A/N: This is my first Star Wars story. Please be kind. ::looks hopeful:: This is an AU story wherein Grand Admiral Thrawn returns to take over the Empire a year after the death of the Emperor at Endor. Thanks in advance for reading. :D

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars. That is owned by people with more lawyers than I have hairs on my head. Please don't sue. This is purely for fun.


PART 1: THE END

Thrawn.

It was a name I'd hoped I'd never hear again, and a name that I whispered only in the darker places of my soul. He was the reason that I'd survived at the Imperial courts, though I would never let him know that. Most of my heart knew he wouldn't care, that the life of one insignificant courtesan was beneath his notice. But a small part of me, the part that woke me in cold sweats from dreams not exactly unpleasant, quaked with the thought that he would care. He would care very, very much, and that was the kind of caring that would draw me back into the Imperial net of war and destruction.

I slid down the wall of my prison cell on board the Star Destroyer Storm's End and tried not to think about where it was going. The vibrations through the deck were stronger than they should have been, letting me know that we were heading somewhere important, and moving at a speed just shy of too fast for the ship to handle. Briefly I hoped that we'd simply break apart, that the stresses of hyperspace would shake the very bolts out of the hull. It was a better death that the one that awaited me, and I would die with my secrets intact.

My cuffed hands left me little hope, my arms wrapping around my knees as I drew them to my chest. I was going to die here, I mused. Here, in this cell. It was a small comfort, that bit of knowledge. I would be dead before I reached Grand Admiral Thrawn's side, before his information droids got to do their worst. I would be dead before those glowing eyes reached out for mine, and I saw the spark of recognition in their endless scarlet depths. Of course he would remember me, remember the events on this very ship wherein we met for the first time, and he inadvertently saved my life.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing my body to stillness. The beat of my heart filled my ears, the steady, even beating flowing for three movements, then stopping abruptly. I swallowed a gasp, sweat breaking out all over my body as my blood ceased to flow. And then as quickly, my pulse raced back into being before steadying out once again. My head leaned back against the plasteel walls, my eyes closed. No, it wouldn't be long now. I would die sooner than I expected, and Calrissian's secrets would die with me.

Not that I had many of them, anyway. I knew better than to associate with anyone for too long. It was better that I kept moving, kept a distance between me and anyone I didn't want to see hurt. There were too many people who knew my face, who wanted the secrets locked up in my brain. Thrawn was one of them, now that he knew I was still alive. He had to know. Where else would a Star Destroyer head at such breakneck speed?

Or maybe he didn't know, and the Storm's End had another appointment to keep. It was doubtful that Captain Eddard remembered me enough to report me by name. He'd probably just informed the Grand Admiral that a rebel spy had been captured, and would be interrogated fully. Every Captain in the Imperial Fleet was hot to capture Rebel spies, it seemed. Only a year since the events of Endor, and Thrawn had come back to claim leadership, demanding the capture of all Rebel "sympathizers."

I remembered Eddard, though. Captain Joshua Eddard's face haunted my nightmares as much as Thrawn. He'd been the first lieutenant on this ship when I'd first stepped onto the bridge over twenty years ago. I'd been eleven, a dirty slip of a girl whose wrists were too small for the stormtrooper's manacles to restrain. The trooper had had to resort to strips of cloth to bind my hands, and the march onto the bridge had seemed like walking into vast cavern to me. I still remembered every smell, every face of every crewman that stopped to look on me with pity before turning back to their station.

And the sounds... I remember the sounds of his breathing, the heavy respirator sound that emanated from his black mask. He had stood with his back to me, looking at the stars, at the planet below. At my home. Lord Vader had turned, and I found myself trying to meld into the officer behind me. He hadn't said a thing to me, and he hadn't needed to. I was so scared, terrified by the behemoth man in black armor that had come to take me away from everything I knew.

I remember my heart jackhammering in my chest, terror making me forget how to breathe until my lungs burned for oxygen.

Just like they did now.

My eyes snapped open, my lips parted in a soundless cry. It was starting, I realized. I was dying. The irony wasn't lost on me, though. It was somehow fitting that I would die on the Storm's End, the place were I'd always said that Vader and Thrawn had murdered me when they took me from my home. I'd refused to tell the security team that captured me about my condition, about who I really was. I'd refused to tell them that without regular injections, the poison in my system would kill me. The poison was a reminder of my past, of what it had meant to defy the Emperor, but only Thrawn and two others would know that.

And none of them were here to recognize me, let alone know the right combination of drugs to stabilize me again. It was my secret to keep, and like all the other secrets I knew, I would take it to my grave.

My heart stopped beating, and I slumped to the floor, my entire body feeling as if it were dipped in acid. Soon now, it would be over. I would be dead, and I wouldn't have to worry about anything. And yet Fate wouldn't let me take comfort in those last few moments of life. The door to my cell opened, the interrogation team on duty rushing in, barking commands for med teams and the like. Gloved hands cradled me, trying to get my attention, to ask what it was that I somehow did to end my life. I wanted to laugh, to tell them that they were too late. Thrawn would be denied this last prize by the person who honored him most.

Darkness descended upon me, and I regretted that my last thoughts weren't going to be of Lando Calrissian, but of how my life truly began...