What had started out as a casual thing had become tradition at our docking bay. Suppers were always a family affair and pretty much everyone that worked at the Bay was considered part of the family. My mother had insisted on feeding everyone at least one good meal a day. At first, as I recall, everyone was nervous about eating at the Boss’s table but after a while that vanished and we all ate together in my father’s house as though it were the most natural thing in the world. I think my mother had missed the big dinner parties and her own large family gatherings from her home too much. After my mother had died Bel had taken up the torch of cooking or at least arranging something. I was a terrible cook and my father’s menus were restricted to basic stews and soup which got pretty boring pretty fast. Eventually, the chore of cooking went on a rotating schedule and that meant the meals were always, to say the very least, interesting. It depended on who was cooking and who was around. The faces at the table changed daily based on who had what shift and who was flying and who was off duty. The only constants were Bel, Tigann, who did the books, and my father.
Our house was right near the docking station and, for a Tatooine town house, was fairly spacious. My father had never redecorated after my mother had died so it still held her taste in furniture and artwork, all subtle colours and an understated elegance. It felt good to be home, surrounded by things that were familiar to me.
Bedi met us at the door. She had not changed much but she had cut all her beautiful hair short. She enveloped me in a huge hug and completely ignored Thrawn, until I untangled myself from her and introduced them. It was Bel who saved the day by dragging him away into the living room to sit, giving me time to talk with my now step mother.
“You cut your hair!” was all I could think to say as we stood and stared at each other.
“Too hot here.” She said. “I can’t deal with the heat and all that hair anymore, am not young like I was, you know. I kept my collection for you though. It’s in your old bedroom on the bookshelf.” She told me.
I told her how glad I was for them both and she seemed somehow relieved.
“Your father was so worried about how you would take it.” She confided in me as we went into the kitchen. “Me, as well.”
I gave her a hug. “You both worry too much.” I said.
“Come on give me a hand with supper. You can tell me all about your work and who that man is out there, he is quite charming” She smiled. I shook my head, where to even begin and what to actually tell….
Bedi was a great cook and since it was sort of a special occasion my father had pulled out some of his really good wine. No one paid the slightest bit of attention to the fact that they had an Imperial Captain sitting with them. I loved how my family and friends just didn’t worry about things like that and treated him like one of the crew, as if they had known him forever. On Tatooine no one cared where you were from of what you looked like, not really. They dragged him into the crazy conversations and welcomed his stories in return. He was surprisingly entertaining. I suppose what amazed me even more was how comfortable he seemed with it all. He was like a djakka lizard, able to adapt to pretty much anything and be at home pretty much anywhere he went. Once we had finished eating, Bedi made mint tea and everyone sat back, full and relaxed. It was when Thrawn made the mistake of commenting on one of the paintings in the living-room that I decided it would be a good time to head back to the Bay and finish working on the ship. Art was a hot and heavy topic in my house with Bel leading the crusade. There was not much left to do on the repairs and I wanted to finish as soon as I could, maybe get a little bit of time in with my family before we headed back out. I made my excuses and escaped before the discussion got really interesting or heated depending on how things went.
I liked working in the evening. It was cooler and it was quiet. I hummed to myself as I finished up. Working on the ship was so much easier when there as no one whispering distractions in my ear. As I packed everything away and tidied up it occurred to me that repairing ships made me happy. It was a simple thing, find the problem and fix it. The ship didn’t try to kill you or get revenge for anything, it was just a machine. It either worked or it didn’t. I patted the hull and smiled. She was a good little ship and I would miss her when we returned to the vengeance. I heard the bay door open and closed and smiled to myself. I knew whose footsteps those were.
“Hey, papa.” I said. Wiping the grease from my hands as best I could.
“How’s my girl really doing?” he asked handing me a glass of his home made gut rot. “you don’t look so well.”
I sipped it and made the appropriate face. “Oh papa, I’m really fine, just a bit tired. This has been a long trip.” I said, it was party true. “It’s hard work and it’s odd hours but it is a really interesting job. I sometimes even get to fly people around.” I said. “I like what I do and apparently I am good at it. It sure beats working for Jabba. I miss you though and working here. I miss home.”
My father nodded. “Of course you do, pet, but you can’t stay here forever. I knew that, I’ve always known that. You were meant for more than just here, it was never your destiny to live your whole life on this sand box. It’s a big galaxy out there and you need to find your own way. I am just glad you are happy.” He said putting his arm around my shoulder and hugging me close. “Doesn’t mean I don’t miss my girl, though.”
I hugged him back. “I’m sorry I missed the wedding, papa. I would have been here if I had known.”
He smiled. “I know that, pet.”
“What about you, are you happy, papa?” I asked. “How are things here?”
“Yes. I am. Life is good here for us, no need for you to worry about that.” He said with a smile then asked. “What time were you planning on leaving this evening?”
I shrugged. “Guess, that’s up to the Captain.”
My father smiled. “Well, I guess maybe you have some time, then.”
“He and Bel got into a serious discussion about two of the paintings in the house. When I left they were starting to pullout your mother’s art history books, arguing about brush strokes and techniques. I don’t think he knows what he has gotten himself into. Bedi was laughing her self stupid in the kitchen. He is quite the interesting man, that captain of yours, but he is no match for our Bel.”
I laughed and shook my head. “Well, I am sorry I am missing that. He is a real art expert and,” I added. “ he knows it. It will mostly be about who has the last word I think.” I patted the ship again. “I would have stayed to referee but this ol’ girl needed my care.”
My father gave me a thoughtful look and then nodded. “I gathered from the way they were getting into it, it will be a long night.”
I grinned. “If the Captain asks you can tell him I am up on the bluff.” I said. “If he’s gotten himself wrapped in an art conversation with Bel then I have time to say hullo to the desert.”
He nodded. “I will let him know where to find you. But be careful, the Sand People have been raiding closer to town this season. And don’t stay out there all night. I’d like to spend some time with my daughter before she heads back off into the great unknown.”
“I won’t papa, promise.” I kissed him on the cheek and took off for one of my favourite places in the whole galaxy.
The bluff was out just beyond the town’s edge, a fifteen minute walk from where we lived. It was just a cliff like edge off the rising dunes and hills, but I had spent more time out on it than I could even count. From it you could look out over the city of Mos Eisley and the desert beyond.
I sat there once again, my ear tuned to the shifting winds and the sands, watching the lights from the city as they twinkled in the oncoming night. Tatoo 1 and 2 had only just set so the sky was still dusted with a pale light on the horizon. I marvelled at how different they looked from down here. I lay on my back and stared up at the sky. The stars sparkled brilliantly against the blue of the oncoming night, ships moved about in orbit and although it could be incredibly lonely on this planet, somehow I never felt alone.
So much had happened to me in such a short period of time that I had not even really had a free moment to consider it all. Now, I had come home only to find out that life here had also moved on without me. It was a strange feeling. I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift. It was not long before I felt that familiar sensation ripple through me.
I could feel the force around me and I let it move through me. It seemed stronger here than I remembered. Maybe I was just better at sensing it than I had been. I thought of Lord Vader and wondered where he was right at this moment in time, if he had ever sat on a dune and watched the stars when he had lived on this planet. I wondered about him and his life here. I found it hard to imagine him as boy or even as a young man. What had he looked like, how had he lived? Did he miss it? I delved deeper into my own self, finding my center and tried to find his life force, hoping to somehow connect with him, but that was something far beyond my small abilities. I knew he was out there somewhere amongst the stars and the planets and while I could not sense Lord Vader, I did sense someone else. I smiled to myself when I heard the footsteps but didn’t get up.
“Are you ready to leave, Captain?” I asked as he approached.
He bent heel to haunch, squatting on the ground beside me and stared out over the city. “Change of plan, we leave in the morning.” He said. “I want some peace and quiet, time to think, to meditate on some of the recent events and I believe you might enjoy spending a little more time with your family considering the news you were given today.”
I smiled and nodded then sat up. “How was the art discussion?” I asked.
“Belkin will argue the hind legs off a Varactyl, but she knows her art.” He said. “But then you knew that already didn’t you.”
“Yep.” I nodded. “I adore Bel, she’s known me pretty much all my life, taught me Rodian and yep, she likes to have the last word.”
“You have some stunning pieces of art in your home.” He said quietly.
“Mostly my mother’s. She brought a lot of the pieces with her when she left her home on Alderaan. Anyone who spends any time in the house gets an art education. Bel took up that job after my mother’s death. I probably should have warned you. I am sorry I missed seeing you and Bel in action.”
Thrawn laughed. “She won and I escaped gracefully, to look for you.”
“Well, you found me.” I said looking at my nails. There was grease under them.
He looked out over the city. “Your father said this was where you used to come as a kid when you wanted to get away from the world. I can see why, it’s quite some view of the city and the sky.” He said after a moment.
I nodded. “Yeah, I love it here, listening to the wind and the sands. I started coming up here just after my mother died. It was rough in the house for a while, between me and my father. Guess it could not have been easy for him either but as a kid, one doesn’t think about stuff like that. Sometimes, I would spend all night out here just watching the stars and the city, not tell anyone where I was. I would just come up here to sit and then go home after the suns had come up, crawl into bed and sleep. I drove my father crazy. I don’t think he really understood that sometimes I just liked the silence.”
“You were not afraid of being out here on your own?”
I looked at him. “No, oddly enough, I was never afraid out here. I probably would have gone deeper into the dunes, if I could have. You scare me more than being out here does.” I said jokingly.
Thrawn arched an eyebrow. “Really?” He asked and he wasn’t joking.
“Sometimes, yes.” I said more seriously.
“How is your leg doing?” he asked changing the subject abruptly.
“It hurts, but not quite as badly as before.” But I was lying. It hurt like hell, in fact everything still hurt like hell and I think he knew that. I had put on a brave face because I did not want my family asking awkward questions or worrying too much.
“Come back to the ship, I want to make sure that wound is healing, it was deep and nasty.” He said standing up, offering me his hand. He helped me to my feet and for a moment we stood looking at each other. The air between us sparked. He brushed sand out of my hair and stroked my face with his fingertips.
“I scare you?” he asked quietly, he was just not going to let that go. I was sorry I had even made a joke out of it.
I swallowed and nodded. His eyes glittered with an eerie light quite all of their own and I wondered what the world looked like to him through those red, luminous eyes.
“Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” I answered after a moment.
He brushed his lips across mine and smiled as I shivered. “I do.” He said and he let go of me.
With my heart pounding and my mouth feeling like the desert I was looking at, I said. “Don’t suppose you’d care to tell me?”
“Better if you figure it out on your own.” He said and he started back down the bluff towards the ship. With a sigh that let him know he annoyed the sandjiggers out of me I followed him. The docking bay was thankfully deserted when we got back and the ship was a quiet refuge.
I sat on a chair, hiked up my skirt and plunked my leg on the chair across from me and folded my arms across my chest. The synth skin came off easier than I thought it would and the wound was healing better than I had hoped but the scar it would leave would be a beauty.Not even bacta treatment would change that now. Thrawn cleaned it and then applied a new bandage of synthskin with a bacta strip. When he was finished he patted my knee to signal he was done and put the med kit away.
I did not, could not take my eyes off him. His touch burned. I knew only that I hungered and ached for something I could not define, something that awoke in me every time he played these games, every time our eyes met and something leaped up between us. We were alone, no one was shooting at us and I wanted to touch him, be near him and not wait for his next move. Without considering the consequences, I went to him, suddenly, and wrapped my arms about his waist from behind, resting the side of my face against the flat of his back. I felt his surprise as he tensed for a second and then he relaxed. He turned around within the circle of my arms and raised my chin up so I looked him in the eyes, there was a smile on his lips I didn’t really understand, a moment in time where everything seemed to hold its breath and then, whatever electricity there was between us exploded. He kissed me with utter abandon and I was swept up by the sheer force of it. He wrapped his arms around my body and pulled me tightly to him. His strength and passion flowed about me like a desert wind. It was intoxicating. It was scary. It was very powerful and I had not ever felt anything quite like it before. I breathed in his scent and lost myself to him, to his touch, to the sound of his voice. It was a terrible, desperate, physical ache. As suddenly as I had wanted it, so suddenly it was all just too much, too soon. I felt as though I were drowning, going under with no way out.
I pushed back from him and covered my mouth with shaking hands, staring at him with more questions than there were answers for. He took my hands in his and looked at me, studying my face, my eyes.
I shook my head. “Too much. I feel too much. I want…” Words tumbled out and I did not even know how to begin to explain what I was feeling. “I’m sorry, I didn’t …”
“Akiana’myshk’a,” he said gently, his hands steadying mine. “I know.” He studied my face carefully. “Listen to me. There will always be time enough for this. When the moment is right for more you will know, you will not be afraid and it will not feel like drowning. Do not force it.”
“How did you…, how do you know?” I felt like such an idiot.
“I just know.” He said in a voice that said he was not going to explain that statement further. “And…” he added with a slight smile and a raised eyebrow. “Contrary to what many may think I am a very patient man. There are things in this galaxy that are worth waiting for,” he brushed my cheek with the back of his fingers and whispered in my ear. “And you, my dear, are one of those things.”
I turned my face away from him but he wasn’t letting me get away. “What scares you?” He demanded, “Just say it, don’t think about it.”
I took a deep breath. “It isn’t true what I told you earlier,” I said as he turned my face back to meet his. “It isn’t you that scares me. It is how you make me feel.”
He just nodded because he already knew that. He also knew I needed to say it out loud. “Go and spend time with your family, Akiana’myshk’a. It may be a long time before you see them again.”
“Why do you call me that?”
“Because it gives me pleasure to do so.” He answered casually.
“What does it mean?”
But he just smiled.
I sighed and stepped back from him. “Will you ever tell me what it means, the whole name?”
“One day, perhaps, when the time is right, you will learn its meaning.” He said smugly “Timing, Miss Gabriel, is everything.” We were back to playing games again.
I rolled my eyes. “Why all the secrecy?” I asked but he never got the chance to answer because the knock on the side of the ship and the sound of my father’s voice broke the spell. I looked at Thrawn, he just shook his head. Timing was, indeed, everything.
“Fine, be all Mr. Mysterious then.” I hissed at him.
“Your ship, Captain, you show my father around. I need to get some things for the night.” I told him.
It was almost a blessing to be able to step back into formality. I went into the crew quarters to pack for the night and listened while Thrawn welcomed my father on board and showed him the ship. By the time they had done the small tour I had collected my wits about me, splashed cold water on my face and packed for the night.
“We leave at seven am, Miss Gabriel. Do not be late.” Thrawn said coolly as I went to leave with my father.
“Yes, Captain.” I replied without looking back at him. My father slung his arm around my shoulder and we walked out of the docking Bay to go home. I had a whole night to catch up on the last four months. I wasn’t going to waste it.