For the next few days I spent much of the flight avoiding Ged, which could be a hard to do on a spaceship but since it was my ship I knew all the best places to hide. I spent a great deal of time going over and over again what had happened on Coruscant, that Ged could stir me up and make my heart race with a kiss made me both angry at myself and worried. Even worse that he had pulled me into a situation which could have gotten us both killed. I didn’t know how I was going to explain any of this to Thrawn and it ate at me like a wamp rat gnawing on a bone. I would have avoided Ged for the entire trip but he wasn’t having any of that and eventually he cornered me in the cockpit.
“I thought you could use a cup of tea.” He said handing me the cup before sitting in the co-pilot’s chair.
“Thanks.” I said. “I figured you were sleeping. I didn’t want to disturb you.”
He shrugged one shoulder, “Sleep is overrated and what I really want to do is talk to you.”
I sighed and stared at the cup in my hands wondering if he would just get the hint and go away. He didn’t. The silence between us hung in the air until seeing that I wasn’t going to breech it he decided he would.
“Are you mad at me?” He asked bluntly.
Surprised, because it was actually the last thing I expected him to ask, I turned to look at him. “No.” I said and was a little shocked to discover it was the truth. I wasn’t mad at him at all, I was mad at myself.
“Then why are you avoiding me?”
Even if I had wanted to I could not have stopped the blush that coloured my cheeks.
“Oh.” Ged said with a slight smile. “I see.”
I wasn’t sure he did. I sighed again, hating the fact that no matter what I did every emotion I felt showed on my face. The new silence in the cockpit felt heavy and he had made certain I had nowhere to run so I just sat there avoiding eye contact staring at my cup of tea which had suddenly become very interesting to study.
He watched me for a long, quiet moment and then he asked. “May I ask you a very personal question?”
I mulled it over, wary. “How personal?”
“Personal enough that I’m sort of concerned you might hurt me, but I need to ask it anyway.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect but I nodded cautiously. “Okay, but I reserve the right to hurt you.”
“I’ll take my chances,” He said with a slight smile, “In all the time you have been with Thrawn have you ever slept with another man?”
“What!” I had not been expecting this and nearly coughed up my tea. “Excuse me?”
“It was a straight forward question.” He said calmly, “So have you?”
“No!” I replied sullenly hating this conversation long before it even really got started, “No, of course not.”
He considered this answer for a second then continued, “Have you ever wanted to? Really wanted to?”
I shook my head. “No.” I didn’t even have to think about this answer.
“But you’ve had ... chances? There have been other men interested in you, aside from me” He asked studying my face with great care.
“I suppose so.” My answer was tentative which made him raise an eyebrow in question. “I take it we’re not counting the ones who tried to take me by force.” I replied.
An expression flashed through his eyes that I had never seen before and wasn’t sure I ever wanted to again. “Take you by force? Are you telling me that someone....?”
I didn’t let him finish. “They have tried.” I said tightly and then because there was more concern and anger in his face than I liked I gave him the very quick and dirty rundown of some of my less than stellar encounters with the men who had thought I was an easy mark.
He sat very still for what felt like a very long time and when he finally did speak there was fury laced through his words. “I don’t even know what to say to that.”
I shrugged with one shoulder. “Some men seem to think they can just waltz in and take whatever they want whether it’s theirs to take or not.”
He blew out air noisily and shook his head. “Yes, sometimes men do and for that I apologise.”
“I can take care of myself.” I replied a little more hotly than I should have because it was not entirely the truth.
“I’m sure you can but this explains why the Admiral was so angry and why you reacted the way you did when I took advantage of the situation on the Virulent. You must think I am an absolute bastard.”
I managed to smile. “Maybe just a little.” I said jokingly but he didn’t return my smile. I sighed loudly and then because I felt the need to I said, “Really, it’s fine.”
“No Merlyn it’s not. I got quiet an earful from the Grand Admiral after you flew out of the Virulent in what can only be called fine dramatic style and trust me, now that I know a whole lot more about what has happened to you, it’s not okay. He was so angry and while he held it in check I have never seen him like that before, ever. I thought he was overreacting but now I see he wasn’t, he was being protective and rightly so.”
I sighed noisily. “I forget sometimes that Thrawn is not human, he doesn’t always react the way I expect him to. He was being protective and even though he claims he has all of his emotions tucked away nice and neat he doesn’t. He can be passionate and jealous, a mix which is something he doesn’t always handle very well, and it makes him...” I searched for the right word but couldn’t really find it, “...abrupt. He’s not always nice or polite about his reactions to some of the stupid situations I seem to find myself in.” I sighed and thought sometimes I don’t mind that from him, oddly enough but I didn’t say that last part out loud.
For a moment Ged didn’t say a word. I could tell he was angry but not at me. His jaw clenched and there was a hardness to his expression that hadn’t been there before. When he did speak his voice was tight. “I am sorry never the less.”
I shook my head at him. “Don’t put yourself in the same box as men like Zaarin because you are not like them at all.” I couldn’t believe we were actually having this conversation, “I like you, you’re a pretty decent guy for an Imperial Admiral but you complicated things at a time when things didn’t need to be complicated.”
“Complicated?” He asked. “How?”
“You gave me an option that had not been there before.” I said honestly. “It cause a bit of a stir.” Which was putting it mildly.
“An option?” Ged’s eyebrows raised a notch in surprise.
“Yes. Once I realised you thought about me in that way it was an open possibility for something I had never considered before, that maybe I could like another man in a similar way.” I nibbled on my pinkie nail, “As you see, I don’t have a lot of good experiences with men and Thrawn... well he was different. I had never been courted before. I don’t think he meant for things between us to become so serious but they did and then, suddenly, you came along and I like you, we get along so....” I shrugged again and tried to sort out my words before they became all tangled up. “Up until you no other man had managed to make me feel anything other than revulsion. Thrawn didn’t like seeing that very much, he isn’t used to having to vie for my affections like that and he didn’t deal with how that made him feel very well, though to be fair neither did I.” I sighed. “Thrawn gets a little unpredictable when his emotions become riled up whereas I tend to run away and hide. We had one hell of a fight after you showed up at my quarters that night and it was kind of embarrassing, you know. I pushed all the wrong buttons and so did he. We tend to do that to each other when we’re insecure. You made him insecure; you made me rethink my view on men. It scared the hell out of me as well as pissed me off, seriously you men you can be such morons some times. My response was to get as far away from the both of you as possible and hoped things sorted themselves out. I’ve never had the experience of dealing with two men that I actually like a lot who liked me back at the same time, in the same place. It was easier to avoid you lot altogether.”
He sat back in the co-pilot’s seat hard enough to make it rock a little. “Is that why you did not want to return to the Virulent?”
I smiled and shook my head, “No, I didn’t come back because I found out I was pregnant and given the high risk nature of that pregnancy I wasn’t going anywhere and please don’t ask me for details it’s still too difficult to talk about.” I took a deep steadying breath.
“I’m sorry.” He shook his head and I could see a bunch of emotions written on his face that didn’t need to be there.
I glanced at him. “You keep saying that but I wish you wouldn’t.” I set my teacup down and scrubbed at my face with both hands. “Had I not been pregnant I probably would have returned. I like working with you, I like you. I just didn’t know how to react to you liking me in that way but now I do.” I said plainly, “I’m not exactly useful on Nirauan anymore and I tend to do stupid things when I get bored. Thrawn felt I’d be safer on the Virulent with you.”
“After what happened he trusts me enough to send you back?”
“No Ged, he trusts me.” I said then thought and I blew it...again. I sighed heavily and Ged read the expression on my face correctly.
“So after all this time, Thrawn really is the only man you have ever...” He paused, for just a second, so I helped him.
“Had sex with?” I suggested bluntly.
“Yes.” Ged nodded.
“Yes, he is the only one.” I replied hating the embarrassment I felt. I was more than a little puzzled as to where this conversation was going. “Why are you asking me this Ged?”
He looked at his cup for a moment then at me. “We’ve hardly spoken since we left Coruscant air space. You avoid me like the plague and I don’t like it. I feel as though we have committed a crime when, in fact, that is not the case. I see guilt when you look at me, in your body language. I’m betting you’ve spent a good chunk of the time in here fretting about how to tell Thrawn about what happened on Coruscant, especially what happened in the detention cell, getting more and more worked up about it all until it’s this huge terrible thing when it is not.”
“And your point?” I asked.
“Well my point is that you have nothing to fret about. I told you there was a reason for doing it that way.”
I scowled at him. “I think your exact words were this was better than the alternative.”
His grin was charming. “You have many force talents but you don’t throw force lightening do you?”
I shook my head. “My talents lie in other places and the darker arts never appealed to me much. They tend to give me a headache.” This was a big understatement.
“Does using the force tire you? When you read objects does that drain you?”
He drew a deep breath. “Using force lightening is very difficult at the best of times and it requires a hell of a lot of energy to call up, especially if one wants to direct it in specific directions. You showed me that you could transfer force energy with that little mind trick which meant we could work together and that I could pull more energy through you without hurting you.” He paused to make sure I was following him.
I made a get on with it gesture.
“Okay, well three of the most powerful energy drives that I know about are lust, hate and anger and I figured it was easier to go with the lust and it’s a lot more fun. I didn’t want to waste time trying to make you angry enough and I don’t want you to hate me. I knew after what had happened on the Virulent that there was enough chemistry between us that I could kiss you and that would stir you up enough to get the job done. While anger and hatred have their place desire is a lot easier to manipulate.”
I sighed. “Being manipulated into sucking face with you and then enjoying it doesn’t make me feel better about it.”
“Enjoyable as it was, it was a means to an end.” He replied simply, “Look, both you and the Admiral have made it quite clear to me that you are spoken for and I don’t have to be told twice to back off.”
I made a face and was about to argue that point but he waved a hand to stop me from interrupting.
“I don’t need to be a genius to know who it is that has your heart. Your loyalty to him is admirable and, quite frankly, amazing especially given the amount of time you two are apart and yet still you are his. Now I know nothing can change that, especially not a single kiss from me, for goodness sakes your whole being lights up whenever he’s in the room and you don’t do that for me.” He took a deep breath, “Look, I’m sorry Merly, about what happened when you were on the Virulent before. I pushed even though I knew better, I pushed anyway.”
“Are you really that blind?”
I glared at him.
“How is it that you can’t see it?” He sighed. “You’re lovely and unique and it isn’t as though there’s a dearth of beautiful, intelligent females in the Imperial Navy. I just....” He shrugged unable to finish his sentence.
“You just let the wrong brain think for you?” I asked snarkily.
“You could put it like that.” He chuckled. “If you could only see yourself through the eyes of those who adore you then you would be overwhelmed and very surprised that not more of us male idiots try to steal kisses from you in the hanger bay.”
“Good that they don’t, there’d be a lot of people in the med-lab.” I grumbled.
“You are such a passionate person that I am guessing you have some pretty strong empathy talents lying hidden deep inside. It’s easy to get physical and be stirred up by a kiss and, not meaning to boast or anything, I’m pretty good at what I can do in that department, however, it’s a whole other thing to take it further than a bit of flirting.”
“Is there a point to this speech?” I asked sulkily.
“Yes,” He sighed, “Just because there is an attraction between us doesn’t mean there is anything more.”
“Are you so sure?” I asked cautiously.
“Yes.” He replied without hesitation.
“Because I’m not the man you are in love with.” He said simply.
Much to my dismay I blushed again and when I didn’t have anything to say he continued with a shake of his head, “Merlyn, you are wonderfully chaotic and I would be lying if I said I had not considered the possibility of us together. You really have no idea the effect you have on us foolish men.”
“I’m just an ordinary girl from Tatooine, Ged. I look in a mirror and see only me, usually with grease on my nose and my hair looking like wamp-rat tails. I don’t see myself the way you or Thrawn do. I don’t even know what it is I do that makes you men act like idiots where I am concerned.”
“Perhaps that is the reason.” He said gently.
My shrug was self conscious and I made a point of studying my hands closely. “So men like clueless, untidy and unpredictable women?” I said making a half hearted joke.
“Men like women.” He replied. “Some men, smart men, will tend to gravitate more towards complicated and intelligent rather than vapid and beautiful. Except for vapid you are all of these things and to top that off you don’t even seem to know you are all of these things so we can add naive to the list as well which is a pretty heady mixture. You are a temptation that is hard to resist.”
I hated being described out loud and the look I gave him told him I was not happy with this conversation. “You know if you have a point do you think you could get to it any time soon?”
He sighed, “Maybe, just maybe, if I seduced you hard enough you’d fall into a moment of madness and sleep with me but that’s all it would be, a moment. Then after that there would be a lifetime of regret, guilt, resentment and eventually even hate. Betraying the man you love for a night of pleasure with another would break you and that’s a guilt I don’t want.” He paused for a moment, “I see it already starting you know, I reach for your hand to comfort you, to express my thanks and you pull back all wary and mistrustful. You do your best to avoid me which is no mean feat in a small ship. I don’t like that very much. I liked it better when things were easy between us, when we were friends and I screwed that up not you.”
There was nothing I could say to this that wouldn’t come out wrong so I kept my mouth shut.
He drank some tea then looked at me. “What happened on Coruscant was necessary. What I did takes a lot of energy, far too much for me alone unless I want a lot of wrinkles or an early grave, which I don’t, so I used you as well. I. Used. You.” He paused to let the words sink in and then continued, “You’ve never been really trained to contain your emotions so you are like an ungrounded power coupling; all I did was direct that energy in a way I could use it quickly. It was the easiest way to get out of that situation with minimum risk. You can tell the Admiral if you feel you must but I don’t think you need to.” He sighed. “I know there is a spark between us and I enjoy it greatly but in this lifetime, in this universe your heart belongs to someone else, a man that, in spite of how it may seem, I respect greatly. I do not need to make enemies out of either of you simply over my libido.”
“But that....” I started but he kept on speaking so I shut up.
“Men sometimes do stupid things and now I know you’ve experienced more than your fair share of this sort of stupid. What I did on board the Virulent was stupid and now that I see what it did to you I am really sorry.” He said firmly, “I have never coerced a woman to my bed against her will in my life and I am not about to begin now. I overstepped my bounds on the Virulent and for that I apologise for that but what I did on Coruscant was just a fun way to get out of a bad situation. It won’t happen again.”
I stared at him feeling a bizarre sense of loss. He was right with everything he was saying and yet it made me sad. I fought back sudden and unwanted tears because I also felt insanely relieved and grateful. He just watched me in silence waiting for me to process it all.
“So now what?” I eventually asked.
“Well you try to forgive me for being an ass, I’ll forgive you for being a royal pain in the rear and we leave what happened on Coruscant behind.”
“Okay.” I said after a moment of weighty quiet. “I guess I can do that.”
He grinned. “And I have a favour to ask of you.”
“What?” I asked crossly.
“Will you please stop avoiding me?” He said as though it were the most obvious thing to ask in the galaxy.
I sighed, trying to decipher my feelings and nodded. “Okay I think I can manage that as well.”
“So we’re friends?” He asked.
I looked at him. “Friends...?” I asked not quite believing this entire conversation had even happened, “Isn’t that supposed to be my line? I thought most men hated that word.”
“Well in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am not most men.” He chuckled. “Merly, I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, you are gifted force-sensitive and that alone makes you special. You lived and worked in the same Imperial world I did but you are not under my command so I am free to talk with you about anything I wish which is rare, believe me. We have a lot in common. So yes, I hope that we can stay friends because believe it or not I could use a good friend and I think that you could too.” He said sounding very un-Ged like, “If you’re okay with that?”
I bit my lip and nodded feeling inexplicably relieved as though somehow he had managed to life a huge weight off my back. I didn’t know what to say to him so I said the only thing that made sense to me. “Thank you.”
“Now, for the love of Palpatine stop brooding.”
“I don’t brood!”
“Oh yes you do and it’s very tedious. I honestly do not know how Thrawn puts up with you sometimes.” He said getting up. “I’m going to make us some supper now, care to join me?”
“Yes, new rule on this boat, I cook and you stay away from the stove.” He said. “That stuff you call food would kill a hutt.”
I laughed, which felt good, and just like that the rift that had been between us closed. “I’ve heard that before too but you can’t banish me from my own ship’s galley.”
“Try me.” Was his tart reply.
I decided it would be wiser not to.