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Children of the Desert

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The desert is in the heart of your brother.
- T.S. Eliot, Choruses from ‘The Rock’

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They were the children of the desert. They were drab everyday sameness and harsh gusts of sand and storm and the cool night splendor of infinite stars. They were young. Kitster and Anakin and Melee and Wald and Seek and Amee. They weren’t free, but they were still young enough that sometimes they forgot about that. During the day they worked in their masters’ shops, lifting and carrying and falling and fixing and forgetting and being scolded, and at night they looked at the stars and flew.

They listened to the desert, although they didn’t know what they were listening to. Kitster called it a gut feeling, and Melee called it a feeling deep in her bones. It was a phrase she’d borrowed from Jira, and Seek laughed at her for imitating old women. Seek said the feeling was all a lot of nonsense, and they’d be better off if they could just forget it. Wald said he was practical and agreed with Seek. The rest of them ignored Seek and Wald, though, because they were free-born, and they didn’t understand. So Amee called the feeling hope, though she wasn’t quite sure what she meant by the word. Anakin didn’t know what to call it at all. It was just something he knew.

The desert sang to them of freedom. It was sprawling and open and wild, uncontained and uncontainable, all untamed power. It spent its strength in storms that sent everyone searching for cover, master and slave alike, and the slow-bleached bones of those who were caught in the swirling sand revealed nothing of the status the being had had in life. Death and the desert laid bare just how little difference there truly was between beings. On Tatooine, the Hutts claimed dominion, but it was the desert that ruled.

It was a dangerous world on which to keep slaves. The desert was always there, wild and deadly and free. So the slave traders and the masters found ways around it.

Melee and Amee both grew up with tales of the terrible Lady of the Desert, who devoured those who wandered into her realm. All the children, slave and free alike, knew of the vicious and wild Sand People who lived in the desert wastes, and the night fears of Tatooine children all wore distinctly Tusken faces.

But Anakin also grew up with his mother’s stories, and they were very different. She said that she had conceived him in the desert, in the midst of a howling storm and a voice that spoke to her in silence. When Anakin was very young, three maybe, he’d asked if that meant his father was a Tusken. Shmi had laughed and told him no, that he had no father as other children did, that it was Ar-Amu herself who had given him to her.

And so Anakin was wary of the desert, but he was not afraid of it. It was vast and lonely and waterless, the place of the dreaded Tuskens and the strange, uncanny Jawas. But it was also the place where Ar-Amu spoke.

Kitster too grew up with Shmi’s stories. His own mother was often busy with the men their master brought to her, but even when she was not, her vacant eyes seemed to see through him as though he were not even there. And so most of the time he wasn’t. He spent his little free time at Anakin’s house, or at the spaceport with Anakin talking to the pilots.

None of them laughed when Anakin told them that he really didn’t have a father. Not even Seek. They were the children of the desert, born for squalor and mystery. They did not have the luxury of believing that anything was impossible.

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They were young, but the desert was old. It had counted through endless lives, shifting just enough that it never changed. The Jawas said that no one could know the desert, for the desert was both the source and end of all life. It witnessed everything, and held all of history in silence.

Their lives were lived out against the silence. They spoke and toiled and fought and loved and dreamed against the silence, and always, in the backs of their minds, was the knowledge that it could swallow them whole.

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Their lives were defined by the desert.

When they were young it was the place of mystery and horror and longing, a place where there were no masters and no water, either. Sometimes they looked out through the dusty windows and the cluttered junk yards where they worked and thought about escape, about freedom in the desert. They knew it was a futile dream—there was no water in the desert, and water was life. And anyway there were the transmitters to consider. They had all heard the stories. A muted Boom!, the horrible liquid sound (water sound) of a body ripped apart, and then a slow thud.

But still when they looked out the windows and into the open desert, the longing was there.

The desert defined their lives in other, more mundane ways. It was the sand that stuck between the folds of their clothes, that wormed its way under even the most tightly bound leg and arm wraps, that sifted into their shoes and grated against their skin as they worked. They all hated sand.

Their daily schedules were shaped by the desert with its unpredictable storms. When the sand blew hard across the streets, obscuring sight and breath and driving like tiny knives to the bone, even their masters did not dare give them orders. The sandstorms meant days free from work, but trapped inside, the always present metaphorical cage become painfully, inescapably literal. They both loved and hated the sandstorms that showed their masters to be mere pawns before the awesome might of the desert, and themselves to be even less—animals in cages kept by people of no consequence.

The desert shaped them in other, more subtle ways. It taught them that they lived always on the edge of the unknown, and it taught them that the unknown was dangerous. The desert showed them who they could trust. It taught them to put no faith in those with power. Under the beatings from their masters and in the storms from the desert they learned to trust no one but family and close friends, and they learned how easily even that trust could be broken.

They knew that those who survived a storm together were bound for life. Their masters called such ideas ignorant superstition, but they knew better. Once, when they were seven years old, Anakin and Kitster had been caught together in a storm on the Jundland Wastes, far from Mos Espa. They’d been sent to trade with a tribe of rather reclusive Jawas, and their masters had not anticipated the storm. Years later, what Kitster remembered most was the choking, grating sensation of the sand in his throat and eyes, and the solid grip of Anakin’s hand on his arm. They’d made it to a narrow cave, an opening in the rock just deep enough that the billowing sand could not reach to the cave’s back. Kitster remembered that Anakin had been half-dragging him by then, pulling him against the weight of the sand and the hardness of breathing. They’d stayed in that cave for three days, rationing their water and the small amount of food they had left, while the storm howled angrily outside, and underneath it the silence roared. For Kitster, the memory was a blur of fever and haze and Anakin’s small voice speaking in the whirlwind, calling to him to hold on. He didn’t remember their journey back to Mos Espa at all.

A week later, when Kitster was recovered and they were sitting outside on Anakin’s porch, looking up at the stars and deciding which they would visit first, Anakin said, “We’re brothers now, aren’t we?”

Kitster nodded in the dark. “Yeah. I think we always have been. But I guess this seals it.”

Anakin turned to him and grinned. “We should do something to make it official,” he said. “Something like in one of Wald’s stories, with the blood brothers.”

It was a good idea, and more than that it was true. So they snuck back into the house, silent so that Shmi wouldn’t know what they were doing, and took a small knife from the kitchen. The cuts were shallow, just enough to bleed, and they pressed them together and watched their blood mingle and a few drops fall onto the thirsty sand. Then they found some bandages and cleaned the knife and returned it to its place, and Anakin smiled. “There. Now we’re really brothers.”

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They were the children of the desert, and they were all defined by it.

Amee, who had lost her father to the desert (with a boom and a liquid thud, but it was to the desert that he looked as he died), hated the sand and the twin suns and the vast, waterless emptiness more than the rest of them. Her life was spent in looking away from the desert, which is only a different kind of attention.

Seek, who was free-born but so poor that it almost didn’t matter, hated the desert almost as much, because he knew he would never leave it. But it was the feeling of being trapped that he hated, not the desert. Kitster once said that if they all lived on a beautiful, perfect ocean world (none of them could imagine anything more wonderful), Seek would hate it just as much, if only because he couldn’t leave it.

Wald, who was free and whose parents had enough money that he could afford to choose his friends, thought the desert was boring. Melee thought that was because he was free. He didn’t hear the desert the way the rest of them did. But they all loved Wald, loved the way he was always trying to make the desert more exciting by leading them on adventures and perilous quests. Sometimes there was even real danger, and that made them love Wald all the more.

Melee, who spent most of her time as a house slave, longed for the desert more than the rest of them. She always wanted to be outside, under the suns and the cloudless blue skies that gave at least the illusion of freedom. She was fascinated by the desert people, too, and she’d told them all once that she was trying to learn to speak Jawa. Seek had laughed and said it was a waste of time to learn the scavengers’ language, but Wald thought it was a good idea. He said it would be harder for the Jawas to cheat her if she could understand what they were saying. Melee just shrugged and said she supposed that was true. She was still too young to know how to tell them that what she wanted to learn was the language of freedom.

Kitster, who already believed that family was something you made rather than something you were born to, dreamed of leaving the desert behind. He and Anakin had made plans. They would free themselves and Shmi somehow (the details of that plan were still sketchy), and then they would become pilots and maybe pirates, and come back and free all the slaves. He thought it was a good plan. But he did not hate the desert, like Seek. And even though he longed to leave Tatooine, he felt the pull of the desert almost as strongly as Melee.

Even Anakin, who left Tatooine although the rest of them never did—even Anakin could not leave the desert behind.

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The desert followed Anakin.

It was with him the first time he took a real shower on Coruscant, with real water and everything. Meeting with the Jedi Council must be a very special occasion indeed, if they let him use real water! And after he became Master Obi-Wan’s padawan, he got to use real water then, too! So he made sure to thank Master Obi-Wan very politely, but at first Master Obi-Wan didn’t know what he was being thanked for. When Anakin told him, he laughed out loud and said that, on Coruscant, all the showers used real water, all the time. Anakin was still young enough that he thought he must have come to paradise.

The desert was with him when he wrote letters to his mother and Kitster, even though he wasn’t supposed to. But he had to tell them about the showers with real water, and the whole huge room full of water in the Jedi Temple, and the fact that Master Obi-Wan was teaching him to swim in it. And he wanted to tell them other things, too, things about his training and the people he was meeting and how much he missed them. He promised his mother that he would come back some day, and he promised Kitster that they would always be brothers. The desert was there, too. They had survived a storm together. Nothing could separate them now.

The desert was with Anakin when Master Obi-Wan caught him writing his letters and had to take the datapad away. He said he didn’t like it, but it was part of the Code and Anakin needed to understand that. He couldn’t be allowed to contact his family. Anakin said he understood, and he did. Masters never allowed separated families to keep contact, so he shouldn’t be surprised. But the desert was there, too. The desert had taught him that family and friends were the only people he could trust, and that one mistake was enough to destroy everything. He forgave Master Obi-Wan eventually. But he never trusted him again.

The desert was with him when the Jedi told him that they respected all religions, but that the Force must be their primary guide. A Jedi could not hold one group of people in priority over others. Anakin’s reverence for Ar-Amu was admirable, but he could not place his focus on the emancipation of Tatooine’s slaves. He must be open to the Force and the mandates of the Council. And the desert was there, too, waterless and wild in the gulf between Anakin and his Masters.

The desert was with him when Padmé laughed and said he would always be the little boy she’d known, and Anakin had to bite his tongue to keep from telling her that he had never really been a boy. It was with him when she described her childhood by the lake, and later when she asked about his childhood and he tried to explain the silence to her, but she didn’t understand. He was struck profoundly by the fact that the desert was with him as it was not with Padmé.

The desert was in his dreams, and it called him back to Tatooine and swallowed him whole, just as it had swallowed his mother. He looked at her body, sprawled and broken on the ground under the Tusken tent, and the desert was there, too. It was in the desert, in the sand and the whirlwind, that she said she had heard the voice of Ar-Amu and had conceived him, and in the desert he lost her. He struck down her murderers, and then their wives and children too, again and again and again. But the desert was still there, cold and waste and silent.

It was with him on Geonosis, when Padmé said she would look for a diplomatic solution and Anakin wanted to tell her that things don’t work that way in the desert. It was still with him when Master Obi-Wan told him to leave Padmé where she’d fallen, and he wanted to ask how his master could even think such a thing, and how Padmé would ever be able to trust him again if he did.

It was with him throughout the Clone Wars, when he wrote to Kitster for the first time in over ten years, because Obi-Wan was not his master anymore and he had to tell someone about the fog and the bodies and the quiet sunrises over destroyed cities. It didn’t matter that it had been ten years since he last saw Kitster, or that he knew nothing about his brother’s life now beyond his datapad’s address. They had survived the storm together. Kitster would understand.

The desert stayed with him through the war. It was with him above Coruscant, and in the Council, and with Obi-Wan and Padmé and the Chancellor, and it was still in his dreams. It was with him on Mustafar. For twenty long years the desert was with him, rattling in his damaged lungs and grating against the raw stumps of his arms and legs.

And then his mask was lifted away, and he saw his son’s eyes for the first time. They were blue eyes, his eyes. Tatooine-blue and sharp and clear. Desert eyes. He looked at Luke and wanted to say, “Free my people,” but he did not have the breath. And in the end it didn’t matter. The desert was there in Luke’s eyes. And he saw Ar-Amu there, too, and saw what would be.

The All-Mother would gather her children. She would call to them from the remotest parts of the desert, and they would come. She would speak to them out of the whirlwind, and they would be free.

He saw all this in Luke’s eyes, and it was enough. And as he fell back into Ar-Amu’s embrace, the desert was there, too.

And far away on Tatooine, the skies opened and Ar-Amu was finally able to weep.

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Kitster followed the desert.

The desert spoke to him as it spoke to all of them, and to Kitster it spoke as a feeling in his gut. Anakin used to say that they should always follow their instincts. Once he was gone, Kitster realized that Anakin’s instincts had probably been so good because he was a Jedi. Kitster guessed that he wasn’t one, though, or the old Jedi would have taken him, too. But he still thought that following his instincts was the best thing he could do.

Things changed for all of them after Anakin left. Shmi became quieter, more withdrawn, and Kitster began spending more time with her. He wanted to call her “Mom,” but his instincts said it was too soon, and it would only hurt her. So he went on calling her “Shmi” and bringing her pallies when he had a little extra money, and sometimes he helped her with mechanical projects that required a smaller pair of hands. Neither of them said that these were jobs Anakin used to do. By an unspoken consent they acted as though nothing had changed.

The other children of the desert gathered in Shmi’s home, as well. Sometimes they brought things, like pallies or small mechanical parts, and sometimes they simply came. In the first few weeks after Anakin left, Shmi and Kitster both received letters every day. All the letters came to Shmi’s datapad, though, because Kitster didn’t have one, and when the children gathered, Shmi would read the letters out loud. When the others left, she let Kitster read the parts that were only for him.

That was how Shmi found out about them being brothers. Kitster was afraid she would be angry at first, because they’d borrowed the knife and Shmi didn’t like either of them getting hurt. But she hugged him to her and called him her second son, and they celebrated by making a small cake with the pallies Kitster had brought.

It was just after that that the letters stopped coming. Neither of them knew enough about the Jedi to understand why, but they did understand separation. Shmi had been twelve years old when she was sold away from her mother, and she had never seen her again. Kitster still had his mother, but there was more than one kind of separation.

The desert whispered around them, and Anakin’s ghost became a living thing, always present between them.

Kitster listened to the desert, and it sang to him of loss. He knew that Shmi heard it too, and he had already seen it in his master’s eyes. Two days before it happened, he called Shmi “Mom” for the last time, and he told her goodbye. They clung to one another and cried, and just before he turned to walk away, Shmi said to him, “We will see each other again, Kitster. All of us. When Ar-Amu gathers her children we will see each other again.”

Kitster nodded and turned away, not trusting himself to speak. Everyone said that Anakin hadn’t looked back, so he didn’t either.

Two days later he was sold to a man in Mos Eisley. He never saw Shmi or his own mother again.

But Kitster followed the desert. He listened to the rumors in the cantinas and on the streets, and he saved what little spare money he received and made good bets. There were whispers about him among the gamblers, talk that he was too lucky, that no slave boy could bet so well on the races. But Kitster knew it wasn’t luck. His brother was the greatest pod racer who had ever lived, and he trusted his gut. It had never led him wrong.

By the time he was seventeen, Kitster had saved enough money to buy his own freedom. He didn’t have much left over after that, but it didn’t truly seem to matter. He went first to Mos Espa and tried to find Shmi, but she was gone. The other slaves in the Quarters said that she had been freed and married, but no one knew where she’d gone, and Watto refused to tell Kitster anything.

He found Melee still working in the same house, and Amee now working for a Chevin in a parts shop. Seek had a job at one of the local cantinas. No one had seen Wald in years.

They gathered beside the steps leading to Shmi’s old home—Kitster and Melee and Seek and Amee and the family of Twi’leks who lived there now—and they made the vigil for the lost and prayed in the ancient words for the freedom of Ar-Amu and the gathering of all her children. Kitster looked at the sand beneath his feet and remembered the way the blood had sizzled as it soaked into the desert, and Anakin’s shaky smile as he cleaned the knife. And he wondered where his mother and brother were now, and if he would ever see them again.

Kitster followed the desert, and it led him back to Mos Eisley, to the busy spaceport and a shabby booth and a children’s puppet show that never paid enough for him to afford the cost of a com call to Mos Espa. But it was enough to afford a datapad. And so the desert led him back to his brother.

He was never certain how Anakin found his datapad’s address, and he never thought to ask. He was twenty-one years old (and four years free), and almost the first thing Anakin told him was that their mother was dead. He remembered the vigil beside the dusty steps in Mos Espa and knew that the desert had told him so a long time ago.

Anakin told him other things in his letters. There were sieges and bombings and space battles and a girl named Padmé who knew how to make him forget it all, but she didn’t understand. There were campaigns with Obi-Wan and clones who really weren’t the same at all and dead girls with missing feet lying face down in the rubble, and there were nightmares that Anakin mentioned but didn’t talk about, and the small problem that he couldn’t sleep anymore.

And then the letters stopped coming. Kitster was twenty-two years old, and this time he kept vigil alone.

He took a job as a mechanic at the spaceport and spent his days repairing the great ships, knowing that when they left Tatooine he would not be on them. The money was decent, though, and the races continued to favor him, and he started to dream again of a small theater off the port and the old plays of Kanim and Arostt brought to life.

Kitster followed the desert, and it led him to Imer. He was delivering a part to a junk shop in Anchorhead—something that a starship mechanic really had no business doing, but they were short-staffed today, and this part was apparently top priority. She was watching her master’s shop, sitting at the counter cleaning parts and every once in a while sneaking glances at a datapad when she thought no one was looking. After a good deal of contriving, he managed to catch a glimpse of the screen. She was reading Kanim (The Abandoned Ones, unless he missed his guess), and she had a habit of bringing her hand to her chin as she read. It was a dark, callused hand, and when she rested her chin against it she reminded Kitster of a famous painting he’d seen once on the holonet.

He found excuses to be in Anchorhead after that. He guessed that Imer found excuses too, because the shop where she worked suddenly had a lot more engines in need of repair. He enlisted her help at the repairs, and they talked about Kanim and their favorite types of tzai and the new Imperial presence on Tatooine that hadn’t really changed anything. He learned that Imer, too, was alone—her mother had been killed when she was a child, and her father had been sold three years ago. She didn’t know where he had gone.

It took him almost four years, but in the end he earned just enough, and Imer was free. Their wedding was a small one: just Melee and Amee and Seek and a few people Imer knew from Anchorhead. They stayed in Mos Eisley, and between the two of them there was just enough to run a small theater off the port. They called it The Moon and Stars, an old name from Kanim’s Dedication of Corrado, and they played productions of Kanim and Arostt and Urp’an. Every year on Anakin’s birthday Kitster played the lead in The Legend of Akar Hinil.

Imer gave birth to their son in the midst of a howling storm that kept the midwife from arriving until it was all over. She named him Denak, for her father, and as Kitster washed the blood from his hands and looked at his newborn son, he saw the desert in his eyes.

Denak grew up with mechanical parts and Kanim and stories of Anakin and Shmi Skywalker and his namesake, Denak Jenta. He learned to listen to the desert and to follow it, and once he told his parents he even heard Ar-Amu’s voice in the storm.

And then, twenty-eight years to the day after Kitster was freed, the skies opened and the rain came down, and Kitster knew that his brother was dead and that everything had changed.

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When the universal emancipation was announced, Melee was out on the pod race track, strips of cloth covering her mouth and nose, searching in the midst of the billowing sand that preceded a storm for the last pieces of her master’s wrecked pod. The Jawas were already there beside her, claiming bits of the wreckage for themselves.

She was forty-four years old, with a son who had never met his father and a daughter who’d been sold along with him at the age of three. That was nineteen years ago, and she had long ago stopped looking at stars.

It was the Jawas, the desert speakers, who first told Melee the news. They spoke in high, excited tones like sand guttering among the rocks in the wastes, and she could not understand much of their language, but she heard the word for “free” repeated again and again.

She knew better than to trust the desert without question. She knew better than to hope. But she was alone, surrounded by the gusting sand and the howling silence and the voices of the Jawas speaking out of the whirlwind. She remembered Shmi’s story, and recognized the voice of Ar-Amu.

The tangle of wires she’d been collecting fell into the sand and was quickly swallowed up by the storm, and Melee turned and ran, the wind singing at her feet.

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There were reunions. The desert opened wide its mouth and a stream of people flowed out, their numbers swelling and bursting over Mos Eisley. There was no organization, no call, no designated place of meeting. They simply knew, in their gut, in their bones. Without any directive they converged on Mos Eisley’s space port, and there they found one another again.

Melee found Waru and Parin. Waru was much older than she remembered, the black gone from his hair, his skin cracked and pitted by the years, the green of his eyes faded to a duller near-grey. She thought he was beautiful, and if their first kisses were awkward and uncertain, she didn’t mind.

Parin was a grown woman now, pretty in the way that her mother had once been, her eyes as green as her father’s had been the last time Melee had seen them. They greeted each other with embraces, with loud wails of lament and quieter sobs of joy. Parin was grown, and for nineteen years she had been longing for her mother.

Waru and his namesake stood awkwardly, gazing at one another in wonder and regret and maybe a little disappointment. The younger Waru had dreamed of his father for years, and with each dream he had grown into a more fantastic figure, larger than life and almost the equal of the desert itself. He was both relieved and disappointed to find that his father was only human like himself. The older Waru saw a young man who had grown up without him, who might not need a father at all. He saw himself in his son, and the ache of it was almost worse than the nineteen long years of separation.

Amee found her mother. She was old and bent, her face carved by time and the harshness of life until it resembled the desert itself. But her grip was still as strong as Amee remembered it, and when Amee wept, her mother did not even scold her. They watered the desert together, and it swallowed their tears into its silence.

Imer found her father. It was twenty years too late to see him hold her son, but watching them greet one another with awkward respect and curiosity was almost enough. Later she would introduce him to Kitster. But her husband had family of his own to find, and stories that cried out to be told. She hadn’t needed to ask him how he knew they would be here. The desert spoke to him, just as it spoke to all of them, and he listened.

Kitster found Luke and Leia Skywalker.

“Come,” he told them. “There are things I need to show you.”

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The first things he showed them were the letters. There were twelve of them all together, and for years he’d saved them without really knowing why. They were the last records he had of his brother, even if they hardly memorialized the good times. But now he understood that the desert had guided him in this, too, and that he had been saving them for this day.

Anakin’s children didn’t say much. Luke read the letters first, slowly and almost reverently, but when he was finished all he said was a “thank you” to Kitster as he handed them to his sister.

Leia read the letters in strained silence, emotions painted thickly across her face. When she was finished Kitster thought she looked almost angry, but he couldn’t be certain who she was angry with, and he didn’t ask. He was a child of the desert, and he understood private grief.

He showed them the hovel in Mos Espa next. They stood in the sand at the foot of the porch, in almost the same place where a lifetime ago he had become their father’s brother. He could still smell the salt sting of the blood and hear the sizzle as a few drops fell onto the sand. But he didn’t tell Luke and Leia. Not yet. There was something else they needed to see first.

He knew exactly where he needed to take them, but the desert whispered that it was not yet time, and so he dawdled around Mos Espa, showing Anakin’s children the place where Jira’s fruit stand used to be, the best place to buy a ruby bliel near the spaceport, the shop that Watto used to own, even the place where he himself had lived as a child. And he told them about Shmi and about Ar-Amu’s voice in the whirlwind. They listened to his stories the way the desert consumes water—all unconscious thirst and nameless longing. Kitster noted that, while Luke seemed to understand more instinctively, even Leia was no stranger to the desert.

And then the winds picked up and the sand began to sing in the streets, and Kitster knew it was time.

“Come,” he said to them again. “You need to see this.”

And he led them out into the desert.

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They were in the open desert when the storm began in earnest. Kitster had a feeling that Luke, at least, had known it was coming, but he’d said nothing, and now they struggled westward against a stinging veil of sand. He could hear Leia coughing somewhere behind him, but he wasn’t worried. He knew where they needed to be.

The cave was smaller than he remembered it; the three of them barely fit inside. They ducked against the far wall, breathing through layers of cloth to filter out the sand, and Kitster watched as Luke offered his sister a small ration of water. She drank it in mute gratitude, and the three of them settled back against the rough stone, listening to the howling of the wind and the shriek of sand outside, and beneath that the roar of the silence. Luke raised his eyes to meet his uncle’s, and in them Kitster saw that he understood. Luke was a child of the desert. He knew what it meant to survive a storm together.

For three days the storm enclosed them in its roar and its solitude, but this time, Kitster knew he would remember it all.

He would remember the careful sense of home in Luke’s voice as he planned out the rationing of their water and the little food Kitster had brought. He would remember the sense of unconscious recognition in Leia’s eyes. He would remember everything they talked about—from podraces to slavery to Ar-Amu’s promise to the rain that had finally come.

He would remember the sudden stillness that came when they heard the children’s voices. He would remember the subtleties of expression and the things that weren’t spoken when Luke and Leia looked up from their thoughts and saw, across from them against the cave wall, two small boys huddled against the billowing sand. No one asked where they had come from. No one said anything at all. They were still, listening to the voices of the children in the whirlwind.

The darker boy looked feverish, his face slick with sweat and his eyes strangely glazed. Every now and then he coughed feebly, and the blond boy held him up and patted his back and fussed about him in the age-old dance of worry. They were about seven years old, dusty and small and shabby, all but invisible against the roar of the wind and the sand.

Against the roar of the silence the blond boy spoke, his friend’s hand clasped between his. “Hold on, Kitster,” he whispered. “Just hold on.”

His voice echoed in the whirlwind and shattered the silence, and beneath it they heard a woman’s voice.

Yes, Mother. I will bear this storm.

The next morning the children were gone and the air had cleared. Kitster led Luke and Leia back to Mos Espa, to the place in the sand beside the porch.

“He was my brother,” he said quietly. “We survived the storm together.”

Anakin’s children looked at one another, but neither of them asked what he meant. They were the children of the desert, and they understood.