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In a moment of unaccountable boldness, a system under Hutt influence is added to a Republican document by a hand paid by the gangster lords. The action is unnoticed in the middle of a constitutional amendment pushing emergency powers on the Chancellor’s Office, and the corrupt Senate is already split in focus between passing the amendment and grasping for control over a war in their systems. The Hutts have detected weakness and capitalised on it, finally planting a seed in the spread-thin Republic.

War has pushed Separatist forces to the Outer Rim while interpretations of peace and democracy––and how they are achieved––muddle hearts in the Core of the galaxy. Those who hesitate to give power to the Chancellor’s Office can easily be accused of dragging the war on, and, especially if they are Jedi, being more concerned with dodging congressional oversight than ending the war. Some believe that the moral uprightness of the Jedi Order give weight to the Order’s word in politics, while most believe such uprightness has been wasted on the frontlines and that the Jedi have no spare patience for the difficulties of the Senate. All sides feel alone.

No one knows of Etra and Tyun, Justice and Vengeance, the twin dragon-eggs burning with promise in children’s folktales scattered across sand.

No one knows that they have finally hatched over Tatooine’s horizon.

Except the slave-born, who absorb the whispers with disbelief, at first, then hope. Etra scents liars, no spear or blaster can penetrate his scales, and one swing of his tail carries boulders into the air. The corrupted souls, he simply visits…and leaves them moral, disappeared, or dead in his wake. Tyun moves as smoke and snatches traitors in her claws; the evil, she destroys with a breath of fire. The twin dragons consume evildoers in positions of power too quickly for the ultimate gangsters, the Hutts, to find replacements for, until Tyun finally garrotes Jabba with her tail and Etra visits Jabba’s palace. The monolith is now the final resting place of Jabba’s guards, assassins, slave-dealers, and a rancor.

Tatooine’s economy and security is a mess in the sudden power vacuum. No former slave-dealer dares to fill it. The less supersticious hesitantly accomodate for their employees more and tell themselves in the crushed velvet of night that they don’t engage in what the ruthless, big-time criminals did that earned them the fates they received. The believers cleanse their hearts so that Etra doesn’t slink through their front door. Instead, freed slaves find employment in Tatooine’s economic and communications branches with the sudden need for people to stabilise and run what feels like the entire planet, and they have more than enough experience.

A level-headed woman with a determined spirit as sure as the desert suns builds a government from scratch, and she is successful partly because her unshakeable belief that things will get done inspires those around her. Suddenly, everyone around her is strong. She is Leia, but her blonde-haired shadow calls her Princess. Her trusted people around her, now government officials, form the backbone of Tatooine, but she is the head and heart. “Princess” is more than befitting. Tatooine has no monarchy, nor do they desire another form of masters, but their Leia is a child of the desert suns and of morning dew on evaporators––even-tempered but unstoppable.

In contrast, the unofficial founder of Tatooine’s planetary defence is as fleeting as the wind, and just as catchable. He is soft-spoken and gentle and can bend a blaster in half if he has to. Tatooine’s defence is the mutual agreement between the able––the smugglers and the bounty hunters retiring or taking a pit-stop––to blast anyone who breaks the rules. Even pirates have a code, after all. Tatooine becomes a safe haven for anyone seeking to catch a break, a drink, or a bunk, and the economy prospers even more than when the planet had been under Jabba. The decisions of pirates cannot be pinned on any governmental action, technically, so Tatooine is, for the first time in too long, a secure and…proper planet. The mysterious negotiator is Luke. He can be seen playing with younglings, healing aches of the old with his hands, or, in the rare occasion, humbly and embarrassedly sitting cornered by pirates in a booth as smiles, chatter, and drinks went around. Some criminals affectionately call him, “kid.” He is as characteristic of Tatooine as the binary sunset.

It was only a matter of time for the Hutts to try to reclaim what was theirs.

~

~

Grakkus is the only one of his kind operating from outside Hutt Space with connections even the CIS cannot afford to make enemies out of. Based on Nar Shaddaa, finding him is as easy as falling into trouble on the nicknamed “smuggler’s moon.” After Jabba, Grakkus is the last Hutt anyone wants to meet face-to-face with from the wrong end of a conflict.

Luke goes to him first.

He doesn’t take his secret project, an incomplete yet sleek beast of bought and spare parts that already has sublights and crossed wings. Instead, Luke pays a pair of freighter pilots with a sense of self-preservation that is less than what should be healthy, and orders them to fly him to Nar Shaddaa, stay put, and, for goodness sake, don’t gamble. He clips his lightsaber to his belt, dons a hooded cloak, and enters a cantina for directions. Two humanoids almost abduct him halfway across the floor, and Luke gives them a piece of his mind when they try to drug him or steal his lightsaber. He walks himself into Grakkus’s fortress dragging his abductors along.

“Lord Grakkus,” he greets just before a pair of iridiite hall doors slide open to reveal the Hutt. No doubt Grakkus knows that Luke is Force-sensitive; no point in trying to hide it, so he might as well let Grakkus know that he is always one step ahead. Luke speaks in Basic to grieve the Hutt with the use of a translator, just because, but Grakkus responds in Huttese without hesitation.

“Etra, my, my.” The name is spoken sarcastically. The Hutt has an idea of who and what are behind Tatooine’s dragon tales. Grakkus dismisses his escort and hired abductors, and leads the conversation into a treasure room. Weapons, storage items, and clothing of endangered societies dominate the space, and most prominent of them are Jedi belongings. Luke picks up a holocron from a display and reminds himself that he is a Jedi, that his father died loving him, and that fixing the galaxy in an era not his own is not impossible.

~

“It is a rare pleasure to host you, young Skywalker.”

The young one lifts his head a tad too quick to not be a reaction to the insightful guess. Contrary to the Republic’s knowledge, Skywalker is a common surname on Tatooine––and a name for a line of wine––but only among those of slave descent. Most free people change their last name to a variation of, in order to distance themselves from the implication, but young Luke is not most people. Grakkus has eyes and ears that have their own eyes and ears; he sees all and thus knows all. With his gift to assemble a big picture, Grakkus knows that the deliberate absence of young Luke’s known last name is to preserve Anakin Skywalker’s faultless image and because Luke knows no suitable replacement for a surname. The move is entirely political. It also reveals that young Luke possesses the same gift as Grakkus.

The experience is like searching for a clear reflection in the ghostly-reflective quality of iridiite. By sharing the ability to see the big picture, Grakkus can peer into Luke’s plans, but only vaguely. Young Luke expects significant attention from the Republic in the future and is open to cooperation between him and them, but not under their terms. He is quick-witted, Force-sensitive, and tamed; once, he possessed the recklessness of a free––moisture farm?––boy, but calculated trauma has excised it out of him. Former fighting arena slave, perhaps? With all of Tatooine free and the Outer Rim slave trade in disorder, Grakkus cannot know for sure. He only knows that in certain areas where the Jedi Order and, by extension, the Republic will attempt to step in, young Luke will not budge.

Because whoever traumatised Luke miscalculated. Recklessness can be burned out, but not determination, which is a veritable star hotter than any whip. The master had only pushed Luke to evolve, and now tame is a laughable substitute for Luke’s self-control and precision that allows him to become the focused power of a lightsaber.

Names are for heroes. Mystery is the trait of a warrior.

Luke Skywalker is what Jedi should be.

The Republic and the Order will not see it. Intensity, emotion, willingness to kill––they will label him a vigilante and never look back. Grakkus’s obsession with flawed Jedi history and artefacts can be blamed for his opinion of young Luke, but he already knows that he is not wrong, and that in this, he and young Luke can agree. Kriff, he is actually starting to not want to enslave the young one.

“I know of you,” Luke levitates a holocron in a circle away and back into his palm, “but I really don’t want to work with you in any capacity.”

“You need Tatooine out of my clan’s targeting sights,” Grakkus plays. “I was not close with Jabba. You came to me first.”

“I chose you because you are the most troublesome Hutt alive,” Luke shares, his correction unexpected. “You can respect that, I know. Being someone’s worst nightmare.” Grakkus greedily drinks the truth in Luke’s words. Blue eyes flick up to Grakkus’s face.

“Perhaps we can come to an agreement,” Grakkus agrees.

“Direct the Hutt Clan’s interests away from Tatooine, permanently,” Luke says. “We are both nightmares to your clan, from my understanding. This will only be proof of that.” Grakkus is thrilled to hear his reputation stated so, as fact. If the gangster isn’t already sold, the holocron floating up from Luke’s hand and slowly unlocking with a blue-white light does the trick. “A treat,” says Luke generously.

~

~

Grakkus becomes the first Hutt to defy his clan in centuries, and Luke sips blue milk tea.

The Hutts’ reconquest of Tatooine never comes.

Chapter Text

There is a young man on a crowded street. His gaze follows the pedestrians’ and their flow sets his pace; with a flicker of a thought, you see him and then the next forgettable stranger. The fatal difference between him and you, however, is the lightsaber hanging from his belt.

Your target is female, mid-twenties, human. The plaza camera feed says that a man in the sleek leather cut of a pilot’s uniform preceded the target’s arrival in a well-covered meeting place, and your chrono’s looping tone marks an hour-long conversation. The moment the target reveals her head, she’s dead. A shadowed figure finally steps out, and your trigger finger twitches––ah, an Alderaanian pilot. Armed, too, which is not unusual for someone whose planet’s only defence is an atmospheric shield without the follow-up of an organised army. Your first blaster shot enters the pilot’s dominant shoulder; the second flies for the target’s head.

There is a young man leaving a crowded street. The fatal difference between him and you is that he won’t kill you.

A green blade reflects the shot back, destroying your long-range blaster. The target has a cup of water pouring onto the pilot’s wound to clean it, but her eyes pinpoint your location with frightening accuracy, and the young man from earlier has vanished. Every assassin knows what that means. You’re throwing your gear into a bag and abandoning the roof for a light-speed waiting in the planet’s only interspace airport while resisting the urge to look over your shoulder, but you only make it to the entrance. A Duros steps out, blocks the doorway, and fires once. The witnesses of the event only nod in approval or continue on with their business, and the unusual hum of agreement in the air is a message to the new or the reckless.

Welcome to the home of dragons.

Don’t break the code.

~

~

“I hear you’re assembling a beauty of your own? Saw your name on one of the permanent garages of the airport.” It’s shameless prodding. The personal effects of the deceased assassin offer worthless information, but the princess claims to already have an idea on who wants a nameless politician dead, so that topic is pointless. The hint of a new ship on Tatooine is much juicier.

Luke shrugs. “I often travel off-planet for ship parts. Not everything can be found between passers-by and Jawas.”

“Wouldn’t the travel cost of a light-speed and her one or two pilots exceed that of the actual parts you need?”

“Sometimes.”

Vasilek chuckles. “No one, not even your friends, are gonna give you discounts.” The teal-skinned Duros adjusts the rifle leaning against his hip, half-aware of the horizon in case womp rats ambush Luke. “Your ship parts must be dirt cheap.”

“Or I just have friends who give me discounts.” Some teeth peek out from Luke’s grin as the kid glances up from his skyhopper. Vasilek hums and points out a parallel with the drinks he and other rowdies like to push on Luke, and a hydrospanner clatters into the skyhopper as a flustered Luke denies the comparison. “I don’t know why you guys keep doing that, anyway…!” Luke bites his tongue when a sharp edge of the ‘hopper’s interior catches his hand in a dig for his spanner. Vasilek allows the comment. The odd “alliance” of pirates and former gangsters like Vasilek who are the main enforcers of the young code have learned that Luke possesses a stubbornly humble demeanour when he doesn’t have to intimidate others. Luke and Vasilek know that free drinks are a sign of gratitude, respect, or both between the rougher citizens of the galaxy, but after the first six rounds following the founding of Tatooine’s planetary defence, Luke finds the offers excessive. And bad for his liver.

He’s a little cute like that.

“Did you hear? Some ol’ buddies of a drinking pal say there’s a storm two systems away, and I’m not talking explosive space dust. A line of sabotaged pirate ships, droid litter, aristocrat meddling…the perfect nightmare.”

“Really?”

“You know I cannot lie to you.”

“I can’t always detect dishonesty, Vasilek.” With kind eyes and a calm voice, Luke might as well suggest the former gangster to relax. Vasilek does, but he impishly quips, “Cannot or will not?” Luke rolls his eyes despite his age. “Vasilek,” he admonishes, and they both chuckle. Vasilek is one of Tatooine’s former big-time gangsters who has seen either Etra or Tyun and isn’t jailed or dead. He does not know how many more there are like him across the planet, but he knows that they are as silent as he is about the experience and, especially, what the dragons are like in the flesh. The secrecy is part-wariness, part-admiration. Vasilek is spared because he chose to retire from Jabba’s ways, and while he’ll still whip out a good shot at scum that don’t deliver, nowadays it’s because they’re breaking one of Etra’s laws or because they’re two metre-long vermin. Blasted womp rats. Vasilek shares more cantina gossip and elaborates on his friend’s friend’s rumour, and Luke’s eyes betray an untainted curiosity usually found in people who can’t make Hutts heel.

“Where are you from, Etra?”

Luke leans on his skyhopper like the grooves are made for his body. “Moisture farming,” he replies. Well, there goes the betting pool. The crusty patrons of Chalmun’s Cantina believe anything between former bounty hunter to marooned money-launderer enough to gamble their credits on it. Vasilek knows that Luke isn’t the latter because that’s what Vasilek was when Jabba caught him and forced a change in allegiances, but Vasilek also has a hundred credits on a variation of the former bounty hunter story. Not that he’ll tell his circle that he’s wrong. Even though Vasilek has retired from Jabba’s ways, he still likes his money.

“Don’t believe me, Vasilek?” Luke asks with an amused tug of the end of his lips.

Mother of moons, of course no one will believe that. The sneaky rascal already knows Vasilek’s reaction and is amusedly watching. Vasilek gives his company a look. “You’re no liar, Luke, but moisture farming isn’t all there is to you. Unless ‘vaporators have always needed a lil’ sweet talking and a mean right hook.” Bless the day that evaporators also need the full force of Etra’s charm and mercilessness. The green blade that came out for the one second to deflect a blaster shot is a sight Vasilek has witnessed only in relation to dragon business, but now he understands that the weapon is more of an extension to Luke’s hand than a blaster. Given how flashy the blade is, Vasilek respects Luke’s discretion. He just hopes it doesn’t get him killed.

“There’s another rumour the cantina has heard, Luke, and this one’s more interesting, in my opinion….”

~

~

The rumour that Vasilek hears is like the worst disease. It consumes the planet quickly, striking hardest in the cluttered chambers and hallways of Tatooine’s main government building that is reminiscent of mice tunnels, and joined to the flimsies and monitors packed in the life-size maze sit Tatooine’s best politicians: resourceful sentients with a market seller’s gift for haggling but with the charisma to be welcomed a second time. Minor changes in grammar and a peripheral awareness of galactic events boost the politicians’ effectiveness in their jobs, and Leia can easily list seven Tatooine natives among her governmental aids who are now more politically impactful than her. More than half fulfill their responsibilities in or around the main building, while the rest are scattered across the planet. They all hear the rumour within the same day.

Yanish is one of them, despite herself. The Rodian’s filter ceases to exist when she isn’t on the radio or in front of a crowd, and social etiquette makes graceful company out of her in the rarest of occasions by choice. She interrupts Leia’s handling of delicate emails with an absurd idea, suddenly enough to crash any intelligible thought to a stop and consequentially set Leia and therefore the planetary government back by days. The timing is disastrous. Yanish is bold––and rude––but she is not, however, reckless. She knows from experience that fabrics reveal their true material under concentrated heat.

“I hear Tatooine can have a galactic senator, now.”

Leia doesn’t look up from her monitor. “This is Tatooine. You’ll hear that the Chancellor is pregnant and that droids take spice.” After a beat, she continues in a lower voice, “I am open to considering a seat in the Senate, but above all I want to clarify where our system stands in the Republic. Tatooine will drop out if it is in her best interests.”

Yanish is bold, and wise, but she is not Leia.

Leia has known about the rumour weeks ago.

“Who wants to convince Tatooine to stay in the Republic?” Yanish points out as she drops into a chair, surrendering. She doesn’t question Leia as the best choice for senator not only because of Leia’s genuine skills, but also due to the reality that Leia is the expected choice of Tatooine’s people, including Yanish. The harsh reality is, however, that the planet is a former Hutt’s sandbox and is strategically valueless. The Republic will waste time and money to send even one troop over, and the Separatists will only corner themselves if they visit Tatooine. Anyone who leaves Tatoo space is free to be tracked, raided, or blasted, and as pirates’ favourite hangout, the Republic and the CIS are hesitant to fly near. Yanish is as sure as the desert suns that no pirate of Tatooine wants to help the Republic with their civil war, either.

Leia pauses, not in thought but hesitation. “There may be Republicans who want a fresh eye on their political system and its possible flaws.”

Yanish guffaws. “Republicans who want Tatooine’s opinion on internal corruption? The galaxy is ending.”

The galaxy might as well. The Chancellor buys up the loyalty of more star systems as his constitutional powers and wealth increase. In a viscious circle, the purchased votes push the Chancellor’s proposals into action and slip more power into his Office, from which he can persuade cooperation out of more senators. Leia’s purpose revolves around an empire-free galaxy, but on Yanish’s words, Leia’s mind strays to her father.

Bail is the only Republican to reach out to her concerning the details of Tatooine’s possible future in the Republic, and with the cloak-and-dagger skills of a politician raised to help overthrow an empire, Leia is tactfully writing back in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it agreement concerning the current affairs of the Chancellor’s Office and the correlating actions of allegedly corrupt senators. Bail and Leia have so far woven a detailled idea more than a true plan between the two of them, and Bail references and contacts nameless sympathisers as he writes back, but Leia is not in the fold yet. If there is one. In this day and age, Republicans worry about sounding like Separatists more than voicing their discomfort over the upper echelon’s ways, and the Rebel Alliance only formally formed in the dawning days of the Empire.

Leia returned Bail’s prized covert messenger with a shoulder wound, so even without Tatooine’s history, she has little going for her. Compared to Leia, Bail has much more to lose.

Either way, they have to decide if they will stick to their beliefs all the way to the Galactic Chamber, and soon. Bail will be on a forgettable asteroid pit stop tonight, waiting for Leia to appear or not. By the time Bail sees his adopted daughter’s face for the first time, they will have ten hours until the galaxy’s eyes turn to a podium with Tatooine’s name on it.

“Are you going to go?” Yanish asks without prompting, like Leia’s conscience. Leia considers Yanish thoughtfully.

~

~

Tatooine’s girl is pretty. Bail appreciates the simple braid over the head that curbs wild baby hair, and the fists by either side of a white dress betray a nervousness Bail hasn’t seen since taking his first assignment as a delegate. He reigns in a chuckle, not wishing to offend, and he allows the Outer Rim “princess” to offer him a seat in the forgettable asteroid café they chose for their meeting via messenger. She calms down, thankfully, and dives into a passionate yet pleasant discussion, as Bail expected. Some people just need to take a breath before tackling work, and Bail is sitting across a young woman who can’t come from a more different world than if they both tried because of a mutual concern that will end up turning the galaxy on its head. He knows he can trust this potential ally, though he struggles to find a narrative for Mon to accept. Meeting Leia in the flesh has only proven that he can trust her persistence and honesty, and despite the attempted assassination on her life from the blind side, she isn’t even blinking at the possibility of offending the wrong people. Possibly because she’s also looking forward to punching the Senate in the gut.

Leia, unlike her father, fully intends to transform the universe. She knows that Bail won’t take certain ideas of hers seriously because he doesn’t see a worst-case scenario beyond restructuring of the Senate, but Leia is taking and pushing for whatever changes she can. Small progress is still progress. She is also guilty of a warm tingle in her stomach when she sees, listens, and speaks with her father, because here, they address each other, “Senator Organa,” and “Senator Leia,” and it’s the stuff of dreams. At one point her throat turns hoarse, and Leia accepts a glass of water without correcting Bail’s assumption that she is simply wearing out her voice.

She’s talking politics with her dad, and they’re standing as equals.

However, talking politics is also, by nature, brutal reality covered in tact.

“…but if Tatooine recognises itself as a member of the Republic, systems otherwise inaccessible may become open to interacting with your planet.” Bail passes several flimsies over. “With time, Mid-Rim systems free of Separatist heat may find the time and resources to send teachers and materials to Tatooine that will optimistically settle into a recurrent form of aid. Perhaps in a following decade or two, the Senate will officially recognise the reality of Tatooine’s education and act on it.”

Leia grimaces at the numerical possibility of Bail’s ideas. Threepio would have a fit. “Very well,” she decides. Bail hardly masks his surprise. Leia sighs. “Politics is a lot of risk-taking. My answer would be very different if Tatooine was under the threat of the Hutts or another third party that the Republic would prefer to appease than acknowledge.”

It is Bail’s turn to wince. “I wholeheartedly agree. Unofficially.”

“If we are speaking off the record then, Senator Organa,” Leia slides the flimsies back into a stack, “I wish to approach less popular subjects.” Before her adopted father can panic or take on his warrior face, as a young princess once dubbed, Leia squarely meets his gaze. “When I agree to joining the Senate, I will act on concerns we have shared between the lines of our formal messages.”

The Alderaanian pauses, thoughts churning. “If you become the voice of reason,” Bail warns, “you become the bad guy.”

“Either way, Tatooine will not receive Republican aid in any form: military, economic, or medical,” Leia points out. “There is not enough trust or credits for that. When I speak from that podium tomorrow as a representative of a single-planet system that, despite the absence of aid, wishes to remain in the Republic, I become a clear, loud realisation that something is Wrong with the congressional procedures. When I say that the Chancellor’s Office is consuming power like water, I mean it.

“Senator Leia.” Bail smiles. “You are one devastating politician.”

~

~

A vast expanse of starless space away, darkness falls on a motionless pirate crew and broken battle droids, whose pale parts stick out like carved bones in the only square of light that silently breaks the shadows. A booted sole peeks into the room with a faint tap, as if thinking, and the following step is just as cautious and quiet. The third one into the dark is unheard as a long cloth drags behind over an unmoving limb with a scratchy whisper. Eventually, a holographic navigation table flickers alive by unseeing fingers, its weak green light illuminating a young face like an apparition’s. By all rights, he shouldn’t be there. The rumour trail leading to the lifeless ship was too juicy to pass up, however.

A wealthy landlord whose property spans entire star systems is self-acclaimed to be as just with his intergalactic dealings as he is with his private matters, translating to an intolerance of criminal history and violence in both tenants and sentients he crosses paths with politically and, from the state of the pirate ship, literally. The ethnic data distribution of tenants hints to an unspoken prejudice against non-human sentients, so the landlord’s business agreements with non-humans feel off, particularly his funding of their war against the Republic. The landlord’s personal involvement in skirmishes is also uncharacteristic of any aristocrat, particularly one who––despite his resolute departure from an order of peacekeepers––genuinely believes in violence as a last resort by the truest meaning of the term. For the landlord, the Separatist War isn’t a means for independence from the Republic, but a lesson. And, if the landlord is the final piece in a pincer attack, a…cleansing. Most non-human systems and organisations with a corrupt history are in the CIS; if the landlord is as calculating as in the worst-case scenario, countless non-human races will face near-extinction and life in prison by the Republic’s hand, be it judicial or military. All while the aristocrat walks free after a convincing change in allegiances. The side-effect of destroying non-human races will almost seem like the Republic’s doing.

But the landlord’s choice weapon betrays a cruel fate, in another future. The Emperor and Vader were the only christened Siths, and from Luke's personal experience, they never liked to share. The aristocrat will never see his plan come to fruition.

The hairs on Luke’s neck stand up not a bone-chilling second before his resultant alertness whips out a lit lightsaber with a fluid motion born from experience. Its activation just catches a hissing blade for his throat, and Luke snaps his hilt forward to block another decapitating move in the following seconds where one is usually catching up with the moment. Experience and force-sensitivity sing across the two blades, and Luke knows he is facing a very different breed from Vader. Luke doesn’t know who is stronger, but he is sure that this one is a more dedicated swordsman. A warrior aristocrat.

“Count Dooku.”

“I’m afraid,” the elderly Sith replies coolly, “I don’t have the pleasure of knowing your name.”

Chapter Text

“Next time, I will not be your conscience.” A ribbon of poly-cotton crosses her vision. “I will push Ruoldi to, and then he will be the one getting dressed like a prized racing eopie who’s expected to run planetary affairs after his crafty, sweet-smiling princess drops the prestigious responsibility on him and gallivants around the Core playing senator.”

“Ruoldi can’t be pushed to do anything unless he decides to stop lazing around.”

“Stupid geniuses. Even asleep he solves more problems than a hard-working civil servant.”

“Who has been promoted to Prime Minister of her planet.”

“Unwillingly!”

“You’re the people’s choice.” Leia fixes a flap of Yanish’s dress, and the cheap outfit transforms into a sleek, modern look of desert-inspired fashion. Yanish hates her princess. “Serve your people with pride,” Leia says softly, and now Yanish definitely can’t say no. She never planned to, of course, but Leia has seen through to her nervousness, and now the princess’s famous power is seeping into Yanish, making her feel as strong as she needs to be.

Yanish can only hope to honour her planet and her friend as Tatooine’s first Prime Minister. The election and results stormed in more furiously than podracers near the finish line after Leia’s announcement at the height of night in Mos Eisley. With Tatooine’s newfound democracy, the planet’s citizens divulge in political affairs almost doubly more in turn-up rates than long-time citizens of democratic systems; the unexpected blessing is half the reason why Tatooine’s young government can function, much less efficiently. The election’s swiftness can also be accredited––and herein lies the true beauty of a silver tongue––to Leia’s subtle approval of Yanish in her global holo announcement.

Said princess glances at the door for the fifth time that day. A seamstress scurries to Leia’s side with more material and a threaded needle between her teeth, but Leia waves the seamstress to Yanish instead, who was in the cloth business before bringing her gift of creativity and stubbornness into politics anyway.

“These two patterns over each other, then listen to whatever she says,” Leia instructs, and the seamstress dutifully sews a Prime Minister’s appearance together.

Yanish has to remain rooted in her spot, but she calls after Leia with a jerk of her head. “You’re not leaving me here!”

“You look nice,” Ruoldi announces his arrival with a half-playful, half-serious remark, and Leia taps him in.

“Make sure she doesn’t bite the seamstress’s head off,” Leia pauses at the doorway, “and you haven’t seen Luke, have you?” She doesn’t have to specify who she speaks of. A hum of excitement at the negotiator’s name descends upon the room, but Ruoldi obliviously shrugs like the vestiges of sleep still cling onto him; Yanish swears that every time she sees him, the greater his idiocy has grown. Leia’s lips thin distractedly before she disappears, and Yanish is left alone to cooperate with a fashionista and babysit Ruoldi.

Several minutes later and a few blocks down from the main government building, Tatooine’s princess ambushes the unrefined atmosphere of Chalmun’s Cantina with her majestic presence, and half the patrons choke on their drinks while the other half trip over themselves to tip sometimes-nonexistent hats to her like gentlefolk. She smiles at them, but loosely so they can return to their conversations, and approaches the owner and bartender of the establishment, Chalmun. “Have you seen Luke?” she asks. “I haven’t seen him all this morning. I’m not sure he was even aware of the election last night.”

Vasilek wants to slam his head into a wall. He should have known that a single rumour of activity in the peripherals of Tatoo space would attract Luke to the danger like bees to honey. Maybe Luke will play diplomat and calm down whoever’s there, but Vasilek still sends a prayer for whoever crosses Etra’s path should the kid turn serious. The Rodian’s thoughts are unnoticeable––the twitch of an eye behind a full pint––and even with many sentients facing Vasilek, only Chalmun sees it because bartenders are supposed to know when a patron is dissatisfied or will want a refill. Then Leia’s head turns to Vasilek with frightening accuracy, having caught the microexpression, and Chalmun moves for the glasses he needs to clean with an ear out for their conversation.

“Vasilek, correct?”

And the Rodian folds in five syllables.

“‘M sorry to claim some responsibility for this, princess, but the kid might’a left planetside last night to follow a rumour trail.” Leia’s eyes meet the Rodian’s, and Vasilek’s desire to speak proper and have a better excuse is as great as his respect for the little lady who built Tatooine’s government by almost sheer will alone. Leia leans against the bar, and even the cheap surface becomes a study desk or a war room table.

“Luke is off-planet,” she summarises flatly. Vasilek gulps in realisation. He inadvertently sent a dragon with the force and willpower of desert suns to outer space, where no one truly knows about Tatooine mythology, much less takes it seriously.

Which they should.

“Tell me about the rumours,” Leia says, and Vasilek obliges. Inwardly, he decides he has got to stop sharing rumours with the kid.

~

~

The shadows of hand rails, disabled light fixtures, and the navigation table stretch and dance like dark fire up the walls and ceiling as thin blades weave the air between Luke and Dooku together as deadly needles and almost-grazes. Minutes or hours have passed. It’s pointless data; right now, only the duel exists. Dooku is comfortable at swordplay even with unreliable lighting that plays tricks on the mind; he sees with the Force, shifts his weight, and slides through footwork so that his blade and body counterbalance each other as one entity, and the opponent’s sabre falls into his pace. The defensive sweeps of Luke’s blade make a sad parody of Djem So, the natural enemy of Dooku’s Makashi, and by the time the aristocrat grasps Luke’s flow, Dooku can count down to the moment of the boy’s counter-strike––! Dooku flies into the navigation table and rights himself just in time to lock his blade with Luke’s and pull their duel back into some open floor by the navigation room’s wide viewport. The boy had pushed him with the Force!

…Rude.

The dash of creativity forces Dooku to acknowledge Niman, Form VI, as his opponent’s go-to style, and he adjusts himself accordingly. Flexibility is a prized trait––

A backflip onto a low light fixture. Dooku’s opponent apparently grasps the advantages of Ataru.

Dooku guides his lightsaber with the Force in a spinning toss at Luke, but the daring move and warping shadows do not startle the boy, who passively dodges and allows the blade to bounce off the ceiling and back into Dooku’s dominant hand as Luke leaps down with the axe strike of Djem So. The return of the initial form in its fully-actualised state catches Dooku wrong-footed, and only experience redirects a terrifyingly powerful attack into a singe of Dooku’s cape and a hair-rising scent of ozone in the air. Dooku makes a cut at Luke’s back, but the boy sweeps his blade over his shoulder without looking in the Force-intuitive move of Soresu.

Luke pounces on Dooku, every stroke enough to make one’s wrists wobble and every other blurring blade a distraction or a counter-strike. If this is a lightsaber form, it is one that has been pushed through evolution and refinement until it became perfection so that the best of the other classical forms within it elevate the sabre style above existing practices. Dooku wonders if his opponent is aware of the classical forms. He wonders if his opponent even knows what a form is.

In a clever move to separate Luke’s head from his body, Dooku dips into Vaapad, a flashy but brutal style that visibly startles Luke, but in a blank-minded flash of intuition, Luke knocks Dooku’s swing off course and executes a front kick through the count’s chest. Luke’s already rolling his wrist in a disabling move meant to chop off the dominant hand as Dooku falls inelegantly onto his behind, but the green sabre peels Dooku’s hilt off instead with the same insane accuracy that blew up the Death Star. The two swordsmen’s positions imitate Luke’s and Vader’s from the second Death Star, but Luke’s level-headedness and Dooku’s shock replace any painful, addicting emotion. They both see in the assisted sight of the Force the ripe opportunity to burn Luke’s blade through Dooku’s heart mid-beat, but the image fades with the retraction of Luke’s sabre, and time moves on.

Dooku breathes.

“Your hesitation is your weakness.”

Luke clips his lightsaber to his belt. “I’m not here to kill you.”

“You want to convince me?” Dooku echoes words he has heard before. His irritation conquers his disbelief at a swordsman disabling his weapon. “I refuse to regress to the Light’s ignorance. The Dark Side is knowledge, and knowledge is power.”

“If the Dark Side is more powerful, then why are you the one on his knees?”

At this, Dooku picks himself off the floor without removing his eyes from Luke, and the latter gives him all the time the aging aristocrat needs. Luke fights a smile.

“The Dark Side is power,” Dooku reiterates.

“That’s nice,” Luke says. “Would you like a protein bar before we go?”

The now pitiful excuse for a navigation room creaks with the flunctuating pull of the ship’s artifical gravity, and the ship’s small aircraft ports sit at the end of a narrow hallway that stretches an entire kilometer through the ship. A light hanging by its last wire takes the moment to whine and snap off the ceiling with a following crash of transparisteel that would make an ewok jump but only encourages Dooku to grimace. He hates to admit it, but his private cruiser and its battle droids are part of the wreckage they’re breathing limited air in, and the only other sentient in the room bears no ill will, otherwise Dooku’s sensitivity to the Dark Side of the Force would have picked up on it as a brush of intuition. The…skilled duellist must have his own ship to have happened across the stranded Dooku, who is certainly not embarrassed. That would be un-aristocratic––

“Where are you going?”

“…To my ride?” Long bangs bounce with a backwards glance. “Aren’t you coming?”

This one can use some lessons in manners.

They talk about the Sith, the Jedi, and politics. With a kilometre of littered and poorly lit ship space to cover, little else breaks the distant creaks of metal one more groan away from unleashing silent death by vacuum. Dooku already knows he cannot ambush his company or win in a lightsaber-less fight against him because the air around the young man hums like a hyperdrive prepared for light speed. The Dark Side urges, Destroy, but Dooku’s instincts whisper,

Anyone but this one.

The young man, Luke, is well-centered and unafraid despite the threat that the Dark Side senses of him, and he provides an ear and counterargument to Dooku’s passionate opinions––a rarity, as all Jedi would sooner numb themselves with outdated rules or wack at Dooku with a lightsaber than listen to him. Which is Kenobi and Skywalker in a nutshell, and in that order. The Sith are far more flexible and thus can do what the Jedi cannot, as the Jedi are stuck in tradition and under the thumb of the Senate––a self-crafted noose that Sidious and Dooku have so easily tightened for their use.

To Dooku’s surprise, Luke genuinely agrees that the currently corrupted Senate cannot serve the galaxy well. The young duellist possesses a tolerance for aggressive tactics that better suits Separatists, but with an affection for equality usually found in small-time rebels in a planetary civil war. He talks about his home planet, Tatooine, and the changes the dust ball has experienced because of a restructuring in leadership, no sugarcoating the fall of Jabba. Mythology falls from his lips like facts told jokingly, and the independence and unity of his people warms his tone and his unnaturally piercing gaze. Dooku already knows about the Hutts’ failure to reclaim their only property outside Hutt Space and about Tatooine’s transformations if only to satisfy professional curiosity, but there is a difference in hearing the events from a living witness, regardless of possible bias. Dooku and Luke cannot see eye-to-eye, however, on what is best for the galaxy.

“Your answer,” Luke summarises, “is to kill all who are unworthy of democracy, including non-human sentients.” They have been arguing this particular topic for the better part of thirty minutes. At one point, Luke bumped his head on a low-hanging beam because of his passion, although Dooku blames poor lighting and scattered droid parts for the count’s almost tripping into a wall.

“Yet you believe in cutting off the head of the snake, and then burning out the corrupted,” Dooku dismisses. “An ideal solution.”

“One Tatooine has already experienced.” That nearly stops Dooku in his tracks. Luke’s Tatooine gives hope. Corrupted systems can change, and…without the Sith.

“The Jedi are weak.”

“The Order is almost strong,” Luke allows. “It only lacks the power behind selflessness, and that is love.”

“I can’t believe that.”

“Tell me you’ve never loved your mentors before, no matter how flawed they came.” Luke’s voice gains a challenging edge, encouraging Dooku to sink deep into the fire that rages between his lungs. “Or your students, or their students.” Leaping up, unbidden, comes the memory of Qui-Gon and young Kenobi’s name on his lips, and Dooku barely reigns in a startled gasp. He fiercely wrestles his sudden emotion back into shape, feeling his chest flopping as he does so, and, inexplicably, pride blooms in the middle of the chaos.

No!

But he isn’t denying the hidden question. The selflessness and delight that dance with his memories of teaching Qui-Gon and of witnessing young Kenobi’s growth have taken aflame in the heat of Dooku’s power and made Dooku so determined, unwavering, and unhesitant in everything; so…sure. It terrifies him.

“If this is how you are,” Dooku says breathlessly, “you will ace the Trials.”

Luke smiles. “I do believe I’m already a Jedi.”

The two stumble through debris for an aircraft port.

“I’m still irritated with you,” Dooku adds.

~

The Force melts into sudden brightness for a glorious breath, and even the oppressing darkness reaching farther than the rims of the galaxy cannot deny the silver echoes off its wavelengths. No trained Force-sensitive can make sense of their singing nerves––has an adversary died? a potential ally born?––or grasp enlightenment from their invisible aid. Light or Dark, they can only sense this:

Change.

The universe is a twisting latticework of trillions of dust and hearts connected only by the synaptic magnetism of alignment and decay; a sudden reconstruction of one nerve sends a different frequency and, like a line of dominoes, minutely reconfigures the entities that pass on and receive the signal, helpless to their own natures. The universe changes despite itself. The inescapable power that precedes inherent laws of reality finds evidence of its existence in the altered rhythm of life; none can claim such power in abundance, or grasp reigns for the nameless creature. As when a bell is rung and another hums to the tune, so this metamorphosis finds a dormant thread between two souls and strikes the dead connection into a glow as a mallet onto metal, wild and sparking for scattered moments. Sometimes, the embers find other particles.

Change is as excruciating as having one’s heart torn out, or a heart sown in.

The universe aches, but it will heal. Even the briefest ember burns change into a soul and sparks a new perspective, and most will confuse it with an epiphany or a slight reconfiguration of decision-making that is as possible as a coin falling face-up: impulsive, and with no one to blame. Most flickering lives in the universe do not even encounter such an experience. One life, however, is a satellite turned just the right degrees to absorb misdirected synapses of the latticework around it and to be hit full-force by the falling star of an ember. A soul that is one in a trillion––always the first to suffer, last to die. Oh-bi, wa-un.

~

~

Blasted Hutts can find a garbage dump or slither into a hole where they belong, or so Anakin’s body hums in vicious agreement with as he slowly backs up into a wall while nearly breaking his wrists trying to ward off the twenty or so blaster bolts stitching the air between him and death. His protection currently consists of his lightsaber and the dancing nerves crawling between his muscles and under his skin. He knows it must be the nervousness that dropped on his chest like a baby bantha when a hostile exchange between a freighter and a pirate ship turned out to be the flashy, destructive disagreement of territory between two Hutts with––thanks to Anakin’s impulsiveness––two Jedi stranded on a Hutt-owned freighter and their private ships in suspended pieces. He was just trying to help.

“Anakin, mind on the moment,” Obi-Wan urges from Anakin’s right when a blaster bolt singes Anakin’s glove and his attempt to deflect it results in his ‘saber brushing Obi-Wan’s ear. Distantly, Anakin wonders if Obi-Wan knows when his mind isn’t blank with a swordsman’s focus during a battle where his old master would really, really appreciate it. At the same time, Obi-Wan’s awareness might simply stem from such cases where he nearly loses a limb to the only Jedi partner capable of it and who regardless graduated into knighthood. Somehow.

Pushee chuba!” the Hutt-hired crew hollers above the scream of blasters. “Bolla neechu, poodoo!” Anakin shouts back and barely catches a bolt to his face. Obi-Wan would sigh if they weren’t the closest to dying since Geonosis, and the fact bubbles up and catches in Anakin’s throat as a hysterical laugh. The famous duo left the front lines for a secret recon mission just three days ago, and not one minute into neutral space do they trip over a Huttese clusterkriff that promises neither Republican back-up nor immunity from Separatist attacks. Anakin wants to be angry, but more than any primal force right now, he feels scared. This act of bravery in a corner against a small Huttese army is the manifestation of his desire to live that is so great that he would will reality into his favour if he could, but knowing he can’t.

So he snaps his blade every which way and drags air into his lungs faster while Obi-Wan is the steady presence by his shoulder with a reliable Soresu that will one day burn out. Not today––Force, not today. “Ana–––“ A scream tears through Anakin’s nerves. It’s the Force, or his thoughts, but the jagged cry piercing his head tries to catch Obi-Wan’s falling body and can do nothing but let Obi-Wan slip through its fingers and hit the ground bonelessly. Anakin’s saber miraculously deflects a blaster bolt onto a mounted control pad behind the firing crew, and a door drops between the two groups with a locking thud.

“Obi-Wan," Anakin says breathlessly––he doesn’t even know how they can still breath after that exchange––and gathers his partner into his arms. Obi-Wan is conscious and his eyes are open, but something is ravaging his body and overwhelming his mind, perhaps not in that order. The Soresu master taps Anakin’s arm with the back of his hand to berate him for his distraction or to crack a pitiful joke, but the unknown force––Force, a vision!––claws its way back into Obi-Wan’s focused centre and scatters any comprehensive thought left, rousing a fever in Obi-Wan’s body. Blue eyes shutter closed, breathing dropping into a slower rise of the chest, and the freighter jolts with a chilling conclusion to the deep-space battle; the other Huttese ship fired a finishing shot. Two of the Order’s best Jedi are now slumped on the floor of a storage closet awaiting death or, on the naturally slim chance it comes, a miracle.

Obi-Wan trembles with a distress the body can’t handle, and Anakin smooths Obi-Wan’s hair back, feels his hand come away slick, and wipes the sweat on his robes. A memory, one of countless identical experiences, arises unbidden: of classes in the salles; sparring on mats; catching a bite on the battlefield; and Obi-Wan berating him, unaware of the stain––blood, food––on the Coruscanti’s cheek. “Don’t wipe your hands on your robes!” Anakin bites his quivering lip. Suddenly, like a child. Kenobi and Skywalker only sweat away their troubles and victories like holovid heroes. On two hours of sleep and crashing from adrenaline, they never cry.

“Peace,” Anakin recites for Obi-Wan, feeling half-silly without a conscious listener, “not emotion. Serenity, not passion. Ignorance––” Wrong order. Wrong Order.

Obi-Wan’s pulse flutters, like Shmi’s, and Anakin swallows his heart back into place.

They never cry.

Anakin opens his mouth. “When Darkness stretches across the Sky and You are Lost in the Rocks or Dry Seas, follow the Brightest Star Home.” Anakin’s voice fails twice, but he dutifully continues on, quoting his mother and her mother before her. He smooths Obi-Wan’s hair back again, finding strength. “For the Brightest Star can Never be Lost so it may Guide the Lost. And should Home Join the Stars or Slip Away into the Dark, Justice and Vengeance will Rise from the Horizon and Scatter Darkness. In the Worst of Times, They will Hatch and Fulfill Their Namesake as Dragons upon the Vile and Hollow….”

~

Leia chooses a simple white dress for her attire to the Galactic Chamber. The reminder of politics’ true purpose––the pure goal to serve and protect––will be all that the Republicans ever see when she steps forward. If she dies by their hand on their doorstep, Tatooine will know, and her death will not be without effect. Luke may treasure justice as his guide, but he is also a Rebel at heart and a citizen of a different time; if their efforts dissolve into nothing, there is always the final option to commit what Luke’s father did. A last resort. Leia avoids acknowledging the possibility that the self-sacrificing, familial devotion she and her twin share may find origin in the birth father, and she slips into fair-coloured clothing every day as a reflection of her goal and her––fragile, something whispers––heart.

Luke’s clothing is dark on the outside which only enemies can see, but a loose flap near his neck betrays a white inner lining like the grounded purity of his spirit. The collar comes undone as he steps into a ship with Dooku trailing behind, and Luke’s heart peaks out. (Sometimes, however, his soul yearns for colour––the orange freedom of sailing across stars and skimming treelines of countless different planets. It yearns the same way Leia’s does for the pastel blues of her childhood on Alderaan, and aches. Like the universe after an irreversible change. Or the experience of being torn from the lives and friends they know to a strange reality.)

And the dominoes fall.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Leia, I have a new friend C––“

“Nope. Remember what I said? No Siths in my house.”

“But––“

“Not buts, Luke, you can leave him at the airport.”

He straightens up and adopts a wise man’s air. “I just want to allow him the opportunity to learn how Tatooine founded its government.”

Leia pauses. She knows where a stack of flimsies about Jabba’s fall lie, among other physical records of Tatooine’s recent history. The records room sits at the edge of the main government building where open desert and small evaporators have given that side of the building the label of “back,” and aside from the hum of machines at work, the area is quiet. Of course, the threat of womp rats remains the same. Sometimes Luke parks his skyhopper there to tinker with, but that’s in the rare occasion when he isn’t among Tatooine’s people or assembling his X-Wing.

“Back room, but that’s it,” she compromises. “While I have you, I want your advice; I travel to Coruscant within the hour and am allowed two bodyguards. And don’t even consider it, Mr. Jedi.”

Luke slumps where he stands. “I’m not wearing the traditional patterns,” he points out.

“You’re only dressed in Sith colours,” Leia agrees. Luke’s shoulders drop farther.

“I could––“

“No Jedi potato sack look!” Leia declares. “Or potato sack colours! No sacks, period!” Luke pouts until a light goes off and he straightens.

“If I wear a huge poncho over––“

~

Luke mutters to himself about fatigues, ponchos, and farming attire, to Dooku’s slight unease. A V-neck robe is not unusual on Tatooine; farmers responsible for collecting water and harvesting crops that grow by moisturisers sport the pattern the most due to its versatility between indoor and outdoor use. The potential change in wardrobe from custom Jedi threads to whatever nightmare Luke is concocting as they walk, however, picks at a corner of Dooku that values the elegance to be found in dressing fashionably. For what reason does young Luke need to part from his current clothing? Besides the obvious, Dooku acknowledges, and ponders on the possibility of his companion heading to the Core in the future.

As they weave their way through carelessly-parked ‘hoppers and a thinning presence of sentients for the back of a government building, Dooku catches several eyes alternating between his own tunic and cape and young Luke’s Jedi-like ensemble. Dooku doubts that the planet’s residents are aware that Luke’s cut is exclusively worn by Jedi, but he acknowledges the similar air with which he and Luke walk. They find spaces to slip through without watching the crowd’s flow, tilt their heads to avoid a careless droid zipping through their sight’s blind spot, and move with the effortless grace of people who know where their centre of balance is. If the two of them walk at the crowd’s pace, no one will blink twice at them, but Luke is taking his sweet time and Dooku has little choice but to follow. Their flawless path draws true until it takes a stumble with the unabashed interception of chubby limbs and too much drool.

“Luke!”

“Hello, little one,” Luke greets the small girl warmly, and he lifts her off her feet with strong hands. The youngling’s squeal catches Dooku’s ears with an unwelcome ring that, unfortunately, fails to disguise the following words.

“Is that your grandpa?” the brat asks without hesitation.

“No.”

“Father?” The girl wrinkles her nose. “Brother?”

A smile twitches across Luke’s lips. “If what you mean by brother––”

“Entertaining younglings is a pleasure I can live without,” Dooku intercedes, and brushes off the girl’s presence with a nod. The child has the gall to bow her head in a mock curtsey to dismiss the aristocrat. Unrefined desert folk. So this is where young Luke finds his cheek. Just as Dooku concludes on his unfavourable opinion of witty children, a gang of sentients half his height ambushes Luke with unapologetic decibels and wild energy that ineffectively jolts Dooku’s already wearied surprise. Ever since crossing blades with young Luke, surprise has woven itself into opportune gaps of thought within Dooku’s spare seconds that he barely regards the emotion as a novelty anymore. He steps to the soft edge of the younglings’ awareness with the same skill that allows an assassin the illusion of invisibility, and acknowledges the reality of an ex-Sith, a Jedi, and five oblivious younglings sharing the same space. Surprise cannot cut it.

Luke inspires the most consideration. Dooku observes the warrior pick up children with hands that know the weight and feel of taking a life, and Dooku predicts what the Jedi of the Temple would see –– attachment, a future shadowed in loss and evil –– and what Darth Sidious would see –– liabilities, weakness, leverage. It is little wonder Luke can believe in a spark, a near-nothing of goodness in a force of evil that is a Sith, and inspire strength in place of confusion and doubt. Perhaps “believe” uses as too strong a word –– “know of,” sounds appropriate, “detect.” Young Luke observes the world as it is and only acts with what is already there. Dooku cannot decide if it is naïvety or unusual wisdom that delineates the boy from the rest of the galaxy.

Luke gazes at Dooku past young, energetic demands of attention, and tilts his head with a quicksilver glint across his eyes like a drop of dew down a leaf above the small crescent of a wise yet free-spirited smile. Dooku revises his opinion. Darth Sidious would see a threat.

Just as the fool fears wisdom, and the liar fears the truth, Sidious and his Sith ways would not tolerate the transformative power of Luke’s hope for the magnification of a spark already present within even a Sith like Dooku. Luke is an independent, true Jedi and difficult to predict. Him and his Tatooine disprove the basis of Sidious’s appeal and power and offer hope for those who believe that a Jedi doesn’t stop where the Temple’s way ends. Just as Qui-Gon began to understand. Just as Dooku now begins to learn within orbit of Luke.

They part from the younglings with a few amused looks from the adults nearby, and fall into conversation with less tension as compared to their walk through the broken pirate ship from duelling against each other to flying together. Their tones still dance, neither fully light-hearted nor genuinely angry, and Dooku enjoys himself in too long. Their chat still treads solemn ground, but Luke appears open to conversation at any time with anyone, Sith or not. A flicker of curiosity after young Luke’s background flares in Dooku not for the first time, and just as with its predecessors, Dooku slides the hardly weak interest to a back burner. The forced apathy has steadily grown easier to summon with Dooku’s ducking out of Sidious’s schemes for an indefinite period of time. He's been ignoring the stubborn sliver of fear from gambling on when Sidious will notice Dooku’s inaction or absence, but Dooku needs this. He has devoted himself to insubstantial philosophies disguised as clarity for long enough.

Sidious surfaces not for the first time between them, and Luke reviews novel, first-hand character accounts of the Sith Lord that Dooku gradually shares with more leniency. Here, Luke’s tone unwittingly tosses liveliness for seriousness. “He turned your focus to a system you’re familiar with, and convinced you there to be irreparable flaws. An encouraged, consequential obsession thus persuaded you away from the system and to the side of the very people who worked the death of your former Padawan?” Luke winces and politely covers up his reaction with a rub of his temples and a sigh.

The Emperor is prone to recycling strategies that work well –– the Death Star II, for example. Dooku’s story might shed light on the mystery of Anakin Skywalker’s persuasion into the Dark Side, but Luke has yet to discover suggestions directly tied to the man in question. Luke also wishes to avoid pushing Dooku for information on Anakin; the aristocrat appears more curious about Obi-Wan’s talent and well-being than any fact about Anakin Skywalker. Simply, Dooku’s knowledge about the latter Jedi is a consequence of seeking information on the former. Dooku is also hesitant to admit that he worries about Obi-Wan without an objective –– like family. The last bit inspires a smile from Luke when Dooku isn’t looking.

“You know Sidious manipulates well,” Dooku comments.

“I know.”

Ah, too serious. Of course Luke understands the sway of one’s heart from light to dark and, for a time, what feels like never back to light again. Where they’ve established Dooku’s first-hand experience with Sidious, however, Luke’s automatic response hints to a similarly personal encounter with the Sith Lord. Dooku appropriately turns his head in subtle confusion to regard Luke, but says nothing. Luke should lighten his tone, but he cannot take back his words, so he wordlessly opens the back door of the main government building and offers no clarification unless Dooku asks for it. The sight that greets them beyond the doorway startles them both into awed silence.

“Tatooine’s records are,” Dooku tactfully pauses, “…disorganised and plenty.”

Despite himself, Luke laughs. “You wish to learn a planet’s governmental history,” he reminds, and steps in. He doesn’t know that Dooku believes that Sidious is ignorant of Luke’s very existence. Otherwise, regardless of young Luke’s unique naïvety-cum-wisdom, Sidious would have already hunted Luke down and destroyed him with the full difference in their experience. Luke fights to save. Sidious fights to kill.

~

~

“Are we ready?” Leia steps into the tramp freighter prepared for her journey.

Vasilek nods and punches the last button –– no, this is the last button. He turns to his co-pilot and then at the princess, waiting for someone to correct the situation and inform Vasilek that he is not responsible for flying a ship and can return to the simplicity of cantina bets and blaster rifles. Instead, the co-pilot –– who qualifies as the pilot, really –– obliviously closes the docking ramp and informs Ground of Advocate’s departure, and Leia makes herself comfortable in a passenger seat. As the freighter lifts and heads for the atmosphere, the co-pilot, a work of fading orange-grey, glances at Leia.

“Setting coordinates,” the co-pilot announces.

“Coruscant,” Leia provides.

“Most unpleasant.” The co-pilot, a bipedal droid, punches in numbers. “The planet boasts plenty politicians, master. Shooting two-hundred of them won’t make a dent. I’m not saying I will run in with blasters blazing –– of course I will be discrete. No one will know.”

Vasilek wipes his hand across his forehead. He wonders if it’s too late to abandon ship.

“I intend for a different impact, Hack,” Leia exercises the droid’s nickname. “My mission isn’t to kill.”

“Shame.”

HK-50 brings the freighter to warp speed while Vasilek eyes the Droid-Assassin rifle hanging on the panel by Hack’s side. The amnesiac assassination droid was infamous as Jabba’s entertainment besides the Rancor and the Sarlacc Pit, barely restrained by his protocol not to kill his owner or anyone else unless his owner commanded it. The ancient model looks ready to fall apart at the joints, but Hack is unusually stubborn. Vasilek has heard the rumours and suspects that after Tyun –– Leia –– garroted Jabba, Hack identified Leia as his master’s appropriate successor in terms of ownership. With Leia’s skills in…persuasion, Vasilek is almost unsurprised that Leia convinced the assassination droid so. One planet cannot withstand an HK-series droid let loose without a master, dragons or no dragons around.

“Milady,” Vasilek slowly pipes up, “pardon m’ asking, but is this droid also here to accompany you for your protection? …That you might need? The kid was very clear on my role as such.”

“Luke wants the very best for me,” Leia responds. “He recommended you both when I asked for his opinion.”

“Perhaps the meatbag expects excitement on Coruscant,” Hack comments.

“Hack.”

“Shall I use the term liquidious fleshbag? I don’t know how you sentients tolerate all that water sloshing around in you, it must be highly distracting.”

“Do you…” Vasilek hesitantly intrudes, “dislike the princess and the kid?”

To Vasilek’s discomfort, the droid turns his head to the Duros. “Negative: I just don’t like organic meatbags. Except for my master, of course. …Ha, ha.” Hack turns back to the control board on that ominous note. As one of the two organic meatbags present, Vasilek wishes he was in space than in the seat next to an arguably psychotic killing machine. Leia seems unusually adjusted to the situation.

~

~

Mon spots Bail down a joined corridor, and she rounds the corner into a few senators and their entourage. A gaggle of insensible clothing sees the two parties conduct difficult, almost inelegant maneuvers with curt apologies from both sides before Mon frees herself and nearly catches a Duros’s heel with her toes. In worn boots and a simple but pleasing cut that lends to the tough-skinned sentient’s roguish appeal, the Duros who resembles a pirate and most definitely resembles no member of the Chamber inspires a mindful apology from Mon faster than preoccupied senators can. Mon holds her own opinions of Duros outside the Chamber to herself, but the Duros politicians who set foot in meetings unfailingly create difficulty for the rest of their fellow politicians with the Duros’ crafty words that net others into promises or actions of the Duros’ benefit. Mon has deep-rooted beliefs and only so much patience.

In a more apathetic reflection of his kind, the Duros before Mon regards his disturbance with a flick of an intimidatingly unreadable gaze and a touch of irritation from the twitch of his upper lip before he carries on with a grunt and forgets Mon’s existence in the same breath. Somehow, even that feels rude.

Then a lithe woman strides into view with long hair billowing behind her, and the Duros with a blaster on his thigh and a height that towers two heads above most humans abandons his aloof composure in a blink. The teal-skinned sentient’s fingers twitch to a nonexistent hat while he simultaneously nods –– no, bows –– his head to the little lady and tacks on an expression that softens his face enough to imitate a smile even without curving his lips. He’s still intimidating, still rough, and no less the Duros he was two seconds ago, but added to his character is now…loyalty. The trait unmistakably announces itself in the attempt to shrink his height, though the Duros still stands a head taller than the inspiration of his utmost respect. Regardless, the woman’s presence fills the atmosphere by her arrival and the Duros’s instant reaction alone. Mon regards her, then the orange-grey droid behind her. Both remain unfamiliar.

“The Chamber starts in five,” Bail reminds from Mon’s left, startling her. He smiles with a knowing and a touch of amusement that inspires a chuckle from Mon despite herself. “She’s going to work wonders,” Bail follows Mon’s gaze to the simply-dressed but wordlessly inspiring woman, “that Senator Leia.”

“Give her a planet and she’ll build a government,” Mon comments. “Give her the Galactic Chamber….”

“We shall see.” Bail nudges Mon for them to head to their respective pods. It is a discomforting thought to consider the admittedly small possibility that the princess aspires to restructure the existing government, but either way, Bail cannot sense ill-will or carelessness from Leia. Changing the Republic would be ambitious, surely, but for anyone to be capable of it?

Then again, the Chancellor has progressed well so far into shaping the Republic to his mold.

Bail keeps his thoughts to himself as he enters his pod and the Galactic Chamber opens to Mas Amedda to define the session’s agenda. Most present senators murmur anxiously from their corners of the chamber despite Mas Amedda’s continued speech, and Bail unwittingly glances in the vague direction of Leia’s pod. The unprecedented pressure, including within Republican history, can intimidate even a seasoned politician. Almost no senator present wishes for a representative from the Outer Rim, or at least carries no opinion of the matter. Almost no one wants Leia to succeed.

“…It is to my understanding that a representative for the Tatoo system is present?” Mas Amedda drones, and a hush falls upon the chamber in stark contrast to the previously inattentive atmosphere. With a click that humbly echoes through the dead still air, a pod detaches itself from the curved walls and engages in a solitary flight towards the Chancellor’s podium where the key mic hovers. Bail can hear his own heartbeat. Then Leia’s round, young face fills every pod’s screen and, undoubtedly, every broadcast on the HoloNet, and if Leia wasn’t nervous before, then she is now.

Leia takes in a breath, then opens her mouth.

~

After the session, Palpatine summons Leia to his office. He, the Sith Lord and master of darkness, cannot afford the threat that this lady poses.

She is too inspiring.

~

“What did I say?” Bail prods, and Mon cannot fight the grin on her face despite herself. They can affect change. Their concerns might actually see effect. An overenthusiastic crowd fills the corridor with its noise before its presence, and anyone who has witnessed the senatorial session that day already knows the single possible explanation for the commotion, and she’s nearly hidden by the height and movement of her curious co-workers. Leia rose thought-provoking but controversial points in the session that have won her enough respect to be recognised as a senator, but a “discussion” in these grounds is in reality a democratic synonym for the proper term, “debate.” Senator Leia has her own share of admirers –– for now –– as she does vocal critics, and the cloud of sentients clinging to her carries pockets of unfriendliness. Leia’s bodyguards –– the tall Duros and the bipedal droid –– ensure that no one touches her, but passionate words and cramped movement force all in the hallway to either make room for the crowd or join it.

Bail catches a member of the Chancellor’s Office coming their way, and he and Mon share looks. At the sight of Mas Amedda, almost all of the crowd dissipates before the Chagrian can rebuke or occupy any of them, and Leia takes the chance to hastily reunite with Bail and greet Mon. Before they can exchange words, Mas Amedda zeroes in on Leia and halts before her as he clears his throat.

“Chancellor Palpatine is concerned with Tatooine’s seat in the Galactic Senate.”

“Of course he is,” Mon comments.

“As one who wishes the best for the people,” Mas Amedda continues, affronted. To imply prejudice in the Chancellor’s Office means to criticise Mas Amedda’s calling, yet his tone falls weak against the past hour of several hundred senators adopting similar inflections to disguise disdain as innocent concern regarding Tatooine and her representative.

Leia pretends ignorance of Mas Amedda’s obvious opinion. The lady accepts the invitation to Palpatine’s office and nearly leaves Mas Amedda behind with her two intimidating shadows trailing after her. She walks with as much character and determination as when she speaks. Whether or not she offends a critic apparently concerns her little against the truth she lives by and breathes and must share with the rest of the galaxy. Mon recalls how she first seriously considered the unpredictable, uncontrollable spirit: Bail had brought up Tatooine’s likely Senator with a thoughtful, innocent voice and a cup of Karlini tea, and Mon had nearly consumed both in calm bliss without grasping what she was taking in. Now, she is inclined to thank Bail for his stubbornness. While Leia isn’t a conventional politician, she might be what the galaxy needs.

Once Mas Amedda, Leia, and her guards disappear down the corridor, the remaining senators turn to each other in a discussion.

“Tatooine is under the protection of pirates!”

“Which ones? The Black Bha’lir –– the Hutts –– Epsis?”

“Just pirates. Anyone who goes to Tatooine. Anyone.

Bail steps in like a devil’s advocate. “Then I suppose that if Republican forces go to Tatooine, the planet would have Republican protection as well,” he says diplomatically.

“Yes, but not solely Republican protection,” another senator points out.

“Every system is allowed its own private form of defence,” Mon adds, pulled along. She blames Bail. “So long as Tatooine’s government holds accountable for its planetary forces, the Republic has no right to interfere. Not even the Chancellor. I’ve heard that those who protect Tatooine follow a code, so they may be more organised than we expect.” She glances at Bail, paraphrasing one of the arguments he has pitched to her before. The critics around her flail.

Pirates have a code.”

Bail smiles, his own unique charisma washing over the tensed atmosphere. “I do believe that detail has been made irrelevant here.”

~

Palpatine unsmilingly debates with Senator Leia over her decision to stay in his own concerned, thoughtful pace and mood matched by their fluffed chairs sitting next to each other. Like the cold grooves of aged wood under their feet, machinations thread together in Palpatine’s head unnoticed behind his grandfatherly countenance. Tatooine cannot have a senator. Dear Anakin has expressed upset in times past over the absence of political acknowledgement of his home planet, and the warrior’s complicated opinions of his origins both lend Palpatine power over Anakin and simultaneously threaten to pull the rug out from under him at any time if Palpatine treads uncarefully. If the reason-inspiring and heart-moving Senator Leia pushes for planetary aid in public broadcasts and Palpatine consistently responds with inaction, there will be repercussions from Anakin.

Naturally, Palpatine’s plans can recover from such consequences with a shift of blame to the self-seeking majority of the Senate when Tatooine is ignored even on the galactic stage, but without a firm grasp of her character, Senator Leia is a wild card. Palpatine prefers to rely on flawless plans than backup ones. Even now, his strategic brilliance makes use of the seemingly unrelated detail that his apprentice cannot tolerate pirates. Palpatine knows of the small mess Dooku has created off in the Outer Rim. He had drawn the conclusion like a spider with its strings after picking up nigh unnoticeable changes in movement patterns among pirates, and the brief moment Palpatine had noticed and then dismissed the impractical fact returns to him now by the power of his sharp memory.

“Count Dooku’s private ship has once been spotted just two systems away from Tatoo space,” he adds, concerned. “In this time of war, the complicated processes of the Senate may challenge a planet with such a problem at its doorstep and with many senators here having little time to spare for guiding a newcomer.”

“Tatooine has never concerned itself with Separatists,” Leia deflects, recognising an accusation. “They frankly have nothing to offer to us –– only a little less than the fortunes the Republic has given in Tatooine history.” Which has been none but perhaps neglect, and both parties present know this.

“Tatooine has listened to offers from the CIS?”

“We have had zero contact with the CIS,” Leia states flatly, and slowly breathes. “Chancellor, you seem to mistake Tatooine’s seat in the Senate for an application for citizenship.” Ah, bullseye. Leia’s mind clears with Palpatine’s first slip she has caught. “The Tatoo system is a member of the Outer Rim Territories. We were colonised by the Republic –– we are children of the Republic. Senator or no, Republican contact or no, Tatooine has been the Republic’s for millennium. With the acceptance of this seat and privilege, I am here to show that while the Republic has forgotten Tatooine, Tatooine has not forgotten the Republic and its proper ways. I am here to serve an Outer Rim Territory –– a child of democracy.”

Palpatine’s lip twitches, which recovers into the first syllable of his point, “Tatooine’s official currency is not Republican credits.”

“We have no official currency,” Leia briskly cuts off. “If you are so concerned about Tatooine’s economy, we would not be having this conversation, Chancellor. Tatooine needs a voice.”

“Do you deny that poverty can push a majority of planetary population towards the easiest solution against hardship? The CIS has preyed upon such circumstances before, and Count Dooku is reportedly a very charismatic man.”

That makes two of you, Leia wishes to say, but she holds her tongue. In her pause, Palpatine continues with a grandfatherly smile and crinkle in his eyes, “I cannot speak for the Senate, but I do not blame Tatooine for seeking help from bad places. Poverty can misguide anyone, and Tatooine, as you say, is a child.”

We are going nowhere, Leia inwardly seethes.

Senator Leia is a wonder to behold. As a representative of Tatooine, she is exotic in a sea of old names and faces, but her commanding voice –– not unusual for politicians –– fills the senate chamber in a manner unlike anyone else. Without voluminous and regal attire, accessories, or hair, she is a simply-dressed woman caught off the dunes of Tatooine. She is anyone. The tone, face, and words she offers are what everyone wishes they could share if only they knew how, because this woman expresses exactly what is hardest to convey, and language and culture barriers mean nothing before her. Senator Leia is what people want, and is therefore what politicians desire to be.

Outside the senate chamber, however, Senator Leia is brief and blunt as if the heat of desert suns is dogging her shoulders and the wisps of her hair. Palpatine struggles to find her pleasant company, and maintaining a civil conversation with her is like trying to dodge a blaster shot –– constantly. He has a feeling that she misses nothing –– if not from experience, then by pure instinct. Quite unlike Senator Amidala, whose empathy allows her to read and persuade others, if a little off-mark.

Palpatine has little patience for meaningless conversation and difficult company. He unthreateningly smiles and –– quickly –– raises his hand as if to pat the senator on her shoulder. Before the lady can react to the sudden movement and intrusion of space, Palpatine’s fingers are already a breath away from Leia’s temple.

He intends to see into the princess’s head.

He must know what –– and who –– Leia knows.

~

~

Grakkus surveys the remains of the crew who are boneless against a wall or a crate –– mainly thanks to bone-deep exhaustion or to stun rays –– and sporting not a few burnt grazes of blaster shots. The rest of the motionless crew members on the ground are dead.

“You invaded this far?” Grakkus observes. His rules are simple: disable ships and make them his own, not destroy whatever metal comes in sight all willy-nilly.

His captain clears his throat, aware of Grakkus’s strict enforcement of such rules and the number of offences the average sentient can survive under the Hutt. “Of course not, sir.” The Nikto pauses, realises his words might intimate a poorly performing crew, and professionally adds, “We know better. The damage and the disabled crew before you is the work of another party.”

“One you haven’t identified.”

“We haven't detected another presence on our scanners. The enemy ship’s logs state that starboard cannons discharged during the battle, so the third party must have docked in stealth mode on the other side of the enemy’s ship and been blown to oblivion before–––“

“Before the stealth ship’s pilots made a work of half a freighter’s full staff?” Grakkus finishes flatly.

A heavy-duty freighter’s full staff is easily ninety-count. That leaves about forty-five blasters trained on two pilots minimum if the stealth ship was a compact lightspeed, and five if the ship was a middle-grade freighter. The survival rate for the stealth crew still stands at ten percent, optimistically, but three percent is more realistic. Grakkus knows of looting expeditions that operated with ten members against a thirty-count freighter crew, and still concluded with a severe loss. No one loots a bigger crew.

“Open up that storage closet,” Grakkus commands, and the captain obliges with a nod to the technician, who hacks into the ship’s mainframe and unlocks the door. The slab of metal slowly slides up to reveal impenetrable darkness like the maw of a titanic beast, or the reopening of a stone tomb. Grakkus’s captain and crew stare into the distant nothingness until the door finally disappears.

Then a brilliant blue light ignites with the rush and power of lightning along a wire, and a snap-hiss hits the crew not a second later.

“Holy Shavit!” the captain drops in the silence like a proton bomb. He draws his blaster with shaky hands and nearly misses the trigger, and the delayed second is all it takes for the shot to easily be deflected to the ground and smoking between the captain’s feet. “Jedi!” the captain finishes his breath, but he’s already stating the obvious. Every crew member is afraid. Grakkus can practically taste high-strung agitation sitting thick in the air and a pocket of calmness where the Jedi is. Right now, his crew is no match for a Jedi.

“Stand down, captain.”

The Nikto glances at Grakkus, hyper-aware of the difference between a hologram and a vulnerable fleshling. “Sir–––“

The loss-to-gain ratio is too great for a hostile exchange. Grakkus urges his holoform forward but out of reach from the lightsaber. “This crew of mine is terribly talented,” Grakkus states, “but if you force me to self-detonate this ship you’re in and to cut my losses, I’ll be most displeased. I hate cutting losses.” Grakkus watches the low-angled lightsaber floating in the dark as his captain hurriedly translates Grakkus’s words into Basic –– reflected blue light softly implies a leather glove, a mid-waist belt, and wild, thick hair –– but the Jedi capable of taking on forty-five pirates casually speaks before Grakkus’s captain is finished.

“I don’t make deals with Hutts.”

The Jedi stands up, blade wavering as he does so, and steps to the edge of direct light where his full height –– rare –– and his piercing eyes take a hold of Grakkus’s crew like a bogeyman. His gloved hand clenches around his lightsaber with a low creak. There aren’t many Jedi with prosthetics found outside the Core.

“I’m sure,” Grakkus admits, “that you know that you have no option. If you take Kenobi and leave me and my crew to our business, I’ll forget that you nearly smoked my captain.”

Anakin Skywalker falters, doesn’t retract his lightsaber, and hauls Obi-Wan Kenobi over his shoulder with one arm, all while Grakkus’s captain translates and trails off when he realises that words aren’t needed. “Where is this ship’s tender?” Anakin questions the nearest crew member darkly, nearly towering over the Niktos, and intentional or not, the intimidation jerks a detailed response right off the Nikto’s tongue before Skywalker disappears down the corridor like a fading yet haunting work of adrenaline, imagination, and fear. Whether or not the crew will remember his features, they will not easily forget their close shave with death via a practically mythological being. Grakkus watches him, and the gangster’s captain comes to his side.

“We will not abduct the two?” the captain shakily asks, and Grakkus looks at him.

“Your ambition to rise ranks is noted,” the Hutt replies, amused.

Chapter Text

Dooku and Luke’s capes hang over the back of their chairs and the stacks of flimsies beyond them, while more stacks provide support for propped feet or elbows in front; either way, the two warriors are pictures of academic slobs. From a viewpoint level with the small table on which Dooku pours over materials organised according to his impressions, the two males even appear to lounge over and between towers of flimsies. Only Dooku manages —— or bothers —— to retain a stately air despite his obvious disregard for proper bookkeeping. Indeed, he would primarily blame the librarian of Tatooine’s historical records, if Tatooine had one to begin with. Luke fulfils that duty now in an unhurried pace as he acts as a soundboard to Dooku’s voiced thoughts.

“Etra and Tyun are covers.” Dooku suddenly punctuates a stylus into the air without tearing his eyes from the flimsies on his desk. “I care not for this system’s culture,” the count curtly responds to an unspoken thought from Luke, “but I acknowledge the existence of this dying myth simply for the rational usefulness of children’s tales with a planet-wide presence. I have clothed myself in the mask of an ancient darkness, after all, so easy to shed before the non-believing public when the time comes that I realise the true atrocities of the CIS and return to the Republic.”

Amused shock. “The Order will be offended.”

“I am not one of them. No Force-sensitive owns a seat in the Senate, and it hardly sees a difference between one Force-user and the next.” Dooku scrolls through an article as he speaks. “A Sith and a Jedi are a matter of technical definition to Republicans, and the laws from which such technicalities are drawn from depend on the Order’s records. As an honourable count rescued from the CIS, I will appear driven by justice and not ‘anger, fear, and aggression.’ The Order is under the jurisdiction of the Senate; when the latter decides to accept me, the former will have to back off. Otherwise, the Order will be guilty of harassing a Republican citizen.”

“The Senate will love you,” Luke remarks dryly.

“They are not Jedi,” Dooku responds. “No one is, present company excluded.”

Luke shrugs.

“I also believe one of the ‘dragons’ is Force-sensitive,” Dooku adds, pausing on an article. “I’m inclined towards Etra, as Tyun does not come across as a trained force-sensitive.”

Now this is interesting. Luke keeps his ear out for more of what his company may say. He refuses to reveal Leia’s identity as Tyun, but he has allowed Dooku to make the realisations that the count has. A trained Force-sensitive, Leia is not, but Dooku misses the possibility that she still possesses the same potential as Luke. The detail that the people behind Etra and Tyun are not Sith consumes most of Dooku’s attention, anyway, if only out of irritation. The fact that a hopeless planet like Tatooine now appreciates the gifts from completely changing for the better disputes the idea that only Sith or only Jedi can right a galaxy so off-kilter from its true values. Not that a true Jedi’s help won’t hurt––

Snap.

Caring not for the broken stylus, Dooku slowly looks at Luke.

“Etra….”

“Yes?”

“…Is the Chosen One.”

Luke wants to slam his head into a wall, but the capitals in Dooku’s speech snatch his curiosity faster. “The what?”

But Dooku is now mumbling to himself, tapping his broken stylus against any hard surface as he shuffles flimsies around for a margin of blank space. Ancient text rises from his legible murmurs, along with speculations, and Luke allows the count to return to reality when he can. Five minutes pass until Dooku realises Luke is still there.

“The Chosen One is what the Jedi should be.”

“That’s nice.” Luke sighs. “Now what is this about a Chosen One?”

“Has Anakin Skywalker been in Tatoo space recently?”

The question catches Luke off-guard. Dooku hums, having witnessed Luke’s reaction, and he shakes his head with the grace of an aristocrat. Even old, he is still suave. “Young Skywalker cannot bring balance to the Force until he realises the qualities of a true Jedi for himself. Light and Dark, love and the absence of love, that which he must understand to conquer himself and the Sith will force the Order to change and the galaxy to follow. The Sith advocate not only meaningless death and suffering, but also meaningless cheating of death and suffering; it is against nature, and thus causes chaos. Etra may not be Anakin Skywalker. That is fine. But the Order fails to see what young Skywalker must become, and even stunts his development into the very saviour they need.”

Luke gently places a hand on the broken stylus, ceasing Dooku’s tapping. “I know,” Luke says softly.

Dooku is frustrated. With the Order, with how ignorant the galaxy can be when the answer to peace is right under their noses, with himself. If he had realised his ignorance as a Sith –– no, even earlier, as a “Jedi,” he could have brought greater change to the galaxy by now. Peace would have been closer. And the only living soul in the entire universe who understands –– and shares his frustration –– is a boy with not even half of Dooku’s wealth, power, or connections. A boy with few blessings, but a great heart.

Who are you? Dooku wonders.

Such a name as “Luke” offers little cultural background to go on, given its roots in a near-universal ancient language that many names find inspiration from——

Luke. Meaning light.

Dooku's stylus ceases tapping again, but the boy does not look up from his flimsies, apparently now accustomed to filtering out Dooku’s type of white noise. This works in Dooku’s favour, for the moment of wild imagination, shock, and pinch of willingness to believe in the remarkable that he requires to spend with himself alone. Perhaps the parents knew ahead of time the sort of man whom Luke would become? Or is there a deeper insight at play, for a true servant of the Force to bear one of its names?

Light.

Dooku has a lot to think about. He knows that Luke is apparently familiar with every individual on this planet Tatooine, and, despite this, treasures them for who they are. He also knows that Luke is aware of the medical applications of the Force, but is not particularly skilled or trained in them, perhaps because accelerated healing —— the brother of hastened death —— defies nature. Luke seems to know a lot about nature. He can quantify the difference in speed between a tauntaun and an eopie despite the two having never shared a climate before, and he has identified the domestic advantages across sandy planets, icy planets, and swampy planets in one of their small, passing debates that Dooku almost forgets amidst the sea of meaningless conversations he and Luke have shared to this point. The boy is unnaturally easy to talk to without a compromise of beliefs from either side. He can also fly a ship like he is the space that the ship is in, itself.

Dooku picks up a scribe’s flimsy, downloads a required reading in the Temple for all initiates and Padawans, and swipes to a specific section. His educated and culturally exposed background considers the temptation to ask a different question.

What are you?

“Luke.”

“Yes?”

“Have you cast eyes on The Journey to Enlightenment in the Force before?” Dooku offers his flimsy to the young man, who receives the canon with absent-minded curiosity.

“My knowledge of the Force is from primarily feeling my way through,” Luke confesses as he begins to read. Dooku watches Luke settle into the work.

As the blonde progresses in the text, the traces of curiosity on his face fall into those of deep contemplation underlined by his solemn silence. Dooku absorbs the stark absence of boyishness in Luke with a chill down his spine and an uneasy sense of guilt even though he is not the canon’s author and no longer subscribes to the content. This Luke –– the warrior whose flow and ferocity had ambushed Dooku in a pirate ship, who now sits upright, caught in meditation as he works through three-hundred pages –– commands the respect of those in his presence not unlike a sleeping volcano or the stillness of air before the heavens open up. Dooku understands the sudden seriousness for an uncomfortable and enlightening truth.

The text is failing Luke.

And Luke is not happy.

Dooku picks up another flimsy and allows history written in the language of myths to wash over his stimulated mind. He can wait to witness Luke’s opinions of the Temple’s broken ways.

~

~

Palpatine shouldn't have rushed.

The dive into Senator Leia’s consciousness draws similarities with an uncontrolled drop into a planet’s atmosphere, complete with the rattling sensation of breaking through kilometres’-thick layers of thoughts and the stomach-flipping motion of free-fall as a solid surface races up to meet the body. Hardly a challenge for Palpatine, but finding purchase in Leia’s retreating thoughts proves as difficult as gathering wind in one’s hands. This brush with Leia’s mind lasts only a second. Through the event, Palpatine barely grasps colours bleeding away into taste, phantom sounds lurking beyond reach, and a curtain of long, softly-brushed hair spilling over Palpatine’s shoulder with the descent of a single voice above his ear as husky and sweet as that of the individual whose mind he attempts to unravel. The air stills with one commanding word.

Leave.

Palpatine returns to the physical world with a mental jolt not unlike the snapback of one’s body back into one’s seat at the end of an amusement ride. Rather than with having been intimidated, Palpatine’s fingers twitch with irritation, which he hastily pulls back from Leia’s temple in a Force-given urge just in time for the door to his office to slide open and reveal a seven-foot tall assassination droid.

“Master.” A vibroblade hums too comfortably in the droid’s fist. “Your heart rate elevated above your conditioned ceiling for one second. Shall I kill something for you?”

“Hack is responsible for my peace of mind,” Leia remarks from Palpatine’s side, snatching his focus back to her. The nicknamed “princess” stands up and tosses Palpatine her widest, fakest smile. “Please excuse him and tell your guards to stand down.” For their own safety, goes unsaid.

This girl, Palpatine decides, has more balls than the entirety of the Galactic Chamber.

“We're done here,” Palpatine agrees in an unassuming, grandfatherly tone, returning Leia’s smile and joining her on his feet. “May I advise that a reflection on Tatooine’s local circumstances will serve you well, Senator? My office can only follow through with an investigation on you and your system if the majority votes for it, and I, personally, wish to see Tatooine remain here.” He offers a handshake. “A good friend of mine hails from your planet, and I would appreciate hearing more of its customs from you.”

“I would much rather give a demonstration,” Leia returns, offhandedly threatening not unlike displeased royalty, and Palpatine can see where the nickname finds inspiration from. Her demure tone also possesses the dryness of a desert. If the woman is aware of her mental instinct to slip around Palpatine’s mental probe like water and oil, she displays none of the usual signs. Seasoned spies possess the same ability, as well as sentients actively resisting interrogation, but Palpatine has not witnessed such defences before from a product of an ignorant, rugged, and unrefined planet as Tatooine. One second is not long enough to rifle through an individual’s mind.

They shake hands, weakly on Palpatine’s part, and his play at frailty fools only his startled guards, who, though masked, step aside obviously affronted as Senator Leia, her assassination droid, and an apologetic Duros wholly out of place exit the Chancellor’s floor without so much as a slap on the wrist or a backwards glance from them to Palpatine, who watches them leave before dismissing his guards out of his office. Every Senator is allowed a pair of bodyguards into the Senate Building and the Republic Executive Building, but where most politicians invest in advisors or butlers by their sides, Senator Leia has taken the privilege to heart with not a little awareness of Tatooine’s position contrasted against millennium-old members of the Senate. The only other politician who shares her preference for bodyguards, Palpatine notes with irony, is himself. Whether or not Leia requires the protection, her possible like-mindedness with Palpatine interests him more.

Senator Leia may prove more formidable than a passing irritation as initially suspected. The average assassin like Palpatine’s failure back on Tatooine will not succeed, either —— that is, so long as either the princess is on Tatooine or that assassination droid of hers still functions. …Either can easily be remedied.

~

After three flights of stairs that finally start pumping Leia’s frustration out of her system, Vasilek’s uneasy panting directs her to an elevator in mercy. She and the Duros create plans during their ride to the ground floor to head straight to Advocate, leave for their hotel, and catch sleep after an exhausting flight from the Outer Rim to the Core underscored by hours in the Galactic Chamber, while Hack inserts security precautions they should heed and the usual disturbing comments. Their plans evaporate upon nearly mowing over a politician at the building’s main doors.

“Senator Amidala,” Leia apologises.

“Senator Leia,” the woman cordially reciprocates with a beautiful smile. “How fortunate to cross paths with you in these halls without the foot traffic of your many admirers,” she teases as her protocol droid’s criticism of Leia’s disrespect –– is that Threepio? –– stutters into silence. “I wish to share with you my hopes for the improvements of your planet’s state, and that these issues will not simply die out from the Chamber with time. I know someone whose heart will dare to lift upon hearing of your goals and hopefully their completion.”

“You have my gratitude and curiosity, Senator Amidala,” Leia returns, regarding the petite woman before her and racing to recall what she can from bedtime stories with Bail and from months of preparation for the Core and Mid-Rim’s politics so as not to walk blindly, especially now as a senator. Connecting with even strangers she meets is key both in social settings and in politics. “I have studied the modern planetary history of my coworkers in the Senate, and understand you have known the political landscape since you were ten and four years? With a war to break out not even months into leadership?” She waves at Vasilek and Hack to step back, and with a pointed look from the latter, they ease off their intimidating proximity.

“You are not alone in your curiosity in my early political days,” Padmé allows, used to the question. “Shall we walk and talk, my fellow lady?”

“We may sit and have tea,” Leia offers instead, pleasantly surprised.

“Tea time,” Padmé appreciates with the first brightening of her eyes and a more honest smile. “Most people forget the value in small talk.” Tea and biscuits are how relationships are made, allowing for inside jokes and several favours that shape the unofficial alliances among senators, not planetary systems, who place votes for each other with the future in mind and regardless of platform. These friendships are why the Republic can function, and why Padmé and her colleagues can see corruption connected to the highest level, the Chancellor’s Office, standing out starkly in the pattern of uncharacteristic votes that has arisen since the start of the war. The growing unreliability of friendships and their associated free speech in the Chamber not only threatens their democracy but also feeds power to a single office, and by extension a single chair: the Chancellor’s. Padmé has voiced her concerns before with her closest friendship circle –– few in number, admittedly, though priceless in quality like the insightful and sometimes frank Bail –– yet only inactionable words have met her. She contemplates the likely possibility of friendship circles intersecting her own, and their secret conversations. She ruminates if anything can be done.

Which is why she considers the new senator before her with hope and suspicion. Leia is a living possibility of a renewal in “wasted time” like having tea and attending charity balls without compromising integrity on the platform, and Padmé has to wonder if Leia’s dove-white shift dress is intentional, complete with a tie-front flair and conservative mid-length sleeves. The commonplace seam lines encourage a subconscious sense of familiarity with any who lay eyes on Leia, complemented by the dress’s short cut for movement to liken her both to the modern and the hard-working crowd.

The choice of fabric and dye colour emphasises this. In highly-developed desert cultures where most clothing is white or undyed, white reflects everyday life; for mountainous cultures, similarities with snow recall images of purity yet also the power of nature; and for many systems, white represents peace, clarity, and the divine. Tatoo is not a highly-developed system, which would usually encourage Padmé to throw the first symbolic interpretation out, yet she admittedly knows little of Tatooine culture, and Leia must know that most Republicans don't. Thus the interpretations to connect with Leia that the woman is wordlessly encouraging must be from all of the above; she is both a commoner and a divine force of nature —— level-headed, pure, and powerful. Consequently, she claims to have the galaxy’s best interests at heart, and the means to help it. If the dress, the simple hairstyle, and the natural makeup is deliberate, then Leia may prove exceptionally well-versed in galactic politics at its purest, most honest form –– and consequentially, not who she seems. After all, Tatooine has only enjoyed a seat in the Chamber since today.

The frightening likelihood is that only Padmé can see it.

The necessity of socialising between senators is unfortunately often forgotten the same way most people disregard even the relevance of fashion. One can convey unspeakable depths of determination, hope, sadness, and anger under the radar of those ignorant of symbolism without saying a word –– and while this favours the side of Padmé who has grown up in espionage for the better of eighteen years, picking outfits for “Queen Amidala” and then the handmaidens who surround her like a lake, reflective yet separate of the moon that is the queen –– the dominating ignorance of fashion in the political world saddens her. She knows best how seams can speak honestly where the girl in the dress cannot, or act as a misdirection over the woman’s true intentions. The question lies in whether Leia’s appearance serves the former purpose or the latter.

Suddenly, like any moment caught between pulling sheets over herself and rising from her pillow, she can imagine Anakin with her. This time he laughs at her ability to meditate for hours on dresses –– an area her husband admittedly knows and cares little about, and yet encourages her to deliberate with him on edge stitches and dyes because she cares about fashion, and that is enough for him. Anakin is one of the few people who accepts all aspects of her without having to understand them, including her quirks that frustrate her friends from their handmaiden years, and even her own family. When was the last time Padmé acted freely?

She misses him. If anything, she at least wishes that she wouldn’t hear Holo rumours of how her husband has died for sure this time, as opposed to the article last time, or the article before.

“Shall we?” Leia asks.

“Let us have tea,” Padmé decides with more genuine interest, and leads the way to her apartment in 500 Republica. She wishes to know if a threat walks beside her, or, in her lonely selfishness and her highest hopes…

A friend.

~

~

Obi-Wan remembers his first nebula.

Two galaxies of their own colours and raw power had collided and had unapologetically forced Obi-Wan to reconstruct his reality from the ground up. He had to reflect on ideologies he had first taken for granted as a child –– ones that, from the departure of his innocence in childhood, have went on to crack apart and meld together like shifting plates, never the exact same each time –– and open himself up to a foreign ideology with all the exposure of a coatless man against a blizzard. Or a sponge to an ocean. Obi-Wan didn’t crack, but he danced the edge of drowning and swimming just the same.

One galaxy was Obi-Wan’s grasp of allkind, of all sentients from man to Mon Calamari. It was a grasp born from growing up as one spiritually sensitive to nature yet confined to a metal, urban planet –– from knowing the busy-minded to the corrupt better than the Temple’s lone garden, because Coruscant is countless sentients and morals forced to share space with an atmosphere of pollution and recycled air suspended over, and the Jedi Temple smack dab in the off-centre because the Council dislikes scrutiny. There was a time Obi-Wan dreamt of steering feather-light controls of a ship through Coruscant’s excuse of an atmosphere just for the sake of knowing wind by becoming it. Then young Obi-Wan crossed paths with pirates, forced labour, civil war, and death, and that childhood dream slipped away as smoothly as a ship.

Obi-Wan today likes to believe that he knows the good in allkind. He already knows that no one goes through life unscathed –– that if they do not yet know pain or loss or death, they will –– so why would anyone want to make life harder for anyone else? If he can convey his thoughts, his cracked but not broken philosophy, then perhaps his belief will spread. But the first to suffer and the last to die is also he who is too late to acquire the necessary language for his thoughts. He has yet to grasp love. He is only on the precipice of it. In another universe, he had stood on the precipice until his brother had died and pulled him over it.

The other galaxy was Anakin’s grasp of allkind. His was born from growing up sensitive to nature in a planet of boundless sand, rock, and sky until the three seem to bleed together, so that young Anakin understood nature better than he could articulate, but found little value in it except for crashing any piece of metal that flies and earning him and his mother trouble. His galaxy was built on the idea that no sentient was equal in talent or connections, and the belief that if none could be equal, then they should at least be allowed the power to act and live as they choose. His galaxy was peripherally aware of death enough that the issues of life carried value to him. Yet as Shmi once said of her boy, “he knows nothing of greed.” Young Ani did not grasp selfishness until he left the planet where the Force filled sand and sky, to a planet abundant with more sentients than air. The beginning of his life as a Padawan was the collision of his and Obi-Wan’s galaxies.

Obi-Wan relives that nebula now while a devastating storm of colours and intentions batter and threaten to break his mind, which, instead of curling defensively, helplessly opens as a flower to the sun, because this nebula involves Anakin, one of the greatest loves and responsibilities of his life, and Obi-Wan is, despite his humble claims, a good person. He hurtles through a vast sea of consciousness as if diving into a mind older and wiser than that of any sentient Obi-Wan has known –– the overwhelming experience one that should have already departed his fragile mind into insanity –– but Anakin’s soft glow in the edge of Obi-Wan’s awareness anchors the Jedi Master and gives him an axis from which this storm unfolds around. The sea of incomprehensible breadth and depth in which he drifts, Obi-Wan will later contemplate, must be the Force. And, true to his instincts, he allows it to spill in.

“Ben,” Luke calls, eyes clear and unsuspecting.

Obi-Wan blinks, startled by the innocent sight. The hum and overwhelming energy of the storm has eerily vanished. Instead, crags rise around him while pure white desert stretches to the horizon, and in the middle of it all, a boy with a face as open as the raw nature they sit in gazes up at Obi-Wan from the ground. Bruises and a touch of blood peek out from under a white tunic.

“Ben Kenobi?” Luke asks.

The boy needs help, so Obi-Wan unhesitantly gives it, and pulls him upright. Like a duck taking to the water, Luke rises and, finding a stable boulder, sits, at ease in a world of all angles. Obi-Wan feels as if he should know this boy. A name escapes him just as readily as it comes to mind, but either way, the wilderness is no safe place for an unarmed man.

“What brings you out this far?” Obi-Wan asks, concerned.

Luke shakes his hair free of sand and then gestures, providing an answer without questioning Obi-Wan’s intent in a sign of pure, wholehearted trust. “This little droid.” Amusement catches the trails of Luke’s tone, and Obi-Wan follows the boy’s gaze to Artoo on Obi-Wan’s other side. Without prompting, Luke spills forth a story. “I think he’s looking for his former master, but I’ve never seen such devotion in a droid before. He claims to be the property of an Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

The following words from the boy hit Obi-Wan’s ears distantly, as if the Jedi Master has been submerged in water. Qui-Gon swims past. Obi-Wan turns his head and is nearly rewarded with the whip of a varactyl’s tail at his face as he readjusts to the density around him and navigates the cloth and leather of his robes for an aquata breather that Cody must have forgotten he had. Obi-Wan’s lightsaber bumps against his hand comfortingly, and ignites.

“I have been waiting for you, Obi-Wan.” A scarlet blade rises level with twin red lenses and the filter of a breathing apparatus. “We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete.”

A tall, broad-shouldered man with the chest panel and regulated breathing of a machine stands before Obi-Wan, expressionless and imposing, particularly with a mask and helm replacing his face. The halls are eerily empty and quiet, accentuating the manipulative power and foresight of the self-assured opponent before Obi-Wan, and the silent, perpetual rage too easy to dismiss beside the man’s slow, even breathing. A steady lightsaber grip and experienced dip of weight over a centre of gravity cuts Obi-Wan’s aggressor out as a warrior far more experienced than Obi-Wan can ever be, and far more invested in their duel. Obi-Wan has never seen this Sith before. He should not know this man, but he does.

Obi-Wan raises his blade.

A firelit figure replaces the sight of his saber, and Luke leans against a tree with a muted but pleased smile. Obi-Wan turns, and there, to his right, is, and always will be,

Anakin fills his hands with Obi-Wan’s own, and calls out softly to him.

“Obi-Wan?”

He is hovering again, scarred brow furrowing with its sweaty counterpart as Anakin’s gloved hand creaks with a tense grip that presses Obi-Wan’s palms together as if in a prayer. Obi-Wan struggles with the moment to decide if he still sees with his mind, or if he is truly lying in a clone medbay. If so, he must have become one with the Force, because it will be a cold day on Coruscant when Obi-Wan Kenobi enters and stays in a medbay.

“Anakin.”

“Yes, Obi-Wan?”

“Is it snowing on Coruscant?”

The wrinkle between Anakin’s brows smoothes out with the solemn drop of the knight’s face. “Even more impossible,” Anakin laments dryly, “you are in the medbay, for the second straight day.”

“Keep your laughs to yourself,” Obi-Wan warns as he slowly sits up and fights a grin. “Because if I hear right, that means you have also been in the medbay for two days straight.”

He isn't sure that he is still dreaming. A cloud of danger hovers around Anakin like a halo, and the last time such dark serenity had clung to Anakin was when Qui-Gon had stood before the Council and declared Anakin his next Padawan. Mace and other Masters still misinterpret that past sense of danger as one attributed to Anakin himself, but Obi-Wan and he suspects Yoda know better.

It is the darkness that precedes the death of someone connected to Anakin.

Obi-Wan wonders whose death he sees this time.