It’s one of the pathfinders who first catches Kes sifting debris, holding up discarded ship parts with a critical eye for the diameter and metal.
“Give yourself a little more credit than that if you’re trying to find one that’ll fit,” Tuck says, giving Kes a grin that’s missing an eye-tooth.
“Just looking for the right sized washer,” Kes says, a little sheepish.
“You could ask the techs,” Tuck suggests, already knowing better. He leans on the scrapped out hulk of an imperial speeder that they’d half blown up before recovering the rest, crossing his arms and looking at Kes with a penetrating gaze. The Empire is still strong, still rolling onward, but the Rebellion draws more supporters every day. It’s starting to become clear that the tide can turn.
They’ve still got to scavenge anything and everything usable from any source, a habit that Kes isn’t sure will ever die in him.
“I don’t want to take something that someone might need,” Kes says, sifting through a pile of half melted and stripped bolts and collars. He holds another washer up to the light and finds it lopsided—unsuited to his purpose.
“Hmm,” Tuck doesn’t lift a hand to help Kes, sensing—as any good Pathfinder would—a personal quest.
“Seems to me,” Tuck says, as Kes tosses another unsuitable part over his shoulder, “That you can find something close enough and have it machined. I know a couple of the guys in fabrication.”
“Should I ask how?” Kes wonders, rhetorically. Tuck is a good man, they all are, but he has a reputation for spice use that Kes doesn’t believe is fully unfounded.
“It’s my philosophy never to question the ‘how’ of something that benefits me,” Tuck says, grinning lop-sidedly. “The trick will be figuring out what ring size you have to match.”
Kes should have guessed someone would see through him.
“I could ask her for you,” Tuck says. “You know, casual.”
Tuck is about as casual as a used speeder salesman on commission. Kes shakes his head and does his best to be tactful in rejecting the help.
“I don’t wanna botch this,” Kes says, dusting his hands off. “There’s a lot that goes wrong in all this fighting. I want this to go right.”
“Sure,” Tuck says. “Good luck, Captain. I hear they’ve got some TIES taken apart on the east side to refit some of our own birds. Might find some spare parts there.”
With that bit of wisdom dispensed, Tuck makes himself scarce.
“Look I appreciate the attention,” Shara says with a laugh that suggests she really, really does. “But what is it you’re doing again?”
“Hand massage?” Kes reminds, working her strong, slender, work-rough hands between his own, as a disguise for trying to gauge the size of her ring finger with his hands.
“Hmm,” Shara says, a long low purr of noise that suggests she doesn’t fully buy his story but she’s enjoying the benefits, so she lets his fib pass.
“I can’t give my girlfriend a massage?” Kes asks.
“I didn’t say that,” Shara says, relaxing against him and squeezing her hands against his as he tries to commit the dimensions of her ring finger to his physical memory.
It shouldn’t be hard, after all his hands hold the memory of the grip and trigger of his blaster rifle, ghosts he can call to mind at will, that haunt him when he sleeps empty handed in his bunk. But her hands are yielding and seem to have infinite dimensions. Malleable, unique.
“Usually, it’s not my hands you’re so interested in,” Shara says, tilting her head back against his shoulder to look up at him suspiciously. “Was this advice on romance from one of your pathfinder buddies?”
“Because you don’t need any advice on how to spice things up,” Shara continues turning around in his lap and pinning him with her big, dark, pretty eyes.
“You think hand massages are spicy?” Kes asks, putting his arms around her middle and kissing her neck. He loves the way they fit together, how she’s comfortable and physical with him.
“I think they’re different , “ Shara says. “When I think different and contact, and all that time you spend with well-meaning lunkheads, well…you put the pieces together.”
“Hmm,” Kes says, knowing he has to distract her now, or she’ll really get the pieces together. He curls his hand under her chin and tips it up until their mouths are lined up but not yet touching.
“Can I put them together like this?” he asks.
She leans in and answers him with a kiss. It fits just right.
Of course, Tuck doesn’t keep his secret. Pathfinders are very good at doing wetwork jobs with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of success rates, but keeping secrets isn’t a part of the skill set. They also take care of their own as a point of pride.
Kes keeps finding all sizes of washers tucked into things he owns. After the third or fourth he finds wedged into his bedroll, he makes sure to leave the outer pocket on his pack empty and unzipped.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve found one already, you know,” Kess tells Tuck, next time they encounter each other in relative private.
“She’s not wearing one, last I looked,” Tuck says, grinning at Kes. “Too big?”
“I haven't given it to her yet. Haven’t found the right moment,” Kes says. “Besides, you haven't seen her since I have last week. You know she’s out with Green Squadron making rim-dash runs. How would you even know?”
“You’re not the only one with pilot buddies. Word would get back to me.”
Kes believes him.
“Are you at least going to give it to her before she starts showing?” Tuck continues, casually.
Kes squints at him over his field ration. “Showing what?”
Such a genuine look of concerned surprise comes over his friend’s features that Kes is sure he’s put his foot in something totally unexpected.
“Nevermind,” Tuck mumbles. “Give her the number six hex. It’s from a TIE she actually shot down.”
Tuck hesitates, chewing. For a minute the food seems tougher than Kes knows it is. Finally, Tuck advises. “Don’t wait too much longer. You’re ever going to find ‘the perfect time’ when we’re still fighting the Empire, but you can make it the perfect time, together. Later.”
“That’s… unusually philosophical, Tuck,” Kes says, knowing that Tuck knows something he doesn’t, now. As bad at Pathfinders are at keeping secrets, once they’ve decided to keep one, it’s inviolate.
They find time later that week, and Kes has a washer in his pocket, rendered smooth and even by the machinists at the fabrication shop. He tries not to fuss with it too much, but he keeps feeling the urge to make sure it’s there.
“You are making the ‘we-need-to-talk’ face,” Shara says, leaning up on tip-toes to kiss Kes with her hands on his chest. “Which is good, ‘cause we need to talk.”
“What?” Kes asks—he knows Shara’s tones and expressions well enough to know she’s excited to share what she has. It’s good news. He smiles at her; he’s got good news too. He likes the days when they both do.
“Okay,” Kes says, taking her hand, heading through the corridors. “So let’s talk. I have a couple of hours off, and a great bottle of wine back in my quarters.”
“Hmm,” Shara says. “Your quarters sounds good. Wine? I’d better not.”
Kes knows the drill. “You flying in the morning?”
“Something like that,” she agrees, squeezing his fingers.
It’s not actually anything like that. She tells him with a smile, and he feels the warmth of the news spread into understanding, their hands joined together and the bottle of wine forgotten.
“When?” Kes asks.
“Well, about seven months from now,” she says. “I didn’t tell you sooner because I wanted the time to be right, I wanted to be sure it wasn’t a false alarm, you know. A lot of reasons.”
“Sure,” Kes thinks he understands perfectly. It’s a big decision even under normal circumstances. The sort of thing that’s normally planned and expected, but war makes all that—difficult.
Kes doesn’t worry for a second that they can’t do it. “I’m glad you told me now.”
“Well, I’d have to,” Shara laughs, looking mischievous. “How else would I explain only being on escort and non-combat delivery missions for the next few months? And, well, eventually it’ll be obvious.”
“I’m so glad I didn’t have to be the one to talk L’ulo into that,” Kes says, teasing.
“No, but you can thank him for talking me into it,” Shara says.
“We should both thank him,” Kes says. “How do you think he’d like to be a godparent?”
Shara looks intrigued, but keeps any comments she has about that proposition to herself.
“So, what’s your news?” she asks. “I hope you’re not pregnant, too. I think one baby is already going to be a lot of work, and I plan on recruiting extra help.”
Kes laughs, and his hand goes to his pocket.
“In all the excitement, I almost forgot,” he says. “But I guess this is even more important, now.”
He ask on one knee, with only the cramped quarters as witness, and Shara Bey’s eyes flash warm and liquid and full of all the love and wonder and passion that Kes knows is in her soul.
She says yes. She takes the ring, and then recognizes it. “Kes Dameron did you propose to me with a washer?”
He feels just a moment of uncertainty in his plan. It had seemed like it would be the right thing to do, would mean more to her than some rare stone and gold. “It’s from a-”
“TIE fighter,” she realizes. “Is that what all that was about.”
“Yes,” he says, and laughs. “How did you know?”
“Don’t ask,” she says. She keeps the ring, and Kes guesses he has his definite answer when she pulls him up into a kiss, long and deep and slow.
“Let’s have kids together,” she says, as if it isn’t already decided.
“At least three,” Kes agrees.
“Boy, let’s see what one is like first.”
“Do you want to try the ring on?” Kes asks, after another kiss. “I can have the guys at the shop make it a little bigger…”
“Funny thing,” Shara says, displaying the ring stuck above the second knuckle of her ring finger. “It turns out my hands swell up when I’m pregnant. I like it better than the morning sickness the first two weeks. Your buddy Tuck caught me evacuating breakfast into trash receptacles like three times.”
Mystery solved, Kes thinks.
“I’ll get a chain,” Shara promises. “Wear it close to my heart until it fits properly.”
Kes pulls her flush against him and holds her tight. “It already fits just perfect.”