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Four Years, Eleven Months Ago

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Four Years, Eleven Months Ago

It was a completely unremarkable afternoon. Vader was working out of Palpatine’s office, getting coffee after intimidating some State Senator’s intern into allowing him access to their boss’s office. The legislator was disappointingly predictable: an affair with a constituent would be his point of leverage.

The coffee, he ordered with a pastry. He didn’t realize anything was amiss until the crunch.

There were a very few, tiny, red spheres on his croissant.

Frowning, Vader wrote up an official complaint about that particular Starbucks branch, and made a mental note to make sure the entire afternoon staff got a piece of his mind. Cross-contamination was not something the state health board took lightly.

By the time he drove his sleek, black muscle car into his driveway, he’d forgotten about the sprinkles.

Then he opened his mailbox, and jumped back from the cascade of red sprinkles that erupted from it.

When he inquired, none of his household staff knew how they had gotten there. None of them were lying, so he fired them for incompetence.

 

Five Years Ago

As Kai had predicted, Cassian’s hospital fundraiser proved to be novel, amusing, and even somewhat satisfying. Cassian was quick to recognize the value in Kai’s strategy to drive up the bids, the donors knew how to waltz, there was a less than one point four percent chance of anyone trying to have him or Cassian killed, and the food was (1) free, (2) of excellent quality and (3) came to him, once he accurately mapped the waiters’ travel patterns.

Kai finished dancing with a retired senator dressed all in white, exchanged pleasantries, and returned to the table where Cassian was sitting with other hospital staff.

Tano was grinning at Amidala.

“Did you see what Cake My Day donated?” she said, eyes alight. “One hundred pounds of cupcake sprinkles.”

Amidala’s eyes widened, and then she broke into a wicked grin. “Too bad Anakin wouldn’t be caught dead raising money for a hospital.”

“Can you imagine his face?” Tano laughed, then faced the rest of the table. “See, Anakin isn’t a fan of sprinkles.”

Hates them,” Amidala smiled after a sip of wine. “More than you’d think a grown man would hate an easily-avoided topping.”

“Any time there were sprinkles near him, and I mean any time ,” Tano said, “like if someone offered him a cupcake, or he was in a donut shop, or the baking aisle at the grocery store, seriously anything , he’d turn to you and say—”

She caught Amidala’s eye, and then in unison they said, “‘I don’t like sprinkles!’” They had the same cadence and low-pitched voices, clearly mimicking something they’d heard many times. “‘They’re coarse and dry and get everywhere!’”

Then they both dissolved into laughter, leaning on one another. The rest of the table was laughing, too. Kai noted that Cassian and the women looked at each other with an open, platonic affection that only corroborated the other signs of friendship he’d seen that night. Cassian having more than one healthy friendship at the same time was something Kai was grateful for, not that he’d embarrass anyone by voicing the thought.

It was later, when he was dancing with the mayor of an arts tourism town, that a number of pieces of information coalesced in his mind:

Item one: Anakin Skywalker, now going under the name Vader, was Amidala’s ex-husband. In the past forty years, there hadn’t been a social event as infamous or as nasty as the the Skywalker-Amidala divorce.

Item two: Vader was Chief of Staff for Governor Palpatine, who was somehow involved with the Imps, though not with any court-admissible evidence, of course.

Item three: Amidala and Tano were Cassian’s friends, ergo, deserving of Kai’s support and protection.

Item four: Vader disliked sprinkles to an irrational degree.

Item five: A large quantity of sprinkles were available at a variable price.

Item six: Unless they baked as hobby, it was unlikely that the donors would be motivated to get into a bidding war over sprinkles. 

After the dance, he returned to the bidding area. There was only one bid for the sprinkles at a price much lower than market rate. Kai wrote in his own bid at twenty percent higher than the last, and smiled. He estimated that he had an eighty percent chance of winning before his budget was exceeded.

There was more dancing, and more strategic bidding, and by the end of the evening, he and Cassian had driven up donations by seventeen percent.

Kai also had enough ammunition for an extended campaign of revenge.

 

Four Years, Ten Months Ago

The day’s mail was delivered on time, as usual. You only had to menace the courier’s dog once to make sure that happened, and Vader intended to enjoy the fruits of his threats. So at two o’clock in the afternoon, precisely, a stack of envelopes arrived on Vader’s in-box.

It wasn’t until two-thirty, when he had a chance to open said correspondence, when he realized that the thick manila envelope, mailed from a residential address in Guam, contained nothing but heart-shaped sprinkles. It also wasn’t until his desk was covered in them, dry sugary abominations in his way and falling into the crevices of his keyboard, that he realized that the envelope contained something other than paper.

“They’ll pay,” he growled. “I will hunt them down and they will pay .”

The week’s intern, who’d only just been trained on the coffee machine and copier, skittered away from Vader’s desk and was never heard from again.

 

Four Years, Ten and a Half Months Ago

A single confetti sprinkle stuck to the receipt on Vader’s lunch order one day gave him pause. But, no. That was ridiculous. No one would go that far.

He got five bites into his prosciutto sandwich when the finely-cured Italian meat and high-quality bread were violated with a sickly sweet crunch. With a roar, Vader spit it out, and opened the sandwich to find that the entire middle of the sandwich had been replace with sprinkles.

Later, after he washed the taste out of his mouth and calmed down, he’d spend hours trying to figure out who had access to the deli, and who would have the kind of power or money to be able to tamper with his order.

 

Four Years, Six Months Ago

After a long day with Palpatine, Vader was on his way to his car when he saw the odd, colorful tinge to the black Shelby GT. Frowning, fists clenching, he approached, and was not really surprised to see that the whole roof was covered in rainbow jimmies.

It was infuriating, but he was above this. It was simply a matter of driving through a car wash on his way to work, regardless of the rain. He already had a flexible schedule, and Palpatine understood the importance of image. So he didn’t really lose it until he was walking from his car to the door of the state Capitol building. The sidewalk outside had been completely covered (he really should have seen it coming) in rainbow jimmies. The crunching squelch under his shoes was heinous, and he scared the daylights out of the custodian in charge of the parking lot to make sure the offense was cleaned out within the hour.

When he left the building again well after five o’clock, there were fresh sprinkles melting in the rain, a messy smear of every color wending its way down the exact path Vader took from building to car.

It was a bit undignified, but his howl of rage could be heard for about a half mile in every direction.

 

Four Years, Four Months Ago

Everything looked normal at first. Vader’s personal assistant picked up his dry cleaning on Thursday afternoon like he always did, and made sure the black suits were back in Vader’s closet by the time he got home.

Friday morning, they even looked right: clean, pressed, professional.

It was only after he got dressed that he realized something was amiss. He was nearly out the door, briefcase in hand, when he dropped his work keys into his right coat pocket like always. Normally, there was a reassuring, muffled jingle when he did that.

Today, there was sort of a crunch.

His whole being stopped. No physical movement, no emotional response, no thoughts. Just a long moment of nothingness while his soul tried to crawl away from what had probably happened.

After he’d forced himself to move again, he reached back into his pocket. With the keys came a scattering of tiny, round, chocolate sprinkles. They skittered onto the floor and under the edge of the kitchen counter as if they knew how much rage was about to be unleashed upon them.

It took Vader’s new personal assistant four days to have all of Vader’s suits re-cleaned, locate and eliminate all sprinkles from his closet and kitchen, and locate a new, more secure cleaning service.

 

Now

Vader was scheduled to go with Palpatine to the informal meeting of the  Republican Governors’ Association. Getting his car detailed was only one of the many preparations, and he went to the same agency he always did.

That was why it was so surprising that he found a single, purple sprinkle on his seat when the car was finished.

A few minutes of enraged searching wound him up with nothing, so he dismissed it as a freak occurrence (even if his gut was telling him that it was part of the same streak of sprinkle sabotage he’d experienced four years ago) and continued his other preparations after speaking with the cleaner’s manager and getting the on-duty team written up.

Days later, he was looking for a pen. When he opened the glove compartment, he couldn’t stop the onslaught of tiny, round, rainbow sprinkles from pouring all over his passenger seat and floorboards.


“The key,” Kai said, the barest hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, “Is to avoid regular timing. Random intervals induce the most stress when anticipating unpleasant occurrences.”

Bodhi grinned. “You’re terrifying,” he said admiringly. “Teach me your ways. I know a lot of people and at least thirty percent of them should regret their life choices.”

Kay looked at him up and down, as if evaluating the new officer’s potential, as if he didn’t already know Bodhi’s (rather colorful) record backwards and forwards. “Yes,” he concluded. “I think that would be fun.”