Title: Trailer Park Princess
Category: Pre-slash, with squinting.
Time: Anakin is fourteen.
A/N: This is a standalone story, though it is a "missing moment" in a longer one entitled "As Clear As Mud." The Release-of-Master's-Authority is a Jedi ritual designed to formally allow a Padawan to touch his Master outside of training.
Summary: There are some things that Obi-Wan should not be allowed to touch. Or to say ...
It was their eighth Mid Rim mission, the first unqualified disaster. Anakin got used to them later. But at this particular moment, huddled beside his Master in the scant shelter of a lightning-blasted hollow tree in the midst of a stormy rainforest, he chilled and shook more than ever when Obi-Wan's hand slowed its reassuring pats on Anakin's shoulder, then stopped altogether. Anakin shoved his head closer to Obi-Wan's face. Obi-Wan's shoulder wasn't bleeding anymore, Anakin sensed in the near darkness, but his Master's eyes were nearly closed and he seemed stuporous. Had it been a poisoned arrow? In a double flash of lightning, Anakin saw two more things: most of the shaft of the arrow had broken off in their headlong flight through the forest, and a scaly three-taloned paw reached through the underbrush, hesitated, then pushed aside more dripping leaves. There was a hiss louder than the plink of falling raindrops. Ssssllluuurrrrrrrrpsshhhh. And something licked its chops.
Anakin shifted noiselessly. He extended one hand, ordered it to stop shaking and made a small pass. "We don't taste good. We'll make you sick," he whispered. He heard the creature's claws bite into the tree trunk behind him as it sank its nails into soggy charred bark, gaining leverage to push through their overgrown protecting cover. The thing --- it creeps like a murglak, kriffit! -- was close enough for him to smell its hunting musk.
It's not working. It's not working. He drew his lightsaber, judged where to strike. Even in the solitude of his mind, Anakin whispered the Release-of-Master's-Authority, as though the thing could hear his thoughts. He straightened out of his huddle into a crouch, draping Master's arm back to his unbloodied side as he gathered himself to spring. "Wait," whispered Obi-Wan. Anakin quivered with more than just chills. He wanted to snarl and leap. "Wait." Obi-Wan drew out the arrow's hooked barb and broken shaft, making no sound. Anakin winced for him. Obi-Wan threw the barb and shaft across the way behind them in a Force-surge darkened by pain. It clattered against an ironbark tree. The murglak hissed once more as it withdrew in a rustle of foliage. "We must go on --- might be more of them," Obi-Wan husked.
Anakin snugged himself under Obi-Wan's good arm. At fourteen, he just fit. He trudged through the leaf litter towards their ship, avoiding puddles as best he could. Obi-Wan kept up. Anakin wondered how a situation could deteriorate this badly from a misplaced giggle.
One Hour Earlier
"It's funny, Master. I told you it's funny. Everyone needs a laugh."
Stroking his beard, Obi-Wan glanced out the window as the last bit of sunshine was eaten by overcast skies. "The Ualaq are not renowned for their humor, Padawan." And neither am I.
"It's a dance after a triumphant treaty-signing. It's the perfect place to try out a new relaxed style, Master. Aren't you tired of your 'Gentlebeings, the Jedi join in your rejoicing' speech and then sitting around all evening being glumly happy as you choke down whatever cuisine they're serving?" Anakin poured on the persuasion. He was saving his best ammunition for last, however.
"'Glumly happy'? That's an oxymoron, Anakin." Qui-Gon would not have put up with this sauce. Why do I?
I'd like just once to see you really laugh, Master. Tonight might be the night. "Yes, Master."
"I'll consider it, Padawan. It's time to make our appearance. Bring along our bag, please. We'll leave directly after the banquet."
"Yes, Master." I'm not through yet. Anakin made a last sweep through their temporary quarters ashore for items left behind, hefted their shared case, and followed in the usual Padawan fashion. Some windy gusts whipped their robes about their ankles. He lobbed a few more shells of artillery as they walked along the short distance from the Lazy Beach Hostel to the conference center turned ballroom. "You'd be good on the Council, Master. With this mission under your belt, they'll have to take notice of you, consider you for the next available seat."
Obi-Wan frowned. "Considering what it takes for a seat to become vacant, I'll let the Force deal with that aspect of things."
Dumb, Anakin, real dumb. "Um, I mean, Master, someone does ... resign now and then, don't they?" Anakin couldn't bear to picture Master Yoda joining the Force, or Master Rancisis, or Master Mundi, the three eldest members. "You can't stop things from changing, Ani, any more than you can stop the suns from setting." Brushing aside his mother's wise words, Anakin hurried on. "Master, you deserve more recognition." He waited until Obi-Wan turned to shoot him a pre-lecture look. Unlimber ion cannons and ... fire! He put the expression on his face that had worked getting him a later bedtime. "I'd like to see you on the Council someday. Won't you try this, please?"
He would like that? Qui-Gon wouldn't. Or would he? "Maybe. I'll think about it." I could change some things ... uh, stick to the actual. "Step lively, Padawan."
Princess Spiirz likes to throw her weight around, what a poser, Anakin thought as he marched two steps behind Master Obi-Wan through the gilded arched entryway onto the quay's gangplank leading to the double-wide mobile home ship. "Yimpian Marine Estates" proclaimed a freshly-painted sign. Perhaps three dozen mobile home ships belonged to the community, their forest of sails bobbing unevenly with the rising surge. Fancy entrance today, oh, a ray shield portcullis, neat. Extra security for this gala affair. Small pinwheels and some larger whirligigs spun merrily by the sliding glass doors of the rectangular aluminium structure while windchimes tinkled. The two Jedi strode somberly to the dais and settled in. Anakin placed their case under his chair. At least there had been no humiliating offer of a booster seat today to accommodate his youthful stature. He had accepted it the first day out of graciousness, but Obi-Wan hadn't made him repeat the gesture.
After five minutes of quiet contemplation, Anakin's folding plastene chair cut him uncomfortably at the back of his calves. He unobtrusively squirmed forward until his legs dropped down, though now he had no back support. When will I be tall, like Master? He put his folded hands politely in his lap. The plastene red-checked tablecloth had a scalloped edging that his fingers itched to braid. Quiet. Calm. Centered. Yes, he could do this. Rrrruummmble. A powerboat roared by. The mobile home ship, even though it was a double-wide and large compared to all its neighbors in the floating mobile home park, shook with passing traffic as it had each day here when negotiations were ongoing. The flooring that creaked with even a Jedi's light tread positively groaned with any Aqualish's lumbering step. How a concord was reached at all must have been Force-driven. And Master-driven. Anakin found the scalloped fringe and braided it unconsciously as he reminisced. Last month, when Master had slipped into Anakin's braid the blue Merit Bead for Self-Control in Meditation that had taken Anakin years to earn, Anakin basked in the afterglow of Obi-Wan's pleasure right up until bedtime, and a little afterward. Anakin turned to watch Obi-Wan, feeling the slight extra weight in his braid even now.
Obi-Wan's hands belonged on a different Jedi. They restlessly fondled the centerpiece in the guise of appreciating it, a piece of moving statuary embodying the theme of "Oil Upon The Waters, Signifying Peace," or some such notion. A bronzium nude Ualaq female --- Princess Spiirz was the model, Obi-Wan perceived --- reclined on a rock, surrounded by a series of pillars down which drooled endless drops of oil. Plastene water-lilies perched atop the cap to the unusual piece and a tiny pump hummed continuously. "A Ualaq, an Aquala and a Quara swim into a bar ... A Ualaq, an Aquala and a Quara swim into a bar ... " As if in a trance, Obi-Wan pressed three fingers, then four, onto the nearest pillar, accumulating a slicking of clear oil that curled over his digits before puddling on the tablecloth. "A Ualaq, an Aquala and a Quara swim into a bar ... " "What the --- " He pulled out his fingers slowly to avoid flinging oil, thought quickly and then massaged the emollient into his palms. "Got chapped hands from being around all this water, Anakin," he whispered. "Want some moisturizer?" When Anakin shook his head, Obi-Wan twisted to observe more of the room's fresh trappings of Ualaq culture, so different than the utilitarian decor of this same room's conference setting. On the wood-paneled wall behind him hung a large black-moss painting depicting a talented singer/musician playing a necked instrument while swiveling his hips forward at a suggestive angle. The performer's sleepy-lidded eyes added to the sensuality of the piece. The sequins on his white costume were tastefully arranged, Obi-Wan thought. He smiled at his Padawan. "It's all informal and charming, not like any other banquet I've ever attended," he said in an undertone.
Anakin remained dubious, but said instead, "Will we have to wait the usual fifteen minutes for Her Highness to appear, Master?"
"Since we have every time, I would assume so, Padawan."
"She's the Ualaq's first Princess, I know that, but she's just so ... so ... "
"Her people were gen-enged by the baseline Aquala race of the Aqualish, you recall that certainly, and since the fingered Ualaq came into their own by being able to manipulate finger-controlled machinery unlike the finned Aquala, the Ualaq who did not migrate to off-planet employment decided that they needed to construct a history for themselves, so to speak. They held a beauty contest and B'r'i--- , I mean Her Highness, won."
Anakin considered. "And ten per cent of the population is either Quara or Ualaq, but the Aquala put them down all the time, right?" Anakin knew about unfairness. He also knew about overcompensation.
Obi-Wan sighed. "Yes, it's hard to figure why having four eyes or two eyes and clawed-fingered hands or ocean-adapted fins should be criteria for disdain, but there it is. Quantill City should be peaceful now, and here on its outskirts, too." Rrrrruuummmmble. Another powerboat sped by. The oil in the centerpiece's pool rippled and the buxom Princess seemed to undulate sensuously.
"Warble isn't like Her Highness."
"No, Warb-- um, Padawan Nend has restraint and a decent connection to the Force. It's inspiring to his fellow Ualaq, I should think."
"So since the Ualaq and the Aquala are peaceful now, do you think they'll gang up on the Quara race?" All bullies together, ugh.
Stoutly, Obi-Wan replied, "If and when that happens, we would be the logical team to send back here. Do you want to worry about that?"
"Then we'll think good thoughts about our future. The Force allows it." Obi-Wan straightened in his seat, then rose. "Now here comes Her Highness. And stop that with your hands."
Everyone rose and bowed as Princess Spiirz swayed onto the dais. She bobbed her head in recognition of her guests, swirling her gauzy tie-died gown around her theatrically. Its sheerness and lack of opacity left little to the imagination. Anakin averted his gaze and Obi-Wan fixed his regard firmly on the upper set of Her Highness' eyes. Reverently hushed, the crowd awaited her address.
"Th-Thanks for coming. Let's all get along now. It's spring!" She raised her gown almost indecently, but a judicious use of the Force by Obi-Wan pulled the hem back into place. She looked confused for a moment, then sobered. "I-It's shpring, thetimefornewbeginnings. Let's follow the good example of the Jedi who made us make peace. Drink up!" The Princess lost her balance and sat down more heavily than was graceful.
As peacemaker and quasi-religious figure, it was Obi-Wan's place to invoke congeniality and good feelings that would start the evening off smoothly. Peacefully. Successfully. He remained standing as the others sat. He could see the banquet table more clearly now. The buffet looked passable, if a bit heavy on the fish. A quivering clear red dessert with oddly-shaped fruits embedded in it caught his attention. Obi-Wan surveyed the setting familiar from his youth spent with Master Qui-Gon: seated dignitaries to his right, the Aquala envoys to Anakin's left on the dais, standing courtiers in front of him, all with plastene glasses raised. Obi-Wan cleared his throat. Remembered my voice exercises, shouldn't squeak. Smile. Annnnnd ... now. "Gentlebeings, the Jedi join in your toast with this very fine Ando champagne. Congratulations to all for bringing peace to your island. May it" --- last longer than last time --- "endure as long as kelp grows and water flows." He sipped a polite amount of the sepia liquid and Force-suppressed the watery eyes that it invoked. Water looked to flow from the sky any minute now, Obi-Wan thought, because the view out the large window by the entryway showed a sickly grayish-green dusk lowering with clouds. "I am reminded of a story to start out our evening sharing a laugh. A Ualaq, a Quara, and an Aquala swim into a bar ... "
I did it, I got through it, but ... why is Anakin the only one laughing? Obi-Wan's broad smile faded and his guffaw died in his throat. Ualaq heads graced with four eyes and Aquala heads graced with two eyes turned in his direction, the eyes all equally glassy, all countenances expressionless when they weren't creasing with scowls. Uh-oh. He glanced down at his Padawan, who had erupted into adolescent giggles complete with slapping the table for emphasis to the humor.
That was soooo funny, that was just wizard, it ... it ... Master? Anakin opened his eyes, wiping his tears with the water-lily-shaped folded paper napkin. He looked around the room. There was an echoing silence louder than that of hyperspace. "Master?"
"I tanked, Anakin. I'll salvage this if I can, but be prepared for anything." Obi-Wan bowed deeply to Her Highness in a full standing kowtow, but when he straightened, he saw in the Force red-rimmed auras surrounding each dignitary, a raging flare of scarlet from the Princess like a sun's corona. And was she gnashing her tusks?
Obi-Wan thought the awful silence after the telling of his joke was bad enough, but the angry Princess' four-eyed glare, her imperious signalling to her guards to either spear them or blast them --- Obi-Wan's briefing on silent Ualaq underwater signals had not gotten quite that detailed --- reminded him that Ualaqs gave no quarter to prisoners. They need to pay more attention to the Republic's ways. They need to learn from us how to be more civilized. Short of slicing his way out of the ballroom, his only other option was to run, so he ran.
This party's over. Up on our feet, jump on the table, no, drop the suitcase, Padawan, run out the double doors and onto the deck. Anakin scrambled to keep up, his bond tethering him tightly to his Master, his youthful energy adding to the Force-assisted leaps and bounds exponentially. Outside, the orange ray shields that just now activated would block their escape as the portcullis rolled up. Anakin ran as never before, harder than he ever had on the scramball playing field when Ferus chased him for a tackle. Leap over the charging guards into the sea? The water Anakin and I can handle with our aquata rebreathers ... there is the portcullis coming up to block their ridiculous entryway, cannot run down the gangplank and onto the quay, better to go ... up? Obi-Wan spied the halyard leading to the mainsail and activated his lightsaber. He wrapped his left arm, the one with the lightsaber, around Anakin's waist, angling his blade carefully outward. "Hold on tight!" He grabbed the halyard with his right hand firmly before severing the heavy line just above its straining tether to its cleat. Despite Ando's gravity, nearly twenty per cent above Coruscant's, the mainsail's dropping counterweight hauled them both sizzlingly fast into the sails' dizzy heights, almost tangling them in now-unsecured sheets. "Don't look down!"
Anakin opened his eyes only when he dangled facing the topmost spar. He looked down. The crumpled mainsail huddled satisfyingly over its boom. From the erratic billowing movements underneath, it had trapped more than a few unwary guards. We're completely exposed up here. Was this a good idea, Master? Sometimes machines and you don't exactly get along. One dutiful guard raised his blaster and the Force did what it did if they were attentive, which they were. They kicked their legs in tandem, becoming a pendulum, Obi-Wan's arm a bar of durasteel in Anakin's midriff. The guard moved aft to get a better shot.
"What?" Yes, someone should, but Master, you're not making any sense. The weather worsened rapidly with the deepening dusk. Anakin couldn't see where this strategy was leading them. Someone could cut the mast and they'd be catapulted to the deck or into a crushing fall to the roiling sea forty-two meters below.
Next time, he attends all the mission terminology classes with me. "The spanker sail --- eh, the smaller fore-and-aft one, see it over there --- the one that stretches the length of the ship, not the width --- we're swinging for it, riiiight ... now!" They thrashed their legs furiously in long-practiced teamwork, gained momentum and then they were whipping through the air. "Grab the sheets, Padawan!"
Sheets, sheets ... those are the, um, Master said that sheets are, uh, oh right, the ropes that control any sail. The freshening breeze helped carry them over to cling to the triangular sail's standing rigging at the top of the spanker's mast. The spanker did not remain triangular for long, because Obi-Wan loosened one hand to slice the thick backstay at the top of its mast in two quick cuts and the whole sail lost its fill and collapsed. He bobbled his lightsaber and nearly dropped it before grasping the grommet at the tip of the triangled woven material with one hand and a sheet with the other. He rode the sail down alongside Anakin so that some air was trapped beneath it to slow their fall. Jedi reflexes landed them feetfirst on the transom rail, they tugged the sail over yet more thrashing guards and thenthe mobile home slewed sideways in the storming winds. Time to leave this party. Obi-Wan heard shouts right before he renewed his grip on Anakin's hand and Master and Padawan dropped over the side. They're Aqualish, trust in the Force that they're not already underneath us in the water and that they can't swim faster than we can to the shore. He worked himself tightly into Anakin as he fell, trapping Anakin's legs between his own to present a cleaving shape to the hard waves. He caught one glimpse of Anakin's sweet trusting face before wrapping both arms securely around the boy as the sea swallowed them. Down three meters, five, no, now they were in stasis. And then they separated in the gloom, but for their bond. Obi-Wan and Anakin calmly inserted their rebreathers and kicked underwater for shore, using the Force to navigate the current that threatened to slap them down into the quayside riprock. Surfing the surges of water was like riding the waves of the Force, Obi-Wan thought as he scrambled to his feet in knee-deep water. He didn't need to see Anakin to know that the boy was close behind him. After they gained the shelter of the trees, Obi-Wan directed Anakin to lead the way and set the pace, smaller as he was. The clouds began to weep. The shouts became louder.
When the pursuit was fiercest, when an unnamed-but-primitive presence slinking through the forest added the murk of uncertainty to their danger, Obi-Wan had an epiphany about how to evade any speederbikes or swoops, should the Aqualish use them. They hadn't, after chasing them two kilometers, but still ... they might. "We should separate and rendezvous back at The Nutcracker." Obi-Wan had resisted using their craft's nickname, but its pilot seats were undeniably hard.
"But bad things happen when we split up, Master!" I'm only a Junior Padawan. I'm not ready for this.
"Padawan." Obi-Wan glared at Anakin's back as they pelted along, an unsatisfactory substitute for his usual discipline. All right, then, plan B. "Are you --- " Obi-Wan hurdled a storm-felled sapling --- "thinking of the CocoTown debacle?"
"Yes, Master." I can't leave you! The whole Master/Padawan dynamic is about guarding you! Anakin's Fifth Hour class, Braiding a Bond, had made a lasting impression on him. He dreamed sometimes of a never-ending relationship with his Master, his uncut braid forever flowering. The narrative of his recurring dream he'd never told anyone, nor the fact that each time he awakened from it, he was sucking his braid.
"I see ... Faster, Anakin!"
It's not fair. That joke was funny.The path closed in around him and Anakin had to turn almost sideways. He sensed a puny sort of danger that faded when he ducked. A lunging sticktight vine snared only his right hand and drew blood with finely-clawed leaves when he pulled away. There was a thunking sloppy sound as something, perhaps a large waterlogged twig, broke under his foot, just as Master abruptly tightened his shields. Our bond is a tiny thread now. You're testing me here? Don't you ever stop teaching? He nursed his sore hand as he bolted, cemented to the gossamer silver thread taut behind him, thinking about Qui-Gon and the night that the big Jedi tested his midichlorian count so long ago. Talk to me, midichlorians! Teach me how to guard my Master! He counted his steps to start a moving meditation as he galloped, but was unable to quiet his mind enough and gave up at ninety-seven. At step two thousand eight hundred and thirteen, Anakin perceived that his Master was flagging behind him, something he had never done before. On the edge of his consciousness, a section of the Force showed him the reason. He chilled despite his exertion. He'd tripped a trapper's snare that had flung an arrow at Anakin as he ran, but Anakin had ducked while trying unsuccessfully to elude the sticktight vine and Obi-Wan hadn't needed to. That was what the shields' reinforcement had been, that was the whisper of a pained sound, no, Master had not been testing Anakin, he was ... "Stop, Master!"
"I said keep going! I'm all right. There's a medkit aboard. Now run!" I can't carry him in my condition if he should get hurt. We've got to make it to safety! Pushing Anakin firmly aside to lead the way, Obi-Wan plowed through the thickening underbrush, forging a wider path for his slighter Padawan to follow. The rain turned savage, a hollow tree beckoned. Like a pair of startled hoojibs, two Jedi dove for cover. As they caught their breath, they watched the last pale daylight leave the woods. A deathly quiet smothered the greenery for a hushed second before chaos resumed. Rumbles of thunder stalked the trees, followed by lightning spears. A different hunter was afoot. A non-human hunter, not droid, not Aqualish of any stripe, something far removed from his own level of sentience, Obi-Wan perceived. He pulled the Force over him like a blanket for a minute's rest. Who would have thought his botched telling of a sophomoric joke would have these consequences? Obi-Wan's stomach growled louder. And we didn't even get a dinner out of it all. He patted Anakin's shoulder wearily.
After Anakin and Obi-Wan struggled one more kilometer through gravity that seemed to increase with each step, they slowed and stopped where the trees thinned. Time and caution stilled their thoughts and quickened their Force sense. Each behind a tree that cascaded rivulets of wetness still, they froze in a small thankful meditation. A change in the weather was beginning. The storm had spent its fury.
Anakin had picked the landing site, a "nice clearing" in the swampy rainforest on a rare rock outcropping, planned far enough away from the Yimpian ship mobile home park for them to enjoy the stroll back through the woods when they deplaneted. He'd been sure that the mission would succeed, which it did. Until now, when I blew it. The storm lessened, the wind abated. They moved to crouch under a tree at the very edge of the clearing, casting broadly about. No more murglaks, we threw off the guards' pursuit, we're safe to head out into open ground, and ... and ... Master's feeling better? He pressed Obi-Wan's water-wrinkled hand. "Master? You're okay?"
"I ... will be, soon. With the arrow out, I healed some damage as we ran. I'll still need the medkit, though." Healed himself partway as he ran for his life? By the generous light of Ando's two moons shining fitfully through the racing clouds, Anakin stared in awe at his Master. A sprig of some overhanging foliage with small white berries had tangled atop Obi-Wan's shaggy crown and his eyes looked clearer, his face less pinched with pain. "You're amazing, Master." Anakin felt the Force as his midichlorians churned through no will of his own. He listened, hard. Obi-Wan was a gift that the Force had given to Anakin. And to the Order. And to the galaxy. Anakin's midichlorians had never communicated so clearly. He acted.
Obi-Wan had a brief impression of a flying braid, and then Anakin stretched up and pressed unbearded lips to his philtrum, smearing Obi-Wan's upper lip into his nose as their teeth clinked. The ends of their noses mashed a bit painfully, but altogether it was the nicest and the sloppiest kiss that Obi-Wan had ever received. "Let's go." He patted Anakin's back with his good hand. "My high-spirited young one." They advanced into the clearing. The Nutcracker's shiny hull, glimmering in the moonslight from its veil of rain, mirrored some small woodland creatures as they danced away on spidery legs from the approaching Jedi.
"I'll fly, Master."
"I am capable, Padawan. Aren't you tired?"
This is how I can guard him. From himself. Well, and from touching machines. Thank you, midichlorians. "Nope, the adrenaline's still flowing. I'm fine, thanks." Anakin cast about once more for disturbances, sensed only the murmur of the ongoing Living Force returning to calm the forest, and slapped the entry lock. The ramp lowered. Settling into their seats, they winced as one and sent the discomfort to the Force together. Anakin flamed The Nutcracker's engines, and until the Hoi Broth Incident occurred three years later, same planet, different island and Princess, the Yimpian Incident remained as the nadir of their string of Mid Rim missions.