Fandom: Star Wars: X-Wing Series
Characters: Hobbie Klivian, Wes Janson, Karoly D'ulin
Disclaimer: Not mine. Non-profit organization.
Summary: Hobbie and Wes are on vacation. The bad guys aren't.
Author Note: Set one year after the Hand of Thrawn duology. Originally completed and posted in May, 2008.
Hobbie woke to an empty apartment. Morning sunlight attempted to stream through the thick fabric covering the windows but only managed a small trickle. He stuck his head into the bedroom with a tentative, “Karoly?” The empty bed and dark refresher confirmed she was out, but since her things were still visible in the dim light from the window, he decided she was most likely coming back. He’d just have to entertain himself until then.
He washed his face, rinsed out his mouth, and tried to convince his hair not to stick straight up from the back of his head. He gave up after two minutes of struggle and went in search of breakfast.
Karoly’s cabinets contained the functional meals of someone without the time or inclination to worry about food. Meal bars, vitamin crisps, dehydrated protein noodles, instant dinners. Things he’d survived on for decades. He pulled a meal bar from its box, opened the refrigeration unit, and smiled. He’d found her indulgence.
Tropical fruit filled the shelves, at least a dozen of each of Soler’s famous varieties, along with three different bottles of juice. He pulled a small, purple quat from a mesh bag and took a bite, letting the juice fill his mouth.
He finished his breakfast and was about to put his shoes on simply to give his hands something to do for thirty seconds when the door opened and a woman with short, mussed hair entered the apartment. Hobbie froze, prepared to duck behind the kitchen counter, and hoped Karoly had stocked her drawers with cutlery.
The woman set her load of shopping bags against the wall, pushed her bangs off her forehead, and said, “Hey. Did you find something to eat?”
Hobbie gaped at her.
“What?” Karoly asked. Her eyes flicked up. “Oh. The hair. I forgot—you didn’t see it this morning.”
It wasn’t just the hair, which was now only a handful of centimeters long and a grayish, muddy color lost somewhere between brown and blonde. She’d somehow faded all of her facial features—eyebrows, lips, even her eyes—so that she looked dull and monochromatic.
“You—um.” Hobbie closed his mouth and started over. “I’m surprised I didn’t hear you leave. I’m a light sleeper.”
She smiled. “I can be very sneaky when I want. Here.” She tossed him a bottle. “It’s your turn.”
He looked at the label. “Galactic Void? Is that supposed to be a color?”
“I got you some clothes, too. Toothbrush, razors. Basics. If the clothes don’t fit, we can exchange them later.”
“You want to dye my hair?” Hobbie asked.
“They know what we look like, Klivian. So we make that knowledge useless.”
“Galactic Void isn’t a hair color.” He could hear the whine in his voice, but he didn’t care.
“It will be when I’m done with you.” Karoly dumped one of the sacks out on the small table against the wall and separated out trousers, socks, shirts, and even a pair of shoes.
Hobbie crossed his arms, hiding the bottle of hair dye behind him. “That’s not very reassuring, considering how yours came out.”
“Mine? Mine came out perfectly.” She pulled a few comfortingly masculine toiletries—including a bottle of sunburn relief lotion—from a second bag and set them next to his new clothes. “Modeled it off yours. Ash blond—like ashes.”
“What? My hair isn’t that color.” He eyed her head.
“Sorry, Klivian. It is. For another half hour, anyway.” She looked at him, her eyes running from his head to his bare toes and back again. “Are you fond of that shirt?”
Hobbie, his head in the sink, watched black water run from his hair and down the drain. He focused on the swirling pattern it made, the residue it left on the sink’s surface, hoping it would distract him from the feeling of Karoly’s fingers scraping over his scalp. It worked a little. It would have worked more if he’d been allowed to keep his shirt on and she weren’t standing so kriffing close to him.
The water faded to gray and finally clear, and Karoly shut off the faucet. Hobbie stayed bent, his head dripping, and waited for her instructions. He’d lost six arguments already and had decided to hold off having any more until they’d moved on to something new.
Karoly tossed a towel across his shoulders. “Done.”
He pulled the towel over his head, rubbing at his hair as he straightened. His back muscles briefly protested, then relaxed into a new position, and he took a deep breath. Draping the towel around his neck, he looked at himself in the mirror.
His hair was a deep, shiny black, glistening in erratic spikes left from the towel. It shouldn’t have made that much of a difference, but it washed out his skin, made sharp cheekbones sharper, deep-set eyes deeper. He stared at himself, at Karoly standing beside him, and vaguely wondered who the people in the mirror were.
“That’ll do,” Karoly said quietly. He met her reflection’s gaze. “And I think we’ll spike it like that.”
He turned his head and looked pointedly at her messy blonde locks. “Can I have my hair back?”
She smiled. “It’ll wash out in a month or so.”
Avoiding his reflection, Hobbie reached for the towel rack and the sleeveless undershirt hanging from it. He pulled the shirt over his head, yanked the bottom of it toward his waistband, and turned to find Karoly staring at his left arm, a wrinkle of confusion in the center of her forehead.
He glanced down at the line circling his arm just above the bicep, more distinct now due to his sunburn. The medtechs swore the synthetic skin responded to sunlight just like the real thing, but in his experience it had always been a little behind.
“Prosthetic,” he said. “Right leg, too, from the knee down.”
Karoly’s eyebrows lifted. “Crash a lot, do you?”
“Not that much, but enough.” He raised his left hand, watched his fingers move, his wrist bend. It’d been a long time since he’d thought about it. “Leg went in a crash. Lost the arm defecting from the Empire. But the new one’s a bit stronger, doesn’t get tired.” He lowered his arm and shrugged. “Took me a few weeks to get used to it, level out my flying, but since then I’ve hardly thought about it. I’ve had the mechanical arm now as long as I had the real one.”
Karoly stretched out a hand, then paused and looked at him. He nodded, and her fingertips touched his skin, trailing over the prosthetic joint.
“No difference,” he said.
She pulled her hand away and shook her head. “It’s amazing. One of the best I’ve seen.”
“The Rebellion needed pilots. Hard to fly worth a damn with anything less than the real thing, so I wound up with better. It’s been upgraded a few times since.” He cleared his throat. “When the opportunity presented itself.”
“When you crashed again, you mean?”
He smiled and left the refresher, which felt smaller by the minute. Karoly followed him. “Plan?” he asked, back in the sitting room.
Karoly moved to the small table covered in clothing and selected a dark pair of trousers, a gray t-shirt, and a pair of athletic shoes.
“How are you at stakeouts?” she asked, handing him the bundle.
“Humble answer? Serviceable. I kind of hate them, though.” He looked at the clothing in his arms. The trousers were workman’s pants, the sort covered in pockets from hip to knee. The t-shirt was one of the infinite variety of souvenir items available in the main tourist centers and read, “Soler: Fun, Sun, Lum.”
“We’ll start with the Soleran law enforcement. I doubt they’re involved, but we should make sure. Then we’ll watch the New Republic Embassy until something interesting happens.” She laid the small collection of toiletries she’d bought on top of his new clothes. “Shampoo and soap are in the shower.”
Hobbie took two steps toward the refresher and paused. “What if nothing interesting happens?”
Karoly smiled without showing her teeth. “Then we’ll make something happen.”
This time, when Wedge answered his comm, he was fully alert and dressed. He still almost fell off his chair.
“Hobbie?” He blinked. “Why do you have Wes’s hair?”
Hobbie, sitting in front of Karoly’s portable comm, looked up toward the hair he couldn’t see but knew was there. “Um, it’s a disguise.”
The look of horrified fascination didn’t leave Wedge’s face. “Why?”
“Because Remembrance got Wes and would’ve gotten me if Karoly hadn’t been there, and now I’m kind of in hiding until we can figure out where their base is and rescue Wes, preferably taking Remembrance out completely in the process.”
Wedge’s mouth hung open for a couple seconds while he processed this, then his face flooded with the same mix of emotions that had shattered one of Karoly’s glasses the night before. Hobbie watched and waited for Wedge to move past it and on to the point where he could take action.
It didn’t take long. It never did, with Wedge.
“I’ll have a squadron of…something to you by tomorrow afternoon,” Wedge said, his eyes glazing slightly as he ran calculations and logistics in his head.
Hobbie shook his head. “No. You send a troop of military personnel down here, they’re going to notice, and they’re going to guess why. They’ll hole up and we’ll never see them – or Wes – again.”
“Then they come in covert.”
“That takes time. You need to plan out covers, spread out their arrivals, sort out rendezvous points.”
Wedge exhaled sharply through his nose. “You have a better idea?”
Hobbie straightened. “Karoly and I handle it ourselves.”
Wedge’s eyebrows rose. “All by yourselves?”
“You and this woman you hardly know, who could be working for anyone?”
“She’s saved my life twice now. She’s on our side.”
Wedge looked away, studying something outside the holofield, or maybe seeing nothing at all. “I don’t know, Hobbie,” he murmured. “There’s a lot at stake here, and they seem to be winning.”
Hobbie closed his eyes. He knew exactly how much was at stake. Every time he stopped moving, stopped talking, the memory of Wes falling off that building invaded his brain.
When he opened his eyes, Wedge was looking at him again. “They won’t be winning for long.”
Whatever Wedge read in his face, it must have been convincing. “Okay. But if I don’t hear from you every day, I’m going to assume you’re dead, and subtlety will be the last thing I worry about.”
Hobbie smiled. “I’m touched. But I can’t comm you that often. Someone might notice. If you don’t hear from me in a week, then you can loose the wrath of Wedge.”
Something tightened in Wedge’s face. “Do we have a week?”
“I think so. The treaty’s anniversary isn’t for another eleven days. They need Wes alive until then.” Hobbie frowned at the wall to his right. “If I’m right, that is.”
Wedge sucked in a breath. “They’re going to claim he did it, that he was one of them. Martyr him to their cause to draw in more supporters.” Something banged on Wedge’s end, and Hobbie guessed he’d slammed a fist into his desk. “If they kill him more than a few hours before the explosion or whatever they have planned, medical examiners will know. So he needs to be alive until they’re ready.”
Hobbie turned back to the comm. “That’s what I’m hoping.”
The two men looked at each other.
“Bring him back, Hobbie.”
Wedge’s image disappeared, and Hobbie shut down the comm unit. He slid it back beneath the bed and walked out into the sitting room.
Karoly stood in the kitchen, a glass of juice in her hand. She didn’t seem to be drinking it. “Did you get what you needed?”
Hobbie nodded. “He’ll hold off for a week. I’ll have to contact him again at that point, or he’ll have the entire New Republic fleet show up in Soler space for ‘training exercises.’”
“Can he do that?”
Karoly’s face darkened. “A week should be enough. I’m ready to end this.”
Hobbie looked at the red liquid in her hand. “If a week isn’t enough, eleven days has to be.”
“Then let’s get started.” Karoly poured her juice down the drain.
Wes drifted back to consciousness and immediately wished he hadn’t.
Everything hurt. Slowly, as his mind cleared, he realized some things hurt more than others. Having nothing better to do, he focused and narrowed down the worst of his injuries to his right leg—he’d broken his leg before, and remembered it feeling about like this—and his right shoulder. Something was very wrong with his shoulder. He took an experimental breath, and his head spun. He added a few cracked, if not broken, ribs to his list.
He’d never fallen off a building before. He decided never to do it again. Too many things got damaged.
Eyes closed, breathing shallow, he took stock. Toes and fingers wiggled, head turned—his spine seemed okay, which made a part of his mind relax. He lay on a metal surface, a floor or table, cold and unyielding where it pressed against joints and bones.
He opened his eyes and carefully lifted his head, trying not to jar his shoulder. His neck protested, stiff and sore, but more from a lack of pillow than any actual injury. He still wore his clothes, but one leg of his trousers had been cut off, his shoes were missing, and his shirt was undone and cut away from his injured shoulder. An IV snaked from its angular stand into his forearm, feeding him a clear liquid. His broken leg, looking impressively swollen and discolored, had been wrapped and set, and white bandages bound a good portion of his torso. Wes laid his head back down.
The room was small and bare—duracrete walls and no windows except the one in the single, flimsy-looking door. A water-stained ceiling loomed above him, a lone panel spitting light into the room. He saw two metal chairs against a wall, a hover stretcher folded and propped in the corner, and a wheeled cart with medical supplies laid out on its surface. He lay on a functional desk made of dull, gray metal.
Lay tied to it, actually.
The door opened and three men walked in. Wes turned his head to look at them. Two were armed. He recognized the one in the middle.
“I saw some bad holoporn like this once,” he croaked.
Chard Markin smiled. “Good. You’re cognizant. We were worried about head injuries. You slept a long time.”
“Well, I am on vacation.”
“You’re lucky to be alive. Rayson wasn’t as lucky, but he did break your fall.” Markin dragged one of the chairs next to the desk and sat. “We did what we could for your leg and ribs, but I’m afraid your shoulder is shattered. It’s going to require serious medical attention.”
Wes didn’t think he’d like the answer, but he asked anyway. “And how do I get that?”
Markin leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees. “You don’t, Major Janson. Not unless you do as we ask.”
“Leaving me tied to a desk with a shattered shoulder isn’t putting me in a cooperative mood.”
“Record a message for us, Major, stating you support our cause, and we’ll take you to a hospital.”
“But I don’t.” Wes swallowed. “I’m not interested in joining your Remembrance club.”
Markin smiled, his charm almost tangible. “I’m surprised that you, a man who dedicated his life to fighting the Empire, would be content to just sit back and let them get away with their crimes.”
Wes raised his eyebrows, pleased to find a part of him that didn’t hurt. “The war’s over, and we didn’t lose. I’m very content. So content that I’m not going to help you.” He tried not to cough, but his throat itched from lack of use, and he couldn’t stop his body’s attempt to solve the problem. His ribs protested loudly, and the movement caused a series of sharp explosions in his shoulder, making his head ring. Through the haze in his vision, he saw Markin signal to one of his companions, who moved toward the medical cart. Wes took a few shallow breaths and watched the other man hand Markin a syringe.
“Perhaps not yet,” Markin said, injecting the syringe’s contents into Wes’s IV catheter, “but you are going to help us.”
“Bet you fifty credits I won’t.” Wes turned his face toward the ceiling as the pain killer coursed through his limbs. Broken bones faded into the background, then slipped away altogether. Things started to get fuzzy.
“We have your wallet, Major Janson,” Markin’s voice said from farther away than it had been a minute before. “You don’t have fifty credits.”
Wes’s eyes closed. He meant to say something scathing and witty in reply, but he didn’t manage it before sleep took him.