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Tipping Point

by Viola

[Story Headers]

Tipping Point

Summary: Mara seeks equilibrium. The first of two Star Wars Expanded Universe vignettes. Set after The Last Command; Mara/Karrde with a few hints of other ships.

n. The concept that small changes will have little or no effect on a system until a critical mass is reached. Then a further small change "tips" the system and a large effect is observed.

They didn't talk about it, this thing between them. It was just there, and then sometimes it wasn't.

One moment they would be as they always were and then a door would close. Then they'd be just the two of them, everything would change and the real world would fall away.

Mara was fairly certain that Aves knew. After all, he was usually the one closing the door, shutting it softly behind him as he went and leaving them alone. He never said anything, either.

Mara had also begun to suspect that he was a bit of a romantic. Not that romance had anything to do with it.

Whatever else, Aves was discreet. There were no rumors. With a man like Karrde -- powerful and wealthy and charming -- there certainly ought to have been. Smugglers talked, traded information and other people's secrets, even their own secrets. But even in a community of outcasts, Karrde was considered an oddity, a cold fish, singularly aloof. A man like that didn't have entanglements, so they said. Mara, of course, knew better. Karrde had entanglements, all right. He just hid them well.

She knew more about him than possibly anyone else in the galaxy. Not because of the way things were between them now, but because of the way they'd been before.

Trust. He trusted her. He always had, even when he'd had good reason not to.

That was how it started, really, this thing that wasn't anything at all. With words and little slips that had somehow turned into stories. She knew his middle name, when and where he'd been born and exactly how he took his tea.

Of course, he knew things about her, too.

It had been unlike her. Sloppy. But it had happened, slowly and bit by bit. She hadn't even noticed it until the conclusion had been foregone and there had been nothing left to do but go right along with the fall.

Still, she knew more about Karrde than he did about her. She wasn't a complete fool.

She knew, for instance, that he had a child. It had happened when he was little more than a child himself, with a girl on the no-name backwater world he'd come from. This girl, he said, had thrown him out when he was seventeen. He'd been scraping a living for them however he could -- selling spice to kids, rolling drunks, keeping lookout for local thugs. He'd been trying to keep them alive, and she'd finally, after a year of blood and bruises and battered-down doors, said that she'd rather die than live that way.

He'd hit the ground running and never looked back.

Mara also knew that the man he was now could easily have found that girl or his kid again if he'd wanted to. But he didn't.

Karrde was a man who knew when to cut his losses. He was unsentimental and thoroughly pragmatic. He wasn't a fool either.

She avoided thinking about the fact that he'd once been willing to die at Thrawn's hands for her. Or that she'd nearly gotten herself killed trying to get back to him and keep that from happening. That, for him, she'd betrayed her last, most important promise to the Emperor, not just once, but over and over again. That, since then, Karrde had been the one and only constant in her life. So constant that she hadn't noticed the thousand little shifts, sand slipping beneath her (their) feet, until it was too late.

Karrde had never initiated a kiss between them. Never once. He waited for her to come to him. Maybe he was keeping to whatever rules he thought they played by. Or maybe the pattern had been established even before the first time, before she'd pulled him down to her and kissed him.

In retrospect, he hadn't seemed very surprised when she'd done it.

Still, he never kissed her. He touched her, though, with palms and fingers and his breath ghosting across the back of her neck.

When it finally ended -- and it was going to end, maybe sooner than later -- Mara suspected it would mean the end many things, things she loved. So maybe that was why they would never look directly at what was there, tangled in bedsheets and shut behind doors. Maybe that was why they'd never acknowledged it out loud.

Maybe that was why he wouldn't kiss her.

It bothered her. It shouldn't, she knew that. It wasn't as if she had any illusions left, about anything. She wasn't even sure if she had a heart worth breaking, and at any rate he'd be the last man to break it.

Occasionally, though, she was tempted to force the issue. To kiss him hard and make him look at her, to make him say it out loud. But she wouldn't, she knew better. She'd just ignore the impulse and try to let the feeling pass. Her belief (and, she suspected, his too) was that as long as they didn't admit it, even to each other, it could last. Giving the thing a name would have given it power over them both.

And they knew better than to let that happen.

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Fandom:  Star Wars
Title:  Tipping Point
Author:  Viola   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG  |  het  |  4k  |  04/06/04
Characters:  Mara Jade
Pairings:  Mara/Karrde
Summary:  Mara seeks equilibrium. The first of two Star Wars Expanded Universe vignettes.

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