"Can you swim?"
Of all the things former Agent Alexsandr Kallus might've expected to hear from his husband upon his return home, that was not among them. Though one would also think that after all these years, he would know to expect the unexpected from Garazeb Orrelios.
Looking up from the busted MSE droid he'd been tinkering with, he saw Zeb approaching their house in nothing but a pair of pants, the vest he'd been wearing when he'd headed out hours earlier balled up in one large fist.
"Interesting time to be asking that question," he pointed out with a smile and a wry lift of his eyebrow.
"Just occurred to me I've never actually seen you swim. Figured I'd better make sure."
"Any particular reason?" the ex-Imperial asked as Zeb half-bounded up to him, smirking before drawing him into a kiss, though they didn't separate right away when it ended. They stayed pressed together, foreheads resting against one another.
"Karabast, but you are beautiful," the Lasat whispered against his lips. "I just got somethin' I wanna show you."
"And this involves swimming?" Alex asked, smiling cheekily up at his mate as he took a step back from him.
"Yup," was the only explanation the former guardsman gave, taking the human's hand in his as he moved a step back out into the encroaching twilight. "You comin'?"
"Zeb, it- isn't it getting a little late?" he asked with a laugh, not really resisting when Zeb pulled him down the steps.
"Don't tell me you're afraid of the dark," Zeb returned with a wink, harkening back to a different twilight now many years in the past.
"Never," he said, a small thrill of exhilaration traveling down his spine as he allowed Zeb to lead him out into the forest.
Twilight seemed to last longer on Lira San than on most other worlds he'd visited. Gron had explained the science of it to him once, but he couldn't manage to bring it to mind as he moved with his mate through the trees, their leaves tinged gold by the fading light. All he could really focus on was the sight of Zeb ahead of him, and he found himself once again struck by the understanding that he was here at all, that the war was over, that he and Zeb were together...that such a place as Lira San could even exist .
Oh, my Zeb...my love... how?
So caught up was he in the whirl of his own thoughts, he almost didn't hear his mate's question.
"Hey? You awake?" Zeb tried again, waving a hand before his face.
"You didn't answer my question before."
"Question?" he repeated helplessly.
"You can swim, yeah?" Zeb asked, and it was only then that Alex realized his musings had covered the distance from home to the lake. His mate had already taken a few steps into the water.
"Yes," he responded with a laugh, releasing Zeb's hand so he could strip out of his clothing, straight down to his dark undershorts, everything else joining Zeb's vest on the sandy shore. When he looked back to Zeb, it was to find that he'd been clutching a pair of rebreathers in the hand that had held the vest. Raising an eyebrow, he took the one that was offered to him. "Bit of a distance to where we're going?"
"A bit," Zeb conceded. "Kari told me about it a few days ago and I wanted to show you. No problems with, ah...enclosed spaces?"
"No?" he answered uncertainly as he followed his husband into the water, needing only a moment to adjust to the cold. "What is this? Cave diving?"
"Sort of. You'll see. Just stick close behind me. I'll lead you in," Zeb said before placing his own rebreather in his mouth.
"Well...if you didn't know this already... La sultir falir an. "
I do trust you.
Zeb offered him a smile around the device in his mouth before slipping beneath the lake's surface. Alex shrugged once before setting the rebreather in his mouth and following after him. It took him a moment to force his eyes open against the press of the water, but once he had adjusted, they were off.
The Lasat led him far out into the lake, along even to the point where the shoreline would have meshed up with the nearby cliff faces, sending the rocky slopes dropping beneath the surface. Swimming through the deepening gloom, the human caught sight of Zeb's powerful kicks carrying him into a fairly large fissure in the stone. Hesitating for only a moment at the darkness inside the opening, he was reassured when the luminous glow of Zeb's green eyes turned back toward him, a hand reaching out for his. He took his mate's hand and continued swimming.
The passage they swam through had very little light, and it grew even narrower the further they went. Eventually they had to drop hands and go single file, leaving Alex unnerved by the feel of the rock walls pressing in so close around him.
But it wasn't long after that that the passage began to open up into more of a grotto. Then Alex caught sight of faint glints of light against the surface of the water and they were breaking through it, emerging into a cavern lit only dimly from overhead cracks in the rock.
"Come on," he heard Zeb saying. Following the vague shape of him in the dim light and the sound of him swimming, he followed the Lasat to the side of the small chamber, spitting the regulator from his mouth as he climbed up onto a rough stone ledge. Seeing Zeb lean against the cave wall, he crawled quickly across the floor to sit beside him.
"So...what was it you wanted to show me?" he asked.
Zeb gave a tired-sounding laugh as his luminous eyes blinked back open. "Sorry for the rush. I just wanted to make sure we got here in time."
"Got here in time for what? " Alex pressed with a chuckle of his own, letting Zeb know he wasn't particularly annoyed with any of this. Just confused. "Perhaps it's different for you, ni ashkerra , but all I can really see in this gloom is you."
"No mind," Zeb said before pulling him in close, drawing him into a kiss. Alex sighed a little into the tender embrace, feeling the warmth and strength of his mate's bare chest against him. When Zeb pulled back from the kiss, he whispered against Alex's lips, "Most of the time, the only thing I see is you."
"You're ridiculous, beloved," the ex-Imperial returned only half-heartedly, probably owing to the fact that the words might have actually melted his heart.
"Probably," Zeb agreed, a hand moving up to grip delicately at his chin, "but you love it."
"I do. L'ashkerrir an . "
While they had been talking, Alex noticed, what little light had been filtering into the cave had gone dark. Glancing at the cracks overhead, he could just faintly detect the glimmer of stars peeking through. But before long, a different light source began to shine into the little cave – a source that seemed to be coming from the water .
"Here we go. Right on time," he heard Zeb saying as he looked down into the suddenly glowing water.
"I...wha-" the human mumbled in confusion as he watched streaks of blue light begin to stream through the water they had only recently emerged from. As he watched, he slowly began to discern the shapes beneath the surface.
They were animals. Sleek, furred creatures that appeared to have six limbs. And within the deep blue and purple fur were stripes of blue bioluminescence. Alex gasped in quiet amazement as he watched the animals swim through.
"What are they?" he found himself whispering, gripping Zeb's hand a little tighter.
"Otts. These tunnels lead out to the ocean and Kari told me they come through here a lot. Thought it'd be fun to try to come see 'em."
"They're- incredible," was all he could manage to get out as he watched the brilliant light show play out along the dancing surface of the water and the walls of the cave. At one point, one of the otts even stuck its head above the water, sniffing curiously at the air as it stared at the pair of interlopers with tiny black eyes.
The ott chittered at them a moment before diving back down and continuing on its way with the rest of its group. The pair watched in amazed silence until the last of the otts had swum through, the light from their fur quickly beginning to dim down the far end of the passage.
"So," Zeb started, grinning at him as he held up their rebreathers, "wanna follow 'em?"
"Is it safe?" he asked with a laugh as he took back the device.
"Kari hasn't steered us wrong yet, so it shouldn't be much farther to where they hole up for the night," his mate said as he slid back into the water.
"Sure. Why not," Alex said with another chuckle before biting down on the rebreather and following Zeb back into the water.
This time they had only the receding light from the otts to guide them as they proceeded further down the watery passageway. But unlike their initial entrance, Alex could feel the space widening around them as they swam. When they emerged from the water once more, it was into a cavern so large, he could scarcely believe it was beneath a mountain.
Otts were drifting calmly through the water all around them, cuddling together in pairs and small groups, floating on the surface as they settled in for the night. Alex could even see a mother or two drifting in the very mild current, little ott pups balanced easily on their chests, their lavender and pale blue fur standing out starkly from their parents' much darker coats. One was so young as to have fur that appeared almost white.
"They are a sight, aren't they," he heard Zeb whispering very near his ear, treading water just at his side as he slipped the rebreather from his mouth once again.
"Amazing," he whispered into the hushed stillness.
"And look," the Lasat breathed in equal amazement, trying to direct his attention upward.
"What is- I...oh..." he started, voice falling away into silence
Alex couldn't remember what it was he'd been trying to ask. It wasn't important, paled to utter insignificance against the sight glittering just above them.
The stone that composed the cavern ceiling was actually glittering . The reflected light from the otts was glinting back down at them like the distant twinkling of stars in the night sky.
"Oh, Zeb," he exulted as they drifted there beneath that breathtaking natural wonder. "It's beautiful ."
"The galaxy had to have been created on a night like this," the Lasat said, his large hand reaching to grip Alex's in the water. "You ever heard the story?"
"It's the same...for the people of Lasan and Lira San...but they say that when the Ashla sang the universe into being...she danced on the surface of the cosmic ocean..."
"Just like this," Alex found himself saying when Zeb didn't continue.
"Yeah," his mate agreed as they turned in the water to look at each other. Alex could actually feel his breath stolen by the look of love in the Lasat's eyes.
Then they were kissing, clinging tightly to each other in that surreal, almost liminal space.
Alex didn't really track their movement through the water. All he was really aware of was that he was lying half in and half out of the water on a smooth stone surface, pinned firmly beneath his husband's warm weight. In so little clothing as they already were, it didn't take much effort to get themselves completely naked, tangled up in each other.
More often than not, they were very vocal during sex, each wringing pleasures from the other the like of which neither had ever known before. But this was different. Tonight the only sound to be heard was the gentle pant of their shared breathing as they moved together in the glittering stillness. Alex reveled in the feel of his lover's hands on him, the softness of his fur clutched between his fingers, and the flow of molten desire that pulsed between them with every touch, every press of lips, every thrust.
And all the while, the starlike ceiling glimmered overhead, leaving them suspended between a field of stars both above and below, reflected in the water. Alex came to his climax surrounded by beauty and enveloped by his lover.
Through his haze of pleasure, the first thing to come to his awareness was Zeb's easy purr, the sound in his ears and the gentle rumble of it against his chest. Shifting his head just a little to nuzzle against his partner's face, he whispered in his ear, "I could never have known such beauty...before I knew you."
" Ril san maka sastyria kerra hashami'anshehr zei kerra li serra ashvyri, " Zeb breathed in kind, holding him close.
" Anshehr? " he repeated with curiosity, though he had understood most of the words.
"It's- ah...I think the word in Basic is...thine?" his mate returned uncertainly.
"There is more beauty in thine eyes than in a thousand stars," he said, blushing, even now. Even after everything. "You know, I- I think you may have missed your calling as a poet, ni ashkerra. "
"Eh, it's not really mine. It's- from an old story," Zeb admitted, his fur fluffing out a little in the Lasat equivalent of a blush. "Another story about two people who had no business lovin' each other...but they did anyway."
"Hopefully the galaxy is better for it," Alex said with a helpless smile. "As mine is."
"Yeah. Mine, too," his husband told him, leaning in for another tender kiss. Against the delicate skin of his neck, he whispered, "I'll tell you the story sometime. Don't suppose we wanna interrupt our, eh- roommates...any more than we have to."
Alex gave a quiet laugh at that one. "Garazeb, if our having sex didn't disturb our little friends, I can't imagine a little talk would."
"Heh, well why would it disturb 'em? Far as they're concerned, we're just another pair of mammals, and a mammal's got some pretty simple needs."
"A place to sleep, for one," Alex attempted to joke. "I'm not- completely certain I can swim out of here in the dark."
"How 'bout this, then?" Zeb asked just before gripping him tightly and rolling them so that Alex lay on top of him. "That comfy?"
Alex laughed quietly. "Quite comfy, ni alitha . But what about you?"
"Highest end hotel on Coruscant as far as I'm concerned. Definitely slept on worse. Never had a better blanket, though."
Alex sighed in contentment as he cuddled up even closer in Zeb's arms. Though he wasn't completely sold on the idea of spending the night in the cave, one thing, at least, was certain.
So long as he was with Zeb, he was home.