Set several months after A Shiver in My Bones

Karrde heard Shada's laugh before he actually saw her. It was a rare sound though not as rare as it had been when she first joined his organization. His gaze tracked across the common room to see her at a table in the back playing sabaac with Aves, Faughn, Chin, and Torve. He paused in the doorway watching the scene. Shada was grinning as she raked in the credit chips in front of her. She laughed again at something Aves had said. She looked up at that moment and caught him watching her. He liked to think her smile brightened a bit when she saw him. He moved forward toward the table. "It appears congratulations are in order, Shada."

"She's a grifter, boss," Torve said. "She's cleaned me out."

"Don't be sore loser, hee," Chin told him.

"Join us for the next game, boss?" Aves asked, shuffling the cards. "Maybe you can knock these ladies back down to size." He indicated to the large piles of credits in front of both Shada and Faughn.

Karrde smiled. "No, I think not. I wouldn't want to infringe upon any fun they're having." Karrde rarely played sabaac with his employees. He didn't like to be in a position to take from them.

Torve flopped back in his chair. "Well, I'm not having any fun," he complained.

Faughn flipped a couple of credits at him. "Quit your whining. Maybe you'll have a comeback."

"Oh, c'mon," Aves told her. "Don't do that. He'll be expecting that every time now."

"Hey!" Torve protested.

"Well, I wish you all good luck," Karrde said. He moved to the bar pour himself a glass of whiskey before heading out to the terrace to sit.

It was a pleasant night, but the area was deserted. That suited him fine. He really wasn't in the mood for company after spending most of the day dealing with an particularly intractable member of Imperial Intelligence.

Well, one person's company wouldn't be unwelcome. He had come into the common room looking for Shada to see if she would like to join him for a drink and perhaps an evening together. Although he was disappointed that she was otherwise engaged, he was pleased to see her having a good time and socializing.

Shada had been so aloof and rather angry when she had first joined them. She had transformed quite a lot since then. She was still on the prickly side, but she had become close to his other chief lieutenants like Aves, Chin, and Faughn. Not to mention how close she had become to him. A lot closer than he had intended to be honest. Despite his best efforts, he had been unable to stop himself from crossing that line. It wasn't like him at all to show so little self control, but he had wanted her more than any woman he'd ever met. He was generally a man who got what he wanted, although he knew he had to tread lightly with Shada.

Karrde was keenly aware she wanted him as much as he wanted her. However, she was still reluctant to fully give into her desires. Shada was still coming to terms with no longer being a Mistryl and the fact that she was no longer bound by their strictures. She was also dealing with her own personal sense of honor about engaging in a relationship with her employer. Ever since their unexpected night of passion during the mission to Ord Mantell they had been quietly trying to navigate their way through this new relationship. He wanted to give her the space and time she needed. He knew if he held onto her too tightly she would slip through his fingers.

They were trying to be discrete. Karrde was not one to broadcast his personal business anyway. Shada was even more determined to keep it a secret than he was. She didn't want people to think she had gained her influential position in his organization merely because she was sleeping with him. Though anyone who knew how extraordinarily capable she was should know that wasn't the case.

Movement caught his eye and he watched Aves and Faughn slip out the side door, sharing a brief kiss before heading toward their quarters. He sighed and thought how nice it must be to have such a simple relationship. He took a sip of his drink and said to himself, "Don't kid yourself. When have you ever liked simple?"

Shada leaned against the pillar watching Karrde stare after Aves and Faughn. His expression was slightly wistful. It struck her how lonely he seemed sitting out here by himself. It was a thought that had never occurred to her before. He was friendly with all his people especially his chief lieutenants, but he kept himself slightly apart even from them. She suspected it was to protect himself as much as maintain his mystique as leader. Even she who was trained to look behind such facades had never considered the infamous Talon Karrde may be lonely. It was strange to think that such an emotion could touch him. He always seemed above such things, but she had learned he was a man that felt very deeply.

However, he had let her past his shields. She was honored by his trust even as she had misgivings about having an affair with her employer. She knew they were both excellent at compartmentalizing, but she still worried that they couldn't truly keep it from affecting their work. She didn't want this to blow up, forcing her to leave the most satisfying job in her life.

"Were you looking for me?" she asked quietly after Aves and Faughn had disappeared into the night.

Karrde looked back at her. His face lit up with a smile. "Did you win the night?"

Shada pushed herself away from the pillar and walked toward him. "Faughn won the last game and came out ahead. Still I didn't do too shabby." She stood awkwardly beside his chair trying to read his expression. He looked pleased to see her, but she could see the dark circles under his eyes and the tense set of his shoulders that the glass of whiskey in his hand hadn't seemed to have eased. Aves had said Karrde had been going round and round all day with one of the more difficult of the Imperial Intellegence officers. "Did you need me for something earlier?"

"Nothing important. Faughn brought back a case of Sallustan wine. I was going to see you were interested in sampling it with me."

She smiled, he was always careful to give her a way to say to say no to his invitations. Not that she wanted to. "Is that offer still open?"

"Of course it is."

"Are you sure?" she asked studying him closely. "You look tired."

"I am," he said rising to his feet. "It's nothing that your excellent company and a glass of fine wine won't cure."

Shada was reluctant to get up. The bed was comfortable and she enjoyed the feeling of lying in Karrde's arms, but she knew she should return to her quarters before people started moving around the base in the morning. It wouldn't do to be seen leaving his quarters after having obviously spent the night there.

However, she was loathe to wake up Karrde either and she would have to with the way he was holding her. She hated that patient, understanding look he gave her when she left him in the night. She didn't know why it bothered her. He was giving her the space she needed. Besides, she was so used to sleeping alone, she could rarely do more than doze in his bed anyway no matter how comfortable she felt.

She turned her head to look at the chrono. There were still three hours left before dawn, she could stay a little longer.

"You don't have to leave you know," Karrde said his voice gruff from sleep. "You're welcome to stay."

Shada turned in his arms to face him. She could see his face in the bright moonlight. He still looked tired. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

He slid a hand through her hair. "I could hear you thinking."

"I'm sorry."

A brief look of irritation flickered across his face before his expression became carefully neutral again.

"What?" she asked.

"I wish-" He stopped and reached out to caress her cheek. "Never mind."

She pushed his hand away from her face, frustrated by his restraint. He always seemed to carefully guard his words when it came to their relationship. For once she wanted to hear what he was thinking. "No. What were you going to say?"

He took a deep breath. "I wish you would stop apologizing and just relax a little."

"I think I've relaxed my standards enough for you already," she bit out defensively, before she could even stop herself.

"That's not what I meant, Shada," he said gritting his teeth as if he was trying to stop himself from saying something he'd regret. "I just wish you wouldn't go sprinting away as soon as the sex was over with."

"I do not sprint away," she replied hotly, astounded that he would say that.

"Oh, please. I can see you start to strategize your exit as soon as you come down from your release."

She turned away from him. If she were brutally honest with herself, she knew it was true. It was just so much easier for her to leave in the night, than to wake up next to him. It made it all seem like a lovely dream, rather a shameful affair with her boss. "What do you want from me?" she asked, hating the ragged sound of her voice.

"Not just a quick screw." She heard him flop over onto his back and sigh heavily. "I'm going to close my eyes and pretend to go back to sleep so you can slip away."

She turned back over and saw him lying there stiffly with his eyes closed and his hand clasped over his chest looking anything but peacefully asleep. "I just don't want anyone to see me leave," she said barely audible, not quite sure how this had turned into an argument so quickly.

"I know," he replied quietly. He sat up abruptly and ran his hands through his tangled hair. Then he got up out of the bed and pulled on his robe. He poured himself a glass of the wine they'd shared earlier in the evening. He stood staring out the window for a long while, his posture ridged.

She seemed unable to move from the bed. She wanted to leave, but at the same time she didn't want this hanging between them. She didn't quite know how to resolve it. Her feelings for him and what they were doing were so confusing. She didn't exactly have a lot of experience with any sort of relationship like this anyway.

Finally, he spoke, "Shada, it doesn't really matter whether someone sees you leave my quarters or not. Do you honestly think that people haven't been speculating on the nature of our relationship since the moment you stepped on the Wild Karrde?"

She knew they had. She'd overheard enough whispered gossip since she'd joined the organization. It had been the same for her with Mazzic's group. But it hadn't really bothered her then. Mazzic had just been a job, but Karrde was different. "I'm sorry," she said. She didn't know what else to say. She honestly didn't know how to explain her fears. She didn't even really understand them herself.

He turned back to her, his normal calm mask firmly back in place. "Don't be. I apologize. It's been a long day. I'm just feeling a little irritable. I shouldn't have said anything."

Cold fear filled her at his controlled tone and polite words. That forced her out of the bed and she went over to him. "Please don't hide from me, Talon," she slid her hand into his. "You're entitled to be irritable every now and then. Stars knows I am."

His mouth quirked up slightly at that.

"I'll make a deal with you," she said trying to inject some lightness into her tone. "I'll try to linger a little longer from now on if you try not to hide your irritability from me."

"I fear I get the best part of that deal. I'm frequently irritable."

"So am I. We'll be in good company." She leaned into him and he wrapped an arm her holding her close. "If you wanted me to stay all you had to do was ask."

"I thought I had," he said dryly.

She looked up at him and gave a chagrined smile. "I guess you did. I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing. I don't mean to pressure you, Shada," he said, gently tracing the contours of her face. "Trust me, I understand the need for space, but I do like having you here with me."

She rested her head on his shoulder hiding her face in his neck. She thought about how lonely he had seemed sitting by himself earlier. "Honestly, I'm not really used to sleeping in the same bed as someone else," she admitted, feeling a little shy by confessing that. "It's still strange to me. I don't really rest."

"Okay. I understand." He soothingly stroked her hair. "We'll work on that."

She pulled away from him and tugged on his hand. "Come back to bed and give me a reason to linger."

When Karrde awoke he wasn't surprised that Shada wasn't there. He was surprised at the bright sun streaming in his window. He turned over to look at the chrono on the nightstand. It was way past the time he normally arose. Shada must have turned off his alarm. It had been near dawn when he'd finally gone to sleep after Shada dragged him back to bed. He allowed himself a satisfied smile at the memory. His smile faded somewhat as he remembered their- argument, he supposed was the word for it.

He shouldn't have pushed her. But it did truly irritate him that almost as soon as they pulled apart she was out of the bed getting dressed again. Like the act they'd just engaged in was something tawdry. He certainly understood the need to be discrete, but he didn't want just a cheap affair fueled on nothing but sex no matter how amazing it was. That sort of thing generally fizzled out and he did not want that to happen with Shada.

He didn't want to pressure her into something she wasn't ready for either, but he wished he could get her to see that their fledging relationship wasn't something dirty or to be ashamed of. He just needed to be patient and continue to give her the space and time she needed to sort through her feelings. At least now he knew one of the reasons she left was because she wasn't used to actually sleeping in the same bed as someone else. He could understand that. He wasn't used to it either, although it had taken shockingly little time for him to get used to her in his bed. He missed her when she wasn't there.

He stretched in bed before climbing out. He had needed the extra sleep. Yesterday had been a trying day and then Shada had kept him occupied one way or the other most of the night. He looked around for his robe on the floor, but it wasn't there. It was draped over the back of the chair with his other clothes for yesterday neatly folded in the seat.

It seemed Shada had stayed long enough to clean up the clothes that had been scattered on the floor. He wondered if she cleaning up the evidence or making amends for not staying.

He pulled on his robe and went into the kitchen to make some caf. By the caf maker he found a fruit pastry on a plate and his mug already set out.

Amends it seemed.

Karrde didn't see Shada until late in the afternoon when she came to his office to go over Moranda Savich's latest intelligence report and to discuss the plans for the upcoming trip to Bastion.

When the business was out of the way, Karrde decided to address the bantha in the room. "So was there some sort of plot afoot this morning that you needed me out of the way for?"

"Plot?" Shada looked alarmed for a moment before she realized what he was referring to. "Oh, I turned your alarm off." She smiled. "I thought you deserved to sleep in."

"Did you now?" he asked raising an eyebrow.

She shrugged. "You had nothing scheduled for the morning and you didn't get much sleep last night. I hope you're not angry." She frowned slightly at the thought.

"No," he assured her. "You were right. I needed the sleep. I'm less irritable today." A wry smile touched his lips.

Her smile returned. "Good." She looked down at her hands fiddling nervously with her stylus in an uncharacteristic manner. She seemed to realize what she was doing and clasped her hands together stopping the movement. She looked back up at him "I was wondering if you'd like to go into the city for dinner tonight."

He was a little surprised by that. She'd never extended a social invitation to him since they started this affair. It was usually the other way around. She seemed to have decided to take a step forward after last night's discussion.

"If you don't have plans that is," she added when he didn't immediately respond. "Or perhaps another night."

"I don't have plans," he told her. "And I'd like that. Very much so."

"Good." She stood quickly and he could see the relief wash through her. "I'm going to go deal with the Starry Ice. I'll see you tonight then."

He nodded with a smile. She left him alone in his office looking forward to the night to come.

The End