(He shouldn't have gone to the celebrations). But it had been a victory like few others: without any casualties in the battalion, and in the war that was enough. In addition, the natives were friendly and offered a banquet to all the GAR members. Even General Mace had decided to attend; and that was what finally convinced Ponds.
The party venue was a wide prairie adorned with lamps that cast soft bluish lights into the faces of the troopers and the locals. The shinies gathered around Mace, looking at him with something similar to adoration. If they had had zero casualties, it was because of the general's efforts to save them all, even when the odds were against him. He was truly the kindest of all the Jedi Ponds had ever met, whatever Keeli said about his own general.
"Commander," Razor interrupted his thoughts. He had a native on each side, and a full glass in his hand. His uniform jacket was open. "For you".
"What is this?"
One of the natives, a female he thought, said something swift and unintelligible in his tongue, and then mimicked drinking. They were… well, a little strange, with those big eyes (three) and the smiles they shared with each other, a kind of private joke that Razor seemed to be a part of.
"It's for you, and for the general," translated Razor, who had an unusual knack for languages. "As our leaders, who brought them peace, and blah blah."
Well, you couldn’t make the natives angry. Ponds took a sip. It was good, sweet, with something mildly acid just before it went down his throat. On the other side of the party, Ponds watched the general receive the same, from Stak (he should have known at the time) and as if sensing him, Mace looked up and raised his glass at him. With his throat suddenly dry, Ponds took a longer drink and sat in one of the boxes that had been arranged as chairs, looking around at the gathering.
He had never been good at socializing, unlike Cody or Bly. He preferred to stay apart and was surprised to feel Razor sit next to him. The trooper nudged him, then put an arm around his shoulders. Ponds sank into the contact, accepting it, warming himself in the closeness of his brother. Razor was one of the few who behaved towards him as if he were still one more trooper stationed on Kamino, and not the right-hand man of High Jedi General Mace Windu.
Unable to avoid it, his eyes wandered until they found Mace's figure again. It wasn't the most favorable light for his general's dark skin, but when the man smiled at one of the shinies, something seemed to break and light up around him. Mace didn't smile often, at least not openly, and the lines on his face had grown larger with the passing of the war.
Sometimes, when they were reviewing an especially difficult mission, or filling out forms, or hearing some bad news, Ponds would look at his general's frown and something in him wanted to reach out and touch his forehead, smooth out the wrinkles with his fingers and- oh.
In the skies, the stars were shattering. On the land, the troopers sang some terrible shanty, and Clone Commander Ponds knew that he was in love, and deeply, with his general. It was the natural course of things, right? It seemed impossible not to love his general. Ponds wondered absently what would happen if he crossed the meadow to where Mace was, and kissed the smile on his mouth, which had been tempting him since the start of the party. Kriff, he will. As he tried to get up, his vision went out of focus and a hand grabbed his waist.
"Easy there, commander," Razor said, and Ponds snapped out of his stupor. The glass in his hand was empty, and Razor held him as his feet lined up with the floor. "Maybe you should get rest, you've said some dangerous things."
"Nothing that isn't true," replied Ponds, annoyed. "The general is-"
"Yeah, look, Ponds, we thought we could laugh at you a little bit, brother, maybe get something to blackmail you. But now you're embarrassing us, better go to sleep before you do something that you regret later."
There was some truth to what Razor said, although Ponds didn't know exactly what, he didn't even remember telling him about his crush on the general. He shrugged, and put the glass back in the box, walking back to the temporary quarters. Anyway, he had signed up for the night watch.
The whole place was empty, except for the two soldiers on guard who got into a position of attention when they saw him. Ponds was feeling generous, and his head was spinning too much to want to be seen that way. He knew how fast gossip spread among the soldiers.
"You may join the fun," he said to the troopers. He saw them share glances of doubt and pretended not to see the bottle that one of them hid behind his helmet. "I'll stay."
"Thank you, sir!"
They left without giving the proper salute, but it didn't matter. Ponds's mind kept going back to the meadow, to… Mace. He observed the scanners in the command center. It was a formality. In the sky there were three Star-Destroyer ready to defend any attempt to reconquer that planet. But the GAR was made up of rules and it was his duty to see them complete.
"Sir." Ponds straightened immediately.
"Formality is not necessary, Commander," replied the general, entering in the command center with firm steps, back straight as ever.
"I thought you would continue in the celebration."
"You gave the troopers on duty the night off. I thought I could help and let the men have fun without the gaze of their officers."
"You're very generous, sir."
"I follow the example of my commander."
They fell into comfortable silence, checking screens and completing reports. Ponds found himself aware of the general's closeness to him, and how alone they were. Turning, he noticed his general's outer robe was twisted slightly, just a little, and Ponds's fingers itched to fit it into his place, perhaps brushing the skin with his fingertips. Would it be as soft as it looked? It didn't really matter if it wasn't.
“Commander, did you drink what Razor offered you?" The general's hand trembled slightly on the table, and his eyes seemed to pierce Ponds.
"You must know then, commander; your mind is screaming at me."
"What is it saying?" Ponds answered, leaning back on the command table, and his voice sounded rough —inviting— in his ears. He felt feverish, yearning with unspeakable desires. The general was so close, and the idea seemed awfully simple, just like at the party.
It was easy to put a hand between the junction of his general's neck and shoulder, where his robes parted, felt hot skin against his fingers and the steady beat of pulse. Ponds barely had to get up on his toes to reach Mace's mouth. He rested his other hand on the man's waist, dragging him closer.
Mace took him by the shoulders, pulling him apart. Ponds looked into the dark eyes of his general and felt him touch his forehead with firm fingers for a moment. The heat he had felt disappeared in the haze of shame.
Ponds had just tried to kiss not just a Jedi general, which was terrifying in itself. He had just tried to kiss the High Jedi General. Decommissioned, something yelled deep inside him. Defective. There were reasons why commanders were trained in serving the Jedi. Ponds hadn't had it.
General Windu crossed his arms and put a hand to his chin, and as if he couldn't help it, he touched his lips with his thumb. Ponds followed the movement for an instant, then realized what he was doing and turned his gaze, staring at the screen in front of him.
"I removed the... drink from your body. It was a kind of drug, a relaxing one."
He should have known. The words of Razor returned to his mind, his smile when he offered that thing, "we wanted to make fun of you." He was going to kill them, slowly (and then kill himself).
"I have no excuses, sir, I’m so sorry."
"Don’t be, please. I-" Mace stopped, and Ponds felt a flash of curiosity. His general never stopped. His general did not look away and returned to see Ponds, with the expression of a question written on his face, for which only Ponds could answer. "Had it been something you wish; I would have accepted."
"I think I wanted to kiss you for a long time, sir," Ponds confessed, not daring to say more, but full of hope. But it was not necessary, his general already knew.
"Please, call me Mace."
Fumbled, Ponds raised his fingers and met Mace's hand halfway."I think I'd like to kiss you now," he hesitated, then added, "Mace." A dark blush covered Mace as he approached to comply with Ponds's request.
Later, much, much later, when the gossip has already circled the entire GAR three times, Ponds learned from Razor (telling some shinies) that Ponds apparently held the general on the command table and kissed him thoroughly, tongue and hands included. How bold, he would never be so unprofessional. One-week kitchen service for everyone.