Actions

Work Header

Never Say Goodbye

Chapter Text

Veselko rubbed the familiar, worn leather sleeve of Theron’s old red jacket between his fingers, and for the first time he had hung it in the back of his wardrobe, his heart was not crumbling back into a million pieces for him to put together again.

“I hid some things before Kaliyo could destroy them,” he said with a smile. “I hope you don’t miss another few belongings here and there.”

Theron’s pillow had been put away when Veselko could no longer stand missing his scent. He let Kaliyo have some spare clothing, a towel, a toothbrush, and one holorecording that Veselko had already made a copy of. It was enough to satisfy her, and there was enough left for Veselko to hold onto.

The other half of his heart left behind wanted any semblance of what was missing.

“Not that you had left much behind,” Veselko said as an afterthought.

Instead of an answer, he heard a soft sniff.

Upon looking up, he saw Theron still standing next to the sofa with his face turned away. Another sniff, a sigh. He brought the back of his hand to an eye.

“Theron,” Veselko called as he abandoned the jacket, crossing to over where Theron stood. As he came close, he reached out and placed his hands on either side of Theron’s face before he could look away.

Theron’s eyes were wet and red with tears, and there were trails running down either of his cheeks. He still said nothing, but finally managed to look Veselko in the eye, his face was crumpling.

It’s all right, my darling, Veselko wanted to say, but he felt his throat tightening and chest growing heavy. It would have been a lie, and the both of them knew it.

Instead, he tenderly rubbed his thumbs along the apples of Theron’s cheeks, then brought his own forehead forward to rest again Theron’s, and closed his eyes. A tinge of old anxiety crept up his spine and seized his stomach, worried that this was not real, and that he would open his eyes to an empty room, lying in an empty bed. Even with the pillow hidden away from sight, Theron had haunted his nightmares.

A pair of trembling hands closed upon his his wrists, and a choked sob escaped from Theron’s throat.

Veselko smiled through his own welling tears and opened his eyes, seeing his Theron crying before him. He nuzzled the bridge of Theron’s nose, kissed him there, and again where another tear had fallen.

Before long, they were holding one another, resting their aching, tired bodies against one another, crying their tears of guilt, of relief. Theron whispered his sorries between a series of sobs. Veselko buried his face into Theron’s shoulder, nodding as he listened and held back his confused feelings of heartbreak and wanting to forgive him for everything, right then and there.

“I love you,” Theron husked, his throat tight.

I know. So why did you do any of this alone? You know I would have supported you. The thoughts itched the back of Veselko’s brain.

I need you to believe that.

“I love you,” Veselko answered in murmur, silencing his own words with a kiss upon Theron’s warm, wet lips.

There was so much to be said, but there would be time later for those things. Their minds were exhausted, there weren’t enough tears to cry. If time was kind, they could have forever.

“Let’s go to bed,” Veselko whispered. Only after a moment of hesitation, Theron took a deep breath and nodded. Stepping back, Veselko took Theron’s hands and slowly guided him back to the bed.

Clothing was peeled away in pieces, as fast as their low energy and aches and pains would allow. Veselko cared not to disturb the bandages around Theron’s torso. The few hours in the bacta tank had surely saved his life, but there was rarely quick heal from a lightsaber wound for someone in his circumstance. He would still need grafting and time for a couple of ribs to stitch back together.

We might even have matching scars instead of wedding trinkets, Veselko mused a morbid thought.

Once Veselko had slipped out of his clothes, he laid everything in a pile beside the bed and slid into bed first. He held his arms out for Theron, whose puffy, red eyes could barely stay open. With a soft groan, Theron kneeled down, and more or less fell into Veselko’s arms. Veselko pulled the blanket over the both of them.

Mindful of healing wounds and fresh bruises, Veselko held Theron against him for a long while, skin to skin, taking in his warmth, his scent. Theron rested his head against Veselko’s chest and found one of his hands to hold before finally settling his weight down. Veselko kissed the top of his head, and listened to him breathe before being lulled into a long-awaiting rest.

Chapter Text

Theron pushed past others in the hallway, pardoning himself but not waiting for a response. He was irritated. No one in the entire Alliance base could tell him where Veselko was, despite there being plenty of eyes around to spot him. In fact, there were more than usual -- a lot of people he couldn’t even put a name to.

That wasn’t important now. He needed to find Veselko and tell him something important before it was too late.

After what seemed an hour of wading through a steadily growing crowd as he rounded each corner, he spotted Veselko across the central communications room, talking to new Alliance recruits. So many around the galaxy had been inspired by Veselko’s selfless heroism that they came to Odessen in flocks.

But the ones who wanted Veselko dead blended in with the crowd. Only Theron knew who they were.

Theron peered over a tall person’s shoulder, then pushed past -- with greater force than before. He didn’t care.

He tried to call out to get Veselko’s attention, but his mouth and throat were suddenly dry, and his voice couldn’t escape. But this couldn’t stop him -- he pressed forward, now forcefully shoving the nameless, faceless people as they got in his way.

Veselko ended his conversation with the recruits, then continued past them into a dark hallway, away from Theron.

“Wait,” Theron rasped. He quickened his pace, again pushing more people out of his way.

You’re in danger.

Veselko was further down the corridor, walking towards an open door far at the end. In and out of shadow he walked, passing by windows, cold atmospheric light occasionally interrupted by the passing of the rib-like railings outside.

Theron picked up his pace, knowing he wasn’t going to catch up in time if he didn’t hurry.

Veselko paid no notice, kept walking steadily towards the door.

No, not again.

Heart racing, Theron took in a deep breath and tried to yell out. Again, his voice was choked off in his throat. He broke into a full sprint.

Don’t go in there. Please, look at me.

Veselko passed through the threshold, into blinding light. The sound of the passing rails became deafeningly loud until the train car derailed, and then the floor gave way. Theron felt himself flying forward faster and faster, out of control.

I know how this ends.

Turning around at last, Veselko’s face was pale, and his expression was full of sorrow.

This is the same nightmare.

Wake up.

Wake up, Theron demanded.

Darkness.

He tried to sit up, but he felt like something was pushing him down. It was getting harder and harder to breathe.

When he finally managed to crack open his eyes, he saw the red, dim lights of the abandoned Imperial station. A dark shadow was standing right over him.

He was still with the Order. A cold chill ran down his spine and clenched his gut.

No.  

NO!

 


 

Theron gasped for air and sat straight up in bed. He was trembling, his ears were ringing, his hands were tingling and numb. The display of his ocular implant flickered on, turned red to warn him of his own elevated heart rate. He was covered in a cold sweat. He felt as if he were going to throw up.

As he tried to steady his breath and cringe through the nausea, a muffled voice broke through the ringing noise, becoming clearer and clearer as it came closer.

“Theron…? Theron!”

He looked up, and the soft, cool light of the room filled his eyes. A silhouette moved into his vision and lowered onto the edge of the bed.

“Theron,” the voice repeated, pleading.

The figure came into focus. Veselko’s hair was tousled and looked damp. His skin was pink -- he always liked to take hot showers. He was half dressed and disheveled. He must have come running out of the refresher.

 His beautiful blue eyes were wet and full of worry.

“... Ves,” Theron husked as he tried to slow his spinning mind.

Stars, is this real? Are you…?

Warm hands, soft from the shower, found Theron’s cheek and a shoulder. He was trembling.

“What’s wrong?” Veselko asked, dipping his head down to look into Theron’s eyes better.

“I…” Theron was still processing what had just happened, and words were failing him. Instead, he reached out to touch Veselko, to reassure himself that this wasn’t a dream.

A stabbing pain tore into his right side, and his muscles there tensed and twitched. He let out a loud groan, half in pain and half in surprise, and placed his reaching hand there instead as he swayed forward.

Vinn’s lightpike. That’s right.

Veselko caught him, and Theron threw his arms around Veselko’s middle to steady himself. The long forgotten clean scent of Veselko’s soap filled his nose as he took a deep breath. The pain was starting to subside already.

This is real. He’s real.

“I’m calling for a doctor,” Veselko said, one hand lifting to the comm implant in his ear.

“No,” Theron grabbed for his hand before he could make the call, gave it an assuring squeeze. “I’m okay. I’m okay,” he repeated to both Veselko and himself. He leaned into Veselko and held him, and could not help but smile when he felt Veselko hugging him back.

Everything started coming back to him, started making sense again. Heart rate and breath was stabilizing, warmth started coming back into his limbs and his stomach. The galaxy had closed in until it was just the two of them.

This was everything he had missed so much.

“... Did you have a nightmare?” Veselko asked quietly, his voice just above the ambient humming in the room.

“Yeah…” Theron gently pushed himself up, getting some support from Veselko as he did so. “That one I told you about before…”

“The one where you couldn’t catch up with me?”

“That’s the one. But… this time, at the end…” Theron closed his eyes and tried to shake himself of the memory. “I felt like yesterday had never happened. That I was still… I was terrified.”

Veselko released a shaky breath. “Maybe I shouldn’t have left before you woke up.”

“No, I don’t think that was it,” Theron said, reaching up to gently brush damp hair behind Veselko’s ear. “Don’t blame yourself. It’s just… maybe I don’t exactly trust that this is over.”

“... Maybe ,” Veselko said, unsure. His blue eyes darted back and forth, as he did sometimes when he was alone in his thoughts.

Though Veselko had a full night’s sleep, his eyes looked weary and tired.

Wanting to bring him back to the moment, Theron leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss on his lips. Veselko nuzzled his nose against Theron’s in return, then pressed their foreheads together.

“I can’t stay long,” Veselko said sadly.

This wasn’t a dream at all, and reality awaited outside the door. The destruction of the fleet and the fallout that was sure to come -- it had been Theron’s doing, but Veselko was going to bear the brunt of the consequences. Leaders across the galaxy were going to lose faith in him, not to mention his own people within the Alliance.

By the time Theron realized he was in too deep, he had known that all-out war was inevitable. He just did not understand how fragile the Alliance truly was, with the key to its destruction sitting right there as its flagship. He would probably spend the rest of his life wondering if he could have prevented it all coming to this point, and to spare the pain he’d inflicted on everyone -- most of all, Veselko.

“If you need me for anything, I--” Theron murmured.

Veselko shook his head and pulled away, locking eyes with Theron. “All I need you to do is rest.”

Theron heaved a sigh. “Yeah, I gotta go see the docs later, check up on the…” He gestured at his wounded side, not wanting to articulate.

“You do that,” Veselko said firmly, his eyebrows knitting. “But please, don’t strain yourself today.”

There was a quality to Veselko’s voice -- something between worry and disappointment . It made Theron’s gut bunch up in knots. He could only manage a weak grin, not able to muster his words into anything that seemed satisfying enough.

Afterall, they both now knew that Theron had been openly lying for months. No amount of reassuring words could undo that trust had been broken.

Veselko’s lips tugged as if he tried to smile, he reached up and brushed a hand over Theron’s hair, then he stood up and moved to his wardrobe and set about getting dressed for the day.

He dressed wordlessly, silently. Veselko was always so methodical -- layering and fastening, tugging and straightening his hems. He was no Jedi or Sith, but Veselko maintained an image of confidence and grace, even in the face of hopeless adversity.

You’re so amazing , Theron thought as he watched Veselko, feeling his heart swell with pride.

After pulling on his gloves and affixing his arm braces, Veselko took a deep breath, pressed his lips together and returned to Theron.

“I’ll… be around, if you need me,” Veselko said as he leaned down to kiss Theron’s forehead. Before Theron could reach out to him, to plead for him to stay just a little longer, Veselko was already gone, heading out the door to face whatever was waiting for him on the other side.

Catching himself staring at the doorway after Veselko was gone, Theron shook his head and kicked his legs over the edge of the bed. Groaning through soreness, he pulled himself up, recovered his clothing from Veselko’s wardrobe, and more or less crawled into the refresher.

A clean, folded towel was waiting for him on the edge of the shower door. Theron took it in hand, and rubbed his face into it.

He was home. And it hurt.

Chapter Text

Veselko, Lana, and Koth stared into the empty space where the Gravestone used to rest, the open sky looming over them. Out of all the issues mounting, Veselko had felt it only right that he check in with his people, and to view all the damages that had been done. The absence of the Gravestone was felt the most by everyone.

“I think I’m still in shock,” Koth said. “Hasn’t really sunk in that she’s gone.”

“For what it’s worth, Koth,” Veselko replied, looking over to him. “I’m sorry it came to this.”

“Nah.” Koth’s frowned wiped away into a friendly grin. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Lana continued staring hard into the sky. “We had no inclination as to its true capability. Our dependence on it has only made us look foolish.”

“Fools or not,” Veselko said, returning his gaze into the sky, “I’m not entirely sure I’ll miss it anyway.”

The ship had always left Veselko with an unsettling feeling, its strange technology and even its odd silhouette, but he had dismissed his unease as memories of Valkorion. SCORPIO had remained mum about her interfacing with it, no one had ever puzzled out exactly how it had so much power over the fleet, or what the strange chamber was. If it had been possible to even peek at its destructive capabilities, Veselko would have scuttled it right back into Zakuul’s swamps, if not force it into the trajectory of a sun.

The Alliance was no longer the power it was, but no amount of power was worth the lives of so many.

“I would like to agree with you,” Lana said, her voice flat and unimpressed. “But the next few months are going to be interesting to say the least.”

“What about that vacation that you mentioned?” Veselko said, looking to Lana.

She allowed herself a smug smirk. “A week or so with my comm turned off will suffice.”

“Granted,” Veselko returned with a chuckle.

If she had wanted to take off forever after all that had happened, Veselko could and would not blame her. But she had been great source of comfort, belying her Sith nature to follow Veselko into the unknown.

He didn’t know what he would have done without her.

“Aw, come on, Lana,” Koth interjected, his mood lightening. “Wouldn’t you miss me?”

“Not one bit.”

“You say that now.”

“I do.”

Koth laughed, and then leaned forward and peered at Veselko. “Hey, Commander. I’m glad you and Lana are safe. If losing the Gravestone was the price for keeping you two alive, I’m glad it was paid.”

“I’m glad you and yours are safe, too, Koth.”

It had been a miracle that no one was hurt in the chaos at the base, given that they had little to no warning. It was a testament to everyone’s ability and readiness, their willingness to cooperate with one another despite their backgrounds. Veselko was extremely proud for each and every one of them.

But the general attitude around the base afterwards was muted and unsure. Everyone knew the Gravestone and the Fleet were gone, and that whatever Theron had been doing, his actions had left the Alliance without most of its firepower and protection. They were going to be looking to Veselko for guidance, but he did not have any.

“You pretend at playing Commander but you’re not really good at it.” Kaliyo had told him, tucking some of Theron’s belongings under an arm. “You’re better off cutting your losses and getting the hell out before they tear you apart.”

There had been many days where he sat in his seat on the Phantom and contemplated doing just that, feeling anxiety boil up into his throat.

“But you never listen to me,” Kaliyo added.

Veselko looked back out to the void of sky and sighed.

“And hey, Theron’s back,” Koth said with an even more cheerful tone than before. “That’s a win, too.”

Lana’s tone headed in the opposite direction. “He’s part of the reason we’re standing out here, staring at our losses.”

“Yeah, but…” Koth was quickly dejected. “Like the Commander said, the Gravestone was already bad news, right?”

“He left us completely blindsided,” Lana said, her words coming to sharp points. “And his recklessness nearly cost us everything.”

How long had he known about the Order before it was too late to turn back? When had he first been in touch with Vinn Atrius? When did he decide that leaving was the only option? All these questions had been trapped in Veselko’s mind, but each and every time he felt his frustration peak, he remembered how much pain Theron had been in, and how close he had come to…

Theron was lying motionless on the ground.

“We don’t know all the circumstances, Lana,” Veselko intervened, closing his eyes hard to rid himself of the image.  “He said he was constantly being watched.”

“Or, he was too damn stubborn and determined to do everything on his own.”

“Did he tell you anything, Commander?” Koth asked.

Veselko paused, remembering the events since their return like they were a dizzy dream. He was so happy to have him back in his arms, alive and warm. But before he let himself be too happy, his stomach would churn, and he would worry that Theron would slip away again, and be gone forever.

“No,” Veselko replied quietly. “He’s resting right now.”

“Makes sense. I heard he nearly died.”

“He’s remarkably good at being lucky ,” Lana said with a sneer.

“I’m sure you all will smooth things out. You guys have known each other for a long time. It kinda makes me jealous.” He then added soberly, “And he’s your friend , Lana. It’s okay to admit that.”

Lana said nothing.

Koth sighed again, then walked over to Veselko to give him a pat on the back. “I’m gonna go check on my crew. They might be awake by now. Let me know if you need anything, Commander.”

“Of course.” Veselko nodded, giving Koth a smile before he left.

With that, it was just he and Lana, staring at the aftermath of their long and grueling journey.

A silence was shared between them for a while, only the sounds from the Odessen valley and the wind having anything to say.

And then Lana spoke.

“How is he?”

Veselko glanced over to her. “He’s… he woke up in pain this morning. He is going to see the doctors again today.”

Lana’s nose wrinkled. “I’ll steer clear of the medical wing then.”

“I’m sure he’ll be avoiding you like the plague.” Veselko offered a grin.

“He’s lucky that I respect you as much as I do,” Lana said, lifting her chin and squaring her jaw. “Or else I’d speak your mind for you.”

Veselko narrowed his eyes and dropped the pretense. “Excuse me?”

Lana released a huff of frustration, then looked to Veselko, her eyes burning. “He knows how I feel, I’m sure. But you’re coddling him, even now?”

“You have no right to choose when I speak to him,” Veselko said firmly, turning to face her with squared shoulders. “If you saw him as he is now--”

“He’s going to live, Veselko.” She never said his name unless they were alone. “You’re still sick with worry and anger; I can feel it.”

Ever since Revan, and maybe even more so after Valkorion, Lana had claimed that she could feel Veselko’s energy more intensely than ever, sensing his swinging moods. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, but Lana’s social skills as a Sith were always wanting. She had good intentions.

It had been the reason why he could confide in her while Theron was gone, but now he felt vulnerable.

“And why wouldn’t I be?” Veselko growled, shaking his head and looking away. “Can you really blame me?”

“He needs to hear how you feel. So why not now?”

Veselko took a deep breath in an attempt to center himself. “I didn’t realize you were so invested in our relationship.”

“I’m going to have my words with him, but I will not until you’ve had yours. He’s put all of us through hell, and you deserve some peace.”

“That’s not very Sith of you.”  Veselko frowned, then shook his head at himself at his own petty comment. “Lana, I’m sorry--”

“Don’t.”

Veselko felt her draw near and place a hand on his shoulder.

“I’ve done my share of being unfair to you,” she said, her voice considerably calmer than before. She spoke softly, just above the sound of the wind. “But you’ve never been afraid to speak your mind to me. It may not seem like it, but I’m… grateful that you put that much trust in me, after everything that’s happened.”

Veselko looked down towards her hand and said nothing.

“I don’t like seeing you like this. I don’t expect your wounds to heal easily, but sometimes… opening them up again will help them heal better.”

Meeting her gaze, Veselko saw the fire had gone out and was replaced with a glimmering yellow with flecks of green. Once he had allowed himself to trust Lana, her moods had become so easy to read, and he could tell when she was being sincere.

It felt ages since he met her on the Imperial Fleet, since she and Theron had involved him in the first galaxy-wide conspiracy. The three of them had been through more than a few hells, and here they stood now, broken but still together, hanging on by threads.

The wounds did need to bleed, to heal before the future swept them up again.

Veselko snorted. “Should I tell him how soft you are right now? A real bleeding heart, you are.”

Lana squeezed his shoulder, and a corner of her mouth curled in a smile. “Don’t you dare.”

Reaching up, Veselko placed his hand over Lana’s. “I’m joking.”

“I think I’m a little relieved by that. I was tired of taking you so seriously.”

Veselko patted her hand, feeling a mischievous mood come on. He hadn’t felt that way in a long time.

“I guess I won’t tell you that he proposed to me yesterday, then.”

“What?” All of Lana’s bluster immediately fell away into confusion.

“And that I said yes.” Veselko grinned like a nexu.

Letting her hand slip away from his shoulder, she gave off an incredulous chuckle. “You two were never much for appropriate timing.”

“Will you give me away?” Veselko chased this mood, feeling lighter already.

“Absolutely not.” Lana flushed before she pulled him into a side hug.

The midday sun shone upon them. It was a strange feeling -- the Gravestone usually casted its shadow by now. The light was different, but not unwelcome.

“Thank you,” Veselko murmured, throwing an arm around her shoulder. “For everything.”

A beautiful day, a moment’s respite. There were decisions to be made, messages to read, words to say. For the first time he’d woken up in Zakuul, he felt as if the work could wait for a moment.

Chapter Text

Theron had laid belly down on a medical bed for nearly two hours as a couple of medics reexamined his wound and began work on tissue grafts. It wasn’t often that someone walked away from getting stabbed with a lightsaber, and one of the assistants joked that Theron must have willed himself to live somehow.

It made enough sense. The memories were fuzzy, but he remembered leaning against a piece of rubble and watching lights flicker ahead as Veselko and Lana battled with Atrius and took down Zildrog. His eyes kept wanting to close, and he fought it as best as he could.

When he had set off alone, he thought he had accepted there was a chance he was going to die. To save the Alliance, to save Veselko, he believed death was acceptable. But sitting there, seeing Veselko and Lana after so long, seeing hope so close, Theron was desperate to hang on.

He was scared out of his mind. Sorry that he had hurt everyone so much. Scraping by with an ugly scar was the best outcome he could have hoped for.

Healing was coming along, and the medics felt confident enough to release him to light duty for the time being. The news should have come as comfort, but Theron felt eyes upon him from everywhere on base. It was to be expected -- he wasn’t even sure if everyone was clear on what happened. He wasn’t exactly a chatty person to begin with and had few acquaintances, but most of them knew his face, and all of them had seen him break Veselko.

Until he was asked otherwise, Theron felt it was best to stay out of everyone’s way until he was needed.

It was early afternoon by the time he’d left the medical bay, and he was starving. He fought every urge to snatch up rations and hole up in Veselko’s quarters like a coward, but he wanted to avoid conversation and all the neck-jerking in his direction. The best he could manage was a far corner in the base cantina.

Out of sight from everyone, Theron nursed a couple of cheap beers and a couple of servings of roast gorak (still the base’s favorite, oddly enough). To keep his mind off his wandering thoughts, he ran some simple diagnostics on his implants to make sure they had not been too rattled from the day before.

More than anyone else, Theron watched out for Lana. She was probably doing her best to avoid him, too, which was a kind gesture on her part -- he had heard rumor about a scrap pile of training dummies that she had accumulated, and he didn’t want to be thrown on top of it.

Not that he didn’t want to avoid her forever.

It was Lana’s voice that had kept him awake while they were headed to the shuttle to get off Nathema. It was mostly curses, blended in with soft pleas to stay awake, assuring that the shuttle was not very much further.

Think I overcompensated for Rishi, just a little, he thought.

Theron took one more swig of his beer, sneered and then set the bottle to the side. It was starting to become unpleasantly warm, though every swallow of it had been unpleasant in varying degrees. If it had only taken the edge off his unease, he might have kept drinking it anyway.

Great to be home.

He frowned at himself for being so morose. Veselko and Lana had nearly died to bring him back.

Then, a loud voice rose over the usual noise of the cantina.

“HEY, ASSHOLE.”

It was a woman’s voice, laced with poison and sharpened to kill.

Kaliyo .

Theron looked over his shoulder to see her cutting a straight line towards him. She had a bottle of something in her hand -- likely her go-to tihaar that she had hoarded for her own.

“Happy to see you, too, Djannis,” Theron muttered.

“Get your big stupid ass outta my spot.” She leered over him. He could already smell the tihaar on her breath. It was enough to choke a bantha.

Theron looked up at her out of the corner of his eye, then turned away, defiant. If there was anyone he had grown absolutely tired of and didn’t miss at all, Kaliyo was ten times worse than them.

“Your little ass can make me,” he snorted.

The sound of a blaster pistol being taken out of his holster. There were gasps in the cantina. The pistol was pointed, ready to fire -- at Theron’s groin.

Move ,” she repeated, “Or I’ll make you wish you were dead. I’m not in the mood for your shit, spy boy.” She didn’t shoot. A bark, but she was restrained.

No longer impressed with her bravado, Theron lifted up his hands, stood up, and passed her by. She threw her pistol on the table haphazardly, then forcefully sat down on the bench. She kicked up one foot onto the table, flicked off the tihaar ’s cap, and took a swig.

Theron sat at the table right behind her.

The abandoned beer bottle came careening over his shoulder -- a wide miss, crashing against the wall.

“Forgot something,” she spat.

“Thanks.” Theron leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and lacing his fingers together.

It was no mystery that the two had never gotten along. Kaliyo didn’t get along with anyone, save Veselko and a few of his old associates. But he knew that she had a special sort of hate for Theron, and it had everything to do with someone they had in common.

Given how she treated most of her ex-lovers, Theron couldn’t trust her further than he could throw her. He stood up to her when they traded jabs, and they had nearly come to blows a few times.

Veselko seemed to be an expert at quelling her behavior, and Theron supposed that was why she had never followed through with her threats. Their former relationship had never been a secret, either. Veselko had opened up to Theron about her soon after she had joined the Alliance, and while Theron had a reservation or two, he ultimately appreciated Veselko’s trust in him.

That made everything on Umbara so much harder.

Theron hung his head and closed his eyes, pushing his thoughts down.

“Your hair looks stupid,” Kaliyo mocked. “Lose a fight with a razor?”

“I expect you are the expert in all things hair. Wanna give me some tips?” He snarked, knowing that would irritate her. He almost wanted her to throw the first punch.

“He let you back in bed looking like that?

Theron leaned back in his chair. “Yeah. He did.”

Kaliyo snorted, and paused to take another drink. “Your dick must be something else.”

“You’re free to think whatever you want.” Theron felt petty enough to try to get the last word in.

A few minutes passed. But just when he thought she had finally given up, she spoke up again.

“He didn’t use to be this way,” she said, her voice lower than before. But it sounded like she wasn’t talking to Theron at all. “He really used to know how to have a good time. Shore leave -- go to a sleazy hole-in-the-wall bar, find some cute faces and have drinks. And then whatever happened after that. Easy come, easy go.”

Theron said nothing. The first time he had met Veselko, his first impressions of him was that he was extremely good-looking, but his flirting was nearly as annoying as how smug he was. It was a bad read at the time, as Theron would come to find out that in private, all Veselko wanted was someone there to talk to him, and that he liked to smile. Their brand of work was lonely and isolating, and confided in Theron.

“We had a good thing, once,” she said.  “Then in came Spy Boy and Miss Prissy Sith to drag him where he didn’t want to go.”

“He changed,” she added. “You two sucked all the fun right out of him.”

Or maybe you didn’t really know him, Theron thought, but he was content to stare up at the ceiling and listen to her for now.

She had probably listened to Veselko while Theron was gone. Part of him was jealous.

“Yeah,” Kaliyo said, content with herself. “It was all just a game to him. Until it wasn’t .”

Veselko had once told Theron he had never been good at long term relationships. It was something they both had in common. But he said he wanted to try, if only because their paths kept crossing and they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. They had every reason to be enemies, but when they were together, they could feel more like themselves instead of their jobs. It felt like it was worth a shot.

Destiny used to be something completely intangible to Theron, something beyond his understanding. He was content to brush the entire concept off, especially since his existence often felt like a joke. But then Veselko came along, and there was a feeling he had -- something indescribable that said they belonged together. Theron once believed he would never experience the light the Jedi talked about, but then Veselko was there, and he felt … light. He felt happy, more than he had ever been in his life.

After everything he had done to break Veselko’s heart, Theron knew he didn’t deserve that light anymore.

“Thought I’d help him move on after you left,” Kaliyo rambled on, her speech loosening. “Torched some of your crap you left. Guess I missed a few things.”

Theron looked down at his sleeve and ran his fingers over the clean, soft leather.

“I liked you better when I thought you had a spine,” Kaliyo chuckled.

“You just wanted me out of the picture. You always have.” Theron straightened his posture. “Sorry it didn’t work out.”

“That whole act took some balls, Shan. You really believed he’d survive a train wreck ? Or was there some back up plan to glue him back together?” She started to chortle.

Theron closed his eyes and shook his head, once again trying to rid himself of the images of what didn’t happen, to keep himself from standing up and decking Kaliyo across the jaw.

He had set up the entire scene to give Veselko and Lana a perfect chance to make it out safely. But even then, knowing there was a chance, when he heard the train crash, he landed his speeder and threw up right there.

How did I know they were going to make it?

I didn’t. Doubt creeped coldly down his neck.

“You don’t understand,” he muttered. “You don’t want to.”

“You’re damn right.” She took another drink.

Another silence, but this time it made Theron uneasy and impatient. He had to get a breath of fresh air, walk off the anger and bitterness before Veselko came back that night.

But not before making one last point to Kaliyo, to illustrate how serious he really was about Veselko.

“... I asked him to marry me, you know,” Theron said, turning to face her. “He said--”

Kaliyo slammed her empty bottle on the table, the glass shattering. Theron clenched his jaw and held his tongue. Silence fell over the cantina.

“You pull some shit like that again, and I will blow your brains out.” Her icy blue eyes looked nearly black with how much her pupils were blown, but they were focused hard on him, unflinching.

Getting the point, Theron stood up and turned to leave.

As he passed by Kaliyo, he said under his breath, “Don’t worry, I’d give you the blaster.”

Passing by more and more peering eyes, Theron made his way through the base, into the hangar and to the elevator. With just a quick glance outside, it seemed a little darker than usual for that hour, and the wind had picked up. But he didn’t care.

Everything was stifling, and he needed air.

Chapter Text

“Thank you to all who are here this evening,” Veselko said to the sea of worried and confused faces in the War Room, “Today was not easy for anyone. I want to address some critical issues at hand to better illustrate how the Alliance stands as of now.”

There was an uncomfortable shuffle, but the assembly remained quiet for the most part, eagerly awaiting what Veselko had to say.

“I will be honest with you,” Veselko started, scanning over the heads in the crowd to keep from looking anyone directly in the eye. “As you all know now, both the Gravestone and the Eternal Fleet have been destroyed. It was an act perpetrated by a former Knight and Horizon Guard, Vinn Atrius, and his Order of Zildrog. He has been apprehended and sent back to his people in Zakuul to face justice.”

There were snorts and grumbles, particularly from a group of former Imperial Military standing to one corner. Veselko saw Lana step forward into his own peripheral vision. She was silent, but ever watchful for unruly dissent.

“We might have never known about the Order and their plans on Nathema if not for Theron Shan.” Veselko took a deep breath and lifted his chin. “I understand many of you may still have reservations about him, but know that he risked his life to save every one of us.”

“Yeah, and now the Empire and Republic are back at war,” said a twi’lek man near the front, a former soldier for the Republic. “What’s he got to say about that?”

“Where is he anyway?” Another voice from the back, where Hylo’s people had gathered.

The crowd’s voices started to lift in a cacophony. A cold sensation ran down Veselko’s spine, and his ocular display noted his excelling heart rate.

“Everyone, silence!” Lana yelled out.

“Settle down!” Bey’wan barked.

“SHADDUP!” Hylo snarled.

As the crowd calmed, Veselko took another deep breath.

Theron, what are we going to do?

“Theron’s role going forward will be discussed in the coming days, but that is not why I have gathered all of you here,” Veselko said as he placed his hands on the platform railing.

“The Alliance is not as it was before,” he said with somber tone. “We intend to stay here on Odessen, but we are no longer the influence or force we once were. It’s my belief that we are safe for the time being, but I can understand if any of you have reservations.”

He knew Lana was looking at him.

“And that is why I am offering transport to anyone who wishes to return to their homes, no questions asked. Shuttles will be available to nearby hub planets and stations, where I am assured you will be given safe passage.”

The crowd began to murmur again. Veselko gripped the bar when he felt his stomach drop.

“And if we want to stay?” A soft voice from the front -- a young human Jedi.

“I wish you would stay, with all my heart,” Veselko said, offering them a reassuring smile.

The Jedi smiled back and nodded.

“The days ahead are uncertain,” Veselko said, lifting his eyes back up to the crowd. “But I still believe in the cause of this Alliance, and believe there is still good we can do for the galaxy.”

“I believe in all of you,” he said, bowing his head in respect. “It has been my honor to be your Commander.”

The applause and cheers from most of the crowd came as a small relief, but he still saw confused and dark looks from the corners. The Alliance numbers were going to be thinner and thinner each day.

And as disappointing that was, Veselko could also not help but feel glad about it.

“You are dismissed.” Veselko said finally, then he turned away as the crowd began to disperse.

Lana was immediately at his side, placing a hand on his forearm.

“You did well,” she murmured. “There’s many people here who still believe in you.”

The long day of meetings and reading and responding to correspondence was weighing Veselko down, and he had been waiting to return to his quarters all day. As much as he wanted to assure Lana that he felt better, he wanted to leave that room -- he wanted to be alone in his room with Theron, to hold him in his arms.

“Please don’t contact me unless it’s a dire emergency,” he said, looking warily into Lana’s eyes.

Her smiled dropped, but she gave him an affirming nod.

“I don’t mean to put this all on you, but…”

“Stop that,” Lana said. “I know you’ll repay me later.”

Veselko gave her a tired smile, then turned away and headed in the direction of his quarters, ignoring all the staring along the way.

With each step, he ached more and more to rip off his clothes and bury himself in his covers, to hide in Theron’s embrace and pretend there wasn’t anyone else in the galaxy but the two of them.

He came up to his door, heart pounding as it slid open.

The room was empty.

Veselko took a sharp breath and took a few steps inside, peering into the refresher and into the far corners of the room.

Theron was gone.

Swallowing hard, Veselko reminded himself that he had a way to communicate with him -- a way that had been cut off for a long while, but Theron was here now.

Wasn’t he?

A hand came up to his ear implant, and he softly murmured for Theron’s private frequency. It had been reactivated shortly after his return -- or at least, that’s what Veselko remembered.

“Theron?”

A few too many moments passed before there was an answer.

“Oh, Ves --” A soft laugh. “That scared me.”

Veselko’s heart thumped loud and he closed his eyes. That scared you?

“Where are you?” He wasn’t going to beat around the bush; he wasn’t in the mood.

“Ah, I … took a walk outside for a while,” Theron replied, heaving a sigh. “Needed fresh air.”

Veselko repeated himself with emphasis. “Where are you?”

“Oh. Outside, near the Phantom. Sorry.”

They used to take strolls together when time allowed -- and they would hide away on the Phantom if they wanted the semblance of more privacy. It was a particularly pretty walk, too, but it was getting late, and he had seen the clouds growing dark and heavy with rain. He couldn’t remember seeing Theron after he left that morning, so there was no telling how long he had been outside.

“Stay there. I’ll meet you,” Veselko said.

“Got it.”

Veselko clenched his jaw, turned and headed back out, once again avoiding prying eyes -- there were more this time around.

-----

As Veselko stepped outside, he felt the air had thickened, the wind had started to pick up, and the smell of rain filled his nose. He was always sensitive to it, having spent so many years on Dromund Kaas. He rather liked the rain on Odessen, too; it was nearly always mild and never too severe. There was something oddly comforting about it and he could easily stroll around in the rain a long while.

But Theron wasn’t that type of person. He hated getting his implants wet. There was little doubt that he was simply avoiding everyone -- including Veselko, rain be damned.

The base’s lights were all on, but Veselko still had to squint to spot Theron standing across the valley, sitting on a hill near the cliffside. There was a relief to see him there, but Veselko’s anxieties from earlier that day were still prickling at the back of his neck.

As Veselko started out onto the bridge, he saw Theron throw a hand up in greeting, and then he began to briskly walk to meet Veselko. It was immediately noticeable that he was walking much better than he was the day before.

When they met in the middle, Theron smiled and crossed the rest of the distance, and threw his arms around Veselko in a tight hug.

It took the air out of Veselko’s lungs for a moment, but he recovered, recentered himself, and hugged Theron back.

He’s really here, Veselko thought, comforting himself. He’s even wearing his old clothes.

Theron pulled back to give Veselko a kiss. Veselko could smell beer on him, but it wasn’t overpowering. It was the smell anyone had spending more than a little while in the cantina, and given that Veselko never kept beer in his quarters, he concluded that was where Theron had hidden away for most of the day. At the very least, it seemed like Theron had attempted to relax.

Attempted.

The breeze carried the smell of rain from further down the valley. The sky was darker, and the stars were hardly visible anymore.

“I didn’t know when you’d be back,” Theron murmured, pulling away again. “I was already out here when I heard you had called the rest of the base to a meeting.”

“You weren’t there for the meeting,” Veselko reminded him. “Nor were you in bed.”

“Doctors said I was cleared for light duty, and that I needed to stretch my legs,” Theron said, stepping away but looking at Veselko, hoping he’d follow.

And he did. “So, what brings you out here exactly?”

“Well,” he said with a weighted sigh as he walked along, “I… didn’t want to go hiding in your quarters all day, but I also didn’t want to bother you, and given everyone’s reaction to seeing me again, I didn’t want to bother anyone else either.”

They crossed from the bridge onto the soft ground on the other side, grass crunching underneath their boots.

“I went to get a bite at the cantina.” Theron chuckled. “Roast gorak’s never tasted so good.”

“You’ve been on energy cubes for months, I imagine.”

“Basically.”

Veselko had noticed that he’d lost some weight -- either from eating nothing but rations, or not eating at all.

Theron stopped where he was standing before, a few meters away from a cliff’s edge, staring right out into the valley and the base on the other side. Veselko joined him.

There was a moment of quiet between them, but finally, Theron spoke up again.

“Ran into Kaliyo -- or, well, she ran into me. Stumbled.”

Veselko had hoped to cross Kaliyo first, but between worrying about Theron and all of the business on base that day, he had missed her past-noon wake up time, and didn’t catch her skulking around base or otherwise causing a ruckus. It was no surprise she went to the cantina, but unfortunate that Theron was caught in her path.

He seemed none worse for the wear on the outside, but that’s not what Veselko was concerned about.

“And so that’s why you’re hiding out here, instead of my quarters?”

“Hiding? … Yeah. Maybe, it’s hiding.” Theron shrugged his shoulders. “She made it clear she didn’t want me anywhere near her, and I didn’t want to be around her. So I left.”

“How long have you been out here?”

“Walked up and down the valley some, stood here... “ Theron rubbed the back of his head. “About four or five hours, I guess.”

“You are aware it’s about to rain, right?” Veselko narrowed his eyes.

“Yeah, but… I heard the call about the meeting. I was gonna wait until after it was over.”

“And now it is.” Veselko sighed when he felt his own tone sharpen. “Did Kaliyo really say something to put you off that much?”

“... Not directly. Just got me thinking a lot.” Theron’s voice softened, and he was staring out into the valley again.

Veselko looked at him, waiting for him to explain himself. He was trying not to be impatient.

Why are you still like this, after everything that’s just happened?

“I’m…” Theron said meekly. He was trying to come up with the right words to say. “I’m glad she was… here for you. While I was gone.”

An immediate gut reaction. “She and I, we didn’t--”

“No, I didn’t mean it like that. Just... “ He casted his gaze downward. “I … am glad that she… Lana, the others, they were here for you, after what happened.”

Veselko frowned.

But I wanted you here with me. Why did you take this on alone?

“Kaliyo was there for me, yes…” Veselko sighed. “She was also my most ardent critic, telling me how crazy I was for believing in you.”

“Maybe you’ve been chasing down conspiracies too long,” Kaliyo sneered. “Not everything has to be complicated.”

Theron looked up at him, his face twisted with concern. “Really?”

“Yes.” Veselko folded his arms, recalling those early days. “I hid your jacket and other things from her, because she wanted to burn you from my mind. I told you that.”

“I wasn’t ready to let you go,” Veselko added, swallowing that memory down when his throat felt tight. “But… there were times I did wonder if I was crazy.”

Another long silence. The sun was setting, and the wind was starting to pick up.

“Ves,” Theron said, “How long did you believe I was on your side? When did you figure it out?”

Not expecting that question at all, Veselko’s eyebrows knitted.

“Please.” Theron’s voice quivered. “Tell me.”

Taking another deep breath, Veselko steeled himself.

Open the wound.

“Where do I start?”

“Anywhere,” Theron replied.

“All right.”

His memories were clear, as if they were new, but it had felt like ages.

“I knew there was something wrong with you, long before we went back to Iokath,” Veselko started, his voice dry and tight. “But I wrote it all off as stress. None of us were ready for the consequences of Valkorion’s death.” He had been through periods of self-loathing for not trusting his gut back then, and he was not quite over it.

Theron remained silent. In the fading sunlight that reflected in his eyes, Veselko could see they were wet.

“And your behavior on Iokath, it was strange, but… there was so much happening, I was overwhelmed. I’ve been trying to so long to undo my Intelligence training -- to not immediately suspect the worst. It’s made a monster out of me in the past.”

“And then, Umbara...”

Theron released a shaky breath.

The smell of rain became thicker, the leaves of the nearby trees rustled in anticipation.

Veselko closed his eyes, forcing himself to remember that day, like he had over and over when he was trying to rationalize the last shred of hope he had.

“I was shocked, of course, but… I watched you pace in front of me, pontificating like a madman.” Veselko didn’t want to look at Theron, trying to keep the memory separate from the person. “You didn’t make any sense, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It wasn’t you. You take action, and don’t waste time rationalizing yourself for anyone.”

“I realized later that you must have been… you must have been trying to convince someone. Not me -- someone who wasn’t there.”

“... Atrius,” Theron confirmed.

“You were saying mostly half-truths. The rationale was there, but not the conviction.”

Veselko swallowed hard when he felt anxiety squeeze his throat.

“There were two times I felt you were telling the whole truth,” he managed.

“... What were they?”

“When you said that you loved me, and… when you said goodbye.”

That had hurt him more than any well-aimed blaster bolt ever could.

“Veselko,” Theron said breathily, his words becoming more panicked. “I just wasn’t sure… I didn’t know if I’d ever see you--”

Veselko’s blood grew hot at Theron’s sputtering. He balled his hands into fists and thrust them to his sides.

“In all of our years together, we have never… never said goodbye, even when we might have wanted to. Not on Yavin-4, not on Ziost -- never. With one word, I believed you were determined to go on without me.”

The words were spilling out with little restraint after being held down in his chest ever since that day. No one else -- not Kaliyo, Lana, or any others -- had understood his behavior, and he was powerless to make them understand.

“I wasn’t determined, I never wanted --” Theron let out a frustrated snort when his words hit a wall. “I knew there was a chance it was over for us. It killed me, but I had to say something, in case --”

Veselko turned the tables, squaring himself against Theron. He cheeks flared with warmth and he clenched his teeth.

“How long had you known about the Order? How long had you been looking into it before it was too late?” Despite himself, Veselko had lifted his voice into an angry shout.

“It was… Like I said, months,” Theron stammered. “I had people I was in contact with before… before we took on Valkorion, heard the whispers about the Order, and then… the uprisings and… Atrius’s recruitment started in earnest after you killed Vaylin. He wanted you, the Alliance, dead.”

“So you made it your mission to be a double agent.” Veselko narrowed his eyes.

“I got so far, and that’s when I realized what the GEMINI droid was doing, and… I knew there wasn’t any looking back. If I let them go, they would have found the way to Zildrog without us knowing, without a chance to stop them.”

“But no one here at home knew what you were doing,” Veselko contested. “You left no trace of your plan, even before you knew it was too late.” He shook his head in disbelief. “You know what I’ve been through; I told you what I am because I trusted you, and yet you said nothing.” His heart ached all over again.

“You’re the Alliance Commander,” Theron replied, lifting his voice to match Veselko’s in a nervous fury. “You had Valkorion in your brain and the entire Alliance looking to you to perform a miracle, and I was terrified that I was going to lose you again.”

“Theron--” Veselko warned.

“I work better alone. Lana knew that when she brought me on, and you knew, too.” Theron let out a sigh of frustration. “Stars, Veselko, I did the best thing I knew to protect this Alliance, to protect you because I love --”

“Theron!” Veselko snapped.

Theron silenced all at once, jaw dropped in mid-sentence.

“I never expected to get this far as Commander, and I bloody sure didn’t want to be Commander to begin with, so don’t you put that on me!” A tear rolled down his cheek, and his chin buckled. His chest felt like it was on fire.

“Ever since I woke up on Zakuul, nearly everything has felt like a bloody… nightmare,” Veselko said, his voice cracking against his will. “These strangers in this strange place all depending on me like I was their savior, all because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Valkorion was inside my mind, and I was just supposed to… supposed to… pretend that I knew what I was doing, or everything was going to fall apart. I never wanted this.”

Theron said nothing, and looked away. He was frowning.

Tears were brimming in Veselko’s eyes as he watched Theron back down. He had already said he would never forgive himself, and Veselko knew that he was likely at a loss of what to do. Neither of them, he realized, had ever been in a situation like this before -- having a shouting match at their loved one because they couldn’t stand to be apart.

There was a tinge of regret. Veselko hadn’t cornered Theron to be angry with him -- but to make him believe just how much he cared.

“Theron,” he said, his voice just above the breeze. “Having you here at my side has meant everything to me. We’ve… made a home here, together. I never wanted to be Commander, but you made me want to be a better man.”

Theron pled softly, “Veselko--” He cut himself off.

“We’ve always made it back to one another, despite all that has happened. You said that, remember?”

“I know,” Theron said, his voice small.

“And that meant everything to me, Theron. You are everything.” He shook his head. “There’s no galaxy where you and I are enemies, not anymore.”

Theron had once again fallen into silence, shadows darkening his face. It was nearly the same expression he’d made that day on the train.

Theron turned and walked away as the train kept charging forward.

“I love you, Theron. Come home.” Veselko broadcasted his plea to the entire galaxy, not knowing where Theron had gone, or if he was even still alive.

“Please believe me, if anything happened to you, I’d…”

The sound of the lightpike igniting. Theron’s cry in pain.

Theron was lying motionless on the ground.

“You… you… I thought you…” The memories reignited the panic.

Theron was lying motionless on the ground.

“I thought you were dead, right there, you were…” He sobbed, and threw a hand over his mouth to cover it. The dread he wasn’t allowed to feel in that moment hit him hard. His legs grew weak as he felt the realization sap at his will to stand.

Just as he started to crumple, Theron came forward to catch him, and they sunk to their knees together, there in the grass.

Veselko grabbed onto the lapels of Theron’s jacket, pulled himself closer and buried his head into his shoulder. His body wracked with the cries he’d kept hidden from everyone for so long, the cries he had hidden from Theron in fear of hurting him.

“... You and Lana saved me, and I’ve got another chance. I’m not going to waste it,” Theron murmured. He then gave off a soft chuckle and sniffed. “You sure you want to marry me, though?”

Veselko balled one hand into a fist and lightly rapped against his chest in retaliation. “I love you, you bloody idiot.”

“Okay, okay,” Theron laughed again as he hugged Veselko tighter. “I’m not great at the jokes either, am I?”

Veselko allowed himself a laugh or two between his sniffles. “No.”

This was his Theron -- no one else’s. This was the truth, and nothing would ever change it.

There was a cold drop of rain on the back of his neck, but Veselko paid it no mind. He was taking in Theron’s warmth, the feel of his body against his. All the time apart had felt like he’d been deprived of air.

“Tell me what I can do,” Theron said, pleading.

Thinking about it for a moment, Veselko finally lifted his head to meet Theron’s eyes.

“Never say goodbye again,” Veselko said, smiling through his tears to find that Theron was smiling at him.

“You’ve got it,” Theron replied.

Veselko held his gaze and let Theron’s promise wash over him. Tension in his chest and gut started to give way.

Their lips were but a breath apart before Veselko felt a couple of cold drops of rain on his scalp. He looked up, and then a few more fell upon his face.

Theron had just enough time to look up as well before the rain went from a sprinkle to falling in a gentle sheet. He groaned and wiped at his face.

“Shoulda’ seen that coming,” he said flatly.

Veselko managed a chuckle, then closed his eyes and let the rain fall upon him. The cool raindrops washed away warm tears, and the clean air filled his lungs. He ran both of his hands through his hair when it became soaked and weighted on his forehead. On Dromund Kaas, the rain was sometimes gentle enough, like a reprieve, that Veselko stood in it. Odessen, his new home, was much more merciful.

It had been so long since he had felt such relief.

“Still a fan of the rain…” Theron said, and he pulled Veselko close as if he were jealous of Odessen giving Veselko attention.

“The Phantom’s right over there,” Veselko murmured to Theron. “Would be easier than running back to base.”

Theron gently pushed back Veselko’s hair back when a few strands came loose. He didn’t have much of his own left to do the same. “Yeah, just one sec --”

He pulled Veselko into a kiss -- a long, lingering kiss, though their clothes were becoming soaked through and through. Veselko drank in his warmth and taste with a mixture of the fresh rain, and when their lips parted, their mingling breath was heated.

“A kiss in the rain,” Veselko purred, mouth tugging into a lopsided grin. “How romantic.”

“Couldn’t help it,” Theron said shortly before nuzzling his nose against Veselko’s. “But uh… I am getting a little cold.”

Veselko laughed. “You wimp.”

They helped each other up onto their feet and trudged through the wet grass to the Phantom’s ramp. Veselko quietly congratulated himself for keeping the Phantom fueled and prepared to leave at a moment’s notice -- something he had once done out of fear and desperation, but now he was content to feel that he prepared for a homecoming.

And as soon as the ramp lifted and the door shut behind them, Veselko pulled himself into Theron -- pulled them both until his own back hit the wall, their mouths locked into a wet, breathless kiss.