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On the Dunes of Tatooine

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Nikolan Kylars stood on the top of a rocky ledge looking over the desolate dunes of Tatooine. The suns were setting and there was a dry breeze over the red dust. He closed his eyes, feeling the familiar warmth on his skin. 

His bantha nudged his shoulder, eager to get home. It wouldn’t be long, he thought. They were so close. The small dome of the house shone in the afternoon light, nestled in the sand.

He hated sand. He hated the planet. Parsecs away from any other system, 3 days from town, well, now, 5 since the speeder was broken. So as he stood there, he couldn’t help but wonder how he had come to stay.

A small figure emerged from the house. The sound of giggles broke the stillness. He smiled. Yes, he remembered.

“Daddy!” shouted the little blond boy. He was trying his best to run over the dunes and meet him.

He waited as the little bundle scrambled up the hill. Nik bent over and scooped him up. The boy wrapped his small arms around the back of his neck.

“Luke!” he said, ruffling the boy's hair. He was only about 4. “How are you? How was your day?”

“We missed you! We went exploring, and then Leia saw you Bean, so, so...”

A puff of air came over from the bantha.

The boy smiled and stuck out a hand to pat its face. “Hi Bean!”

Nik smiled again. “Where did Leia go?” he asked. Suddenly he felt a weight jump onto his back. “oph!”

“I’m here Papa!” said the little girl, swinging from his shoulders.

“Well hello, little lady! I hope you two didn’t get into to much trouble while I was gone.”

They giggled.

“Did you help around the farm? Or did you just play around the whole time?”

“I can tell you that they did a little bit of both.” A woman appeared from out of the house. She had long brown hair and her smile glowed. He placed the twins gently back on the ground. “Go put Bean back in her stall, ok guys?” he said. “You two can wipe her horns.”

“Do we have to?” they whined.

“Yes, she worked really hard carrying me all the way to town and back.”

Leia clambered onto Bean’s head. Nik lifted Luke behind her. “Go on, you two”

“Forward march, Bean!” yelled Leia, like a brave general leading troops into battle. Nik shivered.

They disappeared behind the house.

He turned to the woman. She was tanned by the sun, and her rough clothes swayed in the wind. She was happy. And she was safe. She smiled, stretching her arms out. “Anakin. Or should I call you Nik?”

Anakin wrapped her up in his arms. They kissed. There was no rush, they had time. It was ok.

“EEEEWWW!” squealed two little voices.

Anakin broke away and looked at them. Two little heads were peeping over the dome of the house. “I didn’t know you two could clean that fast! Next time I'll tell you to brush as well!”

“No!” they said in unison. They quickly ducked behind the house again.

She laughed, shaking her head. “They’re little trouble makers, just like you were.”

“Me, Padme? They take after you!”

“You wish” she said, hitting him playfully on the shoulder. “I was a perfect child.” she said, putting her nose in the air. “I would never have taken part in such shenanigans.”

He laughed.“You have told me SO many stories about how you spied on your friends in the senate, don’t you lie to me.”

“Ok fine” she huffed. “Perhaps it was a bit of a hobby. BUT” she poked him in the chest. “I never got caught. You however...”

“All right all right, you win” said Anakin, taking her hand. “Let's go in. It's starting to get dark.”

They walked down the steps together. They past the crude drawings of strange creatures by their daughter, and avoided the pieces of metal scattered on the floor by their son. They entered the main room, filled with a couch and a low table. On the walls were some of the few images of the times before. Anakin tried to avoid thinking about them, but they were still nice to have. A picture of Padme as the youngest queen of Naboo. The trophy he had won from pod racing so long ago. There were some newer ones too of course. There was a picture of his mother on a chest of drawers along with an image of Padme's family. There were more mementos hidden around the house, places that were less visible to prying eyes. And to their own. The locked chest that held his lightsaber, buried in the pot of a small cactus. A few old holo’s lying around from the clone wars. A portrait of him, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka at the temple, all smiling. They all seemed like they came from eons ago.

And of course, to the children, they did. Old pictures of weird people on distant planets. Just random strangers that their parents had around, people they never knew by name. And most of the time, Anakin didn’t really feel like explaining. It was better for them, for now, to only know him as Nikolan, a farmer who liked to tinker with shiny things and sometimes speeders. Padme was only Aymi, a loving mother who liked to boss Nikolan around. Things were better that way.

Luke and Leia never asked why they lived so far from town, or why they sometimes walked in to see their parents on the couch staring into the distance. Why unlike everyone else they were never harassed by the Hutts, or how their parents got the ideas for their amazing bedtime stories they told. Stories that cut off halfway because their father’s voice stopped working. Padme would just put them to bed, saying it was too late. It was just a peaceful, normal farm life. And that was all Anakin and Padme could ever hope for.

 


 

Screaming. Fear seeming to whirl around the medical bay. The ship’s nursery droid was waiting calmly at her feet, but the world felt like it was slipping away from her. She was exhausted, and it hurt. She called out his name weakly, “Anakin!” 

He was there. Right beside her. His hand clutched to her's was the only thing attaching her to the ground.

“Im here Padme.” he said gently. “Im here. I’ll always be right here for you.”

She looked into his calm blue eyes, if there was fear, she couldn't see it. He brushed a piece of hair from her sweat-covered face. 

“Stay strong, don’t give up”

Strength flooded back through her. She could survive anything if he was there. She breathed, she pushed, and then, not one, but two small life forms were delivered to her arms. The world pulled back together, and then there were only 4 things in the whole universe that mattered.

Her, the babies, and Anakin.

Everything was going to be ok.

 


 

Padme plopped a jug on the table.“So, did Maisy have the parts you needed? And the ones to fix Y3-O3”

Anakin stared at the blue milk. Luke and Leia were out in the small yard chasing each other. “No," he said glumly. "She said she would get a shipment in four cycles.”

“FOUR CYCLES??!?” She exploded “We can’t wait that long! Trips to town take forever without the speeder. And we need O3 to recode the second hydration system! What about the other stalls? ”

“Only scavenger parts and illegal things. I checked everywhere.” 

“Can't you try to, you know...” she made some vague gesture. “Magic something together?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Magic? Thermal deproctor cells can’t be replaced with magic”

She blew a piece of hair off her face. They thought for a moment until something behind her dinged. Anakin sat a little straighter, while her back was turned. "Is that a model 14-3 Faffil oven?”

“Yeah, I think so” she opened it up and took out a tray.

“Does it have one of those metal big things on the ventilation shaft?”

She glanced at the ceiling and then back at Anakin. “Be a little more vague please”

He leaned over the counter. Yes! There it was, a small box with a hinge just below the vent! He grinned. “Inside that thing is a copper alanine pump. If I can get it out without making the oven catch on fire...”

She frowned. 

“I can use it to replace part of the h-drive in the speeder, and all I would need is a...” he thought for a moment, looking around. “Luke?” he called.

A small head popped up outside the window a few moments later. “Food?” he asked, tilting his head to the side like a puppy.

“Soon, tell your sister to come in. Can you go on a special mission for me?”

Luke’s big blue eyes widened. He nodded slowly, honored by this duty.

“Can you go find that black metal thing I showed you the other day? The one with the bits on it?”

“The one with the gears?”

“No no, the one with the two things”

“The really shiny one?”

“No, just the sort of shiny one. The one about the size of your hand”

“Oh!” Luke took a huge breath. “That one! The one that's a square!”

“Exactly. And plot twist, Grand Admiral Kylars, you can only succeed if you make it back in twenty seconds and you're not allowed to touch the color brown!”

Luke scampered off. Padme shook her head. “Honestly, I’ll never understand how you two understand each other.”

Anakin smiled mischievously. “Isn’t that why you fell in love with me? Because I was so... mysterious?”

She snorted. 

Luke scampered back into the room, holding the exact piece Anakin needed. “Nice going, little buddy” said Anakin proudly. Luke panted, out of breath. Leia wandered in from outside. Her hair was full of sticks like some sort of messy crown. She tried to go sit at the table, but Padme lifted her in the air.

“You both need to clean up right now before you touch anything in this house” she said. “You’re covered with enough dirt to be a womp rat. And Leia, honey. The sticks?”

They both whined and reluctantly wandered off to the washroom.

Anakin displayed the piece proudly to his wife. “That speeder with be back and running in no time! And then I can use the left part of the h-drive which will then have rendered the double chain bearing obsolete leaving the... he started mumbling to himself.

Padme laughed. “Close enough to magic for me”

“Well, maybe just a little”

Luke and Leia bumbled back in and clambered onto their chairs. Padme pulled out a massive spoon. “Who's ready to eat?”

“Me!” both Leia and Luke screeched simultaneously. Padme slid into a dark smile.

“All right, Luke first. He helped me make the spicy ahrisa.”

Liea scowled and brought her little fist down on the table “but i collected the moisture from the collection tank!” she whined. Her arms folded in a huff.

“Now now honey. It's only a small amount of time.” She took 4 plates from a cabinet, and put food on each. “We also have grilled cactus -which your father got in the market instead of the mechanical parts we actually needed” she coughed.
Anakin rolled his eyes. Luke picked up his ahrisa-cake. Anakin also took a bite of his own.

Padme rested her chin in her hands and watched them intently. Leia had become sidetracked by a small beetle on the floor. Luke’s face turned white, then red. Anakin started coughing.

“SPICY!” they yelled.

“You see, Luke?” said Padme. “This is what happens when you dump the whole container of spices in the dough and don’t tell Mommy. Mommy always finds out.” her voice sank down low. “Always”

Luke’s eyes filled with tears. If it was the heat or the guilt, either way, Anakin felt a little bad. It seemed a bit harsh. Anakin took another bite. It was ridiculously hot. “I think” his mouth was on fire. “That you did a great job, Luke” he tried to swallow. He gasped. “But a little less next time, ok?”

Luke smiled a little. Padme turned around a grabbed a different tray. “Don’t be sad, Luke. Dad also brought sweet dale-buns in town. And I made another batch of ahrisa-cakes. Bean will love your extra spicy ones for her dinner”

Both Luke and Leia let out toothy grins at the good news. Padme served the normal ones, Leia didn’t start any fights, and the rest of the evening continued quite peacefully.

 


 


“Help me, Anakin! I can help you save Padme!”

“I shall end this disease once and for all!”

Anakin thought for a moment. It was a little difficult to do so with all the force lightning and screeching pounding around his ears. Pieces of important papers, rushing wind, and flickering lights weren't helping it either, or the constant shouting of Palpatine and Mace Windu, his two most favorite people. 

But really. Anakin didn’t like Mace. He had never ‘liked’ Mace. Mace was a main reason Ahsoka had left, and yes, he was still a little sore from that. The master always seemed a little too ready to kill. 'Shoot now because I already know everything in the universe' kind of a deal.

That saying, he didn’t like Palpatine either. Dude was creepy, no way around that. And evil. And he always getting up in Anakin's business, no better than the temple. 

Of course, the most important reason Anakin didn't like Palpatine was because of the war. Do you know what Anakin could have been doing if the war hadn't started? Other less dangerous things, like relaxing with his not-dead friends, or training his not-runaway Padawan, or spying on his master's totally-a-girlfriend-and-still-alive girlfriend to name a few. 

“I'm weak, help me Anakin!” screeched Palpatine, rudely irrupting his thoughts. Weak. Yeah right. A Sith lord was never weak. “I’ll help you save Padme!” he added. Anakin didn’t buy it, what would a Sith lord care about saving a life?

Then again, Mace didn’t seem to eager to save lives either...

What should he do?

“Don’t listen to him Anakin!” yelled Mace. Yep. That was just like him. Mace never wanted to listen to anyone.

Everyone always seemed to be telling Anakin what to do, what not to do, where when how, he was sick of it.

But he supposed he ought to do something now. It must look strange to be just standing in the middle of such a battle. Sides, man. He never liked picking a side. Too extreme, too absolute. But he did have to make a choice, so he analyzed the situation. Obi-Wan would be so proud.

3 Jedi masters had just attacked Palpatine.

If Palpatine lived, he would accuse the Jedi of treason.

If Palpatine died, the senate would accuse the Jedi of treason in his place. A murdered chancellor with lightsaber slashes? The call would be unanimous.

So either way this went down, the jedi would be subject to Order 66. Yeah, he knew about the orders, so what? He had read all about them in the Ambassador's Library archive. He never trusted most politicians. So it was going to be a purge.

And if he helped Mace, the first dead would be both of them. No thanks.

But if he helped Palpatine... Anakin would be safe for a while. On the inside. Maybe he could pull some strings.

Then it came to Padme. He still had her to save at the end of it all, before himself, she was his anchor in a world of chaos. What about her? 

It suddenly struck him that no one else really cared. No one really cared at all except for him. The dark side wouldn’t help. The light wouldn’t either. Perhaps he should just leave.

Wait.

Could he do that? The thought had never crossed his mind. He was always away on missions, people to save, duties to fulfill, soldiers who depended on him to get them all out alive. Could he just abandon everything?

Not now, obviously. The incessant shouting reminded him of that. He was in the middle of something, he couldn’t just drop his lightsaber and peace out. Palpatine would fry him to ashes before he left the room. Could he fake his death later?

Yeah, he liked that. Sure.

So he walked forwards and cut off Mace’s arm (no big deal, mechanical ones work just fine), then shoved him out the window. Palpatine cackled with glee as master flew the rushing wind of the city.

Mace would be fine, right? Anakin had fallen out of windows before, millions of windows, billions of windows if he wasn't mistaken. Obi-Wan had too. It would be child's play for the renown Master Windu. Now it was time to act along.

He would send out a message, tell everyone to run. Warn them about the clones and when the time was right... poof. He could live happily with Padme and their child on some desolate rock far away... assuming that she didn’t die horribly in childbirth.

He hoped little green toad was right, the future always in motion. He certainly hadn't seen THIS! So maybe she would be fine. He would be there with her through it all. Maybe the force would save her, or all of the super high-tech medicine the galaxy had. Either one. 

He took a deep breath and wondered whether or not he could buy a pair of yellow contacts at the nearest convenience store. There was no going back now.

Just for now, just for a while, he would be Darth Vader.

...Oooo. Spooky. Did he really need a title? Sith were weird. Honestly.

 


 

Anakin sat with crossed legs on the top of the small dome of the house. They had finished (after what seemed like an eternity) putting the twins to bed. They howled and complained, fierce as the suns and fast as the peko-peko birds of Naboo.

Padme was inside reading. Anakin had locked all the extra hatches for the night and call of the bantha floated gently through the air. He would fix the speeder tomorrow when it was light out.

He sighed, looking up at the clear starry sky. Next to a sliver of the moon, he could see the faint cloud of the Galaxy, twinkling down at him in tiny dots of light. Entire planets and systems all simplified into shining specks, blocked by the faintest clouds. 

He was always surprised at how the distance changed things, surprised at how nice to was to look up and see the same patterns every night. Most of his life had been moving around, trying to run away from this place, cursing it every day until it was the only place he found peace. Ironic he thought. What had tried to kill him was now his only place of refuge.

He was different now. It was much easier, much more pleasant, to let the world flow with him. The rough sand had smoothed him around the edges, the hunger for power that he once felt had been melted away by magma, blistering heat, and the warm smiles of his family. Here, even with two young children, there was an order that had been missing in the chaos of the temple. If he messed up, no one was going to die a horrible death. Thousands of eyes didn't turn to him when the future seemed grim. The silence and dullness of Tatooine was a blessing. Far as can possibly be from the bright center of the universe: still, empty, regular. Home.

The lonely howl of some desolate creature echoed past him and closed his eyes, sinking into the force. Was Obi-Wan alright now? Had Ahsoka found a home? He could still see her face, carved into the marble among the rest of the lost Padawans. He could never tell for sure, but believed in them. He couldn't search them down, Darth Vader had died a death worthy of a traitor. He had known what he was losing the moment he bowed before the emperor and lied.

He took a deep breath and started to fall in all directions. He listened to the millions of voices that ran through his head, all of them screaming at him, blaming him. He stretched down into the ground and flew across the cliffs and towns. He could have gone further, reaching out to different planets, systems, even dimensions, but he didn't want to. Not even the dead would find him

His pull in the force seemed like part of the planet, indistinguishable and unremarkable. It was dark inside the Force, but not oppressing. Thousands of threads swirled around him, the trail of every being. Only the golden ones could be distinguished from the rest, the force wielders. There used to be so many more, and he pursed his lips as a strand snapped before his eyes. The threads were everywhere, some reaching towards him, some bending away. He was careful not to touch anything but the dusty pair tangled at his feet. Luke and Leia. He ran his hand over the strings, and they seemed to dull, bending away slightly from the touch. Every night they grew brighter, and one day he wouldn't be able to hide them. This would work until they understood how to do it themselves. 

The strings faded away and he pictured himself in another room full of doors. Some were opened, perhaps by accident, and a few tended to swing back again every time. He heard voices calling his name. Familiar voices. Voices he knew too well. People who were reaching out, looking, and calling, but he gently closed them all.

Then he was back in his own body. He released his breath and wave of calm washed over him, the cool night wind ruffling his hair. The world was still and peaceful like Tatooine should be. A few quiet voices echoed past him, not at him. He took another deep breath and stayed there for a while

 


 

Somewhere far away, a young woman was doing the same thing: meditating. She going the other way, she was searching. She only looked sometimes, and never for long. It made her sad, reaching out into the familiar essence and finding nothing but a strange hollow darkness. A place she had once found comfort in, filled with light and vitality, was cold. She felt alone. But she would just have to get up and continue her work.

After all, Fulcrum could never pause for long. And Fulcrum never gave up either

Chapter Text

Luke and Leia scrambled up the sand dune by the house. On the other side of the farm were flat wastes. This side was much more interesting. Their parents always always told them to stay near to the house, but Dad always came out when there was trouble anyway. They didn't really care, there wasn’t much more to explore. Sometimes they brought out pieces of scrap metal to use as sleds but they were normally too heavy to carry up the hill too many times.

They raced each other down the sandy hill without them, tumbled over, and got covered with dirt. Luke flipped his hair out of his eyes like a wet mastiff and they laughed and tried again. As the suns rose higher, their father came out and gave them sandwiches. Luke dumped the his water into his mouth greedily in the midday heat. He put down his lunch and screwed back on the cap.

When he reached out, it was gone. He looked over at his sister who still eating.

“Hey! Where's my sandwich?”

She looked back at him confused. “I didn’t take it” she said, waving her own food in the air. “I haven’t finished yet.”

“No! I put it right down here” he pointed next to him. “Now it's gone!”

“I didn't take it!” she responded, shoving her nose in the air.

“Well it didn’t just run away!” he whined.

She put her food down and looked in her pocket. “Do you want my tezirett seeds then? I don’t really like them.”

Luke nodded. Leia took them out. Then checked on her sandwich. It was gone.

“No fair, Luke!”

Luke was just staring empty ground.

“Did you see that?” he said pointing. “It disappeared into the sand!”

Leia pouted, she didn't believe him. Well, Luke would just have to show her then. 

“Give me a seed!” he asked. Leia seemed hesitant to let more of her food disappear, but she gave him a small black pip anyway.

He took it from her hand and placed it on the ground, watching everything happen expectantly. He stared, but nothing happened. The brown dust stayed where it was and Luke frowned in frustration. He was about to pick it up again when the sand around it vibrated, shuffling up from the depths and then suddenly, invisible again. Then the seed was gone.


Leia’s eyes widened. “Cooool” she breathed.

Luke realized just how strange this was, was this like a sarlacc pit? Sarlacc pits were dangerous, he knew that. He hoped he would never have to see one in real life. He grabbed his sister's hand, “Creepy. Come on, let’s go inside. I’m tired.”

She brushed him away, eyes glued on the ground as she took out another piece of food that vanished. She plopped down and started digging.

“Leia,” he asked slowly and looked over her shoulder. All of this excitement worried him slightly, “What are you doing?”

She ignored him and continued throwing up little puffs of sand, one of which landed in Luke's face. He sputtered and tried to get it out of his eyes, but heard Leia squeal in delight. There was some squabbling and more dust was tossed into the air while Leia thrust her hand into the hole. When he opened his eyes, she gently clutched a small lizard, failing and hissing in her hand. It practically roared at Luke, opening up its terrifying pink mouth and spitting at him viciously.  

Luke didn’t like it. Not one bit. Leia didn't seem to mind the reptile, she ran her finger over the spikes around his neck, inspected the browns and whites and yellows on his stomach, grinning like crazy. It wiggled and squirmed out of her hand, landing on the ground with a little piff. That was enough for Luke, who scrambled down the dunes back towards the comfort of his parents. He could see her at the top of the hill, attempting to coax it back out with another seed.

“Leave it alone, Leia!” he yelled from door. He didn't trust the thing, especially if it could make entire sandwiches go away. 

She brushed away at the dirt, “I’m going to name you Pifford," she cooed at the beast. She picked it up again gently, as though it were made of diamonds and stroked it under the chin. She put the lizard in her pocket. “AND WE ARE GOING TO BE BEST FRIENDS!” she shrieked. She ran down the hill and shoved Luke out of the way, rushing into their room.

Luke wrapped his jacket a little tighter around him. He had a bad feeling about it all.

 


 

At dinner, Luke swung his legs under the table nervously. He fidgeted with his pant-leg and looked wide-eyed at Leia. She was eating her worrt casserole as though everything was normal, picking up her fork and answering any questions her parents asked her around the circular table. Every now and then she would drop a piece of food into her lap and continued on; she found no need to tell them about the new addition to the family.

That evening, Leia had dumped out a drawer of clothing and filled it with sand. She put Pifford in, who quickly made himself at home. Leia was fascinated by the creature, she had never seen one of its type before. She never thought anything really lived out the in the desert, none the less a potential pet.

Mom had read Luke a book a few weeks ago about the animals on Tatooine. 'Pifford' was very similar, alarmingly similar, to the pictures of a very large monster that could eat Jawas. He couldn't remember the name, he couldn't read yet, but it had been very scary despite the colorful pages of smiling banthas.

“Pifford’s so tiny though” argued Leia. “Stop whining, he’s mine”

 


 

And Pifford was very small. For a while, that is.

Then he got too big for the drawer in the bedside table they had next to the bunk. Leia found a small box and slid it under the bed.

That worked... until it didn’t.

Soon he was about the size of her leg.

They filled a large chest and put it in the closet. He kept growing.

They were running out of places to hide him. A few cycles had passed, and neither Mom nor Dad had noticed him yet, Leia liked to keep it that way.

“Leia?” Mom would ask. “Why is there a chest full of smelly sand in your closet?”

“I like sand”

Dad would always give her a strange look from across the room at that statement.

Mom would scratch her head, “Are there any animals in there?”

“No.”

Dad would pop in again, “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Okay...”

“NONE!!! NOTHING!!! NO ANIMALS!!!”

He would purse his lips. “Well, I hope that if they're were anything hypothetical animals (I'm not saying they are), I hope that you would clean their habitats, and use Bean’s hay instead of our food.”

“What if this hypothetical animal didn’t like grass?”

Dad would frowned slightly and glance at Padme. “Well then... maybe scraps or womp rats? They’re a pain for the crops”

Soon after that conversation, Dad had started give Leia the leftovers to take the 'compost bin'. Pifford grew much faster after that, and Luke got very good at  bullseyeing womp rats with a slingshot for one so small.

Pifford was a pleasant sort of being. He slept a lot and he wasn’t picky. Luke eventually worked up the courage would scratch him under the chin or behind the bud of a horn, but every now and then he yawned and Luke ran out of the room. Too many teeth.

 


 

‘Piffy’ after a while was about as large as either of the twins. And he did not fit in the closet anymore.

“What are we going to do?” Leia asked from the top of the bunk. Her light was on and a yellow glow illuminated the room.

“Well” Luke said, focusing on his feet. “We could let him go...”

She looked at him in horror “No!” she said, “Never!”

Pifford was resting his chin on the rim of the chest looked out of the closet with sleepy brown eyes

“We could ask Mom and Dad...”

“They can’t know, they’ll make us get rid of him!”

“We could set up a fence outside...”

“Wait, I have an idea, we could set up a fence outside!”

“That’s what I was thinking”

“Sh.” she said, not willing for questions or complaints. “We have to wait until they go to sleep.”

 


 

Anakin sat on the top on the dome of the house, squinting out at the dunes. It was dark so it didn’t really help much. He was pretty sure some Sand-People had moved into the dunes. He had no idea whether they were staying or passing through. Or how to keep them away; it wasn’t like he could ask politely. Or kill them all... he shuddered. He still regretted that. He had lost control and sworn never to kill another innocent being. If only knew the scream of a Krayt Dragon... Sand-People were deathly afraid of them. He scratched his chin thoughtfully. They seemed close by, but no fires were up yet. He thought he could see dark figures on the peaks. He knew they liked to target moisture farms, claiming water was rightfully theirs. Territory was very important as well, that was the most dangerous thing about new groups of raiders.

He stretched out his legs. He would keep watch for a while.

 


 

Leia dragged the chest out of the closet. She patted her lap.

“Come on, Pifford” she whispered. She didn’t want to wake her parents.

He crawled lazily out of the box, scattering dust all over the floor. Luke stepped back He was the same size him from nose to tail. He was starting to grow little horns. Pifford gazed and Leia quietly and scratched his ear. She patted his head and opened the door. She tiptoed out and Pifford followed. Luke trailed behind closing the door. They walked up the steps and unlocked the front door. It was cool outside. She wrapped a little necklace like a collar around Pifford’s neck. She was just about to bring him around back to the fenced in area where the speeder was (Luke still wasn’t sure it was a good idea) when the wind changed direction. Pifford’s head shot up and he stiffened. His eyes were glued on the dunes. He made a strange hissing noise. Leia stepped forward to calm him, but without any warning he ripped away and tore off towards the desert.

“Piffy!”

 


 

Her shout echoed across the valley. Anakin shot up and looked around. It sounded like Leia. He slid off the roof. Why were they out here? Luke staring by the side of the house. Anakin picked him up.

“Luke, where’s Leia?” he asked. Luke shivered a little and pointed towards the dunes. He could see little black figures outlined against the night.
Sand-People. Leia had run right towards them.

He put Luke down and sprinted after her. She had almost reached the sandy slope when he scooped her up. She kicked against him.

“Piffy!” she shrieked desperately. The long faint shadows of the sand-people were resting on the ground. He was close enough to see moonlight glinting off their masks. It seemed crazy that Leia come this far towards them, but the Sand-People had ignored them. They seemed distracted as well. They pointed their staffs towards a strange creature on the hill, a huge lizard. Anakin took the advantage and ran back towards the house. Leia struggled against him.

A hair-raising scream rose up. It seemed almost unreal. The Sand-People howled and Anakin rushed the twins inside.

The wailing and roaring echoed all night.

 


 

Luke lay on the floor, staring at the ceiling. Leia was hanging over the back of the couch playing with two little dolls. She had barely spoken since Piford had disappeared.

There was a dust storm outside; Luke was BORED. He rolled over unto his stomach and stared at a little gear in front of him. He he reached out, but it was too far. He stretched his figures out... no. He was so close.

AAAAAAAARRRGGG.

He gave up and closed his eyes. HE WAS BOREDD. He reached out one more time.

A little closer! MOVE!

The piece shuddered into the air and Luke screamed. He threw himself onto his feet and ran down the hall, that was not natural! What happened? He latched onto his mother’s leg in his panic She was looked down surprised at the new visitor, “Luke, what's the matter?”

Luke buried his face in her skirt and started sobbing incoherently. He pointed a shaky finger back down the hall. “Ghost!” he managed to squeak out.

Padme took his hand and lead him back to the room. She saw the gear in the floor. Luke shrank behind her. “This?” she asked, picking it up. It seemed ordinary. Nothing strange, just some dirt. Luke rubbed his nose and nodded.

She turned it over and looked down at him. “Luke, there are such things as ghosts," her eyes narrowed thoughtfully for a second. "In here"

“It moved!” 

“Moved?”

“I-I reached out, and it started to fly!”

“Leia, did you see anything?”

She had fallen asleep on the sofa with a teddy bear.

Padme looked at it a little more. “Moved...” she muttered quietly. Anakin should know about this. She looked down at Luke and smiled. He rubbed his eyes. “It’s ok." she said "Maybe it was just your imagination, or a tremor on the surface. I’ll tell Daddy. Nothing’s going to hurt you, I promise.” she kissed his forehead. “Now, do you want to help me with some chores? I’ll give you a special snack if you do!”

Luke nodded.

“Good” she took his hand again. He’s so small, she thought. He’ll not even remember this soon.

So small. And yet...

 


 

Anakin sat with Leia on the roof. She held the binoculars and Anakin knew she was still upset about losing... whatever animal they had hidden in the room. He felt sorry for her. Whatever it was had saved them. If the Sand-People hadn’t been so afraid...

He shivered. They had looked like they were prepared to attacked the farm. Perhaps they would have taken Leia, but ever since that night he hadn’t seen or felt a single Sand-Person in the desert. They must have moved on, thank the suns.

Leia started to bounced up and down. “Pifford!” she shouted. Anakin squinted into the bright horizon. He couldn’t really see anything but a stray cloud of dust. Leia slid off the roof. Anakin followed her. In a few minutes, the earth in front of them exploded. Anakin took a step back. A huge lizard was sitting on the ground staring at them. Leia threw her arms around its neck.

That’s Pifford?!!

Leia rubbed it behind the horns and smiled widely. It was MUCH bigger than he had anticipated.

How in the world had they kept the thing in a closet? He had expected some sort of beetle when he saw the drawer of sand. It always seemed empty, and anyone who didn't have a force-sensitivity would have expected it to just be that -sand. Anakin certainly couldn’t blame the Sand-People for running. The thing had very sharp teeth, and the screech was terrible. It Krayt Dragon. Krayt dragons were quiet rare, and they could grow their entire lives. Anakin wasn’t so sure he wanted one near his daughter.

Still, she seemed so happy, and the lizard seemed quite happy too.

Leia turned her big brown eyes towards him. “Can we keep him? Pleaaaasssee?”

The creature looked at him with the same big sleepy eyes. Anakin sighed. Leia loved it. She had formed some sort of weird bond with it. “Oh, alright” he said. Leia squealed. “But he stays outside. You can play with him, but his home is the desert, ok?”

“We live in a desert!” she threw her arms up happily flopped onto the creature’s back. It waddled around and she giggled happily.

 


 

Lord Sidious stared out the huge window. He had felt it again; something grand in the far reaches of the galaxy. It was a very rare gift, very bright. A supernova, lasting only a second.

Potential beyond anything he had known, almost like two Skywalkers in one. He scowled.

Every time he tried to snatch it, every time he tried to hold on, it slipped through his fingers. 

He was sick of waiting. He needed a fresh power. He wanted THAT power.

He turned outside and watched as his ships cruised past. They were filled with soldiers, heading out into the universe to conquer new worlds. He shifted into a crooked smile. It was only a matter of time. He would get it. Eventually...

Chapter Text

There were rumors of course. Always rumors. Rumors that Darth Vader was still alive. The dreaded assassin of the empire. Rumors that he burned a village to the ground on Raada, he killed thirty Jedi on Ziost just a week ago. Most of them were probably started by the emperor himself. It was the Inquisitors of course, but they weren’t supposed to exist. Fear caused submission. And people were afraid of Darth Vader, the man who stormed the temple. Darth Vader, Jedi-killer.

There were also rumors closer to the truth. Rumors that he had faked his death. Rumors that he saved thousands of lives. Rumors that the younglings never died. Questions about the bodies. He had always expected some truth to slip through of course. He could easily ignore them. They were few and far between.

Besides, there were rumors about everything.


 

It was the middle of the night.

He couldn't sleep. Everything was quiet, except for the whir of chirping insects outside. He was on the couch, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees, and he didn’t move for a while.

The looped the clip over and over and over again. It was himself, slaughtering Younglings. They fell like paper before him, and he cut through them just as easily. There was no audio, just eerie silence.

It was haunting. The way R2-D2 had stitched and edited so many parts together, it became too real. His blade swung so close to the skin but never actually pierced it. Full-grown Jedi became unconscious just as they hit the floor. There was silent screaming, falling, and desperate running, only to be pulled back in or shot down by a blaster. Some were just computer images of death, but he still winced as he saw the blue blade rise over the head of a Padawan. Then it repeated again. Over and over until numbness was the only feeling he had left. At some point he vaguely realized Padme was curled up next to him, and they watched together.

It was expertly done. Truly wonderful in its hideous lies. The violence, the betrayal, the special effects. Among the deaths no one would ever ask why Anakin hadn’t shut the security cameras. No one would ask what was done that night because they believed they knew.

The evidence was clear. It was unquestionable.

R2 was a genius.

 


 

Those years ago, he walked in front of hundreds of clones marching up the temple steps. Something was burning, but so was everything else in the city, so he paid no attention to it. A few of the clones knew some of them by name, Tock, Slider, Doubles, but they were not the soldiers he had fought with. Now they were slaves, mindless and helpless to the chip buried in their brains.

They entered. The temple, his old home, which was normally full of people, was almost completely empty. He showed no emotion except frustration. “Split up” he growled, throwing his hand to the side. “Search every floor if you have to, set blasters to kill. The Jedi have betrayed us, there are no prisoners.”

So they grouped off into battalions behind him as he headed up the main steps. He stared into a security camera and threw back his hood.

It powered off. R2 was in the security system, locking doors, controlling panels, and causing general confusion. He heard the first shots, followed by an explosion and he bit his lip. Not everyone must have evacuated, but there was nothing he could do for them now. He had done the best he could with is message, they were on their own now. 

At least he had rigged some of the weapons to explode.

 


 

The search went on for hours.

Shots rocked the temple constantly, each one he heard made his heart sink a little lower. He had run all over the building, checking passages and hunting the Jedi, making as much noise as he could. The most important achieves were emptied, their holocrons taken away in the pockets of robes fleeing the planet. He closed his eyes, sensing for any more nearby life forms. He ran from the room, pretended not to notice the shaking knight around the granite pillar. He sensed another group, small and... the younglings! They were deep in the temple, hiding in the high council chamber where panic had driven them. 

He sprinted down the enormous darkened hallways, briefly wondering if they would ever look the same again. He tried not to look down at the bodies he jumped over.

He panted at the grand doorway and entered the override code. The room appeared empty, but tiny whimpers echoed out from behind the seats. He stepped inside and the door slid closed behind him. The head of a small boy nervously peaked out.

Terrible survival strategy. Had they learned nothing?

“Master Skywalker!” the human cried in relief. 20 other heads appeared beside him. “There are too many of them, what are we going to do?"

He took a deep breath. The security system was still on. Why? Why did he have to do this? After all this time, why were they still here? Anakin pinched the bridge of his noise and ignited his lightsaber.

The boy shuddered back in confusion. “Master Skywalker?”

The camera died, R2 had seen enough. He retracted his blade and lowered himself onto one knee to look the child in the eye. “What are you still doing here?” he sighed.

“We saw the evacuation message.”

“Then why didn’t you evacuate!?!”

They looked at each other. The idea clearly hadn’t crossed their minds. A blueish-pinkish zabrak girl cleared her throat. “This, this is the most fortified room, Master”

“But you didn’t chose one with an escape tunnel? There are literally thousands of hidden passages in the temple!”

Silence.

Really? Really? When he had been small enough to fit through most them, his master hadn't been able to keep him out. It wouldn't be uncommon for him to go missing for hours at a time to escape training exercises. Obi-Wan had been quite surprised when Anakin had vanished through hollow plate in the washroom and later reappeared tumbling out of the ceiling onto the lap of Master Koon during an intelligence meeting. He also had found memories of the time he tripped Master Windu by using a hidden floor panel, and the time he had wiggled into a crawlspace that widened to a tunneled and ended up in senate building halfway across the city. All very funny. Well, except for the time he ended up in the basement, that was a little too dark for him.

Anakin considered his present options for the Younglings. He could change their memories, fill minds with bloodless wounds and gore, but that was exhausting. He had done it twice already, and he was sure he couldn't do it again. Not 20 times. Not to children younger than Padawans. They could easily scar.

More explosions from across the temple.

Why had no one led them away? How could they have just left them here?

He heard the sounds of the clones shouting, chasing someone down the opposite hall. Many of the children starting shaking, but he still had a little time. Anakin walked over to the tall window and forced it to shatter. Many of the younglings gasped as shards of glass tumbled to the floor. A chilling breeze came through the dark room, and Anakin crossed his arms.

“Listen up,” he barked. “The clones are coming to kill you. If you crawl along the ledge of this building, you can reach a ship. Jump down onto the lower landing pad, because I hope you remember your flight lessons. Stick together, find the Jedi. If you can’t do that, head to Florrum and Hondo will give you work. I hope you're not too high and mighty to become a pirate or scavenger. Maybe a trade apprentice”

Concerned glances were shot around the room. The clones were getting closer, and he kicked over Master Yoda’s chair in frustration.

“The Jedi order is dead! Your teachers are dead! It's gone! You need to run if you want to live!” He held out his lightsaber.

“You have thirty seconds,” the blade hissed out. “I don’t want to kill you.”

They still didn’t move.

Well, if they didn’t want to leave, Anakin would make them. Anakin lunged forward and caught a Mirialan girl. She squealed, but he pushed her out onto the stone. “Go!” he shouted, pointing towards a waiting ship. He grabbed the next one, twi'leki boy, then he recognized the only Padawan in the room. “Take care of them, Zett,” he said, and stepped away from the window. “Go, go! You have twenty seconds!”

They seemed to get the idea. They all rushed out onto the ledge. Anakin watched them go and hoped for the best. They wouldn’t be noticed in the dark. The clones arrived just as the final one disappeared from view. The commander snapped into attention to report behind him.

“Sir! We have covered the entire temple, no more Jedi remain.”

Anakin turned around slowly. The trooper stepped back a little.

“Did you check the hidden rooms and passages?” he asked icily, sliding back to Darth Vader.

“We did an entire inside sweep using detection rays. There are no more enemy life forms.”

“The death count?”

“Sir! There are approximately 10,000 Jedi in the order. There are almost 3,000 in the temple at all times. We have killed the 835 still remaining in the temple. The rest have fled off-world. We will be receiving more exact numbers about those in the field. At this time it is estimated 4000.”

Anakin stepped closer to the clone and he leaned down so they were almost face to mask. “And the other 5165?” he hissed quietly, the words practically oozing venom. He felt a little twinge of pity for the poor soldier. Not only had his mind been taken over, but he seemed to be dealing with an angry Sith.

“Sir- it appears an unknown Jedi released a distress signal before we arrived.”

Anakin roared and pushed him to the ground. “All of them!” he shouted. “All of them need to be dead!”

“Sir, the extermination will continue!" He assured him, arms thrown up in defence. We need time!”

Anakin looked down at him. “I don’t want excuses, Captain” he growled, “I want results”

“Yes, sir! Sorry, sir!” the captain scampered off. Anakin brought out his comlink, doing his best to pull dark emotions to the surface. He wasn’t a Sith, but he did certainly have a lot to be angry about today. The pale raisin flickered to life in rippling blue light.

Anakin curtsied. The emperor didn't notice.

“All Jedi in the temple have been killed, my master.”

“Good, Vader, good” the slimy voice crooned. It made him shiver. “You have done well. I sense the dark side growing strong in you. But you are not pleased?”

“No master," He shielded his thoughts even more. "Someone discovered our plan and many have fled.”

Palpatine pursed his lips. He looks like a used tissue, he thought, expressionlessly.

“I was not expecting this." The emperor continued. "We must be more careful. Still” he drawled, smiling to himself languidly. “They will be weeded out in time. Go to Mustafar. Eliminate the separatist leaders.”

“It will be done, my master” He bowed again and Palpatine disappeared.

Anakin rolled his shoulders and grimaced. A little more than half of the Jedi had survived. It wasn’t good, no. But it also wasn’t exactly terrible. Better than what might have been.

He was standing near a window; he heard Bail Organa's voice. There were blaster bolts and he saw a small ship flying away.

He pulled up his hood and walked out of his old home. He brushed his hand over a massive pylon. The stone carving of a sage master looked down at him. Goodbye. 

To Mustafar. Where Jedi go to die.

Perfect.

Chapter Text

Fulcrum flicked on the autopilot on the upper control unit once she was hyperspace. The floor stopped rattling from the jump, she unbuckled the harness straps and slipped down the the hold.

Miraculously, all of the boxes were still sealed shut. With some of the maneuvers she had pulled in the Dragonflower Nebula, she was surprised there was anything left at all. Weapons were sturdy in shipping though, all the packaging and procedures that went into protecting them could protect baby belly-birds through the same ordeal. Rations packs were dried (and basically indestructible), so if she counted her luck stars, she might just make it to the allies in Outer Rim. A relief cargo load could do wonders out there. 

Those had been up her tail since Tynna, and she was exhausted. The engine hummed melodically beneath her as she counted the large white containers. Her master could have escaped it with twice the supplies in half the time...

The cargo door hissed shut behind her and she rubbed her monotails. Maybe she could gather back some strength here for just a few minutes. Before she knew it, she was out cold.


 Fulcrum found herself in the darkness again, filled by an empty sensation far to familiar to her. She looked around and there was nothing but the shadows.

"Hello?" she called.

Hello, it echoed back.

"Are you there?"

Yes.

"No..." She shivered. This place was always cold, always empty, always lonely.

Yes. Here. And they are here. You are here. You are not alone.

"Doesn't feel like it" she muttered. "Why am I here again? I need to get to Ryloth, they'll shoot me out of the sky if I don't respond to their control towers."

You brought yourself back. You cling to the past.

 

"No, no. I moved on."

You ran. You are here. You returned. You have not moved on.

"I just want to know the truth." she called back, "What happened to them? Did he make it?"

 

You are afraid. 

"I am not! I am fighting, I'm part of the rebellion! Tell me!" 

What will you gain? You reach in directions that are hollow, and you find nothing. You still search.

"I will not stop." she said, lifting her chin. "I will never stop up. Let me out of here."

Live, Ahsoka. It begged, Live. You are strong, please.

Blaring alarms brought her back before she could reply.


 "Alright, what do you need again?"

Anakin wracked his brain. This was the fifth time Padme had asked in a row. He had the list written out already, but he could never really remember without it. "Parts for a 14.2 by 4.7 solar panel, harvest fertilizer, dune grass seed... and a cycler for energizer?"

"Exactly" she kissed him. "And whatever else you need for building -don't go crazy. AND DON'T LOSE LUKE."

She waved with Leia by the door as Anakin and young boy climbed into the speeder. "Come back soon!"

And they were off. Anakin pushed his way through people and animals in the market, Luke trailing behind him on his sleeve. It was loud, lots of merchants shoving peculiar things into his face, but Luke was completely enthralled by the whole thing. No stormtroopers, no problems. Here you only needed to deal with the Hutts, but that was never an issue. 

A flash of black and white out of the corner of his eye -just a weaver drying out cloth. Anakin tried to relax, something felt strange today. The force had been shaking in the middle of the night, but not for too long. Maybe just a big freighter landing in Anchorhead.

“Biggs!” Luke said, yanking on Anakin's hand. He looked across the market to where his son was pointing, another human with his mother. Anakin nodded, and Luke ran off to play with the boy.

Anakin twenty minutes later, he finally got his seeds from a stuffy catalog droid and the mulch, he joined a line outside Maisy’s tech shop. She was particularly busy today, finishing with a pair of Ithorians over the price of a zinc protobactin cylinder. For a moment it almost looked like it lightsaber, but that vanished quickly. The couple exchanged a few pieces of copper and some dirty looks over the counter then lurched off into the side streets. Maisy waved cheerily after them, "Come again!"

Her eyes narrowed soon after and she smiled again in satisfaction. The coins clattered into her palms, every clink a mark of her hard-struck bargain.

Her shop was a mess inside and out, but the woman's mind was sharper than a monofilament lance.

Anakin stepped up to her window and she turned to his attention. She was small, maybe a bit older than him, but it was hard to tell. She was quite thin with a wickedly pointy nose covered with freckles and unreadible dark, almost black eyes -saleswoman through and through. She fine, white hair and he had no idea what type of species she was. She or her ‘sisters’ She drummed long fingers on rapidly on the table.

“Mr. Kylars, so nice to see you again, always nice to see my BEST customer," she drawled, "How can we help you today? I have some lovely new welded conductors, I know you've liked those” She pulled a wooden box out of nowhere and slammed it on the table before he could decline. She picked up one and shoved it into his face. "One of a kind, I would say. And just for you, it would be 150 for the whole lot!" 

Anakin put his hands in the air, “I’m just looking for parts to a solar panel, Maisy. And I need an alpha cycler. Nothing else.”

"Nothing else?" She kept on smiling sweetly. “Well, Mr. Kylars you know I’d love to help you, really I would," she drummed her fingers a little faster, “but you and I both know alpha cycles of all sizes are illegal in the western quadrants. Dilla has all the panels you need over back, but there’s nothing I can do about the rest."

Anakin looked at her for a minute, an eyebrow raised. He met his gaze steadily, unbreakable, her long braid swinging behind her.

“Never fooling you is there, Nik?” She sighed at last, “Go over to Dilla and the junk-ward, I'll see what I can do in here when you get back. Now off with you, I have other customers” she shooed him away, smiling again at the next person behind him. 

"Hello there, Mr. Snaar! I heard you're generator was acting up, terrible news really. Need any conductors? Unfortunately, I'm almost out, except for this old shipment of welded ones... 

Anakin pushed his way to the other side of town, past the bar and the old slave-quarter, now renovated to normal houses.

Dilla was sitting on the ground welding panels onto an astromech, outfitting it some sort of additional radio. She was heavy set, her dark skin covered in red dust and her curly hair tied into little knots. Her little torch moved like lightning in her hands until she flipped up her helmet and grinned. The only things that made Dilla and Maisy look related were their long fingers and dangerous smiles.

“Mr. Kylars,” she said slowly. “What brings you all the way into town? Just to visit me? You shouldn’t have!”

“Nice to see you two, Dilla. I need parts for a solar panel. 14.2 by 4.7.”

She stood up, about he same hight as him, and cracked her back.

“That’s quite small for a solar panel, you putting it on a vaporiator?”

He nodded. She stretched her arms up and her back cracked again, she had been sitting for a while.

“Then follow me, Mr Kylars." she sighed. "Can't say its particularly exciting. I can never tempt you with the explosives...?”


 Anakin was walking back Maisy’s stall. He had loaded everything into the speeder, Luke was waiting inside the store for him. Maisy's third and youngest sister, Yonner, had taken quite a shine to him. Anakin looked through the door, she was sitting on a high shelf, showing Luke the inside of an energy core. Her looser curls was full of strange feathers and sticks tucked into a large bun. She brought out a E-11 blaster rifle and Anakin stepped back reflexively. He didn't even want to know how she had gotten her hands on the imperial weapon. Luke ooo and aahed.

“What do you mean, you don’t have any chips for a T-3 hyperdrive” called out the person in front of him, throwing her hands in the air. “You have to, they’re standard!”

Maisy rested her chin in her hands looked up at the costumer. “No can do, dearie. You’re too far in the plains to get things like that. The only ship that needs one around here is the shuttle in Mos Gabana, that's miles from here. I can’t do anything more.” She opened her long pale fingers as if to say her hands were tied. Or perhaps she was waiting for a sack of coins

She was just trying to run up the price, Maisy had everything, not all the time, but if you waited long enough she’d get it. If you were willing to pay.

“Fine” the person growled, slamming a hand on the table. “I’ll go somewhere else then.” She drew her hood closer around her face and reached down to pick up her bag.

Maisy was very amused."If I don’t have it, no one does" she sang. 

"We'll see about that," The stranger snapped, and crashed straight into Anakin, dropping her things in the dust.

“Sorry” she muttered, picking up a few bottles and a loaf of bread.

“It’s nothing” he replied.

She shoved the supplies into her bag and marched off. Anakin noticed a fallen hubba gourd by his foot, “Excuse me” he called after her, holding it out. She turned around and he dropped the fruit. 

A young woman stood before him. Two blue and blue-white lekkus poked out from the cloak, her white markings she changed a little but those eyes... He could never forget them. Eyes that looked to any challenge. How long had it been?

 "Snips?

She took a sharp breath.

Kriff. 


 Ahsoka was frozen. Her eyes widened and she started shaking. This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be happening. The whole system crumbled to dust around her and the galaxy shattered into a million pieces.

She reached a trembling hand towards him. He was still as stone. There was the scar across his eye, she touched his face gingerly. He blinked and the sheer magnitude of the force nearly crushed her.

It was clear now. All those nights of feeling isolated, screaming into the void without so much as an echo. He was here. He had been here the whole time. His presence suddenly existed again like he was never gone at all.

There were tears on her cheeks.

She shook her head slowly, she couldn't believe it. He looked different. Tanned. A little older, a little softer. Calm. So different from 10 years ago when she had left him at the temple gates. 8 years since he had slipped away with out and trace and left behind only a dark abyss.

Anakin?” 


Kriff.

It WAS her. 

Maisy was watching them with narrow eyes. She was a suspicious sort person, and attention was not good.

He tried to laugh, “Anakin, no... Anakin was my... twin brother” 

“I didn’t know you had a twin, Nikolin”

“ Yeah, I did...” he glanced at Ahsoka, turning from the usual orange to unnaturally pale.“He died when we were younger” he continued, “very tragic... pod racing... Sometimes I get mistaken for him”

He pulled out his sack of coins and threw some on the table. He grabbed the cycler from Maisy’s waiting hand. “See you later Maisy!” He grabbed Ahsoka’s arm. “We should probably get back, you know, to talk about the old times...” he coughed. “Luke, come out here, we’re leaving.”

Luke whined dissapointedly.

Anakin pulled the speechless Ahsoka out of the market. Luke bounced along behind them The reached the outskirts of town and stopped, Ahsoka was wobbling. She fainted. Anakin felt her pulse and put her across the back seat of the speeder. He lifted a confused Luke into the front. 

“Who is the person in the back? Is she ok, is she sick? Why is she there?” he asked.

"So many questions!" he replied, pushing a hidden button underneath the dashboard. The engine roared to life. “She's an old friend Luke, Luke, and you’re parents REALLY need to talk with her. She’s just a little..." He paused, thinking of the right word. He couldn't really find one. "surprised, that's all. Do you remember how I told you there were a lot of orphans where I grew up?”

Luke nodded.

“Well, I was like her older brother. I taught her almost everything she needed to know”

They shot off into the desert. Luke bumped up and down yipping with joy.  They could make it home by morning if they traveled through the night. Anakin had made some special adjustments to the motor that Padme might disapprove of. It was a lot on the engine, but he almost never used it. This seemed like the appropriate time.

Chapter Text

Ahsoka woke up in a strange place. She had had the weirdest dream; her ship had hit something and been thrown out of hyperspace, crashing onto a desert planet while making deliveries. The supplies were now mostly ashes now, but she had survived salvaged most of the ship. Yet another happy landing, as her master would have said...

She shivered. Anakin. She pulled her knees in and sat up, hitting her head on a low bunk. Was it a dream?

Her lightsabers were resting next to her on a pile of clothes. Where was she?

She made here way through the small toys on the floor. The walls were covered in drawings and spare parts, she certainly wasn't on a ship. She followed the light down a hallway of what seemed to be a moisture farm, ending up in the main room. Sunlight was coming in from the courtyard outside, she could see dusty rock face and water pumps.

Her master was sitting cross legged on the couch, staring quietly at his hands.

Alive and right in front of her.

“Sit down Ahsoka.” he said, not looking up. He gestured to a large brown chair. “Please don't faint again. You were out the whole way here.”

She collapsed into the seat.

He laughed quietly, closing his eyes. “We probably have a lot to talk about.”

 


 

Anakin watched his former Padawan. She was crying. Snips never cried.

What must she think of him?

"I thought you had died!” she wailed, tears running down her cheeks. “I couldn't even sense you! What was I supposed to think?!"

“I know, I'm sorry Ahsoka. I had to.”

She rubbed her eyes. “Why are you here?" she puffed, pulling herself together. "The rebellion needs you! Another Jedi could-”

“Shh!” he said, looking around nervously. “Don't say that word too loud.”

“What?”

The door to the yard opened Anakin whipped around. Ahsoka shot up, her face covered once again in pure shock “Senator Amidala!?”

“Please, please” Padme said hastily, gesturing her to sit back down. “Please call me Aymi, my name is Aymi.”

Ahsoka lowered herself slowly, shaking her head. Why was she here? Did everyone just decide to move to Tatooine without her? WAS OBI-WAN HERE TOO?!!?

Padme sat down next Anakin and squeezed his hand. She looked them in confusion.

Anakin swallowed uncomfortably. “Ahsoka, I'd like you to meet my wife...”

WHAT.

(Well... ok, sure, she and the other Padawans had shipped them... Emina Harrif now technically owed her 17 credits.) But, Padme was dead, wasn't she? The announcement had been all over the holovids.

Anakin looked anxiously Ahsoka, who seemed a little overwhelmed. "Tea?"

She didn’t respond, but Padme went and got some anyway.

 


 

“But why didn’t you keep fighting?" she asked. She had always believed that Anakin would have head-long into the rebellion. Now after years trying to find him, imagining terrible possibilities because he disappeared, he was just sitting and doing nothing.

Anakin looked at her shyly and shrugged a little. "Some Jedi have found new lives. I was just one of them."

Her cup rattled. She thought of her friend on Raada and the Fardi's. “The Empire destroyed my new lives”

“I’m sorry” he said quietly. 

She clenched her fists. "How can you, master?" she asked in frustration. "How can you let innocent people suffer? How can you just sit here and do nothing?

“Do you think I'm fine with it Ahsoka?" he shot back. "Do you think I don't care? Even if I wanted to I couldn't help. They'd kill me, the Empire, the Rebels, the Jedi. All of them. Any of them.”

Ahsoka sat back, surprised at the sudden flare in temper. “Master?”

Anakin calmed back down and took a sad breath. “No one ever told you what happened to me, did they?”

She didn’t respond. 

“No," he continued, folding his arms tightly. "Of course they wouldn't have. Even if they had found you. I should have known when you didn’t immediately chop me into pieces.” he laughed softly and looked her straight in her eyes. "Did you ever hear about Darth Vader?"

 "He was a Jedi who betrayed the Order" she responded, "No one is really sure about the details, just that he killed hundreds and then vanished. It's like he's not even real, we hear reports of him all the time, but never any trace."

“Well you know the real one now.”

She tilted her head to the side. "Master?"

"It was me, Ahsoka. I was Darth Vader. The one who brought down the order"

Her eyes widened in horror.

“I faked it, sure." he added quickly, holding out his hands. "But I faked it very well. Everything new is just rumors but some people would recognize me from their altered memories. I made it impossible to return. I never meant to return.” Padme, who had remained mostly silent the whole time, squeezed his hand.

Anakin smiled and looked at his wife lovingly. “And I don't want to fight. I have a home now, a family, something to hold onto.”

“The Empire will take it from you.” she said cooly.

He raised his chin. “The Empire will fall. Everything ends. Balance will return.”

She turned a little red and felt dizzy again. This was so unlike the Anakin she had known, she couldn't understand. He seemed so detached, so unwilling to help. She was angry and the world pitched sideways. She saw him stand up to move towards her, a concerned look on his face.

“Ahsoka?”

 


 

She was back in her starry void for a minute. It felt warm and huge, like suddenly it was connected to the rest of the universe. The sound of the worlds drifted past her ears again. It hadn't been like this since the temple, she hardly remembered it. Finally she wasn't alone.

Are you satisfied? 

Ahsoka said nothing, holding herself back.

You must live now.

Why didn’t you tell me before?" she yelled. "Why didn't you say anything?!"

Your eyes are not open. He is living.  Let yourself see.

Suddenly the darkness changed into a sunny day. She saw Anakin, and Padme and two small children running around. She saw him smile, a true smile she had never really seen. During most of her time with him, there had always been something holding him down, a pain he never let anyone else touch. It was finally gone. She saw family meals and starry nights, weeks, maybe years she saw.  Her master’s eyes were clear and confident. It suited him.

It is his choice. There are many paths in the world. Yours are just not the same.

“He’s happy” Ahsoka realized.

 


 

 Her eyes shot back open to find Anakin and Padme looking down at her and worrying. She started crying, this time with joy. She had found them and they were safe. She sprung up and wrapped her arms around her old friends. Anakin seemed stiff with surprise 

“I’m so relieved, Master!" she said, taking his hands. "You finally found your home! You finally seem at peace.”

Anakin hugged her back and the tension had drained out of him. “Thanks, Snips." he smiled at her. "You seem like you found yours as well. We have a lot to catch up on.”

She couldn't stay long of course, she needed to get back to the Rebellion, but the three of them talked until dark. Once Padme went to sleep, she and Anakin continued laughing and crying for hours. She told him of her new family, the rebellion and her position as Fulcrum. She told him about their old friends from the senate, new friends and all the young Jedi. And of course about all her daring escapes and her witty remarks while Anakin nodded in approval.

"How are the masters? Do you know about Obi-Wan? Is he alright?" he asked eagerly.

She bit her lip, she had always hoped that maybe HE would be in contact with Obi-Wan, but since the whole 'Darth Vader' thing and dying...  Anakin wouldn't know any more than she would on that one. "I can't really look for Obi-Wan either, master. I've got a lot of work and his presence is like yours, hard to touch even if you think you recognize it. Yoda is off doing mysterious Jedi things and Mace is..." she raised an eyebrow. "didn't you hate Mace?"

"Well," he was doing his best to hold in a smile "hate is such a strong word, Ahsoka..." he said, smoothing his shirt. His eyes lit up as though he remembered something. "Did you say you needed a T-3 hyperdrive?"

"Yeah, but just the chip. I managed to salvage the rest of it."

"Well, look at you." he said proudly. "My apprentice picked up on both my tinkering AND my crash-and-almost-die-but-then-not skills after all. I actually have the chip for a T-3."

"What?" she said, bouncing back a little, "I mean, great! But why?"

He smiled playfully. "Why wouldn't I? I have loads of junk in the house, building things, making things more... interesting." His eyes got a little dreamy in a terrifying sort of way..  "Yes... I made a few tweaks to it..."

That was just like him. "Like what?"

"Well... maybe the hyperdrive inhibitor has been by-passed and maybe it can no longer be detected in hyperspace by most scanners. Maybe a few other things. Your a good pilot, you'll be fine!! Just, you know, stay away from heavily populated spaces or you'll blow up."

Ahsoka laughed and shook her head. "I'll never believe what you get up to, master"

Just then two kids ran past them heading for the yard. They stopped dead when they saw the stranger, and Anakin suddenly realized they had talked all night. 

Ahsoka let out a squeal of delight that sent Luke scrambling back down the hall. Leia hid behind a chair and stared at the strange looking female suspiciously.

Ahsoka was bouncing up and down, fanning her face. "OH MY GOODNESS SKYGUY!! Really?" she smiled at the small brown haired girl who sunk slowly out of view. She looked excitedly at Anakin. "They're sooo cute!!" She leaned forward, trying to get a glimpse around the back of the seat.

"Leia, come over here," Anakin said gently. "Say hello to an old friend of mine."

She slowly crawled out and stood up, staring at the floor.

"Luke, you too." he called. "I know you're there."

A blond head poked shyly around the door before scampering to hide behind his sister. Luke looked in awe at the tall newcomer. Ahsoka gasped, just as intrigued with the two of them. Ahsoka put her chin on her palms and beamed. "Why hello you two!" 

They looked at her father nervously and shuffled their feet. Finally they consented to shaking the outstretched hand before hiding behind the nearest chair. Anakin sighed, "Alright, you can leave now."

They scooted outside and he smiled.

 Ahsoka's eyes were wide and she looked like been hit in the face with a frying pan. "Well," she said, turning back to him. "Not only are your children absolutely ADORABLE," she stared at her hand as if it were on fire. "but they're also ridiculously strong. I'm surprised you manage to hide it so well."

Anakin nodded slowly.

She looked out into the yard. "They're safe here. You chose a good place." She grinned at him and wiggled her eyebrows. "Even with all the sand." 

They laughed.

 


 

At last, Anakin and Ahsoka stood by her ship. The hyperdrive was back in working order, and the sky was clear and perfect for take off.

She looked at Anakin sadly. "You be safe, master. I wish the rebellion had more people like you."

He smiled at her. “Come on, Snips. You’re strong. You can do it without me, I believe in you."

She sniffed and hugged him one last time.

"I’m so proud of you." he said quietly. She looked up at him. "I always have been and I always will. You followed your heart, it's all I could ever want from you.” He put his hand on her shoulder. "Go fight this war for the people who can't."

She bowed to her master. “So I'll see you again some day?”

“If the force wills it. We are a secret, ok? Don’t do anything too crazy”

She sighed and shook her head. “Only for you, master. Just a little bit crazy." She jumped into the cockpit.

“And there are exceptions, of course...” he said thoughtfully, stroking his chin.

She grinned back in agreement and opened a hatch. “If you ever need our help, master," she called "Transmit to Lothal. I have some friends. We'll be listening.” 

The sound of thrusters came to life and she shot off into the sky. He smiled after her; his Padawan had grown up to be everything he had dreamed of. She was confident, selfless, and ready to fight. She had found a purpose defending others, and he waved to the speck soaring away from the dusty red ground.

Lothal.

“Let’s hope it never comes to that...”

Chapter Text

Mustafar. Mustafar was hot. Mustafar was covered in smoke and fire, reaked of death. The fumes made it difficult to sense anything through the force, but Anakin had finally adjusted to it. He hopped from one foot to another, sweating from the heat, or the nerves, or maybe both. The ship containing the separatists flew off behind him. He had put their robes near lava so Palpatine wouldn’t question the bodies and security systems were down.

He cursed. If only Padme had waited on Coruscant where she was safe. Where she was well protected from the soon-to-be emperor and where he could have explained everything in peace. He had planned everything so precisely, any hitch and everything he was trying so hard to protect would shatter. It was dangerous to stay, and he was running out of time.

A sleek silver ship, the Naboo Skiff, landed in front of him. He could tell it was her, but was someone else on board? He didn’t have time to figure it out; the ramp slid down and Padme came rushing out. The force around her was dark, full of fear. Her face was white and she looked like she had been holding back tears.

It broke his heart. The things she must have seen...

She ran into his arms and he hugged her tightly.

“Padme what’s wrong?” he asked. “Are you alright? Why didn’t you wait for me on Coruscant?”

“Oh Anakin” she cried into his chest. “Everything is in chaos and I heard terrible stories! That you stormed the temple, and betrayed the senate, that you turned to the dark side! Stories that you killed...” she swallowed “you killed younglings...”

He took her shaking hands “Padme” he said calmly, looking into her eyes. “I would never.”

Her voice caught in her throat. He squeezed her hand “I could never. You know me. I know nothing makes sense, but be patient please. It all going to be alright.”

She bit back more tears. Anakin brushed one away with his thumb. “Order 66 would continue with or without me. I could help protect them the most from underneath Palpatine.”

Padme started crying again and shook her head. “Palpatine? The temple, the younglings!”

“The younglings got out, I did my best to save everyone. The security footage was made by R2-D2, it's not real. It’s still me.” Padme cried a little more. Anakin squeezed her hand again. “I'm still Anakin.”

She looked at him for a moment, overwhelmed. She looked into his familiar blue eyes, they were not the eyes of a monster, not yellow and red. Anakin was a good liar but she could always see through him. She knew he was telling the truth. 

“I'll fake my death as a Sith, and then we can run away together. ”

She started sobbing, but this time in relief. They were the words she had wanted to hear for a while now. She had been right, she thought. Obi-Wan and Yoda were wrong. They were wrong! She kept crying. He wrapped her up tightly and nothing bad could ever happen to them again. She looked at him for a moment. “Everyone really is safe? We can just leave them alone to the war?”

He looked down and moved away a piece of her hair. "The Jedi will lead the fight against the empire. They will be fine without us. We can raise our child somewhere safe without any fear.”

She smiled and kissed him. For a few minutes the lava world faded away and nothing else mattered.


“ANAKIN”

Kriff. The heat missed a beat.

There had been someone else on the ship. And that someone just so happened to be Obi-Wan Kenobi. Grrreeeat.

“Did you know he came?” whispered Anakin quickly, glancing at the figure on top of the ramp.

Padme shook her head.

“OK, play along” he pushed her away. She staggered backwards and looked at him. He winked, “Dark Lord, murderer of hundreds, remember?”

Her eyes widened and she got the idea. He smiled; she burst out crying. Padme had always been a great actor.

Obi-Wan walked down onto the metal platform.

Anakin puffed out his chest, trying to look evil and intimidating. He felt a little ridiculous.

“Oh Anakin” wept Padme, very convincingly, “I feel like I don’t know you anymore. You’re breaking my heart. You’re going down a path I can’t follow!”

“You turned her against me!” he bellowed at Obi-Wan, stalking up and down the landing bay. Obi-wan wouldn’t be able to feel any real emotion coming from him, the smoke got in the way. He would only feel the magma below. “And you" he sneered at Padme “you brought him here to kill me!”

She fell to her knees and shook her head.“No, Anakin, never! Please stop! Please!”

Anakin dramatically threw out his hand and lifted her off the ground. Very gently. He made a vague little choking gesture.

Padme took the hint. She writhed and clawed at her throat, astonishingly believable. He dropped her, slowing her down just before she hit the hard floor. She stayed perfectly still. Obi-Wan started towards her in alarm, hand out as if to feel her pulse. Anakin pushed him back; Obi-Wan couldn’t know she was fine.

“You turned her against me!” he yelled.

“You did that yourself” Obi-Wan flung back. “Even the younglings, Anakin? They were our family!”

“They were no family to me” he barked. “Don’t make me kill you too” He did mean that last part, but he spat it out with enough hate to make Obi-Wan recoil. “My new Empire will be better than anything you can imagine”

Obi-Wan paled. “Empire? You have become the thing we fought so hard to destroy! You know I still stand with democracy! How can you have fallen so far?"

Obi-Wan looked at Anakin pleadingly, hoping he might change his mind. Shame, sadness, pity, all mixed together on the familiar face. Anakin wished he could tell him the truth, but he needed Obi-wan to fight. He was ready to say anything. If Obi-Wan, the closest person to him, believed he had fallen, there would be no question. Anakin gripped his hilt grimly. “You will die”

“I will do what I must” Obi-Wan ignited his lightsaber, suddenly looking calm as ever. Anakin saw past that. It was Obi-Wan’s mask, the one he wore to hide his feelings away from the world to become the wise, chin-stroking Jedi everyone saw.

It must have been painful beyond compare. He thought about all those battles, all the years they had chased Count Dooku. He thought about what it might be like to have to face your apprentice, the person you had raised for years. He thought of the people they had saved together, the narrow escapes, and every single time they had rescued one another. It was a brutal way to break a heart, blade to blade. He had originally hoped the footage would have been enough to convince him, but Anakin should have known better. Obi-Wan would cling to the hope that Anakin was good until he saw it with his own eyes.

This was how it must go.

He just hoped Obi-Wan would be able to pull his pieces back together.

Obi-wan, I'm not sorry. I will never apologize. But I do wish there were another way.

 


 

The fight seemed to go on for an eternity.

They jumped over pipelines and boilers, through smoke and past guardrails. This was no sparing exercise; Anakin needed to go for killing strikes because he wasn’t sure if Obi-Wan had it in him to do the same. He just kept knocking it away, his signature perfect defense. Sparks flew everywhere, and their eyes locked. Obi-Wan paused for a moment, and Anakin’s blade came a little too close to the stomach.

“You hesitate, old master.” he warned. “It is the flaw of compassion. And it will be the death of you”

The battle continued. Their sabers locked together and flew back apart. He needed to find the just the right place to end it. Then they were floating on magma. It was shaky and unpredictable. Anakin didn’t like it. Too many factors he couldn’t control. He couldn’t afford to be arrogant when so much depended on him. They kept fighting and traveling downstream. He chased Obi-Wan up a black cliff, waiting for him at the bottom. They were at an impasse.

Obi-Wan blinked back a Jedi’s tear. “What have I done” he wailed. “Anakin, I have failed you. Look what you have become. I can’t save you from yourself!”

“You are the one in need of rescue, master”

“I could never teach you to think!”

Oh, on the contrary master. You taught me too well. “The Jedi are evil!” he yelled back. “Controlling hypocrites protecting nothing but themselves! We were played, stabbed in the back, we were weak! I will stand with the strongest side. I will rise above you all”

“That lust for power, Anakin..." Obi-Wan shook his head, as though finally gasping the situation. The weight of the world seemed to fall on his shoulders. "You really are lost”

“This is the end, master. I only wish it could have been otherwise” Anakin prepared to leap. A hopeless, suicidal attack.

“Don’t do it Anakin.” Obi-wan warned. “It's over. I have the high ground.”

Ha. Like he was going to happen. A jump attack like that. Honestly, that Obi-Wan could even think of him being so reckless! It was insulting actually.

Well... ok maybe he would have at some point, but he only had 3 of his 4 limbs left! He was not in a hurry to lose the rest.

“You underestimate my power” he roared back. He channeled the force and jumped. Obi-Wan prepared to slice him in two, but the rocky ground slid away from his feet. Anakin had created a landslide of volcanic rock with the force. Obi-Wan’s foot became trapped in the rubble.

Anakin pretended to crash and slip down the beach. Obi-Wan was stuck, but could watch with horror as Anakin tried to claw his way up the rocky shore. His boot had caught on fire.

“You were the Chosen One,” he said mournfully, shaking his head.. “you were supposed to bring us balance, not chaos and darkness!”

 “I hate you!” Anakin hissed back. He reached out with his hand, causing a rock to hit Obi-Wan on the head in another landslide.

“You were my brother” said Obi-Wan quietly “I loved you...”

The words cut Anakin right to the core and Obi-Wan fell unconscious. The last thing he could hear was his Padawan's wrenching scream in the flames.

 


 

Anakin picked himself up black shore. He dusted himself off and put out the fire on his foot very quickly. He sighed. He took off his outer garment and ripped it into shreds. He tossed some of it into the lava and the rest on the shore. He paused for a moment. Should he leave his lightsaber? It was too precious, but knew he had to. He opened it, took out the kyber crystal, and melted part of the hilt in the lava. He tucked the humming stone into a pocket and made his way up the crumbling cliff. He dug out Obi-Wan and tossed him onto his back. Just like the star cruiser when they rescued the cancellor. Really, Master. Where would you be without me? I do hope you’ll manage.

Palpatine would be here soon. He must have sensed the danger for his ‘apprentice’.

He hiked carefully back to the landing strip. Padme was inside the Naboo Skiff. A droid must have brought her inside, there were no other life forms.

He walked up the ramp. R2-D2 came rolling out meet him, beeping happily. He patted the little droid. “Hey buddy, how are you?”

R2 made some noises.

“Medical bay in the west? Thanks. C3-PO brought her in?”

More noises.

“Good, small adjustment to the plan. Prepare to takeoff. Program C3-PO to think he carried in Obi-Wan. Same with you. Head for wherever Yoda or Mace is. They can take care of him. When Obi-Wan wakes up, tell him I burned to death on the beach. Tell him that I killed Padme and the baby. Say you had to leave because Palpatine's ship was coming.

R2 whirred in alarm. Anakin rested his hand on top of the droid.

“It alright R2. I don’t mind. Wipe yourself too”

He beeped unhappily.

“No, not all of it. Just the evidence. They can never know, ok?”

R2 dinged.

“We’ll be fine, don’t worry about us. Thank you for everything you’ve done R2. Commence new protocol when we jump to hyperspace”

He whistled sadly and rolled away. Anakin carried Obi-Wan to the medical bay where Padme was sitting up and staring at the floor. She smiled when they walked in “Anakin!” She caught sight of the person on his back. She gasped.

“He's he ok? You didn’t hurt him, did you?”

“Of course not, he’s fine. Just unconscious.” Padme smiled in relief. “He only has a broken ankle though. It will recover soon” he laid Obi-Wan down on a cot and looked at Padme. “You did an amazing job improvising. Obi-Wan believed every second of it."

She raised her eyebrows. "Really? It wasn't too over the top?"

"Nah. Obi-Wan loved a good drama.”

“And the droids?”

“Reprogrammed.”

She smiled sadly “You really thought this through, didn’t you” she looked at Obi-Wan for a moment. “Be strong, old friend.” she said. "You have our best wishes." 

“Farewell, Master," Anakin said, bowing. "It’s been a heck of a ride, and I honestly didn’t think we’d survive this long." He straightened back up. "You were a father and brother beyond compare. I promise you didn’t fail me.”

Padme took his hand gently and together they headed for the Fighter.

 


 

“So where are we going now?" she asked, sitting down next to him

“Somewhere far away,” he answered, preparing for takeoff. “somewhere unimportant where they won’t run into us, even by accident”

“Naboo’s too populated then," she said wistfully. "But we also can’t just go to an uninhabitable system like Dagobah... how about Tatooine?”

He shuddered.

“They’ll never go there,” she pointed out “too many bad memories”

“Yeah, bad memories all around. Still," Anakin bit his lip. He couldn't deny the benefits, "it might be best.”

They were quiet for a moment

“We don’t exist anymore,” she said quietly.

He shook his head. "Nope. We are dead. The deadest, actually."

“Won't they be able to find us?”

“I got us covered. We're untouchable, even ghosts will seem closer than we are. Mysterious, sure, but no one will question it. Maybe they’ll just think thats just how it works for Sith”

“So we change our names?”

“Yup.”

“Have a quiet, normal life?”

“Yes.”

“No more wars or politics?”

“Nope.”

"Or secrets"

"Never"

“And you promise?”

“I promise.”

“Sound wonderful” she sighed. They shot off into hyperspace. A new life ahead.

Together.

Chapter Text

A boy in his mid teens struggled through the hot sand. The wind was picking up on this awful planet. He coughed and stumbled, but Maul was still out there, almost right in front of him. He couldn't give up. They needed the master Jedi.

He collapsed in the heat and the droid C1-10P shuddered to a halt behind him. He stared up at the twin suns. Would he die here?

He blacked out before he could answer the question.

 


 

Anakin floated in a polished stone room. The walls were made of huge slabs of stone, stretching up for what seemed like an eternity. It was vaguely of familiar, as all places strong with the force were, and hummed with life. He had appeared here ever since he moved to Tatooine.

He wants to see you

The words hung in the air

Anakin looked down at his hands. “No he doesn't”

Yes. The old ones too. Leave for Black Point, speak from there.

"He'll try to find me"

No, the place is detached, like you. It is safe.

Anakin shook his head slowly, bitting his lip “ I can't. I shouldn’t.”

There was a moment of silence. A gust of wind swept through the room like a sigh.

As you were.

 


 

He shot up with a pain in his chest. He ran to the window, staring out at the plains behind the house. It was storm season, and the dusts were rising. Padme had said she’d be back with the speeder soon, but not in this weather. There was no way his bantha would walk outside now. He was stuck.

Whoever it was, he or she was young. The unfamiliar pain slowly ebbed away; that was a bad sign. He bit his lip. He hoped they would last until he found them.

 


 

Leia pulled the scarf tight around her face. She should have known this was going to happen, she had known since this morning and just ignored it. She was holding tight to the horns of her krayt dragon, marching through the storm. He had become a good way to travel the dunes, much faster than a bantha and about the same size. HE didn’t care about the dust, but she needed to get home. Dad would be worried soon. 

Suddenly she felt a piercing pain and looked around. What was that? Had she heard something? She pulled Pifford to a stop and jumped down, fighting her way through the storm. He slunk along behind her, making concerned little cooing noises. Her foot banged on a droid.

A droid? What was an astromech doing out here? She dug it out of the sand a little, but that wasn’t what she was looking for...

She continued forward until she tripped over leg. She stifled a scream and the body groaned, they were still alive. She went down on her knees and flipped boy over, he was maybe 5 years older than her. She did her best to throw him across the lizard’s back and climb on behind him. Leia couldn’t take the droid as well, she would have to come back later. The his eyes flickered briefly and they shot off towards home.

“Dad! Dad!” she shouted, reaching the door. She pulled the person off and Pifford quickly sunk into the sand for shelter. She tried to carry the boy inside, but he was too big. Her father was waiting at the entrance, and his eyes widened when he saw the figure on  her back.

They carried him into the main room and Anakin got right to work. “Leia, bring me a bucket of ice with some towels” he called, setting the boy down inside. “We need water too. It’s probably exhaustion and a bad heat-stroke. Get the medical kit!” She nodded and ran off. He looked around quickly and placed his hand just above the boy’s eyes.

Anakin relaxed a little, no other major injuries.

Leia came rushing back with the supplies and she watched as he put cold towels over the newcomer. The boy had coppery skin and dark blueish-black hair, definitely from another planet. Anakin took a peculiar looking blaster from his belt and noticed something familiar.

He sucked in his breath.

It was a lightsaber. A lightsaber and blaster at the same time... he couldn’t help but marvel at the structure. He tucked it quickly up his sleeve before Leia noticed. This person was more than a lost traveler. He would keep it safe for now.

It was evening by the time the boy finally rubbed his eyes and sat up. Anakin and Padme were in the room watching him and Luke was sitting on the floor leaning against a chair. He was rolling a metal disk in his hand while Leia stared silently from across the room.

“Where am I” he croaked weakly. Anakin pointed to a container of water on the table.

“What’s your name?” asked Padme.

He coughed, his voice had gained some strength again. “Ezra Bridger, ma’am.”

“Nice to meet you, Ezra. Please, call me Aymi. This is my husband Nikolin and our two children, Luke and Leia.”

Ezra’s took in the family around him. For just a moment he looked extremely sad.

“You’re in our home on Tatooine. Our daughter found you out out on the plains, you had collapsed. She said you had a droid, but we can retrieve in the morning. You’re welcome as our guest for now.”

Ezra shifted his gaze to look at Leia. He nodded to her “Thank you”

She turned a little red and looked away.

Anakin cleared his throat. “You don’t seem like you're from around here. Everyone knows it’s suicide to traverse the plains with no supplies. ”

Ezra fidgeted a little with the corner of his jacket, he was clearly uncomfortable. "No sir, I'm from Lothal.”

Anakin’s eyes flashed to Padme. Lothal. Was he with the rebellion? Had Ahsoka sent him? She had promised to keep them a secret...

If he was on a mission, it seemed strange he was alone. It was a bold move for the rebels to make with a half-trained Jedi. He was jumpy too, not calm like a master or knight would be. It seemed so familiar...

Oh, wait. Yes, that was it.

The boy was doing something he shouldn’t.

Anakin knew how you acted when caught on alien turf. He knew ALL about going against orders. He couldn’t count how many times he had gone off on his own and ended up in a prison. He had behaved just like Ezra. Overtime he had very good at it, but Ezra needed a little more practice.

“I’m actually here looking for an old friend.” The boy continued. “I need his help, but my ship crashed and I'm rather lost now.”

“Well, know almost everyone in the area,” said Padme, looking around. “There aren’t many. Who is it?”

Ezra opened his mouth but quickly closed it. “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

Anakin almost choked.

 


 

Ezra scanned his surroundings. It seemed like a nice home, but he wished Chopper was with him. He felt bad about leaving the droid all by himself. Hera would kill him if he came back without him. He was already in enough trouble by leaving the base without permission. Still, this mission was crucial even if the others couldn't see it.

He was nervous. He wished he could tell if the family had rebel or imperial sympathies. He didn’t completely trust them. Sure, they seemed nice enough, but the Force was warped strangely around the man. The children seemed a little hazy as well. Perhaps it was just his head fogging everything up from the sun. It would be best not to mention the war. He wouldn’t want to get them involved.

The man, Nikolin, seemed a little distressed at the mention of the Jedi master. His had turned a little pale, but his wife sat calmly next to him. Maybe they knew about Obi-Wan's location.

“Do you know him?”

"Well” Aymi said carefully; her eyes had flicked to her husband who had begun violently coughing. "It was a long time ago. We met him briefly when we were younger. I had no idea he lived here." She looked back at Ezra with a raised eyebrow. "Kenobi? Are you sure your not mistaken?" 

Ezra nodded, "I'm sure. He's on the planet for a long time. I can find him if I can get my ship up and running."

Aymi checked at her watch, or she would have if she was actually wearing one. "That reminds me" she stood up. "Nikolin, I need you to get the east stabilizer going an hour before we use the compactor. Come"

She pulled her husband out of the room by the collar. What peculiar people. Tatooine was an odd planet. Ezra made a mental list of the parts he needed for the ship. After than he could fly low and search for Obi-Wan using a scanner. 

The brother sneezed and continued to ignored him. Ezra was left in the room alone with the two children. It was a little awkward. Ezra pulled in his knees and closed his eyes again. Maul didn't seem nearby and he could think straight again. Chopper was correct, it had been a terrible idea to leave the shelter of the cliffs. He owed the droid an apology. His hand went reflexively to check that lightsaber was safe.

Ops.

Where was it? Had someone taken it? Had he left it in the desert? He looked under a pillow and panicked. He stared at the wall. This was bad. Now Kanan would kill him too.

 


 

“ANAKIN. OBI-WAN," hissed Padme. "HERE. How could you not know about him?”

They were in the storage unit. it was cramped and the lights were out. They needed a place to talk, if only for a moment

“I have no idea” he whispered back, he had finally regained control. “I can't exactly go around looking for him!”

“Anakin!” she pressed. “Tatooine!! TATOOINE! This was the one place we agreed he’d never go! THAT NO ONE would go! It's a desert planet in the middle of NO WHERE. WE'VE MET AHSOKA, THIS JEDI-REBEL BOY, AND NOW WE FIND OUT OBI-WAN'S BEEN HIDING HERE TOO?! WHY DOES THE ENTIRE GALACTIC POPULATION SHOW UP ON THIS TINY PLANET???? ”

Anakin would have thrown his arms up if there was enough room. The odds were ridiculous, even by his standards. 

Her voice turned a little fearful. “Do you think he knows where we are?”

That would certainly be a problem. Obi-Wan's possible proximity threw in a whole bunch of problems Anakin didn't want to deal with right now. He couldn't even imagine what would happen if he ran into his old master. It certainly wouldn't be like meeting Ahsoka.

They both breathed out. Calm down. See clearly. He shook his head “No, I don’t think so. Planets are big, he could be on the other side of the world. Maybe it's just a coincidence he's in this place. Maybe it's a completely different person named Obi-Wan.”

They both knew that would be hoping for a little too much. “Well if it is him, why would he be here?” 

Anakin folded his arms thoughtfully. “He must have a reason. I had expected him to be with the order. It’s been 10 years now...” His heart sank, but it couldn't be, Obi-Wan was resilient..o

He told Padme the idea anyway. She scrunched her nose uncomfortably and shook it off. “Well, i guess we'll just make sure Ezra gets back safely. We’ll fix his droid and point him in whatever direction he wants to go. Like we did with Ahsoka. He's not here for us." She leaned her head on his chest, deep in thought.

"Don't worry, Padme. We're staying out."

"We're certainly trying."

 


 

Ezra stayed with them for a couple days. He was like a pleasant sort of boy, and Anakin helped him find parts he needed. Ezra asked about a blaster, but Anakin had waved away the question, telling him it was locked up safely. Ezra seemed a little distressed but had agreed in the end. Anakin later noticed the lock had been tampered. He smirked. The keyhole had been a design of his own invention, impossible to open even with the force. It had been perfect for keeping small, force-sensitive children out of the cookie-jar. Accidental lock-picking had been all too common.

Leia often ran out of the room whenever Ezra entered, but Luke became particularly interested with C1-10P. First, because Chopper was broken and Luke wanted to fix it, and two, because it was an astromech, a droid from a starship. Once the mechanics were fixed, Luke was absolutely enthralled with him.

“You can understand him?” asked Ezra when Chopper started up again.

Luke just nodded and followed them around everywhere. The droid made noises at Ezra and then at Luke who snickered. It happened a lot.

Chopper seemed very happy to tell Luke all about his own amazing heroics throughout the galaxy

There was a lot of eye rolling from the older boy, but Luke loved it. “Is there really a planet covered with water?”

"Bzz rrew fsp"

“WOW YOU DID THAT AND SURVIVED?!”

"Zmp"

“YOU'RE SO COOL! I WANT TO JOIN!”

"Mpf"

Anakin once walked by a conversation between Ezra and the droid. They were a strange and very loud bickering pair. He could help but stop raise and eyebrow to listen.

“What did you tell him about us on Prima Minor? That system doesn’t even exist!”

"Fmp rrk hwm"

“No, we can't leave until I find it. And secret missions without me? What? And fire-breathing stormtroopers with jet-packs? We don’t know these people! You can’t just say things about the war!”

"Krrr zrk.” He brought out a decoder piston and zapped him

Ezra kicked the droid. “I'm the boss. Just because I don't understand you all the time doesn't mean I'm not in charge.”

Ezra froze when he noticed Anakin watching. Anakin just shook his head and laughed. “I don’t know where you got that droid, Ezra, but it's got some pretty... exotic language. He’s been around too many smugglers, words like that are washed out with lava instead of soap. You’re fortunate he says it in a weird binary form of Sriluurian when he refers to you.”

"War thmz warmp rarz"

“Yes, I’ve spent enough time around droids, my friend.” he replied leaning over the table. “No, you may not, no matter how many deserts he leaves you in. Human hands don't regenerate."

"Rtth zmp"

"Yes, I am completely sure. No, a robotic one is not the same." he looked at Ezra. "You better watch your back around him. The droid’s planning to get you one day,” he pushed off the counter and started to leave.

He could tell Ezra had his mouth hanging open. Must be strange to see a moisture farmer talking to an astromech.

"Ythzz krc hic"

Anakin stopped and turned back around. "Well, Aymi would have turned you into a pile of scraps for that. I've been called worse, little droid.” he tossed a wrench in the air and the Chopper said nothing more.


 

It was be a clear night, good for flight a travel. Anakin stood at the door and pointed towards a rising moon. "The Great Chott Salt Flats are that way once you take off."

Ezra nodded and patted the top of his droid. "Thank you for your hospitality. C1-10P and I are really grateful for everything you've done."

"And I believe this is yours?" Anakin brought out the lightsaber-blaster from his sleeve and scratched the back of his own head uncomfortably, "I'm sorry to have kept it from you, but I can't just have these things loose in the house with kids around. You must be more careful with it, a lightsaber is the extension of a Jedi. They don't just fall from the sky anymore.” 

Ezra's eyes widened, but Anakin just smiled, "Reckless ways do not become a master. Believe me, I know," he folded his arms more sternly at the teenager. "Next time you'll wake up in an imperial cell."

Ezra swallowed and took the hilt like it was made of egg shells.  "May the force be with you, young one. The brighter days will come.”

Ezra grinned, something mischievous in his eyes. “That is why we fight, sir”

Anakin waved goodbye as the visitor disappeared over the hills. Leia came up from the kitchen to watch them leave and she sighed almost dreamily.

Anakin nudged his daughter with an elbow. She looked up to see him grinning down at her from the corner of his eye.

“So did you think he was cute??”

Leia's face turned ashen in absolute horror. Anakin roared with laughter.

"EW! Dad!” her face reddened, No!!”

“You blushed!” he pointed out triumphantly

“You're terrible!” she said, trying to push him over. He was too big, instead bringing her closer to kiss the top of her head affectionately.

“If that’s what you say...” He looked back out to the hills, an for a moment saw his old Padawan fading into the darkness.

Obi-Wan.

Perhaps it was a different Obi-Wan. 

A different Obi-Wan that a Jedi would want to talk to, nagging voice whispered in his brain. Because Obi-Wan is such a common name. 

 


 

A man pulled back his hood above a the rocky field on the sun-dried world. If he had binoculars, he would have been able to see all the way to the a homestead, a little blip on the flat horizon, the farm of the Lars family. Yes, he tried to stay away from them, but he felt like he had a duty to make sure they were safe. Another small way to make up for his mistakes. He dropped his head into his dusty hands. 

Oh Anakin. If only I had been better, if only I had known, if only you and your mother had been born in the republic... Maybe none of it could have ever happened...

After a few minutes he wiped his eyes. A Jedi didn’t cry.

He didn’t think he deserved to be called one anymore.

Ben was the name of a hermit in the cliffs. He was Ben now. He would be Ben until the Force took him away to join his fallen friends. He didn’t deserve to join the rest in the fight.

He wanted to suffer, so he had gone back to where it all began and thought about all he hadn’t done.

His old master came by every now and then, but Qui-Gon never said anything, nothing he could understand. He just stood there quietly, perhaps trying to comfort Obi-Wan, perhaps telling him to move on. Then he would just fade away again in the long shadows of the rocks.

Some would call this a retreat: contemplation, meditation, whatever. It wasn’t, not really. It was wallowing. It sounded pathetic. He was pathetic, but he couldn’t do it anymore. His will to continue had been burned out as he watched the flames crawl up his apprentice and the screams had never truly stopped echoing in his ears.

No matter who came looking for him that day, no matter what evil lunatic or selfless warrior was clawing down his trail, he wouldn’t return.

He stayed in silence. Alone. Staring at the melted hilt of what was. At the adventurous, if somewhat wild, Padawan he had loved. The son, brother, the Sith.

He deserved it.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan walked to the corner of his house, right beneath an open window. The cool air still remained in the early morning, but it would soon heat up. He sat with his back against the white walls and closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, he was suspended inside a huge hangar. He watched hundreds of rebels rush back and forth on the floor as the sun rose. They worked together, helping each other in and out of ships, and the Jedi boy he had met away talked animatedly to a Mandalorian, like big a family. Obi-Wan waited until they all faded away.

He shifted to another place, a place he had once sat long ago. The grand windows of the council room looked over the bustling planet of Coruscant. The proud senate building shone in all its former glory from across the city, everything sparkling and alive.

The serene figure of Master Windu spoke up.

“I understand you and Skywalker did a tremendous job rescuing the chancellor. The Republic has hope because of you.”

He felt cold.

“Much to learn, Skywalker has” giggled a small green Master. “Powerful Jedi, yes, powerful. Fear I sense. Lash out he does.” He turned to look through Obi-Wan, his chin resting on his little hands. “Help him should we?”

The eyes of all the masters were pounding through him. He was just a spectator, this was all just a memory, but he shrunk back anyway. He watched helplessly as a younger, happier version of Obi-Wan cleared his throat instead.

“Anakin is strong and wise,” he said, stroking his beard. “He will overcome it by himself. I trust him with my life, he needs no assistance. He feels pressured at the moment, but I believe he will find peace on his own time if given the chance. He will become a great master one day, perhaps outranking us all. I know it. We must give him time.”

The council members murmured and nodded. Yoda looked around the room.

“Agreed we are then? At his own pace, it is decided. Patience must he learn, acceptance of loss. Trust him we will” Mace frowned slightly at that. “Interfere we will not-”

Obi-Wan couldn’t stop himself. He swiped out at the figures as if it could be changed. He tried to grab the shoulders of Yoda, but his hands pasted right through. “No! No!" he screamed "You don’t understand! Can’t you see? He'll kill us all, its not the way!! We must stop him, save him! DON'T YOU SEE?"

With a blink of an eye, the scene flooded into darkness. Obi-Wan shuddered to his knees and tried to steady his breath.

He could almost feel the eyes of his old master shaking his head.

“Why do you do this?” He called out into the void. “Is it some twisted joke to you? I know what I have done! Why do you show me this?" The echo died away.

Hate leads to suffering

Obi-Wan wiped his eyes. “Fear leads to the dark side, I understand!”

You are blind. You are broken.

"Well it's hard to get over causing the subjugation of the entire galaxy when you're forced to relive it all the time."

It's been so long... The voice replied softly. The words were full of warmth and sadness; it disgusted him.

“I don’t want your pity” 

He would be ashamed, it called back. Obi-Wan's heart stopped for a moment. He swallowed and pulled his hands together.

"Don't talk about him...he said weakly

What would he say if he could see you now? 

 “Please,” he begged.

Accept what has past: you gave up.  

“And what do you know?!” he answered bitterly. 

It remained unfazed. The Force has never abandoned a thing. Nothing has ever abandoned the Force. 

“LEAVE ME!!”

Never.

 


 

Obi-Wan gasped for breath, and found himself slipping backwards. He caught the side of a low chest for support. He looked around, making sure he wasn't having another vision. The light had just begun to peak through the window, landing on a small cricket across the room. The bug bounced around a little bit, unaware of Obi-Wan's troubles. He pulled in his knees and watched the little creature in silence, the light from the rising suns creeping across the floor while the small clock ticked quietly. 

 


 

Leia opened her eyes and stretched as well, careful not to hit her head on the ceiling. Strong light was pouring in from the rectangular window nestled at the top of her wall, just at surface level. She guessed it was late morning by now, much later then she would normally have to get up. She smiled happily.

Today was a festival day: fewer chores, sleeping in, no things to learn. Her parents wouldn't try to teach her a strange new language or code, and holo-vid classes were canceled. She could do whatever she wanted.

She threw her head over the side of the bunk, checking to see if her brother was still there. He wasn't, just a mess of sheets. Luke did normally wake up earlier, and seeing as her hair was already dangling towards the floor already, she wrapped it up. She righted herself, scooted to the end of the bed, and hopped to the floor. She looked briefly in the mirror; the newly formed bun was slipping, but she didn't really care. 

She got dressed, pulled on some loose boots and grabbed some goggles for keeping sand out of her eyes. Today, hundreds of Eopie would come plodding across the plains, heading south on their annual migration. The markets would be full of special cream pies, music, contests, parades, and anything at all to add life to a dull planet.

She shoved them in a bag and started her search for Luke. He'd be somewhere, and she'd track him down eventually. She always did. First place was the upper garage.

She walked down the hall, not bothering to be quiet. Everyone was almost certainly awake by now. She popped into the kitchen and grabbed some lampta for breakfast. She could hear noises coming from up surface level, but it could just be her father. She absent-mindedly pushed a piece of hair behind her ear.

She was about halfway up the stairs when the voice of her mother came to her from the couch. Padme had been sitting so quietly, she hadn't noticed. "Leia?"

Leia poked her head around the wall, "Good morning."

"Well, its hardly morning anymore." She said, peering at her from behind a book. "Where are you going?"

Something about the tone made Leia uneasy. It felt like a trick question, like her mother was expecting a certain answer...

"The Eopie run?" 

Her mother flipped a page causally. "In town?" she asked lightly

Leia's eyes darted around the room. ITS A TRAP!!! she thought, Something's wrong! WAS IT MOM'S BIRTHDAY AND EVERYONE FORGOT? WAS THE STUFF I FED THE BANTHA LAST NIGHT ACTUALLY NIGHTSHADE???  Her mind blasted through countless possibilities. 

"Yes?" she said weakly

Padme's mouth tightened.

KRIFF WRONG ANSWER WRONG ANSWER PANIC

Leia fidgeted with her sleeve. "Is there a problem?" 

Padme looked Leia up and down grimly. "You're not going out like that." 

Leia looked down at her clothes, genuinely confused.She hadn't poisoned Bean, that was good, but she could see no reason for her mother to complain. Her clothes were what she normally wore, what everyone on the planet normally wore. Kind of scratchy brownish tunic and sash with leggings. "Whats the matter?"

"The hair" she said gravely, like a messenger of apocalypse.

Leia touched her head, "Whats wrong with it?"

"Sit" she said darkly, ending all discussion. She violently dragged over a small stool. 

Her mother was generally a calm sort of person, but Leia scooted over knowing it was pointless to resist. Padme's hair was always perfectly neat, and gods help them all if Leia's hair wasn't as well. She returned to her normal and cheerful mood after Leia's hair was brushed.

Leia slouched over. Just once she would just like to leave without having her hair pinned back. She watched her mother through the mirror on the wall.

Padme tugged the brown hair back. “Yes, you have to do this. Luke loves to put his head into machines and it would get caught if it were longer. It falls into his eyes as it is.” she muttered the last part to herself and expertly tied off the right strand, twisting it into place with the rest. She moved to the other side of Leia and smiled into the mirror opposite them “You’re hair isn’t that long anyway. When I was your age my hair practically hit my knees; it took hours to get it out of the way.” Her hands continued to move like lightening.

Her eyes flicked back. “I'm not a baby" she grumbled. "I could do this myself if I wanted to"

Padme moved to the other side of her head. “But you don't.”

Leia couldn't really think of a good response, so she folded her arms. "Its not a big deal" she huffed

"It's impossible to focus when it flies everywhere. Everyone has their pet peeves: you're father hates sand, I hate messy hair."

Leia straightened up."He hates sand? Is that why the house is always so clean?"

"Yes, but he's gotten better ," she continued. Padme started to giggle. "When we were younger, his friends and I put sand down the back of his shirt. He would squeal like a little monkey-lizard."

Leia tried to look back at her mother, "But everything is sand. What else IS there?"

"Oh, who knows," she sighed. "He always was a dreamer." She wove in the last strand and stepped back. “Done.”

Leia looked in the mirror at last and her mouth dropped open. Moving her head from side to side, as she saw two ridiculous buns, like massive earmuffs on each side of her face. She didn't even know she had that much hair. “I look like a bantha” 

Her mother looked in the mirror. “...No” Her eye twitched momentary.

A few seconds of silence followed. Padme laced her hands behind her head. “2 seconds.”

She loosened the two knots and worked some magic. Leia tried her best to look at it, and it didn't unravel. It was kind of pretty, not that she would admit it.

Padme picked back up her book. “Have fun," she said calmly, sitting back down. "Be back before this evening. Stay with your friends and don't forget your brother."

 


 

Luke was out in the yard, sitting quietly in the branches of a twisted desert-briar. It was nice to have some peace, and it was easiest early in the morning. The tree he was almost dead: black and shriveled, covered with thorns. On the rare occasion that it decided to liven things up, the tree would spit out a pink flower or two. Nails and screwdrivers littered the roots; Luke did a lot of thinking up there and building things always helped. This place  was quite and he could watch the sky. The walls of cut bedrock kept out the wind as always, and down the path and you would reach the generators and smaller farming plots. If he could, he would stay in that tree forever. 

He watched two small birds fly away overhead and returned to his book. The slightly discolored pages were delicate, full of hastily written scribbles with a grand insignia on the front that read '501st'.

The general had told us to be careful, but we were on our own. The virus leaked out of every vent, our helmets only filtered out smoke and fumes. It's been illegal to use a gas in war for millennia.

I could hear Ahsoka coughing her lungs out, Skywalker screaming through the comlink. It reached towards us like some blue demented claw, twisting around our ankles, and slowly rising up and up...

Something touched Luke's foot. He nearly fell off the branch.

He snapped the book shut and found himself staring at his sister standing on the ground. Her hair was up in a new confusing hair-style and it seemed that his time of relaxation had come to an end. 

"I found you" she said, smiling. 

"You did"

She hefted herself onto the branch next to him and leaned over curiously. Luke marked the page he was one and put the book down to face her.

"You're studying?" 

He shook his head and showed her the battered cover. Her face winkled with displeasure, "You're reading the weird stuff on the shelf again."

Luke nestled back into the tree calmly, unbothered by her attitude. Leia never saw the books in the same light. "They're not weird," he explained patiently, "They're about the Clone Wars. Historical fiction, detailed enough to be fact, a few mistakes hear and there of course." He heard Leia groan."This one is from a soldier's point of view, called Cody. If the empire was on Tatooine, they would never allow this to be printed."

Leia rolled her eyes. "What kind of publisher would make a book with spelling errors? Half of those pages aren't even in galactic basic standard, why waste your time? You can get a better book in town"

Its not for that, its the adventure..."

"Adventure? Come to the Eopie run. There'll be parades and food..."

He tucked the journal closer to his chest and shook his head. "No thanks, Leia. Its nice of you to offer, but I'm good."

"This only happens once a year..."

"I'd rather not." 

"Biggs will be back." She added. "Its Mid-Season break, and you haven't seen him in ages."

Luke bit his lip moodily and was surprised at his own reaction. "The last thing I want to do is listen to him talk about the Academy. I'd rather sit here and pretend it didn't happened" He had a pile of letters next to his bed which he had never opened, the sight of a new one made him sick every time. 

"Get over yourself, Luke. You're his best friend. Its not his fault his parents let him go." She dropped to the ground and dusted herself off. She poked his foot. "This is home, not a prison. Have some fun"

"Haven't you ever thought about leaving? About doing something great?"

"No" she said blankly. "Why bother?"

Luke folded his arms, he couldn't believe that about his sister. "We could do some good, there are people out there who need help, people crushed under the empire. That's the biggest problem in this universe," He looked at the sky. "No one helps each other."

Leia shrugged. "The empire is lightyears away from here. Our help wouldn't make a difference anyway."

"The Academy-"

"Dad won't let you. You know he won't let you. Thats why you hide up this tree and dream. Admit it."

He curled back into the branch, "Bye Leia" he said quietly. 

 "Join the rest of the world someday, please." She looked at him sadly. "I'll be there for you." Then she ran through the main door, passing upstairs and out of his view. Luke opened the book again slowly, drowning himself in story. 

Rex hauled me over his shoulder; we hardly made it out of there alive...

 


 

At night, the whole family sat around the low coffee table. Leia was sprawled over the back of the sofa and Anakin sitting next her. Luke was cross-legged on the cushy white seat, and Padme carefully picked through her cards. It was after dinner, the soft buzz of desert insects outside filled the room. Leia eyed her father suspiciously, as though daring him to ask the question. He bit back a smile "So, Leia... got any 5s?"

She very slowly handed over the three cards, trying to maintain her cool. She had been so close to getting all four. Now Anakin had them, adding another set to his already large collection. He sat back proudly.

It was Luke's turn now, and he turned to Leia as well. "Queens?"  

She scowled. "No. Go Dust-panning"

Luke looked her dead in the eyes. "Liar"

She she signaled to the pile of cards in the middle. "Dust-pan."

He pointed to the left of her hand. "You have it there, the queen of spades. Play by the rules."

Padme rolled her eyes from across the table. 'Play by the rules' didn't exist. It never existed. She looked down at her one measly set of threes. In comparison to everyone else, it was pathetic. Anakin had half the cards in front of him; modified go-fish wasn't exactly fair when everyone around can pretty much read minds. She didn't even know why she bothered playing, they were all cheaters.

Leia continued to scowl. Anakin looked over at his daughter and sighed. "Just do it, Leia. We can play another game if you want to win that badly."

She slowly handed over the queen. Anakin cleared his throat. "The one hidden under your leg too please"

She glared at both of them with enough fire to melt a blast door. 

Luke took the card neatly from her hand. "Thank you"

Padme planned for her next move. Luke eyes landed on his father's right hand, now drumming the table. His lip twitched, as though something just crossed his mind. "Hey, Dad?"

"Mm?"

"How did you lose your hand?"

 "Oh," Anakin thought for a moment, "Thresher accident," he said and he causally returned to his deck. 

They seemed a little disappointed, perhaps they were expecting something more exciting.

"And the scar on your eye?"

He stopped. He scratched his head. He couldn't actually remember.

That was weird. It must have been during the temple... right? It was pretty large gash, how had he gotten it?

Padme remembered. She grinned, happy to fill void. "He walked into a glass door when he was 13" 

Luke raised an eyebrow. Anakin bit his lip. It sounded unfortunately familiar. Coming back to him, he had exited a room in the senate building and hit what had seemed like a force-field. Then he woke up in a medical bay, confused and with stitches.

It wasn't exactly heroic, no. Why didn't Padme make up something cooler? Only the boring, slightly embarrassing truth ever seemed come out.

She winked at him apologetically. "You have any sevens?"

He checked his cards and smiled; Padme was so bad at this. He shook his head, "Nope, go dust-panning." 

 


 

Lord Sidious sat on his throne. He watched the duel in front of him as the girl’s red hair flashed with every movement. She dodged every blow from her huge grey opponent with ease, in moments the man was in a choke-hold.  Fifth brother struggled for breath on the floor, flailing in the vice-like grip. The seventh sister rolled her eyes behind the mask and folded her arms. The red-head looked up questioningly at the emperor.

Sidious waved his hand and man was released. He rose from the floor, coughing and glaring the at the girl with obvious hatred. She ignored him, replacing a piece of hair behind her ear.

The emperor rested his chin on his hands and contemplated. Mara was good, that was for sure. She was the only child brought by the Inquisitors that was worth training, and she had held up well. Her a strong gift, a knack for deception, and the lust for power made her formidable. She had already surpassed most of the Inquisitors, taking them down with her bare hands. Still, that was not a hard thing to do by the emperor's standards. His eyes scanned over the figures dressed in black next to her.

They were weak. Perhaps they would have been better if Count Dooku hadn't die so long ago, then they would of had some backbone. The emperor didn’t have time to waste training these fools himself. Anakin Skywalker would have been the better, but not even he could have taught these worms. They would never be much more then big egos and spinning lightsabers. There was no rage, nothing to twist and manipulate; no murderous glint in their eyes. Besides, Palpatine would only ever take one apprentice at a time. For now, that was Mara. 

He dismissed the group before him with another wave of his hand. The Mara trotted out with her chin held high and a ghost of a smile of her lips. The Inquisitors slunk out behind her, growling amongst themselves. 

How many systems were left to search? His future apprentice was still distant, growing up somewhere far away and untraceable. If only the pesky rebellion would vanish, he could have conquered the galaxy ages ago. Now he just had to be patient again. Fine.

He would wait.

Chapter Text

"Only if it rains! HA!"

Two Rhodians, Kru and Tazaros, roared with laughter across the small table shaking the cantina. One of the bith musicians played the wrong note on her sabriquet, thrown off by the sudden burst of noise. They hadn't been there long, but Kru's smooth green face had turned more peachy with drink and Tazaros' stomach hurt from laughing.

"Great, great," Tazaros managed to get out in between bursts of laughter. He flicked a tear out of one of his huge blue eyes, careful not to hit an empty glass. “Amazing, I wish I'd been there to see his face! You always know what to say!”

They were seated in a booth next to two others, one empty and the other occupied by a single human (not that Tazaros payed much attention). The ceiling was low overhead and crossed with black support beams. The whole space was remarkably well lit by windows for a cantina. Musicians played in the corner by the entrance, their song cheery and smooth, people gathered around a holo-projector, cheering as a pod race began. The bartender dried glasses and spoke calmly to some hungry customers. 3 Erwish women were deeply engaged in Dantooine double-hand, their credits stacked high and every now then tossing a card in the air like confetti on Gardulla's birthday day parade. The other two would snatch at it, grumble about their luck, and return to the game.

Kru checked the time on his watch, noticing how full the cantina had become. “I have to get back to the shop now ,” he sighed at his sad friend. He pushed up and the world jerked to the side a little. “Those rotor blades won't align themselves.”

“Oh look at you, so responsible!” replied Tazaros mockingly. He pushed away comment like an annoying fly with his long yellow and blue tinged fingers. “You work yourself to death for that Aqualish! Relax!" He said, and bounced forward excitedly. He tapped the table eagerly, "Come, let's have a drink! I can always get you for another drink!”

Kru didn't need anymore persuasion. "Since you asked so nicely!" He thumped back down grinning and they both laughed until they were nearly crying again.

Tazaros called over a server in Basic and a small Dug slid off of the bar and lopped towards them. He was low to the ground and wore a black apron, straightening it out with his left foot while his arms carried him. Tazaros signaled for another round and the he lopped to the bar. “How is your family?” He asked back in Rodese so they could talk in private. Almost no one understood or spoke Rodese off-world; only spoke Basic and or Huttese were really used here. “Is your mother any better from dune-fever?”

Kru grinned. "The old coot? The lady could teach a rancor to say please and thank you at teatime. She dropped half a credit in a shop the other day and tried to chew the door down to get it back." He looked over at the back of the server to check on progress and then returned to his good friend. "At this point I think only a black hole would do her in!"

The two drinks arrived, balanced elegantly on a tray. The honey colored liquid bubbled and foamed like a little nebula, the server jumped over tables and through groups of spectators to reach them, not spilling a single drop. More and more had been drawn into watching the race and yelling constantly erupted from the center of the room as though the favorite was losing ground. They thanked the Dug and returned to their conversation in their native language. "And Greedo..." He sighed, thinking about his hopeless younger brother. "He's a bit of a good-for-nothing. You can't just spend all day at the bar unless you've earned it and-"

"You mean like us?"

"Exactly!"

They cheered and threw their heads back, Tatooine Sunburn sliding down their throats sweet and sticky and fiery like the suns. Kru smiled at the heat and wiped his mouth on a rough sleeve. "So he's gotten it into his head that he's going to be a bounty-hunter," he rolled the base of the glass on the table, "and Ma almost pulled out her antenna." He took a sip, "It won't last long, you'll see. I keep telling her its just a phase; one day of tracking down real criminals and he'll be whimpering and wailing like he always does. Then he'll say he wants to be a palace guard! Speaking of which, how have you been with them? The Hutts, that is.”

Tazaros tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the side of the drink and the sound tinkled quietly. “Oh, you know already. They're pushing it hard this year.” He took a gulp, “I'm good as long as the bread keeps selling, but Gracel!" He slapped emphatically "I always give Gracel -you've met Gracel, yeah? Works the counter?" He scanned his friend's face for any sign of realization. "Makes the pepper-poppers and harza cake too, does it better than I ever could. Lovely girl, and...” He took a moment for another drink. He put it back down and tilted his head to the side, something had slipped from his head. “What were we talking about?” 

“Oh. The girl you hired a few years ago.” Kru threw his head back again.

Tazaros clapped his hands together happily. "Yes yes! You're a genius: Gracel!" He put his weight on an arm, content to have found his place again. "Anyway, I always give her a bonus, nothing much, just three or four gallons to celebrate the new year and all BUT this year...”

Kru burped.

“Bless you” he mumbled. “This year the goons start asking for double! So I gotta give 7 gallons just to make sure my assistant doesn't get chucked tail-first into a Sarlacc pit! What do I look like, an oasis?!”

“Ah but you're lucky!” Kru drawled, the glass in his hand sloshing out a little on the table. “Some people have been roughed up pretty bad. It was hard to meet the previous rates! I can't squeeze out more water every year just to please those gangsters! And my BOSS” he said in exasperation. He had some creative things to say about that chuta. "Im lucky for a few measly quarts! If it weren't such a good year, I don't think I'd be drinking here today!”

“Well chinka chinka to that" cheered his companion and they both downed another gulp. "What's up with this new system anyway? Are they building a swimming pool or something?”

Kru tried and failed to kick his feet up onto the table. Eventually he gave up and leaned back causally. “Nah,” he said as cooly as possible. “I got my suspicions though.” He folded his arms wisely in front of him before grabbing his drink again.

“Really?” Asked Tazaros. He leaned forward with starry blue eyes of curiosity. He looked around to make sure they weren't being watched and lowered his voice to a loud whisper. "What?”

Kru glanced around the room for a second as well. Even the Erwish had been put down their cards as the racers entered their final lap. The bith were only playing half-heartedly as the pods shot down the Metta Drop. The only person not engrossed was the human in the both behind them The man looking dolefully onto the street, too deep in his Jawa Beer to care about anything at all. Kru lingered on the silence for the dramatic reveal, and his friend was eating it up.

"THE EMPIRE” And then he sat back, very pleased with himself. The man with the beer coughed. The people by the screen gasped as another pod went up in flames.

“Whaaaat?” Tazaros shook his head as though he hadn't heard the right thing. “What'cha talking about, Kru?” He reached over to his friend's half-full glass and slid it slowly away from him. “I think you've had enough for one day” And I'll just take that for you! 

“No no” Kru argued stubbornly, unaware of the theift. “Think about it for a moment!” His friend raised a skeptical eyebrow over the rim. “Why else would they be hoarding so much water! It's not like it was a bad year, and Jabba hasn't suddenly started taking baths!"

Tazaros smiled, distracted a little by the final lap. “You can say that again”

“So clearly, they're stocking up!” He banged fiercely on the table with a fist to make the point. “I'd bet my left leg on it! The empire has been crawling up the Corellian Run, and they know it. Soon the Hutts won't be the only ones taking a water tax!!"

Tazaros eyes widened. He gripped the table suddenly as though he had been stuck by lightening. "Woah" he breathed out, entranced. He waved a long finger at his friend. “You got a point there actually. They're preparing, you're so smart, Kru! How have I not seen it before?”

“I know!" He smiled proudly and stole back his glass, draining it. He set it down with a clang and clapped in his friend's yellow and blue face. “Just like: wake up, Tatooine!”

“Yeah” Tazaros agreed, hiccuping. The server came over and cleared all the glasses as the race came to an end and the crowd cheered. Tazaros covered his ears as the sound bounced painfully around inside his head.

Kru pushed himself up off the seat with a great deal of difficulty and waited by the bar. While he checked the results of the betting, Tazaros balanced back up into his feet and fumbled with the coins in his pocket, tossing a few on the table. He grabbed his jacket noticed the human had slumped over into some sort of stupor. Humans were such flimsy creatures. Some people just can't handle their brew, he thought sadly and bumbled after Kru into the dusty street.

 


 

Anakin tucked his head into the crook of his arm until the blabbering had quieted down. His Rodese was rusty, languages were never really his thing, but still. He rubbed his face once the two very loud, very drunk men had left, trying to relieve some stress that was making him sink down. He hadn't meant to listen, it had just sort of... happened. Eavesdropping was a hard habit to break, and he hated feeling like he still had to hide, dropping in on every conversation like some sort of starving vulture. Ignorance leads to ruin, as Obi-Wan would have said sagely. But then again, almost everything led to ruin for Obi-Wan.

Empire. The word sank to the bottom of his stomach like a plate of month old nausage. Hopefully it was just their drinks talking, those imperial cruisers were lightyears away. Besides, no one had ever finished more than one glass of a Tatooine anything and left the cantina without a stretcher He pushed away his own drink, feeling sick already. Maybe they were wrong. Maybe Jabba had taken an interest in personal hygiene.

Maybe my bantha will sprout a pair of wings and fly into the sunset.

He groaned. 

 


 

But time actually passed by as it normally did. and the suns thankfully went up and down without any animals flapping through them. Worry slowly drained to the back of their minds as life in the desert remained unchanged. There was one time some stray propaganda had appeared on the holovision, but he empire had occupied a small mid-rim planet and hadn't budged out of the Dondur Sector to the relief of all. Apparently the rebellion was giving them a little too much trouble in Atollon for anything more. 

Padme now sat cross-legged on the dust, leaning against the side of plastered wall while watching the rest of her family. The evening sky was a hazy blue except for the little trail of grey sleepily marring the sky before her. The blanket she had been stitching together had fallen back to her lap as she tried to cover her smile.

She supposed it wasn't really worth laughing over. The speeder out of commission, not that one of them wouldn't be able to fix it in a few days, but what she imagined was running through Anakin's mind sent her right into giggles. Anakin Skywalker, the star pilot, child prodigy, was coming to grips with the fact that most people don't hop into a plane, presses a few shiny buttons, and take down an enemy base on their first try. How the twins had managed to scratch and derail at stablizer on the one rock in miles was beyond her, but they had done it. 

The twins stood a few feet behind their father, backs to her. The whole group was perhaps 20 yards away, and she couldn't really hear much coming from it unless the rare week breeze carried it over. Everyone was fine, but Leia was glancing uncomfortably at the speeder and then off to the orange cliffs in the distance, shifting foot to foot and probably willing herself to reappear on the top and as far away as possible. Luke stood stock-still and face-down to the ground, pretending to be a rock so long as he didn't move. The atmosphere suddenly seemed much heavier than normal, and by the side of the house she still felt the pressure.

Beru's head popped out the doorway, breaking the mood hanging around everyone's head in the silence. "Dinner should be ready in five minutes!" she called, cheerily. "And... um, errm" she noticed the vehicle, tilted at an alarming angle from its normal hovering position. "My stars," Padme heard her say. "I see it hasn't gone so well then."

Padme nodded in agreement and rested her chin on her hand. "He thought teaching them to drive would be a good experience."

Beru peaked back over and bit her lip. She could see her mind working, weighing the cost of a new speeder with the value of education. In this family, there were many different opinions, and Anakin always seemed ready to price learning first. After all, he would say. Speeders can be fixed. By that logic, so could broken bones, and that didn't mean she wanted anyone to get hurt. 

The twins visibly flinched as Anakin moved, they were preparing themselves for the worst. Still facing away from everyone, Anakin pulled a double screwdriver from his pocket. "Alright then you two. Let's see if you remember how to fix this thing..."

They took a reluctant step towards the red engine and the wind changed direction. He didn't seem to be too angry, and the twins had fixed too many stabilizers to count. Padme tucked in her legs and faced Beru instead, wrapping her hands in the blanket. "How's Owen?"

Beru settled down next to her for a moment. "The cough is a bit better, but I really can't express how much we appreciate you coming up here to help. The harvests have been getting harder and harder lately, and I don't think I could have done it alone." She glanced back at Anakin and the twins, talking about something or other which seemed very important. "The twins especially, their hearts aren't in the work, but they've been invaluable. I was like that at their age, I don't blame them for dragging their feet" A faint interjection passed their ears, and Anakin had brought himself up to look much taller. A hint of concern rested in Leia's eyes as she glanced between them. She drew back defensively at that moment and Luke stopped working and the engine. It had started to rise up, but now tanked back to the ground.

Padme bit her thumbnail, "Of course, of course" she replied. "It's no trouble." She winced as Luke hurled the screwdriver into the dirt. Anakin had wrapped his arms inside his sleeves, and Beru fidgeted next to her uncomfortably. 

"5 minutes," Beru repeated mindlessly, eyes glued on the group. Leia had put a hand on Luke's shoulder, but he shrugged it off brusquely. It had suddenly gotten very quite. "But take as long as you need," stood back up and ducked back inside. "And good luck," she whispered

Padme folded up her stitching, it seemed like she wouldn't have much more time to work on it tonight. "I've had a lot of practice you know."

Beru gave her a sympathetic look and disappeared down the stairs. For a second, Padme considered following her, but something dark and fuming stormed past her first, kicking up the dust. She lurched back in surprise.

"IT JUST ISN'T FAIR!!!" he yelled, the noise ricocheting up the passage that he had just stomped down. Padme whirled around to the speeder, what had she missed? Leia's eyes were trailing worriedly after her brother, and she then looked at her father for quiet a second. She soon was dashing after Luke.

Anakin was all that remained, stern and still. He then deflated like a ballon in exhausted confusion. 

Padme cleared her throat, "Sooo," she called, not particularly excited to hear the reply. "What was it this time?"

"What do you think?" he called back. He came over and flopped down beside her, tilting his head back against the side of the house and closed his eyes to the sky.

She nudged his shoulder, "Driving," she shrugged, "you can work on it. But tell me what happened."

He put his chin on his arms, stared over at the cliffs. They had started to catch the light of the setting suns, the brightest stars just appearing in the sky. "It's the Pilot Academy again" he said, rocking from left to right.

Oh. That again. She vaguely remembered Luke mentioning another one of his friends had signed up, and she supposed it was only a matter of time before more frustration found a way out in the familiar fight. 

Anakin continued, eyes still in the distance. "One minute were talking about fixing engines, then ship engines, then boom. I'm not sure." He ran a hand through his hair and squeezed his eyes closed. Padme tilted her head onto his shoulder, feeling the rise and fall of his breath retreating back to normal. "He really wants to go, I know he really wants to go" he repeated to himself. Every time I have to shut him down, I feel so awful. I wish I could sent him, I really do." He put his head back in his hands. It touched Padme that he was so worried about this, but she was sick of the awkward silences, brooding and stares. The opportunity was perfect to get to the root of the problem.

She leaned into him a little. "Yes? So?"

Anakin looked back out at the cliffs and sighed, "He hates it here," he suddenly shivered in the warm evening light and laced his fingers around her's, hand shaking a little. "But do you remember how many people died?" he asked desperately. "How many of our friends flew off and never came back? How can I explain that feeling to him? He won't listen, he made it clear that a moisture farmer wouldn't know" he turned to her helplessly and collapsed back down, "What should I do?" he wailed quietly.

She took a deep breath, a watched a dusty purple color fall across the sky. The time had come, “Tell them the truth, Anakin."

He stiffened but she put a hand on his shoulder before he could speak. "I think they're ready. Did you really expect they’d want to live out their days on a moisture farm? We’ve had enough adventure for a lifetime, sure, but them...” she motioned to where the two had rushed past. “They’re different. They’re new."

Anakin brought in his knees and blinked a few times. “I guess so,” he hummed

“Oh, don't get so excited, master Jedi!" she said, rolling her eyes. His enthusiasm was pathetic. "Please keep your emotions under control, you'll set a bad example for the younglings."

He snorted and she poked him in the chest. "Better get moving and fix that speeder, Ani. They’ll be waiting for you.” 

“I’ve kept them long enough," he said nodding, then he stopped. He rubbed a small pebble on the ground, "It won’t be easy, you know” he told her, a serious look deep inside. “Starting from scratch. And I don’t think anyone ever trained two at the same time”

“You do have a bad habit of making history."

He smiled and shook his head. He tossed the pebble a few feet away. "Seems like that, doesn't it?"

They sat together peacefully as light eased to a pleasant glow and fell golden across the Lars's homestead in beautiful streams. She put her head on his shoulder; it was the quiet moments like that which she really loved, a privacy and tranquillity that she never expected to be her's. "Come on," she said, and pulled him to his feet. She had started to smell the delicious flavors coming from inside, things like bestinnian tang-root, fresh chokie and cinnamon h'kak bean bread. She made a small cough "Lets go eat before I tragically to come down with a case of numa-flu. Beru and I have to get through the second season of Who Are You to Accuse Me while you're gone."

  


  

Luke flipped over into his stomach and shoved his face deeper into the pillow. It had only been a day or two since the three of them, dirty and exhausted, had returned home in slightly awkward silence. The warm feeling of finishing a harvest had helped the mood, but Luke still didn't really want to talk to Anakin. Things would be back to normal soon, and right now he was just tired. The season was over, and they could rest for a while.

So why? He clenched his eyes as hard as he could, wrapping his pillow over his ears in an attempt to hide from awful, irregular noise smacking into head. What time was it? He felt Leia shift above him in the bunk and draw a blanket tightly around her shoulders, but soon she returned to her breathing pattern and the room was still. Relief was glorious and silent as he relaxed and sank back down. He was almost asleep, but slam, thunk, ‘oh three moons!’

BWEEEEEEEEEEEEE be be be be be BWEEEEEEeeeeeeeEEEEEEEeeeeeeeEEEeEeeEEEEEE!!!!

Luke shot up like he had been dosed with cold water. It was was dark, he could only start to see the outline of the wooden desk with a flight manual hidden inside, and in the corner there was and a pile of dirty clothes. It was early to see anything else; the light wasn't strong enough. 

That was a bad sign for a planet with two different suns.

The sound of the speeder alarm was shut of hastily from outside. Luke slumped back over onto the bed in displeasure and Leia let out a feeble snore. He looked up at her dark form then lifted his eyes to the window. The plastered wall wrapped plainly around the opening, a rather useless attempt to illuminate a subterranean room, very good for getting dust inside.

He rubbed his eyes and glanced at a clock on the nightstand, reading 4:32 TST. Another loud bang shook the walls and piece of the white paint fluttered to the floor. 

He stood up and shuffled moodily out the arch. Once on the tile hall he glanced to his left, past the supply closet and basement to where his parent's door was slightly open. He trudged up the stairs still in his pajamas and blinked onto the sand. A cool breeze made him shiver unhappily.

There was Dad, bustling around the speeder surrounded with various boxes and supplies. He didn't seem to notice Luke's presence for a little, wrapped up in a little check list. He flipped a page and dashed off around the house, oblivious to all. “Dad, what's going on out here?”

Anakin so head popped out of the trunk, surprised at the voice. He smiled when he saw his son. “Oh hello Luke! I didn't think you’d be up yet!”

“Neither did I,” he grumbled. "The noise. Why are there..." He squinted at the boxes surrounding the speeder. "Ration packs everywhere? And diatium power cells, what's happening?"

“oh yeah...” Anakin scratched the back of his head awkwardly. “I... um, sorry about the alarm. I tripped.” His father scooped up some batteries and blew off the dust, sending a little cloud up into the dry air. “So anyway: before we left the Lars your mother and I decided it would be nice for you leave farms for a while. Explore, have some time as a family and all during the break” he gestured proudly to the packed speeder. “Here we are! What do you think?”

Luke rubbed his face, trying to bring himself back into a state of focus. "What?" 

"Road trip!!"

"No." 

His father's face fell; he gazed mournfully at all the stuff he had managed to cram in. "No?" The tent, the food, sleeping packs and medical supplies, enough packets of smoked Lhasa stacked for weeks were all pack already, along with a remote of his own making. There wasn't even an extra storage compartment hooked onto the back, he was very proud of it. He sighed again disappointedly “That's too bad, but we’re still going.”

 “No.”

 "Oh, come on!!” He said playfully. He walked over next to Luke to admire the vehicle.“It will be be great, just great. Imagine: the sprawling plains,” he threw out his hand. "The quiet hills," he looked up dreamily. "The blue sky"

 Luke squinted over at Tatto I, just starting to shimmer its red glare. “The blazing suns," he added blandly. "The blistering heat."

"Its going to be great!"

Luke wasn't too sure about that. He stood in silence and watched his father moodily. Anakin took a few steps towards the pile of supplies at his feet and knelt down, dragging his fingers through a pile of metal pieces. "If you were wondering,” he added, still searching through the mess. "Your mother is not joining us" He nudged a red tarp off to the side of the collection and brightened when he found a small box underneath. He prodded the old lock carefully and scooped it up. “She's still at the Lars's and will be staying there until she gets sick of them. -I mean, she gets un-sick. She is sick, yes- But before we left she was sure to mention how terribly she regrets not going and how very sad she is to miss out on such a great bonding experience and how wonderful everything is going to be and..." on and on and on.

Luke tucked his arms around his sides miserably and rocked on his toes. He looked longingly back inside as he waited out a long-winded excuse for his mother to not sleep in a tent. Aside from a weak fake-sneeze, she was perfectly fine. If this whole idea hadn't been sprung on him like some sick jack-in-the-box, he could have pretended to break his leg, wait. Clever. So that was the reason he hadn't told about the trip. Well played. 

Anakin was continuing on blithely, still holding the box. It must have been his mother's idea, his father didn't seem capable of the plan, not the brightest star in the sky. "...to remember to pack a tooth-brush and-"

He stopped and tilted his head to the side. Luke heard it too, the soft sound of a latch being slid sideways. A window banged open so violently a few steps from the ground, the window to Luke's bedroom. Anakin chuckled to himself quietly. “Well look who's awake before 11:00? How... unforeseen.” He rolled up a spread of vaporator tubes in a cloth and tossed it in the back. 

Meanwhile, Luke was watching Leia wiggling her head out the opening in the wall until she was slumped halfway on the ground. Her arms couldn't quiet fit through, so it make her look sort of worm-like. "I REALLY hope you a good reason for this," she said bitterly. Luke normally would have laughed at her, but he didn't feel like laughing today. "Because I certainly can't think of one."

"Good morning to you too, Leia!" Dad called from behind them, he seemed oblivious to her coldness. "We're going on vacation, so pack your bags. We leave in 20 minutes!"

Leia blinked up at Luke. Well, it wasn't like he had anything to say. Dad was just crazy sometimes, they both knew that. He shrugged weakly in response and she looked in alarm at the speeder. "So we're going camping?? When did we decide this??"

His father fold his arms up and smile a little sadly to himself. He got that far-away look in his eye, the one that came when he was telling stories or when they argued. He fought the urge to take a few steps away, something deep was down there and Luke wasn't sure he wanted to know.

Anakin drummed his figures on his arm calmly instead. "Oh don't worry," he said. "It will be interesting," He raised an eyebrow and smiled at Leia, "I promise."

Chapter Text

The three of them hovered uneventfully across the planet. The rolling dunes had transformed into crusty plains and the blasting heat from above made the ground shimmer and peel beneath them. Luke tried to sleep everything away in the shade of his hood, and beside him Leia gazed forlornly at her communicator. She would pick it up give it a shake, turn it on and off, or wave it in the air, but end up just sighing and looking up at the sky again. They hadn't seen a trace of settlement since they passed the outskirts of Mos Shutta, of course there was no signal.

 Three days. Three days of travel. That's how long it had been, and it was impressive that no one -including himself- had jumped out of the speeder yet. It took all of his gradually built up self-control and maturity not bang his head on the steering wheel. If he had done this trip at their age something would be on fire by now. And if he had done it with Ahsoka, well... everything would be on fire. And there would be pirates. That the twins were still sane was a feat in itself.

Well, sane might be pushing it. Leia started to pick at lint on the speeder door aimlessly, a stark contrast from just a day ago when they had both wailed and argued, brooded and snarled enough to make him very proud. The complaints were a comfort, if slightly obnoxious. Now alarmingly, the spirit was leaking out of them like a broken sonde balloon. It almost pained him to answer their increasingly desperate questions. Were they there yet? Yes. Of course. Soon. And he totally knew where he was going too.

He closed his eyes for a second and found the glowing trail once again. The quiet tug  seemed to sing a little louder with each passing mile, and that was all he had to go on. Blindly trusting the force had always made him uneasy, but if there was one thing he had learned though over the years, it was that sometimes that was all you could do.

Oh, you want to go home? Well, life is full of disappointments. Obi-Wan would have just shaken his head and laughed as Anakin finally got a taste of his own medicine.

"Now you know how I felt every time I took you on missions" He said, folding his hands up his sleeves very smugly. "Not so fun now, is it? You were either inconsolable or uncontrollable!"

"Well at least you never had to deal with two at the same time." Anakin shot back. "You had it easy."

 "Easy?" Obi-Wan puffed out his chest indignantly. "I had you and Ahsoka, I'd hardly call that easy! A full fledged knight at that, not two learners! You were insufferable! You were ridiculous! You were-" He elegantly rested his head in the fingers of his hand and sighed in a way only he could pull off. "Turning coal into kyber crystals is 'easier.' "  

"Good thing we were both so charming."

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and took a calming breath, regaining the veil of the noble Jedi he was. "Sure" he assented, if just to shut him up. "We'll go with that."

Leia sneezed and Anakin stopped in the shade of a cluster of rock pillars. It was a welcome break from the heat of midday. 

Luke raised his head from his elbow. “Are we there yet?” 

Anakin shivered despite the heat and threw on his plastered smile. "Do either of you need any water?"

Luke squeezed his eyes shut and rested back down on his arm. Leia picked up her bag, shuffling through it for a canteen. Anakin waited for her patiently. His eyes wandered carefully up the rock pillar next to them, it wasn't to polished or too jagged. 15 feet was a good hight, right? There was a ledge halfway up, and they wouldn't even be timed. He picked up the vaporator from the seat next to him and weighed it; it was the size of a toaster and just as heavy. 'Exercise is good for the soul,' and all that.

Leia pulled out a near-empty bottle from the smallest pocket in her pack and shook it. Anakin folded his arms with a smile.  Luke returned with a suspicious squint. His head twisted to the side and freckles on his nose scrunched up. "What happened to the vaporator?"

Anakin's grin grew wider and real as he leaned forward. "Are you guys ready?" 

Luke yanked his hood down and groaned. He knew the look on his father's face, something weird was going to happen. Leia fiddled nervously with the lid of her bottle. The towering pillar stood beside them.

  


 

Several close calls with giving up, a couple extended breaks, a few bout of general cursing, and one rather nasty fall later, they were finally making progress. Leia did not grab the outcropping to her left or the small crevice just above her, instead she simply paused right where she was to catch her breath. The vaporator was still out of reach and with it the sweet, life-giving water, but at least she was making progress.

When they were younger, they used climb the walls in the yard. They would race to see who could get the highest, exhilarated by the challenge and competition. Then Mom or Dad would come in, waving their arms, ruining the fun, and scooping them back to earth. They would sometimes try again when their parents went back inside, but that was years ago. The game was over. 

She clung to the red stone like her life depended on it because it did. Her throat was uncomfortably dry, and her hands were a mess of dust and sweat, raw and numb. Luke grunted below her, pulling himself to where her foot had been a moment before and stopping for a breath.

The flats were turning into a mixture of pink and black shadows. One of the suns dipped down to the horizon, trailed closely by the other. Had it really been that long? Their father was stretched out on a sleeping pad beneath them, eyes closed but not sleeping. I believe in you, he had said. She had almost laughed at first. The pillar seemed impossible, her father's mind fried to a crisp, her instincts screaming the warning signs, but no. I believe in you. The deep sincerity shone through like it always did. The part of him they was distinctly loving and not crazy. If not for that, she and Luke left him for dead at noon yesterday. Or maybe a long time before. Sand castles and dopey jokes remained wedged in her heart, forcing her to try.

Her hand slipped off its position at a loss of focus. Grit sliced through her palm and she winced, no time to check for blood. She clung more tightly to the cracks in the surface and her arms were starting to shake. She glanced up and the final stretch lay before her. Crack to crack, handhold to ridge, her aching fingers carried her up farther until she was sprawling across the ledge with burning lungs. The world flipped upside down and right side up. Luke wheezed next to her, the hazy purple sky above them scattered with the first stars of evening.

I did it.

A polite cough interrupted the stillness. “I’m going to be honest, you guys. I thought you’d be faster.”

She tilted her head over to look at her father, who sat cross-legged next to them. His hands were tucked up his sleeves and his eyes were bright with curiosity, as if he had been there for hours. 

Only Luke was able to talk through his panting. “How the ever-growing galaxy...”

"We've got loads of time I suppose" Anakin said, ignoring his son as cups of water instantly appeared before him. “Thirsty?”

He didn't wait for answer, giving them ration packs as well. Luke took the water gingerly, as though it could shatter at any moment. Leia's reflection stared back at her.

She watched her father silently as he was gazed up at the stars. He looked different in the evening haze. Tired, she guessed. His constant smile was tucked up and folded away, and leaving only the solemn man she found standing aimlessly in the middle hall sometime.

“Get comfortable” he said at last, his expression softening. A small lantern flickered to life beside him, casting an orange glow across the three of them. “There are some things we need to talk about”

 


  

By the time he closed his mouth, the moons were glowing high above their heads.

He let the stone ball back into his palm and sighed. He tossed it towards them and Leia scooped it up hungrily, eyes wide.

It was too late, much later than he had imagined. They needed to rest now. "I'm sorry if this seems like a lot," he said, "Please bare with me."

Leia's mind spiraled like the pebble that had twirled suspended in the air so delicately a few moments ago. Was she hallucinating? Had she been out in the sun too long? Her father claimed to be a Jedi -Leia could claim to be a grizzly bear from Drathomir to that length, except she couldn't make rocks fly. She scoured the surface for the invisible strings it must have had because, no. The force was fairy tail, inner rim folklore. It was not the reason why the things would start rattling when she got angry, not a reason why they they lived miles from any settlement. It was not the answer to the millions of details that flashed into her head...

Anakin gathered up the ration packs and stood, taking the light with him.

"I don't believe you."

Luke said it, staring up expressionlessly at his father.

"And why should you?" He returned cooly. "It isn't fair. After we kept it from you for so long, it isn't right. Maybe you would have believed it if I was dragged out the front door and shot by bounty hunters. Maybe you would have believed it one day you were abducted by inquisitors, but then it would be too late. So here we are."

He flicked out the lamp and left them all in silver moonlight. His voice came from the ground below. "There isn't enough room to sleep up there, but I also wouldn’t recommend jumping. Do your best climbing down, I'll catch you if you slip.”

Luke and Leia stared at each other for a bit. 

“This is insane. This is all insane"

Leia clenched the stone in her hand, "Even insane people can't make rocks levitate, idiot." She chucked it at his feet. "No matter how crazy you are, gravity doesn't care."

"Hallucinations"

That was unfortunately believable. Too much sun and even the most sensible Arcona lost their minds. She set her jaw and looked down at her father. "Open your eyes, Luke. If this is part of your dream, why do I need to convince you to chase it?"

"I didn't ask for this."

Leia looked over the edge. wasn’t that high, she told herself. Only twenty feet. Only twenty feet up a slippery rock pillar to the unforgiving ground in the dark and when she lost her grip and got hurt and DIED at least one of them would be able to go home. She perched on her toes at the edge, staring down into the ocean of doom.

“You wouldn't. You'll get to get yourself killed, you know."

She started anyway. She could barely see anything, let alone the handholds. She moved slowly, touching the rock and trying to remember the places she had used on the way up. Suddenly her foot slipped and she was hanging on with only her hands. “DAD, DAD” she call loudly. Luke's suddenly concerned but helpless face appeared above her. “What do I do I'm going to fall!”

“You're fine, Leia” his voice rung out calmly in the darkness.

 “Im hanging off a rock face I am NOT fine”

“You’re doing a great job" he insisted. "There is a foothold, you just need to find it.”

“How do you know that?!!" She slipped a little more and let out a small screech and flailed in search of it. "Where is it?!”

“Don't panic.”

"IM PANICING"

"Leia."

For a moment, she froze, caught off guard. That compulsion vanished almost instantly, but she managed to take a breath. A wave of strength rushed over her, like the world was not trying to stifle her. It was comforting, and she stretched her foot to the crack in the stone.

“Good!” he called happily. “Excellent! Keep going”

She did, eyes clamped shut, hands and feet miraculously knowing the place to go, a second nature. She hardly realized when she landed on ground and she collapsed, exhausted. Her father rubbed her head affectionately and passed her a sleeping bag which she didn't bother to zip herself inside of. "How?" 

“That's the force for you. It's everywhere, it lets things exist, so in turn... um, everything is a part of it. You open yourself up to it" he scratched his head, realizing it might not be helpful. "Its confusing, Obi-Wan always used to explained it better, but it makes sense I promise!" A snore interrupted his speech.

He smiled and looked back up the pillar. One down, one to go. “Your turn, Luke”

Luke peeked over the edge. “No thanks”

“Luke...”

"No."

“I won't let you fall. These are your first steps.”

“What if I don't want to be a  Jedi'”

...hm. He supposed that hadn’t really crossed his mind. Luke just seemed like the kind of person who would want to learn, and now that he thought about it, most knights didn't really have a choice. Everyone and their cousins wanted to be one. “I thought you wanted to make a difference? What about the academy?”

"Yeah, I did." He narrowed his eyes, "What if I don't want to be a Jedi?”

“Well, I guess you don’t have to" Anakin chewed his words carefully. "But you do have to learn." He looked up at the shadowy face. "You were born with a strong strong connection to the force, you have to control it. Or one someone else will control it for you." A crooked, slimy smile flashed through his mind. "Just learn the basics. After that, you can collect vapor from the from the atmosphere for the rest of your life if you want. Or go to flight school. As a trained Jedi you could be a leader in the rebellion, if thats what you really want. In the end I just want you to be happy."

“Why aren't you fighting in the rebellion? Why aren't you fighting"

Anakin bit his lip. Did he really want to get into a whole dark/light side fiasco with them now? Did he really want to get into Darth Vader? No, this was enough for right now. Someday, but not today. "Its a long story," he said after a pause. "But most of all, I don't want to. I have you, I have your sister and your mother. I've found my place."

"You lied to us."

There was a note of betrayal in his voice that make Anakin wince. A part of him wanted to argue that he hadn't lied, that most of it is true from a certain point of view, but in the end, what did he know about being in Luke's position? Nothing.

"I'm sorry."

Luke drew back for a few minutes. Anakin weighed the idea of carrying Luke down on his back if he wouldn't at least attempt to come down my himself, but the head reappeared. "Do you promise?" he said warily, "Do you promise to let me apply for flight-school next semester?"

"The next rotation. Give it a chance, I real chance. I promise you can if you still want to "

Luke retreated again. He stayed out of view for a longer time, and Anakin fought to keep from nodding off.

Eventually, slowly, Luke pushed himself over the edge. He clambered down quietly, but purposefully. There were only a moments of hesitation, but he caught on quickly. His foot touched the earth and he flopped into his sleeping pad in silence, followed by light snoring.

Anakin pulled a blanket over Luke and sat down against the stone with the beginnings of a smile on his lips, but he couldn't shake the feeling of uncertainty his son had brought with him to the ground. He watched over their forms in the desert, thinking very quietly because sometimes the people around you can read your mind. So far from home that the constellations above him were different, until he too eventually yielded to exhaustion..

 

 

Chapter Text

An empty lamp was still lying empty on its side by the speeder, and a white tarp that had been covering the storage boxes was was sticking out the back door. He brushed the dust out of his hair and slowly pushed himself up to standing. Luke and Leia were still sound asleep, breathing softy. Luke’s arm stuck up in the air and Leia was sprawled on stomach halfway off the mat. There was no sign they would be moving anytime soon.

When he had done all he could, he returned to his sitting position against the stone to wait. In his lap was the old box from under the driver's seat. The lock itself needed some persuading to open despite all the effort he had put into it yesterday. He shook the dust out of the keyhole a couple of times and tried to remember the pattern he had used. The tiny screwdriver was all he had now, the original key thrown into the middle of the sink-holes out west. He let his mind wander as tested the tiny mechanisms inside, listening for the soft clicks of gears and metal teeth. 

Your coming. 

He nodded, twisting the pick to the right.  

Well. It certainly took you long  enough.

He would have rolled his eyes, but the pin was able to slide a little further. It was too early for attitude.

The presence waited beside him for a moment, thoughtful and pensive. When it spoke again, it was almost like a question. With them.

"Of course," he looked up, drumming his fingers on the lid. Inside he knew he would be flying blind, but when had that stopped him before? "They just need some time for all of this. It's not easy to have a reality torn away from you overnight. Be patient"

Qui-Gon Ginn ran through his mind, from the first time he saw the man backlit and standing halfway down the junk-shop stairs, to the glimmer of triumph on his face in the cold expanses of space. The husky cheekbones of a Saurin through his mother's hair, shoving them both onto a strange hot planet. The overseer twisting his chin this way and that as though purchasing a cabbage, or hubba gourd in a market. The exotic smoke on her breath lingered long after she moved on to the next in line. He returned to the keyhole with renewed vigor.

There is no time. There is never time. 

"What is the difference to you?" he murmured. "What does a day or a year matter when faced with eternity?"

Everything makes a difference. 

He sighed. "Great. Thanks. Since you seem intent on ruining my mood today, now would be a great time for cryptic warnings about how terrible the future will be. I really love those."

Perhaps, it mused. But I do not know.

Anakin sat a little straighter as the voice continued on.

There are many futures.  The journey of a youth is smoother, and tradition grows roots longer than time. Suspicion, reluctance, bitterness, such can be the price of waiting. The Jedi did not take it lightly. That was the way.

"So you think I can really do it?" 

If you doubt, you have already failed.

The lock fell into his hand with a satisfying clunk and Anakin grinned. "Just asking. I wanted to know so I can blow your mind."

A rush of air swirled around him like laughter. It ruffled his hair like he was a child again, endearing and troublesome. Indeed.You are a most peculiar creature, Anakin Skywalker. If only there had been more like that...

He squeaked open the rusty hinges and finally was left alone. He was hit by the smell of damp and musty, but inside was exactly how he had left it: the little black pouch tied with a drawstring, a few bolts and miscellaneous gadgets that rattled against the sides.

Anakin took the bag into his hand and it still hummed despite the fabric in the way. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  The blade wouldn’t look the same, no. He wasn’t the same person either. He closed his eyes. This was duty, not war. He would not fight a war.

The parts floated in his hand but they didn’t seem right yet. They felt disconnected, uneasy in the presence of each other. The battery was broken, and he was missing at least a stabilizer or two. He let he pieces clatter down into the chest and opened his eyes to look at his two gawking children. “Good morning, sleepy-heads!”

"So it was real"

Anakin kept the small bag in his fingers and smiled down. "Roll up your sleeping bags, this awful trip is almost over."

 


 

They puttered along together against the base of one of the great cliffs. Beggar swallows nested up on the face, and every now and then they could hear quiet chirping from the little streaks of white dotting the yellowish stone. Anakin had just finished explaining the difference between the witches and Jedi. Again.

“So how did the Jedi turn the citizens of Xal 3 into mice?" 

He sighed, "They didn't. Because they can't do that."

"Well excuse me" Leia huffed. "But 1 rotation ago, I was pretty sure we were on track to becoming moisture farmers and I'm not 100% on how the universe works anymore. How exactly is levitation any different? And why have we been lugging fertilizer from the basement without it??"

Luke rubbed his back unconsciously and nodded.

"Knock yourself out when we get home, but I'll tell you right now its not worth the effort." He slowed down the speeder, scanning for the destination. "Now, what your about to do, you normally wouldn’t dream of doing until you had trained for 10 years or something, but we’ll see how this works out!”

“We've had, what? 10 hours?”

“You lucky ducks! And there isn't even the chance of freezing to death if you take a long time," he coughed, "which I completely expect you to be. They always said it wasn't the same without a time limit"

Luke's eyebrows drew together. “Death?"

"Oh praise the stars, here we are!” He finally pulled the speeder to a stop and sat back in relief. The twins saw nothing different except a small black opening in the cliff. A couple of swallows twittered and swooped around their heads.

"Is this it?"

"You were expecting, perhaps, the ruins of a Jedi temple? A five-nebula hotel? Yes, this is it." 

Luke squinted into the darkness. It was a sudden contrast of black in the bright day and he shivered despite the heat. "What's in there?"

"Spiders, probably" he shrugged. "We're pretty far from true water source. And whatever you bring in with you." 

Leia's face turned rocky. "We drove all this way for spiders?"

"No, no, of course not.," He replied soothingly. "We drove all this way for these." He dug his hand into his pocket, and waited for the applause.

The twins glanced from his out-stretched palm to each other, unimpressed. 

"There are plenty of rocks at home," Luke grumbled.

It was like pulling splinters from a bantha's tail, "Look a little closer" he urged. He shielded his hand from the glare of the suns and Luke's face lit up. The crystal glowed a faint blue, sparkling in the comparative shade.

"Woah"

"Yes. This a is kyber crystal, the core of a Jedi's lightsaber. Each of them has a slightly different signature, which is why you need to find your own. Bring me your 'rock'. ”

Leia glanced skeptically over her nose at the course black gravel radiating from the entrance. 

"Don't bother trying to pick it out from the ground; when they aren't held by their wielder, they are indistinguishable from quartz or glass.” He dropped his stone into Luke's hand, where the light fizzled out. "See?"

"Did I break it?"

"There harder than ur-diamonds, they don't..." Red lightsabers "...Don't." He took it back and put it away. "Anyway, it will find you."

“Any suggestionS?”

 “Well," Anakin measured the hight of the suns. "I'd get some shade, because you have 11 hours until I get super bored and pick you up.”

“You're not going to come with us?”

"May the force be with you!!” And Anakin was gone in a flurry of dust and wind, slamming the gas so he didn't have to answer any more questions, not like he could be helpful either way. Suddenly, he remembered something, and turned over his shoulder, "DON'T TELL ANYONE WHERE YOU'RE FROM!!!" The two small dark figures waved and bumbled, whatever they shouted never reached his ears. Once they were far enough away, he turned into the cliff and settled down to wait.

 


 

It was, unnerving, inside to say the least. It was cool, and once they were sure their father wasn’t joking, they had entered the cliff cautiously. A large shard of onyx jutted above the archway like a tooth and sparkled, but other than that nothing special really shone. They were blind until their eyes adjusted to shadows, but Leia was practically blind even after because other than the single beam from outside, there was no other source of light. It was, after all, a cave, And they had forgotten to grab a torch.

Not like a torch would have done much good, as they got further in the darkness became stranger, almost heavier. A thin electric beam would never be able to stand up to it. Even the sun hit the ground and vanished, a single peninsula of golden ground amid an ocean of black. If she stuck her hand out beyond the border, it might not have existed at all. Only the crunch of their footsteps reminded them on the small space as it echoed off unseen walls. They reached the end of the light and Leia stopped. She kicked a stone ahead of her, heard the skittering die quickly.

“Great. What now?”

Luke was staring ahead, entranced by something beyond. He pointed forward, maybe a little to the right. “There”

She tried squinting further, but couldn't get beyond the wall of shadow before her. “How can you even see? What are you pointing at?”

“Beside the big boulder,” and he tilted his head. "Its glowing”

“Glowing?”

“No” he was focused, caught up inside of himself. “Its not glowing, not really.”

And then was gone, swallowed by the darkness. She hadn’t even seen him take the step. “Hey! Where are you going?”

His face made her her jump, emerging out of the before her, floating eerily against the black, detached from a body and unaware of her fear. “What are you waiting for? Come on”

His arm shot out tugged her along. She could almost feel the curtain of darkness, thick and heavy and roll over her. She tripped over stones Luke somehow knew to avoid, their echoing steps immediately covered by the silence curling back up around them. She was anchored to the world only by his hand, completely blind. “This way,” and he let go.

She froze. She was stranded.

The “Hurry,” sounded fuzzy and distant, but he could have only gone a few steps. The sound bounced off the walls, fading fast.. She didn’t know where to look. Where did the entrance go? She looked to what she though was behind her, but there was only more black. She was dizzy, “Luke?”

She didn’t move, “Luke, where are you?

"Luke, its not funny.”

“Luke.”

“Luke?”  The haunted realization rushed through her: he was gone.

“...Hello?”

Nothing returned her call, but there was clear and sharp in the cave, snapping like ice. She whirled to her left.

“Why are you just standing there?”

“Where did you go?!” Its was Luke again, reappearing as quietly as he had left. She reached to grab his arm, but missed. 

He glanced over himself in mild confusion. “I’ve been her the whole time.”

Leia dug her nails into her hand to steady herself, what he was saying felt wrong, but she nodded. "I'm still not sure what we're supposed to be doing, please don't do it again.” 

He shrugged and looked over his shoulder into the cave. He was shifting foot to foot nervously, as if he was itching to move on. His face was severe and empty in the shadows, “So you can see now?”

Leia looked down at her hands in surprise and 10 fuzzy blobs wiggled back at her. She flipped them over in wonder as the piles of rubble came into focus. They stacked up the sides, hunks of sandstone littered the floor. The ceiling swept up, almost blue against the pale dust and various cracks. A few tunnels lead deeper into the cliff like a beehive. It wasn't crisp, but she could move without fear of falling.

He nodded, “Good,” and started down the nearest passage.

Leia scampered after him, jumping over the blurry piles of rock, eager not to get lost. Her footsteps ringing alone in the tunnels.

 


 

Leia was right behind him. Why wouldn’t she be? Matching steps echoed behind him, and the the flickering light wasn’t far at all. It glimmered clear and bright as the moons.

Rubble climbed up on either side, glass growing out of each crack in the ceiling, refracting the blue tinge that seemed to radiate from the very stone. The cave breathed. Why Leia had stopped just before the first gate was beyond him. Once they had entered, his uncertainty had been melted away. The whole cliff radiated with a power, a gentle life he couldn’t understand. Old and familiar, the light pulled at him, each tunnel waited with the possibility of being explored, passages narrowed and swelled again the rhythm, and the flickering light led him past all. Nothing good, not bad, just existing here. The light was a word that couldn’t get past his lips, caught on the tip of his tongue. So it left him speechless, wandering, because whatever it was, it was his. And it laughed.

The deeper he went, the more its smile dazzled the walls, bouncing off glittering pieces stone. How many chambers he had walked through, where he had started, how far he had gone, they didn’t matter. His feet moved without him, he could have been going in circles for all he knew. He would go where he needed to be.

Closer, it was waiting for him. He turned corner after corner, up pebbled slopes and down. The music swayed and fell again, but always there. It grew louder and louder, crescendoed as he climbed over rubble and squeezed his way into wide chamber. The melody skittered to a stop and Luke tumbled onto the floor. For the first time Luke noticed he was alone. Leia was nowhere behind him, He shivered, where had it gone? The light, his direction? He a sinking feeling to being lost kept up from his stomach.

He thought he heard his name name from far away, but he wasn’t sure. A shadow moved, but it was just his own reflection on polished walls. Slabs of stone so smooth he could see his own face. He ran his hand over the surface of the wall and it briefly fogged up like a cold window.

He withdrew his hand uneasily. Stuff didn’t do that on Tatooine.

The ceiling to the floor was glassy smooth. Strange etchings decorated the floor and walls, clearly old and certainly not natural. Something was off. He wasn’t welcome here. It felted broken, like something wanted him out. Find the crystal, retrace his steps, yes. This was a dead end, and what he was listening to was gone. Find Leia because she was lost in the tunnel.

But he couldn’t. Try as he might, the passage was now another crevice in the wall, hidden so well by shadow it couldn’t be found.

He leaned against the polished surface and closed his eyes. He focused, calming his breathing and his mind to listen for the trail, but instead heard something that sounded like door, slow and squeaky.

To his amazement, little tendrils of gold were draped from every surface, funneling down from the tall ceiling. Silks so fine there must have be billions of them, all shining softly in the cave, rubbing against each other and creaking. There was one attached to his ankle and a few more running past him. His were dull and brassy, so he tugged on it curiously. It lit up like the raceway on Boonta Eve, blinding him until he clamped his hand back down. It blanched to an ashen grey and the door slammed. He rubbed his eyes and the cavern had returned to normal.

He looked around for a few moments, certain someone had called him. The dread had gone, and it was quiet. The music started again.

 


 

"Luke!" Leia screeched again. In the small chamber, the noise hurt her own ears and almost shook the ground. Luke swayed and tumbled to to the floor like a stalk of poutine grass. Painfully slow.

The stench hit her before anything else, and as she rushed to his side, ignoring the gravel digging into her knees, she had to turn away, hands covering her mouth. There was no blood, but that made it worse. The slash ripped up his side, across his chest, and around to his neck,cut to blackened bone. His flesh was torn apart but resealed, mangled and popping with smokey heat. The burst of strange light and mechanic whirring were gone, but flakes of charred skin shed off his body like scales. His face was contorted, his back arched, and he writhed on the ground with clenched his teeth in silence. He couldn’t scream, his throat was torn.

Hands clapped together to announce the visitor stepping out of corner ahead. Leia leaned protectively over Luke, who coughed and let out a low moan. Her dark hair framed a pair for piercing, familiar, brown eyes that stared back at Leia. The figured stopped on this other side, towering over both of them in what could only be described as casual expectancy, “Well, you're welcome." 

Leia wanted to disappear into the ground, but she had nowhere to go, she couldn't leave her brother. The girl's sleeves rose off the ground as she pulled back the soft hood of her robe and sighed. "You two really were booking it, be more careful next time"

She was staring at a perfect copy of herself, wearing her mouth, her nose, and some sort of strange twisted confidence. "You probably need a moment to catch your breath, so-"

She was interrupted by Luke's cough, and the identical pair of dark eyes darted to the rise and fall of Luke's chest with scientific curiosity. "How are you still alive" She prodded him with a foot and he choked in pain.

"Stop!"

The eyes turned onto Leia. A chill ran through her as she looked at a version of herself she had never known. The intensity bottled up inside the girl before her was frightening, and her voice became dangerously low, “What did you say?" She kicked him again and Leia bit her tongue. Her brother, she could do nothing.

"Don't whimper!" The reflection yelled. “You're pathetic! I finally chase you down, I finally make you think, I stop you from being dragged into wild space, and this is the thanks I receive?! Do you think this is easy? Do you think this is what I want to do?"

"Who are you?" Leia yelled back at herself. Her arms wanted to give out, her throat burned, and she felt tears caught in her eyes. Of all dreams she had had before, this was the nastiest.

"Who do you think?" The green flash reappeared in the tunnel, tucked in the hand of the stranger. Leia saw her own face caught in the haunting glow. It looked too real. No, she shook her head in horror, You are not meYou will never be me.

Her face was grim as she dropped blade unceremoniously into Luke’s stomach. The heat pinned him down as his body crackled and snapped, burned wider and wider apart until he crumpled into ashes indistinguishable from the ground. Leia cowered away from the heat and pressed her back into the cold wall. The other Leia took another step over the cinders. “Go on then,” she hissed in disgust, and tossed the deactivated hilt into Leia's lap, “Prove me wrong.” 

She fell back, the maze of passageways melted into a single chamber around her. The fear went with it, and the room was filled with a new hum of energy.

The lightsaber remained before her in the dirt, still warm. The silver casting shone coldly in the blue light.

She trembled by herself, arms wrapped tightly around her knees, for a long time.

 


 

It seemed like a long time anyway. He made a few attempts at Mandalorian swipe, then at Bifson matches, and was on his last resort: solitaire. Solitaire had been a favorite at the temple, Anakin remembered watching Masters sit and play in the misty early mornings around the Solar Pavilion. They always said it quieted the mind and taught quiescence, but if you asked Anakin, it was the epitome of desperation. He checked the clock on the dashboard and not even an hour had gone by. A gust of hot wind blew the paneled cards from their neat rows into his face and around the seat. He threw the card in his hand down as well, what was the point? He was fed up. He had laid them out three times already, and not once had he made it to the second set without something ruining it (his luck or the weather). He scowled out at the barren land, eager for something to blame and finding nothing. He sighed and began to gather the scattered deck, until another breeze sent half of them flying out the window with a noise not unlike laughter.

Well, if it was going to be like that, he might as well take the hint. He twisted the ignition and circled back to where he had let the twins off. He took in the entrance with a raised eyebrow. Leia had a point, it really didn't look like much from outside, but he wasn't an architect. If whoever had carved it from the cliff didn't like pillars or embellishments, who was he to judge? The way the opening was aligned, the suns must hit it straight on during the summer solstice, a classic choice for shrines the galaxy-over. This place must have been habitable once, but since then almost no one had touched it. 

Anakin locked the speeder door behind him out of habit and ducked under the obsidian keystone. He let the musty smell of the cave run through him as he took his hand from the wall and began to walk.

ITS HIM ITS HIM

ANAKIN, HOW COULD YOU?

He kept his breath steady and continued on. He knew this, he knew what he had left behind. Don't look back, never look back. He let the thundering shrieking pass as keep headed forward. 

They did die down. The tunnel became quiet, whispers by his heels. These were strange, in accents he had never heard before, and not directed to him. Someone was weeping.

Its all I have, please.

Run, run.

Don't take her, no.

There were red flashes, the small hiss of a clone's breathing in his helmet, far off explosions the rocking of the earth. He kept steadily onwards, but they followed close on the tails of his coat. 

It is not over.

"Its never over," He muttered in return. "It will never be over, it has never been over."

Balance, Anakin. Do not be afraid.

"I am not afraid."

He was swept out of the darkness and into a steady room, almost losing his balance at the sudden stop. The crying was gone, and Luke and Leia were sleeping under a beam of sunlight flooding down from a crack in the ceiling. Leia’s head was resting back against Luke's shoulder, and his mouth was thrown open in a silent snore.

Good

A sliver of blue sky opened up in the soaring ceiling to illuminate the large chamber. The walls were polished to a glossy sheen, etched with fine letters, but the ground was covered with sand from disrepair. It was just like the place he had seen in his dreams, if a little dirtier. His footprints revealed the same polish on the floor beneath the coat of dust and for all his walking, he had only was only a few paces from the entrance. He looked back at the twins briefly and shook his head in disbelief.

Oh, the Force was a tricky one.

 

Chapter Text

The strategy was simple and in two turns his opponent would in check-mate. This game would be over. Palpatine sighed and reached out to move his rook, disappointed to be able to win so quickly. Where was the challenge? Victory wasn't the same.

He lifted his piece off the black square and glanced across the table into the shadows. He was no longer on a ship, but in a distant world. Set against the rough stone was the thing he had searched for at last: young teen wandering alone in the darkness.

For one breathtaking instant he was hit with the power of an untamed star behind the unremarkable eyes, then it was gone. Burned into his mind and leaving only the smell of sun and stale air behind in drafty chamber of the dowager ship. He picked up the rook from the floor where it had fallen

Mara waited on. She was unruffled by his sudden blunder, but it must have brought her joy to see what she thought to be the grip of old age tightening a fist around his neck. If she had truly understood what had passed, he doubted he would still be breathing. The future now glittered in his mind, the gears of his brain churning and spinning to distraction because there was something familiar about the low-class clothing that he couldn't put his finger on. It was somewhere warm, somewhere he hadn't reached... well, the beacon was gone, but he was ready. This was a challenge, this was a weapon, a new beginning.

He smiled at his current protégé who had looked as cool as arctic storms. His lips curling up above stained and crooked teeth, "Still my turn, is it?"

Utapau, Centares, Shadda-bi-Boran, Tatooine...

 


 

“Wow,” she sighed, “Are there really that many systems?

Anakin nodded, setting down the training-droid into his lap. “And more. That one there, for example” pointed right, far up into the night sky to the curling of arms on the galaxy. "That's Ilium, a place sacred to the Jedi. Its star is one of the brightest in the galaxy, and the surface of the planet could blind you most days with how much it sparkled. Its nothing but memories and smog now, cut up for kyber crystals."

Anakin saw Leia glance to the speeder where he put the new stones and then look away. Everyone saw something different in the force, be it old friends or future prophesies, but he suspected Leia would prefer to forget whatever it was.

They were leaning against a cluster of rocks on the way home, not that the days seemed to drag on anymore. There was so much to tell, so much to begin to show them. Once this droid was back in shape, they could train in their own time between harvests. And when they got good enough, he’d make them fight it blindfolded. They had laughed when he told them that at first, but so did every Padawan.

 "There” He pointed to the largest clump of light in the band of the galaxy. It was too dark to continue upgrades. “Those stars are the capital and imperial systems, almost everything in the center is part of it.”

“And you’ve seen them all” Luke echoed, almost in awe.

Anakin laughed in the cool breeze, settling back into the stone. “No, of course not. I don’t think anyone really can.” He pointed low on the horizon to something just rising above a withered cloud. “Do you see that one? That’s where your mother was born, Naboo. Sometimes I forget its still really there. You don’t even need vaporators for water, it rains. There are rivers and lakes and grass and the ground is dark and soft. ”

Luke dragged a hand through the dust next to him, catching it in his fingernails. Leia yawned and put her chin on her knees. "What is like, to live where it rains?"

Anakin thought for a moment, calling to mind the first time water fell from the sky. “Strange. Its can almost like a sandstorm, only very wet. Sometimes its gentle, sometimes when its over there's a band of color in the sky. In the Duluur sector, where the tri-cluster is, it hardly ever stops. Marshland as far as you can see. Those stars beside it are the other side of the outer-rim, most habitable planets have rain. This one became the exception.” The sound of desert life was starting to buzz up around them and Leia closed her eyes, listening to the lull of the insects.

 “So why did you chose to come here?” Luke blurted out. He fidgeted with the tail of his shirt, almost pulling the threads out. “There are so many systems, why did you choose this one?”

“People have been disappearing on this Tatooine for thousands of years, it could fit a few more. Believe me, if I thought there was another option, I'd have picked it."

Luke seemed shaken by frankness of the response, but Anakin genuinely laughed. "Don't look so surprised! Why do you think no civilization has conquered it in 100,000 years? No one wants it. The Hutts run it like their own personal playground because they can. Theres no significant agriculture, no threat of a future rival, no hyperspace trading route, no mineral deposits, and it's rumored to be cursed by so many deities that I'm surprised it hasn't exploded into a million colorful pieces of dust. But have you seen a stormtrooper? Thats were the krayt-pearl lies. There are worse places." He nodded to himself. "There are worse things.”

“Like what?” Leia mumbled, half asleep.

Anakin rubbed her head. "Nothing you have to worry about now. We’ll be home by sunset tomorrow, and things will go back to normalish."

Leia seemed content by this answer, but Luke looked like he had just taken a bite of something sour. "Normalish?"

"The world doesn't stop when you do. We still need to plant for the next harvest, still have to water the plants, life is pretty much the same as it was before. The biggest change is in your perception."

Luke hugged his knees and looked at the stars wordlessly. Leia was breathing softly, resting on her arm like a pillow, but Luke was wide awake, reminding Anakin of a ship ready for lift-off.

"If you're that eager to continue, I can show you things to pass the time. And the more you practice, the better you will get.

Faalo's Cadence will keep you busy. Dead-silence, a three hour final sequence, and if you miss a candle you have to restart. They say knights who studied it had unmatched precision on the battlefield and grace in the temple, not that I would know. I failed those tests for years until they substituted Soresu for me. I hated those forms too, but my master taught it, and Force knows he was the only one more patient than I was stubborn.” 

"Your master?"

"You would have liked him. He was careful and intelligent, so needless to say we made a very balanced team." From the corner of his eye, Anakin saw Luke crack a rare smile.

"I don't think I ever broke his defense throughout the years during sparring" he continued, shaking his head. "And he had the largest collection of whole-leaf tea I've ever seen. Only whole leaf -he turn up his nose at anything else. Green, black, herbal, white, sapir or gesha, he always said no problem couldn't be helped with a hot cup and a chat. One minute you were a total stranger, but after the water boiled, the two of you would be talking like the best of friends. He had that way with people. He was a good man" 

"What happened to him?"

Anakin looked out into space. "He's still around for all I know, probably fighting against the empire. Almost nothing would stop him from protecting the weak. Maybe you'll run into him one day."

Luke gazed up at the stars with him and yawned, "You think so?"

Anakin nodded, "Yes, I do." And in a much quieter voice, "Goodnight."

 


 

“But Father! I love him!”

“My word is final, Avicho! No daughter of mine will be seen with a gutter-snarp like that!”

“Oh, Father!” A finely gloved hand was brought up to a smooth blue face and she began wail.

Padme almost plugged her ears, but the sticky, high-pitched sobbing wouldn't be stopped. Owen sniffed from the corner, blaming the cold he had long since recovered from. They really should have been more selective with their choice today, this movie had been at the bottom of the closet for a reason. A freak storm had rolled in and smashed the satellite -no normal radio, no normal tv. Owen was the only one enjoying it (not that he would admit), so they were stuck with an old drama based off a wealthy family in the Sujimis sector.

"Boo hoo! Sob!"

She had known some Pantorians, and they certainly weren't like this. The only sentients harder to read were Jedi masters in session. The father started off about honor and duty while Beru watched from arched porthole, standing next to the microwave.

"*knock knock*"

Everyone gasped and turned their heads in unison. Padme rolled her eyes. As soon as this movie was over, she was heading home with or without watching the season finale of The Widette. She could not stand another 100 minutes hoping for the technician to come and she was cutting it close as it was. Traveling by bantha was not fast.

"That must be him!" cried the daughter gleefully. Her face was pristine, showing no trace of the rivers had just poured out of her large amber eyes. She suspected most of the budget was not spent on good actors, but good makeup artists. "I knew it! He's come back for me!"

The door swung open to reveal an older Pantoran man wrapped in a dark cloak and hat. Owen gave little gasp of recognition and the girl's face fell. The background, then shift to focus, a mother in diamond and lace dropped her glass of wine on the marble floor. 

“Ithe!" She screamed. "My brother, you’re alive!”

Ithe. Hm. Had he not been alive? The plot was stretched as thin as spider-silk at this point for all the characters. The living room flooded with the smell of popcorn as Beru ripped apart the paper bag.

Ithe stepped through the engraved doorway into glittering white lights from the eleven chandeliers. He threw his hat onto the nearest empty candelabra, and began to speak. The knocking continued.

Beru stood mindlessly between the kitchen and her chair with the bag in her hand as Ithe pointed accusingly at the butler. The knocking got louder and Padme stopped the movie, "Is that for us? Is the repair guy outside?"

The three of them squinted at the clock above the sofa, hidden in the lowlight. “It could be," she said. "but it's not normal for them to be on time, they so often get lost coming this far.” She walked towards the stairs, passing the snacks off to Owen.

“Do you want us to wait for you?’

"No, its alright," she called back, halfway up the stairs. "Keep going, this shouldn't be long”

"You sure want to miss even a second of this riveting performance."

Beru grinned, "I think I'll survive,"

She left down the hall and the screen came back to life. "...I was in hiding on my private moon, planning to clear my good name, when all of a sudden..."

"Owen?"

Padme stopped it with one of the maids mid-faint, suspended in the air almost hauntingly. "Can you come out here a moment please? Now."

Owen looked over at Padme who shrugged. Maybe it was a repair-droid that needed more instruction. She left the remote on the arm of the chair as Owen followed Beru's voice to the surface. 

Maybe a minute passed. Maybe more. She started tracing the soft cracks in the dome of the ceiling where the paint had peeled back to reveal faded blues and pastel yellows. Different colors marked each generation, so little except that had changed in these rooms since her first visit looking for Shmi. Now there was a deep sense of comfort, a second home. The building itself put you at ease, how it had house so many before and would do the same so many in the future. 

There were a photographs of Owen and Beru as teenagers with flushed smiles before the starting banner of the Boonta Eve Classic. There was a picture of Cleigg, a drawing of a black-melon, a hazy image of skyscrapers on a different world. Now there was one of the twins framed on the table, gap-tooth grins wide across their small faces, hugging a newly painted purple astro-mech. She hoped they were alright, but she couldn't imagine what was going through their heads sometimes. A part of her was glad to be missing the fireworks, but a part of her regretted it. Her eyes trickled along the grey couch to the bowl of popcorn across the seat.

From her new position with the food, she could just hear the Lars if she listened hard enough. No maintenance droid, even the most incompetent, would take this long. Occasional hisses like that from creaky modulator or walkie-talkie still echoed down the hall. She leaned over the back of the chair to see what they were doing, but the only thing to make out were silhouettes against the bright sky. They seemed deep into a conversation, Owen raising his arms in frustration. She played on the movie without them, willing to rewind if necessary.

"This is absurd, you can't just barge in now!" It was now Beru, following the clomp of hard feet on the tiles.

"Sorry ma'am, its standard procedure. It should only take a few more minutes of your time to scan for transmitters."

"We're a moisture farm, of course we have transmitters!

Three unmistakable white helmets filled the space and replaced it with concrete. They stood out like cranes in a pig-pen, stiff and aloof. After a few long seconds the device in the leader's hand turned blue and he turned to face them with those unmistakable black lenses. Her chest tightened and her knuckled cracked on the side of the bowl. Not this.

"Thank you for your cooperation, the new regulations are effective immediately. " One of the troopers pressed the object into the nearest wall, where it stuck firmly and flashed the royal insignia. They wouldn't get it off anytime soon.

"Empirical broadcasts start at 20:00 and will be automatically displayed at 70% volume. All questions can be directed to the search function. Good day." The three of them turned sharply and marched out in unison as quickly as they came. The tick of the feet became thousands of boots flooding her mind, don't think about it now. Thousands of those pristine white helmets.

Padme pressed the play button on the remote with a shaky finger. Don't think about it now.

"Kalopie, arrest this man!"

Chapter Text

"We'll be back as soon as we can! I'll keep you updated on the h-messenger."

"Nikolin, come on," she pulled Anakin's sleeve, urging him to move faster. Padme was halfway up the stairs, ready to face the wind outside and wrapped in a thick yellow shawl. She was tugging Anakin along with her, but he resisted just as stubbornly as she tried to drag him along.

"It's inspection week," he continued, words almost blurring together as he tried to talk to his son, struggle with his jacket and stay upright. "Keep the lightsabers under the temperature valves. They'll only take a few minutes if they bother coming at all, say it was an emergency. We-"

"Nikolin!"

He finally stumbled back, clattering up the steps after her, managing only a a last hurried, "Goodbye!"

Luke sat in a stiff chair at the kitchen table. The dim silvery light from the perpetually dusty windows cast long shadows over his shallow bowl of leftover crumbs and ran his thumb over the battery back on hilt. The projector on the wall flared up with its usual patriotic jingle, Governor Something-or-Other appeared with a plastered smile her flat voice blending in with the hum of the refrigerator in the corner, the yellow light above the stove, and the hiss of the irrigators. He hardly noticed it any of it after so long anymore.

The broadcast was the same every night: taxes per family, city curfew 22:30, empire day in 2 weeks (so get your patriotic flags ready !), no unlicensed vehicles, 'Enlist in the ranks, today!' Besides from the few half-asleep white soldiers posted at the west gate, life was undisturbed. Vendors still sold drugs under rickety counters and tucked into loaves of bread, leathery old women haggled over the price of dried peas, and pick-pockets still lurked in the doorways of side-alleys. What else could the empire do with a desert planet long drained of its minerals? They were nowhere's nowhere. 'Why bother with Tatooine'?

He flipped the hatch of his blade open and the little blue stone winked back at him, nestled happily in the core. Patience, was what his father said. Well how long could he wait? What exactly was he waiting for?

A boy leapt over the low mud-brick wall on the edge of town. He was about Luke's age, no one really kept track, but the way he was grinning, like the weight of the world had been taken from his shoulders and replaced with wings. Luke shuddered at sight of a piece of paper clutched in is hand.

"Luke, Luke! I got in! I got accepted!" his friend few into him at top speed, hardly able to slow down he was so excited. He grabbed Luke's shoulders and bounced with joy. "The letter came today, we'll go together!"

He managed to disentangle himself from the dancing boy and smiled. "Thats great, Biggs. I'm happy for you. You'll make a great pilot" He meant it. Biggs had been with him all the way, dreaming of the galaxy right next to Luke. If anyone deserved a place in the school, it was Biggs. Disappointment curdled inside of Luke, but he could put that aside for now.

Biggs did not. "What do you mean?" The confusion on his face cut Luke to the core. Biggs lowered his voice, "Your parents changed their minds?"

Luke looked away sheepishly. "They never knew in the first place" he admitted. Understanding, but not surprise came into his friend's eyes, followed by something that made Luke's toes curl. Something made of half pity and half regret.

"-But this time they said I could go next semester!" Luke added hurriedly, "This time they actually agreed!" He  would go, he would. But Jedi, and the force, things he couldn't explain, things he could never explain... "Its just that something just came up this time. Next year, I promise. Be patient, I'll be right behind you."

The letter fluttered on Biggs chest. The same excuse was used every year, and they both knew it. The last of his Tatooine friends meet his gaze smiled. There was no belief in his eyes. "Sure." he said softly, "Next year."

Patience. Patience and Luke could lift small rocks without touching them. Patience and Luke could scan a terrain for advantages, patience and Luke could jump over low buildings, something new was growing louder and louder while he drilled defense forms in the sun-baked courtyard. So what? So what?

"You worry to much" Leia laughed from the couch. She was fiddling with some sort of thread dangling from a cushion. "Im surprised all those problems fit into your tiny brain, but I suppose it was pretty empty to begin with." She looked up at the ceiling and sighed, "If your that desperate to practice 'jin-lo'-

"Its Chii-Cho, Leia"

She waved her hand in the air,"Yeah, I don't care -but if you need something to do that badly, feel free to weed the basement!"

"Im not your butler droid, do it yourself. Or come spar with me! You haven't practiced for months, and its much more fun with someone else."

She raised an eyebrow and glanced outside the window, watching the heat shimmer off the ground. "Hmm. A tempting offer, but I'm going to pass. Its the middle of summer and over 110 degrees. Besides," she pulled the string out of the pillow and let it float to the ground. "I have better things to do."

"Like what? Weeding?"

"No, you're going to do that."

"You have a few screws loose yourself, Leia." He said, heading  towards the door,"Whats been the matter with you lately? Sure its not made of wood, but your lightsaber's not going to kill you. "

"Luke?"

"What?"

Hand on the cool doorknob, he looked over his shoulder at his sister. There was a strange sadness, almost pity in her face, and her mouth was open as though she wanted to tell him something important. He waited, but then the ice came creeping back into her eyes. A familiar smile took over, and her voice was syrupy as it crawled into his brain. She had changed her mind. "You're going to weed the basement."

He blinked, then he was holding a shovel above the dark soil in the basement. He was in the seedling chamber, beneath the living rooms upstairs, and little plants swayed around his feet in the pale artificial light. He tightened his grip on the rusty handle as sister's laugh echoed from the archway. 

Luke rested his head on his arm and sighed. Its your decision after all, your life. If you want to follow this path, I'll lead you.

Leia had taken the invitation, turned off her blade, and left it under the temperature valves to rot. What she spent her time doing instead did instead was a mystery to him, but wether she muttered about a job or a friend, sometimes she was home, sometimes she wasn't, and all the better for that. Luke wasn't inclined to seek her out.

The anthem played again and the blue figure vanished, leaving him alone in the main room. His communicator was silent as the stars in the now-clear sky. The clock chimed on the wall behind him; Leia must have gotten herself into a lot of trouble this time.

Should he bother waiting for them? It seemed early to sleep, but he had nothing else to do. A beam of white light passed the window from the surface. It was harsh, like headlight of a speeder, and was paired with a low organic rumble through the ground. The rumbled changed to a sharp bark and then silence. It was the unmistakable warning call of a kryat dragon. Leia would never get such treatment.

The bantha moaned in her stall around back, agreeing with his discomfort. Of course the inspectors would decide to show up today. Luke tossed his lightsaber into the open waste container to be covered in paper and food-scraps. They wouldn't be checking anything else, and usually spend as little time as possible in far away places like this. He pushed his hair out of his face and turned to the entry hall.

A huge man came clomping down the stairs. Clomping might not have been exactly the right word, because he didn't actually make much noise. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but slender through the feet. His heavy black boots should have been heard for miles, but an agile grace and power kept them light and controlled. He seemed out of place in the quaint low-slung ceilings of the farm, his chin so high. A small brass pin studded the grey bodysuit, padded with epoxy plates on the shoulders and chest almost like armor.

He was poised as a white heron, an almost a perfect statue to admire until two stormtroopers bustled in behind and completely ruined his atmosphere. They had their usual data-pads under their arms and punched in a code to the projector. The lights in the room turned on automatically and Luke squinted a few moments as he adjusted to it. The soldiers almost they dissolved into the cream colored wall behind in their white kamoean suits. They did move to check the ventilators, or collect the jug of water waiting by the door in the standard red tub, but huddled and watched their officer together, as if most afraid of getting in the way of the pale half-human. The man didn't notice; the ghost of a smile hung on his lips, mildly amused with the slight earthy smell of a moisture farm. Luke stood up automatically to greet them, and the dark amber irises became crescents of a smile.

"Ah, young sir!" his voice was confident, filled with a patronizing lilt that left a sour taste in Luke's mouth. "Sorry to intrude at such a late hour, but that storm came upon us quiet suddenly and we appear to have lost our way." He glanced down the hallway expectantly. "Are your guardians present? A proprietor? Yours is the only proper shelter in miles, and we'd be much obliged for a roof over our heads for the night."

The question that only had one answer, so Luke kept his eyes on the floor and gave a stiff bow . "It is an honor to serve the empire. My parents send their deepest apologies as they are not here to greet you."

"So long after curfew?" he asked innocently. He raised a thin eyebrow and he glanced back to his two followers for agreement, smiling the whole time. "I hope nothing too terrible has happened."

Luke bit the inside of his lip as one of the stormtroopers began to write something down, and nothing good. "No, sir." His ears were burning, "They were caught in the storm earlier. They'll be back as soon as they can."

"Oh. Well then," He seemed to weigh the statement in his mind before nodding. It made Luke shiver with anger, the way this man tossed around his power like a some sort of borgleball. He seemed satisfied, "Yes, I am glad. Such things, after all, can be unavoidable."  

The stormtrooper frantically erased the note beside him.

The man refocused on Luke, as cheery and hospitable as when he had first walked in and as though his door. He folded them over his left arm neatly, "This is the Kylars homestead, is it not? Who are we in the pleasure of speaking to?"

"Luke." 

Was it blunt? Probably, but imperials never expected manners from the 'country swine.' It was easier to live up to expectations. Luke didn't feel like being particularly friendly today. Or any day, really.

The man smiled a dazzling white smile and stuck out his hand. "Luke. A pleasure to meet you." 

Luke looked at is suspiciously. 

Manners, his mother's voice chided. Manner's anyway. Manners can stop a war. Why did he have to deal with this? He fought the urge to take a loud, very long, exasperated breath. They were here now, and he might as well pretend to tolerate them. Maybe then he wouldn't be arrested! He had heard things like that, traders being thrown in prison because apparently some fruit or nut was now illegal or they had looked the wrong way at a stormtrooper. A few stalls in the square had been emptied recently, their owners vanished in the middle of the night. Normally that wouldn't raise much alarm, but now that the Empire could be blamed, people started to whisper near the protection of a well or eopie stable.

Luke stuck his most convincing plastic grin and shook the hand reluctantly. The man's face brightened again.

"Please, won't you sit?" 

"Indeed I will!" He happily helped himself to the seat across the table where his knees bumped against the top but he did his best to fit his wiry frame on the wooden perch. He looked a little like a zillo beast trying to sit on a fence post. "Lieutenants," he said contentedly, unsettling eyes still focused on Luke and still smiling. "Go get your packs from the escort."

They saluted and scrambled away behind him. The man and Luke continued to stare at each other, each waiting for the other to speak. Luke was determined not to, and if that meant staring in awkward silence, he would do it. The man seemed oblivious to the discomfort in the air until suddenly he threw back his head and laughed. Luke almost jumped off his seat.

And it was a genuine laugh too - thats what made it so strange. From the sound it could easily have come from one of his own friends in town. He had never known that it could come from an imperial officer. With the stormtroopers gone, this man came to life. Luke's displayed confusion made him laugh even more.

"Now you look at me like I grew a second head. Whats the matter?" He pulled at the black collar of his suit playfully, "Never seen a real sentient dressed this uniform before?"

"I've never seen your uniform at all, sir."

"Well, I can't say I'm surprised." He wiped a nonexistent tear from his amber eyes and sat back, folding his arms comfortably over his chest, "I'm not really on this side of administration, after all. So many rules, so many hoops, its exhausting. And this weather!" He gestured emphatically out the window, "Storm to calm, blistering hot 23 hours a day, the people here are as tough as they come. And as soon as I get used to this I'll be sent to half a dozen ice moons in the Unknown Regions!"

Ice moons. A world of cold, a place so much the opposite of Tatooine. The unknown regions were filled with the strangest creatures and landscapes and the galaxy. The man kept talking blissfully, but Luke stopped listening. He couldn't help himself, not when there were rumors of hidden treasures and civilizations isolated for millennia, places not even fully mapped in the great libraries in the Deep Core. There were so many places he would rather be than in his kitchen, it was easy to slip into daydreams. 

"Yes," the man kept on, "It feels like I've been bouncing halfway across the universe these past few months. Ziost, Byss, New Holstiss," he counted on his figures, "And Denon most recently, yes, up and down the Triellus Trade Route, the Hydian Way," he checked on Luke to see any reaction to the names, but Luke only saw huge valleys of icy glaciers and windy snow-peaked mountains dancing around his head.

The man ground to a stop, realizing where he had babbled onto. "Forgive me," he said humbly, a touch of remorse in his voice. "I so rarely have a chance to talk that I tend to ramble at times. I wouldn't want to bore you with such stories."

 "No!" 

The man head tilted to the side. Luke felt his ears start to prickle from embarrassment. His transition to paying attention could have gone over more smoothly. "Sorry. I meant, no, not at all. Please go on."

For a moment, it was almost like the man couldn't understand him, but his face slowly began light up, "Really?" He tried to hold back the delight bubbling in his amber eyes. "You wouldn't happen to be interested in travel yourself, would you?"

YES! NO! "I, I um..."

The man waited eagerly but patiently for him to gather his thoughts. That looming life form on the other side the table slowly turned into just that: a life form. Without all the colorful medals, someone there to listen, someone who wanted to hear what Luke had to say and wouldn't laugh, someone who had been around the world. It was someone Luke desperately wanted to be able to talk to.

Then that uniform was there. Those ribbons were for cruelty: empire, empire, evil, death, murder. Luke just gave up fighting to answer, all of his words getting caught in his chest and swallowed back down to where he tucked them away. "I don't think its really my place, sir."

"Nonsense." the man replied. Genuine confidence was the only note in his voice. "I can see it in your eyes: the galaxy is but an oyster for people like us."

Luke was silent. It hurt to see that belief in someone. It was even more than he had for himself, and if he had ever noticed the same look in his parents he had ignored it. It seemed so real in softened pointed features of the visitor, and the fact it came from an imperial made him question things he never wanted to question. It was like being told the Jedi were real all over again, a floor had been torn from beneath him, so Luke was silent. He kept his gaze on his palms resting in his lap.

The man tapped his finger on the table thoughtfully and then stood up. Luke watched him face wall and turn back, resting his arms on the top of the chair for a few quiet moments. "I don't fool myself, you know," he said gently. "Our futures can be heavier burdens than our pasts. There is little love for the empire in the Outer-Rim, and I can tell you are no exception"

Luke opened his mouth to object, but the man raised a hand. "Please, there's no need to lie. I've been across the galaxy, remember? You don't work that long without picking up the few odd tricks!" He gave an arch smile, or rather tried to, because it never quiet reached his whole face. A shadow covered the rest, a memory that brought back incredible sorrow. He shook his head, "Across the galaxy," he muttered, "and its all been the same. The unenforceable marshal law, the undisciplined soldiers, the rampant corruption, all forgotten on the smallest worlds. I know there is little love for the empire, Mother Refina as my witness, I know it all to well."

He checked behind him to make sure the soldiers hadn't returned, "After all," he sighed, "There is little reason to feel otherwise. The empire gives you nothing, and you owe nothing in return. At best we have become the occasional nuisance and at worst, well..." he shrugged open the palms of his hands, "Its no surprise the rebels find their footholds here. The empire is not the most appealing job opportunity." 

"..."

"You'll make me think I really have grown another head, what's the matter?"

Luke indeed was staring. It was unnerving to say the least, to hear anything like that come from an officer. Was it test, perhaps? A twisted check of loyalty?

"Why are you telling me this, sir?"

He raised an eyebrow, "On Triffis, the kro-bird hides by sticking its head into the mud and remaining motionless until danger passes. Then again, no one really knows because the kro-birds went extinct centuries ago. You think it so strange to hear an officer say the truth for once? We cannot move to the future without acknowledging the present.

"The worse a world is treated, the less likely its citizens will take part in its politics, the less likely anything will change for them, and the loop runs on and on. But!" His face brightened, "It is a matter direction. One push, and the whole thing will flow the other way. One push is all it takes." 

He sat back own across the table, folding his hands together. "I was too late to save my planet," he said quietly. "But its not too late to save yours. I dream of an empire that can stand without crushing its people, to keep what happened to my home from happening again. Now, I'm a recruiter, for lack of a better word. I... 'bring the true opportunities of civilization to those often forgotten'." He smiled painfully at the description. "To create worlds where people take their place in government, instead of fighting against it. To save lives, to protect lives. Which brings me to the question:" He closed his eyes, to take a breath "Have you ever considered the Imperial Chavinaff University?"

Luke was about to end the conversation right there. This conversation was long enough, and gone far enough for anyone, but the man put out his hands like a plee.

"You almost certainly haven't, but do consider. Its on Corellia, and I could write you into the pilot scholarship program! Sure, I'm afraid you'll have to compete with a few pompous idiots and the occasional sadist during entrance exams but believe me, they do not deserve the power. The emperor himself sees the graduating class off!"

"...The emperor?" That was news. The emperor was unpredictable, well hidden and sometimes rumored to not exist at all. To have him in person in a specific place... very interesting.

The man nodded, glad to have capture Luke's attention again. "The illustrious one himself. Get in, and you can go places, bring peace and order. What your world needs right now, it is someone like you to lead it. Ah, Lieutenants!"

What if I could kill the emperor? He peered around the man's torso to the other side of the room, then the two helmets peaked around the doorframe. Luke hadn't noticed them, yet this man had while facing the other direction.

"I was beginning to think you'd been eaten by a rogue massiff, but I see I must wait another day. Now please, enter like you mean it."

They gained a few inches, but kept their backs pressed into the wall.  

He kept a weak smile, but it clearly wasn't what he wanted. "Alright, fine. Thats a little better. One of you might as well modify the projector according to the new regulations while were here."

Lord Sidious. The one behind it all. At the graduation.

They looked at each other for a moment as if confused, then one jumped forward (or perhaps was pushed) and began work on the machine. A little orange light appeared on the panel, and the other soldier tapped a few short lines into the data pad.

The officer checked his watch and wilted disappointedly, "It is late, we do not wish to trouble you. We've already taken up too much of your time. We are comfortable on the floor and will begone before morning, no one will even know we were here." He stood up to his full hight, tawny hair almost grazing the ceiling. Luke rose with him.

"Sleep on my offer, why don't you? It is a lot to ask of you, but please do not write it off too quickly."

Luke bit back a yawn and bowed. It wasn't that late, was it? He felt so drained.

The man nodded sagely, "Yes, as I thought. Quiet late. It has been a pleasure, Luke Kylars. My card, should you need me." He pulled the digits of an RM address out of his chest pocket. Fourth Seat, Inquisitorus Ingar

What a strange title.

He smiled one last time as Luke took the slip of paper from his hand. "I look forward to watching your career."

Luke didn't think much of it as he nodded. Plans streamed through his foggy head as he padded down the cool tiles to his room without a word. He really was exhausted.

The stormtroopers stepped aside to let him pass, the projector turning blue again and letting out a cheery beep, fully updated.

The lights flickered out once from his bedside lamp and once again from the other side of the door, where the soldiers turned off the overhead fixtures. By then Luke had fallen asleep, dreaming of confronting kings, and medals of honor, and beautiful foreign skies.

But down the hall, drowned out by the imaginary cheers of a thousand tiny citizens, the hushed voices of the strangers continued in the darkness.

"Shall I alert the containment unit, sir? They're on standby."

"No, no. There's no need for that. Come on, grab your packs. We'll travel back to headquarters with them. With the new projector he'll be monitored safely from the station. Farmers stick to their land, so they're not going anywhere."

"But sir-"

"Your pack, Lieutenant. This one is different, I will take full responsibility for any complications caused by this delay when I send the report. At the very least, he's not a child, even you must see that. Before long he may come to us."

"Sir?"

"For one reason or another, Lieutenant. It takes a while to grow a tree in desert soil."

 "Yes, sir. Shall we take the-"

"Refina's rings, Lieutenant, no! No, check them off, check them off, have I taught you nothing? Don't you agree that little sign of gratitude is in order?"

"Yes, sir! Very true, sir! Sorry, sir!"

The other one had been quiet until now. They spoke slowly, a statement of realization, of wonder. "We found him."

"Why, yes, Lieutenant. I believe we have." 

Chapter Text

Leia had never seen herself as a farmer. The sore knees, the isolation, the horrendous smelling piles of bantha excrement, it was no wonder poodoo was used as a curse throughout the Galaxy. The odor itself could travel across dimensions. It wasn't uncommon to run across piles of abandoned clothes while speeding  through the middle of a wasteland because it took more water than the desert planet possessed to get out the smell. Still, banthas were sweet creatures. And that was close to the sentiment that kept her on.

She liked the quiet of the farm when everything else was chaos, liked how she could forget about herself in the rhythm of the day, liked watching seeds turn into saplings, liked shoving the ripest fruits in her mouth and pockets instead of the collection basket during the harvests. She did what she needed to do, but at the same time it didn't really feel like her future.

Not that she knew what that would feel like anyway. 'Future' was a foreigner's word, unheard of on Tatooine. Besides, she didn't have a backup plan anyway, not a real one, at least.

For a second, in the middle of the desert, on top of an unclimbable stone, Leia had almost started to believe in that strange concept. Her father showed her that the impossible could be real, and the cynic inside her had taken a step back. Leia had her way out, a way into the stars, a leader, a jedi.

Nope.

It had glittered in the sunshine the same way it had glittered in the dim light of the cave, an icy, evil shine. Her had clattered from her hand like the hilt of the blade on the kitchen floor. It was the same one she had seen in those tunnels, that twisting maze of rock and crystal. Every gear, every screw, she could almost see Luke cut in half on the silver surface..

That bright Tuesday morning she had built it with eyes closed, the parts swirling through the air, waiting to find their place in harmony like her father had said they would, and when they finally did, she had turned whiter than the limestone walls. When own face was contorted  and staring back in the strange reflection, cold and distant, she knew she shouldn't have this power, that her dream was not a dream but a vision. Not when she was getting closer and closer to that future she wanted to avoid. Leia was afraid.

Never Luke. She would rather die, or shovel manure. If those were the only two options, pass the wheelbarrow because by the force it was such a simple sacrifice.

She hid it well from others. No one seemed to notice, and that was how she liked it. The problem was she never managed to hide it from herself, so she looked for distraction whenever possible. Though it didn't seem like it, the harvest season didn't really last forever.

So she dabbled as a scrap-collector for a while. It was something to do, time consuming, far away from the jedi and her visions of Luke. When all the black melons were stored away and she could hear her lightsaber calling to her, just like that first bright tuesday, she had whistled for Pifford and they had run far far into whatever part of nowhere he wanted to go. One of her parents always watched her leave, and strangely, they didn't stop her. They kissed her goodbye despite the worry in their eyes, and told her to stay with her communicator and lizard if she wouldn't bring her blade. What harm could come from collecting pieces of junk? Krayt racing hadn't yet taken off yet, any potential jockeys much preferred to run away themselves, so she had spent most of her free time alone, traveling up and down the dune sea with nothing more than burlap sack and a hope to find something interesting. And oh yes, she certainly did find something interesting.

She had ended up in some strange places. She had ended up in the company of some strange people, including the lady of scraps herself: Maisy. And that was how it began.

 


 

"I'm telling you, its an easy delivery. With that thing at your back, what could go wrong?"

Something inside of her snapped. Maybe it was the mild boredom perpetually plastered on his face, maybe it was the way he dismissed any form of caution as superstition, maybe it was the weather, but she was sick, sick of dealing with careless idiots who did little more than stand around and play dice.  "A lot of things, Hess," she shoved the wad of papers back into the man's chest, a few catching wind and flicking into the air. "More people have gone missing these few months than in the last year. Helmets have been crawling the boarders recently, and storm season is coming. I want a bonus for this one."

He stared at her for a moment unblinking. His wide sunburned face and deep set eyes blank as the high wall he leaned so casually against. Then he howled a laugh. It was a jarring noise, and a guards sheltering in the shade of the down the fortress turned to look. His partner took the opportunity to shuffle around his deck before resuming.  Signs of past activity littered the ground around them with tire tracks, paw prints, and empty bottles. Scraps of bloody cloth waved from the barbed wire above fortress gate as Hess laughed himself dry. It gave her plenty of time to think up the reasons why she hated him. 

"Just get on that thing and go," he said, catching his breath, “The storms won't come for at least a few weeks. Last year there was hardly anything at all until midsummer. Besides," his eyes filled with sick delight, "all the better if there is a one. A trooper's vision is bad as it is, and with cover like that," He stretched out his hand like he was holding a pistol, aiming just over her shoulder. Long stretched of pink scars appeared from under his sleeve. He closed an eye and, "Pow."

Behind her back the ground began to rumble. The man grinned, "Taking them out is as easy as shooting blind barrulems"

Leia put a calming hand on her krayt dragon's snout, hot air rushing through her fingers. "You're sick, Hess. And those trigger happy fingers will land you in trouble one day."

his mouth quirked up in an amused smile, "Yeah? Whatever you say, princess. Its saved me more than sunk me, see how long you last without one -even with that monster next to you" he flipped up the collar around his fleshy neck, reflexively covering the strange white slashes. He turned over the sheets on his clipboard, and pursed his lips. Datapads didn't really fit this kind of activity, so it took him a moment find her send-off papers. "So you're first due in 3 hours. Now, again: what are you transporting?"

She tightened the leather straps running under the lizard's forelimbs. "Bantha Buns: primum bantha feed." The bags were filled to bursting, lined up and down his sides.

 "Amount and destination?"

"400 kilos for Faardi Distributers, landing pad 8D."

"Identification and port of origin."

She flashed the laminated card, before hefting herself onto the saddle. He nodded and flipped the page.

"Nice to meet you, Kashi Breme of Mos Noshi Central Suppliers. Please open your cargo for inspection, blah blah blah." He looked up at her from under his dark brows, voice lowering, "And where are you going after that?"

She sat back and looked up to the sky. She had already done this in her head a thousand times. "The central stable. Back water trough near the ally. The restaurant's back door should be open and the cook sitting outside. I ask if they need an extra sack of hubba gourds, they give me a small package in return, then come back"

Hess checked off a box on his list and nodded, "Like I said, easy-peasy. You'll be paid upon return."

"I want an advance."

"Yes, I'll be sure to notify Jabba.” He ticked off a few lines of print, "Who knows? Maybe you'll be the first in 500 years." He grinned at his own wit until his pen stopped at the bottom of the board and the smile withered away. "How are you even getting paid half this amount?"

She probably wasn't meant to hear that last part, but she was glad she did. The couldn't imagine that someone could be paid more than he was if the queen of Naboo informed him herself, and it did her good to see him cut down. She batted her eyelashes at him, running a pleased hand over Pifford's neck. "Its because unlike you I don't look like I've been cracking death-sticks for 20 years. People pay extra for inconspicuous service."

It hit him right were she wanted. He sneered, “Don't be late. Wouldn't want to stay up past your bedtime.”

She rolled her eyes and she dug her heels into Pifford's sides. They shot off into the plains so fast she almost couldn't hear the string of curses coming from Hess's mouth, filled with a wave of dirt kicked up from the krayt dragon's tail. Almost.

 


 

It was an easy delivery she supposed. As much as it pained her to admit it, as much as she loathed Hess, the ride up, the border, the inner roads, all smooth as ottegan silk. Boring almost, but always a nice break. With an elope or ronto you might have trouble getting people to move out of your way on busy roads, but that was never an issue. A horned lizard the size of a small bus breathing down your neck, saliva dripping from his mouth to your feet, it provided at lot of motivation to stand to the side.

But the salt flats were roadless, featureless, and wide. Halfway, they had stopped for a lunch break and just plopped down where they were. No landmarks, no jawas, not even any rocks. Just blinding white until the dark mountains on the horizon. So Leia took out an arisa cake while Pifford snoozed behind her, the slow rise and fall of his breath rocking her peacefully until she broke a zucca biscuit in half, he happily munched up the rest, and they were off to ancient streets of Anchorhead.

Anchorhead. The Ancient Capital. As she waited from the troopers to finished inspecting the cargo, she gazed at the decorated gate before her in awe. It wasn't even the main entrance to the city but the carved birds, birds from the far away homes of the colonists, still seemed to move every feather like they flew. The architects had built every brick of their settlement with care, every faded symbol on archway or corner wishing travelers, like themselves, safety in this land. 

The pair of troopers waved her through to the narrow streets, pifford’s tail dragged away long sweeping crescents in the dust behind. Houses on all sides, shop-fronts and plazas, public buildings and wells, but not a spark of life a all.  The southern quarter was empty, the ceilngs falling apart, windows dark and shattered, the fountains dry and cracked. Inhabitants moved a long time ago to the more bustling mining-towns, but the chafes of wheat etched on the old sills told of  rich in cultures and harvests before the ocean dried. The only reason anyone was within the gates at all was its location. A glorified pit-stop for traders, a halfway point between bestine and everywhere else. She heard the 18h shuttle to Mos Espa rumble in the distance and soar over an empty warehouse. The easiest thing to buy here wasn't flatbread or boots, it was a ticket on the Airbus. Things were brought her, stored her, but never sold here. A quiet transport station in the shadows of the others. Sad perhaps, but anyone who clinged to that sort of history was dead.

The most hub was the ship port, where pilots and crew members chatting and arguing on shipping crates. There were a few shop carts, clothing merchants, pickpockets, the usual. She made her delivery to a large zamrosian who greeted her cheerfully and offered her a deck of cards. but leia politely declined and un strapped the load from Pifford’s side. With the load in the ship and the empty packs rolled back up, she headed of again with a wave for the stable by the west gate.

The grounds for the stable were much larger than they needed to be, the water pool in the middle could support much more than the two skinny slauce-horses who skittered away as they approached. Their owner tilted up the brim of his hat to see the commotion before yawning and going back to sleep by a post. If there was supposed to be a sentry on duty anywhere, they had clearly gone to do more important things. Most deliveries where done with vehicles rather than animals, so there really wasn't much to watch anymore. She took her feet out of the stirrups and slid down

“Almost done, boy.” she patted the rough beige scales of his underbelly. "Get yourself some water, you earned it.”

He turned his soft black eyes towards her and cooed gently, a sound that always melted her heart. it took most of her willpower not to coo back, “ big baby” she mumbled and pushed away the huge head away. The lizards huffed and picked himself up, shuffling over to the brick trough. He stretched, let out a big sigh, and flopped down with a cloud of dust that sent the two horses screaming alarm again. Regaining a surprising amount of delicacy, he dipped his head down into the shallow pool began to drink.

Dramatics aside, she studied a sundial nailed onto the roof of a surrounding house. It wasn’t hot anymore, the long shadows helped with that too. To her satisfaction, he was ahead of schedule, her flawless record still stood. Maybe she'd scrub some of the salt out from Pifford’s jaw until pickup time. Every time his tail moved, it showed a faint line of white along the bottom -not uncommon for travel along the salt flats.

She looked around the stable again, noting the unused stalls, the drains, the rotting hay on the edge of the open quad. The rider slept against a water pump by a few ancient buckets. Everything was rusted rusted rusted, but maybe she’d be lucky. She began her investigation in earnest, checking the bottom and sides for gaps, tapping the metal, wiggling screws for tightness and the handle for cracks. They were, for the most part, trash. Two practically disintegrated at her touch, but in the end she found one sturdy enough to be called a true bucket.

The fountain pump was sticky. At the first few creaks there was nothing, then black tar splattered across the cobbles. She wasn't expecting it to be drinkable by any means, but it did seem excessive. Still, she continued pumping. By the time the water was almost light mud hazy, her hands ached and she became aware of being watched.

She had forgotten about him, the rider who she had so kindly woken up by clanging metal like a mining town in an earthquake. He was now eyeing her with particular distaste, as well as the large dark patch on the bottom of his trousers, for which Leia assumed she was the culprit.

As quickly and as dignifiedly as she could, she snatched up the water and hid on the other side of the  massive lizard, now lazing belly-up in the last bits of sunslight coming down onto the pavilion.

Pifford’s eyes were closed in pure bliss as she worked busily over the near half of his jaw. Water was trickling under her shoes (the bucket did have a small leak) and the point came where she had to switch sides. She peaked over the ridge of his nose to check on the rider and immediately struck herself for it. It was an accident, after all and they both better get over.

Rather, she needed to get over it. While she had brooded behind her mount, the rider had returned to napping beneath his straw hat. His two horses had calmed down a bit, not relaxed by any means, but they nibbled tentatively at the withered grass growing out of the gutter. Leia dumped out the remainder of the salty brown sludge onto the stones and returned to the pump.

The man didn’t stir as she approached, to her silent relief. His arms continued rising and falling over his chest as the hinges creaked and water flowed back into the bucket. One of the horses sneezed and she leaned over, trying to sneak one last look at the rider as she picked up the bucket and found herself staring at his very much not asleep face, wide eyes, single earring, stubby beard and all.

“How much for the dragon, fia?”

He was too close, too quiet. His sticky breath was practically on her skin, but she could barely hear the words over some invisible wind chime. It only just reached her ears, like he didn’t even want the stones to hear.

She took a step back and the man watched her expectantly. The sudden uninvited proximity or the question itself, she didn't know what surprised her more. No one had ever the mettle or stupidity to ask such a thing, but enough confusion must have appeared on her face that he turned and gestured his chin towards the sloping back of the lizard as though she hadn’t heard.

‘The krayt dragon’ he repeated. “How much”

She straightened and shook her head, “Not for sale,”

But she could feel his eyes follow her as returned to Pifford's side. As she an ran her hand along the spike’s by his jaw, checking for white patches, she knew the man was still watching. Pifford seemed untroubled by the presence as he purred, blinking at her with big sleepy eyes.

“I’ll give you 8 million.”

Leia's fingers twitched over a large clump of salt beneath the the chin. A sum like that...But she wet her brush in the murky water and smiled at her beast, “Not for sale.”

“Not for sale?” the man wondered. He remained even-toned, but maybe even intrigued. “Not for sale? You could buy a ship for that, fia. Carries more than your beast ever could. Or you could never have to work another day again.”

"Not for sale" she sang.

"10 million"

She turned at last to the rider sitting on the curb. His clothes were muddy, his hands calloused,  "And you have that kind of money?”

He seemed amused and shrugged with his hands knocked back behind his head. So at ease, lounging like he was a king and this little pavilion was his castle. “Krayt pearls sell easy.”

She snorted, keeping her brush moving steadily on the white-crusted scales. So thats what he was after. “He's worth more than what’s stuck in his gizzard.”

The man made a disapproving clicking noise with the back of his tongue. A slight glimmer caught the corner of her eye. His earring caught the light, no bigger than a h'kak seed but subtly iridescent and shimmering. Even for its size, it was probably worth a small fortune. "Im afraid I can't agree with you there," he said, "And most people wouldn't agree with you either."

"Well then you better go look for someone else."

She might as well have said nothing at all, you couldn't stop a tatooinian from trying to make a deal. He just scooted forward a little and put his chin on one of his hands. "How old is he?”

“None of your business.”

The grain stalk in his teeth bounced thoughtfully, she could feel his eyes drag over the two of them, calculating, pricing, planning. The lizard's muscles tensed up beneath her brush, like he too could understand the rider's question. To the rest of the world Pifford was still as relaxed as ever, but an inaudible rumble began to shake up from the ground

“Only lowland juveniles have that black mark under the eyes,” The man spoke, “Normally lost after reaching maturity. Full grown males horns have horns at least two hands long, and females have enlarged rear claws. I’d say-”

Pifford lunged towards the man, dirt and mud sprayed up off the stones beneath his toes onto Leia and his newly clean scales. An otherworldly snarl ripped out from more teeth than she knew he had. The two horses screamed and kicked, but the rider didn't moved an inch. He was staring into the eyes of the dragon, invigorated. Smiling like a child on life-day.

“Oh yes.” He breathed, “A fine specimen.”

The growl had returned to quiet rumble, but the burning within it would have made any sane human pass out. Leia’s own heart was racing, he had never moved like that so close to her before, not since...

It took her a few beats before she realized she had frozen to the spot. Gingerly, she reached out to touch and soothe a spined shoulder.

"13 million!" the man announced, folding his arms. "My final offer."

The growl flared again, and Leia pulled back her hand. The lizard seemed ready to leap at the man again, this time to actually attack, but just as she was expecting the worst, he broke away from the rider's gaze. Pifford slumped down with an exhausted sigh and turned his head away moodily.

Leia stroked a twisted horn more confidently. "I told you," She said, "He's not for sale."

"Sentiment is a dangerous thing, fia," the man chided. "Make the right choice"

"I am."

The rider sat for a few more moments. Then he stood slowly, looking down his nose at the krayt dragon who bristled at his gaze and at the girl who lifted her chin. He wasn't much taller than her, but she still fought the urge to shrink back. His scowl deepened with every inch growing closer to her level, “Alright then," he sneered, as though bitterly inconvenienced more than anything. "Fine. I don't want to waste my time bargaining with fools. Some things just can’t be bought.” His teeth clicked together on the last syllable and he whistled for the horses who stamped and shook their neck by the pavilion walls but would come no closer. He stalked over to lead them away, brooding under the straw hat he shoved back onto his head.

Only when she was sure his footsteps had disappeared down the street, Leia dropped next to the krayt dragon and pinched her eyes shut. A few moments later and she patted his side again with a weary grin. “You’re a lot of trouble, you know, big guy.”

Pifford grumbled in return.


 

Far away in the city, a bell tower tolled out the hour. The wooden door swung open down the alley like the same clockwork. Leia was watching it from the shadows of the crates stacked up by the quiet bypass. The cook, a stout middle-aged arcona, step out of the dark void and onto the narrow backstreet, looking up at the purpling sky before lighting a pipe and settling down on the curb.

Her hand tightened around the burlap sack, tied as it had been when she left Motesta Oasis and she rose. She didn't know what her secondary delivery was. She didn't know what her pick-up was, but it was easier that way. Soon she would be flying home across the sand after dropping the package at Toshi Station.

Pifford grumbled again from behind her, but the narrow passage was too for him to follow. Her shadow climbed the ally walls as she approached, the cook watched warily as any reserved stranger would until she stopped. Arcona had famously bad vision despite their large eyes, taking up a lot of their thin, triangular face. The hairs on the back of Leia's neck stood up, like she was being examined by the entire universe. 

"Delivery of hubba gourds?"

The cook took the pipe out of her mouth and let out a long slow puff of smoke. "Nice night its going to be, tonight."

Leia tossed the bag at her feet, it was enough of a yes for her. She had a job to finish.

"I can smell it in the air," the woman continued. The three brown fingers picked up the bag and weighed it carefully in her gasp. She sniffed again, "And yet, I smell other things too. Wind, far away."

Leia waited as the women nodded and settled delivery into her lap. "And bad intention, much closer." The milky green eyes landed on her, empty and tired. "And closest of all, impatience."

Leia didn't respond.She had always been resigned to the idea she might turn out like one of the crazy ones in the end. It did no good to mock them now, so she waited. The woman turned back with a crooked grin on her face, taking another puff of sweet smelling smoke. It spiraled up and up towards the first evening stars. She flipped a small brow letter out of her deep apron pocket, pressing the small letter into Leia's open palm.

But Leia's fingers closed on nothing but air. The card vanished as quickly as it appeared back into the stained white fabric, and the arcona seemed to seethe, "I know that nose of your's is mostly decoration," she hissed quietly, "but those peepers still work fine. Next time, make sure you're alone."  

With two fluid steps, the woman rose and slammed the door neatly in Leia's face. Alone? She couldn't have objections to the krayt dragon, fifty yards down the alleyway, pacing behind the crates. She hadn't seen anyone on street-level since the rider and his horses an hour ago. But the unmistakable thud of a dead-bold being pulled behind the dark panels left no room for arguing. Only a chilling cackle, warped by the thick wood and old stone as the woman padded away, "That is, if your still alive." 

Leia gave the door a nasty glare. This was a new experience, but a just minor complication. She didn't ride the better part of the day to be turned down at the doorstep, oh no. It would take more than that to get her to leave.

 She picked up the abandoned bag and studied the color of the brick restaurant, slightly darker than the two buildings on either side. No windows to bang on, and the wood was too sturdy to break through. She'd go in the front. 

Pifford whined slightly as she headed farther down the other end of the alley. The creature was a two ton walking death machine, he could last the extra three minutes it would take the straighten out the cook.

She had learned pretty early that mind-tricks didn't always work, any junk vender taught you that. Whether it was because they were too smart or too stubborn or didn't have a brain to confuse, it wasn't worth the risk of suspicion, especially when it came to the Hutts and their affiliates. That was where Luke came in, her favorite exception. When he wasn't paying attention (which was quiet often), it sometimes even felt too easy. Other than an undeniably useful way to avoid chores every now and then, if it wasn't fundamental part of the universe, Leia wouldn't have touched the force with a ten foot pole. 

When she saw the arcona again, it was though the service window of the dim kitchen. A nikto sat dazed at a small table, half-heartedly prodding a bowl of squill liver soup.

"I thought I told you to beat it" the woman sniffed over the counter, more out of distain than functionality. Her knife flew through a tato and she slammed the knife into the work surface. She sniffed again, puzzled.

Leia watched the nikto stir around his stew a little before her eyes returned to the arcona. She kicked her package under the counter, "I believe we had a misunderstanding."

The woman continued smell the air, paying no attention to Leia. She smell the juice on her hands, the seam from her pots, then finally cocking her head to the side, still as a stone. Leia turned to see what she was looking at, just in time to see the pair of feet scamper away off a neighboring roof. Some poor home-owner was about be robbed, or a drunkard losing more than his wits. The pattering faded from Leia's ears, and the arcona's thin mouth widened to an amused smile, "Well, end me to the pits. Sorry, dearie. Your order was ready ages ago." 

Bending out of sight, the cook emerged with a paper bag. Her words meant a lot more than what would be over heard, and Leia shrugged lightly. If all the things to be, being too cautious was a good failing. 

She took the paper bag, light as air, with a nod of her head and walked out. Once past the nikto and on the street she took the letter out of the bag and slipped it into her chest pocket. This time she scanned to tops of the roofs for eyes, but there was no one.  No one on the ground either. The streets were empty, not even any wind making movements in the evening air. She stared at the run down shops and empty broken windows. She doubted anything was left worth stealing in Ancorhead.

She moved back slowly in the direction of the stable yard, tracing her hand along the cool bricks. It was still light enough to navigate out of the city easily, she'd drop the letter off and be home before anyone knew it. She would be able to cut across the hills this time, less salt, and fewer suns. Maybe she should have even gotten something to actually eat from the cook, but the way her lone costumer had looked at her food... maybe it was for the best.

Then her thoughtful silence shattered, a noise loud enough to rattle her teeth broke the air. Despite the warm evening, her blood turned cold.

Yes, there was nothing left to steal in the mudbrick homes.

Her insides churned. That rare sound, nothing else like it in the world. She turned the back around her corner and ran.

 Pifford.

 

Chapter Text

Pifford.

She couldn't run fast enough down the narrow street, her feet pounding the stones. He wasn't so far, just down the back alley, past the crates where she had left him. She had only been gone a few minutes. She whirled around the corner of the block and skidded to a sharp halt.

The alley was a dead end.

But it was the same street, it had to be. There was the restaurant's back door, the same boarded up windows, but a huge black mass now stood the end of the street where it should have emptied into the square. The crates had been smashed onto themselves, blocking her way to the stable-yard. As she approached the broken hunks of wood and rusty nails reached out to her, but she only heard the chaos on the other side of the barricade, scratching and thumping. Whatever was happening, she was getting over there.

The wreckage shuddered, whole mass shedding sawdust as something huge slammed into the other side, followed by another ear-splitting roar. Wood slivers and shavings showered onto her head.  

"PIFFORD!"

A short bark came back to her, but moving away. She grabbed onto a dark overhang in front of her, but the board slipped out from the tangle of planks and crashed at her feet.

She grabbed her wrist a moment later. Black splinters peppered her whole palm, no way through or over it. She looked around, another street? No, by the time she found one, Pifford could be in another quarter. The town was a maze, and once they left the square, there was no hope in finding them. She needed to get over now, or they would be gone.

Leia would be alone.

She looked to her left and took a deep breath. The long smooth alley wall stretched out behind her down the block. A few ripped posters, graffiti, etched names. It was only one story high, not nearly as tall as a stone pillar. Compared to the splinted boxes, the plastered brick was nothing. 

She had watched Luke doing this in the backyard for ages. Just push off the ground like you push or pull anything else with the force: simple. She shivered, yes. So simple. So uncomfortably, terribly simple.

Dig into the vast, unknowable power like its nothing at all, like its okay. She had only one breath to stop thinking and closer her eyes, two steps backward for a running start and hope, and then a leap. She was light as a dewback flea soaring up, up up, and landed with an ungraceful thud on the other side of the shallow-rim of the rooftop. She gasped, and shook away the pain in her knees. Easy.

She struggled up to standing The pavilion she now looked upon, the same stable-yard from earlier in the afternoon, was in the process of being destroyed. The shaded corral on the south edge was torn apart, the old buckets scattered, and the thatched roof was caving down on a large tail writhing in the wreckage. A support beam cracked and a small cloud of dust erupted accompanied with a piercing howl.

Pifford shot out of the wreckage and shot across the square, spinning wildly into the dim moonlight, outraged at the small dark figure perched between his shoulder blades. The lizard bucked and snapped though the tin buckets and Small fences, but the figure remained unmoving, steadily locked on the only place the powerful jaws couldn't reach. 

No one did that to her Pifford. The loving, bus-sized, carnivorous smoosh she had raised since she could hold him in her hand. No amount of jewelry would ever be worth a single one of his scales, and no street rat should ever lay a finger on him.

 Her hand squeezed coldly around the base of her knife. It was the only thing she carried with her, used for everything from slicing malnut shells to prying open crate lids. She was confident that it could pry open someone's insides if duty called.

A small gust brushed across the back of her neck, and Leia yanked her attention sharply from the beast. With an intake of breath she swiped behind her with point of the knife. 

Another roar rattled the square, but she couldn't afford to look back. A ghost glided a few feet out of her reach. Of course, only a fool would be alone. This was a distraction, another obstacle put in her way. The squeezed the knife in her hand. Fine, so be it. She would just have to take them down first.

They were slender and dark like the shadows they had retreated to, wrapped in strange delicate silk. They stood still, but in an instant the figure swayed once like a reed and darted forward. The fabric that seemed to float by as the figure just narrowly missed Leia's legs as Leia stepped aside. They whipped around and swooped back, something shining in the recesses of their sleeve. Leia met the thin blade with her knife, the power of the blow making her stagger back a little. They were locked for a few seconds Leia was face to face with a featureless white mask before the figure swept back again. She couldn't even hear any breathing. Leia subconsciously drew her knife into a defense position, and the thin blade was swinging back at Leia's ribs.

She was ready to parry, but the figure slid beneath her raised arm instead. The fine cloth was wrapping around her throat, and Leia stomped blindly back onto where the attacker's foot should have been before they sliced her apart. Pain shot up her ankle, but the guess struck home. The figure was caught just off-balance enough to let to Leia step out of reach and swing for their open chest.

A dark blur and a small clang, then Leia's knife was flying out of her hand. The ghost had another blade hidden in the other sleeve. Neither moved as they listen to the quiet clang from one of the alleys below, but Leia could have sworn an unseen grin creeped across the stranger's face. A small gleam on the edge of their hood laughed coldly in the moonlight.

They lunged once more, and Leia shoved her arms in front of her as best she could.  

When she opened her eyes, and the figure was halfway across the roof, sprawled on their back. It was as though they had hit and be thrown by an invisible wall, and whoever it was didn't get back up again

Leia looked at her empty palms in mild shock: some splinters ran through her hands, and a fresh thin red line, but nothing out of the ordinary. She flipped them over and checked again.

She was somehow still alive. The figure slumped partially sideways and groaned quietly, alive as well, but Leia was gone. As the quarter screamed again, Leia bolted off like a fathier.

She didn't thank her mother or father for the self-defense drills. She didn't thank the force for its blessings. She didn't have the luxury to think of that, she had one thing on her mind.

She was launching over the low roof, sliding down the broken wagons propped against the walls of the square and landing in the rotting hay. Her fingertips picked up traces of the red that dotted the pale sand-stone curb under her feet, and the dragon gave another heart-wrenching roar. Her heart broke for him.

Her Pifford. 

 The murky shadow took their proper forms now, and there were two people in the square. One and the beast careening around the rubble, and the other just watching, standing back turned in the center of the courtyard. Her fists tightened around a knife that was not there.

How dare they.

What was she going to do? She didn't know exactly. But her body was moving on its own. No knife, no blaster, but it didn't matter. She would shred them into ribbons with her own nails if she had to, kick their teeth into their throats. They were hurting him, and she would not let them walk away. The world seemed to disappear around her as she flew, 60 feet, 30 feet, and the man on the ground turned just in time to see Leia barreling across the square towards him, fire in her eyes .

wumm 

 The man tucked the blast-gun back into the holster around his waist.

The blue flash and the scent of singed hair had vanished almost immediately, along with most of the air in her lungs. She was down, gasping for breath on the stones. Pifford let out another wrenching screech, and the splintering sound of wood ripped through the night.The scratch of the kryat dragon's claws tremored through her along with each step the figure took in her direction.

Something warm was welling up beneath her chin, but she didn't care. Something was wrong with her arm, but she didn't feel it. The determination was raged within her, and with each breath she gained back, the embers flared brighter.

They would pay.

The steps stopped inches away from her side.

And Leia suddenly realized how utterly defenseless she was.

Because Leia, for all her nerve, all that fire, couldn't even lift her head to face him.

Leia couldn't move at all.

It was cold as jar well-water shatter on her head, and she was standing once again, was wheeling into her own body for the second time. Her shoulder slammed into the stones with all the force of before before, teeth jarring together through her skull and neck. Her place, her position. She was alone. She was miles from home, her legs a tangled mess behind her, and a single eye that peered across pavilion. Even that was blocked by feet of the figure before her.

No plan. No knife, blaster, lightsaber, not even a pointy rock. 

She hadn't even made it halfway across the stones. 

What have I done?

So Leia, nose in the dirt, lying at the feet of a stranger, did the only thing she could. Leia began to cry. 

 


 

Pifford dashed across her view again, so far away on the edge of the stable that he didn't see her sprawled on the ground. He was occupied, desperate. The man perched between his shoulders swayed as though part of him, moving with every buck and twist like a dancer on stage. She didn't understand, the man hadn't even come close to falling off even as Pifford's movements began to lag. 

The lizard was already battered, red marks glistened by the corner of his jaws beneath the chain. Straw and dirt clung under his long claws, and something was very wrong. He moved heavily, like each lunge was more laborious than the last, and as he turned his head for another bite, a small blue feather bloomed from the skin on his neck. He twisted and snapped in the other direction, and two more feathers were revealed from behind his largest horns.

Krayt dragon scales were one of the hardest natural surfaces you could find. Fire or steel, it didn't matter, few materials could break them. They lay together almost perfectly, prized as armor before better advancements became their replacements, and some nomads still used them. Not even a trained marksman could hit the skin in the plated scales.

Poisoned darts. The man on his back must have jabbed them in. Whoever these people were, they weren't just petty thieves.

How? Leia couldn't guess. Even she didn't know about Ancorhead for a delivery until she was sent off. That was how the jobs went, for security. For things like this. 

Pifford lost his balance, stumbling over his own legs. The fall happened in slow-motion. One foreleg gave out after the next until he hit the ground hard. He struggled to rise up again, but he no longer had enough strength to stand, sliding back down to his side. He spat and rolled, blood and saliva dribbling down the chain until even that stopped. A final hiss died from his great teeth, and he was still. 

Leia just stared at the creature before her, right in her line thin of vision so far away. So very far away.

Pifford.

His mouth was hung partially open, glassy eyes looking beyond the stars. Helpless, both of them.

Oh Pifford. What have I done?

There was strange numbness was creeping up her shoulder, more than just the paralysis of the bolt or the awkward position. The cut on her palm tingled unpleasantly, but she didn't care about that.

I'm so sorry.

The man atop the krayt dragon hopped down and slapped the dust from his hands on his trousers. He casually stepped over the long tail, just far enough the way for her to see most of him as he approached. A bandana covered most of his face that wasn't already concealed by shadow, and he adjusted the hat that had somehow managed to stay on throughout the chaos. He was of a smaller build, each sharp step taken with great purpose until squatted down to look at her, taking up the whole of her vision.

"Hm. Come back, eh?" He smelled of sweat and straw. Like the look-out, something glimmered beneath the rim of his hat for a moment as he turned, stood, then vanished out of sight. "I thought you said she was occupied?"

Something was opened and then clinked behind her, rattling but she didn't know what.

"What should we do with her?" asked the one by her side.

 "And yet," the smaller man continued, "Every time I don't run the plan through before hand, something like this happens." A long heavy chain in rested in his arms, the sound of the clattering end was eerie.

"So... same as the rest?"

The smaller man didn't respond. He looked up to the rooftops for a moment, letting the chains spill onto the ground. "Where was Zenine?" he asked suddenly.

"I haven't seen her since she gave the all-clear."

"Yes, all clear. Very clear" he muttered. "Gardualla's behind, man, what if she had a blaster?"

"You said she didn't."

The man sighed, "I said I didn't see one," he corrected, snapping a lock into place. "Thats different. Now, toss me the muzzle."

No.

A large sack soared to his waiting hands. The thing -an earring- shimmer again. The man resumed talking as Pifford's snout disappeared under the leather bindings, "What if she had one concealed? What if she had bought one?"

"She didn't."

"Humor me." The smaller man leaned on Pifford's side to talk. Her heart ached, her dragon, her friend, reduced to a bench and she could do nothing. "Use your big advozse head of your's and imagine it: Fia hears all sarlacc breaking loose. She busts around some alley corner and blasts Zin in the back of the head. She then kills you followed by me in a grand total of 10 seconds." He yanked the grey chain around Pifford's back limbs with a thunk of metal, pulling all of his legs together like a hunting trophy. "One shot. One shot every time. He walked right onto a platter for us. You cannot waste moments like these."

There was silence in the square, and then the smaller man just sighed again. "Come on. Go get the loader."

Please.

"And human?"

 He waved a careless hand at Leia. "She'll be dead by morning anyway, don't bother"

"She's just a child."

The smaller man stiffened, and an uneasy silence held between the two. When his voice came, it was lower, more deadly, "Well then, you best be happy she isn't yours." 

The numbness from her arm was creeping up to her neck.

"Get the loader," he spat quietly.

The heavy boots walked off. Both vanished into the dark haze clouding the edge of her vision. Maybe it was for the best she didn't see what came next, as Pifford was dragged away from her. She was dragged away first, and when the numbness reached her head, she didn't fight it.


The birds were screaming. Her head was screaming. At first she didn't know what it was, but after what seemed to be an eternity, Leia's eyes cracked open. The full brightness of the suns rays shone down and the dark birds squawked again. The caw bounced around her skull, throbbing painfully deep in her temples and the base of her neck. The wings flurried off as she sat up, another pain spreading up from her side. She pressed herself carefully against the rim of the flat mud-brick roof as the sky slowed its spinning. 

She was alive. She was pretty sure of that, because if she were dead, she thought it wouldn't hurt so much. She took a few shallow from her aching ribs.  What time was it? Where was she? How did she get on a roof? 

Pifford.

Her breath lodged in her throat as the last night came back. The sudden movement caused her doubled over from the sudden pain. Both were bad ideas. Her ribs ached with any movement, the bruise on her shoulder was an unnatural shade of purple. Her mouth was stale and stiff. She looked across the old roof, dried blood flaking from her neck. 

She was alone. The birds had flown away to find some other unlucky creature, and there was nothing but low, abandoned rooftops in sight.

It was a strange feeling as she shivered in the light. There had always been someone, the quiet company of the krayt dragon. Far from home, but he was there, keeping her safe. All she needed to do was whistle, and he would rise out of the sand like magic. Maybe that was why she hadn't noticed the another pair of eyes, or she hadn't cared. Maybe if she hadn't been so sure, if she had bothered to double check her surroundings, if she hadn't been so carelessly stupid...

Arrogant, thoughtless, stupid.

She brought her knees closer to her chest slowly and waited for the tears to come, but nothing came. She didn't have any tears left.

She clung tighter, and a hard shape pressed into her leg. Her communicator, still miraculously in one piece. They would find her then, eventually, but she didn't want to look at the string of messages waiting on the screen. She didn't want them now. Leia didn't want anything now.

Instead, pinched her eyes shut and tilted back her head. She took a shaky breath. The suns blasted down on her skin, but she just clenched her jaw and faced the sky. That was it.

She couldn't remember when exactly her parents found her, she wasn't even sure if she was awake. The stop at her aunt and uncle's house, the rusty medical droid, dangling needles and swabs, waking up again with stitches under her chin, various wraps and bandages over her face, shoulders and knees, and a cast supporting her wrist. She wasn't in her own body for most of it, part of her was floating.

The cut on her palm healed quickly, not even leaving a scar, but the numbness never really left, and it didn't fade for a long time.


 Darkness. Why was there darkness? Little one?

Too many smells, blood, bile, filth, he couldn't tell where she was. He didn't understand. She had to be there, she couldn't not be there. The world only existed where the little one walked. The ground spread out before her feet, and the sky bloomed out between her strands of hair. He was always only where the little one was.

Someone had stolen that sky from him. Where were the warm glittering suns? Where were the sands? The endless sand that ran under the world, tied the world together. They had stolen that too, taken him out of the world he knew and left him somewhere in-between. Darkness, a cold that made him heavy and made it hard to lift his eyelids. It made him stay still as strange rough hands felt his throat and streamed sharp stones down his throat.

Another tail brushed over his claws, bodies pressed on either side, but he was too tired to snap at them.

Bigger ones, smaller ones, ones even colder than he and ones that didn't move at all. Sometimes they came, sometimes they left. Sometimes he thought he could feel a breath of wind, a beam of light, a flicker, a memory, but they vanished too soon to know. The click echoed through the air high above him and the others grew restless. Heavier feet, strides too long, ones from the brick maze. 

The foul one. Growls, howls, whimpers. The one who smelled like sour bones and horses and took him to this place where nothing existed. The one whose fingers were needles and silver ropes. A flood of rot tumbled on top of them and they bit and snarled for the scraps.

Where was the little one? Who cooed like the birds in hollow cactus trees? She had with pockets made of sugar, the one who scratched places his toes didn't reach. She would fix this. She had been there, stiff and smelling of smoke, but they had taken him away instead. He called for her now, because she couldn't have forgotten. He called to where he knew the blue should be but wasn't, and his howl was joined by the others. They didn't understand why they cried, but they didn't need a reason.

Where was the little one? Where was she?