Authors notes: A huge thank you to Cariel for beta reading this for me!
This tale takes place in the same 'universe' as The Kiss and All that is unspoken.
The top button of his jacket was undone and his grip around the fluted glass was light. The lines on his face were barely visible now as a hint of a smile, not a smirk, was visible on his features. Even though it wasn't the first time she had seen him relaxed, she could tell that it was the first time in a very long time since he had allowed himself to unwind. It took too long for the guarded edge in his eyes to fade and for the muscles in his rigid soldiers stand to relax.
Maris wasn't certain why he wished to have a drink with her. She found it difficult to believe that the admiral's intentions were anything but simple, but at the same time, she couldn't ignore the flush of guilt she felt for having doubts. Though he would never openly speak of it, she could see in his crimson eyes that he knew what was on her mind. The tinge of disappointment and understanding would have been missed by most, but for Maris, it was hard to ignore. To her surprise, he didn't immediately put up his guard. The subtle hint of vulnerability remained in his crimson gaze, though the rest of his chiselled features revealed nothing.
The conversation continued without either needing to register the unspoken words exchanged in one another's gaze. Her eyes took in her surroundings with great care as she put it all to memory. There were messages here that were meant for her to see. Thrawn was not a man who did or said anything without putting full thought behind it. Maris knew she was invited here for a reason.
The seat she sat one was clearly a new addition, the soft scent of oiled leather smelled fresh. Maris didn't allow herself to wonder if she was the reason for this latest addition, for such thoughts were too arrogant to consider. A part of her still wistfully imagined that his need to accommodate guests was influenced by her arrival. The room itself was Spartan in design, but inviting in a strange sort of way. A variety of holographic pieces of artwork decorated the room. The pieces changed occasionally to reveal new paintings, drawings, and even sculptures. One piece, however, did not change. It stood alone, beautiful, haunting, and majestic, taunting her eyes with its mystery, while pleading for answers of questions she didn't know.
Maris sipped on her Veronian berry wine casually as she could use it to clear her thoughts of the emotions and thoughts the strange sculpture had encouraged. Crimson eyes demanded her attention and when she met his gaze, Maris knew he was aware of her distraction. It wasn't his awareness that startled her, rather the weight felt when she met his gaze. In that moment, he looked world-weary and tired as though he had been through much and seen even more. The elder pilot knew that the sculpture was responsible for it.
"What do you see?" he asked in soft tones.
Maris didn't need to ask what he meant. She returned her attentions to the sculpture. Gentle fingers touched the outline of the sculpture as it twisted and turned. Its beauty was only matched by its mystery. In many ways, it reminded Maris of the man who now stood behind her. The colours, like its form, slowly shifted and changed, taking on new forms. To the unobservant, it appeared as a wave, twisting and churning, an alien caught in a storm or crashing against the shore. To eyes that are more skilled, it was something else entirely. To Maris, it was a soul birthed in innocence, bright with inexperience and naivety. It was beautiful, but fragile in its form. The colours were vibrant and childlike in their hues. As it continued its growth, the colours became less vibrant yet more pronounced as it relentlessly altered its shape and form reflecting it experiences.
Maris thought of her own life and experiences. She thought of all the influences in her life, the people she looked up to and those who forced her to grow. It was ignorant to believe that the sculpture before her was a reflection of her life but it was hard not to see a part of her in it. It was even more difficult to deny the feeling that this sculpture also reflected in her compatriot.
"I see many things," she admitted finally, feeling hesitant to explain herself further. Maris imagined he already knew what was on her mind. They always had a way of saying so much to one another without ever uttering a word.
His silence was expected as was the intensity found in his gaze. Maris knew that he was curious to hear her thoughts. She also knew that Mitth'raw'nuruodo wouldn't ask her to explain herself further. He respected her too much to pry. Maris also knew better than to cross that line, so her silent gaze asked the question for her.
This time, when their eyes met, the admiral briefly glanced away. It was a first for him, a simple gesture, but one that held the weight of so much.
"It is a reminder of my greatest failure."
To anyone else his voice would have sounded wistful. For Maris, it was hard to miss the subtle undertone of regret.
The admiral's crimson gaze fell to the shift creation that now stood between them. The sculpture continued to twist and turn its colours growing more vibrant once more marking that it was beginning its journey anew.
"I've spent years attempting to interpret this sculpture. Only now am I beginning to comprehend how this piece reflects the mindset of its creators." His crimson eyes met her gaze. The regret was unmistakeable, as was the hesitancy.
Her silence was meant to offer strength as well as respect.
"Once I believed I had its message deciphered. Unfortunately I was mistaken." His voice grew wistful and almost sad. "I've never encountered a race whose art didn't openly reflect their psyche until then."
She didn't need to ask what became of the race or even its world. The weight of his words revealed enough. Maris's eyes fell to the sculpture once more. This time she saw more than just a reflection of her own spirit in the strange sculpture, she saw Mitth'raw'nuruodo's too.
The colours of the sculpture shifted, as its form twisted and writhed taking on a new form. Through it she could almost envision his nobility; the subtle naivety and innocence that she imagined even he didn't know existed until it was lost. A part of her wondered when it happened; if it was a gradual erosion like hers or if the Empire robbed it from him. Or if in reality, it was freely sacrificed.
Their eyes met and the questions that weighed on her mind and heart no longer mattered.
Maris had not been invited to his private quarters simply for reminiscing over the past and enjoying the nostalgia. Nor was she brought there as a subtle means of gaining intelligence. The sculpture had been the focus of this meeting all along. As he held her gaze, Maris finally understood why.
Mitth'raw'nuruodo knew she would comprehend what the strange sculpture represented and what it meant to him. He also knew that Maris would understand what he could no longer admit, even to himself. To the galaxy, he was a mastermind, an outcast, and an enigma. But after a lifetime of wearing masks, it was hard to know where it ended and the man began.
Yet through the statue, Maris was able to witness what she had always known: a man with flaws, hopes, and ideals. In turn, she too was able to share a part of herself that only he could understand. No longer did the sculpture just represent his great failure on the outer fringes. Nor would it haunt her with unspoken tales of its people's destruction. The sculpture had become something far greater than either could have imagined. It had become symbol of their sanctuary.