The next day she awoke alone buried under a pile of blankets and wondered if sleeping in Karrde's arms had been a dream. She almost hoped it was. Otherwise, she wouldn't be able to look Karrde in the eye after clinging to him so desperately. Still, it was more than a little disturbing how good it had felt.
"How are you feeling?"
Shada looked over the blankets and saw Aves sitting in a chair the corner.
"Better I think. Not so cold."
"That's good." Aves got up and walked over to peer down at her. "Your eyes don't look quite so unfocused. I'll go get the med droid and some breakfast for you. The boss and Chin are with Valtz trying to wrap up this deal as quickly as possible. We should be out of here soon."
Shortly after Aves left, DH-7 came in to examine her. The drug had nearly dissipated from her system. She felt more like herself though still incredibly tired and a little chilled. Aves came back with a steaming bowl of some kind of porridge with bits of dried fruit in it. He watched her closely with a worried expression.
"I'm fine, Aves," she told him.
"I shouldn't have let them take you."
"It's not your fault," she told him and it was true. She should have been more careful. "We couldn't have started shooting right there in the market."
"Karrde was livid." She didn't doubt that. He always took prodigious care of his people. "We had no idea what it was like there until this morning. Valtz said there are rumors that women have gone mad there." She could believe that too. "It took a lot for us to spring you, too. I thought Karrde was going to shoot someone before the end of it. They were determined to hold you for a full lunar cycle. The boss had me pulling assets to the area in case we had to stage a raid."
Her brain finally caught up to what Aves was saying. A full lunar cycle. "Wait. What?"
"You don't think we'd have left you there, do you?" he asked looking very hurt at the idea.
"Not that. How long was I there?"
"A little over three days."
"Only three days? It felt like months." She had been convinced it has been several months at least.
"I guess that was the drugs."
"I guess so."
Shada woke to a hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?" she asked groggily trying to throw the heavy covers off but only getting tangled up in them. She looked around wildly. She was in her cabin on board the Wild Karrde and Karrde was sitting on the edge of her bed, his expression full of concern.
"Nothing," he said. "I apologize for intruding into your quarters uninvited, but you didn't answer the door when I rang to bring you dinner. I was worried."
Shada rubbed her eyes and flopped back on her pillows. She still felt exhausted. "It's fine. I guess I was just sleeping hard."
"How are you feeling?" he asked studying her intently.
"Better. My head's not so loopy feeling. I don't feel as cold either, but I still feel tired."
"Good. I glad you're on the mend." He smiled. "You had me very scared for a while."
"I'm tougher than that, Karrde," she told him, but in truth she doubted herself. She had only been held three days.
"I know. That's what scared me. I don't like seeing you like that. I'm sorry I wasn't able to get you out sooner."
"I'll be fine," she said trying to brush his apology and concern away.
"Yes, you will be." The intensity in his gaze made her a little uncomfortable especially with the memory of being wrapped tightly in his arms last night.
He rose to his feet and retrieved a tray from the dresser. She stared down at the cup on the tray suspiciously. It didn't look or smell like caf. "What is this?"
"Hot chocolate. Skywalker's fond of it. I keep it on hand for him."
Shada smiled. "You're such a good host."
"Is it any good?"
"Not bad. It's on the sweet side. I thought you might enjoy it."
She took a tentative sip. "Hmm. That's nice."
"I'm happy you like it."
She took a longer sip, savoring the taste. "Did we get what we needed from Valtz?"
"Yes and at a significant discount I might add."
Shada grimaced at the thought that she had been the cause of so much drama. "Will the information be useful?"
"I think so. We'll discuss it when we get back to the base."
She toyed with her food, eating little. She didn't seem to have much of an appetite. She tried to ignore Karrde sitting on her bed. She kept thinking how nice it would be to pull him back on the bed and bury herself in his arms again and sleep. Maybe the drug still wasn't completely out of her system. "I'm not really hungry," she said finally giving up on eating.
"Would you like some more hot chocolate?"
"No, I think I'll just go back to sleep."
He nodded and reached out gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Sleep well." Then he picked up the tray and left.
She was crossing the garden terrace near the main building of the base when her step faltered. Karrde was lounging in a chair with his feet propped up on the rim of the firepit carefully peeling a shuura fruit with a small knife. There was a bottle of Whyren's Reverve along with two glasses and a bowl of the fruit on the table at his elbow. It wasn't an unusual scene. Karrde liked the outdoors and frequently took in the sunset on the terrace when he had the time. But she knew that at that moment he was supposed to be on a secure Holonet connection with General Bel Iblis which was exactly why she had decided to walk this way.
She changed her trajectory and went over to stand towering over him with her hands on her hips. "What are you doing, lying in wait for me?"
The knife in his hands paused and Karrde glanced up at her. "Well, you have been avoiding me, my dear Shada."
A protest was on the tip of her tongue but she swallowed it, because it was true. She had been avoiding him.
He resumed peeling the shuura fruit. "You have also been avoiding Aves and Chin. Aves thinks you're angry at him because he let them take you." He looked up her again. "Do sit down and stop glowering at me."
She sat on the edge of the fire pit near his feet. The fire felt good as it warmed her back against the slight chill in the air. "I'm not angry at Aves," she told him.
"I know," he said. He set the knife and fruit down on a plate and then poured her a glass of whiskey. "You're embarrassed."
She looked off at the setting sun and took a sip. He was right. She was embarrassed. She was embarrassed that she had been careless enough to allow her hair to be exposed. She was embarrassed that her short imprisonment had nearly undone her. She was embarrassed that they had all seen her so weak. She was embarrassed that she had clung to Karrde like a scared little girl. She was embarrassed that she had enjoyed lying in his arms. She was embarrassed that she was attracted to employer.
He cut the fruit into pieces before handing the plate to her. "You really have no reason to be embarrassed. I can assure you none of us think the less of you. Nor will we tell anyone what occurred."
"That's the point. Nothing occurred. They didn't do anything to me and I fell apart."
"You didn't fall apart. You were drugged," he reminded her. He studied the knife in his hands. "I've found sometimes being alone with your own thoughts can be worse than any physical torture devised. That you can fight against, but it's difficult to fight against your own mind. And you've not had an easy time of it lately. You had your entire way of life and your home taken from you. That's a lot to deal with even for someone as strong as you."
She picked up a piece of fruit and ate it so she didn't have to say anything. Shuura fruit was her favorite. Karrde knew that of course.
"Shada," he said quietly and she focused on him again. "Everyone needs a little help now and again. That's nothing to be ashamed of. You would have done the same for us."
She sighed. "You're right, of course. I just find it… difficult to rely on others."
"You don't say," Karrde said trying for a small smile. "Whether you like it or not you are one of us now and we take care of our own."
"Thank you," she said sincerely. "I do appreciate everything you've done for me since I joined you, Karrde. You have been very good to me."
"I'm getting far more in the bargain I assure you," he told her his smile broadening.
Shada returned his smile.
"And if nothing else I think we've all learned an important lesson from this experience about not underestimating a culture just because we may think their ways are backwards."
Shada looked off again to watch the sun sliding beyond the horizon. They sat in companionable silence for a long while sipping their whiskey and eating the fruit. She had missed this the last few days that she had been avoiding him. The easy companionship that she felt with him had been completely unexpected, but now it left a hole in her life when it wasn't there.
"Karrde," she said finally breaking the silence. "I'd like your help with something."
"Of course. What can I do for you?"
"As I'm sure you know, the majority of Mistryl fees go toward taking care of the people of Emberlene." He nodded. "I have always sent whatever extra I could to my family as well. Since I was cast out, I've been worried that my family may not have gotten their due. It seems like the kind of petty revenge the Eleven might engage in. I've repeatedly sent them money, but it keeps getting returned. I don't know if it's the Eleven's doing or if my family is so ashamed of me that they won't accept it." She looked down at the drink in her hands.
"I'm sure that's not the case, my dear," he said gently. "Anyone who knew you would know you'd never behave dishonorably."
"You don't understand. I haven't even seen my family in over twenty years. Who know what they have been told about me?"
"So you want me to discretely get the money to them?" Karrde asked.
"If anyone can find a way, it's you."
He smiled at that. "I appreciate your confidence." His expression turned thoughtful. "Would you like to get them off of Emberlene? I'm sure we could get them off and settled somewhere else less harsh."
She was surprised by the offer. She hadn't expected him to want to involve himself and his organization so deeply in her family's problems. She didn't know why she kept expecting Talon Karrde to behave as her other employers had. He had repeatedly proved himself to be the most honorable of men and he took on his employees problems as his own.
"I'm not sure they'd leave. I'm not even sure they'll even take money from me. They're very proud people. Especially my mother."
"I suppose you got that honest then."
She shrugged. "My uncle was always more practical than the rest of them. He'd probably be the best contact."
"I'll get in contact with him and see where we stand." He reached out and took her hand. "You don't need to worry about this anymore. I'll take care of it."
She knew he would and felt a great nagging weight lift off of her. "Thank you so much." She squeezed his hand. "It's been on my mind, especially since- well, you know." She didn't want to talk about the thoughts that had been running through her mind during her imprisonment.
"You know you can come to me for anything," he said not releasing her hand. "I mean that."
"I know you do."