In an ideal galaxy he would have led me to the bedroom and we would have reacquainted ourselves with each other’s bodies until we were too exhausted to do anything else. In an ideal galaxy I would have forgotten that I was grieving, full of unspeakable anger and sorrow in favour of the utter joy in finding him still alive and not dead. In an ideal galaxy none of this would ever have happened at all but if there was one thing I had learned in my life it was that I did not live in an ideal galaxy.
It was incredibly and surprisingly difficult to adjust from grieving over Thrawn’s death to rejoicing in the fact that he was very much alive. His physical presence did nothing to help this along, if anything it angered me even more. He shared the same space, he breathed the same air, and he slept in the same bed as me but the distance between us had never been greater.
I felt awkward and uncomfortable around him, wondering how he could have planned such an elaborate ruse in such a way that I had not even thought to suspect that something was up, after all, once he pointed them out to me, all the signs had been there for me to see. I also wondered how he ever could have thought that I would take his sudden return to life all in stride and not be upset by everything that had happened. Perhaps because he had not been the one having to go through all the motions of grief he simply did not understand how deep my feelings in this matter were and I forgot that he was not human. I forgot that he came from a culture that eschewed emotions for logic and rational thought. I was not rational about any of this and I really didn’t understand how he could be.
It felt peculiar to watch him drink ‘caf or eat lunch knowing at the same time that not so long ago I had sat leaning against the cold stasis box talking to what I had thought was his corpse. My anguish was still very real and very raw. When I hoped no one was around I cried a lot, still feeling that gaping maw of loss and not even his physical presence in my world could ease it. While he slept I would lie awake listening to him breathe, watching his chest rise and fall terrified that he would vanish at any given moment. I knew this was stupid behaviour but I could not help it. Wounded, heart sick and resentful I shied away from him.
During the day, as much as I could, I avoided him because I was irrationally angry at him and when that wasn’t possible we tried to act as though everything was normal but it wasn’t it was awkward and strange. I no longer knew where I fit in his world and I wouldn’t let him touch me. The tension between us pulsed and grew making everyone around us uncomfortable. Eventually I took to hiding from him as much as possible, losing myself in small mundane jobs around the enclave and pretending to be asleep when he would join me in bed.
I spent a lot of time with Navaari who seemed almost terrified to let me out of his sight. When he decided that the sled gear, harnesses and tack all needed to be cleaned and mended thoroughly I was happy for the job which gave me something to do with my hands. I spent time with his sled-wolves, brushing out their winter coats, collecting the wool and generally hanging out with them and was grateful for their uncomplicated company.
As was the way of things eventually news of what had taken place made its way through the enclave and the fall out was even greater. Most of the people who knew me well felt much like Navaari, they were angry at how things had taken place but there wasn’t much they could do. Everyone had an opinion about it which, whether or not I wanted to hear, they shared with me anyway. I was glad to have a place to hide from the prying questions and the strangely annoying sympathy.
Not many people spent a great deal of time with the sled wolves, they were working animals not pets as Navaari’s friend Kerrjan was fond of telling me but that didn’t stop me from spending time with the animals or finding comfort in their uncomplicated company. I had grown up with wild creatures almost on my doorstep and had gotten used to my uncle’s jaxes and their ways of showing affection for food.
“You be careful!” Kerrjan admonished one day when he found me sitting with one of the pregnant wolves grooming her carefully. “She’s like to bite them as get too close.”
I just shrugged. The wolves seemed to like me, there was a strange kind of trust and while I wasn’t quite sure where it came from I was happy to accept the fact that they neither snapped nor snarled at me when I was with them. I wondered sometimes if my connection to the force had something to do with this.
“I’ve experienced worse.” I told him wearily and we both knew what I meant. If he had anything to say about the whole Za’ar come back from the dead thing he kept it, thankfully, to himself but it did not escape my notice that he, too, kept a watchful eye on me especially when the weather was bad.
“All of the whelps from this season are spoken for.” He said unexpectedly.
I looked up at Kerrjan in surprise. “What made you think I was wanting a pup?”
“Might be good for you start learning how to train one, for when you are wanting to run your own sled.”
It had not occurred to me that I would be staying on Hjal long enough to earn or train my own team of sled wolves. “I don’t think that will ever happen.” I said. “I don’t plan on being here forever.”
“Is this not your home now?” Kerrjan asked, clearly surprised by my answer.
“I don’t know where my home is any more.” I answered with a shrug.
“Is not your mate here?”
I just shrugged again causing him to look at me carefully, speculatively. What could I say to that?
“As you wish.” He had eventually said in his usual taciturn way. “But be careful around the bitches they get snappy when they are pregnant.”
I nodded that I heard him and then ignored his warning completely. Being with the wolves gave me a sort of peace I could not find anywhere else in the enclave.
If Thrawn was hurt by my avoidance he never said anything about it. I had the impression he was giving me space to find my own way back, much as he had tried to do on Nirauan after the miscarriage. He hadn’t really learned from that mistake or maybe he just didn’t know how to make amends. Perhaps he felt that it was enough he had found a way around the terrible visions of his death which had plagued me for so long. In the end it didn’t matter. What was done was done and I could no more undo the damage than I could bring back Lord Vader and so the gulf between us widened.
What surprised me more was that Navaari wouldn’t even speak to him unless he had to and then when they did talk it was usually in hushed angry voices which didn’t help matters at all. I was glad An’jast’a was not around because the current state of affairs in the flat was uncomfortable at best and downright unpleasant at worst and as we were both guests in her home she would have not taken too kindly to the terrible atmosphere we were creating. Eleven days after returning to Hjal, sometime in the early hours of the dawn things came to a head.
I woke up with a gasp disoriented and half caught in a dream, or at least what I thought was a dream until the man who lay in the bed beside me stirred but did not wake. I stared at Thrawn, sitting for a long time hugging my knees to my chest, looking at him but seeing, superimposed over his sleeping face, the face of the version of him I had seen dead. I could not shake this image from my mind and the grief I had lived with for the past weeks came flooding back like a slap. I got out of bed and made my way to the kitchen to put the kettle on. I wasn’t sure how to proceed with my life as it currently was but I knew how to make tea and the familiarity of this action was soothing.
I poured a large cup and then slipped on my heavy coat and fur lined boots to head out to the south door to my swinging bench, a special place that Kerrjan had made just for me. I brushed off the snow and sat down, cradling my heavy pottery mug in my bare hands for warmth. It was still mostly dark out but dawn was not far off. The storm that had ravaged the enclave on my arrival had long tired itself out and left perfect stillness in its wake.
The tea sent wisps of white steam dancing in lazy swirly into the bitterly cold air but it was still too hot to drink. With the tips of my boots I swung the heavy wooden bench back and forth trying to make sense out of my world but it was just too much like hard work. I was exhausted from all of it. Adjusting to the fact that Thrawn was alive and not dead was far more difficult than I could have ever imagined and I didn’t understand why. The fury I had first felt upon seeing him had gone into hiding and what had replaced it was still to be determined. At the moment I was in a strange sort of limbo and I didn’t know how to move forward.
When I heard the door open behind me I smiled and brushed off the rest of the snow from the bench to make space for Navaari. The wood creaked as he sat down and pulled out his pipe, tapped it against the side of the bench to knock out the ashes and then set about filling it with fresh tobacco. When he lit it the air filled with the sweetness of the smoke. It was a comforting scent.
“You should be asleep.” He said mildly.
“So should you.” I replied sipping my tea slowly.
“It seems I have grown accustomed to An’jast’a at my side and her absence leaves me restless. What is your excuse?”
I gave him a sad little smile. “I just can’t sleep. When I sleep I dream and in my dreams I still see Za’ar dead. I know he’s alive but in my head I still see him in that horrible cold stasis box. Now I’m so scared that if I do fall asleep I will wake up and he really will still be dead, that all of this is not real. I am so angry at what he did that I can’t be happy he’s alive. I’m terrified to breathe. I can’t go through that again, I can’t and I’m so scared that I will never be able to get past this moment in time. I don’t know how to live with him anymore.” I said looking up at Navaari, “I love him so very much and I should be deliriously happy that he’s alive, that he found a way to cheat his death but I’m not and I don’t know why.”
“Oh that’s not so difficult to unravel.” Navaari replied taking a long draw from his pipe.
I raised my eyebrows at him.
“Little pup, he kept you in the dark about his plans, he lied to you about what he was doing and he put you through one of the worst possible traumas that a person can go through by making you experience his death, carry his body to his home world and sit though his memorial service. You mourned his loss as though it were real because for you it was real. It has torn you apart; I see it every time I look at you. He made you an unwilling accomplice to what has to be one of the greatest deceptions your galaxy has ever known placing a burden on your shoulders which no one should have to carry especially not a bond-mate. No wonder you do not know what to think or feel. Your grief is very real and your body remembers this even if logically you are knowing it is no longer true. You, especially you, cannot switch off these emotions easily; it will be taking a lot of time for you to come to terms with all that has happened and perhaps even longer to forgive him and heal. ”
I shrugged. I didn’t think I would ever be able to forgive him or heal. “What am I supposed to do?”
Navaari, who knew me just too well, gave me a speculative look and took another draw on his pipe sending sweet scented smoke into the air with his exhale. “Well, I have some thoughts on that if you would like to be hearing them.”
“I’m all ears.” I said making a face.
“Come tracking with me. You still have much to learn and I think it will be doing do you good to get away, be putting some distance between you and your mate. You will have time to think and come to terms with all that has occurred and perhaps even learn to forgive him.” He replied.
I stared at my tea for a moment and then nodded. I wasn't so sure about the forgiving part but the getting away part sounded just fine. “Okay.”
He raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. “Okay?”
“Yes, I will go with you or were you expecting me to argue?”
He chuckled. “I was but only because you always argue with me but good that you do not, you would lose in this case anyway. You cannot be staying here with things the way they are, all this tension and anger, one of you will break irreversibly and I am worried that it will be you.”
“I am already broken Navaari.” I told him with a slight shrug.
He took a very deep breath and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, pulling me close to him, holding me tightly. “Not yet little pup, not yet but this impasse you are both at will eventually shatter and I fear that he will not be the one to pick up the pieces. You believed you had lost him forever and he is a part of who you are. You have been living in a place where he is neither alive nor dead, the in between with ghosts you cannot let go of but you cannot stay there forever and you know this. Right now you hate him just enough that given the slightest push it will darken your spirit forever. I would not see that happen to you, after all that you have been through, I would save you from that. I would not see you become bitter and angry, broken and forever tainted by a love that was lost then found only to be lost again because neither of you know how to move beyond this moment.”
“You sound like Ma’kehla.” I grumbled.
Navaari just smiled. “I am much older than you I have learned a few things in my days. Ma’kehla is not the only one who understands the ways of the heart. I have already lost one child I don’t aim to lose another.”
“I’m not your child Navaari.” I sighed.
He shrugged and made a dismissive sound. “Perhaps not by blood but in here you are.” He tapped his chest, above his heart. “Love is love Kycsi’i; do not underestimate my love for you just because we are unrelated by genetics.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I said with a small smile. “You know I love you too, right?” I added because it somehow needed to be said.
“I do but it’s nice to be hearing it now and again.”
I just nodded and drank my tea and when my cup was empty I rested my head on Navaari’s shoulder to enjoy the silence and his presence for a while.
“How soon can we leave?” I asked eventually.
“As soon as you are packed and ready to go.” He said.
I sighed and then got up. “Okay then, I will be ready in an hour.” And before he could say anything I had vanished inside.
I had learned from my time with Navaari that one did not need much on a tracking and hunting trip. There wasn’t much room on the sled for extras and packing light was a must. As I hurried about the bedroom, quietly gathering my things Thrawn woke. He watched me silently but I didn’t explain what I was doing and he didn’t ask. It was pretty obvious anyway.
Once I had packed what I would need I left to shower, while there were a few lodges along the ways Navaari hunted they were far and few between. Such creature comforts as hot showers were not something that occurred daily while on a long trek.
When I was done I could hear Navaari and Thrawn arguing loudly in the kitchen with hard, angry voices. I knew it was about me but I didn’t really care. I slipped quietly into the bedroom and got dressed, grabbed my pack and made my way to the kitchen but stopped short of entering to listen.
I heard Thrawn sigh. “I do not need another lecture Kirja’navaar’inkjerii.”
Navaari snorted. “You think I am wanting to lecture you? We are so far beyond that.”
“You do have that look on your face.” Thrawn replied airily.
“Do I indeed? There are no words for what you have done and I am so angry with you that I am unable to voice my feelings on this matter, not that you are caring about this anyway. You do what you will and the emotional well being of others does not enter into it. I understand this but she does not so it is not me you must make your peace with.”
I shivered at the underlying fury in Navaari’s voice. It was like listening to a disappointed father berate his son and I had never heard anyone speak to Thrawn this way before.
“She will get over this and come around to see that I had the right of it.” I heard Thrawn say softly.
Navaari snorted. “If you believe that then you are as stupid as you are insensitive.”
“And you are being insulting.” Thrawn said with a touch of annoyance finally lacing his words.
“There will be no debate on this. The decision has already been made. She is….”
“You do not have the right to....”
I took a deep breath and walked into the kitchen. Both men stopped mid sentences and looked at me, one with love and compassion the other with more questions than answers.
I hoisted my pack over my shoulder, “I’m ready. Let’s go.” I said to Navaari.
“Merlyn...” Thrawn began but Navaari cut him off.
“You have no say in this matter Nikätza’arth’pavjäska. She is my adopted kin and this is my house. I have the last word here not you and she has made her decision.”
I watched them both with wary eyes. I had never seen things so tense between them.
Thrawn’s jaw tightened in anger as he spoke, “She is my mate so I think ...”
“Do I have a say in this?” I asked interrupting before it got out of hand. “Or do you two just want to fight over me like sled-wolves over a bone all day?”
Navaari took a deep breath, clenching his jaw to bite down on his anger and Thrawn just folded his arms across his chest. I took both gestures as a yes.
“I’m going hunting with Navaari. I need to time to think about everything and I can’t do that here in this flat. This is not my home it belongs to Navaari and An’jast’a so Thra... I mean Za’ar do us all a favour and stop acting like you own the place, you don’t. You are a guest here just like me.” I watched as a myriad of expressions flashed across his face not the least of which was shock at the bluntness of my words.
For a moment I thought he would argue with me but he stayed very still and waited so I continued. “Navaari is right you know, it is his house and even though you named me and brought me into the Dantassi world, this is his enclave, his home and under the Dantassi rules we both swore to abide by I am his family. You don’t have a say in what I do.” As I spoke I felt a strange sense of coming into my own. “Especially now.”
“Merlyn you cannot ...” Thrawn began but I stopped him from speaking with a sharp flick of my hand.
“Shut up!” I told him firmly, “Just shut up.” I took a deep breath to try and quell the sudden anger and hurt that had flared up in my gut then to make sure he really understood what I was about to tell him I stared him straight in the eyes.
“I love you, I love you more than anything in the galaxy but right now I can’t look at you or bear to be in the same room as you. No one should have to experience what I did and I don’t care if you thought I would handle it better than I am. I also don’t give a wamprat’s ass what your reasoning behind it all was. You put me through hell. I believed you had died and that I had lost you forever but it was all just a huge lie. I’m still trying to come to terms with Grand Admiral Thrawn’s death never mind the complication of his sudden rebirth with a different name. Maybe it’s easy for you to switch like that but I am having a really hard time so no, you don’t get to say a word to me about what I can and cannot do right now or about what you think is best for me or any other life shattering decisions you feel you need to make on my behalf.” I could feel tears well up in my eyes and I sighed, trying to fight off the unwanted emotions that washed over me, “You have so much to answer for that I don’t even know where to begin and do not get me started about what happened on Csilla. When you refused to allow me to bond with you in any official capacity you gave me the right to choose what I wished to do with my life so now I am exercising that right and you have to respect it.”
He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. His face told me he did not like this sudden turn of events, it was not going according to his plans but I really didn’t care as I waited for him to answer me.
“If this is what you wish then I will abide by it but I don’t think that running away from your emotions will solve the issues at hand.” He replied carefully and the uncertainty he now felt was so strong I could taste it. He had really believed that I would just accept his miraculous return to life without blinking an eye. I shook my head in disgust. Sometimes men, no matter what species, were incredibly stupid.
“Really? I said shaking my head. “Well maybe it isn’t, but it’s my choice to make. You cannot stop me and you cannot protect me by lying to me to cover up the truth.”
“I am bound to you, protecting you is my duty.” He replied as if that somehow explained it all.
I stared at him for a long moment and suddenly tired of those words, tired of this argument, tired of everything I said, “Then I release you from your bond and you no longer have to bother with my protection anymore!”
I heard Navaari suck in a breath but he didn’t say anything.
Surprise and hurt flashed briefly across Thrawn’s face and he took a step towards me, “Tekari, please you need to rethink wha...” he started to say something but I cut him off.
“We’re done.” I shook my head. “If you are still here when I return then perhaps we can begin again but I can’t do this, or live here as we are right now. I can’t bear to be with you. I am still walking with your ghost every day and yet you live. How am I supposed to deal with that? How?” I brushed angry tears from my face, “You are free to do what you want. I release you from the promise you made to me because the man who made that promise is dead. I carried his body to Csilla and I sat through his memorial service. Perhaps he was just a clone but I believed he was someone I loved and trusted. I don’t know who you are anymore but I know you are dead to me.”
My words left perfect stillness in their wake and when no one spoke to break the awful spell I turned to Navaari and nodded. “Whenever you are ready, I’ll be with the wolves getting the sled and the gear.” And with that I spun around and left them to finish whatever remained of their angry discussion.