These Small Hands

. . .

The child was precisely that, and a little more. Some fifty years had he spent cradled in a sea that would never, could never leave him. He, like those other rare creche children he could feel, distant and thrumming with their own hidden life, was born knowing the Force. His thoughts were not sharply formed yet, his sense of identity shifting gently as the Force continued to surge around him. Shapes and concepts held similar enough places in his mind to pass for a kind of early language, and the sensation of others, drifting lives pressing and passing all around him, often grabbed his curiosity. He liked to explore, but as his body slowed its growth, as their species did, in favor of the spreading tangle of his spirit, much of it was first done through what he felt, and sometimes, what he saw.

His emotions were innocent and lively, and all of them connected to a curiosity that surged through him. The child didn't easily fall into the traps of fear, even at this first stage. Even when he was in the dark, locked in his little floating crib, feeling the presence of lives outside that moved without thought for their place in the galactic flow. For the Force was with him, always, and not all those lives were unkind in the most hidden parts of their spirit.

Especially the one.

The one's Force-shape showed him tall at first brush, like the ones who had kept him in his floater for greed, and he was bright of spirit within a shell made of metal and cloth. There was the promise of death in his hands, but that alone did not make the Force nor the child shy away from exploring the edges of him as he had approached the locked crib. Death was a natural thing, and may even be kind. No, this figure, he would hurt only at need. To protect or to survive or to serve - beyond this concept, the child understood in its small and shapeless way, waited others whose spirit was connected to him. The child saw them, too, through the man when he first came, and he knew then that man was safe and good.

The child saw easily that the shell of that broken armor hid the flare of his kindness, so it could be hurt no more, nor snuffed, nor taken away. The child might have told him that this could never be lost, not yet, but the words were not ready. Instead, as the crib opened and the man looked down to see the child, the child looked back with wide eyes, reached for him, and made a soft noise of contentment.

Yet the child was also still mostly, of course, a child. So when the man at first sent him away with those whose trace in the Force was snarled, brackish and hollow, whose menace nestled in the loss of some great identity - The Empire, he would understand later, though he had heard the word before - the child looked back at the man, confused. He did not yet understand the swirl and eddies in the Force that might have suggested this was strange but would be well, and he called anxiously, like the child he was, for the safety he knew the man could give.

The man did not look back. But the flare of his spirit pulled towards the child, and the child was then content to wait for his return.

The child trusted that he would, for, though age would later balance what he felt and what he knew, the child already felt an intense love for the man, who had reached for his small hand at that first glance with a curious, trusting finger.

. . .

The armorer kept her eye on the forge. It was a damn good forge, and the circuits were clean and well-kept by no one else's hands but hers, but one did not trust the fire to not be a fire. It would cut free and it would burn if untended, and so she stayed near it as it flickered back to dutiful coldness.

There were scant places to catch a reflection in her forge, mostly off a few pieces of armor left out, or scraps she thought to melt later. She could see her helmet now and again, its Zabrakian spikes catching the dwindling firelight, and, as ever, thought it was a fitting mask for the face beneath it. She was content with the tribe, and her identity here, and she would fight to the death for any one of them.

Another flicker caught her eye. The artillery expert was in the hall beyond her forge, waiting for his thoughts to come to a point. She knew his name, of course, as she had no doubt there were whispers of hers here and there, but identities left spoor for others to hunt, and it was for a Mandalorian to be the hunter and not the prey. They knew each other as well as any family did, if not better, and their identities were always distinct.

There were exceptions to this, of course, where younglings were concerned. Under her helm, her lips pursed, knowing full well why she thought of that scenario.

It… did not know it was my enemy.

The way of the Mandalorian was best kept in the silent places between each carefully chosen word. There hid intent, emotion, outcome, potential. One did not need to see the prey to track it through its scent, its whisper, the way it fearfully laid each step in the dirt track. The pause in the young Mandalorian's words told her all, whether the young one had realized it or not. A child, then. A child traded away for Imperial bounty, and no enemy at all.

It hadn't offended her, the sigil on the beskar. Sigils melted away where good metal remained, ready to be tempered better and harder than before. But the pause in the young Mandalorian's voice, that was a place for concern. She didn't chide him yet, for there was still time to change, and now he had the tools to face such trials. She waited, to see what next he would do.

The Mandalorians endured, this was what defined them. No matter what attempted to tear their people apart, the tribes found one another again and rebuilt themselves. They were tempered, she liked to say when she spoke on their history within the safety of the enclave, her voice ironic and, as she sometimes chose, gentle. Always made better, and harder than before.

But not at the cost of their future. There was value in the innocent, or the shattered remains of an innocent who now needed home and family, and not callous wealth. The armorer loved, in her way, and for the future of their tribe, she would sacrifice everything.

She saw an echo of this in the way the artillery expert moved in the hall, and waited silently for him to come in and say what she hoped he would say. It took another minute, until he realized he saw the glint of her visor turned toward him.

The heavy artillery expert slipped into the forge with an unusual silence for one dedicated to weighty arms. "No sigil?"

"Not yet," she said. "His path is not chosen."

"Hngh," said the older Mandalorian, thoughtful. Then. "He's gone off."

She waited for him to continue.

"Past the market, down the alleys we know the scum lurk in." They matched each other in silence, weighing it, looking for all the little tracks left out for each to see. "The bounty's a bad one."

"It is," she said evenly, her tone holding no trace of judgment for the scuffle the artillery expert had nearly started with the young Mandalorian.

"The fix will be about as bad."

"There will be a fight," she said, inclining her head just a little. "A bounty wanted so fiercely that they gave away a full camtono of beskar. Its purchasers will want it kept, and will offer much to see that accomplished." The tracks underneath: More beskar. A bounty hunter's town inflamed by greed. No words of honor matter when the starved beast is thrown such rich scraps.

"You understand," said the artilleryman, bending his head in renewed admiration.

"Always," she said, amused by him and using it to hide her relief at the young Mandalorian's quick change of heart. He had been a good child, quiet and willing. She wanted the man to find his true way with that same quiet grace. "Go. I will prepare the enclave for movement."

"This is the Way," said the artillery expert, his helm rising high as his neck stretched in pride.

"This is the Way," she echoed back to him, her hands already at work dismantling a forge still warm to the touch, privately delighted at the idea of being on the march again, free, free, and all for a future still waiting to be carved out by their tribe's will alone.

. . .

He was not in his crib, the crib had been tossed aside. The child missed it for its dark and warmth, like the memories he still held from before his wide eyes opened into the light, and he didn't care for the hard straps holding him down onto a chilly table much at all. He might have pushed them free, but it was so exhausting last time he'd tried to call the Force to help the man who gave him such warmth and comfort, and the man was not here yet. Not yet, and the fear rippled off the smaller one who wavered in and out of his sight.

The child blinked and cooed, comforting itself as he realized he sometimes had to, and he felt the change in the world beyond the cold and sterile room long before he heard the first crackling, violent sound.

The battle, not that he fully understood the battle, went by quickly for him. The small man pressing himself out of the way, hot fear dripping from him like tears, all of them obscuring what was true and what wasn't in what he told the good man, but it didn't matter.

The shell was shinier now! The child's eyes widened as he saw the good man full, saw the way the light of the room flickered off the new shell locked around that brightly flickering spirit, and thought it matched him better. He lifted a hand and cooed and babbled what he could at the man, but the words weren't with him yet to say what he needed: Yes! Good! I knew you would come back, because I love you the way I did the ones who made sure I was safe a long time ago, back when the world was even smaller around me and when I only had the Force to keep me warm.

Only a soft, delighted gurgle came from him as the man plucked him up and held him tight against that pretty shininess, and he ignored the dark flow of violence around him, save perhaps a gentle touch here and there so that a stray shot did not hurt the good man who had come back to get him.

The good man didn't need much help this time, thankfully, because the flow only increased as the world around him grew bigger, and bigger yet, and the child saw the sky and more violence springing up to drown the stars and was dazzled by it all.

Oh, but the stars began to fight back! Gleaming down on the battlefield that the dirty alleys had become, and the child cooed again, trying to tell the good man that the stars were coming to help him.

A hand crossed over him, to protect him, not understanding what he was trying to say. But the child saw the tremor in the hand as they came, falling from the sky. Others like the good man! Shiny and connected to each other, here to save the good man, and him, too!

Family, this was a concept the child understood. The shape he gave it was wide and full of warmth, almost as powerful as the Force itself, as indestructible, as real. It had nothing to do with what a body was made of, the child already understood this, too. It had everything to do with the way spirits reached for each other, to help and to protect, even when it might be difficult.

And yes, the violence all around the child, turning the flow of the world around him into a bloody, shifting lure. He didn't like it much. But it was tempered with that family, matched by the need to protect, to do only what one must to endure.

The child saw the word in his mind, powerful and real, and he lifted his hand to trace it. Endure. He heard the wordsounds in a soft voice, warm and real inside his mind, an echo carried by the other members of this shiny family. His arm was tucked back into the blanket, safe, but the word remained.

To endure, to survive, to live, and to love. Yes, the child might think when words were easier for him. Yes, these are all good things within the Force, and love is indeed so powerful, but why did my ancestors distrust it when it protects so much about who we are? I think we will love, this time. I think we should learn why it is so strong a part of the Force, and embrace it.

The child cooed as the man retreated behind the protection of his family, to the ship that already smelled to the child like home, cooed not because he knew he was safe, but that the man was safe, that their world together was far more than only the two of them. The shiny shell wasn't needed to protect the good man from that, though for the man this was, shocking to the child, part of its purpose.

And yet, he also understood in that small way shaped by concept and emotion, the man was a little like himself. Growing up and readying for the next change to help his way through the Force, and sometimes, growing hurt.

That was all right.

The child would be there to help the good man when it was time, just the way the good man had done for him.

~Fin

. . .

"This is my family. I found it on my own. It's little and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good." ~ Lilo & Stitch