Ashes to Ashes by Chris Anderson

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Lucasfilm, Ltd. No money is being made and no infringement is intended.

He stares at the screen, not quite believing what he sees. Closes his eyes and looks away. But when he opens his eyes and forces himself to look again, it is still there.

What do you want on your tombstone - and why?

They do have such things in his world, though they are called by other names. But it's not a lack of understanding that makes him reluctant to answer. It is the fact that the idea of it is...

He is a soldier, a warrior, and has been such for a long time. Long enough that death seems less an enemy than an old friend one must finally meet one day. And he thinks that if death were only a concern for him, not those he has loved and lost, it would trouble him less.

But any mention of death or its associations- markers and memorials, grief and ceremony- brings sharply to mind his son, fallen in the recent war, and the death of his lover, his beloved... And he doesn't like to think of it, prefers to remember Caren the way she lived rather than the way that she died, but he isn't sure, even now, that her death didn't have less to do with her own work than the actions of his political enemies.

If he ever learns for certain... well. He could almost hope that they have given some consideration, too, to this, the topic at hand.

That they have hated him for years, resented his rise to power, resented most of all the fact that no matter what they did, no matter how they tried to pull him down, at the end of the day he was still standing- All of this he accepts, understands. That they maneuver as best they can, hoping to dislodge him, or even to shake him a bit, he accepts as the framework of the game. While they scheme and plot with and against one another, he takes over the day to day running of the Imperial Remnant. But they have made a mistake if they believe that simply because he never wanted to enter the political arena, he has not learned a thing from standing in it for years longer than many of them have been alive. That he has not, after all of this time, become, in his way, as much a master of the game as Thrawn ever was.

Of course, they never would have dared challenge Thrawn. But Thrawn had many things Gilad Pellaeon does not. And Thrawn did not have the twin problems of making friends with old enemies while keeping his own people in line.

Nor did he have such obvious points of weakness.... Or if he did, they were so well hidden that even Pellaeon, who had worked closely with him for several years, had never caught so much as a hint. But Pellaeon's Remnant was not Thrawn's Empire, and so much had changed... And he, in some ways untouchable, had left Caren vulnerable.

She shouldn't have been, of course. She was very good at what she did, the best. And when she had died on a mission she never should have had any trouble with... oh, he had suspected. They hadn't really tried to hide it; that awful knowing gleam in Disra's eyes, the way he had expressed his condolences, his tone just slightly *wrong*...

But if it had been Disra, he had covered his tracks too well. And there were so many others- the majority of the Moffs hated him, and made little secret of it- He had not been able to place blame. But he watched them. Even now, so many years later, he watched them. One day they would give themselves away. And even if it had been Disra, now eight years dead, he could not have worked alone. Disra was not the kind of man who pulled the trigger; there would have had to have been someone else.

One day he will find them. The instigators, the conspirators, the money men, the assassins. (Caren would have taken some of those with her, but not all...) And when he finds them...

But he sighs and shakes his head. He will deal with them, when he finds them- deal with them the way the Empire has always dealt with traitors. But it will not bring Caren back.

It is the finality of death, really, that he hates. That there are no second chances, now, with any of them. He will never be able to tell Caren once more that he loved her; will never tell his son how proud he was of him; will never tell Thrawn that he was honored to serve with him... And so many others, friends and allies and even enemies...

Who will be left, to place the marking stone, when he is gone? Who would have the last word then? The Moffs, who would give him the most ironic of sendoffs? The scattering of friends he has still in the Empire, the few who have survived the war? And what sentiments might they express? A wish that they had made more of an effort to reach him, that they had called more often, perhaps gone to see him?

In the end he suspects it will be the former Rebels who will be left to speak for him; people like Jaina Solo and Garm Bel Iblis. He feels the decisions will be safe, somehow, left in their hands, and smiles as he imagines what they might say.

Gilad Pellaeon Grand Admiral worthy adversary and good friend

It is, he thinks, enough.