Two years after she had graduated, almost to the day, Pan was companion of honour to Jennay as she and her wife were married in one of the special chambers of the administrative building set aside for such ceremonies. They had chosen a blue-themed ambiance and classic wedding music. It was a beautiful event and afterwards, the two families mingled at an open-air meal with live music and dancing.
Pan mingled a little but was not interested in dancing. So she sat chatting with Grim about his upcoming exams when a link text dropped into her inbox. For a moment she didn’t believe it. Then she did and her heart seemed to swell physically behind her ribs.
I’ve missed you so much. Sorry for not keeping in touch but work has been crazy. Can we get together soon? xxx
“You alright, Pan?” She glanced up to see Grim was staring at her with a worried expression. “You’ve gone very pale. Do you want me to get you some water?”
For Grim to show that degree of concern she must be looking ill.
“No,” she said quickly. “It’s just…”
Then it all came out.
Grim was a good listener and always less judgemental than either of their sisters. Or if he was he kept it to himself behind that expressionless face. When she finished, the sounds of the festivities all around seemed to come from another planet.
“You going to meet him then?”
That was the question. It wouldn’t be hard. She had subsidised flights from working for Rota and nearly two cycles of untaken vacation due. Her heart had no doubts at all what the answer should be, but her head was calling for caution. Tolin had let their relationship all but die. Did she really want to open herself up to that kind of hurt again?
“You think I should?”
Grim said nothing for a moment and was clearly weighing things up from the lofty heights of a fifteen-year-old’s wisdom.
“I think you’ll regret it if you don’t,” he told her.
She found herself nodding agreement.
They met on Thuringen. A place called Starcity which had a bad reputation for it’s lax approach to organised crime. Pan didn’t see anything that struck her as particularly criminal as she headed through the spaceport. But then she had come in on a Rota freighter and her route out of the port was through an area controlled by their tight security.
Once outside, after the substantive grandeur of Central, she was underwhelmed by the squat, mid-rise blocks that dominated the skyline here.
She summoned an auto-cab and took a short flight to the bar she had logged on her link. A place called Voltz, which the augmented details told her was a popular hangout for freetraders, mercenaries and bounty hunters. Not surprisingly, this was close to the freight end of the spaceport, not far from cheap-rent docking bays.
He was sitting in an alcove and she nearly missed him. If he hadn’t been on her augmented track she would have walked past. As it was even when he stood up she was thinking there had to be a mistake. He looked thin instead of muscular, his face was haggard, part of one ear was missing and there was heavy scar tissue over his cheek and jaw on that side.
A moment later his arms were around her holding her close and she could feel a slight tremor in his grip.
“I’ve missed you so very much, Pan. I was frightened you wouldn’t come. I don’t deserve you, I really don’t.”
She pushed him gently away, holding him at arm’s length and taking in the changes, wondering if she looked just as different to him.
“What’s happened? Are you ill?” She lifted one hand to touch his mangled ear then couldn’t quite bring herself to touch it. “What…?”
He captured her hand and used it to tug her towards the table. As he turned she caught his uninjured profile and a smile, so familiar it hurt. She took a seat beside him and he pushed a drink across the table.
“Your favourite. Well, it always was. I’m sorry if it’s not what you’d want now but the service here is old school. You have to walk to the bar. So I got it in ready for you.”
Pan glanced at the drink. A Colotu spritzer, a recreational she hadn’t touched since her student days. With a shock, she realised she had changed as well these last two years. It was a lot to take on board.
She shook her head slowly. “Just tell me what’s happened to you. Was there an accident? If you need money to get your face fixed properly, I can help.”
She could too. She had been saving the last two years.
“You’d do that?” Tolin laughed briefly. Recapturing her hand, he took it to his lips then placed the palm against the ruined flesh of his face. “No. I truly don’t deserve you. I was thinking you’d take one look and walk out on me. That’s why I didn’t keep in touch. I couldn’t bear even the thought…”
Whatever he had been through had taken the sparkle from his eyes. Without really knowing why, Pan leaned in and kissed him. For a few moments the world around them didn’t matter and when she sat back, Pan found her head and her heart had made peace.
“I wish you had come to me before,” she told him. “I’m not so shallow that you being injured is going to make me stop caring. Tell me what happened and we’ll sort things.”
There will be more Roguing Thieves next Sunday…