It was the sort of snow Pellaeon hated — each flake stuck together in a fat and spiky clump, stabbing into his exposed face like shards of ice — and it was just his luck that it started now, when they were still a kilometer or more from the ship. He placed one hand over his right cheek, shielding it from the wind, and plowed forward with a muttered curse.
He made it only five steps before he realized the Grand Admiral wasn’t following him.
Pellaeon turned, snow catching against the corner of his unprotected eye. Behind him, Thrawn stood politely to one side of the pathway, his hands in his pockets, his chin angled up to look at the sky. There was nothing special about it, Pellaeon thought after a quick upward glance, his eyes narrowed, his cheeks stinging with cold. The sky was a dull white-gray, the clouds stretched flat and pattern-less; the sun was no longer visible. Nothing worth looking at there.
“Sir!” Pellaeon called.
Thrawn blinked and lowered his head to meet Pellaeon’s eyes so slowly that at first Pellaeon couldn’t be sure he’d heard him. Every cell inside Pellaeon’s body screamed in protest as he walked back five steps to stand in front of Thrawn: the shuttle is that way, you idiot! his blood howled at him. Is your idiosyncratic commanding officer really worth the risk of hypothermia? Of frostbite?
In front of Thrawn, Pellaeon raised his left hand, his leather glove protecting him from the wind and snow. Thrawn made no such move to protect himself; icy flakes had gathered in his hair and clung to his eyelashes, but his uniform remained seemingly pristine — unlike Pellaeon’s, where the snow stood out starkly against the olive-gray fabric. He watched as snow peppered the right side of Thrawn’s face, the wind so harsh that he could see the blue skin of Thrawn’s cheeks turning darker in response.
“Sir?” Pellaeon said again. the word coming out as an impatient grunt. He glanced down Thrawn’s body, searching for anything he might have forgotten inside the conference hall — his code cylinders, his comlink — but there was nothing to be found.
“Walk on without me, Captain,” said Thrawn, his voice even and calm.
Pellaeon didn’t respond for a moment. He stared at Thrawn, feeling frozen in more ways than one. Thrawn’s eyes tracked away from him, seeming to glow brighter, but when Pellaeon followed his gaze, he saw only frost-covered grass and an uneven coating of snow reclaiming the fields and drifting over the roads.
“I’m feeling a bit weary,” Thrawn said when Pellaeon didn’t immediately obey his order. He didn’t look weary, Pellaeon thought. He certainly didn’t sound weary. He eyed Thrawn dubiously, letting his disbelief show on his face. “I’d like to sit down for a moment,” Thrawn said, still not glancing Pellaeon’s way. He indicated a bench behind them, perhaps a yard or two away.
“It’s colder than the void out here, sir,” Pellaeon protested. He turned his hand so that Thrawn could see the wind-facing side, which was covered in a thick crust of snow. “Your hair’s turning white,” he added.
In response, Thrawn only removed his hands from his pockets and, with delicate gestures, picked the white leather gloves off his hands. He extended his hand palm-up, snowflakes landing on blue skin and staying there, not dissolving.
“Nine hells,” Pellaeon muttered. He stomped around to stand on Thrawn’s other side, using him as a somewhat ineffective wind-block. Pellaeon crossed his arms tightly over his chest, his skin feeling flushed and overheated underneath his uniform; he watched snow gather on his sleeve and down the front of his tunic, and after a few minutes, he shuffled closer to Thrawn, tucking his head against the other man’s shoulder — not quite touching, but close enough that the snow couldn’t get to him.
The snow fell harder. The temperatures dropped. Thrawn’s hands stayed outstretched, catching snowflakes in his palms; his head remained tipped back, eyes open and glowing softly as the storm gathered around him. His lips were parted, icy clumps of snow catching on the bottom one and staying there, intact, for several seconds longer than they lasted on Pellaeon’s skin.
“I go back," Thrawn murmured finally, his voice distant, his eyes dazed, “to the void where frost and snow won’t bother me.”
Pellaeon said nothing; an involuntary shiver brought him closer to Thrawn, his cheek brushing the Grand Admiral’s shoulder.
“A traditional death poem of my people,” Thrawn said, his eyes still on the snowflakes falling from the sky. “It’s inscribed on more gravemarkers than you could ever count.”
Pellaeon pulled away slightly, braving the wind to face Thrawn and study his face. He saw nothing troubling there, nothing macabre — only a certain peculiar softness, a hint of sadness that he’d seen a hundred times and never had the courage to address. He nudged Thrawn subtly, a brush of his elbow against Thrawn’s sleeve, and waited until those glowing red eyes landed on him.
“Is it a poem you subscribe to?” he asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
He watched Thrawn’s lips curve into the faintest smile.
“No,” said Thrawn, brushing the clumps of ice out of his hair. He turned and faced the sky again, never losing the smile. “I don’t think frost and snow will ever bother me again.”