"Bao-Dur," the man replied calmly, without turning his head. The remote was twirling slowly around in the air, and he watched it as he spoke. "It's been a long time. Here was about the last place I expected to see you."
"I..." Bao-Dur paused. I never expected to see you at all, he wanted to say. The events at Malachor V had killed thousands of Republic soldiers and, for three years, he had assumed Bruce Banner had been among them. His presence here, now, in front of him, had shocked him almost as deeply as the news about his colony. A hundred questions were firing off in his head: How did he make it out alive? Why didn't he contact me? Does he know what I did? There were so many. Banner looked exactly as Bao-Dur remembered – slightly overgrown hair, worn clothes that were always too large. He struggled to sort out his thoughts and come up with a response.
"It's good to see you," he said at last. It sounded weak, after all that they had shared. He hurried on. "I could use some more good news today."
Banner raised an eyebrow, at last turning to him. His face was half-hidden in the shadows, but Bao-Dur could feel the familiar weight of his gaze. There were lines etched in that olive skin that had not been there before the last battle.
"Malak," Bao-Dur explained quietly. "Laid waste to my home colony. Bombed it half out of the sky. I hadn't seen it in years."
Banner grimaced sympathetically. "I'm sorry to hear that." He visibly hesitated for a moment, then pushed off the wall and moved as if to lay a hand on Bao-Dur's shoulder. As he did so, he finally noticed what was different about his old friend. "Force almighty," he breathed, withdrawing his hand in shock. "Bao-Dur, your arm..."
The Zabrak shrugged, glancing briefly at where the rest of his left arm had once been. "Souvenir from Malachor," he said simply, hiding the hurt beneath his usual quick wit. "I could have been a lot worse off, all things considered."
"How did it...?"
"It's a long story."
"Of course. Forgive me. That was rude." Always his first instinct: to apologise and back away before he hurt anyone, even unintentionally. So carefully controlled. It wasn't often that he slipped up; he could hardly afford to do so.
Banner took a breath. "Something easier to answer, then," he said. "What are you doing here?"
Bao-Dur gestured towards the bar around the corner. "Drinking. Reminiscing. Getting beaten up." He touched the back of his head, where a lump was forming. "You know, the usual."
"Dinnah's Den is not renowned for its peaceful atmosphere," Banner murmured dryly.
"Booze is terrible, too," Bao-Dur said with a nod.
Bruce Banner ran a hand through his hair, then looked up at his old friend with his trademark hesitant expression. "I know a much nicer place not too far from here," he said quietly, leaving the suggestion open.
Bao-Dur nodded again. "Lead the way."
They walked for several minutes in silence; even the remote was quiet, drifting along in the air between them. The streets of Coruscant's underworld were shadowed and labyrinthine, twisting and turning incomprehensibly. Bao-Dur had no idea how he'd managed to find the bar in the first place, and was grateful for Banner's presence – if he'd attempted to make it back to the surface by himself, he would almost certainly have ended up lost. Banner had grown up here, he remembered being told once. He probably knew the underworld streets the way Bao-Dur knew the lush plains that were back home...
Had been back home, he corrected himself. Grief washed over him anew and he felt tears form in his eyes. He wiped them away quickly with the heel of his hand. There would be time to grieve properly later, when he was alone.
Instead he passed the time watching Banner in front of him. His movements were as they had always been, slightly hesitant but infinitely controlled. He was clearly comfortable in this environment – far more so that Bao-Dur, at least. There was no limp, no scar that he could see; he did not move with the weight of thousands of lost lives on his shoulders as Bao-Dur did. The Zabrak couldn't help the surge of envy.
No, he reminded himself. Banner had his own demons.
"We're here." As they entered, Bao-Dur looked around and nodded appreciatively. Where Dinnah's Den had been lit with blinding neon and smelled of smoke and vomit, this place was bathed in a gentle red glow and perfumed with some sort of flower. It was quiet, too; two men were at the bar, and a woman was seated alone at a table, but that was all. The room was small and cramped, but pleasantly so. The bartender, a young human female, smiled at them as they entered.
"Nice place," Bao-Dur murmured.
"I thought you'd like it. I came here all the time before the war." They sat opposite each other at a table. Banner, he saw, was obviously trying very hard not to stare at the abrupt end of his left arm.
"You can look, you know," he said, amused. "It doesn't have feelings."
"But you do."
The comment brought him up short. He was silent for a few moments, staring at Banner across the table.
"I thought you'd died," Bao-Dur whispered.
Banner's mouth twisted in a movement he knew well, all self-loathing and regret. "Better that I had," he said.