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lift me like an olive branch

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1. Bahryn

 

Kallus has carried any number of people.

Enemies, mostly: seditionists and embezzlers, cowards and traitors; suspects, bound or stunned; convicts delivered to him in the hope that they might yield some crucial information before vanishing into the labyrinthine bureaucracy of Imperial justice, unable or unwilling to return to their well-earned cells under their own power. A wounded officer, here and there, escorted from bridge to medical bay under orders: a more delicate process, all that avoidance of pain, but one to which he is after all not badly suited—he has a light touch, when required. Troopers, once: once, when he had known their names and faces, when the armour was just armour and to lose one seemed like losing a person. Before Onderon; before they all became the same automata, to be spent or saved like credits.

Once on Lasan he carried a child: a little child, crying in the street, as the mortars fell in the deep forest, and the towers came down around them. It had not been a thought or chosen thing; it had come naturally, as though it were his purpose. The child had not been afraid of him, when he knelt to her and opened his arms: had buried her strange furred face in his chestplate: he had simply carried her a safe distance from the artillery zone and then had set her down. Had asked her in his stilted book-learnt Lasat about her family, about the people who were meant to be looking after her, but he had not understood her answer—dialectal, half-sobbed—and so he had commed one of their local collaborators to come and collect her, to relocate her to one of the no-fire quarters. He has every reason to believe that she is safe but somehow that night he scrubs at his skin as though washing off blood, in that half-mad way that has not overtaken him since—

As a boy he might have carried his sisters; he supposes it possible, though he has no recollection of such a thing.

He has not, as far as he recalls, been carried.

No, a lie. At the academy, when they had drilled lifts and retrievals to regulation-handbook exactness. His partner had been a young Corellian—dark-skinned, handsome, quick with a smile when no one was looking—who had performed the lift just exactly as the diagrams showed: and then with Kallus across his shoulders had stumbled, taken a single step, and then toppled slowly, laughing, spilling both of them across the mats. Kallus, hip aching, nearly laughing with him, though not quite managing it—the snap of the instructor's reprimand. "Ma'am," Tavi had said, pretending seriousness. "What are you supposed to do when something's too heavy to carry?"

"You must assess the weight before attempting the lift," the instructor had said, her hands neat and unmoving behind her back, her eyes running over both of them like a scanner, finding weak points: Tavi's insolent false studiousness, Kallus's eyes lingering on the corner of Tavi's mouth.

"Well what if you're wrong," Tavi had said. His family's shipyard holdings bought him that: had Kallus asked such a question he'd have been dismissed for the day. "What if it's heavier than you think it's going to be?"

"Then put it down," the instructor had said, her sharp eyes still on Kallus.

He had been transferred to another section within the week.

"Time to go," Orrelios says, and crouches in the snow.

Kallus ought not to have asked for his rifle. He ought to have waited, engineered some other excuse to take it. Let the trust build between them properly before expending it on such a request; that would have ensured the desired outcome. He isn't thinking clearly: the pain, perhaps, or the cold. Either is a poor sign. He's getting old for field deployment.

If he kills the rebel here he has no chance of surviving. He wonders, in an idle way, if he ought to do it anyway: if the balance would come clean, in the ledgers of the bureau. One for one. A line struck right across.

He climbs inelegantly up, dragging the dead weight of his leg.

Orrelios lifts him like he weighs nothing: it ought not to be a surprise, perhaps. Kallus has analyzed his performance many times. Certainly, the man is strong. Certainly he is agile. It feels different to think it balanced on his back, a broad clawed hand settling on the back of Kallus's thigh, pushing him higher.

With his arms around Orrelios's neck there are at least three convenient ways to kill him. More, certainly, if one inclines to the frivolous, the show-offish, but Kallus does not.

"Go up the pillars," Kallus tells him, instead: it is the sort of thing he notices, the ways in and out. The regular ledges will offer good handholds. The jump from the top should be possible, for a lasat in good physical condition, even one bearing the additional weight of an adult human.

(It stirs something in him, this—helplessness. An uneasy feeling somewhere in his gut. Shame, perhaps, at being so reliant on another: he who has always been useful, always been capable, always managed. He who carries and is not carried. But something else, too, with a shame all its own: something like relief.)

They go up the pillars. Things devolve.  He falls.

Orrelios catches him.

Briefly, for one surreal moment—the sort that sticks in the head long after the battle, long after the names and faces of the dead have turned to smoke and ashes—he is in the arms of his enemy, carried like a bride, and it feels—tense. Absurd. Uncertain. Safe.

Something hot and shadowed twists in him. Unfolds.

Later in the cave they fall asleep together, close enough to share warmth, the meteor glowing between them. It occurs to Kallus that he ought to stay awake, ought to take the rifle back.

He wakes up warm instead.

 

2. Yavin IV (Temple Hangar)

 

"Just jump," Zeb says.

"That is my intention," says Kallus. "Once you're out of the way."

The base generator has been flickering all day, though they've had a team on it since last night, and ten minutes ago, the power finally went. Fortunately someone—Kallus strongly suspects Hera, though Rex is also a possibility—had thought to leave the blast doors open, so they aren't trapped in absolute darkness; lanterns have already been distributed, and they're working on switching to auxiliary emergency power even now.

Unfortunately, this does nothing to alleviate the fact that Kallus is stuck on top of a stolen patrolship with no dorsal hatch.

He'd used a powerlift to get up—to install a new module he's been working on, which should be able to record and relay imperial open-channel comms chatter without tipping anyone off to the tap—but then someone had taken the lift away to work on one of the freighters, and now it's powered down across the hangar in the dark like everything else, and he is at least temporarily stranded.

"I could try to find you a ladder," says Wedge, strolling past, far too much amusement in his voice to suggest he has any intention of doing so.

"Ha," says Kallus, sourly.

"Just jump," says Zeb again, slightly louder.

"Stand clear, then," says Kallus.

It's only four, maybe five metres, but he'll need to hit the landing perfectly or his leg will go, and he finds he's less than eager to look so obviously broken in front of Zeb: perhaps it's his professional dignity, or perhaps something more elusive, something coalescing out of the way they look at each other, sometimes—something Kallus still isn't quite sure of. Certainly not something he deserves.

A diving roll is probably his best bet, though his back, stiff from an hour's work on the module, protests at the thought.

"I'm not letting you jump five metres onto duracrete," says Zeb, from somewhere below in the dark. His eyes are faintly reflective. "You'll hurt yourself."

Kallus huffs. He certainly will, but that's beside the point. "You just said—"

"Jump and I'll catch you, you idiot," Zeb says.

"Oh," says Kallus.

Some part of him wants to protest: wants to insist that he'll be fine, or that he can just stay up here until they switch the power over, or that maybe someone really should go get a ladder. Some other part feels—far too eager.

"Are you sure," he says, after a moment. He pushes up the sleeves of his jacket and then isn't sure why: resists the urge to push them back down again.

"Obviously," says Zeb, disgruntled—something else, too. Pleased, maybe. "I've said it three times."  A pause, and then: "I've carried you before," he says, a little quieter. "Trust me."

"I might be heavier now," says Kallus. "You wouldn't know." It seems unlikely: rebel life has softened him a little—too much deskwork, too much waiting—but probably not enough to make a noticeable difference. He is aware that he is beginning to sound irrational.

"You might be," says Zeb, flat. "Jump, Kal."

"Right," says Kallus. Considers his angles: he has perfect faith that Zeb will catch him, and yet: best to think about where they might end up, if he brings them both down.

"On three," says Zeb, below him, which isn't nearly enough time to plan the operation. "One. Two."

As he says "three" Kallus steps off the edge of the craft, aiming vaguely towards him. Zeb catches him by the waist and enfolds him into an awkward sideways hold: allows his momentum to carry them both in a little circle and then, without pausing, sets Kallus on his own two feet. His leg doesn't even hurt.

"Painless," Zeb says, as though reading his thoughts. "After all that."

He is glad, suddenly, of the dark, though perhaps Zeb can see his flush anyway.

"By sheer luck alone," says Kallus. He can feel the absence in the places where Zeb's hands had held him, though they were only there for a moment.

"Tch," says Zeb. "I'd have caught you, any which way."

Yes, Kallus thinks, I know. There is a warmth to it that makes him think of meteors.

"Let's go eat," he says instead.

 

3. ISD Indefatigable, Forty-Fifth Task Force, in orbit over Devaron

 

It happens the way these things do: the detonator blows too soon, the shuttle pilot recognizes Kallus from a brief assignment to Konstantine's fleet, the whole destroyer is on lockdown by the time their extraction team shows up. Kallus, having been strapped to a slab in an interrogation room for an hour, has already been chucked back into his cell. All ISB agents are trained to withstand the same methods that they employ, within reason; the patriotic vitriol of the agent conducting the interview—that is the technical term—makes him imprecise, or perhaps he's simply not very good at his job.

If he were good at his job, he'd have pulled the pins out of Kallus's reassembled femur one by one. Not that it would have mattered: Kallus has always excelled at enduring pain. A broken hand and a few systemic electrocutions are hardly going to have him begging.

The anti-inhibitor drugs, a cocktail of tranquilizers and relaxants, are harder to ignore, but he is at least able to disguise his response until he's back in his cell, shivering on the floor and laughing quietly to himself at the irony of it all.

The hull breach alarm has been going for nine minutes when the door jolts open and Zeb is standing there, silhouetted against the light, like some sort of hero, and Kallus can't not laugh at that, either.

"Kal," Zeb says, after a pause. "Fulcrum, are you all right?" He sounds—urgently concerned, which makes Kallus feel pleasantly warm and well-liked. He says so.

"Kal," says Zeb again, and now he sounds worried, which is not the thing at all.

"I'm fine," Kallus says. "They broke my hand." He holds it up to prove it, and Zeb draws in a sharp hissing breath as though it were something to be shocked over, something much worse than a few broken bones and some frankly overdramatic bruising. "No, no," Kallus says. "It's alright. Just—uncivilized." The thought makes him amused again, and he chuckles to himself.

"Painkillers," Zeb says, crouching beside him, and Kallus realizes after a second it's a question:

"No. C-9 anti-" he forgets the syllables, briefly, though he can picture the word in his head; sounds it out like a child, letter by letter—"anti-inhibitors. Triple dose, because"—good job, agent, very fine work—"it wasn't working."

"Is that safe," says Zeb. His hand has settled on Kallus's shoulder, his thumb making little circles there, which is very nice. Kallus brings his own hand—the unbroken one—up to cover it: traces the bone up to Zeb's wrist and then the sinew up his arm, pausing at each fierce stripe. "Kal," Zeb says, sounding pained. "Focus."

"No," Kal says. "Not safe. Not—advisable. Man was an idiot." Zeb hasn't stopped him so he pets back down the other way, smoothing the fur into place. Zeb makes a low sound in his throat which Kal would very much like to hear again.

"Are you going to be okay," Zeb says, nearly growling, the black pupils of his yellow-green eyes blown in the low light of the cell. Kallus would like to kiss him.

"Oh, probably," Kallus says. "I'd like to kiss you."

"Karabast," says Zeb.

Out in the hallway, there is blaster fire.

"Okay," Zeb says, "We're getting out of here, and you're sobering up, and then we're having a conversation."

"Okay," Kallus says, very agreeably, he thinks. "Also, I can't stand up."

Zeb swears again, under his breath this time. He hauls his bo-rifle off his back, which is interesting, and then puts it on the floor beside Kallus. Kallus should probably not touch it—lasats are funny about people touching their weapons—but he finds he is anyway, stroking his curved hand down its barrel and tracing its strapping.

Zeb makes a choked sound. "Stop that," he says.

"Sorry," says Kallus, and he is. He does stop, though it takes a tremendous amount of effort.

"It's all right," says Zeb. "It's—normally—" but then his ears flick back and he cuts himself off. "I'm going to carry you," he says, firmly, as if nothing else has happened.

"All right," says Kallus. "I like it when you carry me."

Zeb flicks him a glance. "Yeah. I sort of thought you did." He seems to be trying to decide how best to proceed, eyeing Kallus's broken hand.

"Nobody carries me," says Kallus, as Zeb scoops him up, tight against a broad chest. He holds on with his good hand until Zeb stacks the bo-rifle on top of him, and then he holds that. He hopes he won't need to fire it one-handed: he has limited confidence in his aim, at the moment. "You're the only one."

"Good," says Zeb, sounding a little amused. "Are you going to remember this later?"

"Probably," says Kallus. "Am I going to be embarrassed?"

"Probably," Zeb repeats.

"He got an off switch," says a voice from the hallway, and oh—that's Rex.

"Not at the moment," says Zeb. His hand is wrapped around Kallus's thigh—almost the whole way around, it feels like. He likes that, too.

"I like your hands," says Kallus. And then, because he's nothing if not polite: "Hello, Captain. I'm on a lot of drugs."

"Yes you are," says Rex, sounding affectionate. "Let's blow this thing."

 

4. Ghost (Main Hangar, Echo Base)

 

His back slams into a bulkhead and he hisses, faintly, against Zeb's neck.

"Careful," he says, though he doesn't exactly mean it. His thighs are locked around Zeb's hips and in the back of his mind he is aware that his leg will bother him soon, but for the moment he is entirely lost in the pleasure of his back against the cold wall of the cargo hold and Zeb's sharp teeth on his lip.

"You can take it," Zeb says. His rough hand slips up under Kallus's jacket, under his shirt, to skim his side—the bruises he leaves will be unmistakeable, visible for days; experience has taught them this.

"I can," says Kallus. "I can take anything you want to give me, Garazeb."

But that makes Zeb pause, for some reason. He shifts his grip, a little—softer, now. His other hand comes up to support Kallus's hip, taking the strain off his thigh—a kindness. Some alarm starts sounding in the back of Kallus's head: he tries for another kiss. It is received, gently, but not returned.

Zeb is watching him carefully, pinpoint black pupils tracking across Kallus's face. Kallus wonders what he's seeing: freckles, scars, lines.

"What do you want," Zeb says, after a moment, and there they are, back on track:

"This," says Kallus. "This is good."

"It is," Zeb agrees. He moves as if he's going to put Kallus down—Kallus is on the point of unlocking his knees—but then he changes his mind: hitches Kallus higher; moves the hand on his side up to support his lower back. It's—comfortable. Easy. "What else do you want, Kal?"

Nothing, he should say. That is the safest answer. Somehow it sticks in his throat.

"Because I've got a lot I could give you," Zeb says, sounding serious, now. His eyes searching. "If you want it." It ought to be a leer—a come-on—but it isn't. Kallus's eyes drift to his own hand, settled on Zeb's shoulder.

"I told you," he says. "I'll take whatever you want to give." Hopes Zeb understands. Trusts that he will.

The pause between them feels like a precipice. His senses come to alert as they do in moments of danger: that old instinct, learned more than trained. He can hear the subtle hiss of the ventilation systems and the gentle hum of the auxiliary power: can see, out of the corner of his eye, their own shadows, doubled by the double lights above. Between his thighs the firm solid warmth of Zeb's hips; against his shoulders the metal of the hull, cool but warming. He becomes aware of the doors and corners, the vantage points, the shadows large enough to hide in. He will always be like this, he knows: the man he was before is lost to him, lying still among the bodies somewhere far from here. It seems an awfully heavy thing to make Zeb carry: but then Zeb, he thinks, is sort of like this too.

Zeb chuffs, quietly—kisses him, softly, in the human way first and then the lasat, rubbing Kallus's cheek with his own.

"And what are you going to give me," Zeb says, low, against his ear, gently amused. Happy.

It is an opening, certainly, for Kallus to push against him, to dig a booted heel into his arse and force him closer, to bring a hand up to his face and scratch short nails through his beard: which he does. But also:

"Whatever you want to take," he says, and Zeb growls, gently, against his throat. His tongue rasps against the tendon, there—lower. Kallus tips his head back a little.

It is a terrible idea, by most standards. To respect one's enemy is wise. To earn his respect is honourable.

To fuck him twice a week in a cargo hold is the sort of thing that gets you summary dismissal, disguised as six months' psychiatric leave, extended.

This, though—this is the kind of thing that makes good people shake their heads and ask serious questions about what any of us really deserve. This is the sort of thing that made  the base shrink back on Yavin IV put her pad stylus down on the table and maintain eye contact. This is the sort of thing that isn't supposed to survive.

"Love you," says Kallus, abruptly, voice cracking. Hadn't meant to. Somewhere in the back of his mind he is aware that he has omitted the I. Fitting, perhaps.

Zeb stills, and then moves again, his hand on Kallus's hip careful, light. "Yeah," he says, sounding—soft. A little surprised. "I love you too."

It will work out or it won't. Either way.

 

5. Endor (Rearguard Medical Aid Station One)

 

He is vaguely aware that someone is shouting a name, in among the many things being shouted, and then at the same moment he realizes that it is his name and that Zeb is the one shouting it.

"Do not turn your head," says the medic, turning it back none too gently. He is halfway done with the closures along Kallus's cheekbone, muttering lucky not to have lost the eye—something Kallus was already very much aware of. Under the arc lights it refuses to focus; the hastily assembled field hospital is buzzing with sound, equipment and chatter and insects, and he is beginning to feel his headache through the painkillers.

They have taken this clearing and they seem to be holding it for know—certainly it has been hours since the last AT-ST limped away into the forest, pursued by two stolen speeders. If there is another assault coming, it is being carefully timed; possibly the base commander has decided the position is an acceptable loss, though if he were aware of its current use he probably would not think so. If they are lucky—and Kallus must hope against hope that they are—Solo's strike team has been successful, the whole moon marked a write-off, the Death Star rendered inoperable, and the Imperial fleet is regrouping elsewhere.

It would have been unthinkable, once. Now it seems merely unlikely. He smiles to himself, a little: his Rebels.

"Kal," Zeb says, at a normal volume, slightly out of breath. In Kallus's peripheral vision he looks well, whole, unwounded—relief floods in, though Kallus is certain someone would have contacted him if anything had gone wrong: there is a note in Zeb's file, after all. A note in his own, too. "Alex," Zeb says, now that he's close enough. "You look like shit."

"Thank you," Kallus says, drily.

"Do not talk," says the medic, but he is already settling the last closure into place—holding up a bacta patch, turning it this way and that to see how best to cut it.

There is a small commotion across the clearing, and then Kallus is up off the makeshift table, his hand on his sidearm before the thought has even worked its way up to the surface of his brain: two stormtroopers have appeared between the stacked crates at the far side of the hospital, an officer at their side. Beside him he can hear Zeb unshouldering his rifle, growling below sound—

"You are not going to start shooting," says the medic, faintly frantic. Kallus is distantly reminded of some of Ezra Bridger's less-effective jedi mind tricks: the thought stings, slightly.

Already a few of the Rebel troops on guard have closed on the Imperials: no shots fired, though voices are distinctly raised. Heads are turning around them. Kallus assesses: catches Zeb's eye. Begins to advance, his hand still on his blaster.

As they get closer, it becomes clear that the stormtrooper in the middle is barely keeping his feet; the officer and the other trooper are bearing most of his weight. The officer is talking quickly, desperately: she has lost her cap somewhere and her brown hair is falling in an inelegant tangle from its bun. The sealing strip of her tunic has come undone at the neck. There is a smear of blood on her cheek.

"—to speak to an officer," she is saying, urgently, as they draw near. "Keys, codes, whatever you want. We need medical aid. He needs it now." The trooper leaning on her slumps further, his head tipping towards the ground. The Rebels at the gate glance towards each other, uncertain: one steps forward, as if to catch the wounded man as he falls. Stops.

"Lieutenant," Kallus says, and the woman's head jerks towards him.

"Are you an officer?" She asks, scanning him for some sort of insignia. "I need to speak to an officer."

"He's the best you're gonna get," says Zeb, somewhere behind him. Kallus resists the urge to elbow him.

"I am," says Kallus, smoothly. To the guards, he says "Get this man some help," and they both step forward ready to receive him: his companion seems unwilling to let him go, but he does, after a moment, and the Rebels carry him off towards the nearest aid station. The trooper left behind carries no rifle; once he has let go his arms hang loose at his sides, as if he doesn't know what to do with them.

It is possible, of course, that it is a trap. The stormtrooper corps itself does not  overtly encourage suicide missions, but they are certainly in the ISB playbook; the woman might be an operative, a sleeper, even simply an overzealous commissioned officer without too many scruples. The wounded trooper might have swallowed a mini-detonator half an hour ago.

Looking at her face, Kallus thinks it unlikely. She has clearly been crying; there is something wild in her look that seems more like fear than mania. As he watches she bites her lip, briefly, her eyes following the soldier being half-carried away.

She draws herself up, tugging her tunic straight: notices it is unsealed and attempts to reseal it, though it simply falls open again. "Sir," she says, and then doesn't seem to know what to say. The corps doesn't encourage surrender, either.

"Captain," says Zeb, from somewhere behind him.

"Captain," she says, her eyes flicking down and then up, as if embarrassed. To be surrendering to a mere captain? To be surrendering at all? Or perhaps afraid. They will shoot her, Kallus thinks, if they ever get her back: she must know this. And yet here she is, carrying her wounded in her own hands.

"Kallus," says Kallus. "Come with me." He glances at the other trooper: "You, too. And take that helmet off." 

The trooper tenses—looks to the officer. She nods, firmly. After a moment, he takes the order, unsealing the helmet and dropping it unceremoniously on the ground: he is older than Kallus had thought he would be, perhaps 40; he has been crying, too. The lieutenant, ten, twenty years his junior, looks at him, distraught.

Kallus leads both of them towards the nearest aid station, where the man they had carried is laid out on the table, two Rebel surgeons trying to figure out how to remove the armour: Kallus waves the other two Imperials over as he starts in himself, unlatching the chestplate at the shoulder and unhooking it at the ribs. The man's breathing is shallow, laboured. As Kallus watches the other stormtrooper gently removes his helmet: the lieutenant hovers, uncertain, and then sets about unclipping his greaves.

"I would like to know your terms," the woman says, quietly, without pausing. "I understand you don't accept surrender—" her eyes settle on Kallus's hands as he unlatches the wounded trooper's extra powercells and places them a careful, textbook distance from his belt, though there are no detonators there to avoid. "You were with us," she says, quietly, startled.

"ISB," says Kallus, and she flinches as though he is here to arrest her. "It's all right," he says, gesturing the surgeons over: they start in immediately, cutting through the man's undersuit, revealing an ugly gut wound. A fall, perhaps, or something falling. The second trooper stands awkwardly by the man's head, getting in the way; the surgeons work around him. After a moment he places a gloved hand, stiffly, on the wounded man's shoulder.

Kallus wishes, suddenly, that Rex were here, not somewhere miles around the moon on a strike team.

"My terms," he says to the officer, because he knows how to do this at least, "are as follows: the personnel you are responsible for are to present themselves unarmed for inspection and detention. You are to give me a complete inventory of munitions and supplies, including vehicles, and the codes and keys to access and control them, as well as failsafes and overrides for self-destruct modes."

The lieutenant nods, looking dazed. "That's it?" She says. Kallus looks at her: anger flares, for a minute, when he understands, but he nods back.

"They told us it was better not to be taken alive," she says, half under her breath.

"They lied," Kallus says, firmly, holding her gaze.

After, when the wounded stormtrooper has been stabilized and loaded onto a shuttle bound for a medical frigate with proper bacta tanks, his awkward companion trailing behind—when the lieutenant has presented her complement of 50-odd stormtroopers, a shattered E-Web engineer without a gun, two AT-ST pilots without an AT-ST, and a lone junior ensign, who is 16 years old if he's a day, supported by a single speeder bike (made on Lothal: someone has stencilled "DO NOT EXCEED 180" on the engine casing) and a few crates of mostly jammed rifles and overdate rations—after Kallus has ordered every stormtrooper in the detachment to remove his helmet so that the Rebels can see their miserable, utterly human faces, their bloody noses and busted lips—he finally stumbles back to the crate where the medic had patched up his throbbing eye, swollen nearly shut now without the bacta. The man himself is long gone, but he's left the cut bacta patch on the tray, so Kallus applies it himself.

"Let me," Zeb says, from behind him, and when he turns Zeb presses down on his shoulder until he sits. Gently, he removes the patch—adjusts its position—presses it back down. Kallus sighs, softly, at the comfort just of sitting.

"You did good," Zeb says, quietly, as he smoothes a finger around the edge of the patch. "Saved some lives, probably. Theirs and ours." His hand lingers against Kallus's cheek: strokes down his beard to his throat. Kallus thinks he will go farther but he settles his hand on Kallus's collarbone instead. "You thinking about your squad," Zeb says, not quite a question, and Kallus startles: he hadn't been. Stars help him, but he hadn't been.

"No," he says, honestly. "I'm thinking about sleeping."

Zeb chuffs a little at that. "I heard they're having a party, over in the local village. I'm guessing you don't want to go?"

"A party," Kallus says, slightly confused. "Did they actually destroy it, then? The Death Star?"

"You didn't see it? Where were you?"

"Unconscious, probably," Kallus says, indicating his headwound. "No one mentioned it."

Zeb laughs at him, a little, and then leans in to kiss him on the uninjured temple. Kallus's eyes slip shut.

"You want to go to bed?" Zeb says, into his ear, rubbing at the aching muscle of Kallus's thigh. "Just to bed, I mean. To sleep."

"Mmm," Kallus says, without opening his eyes. "Carry me?"

He's joking, mostly, but before he knows it Zeb has lifted him, just as easily as he always does, and Kallus tips his aching head against Zeb's shoulder without protest. He falls asleep somewhere on the way back to the shuttle and wakes on a frigate, tucked against Zeb's side, in borrowed quarters that still feel like home.

 

+1. Lira San

 

"Oh, no," Kallus says. "I've done my reading. I'm joining your household—I carry you across the threshold."

It is perhaps a little late to be having this conversation, on the morning of, but Kallus has tremendous faith in the element of surprise.

"Exceptions can be made," Zeb says. "It's just a tradition, Kal, I know lots of people who don't even like it."

Kallus pauses. "Do you not like it?" That would slightly put a damper on his plans, though of course it wouldn't put him out too much: it's nothing formal, after all. Lasats, he has learned, don't really do weddings: they mark the movement of an individual from one family to another, and then they celebrate that day annually, with increasingly elaborate rituals as time goes on. The courtship, it seems, should also have been elaborate, but there was a war on at the time, and when he'd asked Zeb if he wanted to do it all anyway—the gifts, the formal dinners, that thing where they were supposed to stand up in front of everyone they knew and receive challenges to their legitimacy as a bonded pair (once, apparently, for airing real concerns; now mostly an excuse for flattery)—Zeb had rolled his eyes expansively and said "No, because I'm not my great-grandfather." He is making essentially the same face now, sitting across from Kal at the low table of the house Kallus has technically not yet joined.

"I don't mind it," Zeb says, sipping his caf. "But I just figured I'd carry you. You love it when I carry you."

"I do," Kallus confirms. "I thought this once we might to do things properly."

Zeb looks awkward for a moment. "Are you sure," he says, and then scrubs at the back of his head one handed. "That is," he says, "I might be a little heavy for you, Kal."

"I'm taking that as an insult," Kallus says. "You know exactly what I can deadlift." He's been steadily increasing the weight on the bar for months, and Zeb spots him enough to have noticed the increase, even if he hadn't put it all together; Kallus might have stopped at Zeb's 115 kilos, but it never hurts to have a buffer, and he's steady on 130 now--not quite his all-time high, but close enough.

"Is that what that was about," Zeb says, almost amused. "I thought you were having a midlife crisis."

Kallus makes a distinctly lasat click at him. It's not the sort of thing one finds in a phrasebook: a little stronger than karabast. Zeb laughs at him in reply.

"Well," Zeb says, "If you drop me, it's on you." He shifts so that their knees are pressed together under the table. "We'll have bad luck for a year."

"I won't drop you," Kallus says.

"I know," says Zeb.