On Nirauan, although we had slept in the same bed, there had been no physical intimacy between Thrawn and me. I had been so wrapped up in my grief and guilt that I had not even wanted to be touched. After that first reunion in his private study, I had backed away from him, shunning any contact. I had felt tainted somehow, as if the residual violence of all I had done still clung to me and I was afraid I would go mad all over again. He had left me alone letting me know he was there should I need him, never pressing me to speak about what had taken place on Ando Prime even though I knew he wanted very much to learn all the details. I didn’t have the words to describe what had happened and I needed time to sort everything out. He had understood this and had given me space. I suppose he and Navaari had figured out that I wasn’t going to go off the deep end or try something insanely suicidal but I needed time to mourn without interference from another.
It was a hard thing to come to terms with, the death of my father, he had always been there for me no matter what even when I didn’t that that was the case. A presence that was as solid as he was strong and now, in what seemed like the blink of an eye he was gone and I hadn’t even been able to say good bye or tell him that I loved him as well. It had a devastating effect on my soul and I had not wanted to be near or touched by anyone, but now, after the funeral, after the final goodbye I found that I wanted only Thrawn along with all he had to offer and nothing else. It was almost as if I understood that sometimes in order to get past the bad one had to also find the good, and he was definitely good for me.
He did not fight when I grasped him by his coat and pulled him into the house, down the stairs to the bedroom that was mine. For far too long I had been surrounded by death now suddenly I needed confirmation of life. I hoped he understood this, I suspected he did. My fingers trembled as I tried to undress him as fast as I possibly could without actually tearing off his clothes. So far all I had managed was the removal of his long coat. His boots he had kicked off himself. The buttons of the shirt he wore were frustrating me, small and fiddly they fought with my trembling fingers making me swear like a true spacer and seriously consider ripping the shirt apart with my bare hands.
His bemused smile was that of someone who knew me just far too well. He took my fingers in his and stopped me. “Slow down, Sj’iu tekari, I am not going to vanish.”
I bit my bottom lip and looked up at him without moving my head. “I don’t know,” I replied, “That seems to happen to people around me.”
He sighed, caressing my face with his fingertips. “Well, I am here now and we have a moment’s grace. I do not plan on leaving you or this plane of existence for a very long time.”
“What you plan and what tends to happen is not always the same thing.” I retorted.
His eyebrow arched and then he smirked. “On that I would disagree with you, my dear. My plans are carefully laid out and it is rare for them to fail.” His finger traced from my chin, down the side of my neck across my collarbones. “You, on the other hand, never plan; you act on impulse without considering all the possible outcomes. Hence the never knowing how things will turn out.”
I took a deep breath and, slowly this time, began to unbutton the shirt he was wearing, finding it easier now that I wasn’t rushing. When the last button came free, he shrugged the worn fabric off his shoulders and tossed it on the chair near the bed. “There are some things you just can’t plan for.” I told him.
“Yes and I am looking at one of them right now.” He countered easily undoing the dress I wore, smiling appreciatively as it fluttered to the floor to pool at my feet like water. I stepped out of it pushing him a little towards the bed. He resisted and he was stronger. When I made a face he threaded his fingers through my hair, drawing my head close to his mouth, “Patience, tekari, patience.” He murmured in my ear. His breath, warm upon my skin, made me gasp with a need so sharp it was almost painful. I whimpered then, and raked my nails not so gently down his back.
“Play nice.” He said easily, catching my wrists with his hands. “Or I will make you wait even longer.” The thread of threat made me shiver, it would not be the first time he’d said or done such a thing.
I swallowed and glared at him. “I can hurt you.”
The corner of his mouth twitched, “I know and sometimes, my dear, I even find that pleasurable, but for now let me have my way, there has been enough pain for the moment.” His smile turned decidedly feral. “You may bite later, if you still feel the need.”
I stared at him for a second but backed off because he was right. His answer to my retreat was to kiss me again, lips and tongue exploring my mouth as though I were something to be savoured ever so slowly. He tasted sweet, like honey in warm sunlight. My heart skipped a beat as his fingertips continued to traverse my body. How many times had he charted out the curves of my breasts, my belly, my hips and everywhere else? I had long since lost count but every time it was as if he had found something new, something delightful and precious.
I reached up to touch his face. His skin seemed impossibly blue under the white of my own fingers. He smiled and followed the motion of my hand with his head as I stroked along his jaw to his lips. When my fingers rested there he kissed them lightly. My heart pounded against my chest, the rapid movement was visible and it felt as though it was beating loud enough for the entire galaxy to hear. His smile softened as he took note of this.
“Like an avian beating its wings against a cage.” He said as he rested his hand above my heart. He leaned forward and said, “It is good to know I can still stir you up like this.”
His eyes had gone that eerie deep glowing red I had come to associate with desire; the hint of blush which graced his cheeks and other tell tale signs let me know I wasn’t the only one being stirred. For another moment the galaxy paused, waiting to see what would happen next and then Thrawn moved his hand. My back arched involuntarily as he ever so lightly brushed my breast with his fingers. The barest of touches seemed to ignite a storm and I growled at him. I wanted more but he wasn’t giving it, at least not right this minute. His way with me was elegant and slow, showing me what his carefully thought out methods could lead to, though all it did was stir me up until I felt as though I would burst into flames from the inside out. I guessed this was also part of his plan.
“So, you were calling me unpredictable?” I asked, switching the conversation back to the earlier topic of planning for things as I undid his trousers, sliding them over his hips and buttocks with the flat of my hands so that I could feel his bare skin. I watched him step out of the crumpled fabric and nudge them aside with his foot.
“Would that be so far fetched?” He asked as he deftly removed the last of my clothes.
“Navaari would disagree with you, I think.” I said as I admired his naked body, lithe and strong, stroking that dark line of hair from his navel to his groin with my fingertip and smirking at the positive reaction my touch created.
Thrawn shrugged ever so slightly, “Kirja’navaar’inkjerii has had many long days with you on Hjal to get to know how your chaotic mind works. I, on the other hand, am still exploring all the possibilities. You are a fathomless mystery, my dear, and I would prefer to take my time unravelling all of your secrets.” There was something else beneath the sensual words and casual foreplay, something I couldn’t seem to put my finger on. I glanced up to find an answer in his face and he smiled at me, one of those rare and brilliant smiles no one else ever got to see. He continued his work of mapping out my body but he had not missed the questioning look in my eyes.
I shivered under his touch. “Why are you here, really?” I asked as he closed the gap between us, the warmth of our naked bodies rivalling the desert heat. He was intoxicating and I was now starting feel drunk with the desire I felt.
He stopped for a moment and regarded me carefully, “Because you need me to be here and because I need to know that after all that has happened you are really alright.” He answered.
The plain truth of his words took my breath away far more than even his erotic touch. I glanced away suddenly afraid, suddenly sad without actually knowing why. He drew my face upwards with the crook of his finger and when I looked up into his eyes there were tears in mine. He brushed them away with his thumbs. Time paused for just a moment as we just stared at each other and then, because it was the way of things, the moment passed giving way to the next.
When, finally, he decided he had toyed with me enough I did not protest. He lifted me onto the bed and lay over me, covering my body with his. I loved how his skin felt against mine, warm and velvety, but now I wanted more than his gentle touch. My own patience, such as it was, had long ago left me in favour of giving way to my desires and since I, as he had often enough said, was a creature of passion, I decided that there had been enough foreplay. He did not resist when I hooked one leg around his hip, pulling him to me, into me and when we joined, the way all lovers join, I let the real world and all its sorrows slide sideways with a gasp.
He moved with that sense of surety which only came when one knew the terrain one was mapping out well. His hands completed the ritual of exploration and his mouth, teased and tasted all that lay underneath him, sealing the claim as his. I did not mind the powerful sense of possessiveness that rolled off him in waves as he slowly, deliberately thrust his weight into my being; in fact I rather liked it. Belonging to him in this sense gave me a place in the galaxy I needed. I dug my nails deep into his skin; my own way of telling him that, while I might be his, this ownership thing went both ways. I knew when he hissed between clenched teeth that with the bite of pain I had made my point.
“Sheathe your talons, tekari.” He said gently, “I already wear your token. No need to make Rukh think that my being with you is dangerous.”
“You mean it isn’t?” I teased.
He smiled. “Not in a way I’d have anyone else know about.” He brushed a lock of hair from my face.
I loved how the light caught the bracelet at his wrist, the one he wore which marked him as mine. As far as I knew he never removed it. I stroked it with my fingertips and the gesture did not go unnoticed. I grinned at the mention of his Noghri body guard and wondered just what magic Thrawn had used to ditch him this time. Rukh had the most annoying ability to stick to him like glue, taking his job as the Admiral’s body guard very seriously. I did as he asked and un-dug my nails from the flesh of his back, glancing to make sure I hadn’t actually drawn blood and smiled as he caressed my face gently, all the while moving inside me with a slowness that was both agonizing and tantalizing.
I decided to up the ante a little and tapped into the force, making him remember what I had done to him on Myrkr, making him gasp with the sudden sensation, making his eyes narrow and his smile turn animal like. Not playing fair he would have said but I would have countered that nothing was fair in love or war and this was always a little of both. We had danced this routine many times so the words no longer needed to be said out loud but I could read them well enough in his eyes.
Suddenly, the need to couple as though we had never seen each other before and perhaps never would again was maddening. I could not get enough of him and at some point, when we rolled over so that I rode him and not the other way around, I felt as though all the power in the galaxy resided in this one simple act. I had often wondered if Palpatine had loved someone the way Thrawn and I loved each other then perhaps this galaxy would be a vastly different place. While possession and passion had been damned by the Jedi, love I understood could save us all from falling. Straddling his body, I felt like a goddess and he raised his eyebrows at me as I laughed out loud.
“Do you know how truly beautiful you are?” He asked as I leaned forward to kiss him. The scent we created was a perfume I found heady and breathing it in made my head reel as though I were completely intoxicated.
I shook my head in answer because the truth was I didn’t. I only knew how I looked to me and my opinion on that wavered from day to day. He reached up and brushed my hair back from my face again, more a gesture of affection than actually useful. For a moment we stopped and just stared at each other, then driven by something far more primal than love he placed his hands on my hips and pulled me deeper onto him. His want was infections and as it mingled with mine it spiralled out of control. Still, he had taught me the rewards of taking my time and because he had tortured me often enough with his infinite ability to go slow, so I moved my body at a languid pace in rippling undulations like rolling waves on the dune sea or pale moon’s light on cool, blue water. I smiled victoriously as he growled with an urgency he very rarely showed. I could feel his control give way to his ever rising need which echoed my own.
With my head tipped so that I bared my throat to him, I arched my back in a deep crescent mimicking the little moon that had risen in the sky earlier on. I opened myself up then to the full power of the living Force, its magic and mystery swallowing me whole. It flooded us both the way rays of light poured down onto the ground and I felt my body give way to his, shuddering with an intensity that almost drove me mad. How it was that he could do this to me with taste and touch was a little mystery I hoped would never be solved.
Not quite done yet I moved until I heard his own voice cry out as he finally lost that measure of self control which made him so vulnerable. I knew in that moment that I would never, ever love any man the way that I loved him. It scared me to death to give away so much of myself but at the same time it was also a freedom I would never completely understand.
When the moment passed and the last vestiges of pleasure gave way to a good kind of weariness, sweat soaked and satiated we parted, the one becoming two, and lay silent, entangled in each other’s limbs, basking in the sudden calm that washed over us both. Only after our hearts had slowed down and our breathing had returned to some semblance of normal did he break the quiet in the room.
“Do not ever leave like that again.” He said.
“I won’t.” I replied knowing exactly what he was talking about.
“Promise me.” He insisted.
I looked up into his face, a little puzzled by the pain hidden behind his words. “I promise.” I whispered.
My answer satisfied him because he nodded in a way that said this matter is now closed.
“But you knew….” I said after another long silence.
“How could I not?” He asked with a sigh.
“And yet you still let me go.”
“Could I have stopped you?” He asked. “Would you have forgiven me if I had?”
I sighed and moved away from his embrace. When I didn’t answer him he shifted to his side, leaning his head on his elbow to look at me better. “It was only a matter of time before Andando tried something else to get you to come to him; you were his obsession and your father was his trump card.”
“I never thought Jyrki would go after my family, I thought he was better than that. His fight was with me not them.” I swallowed down the sudden wave of grief that speared through me with a deep breath.
“Which is part of what makes you so unique, tekari; in spite of everything you see the good in people not the bad.”
I shrugged. Navaari had said much the same thing but it didn’t ease the grief or the guilt any. Anger and something else flashed through me. “I slaughtered him, Za’ar. I plunged my birth mother’s lightsaber straight through his chest, I watched as he died and I saw the look on his face! He didn’t think I could do that to him, he didn’t think I would.” I poked the exact spot on Thrawn’s chest so he would know where I meant. He wrapped my fingers with his and placed my hand over his heart but I pulled away and sat up, hugging my knees tightly to my chest.
I was a little taken aback at the sudden expression of exasperation which crossed Thrawn’s features quickly giving way to anger. “You did what you had to do.” He said firmly. “Stop agonising over something that was inevitable.”
I looked away from him but he reached over and grasped my arm making me turn back to face him because he wanted me to feel the full force of his next words.
“He would be alive if he had he stayed away from you and your family but he didn’t. He may have been a good man once but he turned ugly and his obsession pushed him to a place most men never go. He was cruel and vicious, caring only for his needs not yours or anyone else’s. Stop thinking he was something he wasn’t. I don’t need to list all his crimes against you but let me remind you of what he did to you when he kidnapped you. Let me remind you of the mess you were after you managed to escape. You still cannot speak to me of what happened there, what he put you through but you wake up screaming sometimes yelling for him to stop, to let you go. Someone who loves you would not have done that to you, no matter what. Jyrki put you through all manner of hells and lied to himself to make doing so okay. He would have killed you and fabricated some sort of story to tell himself it was for the best and not regretted it.”
I did not want to hear these words. “Stop it.”
But Thrawn just shook his head. “No, you will listen to me. I am tired of seeing you hurt especially at the hands of that man. Now he’s dead, and that’s the end of it. Jyrki Andando knowingly backed you into a corner you had no chance of escaping without either him or you losing your lives. It was and is that simple.” He said plainly. “This guilt you’re shouldering is pointless self pity and it’s beneath you. I won’t placate you in this useless waste of energy. Yes, he’s dead and yes, you killed him but what choice did you have?” He shook his head in frustration. “By the same token, I won’t pretend that everything is alright because it is not, I understand that but you have to stop thinking you are to blame for your father’s death because you are not. You need to stop feeling guilty for killing Jyrki, because personally I wonder if, perhaps, that wasn’t what he really wanted all along. Yes, taking a life marks you and you know that, he’s not the first and he might not be the last but you did not instigate this fight nor did you continue it. You did not set out with the single goal of murdering him and in the end it was self defence which cause his death by your hand nothing else. This little war he started is done and over with. He pushed you and you ended it but it could just have easily gone the other way and we would not be having this conversation. Then you would have been killed, many more people would be mourning including me and, had that been the case, I absolutely guarantee you that Jyrki Andando would still be just as dead.”
His words stung but they were also true. I scrubbed at my face with my free hand, tried not to cry and failed. He wasn’t being unkind so much as he was being honest and while I didn’t want to listen to these words I desperately needed to hear them. He was right and I knew it but that didn’t make it any easier to swallow.
“Tekari,” He relented a little, “I wish to Da’hajn that I could have saved you from this nightmare but I could not. You and that man were bound together by a thread stronger than anything anyone else could have severed. I know what he meant to you but I also know what he did to you, even if you are willing to forgive him for that I am not. I am grateful he is gone because I don’t believe, given his relentlessness in stalking you, that he would have ever let go of his obsession with you. I know you feel guilt for what happened but you need to let that go.”
“It’s so damned difficult.” I said between clenched teeth, angrily wiping my tear away. I was so tired of crying.
Thrawn drew a very deep breath and let it out slowly. “I would worry greatly if you found it easy.”
I made a face at him and shrugged out of his hold on my arm. “He should have left my family alone, his fight was with me.”
Thrawn nodded, “Yes it was.”
There was a long moment of silence then, heavy and full of sorrow, Thrawn said, “I am so sorry that we could not be in time to save your father. I would have had my people there sooner but we were engaged in combat at the time.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” I said automatically, finding it odd how I seemed to say the same words over and over again. “It also wasn’t your fight.”
He looked at me. “Perhaps not but that doesn’t ease my regret any.”
I shrugged slightly and got out of the bed, suddenly too restless to lie still any more. I picked up the robe slung across the chair and slipped it on. “Papa would have said that regret is for people who don’t have anything better to do than look backwards and wallow in the what-if.” I stood staring at him for a moment. “I thought I had lost everyone, so when you look at it from a certain point of view I was lucky. It could have been much, much worse.” I said bitterly because while it could have been worse, the grief was still the same. More tears sprang to my eyes this time but I just blinked them away.
Thrawn nodded, got out of the bed and slipped back into his trousers. “I brought a bottle of brandy with me, so why don’t you and I go upstairs and watch the dawn? I am told that sunrise on Tatooine is quite spectacular.”
With glasses in hand, we sat out on low wall of the roof top deck of my uncle’s house and watched as Tatoo I and Tatoo II began to illuminate the sky with their brilliance. I rested my head against his shoulder and sipped at the Corellian Brandy he had thought to bring with him. This was ours, this moment in time, like so many others we had shared. Sitting together watching the dawn and while it may have been a different planet the sensation of it never changed.
“How long are you here for?” I asked as the first true rays of Tatoo I’s light began to dance across the dunes making the sand sparkle.
“Just long enough.” He replied cryptically then added on a more serious note, “You and I need to discuss how things will proceed between us for the next while because there will be little time for this relationship and lengthy conversations of any kind while I am running this campaign.” He said then added, “And I wanted to speak with you face to face so you wouldn’t get any funny ideas.”
“You want me out of your way.” I said without any reproach.
“Yes, well there is that, although if I really wanted you tucked away someplace safe, I’d ask you to return to Hjal with Kirja’navaar’inkjerii. No, I would like you close. Nirauan still has need of a translator. Plus, I want your help but in a behind the scenes capacity and I would like you to do some work for Ged Larsen, act as a liaison for his people and mine. You have some remarkable talents which are being wasted; I have need of those skills but I want you safe and I will make no excuse for that.”
I nodded. “Okay, but I want to stay based on Nirauan.” The thought of trying to fit in on another ISD did not appeal to me.
He smiled, “That was the idea, though I am quite certain you would not mind piloting every now and then? Kirja’navaar’inkjerii flew in your ship to Nirauan so it has been returned to the base. I thought that a private transport vessel would be of use for undercover missions, provided you feel up to this of course. ”
“I think I could handle that.” I agreed, swirling the brandy in the glass I held. “Will we have any time together?” I asked hated that the question sounded needy but what I wanted to know.
He shrugged slightly, “That I cannot guarantee. If my plans go well it will be a busy campaign but hopefully short. However if things do not go according to plan then I cannot say how long it will take. I can tell you that I will do most of my work from the Chimaera, because the last thing I want is for anyone in the New Republic to discover the base on Nirauan so I won’t be there all that often and you will absolutely not step foot on board the Chimaera.” The sudden firmness in his voice made me glance at him sharply but before I could protest or say anything he continued, “It is my hope that with the tasks assigned you will be far too busy to miss me that much. However, it would not be the first time that space and duty have separated us and we’ve survived it before.”
I nodded, reaching out to touch the bracelet he wore possessively; it made him smile. I didn’t like this arrangement and he knew this but I had accepted it for what it was and he knew that as well.
“I will only get one chance to set this right, tekari; there is no room for any error, no room for distractions as pretty as they may be.” He brushed the side of my face with he backs of his fingers to stress what he meant, “Once law and order have been re-established and the reigns of the Empire given over to someone capable of leading it without falling prey to his or her megalomania then, I assure you, I have plans for you and me.”
I smirked a little at the perceived subtle innuendo in his words and downed the last of the brandy in my glass. The suns had both fully arisen and their light was almost blinding. A heat haze had already begun to shimmer off the sands, making the silhouette of Wayfar in the distance seem more like a wavering mirage than a real town. The wind had picked slightly and I could hear the snaking sands hiss across the dunes. The scent of pasha spice, which came from a small scrub plant that grew on the rocky areas of the desert, was heavy in the air. I could feel the subtle pressure of a sandstorm even though none had been forecast and smiled. By the end of the day we would be enfolded in the fierce embrace of ferocious winds and I looked forward to it. I kicked my legs back over the edge of the wall and slid off it back onto the deck. Thrawn watched me, the expression on his face unreadable until I tugged him by the waist band of his trousers. The slight smile that turned up the corners of his mouth was feral and full of promise.
“Has enough time passed?” I asked, coyly tilting my head to one side.
“You are insatiable, you know that? We have a lot to talk about, to plan in a short amount of time and we should be getting some rest before doing so.” He said knowing exactly what it was I wanted from him.
I just arched an eyebrow and my smile never changed. “And here I was thinking the Chiss had incredible stamina.”
His slight smile turned suddenly dangerous and he got off the wall to join me with an ease that was as graceful as it was beguiling. He slid his fingers under my hair and drew my head close to his face so that when he whispered in my ear his breath on my skin made the small hairs on my neck stand on end. “Are you challenging me, my dear?” he asked.
I drew back from his hold to stare him squarely in the eyes and grinned. “Yes, Admiral, I do believe I am.”
“Well then, tekari,” He said, “It’s your move.”