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releasing hope to carry me

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Mace could have taken his retirement and walked away. He could have. He could. He even almost did.

It’s looking like that would have been the smarter option for his blood pressure.

“You have my deepest apologies, my friend,” Plo says, and it’s rueful and abashed. His hands are gentle on Mace's arm and around his waist as he helps Mace limp out of the shuttle. “I had no idea they would resort to kidnapping.”

“It’s fine, Plo,” Mace says, though he can now check kidnapped for gladiatorial games while trying to rescue said games’ prize, also kidnapped off his bucket list. “You couldn’t have known.”

At this point, though, Mace probably should have known. Plo is a trouble magnet on a level Mace has never encountered previously in his long career, and it’s not just because he’s a diplomat. The whole outpost is filled with diplomats. Plo is the only one who routinely ends up neck-deep in unbelievable trouble that Mace then has to fish him out of.

“Still,” Plo says, and when Mace catches his breath at a particularly jarring step, Plo tightens his hold on him just a little, like he’s trying to take all of Mace's weight. “At least it ended well?”

Mace snorts. “You’re not locked up in a tower somewhere, so I’d say it did,” he says dryly.

Plo chuckles a little, then turns, helping ease Mace down onto a crate. Ponds probably already has a team from Sickbay on route, so Mace is more than willing to take this moment of peace before they get here.

“You did come to my rescue most handily,” Plo says, curling a hand over Mace's wrist. It’s hard to see around the rebreather, but after so many years as friends, Mace can tell he’s smiling. He chuckles, too, settling beside Mace with their sides pressed together, and Mace is entirely too aware of the weight of him. “We’ve come a long way, my friend.”

Given that they met when Mace was two days out of Starfleet Academy and Plo was still a junior aide to one of the newest ambassadors in the diplomatic corps, Mace thinks it’s safe to say they have. A lot of things have changed since then, but—

He looks down at their hands on the crate, so close to touching, and allows himself a rueful breath. Some things most definitely haven’t, even when Mace should have outgrown them years ago. Crushes are fine for new ensigns faced with mischievous, cunning, kind aides who tend to flirt as easily as breathing. They’re less appropriate in old, worn captains trying to avoid retirement by taking command positions in deep space outposts.

“Jango Fett is still just as much of a pain in the neck, at least,” Mace says after a moment, and Plo cocks his head, humming lightly.

“He’s a particular pain to you, old friend,” he observes. “Is there something going on there that I should be aware of?”

Mace refuses to answer that question, on the grounds that he was once young and stupid. Jango is a mercenary and a menace, and Mace would really prefer it if he left their outpost out of things. Their shared history does seem to make him even more of a pain, though.

“One thing certainly has changed,” Mace says instead, because that’s safer. “I would swear you never got into this much trouble before.”

Plo laughs, putting his hand on Mace's wrist again. The claw cover clicks against the buttons of Mace's uniform. “Maybe you weren’t paying attention, then,” he says, and Mace doesn’t have to see his face to know he’s beaming.

Mace rolls his eyes, just a little. “I always pay attention to you,” he says severely.

There's a pause, startled. When Mace glances up, Plo is watching him thoughtfully, and he hums lightly, turns his hand.

His fingers press against the bare skin of Mace's wrist, stroke gently across the pulse-point, and Mace's breath tangles in his throat.

“Do you?” Plo asks, and it sounds polite, but there are teeth in that question, in the way he leans in just a little. He’s tall for a Kel Dor, broad-shouldered beneath his ornate robes, and he takes up space, uses Mace's space to give himself room, and Mace…doesn’t object. Doesn’t object at all.

“Yes,” Mace says, and meets his eyes, lets Plo see that he means it. There's a frozen, almost breathless moment—

The hiss of the hangar bay doors opening breaks the hush, and Mace turns to look, only to have hands catch his face, pull him around. Plo leans in before Mace can so much as open his mouth, and he settles sensitive fingertips against Mace's lips, presses their cheeks together. Mace's breath catches, and he curls a hand around Plo's waist in return, leaning into the touch. Kisses Plo's fingers, light, and then pulls back as Brass approaches at a jog, tricorder already out.

“Later,” he says quietly.

Plo pulls back, touches his fingertips to Mace's lips one more time before he pulls them away. “Well,” he says lightly. “I suppose if I've waited this long already, another hour won't make any difference.”