Chapter 1: Fame
Luke had feared trouble, for a moment, when she'd very casually mentioned that that building over there was the most popular art museum on the planet - in mainstream human society of this universe at this time, actually. River had caught his glance and very casually asked if he'd like to see, just the smallest hint of mischief in her sense, but he was wise to her and declined with grace.
Instead they set up on with a sweetcake on a bench under trees, within sight of that building but across a wide river she called the Seine.
It was a river that had been heavily used by this city. He could see it in the banks, smell its odor mingled with city effluvia. But he could also feel the life in it, not too horribly off. Still alive. That was the state of this planet in this time, anyway.
People passed them by, some on foot and some on slender foot-powered wheeled machines, while a few others alone or in small groups took up other benches or spread blankets on the grass. He thought one pair was pausing to settle like that, but he could feel that their attention was strictly focused on himself and River... well, on him.
Luke pierced through the hard white frosting with his fork and, languid, said, "To the right. Spies?"
He felt her stiffen, very slightly.
After a moment River relaxed. "Tourists."
"They could be rookie spies," he said in an ingenious tone of voice, his mouth full, and was pleased to note her rolling her eyes. By mutual agreement they stayed right there to be approached.
"No, Julie, let's not bother them," a young woman said in the kind of voice used by one who didn't believe she would be listened to; indeed a moment later there was another young woman circling to get in front of them, a determined expression on her face.
She studied Luke for a moment before excitably asking a question. He didn't understand it; par less voos something. River clearly did and answered, "Yes, we both know English."
Her hands clapped in a fluttery motion. "Omigod, d'you know you look exactly like Luke Skywalker?"
He felt rather than heard a muffled choke of laughter, and chose to ignore it.
"I do hear it a lot," he said good-naturedly, and gave a lopsided grin. "You think so?"
"Totally! I mean - it's wild!"
The young woman's friend came up besides her with a pained look and mouthed what looked like 'I am SO SORRY' at them. Luke politely pretended not to notice.
"As it happens, my name is Luke. This is River... are you okay?" He knew full well why her shoulders were shaking, but there was no reason to let her feel left out this conversation.
"Fine," she said with a moderately convincing cough. Her face was red, her eyes were merry. "I inhaled a crumb, that's all. Do go on, ladies."
"I'm Julie, this is Nicole!" Julie hesitated, but just for a moment. "Um... Can we get a picture?" She had a little device on a strap that she held up hopefully. "We're taking pictures of everything on this trip, there was a girl who looked like Julia Roberts yesterday, and no one will believe me without proof!"
Luke hesitated a moment, then shrugged and patted the bench next to him, on the side without River. Julie actually squeaked with glee as she bounced onto the bench and passed the device to her friend.
"So how long are you in town?" he asked, smiling tolerantly at the cam.
He had a few other polite questions. They did work to keep her from asking about him, talking about her own life until Nicole got up the nerve to drag her away with talk about the tour they were missing.
As they went on their way he gave River a sidelong look and forked up another bite. "You might as well spit it out."
"I'm proud of you, sweetie," she said almost gravely. Almost. "Really I am. But I hope you know that's going to be on Facebook and Tumblr and all over the world starting right about... hmm, now."
"Let it. They can have a harmless mystery now and then, it won't hurt them." It wasn't like he intended to stay.
She stole his next bite and popped it into her own mouth. "Mmm. I should bring you the tabloids they'll have up by tomorrow."
"There won't be tabloids."
River grinned at him.
Chapter 2: Angels
Luke stopped so abruptly that he lurched. "River, wait."
She'd turned back towards him before he closed his mouth. "What is it, what's wrong?" He winced at the dim greenish glow of her bioluma in the instant before she aimed it down away from his face.
He was human, completely and absolutely human unless the prosthetic hand and the trillions of colonies of symbiotic psychic microbes counted against that, which they didn't in River's mind. But for all that, he had a very strange array of talents. Changing his light sensitivity to be able to see well by the gallery's emergency lumas was one of them.
Squinting against the dim light, he spoke with a distracted air. "They're not moving. Not just the ones in sight. We haven't heard any glass breaking for a few minutes, but they're not all out yet." He nodded towards the closest statue in its display case, still chisel marked and raising a fist towards the glass. "And I know why. I can feel them. I can feel... all of them. They're starting to... reach? Starting to..."
She knew almost immediately what that meant. "Then stop. You told me it wasn't sight."
"It's not sight," he said vaguely. His right hand ghosted across his forehead. "It's not really like any other sense. It's... complicated. They're actually beautiful, you know, in a way. I'm starting to get why this - why it happened."
"Don't even start, Luke, just - narrow your focus, look away, however it works just stop."
He'd braced his hand against his forehead so that it covered his eyes. She recognized his tone of voice; he'd spoken that way as a child with a fever. "They're sort of... River, I don't want to."
"You have to. I told you, the image of an Angel is itself an Angel."
"Nothing's ever been able to brainwash me," he murmured.
"Lucky you." She put a bite in her voice. "Sweetie, the Angels don't brainwash people who've looked too closely, they kill them and climb out of their heads."
"Oh." Luke lowered his hand and blinked, frowning, his voice suddenly much less dreamlike. "You know, I'm not sure if you're lying or not."
"It keeps things interesting. Now stop. I know closing your eyes won't help. This has to be something you do."
The Jedi glanced again at the closest Angel. The chisel marks had faded just a bit, becoming shallower. "Right now every one of these creatures in the gallery is stone. They're trying to drain me, but the Force isn't a kind of power they understand or are attuned to. I'm holding them back."
"Which will do us a lot of good if they take you, Luke, stop being a hero." She pressed a hand against his mouth just as he was opening it. "And don't say 'never'. You're one of the most frustrating men I know, but there's more than one way out of this."
He took her wrist and pulled her hand away. "That's not going to solve this. I might have to get into a trance to keep them out anyway. I can't cut them out of my perception. This is going to be difficult. You might have to go it alone."
"I can always go it alone. And it's a good thing no one's shown off our secret weapons, isn't it?" The hilts didn't gleam in the dim light of the biolumas, but they were visible, small anonymous cylinders that looked like batteries or tools to anyone who didn't already know.
The corners of his mouth turned up faintly. "You're very cruel. On three?"
"On three. One... two..."
His eyes rolled up in his head and closed, and he wavered, but didn't fall. That was the positive side; he could be guided, he didn't need carrying.
On the negative side she heard glass break, and brought the borrowed hilt to ready position. They weren't weapons she was specifically familiar with, but he'd given her a crash course and she was a quick study.
"Come get it," she said harshly. Snap-hiss.
Chapter 3: Early
Because of a Plurk conversation. Luke is... maybe four and hasn't yet learned to ignore and lock away all his powers, and River is very, very early.
It was midafternoon, the hottest part of the day. Luke would have thought that would be double noon, when both suns were highest, but his uncle had explained that the sand made the heat stronger by absorbing it and sending it back up, so the hottest part was actually a little after that.
It was also the part of the day where people didn't do much. It was good to be inside. It was better to be asleep, or just in general not moving around a lot.
Luke wasn't tired, though. He went walking through the homestead carrying his new toy speeder in his hand, and cradling a lidded cup of water against his chest. It was important that he didn't spill, he knew. Water was very important.
This was something he'd planned this morning. Luke crossed the central courtyard pit and climbed the steps along the wall, and then into the enclosed stairway. It was a lot darker and cooler there, but he kept climbing. It was a long climb to the entry dome, especially by himself and carrying things, so he took it slowly and rested when partway, until he felt ready to keep going.
The inside of the entry dome was a little flat pourstone room. He sat down in it to rest, put down the speeder, and with great concentration poured some of the water out of the raised part of the lid. Just a little. Just enough to make a puddle, weird-shaped against the rough-textured pourstone, that he could cover with both hands before he pulled the cup back and drank from it. He put it down and did cover the puddle, to make sure, and then picked up his speeder again.
"Vroom. You gotta keep it outta the water! You gotta- the water! Aaaah! Shoom!" He circled the water in a quick jerky motion, then stood up, waggled it through an elaborate turn, and made it dive at a steep angle right at the middle of the puddle, though the flight trajectory was briefly interrupted as he had to crouch again.
"Oh, no, we're falling! Nooooo-ooom!" At the last second it pulled up out of the dive, turning upwards again so sharply the back end touched the water, and shot away.
He did that three or four times before he felt someone. It was weird. Usually he felt the approach, slow if they were walking, quicker riding, even faster driving, and if they were driving he heard the engines coming, too.
This was sudden. And it wasn't someone he knew.
He was not supposed to greet strangers, he was supposed to stay way inside and let Uncle Owen or Aunt Beru say hi and only come out if they said he could. But none of the alarms were going, and anyway Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru weren't here, just aunt Dama. They'd told him to be good to her. He wanted to let her sleep.
So he left the water and went to the arched doorway and reached up, standing on his toes, to hit the code on the keypad. The door opened in a burst of heat and light and sand, and the stranger standing in the entryway was too backlit for him to really see, but he could sense just fine as they looked first over his head, and then down at him.
They was actually a she, and she was hard to read, but that was definitely the twisting of great surprise and not-sure-ness. She saw him, but she also saw some image inside he couldn't see.
Luke had no idea who she was or why she was here, but he figured he should say something. "Ma'am."
"Oh," the stranger said, not moving from the doorway. "...Hello, Luke. It looks like I'm a bit early."
He ignored that, because there was something important she didn't seem to be aware of. "You're letting the cold air out. It's just going out and not gonna do anyone any good. Are you gonna come in ma'am?"
Luke could sense shifting changing aspects for a moment, and then the stranger had a little bloom of deliberate warmth, probably a smile, and came in from the heat.
"Just for a bit, then, I might as well." She pulled the door closed after her, which was good, since he couldn't reach that command key without standing on something.
He studied her solemnly as his eyes adjusted to the inside-dark again. "You're really pale. You're the, the palest person I've ever seen. And you wear weird things. Why didn't the alarms go? Are you an alien?"
She studied him back with an odd look in her eyes. He couldn't figure it out from her feel. "I am paler, aren't I? It's because I haven't spent much time out in the suns, so my skin hasn't had to adapt to them; thank you, I quite like my clothes even if they're not from around here; spoilers! But don't worry, no one else but your family has one that will work on your perimeter; and it's complicated, but I'm not from this planet, if that's what you're asking. " He accepted all that with a nod, and she went on. "Where are your aunt and uncle?"
"They're out in town and they got aunt Dama here to watch me. She's sleeping. You can't wake her up, she's sad. She says she's not, but she is." He stretched his free hand up.
After a moment the stranger engulfed it in hers, and it was just a little damp and not hard in the same places as the people he knew, and the touch made her easier to read, a little. It didn't really show in other ways, but that not-sure-ness was pretty strong. "Then we won't wake your aunt Dama. I'll be gone by the time she's up."
She wanted to shake, so they did that, but then he wrapped his hand around some fingers and tugged in the direction of the stairwell. The pool had evaporated already.
"You're here to visit. So I'm s'posed to get you water." He'd brought a cup, but you didn't offer that, not something you'd been drinking yourself.
"I don't actually have to be here long," she started, but he would have none of that.
"Doesn't matter. You gotta come with me. Please?"
A minute later she was going down the stairs after him.
It was as long a climb down as it had been up, and he stopped to rest partway. Remembering, he held the toy up in his other hand for her to inspect. "I have a new speeder. It's a...." he had to concentrate, he wanted to get the name right- "Sunrunner zX. The Mos Eisley Militia has one."
She took it delicately and turned it over in her free hand. "Pink and purple. That's very pretty."
"When they have colors like that, krayt dragons don't want to eat them. It's important," he said solemnly. "They aren't food colors."
"I'll remember that," she said, so seriously that he had to stare for a moment, trying to figure out if she was mocking him. He thought she might be. It felt kind of like that, and he bristled a little, pulling on her hand to show they should start climbing again and not taking his speeder back. If she was going to be like that, she could carry it for him.
He could feel her wince as they crossed out of the covered shade and into the living pit. "Wha's wrong?"
"Mm. Nothing, dear. Your world is just a lot hotter and brighter than most, and it takes getting used to." Maybe it was because he'd been holding hands for... however long, but Luke got a very clear idea of dark lenses on her face, though she wasn't actually wearing any.
"Wouldn't work, 'less they were special. 'S why farmers don't use them. Glareshades," he elaborated when she just looked at him, and gestured over his eyes. "They don't work here. You should get a hat. Hats cool you down."
She paused for a long moment and the not-sure-ness grew and pointed in a lot of directions, including at amusement and some gray static in her which he'd never felt before in anyone. Weird. Luke knew he wasn't supposed to talk about what was inside people, but...
"Ma'am? You know you got an empty spot? Only... kinda... blank." He tried squinting. It didn't seem to help, but if he just sort of... leaned in... he could feel her more.
She was interesting inside, something he hadn't ever felt before. There were these different layers around the static, right to the surface, and they were also really weird, and everything was shot through with these sort of strands, but he'd felt those before, more in his aunt and uncle and especially Old Man Ben than anyone else, but the static... It was covering something? It was something? Both?
His own voice sounded distant to him. "It's not... it's... it's wrong."
The stranger's fingers twisted free of his slack grasp, and that interesting inside was mostly hid away again. Luke might've tried reaching for it again, but she was looking at him differently. Like she saw him now, not something inside. Or not just that. It was complicated.
"Luke," she started, "hasn't your aunt or uncle told you that not everyone can see people like this? I don't really mind, but other people will find it confusing."
Luke started putting his thumb in his mouth, remembered that he was old enough to not do that now, and lowered his hand. "They say I'm 'magining it. Aunt Beru says I'm fine. Just different." He hadn't told Old Man Ben, not since his aunt and uncle had been so upset after he told them.
"Well dear, if it's good enough for Beru Lars, it's good enough for me. And yes, I know about the blank spot, and I've learned to live with it. Now, I don't want to wake your other aunt up, but didn't you want some water? And then you could tell me about your favorite parts of the farm." The stranger smiled. When he reached up, she took his hand again.
Chapter 4: Guardian
A continuation of Early. I'm going with my headcanon that when Luke was a little kid, Obi-Wan was around the farm a lot more, and Owen didn't outright ban him from it until later.
River was rarely taken aback. It still happened, but she took pleasure in her own skill at facing trying situations with equanimity.
She was taken aback now, or rather, she was taken aback several times today, most recently now. River had never had much to do with small children. Her exposure to them in general, and particularly without their parents or guardians around, was limited. She was not immune to the desire for them, but helping them relieve themselves wasn't part of most soft-edged fantasies.
Still. If it came to that, she could handle it.
"Can you manage by yourself, Luke?"
The child blinked, then abandoned his solemnity long enough to glare up at her with those absurdly large eyes. "'Course I can do it myself! I'm not a baby!"
He was in the refresher room with the door closed before she could conquer the urge to laugh hysterically for long enough to come up with a response. It was kind of sad to know that he'd grow out of passionately insisting on his own maturity one day.
Somehow she doubted she'd been anything like that at his age.
The air down here, even here in the roofless living pit, was cooler than outside, and the pressure was different enough that she felt it immediately when that outer door was opened. There hadn't been any kind of alarm. Were the aunt and uncle back so soon? River knew how to talk to them - at least when Luke was thirteen or older she did, she had to admit, and could talk to strangers without immediately revealing things that would be of interest to the Imperial Inquisition. Might be different with him so small.
She didn't have to find out because there, emerging from the covered section of the stairs from the entrance and just eschewing stairs and vaulting gracefully off the edge of the stair to reach the pit floor, was Obi-Wan Kenobi.
He was highly disheveled, as if he'd been running, and his increasingly lined face was drawn with fear, though in another moment it was composed and stern. A Jedi thing, as she understood. When they couldn't command their own emotions it was usually a bad sign.
"Who are you working for? How did you get here?" he snapped. All right, the Jedi calm was only going so far today.
"Hello to you too, I'm sure it's been a while! Is Qui-Gon with you now?" She didn't give him time to respond. "Of course he is, if I understand it right. Hello, dear, I hope being one with the Living Force agrees with you." She'd asked Luke - a much older Luke, obviously - about these things once and wasn't sure she did have it quite right, but it was worth it to see Obi-Wan's eyes bulge like that. She took pity on him.
"I'm an archaeologist, if you'll remember. I've worked for causes or institutions when it's suited me, but not lately. In your galaxy, I freelance." This wasn't the first time she'd said something of the sort. In case he was trying to read her mind, she focused on the memory of that time she'd passed through Coruscant while he was twenty-five and beardless and had had that long single braid she'd wanted to touch. He'd never let her.
Now his eyes narrowed and widened in recognition, and she could see an easing in some of the protective hostility. Not as much as she might have hoped, but it wasn't unexpected. "Doctor Song," he said guardedly. "You look the same as ever."
"And you look quite distinguished, dear." In fact he looked old for his age, tired and heartbroken and with good reason for both. But... distinguished, yes. That too.
Obi-Wan folded his arms across his chest. She could just see his hands, mostly hidden by his sleeves. "Why are you here?"
Very to the point. River propped one hand on her hip, in front of the holster. She noticed that he didn't react visibly to that proximity. Jedi things again. "Social visit. Luke is a friend. I just arrived quite a bit early, and I'd have left again by now if he hadn't convinced me to come in and have a drink." Not that it had taken that much convincing, even though she'd known it would be awkward.
She saw Obi-Wan's throat tighten under the graying beard. "I won't have you endangering him." Oh, he remembered her, all right. "The boy must be kept safe. He and his family must stay out of the public eye, as well."
"Have some faith in me." River let her voice soften. "I want to protect him too. Safe, well... yes. For now. I have no intention of endangering a child. But you have to know that he'll go out alone on adventures before even I'd be ready to let him." She didn't want to say he was like his father that way. She didn't have to. "And I wouldn't wish the Empire finding out on many people. He's not among them, at any age."
Of course she knew it would happen anyway, and it would be shattering and tragic and far too soon. But 'shattering and tragic and too soon' was different on a nineteen-year-old than on a child small enough that she hadn't been sure he was housebroken.
The fugitive Jedi considered her, thinking or maybe talking to Qui-Gon, she couldn't tell. But whatever he would have said was lost as the refresher door opened and a towheaded blur shot out.
"You're here! You're here! Beeeeeen!"
All of his seriousness gone, Luke ran and leaped at Obi-Wan, who caught and swooped him up in a squirming armful, then settled the boy easily into the crook of his elbow with a groan. "You're getting too big for me to do this, Luke."
"Am not!" Luke grabbed a handful of Obi-Wan's robes and fidgeted, trying to get comfortable, and Obi-Wan bounced him a little so his position adjusted. Luke laughed and flung an arm around the man's neck.
No, River was suddenly sure, she'd been nothing like that as a small child.
The boy quieted and turned to stare at her with very wide eyes. Right, psychic. She flapped her hand - go on, get back to it - and as that didn't seem to have an effect said, "I hope you remembered to wash your hands."
Watching his indignation was always fun. It really was a shame that he'd grow out of it one day.