I know this is a short chapter, and for that (plus the extended period of not updating) I'm sorry...but I wanted to get this chapter uploaded as soon as I could. I planned for this to be longer, but I just haven't had the time to write a lot recently-until the past couple days, I actually haven't done much writing at all. I'm working midnights now on top of doing some ghost-writing (I'm now a paid author, if unpublished, but still-woot!), but I'm trying to get some ff writing in there. I'll do my hardest to get the next chapter written on my breaks/lunch periods this week, so that it won't take me as long on chapter 19...just, please be patient with me!
Anyways, been a while, so I'll shut it now. Enjoy!
Chapter Eighteen- Comlink
Shmi wandered out to the second largest animal shelter, glancing around as she did so. Anakin still hadn't returned that she knew of and the guards had searched the grounds—they'd returned to tell her that they hadn't found the boy. Worry had formed a loose knot in her belly that tightened as time passed and she still didn't see him—but she wasn't going to allow herself to panic just yet. Qui-Gon had told her that Ani needed time, and so she was going to give it to him. She still worried though, especially after hearing what kinds of creatures wandered through the woodlands and swamps around here. She only hoped that Anakin had slipped back into the house without them noticing—a feat she knew he could have pulled off.
Turning her attention back to the tall "U" shaped building before her, she thought about what the guards had told her. Since Qui-Gon had left before he could tell her what other animals the property contained, she'd asked the guards he'd left with her—and she'd noticed that the young man that Qui-Gon continued to point out to her was among them. She wondered if he'd done that on purpose, thinking the young man might be more likely to risk himself for her than the others. Shmi wasn't exactly relieved by that thought.
Pushing that away, she concentrated on the shelter before her. A large blue stripe wound its way around the top of the building, which she'd been told was a signifier to how dangerous the animals inside were considered. Green was least dangerous, blue signified that the creatures inside were somewhat dangerous and red showed that the animals were very dangerous.
It was the third, largest shelter that held the red stripe and Shmi wasn't certain she wanted to go into by herself. Why would someone keep dangerous animals on the grounds anyways?
Opening the door, she cast a quick glance over her shoulder as she slipped inside—four guards were following behind her. They hadn't left her alone for a moment's peace since Qui-Gon had left, trailing behind her with two at a distance and two almost right on top of her. It wasn't a stretch to believe that they were getting on her nerves finally.
She wished that the men would remain outside, but she didn't have high hopes for it. Three of the men would surround the building while one of them entered inside to watch her closely. And she had the feeling that the one who came inside would be her young admirer. Avoiding him seemed to be out of the question, he always found a way to be the guard closest to her.
Shmi remained still for a moment after pulling the door closed, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting inside. When she could see, she had to blink a few times at the creature standing just inside the large pin before her, studying her with its large, round purple eyes—a tall, male Zalaaca.
She marveled at the stunning blue and yellow male before turning her eyes to the three female standing in a tight grouping not far from him. Unlike the male of the group, the females of the species were completely blue, though a darker shade.
Her eyes adjusted further, and she was surprised to find that most of the building was housing trees as well as these creatures. The females huddled just barely out of the dense forestry, apparently ready to run into hiding if need be.
Her attention quickly returned to the male when he snapped his jaws, its large grinding molars and slicing tusks drawing her eyes. At first, she thought this was a threatening movement, but when the animal then lowered its head and leaned out, offering its unguarded head to her, she realized that this must have been some form of acceptance or offering of friendship to her.
Slowly moving closer, Shmi held out her hand and smiled when the creature pressed its flat forehead into her palm and made a low sound in its throat. Sliding her hand down along the animal's wide neck, she quickly examined this beast along with the females who were moving closer now with interest. The creatures seemed to have sharp claws and spikes as well as finned tails for swimming. She would have to remember to also let these beasts out into the pond.
"Careful, my lady," a voice said from behind her as the door opened and closed. "These are dangerous creatures."
Shmi turned around slowly, tensing up as she saw the young guard standing several feet away from her. While she wasn't frightened of him or particularly distressed by his presence, she also didn't want him here. She didn't want to give him any hope that she was interested in him, but she found it impossible not to be polite to anyone—and she feared that he might take her politeness to mean something completely different, which was something that she couldn't afford to happen.
The sound that came from the male Zalaaca at that moment was one that was undoubtedly meant as a threat—it was a sort of snarl that when the beast made it, its mouth opened and it flashed white teeth at him. Shoulders hunched, the creature looked as though it were ready to jump out of the pin and attack.
"There, there," Shmi cooed in a voice similar to the one she'd used on her new pet Little Sweetie before when it had been frightened by Khaar. She ran her palms over the male's smooth skin, making soothing noises. "There's no danger here now. Why are you getting so riled up?" she asked it. The beast had calmed down some as she spoke and petted it, but its eyes remained locked and untrusting on the young guard.
The young man cleared his throat and backed up some. "I believe it's me, ma'am. As I understand it, the pervious occupant of the housing until, the person who cared for these animals was a woman hired by the queen. Originally it had been the woman and her husband, but it turned out that the man was cruel to the animals and one day he hit one of these animals—or maybe it was one of their young—and was attacked for it."
"He was attacked?" Shmi gasped. She was startled and offended that the man had struck one of the beautiful creatures before her, but she was worried about the fact that the man had been attacked. While she didn't like the idea of him striking one of the animals, she also didn't wish for him to have been harmed because of it.
The young man nodded. "He was rescued by one of the other workers, and the woman was able to get the beast away, but the damage had been done. The man had tried to get the Queen to pay for his injuries, but when she found out why he'd been attacked, she refused to agree to his demands. The man was charged and taken away, but his wife remained here. It was discovered the man was just as violent with his wife as he had been with the animals, but he was imprisoned. As far as I know, he's still serving his sentence and is quite old now."
The door opened and Dané walked into the shelter. She looked to the young man. "I'll stay with Ms. Skywalker now." He frowned and started to say something, but the handmaiden shook her head once, a hard look on her face. "Master Jinn's orders—I'm to be her close guard. I'm trained, and you'll be of more use keeping your eye out…from a distance."
The young man pressed his lips together, obviously wanting to say something, but knowing he couldn't go against orders.
The women were quiet as he left, but as soon as the door closed and they were alone, Shmi let out a relieved sigh and smiled at Dané. "Thank you…and please, call me Shmi," she said quietly.
Dané gave a slow smile, and then started to laugh. She glanced over her shoulder as she walked up to the older woman. "Master Jinn pulled me aside before he left earlier and let me know that Sorn was…well, bothering you."
"I wouldn't really say that he was bothering me…"
Dané smiled again. "He likes you. He's been following you around, making sure that he's your close guard…and I suspect that you're not the only one that it's been bothering." When Shmi's eyes widened a little bit, she shook her head slowly. "You don't have to worry about me saying anything; it's my job to look the other way."
Shmi felt her cheeks growing warm. "Thank you again, I guess."
Dané gave her a sad smile this time. "It's alright…I know what it's like to love someone who you're not supposed to."
Shmi looked over at her and noted the truth in her eyes…but also knew it was none of her business. She considered asking anyways, but then the young woman shook her head and turned back to the door.
"Would you like to go to the next shelter? I think it houses Tusk cats and Slice hounds…"
Shmi started to agree, but then a thought struck her. "Has my son come back yet?" she asked instead.
Dané frowned, looking back over her shoulder at Shmi even as she opened up the door and gestured for Shmi to go out first. "I haven't seen him and none of the guards mentioned seeing him…but Master Jinn did mention that he'd run off, and that he thought he might return to the house. He said that your son has extraordinary talents, so that he may be able to slip past the guards without any of them noticing."
She nodded slowly, starting out of the shelter with Dané following her close behind. "Would you mind helping me search through the house for him? He normally doesn't run off for too long…and he always comes and checks in with me because…" she trailed off, sighing as she looked over at her new friend. "He's all I have left."
Dané nodded as they walked back to the house. "Of course I will. I'll even pull a guard or two from the yard here to help us out."
Shmi looked to her left and noticed Sorn standing near the edge of the clearing, watching her carefully. She quickly looked away, glancing back at Dané. "Just don't ask him…and don't let him volunteer," she whispered, as though he might hear her.
The other woman laughed. "I thought you said he wasn't bothering you?"
She shrugged. "He wasn't before…but I just don't like the way he's always there, always watching me. I never noticed it until Qui-Gon—I mean, Master Jinn pointed it out to me. And since then, I just can't seem to forget that he's there. I wish he'd done back to the ship…"
"But Master Jinn specifically chose him to be one of your guards." She gave Shmi a knowing look. "He knew that Sorn would willingly jump in front of anything that would be threatening you—and when you care about someone the way I know he cares about you, you're willing to put up with anything as long as you know the person you love will be safe. And that includes letting someone who annoys you, like Sorn, stay with the person you love."
"You sound just like him," she muttered.
Shmi walked into the house while Dané went out to ask two of the guards—neither of which were Sorn—before following after her to search the house…and they search every inch of it, turned everything upside down, and still didn't find him.
She was a wreck, with Dané trying to comfort her and the guards continuing their search for Anakin outside once more. They searched through the shelters, buildings, and the surrounding woodlands…yet still, their hands all came up empty.
"The ship!" she cried, lifting her head. She looked to Dané. "He was upset because Qui-Gon was leaving us here to keep us safe…he hated that he wouldn't be able to be there with him, and he must have snuck back on the ship without any of them noticing. I have to contact them…do you have a comlink? No wait—I think Qui-Gon may have put one in my bag."
She jumped up and ran over to where one of the bags she'd brought from her old home sat, opening it up and digging through it until she came up with one. "He wanted me to have it in case I ever needed to get a hold of him." She turned it over in her hands a few times, frowning deeply. "How do you work this stupid thing?" she muttered.
Dané started to move forward to show her how, when it suddenly went off in her hands, causing Shmi to jump a little. Dané merely showed her how to answer it, and then stepped back.
"H-hello?" she stuttered out.
"Ms. Skywalker," Qui-Gon's voice came over the comlink.
She sighed with relief. "Qui-Gon," she started, but a nudge from Dané had her realizing that he'd not used her given name, so someone else was probably with him on the other end of the comlink. She flushed a little. "Master Jinn, I was just about to contact you…"
"And I would assume that it's about the same thing I'm calling you about," he said with a long-suffering sigh. "I found Anakin hiding with the droids—almost didn't notice he was there…that is until I was passing by and heard him sneeze. He was doing a surprisingly good job of keeping himself hidden, both physically and through the Force. If I weren't so upset with him, I'd probably admire it. I told him that he was supposed to stay with you, his mother, but he just—"
"What is it?"
Shmi looked over at Dané with wide eyes as she moved forward.
"That's one of the other handmaidens."
"It sounds like Padme…" Shmi replied.
Padme's voice came across the comlink once more. "We're landing at the Gungan camp sight. The Queen requests your presence immediately—wait, Anakin, what are you doing here?"
"I'll be there in a moment, and Anakin decided to sneak back onboard. Now, Anakin—you stay close to me while we're there and just do whatever I do," he said, his voice sounded a little distant, as though he were holding the comlink away from his mouth. Then, his voice got louder. "Ms. Skywalker, I'll watch out for your son."
"Q—Master Jinn…" She glanced at Dané and the male guards waiting in the house before slowly walking away from them and lowering her voice. "Please, promise me you won't let anything happen to him…"
She heard a series of noises before his voice came through again. "Are you alone?"
She snuck a glance over her shoulder as she turned the corner before hurrying down and closing herself in one of the other rooms. "Yes."
"I'd never forgive myself if something happened to him—to either of you. I will do everything in my power to keep Anakin out of harm's way."
She breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Qui-Gon. I have something I need to tell you…"
Before she got the chance to tell him that she loved him, Padme's voice came across the comlink again. "Master Jinn. We need you now—the Gungans refuse to see the Queen unless they see you first…"
"I'll keep my word, Ms. Skywalker. I'll contact you again later when we know more."
"Alright, Master Jinn," she murmured, lowering the comlink when the line clicked off. Everything was rising up against her when it came to telling Qui-Gon about how she felt, but she was determined to let him know that she loved him no matter what happened the next time she saw him.