Upon regaining his first dregs of consciousness, Ezra was acutely aware of being petted. A hand was carding fingers through his black wavy hair, a motion so slow and repetitive that it soothed him instantly.
Usually his waking thought was ‘ugh, I have to get up and leave my boyfriend’s bed now.’
This, though, was pleasant, much preferred to his normal thought process. It was as if he was not meant to be thinking at all, much less about the stress and unpredictability that each day brought.
Ezra’s breathing pattern changed, and the man who was stroking his hair chuckled under his breath.
Ezra could only imagine the amusement this brought to Luke. He could imagine the way his lip curled, the other half of his mouth being bitten by his teeth to stifle a louder sound. He could imagine the glint in Luke’s eyes, sparkling rays of sunlight on a still lake, animating the water. He could imagine the way harsh medbay lights managed to illuminate Luke’s skin, enough to make Ezra forget, only for a moment, that Luke was recovering from a blaster bolt to the stomach.
But Ezra remained unmoved, delaying his full consciousness as much as possible.
He knew what today was. He knew what today brought. Memorials and remembrance ceremonies, broadcasted throughout the entire galaxy.
Even the Empire’s death brought misery.
For Ezra, it was easy to forget the day he was born in favor of pageantry and unnecessary reminders of loss. It was easy to forget that this day should have been his, not the Empire’s, even after it was demolished.
This day, though, marked the only time the Empire would not be holding celebrations to overshadow everything. If Ezra wanted, he could make this his day again.
It was easy to forget that it was an option now.
But Luke remembered. Sweet, bright, beautiful Luke, his aura masking Ezra in pure innocent light, did not see Empire Day.
Ezra’s head lolled to the side, and he realized that he was in Luke’s lap. Luke’s prosthetic hand was running fingers through his hair, and he had moved Ezra’s head into his lap during the night without waking him.
Feeling too much like a domesticated Loth-cat, Ezra allowed light to spear through his gaze in slivers. He batted his eyelashes to adjust to the medbay lights, and he took a deep breath through his nose.
“There he is,” Luke cooed, “the birthday boy.”
Ezra regained control of his limbs and swatted at Luke’s arm, Luke’s hand stilling in stroking his hair. Luke chuckled softly, and a half-smile reached Ezra’s lips.
Ezra really, really loved that laugh.
He messily intertwined their fingers together, and their hands wound up almost dangling off the bed.
“Ez,” Luke murmured, “are you a little grumpy today?”
Ezra shook his head, and adjusted so he could look up. Luke had effectively trapped him, his other arm providing a barrier so Ezra couldn’t move yet. Luke’s face was upside down in Ezra’s vision, and Ezra couldn’t help but laugh at the silliness of the image.
“Hey,” Ezra said softly, squinting to see Luke between rays backlighting him, golden hair set ablaze and skin aglow.
“Hey yourself,” Luke said, gaze gliding over Ezra’s face adoringly. “Happy birthday.”
“Do I get a gift?”
“I tried to make you a bracelet,” Luke admitted, “but I messed it up.”
Ezra blushed lightly. “Can I see it anyway?”
“You’ll make fun of it.”
“No!” Ezra shook his head, trying and failing to hold back an amused grin. “I won’t.”
Luke’s chest expanded, and he blew out air in Ezra’s face. “Promise?”
Ezra swatted away the air, giving Luke use of his hand back. “Promise.”
Luke shifted in bed, and Ezra sat up, sliding his legs out from under the thick white blanket. He settled near Luke’s hip, brushing back a strand of hair from his scarred cheek. He tucked his lower legs under his thighs, leveling his height with Luke’s.
Luke procured a beaded bracelet from a drawer containing his belongings. As he adjusted himself back against the pillows, Ezra fought the urge to kiss along the V of Luke’s blue tunic, because it would surely get Luke to laugh in the melodic way Ezra liked.
His palm was outstretched between them, and Ezra looked down. The bracelet was a cord strung with painted beads, each adopting a shade of red or orange or yellow or blue or green. They flowed together in an incomplete rainbow, the knot tying both ends together unfinished.
Ezra pinched both ends with opposite hands and began to work deftly. Luke watched him as he created a double knot, even though there was room on the cord for more beads.
Ezra liked it the way it was.
Whatever explanation Luke was going to stammer out was caught in his throat. With the knot complete, Ezra’s eyes slid up to Luke’s hesitant ones.
Ezra murmured, “I love it. Thank you.”
Without further ado, Ezra slipped the beaded bracelet over his wrist and smiled.
Luke observed Ezra as if he were a mirage, neither here nor there. Ezra was not used to being admired in such a manner, so he chose to be patient.
Luke’s mouth opened, then closed. His chest expanded, then collapsed. He breathed in, then out slowly. He leaned forward, and so did Ezra. He cupped Ezra’s cheek, so Ezra did the same with Luke.
Luke kissed him, and Ezra kissed him right back, until they expanded and collapsed and flew and faded as stars did.
Ezra nudged away first, and he was the first to tease, “happy birthday to me, huh?”
And Luke was the first to swat at his arm, and Luke was the first to gift Ezra with that lovely laugh of his.
When the remembrance ceremonies were over, Leia realized numbly that she hadn’t seen Luke and Ezra all day. Or Doctor Aphra, for that matter, to inquire about Luke’s condition.
As the audience filed out of the final ceremony for the day, Han made himself known, leaving the crowd he blended into, dizzyingly attractive in the suit she bought for him.
Han stepped onto the empty dais, the podium and microphone being carted away, Leia’s voice a tad off after making so many speeches.
Han tipped his head down, whispering in her ear, “where is everyone today?”
Leia was so caught up in her work that she didn’t realize the Ghost crew was noticeably absent too. They had said they would return from their cargo retrieval mission for the ceremonies today, but no word had come in of their arrival yet.
It wasn’t uncommon for them to be running late. They were in deep space, after all. She wouldn’t start sounding alarms until tomorrow.
“I don’t know,” Leia murmured, pursing her lips and smoothing out her black dress. “We should check on my brother.”
Han nodded in agreement. “I’m glad he got outta all this kriffin’ boredom.”
He grinned. “I know ya wanna say it, sweetheart.”
Leia huffed, locking her elbow with Han’s. He started forward, leaving the dais and leading her down emptier hallways. They took the long way to the medbay, but Leia didn’t make to complain. The silence was nice, and it was nice that Han recognized she appreciated it after a long day.
The medbay door slid open, and nothing could prepare Leia for the sight of Luke and Ezra yelling at a holo screen.
Luke recited a string of curse words in Huttese at whatever holo show was playing, ready to throw a pillow across the room. Ezra was no better, stringing multiple languages together to express his disgust as his arms flew around in violent gestures.
“Trevor’s no good for you!” Luke exclaimed to the woman on screen. “Dammit, Kira!”
“Jaden’s gonna leave!” Ezra exclaimed. “Stop him, for kriff’s sake!”
The screen showed a man shutting the door to the apartment.
“Noooooo!” Luke and Ezra yelled in unison.
The woman on screen let the man leave, and the show faded to black.
“I’m done,” Luke said softly, with intense feeling. He clenched his fist overdramatically. “I can’t watch this show anymore!”
“You said that last time,” Ezra said frantically, “but look! We got sucked back in! Again!”
“Kriff,” Luke grabbed his pillow and held it in his lap, “I hate this show so much!”
“Um,” Leia stepped in front of the holo screen, and the show fizzled out, Luke’s AI Meredith returning it to the datapad, “hello?” She waved a hand. “What’s going on?”
Luke blinked rapidly. “Leia? I didn’t sense you.” His brows furrowed. “Huh. Good on you.”
“We were watching Triangle of Love,” Luke explained, which didn’t explain anything at all. “Sorry. Were we too loud?”
“Okay,” Han cut in sharply, “do you not realize what day it is?”
Both Luke and Ezra deflated beside each other.
“Yes,” Luke said, “but that doesn’t matter as much as-”
“What?” Leia blinked, trying to corral a brewing storm in the Force that she was creating. “As much as what?”
Luke glanced worriedly at Ezra, and he nodded.
Luke replied quietly, “as much as Ezra’s birthday.”
Leia stiffened, and Ezra looked away sheepishly. On her left, Han hung his head low, an unusual bout of sympathy in his demeanor.
“It’s your birthday, Ezra?” Han smiled wanly. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” Ezra mumbled.
“That’s awful, Ezra,” Leia said, shaking her head. “And I thought a birthday two days after was bad. Damn.”
“I wanted to give him a good day,” Luke said, and he sounded like a child but looked grave, as if a shadow was cast over his summertime glow. “Wanna help me?” He asked hopefully.
Ezra blinked over at Luke, and he smiled so gently that Leia expected them to float up to the clouds and burst into song.
Leia realized how hard it must have been for Ezra. Not only to share a birthday with an oppressive government, but to spend his birthday without the Ghost crew there. She knew they hadn’t meant to miss out. Ezra didn’t advertise his birthday and wasn’t the type to get offended by their absence, but he remained melancholic.
Luke’s bright, all-encompassing Force presence was a life saver to Ezra. Leia recognized the signs; Luke had once been her life saver.
“You know what?” Leia smirked as an idea popped into her mind. “I’ll be back.”
Han read her expression and grinned. “There’s my girl.”
Leia offered a hand, and Han took it gleefully. She lead him out of the medbay, her dress swishing from behind her at how quickly she walked.
Leia and Han brought back platters of pastries stolen from the kitchens.
While everyone else was picking over small desserts and sandwiches during a remembrance service, Han snuck about in relative obscurity, lifting platters as if he were a server, when he was really transporting the food onto a cart. That cart was guarded by Leia, who lingered partially into the room, exchanging words with whoever came near and finding polite ways to dismiss them whenever Han reappeared.
Once the cart was full of six various platters, two to each of the three levels, Han and Leia wheeled it in the opposite direction. No one noticed a thing.
When they wheeled the cart into the medbay, Han motioned to the cart with one hand while the other tugged it towards the couple. The grin on his face as he cackled was enough to make him seem like a madman, but he clearly didn’t care.
Leia, meanwhile, propped her foot on the lower level and struck a pose while pushing the back of the cart, flying as the door closed behind her. She laughed as she had never laughed before, completely carefree and proud of herself for helping steal so much food.
Ezra nearly fell out of Luke’s bed in shock, a grin frozen on his face and his eyes glittering in amazement. “Wow!”
“You,” Han pointed at Ezra, “would have been so kriffin’ proud of us!”
“I’m starting to get a knack for this whole stealing thing,” Leia boasted, flipping her long hair behind her shoulder.
“My future wife,” Han pointed at Leia, beaming at her appreciatively, “used her lovely rhetoric to distract every single person from the cart we were stocking with food. She blinded ‘em all, until we rode our cart into the sunset!”
“Wow,” Ezra said gleefully, “as a master thief, I’m impressed. Truly.”
Luke gave them a soft round of applause, and Leia curtsied while grasping her skirts.
“Wait ‘til you see,” Han pulled on the cloth covering the cart, and yanked it away dramatically, “all of this! Yeah!”
Ezra’s jaw dropped upon surveying the magnificent array of sweets. “Kriff! Did you raid an entire shop?”
Leia and Han leaned against one another, grinning and striking poses.
“We’ll hold for applause,” Leia said airily.
Luke applauded louder, and Ezra chimed in.
“Thank you both,” Ezra grinned, “I love it.”
When everything was cleared away, no evidence left behind in the medbay, it was nearly midnight.
And Ezra was so giddy and dazed that he couldn’t stop kissing his boyfriend.
Mindful of Luke’s injury, they made out so hard that Ezra could feel his lips swell. His face was flushed an unflattering shade of pink too, but he didn’t care. He never felt so happy in his life.
Ezra leaned back from the kiss. He smiled at Luke, who was flushed a much more flattering shade of pink and never looked this mesmerizing before.
“This was the best birthday ever,” Ezra declared.
“Even with me being stuck in the medbay?” Luke asked quietly, hesitant and hooding his gaze with his lashes.
Ezra grasped Luke’s chin and kissed him slow and deep. Luke whimpered at the back of his throat, then sighed as Ezra dragged his lips away.
He rested their foreheads together. “Yes,” he breathed, “even now.”
That was all it took for Luke to be drawn to him like a magnet, kissing Ezra as if he needed his touch to breathe.
Luke awoke to a kiss on the forehead. He dipped into the Force, and sensed Ezra waiting for him to open his eyes.
There was an urgency to his Force signature that Luke normally didn’t sense in him. So he decided to awaken.
Ezra was leaning over him, smiling down with a tinge of worry to his expression. He was wearing smuggler pants and his rust-colored jacket over a white tee.
Luke recognized this as one of his mission outfits. “They’re back, huh?”
A fourth Force signature was present in the base, and it could only be Kanan alongside the crew.
“They need my help, love,” Ezra said delicately. “I have to bring cargo up to the space station. I promise I’ll be back tonight.”
“Promise on your lightsaber?”
“Promise on your blaster?”
“Promise on your abs?”
Ezra’s brow shot up. “You like those,” he grinned wolfishly, “don’t ya?”
Luke’s smile was the perfect picture of innocence.
“Yes,” Ezra said, “I promise all the promises. And besides,” a glint reached his eyes, “I think they feel bad they missed my birthday. I’ll be collecting debts.”
Luke snorted. “You’re ridiculous, Ez. Now come here.”
Ezra leaned down very close and gently brushed their lips together. Unsatisfied, Luke tossed an arm around Ezra’s neck, trapping him in a loose headlock. Ezra had enough time to chuckle before Luke captured his lips fully. Ezra hummed, desperately wanting to sink into Luke’s embrace, but he was reminded of his mission.
Luke dropped his arm away, and Ezra straightened his posture. “Damn,” Ezra whispered, “you make it hard to leave.”
Ezra snorted. “I hate you, and I love you.”
“Same here, Ez.”
Ezra shot Luke a dizzying smile as he spun on his feet, leaving the medbay before he could get ideas about staying.
After Doctor Aphra checked up on him, Luke was left to his own devices. He dipped into the Force and nudged Leia’s Force signature, as if he were poking her shoulder.
Since she was across the hallway, Leia entered the medbay, a mock-annoyed expression on her face. “What do you want?”
“I need to ask you something.”
Leia went to his bedside and sat on the edge. A long braid was coiled to the back of her head. She wore white leggings and a blue blouse, a white vest thrown over it with the New New Republic insignia on the breast pocket. Her face was pale and smooth as snow, as if she were a queen of winter.
When Leia didn’t make to prompt him, Luke said, “I know you don’t want to...know more about our family. I was wondering: is that still the case?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?” Leia asked suspiciously.
“Artoo alluded something months ago,” Luke revealed. “He’s, well, you know he’s a very old droid. He hasn’t been memory wiped like Threepio, and he’s seen a lot.”
Luke continued, “he’s practically come out and told me that he knows way more than we think he does. All this information is just...sitting there in his databanks. Old databanks, sure, but it’ll be something. I can still access some of the data, the holos, the videos.”
Leia shot up, standing instead of sitting by Luke. She eyed him dubiously. There was a long pause, and Leia folded her arms.
“What?” She asked flatly.
“I wasn’t ready to see it,” Luke said, “but it’s there. And I’ve got nothing else going on right now. I wanted to...I wanted to let you know that I’m doing this. Join me, or not. It’s your choice.”
Leia lowered herself back down numbly. She blinked, and didn’t speak for a moment. Luke could sense her mind churning with conflict.
Finally, Leia murmured, “you can do it. I can’t. I can’t do it. But you can.”
Leia’s gaze slid to his, uncertainty clouding her brown eyes. “You can. If...if you see something interesting, tell me. Okay?”
“Okay,” Luke replied softly.
Absently, Leia patted Luke’s hand with her own. He barely felt the contact before it was retracted.
Then, Leia exited the medbay.
Ezra knew from the round of hugs that the Ghost crew felt guilty about missing his birthday. He fought the urge to cackle as he teased, “you feel really bad, huh?”
At the familiar tone, Zeb said pointedly, “this is why we can’t feel bad for you for long.”
Hera cooed, “I still feel bad.”
“Aw,” Ezra looked up at her as she smoothed away his hair, “your pity and guilt is much appreciated.”
Sabine sighed loudly, but fondness was in her gaze. “Why are we bringing him again?”
Kanan replied, “because we need extra hands. And we have to make up for his birthday.”
“Yes,” Ezra said, “I love the smell of guilt.”
“Did you have a good birthday anyway?” Sabine asked exasperatedly.
“You know what?” Ezra grinned, recalling the memories with wistful fondness. “It was actually not the worst.”
Sabine puckered her lips and shoved herself into his arms. “Did you get the kissy face from your boyfriend?”
Ezra pushed her away lightly and snickered. “You’re acting like you wanna kissy face with my boyfriend! Stop.”
Sabine laughed, her stomach doubling over. “That means yes!”
“Children,” Hera chastised, “let’s be done.”
Artoo had created a slideshow of holo videos for Luke to view. That’s when Luke knew Artoo has been waiting for a long time for Luke to ask about his parents.
Artoo explained he was originally built to serve the Queen of Naboo’s royal starship. He was programmed early in his mother’s reign as Queen, assigned to fire starship turrets and fix whatever needed fixing. On a diplomatic mission to Coruscant, the starship faced heavy fire and had to land on Tatooine.
The first hologram played, the file a tad fuzzy and corrupted. This was pre-Clone Wars era, so Luke was surprised the file could even play at all.
The image was the entrance area to the Naboo starship. Artoo was projecting the soft whispers between two men in brown robes. One was noticeably older, nearly middle-aged with a goatee, and the other had a Padawan braid.
“Stay here, Obi-Wan,” the elder Jedi said to the younger. “Protect the Queen.”
Luke’s mind was suddenly in the Death Star, disguised in stormtrooper armor. Ben had said ‘stay here, Luke.’ And then Ben died.
The younger man on the holo, a version of his Master that was naive and quite handsome, protested, “but-”
Luke had protested too. But Ben went anyway.
The older Jedi rose to his feet, glancing over at a young woman. She wore clothes meant to conceal her entire body, save her face. She was incredibly young, hardly even a teenager.
But Luke knew his own sister’s face when he saw it. This girl could only be his mother.
“The Queen insists we travel before the sun sets,” Padmé said, her voice as gentle as a breeze.
Luke had been told several times by Ezra that he sounded the same. That his voice was almost musical, but as soft as the wind caressing a cheek.
Artoo beeped to explain that his mother often disguised herself as a handmaiden for her own protection. A part of her, though, also craved adventure. Luke could relate.
The Jedi Master nodded, and ducked down the ship ramp. Padmé followed, and so did Artoo.
They travelled up shifting sand dunes in relative silence. The city they entered was none other than Mos Espa.
The Jedi Master lead them inside a junk shop owned by a Toydarian. He grumbled and bargained with the Jedi Master for spare parts.
The Jedi Master, though, sensed something in the Force. Luke could tell by the way his head was tilted, his chin off to the side, as if he were studying a shift in the air.
When the Toydarian yelled for a slave boy’s assistance, Luke soon realized why.
Caught among junk parts and wearing a flour sack, a sandy-haired boy no more than ten years of age scrambled inside the shop with oil smears across his freckles.
Luke nearly had a heart attack, because he swore he was looking at a reflection of himself.
Padmé had since removed her hood, deeming this a safe place to don her Nubian commoner clothes. The Jedi Master had since followed the Toydarian into the junkyard after casting a long glance at the boy.
Anakin Skywalker observed the younger Artoo with the endless fascination befitting of a child. Then, he focused on the girl that towered over him in height, tilting his head to the side.
“Are you an angel?” His father asked his mother.
Luke blinked, and he remembered asking Ezra that very question one morning. Ezra just looked so beautiful, so otherworldly, that Luke found that his mouth spoke before his mind could process the words.
Where Ezra responded to Luke in kind, Padmé was simply confounded. “What?”
Where Luke would have bashfully dismissed it, Anakin doubled down. “An angel. I’ve heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They live on the moons of Iego, I think.”
Luke blinked again. He was reminded of Canto Bight, being called ‘The Angel of Iego’ for a night.
“They’re the most beautiful creatures in the universe,” Anakin said, his voice full of wonder.
Luke cringed. That was going too far for his liking.
Instead, Padmé smiled, and it was as bright as the sun. “You’re a funny little boy. How do you know so much?”
The holo video was corrupted from that point forward, and Artoo beeped that this was the first conversation his parents had. It wasn’t a very good one, but he commended Anakin for capturing her attention.
Before Artoo began the second holo, he explained that Anakin built Threepio and won his freedom in a pod race, which Luke already knew from experience. The Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn sensed unbridled potential in Anakin and brought him to the capital planet of Coruscant. Anakin left behind his mother, Shmi, to remain a slave on Tatooine, as well as Threepio. They are sent to Naboo to bring the Queen home, where Padmé formed an alliance with the Gungans.
A short holo followed, where humans and Gungans alike were gathered for negotiations. The woman who claimed to be Queen wasn’t getting through to the Gungan leader, so a young handmaiden stepped forward.
“I am sorry for the deception,” Padmé said, taking on the baritone required of a Nubian Queen, “but it was for my own protection.”
She secured a verbal alliance with the Gungans, and Luke swore he was looking at a teenage Leia.
The Jedi were not deterred by the change, since the Force was meant to sense deception and lies. His father, a desert boy out of place among nature, was genuinely surprised. Luke could only imagine what it felt like to not know he was speaking with a Queen. Anakin’s expression was starry-eyed after that, and Luke recognized the problem with their relationship right away.
Ezra worshipped Luke, and Luke worshipped Ezra. But it was to a certain degree. With Anakin and Padmé, there were no degrees of separation. Anakin would always gaze upon her as if she were an angel, and that would make their relationship unrealistic and unhealthy.
Artoo played a third holo, and explained a battle waged between Naboo and the Trade Federation. Anakin was locked inside the cockpit of a Nubian starfighter with Artoo. Anakin was having fun, and Luke chose not to ruminate on how unsettling it was to watch. Whether it was pure luck or the Force, Anakin somehow destroyed the Trade Federation space station and ended the battle. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan’s Master died after an encounter with a Sith apprentice, Darth Maul. Obi-Wan became Anakin’s Master, and he was trained to be a Jedi due to a sacred prophecy believing him to be the Chosen One.
Artoo said ten years passed before he came into contact with Anakin and Obi-Wan again. He remained by Padmé’s side as she transitioned from Queen to Senator.
The next holo video was after an assassination attempt was made on his mother’s life. Two Jedi bodyguards were assigned to her, and Artoo captured their reunion.
Anakin had grown into an awkwardly tall teenager, finally coming to adulthood. Artoo mentioned he was nineteen years old, the same age that Luke was when he left Tatooine.
Anakin wore a Padawan braid, the rest of his hair a blonde-brown color. Despite his stocky build, he was timid as he walked beside Obi-Wan, possibly after countless chastisements. He hung his head low and cast his eyes down, but spoke with an assuredness that was unsettling.
When Padmé grinned and called him ‘little Ani,’ Luke cringed on Anakin’s behalf.
“My, how you’ve grown,” Padmé remarked. “You’re so tall!”
“You’ve grown as well, milady,” Anakin said, and even through the holo, Luke could tell he was blushing bright red.
Anakin snapped his mouth shut before he could babble as Luke did when he got nervous.
Artoo explained that another attempt was made on Padmé’s life, but Anakin saved her, sensing the threat before Obi-Wan. Anakin was elected to travel with Padmé to Naboo to keep her safe.
“Sounds like a romance holofilm,” Luke muttered.
Artoo beeped something to the effect of ‘that’s exactly what it was.’
Luke hummed boredly. “So she fell in love with him, huh?”
Artoo beeped in the affirmative. He continued by saying that they only left Naboo when Anakin received Force visions of his mother’s death. They went to Tatooine and met Luke’s aunt and uncle. Anakin held his mother’s body in his arms at a Tusken Raider camp as she died. He buried her at the farm where Luke was raised, and Luke was shocked that his grandmother’s grave was there the whole time, somewhere amongst the sand. Anakin then grabbed Threepio and received a distress signal from Obi-Wan, who was captured by the Sith apprentice Count Dooku on Geonosis.
Luke knew Artoo was going to show him the start of the Clone Wars in the very arena he and Ezra recently escaped from.
What Artoo could retrieve from the databanks was a series of quick clips. The first was his parents chained to a chariot, dragged out into the arena, being tied on the stone columns that were unused in the arena today. They were placed beside Obi-Wan, who had been there for some hours waiting for rescue. The second clip was of lines of lightsabers being ignited in every section of the arena, and Luke gaped openly.
He had never seen so many Jedi before.
The third clip was of the same nexu beast he subdued with Ezra’s help in the arena. Padmé gave it a hard kick to the jaw that sent it careening to the ground.
Luke applauded loudly. As the only non-Force sensitive in the arena, that was truly impressive.
The fourth clip was of Anakin taking control of a particularly feral beast. Padmé jumped down into his arms, and Luke groaned, rolling his eyes.
He hated to admit it, but that awkward boy had disappeared rather quickly. Anakin played the role of a dashing Knight rather well, but his worship of Padmé was still a concern.
The fifth clip was of countless Jedi fighting a sudden army of droids, Yoda at the helm of the clone army’s arrival. Yoda was as calm as ever in the midst of battle, and Luke was unsure if Yoda should be labeled crazy or cool.
The clips shorted out, and Artoo explained this was one of the few holo videos that survived his old databanks. He said that Anakin and Obi-Wan battled Count Dooku, and Anakin lost his arm for his hubris.
The holo video showed a hospital room, but the bare necessities there indicated Anakin was in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, years before it was razed to cinders. A robotic arm was now attached to Anakin, and he was fuming with restlessness. Luke was the same way, so he could not fault his father for that.
Padmé’s sneaky entrance in the room shocked Luke as much as it did Anakin. Luke recalled the gash across her stomach, registering bandages underneath a white bodysuit and cream-colored leggings. Despite all they endured, Padmé glowed as if nothing could break her. It made Luke admire her, and he knew Leia would too.
“Padmé,” Anakin said reedily, “you shouldn’t be here. You could get in trouble.”
Padmé was unbothered by the warning, and she sat at his bedside. She blinked down at the hunk of metal that replaced Anakin’s arm. “What’s it feel like?”
Startled by her girlish curiosity, Anakin replied warily, “weird. It feels like...I don’t know, like I’m...you know how your arm moves when your brain sends a signal to it, and you don’t feel it?”
Padmé nodded, hanging onto his words. Luke wondered absently if both were to blame for their doomed love.
“Well,” Anakin continued, “I can feel my brain sending a signal to my arm, but it’s...it takes a second for my prosthetic to react.” He sighed, and added bitterly, “a second that shouldn’t be there.”
Padmé frowned deeply. “Did you learn something?”
Anakin scoffed, smiling despite himself. “I fear it’ll be a repeat lesson nonetheless.”
The holo faded, and Artoo said he was witness to their secret wedding on Naboo, alongside Threepio and a priest.
Artoo played the wedding holo, which showed Anakin in his Jedi robes and Padmé in a decadent dress made of pearls. Their marriage ceremony was on the balcony at the Lake Country house, the very house where Han proposed to Leia, the house where Luke fell even more in love with Ezra, the house that Queen Soruna told them was their inheritance.
They kissed as the sun lowered on the horizon, and Luke could admit it was a picturesque dream. He hoped Leia never saw this and got ideas for her upcoming nuptials with Han.
Artoo explained that the Clone Wars began after their wedding, and Anakin gifted Threepio to Padmé to help with her Senatorial work. Artoo was given by Padmé to Anakin, and he became a starfighter astromech with Anakin flying him into countless battlements.
This, Artoo said, was where the galaxy got infinitely complicated.
When the Ghost docked in the space station outside the base planet’s atmosphere, they were greeted by Wedge Antilles.
Ezra didn’t even know Ace Squadron was docked in space, but since Luke was out of commission as Commander, he wouldn’t know anyway.
Ezra beamed and descended the ramp. “Hey, dude!”
Wedge was glad to see him, and they clapped each other’s backs. “Wasn’t expecting you here!”
Ezra stepped back and asked, “where’s that new boyfriend of yours?”
Wedge facepalmed. “Luke told you about that? Oh no. I should’ve known.”
Ezra laughed. “Good on you, dude. Honestly. Is he up here too?”
“Yup.” Wedge cleared his throat. “Followed him again. What about Luke? Has he gone stir crazy yet?”
“No. He knows he has to be good.” Ezra paused purposefully. “For now.”
“Well,” Wedge said, “extend him and Leia birthday wishes for tomorrow from all of us.”
Ezra sensed the Ghost crew bristle from the top of the ramp. “I sure will,” he said kindly.
He turned around and clapped once. “Let’s get this show on the road!”
Leia did everything she could to distract herself with paperwork.
Han was off running a smuggling mission on the nearest star system with Chewie and Threepio. He promised he would be back tonight, but for once, Leia wished he were here to distract her.
Part of her wanted to know about her parents, but the other part wanted to live in ignorance.
But since she already made her decision, she had to wait for the right time to ask Luke about what Artoo had in his databanks.
Perhaps if Leia chose to monitor the information that Luke told her, it would alleviate the conflict in her mind.
The first holo video with a Clone Wars-era stamp on it showed another version of Luke’s father.
Anakin aged considerably in the beginning months of the Clone Wars. Anakin was only twenty years of age, but he looked ten years older, closer to Luke’s twenty-eight standard years of age. Anakin’s hair was more brown than blonde, and fell in waves to his shoulders. His eyes and face had hardened, and Luke knew from experience how quickly war took its toll on a person.
Still, Anakin was humming an old slave song as he knelt in front of Artoo, cleaning and fixing him. There was a lightness to him that was rarely there, and Luke saw another commonality between him and his father. They both liked to fix broken things.
A younger Artoo beeped at Anakin, and he replied, “we’ll be out of Seperatist territory soon, Artoo.”
A bomb from someplace far away resounded in the holo recording, and Anakin sighed.
“Looks like we have to fix your rotator claw later,” Anakin said, rising to his feet.
Luke got a quick look at the battle armor Anakin donned. There were black plates over his shoulders and chest, the Republic insignia spray-painted in red on his forearm. His robes were maroon and gray, but they were fortified with steel casing around his legs.
‘Darth Vader,’ was Luke’s first thought.
The holo cut out, and was replaced with quick cuts of Anakin commanding Artoo in an aerial battle unlike any Luke had ever seen. The starships were piloted by robots, and they moved with inhuman speed and complete recklessness, uncaring if they did a kamikaze run. Another droid would take the destroyed starship’s place, followed by more and more, until the mothership was in flames.
People versus machines. It was chaotic. It was infinitely more dangerous. It was hell brought into the mortal realm.
The war Luke fought was nothing compared to the Clone Wars. That, at least, was fought person versus person.
The next holo video showed Artoo trailing behind Anakin, perhaps after a different battle. Anakin’s armor was singed with blaster bolts, and he winced as he walked. Artoo beeped after him concernedly, but Anakin sent him a grimace, meant to soothe the younger astromech.
It didn’t work.
Anakin entered the strategy room, positioned in the front of whatever warship they were on, the windows showing exploding stars in the distance.
A worn older man with a ginger beard and beige battle armor turned to Anakin as he reached the window.
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, his face falling somberly, sympathy in weary eyes, “are you alright?”
“No,” Anakin said bitterly, “I lost half of my men down there!”
“So is the casualties of war,” Obi-Wan said gravely.
Luke wanted to slap his Master’s younger hologram in the face.
Anakin bristled, but did not remark angrily on the detachment in his voice.
Instead, Anakin took a breath and exercised a controlled tone. Leia had to do the same thing to even out her temper.
Anakin said calmly, “they can’t grow clones at the rate we need them. Droids were built to be cannon fodder, but they’ve only grown stronger. The designs are more complex, and vary dramatically in size and stature. The materials withstand more than they used to mere months ago.”
“What is your point, Anakin?” Obi-Wan asked tiredly.
“My point is,” Anakin said, “the droids were meant to be cannon fodder, but the clones are weakening. We’ve been having to get younger and less experienced soldiers. Therefore,” he concluded, “we have become the cannon fodder, and I see no way we can get out of this alive if we don’t change our tactics.”
Obi-Wan cast his hands behind his back, and Luke recognized this as the stature of a seasoned soldier, the best in the galaxy.
“And what, Commander Skywalker,” he asked, “do you suggest?”
The holo flickered out, the file in Artoo’s databank corrupted.
Commander Skywalker. Oh, this was hilarious.
Not for the first time today, Luke wondered if the galaxy created these similarities as a mirror on purpose, or if it was some cosmic joke to spite him.
Artoo then explained that Anakin became a General at age twenty-two, and had quite a cunning mind for strategics. It helped explain how Darth Vader was so elusive to Luke, appearing and disappearing as if a shadow.
Artoo said Anakin saw Padmé on Coruscant every few months, while his mother fought battles in the Senate. Everything she did was to ensure Anakin was returned home safely. Artoo detailed one instance, though, where Anakin faced a Sith witch known as Ventress and came back with a scar across his face from a lightsaber burn.
It was shortly after this when, once again, Anakin was thrown another wrench in his wavering mind: an apprentice.
Luke was shocked to hear that a Knight could even receive an apprentice. Artoo replied that a war brought extraordinary circumstances, and the Council decreed that able-bodied Knights and Masters should receive a Padawan to help aid the war effort.
Anakin’s apprentice was a fourteen year old Togruta girl named Ahsoka Tano. Ezra had mentioned her once before, but she died years ago. Ezra wouldn’t tell him exactly what happened, as it was too painful, and Luke let it go at the time.
But this woman was his father’s apprentice. Luke wished he had been able to speak with her!
The next holo video was time stamped three months after Anakin became a General. Ahsoka was assigned under his care a month earlier, and after a rocky start, he began instructing her.
The holo showed inside of a dojo, and Luke figured they were in the Temple on Coruscant. Ahsoka was blindfolded, a training sphere like the one Luke had firing off blaster bolts. Ahsoka had twin lightsabers rather than a single one, both shining bright blue with curved hilts that fit in her palms.
Anakin stood as Obi-Wan had in the previous holo, hands cupped behind his back. The years hardened him even more, but there was a lightness to his blue eyes that reminded Luke of Anakin’s younger self. His hair had grown wilder, and the scar marring his face faded into a red line, starting at his eyebrow and ending at his cheekbone.
A blaster bolt barely missed Ahsoka’s stomach, and Anakin said, “you are forcing your mind to comply. You must let go.”
“Master,” Ahsoka said in a clipped voice, “I can’t!”
Another bolt nearly singed Ahsoka’s shoulder, but she sideswiped it with a lightsaber just in time.
“Break through the barrier in your mind,” Anakin said coolly. “You must breathe, and surrender.”
Ahsoka clenched her jaw and blocked two more blaster shots.
“There you go. Your instincts are kicking in.”
Ahsoka crossed her blades in front of her chest, blocking three shots in quick succession. Her jaw slackened, and she concentrated.
Before the next blaster bolts were fired, Ahsoka curved her lightsabers to block the impending shots. Anakin whistled, and used the Force to shut down the training bot.
“Good,” he said, allowing himself to smile. “You’re doing good, Snips.”
The video cut out as Ahsoka tore away her blindfold. The next one showed Anakin walking down a hallway discreetly.
He knocked against a door three times, then keyed in the code. The door slid open, and Artoo followed him inside a spacious apartment with a picturesque view of the Coruscant skyline.
There was laughter coming from the couch, and Anakin froze. Artoo swiveled his dome towards it, and Luke saw his mother and Ahsoka laughing over glasses of champagne. Padmé only grew more beautiful with age, and Luke swore he was looking at his twin. Ahsoka aged a bit too, surpassing puberty and wearing maroon clothes similar to Anakin’s armor. Instead, though, Anakin wore brown robes paired with a black vest, acting as a sort of disguise.
Ahsoka set down her glass, sheepish at being caught with Padmé. “Master. Hello. Were you looking for me?”
Without missing a beat, Anakin said smoothly, “Senator Amidala requested that I fix her sink faucet.”
Ahsoka snorted, but put a hand over her mouth. Padmé caught it and winked, causing Ahsoka to stifle a giggle.
Did Ahsoka know about their marriage? She must not have.
“A mechanic even now,” Ahsoka teased lightly.
Padmé set down her champagne glass and rose to her feet. “I’ll show you the issue.”
She ushered him into the kitchen, and a younger Artoo whirred knowingly. He kept his dome head facing Ahsoka, who leaned forward on the couch.
“Artoo,” Ahsoka narrowed her eyes, “do you know something I don’t?”
Artoo beeped an innocent negative, and the holo video shorted out.
Luke wondered if the three of them acted as a family unit in public without meaning to. Padmé was clearly fond of Ahsoka, as was Anakin. He wondered if his arrival into the world, and his sister’s, was planned.
But that thought only brought a feeling of immense tragedy. He didn’t even know how to begin processing that, so he shut it down.
Artoo explained that Ahsoka left the Jedi Order after being falsely accused of a crime. It nearly broke Anakin, but it was Padmé that saved him.
Anakin battled in the Outer Rim Sieges for months, and returned to the news that Padmé was pregnant. Anakin made plans to renounce his ties to the Jedi Order, and Padmé made plans to run away to Naboo so they could raise their children in peace.
The problem? Chancellor Palpatine. The vile Dark Lord that Luke knew as the Emperor.
Artoo explained that Anakin had nightmares of Padmé’s death and sought answers to prevent it. Since their marriage was a secret, Anakin could trust no one. Not even Obi-Wan.
When Chancellor Palpatine, a man who Anakin knew to be a kind friend and mentor, a man who sunk his claws into Anakin early in life, offered to help Anakin, he was in no position to argue.
Anakin did what most would have in his situation. He wanted Padmé to live. He wanted Luke and Leia to be safe. He wanted a happy life on Naboo and to raise his children.
Luke felt a silent tear slip down his cheek, because he knew what was going to happen.
Artoo played footage of Chancellor Palpatine donning the black cloak of an Emperor. He told his father to kneel, and he did. He told his father to pledge himself to the Dark Side, and he did.
“You shall be known as...Darth Vader,” the Emperor proclaimed, all yellow snake eyes and evil cackles.
Anakin sold his soul to a monster for empty promises. The Emperor promised him salvation, but he got damnation.
Artoo detailed the Republic’s fall, but Luke blurred the more disturbing facts out. It was the Emperor’s fault by proxy, and he fashioned Anakin into an emotionless weapon.
Well, not emotionless. After the Emperor blamed Anakin for Padmé’s death, all that Darth Vader felt was anguish and anger. That was something.
The truth of the matter, though, had Artoo proceed to roll a clip.
Artoo was positioned at the window to a hospital room. Inside the room was a droid positioned near his mother’s waist. Padmé laid clad in white on the table, metal prongs covering her skirts. Obi-Wan stood near her head, looking as if he aged several years in minutes.
The droid told her to push, and Luke paled as white as a sheet.
Padmé screamed, and pushed, and cried so loud that Luke wanted to apologize to a ghost for causing her pain.
Time passed, and a wailing baby was cradled by the birthing droid. It lowered the crying child into Obi-Wan’s arms, and he brought the baby to Padmé’s eye level.
“A boy,” the droid said.
Luke’s eyes widened as his mother spoke his name into being.
She made one syllable sound like music.
For a fleeting second, Luke felt a mother’s love tap him on the shoulder. His eyes welled up.
A second child was brought into the world, and the droid showed Padmé. This baby was wailing twice as loud, and Luke had to laugh through his tears.
Even in her first seconds, Leia was a storm.
“A girl,” the droid said.
Padmé spoke her name into existence, and that, too, sounded like a two-tone harmony. Her name was as delicate as a flower.
Leia, though, was anything but.
Padmé suddenly looked short of breath, and tears slipped unbidden down her flushed face. Amongst crying twins, Obi-Wan observed her concernedly.
As Luke watched the life drain out of his mother’s body, her final words resounded like an echoing bell in his mind.
“There is good in him.”
Luke could barely breathe as he remembered his own words to his father.
“I know there is good in you. You’ve only forgotten.”
Luke thinks Padmé would be proud for doing what she couldn’t: save his father.
The final holo blinked out, and Artoo powered down his holo projector. Luke absently wiped away tears from his cheeks, and Artoo beeped sympathetically.
“I’m okay, Artoo,” Luke sniffled. “Really.”
Artoo wheeled closer to Luke’s bedside and whirred sadly.
Luke placed a hand on Artoo’s dome head, and smiled. “Thank you for doing what you could. It may not seem like it, but this helped.”
Artoo beeped out ‘consider this a terrible birthday gift.’
Luke chuckled wetly. “It’s a thoughtful gift. Thank you. Can you bring Leia here for me?”
Artoo booped an affirmative and wheeled out of the medbay.
After hours of unloading the Ghost cargo area, Ezra sat on an empty weapons canister. He had stripped off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves to bare his arms completely. His skin was sweaty, so it stuck on his shirt, making it transparent on his stomach. His hair was a tad damp, and curled around his ears.
When Kanan insisted upon manual labor rather than using the Force, Ezra didn’t think it would take such a toll on him. He worked out pretty often, but apparently not often enough. Kanan barely broke a sweat, and Ezra wanted to throw him out of an airlock.
Ezra swiped the back of his hand over his forehead and took deep breaths. His heart was pounding in his throat, and the air conditioning was finally kicking in.
Sabine ascended the cargo ramp, carrying two bottles of water. She handed him one and said slyly, “are you actively trying to look like a holo model right now?”
Ezra gave her the most puzzled look he could manage in his exhaustion. He glanced at the positioning of his legs. It was a regular positioning. He was sitting normally. He looked totally normal.
“What?” He asked breathlessly.
Sabine snorted incredulously. “You really don’t know? Come on, Ezra.”
Ezra paused to tip water into his mouth, feeling infinitely better, but just as perplexed. “Know what?”
Without explaining herself, she held up a holo recorder and snapped a picture. She threw the holo in the air, and Ezra scrambled to catch it in his free hand.
When the holo laid in his palm, Sabine said, “tell Luke that’s a birthday gift from me.”
Ezra pursed his lips, staring down at the holo as Sabine left the cargo hold.
What in the stars was that?
It was nightfall by the time Leia was summoned to the medbay. Luke spent the entire day watching Artoo’s holo videos, and she was glad he wanted to tell her about it.
Leia gladly ended her long workday. Since Han wasn’t due to dock for another hour, Leia had time to waste.
She entered the medbay and noticed a difference in Luke right away. Whatever knowledge he had gleaned may have been painful, but he held himself with a little more confidence. He was wiser than he was hours earlier.
Leia sat at Luke’s bedside, and Artoo wheeled away, leaving them alone.
“If we’re doing this,” Leia said, “answer my questions only. I don’t want to know everything. I’d rather live in my blissful ignorance, thank you.”
“Except for a few things?”
“Okay.” Leia asked, “am I like our father?”
Luke worried his bottom lip. After a beat, he nodded.
Leia bowed her head. “Karabast.”
“No,” Luke murmured, “I don’t mean...like that. Not in a bad way. Our father was good once, okay? I’m like him too.”
Leia shook her head. “That’s not helping. I...I can’t reconcile that…”
“He was a person?”
“Right. I can’t see beyond...well, beyond Darth Vader.”
“Do you?” Leia’s eyes widened as she studied Luke. “Do you really?”
“Yes, Leia,” Luke replied, “I do.”
Leia exhaled through her nose and asked, “what’s our mother like?”
“She’s like us,” Luke said with a bitter smile. “Padmé was extraordinary. All of our goodness comes from her.”
“I wanna hear about her,” Leia decided. “Not our father. Her.”
Luke cleared her throat. “In the first holo, she was fourteen. She was Queen of Naboo, and she was disguised as a handmaiden. She was cunning, and loved adventuring, and spoke as well as you do in front of crowds.”
Leia found herself hanging on every word. “What else?”
“She has a pretty voice. I know that’s weird to say, but she was effortless. Her voice was…”
Luke blinked. “Yes.”
“That’s how you speak, sometimes,” Leia observed. “I figured it was because you were a zen Jedi and everything. But I guess not.”
“Padmé was incredible,” Luke continued. “She secured a peace treaty with the Gungans. The speech was simplistic, but the entire crowd hung onto every word. She prepared them all for a battle that they won. And later, she was instrumental in the Senate. She did everything she could to end the Clone Wars.”
“She didn’t,” Leia frowned, “but wars don’t end with words.”
Luke grinned knowingly. “Sure they do.”
“In your case, sure. But fighting couldn’t be avoided.”
“Dear sister,” Luke drolled, “you must believe in your own abilities. Words have power. You should know this, considering your position.”
Leia didn’t feel like refuting him anymore, so she asked, “how does Artoo know so much?”
“He was our mother’s astromech.”
“He’s a Nubian royal class droid from before the Clone Wars.”
“Unbelievable,” Leia breathed. “What a little scamp!”
“He waited for one or both of us to be ready,” Luke explained. “He knew a lot.”
Leia hesitated, glancing down at her lap. She thought her final question through carefully, then decided it was fine to ask it. Leia’s lip quivered, and her eyes slid back up to Luke’s.
“Did they love us?” She asked, so quietly Luke almost didn’t catch it.
Luke smiled softly. “Yes. They both loved us very much.” He patted Leia’s hand. “Our mother gave us our names, you know,” he murmured. “At least we’ll always have that.”
Leia matched his smile. “Really?”
Leia said softly, “then yes, we’ll always have that.”
After taking a trip to the fresher and changing his clothes inside the Ghost, the freighter docked back at base. Ezra eagerly descended the ramp first, eyes widening at the Falcon docked across from them.
Chewbacca pulled down his goggles as he fixed a loose armor plate on the Falcon’s nose. He saw Ezra and yowled to the man still inside the ship.
Ezra glided towards the Falcon, absentmindedly zipping up his rust-colored jacket. His mind wandered to the time Luke wore it, and he pushed the sudden memory down.
Han’s head poked out from the side of the ramp, and he laughed. “You made it back!”
He jogged down the ramp, and they clapped backs in a manly hug. Because they were manly.
“I’m glad I won’t have to endure Luke’s sad face,” Han said as he stepped back. “This was a near disaster, I tell you!”
Ezra chuckled. “I promised him I’d be here. What time is it?”
“Twenty-two standard hours,” Han said. “Good job, man. Honestly.”
“I should get to him. He might sense me here.”
“You should get some sleep too.”
“Yeah,” Han said, running a nervous hand through his hair, “I will.”
“See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. See ya.”
Ezra smiled, already giddy upon sensing Luke’s Force signature. He was in that stage where he couldn’t fall asleep yet, his mind stubborn on awaiting Ezra’s arrival.
He spun around, and saw the entire Ghost crew raising eyebrows at his sudden change in demeanor. And sure, Ezra was happy, but until now, he didn’t realize how he walked with lighter steps, stood at his full height. How his own aura brightened when Luke was near, as if Ezra were already soaking up his boyfriend’s radiance.
Ezra dampened himself, and asked nonchalantly, “are you sticking around base for a while? Or are you off somewhere else?”
As captain of the Ghost, Hera replied, “we’ll be around.” A half-smirk was on her face, and Ezra chose not to capitalize on it.
Sabine winked at him, and Ezra pursed his lips. They’ve all been acting strange today.
Or maybe it was Ezra who had changed.
“Well,” Ezra said, “good night.”
“Good night,” Hera said, and she held down Sabine’s hand as she waved jokingly.
A sweet scent filled Luke’s nose as the medbay door slid open. A familiar Force presence caressed him like an extra blanket, and Luke smiled in the darkness.
The mattress dipped, and the door hissed closed. Ezra laid in the open space on Luke’s bed. Luke kept his eyes closed and felt Ezra’s fingers brush away his bangs.
“Hey, babe,” Luke mumbled.
“Hey,” Ezra whispered.
“How did it go?”
“Just fine. Easy peasy.”
Ezra held back Luke’s bangs, and on a whim, pressed his lips against Luke’s forehead. Luke melted into his touch, head sinking further into the pillow.
“Sweet dreams, love,” Ezra murmured.
“Sweet dreams,” Luke said softly.
Chewbacca chortled at Han. He was currently sporting an apron, his cheek and hair stuck with baking powder after making Leia her favorite pastry.
The chocolate pastry laid on a tray beside a strong cup of tea. Han had scrounged supplies from the base kitchens at four in the morning. Han was a decent cook, so the pastry turned out fine.
“Oh, hush!” Han shot good-naturedly at Chewie. “Keep this between us!”
Chewbacca laughed and shook his head. ‘No way,’ was the basic takeaway.
Han sighed and keyed open the bedroom door. Leia was asleep in a silk pearly nightgown, her hair done up in several braids pinned to the back of her head. Even now, in the most unnecessary of settings, Leia was regal.
Whether it was him or the Force that did it, Han didn’t know, but Leia opened her eyes accordingly.
She blinked up at him, and immediately started laughing into her pillow. She covered her face with her arms as she turned to the side, the pillow failing to muffle her loud laughter.
Han sighed, and set the tray on the foot of her bed. He untied the apron and threw it at Chewie, who chortled and allowed the bedroom door to close.
“Yeah, yeah,” Han said dryly, “I look hilarious. I know. Can we move on?”
Leia clutched her stomach and cut off her laughter. Her head turned on the pillow and she sat up, wiping tears from her eyes.
Han hadn’t seen her this elated in...well, he couldn’t remember.
A grin lingered on Leia’s face as she remarked, “the apron looked good on you. I appreciate the extra effort.”
“Yeah, well,” Han gestured to the tray, “happy birthday. I made you that weird breakfast thing you like. And also tea.”
“I see that,” Leia said, amusement in her smile and her eyes and her everything. She pulled the tray forward and sat in a crisscross position, tucking her legs out from underneath the covers.
She glanced at the pastry in hesitation. Her eyes slid up to his nervous expression, then back at the food.
Han scoffed. “Don’t yank my chain, sweetheart.”
Leia chuckled. “I’m gonna have so much fun today.”
She took a bite of the pastry, and struggled to seem nonplussed. It was good, but she couldn’t let Han know that. He already had enough issues with his ego.
Leia made an ‘its okay’ gesture. “Better than I thought, though, pirate.”
Han narrowed his eyes. “Liar.”
Leia took a sip of tea to mask her face. “Whatever do you mean?”
Han somehow read something in her, and he grinned as if he got a checkmate in holo chess. “It’s good. Admit I’m a good cook!”
“Sure, sweetheart,” Leia said, mocking Han’s smooth tone.
Han gaped openly. He tilted his head to the side. There was a long pause, and Leia casually bit into the pastry.
“You’re lucky it’s your birthday, princess,” Han said coolly.
Leia smiled innocently and chewed her breakfast.
Luke could honestly say he was never soothed awake before.
He was on a bed of clouds, and his blanket was the softest material he ever felt. He wasn’t sure if this was the Force’s doing or his own, but he couldn’t complain.
Consciousness usually came upon him as a rising tidal wave, sometimes as violent as a whiplash. The only time he felt well rested was when he healed from an injury, such as the blaster bolt that went through his stomach.
Though this morning, Luke felt that the normal wave was calmer than usual. It did not snap him awake. It was as gentle as a fingertip brushing across his cheek.
Swathed in light and clouds and safety, Luke did not fear consciousness. Not this time.
A light enveloped him. Whether it was his own light or the Force’s light, he wasn’t sure. But it was a warm light, and a comforting light.
Luke went into it, and his eyes fluttered open.
The medbay lights, normally harsh, were softer than normal. His eyes did not burn upon contact.
All that he learned yesterday made him immune to an unknown evil. An ignorant evil within himself that crept on him, creeping and creeping until it threatened to swallow him whole.
But it was gone. Gone forever.
A lightness overcame his aura, and his eyes comprehended another pair of eyes gazing upon him. These eyes were a darker blue than his own, and filled with affection. It was all for him, and he smiled.
“Happy birthday, Luke,” Ezra murmured.
“Oh,” Luke teased, “do you know what would make me happy?”
Ezra eyes danced with unheard laughter. “No, love. What would that be?”
Luke moved forward on his uninjured side. He got very close to Ezra, close enough that he could see the flecks of different shades of blue in Ezra’s eyes. He brushed their noses together, and the beginnings of a smile curved Ezra’s mouth upwards.
As Ezra’s eyes fluttered closed, Luke barely brushed their lips together. Ezra practically whined for more contact, and Luke paused purposefully before making his next move.
With a little bite, Luke captured Ezra’s full bottom lip between his teeth. Luke could feel the exact second Ezra’s mind shorted out, and Ezra emitted a breathy moan.
Then, Luke slid his lips away abruptly. The whimper that erupted from Ezra’s mouth had Luke smirking.
Luke tasted Ezra on his tongue, and he said cockily, “happy birthday to me!”
Ezra’s eyes snapped open, and as Luke rolled away, Ezra rolled towards him. His gaze was incredulous, and he asked genuinely, “are you gonna torture me today?”
Luke batted his lashes primly. “Maybe.”
Ezra turned into his pillow. “Guess I won’t give you your gifts.”
Luke inhaled sharply. He rolled back to his uninjured side. “Plural?”
Ezra played coy, staring at the ceiling. “There’s no Luke here to receive his gifts. What a shame.”
“Ez,” Luke sighed, “I’m sorry, okay? I won’t torture you. That much.”
Ezra beamed. “I was kiddin’, Luke.” He kissed Luke’s cheek to soften his ire, then skittered out of the hospital bed. “Of course you can have your gifts. And first up,” Ezra stood and opened a drawer, “is a new tunic from Aphra.”
Ezra unfolded the garment, and the tunic was a soft cream color on top, but became a dark navy blue on the bottom. It was ombré, working from a white to a blue color palette, matching Luke’s skin and eyes perfectly.
Luke gasped, gaze sparkling at the style. “Leia’s gonna love me for wearing this! It’s wonderful!”
Ezra tossed him the garment, and Luke changed tunics smoothly. Ezra averted his gaze from Luke, knowing Luke wouldn’t want him to see the ugly red gash on his stomach.
“What do you think?” Luke’s soft voice asked.
Ezra turned his cheek back towards the bed, and Luke could see the exact second his mind froze.
Ezra’s breath caught in his throat, but he managed, “it suits you.”
“Yeah?” Luke brightened, smoothing out the blue portion of the tunic gathered at his thighs. “You think so?”
Ezra smiled gently, facing Luke fully. “Yeah.”
There was a moment where their eye contact never broke, not even for a split second. There were worlds in Ezra’s gaze, and Luke could only puncture through a few layers in so little time.
But the fact that Ezra let him look to his heart’s content made Luke feel warm inside.
Ezra cleared his throat to get them back on track. “The next gift,” he went into another drawer and pulled out a physical holo frame, “is from Ace Squadron.”
Ezra set the frame on Luke’s nightstand, which was empty save for some tunics and jewelry.
Luke smiled at the holo of Ace Squadron taking a group photo after their first mission together. That was a little over a year ago, and Luke was reminded of the nerves he felt as a Commander. With Wedge as his Major, though, Luke felt better once he got in the air. The mission went well, and they earned up to their squadron name.
“I love it,” Luke said. “Wedge is so thoughtful.”
“Is he now?”
Despite the seriousness of Ezra’s tone, Luke knew it was in jest. He giggled. “Very funny.”
Ezra winked playfully. “Your next gift...well,” his smile fell, “I can’t explain it, really. It’s from Sabine.”
Ezra retrieved a holo from his pants pocket and set it in Luke’s lap. Luke gathered it in his hands and flicked it on.
Upon seeing the holo of Ezra that Sabine captured, Luke’s eyes went as wide as saucers. He suddenly felt more than warm. Very hot. He felt very, very hot. He was burning from the inside out. His mouth was dry. He swallowed thickly to moisten it.
He was on fire, and Luke soldiered past his embarrassment. Sabine was a menace. He loved her so much.
Ezra’s words caught up with Luke, and he asked, “what don’t you understand?”
“Um,” Ezra blinked, “why she took my holo. I don’t understand. I was just taking a break after lifting all these heavy boxes! It had been hours since I sat, and I was sweating, and I was trying to breathe while I had a minute alone. Then all of a sudden, Sabine’s taking my holo and saying it’s for you!” Ezra’s gaze raked over Luke frantically. “What am I missing? I don’t understand, Luke!”
At his boyfriend’s incredulity, Luke had to prevent his mouth from upturning. He tried to figure out what to say, but found that he couldn’t express it in exactly the right way. Not how he wanted to, anyway.
But it was Luke’s birthday, and for once, he decided not to mince his words, as Leia had taught him. He was going to have some fun. He was going to tell Ezra the complete truth about what he felt about the holo in his hands.
Luke murmured, “c’mere, babe.”
He wasn’t using the words in the right context, and by the shock alone, Ezra drifted forward. Half of the bed was empty due to Luke crossing his legs, so Ezra took up the available space hesitantly.
“If I were there with you,” Luke said, “and I saw you sitting there, just looking like that,” he paused, “I would have thrown you over my shoulder, carried you off, and made love to you in your old bed.”
There was a beat, and Ezra held up a shaky finger. He blinked rapidly, and glanced down at the bedspread. A blush stained his cheeks, creeping up his shirt collar, and Luke thought it was positively adorable.
“Um,” Ezra swallowed thickly, a lump in his throat, “huh?” His voice sounded soft and weak, almost thin.
“You’re hot, Ezra. Very, very hot,” Luke said seriously.
“Oh,” Ezra said softly. He blushed harder. “I-I wasn’t trying, but um...thank you?”
“Exactly,” Luke said, “you weren’t trying. You simply were.” The holo picture timed out, and Luke held the disc in his hands. “This one is my favorite so far.”
Ezra laughed nervously. “Don’t get used to it, huh?”
Luke hummed. “Now where’s your gift to me?”
“T-to you?” Ezra was still completely flustered.
Luke thought it was so cute. Ezra rarely acted this way. So caught off guard.
“Yes. As in,” Luke emphasized, “the gift you got me.”
“Right.” Ezra cleared his throat. “Yes. It’s, uh,” he rose from the bed and went into another drawer, “it’s not that good. I-I mean,” he smiled sheepishly back at Luke, “it’s no japor snippet. It’s just...a bunch of little things, I guess. Um.”
Ezra pulled out a small box from inside the drawer, something he must have built himself. The boards were uneven, but they did the job.
He set the box near Luke’s uninjured side so he could peer into it. Ezra sat next to the box, a blush permanently affixed to his olive-skinned face, and plucked out Luke’s pilot’s tags.
“I ordered a new pair issued to you,” Ezra said. “I-I thought your originals were starting to rust. So, um. Yeah. I stripped away the list of your accomplishments, because I know it makes you feel weird. So on the back, it’s blank except for,” Ezra turned around the gleaming metal tag, “this decal of a lightsaber. Thought you’d like it.”
Luke grasped the tag, examining the decal carefully. “Yeah,” he murmured, “it’s nice.”
His eyes flickered up to Ezra, and they looked away before they could make eye contact. Ezra was still flustered, and Luke wondered how long this reaction would last. Luke was having such fun!
Ezra set down the pilot’s tags in the box, and revealed a bracelet similar to the one Luke gave Ezra two days earlier. Ezra’s bracelet had not left his wrist since, so Luke knew this was recently made, perhaps on the Ghost yesterday.
“I, uh,” Ezra said softly, “wanted to make you a rainbow bracelet like you did for me. But I noticed how you, uh, did colors that best suited me. So I picked colors that suit you.”
Luke picked up the bracelet and examined the beads. Ezra must have stolen paint from Sabine, because he had multiple shades of the same color. The first bead was cream-colored, then slowly became bright yellow, like the sun. A few more beads later, the yellow became blood orange, like the twin suns of Tatooine. The orange became dark green, then sky blue, and ended in deep purple. No red. No black. No gray. The darkest color was purple, and it was a reminder of the softness of the night sky, the richness to the pitch black atmosphere without stars.
Luke slipped the bracelet over his hand, and it settled comfortably on his wrist. “I love it,” he said genuinely.
Ezra smiled shyly and plucked out a new pair of leather pilot’s gloves. The design was different, but looked more comfortable than the pair Luke had now.
“The Chiss in your squadron, Reena, is dating a girl who, um,” Ezra explained, “designs all the uniforms. These are meant to be issued in a couple weeks, but I convinced them to give you the first pair. So here they are.”
Luke tried one on, and it fit his prosthetic hand perfectly. “Fantastic,” he said joyfully. “They fit wonderfully.”
Luke slipped off the glove and placed it in the box with its twin. “That it?”
“Yup,” Ezra said, his blush finally receding. “Mhm. Did I do okay?”
Luke grinned, cupping Ezra’s face in his hands abruptly. Ezra blinked in shock, but leaned forward a little.
Luke brought their lips together, and there was a gentleness there that nearly made him shiver. Ezra matched the softness of their pace, not making to intensify the press. The world bled out around them, and neither could care less.
Luke’s world became Ezra, the epicenter being his eyes. Luke studied the cerulean ring in Ezra’s eyes, fanning out into a darker shade, perhaps sapphire.
Luke inched back and, still grasping Ezra’s face, replied, “yes, you did okay.”
Ezra batted his lashes and kissed Luke again.
Leia flounced into the medbay and said, “stop making out with your boyfriend, Luke! It’s me time!”
Luke arched an eyebrow, and Leia frowned when she saw that he, in fact, wasn’t making out with Ezra.
What was wrong with him? Did he have no common sense?
Luke scoffed, Ezra blinking over at her from the foot of the bed. “Was that really what you were expecting? Come on, now. We have conversations too!”
“Yeah,” Ezra said, “we were just having a lovely conversation about how it was someone else’s birthday too, and how this person doesn’t really deserve a gift.”
Leia gaped. “Wow. Bold words. From both of you.” She grinned. “That’s alright. You know, this other person’s birthday who it is had a great gift. Had. I think I’ll keep it instead.”
Ezra glanced between the twins, wondering if he made a terrible error.
But Luke and Leia burst out laughing, and Ezra rested easy.
Leia pointed at Ezra. “His face!”
Luke held up a hand, and Leia high fived it.
“Good one,” Luke said amusedly.
“Ah,” Leia declared, “it’s a good day, isn’t it?”
“It seems that way.” Luke gestured to her outfit. “What’s this? A new skirt?”
Leia sat on Luke’s bedside, smoothing out a pleated skirt dyed light pink, going from waist to ankle. “Han got it for me. Can you believe it?!”
“No,” Luke said instantly, shaking his head. “You’re lying.”
“I’m not!” Leia beamed. “He pays attention sometimes!”
Luke shook his head fervently. “He had to have help. Sorry. Don’t buy it.”
“Ezra?” Leia prompted. “Thoughts?”
Ezra blinked dazedly upon being addressed, having been distracted by something. Probably Luke. “Uh...I agree with Luke. Don’t buy it.”
“Anyway,” Leia rolled her eyes and dug into a hidden pocket in her skirts. She tossed a box in Luke’s lap, and he caught it sloppily. “Here’s your gift, twin bro.”
Luke flipped open the box and furrowed his brows. “Uh...I don’t like you like that, Leia.”
Leia stuck out her tongue. “Don’t be gross. It’s a copy of my ring.” She held up her hand, revealing her engagement ring and a second ring on her middle finger. “The one I always wear, silly.”
“The one you’ve always had. Oh.” Luke pulled the ring out of the box. “I’m still confused.”
“The rings were forged together! Do I have to spell this out for you?” Leia snorted.
“Oh,” Luke said softly. “Okay. And they’re from…”
“Duh! Yes! From Alderaan.”
Ezra bristled, blinking between the two. Knowing Luke wouldn’t appreciate it if he left, he remained there, paralyzed.
Luke put the ring on his middle finger and tugged Leia in a long hug.
“Dork,” Leia said, “there’s no need to cause a scene.”
“Yes there is,” Luke said non-negotiably, holding her tightly.
After a moment, Luke relinquished his hold on Leia, who had since gone quiet. They didn’t say anything, and Luke patted Leia’s hand.
“Ez,” Luke said, “go into the left drawer. There’s a wrapped box.”
Needing to be of service, Ezra rose from the bed and dug into the drawer. He procured a box wrapped in glitter paper. Leia took it from him, and Ezra sat back down.
“How did you get glitter paper?” Leia inquired.
“I made it,” Luke admitted.
Leia grinned up at Luke. “What?”
“I’m so fucking bored, Leia,” Luke said seriously.
Leia giggled, and Ezra chimed in with a snort-laugh that was completely ugly, in her opinion. But Luke seemed to be fond of it, and she fought back the urge to ‘aww.’
Leia carefully ripped the glitter paper, revealing another box. It was a jewelry chest, but she knew it couldn’t be jewelry inside.
She unlatched the box, and an army of hair ties and pins were inside, of nearly every color and style. Some even had small jewels and painted flowers on them!
To Leia, this was priceless. Screw Han and the fashionable clothes he bought. This was the best gift ever!
“My dear, sweet, thoughtful twin brother,” Leia cooed, “I love you so very much.”
“See that?” Luke said to Ezra. “My, how the tables have turned.”
“Yes,” Ezra agreed, “they have, indeed.”
“LEIA! Why did ya lock the door?!”
Luke and Ezra’s heads snapped towards Leia.
She smiled innocently. She sang, “I’m coming, fiancé!”
Leia allowed her skirts to swish as she made it to the medbay door. She keyed in the code, and a perplexed Han was at the open door.
Han stepped inside and gestured wildly with his hands. “Aphra’s coming over here any minute with everyone. What are ya doin’?”
Leia smiled sweetly. “Just exchanging gifts, dear. What do you mean by everyone?”
‘Everyone’ burst inside the medbay. The pack was led by Chewbacca and the droids. Aphra was next, and Sabine filed in shortly after.
Leia realized that both women looked flushed, but she decided to leave the observation unsaid.
Chewie yowled greetings and hugged both twins tightly. Aphra asked how Luke liked the tunic, and Luke said he absolutely loved it. And Leia had to admit: the ombré did suit her brother.
Sabine hugged the twins warmly, winking at Luke. He put both thumbs up, and Sabine beamed, nudging her head as if toasting to something only they knew about. Ezra blushed at the exchange, and Leia wished she were in on whatever happened.
Oh well. She could settle for being pampered alongside her brother on their birthday.