I stood holding my breath as Kerrjan left and Thrawn walked into the light. The pup at my feet growled softly in a way that meant business. I didn’t think that such a small creature would attack a grown man but I picked him anyway and hushed him, grateful to have something warm to hold onto so that no one could see how much my hands trembled.
“Hullo A’myshk’a,” Thrawn said carefully, “Welcome back.”
“Were you expecting someone else?” He asked taking a step closer to me. The little wolf pup in my arms raised his hackles so I held his muzzle gently until he stopped and licked my hand instead.
I shrugged trying to sound nonchalant and failed spectacularly. “I thought you’d left the enclave. All of your things are gone from my room at Navaari’s. And after what I said to you before we left... well I thought you had gone for good.”
He cocked his head to one side. “Why would I leave?” He asked genuinely surprised at the question.
“I broke our bond. I told you I no longer wanted to be with you?”
“Ah,” He smiled ever so slightly and nodded, “You were angry with me and rightly so but only the Elder could officially undo a bond and only I could request he do so. I am the one bound to you under Dantassi law not the other way around. Even then, I doubt he would, in this case, comply. Didn’t Kirja’navaar’inkjerii tell you this? He knows the rules as well as I do.”
I shook my head. Navaari had failed mentioned this to me but then again I had also never really asked him either.
“I see.” He said thoughtfully, “Well, I felt it would be prudent to wait a little and see if you still felt the same way about me, about us, when you returned.”
I swallowed down the sudden fear I had felt and replaced it with a strange sense of relief so vast it nearly made me sick. “I don’t.” I told him honestly, “Although I could still kick your ass for what you did to me and if you ever lie like that to me again you won’t have time to make a clone to save you from the hell I’d put you through.”
Thrawn chuckled. “Of that I am quite certain.” He replied as he shortened the distance between us even further. “But I am hopeful that I will not ever need to use such deception with you again.”
I raised my eyebrows at this statement. “You hope…?” I asked, “No, no. You only get to pull that card once in our lifetimes and it’s done.”
He studied me for a moment and then nodded ever so slightly. “I see I was right about the whelp.” He said gesturing to the wolf pup I was still holding, changing the subject deftly.
I looked at the small furry bundle of growl and teeth in my arms. “It would appear he likes me but he’s not so sure about you.”
“I seem to have that affect on certain creatures,” He said never taking his eyes off me, “But he’ll warm up to me in time after all,” He added, “You did.”
I ignored the comment and asked, “Why did you ask Kerrjan to keep him for me? You know his stance on sled wolves being pets. And what ever made you think I would want a pet at all?”
He regarded me with an expression I couldn’t decipher and took a very deep breath. “Were I to be completely honest I would say that really, I don’t know. I was here helping when Gisch was giving birth, and he was a bit of a surprise, the last to be born. The scanner had indicated she would have a litter of seven not eight. When he was born he was cold and not breathing. Kerrjan said he was not worth trying to save, too small, too runty but I managed to warm him up and his lungs began to work. We were not certain the whelp would make it through the night but he did, against all the odds he survived. He has a very strong will for one so tiny. I suppose he reminded me a little of you. It’s not been an easy road for you but you managed to come through everything stronger than ever. I thought that maybe he should have a chance at life, I thought that maybe you would be the right person to train him and give him that, after all everyone deserves a chance or two.” He said carefully.
I buried my face the pup’s fur and sighed. “You’re getting soft in your old age.”
“Death will do that to a man.” He joked. It wasn’t funny.
I made a face, “According to Navaari it’s love which makes men do stupid things.”
“Perhaps a little of both?” He suggested. “But for now you should put him back in his kennel as there is something I wish to show you without a pup underfoot.”
I did as he asked making triple sure the kennel was locked tightly. I felt a deep pang of attachment as the pup began to whimper and then howl when I turned to leave.
“I see I was not mistaken.” Thrawn remarked cryptically. “He’ll quiet down when the lights are off.”
I nodded, used the force to flick off the lights and then followed him out into the still light night, across the quad to the main enclave entrance but instead of turning to head to Navaari’s he took a completely different route and led me to a older part of the enclave that was now seldom used. At the end of a short corridor he opened up an ornate wooden door.
“It was once a meeting area but it has since been renovated.” He said as he stood to one side and let me enter first.
When I gasped in surprise he smiled. I had been here once before, a long time ago, when Navaari had shown me all over the complex and back then this had been a disused large open hall with a fire place and a small set or stairs off to one side that led to storage rooms. There were six offices or smaller council chambers, three to either side of the main hall, but they had been dimly lit and somewhat dusty with disuse. Navaari had explained that due to the ever growing size of the enclave new council chambers and meeting halls had been built, deeper underground and more modern. What I saw now was a far cry from that memory and the beauty of it reminded me, on first glimpse, of the flat Thrawn and I had shared on Coruscant.
“What is this?” I asked.
“This is the reason I am no longer taking up space in your bedroom in Kirja’navaar’inkjerii’s home.” He replied as if his words explained everything.
I just looked at him in question.
“Come, let me show you.” He signalled for me to go with him so I did and what I saw took my breath away.
The main hall had been divided into an open plan living area, a semi walled in kitchen and dining room. I recognised some of the furniture and the art work that adorned the shelves and walls. Most of these things had been on the base at Nirauan or placed into storage when we had left Coruscant for good.
I followed him, speechless, as he showed me the rooms off the main area, one had been turned into a study with a library for him, and there was a training room along with a small but serviceable ‘fresher. Two of the remaining three smaller rooms were still empty and one was full of storage containers. The whole place was cleverly lit to simulate day light and was airy enough that I didn’t feel as though it were under the ground which in reality it was.
For a moment I just stood looking around me unable to comment and then it crossed my mind something was missing. I opened my mouth to speak but before I could ask he gestured at me to follow him so I did and was surprised to find him leading me up the staircase which I had recalled being plain and small but was now wider and ornately made out of a dark hard wood leading to what had once been a dimly lit, claustrophobic archive storage area.
“I know how much you hate being shut indoors so I asked for some help in rethinking this place. There was more than enough workable space for our purposes. We had to build up the walls some, add the side rooms, redesign the roof and open it up quite a bit but I think you will like the results. Kerrjan is the one you mostly have to thank for this.” He said as he led me to the second floor. “He’s really quite brilliant when it comes to working with design and materials here and he has a soft spot for you.”
I found it hard to imagine Kerrjan having a soft spot for anyone especially me but I didn’t comment on this. I was too busy trying to process what was looking at. This was one large room with high open sloped ceiling with two smaller rooms off to one side and a door to what looked like it could be a large closet on the other. This was the master bedroom and I covered my mouth with my hand when I saw that bed taking up center position against the far wall was the beautiful antique one from Coruscant. Before I could ask any questions he took me by the hand and showed me the master ‘fresher and smiled at the reaction on my face.
“We designed this room especially for you. I have my own ‘fresher so this is all yours.”
I just stared at the beautiful craftsmanship that had gone into the room, the bathtub was deep enough and, I noted with a smile, large enough for two to fit with ease. The floors had been made of a deep grey polished stone and I feel the warmth from the floor heating under my feet. There was a large, well lit vanity and the rest of the utilities were all elegant and simple in design. There was a lot of room for plants and a shelf that ran the length of the bathtub built into the wall for books and candles and other things. I gazed around in wonder. It was perfect.
“How? When did you do all of this?” I asked as I walked around the room caressing the surfaces and fixtures with my fingertips.
“While you were gone and as I said, I had a lot of help. Many people here were only too happy to make sure this project would be finished before you returned but you missed something. Come.” He said leading me back into the bedroom. “Look up.”
So I did and gasped. “Skylights? You had windows put into the roof?” I almost got a crick in my neck looking up at the fairly large sloped windows that showed a deepening night sky streaked with colours from the slow setting sun. Windows were not something the Dantassi generally used, too wasteful when it came to design especially as most of the buildings were below the ground to help preserve heat.
Thrawn smiled. “It took some work, and we needed to raise the roof up so that it would be above the ground which meant some special engineering to make the room completely insulated but there are plenty of talented architects here and the transparent durasteel is strong enough to withstand the worst of the weather here and when it’s too bad they have shutters that slide over them to protect them as well as for some semblance of darkness during the summer. I told Kerrjan you would live in a place without windows but I would rather we found a way around that because I never wanted you to feel boxed or shut in.”
I took a deep breath and looked around but I didn’t know what to say. He had done all of this in the four months I had been gone and it took my breath away.
“Is it to your liking because we could change it if you wa...” He started to say, uncertainty lacing through his words, but I made a little hand gesture to shut him up and was grateful that he complied.
“You did all of this for me?” I asked softly. “Even after what I said to you?”
“Did you really believe that a few words said in anger would be enough to drive me away from you?” He asked genuinely puzzled.
I made a face because that’s exactly what I had thought. He chuckled and caressed my cheek with the back of his hand. “I had the plans in mind for quite some time knowing that you and I would need our own space if things worked out with the clone the way I hoped they would. It did not matter whether he lived or died, either way he would have taken my place so that I would be free to choose a different life. My time with the Empire was done. I accomplished what I set out to do, for the most part and now being Imperial would only serve as a hindrance not an advantage.” He paused for a moment. “It is equally important to know when to withdraw from something as it to know when to advance. When I first met Palpatine the galaxy, the rules were different. Working under him made certain things easier to do. I had a goal I was working towards and for the most part I accomplished this goal.”
He nodded. “Yes, and it isn’t going anywhere. What has been built out there will last and grow.”
I digested this for a moment then asked. “So you haven’t retired to settle down completely then?”
There was a very lengthy silence while he chose his words carefully. “When I was taken in as a merit adoptive under house Mitth I swore an oath to serve and protect my home world, my people and Chiss space. Everything I have done has been with this oath in mind. I felt I couldn’t effectively do my job bound by the constraints of Chiss laws so when the opportunity came along to work outside of these constraints I took it. I have said this many times, you were an unexpected deviation in my path. My focus was on my work not women. Yet there you were a mystery waiting to be unravelled, like a work of art I could not quite decipher. By the time I realised I was in over my head it was already too late.” He looked around him and sighed. “I knew I had lost the battle of keeping myself distant from female distractions the night Jyrki stole you away after the Grand Ball. The way I felt as I realised what had happened to you made me realise that I cared deeply for you and it wasn’t just a passing fancy. It was especially unnerving to discover there was little I could do to find or help you and the way I felt in that moment shocked me because I would have torn down planets to find you if I could. I understood right then and there, that you had become a part of my world so that my oath to serve and protect now also included you. When you began to tell me about the dreams you were having of my possible death at first I was sure they were just dreams but I soon learned that your force talents are remarkably strong and one would be a fool not to pay them heed. I planned for a variety of possible outcomes all of which included you.”
I bit my lip and stared at him. “You never tell me this.”
His face softened, “Oh sj’iu tekari I tell you this all the time you just haven’t deciphered the language yet to realise this.” When I didn’t answer he continued, “Originally I had thought you and I would both build this together, that you would want to have a say in the plans but,” He paused, “I had not reckoned on the depth of your anger although in retrospect I should have. After you left I decided that no matter what you felt for me upon your return you should have a place of your own. As much as you love them you cannot live with Kirja’navaar’inkjerii and An’jast’a forever. So yes, it was done for you but I had hoped we would share it.” There was hesitation in his voice.
I looked up at him sharply in question.
“The last time we spoke you were not exactly happy with me and with good reason. I was not certain that when you returned you would still wish to even be with me. You were right when you said I had underestimated the level of pain and sorrow the death of Grand Admiral Thrawn would put you through and I honestly thought that you would see through some of my cleverness.”
“You give me way too much credit.” I said a little crossly.
“No, no I do not, I am certain that once you got over the shock you would have asked the right questions and unravelled it all but what I did underestimate was the power of your sorrow to cloud everything else.” He shrugged ever so slightly and I got the distinct impression that his failure to gauge my grief was something he felt ashamed of. “I may be able to plan a war down to its finest detail but dealing with the depth and the intricacies of human emotions will always be somewhat of a mystery to me. The Chiss, as I am certain you have noticed, simply do not feel the same way humans do. I think that our upbringing and the evolution of our kind has somehow wiped away some of the intensity of the emotions we have and I do seem to constantly underestimate yours.”
I didn’t think this trait was restricted to just arrogant Chiss males but I bit my tongue. “You’re just figuring this out now?” I asked instead, walking about the bedroom to look at everything. I smiled inwardly when I saw the ma’arilite sculpture that I loved so very much.
He made a face, “Yes, no, well, perhaps. I had not realised just how deeply hurt, how much pain you were in and I honestly thought the very act of actually seeing me, of seeing that none of it was true would counter that grief.”
“You really thought that?” I shook my head in disbelief. “Really?”
He looked at me for a moment then admitted, “Yes, but then I realised I had made a rather large error in judgement.”
“What was your first clue?” I asked tartly giving him a look.
“Well you hit me for one thing.” He shot back.
“You deserved it!” I told him flatly, “In fact you’re damned lucky I didn’t do worse.”
“I will not dispute that.” He relented and then sighed deeply. “The extent of the damage became clear to me when time passed and you could still not even look at me. I understood that I had completely miscalculated your reaction and the depth of your grief for what you thought was my death.” He frowned. “I had no idea, truly, no idea but when you were willing to release me from the bonding promise I had made to you then I understood the hurt must have gone very deep. After you left the enclave with Kirja’navaar’inkjerii, Kerrjan had a few choice things to say about the whole matter as did the enclave’s council and several of your rather over protective girlfriends made sure I knew exactly what I had done wrong, I would be forever grateful if you would ask them nicely to stand down now.”
I grinned. “It does serve you right you know.”
“Indeed.” He arched an eyebrow and drew deep breath. “Needless to say I have had some time to consider just how hard it must have been for you and that you saw everything I had done as a betrayal of trust for which I am sorry but I maintain it had to be done this way and now I hope you can forgive me.”
I looked around the bedroom once more and took in all that he had done to turn unused council rooms into a beautiful place to live. I thought about how much we had lived through and all the windy twisted paths that had led us to this moment. “I think given the right incentive I could be convinced to do so.” I told him while giving him that under the lashes stare which said even more than my words. “But you understand things are different between us. What you did, what I went through, it changed me. I am no longer the same girl I was before all of this….” I struggled to find the right words, grateful when he interrupted me with words of his own.
“No,” A slight hint of a smile touched the corners of his mouth as he took a step to towards me. “No you are not.”
I frowned wondering if this was something he found distasteful but before I could voice this concern he beat me to it.
“Every time you go through some sort of emotional or physical trauma you manage to come out of it stronger. You are so fierce and yet at the same time so incredibly vulnerable, it is a seductive mix. When I first met you, you were a lovely, feisty young girl on the verge of discovering her place in the galaxy now you have become this extraordinary woman whose strength through adversity awes me at every turn. You are both fragile and strong and this strange dichotomy makes you unbelievably attractive. You have no idea how truly beautiful you really are.” He paused for just a second then said, “I am certain that were I to try anything like this again you would kill me before I could ever apologise. But just this once forgive me for not telling you the whole story. I had my reasons and one day these will become clear to you.”
I made a face. “I reserve the right to use it against you when we fight.” I told him and I was only half kidding.
His smile broadened. “I would expect no less.” I let him caress my face with gentle hands, smiling when he pulled me to him and held me tightly as though that very act would make everything that had happened between us go away. He wasn’t right but he wasn’t wrong either.
I looked up into his face to find him staring intensely at me. My heart skipped more than one beat and I welcomed the familiar and wonderful sensations which sent heat flooding through my body. I waited for him to move but he didn’t and for a second I wondered why then I decided the why didn’t matter. There had been too much back and forth, too many misunderstandings and, above all, too much time apart. I had spent far too much time letting him take the lead, letting him set the pace and allowing him to make the rules and now I decided that it was my turn. This moment wavered, fragile and delicate, as though everything between us hung on my next words. I wanted to make them count.
“I think this is the part where you kiss me.” I whispered never taking my eyes from his.
He raised an eyebrow in question.
“Now.” I prompted.
I could see relief and something else in his face. The sweet smile on his lips turned feral and hungry but he hesitated for a moment so I clasped his face between my hands and drew him to me so that I could kiss him making sure that if my words were unclear my actions were not.
When we pulled apart he went to speak but I shut him up with my forefinger upon his lips. “No, no more words. We’ve had enough words to last an age. You told me you loved me now show me just how much.”
“As you wish.” He replied, his voice suddenly husky and brandy warm.
I just smiled and then I let him undress me slowly while I took great delight in removing his clothes with equal care. I let my fingertips explore every inch of his skin, seduced by the sensations his own hands created as they reacquainted themselves with my body.
I had thought this was lost to me forever and suddenly the enormity of what he had done so that this moment was possible crashed down on me much like an avalanche. I rested my forehead against his chest and gasped at the whirlpool of emotions which clouded my thoughts.
“What?” he whispered, guiding my face upwards so he could maybe figure out my sudden change in mood just from looking at me, “What is it?”
I wanted to tell him but I couldn’t find the words and perhaps he read some of this in my expression because he didn’t ask any more questions he just kissed me instead until the strange sad dizziness passed into something filled with hungry need and heat. This, too, he saw and he did not argue when I pulled him to the bed, yanked him to lie on top of me so that for a short time he could complete me. But I was hurried and breathless. I wanted too much too quickly, but this was not really what he had in mind. I growled at him when he moved away.
“Not so fast tekari, not so fast.” He murmured, slowing everything down to an agonising crawl. He shifted and moved so that he could kiss my body gently. I writhed under his touch. When his mouth, his tongue, warm and wet, found my breasts I arched my back involuntarily and whimpered as he teased. He left me shuddering with need and it was annoyingly wonderful.
There had been a time when such intense passion had scared me but not anymore. Now I found myself willing to follow him into this abyss and drown in the desire which made my heart beat so fast I thought maybe it would burst out of my chest. He chuckled as I snarled at him when he moved away, tormenting me in a way I had utterly forgotten about. I could have, if I had wanted to, turned the tables on him but for reasons I could never have voiced I was happy to have him lead. His hands found all the right places to touch, his mouth on mine was sweet yet needy and I responded exactly as he knew I would.
We had danced this dance so many times that his guidance was more of an afterthought than a direction, a variation on a theme that had an unlimited amount of combinations. He led. I followed. I knew what pleased him but he knew me better and this time he took great care to direct the action so that my lack of self control would not get the better of us both. He wanted this moment to last a very long time and it made me nearly sick with a sexual hunger I had never quite known before. For this moment in time this was his dance floor and upon it he owned me body and soul.
Just when I thought I would pass out from want he shifted again, nudging my knees apart, sliding his body between my legs. The weight and warmth of him made him real, made him solid. I wrapped my limbs about him but I wanted more so I grabbed his hair, which had grown longer, and pulled fiercely. The growl which came from somewhere deep in the back of his throat gave me an odd sense of satisfaction. He pulled in tightly to my body as if that would quell my need to hurt him but it only drove my need higher. I nipped his shoulder with my teeth and dug my nails into the skin of his back.
“Sheath your claws and fangs, tekari.” He whispered, “You can punish me later if that is your wish but you asked me to show you how I feel, allow me to do so without drawing blood.” He reached up and threaded his fingers through mine to push my hands back up over my head pinning them there against the pillow. “Please.” He added.
For a second we lay there face to face, almost joined as one, pausing to savour the moment, utterly aroused and incredibly vulnerable. The galaxy held its breath just for just a moment, waiting. There was so much pleasure that it was almost painful and when I could stand it no longer I gave in to his request and relinquished control. He smiled as my body which had been tense suddenly relaxed into his touch, moulded to fit against him, water over ice, a second skin.
His hands grazed across my breasts, then trailed across the flat of my belly to pause there. An expression I couldn’t quite decipher flashed across his face as he kissed where his hands had lain but before I could ask about it his fingers found something else to occupy them. Whatever question had been on my lips was cut short by his caresses and deep, exploring kisses which sent me into a tailspin almost nudging me over an invisible edge into that madness which only lovers know.
I growled at him and he chuckled softly.
“Keep this up and I will have to hurt you.” I gasped, “Again.”
“A delight I shall look forward to at a later time but for now allow me the illusion that you are mine and let me pleasure you in my own way.” He said so possessively that it made my heart skip.
It wasn’t an illusion though, I thought idly. After all we had been through there never was and never would be anyone else but I didn’t say this out loud. Instead I just gave him an enigmatic smile which he returned with one of his own then he eased himself into me with agonizing slowness. I gasped at the delight every centimetre of him gave me.
My entire body reacted quite of its own accord to each thrust and all I could do was ride with him. The pace he set was slow and he moved with a deliberate, languid grace all the while watching my face, keeping eye contact as if he were afraid I would somehow vanish. I smirked at the knowledge that he needed me too and then because I didn’t really have a whole lot of options I followed the path his rhythm created. It was a deep, deep place and I felt my mind slip backwards into it, surrounded by love and pleasure, strength and power as well as something elusive and indefinable. I sighed as sensations stripped me of my senses and I let my mind go.
Stop holding on to your fears someone had once said and that advice had never felt more apropos than right at this very moment. I called up the force and felt it shift around us, a subtle misty veil which threaded through all living things. It wound between us and bound us together sparking like fire on resin soaked wood and I knew he felt it too because his eyes widened in surprise. I pushed it through us both and he gasped with my name on his lips.
When I tapped into it in this way I could see it dance over us, forming a living breathing arc of magic illuminating everything that breathed. I followed this thread of light as far as I could into my body, into my soul, into that place where we joined. In this moment we were truly one and just possibly we were also creating life. Suddenly I understood his earlier expression as he had caressed my belly. There had been such sorrow in that loss but it would not always be the case and I smiled with a secret joy then clung tightly to him while we rode through the storm our coupling created as it reached that point of no return.
For a very long time we just lay wrapped about each other until the racing of our hearts slowed down. Sweat soaked, satiated and boneless, I nuzzled his neck and kissed his salty skin only half aware of the world around me. When he pulled back from me, separating us, I complained about it, as I always did, which made him smile. When I shivered, he drew the large blanket over us both.
“Za’ar?” I spoke his name out loud and asked a thousand questions with this single utterance.
“I am here.” He murmured in my ear. “I am not going anywhere and you are safe.” It was an old, familiar mantra.
“And will you still be here when I wake up?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“Promise?” I asked too drowsy in the aftermath to move.
I could feel him smile as he answered. “I promise.” He said then he shifted so that he could curl himself protectively around me stroking me absently until I fell asleep and if there were dreams, good, bad or in between I didn’t recall them when I woke up the next morning.
He had kept his word and when, still caught up in the remnants of sleep, I rolled over he was there lying on his side with his head propped up on his palm wide awake and watching me. For a long moment we just stared at each other and then he broke the spell by caressing my face.
“And she who dances as sunlight upon snow finally awakens.” He murmured.
I grinned and stretched in a jax like manner. “You’re still here.”
“I promised I would be.”
“Did that promise include ‘caf?” I asked hopefully.
“It certainly could be arranged.” He replied, moving a stray lock of tangled hair from my face as I just watched him, then something in my expression made him ask, “What is it?”
“I was just wondering how long we can stay like this?”
“In bed? I think it would get a bit uncomfortable after a day or so.” He teased.
“No, I meant, like this, in general, together and alive at the same time in the same place with nothing to do that will keep us at opposite ends of the universe or do you have some new plans for galactic domination that I need to know about?”
“Ahh.” He cocked his head slightly to one side and the corners of his lips curled into a smile. “No, currently my schedule is clear for the time being. Perhaps at a later date more pressing issues will intrude but for today I had rather thought you might like to unpack your things and settle in. I had all of our belongings shipped from Nirauan and from storage.”
“You did, how?”
“I made arrangements in secret with Thomas to sort all of that out prior to coming here. Once this place was finished and habitable I had everything moved here and what I didn’t get around to or belonged to you I placed in one of the unused rooms downstairs.” He said. “Even if you did not wish to be with me I imagined that you would prefer to have your things here rather than return to Nirauan to deal with all of that on your own.”
If I ever saw Doctor Thracer again I was going to have words with him about keeping such massive secrets from me but for now I was happy that he had been able to help. “So everything is now here?”
He nodded. “Unless you still have belongings on the Virulent.”
I shook my head, “No, I didn’t know if I would be returning to that ship so I cleared my quarters out completely. I think Ged knew I wouldn’t be coming back even though he told me I could.” I answered feeling an odd flash of sorrow as I recalled that moment in time. “Even if I had wanted to I don’t think I would have returned to that life.” There had been something horribly final about that moment in the Virulent’s hanger bay. It must have shown in my expression because he reached over and caressed my face gently.
“I am sorry.” He said.
I opened my mouth then closed it again and then I said finally, “I know you are and I know you mean it. You keep saying those words but you should stop.”
“Perhaps.” He didn’t sound so sure. I guess he had been given quite an earful by several people after I had left and being told off by Kerrjan alone would have been enough to send me scurrying away like a frightened durni. Here, in this enclave as Nikätza’arth’pavjäska, he was not in charge of anything and while he might have been respected and have a place on the council he was not considered terribly important in the overall scope of things. It must have been weird for him to make such a switch. I suspected there were many things going on to keep his brilliant mind occupied that I did not yet know about. It occurred to me in that moment that maybe the Aristocra had known the body I had returned to Csilla wasn’t actually the man I thought it was, and then I wondered if Ged also knew the truth. Thrawn was many things but a man to settle down and be happy with a quiet family life was never going to be one of them and I was a little surprised to discover I was okay with this.
I inhaled deeply and let the air out slowly while I thought about what I wanted to say, and then deciding that thinking was overrated I ploughed ahead. “Listen to me.” I said, “I used to have nightmares about your death a lot and I lived with that knowledge for a really long time. Then the very thing I feared and dreaded the most happened and thought I’d lost you forever but that was not the case.” I brought my knees up to my chest and hugged them tightly. “I don’t like being lied to and it was a hell of a shock to see you alive and well after what I had just gone through, sitting with your corpse, sitting through your funeral. I needed time to deal with that shock, that grief, your ghost, as well as my own anger.” He watched me with in intensity that was a little unnerving but I needed to finish my thoughts.
“You hurt me.” I told him plainly, “I thought you were dead and grief sits deeply with me which you should have known. Maybe part of you did but the logic part of you ignored this fact and the result was not very pretty. You really did put me through hell and I still don’t know what to make of it all but I worked through the worst of it and came to understand that no matter how mad I may have been it doesn’t compare to life without you in it.”
He nodded but before he could say anything I added. “Navaari knew, he knew I needed time to think and he did as well, like me, he was pretty pissed off at you, you know.”
“That would be an understatement if ever there was one.” Thrawn said with a sigh, running his fingers through his hair to brush it back off his face.
I nodded, “We both just needed time and once we’d sorted through all the grief and the anger to discover that having you alive was much better than thinking you were dead it was time to come home. When I saw the room cleared of all your things I thought…well I thought we just never seemed to get a break that, no matter how much we tried, the universe was determined we should not be together. In that moment, when I thought I had lost you for good a second time I knew that no matter what you had done or how you had done it I wanted you alive and I wanted you with me. I didn’t think I would ever be whole again until the moment you stepped into the barn.”
“I had hoped to catch you when you arrived so that I could explain why I had moved everything from your room but you had already gone to change and then I missed you again because you had come to the barn. I ran into Kerrjan who wanted to see what all the fuss was about, suspecting that the pup had escaped. He got to you first. ”
I nodded. “I had forgotten my pack and you know how picky Navaari gets when I leave my stuff lying around.”
That made Thrawn smile. “You are a little chaotic.”
“It’s part of my charm.” I replied airily.
He reached over and caressed my cheek. “You were not the only one who was concerned about the state of our relationship.”
“That’s good to know.” I told him. “But now you’re here and you’re alive. I feel as though we’ve been given a second chance. You don’t have to plan a war, you don’t have to command a battle fleet and there’s no Emperor to meddle our fates. I may have been pretty pissed off at you but now I am just grateful. Stop saying you are sorry. I accept your apology, okay?”
He gave me a slight almost uncertain nod. “Okay.”
“And I forgive you.” I added after a moment.
The air in the bedroom was still as he just watched me and then he let out the breath he had been holding slowly. “Thank you.” He nodded and I understood that he had really needed to hear these words.
“So that leaves me to ask what happens now?” I looked at him.
For what felt like an age he said nothing. He just stared at me as though I were some great mystery he had yet to untangle. Then he leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. “Now I make stim’caf and we begin.” He replied, getting out of bed and nudging me to do the same
“Begin what?” I asked taking the warm, floor length robe that he handed me and slipping it on.
“Begin the rest of our lives.” He answered with an enigmatic smile.
I stood very still, watching him slip into a pair of soft trousers as the enormity of his words sank in slowly. I wondered, for a moment, if we could actually have a life with each other that did not revolve around some sort of personal conflict, or a galactic war, or some other major disaster. If we could live together for longer than a few stolen months at a time and not end up fighting or hating each other. I had believed, in the past, that such a life with this man could never happen because he was too tied to his command and his ship but now that the possibility stood before me and I suddenly found myself scared at the prospects of one way of life ending so that another could begin. Perhaps he sensed my thoughts because he looked at me with a slight frown and came to stand in front of me.
“Credit for them.” He said as he circled my waist with his hands.
“I was just wondering if a normal life together was even possible.”
“I think, given all that we have been through, we have earned the right to try, don’t you?” He replied touching his forehead to mine.
I just stood there for a moment not answering him then I looked up into his face trying to read the expression in his eyes and nodded. “Yes.” I said, “I suppose we have.”
“Right then, come with me so that I can feed you.” And he led me downstairs.
I sat at the kitchen counter and watched as he prepared ‘caf and breakfast. I believed then that, maybe just maybe, it was possible to be loved, happy and content all at the same time. I wrapped my hands around the hot mug of ‘caf he handed me and sipped it with a smile. I had no idea what our future would bring but in that moment I also didn’t care. I sipped my ‘caf slowly and thought briefly about the last ten years of my life. I had come a long way from the mechanic pit in our docking bay on Tatooine to being here. I had experienced more than I could possibly ever dreamed of although I had not planned for any of it. Certainly I would not have believed I would fall in love with a man like Thrawn but now I could not imagine a life without him although that had very nearly occurred. I wasn’t a person generally given to long periods of introspective thinking but it occurred to me that in this moment I was content. I also knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long but that was also okay.
“So,” he said suddenly breaking into my thoughts, “have you considered a name for that whelp of yours yet?”
“A name?” I laughed, surprised at his question. “No.”
“Kerrjan has been calling him Ka’lü’biri and if you are not careful that name is going to stick.”
I grinned, Ka’lü’biri meant little pest who is nosey. “It’s an apt name though.” I replied.
“You like him then.” It wasn’t really a question.
“I do, thank you he’s very cute.” Then I said, “You understand that he will be living here with us and not stuck out in the barn, right?” It had been heart wrenching to hear the little pup yowl for me as I had left him alone in his kennel. That was not going to happen a second time.
“Kerrjan warned me you would want that and I have no objections as long as he is well behaved. He also said the pup won’t be a good sled-hound but that he has the makings of a fine tracker. He’s very intelligent. You will have to start training him soon though.”
“I’ll talk to Kerrjan about it later.” I said. “One more day of relative freedom won’t hurt the pup. I want to spend the day here, unpacking and…well… being with you.” There was a quiver in my voice which made him stop what he was doing and turn around. “I still can’t quite believe everything that’s happened but I’m grateful you’re alive and….” I added, “I am really glad you’re here.”
He turned to look at me thoughtfully and when our eyes met I felt the world stop and my heart flutter. After all this time, after all we’d been through he still had the power to suck my breath away with a single glance. The sudden blush that coloured my cheeks did not go unnoticed and his smile was seductive and pleased all at the same time. I didn’t need to ask what he was thinking because I could see it written all over his face.
“No, no, no,” I waggled my forefinger at him, “breakfast first, I’m hungry then I really, really want to try out the bathtub because I think every muscle in my body hurts and after that …well I’m sure you can think of something since diversionary tactics seem to be a speciality of yours.”
He arched an eyebrow and smiled. “Indeed.”
Perhaps if we had been an ordinary couple in the galaxy he would have said something romantic to fill the silence that followed his words or maybe taken my hand in his and gazed lovingly into my eyes but we were not an ordinary couple and he did none of these things. Instead he refilled my cup and then he made breakfast which we both shared in an easy silence reminding me of that single morning on Coruscant when everything had seemed perfect.
There were a billion things I wanted to ask him and he knew this but all of my questions could wait. Right now I was content just to be here in this moment with him because I knew from personal experience that moments like these were rare and precious. We could never go back to what we had been before but I was glad for this too. Now, at least to me, it felt as though we were on more equal footing, as though we had both passed some sort of test of character and managed to survive it intact, more or less. We had been given a second chance to share a life together unfettered by all the constraints that the Empire, duty and expectation had laid in place. I had never known or loved anyone the way I knew and loved him; it was a daunting thing to face. He was a lot of work, but then again so was I and it was this last thought which made me smile.
I looked up to find him staring at me. His eyes glowed with a soft red heat which made me shiver. “You have that look on your face.” He remarked casually as he began to clear away the dishes.
“Oh? And which one is that?”
“The one that usually means you’re planning some sort of mischief.” He replied.
I shrugged as I got off the stool and headed towards the stairs. “The only thing I plan on doing right now is running a bath and giving that swimming pool you called a bathtub a try. There is nothing mischievous about that,” I said looking at him over my shoulder, “Unless you’d care to join me.”
And then it was his turn to smile.