“So - what’s your plan, then?”
Arla’s voice floated down from the cockpit, sounding content, normal, easy going. Fett’s mouth quirked, thinking how very quickly she could snap from one thing to another, without any apparent disturbance. He smiled, too, at the question.
“Plan?” he called up to her, and clipped on the last of his weaponry; that done, he headed back up to join her, settling in the co-pilot’s seat. “What plan do you mean exactly? If you mean the plan on how to get onto that Star Destroyer and defeat - ah - persuade the Grand Admiral to stop attacking that over-stuffed and pompous planetoid, well -”
“You haven’t got one.” Her statement was crisp, and her tone, slightly irritated. Her hands gripped the controls even tighter, so the knuckles showed white under skin. She risked a glance at him, her expression more ironic than he would have expected from her stance. “Don’t you think it might have been a good idea to have one? Maybe being here with the New Republic is bad for your soul - maybe you could just dress up as a stormtrooper, and take me as a hostage, huh?
“What? That would be stupid.”
“Never mind, I just thought that maybe Han and Luke’s slap-dash methods may have rubbed off a little.” She shrugged. “I mean, you didn’t have to volunteer like that - I just thought you might have -” she saw his expression then, and shrugged again. “Oh, never mind. Don’t get cross with me.”
Fett rubbed the back of his neck, fingers brushing uncomfortably over the dormant receptors for his helmet jack. He felt a pang that was not quite longing, but was something damn close, for the comfortable, protective helmet and armour he had worn so long. The civilian clothes he was wearing had been fine when he had put them on, but seemed tight and constrictive now. He cursed his vanity at letting Arla’s choice for the close fitting jacket and trousers - and his own pride at seeing himself in them - sway him away from something more practicable. He shifted in his seat, and tugged at the jacket again, in the vain hope it would sit better. He sighed.
“Are you cross with me?” came a small voice from across the cockpit; he turned, and Arla fixed him with a big-eyed gaze. She bit her lip as he studied her, and said, “you were so silent -”
Fett almost laughed, then reached out and stroked a stray ringlet from her face.
“A few months ago a word from me would have been disturbing, now is the opposite true, hmm?”
Arla did laugh, but it was a sound without humour.
“Perhaps there are other things we should be discussing,” she said, nodding towards the now visible Ruiner, although her right hand left the controls for a moment and caught his left in a brief but tight grip, before it retreated back again.
“Do you have a plan, then?” he asked.
“Not really, but what I think we should do is this . . .”
Crawling up an air-duct was not, Fett was discovering, the most comfortable way of manoeuvring oneself around a Star Destroyer. The design, he decided, was very stupid - particularly as it did not take into account that there might be people wanting to climb up them - as they were practically vertical, and not blessed with many handholds. If he had been an inexperienced climber, he would have been dead at the bottom of the shaft long ago. However, Fett had spent most of his life clambering around in awkward, ill-ventilated - and often smelly and damp, which was in this vent’s favour - and small places; it came with the territory.
Silently, he cursed Arla, whose idea this all had been; which was all very well, but she was snug in Vert III, while he risked life and limb creeping about in the Ruiner’s air-conditioning system.
And you’ve no-one to blame but yourself, he chided himself, carefully hauling himself onto a ledge, and pausing for a moment to study the blue-holos Arla had given him of this class of Star Destroyer. He activated the devices and a little skeletal ghost of a Star Destroyer sprang up on the pad. He plotted his progress up the ship - using lifts on the unpopulated lower maintenance levels, for speed, then ducking into the bowels of the ship and climbing, taking droid hoists and generally getting very dusty. The thought of all that dust made his nose wrinkle, but he caught the feeling quickly enough and subdued it. Not that anyone would here him sneeze, but he didn’t want to take any chances. He sighed, and leaned his head against the cool metal beside him; if only he had not been so proud, if only he had not wanted to show off - he admitted to himself - to Han in that stupid trial. I am an idiot, he thought, levering himself to his feet and flipping into another driod hoist, and if I don’t get a move on I’m going to be a dead idiot.
As he sat on the hoist he thought about Arla, and he let his head fall into his hands, praying almost, that the words they had last shared would not be the last they ever did.
He had never felt so vulnerable in his whole adult life, but he knew that the only big advantage he had over Thrawn was surprise - there was no point in counting on the Force, as he knew Thrawn and suspected there was much more to him than met the eye. To have risen so far, considering what he was, in the face of the Emperor’s prejudice must mean something, and Fett suspected that he was going to find out very soon. They had relied on the Force to get them onto the ship, but he was not going to rely on it now, oh no. He wrenched his mind back to his lover, thinking that her image would calm him, but his mind kept whizzing back to his task.
Getting on the ship had been surprisingly easy, thanks to Arla. Her bright idea had been to use the Force to trick the fleet into thinking they were a lowly TIE fighter that had strayed from the formation. Fett had not thought this to be a startlingly wise idea, but they had sat back and spread their little web of deception for a good few minutes before Arla had decided to test out their fiction.
“You can’t be serious!” he had cried at her suggestion.
She had laughed, and opened up a general comm-link, saying, “of course I’m serious.” and she sat back and waited. It did not take long before the bait was taken, and a crackly voice came fuzzily across the link.
“Unit 237 - why have you left formation? Respond.”
Arla shot him an I told you so look, and answered, “Unit 237 responding. Sir, I have a servo malfunction, can’t manoeuvre properly. Returning to base for repair.”
“And you haven’t cleared it?” A sigh was heard, then the tapping of buttons. “Very well; you are cleared to land. Be more careful next time. Out.”
He had boggled at her, even as he held the illusion in his mind, not daring to waver for one moment lest it should bring the fleet down on them as they had so conveniently drawn attention to themselves. Arla grinned at him, and flipped the comm-link shut.
“Easy-peasy,” she said, with a certain smug tone in her voice.
Fett let his breath out slowly.
“You certainly like to take risks, don’t you?” he observed, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
“Hah! No more than you - at least we are not just marching onto the thing with some old code and you are not going to be confronting any officers, that’s for damn sure!”
He had just stared at her for a moment, then had managed, “oh. So what am I going to do, then?”
And that had been his first mistake, he reflected, a half-smile touching his lips, as he shifted to get more comfortable on the cold, hard, ridged metal that the hoist platform was made of.
They had glided into the docking bay without anyone suspecting anything, and he had slipped out and had removed himself from the area before he could be seen by any troopers. His smile moved up a few notches into a grin, thinking that pretty much any plan would work when there were stormtroopers concerned. He leant his head back and thought of Arla, hoping that she had got out as easily as she had got in, as he would not be going anywhere if she was still on the ship. He thought into the air, I love you, hoping that she would hear him, wherever she was. There was no response, and the hoist jolted to a halt, breaking any reverie he might still have been indulging in.
He read the level number and checked his chart, then smiled. Only one more to go, and he would be there.
After arriving at the level he wanted, and running a quick mental scan on the corridor he wanted, Fett eased open the service hatch, designed for droids smaller than himself and wriggled out to fall in a heap onto the floor. His hands scraped along the thin carpeting, and he winced.
“Right,” he muttered under his breath, and glanced about. He could not stand in this exposed position for long, he realised, but still, he took a few moments to get his bearings. In truth, he had spent very little time on Star Destroyers, and he did not have such a good innate grip of his spatial environment as Arla. The tricks inside the helmet had helped on that one, but now he was alone. A wave of - something, fear almost, but not quite that strong, flooded over him, and he felt naked, less than he had been, though rationally he knew the opposite was true. He rubbed his forehead, then moved his hand over his face, which only served to reinforce the feeling of complete exposure. He took a deep breath, now is not the time, he thought, and it was almost as if he could hear Arla crying out - Move, idiot! - although he knew she could not be aware of what he was doing. Unless . . He shook his head, feeling stupid and began to walk smartly down the corridor, passing only three doors before ducking into a room.
He grinned to himself as he leant on the smooth metal of the basin. Not the first place any one would look for a stowaway hunter - an Imperial loo, he thought, knowing was only a matter of time before the security camera checking droids reported his presence on this level. He’d be long gone by then, though. He brushed down his dusty clothes, and combed his hair of it, too. After all, he was out to make an impression, and he wanted to make sure he gave Thrawn no advantage, not even in the neatness stakes. He gave his suit one last tug, and grimaced into the mirror; time to do it, he thought, and left the room.
Keeping his presence as tightly veiled as possible he made his way along the corridor, padding quickly up the gentle incline that led him to the level which would hold Thrawn’s offices - and, he prayed, Thrawn.
A group of pilots ran past him without seeing he was there, but they were hurrying, and from their thoughts he could tell they were utterly fixated on reaching their destination; he simply encouraged this a little further in their minds. Easy. Two officers, walking in the opposite direction, seemed not to see him as they walked quickly by, following the route the running pilots had taken. They were so deep in discussion that they might not have seen him anyway, but he caught one trying to glance in his direction and almost panicked; he clamped it down in time and gently persuaded the man’s mind that he had never wanted to look on that side of the corridor, there was nothing there.
The man frowned, then blinked.
“What’s up?” his companion, a dull faced younger officer, asked him.
“Nothing.” He blinked again. “I don’t know - I thought I saw, oh never mind. The battle must be getting to me. Jumping at every bloody corner, stupid.”
Dull face flicked a curious gaze about, and Fett fought the desire to run, or plaster himself against the wall. Instead he simply stood, letting the boy not see.
“Yeah,” he said, nervously, “I guess. Makes you wonder -”
“Shh - not here.” snapped the older man, suddenly alert. The presence he had felt forgotten, he caught the young man’s elbow and steered him down the corridor. Fett let his breath leak out in relief. Close, he thought, but it works, it really works - now, only the guards to go and then, well, we’ll see.
The guards were tackled differently. Fett let himself relax when he saw them, let a half smile fall on his face, and sauntered up to them. The leader of the guards sprang into life when he saw him in such a way that Fett suspected that he had been dozing a little - either that or he had come out of his not see routine too abruptly and the man had seen him step out of thin air. He dismissed the latter thought instantly and ignored the man’s movements as if they were the most banal thing he had ever seen.
“Halt!” cried the guard, though to Fett his voice sounded uncertain, “Who goes here?”
Fett smiled, and looked away from the man’s face, to the next guard - barely more than a boy, this one - and said in a soft, dangerous voice, “you don’t need to question me.”
He turned back to the superior officer.
Wide eyed, the boy turned to his superior, his stomach fluttering nervously. How could his commander be so stupid, he thought, but did he dare say anything? He took a deep breath, and said, “Sir?”
Superior wrenched his eyes away from the yellow gaze, and blinked a little.
“Yes, Hawkin?” he snapped.
Hawkin swallowed, but took the plunge.
“We don’t need to question him.” he said.
“You’ve seen me before.” prompted Fett, smiling still. This, he thought, is more fun than just putting words into people minds, but I mustn’t get too involved. This is not what I came for, however fun.
Superior glared at Hawkin, but Hawkin said, in an agony of diffidence and righteousness, “we’ve seen him before.”
“You should let me pass, the Grand Admiral will need to see me.”
“We should let him pass, the Grand Admiral will need to see him.”
Superior shook his head a little, as if trying to rid himself of something.
“Yes,” he said, slowly, “of course. You may pass, sir. Should I alert the Grand Admiral of your presence?” a stock phrase, uncomfortable on the burly guards tongue.
Fett’s smile widened.
“No, he should know I’m coming.” Half true, that one, he thought, with a twinge of disquiet, knowing that Thrawn might be sitting waiting for him on the other side of that door, with a dozen troopers as he felt no presence at all from the man’s offices. He pushed his apprehension down as the nearest guard, one he had rendered silent, opened the door for him.
The impersonal grey, chamber greeted him as he stepped inside, with it’s rows of seats on either side of the doors. The actual door into Thrawn’s chamber was securely shut, and the only way to open it that he could see was the comm system, which he was not inclined to use.
“Shit,” he muttered, glancing back at the now shut door that led into the ship again. He still couldn’t feel Thrawn on the other side of the door, and he felt that tingle of panic wash over him again, what if it’s a trap? What if they’ve known I’m on here, and have just watched me make my way here? I’m cornered here, he realised, with a chill, the only way I can get out is by fighting my way out, and I really don’t want to have to do that - because against the whole crew of a Star Destroyer, I’d lose. Ah well.
He stared at the door to Thrawn’s office, then nodded once. Flipping his lightsaber into his hand, he began to smile again.
Thrawn stood, his hands clasped loosely behind his back, watching the view screens in front of him. His easy stance belied his true feelings as the battle was played in front of his eyes, as small and distant as any holo-movie he had seen. When the first Star Destroyer went up he did not even wince, but calmly turned his attention to it’s sister ship, the Ravager, and to the ground assaults. He smiled slightly as the buildings fell at the laser blasts from the AT-ATs and as they were crunched under the treads of the giant tanks.
Every so often, a link would flare up, and he would calmly answer the request and monitor the progress of his orders in the battle’s heat. He was alone in the room, so it was not surprising that he should jump when the first small hiss began behind him.
Thrawn wheeled around and stared at his door as the sparks flew and something screamed against the metal, ripping it apart in front of his eyes. However, he did not wince away from the flying flecks of hot metal as they dance in front of him, nor did he flinch at the grating shriek of the weapon as it sawed swiftly through his door. Instead, he watched impassive as the assault continued, until an oval of metal clanked and fell into the room. He watched it fall, then snapped his head up to look at what was behind it. Then a glimmer of surprise did cross his features, or, perhaps not quite surprise, but a flash of confusion, as if he had expected something - or someone - entirely different. The two held each other’s gaze for one long moment, then Boba Fett de-activated his lightsaber and stepped into the room.
He said nothing though, but watched the reactions of his old friend’s face with interest, careful to let nothing show on his own face. He could see that Thrawn wanted to ask him who he was, but was refusing to speak first, lest he should be put at a disadvantage, but he was damned if he was going to give the man the satisfaction of recognising his distinctive voice. Finally Thrawn spoke.
“Well, young man, that was quite an entrance. I will allow you to tell me why before I summon my guards to take you away.”
In spite of himself, Fett found himself grinning, and he gave up any pretence of disguising himself, and said, “nothing changes, Thrawn, I see. One day your curiosity will kill you.”
That got a reaction; just for one moment Thrawn’s jaw dropped and he stared at Fett. Then he began to laugh, and shook his head.
“I never thought,” he said, “that I would see this day, Boba Fett. You have surprised me.” Then all the lightness went out of his voice and he said, “I am also surprised that you have dared to come onto my ship after your actions yesterday. I would not have expected such foolishness of you.”
Good Lord, thought Fett, he actually still thinks I’m on his side, despite it all. Unbelievable. Instead of saying that, however, he planted an ironic, slightly apologetic smile on his face.
“There was unfinished business to be completed.” he said.
Thrawn nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I always knew there was more to you than others gave you credit for, and seeing your face lets me know that I was correct.”
He turned his attention back to the view screens and answered a number of requests. He watched the battle for a few moments more, then turned back to Fett. Thrawn nodded, as if settling something important inside. He sat down at his desk, and gestured that Fett should sit as well.
He did so, saying, “right, before we get down to business I have a few questions. Firstly, why did you send a bounty hunter after me?”
Thrawn smiled, revealing sharper teeth than was normal. Fett remembered that smile, and was not unnerved. He knew that Thrawn, despite his seeming hatred for his alien status, revelled in his difference from the blond, blue eyed Imperial dream; he suspected that Thrawn sharpened his teeth for effect. But, he must not allow himself to be distracted, as Thrawn wanted. And he was speaking.
“I knew that it would get your attention. It seems I was right.” It seemed he was genuinely amused.
“You must have known he would die - still, never mind about that. He was an idiot - ”
“To think he could capture you?”
Fett grinned himself at that.
“Hah - no, just generally. But Arla - she is a good hunter, better than good; she did not need to die.”
Thrawn nodded. “As she proved. But, you have changed, I see. You never asked questions before, never did anything unnecessary - and you cannot deny that your entrance was just that - and you never loved. And now you carry a lightsaber. It is not hard to guess the cause of all this - you were, I think, always more tied to Vader than to me, and his children obviously hold an attraction for you.
Boba Fett, there is no “Force”, no great protective energy in all things. It was Vader’s downfall, his foolish mysticism and his use of his powers as a crutch on which he - and Palpatine leant over much. Boba Fett, you have been with the Skywalker child, and his sister, you have abandoned your armour - though, I think, not your mask - and you have been observed with the Gen woman, can you say that you have not been touched.” He paused and leant forward on his desk to look at Fett closer. “Did you come to kill me, Boba Fett.”
Without letting anything show on his face, Fett leant forward as well, and said in a low voice, “you should be so lucky.” He paused for a beat, then continued, “no, Thrawn, I am not interested in your ideas about my personality, and I still have one more question. Why are you destroying Coruscant?”
Again Thrawn laughed, and got up to study the view screens showing the planet’s surface again. Fett took the opportunity of his turned back to flex his shoulder muscles, which had all bunched up in the conversation, and tried to rub the ache away from his neck without much success.
“Ah, Coruscant,” said Thrawn, watching as a tall tower was obliterated in a mass of blast cannon fire, taking with it several dozen little, but heavily armoured, cloud cars. He was smiling as he turned back from the vision. In another screen, the Ravager and it’s array of TIE ships was seen to be making good progress against the republican assault, and other further the distance seemed to be faring just as well.
It was the destruction of the city that held Fett; in the distance of one of the screens he could see that even the fabled mountain range that ran through the middle of the city had not escaped the damage - great scars could be seen in the rock faces where the TIE bombers had perhaps missed their targets, perhaps not. He got up from the desk and came to stand next to Thrawn.
“Coruscant, the dream city, the jewel of the Empire - clichés all. Coruscant deserves to die - not touched in thousands of years of Republican peace and war, not even damaged by that madman and his purges. Ah yes, I would have liked to have seen Coruscant. But I am not destroying Coruscant,” he pressed a button and the screens shifted, now the upper central one showed a view of the untouched upper city, the government buildings and the dwellings of the super rich. All around lay the devastation that his soldiers had caused, but this oasis glittered in the midday sunshine as if there was no war and no battle. “That is Coruscant, and I would not touch that. The rest will recover, given time. It matters little.”
Fett shook his head, suddenly sickened by the man he stood beside, by the devastation he saw in the screens, by the whole stupid game he was playing here while the lives of the pilots and soldiers and God knows how many civilians were being lost.
He took a deep breath, and the words just burst from him, “don’t you care - no, of course you don’t - but, don’t you think it is a waste of your resources to destroy this city?” he gave a sharp sigh. “Why are you doing this, Thrawn? Why bother with all,” he waved a hand at the screens, “this?” Then he almost groaned out loud as he realised that the pose he had cultivated of indifference - something that had once been no more a pose than his breathing - had just been blown away in those foolish words.
Thrawn just nodded, and turned to look Fett full in the face; it was as if the battle did not matter to him anymore.
“I was right, then. You did come to kill me.”
Fett took another deep breath, but knew he could not resist it any longer.
A flash of anger briefly marred the impassive blue features, but all Thrawn said was,
“good, then I’m glad we know where we stand at last.”
Fett said nothing, but watched as the Republic ships regrouped to make another attack on the Ravager. Almost without thinking he activated his lightsaber, but paused at the look in the Grand Admiral’s face. The contempt was enough to put anyone off their attack, but it was the disappointment that truly caught him.
“So, I am to be killed by a Jedi weapon, am I? Boba Fett, I thought better of you - I believed you a man who never relied on these foolish gimmicks, but who trusted his own abilities and nothing else -”
“Just as you do?” snarled Fett, even as he thought, my God - what if he is right, I have changed inn these past months - beyond recognition, quite literally, he realised as he glanced up and caught his reflection in the over polished panelling that lined the room, and saw a hazy, dark haired stranger clutching a glowing green weapon in his hand far too tightly, where he had expected to see the familiar, comfortable sight of his old armoured and helmeted form.
His hands itched for a blaster, but knew he could not go for one without Thrawn noticing. I am a complete idiot - Arla was right, there’s no way I can defeat him like this; I should just have got the whole ship blown up, that would be more what he would expect as well. He thoughts began to spin in circles, and he was only snapped out of it when he realised that Thrawn, singularly unmoved by the lightsaber as by anything he had said before, was speaking again.
“Yes, just as I do.” His eyes flicked back to the viewscreens, distracted, as the images shuffled to show the Ravager being beaten back by the smaller Republic ships. “There is no one on these two ships that uses religion and superstition as a crutch to help them through their day. Had I thought that you would come to this - look at you, clutching that lightsaber as if it were a talisman - then I would not have bothered with that unfortunate bounty hunter.
You cannot be Boba Fett. The man I knew had no comprehension of fear, nothing was beyond his capabilities, he believed. I came to admire him.” Thrawn turned his attention back to the tense figure, and saw with scorn that the man was almost shaking. “The man I knew before would have killed the moment he walked in the door - before that. You would have probably just blown up the Ruiner. But the man I see before me now is afraid -”
“Fuck you.” spat Fett, his fingers curling and uncurling around the lightsaber, as he tried to control his breathing in all the ways that Luke had taught him without much success. “Fuck you. You make me sound like some sort of automaton,” he took another deep breath, “and perhaps I was. But, believe me Grand Admiral Thrawn, I am not afraid right now,” yeah, right, he thought, but soon clamped down on it, “no. Not afraid - what I am is angry. And you, with your closed mind, you insult me, my intelligence. There is the Force, you cannot deny it. I could use any weapon I have here, and anything I chose in this room to fight you with the Force.” He glanced about, trying to avoid Thrawn’s faintly amused gaze, “or I could walk right out of here and blow up this ship with my mind if I wanted to. However, I choose not to. I could not give a shit about the men and women on here, but you and I were friends - or something like that - once, so I will fight you to spare those who are my friends now. And you will fight me back -”
Thrawn, who had been taking in Fett’s impassioned speech, the emotion of which set a discordant tone again the flat, dissonant quality of his grating, broken voice with a certain disquieted amusement, and not a little grief that this man, in his view, had become something less than what he had been, began to laugh to outloud at that comment. He quickly turned his attention back to the battle, by coolly pressing a large green button, which lit up.
A tinny voice entered the chamber.
“Yes, my lord Admiral?”
“Admiral Clyde, the battle is yours. I do not wish to be disturbed until I give further notice.”
There was an almost imperceptible pause, then, “very well, my lord Admiral.”
The link cut out. Thrawn laughed again, although the sound, if not the amusement, was swiftly cut off;
“He could almost be Piett, don’t you think? It is heady combination, that mindless obedience and total terror. Thank you for relieving me the difficulties of executing an admiral - very politically incorrect. Now the rebels can do it for me.” The amusement cut out of his voice. “Why do you believe I will fight you?”
Fett smiled, enjoying now the feeling of the anger seething around him, and de-activated his lightsaber. He strolled over to the desk, and perched himself casually on the corner.
Twirling the weapon around on its belt hook, he said, in a voice that more resembled the cool, dispassionate soul he had been than he had been than anything that he had said already that day, “you have already told me. You could have called in re-enforcements at any time and had me removed. You will fight me.”
In the back of his mind he heard Vader say from within the swirls of blue mist that had surrounded him I feel your anger - use it well. His lip curled in either amusement or scorn, he did not stop to analyse it, as he wondered whether Vader had seen this confrontation from wherever he existed now. He felt a sudden dislocation, as if he was no longer in control of his actions and a quick, angry thought occurred to him, that the dead were once again trying to take over his life, and just for the satisfaction it afforded him, he cried in his mind, fuck off and die, you bastard - this is me, and I live now, not you.
Thrawn watched him curiously as the other man closed his eyes and swayed back on the desk edge in some sort of sudden trance. He wondered briefly whether he should shot him with his blaster while he was lost in this way, but something in him, perhaps what had kept him alive all these years in a regime that was utterly against everything he was, told him that that would not be a good move at this point.
Instead, he walked over to the desk, and quietly drew something out from inside one of the drawers. He flipped it over in his hands, smiling to himself as he rubbed the ancient carvings under his hands. As ever, touching the art and work of so long ago gave him a certain frisson that he did not even try to deny, knowing that the people, the culture, that had produced this were as utterly dead as the two men who had killed it. With a flip of the switch he activated the lightsaber and the white glow augmented the subdued light that lit the room.
At that, Fett snapped his eyes open, and jumped up, activating his own lightsaber in his surprise.
“What the - ?” he gasped as he wheeled to face the new light source.
Thrawn stood, to Fett’s eyes, slightly awkward with the unfamiliar weapon in his hands, even as his smile implied complete assurance.
“Are you surprised, Boba Fett? Why should I not have a lightsaber of my own? They were common enough weapons once upon a time. This one was part of Palpatine’s personal collection.” He smoothed the carvings again, and the smile began more satisfied. “It is a Jedi’s weapon. It is good that it should destroy one more of that kind before he even becomes one.”
“You’re mad! You cannot truly think that you can beat me with that. You call yourself a practical man, so why are you using that instead of -”
As a response, Thrawn sprang at him, and there was a hiss and crackle as the two lightsabers connected.
“Enough,” stated Thrawn, meeting Fett’s parry with the assurance of a skilled sword fighter. “We have talked enough. Do not underestimate me, Fett - I am not a weak-minded fool to be affected by your Jedi mind tricks, and your Force cannot touch me - but I have told you that already.” He lunged back at Fett, who met him stroke for stroke.
A strange calm filtered over Fett as he fought against Thrawn, the moves he made more reaction than conscious thoughtful attacks. There was, he realised, no way that Thrawn could beat him. He was strong, and very skilled, but he did not have the Force. And Fett did. It was unequal in every way, there was nothing to fear. He let his mind drift out to anything that was not screwed down to fling it at the man, and found to his frustration that there was nothing he could get a grip on.
He hissed, and turned his attention back to Thrawn, who laughed.
“I have fought Jedi before,” he gasped, “They hid in the Unknown Regions - did you know that?”
Fett gritted his teeth, but did not answer. He worked away at wrenching the fittings from the wall to hurl at Thrawn, who seemed blithely unaware.
“I thought not,” he continued, grinning as Fett was forced back a step, “concentration being little stretched, is it?” he asked conversationally, even though sweat was pouring down his face. “I wouldn’t bother. Everything is very securely fixed - the Ruiner and I have been together a very long time. I know the Jedi well.”
“What?” gasped Fett, distracted. He tried to wrench the fittings away again, and heard a splintering sound. He jumped, but a quick glance to the right showed the cause - he had forced a crack down the centre of the wall in his efforts.
“Shit.” he muttered, then crashed backwards as Thrawn slammed into him as he turned and tripped him.
He caught his balance just before he fell back into the door, and let the Force carry him gently back to his feet, desperately parrying as Thrawn attacked again and again, all the while chatting amiably to him. Fett began to feel very stupid indeed, without any armour, and only Arla’s unfamiliar weaponry at his disposal. His mind began to float and he listened to Thrawn.
“Well, that surprised you, didn’t it? I wonder whether you really are Boba Fett - he’s a much cleverer man than you, I think. It must really be love - don’t you think?”
“Shut up!” cried Fett, smashing his lightsaber hard at Thrawn so that sparks flew off into the room. Thrawn deflected the blow with a contemptuous flick of his wrist,
“Yes,” he said coolly, though his breath was laboured, “the Jedi has no passion, no anger. None that I met - they were just men - never aliens. And all you need is a strong mind and all their faith crumbles - look at you, pathetic.”
Fett sucked in his breath as Thrawn’s lightsaber grazed the skin of his arm as it passed. Instant blisters sprang up through the burnt cloth. He hissed in pain, and again cursed his stupidity at not donning armour. What price would his insane pride have on him, he wondered absently as he struggled to fight back against one who he realised was a far better swordsman than he, trained to use a blaster, could ever be. He had never realised how much he had relied on the armour and his array of weaponry, and not his own skills until this moment, and he feared that it might be something he might not get a chance to regret.
But Thrawn was speaking again, now with an icy, frozen rage in his voice. “It was the one thing that the Emperor and I agreed on, that the Jedi should go. He wanted them gone because he was a coward - ” he slashed out, and the crackling acrid smell of the saber filled the air again; Fett flung his attack away with a grunt, listening in fascination to his words, “a coward, yes - he was afraid - I just thought them foolish and old and corrupt. He could not touch me, I would never do his bidding - he sent me away, to clear the Jedi.” Thrawn’s voice had risen and his attacks came faster as he spoke, his voice hard, fast and bitter. “The bastard - he hoped I would get killed, and he tried enough times himself, but his ineffectual force energy couldn’t touch me. My people have always been strong against the force. And now, now I will have what I should have been given all those years ago and the galaxy will fear me, not some deformed, diseased wreck of a man whose only concern was his own self-gratification, who had no rational mind at all and no whose hatred of aliens showed him to be stupid, bigoted and idiotic - just like his Empire and the Jedi that went before. I hate them all - and now the galaxy will know just what forty years of hate can do!”
As he spat out those last words, and Fett reeled back from the man’s rage, any semblance of calm shattered; Thrawn raised his lightsaber to slash out at Fett, who instinctively flipped away. But Thrawn was not aiming for his flesh, and there was a flash of intense white light as his saber crashed right through Fett’s and he cried out in shock and pain even as he cast the thing away from his hand as it exploded. All thoughts of the Force vanished as Fett’s world became the agony in his hand; hugging it close he stared at the burnt ruin for a few numbing seconds. Too many seconds - before he even saw Thrawn move the man had shoved him down onto the floor and had his lightsaber at Fett’s neck. He very carefully extended one foot out to step over Fett’s prone form and trod hard on his injured hand. Fett moaned, and felt the world begin to close in on him as jagged black strips cut off his vision.
Moments later he came to as the pressure was removed from his hand - along with some more of his flesh - and realised that Thrawn was laughing. Their eyes met and Fett recoiled from the expression he saw there. He’s mad, Fett thought, tasting bile. He retched, and the jollity in Thrawn’s face fell away to be replaced by a look of pure disdain as he gazed down on him. He shook his head.
“Pathetic,” he muttered, “you do not deserve to live - you are no longer a worthy companion as once you were when I first knew you. But,” he sighed and stared out into the distance, “perhaps you are deserving of something more than a quick death, no enjoyment in that, after all, and you did serve me well once. And how fitting, and how pleasing, to do this with a Jedi’s weapon.”
And delicately, almost gently, he began to caress Fett’s torso with his lightsaber. Flesh burned with each stroke, and the delicacy of his moves began to go as he worked further up the body towards Fett’s exposed face. Fett watched him from behind a haze of shock before he even realised what Thrawn was doing, but then he came back to himself in a jolt and more sounds escaped his mouth at the sudden onrush of pain that realisation brought.
No, he thought, no - this cannot happen, I will not die here - Arla! He sent his mind away for a moment, searching, then with every last iota of his strength he gathered together all the energy he found as he went, not caring, or even noticing much as those he took from collapsed, gasping for breath all around the ship. Thrawn’s lightsaber stroked at his neck, jolting him back into his body again and he acted. Squeezing his stolen energy into himself he shot away from Thrawn and slammed against the door, all the energy gone, he felt his knees begin to crumple.
Thrawn growled in anger and strode towards him, but Fett suddenly remembered and scrabbled with his unfamiliar belt, releasing a small blaster. Before he had even time to think, to let Thrawn know what he was doing, he raised it, aimed, and fired. The red bursts of light shot towards Thrawn and penetrated his body with different sort of fire to that searing over Fett.
Thrawn crumpled to the platform in front of the screens, hugging himself around the wounds as breath hissed away from him. Behind him the viewscreens showed a repeat of the last dregs of the battle around the Ravager, as debris floated around, hindering the milling TIEs and the efficient, close work of the Republic ships left to mop up the last of the Ravager’s ships before they came back to the last remaining Destroyer. Even through the fog of pain in which he now lived, Fett found himself watching the battle. He wondered where Arla was and prayed that she was safe - and nearby.
He dragged his gaze down to Thrawn and some coherent part of him observed that the gouts of Thrawn’s purple hued blood had slowed to a sluggish trickle. He tried to take a step towards the dying man, but the effort produced a dancing array of black spots in front of his eyes. He stayed where he was, and concentrated on staying conscious and watching Thrawn die. No point, he reasoned, in using up any more of his energy reserves on checking him, when that meant moving further away from the only door out of the chamber. Eventually, even the shallowest sign of breathing died away, and Fett allowed himself for the first time to think of how to get of the ship. A tendril of panic wound its way through him, which he swiftly wrestled back down.
He took a step back and caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye - the silvery lightsaber Thrawn had used. He frowned, knowing he could easily make another to replace the lost one, but started to edge towards it nonetheless. Bending over was an agony beyond endurance, so he extended as much energy as he could. The thing shifted, lifted slightly, then dropped and rolled around.
He swore under his breath, and felt a flash of anger run through him.
The lightsaber lifted and floated slowly into his hand.
Stupidly, he stared at it, then clipped it to his belt. Then he remembered to breathe again, and almost passed out from the pain and the energy loss. Gasping, he paused, but old, firmly entrenched reactions began to take over what was left of his conscious thought. Automatically, he tried to re-sheath the little blaster in the cuff holders of his armour, and looked in hazy surprise when he discovered that there was no armour, not even a sleeve to which he could attach the blaster; even this did not register, and he knocked the weapon against the raw flesh of his wrist in a vain attempt to force the thing, the room swam when he touched the naked, skinless wounds. He gasped again, this time in pain, and the blaster clattered to the floor, and skittered in a little circle before finally settling. A heavy silence descended over the room.
For a moment, as he heaved to catch his breath, Fett regarded the body in the purple-stained white suit and tried to feel something, but the pain was too much for him to concentrate enough to experience emotions of any kind. He gasped and panted, without being able to move - or even breathe as deeply as his lungs told him he had to - holding his injured side as best he could, and tried not to fall.
As he stood, the silence was abruptly broken as a man’s voice entered the room.
“My lord Admiral!” the voice tried, then paused, awaiting response.
Fett waited too, now not daring to move a muscle lest he should be heard. The silence grew strained, and when the man spoke again, he sounded tense and uneasy.
“My lord Admiral? I am sorry to disturb you against your request, but it is very important that you answer.”
Fett stared at Thrawn’s prone body as he waited to see what the man would do. The link began to buzz slightly in the background, and the faint noise grated against Fett’s throbbing head in a way that the man’s speech had not. Tears leaked from his eyes, but the buzzing soon stopped as the man spoke again, his voice fainter and slightly off centre, as if the man was not talking directly into the link.
“Sir! I have sent Captain Gaan to your quarters. I need an answer - we are too damaged to fight any longer, sir! I need your permission to make the leap into hyperspace - the rebels outnumber us five to one now - I must know your answer - oh shit -” a crashing sound echoed about the chamber, then the link snapped off.
Fett actually took a step backwards as silence once again descended on the room, and nearly passed out again from the pain down his side.
“Shit, shit, shit,” he muttered, thinking, got to get out of here, got to get out before they find me as he made his way tortuously slowly to the cut open door. There was a ridge at the bottom of the door of about a foot, it had been a small step over when he had entered the room, but now it seemed a mountain. There was no way he could use his Force in this room to get more than the pathetic shifting of objects he had tried while he had fought with Thrawn, but he could see no way to step over the little obstacle but to fly over it as Luke had once described Vader doing, and not only did he not know how to do that, in this restricted area he could no more do it than could the guards who no doubt still stood outside the outer door.
He sighed, took a deep breath, and stepped over it as quickly as he could, feeling the blistered wounds down his side split as he did so. He stood retching in agony in the ante-chamber, as the tears streaked down his face, mingling with the sweat that poured from him from the effort to get this far - and then froze.
Voices could be heard on the other side of the door, faint at first, as they spoke normally, then: “what do you mean he had a visitor!?” shouted an unfamiliar voice; presumably this Captain that had been sent.
“Fuck.” muttered Fett, and scrabbled to find a blaster, while trying not to move his body at all.
He listened as the half heard mumbling that had to be the other officers reply came to an end, then, “there are no civilians on this ship, idiot - open that door. Team! Get your blasters at the ready!”
Fett stepped back as the door opened; he pressed himself against the side wall and held his breath, his blaster feeling cumbersome and unfamiliar in his left hand. The troopers were dead before they even saw him. The captain shouted, but Fett hardly heard it around the hum of pain that held him tight. The hand that held the blaster shook with the effort of keeping the arm upright.
There was a pause, then footsteps approached the doorway, but stopped on the threshold. He tried to turn to shoot, but the sound of the man’s voice stopped him.
“Great good Akhtar,” breathed the man - the captain, “Sergeant, look at this,”
More footsteps, the sharper clack of the plastic boots of a stormtrooper. These reached the doorway, and Fett caught a glimpse of a white clad leg, and lowered his blaster to hit it.
“Damn it!” cried the captain, and there was a shuffling noise. The leg disappeared from view, and the captain spoke again, his voice now filled with irritation, “you idiot - didn’t you see what happened to my squad?! Do you want to die - there’s someone in there. Look!”
Silence, then the distorted, metallic voice of the sergeant murmured, “shit.”
“Yes,” came the captain’s crisp voice, but he got no further as his comm-link flared into life.
“What are you doing? Have we got permission to go into lightspeed? I can’t hold her much longer.” came the tinny little voice.
The captain then appeared to pause.
“Uh, Admiral, we have a problem here,” he said, obviously struggling for the right words, “you see -”
“Out with it, Captain, I don’t have all day.”
The captain swallowed, then the words came out in a rush, “I don’t think it will be a problem, Admiral, I think we can go into lightspeed, as, as the Grand Admiral appears to be dead -”
“He’s dead, sir - and there is someone in his quarters - he just shot down my squad, I won’t risk any more men. Should I just shut off the area, sir?”
“Yes, yes,” the man’s attention was obviously wandering. Fett gathered all his strength together and made his move.
Leaping out into the midst of their confusion, he sprayed blaster fire over the few men standing in the hallway until they fell, and then ran as fast as he could, knowing he was listing hopelessly to his injured side as he ran, but knowing that he had to get off the ship before the craft went into lightspeed. And he had no idea how to do it. Panic overtook him, and he fled faster, still clutching the blaster as if it were the only thing left to him. The lightsaber thumped painfully on the slight burns to his leg as he ran, and each stride tugged at the fabric caught in his blistered skin, causing it to tear.
Tears streamed down his face as he ran, but his mind was shouting, “Arla! Arla! Can you hear me? Please, can you hear me? Arla!”
For a few terrifying moments he was alone, and he almost stopped running from the sheer horror of his abandonment, but some inner prompting made him continue. He came to a lift, and slammed the button. The door opened, and he flung himself inside, going down. Arla, where are you? he thought, then, Mustn’t, mustn’t go into hyperspace - mustn’t - Arla, help me!
Then, finally, “Fett? Fett! Firelord, you’re hurt! I can feel it -”
“Stop! It doesn’t matter, I’m fine, really. Arla, thank god - I thought - never mind. Look, the ship, it’s going into lightspeed, and I have to get off. I’m in the -”
“Officer’s quarters, heading down - go to the weapons area, one layer lower. I can bust through the plating there, it’s very thin - the shields will go down as they power up the hyperdrive, I think, they are very badly damaged - bet they can’t make it out of lightspeed -” she caught his panic and stopped, “never mind, leave it to me - I’ll get you out of there! Don’t panic - trust me!”
Her presence went from his mind, but he murmured to himself anyway, “I do, I do. Love you, Arla.”
The weapons area was deserted as he went in, although he was aware of people in the near vicinity. Arla’s presence in his mind was clearer though, and he followed her directions until he came to the outer wall, and a set of service outlet doors.
There was a pause, and then he heard Arla’s voice in his mind, almost tentative, “Fett - you have to trust me here, if you never trust me again, do it now. When the order for lightspeed is given, I’m going to blast this - but not before. When I do, you are just going to let yourself go. Can you do that?”
Before he could answer, an alarm went off all around him and a synthesised voice barked into the air, “one minute to lightspeed. One minute to lightspeed.”
Fett swallowed painfully, and edged closer to the outlet doors, Arla’s words sharp in his mind.
“Fett! What’s wrong? Don’t you trust me?”
“Yes, yes - Arla, please, of course I trust you - it’s now about thirty seconds to lightspeed -”
“Hold on!” Then, “I love you.”
And she dropped out of his mind again.
It was probably the longest thirty seconds Fett had ever experienced, and when they began the countdown to lightspeed, and still nothing had happened, he began to panic again, hyperventilating as much as he could with the pain he was in - trust her - then everything happened all at once. There was a great blast of noise and for a moment he thought they were in hyperspace, and nearly ran for it, but then he felt himself sucked away and there was a great roaring noise - trust her - and he let himself fall out into space.
Almost immediately he crashed into something, and passed out from the pain and from shock. He fell the short distance into the ship and landed hard on the floor beneath all before he could regain consciousness.
And beside the small presence of Vert III, there was no longer a Star Destroyer, only empty space. Their leap into hyperspace appeared to have been successful. There would be no way of knowing whether it was or not until it was found where it had come out.
Arla paid this information no heed as she stared at the ruin of her lover. Her fists clenched into tight balls as she surveyed the mess made of his chest, at the broken leg he had sustained when he had landed where he now lay.
A low moan escaped her lips without her realising it, and tears poured, unheeded, down her cheeks; she muttered, “should never have let him go alone,” and turned to go back to the cockpit, to get them home - if there was any home left to return to. A small noise stilled her, and she whipped back again, knelt down by his body to listen again.
“Arla?” groaned Fett, his unburnt hand trying to clutch at her; she clasped it tight in both of hers.
“I’m here,” she began.
“Arla - home?” Fett tried again, too woozy to try speaking mind to mind.
She suppressed a sob, and nodded.
“Yes, I’m taking us home, don’t worry.”
“Good.” He passed out again.
Arla made her way back to the cockpit, and grimly set the controls to get back to Coruscant as fast as she could possibly manage.
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