A Lifetime Of Ghosts 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 has always been something of a fan of history, but not so much that he would waste this chance, if it happened to come to him, on someone to whom he has no connections beyond a simple curiosity.

In his youth, he did everything in his power to avoid sitting down to dinner with his family. His father's anger and his mother's disapproval radiating across the table had never done much for his appetite, and he'd preferred to be out with his friends, watching the ships take off and land at the spaceport, dreaming himself back to Corellia or out among the stars- Anywhere, really, so long as it was *away* from there, away from his parents' simmering anger, away from the endless pressure to fit himself into a mold he had been born to break...

It had been easier, in the end, simply to turn his back on them. To walk into the recruitment station and say he was of age; to say it so matter-of- factly that the recruiters didn't quite dare to doubt him. He passed their exams, tested high, and the Navy was glad to have him. As glad as he was to have it... But his parents had never quite forgiven him for running off, and he had never quite forgiven them for forcing him to it, and relations between them had been strained...

He would like to sit down to dinner with his father now, to clear the air between them. Would like to blank the data cards and start over. He's not sure he would be willing to speak to his mother; even after all this time, it still hurts, the memory of one of his cousin Tera's clandestine letters, how she had overheard a HoloNet message from his mother to hers; "I never had a son."

He loved his parents, even his mother. But how do you forgive blood kin for denying your very existence?

He'd like to have dinner with Tera again. It's been too many years since he's heard her stories of her exciting, dangerous job as a sector Ranger... too many years, because that exciting, dangerous job had claimed her life in the end.

If it were possible, he would have dinner with Tera, listen to all of the old stories again, hear the new ones... He would introduce her to his aids and his officers, in the hopes she would hit it off with one of them... She would laugh and mock him for his clumsy efforts at matchmaking, and then fall head over heels for Vice Admiral Ardiff or General Vermel. She'd follow the old Corellian customs at the wedding, and he'd find himself giving the bride away...

If not Tera, if not his parents, then perhaps his old Academy classmates. There were a few, in particular; his old roommate and the men who had shared the hall with them in those blessed upperclassmen days, when they had finally moved from the twelve-man barracks to something approaching actual privacy.

He remembers late-night study sessions, stacks of data cards sliding off Deke's desk, Deke's scattered, characteristic clutter stopping at the room's midpoint, where it was replaced with Trey's parade-ground neatness. He remembers the sound the data cards made as they clattered to the floor, and the curses Trey muttered as he dove after them.

He remembers his own roommate, Fen, spilling through the door, lugging a cask of something *very* against the rules, and how they had all yelled at him about it. Fen was the party animal of their group, the one more interested in a good time than in keeping his marks up, and thus the one the others were most concerned about.

Then there was the youth from Tatooine, so embarrassed by his first name that he refused to divulge it, and so they simply called him Sandstorm, who told them that night about something he'd seen on his way back from shock- ball practice- the idiots were diving off of Cliffside again. (And they had shaken their heads at this, as only senior cadets at the Imperial Academy could, because only the greenest of recruits dared try their hands at diving Cliffside. Cliffside, deadly and legendary; flat as a viewport, with craggy rocks, chipped into laser-sharp points by the seas, at its base...)

And finally there was Doran, the last member of the group. Quiet and studious, the most serious of all of them, and the best friend anyone could have had.

Doran had died first, of course. Somehow the good ones always did.

But before that, they had used to gather whenever they got the chance, in the years after graduation, little reunions here and there. Fen still brought the alcohol, and Deke still dropped things (annoying Trey in the process, of course), and Sandstorm- they'd learned at graduation that his given name was Olven- who had gone into Intelligence, still knew everything about everything. And Gil Pellaeon was still the most loyal, the most dedicated. He had no family but his comrades, no real home but whatever ship he served on at the moment, and he could be called upon in any moment of trouble. If one of the old gang needed a favor, a place to stay for a night or two, a small loan, or even a blaster's worth of backup in a dark alley, Gilad Pellaeon was their man.

They'd all last been together at Doran's memorial service, and the situation had seemed far too serious for the company. He'd love to see them the way they used to be, would love to look up one day to find Fen, drunk out of his mind, slouching in the doorway, muttering half unintelligibly about having a small accident with Deke's speeder, and did he think Deke might notice that one of the repulsorlifts was now out, so that the speeder tipped dangerously sideways? He'd love to laugh about that, spend the rest of the night trying to fix it, and then have Deke show up in the morning, to gleefully inform them that it hadn't been *his* speeder anyway- that it had been acquired through some quasi-legitimate means, and the best thing to do would be to dump the offending vehicle and forget it had ever existed.

He'd love to invite them to dinner, swap old stories, find out where they had been keeping themselves since Doran's funeral, just before that disaster at Hoth...

(Deke had died at Hoth, and Olven Sandstorm just before, in some half-baked purge of Intelligence by one of the Isards. And by Endor, Gilad Pellaeon was the only member of the old crowd still standing. Fen had gone off with his ship, the *Admonitor*, into the Unknown Regions, where he had fought in Thrawn's secret wars, and fallen in one of them... and Trey, always so precise in everything he did, had been shot down by a defector on his way to the Rebellion.)

And that is, he thinks, enough of stirring up the past, enough of these old wounds, none of them as close to healed as he had thought they were...

It is enough. He doesn't have to say the last names, doesn't have to think them... But already they are in his mind, faces and memories flashing past, slowing, catching him up in the old painful dance...

Grand Admiral Thrawn. They had met under fire, five years after Endor, when Pellaeon's people had fallen back and fallen back, so desperately undermanned that they could only try and bolster their meager defenses... So desperately undermanned that Pellaeon himself had taken up his blaster that day, along with many of the *Chimaera*'s officers. For all the good it had done them. Pellaeon wasn't a bad shot, but the Rebels had the upper hand, that much was clear. His people were falling apart, and it wouldn't be long-

They had come into the fight like they had six legions behind them, though there had been only two of them- a tall humanoid, blue-skinned and dressed in white, and a small, grey blur, a blur which flashed the silver of knives and trailed the bright red of arterial spray in its wake. The tall alien crossed the battlefield as if he owned it, calmly and expertly shooting down any of the enemy who got in his way. At a range Pellaeon's best marksmen couldn't have managed, he took out the last of the opposition. And as he came forward, Pellaeon realized the white uniform was adorned with the rank tabs of a Grand Admiral.

"Captain Pellaeon, I presume?" he had asked.

Pellaeon nodded. "Yes, sir."

The other had nodded back, and extended a hand. As Pellaeon shook it, he said, "I'm Grand Admiral Thrawn."

And so it had begun...

When Thrawn died at Bilbringi, felled by the hand of that same little grey alien who had helped to save them all that first day, the hopes and dreams of the Empire had died with him. Pellaeon's hopes, Pellaeon's dreams. Without Thrawn's leadership, he had not known, not for a long time, how he might carry on- how he could ever possibly take the Grand Admiral's place.

It is years later now, and he has begun to understand. He knows that he does not have Thrawn's gifts, that he never will, but he has realized that he does not need them. There would only ever be one Grand Admiral Thrawn, and he could not take his place. He could only pick up the pieces and carry on.

But even after all these years, the pain of that loss still burns. It can still catch him unawares, trip him up and send him reeling. He had never known a commander like Thrawn, had never been so honored as to have been second to the last of the old Grand Admirals. And as Thrawn had roused the pride of the Imperial fleet, he had roused Pellaeon's pride. He had reminded them all what it had meant to be Imperial officers, had reminded them of the pride and the glory of that noble service. And with that pride had come a fierce loyalty- to Thrawn, to what he stood for...

Pellaeon had respected nearly every officer he had ever served under, but for only one of those officers would he have dared the impossible- to walk on a sun, to stand on the edge of a black hole. And that one was Thrawn.

In the way of officers and the best commanders, he had respected Thrawn deeply, had been devoted to him.

And in the way of a man who had served long, pivotal years alongside another, he missed his fallen comrade, his fallen leader, terribly.

To sit down to dinner with Thrawn would be to remember it all, the glory without the pain, the pride and the strength of the Empire at its highest point...

He would be delighted to tell the Grand Admiral (and though he has himself reached that august rank, Thrawn would always and forever be *the* Grand Admiral) that after all of these years he has finally taken the time to begin to appreciate art.

He would tell him, too, that the few pieces of his once vast and treasured collection have gone to those who will appreciate them as much as Thrawn himself ever did.

He'd like to seek Thrawn's opinions on everything that has transpired since Bilbringi, would like to see himself and his accomplishments reflected in those strange, still haunting eyes, and discover if he has measured up against the only mark that has ever really mattered to him.

Beyond the loss of family and the friends of his youth, beyond even the loss of Thrawn, are the deepest wounds of all, the half healed but never healing scars.

Caren. His last and dearest love. To see her one more time, to share the simple normalcy of a meal... Even a glance, a moment, a look... So many years, and the pain cuts like yesterday. Caren, dead these many years because he had loved her.

*Oh, Caren. You would hate me for this, for the presumption, for taking on what was no fault of mine... But I am sorry. Sorry because if I had been another man... you would not be gone...*

Mynar. Caren's son, his son, his pride and his joy and, his greatest hopes and his greatest fears... The redemption of a lifetime's mistakes, absolution for a million sins. So full of hopes and dreams and grand ambitions- the stars were no limit for Mynar Devis, he could have become anything...

And his father would have given all he had, for him to have drawn just one more breath.

To see his son again, if only long enough to say- that he had received that last message, and understood it. To say how much he had loved him... and how much he loved him still. To say all of the things that he never found the time for, or the words...

A lifetime of ghosts... And what he would not give to wake and find that he had dreamed every loss, every wound... What he would not give to wake for once without these scars, where each loss had taken with it a piece of him.