Disclaimer: Star Wars is not mine. The characters herein belong to Lucas, Zahn, and any others I missed.
Notes: This is my first slashfic. Comments much appreciated.

Stress Perception

He was always so calm, Pellaeon reflected. No matter what happened, no hints of emotion were displayed upon that impassive blue-skinned face. It was almost irritating. Imperial discipline was only supposed to go so far; this was taking it to extremes. Even his body language was decidedly uncommunicative. Those unsettling red eyes occasionally provided clues; no doubt a member of the Grand Admiral's own species would have known better how to interpret his demeanour.

The eyes in question were closed just now, as Thrawn's hands moved over a sculpture apparently designed by a species that preferred the tactile to the visual in their artwork. Blue hands, deft, competent, sure in their movements upon the smooth surface...Pellaeon looked away, determinedly focusing on a very interesting- no, not there either, that was Zeltron art and no way to set his mind at rest. The wall. The wall was so fascinating, clearly, in how blank it was.

"Fascinating..." The quiet voice jerked Pellaeon out of his efforts to clear his thoughts, and he stared at his commander in a brief moment of horror, wondering when the Chiss had suddenly become telepathic and decided to listen in on what Pellaeon was thinking. No, Thrawn's eyes were still closed, and he was apparently just delivering a verdict on the artwork, uncomfortable coincidence aside.

He was still touching it. He was investigating each curve and crevice of the sculpture, moving with precision, at times nodding slightly to himself as something was confirmed or denied inside his mind. Thrawn had been taking his time about this, as though reaching a final conclusion based on the piece would require a great deal of intense focus, being sure to cover every angle. And he was usually so fast with those judgements; was this one harder than usual? Pellaeon shifted uncomfortably, trying not to make any sounds, reciting calculations for hyperspace routes inside his head as though his life depended upon it.

"Very interesting...I would suspect that the creators are slow to respond to threats, needing to be sure that their tactics are both elegant and strategically perfect for the situation."

Captain Pellaeon didn't bother to ask how the Grand Admiral had worked that out. For one thing, he wasn't sure he'd understand the explanation. For another, he'd been disrespectful enough in his thoughts already, without vocalising anything that might be construed as disrespect. He contented himself with a "Yes, sir," and tried not to flinch or fidget when those glowing red eyes reopened and met his. Did the Chiss have any idea how disconcerting Humans found his eyes? He was perceptive, so it was almost certain that he did know. No doubt Thrawn was well aware of the fact, and prepared to take advantage of it if he thought it would help him, just like he took advantage of most other situations.

Pellaeon blinked, and when given permission to depart, saluted crisply and walked out, leaving the Grand Admiral to his musings amid the artwork of the dimly lit room. Once outside, the Captain relaxed slightly, for once barely minding the flat stare that Rukh gave him. The Noghri had been standing guard outside, as was usually the case. Normally Rukh made Pellaeon feel distinctly uncomfortable, but he'd been uncomfortable enough already, so his mental state would not allow him to think much about the little alien.

Why had he been thinking like that in there? His thoughts had been drifting in directions he didn't care to examine terribly closely, forcing him to haul them back onto safer ground with disturbing frequency. The Captain shook his head, and walked back to his own quarters. He needed a drink, preferably a strong one. Just the one, though. He had no intention of being unfit to do his duty when next called onto the bridge. At least the long hyperspace jump gave him a suitable portion of time in which his supervision was not required.

It was the length of the journey, he reflected an hour later, most of the way through the drink in his glass. The current situation ruled out the idea of taking leave on some planet. Pellaeon was experienced enough to know that men denied leave tended to become restless, doing or saying things that they would normally have avoided.

There was a buzz from outside his door. "Enter," he called, gathering his wits and preparing himself to deal with whatever matter apparently required his attention. He was not, however, prepared to see the Grand Admiral himself walking in. Startled, Gilad Pellaeon flinched. His reflexive tightening of his hand had shattered his glass. He stifled a cry of pain as the small remainder of alcohol reached the wounds, increasing the feeling to something akin to having had his hand set on fire.

Thrawn acted quickly, summoning a medical droid with some bacta. Soon, the Chiss was picking shards of glass out of his Captain's hand. It was a job any lowly infirmary worker could have done, but the Grand Admiral seemed intent upon doing it himself.

"Thankyou, sir," Pellaeon said, glancing somewhat shame-facedly at the pool of alcohol and glass fragments still upon his table. He felt compelled to explain- it had only been one drink, he had no intention of ever being drunk on duty, he would never do such a thing. "Sir, I-"

Thrawn shook his head, and Pellaeon's stomach sank. Was it too late to explain? Was he already in too much trouble?

"You have been under a great deal of stress. All of the men have. It is commendable that you have managed to maintain their discipline and morale this long. As I came here to inform you, I have selected a world of loyalist sympathies, where your men may take a short period of leave. I wish them to be in the best possible condition during this campaign, and if a brief halt in plans now ensures greater efficiency afterwards, I consider it to be time well spent," Thrawn explained.

Pellaeon stared, feeling a dizzying rush of relief and admiration. How many commanders would have reacted like this, he wondered. Certainly, it wouldn't be very many. Still, the sheer rarity was precisely what gave him the hope that the Grand Admiral was the sort of leader they needed so greatly in their current situation. Belatedly, he responded. "Yes, sir."

Another shake of the Grand Admiral's head, as the wounds on Pellaeon's palm were sprayed and sealed. "At a time like this, Gilad, it is merely Thrawn."

"A...time like this?" Stars, he could feel the heat in his face. It couldn't possibly escape notice. In that idle speculation that sometimes came in moments of totally chaotic uncertainty, he wondered if Chiss blushed, and what colour that turned them.

Thrawn looked somewhat amused. "Gilad, do you consider my reputation for perceptiveness to be justified?"

"Of course," Pellaeon responded uncertainly.

"Then perhaps you will realise that I am in fact capable of using it on people directly, not just in relation to their art. More specifically, on you. It was not difficult to piece the clues together." As Pellaeon flushed darker, Thrawn asked mildly, "Am I correct, Gilad?" He let his hand casually cover Pellaeon's.

Pellaeon nodded slowly, staring at the Grand Admiral with the wide eyes of an animal that believes itself cornered. This was what he'd wanted, he conceded to himself. He had refused to admit it, even in his own mind, until now, certain that his noted reputation with women whenever he did have suitable opportunities said all that needed to be said. Apparently, however, it did not.

He did not protest as they stood, or as he was drawn in closer for a kiss that was at first tentative, then returned with a boldness that surprised even himself. Pellaeon looked up at Thrawn, for the first time not feeling discomfort at the glowing red eyes meeting his. He hesitated for a moment, and was handed one of the containers from the medical tray and guided into the next room by Thrawn, who seemed to instinctively take charge of the situation.

Ten minutes later, they were using the liquid bacta in a manner that Pellaeon dazedly thought had to be classified as misuse of the ship's supplies. Oddly enough, he mused, one hand clenching lightly in Thrawn's blue-black hair, he did not care in the slightest about the misuse. They were superior officers, after all, Pellaeon told himself as a deft blue hand slid up his thigh, and no doubt they could privately authorise it, rendering it no longer a breaking of regulations. Shortly after that, he stopped thinking about the matter entirely, his attention diverted most thoroughly by the distractingly talented Grand Admiral.

Some time afterwards, upon recovering his capacity for coherent speech, Pellaeon mustered the courage to ask, "Why?"

"Your men will regain their morale upon leave. That is later. I need you focused now, not later. You certainly seem less stressed," Thrawn commented, directing a slightly indulgent smile at the man leaning on his chest.

"I...Focused?" Pellaeon sat up. "You're classifying this simply as stress relief?"

"Of course it is stress relief." Thrawn pulled Pellaeon closer, adding in a murmur, "But why should that rule out any other classification?"

Gilad Pellaeon, curled up with the Chiss, was not inclined to argue. Thrawn could classify this in as many ways as he liked, Pellaeon concluded, closing his eyes slowly.