Chapter Nineteen

A/N: See, I SAID it wouldn't be years. Just…close. I do have to focus on writing for which I can actually get paid, and I've got quite a few new items there! You can visit my website, or check out my Amazon Author Central page (Jennifer Quail.) I have some mystery, some romance, and some forthcoming fantasy! If you do check out one of the anthologies I'm in, please please please leave a review!

This is one POV, but I wanted to get this up before I leave on vacation and before two more deadlines and another contest hit. Not sure if I'm going to swap POVs again, but next time one way or another Rurik and Thelea will have that private conversation, and we'll get back to the Interstellar Alliance and their plans to get Lisetha home. As it is, I'm pleased with this chapter because I finally got to write a scene I've been itching to for a very long time. And much as I love him, Thrawn had it coming.

Thelea tried to focus on the formalities of the approach to the Defiance. The checks and confirmations, the correct responses, the raw mechanics of flying a fighter into a hangar bay while escorting the last ship she d ever have expected to be accompanying. The A-wing s snug cockpit was familiar and safe and at this point almost a second home (if she d ever had a first), the one place she could feel truly alone. And she desperately needed that now.

It was only luck, she supposed, that the reappearance of the Millennium Falcon in-system hadn t precipitated a new round of hostilities. Luckily, someone had the foresight to keep Republic communication channels open, and even more so that while he was very quick to go to shields and run weapons hot (a precaution Thelea herself firmly approved of) Captain Solo apparently preferred to check out the situation before actually opening fire. It never hurt to figure out exactly who d be shooting back from where first.

Now she wondered how he must feel flying the infamous ship towards the docking bay of an Imperial Star Destroyer on purpose.

The matter of sorting out who was staying, who was leaving, and who, exactly, was in charge now that the main Imperial battle line had moved in part to defensive positions in the mid-system had been awkward enough. Gorgon, Stormhawk and Manticore had returned to Yag Duhl, leaving the Relentless, Judicator, and the Defiance as a smaller but-still impressive battle line. Thelea had not asked, largely because the Rebels were listening and it would not have been politic, but while Defiance was in the role of flagship by accident, she doubted it was a coincidence her father had chosen his battle-hardened veterans to remain. Ironic it was the two captains, Brandei and Dorja, who d shown the most doubt at times, but there was no question of their loyalty now.

And the Rebels had to know that.

The crews of the remaining Corvettes seemed at least to have fewer doubts. They had taken up close-in picket positions around Coruscant itself, reinforcing the remaining defense platforms while the Star Destroyers and their fighters ran the mid-and-deep-system patrols. So far, things had returned to a state that wasn t normal for anyone, but which was as close to stable as circumstances were likely to permit.

That had left the matter of negotiations and discussions in a very awkward place and enough of a turmoil Thelea was more than happy to surrender her role as negotiator. Being intermediary as they sorted out the new talks, assisting in the cleanup, organizing evidence to present to her father, reading Stent the riot act about reckless use of antiquated Rebel equipment . . . it all kept her preoccupied. Too busy to reflect.

Too busy to talk to Skywalker about what they d lost.

What she d lost.

She realized Defiance s docking controller was talking, and she hoped the instructions had been directed at the freighter, or the Zeta-class shuttle following as rear guard. The main hangar bay had been cleared, for the most part, with some of the ship s TIE fighters in patrol formations around them as they approached. She tried to shake the feeling, one she d forgotten or so she d thought, of approaching her own side in an enemy s ship. Even with the shields powered down the A-wing felt more alien than it had in ages. Not just because of who d been the last to fly it.

Thelea shoved the thought viciously aside.

Her father was waiting. She d expected that. He had stormtroopers flanking him, and she d expected that too. And some part of her, the part that knew he was a professional officer (or he wouldn t still be with the Imperial Navy) had known that Rurik would be there. He was captain of the Defiance and in these circumstances it was only proper. He was here for the Alliance delegation, not for any other reason, and for now, that was her only purpose, too.

She didn't wait for the Falcon to finish its docking sequence before climbing out of her fighter. She'd forgone a flight suit, and she saw the tiniest narrowing of Thrawn's eyes. Let him disapprove of the protocol breach. Safety was not the highest on her list of concerns for once. Then she noticed how his gaze lingered on the non-Imperial cut, and the green and gold piping against the black fabric. She kept her own expression impassive. She hoped.

"Grand Admiral," she said, and then, more quietly, "Father. I must report . . . ." She stopped herself when she heard the humiliating tightness in her throat. Typing it had been one matter. This . . . . Perhaps Cheunh was easier. "I must report the death of a retainer of the Second Family. Aleishia Zei-Venah—"

And to her astonishment, Thrawn reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. Not firmly, gently. "I grieve with you," he said in kind. "And we will say the rites for her, as your mother would have wished. But now is not the time." He glanced briefly to his right, and switched to Basic. "We have visitors to welcome to the Defiance."

Thelea took his meaning, and took a mental note to complain later. But there was no avoiding it-she could hear the Falcon's landing ramp lowering and she was out of time.

She turned to the Defiance's captain. "Captain Caelin." Then she paused. "Permission to come aboard."

Rurik had changed. She could see fine lines and marks of stress around his eyes and mouth, though his hair was still dark beneath the officer's cap. It was more than appearances, was something of his sense in the Force: a heaviness, not sadness but some great weight of emotion. It wasn't her, though he was struggling to meet her gaze. It felt more like something that had become a part of him, as if even here and now he had other matters preying on his mind beyond her presence, his Supreme Commander beside him, or even the smuggler's ship bringing some of the Empire's most-wanted enemies right into the docking bay of his ship.

His ship. His crew.

The weight of command.

He clenched his jaw for a moment. "Permission granted, Commander Thelea."

"Just Thelea now," she corrected automatically, and he flinched. "Captain."

Rurik nodded, and she could see how he fought the urge to look at Thrawn and judge his reactions. "I'm . . . glad you're all right, Thelea. What I said earlier—"

"There will be time later," Thrawn interrupted, thought to Thelea's minor surprise she thought her father sounded . . . not unsympathetic. Not enough a human might notice, but enough. "Are our guests prepared to negotiate in good faith?"

Thelea had to resist the urge to shrug. "They're less than enthused. Especially about the venue. But I convinced most of them your reasoning was sound."

"The notion of a 'neutral' site with ysalamiri was less palatable than aboard an Imperial ship?" Thelea wondered if Rurik were accustomed enough to Chiss inflection to hear the droll humor in her father's voice.

"It was Skywalker who argued in favor of accepting your terms." Which in some respects hadn't surprised her. Doubly pleasurable had been Mara's expression on hearing Thrawn would even entertain the notion. "And if any of them is going to keep the others from making foolish attempts to kill you, he's likely the one, too. He has a sense of honor that's downright . . . irritating at times."

"You almost sound like you admire him," Rurik said. She couldn't tell if the tone was disapproval, amusement, or jealousy, and it bothered her more than it should have.

"Given everything he's been through? The fact he's not first in line screaming for a fight to the death makes me wonder how much anything we knew about him was true."

"Your choice of phrase suggests that there is in fact a line screaming for just that," her father said, in that blandly conversational tone humans rarely noticed was humor.

"And I'm afraid one of our other guests is, if not at the front of that line, certainly of the same feeling."

Thrawn inclined his head slightly. "Councillor Organa Solo, no doubt."

Thelea twitched a shoulder. Then she noticed Rurik watching her out of the corner of his eye. When he saw her looking back, he said, with a trace of hesitation, "Does it get easier, the Admiral always knowing what you're going to tell him before you do?"

Thelea hesitated. "Not really, no. You learn to live with it. Ask Captain Pellaeon when you have the chance."

"I don't know. I think he thinks I'm some kind of upstart." Rurik's lip twitched. "All the fleet captains do."

"A not uncommon response to one raised to rank at a young age," and Thelea jumped as much as Rurik did when her father spoke. "I believe our guests are ready."

Thelea turned her attention back to the battered YT-1300, looking less than ambassadorial sitting in the hangar. The ramp was indeed down, but so far there was no sign of movement from its top. "Shall I see what's taking them so long?"

Thrawn's eyes narrowed just a fraction. "Perhaps." He glanced at her and she tried not to flinch. "You and Kres'ten'tarthi did inspect the ship and passengers before departure?"

"As much as diplomacy permitted." Thelea took a step forward and paused. There was of course a less-obtrusive way.

Skywalker? She tried not to close her eyes, or reach out a hand. It always looked odd to bystanders. Is there some delay?

For a moment, she wasn't sure if he'd heard her. Then she sensed something almost . . . sheepish. And a distinct impression that the delay wasn't entirely unplanned. There was also a smug note that had her suspecting that Mara Jade had heard the inquiry, too, and anything that discomfited the Grand Admiral was amusing as far as she was concerned.

"They're coming," Thelea said aloud, hoping she was right. Thrawn merely nodded, his gaze never leaving the battered freighter sitting in its incongruous glory in the Defiance's hangar bay.

Now there was activity on the ramp, as if some sort of scuffle were happening at the top. Thelea heard voices, though not what they were saying, and a distinct Wookiee yowl. She didn't understand Shiirwookk, but she had the impression it was annoyance.

Then there were distinct footsteps, all moving in the same general direction down the ramp. The stormtroopers started to move forward and without thinking Thelea gestured them back. She heard the sharp intake of breath from Rurik's direction, but it was her father she looked at. Thrawn only nodded, almost imperceptibly, and the troopers moved back to a position more appropriate for an honor guard than prisoner escort.

There was a flash of white first. Whatever else Leia Organa Solo thought about all this, she'd apparently decided the Grand Admiral wouldn't be the only one dressed to the nines (Thelea hadn't felt much like dress uniforms, even if she was sure which one she should be wearing any more, and she noticed Rurik was in ordinary kit.) She was in her white robes from her senatorial (and Imperial wanted-poster) days, and despite being the shortest person in the delegation on either side, there was no question who was in charge.

Rank was apparently not that important even now, or, more likely, Captain Solo didn't care any more for it than he did for smuggling regulations and the common rules of sane piloting. He was at his wife's elbow, and was clearly unconcerned that coming armed to a peace talk might be looked at as less than optimistic. Contrasting sharply was his brother-in-law, one again in that solemn Jedi black, wearing his lightsaber but with his hands conspicuously clear of the hilt.

The figure beside Skywalker, the only one who looked as if she walked into Star Destroyer hangar bays every day (because at one point she probably had) made Thrawn shift on his feet just slightly. "Jade?" He made it a quiet question, but barely.

"She's agreed to the same terms as everyone else," Thelea countered, hoping she didn't sound as defensive as she felt. If he hadn't wanted somewhat flexible definitions of diplomatic envoys he should have chosen a different one himself. "Skywalker vouched for her. And in any case I assume you had the back doors into the fleet computers removed after her last visit?" He didn't reply, but he also didn't order the stormtroopers to close in. Small victories . . . .

Two of the other councilors, Berus (the Corellian) and Sien Tiev (the Sullustan) hung back, whether by agreement to let Leia lead the way or out of genuine fear she couldn't guess. Bringing up the rear, just before the two Rebel troopers Thrawn had agreed were permitted as a courtesy, the Wookiee Chewbacca towered over the rest of the delegation, including the golden protocol droid and the astromech rolling along at their side.

"Droids?" Rurik said out of the corner of his mouth. "No one said anything about Rebel droids."

"Threepio- the protocol unit-is harmless," Thelea said. "Even useful at times. And I have Skywalker's word Artoo won't be permitted near any port without Father's permission. They didn't like that any more than any other condition, but they agreed." Rurik didn't reply, but she saw the side-eyed look. "What?"

"Threepio? Artoo?" He shook his head. "It was strange enough hearing Gir talk like that about droids. You . . . ."

"Have learned to adapt to a lot of things, the least of which is Rebel attitudes toward droids," she retorted.

A slight clearing of the throat from Thrawn's direction silenced them both. Thelea wouldn't have pointed out the twitch of amusement she thought she saw at the corner of her father's mouth even if the Rebel delegation hadn't been approaching. Let Rurik figure out Chiss humor on his own time.

The delegation, Organa Solo at its head, was approaching rapidly, and Thrawn stepped forward a pace to meet them. Thelea knew he was merely standing at attention, but the disparity in their heights made the contrast even more stark when the Councilor came to a stop less than a meter from him. He clasped his hands behind his back and looked down, his expression impassive even by their own people's standards. Thelea wished he weren't a cipher even to the Force. How anyone could be so calm in the midst of galactic-level events was a mystery.

Leia, for her part, raised her chin and looked up while somehow managing to convey the impression she was looking down. Her expression was cold fire and Thelea felt an uncanny shiver. If Skywalker was as unlike his improbable father as was possible to imagine, she suddenly had the very distinct impression that Leia was indeed Darth Vader's child.

There was a long pause.

Thrawn finally gave the slightest respectful nod. "Councilor Organa Solo."

Leia raised her chin a bit higher, the tiniest, iciest smile raising the corners of her lips. "Grand Admiral Thrawn."

Thrawn regarded her another heartbeat. "I—"

Leia's hand flashed up and her open palm connected with his jaw with a resounding crack!

For an instant no one moved. Even Thelea was too surprised to blink. Rurik's jaw had actually dropped, and the expressions on the visiting Rebels ranged from shock, terror, to wry amusement on Solo's part and a tight, smug satisfaction on Jade's.

"That," Leia said, "was for trying to kidnap me."

Whether because it didn't hurt, or because he was too stunned by the audacity, Thrawn didn't move for a moment. "Councilor—"

Leia's hand snapped out again and cracked against his other cheek.

"And that," she continued as if he hadn't spoken, "was for trying to kidnap my children."

Thelea could almost hear the wheels turning in the stormtroopers' minds and she didn't even have to look at Rurik to feel him wavering about whether or not to order the guards to close in. Automatically she looked for Luke Skywalker's reaction, and found him trying to meet her gaze, too. She didn't even bother reaching out with the Force-anyone could see the concern on his face, and a bit of embarrassment, too.

She turned her head, enough that she knew her father would catch the motion out the corner of his eye even with his attention fixed with laser focus on Leia. She was clearly waiting for some reaction, and anticipating anger.

Thrawn's cheek wasn't visibly bruised, but Thelea at least could see the flush of heat where Leia's palm had struck him. He took a moment, one where she could tell he was struggling to bring his racing pulse and rising blood pressure under control, before he turned his head a fraction and looked at her, one eyebrow raised.

Thelea stared back impassively. "You did have that coming."

The change of expressions was so quick and so subtle she doubted the humans could even tell it happened. Luckily; the anger was so subtle even she almost missed it and she wondered if Leia realized just how far she'd already pushed her luck. "I will allow that," Thrawn said. "I assume, Councilor, you have vented your ire?"

"For now." She smiled sweetly. Then her gaze turned to Rurik and Thelea could tell it required effort for him not to take a step back. "Going to have me clapped in binders, Captain . . . ?"

"Captain Caelin, Councilor Organa Solo," he said, with a credible attempt at not sounding terrified. "And no. In fact I'd ask to shake your hand, except I'm afraid you might tear it off."

"Captain," and this time there was no mistaking the warning in Thrawn's voice.

But Organa Solo's smile at least looked a little more sincere. "Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way, I assume you have somewhere prepared for this meeting? Councilors Berus and Sien Tev are as anxious as I am to get these negotiations over with."

"Patience, Councilor," and it was clear Thelea wasn't the only one surprised Leia didn't slap him again. "We have time for some pleasantries. And of course, I'm sure you and your . . . entourage would like some time to prepare. As these negotiations may take some time we have quarters readied for your comfort."

"On the detention level?" Either Solo practiced that insubordinate tone, or it was something that came naturally to Corellians.

"I'm afraid not," Thrawn replied drily. "Though considering you seem to have brought an assassin with you, perhaps I should reconsider."

Mara didn't bat an eyelash, but then again, she was the only one in the delegation who'd had more than a little experience with Thrawn already. "Haven't you heard? Your daughter and I are friends now. And wasn't that a surprise, I might add. I knew you were good at keeping secrets, even from Palpatine, but I doubt anyone ever imagined you as a family man. Amazing how well she turned out. Must get it from her mother."

If anything, Thelea thought her father went more rigid at that than he had being slapped in the face. She kept her own tone level, though. "She did shoot one of those battle droids off my back, Father. And aren't you the one who always insists I take after Mother?"

"Certainly in some respects," and judging by his tone he didn't mean positive ones. "I understand Mara Jade is here on your recognizance, Commander Skywalker. Given what happened the last time the two of you were aboard my flagship, should I find that reassuring?"

Luke, for his part, gave a very Rebel-like shrug. "I don't know. Are you holding any prisoners we need to break out?" Something in his eyes, though, suggested he was almost hiding a laugh. It seemed an absurdly cavalier attitude, considering the circumstances.

Then Thelea remembered this was, after all, the man who'd faced down Darth Vader and the Emperor and lived to tell the tale. By comparison, her father probably wasn't that intimidating.

Thrawn, meanwhile, was still considering this particular visitor with a narrowed gaze Thelea didn't entirely like. "While I have consented to conduct business without the presence of ysalamiri, I assume you're aware that Thelea will detect any attempts to use the Force, for influence or—" His gaze shifted to Mara. "—other purposes."

Luke returned the direct gaze, and something shifted in his posture, a straightening and a directness that made him seem taller. More imposing. Jedi. "And I'll be aware of any ill intent towards any of the delegation. I hope neither Thelea's abilities or mine will be necessary."

Thrawn continued to study him for a moment, but didn't reply. Instead he looked to the rest of the delegation. "Councilor Berus, Councilor Sien Tev, you are welcome aboard as well. And I appreciate, Councilors, that your demonstrate trust in these proceedings by agreeing to the limited guard."

"One Wookiee's worth ten guards anyway, right, Chewie?" Solo glanced up at his copilot, who growled something Thelea assumed was agreement. "If we've got these private quarters, how about getting us moving? Chewie says stormtroopers make him nervous, and when Wookies get nervous, they start taking things apart." The direction of his gaze said that 'things' probably included stormtroopers.

"Of course. Captain Caelin, if you will see to our guests?"

Rurik straightened a bit with all the Rebel attention suddenly turned to him. "Commander Sosabow," and from behind the stormtroopers, the first officer appeared with a small guard of six Navy troopers. Less intimidating, in many ways, than the stormtroopers, but still armed. "My first officer will see you to your quarters, Councilors, with your . . . assistants. There will be a dinner this evening, ship's time, in the senior officer's wardroom, but if there's anything else you require in your quarters please inform the Commander and it will be arranged."

Thelea was mildly surprised. Not just at how easily Rurik fell into the tones of a proper commanding officer, but how it worked on him. She could see even Leia softening just a touch, whether at the proper courtesies or being addressed by someone who'd admitted she was intimidating, it was impossible to say.

Better than his first officer. The poor man looked like he'd just been dropped between a starving nexu and a stampeding herd of banthas and wasn't sure which was going to be worse. "Of course," he said, glancing nervously at Thrawn, who didn't so much as twitch. "Of course, Councilors, if you'll follow me. Your quarters are in the forward section, near the admiral's and the captain's, and we've equipped them with everything you'll need." While also disabling most of the data stations and ports, he didn't say, because it would have been impolite and because they all certainly knew.

"Please, Commander," Leia said, once again in that deadly polite tone, "lead the way."

"Yeah, I hope that includes a lot of provisions," Solo put in. "Wookiees have a serious appetite, and Chewie's getting hungry."

Sosabow looked as if he were seriously considering fainting, if only to get out of his duty. But a look from Rurik to Thrawn and back again seemed to restore his resolve. Or at least convince him the consequences of trying to escape would be worse than anything the Rebels had in mind.

The minute the visitors had cleared the deck, Thrawn turned to Thelea, his expression darkening. "That did not go as congenially as your reports might have suggested it could."

"You tried to kidnap her children, Va'ti," she pointed out mildly. "Good faith and military support can only go so far to mitigate that, no matter how good your reasons might have been." Nothing in his expression changed, so she added in Cheunh, "Think about what Mother would have done in her place. Even I remember her well enough to know she wouldn't be taking your side here."

The flush of anger that rose in his face faded almost as quickly. "You may perhaps have a point," but something in his tone said he agreed more than he cared to admit. Rurik had the slightly lost look most Imperial officers seemed to get when they or any of the Hand phalanx spoke Cheunh in front of them, but Thelea also had the distinct impression he listening, too.

There was a warning klaxon, and a Z-95 approached the hangar bay. They were well out of range of the danger area as the magnetic field dropped, which gave Thelea plenty of time to try keeping the anger from coloring her own features. Humans might not be able to see the difference, but her father would and he'd probably ask some uncomfortable questions.

Or worse, not ask and draw the entirely wrong conclusions.

"One of your other agents, sir?" Rurik, at least, was in the dark, but accepted the new arrival must have had the proper clearance. He was even starting to sound like one of her father's officers.

"It would seem so." Much to her relief, her father didn't explain further. Instead, he switched to Cheunh. "Are there further problems with Kres'ten'tarthi, daughter?" The edge to the question actually sent a shiver down her spine.

Fortunately, she had an answer. "Not the kind you mean, Father."

She didn't move as Stent approached, calmly removing his flight gloves and stopping at attention before Thrawn. "Syndic," he said, nodding respectfully. "I have a report on the engagement with the enemy over Coruscant."

The engagement I certainly did not give you permission to engage in, let alone in a fighter ready for the scrap heap. Thelea gritted her teeth.

"Which you may deliver in my ready room, where I am certain none of our guests will be able to eavesdrop, even by accident."

That managed to register even through the simmering temper. "You brought ysalamiri from the Chimaera?"

"Three, on a nutrient frame," Thrawn said calmly. "A wiser precaution than I thought. I anticipated Skywalker and his sister would be in the delegation, but Jade's presence is unexpected. And unwelcome."

She didn't miss the sideways glance. "Just remember when you're inside their influence Skywalker and Jade can't reach you, but neither can I. Remember what almost happened." She clenched her left hand under the glove.

Thrawn didn't say anything. Instead he gestured to Rurik. "Captain Caelin, may I present Commadner Kres'ten'tarthi, head of my Household Phalanx and acting as my daughter's bodyguard. Kres'ten'tarthi, Captain Rurik Caelin of the Defiance."

Stent gave Rurik a glance so measuring it was bordering on disrespectful. "Captain Caelin." His gaze shifted to Thelea and she cursed the heat creeping up her neck. "Lady Thelea."

"Kres'ten'tarthi," she said through gritted teeth. "I have not had time to properly address your behavior during the recent engagement."

"You ordered me to contact the fleet," Stent said, with the kind of shrug that made her want to hit things. "I obeyed."

"I said nothing about joining the attack, let alone in a fighter barely worthy of the name." She tried to relax her fists, but they seemed to have minds of their own. "I did not condone that level of risk. What if you had been killed? Your orders from your Syndic were to protect me and support the mission. That would be difficult to do if you were dead."

Stent actually seemed to consider that a moment. Thelea fought the urge to see how her father was taking the exchange, but decided his silence was as good as endorsement and kept her glaze fixed on him.

Finally he said "I accept the Lady's rebuke. In future, I will obey her orders." The Cheunh wasn't nearly as jarring as the sudden swing to the most humble grammar, made worse by the twitch he couldn't quite hide in his cheek as he struggled to keep down a smile.

Worse, she could have sworn her father stifled a chuckle.

That was the part that was too much. "Gah!" She thought about slapping him but checked it to merely a shove with both hands, hard enough rock Stent on his heels.

This time, Thrawn did make a sound suspiciously like a laugh. "I believe I owe you an apology, Kres'ten'tarthi." That got two puzzled looks, genuinely curious from Stent, and gritted teeth from Thelea. "I had assumed your . . . interest . . . was one-sided. It appears I misjudged my daughter's feelings."

"I assume, Captain Caelin, my father's requested quarters be assigned for me as well?" Thelea said, pointedly avoiding looking at Thrawn.

Rurik was looking from her to Stent and back again. He hadn't understood the Cheunh, she was sure of that, but she couldn't read the flicker of emotions across his face, broad as human feelings always were. "He has, yes," he said finally.

"Excellent. Where?"

She could see he was fighting the urge to look for Thrawn's approval, or direction, or something. And strangely, that impressed her. If nothing else, he seemed to respect the Grand Admiral. "Deck twelve, six-eight-four-five."

Forward end of officer's row, near the VIP quarters if not one of them. Likely near her father's, and the guests. Practical, sensible. A logical place to put a visitor.

She did notice he hadn't had to think about the number, though.

"Good. If the lock isn't keyed to my code already, it had better be by the time I get there. I'd like a little time to myself before the meetings begin." She paused. "I expect you'll want a private briefing first, Father?"

"Your reports have been more than adequate. But yes, a private word." From the look he gave Stent, he'd be giving a report, too. Probably more about her than the Rebels.

"Then I will see you shortly. Captain . . . ." For a minute, Thelea couldn't quite finish the thought. "It's good to see you again."

Rurik probably thought he was doing a perfectly-impassive expression, but she could see the tiny twitch in his cheek. "Likewise, Lady Thelea." And she definitely caught the narrowing of his eyes when they turned to Stent.

How is it I'm actually looking forward to being with Darth Vader's children rather than my own people right now? She was glad no one could hear that thought. Instead of voicing it, she turned and looked at Stent, too. "Now look what you've started." He was much better at being impassive than Rurik. He even managed not to blink.

And she didn't bother looking to see how her father took it. Instead, she spun on her heel and started for the turbolifts. She didn't need to be a Jedi to feel three pairs of eyes, at least, watching her leave.

But it did make the sensation much harder to ignore.