will be reminded least of Lyra. She would forgive me this, here, now, I think.”
But she’s there. No matter what the two of them do or say, Bodhi swears he can feel her in the room, like he can see the shape of her inside the back of Galen’s head while he presses a finger in, slowly, and Bodhi drops his head, presses his mouth to the hard knots of Galen’s spine. It should feel worse, he thinks, this weight in the room, but if he’s honest, it’s the first time in years he’s felt this light. That, too, is surely folly, but that is a price he’ll pay.
Perhaps all folly feels this good. The ananas juice tasted sweeter for the reason that he shouldn’t have drunk it, for how long ago it had been, and the tight heat of Galen’s body must be so intoxicating because he has never had it before, because this is the most dangerous thing he has done, and yet it is so slow, so gentle. The slowness is because Galen asks it of him, and Bodhi’s arm curls under Galen’s chest, binds them together.
Later, when Bodhi should leave, he doesn’t. He stays in Galen’s bed, and they cleave together too closely to look each other in the eye. They already know what they’ll see there. Power is so fragile, and they’re cupping so many different kinds of it in their joined hands.
After another return from Jedha when there are fewer of the stabilizing cylinders holding kyber to load, which means the temple is nearly empty, which means there is nothing left for the guardians to protect, which means there is no home for Bodhi to return to, even if he brings himself to finally leave the ship, Bodhi understands that choosing is letting go. Or letting go is choosing. Because the only way Bodhi can choose to take the data stick from Galen is to let go: of everything, even himself. Once he has done that, he can choose the path he knows he should have taken years ago.
When Bodhi says that, Galen says that is not so. “This is where you are needed.” Galen is plain about that: he needs Bodhi, and Bodhi knows better than to flatter himself. Galen needs someone to do this for him, someone entirely unremarkable, someone who can disappear. “Here,” Galen says, “I need you, and I thank you.”
It should be insulting. But to be insulted is not a feeling he can manage; there are only so many neurons in his brain, and they are all occupied by fear, by the immensity of what they have done, what they have planned to do, by Galen’s skin against his. Galen is speaking.
“If Jyn still lives, you might find her. If she is with Saw.” Galen’s hands are so tight around his own, and it hurts so much that Bodhi knows that this is hope. This is what hope feels like. The grip only ends because Galen’s arms are now full around him, his mouth the only soft thing about him, gentle upon Bodhi’s ear. Galen says, “Tell her I love her, more than anything.” Galen’s lips press beneath his ear, but chaste, overwhelmed, not like before. “Tell her I am grateful—happy—Force, when was I last happy before today—that the two of you should meet.” His voice shakes, laughter and grief and the adrenaline that feels like it would shake them apart were they not holding on so tightly.
Bodhi curls his arms beneath Galen’s, his fingers fisted against his shoulderblades. He’s afraid to unclench his fingers, lest he dig in. Pressed between them, the little disc, and its light. Right now it’s steady, a living green and so, so warm. He has to let go. He has to go, and he will leave the thing with Galen, who must stay in this cold place. In the morning, Bodhi Rook will return to Jedha City, which is no longer home, and though he is still the pilot, must be the pilot because that is how he will get there, that is how he will do this, a pilot is no longer all he is.