"Bedtime Story", completed 6/29/99, by Paula O'Keefe (==martiangirl==)

Disclaimer: Jar Jar Binks, Queen Amidala, and all the rest of the people and places of George Lucas' STAR WARS universe are the property of Lucasfilm, Ltd., and Master Lucas himself. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is incurred by this usage; just wanted to let them tell a little story…

For the twentieth time Amidala pillowed her weary head in her folded arms and tried in vain to rest. With one hand she pulled her brocade robe around her, shivering. The small observation deck seemed so cold, more so than on the day - it seemed a year ago - that little Anakin had complained of it. Space is cold, she had told him. Indeed it is; colder than she had known or could have guessed.

Gods, she was tired. She had hardly slept all the time they were on Coruscant. Her appearance before the Senate had demanded total attention, her most commanding presence, constant vigilance toward every discussion and possible opposition. She had dared not show even a moment's flicker of fatigue lest it seem weakness, and she had carried it off, but the price was utter exhaustion. And now they were bound for home, but there was no rest there; as soon as they arrived they would be plunged into a battle to drive an occupying enemy out of her city, out of her very household. They were in her cherished home - in Theed Palace - even now... When she closed her eyes all she could see were the details of her strategy, her mind darting from point to point like a dragonfly, unable to be still.

The young Queen massaged the tight point of pain between her eyebrows. Through the small portal she could see stars streak by in the endless racing lines of hyperspace, reminding her how quickly time was passing. She must try to sleep during the journey. Going into battle in this state of fatigue was a risk she couldn't take; if she failed, the plan failed, and everything she loved was at the enemy's mercy. There must be a way to push it all aside and calm her mind, just for an hour or two...

A long duckbill muzzle poked around the corner of the observation deck doorway and hastily withdrew. "Oh! Exqueeze me, You Highness. Mesa thinken no one bein here."

"No, Jar Jar, that's all right. Come in." She felt grateful for a friendly intrusion; it might help take her mind off her worries. And the presence of a fellow Nabooite was comfort in itself. The Jedi Knights' concern might be genuine, but it wasn't their world the Nemioidians were hammering like metal on the forge. She moved aside on the round, low-backed bench that circled the table and let the lanky Gungan fold onto it beside her.

"Mesa thinken might be taken littly nap before wesa landen home," he offered. "Looken like yousa sleepen too, maybe?"

His extended amber eyes regarded her with kind sympathy. I must look terribly ragged if even Jar Jar can tell I'm worn out, Amidala thought, and realized with a little tug of warmth that he was concerned for her. She sighed ruefully.

"I've been trying to sleep, but I can't. I can't stop thinking about what to do." It was a relief to talk to someone she didn't have to impress with her set-in-stone resolve. She raised her head enough to rest her chin on her arms and watched the stars blaze past. "I know everyone's counting on me."

"If yousa too tired, be no matter if yousa plan is d'bestest ever," Jar Jar observed pragmatically, while trying to make himself comfortable on a bench not designed to fit seven-foot-tall aliens. "Sleepy warriors bein no warriors atall."

She realized the soundness of the advice, even as his awkward contortions made her smile. His good-natured simplicity was so refreshing compared to the hostility and smooth duplicity she'd felt surrounding her on Coruscant, or the austere, martial dignity of the Jedi Knights. Even the fine snailskin patterning of his cream-and-cinnamon hide was a pleasant organic touch in the chilly sleekness of the cruiser deck. Strange how completely she had come to trust this creature that generations of Naboo had called a barbaric savage...

Well, it was good advice; she should try once more to follow it. Amidala settled down again, closing her eyes, and a thought occurred to her.

"Jar Jar," she suggested, "tell me about your city."

"Mesa city? Yousa meanin' Otoh Gunga?"

"Yes. Qui-Jon told me a little about it, but there wasn't much time."

Had the Gungan said something softly under his breath? Maybe he was just being bashful, or unsure how to begin. Amidala pressed gently, "He said it's made of - energy spheres?"

"Hesa right," agreed the Gungan. "Wesa builden city-bubbles outa same stuff wesa usen for battle-shields. Wesa comen and goen, but no water getten in, no blasters getten thru. Bes safe there."

An underwater city of clear, sealed spheres...she pictured the soft, filtered light, the silently waving gardens of water fern and lakeweed. A safe place. "It sounds so peaceful," she said wistfully. "I wish I could go there."

"Mesa wishen same." The Gungan's voice was no less wistful. The long head cocked sideways, ears lifting slightly, and she had the oddest feeling he was listening to her feelings rather than her words. When he went on, his chirping voice was softer, the long phrases lulling, as if he were tale-telling to children.

"Is most beautiest place, Otoh Gunga, and most quietest. Desa monsters in the core, but no monsters ever comen there. Wesa protecten it. Up in d'swamp light be so bright, hurten wesa eyes, but down in Otoh Gunga light be comen down and down, all softlike."

The tall Gungan gave up trying to curl up on the bench and instead stretched his long legs out under the table, leaning against the low backrest.

"Mesa remember d'first time mesa ever leaven city. Mesa just a tadling, goen on big hunten trip wit' clan. Was first time mesa ever seein' deep-water pearls." His long-nailed fingers described a sphere the size of a large fruit. "Only d'maxi-big shellfishies be maken them. So-o pitty!"

Jar Jar sighed happily with the memory, and Amidala imagined the young Gungan's wonderment. What a keen sense of beauty they have, she thought. So unlike what we imagined them to be.

"Desa like littly moons sitten in the shell-bed. And when wesa swimmen home, mesa seein' city from way-afar, all moonshiny, and mesa thinken, is all same. Wesa maken Otoh Gunga to look just likey big bed of pearls, methinks. Likey beautiest things wesa Gungans ever see." (An indefinable something had crept into Jar Jar's voice; was it sadness? Here in deep space, did he feel as far away from home as she did, creatures of forest and water as they were?)

Amidala was captivated by the poetry of the image: a city of glowing spheres nestled in the dark lake-bed like great magical jewels, a treasure of the gods. The rich brocade robe was finally doing its job and she'd begun to feel soothingly warm. "It must be so beautiful, " she murmured.

"Is no place moreso," Jar Jar assured her solemnly, and now the sorrow in his voice was so deep that she raised her head to look at him in surprise. A big tear filled one amber eye and trickled down his eyestalk, and the Gungan turned his head away.

"Oh, Jar Jar! I'm so sorry!" Amidala, full of remorse, reached over to lay a comforting hand on his arm. So wrapped up in my own troubles that I never thought...but why should it make him so sad to talk of his home? anyone can see how he loves it...

"Is nuttin' dat should trouble You Highness," mumbled Jar Jar, wiping the back of his hand across his eyestalks.

"No, I am sorry, I never meant to make you cry. What is it? Are you homesick?"

A deep sigh escaped him. "Otoh Gunga is no mesa city now. Mesa banished from dere, under pain o' death. Cannot never go home no more." The big golden eyes met hers, as helplessly sad as a child's. "Is as mesa say: the moto-beautiest place anywheres. But mesa no welcome dere."

"Oh, dear Jar Jar." Amidala ached with sympathy. How would she feel if she were banished from her beloved Theed? It would be as if her heart were cut out and she were expected to go on living without it. She impulsively pressed the Gungan's cool, leathery hand between hers; he blinked in surprise but did not withdraw. "What happened? Was it your fault?"

"Well-ll..yessy no..." Another deep sigh. "Mesa clumsy. Always mesa be clumsy. Eveybody bein so proud of dey pitty things...seemin like always, here come Jar Jar an' boom! pitty thing get busted. Mesa get too near bubble-wall, it springen leak an' flooden house. Mesa go to see fishie-keepin, fishies all getten loose. Mesa no meanen to!" It was a cry of pure frustration. "Mesa never meanen to! but finally desa sayen, dat jar Jar, he breaken alla wules, alla time. Wules say all wesa maken be beauty, but dis one...all hesa maken be trouble an' mess." Jar Jar's voice filled with humiliation and shame. "Dey say, hesa no true Gungan, dis one. Hesa no good to live in city. Hesa go live in swamp wit' beasties."

The Gungan lowered his long-muzzled head and fell silent. Amidala could think of nothing to say. They had banished him not only from his home but even from his kind, deemed him no better than an animal. True, it was easy to imagine what disasters his awkwardness might cause in a city dependent on fragile membranes for its safety, but the punishment still seemed too cruel. Clearly it had cut her emotional friend to the heart...

...her friend? well, wasn't he? and were they not about to become battle-comrades as well?

Queen Amidala made up her mind. "Jar Jar, I make you this promise. If we win - if your people can help me save my city - I will do whatever I can to return you to yours. Whatever influence I may gain with your leaders, whatever I can do, I will."

He looked up at her sideways, the slightly-retracted eyestalks tentatively extending. "Mesa not know, You Highness. Da Bosses mighty stubborn."

But there was a tinge of hope in his voice, and she smiled and squeezed his hand once more.

"It will be the least I can do for such a true ally and comrade." She hesitated - it was an extraordinary thing for a Queen of Naboo to say, for any Nabooite to say. But it was true.
"--and for such a good friend."

Jar Jar's eyestalks popped nearly out of his skull. "Wesa friends? You Highness an' mesa? Yousa sayin' dat, truly?"

"Mesa saying that," replied Queen Amidala with perfect gravity, "truly."

The Gungan whooped with raucous laughter and caught the surprised Queen of Naboo around her shoulders in a huge hug. "Mesa never forgettin' dis! Even mesa livin' long enough to have whiskas, mesa never forget!"

He realized what he had done and quickly released her, drawing back, flustered. "Mesa you friend too," he added earnestly, awkwardly patting her hand.

Amidala had to laugh, charmed by his shyness. If even some other Gungans were like Jar Jar, she would have no trouble whatever convincing the Naboo that they had been wrong about them for centuries.

"Yes, you are."
She returned to her original spot and leaned her head on her arm, looking out again at the stars. "I will have so much to tell the Naboo about your people, when this is all over," she went on thoughtfully, after a moment. "I'd be ashamed to tell you what we've always thought of you."

"Mesa know," said the Gungan with a sleepy sigh, stretching his arms out ahead of him. (All this emotion seemed to be getting the better of his alertness; she recalled that he had originally come in here in hopes of a nap. And so had she, come to think of it...)"Yousa thinken wesa stupid an'dangerous. And wesa thinken yousa weak an'scaredy. Wesa all wrong."

"Wesa - I mean, we all have to learn." The young Queen smiled into her sleeve - the Gungan's odd syntax was contagious. To herself she thought, 'stupid and dangerous'! 'Primitives'! How can we have been talking this way for centuries about people who have energy-plasma technology? who designed their capital city as a work of art?...

"An' yousa Theed city pitty place too," Jar Jar added politely, "so wesa all doin' honor to d'Guds, as should." He yawned cavernously, bill gaping. "Like mesa sayin...Gungans believen *yawn* that all things wesa builden, desa beauty to see, or desa no good. Insulten to d'Guds it is, maken ugly things."

Amidala yawned, herself, and snuggled into her robe. What a kind philosophy theirs was. When this fighting was over they would make a peace treaty, with grand ceremony, in the city square, and be friends always. Always.

"So long as wesa always minden what wesa seein round us… wesa all inna balance. Desa ...*yawn* desa Gungan way…" His voice trailed off. His head and shoulders slumped slowly back, long ears dangling to the floor.

"I'll bring in your people ..your artisans… to build something inside Theed," Amidala promised drowsily. "Something in your own style...to mark our friendship. A bridge, perhaps..."

There was no reply. The Gungan was snoring quietly.

Queen Amidala, her eyes closed, her mind calm, pictured the bridge they would build in Theed, a long arc, graceful as water-ferns. Something beautiful, to honor the Gods, to stand for peace. Peace...

And it was quiet on the observatory deck, halfway to Naboo.

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