Chapter 1: Never say “yes”...
A/N: This is NOT my story. It’s just a translation of a Russian Thrawn/Leia fanfiction that I totally fell in love with! Since I can’t speak Russian, I have to rely on Google Translator for the most part and therefore, I am forced to improvise too. Bearing that in mind, I’m even more happy that the author, Aequia, let’s me do this. Thank you! And now: Enjoy reading. ☺
DEAL WITH THE DEVIL
Beta (eds): Merlin Emerald
Translation: Pureblood Slytherin
Originally posted at: Ficbook NET (Link: https://ficbook.net/readfic/4725698/12232578)
Dedicated to: Everyone who loves the pairing Thrawn/Leia, as well as the Empire and the dark side of the Force. :)
Motto: "Odero, si potero; si non, invitus amabo." (Ovid)
Chapter 1 – Never say “yes”
Castle Bast, the famous residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial troops, was a quiet, deserted place, which, at the same time, felt technologically luxurious. In a way it was the “Holy of Holies” of the second most powerful man within the Empire. It was the place where he kept many secrets and one of them being that there where no living things, except the Sith himself. But there were droids - his favourite technological toys, which he himself had created, so that they were completely devoted to him and did not react to the commands of anyone else. No one, not even force-users, could overcome the multi-level defence systems of Castle Bast. Here, and only here, Vader felt safe. Here, in this silence, this desertedness, on this almost uninhabitable planet, he could rest from the sheer endless noises of living beings, that constantly irritated him with their pale imprints in the Force.
The only visitors he ever received were of the top elite of the Imperial military and no one, with some rare exceptions, was ever pleased to come here. Today's guest was such an exception, but then again, Grand Admiral Thrawn was a noticeable exception in many regards.
"I hope you have good news, Grand Admiral?" Lord Vader asked.
"I have indeed. The operation went well, my Lord." The hint of a smile graced the edges of his thin lips. “Complete surrender of the enemy. Some leaders of the Rebel Alliance, including Leia Organa, Mon Mothma and Bel Iblis have been captured. Luke Skywalker, unfortunately, managed to escape.“
Underneath his mask Vader smiled. No, he hadn’t expected his son to be caught that easily. True, searching half the galaxy in pursuit of the pilot who had destroyed the Death Star angered him, but still, at the same time their failures gave birth to another feeling - pride. Still, it had been a good idea to entrust Grand Admiral Thrawn with the Battle of Hoth. Growing up on the alien ice-planet of Csilla, the Chiss had been perfect for the job.
"You did as expected, Grand Admiral." the Sith nodded, indicating that the conversation was over.
The Chiss, however, thought differently.
"Have you decided what to do with the princess?" the cautious question brought Vader back to an unpleasant reality. Leia Organa. The Princes of Alderaan. His daughter. It was still hard to believe. Leia was daring and eccentric, with a completely uncontrollable nature. For Luke he had a plan, he knew what to do and how to handle him when he would come to him - sooner or later it was bound to happen – but when it came to his daughter, he was at a loss.
"Do what you think is necesaary" the Sith said irritably.
What to do with a girl that had a rebellious past, a bad temper and, at least in comparison with her brother, had a rather weak potential in the Force? After their encounter on the Death Star, she would never trust him, would never allow him to teach her and she whole-heartily believed in the ideas of the Rebel Alliance.
„My Lord?“ The Chiss asked, always probing the edges of the permissible.
"What would you do, Grand Admiral?" Vader asked unexpectedly, even for himself. With any other person the solution would be easy, but could he kill his own daughter? The Sith found that he could not. Even after all these years he could not betray the memory of Padmé like that. The princess was too similar to his wife. And it was not just the way she looked. Leia had her stubbornness, her reluctance to listen to reason and the same passion for stupid, idealistic ideas. Looking back, he must have been blind not to recognize her on first sight. The lights on his suit blinked. The performance indicators were calibrated for rest, but the situation angered him too much. It was necessary to do something about this "problem" now and then to focus on more important matters again.
The Chiss thought for a moment, his eyes burning slightly brighter than usual.
"She is your daughter, and if you publicly acknowledge her as such, she could become an important political figure. Still, her views contradict yours and an adjustment would prove to be extremely difficult, hence I suggest to keep her away from politics. But she is a girl, a woman, she could always be married, retaining her status, but being shielded from society ... at least for a while.“
And then it dawned on Vader .... The Chiss loved experiments and secretly believed that people were weak and could easily be manipulated. He used people like pawns on a chessboard. Used their confusion. Their confidence. Played with their weaknesses. In extreme cases he broke them. When it came to intrigues the Chiss was a worthy opponent even to Palpatine, and it was for that very same reason the Emperor respected him. However, he himself believed that his greatest strength lay somewhere else, and therefore he preferred devoting himself to military affairs and so far he had been very successful in doing so. Another contributing factor might be, that the gifted Chiss was much more cautious than other War Lords when it came to force-users. He did recognize their superhuman powers, but never made the mistake to express any flattery or fear towards them. He himself was not gifted with the Force, but he respected it, was interested in it, and so far his understanding surpassed that of many others…
Yes, Thrawn might be able to control his daughter and to not let her escape, while being wise enough to use the right methods…. He could consider it a personal challenge and at the same time prove his unwavering loyalty to the Empire.
However, it remained to be seen if he agreed. Fortunately, Darth Vader knew exactly what to offer him ...
“So, you agree?” The Sith looked at his daughter. “Think about it, Leia. Is the future of the Alliance really worth your life?” Vader asked, probing his daughter’s feelings through the force. So far, everything went according to plan.
“Yes.” the princess said confidently. “I have made my decision, Lord Vader. I gladly sacrifice myself for the Alliance, but I see that you’re unfamiliar with such a concept.”
“True. There is nothing more important than your life. If you do not have it, you will not be able to help the Alliance.”
“But if I die, my name would be remembered. It would be on the lips of our soldiers going into battle...”
“... or be forgotten within a few years, if you clean up the files properly. But always remember, the dead cannot affect the living and they are the ones who create the future. Never be so foolish to believe that you can predict the future. It is always in motion. The future of your friends, your enemies, even yours.” Leia was taken aback for a moment, but then coldly said: “Well, I've already decided, Lord Vader. And have you decided on my future husband yet?.....”
“Of course. Grand Admiral Thrawn," Vader said carelessly, not looking up from his datapad, enthusiastically pressing some buttons. And when he did look up, he was met by the enraged look of his daughter. It was amazing how much she looked like Padmé when she was angry. Now more than ever he was sure that he had done the right thing.
"What? ... The Chiss?" She asked, not believing her ears.
"Are you dissatisfied, princess? You yourself blamed the Empire of xenophobia on several occasions. Now you have an opportunity to prove that this is not the case. For example….” The Sith openly mocked his daughter. “…Humans and Chiss are perfectly compatible when it comes to producing healthy, strong and durable heirs.”
"That is what people do when they get married, Leia" Vader continued tauntingly. "I am looking forward to have grandchildren from this union."
“What are you talking about?” The former princess of Alderaan hissed angrily. "I did not agree to this ..."
“On the contrary. You said "Yes”. You consented to marriage, without clarifying the details and I can prove it. This will be a real marriage, Leia. It seems that, after all, you were too focused on the future of the Alliance and not enough on your own. You accepted and confirmed your decision. There is no way back now.” He pointed at the datapad on his desk. “And as you can see, the news of the engagement of my daughter - Leia Vader - and Grand Admiral Thrawn - has already been posted on the Holonet. Such news, as you know, travels fast.”
"But….but….there was no engagement…." Leia stuttered.
"People believe what is written. Consider yourself engaged, Leia." The commander-in-chief said flatly. "And now you need to get acquainted with the groom."
“Don’t bother.” Leia said drily. “We already know each other.”
"But not nowhere close enough." The Sith was clearly enjoying himself and then added. "And this outfit will not do." He pressed the call button.
"Let Sir William Rax come to room 23, a lady needs his service and tell him he has exactly two hours and that I will check the result myself." Without a word he ended the call.
Less than two minutes later, a guard and a kindly looking officer arrived, reaching for Leia’s hand: “My Lady, I was told to take you to your quarters.”
Leia rose from the large, black leather chair, looking back at the devil with whom she had just made a deal.
"I promise, I will not make it easy for you.” She hissed, before leaving. The Sith smiled behind his mask.
“I would not want it any other way…. But I expect it will be even more difficult for you.”
She was dressed in a long, luxurious, black dress, complemented by a large diamond necklace. Her long hair was pinned up in a magnificent, exquisite hairstyle, and the unusually thick make-up, which emphasized her large, dark eyes, made Leia look more like a holo-star than a serious politician.
However, the princess showed little interest in her new attire, as all her thoughts were currently occupied by ideas of how to escape from Vader's castle on Coruscant, in which she was kept at the moment, strictly guarded day and night. Luckily, she already had an escape plan. She just needed a few more days and some more talks with Han Solo. Reaching the smuggler had, for some reason, not been too difficult.
The room was huge with a high ceiling, had a sweet, spicy aroma and was filled by a mysterious half-light, which was cut by some brighter, coloured lights every now and then. There were quite a few people inside, but still it seemed to be a closed club – whose members were the kind of birds that flew exceptionally high: from the military no one less than a Core-Admiral, ISB-agents in their chic black uniforms with no insignia at all, but more often than not with females companions of rare beauty in expensive, exotic dresses and some noticeable politicians as well.
Leia noticed her fiancé in the far corner of the room, surrounded by several people, who attentively listened to every word the Chiss said. He clearly seemed to be the centre of attention, and his confident posture indicated that this situation was not an exception.
Nodding to Lord Vader, the Grand Admiral swiftly moved across the hall to meet the Sith and his daughter. Leia involuntarily clenched her teeth, unsure about what to expect and how to act, but quickly regained her cool and smiled in greeting:
"Pleased to meet you, Mitth ..." She tried his name, but it was too hard to pronounce for humans that were not used to Cheunh.
"For you, my dear, it is just Thrawn." He took Leia's hand and kissed her wrist. A little more intimate and stronger than what was considered decent.
"I leave Lady Vader in your undoubtedly reliable hands," Vader nodded to the Grand Admiral, and then left, his cloak blowing behind him and then Leia was left alone with the man whom she would soon call husband. *Nonsense! It would not happen!*
Thrawn paid little attention to the princess, although he gallantly held her by the elbow. His crimson red eyes, however, looked out for someone else in the crowd.
“You may do whatever you please within the limits of this room.” The Chiss explained flatly and was then distracted by a gorgeous blonde in a scarlet dress that approached him and then placed a thin hand on his shoulder, while whispered something into his ear. At her words, the eyes of Chiss seemed to flashed with red-hot fire and he said “I agree. And how could I refuse you?” The blonde woman smiled.
Then, all of a sudden, the Chiss turned to Leia again and continued his instructions. “At exactly 2am my adjutant will take you to my estate.”
"To your estate?" Leia arched an eyebrow, dangerously balancing on the brink of decency. To say that she did not like what was happening, would be an understatement.
"You see, my dear ... we are officially engaged, are we not?" Thrawn smiled with one corner of his lips, and the implied mockery was almost unbearable for the princess.
“Where I come from there is no real distinction between a wedding vow and a wedding ceremony. Your word is your bound, the rest is a formality, so as far as I am concerned, you are already my wife, Leia. Hence, it is my duty to provide you with a home…”
For the rest of the evening, Thrawn did not go to his "bride"... However, other guests were not so kind. They had not missed that she had come in the company of Lord Vader himself, and that alone had caused a wave of interest in her person.
Here, in the nest of the Empire, among her enemies, and after such a day, Leia was literally pounding with anger and all the rules of propriety that she had learned from early childhood on could not prevent her from wearing the cold mask of alienation on her face and from giving monosyllabic, almost rude answers to the most ordinary questions.
Even introducing herself was torture now, and so the former princess Alderaan confined herself to a quick "Leia" or mysteriously remained silent. In the end she would certainly be remembered as she had been noticed and watched closely.
However, Leia was not sure whether the guests present were at all aware of who she was. Did they realize that this mysterious woman in black was indeed the rebel princess Leia Organa, and future bride of Grand Admiral Thrawn? And if so, what were they talking about? Hypocrisy under the mask of sincerity most likely. Or ... had her father been bluffing? Maybe there were no Holonet news.
Quickly Leia reached for her comlink and entered her name into the search bar and then bright photos of her filled the screen, almost all of them were accompanied by a photo of Grand Admiral Thrawn and ... the emblem of the Empire.
"What an abomination ..." She glanced through other news reports too, while trying to swallow her anger. They were different, but similar in their pompous pathos, reporting on the engagement as an act of surrender of the Alliance and the onset of the long-awaited peace and tranquility in the Empire. These lines were a far cry from the real condition of her agreement with Vader!
Now, examining the endless pictures, Leia realized that ... she almost did not recognize herself. In all the pictures she looked the same - with tied hair, in a stupid white dress and a blaster! None of the Imperials present here had been acquainted with her before, so that it was obvious now why none of them had made the connection between the wild freedom-fighter in the picture and herself. The only thing that actually was the same was the fire burning in her dark eyes. But apparently nobody had been interested in them.
The articles also disclosed the secret of her origin, her birth, and gave some information about her family from the Naboo side. It turned out that the Naberrie clan was one of the largest owners of plasma producing companies. Plasma for blasters. Now Leia began to understand why there was a blaster in almost every holo-image. Hidden advertisement. Some tabloids even called her the queen of blasters. And no one was surprised by her past as a leader of the Rebel Alliance, moreover, there were rumours that Leia Organa, who some articles already called Leia Vader, had been one of the Imperial agents within the Rebel Alliance that had help to bring the Rebellion to an end and that had brought about the diplomatic agreement between the Alliance and the Empire.
The fact that the mission on Hoth, led by Grand Admiral Thrawn, had brought down the rebellion was subtly ignored. Although such manners were more characteristic of Vader, and therefore many were certain that he had lead the operation, it had been the Chiss, who had stepped back from his usual more moderate tatics, that had literally levelled their land-base on Hoth, sparing no one. He had captured most of the Alliance’s leaders and had killed the rest. Almost no one had managed to escape.
When the gangway of the main shuttle door had opened that day, Leia had been sure to see the dark cloak of the Commander-in-Chief himself, to hear his noisy breathing…. She had wanted to throw all her hatred at him, but then, instead, she had seen the perfect white uniform of the Grand Admiral and his blazing, bright red eyes, which had appeared in her nightmares more than once since then. How many men had died on Hoth? How many friends? The Chiss had been as calm as if he had come to a social reception that day, while she had had greeted him with maelstrom of vicious, verbal blows. And at one point she had yelled: "How dare you commit such terror?!" His gaze had been inhuman, piercing, cold. He had studied her face and then had answered so that all of them could hear him.
"Please forgive my... " He had stopped for a second, while one of this white gloves had glided over the smoking fragments of what had once been a safe haven for several thousand rebels. "...rudeness. But, I am afraid that after the destruction of the Death Star, I simply had to stop this once and for all.”
Leia shook her head, driving out the gloomy memories and struggled to pull herself together. The article went on to say that it had been Leia who, with her diplomatic talent, had settled the conflict between the Alliance and the Empire and had saved many lives.
"What a blatant lie." Leia whispered, barely restraining herself from destroying the innocent comlink.
“What part of it? You really do process outstanding diplomatic potential. However, you prefer to use it only in extreme cases. Like your father ... " The soft, velvet voice of the Chiss sounded very close, and Leia involuntarily flinched and turned abruptly.
"Why do these articles not say a word about your brilliant victory?" Leia ask coldly, but managed to force a smile on her face.
"There are enough victories on my list to sacrifice one ... for the sake of revealing your talents, my dear….. Deeply hidden talents." Thrawn whispered, looked at her and then left.
Chapter song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MInTH47EAoA
Chapter 2: ...because what's inside....
Chapter 2 – What is inside
All the rooms in Grand Admiral Thrawn's estate were arranged in a circle, or rather in a spiral, which slowly turned inwards. Outside, the palace looked like a huge blue hemisphere, illuminated by white light; inside, however, the rooms were covered in twilight.
Last night the adjutant had led Leia through the long corridors to the rooms in which she had spend the night. Her room was coloured in beige and white and gold and had a huge, round window in the ceiling, through which the dark, starry sky could be seen. At first glance, her chambers had seemed cosy and spacious, but as soon as Leia had stepped over the threshold, her heart had ached in anguish: the paintings on the walls showed Alderaanian landscapes, there were two thin Alderaanian statuettes on the table near the mirror, a huge beige chair with her family’s coat of arms and there were flowers – unbelievable! - fresh flowers in a bowl of water – with the same white lilies that had grown everywhere in the garden of her family’s castle. All of it was beautiful and it reminded the princess of home – which did not exist anymore. Leia had clenched her fists painfully, thrusting sharp nails into her thin skin, leaving deep crimson marks on the inside of her hands.
Rumour had it that Grand Admiral Thrawn was a great connoisseur of the arts and that his collection featured things from all over the galaxy. Well, it seemed like his Alderaanian collection had been transferred right into her room. It was kind and cruel - at the same time.
*They would pay for the destruction of Alderaan! All of them!* Leia had thought, while pulling off the uncomfortably tight, black dress. Carelessly, she had thrown the jewellery on the floor and then she had freed her long brown hair. In bed she had covered herself all the way up to her head in a helpless gesture to shut out the ghosts of the past. And while trying to hide from the bright aroma of the lilies, Leia had hoped to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep that would hopefully never end.
The next day, the princess did not wake up until noon. The sickening fear of uncertainty crammed her body and her eyes did not want to react to the golden sunlight penetrating through the round ceiling window. Even when she finally opened her eyes, Leia did not leave the bed for quite some time. A part of her did not want to leave the warm, comfortable, soft bed, but yet another part of her told her to leave as quickly as possible. Leave and escape this room that was filled with vivid memories, which tore her heart into pieces.
Next to her bed, Leia noticed a huge painting. It showed a cosmic battle of enormous proportions: several planets, surrounded by hundreds of ships that greedily waited in orbit. Thousands of bright laser-flashes pierced through the darkness of the cosmos, illuminating it with cold scarlet and green light. It was a symphony of death, with shots waving in a destructive chorus. The battle might be in space, but in the end it were the people on the surface that suffered its consequences, they would either be saved or conquered or enslaved ... or sometimes they just died, dissolved in the cold emptiness of the cosmos, becoming the blue dust between asteroids, like the people of Alderaan….
It was a truly beautiful and horrible work, created not just by the artist, but also by people who had witnessed war with its burning bright colours and who had felt the cold breath of death on their shoulder. Every pixel of the canvas showed, at least on a galactic-scale, how short, fragile, uncontrollable and often meaningless a single human life actually was ...
"I like this work, too." Leia heard a soft, velvet voice coming from the far corner of the room. "I am pleased to find you already awake, princess." Again she could hear the slight mockery slipping through the warm tone of the Chiss. "We need to talk. I will wait for you downstairs."
Leia was so surprised that she did not even have time to respond to his invitation - or had it been an order?…. Leia was not only surprised to see Thrawn so soon, she was also surprised that he had left her and had ask her to come downstairs. Did this mean these rooms were “her” rooms? Not “their” rooms? The thought had crossed her mind last night. It had been a disturbing thought then and it was still uncomfortable now and with this on mind, she hurried to get out of bed, hoping that she would not have to face a problem serious enough that would make her wish to go straight back.
Her black dress from yesterday had somehow disappeared, and instead of it, in that same ill-fated chair, lay another: It was a dark-blue, weightless silk dress that, again, featured a low cut and was rather tight around the waist. And while in general it hid her legs behind the long, wavy fabric, it allowed them to flash throw every now and then. After a fleeting look in the mirror, Leia had to admit that the dress suited her perfectly and it angered her. And what angered her even more, was the fact that such trivialities irritated her in first place. Leia took a deep breath, searching for her calmness and then forced a smile on her face.
Passing through a long, barely illuminated corridor, Leia then found herself in a huge, round, bright living room. Restrained luxury - this is what Grand Admiral Thrawn's estate really was all about. It felt pleasant, comfortable and was tastefully furnished, a striking difference to the cold, dark dura-steel walls of Lord Vader's castle.
The home said a lot about its owner and Vader, being more machine than man, did not need special comfort and did also not surround himself with great luxury. The Sith had quite sophisticated ships and machines and quality furnishing, but still the building had felt plain, even with its high ceilings, which was generally considered a luxury. However, Leia suspected that the high ceilings probably just highlighted the Sith’s desire to rise above everything and everyone and he loved the sky and the blackness of space.
But what did this house say about Thrawn? He seemed to enjoy beautiful things. Everything in this place spoke of a complex, sophisticated harmony; everything was aesthetic; everything was high-end; everything was a perfect fit. Nothing, not even the smallest item that served a solely practical purpose, felt out of place. Everything had style, while still being functional and nothing felt overdone. Everything was…. faultless or at least created the feeling.
“Did you sleep well, my lady?” Leia heard the soft voice of the Chiss. Again from behind. *How did he do that?*
“I did. Before I forget to mention it, I want to clarify one thing, Grand Admiral: As long as there has not been an official ceremony, I do not consider you my husband.” The princess coldly explained, instead of a kind welcome. “And I don’t care how you feel about it. And therefore, I would like to live alone, in my own personal ...”
“It is your room, Leia.” Thrawn said softly, holding a cup of hot, strong coffee. “And only yours. And no one shall disturb you there.”
“Really?” the princess asked, defiantly ignoring the offered coffee cup, as if it contained poison.
“I am the exception.” Thrawn said coldly, smiling with the corner of his lips. He put the second cup on a low table near the sofa. “I have the right to enter where I want, when I want, without asking anyone.”
“What if I don’t agree to this?”
“What a pity ...” the Chiss purred, gazing into Leia’s eyes. He came a little closer. “It seems we have a conflict of interest here. So what do we do now? Under whose rules do we play, my lady?” his last words flew from his lips in a rapacious whisper, burning the princess's neck with his hot breath.
With any other person, any other Imperial, even Lord Vader, Leia would have found the right answer. Usually she had a sharp tongue and a quick mind. But not now. Looking at the burning, inhuman eyes of the Chiss, the princess, for some reason, did not dare say a word. Instinctively knowing that insulting him might have very dare consequences. The space between them was filled with tension, and the silence seemed to slow down time.
Leia angrily realized that she knew very little about the Chiss: their culture, customs, their way of thinking, their worldview and possible physiological differences, apart from well-known facts, were unknown to her. It was rather strange because as a diplomat the princess had met many races and cultures, but she had avoided the Chiss, as for some reason she had always believed that their “Ascendancy” would support the Empire. In general there was little contact between Chiss and Humans ... and for that it had seemed too much of a hassle to learn about their extremely complex culture. That had been a mistake.
For a moment, probably not more than an unbearably long couple of seconds, Leia was silent, but then she found her strength again and boldly said:
"Mine, of course." She smiled confidently and took a step backwards, increasing the distance between them. Her confusion seemed to have dissolved and her famous courage had prevailed.
“No concessions?” He smiled and took another sip of coffee. “We are going to spend the rest of our lives together, Leia. There will be many conflicts .... And I, too, prefer to have it my way." the Chiss whispered. "In that we are alike, are we not, Leia?"
Thrawn took half a step forward and Leia in turn stepped back, until there was only a wall, and he slowly, unbearably slowly approached, bending over the princess, closing the distance between them, until there were only a few millimetres separating their bodies. The cold steel buttons of his uniform jacket met the thin silk of Leia's dress. She tensed, stretching out on the wall, ready to strike or to escape from of this trap at any moment. However, Thrawn was in no hurry - he was enjoying Leia's confusion, the shadow of fear on her face, her anger, which made her scarlet sensual lips tremble.
If he had undertaken something more serious, Leia would have fought him with all she had, but Thrawn had only studied her - carefully, not missing the slightest detail and his lascivious, predatory look had been worse than real touches, revealing the essence of the Grand Admiral's true intentions. He was interested not only in her body, he wanted her very soul - thoughts, fears, doubts and desires.
He hung over the fragile figure of the girl; and only then Leia realizes how much stronger he was…. And there was no one here ... No protection. No servants. Suddenly, a terrible fear stirred up in her chest and from there rushed through all of her body.
"Here you are safe, princess. No one will harm you and no one will violate your rights and freedoms …. if you stop doing stupid things, that is." The Chiss retreated then, leaving her with a whirlwind of emotions. He folded his hands behind the back.
"You know what I am talking about, do you not?"
"I have no idea." she said coldly, through gritted teeth.
“Too bad… I can forgive a lot of things; stupidity is not among them.”
For a minute they stood still there, looking into each other's eyes, then Thrawn’s hand, laced in a white glove, reached for hers and slowly, unbearably slowly, lifted it to his lips and when the burning warmth of his kiss touched her wrist, Leia could barely resist tearing her hand away.
"You, princess, have made a very reckless choice, not thinking about the consequences. Hoping for what? Luck? Friends rushing to your help, like once before on the Death Star?” He did not let go of Leia’s hand, which noticeably tensed from the words of the Grand Admiral. "It will not happen. Han Solo is dead.”
"No!....No!....You… It can not ...”
"Last night he came to Coruscant. Looking for you, no doubt. The patrol services had the order to shoot at first sight. Without a warning. And this time they did not miss." He held out a datapad with reports, finally releasing the hand of the princess, who immediately began to wipe away the treacherous tears dripping from her eyes.
"I believe I should say something like *I am sorry, Princess. Please accept my condolences.*” Despite the frank mockery, his voice sounded soft, soothing. "But you know that is not the case. I gave the order myself and I do not regret it. On my honesty, Leia, you can count ... always.”
With these words Thrawn left, leaving Leia alone with her bitter loss, with an incredible pain in her heart, with the feeling of twilight before the dawn, with the melting of hope.
Chapter song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13HymVYXpfs
Chapter picture: http://pixs.ru/showimage/FotorCreat_8648406_24777495.jpg
Chapter 3: ....might drive you crazy.
Chapter 3 - Crazy
"You cannot remain silent forever," he said mockingly; attentively looking at Leia.
The princess, however, preferred to avoid the burning eyes of the Chiss and stubbornly remain silent.
„So, why not tell me about your day? You see, if I were to tell you about mine it might upset you.“
A combination of taunts with beautiful manners seemed to be characteristic for Thrawn, especially in more private situations. Just like now. In the hand of the Grand Admiral was a glass of strong, golden Corellian whiskey, which in turn meant that he had done something important, after which, finally, he could afford to relax. But at the same time he did not seem too pleased with himself.
The Grand Admiral spoke Basic very well, and apparently had spent many years in the company of humans, so that he was probably beyond prejudice and one could be open with him... like with an ordinary person, or any other man, but still there was something that prevented Leia from choosing the only sensible strategy in this situation - talk. It was the way Thrawn behaved. He was practically impossible to encounter or to provoke, as he was always polite and had not done anything for which he deserved to be slapped in the face. However, it steadily loomed on the horizon, as he always approached a little closer than he should and his attentive gaze burned right to the bone.
"Well ... do whatever you like, but in case you have not noticed, you are only punishing yourself, as there is no one else to talk to.”
Leia threw a hateful glance at the Chiss’ back, who was preparing a coffee. Not for himself - for her. He always did this, he gave her a hot, aromatic and insanely delicious coffee every evening, hoping to continue the conversation with her, but as always Leia stubbornly remained silent, even when her lips touched the delicate porcelain cup, with its skilfully painted brightly coloured lines. She listened closely to every word Thrawn uttered, but pretended to be completely indifferent to his presence and did not react to any of his remarks, while ignoring even the most elementary politeness.
Yes, Leia Organa, the Princess of Alderaan, was actually ignoring all rules of politeness and her status. Well, actually, there was no status to consider anymore…
More or less the same things had happened for a week now: Every morning Leia had found a new dress in her chambers and every evening, Thrawn, after returning from work, had told her to go down into the living room and then she had begun her torture of silence. But the question of who had tortured whom, remained unanswered.
***A WEEK AGO***
"Have you seen the latest news, princess?"
“No. And I don’t intent do. It's all just a pack of lies.”
“Not all. Actually never more than half of it and for someone who can read between the lines, the truth cannot be hidden behind flashy headlines." he said, holding out a datapad to Leia, on which flashed another headline with her in it.
“I do not care and I do not want to see any of it!” the princess said, resolutely pushing the datapad aside, which in turn fell on the sofa. Then she deliberately turned away, stubbornly looking at the pictures on the opposite wall. She must have been so occupied by this, that Leia had not noticed the Chiss coming closer. Suddenly, she felt his hands - his warm palms, deprived of the usual snow-white gloves, - on her bare shoulders. Thrawn then gently, but imperiously turned her face, directing her gaze to where the datapad lay; the bright headline still visible.
"You will do what I say," he whispered and leaned in closer until his lips almost touched Leia’s ear. “At least, sometimes. Look ...”
Thrawn pressed a button and the datapad zoomed in; showing an image and semi-translucent letters.
"It says here," he continued, quietly and relentlessly. “That in a month the ceremony of our marriage will take place ... according to human traditions.”
Leia's eyes widened with fear, and she bit her lower-lip painfully, to prevent herself from blurting out in resistance. Oh, how many words lay on the tip of her tongue. But she refused to say them.
"You wanted it yourself, darling." Again. Unbearable mockery in that velvet voice. “It is time to get used to it.”
“No? Well, of course we could cancel it; announcing that it was nothing but a rumour and that the ceremony had already taken place and that ...”
“No. No!” Leia almost shouted, tearing herself away from the soft, but strong embrace of the Chiss. Then she turned around and sharply said "There was no ceremony!"
“Good. There was not. But there will be. In the Imperial Palace perhaps. In four weeks. You know what I mean?”
"Stop talking in riddles, Grand Admiral, just tell me what you want.”
"What I want?" Thrawn seemed to be somewhat surprised by that and closed his eyes for a moment, thinking. Leia already regretted her bold approach and a treacherous trembling combined with an ice-wave swept through her body.
"You," he finally answered. “I want you. All of you.”
"You ... you just ..."
"... and I always get what I want.”
Fury threw her into a fever; angrily Leia bit her lips again, which were already dark-crimson from the rush of blood by now. Her breathing became heavy and rapid.
*No. That will not happen!* she said to herself. *I'll get out of here. I just need a little more time ... *
Little by little, Leia managed to regain her composure, and when she finally answered it was calmly and quietly, just as the Chiss had done before. It was nothing more than a whisper, but she was sure that Thrawn would hear it.
"We'll see, Grand Admiral ... everyone loses sooner or later."
... Leia involuntarily shivered in the chair, while remembering the evening with which her silence had begun. She had hoped that Thrawn would simply lose interest in her and that she might have more freedom then, providing her with a chance to slip out of this intolerably cosy prison.
Yes, Thrawn’s estate was beautiful, as light as the sky and as beautiful as the touch of an angel's wing - which according to some legends still lived on certain planets. It was exquisite, but it would never become Leia's house.
Much ... too much she liked about it, subtly resembling her own house, and other things she might have chosen herself... but in all honesty, she could not have created more comfortable living arrangements. But there was also this burning awareness that everyone and everything she loved was irretrievably lost. And that the owner of this exquisite splendour had had an active hand in it.
And the more Leia thought about it, the more everything here irritated her: the caressing velvet fabric of the furniture, the beautiful canvases on the walls, the sweet spicy aroma that was soaked all around and the divine bitter coffee. Yes, on the first day she had tried it, she had been surprised by the saturated deep taste and had wanted to drink it forever, but ...
… alas, it was not her.
And nothing here would ever belong to her.
At best, Leia is given the role of an honorary prisoner; at worst ...
Well, she preferred not to think about it.
A week had passed, and her escape plan had not advanced a bit. Perhaps because she had slept till noon and then had tried to cope with a headache, which had become a regular companion to her awakening.
At first ... the princess had thought that the suffocating aroma of the lilies had been the reason for her strange headaches and had ordered to remove them. But after that, nothing had changed. Another, more important factor, was her loneliness. There was not a single soul in the whole estate! The cleaning drones had a very limited amount of memory and functions - they cooked food and performed the necessary household functions, but nothing more. And then there was no one – not even a protocol droid.
Not a living soul was here. Yet, "here" was the part of the estate with the living chambers, however, it was quite possibly that there was another part for the employees and aides, but to that part Leia did not have access. Maybe if she had asked Thrawn - sincerely and politely – he would have shown her the whole estate, but that chance was gone, now that she was silent and tried to avoid the company of the Chiss.
All corridors and rooms in this part of the estate were arranged in a circle, and the end of each level was, it seemed, the living room. Every time the door opened, a panel popped up in the doorframe; so far she had seen four positions, but only the Grand Admiral knew exactly how it worked. But one thing she did know, without the Admiral’s activation there was no panel.
*How does he do it?* Leia looked at Thrawn, who sat silently in the chair, beside her, lost in thoughts, sipping at his glass of golden liquid.
*It seems I have no choice*, Leia thought with a heavy sigh. *I need it, and the remote control seems to be in his breast pocket ...*
“How was your day, Grand Admiral?” the princess tried to hide the ironic tone in her voice, but it didn’t work too well. Her overall interested composure along with a smooth and soft half-smile, however, turned out quite convincing.
“Perfect. But you would appreciate it differently." the Chiss said quietly, while studying Leia. His external calmness and relaxation were an impenetrable mask as he watched the princess’ every word and gesture.
"You definitely have something in mind, my girl, let me see ... what game have you decided to play?"
"None. And you ... must be very tired.” the princess whispered, moving closer to the very edge of the sofa; she was still smiling sweetly, and her hand dropped on Thrawn's armchair, almost touching his arm.
"Why such care, princess? So far, you have only gifted me with silence.”
"I thought ... maybe you were right."
“Maybe?” the Chiss asked mockingly, looking at Leia.
“Yes, I admit it.” The princess said and raised her hands in a theatrical fashion. “You were right. If you are my sole company, I should talk to you.”
"You are drawing the right conclusions." Thrawn whispered, while putting his glass on a low, carved table next to the armchair, before taking off his gloves.
"Perhaps ... I'm a fast learner?" She smiled playfully.
“No, most likely, you just need something from me.”
“And if so, then what ...?” Leia whispered, approaching him. Next she bend over his snow-white, half-opened uniform jacket, in whose upper pocket she suspected the door’s remote control, and then, without a shadow of fear or doubt, she looked at the Chiss, and her lips parted sensually.
"What do you want, my dear?" He ran a hand into her hair, pulling the princess closer. "You could just ask... Who knows, maybe you would even get it." His fingers gently outlined the shape of her oval face. Leia shivered by his barely perceivable touch, while Thrawn's hand slowly descended below, caressing her delicate neck, inevitably heading towards the décolleté of her delicate chocolate-coloured dress, which in turn gave way to the tempting and dangerously open hemisphere of her breasts. .
"What do you want, Leia?" he whispered in a hoarse voice, very close to her ear, in which shone earrings with a transparent stone with an incredibly complex cut; glistened, shimmering, reflecting all rays of light. Another gift of Thrawn, which Leia had ignored for several days ... but had finally surrendered to today, captivated by their beauty.
Thrawn had no doubt that Leia was lying, advancing him with this sudden interest and passion. She was tense and constrained, as if trying to control every movement, every muscle ready to escape at any moment to avoid the next touch. Little by little she relaxed, allowing his gentle touch, but in her body there was not a hint of true desire.
But since she herself had started this game, nothing would prevent him from doing now what he had wanted for a long time - to taste her obstinate lips, to touch her hot tongue, to drink her breath when she started to break away, and to firmly intercept the hand brought up for a slap.
His kiss, contrary to the touch, was dominating. The Chiss’ hand, lying on the back of her head, did not let her go, and his lips parted her mouth greedily, engaging her tongue in a passionate dance.
At first Leia instinctively wanted to escape, but then her resistance weakened and she fell down into the firm embrace of the Grand Admiral - either because she felt that it was useless to resist or because she suddenly remembered her true intentions. With her free hand she traced his shoulders, and then gently touched his neck, before farther opening the chest part of his uniform. Gently Leia slipped her fingers into his breast pocket, while continuing to stroke the Chiss with her second hand, digging her fingernails into his right shoulder, as if in a fit of passion.
Unnoticed - or at least Leia thought so - she hid the remote in one of her dress’ sleeves, and then instantly leaned back, breaking the kiss; breathless and with glowing cheeks. Now the most difficult thing would be to slip out of Thrawn's embrace and to get out of the living room.
"You ... must be tired, and it’s already quite late," Leia whispered slightly embarrassed and smiled with the edges of her lips. "I’m sure it is ... I'd better leave now ..."
She rose abruptly, intending to leave, but Thrawn held her by the hand, and only after touching her thin fingers with his still burning hot lips, he let go of her.
"Good night, princess." His voice was soft as usual, but there was something in it that Leia did not like. Already leaving the living room, she heard him quietly whisper. "And you may keep the remote ... Without the access codes, it is still useless.”
The princess clenched her fists with anger, but pretended not to have heard him, slowly walking towards her chambers.
Thrawn smiled and took another sip of his golden liquid; his eyes unusually bright. Now ..., perhaps, he was pleased with himself.
Chaper song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTMqPi_GVm0
Chapter picture: http://pixs.ru/showimage/FotorCreat_8859681_24980374.jpg
Chapter 4: And when the fire burns...
Chapter 4 – And the fire burns
That night, Leia could not fall asleep. She was outraged by the situation and embarrassed to the core. Her lips still burned from the passionate kiss of the Chiss and she could still hear his velvet voice in her head.
"You'll be mine ..." he whispered, and Leia's cheeks burned with fire "I always get what I want ..."
She clenched her fists and with that thrusted her fingernails into her hands, forcing herself to forget the incident and to think straight.
“You may keep the remote ... Without the access codes, it is still useless.”
How long would it take to crack the codes? A day? A week? No, that would not work – surely he had thought about that...
Leia turned around in her snow-white bed, then closed her eyes again and covered her head with a light, warm blanket, in a desperate attempt to isolate herself from this reality and to fall asleep. Then she rose abruptly, sat up in the bed, tossed the blanket aside and gazed into the thick, impenetrable darkness of the room, as if all the answers to her questions were hidden somewhere there. Waiting for her to point her into the right direction.
"Well, Grand Admiral ... Since you are so sure of yourself.... I will play this game ..." Leia whispered.
The last idea that had come to her mind had been wild - if not insane- as it meant betraying everything she had fought for, but ... it seemed like she had no other choice.
She had to find Luke. He would be able to help her, together they would find a solution. But where was he? The ingenious boy, who had so far managed to escape from the clutches of the Empire? Luke Skywalker, her ... brother. How strange that still sounded. Luke - the famous pilot who was responsible for the fatal shot that had destroyed the Death Star; the young man that had killed thousands... The one person Lord Vader longed to find. His son ...
Leia closed her eyes and looked for Luke over their force-bond.
"Forgive me, Luke. You will understand ... You MUST understand."
"How are you, Thrawn?" Leia was unexpectedly kind and actually started the conversation that evening.
„Things are usually going well when you behave like this. But there is always room for improvement.“
„I agree. Therefore, I would like to talk to my father." She practically breathed the last word. It had been nothing more than a whisper, but once she had said it, it hadn’t been that terrible after all. It was just a word and it meant nothing. At least that was, what she tried to tell herself, while wearing an indifferent expression on her face.
„Really?“ The Chiss raised an eyebrow in surprise. "If I were you I would not do that. Whatever you might think ... Lord Vader will not help you.“
„You never know ... Perhaps there is something he needs ... And I can help him obtain it ...“
„Is one defeat not enough for you?“ he grinned, taking a step towards the girl, looking into her cold face. „Do you want to play a losing game - again?“
"Why are you suddenly so worried about me, Grand Admiral? You are loyal to the Empire, are you not? My defeat will be your victory." She spit out the last words. "I want to speak to Lord Vader!"
Lord Vader sat in his huge, black armchair; the chair itself was tall and massive and somewhat reminiscent of Palpatine's throne. Vader closed his eyes, thinking about when this infinitely long day would finally come to an end. He wanted to tear off this mask, in a quite literal sense, and immerse in a bacta bath, to feel its warm, dense, viscous embrace. No, the method would never heal the Commander-in-Chief, he would always depend on his life-support suit, but in his bacta tank, at least, he did not experience so many inconveniences. By now his retina was completely restored, as was his skin, except for the places were it connected to the prostheses and more often than not, it started to bleed again whenever he had to adjust the rigid mechanics and later the flesh gently grew into the metal once more, providing a greater degree of freedom.
Of course, from a technical point of view, his suit could be better. A lot better. For example the prostheses. But it was impossible to modernize them because at that time, almost 20 years ago, Darth Sidious, had been quite afraid to loose his apprentice. He had put a Sith artifacts into this suit in order to ensure his survival – without any concern of the circumstances.
Vader had survived, crammed in this armour, and, despite his injuries, his Force abilities had grown. The main drawback, however, was that it was almost impossible to technically improve the armour – the thin, sensitive electronics simply short-circuited from the fast streams of the Force, and therefore only old, solid models could withstand the power of the Chosen One. It was uncomfortable, but choosing between technique and the Force, Darth Vader would always choose the Force.
"Lord Vader, you have a visitor." Squealed the black astromech droid that served as a protocol droid, in the Sith's office. Vader wasn’t quite sure why he bothered with him, out of nostalgia for R2D2? Or because of his love for binary codes? It didn’t matter.
Vader was not in the mood for company today or any day. In principle, no one ever came without an invitation – this brave or insane soul might just as well commit suicide. Not even those among the military high ranks were that foolish. Who could it be? For a second the Sith was lost and actually curious.
"Who is it?"
"Leia Organa," the droid blinked and Vader painfully frowned underneath his mask.
*His daughter. His only daughter. The one child he wasn’t missing… What to do with her? Why was she here?*
“Let her in.”
Inside Vader's castle on Coruscant it was rather dark. Economic reasons were unlikely. Maybe the vision in the Sith’s helmet allowed him to see in the dark without any particular discomfort? Or maybe the Sith liked it, but there was just enough light that the droids didn’t need additional lighting.
The astromech droid, that met her in a huge, half-empty, gloomy hallway with polished durasteal-walls that shone like a mirror, bleeped something incomprehensible and went ahead. Leia did not move, unsure what to do next. She had arrived with a whole squad of Thrawn's private soldiers, but they had not been allowed to go beyond the entrance-gate, and now the princess was alone in the dark castle of the Sith ... One on one with Vader, so to speak. Lea was nervous, and with every passed second her idea felt more insane.
*What a stupid habit of using droids instead of people.* Leia thought angrily, remembering Thrawn's estate, which was also lacking human personnel. *But then again who would voluntarily choose to ...* Leia stopped herself before finishing the thought, roughly estimating the generous salary those people would probably earn. People had committed viler deeds for less…. and those two could certainly afford it.
The astromech droid stopped a few meters ahead, turned its visor and broke into an angry squeak. The princess interpreted this as an invitation to follow him. Passing through the castle’s long corridors, Leia wrapped herself more and more in the cloak that Thrawn had so prudently helped her in. The lights of the droid shone in the semi-darkness, while he lead the visitor through many corridors, every now and then illuminating another door. His trill was rhythmic and friendly, like he was giving a tour of his master’s eerie castle.
At the end of another long corridor the droid stopped and waited for Leia, who was just a few steps behind him and then joined him at the entrance panel. Suddenly, the door opened and the princess briefly stopped, not daring to go inside. She had hoped that the droid would show her all the way to her father, but apparently that was not the case and she was forced to walk the rest of the way alone.
Behind the third automatic door, Leia finally found herself in Lord Vader's office and the Dark Lord himself sat, in an almost royal fashion, in an immense, black armchair, behind a huge, shiny black desk. He didn’t move and carefully studied her through the mask's visor.
Fear rushed through Leia's body and she felt a lump in her throat and the desperate need to escape, but then the princess found the strength to calm down again.
*Come on, Leia ... Just one sentence, you can do it.* she assured herself, but fact was that her voice refused to obey her, before she could even utter the words. She croaked a few words, and then, after clearing her throat, confidently said:
"Lord Vader ... father ... I know where to find Luke Skywalker."
“Really? And you want to share that information with me?”
“Yes. I'm ready to share this information in exchange ... for something else.”
"I will find him. One way or another." the Sith said firmly, leaning closer to her. He pointed to a chair opposite the table.
"Perhaps." Leia suddenly realized the meaning of his simple words, and she understood very clearly that perhaps he neither wanted or needed her help - that perhaps, she might have come in vain. That she might have abused Luke’s trust in vain. That she might have revealed her last trump card to Lord Vader - in vain. "But my help will come at a price."
"And what do you want, Leia?"
“One and half a billion credits”
“What about a star destroyer in addition?” Vader threw back mockingly. “Boba Fett’s fees are cheaper, my dear.”
"You did hire him, father," Leia said, looking straight into the visor. “But there are no results yet. And you still believe that, sooner or later, Luke will come to you. But why should he?”
“Do not talk about things you do not understand.” To hear how this girl called him `father´ was almost unbearable for Vader. Some part of him felt like the adopted daughter of Organa had no right to call him that. Even though she WAS his daughter.
"I know where Luke is."
*Dagobah* It was easy to read Leia's mind. He should just throw her out now and let Thrawn deal with her, but ...
“For what do you need so much money?" The Sith asked suddenly.
"I have a wedding soon, father. On Alderaan I had access to a lot of money, but where is my planet now?” Her voice sounded outright rebuke. “And the bank accounts of my family, as well as those of billions of Alderaanians that did not have direct, living descendants were taken over by the Empire. So I only ask for what is rightfully mine.”
"You have come to terms with your fate rather quickly." Vader scoffed mockingly, leaning back in his chair. "Your wedding… I was expecting that you would escape within the first week or that you would at least try to relief yourself of Thrawn’s presence. But, apparently, he approached the matter more thoroughly than I had imagined - or I overestimated you. The spiral structure of the building is good, of course, but vulnerable at the same time. Especially in the lower part of the building, there is an easy way to the hangar with a fairly good choice of transport. I thought you would use this, but apparently you did not inherit my brains.”
*Why is he telling me this?* Leia thought feverishly. *Is he offering an escape?*
“It was a conscious choice, father. I want to take a place in society again - a proper place, and not somewhere in the outskirts of the galaxy.”
“So you want me to believe that you are reconciled with the defeat of the Alliance and intend to live a luxurious life as the wife of a high-ranking representative of the imperial elite? Leia, I am not stupid and you do not know how to lie.”
"I’m not lying, Lord Vader." She leaned over the table and stared intently at the mask. "As I can see that my presence here brings you much more discomfort than any fruitless attempts to recreate the Alliance at the edge of the Unknown Regions ever could. I will consider it an honour to make your life miserable.”
"I could always kill you."
"You wouldn’t dare." she bluffed, but had to control herself to keep a straight face.
“What makes you think so? Much of what is being said about me is true.”
"Luke would never forgive you. And you need him. Unlike me.”
“So you sell your brother and use him as a guarantor for your own safety? I do not know whether to rejoice at your ingenuity or to complain about your immorality. Do you think Luke will be grateful?” It almost sounded like the Sith laughed.
“No. But he doesn’t have to know. It would be better for both of us if he would remain ignorant about who betrayed him. He would sleep much calmer.”
"You do not have what it takes to play such games, girl.”
“Are you sure? I'm your child, too ...”
Chapter 5: ....with jealousy....
Chapter 5 - Jealousy
Leia drank the bitter, black Mandalorian coffee. It was very strong, one of the reasons why the technicians on the lower levels of Coruscant loved it. Every day they had to preform the same tedious task: looking through a pile of trash in search of something that was still functional, or that would at least not deny its services within the first few hours after sale. An impossible task, at least without a cup of strong coffee.
How such a coffee had found its way into Thrawn’s exquisite and costly collection was a mystery to Leia. But she considered herself lucky, as the different types of coffee suited her sometimes decadent moods perfectly.
Luke had been found quickly – Thrawn had shared this information with her last evenings, or rather had clarified some of the hottest news that had shaken the holonet that day.
"You have a right to know," he had said and the princess had listened very carefully, catching every word he had said and only occasionally she had asked some simple questions in order not to show her interest in the subject.
Apparently Luke had not even tried to escape, which in itself had surprised her. And it sounded like he was depressed. Well, there was no way of knowing what had really happened that day, on Dagobah, the planet of eternal swamps and fog…
But the fact remained that Luke Skywalker had voluntarily surrendered to the Empire. Lord Vader had personally supervised the operation. And now Luke was here, on Coruscant.
Dagobah ... A greenish planet covered in misty twilight, somewhere at the edge of the known galaxy.
There were dire forests and dreadful creatures living somewhere in the bottomless green slime and the Force was strong here – restlessly rushing through the air - the dark side of the force.
As soon as he had stepped on the planet’s slippery surface, Darth Vader had sensed its vicious, intoxicating presence. How ironic that Luke had been trained here, in this dwelling of pure evil, and that the last great Jedi Master of the Old Republic had chosen this as his hiding place. Just like Darth Sidious had been hiding right under the nose of the Jedi…
Well ... it was a comforting thought that now, finally, the old Jedi master would meet his end here. Elsewhere, he would have been a worthier opponent, but here Yoda was weakened and he had grown old - the Sith felt it. Just like he felt that Luke would not be a hindrance – as right now young Skywalker was being tested, alone with his most terrible fears. Well ... it was about time to turn them into reality.
"I know you are here, Yoda ... and now it is I who will destroy your plans. Now I will have revenge."
The dark silhouette of Lord Vader appeared in the dimness of the cave. The scarlet lightsaber in his hand ominously cut through the darkness and his mechanical breathing echoed frighteningly in the cave, just as the heavy steps of the Sith. Luke hesitated for only a second – his body was on autopilot - a blue blade ready in his hand, and then he parried Vader's first blow.
“No!” he shouted, rage and pain filling his heart. He wanted revenge for the murder of his father, for Kenobi, his teacher. The boy's blows grew stronger, more violent, he wanted to tear, cut the dark figure in front of him into pieces, with thousands of strokes if necessary.
*The force is unusually strong in him* Vader thought, standing in the darkness of the cave, watching the duel between his double and Luke. *He will make a great Sith, despite the Jedi’s foolish interferences…. You wanted to send my son against me, Kenobi? My own flesh and blood?* His heart, or whatever had remained of it, filled with hatred. *One more reason to turn him.*
With a few shattering blows, Luke knocked the sword out of Vader's hands and cut off his head with one violent blow. The massive figure fell to the cave’s stone floor and with a loud bang the helmet that had covered his face suddenly opened, so Luke did not notice who was standing right behind him.
"What is this ..." Luke began, blue eyes looking at the defeated and vice versa, but his confusion and fears melted away, as soon as he noticed that the real Vader was here, rapidly approaching. He felt a piercing cold, making it hard to breathe. He was still clutching the activated lightsaber and Luke brought himself into position, ready to repeat those furious blows, with which he had just struck down the ghost, but this time he found his confidence noticeably diminished.
"There is no need for this." The Sith stretched out his hand. He was unarmed and Skywalker hoped to injure him or even deprive the galaxy of this monster, but his sword suddenly stopped listening to him and was held in its place by an invisible force.
"This sword once belonged to your father," Vader said slowly, his booming voice captivating. "He was strong, your father ... very strong. You are not worthy of his weapon yet ... " Suddenly, the sword flew out of Luke's hand and slid into the palm of the Sith, which was clad in a black leather glove. Vader chuckled and the icy, eerie, inhuman sound echoed from the cave’s stone walls. For a moment, it seemed like hundreds, no – thousands of ghosts of the Dark Lord walked out of the twilight, their heavy breathing creating a surreal death march, which caused all living things to freeze in horror. No, with this kind of power he could not cope…
"But I can teach you ..." the vile metallic voice of the Sith filled the darkness. "You will become as strong as your father, and when you are ready, you will fight with me and ... you will be able to avenge him ..."
"Going to teach Skywalker ... you are not."
“Master Yoda… I have awaited you ..." Vader activated both blades - blue and scarlet.
"Luke, run!" the old Jedi shouted, when the dark figure attacked him without a warning. He reacted instantaneously, creating a force-shield to intercept the crossed swords and then he slipped aside. Yoda was not as fragile as he appeared and he used his old master’s favourite fighting style, Ataru. Nice, but not suitable for fighting in a restricted space like this cave, and Yoda knew it, so he did not plan on defeating the Dark Lord. He wanted to sacrifice himself – to provide Luke with a chance to escape. How noble. How stupid.
“Hold him!” Vader roared, without stopping the duel. A troop of stormtroopers surrounded Skywalker, slowly tightening the ring around him. But strangely enough, he did not resist. Apparently, the words of the Dark Lord had sunken into his soul. *Avenge your father. Become as strong as him.* Yes, he wanted that! More than anything else ...
This time, Vader summoned Leia. Several deathtroopers suddenly appeared in her drawing-room.
"We have orders to take you to Lord Vader’s palace," boomed one of the soldiers, without bothering with a greeting.
"Please," he pointed to the exit.
Well ... there was no choice. Apprehension stirred up in the princess’ heart, but obediently she the followed them to the door.
Upon arrival, Leia had come up with at least a dozen reasons why the Sith might have called for her, but the most obvious one seemed to be Luke’s capture. Leia herself had intended to learn more about it - just a little later.
The deathtroopers escorted her to the very doors of the Sith’s private office - it was on the other wing of the castle and was much more spacious than the official one. Actually it seemed to be some kind of mix between a small, self-designed workshop and a large conference room. It was here where the Dark Lord worked, passionately indulging in both, construction and military affairs. Few people knew that in almost all imperial fighters, the Sith himself had made some personal adjustments, taking KDY’s work to a whole new level. Knowing how all the mechanisms were arranged, he definitely understood how to best use their features in combat and how to squeeze them out to their maximum.
Now the Sith was sitting at a huge durasteal table; surrounded by a lot of holoprojections of some sort of technology, which he closed with a quick swipe of his hand, as soon as Leia stepped over the threshold.
"Here, take it.” Instead of a greeting, Vader threw several credit cards on the table. “Half of what you asked for - 750 million.”
Leia was silent and not sure whether to rejoice in Vader’s unexpected generosity or to be angry about the fact that it was only half of what she’d asked for.
"You could almost say that it was honestly earned." he grinned under the mask, watching as his daughter's face gradually changing from confusion to anger.
“What about the other half?”
“You were generously rewarded, Leia. I offered five times less for information on the location of Skywalker, but you provided exact coordinates, saving me a lot of time.”
"I want to talk to Luke." Leia suddenly demanded, still angry.
Something in her voice alerted the Sith.
"No," Vader said calmly. “Not yet.”
“No? Why not? He's my brother and I want ...”
“I said no. He needs rest and does not feel well. Besides, I do not think...” but Leia did not even let him finish.
"Is he hurt?! What did you do to him?! I knew it was a mistake. ” Vader looked at her in amazement. How much she looked like Padmé at times and how similar they sounded whenever there was this hysterical note in Leia’s voice.
"What part of it?" The Sith asked.
"Trusting you!" Leia spat out angrily.
"You never trusted me."
There was a silence, short, but heavy, like a durasteel plate.
"I want to learn the way of the Force," Leia said then, boldly looking at his mask, and before adding a soft "Father" to enforce her wish. If Luke couldn’t help her, she had to manage on her own.
“Maybe you also want to command a Star Destroyer?” Vader suggested mockingly.
"No. Not yet at least."
"Why are you suddenly interested in the Force? Do you not have other things to do? As you yourself reminded me the other day, you have a wedding soon. Have you decided on a dress yet?" As far as the man who had once been Anakin Skywalker remembered, Padmé had had many outfits, wasting truly cosmic amounts of money and time on them, and somehow he had believed that Leia would be the same.
“No and I’m not interested in the slightest! I could go like this for all I care." The princess casually pointed at the dark-blue dress she was wearing.
“It should be white.”
“I think this is quite fitting, considering that blue is the colour of mourningon Naboo. And it would match the Grand Admiral's skin colour. But I honestly don’t care.”
*The impertinence she has from me.* the Sith suddenly thought.
"Father, teach me how to use the Force or let me at least talk to Luke.”
Leia was bluffing. She had no idea what the Force was, but she was confident that Vader would never teach her because he was not too found of her company. And the feeling was mutual. She miscalculated.
"Well, since you insist." the Dark Lord said intimidatingly and the girl involuntarily shivered from his icy voice. “Come back tomorrow. If Luke wants to – you can talk to him. And if not ... I will teach you the ways of the Force.”
The door behind Leia opened at Vader's command, a clear sign that for him the conversation was over. Like her, he did not care for useless pleasantries - but for Vader it was easier to completely ignore them.
Against her custom, Leia was waiting for Thrawn that evening. She needed to talk – with someone, anyone - and she also wanted to ask if he knew more about what had happened on Dagobah. Surely, the Chiss had not told her everything.
But the one time she actually wanted to talk to him, Thrawn was not there. He was already several hours late. Had anything happened?
*For Sith’s sake! Why today?!* Leia was somewhat upset and suddenly realized that she did not have a comlink number or any other means of contacting Thrawn, which made her even angrier.
*This is just stupid!* The princess bit her lips and wasn’t sure what upset her more - the fact that she could not find out where he was, or the fact that she was concerned in first place!
Recently the Chiss had behaved more restrained and calmly, without trying to drag the rebellious princess into a real discussion. He had also not mentioned the upcoming wedding and had kept a welcome distance. In the evenings, they had had a cup of coffee together and had leisurely talked about different topics. Usually, Thrawn had spoken more and Leia had listened. They had talked about ordinary things - Smalltalk for the most part, so when, by the Emperor, had she started to get attached to him?!
Probably he was still working and that could very well mean that something had happened. Something important. And Leia really wanted to know what.
Angrily she put the cup of unfinished coffee back on the table and went to her chambers – it was almost dawn and she needed to get some sleep or she would go mad.
"You came back rather late yesterday ... Did something happen? Too much work?“ Leia asked in the morning, when meeting the Chiss in the living room, trying to sound as indifferent as possible.
"Oh, no. Quite the contrary. I had some time to spare and decided to have some fun.“
In Leia’s mind the last words didn’t fit to Thrawn. She was so accustomed to seeing him as an impeccable officer with fine manners, a cold strategist whose sole interest seemed to be war and battle ships, but not something as trivial as `fun´.
But he clearly had enjoyed the company of that woman... Leia suddenly remembered their first meeting in the club. She remembered seeing him dancing with that blonde woman in the scarlet dress. Now that she thought about it, the way she had touched him with her thin fingers... It had looked like they were lovers and like both of them had had fun and might have drunken a little too much. But Leia was sure that the Chiss had been as sober as he was now, and surely he did not harbour any irrational feelings towards that woman, which, however, did not exclude physical attraction. But in general Leia was sure that his mind had been as pure and cold as always.
*What was the name of that woman again ...* Leia frowned, trying to remember the strange name of the blonde. *Mirabella ... Mirabella Swan-Jar.... Something. An artist of some sorts, who was patronized by the Emperor himself* She couldn’t remember more. *Probably a high calibre imperial slut, ready to do anything to get the attention of the powerful.* Leia added and tightly squeezed her lips in a thin line, contempt written all over her face. But she had to admit that the woman had been in damn good shape and that, maybe, Thrawn had spent the night with her… An unpleasant thought.
“Really? Where were you? And with whom?” She arched an eyebrow and approached him provocatively.
"That does not concern you, my dear." the Chiss answered and smiled shamelessly.
"You are my husband ... according to your people’s traditions, right? So ... in this case…. it concerns me very much.”
"As far as I know, you do not care for my people’s traditions." He reached for Leia's waist and pulled her closer to him; rather unexpectedly she did not resist, and only softly put her hands on his chest. "Maybe I changed my mind," she whispered, then gently tried pulled away a little.
"Are you jealous, princess?" He whispered hoarsely, taking one of her hands into his, stroking its inner surface with his thumb. His burning, scarlet eyes were terrifying and the grin on his lips was cruel, but his hand was surprisingly soft; his other hand gently slid upwards, along her back, until it came to rest that the back of her head. "At first you will determined whether I have any rights on you…. and only then, perhaps, you may pursue yours."
“No. And I do not care ...”
"Nooo." Thrawn breathed into her ear, his hot breath touched her neck, and his lips were dangerously close. "You care. Otherwise, you would not have been up, waiting for my return ..." He said the last words with obvious pleasure, and a low, velvet chuckle filled the silence. "Neither would you have inquired about my whereabouts, Leia, nor would you insist that you do not care ..." His lips touched her ear slightly and then she felt a chain of light kisses descending lower, over her neck, to the gentle hemisphere of her chest.
"No ..." Leia whispered weakly, trying to escape from his embrace, but the Chiss’ hand, which was still in her now slightly messed-up hair, held her back.
“No!" She said again, this time with more confidence, driving away the sweet dizziness that momentarily had taken over. "Let go of me!"
Thrawn, gently, but firmly held her in his arms. Then he smiled.
"As you wish, Princess," he leaned over Leia's fragile figure once more and inhaled her hair’s fragrance. "But next time, my dear, do not ask me those questions, if you are not ready for the implications...”
Chapter 6: ... it’s the beginning of the fall ...
Chapter 6 - ... it’s the beginning of the fall ...
“I keep my word, princess” Vader said slowly in his inhuman voice and Leia’s heart skipped a few beats.
“Luke does not know who betrayed him to the Empire. However, he also does not know about our relationship - and I intend to keep it that way. Do we understand each other?”
“What? He does not know that I’m his sister … and that you’re…”
“And if I don’t agree to these conditions?”
“Then you will not see Skywalker. It is as simple as that.” finished the Dark Lord.
“You have no choice, Leia.”
Luke looked at a tiny mark on the smooth, silver durasteel wall. He either meditated or he was simply exhausted. For several hours he had sat motionless on his bed and his face was impossible to read, while Luke himself was as white as a sheet and looked almost dead.
Then the door suddenly opened, revealing Princess Leia in some very expensive looking attire. Luke looked at her with heavy, almost contemptuous, blue eyes.
“How dare you?” Skywalker whispered maliciously, instead of greeting her. He even avoided looking at the princess.
“You betrayed the Alliance, for reasons only known by you. As for me, I never fully understood what we were fighting for. Surely you knew better… But why did you decide to become his wife?”
It took a while until the full impact of his words finally reached Leia. She herself did not feel engaged and her status – whether it was the new or the old one – was the last thing on her mind. It looked like Luke had read the latest news on the HoloNet and had come to his own, alas, false conclusions.
“No, no, wait ... it's not like that….” but the princess was unable to finish her sentence. She herself could not understand at what point it all had went wrong and where exactly the truth started and the hypocrisy ended, that was now surrounding her from all sides. How to be silent about the most important factor - their kinship – and to convince Luke the she was telling the truth? Leia didn’t know, but it seemed like it would be much, much more difficult than she had anticipated.
Silently they stared at the wall together; no one daring to continue the conversation. Lea suddenly felt guilty, without really understanding why and Luke in turn became angry.
“What's wrong? Has the mighty Sith's daughter lost her voice?” With the utmost contempt the young man stood up from the bed. “Well, there is nothing I want to talk to you about, anyway.”
*And you are the bloody son of a Sith!* Leia wanted to say, but she kept quiet. So far, things did not go as planned and her brother behaved very strangely….
“I need your help, Luke ...” Leia said as sincerely as she could. “The truth is so much more complicated than you think. I ... I want to destroy the Empire from within, end the reign of the Sith, and the only one that can help me with this is you, Luke. Only you...”
“End the reign of the Sith?! One of them is your father!”
*And yours, too, you idiot!* The longer they talked, the more Leia wanted to hit her brother with the truth, so that he would finally come to his senses, but she had promised Vader not to tell him and apparently he had thought this through.
“Luke, that does not matter! The Empire destroyed my home planet! That was a crime against humanity! I will not let them get away with it! And I will use any means necessary to achieve my goal ...”
“Even if that includes your future husband?” Luke looked at her in disbelieve and then a sly, derogative grin appeared on his face, and it hurt.
*I’m your sister, silly!* Leia bit her lips. Why was he so upset about her engagement? Was it that innocent kiss? The one she had given him to annoy Han? Was there a chance that it had left a mark on his heart?....
“Yes, even if that includes Thrawn.” the princess said firmly, while coming closer to her brother. “I will stop at nothing to have my revenge.”
“Wow ...” for a moment Skywalker’s look was clear again “That makes two of us.”
“So what now?” Leia took a deep breath and the hope that was at the bottom of her heart, suddenly came to life again. “Are you with me? Are we doing this together?”
“No. Our goals are different.”
Skywalker paused, his face not betraying any of his thoughts, but it felt like he was somewhere else entirely.
“I want to avenge my father.” He explained then, after an unbearably long moment of silence. “And my teachers Kenobi and Yoda. I’m going to kill Vader ...” he said quietly, but confidently.
“You what ...?”
“I'll kill him. He'll pay for everything he has done ...”
Never before had Leia seen him so cold, cruel and confident; his words like a gloomy cold. Not that she cared about Vader's welfare - sometimes she seemed ready to strangle him herself, but at other times she thought that she could find a common language with him, or could at least be frank with him - in any case the demise of the Dark Lord was not her wish. To her he was more like one of many obstacles on the way to her goal. Thus, Luke's solid determination to kill Vader - to kill his father - made Leia rather uncomfortable. It was wild and - wrong. There had been a time when Vader’s death would have pleased her. But that was her, not Luke, not the bright, naive boy the princess knew and loved. If Luke were to kill his own father, it would destroy him and tarnish his soul forever.
She should tell him the truth, no matter how bitter it might be for him, but…. she couldn’t. At least not yet.
"Luke ..." Leia began slowly, hoping that her simple words could reach him. “This is not a good idea. Lord Vader is very powerful, and you can not just ...”
"I understand, Leia ... he's your father…..you can’t betray him like that. That's why we're not in this together.”
"That wouldn’t make a difference to me ..." She hesitated, realizing that it was impossible to deny the obvious. "He is my biological father - yes, but I’m still me and I will always be the daughter of…”.
“Enough. Just leave...”
“Luke this is mad! Do you really think that it’s that easy to kill a Sith?!”
“Easy? Nooooo ..." Skywalker's blue eyes burned with a strange and almost fanatical fire. "It won’t be easy at all! But it’ll be worth it...”
Leia froze in the middle of the room, unable to say a thing. It was obvious that her brother would not part with this insane idea.
"I do not want to see you, Leia. Please go. We are on different sides now.”
"No ... no, wait…"
“Get out!” The door behind the princess opened and two guards entered, preparing to lead her away.
When Leia came out of her brother’s cabin, she felt utterly broken and bitter tears ran down her face. She had all but lost hope and confidence and there was no one in the whole galaxy left to understand and comfort her. In that very moment, the dark figure of Lord Vader appeared at the end of the corridor, as if the galaxy was playing some sick joke on her. He dismissed the guards with a swift gesture of his hand and remained silent for a while. Then his metallic voice finally cut through the silent.
"Your training starts tomorrow.” the Sith said in his usual, orderly tone. It was not a question.
"What?" Leia instantaneously pulled herself together and quickly dried her tears. Her weakness faded away, only to give way to anger. "No. This is not ….."
"I take it Skywalker has thrown you out…” Vader interrupted her unceremoniously. “…hence he does not want to talk to you."
"This is a ... temporary misunderstanding," she said like a true diplomat. "But we'll settle things eventually."
"No, you will not."
*He is stubborn. He will not let this go.* Leia thought *Just like me*
"Stop lying to yourself, Leia. Your plan, whatever it was, did not work, and now ... you look pathetic. In the depths of your soul, you know that you have lost. I think we can agree on this… But who knows, maybe someday you will be strong enough to take revenge on me.”
“Why do you want this?”
“That depends on what you mean.”
"I don’t know what you said to Luke, but he already yearns for your death and now you want to persuade me to feel the same."
"You hate the Empire. And me personally. So why not?” Vader seemed to mock her openly. Or was he serious?
“Why?” Leia asked again.
"I prefer to know my enemies ... and keep them close enough to smell it when they are ready to strike."
"That's why you serve the Emperor." A terrible guess struck Leia to the core. "You wouldn’t mind overthrowing him, but you don’t do it because other enemies would come to replace him, and Palpatine, at least, you know ..."
"You are not as stupid as one might think." Vader said. "But never be so foolish to believe that you can understand the true motives of my actions."
"I have no desire to even try... I just ..."
"Tomorrow at eight." the Sith said flatly, grinning under his mask. "No delays. I have too little time as it is.”
“I did not give my consent.”
"And I did not ask for it."
"I’m not your possession or some sort of slave that you can order around!"
"We are all slaves of our position ... no matter how high it is." with these words, the Sith stepped towards Luke's cabin-door, adding a final:
"I am confident you will find the exit on your own."
For the first time since she had moved here, Leia was sitting in her cosy beige chambers inside Thrawn’s estate and she felt safe. At the moment it was the only place where she could relax and indulge in thoughts. She no longer cried at night, no. She slept soundly, somehow knowing that she would need all her strength soon.
Not that Leia was no longer sad about Alderaan or torn to pieces by the defeat of the Alliance or the tragic death of Han Solo and so many other comrades-in-arms, whose names she did not even know, those men and women who had worked alongside her at the Echo Base on Hoth, during the attack of the Empire…. No, this heavy sadness would probably never leave her heart, but the sadness was accompanied by something else too ... the belief that there was still hope ... no, not of a return to the past, but of change ... A Hope that was, no doubt, dictated by the irrepressible thirst for life itself.
From what Leia knew about her current situation there is no way out – at least none that she know of, but with every fibre of her being she felt that she had to fight.
With whom? For what? These questions she couldn’t truly answer yet. But the more Leia, in the past Organa, temporarily Vader, and soon, after this ridiculous twist of fate, – Nurudo? – thought about it, the more she understood that she had to take her place in this new world in order to be able to continue her fight, to protect her values as well as the remains of the Alliance.
Leia curled up in a huge armchair and looked at the beautiful canvas depicting the battle scene. She imagined herself fighting in it and that, contrary to the predetermined finale, she defeated the enemy that was far superior in numbers.
Her tranquillity and peace was interrupted by Thrawn, who, by all appearances, had entered her room. Leia had no idea how long he had been there, watching her.
"You did it for nothing." He began instructively and Leia did not like his tone. *What the Sith is he doing here?!*
“What exactly?” she ask through gritted teeth, glancing at the comlink. It was almost nine o'clock. At least now she knew why Thrawn had come to her - usually they talked in the living room around this time.
"I have heard only little about Lord Vader's disciples, but I know for sure that they had a very hard time ... and that their lives were short-lived.”
“It wasn’t my choice ...”
“What difference does it make? You are in trouble.” Thrawn explained calmly, and this angered her even further.
“And why do you care? I would assume this plays into your hand.”
“Not quite. What do you know about the Sith, Leia?”
"Besides the fact that one of them controls the galaxy and the other the military?" the princess blurted out, wishing to quickly finish this strange conversation. What was Thrawn even hinting at?
“Walking on this path, you will experience a lot of suffering, until you are completely broken ...”
"Lord Vader does not look broken."
"He is strong now, I agree, but do you know how much the Dark Lord had to endure? If you think that the Force will help your revenge, if you think that someday you will be able to hurt one of the Sith with it, you are mistaken. The Dark Side of the Force takes as much as it gives and do not think that you can beat Darth Vader in his own game.”
“I do not think any of this.”
“It will be in vain. I think it is time to start….” Leia couldn’t take it anymore, so she jumped up from her chair and walked right up to Thrawn. Anger written all over her face.
"Why are you so concerned about me?! Why do you care?!”
“I have my own goals in this game.”
"And what exactly are your goals?"
"I will tell you, when the time comes ... right now ... you will not like them." he grinned and, for a moment, his eyes flashed with a bright, scarlet light.
“And what makes you think I will like them any better then?”
"I will work on that. Be assured..." Thrawn's voice fascinated her, it was soft and velvet, but, at the same time, whenever she heard it, there was an alarm ringing somewhere in the back of her consciousness, screaming: *He can’t be trusted!*
"What do you want, Leia?" he often asked this question, but her answers differed from "nothing" to "I don’t know”.
“What do you want from me? What place do you want me to take in your game, hmm?”
Leia was silent, hiding her gaze, biting her lips. She thought about it for a second and doubted that the Grand Admiral would agree to any of the options that came into her mind. At various times, she wouldn’t mind becoming a widow; getting rid of his presence. At other times she even considered him as a possible ally, seeing that every now and then they actually shared views on particular issues. However, now, looking at the tall, strong figure of Thrawn with his burning gaze and razor-sharp, clear mind, she knew that none of these options were likely: he was loyal to the Empire and above all to himself. And he was most definitely an obstacle that would be hard to remove.
The silence lingered, but the Chiss seemed to have seen both of her options on her face. He came closer and put his strong hands around her wrist. Suddenly Leia became scared and tried to free herself from his iron-clasped grip.
"Come on," he whispered softly, but his hands were firm and powerful. "If I really wanted to, I would have taken you long ago. By force. And no one would have dared to stop me ... Tell me Leia, why do you think I did not do it?”
“Because you don’t want to.”
"No ... Oh, no, on the contrary ... I want." His hungry lips came down on her neck and his arms wrapped around her tiny waist with predatory precision, pressing her tightly against him. "You belong to me, Leia ... You are mine ... I just want you to get used to it." Then his fingers slid up to her dress’ clasp.
What was happening was unbearable for Leia, and the truth in Thrawn's words burned more than his hot touches. She really had began to get used to him - to his presence, to the warmth of his skin, to his occasional touches and kisses; sometimes the princess had even caught herself thinking that she liked to be close to him, that she wanted to cling to him with all her body, inhaling his smell - spicy and sweet. But the realization that all of this had been his intention, his insidious plan and that she, like a mouse, had run right into his trap, was too much! It turned everything that had happened into something disgusting and so Leia tensed her whole body and tried to break free from his clinging embrace and the touch of his lips, but Thrawn held her tightly and his skilful fingers had already managed to open the clasp and so Leia felt the dress falling from her shoulders.
“Sh-sh-sh-shsh! Do not resist.” With one deft movement, he lowered the dress down completely, and it fell to the princess’ feet, leaving her defenceless, almost completely naked. With one skilful movement, Thrawn took Leia in his arms and carried her to the bed. "I will do it anyway."
He threw back the golden blanket with one hand and gently, despite the princess' attempts to escape, put her on the bed. Then he reached for the blanket and carefully covered her and her sharp fingernails, that surely had left some marks on his neck, with it.
“Time for you to sleep” he said, bending over the girl, gently kissing her on the forehead. “I just thought I should helped you take off that dress.”
“That was help?” Leia hissed furiously.
“Exactly. You should take my help more often. Who knows, maybe I can give you what you need…”
He pulled the blanket a little higher once more, removed a lock from Leia's face and then, with a polite "Good night, princess", he left.
Leia couldn’t sleep for a long time, trying to forget his hot embrace and kisses ...
Chapter art: http://pixs.ru/showimage/FotorCreat_9206148_29724831.jpg
Chapter 7: You long for what is beyond reality…
A/N: Just saw “Solo – A Star Wars Story”. It was surprisingly good! :)
Chapter 7 – You long for what is beyond reality…
"What do you want, Leia?" Thrawn’s fascinating voice whispered, "Maybe I can give you what you need."
It was so wrong to desire his touch.
It was wrong to want to be near him.
He was the enemy. And he was very dangerous.
But the Chiss’ words sounded like an insinuating melody in the princess’ head, leaving her restless.
No. No! No "ifs"!
He was the enemy! Enemy...
But how sweet his kisses had felt ...
Literally broken and battered Leia returned from her first lesson with the Sith Lord. After showing and practising just a few defensive blocks, Vader had given her a real fight test, for which she hadn’t been ready at all.
The training hall was a half-neglected hangar, which consisted of two floors. The first floor was the training floor and it was filled with what, at least to Leia, looked like trash. There were remains of old training-droids that had been torn apart during previous trainings, huge boxes with unknown contents – but for some reason Leia believed that there was something alive inside, a few half-disembowelled shuttles and, surprisingly, there was also a brand-new speeder that seemed to be in perfect condition.
Leia's opponent had been a man in black robes. His face had been hidden by a silver mask and both of them had been equipped with long, wooden training poles. Her mysterious opponent had quickly initiated the fight, confidently and with a series of hard blows. Luckily, most of them had missed Leia. Then the man had taken a step backward and he had laughed underneath his mask. After that, the real fight had begun and the man’s moves had been unexpectedly graceful and destructive at the same time. Leia had needed all her self-control not to go down in the first round, as she had been ignorant about both - rules and boundaries - of their duel. It hadn’t taken long, until Leia had felt utterly exposed to his blows and had started to moved on pure instinct, and her whole body working on fear.
Her opponent had reminded her of Luke at first, however, he had been a bit taller and his hair had been pitch black. If their duel would have featured real light swords, Leia's body would have been cut into pieces many times over, but instead there were uncountable bruises and ugly scars all over her body now.
In the end Leia had given up and had carelessly thrown her pole into a corner, "Enough!" she had shouted angrily, as, to her, all this had felt more like the beating of a defenceless child than a real training session, in which she could have learned something. The man in black had stopped in front of her and then had exhaled contemptuously.
“No!” One last time he had waved his pole, knocking the princess off her feet and then she had crashed down on the floor. Beaten and utterly defeated.
"This is where you belong.” His low and deep voice had said. He had said something else - a phrase in an unfamiliar language – and then he had turned away, heading towards the exit.
Vader had watched the whole scene from the second floor, sitting in a wide chair on a special balcony.
“You broke the record, my dear. No one gave up as quickly as you.”
"It wasn’t fair! And very painful!" the princess had said, frowning.
"And it will remain that way, if you refuse to learn from your defeat and take action."
“I didn’t stand a chance!”
“You had a bunch of chances. There are no limits in this game, Leia. Look around, there are plenty of weapons here, there is even a blaster in that corner, but you chose an honest, alas painful, way of fighting against an obviously stronger enemy.”
"But I ... I mean, you didn’t say that I could ... I mean, I thought ..."
"You did not think. You simply acted in accordance with social conventions. Now tell me, Leia. Are you happy with the result?”
"No," Leia answered sincerely, and deep down she felt regret too.
“Survival, Leia. Survival is the first and foremost goal of every living being. If you cease to exist, there will be no more fights ... regardless of what you are fighting for." Vader continued. "It is easy to die, but your task is to survive, no matter how. Consider this your first lesson.”
“What do you know about survival? You are at the very top of the food-chain, whilst in the galaxy there are billions of creatures that are quite literally on the verge of life and death….”.
“Believe me, I know.”
The next day, Leia could hardly get out of bed; her whole body aching unbearably, and her abrasions burned like fire. Her first training had taken all day and she had been far too exhausted to bother with a bacta-treatment, which she regretted now. Angrily, she patched herself up as much as she could and was already on her way to the next lesson.
Leia reached the training hall just in time, but was still in a bad mood, answering Vader’s questions mostly in a monosyllabic manner, but the Sith chose not to notice and threw a new pole at her, before going upstairs to his observation balcony.
Leia got ready for the fight, at least mentally. Through the door in the far corner entered the same man she had fought with yesterday. He slowly approached her, his face again hidden underneath the mysterious silver mask. Maybe her nerves had played a trick on her, misinterpreting the rustle of the ventilation system for the malicious laughter of the enemy, but the sound somehow caused an inferno of rage in the girl. "Survival is the first and foremost goal." She heard Vader's metallic voice booming in her head, and decided to follow his advice. Survival - by all means. She would not let herself be beaten by the enemy again. There was no place for bruises left on her already battered body anyway.
When the man swung his first solid blow, intending to knock her to the ground, Leia did not try to defend herself, she simply jumped back, grabbed one of the many boxes and threw it at her attacker. It cracked open as soon as it came into contact with the man’s head and then its contents - a lot of small, black, slippery worms – suddenly covered her enemy from head to toe. He roared in rage and then, in one quick motion, he swept the shapeless, black worms off, before he approached Leia. Coming closer with two large steps. He attacked her with a series of blows that would have been devastating if the princess hadn’t decided to put up a fight. She fought with everything she had and continued to use her escape tactic, constantly hurling everything she found at her attacker.
This continued until she was cornered. Then Vader’s disciple struck a fierce blow against her rib-cage. Leia crash to the floor and he cracked her pole in half and would have done far worse if the Dark Lord had not intervened, suddenly grabbing his throat.
"Enough, Kronos." He ordered.
The man fell to his knees, writhing, trying to breathe. In a desperate approach to get air, his mask suddenly fell to the floor and Leia saw her opponent’s face for the first time. It was a young face with black eyes, flashing with hatred. Only when he stopped resisting, the grip on his throat relaxed and he was able to breathe again.
Leia heard Vader's heavy foot-steps. They were close.
"If you do not learn to control your anger, it will destroy you. Get out!” he barked at the young man, who was still coughing and struggling with a burning pain in his chest. He used the Force to get hold of his mask and pole, stood up as smoothly as possible and then walked towards the exit, without turning.
Leia had remained on the floor, half asleep, unable to rise. Her whole body ached from the fresh bruises and there was a deep cut on the shoulder, covering the whole back of her shirt and part of her sleeve with blood.
“Lesson two: You can not run forever. Sooner or later, you have to face your fears. And by running away the situation often becomes worse. That is all for today.”
Most people would consider a leaving Lord Vader the highlight of the day, but at the moment Leia didn’t feel like that. In fact, she was not even sure if she would be able to get to her feet on her own and she definitely needed medical help. Carefully, step by step, overcome by an acute pain, Leia got up. Then she leaned heavily against the wall and slowly, very slowly headed towards the exit - fifty steps equalling an eternity.
Already close to the exit a black astromech droid suddenly rolled up to her and beeped that he was willing to help her. Trying to verify that she was able to walk without the support of the wall, Leia timidly took a step towards the droid, and then, with one hand, leaned down on his semi-circular top. The droid indignantly screamed something and all of a sudden various holders popped out from behind him, but then he calmed down again and together they slowly continued their journey.
After a few more corridors, Leia finally managed to walk more or less confidently next to him. However, it seemed that her physical injuries were nothing compared to the pain Lord Vader had inflicted on personality. Her current situation was truly unbearable for the proud and self-willed princess….and with every step she became angrier.
Before her inner eye she suddenly saw the young man with the silver mask again, who almost had been strangled by Vader. Who is he? One of Vader’s pupils? What evil eyes he had had…. Probably, he had already learned many lessons, but still he felt unworthy ...
How many of them were there? Students or hostages of the Dark Lord of the Sith? And did Luke’s training resemble hers?
Once in Thrawn’s estate, the first thing Leia did was summoning a meddroid to her quarters, but somehow his arrival took a suspiciously long time, as usually all orders were executed in a few minutes. Even if one was to assume that he was the only med-droid in the estate and happened to be stationed at the complete opposite of Leia’s quarters, the droid should have been here by now, so Leia repeated the call several times, but the result remained the same. About an hour later the doors to her chambers finally opened, but the guest, who resolutely stepped over her bedroom’s threshold, was not a meddroid, but none other than Grand Admiral Thrawn himself. The meddroid, however, followed him, at a respectful distance.
“What happened?” He asked in a business-like voice, somewhat more demanding than usual.
"No ... nothing," Leia breathed, pulling the blanket higher so that her fresh abrasions were not noticeable. “Everything is fine.”
“I think not.”
With a few sweeping steps he crossed the room and, with a sharp movement, pulled back the blanket, under which he found Leia’s beaten, almost naked body. Seeing the numerous abrasions and bruises and fresh cuts, partly covered with dried blood, Thrawn grimaced and said something in an unknown language. An expression of displeasure Leia guessed, but wasn’t really sure. However, on the face of the Chiss she could clearly see his irritation.
"Subtlety surely is not one of his Lordship’s strengths," he hissed, tracing one of the deep cuts on her thigh with his hand. “There are many ways to hurt, there is no need to shred the body like this...”
Thrawn’s presence should have comforted her, but the opposite was the case: his words, spoken in a quiet, malicious whisper, filled her body with a wave of fear and forced her to see the Grand Admiral with different eyes again. Not as a successful officer with beautiful manners, not as a strong man whose fingers could be surprisingly gentle, but as a warrior -stern and merciless, with blood on his hands. No, he not only gave orders ... he had definitely killed himself…..and ... maybe…. had tortured people too, getting the most valuable information out of them. An outsider, devoid of sympathy, reaching his goals by any means necessary, one of the Empire’s finest, a connoisseur of the arts for sure, but only a true master in one - the art of war.
No, he did not feel sorry for Leia in a human way, but was annoyed that someone had acted so clumsily, so rudely and that someone had spoiled what belonged to him.
And there was something else too ... gloating, that if he had had the opportunity, he would have done it better. Sleeker. More elegant. Less blood. He would have done it beautifully.
The realization that she was no more than a thing, a pawn in a game larger than herself, made Leia feel extremely uneasy. Thus, she moved away from the Chiss’ attentive hands, who carefully examined her body, and tried to hide under the blanket again, but he did not let her do it.
"Do not be stupid" he said sternly. "I will treat the wounds. If it is any conciliation for you, I am sure there will be new ones tomorrow.”
A cruel truth. No sympathy. Leia bit her lip and shook her head.
"No," she said stubbornly and turned her head. "There won’t."
But her heart shrank with fear because she knew that Thrawn was right. There would be more wounds, much more, until she was ready to fight back. But when would that be?
Thrawn carefully lubricated the damaged skin with some transparent gel-like liquid and then covered it with a bacta-patch. He kept frowning and every now and then squeezed his lips contemptuously.
"There is something on the back, too, is there not?" Reluctantly Leia turn on her stomach, while wincing at the pain. Sure enough, there was a long cut right between her shoulder blades, passing through her entire back.
“Take it off." Thrawn reached for the straps of her thin, silk nightgown and pulled them down; Leia tensed and quickly stopped his movement, bringing the straps back up.
"Do you want me to treat the wound through the fabric?" The Chiss inquired sarcastically.
"I ... I will do it myself." Leia whispered shyly. "Turn around."
There was a soft laugh, but the princess' request was fulfilled. Thrawn got out of bed, turned around and even stepped away a little. The question whether his behaviour was a testimony of fine manners, or if it was simply motivated by the fact that from his new position he had an even better, unobstructed view of Leia’s naked body in the mirror opposite the bed, remains unanswered.
"Done," the princess dug her face into the soft pillows, trying not to think about how she was lying here in front of him, completely naked with only a thin, soft blanket covering her hips.
The cool bacta-gel instantly took away the pain from her back’s wound and with each touch of Thrawn's fingers, with every weightless patch, carefully attached to her skin, Leia felt better. When he had finished, the Chiss gently ran his hands along both sides of the wound, then stroke her head, softly running his fingers through her hair ... His innocent touches confused Leia, but she did not dare to move; his hands went down again, sliding along the girl’s body once more, as if to check if everything was alright. His hands caressed the smooth curves of her back and went down to her hips, slightly sliding under the blanket.
Leia caught herself not wanting him to stop. Her eyes were closed and she pretended to be asleep to not give away her pleasure, her consent; if she were conscious, she would have stopped him immediately. And so … she decided to let it be a dream ...
"My little one," she heard him whisper. His hot lips touched her shoulder, placing a gentle kiss on it. "How much did you have to endure ... and how much more is to come? Tomorrow will be better. I promise ...”
Leaving, he gently covered Leia with a blanket, and her body kept warm for a long time, remembering the touch of his hands.
How long Leia had slept like this, she did not know, but apparently it had been a long time - the sun was shining brightly, just as if it were noon.
"No oh! I overslept!" She had forgotten about her training with Lord Vader!
A realization that worked far better than coffee. Quickly the princess jumped out of bed – By the Emperor, how could that have happened?! Surely the Dark Lord servants would have kicked her out of bed, if she hadn’t been on time. What was going on?
Leia removed some of the plasters and saw absolutely healthy skin. Some spots were still slightly pinkish, but in general there were no more scratches and abrasions, even the dark spots of the bruises had visibly brightened. To her surprise, Leia discovered that her condition could almost be called ideal.
"You are awake, my lady!" a young woman in a simple grey-brown dress that resembled servants’ clothes, politely bowed her head. "I'll help you to get dressed. After all, today is a special day ...”
"Why? What day is it?" the princess asked and felt stupid and slightly nervous too; she honestly had no idea what was going on.
“Well… The day of your dress-choosing of course! Mr. Christian Chaux-Jar picked up the most exquisite and unusual outfits for your wedding. Ah, I understand, my dear! You must be so worried! But you have nothing to worry about, you were born a princess, but on your wedding you will look like a queen.”
Leia did not want to be rude or disrespectful; for too long she had been taught manners and therefore she would not allow herself to be harsh with this generally innocent and nice woman and tell her to just go away. Yet she did not want to choose a dress. She did not want a wedding. But compared to her training-lessons, it was better to choose a dress. "Anything is better," thought Leia, sitting down in a high chair next to the mirror.
The lady behind her smiled.
The entire living room was filled with racks carrying numerous outfits, and a middle-aged man, with a thin anchor-beard and slightly longer, gracefully combed back hair, sat in an armchair, drawing some sketches on his datapad. He was so consumed by his work that, at first, he did not even notice the princess’ presence.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, my dear." he bowed gracefully and kissed Leia’s hand, as was custom. He had a dandy’s smile and his eyes were intriguing - black and attentive, but with a slight squint. Chaux-Jar spoke politely and softly, slightly stretching his words and actively gesticulated while talking. He was one of the people who seemed to be able to say more with their hands than with their tongue. Being tall and thin, he also possessed the grace of a predator; all his movements were quick and accurate and his long tailcoat was perfectly trimmed.
"Your presence here is not necessary, Christian." Thrawn's voice came from the other side of the living room; though he himself was not visible yet, his steps, however, were already audible. "We will manage on our own ..."
"Oh, Grand Admiral Thrawn!" Chaux-Jar bowed his head, but the corners of his lips rose to an unpleasant grin.
"Always a pleasure, but I do not think this is your forte. Should you not be doing something else? Commanding ships on some battlefield? Doing some important and dangerous tasks? Not as dangerous as the art of dressing a woman's body though ... dissatisfied women are incredibly hazardous.”
"You are right, I am better in undressing them ..." Thrawn said casually, leaning down on the armchair in which Leia comfortably sat. “….and leaving them satisfied ... This is, you know, a separate art.”
"Yes, I have heard rumours about your victories on that particular front ...”
"Do not believe the rumours, Christian, as the truth seldom goes beyond the third mouth. Reality is rather boring.”
"Well, this one I have from the very first mouth..." He narrowed his eyes deviously, but then shook his head. "However ... it does not really matter now, does it?" Chaux-Jar carefully eyed Leia with his piercing eyes. "Your bride is beautiful, like a Nabooan lotus. And its spell brought you down?...”
"Oh yes ... How could it be otherwise?"
“Well ... you are right. I am sure your bride’s lovely eyes will find something special in my collection. Grand Admiral! Lady Vader! I wish you all the best!”
The conversation had struck right into Leia’s heart and Thrawn's hands, which lay on her shoulders now, suddenly seemed to burn, as Leia understood that this behaviour was nothing but a gesture to mark territory.
"Mine" his soft touch said, and nothing made the princess want to escape more. She felt like she wasn’t herself and these hints about Thrawn's female “victories” ... were just disgusting! What was she? Another naive and young toy - easy to seduce?
Anger flooded like red-hot lava through Leia's whole body, and as soon as the doors had closed behind Christian Chaux-Jar, she rose abruptly from her chair, escaping from his tender touch, and pretended to be very interested in one of the outfits. But in the end her curiosity prevailed, and Leia suddenly blurted out:
“Who is she? It sounded like Mr. Chaux-Jar and you both had your eyes on the same lady.”
Thrawn gave a small chuckle, and casually said:
"I would put it differently ... when Christian laid his eyes on the lady again, it was already too late ... as his wife was no longer interested.”
"His wife?!" Leia wasn’t sure what surprised her more: the fact that the famous ladies' man was married, or that, apparently, the Grand Admiral had had a twisted affair with his wife.
“Yes. He had to, you know ... marry. There were very favourable conditions. Christian could not refuse, but his lifestyle did not change.”
“What about you? Would you change?” Leia asked with a sinking heart, slowly touching the silver silk of the next dress with her fingers.
“Do not underestimate the impact of a person close to you. It is a big mistake to think that a person does not mean anything to you, just because you did not have time to consider it. People who are near us inevitably affect us ... whether we like it or not ...” he answered vaguely.
“Do not rush, you have all day. Today there will be no training.”
"I talked to his Lordship and he heeded my arguments."
“How did you do that? And what did you tell him?” Leia asked interestedly, examining a beautiful gold-embroidered white dress. For a moment she imagined herself in it and broke into a happy smile. If it hadn’t been for the wedding, she would have chosen it.
"It does not matter." Thrawn drank his morning coffee and put another cup for Leia on the table. “Drink.”
Christian Chaux-Jar: http://pixs.ru/showimage/FotorCreat_4457753_26288409.jpg
Chapter 8: … and dream of what is not…
Chapter 8 - … and dream of what is not…
Descending down the stairs, Leia heard Thrawn's voice - he was talking to someone in the living room - a man, judging by the voice. Cautiously looking around the corner, Leia saw a man in an officer's uniform, who, with his head bowed, faced the Grand Admiral. The Chiss himself was sitting in an armchair, his hands laying on the armrests.
"I already said no, Howard, but you are still here… Do you think I should change my mind?” Thrawn asked calmly, while slightly leaning forward. The man in front of him lowered his head even more, avoiding the Chiss’ burning eyes.
“Tell me why ...”
The Grand Admiral's voice indicated genuine interest. In turn the officer took a step forward, but spoke more quietly than before, so that Leia could not hear his words.
“I see. You should have mentioned this before. Well then, of course, I ... we…. will arrive at the appointed time.”
“Yes, sir!” the man said, nodded and then quickly left the living room through the entrance, to which Leia lacked the access-codes.
"Everything is going to be alright.” The Chiss whispered to himself.
Where would they arrive on time? And why was it suddenly of interest to Thrawn, Leia didn’t know, but it might be important. She stood still for a few minutes, like a mouse, listening. But when nothing happened, she boldly stepped into the light-flooded room instead.
"Good morning, Thrawn!" She greeted the Chiss politely, smiling. They usually didn’t have time for more than a few words in the morning, before Leia had to leave for her training…
During the last two weeks, her training sessions had been ridiculously boring: Vader had shown her some moves that she had to practice with some battle droids afterwards. Thousands of repetitions of the same thing, until the body remembered the movements by pure instinct. Unbearably boring. But save. And there were almost no injuries, which was a clear bonus, but now there was frustration instead.
Yet, learning how to meditate was worse: Leia had to sit in the middle of the training hall with her eyes covered by a tight bandage and her hands were tied behind her back. She was forbidden to move or change position. Whatever happened, she had to concentrate on the sensations of her body and to breathe calmly and deeply. At the very same time, in the very same room, Vader had arranged duelling lessons for Kronos, or he himself trained with some combat droids. Usually it took about an hour to clean the place up afterwards: there were piles of crumpled iron, traces of blood, durasteel and lots of other things. Leia could only imagine what they did, but heard it all - the clashes of lightsabers, the noise of falling objects, the screams of anger or pain, whenever an opponent had wounded the other.
Sometimes Leia felt that there was someone else besides Kronos - someone with an easier step, quicker, brisker, but also strong. It was definitely not Vader. Was it ... Luke? Whenever it happened, Leia badly wished to be able to tear off the bandage and have a look ...
Luke ... She needed to talk to her brother no matter what. She had to tell him about their kinship, but in a way that Vader wouldn’t know about it. But at this point it seemed impossible. But Leia had a plan, in whose success she, oddly enough, believed more and more. Perhaps it was a merit of her regular meditations. Or maybe she was just going insane.
She would learn how to defend herself and then she would ask Vader to arrange some sparring with Luke. But before that, she had to master the art of mental dialogue - Vader had once described it as “an exchange of thoughts between the gifted”. Perhaps one of the most useful tools the Force had to offer. At least as far as Leia saw it, with regards to her current situation.
But even with all the chaos occurring in the training hall, nothing had ever happened to Leia and only small fragments of some things had hit her clothes every now and then or dust had scraped her throat. Yet every time a piece of a combat droid had hit her, she had involuntarily flinched. Not that it had made any difference, as she couldn’t have dodged anyway. So in time she had not only learned how to cope with her genuine fear and helplessness, but also to except the inevitable.
"Just by being ready to part with the body, you will gain power. The body may perish, but the soul is eternal, even if you do not believe it yet." Vader had said and, true enough, the princess was in no hurry to believe him. She still remembered the pain from her first training lessons all too well, and yet it could have been worse.
"Milady" the Chiss greeted Leia in turn. In general it was surprising to see him in the living room so early. “I decided to bring some variety to your boring and restrained life.”
“Really? How?” Leia asked, arching an eyebrow in surprise.
“How do you feel about opera?”
"Will my answer change anything?"
“I hate the opera, Grand Admiral.”
“Few people really appreciate the arts," he said, not without sadness. "But it will do you good ..."
Leia remained at Thrawn’s side all evening. He was hugging her waist, holding her hand, whispering something in her ear, and sometimes lovingly looked into her eyes or left a tender kiss on her wrist – an in those moments his eyes shone a little brighter.
At first Leia was taken aback by this treatment, but did not dare to argue with Thrawn in public. Neither of them was seeking a scandal.
"Just play along, my dear," he softly whispered into her ear.
"What do you want?"
“Liberate me of the society of these pompous creatures.”
Leia grinned and then walked with him to their stall.
"If you don’t like them, then why are we here?"
“Why? Because I love the opera. The art in it.” he answered unexpectedly severe. “I enjoy it. But these people spoil everything. Very few of them are able to comprehend and value the true essence of it. Look at them…" he said, pointing with his hand at some courtiers who were taking their places in the first row of the stalls. "For the majority of them this is nothing more than an occasion to show their new clothes or meet people of their own circle. Almost none of them came to the opera for the opera’s sake. In certain circles it is even considered bad manners not to visit the opera at least once a season.”
“But we will not be alone here either.” Leia said and pointed to the additional seat in their box, which was still empty.
"The person that will accompany us today is …. one of the few people who shares my view."
The Emperor sat on his purple, luxurious armchair and closely watched the happenings on stage. He could be mistaken for a sickly, but good-natured old man, dressed in a simple black robe, who, for the first time in many years, happened to go to the opera again to see a play that reminded him of his youth. However, Leia understood that this image was deceitful and very wrong, but even without it, falling under the magnetic influence of the Emperor was easy.
"You do not really care what happens on stage, do you, my child? Your thoughts are far from the love of which the diva so passionately sings.” Palpatine's voice was soft, but his words hit the mark, as if he had read Leia's thoughts.
“Oh no ... I am sincerely delighted by the performance.” the girl answered politely. She definitely did not like his attention, especially since the Sith was right. Instead of listening to the play, Leia was thinking about which of these people could become possible allies, with whom she could somehow establish ties, and what it would take to get the support of at least a few influential people.
She was caught between two fires, not by choice but still, as she was a stranger among the Imperials and unwanted by the Rebels. A stalemate from which she had to escape. Soon.
*What would Han do in my place? He would say that anything can be bought.* and his cynical assessment somehow seemed quite useful to the princess now.
"Do not lie to me, my dear," the Sith whispered threateningly, turning his terrible face to Leia, looking at her with his golden eyes. “Never. It might end badly for you ...”
He smiled. There was no need for an answer, as Palpatine clearly did not want to continue their conversation. He turned his head back to the stage and his long dry, wrinkled fingers slowly beat to the music’s rhythm on his chair’s armrests.
The fact that the Sith’s lips had not moved while he had talked to her, had not gone unnoticed and his voice had left a bizarre imprint in Leia’s head, repeating "do not lie to me."
*Had that really been a mental dialogue? How interesting.*
"Pay attention to this part," Thrawn said, pulling her out of her thoughts. “When the low and high voices merge into a single melody - this is especially subtle, is it not?”
"Yes ..." the princess replied uncertainly, while trying to inconspicuously free the hand that Thrawn so tenderly held in his. She hadn’t even noticed him doing it.
“The game of contrasts, unity and the struggle of the opposites, in the eternal dance of life ... what could be better?” he ask, trying to involve Leia in his conversation.
The Chiss laughed quietly and released the princess' hand.
Leia experienced some relief, but at the same time her palm still kept the warmth of his touch, and for some reason that prevented her from concentrating on the play again. The music seemed to grow louder and it was impossible to confuse it with background music now; it caught one’s attention and was supposed to kindle a fire in the heart.
Leia, however, could not fall in love with the opera, despite all the efforts of her teachers; her voice and drama lessons, it had always seemed excessively false and detached from life to her. Nevertheless, she had to admit that today’s music was fascinating and that the protagonist sounded very sincere; pretending to be a young duchess falling in love with a simple soldier. Her soul was tormented by doubts, and the choice between love and duty tore her apart.
She recognized Vader's heavy steps, before he had entered their stall, and it felt like the commander-in-chief was extremely irritated. And after having noticed her, his mood only seemed to worsen.
"Your majesty." A metallic voice said, cutting like a knife through the thin lace of the music.
“Lord Vader, how are you, my friend?” the Emperor ask, without taking his eyes from the stage. "Is everything all right? I hope nothing noteworthy has happened in the last couple of hours.”
"Nothing that deserves your attention. Otherwise you surely would know by now." Vader said, not concealing his irritation. "Why did you call me ... your majesty?"
"Ah ..." The Sith lifted a dry, thin finger as if calling for silence. Then he started to sway it smoothly in accordance to the rhythm of the music.
"That is the part ... now…. listen! ..." the Emperor said in a hoarse whisper, closing his eyes in delight.
It lasted only a few seconds, which seemed to last forever. The notes were bizarrely woven and created an amazingly calm and at the same time powerful melody and a female voice, surprisingly deep and captivating, sang about the love she had to sacrifice in order to fulfil her mission ...
*How ironic,* Leia thought, *just like in real life.*
The princess' heart sank as she involuntary remembered Han and it was much more vivid and bright than usual. In that moment everything that had happened suddenly felt unbearable, cruel and unreal to her.
*I want to escape, right now, forever. Forget this life and start all over again.* Leia thought. *Alone and far, far away from this.*
Suddenly Leia felt like she was trapped in a terrible dream. She at the opera. In a stall with the Emperor. A Sith and dictator. An evil and manipulative enemy, who ruled the galaxy by fear. And to her right sits her "husband". He touches her fingertips lovingly and smiles at her, looking right into her eyes. The man who had destroyed the rebellion. Who had brought it to a cold and eternal grave. Who had brutally killed many of her friends. Who had killed her love, Han Solo. How had it happened that she had almost forgotten about this? How could this ever have happened to her?
The princess sat motionless and her breathing became quiet, barely audible. She seemed frozen in this moment of time, somewhere between the past and the future, not daring to accept the present.
And meanwhile, with each tact, the tension in the stall grew and its space somehow seemed become denser. Whether this was the result of Palpatine’s extreme degree of admiration and pleasure or Vader's extreme degree of irritation, Leia did not know. Most likely both.
To distract herself from her gloomy thoughts, Leia began to study the opera diva, whose voice was enchanting everyone. The outlines of her figure and her gestures seemed vaguely familiar. This lady must have been at one of the receptions Leia had been to lately. She was sure she had seen her before, at least from afar. Then her story was coming to an end, her last words deep and determined: "I will love or die ..."
As soon as the play ended, the old Sith opened his eyes, shining with molten gold, and with smiling lips he said:
“A truly remarkable performance, would you not agree?” the Emperor whispered and everyone present nodded. Too quickly to really have meant it. Palpatine's hand jerked up in an impatient gesture and his entire being, that only seconds ago had been totally at peace and relaxed, was now filled with annoyance, feeling the audience’s true mood.
"Yes." Vader said and briefly clapped his hands, which, actually, looked a little creepy. “And, most importantly, almost convincing.”
“Get out!” the Emperor hissed through thin lips.
"As you wish, my master." Vader bowed slightly and once he had left the box, it seemed easier to breathe.
"Lady Mirabella is always beautiful" Thrawn said, not paying attention to the squabble between the Sith. "Her talent knows no bounds ..."
Mirabella ... ?.... Where had she heard that name before? No….wait…. Was this Mirabella Swan-Jar? Leia’s eyes were fixed on the lady at her feet. Studying her even more attentively than before. Yes, now the princess vividly remembered where she had seen this lady. In Thrawn’s arms; the blonde in scarlet.
*At least she is talented, who would have thought?* Well, now at least, all of Leia’s thoughts were dedicated to the opera, at least indirectly. However, the magic of the diva's voice was totally lost on her now, and she felt more than a little irritated by the entire situation. Her luxurious, velvet dress suddenly felt confining and uncomfortable, and its open back was either unpleasantly cold or scratchy, whenever it came into contact with her chair’s upholstery.
“Well, how do you feel about the opera now?” Thrawn asked politely, a slight smile on this face.
"Same as before" Leia answered quickly. She was angry now and did not want to talk at all. At least it would be over soon.
"You were flawless today. I am surprised.”
“Where to go if there is nowhere to run?” she whispered and tightly clutched her bag with her left hand, while trying to calm down the storm of emotions that had risen inside of her and demanded an exit. No. Now was not the time. This she had learned during her lessons with Vader.
"Wise decision, as this is the best strategy for you at the moment." Thrawn reasoned detachedly, not noticing or pretending not to notice the girl's emotions. “You did well tonight, and therefore deserve a reward.”
“I deserve it?!” Leia spit. Her patience had come to an end, she was ready to flare up right here, and to hell with appearances. She suddenly became sad when she realized how many of her principles she had crossed tonight just by being here. It felt like a bitter wave covering her.
"Calm down, milady," the Chiss whispered peacefully. In his hand flashed a speeder-key, which he then handed to Leia. "It is yours tonight. Go wherever you like, just be back in the morning. Otherwise Lord Vader will come looking for you, which is rarely pleasant." He leaned closer and his fingers tenderly touched Leia’s neck in a warning gesture.
“Anywhere?” Leia asked suspiciously. “And you?”
“I? Usually, you are not interested in my plans for the evening." he said sarcastically.
“No! I'm not talking about that ... but in general ...”
“Some decisions require my presence, so I will come back later than usual. But I think I will return before you.”
Leia sat in the front seat of the luxurious, black speeder and thoughtfully ran her fingers along the autopilot-panel.
“Destination?” the device asked for the third time and the princess was still silent. She could not make a choice, as she lacked options. Truth to be told - she had nowhere to go. Looking at the beautiful Coruscant skyline through the speeder’s window, she felt like the city didn’t like her. Of course, there was more than enough entertainment here and something for every taste - from extreme games to sensual pleasures, from noisy, super-modern bars to exquisite, quiet establishments that imitated the atmosphere of life thousands of years ago. But, quite unexpectedly, Leia didn’t want any of it. She was tired and there were only seven hours left before training.
She wanted to fall into a dream of sweet nothingness in order to forget everything that was. And hopefully, when she would wake up again, she would find out, that all of this had been nothing but a bad dream…
The princess sight and chose her destination: Thrawn's estate….her current home.
Chapter 9: …. and you will say: "We are nothing to each other.”
Chapter 9 – …. and you will say: "We are nothing to each other.”
"Good morning, Thrawn!" Leia sat in an armchair, in the one Thrawn usually liked to sit and carefully viewed the latest news on her datapad. Reading the news was usually not a pleasant occupation, but today it fit her mood perfectly.
She hadn’t been able to sleep last night: she had been unbelievably sad and lonely at first, tears rolling down her cheeks and then, when she had finally calmed down and her mind had cleared up again, she had begun to imagine the perhaps most unusual version of her personal future, one in which she was far from being a pawn and not at all a hostage of circumstances.
Following that line of thought, Leia had ultimately left the bed and had started to do something useful – namely to create a list of persons who she would like to meet in the near future. It - the list – had turned out to be unexpectedly long and still required some more and fresh background information.
At some point Leia had thought that a cup of coffee would be a good idea and had gone down into the living room. There, she had suddenly remembered Thrawn.
*Had he returned?* Of course, she wouldn’t have heard him enter as they lived in different rooms and Leia didn’t even know the location of his bedroom. However, for some reason Leia had had the feeling that he hadn’t come home yet.
*I wonder what kind of business needs his presence all night long.* She had thought feeling a note of jealousy, which she then had cursed into a mental Sarlacc Pit. *I really have more important things to consider!*
Thrawn’s chair was very comfortable - moderately soft, but with a firm back. It was just right to comfortably sit in it, without being in danger to fall asleep. And it was in this chair the Chiss finally found her, in a light, white dress, with loose, slightly tangled hair and with a slightly fanatical fire in her eyes, drinking her third cup of coffee.
"I see you had an….. interesting night," Thrawn said, taking off his gloves.
"Just like you, I suppose." Leia answered without looking at him and almost accidentally spilled her coffee on the datapad.
"Maybe ..." the Chiss whispered mysteriously, pouring himself a coffee. Usually he was more concentrated and focused; now he seemed relaxed, more than usual. In general he seemed to be in a very good mood. He even smiled at her, which, so far, had happened….rarely.
Looking up from the datapad, Leia suddenly understood quite clearly where he had spent the night. And with whom. She really should not care and she really should have avoided the whole subject, but Leia just couldn’t help herself.
“Mirabella Swan-Jar ... I would like to meet her. Can you arrange that?“ Leia said, looking straight into Thrawn’s eyes.
No, of course, the opera diva was not on her list. She had made that decision rather unexpectedly – actually she had talked without thinking. "You know her, don’t you?"
"Yes," he said slowly. "But why would you like to meet her?"
“Well, why not? She is quite talented, at least as far as I could tell…. and people say that she’s also smart and beautiful. And, judging by her participation in charitable events, kind. I just wonder if all these things are true.”
There was a minute of silence. Leia kept her eyes on the Chiss, as if trying to read his thoughts, but Thrawn's face was an impenetrable mask – there was not a shadow of a smile, no irritation, no surprise. Nothing.
“You are wasting your time. If you want to be jealous of me ... find another way.”
“Jealous? Don’t be ridiculous! In order to be jealous, I would have to have feeling for you first!”
“Right. And you are jealous, are you not? Even if you do not want to admit it to yourself. Even if you do not even know the name of the feeling you have for me. You are no longer indifferent to me ... and this is just the beginning." His gaze was hypnotizing, and for a brief moment, Leia felt very uneasy, but she quickly regained her composure, remembering who was standing in front of her.
A cold and treacherous warlord. Close to Emperor Palpatine. A cunning strategist, who was true only to himself.
A man, an alien, who was much older than he looked; a ladies’ man, who, by all appearances, had had many liaisons in his life. Much more than it seemed.
*He cannot be trusted. You cannot…*
"Enough." Leia whispered angrily. "Even if I would feel something for you ... I don’t think it’s the kind of feeling you would like!"
"Hatred suits you, Leia. A rarity… Well, if you want to know what feeling I would like, I would choose hatred over indifference at any time. It is, after all, a much more intimate feeling than love.”
“Stop it!” Leia jumped to her feet, clutching her fists with anger. The cup with the unfinished coffee fell to the floor, breaking into pieces.
"I ... of course… I will stop." Thrawn stepped closer to Leia, still looking at her. "Kiss me," he said quietly. Leia wasn’t sure whether it had been a question or an order.
“What?!” Leah was totally taken aback by his offer, so much so she didn’t even have time to burst into an angry tirade.
"Kiss me ... then you will know whether these lips touched someone else's last night or not."
“You are crazy! I don’t care if ... “ but Leia didn’t have time to finish the sentence, as Thrawn pulled her to him and, not allowing her to pull away, touched her lips with his. First gently, teasing and then greedily, imperiously penetrating his tongue between her tightly compressed lips, taking possession of her mouth, gently forcing her to respond to the kiss. The Chiss had one hand on the back of Leia's neck, with the other he held her by the waist. Then he bend slightly forward, so that Leia lost her balance, literally falling into his arms. In her new position it was impossible to push the enemy away. The attack had been too unexpected and too quick to react. And his tactics were too gentle to keep up a defence for long. Hence, Leia decided to succumb to his vile provocation and pretended to surrender. Her lips relaxed and parted and at the next moment she seized the initiative and continued their kiss somewhat passionately, hoping for an opportunity to bite his lip. But Thrawn felt the catch and pulled away as soon as her teeth came into contact with his lower lip, leaving her with a feeling quite different to what she had intended.
"Tschhh….. There is no need for that if you want me to stop," his voice, low, velvety,… dangerous. Leia jerked around, trying to free herself from his grip. “Not that I would mind continuing this little game, but then...”.
"... you would be late for training," he smirked slyly and Leia wanted to slap him.
Then Thrawn let go and took a step backwards, finally giving Leia her much-desired freedom, but apparently she was in no hurry to leave.
"You will pay for this ..." she hissed.
"I have no doubt, princess…. for this and for everything else, too.” "the Chiss answered, obviously amused. "And yes, I will introduce you to Mirabella ... since you so desperately want it."
Today training was very welcome. Kronos got all the fury Leia couldn’t - or simply didn’t have the time to - release on Thrawn, and Vader's disciple certainly hadn’t expected such pressure. Several times he had to retreat, overwhelmed by the girl’s storm of violent blows. Vader saw that Leia was physically exhausted, the trembling of her hands and the twitching of her tired eyes giving away her condition, but the Force raged inside of her, giving her support. The Sith had not taught her this, but unconsciously Leia had managed to reinforce her attacks with the Force, creating something resembling a raw and rough form of Djem So. The fifth form of lightsaber combat.
Like no one else, Vader knew this state of physical devastation, the deadly fatigue, in which there was nothing but the Force, filling one’s every cell. For the last two decades the Sith had stayed in this very state, he had lived in defiance and hatred and had thirsted for victory, which in turn had given him strength. Just like the Force worked in Leia now.
Kronos began to retreat, increasingly exposing the defence of the third form, which, of course, Leia had no chance to break through.
“Enough!” The harsh metallic voice seemed to merge with the hail of their blows, so Leia did not hear her teacher's instructions at first. At that moment, it seemed to her that she would succeed, at least once it would be possible to beat this self-righteous, arrogant bastard Kronos. And, quite surprisingly, Leia felt that the fatigue had gone and she felt stronger than ever.
Hit. Hit. Reversal. Hit.
Kronos sluggishly beat off her blows, not understanding what was happening. He was perfectly aware of Vader's order and the fact that Leia continued to press confused the young man to no end. The last blow would have cut his head off if he hadn’t ducked and made an undercut in front of Leia’s feet. Then she jumped back, landing in a kneeling position. Next Kronos quickly got to his feet and left the room. And not before hearing Vader's heavy steps Leia understood why. Hurriedly leaping to her feet herself, Leia turned to the Sith:
“Good morning, Lord Vader.” She said and bowed slightly.
Of course, this was the correct behaviour. Of course, most people behaved like this in the presence of the Dark Lord: politely bowing their head and showing humility. Most of them were terrified by the Sith. But Vader knew this kind of bow, as he himself often bowed in this manner in front of Palpatine. Without a shadow of fear. But with the fire of hatred in his chest.
"Politeness does not suit you, Leia. Your thoughts betray you, "the Sith could not resist.
“My thoughts?” the princess was taken aback, but immediately continued. “Yes, well…. by the way, I have a question. When will I learn this part? Mental dialogues, reading thoughts and all that ...”
Vader wanted to answer – never, as he had never planned a full-fledged training for Leia. Admittedly, he hadn’t had high hopes for Leia at first and had only wanted to show her some basic skills like temperance, so that she wouldn’t do anything too rash and foolish. Like he had done. But, apparently, the Force had other plans for Leia and now the Sith looked at the situation differently.
For some reason he suddenly remembered an episode from his training, when he himself had asked his teacher uncomfortable questions ...
“Master, when will I learn how to raise stones?” a young Anakin ran up to Kenobi, with large, questioning eyes.
“It's too early, Ani. You must learn how to control your feelings first, learn how to meditate, and only then ...”
“I'll ask the question differently, then," the youngling said, obviously unwilling to give up like that. "I already know how to lift stones." He lifted a small stone in the air, but as soon as it had reached the boy's eye-level, the stone suddenly began to tremble and then flew off in an unknown direction, with accelerating speed. "So ... how do I control the direction of its flight?"
Darth Vader smiled under his mask. This memory, one of many, very clearly showed how much he hadn’t fit into the framework of the Jedi training. Even back then - in the very first year of his stay in the Jedi Temple. He always wanted more, faster, stronger. But he was always told: “No. Too early. You must learn how to walk before you can run. It's not worth it.”
However, looking back now, he had to admit that, at least in this regard, Kenobi had been right. You had to be able to control your mind and emotions first. And that was true for both, Jedi and Sith.
"Meditation," Vader said at last, barely restraining himself not to laugh. “You have to learn how to meditate first. It will help you to achieve the rest.”
Leia was not happy. The Force raged inside of her, whispering in a thousand voices. She wanted to act, and not to sit around, listening to the sounds of Vader's training with one of the students or a droid.
"It's boring," Leia admitted honestly and at the very same moment the Sith saw right through her. Not that mental techniques were his forte. They indeed demanded a lot of concentration and detachment, and, as practice showed, once you held a person by the throat, his thoughts were much easier to read.
But even all things considered ... reading Leia's mind was too easy. It must be their blood relationship. He had no other explanation for it. Maybe that was also the reason why Luke was so easy to teach. It was like he grasped everything on the fly, as if his training had begun much earlier than a year ago.
"Is it easy to read me? And is it possible for all Force-users?” Leia ask, remembering her dialogue with the Emperor, which had definitely happened in a non-verbal way.
“Darth Sidious is able to read the mind of almost everyone.”
“Who is Darth ...?” Leia asked, perplexed.
Of course. How could she not have known?
“Emperor Palpatine. This is his Sith name.”
"And yours is ... Darth Vader?"
The Dark Lord evidently did not want to continue this conversation and handed Leia a blindfold.
“Meditate. I am sure, this time, you will not be bored.”
Obediently Leia sat down on a cushion and closed her eyes. The main thing was not to fall asleep inadvertently. Although, Vader had promised that today would be interesting ...
Leia heard the distant doors of the training hall open and the sound of footsteps filled the silence. There were two of them, one of them, most likely Kronos had heavy steps – clear and loud, as if copying Vader's. The young man obviously wanted to add some significance to his walk, everything about him felt aggressive.
Contrary to that, the second person was very calm and quiet, walking a little ahead. For some reason, Leia thought that by this he wanted to be able to attack more quickly.
"Luke, Soresu; Kronos you will you use Ataru." Vader commanded, and then there was the crackling, measured buzz of lightsabers. "Until the first blood has been drawn ..."
*Luke! He's here ... now ...* Leia's heart skipped a few beats and it was very difficult to suppress the desire to remove the blindfold.
Meanwhile, the duel had begun and Leia heard the buzzing and crackling sound of colliding lightsabers and the rapid movements of the two rivals in the hall. One of them it seemed used jumps to be able attack the other from above.
In principle the princess did not have to see the fight to know what was going on, as she had seen most of the classical lightsaber combat styles in action at least once, carried out by Lord Vader, when he had trained with his combat droids, crashing several of them in mere couple of minutes. Once, after their training, he had started to exercise himself and Leia had been told to leave, but she had lingered on, hiding on the upper court floor, watching. However, she hadn’t been able to watch for too long, as the droid, whose task it was to accompany her to the exit, had found her rather quickly, despite her best efforts to hide behind some boxes.
"Go ahead, Luke. Stop walking in circles like a cowardly Hutt.” Kronos' rude voice cut the measured noise of the battle. He was the one attacking Luke from the air, often changing positions, while Luke, judging by his steps, moved rather slowly.
For Leia the couple of minutes felt like for ages. Kronos teased Luke, who silently but efficiently blocked his attacks. And then a scream full of pain filled the room.
*At last you got what you deserve!* Leia thought, realising the scream did not belong to her brother.
The battle was over.
Vader's steps came closer.
"Kronos, you may go."
The footsteps of the young man, who was clearly limping on one leg now, moved away, and when the door of the hall closed, Leia could finally hear Luke’s voice:
A shiver ran through Leia's body. She was sure that Luke bowed his head now. The way he said the word "master" showed respect, but at the same time stubbornness. Will. And caution.
“Attack, Luke. Djem So.” Vader activated his sword and took a fighting stance. "Show me what you are capable of.”
Chapter song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy4mXZN1Zzk
Chapter 10: … but we don’t get to choose who we love.
Chapter 10 – … but we don’t get to choose who we love
“Is everything alright? You look troubled.” Thrawn's voice sounded interested, but not sympathetic.
Leia was silent. She did not want to answer, she did not want to talk at all and even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to find the right words, as she was simply too confused at the moment. Too contradictory were the feelings raging in her heart – and it was dangerous to contemplate them for too long. She could still hear the battle between Luke and Vader inside her head…. shaking her to the core and even the deep breaths she used during her meditation to calm her down did not help much.
“The wedding is in three days," the Chiss said casually.
“What?” Leia suddenly looked at Thrawn, somewhat shocked. Her thoughts had been occupied by things so different that she had totally forgotten about it. "The wedding?"
“Yes. That useless ceremonial act of our union, whose scope and luxury will be discussed in the HoloNet for months to come.”
"But ..." Leia wanted to say something out of habit, or at least ask something. But didn’t really know where to start. "How ... what ..."
“Seeing that you did not show much interest in the event, I instructed professionals to handle it – discreetly and with perfection. They sent me a couple of papers the other day, asking for my approval, but after an in-depth conversation they finally realized that they would have to decide everything on their own. Absolutely everything. I think this could very well be the most complicated job in the history of wedding-planning companies. A real nightmare, judging by the looks on their faces. However, one of the most lucrative ones too ...”
"I mean ... And you did not ... tell me?"
"Only out of consideration for your nerves, my dear; knowing how much you want this wedding.” The Chiss shrugged and sipped a mysterious green liquid from a tall glass. “And I ... love surprises.
“But I don’t.”
The conversation was at a dead end and Leia was getting angry. And the strangest thing was, that she didn’t know why! She didn’t care, did she? Still: the wedding was soon and she had no idea what was going to happen… Suddenly Leia was interested in the details after all...
“And now you are angry again. Wonderful. Well, I take that as a good sign.”
“Is there anything I should know about the wedding?”
“Well, there is the possibility that you will wear a dress instead of a training suit with a lightsaber hanging from your belt, as that surely would fall short of the general expectation.”
“Are you kidding?!” Leia got up from her chair, taking the datapad. “I'd rather have a private ceremony….. Upload some wedding photos on the HoloNet and let them imagine the rest.”
“Oh no. That will not do, princess." Thrawn shook his head. "Since I got myself involved in it ... I want it to be beautiful."
"To have something nice to show the children," the Chiss said unexpectedly serious, looking at Leia. "By the way ... the ceremony will take place on Naboo."
“Naboo? Why there?...” she asked hesitantly, remembering some of the things that had once been written about her in the tabloids.
“The Lake District on Naboo is one of the most beautiful places in the galaxy. You also have quite a few maternal relatives there and surely they want to honour you on such a special occasion.”
Leia bit her lip. Relatives. Everyone Leia considered family had died on Alderaan. Until now, no one of the Naberrie clan had ever made an attempt to contact her. Or ... did they have their reasons?
The Naberrie family had never supported the Alliance, but none of them was a representative of the Imperial Senate either, which indicated that they did not support Palpatine that much. But then again that hadn’t stopped them from doing some super-profitable business with the Empire.
On her list of potential allies there were no relatives… yet. But she was uncertain to say the least. *Who were these people? Why had it never occurred to her to learn more about her real mother?*
Probably because Leia still considered Bail and Breha Organa as her parents and she always would. In her heart they would always be her real parents, no matter what the people said and thinking about her biological mother somehow felt like betraying their memory.
"Very well ... Naboo it is then." Naboo - Leia surrendered. “I want to sleep now.”
Rumour had it that Lord Vader did not need to sleep. Of course this was not true. In extreme situations he could spend a few days running on half an hour meditations instead of a full night’s sleep, but for longer periods such a rhythm was ... unpleasant. He may not need as much sleep as most people, but still, a few hours of rest each day was something the Dark Lord rarely refused himself.
Today, however, there was something that would not let him sleep. Something that needed his full attention - and he had to make some decisions that had to be based on reason and that had to be right.
*Who would have thought that children were so much trouble?* the Sith thought irritated. Their training consumed a lot of time. Much more than he had anticipated. Yes, Luke grasped everything quickly, the Force was almost as strong in him as it had once been in Anakin Skywalker But this was also a danger – therefore, it was necessary to act very cautiously. Harden him, but not break him. Awake the passion, but not let it consume him. Give him a taste of victory, but not let him become too proud. Train him to be strong, without losing control.
Do it right. There will not be a second chance.
But Vader had been prepared for these difficulties. He had known, felt and seen what possibilities Luke’s training might include, and he needed his son to complete what he had started twenty years ago.
The real "trouble" was Leia ... Never, never before had he tried to foresee her future, to see in her face, her place in the misty images of his visions. Never before had Vader even considered the possibility that his daughter might become a serious enemy or ally. Who would have thought that the Force would suddenly awake in her in the way it had done? Who would have thought that her explosive nature was so similar to his own?
Harden by years on the Dark Side and the brutal struggle over its control, the Sith had learned how to handle his feelings, how to control his emotions. To use them and not to be used by them. Most of the time these emotions were hatred and anger and - very rarely - fear. He fed on their fire and used it against his victims. Leia had not known how to do this and he had wanted to teacher.
*I wanted to teach her.*
Such irrational impulses irritated the Sith. And what he had seen in his meditation today, made his inner turmoil even worse. For some moments the Force had shown him the future so clearly, so brightly, as if it had already happened. Such sharp visions were rare and the Dark Lord had only seen a few in his lifetime, Padmé’s death being among them.
But today the Force had willingly opened its veil to the future for him, showing him only one frame: Leia - killing Emperor Palpatine. Stabbing a blue lightsaber right into his back. While everything else, everything that will happen before and after, was covered in a dense fog.
"Always in motion the future is," Master Yoda had preached back in the days and only now Vader fully understood how this was possible. The context was far too important to neglect, but, alas, it was hidden to the Sith. It was a dangerous game.
In his plan, a similar role had been assigned to Luke – he should be the one helping him to overthrow the Emperor. What had gone wrong? What now? Not wanting to deal with the blue fog of the future anymore, the Sith forcefully hit his fist against the meditation chamber’s wall, resulting in a screeching squeak of sensors and a pile of broken glass and crumpled metal. Scarlet lights, which notified the damage, suddenly blinked up, irritating the Sith even further.
He took a deep breath and let the Force flow through his veins, filling him with its dark power, in which all his anger and hatred, passion and determination intertwined into a single thread.
How he loved this moment. The feeling of one's own power and the believe that you can change ... everything. The fate of the whole galaxy in your hands. Anything is possible, if only you want it.
Luke Skywalker had very little free time. Learning how to use the Force was an all-consuming experience and took everything he had. But he was accustomed to hard labour since early childhood, and thus, even now, managed to find a few moments of rest. Giving him time to think.
Vader also taught Leia. Today he had seen her duelling with Kronos and, admittedly, had been surprised. It seemed like the Sith did not neglect his daughter’s training, which by the looks of it, had started a long time ago. This should not have come as a surprise, but somehow Luke had been convinced that the hard and dangerous life of the former Princess of Alderaan, full of insane adventures, had come to an end with the capitulation of the Alliance. That now she would live a life in luxury.
But Leia seemed to have a hard time: there were small scrapes on her suit, for sure, but there were also bruises and abrasions all over her body and she looked tired, with dark shadows under her eyes. Apparently Lord Vader did not spare his daughter any of the pain, teaching her as diligently as Luke himself. For a moment he felt sorry for the girl.
The training of Darth Vader was much more complicated than the strange teachings of Master Yoda. Luke felt how his body was physically changing, his muscles grew stronger and his stamina increased with each lesson. He learned to feel the steady current of the Force, so that it felt a bit like a continued meditation. But the more he learned, the more he comprehended the Dark Lord’s true level of skill and it made him uncomfortable.
His armour was no less a mystery. Was it purely a life support system, as indicated by the variety of sensors on the belt, or did it function as an armour, akin to that of the ones of the Mandalorian mercenaries? There were rumours that Lord Vader was an alien and that the suit was a necessity to adapt to human conditions. But, looking at Leia, this was obviously not the case. The Commander-in-Chief was human, no doubt about that, and many of his lessons were reasonable and applicable in life. A sharp contrast to the foggy tales about the Force that Master Yoda used to tell.
"He killed my father, I have to avenge him." Luke reminded himself every day, fearing that he might respect the Sith and appreciate his teachings a little too much. After all, revenge was his sole aim.
"Why Naboo?" Vader felt himself getting angrier by the minute. " Why not ….. Tatooine?"
"Forgive me, my Lord, that I did not think of this option.” Leia retorted sarcastically. "It really would have been ideal, as no one wants to be dragged to the Scarlacc in the infernal heat. It would have made things so much easier.”
The Dark Lord did not plan to attend the wedding. And there was no one in the galaxy who could make him. Almost no one.
To deny a direct order by the Emperor was impossible. Even more so since there were good and, oddly enough, personal reasons to attend. Yes, security and time issues could be solved, but still the Sith had no wish to attend the ceremony. Unlike Palpatine.
"They say the Lake District is one of the most beautiful places in the galaxy ..." Leia whispered, trying to ignore the pain.
Today’s training had ended in anguish. During the battle - her first battle with real lightsabers - Leia had unsuccessfully substituted for Kronos and now there was a long, deep burn on her leg. It looked terrible, and she had almost lost her consciousness from the initial pain. Once the meddroid had started tidying the damaged tissue, Leia had decided to engage in some conversation with Vader.
"True," the Dark Lord said shortly, much to Leia’s surprise. “Naboo, is indeed one of the most beautiful planets in the galaxy, but there are beautiful landscapes elsewhere too.”
*Why the Lake District? Why the place where his strange love for Padmé, that had felt more like an obsession, had originated?* And with Naboo old feelings suddenly began to stir, feelings that he had thought had been burned by Mustafar's fire long ago. Feelings he did not want to rise from the ashes again. All of this did not please Vader at all ...
"Were you there?"
“Yes” the Sith already regretted that he had come to check on his daughter. He should simply have left, like he usually did.
“How did you meet mom?” Leia asked, not hiding her curiosity.
Vader did not answer. In general, he had not been asked such questions in a long time. And who would have dared?
"I guess many people wonder ..." Leia continued, despite her intuition, which told her to shut up - quickly.
Vader did not care. His personality was a mystery to the whole Empire. There were several rumours, but none of them gasped the truth in its entirety. And the Sith was more than happy about that and certainly did not plan to change it.
"If you take a bacta-bath for an hour or two, you will be all right, but the scar will remain. Consider it a reminder of what will happen when you are not careful." He turned around, but already at the door, was stopped by a familiar voice:
"Lord Vader? I have the right to know about Padmé Amidala. Why she, known for her democratic views, found herself in the company of such a despotic person as you?”
The Sith did not answer right away, but turned around, and it seemed to Leia that the space around them became much denser, her heart missed several beats, and then it became hard to breathe, as if an invisible hand squeezed her throat. Once more Leia cursed her insolence.
"We do not get to choose who we love, Leia.” The door behind the Sith slammed shut and with that it became much easier to breathe. Leia just smiled sadly after him. She really was interested, but it was foolish to count on the Sith’s openness.
Meanwhile the meddroid finished his work and a huge, nasty-looking scar shone through the bacta-patches. But the pain was gone, at least for the time being. Trying to stand on the damaged leg, Leia grimaced, as it did not obey her – apparently the pain relievers had not exclusively taken away the pain, but the feeling in general. Then a strange, insanely irritating sensation crawled over her skin and through her muscles, driving her crazy. Leia felt her injury with every step, which made her angry.
"This is not fair," she groaned, taking another step, carefully leaning against the wall. “I…I hate you!”
Mirabella sat at a table on the second floor in a small, cosy restaurant in the upper levels of Coruscant. It was one of the more noteworthy restaurants and its owner was a Twi'lek named Mardagasar Ali. In the evenings they played pleasant music and sophisticated performers danced on stage in tune to the music. Not in an erotic way, but artistically sensual. An extraordinary establishment, visited by many influential people, but who did not care much for publicity. Accordingly, there was a general dimness in the building and thin translucent curtains surrounded the tables.
Lady Swan-Jar was often here and always alone, but not today. Today, her long-time friend, Grand Admiral Thrawn, was due to appear any minute. Mirabella had no idea why he wanted to talk to her, but, for some reason, she feared she might not like it.
"You are very beautiful. It is impossible not to notice." a velvet voice suddenly whispered from behind. Mirabella shivered in surprise, but did not turn around and waited for Thrawn to take the place opposite of her.
"Thank you," a slight smile flashed on her scarlet lips. “And you're just ... as always.”
"And that would be?" The Grand Admiral didn’t look his usual self today - over a common black suit he wore a black robe with a large hood, which left only the lower part of his face, his lips and chin, visible. And there were no gloves – it was an actual rarity to see him without them. His fingers tenderly touched Mirabella’s, embracing them.
“Unpredictable. One never knows what to expect from you.”
He smiled and finally threw back the hood. His scarlet eyes shone brightly in the dim hall, but their radiance did not frighten the woman. On the contrary, she missed them.
“So…. What do you want from me, my Lord of Ice?” Mirabella asked jokingly, how often had she invented silly names for him? This was her privilege and her’s alone.
"I am afraid it is not a simple task, my beautiful flower. And that it requires talents, which, perhaps, only you posses.”
“Very Smooth. Continue ...” she playfully pawed her fingers on Thrawn's forearm, gently stabbing him with her fingernails.
"It is quite possible that you will hate me for what I am about to ask of you, but believe me ... the reward is worth it."
"Speak," Mirabella tensed and with all her might tried to remain calm.
"You have to earn the trust of Lady Vader." He paused for a moment, watching her carefully. "You must become her ... friend. A close and trusted person. A confidant, a companion, if necessary. You must be ready to support her ideas, even the most irrational ones ...”
“What?!” Mirabella lost her calm and withdrew her hand. Her blue eyes burned with anger. “You’re crazy…”
“I know... I know this must be hard for you, my dear, but it has to be you.”
“Why are you doing this?" Mirabella asked in an icy voice, looking away, tears flashing in her bright eyes.
"I just want to know what is on my wife's mind. In case she decides to do something foolish.”
“Your wife?!” No, not that Lady Swan-Jar was unaware about the news concerning her friend. It was everywhere on the HoloNet. Of course she knew about the wedding, but she had thought that it would be a strategic wedding and, most importantly, an exceptionally fictitious one. A sham marriage. And one didn’t have to be a genius to see his calculation behind it. Marring the Commander-in-Chief’s daughter surely had its merits.
“Yes. In three days she will be my wife." There was an awkward silence between them. "Our relationship is over, remember?" the Chiss said, bending over the table, closer to her. "This is what you wanted, is it not?"
Mirabella bit her lips nervously. Yes, this was what she had wanted because the opera diva had wanted it all - infinite love, fame, recognition and attention. Thrawn greatly respected her talents and patronized them, but for her, attention and admiration were not enough. And she knew perfectly well that this was all she would ever get. Rare but passionate meetings, always in secrecy, as to not attract unnecessary attention ... at first it had been very stimulating and exciting, but over time, more and more doubts had clouded her mind and she had been afraid that one day he would abandon her.
No, not even that.
She had been afraid that one day he would disappear on one of those missions, leaving her, without saying goodbye. The thought alone had been unbearable.
And thus she had decided to leave first.
And the strangest thing had been that Thrawn had just accepted her decision! He had not even tried to argue with her! In the end, however, ... he had not left her life for good.
They had remained ….. what must be called friends. They saw each other every now and then, he personally congratulated her after each premiere, giving her expensive gifts and with that demonstrated his admiration for her talent ... but nothing more.
He no longer tried to get close, even when her temptations were less than subtle. To make it short, he did not try to restore their relationship, and for some reason that hurt. It might have been better if the Chiss had disappeared from her life completely.
"So ... what do you want from me? That I spy on ...”
“No. That sounds too harsh.”
“That I ... watch?”
"Better" the Chiss said, sipping the bright green liquid from his glass.
"... over your future wife and if something causes suspicion, I will report it to you?" Mirabella asked. She did not like this at all.
“Exactly. Nothing you have not done before.”
“Hey! Careful, Grand Admiral. Do not talk about what you...”
"Oh, I know, Mirri. ISB reports are available to me. Or should I call you Agent ...”
“Shut up!” She hissed. "Just shut up! What’s past is past. Alright?!”
"Meaning you can not to it anymore? But that is exactly what I want you to do, my dear. But I will save you from your past, once you have completed your work. Then you can do whatever you want, without ever having to worry about it again. Lady Vader will be your last assignment. What do you say?”
Mirabella only nodded weakly. It was too good a price to refuse and she wouldn’t get another change like this, but the woman's heart was filled with anger and jealousy. Why? Why did it have to be so complicated? WHY?!
Chapter 11: Your soul will be full of doubts...
Chapter 11 - Your soul will be full of doubts...
The night embraced Leia like a heavy, dark blanket, clutching her fragile heart with an icy fist. The night was dark like the abyss of the cosmos and cruel like its eternal emptiness.
That night Leia suffered from nightmares, but in their sticky delirium the princess realized that they were more than that - a reminder of a reality full of suffering and pain. Time after time, as if in slow motion, Leia saw the green ray of the Death Star piercing through the eternal blackness of the cosmos, turning Alderaan into thousands of fragments, becoming nothing but space debris and dust.
For several times that night Leia found herself on the bridge of the Death Star again, a few seconds before Tarkin gave his infamous order and she heard him say: "You would prefer another target, a military target? Then name the system! I grow tired of asking this, so it will be the last time. Where is the Rebel base?” And then her answer: "Dantooine."
What if she had said something else? Could she, at least in her nightmares, do something to save her homeplanet? Or at least delay the inevitable? But no matter what she did or said the terrible scenario stayed the same. An explosion, followed by pain and emptiness.
Leia awoke countless times that night and hoped time and again to stay awake, but her body was too weak and too tired and so the nightmares with their icy tentacles returned, dragging her to the very bottom of her soul’ abyss once more.
Exhausted by another wave of nightmares, Leia finally found the strength to rise from the bed and out of the warm, heavy blankets. The coolness of the night hit her body and so the princess straightened her shoulders and threw a warm, black-velvet dressing gown over her thin night grown. She needed to get out of here, out of these rooms, where every little thing reminded her of Alderaan.
Overcome by dizziness, Leia slowly followed the corridor-wall, without having the slightest idea where she was and where she was heading. Initially, she had planned to go down into the living room, but now she definitely went into the opposite direction. She knew perfectly well that this branch of the corridor lead to a dead end, but it was far away from her quarters, which, at the moment, held nothing but malicious ghosts of the past.
The wooden panels of the corridor-walls pleasantly cooled her hand’s palm. They were uniform flat with a slight joint every now and then and felt like a path leading away from the darkness. Suddenly she felt something else. There was a hole. For a few seconds she just waited, but then put her hand inside; the internal sensors woke up and blinked yellow, before the wall-panels suddenly parted, revealing another corridor.
"It can’t be worse than here," Leia thought, boldly stepping inside and once the doors behind her closed again, there was only one way to go. Forward. The corridor turned out to be very short and ended at another door, behind which Leia found a living room, furnished with great taste. It was dark inside, but as soon as she’d entered the motion sensors carefully activated a soft lightening, allowing her a first look of the contours of some objects. The stylish furniture had a smooth surface and chairs’ upholstery was made of velvet.
For what or whom these rooms were intended, Leia did not know, but, closing her eyes and listening to the Force, Leia felt ….nothing. There was silence. Peace. It sometimes happened when there was no living being nearby. Not that she was anywhere close of being a master of the Force yet, but, thanks to the many meditations with her eyes closed, she could almost immediately determine the presence of people and the distance to them. These rooms were empty.
Sighing with relief, she slowly moved forward, hoping to find a comfortable armchair or a sofa, on which she could find a little rest. The next room looked like an office with a huge desk and a black chair with a high, rigid back. Leia sat down behind the desk; it would be very convenient to work here - to review reports, ratify decrees and consider complaints. Leia jokingly ran her finger along the desk, as if signing some document.
No, this was clearly no place to rest.
She got up and moved on. Then there seemed to be a bedroom.
"Exactly what I need," the princess thought, relief sweeping all over her. Then she took a step forward and …. froze. She definitely felt someone's presence, although the Force remained silent. She could have sworn that she had heard someone's breath and all her instincts told her that there was someone inside.
“I had hoped that you would come to me at one point, but did not think it would happen so soon ...”
"Thrawn?!" Leia asked in surprise. *Damn it!* This was his house and that this might be his rooms, did not come to mind?! After all, this was the most obvious answer! “Sorry. I'm leaving…”
"And yet, what brought you to my chambers in the middle of the night? I am sure there was a reason." The Chiss' voice was unexpectedly serious. He moved, probably got up on one of his elbows, and with that the motion sensors filled the room in a soft twilight.
"I'm sorry ... I didn’t mean to ... I just ..." Leia didn’t want to share her nightmares with Thrawn and with that showing him her weakness. But even less she wanted to return to her rooms. “I can’t ... stay in my room ... too much reminds me of Alderaan and ... I can’t, I can’t do this anymore ..." Tears sprang from her eyes, treacherous and salty and she leaned her back against the wall’s cool, smooth surface to not lose her balance. "I have these dreams ..."
Leia closed her eyes and clenched her fists, thrusting her fingernails into her palms, trying to stop the memory. She heard sounds – the Chiss had left the bed and was now crossing the room with a few steps. He came closer, very close, and slowly took her trembling form into his arms. Her black night gown slipped from her shoulders and fell audible to the floor. She rested her cheek, still wet with tears, against Thrawn's warm chest and, in a flash of hot embarrassment, realized that the Chiss must have slept naked. His embrace was warm and comforting and she did not want to leave, but at the same time she was also too afraid to open her eyes and tried not to think about whose hands were gently caressing the back of her head now.
"My little princess," Thrawn whispered, barely audible. "I shall save you from your nightmares. You will sleep here today. It is very … quiet here.”
Never before would Leia have agreed to this, but what the Chiss said gave her hope. This strange silence he was referring to was definitely there, it had even hidden his presence in the Force. So maybe it could hide her from her nightmares too? It seemed like the Force did not exist here. Like its current had been stopped or like being under a soft and cosy force-free dome that enveloped her like a blanket.
Even before Leia could make a decision, Thrawn easily picked her up and carried her to the bed, laying her down next to him.
"You are still shaking." He tried to hug her, but she protested and pulled away. Yes, she was scared. She would not mind being in his strong embrace again, but the fear was stronger: when his bare thigh had casually come into contact with the silk-cloth of her short nightgown, she had quickly understood the piquancy of the situation. And so she moved a bit father into “her” half of the bed, but did not let go of his hand. She held it tight and clung to his arm, as if it were her salvation.
"Like they say…" the Chiss smiled at her almost childlike naivety. "… sweet dreams, princess."
Fatigue rolled over Leia with a force unknown to her and very quickly she fell into a deep sleep. This time there were no nightmares.
Grand-Admiral Thrawn did not possess the Force, he could not look into the future, but he believed that the attentive observer could easily predict a person’s behaviour once he or she was familiar with their modus operandi.
Thrawn could not sleep and looked at Shakira. His faithful Ysalamiri lizard, was dozing lazily on her purple pillow in a cage behind the bed, but her defence functioned was obviously not hindered by that. Every force user was affected by the anomaly these creatures created and Leia was no exception. But what did the lizard feel once a force user entered her vacuum? The Chiss thought interested and looked at Shakira. If she could speak, he would ask her if it was uncomfortable for her.
Leia stirred in her sleep and instinctively moved closer.
"The head is reasonable, but the body is easily deceived," Thrawn thought, laying his other hand on the princess' waist and pushed her lightly away, she sniffed disapprovingly and moved closer to him, burying her head in his shoulder, while settling one of her hands on his chest. "As simple as that."
He should get some sleep himself, even if it was only for a little while, but there were too many things on his mind. And one event in particular – today’s meeting with the Emperor. It had been very unusual and it was impossible to tell what impact it might have on the future.
"And you, Mitth'raw'nuruodo, will you be faithful to me?" The Emperor stretched out his dry hand.
"It is my duty to carry out your orders, my Emperor." Thrawn answered, in no a hurry to accept the unspoken terms of Palpatine's game.
"No ... I am not talking about your loyalty as a Grand Admiral in my military ... I am asking for the loyalty of the person, the soul. If you ever have to make a choice between duty and my order ... you will choose the second.”
No one else would have dared to wait, to deny the Emperor, but Thrawn was not afraid. He was more interested in what Palpatine had in mind – after all his intrigues were an art in itself.
"You are asking for my betrayal." The Chiss bowed his head.
"Nobody, but you can do this. No one could survive it. But you ... you could." The Emperor's power felt heavy on his shoulders, trying to push him down on his knees, before his lord.
The Chiss resisted as much as he could, but judging by the Emperor's face, he knew that he would not be able to resistance for long, that – ultimately - it was futile.
"Yes, my Emperor." Thrawn slowly sank down on one knee, as Palpatine demanded, but only bowed his head for a moment.
"And with that,…" Darth Sidious nodded in satisfaction, releasing the pressure on his shoulders. "….you will serve me like no other Mitth'raw'nuruodo."
Recollecting the event gave him a headache. It was difficult to predict what the Emperor had planned for him, but, considering the circumstances, it could be assumed that it would not suit him. No, more that that, it could turn out extremely unpleasant.
Leia shifted uneasy in her sleep again, she moved her head to his chest and then threw her leg over the Chiss' thigh. Her fingertips accidentally touched his cheeks, before gliding down to his stomach.
And with that the thoughts of the man took a different turn. He ran a hand over Leia's back and stroke the back of her head. What if he were to seduce her now? Would it be too dishonest considering her condition or would it be exactly what she needed? Giving her body the necessary hormone charge for a full recovery?
If the person next to him would have been Mirabella, everything would be different. It was surprisingly good and simple with her. Bright, bold and sensual kisses. She seduced him with smooth and frank movements and liked it when he eagerly examined her body and admired its every bend.
Leia was not like that. Even if they would do it now, it would not be like that. She was still very young and yet unknown to physical pleasure. She still needed time...
Thrawn knew it would be easy to have Mirabella back, if only he chose to. She would return. Despite all the insults and pride. But this time it would cost him dearly, and it would not be the gifts that usually paved her way into his bed, this time he would have to pay sensually, emotionally. The galaxy always wanted revenge. Kindle jealousy in him or test his desires? And he would have played along...
She had been one of his best mistresses and, perhaps, one of the few women who really experienced some affection for him. It might have been a mistake when he had brought their relationship to the breaking point rather carelessly. But now it was certainly better if their relationship stayed as it was.
Leia tensed, and then turned around, away from the Chiss, taking the blanket with her.
“Thief," Thrawn grinned and then turned to her back. “Come to me…"
When Leia opened her eyes, it was light outside. She had slept well, there had been no trace of the nightmares that had tormented her before. She sweetly stretched out on the wide bed and was surprised to find that she was ... naked. Her thin, black, silk night grown was lying next to the bed, but she did not remember how it had gotten there.
Thoughtfully Leia touched her lips with her forefinger; they were soft and slightly swollen, as if from kissing. *What?!*
Abruptly she rose and jumped out of the bed, stepping onto the soft velvet covering the floor, she absent-mindedly picked up the nightie. Her body, for some reason, felt great and a sweet tremor swept over her. She closed her eyes and then stretched and bend like a kitten.
"Please, do not stop on my account.” Thrawn stood in the bedroom’s door and apparently had watched the princess for several minutes. Hearing his voice, she hurriedly put on the nighty, which emphasized the charms of her seductive body more than it concealed. Leia looked down, embarrassed, and wished for something to hide behind. His scarlet eyes made her uncomfortable, but her body reacted differently - she wanted to get closer.
As if reading the doubts on her face, Thrawn laughed softly and said:
“Nothing happened if that is what you are worried about. Well, almost nothing." He smiled enigmatically, and Leia flushed to the roots of her hair. "You did not mind, I assure you ..."
"Enough!" She threw her right arm forward, calling for a stop. "Do not say another word!" She grabbed her thick, velvet dressing gown and wrapped herself inside it, finally feeling more confident again.
"I am glad to see you are feeling better." he chuckled. "Unfortunately, there are not too many rooms in this house; I do not like guests very much, you know. Your new quarters will not be ready before tomorrow. You can stay here if Alderaan's spirits still haunt you or you can go back to your previous rooms.”
“Here?” the princess asked surprised, her voice still full of displeasure. She vaguely shook her head, looking at the bed.
"I did not necessarily mean my bed, though it is more comfortable than the bed in the other room.” He grinned at her. “Yes, there is another bedroom here, and yes you can stay there, Leia.”
"Thank you, I guess ..." She took a confident step towards the door. "What time is it?" With all these nightmares, she had completely forgotten about her training and now it seemed like she had overslept.
"I took the liberty of asking Lord Vader to cancel today’s training, as well as that of the next four days. He agreed, although he was not happy. He might bring that up at tonight’s reception.”
Leia took a deep breath. She could very well imagine the Sith’s anger. And oddly enough, the princess wouldn’t have minded training today. The nature of her dreams troubled her. They might be more than a simple manifestation of grief and it seemed she needed advice on how to protect herself from them. But for lack of choice, Leia decided to at least meditate on them, although she was not sure if that was a good idea.
"If I were you I would have left before the whole thing even started," the elegant blonde smiled conspiratorially at Leia. “A congregation of high-ranking hypocrites. Some of them are not as bad as they seem, but only in an informal setting. At events like this, they turn into something between pompous peacocks and overripe Hutts.”
Leia could not help herself and laughed. The woman seemed to be able to read her thoughts and the comparison was actually quite very accurate.
"Mirabella Swan-Jar," she had introduced herself, smiling radiantly. “But you can just call me Mirri.”
"Leia ... just Leia," the princess had answered, picking up the tone of the interlocutor. Such a deviation from the etiquette was welcome as well as useful.
“And rightly so. Not that it matters as most people here know perfectly well who is who, what position you occupy and whom you are related to. But most people are not interested in the person behind the family name. Here it is all that matters. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Leia said nothing. Yes, that was true, if not worse.
“Oh. I am sure." Thrawn took Leia's hand. "Please forgive us, but it is time for us to leave. There are still many things to consider before tomorrow.”
“Yes, of course. A wedding is such a wonderful event. I remember my ceremony, I liked it a lot better than what followed. However, I am sure things will be different for you, "Mirrabella smiled skilfully, intending to go. "I have to confess I am quite curious about what style you will choose, but I am sure the journalists will arrange a superb online broadcast of the event ...
"Are you really interested?" Leia asked, looking up from her datapad.
"The whole galaxy is interested, dear. I think your wedding might be THE event for the next four or five years.” such conversations were more than usual for Mirabella, pouring forth through flattery - a necessary skill in high society.
"Well then, concider yourself invited, Mirri." Leia pressed a few buttons on her datapad, bringing the opera diva to her personal guest list. “The invitation is on its way.”
“Oh. Thank you! "Mirabella smiled, but was trembling internally. No, this had not been part of the plan. She had not agreed to this. In part it was useful for the task that she was supposed to perform, but who was she deceiving? Even now, looking at the Grand Admiral, an arm around his bride, her heart was crushed and she longed to touch him. She still loved him, and it was hard to imagine that she would ever meet someone who could compare.
The awareness felt like poison spreading through the essence of her being, releasing the bitter taste of regret.
While looking after the departing couple, a treacherous teardrop was ready to fall off her long eyelashes. Then her comlink beeped, indicating the invitation’s arrival. Looking at it Mirabella discovered another surprise. She was not just one of thousands of high-ranking guests at this wedding. She was among the entourage. There were no more than a hundred or two of them. She would be able to actually see them exchanging their marriage vows. At the same time the invitation also extended to her official spouse, Christian Chaux-Jar.
The woman laughed, but her laughter drowned in the background noise of other people's conversations and music, which sounded louder than it should. Christian and herself lived separately for a little over three years now. Everybody in decent society knew about this. But apparently the girl was totally ignorant of the on-goings of Coruscant society and simply followed the conservative rule that an invitation to an official event was always extended to the spouse.
Whenever their passes crossed, they pretended not to know each other; the last time they talked had been about a year ago. Nevertheless, officially their marriage was valid and none of them made any attempts to dissolve it. Each of them had their own reasons: for Christian this marriage - initially – had been his entrance ticket to high society. Why her parents had agreed to their marriage was still a mystery to Mirabella. Perhaps, her father had lost a fortune in sabacc to Mr. Chaux-Jar, and this had been his way to repay his debts?
However, of course, there would not have been a marriage if the young people hadn’t liked each other back then. It hadn’t been love at first sight, but later on their romance had turned into an ocean of passion. Christian’s skills as a lover were no secret and his feelings for his future wife forced him to forget all other hobbies for a while. While Mirabella herself had been endlessly fascinated by the talents of the young man, his fashion collections, his subtle and at the same time masculine features, his wit and impudence, his hot lips.
But their passion never turned into love. Over time, Christian had chosen a new muse, who had inspired him to truly luxurious dresses and Mirabella had increasingly preformed on the stage. Over time there had been many very influential and interesting men among her admirers and so both of them had started to live their own life, away from the other.
Everything had collapsed the moment Christian had seen her in the company of Grand Admiral Thrawn. It had been a completely innocent conversation, clearly within the bounds of decency, nothing more, but the way the Chiss had looked at his wife had hurt him and he had become jealous.
These few months, Mirabella still remembered with horror – he had done everything to get her attention. He had arranged receptions in her honour and had created a whole collection that carried her name. He had visited each and every of her premieres, and when some fans had come to personally thank the opera diva for her performance, he had remained by her side, embracing her waist as if to show the galaxy that she was his. He had become very attentive and affectionate, but it had been wounded pride, not love that had driven him to do all these things. And the feeling of that had been unbearable.
When Christian had left for a few days, she had collected all her belongings and had left him, without so much as leaving her new address. She had dived headlong into the arts and the arms of Thrawn, and for a while she had been genuinely happy, and her career had blossomed and she had become famous herself. Career, yes. Thrawn was able to inspire such achievements, he had believed in her talent in a way she herself had never been able to. But, in the end, she had lost the battle for his heart, as the Chiss remained true only to himself.
And now ... Christian would be a living witness to her defeat and Mirabella did not doubt he would not miss a single opportunity to hurt her with it. And he might decide to play her loving husband again and she would not dare to cool his ardour in public.
The sharp squeak of the comlink distracted the woman from her gloomy thoughts.
"Mandi’s Grass Bar, the table near the black entrance, in half an hour." Thrawn. Only he was that precise. But why did he want to meet her now?
As always it was gloomy and quiet inside the Sith’s castle, but over time Leia had gotten used to the atmosphere.
"If you do not want this wedding, I will have it cancelled." Vader's metallic voice sounded cold and steady, but there was a storm roaring inside his soul. He stood near the image of some system and appeared to study some data. Leia sat in an armchair and tried not to remember last night’s nightmares. “This is your chance to escape, probably the last one.”
Not that Vader really wanted to give his daughter a choice – that, certainly, was not his style. Initially, he had wanted to keep Leia away from him, but under control and a marriage with Thrawn had deemed perfect for this purpose, but now the Sith had other plans for his daughter and the Grand Admiral could only be trusted so far. No one that close to the Emperor should be trusted at all. And the Chiss was close.
"Why so noble all of a sudden?" the girl could not resist to taunt. "It was your idea, after all."
“Why did you miss today’s training?” the Sith changed the theme resolutely and sat down behind the desk. Suddenly, the office’s space seemed to have decreased several times. Leia actually felt like the walls themselves were suddenly pressing on her. Something about the fact that Thrawn had cancelled their meeting did not please the Dark Lord, and it was something much more important than issues of discipline or the execution of orders.
"I dreamed about you, my Lord. You and Grand Moff Tarkin. We were on the Death Star, a few seconds before the destruction of Alderaan. My home.” Leia's voice broke from poorly concealed anger, her face showing all her grief. "It's your fault, do you hear me? How could you let this happen?!” She jumped up from the chair and boldly looked down at him, continuing: “I hate you. I hate all of you, and one day, I swear, I will destroy you and your Empire! I will not leave anyone alive who was involved in this. And no one, neither you or Thrawn, or the Emperor himself will stop me, do you hear me?!”
Vader ignored her words, he had stopped listening to threats a long time ago. But he was surprised by another thing, during her fiery speech the girl had shone very brightly in the Force, as if something from the outside had fed her.
“What happens in your dreams, Leia?” The voice of the Sith softened and the room was suddenly filled with some sort of thick fog. The princess became dizzy and returned to her chair.
“Stop it!” She cried, holding her head in her hands. "Get out of my head!"
And indeed, once she had said it, her mind closed off, walled itself against the intruder, and if there had been another force-user in Vader's place he doubted that person would have been able to penetrate her mind, but their blood tie had its advantages, granting him access, helping him to quickly crush her mind’s wall and then he saw a whirlpool of images filled with fear, grief and pain.
"Who inspired these dreams, my girl..." the Sith thought, clearly seeing a certain discrepancy between the images and the charge of feelings associated with them. "This has to be stopped or you might loose your mind."
Leia’s head felt like it had been split into pieces and she sill trembled in her chair. She had tried to defend herself, but the impact of the Sith had been hard and there had been nothing she could have done. Meanwhile, her hatred gradually cooled down and she felt a quiet peace slowly embracing her.
"These are no simple dreams, Leia.”
“What?” the princess asked stupidly, still a little dizzy.
“They are suggestions. Mental attacks. Call them whatever you like.”
“But from whom? What for?”
"That is the question ... I do not know - yet." Vader definitely did not like what was happening. "I can not free you from training. I told Thrawn I would, but this is too dangerous. You must learn how to defend your mind and we will start with this right now. The fact that you managed to cope with this yesterday does not mean you will manage the next time. And there will be a next time.”
Leia did not know what to think. Her eyes gradually regained their sharpness, and she was more or less able to think straight again, but with this ability also came fear. It seemed to her that the whole galaxy was against her. She couldn’t trust anyone. No one.
"The droid will accompany you. Now get down to the hall.”
"Yes, master." Leia said rather unexpectedly, it was the first time she had said it, but for some reason the word felt right. Lord Vader was her teacher. He was the master and she was the apprentice. Like it had always been. He would teach her and she would become strong. For what purpose she did not know yet – but this was her choice.
"If you do not want to participate ... we can cancel it." Thrawn immediately got down to business, which meant he did not have much time. “I think emotionally it will be too hard on you.”
“Oh really? Do you think I'm such a bad actress?” Mirabella's lips curved into a graceful smile.
“You are …. a great actress, but your heart is not made of stone. Unlike mine.” Thrawn carefully studied her reaction to his words. There was a hardly noticeable change, but it was evident that she was surprised by his words.
“What do you want?” Mirabella asked emphatically, bending forward.
“Same as before, my dear ... I want you." With his gloved hand he lifted her chin, while with the other, bare one, he pulled back her hair, before slowly stroking down her neck. For a few seconds she enjoyed the insinuating touch, but then she removed his hand.
"You have a wedding the day after tomorrow." Mirabella said firmly, as long as it was still possible.
“Right. But I have no desire to hurt you too much.”
"Do you think I can’t handle it?" She kept herself well. And a person who did not know her closely and personally, wouldn’t notice a thing, but to Thrawn it was obvious how her lips trembled when she spoke.
"Of course you can. I just wanted to give you a chance to refuse. I do not want your life turning into hell.”
“Don’t worry about my life.” Mirabella said, smiling coldly. "You better take care of yourself, Mitth'raw'nuruodo. You’re always walking on the edge and it’s easy to fall.”
Chapter 12: … leaving a mark on your heart ...
Chapter 12 - … leaving a mark on your heart ...
Heavy thoughts never brought peace and the meeting with Thrawn had brought nothing but doubts: Was the Lord of Ice really indifferent to her? Had he felt nothing? Had there ever been a drop of true affection in his passion?
She didn’t doubt his desire – she had studied him too hard for that. He had not lied – there had been passion in his scarlet eyes and his tightly compressed lips had shown impatience, if nothing else. And the voice ... how much it changed in moments of passion… it was so deep and velvet when he caressed her body from within.
*No! Enough! Don’t think about it!* Mirabella’s body vividly remembered their nights together and she felt the sweet tremor of anticipation swelling up inside of her. As if he were somewhere behind her bedroom door, waiting for her to burn with desire. Mirabella closed her eyes and took a deep breath - the thought alone made her wet. He was a dominant lover, showering her body with greedy hot and almost painful kisses, leaving traces of his lips on her body, burning marks on her pale skin. His strong hands tore her silk underwear to pieces, before tossing the useless shreds to the floor.
He was able to be so wild, like an animal that had emerged from the depths of Csilla itself, hidden under the disguise of a cold aristocrat with beautiful manners.
The memory of their lovemaking was enough to hear an innocent groan escaping her lips. And when he was inside her it was hard, fast, deep…sometimes he stopped to say a few words to her, looking into her eyes. The galaxy alone knew their meaning, but his voice usually had a magical effect on her flesh, bringing about moments of supreme pleasure.
Afterwards he was gentle, as if wishing to erase the traces of his uncontrolled passion. Sometimes he would grace her body with a whole network of weightless kisses. He knew how to be affectionate, but not immediately ... only when his desire started to cool down and the inquisitive mind took over again. He was a skilled seducer and experimenter, who took what he wanted and who took a woman's body, like a man dying of thirst trying to quench his yearning with one gulp.
The memory made her smile, but then Mirabella bit her lip. She should not think about this. Not now and never again. This was the past and it would never happen again. Or would it?...
But all the same, what in the name of the galaxy had motivated him to get married? Pity, sympathy ... love? ….. Knowing Mitth’raw’nuruodo it was calculation. But to what end? *What game are you playing, my king?*
Not for the first time Thrawn asked himself why he had said yes to Leia. And at different times the answer was different too. She suited him perfectly, as an attribute of power. She also suited his title. Her origin was the main trump card though, directly connecting him to the Commander-in-Chief.
If the Sith had treated his daughter like the majority of the human race did, especially those with exceptional status and wealth, a union with Leia Vader would have been an extremely bad idea. But, fortunately, his Lordship did not suffer from irrational affections when his offspring was concerned.
However, when Leia had started her training with Vader, everything had changed. In addition to pure origin she, apparently, had inherited a rare gift from her father and if her character would turn out to be the paternal one too, she would become a very important figure. And while she was making progress, Lord Vader would sooner or later include her in his plans and she would play on his side. Whether he liked it or not.
*And on whose side will you be, Mitth’raw’nuruodo?* That decision would have to wait. But one thing he knew for sure, he had to lay the foundation for Leia's absolute loyalty to him, and he had to do it now. A good attitude, or - as some people said - love. It was much more reliable than any arguments binding one reason to another. And this task was not more difficult than others he had had to perform.
The Chiss smiled. People called him “calculating”, but in comparison to many representatives of his race, Thrawn was “unpredictable” and “prone to risk”. His desire for bright, emotional experiences was deeply connected to his desire for knowledge. That was probably also the reason why he had been with Mirabella for so long. She was the embodiment of emotions interwoven with elegant patterns of artistic talent. Yes, being in her company was a very special pleasure, but quite different from the passion that had possessed them in bed. And if from the second he was reluctant, yet capable to withstand, the first was a necessity to him.
If Mirabella could be compared with the most delicate lace, Leia was as simple as a military uniform. Straightforward and artless, but at the same time strong. Her affection could only be won by actions, which she could appreciate. Highly.
"Can you not sleep again, my lady?" The Chiss asked, noticed Leah's silhouette in the doorway. “Tomorrow will be a very demanding day, you should rest.”
"Yes ... that's why I came. Thrawn. I want to cancel the wedding - my father gave me this right.”
This move was understandable. Initially, he had given his daughter to him to control her, to change her attitude and to get rid of her presence, but now the situation had changed radically. During his last conversation with the Dark Lord there had been a clear threat, should he ever try to influence and use his daughter. A possibility he surely had not considered before ...
… A FEW MONTHS AGO …
"And yet ... I would like to know the boundaries of the permissible, my Lord."
"I do not care. The main objective is that she does not do anything stupid. To ensure this, you may do whatever you deem necessary.”
“Are you quite sure?” the Grand Admiral had asked, attentively looking into the Sith’s visor.
Thrawn was neither cruel nor despotic outside the battlefield. It was easy to loose control once power was at your disposal and many military men had sinned, but not him. At war he tried to avoid cruelty, in his personal life he would not have it. But it had seemed that Lord Vader had definitely taken that into account when he had said:
"Yes, she is yours, if that is what you want."
"I am afraid ... Lord Vader has no such right, my dear," Thrawn spoke softly and insinuatingly, and an unconscious sense of danger swept over Leia. "By the laws of my people you are already mine and tomorrow's ceremony is only a tribute to the traditions of your people. You have a right to it.”
"You can not make me," Leia sighed noisily and clenched her hands into fists.
"Oh, believe me, I can." Thrawn answered firmly and coldly. "But you do not want to check that, right?"
"There won’t be a ceremony tomorrow ..." the princess insisted stubbornly, and in her dark eyes was lightning, ready to strike.
"There will be," the quiet and almost indifferent voice of the Chiss infuriated her even more.
Both of them spoke Basic, but at the moment Leia had the feeling that they were speaking completely different languages.
"You see, Leia ..." the Chiss continued persuasively. "…you underestimate what I am doing for you. Or, rather, what I am not doing.” the inhuman eyes flashed bright scarlet for a second and for some reason it scared her. “I define the boundaries of the permissible. Come closer…”
Leia didn’t move, and then took one step forward. One step no more and no less.
"Closer," he demanded, rising from the bed, but Leia remained in place.
He crossed the room with a few steps and firmly took her hand. Suddenly Leia wondered what combat methods could be applied to free her hand and to bring the Chiss to the floor.
Today she had had a hard training, but she had learned a lot. Enough to believe that she had a fair chance against Thrawn, if necessary. Leia concentrated and jerked away, trying to free her hand and at the same time tried to push Thrawn away. Nothing happened. Neither immediately, nor when she called out for the Force to strengthen her attempts. Kronos would have flown a few meters from such an attack!
"My little rebellious princess ... do not even think of it. That would be very unwise.”
Something was not right. The princess felt a strange weakness and couldn’t reach the force.
"I do not think the bedroom is the best place to demonstrate your fighting skills. Come on, princess, until now your performance as my lover was excellent, especially last night ..." The mentioning of last night made Leia's cheeks flush, and she was quiet for a while, easing the resistance. Thrawn, taking advantage of the moment, pulled her to him. "What does a ceremony matter?"
“Let go! What the hell is going on here? Why ... " Leia hissed, while trying to free herself from the steel embrace of the Chiss again. She kicked him hard with her foot, but Thrawn did not even flinch. He was much stronger than she had thought.
"What? Wondering why the Force does not work here? Well, let it be my secret. One of many.”
Everything fell into place - the inability to apply her new skills, and even the fact that yesterday, she had found her refuge here from the metal attacks. Only last night the silence of these rooms had been a comfort to Leia, but now this strange emptiness and lack of response of the Force irritated her. It was necessary to leave from here and she had to stay away from this bizarre place.
"Thrawn, I do not want tomorrow's ceremony. And with or without the Force, I can sabotage this wedding and if I do, the entire galaxy will remember it for a long time!” She threatened, looking straight into Thrawn's eyes.
"I do not doubt that, princess. But that would in no way benefit your little plan. You see, I saw your "lists of candidates", and I must say your choices are very…. interesting. It will be entertaining to see how you will try to recruit opposition among the faithful companions of the Emperor without my name supporting your endeavour.”
“Why would you do that?” Leia tensed. She had never concealed her intentions, but till now hadn’t known that the Chiss had been monitoring her so closely.
"I will not reveal my motives to you," Thrawn whispered these words so softly that Leia barely heard them, and then added, even quieter: "I want you to trust me ..."
"Trust?" She asked, and sounded a bit more shocked than intended.
"It is recommendable to trust the person with whom you share a bed. Otherwise you might wake up with a vibro-knife in your chest." The Chiss smiled cunningly and led Leia to the bed’s edge with a single waltz step. But she stopped him abruptly.
"I will not sleep with you here!"
“With me? Or here?" Thrawn let her go, and the princess was finally able to feel relatively free again.
“Here! With you! What happened yesterday ... will not happen again.”
“The Nightmares? Probably. I do not know. The rest will. And more than once.” The Chiss grinned laconically and lay down on the bed.
Leia was literally speechless by his words, his self-confidence and impertinence. She turned sharply and headed towards the exit. She was not going to stay a second longer!
“What?!” right in front of her nose the bedroom door slammed shut. She pressed the buttons on the wall panel, but the door did not open. "Let me out!"
“No. I want you to spend the night with me. In my bed.”
All of this seemed to be another bad dream to Leia, a nightmare. She had to admit that the Chiss had cleverly manipulated the situation.
“But I don’t want to." the girl said, clearly angry. "Open the door!"
Thrawn just shook his head and reached for the panel above the bed to switch off the light.
"We will just sleep. I will not touch you, if you do not want it.” His eyes shone brightly in the darkness, and when he closed his eyes it got really dark.
For how long Leia had stood there, at the door, she did not know for sure. Maybe a few minutes, maybe a few hours - time dragged on extraordinarily slow. Perhaps if she had been able to feel the Force here, she could have used it to meditate and spent the night sitting on the floor, but this silence made it impossible to concentrate, and all the physical needs and limitations became suddenly very apparent: her legs were frozen, her head was spinning. She was tired and it was hard to stand. And yet she suffered for as long as she could, before quietly going to the opposite end of the bed, cautiously sitting down on its very edge.
The calm and measured breathing of the Chiss indicated that he must be asleep, but something was telling Leia that he was not. She continued to sit upright, banning even the very thought of lying down on the bed. The thick carpet pleasantly warmed her feet and with that Leia came up with the idea to sleep on the floor.
But before the girl could finish her thought, she found herself in a horizontal position on the bed, with a soft, warm blanket covering her, and with Thrawn's hand peacefully resting on her belly.
"Just….sleep ... " His voice sounded drowsy, but his reactions had been far too fast for a man who had been sleeping.
Leia jerked, trying to get up, but Thrawn's arm was rather heavy, or he deliberately prevented her from leaving. With some effort, she managed to reposition his hand, but the body categorically refused to get up, so she just turned on her side.
She quickly fell asleep and must have slept soundly for several hours before she woke up again, in the middle of the bed, Thrawn hugging her from behind, holding her tightly to himself, one of his hands was on her tummy and she felt his fingers sliding down to the thin fabric of her panties.
Leia abruptly turned on her back and removed his hand. For a second she considered leaving the bed again. But she was too tired… She closed her eyes and heard Thrawn repositioning and then felt him “accidentally” touching her breasts, moving from left to right, as if trying to find the most comfortable position.
“Stop it!” Leia whispered evilly. "I know that you are NOT sleeping!"
The Chiss did not answer, just moved closer and touched Leia's shoulder with his lips. This man was insufferable!
Leia spent the rest of the night tossing around, several times she tried to get up, but every time the Chiss “accidentally” prevented her from doing so. In the morning she finally gave up and fell into a deep sleep, in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder. Already half-asleep she thought he must have opened his eyes – as their scarlet light had faintly lit up the room.
“Good morning, princess.” Thrawn's voice yanked Leia out of her dreams and for that alone she wanted to slap him. Meanwhile, the room pleasantly smelled of fresh coffee, already rehabilitating the Chiss a little in her eyes.
“It’s not good. What time is it now?” She asked slowly stretching in the bed and looking around.
“Never mind. We have half an hour before our departure to Naboo. Your things have been collected and are already on board, only your body remains.”
“Maybe we can do without?” Leia asked cheekily, while simultaneously reaching for the cup of coffee. She took a sip. It was bitter and sweet at the same time, and very spicy. It guaranteed an instantaneous awakening.
“There is another cup next to it. Drink it.” It was old-fashioned silver goblet on a high leg with a dark, thick liquid inside. The same goblet Thrawn held in his hands.
“What is it?”
"It is a ritual drink of my people. We should drink it together. Now.”
"Poison?” She suggested and grinned. “Well, even if it is… it might be for the best.” Leia emptied her goblet with one gulp and her throat burned from the drink’s bitterness. "Arrr… It’s disgusting!" Leia snorted and quickly finished the rest of the coffee to get rid of the horrible taste in her mouth.
Thrawn chuckled. "You are incorrigible." And then he left the room, relieving Leia of his presence.
The trip from Coruscant to Naboo took several hours. Leia had wisely put on a simple, black dress, in which she could curl up in her cabin to get some sleep, without spoiling her look too much.
She hadn’t talk to Thrawn anymore, but as soon as she was asleep, she dreamed that she was still in bed, in the arms of the Chiss, his hands lazily sliding over her body, and this time she was not trying to remove them, oh no. Quite the contrary, this time his hand went down to much more pleasant places...
On Naboo they were greeted by a soft, moist wind and a cloudy blue-grey sky. It was early dawn on this part of the planet. The shuttle landed on the soft, green grass near the gates of a luxurious mansion. Several death troopers greeted the Grand Admiral and they briefly answered some of his questions. Leia remained on the last part of the shuttle’s gangway, as she was in no hurry to step on this planet. Subconsciously, she did not like Naboo - this planet had spawned Emperor Palpatine and that alone was reason enough to stubbornly avoid it. But now it had turned out that her mother was also Nabooian and this resulted in more mixed feelings. With a heavy sigh, Leia took a step on the wet grass and, contrary to her expectations, with each following step she felt better, as if she had returned home, to a native, but long forgotten place.
"Go inside. I am sure they want to meet you," Thrawn said, not looking at Leia when she approached. “I have some business to attend to first.”
"Fine ..." Leia answered vaguely, looking at the gentle, yellow flowers that wrapped around the mansion’s gate. Instinctively she reached out to them and inhaled one of the flowers’ scent, an incredibly pleasant sweetish fragrance. *What kind of flower was this?* And the closer she got to the house, the stronger the fragrance became.
“Do you like them? Your mother loved them. They are quite rare, you know?” an elderly woman in a dark dress said. She stood in the living room and smiled warmly at Leia. "You look just like her ... like Padmé ..."
Leia herself felt uneasy. She didn’t know how to handle this meeting and felt the need to escape.
"My name is Jobal, I'm your grandmother ..." the woman introduced herself and continued her speech about how much Leia resembled her mother and how little she took after Lord Vader.
From this brief tirade, the princess was aware of two things: First, the Naberrie family did not like Lord Vader - the word “tyrant” had actually fallen once or twice - and therefore, it was quite likely that they were against the Empire in general and second, for some reason Leia was irritated by her grandmother’s open animosity towards her father. For a brief moment her grandmother's words had actually provoked anger in the princess. Not that she wanted to be the daughter of a Sith, but since she was able to feel the Force flowing within herself, she was also able to acknowledge Lord Vader’s power, which was truly exceptionable. And she could respect this, despite their fundamental differences in political views.
"Hello, Jobal," Leia said and forced herself to remain calm and polite. “It is nice to meet you…”
In fact, however, the girl felt nothing at all. These people were total strangers to her. Everything here was alien to her. As if noticing her granddaughter's confusion, Jobal said:
"Today is an important day, whether you like it or not," she seemed to probe the waters, trying to figure out Leia's true feelings about the wedding. "I'm sorry about all of this. If we had known about you before, we would not have allowed it…. we would never have given you to ..."
She did not have time to finish her sentence though, as the door opened and Thrawn, accompanied by two deathtroopers, entered the drawing room. He gave a short nod to Jobal and walked on towards Leia, while typing something on his comlink. Lady Naberrie noticeably tensed in the presence of the Chiss and pursed her lips. The otherwise good-natured woman suddenly had a stern look on her face and mumbled something that sounded almost like: "Leave her alone."
Then, as if coming back to her senses, she smiled sweetly and said:
"I’m sure you need rest, my dear. I'll come back later.”
Leia merely nodded, thinking that she had more questions than answers now.
Chapter 13: …. and the choice between freedom and honour...
Chapter 13 - …. and the choice between freedom and honour ...
"Do you really want to wear that dress?" Christian's voice was thoughtful. He was about to finish his second glass of Corellian brandy and still was more serious than expected. Usually he was much more sarcastic and Mirabella only waited for some unworthy jokes about her unsuccessful personal life. But Chaux-Jar kept surprisingly quiet and only paid attention to the woman in front of him. "It would not be appropriate." He ran his hand over the burgundy fabric, embroidered with gold stiches. “Outshining the bride on her wedding is generally considered bad taste. Her dress is much more modest.”
“I don’t care. Why not attract some attention, providing the people with gossip? I could always say that I’m preparing for a new role ...”
"Oh, no, that is not a new role - that is you." Christian smiled softly, standing behind the woman. "There are other ways to hurt someone ... and there is a wonderful azure-blue dress in my last collection. The tone is a perfect match ..." he did not finish, but it was clear what he meant. *….to your Chiss’ skin.*
"I don’t recognize you, dear. Why do you care?”
Christian pondered a little and then finished his glass with a single gulp. His eyes glittered feverishly.
"I could hurt you, Mirri. I could destroy you … with just a few words. But then you would repay me in kind. We could tear each other apart, physically and emotionally. I do not want that ... Besides, let Mickey be a little jealous.” He said and then smiled again. Charmingly. Sly.
"Mickey?" She hadn’t heard about that woman and she kept track about his flames, watching him closely. She didn’t really know why she did it. Maybe because knowing about Christian was a painful reminder of the past or maybe it was just the professional curiosity of a former ISB agent.
"Mickey, Nikki, Millie ... I stopped counting them a long time ago, but recently I started to forget the names as well." He shrugged. "Let me make you some herbal tea. It will help you to relax, and I will show you the other dress ..."
"Martha," Mirabella said unemotionally, remembering the photograph of a pretty brunette, who was lead model of Christian's latest collection. “Her name is Martha.”
“Yes, that is right.” He turned around, apparently not at all embarrassed that his wife was so aware of his ever-changing female companions. Or was it ex-wife now? It felt like it.
“Tea. Like in the good old days?” She asked and her heart filled with a wave of warm memories of the best moments of their life together. "You can put in your own spoonful of Naboo grass, if you don’t like it." Mirabella opened the hooks on the back of the luxurious, scarlet dress and hissed. “And I'll put this pearl back. I'm sure you have someone else for it ...”
“No,” and again his voice sounded unexpectedly serious and somehow warm. “It is yours. I created it with you in mind, my queen.”
Mirabella only snorted. Her husband was a skilful flatterer and the dress turned anyone into a queen. Long folds of a dense, velvet fabric in the colour of thickened blood, trimmed with gold fibres and a long train behind an opulent skirt that covered at least five steps. The top of the dress seductively exposed the shoulders and the tender hemispheres of the chest and a modest tiara with golden rays completed the "queen".
Christian was right. It was too beautiful for the event. She would wear it on the day of her triumph, and not vice versa.
Mirabella closed her eyes for a moment. Christian or something had changed her mind, or she had simply become wiser. In any case, it was better like this, the calmer the day, the more time she would have to realize her plan. The presence of a spouse would help to get rid of obsessive fans too. And, who knew, maybe it would even kindle a spark of jealousy in the crimson eyes of her Grand Admiral.
Leia sat in the armchair opposite the big mirror and looked at her reflection, when she saw the door opening behind her and several women entering.
"I’m glad to meet you, Leia. My name is Sola, I am your mother's sister." The dark-haired woman in a luxurious dark dress smiled warmly at Leia, as if they had known each other for all their lives, instead of meeting for the first time. And in a strange way Leia didn’t like it and therefore was unable to reciprocate the gesture.
"I’m glad too," she answered and hoped to sound as neutrally as possible.
"These ladies here are at your disposal, they will help you to get dressed." The woman nodded to the servants, and they went into the next room to unpack the princess's luggage.
“Thank you.” The usual, everyday conversation troubled Leia a little. At a day like this, it would have been much easier to get rid of the formal etiquette, but at the moment that was not possible.
Sola came closer and, looking intently into her eyes, she quietly asked: "You do not like this alien, do you?" The unexpected question put Leia totally off guard. Too quickly she had reduced the distance between them, between two women who were, in principle, not familiar with each other. "I doubt that it was your choice ... Vader chose for you… He forced you into this marriage, did he not?"
The answer should have been "Yes", and an even more honest answer would have been "No" or "Not quite", but the words were stuck in her throat, so the princess only bent her head, avoiding the other woman’s gaze. She had no desire to share the details of her deal with Vader with Sola. It was too personal.
"The fate of the Alliance was at stake. I did not have much choice." Leia said finally, in a quiet voice. “The Alliance was still destroyed, so I guess I was partly deceived, but the lives of many friends were spared.”
"That's terrible," Sola said and nodded meaningfully, but there was no pity or sympathy in her voice, only a note of anger and her thick lips indicated that she did not care. “A woman has the right to choose her companion. Nabooian women grow up with this awareness, and no one ... “ she particularly stressed the words *no one* “…. has the right to decide for us. We are on Naboo, Leia … you can refuse, even at the ceremony and the Emperor himself will not dare to interfere as his mother did the exact thing once and was respected for it.”
The princess contemplated, unsure of how successful such a move would be. However, she could very well imagine the scandal such an action would cause.
"It’s very simple, instead of consenting to the marriage vows, you just have to say `This is not my choice. I had no right, neither to agree nor to refuse´” there was definitely something else the woman wanted to say, but their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door - short but distinct.
"Lady Naberrie," Thrawn greeted Sola. "Please excuse me, but I would like to talk to Lady Vader in private," he asked politely, but firmly, obviously including the family’s handmaiden working in the background. "Leave us."
Leaving the dress on the bed, the servants hurriedly left, bowing their heads low to avoid the burning eyes of the Chiss. Yet Sola was not in a hurry to leave Leia's chambers.
"Mitth'raw'nuruodo," she pronounced the Chiss’ name almost correctly, a rarity for humans who did it the first time. "It is bad luck to see the bride right before the wedding," a cold smile shone on the face of the otherwise lovely woman. "It is a bad omen, you know."
“The customs of my people say the opposite. But it is absolutely not important…. I will not repeat myself.” He said in his typical quiet, calm voice, but this time with an evident threat in it. Dissatisfied Sola pursed her lips and walked out, but not before throwing an unkind look at Thrawn's back.
Leia was stunned. It seemed that this short scene had showed both, the stubborn nature of the Naberrie women as well as the steel grip of her future husband. And she was uncertain what struck her more.
“How are you? Are you worried?”
"Not at all," Leia lied confidently. Yet inwardly she had been shaking the whole morning, but she did not want to show her weakness.
Just last night she had wanted to cancel the ceremony, however during the night her rejection had melted. In general, the Chiss was right, now she had nothing but seven hundred and fifty million credits and even so, it seemed liked the Empire could just as easily deprive her of it again. So if she would part with Thrawn, what options would she have left? To settle in a tower of Lord Vader’s castle, exhausting herself by learning the ways of the Force? The prospect was not the worst, and it might also allow her to reach Luke and tell him the truth. But what then? She needed allies, and if the Grand Admiral really did not interfere too much, it would be preferable to stay with him.
In the Empire there were many dissatisfied people – both, among the nobility and among ordinary people. Those who had lost loved ones or those who had watched their wealth or position perish. The second should not be taken into account during the first stage, but at the moment all of this was still just an idea. Still there were citizen who could not express their views or could not realize themselves within the rigid framework of the Empire and then there were those who had been faced with some extremely unjust decisions, often carried out by the Emperor’s loyal henchmen. These were the people Leia had to find and to gather around her.
"My brave princess," Thrawn whispered, pulling her out of her thoughts. "There is no need to worry about this wedding… during the day."
“And what exactly are you implying with that?” Leia turned in the armchair - before that she had been looking at the mirror, now she was facing the Chiss, anger radiating from her eyes.
Thrawn was leaning with his hands on a large desk, a charming smile on his lips. He was wearing civilian clothes and the top buttons of his white shirt were undone, as were the cuffs of his sleeves. His short dark hair was slightly rumpled, as if he had just gotten out of bed and his narrower than usual, dark pants emphasized his muscular hips. Leia had not expected to see him so ... relaxed and…. attractive. She even forgot about her fury for a moment.
"I am implying that the whole day of our wedding has a script, and I would advise you to get acquainted with it right away." He put the datapad next to him on the desk, in the general direction of Leia, inviting her to rise from her chair to get it. "Everything about this wedding is planned to the last detail. Only the wedding night…," he lowered his voice insinuatingly, "….has no script."
Leia pretended not to care, or to have missed the remark of the Chiss, and busily flipped through the information on the datapad, before stumbling upon something that clearly outraged her. “And whose idea was this?!”
"I think you are able to figure that one out by your own." Thrawn said, no less sharply. Perhaps he, too, was not thrilled about that particular detail.
“Why didn’t you ... This is….Do you really not care at all?! Or are you just terribly fond of surprises?!”
"Listen, Leia. There is nothing dangerous or humiliating in this ceremony. It could be much worse. His Majesty loves holidays, especially noisy and luxurious ones, so there was no way he could not be invited. And if he expresses the desire to personally take part in the ritual, I have no right to limit his aspirations. Nobody has that right.”
"One more reason to hate the Empire! And you're just ..." Leia started threateningly and wanted to say something like "such an Imperial" but that was too obvious and wouldn’t hurt either. Frantically thinking about how to continue her tirade, Leia for some reason noticed him grinning and it was…. charming and his lips were quiet…. attractive…. He was attractive. *I wish I could…*
"It is not as bad as you might think, Leia. In the end, you probably will not even notice how quickly this day has passed." He approached Leia and tucked a curl behind her ear, gently touching her cheek, and then changed his mind and disarranged a few more locks, destroying the princess’ smooth hairdress.
“That is better.”
They were silent for a while and Leia was surprised by how agreeable his touches had felt, but she still stepped back and continued to study the information on the datapad.
“Eric Quatar as a photographer? Was that another glorious idea of the Emperor?”
“No, that was mine." The Chiss continued, grinning impudently and the princess wanted to hit him, hard.
“What?! Are you serious?! His work is very….frank!”
“Not exclusively. But you are right, he perfectionized the visualisation of the transmissions between and the aesthetics of the human body.”
“The naked human body… And how do you imagine this?”
“Let me see.” Thrawn approached Leia from behind, who was standing in front of the mirror again. With a leisurely movement, he undid the belt of her long, white, silk dressing gown and then hugged her from behind. With his left arm around her waist he pressed her to him and with the other he held her by the shoulder – it was a very frank and claiming gesture. He looked down at her, his nose almost touching her hair, as if inhaling its fragrance. It looked very romantic and sensual at the same time.
"Or like this," he said quietly and sharply turned her around to face him. Holding her tightly in his arms, he moved forward, his lips almost touching her neck. "Such a photo should be enough to convince the entire galaxy of our sincere and trembling love." The Chiss repositioned Leia once more in front of the mirror, and this time his hands, as if by accident, slid over more sensitive places.
“This is ridiculous! Why do you want to do this?” She tried to pull away again, at least far enough to be able to look into his eyes.
"Because…." He took Leia’s hand, brought her thin fingers to his lips and left a hot kiss on them. “….I will spend much more time in the blackness of the cosmos, on board the "Chimera", than on Coruscant, my dear. I need something to remember the more earth shuttering moments of our love." Leia was sure the Chiss was mocking her, but his voice sounded quite serious.
"And I do not want anyone to even dare to fight for your heart while I am gone. I want the galaxy to know that you are mine. Only mine.”
Leia caught her breath. His arrogance should make her furious, she should reply something especially sharp, but her body reacted differently, sending sweet tremors through her body whenever he had said the word "mine". She boldly looked into the inhuman eyes of the Chiss, trying to read his true intentions in them. He must be joking.
“What?” Leia tried to sound outraged, but it did not turn out very convincingly. For some reason, she enjoyed this game and his lips were dangerously close.
"You heard me," seeing her doubts, Thrawn pulled her to him and then easily lifted her up, placing her on the massive ebony table. Her silk dressing gown innocently flew open and she did not have time to reposition herself, so that he stood between her spread legs now, her knees resting against his thighs.
“Kiss Me. Now.”
Her usual anger and desire to push things at him did not arise, moreover, Leia suddenly felt the strange impulse to follow his "orders." She wasn’t sure what to do and therefore remained silent, nervously biting her lips. Her hands rested against his chest in an attempt to keep the distance, but he only pressed her closer to him, slowly overcoming her resistance and then gently rubbed the tip of his nose against her neck, sliding up to her ear.
"Come on, honey ... I will not let you go like this."
"And if I kiss you, you'll let me go, hmm...?" She wanted to sound strict, but it turned out totally different. Her question sounded way too inviting.
"If I like it ..."
Not recognizing herself nor the game she was getting into, she stared at Thrawn and outlined the contour of his lips with her forefinger. Then she approached him very slowly, bending her arms centimetre by centimetre, before gently, almost innocently, touching the hot lips of the Chiss with her own, and then slowly, teasingly at first, drew his tongue into a passionate dance. For a moment, it seemed to her like she was seducing him, and not vice versa. And he, undoubtedly, enjoyed this moment, and then, when Leia was about to break the kiss, he pressed her body to him and seized the initiative, deepening the kiss. His hands eagerly studied her body, bluntly caressing her underneath the silk fabric of the dressing gown.
Leia's whole body was burning and her head was spinning from the Chiss’ greedy kisses, with which he now covered her neck and shoulders, sometimes biting her delicate skin predatorily. How could he be like that? Strong, firm, but sensitive at the same time? Like a long-time lover who knew every curve of her body? He followed her body’s path of pleasure, and yet they have never been together. Leia’s breath became irregular, her fingers began to unbuttoned his shirt, and, without realising, she pushed herself forward to meet him, hugging him with arms and legs alike, pressing her breasts, still enveloped in thin white lace, to his chest.
This was so sweet ... too sweet to be true.
Something was not right.
This awareness did not come immediately, but now that it was in her head, it would not leave, sobering her sudden rush of passion a little.
"What's going on?..." Leia whispered hoarsely.
"You crave me." His fingers slid down to the edge of her lace panties and then skilfully pushed the fabric aside, touching her warm, moist lips for the first time. His fingers slid further and Leia moaned softly when he pushed into her. "Do not deny it." Her whole body trembled when he moved his fingers rhythmically, seductively, between her legs, pushing inside her several times, creating a sweet wave of pleasure in her lower abdomen. "You want it ..."
He did not ask before tearing the thin fabric of her panties, and the silk dressing grown had slipped off her shoulders a long time ago, lying somewhere on the floor now. Her lower abdomen cramped with desire. *Oh Force help me*. But somehow Leia found the strength to pull back. Looking into his burning scarlet eyes, she ask:
“What is this?” Her look was cloudy, and her lips were seductively swollen, capturing the Chiss’ gaze. He laughed softly when he saw how desperately she attempted to keep up a stern look. Leia briefly closed her eyes - he had such a pleasurable, velvet laugh. Thrawn moved his head and then, almost touching her ear with this lips, whispered:
“What? Do you like the effect of my ritual drink?” Leia felt herself tense as everything fell into place. The drink, which, following the tradition of the Chiss, they had taken a couple of hours ago. She hadn’t known its content, but remembered the drink’s bitterness.
"But…" the Chiss began, foreseeing her reaction and intercepting the hand, with which she was about to demonstrate her newly learned combat skills instead of giving caresses, "….this elixir has in fact only one function - it intensifies your feelings and sensations. It is also called the "drink of truth". I always wanted to try it on myself. It is a rarity even on Csilla. And I admit, it was a bit risky giving it to you because if the only feeling you harboured towards me had indeed been hatred, you would have smashed the whole place here to pieces. But as we can see, it turned out a little differently" his voice sounded insinuating. “`Cheun Kar´ shows everything that is hidden or repressed – our fears, doubts, hatred and desire. As a rule Chiss only marry once, so there is little room for mistake. This drink only shows what you really feel for a person and chances are that these feelings will increase with time.”
Leia pondered what she had heard. Her first impulse had been to deny it and to scratch his scarlet eyes out.
“If you do not want me, you can say “no” at the ceremony, the effects of the drink do not interfere with the decision making. You do have a choice, Leia," he whispered to her slightly mockingly. “But you might have to explain why…”
"You are disgusting. You just…”
"Shh-sh-sh-sh ..." He put a finger to her lips, gently gliding over them and as if obeying an unknown, primal impulse, Leia opened her mouth and wrapped her lips around his finger, before touching it the tip of her tongue, gliding over it, slightly drawing. And then she drew back and bit herself on her lower lip, shaken by her own actions.
"My little wild princess ..." He chuckled, touching her lips for the last time, and took his hand away. Leia buried her head in his shoulder.
"I absolutely can not control myself ..." She rubbed her head against his neck. Inhaling his smell, which had been chasing her ever since last the night; driving her crazy. “When will it end? Will it end?”
“During the first day the effect will only increase.” His palm slid down to her chest, slightly squeezing a hard nipple. “After two or three days it will pass completely ...”
Leia groaned something inaudibly, probably something indecent.
"Stop it," she said, trying to push him away, but very weakly, and then she reached out again and pulled him closer, pressing herself against him with her whole body. This was crazy. She did not want to let him go, on the contrary, the desire to merge with him into a single whole was unbearably strong. Yes, she wanted him, it was worth confessing, at least to herself.
"I will wait until tonight." Thrawn turned away, taking her hands into his. "But no longer ..." His eyes flashed brighter for a moment.
He dismissed her, leaving her sitting on the desk in a very frank position. The Chiss stopped in his tracks for some time, as if trying to memorize every bend of her graceful body. His attentiveness aroused Leia so much she had to look down and bite her lower lip. Her cheeks were burning and she was trying hard to pull herself together.
"See you at the ceremony..."
Mirabella's dresses: http://pixs.ru/showimage/Bezimyanni_6756643_30340503.jpg
A/N: Finally! The translation has caught up with the original. The author usually updates once a month (but that’s not a fixed rule – sometimes it happens sooner, sometimes it takes longer). So, stay tuned, guys! And thanks for supporting me so far. Your comments and likes mean a lot to me!