“I have to warn you.” Admiral Ar’alani began, keeping up her quick pace through the halls of the Steadfast. “There was an accident. He will not look quite as you remember.” Her words were measured.
Grand Admiral, or rather, ex-Grand Admiral Thrawn’s mind raced. “I understand.” It was the mark of a warrior to bear scars. He would cherish every single one that Eli now bore.
Stopping near the end of the corridor, Ar’alani gestured to a nondescript door, narrow and grey like any other on the ship. “When you are ready, then.”
Before Thrawn could collect himself, Ar’alani was already gone, the click of her heels on polished floors slowly fading out of earshot. With a long exhale, Thrawn pressed the signal button on the side of the door frame. He couldn’t wait any longer to see his beloved, in whatever state he was.
Fantastical images of raking claw marks and burn scars ran through Thrawn’s imagination, each iteration more extreme than the last. He wanted to be prepared for anything. Ar’alani was fairly notorious for understating the severity of things, after all.
When the door did open an eternity of a few seconds later, the room revealed was dim, the lights set low and a shadowy figure loomed in the doorway.
Immediately the silhouette was wrong. And as the figure came closer, Thrawn’s heart seemed to stop.
“T-Thrawn?” A familiar voice called out quietly. “Is that you?”
A tan hand with five fingers gripped one side of the door frame.
A muddy green hand with four fingers and scales held the other. More scales peeked over the collar of a black Chiss Expansionary Defense Force uniform, ending just under a familiar tan chin.
Red eyes now gazing up at Eli's face, Thrawn saw only one familiar iris, the right one was a pale amber with no pupil, set in a sea of obsidian. The skin around it was a much darker, almost purple tone seamed along the side of his nose, ending just below the cheekbone and trailing back behind a wavy carpet of caf-brown hair. This was the same, just longer and somewhat unkempt, brushing at the shoulders of the uniform.
“Eli?” Thrawn asked breathlessly.
Eli’s eyes immediately darted away, looking down at his toes. Thrawn could not help but follow their gaze, finding one boot tip and on the right, four large purple toes on a furred leg, the pant leg cropped at the knee. “The Admiral didn’t tell you, did she.” He muttered, taking a small step back with the strange appendage, almost hiding it behind his other leg.
Before answering, Thrawn closed the distance between them, embracing Eli and holding him close. “She told me there was an accident. I am so sorry that I was not here to protect you.” Pulling back to look Eli in the eyes, trying very hard to not focus on one or the other, Thrawn continued. “I hope you can forgive me.”
Eli shook his head, heavy locks of hair waving around the base of his neck. “It’s not your fault.”
“I should have been here.” Thrawn said in a tone that said he’d not be swayed on the issue.
Eli leaned in for another hug. “I’ve missed you.” He said into Thrawn’s shoulder, running his hands all along Thrawn’s back.
Eli cringed when a scale caught on the coarse gaberwool of Thrawn’s tunic. He opened his mouth to apologize when Thrawn dipped his head down, stopping him with a gentle kiss. “And I’ve you, my beloved.” He said in Basic, breaking up the Cheunh that they had been speaking up until then.
Chuckling a small bit, Eli kissed Thrawn again, holding the gesture longer. “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that.” He responded in the same language.
Not wanting to get too heated in the hall, Thrawn pressed on Eli until they were inside his quarters, closing the door behind them. With the door closed, no light streamed in and Thrawn had to rely on his infrared to make out his partner.
“The other eye is sensitive to light.” Eli filled in quickly. “I have tinted glasses for duty but I prefer to not have to use them constantly, only helps so much.”
Thrawn felt an ache in his chest that had been growing since he first stepped foot on the Steadfast but was now becoming unbearable. He’d been gone far too long. Eli may have forgiven him… But Thrawn still felt responsible for this.
Not knowing what else to do, Thrawn cupped Eli’s face in his hands. There was something… Off about how it felt.
Before he could formulate just what, the answer unfurled itself from the tufts of wavy brown hair. Two stalk-like antennaepalp perked up from where they had been laying against Eli’s skull. “Yeah… That’s new too.” Eli added, the antennaepalp angling towards Thrawn.
Thrawn tried not to stare.
“You can touch them, if you want.” Eli said with a shrug.
For as strange as it all was, Thrawn was surprised by how well Eli was handling this all. He supposed the other choices would be illogical, but it was still impressive in a way. Curiosity overtaking him, Thrawn reached up with one hand to stroke along the side, the ridged dark skin having a smooth, firm feel to it. The antennaepalp seemed to lean into the touch, and Eli’s eyes closed as he exhaled softly. “Feels kind of nice to be honest.”
No, Thrawn realized, this was not impressive. This was surreal. In a moment of lost self control, Thrawn asked. “Could they not give you an ear?”
Eli sighed. “It’s a long story, but the Chiss biomaterials are not compatible with humans. So, they scraped together what they could and experimented until something took.”
Thrawn opened his mouth but a finger placed itself across his lips. “Don’t apologize. I’m alright. Really.”
Only after Thrawn nodded did Eli move his finger away. “Alright.”
Before any more questions could be asked, Eli ran the same hand, the human hand, through Thrawn’s hair. “Let’s sit down. I want to hear all about what brought you home to me.”
Thrawn did not get far into his story before he was straddling Eli’s lap, hands pulling at the collar of the black tunic as their mouths clashed. Two hands soon came up to cover them, however, stilling their progress.
“Are you sure?” Eli asked softly, breath wafting across Thrawn’s cheek. A shiver traveled up his spine
“Yes. Very.” Thrawn reassured his partner, and Eli’s hands fell away, coming to rest on Thrawn’s biceps. Giving them a firm squeeze, Eli felt thick corded muscles underneath.
“Stars, Thrawn.” He mused, kneading the muscle.
Thrawn smiled down at Eli, nuzzling up against his nose as his hands got back to work unhooking the clasps of the tunic. Reverently, he pulled it from Eli’s shoulders, folding it over the back of the couch before running his hands along the expanse of exposed skin. The rough scales covered Eli’s shoulder and wrapped around his back, ending at his neck. Thrawn traced the jagged, pink line where human skin met…
“It’s Trandoshan.” Eli said bluntly.
“Ah.” Not that it really matted to Thrawn, but he supposed it was good that at least Eli was informed of that much, or perhaps he had figured it out himself. Trandoshans were not exactly uncommon in Wild Space or on Lysatra, after all.
“And these are Balosar. The leg is Lasat, if you hadn’t figured that out already.” Eli added, gesturing to his antennaepalp, and then to his leg. Thrawn noticed a bit of short purple fur peeking out from the waist of Eli’s pants, over the hip.
“I see.” Rubbing his thumb over Eli’s cheek, the human did not provide an explanation for this part of his patch-work self at first.
Thrawn realized what it was from without needing an explanation.
It was Grysk.
“The parts all… Came from a Grysk slaver ship that we weren’t able to save. I felt guilty about it at first, but figure they would have died either way.” Eli shivered again when he said the name. Thrawn assumed the part had brought him some hardship. The especially rough scarring at the seam on his face made him consider that perhaps this eye truly was their last choice.
Rather than offer some sort of condolences, Thrawn leaned in again, draping himself over Eli and pressing against him, covering every inch. He gripped Eli’s back, pulling the human closer still. Eli melted into the contact, wrapping his arms around Thrawn’s waist and arching his back up against the Chiss.
Slipping his hands up under Thrawn’s tunic, Eli felt over every familiar arc and angle of Thrawn’s body. There was the curve of his spine, the sharp jut of his shoulder blades, the slope of his neck. Everything smooth and cool and just how he left it those years ago.
“You’re perfect.” Eli whispered into Thrawn’s ear.
Thrawn hummed contentedly. “As are you.”
The words hit Eli like a brick. After everything that had changed, did Thrawn really still feel that way?
Of course he did. Thrawn wouldn’t lie to him, Eli assured himself, losing himself again to the bliss of the moment for just a breath longer.
This was wonderful, everything he’d dreamed their reunion would be, yet some things just did not feel right. The ultra sensitive pads on his toes constantly overwhelmed him with their sensory input. His hand could hardly make out the details of what it was feeling, Eli’s brain compensating from memory what the scale covered skin missed. And his eyes… closing the right one he saw Thrawn as he remembered, if a bit hard to make out in the low light.
But with the other? It was as if there were no color, everything perceived in depth and shadow, like a heatmap dumped in jet juice.
“I’m not perfect. Not anymore.” Even his voice sounded different, the antennaepalp reading sound waves with long strand-like sensory organs unlike a human ear.
Thrawn pulled away sharply, holding Eli away at an arm’s length and looking straight into his eyes. Eli was shuddering, frozen aside from the tremors. “I do not care about anything except that you are Eli Vanto, the one who I give my heart and life force to hold in his hands.”
Eli squeezed his eyes shut, feeling a tear roll down his left cheek. His antennaepalp retracted down into his thick hair. He pressed back against Thrawn, wanting to bury his face in the crook of his neck. “I love you.” He stammered. “Thank you.”
Softening, Thrawn moved back in, stroking the back of Eli’s head and threading his fingers through the dark waves of his hair. The longer locks suited the man well, he thought, but most of his focus was on how Eli felt, and if he understood how Thrawn felt.
“I love you as well, my beloved.” Thrawn felt a strange sensation against his neck as he said this. He realized it was the antennaepalp pressing themselves against the skin there.
“Say that again.” Eli asked softly. “I want to hear you.”
Thrawn repeated the sentiment, speaking clearly and with emotion, just as he had before. Eli’s entire posture sunk against him, legs shifting underneath the larger Chiss.
“Thank you, Thrawn. Let’s lay down, if that’s alright?”
Untangling himself from Eli, Thrawn agreed happily, wanting to make sure Eli was as comfortable as possible, and felt absolutely wrapped up in his affections. Eli went to stand up, but Thrawn hooked his arms around his waist and under his legs, scooping the man into his arms with a light huff. Eli nearly squeaked in surprise.
“I always pick you up.” Thrawn joked, shifting Eli’s weight to be better centered.
“Yeah, well, it's been a while!” Eli responded with an all too familiar pout of his lip. Thrawn could not help turning his head to kiss it. Eli nibbled Thrawn’s lip. “Sneaky.”
“Guilty as Charged.” Thrawn admitted with a light smirk, that soon erupted into laughter as something unaccounted for tickled his side. Eli’s much more prehensile foot was the culprit, and Thrawn had to endure the assault until the bedroom was reached.
Finally, Thrawn reached his target destination and lay Eli down on the bed. It was not much larger than a cot, but could certainly accommodate two so long as the beings didn’t care for personal space.
Something told Thrawn this would not be an issue as he walked around to the foot of the bed, placing a hand on Eli’s boot. “Can I take this off?”
“Please.” Eli responded, stretching his arms out with a short yawn. Thrawn’s arrival was later than anticipated, so it probably was about the time Eli would be going to bed now. Not wanting to keep Eli up too long, he quickly disposed of the boot, and then his own pair. Taking off his tunic for good measure, Thrawn slid down onto the bed beside Eli.
Almost on instinct, Eli turned on his side and Thrawn followed suit, pressing his front to Eli’s back. Once again, the unexpected foot struck, the four longer toes gripping his ankle in a warm embrace. It was strange, but also rather adorable. Thrawn pressed a cool kiss against Eli’s neck after brushing the hair away.
Sure, everything felt different. He was getting too much input from his foot, and he only really felt half of Thrawn’s neck kisses. But Eli could feel the tight hold of Thrawn’s arms around him perfectly fine. He felt safe and cared for and absolutely loved. Perhaps things between them would be just how they were when they were last together, or even, Eli dared to imagine, this relationship could grow into something even stronger than they’d had before.
Thrawn’s breaths may have sounded different, but the rise and fall of Thrawn’s chest against him was familiar and just right, the rhythm evening out to a slow beat. Closing his eyes, Eli let all of the sensations merge together into one entity: his beloved.