For three days I had both the house and Thrawn to myself. I cherished every moment of it knowing that soon enough I would see very little of him and there would be a chance maybe I would lose him to the campaign he was planning. It was bittersweet. We spent as many hours talking about what was to come and how to deal with the possibilities as we did in the bedroom working on our tactile conversational skills. His plans were extensive and the tasks he had set for himself and his people were daunting.
In the moments were he wanted to be alone and had sequestered himself in my uncle’s small, private work room I had strayed outside and let the quiet of the desert sweep over me, as though the winds which shifted the grains of sand across the dunes could somehow scour the pain and the hurt from my own skin. Over the course of the three blissful days we had together I healed. I was more than sad when they had come to an end, marked by the arrival of an unmarked shuttle returning my uncle home early on the morning of the fourth day.
He looked better than when I had seen him at the funeral, less drawn, less pain ridden. He had not said a word as he had wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into a slow, solid embrace which stole my breath and made me remember what it had felt like to be a child in his arms. His sorrow was plain to see, the loss of my father had hit him hard. They had been close friends for a very long time. I suspected that Uncle Vahlek had always believed of the two of them, he would be the first to die and not the other way around.
Thrawn had greeted my uncle solemnly in the manner of a Dantassi warrior which had surprised me but neither man had offered any explanation. Instead there had been some sort of silent understanding which had passed between them, shutting me out. I recognised this sensation from my time on Hjal, where the males, especially the warriors and hunters had their own language and codes. There were just things in the galaxy of men that no matter what, women were excluded from.
There had been banter over a late breakfast and then my uncle had passed on to Thrawn the dispatches he had carried with him for the Admiral to deal with before the shuttle returned shortly after sundown to take Thrawn back to the Judicator, from there he would return to the Chimaera. I did not want him to leave but kept silent about my feelings. I was quite certain he knew and even understood what was going through my mind but how I felt was irrelevant in this matter. He was the leader of the Imperial navy and he had work to do. I might have been bound to him by word and mark but in the end it would always be his work, his mistress who held his sway. My uncle who had sensed that restless unease which comes with a parting between lovers, retired to his bedroom to “take a nap” so that Thrawn and I might spend the last hours of our time together alone.
In the quiet of my bedroom we had shut the rest of the galaxy out and loved as though the end of everything we knew was about to crash down upon us like a terrible storm. Only after the frantic passion of coupling passed and I lay, quiet and melancholy in his arms did we talk in hushed tones about the what ifs to come. I was scared and I didn’t bother to hide it. I had lost too much too soon and the prospect of losing him as well frightened me to death. I was grateful that he did not try to coddle me with lies by telling me, as he stroked my hair, the skin of my back and the curve of my waist, that everything would be alright and that this story would have a happy ending. He was preparing for war and death was always his ghostly dance partner waiting in the wings for her turn on the floor. He knew it and I knew it but we didn’t speak of it. Instead we spoke of inconsequential things, small talk to fill the enormous gulf which was widening by the minute as he pulled away to concentrate on the tasks at hand.
“You greeted my uncle like a Dantassi warrior but he’s not part of the clan.” I said, breaking the heavy quiet which had blanketed us.
“Yes, I did.” He said with a slight smile.
“You’ve never done that before, did something change?” I asked.
Thrawn’s expression was warm. “That is something you will have to ask the Tze’yusha’Jin. It is not my story to tell.” He said.
I nodded. Men and their secrets, I thought, there was no end to them. I sighed and twisted about so I lay on my stomach to look at him, my chin resting on crossed arms.
“I will return for the art auction.” He said after a while, as if that made his up coming departure easier to swallow. “Especially if the painting listed is genuine.”
“And I will get to see you then, yes?” I asked.
“If time allows for it.” He shrugged casually, teasing.
I glared at him. “You will make time.” I said.
He just smiled without dignifying my words with an answer and instead asked, “So you’ve decided to remain here for the next two months then?”
“Yes. I need to be with my family.” I nodded.
“And they need to be with you, my dear.” He finished for me, “I would feel better knowing you had spent time with them instead of heading straight back to Nirauan. There’s nothing on the base that requires your urgent attention.”
“There is a lot of paperwork to sort out here, with the docking bay and stuff plus I need to help Bedi go through papa’s things.” I explained.
He nodded. “I am quite certain she will be glad of your company while going through what must be a painful experience. I am relieved to know that you won’t be alone either.”
“Well...that and Uncle Vahlek will need someone to baby him even though he won’t admit it.”
Thrawn smiled. “Your uncle is a strong man but I am quite sure he will appreciate your company, just don’t cook for him.”
“Ha very ha!” I said, pinching him. There was another moment of quiet then I changed the subject away from my cooking, “Uncle Vahl brought you good news today didn’t he?” I asked.
Thrawn nodded. “The warlord Zsinj has been defeated by the New Republic which means one less predator in the pool to deal with. The dispatches he brought carried that information.”
I frowned and picked fluff from the blanket I was lying on, “I thought that he was an Imperial Admiral.”
“He was until after Endor, then he decided his chances were greater if he struck out on his own. He gathered his fleet and took on the galaxy, he did very well.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, he is a clever man.”
“Was. He’s dead now.”
“Mm.” Thrawn nodded, “Seems tangling with the New Republic did not agree with him.”
“How did he die?”
“If the information I received was correct his ship the Iron Fist was obliterated by concussion missiles.”
I rolled back over onto my back with a sigh. “Did you know he spoke over sixty different languages?”
“No, that I did not know.”
“He told me once at one of the palace parties. We had a very long conversation about the nuances of linguistics. He was very clever.” I said smiling as Thrawn reached to run his fingers through my hair and then wincing as he caught a knot. “So now that he’s dead…does that mean it’s your turn to step up and scare the rebels into submission so we can get back to some semblance of order?”
“I would not call what I am doing scaring so much as worrying. They don’t know who I am, they don’t know who it is that is causing the problems they think they do but really they do not. They are aware that someone is stirring up things in the Outer Rim, and the Unknown Regions and they have heard rumours of a few battles that have been quite decisively won. They are concerned, they are worried but they are not scared, not yet.”
Zsinj had kept the New Republic hopping for at least the last four years. He had taken his fleet and waged a private war on them, declaring himself a warlord and forsaking the Empire, or what was left of it. I had heard bits and pieces about his escapades but had not paid much attention. I had had other things to worry about and for the most part I didn’t really care. He had been just another greedy megalomaniac trying to get his piece of the galactic pie and he had been fairly successful as well, by all accounts.
At one time he had been a so-so graduate of the Imperial Academy and, as he had told me himself, had been told that he should go into support where his tactical genius could be of use because he would never have what it took to be a real leader in the Navy. He showed them all how wrong they were in thinking this way and when he managed to effectively deal with a Nightsister threat for Palpatine the Emperor had taken notice and promoted Zsinj to Admiral, giving him his own ISD to command in the process. After the fall of the emperor, Zsinj had stayed quiet and out of the spotlight, not wishing to cross Isard. I don’t think he feared her so much as he was biding his time and when that time came he jumped at the chance to take over as leader of the galaxy. From the accounts I had read at the time, Zsinj’s attacks were quite clever and well thought out and he harassed the New Republic for several years. I was a little sad to hear of his demise but not all that surprised.
“So what happened to his fleet? To his men?” I asked.
“They scattered and joined up with various smaller warlords.” He answered thoughtfully. “And continue to pick at the New Republic’s fleets.”
“Why don’t they join with you?”
“They do not know I exist.” He said matter of factly.
“So now the stage wide open for you.”
He smiled. “Yes, in a manner of speaking.”
“So you could recruit Zsinj’s left overs?”
He laughed and shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“So what is your way?” I asked.
“You know more about that than you should.”
I frowned, “Well it’s not enough.”
His expression changed. “Don’t.” He warned.
“Was this part of your plan?” I insisted.“Waiting for him to be eliminated?”
“Not at all, I simply have my own agenda,” His lips tightened. “Why are you pressing me about this?”
“So will you go to Wayland now?” I didn’t answer him instead I got straight to the point.
Thrawn’s sigh told me he was tired of this question from me. “I have told you before, I will go to Wayland when the time is right and not before. One does not simply drop into the Emperor’s top secret storage facility to scavenge through the bones left behind without planning first.” He chided, “And first I have to find the exact location, your instructions on how to get there were a little vague.”
It was my turn to sigh. “I want to go with you when you do head out there.”
“No.” Thrawn said coldly, “I have said this before and I shall say it again. I do not want you anywhere near that place. I have my reasons so do not push the matter or you will not like the consequences. It is dangerous and there are a myriad of precautions that must be taken before even I step foot on that world.”
I glanced at him sharply. “What do you know about it that I don’t?”
His red eyes fixed on me with a hard, almost unforgiving stare. “Plenty.” He said sharply letting me know that any further discussion on this subject would be met with much resistance.
“Fine!” I snapped back.
He sighed and continued to stroke my hair, “Listen to me, tekari, do you think I say these things simply to order you around? Have you not realised by now that when I ask you to stay away from something it is because I wish to protect you from harm? Wayland is a place that is dangerous. When you were there you were under the protection of both Vader and the Emperor, if you were to show up at the facility tomorrow that would not be the case and if I recall correctly being there scared the hell out of you. Do you think that Palpatine would not have defences in place to protect this fortress of his, especially one full of his secrets? Do you think you are a skilled enough warrior or force user to go up against what ever he left in place to protect these secrets?”
I blew at the lock of hair covering my eyes noisily. “No, probably not.”
He nodded. “There are forces at work you know nothing about.”
I glanced at him. “Then explain it to me.”
“No.” He said, then relented speaking more gently, “Your curiosity will be the death of you. So I am asking you, as your mate, as the person who shares your bed with you, to please, please leave this alone.”
I sighed, “Okay.” I finally said after a very lengthy silence.
“I have your word you will not go there at all, ever.” He pressed.
I made a face and hesitated but the look in his eyes and the expression on his face told me there was only right way to answer this request. “Okay, damn it, Yes, you have my word.” I mumbled but I wasn’t sure I was telling the truth.
He nodded, however there was a wariness in his eyes I rarely saw. He didn’t believe me. “I mean it Merlyn, leave Wayland be. It is not for you.”
A moment wavered between us then, something angry and stubborn. I didn’t like being told what to do and I didn’t like the fact that he was keeping secrets from me even though I knew he kept many things from me and it had never bothered me before. This time it did, but I wasn’t sure why. There was something beneath his words which scared me as though the spectre of the Emperor had suddenly reappeared.
“What about Myrkr?” I asked as though that topic would be any different.
He sighed. “What about it?”
“We went there for a reason.”
“Yes, we did.”
“I heard you were keeping a close eye on all activity on that world.”
A frown crossed his face and for a moment I thought he would not answer me. “It is a place of interest, as you well know, and it is also a place which is a haven for a variety of smugglers as well a people who deal in information. I am keeping an eye on things there.”
“Since when have you ever needed to go to the underworld for information?” I asked.
He frowned at me. “There is a lot about my work you do not need to concern yourself with and, as it does not involve you, I do not feel the need to share every detail with you.”
“I don’t ask you to either but I am tired of not knowing...!” I was starting to get cross although I wasn’t sure why.
His jaw clenched. “Listen to me carefully A’myshk’a, I am a high ranking official in the Imperial navy and you, my dear, are not a part of that. I will not divulge sensitive information to you simply because we share a bond and a bed. Why are you suddenly pushing so hard on this? You know better, you’ve never done this before so why now?”
I swallowed. “I don’t know.” I said half believing it to be true.
“Do not lie to me.”
I gave him a filthy look and said nothing.
“Hm.” He made a little noise and made a come here gesture and only after I was leaning against the warmth of his bare skin did he continue, “Look, I understand that you are afraid. You’ve lost a lot in a short amount of time and no matter how much you think you’re putting on a brave face the death of your father cut deeply. I know you’re scared to lose me as well but you won’t. However, making me angry by doing something stupid is not a very good way to maintain this relationship. You need to trust me; you need to let me do my job without having to worry about you as well.”
I made a face. “You’re keeping secrets from me.”
“Of course I am and for your own protection.”
He lost his calm, “What the hell do you think would happen if for some reason it got out that the last Imperial Grand Admiral had a mate who was as headstrong as she was foolish? Do you think that the various factions all vying for a chunk of the galaxy would just smile and say how cute? No, they would come after you and all the people you love to get to me. The less you know about my business the better off you are. The better off what is left of your family are so leave my business alone.” His words were as hard as glacial ice and just as cold.
I stared back at him not budging.
He cocked his head to one side , “I have said this many times before but you don’t seem to get it. I did not plan on becoming involved with anyone in this empire. I wished only to serve my people and protect them, this was a route to get what I wanted, but instead Da’hajn had other plans and you, chaos incarnate, are a part of my life whether I want it or not. I did not need such a distraction but now that you are in my world I would not have it any other way, however, you need to put aside your own wants and your own headstrong, somewhat selfish desires to meddle in my affairs and listen to me. I have everything well in hand, all the possibilities are covered. So listen to me, while running this campaign I cannot be worrying about you, it is that simple, I have enough to think about with being concerned that my bond mate is off trying to get herself killed over phantoms and dreams.”
His last sentence caught me off guard and I looked up at him sharply.
His eyebrow arched. “Do you really think me so blind that I cannot see what is really at the heart of this?” When I didn’t answer he continued. “You have nightmares about my death. This is not a secret as you’ve told me about it at least twice now but what you don’t tell me is how often you see this same vision and quite frankly I don’t need to know that. What I do need you to know is that I can look after myself, I have been doing it for a very long time and despite your feelings to the contrary I have managed to evade death many times.”
I didn’t say anything and looked away but he wasn’t going to let this matter drop so easily. He took my chin between thumb and forefinger to lift my face up so we stared at each other squarely in the eyes.
“Merlyn there are safeguards in place already to assure my safety.” He repeated, “You cannot save me or the entire galaxy from evil and that is not your job.”
“Then what the hell is my job?”
“To stay alive.” He said gently. “And to remind me that there is more to life than simply leading an armada against the New Republic, to remind me about the possibilities of life beyond the bridge of an Imperial Star Destroyer and to remind me of what is good and sweet in this galaxy.”
“That’s a sappy reason.” I eventually conceded.
He smiled. “It’s the only reason worth mentioning, my dear.” He said, “Your work may be on Nirauan and while it is important, your place in my life is not about that work so please stop meddling.”
I lay against his warmth silent for what felt like a long time. It had not ever been my plan to fall in love and bind myself to a man such as him either. I had known from an early age what men with stars in their blood were like and had sworn up and down never to get involved with one. They were too much of a heart ache, too much of a headache. Yet, here I was cuddled in the arms of just such a man, a man who had the potential to become the most powerful person in the entire galaxy. It made me think back to a conversation my uncle and I had once had.
I twisted around to look at him. “If you win against the New Republic and succeed in re-establishing the Empire will you become emperor?”
“Would you wish to be empress and rule at my side?” he asked with a slight smile.
“No, not really.” I replied, surprised by the absolute conviction of the word, surprised to discover it was the truth.
Thrawn made a satisfied sound. “It is not my wish to rule as Emperor, it is only my wish to re-establish law and order. I am not certain that I would make a very good Emperor and you are far too wild a creature to be the consort to the ruler of a galaxy. To tie you down in such a role would be to break your spirit.” He said and before I could launch into a protest he explained, “You would feel responsible for everyone under your rule. You would wish to help each and every being and that burden alone would tear you to pieces. Palpatine made such a good leader because he did not personally care for his subjects he cared about the whole and about power. The problem was his love of power made him blind to those who wanted more for their own peoples, more freedoms and rights. Instead of giving some of these things up to placate a growing dissent he clung even more tightly to them. That is why he eventually died he lost sight of the bigger picture. I do not wish this role for you or for myself, for that matter. I am content to lead the navy; I do not need to rule the galaxy as well.”
“Do you worry about becoming like him? My Bunduki master used to tell me that to fear a thing is to become it.” I said, puzzled by his apparent hesitation in the matter of ruling the galaxy. It almost sounded as if he had someone in mind already but I didn’t ask.
His answer was sharp. “No. I do not fear that. Becoming Emperor simply is not my destiny nor was it never a job I wanted and,” he added thoughtfully, “I hope that it will be one I should not have to do. I am not Palpatine, my dear and I do not aspire to be as he was either.”
“If that were the case I would have left you long ago. As you have no desire to be as Palpatine I have no desire to bed him.” I said tartly suppressing a shudder.
Thrawn chuckled and stroked my skin with the tips of his fingers. “The truth is that I am first and foremost a strategist, a tactician. Being ruler of the Galaxy is about politics and while I enjoy the occasional foray into this world for the most part it gets tedious rather quickly. Being Emperor is all about being a master politician and that is not something I aspire to, at least not yet. I am quite certain that the right person for that job will come along.”
“You’d miss space.”
He smiled. “I would.”
I nodded and glanced at the chrono by the bed and sighed. “Speaking of space, you should get ready and your ride will be here soon unless you plan on heading back to your ship in the nude. While I don’t mind seeing you in this state I do think your men might find it uncomfortable”
“The only person who sees me completely undressed is you.” He replied airily. “And please stop making it sound as though I am leaving you forever. I’ll be returning in two months.”
“And will I get to see you naked then?”
He moved to get out of the bed, “If you behave.” There was mischief behind his words.
I lay on my stomach, watching as he wrapped a robe around his body. “Good behaviour is overrated.” I told him.
“I know, you keep telling me.” He leaned over to kiss the top of my head. “You should also consider getting dressed. Or do you wish to shower with me and save water?”
I smirked and rolled off the bed. “That’s the best thing you’ve said in the last hour.” I said and went to join him because usually our conversations in the shower were a little less tense and a whole lot more fun. When he pulled me tightly to his body under the streaming water I understood that, while he had fenced with words and been stern about his wishes, my presence would fail in his world and this was his way of saying goodbye. This passionate side of him, which only I ever saw, was his way of telling me how he felt and my body’s answer was my way of reminding him what he would miss. I loved it when we showered together and I made quite certain he would not forget what it was like to be with me for the next two months.
As he dried himself off he grinned at me. “You are a menace.” He said.
“And you would not have it any other way.” I retorted.
I didn’t say anything else and we got dressed in silence. My uncle was up and pottering about the kitchen when we appeared. He gave Thrawn a nod and me a smile. “I made some ‘caf, spiced.” He said, gesturing to the carafe on the stove.
I didn’t ask, I just poured two cups and handed one to Thrawn who was dressed from head to toe in his Dantassi gear. He took the offered cup and smiled his thanks. None of us spoke, there were no words to be said and none of us were people who needed to fill in the silences. When the shuttle arrived, we heard the engines.
“I will say my good-byes here. Do not follow me outside, tekari.” Thrawn said as he set the empty cup on the table.
“Tze’yusha’Jin, I thank you for your hospitality.” Thrawn turned to my uncle and bowed slightly as was Dantassi custom.
My uncle mirrored the action and the two men clasped each other by the wrists. “You are always welcome in my home Nikätza’arth’pavjäska.”
I watched the formality with feigned disinterest which made Thrawn smile. He turned to me, cupping my face with both of his hands. “Stay safe and remember what I said to you.” He said softly and kissed me tenderly. Then he placed his mask over his face, drew up the hood of his cloak and left the kitchen, moving down down the hall, through the front door and then stepped out into the desert. My uncle said nothing and we both waited, straining to hear the sounds of the shuttle,and sighed as the ship lifted off. Thrawn’s departure left behind a void.