It was not until I was actually back on Coruscant that they informed me that I had been relocated. My flat had been deemed unsafe and I had been given a new home. My father would have called that shutting the cargo door after all the shipment has fallen out. Human Resources gave me two days to pack my world and move it from the place I had called home to the new one. At first I had been angry and was more than a little vocal about it but when I saw my new home I decided that I had gotten a better deal. It had taken me only a few hours to pack my belongings and move them with the help of a small repulser cart. I didn’t have that much and most of what I had acquired in the last year were clothes.
My new home was in the older part of the palace, closer to my favourite balcony and the secret library the Emperor had given me access to. I loved the architecture in this part of the palace, the high ceilings and the large windows. It was a larger space, with a better view, a nice kitchen and a really amazing bathroom. It was bright and cheerful and because it was in the old part of the palace the floors were of antique polished wood. I instantly felt at home. It took me about as long to unpack as it had to stuff all my things in the boxes provided. I had poked through the cupboards and discovered where the dishes, pots, pans, kettle, tea pot, cups and glasses were kept. I would have to rearrange everything again, but I didn’t really mind that, it kept my mind busy.
Lord Vader had been true to his word and for the two weeks I was on board the Executor he had trained with me physically. I had missed training with someone during my captivity. The energy exchange and adrenaline rush. Of course being taught by and allowed to spar with Lord Vader was like nothing else imaginable. He was as fast as he was unforgiving. If you did not learn swiftly from the mistakes you made then you paid for them dearly. He had no tolerance for weakness especially when he knew if he pushed at you, you would do better. Part of me welcomed this because it was easy to focus on the deep seated rage this stirred up inside.
He had attempted to teach me about control but the lessons frustrated me almost as much as they did him and usually ended up in a screaming match or a nasty sparring bout. I was a difficult student, I always wanted to run before I could walk and learning to control something that had been stifled and uncontrolled my whole life was just not easy. Now, it was even harder to deal with because I could not find any peace from within, no matter how much I meditated I could not maintain that stillness. I could call up the emotions I felt and I could send them flying about the room until one would swear one could see sparks flying but it was a wild sort of magic and I had no ability to control it. It was either all or nothing. We fed off each other, my fear and hesitation against his anger and impatience. Yet for all the conflict, I learned and much to my surprise made some progress in what Lord Vader said was actually a very difficult field to master. Despite his words to the contrary he did not seem displeased with my progress. I was under stern orders to continue practicing everything he had taught me. Lord Vader and his fleet were off hunting rebels somewhere near Reytha and I was supposed to stay on Coruscant, catch up with the office work and most of all recover.
Recover. It was a simple enough word but its implications were anything but. I wasn’t sleeping well and I seemed to spend a great deal of time in a weird state of expectation. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to wake up and find myself still back in that darkened room on Mattri, and waiting for some sort of bad news or unexpected and unpleasant event. I spent time in the office but often I would look up from my desk to discover the day had passed by and I could not remember what I had done or what I was in the middle of doing. It was frustrating and baffling. I had been back on Coruscant for little over a week yet it felt like forever on the one hand and a split second on the other. I had hoped to resume training under Master Kjestyll but he had sent word that he would be unavailable for the next few weeks and I was to practice on my own, to train for the next test, the next level. He had said I was ready for it but I was not so sure. I had sent Shiv a message saying I was back only to learn he was currently on Naboo at the retreat, sorting out the year’s events that would be taking place there. He would also not be back on Coruscant for another week or so. He had dropped me a quick note to say he was glad I was back and safe and sound and when he got back we’d get together for lunch.
I was missing people. For the first time in my life I craved company and no one was there. I had replied to my father’s message and it had been a difficult letter to write. I had told him what had happened in brief form, leaving out the details and then warned him about Jyrki. He’s changed, papa. He’s become dangerous and feral. I don’t think that he will try to hurt you but be wary of him. It had taken me two days of stressing out before I had hit the send button. His reply had been short and reassuring but underneath the words I felt his own anger. I did not know how to cope with that or the guilt that brought with it. So I did what I always did when I couldn’t face my father, I ignored the situation and hoped it would bury itself and just go away. He was every bit as bad as I was in doing this.
Most of the time things in the office were quiet. Life just went on and it was a little surreal to me how while I had gone through this terrible event, everything else was just business as usual. Well, most of the time. I was in the middle of sorting through the huge pile of internal memos and trying to find my coffee when a knock on the door nearly scared me out of my skin. My droid shuffled over to answer it. The young delivery girl smiled as she handed me a huge bouquet of flowers in a vase all wrapped in some pretty pink paper. I cleared off a corner of my desk and unwrapped my gift. Corellian Stars, pale blue star shaped flowers, mixed with tiny Jin-Jin flowers which were almost pure black and Nubian roses that were a deep almost glowing red colour. It was a strange combination but very beautiful. Hidden in the bouquet was a small card with handwriting I recognized at once.
I am not that easy to kill so do not worry when you hear the news.
Of course I immediately had to turn on the internal news net and after some digging through the bulletins discovered much to my horror that the ISD Vengeance had been reported destroyed. There were few details on what had happened and there was no word yet on survivors. I looked at the bouquet and smiled, sometimes Thrawn had a strange sense of humour and now he had some explaining to do but I was grateful and relieved. I decided that this was reason enough to just go home. I took my gorgeous flowers with me and decided to spend what was left of the afternoon with the holonet on in my flat to hear more on this whole Vengeance destruction thing. Naturally there was no more news to hear on this topic but a lot of news about Prince Xizor and his latest girlfriend, some famous actress. I gave this relationship a month at best. That man went through girl-friends the way Lord Vader went through battle droids. Lord Vader hated the Prince and could not keep the contempt from his voice when ever he spoke of him. I had no idea what anyone saw in Xizor, he was just plain creepy and then smiled to myself since that was probably the same thing that often got whispered about Thrawn. Alien beauty, I guessed, was definitely in the eye of the beholder. I absently brushed the flowers with my fingertips. I wondered where he was now and when he would show up on my doorstep.
My days and nights blended one into the other. Since sleeping seemed to be a thing of the past I had taken to curling up on the couch which was way more comfortable than my old one, drinking cups of tea and watching the Holonet. It was not as though there was anything all that interesting on most of the time but it was better than being left to my own thoughts. I was in the middle of some terrible film that was on the late night show when there was a soft knock on my door. When I opened it there was no one there but sitting on the door mat was a very pretty crystal glass. I grabbed my key and the glass and went to find the drink that matched it.
He stood leaning on the balcony ledge with both hands watching the city. I stopped and looked at him. This was what I should have been doing the night Jyrki had come and snatched me away. I wondered if it was possible to somehow erase the last two months of my life and go back in time, I wished it was. Seeing him made my heart ache and suddenly I was nervous but not in any good way. It seemed strange to me that all the while I was being kept prisoner thoughts of this man had helped to keep me alive, had given me hope and now that I was face to face with him again I didn’t know what to do, what to say. I was about to slip back into the darkness of the room when he turned around and saw me. Our eyes met and time seemed to pause for a moment. He reached out his hand to me and as if I were drawn on a string I went to him. He took the glass from my hand, poured brandy in it then handed it back to me. He touched his glass to mine in a toast and then said;
I sipped my drink and nodded. “It’s good to be back.” This had become my standard, guarded answer.
He studied my face carefully and then reached out to touch it. Without even thinking about it I took a small step back from him, then realised what I had done.
“I’m sorry.” My hands were shaking. “I don’t know why I did that.”
“I do and I understand.” He said. “It’s alright I did not expect you to fling yourself into my arms. I imagine it must be a hard readjustment to return to normal life. Trust after such a betrayal will be difficult to give. I truly do understand.”
I didn’t sip the brandy this time I finished it off in one gulp and held my glass out so that he could give me a refill.
“I got your message.” I said changing the subject. “Very interesting method you have of allaying rumours of your demise.” I said. “The flowers are beautiful, thank you.”
He nodded. “Did they make you smile?”
“You know they did.” I replied. “What happened?”
“To make a very long story short the ship ended up in an asteroid field filled with Space Slugs with which she argued and lost. It was a bloody mess,” He said angrily. “and a ridiculous waste of life and equipment! After the inquiry and when I am not so furious about it I will tell you exactly what happened.”
“I’m sorry. What will you do now?”
Thrawn sipped his brandy. “I’ll be offered a new commission but I am not entirely certain exactly what that will be yet.”
“Well, thank you for letting me know. I’d have worried.” I said. “A lot, actually, so it is nice to see you looking so…alive.”
He smiled slightly and then became serious again. “You, on the other hand, look exhausted and you are far too thin.”
“Well, you know… I tried out a new fitness programme; the sleep deprivation, bad drugs and darkness diet.” I told him as I studied the contents of my glass. “Worked wonders don’t you think? Don’t believe it will be a big hit though.” I could not keep the bitterness out of my voice and had to grit my teeth to keep from saying more stupid comments.
His expression became unreadable, but the hardness that flashed in his eyes told me he didn’t find my attempt at humour all that funny. I didn’t flinch or shy away from his caress this time but I had to make a conscious effort not to. I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t want contact. I wanted to wallow in what ever hole it was I had locked myself into.
“What did that pash’kja’anta do to you?” he asked. I was pretty certain the word he had used was not very complimentary to Jyrki.
I turned away from him and leaned against the balcony. I didn’t want to cry but his tenderness made that hard to stop. I bit back the well of emotion, shoved it deep down into the pit of my belly and drank the brandy. Its bite and burn helped me steady myself.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” I said, the words sounded shaky to my ears. “There is nothing much to say really.” I finished the brandy in the glass and then handed it to Thrawn. “I’d better go. I’m not the best company at the moment, I’m afraid.”
He watched me for a moment then nodded. “This will not go away on its own, you know.” He said quietly. “You will have to come to terms with it before you can move on.”
I wondered what he knew about such things, what he knew of captivity and isolation but I didn’t ask. “How long are you on Coruscant for?” I asked.
“A few days perhaps, it depends on a couple of things.”
“Maybe we can have dinner or something?” I said.
He smiled but it never reached his eyes. “If you would like that, I am sure it can be arranged.”
I nodded and then without any further ado I turned and left. I felt his eyes follow me but I didn’t turn around. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted to curl up in a corner and do nothing. Recover. I was starting to wonder what that word meant and I was certainly starting to hate it. I reached the sanctuary of my flat, slammed the door behind me and let out the breath I felt I had been holding since forever. I didn’t think, I just went to the kitchen and dug out a glass and the bottle of brandy Thrawn had once left in my flat and poured a large amount in it. I curled up on the couch and cradled the glass in my hands. I felt like a bloody idiot. I turned on the holonet and began to sip at my drink.
I had no idea what time it was but someone was knocking on the door. I woke up groggily, shut the holonet off, glanced at the clock and went to open the door, anything to stop the pounding sound. Thrawn didn’t wait to be asked, he just brushed past me and came in. “I like your new place.” He said coolly.
I was still trying to wake up and break through the brandy induced fog that had settled around my brain. “What in the name the almighty sarlacc are you doing here? It’s five in the morning.” I said slamming the door behind him.
He surveyed the living room, eyeing the empty glass on the table and the almost empty bottle of brandy that sat beside it. I followed his gaze and saw through his eyes the mess that I just had not gotten around to sorting out. It was a wreck, I was a wreck.
“Pack your things, enough for two weeks, clothes for a cold climate. As of now you are on leave.” He spoke with a crisp authority that was a little startling.
He handed me a data pad. I looked at it and then handed it back to him. He hadn’t been kidding. The order had been approved by Lord Vader and I was officially on leave. “This is your doing?”
“Because you are no good to the Empire in this current state and it is obvious to me that you will not deal with this on your own or seek help. The longer you dwell in this pain the worse it will get. So go and pack.” He said in a voice that I was certain he used to give orders on his ship.
I went into my bedroom and just stared at the mess. Thrawn stood in the doorway, arms folded across his chest. It dawned on me he was out of uniform. “Cold climate? I don’t have clothes for a cold climate, I come from a bloody desert world and I live in climate controlled housing.” I said bewildered by this turn of events and the fact that the room was spinning was not helping matters any.
He tossed a travel bag at me. “Well, pack what you think will do and come along. What you need will be provided for you after we arrive.” He told me crisply. “Oh and where are your Dantassi things?”
“On my ship.” I said as I started to pack random clothes, underwear, socks, and most of my Tatooine wardrobe. I slipped the little wooden box I kept his letters, my hair sticks and the gifts he had given me into the bag, there was no way I was leaving that behind. I shoved past him and went to the bathroom to pack my toiletries and stopped when I saw my reflection in the mirror. I looked like a ghost, absolutely awful and it was the first time I had noticed. With a sigh I cleaned my teeth, my mouth felt like rats had nested in it. I brushed my hair and put it up. When I was finished packing I joined Thrawn who had been waiting in the living room. It did not escape my notice that he had cleared away the dirty glasses and cups.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Right,” He said as he took my bag from my hands, “Let’s go.”
I had to trot to keep up with him. “Go? Go where?”
He stopped and looked at me. “That,” he said with a slight smile, “would spoil the surprise.”
“I do believe, right at this moment, I almost hate you.” I said.
“Well,” He said as he held the door open for me. “That is a step away from feeling nothing, perhaps there is hope for you after all.”
I opened my mouth to reply but he placed a finger on my lips. “Hush.” He said firmly. “Not one word.” And with that he ushered me outside.