A/N: I was going to wait until after the KFM challenge to post but it's kind of a Christmas-y story (sort of...not really) but I figured it's more appropriate to post now than after the holidays when the gift-giving is done. Thanks to all who reviewed on the other site. There's some great fics there. Happy Holidays everyone!
It's the Thought that Counts
Coruscant, The Skysitter Restaurant, Winter Fete (Yuletime)
Mira had been hit on before. Plenty of times. In fact, it was a point of pride that she could not recall spending a night out without attracting the attentions of at least one male specimen of any number of species. And of those numerous flirtations, many were with attractive and interesting men that Mira gladly bestowed at least an hour or two of her valuable time. But this guy…she thought with a roll of her eyes. Someone shoot me, please.
She was only half-listening to the corpulent man who had taken up a seemingly permanent residence in the stool beside her at the bar. He droned on and on about his youthful—and highly improbable—exploits of danger and adventure before accepting a clearly cushy (and less active) post in some sector of the government. Mira had become adept, in the twenty eternal minutes since he had approached her, at tuning him out while offering the occasional well placed, "Oh, really?" or "Is that a fact?" to keep him talking. While being in his company was amusing at best, it was either him, or no one.
Have I sunk this low? Mira mused to herself. Damn, girl, you're out of practice if he's the best you can do.
She sat in the lounge of Coruscant's most prestigious and elegant establishment, the Skysitter Restaurant. Admiral Onasi had insisted on treating the Exile—Arik Endac—and his crew, to a night of dinner and dancing to celebrate their successful endeavors, as well as the last night of the Winter Fete holiday. The crew and several dozen assorted dignitaries had only just recently finished dining on the most succulent food Mira had ever tasted, accompanied by the most exquisite wine she had ever drank, all the while sitting one thousand meters in the air. The Skysitter, while beautiful and opulent on the inside, also afforded its patronage the most breathtaking view of Coruscant anywhere on the planet and Mira had nearly choked on her stuffed quail when she realized it was rotating.
"You catch on quick, don't you?" Atton had been fast to quip. He had been sitting directly across from her and she had returned his comment with a swift kick in the shin.
After dinner, they had retreated to the restaurant's lounge where overstuffed chairs sat at polished tables near a long, gently curving bar. A dance floor was at a diagonal to the bar and a band was set up behind it. Muted but lively songs, all rather jazzy, filled the air as people laughed and drank and chatted.
In the weeks following their return from Malachor V, the crew of the Ebon Hawk had stuck together during the seemingly endless banquets and award ceremonies, but they had dispersed as they entered the lounge. Bao-Dur and Mandalore, having begun a conversation at dinner about the war, endeavored to continue it at one of the tables. Visas retired early citing a desire to meditate. The Exile and Brianna had stolen away to one shadowy corner near the bar, while Atton had found his way to the opposite end of the lounge, near the viewports. He had been immediately surrounded by a bevy of beautiful young women who were laughing like hyenas—to Mira's thinking—at every word he uttered.
That left the ex-bounty-hunter-turned-Jedi alone. No, not entirely alone. I have the Oily Diplomat, she thought with a sigh.
Mira wouldn't have minded the company, seeing as her compatriots had all abandoned her, but the diplomat reminded her of a slithery, greasy Gamorrean, with his wide, flat face and sweaty upper lip. But even his less-than-appealing appearance would have been tolerable had he tried a little bit harder to be believable. Mira didn't need to use the Force to know that he was stretching the truth (to put it politely) and outright lying (to put it bluntly) with his tall tales; tales in which he had to battle for his life with the rise of every sun and went to sleep at night content that he would live to fight another day.
Do I look that gullible? Mira wondered. Maybe it's the lighting.
She kept her eyes straight ahead or on her drink—some kind of rum and sweetmilk concoction the Coruscanti imbibed during the Winter Fete—anywhere but on her companion as a precaution against sending the wrong signal regarding how she and he were going to spend the rest of the evening.
A loud peal of girlish laughter directed her attention to the corner where Atton stood surrounded by his admirers. The women each wore elegant gowns of muted colors and were clearly at ease in such opulent environs. Mira never liked—nor had reason to—occasion fancy restaurants and her own dress, a skin-tight black number with a high collar, short sleeves and a scandalously plunging back, made her stand out among debutantes of the crowd.
It'll be a cold day in Tatooine before anyone catches me looking—or acting—like one of Atton's bimbos. The thought comforted her though her eyes, seemingly of their own accord, kept straying to that corner of the room.
"And that is how I was able to distract the rancor long enough to allow the children to escape," her companion proudly concluded and took a sip from his cocktail.
Mira shook her head as the Oily Diplomat's words sank in, and she looked around at him. "A rancor beast?" she asked dubiously. "A full-grown, adult rancor beast?"
The man flinched and his soft face turned a shade pink at this, her first direct question. "Well, perhaps an adolescent, but certainly not a baby," he said and took a long pull from his drink. "It was…ahem, rather large."
"I'll bet," Mira muttered and repressed a smirk. Her gaze went—again—to Atton in the corner and she was surprised to see him looking at her. He raised an eyebrow and glanced quizzically at her companion who had launched into another tale of heroism and adventure.
"Help me," Mira mouthed to Atton.
She hadn't thought she would be able to extricate him from his adoring audience—and he was much more likely to watch her suffer for his own amusement anyway. But to her surprise, and without so much as a word to the fawning women around him, Atton strode from the corner to where she and the Oily Diplomat sat at the curved part of the Skysitter's immense lounge bar.
"Darling, where have you been all night?" Atton sang out as he approached. He wrapped his left arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "I've been looking all over for you, my little flower!" he said, jostling her so that she was barely able to set her drink down before its contents were sloshed all over the bar.
"Oh, I've been right here, lover-pie," Mira said dryly, elbowing him sharply in the side. He relinquished his hold on her and turned to the Oily Diplomat who did not appear at all pleased at Atton's arrival.
"And who is this, my precious vision in black?" Atton demanded.
"This is Oi—" Mira stopped herself and skillfully morphed her sentence into, "This is—oh, I have forgotten your name. How rude of me."
"Rail Noor," said the man. Alcohol must have made him bold for he clearly was not about to surrender Mira without a fight—or at least a final boast. "I was just telling the young lady about the time I nearly lost my thumb to a kath hound who was tormenting a poor woman outside the village I grew up in. Nasty business, that, I managed to come out victorious," he challenged.
"Is that a fact?" Atton said. He offered his right hand, which bore a long black leather glove that disappeared under the sleeve of his jacket, for Rail Noor to shake. "Atton Rand," the pilot said smoothly, and he began to squeeze. Noor's eyes bulged and he glanced between his hand clutched in Atton's vise-like grip, and Atton's face. The pilot was crushing his hand yet showed no signs of strain or stress.
"That's quite the grip you have there," Noor managed through clenched teeth.
"Isn't it?" Atton smiled, though it didn't touch his hazel eyes in the least. "Lost my arm to a Sith Lord three weeks ago," he said in a quiet voice. "He was threatening the known universe with the extinction of the Force. Nasty business, that, but I managed to come out mostly victorious. I'm still alive, anyway." Atton released the man and flexed his own fingers a few times. The click, click sounds of artificial ligaments and mechanical joints at work were plainly heard.
Rail Noor flushed again and glanced between Mira and Atton. "A S-Sith Lord? Well…uh, I, er, I was—"
"Just leaving?" Atton finished for him, with a small smile to take the bite out of his words."Yes, quite," said the man. "Well done, young man. Would have done the same if I were in your shoes. Yes, tricky business, those Sith…" He slipped off his barstool, nursing his bruised fingers and still muttering to himself as he ambled away.
Mira sighed with relief. "Thanks, Slim."
Atton winked and sat at Noor's recently vacated stool. "Don't mention it, Red."
Mira smiled at their nicknames for each other. She always did.
"You came just in time," she said. "I was about to throw myself on the mercy of the bar."
"Really?" Atton asked. "And here I thought for sure I was interrupting something special," he said with a grin.
Mira snorted. "And I thought you gave me more credit than that."
Atton laughed. "What are you drinking?"
"Whatever this is," Mira shrugged with a nod at her glass.
Atton hailed the bartender and ordered her a glass of nog and a whisky for himself.
Mira relaxed and began to enjoy herself now that her irritating companion had been replaced with a much more amiable one. She was glad it was Atton in particular who had joined her as well, for she felt closest to him of all the crew of the Ebon Hawk. Though only the Force knows why, she mused fondly with a roll of her eyes as Atton attempted to get the bartender's attention by letting loose a piercing whistle that was completely inappropriate in a place like the Skysitter.
Hers and Atton's early days of acquaintance were colored with snide remarks and endless bickering over who stayed in the refresher too long every morning, or who left their gear around for others to trip on, before it had finally settled into an easy friendship. Then, she would have berated him for whistling as he just had, if only for the opportunity. Now, she just laughed at him and the laughed again as he triumphantly handed over her cocktail, a silly grin on his handsome features.
Atton settled into the stool, which was plush leather and had a high back, and his eyes trailed up and down her form. "Geez, Red, you clean up good. Real good. I didn't notice so much at dinner with all that food piled up between us, but man…" He let out another, lower whistle between his teeth.
"Thanks, Slim," Mira said. "You look…" Devastating. He looks devastating, she realized now that he was right in front of her.
Atton wore a dark, jewel-toned red shirt under a tight fitting, elegant short-coat in black silk and pants of the same material. His hair was slicked from his face and held with a gel so that it appeared wet. He no longer looked like the scruffy pilot she had met on the Ebon Hawk but more like a Corellian nobleman or lord.
"You don't look half bad, either," Mira finished. "Slightly less mangy than your usual look. You pick this out yourself?"
"Nah. Arik chose it for me," Atton said with a nod toward the Exile still sitting in a shadowy corner of the lounge, immersed in his conversation with Brianna. "He said they wouldn't let me in here in my normal 'attire.'" Atton snorted. "I hate stuffy, overpriced joints like this," he said just as the bartender lay their drinks before them. "No offense," he told the man.
The bartender sniffed and moved on.
"I mean, I'd much rather be sitting in some cantina on Nar Shaddaa, playing a game of pazaak and not paying twelve credits for a puny shot of whisky," he said, giving his glass a sour look.
"You're not paying for anything, you big baby," Mira said and rolled her eyes. "This whole party is on the Admiral….or the Republic anyway."
Atton's eyes danced in the dim light. "It's not who's paying for what, it's the principle of the thing," he said. "But seriously, you do look really sensational, Red."
Mira's met his eyes and was startled by the intensity of his gaze.
"Okay, okay," she said with a small, nervous laugh. "Don't get your shorts in a twist. I look alright." She caught sight of Brianna and Mira shifted in her chair. She watched Atton follow her gaze and suddenly and Mira felt severe and hard in her all-black dress. "Maybe I should have dressed like her," she said softly. "Maybe not so dark, you know?"
The Handmaiden wore a slippery gown of silver that draped over her lithe body in elegant folds and was set off by the blue crystals in her pale hair. At her throat was a necklace, a Yule gift that Arik had given her—a string of square-shaped sapphires that glinted even in the muted lighting of the lounge.
"She looks pure," Mira murmured, "like a pearl…" she said and stopped, realizing she had spoken aloud. "Or something. I don't know. She looks really good, is all I'm trying to say," she finished hurriedly and sipped her rum.
"Like a pearl, huh? She looks more like an icicle if you ask me," Atton said and shivered dramatically. "Honestly, I don't know what Arik sees in her. Well, I do…I've seen her in her underwear, but—"
"Oh, you have, have you?" Mira asked, arching an eyebrow at him. "And when was that?"
"When she was dueling with Arik on the Hawk, teaching him the Echani methods," Atton said with a shrug. "It's not like that was a big secret. Every time you turned around, the two were at it. But again, can't say that I'd blame him. I'd duel any woman who challenged me if we did it in our underwear."
"Of course you would," Mira said with a smirk. "It's practically emblazoned on your forehead: 'I'm a Sleazy Bastard.'"
"You're one to talk," Atton remarked, a mischievous grin on his lips.
"Oh, yeah? And what's that supposed to mean?"
"I mean, I heard you talking to Brianna about your…tactics, shall we say, regarding men."
Mira opened her mouth and then shut it with an audible clack. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said finally.
Atton sat back in his stool and laced his hands behind his head, a skrag-eating grin on his face. "Oh, I think you do. I seem to recall something to the effect of your dressing like…well, like how you're dressed now, so that while your targets are drooling, you knock'em out and starve them until they do your bidding."
Mira's eyes widened. Atton said something else, but she didn't hear it for her embarrassment. "You heard that? What'd you do, spend all your free time on the ship spying on the rest of us?"
Atton laughed. "Are you kidding? As soon as I hear the words 'Bothan stunners' and 'stun cuffs,' I'm all ears, sweetheart."
"God, you're a pig," Mira said.
"That's likely but you didn't answer my question."
"And what question is that?"
"Is that still your policy—that bit about the stunners—or do you have some new tricks you're itching to practice on someone?"
Atton was teasing her, she knew, but the same intensity was in his hazel gaze as was there when he was complimenting her on her dress.
"Uh…no," she muttered. "No, and you shouldn't have been eavesdropping on me," she continued in a louder voice. Atton just chuckled and sipped his drink.
Mira opened her mouth to reprimand him again—with vigor—when she realized she was more flattered than angry over his comments. Force, when did I become such a sap? I'm flattered because he was spying on me? Maybe it's the dress; it's so tight it's cutting off the oxygen supply to my brain.
But Mira remembered Atton wasn't the only one who eavesdropped. She had heard his confession to the Exile; she had stood frozen in the little room off the main hold of the Ebon Hawk as Atton had told Arik everything. Afterward, Mira had mistrusted the pilot but it hadn't lasted. Her own less-than-sparkling past roared to the fore of her thoughts as if in defense of him, and she had made her peace. Besides, it was none of my business anyway.
"Yes, it was," Atton said softly and Mira whipped her head around at him, startled by the intrusion into her thoughts. "Sorry, but these Jedi abilities…" he answered her accusing stare. "I'm just getting used to them. I didn't mean to pry but…hell, you know how it is."
"Yeah, I do, but I also know you shouldn't go sticking your Force into other people's thoughts," Mira snapped, wondering with alarm what else he had sensed. "You of all people should know that." She plucked violently at her cocktail napkin. "By the way, how's your never-ending pazaak game going?" she added, the words tumbling out before she could stop them.
That's terrific, she told herself. I'm sure he won't think you're the biggest schutta in the known galaxy, but he'll give you at least a second place. And why, for the Force's sake, do I care what he thinks anyway?
Mira braced herself for his cutting retort and was taken aback when Atton only sighed and nodded.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but that day I told Arik about my past, I knew you were listening." Atton smiled a mysterious, quiet smile, one devoid of pretense. "You may have noticed I was talking really loudly," he added with a wry laugh.
"Why?" Mira asked, her throat suddenly gone dry and her rum glass was empty. "I mean, why did you let me hear it?" she finished awkwardly.
Atton looked at his prosthetic arm and his real hand plucked absently at the tips of the black glove. "Because I wanted you to know. It was important to me that you knew and didn't hate me."
Mira was speechless. She quickly turned her eyes to the bar. "I didn't hate you," she muttered. I never could. "I don't hate you," she said aloud.
"I'm glad, Red," he said quietly. "Real glad."
Mira looked at him, meeting his hazel eyes that suddenly looked so soft in the dim light of the lounge. There was a silence then, full and heavy… and then Atton said loudly, "But that's enough reminiscing about our glory days. Let's have another round, shall we?"
Mira flinched but recovered quickly. Geez girl, get a grip. This is just Atton, for crying out loud, she told herself. Yeah, it is, came another, more pointed thought which she promptly ignored. She glanced about, trying to focus on something that wasn't him while he attempted to get the attentions of the bartender he had offended earlier. Her glance lit on Mandalore and Bao-Dur sitting at one of the lounges' tables near the dance floor, still deep in conversation.
"Probably trying to out-bore one another to death," Atton remarked, following her gaze.
"That's not a nice thing to say about your best friend," Mira returned.
Atton snorted. "Bao-Dur knows I couldn't care less about engines and—"
"I was talking about Mandalore," Mira said snickered at the sour expression on Atton's face. He and the warrior didn't get along very well—they never had and Mira enjoyed bating him over it.
"You know, I fought in the Mandalorian Wars too," Atton said, his tone taking on a darker edge, "but you don't see me yapping about it every other second."
"No, you just yap about pazaak every other second, driving the rest of us nuts with your endless accounts of how you beat some poor Rodian or another and how many credits you took, and what pretty little Twi'lek was swooning over you at the time—"
"Okay, okay, I got it," Atton relented, feigning surrender. "Where the hell is that bartender?"
Mira laughed and turned her attention to the other side of the room where Admiral Onasi stood chatting with a group of official-looking people. He was resplendent in a brilliant red dress uniform and his easy smile and warm eyes were striking even from clear across the room. He looks like such a kind man, she mused. She must have been staring for longer than she had realized for Atton cleared his throat.
"See something you like?" he asked, a crooked smile on his face that didn't quite touch his eyes.
"He's a good-looking man," Mira blurted and then wondered if she would ever be free of the need to say the exact opposite of what she intended. But some walls, built long ago and added to with every passing year, were hard to tear down. She glanced at Atton who was scowling.
"Yeah, if you like older men," he scoffed and then his demeanor instantly softened and the swagger drained from his voice. "Do you? Like older men?"
Mira cleared her throat that had suddenly closed on her for the way Atton was looking at her. "He's forty-two. He's not old," she said finally, managing a hint of her usual dry tone.
"You didn't answer my question," Atton said quietly. He looked as though he was about to say more but he shook his head instead. "Never mind. Let's dance," he said suddenly, almost fiercely.
"What?" Mira practically shouted, she was so startled at the prospect. "Dance? No…no, I can't."
"Sure you can," Atton said. "I've seen you. In that cantina on Nar Shaddaa the night we got a break. You were good. Not as good as me, of course, but you didn't embarrass yourself either." Atton said in a warmer tone and laughed at her incredulous expression. He took her hand in his black-gloved one. "Come on, Red, let's go."
"No, Atton, I really…"
"It's too late now, the Black Grip of Death has you," he said, with a nod at his prosthetic arm. It was his nickname for it and said in jest now, but Mira remembered it had been long days when Atton wouldn't eat or sleep or speak to anyone. Only Bao-Dur, undoubtedly because of his shared experience, was finally able to bring Atton around. Mira sensed the pilot hadn't fully recovered from his loss but was slowly making peace with it and the silly name was a step in that direction.
"It has a will of its own," he said about his arm now. "It won't let go until you dance with me. It's out of my hands, so to speak…or in them, actually. In any case, you have no choice."
Mira rolled her eyes at him but slipped off her stool nonetheless. "You really are a pain in the ass, you know that?" she said.
Atton just flashed her his charming smile with a wink, and hauled her onto the dance floor. "Yes, but it gets me what I want so where's my motivation to shape up?"
"Nice philosophy, Slim," Mira muttered.
The band was playing a jaunty little tune when she and Atton stepped on to the floor. Mira's dress was too tight to permit any kind of movement other than what it was designed for—slinky swaying of hips and undulating moves that accented the lines and curves of the satiny material. Mira was no stranger to such dancing but suddenly found herself as stiff as a rod of durasteel at the thought of dancing like that with Atton. Fortunately—or unfortunately, she wasn't sure which—the song ended and the band began a soft, slow-tempo song. Atton, without so much as a word, pulled her to him.
Atton was very tall. Mira was not. The top of her head barely brushed his chin and her head rested easily against his chest. He was wearing cologne, a subtle fragrance that was at once sweet and masculine at the same time, and more intoxicating, she thought, than the three cocktails she had drunk. As they danced, she found her head tucked securely under his chin despite the desperate protests of everything logical and cautious in her. He was holding her close against him, his hand on the bare skin of her back, and Mira closed her eyes, submerging herself in the moment before she could talk herself out of it.
He's changed so much, she thought. The man she had first met on the Hawk, disarming though he was, was a much more bitter, angry man than the one who held her now. That Atton had been plagued by his past. It was like a raging fire in his heart that Kreia kept stoking every chance she had, so that he knew no peace…until he confessed to the Exile. Arik Endac had somehow put out that fire, for Mira sensed no smoldering remains of hate or pain in Atton, only the good heart of a man who was growing healthier and more valuable with each passing day.
And sexier too, she thought and nearly stumbled. With a heroic effort, Mira hauled her attentions away from Atton and she forcefully directed them outward, to the rest of the lounge lest he sense them with the Force.
Her gaze fell on the Exile and Brianna. The woman was crying—silvery tears falling from silvery eyes and Arik was brushing them away with a gentle touch and soothing her with soft words. He was leaving to join Revan, Mira knew, and was likely trying to comfort Brianna who would not be permitted to accompany him.
"How sad," Mira murmured.
"What's that?" Atton asked. "Oh. Yeah, that's too bad," he said absently, following her gaze. "But hey, at least she gets to keep the necklace. Look at that thing! It must have cost him a fortune."
"Who cares about the necklace?" Mira snapped. "I'll bet you a thousand credits that Brianna would throw it on the floor and crush every pretty rock on it to dust under her heels if it kept Arik from leaving."
"All right, all right, if you say so," Atton said and Mira heard his chuckle rumble in his chest. "But you have to admit, the guy did good in the gift department," he continued, after a pause.
"Yeah, it's all right," Mira said. "Not my style, but it looks good on her."
"No, that is definitely not your style," Atton said.
Mira looked up at him as the song ended, loathe to leave his embrace. "Oh, and you think you know what my style is?"
"Absolutely," Atton said.
"Well, what did you get me to prove it?" Mira asked, her hands on her hips.
Atton grinned sheepishly. "Uh, you want another drink?"
Mira smirked and gave him a small shove off the dance floor. They returned to their seats at the bar, much to the bartender's annoyance.
"Well?" Mira persisted after Atton ordered their cocktails. "Where is my gift?"
"Sorry, Red," Atton said, chagrined. "I didn't get you a Yule present."
Mira held her accusing gaze for another moment, enjoying watching him squirm, before releasing him. "It's all right, Slim, I didn't get you anything either."
Atton sighed with a relief and handed Mira her glass. "Here's to not getting each other Yule presents," he said.
Mira nodded, suddenly not pleased at all that she had nothing for him. She touched her glass to his and then watched as Atton's face darkened.
"No, I take that back," he said abruptly. "This is terrible. Here we are, good friends and allies, having just spent the last five months in mortal danger, battling old hags and Sithspawn every damn hour, sharing secrets about our checkered pasts and inventing new and exciting uses for Bothan stunners, and we didn't even bother to get each other Yule gifts?" Atton gave a low whistle and sat back in his stool, shaking his head solemnly. "Pitiful."
"Well, it's a little late now to do anything about it. Tonight is the last night of Winter Fete. We'll just have to make do with each other's company," she said.
"No, no, we cannot admit defeat that easily," Atton continued. "We have to do something, and quick."
"Like what?" Mira asked, sipping her rum.
"We have to exchange gifts right here, right now, right in this room."
"How? I don't have anything to give you, Slim," Mira said, and again wished desperately that wasn't true. Why didn't I get him something? But she thought she knew. The Exile would leave soon and the crew would go their separate ways. It was inevitable and while the thought of Atton's departure was like an ache in her heart, Mira had accepted it by not dwelling on it. She had thought about giving him something but somehow she felt that if she did, it would be as good as giving him a parting gift. And I don't want to say goodbye just yet, okay? she thought with sudden irritation.
"Sure you do," Atton said, and Mira thought for a moment he was answering her thoughts. "There's got to be something you can give me right here. Whatever it is, I'm ready. Lay it on me."
Mira looked at him as though he'd grown a second head. "What? Atton, I don't have anything to give you. Except for my earrings. I have my earrings and while they're pretty nice, I don't think would match your shirt. Other than that—"
"Mira," Atton said in a mock-warning tone. "I'm waiting."
The woman turned from his penetrating hazel gaze and took a sip of her drink. Just before her lips touched the rim of her glass she blurted out, "I can sing."
"What?" Atton demanded, leaning forward. "What was that? I didn't catch it…"
"Nothing," Mira said quickly, her blush spreading from her neck to the roots of her flame-colored hair. "I said, 'I don't know…'"
Atton's mischievous smile grew from ear to ear. "Really? Are you sure? 'Cause I thought I heard you say, 'I can sing.' Can you, Red?"
Mira could've kicked herself. Stupid, stupid, stupid. "Honestly, I don't know why I tell you anything," she said.
Atton clapped his hands together. "Well, all right! That's it! That's what I want for Yule! I want you to sing me a song."
Mira looked at him, her face pale and her green eyes wide with a kind of panic. "Uh uh, no way," she said. "If you think I'm going to sing in a room full of people, you're crazier than I thought."
"You don't have to get up and sing," Atton said, "although that would be quite the musical event, I'm sure—ow!" He rubbed his arm where she'd struck him, but then his eyes turned serious, intense…
"No, no, just sing something quietly right here…for me."
Those last words and the look in his eyes as he said them undid something in Mira. She had never sung for anyone—only to herself when alone to pass the time on long hauls, or to for comfort her frayed nerves after a job. It was something she did unconsciously when alone but the thought of singing for someone else was first on her list of Things Mira Will Never Do. But looking at Atton right then, she decided that if there was going to be an exception, it was going to be him.
"All right, I'll do it, but— she said to silence his whoop of triumph—"you have to swear to me, Atton, that you won't laugh at me."
Atton cocked his head. "Laugh at you? Come on, it's me," he said with his crooked grin.
"Yeah, exactly," Mira muttered.
"I swear on the Black Grip of Death I won't laugh," Atton promised, holding up his gloved hand. His expression was serious but Mira could see his eyes dancing in the dim light. She sighed.
"Fine. I'll sing. But I never said I was any good. And I don't even know which song…"
"I'm waaaaiting," he droned, and sat back in his chair.
Mira, rolling her eyes at the grin on his face, cleared her throat and glanced about. After making sure that no one was listening and that the bartender was away, she began to sing in soft, lilting tones.
It was a song she had heard another slave woman sing a thousand times during Mira's time as a serving girl to a wealthy Mandalorian clan. It was of a woman saying goodbye to her lover as he went off to war and certain death; a song of lament, but also of hope, and Mira always tried to infuse her rendition of it with the same sweet, hopeful tones as the other woman had.
As she finished the song, Mira looked up from the bar—for she had concentrated on a ring of moisture left there and hadn't looked at Atton at all. But now she did and saw him staring at her with a peculiar expression on his face. There was a moment then, passed between them; a silence full of unspoken words and Mira had to look away. She could feel Atton's eyes on her still but he was infuriatingly silent.
"Well, aren't you going to say something?" Mira demanded, finally.
"I…I uh, that was…" he stammered and shrugged helplessly.
"Go ahead and laugh, I know you're dying to," she said bitterly.
"Hey," Atton said, suddenly serious. "Hey," he said again, tilting her chin to look at him. "I'm not laughing. Thank you, Red. That was the best Yule present I've ever had. I mean it."
Mira met his eyes, felt the intensity of his gaze and for a moment forgot where she was. His eyes are brown and green with flecks of gold in them, she thought absently. I never noticed that before. Why haven't I noticed that before?
Mira realized she was staring and abruptly blinked and pulled away. "You're welcome, Slim," she said, taking a deep breath and straightened her already straightened dress. "I'm sorry, I just… Well, never mind. All right, now it's your turn."
"Er, yeah…my turn," Atton said slowly, the sheepish expression creeping over his features again.
"You have got to be kidding me," Mira said. "This was your idea. You'd better come up with something or I'm gonna—"
"All right, all right," Atton said. "Let me think a minute."
"Don't strain yourself."
Atton narrowed his eyes at her. "Ssshhh, be silent, Short One," he said softly. "Ok, uh, let's see….I could…draw you a picture on a cocktail napkin?"
Mira arched an eyebrow. "Can you draw?"
"Only stick people," Atton admitted.
"Try again, bub."
"We could…play pazaak and I could let you win?"
Mira snorted indelicately and Atton shook his head.
"No, no, you're right, that's a terrible gift." He thought for a minute but Mira could see in his eyes he wasn't trying to think up something to give her. He already has it and now he's working up the courage to give it to me, Mira realized. The idea that Atton might actually be nervous when it came to her was a foreign one, but though she was new at wielding the Force, she knew what she sensed was true and her heart began to pound even before she heard his next words.
"I could give you a kiss," he said softly.
"What?" Mira breathed.
"I mean, I've been told I'm really good at it and since the rules are it has to be something done here, and since I really, honestly have nothing else…"
"What makes you think I want you to kiss me?" Mira said, striving for some semblance of their normal routine—the jests and jokes that kept things safe between them. But her words were without energy and she found herself leaning towards him ever so slightly.
Atton seemed to see right through that meager defense. His smile became gentle and he leaned forward and touched his left hand to her cheek. He was so close she could feel his warm breath on her face. "Merry Yuletime, Red," he whispered.
"Merry Yuletime, Slim," Mira breathed, and then he was kissing her.
She froze as Atton's soft lips touched hers. Mira felt as though gentle currents were coursing from his touch and down into the very center of her as he parted her mouth with his. His tongue gently and briefly tasted her—leaving her weak at the sensation—before retreating and then he released her cheek from his hand.
The kiss was a simple, gentle thing, but it awakened something in Mira—a longing coupled with a dawning comprehension. It was a quiet cognition, released from somewhere in the furthest reaches of her heart, but Mira caught her breath at its potency. In one fleeting moment, everything changed and suddenly all the tiny moments of this night came together to form a brilliant whole and she could see, with crystalline and breathtaking clarity, that her friend Atton was gone forever. In his place was a stranger with whom an entirely different future stretched out before her—one of enticing possibilities, each one more seductive than the last and yet terribly frightening at the same time.
Oh gods, I'm in trouble now. How did this happen? How… But the how suddenly didn't matter and Mira was taken aback at how quickly nothing else mattered except for him.
Mira's heart-stopping exhilaration was immediately tempered by the horrifying thought that Atton could likely hear her thoughts—or at least sense her emotions. She glanced up at him furtively. If he had sensed her revelation, his face revealed no sign. He wasn't looking at her but seemed absorbed in his own ruminations and Mira dared not investigate despite the tremendous urge. Don't go poking into his thoughts unless you want to know for sure that the kiss was just a kiss and nothing more; that he's now thinking about that stupid card game or—worse—which one of the bimbos he's going to take home tonight.
Despair washed away the warmth and joy of his gift to her and she reeled from her turbulent and conflicting emotions but Mira looked up to see Atton smiling almost shyly at her and she felt a flicker hope…
"So…" Atton said slowly. "Do you want to…I don't know, get out of here? Maybe go for a walk?"
Mira didn't speak but was vaguely aware of her head nodding a 'yes.'
"Okay, good," Atton said with relief, an uncharacteristically sweet and tentative grin touching his features. "I'll just go get our coats, all right?"
Mira nodded again and then he was off, hurrying to the coatroom. She snapped out of her reverie. A small smile touched her lips, and then grew wider and wider before breaking out into a full-fledged laugh. She clapped a hand over her mouth.
Force help me, I'm giggling, she thought, but she didn't care. Her eyes were soft and warm as they watched Atton Rand from across the room. He had retrieved their coats and was draping his heavy black one and her smaller one over his arm, and then heading back. She watched him wend his way gracefully between the tables of the lounge, watched as other women watched him. He paid them no heed but sought her eye and a warm, contented feeling stole over her.
And then suddenly, his thoughts were loud and clear in her mind and she caught her breath for it wasn't pazaak or other women he was thinking of at all.Atton…?
He stood in front of her now, looking down with that soft smile on his lips. She could only stare in shock at the emotions he seemed to be wrapping around her like a warm embrace.And then again, he passed a thought to her that stole her breath away.
"Really?" she whispered in answer.
…Since I first laid eyes on you, Red…I never knew…
Atton touched a lock of her flame-red hair that had fallen over her eye. "You catch on quick, don't you?" he teased lightly but instead of kicking him in the shins, Mira threw her arms around his neck and passionately returned his gift.