Eli was tired of parties, he was tired of Ascension Week, and he was tired of Coruscant. With all the core world pompous people who had more money than manners. He understood why Thrawn and Yularen were out trying to suck up to any core world idiot with any influence, he needed the support, but why did Eli have to tag along? Because he was Thrawn’s aide? He didn’t need Eli to stand next to him bored out of his mind and grit his teeth at all the trash thrown his way about crazy wild space yokels and non-humans. He could bare it, but for how much longer he wasn’t sure.
Thrawn, of course, seemed completely unbothered by the repeated, ‘Are you a pantoran?’s and ‘What are you?’s that he got asked by practically every person Yularen took them to meet. Eli was sick and tired of it. He knew Thrawn could tell he was tired of it all, offering him what could best be qualified as sympathetic looks after every new encounter. But that’s all that he did, never once even suggesting that Eli sit out the numerous parties Yularen dragged them to.
Eli swore, it was only a matter of time before he snapped, career be damned. If one more person asked him, ‘What do you people even do all the way out in Wild Space?’ that person would wind up on the floor lacking a few teeth. He didn’t belong among these people, and he didn’t want to be among them either. They were so snobbish, and too up their own asses that they couldn’t tell the difference between Thrawn and an Ithorian. None of this was fair, and Eli just wished he could sleep away the rest of Ascension Week.
As soon as the door to his and Thrawn’s shared quarters slid close, Eli let out a long and deep groan. Thrawn watched him closely as he removed his boots, shuffled over to his bed and fell onto it face first. All the pent up tension beginning to dispel from his back as he groaned into the stiff mattress of the bed. He heard Thrawn shuffling around, removing his boots and sitting on his own bed, turning over the package in his hand they had picked up on their way back from their last party. Thrawn hadn’t said what it was, and Eli was too tired to press, Thrawn usually explained things in his own time anyway.
“You are tired, Ensign.” Thrawn said. It wasn’t really a question, mostly a statement, because he was right. Eli turned his head to the side, watching Thrawn from the bed.
“Oh really? How could you tell?” He sighed, voice dripping with sarcasm. “And what did I say about when we’re alone?”
“Apologies, Eli. I am not used to such, open casual speech.” Eli had asked Thrawn on several different occasions to call him just Eli when they were alone and off duty, so far, Thrawn hadn’t done so without prompting. But at least now, Eli need only say it once and Thrawn would continue speaking casually until they were back on duty.
“Yeah it’s fine.” With another sigh, Eli turned himself around, sprawling out on his back on the bed. “How many more days of this do we have?” He knew the answer, but some irrational part of his brain hopped the number would be smaller than it actually was.
“Four more. Tomorrow, Colonel Yularen wishes to take us to a highly regarded party at which even the Emperor may be in attendance.”
“Great.” Eli threw an arm over his eyes. “If I don’t wake up in the morning, just assume I’ve died from having to listen to core world nonsense.”
“A moment, Eli.” He heard Thrawn lean forward, and Eli peeked out from under his arm.
“I realize that you greatly dislike having to attend grandiose parties, and that it is because of me you are being forced to undergo such activities.” Eli nodded. “I have also heard that it is customary for Humans to exchange gifts as apologies.”
Eli furrowed his brows, propping himself up on his elbows. He looked down at the package Thrawn still had in his hands, and his eyes widened. He knew exactly where this was going, and he was still flabbergasted.
“Wait, what?” He sat up all the way, swinging his legs over the side of the bed to be face to face with Thrawn, who held out the package for him.
“I have purchased a gift for you, as an apology for your discomfort.”
“T-Thrawn, you didn’t have to do this. I never blamed you.” Eli stammered, hesitatingly taking the package. It was soft, whatever was inside.
“Regardless of whom you believed at fault, it was ultimately a result of my actions.” Eli eyed the Chiss, mouth slightly ajar, waiting to say something else, but nothing was coming to his mind. So instead, he shut his jaw, and turned down to the package and began opening.
He tore through seal, and began unfolding the protective packaging, getting to the mystery item lying inside. He caught sight of something beneath the wrappings, it looked like clothing of some kind, blue with star like speckles all over it. Was it a jacket, or a cloak? He finished unwrapping the gift, grabbing hold of the fabric and lifting it to get clear sight. And he felt his face heat instantly.
“Thrawn…” Eli choked out, unable to keep his eyes off the cloth between his fingers.
“Yes, Eli?” Thrawn answered, seeming to not understand the problem.
“This is a dress.”
“That is correct.”
“Thrawn, you do realize that in the Empire, men don’t wear dresses, right?” He lowered the clothing, and got a clear look at Thrawn’s face, who seemed mildly confused.
“I had noticed that most people wearing dresses at the parties we attended, were female. However, I purchased this from a seller who made them specifically for male Humans to wear. Chiss do not segregate clothing by genders.”
“Well, in the Empire, they do. It’s...frowned upon for men to wear women's clothes.” Eli sometimes wished he wasn’t the person tasked with explaining everything to Thrawn, and that the damn Chiss could just pick up on social cues himself.
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know! It just is. I’m sorry, but I can’t wear this.”
In the privacy of his own mind, Eli admitted that the dress was very pretty. A gradient of dark blue at the top to a light purple to pink at the very bottom. And the starlike speckles were, exactly that, reflective specks meant to resemble a starry skyline. It reminded Eli heavily of late summer sunsets over Lysatra. The straps were meant to be tied to your preferred length, and the neckline a modest depth, with a dark band around the waist to accentuate hips.
“Correct me if I am wrong, however, were you not eyeing dresses of those at the parties we attended? I saw you watching women dance, however you focused on their clothing, specifically those in dresses, and whose dresses moved around as they danced. To me, it seemed more than a mild curiosity, or an act done out of boredom. You seemed interested in the dresses themselves, hence why I purchased one as a gift.”
Eli mentally cursed. Of course Thrawn would notice that, and again, of course, the Chiss was right in his observation. Eli had been eyeing the dresses. Back on Lysatra, the people were less prudish about what genders wore what clothing. Everyone just sort of wore whatever they wanted, and no one really had a problem with that. Eli grew up wearing dresses and skirts that were either handed down from his older cousins, or made by his ‘Ma and Nana. He enjoyed dresses, and came to miss them since joining the academy. Because Eli understood, what was acceptable on Lysatra, was not acceptable in the Empire, and willingly gave up one of his favorite clothing items to better blend in and disappear among the Imperial woodwork. But of course, Thrawn had no such knowledge.
“Okay, yeah, I was watching the dresses, but like I said, men don’t wear women’s clothes in the Empire, its looked down upon.” Eli spoke up again, diverting his attention to the side, not wanting to meet Thrawn’s intense gaze.
“That is an unfortunate hindrance to personal enjoyment, I think.” Thrawn spoke. “However, I see no issue why you cannot indulge in your own private time, off duty.”
“I will not judge you for wearing clothing that you enjoy and make you comfortable in your own time in private. If you fear judgement, no one can disrupt your privacy aboard ship. If you enjoy the dress, I would like to see you in it.” Thrawn gestured to the dress in Eli’s hands, Eli himself looking back down at it.
He did like it, very much. The fabric was soft, it felt light, and the colors blend well together, and looked nice against his brown skin. He chewed his lip nervously, weighing his options. He wanted to wear it, but he couldn’t help but think about what others would say, what it would do to his standing in the Empire. But he looked up at Thrawn, who effectively made Eli stick out and more unacceptable than any dress ever could. And he didn’t regret being friends with Thrawn. He gave the Chiss a smile and mentally decided, Kriff it.
“Alright, it was a gift from you, I might as well model it for you.” Thrawn gave him one of his small smiles, and leaned back on his bed.
“I await the results.” Eli took the dress, and disappear into the refresher to change. Thrawn always spoke so technical, almost like a protocol droid. But for some reason, Eli found it endearing, and a bit cute. Quickly, Eli changed from his Imperial Uniform into the much lighter and more freeing dress. He gave himself a quick once over in the mirror to see how the dress fit him, Thrawn must have gotten his size from his uniforms, how he estimated his dimensions was a mystery however.
He was about to exit the refresher, but paused. Thrawn had said that he wouldn’t judge him for wearing a dress, but the first thing that came to his mind was this being a set up. That Thrawn maybe did all this to ridicule Eli, or for someone else to. Thrawn wouldn’t do that, he wasn’t like that, Eli tried convincing himself. Thrawn wasn’t a petty person, and certainly wasn’t like any of the snobs they met the last few days, of whom would love to poke fun at the odd Wild Space yokel wearing women’s clothes.
Thrawn explained that Chiss didn’t have social standards on women’s clothes and men’s clothes. A thought crossed Eli’s mind, of Thrawn himself in a dress, his broad shoulders and muscled arms contrasted with the soft gentleness of a dress. The mental image looked incredible in Eli’s opinion. He mused for a moment what colors Thrawn’s skin would go well with and different dress cuts before he came back to himself and realized he was just standing in the refresher, too nervous to stand in front of Thrawn.
Before he had a chance to second guess himself, Eli opened the door and stepped out. He loved the feeling of the dress fluttering around him as he walked. The length ended just a few centimeters below his knees, and the tips lightly tickled his calves. Thrawn’s eyes were on him the moment he stepped out, and Eli tried fighting back the blush. He stood in front of the Chiss, nervously grabbing at his own arms.
“Well,” Eli mumbled, barely above a whisper, “what do you think?” He held out his arms, giving Thrawn a full view. The Chiss looked him up and down, inspecting him much the same he would a piece of artwork, and smiled.
“I looks wonderful on you Eli.” Thrawn answered him. Eli felt his face flush yet again in heat, the blush spreading down his neck and to the tips of his ears. Everything about this felt so intimate, like Thrawn was his lover rather than his friend.
“Ah, um, thank you. I do like it, very much actually. Sorry I made a fuss before. The colors sorta reminds me of sunsets on Lysatra.” He smiled, looking down at the dress, lifting it at the edges, and even doing a small spin for Thrawn to see the entire dress.
“I am very glad you enjoy it Eli. I am happy to have been able to see it on you. I was right in my assumption that it would compliment your body type well.”
Did Thrawn just say that Eli was attractive in the dress, in his own Thrawn way? Eli smiled a bit wider, feeling his heartbeat pick up, for a reason he was a little too scared to think about why.
“I’m glad you think so, ‘cause I’ll probably end up wearing this as often as I can off duty.” He did another small twirl in the dress, loving the feeling of the dress moving around his legs, then took a seat back on his bed.
“Then perhaps we should look into getting you others, so that you do not wear this one out.”
“I’d like that.” They shared soft smiles, and Eli felt more at ease than he had all year. Maybe Ascension Week wasn’t so bad after all.