Carth found himself staring back at himself. The image was old, taken maybe six years ago. His arms were around his wife, their son was wedged between them and they were all grinning like idiots.
Arod was all the way on the inner rim, it would have taken time to reach him. But a few months delay wasn't the same thing as two years. The silence ate away at Carth's nerves and any connection he could feel for his older brother was a fond memory.
Here in the present, Arod was different. A stranger with his brother's face.
Carth had played out different scenarios in his mind. Arod had been run over by a speeder and was trapped in a hospital until he could regain the use of his legs. He was kidnapped by a tribe of mute Bothans. Or maybe, just maybe…
Maybe Arod was an asshole.
There was no speeder or hospital and Arod was safe and sound on Alderaan. Carth knew this because like an idiot, he couldn't stand the not knowing and hopped a flight there. He stood on the expensive stone walkway, banging on his brother's front door for a good fifteen minutes before a neighbor let him know about a gallery opening that Arod was visiting.
Carth had never understood Arod and his art. Bold blocks of color that a toddler could have made in his sleep. He always wanted to know what it was supposed to be, but Arod would insist that it was non-objective. Nonsensical was more like it.
The wine on the table at the door was cheap, but the cheese was good. Carth felt out of place with people in sophisticated dress as he hedged along the walls too thin for anything but paintings while he tried to ignore the musty smell of the carpet.
He didn't bother with the artist's statement. Maybe he should have. Arod Onasi. Husband, son, brother, painter. The paintings seemed to be entirely red. They appeared almost fun, with explosions of black paint or a stark white outline somewhere to contrast the vibrant color.
The man himself finally came into view around a corner, a plasteel cup of wine in his hand and his hair slicked back to the point of seeming greasy. Arod's eyes widened slightly as they connected with Carth's, but then his older brother was smiling like everything was fine.
"Carth. What are you doing here?"
The accent was fake. And Carth suspected that the smile was as well. He cleared his throat. "I need an excuse to see you now?"
"No, but an appointment would be nice." Arod's smile curled tight into a smirk. "How have you been?"
"Oh, you know." Wife dead. Son missing, presumed dead. It was all just fun and games, really. "What have you been up to?"
"Painting." Arod gestured to the exhibit with his free hand. "What do you think?"
Carth tried not to wince. "It's nice?"
"I knew you wouldn't understand."
"There's a lot of red," Carth said.
"Yes." Arod's eyes darted to his wine cup. "Look, I thought about calling. A lot."
"But you didn't."
"It was hard," Arod said. "It was easier to just think about it and then put it off."
Carth's hands clenched into fists. He didn't want to get upset, not like this, not in front of everyone, but the flash of anger was there. "Wait, let me get this straight. It was hard for you? Am I supposed to be sympathetic with that?"
Arod continued to walk and direct them down the corridors of the exhibit. "It's always been nagging at the back of my mind, Carth. I feel bad about everything."
"Well, you should." Carth crossed his arms over his chest.
"I have a daughter," Arod said. "I tuck her into bed every night. I keep trying to think about what would happen to me if... and I have absolutely no idea how to even begin talking to you."
"That doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to me period and you know it..." Carth blinked. "...You have a daughter?"
Arod nodded and took a sip of wine. "Maris. She's two."
"I meant to tell you," Arod said.
But then Telos had been bombed two years ago and everything had been flipped upside down. Was the act all for Carth's benefit or for Arod's pompous art society friends? Carth cleared his throat.
"Everyone comes to see this last painting here," Arod told him.
"Yeah?" It was probably just a painted square on a piece of canvas.
"Yes." Arod's dark eyes were on the wall in front of them. "It's called Telos."
"Telos?" Carth's insides twisted at the title and his stomach dropped away completely as he came face to face with the painting. "You--"
Carth found himself staring back at himself. The image was old, taken maybe six years ago. His arms were around his wife, their son was wedged between them and they were all grinning like idiots. Arod had taken the holo, transferred it to canvas and covered it in red paint. They'd been so happy then and now the only sign of that were the trace details in vein blue that fought against all that red. Carth wanted to throw up.
"You need to take that down," he managed to finally say.
Arod shook his head. "You don't understand."
"Take that phoqing thing down now," Carth repeated.
"I knew you wouldn't understand." His brother sounded sad.
"You are exploiting my wife and my child," Carth ground out. "You're banking on my life, Arod."
"I had a feeling you'd hate it." Arod's sips had turned into long pulls. His little plasteel cup was empty. "But you deal with things your way, Carth and I'll deal with them mine. You can't change that."
Arod was right. He couldn't. But what Carth could do was take the painting off the wall and put his fist through it. It felt sickly comical how being around family could revert them both to thirteen year olds.
Arod's gaze avoided the destroyed painting and stayed locked on his brother. "Feel better?" he asked.
"No, I don't," Carth said. "I need to, I think-- I'm just going to leave."
Arod shook his head and glanced at the chronometer on the wall. "I'm trapped here for another two hours, but let me buy you dinner afterwards."
"I'll pass," Carth muttered.
"Burgers and fries," Arod said. "No fancy, rich people food."
Carth raked a hand over his hair before he crossed his arms again. "I don't need your handouts."
His brother ignored him. "There's a place maybe a block from here called Girk's. I'll be there in two hours for a nerf burger smothered in cheese and bacon. I'd like you to be there, too."
"There's a lot of things I'd like that I don't get, too," Carth said. "This was a mistake."
Arod didn't say anything after that. He just took to staring at his painting with a hole punched into the middle. Carth just shook his head and hurried out of the claustrophobic corridors blanketed with loud paintings of nothing. He didn't like the looks he was getting from everyone at the exhibit. They could just sip at their plasteel cups of cheap wine and pretend like they could really see something worthwhile in painted blocks of color. Some people were actually trapped in the real world.