Rey woke up to the high noon glare of the desert sun on her face. The sky above her was unrelentingly, oppressively blue-white. This was not Jakku; the wind tasted wrong.
She stood up, the dune's sand shifting beneath her feet. Next to her were two boys her own age, one with a braid, one with fluffy hair.
"My name's Luke," said the boy with the fluffy hair. "Luke Skywalker."
Rey snorted, because damn if that wasn't the biggest lie in the entire galaxy; Luke Skywalker, if he had ever existed at all, was twice her age. "I'm Rey. You?"
"Anakin," said the boy with the braid. "Also Skywalker."
"My dad's called Anakin too!" said 'Luke'.
Anakin shrugged. "Common name, on Tatooine."
"Or maybe he's your dad," Rey said, straight-faced as she could manage -- which was a lot, the desert having taught her the value of a blank face a long time ago.
"I'm a Jedi," Anakin said. "I can't be anyone's dad."
"The Jedi are a myth," Rey said at the same time 'Luke' said, "The Jedi are dead."
"Wow," Anakin said. "Harsh."
Rey shrugged. It was what it was true. It was harsh and it was true, one did not preclude the other.
Anakin put his hand on his hip and brought up a metal cylinder. He ignited it. Blue light and shimmering cold, even in the desert heat. Lightsabre. He was a Jedi -- and Luke's exclamation of surprise made it clear he wasn't.
Rey conceded the point with a bow of her head. Anakin nodded back at her and sat on the dune.
"I hate sand." Anakin took off his boot and upended it. A trickle of sand flew off with the wind.
"It's sand," Rey said. "Nobody likes it."
"I like it," said not-Luke, proving, if it was needed, that he was sadly deranged. He had to have spent too long in the sun; Rey felt bad for him.
Anakin looked at Rey. He was trying to convey something with his eyebrows alone. She would have bet portions it was "so what do we do about the sunstruck kid?". She shrugged back at him.
She took a deep breath. Still not Jakku. There was no metallic tang of engine oil or ozone smell of long-dead plasma cannons in the air, no trace of anything but the scent of burning sand and implacable heat.
She slung on her staff and took off up the nearest dune. First thing she needed to do was go back to Jakku. Her family would never find her here! Wherever 'here' was.
From uphill she could see nothing but endless singing dunes.
"This isn't Tatooine!" Not-Luke pointed vaguely in what might have been a westward direction. "Tosche Station should be over there."
"You can tell it's not Tatooine from how there's only one sun," Anakin said. He was still covered head to toe -- the boy had definitely grown up in a desert -- but he'd taken off the leather overcoat. "What is this place?"
"It's not Jakku," Rey said.
"I'm not asking what it's not," Anakin snapped.
"You're the bloody Jedi, you use the Force and figure that shit out," Rey fired back. The very nerve.
Anakin closed his eyes. He collapsed into the sand and rolled halfway down the dune before Luke and Rey had time to react.
Rey slid down the slope and Luke ran. Between the both of them, they managed to catch Anakin before he gathered too much speed and hurt himself.
The good news was he was still breathing. The bad news was that when she pried open his eyelids his eyes were rolled back completely, with only the whites showing. She slapped him, hard. It had no effect.
"Hey, Tatooine, you ever heard of something like this?" From Fake Luke's face, she didn't think he did, but she had to ask.
He shook his head. "Could be a Jedi thing."
If that was true, Rey would have some choice words with the entire concept of 'being a Jedi' because this was just junk. But later. Now, they needed to move Anakin out of the sun.
It took a handful of moments, but eventually they managed to carry Anakin and his gear between them without impeding Rey's staff too much.
The other side of the dune was, nominally, in the shade. The difference could have been clearer, but the other side had been in the sun, so this side had to be in the shade. They set Anakin down. Fake Luke folded the leather overcoat and pillowed his head on it. Rey slapped Anakin again, to no better result.
"Will you stop that, please?" Fake Luke sounded more scared of her than angry, but at least there was some durasteel in him. Now she could believe he was from Tatooine.
"You got a better idea?"
"Have you got any water?"
Rey scrambled to her feet and away. Of course she had some water, but it was hers. She forced herself to relax. Fake Luke wasn't trying to steal her water and, for better or worse, it seemed the three of them were stuck together.
Rey carefully dribbled a trickle of water into Anakin's mouth so he wouldn't choke on it. Fake Luke propped him up. Up close, they did look kind of similar -- but that hardly surprising, since they were both from Tatooine. Outer Rim planets were notoriously inbred.
Anakin coughed, once, but didn't waste any of Rey's water. He didn't wake up either.
She glared at Fake Luke. So much for that.
Fake Luke dropped Anakin back on his leather overcoat pillow and pried his eye open. His iris was visible, but no one was home.
"Does he have any water?" Rey asked Fake Luke.
"We're not leaving him here!"
"I'm not saying we leave him here," Rey said, "but you haven't any and I only have this canteen and these are singing sands and it's been high noon since we got here."
Fake Luke looked at her. They were both from desert planets; they both knew what this meant.
Stripping Anakin of his gear was the work of moments. Rey buckled it all on, including the half-full canteen, then Fake Luke gave her what little he had and she put that on too. He picked up Anakin, stumbling slightly under the weight, and back up the dune they went.
From the top of the dune, it was still endless desert.
"Tosche Station?" Fake Luke asked.
Rey shrugged. It was as good a direction as any.
There wasn't much more to it than that, they just walked and walked and walked, while high above the sun remained unwavering. The sun beat down on them as they wound their way over the top of dunes.
They walked and, eventually, Anakin stirred.
"What happened?" he asked, once they sat him down on the sand.
"We were just about to ask you," Fake Luke said.
Rey nodded. Anakin leaned forward and hugged his head. Rey passed him his canteen. He sipped a mouthful of water. It took him a very long time to swallow.
"You collapsed," Rey said, hoping to prompt a response.
Anakin stood up. He attached the canteen to his belt, fumbling with the catch. He was off-balance when he took a step, so Rey tossed him the counterweight. He lit the lightsabre, its blue blade cool and calm in the scorching heat. Rey felt faintly offended, she wasn't going to damage something worth that many portions.
"Where to?" Anakin asked.
If he was going to take back the only valuable things in his gear -- water, weapon -- he could damn well take the rest. Rey handed it back to him.
"Does it matter?" It was still only endless desert in any direction that she could see.
"We're going west," Fake Luke said and that was right, she was also needlessly carrying his things, now.
Soon enough, she no longer was and they were heading west again.
"But what happened," Fake Luke asked for maybe the nineteenth time since they'd set off. Rey prepared to tune out the rest of his annoyingly whiny like of questioning, but this time, Anakin answered.
"It wasn't there," he said.
"The Force. I reached for the Force and it wasn't there."
This did not warrant the terror in Anakin's voice, if you asked Rey. Whatever the Force was, it stood to reason that here, in the desert at the end of everything it would be gone. That without Jedi to prop it up it would collapse, like a temple without pillars, an army without generals.
Anakin's voice was choked, on the edge of tears. What a waste of water. Rey turned away. Let him cry in privacy. She could offer him this much dignity.
There. Over the edge of the dune, wasn't that sunlight hitting sleeping waters?
It was only when she had drunk her fill from the wadi, used it to fill her canteen and drank from that -- the flat metallic taste of her canteen eclipsed by the warmth of the water -- that Rey allowed herself to believe the oasis was real and no mirage.
Anakin was sitting in the shade of the tallest rock, eyes closed, head bent forward, as he pressed his canteen to one side of his face and his lightsabre to the other.
Luke was frowning at the wadi. He put his arm in, all the way to the elbow. He pulled out his arm, sleeve wet. He rubbed his fingers together, then put his arm even deeper in the water. For a moment, Rey feared he would overbalance, but he didn't. He frowned at his hand. He pressed the pad of his thumb to the flat of his palm and frowned even deeper. He put his hand back in the water again.
"Catch anything?" Rey asked. What the hell was he doing?
Anakin snorted, but didn't open his eyes.
"No," Luke said. He stood. "Have you noticed there's nothing alive here except us?"
"What." Anakin had voiced the thought before Rey could.
"There are no plants, no animals, nothing. Just us," Luke said.
"It's a desert," Rey said. It was a desert-like as a desert could be, of course it wasn't going to be teeming with life.
Luke waved a hand, his wet sleeve flapping in the too-still air. "I don't know about Jakku, but on Tatooine, there's still some life in the desert. Womp-rats or banthas or, or, or sarlaccs even--"
"Don't you curse us with that sarlacc talk," Anakin snapped. His eyes were open and he had his finger on the trigger to his lightsabre. Whatever a sarlacc was, Rey didn't want to meet one.
Luke looked contrite. "Right. Sorry. But there's still something. Especially in oases. Here there's nothing."
"So my aunt and uncle are moisture farmers and trust me when I say I know more than I want to about waterborne organisms." Luke knelt and brought up a handful of water, letting it trickle through his fingers. "This is just water."
"That's good news," Rey said. Back on Jakku, the year after the sandfever epidemic, some strange, faintly blue-green luminescent algae had grown into the water tanks of Niima Outpost. Nine people had died.
"Not really." Anakin got to his feet slowly and a bit lopsidedly. "If there's nothing alive but the three of us and the water's just water, what are we going to eat?"
"I'm not hungry," Luke said.
Rey nodded. And besides they would be gone before lack of food became a problem, since they had water.
The wadi ended in the oasis, but at least now they had a direction to go into. Once they had filled their canteens and done some quick washing up -- Rey really hated getting sand in her hair and it got even more everywhere here -- they set about finding the source of the wadi.
"What's it like, being a Jedi?" Luke asked.
Anakin tapped the side of his head. "Less reliable than it used to be."
Rey was silent. She listened as Luke pestered Anakin with questions; it was kind of sweet how much the boy yearned for life as something other than a moisture farmer. Rey couldn't relate. Moisture farming meant never having to worry if she'd be able to buy water that week and, more importantly, it was very visible from space through hydroscanners. Her parents would be sure to find her easily if she were a moisture farmer.
"Wait," she heard Luke say. "The Republic?"
"The galaxy's been an Empire since I was born," Luke said.
Rey stopped walking and turned around. She'd been walking ahead of them, so she hadn't noticed when they'd stopped walking. They were standing a few yards back with identical looks of confusion on their faces.
"Republic," Rey said. If they were going to stand around like a pair of saltygh until that debate was resolved, she wasn't going to let said debate last forever.
Anakin caught up to her. "Palpatine's in charge?"
Rey shook her head. Jakku was isolated from galactic politics, but she at least knew that much.
"Yes," said Luke.
There was something off here, but the more Rey thought about it the more the thoughts fell away from her grasp like sand through her fingers.
"Come on," she told the others. "We can talk and walk."
They walked, but they did not talk. The dunes continued to unfold beneath their feet and the sun continued to shine relentlessly.
Occasionally, they took breaks to drink. The breaks never lasted and they walked on.
"Are you tired?" Luke asked.
"No," Anakin said.
Rey shook her head. That was strange. They should be tired. They'd been walking for too long not to be, and yet she still felt as rested as if she'd set out five minutes ago. She did not feel hungry, either, just as she had not felt hungry in the oasis.
All she felt was heat and dryness in the back of her throat.
The desert was infinite, she realised. It stretched out in every direction, without end. She included time in those directions as not even drinking the rest of her water did anything to help with the thirst.
With the desert infinite around her and the sky bleak and unrelenting above, Rey asked, "What's the date?"
They answered at the same time.
The date Luke gave was thirty years or so in the past. Rey couldn't be quite sure; Jakku wasn't a great place for time keeping and she had never found out how a day there converted to Galactic Standard.
The date Anakin gave was sixty years in the past.
Thirty years. Sixty years. Empires could rise and fall over such lengths of time; empires had.
Anakin and Luke stared at each other with twin looks of horror. Rey scrunched up her nose. Maybe Anakin really was Luke's father.
Before she could voice the thought, her left food sank into the dune up to her ankle. Luke stumbled for similar reasons. Anakin toppled over entirely. There was a sound like a sandstorm beneath their feet and the desert crumbled into nothing, sand and wanderers falling suddenly into the endless blinding white of the sky.
For the longest time, Rey didn't stop falling.
She fell. Anakin fell. Luke fell. Sand fell around them. Even the wadi fell, water drops and grains of sand against endless white.
Rey fell. She closed her eyes against the glare.
She woke up lying on a dune. A boy was shaking her. He was wearing all black and a braid fell over his shoulder. Rey sat up. The sunset sky was too bright to be Jakku, but too harsh to be anywhere else; she did not remember much about life before Jakku, but she remembered this much.
"What is this place?" Rey jumped to her feet and away from the boy.
"It's not Eldje," the boy said. He held up his hands. They were empty.
"Not Tatooine, either." There was another boy, blond-haired and wearing a tunic some shades off from pure white. They looked paler then they were against the golden red of the twilight sand. "I'm Luke. He's Anakin."
"Rey. I was on Jakku. How did I get here?"
"Beats me," Anakin said. He said it like the universe owed him answers and it was a personal failing on the part of the galaxy that he wasn't getting them.
He also wasn't lying. Rey relaxed her stance a fraction of an inch and raised her chin at Luke.
"No idea. I was going to get aquifer filters for the condensators but I woke up here instead. I'm not dressed for this." Luke gestured at himself. He wasn't carrying anything.
By reflex, Rey checked her gear. Everything was there. Everything was there and her canteen was full.
"Moisture farmer?" Anakin asked.
"Yeah. It's Aunt Beru, Uncle Owen and me in a farm over by Mos--"
Rey took an offensive guard with her staff. "Who. Touched. My. Gear."
"Wasn't me," Luke said.
"Nor I," Anakin said. His accent shifted, for a moment, Outer Rim to Inner Rim, Tatooine to Coruscant.
They weren't lying. She was sure of it. Rey wasn't sure how she knew, but she knew. Deep down in her bones and at the bottom of her soul, she knew. Neither of them had touched her gear.
This was worse than she thought. She attached her staff strap back to her belt. There was something on her belt that wasn't hers.
She held it out. A power converter?
"Hey!" said Luke. "That's mine!"
"I didn't take it," Rey said as she handed it back.
Anakin went through his stuff. "My canteen's also full. It wasn't on Eldje."
"So it's a noo-uun?" Luke was also going through his stuff. He did not have a canteen, so it was impossible to know if he'd benefitted from the mystery water as well.
"Noo-uuni are a myth," Anakin said.
Noo-uuni were Tatooine folklore, trickster spirits that lived inside dunes and slept in dry wadi beds. There had been a trader from Tatooine who'd told Rey a few stories before she'd left Jakku to find gainful employment with the Calrissian Consortium.
"Whatever," Luke said and took off up the dune. When he reached the top, he shouted, "Ha!"
Rey followed him up, leaving Anakin alone halfway down the slope. On the other side of the dune, there was a wadi. In a shady bend of it, somewhere to the left, there was even water.
Noo-uuni it was, then.
Rey could live with that. She'd have to. She made her way down the hill, sand slippery under her feet. Two-thirds of the way down she gave up and slid the rest of the way, slowing herself with a hand behind her. She stood up on the rock. She walked over to Luke who was drinking from the wadi. She opened her canteen, upturned it and watched the water fall until the last drop was gone. She made very sure the last drop was gone before she refilled her canteen.
Anakin rejoined them then. He had his leather overcoat wrapped around his waist. It hid his canteen, but left the counterweight -- a narrow silver cylinder whose purpose Rey couldn't tell -- free at his side. A weapon of some sort, then.
Above the horizon, the dusk sun shone harsh and implacable in the scorching heat. Rey drank from her canteen. Luke drank from the wadi. Anakin did not drink.
"Drink," Rey said. She did not offer him her canteen. He had his own.
Anakin spat out, "It's spirit water."
"I tossed mine," Rey said, jabbing a thumb at the wadi.
"You're a fool." He sighed. His shoulder sagged and the anger drained out of him. He looked, suddenly, very young. "What am I doing? I should know better than this; I'm a Jedi."
"I don't believe in fairy tales and myths," Anakin said, sounding like he was trying to convince himself more than Rey.
"You should, since you're one."
"I'm flesh and blood," Anakin said. He crouched next to the water and held out his hand. His fingers stopped a hair's breadth from the surface.
"Doesn't make you not a myth," Rey said. "You're a Jedi. The Jedi are a myth. You're a myth."
Anakin snorted. "Yeah, okay. I can live with that."
"You're a Jedi?!" Luke walked over to them, splashing water everywhere. At some point when Rey wasn't looking he'd gone into the water. It was spirit water; either the boy was foolish or he was blessed.
"I am indeed a Padawan of the Jedi order," Anakin said. His accent had shifted again -- he was copying someone, Rey realised, most likely some high-born Corespawn. He turned to Rey, Tatooine accent falling back into place. "How'd you know?"
"Lightsabre." Rey nodded at where it hung on his belt.
His hand flew to it; he hadn't touched the water. The other one went to the braid in his hair. "Not that I was being stealth."
"You're a Jedi," Luke repeated and Rey had to look away from him and the naked wonder in his voice.
Anakin and Luke started talking then. Rey didn't listen. If Luke wanted to look too closely at the workings of myth, that was on him. Rey, for her part, had been taught by Jakku not to come too close to myths the same way she'd been taught not to come too close to sandstorms. Perhaps Tatooine was kinder. Perhaps out there in the Outer Rim myth did not pick you up and spit you back out, forever changed beneath your skin.
And wasn't that exactly how she'd ended up here in the first place? She'd gone down into the belly of a metal monster, one of the downed legends of the sands of Jakku. It was the Empire who'd fought its dying breath in the skies above, or the Republic, or both. Empty shells and forgotten ghosts, one and all.
Rey stretched her legs and wiped what sand she could off herself. She checked that her canteen was full again. She started walking up the wadi.
After a few steps, Anakin and Luke caught up with her. They were silent and the three of them walked like that for a while, in peace and quiet under the unrelenting sky. Occasionally they passed through the shadow of a dune. No matter how long they walked, the sun remained in the same place above the horizon and the shadows remained the same length.
It was in one such dune shadow that Anakin finally broke and drank the spirit water, kneeling to put his head face first into the wadi. Rey might have said something unkind, but she chose instead to be impressed by how long he could hold his breath. He hadn't learned that on Tatooine.
She offered him a hand and Luke another; he grabbed both to get to his feet.
"You can't get water like this on a space frigate," Anakin said. He didn't fill his canteen and started walking again.
"Tell me about frigates," Rey said.
Anakin squinted at her. "Why?"
"Before I woke up here I was exploring one," Rey said. She side-stepped a stone below the surface of the sand -- if she'd hit it she might have tripped or twisted her ankle -- and continued, sure-footed, on her way. "I lost my way."
Anakin then proceeded, as they walked through sands unending, to take her through a guided tour of the interior of the main types of frigates in the fleet of the Galactic Republic.
"Empire," Luke said.
"Not for decades," Rey said. Long enough for Emperor Palpatine to become a scary story for children; young enough that he was still a scary story for children.
"Oh." Anakin looked guilty, briefly, then looked away. "Not sure how helpful what I just told you is, if you're from millennia into the past."
"Millennia?" asked Luke. He stopped walking and they all followed suit.
"That's how long there hasn't been an Empire," Anakin said. "Not since the Jedi won the last great war between the Jedi and the Sith -- what's it called, I'm bad at history."
"Obviously," Luke said, "because the Jedi lost."
Anakin whistled between his teeth. "You must be from farther back than I thought. I can't even remember the last war the Jedi lost."
Rey switched her staff from her right side to her left. She nodded towards the wadi and started walking when they nodded back.
Rey walked. The sun shone in the sky, always setting and never set, gold like hidden treasure and red like fresh blood, with not even dawn's rosy fingers to sooth its crepuscular light. The heat remained unrelenting. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She swallowed drily. Sweat stuck her headwrap to her head. She could almost feel her hair tangle beneath it.
And just like that the issue of time displacement fell from Rey's mind as she walked, like grains of sand through her fingers.
They walked. Anakin overtook Rey, taking point for a while. Then it was Luke's turn. They continued this way as they followed the wadi at the base of the dunes. It was meant to reduce fatigue, that is was not always the same person taking the brunt of the wind, but Rey felt not different. Maybe it was due to the lack of wind.
The wadi curved and they followed it. They were walking towards the sun now. The glare of the sunset against the dunes forced her to put her trooperglasses on.
"Are those Stormtrooper lenses?" Luke asked.
"So you're from the beginning of the Republic, that's cool," Anakin said. "Who's in charge? I failed that question last exam."
Rey took a moment to consider that question. She would have failed that exam too, she knew. News on Jakku was often years out of date. Anakin wouldn't know. Eventually, she said, "Senator General Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan-That-Was."
Anakin frowned. Rey knew the feeling. Organa's titles were mostly ceremonial these days, but she did need to be separated from the other Alderaanian Senator, Senator Evaan Verlaine of Alderaan-In-Exile.
"Alderaan-That-Was?" Luke asked.
"Alderaan-That-Was." Rey mimed setting down, then waved over her head. "Alderaan-In-Exile."
"What happened to plain Alderaan?" Anakin was smiling.
Rey stared at him in horror. No matter how bad at history he was and how far down the timeline he was from, that was no reason to make light of what had happened to Alderaan. Millions, maybe billions, of people had died. An entire planet had been obliterated. Rey's Old Republic flight simulator had had a patch installed to counteract the gravitational anomalies the destruction of Alderaan had caused. Sometimes it malfunctioned and Rey found herself jumping into hyperspace lanes that had not existed in decades.
Anakin's smile faded. "Rey. What happened to Alderaan?"
"It blew up."
"It's a planet. They don't blow up," Anakin said, but he sounded unsure.
Luke had paled. "Palpatine's secret weapon -- Biggs mentioned it -- that's... That's what it is, isn't it?"
Rey nodded and the ground fell away beneath her feet.
The dune broke apart, grain of sand by grain of sand. It fell around her as she tumbled head over heels into the sky -- the sun had moved, she thought. It remained far above, all unrelenting glare and scorching heat.
Anakin flashed by her, diving head first into the unknown, grim expression on his face and lightsabre lit in his hand.
The wadi fell before Rey's face. On the other side, she saw Luke, flopping about much like she was.
Rey awoke face down on a dune, sand between her teeth. The edge of her glasses dug into her cheekbones and forehead. She pushed them up, no need for those at night. Burning sand under her feet and cold air around her. The sun had not set so long ago as all that. Yet she could see, endless twilight and sun unseen.
She sat up. Nearby, a boy her age was doing the same. He shook his head and a braid fell over his shoulder.
She stood. Her hands flew about, checking her gear. Her staff was on her off-shoulder, but she had everything and her canteen was full.
"Where are we?" a voice asked.
Rey spun, staff at the ready. It was another boy her age. He was dressed in white to the other one's black, but aside from that and their haircuts, they looked remarkably similar.
"Not Jakku," Rey said. The sand felt wrong, too coarse and too smooth, all at once. "That's where I was."
The boy in black said, "I was on Eldje. My master and I were going to go back to Coruscant."
"You're a slave," the boy in white said, voicing Rey's thought.
"Not anymore. Not ever again." There was fury enough to burn the whole galaxy in his voice and a light in the darkness. The blue light coming out of his fist threw his face into sharp relief, edges like knives and planes like durasteel.
"You're a Jedi," Rey said and try as she might she couldn't keep the wonder from her voice -- Jedi were a myth, a fairy tale in the night. This place was not Jakku, was not desert at all, despite the dune below her feet and the sand in her clothing. If it was anything, this place was myth. Or it was a dream. Maybe dehydration was getting to her. "You're a myth."
The boy in black's smug face fell. "Well, I suppose, if you're from a place like Jakku. Or Tatooine."
"How'd you know I was from Tatooine?" the boy in white asked.
"I meant I'm from Tatooine," the boy in black said. He shut off his lightsabre. "Anakin."
"My name's Luke."
"Right. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get off this dustbowl and meet the Senator from Naboo. I haven't seen her in years, I --" Anakin looked away.
Rey shrugged. She might not have any Senators to meet, but she did have a life to get back to and her family was waiting for her.
She turned on her heels to get better bearings. Around her now the lone and level sands stretched out into infinity. There was no horizon. She could not tell where the dunes ended and the night began. Stars stuck to the sky like sand to sweaty palms.
They were not stars she knew. She picked a direction and walked.
Luke and Anakin fell into step behind her, until Luke ran up to her. "Wait. We should go that way."
"The air feels less dry over there," Luke said.
"It's a desert," Anakin said. "They're dry. That's the whole point."
"I know. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are moisture farmers," Luke said and Rey felt a sudden, jagged spike of envy in her heart. Not only did Luke not have to rely on scavenging to survive, but he had a family. For a moment, her eye caught Anakin's and she could have sworn the look on his face mirrored the one on hers.
Luke took the lead. Rey and Anakin followed.
There was a wadi, down on the other side of the dune. They made their way down the dune.
There was a rock by the water. Rey sat down on it. The wadi reflected the darkness above, cutting through sand like part of the night cast onto the ground.
She felt as if she had been there before. The sands were endless and infinite and the wadi wound between innumerable dunes on either side; there was nothing remarkable about the sight in front of her. It was as desert like as the desert at night ever could be. It could have been anywhere on Jakku, anywhere on Tatooine, anywhere in any desert of the galaxy. But it wasn't and she had been here before.
"How long have we been doing this?" Rey asked.
Anakin shrugged. "This isn't a real place. Time has no meaning."
"What makes you say that?" Luke said. He sat in the sand on the dry part of the edge of the wadi.
"The Force is gone," Anakin said. His voice was tight. "Or else the two of you are the only living things in the universe with a presence in the Force -- and that's not possible. The Jedi wouldn't simply disappear like that."
Rey looked at Luke and Luke looked at Rey. Without saying a word, they agreed not to tell Anakin about what would happen to the Jedi; he was from further back in time than they were, too far back to do anything. And even if he could, then what? It was not why they were here.
"Why are we here?" Rey asked.
"I don't know! How should I know? I'm just a padawan, why does everyone expect me to know everything --" Anakin sank to his knees in the sand and wept.
Rey stared. What the fuck?
Luke rushed over to Anakin and pulled him into a hug. Anakin stilled. His hands balled into fists, skin drawn tight and white over the knuckles. Luke eased a little on the hug and Anakin relaxed, a little. Luke kept up the hug until Anakin stopped crying.
"You don't have to know everything. Just because Rey asked doesn't mean she thought you knew. Right, Rey?" Luke stared at her, then repeated himself. "Right, Rey?"
"Right," Rey finally said. What the fuck was wrong with Anakin?
Anakin's sobs subsided, until he fell utterly and terrifyingly silent.
Luke didn't seem particularly alarmed, though, so Rey assumed Anakin was still breathing. Still. She pushed herself off her rock and went over. She took Anakin's wrist. He didn't react. His pulse was thready and weak, but there.
His eyes were shut. She tried to pry one open. She barely managed to get a glimpse of his eyeball before his eyelids closed again. His eye was bloodshot and revulsed. Déjà vu hit Rey again. She pushed it aside.
Her and Luke propped Anakin up, supporting his head. She went to the wadi, filled her canteen, came back and splashed the water in his face.
Anakin stirred and protested weakly.
"What happened?" Luke asked.
"The Force is gone," Anakin said, like this was news. No Jedi, no Force, wasn't that how it worked? And there were so very few Jedi around, these days, and none outside of myth.
"Okay?" Rey said, when the silence had stretched to breaking.
"The Force is gone," Anakin repeated. "I don't know who I am, without it."
"You're Anakin," Luke said. "Shmi's son."
How Luke knew Anakin's mother's name, Rey had no idea. What was worse, she knew it too. Anakin, son of Shmi and the desert incarnate. An orphan of the sands. Nothing remarkable there. There were thousands of those the galaxy over, fatherless children growing among dunes. All three of them were desert children themselves.
Anakin's face turned to durasteel. "You're right. Before I am anything else, I am my mother's son."
He meant Shmi, more likely, but to Rey it sounded like nothing but the acknowledgement of the desert's harshness in his veins. The desert was rarely kind and rarely cruel, preferring simply mostly to be, in all its glory and majesty, but when it was cruel, oh, it was cruel. Rey had that viciousness within herself, she knew, and so, it seemed, did Anakin.
Anakin stood. His jaw was set. Rey was more familiar with that expression from the inside than the outside. Rey stood, hand on her staff. Luke was last on his feet and took a step back.
"I'm going back," Anakin said. "I'm going back and don't you think you can stop me."
It wasn't the first time he'd said that, but for the first time Rey believed they could do it. Anakin had given her the means of escaping the downed Old Republic frigate that would have chewed her up in its steely maw until she died, broken and bleeding down an infinite chasm in its depth. She'd helped Luke -- he'd have to pick up power converters to fix the issue definitely, but it would be fixed. And now... Now Anakin's problem had been resolved as well.
It had taken far too long for him to admit there was a problem, but he'd admitted it and a problem once admitted was half resolved already. There was a sound, clear as bell, that rang out in her mind when she looked towards him.
They would leave this odd, too real place and return to Jakku and Tatooine and the galaxy beyond.
Luke would return to his aunt and uncle's homestead on the edge of forever dunes. Anakin would meet his Senator and return to Tatooine and the desert and his mother.
Rey opened her eyes to the ceiling of the great metal cavern that was the downed Old Republic frigate she'd been scavenging. She must have... She must have passed out again. She was out of food and she was running out of water. She needed to get out of this place before it killed her.
She sat up slowly and took a sip of water. Her canteen was full. How odd. It'd been almost empty before she woke up, she was sure of it. Unbidden, the word noo-uun came to her mind in someone else's voice.
Whatever a Tatooine desert spirit might have been doing on Jakku was anyone's guess.
Rey stood. She had been lost before but now she was found. Fragments of barely remembered dreams guiding her, she made her way through the ship. She scavenged as she went, until finally she reached the open air.
Her sled was where she'd left it, as was her speeder. While she travelled back to Niima Outpost, she felt the dream fade from her like day faded into night, but it left behind a bedrock at the bottom of the shifting sands of her soul.
She was not alone. The desert cared for her as it cared for all of its children. That was a blessing and that was a curse. The storm was not the desert. The oasis was not the desert. A whole was more than the sum of its parts, and so it was with Rey.
Later that day, what was left of the water in her canteen tasted like goodbye when she heard the beeping of a BB unit over the nearest dune.
She had never seen so much water in one place, even in her dreams. To the child of the desert, any unreal sea was a shallow thing, water like a shadow across the sand.
The sea here was real, a wild, untamed thing of depth and fury breaking ceaselessly against the cliffs. Water sprayed Rey's face when she stood on the edge. Down below the waves shifted and rolled like dunes in a storm.
Day after day after day, she would return to this spot and remember the legacy of who she was, the desert below her skin, the stars in her mind and the sea in her dreams. That last was now as endless and true as the other two.
Everything that Rey was was saltwater, blood and sweat and tears. Everything that Rey was was the night, blessed relief from scorching heat and the stars her destination. Everything that Rey was was a child of the desert, relentless and sharp.
Sometimes Luke would join her on the cliff. They never spoke in those moments.
Nobody loved the sea like the children of the desert loved the sea. They did not love it best, but they loved it unique. They loved it as they could only love what was that unrelenting and uncompromising: the desert, the sea and the great dark between the stars.
At night, Rey would go down to the thin strip of sand on the edge of the sea. She would take off her shoes and lie down in the sand, hidden in a fold of the rock. Feet in the water and sand beneath her, she would watch the stars far above. Every night, she would return to the closest thing to a desert this too-wet planet had.
Every night, she was alone.
Rey sat in the sand, legs splayed, fingers and toes digging into the sand. The sand was cold instead of the pleasant warmth and heat of home, but at least this far up the beach, at this time of night, it was dry. She let the feel of the sand and the dark beneath her eyelids bring her back to the desert.
She opened her eyes. There was someone else with her, sitting on the last step of the stairwell carved into the cliff. He wore all black and his eyes burned like sunset.
She waited for him to speak. She breathed in time with the waves.
Eventually, he spoke. "Once I had a dream."
"We all have dreams," Rey said. Hers would never come true and she accepted that, most of the time.
He shook his head. "Not like that. Not a dream an aspiration, a dream a night-time vision."
"I know the dream you mean."
"I dreamt of the desert, unending and unafraid."
"I know the dream you mean," Rey repeated.
"As do I," said Luke and sat higher up in the staircase.
Anakin -- because it was Anakin, there was no point pretending she didn't know -- nodded. "I don't know when your dreams happened, but mine happened on Naboo. I had not been to Tatooine in ten years at that point and when I returned my mother was dead. I slaughtered all those responsible." He stared straight into Rey's eyes, daring her to make something of it. "I suppose that was the first step I took on the road to being Darth Vader."
Luke laid a comforting hand on his father's shoulder. Anakin bent his head towards it and closed his eyes.
Rey said, "Did you really expect the Force to be kind?"
"Does the desert care about the grain of sand? Does the ocean care about the wave? Does the night sky care about the star? No. Why then should the Force care for any individual life?" Rey spoke, and the words tumbled out of her mouth without her knowing where they came from. "Some are brighter or best beloved or chosen, but in the end the storm comes, the dawn rises and the wave must break."
Faced with silence from Anakin and Luke, Rey stood and walked to the edge of the water. Nothing further to see but sea and stars in the sky all wrong for Jakku. Some things were easier to say without reminders of the desert.
"The Force will do what must be done. It comes for us because we are desert children." She breathed out, closed her eyes and gripped her staff tighter. "Harsh is not the same as cruel."
On that sea-born stripe of sand far from any desert, Rey realised that she had come to love the Force as Luke and Anakin loved it, with all the bright edges of her heart and the dark places of her soul.
If the desert taught anything it was survival. Rey had learned her lesson well. She loved the Force but she would not let it be the end of her.
And if she was to be its instrument, discarded broken and bloody, she would meet her fate a Jedi like Luke, a Jedi like Anakin, a child of the desert among the stars.