A/N: For my birthday, you guys get a one-shot that's been whirring through my brain for some time. Enjoy!
Happy Life-Day, Baby
Anakin Skywalker was very, very tired.
It had been a long mission, superficially filled with the kind of daring heroics that had earned him the title "the Hero with No Fear;" beneath the surface, however, it had been little more than a week-long slog through the swamps of Caradoc with nothing for company but mosquitoes the size of his fist, a plethora of poisonous swamp-snakes, and Obi-Wan in full-on lecture mode about the dangers of stabbing one's lightsaber into gaping holes in trees, with the intention of ending the existence of aforementioned swamp-snakes before they could end yours.
Anakin had thought he was being pragmatic; Obi-Wan had thought he was being reckless. In short, it was business as usual. Snips is lucky she missed out on this one. Of course, his Padawan had not seen it quite that way when he'd informed her that she was to remain aboard the Resolute for the duration of the assignment, but such was the duty of a Padawan to her Master, or so he'd reminded her even as Obi-Wan had looked on with interest.
A disagreement had erupted from the exchange, causing Obi-Wan to raise his brows in that way he did when he was looking at his former Padawan and thinking that Anakin was still a youngling, despite the distinguished titles of "Jedi," "General," and "Chosen One."
Hence the copious lecturing on Caradoc.
While he made his way from the officers' 'fresher to his own cabin, Anakin grimaced at the memory before he pushed it aside, intending to send a brief message to Padmé and then sleeping for the next eighteen hours until they were back in civilized door to his quarters slid open with a hiss; Anakin stepped inside and crossed the room in two lengthy strides before falling onto his bed, letting out a sigh of relief. Nimble fingers danced over his comlink and the message was sent. His head rested against the pillow and he immediately fell into a deep sleep.
Only to be roused in – what felt like – about thirty seconds by a gentle rap against his door. It was such an unexpected sound that – for one moment – the Jedi thought he was back home on Tatooinne, and that his mother was trying to wake him because he was late for work in Watto's shop.
Anakin blinked and sat up, opening the door with a wave of his hand. "Rex? Everything okay?" The clone captain stood at parade-rest in the doorway, emanating...anxiety? The Jedi bit back his yawn and frowned at the officer. He always calls, first. What's the deal?
"Sir, my apologies for disturbing you like this, but I have a question of a...personal nature."
Yikes. Nothing good can come of a conversation that starts like this. Putting on hismost neutral Jedi-like expression, Anakin gestured to a nearby chair. "Have a seat." Rex sat, but kept his back straight while Anakin resisted the urge to rub his eyes as he took a seat across from the officer. "What's up?"
Stoic, tough-as-nails, experienced Rex fidgeted with his bucket, which he'd rested on the table, before he spoke. "Sir. I'm not sure if you're aware, but the Commander's life-day is imminent." He gave Anakin a questioning glance.
The Jedi nodded in confirmation, wincing inwardly. Right. I think Padmé mentioned something about that a few weeks ago...
Rex nodded as well. "Some of the boys want to do something for her. It's been so rough lately, and she's...well, always kind to us – to them – so they want to return the favor." The words came out in a rush and Anakin tilted his head as if in thought while he wondered if it was too late to ask Padmé to get his Padawan a present and have it sent over.
"That sounds fine, Captain," he said with a shrug. "I think she'd love it. What were you planning?"
The captain still seemed a bit nervous as he replied. "Well, that's the other thing, sir. You see, none of us really know what kind of things are acceptable for an event of this nature. I'm..." He gave a slight frown. "At a bit of a loss."
Anakin leaned back in his chair, more to set the other man at ease than for his own comfort. "Well, let me see...Jedi don't really have parties, either, but I remember from my own childhood: there were balloons, streamers, a holo-card...maybe a banner with 'happy life day' or something. Oh, and cake." He chuckled inwardly as Rex's brows lifted, a faint gleam of excitement appearing in his eyes; all clones had a notorious taste for sweets. "A nice, big cake."
Relief coursed through the clone. "Thank you, sir. I'll take care of the details, but her life-day is next week, so if you'd like to attend..."
Anakin gave him an easy smile. "Sure thing. Actually..." He sat up and called a few credits to his palm from the utility belt he'd draped over a hook on the wall. As he passed them to Rex, he gave the other man a knowing look. "Could you add my name to the card as well?" Rex nodded; soon enough, both of them were standing and the Jedi was ushering the captain out the door. "I can't wait to see what you guys come up with."
At the entrance to the general's room, Rex paused and saluted. "Thank you again, sir. You won't regret it."
As he left, a slight ripple of foreboding passed through Anakin, and as he crashed back down on his bed he couldn't help thinking: I have a bad feeling about this.
The day arrives...
Of course he'd forgotten about the whole thing until that morning when Padmé called to remind him, and again when Rex called to have him look everything over, just in case. Unfortunately, between reports for the Council and the Chancellor, trying to pin down the latest signs of General Grievous based on some very nebulous intel, and training his teenage Padawan, Anakin was about as busy as he'd ever been. At this point he was almost missing Caradoc and the giant mosquitoes.
The one thing he had remembered was to send Ahsoka all the way to the bridge to shadow Admiral Yularen. Neither the Padawan or the Admiral had been particularly pleased with the arrangement, and Anakin was certain he'd hear about it later.
So when he met Rex at the entrance to the mess and noted how fidgety the captain still seemed, it took all of his willpower to smile and nod genially and not give into the annoyance that he felt brewing in his gut. It's a life-day party, for Force's sake. Balloons, streamers, a cake...how hard can it be?
"Thank you for coming, sir," Rex was saying as he opened the doors. "I appreciate you taking the time to look over our work."
Oh, kriff. Anakin's mouth fell open as he stepped into the mess and took in the sight, noting that at least two dozen clones were clustered in one corner, watching his every move with barely concealed anticipation. He called on every level of calm he'd ever known and swallowed his shock as he walked around the room – Rex on his heels – taking in every detail.
Balloons...check. Streamers...check. Banner...check. He figured there was a cake and a holo-card as well, but decided that he didn't want to see them right now because everything was gray: the balloons, the streamers...even the lettering on the banner...all gray.
Each of the hundreds of balloons was the exact same size and uniform gray color, fastened around the walls at precise intervals; the streamers were all the same length, hung from the ceilings in perfect symmetry – again in the same intervals – across the room. There were so many of each, it was mind-boggling. The effect was something like an orderly miasma of fog or moss, and Anakin wondered dimly how long and how many clones it had taken to accomplish such a thing. He looked at Rex, barely managing to choke the words out. "Why is everything gray?"
"It matches the walls, sir." Rex tilted his head in indication.
Force, he's right. How did they manage to find...? Anakin swallowed as his eyes darted from balloons to bulkhead and he nodded slowly. "Oh. Of course."
Then he saw the banner hanging in the exact center of the far wall, outlined in balloons. The lettering was plain, block-style – gray, of course: "Happy Life-Day, Commander Tano."
He couldn't help it. "Exclamation points are against protocol, huh?"
Rex frowned. "Isn't that the traditional phrase, sir?"
"Yes...but..." Anakin was at a loss.
"I thought we should add the commander's name, to give it a more personalized touch," the captain added, a hint of pride in his voice. "Is it too much?"
"No, Rex...it's fine." Anakin clenched his jaw. Don't laugh. Don't laugh. He almost didn't want to ask, but really couldn't not ask at this point. "You guys got a cake, too?"
Rex nodded and signaled some of his men who darted to the kitchen, emerging moments later with a hovering cart topped with a large-but-perfectly-square sheet-cake. Anakin stared at it and decided that he was thankful it wasn't gray.
It was white, pure white. And that was it. Nothing else but white. Not so much as a sugared-rose. Don't laugh...you know they mean well..don't laugh. He took a deep breath to collect himself and nodded once. "Looks tasty."
The clones beamed; Rex nodded to them and they took the cart away. "Sir? Do you think that the commander will like it?"
At the mention of his Padawan, Anakin felt a flash of apprehension. I have to warn her. If she walks in to this...there's no way I can let her come in here without preparing her. What kind of teacher would I be? He nodded. "She'll love it, Rex."
With that, Rex lifted his comlink. "Commander Tano? Would you come to the mess, please?"
"No," Anakin said suddenly, causing Rex to look at him in surprise. "I mean, no, Snips. I'll escort you." He hoped that he didn't sound as anxious as he felt, so he sighed inwardly and spoke into the captain's comm, bringing composure back to his voice. "Where are you?"
She sounded confused at his abrupt change of tone. "Well, I was on the bridge – like you said, remember? But now I'm on my way to the mess-hall...why?"
"Stay where you are, I'll find you." Anakin darted out of the room with his trademark speed, ignoring the glances of the clones as he hurried to meet her.
Ahsoka was stepping out of a nearby turbolift; when she marked his approach she gave him an odd look. "Master, what's wrong? You didn't have to-"
He shook his head. "Ahsoka, you can't laugh."
White brows knitted as blue eyes narrowed. "Laugh at what?" As much as he didn't want to ruin the surprise, he didn't feel right about letting his Padawan walk in there unaware, but when he tried to express this, she laughed and lifted her hand. "Relax! I think it's really sweet of them."
She rolled her eyes, suddenly looking older than her age and twice as cocky. "I am a Jedi, remember? And none of them are good at keeping secrets, even without the Force." A wide grin split her face. "I can't wait...but don't worry, I can look surprised."
Anakin crossed his arms and studied the Togrutan girl with a raised brow, thinking about how the buzzing of fist-sized mosquitoes and Obi-Wan's voice both blended together after a week of trudging through swamp and mire. Alright, then. Can't say I didn't try. "You can, huh?" When she nodded, he uncrossed his arms and shrugged. "Great. Well, then never mind. Let's party."
When they entered the room, Anakin half expected the clones to be gathered beneath tables and chairs, with all the lights off, waiting to spring out and shout "surprise!" as the life-day girl walked in, but they were – naturally – standing at full attention in two lines, flanking the center aisle of tables that lead the way to the cake, the banner and...
Oh, double kriff. The card! He could only imagine what kind of holo-card Rex had picked out, but it was really too late to do anything about it at this point.
In her fashion, Ahsoka didn't miss a beat; her wide eyes grew even larger and she laughed in delight when she saw the mess-hall, commenting on how beautiful everything looked, how perfect and special it all was, and was that a cake too? They spoiled her, they really did!
Every single clone was grinning behind his bucket, Anakin could tell. Even stoic Rex. And she loved the cake, making sure that everyone got a piece. It was pretty good, too. For a while there was convivial chatter and Anakin almost regretted not telling Rex about the traditional "happy life-day" song, but the feeling fled his mind as he watched the clone captain present the young Jedi with a small holo-card.
"It's from all of us, Commander," he said as she activated it. "And General Skywalker."
It resembled two pieces of flimsi, bound together at one side; when the reader opened it, a greeting appeared on the inside, as well as any personalized messages that the giver wanted to add: words of congratulations, signatures, and the like. Ahsoka's face was blue-lit by the interior projection for a few moments while she read the card, her smile growing wider by the second; every single clone in the room was watching her reaction, waiting. From his place before her, Anakin couldn't read what was on the card, which for some reason made him very uneasy.
Finally she set it down and beamed around the room. "Thanks, guys! It was wonderful! This whole thing was just perfect!" An audible sigh of relief swept through the room and the laughter and noise resumed as Ahsoka indicated that there was enough cake for everyone to have a second slice.
Some time later, he noted that his Padawan was speaking with Rex and a few other clones and that the holo-card was resting on a nearby table, unsupervised. Morbidly curious at this point, Anakin sidled up and reached for it, but...
"Master, thank you!" He was suddenly engulfed in an enthusiastic hug from an orange blur. "Everything was perfect...Rex said that you helped him out." She grinned up at him. "Guess you were worried for nothing, huh?"
Glancing up, Anakin noticed Rex give him a faint nod as if to say I've got your six, General, so he nodded as well and patted the Togrutan girl's shoulder. "Happy life-day, Ahsoka."
FYI: The whole decoration part was inspired by an episode of "The Office."