The woman is sun-drenched and covered in dust, nose peeling red, and her eyes are the strangest eyes he’s ever seen.
She catches him staring and squints at him cheerfully through the market crowd, before he can look away. The vaporator parts in his hands are hot under the mid-day suns, and there are just enough credits left in his satchel to bring some nice fruit back for his aunt, and he should really, really go, before—
“Hiya,” the woman says, wandering towards him, and he stays where he is, caught by a—a feeling. The woman’s eyes don’t match her face. There’s a terrible oldness to her, trapped behind a mask of youth, and it’s impossibly strange. For just a moment, he wonders—
Well. He wonders, that’s all.
“Are you, perhaps, a local?” she asks, as she sidles up to him, completely without subtlety. “Not that I’m not a local, ‘course, ‘cos I absolutely could be, look at me, blendin’ in—”
“You’re really not from around here,” he breathes, taking in her pale, reddened cheeks, the strange fabric of her coat.
She deflates, shoulders sinking, nose wrinkling. “That obvious?”
He raises his eyebrows helplessly.
“I get the feeling being obvious is a rather poor idea round here.” Her nose wrinkles. “Lots of blokes with guns wandering about. Where, exactly,” she coughs, awkwardly, “is here? If you don’t mind me askin’. Been wandering the desert for days, landed my ship and then before I could blink, it got carted off by these little—well, these little—” Her nose wrinkles again, this time in irritation.
“Oh,” he says, grimacing in sympathy. “Jawas. They do that.”
“Do they now?” She looks at him more closely. The weight of her gaze is heavy. She tilts her head, frowning. “Very odd,” she mutters, apparently to herself. But she smoothes the frown away, still looking at him intently. “You wouldn’t happen to know where I could get it back,” she ventures. “Would you?”
“You’re in Mos Eisley,” he tells her, and there’s no tell-tale flash of recognition, no sigh of relief. “They usually set up on the edge of town. You might be able to buy it back,” he says, doubtfully, struck by the feeling that this woman, whoever she is, isn’t the type to carry a lot of credits on her. “Or—well, or trade for it, maybe.”
She grins, wide.
“There’s nothing in the whole universe I could trade for it,” she tells him. “It’s priceless, my ship.”
“Sure,” he says, politely, though he’s heard pilot upon pilot say just the same. It’s funny, though—she doesn’t strike him as a pilot, exactly. Or a smuggler, or a trader. There’s not a weapon on her that he can see.
“Well, I’m sure I’ll find a way,” she says, still grinning in a way that strikes him as trouble, regardless. There’s an itch beneath his skin, that aching want in the pit of him. No matter who she is, or what she does, her eyes have seen the stars. She’s seen more of everything than he could ever hope to.
“I could help you,” he says, too quickly, without enough thought. “I mean, just if you want.” And maybe you could take me with you, after.
Her gaze grows heavy again.
“Where did you say we were, again?” she asks.
“Planet, not town.”
He blinks, frowning. “Tatooine.”
Her lips part, and her eyes follow the skyline, up, up, to the two suns hanging in the sky. She sighs, quiet. Then she smiles, like she’s just remembered some secret.
“Of course,” she says. Her eyes travel back to him, old, old. “I’d love your help. I’d love to help you, here, with your blokes and their guns.” The turn of her mouth goes wistful. “But I’m afraid this isn’t my story. I think I’ve travelled a bit sideways. Always was a rubbish pilot,” she raises a finger to the side of her burnt nose, “but don’t ever tell anyone I admitted to it.”
“I won’t,” he promises, meaning it. Not that there’s anyone to tell.
She smiles again, taking in the parts still in his hands. She nods to them.
“Better run home with that, before it gets evening.”
Suddenly, he feels a bit silly, red rushing to his cheeks, the ground solid, solid under his feet. Home. Of course. Where else is there to go?
“Yeah,” he admits. “You’ll be alright? Really? Jawas aren’t big, but they’re—”
“I’ll be just fine, as long as I get a shift on,” she says. “Go on, then. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, maybe.” He nods to her, once, strange and nameless, as he turns to go.
He turns, already steps away.
In the thick of the crowd, she’s still easily spottable, blonde hair glinting in the sunlight.
“Good luck,” she says, smiling, before she disappears into the throng of people.
Huh, he thinks, absently, caught again by that same, irrepressible pull. That strange feeling at the back of his neck.
He’d never told her his name.
He doesn’t see those eyes again for a very long time.
When she’s thrown bodily into the processing cell, there’s already a tall, thin man, who lunges to his feet and throws himself at the cell door as it swooshes closed.
“Donna!” the man shouts, fist pounding against the smooth metal. “Donna! What have you done with her? What have you done?” There’s a tinge to his voice, something authoritative and intimidating that belies his thin frame, his weird, spiky hair. When the only reply he receives is the bang of a blaster against the door, a warning, he turns and sags against the wall, knees bending up towards his chest as he sits. He clangs his head against the metal, once.
“Oh, I am going to be in so much trouble,” he mutters, nose wrinkling. “Deadlock sealed, these doors.” He pulls a strange, metal tube out of his pocket, fumbles with it gracelessly. “Useless,” he mutters in disgust. “I was aiming for a resort near Poosh, can you imagine? Instead, I think I landed us in the maintenance cupboard of a warship.” The disgust in his voice grows, even though he pops the ‘p’ on the end of warship. “Try explaining that to the blokes out there, though. Trigger happy, the lot of them. Terrible aim, mind.”
The man finally stops talking long enough to look Leia in the eye. There’s something—oddly familiar, in those specks of brown and green. His face is young, but those eyes are old. There’s a coldness to them that chills the back of her neck.
“Are you a Jedi?” she asks shrewdly, frowning. Obi-Wan is dead. She’s seen the way Luke looks, when he thinks there’s no one watching. Like there’s an empty space in his chest, an abscess that nothing will fill. She doesn’t care about the Force, doesn’t care about the Jedi. Fairytales won’t help them win this war. But a bit of hope—
“No,” the strange, thin man says. She doesn’t like the way he looks at her. “No, I’m afraid not. What did you say your name was?”
Leia’s scowl deepens. “I didn’t.” You laserbrain, she adds privately.
The man stares for another moment, watching, searching. “No,” he breathes eventually. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t. Do they know who you are, out there?”
She swallows. “No,” she admits tightly. As soon as they’d been captured, she’d twisted her hair out of her braids and into something less conspicuous. It’s a solution that will only hold for so long.
The man raises his eyebrows. “Better keep it that way, then. This galaxy,” he shakes his head. “A right mess. I never mean to come here, it’s like walking into a spider’s web of fixed points. Your whole galaxy is a headache.” A finger waves her way, almost accusingly. “A big, headachey—headache. And you—”
His lips purse, like he’s realized that perhaps he’s said enough.
“What about me?” Leia whispers. The chill on the back of her neck won’t go away.
“Oh, you’ll find out,” the man says thinly, avoiding her gaze. There’s a grief to him, Leia thinks, watching the sharp slump of shoulders. A grief that sucks everything into its orbit.
But maybe it’s better that the man isn’t a Jedi after all, she finds herself thinking uneasily.
“Fixed points,” the man mutters to himself, half-ignoring her now, which irritates her more than it should. “I hate fixed points. Though, on the other hand—”
His strange gaze fixes on her again, and he springs to his feet, coat fluttering with the movement.
“I think your friends are about to bust through the door,” he says with a grin, metal tube spinning cheerfully in his fingers. “Come on, Princess! Allons-y! Places to be and all that! And maybe,” he says, still grinning madly as Han blasts down the door, hollering at them to get back, Chewie roaring behind him, “we’ll meet again, one day.”
Everyone else is asleep, and there’s a man who shouldn’t be, on the Naboo Royal Starship. In the Force, he feels like a dent in the fabric. Up close, he feels like a ragged, aching wound.
His face is new, but his eyes are very old.
“I didn’t see you get on the ship,” he says, looking up, up, into a face that barely glances at him. The man smells like fire and dust. His jacket is ragged with blaster-fire.
“Accident,” the man mutters, raspy. “Didn’t mean to land here. The whole universe was on fire, and then it wasn’t.” He laughs, suddenly, rasping, white teeth glinting terribly. “Bound to be some hiccups. I got caught in an eddy. Carried here by the time winds. Sideways.”
The man is shaking.
“I should leave,” he says, but he doesn’t. There’s a window to his left, hyperspace leaking past in a blur.
“You can’t,” he says. “The ship won’t stop until we get to Coruscant.”
“I walk in eternity,” the man says, still shaking. “I can leave whenever I want.”
But the man doesn’t leave. Instead, he braces a fumbling hand on the wall and slides to the floor underneath the window, into the corner. He breathes out, harshly, and a whisper of gold escapes his mouth like breath. It dissipates into the air.
Like magic, he thinks. But there’s no such thing as magic. Only the Force. Maybe the man is a Jedi, too. Even without robes, even without a beard, without a lightsaber.
“Are you a Jedi?” he asks, just to be sure.
The man frowns, slowly. For the first time, he looks at him and sees him. Sunk to the ground, they’re almost eye to eye. It’s nice, he thinks, even though the man’s eyes are sad and angry and a thousand things that no one else will let him talk about. No one else will look him in the eye, either. He’s only awake because he misses Mom, but no one will say anything about her. No one will answer him when he asks when they’ll go back for her.
No one will tuck him back into bed, either, and so he’s just—awake. Wandering.
“No,” the man says. “Are you?”
“No.” He shakes his head, small fists whitening in the fabric of the blanket wrapped around his shoulders. “Not yet.”
“One day,” the man breathes.
“One day, I’ll be the strongest Jedi there ever was.”
“One day,” the man agrees. A tear slides down his cheek. “What’s your name?”
“Anakin,” he answers, and the man closes his eyes, nodding like he’s heard the answer to something he already knew but didn’t want to admit. More tears slide down his cheeks. Definitely not a Jedi, then.
Anakin frowns. He’s seen this before. Grown-ups, breaking under the weight of things. When he’d used to cry, Mom had always sang to him, or told him stories. But there’s something about the crying man that makes him think maybe they’re all stories he’s heard before.
Instead, he takes the blanket from around his shoulders and throws it over the crying man’s legs. He’s seen this before. Sometimes, all you can do is sleep, and wait.
The man doesn’t stop crying, but his breaths become slower. More gold trickles from his lips. Anakin watches it wisp away quietly. Then he tucks himself up against the man, under the blanket.
He smells like fire and dust.
“I’m sorry,” he thinks he hears the man whisper, just as he finally drifts off. “I was just a boy, once, too.”
He dreams of a desert, and a barn, and a sky with two suns.
In the morning, the man is gone.
“You say you’re a doctor,” she says, still trembling with adrenaline. They’ve escaped Cloud City by the skin of their teeth, all of them, stashed the Falcon on some backwater moon, hidden out of sight while they wait for further orders. But her voice doesn’t shake. “Can you fix him?”
“No.” The older man is blunt. His voice is raspy, with an accent she can’t place. There’s something in his eyes that’s—familiar, almost. Something she can’t help but trust. She would never have let him on board otherwise, even if Chewie had put up a fuss. And Han—
Well. He isn’t here to say anything.
She closes her eyes at the words. She would sag against the wall, but she can’t stand the indignity of it. Dignity is all she has left. All she has left of anything.
“Then get out,” she tells him, exhausted. If Luke’s survived this long, then he’ll survive however many hours it’ll take to get back to base.
The man turns and stands from his crouch by the cot. His hair is white and wispy around his face, his clothing—strange. Strange, all of it. He’d stuck out like a sore thumb in the space-port, and there was something—
She shivers. Odd feelings, all day. Voices in her head. Things that she just knows, that she knows she shouldn’t.
“He’ll be fine, you know,” he says. “You humans, always getting yourselves into trouble you can’t fix—and then you go and survive, anyway. He’ll be fine.”
It should be a comfort, but somehow it’s not. She sits on the edge of the bench, gingerly.
“You can’t possibly know that,” she says, avoiding his strange, strange gaze. “Besides, aren’t you human?”
“I’m sorry,” he says, then. “I was looking for someone else, but I always seem to end up here by accident, right in the middle of things I have no business changing. Your galaxy, it’s one massive headache.”
At that, she lifts her head. She meets his gaze. Familiar, something breathes at the back of her neck.
“Who are you?” she demands quietly.
The smile stays. It gentles his face, softens the harsh lines, the ferocity of his eyebrows.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s just, I remember what it’s like. All that grief. Like swimming in soup.”
She won’t cry. She doesn’t, anymore.
“They’ve taken everything,” she says steadily. Anger pulses cold and bright behind her teeth. “My whole world.” My lover, she doesn’t say, but the absence sits like a stone in her stomach. And my best friend, too, because Luke might be unconscious in the cot across from her, but she has no doubt that the boy she knew is gone.
“I understand,” he says. His eyes are younger than his face, but she believes him, still. “I do.”
“You could help us,” she says, because she feels it. Behind this man’s eyes and his many faces, he has power the likes of which any of them can scarcely imagine. “Fight with us. Fight for us.”
“I’m not a soldier,” he says, with quiet distaste. But his eyes soften. “And I can’t, anyway. This story of yours, it’ll be yours to tell. Not mine. All I can do is watch.”
“Then why come? Why bother?” Her neck is tense with strain, tight with anger.
“It’s a story,” he says, meeting her gaze unflinchingly, “that deserves a witness.”
His temple is burning in the distance and his nephew is long gone. Behind him, he hears a wheezing, aching groan. The quiet creak of a door being opened.
“It’s you,” he says dully, recognizing the way the Force darts and flees from what’s behind him. “Isn’t it.”
“Sorry,” an unfamiliar voice says, young and sharp with grief. “Have we met before?”
“Go away,” Luke tells him.
The man ignores him. “I tend to meet my friends out of order, you see,” he continues. “Terribly confusing, especially ‘round Christmastime, you should see the mess of cards I get.”
“Is that what we are?” Luke asks. “Friends? I barely remember you. You’re different, every time I see you.”
Footsteps crunch into the gravel as the man approaches. When he sits beside him, on the edge of a rocky outcrop, smoke travelling on the breeze, his long legs dangle over the edge. The strangest hat Luke’s ever seen dwarfs the man’s head.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Aren’t we? My ship likes you. Your family, I should say. She finds destiny attractive.” His face twists into half a scowl. “Never said she had very good judgement. She let me steal her, after all.”
The man pauses, as Luke lets out a rasping chuckle. “Destiny?” he asks bitterly.
“Well,” the man says, taking in the scouring blaze, kilometres away. “Call it that if you like. Destiny. Fate. Series of fixed points in time. Never did put much stock in the stuff, me, but it’s hard to avoid, isn’t it. Where you’re going.” His drawling voice grows contemplative. Darker. “You always think you’re avoiding it, right up until the moment you get there.”
“I thought,” Luke says, after a long moment, “that things were going to be different.”
“Yes, well.” The man’s voice stays sharper, darker. “That’s how you lose. You can’t just throw yourself to the wind and assume that everything’s going to work out, you have to—”
His voice breaks.
“You have to choose,” he says, bitter. “But other people make their choices too, you see, so it—it doesn’t always—”
The rest of the words are swallowed by a gust of smoke that blows their way. Luke breathes it in numbly. The Force is a scorched and ragged thing, ducking around him, around the man, like it can’t quite decide what to do with them both.
“This was my fault,” Luke says quietly. The horror of it all will find him again, when he’s finally left, when he’s finally where he needs to go. But for now, he’s only—empty. “My choice.”
“You’re saying—it could have been different.”
“Maybe.” The man’s voice isn’t soft enough to be wistful, but there’s an edge of want to it. “I hope it could have been.”
“You’re not very comforting,” Luke says, a bit unkindly. He’s not sure he’s a very kind person, anymore. If there’s any point left to it. “Or very helpful. I’ve talked to ghosts that give better advice than you.”
“Well, I’m not a ghost, I’m just—” The man trails off. “Here. I’m just here.”
The man doesn’t answer. For a long moment, he just breathes in smoke.
“I don’t like endings,” he says finally. “But stories—”
He stands and tips his strange hat in Luke’s direction.
“You made a choice,” he says. “I’ve made choices, too. You don’t want to hear this right now, but running away from this won’t make it better.”
Luke only stares up at him numbly.
“Won’t it?” he says.
The man with the ancient eyes looks back at him sadly.
“I’ll see you again,” he says quietly.
The woman is sun-drenched and covered in dust and the Force ducks and twists around her like she’s the strangest thing it’s ever seen.
Three market stalls away, Rey squints at her suspiciously as she tries to haggle unsuccessfully with the Anzellan vendor holding something tube-like and metal just out of her reach.
“—right,” Rey catches her saying as she creeps surreptitiously closer, “Only it’s just that that’s quite important, actually—”
The tube emits a squealing wail as the Anzellan presses a button, and five stalls away, an entire shelf of glass baubles shatter and fall to the ground.
“—and quite dangerous,” the woman says, making a grab for it, but the tube’s properties have only made it more valuable. The Anzellan squeaks away at her angrily, and the shattered glass has caused quite a commotion, and the vendor’s wife from five stalls away is stalking towards them angrily, and the Force is twisting urgently—
Right, Rey thinks. Well.
She snatches the tube out of the air with the Force and sneaks it into her pocket. She takes the woman’s hand and grins.
“Hello,” she says cheerfully, as chaos erupts behind them. “Run.”
They take off hand in hand from the covered market-place, into the desert air, Tatooine’s late-evening suns burning at their back. The woman grins back at her, exhilarated. They outpace the chaos of the market, and come to a panting halt in the shade of residential sand domes, sand and dust rising quietly into the air. For a moment, they catch their breath in silence. Rey fumbles with her pocket and hands back the tube.
“What is that thing?” she asks, peering down at it curiously as the woman places it carefully into a coat pocket.
“Screwdriver,” she says, still panting slightly. “Which I don’t suppose is something you lot have here, but needless to say it is very important, so thank you.” She looks up, a question in her eyes.
“Oh, Rey,” Rey says finally, sticking out her hand to shake. “Skywalker. Rey Skywalker.” The name still feels new on her tongue. The lightsabers she’d buried only hours ago, and it’s all still—new. Raw. Blinding.
The woman grins, surprised, delighted.
“Brilliant,” she breathes, taking Rey’s hand. “Oh, brilliant. It all worked out. Look at you,” she says, beaming, taking a step back. She laughs, in sheer delight. “All that destiny, all that time all twisted, oh—”
With a start, Rey realizes the woman’s eyes are watery.
“I wanted to help,” she says, still clasping Rey’s hand in her own. “So many times, I wanted to, but I couldn’t. But you’re free,” she says, marvelling. “Right where it all began, you’re free. That’s beautiful, that is.”
“Free from what?”
“Destiny,” the woman says. Her eyes are much older than her face, but there's something almost—familiar about them. “Time itself. All those fixed points, like a minefield. But this moment, right now, it’s the end—and the beginning.”
“Sorry,” Rey says, frowning, but only slightly, because the woman’s happiness is contagious, impossible to resist. “But who are you, exactly?”
The woman’s grin is blinding.
“I’m the Doctor,” she says. “And believe me when I say I have been waiting literally thousands of years to say this, but—” Her grin deepens. The suns beat quietly at Rey’s back. The Force whispers delight, delight, delight. “Would you fancy a trip?”