When a Man Loves
Diana DeRiggs, Kirney Slane, and Hohass Ekwesh
"Wes, we need to talk."
The pilot sighed, his back to his roommate. "Again, Hobbie?"
"It's not much to talk, is it?"
Wes Janson leaned over to give his friend a chaste peck on the cheek and a ruffling of his hair, "No use beating a dead tauntaun, Hobs. I won't change. I don't want to. But I do care. You know I don't do it to hurt you. Why can't you come up with some other way for me to show you I love you?"
Hobbie felt Wes's weight lift from their bed, and he heard the sound of the door opening, then shutting.
Wes held Nichton's head down as he pushed his hips forward. This young gunner was willing and tight, and Wes always enjoyed deflowering hot new blood. His enjoyment was tinged with guilt, knowing he was being unfaithful to Hobbie. Forget him, I'm enjoying myself, this is what it's all about, thought Wes, as he pumped harder, making young Nichton grunt and groan - and finally scream - beneath him.
Hobbie and Wes had hooked up after Yavin IV; they'd been together since then, through battles and retreats. Then, each had lost someone dear to them. Hobbie had lost Biggs Darklighter, his Academy classmate and best friend. They had never had a chance to become lovers; they'd talked about it often in whispers and exchanged glances, but at the Imperial Academy, getting caught in such an embrace would have earned them court martials and possibly execution. Finally, they kissed for the first time before Biggs boarded his X-Wing, to take on the Death Star. Biggs had died as Luke Skywalker's wingman.
Wes had found a father figure in Jek Porkins. The older man had taught him many things, including the ways of love and lust. When the Yellow Aces sent fighters to Yavin IV to form the Rebel Armada, Wes was too sick to go, and Jek volunteered in his place. Jek was among the first to die over the Death Star, and Wes couldn't forgive himself for letting Jek die for him.
The two men found comfort and friendship with one another, but it was not a smooth relationship. Wes would wake up at night in tears, calling for Jek. Hobbie would lie with him, never leaving Wes during those long, hard nights. But the next day, Wes would run from their bed, find a handsome young virgin fighter pilot and seduce him. There would be tears and recriminations when he came back, worn out and sated.
Hobbie wanted long talks, mugs of hot chocolate, watching sunrises, tender kisses and heartfelt passions. He was a one man ... man. He wanted only Wes ... but apparently, Hobbie wasn't enough for his hot-blooded lover.
The mess hall, like the rest of Echo Station, was carved out of ice and rock. Luke had discovered this outpost planet, far away from any shipping or smuggling activity. Avoiding detection was absolutely necessary, but finding Hoth was a limited blessing. Everyone was always cold, the air was always heavy, and everyone clotted together in the cramped quarters.
Losses compiled for the rebels ... losses too numerous to count. Everyone had lost family, friends, lovers, colleagues.
Hobbie missed Biggs, always wondering how their lives could have been, if only ...
"Hey," a soothing voice whispered to him, "you okay? You don't look so well, can I get you something?"
Hobbie quickly took a deep breath and said, "No, no. I'm fine. Just thinking." He looked up and took another breath. Standing across from him was a pair of deep, soulful, gray eyes. They looked kind and concerned. They looked straight at him.
The young man smiled gently, "It's a little rough being confined here, all of us together. But it beats dying of exposure all hollow, or so I think! Oh, how rude of me, I'm sorry to disturb you! May I?"
"Please!" Hobbie blurted out the invitation. What is wrong with me?
The gray eyes smiled at him, a quirky, thoughtful twist of his lips, and he quietly pulled back a chair and sat in it. He took a sip of his caf. Then he extended his hand, "My name's Boef'n Wek. I'm from Tierfon, but before you ask, I'm no pilot. Gunner and mechanic."
Hobbie found himself dreamily slipping his hand into Boef'n's calloused palm. Somehow, he managed to voice, "I'm Derek Klivian. Friends call me Hobbie. I fly with the Rogues."
He forgot to let go of Boef'n's hand, but the mechanic didn't seem to mind, "Yes, I know who you are. I've worked on your ship. You bang it up pretty well there, Hobbie."
Hobbie found himself flushing, and he let go of Boef'n big, strong hand. Was it his imagination, or had the other man given Hobbie's fingers a squeeze before breaking skin contact?
"Hobbie? Can I ask? Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, Boef'n. Just thinking about the dying and running we've been doing lately. It gets to me once in a while." Hobbie sighed, And sometimes, the one you love doesn't love you anymore.
Boef'n looked at Hobbie intently for a few minutes, then put down his mug, and got up from the table. He cocked his head toward the doors, "Come for a walk?"
Hobbie trembled a little as he rose up from the table. Together, shoulder to shoulder, they walked out of the mess hall.
The mechanic was a little taller than Hobbie, a little broader. His beautiful, calloused hands held Hobbie's attention as they walked through the now-darkened maintenance hangar. They talked about how well Boef'n had rated in sims for gunnery, and how he was looking forward to flying in one of the newly adapted snow speeders. Occasionally, they'd stop as Boef'n pointed out a new modification to the speeders, or an engineering problem. Hobbie would listen attentively, but find his mind drifting to Boef'n's hands, rubbing, caressing, holding ...
The younger man suddenly spoke, "Hey, let me know if it's none of my business, but I think it's terrible the way Janson treats you."
Hobbie looked away, filled with sadness. So, it was now obvious to everyone ... he thought to himself.
"You deserve better," offered Boef'n, looking away.
The two men continued to walk around the hangar in silence.
His mind swimming with emotion, Hobbie didn't see what was in front of him, and suddenly started to fall.
He felt Boef'n's strong arms wrap around his body as Hobbie wandered too close to the edge of a repair pit. For a brief second, his body was tipped toward the pit, then he was covered in warmth, suspended, yet cocooned. It was an amazing feeling.
Wes noticed the change immediately. Hobbie seemed less needy this morning, less nagging. Hobbie seemed genuinely unconcerned about where Wes had been last night and with whom. He was quiet this morning, and his thoughts seemed miles away.
Wes was intrigued with the change, "Feeling okay, Hobs?"
Hobbie's eyes were closed. "Mmm hmm," he replied, dreamily.
Wes was shocked. The only time Hobbie had been like this was in the months when they'd first fallen in love. He immediately became concerned, "Are you okay, Hobs?"
Hobbie's eyes snapped open, "Huh?" Wes had asked him something. What did he say? I wasn't paying attention. "Oh, nothing. Wedge asked me to report to maintenance to see if I could help get those speeders ready for local conditions." He amazed himself with the way his lie just came out of him.
He rolled out of bed, jumped into coveralls and ran out of the room.
Wes was immediately suspicious. Hobbie never just ran out of the room without kissing him first. What was up with his boyfriend all of a sudden?
Wes got to the sim room in time to hear Luke's instructions. The newly cobbled-together snow speeders were strictly within-atmosphere craft, and had been built so that Y-wing sims could be used for practice. If they needed to retreat, they would have to abandon the craft and get onto starships.
The pilot and gunner would be back to back, and with their limited resources, the usual torps and lasers would not be used from the gunner's seat. Instead, retractable harpoons, power- and hand-winched tow cables, and traditional grenades and detonators were mounted on the heavily modified vehicles. The pilots would have to get close enough to any target so that the gunner could manually drop whatever was needed to destroy it.
This isn't dogfighting, thought Wes, this is hand to hand combat!
The pilot/gunner assignments were drawn, and Luke assigned Wes with Wedge Antilles, the best pilot of Rogue Squadron. Luke was a hot hand on the stick, but Wes privately considered Wedge to be better.
He noticed that Hobbie was assigned to Boef'n Wek, the mechanic-turned-gunner. Studying his lover's face, Wes grew suspicious. He couldn't decide what Hobbie was feeling inside, but he thought he caught an excited glance passing between those two men.
Zev got Nichton Krii as his gunner, and Dack Ralter drew Luke as his pilot.
The pilot-gunner pairs ran to their sims, to figure out solutions to every possible attack the Empire could throw their way.
Boef'n and Hobbie stepped out into the hall at the same moment, making last-minute adjustments to their flight suits before they went off to prepare their ship. The gunner noticed that his pilot's collar was folded under his shoulder strap, and moved to fix it. His hand lingered for a moment as he imagined caressing the pilot's earlobe.
Hobbie had seemed so unhappy with Janson, probably because Wes was cheating on him, and Boef'n knew his pilot deserved better than that. But as much as Boef'n wanted to show Hobbie how tender a relationship could be, he just couldn't muster up the courage to tell the other man how he felt.
During their walk the other night, he'd actually managed to embrace Hobbie, but the two men sort of considered it an accident. Hobbie was falling, and Boef'n had caught him.
As he brought his mind back to reality he was stunned to see that his fingers were indeed running over Hobbie's earlobe. He was even more surprised that the other man had closed his eyes and was savoring the touch. Boef'n pulled his hand away, embarassed, and started to walk past Hobbie.
But the other man caught his arm and pulled him close, whispering into his ear, "Wait."
The gunner was startled, but far from unhappy, as he felt Hobbie's arms wrap around him, pulling him closer. Hobbie stroked Boef'n's cheek; the two men found their lips pressed together, passionately embracing. Hobbie broke away, looked up and down the corridor, opened the door to his quarters, and pulled his gunner inside. Once the door was shut and locked, the two quickly peeled off their bulky flightsuits.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Hobbie asked, his lips pressed against Boef'n's throat.
The gunner was breathing raggedly, "I didn't want to be the guy who came between you and Wes - I'm not like that."
"There's not much between us anymore," Hobbie licked the other man's chest, caressing down his body, "he's more interested in sex ... and I want a more meaningful relationship than that."
Boef'n shivered, feeling the things he'd only dreamed of since he'd met Hobbie. "I know ... I just never had the guts to tell you."
Boef'n looked down at Hobbie's head and ran his fingers through the blond hair. He found himself suddenly too shy to speak the words he had heard only in his mind until now. He closed his eyes as Hobbie's lips nuzzled him, "I didn't even mean to touch you back there in the corridor, but my mind wandered ..."
"I'm glad you did."
Hobbie smiled as Boef'n's body tensed, then relaxed with a sigh. The two men lay together comfortably.
At last, Hobbie glanced at his chrono. "We'd better get to the hangar. We can talk more after this practice mission." The men kissed each other for a long moment, and reluctantly untangled themselves. They gathered their gear and shoved their bodies back into their flightsuits. Embracing again, Boef'n rubbed his hand firmly over Hobbie's manhood, and gave it a squeeze and a promise.
A mere 30 klicks from Echo Station, a high alert alarm sounded. All comlinks received the override message, "Enemy armada confirmed in system. Return to base immediately!"
All pilots and gunners were grim. Luke ordered them to have their astromechs run their starfighter checklists without them, and to keep their X-Wings hot to run. The coordinates for the various rendez-vous points had already been fed to the R2 units for security. The ground crew would move the ships over the ridge behind Echo Station. Princess Leia informed them that two X-Wings were required to escort each of the retreating frigates and cruisers, supported by covering fire from the ion cannon on the ground.
"Two fighters against a Star Destroyer?" Hobbie had asked, incredulous.
They had all felt the same, but they knew there was no choice. The Alliance was desperate, they didn't even have enough pilots to man both defense and retreat ships. The men and women lining the trenches before Echo Station would likely not survive a direct ground assault. Their job was to buy enough time for the transports to evacuate the planet.
Boef'n said goodbye to his fellow mechanics and headed for the snowspeeder he would share with Hobbie. He'd promised he'd defend them as best he could, but privately, he knew that he was fighting for his pilot only. His heart swelled as he entered the gunner's seat. Wordlessly, the two men readied their ship.
They were losing the battle - the Imperial AT-AT attack was too well coordinated and too strong, and there were too few fighters. Boef'n, watching from the rear view, saw their squad-mates dropping one by one, hit by laser fire and bad luck. Hobbie ordered him to use his tow cable to disable the legs of the AT-ATs. Manning the harpoon, they took on the rear walker; it was probably the command ship, holding the senior officer in charge of the battle troops.
Then, in an instant, they were hit. Boef'n heard Hobbie screaming as their ship corkscrewed out of control. The harpoon let fly, emphasizing the arc of their fall. Boef'n heard Wedge's voice on the comlink, but couldn't answer as the snowspeeder spiraled downwards.
The harpoon hooked onto a small scout walker and dragged it backward, causing it to fall and explode. Boef'n cheered at the sight, knowing that he'd at least managed to take a few of the enemy down with him.
Hobbie had stopped yelling by the time the speeder hit the ground, crumpling and showering snow and rock. The impact jarred Boef'n, slamming him into the body of the ship, snapping his legs in several places and crushing his pelvis. The pain caused him to shriek; at the same time, he wondered what injuries Hobbie had sustained.
Panicked, Boef'n turned his head as far as he could, and reached for his pilot, afraid for the worst. To his joy, he felt a weak pulse in Hobbie's neck, meaning he was still alive. He called to the pilot, but got no response.
Ignoring the pain, pumped with adrenaline, Boef'n unstrapped his webbing, pushed with all his strength to get the canopy open, and dragged himself out and around the seat to check Hobbie. He could see scorch marks on Hobbie's flightsuit and face where the sparks from the burning controls had landed. His head lolled, and his body bent at an unnatural angle.
Boef'n's lower body was growing numb as his body went into shock. He forced himself to quickly assess Hobbie's injuries. Broken spine, broken neck, burns, punctures, internal injuries, shock, contusions, hematomas ... The outlook was grim. Boef'n knew that he couldn't revive or treat Hobbie without doing him more injury. The only hope was the stasis bag.
Every multi-man ship going into battle carried a rudimentary first-aid kit containing bacta patches and an inflatable stasis bag. The bag's built-in life support systems could keep a patient in suspended animation long enough to be transported to a proper medical facility for treatment. In extreme cases, the patient could be later transferred to a more stable stasis box.
Ignoring the dead weight that his broken legs and pelvis had become, Boef'n dragged himself around the ship. After a few moments of wrestling with frozen clamps he got the medical kit clear and pulled it over next to Hobbie. He inflated the stasis bag and maneuvered the unconscious pilot into it. Boef'n sealed it and activated the controls that would keep the pilot alive. He attached a battery beacon to the packet, so that rescue crews would know where to find it, then he buried the bag in the snow, as further insulation. Tears froze on his cheeks, as he prayed that he wasn't burying his lover forever.
Unfortunately, there was only one stasis bag, with the understanding that the injured man would need to have someone else put him into it. Thus, even if there was another, Boef'n couldn't use it. He applied the bacta patches under his clothing, knowing that they couldn't do much good. He hauled himself back into the gunner's seat of the ruined speeder, hoping that staying out of the elements would buy him enough survival time to be rescued.
In this hostile environment, even well-clothed and prepared humans would die of exposure in a very short time. Boef'n wasn't afraid of death, and he had very few regrets. In his young life, he'd done what he knew was right, and dying in battle was something he knew might happen when he signed up with the Alliance. He knew his life would be an insignificant blip on someone's tally of lives and materiél lost in battle. He wasn't bitter about that.
But he wished he and Hobbie had found each other sooner. If we survive this, Boef'n promised, I'll make for lost time ... I'll make sure you always know how much I care for you. I promise you won't regret leaving Wes.
As the minutes slipped by, Boef'n watched the walkers overrun the trenches, and he saw his friends beat a doomed retreat back toward Echo Base. He hoped that some of them made their transports, and could escape. He turned his head away as the explosion from the main power generator lit the bright sky. He could not watch the Imperial walkers shooting down his comrades, one by one.
Death was all around, and he knew it was coming for him. He wouldn't die a hero's death, shot from the sky, but he didn't mind. He felt heartened that he could at least save the man he had grown to love and respect. He hoped that Wes would understand how close he had come to losing Hobbie, and that he would treat Hobbie better in the future.
He wanted to stay alive, but he knew that there was no chance of rescue for him. A wave of sadness washed over him - he would never get to say goodbye to Hobbie.
Suddenly he felt very old, very tired. He allowed his head to fall onto the backrest. He wanted to sleep, to let insensibility overtake him and ease the pain in his numbed body and in his brain. Something in the back of his mind reminded him that if he fell asleep in the cold, he would never wake up.
Rolling his head, he looked out the viewport toward the mound of snow that hid the stasis bag containing Hobbie's broken body. Boef'n allowed himself to be comforted by the knowledge that his lover would live. Then, closing his eyes, he fell asleep.
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