Shara stared into the shitty little holomirror next to the dusty ion sink, making herself breathe in and out slowly. Nobody here had to know she was a mess. Her breasts hurt; she’d been taking supplements to dry herself up but she wasn’t quite done lactating yet. And her whole body hurt from the inside with how badly she missed Poe, and her father, and Kes-- stars, this whole thing had been so fucking wrenching. Kes in a uniform was strange to her, he looked good but he didn’t look like himself. And she’d never forget the way he’d visibly had to compose himself when he saw her with a blaster on her hip for the first time, after she’d completed the training course and been issued her own sidearm. He’d had one for a while, and seemed comfortable enough with it, but it had clearly knocked him back to see her with one. She wasn’t really used to it yet, and felt like she had to constantly be aware of where it was and what state it was in, and she’d never even used one outside of the target range.
This wasn’t who they were, but it was who they had to be.
She stared at the glitchy holomirror in the transport’s refresher for a moment longer, willing away the last threat of tears. She was here now, this was her life now. She’d been through weapons training, hand to hand training, had done an exhaustive course on all of the military things she had to do and be now, she’d run about a million miles with a pack on because pilots had to be soldiers too (Kes had been sympathetic, but apparently he’d spent his life doing that sort of thing, and how had Shara not realized that he was such a demon heathen of a creature, running was for animals )--
All of that was done now, and she was here to meet her new squadron. She’d been assigned to a muster point with a large detachment of assorted starfighters, and would have a short training period here before she got her first assignment.
There was no point asking for a base where her family could be. Sento and Norasol were going to stay on the move with Poe, using all their contacts to stay away from the Empire. They had a fake birth certificate for Poe, and fake papers for Norasol too, with no mentions of Alderaan or Dameron or anything the Empire might be interested in.
Shara wouldn’t see them for months. Poe would be big, maybe crawling, before she saw him again. He might not remember her.
Her baby might not remember her when she next saw him.
She breathed, looked into the holomirror. It didn’t matter. None of the people here needed to know that. She wasn’t a hormonal mess of new motherhood who missed her baby so much it was like a constant stab in her gut. She wasn’t a bereaved woman who’d finally found a family and lost it. She wasn’t a little girl farther away from her father than she’d ever been before, and in much more danger. She wasn’t an anxious wife whose husband had been tortured with hallucinations of her face and was far away facing danger of his own.
None of that mattered. None of these people needed to know that.
She was Shara Bey, daughter of Sento, and she’d been a pilot for ten years now, and she was the best goddamn pilot currently flying, and a bad bitch besides. Nobody could fuck with her and nobody was going to try. She’d been going into new places and earning her way by pluck and skill for a decade now. This was no different.
She straightened up, shook herself, and smoothed her hair down one last time. One last dab of lipsheen, like armor, and then she straightened her newly-issued jacket, fixed the hem of her shirt so it lay under her belt buckle, tilted her chin up a little, and left the refresher. They were almost at the muster point. She looked out the viewport as they approached the big open bay of the largest ship, which had a number of other large ships docked against it at various of its dock points; a network of big ships, surrounded by little ones.
As she watched, a little flight of RZ-1 A-Wings flew out of the bay where they were headed. The formation split neatly to go around them, four on one side and three on the other, and the light of the nearest star sheened off their front viewports. Through the glare, she thought she saw one of the pilots waving at them.
“You’ve got the qualifications to fly any of these,” the personnel officer said, tapping her fingers on the console. Shara stood in front of her, trying to strike a balance between looking respectful and looking tough. “But-- how old are you? Does your mother know you’re here?”
“I don’t have a mother,” Shara said, “but I am one, myself, so. I mean, I know I’m here. What more did you need to know?”
The personnel officer contemplated Shara for an unsettling moment. “Well,” she said, “I guess we need hotshots.”
“I’m no hotshot,” Shara said. “I’ll have you know my record’s exemplary.”
The officer glanced down at the console, then tilted her head slightly, conceding that. “I do notice that. Well, your trainer recommended you for A-Wings, but we have an opening in X-Wings too.”
X-Wings were more powerful, had firepower and shields and were real goddamn sexy to fly, tons of heft on the other end of that yoke. But A-Wings were faster than speed itself, and nimble besides. Not many had the reflexes for A-Wings.
“A,” Shara said.
“We’re gonna get you some hours in both,” the officer said, “but I’ll note that A-Wings would be your preference.” She looked keenly up at Shara. “We also need transport pilots. You’re gonna get trained on those.”
“I don’t mind doing that at all either,” Shara said, but her heart sank a little. There were always berths flying transports. And it took some skill, but not as much as snubfighters. Shara could do it in her sleep.
“That’s unusual,” the personnel officer said, watching her closely.
Shara shrugged. “I told you,” she said, “I’m not a hotshot.”
Shara had flown an A-Wing before. It had been in-atmo, she hadn’t made it to space, but she’d gotten to joyride for a brief few moments, and it had been beautiful. This time, she was starting out in space. Which she almost regretted; in-atmo flying was a special kind of joy, with the play of air. But A-Wings were designed for space flight, and that was where they could achieve their incredible speeds.
It was incredible. She followed the course she’d been told, but it was nothing like the simulators. She followed the guidelines to the nanometer, giving it exactly as much power as she needed and no more to get up out of the bay and through the traffic near the ship, but when she set out to the training obstacle course, marked out around a number of fairly stable satellites in orbit around the nearest star, she eased it up to max power as smoothly as she could, and went shivery all over at how responsive the craft was.
She mastered the handling almost immediately, finding it perfectly intuitive, and did the requested two loops. She made the first loop at a respectable pace, she rather thought, and then proceeded to beat her own time by a healthy margin, and when it was done she didn’t really want to return to the ship.
But she did. She wasn’t a hotshot.
“That’s a good time,” the training coordinator said, reviewing her run. (The satellites had sensors, so it was easy to track where she’d made time, and where she’d been slow. Shara could read the numbers backwards and see, a little smugly, that she was well above average on every one of the course’s timings, and extremely above average for much of the second run. But there was no call getting cocky. Either she was noteworthy, and people would note her, or she wasn’t, and would look a fool for bringing it up.)
“Is it?” Shara asked politely. “Well, that craft is a joy to fly, let me just say it.”
The training coordinator gave her a half-smile. “They are, that.”
The holo was little and over-compressed, but it was recognizably Kes, sitting at a table, with Poe tucked against his shoulder. “They said if I wanted to send something I have to get it together more or less now,” he said, “so I can’t wait for the baby to wake up. He’s been all right, but he had a cold and did a lot of screaming and not a lot of sleeping. He’s better now, but I don’t want to wake him, not even for this. So I’m sorry for that.”
Kes was in civvies, or at least a plain white shirt, and he looked good, even tiny and fuzzy. Poe was just a sleeping lump, but Kes turned so the holocam could at least make out a little of the boy’s face. “I got another two days here and then I’m out. Field deployment but it’s supposed to be a milk run. I know better than to believe them, but I also think-- well, I’ve met the squad, I think they’re good, I’m not real worried. They’re all far more terrifying than I am, so.” He shrugged, and gave the holocam a half-smile, devastatingly attractive.
He glanced at his wrist-- a chrono, one she hadn’t seen before-- and looked back up at the cam. “Norasol and Sento have their plans all set, I guess. Titaba from Essin wants to see them, has some close-to-home work for a bit, and then they’re gonna do a long haul. Supposed to be good work, pretty safe, and no strangers so nobody to get Poe any germs. Sento said he did the same when you were this age, so.” He shrugged. “I trust him. Anyway, I gotta go. I got your message yesterday, I’m glad everything seems so good. Of course you broke the course record your second time in an A-Wing, I expected nothing less of you. You said you were gonna train on X-Wings next and I just wanna say I think those things look cool as hell, so get a holo of yourself in one so I can show it off. The A-Wings just look like any old ship but the X-Wings have style, baby. I know you don’t need the help, you look cool no matter what. But get a good holo in the cockpit, will you? Just for me.” He winked at the holocam. “All right, that’s it, I gotta go. Guess Poe’s not gonna wake up for you. He says hi, I’m sure. He’s doing okay, I told you already. I know he was looking for you for a while, but he’s okay. I think he understands. Don’t you, baby?” And he kissed the sleeping child’s head. “Okay, I gotta go. Love you, Shara. I won’t get your reply for a couple weeks but Sento said he’d send you something in the meantime. Bye.”
He leaned in and shut off the holocam, and Shara closed her eyes and let the tears drop down. No point recording a return message; it took a couple days to send a package and bounce it through the relays, so he was probably already gone as she watched this.
She wiped her face. Her milk had dried up by now but the pain in her chest was worse than when her breasts had ached, missing her baby. Her arms were so empty, and her bunk was so cold, and she’d never minded being in space before but she felt like her feet never really touched anything, here.
“That was some good flying,” said the acting wing commander of the X-Wing training squad, a grizzled fellow with a limp and burn scars on his face.
“Thanks,” Shara said.
“They said you’d rather do A-Wings, though?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I mean,” she said. “Yeah. I like the X-Wings, but I really love the A-Wings. You can go so fast.”
“I can see how a deft touch like yours would be even more suited to the A-Wings,” the commander said, a little wistfully. “But it’d be a shame to lose you.”
He’d shifted his stance a little, and Shara wasn’t sure he’d meant anything by it, but it pinged her a little; it wasn’t the first time his body language had pinged her either. “Don’t think of it as losing me,” she said placatingly, but coolly. “Just think of it as me finding a better fit.” She smiled politely, but showed her teeth, and moved a little, so that he wasn’t between her and the rest of the room anymore.
He noticed, and looked affronted for an instant, then resigned. “It’s the scars,” he said. Ah, so he had meant it that way. Awkward.
“I’m married ,” she said, no longer bothering with anything but frost, “ and your subordinate, I know I’m new to military stuff but I know what’s proper.” She straightened her spine a little and moved toward the exit.
“I didn’t even say anything,” he said.
“No,” she said, and turned back to smile tightly at him. “Let’s keep it that way, shall we?”
Maybe it was a sign, she thought, and she was supposed to go into A-Wings after all.
Poe waved vaguely and babbled, upright in Sento’s arms. “I just showed him a holo of you,” Sento said, “and he smiled at it. We watch your holos every night before bed. Oh, I’m sending a copy to Kes too, Shara, so I should probably address you both, hey? Poe, can you say hi to your Papa?”
Poe wriggled; he was clearly watching the light on the holocorder, and was amused by it. He was filling out, a little bit, Shara thought, and his hair was coming in more, though it was hard to tell just from a holo, blurry as they were after all the compression out here. “He’s doing great, as you can see. Gettin’ pretty good at grabbing things, and he’s started puttin’ stuff in his mouth, so that’s a delightful milestone there, now that he can get ahold of things. I’m gonna have the devil’s own time keeping ahead of him, I can already tell. I remember this with you, girl, and it was, well, it was an adventure. Fortunately Norasol is on top of things. She’s got a way with him, you know. He just loves her. But you knew that. Ah, she’s gonna do the next holo, she promised, but she’s off running some errand just now.”
Poe kicked his feet and burbled happily, and reached up and grabbed at Sento’s face. “Thanks, baby boy,” Sento said. “Thanks for the spit. I appreciate it. You’re very giving, you know that?”
Poe squealed and wriggled, bouncing a little in Sento’s lap, and Shara realized that meant his legs were strong enough to move him. He’d be crawling soon, and she’d miss it.
She usually cried all the way through these holos, so she had a handkerchief ready. If she ever got a roommate she wasn’t sure what she’d do, but at the moment the double-occupancy bunk just contained her, so she could sit on her bed and watch these.
“Kes, well, I think he sent you a holo, I haven’t heard anything since then, which I guess is good. He did say he’d send us more stuff than you probably. Ah, I keep forgetting I’m talking to him too. Kes, Shara hasn’t sent anything since you left, I don’t think. Wait! Yes, she sent a still holo. I’ll see if I can forward it to you. It was her in an X-Wing. You know, those things are bullshit,” and he pretended to cover Poe’s ears, “pardon. They’re just-- you know, they’re all aesthetic and no real function, you know? I really feel like they’re what happened when some aeronautical engineer used his little kid’s sketchbook of cool-lookin’ spacecraft , y’know? Like, why are they like that? There’s no reason. I never flew one, though, Shara, maybe you can tell me if they’re any good or not, but I always thought they looked like a pain right in the butt.”
That was enough to make Shara laugh out loud through her tears. Poe laughed too, an astonishingly sweet little peal of laughter, and it stabbed her, right under the breastbone. Stars, oh, stars , it hurt, she missed her baby and her Papa, she didn’t know how to breathe through this.
But it passed, slowly, as Sento kept talking, and he gave Poe a kiss and waved to the holo, and Poe looked at the blinking light Shara knew must be right by the lens, and reached out toward it as Sento leaned in to turn it off.
Shara cried for an hour and fell asleep still in her clothes clutching the holoviewer, because it was warm.
Shara was leaving the mess hall when a woman she didn’t know came up next to her and threaded her arm through the bend of Shara’s elbow. “Hello,” said the other woman, pleasantly and a little sing-songy. She was petite, dark-skinned, older than Shara, and had beads woven through the braids in her hair, and was wearing a pilot’s jumpsuit.
Shara wasn’t used to strangers touching her, but this wasn’t threatening, so she just shot the other woman a sidelong look. “Hi,” she said back.
“I’m here to tell you about the Sisterhood,” the other woman said.
“Oh?” Shara asked. She’d been on other postings where the female pilots tended to band together, in a weird nebulous space between personal and professional; she’d never leaned on that much because she’d usually been with her Papa, but she could understand it.
“I’m Gula,” the woman said. “Bars Squadron, we’re X-Wings. You want to come meet the sisters?”
“I would love to,” Shara said.
One of the personnel lounges on the starboard lower deck was, apparently, the assigned meeting place for the Sisterhood, every thirty days or so, and Shara was just lucky to have happened along in time for one. The door was marked with a stylized drawing of a wing, and there was a startling array of people inside. “We’re not a formal organization,” Gula said, as the door opened. “But we do meet up every once in a while.”
There were a number of conversations going on, and nobody seemed to pay any particular mind to Shara’s appearance beyond noting that the door had opened and closed. Not everyone was human; Shara counted a Sullustan and a Duros, and some near-humans; one tall pale-skinned woman had glittering scales across both cheeks, and blue hair. Gula led her into the room and over to an arrangement of seats where an older dark-skinned woman with silver streaks in her hair was sitting, watching their approach.
“Captain,” Gula said, “I brought the new girl.”
“Ah,” the older woman said, sitting up a little straighter. “Welcome aboard, friend. What’s your name and where are you from? I’m Captain Horix, Banita Horix. Gula and I go way back.”
“I’m Shara Bey,” Shara said. “I just joined up. I’m a spacer, I’m not really from anywhere in particular, but I’ve been a pilot since I was old enough to reach the controls, so.” She punctuated it with a shrug.
“Who did you fly for?” Horix asked, but it sounded politely interested, friendly even, not hostile.
“Anyone who paid,” Shara said. “My father and I, just the two of us, we contracted out all over.” Time, she supposed, to tip her hand a little; she casually gestured with her left hand to her right forearm like she was pushing up her sleeve.
“Ah,” Horix said, and then in Outer Rim-accented Iberican, continued, “What clan?”
“Essin,” Shara said.
“Ah,” Horix said, “I don’t know any of them but their reputation’s all right, isn’t it?”
“It’s not bad,” Shara said. “They were always good to me.” She switched back to Basic. “Not a bad gig.”
“I imagine not,” Horix said, likewise in Basic. “Well. Welcome to the Sisterhood. We’re pretty informal but we all do like to touch base once in a while. If you find yourself needful of anything, or feeling the pressure too acutely, we do try to look out for each other a little bit, at least on a personal level.”
“That’s good to hear,” Shara said.
She was good at this sort of thing; she went around the room and mingled, learning everyone’s names. It was all pilots, but it wasn’t just the starfighters-- there were cargo pilots and transport pilots in here too, and a mechanic or two, though they were mostly accompanying friends. “There are more women pilots in the Rebellion than out in the galaxy in general,” one of the women she’d just met told Shara. Her name was Keet something, and Shara had picked up that she was a bush pilot from some backwater, though she’d clearly done a lot of traveling. “But I like that we still have these meetings once in a while.”
“It seems like a good idea,” Shara said.
“There’s other social stuff too,” Keet said, “this isn’t all there is. But this is the only thing like this, you know?”
“Pretty little thing like you,” said another woman, who Shara hadn’t met yet, and she grabbed Shara’s arm, “you might have some trouble out there, you know?”
Shara looked sidelong at the newcomer, then back at Keet, who looked uncomfortable. “Now, Hana, you don’t gotta hang on her like that. Introduce yourself, like a civilized person.”
“Sorry,” Hana said, and grinned widely. She was possibly thirty, wiry and petite, with chestnut-brown hair and a pointy little nose. “Sometimes I’m handsy. I’m Hana, I’m in Orange Squadron.”
Shara didn’t know Orange Squadron. “I’m Shara,” she said. “I’m not assigned yet.”
“Oooh, fresh meat,” Hana said. “And you do look delicious.”
“I’m not a big toucher, pardon me,” Shara said, reclaiming her arm.
“Yeah, buy her dinner first,” Keet said.
“Sorry to offend,” Hana said, but she didn’t try to grab Shara again. “Tell us more! Where was your last posting?”
Before Shara realized what she was going to say, the word “Alderaan” came out of her mouth, and it fell like a heavy weight into the conversation.
“Oh,” Keet said.
“Oh,” Hana echoed.
“Yeah,” Shara said, and managed a nervous little breath of a laugh. “Kind of-- well I mean. That’s why I joined. So.” She laughed again, humorlessly. “So I just got out of training.”
“What were you doing on Alderaan?” Hana asked, clearly trying to salvage the conversation.
“Staying with-- family,” Shara said. It hurt to say. “It-- it’s not a safe-- topic of discussion.” She managed a brittle smile. “Tell me about Orange Squadron.”
Before she left, Shara told Gula about the weird vibe she’d gotten off the X-Wing training squad guy. “Oh,” Gula said, “nobody else has complained about him that I know of, but I’ll pass it along.”
“Maybe I was wrong,” Shara said.
“No, no,” Gula said, “no, your instincts are probably good. A sweet young thing like you--”
“He didn’t really say anything,” Shara said.
“No, but he surely thought it,” Gula said. “I’m not about to have anyone wreck his career, but it wouldn’t go amiss for someone to give him a gentle reminder about the moral responsibilities of his position.”
“I was going to request A-Wings anyway,” Shara said.
“That’s as may be,” Gula said, “and no harm done, but you know, he shouldn’t even be thinking it. You were under his command, it’s inappropriate to even entertain the notion.”
“That’s true,” Shara said. “But-- if I’m the only person who’s ever--”
“I know,” Gula said. “Believe me, we’re pros at handling this. Like you said, he didn’t do anything; a mild warning should suffice, and we’ll find someone to deliver it gracefully. If it was just a misunderstanding then that’s all there is to it, but if he was thinking of doing it again, or we find out he already has-- well, we’ll know, that’s all.”
“I don’t have real long,” Kes said, the holo such low quality that the audio fuzzed in a repeating pattern. “So this is for both Shara and you guys. I just wanted to check in. I’m okay. We’ve had kind of a rough time so I just wanted to check in, let you know I’m all right.” It was so fuzzy it was hard to see, but he was wearing some kind of hat and speaking slowly, shoulders hunched, like he was very tired. Shara had a suspicion that the odd shadow across his face was actually dirt and stubble, or maybe bruising, and was almost glad she couldn’t really tell. “Um,” he said, clearly having lost his train of thought; he was obviously completely exhausted. “I got a little-- there’s a rest period coming up and then I’m out again but. Not enough time to visit you guys, you’re too far away, Norasol and Sento and Poe-- hi, Poe, baby, I miss you--” He drifted for a second, then took a deep breath. Stars, he sounded exhausted . “But there’s a slight chance our path will take us near your muster point, Shara, so I’m going to ask if I can get a short stopover just to see you for a couple hours. Don’t get your hopes up, but. Maybe.” He rubbed his face, took another deep breath-- she wasn’t sure she’d’ve recognized it, but he tended to do that when he was really tired, lapse into really shallow breathing and only occasionally remember to take deep breaths. It made him sound irritated, but she’d learned it just usually meant he was asleep on his feet. “Anyway. I gotta go. I love you guys. I’ll try to send another holo soon.” He leaned in and switched the holocorder off.
After that Shara had to go back and find the last holo with Poe in it to watch again, to take away the sting of Kes’s tired breathing. She fell asleep crying again.
“Um,” Shara said, waking suddenly and sitting up in bed as someone came into her bedroom and switched the lights on. “Uh, hi, what the fuck?”
“Oh shit,” a woman said, “oh, my god, I’m sorry,” and switched the lights back off. There was a moment’s fraught silence in the dark, and then the woman laughed nervously. “Shit, now I’m trapped.”
Shara rubbed her face, and reached over to switch on the light by her bed. The woman was young, light-skinned, short-haired, short and curvy and in a pilot’s coverall, and had a duffel bag over her shoulder. “What,” Shara said again, trying to summon enough brainpower to figure out what was going on.
“I’m sorry,” the woman said, “I didn’t think you’d be asleep in here. I’m-- they just assigned me to this room. Four nine two, right?”
“Oh,” Shara said. She’d left the holoplayer on and the battery was drained. She got out of bed and went and plugged it in at the desk, and checked her chrono while she was there. Oh, it was pretty early. Whoops, she’d slept through dinner. “Yeah. No, yeah, they, uh.” She waved her hand. Her eyes felt swollen. That was what she got for crying herself to sleep. Well, now she had a roommate so she wouldn’t be doing that anymore. “Yeah. Said I’d be getting a roommate.”
“I really didn’t think you’d be in here at all,” the woman said, “I’m so sorry to wake you up.”
“No,” Shara said, “no, it’s fine, it’s--” She was only in shorts and a thin strappy singlet, no breastband, and it was cold out from under the blankets. She pulled on her overshirt, one of the few civilian garments she’d brought-- Kes didn’t know, but it was one of his, worn soft and faded and frayed at the cuffs of sleeves too short for him but too long for her. It fit Shara like a two-man survival tent and she loved it; the only thing that would improve it was if it still smelled of him, but she’d had to break down and wash it out of hygienic decency. “I was watching something and fell asleep. I don’t-- I’m not on a night schedule or anything. It’s a ridiculous time to be asleep.”
“I’m still sorry,” the woman said. She’d set her duffel bag down, and was squinting around the dim room. “Oh! I’m Tanara, by the way. Tanara Gose.”
“Shara Bey,” Shara said, and recovered herself enough to come over and extend her hand. Tanara gripped it firmly, smiling politely like she’d stepped right out of one of those Succeeding At Business holos, but didn’t try to make it a strength contest or anything, she just let go when she’d finished, and stepped back a little. Shara gestured around the room. “Make yourself at home.” Shara was a pretty tidy person; her stuff was pretty much all put away. Except that there was only one desk, and she had datachips spread out in careful order across it. “Oh, I’ll clean up the desk, I was just working on something. There’s another power port over on the wall by that bed, too, there’s just no table or anything.”
“Oh, I won’t be needing the desk for much,” Tanara said with a laugh. She had a very sweet slow lilt to her Basic, which was somewhat charming. “I just need a place to lay my head and keep my spare socks.”
“The bunks have drawers underneath,” Shara said. “It’s not-- the most luxurious of accomodations but clearly, it’s comfortable enough to sleep in.”
Tanara laughed again, and pulled her duffel over to unpack it into the drawers. She was newly arrived to the muster point, and had been a courier pilot for a few years, and hadn’t ever really flown a starfighter but had tested well on simulations. She was friendly, and happy to fill most of the space in a conversation pretty gracefully, which was good because Shara wasn’t about to spill her life story to anybody. They laughed and chatted for a couple of hours, and went to bed at a reasonable hour.
Shara lay awake a while, though, because of her unexpected nap, earlier, and because she wasn’t used to anyone else’s breathing and night noises anymore, and it made her ache fiercely with missing her baby.
“-- get my hopes up,” Shara was saying to the holocam rig. “Anyway, I gotta go. I love you guys.” She leaned in, and waved, and blew a kiss to the holocam. “Bye-bye, baby! Be good, Mama loves you!”
The door made a noise, and she switched off the holocam before turning to see that Tanara had come in. “Oh,” the other woman said, looking hesitantly around, “I thought you were talking to someone.”
“No,” Shara said, carefully closing down the holocam and saving the file. “Holocam. I-- I send holos to my family, because mostly I can’t comm them directly.”
“Oh that’s a good idea,” Tanara said. “You have a big family?”
“No,” Shara said. That sounded unfriendly. “Just a few of us, now.” She wasn’t going to explain, it would make her cry and she never cried for strangers. “How about you?”
“Oh I have like… I think I have seven half-brothers, now,” Tanara said, “and two full brothers and a full sister, and then a mess of cousins.”
Shara laughed. “That sounds nice,” she said. “Growing up I always was torn between wishing I had brothers and sisters, and being glad I didn’t.”
“Oh,” Tanara said, “were you an only child?” Shara nodded. “Lucky you! Did you get to have stuff that was all your own and nobody else’s?”
“Some,” Shara said. “Not much, we moved a lot.”
“I guess that would complicate it,” Tanara said wistfully. “I always dreamed of runnin’ away, though, you know?”
“I dreamed of staying somewhere,” Shara said, and it suddenly hurt. She’d almost gotten to have that. She gave herself a breath to get through that, then smiled. “But it was nice, moving on, sometimes. It felt free, sometimes. I can’t complain.”
“Oh,” Tanara said, “I shouldn’t-- I shouldn’t complain either, I had enough to eat and my Ma loved me, anyway, and all that.”
“Why’d you join the Rebellion?” Shara asked.
Tanara’s soft-sweet expression slipped a little, just for a moment, before she caught it and pulled it back up. “Well. We’re from Ghorman. And maybe I grew up okay, but the Empire hasn’t. Been kind.”
Shara considered, for a moment, what she’d heard of Ghorman, and suddenly she remembered it, something about a protest, and brutal suppression. “Oh,” she said, understanding.
“I lost some cousins in that one,” Tanara said softly, mouth twisting a little. “And it made things… bad.”
“Oh, dear,” Shara said. “I’m sorry.”
Tanara shrugged, then said, “So, how about you?”
“Alderaan,” Shara said.
“Oh no,” Tanara said. “That’s worse .”
“It’s-- all bad,” Shara said awkwardly. “I mean-- it’s just. It’s all bad. That’s. That’s why I’m here. That’s why we’re here.” She should explain, should say she wasn’t really from there, that she hadn’t lost her own family, but she wasn’t-- it was too much. No. Enough. She rubbed her face. “I’ve requested A-Wings. Have you requested any particular assignments?”
Tanara made a face that indicated she understood Shara’s motivation, then shrugged, smiling a little. “I like A-Wings,” she said, “but they feel sort of… flimsy to me. I think I’d prefer X-Wings. I really wanted Y-Wings but they weren’t taking placements yet.”
“The Ys seem so unwieldy,” Shara said. “I don’t think I have the steadiness for it.”
“Oh, I think you could do anything you set your mind to,” Tanara said, “I saw your times on the training course leaderboard. Don’t think I didn’t put two and two together when they told me who my roommate was!”
“Really,” Shara said, flattered, but she pushed it down; she wasn’t here to get a swelled head. It was war, not a boasting contest. “Well. Guess I’m the time to beat.”
“So you’re the time to beat,” a tall thin man said, pausing in front of Shara where she was standing with two other trainees while one of the techs went over a wiring diagram with them.
Shara looked him up and down, genuinely not understanding the comment for a moment. He was in a pilot’s coverall, with the flight harness attached and his helmet under his arm. The helmet had an insignia she couldn’t make out, and his nametape read “Orato”.
“Maybe,” she said, realizing he probably meant the training course leaderboard.
“You broke my record,” he said. Ah, that might be where she’d seen his name before. He wasn’t friendly, but she supposed he wasn’t really hostile either.
“Oh,” Shara said. “Well, I mean. I didn’t really break it, I just… moved it. It’s still a perfectly respectable second place.”
The man looked slightly amused. “No,” he said, “it’s third, you broke it twice.”
Shara had been being so careful not to be cocky she hadn’t noticed that. “I did?” she said, and laughed at herself for a second, then straightened up and pretended to swagger. “Well. I mean, you can go get your record back if you want but I’ll probably just break it again, right?” And she winked to let him know she wasn’t really being an ass.
His eyebrows went up, and he licked his teeth, adjusting his stance, but then he smiled too. “We’ll just see about that, Bey.”
“I look forward to it,” Shara said.
“Bey,” Farka said; she was a comms officer who sat with Shara in the mess sometimes. “Got a message for you.”
Shara looked up from her datapad; she’d been sitting in the personnel lounge where the Sisterhood had met, since she had a free couple of hours to memorize the formulas A-Wing pilots needed to calculate their weapons targeting in the absence of astromech assist. The weapons systems had targeting assist built in, but it was one of those things they encouraged you to study, and Shara had never underachieved a single thing in her life and wasn’t about to start now. (She’d memorized and practiced hyperspace calculation formulae too as a little girl; ship’s computers all did them for you, but her Papa had taught her never to take the computer’s word for it, and being able to double-check the steps had saved her countless hours in incorrect travel, and had always given her an edge in efficiency. She figured the weapons targeting systems would be about the same.)
“A message,” she said, with a little spike of alarm; the recorded holos she used to communicate with her family came in during databursts, and she always knew when they were coming because they’d page everyone who’d gotten a holo over the public address system. But this had to be a one-off, if Farka had wandered around looking for her.
But Farka didn’t look solemn, she looked happy enough. “There’s a task force traveling through this muster point enroute to an op, and one Kes Dameron is among them and wanted to request that you be given a rest period coinciding with theirs.”
Shara stared for a moment before realizing her mouth was open. She closed it, set down her datapad, jumped up, and wrapped her arms around Farka. “Here,” she said, pulling back to hold Farka by the arms. Farka nodded, beaming. “When!”
“Day after tomorrow,” Farka said.
“Day after tomorrow!” Shara said.
“They’ll be here for maybe ten hours or so,” Farka said, mouth pulling to one side. “It’s not very long, but--”
“It’s better than nothing,” Shara said. “Day after tomorrow!” She felt like maybe her brain had shorted out, because she didn’t know how to proceed with her daily life. She was still holding Farka’s arms but if she let go of them she wouldn’t know where to be.
“Day after tomorrow,” Farka said again, smiling at her.
“Who’s Kes Dameron?” asked the woman who’d been sitting across from Shara. Mran, was her name, she was Sullustan, and she’d been here a week longer than Shara and was confirmed on the A-Wing training track. Shara hadn’t asked what she was studying.
Shara glanced over at her. “Oh,” she said, “my husband.”
“You have a husband ?” Mran asked, clearly astonished. “I was wondering what on earth could melt that ice.”
“Ice,” Shara said, puzzled, but she was too distracted to bother with it any further because she’d just thought of something. She turned back to Farka. “I have a roommate, he can’t stay in my room.”
“I’m sure we can find a room somewhere on this station,” Farka said, amused.
Shara nodded. “Day after tomorrow,” she said again, like she was dazed. Finally, she managed to pry her hands away from Farka’s arms and let go, smoothing her palms along where she’d wrinkled Farka’s sleeves. “Day after,” she said again, then interrupted herself to lean in and embrace Farka again.
Farka laughed brightly. “Oh, Bey,” she said, “it’s so rewarding to have good news for somebody, for once.”
Shara was an old hand at the kind of exercises you had to do in space to keep your bone density up. There was a really up-to-date fitness center on one of the docked ships, and she spent a lot of time in it. Running on the ground with a pack was for animals, but the machines and things that you did resistance and strength training with were perfectly usable. She enjoyed having access to non-rickety ones for once, and also found that if she used them heavily, she could sleep better afterward. Now that she had a roommate and falling asleep crying to holos of her baby wasn’t an option, this was a much better alternative.
The only downside was that sometimes people were too interested in watching your technique. Tanara was a planetsider, and had never used such equipment before, so Shara taught her how to get the best benefit from using it, and for some reason this attracted the attention of some of the other trainees. Which was fine, except that some of them were clearly interested for the wrong reasons.
Shara set the weight bar carefully back into its cradle, shook her head to unstick her hair-flyaways from her face, and turned to look at the guy in trainee workout shorts who had been standing behind her. “Is there something the matter with you?” she asked, not loudly but not quietly either.
“No,” he said, taken aback.
“There will be,” Shara said, “if you don’t stop staring at my ass. I’m here to do a job, I’m not fucking decorative .”
“Oh, hey, I,” the guy said, “I wasn’t-- uh--”
“This wasn’t your first offense,” Shara said. “Get yourself under control or I’ll take care of the issue.”
“Nice going, Bonto,” the guy behind him muttered. “Very smooth.”
“I really,” Bonto said, “I wasn’t--”
“I’m not interested in discussing the matter further,” Shara said. “Get yourself under control, or I’ll make arrangements for it to be done for you.”
She hadn’t spoken loudly, so most of the others in the facility hadn’t heard what she said. The man stopped babbling, and she picked up her towel, dried off her face, and moved on.
Someone had heard what she said, though, because in the mess hall, Hana and Keet came and sat next to her and Hana said, “I hear you absolutely murdered Herc Bonto in the fitness room.”
Shara finished chewing her bland mouthful, swallowed it, and squinted at Hana. She hadn’t had many interactions with the woman, largely by design-- she found her manners coarse-- but Keet was all right. “I what who now?”
“Herc Bonto,” Hana said. “You know, big blond square-jawed idiot?”
That fairly described the guy who’d stared at her ass all day. “I didn’t murder anybody,” Shara said. “I just told him to control himself. Whoever raised him did a bad job.”
“He was heartbroken,” Hana said. “Said he’d just been trying to work up his nerve to ask you out.”
“I’m not here to break anyone’s heart,” Shara said, “and I’m not here to hook up. I’m here to do a job. I wasn’t cruel to him and he’s got nothing to be upset about. He needs to control himself.”
“That’s a good point,” Keet said.
“People have to live, though,” Hana said. “I’m here to hook up. It’s not a crime.”
“And I didn’t put him in jail for it,” Shara said. “You can hook up with him, if you like.”
Hana wrinkled her nose. “He’s not my type,” she said.
Shara gave her the benefit of the doubt, and for conversation’s sake said, “Mine neither.”
Of course Hana pounced on that. “So you do have a type,” she said.
Shara rubbed her face, and picked her fork back up. “Sure I do,” she said. “My husband.”
“No way,” Hana and Keet chorused, not quite together but both apparently flabbergasted. “But you’re so young,” Keet said.
“You don’t look like the marrying kind,” Hana said.
Shara suppressed the instinct to ram her fork through Hana’s hand. “I don’t, do I?” she said instead, mild and pleasant. “Really? Tell me, Hana, what does the marrying kind look like?”
Keet laughed. “Yeah, Hana, that’s a dumb thing to say.”
“I don’t know,” Hana said, waving a hand, “not like that, though! What do you need to get married for?”
“What does anyone need to get married for?” Shara asked. “I have a husband, I love him very much, I have to be apart from him to fight this war, I’m not here to have fun. I’m here to fight and do what I can to end the war so I can go home to my family.” It felt a little odd to put it that way, but it was true.
“Yeah but you’re hot ,” Hana said.
“All kinds of people have families,” Shara said. “You’d be amazed, I guess.”
“Orato tried to break your record and didn’t make it,” Tanara said gleefully from her perch on her bunk.
“Oh, didn’t he,” Shara said, a little surprised. She shed her shoes and jacket, grabbed her shower shoes and towel, and went down the hallway to the refresher. Fortunately, no one was there. She was tired, she was so tired.
She came back in and Tanara was in bed now, but still reading something off a datapad. “Apparently he’s super mad about it,” Tanara said.
“Who,” Shara said, steeling herself for yet more shit about Bonto.
“Orato,” Tanara said patiently.
“Why would he be mad?” Shara asked. “Either he can beat me or he can’t, I don’t see how that’s on anybody but himself. It’s not even my business, really.”
“I mean, you have a rivalry now,” Tanara said.
“It’s not a rivalry,” Shara said. “I’m just good.” She dumped her dirty clothes into the laundry collection bin, and managed to wriggle into the old breastband she slept in for modesty now that she had a roommate, but dropped her towel as she was trying to get into her shorts. Well, no help for it. She got her sleep shorts on and stood a moment sorting out the hem of her shirt so she could pull it on.
Tanara was watching her, which was sort of bad manners. Shara had shared sleeping quarters for a lot of her life, and for most places, the rule had been pretty clearly that you looked away when someone was dressing. Finally, patience frayed by the long day, Shara looked up from her recalcitrant shirt hem and snapped, “You need to stare at me too?”
Tanara sat up, wordless, and pulled up her shirt to show her own belly. The lower part of it, revealed by the drooping waistband of her sleep pants, was marked with the same kind of markings that were on Shara’s now-- pregnancy stretchmarks. “You’re a mother too,” she said. “Recently.”
Shara looked down at her belly. “Yeah,” she said, and had to bite her lip.
“Is your baby dead too?” Tanara asked, eyes welling up.
“No,” Shara said, horrified. She dropped her sleep shirt and went and knelt on the edge of Tanara’s bed, and Tanara threw her arms around Shara and began to sob. “Oh, stars, no, Tanara. My baby’s fine, he’s with my father.”
Tanara sobbed, and Shara held her, because some things were more important, more universal, than being annoyed. Eventually, Shara managed to get a choked-off half-story from Tanara: her daughter had died of some birth defect, maybe a heart problem, had sickened and wasted away before she was yet a year old, because there had been no med droid unless you surrendered yourself to Imperials, and Tanara’s family were outcasts, fugitives. It was awful, and heartbreaking, and grindingly-exhausting, and the real reason Tanara was here.
But it begged the inevitable question, and Shara had already steeled herself against it when it came. Hitchingly, Tanara asked, “How c-could you l-l-leave him?”
Shara sighed. “Poe is three months old now,” she said. “And he’s with my father, and his aunt. It’s safer for him if we split up. My husband was arrested by the Imperials, and even though they released him, we know they would track him down again. So he’s already in the Rebellion, and I couldn’t stand to let him go and not do my part too.”
“H-h- how , though,” Tanara demanded.
“It hurts all the time,” Shara admitted. “It-- it hurts all the time, Tanara, but we can’t all be together until the Empire is defeated. It would hurt all the time anyway. I might as well hurt and do something, as hurt and run away.”
“If my b-baby was alive,” Tanara said, “I’d never-- I could never--”
Shara breathed in, and breathed out, and said, “Our situations are different, Tanara, but if you think I love my child less than you loved yours, we can’t be friends.”
Tanara considered that a moment. She still had her arms around Shara, but she freed a hand to wipe her face. “I guess that’s fair,” she said. “I guess I can’t judge you like that. I guess I don’t know what I’d really do in your place.”
“I wouldn’t have left him if he were sick,” Shara said. “But he’s fine, and my Papa has him, and my Papa raised me just like that, out in the stars. I know he’s as safe as I was, as safe as he could be.”
Tanara sobbed again, hiccuped, and wiped her face again. “Do you have holos of your baby?” she asked forlornly.
“They make me cry,” Shara said. “That’s why I don’t look at them when people are around. Or talk about it. At all.”
“Oh,” Tanara said.
Shara relented, and let go of Tanara to retrieve her holoviewer.
She started off with the still of her with Poe in a sling on her chest, his first flying lesson, and Tanara made a noise like a dying animal and clutched at her. Most of the baby holopics that she’d taken for Kes met with similar dying animal noises.
The photos Kes had taken in turn for her, though, got a different reaction.
“Holy fucking bantha shit,” Tanara said. “Your fella’s a looker .”
“He’s pretty,” Shara agreed. “Poe looks like him.” In this holo particularly, Kes was in his uniform and holding Poe against his shoulder, looking particularly clean-cut and attractively doting, Poe a tiny curled shape against the bulk of Kes’s bicep.
“Oh my stars ,” Tanara said. “I would’ve said, like, you’d have trouble finding a dude who could stand next to you, but-- god damn .”
“I actually married him for his sense of humor,” Shara said. “He’s really sweet and he’s really sharp. But-- I mean. I’m not blind.”
There was a photo of the two of them with Poe, finally, and Tanara fanned herself. “He’s tall,” she said. “I didn’t expect that.”
“He’s tall,” Shara confirmed.
“Looks like he could probably pick you up,” Tanara said. It seemed to have worked; she wasn’t crying anymore.
“I mean,” Shara said. “Yeah.” Kes was big, and he was pretty strong. He tended not to show off for her, or manhandle her much if at all, but she knew he could. It wasn’t like she hadn’t noticed the breadth of his shoulders. “I guess? He’s a big guy.” She knew what Tanara was really getting at, and she supposed there was no harm in admitting it. “ Really good in bed.”
Tanara made a low little moaning noise, different from her dying animal noise. “Damn, girl,” she said. “How can you stand to leave him?”
“I can’t ,” Shara said, and there it was, she’d managed to hold it back all this time, but it didn’t come out as tears, it came out as sharp anger. “I can’t fucking stand it, Tanara. He could be dead! He could be fucking dead , right now, and I wouldn’t fucking know, and it fucking kills me.”
“I’m sorry,” Tanara said awkwardly.
Shara savagely bit off the threatening sob, and hauled all of it back in, rubbing her face and taking a deep breath in. She held her breath for a moment, until she knew she wouldn’t cry, then let it out in a hiss. “So am I,” she said. “But that’s why I’m here. This isn’t what I want to do, but it’s what I have to do.”
Tanara looked from the holo to her and back, expression wry. “You ever get to see him?”
“He’s supposed to be spending, like, three hours here tomorrow,” Shara said. “I’m still not getting my hopes up.”
“Shit,” Tanara said. “Really?”
Shara shrugged. “Maybe,” she said. “His unit’s deploying somewhere from this muster point, so. Maybe. They said I could have a rest period while he’s here.” She shook her head. “I won’t believe it until I see him, things never work out that neatly.”
“Still,” Tanara said. “You let me know, I’ll stay away from this room! You should get a chance for some alone time.”
Shara laughed. “They said they’d find a room,” she said. “Though, knowing them, it’d be a barracks with ten other guys in it.”
“You let me know,” Tanara said. “I promise I won’t even ogle him if I see him. I’ll just go.”
“Thanks,” Shara said.
Shara climbed down out of the A-Wing and pulled her helmet off slowly. Across the hangar, Orato climbed down from his A-Wing, pulled his helmet off, tucked it under his arm, and stalked toward her in a way it was hard not to read as menacing. He was tall, taller even than Kes, though not as broad-shouldered.
“You’re a standard human,” Orato said, when he was close enough to peak without shouting.
“I am,” Shara answered, wondering where this was going. They weren’t alone, there were other people around. Three mechanics within earshot. She noticed Gula Techy, suited up, clearly on her way to climb into an A-Wing herself, and relaxed slightly. Gula wouldn’t let anything untoward happen.
“How are you getting those speeds,” Orato demanded.
“You looked me up, right?” Shara said.
“Yes,” Orato said. “They say you’re from Alderaan.”
“I’m not,” Shara said, “but that’s the last place I lived.”
“Where are you really from?” Orato asked.
“Space,” Shara said. “What are you getting at?” He seemed mostly baffled, but there was a hostile edge to it that was getting her hackles up, and she didn’t have time for this. She wanted to get to the control room and find out if Kes’s unit was really coming or not, so urgently it was making her skin itch. She should have eased up, let Orato best her time on this last set of runs, but-- It hadn’t been the basic obstacle course, this one had involved live fire practice on dummy targets. She wasn’t willing to pull her punches just to get a man to shut up, and besides, doing a bad job deliberately took more concentration than just doing her best. She couldn’t afford the distraction.
But it was at risk of becoming a bigger distraction, if this asshole couldn’t accept that he just apparently wasn’t as good as he thought he was.
“What do you mean space ,” Orato said.
“I mean space,” Shara said. “I was born in space and I’ve spent my whole life in spacecraft. If you want to get times like that you gotta stop relying on the nav computer and memorize some algorithms. And for shit’s sake stop wasting your time hassling me, we both have more important shit to do than this.”
“The nav computer,” Orato echoed.
“And the targeting computer,” Shara said. If he really was looking for how to improve, well. She wasn’t giving him the benefit of the doubt, but she might as well be candid. “The computers are pretty decent but they’re not gonna give you an edge. You gotta keep a tally yourself and be ready to override. After a while you can do it on instinct.”
“You can’t-- override,” Orato said, baffled.
Shara allowed herself a very small, tight smile. “Not on simulators, no,” she said. “But if you read the manual the override directions are in there, and the appendix has the algorithms all listed. If you practice them manually you can get faster than the machine. And if you keep it in mind when you practice on simulators, you can get your work checked as you go.”
Orato opened his mouth to say something, but Shara’s attention was suddenly taken up by noticing the approach of Callia Farka, the comms officer. She sucked in her breath, interrupting Orato, had the tiniest presence of mind left to say, “Excuse me,” to him, and ran to Callia. “News,” she said. “You have news for me.”
Callia was grinning. “They’re inbound,” she said.
Shara put her hand to her chest, almost dropping her helmet. “ETA?”
“Two hours,” Callia said.
“Two,” Shara said.
Gula came up next to her, and put a hand onto her arm. “What’s going on?”
“My husband,” Shara said, holding her helmet between her hands. “He’s, his unit’s coming through, they said I could see him.”
“From the filed itinerary they’ll be here nine hours,” Callia said.
“Nine,” Shara said, feeling like she was maybe a broken holoplayer. “Oh, I--” She’d thought it would be much less time than that. “I don’t think I got permission for that long a rest shift.” She grimaced, clutching her helmet. “We’re due for another weapons training session in six hours, aren’t we?”
“Let’s go talk to the personnel folks,” Callia said. “I bet we can come up with something.”
The Pathfinders didn’t look like a very impressive bunch as they disembarked from the transport. Shara had been working like mad to get as much done of a re-wiring test she’d been set before they arrived, so she was down in the hangar and surrounded by the last few lengths of cable and spare connectors. She managed to keep focus as the transport came in, but Keet was working with her and stopped to look at it, unhelpfully.
A lot of the other pilots were hanging around, to no particular purpose, as well, Shara had noticed. Orato was openly just lounging around, like he was waiting for her not to be busy so he could hassle her some more.
“I think that’s them,” Keet said.
“I know that’s them,’ Shara said. “Come on, help me get this finished.”
“You could stop,” Keet said. “I’ll finish it.”
Shara shook her head slightly, holding a connector in her teeth as she stripped the end of a wire, then fitting it on as deftly as she could manage. “C’mon,” she said. “We can both do it.”
“Here they come,” Keet said, and whistled. “Well-- that’s. I don’t think much of their uniforms.”
Shara glanced up, confirmed that of the half-dozen tired-looking people who’d come out of the transport and were standing around looking sleepy, none was Kes, then looked back down. “Come on,” she pleaded, “help me get this done.”
“We’re pretty close,” Keet allowed. She stripped a wire end unhurriedly, fitted the connector, and looked at the bundle. “Where was this one going?”
Shara tapped the relevant connector on the diagram, then reached out and found the right one in the bundle. “Oh yeah,” Keet said, “right there.”
Shara had already stripped another wire and was crimping it down. “There,” she said. “Finish yours, and we can throw the switch and see if we fucked it up.”
“Over there,” someone said distantly. She looked up.
“Is that him?” Keet asked. Her connector was in place.
“That’s him,” Shara said, and threw the switch. The wiring test lit up, and she didn’t care whether it all lit up in the right order like it was supposed to, she was on her feet and moving toward the familiar figure in the brown coveralls, who was making his hesitant way across the hangar floor, clearly not having seen her yet.
“Shara,” he said, lighting up as he spotted her.
“Kes,” she said, and she squashed down her awareness that they had an audience. Let them give her shit for it later, she didn’t care. She flung herself at him, knowing he’d catch her, and he did, laughing and staggering back a little. His arms were so big around her, so warm and so tight and she pressed herself against him and shoved her nose into the crook of his neck. He smelled of sweat and transport and boredom and space, but mostly himself, and she closed her eyes and hung on.
“Hey, hi,” he said, his voice soft, just a breath against her hair.
“Baby I missed you,” she managed to say, tight and quiet against his shoulder.
“Oh, love,” he said, “me too.” She could feel him breathing, big deep breaths, his body expanding within the circle of her arms and contracting again; they were both too bundled up for her to feel the warmth of his body but she could feel the movement of his respiration. She wrapped her fingers around the back of his neck and, there, found the warmth of his skin, under the edge of his hair.
She picked up her face and looked up at him, and he bent his head and kissed her. He was clearly trying to be chaste but she pulled him down, opened her mouth, and he kissed her properly, but briefly.
She hadn’t really touched anyone in days, weeks now, and she hadn’t realized the lack was affecting her. He pulled back a little to look down at her, tilting his head. Something in his expression made her laugh, and she let go of his neck to cradle his jaw in her hand instead. He looked bright and alert and amused, a thousand times a thousand times better than he had in any of the holos, brighter and bigger and more vital and real.
“Stars,” she said, “it hasn’t even been that long but it’s like my eyes were starved for you,” which wasn’t quite it, but was close enough. His face crinkled in amusement, and seeing it was so powerful it was like a lightning bolt straight to her chest, pure unalloyed delight in his amusement, joy that she’d made him laugh.
“Yeah,” he said, and let go of her waist, sliding his hand up to her shoulder to pull her close and press his forehead to hers.
They stood like that a moment longer, breathing together-- she was breathing faster than he was, she wasn’t used to touching anyone anymore-- and then Keet said, “In case you were wondering, the test worked.”
Kes looked over at her, and Shara stepped back half a pace. “Oh,” she said, looking back and over to where their wiring test was, in fact, correctly illuminated. “Oh, good.”
“So you’re all set,” Keet said. She waved at Kes. “Hi, by the way.”
“Hey,” Kes said, and held out a hand to greet her. “Kes Dameron.”
“Keet Sayri,” Keet said, returning the greeting. “Shara and I were just on a project together. You know we’re getting our squadron assignments tonight, right?”
“Oh, great,” Kes said. “I know you were waiting.”
“We are?” Shara blinked at her. “I thought-- next week?”
“They said next week last week,” Keet said. “They just told us it’d be tonight a little while ago, I think you were out with Orato.”
“Oh,” Shara said. “But I-- I asked the personnel officer if I could have a rest period and she didn’t mention--”
“I thought you maybe didn’t know,” Keet said. “You don’t have to be there, I just figured you’d wanna know right away.”
“I do,” Shara said, frustrated.
Some of the other Pathfinders had wandered over. “Hey,” one of them said, “she’s hotter than you made her sound, Kes.”
“I told you there was no point describing her,” Kes said. “I’m no poet.”
Shara turned to face them, frowning in distraction. “What?”
Kes laughed. “Guys,” he said, “my wife, Cadet Shara Bey.” He pointed to each of them in turn as he introduced them, and Shara tried to remember the names. He didn’t talk about his comrades much, or hadn’t so far, so she didn’t have much to go on.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Hana piped up, and Shara turned to realize that most of the pilots who’d been hanging around nonchalantly had come over, too.
“If you promise to behave yourself,” Shara said. She rattled off their names-- Hana, Keet, Mran, Gulla, and the last one was Orato. “And this is Soli Orato, who thinks I’ve somehow managed to cheat him out of his high score on our A-Wing test runs.”
Orato looked offended. “I never said you were cheating,” he said. “I was hoping you’d elaborate, though, at the next weapons training session.”
“I got a pass to miss it,” Shara said. “I’m on liberty for,” and she checked her chrono, “nine hours starting just about now.”
“Oh,” Orato said, watching her keenly, “a little vuxminia noctia?” The phrase was meaningless to Shara but from the snide curl of his lip, it was something she was meant to be offended by.
Next to her, Kes reacted in some way, his body jerking slightly backward; she wasn’t facing him so she didn’t see his expression. Orato did, though, and a flicker of chagrin went across his face.
“What did you just say,” Kes demanded, low and icy, and Shara put it together, it had to be a reference to something Alderaanian, since Orato was probably offended that she’d been given that label even though she was spacer trash.
Somehow he hadn’t thought she’d have an Alderaanian husband. Kes stepped half a step closer, tilting his head to look more directly into Orato’s face, and repeated himself, this time in Iberican, in the Core-est accent she’d ever heard from him. “What. Did. You. Say?” Somehow the change in posture had made Kes seem about thirty percent larger, though he hadn’t raised his voice or moved his limbs much.
Shara sighed quietly, and inspected her nails to check for damage from wire-stripping, as if she were bored. “Nothing I need clarification on, baby,” she said.
“I didn’t mean,” Orato said, “that is-- you’re from Alderaan? Like, for real?” His accent in Iberican was unsurprisingly posh.
Kes stared him down a moment longer. “Our entire planet is destroyed and you’re making nasty little references to obscure cultural trivia,” he said finally. “That’s how you’ve decided to cope.” He was still speaking Iberican, and still in a much bluer accent than Shara had ever heard from him. He sounded like-- well, it was pretty clearly the accent the Organas had used, and that was where he’d learned it. Shara had always sort of wondered; Kes’s accent in Iberican had always been something of a muddle.
“Who are you?” Orato asked.
“No one who cares to know you ,” Kes said.
“I literally just told you who he is, don’t be tedious,” Shara said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” and she turned to the assemblage and waved vaguely. “It was lovely meeting you-all but I’m going to go spend a little time with my husband.”
“What the fuck did you say to him?” one of the Pathfinders said to Orato as they walked away. “He’s the nicest dude in the world, I’ve never seen him look like that.”
“I, well,” Orato said.
“Seriously though what did you say to my boy?” one of the other Pathfinders said, a little more belligerently.
Kes turned, and over his shoulder said, “He’s not worth it, Bisti, don’t fuss,” and kept walking.
Kes and Shara had been issued a temporary berth in the wing generally reserved for officers. It was an unused room with minimal furnishings, but it did have its own tiny cubicle of an ensuite refresher. “Nice digs,” Kes said.
“What did Orato say?” Shara demanded, now that she was absolutely certain they wouldn’t be overheard.
Kes shook his head, rolling his eyes a little. “It’s so dumb,” he said. “It was-- there’s this epic poem that prep school kids have to memorize, translated from an archaic dialect of Northern Alderaanian, one of the ancestor dialects of Iberican, and there’s a bit where-- you know, I haven’t even read the thing, I’ve just seen excerpts of it performed. It’s stupidly obscure. It’s the kind of shit you’d have to sit through at a state festival. It’s the snootiest, most boring--”
“Yeah but what did he actually say?” Shara asked, amused but a little concerned. If Kes couldn’t even come out and say it-- but if it needed this much explanation…
Kes shook his head again. “There’s a bit where-- I don’t even know how to explain it, but it, the phrase, there were some sailors or something, and some ladies of easy virtue, and--”
“Did he call me a whore ?” Shara demanded, shocked.
“Not-- quite,” Kes said, “but-- I mean. Shading towards it.”
“In a dead language,” Shara said.
“Not even,” Kes said. “In a reference to an event recorded in a dead language, yeah.”
“What an idiot fucking toolbox ,” Shara said.
“Kind of a dick move, yeah,” Kes said. “Is it that he wishes you were fucking him, or that he’s professionally jealous of your abilities?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s the second one,” Shara said, “but I mean. Ugh, I hope it’s the second one. Stars, Kes, people are dicks here.”
She had been facing the door, as if to storm back out of it and fight Orato. Kes put his arms around her, gently, from behind, and pulled her close. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It took me a while to get settled in, too.”
His breath was warm on her neck, here, and she went immediately dizzy with it. “Did it?” she managed to say.
“Yeah,” he said, and sighed, softly. She let him take more of her weight. “Especially when-- a lot of it was that I was in such a bad place in my head that even people who wanted to be nice to me, I couldn’t turn it back to them at all. You know?”
“I guess,” she said. It felt like her body was melting. She just wanted him to hold her. Nothing hurt. Everything felt good.
“You have to be in a place where you aren’t hurting before you can reflect friendship back, you know? Makes it hard for people to get to know you.” He tightened his grip on her as she let him take even more of her weight. She was basically not standing up anymore.
“Oh,” she said. He followed up the warm breath with his mouth on her neck, first soft and then with a sharp hint of teeth that made her knees wobble.
“Forget them,” she said, shaky, and turned around in the circle of Kes’s arms. “I need you to fuck me.”
Kes grinned down at her, and tightened his arms around her, pulling her in to kiss her so hard her head rocked back on her neck. “Glad to,” he said, and picked her up and carried her over to the bunk, depositing her gently and reverently kneeling down in front of her to unfasten the neck of her coveralls.
It wasn’t perfect-- they bumped noses and got tangled in clothes and she had to make him pause on his way down so she could pass gas not in his face-- but she forgot blissfully about everything, even the constant pain in her chest of missing Poe, even when he accidentally elbowed her in the breast, even when she came so hard she inadvertently passed gas again, noisily, and they both dissolved in helpless laughter.
“C’mon,” she said, “fuck me,” and Kes did his best but shook apart in helpless shudders before he really even got into her. “Aw,” she said, laughing, and grabbed him by the neck and kissed him, rolling them over-- and he grabbed frantically for the edge of the bed and caught himself before he fell out onto the floor.
“Trying to kill me,” he said, and she laughed again and hauled him onto herself, turning over onto her back.
“Baby I missed you,” she said.
He sighed, and slumped his head down onto her shoulder. “I didn’t do you justice,” he said, meaning just now.
“We got hours yet,” she said, “I’m sure you will. Shh. C’mere.”
“I can--” he said, making to push himself up.
“Come here ,” she said, pulling him back down. “Stars. I’m all set, baby. Come here and tell me how you’ve been.”
He sighed again, and nuzzled against her neck, rearranging himself to not quite have all his weight on her, which was-- well, she liked it, but it was more long-term sustainable this way. “I miss you,” he said softly. “I love you, Shara.”
It wasn’t an answer. “I love you too, Kes,” she said, combing her fingers through his close-cropped hair.
Kes tried not to let on, but his stomach growling gave him away before they could start round two of the lovemaking. “We’d better feed you,” Shara said, sitting up, and he rolled onto his side, careful of the narrow bed, and gazed up at her. The room was dim, and the light was kind to her, not that she needed the kindness, rolling soft gold across the planes of her body. Her breasts had settled down lower and fuller than before pregnancy, and he admired them for a moment until his stomach growled again.
“I don’t really want to get dressed,” he said, allowing himself just one complaint.
“I’m not fetching and carrying you food,” Shara said, and climbed over him to get out of the bed. He caught her, just for a moment, so he could kiss her breasts and feel her narrow waist between his hands. She laughed at him, tousled his hair, and freed herself. “I would, you know, but they’d probably start a rumor that I killed and ate you.”
Kes laughed, and rolled onto his back to watch her dress. The light spilled across her skin; she was thinner than when he’d last seen her, though still not quite the shape she’d been before Poe. He wished, as he often did, that he could see her every day and watch her body’s changes. He wished, of course, that he could see Poe, who changed so much more dramatically every day. But there was no point spending much time being melancholy about it; the business of survival was absorbing enough. And he had to eat.
“Three separate people acted like me being married was the craziest thing they’d ever heard,” Shara went on. “Everyone here thinks I’m some kind of stone-cold bitch, just because I don’t want to fuck anyone they know. It’s stupid.”
“Well,” Kes said, “they don’t know you, so.” He shrugged. “For what it’s worth, everyone thinks I’m extremely scary. I’m undecided on how I really feel about that.”
“I guess it would keep them from messing with you,” Shara said dubiously.
“Yeah,” Kes said, “but I feel like… if I weren’t… you know,” and he gestured at his face.
“Brown,” Shara said.
“Iberican,” Kes said. “Specifically. Like, that’s a factor.”
“You the only one in the unit?” Shara asked. Kes nodded. She made a face. “Doesn’t help,” she said.
“Yeah,” Kes said. His stomach growled again and he sat up. “Stars, that’s annoying,” he said.
“We’d better feed him,” Shara said. “He’s getting mouthy.”
Kes laughed, and got dressed. He didn’t really want to go out in public, he wanted to stay in here and nibble his way across most of Shara’s skin, memorize her and take her apart and put her back together. But, he was getting a little light-headed by now, so. Probably better to take a break and eat.
The mess hall was fairly crowded. Kes didn’t even know what kind of time standard the ships at this muster point were on, but it was clearly some kind of mealtime. The food was, well, standard spacer fare, which Shara didn’t seem to mind and he could pretend not to mind.
One of the pilots he recognized from the hangar, a nice-looking dark-skinned woman with beads in her braids, waved cheerfully at Shara. The people here-- Shara didn’t like anyone yet, and people weren’t exactly nice, but they weren’t really bad people. Shara was clearly not in a good frame of mind for being as charming as she normally was, Kes could see that, but there wasn’t really anything he could do about it. Either she’d chill out and fit in, or she wouldn’t. At least she wasn’t going to not fly well, in the meantime. Kes figured she could probably lose just about all of the rest of her personality and still be the best pilot in any given group.
“Hey, lovebirds,” the pilot said.
“Hey, Gula,” Shara said, and yeah, her whole face and aspect was softer than when she’d addressed this same woman before. It was pretty obvious she’d just gotten laid. Kes supposed there was nothing in that to be embarrassed about.
“Oh, you look so happy,” Gula said. “Did they announce the squadron assignments yet?”
“Oh,” Shara said, mildly interested, “I don’t know, I didn’t hear if they did.”
Gula laughed, and looked over at Kes. “I see,” she said, and gave him an approving gesture. “Well, it makes sense that you’d be cheerful anyway. It’s nice to see.”
“I do my poor best,” Kes said, and sketched an elaborate bow.
Gula laughed. “Better feed you up,” she said. “You wanna be left alone or can I sit with you?”
“Oh, please,” Shara said, “sit with us.” That was good, Kes thought. She should make friends, here. It was what she needed, but he couldn’t blame her for not having done so already.
Kes took some of every single substance on offer that he knew he could stand. Shara was a less picky eater, he already knew that, so he wasn’t surprised when she took just a big bowl of unspecified goo and doused it in hot sauce.
He was hungry enough that it all seemed pretty good, but he knew better than to take that as any indication of quality. Gula looked over at his tray as he sat down. “You’re a Planetsider,” she said.
“Born and raised,” he said grimly. “Worse, my folks were farmers. I grew up eating fresh stuff.”
“Ooh,” she said, and held out her cup. “Me too.”
He clicked his cup against hers in solidarity.
A few people joined them as they ate. A human who introduced herself as Wiley, who was a mechanic; a human male, black-haired and slight of build, named Shotsa who was another pilot waiting for his squadron assignment; another dark-skinned woman who was a squadron commander named Horix who Shara seemed to like. Horix was possibly too dignified for the crowd, but it was clear she and Gula were close.
“They’ll be announcing the assignments any time now,” Horix told them. “I’m hoping I pick up a particular couple of you, that’s why I’m haunting the mess hall.”
From the corner of his eye, Kes noticed the Alderaanian asshole come in, notice Shara, start toward her, then see Kes and pause before turning to find another table. Probably best not to acknowledge him. With any luck he wouldn’t wind up assigned anywhere near Shara. Kes should probably have come up with a milder explanation for her, but he’d been so tired he hadn’t been able to think on the fly like that. It wouldn’t do for Shara to have an enemy. But it served the fellow right.
A blond human woman came in, saw Shara, and lit up. Kes nudged Shara, who was listening to Gula explaining something esoteric about X-Wings. Shara blinked at him, then looked at the woman, and lit up in response. “Hey, Tanara,” she said.
“Is this him?” the woman asked, gesturing at Kes.
“It is!” Shara said. “Kes, this is my roommate, Tanara Gose.”
“He’s even bigger than I thought,” Tanara said, extending a hand in greeting. Kes returned the greeting, not sure what to say to that. What had
Shara said about him?
“They did give us another room,” Shara said, “so you’re all good, you get the room to yourself for a few hours.”
“Oh, phew,” Tanara said, laughing. She was apparently a cheerful person, and Shara seemed warm enough to her. Maybe Shara did have friends, and he’d just gotten a bad first impression off everyone. Tanara leaned in and patted Kes on the shoulder. “Hey, your kid is real cute.”
“Thanks,” Kes said. “He has the great good fortune to resemble his mother.”
Shara laughed at that. Gula said, “Wait, you guys have a kid?”
“First we find out she’s married,” Shotsa said, “and then we find out there’s a junior? This is a lot to take in, Bey.”
“I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little insulted at how incredulous everyone was that I could get a man,” Shara said. “I’m not entirely a shrill harpy. I can be nice sometimes, why is that so hard to believe?”
It was a little gratifying how quickly everyone fell over themselves to deny that. Kes had been with Shara long enough to get over it a little bit, but it was nice to be reminded that she was generally the most attractive person in any given crowd, even surrounded by other hotshot pilot types. It wasn’t her looks, so much as it was her unmistakable competence.
Kes sat quietly and kept eating, amused, until the furor died down enough for someone to demand baby pictures. Shara shook her head. “I don’t carry my datapad around with me,” she said.
Kes laughed, then, and dug in his pocket. “I’m Infantry,” he said, “I carry everything with me. Do you really think I go anywhere without pictures of my baby?”
He pulled out his holoviewer and set it on the table, and as it turned on, the holo that fuzzed into view was the one of Shara with tiny Poe in a sling on her chest, piloting. It was one of Kes’s favorite pictures, because Shara looked so pleased in it. You couldn’t see much of Poe, he was mostly just a tiny face peering out, but he was identifiably awake and alert, which was more than could be said of most of the holos of him at that age.
Everyone made weirdly-unison awwww noises, and Shara looked misty-eyed. “It was his first flying lesson,” she said, wrapping both of her hands around Kes’s arm.
“He’s so teeny,” someone said.
“He’s a lot bigger now,” Kes said.
Shara’s hands tightened. “Do you have any new ones?” she asked. He glanced over, considering; he might well. “When did you last hear from them?”
“Two days,” Kes said. “Vid from Norasol, couple still holos.”
Shara shook her head, expression intensifying. “I haven’t gotten that one yet,” she said. She let her breath out sharply, and switched to quiet Iberican to ask, “How is she?”, clearly meaning Norasol.
Kes bit his lip. Norasol wasn’t all right, and probably never would be again. “She’s as well as she could be,” he said. He flicked to the most recent still holo on the holoviewer and pulled it up. Poe was sitting up, propped in a chair, and beaming at the holocam. His hair had filled in and was quite thick, and starting to look like it might curl, and his cheeks were pink; Norasol had captioned the holo explaining that Sento had discovered that he could make Poe laugh and laugh and laugh with a particular holo of a tooka-cat on his datapad.
Kes had seen the holo, though, so he was looking at Shara now, and watched her take it in, first smiling a little in echo of the child’s wide grin, then her delight fading as missing him hit her instead. He knew exactly how she felt, and she pressed a hand to her chest and tightened her mouth against the pain.
Around them, the pilots and cadets were all reacting to the holo predictably. Kes put his arm around her and pulled her against his side, and she took his hand between hers and held it against her chest. “We should record a vid for Poe,” Kes said. “While I’m here.”
“Yeah,” Shara said.
He turned off the holoviewer and slid it back into his pocket. “Aw, I want to see more baby holos,” Gula said, laughing.
Horix made a hissing sound, and everyone fell silent, looking at her. “They’re gonna do it,” she said. At everyone’s mystified expression, she amended, “Announce the assignments.”
Shara’s fingers went tight around Kes’s hand. He hadn’t had a chance to ask her what she’d applied for, what she was hoping to get. He didn’t even know what the options were, what the stakes were; might she get assigned to a boring cargo billet, or something along those lines? But she’d mentioned weapons targeting practice, so it seemed like she was getting snubfighter training.
Horix gestured toward the longest wall of the room, away from the kitchen area. Sure enough, a uniformed officer was making her way across the floor, and paused to climb onto a chair. The hall fell silent as she held up a hand, then pulled out a datapad.
“I have the personnel assignments for the latest round of cadets,” she said. “Those of you who have hit the cutoff marks for assignment will now receive your postings. Squadrons waiting for pilots to fill their complement will be despatched to the base at Orinta within forty-eight standard hours. Purple, Orange, and Bars Squadrons will receive their full complement.”
“I’m Purple,” Horix said, apparently to Kes, since the others presumably knew that. “A-Wings.”
Kes glanced at Shara, but she was staring at the officer, and didn’t seem to have heard Horix’s aside.
“Bars Squadron will receive Shum Betzo, Herc Bonto, and K’aro K’anto,” the officer said. “Purple will receive Soli Orato, Jun Shotsa, Shara Bey, and Keet Sayri. Orange will be completed with Jiwa Chu.”
Shara let her breath out, but made no sound.
“If your name was not called, then either you did not meet the assignment cutoff or there wasn’t a space for you,” the officer said. “Don’t be discouraged, we’ll be forming a new squadron apiece of X-Wings and A-Wings in the next seven to twelve days.”
Tanara sighed theatrically. “I shouldn’t be disappointed,” she said. “I just got here.”
“You didn’t test out yet,” Shara said. “Don’t worry, you’ll make it when you do.”
“There’s plenty of time,” Horix said. She nodded to Shara. “I’m glad I got you, I’ve had my eye on you.”
“I’m sad we didn’t get you,” Gula said. “Now I gotta deal with Bonto.”
Shara shook her head slightly. “Fucking Bonto,” she said. “I’m sure he’s nice, if he can keep himself under control. Good luck. I gotta deal with Orato.”
“We’ll whip him into shape,” Horix said. “Right, Shotso?”
Shotso laughed. “Yeah,” he said.
“Hey,” Shara said, “I’ll teach you how to beat his time.”
“I have been curious about that, Bey,” Horix said.
Oh. Orato was the Alderaanian asshole. Well. Kes hoped that a squadron wouldn’t have to rely on one another as closely as he had to rely on his comrades. He suspected that was a futile hope. Well, maybe Shara could make peace with the guy. Or, cause more trouble. He wasn’t there to tell her how to conduct her professional relationships.
Speaking of which. Orato had clearly summoned his nerve and was now approaching their table. Kes didn’t bother keeping his expression neutral; everyone else was cheerful enough that he felt like he could make up for it by glowering at the fellow. Orato didn’t fail to notice, and looked properly uneasy.
“Orato,” Horix said easily. “Welcome aboard.”
He gave Horix a nervous smile, then looked at Shara. “Listen, Bey,” he said, “I didn’t mean to--”
“It’s all right,” Shara said, showing her teeth. Kes still had his arm around her, and could feel how rigid her shoulders were. “I’ve had the allusion explained. I understand what you think of me.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Orato said.
“It’s what you said,” Kes put in mildly, doing his best to hide how incensed he was. Was this asshole going to try to back out of what he’d said by insisting he hadn’t said it? If so, he’d’ve been better off trying it when the person who’d interpreted it wasn’t sitting right here. He must be from a pretty elite family, to be so innately convinced he was smarter than everyone else.
“Don’t worry about it,” Shara said, teeth still showing. “I don’t really care, just to get that out of the way-- I’ve certainly heard worse-- but it’s good to have it all out in the open like this.”
“Is it anything I should know about?” Horix asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Nothing beyond the usual hotshot bullshit,” Shara said.
“Hmm,” Horix said. “Well, sit down, have a drink with us.”
Orato set his jaw, but the way he was indirectly eyeing Kes indicated that he’d figured out he wasn’t going to have any luck trying to re-spin his earlier gaffe with Kes as a witness. Kes examined him closely at leisure, noting the cut of the man’s cheekbones and the glimpse of a fine chain showing above his uniform-issue undershirt collar. He could be related to the Agules family, Kes supposed, with that bone structure, though any real Alderaanian noble would have been able to tell more surely. Winter Organa would have known for sure, she’d had a real gift for that sort of thing.
She was gone, and all the Organas, and Kes spared a moment to grieve her, and her sister Leia who’d died under torture in the hands of the Empire. He knew too much of that, himself.
This wasn’t a game, this was a war. Kes eventually looked away, when Horix passed around a flask. He accepted graciously, and let himself be drawn back into conversation.
Someone asked where the rest of the Pathfinders were, and Kes laughed. “They’re all sleeping,” he said. “It’s like two in the morning for us.”
“Shouldn’t you be asleep?” Shotso asked, surprised.
Kes made a face. “I can sleep anytime,” he said. “I don’t know when I’ll see my wife again. I’m not wasting any time I could spend with her.”
“I don’t know what you’re doing wasting your time out here with us, though,” Tanara said. “I’d be in bed, even if I weren’t sleeping.”
“That’s not the entire basis of our relationship,” Kes said. “I know, it’s hard to believe.”
“It is hard to believe,” Tanara said.
“Oh, come on,” Horix said. “Haven’t you noticed the way he’s been watching her when she talks? I think it’s sweet. How long have you two been married?”
Shara glanced over at Kes, eyebrows pulled together. She’d lost track, from her expression. He smiled fondly at her. “Close to a year,” he said, which wasn’t really true, but was true enough. “I mean, depends on what you count officially.”
“Oh,” Shara said, “your family had all these crazy wedding traditions and stuff.” And they both smiled at each other, and Kes watched her smile turn wistful, and felt his own twisting a little too.
He took her hand with his, under the table. She squeezed, and said softly, “I’m glad I got to meet them all.”
“A year,” Tanara said, and sighed. “Well, that’s longer than I’ve managed to keep a man.”
The others started teasing Tanara, who apparently had a whole self-deprecating comedy schtick about this that they were used to, and Kes let himself go quiet and sit with Shara’s hand in his. Shara stayed mostly quiet too, joining in laughter but not volunteering any more words. After a short while, she looked at Kes a moment, and asked with her eyebrows if he wanted to stay. He lifted one shoulder a little, indicating he was indifferent.
“Well,” she said, into the next break in conversation, “now that it’s funny, I’m going to take my leave of the company. I’m delighted with my assignment and I’ll rejoin you all for more hullabaloo later, but now I’m going to go spend this little bit of time with my husband.”
“It’s been lovely to meet everyone,” Kes said. “I’m glad to have some faces to match up to names, now.”
There was a minimum of ribaldry as they left. But Kes wasn’t entirely surprised that Orato followed them out.
“One last try,” the Alderaanian said, in the corridor.
“If you try to convince her that what you said expecting her not to understand isn’t what you really said,” Kes said, “I absolutely will give in to the ground-pounder stereotype and punch you in the face.”
“Kes,” Shara said, slightly pained, which really wasn’t what he’d wanted from this. Wasn’t she mad too? Kes glanced at her for an instant, but as Orato moved his attention snapped back to the man.
Orato held up his hands. “I’m not trying to say that,” he said. “I had actually kind of meant it as like, a friendly dig at you and I absolutely did think she’d know what it meant but I didn’t-- I fucked up the gender case, and it was a dumb joke and I thought Shara and I were friendlier than we are. I shouldn’t-- you’re a stranger, I shouldn’t have expected you’d find it funny--”
“You’re god-damned right,” Kes said.
“Hi,” Shara said sharply, “I’m right fucking here , don’t talk about me like I’m not here .”
Kes realized he’d stepped between her and Orato, like there was some kind of physical threat. He took a sharp breath in, let it out, and stepped back, opening up the space a little so Shara wasn’t blocked out.
Orato had his hands folded in front of himself and his chin tucked down a little submissively, and he looked from Kes to Shara and back only with his eyes, not moving his head. “Due respect,” he said to Kes, “it’s Bey I’m concerned with not making an enemy of, primarily. But I-- there aren’t very many of us left, and I wasn’t really trying to use the few remaining scraps of our culture to start a fight.”
Kes wanted to answer back, because that hit a nerve, but Shara was right, this really wasn’t supposed to be about him. So he set his jaw instead, and turned his gaze toward Shara. If she wanted to handle it, she could handle it. She was right, too, it wasn’t his place to be offering to punch people. Especially since Orato probably outranked Kes, though the equivalences were sort of… haphazard, in the Rebellion.
“I don’t give a fuck,” Shara said. “I’m not here to make friends. We’re probably all going to get killed. I don’t really care about the nuances of ancient dead languages. I don’t need this kind of bullshit.”
Orato grimaced slightly, a genteel and refined expression that Kes badly wanted to just knock off his goddamn face. But Kes hadn’t made it this far in life without learning how to rein in impulses, so he swallowed hard and did nothing.
“Fair,” Orato said. “But, regardless, I want to apologize. I’m sorry for what I said, it was clumsy and you were right to be offended, and I’m sorry.”
Oh. That was-- the right thing to say. Kes still wanted to punch him, but now he’d be in the wrong if he did.
Well, more than he already would have been.
“Okay,” Shara said. “Thank you. I accept your apology. We can try again later to not be assholes to each other.”
“While I’m at it,” Orato said, “I should apologize for being an asshole about you beating my record. I was trying to be, like, a friendly rivalry kind of asshole, not just an asshole-asshole.”
Now Orato’s grimace had shaded into a kind of ingratiating grin, and Kes thought he might actually have to walk away to keep from bursting a blood vessel trying not to punch the guy. Normally it was just cute when people hit on Shara in front of Kes, but this was astonishingly irritating. But there wasn’t really anything Kes could do or say that wouldn’t make him look like a jealous lunkhead. It wasn’t even the most assholey thing an Alderaanian noble had done to him, specifically, but it was bitter to contemplate that this guy was probably just about the last of his kind.
“I’ll take that into consideration,” Shara said. “But I’m gonna stop you right there and say, let’s talk about this at another time, okay?”
Orato blinked, then looked over at Kes, then nodded. “You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I’ll leave you to it.” He turned slightly to address Kes. “I hope to meet you again and make a better impression.”
“You’ve really got nowhere to go but up,” Kes said pleasantly.
“Ouch,” Orato said, but what Kes had been hoping for happened: Shara laughed.
“That’s better,” she said, and took Kes by the arm. “C’mon, let’s make a holovid for our baby.”
Unexpectedly, making the holovid made Shara cry. Kes turned the holocorder off and took her face between his hands and kissed her softly, once on each cheek, once on each eyelid, once on her forehead. “It’s all right, baby,” he said softly, and sat down on the edge of the bed, pulling her into his lap. “It’s all right.”
“I just want to be with him,” Shara said, taut and shaky. “I just want to be with you. But I don’t want to leave here. I can do good. I can make a real difference. I might just get killed though. And so could you. I don’t-- I don’t know what I want. Maybe it’s all pointless.”
Kes kissed her again, softly, over and over. “Do you remember,” he murmured, “when I first found out you were pregnant, and you took me back to your room, and you asked me what I wanted?” He kissed her cheeks a few more times, and she turned her mouth to his blindly, hanging on, kissing his mouth, holding his face close. He had just enough free space to keep speaking. “And I couldn’t even imagine it. I didn’t know how to play your game and I was so lost and confused and nervous. Remember that?”
“I do,” she breathed, tearful. “I remember.”
“You were so good at it,” he said. “You were so good, and I thought-- this is a person who knows how to survive. This is a person who knows how not just to survive, but to really live . You really lived through it. Through anything.”
She sobbed. “Kes,” she said, pressing her forehead against his.
“You’re gonna keep doing that,” he said. He had his eyes closed; he could feel her, and that was enough. Her body was warm, and she wasn’t crying loudly but she was crying hard enough that she was shaking. He held her body tightly, and kept his eyes closed, his face close enough to hers that he could feel her breath, could feel the softness of her skin just brushing against his, the dampness of her cheeks and the flutter of her eyelashes. “I know you are, girl. You told me you didn’t like any of these people but you’ve got them all wrapped around your fingers. You’re going to do great things and you’re going to have fun and you’re going to be a legend.”
She sobbed. “I don’t wanna kill anybody,” she said, burying her face in his shoulder. His heart twisted and he fought down a shudder at a ghost of a memory of his knife parting flesh.
“You’re gonna be good at it, though,” he said, and it was true, and it was awful to contemplate. She’d already certified on a blaster. He’d already had to think about that. Her position meant his face was in the crook of her neck now, so he kissed her there, tasting her skin. “You’re gonna do what you have to do and you’re gonna come out of it and still be who you are.”
“I just want my baby,” she sobbed. “I just want you.”
“I know,” he said. “I know. But we’re here, now. Hey, they said you’re gonna be deploying out of Orinta, right? That’s a planet, maybe there’s room for civilians on it.”
“I think it’s-- not very habitable,” Shara said, but thinking about it seemed to help her stop sobbing.
Kes kissed her neck. “Well,” he said. “We’ll find out.” He kissed her again, opening his mouth to taste her skin. She rolled her chin back, giving him better access.
“Hey,” she said, in a husky whisper, “this place has an ensuite refresher. You wanna go clean up?”
He laughed. “Are you saying I stink?”
“No,” she said, “ I do, I don’t know how you could stand me earlier.”
He laughed again. “Like I don’t think you’re delicious anyway,” he said.
Shipboard refreshers were always ion or sonic, which Kes could get used to but they weren’t anything near as nice as real water. And nothing beat real water for making out in. Making out in an ion refresher was sort of weird and not erotic, but Kes supposed it didn’t matter much. Shara’s naked body was Shara’s naked body regardless of context, and he wasn’t about to forgo any opportunity to touch her.
It was nice to have both time and privacy. There were over five hours left before Kes had to leave again, and while they were going to want to take another crack at the end of that holovid for Poe so they could edit out the part where Shara cried, Kes was figuring on spending as much of that time making love as humanly possible. So he indulged his desire to taste literally every part of her, alternately silly and sexy, until she was panting with both laughter and desire.
“Not my toes,” she said. “Kes!” Her feet were ticklish, it turned out. This was delightful. But his exploration of this led to her retaliating by digging her fingers in between his ribs, which nobody could possibly be stoic enough to withstand.
He made an undignified squeaking sound, which made Shara dissolve in helpless laughter, which made him laugh too, and then she made an imitation of the noise he’d made, which made him laugh and set her off again, and after a brief interlude of mutual total non-functionality, Kes’s libido saved the day. He reached a sudden tipping point where fondness abruptly overbalanced into lust, so he scooped Shara up and bodily carried her back into the bedroom to deposit her onto the bunk. She shrieked in laughter at this too, and he meant to just kiss his way down her body but it was so much that he bit her instead, quite hard on the shoulder, not hard enough to break the skin but hard enough that she cried out. It startled him, and he released the pressure from his jaws and went back to kissing her, contrite.
“Fuck,” she said, “do that again,” and he shuddered and bit her breast this time, the lower curve of it, away from the nipple, trying to be gentle but an impulse wracked his jaw and closed his teeth tighter. She gave a little breathless shriek, and clawed at his back, so he released. “Kes,” she whined, arching her back, shoving her body against him.
He pressed sloppy, open-mouthed kisses to her ribs, her belly, and she panted, lacing fingers through his hair to pull him tighter against her. “Come on,” she gasped.
The sharp heft of her hipbone loomed up under her soft skin, and he seized it with his teeth, pinning the flesh against the bone and then scraping at the skin. She jerked and gasped, surging up under him, holding tightly onto the back of his neck. He let up, licking breathlessly at her skin, feeling the dents he’d made with his teeth, and then set his teeth back against her and bit down again. She made a sound more sharp than loud, and the way she was pulling on the back of his skull was pretty clearly encouragement even though the way she was writhing seemed like she wanted to get away. He should stop, he should talk to her about this, it wasn’t really like anything they’d done before, but-- he made an involuntary noise that came out like a growl, and she gasped and shuddered and made a weird little sobbing noise.
He let up, licking at her skin; he was so turned-on he could barely see, his heart was hammering hard and it was like there was a haze over his vision. He didn’t want to fuck her so much as he just wanted to either entirely consume her or be consumed by her. But he should-- calm down and say something and-- talk this over before he got out of hand and broke the skin or something--
She scrabbled at his shoulder with her fingertips and the edges of her short nails, trying to pull him closer. “Kes,” she panted, “fuck, keep doing--”
He bit her again, a little farther down her hip, and wrapped his arm around her thigh to hold her in place, keep her from knocking his teeth out with her pelvic bone. She sobbed wordlessly, writhing. He got his leg angled to brace himself so he could take the weight off his other arm, and slid his newly-freed hand up the inside of her thigh. He touched her lightly, just to see if she was wet at all, and she made a fervent noise and shoved her body downwards toward his hand. Well, that answered that question. He pushed his fingers into her-- she was so wet, hot and slick and eager-- and she let out a deep, fervent groan. “Fuck,” she said, breathless, “fuck, fuck me, fuck me.”
He went to work with his hand, and she shuddered, moaning. It was only when his jaw started to hurt that he realized he still had his teeth clamped shut on her skin. He pried them loose, licking at the dents he’d left, and Shara shuddered, holding on hard to the back of his neck as she rocked herself on his fingers.
“Baby,” she panted, “fuck, Kes, love, give it to me, give me--”
She came, gasping, losing the power of speech and letting go of his neck at the same time. He slid farther down the bed, pressing his tongue gently and reverently to her labia, tasting how sweet and wet she was. She sobbed, writhing and clenching down. He turned his head and bit her thigh, biting down into the soft flesh as she cried out, a drawn-out keen that intensified in volume toward the middle before rising in tone and squeaking itself out. It was so good, it was all so good, her voice and the way her body shook and the way her slick cunt clenched around his fingers and the way her skin tasted, the way her flesh yielded under his teeth, how hard he had to focus not to break her skin or hurt her. He was so turned-on he had transcended himself and was just a vessel for it, not a body at all, and simultaneously aware of every inch of his too-tight skin; his dick was so hard it hurt. But it was a good hurt.
She said his name again, like a prayer, drawn-out and quiet but intense, and he opened his jaws and turned his head to put his mouth on her vulva again, and he would never bite her here, he would only press his tongue to her, kissing her, sucking the soft petals of her into his mouth and then pressing his tongue firmly to her apex, bearing down-- but no teeth, never teeth, no. Not here.
He could get lost, here, he could blissfully cease to exist, here, worshipping at this particular intimate altar. But she didn’t let him. She pushed against his head, nudging him away, and rolled her hips to dislodge him, then sat up, pulling him up. “Come on, baby,” she said. “Come on.”
He blinked at her, dazed, licking his lips. She gazed into his face and grinned, bright and delighted and sly, then pushed him down on his back.
It broke the spell a little, and he managed to say, “I didn’t mean, I don’t want--”
“Hm?” She hesitated, looking into his face, and when he couldn’t think of how to finish the sentence, she put her hand against the side of his face, frowning in concern. “Kes?”
He touched her shoulder, contrite, tracing his fingertips over the mark that was already turning red, where’d bitten her. “I didn’t mean,” he said, “I got carried away.”
“Oh,” she said, her expression clearing, back into a smile. “Baby, don’t worry about that, I like it. Do it some more.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said. “It just-- I feel-- so much.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I like that. I like to feel a lot. Are you okay? You want to fuck?”
He considered that a moment. “Yeah,” he said.
She settled herself over him, and bent down to kiss him gently as she lined herself up. He made a helpless little whimpering noise as she sank down onto his cock, and she just exhaled, deeply and profoundly, as if she were emptying her lungs to make room, like it was a tight fit to squeeze him in.
“So good,” she murmured, looking down at him, and he stared up at her just to take her in. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, coiled in tight ringlets from the shower, and the room was lit only by a small light over on the desk that caught glittering reflections in her eyes and painted the edge of her face and the sides of her breasts in pale yellow light. She was so beautiful, bending over him, filling his vision; he felt like he was entirely inside her, engulfed and held tight.
She touched his face with her fingertips. “Kes,” she said. “Hey. Are you all there?”
“Yeah,” he said, blinking. Oh, he’d been staring. And he remembered, now, when they’d first been together, after Poe and after the torture and everything. Oh, maybe she thought he was flashing back again. He laughed, a little guiltily. “Sorry I’m just--
“As long as you’re here,” she said.
“I’m here,” he said.
“You really had beef with that guy,” Bisti said, glancing back at the watching pilots as the Pathfinders filed into the transport.
“Which guy,” Kes said, knowing fine well what Bisti meant, but Bisti was kind of like an overeager puppy; it didn’t do to encourage him.
“The one you had beef with,” Bisti said. “I was ready to throw down!”
“Oh that guy,” Kes said. There was no point playing dumb. Bisti could always play dumber. Kes wasn’t sure whether it was an act. Surely nobody that dumb could actually have made it into an elite unit like this. “Oh, no, he just wanted to fuck my wife.”
“Really?” Bisti craned his neck to look out the viewport. “Did you have to fight him?”
Kes snorted. “No,” he said.
“Then what’d you do?” Bisti asked.
Kes rolled his eyes. “If you fuck your wife good enough,” he said, “then you can be pretty confident she won’t need anybody else to do it.” Which wasn’t really it at all, but would do for conversational purposes.
Bisti blinked at him. “Really?”
“Don’t blow his mind,” Sergeant Aki said. “Ah, stars , Dameron, the sheen of sexual satisfaction washing off you is fucking blinding . Go sit down.”
Kes shrugged, making no effort not to look smug. “I mean,” he said, deciding after a moment to be conciliatory. “Every time we see each other could be our last.”
“You had to go there,” Aki said.
Kes shrugged. “It’s where we live, Sarge,” he said.
oh my gosh, well, it's been a year. I only got half the chapter done and then lost steam. I think, though, in retrospect, this is a perfect amount of chapter.
I'm trying for once to tie up a series with some dignity, and I've got a bunch more written of this one so I'm going to figure out how to post it in some coherent way. We'll see!