A/N: All I can say about this fic is that it was absolutely, incredibly, terrifically fun to write. I also laughed maniacally a few times. Here's hoping you have just as much fun reading it and maybe laugh maniacally a few times yourself.
The Ebon Hawk was still en route from Korriban. We would arrive at Dantooine in a day or two. So, since we were all more or less practical people looking for ways to pass the time, we went to work. I worked in the cockpit with the computers, at least when I wasn't doing odd jobs for everyone else. The zabrak roamed the ship doing repairs, while the rest of us found other useful tasks, like cleaning weapons and making stims. We all worked, and worked hard. When the daytime hours were up, I swear even the Exile heaved a sigh.
I didn't want to sleep, though. I hadn't got a chance to work on my new lightsaber. After everyone else had gone to bed, I was at the workbench in the garage, tinkering with my saber.
Everything was quiet except for the hum of the ship's machinery. It was the first time I'd noticed how deep and harmonic it was. Closing my eyes, I tried the calming technique that the Exile had showed me, and let myself relax. Maybe this Jedi thing wouldn't be so bad, after all.
That's when I heard it . . . a chirruping croak.
I recognized the sound immediately. My eyes flew open.
"Aw, sithspit," I groaned. If there was any sound I hated with every fiber of my being, especially right now . . .
Slowly, with a miserable sigh, I looked down to my left. And there it was. Nubby tail, nubby ears, and watery eyes, all.
After wrangling for a second with the longing to bang my head over and over on the bench top—or at least ten or twelve times—I decided instead to shake it at the little lizard pest. "How—oh ho, how—did you get on my ship?" Humorless laughter laced my miserable question for the very misery of it.
Never mind that the Hawk wasn't really my ship. When you're talking to a gizka on a freighter, trust me: you become very possessive.
The gizka blinked innocently at me with those big, watery eyes, gurgling ever so sweetly in its lemon-yellow lizard gullet. I narrowed my eyes at it like it was the most diabolical gizka that ever gurgled on the Outer Rim. Cute, yeah, but also the peskiest pest in the entire galaxy. And it would not stay on my ship.
I shifted in my seat and stooped to shake my hydrospanner at it.
"I thought there were no gizka on Korriban."
"It's a dead planet."
"And Sith hate gizka. They're nothing but stupid little balls of cuteness."
Letting out a deep sigh, I rubbed my face with my hands. Then I bent over and narrowed my eyes more than ever at the gurgling yellow frog. "Are there any more of you hoppin' around here that I should know about?"
Of course, the uselessness of my interrogation struck me right then. So, in anticipation of my next move, I set the hydrospanner aside. "Well," I mumbled, "I'll just chuck you out the airlock. A nice, quick death . . . "
Then, swift as Sith, I lunged for the gizka.
When I came to, I found myself in a very unexpected position: on my back on the floor, with my arms thrown back above my head.
But what quickly became the most unexpected factor of my position was the nightmarish vision sitting on my chest.
The gizka . . . was baring its fangs at me.
And growling. And snapping.
Its little frame quivered with ferociousness.
My mind raced as I peered up at it bug-eyed. Okay, this wasn't right. Gizka don't have fangs. Gizka don't pounce on grown men and send them crashing to the floor. Gizka don't even attack things bigger than themselves. They're stupid little balls of cuteness that snap up gravel maggots with long, sticky, otherwise harmless tongues. Sure, they could lick you to death, maybe, but . . .
They don't have fangs!
I glanced around the best I could with that now-terrifying ball of cuteness snarling in my face. My saber . . . ? No, it was lying in pieces on the workbench; the crystal wasn't even in it. Sithspit!
But could I use the Force? Yes, of course! I could use the Force! A simple force push would oust the gizka, easy.
Okay, just remember what the Exile said . . . focus, and . . . PUSH!
Unfortunately, my simple force push didn't go as planned. Despite the fact that I threw my whole willpower into it (I didn't exactly like having a fanged gizka in my face), the gizka flapped its legs in the air for a second, and then pushed back.
Next thing I knew, the gizka was on my face!
Instinctively, I did what I should've done in the first place. That is, I reached up, got my hands around its neck, and wrung it for all I was worth.
By the time I opened my eyes, the gizka'd flopped onto the deck beside me, its long tongue lolling out of its mouth.
Relief flooded me, and I dropped my head back to let myself breathe. Okay, Atton ol' boy, maybe you haven't got this Force thing down yet. To have a gizka beat you in a pushing match . . . well, that's kind of pathetic. Just make sure the Exile doesn't find out about this, or you'll never hear the end of it.
Of course, who else would I see right then, coming into the garage from the starboard dormitory? I groaned.
Hearing my groan and seeing me sprawled on the deck, he predictably jumped to a conclusion. Can't blame him, though, considering he'd seen me this way before.
With a gigantic roll of his eyes, a prodigious shrug of his shoulders, and a colossal crossing of his arms, he said emphatically, "Atton Rand, you must learn temperance. Now that you're a Jedi, you can't go on living like a—"
Then he noticed the lifeless yellow blob beside me. It's funny how suddenly his attitude of "scolding, better-than-thou master" switched in favor of "thoroughly befuddled bystander."
"Atton," he asked, "why is there a dead gizka on the floor next to you?"
Heh. You think I'm drunk? You should've seen that guy. I bit back the sarcastic retort, thinking he'd probably want to know a fanged gizka had been on his ship. "Okay, for the record. First, I haven't touched that Corellian ale," I said as I pushed myself up from the deck. "And second . . . "
All right, now, how should I approach this?
"Well," I drawled, "it looks like the Hawk picked up one or two Sith demons on Korriban."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Sith demons . . . ?"
In the end, the Exile was on his knees, prying the dead gizka's mouth open with his bare fingers. Not something I see every day. I would've been laughing at him behind his back, despite the fact he's my "master" and all, if I hadn't been so dead set on proving myself. No, I wasn't delusional, and no, it wasn't your average ball of cuteness that nearly tore my face off. The Exile would see those fangs for himself, and then he'd believe me.
When he stood up, he had an expression on his face that I couldn't figure out. As usual. I pride myself on being able to read people's expressions, but noooooo, this Jedi refuses to be read. Which aggravates the flames out of me.
I shrugged my shoulders, making a point to shrug as prodigiously as the Exile had. "So? Believe me now?"
He put on a pensive expression, one that was deceptively easy to read. "Wellllllllll," he said, like he was relishing the word, "I believe . . . that you've touched more of that Corellian ale than you thought."
I jabbered and choked to the effect of an age-old ion engine trying to start. By the time I managed to express myself, I'd only further convinced the Exile of my drink-guiltiness. "What?"
"This gizka"—he nudged it hard with his boot—"is just that. A gizka. It doesn't have teeth. Must've hidden on board after our last trip to Dxun." Then, chuckling in the most infuriating manner possible, he sauntered back the way he came. "Good act, Atton. I guess I should lock up that ale before you start wrestling purple hssiss in the cargo hold."
"Yeah, or brainless exiled tachs in the hallway," I grumbled.
Suddenly, when I wasn't looking, a Force-propelled hydrospanner clobbered me in the head. With a growl, I took control of it and flung it vengefully at the Exile. He ducked into the passage just in time for the hydrospanner to miss. It hit the wall and fell with a loud clink, CLANK!
Out popped his head, plastered with a hoity-toity, big-brotherly grin. "Nice try. Your next lesson'll be how to aim." Then he disappeared.
I considered grabbing the hydrospanner and going after him again. I'll show you I can aim! But, at the last second, I remembered there were crates in the starboard dorm. Crates that I couldn't lift with the Force, but he could lift 'em all right.
I went to retrieve the hydrospanner, rubbing the side of my head where I'd been clobbered by it. A big knot was already forming in my hair. Note to self: think, don't whisper. Or, at least, call the Exile something in another language. Rodian would be good. Just make sure he doesn't have that translator on him.
As I was trying to think of a way to tell when he had that translator, my eyes settled on the dead gizka again, and I remembered the reason for my argument with the Exile.
"This gizka is just that. A gizka. It doesn't have teeth."
Not to mention panic.
My heart pounding, I fell on my knees next to the gizka and stuck my fingers in its mouth. For a second, I thought I could feel something, but then . . .
Nothing. Just wet, floppy lips and wet, squishy gums.
The confusion seeped in quickly. I stood to replace the hydrospanner on the workbench, not even paying attention to what I was doing. But . . . how? The Exile wouldn't lie to me. And I saw what I saw.
"Did you? And what makes you think that?"
I turned abruptly at the sound of her voice, just as my gut twisted in loathing. There, right behind me, stood the one person I hated most on this ship.
"Kreia, I didn't touch that ale. You should know that, of all people."
She shrugged off my barbed remark. "Perhaps. But how can you expect the Exile to believe you, of all people? There was a time when drink was your daily companion, and you embraced it, though it only clouded your mind with nightmarish memories. How can the Exile expect you to resist its call now?"
Kreia was too good at fingering my bruises. I cringed inwardly, even as my defense impulse kicked into overdrive.
"Because Jedi don't drink, and I don't need to. My past has no hold over me now."
"Ah. You say that with such ease, yet you know it is not true. The guilt remains; I can feel it squirming within you still."
"Yeah, well, how about we don't get into that again, and instead you tell me why this gizka had fangs one minute and none the next?"
"That would be assuming I believe you."
I stared at her in utter disbelief.
"You've got to be joking. You mean you can't tell I'm dead serious here?"
She favored me with a scowl. "Oh, it is quite obvious to me that you are serious. That you think you are telling the truth." Turning away, she moved to the dead gizka and studied it. As she did, though, some change of attitude came over her. Her expression, or what I could see of it, grew darker. Then, much to my surprise (note the sarcasm), she lapsed into her usual Jedi-speak. "The power of Korriban runs strong . . . and extends far. Once you are touched by it, it stays with you. And it has a way of bringing your deepest fears to life."
Okay. Where in space did this witch come from?
"Reeeeeally?" I barked a laugh. "Sorry to contradict, but a fanged gizka isn't exactly my deepest fear."
I waited for one of her snarky comebacks. When no response came from under the hood—just cold silence—and the witch didn't so much as move, I'll admit I felt pretty awkward. Shifting from one foot to the other, I looked around at the walls, at the workbench, down the passageway to the cargo hold, until I finally thought of something to say. "Well, if Your Majesty does not object, I think I'll—"
At that moment I happened to glance at her, and I faltered in surprise. Kreia had turned to face me, one pupiless eye visible from beneath the hood. A hungry smile curved her lips, revealing the points of two perfectly sharpened, pearly white fangs.
My mind went blank.
"Kreia . . . ?"
As she responded with a wider smile, unveiling her fangs in all their pointed glory, I took an involuntary step back. My heart pounded in my ears.
A gizka with fangs. Now the witch. Was the gizka Kreia? Or is Kreia the gizka? Is it some thing, some Sith ghost from Korriban? No, this is a nightmare, all of it.
Desperately, I slapped myself hard on the face. Nothing. I pinched my cheek. Still nothing. I rubbed my eyes, stomped my feet, and pulled my hair, each in quick succession. None of it worked. The witch was still there, her mouth contorted in a silent laugh at my feeble efforts.
Oh my FORCE, she has fangs!
Then, to my endless horror, she started moving toward me. Like a ghost floating off the ground, her wide, white eyes gleaming coldly in the dim light. I just about lost all of my mental faculties then, but somehow I ended up running. Running, running down the hallway to one of the dorms. The port dorm, I think. If I'd been thinking straight, I would've high-tailed it to starboard where the Exile was, the only one of us who has a leash on the fanged witch.
Oh, well. Maybe Visas and Brianna could protect me.
The fool had reacted much like Kreia expected. First a wide-eyed stare, followed by peculiar antics that were, admittedly, rather droll . . . and the moment she moved an inch in his direction, he was gone. No doubt the sleepy atmosphere of the Ebon Hawk would soon be shattered by screams from the port dormitory's female residents.
With a curl of her lip, Kreia reached in and removed the pair of false fangs. "Disgusting things," she growled. When a hoot of laughter reverberated from the starboard passage, she turned to see a red-faced Exile collapse on his side in the doorway, shaking and heaving in madcap hilarity. Kreia sighed.
"Jedi, rise from that disgraceful position. It was not quite so humorous as that."
"Humorous? No, no, it wasn't. It was hilarious!" The Exile wiped a tear from his eye as he got up. "Force, Kreia, I needed that after Korriban. It was worth it. It was totally worth it!"
Kreia had to admit, though at first she had refused to take part in such foolishness, the plan had been a cunning one. Two sets of false fangs, one for her and one for the gizka; a little Force manipulation to make the gizka go berserk; a perfectly timed entrance by the Exile, with an examination and surreptitious "de-fanging" of the gizka's mouth; then, as the final touch, her own appearance as the Fanged Witch.
Quite cunning. Yes, quite cunning indeed.
Just then, the anticipated screams rang out from the port dormitory. "Atton! What are you doing in here?!" "Get OUT, you scoundrel!"
The Exile collapsed to the deck in another fit of convulsive laughter. Kreia simply snorted.
"Exile, you do realize that you will have to explain this to the fool in the morning?"
The Jedi gasped for breath, his face still cherry-red. "Nah. Let's not tell him. Let's let him remember the night he wrestled with the gizka from hell."
Maybe they could try the purple hssiss next.