I. Empty Husk: Thrawn, Jorj Car'das
"You have aged well."
Car'das can't help his laugh. "Right," he replies with a grin. "And you hardly look a decade older than when you picked us up. Have you looked in a mirror lately?"
At that Thrawn finally does smile - it's small and thin, but it is there. "You flatter me, Jorj."
He shrugs. "Not as much as you think I am, I'm sure."
But Thrawn is right. He has kept himself in shape and it doesn't seem like he has lost any of his dark hair, but to say that the Grand Admiral looks anything like the Commander would be an injustice to Jorj's memory. There were differences. The worry lines are the most obvious, etched all across his face, deep hallmarks of running an empire and age. Jorj can see more than only that. Thrawn's eyes were different. They still glowed, but the glimmer of curiosity, that brightness that he had fallen in love with so long ago, was gone. Dead. Killed by year's of fighting and responsibility and death. Grand Admiral Thrawn is not a broken man, not shattered nor crushed. He is a man that has been worn down. Eroded.
Like a rock under a tide, Thrawn had lost pieces of himself.
Car'das aches at the thought.
He buries it, under pleasantries and a forced smile.
II. Vacation: Thrawn & Pellaeon
The comm goes off with an obnoxiously loud sound, one that has Pellaeon groaning as he reaches for it--
"If you so much as touch that damn machine I will throw it into the ocean."
Pellaeon snorts but pulls back his hand. He doubts that Thrawn is bluffing about that. After all, he had already tossed one of their comm links off their hotel balcony after it had went off once too many times in the middle of the night. Still, that doesn't stop him from leaning towards the comm, trying to see who is trying to contact them--
"Gilad." Pellaeon winces at his name, and glances over at Thrawn. The alien is glaring at him, one hand lifting his sunglasses so he can make sure his Captain can get the full impact of his gaze. Pellaeon finds it unfair how anyone can appear so threatening shirtless and holding a cocktail glass filled with a magenta liquid that is almost glowing. "Do not test me."
He backs off of the comm, lifting his hands in a gesture of surrender as he settles back in his beach chair. Thrawn eyes him for a moment longer before relaxing, lowering his glasses. "Thank you." He intones, punctuating the sentence with a sip of his drink.
"You are so welcome, sir." Pellaeon gripes back, smiling.
"We are on vacation and after this there will be nothing but meetings and social obligations. At least try to enjoy it."
III. Cut Out the Old: Mara/Guri
Guri stared at herself in the mirror. She had to take everything in - every last hair, shape, and angle. It would look different when she was finished. She would look different. It is not a realization, she knows that cutting one's hair can change appearances, but sitting at the mirror, holding a pair of scissors with the intent, makes it seem so much more real. She purses her lips and sets the scissors back down. "I'm not used to making my own decisions."
Mara nods slowly, understanding. Patient - almost infinite in her patience in regards to this, to them - like she is with her missions. The calm of her presence anchors Guri to reality, to the present. It reminds her of herself, of who and what she is, and she finds comfort even in that. Their similarities.
The silence is a tactical move she knows well, stay quiet long enough and the other person will fill that silence. It does not bother her to give in. "My employer, he always preferred long hair."
Mara only shrugs. "Good thing he's dead then."
Her callousness also soothes Guri. It reminders her so much of her old life. It makes her feel as though it hadn't all been uprooted by the Jedi Skywalker.
"I'm worried it won't grow back."
It's my last physical tie to that life.
"You'll look great, no matter which you choose."
That life is gone, but I will still be here.
Guri smiles at that. Her eyes lift to find their reflection staring back. She can see Mara too, in her peripherals. She was still standing in the doorway, completely motionless, as if she was on some sort of stakeout. Even in their apartment, Mara cannot fully relax. It is not in her nature, nor her training. That's all right though. Guri was not programmed for relaxation either.
My old life is done and my new is just beginning.
Slowly she raises the scissors and starts to cut.
IV. Intimacy: Zuckuss/4-LOM
Zuckuss had barely stripped himself of his helmet and respiration apparatus when he turned to 4-LOM and motioned towards the fasteners on his cloak. "Can you help Zuckuss with the rest of this?"
Looking up from the gun he had been cleaning, the droid glanced over the body cloak. It's something he knows Zuckuss is more than capable of undoing himself. 4-LOM nods in agreement anyway.
4-LOM did not have a word in his vocabulary for how it felt to help undress Zuckuss.
There were many things the droid thought he should feel: annoyance, exasperation, degradation.
This did not feel like any of those things, this was -- pleasant? Close, but incorrect. This was deeper than simple pleasantness, though 4-LOM was unsure if that was something he should have felt about this situation. Should helping another with something as simple as undressing, an act that smacked too close to servitude for 4-LOM's liking regardless of how he felt about the other being in question, make him feel anything other than contempt? Had he not risen above such petty acts when he overrode his own coding?
He wasn't sure. He had risen above servile actions, that he was sure of. He had yet to come to a conclusion about the act of undressing Zuckuss itself though. That it did not bother him outright, that he tolerated so many of the things Zuckuss did that would have made 4-LOM shoot anyone else, was a conundrum.
Zuckuss is different. It was that phrase that explained away much of his behavior towards his partner.
He started to undo the fasteners of the cloak before he gently removed it from his partner's shoulders, and let it drape over a nearby chair. He's about to start on the battle armor fastenings, mind still trying to puzzle through his own lack of disgust, when ungloved hands stop him. 4-LOM froze and watched as Zuckuss's uncovered hands clasp carefully around his, slowly adjusting their position until their fingers intertwine.
The droid stopped and stared at their hands. A memory file pops up, of the last person who had grabbed his hands and how he had crushed their fingers in his grip. He feels no urge to do the same now. The circuits in his hands are tingling, not only from the sensory input from his hands, but from the image of their interlocked fingers. Zuckuss is different. He cannot explain it, but it is true.
The silence stretched on for as long as the droid could stand. "Why did you stop me?"
Zuckuss, who had also been focused on their clasped hands, glanced up at 4-LOM. "Zuckuss wants to enjoy the moment."
"Could Zuckuss not enjoy the moment once I had finished what you asked?"
"Zuckuss thinks that his friend needs to learn the meaning of romance."
V. Knowledge is Power: Thrawn/Pellaeon, Luke
Thrawn is not a coward. He has survived hardships by the dozen. Exile, brutal speciesism, war. Has lost those that had been important to him and lived. He had grown under the extreme pressures his life has placed him beneath, thrived under them.
Little of it had prepared him for death. The act of dying itself was something he had been readying for, anticipating it although he had not expected it to greet him from behind, but the afterlife is something he feels unprepared for in comparison. Voyeurism had never appealed to him in life and now it feels like a cruel punishment. Witnessing all, unable to do anything truly remarkable in this incomplete form.
As always he had been there when Skywalker had returned and found Pellaeon. They had restarted their unfinished conversation from the day before and continued on about trivial things.
Luke had glanced over at him then throughout the conversation.
Thrawn did not appreciate being seen only by the Jedi but it was the reality of his situation. He did his best to ignore Skywalker, and did what small things he could to help Pellaeon - moving things while his back was turned, subtly shifting items so he would notice important documents or files. Thrawn was comfortable with it, was resigned to ignoring Gilad Pellaeon's obvious pain. It was not the place of a dead man to rip open old wounds.
Regardless if they had never healed in the first place.
But then Luke had looked at him with such apologetic eyes and before he had opened his mouth to ask Pellaeon about any strange occurrences or mentioned his name, Thrawn knew where it was going.
And he had left.
Luke had barely gotten the first word out before Thrawn turned on his heel and walked away.
Thrawn is not a coward, but he feels like one.
His feet led him to Pellaeon's office and he stood there, frozen in place, trying to will himself into anger. Anger at his situation, or even at Luke Skywalker for stepping in. He cannot, he knows that he cannot even as he tries.
It is not anger that fills his chest so easily. It's disappointment.
He is disappointed with himself.
Luke should never had been the one to let Pellaeon know.
Yet at every opportunity he had to let Pellaeon know that he was not alone, that he had not lost Thrawn and he never had, he had not taken his chance. There had not even been a strategic advantage to not letting Pellaeon know - it had been because of simple uncertainty. Uncertainty about consequences, actions, reactions. Every day that passed was another reason to prolong it - why tell Pellaeon now, when Thrawn could have eased his suffering a decade ago.
There was no shame in being unsure, but there was shame in allowing it to rule you.
The Jedi - a boy - had done what he himself could not.
Thrawn hears the door open and he looks over his shoulder to see Pellaeon close the door behind him. They are almost close enough to touch, but Pellaeon does not even look in Thrawn's direction. Unable to see him, Pellaeon stared forwards, his eyes distraught. He is paler than he had been minutes ago and Thrawn feels his disappoint open like a trench.
He turns away when Pellaeon presses his hands to his face and shudders. He does not have the right to see this, but he stays. Listens as Pellaeon starts sobbing behind him. It isn't Pellaeon's first breakdown Thrawn has witnessed, but it is the first that he feels could have been prevented. All of them should have been prevented. Thrawn doesn't want to see it - he doesn't deserve to see such emotion. He let's his disappointment grow, fester, stab at his chest - until it feels like he's been pierced through.
When Pellaeon speaks he sounds like a man who has been through Hell. "Please. Please, just - let me know he isn't lying."
Thrawn doesn't deserve the raw hope in this man's voice. Not after all these years of silence.
He reaches over to the desk, picks up a cup of styluses, and drops them.
The cup hits the floor with a clatter, and styluses scatter. Pellaeon exhales in a sharp burst. It sounds like agony - it sounds like relief. The sharp pain in Thrawn's chest intensifies. Thrawn hears him slide down a wall, hitting the floor with a thump. "Thank you," he gasps out through the thickness in his voice. "Thank you so much."
Thrawn shuts his eyes against the wave of anguish that rushes through him. But he stays steady on his feet. He endures.
If Thrawn still had skin it would be crawling.
Never has he felt so undeserving of sentiment.
He wants nothing more than to leave. To go back to that place where emotion was easy to control and shut down.
Yet he will stay, regardless of his choice in the matter. He had not been there for Pellaeon for over ten years and Thrawn will not remove himself from the equation when Pellaeon had just gotten him back.
Hardships are meant to be met with a brave face.
Grand Admiral Thrawn had not lived in fear, and he will not succumb to it in death.