Disclaimer: I don't own SW.

Hey rabid readers, again I must apologise for the lack of haste in writing: Darth Real Life has taken over. My boyfriend has now become my fiancée, and my university and working life really have grown out of control, and Inertia has been pushed to the back burner. What was going to be a comprehensive three-part series will be a little shorter now: I no longer have the time to deliver a long epic of quality. I will, however, complete the tale of Dania, Thrawn, Illyana and the mysterious Thorn.

Enjoy!

Chapter 15 : Beginning of the End

"Supreme Commander…there are things we need to discuss."

This was it. Pellaeon, after much soul searching, had decided to go ahead and speak to Illyana. The relationship he had had with Dania had been something he had never divulged to anyone: but for the sake of Illyana, and for his conscience, he had made the decision to take the child to one side and explain everything he knew about Dania, Thrawn, and his relationship with them both.

Illyana turned on her heel before him, those deep red eyes wide and gleaming in the dark light of the Command Centre, before nodding and indicating for him to enter the room before her. He did so, wondering if he was breaking etiquette for not allowing the lady to enter first.

"What is it you wish to speak about, Pellaeon?" She asked, speaking clearly and concisely, uncertain as to what Pellaeon was referring to: her mind was not as clear as it ought to have been, focused inwardly on the unsettling report in her hands, as opposed to the running of an Empire.

"Gilad, please, Illyana: it is a personal matter. Regarding your mother and father…" He sighed, subconsciously waiting for her permission to relax. There was nowhere on the whole of the Chimaera that would have made him feel even remotely comfortable in her presence with the present discussion. But it had to be said: he would not skirt the issue any longer. "I was not entirely truthful when I told you I did not know anything of their relationship."

"Dania was…at best, uncomfortable with the constant space travel. And at worst, she was staring blankly at a wall, ranting and raving, unable to contain herself anymore. Coupled with the fact that both she and the Grand Admiral were both under immense strain as the rulers of a stagnating Empire…Their relationship was not in the best shape." Pellaeon sighed and continued. "You were only a baby at the time, but I remember finding her, hours after an argument…"

XXX

"…Its my child, and its not only Chiss, she is also half-human." Dania's face was going red with anger as she shouted back at Thrawn. He, in contrast, remained calm. "And I'm not having her sent back to some godforsaken planet in the middle of nowhere!"

It was their quarters, though it was far from the tidy rooms normally inhabited by the two of them: there was the upheaval that a new child inevitably brings with it. All of it added to the confusion of the scene, as Pellaeon described it.

"I'm not arguing with you, Dania. Not about what is best for Illyana, and most certainly not when the child can hear us." He turned around to walk out, only for Dania to bring a clenched hand down, hard, upon his back.

"Don't you dare walk away from me!" She shrieked, rising her arm again. Thrawn grabbed her wrist, tightly, restraining her from lashing out again at him. His face, usually so impassive, was carved from rage.

"Now listen to me, Dania: I have little patience for your tantrums at the moment: attack me again and you will suffer the consequences!" His voice was little more than a whisper, but it was underpinned with malice. The mood in the room changed, and Dania sank to the floor, eyes downcast. Her wrist was released and Thrawn walked out the room.

Dania remained on her knees for a few moments before looking up, as if coming to some conclusion all of a sudden. Struggling to her feet, she went into the room where Illyana slept, before gathering the small child up in her arms. She made a small noise, and then slept on, surrounded by blankets.

She didn't quite know where she was heading, in her delirious fantasy, she just walked through the ship in a daze. She didn't even notice they were in the middle of a battle, which was probably one of the reasons she was not stopped.

XXX

"…We conducted a check of the ship, and I was soon summoned to the engineering section. She was sitting with her feet hanging over a balcony, a small bundle clenched tightly to her body." Pellaeon finished his tale, and waited, nervously for the response from the child before him.

"So…you're telling me that my parents were arguing a lot?" Her voice was normal, no shake in the timbre or uncertainty. Pellaeon inwardly let out a sigh and relaxed, realising this information was not as much as a shock to her as he had surmised.

"The truth of the matter is…from that moment I had something of an affinity with your mother. I have to confess that your mother and I had a relationship…for a number of years leading up to her death." There. He'd said it: he'd finally spoken aloud what he hadn't dared to ever speak. It felt as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, even if he did not yet know the reaction of the child before him.

"You've been concerned at my reaction to this?" Illyana seemed confused by how he had spoken: she really did have a lot to learn when it came to emotions and complications. He exhaled physically, the worry of the past decade, the fear of getting caught, and the reprisals of such a deed.

"You can understand why." He said airily, words released to show his instant relief.

"Pellaeon…my mother had to exist without my father, I do not blame you for anything…had you instigated an affair, it would have been a completely different matter." She said, speaking outside of her shock. She too exhaled, and handed him a datapad. "Now, I have something that might be of interest to you….The Chiss Ascendancy are attempting to make contact."

XXX

"Dania…I have been posted far away from here." No sooner had Thrawn released his hold upon her body, than he looked her straight in the eyes, gazing deeply into their blue depths, drinking it in for maybe one of the last times. She looked deeply back into his eyes, searching for something hidden in them, something he was hiding from her.

"You've been planning this….haven't you?"

After being dismissed from the Emperor's presence, they had much to speak about after their illicit meeting, the secret plan Thrawn seemed to have been planning for many years finally approaching its beginning. Even now, he was careful about entering her apartments, still playing the role of her protector and confidante: and uncertain whether to share with her what he had kept so close to him for so long. In the end, he had decided to tell her.

Dania was privy to secrets every day, it was part of the mask she held before her that made her seem so trustworthy. And yet this secret would hurt her more than any she had heard in a long time. The Grand Admiral who had protected her would be leaving Imperial Centre, and in so doing, leaving her.

She did not realise what a big part of her life the Grand Admiral was. Dania realised that she had essentially signed her own political suicide, along with Thrawn. When Parck and Thrawn would be reassigned, Dania would be at Imperial Centre, in the den of the lions, to face their fury for the alien and his allies.

Thrawn studied her as she agonisingly mused; since her new position had been granted, Dania had seemed to bloom in health, a glow he'd never seen before Palpatine's proclamation. Her face was no longer so thin, her eyes aglow without the heavy makeup weighing her eyelids down. No longer walking in small measured steps, her stride matched his, and she walked with purpose.

Proud, confident, and yet still retaining the purity of thought and the expressiveness that had drawn him to her originally. So very rare and precious in the Empire, Dania was still unique. She deserved to remain inside civilised company, not with him travelling the unsafe Unknown Regions, even if he would have to forsake her company.

With this consideration came a feeling he had not experienced for a long time, and it baffled him. He wondered why he felt disappointed; surely, after the suppression she had existed under for years, her ability to walk tall amongst the elite should make him some small degree of pride? however, instead of the hidden pride he had always felt at Dania's achievements, he felt numb.

"It seems your plans have finally come full circle, Grand Admiral. After all your sacrifices, I suppose you can finally return to wherever it is you came from." She spoke without accusation, stating a fact that was crystal clear, something she wished she had picked up on sooner…

Her use of his official title, despite their privacy, added to his oppressed feeling, though he didn't understand why. Perhaps it was the unintentional irony in her words; yes, he was getting what he always wanted, just not in the manner he had originally intended, or at the time he wanted. After over a decade of cultivating people's loyalties to him, after gaining their respect and, in some cases, friendship, he had to leave it all behind to return to the uncivilised world, sacrificing what had turned from a curse to a blessing.

Sacrificing Dania to the mercy of Court… No amount of manipulation or money he could offer anyone in Court would be substantial enough to protect her, not with the leading figures at present. Though she hadn't the intelligence he tended to appreciate in a woman, she had been honest, beatifically so, with her emotions. Despite all the abuse, all the nastiness, she had survived, unchanged, without succumbing to the bitterness that seemed to rot the Court from within, like a cancer.

And now he was no longer able to protect it; he could no longer protect her. He had failed.

"Not all my plans." He replied, dispassionately. She decided to probe further.

"What more can you have left? You are going out, in the name of the Emperor, to restore order. You, an alien in an Empire of humanity, ascended to their highest rank." She spoke with what was intended to be admiration, but resembled a more mocking tone. Immediately, she regretted speaking. "I'm sorry; I never meant it to sound like that." No words could undo what had been spoken without thought.

"It is of no consequence. I can never have what I want, not here and now." He spoke with a resigned tone; he never seemed to exhibit self pity or regret at his actions, and so this admittance was significant, even in its simplicity. Clearly, he was ending the conversation.

She sighed. This was likely to be the last night they spent as friends, and she couldn't even bring herself to meet his gaze. After all his assurances, his confidence in her was a pointless exercise. She never should have taken the position of head of the House of Dolls: she was no great ally, to anyone, least of all Thrawn. She would be nothing without him.

"Dania…you realise after tomorrow night, you will have to ally yourself with others? Stay between Ysanne Isard and Tigellinus; placate them both. They have influence and power, and if you can achieve a safe balancing act, you will survive Court. As enemies, do not pledge yourself to either, unless you have something to offer the other to counterbalance it."

"Thank you." Her response was as hollow as she felt; she trusted no one at court, save Thrawn, and she had to argue with him tomorrow, leave herself vulnerable to those who would destroy her… She cursed her selfish nature; he was telling her so she would be able to protect herself, he was trying to help her…he was being selfless, as he always seemed to be, and she was cringing over her own loneliness.

"Dania, what is wrong?" his simple request made her flare up; she raised her head, and met those eyes, bright red illuminating the dim corridor. Time had no longer had meaning. She was burning up under his gaze, suffering, and yet…she didn't want it to end. At the door to her apartment, they would part ways as friends. It would be their end. She would never see him again.

"Why do you ask?" She accused, appealing to those merciless eyes, scorching her with their observation, their private judgement. His approval had always been something she had wanted, but if they would never meet again…she would sacrifice his respect if it gave her a few moments more with him. This humiliation, desecrating his final memories of her character, did not scare her any more. Carefully stepping onto the corridor, they began their final walk, as friends and allies.

"Your feelings are important to me; I've told you before." Thrawn answered in a soft tone. She broke the gaze, and walked away from him, five steps separate, trying to think how to best word how she felt, how she could describe it to him without sounding like a child.

"Tell me, Thrawn, how do you always take everything so calmly?" Her voice was high, as if she trying to hold back tears. Her head was bent; hair tumbling over her shoulders. Merely two metres away and she felt as separate from him as if the galaxy was between them already. She turned back, feeling stronger. "And why is it I cannot be that strong?"

"It is not anything to do with strength, Dania. And you are mistaken if you think I am unshakeable." He spoke simply, emotion free of his voice. He moved towards her, and placed a hand upon her shoulder. At first she resisted his puppetry, and then allowed him to raise her gaze to his.

"But you don't seem to fear anything" Her voice whispered. He felt another twinge of emotion, and bit his tongue. Was her sensitivity catching? He hadn't had feelings bother him this severely since those first weeks alone in exile. She looked at his hand on her shoulder, the gentle coolness of his skin on hers pleasant, and sighed. "It doesn't matter; you have far more important things to worry about."

She smiled vaguely, hoping to end the conversation without any further confessions on her part. She recalled the warning she had been given about Thrawn, about admitting too much…Even if she did trust him, letting him on her most inner workings was not something she wanted. Dania did not like to think she was predictable.

"Dania…Is that what you think of me? That I don't care about you? Whatever have I done to earn such low consideration?" He bowed his head a little, the gaze no longer so unfairly tipped in his direction. One of his hands touched the hair bunched up on her shoulder, a single blue finger stroking inky black locks. Upon occasion, he allowed himself to touch her hair; he thought she wasn't aware of the stolen caresses, inconspicuously carried out when she least expected it…It was comforting, that he was unashamed to do it now.

"I've never seen your emotions. You never tell anyone your feelings; I assumed you didn't have them. That seemed easier to accept." She admitted, lips barely moving in the twilight of the corridor. She barely acknowledged anything, her surroundings having fallen completely away, only Thrawn and herself wrapped in a bubble of conversation.

"I may never express them…but did it not occur to you I do not know how?" His eyes seemed to widen a little; if it had been a human who had been looking at her, she would have considered it a motion of pleading, as if begging her to understand so he would not have to explain. But this was the Grand Admiral Thrawn; he would never beg for anything. He was stronger than that; he was unafraid of anything.

"What do you mean?" She had to ask, she could not understand what he was trying to convey. A sigh followed her statement, and briefly he closed his eyes, as if in preparation. She waited patiently.

"Whatever you may think, Dania, however much you argue against it, I am an alien; no matter how hard I strive to prove otherwise to this Empire; I will always be known for my less than acceptable background." She heard him sigh gently again, the noise barely distinguishable from a breath. "I have always been expected to act a certain way around others; the entirety of my species follows this trend of emotional isolation. As I came here, I found it preferable to remain true to this behaviour. As most of your species would rather I stay isolated from them, I find solitude easier to bear this way."

"But you're not alone, Thrawn, you've never been alone."

"I am alone, Dania." He waived her words away. "I bear the shame of pre-emptive murder, the most heinous of crimes in the eyes of my people; I have betrayed everything my people stand for. I have left Csilla in shame, unable to see my origins again, my family, I have sided with an inferior alien race against my people, using their own skills against them, and I have feelings for a member of an alien race. Can you still tell me I am not alone, Dania?"

"You have Captain Parck, and you have me. You have the respect of the Navy." She pleaded with him; it was painful, this side of him, this emotionally exposed, naïve side of him. Her illusions of the unbreakable Grand Admiral shattered, falling to the floor in a million tiny pieces. No longer stroking her hair, his hand touched her shoulder, skin cooler than her own. He still looked troubled; she looked at him, and removed his hand, taking it to her cheek and rested it against the soft cyan palm. She felt exhilarated, and totally breathless. She'd admitted what she'd always denied, what she'd always felt and what she never wanted the alien to know. Fears now realised to be pointless; she was contented to stand there all night.

"Dania, how I wish I saw as you do…so trusting, and so unaware…" His hand left her face to carefully undo the clasp keeping the soft curls together, hand threading its way through to cup the back of her head. Before he pulled her, she leaned forward, pressing a tentative kiss to his lips, inexperience obvious. Welcoming her, he bought his arms around her slim form, soft fingers pressing into his shoulders. She felt so small and delicate now, like this. It deepened, and she felt his tongue on hers, hands holding her lithe form tightly to his tight body.

She had never noticed any strength in him before today, and she found the prospect excited her. Now she had finally admitted to herself, and to Thrawn himself, the floodgates had opened her to so much more than she had ever expected. She moaned hungrily into his mouth, feeling his body twitch, and began to fondle with the fastenings on his jacket…

Then they'd broken apart, and she found herself alone again; a galaxy between them once more. Dania reached to touch him again, but he knocked her hands aside with a swift movement.

"I wish I could see things like you do; but it'll get us both killed…I'm so sorry." They fell apart, Dania's wits returned to her as Thrawn backed away, but she was determined not to lose him. His not-so specific expression of his feelings was the closest thing she would ever hear to 'I love you', from anyone. And after so long, living in denial, she no longer cared.

"No, don't leave me. Please…"

XXX

It was the night of the ball, almost a year after Dania's initial debut: and again she stood waiting, dressed in her renewed finery, as head of the House of Dolls. Very little had changed during the last year, women had come and gone from their halls, most notably Roganda, and a number of her stooges. It was now up to her to be the first Courtesan to Palpatine, to appear at his side and to speak on behalf of the Geisha. She was waiting for his summons to accompany him, the herald that would bring about the ending of her life as a free woman and as a virgin.

She watched the young women milling around her, as if separated completely from them. She silently wondered who had won her virginity, who would be taking her home tonight: her mood was distinctly black, the impending futility of her situation weighing down upon her like a storm cloud. There was no way that evening could be happily ended.

She wore red: as befitting her status: whore, loose woman, working girl….the colour whispered of passion and untold secrets, but also of blood and stubbornness, the colour of a sacrifical animal. Dania wondered if this would always be her lot in life, to surrender her own happiness for everyone else around her. Thrawn had, just under a week ago, walked away from her and what she had offered freely. Dania would never forgive him, or herself, for that night.

Dania had decided what she needed to do: she would not allow another woman's unhappiness in the House of Dolls. She could never undo the damage done to her and others, like Roganda: but she could prevent further misery. And she would.

She had nothing left to lose.

XXX