Author – carrole
Fandom – Star Wars
Prompt – Talon Karrde/Shada Dukal: First time, UST finally resolved.
Word Count – 4098
Rating – T
Summary – Talon Karrde usually has good ideas. This was not one of them.
A/N – I hereby apologize for this fic. I really, really do. I don't know where it came from, but I'm pretty damn sure this is not what the prompter was expecting, and I offer other K/S fics I wrote as an apology for this one.
She still couldn’t keep from laughing.
Her employer arched an eyebrow at her amusement. “Be sure to get your laughter out now,” Karrde said. “I’d hate for you to ruin our intelligence gathering with a misplaced giggle.”
Her eyes narrowed at that statement. “I do not giggle. But if I did, I would certainly be doing it at you. Honestly, boss, why don’t you let Aves do this? It would be a lot easier on everyone. I wouldn’t have to worry about laughing inappropriately or about someone trying to kill you, you wouldn’t have to dress up as a love-slave to a Kuati prima donna—“
“I resent the use of the term love-slave,” Karrde said.
“You resemble it, more likely,” Shada said, gesturing towards the heavy crimson robes that Karrde wore. “A Kuati noble and her telbun. You could not think of a better disguise?”
“Lord Crastain claims noble Kuati roots,” Karrde said. “He was also raised on one of the colony worlds. A telbun will be below his radar.”
“Which still doesn’t answer my question about why you have to do it,” Shada said, putting her hands on her hips. The long, flowing sleeves of the Kuati style gown irritated her—they would hamper her fighting ability if it was needed. “Aves could easily dress up as a telbun.”
“Aves cannot fake a Kuati accent,” Karrde said calmly. “In addition, I want a look at Crastain personally. Sometimes there is no substitute for a gut feeling.”
Shada closed her eyes. This had all the makings of a disaster waiting to happen. “I swear, Karrde, if Crastain doesn’t find out who you are and kill you, I may do it instead.”
Karrde shoved his hands inside his sleeves and bowed. “As you wish, my lady.”
“Shassa,” Shada swore softly. She drew herself up to her full height—she’d impersonated Kuati nobles before as a shadow guard and as Mazzic’s bodyguard. It was an easy role to play. All she had to do was stick her nose up in the air and act like she was better than everyone else around her—especially her telbun. “Very well. Come with me.”
It wasn’t the first time Shada had taken the lead on an operation for Karrde. He often deferred to her security assessments, and they had acted out a variety of different relationships since she had taken Mara Jade’s place as second-in-command. This one was entirely new.
The Wild Karrde, under an assumed name, had landed on the small moon Crastain had taken up as his own, and Shada and Karrde had disembarked. Some of the crew were taking up roles as Shada’s bodyguards. She’d deliberately picked members of the crew who were most distinctly non-Kuati, reinforcing the position that she was here to deal with Crastain without official oversight from Kuat of Kuat, so H’sishi, Dankin, Griv and Torve rounded out their group. All four of them—the Togorian, Berchestian, Rodian and Corellian—were examples of non-humans. After all, Torve could hardly be considered human.
Surprisingly, Crastain came out to meet them in person, which meant he didn’t think that they didn’t present nearly the kind of danger they really were. “My Lady Ambris!” he said, bending low over Shada’s hand. “Welcome to my humble home. I trust your journey was not over-taxing?”
“Hardly,” Shada said. “Though not a Kuati vessel, this freighter is fairly well-appointed. My trip was smooth.”
Crastain’s eyes took in the distinctly Corellian lines of the Wild Karrde before he returned his gaze to Shada. So, not quite as stupid as some claimed, apparently. “Of course. And Kuati vessels do have a regrettable tendency to draw more suspicion when altered than Corellian ones.”
“My thought exactly,” Shada said. She gestured behind her. “My telbun, my security staff. I trust you have accommodations for all of us?”
“We were not expecting quite so many,” Crastain said smoothly. “I have a suite for yourself, of course, but I was not ready to accommodate so many of your security. Perhaps they should stay on your ship—“
“I go nowhere without my security,” Shada interrupted imperiously. “They must remain with me.”
“Of course,” Crastain said. “Then if you do not mind your telbun sharing quarters with you—“
Shada gave Karrde a disdainful glance. “Perhaps the change of scene will make him more enthusiastic about his duties. Four years and enough medical tests to satisfy an entire legion of doctors, and he has still not provided me with a child.”
Behind them, a choked sound came out of H’sishi’s throat. Shada recognized the Togorian’s attempt to restrain her laughter and pinned her with a gaze.
[My apologies,] H’sishi rumbled. [I appear to be allergic to something here.]
Shada barely gave the feline being another glance. “If you do not mind, Lord Crastain, I would care to retire to my rooms for a brief rest before taking a tour of your facility.”
“Of course, Lady Ambris,” Crastain said smoothly. “This way.”
Their “rest,” which had been little more than an opportunity for Shada to examine their guest quarters, was followed by a lavish dinner of Kuati delicacies provided by Crastain. Dinner had been a careful dance of polite, probing questions on Crastain’s part, trying to catch Shada in some sort of deceit.
No, the man was not nearly as stupid as he appeared in intelligence reports, and that meant that Karrde might just have found a potential ally—or a potential enemy. In any case, Shada deftly wove the conversation away from herself as best she could while Karrde stood behind her, the ever attentive telbun, ready to serve her smallest whim.
She would have given much to be able to speak to him openly, but she was certain of two things—one was that the quarters they were to share were bugged, if not outfitted with cameras, and two, he was enjoying himself far too much. Most people wouldn’t have seen the telbun’s obsequious behaviour as anything other than the servile flattery it was. Shada knew Karrde too well by now, and she could see the amusement crinkle the edges of his eyes every time he bowed to her.
He really was going to owe her for this, she thought darkly. A week off at a pleasure spa and his exact and uncompromising word that he would stay out of trouble for that week.
They finally retired to the guest quarters. They were adequately luxurious—hardly up to the standards Karrde used when entertaining guests—barely up to Booster’s standards of entertaining important guests. The furnishings were expensive enough, but they were hardly new. It was the kind of lasting shabbiness that Shada associated more with middle-class Coruscant than anything Kuati.
Karrde removed the ridiculously tall hat from his head as Shada poured herself a drink. She held up the bottle to the light as if she was examining the color of the brandy within, but her eyes were not on the color, but the reflection of the small camera lens peeking through one of the wall curtains. Inwardly cursing to herself, she put the bottle down and sipped the brandy before dramatically collapsing in one of the armchairs.
Karrde continued to remove the heavy robes that had covered his more comfortable tunic and pants, neatly hanging the robes up in the closet before retrieving Shada’s overtunic that she’d carelessly thrown aside and hanging it up as well. She tracked him with her gaze as he quietly cleaned up. This was stressing her out more than him, and she found that patently unfair.
He finally stood before her, his head appropriately tilted downward to avoid meeting her gaze. “May I get you anything, mistress?”
Shada sighed. “No, I’m quite comfortable.” She bit back the automatic thank you that rose to her lips. “You could set out my sleep clothes.”
He did, pulling out the pants and top made out of a kind of shimmersilk that she hated. She’d spent too long with combat fatigues—anything that felt silky made her fidget uncomfortably. Still, this was a role she had to play, and she turned her back to Karrde, unceremoniously stripping out of the Kuati clothing and into the sleep clothes. Grabbing a brush, she began to run it through her hair with unnecessary force. In the reflection of the mirror, Karrde was neatly folding her discarded clothing and replacing them in the bag he’d toted to the guest quarters. When he was finished, he moved behind her, taking the brush from her and running it through her hair in a more gently fashion, letting his fingers comb through the soft strands as well as the brush before he set it down to braid her hair, securing it at the end with a clip. He inclined his head once again when he was finished. “Shall I service you this evening, mistress?”
She barely kept from choking at that statement. It wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for a telbun to ask that question of his mistress, but he was going to regret it later. She was already making plans for a quiet, but effective retribution.
For a split second, she considered agreeing, just to see what he would do. “No, I’ve a headache this evening, and I’m not in much of a mood. You are telbun. You understand.”
Karrde inclined his head. “I am telbun. I understand. Perhaps mistress would appreciate a massage before bed?”
She was not going to turn that down if he was offering, not even if he was her boss and her telbun at the same time. “That sounds like an excellent idea.”
Shada yanked back the covers to the bed, and, her back to Karrde, stripped off the top to her sleep clothes before lying face down on the bed.
“I’ve afraid I’ve no massage oil,” he said, and she felt him settle on the side of the bed. She heard his hands rub together to warm them before he laid them on her bare skin.
“Remember to pack some the next time we travel this far,” she said, her voice suddenly leaving her as Karrde began to soothe the tension out of the muscles in her back. His big hands ran up and down her spine, and his thumbs worked deeply into the muscles under her shoulder blades until Shada felt herself begin to melt into the bed.
She was almost asleep when she felt his hands leave her back, too far gone into the netherworld to protest the absence of that warmth or to jump at the feel of his beard brushing against her shoulder as he gently kissed it. He was acting as her telbun, she told herself, and laughed internally at her ability to lie to herself.
The lights died, leaving only the diffuse glow of the two moons coming through the window, and she felt Karrde slide into the bed, one arm wrapping around her waist. The unusual feeling of security finished what Karrde had begun with the massage, and Shada drifted off into sleep.
Shada was certain that the only thing that got her through the next day was the long years of Mistryl training that had been drilled into her. As Crastain led them through the details of his operation, Shada tried to ignore the figure in the crimson robes trailing along behind her.
It was not easy. She had to be aware of him to protect him, but even had he been just a bystander, Karrde exuded a certain physical presence. Even though he was working to be unobtrusive, she was still hyperaware, almost feeling the very force of his personality focused entirely on her.
Crastain led them into a shooting gallery, a selection of weapons laid out for their inspection. “As you can see, we move quite a number of arms here. BlasTech pistols, old Imperial arms. Normally I don’t deal in anything heavier than ship turbolasers, but I also occasionally get something exotic.” He gestured towards one rifle sitting out. “I recently acquired a few Xerrol Nightstingers.”
“Really?” Shada said, pitching her voice just shy of interest. Karrde had told her that the Empire was attempting to find the Nightstingers that had been stolen from them prior to the Caamas crisis. He hadn’t informed her that he suspected Crastain to have them. She didn’t spare a glance at his face. “Aren’t those relatively expensive?”
“Quite,” Crastain said. “They fire an invisible bolt of energy, which requires special Tibanna gas canisters. But they are most useful for certain situations.”
“Most useful,” Shada murmured.
Crastain picked up the Nightstinger. “If you like, Lady Ambris, you may try it.”
Shada raised an eyebrow. “I would.” She stripped off the outer long tunic coat and held it out without looking behind her at Karrde, who immediately took it from her.
“It requires a certain knack,” Crastain said, as Shada examined the weapon and held it up to her shoulder, aiming at the plastic figure at the end of the gallery. “You need to—“
The head of the plastic figure exploded, cutting off his words. The blaster bolt had traveled invisibly to the end, Shada’s shot gruesomely accurate. With a flick of her finger, she re-engaged the safety before handing the rifle back to Crastain. “Arms are my business,” she said coolly. “I make it a point to be proficient with anything that may pass through my hands. Like your Nightstinger, I find that ability most useful.” She held out a hand, and Karrde gave her the tunic back.
Crastain’s eyebrow rose appreciatively. “Indeed, Lady Ambris, I can imagine so. If you like, I can give you a more thorough tour than we previously agreed upon. You can see more of the details of this operation.”
“Intriguing,” Shada said, turning to Karrde. “Is this something my schedule will allow?”
Karrde furrowed his brow for a moment. “No, my lady. You have an appointment that cannot be rescheduled. We will need to leave as planned to reach Kuat in time.”
In other words, Karrde had what he came for. Shada turned back to Crastain. “Perhaps another time, then. I have enjoyed your hospitality too much not to encroach upon you again.”
Crastain bent over her hand and kissed it. “You may visit at any time, Lady Ambris.” He held out the blaster rifle. “For you.”
“A most generous gift,” Shada said.
“In anticipation of a mutually beneficial business arrangement, my lady. Now, shall we? Dinner should be served presently.”
Shada reclined back on the bed in the guest quarters, watching Karrde neatly put things back into the small bag he’d carried with the things they’d needed for their brief stay. He had stripped off the encumbering telbun robes, and once again was clad in the clothing he normally wore, though his shirt was untucked.
“I like you like this,” she said without thinking.
Karrde turned to look at her, his face a mix of caution and curiosity. “Like how, mistress?”
Shada folded her arms behind her head. “Relaxed.” Unable to keep still, she sprang up off the bed. “So often, you are hiding behind what is expected of you. Relaxation is quite attractive.” She traced her fingers along the lines of the Xerrol Nightstinger. Retribution was in order for this particular adventure—a slow, exact retribution.
Karrde made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat. “Did you sleep well last night?”Damn the man. A reasonable question, but one that was charged with meaning in this place, in this room. Shada ducked her head to hide a blush from him—she’d woken up still without the shirt she’d shed for the bone-deep massage he’d given her. The fact that they were wrapped around one another in a manner far too intimate for her comfort had only made her embarrassment that much more acute. “Perhaps,” she said.
“Perhaps I should share your bed more regularly,” he said, and she realized that he was right behind her, his breath warm in her ear.
“Our change of venue has made you rather more enthusiastic about your duties,” she tossed over her shoulder.
“Perhaps,” he said, echoing her earlier response. His breath moved from her ear, ghosting along the side of her neck. “And shall I service you tonight?”
She turned around, and his hands landed on top of the table to either side of her, effectively trapping her within his grasp. His mouth landed on hers possessively as he pressed closer to her. She’d already learned him unconsciously during the night, and now her hands traveled up his torso, tracing the muscles of his chest until her fingers tangled themselves in the hair at the back of his neck. His hands came to rest on her hips, the heels of his palms digging into her bones almost painfully. He finally tore his mouth away from hers, his voice low and rough in her ear. “And shall I service you this evening?” he asked again.
She wanted to say yes. Inside, she desperately, urgently wanted to tell him yes, to open her arms to him and hold him close. But her Mistryl training that made her so valuable finally began to protest in the back of her mind, bringing up the objections to this. The insistent alarm told her that if they engaged, they might forget their covers, that holding back his name wouldn’t—couldn’t—happen. That there was a dangerous lapse in propriety and professionalism to engage in an affair with her employer. That there were cameras in the room—and that was finally what made her shake her head no. “Crastain may have us under surveillance. I don’t want to become a part of some guard’s personal pornography collection.”
Shada felt him take a few deep breaths before he nodded. “Of course. I should have thought.”
She leaned her forehead against his chest and let him run his hands up and down her back. His breath hitched in hesitation before he spoke. “And when we return to the ship?”
When her eyes met his, she didn’t see the mask of the telbun. This was Talon Karrde, his pale eyes darkened with the meaning he’d just infused into the question. It was not a telbun asking his mistress. It was not even the smuggler chief asking his second-in-command. This was Talon Karrde, the man, asking Shada.
They’d been on this path for years now, and Shada finally conceded defeat to the inevitable. “Yes,” she whispered.
Tension suddenly released from his body, and he leaned down to her again, kissing her more gently than before, running his hand through her long hair.
Anticipation hit Shada like a Star Destroyer. Tomorrow suddenly couldn’t come fast enough.
She woke the next morning to the feeling that she was being watched. Opening her eyes, Shada saw Karrde, propped up on one elbow, his blue eyes watching her. “Good morning,” he said, and she could feel his greeting rumble all the way through his chest.
“Good morning,” she said softly, trying to ignore the way his free hand was idly tracing patterns on her skin under her shirt.
“Dankin has gone to ready the ship for our arrival,” he said, and Shada closed her eyes. She was normally an early riser, but the bed was comfortable, soft and warm, and Karrde’s idle movements were driving her to pleasant distraction. “All our things are packed.”
“What time is it?” she asked, turning her head to see the chrono. “It’s that late?”
Karrde made a sound of affirmative. “We’re in no hurry this morning.” He brushed a stray strand of hair from her face. “And I like watching you sleep.”
She propped herself up on her elbows and gave him a gentle, chaste kiss. He returned it, and it was suddenly no longer gentle or chaste. When he finally broke away, Shada looked up at him through her eyelashes. “Let’s go,” she said. “I made you a promise for when we returned to the ship.”
With one final, heated kiss, they started their day.
She wasn’t sure what she was expecting when she returned to the ship, but it wasn’t what occurred. As soon as the ramp closed, Karrde began issuing orders as he removed the ridiculous trappings of the telbun. “Dankin, set a course for Coruscant. H’sishi, find out who is in charge of Imperial Intelligence this week—I’d rather not have to make a trip all the way to Bastion to get this information to Pellaeon.”
The two disappeared, and Karrde turned to Shada. “Verify the origin of that Nightstinger, and then get a list of Crastain’s associates. We need to see if we can find out who stole these guns in the first place and then who Crastain was planning on selling them too. More of those are the last things we need out on the black market.”
“On it,” she said, taking a deep breath as he disappeared from view. Work first—Shada could deal with that.
It was late in the ship’s evening before Shada finally had results on her search, and she entered Karrde’s office with a datapad. “Putting things together, the Hutts look like the most likely culprits for having stolen the Nightstingers. As for selling them, Crastain is going to sell to the highest bidder. If we were legitimate smugglers, I think he’d prefer us.”
“Legitimate smugglers,” Karrde snorted. “There’s an oxymoron.”
Shada shrugged, trying to ignore the fact that the feeling of anticipation had suddenly returned full force. “The important thing is we found them. The Empire can deal with it from here.”
“Indeed,” he said, putting the datapad she’d handed him on the top of a stack. “Anything else?”
Yes, but she wasn’t going to say it. “I’m going to turn in,” she said.
“I’m thinking of heading that way myself. Sleep well, Shada,” he said.
She gave him a curt nod and escaped. The sense of anticipation had suddenly turned to acute disappointment as she walked to her quarters. No, it had been an act, all of it—she’d just never realized that her employer was such an excellent actor. Still, this was probably best—an affair with her employer was a bad idea, and while she had no doubt that Karrde could remain appropriately professional, she didn’t want to take a chance on screwing up what was the most satisfying job she’d ever had.
She was brushing out her long hair when the door rang. Something in her chest jumped in excitement, and she tamped it down, expecting H’sishi to have brought one last late report. “Come in.”
Karrde entered her quarters. He’d lost his vest, and his shirt was untucked. Only a slight tension in his shoulders indicated that he was anything other than completely relaxed. She raised an eyebrow at him. “Forget something, boss?”
“No, but I thought you might have,” he said, his voice rough.The thing in her chest jumped again. “And what might that be?” she asked, her eyes raking over him.
He stepped forward. “Seems you made me a promise last night.”
“And you thought I’d forgotten?” she asked, swinging her hair behind her back.
He reached out and pulled her to him, his hands just as possessive now as they had been before. “Were you that unsure of me?”
She looked away from him for a moment. “I thought perhaps you were unsure of me.”
“I’ve never been more unsure of anything in my life,” he said, his breath ghosting against her ear. “You are the only woman I’ve ever known who can make me unsure about where I am.”
“I don’t want an affair,” she whispered. “I want more than that, Karrde.”
“I could never just have an affair with you,” he said, closing his eyes and leaning his head against hers. “You deserve so much more than that from me. And I am nowhere near good enough for you.”
She pressed her mouth to his, holding him to her. When she pulled back, her eyes were flashing. “You are the only person who is.”
He kissed her then, hard, and Shada let herself fall into the arms of the only man she’d ever loved.