The first picture was of the wedding. The wedding of his brother-in-law.
Wedge sat with his palm wrapped around the palm of his new wife, brown-haired woman in a plain but elegant dress. He had a smile on his face, a peaceful smile, Soontir thought—the kind that reflected the contentment in the heart. He probably had the same smile when he married Syal. The sentiment had definitely been all there.
And next to him was Fayen, with his wife.
Last time he'd seen her, she'd been pregnant with their first child. Tall, confident, kind—perfect for Fayen. Almost too perfect, he'd thought. And Fayen knew the importance of the gift that had been given him on a platter and guarded it with all his might. Soontir could still remember the joy bursting from his brother's eyes, his face, just emanating from his entire body as he shared semi-private moments with her.
Fayen and Mithian. Two members of his family, unknown, unseen by the other members of his family. In the most private moments of his life, he'd dared to hope that someday, his children would meet his brother. That he would meet his brother's children.
All five of them, he thought with some amusement, as he stared at the picture. Obviously Fayen had been propelled by the same urgency for a big family as he had been, to have so many children.
There was the oldest, probably around ten, between Wedge's legs. His expression exuded mischief, from the cocky smile and laughing eyes to the confident posture, his head thrown up and his chin sticking out. The next oldest was with his father, shoulders up, proper soldier style, a perfect imitation of the way Soontir usually stood. (Of course, Fayen himself had never bothered to stand that way except during formal occasions when he was required to.) Artemis, who Soontir knew was past the age of four but didn't look older than three, was perched on Wedge's shoulders with the biggest smile on his face, and his little hands wrapped firmly around Wedge's neck. Wedge's other hand, the one that wasn't fondling his wife, was on his nephew's wrist. Fayen himself had a hand on Artemis' back, protection in case he fell backward. His other arm was around his wife's waist, and she in turn was holding the baby.
With eyes just like his father.
Rowan, who looked like Soontir's own young son did.
Rowan, whom Soontir was having difficulty looking at without suspicious moisture forming in his eyes.
Four children, with another on the way. About three months away, judging from the curve on Mithian's belly.
Four children, his nephews, whom he'd never even met.
He looked around. His own kids were sprawled around the king size bed in his room, and Syal at the other end. He'd debated for a long while as to whether it was wise, updating them on their extended family's doings, but Syal and he had finally decided that hiding would not help matters any. Hence this scenario, ever more frequent—them gathered in the bedroom with pictures and videos of Wedge or Fayen and their wives and children, as and when Soontir could manage to get his hands on some.
Fayen was easy. Mithian delighted in taking pictures and posting them online, with funny anecdotes or behind-the-scenes exclusives. Wedge though…Wedge kept to himself, mostly.
His own sons were looking at him, with the same look they'd been giving ever since this tradition had begun. “What's the point of this?” they seemed to be asking. “Are we ever even going to meet them? If not, does it even matter?”
Soontir never looked at their eyes. Couldn't. He had no answers. No reason, except that he couldn't not. It wouldn't be fair—not to Fayen, who didn't know he was alive, who deserved to know but had the misfortune of having an older brother who valued loyalty to a people over a family. Not fair to his children, whom he'd robbed of the chance to meet his brother. They'd have loved him. He'd have loved them.
He'd have been great for them, too, with his kindness and charm and everything that Soontir wasn't and couldn't ever be.
All of that was gone now. Forever, irrevocably gone. He had seen to that. Now, even if, perchance, they did meet, it would be way in the future, with the kids all grown up. The joy of watching nephews and nieces grow up around you—that joy was stolen by him.
He'd had no right. Over the years, he'd come to see that. He'd had no right to steal everybody of what should have been their right. Syal knew, Syal understood. Even he understood himself. He was a soldier, through and through. Emotions and attachments did not get in the way of his duty—save Syal. Syal was beyond duty. Syal was the duty. Everything else came next.
But Fayen—poor, poor Fayen got delegated to the third rank.
Atleast he didn't look unhappy. No, on the contrary, he looked quite at ease, sharing a happy glance with the other family sharing the picture frame—Han Solo and Leia Organa Solo. Their kids were scattered round the pic too, the twins standing to the extreme left, the boy between Iella and Wedge, and the girl in Leia's arms, with her fists wrapped around a section of Iella's hair.
Watching them, a hint of an unidentifiable emotion coursed through his brain—yes, it was jealousy. Soontir couldn't help thinking that, despite his best intentions, he'd failed to achieve what he'd wanted to in the first place.
“They look nice together,” Syal said, the first words she, or anybody, has spoken since Soontir had announced a group foray into the bedroom.
Soontir looked over at her. Her face was dry, but there was a definite redness in her cheeks that suggested she was trying not to give in to tears. He felt a pang of remorse. While he'd been thinking about his own brother, he'd forgotten about hers. It was Wedge's wedding day, Syal's brother's wedding day, not Fayen's.
“Yeah. I'd expected him to get married sometime back, though. He's got gray hairs now.” He allowed himself to chuckle. It had been nearly a decade since they'd last met. Time had taken its toll.
“I wasn't talking about Wedge,” Syal said.
Syal's consoling blue eyes met his. It made him feel even guiltier. He ought to be apologizing to her, not receiving forgiveness.
A small hand perched itself around his thigh. He looked down to find Wedge's earnest eyes staring up at him. “We'll see them someday, Father,” Jagged said.
Soontir smiled down at his son. “That we will,” he promised, to himself more than to his son.
Even if he didn't get to, his children would. His children would see their uncles, both of them. Their cousins, all of them. Soontir would make sure of that.
Yes. Fayen would get to see his nephews. Wedge would meet his sister again. And he—he would see Fayen's face again, if Fayen would be forgiving enough to forget the past years.