Title: The Big Date Author: Gabri_Jade Timeframe: Beyond Legends, several months after Union Characters: Mara Jade, Luke Skywalker, Shada D’ukal, Talon Karrde, various Wild Karrde crew Genre: romance, fluff, friendship Summary: A newly-married Mara has some time off coming up. The crew of the Wild Karrde want to make sure it’s memorable. Notes: This is in response to the OTP Challenge #19: The Return of the Romcom… In Space! My required elements were “word gets around” and “boss(es).” Endless thanks to @ViariSkywalker for her beta work and encouragement “So, Mara,” Dankin began, his voice brimming with mischief. “Heard you’re off next week. Headed to Coruscant, are you?” Mara looked at him coolly. That, of course, was hardly a surprise. Shada had been training with Mara for six months and had yet to see the smallest of cracks in the woman’s composure. Between that and the stories she’d heard of Mara’s combat skills, Shada rather thought that she’d have made a good Mistryl. “What’s it to you?” Mara asked, an eyebrow arching slightly. “Well, you know,” Dankin said. “It’s been—what, a month since you’ve seen Skywalker?” “Shockingly, I do know how to read a calendar,” Mara said, leaning down to check the copilot’s board in front of Shada. “We just want to make sure you have a—” Odonnl cleared his throat. “Memorable reunion. That’s all.” “Your concern for my personal life,” Mara said with the slightest of emphasis, “is touching.” She straightened, and sent a calmly forbidding look at Odonnl. “Also unnecessary.” [Had you seen Chieftain Jade’s skill with a lightsaber as I have,] H’sishi put in, [you would not now joke about matters which are none of your concern.] Mara sent a quick but genuine smile toward the Togorian. “Bringing a lightsaber into it might be an overreaction.” Odonnl opened his mouth, then closed it again as Mara pinned him with a glare. “But only a slight one. H’sishi, can you take this station for a while? As long as everything’s running smoothly up here, Shada and I should really get to work on those accounts.” [I obey,] H’sishi mewled, and Shada rose to follow Mara from the bridge. “When did H’sishi see you with a lightsaber?” Shada asked, as they headed toward Mara’s office. “Long story,” Mara replied, with the faintest hint of the smile she’d given H’sishi. She glanced sideways at Shada. “Talon hasn’t told it to you?” “No,” Shada said, trying to smother the twinge of self-consciousness the question evoked, and hoping that Mara’s Jedi senses weren’t picking up on it. “Is there a particular reason he should have?” Mara shrugged. “Aside from it being a good story, and the fact that everyone else on this is ship gossiping about my personal life, so why not him too? Probably not.” They reached the office, and Mara pressed the panel to key the door open. “It was when I first met H’sishi, and got the Jade’s Fire. I’ll tell it to you someday. But for now, let’s get these numbers sorted. Because those nerfs on the bridge are right about one thing: Next week belongs to Luke and me, and I am not delaying it over some accounting error. I want everything in order before we rendezvous with Talon tomorrow.” At dinner that night, Mara was notably absent. “She’s eating in her cabin and calling Skywalker,” Chin explained. “She does that sometimes.” “Because she’s in love,” Dankin added, a sing-song note to his voice. Shada frowned at him. “I would hope so. She is married to him, after all.” “Sure, and look how long it took them,” Odonnl pointed out. “Everyone knows they spent the last decade dancing around each other. Right, Chin?” “They did work well together from the beginning,” Chin allowed. “Then why did it take them so long?” Shada asked, curious despite herself. “Some people are just clueless about things like that,” Dankin said, a glint in his eye. “See, that’s the thing, Shada,” Odonnl put in. “This is good for Mara. But she’s no good at relationships. If she was, would it have taken her ten years to lock Skywalker down?” [Again I remind you of Chieftain Jade’s skill with a lightsaber,] H’sishi said, the shadow of a growl in her voice. Whatever the story of their meeting that Shada had yet to hear, clearly Mara had H’sishi’s undying loyalty. Dankin waved a hand dismissively. “She’s not here, is she?” Shada snorted. “You remember that Mara’s a Jedi, right? She doesn’t need to hear you saying something out loud to know you’re thinking it.” “Mara doesn’t pull things from people’s minds,” Odonnl said, shaking his head. “Not without better reason than this.” Chin laughed. “And since when has Mara needed to resort to that to see through any of us, hee? Watch yourselves. It’s dangerous ground you’re on.” “Nah,” Dankin insisted. “We’re trying to help her. See, Shada,” he said, turning toward her. “Mara and Skywalker are good together. You wouldn’t know to look at her, but this is the happiest we’ve ever seen Mara. We just want to make sure she stays that way.” “If you ask me,” Shada said, turning her attention back to her dinner, “the best way to make Mara happy is to stay out of her personal life.” “Or,” Odonnl said, “we could help them along.” Shada narrowed her eyes at him. “What do you mean, ‘help them along’?” “They haven’t seen each other in a month, Shada,” Dankin persisted. “They have to have a special first night together, don’t they?” “That, I am definitely not getting involved with,” Shada said. “Not like that,” Odonnl said, exasperated. “We thought we’d arrange a surprise for them. You know, a fancy date. So they can spend some time alone together. So what do you think it should be?” Shada frowned. “Why are you asking me? All of you know Mara better than I do.” “You’re a woman, aren’t you?” Dankin asked, in what he surely thought was a reasonable tone. “If it was you, what would you want for a night out with a special someone?” Shada felt her face inexplicably warm, and kept her expression steady. “H’sishi’s a woman, too. Ask her.” [Human customs are odd,] H’sishi said contemplatively. [Would not a hunt be the obvious romantic choice?] Odonnl and Dankin turned identical obvious “you see?” expressions toward Shada while Chin grinned and continued eating. “Oh, fine,” Shada said with a sigh. “I still don’t think Mara needs any help in this area, but isn’t dinner the usual thing in this situation?” Dankin put his elbows on the table and dropped his face into his hands. “Good thing you’re here, we’d never have thought of that,” he said, his voice muffled. “And after the dinner?” Odonnl asked patiently. “Dancing? Theater? Moonlight walk?” “On Coruscant?” Shada snorted. “What moonlight? Work with your surroundings. There’s no romantic nature to walk in on Coruscant.” “Now you’re talking.” Dankin lifted his head. “Okay, no moonlight walk. So if it was you on a nice romantic evening you’d been waiting for, what comes next?” Shada glared at him. “Why don’t you just ask Mara—” Dankin’s raised eyebrows answered the question before she’d finished it, and she sighed again. “Okay, yeah, that’s probably a bad idea. Which,” she pointed out, “just plays into my ‘stay out of her business’ principle. But if you’re going to do this anyway—” Shada gave a moment’s earnest thought to the matter. What would she like? Every scenario that came to mind involved someone with dark hair and smooth words and that was not something she was about to admit to anyone here. “Mara was a dancer once, wasn’t she?” Shada spoke quickly, before her discomfiture could show. “There are lots of high-class dance halls on Coruscant. Pick one.” “Dancing is good,” Odonnl mused. “Lots of closeness.” “But a dark theater means furtive hand-holding and all that,” Dankin offered. Shada stood abruptly. “I’m full. I’ll see all of you in the morning.” She left before anyone could object and stalked to her cabin, her face heated. A close-knit crew was a good thing; it could keep you alive in tight situations, and make everyday life more pleasant. And sometimes it was like being trapped in a group of gossipy adolescents. And she had better things to think about than silly romantic evening scenarios. Of course she did. Definitely. Shada reached her cabin without running into Mara in the halls, for which she thanked every deity the galaxy had to offer, and slipped quickly inside, leaning against the closed door. She liked the crew, mostly. She very much liked the—well, never mind. She wasn’t going anywhere, that was the point, so she’d just have to learn to deal with this sort of nonsense. Mara would be off next week, so there would only be a few more days of “trying to surprise her with a fancy date” silliness. And once they actually did surprise her, Shada would bet heavily that Mara would put a stop to anything along those lines for the foreseeable future, no matter how tolerant she normally was of the crew’s ribbing and kindly-meant interference. So. A few more days of gossip and speculation about Mara’s personal life. She’d withstood worse things. With a sigh, Shada pushed herself away from the door and began to get ready for bed. Karrde, having sorted the shipping issues out of the Elrood system, rejoined them the next day. “Any problems while I was gone?” he asked, his observant eyes sweeping around the bridge. “None,” Mara replied briskly. “The Adarlon delivery went as planned, Shada and I sorted the snags in accounting, and the instability in the aft turbolaser has been repaired.” “Ah, Mara,” Karrde said, with something akin to regret. “What am I going to do without you?” Mara snorted. “You’ll carry on exactly as you have for years, expanding the business, implementing new ideas, and looking for ways to con Booster.” “‘Con’ is such an uncouth word,” Karrde said mildly. “I prefer to think of it as keeping him from slipping into complacency in his old age.” “Please, do mention Booster’s ‘old age’ in front of him before I leave,” Mara said, taking the datapad H’sishi offered her and scanning its contents. Probably the analysis she’d ordered run on the sensor array, Shada thought. “I can’t think of a better going away present than that show.” Karrde smiled. “I’ll give the matter some thought. But in the meantime, I do have a surprise for you a little sooner than that. Dankin, set course for Coruscant, would you, please?” Behind Mara, Elkin grinned. “That does make things convenient, doesn’t it?” Mara didn’t even bother to turn around. “It’s been a while since the exhaust system had an overhaul. Are you volunteering?” “Sorry,” Elkin said, but he was still grinning as he turned back to his station. “Councilor Organa Solo contacted me and requested a conference regarding some of the details about the nascent joint Intelligence service,” Karrde said, in response to Mara’s raised eyebrow. “Apparently some officials of the Imperial Remnant will be on Coruscant the day before your time off is scheduled to begin, so rather than transferring you to the Starry Ice for transport to Coruscant tomorrow, we’ll just take the Wild Karrde there directly. We’ll get there two days earlier than you would have otherwise. A little extra time off for you, Mara.” Mara’s smile was a subtle thing, easily missed by someone who wasn’t paying attention or didn’t know her well. She wasn’t a woman given to broad gestures or overt emotional displays. But if Shada caught the smile, she knew that Karrde would see it too, as long as they’d worked together. “That is good news,” Mara said. “As long as you don’t plan on calling for any consultations or anything just because we’re on the same planet. Because I do assure you that I won’t be answering any comms from you until my scheduled day back, regardless of an early start.” Karrde chuckled. “I’d expect no less.” “That being the case,” Mara said, signing the datapad and handing it back to H’sishi, “if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go call Luke and let him know about the schedule change.” “Of course,” Karrde replied, waving a hand. The bridge doors had hardly closed behind Mara before Karrde turned toward the others. “Well? Do I really need to ask?” Dankin, still tapping coordinates into the helm, grinned. “It’s nothing, Chief.” “Just a little teasing, Capt’,” Chin supplied. “Incessant is more like it,” Shada muttered. “About Mara’s time off with Skywalker?” Karrde shook his head. “Perhaps I should give her a bonus for leaving you all in one piece.” “Coordinates laid in, Chief,” Dankin said. Karrde inclined his head. “Then by all means, let us be off.” The stars stretched to lines before blurring into the abstract blue swirls of hyperspace, and they were on their way. Mara joined the rest of the crew for dinner that night, and with both her and Karrde at the table, mercifully Dankin and Odonnl kept their mouths shut about potential romantic scenarios. “…so the discrepancy was in the account we set up with Par’tah last year,” Mara was saying. “Shada found it.” “Shada does appear to be making herself indispensable,” Karrde said with a smile in her direction. Mistryl did not squirm, but Shada ducked her head in seeming contemplation of her meal. “It was nothing,” she murmured. “Nothing, she says.” Mara rolled her eyes. “I spent a whole day chasing that error before I brought you in on it, and you found it in an hour.” Shada shrugged. “I always liked numbers. Mathematics are orderly.” “And useful. Can’t aim a blaster or throw a knife without taking angles into account,” Mara said, a wicked grin tugging at the corner of her mouth. Shada returned the grin. “There’s that.” She felt more than saw Karrde’s eyes on her, and tried to ignore it. At the other end of the table Dankin nudged Odonnl, who snickered. Mara turned a stern look on them and they subsided. “It is comforting to know,” Karrde said smoothly, “that when you leave, Mara, Shada will be able to cover the gaps, as it were. Though of course we will always feel your absence.” “Oh, I think you’ll do just fine,” Mara said, reaching for another piece of bread. “Shada’s got all sorts of things covered. Anyway, I hope you’re not thinking that I’m going to vanish into the wilderness or something. Luke and I will probably be hitting you up for information and contacts for the rest of our lives.” “And I’ll be happy to give you the discount rate,” Karrde said, his eyes twinkling. Mara laughed. “I’ll be sure to tell Luke that. I know he’ll appreciate your generosity.” For all her reserve, Mara lit up when she spoke of Luke. Shada felt an odd wistfulness, and glanced at Karrde—only to find him already looking at her. They held each other’s eyes for a long moment, and Shada’s breath seemed to catch in her chest. “So, Capt’,” Chin said, breaking the spell. “Heard anything from Gillespie lately?” “Not in the last month, no,” Karrde said. Was it only her imagination that made Shada hear reluctance in his voice as he turned away from her? She blinked and swung her own gaze away. Across the table, Mara tilted her head slightly, wearing another of her tiny smiles as she watched Shada. Shada ducked her head again and didn’t look up from her plate for the rest of the meal. It was nearly sunset in the Senate District when the Wild Karrde landed. Karrde had gotten a call as they made orbit and retreated to his office to take it, so Mara oversaw the landing, with Shada taking the helm and Dankin the copilot’s seat. They had just finished the shut down when Karrde reappeared on the bridge. “It seems there may be some issues with our upcoming conference, so Councilor Organa Solo—” “You can call her Leia, Talon,” Mara said, her voice amused as she turned away from the sensor station. “—Councilor Organa Solo,” Karrde continued, raising his eyebrows at her, “requests that I meet her for a working dinner, to see if we can smooth the path.” He frowned briefly. “At a restaurant. Generally when the Solos issue such invitations, they take place at their own home, even if the meeting is more of a political one.” “Han’s taking the kids to some show tonight,” Mara said with a shrug. “If Leia needs to meet with you at this hour and Han’s not home, it had better be at a restaurant. He’s the only cook in that family.” “Ah.” Karrde’s expression cleared. “Yes, that makes sense. At any rate, I need to leave promptly if I’m to make the appointment. Mara, I assume you’re leaving as well?” “You assume correctly,” Mara said, folding her arms and tilting her head. “My husband’s waiting for me.” Karrde smiled at her. “Enjoy your time off, Mara. Dankin—” He glanced toward the helm, Dankin’s usual station, and paused as he saw Shada there instead. Their eyes met and the moment stretched— Dankin cleared his throat. “Yeah, Chief?” Karrde blinked and focused on Dankin, an air of faint and uncharacteristic embarrassment in his stance as he did. “You’re in charge until I get back.” “You got it.” Dankin tossed him a loose salute. Karrde exited the bridge, and Mara smiled toward Shada, that knowing expression in her eyes again. Shada looked away. “Well, that’s my cue,” Mara said, unconcerned. “I have to get my bags from my cabin, but I’m heading straight out. I’ll see all of you later. Try to keep yourselves in line while I’m gone.” Odonnl grinned at her. “A never-ending struggle, that.” “Tell me something I don’t know,” Mara said over her shoulder as she left. Shada stood, only to have Dankin catch her arm. “You’ve got to go with her.” She frowned at him. “What? She’s meeting her husband; I’m not tagging along for that.” “Yeah, she’s meeting her husband,” Dankin hissed. “But she doesn’t know where.” “You’re not making any sense at all,” Shada said, shaking her head. Odonnl leaned into the conversation. “We set it up with Skywalker. She’s supposed to meet him at a fancy restaurant. Mara doesn’t know that. We need you to take her there.” Shada stared at them both. “That’s ridiculous. Why doesn’t he just comm her?” “It’s a surprise, Shada,” Dankin said with exaggerated patience. “Then you take her,” Shada snapped. “You heard the Chief. I’m in charge of the ship. I have to stay here.” “Don’t look at me,” Odonnl said before Shada could turn on him. “She’d definitely be suspicious if I tried it.” “Then H’sishi—” “Do you think she knows her way around Coruscant?” Odonnl’s expression was disbelieving. “I don’t think she’s even been here before.” Shada sank back down into the pilot’s chair and scowled. “I definitely did not sign up for this sort of thing.” Dankin kicked her lightly with the side of his boot, and she glared at him. “She’ll be off the ship in a minute,” he pointed out. “Shada, come on, for Mara’s sake. I know you two are friends, even if you won’t admit it.” He reached in a pocket and came up with a scrap of flimsi with some writing scrawled on it, and shoved it at her. “This is the address. Just get her there. Skywalker’s waiting for her.” Shada glared a moment longer, then shoved herself upright again, snatching the flimsi. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” She caught Mara at the hatchway. “Mara, wait—” Mara paused, one bag slung over her shoulder and the other in her hand. “Did I forget something?” “No, I— I mean…” Shada floundered, then groaned. “Look, these idiots apparently set something up with your husband to surprise you. I’m supposed to take you there.” Mara’s lips twitched. “Is that so?” “It wasn’t my idea,” Shada protested. “Oh, I’m sure,” Mara said, shaking her head. “You’d have done it with more finesse. Okay, fine, take me to the surprise.” The address wasn’t far from their landing spot, and within ten minutes they were at the restaurant’s front door. Mara looked the place over with a practiced eye. “Fancy,” she commented. “It’ll do nicely.” “Well, I hope you like it. I’ll see you when you get back.” Shada began to turn away, relieved, but Mara caught her arm. “Oh, no,” Mara said. “Not for me. It’ll do nicely for you.” Shada felt her forehead wrinkle with puzzlement as Mara all but dragged her into the lobby. “No, I don’t think you understand,” she protested. “They said your husband was waiting—” From the lobby, they could see into the dining room, and at the far end, was— Shada ducked behind a pillar, Mara’s iron grip on her arm resulting in her being pulled behind the pillar as well. “Why is he here?” Shada hissed. “Because,” Mara said, her eyes dancing with amusement now, “he thinks he’s waiting for Leia. I know I’m not exactly one to talk, but you two really are slow on the uptake.” Shada stilled, suspicion washing over her as she glared at Mara. “Don’t give me that look,” Mara replied, completely unimpressed. “Go on; we already paid for dinner. Oh—” She set her bags down and opened one to pull out a small datapad. “Here. First file is tickets to the opera. I think it starts in three hours, so you have time to linger over dinner if you want. I know Odonnl thought dancing was the better idea, but we couldn’t figure out how to get you both to dress up without giving away the game. The opera house will be dark for the performance, and your seats are in an isolated balcony box, so no one will notice you’re not dressed for it.” Mara smiled. “You’ll have to settle for the furtive hand-holding tonight. I do recommend the dancing for next time, though.” “You—you—” For possibly the first time in her life, Shada found herself reduced to sputtering. Mara actually patted her hand, as though she were a child that needed soothing. “Yes, we set you up. No, Talon isn’t in on it. He’s going to be just as surprised as you were. Go enjoy your evening, Shada.” “But Organa Solo said—” Shada stopped abruptly, suddenly feeling every bit as slow as Mara accused her of being. “That’s right,” Mara said calmly. “My sister-in-law. It’s good to have friends and relations in high places.” “You said her husband was taking the children to a show—” “He is. He and Leia both.” “Is the entire conference a fraud, too? Did you divert the ship’s itinerary just for this?” “Oh, I’m sure Leia will come up with some sort of business to make it worth Talon’s while,” Mara said. “Or at least, something for him to pretend was worth his while. We all know that once you both settle down, tonight will be all he needs to forgive any minor diversions. The Wild Karrde wasn’t scheduled for anything important this week anyway.” “You brought the whole ship’s crew into speculation about me and—” Shada leaned against the pillar and covered her face with her hands. Mara took her wrists and pulled her hands away with surprising gentleness. “Look,” Mara said, leaning closer. “Here’s the deal. It’s obvious to everyone that you two are attracted to each other. I didn’t need to ‘bring anyone in,’ believe me. They approached me. And I know it’s not fun to have other people speculating about your personal relationships. Maybe you noticed that coverage of my own wedding was a ridiculous media circus rife with actual conspiracy theories. But you know what else I know isn’t fun? Wasting time that didn’t need to be wasted. If Luke and I hadn’t been idiots, we could have had an extra ten years together. Do you really want to be saying the same thing about you and Talon a decade from now?” Shada looked at her, glanced around the pillar at Karrde sitting alone at the table across the room, then back at Mara. “Go on,” Mara said softly. Shada slowly pulled away from the pillar. “But what about you? Dankin said your husband was meeting you here.” Mara smiled. “He’s a few buildings over, waiting for me. We have our own plans already set. We’re fine.” Shada looked back toward Karrde, still oblivious; then back at Mara, who raised her eyebrows in a surprisingly encouraging look. Shada took a deep breath. “Thanks,” she said, and walked into the restaurant, legs only a little unsteady, catching the surprise in Karrde’s pale blue eyes as he looked up and caught sight of her. She squared her shoulders, clutching the datapad with their opera tickets, and continued on her path until she stood by the table. “Is this seat taken?” Luke looked up as Mara approached, his expression and his sense warm. “Hey,” he said as he rose from the bench off to the side of the main pathway. “Hey,” Mara replied, dropping her bags and reaching up to wind her arms around his neck. He held her close and Mara let her eyes drift shut as she inhaled his scent. “I missed you.” He pulled back to kiss her. “Missed you too. Did you get them settled?” Mara laughed. “It took some convincing at the end, but yes. Talon will pretend to be very put out by the whole thing, but the entire crew knows perfectly well that it’ll be an act. Sometimes people just need a shove in the right direction.” “Can’t imagine what that’s like,” Luke said wryly, bending over to take her bags. “Nope, you’re not carrying both.” Mara wrestled one away from him. “I’m not fragile.” “No, you’re not,” Luke agreed, rolling his eyes. “Wildly stubborn, but not fragile.” “Too late for regrets,” Mara said cheerfully. “You’re stuck with me now. Did you order the food?” “Sent the order in when you came into sight. It should be ready when we pass the place on the way home. The speeder’s parked in the next lot over.” He started walking that way, and Mara fell in step beside him. “It’s ribenes, isn’t it?” “You like them too.” “Luke, we just bought that couch. If you get sauce on it—” “I did somehow manage to eat meals without ruining the furniture before you came along, you know. Did you pick a movie?” “Oh, you bet,” Mara said, grinning at him. “Luke Skywalker and the Dragons of Tatooine. Something of a vintage film, but still worthwhile.” Luke groaned. “Lies. It’s all lies, you know that.” “Entertaining lies. That’s what movies are, Luke.” “You’d better watch out the next time it’s my turn to pick a movie, Jade.” “Good luck with that,” Mara said smugly. “Some of us were shadow agents, not poster boys famous for blowing up conspicuous and expensive battle stations.” Luke looked at her sideways. “Also, you paid the producers of trash like this to look the other way?” “Of course not. I threatened them with lawsuits if they ever so much as mentioned my name. I can’t imagine why the idea hasn’t occurred to you before now.” She smiled sweetly at him. “Either get in on the licensing or threaten to sue them into oblivion, dear.” They reached the speeder, and Luke put the bags in the back seat. “Do you think Talon and Shada will have a nice date?” “As nice as ours?” Mara slid into the passenger seat. “Not a chance. I’ve been waiting all month for takeout and movie night. But if they’re very lucky—” she leaned over to kiss Luke’s cheek as he took the driver’s seat “—someday they’ll get to the takeout and movie night stage, too. Maybe I’ll tell them about tonight’s viewing choice, to give them a jump-start on the idea.” “Don’t you dare,” Luke said, starting the speeder. Mara’s laughter was lost in the wind as they headed toward home.