Garik Loran let out a grunt and rolled off of his lover, panting happily. "By Palpatineís bulbous nose," he announced when he had regained his breath, "had I known it would get better the longer we were together, I wouldnít have wasted any time in trying to catch you."
Dia Passik smiled at him and shifted herself so that she was lying on his chest. "Palpatineís bulbous nose?" she asked rather incredulously. "Thatís a new one."
Face shrugged and ran a hand over his girlfriendís lekku, taking pleasure in watching her shiver helplessly. "Hobbie Klivian came up with it tonight when he saw Janson completely in the buff except for the bright orange cloak."
Dia kissed his chest fondly. "Well wherever it came from, I would like to point out that I made the move that tossed us into bed together the first time."
Not to be out done, Face gently guided a fingernail down the soft skin that covered the sensitive nerve endings in her brain tails. She moaned again and inadvertently moved into him.
Seeing her reaction, he promptly stopped.
She sat up straight in bed, dropping the sheet that had concealed her body from his gaze. She stuck out her bottom lip. "Stop being a shit."
She knew perfectly well that all of his self-restraint went into the trash compactor when she looked at him like that. Face felt himself stir again and he grinned at her in the semi-darkness. "Vixen."
The smile Dia gave him in response was that of a predator who has just made the decision to slaughter her prey. "You forget," she said, her voice intentionally husky, "I was trained in this."
Face shook his head. "What you donít realize, my love, is that in a pinch, I can turn your lovely slender lekku into devices of exquisite torment."
She let a hand roam down his bare chest, her touch gentle. When she reached the edge of the sheet, she stopped and looked at him, her eyes filled with amusement. "More?" she said, her tone mocking.
But Face was now, once again, fully aroused. He sat up, catching her small hand with his own. "You better believe it." And with that, he pressed his mouth to hers in a deep kiss that only confirmed that it would be a while before either one of them got any sleep that night.
Face found himself in a room. The walls were painted an almost offensive white and the floor was made of a polished wood taken from the deep forests on Kashayyk that he knew only the wealthy could afford. He glanced around him. The bed was gone, the table next to it was gone, as was his lover.
He had to be dreaming.
But he wasnít waking up. Usually, once one realized that the lands revealed during slumber were not real, one usually awoke with only a vague sense of what had gone. He closed his eyes and counted slowly to three, expecting fully to have waken up and returned to Diaís arms.
One. Two. Three.
Damn. He could think of better places to be while he was dreaming. A plain room with no exits and no people was rather dull.
He turned around and looked behind him.
"Donít be in such a hurry to leave," said an amiable voice he knew well.
Face whirled around only to be confronted with his old wingmate and bunkpartner. "Ton?"
Ton Phanan nodded his acquiescence. "You were always quick, old friend." Face knew he was being sarcastic. Ton said - had said - very little that wasnít sarcastic.
Face grinned at him. "Youíre looking well."
Ton smiled back and walked over beside Face. "No, I look about the same."
It was true. Ton still retained the faceplate and eerie red eye. Face grabbed him in a back slapping hug. "You have a little more color in your face than you had last time, actually," he said as Ton returned the embrace.
"Well," his partner returned, "thereís a difference between dead and dying. I must say that though Iíd rather be alive, death is rather a bit better than the entrance into it."
Face shrugged. He wasnít exactly sure how to respond. Ton leaned up against the wall and folded his arms, clearly trying to make the situation awkward.
"Why am I here?" he finally managed to get out.
Ton shrugged. "Because there was a lot we didnít get to settle. You were too busy trying to get me back alive for us to really have the traditional, tear-filled departing moment."
I was actually rather pleased with our parting. I thought youíd find it touching."
Ton laughed in exactly the same way he had in life. "It was. But you still blame yourself for a lot of things." He held up a hand. "Donít deny it. We dead people see a lot of things you breathing folks never quite got."
Face shut his mouth.
"I do see that you got rid of that bloody-awful scar, though."
Face grimaced. "I had to for the sake of my conscience, you old bastard. I still canít believe you wrote that in your will of all things."
Ton grinned evilly. "See what I mean about a score to settle?" He snapped his fingers and two rackets appeared in his hands. He held one out to Face. He stood up straight and twirled his goatee with a finger in a perfect imitation of an upper-class twit. "Letís do this like men, old chap."
Face laughed. "Badmitton?"
Ton snapped his fingers again and the lines of a court appeared on the floor, as did a net. "It is the sport of all civilized folk," he said dryly in an impeccable Kuati accent. "Border disputes have been settled this way for millennia."
Face shook his head, grinning. Even if it wasnít real, it was nice to have his friend back. "You never had a high opinion of the Kuati, did you Ton."
Ton smacked his racket into the wall rather violently. "People who reproduce with bundles of cloth and play this damned-awful sport to deter war? No thank you." He paused and looked up thoughtfully. "I suppose the working classes are all right, but you never see them, do you?"
Face looked at him. "Then why are we playing?"
Ton shrugged and ducked under the net to the other side. It was a low net and he almost got himself caught. "Because itís so bloody stupid. And not as strenuous as tennis." He held out his hand and a small synthetic "birdie" appeared in it.
Like all people of any standing in the upper-crest of Imperial society, Face had been taught to apply himself enthusiastically to badmitton and other sports of the wealthy and unemployed. It had never been his favorite hobby, however, and he never been particularly good at it. Ton, like Face, had come from a wealthy background. There was little doubt that he was - had been, Face reminded himself - at least versed in the rules.
Tonís voice interrupted his thoughts. Face noted that his human eye was narrowed like it used to be when Ton found himself in steep competition. "Ready?"
Face braced himself and nodded.
Ton tossed the birdie up in an arc and took a swing at it with his racket.
"Fault!" Face yelled. Ton smiled and served again.
This time, he made contact and the little white object came flying at Face. He reached and smacked it with his racket. It bounced over the net and Ton returned it.
They continued in this vein until Ton reached too far and the birdie bounced harmlessly on the floor beside him. He picked it up and tossed over the net to Face.
Face nodded, wondering how this stupid game was going to settle the unfinished business between them. Aloud, he said, "Zero serving zero" and hit the birdie over the net.
Ton slammed it over the net with an aggressive force that momentarily paralyzed Face. He missed the birdie. "Damn it, Ton! Have a little pent-up aggression there?"
Tonís cyborg eye brightened in intensity - something it did - had done, Face reminded himself - when he was slightly put out over something. "Me? Aggression? No, not against golden boy."
Faceís jaw dropped. "What did you say?"
"Nothing." The tone was flat.
Face shook it off. Ton had never said anything like that to him - a trick of the imagination. He hoped heíd wake up soon before he and Virtual Ton managed to get themselves into a fight. That would be the end of any good reunion.
Several minutes later, however, the score was up several points in Tonís favor and was getting nastier by the second. Face was starting to see how wars could be settled through a game of badmitton, and he was starting to gain a grudging respect for the energy expounded during a match. He was sweating like a pig trying to keep Tonís vicious spikes away from the out-of-bounds lines.
It seemed Ton wanted to pick a fight.
"I see youíre still satisfied with life," Ton said pointedly. "Three serving one." He slammed the birdie over the net and out of bounds.
"Fault," Face said angrily and through the offending object back towards the dead man. He was starting to think of Ton in rather uncharitable terms. "Yes, thank you for asking." He knew his tone was not gracious.
Ton snatched the birdie. "Ah." He paused, birdie in hand. "Diaís still keeping you loose, then?"
Face felt his eyes narrow. "Just because you never got any doesnít mean that you have to take it out on those of us who are happy in relationships."
Tonís smile was cold as he slammed the birdie at the net, turning it into a lethal projectile. It got stuck in the netting.
"Fault two," Face commented, finding himself rather pleased with Tonís error. "My serve." He walked forward and picked the birdie out of the net.
"Itís always your serve," Ton said coolly. "Even Lara Notsil wanted you first."
Face whirled, eyes blazing. "You have no basis except your own jealousy for that statement."
Ton glared with his one good eye. If looks could kill, he would have vaped Face twice over. "She always went out of her way to talk to you first, Captain." The last word was said with a mocking tone that made Falynn Sandskimmer sound deferential.
"You are so full of shit," Face said and slammed the birdie over the net. Phanan hit it back and Face had to run to get it back over. It sailed over the net again. But this is where Tonís prosthetic leg got the better of him, and the synthetic toy bounced to the ground just beyond his reach.
"Am I?" he returned in that same mocking tone. "I wanted her, you know. But thatís not the only one. Even back before you were with Dia and weíd go out clubbing, it was always you they wanted. I would like to point out that all the parts that matter are still mine." He smacked the birdie back towards Face with his racket. "Your serve, Captain."
Face snatched the flying object out of mid-air and suppressed the urge to hit his old friend with the racket. "Still jealous over the bothan?"
Ton stuck out his fingers, counting off offenses. "And the humans and the Twiíleks and everyone else you managed to shag because they couldnít be bothered to take a chance on me. Who knows, I might have come unscrewed in the heat of passion."
"You are unscrewed. Mentally, anyway."
Phanan laughed. The sound was cold and harsh to Faceís ears. "Better than me in every conceivable way, golden boy, arenít we?"
"You have nothing to blame but your own lack of ambition."
"And your over-enthusiasm for it - whoring yourself to the spotlight for minor successes."
Face absently noted that they had forgotten about badmitton. "Fuck you." He dropped the birdie and the racket and walked towards the net. Ton mimicked his gestures. "I donít know how we ever became close, you selfish prig."
Ton ducked under the netting and stood to his full height. "My own stupidity and naivite. Trust me, I know better now because a misplaced trust in you is what got me killed."
Face felt is face heat up. Ton had said exactly what Face had been telling himself for the last several months. It hurt and he didnít want it to. All of his guilt and anger came out in a well-placed shove at Phananís chest.
But Ton knew how to fight as well and death had not seemed to lessen his ability. He let out an almost animal snarl and pulled back a punch that sent Face flailing when it connected. Face ducked the second punch his old partner-in-crime sent his way and sent his own into Phananís groin. Ton let out a grunt and kicked Face in the leg, staggering him. Face sent out another punch that caught Phanan on the human half of his face in the jaw.
On and on they went at it until both of them struggled for breath. Apparently, Phanan-in-death had about as much endurance as Phanan-in-life. For his part, Face found that he was no better off in dream land than he was in real-land. He collapsed on the floor in exhaustion and touched his eye, which was now sore where Ton had let off a well-placed upper-right.
"Well," Phanan mused rubbing at his good leg where Face had kicked at the knee, "you always had a low kick that could kill."
Face glared at him. "Donít try to make conversation after picking a fight. You summoned me to your little world just to say all the fucking nasty things to me you always wanted to say in life."
Tonís expression was rather incredulous. "Thatís some new-age Force-loving crap and you know it."
Face snarled, but he was too tired to dive after Ton again. "Be that as it may, I want to go home. I liked my memory of you better. This side is something I hate."
Ton smiled indulgently. "Iím just a figment of your brain impulses, saying things that you always feared in the deepest recesses of your mind."
Face had pretty much forgotten that this was supposed to be a dream. But if it was, why did his jaw hurt. "Why now, then?" he retorted. "Youíve been worm food for months."
Ton smiled genuinely. Face figured that the description would appeal to his rather twisted sense of humor. "But not to you."
"Oh yes, to me too," Face said coldly. "Youíre dead."
"Obviously not to your mind."
"Now whoís spouting indulgent Force-loving crap?"
"The deepest recesses of your mind," Ton said as if it was the easiest concept in the world.
Face glared at him, slightly annoyed that his exhausted, home-sick mind was starting to see some reason to Dream-Tonís argument. "Youíre dead," he repeated.
"Your conscience doesnít agree." Phanan leaned over and picked up Faceís discarded and forgotten badmitton racket. "Games flesh out competition between people - even those who are the best of friends." He looked pointedly at Face. "Mini-war. Maybe the Kuatis had the right idea after all."
Face smiled despite himself. "You were never good at philosophizing."
Ton barked out a laugh that brought back memories of their best pranks. "You need to move on."
"You need to shut up before I give you another prosthetic part."
It had been the end to every conversation between the two of them and had always resulted in a few extra laughs. That time, it resulted in the breaking of the rest of the ice.
"To face is to conquer," Ton said, holding out a hand to pull Face up.
Face took it. "Iím warning youÖ." He brushed at the seat of his pants. "Thatís not a personal proverb, is it?"
Phanan shook his head. "Sullustan patient said it to me once. Took it with a grain of salt then."
Face felt a tug on his midsection. "What the fuck was that?" he asked.
"Time for you to go."
There was a pause. "Bye Face."
And the room with the offensive white walls was gone.
Face woke up to Diaís mouth tracing patterns along his chest. "Oh," she said wickedly, "did I wake you?"
"Vixen," he said, taking her into his arms and silencing her with a long kiss. He felt good this morning. He wasnít sure why, but it seemed as if a weight had been taken of his shoulders.
Dia broke away first and pulled away from him. "Whereíd that come from?" she asked, puzzled. "It wasnít there last night." She touched his cheek lightly.
"What is it?"
"A big bruise," she said and kissed it gently before returning her attention to other things.
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