Title: The Fruitcake Menace
Summary: Lana Beniko faces down a grave threat to the Alliance–the Commander's wretched Life Day treats.
Pairing: Mostly Gen (maybe some background/implied Theron/Outlander)
Spoilers: Some for KOTET, especially the LS path
Author's Notes: So I made the mistake of making my main Jedi Knight in Sims 4, and she has a habit of making fruitcakes for all of her new neighbors. I was talking to Jayde about it… and then this… happened…
Had Lana Beniko, Dark Lord of the Sith and second-in-command for the Alliance, realized the far-reaching implications of allowing the traditional holiday celebrations on the base, she would have nixed the idea in the bud. Having been raised in a proper Sith household, she saw more prudence in respecting Imperial Edict GR-1NC4 than the silly traditions of an alien holiday. But as self-appointed morale officer, Vette had argued for the need to raise spirits of all those around the base who couldn't return home to their families after joining the war against Zakuul.
Never had she imagined that the Alliance's commander would get so drawn into the celebrations so thoroughly. She had been such a traditional Jedi, things such as celebrating holidays had never been a normal part of her life. It was likely that a five year sleep in toxic carbonite had affected the mental faculties of a once sharp and pragmatic mind. That was the only explanation that Lana could come up with when the Commander presented her with the small, plastic-wrapped package during the drunken celebration in the cantina.
Over the Commander's shoulder, she saw Theron Shan hide his laughter behind a long drag off his mug of spiced Arkanian sweet milk. She would have tossed the spy a glare, but the Commander was watching her expectantly.
"I... don't know what to say," Lana said diplomatically, palms still turned up where the innocuous package sat.
"Kaliyo said it was a Life Day tradition to give friends and family one of these." She rubbed her chin thoughtfully as Lana tried to figure out the most diplomatic way to retreat. "I didn't have access to the traditional Kashykkk ingredients, so I just made it from some dried fruit and nuts the mess staff had found here on Odessen."
"You... made this?"
The Commander nodded brightly, and over her shoulder Theron was giving Lana the most shit-eating grin she had ever seen on the man. "Isn't that nice, Lana? The Commander made one for all of us."
"Bowdarr said that on Kashykkk these celebrated friendship and fellowship," the Jedi continued on, apparently oblivious to the byplay between her two senior-most staff members, "and that it means the most when it's handmade."
"I'm... touched," Lana finally choked out.
"Go on," Theron goaded, "try a bite. It's delicious."
This time she did shoot a glare at the SIS agent. "I thought I might enjoy it in private later."
"Everyone keeps saying that." The Commander frowned, brow crinkling in deep thought. "I don't understand why they can't be consumed in public. I'm sorry, I'm not used to this tradition. Was this an inappropriate gift? I didn't mean to offend anyone."
"No, no," Theron was quick to assure her, and gave the Sith a stern look, "of course not. I'm sure Lana would love to try some right now."
Lana was about to respond that she most certainly would not, and had no intention of eating the abomination that their commander had crafted with such care and devotion. The withering glare directed her way by Theron, joined by the Jedi's confused and crestfallen look unfortunately made the decision for her. With a quick prayer to the Dark Side of the Force, Lana pulled the ribbon off, and pinched off a small portion of the edge of the supposedly edible dessert.
"Make sure you get some of the dried muja fruit," Theron put in helpfully. "It really brings the flavors together."
When he least suspected it, Lana was going to make sure the spy got captured and interrogated by enemy forces again. She'd make sure there were vibroblades and Force lightning involved this time. Maybe an invasive probe too.
Steeling herself, Lana brought the crumbling, dry mass of foodstuff to bear, and delicately took a bite. The dried fruit stuck to the roof of her mouth, and the hard, roasted nuts were not ground very fine and nearly choked her. At the expectant expression from her friend, Lana forced down her initial reaction and was able to summon a smile. "I see what Theron means..."
"It's," Lana nearly choked on the lie as much as she did the cake, "delicious."
The Commander's face brightened, the wide smile almost blinding. Theron handed over his mug of Arkanian sweet milk as a conciliatory gesture so she could wash down the vestiges of the vile thing that she had just consumed. It wouldn't save the spy from Lana's future wrath, as even the small bite she had consumed sat like a lump in her stomach for at least two evenings thereafter.
The Commander was pulled away by a drunken troop of soldiers before anything else could be said about her gift. Theron just kept leaning against the wall, watching her with an overtly fond smile plastered on his face. Lana wanted to make some sort of scathing comment, but was still too busy trying to wash the horrid flavor from her mouth to be able to get a word in.
She made sure to tuck the little brick of horror away in her cloak so she could dispose of it properly once no one was around.
And thus, began the Saga of the Alliance Fruitcake.
Life Day came and went, and sadly Lana's chance for vengeance against her coworker never arose, as she had more pressing matters to attend to, like conducting a war against Zakuul, first with Aracann, and then later Vaylin.
She should have made an exception, though, because apparently her slip into sentimentality over the holidays had somehow emboldened the Commander, who made a point to welcome all of their new allies into the Alliance with one of her fruity blocks of death. Lana would have attempted to put a stop to it, but she didn't even find out about the Alliance's Official Welcome Basket until several months later.
"Oh, Minister Lormen!" The Commander had paused following Empress Acina's departing form to face the Minister of Logistics. "I wanted to thank you for your hospitality."
"I am merely doing my duty, Commander."
"Please, accept this gift as a token of friendship from the Alliance."
She handed over the tiny package, the expertly tied ribbon giving Lana horrible flashbacks to the holiday party. Gelmid Lormen stared at the tiny fruitcake in his hand, not bothering to hide his revulsion.
"This was completely unnecessary," he said.
"A token of friendship might not be necessary, but it's still given regardless." She bowed to him in true polite Jedi fashion. "I hope we can continue working together, Minister. It sounds like there's much to talk about."
"Thank you," Lormen said sourly. "And Commander, please do enjoy your flight."
The Jedi nodded amiably before following the way that Acina had left. Lormen watched her go, not bothering to hide his disdain for the gift that had been bestowed upon him nor its giver.
"Hey, Lormen," Theron called out, "make sure you take a nice big bite. It's got all the best Odessen has to offer!"
"It's Minister Lormen!" the Imperial snarled. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to!"
Lormen stormed away, pausing on the way out to unceremoniously shove the fruitcake into one of the waste chutes. Lana was pretty sure she heard the words "impertinent Republic pig" growled as the uptight man left them to their own devices.
"Damn, I was hoping he'd choke on it," Theron muttered. "Well, let's go find us a data access point, eh?"
"Theron," Lana said, managing to keep her composure, "what was that?"
"You heard the man, that was 'Minister' Lormen."
"I was talking about the package she gave him."
"Yes, that. The Commander is still handing out those wretched things?"
"Yeah, I guess so," he looked away guiltily, and then quickly made a line for the nearest computer bay. "You'll keep guard while I do this right?"
"Exactly how many of those things has she given out?"
Theron shrugged noncommittally, as he hooked into the system. "Haven't counted. Anyway, let me know if you see anyone coming. I should really concentrate on getting as much data while we've got the chance."
Lana scowled, but let the subject drop for now, as there were much more important matters at hand than the Commander's damn fruitcakes.
Now, it couldn't be proven that the Commander's ill-timed gift to Lormen had anything to do with him teaming up with Saresh and hiring the galaxy's best hit squad to take out her and Empress Acina — but Lana wasn't ready to completely rule out the possibility either. She had been ready to go into detail with the Commander regarding the delicate intricacies of intergalactic relations, but things just kept happening. Like Vaylin taking over the Gravestone, and then the whole crew getting kidnapped by a sentient planet filled with killer droids.
"I'm starving," Kaliyo complained, "please tell me one of you has something to eat."
"Sorry, I left all my rations back on the Gravestone before I was pulled here against my will," Jorgan snarled. "You want to go back for it?"
"Cool it, Kitty." She gave him a look, before looking across the way. "Hey, Chuckles, you got anything?"
"Is she talking to me?" Torian asked, confused.
Theron was too busy wearing a trench in the ground as he paced the length of the room, glaring at the door that Vette and the Commander had disappeared through to weigh in on the proceedings, so it was up to Lana to answer.
"Why don't you ask her?" she managed with some modicum of patience.
"I don't really want to."
Lana massaged her forehead, wondering how she had gotten mixed up with this lot.
"Hey, I've still got a bit of the Life Day fruitcake," Koth volunteered, "if you're desperate."
"Oh, god, pass!" Kaliyo stuck out her tongue. "Remind me never to joke around with Little Miss Literal again. I can't believe she's still making those things."
"I guess you're not really that hungry then."
"No one's that hungry! Why are you even carrying that around in your coat? Do you ever clean out your pockets?"
Koth shrugged. "Sometimes."
"Can we please stop discussing the Commander's questionable taste in pastries?" Lana asked, before turning to Theron. "And can you be still for one second?"
"There's no rope to tie me to a chair with here," he shot back.
"I'll use the Force," she bit back. "You're making me dizzy."
"Should we go after them?" Theron shook his head immediately. "What am I saying? We should definitely go after them."
"They've been gone five minutes!"
"It's been forty-five!"
"Are you actually counting?"
"Of course I am! You know what happens every time she leaves our sight these days! First it was the sabotaged shuttle, then the league of assassins. Then she had to go diffuse a quantum bomb!"
"Yeah, sorry about that by the way," Koth said sheepishly.
"I helped disable that bomb," Lana reminded the spy with more than a hint of impatience.
"So I guess you're off babysitting duty."
"The Commander's a big girl, Theron, I think she can handle—"
"Get that away from me!" Kaliyo growled.
Lana let out a long sigh as she looked over to see that Koth was shoving a plastic wrapped bundle of disgustingness into the Rattataki's face. The Sith gave Theron one final look before swiftly marching over to the two feuding children, snatching the deadly dessert away with one swipe.
"Hey, that's mine!" Koth protested.
"Well, then you shouldn't go torturing others with it."
"Has anyone ever told you that you're no fun anymore?"
"Are any of you capable of acting more than five years old?"
Torian raised his hand, but Lana just gave him a look, and he slowly lowered it without a sound. Jorgan just snorted and crossed his arms, but kept standing sentry near the force field. She turned back to Koth, still keeping the plastic package out of his reach.
"Why do you even still have this thing?"
"It was a gift! Even if I'm not going to eat it, you just don't throw things like that way."
Lana slid a guilty look away, but he caught it, and gave out a harsh laugh.
"I guess some of us do," he corrected.
"No need to throw it away," Kaliyo added. "Mine makes a perfectly good door stop. Works great when you need to keep one wedged open while stealing things."
"I don't need to hear this," Jorgan muttered irritably.
"You didn't just eat yours?" Torian frowned.
"You weren't even here at Life Day," Lana said exasperated. "How did you even get one?"
"The Commander brought several to Darvannis. We assumed that it was some sort of initiation rite to finish them. Our best warriors took on the challenge."
"You crazy Mandalorians ate that thing?" Kaliyo asked in awe.
"Not everyone was fit for battle the next day," he admitted quietly.
"Oh, this is absurd!" Lana cried and threw the hated confection back at Koth, who barely managed to catch it before it gave him a concussion. "Exactly how many of these things did she make?"
Koth stowed away his precious Life Day present before Lana confiscated it again. "There's a lot stowed away on the Gravestone."
Over on the other side of the room, Theron paused in his glaring contest with the door long enough to try and disguise a cough.
"Do I even want to ask why?"
"Something about giving a token of friendship to anyone joining the Alliance. I don't know." Koth shrugged. "I just have to keep the storage closets locked up tight, it seems to attract wildlife otherwise."
"That seems like an unusually large amount of fruitcake."
"Hey, I just do what I'm told."
"That guy." Koth pointed at the unusually quiet SIS agent trying to blend into the background. "He's the one who keeps throwing more at me to stash away."
"Theron," Lana said warningly.
"Hmm?" Theron pretended to look up from deep in thought. "Did you need something?"
She crossed the room again, dropping her voice this time so the rest of the crew wouldn't need to listen to them arguing. "Do you mind explaining why the Gravestone has become a giant traveling pastry shop?"
"Would you believe the Omnicannon was hungry?"
"No," she said flatly. "Please do not tell me that the Commander has been giving out those things to everyone we've been trying to recruit into the Alliance."
"I won't tell you."
Lana snorted angrily. "Do you enjoy testing my patience, or is it just a natural talent?"
"A little of both," he shrugged. "Was there a point to this?"
"Yes, we're trying to build alliances here, not tear them down!"
"I really don't think that some homemade baked goods is going to kill any political ties."
"I've tasted those things, don't even try to tell me that!" she spat. "We have to make her stop. You know those things are taboo on some planets!"
"Oh, come on, it makes her happy to give those things away."
"But we could start a war!"
"Nah, I've got that covered."
"How do you have 'that covered'?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "I just swap it out when she's not looking."
"You do what?" Lana asked in disbelief.
"You know, I always have a backup on hand. And like a spy, when everyone's distracted," Theron mimed a confusing series of actions that Lana had no hope of deciphering, "I make the old switcharoo."
"You just always have a backup cake on hand?"
"It pays to be prepared," Theron said. "Also Bowdarr makes a mean forest-honey cake. He keeps me hooked up."
"Isn't Kashykkkian forest-honey ungodly expensive right now?"
"Gault gave me a discretionary confectionary budget, on the condition I make sure the Commander never bakes for him again."
"So let me get this straight," Lana said, stretching out the words as she tried to calm her rising frustration, "for the past several months, you've been diverting Alliance funds to purchase expensive decoy pastries to swap out with the Commander's paltry excuses for dessert, in an effort to save our political partnerships, rather than just politely ask her to stop?"
"Well, if you phrase anything like that it'll sound ridiculous." He crossed his arms.
"At least this explains why you've been tagging along with her everywhere lately."
"What did you think I was doing?"
"I just thought you were getting clingy!"
"Hey! I'm not clingy!"
"You were ready to go track her down after she's been gone for ten minutes!"
"It's been an hour!" he corrected. "Who knows what she's got trying to kill her at this point? It could be a droid the size of a building! You just know she'd go after something like that with just her lightsabers without a second thought!"
"You're being ridiculous. There are no giant killer droids here!"
"I hate it when Mommy and Daddy fight," Kaliyo stage-whispered to Torian and Koth.
"Button it!" Lana pointed a finger at the grinning Rattataki, before turning back to Theron. "We're having an intervention when we get back to Odessen."
"That's not necessary. I can stop worrying any time I want."
"I'm talking about the Commander and her baked goods problem!" Lana threw her arms up in the air. "Please, Theron, try and keep up."
"Don't you think you're overreacting a little bit?"
"You're filling up all of the Gravestone's cargo holds with the damn things, and starting a minor zoo in the process from what it sounds like!"
"Pest duty gives HK-55 something to do," Koth put in helpfully.
"Not helping," Lana pointed at the pilot without looking at him, still glaring at Theron. "And don't you have other duties other than being a glorified pastry delivery boy?"
"It takes like maybe five minutes out of my day. I can keep everything running smoothly and swap out a few cakes when no one's the wiser."
"Can't you at least dump the excess waste into the vacuum of space?"
"But I've finally found a use for them," he said cheerily. "I make sure to give one to Saresh and Lormen once a week!"
"I thought cruel and unusual punishment was against Republic law."
"I make exceptions for people who try to take over the Alliance via assassination." Theron's smile was sharp. "Besides, we're not in the Republic, are we?"
"Remind me not to get on your bad side."
"Too late. And the pastry runs are continuing indefinitely! If you're not careful, I'll start stashing them in your closet."
"All right, fine," she ground out, "since you're being so stubborn about this, I will have a talk by myself with the Commander when we get back home and put a stop to this nonsense."
"Fine." Theron gave her a dark look. "And the next time you get a soul devouring monster stuck in your head, I'll make sure to take away the little things that bring you joy in life."
"That is not fair!" Lana bristled. "I think there are happier things in the Commander's life than baking wretched Life Day treats and handing them out to strangers!"
Before they could delve into that subject any deeper, a heavy groan drowned out their argument, and a tremor that seemed to shake the ground. Very distantly, it almost sounded like a deep thrum of lightsabers bouncing off metal. Both Theron and Lana cursed in unison, as an even deeper tremor and crash of something shook the ground on the side of one of the sealed doors. It took some of Jorgan's conveniently stashed explosives, but they finally met up with their wayward leader, her Twi'lek companion, and the building sized robot they had taken down with just a pair of lightsabers and blasters.
"Told you," Theron grumbled and crossed his arms.
"Oh, shut up."
At this point, Lana really should have come to expect this. She stood in the back of the Alliance's war room next to Theron, who was watching the Commander interact with their latest recruit with more than a good deal of skepticism. From his glare, it's almost as if he expected at any moment Arcann would pull out a can of carbonite and douse the Commander with it. Lana couldn't exactly blame the former spy, as she had her own doubts about the man's deep seated desire to change, much less the ability of everyone else on the base to welcome him with open arms.
The Commander, of course, welcomed him in what was apparently now the official Odessen tradition, which was with a homemade fruitcake.
"This is for me?" The former prince of darkness asked in awe, as if he had never received a present before in his life. "Really?"
"Welcome to the Alliance, Arcann," the Commander smiled warmly.
"I... I don't know what to say."
"I do," Lana whispered. "Run. Before it consumes you alive."
Theron elbowed her firmly, but didn't want to stop glaring at the former Emperor long enough to really share his ire with anyone else.
"Can I open it now?" he asked.
"Of course!" she beamed.
He reverently opened up the package, and took a large bite from the cake. Lana wasn't able to completely suppress her gasp of horror, while Theron just nodded approvingly. Of course, seeing as he used the weaponized baked goods against his enemies, it was hard to tell if this was due to an acceptance of their new ally, or his anticipation of Arcann's imminent demise. Being the dark spawn of Valkorion, Arcann was apparently made of sterner stuff than most, because his eyes just widened in delight as he wolfed down a full quarter of the cake.
"This is AMAZE-ing!" he enthused.
"I'm so glad you like it!" She clapped her hands excitedly.
"Is there more?"
"Let me go grab some!"
As she disappeared down the hallway, Theron exhaled an angry breath through his nose. Lana gave him a sidelong glance. "What's your problem?"
"I didn't get that reaction."
"Please tell me you're not jealous. I don't have time to deal with that and the Commander's never ending supply of fruitcake."
"I don't get jealous."
"Or clingy." Lana rolled her eyes. "Yes, you're truly the model of upstanding honesty, clearly demonstrated by your elaborate pastry scheme that I'm sure you've let the Commander in on by now."
"You know, Lana, they say sarcasm is the lowest form of wit."
"You're getting upset that the Commander is glad that someone enjoys one of her horrid baked concoctions. Wasn't making her happy the point of you hoarding them away on our premiere warship? Or were you just building up a stash in the hopes of forcing our political enemies to choke on them?"
"I'm just saying, I pretended to eat that thing! I didn't get a delighted clap."
"You pretended to eat it?" Lana asked, voice growing suddenly cold.
"And then you forced me into that awkward situation where I had to eat that abomination?"
"Oh, right," he said awkwardly. "I kind of forgot about that."
"Well, I didn't! I still can't get the taste out of my mouth! It's been almost a year and I'm still having nightmares about it!"
"Surely you're exaggerating."
"How do you know? You didn't even eat it!" she tossed back. "And you've been enabling this stupid behavior for who knows how long. She gave one to Lormen, for crying out loud!"
"Lana," a small voice interrupted, "what are you saying?"
Both she and Theron whipped around to see the Jedi standing a few feet away, looking at them uncertainly from where she had deposited a tiny mountain of fruitcakes at Arcann's feet. Lana looked around, trying to see if there was a convenient hole she could go dive in, but apparently the maintenance crew was very good at their job, as the only route of escape was either the elevator, or the underground stream trailing underneath the metal platform making up most of the room.
"I..." Lana stammered. "Um, that is..."
She looked at Theron for help, who just folded his arms stubbornly. "I've got no clue, Commander. I think she needs some sleep."
"Oh, for Sith's sake!" Lana gave him a rough shove as she stalked over to the Jedi. "This has gone on long enough!"
"The fruitcakes, Commander. You need to stop giving out the fruitcakes!"
"I don't understand." She shook her head and looked to Theron for guidance. "I thought it was a kind gesture. Are you telling me it's not?"
"Look," Lana said gently, "I'm not saying Lormen tried to have you brutally murdered because you handed him a fruitcake—logistically I'm sure he'd already hired everyone at that point."
"Oh, come on," Theron said, "he didn't even try the fruitcake. I don't think it's very fair to blame it."
"He threw it away?" The Commander looked not unlike an akk dog puppy that had just been kicked by a cruel master. "I feel like there's something no one's telling me."
Lana shot Theron a glare. "I'm sorry to have to explain this to you, as I guess some general knowledge apparently never made it to the Jedi Temple, but... no one likes fruitcake, Commander."
"No one?" She frowned. "But you said you did."
"Why would you lie about that?"
"Because your eyes were about doubling in size when it looked like I didn't. Kind of like they are right now. Please don't do that—"
"But Theron said—"
"He lied too!" Lana interrupted. "He's never even tried one!"
"You traitor!" Theron snapped. "What did I ever do to you?"
"You made me eat the damn thing in the first place!"
"And I'd do it again in a heartbeat!" he snarled.
"Theron's been swapping out your fruitcakes behind your back," Lana told the confused Jedi triumphantly, "and storing the others on the Gravestone. It's why we've had an uptick in wildlife infestations on the ship."
"This is... a lot to take in," she said quietly. "No one likes them?"
"This is amazing!" Arcann enthused from the other side of the room, lost in his pile of fruitcakes.
"Okay, almost no one," Lana conceded. "But seriously, Commander, you need to stop. Both of you need to. This is getting out of hand."
"I... suppose. If that's what best."
Lana couldn't decipher if the Jedi was just confused, or very depressed by the sudden revelations. Either way, her downcast expression was almost making Lana want to take back the last few minutes, as wonderfully freeing as they had been.
"Come on, Commander," Theron threw his arm around the Jedi's shoulders and began to lead her from the room, "I was trying to keep it a surprise, but Dr. Oggurobb's been working on a nice big walker just for you."
"Well, it's no giant Iokath war droid... but still pretty tall."
"Can I step on Skytroopers with it?"
"You can stomp on so many Skytroopers with it—"
Lana watched them go, the feeling of victory over the horrible fruitcakes ringing hollow. Perhaps it was the bitter taste of dried fruits and nuts that lingered to this day, or maybe it was it was the dejected look her friend had carried as she left the room, or maybe the fact that somehow that damn spy had gotten off scot-free in this whole thing.
"Lana!" Koth's voice rang over her comm piece. "I need you to send me backup, and a lot of flame throwers, like right now! Bring your lightsaber too!"
"Koth, what's the matter?"
"It's the sleens! They've caught the scent of the closet Theron's been using for the fruitcakes! There's too many of them—we can't hold them off!"
Or, perhaps, it was that.
Lana let out a heavy, burdened sigh, and trudged off toward the elevator so she could go deal with the chaos wrought by her nemesis one last time. As she strode away, she didn't even notice the lone figure still in the room, curled in on himself as even his unnaturally strong digestive system finally lost the battle with the Commander's fruitcake.
Heedless, he lifted one last bite to his mouth. "This is... amaz...ing..."