Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, I just can't resist playing. Sorry Mr. Lucas, but it's a fangirl's prerogative!
Another part of the 'Hidden Souls. Smuggled Hearts' series.
This one is set before 'Jump', (for those who haven't read this fic it means before they start officially seeing each other romantically), just after Karrde and Shada have come back from their little missions in 'Vision of the Future'.
And no, as you can probably guess, I am not writing these in any particular, chronological order.
I'll let you know roughly when each one is set before you start though. I hope you enjoy.
Karrde placed himself down gently in the barely padded, grey plastic seat in the grotty cafe on one of the lower levels of the Galaxy's capital. He clasped his hands on top of the hard, shiny tabletop and glanced around the small room warily, the eating hall was all but empty; his table and one other were inhabited and an ancient cleaning droid was slowly doing its rounds, though it would not have been surprising if it fell apart half way through mopping the blue-green tiles.
Across the table Shada D'ukal was watching his flickering eyes before they finally settled back on her and he gave a genteel smile. She responded with a smile all of her own, her rose-red lips peeling up at the edges to reveal a slither of perfect, white teeth; her deep, dark eyes sparkling with glee. With one long finger she flicked on the hologram menu and studied its contents with an intent expression.
Karrde could not help but be entranced.
In under a minute she had finished with the slither of light-weight metal and was holding it out to him, her gaze open and cheerful. She had seemed happier since the completion of their mission on Yaga Minor and the removal of the Mistryl's death-mark on her; her eyes were brighter, smile more frequent, voice lighter.
Karrde liked it….he liked it a lot.
"Aren't you ordering?" she asked with a shocked tone as he politely declined the offer of the food list.
"I'm not really hungry."
Shada blew a puff of air from between her dry lips and dropped the menu heavily to the table. It landed with a clatter and her hands fell into her lap and wrapped themselves tightly around her waist as if to emphasise her words,
"Well I'm famished," she chorused in her usual, lively manner, her smile still lighting up her face like one of the galaxy's many suns, "I've had enough of ration bars and Dankin's cooking," then her smile twisted into a more serious expression; she was not one to forget her manners, not with her friends anyway, "Do you mind?
Karrde shook his head surely, his eyes never leaving hers and he raised his arm to beckon the cafe's single, operational serving droid over to their table.
"Be my guest," he told her as the machine wheeled itself over, wobbling unsteadily as it came, "It's on me."
Shada was still beaming when she pointed the dishes she wanted out to the droid.
Yes, he pondered warmly, this new expression certainly suited her.
"One cup of Kaff and a bowl of notha broth. Thanks."
The droid left, its single wheel squeaking as it disappeared through the archway and into the smoggy air of the kitchen.
Karrde continued to stare at the beautiful woman before him, his face lined with mock wonder,
"You don't like Dankin's cooking?" he exclaimed with lifted eyebrows, resting his chin on his hands comfortably.
For a split second Shada seemed uncomfortable under his intense gaze, but she swiftly seemed to gain control of herself once again and she stared back with equal force, one eyebrow lifted, her tone rife with mock confusion and wonder,
A gravelly, masculine laugh echoed around the cafe, bouncing off of the stained, once-white walls and causing the heads of the three other diners to turn towards them with an array of disapproving looks, but Karrde was oblivious to everything…everything except Shada D'ukal.
He was still chuckling when the droid came over and slid a bowl of lumpy looking brown mush and the cup of steaming brown liquid across the smooth surface towards the female.
"Oh thanks," Shada said, her pitch eyes shifting quickly to the machine before moving back to Karrde, who had managed to win back his composure again. She was almost sad that he had grown quiet again, she enjoyed hearing him laugh, it helped to drive away some of the troubles that had been disturbing her since she had resigned from the Mistryl.
With a careless, casual shrug of his shoulders he spoke in his most relaxed tone,
"Well if you think you could do better?"
Tilting her head to one side, her hair falling like a veil over one side of her face, she gave him a knowledgeable smirk, her eyes glinting with interest.
"Over the comm. you said you had a proposition for me?" she questioned, popping her fully-laden fork into her mouth and chewing delicately but hungrily on the tasteful sludge, "What is it Karrde?"
"I think you can guess?"
"I think I can too," the woman said after she swallowed another mouthful, "But I want you to tell me."
Karrde laughed again, the skin at the edge of his eyes crinkling into deep ravines of joy, Shada found it almost impossible to believe that this man and the distressed looking fellow she had ambushed in a councillor's weekend pad were one and the same.
"You don't make anything easy do you?"
"I think you owe me. So spit it out."
The older man fiddled distractedly with the cuffs of his coat for a moment, a most un-Karrde-like action.
"My second in command is leaving…" he began slowly, eyes locking with hers in mutual understanding.
"Mara Jade…" Shada interrupted warmly, humoured at the startled expression on the males face, he wasn't the only one who dealt in data, "The crew told me all about her," she paused again, the utensil she was holding hovered by her mouth, "They said she was very good."
And very well respected, Shada contemplated; it seemed it wasn't only Karrde that had earned the entire's crew admiration, and from some of the stories the guys had told her about Karrde's ex-lieutenant she wasn't surprised. In fact after hearing some of the extra-ordinary tales she had been even more stunned by the huge amount of trust the crew had put in her, and the esteem they readily gave her despite her sudden appearance and the short time she had spent on board. They had made her feel at home, and it had been a long time since she had felt like that before, since she had felt she had belonged somewhere. The Mistryl had never had a homely feeling and her childhood home was far from secure. But there was something about that ship, those people, this man that made her feel……complete....even if she didn't agree with how they earned their living. She was beginning to think that smugglers weren't all that bad.
"Well," Karrde drew out the word, dragging out the vowel sound with his lips, "She's jetting off to get married and I need someone to take her place," his eyes were boring into hers like he was trying to determine her answer before she gave it, "The job would entail captaining a ship, leading negotiations, transporting goods and whatever else comes in that needs to be done, even cooking, if that's your vocation," he teased lightly as she dragged her spoon around the base of the bowl in an attempt to capture the smallest remnants of the meal, and creating a rather, nasty grating noise as she did so, "……You enjoying that?
"Not exactly Alderaanian High Court food…" Shada joked back, feeling freer and fuller than ever before, (and despite the fact she had never tasted any Alderaanian Food), she took another, smaller forkful, chewed and swallowed, "……but it's great."
But this time he didn't laugh or even snigger at her hunger-fed wit.
He wanted her answer, he wanted her answer and he wanted it to be 'yes.' More than anything he wanted it to be 'yes.'
Shada D'ukal would be an amazing addition to his team, the crew adored her, and he….he wanted to help her. He wanted to keep that smile on her face and never let the shadows he had seen throughout their previous voyage stain her face again.
I want the best for her, he told himself logically, quelling the flurry of messy emotions that spun in his mind, just like the rest of my crew.
Karrde looked on expectantly but she only flicked her eyes down at her practically empty bowl and somehow managed to formulate another half-mouthful from the dregs.
"Shada……?" He implored his voice no longer light or playful.
This was business.
And he needed an answer.
Sighing, Shada flung the dirty tool down into the bowl and placed her palms flat down on the table, drawing up her shoulders as she did so,
"You heard me before Karrde," she replied calmly, even if she was liking the smugglers more, their way of life was not for her. However Karrde caught a hint of regret in her tone, "I need a higher purpose, I always have. Smuggling and selling information for profit doesn't really fit the bill."
But Karrde acted as if he had seen all of this coming.
With a aggravatingly, confident expression he reached over the table as if about to take her hand, then seemed to think better of it and slumped back against the lumpy seat,
"What if I said I was planning to go legit? Acting as a go between for the New Republic and the Empire, promoting peace….. I'm not saying everything would be legal…," he added quickly, "But part of it would be, one day hopefully most of it."
The following three second wait seemed like eternity.
Karrde almost jumped for joy when the female extended her slender, pale arm towards him, a satisfied smile stretched across her lips. His hand met hers halfway, his fingers curling comfortably around her hot, silken skin as they shook on the arrangement silently.
"I'd say we have a deal Mr. Karrde," Shada half-spoke, half-laughed, overwhelmed with glee at the prospect of this new life.
It wasn't perfect, far from it, but what in life was?
Besides she was sure of this decision, it just sat right with her, and if the Mistryl had taught her one truly useful and righteous thing, it was to trust her finely tuned instincts with her life.
"A pleasure doing business with you…" Karrde said, his whole being very much aware of the fact that their hands were still tightly clasped in mid-air, and that some alarming, unnerving tremors where pulsing rapidly through his suddenly tense muscle.
Then at the exact same moment, like the move had been rehearsed, their arms fell hesitantly apart as the unoiled squeak of a droids wheels sounded the arrival of a machine at their table.
Lo and behold when they glanced to their side a rust-bucket of bolts and peeling wires was hanging there haphazardly: it was not the same serving robot, but it appeared equally, if not more antique.
"Oh here," Karrde offered his hand out; a few credits sat upon his large palm, and slotted the payment into the slot on the droid's chest.
"You really don't have to….." Shada argued but was cut off by a very final,
"I owe you remember?"
He waited as a deafening, scratching and humming filled the room.
No-one turned around this time; it seemed that whilst they had been immersed in conversation the other small group of diners had left. Karrde was awfully surprised he had not noticed, and from Shada's well-hidden bemusement neither had she.
Strange for two people whose very livelihoods, and more often than not their lives too, depended on their superior observation skills.
Finally the racket ceased and the droid's skeletal, metal fingers held out the barely legible receipt. Karrde took it with a nod.
The machine trundled drunkenly away.
Turning his attention easily back to Shada, he spoke again, using his most business-man-like tone again. It was far too easy to slip out of it when he was with her.
"I'll get Mara to come and drop by sometime, she can give you a better idea of what you'll be doing, she can introduce you to her crew and the Starry Ice."
And with that he lifted himself gingerly from the seat, slipping his hands into the deep pockets of his jacket and skirting around the edge of the table until he was stood a metre or so away. Shada looked at him with wide eyes, a flicker of sadness blazed across them but vanished quicker than it had appeared.
"No rest for the wicked," Karrde explained, and Shada felt a sudden flurry of concern consume her. By the looks of those ugly, swollen, purple shadows beneath his eyes what he really needed was a good night's sleep, "I'm sure you know what's it like, being Mazzic's guard can't have been particularly tranquil."
"You mind if I steal a ride back?" Shada answered vaguely, avoiding the obvious question about her past; she rarely alluded to it and clearly hated to speak of it, but he had been hoping that the prying query would be so apparent that she wouldn't realise it…backwards logic, it was surprising how often it worked.
Not on this occasion however.
Karrde smiled again, holding his place as she sprung up, leaving her empty bowl and drained mug behind her as she moved to stand beside him, the top of her head coming to the same level as the tip of his nose, "Sure."
Pointing with a single, tapered finger, she stepped around to stare him down face to face before he could even pick up his foot to step away,
"On one condition…" she insisted; it was times such as these when he was starkly reminded of her mercenary background, if he did not know her so well he was sure her small, toned physique would have scared the Force out of him. Then she winked, "I pay," she paused, lips carefully forming her next words, tongue playing temptingly between her teeth, "Boss," she popped the 'b' with her mouth, exaggerating the title cheekily.
Karrde chuckled again, the deep rumbling coming from deep down in his chest. He met Shada's striking and mysterious black eyes with his own light, glimmering blue ones, gifting her with a wink also,
"An offer I can't refuse."
Scooting around her his hands fell comfortably to the small of her back; his fingers lingered there for no more than two seconds, her skin taunt beneath them.
Then, realising his mistake with sudden, unbound horror, Karrde swiftly moved his hands up to cup her elbow instead. He cursed in his head, confused at his own, thoughtless action,
"After you," he instructed firmly after clearing his throat loudly, trying to cover up the strange incident.
Shada remained stiff next to him even as they started to move towards the exit. He wasn't surprised, he was still reeling himself and he doubted Shada had had human contact such as that in a long while….not that he could talk, it had probably been years. Steering her skilfully through the bumbling drunkards that haunted such levels of the planet, Karrde vowed he would not make such a grievous slip-up again, especially where Miss D'ukal was concerned. From the moment she had accepted his offer of employment she had no longer been just a civilian-tag-along, (not that she had ever just been anything), she had become his employee, and so forth he had his own strict, self-imposed policies to abide by. Besides she hated his kind. He was, in short, a smuggler. His new legitimate ventures did not change that simple fact; he bought and sold information on others and their business, a crime far worse than the petty offences of bootlegging Halmad Prime or flogging death-sticks in nightclubs.
No, he was by no means, honourable enough for this woman.
Shada allowed him to lead her through the crowds of people that were spilling out of the nearby, seedy clubs and numerous dodgy dinners, (like the one she had just sat in), that littered this level of the city.
The muscles throughout her entire body were tight and unyielding, particularly at the base of her spine where the ghost of that faint, affectionate touch could still be felt through her clothes. But she couldn't be sure whether her stressed posture was a conscious display of her independence put on for him to notice, or if she really had been uncomfortable with his hands being upon her. Her brow creased even more, the lines in her skin deepening as her thoughts churned in a puzzling muddle, she was not used to being perplexed and it certainly did make her feel uncomfortable.
Besides he was her boss, so even if she was…..which she wasn't, she interrupted herself as soon as the thought crossed her mind.
She slipped into the small taxi besides him and stared out of the window absently as the speeder jerked away from its docking.
She would serve him, as an employee and as a friend, but she would never be any more than that.
Thank you for reading.
Did you like it?
I sincerly hope so, and I would be pleased as punch if you left me a little note to say whether or not you enjoyed reading this.
And if you haven't read 'Jump', then please, please go and check it out, you may enjoy it.
In fact a MASSIVE THANK YOU to
You are the very best, thank you all for your reviews and much loved and treasured support. I hope it continues.
And in case you were curious, (which you probably aren't), and don't really enjoy science (coughAzureFallscough):
'Mutualism'- interaction between two organisms in which both benefit from the partnership. Interesting hey?