“Thanks,” He said wrapping his hands around the cup gratefully. “Bloody big storm coming in. That’s the second one in the last two weeks, unusual for this time of year.” He took a sip of ‘caf, made a face and then reached for the honey. I always made it too strong for his tastes. “Baraq asked after you, sends his condolences about Kit.”
I smiled. Baraq had helped me find information on Anakin Skywalker many years prior and it always surprised me that he actually remembered who I was but really, it shouldn’t have, Ithorians had long memories and Baraq was no exception. “That’s kind of him.”
Uncle Vahlek smiled. “He took a shine to you, it seems.”
I nodded absently while I scanned the datapad’s contents. “Wow, there’s going to be a lot of people at this auction.” I commented, “And Killik Twilight is definitely the star piece.”
“Yes, Baraq said he has been inundated with information requests about both the painting and the auction.”
“Has the painting been verified?”
“Apparently it is the genuine article; your mother would be saddened to see it auctioned off like this.” Uncle Vahlek replied. “You know it used to hang in the palace on Alderaan? It was on loan for an exhibition on Coruscant when Alderaan was destroyed and then it vanished from sight now it’s reappeared only to be auctioned off in Mos Espa. The painting is priceless really since the techniques for growing moss paintings of this kind were lost along with Alderaan.”
“Mmm.” I said as I took a mouthful of ‘caf. I had seen images of the painting in some of my mother’s art books and it had given me the willies for some strange reason. I didn’t like it very much but I could never have said why. Although, as I thought about it, my reaction to Killik Twilight had been much the same as to the very odd painting that Thrawn had once shown me in his flat on Coruscant. I wondered what had become of that because it had never been hung in the flat and we had never spoken of it again.
As if he could read my mind and know who I was thinking about my uncle said, “By the way, I received a message last night from Thrawn while you were asleep, he said not to wake you; he wanted to let you know that he will be returning to Tatooine four days prior to the auction. He had some pretty choice words about your running off to Naboo by the way.”
I looked up at my uncle crossly, “You told him about that?”
“He said he’d been trying to reach you on your comm. I merely explained why you might not have been answering as I recall you said it had accidentally been turned off?”
“Naboo was not on the list of planets I am forbidden to explore list.” I retorted a little too hotly.
My uncle chuckled. “No, but he is not stupid Lei’lei, he knows you just too well and he also knows that you never seem to do anything without some sort of risk involved, danger follows you around like a hungry jax .”
“Yeah, because visiting Naboo is so darn risky.” I said flatly.
That remark earned me a stare from my uncle which usually froze his prey in their tracks, I wasn’t impressed and just went back to staring at the data pad.
When I didn’t answer him he pressed, “And where was it you decided to go sight seeing while on the lovely, safe home world of our late emperor?”
I blew out a noisy breath. I had told him after I had returned home where exactly I had been but not what I had found there, I didn’t want to run the risk of him up and vanishing to go Wayland hunting before I got a chance to tell Thrawn as well. “I told you, the Retreat was completely deserted.”
“Uh huh. Well I will let you explain that to your Ta’kasta’cariad when he returns. I am quite sure he will be equally as understanding as I was.”
That remark made me sigh and roll my eyes. Uncle Vahlek had hit the roof when I had told him what I had done and where I had been. All of the jaxes had gone running for cover because he had yelled at me so loudly.
“I doubt it, Thrawn doesn’t shout at me.” I mumbled.
Uncle Vahlek shook his head. “Maybe he should start; it might get some sense through to that thick headed skull of yours. You still have not told me what you found there, if anything, which was worth the risk you took.”
I shrugged. “It can wait until Thrawn gets here.”
“It won’t soften his anger you know.”
I shrugged, “I’m used to that.” I said with a little smirk; while the fights were unpleasant the making up part was always fun. “Do you want breakfast?” I asked quickly changing to topic.
“Only if I cook it, the last time I let you near the stove you damn near burned the kitchen down.”
I laughed. “Navaari always says the exact same thing!”
He shook his head at me, making his long silver hair ripple about his face. “How is it, child, that you can fight like a crazed rancor, pilot like a maniac smuggler and survive working with the most feared men in the galaxy but you never learned to cook?”
“Talent can only stretch so far…?” I suggested.
“Maybe if you spent less of your talent getting into trouble and more time learning how to work a stove…”
I just shrugged I didn’t have an answer for that and I was quite content to let others, much better at cooking than I would ever be, do the job and eat well. I went back to reading about the auction while my uncle pottered about making my favourite breakfast. The jaxes mewed loudly as they wound their way around his legs in figure of eight patterns until utterly distracted he looked at me.
“Did you feed them?”
“Yep.” I nodded. “But it seems they have learnt the art of deception well.”
“Well, give them a handful each then.”
“That only encourages them to beg, you know.” I retorted but got up to do as he asked. With their tails high the jaxes stopped pestering Uncle Vahlek and sat happily in front of their bowls munching on the small treats.
“This thing is being held at Mawbo’s Performance hall?” I said with some surprise.
“Only place large enough for the crowds this particular auction is going to draw and she has the best security if you discount Imperial Stormtroopers but Baraq thinks it’s got more to do with Mawbo doing a favour for one of her old flames.” He shrugged slightly. “I take it you are planning on attending?”
It was my turn to shrug then, “I guess that depends on Za’ar but I’d like to see it. I am betting it will be interesting to people watch, if nothing else.”
That earned me raised eyebrows from my uncle as he put food filled plates on the table and sat down to eat. “As I said…you and trouble seem to go hand in hand.”
“Well we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?” I remarked happily, munching my breakfast in contentment.
Thrawn, true to his word, arrived on the planet four days before the art auction was scheduled. He showed up at my uncle’s house in the middle of the night dressed in his Dantassi clothes which hid his identity as an Imperial Officer. He had sent a cryptic comm in Cheunh so we knew to expect him and we were both waiting in the kitchen for him to show up.
In the confines of the base on Nirauan or onboard an Imperial ship I had always been restrained in showing my joy at seeing Thrawn after a separation, we had made it a point to keep our displays of affection very, very private but in the quiet of my Uncle’s kitchen I had no such inhibitions. Once Thrawn had come in, taken off his long coat and mask I made it quite plain just how happy I was to see him again. He suffered my squeal of delight with a smile returning my kiss unabashedly before he untangled himself from my arms in order to greet my uncle.
“Tea or something stronger?” My uncle asked not quite able to wipe the smirk from his face in time.
“If you have brandy that would be most welcome.” Thrawn said, “I take it you won’t mind if I change out of these clothes before we sit?”
“You know where the bedroom is.” I told him with a grin.
“Indeed.” He replied with a bemused smile, picking up his backpack and leaving the kitchen to regain some of his composure.
Once he had washed and changed, then come up to join us in the living room the conversation began in earnest. The first topic on the table was my foray into the Imperial Retreat. I had half expected Thrawn to be angry but instead he listened with his usual quiet calm. I told him everything I could remember including the part about finding the strange book in the little house at which point he frowned and sipped at his brandy thoughtfully.
“So there was nothing on the Retreat Databanks at all?”
I shook my head, “No, even Lord Vader’s secret files were all wiped out. My guess is that Pestage took care of it because he needed to concentrate all of his efforts working from Coruscant. He had consolidated his power and abandoned the smaller, lesser imperial command centers.” I said, “The Retreat was Palpatine’s personal play ground because he loved Naboo and wanted to spend time there. It would have been a terrible blow if the rebels had found it and managed to raid the computer core for information.”
Thrawn nodded slowly. “For all his faults Pestage thought a lot of things through and he was closer to Palpatine than anyone else, closer perhaps than even Lord Vader.” He paused to take a sip of his drink, “What about this mysterious book you found?”
I shrugged, “I left it there but I have the small ident chip and that came from Obroa-Skai.”
That earned me an arched eyebrow.
I nodded at the unasked question. “I know that Palpatine had the great libraries raided for all materials concerning sith and jedi subjects. It’s my guess that this book was part of that. And before you say anything I didn’t want it. I don’t want anything that has Palpatine’s touch on it. He may be dead but he still scares the hell out of me.”
“So you think that the Obroa-Skai facility will have the location of Wayland?” It wasn’t so much a question as it was a confirmation of something he had already considered.
“Don’t you think that’s possible?” I asked, “Palpatine had the power to have the star maps changed and all information pertaining to the location of planets he didn’t want people to know about removed but Obroa-Skai was never part of the Imperial rule, they remained neutral, he actually had no real power over the Obroans no matter what he liked to think. He only managed to take the jedi related stuff by force but the repositories of information on the planet are vast and even he was smart enough to let well alone. Attacking the Obroans flat out would have been a very big political mistake.”
“Yes, I think I will find what I need there.” He replied thoughtfully then turned to look at my uncle, “So, you mentioned getting more information about the auction?”
My uncle smiled and handed Thrawn the same datapad he had given me to read and the conversation switched to the topic of the art auction. About an hour into the discussion about the dance hall’s lay out I fell asleep, my head resting against Thrawn’s shoulder. When I woke up I was in bed and he was asleep beside me.
I watched the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed in and out, resisting the temptation to stroke the graceful lines of his body. ‘Caf first I thought and got out of bed to slip upstairs along with the jaxes, who always knew when someone was up. They gathered around me mewing and purring their undying affection in the hopes of food. I started the process of making ‘caf and then shoved food in their bowls, watching with a sleepy smile as they all ran to their dishes, chirping their appreciation. When the caf was done I poured two cups and made my way back down to my bedroom to wake Thrawn up. I didn’t really care what time he had finally gone to bed or gotten to sleep, if he complained about it I would simply remind him about is famous Chiss stamina. I didn’t really have to worry though; he was already awake and waiting for me.
He cupped his hands around the warm mug I offered and sipped the steaming hot drink carefully. “Before you ask, you have me to yourself until after dark tonight then I have to return to the Chimaera and prepare.”
“Do you think that someone from the New Republic will show up for this painting?” I asked, sighing at the shortness of his visit but not saying anything about it.
I shrugged, “I think it would be a pretty risky thing to do.”
“And if I were to tell you that this piece hung in the Palace of Alderaan?”
“I know that already.”
“And who grew up in that palace and saw that painting every day?” He prompted without a trace of sleepiness in his voice.
I yawned. “Ah… you think that Leia Organa will come.”
“Leia Organa Solo.” He corrected.
He smiled. “She married Han Solo and not the Hapan prince remember.”
“The galaxy’s most famous bachelor got hitched. How could I forget?”
Thrawn chuckled. “How indeed, any way I suspect they will show up in one disguise or another and I wish to be ready for that.”
“They’ll probably come in the Falcon then. Solo doesn’t trust any other ship, at least he didn’t the last time I saw him which was a very long time ago, and that wookiee he travels with won’t fit in anything else, the Falcon was specially outfitted for him. He’ll have a dozen false transponder codes for sure.” I said thoughtfully.
Thrawn nodded, “Yes, I have already taken care of that possibility.”
“You plan on blowing them out of the sky?”
“Hardly my dear.” He said tartly, “I plan on allowing them to pay for that painting and then I shall apprehend them.”
“Oh.” I frowned.
“The painting is priceless and it would look very nice in my private war room.” He said with a shrug letting me know he wasn’t telling me the whole story, but I didn’t much care.
“So do you want me there?” I asked looking up at him from the over the rim of my cup.
“Yes, I will have my people there and I have no doubts that they will be made easily enough, in fact I am counting on that but they will not suspect you. Do you have any contacts in the organisational group?”
“No but my uncle might. He spends way more time in Mos Espa than I ever have.” I replied. “Do you want another cup?” I asked pointing to the empty cup he held in his hand. He nodded as he handed it to me. When I returned with refills he took his cup from my hands and stared at it thoughtfully for a moment.
“After the auction I’d like you to return to Nirauan, unless of course you wish to remain here.” He said.
“No, I’m just hanging out here because of this stupid auction. Most of the time I feel as though I am in Uncle Vahl’s way or worse. I need to get back to work before boredom makes me do something crazy.”
I nodded, “Yes crazy like try to find Wayland, try to find out if the Emperor really has come back to life, that sort of crazy.”
That annoying eyebrow of his arched about as high as it could. “And you think that me putting you to work on Nirauan or under Ged Larsen’s watchful eye will counteract this destructive behaviour?”
I gave him the sweetest smile I could muster and nodded.
“I wish I could believe that.” He said with a shake of his head. “You seem to delight in taking risks at every turn why should that change now?”
“Because there are no more people trying to hunt me down and turn me into some sort of elite jedi producing baby factory?” I retorted.
“So you decided to head off to the Imperial Retreat to change that?”
I rolled my eyes and made a face. “It was perfectly safe.”
“Lucky for you.” He quipped.
“You didn’t seem too worried about it when I told you last night?”
“You were expecting fireworks?” He asked coolly. “It seemed a bit pointless to display my displeasure, the deed was already done and, as you so smugly pointed out, Naboo was not forbidden to you. I did, however, think you might have a little more common sense than to go charging off to a place that could have been very unsafe on a whim.”
Suddenly I found my nails very interesting to look at. “It wasn’t a whim.”
I sighed. “I can’t explain it, I can’t.”
“Try.” He insisted.
So, as best I could, I told him about all of the dreams I had been having concerning the Emperor, some of the details he already knew and some of them I had never spoken of before. When I was done he was quiet for what felt like too long and I shifted uneasily in the bed, picking at invisible lint from the blanket.
“If, and I stress this part greatly, if Palpatine is alive why in Da’hajn’s name would you want to seek him out?”
“I don’t but it doesn’t seem to matter what I want, I get sucked into it anyway.”
“That’s the worst excuse I have ever ….” He began but I cut him off.
“No, it isn’t.” I countered crossly.
His mouth tightened into a thin line of displeasure but he refrained from arguing with me on a point he knew I would not concede instead he switched tack somewhat and asked. “Very well then what do you suppose will happen should you happen to have the misfortune to discover you are right, he has returned from the dead?”
I shrugged miserably. “I don’t know, I hadn’t thought that far ahead and anyway if he is alive and he really did want to gather up all the force users around the galaxy to twist them into his dark little minions there wouldn’t be much I could do about it would there?”
For some reason this made him laugh. “You have the most vivid imagination of anyone I have ever met. Do you want to know what I think?”
I nodded reluctantly.
“I think you’re avoiding the real issue which is for the first time in a very long time no one is chasing you, trying to kill you, abuse you or use you in some underhanded way and you have no idea what to do with yourself.”
I opened my mouth but he placed his forefinger on my lips to silence the string of protests he knew would tumble out.
“From the moment you left your home and started to work at Jabba’s palace until you eliminated Jyrki Andando, it’s been one crisis after another and you haven’t had time to breathe, let alone find some measure of peace. Working with Vader put you on a blade’s edge you have not yet managed to step off, so now you go looking for danger because for the last ten or so years it’s all you’ve really known with maybe the exception of the time you spent on Hjal and you were far too messed up to realise what peace and quiet meant at the time.” He paused and studied my expression for a second. “I don’t say this to hurt you or to anger you but honestly, tekari, you have to stop hunting danger down, given enough time I am quite sure it will find you but for the love of what ever deity you regard as important stop looking for it at every turn.” He emphasised this speech by caressing the side of my face gently.
I sat back against the headboard of the bed noisily, feigning annoyance and anger but really I was stung by the deep truth in his words. He was right but I had absolutely not seen it. I swallowed hard against the tears that wanted to come, as if crying was a release for the anger and fear I had been hold inside of me since forever. Instead of allowing that to show I snapped at him, petulant and scared.
“And working for you isn’t dangerous?”
“Perhaps it has some level of risk but not to the extent you have been placing yourself in as of late.”
“What about having me attend this stupid art auction then, isn’t that risky?”
His smile was disarming. “It’s an art auction, sj’iu tekari, what could go wrong, a disgruntled buyer running amok and rampaging through the hall? I hardly think so and even if that were to happen as I understand it the local security will be tight and I am sure there will be an Imperial presence as well. So, in all seriousness, just how dangerous do you think it will be?”
How indeed, I thought. “This is Tatooine, remember…anything can happen.” I said, jabbing him in the ribs.
“Then perhaps,” he said with a smirk I wasn’t sure I liked, “I should have you confined to a cell and make Rukh stand guard.”
I just gave him a dirty look and finished my ‘caf. “So, tell me what you want me to do at the auction.”
“Attend and observe.” He replied casually.
“What did you think I wanted you to do, my dear? Steal the painting?”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s not very exciting you know, you can get one of your minions to do that for you.”
“Yes but one of my minions, as you so amusingly put it, will be spotted by the rebels within a few moments as they will no doubt stick out like a Hutt at an ewok convention, you will not. You are to observe what happens and those who are attending, nothing more.”
“I see.” I wasn’t impressed but Thrawn wasn’t going to let me get around him on this either.
“Would you rather I forbade you to attend at all?” He asked, arching one eyebrow.
“Well if you put it that way….”
“I do.” He cut me off before I could finish then reached over to take my empty cup out of my hands and place it beside his. “Now, are you going to waste the short amount of free time I have with you on an argument you won’t win or would you like me to show you some of the more pleasurable aspects of a non combative conversation.”
He stroked my bare shoulder and smiled as I shivered. “I would not call these types of conversations non combative, you know, sometimes they get very… uh… physical.”
“That’s because you insist on fighting against me.” He murmured in my ear.
I didn’t really have much to say in my defence and what he was doing with his hands and his mouth had more or less rendered me speechless anyway. I decided that he was right and the easiest thing was to let him have his way, this time, it was certainly more enjoyable than arguing. Who knew what would happen at the auction and if he wasn’t actually going to be there then he would not be able to control what happened either.