I sat with my legs dangling over the side of the gantry and my chin on my arms as I rested them on the railing watching Thrawn disembark from the shuttle. He didn’t look up but he knew I was there. I watched as he returned the salute from his deck officer and then, with Rukh in tow, left for the commander center and then to the debriefing I knew was scheduled. It was just past two in the morning local time and I had no intention of going near our quarters not to mention sleeping.
People were used to me being up on the gantry, sitting like a little kid watching a Jawa market so I was left alone mostly. I just observed the activity on the dock as pilots and crew came and went, going on about their business. Even at this late hour there were a myriad of things to do and it was interesting to see, of course avoidance of Thrawn made anything more interesting including watching the dock-bay crew sweep the floor. I wasn’t tired although I should have been. I had woken up early because of nightmares and then spent most of my day with the Fel boys, teaching them Cheunh and helping their mother, Syal who was kept busy with their latest addition Jagged. He was a bit of a handful.
I had come to watch Thrawn’s shuttle land as soon as Parck told me it was on the way to the base but actually seeking Thrawn out was not on my agenda. I decided to wait until he sent for me, or not. Either way he had to make the first move. It was nearly four am when he broke the stand-off by coming to fetch me himself. I felt the subtle shake of the gantry when he walked along it and only glanced at him when he squatted down, heel to haunch, beside me. For a very long time we just stared at each other until he broke the silence.
“I am sorry.” He said simply.
I continued to stare at him until something in his expression wavered and then I nodded. “Me too.”
He opened his mouth but the overly abrupt hand gesture on my part stopped any words he wanted to say from escaping. “Don’t.” I said. “I know you feel you need to explain but you don’t.
His expression indicated frustration. I sighed and returned to resting my chin on my arms to stare over the docking bay. “Navaari was right.”
“In what way?”
“You and I are like the ingredients in a sun. We need each other to shine. It’s fine as long as all the chemicals and gasses that go into making it up are in harmony, but when something goes out of balance it explodes, usually violently and then things get…well… a bit tense. It’s all very exciting in a weird sort of way until someone gets burnt or hurt. We’re very good at going nova and we’re both very good at hurting each other when we’re angry.” I glanced at him and he nodded, waiting for me to finish. “It takes two to start a war. You were wrong…but so was I.” I paused for a moment. “And,” I added, “I think a part of me likes winding you up like that even though I know it will end in disaster.”
I shrugged ever so slightly with on shoulder, “Because I’m human, I need emotion from my partner. You’re so calm and so cool headed almost all of the time, you use your own super intelligent logic to out logic everything and everyone else, and it’s like living in a vacuum. I almost never know what you are thinking or feeling unless you show me and even then that’s rare. Sometimes I feel as though I could be part of your office furniture. Riling you up like that is the only way I have of really knowing that you actually care about me, even if it’s anger it’s better than cool, calculated indifference.”
“I have never been indifferent when it comes to you.” He said quietly. I could taste the hurt behind the words.
“I know that…logically.” I said with a little grin then returned my gaze to the quiet of the docking bay.
“But logic isn’t always enough?” He said after a moment.
“Something like that, I guess.” I nodded. “Look, I’m am not now nor was I ever having an affair with Ged Larsen. That’s not to say it didn’t cross my mind because that would be a lie. He’s attractive, intelligent, arrogant and bossy which is exactly the sort of man I seem to like. Maybe if you were not in the picture he and I would have started something but I am also sure if we had it would have ended badly. So you were wrong about all of that, wrong and hurtful. You need to believe me when I say I would not do that to you. If, and I have to stress the if part here, if I were going to cheat on you, you’d know about it because I would talk to you about it first.” I glanced up at him.
He arched an eyebrow, “Then it wouldn’t technically be cheating.”
“You get my point.” I gave him a look.
“I do.” He conceded.
“You have no real reason to be jealous but you are anyway. I like it even though the results are a bit…unpredictable and winding you up just to get a response is also unfair. In this I was wrong and I’m sorry, but as I said, it takes two.”
He reached out to brush the side of my face. “Time with the Dantassi seems to have a calming effect on you.”
“No, it’s the mind numbing cold of the planet does that.”
“So, I take it from the fact that no objects are being flung at me that you have forgiven me?”
“There is not really anything to forgive.” I said after a lengthy silence.
“Indeed?” He replied sceptically.
I glanced at him. “If I had told you to stop you would have.”
He sighed as he stood up. “I think this is a conversation better finished in private, don’t you?”
I stared at him for a moment then reluctantly got up, unsure of how the rest of this conversation would play out. I walked beside him in silence as we made our way to our private quarters. The halls of the base were quiet and almost deserted. There were a billion questions I wanted to ask him about his campaign but I kept my mouth shut not wanting to break the oddly calm stillness between us.
He let me through the door first before following me inside. Once inside he began to strip off his uniform jacket in a single graceful motion. It was like watching him shed a skin and once he laid it carefully over the back of a chair he seemed to relax. I watched this process with a sense of profound wonder. When he was done he turned to look at me, for a second our eyes caught and time paused. When he beckoned I came to stand before him. When he crooked a finger under my chin and raised my face upwards I didn’t resist. We stared at each other and then he nodded ever so slightly.
“If you had asked me to stop, I would have.” He said after what seemed forever.
I just continued to look at him.
“But you said nothing.” He continued, almost puzzled. “You let me….”
I gave a slight shrug with my left shoulder and moved away from his touch. “You seemed to need….”
“I did not need to be cruel or hurtful and I was both.” He interrupted angrily, turning away from me to pace over to the window; the dawn was making its presence known as the night sky began to lighten in the east in faint red streaks. “It is a poor leader who cannot admit his mistakes.” He said. “I have had time to think on what passed between us and it was…unnecessary.”
“I pushed, you lost it, we’re both to blame.” I said more sharply than I meant to. “Sometimes I like it when you lose control; sometimes I want you to lose control.” I said honestly.
“Why?” He asked turning to look at me, curiosity and concern rippled across his face.
“The Emperor would say it is all about power games, my uncle would tell you it’s because I don’t know when to back off and I really don’t know but it’s probably someplace in between.”
Thrawn arched an eyebrow at me.
I shrugged. “I don’t care to get into the why of it and it’s not something I want to make a habit of either. It happened; it’s done and over with so can we please just let it go, okay?”
“Just like that?”
I nodded, “Just like that. Some things are better left alone and I think this is one of them.” I said, watching him carefully, wary and worried that something really had broken between us. Vader had often been abusive and Thrawn had often berated me for allowing it, as if I had had a choice, and now here we were discussing a similar theme only this time it wasn’t Vader he was angry at it was himself. I watched the struggle on his face and then breathed a small sigh of relief when I saw him let it go. I went to sit down; suddenly I was tired.
“I’ve said it before, I will say it again; you are a distraction I do not need but you do make my life interesting.” He remarked quietly.
I wasn’t quite sure how to take that so I just smirked a little and sipped my drink. “You’re not the easiest man in the galaxy to be with either you know.”
“Then we make the perfect pair, don’t we.”
“That’s what Navaari says all the time, only he usually adds we’re both too stupid and stubborn to see it. I really am sorry. I think you’ve been right all along when you said I need some sort of crisis to deal with in order to be happy.”
“You should try to base your happiness on something less destructive.” He replied.
“You mean I should not create more conflict?”
He nodded. “We have more than enough of that to go around right now without you adding to it, my dear.”
“Your campaign?” I asked, “How is it going anyway?”
He smiled slightly but it never reached his eyes. “As well as could be expected given the circumstances.” He said after a moment.
“That didn’t sound encouraging.”
“Things sometimes do not go according to plan.” He said cagily.
“But Park said you were doing well.” I frowned.
“Define well tekari.” He replied. “I am working with too few ships and too many raw, untrained people. Given these circumstances we have done well so far but it is difficult and I cannot help but think the New Republic seem to have an inordinate amount of sheer dumb luck on their side. Though we have made great strides and I am, for the most part, pleased with what we have accomplished so far.” He drew a deep breath and came to sit beside me. “I do not discuss openly much of what has gone on. I wish to boost moral not drive it down but we lost a significant battle because I misjudged the enemy’s capacity to think on their feet.”
“Doesn’t that crazy old jedi master you have on board the Chimaera help?”
Thrawn shot me a sharp look. “He does his job but he is unpredictable and in this particular case was of no use. Park told you about him did he?”
I nodded. “And the clones, and the cloaking device.”
“I see.” He said unhappily, “Well, Joruus C’Boath is a clone of an old jedi master I once had the misfortune to meet when I was a lot younger. This clone has all the unpleasant personality traits of the long dead original jedi master as well as clone instability. In other words he is a dangerous time bomb who is quite out of his mind but he has his uses and for the most part I have him under my control. When I no longer have that ability I will eliminate him.” He said. “I would prefer you stay as far as way from him as possible which is the main reason I wanted you on board the Virulent.”
Thrawn shrugged with one shoulder, “Ideally, my dear I would prefer you return to the Virulent and resume your work there.”
“After the fuss you made you want me to go back there?”
“It is still the safest place for you to be and one where you can be of use. I am concerned that C’Boath will sense your presence here and try to obtain you for his student. I have no illusions about what he would do if he became aware of you and your talents and I do not wish to have to deal with such a problem should it arise.”
I slumped back against the couch. “I should have stayed with Navaari.”
“The thought had crossed my mind but I am not so sure his new wife would have appreciated that.”
I scowled at him. “You should have been there.” I said suddenly switching to the topic of Navaari’s wedding.
“Yes, but I was not and it seems everyone except you understands why. I have a job to do and I cannot drop everything to come to a wedding. It was far more important that you be there and it meant far more to Kirja’navaar’inkjerii that you were there than I. If I cannot accomplish this task, if I cannot unite this galaxy under one military might then the future will be uncertain indeed.”
“Uncertain? We’ll all just be under the rule of this crazy New Republic, what is so terrible about that?”
“Nothing if you live in a time of peace and security but I happen to know that this little galaxy is not as safe as everyone seems to think it is.”
“You’re talking about this threat from beyond?”
“I am.” He nodded. “I realize no one wants to hear about it, I realize it is easier to say it’s a lie there is nothing beyond this galaxy and that it is simply an excuse to obtain more power but mark my words, should this invasion come to pass this galaxy will be very sorry it was so quick to eliminate the might of the empire.”
“Every time you speak of this you scare the hell out of me.”
“As well you should be scared.” He said flatly. “These creatures eliminated a Chiss defense fleet as though it were a small bug to be stepped on and while my people may not appear outwardly aggressive we have some of the finest warriors in this galaxy. It is a mixed blessing that the Chiss have no desire to rule everything or to make the first move when it comes to dealing with threats from other species because if they did, the New Republic would not exist. So yes, you should be scared.”
“If this threat is so terrible then why not talk to the leaders of the New Republic, why not try to make them understand.”
He laughed, “Do you really think that after everything they have done to beat the Empire they will willingly and openly talk to the last Imperial Grand Admiral and then give up their power over what they would see as pure speculation?”
“But you said…”
He held up his hand for silence. “I know of a threat that may or may not happen. I am calculating by the knowledge I have and the artwork I have managed to gain access to that this species we discuss will come, they are driven to do so. However, it is only conjecture and,” he said with a sigh, “I have been wrong before.” He drew a deep breath, “No self respecting government would ever in their right minds, give up their power to a military might based on such a theory. They would no more trust me on my theory than they would the Emperor to be nice.”
“Artwork?” I asked quietly, remembering a piece he had once shown me very long ago in his flat on Coruscant. It had utterly creeped me out.
“I remember the painting. Aside from being the ugliest thing I have ever seen what did it tell you?”
“That this is a species best left alone and we should all pray they do us the same courtesy.” His reply was evasive and said this topic was not up for discussion yet.
“What about joining with The New Republic instead of trying to beat them then?” I steered the topic back.
He shook his head, “I personally do not believe that the New Republic has what it takes to actually join forces and fight off a common enemy, just as the last republic bickered until the end so will this one. It is the nature of the beast. While they all say they want fairness and equality it is the way of things that some species are more equal than others. I guarantee you that should this threat come to pass, it will take this government too long to take appropriate action and then they will spend more time trying to figure out who to blame than trying to solve the situation.”
I stared at the dregs of my drink and let the weight of the silence descend on my shoulders. “I really hope you’re wrong because if this is the future we face then everyone will wish they had the might of the Empire to back them up.”
Thrawn regarded me carefully. “The problem is no one is ever happy with how things are run and everyone not running things thinks they can do a better job. When Palpatine took on the mantel of emperor everyone cheered and those who opposed were few and far between, but when suddenly things didn’t go their way the same people who cheered turned against him. I would willingly bet that in ten years we will see the same kind of dissent in this new government when people realize that they do not get all that they want or when things do not go their way.”
“Do you think you can win?”
He thought about his answer for a while, “Yes, but it will not be easy and certain things have to go very right for it all to happen.”
“If I ask for details you won’t give them will you?”
I watched his face, not saying anything and then asked, when he remained closed on that subject, “So what now?”
He cocked his head to one side and downed the rest of his drink. “Now, if you permit me, I shall take you to bed.”
“No more discussions?”
“Not of a verbal kind, unless you wish to stay up discussing politics and war until I need to depart of the Chimaera again but I can think of more pleasant ways to spend my time with you.”
“Endless discussion about war and politics...that’s not really my idea of fun.” I said letting him take me by the hand and pull me to my feet.
“Nor mine.” He smiled.