The hand clamps over Veers’ mouth, ripping him out of his sleep, stifling his startled shout.
Veers’ eyes fly open. It is still night, and the torches outside his hut illuminate his room just enough to show only silhouettes.
A shadowy being kneels over him.
Instinct takes over and he kicks out, arms punching wildly. A strong hand grabs his wrist, while cold metal clamps over the other.
“Over his head,” a gruff voice commands. He hears a chain jingle and his cuffed wrist is yanked over his head.
The man holding him is strong, but adrenaline and panic fuel Veers’ body. He twists his torso, thrusts his powerful arms out and feels the man atop of him begin to topple. Veers feet find the headboard and he kicks hard. The bed jolts and the man falls off him.
Veers rolls towards the second man holding the chain and slams a fist into his face.
He stumbles out of his hut. The chill in the evening air shocks him awake, mist clinging to his bare skin, with only a pair of cotton pants shielding him from the cold. He searches wildly for a patrol, for a passing officer, anyone.
The base is empty.
The Imperial base itself is not large: little more than a collection of straw huts, mobile storage sheds on loan from the Empire, and a mountain of crates full of spare parts for the Imperial Walker project. Someone should have been around.
He looks to the sentry towers and feels the blood drain from his face. Stormtroopers lie prone on the elevated platforms.
Jungle surrounds the base and movement catches Veers’ eye. He sees the hoards of Zaloriians, camouflaged and armed, emerging from the darkness.
Veers shouts, “Sound the ala-”
Someone comes up behind him, a thick strip of cloth flies over him and is forced into his mouth. Either end of the cloth is yanked hard backwards and he stumbles back. Strong hands grab his arms and legs. He tries to shout a warning to his still sleeping officers, but it comes out as little more than muffled grunts.
He is dragged back into the hut where two more men await them. Veers throws his head backwards, but hits nothing. He twists and thrashes, freeing his legs, but is too overbalanced to find any purchase. One man kicks the backs of his knees and he finds himself crashing to the ground.
The gag is loose for an instant, but before he can draw breath to scream, a knee slams into his back, knocking the wind out of him.
Fogginess creeps in, overtaking his vision. He groans in protest as he feels his arms forced behind him again. His brain screams to fight, but by the time his body obeys the cuffs are already in place.
“Hold his legs,” someone orders. Their voice is calm, almost bored.
Panic rises in him as clamps snap over his bare ankles and a chain threads through the loops. As the chain is pulled, his legs are forced closer together. Running would be impossible, and walking a challenge.
The gag is tied tightly around his head, pulling his lips back in a grimace. Lungs burning, Veers can only let out little more than shallow breaths with the weight on his back.
Veers’ head lies on the dirt. He hears startled cries outside cut off by blaster fire. He smells smoke. He sees nothing, but the bent frame of his bed.
Heavy boots enter the hut. Thick leather and a faint whiff of vanilla reach his nose, though he cannot see the source.
“Colonel Veers.” The voice is smooth and light; it slithers under Veers’ skin, chilling his blood. “Zaloriis is not for the Empire to take on a whim. We expressed to your Emperor that there would be consequences if you did not leave. He ignored us and now you, unfortunately, will be the victim of those consequences, unless...” Veers flinches as the man kneels beside his head. “...you cooperate. In which case we will set your men free.”
Veers says nothing; his mind races.
He tests the weight on his back, wondering if he can roll away and get to his feet in time to escape the hut again. The moment he shifts, the knee presses hard against his spinal cord. He feels his back pop and he immediately stills.
“Colonel,” the man gently scolds. His gloved fingers brush back the hair from Veers’ forehead. “We do not want to hurt you. All we need is the passcode to get into your datapad.”
His own datapad slides into view, a black-gloved hand taps at the screen which glows an angry red [ Access Denied: Passcode Required ].
The passcode would give these men not only the plans to his Imperial Walker project, but access to any and all weapons projects for the Imperial Army.
Colonel Veers had been given far more access than an average colonel and divulging that information to these men would deal serious damage to the Empire...his Empire.
Fear forms an ice-cold knot in his stomach.
I am not going to make it out of here alive.
“Will you comply?” the man asks.
Veers lets out a low feral growl. The very idea of these men thinking a mild threat would scare Veers into revealing his passcode was insulting.
Yes he is afraid, but he is also a Colonel in the Imperial Army, the most powerful entity in the known galaxy.
Colonel Veers’ murderous gaze is his answer.
“That is alright,” the man gives Veers’ cheek a couple of firm pats. “We have plenty of time.”
It was Veers who had dismissed the reports of their unrest. He had told his troopers that the locals would not dare stand against the Empire.
Tonight proves him wrong.
They drag him through the base.
Smoke plumes from nearby huts. The Imperial walker prototype is kneeling. The Zaloriians run blowtorches along her hull in hopes of prying her open. Long black scars travel across her body. Veers hopes the hull holds, he helped built her himself, sweated alongside his men to make his dream a reality. She was far from ready, but she was a match for these intruders.
He is shoved past a pair of mobile storage sheds.
Dozens of stormtroopers are lined up on their knees, hands on their helmets, making a narrow pathway towards the largest maintenance shed as if leading Veers to his final destination. Zaloriis Separatists hold high-powered verpine assault rifles behind them. Some of the troopers’ helmets are cracked. Blood stains most of their armor.
Hot shame washes over him, hating that his men have to see him reduced to this. They trusted him to be their fixed point, their rock, their leader. Yet, here he was, bound and gagged, in a pair of cloth trousers facing a shed and whatever awaited him inside.
Fury turns molten within him. He may be beaten, but he has no intention of surrendering.
Veers fights his captors every step of the way.
And it takes all four men to drag him down the path.
He slams his body into one guard, and the other two stumble back. The fourth grabs the chains around his wrists and pulls hard, forcing him back while the other men recover.
They grab at his legs, the cuffs cutting deep into his ankles as he kicks and struggles.
He is lifted by his shoulders, pain screaming through his muscles, every struggle threatening to pop his arms from his sockets.
It doesn’t matter.
He is not going to go quietly.
Maximilian Veers does not surrender. Period.
Veers is thrown into the shed, landing painfully on his side atop a concrete slab used to absorb oil that dripped beneath the walker power cores.
The shed is alarmingly empty, once holding crates full of parts destined to become Imperial walker prototypes. Several long chains hang down from the ceiling and while others are rooted in the platform itself.
Veers writhes on the ground, working frantically to get to his knees, but a boot kicks him hard in the head. He collapses again and the boot presses hard against his cheek. Pain shoots through his skull, and two more men kneel beside him.
The short metal links between the cuffs on his wrists and ankles are removed, but he can hear the heavy chains being pulled down from the ceiling and dragged along the concrete.
The boot disappears and he hears the squeal of a crank being turned. He is being lifted.
He growls and yanks hard against the chains, but can only spit feral muffled sounds behind the gag.
The chains pull tighter, his arms being stretched far above him, while his feet are held firmly in place.
It pulls until he is no longer able to move.
His muscles are on fire. He can barely breathe. His struggle are little more than pitiful twitches.
Finally, he hangs his head.
After several agonizing moments, the crank turns again, the chains loosen, easing the tension in his muscles, yet still hindering his movement.
His jaw aches, and he groans softly against the gag, struggling to draw deeper breaths.
Exhaustion begins to take over, the adrenaline draining from him.
He looks up and wonders why his four captors are just standing there. They look at him, passive, no hate, no mockery, only watching him as if waiting for something.
He hears footsteps.
He smells oiled leather and faint vanilla...
The orange glow of fire outside casts a haunting silhouette over the lean, ghostly figure in the doorway.
“Colonel…” He recognizes the silken voice from the hut.
The light is dim, but Veers can make out the tailored gray shirt and black waistcoat, as well as the black trousers that hang off the man’s narrow hips. The man is long-limbed and moves through the shed with a haunting grace. He adjusts his black gloves for a moment before one comes to rest on the edge of an oiled bullwhip, the other rests on his hip.
The moonlight begins to seep through the windows that line the top of the shed. It casts a pale spotlight on the man’s face.
Golden blonde hair hangs in loose curls around the man, stopping at a narrow jaw and framing an elegant face. High cheekbones and a narrow nose add to the man’s dashing appearance, but the soft features were hardened by the pair of soulless dark eyes that bore into Veers’ as the man approached.
He walks towards Veers, his gait casual and easy as if strolling through a museum and Veers is merely a work hanging on display.
“I am sorry to see you like this,” the man sighs as he approaches.
Veers instinctively flinches as the man reaches out with a black-gloved hand.
“Shhh,” the man soothes, stroking Veers’ face. “Relax…”
Veers snarls behind the gag. He does not want to relax. He does not want to be calmed by a man with an angel’s face and a demon’s eyes.
“Do you want it removed?” His thumb flicks at the cloth.
Veers gives a resentful nod and allows the man to reach behind him. The cloth is removed, pearls of saliva still clinging to the cloth as it is pulled away.
Veers coughed and drew in desperate breaths.
“Colonel, I do not enjoy doing this,” the man said, casting the cloth aside.
“I am sure you are really broken up about it,” Veers growls.
The man smirks and steps in closer, the smell of the leather bullwhip and the vanilla growing stronger. “Regardless, you are going to tell me what I need to know one way or another. I have broken Imperials like you before.”
Veers grips the chains above his head and pulls hard, his thick arms flexing as he lifts himself up to his full height, allowing him to look down on the man’s eyes. “Trust me, you have never dealt with someone like me.”
The smile on the man’s face dissolves, his dark eyes narrow. “We shall see.”
Emboldened, Veers nods to the largest of the guards. “I suggest you utilize the bigger gentleman first,” he sneers. “You will then see I do not bend to torture and it will save the rest of your men effort.”
The man’s gloved hand seizes Veers’ chin and forces his eyes back to those bottomless black pools.
“You need not concern yourself with them, Colonel. You only have to look at me.” The silken tone dissolves into a venomous hiss. “My name is Kloven. I will be the one to deliver you pain. I will be the one who takes it away. I can make your life utter agony or I can set you free. In fact, you can leave right now, so long as you give me the passcode.”
Veers rips his chin away from Kloven’s grip. “Go to hell,” he spits.
The blow comes from out of nowhere, the backhand striking his lower jaw hard and fast. His teeth cut into his lower lip and he tastes blood. Kloven grabs his chin again, pressing his fingers painfully into the forming bruise. “I will get what I need from you, Colonel, one way or another.” Veers spits in response. Blood hits Kloven’s cheek.
The man does not flinch, but those black eyes gleam with fury.
He releases Veers’ chin and turned to the guards. “Proceed.”
Veers stares challengingly at the large man who moves at Kloven’s command. Yet instead of walking towards Veers, he leaves the hut.
Outside he hears men shouting something in Zaloriian.
Four crisp shots of a blaster sound in the distance.
Alarmed cries from voice amplifiers soon followed.
Another four blasts.
Kloven looks back at Veers with a devilish grin. “This will continue until you give me the passcode, Colonel.”
Veers flinches at every blaster shot as if the sounds strike him as hard as Kloven’s gloved hand. The sickening thud of plastoid armor against rocky ground is as deafening as the shots themselves.
He now understands why Kloven chose to line the pathway towards the shed with stormtroopers. The sound of blasters is growing louder as more troopers are executed.
Veers knows with every shot just how many more troopers are left.
“Your men are dying,” Kloven sighs, his voice taking on a sympathetic tone. “Yet, you can stop this, Colonel. You still have time.”
Veers clenches his jaw and stays silent.
Betraying the Empire is not an option.
Even if he was released, by the time he was able to leave orbit, return to a star destroyer, contact the ISB and try and try to undo the damage, the Zaloriians would already have all they needed.
Veers’ face falls to stone and he stares into Kloven’s black eyes while the blaster fire continues to draw nearer.
He tries to remember that these stormtroopers were bred to die for their Empire.
It does nothing to lessen the anguish in his heart.
Just four left…
A final pair of shots fire just outside his door.
Then all is silent.
“Bravo,” Kloven says with a slow clap. “You are more ruthless than I initially thought.”
“This is not ruthlessness,” Veers says, lifting his chin. “This is loyalty.”
Kloven smirks and pats Veers hard on the face. “I will miss this spirit after I have flayed it from you.” He smirks with a final slap, his palm lingering a moment before slipping away. “Loosen his chains and let him sleep. I will need his mind clear tomorrow for what I have in store.”
Veers is not afraid.
He does not blink as Kloven walks backwards towards the door, drifting farther and farther from reach. The chains loosen and Veers can finally lower his arms. Feeling returns to his tingling fingertips.
“Goodnight, Colonel Veers…”
Veers is not allowed to lie down, but he manages to kneel. He hangs heavily on the chains as the energy finally drains from him.
He sleeps, but he dreams only of the sound of blaster fire, and the pleas of stormtroopers that go unanswered.
Ice cold water crashes against Veers’ body, ripping him from his sleep. He lunges forward, blindly charging at whatever attacked him, only to be held back by chains he forgot existed.
The sound of a crank squeals and he is pulled up, forcing him to his feet. With a roar he fights the chains, pulling wildly against them, metal cutting into his raw wrists as he tries to will himself free.
The crank does not stop until Veers is stretched beyond his limits. It is getting harder to breathe. He struggles, but can do little more than move his torso, muscles flexing and straining with effort.
“That’s enough,” says a familiar, silken voice.
The chains ease and Veers is able to relax again, panting hard as Kloven approaches him.
“Colonel, I am afraid it is time to begin.” His voice is almost apologetic, his cold eyes bely his sympathetic tone. “I will remind you, you have the power to stop this. I will just need the passcode.”
Veers could not stop his body from trembling if he tried. The chill in the air coupled with the icy water raises his flesh with goosebumps. He bites his lip to still himself, but his muscles twitch and shiver involuntarily.
“Hush…” Kloven coos, running his leather gloves over Veers’ bare chest. The heat of his touch soothes his skin, and he hates that his body calms as Kloven warms him with his touch. “That’s it…”
Veers’ breath slows, drawing in the sweet scent of vanilla and the acrid smell of leather. Veers eyes close for a moment.
Then he jerks suddenly, rattling the chains. “You will get nothing from me,” he spits.
“I know,” Kloven sighs. “Or rather, I know you believe this. I also know I have the astounding power to change minds. It is only a matter of time before I change yours.”
Kloven removes the bullwhip from his belt. It uncoils on the ground like a serpent ready to hunt.
The whip is nearly as tall as Kloven, black and brown leather woven into a series of tight braids that are wound together into a single whip.
Kloven’s boots thud softly against the concrete as he circles around Veers out of sight.
Veers refuses to tremble from fear.
He draws in steady breaths.
Veers reminds himself he has endured pain before. They trained him to withstand torture. He had been shot and electrocuted and half-drowned during these training exercises. He even was subjected to Force manipulation under Vader that resulted in a severe nosebleed and a concussion.
He never broke under those pressures.
This feels different. There is no controlled environment here. Tarkin is not standing on the other side of the glass to ensure none of his officers die.
Veers knows he will die here.
Veers wonders if it will be a slow death.
Kloven stands behind Veers, close, running the length of the whip along his palm. The creak of leather against leather is grating on Veers’ nerves.
Veers knows the blows are coming.
Leather touches his back.
Veers flinches and gasps.
Veers grits his teeth, gripping the chains above him in an effort to brace himself.
He holds his breath.
And still the blows do not come.
“Tell me the passcode, Colonel,” Kloven says with a soft lilt.
Veers heart pounds in his chest. Anger swells within him.
Finally he lets out his breath enough to say: “Go to h-”
The sudden pain shocks Veers’ system. His eyes go wide, and no sound escapes him.
Veers shuts his eyes, refusing to let out a pained groan knowing its what Kloven wants to hear.
He tenses for another blow.
And again nothing comes.
The leather caresses his back, the rough layers of hide gliding alongside the long laceration. It burns, but Veers dares not squirm.
He holds his breath again.
And Kloven waits.
Time ticks by, Veers is not sure how long. Minutes maybe, mere seconds…
“Tell me the passcode…”
Veers does not say a word, knowing he might be caught off guard by another strike.
“Colonel,” Kloven hums. “Tell me the passcode.”
The whip comes away suddenly. Veers sucks in a deep breath.
And Kloven waits longer.
Veers is forced to exhale.
Another lash is waiting for him.
It crosses his back near the first lashing. The pain is quick and bright like lightning. It amplifies the sensations from the previous lash. Veers utters a soft wordless cry.
Veers cannot breathe, but finds himself letting out agonized grunts at every punishing blow.
Six more lashes and Veers feels his vision begin to darken and glitter at the same time. His head feels thick. Agony sings across his back long after he realizes Kloven has ceased striking him.
“What is the passcode?”
A leather hand runs along the edges of the lashes.
Veers flinches and whimpers before he can stop himself.
Shame heats his face. He trained for this. He should be braver than this.
“Shh…” Kloven soothes. He leans in close to Veers’ ear. “This can stop, you know. You have the power to stop all of this. It is a simple sequence. Tell it to me and I will let you go. I will let you all go.”
Veers raises his head slightly. “All?” His voice is hoarse.
“Ah,” Kloven purrs. “That’s right. We have not killed everyone. Your officers are alive, your technicians, your engineers. They are safe. They are waiting to be released. They are waiting for you to give us what we need so they can go home.”
Guilt stabs Veers’ chest at the thought of his men waiting for him.
This was not Veers’ first assignment, but it was a first for many of these officers. Veers wanted the brightest and greenest on these projects. He wanted them all to grow with these prototypes, become specialists with them, and improve and evolve with the walkers themselves.
“They are frightened, Colonel. Let them go…”
Veers purses his lips and lowers his head.
With a sigh Kloven pulls away again.
A shiver of fear runs through Veers’ spine, sending new ripples of pain through his tortured flesh.
Another two lashes streak across him.
As darkness swallows his vision, Veers dimly wonders if the officers can hear his screams.
More ice water splashes against him, jolting Veers awake.
He coughs and sputters, and the chains rise again. He does not struggle this time and the chains do not pull and suffocate him.
Veers sees no one but Kloven the second day.
The scent of leather and vanilla fill his nose as Kloven dunks a cloth in the cold water and begins to wash Veers. He wipes the dirt away, he applies bacta to the lacerations. He massages Veers’ shoulders and chest, working out the tight knots. He hand feeds Veers bread, gives him fresh water to drink.
All the while, Kloven speaks in a hushed tone.
He promises this will all end in Veers’ freedom if he just gives him the passcode.
Veers eats the bread greedily, he guzzles the water, he ignores the soothing words.
Kloven turns the crank and lowers Veers to his knees once again, allowing him to rest while the bacta heals.
For a few hours Veers tries to sleep.
Then Kloven and his bullwhip return to hurt him again.
Kloven pulls sounds from Veers that the colonel does not recognize. Sharp growls of pain, pitiful whimpers of exhaustion, wordless pleas.
Veers tries to twist away from the punishing blows. He struggles and pulls against the chains. It does no good, the lashes find his tender flesh every time, lashes splitting flesh over the newly scarred wounds.
Veers expects Kloven to leave him alone when Veers refuses to speak.
Instead, Kloven leaves the shed, only to return with a one of Veers’ officers.
Lieutenant Jaris is frightened. He is brought in, hands cuffed in front of him as if he is being forced to pray for his life. His fingers are threaded together, the knuckles are white. His large brown eyes are wild, and his hair is matted with blood.
“S...sir?” He looks at Veers.
Veers cannot imagine how he must look. Blood trickles down his back, collecting at his feet. Sweat drips off his face and down his chest, some from the heat, most of it from the pain. His breaths comes in small pants.
He looks bleary-eyed at Jaris. They both know it is the end for the technician.
Kloven grabs the skinny officer by the scruff of the collar and marches him in front of Veers.
“It is alright, Jaris,” Veers lies.
“Is it, Colonel?” Kloven asks, arching a slender eyebrow. “I was not aware. Does this mean you will give us the passcode so I can let this young man go?”
The hopefulness in Jaris’ eyes would be something Veers would never forget.
Kloven slides an arm around the young man. “He is waiting, colonel. He is ready to be free.”
“You can,” Kloven presses. “How about this. You give me a single digit in the passcode. Just one. And I will let him go.”
The prospect sparks a moment of hope within Veers. To save one of his men...just one…
A single digit, surely the Empire could not be breached with a single digit of his passcode.
No, Veers thinks, something is not right about this.
Veers does not look away from Jaris.
The technician deserves to be looked at in the face when Veers says, “I am sorry, Lieutenant.”
Kloven sighs. “As am I.” He turns and flings Jaris to the ground.
“Wait!” Veers panics, yanking at the chains.
Kloven turns. “Yes?”
Veers’ mind spins. “If you can just...if you release him as a gesture of goodw-”
The blaster rings out and Veers cries out. “Jaris!”
Jaris falls to the ground, a smoking hole between his eyes.
“No…” Veers hangs heavily on the chains.
Kloven approaches him, his merciless eyes narrowed, the honeyed tone in his voice turns to ice. “Allow me to make something clear, Colonel. You are not in control and you certainly are in no position to bargain. We need the passcode. Pure and simple. I will kill one of your officers every day until you give it to me. When there are no officers left, we shall kill you. Is that clear?”
Jaris continues to stare straight ahead, shock in his eyes, tears staining his ghastly face.
Veers manages to nod.
“That’s a good boy…” Kloven strokes Veers’ cheek with the back of his knuckles.
Veers does not flinch.
Kloven loosens the crank, allowing Veers to sink to the floor once again.
Even as Jaris’ body is dragged away, those sightless eyes are burned into his memory. The confusion in his face begging the question why his colonel did not just save him.
Just a single number…
The number was 8.
That could have saved his life…
Veers loses consciousness with that number dangerously hanging on the tip of his tongue.
Veers wakes up on a soft sofa, curled up next to someone who makes him feel safe. He raises his head.
He lays his head back down on a narrow lap, and lets the long fingers rake through his sweat-soaked hair.
Veers is in his uniform, he feels secure within the stiff, thick fabric, though he wishes the burning on his back would go away.
“I cannot do anything for that,” Tarkin says, still stroking his hair.
“That is alright. This is enough.”
“I am proud of you,” his mentor says. “You could have talked. You could have given them what they wanted.”
“Do not be proud of me, sir. Be proud of me when I take the passcode to my grave, when they finally let me die.”
“Or you finally escape.”
Veers laughs. “I am chained in a shed in the middle of a base where no one knows we are under distress.”
“I was locked in the deepest bowels of a Separatist fortress. I lived to tell the tale.”
“Were you tortured?”
Tarkin’s fingers hesitate. “You know I was.”
Veers says nothing for a moment. “I could have saved him...Jaris, I mean...I could have given them one number.”
Tarkin sighs and Veers steals a glance to see the man roll his eyes. “Colonel Veers, use your head. Why ask for one number? What good is one number? Or better yet…”
“...what good is one hostage released?” Veers finishes.
“Ah, there it is…”
Veers frowns. “One officer in the middle of this jungle would die out there, but three could get one of the shuttles up and running. The moment I saved Jaris, Kloven would pressed on that. Say things like…”
“‘Poor Jaris is all alone.’” Tarkin mocks, “Wild nexu roam the jungles...he cannot get far without a companion. Give us another number to save him…”
“They could do a lot with two numbers, more so with three.” Veers sighs and curls up, hugging his knees. “I wish they would let me die.”
Tarkin wipes away tears from Veers’ cheeks. “I know...but you need to live, Maximilian.”
“There is someone waiting for you when you leave this place.”
Veers snorts. “No one is waiting for me. My wife passed years ago. I will not love another like I did her.”
“True. But you will not love this one like you loved her. They are waiting for you, even if neither of you know it yet.”
Veers feels his chest tighten. He knows this is a dream. He knows this is an illusion brought on by agony and sorrow and grief and exhaustion.
Yet hearing this sparks hope within him.
Tarkin stops stroking his hair. “Would you like to know his name?”
Veers looks up in time to see Tarkin’s form dissolve into pure water.
Ice water shocks Veers awake, ripping him from his dream.
Veers stands, eyes-wide, shaken and shivering. Still in the haze of the dream he panics.
I left before he could tell me his name.
Who is waiting for me?
Who am I living for?
“Good day, Colonel.” Kloven comes in with a rag and begins his routine, wiping and cleaning Veers in slow, gentle strokes.
Veers turns away when Kloven cleans him, ashamed and infuriated at feeling relief during these sessions. Kloven continues to diligently works his sore muscles, he cleans and wipes away the sweat and grime, he cleans the dried blood and applies fresh bacta and anesthetic.
What he dreads during these sessions are the sweet words Kloven pours into his ear. He talks of the passcode being such a simple string of letters and numbers.
It would take mere seconds to utter them.
“Imagine how quickly this nightmare will end,” Kloven muses as he feeds Veers bits of bread, following by generous helpings of water. “Imagine being finally free of these chains. You could go outside. You could have a hot meal. No more waking up to cold showers and agony. Those scars could finally heal properly.”
Veers licks the water from his lips and forces a smile. “Do not do me any favors.”
Kloven smirks. “Still a fire in you...part of me never wants to snuff it out.” He picks up the bucket and walks out. “But I will...and soon…”
By day five, Veers no longer has the strength to hold back his agonized screams.
The bacta does less and less for his wounds.
The passcodes are beginning to roll around his head like a mantra.
He bites his lip so hard it bleeds, terrified he is going to cry the string out between lashes.
For four days, Veers has managed to say nothing.
For four days he allows himself only sharp yelps of pain, brave growls of defiance.
But on day five...he screams...he thrashes...he begins to unravel...
“ Please… ”
The whipping stops.
“Colonel?” Kloven’s voice is full of concern, it is almost affectionate. “Do you have something to say?”
The whip falls to the floor as Kloven rushes to face Veers, cupping the colonel’s cheeks.
Tears stream down Veers’ face.
Kloven wipes away the tears. “Colonel...it’s okay. It will all be okay. You can tell me.”
Veers leans against those hands that held the whip moments ago. He pretends they belong to anyone except the man with the soulless eyes and gentle voice.
Kloven leans in, vanilla caressing Veers’ nose. “It’s alright. Just say it. This will all be over as soon as-”
“K...eep...g...going…” Veers manages. He raises his head and spits in Kloven’s face.
Those dark eyes glimmer with fury. He holds Veers face for a moment longer before dropping his hands.
Quietly he leaves the room.
Veers hangs his head and weeps softly.
He has lost Jaris, Frek, and Parons in the last few days.
The others looked at him the way Jaris did, with hope in their eyes as Kloven fed them false promises, and utter betrayal in their gaze as Kloven pulled the trigger.
The soft patter of blood and tears dripping off his body joins the sound of his quiet, convulsive sobs.
When Kloven returns he is not alone.
Three more officers fall to their knees in front of Veers: Pio, Grettik, and Jez.
“No,” Veers pleads. “Do not do this, Kloven.”
“Colonel, you forced my hand. You want to save your officers? Give me the code.”
“I cannot do that.”
Kloven pulls the trigger. Jez falls first.
“Kloven!” Veers roars, shaking his chains. “Stop! Please!”
“Then tell me!”
Veers lets out an anguished roar.
The blaster fires again. Grettik falls.
The blaster muzzle presses against Pio’s mop of salt and pepper hair. Pio and Veers knew each other well. In fact, he had been on Corellia together when Veers took down the Black Sun Cartel.
Veers knew Pio to be loyal, that is why he was here.
“Tell them, Max,” Pio cries. “Tell them and we can go home.”
The first number is on his tongue.
Kloven’s finger moves closer to the trigger.
“Max,” Pio sobs. “Please…It’s not worth it…”
Veers grits his teeth. “I am so sorry, Gavin…”
Pio was going to say something else - words of anger. He does not get the chance.
Kloven fires the final shot, then quickly holsters his blaster. He pushes Pio down to join the rest and rushes up to Veers. He holds Veers’ face up, brushing back his hair. “Max,” he whispers.
Veers’ heart lurches at hearing his name on Kloven’s thin lips, off that dangerous tongue. “I can see it in your eyes, Max. I can see you want to tell me.”
Those black eyes are round and wide. They are full of concern. They are urgent and pleading.
It is all false, but it is a beautiful lie.
Veers feels the caresses and it only makes him cry harder.
“Max, you have only a few officers left. They can hear everything in this room, which means they know what happens when they are chosen. They also know you are trying to be strong. They know if you tell me now none will think you a traitor. They will thank you. They will thank you as you all go home together. You can forget this place. Please, Max.”
Veers wants to stay cradled in those hands. He wants to continue feeling the soft leather against his face, wants that voice to soothe him despite the poison that bleeds into his mind.
“Someone is waiting for you…” Tarkin’s voice seeps into his consciousness. “Would you like to know his name?”
Veers looks up at Kloven. “‘His name?’”
Kloven frowns. “What?”
Veers realizes he said this aloud.
His name...not hers...who was Tarkin talking about? Was it just a dream? Was there something else to it? Am I going insane?
It does not matter. Veers wants to believe in anything but this hellish place. He wants to believe he will survive this. That he will live the rest of his days knowing he never broke for this separatist scum.
And one day he will tell the man that waits for him that he remained strong.
He will show that man these scars and tell him that he is a survivor.
That he is loyal.
That he is unbroken.
“Pick up that kriffing whip,” Veers growls through gritted teeth.
Kloven sighs. “As you wish.”
Soon Veers finds himself existing beyond pain. His flesh is overloaded with so many sensations that Veers does not know whether he is screaming or not. He is sure Kloven can see muscles now, perhaps even bone.
Maybe Kloven says this aloud, Veers is not sure.
He keeps his eyes open. He forces himself to look at his fallen comrades.
He pushes the numbers from his mind.
And lets Kloven do his worst.
A man’s voice calls in the darkness.
Fear swells within Veers, Kloven knows his name now…He uses it so often these days...
But no...it is not Kloven.
“Max…” The figure speaks foreign words Veers does not understand. The voice is deep and silky, it soothes him better than the false sweetness Kloven forces down his throat.
Veers wishes he could understand.
He wishes he could see the figure in the distance.
A splash of cold water ends the dream and wakes him up to another nightmare.
Veers realizes he fears the smell of vanilla and leather.
By day seven, the ice cold water no longer wakes him up. He snaps awake at the first scent of the vanilla wafting into the room.
Some nights he snaps awake thinking he smells it then.
Sleep comes in the form of fainting spells.
He has lost blood and the water and bread are not sustaining him.
Kloven grows more affectionate the more Veers’ mind begins to bend.
He stops between punishing blows to soothe him. He makes Veers look into his eyes. He makes Veers look at him while Veers weeps openly. He ceaselessly reminds Veers that his silence is only killing his men. It is not saving anyone. It will not save him.
Kloven has stripped Veers of everything he is. He calls him Max now and tells him he would be a hero if he set his men free.
That the rest of the men would forgive him.
Kloven himself would forgive him.
Veers knows it is ludicrous to crave Kloven’s forgiveness. The man who deals and removes him pain, who poisons his mind, and cleanses his wounds, whose touch Veers’ craves against his tortured skin.
At night he dreams he is blubbering the code to Kloven.
He dreams he is on his knees, clutching Kloven’s vest, sobbing, begging, and repeating the code over and over.
Veers snaps himself awake screaming, praying to whatever gods, the Force, whatever is out there that he did not speak in his sleep.
It is almost a blessing when Kloven returns the next day asking him the same questions.
It means he did not break.
It means he did not betray his Empire.
By day ten, the bacta does little more than staunch the blood flow.
Veers cannot remember which number the codes start with.
Was it an 8...or a 9…
“What is the code, Max?” Kloven asks.
The last man is in front of him.
The man is a young engineer Veers remembers as Derrin.
He brought Derrin into the project late. This was going to launch his career. He had a bright future ahead of him.
Veers looks up at Kloven. “I do not remember.”
Kloven frowns. “Most unfortunate.”
Veers could not have saved him even if he wanted to.
Kloven kills Derrin quickly.
Veers does not have the tears to cry.
His body is wrung dry. He has stopped sweating yesterday.
Through his delirium he wonders if his body could even bleed anymore.
The four guards return with Kloven.
They remove his chains and Veers collapses on the ground. He wraps his arms around himself, he curls up, knees drawn in. He cannot stop shaking.
He waits for the end to come.
Kloven is kneeling at his side. “I will miss you, Max.”
Veers expects Kloven to brush his hair to the side, to stroke his cheeks, to soothe him one final time.
Instead, Kloven stands over him. “Take him to the edge of the base. It will draw the nexu out and we can finally end this pitiful husk’s existence and rid ourselves of those meddlesome pests.”
The indifference in Kloven’s voice chills Veers, it almost hurts that he does not sound as remorseful as Veers had hoped.
He tries to remember Kloven’s gentle touch that turns to agonizing pain. He tries to remember the officers that died at his hand.
Yet Veers’ mind is bent and fading, and all he misses are those gentle caresses.
The world outside is lighter than the gloom of the shed, but not by much. Veers cannot find purchase on the ground that moves too quickly beneath his bare feet. The air is warm, but there is a growing mist settling along the ground.
Bodies are being burned in the distance and Veers smells cooked meat.
He would retch if he thought anything would come up. He stopped eating days ago. They stopped forcing water down his throat yesterday.
There is a tall, thick oak tree on the edge of the base. Veers let out a weak snarl as he felt the men raise his arms. He does not want to be hung up again.
But it is only to lift him over remove the knotted roots of the tree. They make him kneel and face the edge of the jungle.
They chain him, looping the chain around the base of the tree. He leans forward, the cuffs pulling against his wrists. He groans in pain.
“He stopped bleeding,” One of the men comments. “Dunno if the nexu will bite.”
“That’s alright…” Another replied. “We just need to open him up a bit.”
Veers weakly struggles, pulling on his bindings and bearing his teeth. The knife is wide and serrated, it “N...no…”
They laugh at him. “No?”
“I am here.”
Kloven kneels in front of him. Veers head lolls forward and feels that soft leather knuckle touch his chin. “What is it, Max?”
“You do it,” Veers says.
Kloven takes the knife from the larger man. “It would be an honor.”
And one final time, Kloven’s gloved hand strokes Veers’ face. “I admire you, Maximilian Veers. You did not break. You can die knowing you served your Empire well...what a shame you were on the wrong-”
Veers slams his head forward.
He feels Kloven’s perfect nose crack against his forehead, a sickening crunch following. Kloven roars in pain. It was a curious sound, like a banshee’s shriek.
“Long Live the Empire,” Veers spits.
“It will live longer than you at least,” Kloven snarls and sinks the knife deep into Veers’ chest.
Air rushes from Veers’ lungs. The pain is blinding, and beyond what he had encountered in the shed. Brilliant and searing, the agony is focused on his chest, the tip of the knife tearing through muscle and hitting bone.
Kloven breaks into a horrifying, bloody smile and drags the blade across Veers’ chest. Veers arches his back and howls in pain. The howls are interrupted with choked gasps as Kloven drags the blade across his pectoral hard.
Blood pours freely. Veers sways, but Kloven slaps his face. “Don’t you dare pass out, Imperial scum,” he spits, blood and tears pouring from his face. “You need to be awake when they come.”
“Boss, the nexu are here,” the larger man says. “We gotta get you outta here.”
“Goodbye, Max.” Kloven says. And with that Veers is left alone with several pairs of eyes gleaming at him in the distance.
The nexu have been watching.
The screams and coppery smell of blood send them into a frenzy.
They snap and sneer at each other as they slowly approach their prey.
Veers watches them, feeling the life begin to leave him as the alpha approaches.
Veers first instinct is to close his eyes.
But no...he does not deserve to close his eyes.
He deserves to keep them open, the way his men kept their eyes open.
He watches the nexu crouch down.
“I am so sorry,” he whispers to the nexu, but really he is apologizing to the rows of ghosts standing behind it. Officers and engineers and technicians, rows and rows of stormtroopers, all dead because of his silence.
And now they gaze silently back at him.
The nexu leaps.
Veers feels its hot breath against his face. For a moment the sheer terror of his imminent death blinds him.
But no pain comes.
Perhaps he is already dead.
Does time bend for Death? Will the nexu’s first bite be that of slow agony?
He would deserve it…
But no, the nexu is being pulled away by an unseen force.
It jerks and twitches and convulses.
There is a crack and its head lolls as it floats.
The ghosts of his people vanish.
Yet the nexu stays in the air.
I have finally gone mad…but why am I not dead?
The hum of a lightsaber answers his question.
It sizzles through the air and cuts his bindings. Veers falls face forward, but then he too is held by a cushion of unseen energy.
It is warm and soothing. And it is real.
Veers looks up and sees the majestic dark presence of Darth Vader looming over him. The dark lord kneels down to his level. He can see himself in those glassy round eyes of the helmet. He does not recognize his own face. His eyes are round and horrified and tired, his cheeks are sunken and his skin is ghastly pale.
Where did Max go?
“Colonel,” Vader booms through his nightmarish mask. “Can you stand?”
Veers cannot feel his feet. His head feels like it is full of water. He cannot even begin to answer that question.
Vader takes his silence as his answer. “You are safe now. I will take care of this.” The voice is monstrous and imposing, but the words are honest. They are the first honest words he has heard in ten days and Veers feels fresh tears form at the sheer truth behind them.
“I...said...nothing...to them...Lord Vader...” he manages.
Stormtroopers come to take him to the shuttle.
He cries out, he fights them, he pushes them away.
He believes they are ghosts from his past. They are going to drag him to Hell, they are going to make him suffer for letting them die.
The medical droids sedate him.
Gradually, the world begins to make sense again.
Sobered and calm, he orders the medical droids to heal his back as best as they can, but leave his chest alone.
They obey. They clean the wound. It will heal naturally and it will stay with him. They tell him there is little they can do about the scars on his back. The half-healed scars coupled with fresh wounds were exposed to too much bacta over too short a period. They will heal naturally as well.
It suits him fine...he does not deserve to erase their existence from his body.
He orders the engineers to leave the surviving Imperial walker prototype alone as well. She held strong as the Zaloriians tried to breach her hull. She’s earned her scars just as Veers has.
Veers names her Blitzkrieg and proves her namesake by laying waste to Zaloriis City alongside the army led by Darth Vader himself.
Even as Veers stands among the rubble he does not feel closure.
Nor does he take any solace when Vader informs him Kloven is dead.
He stands there, numbly, as Vader recounts the details of Kloven’s interrogation; an interrogation Veers could not bring himself to attend.
Vader delved deep into Veers’ torturer’s mind, peeling back layer after layer, ensuring he knew none of the Empire’s secrets. He explains to Veers in gruesome detail Kloven’s last moments, being reduced to a mindless, drooling mess before slipping into death.
He realizes Vader’s horrific recount was for Veers’ benefit, that in the Force-user’s mind, it would be a comfort to Veers that Kloven suffered before death.
Veers feels grateful for Vader’s concern, and he tries to carry that assurance of Kloven’s death with him.
Yet Kloven’s death does not prevent him from visiting Veers every night in his dreams.
The same nightmare waits behind Veers’ eyelids.
“ You are still here,” Kloven remarks, the handle of the bullwhip raising Veers’ chin. Tears stain Veers face. He no longer has the strength to struggle. “Do you not want to leave, Colonel? Is that why you keep the passcode to yourself?”
Veers wakes up most nights screaming.
A month goes by…
Veers heals slowly.
He is given a medal for his heroism under siege.
Moff Tarkin insists he wears it tonight at the gala celebrating his promotion to General.
Veers would rather fling the medal out the airlock, but he wears it because it is what is expected of him.
He tries to ignore the dead weight of it hanging from his fresh, finely tailored green uniform befitting his new rank.
The doors to the ballroom have yet to open to the masses and Veers enjoys the quiet time with his mentor before the guests arrive.
“How do you bounce back from something like this?” Veers asks, plucking a whiskey from a passing waiter.
“There is no bouncing back,” Tarkin says, taking Veers’ whiskey from him for a second time. “You stand up, you dust yourself off, and you march forward. You show the Empire that same ‘Iron Max’ you showed the Zaloriians.”
The new nickname is ludicrous to Veers. If the Empire had seen him half-naked, beaten and weeping into Kloven’s black-gloved hands, would they still call him Iron Max?
The doors open and the first guests arrive.
“Are you ready?” Tarkin asks, finally allowing Veers to take a whiskey from a passing waiter.
“No,” Veers says honestly, taking a nervous sip.
Tarkin smiles. “Neither was I, but then the galaxy hardly cares, and so we must endure.”
Veers is accosted most of the night. None of it is malicious, all are merely curious and inquisitive and congratulatory.
When the crowd grows too inquisitive, Moff Tarkin steps in, reminding them that much of the operation is classified. It pacifies the audience. When the crowd grows too large, Tarkin needs to merely throw them one of his hard gazes before the officers make polite excuses and disperse.
Veers is grateful for the Moff’s assistance.
“Does this ever get easier?”
“Yes, but it takes time,” Tarkin says. “My experience in the Citadel is long past the subject of intrigue, buried beneath other escapades that fellow Imperials find far more interesting. You will find over time your experiences on Zaloriis will be little more than speculative gossip, nothing more. The more you accomplish, the further you push these events from your history.”
“So this is your way of telling me I need to do the Empire proud?”
Tarkin snorts into his glass of wine. “I am saying, my dear boy, that you have already done the Empire proud and as you continue in your career, Zaloriis will merely be another feather in your cap.”
Veers nods and idly fingers the Zaloriian medal over his heart. He vows to dwarf it with more medals far more prestigious. He will draw his fellow officer’s attention towards medals marking his conquering of worlds and victories in battle.
Another gaggle of officers begin to wander towards Veers and Tarkin.
“Sir, if it is all the same, I believe it is time for me to retire.”
Tarkin arches an eyebrow at the cluster of officers. “Of course, General, but before you go, I do believe there is another newly promoted officer here that desires to speak with you.” Tarkin nods in the direction of the far corner of the room. “He has been eyeing you most of the night.”
Veers follows Tarkin’s gaze.
For a moment, his breath leaves him.
How he missed the stark white uniform among the sea of green was as baffling as how he missed that unforgettable cerulean skin.
“Thrawn? A grand admiral?” Veers gasps softly.
“Due to his accomplishments at Batonn,” Tarkin clarifies. “As I understand it was quite the ordeal as well.”
Grand Admiral Thrawn is alone, nodding and murmuring a few words to other officers as they pass by. Those scarlet eyes drift to Veers and the chiss tilts his head with a soft smile, raising his glass.
“Go talk to him,” Tarkin urges, taking Veers’ empty whiskey glass from him. “I shall hold the garrison here, as it were.” And with that, Tarkin faces the advancing crowd, blocking their path to Veers as he makes his escape.
Veers does his best to hide his limp as he walks towards Thrawn. He wishes the gala had been just a few weeks later so that he could walk freely without pain.
Whiskey helps, but he refrains from grabbing another as a waiter passes by.
“ Grand Admiral Thrawn,” Veers says, holding out a hand. “Congratulations on your promotion.”
“Thank you,” Thrawn clasps Veers’ hand. His skin is impossibly smooth and warm. “And to you as well, General Veers.”
They stand there quietly for a moment before releasing each other’s hands.
Veers waits for the inevitable questions about Zaloriis.
Instead, Thrawn asks, “May I ask you your thoughts on the latest TIE Fighter initiative proposed at the military expo last month? I hear they are doing testing soon.”
Veers blinks, then carefully responds with his opinion on their design and viability. All the while his mind works overtime to see how this subject ties into Zaloriis.
The conversation drifts into the nuances of naval strengths relying on army tactics, and the army needing to utilize naval artillery more effectively. It then shifts towards Thrawn’s fascination with the Separatists’ droid-based combat during the Clone Wars and inquiries as to why that weaponry is not used now. The ensuing debate is engaging.
In fact, it is all very engaging…
...And growingly perplexing.
“Grand admiral,” Veers says finally, unable to stand the suspense. “Are you not going to ask about Zaloriis?”
Thrawn arches a blue-black eyebrow. “Did you want me to inquire?”
Veers blinks. “Well...no.”
“Then why should I? If you have something you would like to share with me, I believe this conversation is fluid enough for you to do so.” Thrawn hesitates a moment before adding. “You have not asked about Batonn.”
Thrawn and Veers regard each other for a long moment.
Veers was curious about Batonn. The reports indicated it was an absolute massacre, and by all accounts a complete victory. Thrawn’s mission was successful, yet the chiss that stands before him today does not seem to carry that pride on his shoulders.
Veers’ eyes fall to the medal on Thrawn’s white uniform.
“Did the Moff advise you to wear that today?”
“Motti,” Thrawn admits. “I find the thing to be grossly inappropriate.”
“As do I,” Veers admits, then adds quickly. “My medal I mean.”
“I knew what you meant,” Thrawn assures him.
“And anyway,” Veers puts on a sly smile. “This is all a ploy to detract from the fact that you just admitted you want the Empire to use archaic Clone Wars tactics in combat.”
Thrawn frowns, though Veers can see it disguises a growing smile. “Twenty years ago is hardly archaic, general.”
The conversation drifts and sways pleasantly.
For the first time since Zaloriis, Veers finds himself beginning to relax.
“Where will you be stationed now that you are a general?” Thrawn asks, his eyes focusing a bit too intently on his own drink.
“Aboard the Executor with Lord Vader.”
“A pity,” Thrawn murmurs, “I was hoping perhaps-”
“Thrawn,” someone barks suddenly.
Veers and Thrawn turn to see the Chief of the Imperial Navy, Conan Motti, wave frantically at Thrawn and nodding to a cluster of ISB agents who looked at the grand admiral like a pack of hungry anoobas.
Thrawn sighs. “I believe this is where we part, general.”
Veers is taken aback by the sudden pang in his heart. “It was a pleasure speaking to you.”
“And to you,” Thrawn nods and begins to walk away.
Veers panics for a moment, desperate to say something . A final memorable word before this peculiar grand admiral disappears into the vast Empire forever.
Before he can formulate any final words, Thrawn turns back to him. “General, if you ever need assistance from the Seventh Fleet,” Thrawn’s eyes practically glow as they gaze at Veers, “feel free to find me.”
Suddenly, Veers is rocketed back to his dream, a dream that kept him going when the world was nothing but pain. The dream of someone who was waiting for him…
“Max…” He wishes he could see the figure in the distance. “Find me…”
“Impossible,” Veers breathes as he watches Thrawn walk away.
Chilled, Veers leaves the gala soon after.
That night General Veers does not find Kloven waiting for him when he falls asleep. Instead, he dreams of TIE fighter initiatives and Imperial walkers trouncing across sandy landscapes and a cerulean-skinned chiss standing beside him on a beach where they throw their medals into the endless blue beyond...
Veers and Thrawn would not see each other for another year.
Veers follows Thrawn’s career with interest.
He wonders if Thrawn is doing the same.
They both add many feathers to their caps as the year progresses.
Unrest on the planet Lothal makes it possible for Darth Vader’s fleet and the Seventh Fleet to join forces.
Veers does not expect to hear from the grand admiral when their fleets meet in the Outer Rim.
[G.A. Thrawn]: General Veers, if you are free, I would like to invite you to dinner aboard the Chimaera , for the pleasure of your company.
Veers stares at the message for a long time.
He does not answer right away. The rawness of a year ago has been taken over by a resilient protective shell. He is older, he is wiser, he is more determined to be the kind of General the Empire deserves. And he refuses to yield ground to anyone.
Accepting dinner on Grand Admiral Thrawn’s ship felt like yielding ground.
He reads the message over and over.
He cannot discern what the grand admiral’s angle is.
The delusional dreams of a year ago feel far away, yet they nag at his memory with a peculiar nostalgia that makes his heart ache.
[Gen. M. Veers]: I would be delighted.
He hits send.
He does not know why he is shaking.
The nightmares of Kloven are few and far between.
Yet the night he accepts Thrawn’s invitation, another long lost dream surfaces.
Bonus scene: Years later…
Cold water splashes him in the face. The scent of vanilla and leather suffocates his senses. A honeyed voice presses him with questions. Asks him again and again things Veers cannot answer.
Veers cries out and sits up in bed. Sweat pours from him. He can’t breathe. He still feels the weight of the gag against his tongue. He can’t find his voice.
He feels a soft touch and flinches.
He doesn’t want to believe Kloven’s words. He doesn’t want to give him what he wants. He doesn’t…
“ Ch’eo vur …” says a familiar voice.
The name brings him back.
He feels the sheets beneath him. He recognizes the smooth, cerulean skin caressing his cheeks. He turns to find those ruby red eyes gazing at him.
“There you are,” Thrawn soothes. “What do you need from me?”
Veers does not know how to answer that. He wants to be comforted, yet he does not want to be touched. He wants to be protected, and yet he does not want to feel anything at all.
After a moment of silence, Thrawn lies on his back.
“If you would like…” He extends an arm.
Veers sinks into the bed and lays his head on Thrawn’s chest, feeling the reassurance of his rhythmic heartbeat. It beats slower than a human’s, like the beat of a mighty war drum. Thrawn has proven time and again he would gladly go to war with Veers, and for Veers.
“You are safe with me,” Thrawn whispers as Veers sinks into sleep. “I will never let anyone hurt you.”
Veers smiles softly. “I thought I was supposed to protect you.”
Thrawn hums in amusement. “You are forever my shield in a bar fight. That is certain.”
Veers’ legs tangle with Thrawn’s. He stretches across Thrawn’s torso and holds him tightly, feeling Thrawn’s arm wrap around him.
“May I hear Ch’ope Thra’thru ,” Veers asks.
Thrawn kisses his forehead, caresses his wet cheek. Veers is aware his touch is different from Kloven’s. This touch is something real and warm and honest.
Softly, Thrawn begins to hum.
The Cheunh song is sweet and soft. The words stretch across Veers’ tortured soul like a golden velvet blanket. Thrawn’s voice is grounding, firm, there is a quiet strength over every curled “r”, over every punctuated syllable.
Veers holds Thrawn tight. He clings to him, lets the tears quietly fall onto his lover’s chest.
He lets the song cleanse him of his nightmares, while he breathes in the soft scent of lilacs and musk.
As they lie there, he lets the memories of Kloven and Zaloriis and vanilla and leather fade away into oblivion.