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In a moment of unaccountable boldness, a system under Hutt influence is added to a Republican document by a hand paid by the gangster lords. The action is unnoticed in the middle of a constitutional amendment pushing emergency powers on the Chancellor’s Office, and the corrupt Senate is already split in focus between passing the amendment and grasping for control over a war in their systems. The Hutts have detected weakness and capitalised on it, finally planting a seed in the spread-thin Republic.

War has pushed Separatist forces to the Outer Rim while interpretations of peace and democracy––and how they are achieved––muddle hearts in the Core of the galaxy. Those who hesitate to give power to the Chancellor’s Office can easily be accused of dragging the war on, and, especially if they are Jedi, being more concerned with dodging senatorial oversight than ending the war. Some believe that the moral uprightness of the Jedi Order give weight to the Order’s word in politics, while most believe such uprightness has been wasted on the frontlines and that the Jedi have no spare patience for the difficulties of the Senate. All sides feel alone.

No one knows of Etra and Tyun, Justice and Vengeance, the twin dragon-eggs burning with promise in children’s folktales scattered across sand.

No one knows that they have finally hatched over Tatooine’s horizon.

Except the slave-born, who absorb the whispers with disbelief, at first, then hope. Etra scents liars, no spear or blaster can penetrate his scales, and one swing of his tail carries boulders into the air. The corrupted souls, he simply visits…and leaves them moral, disappeared, or dead in his wake. Tyun moves as smoke and snatches traitors in her claws; the evil, she destroys with a breath of fire. The twin dragons consume evildoers in positions of power too quickly for the ultimate gangsters, the Hutts, to find replacements for, until Tyun finally garrotes Jabba with her tail and Etra visits Jabba’s palace. The monolith is now the final resting place of Jabba’s guards, assassins, slave-dealers, and a rancor.

Tatooine’s economy and security is a mess in the sudden power vacuum. No former slave-dealer dares to fill it. The less supersticious hesitantly accomodate for their employees more and tell themselves in the crushed velvet of night that they don’t engage in what the ruthless, big-time criminals did that earned them the fates they received. The believers cleanse their hearts so that Etra doesn’t slink through their front door. Instead, freed slaves find employment in Tatooine’s economic and communications branches with the sudden need for people to stabilise and run what feels like the entire planet, and they have more than enough experience.

A level-headed woman with a determined spirit as sure as the desert suns builds a government from scratch, and she is successful partly because her unshakeable belief that things will get done inspires those around her. Suddenly, everyone around her is strong. She is Leia, but her blonde-haired shadow calls her Princess. Her trusted people around her, now government officials, form the backbone of Tatooine, but she is the head and heart. “Princess” is more than befitting. Tatooine has no monarchy, nor do they desire another form of masters, but their Leia is a child of the desert suns and of morning dew on evaporators––even-tempered but unstoppable.

In contrast, the unofficial founder of Tatooine’s planetary defence is as fleeting as the wind, and just as catchable. He is soft-spoken and gentle and can bend a blaster in half if he has to. Tatooine’s defence is the mutual agreement between the able––the smugglers and the bounty hunters retiring or taking a pit-stop––to blast anyone who breaks the rules. Even pirates have a code, after all. Tatooine becomes a safe haven for anyone seeking to catch a break, a drink, or a bunk, and the economy prospers even more than when the planet had been under Jabba. The decisions of pirates cannot be pinned on any governmental action, technically, so Tatooine is, for the first time in too long, a secure and…proper planet. The mysterious negotiator is Luke. He can be seen playing with younglings, healing aches of the old with his hands, or, in the rare occasion, humbly and embarrassedly sitting cornered by pirates in a booth as smiles, chatter, and drinks pass around. Some criminals affectionately call him, “kid.” He is as characteristic of Tatooine as the binary sunset.

It was only a matter of time for the Hutts to try to reclaim what was theirs.

~

~

Grakkus is the only one of his kind operating from outside Hutt Space with connections even the CIS cannot afford to make enemies out of. Based on Nar Shaddaa, finding him is as easy as falling into trouble on the nicknamed “smuggler’s moon.” After Jabba, Grakkus is the last Hutt anyone wants to meet face-to-face with from the wrong end of a conflict.

Luke goes to him first.

He doesn’t take his secret project, an incomplete yet sleek beast of bought and spare parts that already has sublights and crossed wings. Instead, Luke pays a pair of freighter pilots with a sense of self-preservation that is less than what should be healthy, and orders them to fly him to Nar Shaddaa, stay put, and, for goodness sake, don’t gamble. He clips his lightsaber to his belt, dons a hooded cloak, and enters a cantina for directions. Two humanoids almost abduct him halfway across the floor, and Luke gives them a piece of his mind when they try to drug him or steal his lightsaber. He walks himself into Grakkus’s fortress dragging his abductors along.

“Lord Grakkus,” he greets just before a pair of iridiite hall doors slide open to reveal the Hutt. No doubt Grakkus knows that Luke is Force-sensitive; no point in trying to hide it, so he might as well let Grakkus know that he is always one step ahead. Luke speaks in Basic to grieve the Hutt with the use of a translator, just because, but Grakkus responds in Huttese without hesitation.

“Etra, my, my.” The name is spoken sarcastically. The Hutt has an idea of who and what are behind Tatooine’s dragon tales. Grakkus dismisses his escort and hired abductors, and leads the conversation into a treasure room. Weapons, storage items, and clothing of endangered societies dominate the space, and most prominent of them are Jedi belongings. Luke picks up a holocron from a display and reminds himself that he is a Jedi, that his father died loving him, and that fixing the galaxy in an era not his own is not impossible.

~

“It is a rare pleasure to host you, young Skywalker.”

The young one lifts his head a tad too quick to not be a reaction to the insightful guess. Contrary to the Republic’s knowledge, Skywalker is a common surname on Tatooine––and a name for a line of wine––but only among those of slave descent. Most free people change their last name to a variation of, in order to distance themselves from the implication, but young Luke is not most people. Grakkus has eyes and ears that have their own eyes and ears; he sees all and thus knows all. With his gift to assemble a big picture, Grakkus knows that the deliberate absence of young Luke’s known last name is to preserve Anakin Skywalker’s faultless image and because Luke knows no suitable replacement for a surname. The move is entirely political. It also reveals that young Luke possesses the same gift as Grakkus.

The experience is like searching for a clear reflection in the ghostly-reflective quality of iridiite. By sharing the ability to see the big picture, Grakkus can peer into Luke’s plans, but only vaguely. Young Luke expects significant attention from the Republic in the future and is open to cooperation between him and them, but not under their terms. He is quick-witted, Force-sensitive, and tamed; once, he possessed the recklessness of a free––moisture farm?––boy, but calculated trauma has excised it out of him. Former fighting arena slave, perhaps? With all of Tatooine free and the Outer Rim slave trade in disorder, Grakkus cannot know for sure. He only knows that in certain areas where the Jedi Order and, by extension, the Republic will attempt to step in, young Luke will not budge.

Because whoever traumatised Luke miscalculated. Recklessness can be burned out, but not determination, which is a veritable star hotter than any whip. The master had only pushed Luke to evolve, and now tame is a laughable substitute for Luke’s self-control and precision that allows him to become the focused power of a lightsaber.

Names are for heroes. Mystery is the trait of a warrior.

Luke Skywalker is what Jedi should be.

The Republic and the Order will not see it. Intensity, emotion, willingness to kill––they will label him a vigilante and never look back. Grakkus’s obsession with flawed Jedi history and artefacts can be blamed for his opinion of young Luke, but he already knows that he is not wrong, and that in this, he and young Luke can agree. Kriff, he is actually starting to not want to enslave the young one.

“I know of you,” Luke levitates a holocron in a circle away and back into his palm, “but I really don’t want to work with you in any capacity.”

“You need Tatooine out of my clan’s targeting sights,” Grakkus plays. “I was not close with Jabba. You came to me first.”

“I chose you because you are the most troublesome Hutt alive,” Luke shares, his correction unexpected. “You can respect that, I know. Being someone’s worst nightmare.” Grakkus greedily drinks the truth in Luke’s words. Blue eyes flick up to Grakkus’s face.

“Perhaps we can come to an agreement,” Grakkus agrees.

“Direct the Hutt Clan’s interests away from Tatooine, permanently,” Luke says. “We are both nightmares to your clan, from my understanding. This will only be proof of that.” Grakkus is thrilled to hear his reputation stated so, as fact. If the gangster isn’t already sold, the holocron floating up from Luke’s hand and slowly unlocking with a blue-white light does the trick. “A treat,” says Luke generously.

~

~

Grakkus becomes the first Hutt to defy his clan in centuries, and Luke sips blue milk tea.

The Hutts’ reconquest of Tatooine never comes.

Chapter Text

There is a young man on a crowded street. His gaze follows the pedestrians’ and their flow sets his pace; with a flicker of a thought, you see him and then the next forgettable stranger. The fatal difference between him and you, however, is the lightsaber hanging from his belt.

Your target is female, mid-twenties, human. The plaza camera feed says that a man in the sleek leather cut of a pilot’s uniform preceded the target’s arrival in a well-covered meeting place, and your chrono’s looping tone marks an hour-long conversation. The moment the target reveals her head, she’s dead. A shadowed figure finally steps out, and your trigger finger twitches––ah, an Alderaanian pilot. Armed, too, which is not unusual for someone whose planet’s only defence is an atmospheric shield without the follow-up of an organised army. Your first blaster shot enters the pilot’s dominant shoulder; the second flies for the target’s head.

There is a young man leaving a crowded street. The fatal difference between him and you is that he won’t kill you.

A green blade reflects the shot back, destroying your long-range blaster. The target has a cup of water pouring onto the pilot’s wound to clean it, but her eyes pinpoint your location with frightening accuracy, and the young man from earlier has vanished. Every assassin knows what that means. You’re throwing your gear into a bag and abandoning the roof for a light-speed waiting in the planet’s only interspace airport while resisting the urge to look over your shoulder, but you only make it to the entrance. A Duros steps out, blocks the doorway, and fires once. The witnesses of the event only nod in approval or continue on with their business, and the unusual hum of agreement in the air is a message to the new or the reckless.

Welcome to the home of dragons.

Don’t break the code.

~

~

“I hear you’re assembling a beauty of your own? Saw your name on one of the permanent garages of the airport.” It’s shameless prodding. The personal effects of the deceased assassin offer worthless information, but the princess claims to already have an idea on who wants a nameless politician dead, so that topic is pointless. The hint of a new ship on Tatooine is much juicier.

Luke shrugs. “I often travel off-planet for ship parts. Not everything can be found between passers-by and Jawas.”

“Wouldn’t the travel cost of a light-speed and her one or two pilots exceed that of the actual parts you need?”

“Sometimes.”

Vasilek chuckles. “No one, not even your friends, are gonna give you discounts.” The teal-skinned Duros adjusts the rifle leaning against his hip, half-aware of the horizon in case womp rats ambush Luke. “Your ship parts must be dirt cheap.”

“Or I just have friends who give me discounts.” Some teeth peek out from Luke’s grin as the kid glances up from his skyhopper. Vasilek hums and points out a parallel with the drinks he and other rowdies like to push on Luke, and a hydrospanner clatters into the skyhopper as a flustered Luke denies the comparison. “I don’t know why you guys keep doing that, anyway…!” Luke bites his tongue when a sharp edge of the ‘hopper’s interior catches his hand in a dig for his spanner. Vasilek allows the comment. The odd “alliance” of pirates and former gangsters like Vasilek who are the main enforcers of the young code have learned that Luke possesses a stubbornly humble demeanour when he doesn’t have to intimidate others. Luke and Vasilek know that free drinks are a sign of gratitude, respect, or both between the rougher citizens of the galaxy, but after the first six rounds following the founding of Tatooine’s planetary defence, Luke finds the offers excessive. And bad for his liver.

He’s a little cute like that.

“Did you hear? Some ol’ buddies of a drinking pal say there’s a storm two systems away, and I’m not talking explosive space dust. A line of sabotaged pirate ships, droid litter, aristocrat meddling…the perfect nightmare.”

“Really?”

“You know I cannot lie to you.”

“I can’t always detect dishonesty, Vasilek.” With kind eyes and a calm voice, Luke might as well suggest the former gangster to relax. Vasilek does, but he impishly quips, “Cannot or will not?” Luke rolls his eyes despite his age. “Vasilek,” he admonishes, and they both chuckle. Vasilek is one of Tatooine’s former big-time gangsters who has seen either Etra or Tyun and isn’t jailed or dead. He does not know how many more there are like him across the planet, but he knows that they are as silent as he is about the experience and, especially, what the dragons are like in the flesh. The secrecy is part-wariness, part-admiration. Vasilek is spared because he chose to retire from Jabba’s ways, and while he’ll still whip out a good shot at scum that don’t deliver, nowadays it’s because they’re breaking one of Etra’s laws or because they’re two metre-long vermin. Blasted womp rats. Vasilek shares more cantina gossip and elaborates on his friend’s friend’s rumour, and Luke’s eyes betray an untainted curiosity usually found in people who can’t make Hutts heel.

“Where are you from, Etra?”

Luke leans on his skyhopper like the grooves are made for his body. “Moisture farming,” he replies. Well, there goes the betting pool. The crusty patrons of Chalmun’s Cantina believe anything between former bounty hunter to marooned money-launderer enough to gamble their credits on it. Vasilek knows that Luke isn’t the latter because that’s what Vasilek was when Jabba caught him and forced a change in allegiances, but Vasilek also has a hundred credits on a variation of the former bounty hunter story. Not that he’ll tell his circle that he’s wrong. Even though Vasilek has retired from Jabba’s ways, he still likes his money.

“Don’t believe me, Vasilek?” Luke asks with an amused tug of the end of his lips.

Mother of moons, of course no one will believe that. The sneaky rascal already knows Vasilek’s reaction and is amusedly watching. Vasilek gives his company a look. “You’re no liar, Luke, but moisture farming isn’t all there is to you. Unless ‘vaporators have always needed a lil’ sweet talking and a mean right hook.” Bless the day that evaporators also need the full force of Etra’s charm and mercilessness. The green blade that came out for the one second to deflect a blaster shot is a sight Vasilek has witnessed only in relation to dragon business, but now he understands that the weapon is more of an extension to Luke’s hand than a blaster. Given how flashy the blade is, Vasilek respects Luke’s discretion. He just hopes it doesn’t get him killed.

“There’s another rumour the cantina has heard, Luke, and this one’s more interesting, in my opinion….”

~

~

The rumour that Vasilek hears is like the worst disease. It consumes the planet quickly, striking hardest in the cluttered chambers and hallways of Tatooine’s main government building that is reminiscent of mice tunnels, and joined to the flimsies and monitors packed in the life-size maze sit Tatooine’s best politicians: resourceful sentients with a market seller’s gift for haggling but with the charisma to be welcomed a second time. Minor changes in grammar and a peripheral awareness of galactic events boost the politicians’ effectiveness in their jobs, and Leia can easily list seven Tatooine natives among her governmental aids who are now more politically impactful than her. More than half fulfill their responsibilities in or around the main building, while the rest are scattered across the planet. They all hear the rumour within the same day.

Yanish is one of them, despite herself. The Rodian’s filter ceases to exist when she isn’t on the radio or in front of a crowd, and social etiquette makes graceful company out of her in the rarest of occasions by choice. She interrupts Leia’s handling of delicate emails with an absurd idea, suddenly enough to crash any intelligible thought to a stop and consequentially set Leia and therefore the planetary government back by days. The timing is disastrous. Yanish is bold––and rude––but she is not, however, reckless. She knows from experience that fabrics reveal their true material under concentrated heat.

“I hear Tatooine can have a galactic senator, now.”

Leia doesn’t look up from her monitor. “This is Tatooine. You’ll hear that the Chancellor is pregnant and that droids take spice.” After a beat, she continues in a lower voice, “I am open to considering a seat in the Senate, but above all I want to clarify where our system stands in the Republic. Tatooine will drop out if it is in her best interests.”

Yanish is bold, and wise, but she is not Leia.

Leia has known about the rumour weeks ago.

“Who wants to convince Tatooine to stay in the Republic?” Yanish points out as she drops into a chair, surrendering. She doesn’t question Leia as the best choice for senator not only because of Leia’s genuine skills, but also due to the reality that Leia is the expected choice of Tatooine’s people, including Yanish. The harsh reality is, however, that the planet is a former Hutt’s sandbox and is strategically valueless. The Republic will waste time and money to send even one troop over, and the Separatists will only corner themselves if they visit Tatooine. Anyone who leaves Tatoo space is free to be tracked, raided, or blasted, and as pirates’ favourite hangout, the Republic and the CIS are hesitant to fly near. Yanish is as sure as the desert suns that no pirate of Tatooine wants to help the Republic with their civil war, either.

Leia pauses, not in thought but hesitation. “There may be Republicans who want a fresh eye on their political system and its possible flaws.”

Yanish guffaws. “Republicans who want Tatooine’s opinion on internal corruption? The galaxy is ending.”

The galaxy might as well. The Chancellor buys up the loyalty of more star systems as his constitutional powers and wealth increase. In a viscious circle, the purchased votes push the Chancellor’s proposals into action and slip more power into his Office, from which he can persuade cooperation out of more senators. Leia’s purpose revolves around an empire-free galaxy, but on Yanish’s words, Leia’s mind strays to her father.

Bail is the only Republican to reach out to her concerning the details of Tatooine’s possible future in the Republic, and with the cloak-and-dagger skills of a politician raised to help overthrow an empire, Leia is tactfully writing back in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it agreement concerning the current affairs of the Chancellor’s Office and the correlating actions of allegedly corrupt senators. Bail and Leia have so far woven a detailled idea more than a true plan between the two of them, and Bail references and contacts nameless sympathisers as he writes back, but Leia is not in the fold yet. If there is one. In this day and age, Republicans worry about sounding like Separatists more than voicing their discomfort over the upper echelon’s ways, and the Rebel Alliance only formally formed in the dawning days of the Empire.

Leia returned Bail’s prized covert messenger with a shoulder wound, so even without Tatooine’s history, she has little going for her. Compared to Leia, Bail has much more to lose.

Either way, they have to decide if they will stick to their beliefs all the way to the Galactic Chamber, and soon. Bail will be on a forgettable asteroid pit stop tonight, waiting for Leia to appear or not. By the time Bail sees his adopted daughter’s face for the first time, they will have ten hours until the galaxy’s eyes turn to a podium with Tatooine’s name on it.

“Are you going to go?” Yanish asks without prompting, like Leia’s conscience. Leia considers Yanish thoughtfully.

~

~

Tatooine’s girl is pretty. Bail appreciates the simple braid over the head that curbs wild baby hair, and the fists by either side of a white dress betray a nervousness Bail hasn’t seen since taking his first assignment as a delegate. He reigns in a chuckle, not wishing to offend, and he allows the Outer Rim “princess” to offer him a seat in the forgettable asteroid café they chose for their meeting via messenger. She calms down, thankfully, and dives into a passionate yet pleasant discussion, as Bail expected. Some people just need to take a breath before tackling work, and Bail is sitting across a young woman who can’t come from a more different world than if they both tried because of a mutual concern that will end up turning the galaxy on its head. He knows he can trust this potential ally, though he struggles to find a narrative for Mon to accept. Meeting Leia in the flesh has only proven that he can trust her persistence and honesty, and despite the attempted assassination on her life from the blind side, she isn’t even blinking at the possibility of offending the wrong people. Possibly because she’s also looking forward to punching the Senate in the gut.

Leia, unlike her father, fully intends to transform the universe. She knows that Bail won’t take certain ideas of hers seriously because he doesn’t see a worst-case scenario beyond restructuring of the Senate, but Leia is taking and pushing for whatever changes she can. Small progress is still progress. She is also guilty of a warm tingle in her stomach when she sees, listens, and speaks with her father, because here, they address each other, “Senator Organa,” and “Senator Leia,” and it’s the stuff of dreams. At one point her throat turns hoarse, and Leia accepts a glass of water without correcting Bail’s assumption that she is simply wearing out her voice.

She’s talking politics with her dad, and they’re standing as equals.

However, talking politics is also, by nature, brutal reality covered in tact.

“…but if Tatooine recognises itself as a member of the Republic, systems otherwise inaccessible may become open to interacting with your planet.” Bail passes several flimsies over. “With time, Mid-Rim systems free of Separatist heat may find the time and resources to send teachers and materials to Tatooine that will optimistically settle into a recurrent form of aid. Perhaps in a following decade or two, the Senate will officially recognise the reality of Tatooine’s education and act on it.”

Leia grimaces at the numerical possibility of Bail’s ideas. Threepio would have a fit. “Very well,” she decides. Bail hardly masks his surprise. Leia sighs. “Politics is a lot of risk-taking. My answer would be very different if Tatooine was under the threat of the Hutts or another third party that the Republic would prefer to appease than acknowledge.”

It is Bail’s turn to wince. “I wholeheartedly agree. Unofficially.”

“If we are speaking off the record then, Senator Organa,” Leia slides the flimsies back into a stack, “I wish to approach less popular subjects.” Before her adopted father can panic or take on his warrior face, as a young princess once dubbed, Leia squarely meets his gaze. “When I agree to joining the Senate, I will act on concerns we have shared between the lines of our formal messages.”

The Alderaanian pauses, thoughts churning. “If you become the voice of reason,” Bail warns, “you become the bad guy.”

“Either way, Tatooine will not receive Republican aid in any form: military, economic, or medical,” Leia points out. “There is not enough trust or credits for that. When I speak from that podium tomorrow as a representative of a single-planet system that, despite the absence of aid, wishes to remain in the Republic, I become a clear, loud realisation that something is Wrong with the congressional procedures. When I say that the Chancellor’s Office is consuming power like water, I mean it.

“Senator Leia.” Bail smiles. “You are one devastating politician.”

~

~

A vast expanse of starless space away, darkness falls on a motionless pirate crew and broken battle droids, whose pale parts stick out like carved bones in the only square of light that silently breaks the shadows. A booted sole peeks into the room with a faint tap, as if thinking, and the following step is just as cautious and quiet. The third one into the dark is unheard as a long cloth drags behind over an unmoving limb with a scratchy whisper. Eventually, a holographic navigation table flickers alive by unseeing fingers, its weak green light illuminating a young face like an apparition’s. By all rights, he shouldn’t be there. The rumour trail leading to the lifeless ship was too juicy to pass up, however.

A wealthy landlord whose property spans entire star systems is self-acclaimed to be as just with his intergalactic dealings as he is with his private matters, translating to an intolerance of criminal history and violence in both tenants and sentients he crosses paths with politically and, from the state of the pirate ship, literally. The ethnic data distribution of tenants hints to an unspoken prejudice against non-human sentients, so the landlord’s business agreements with non-humans feel off, particularly his funding of their war against the Republic. The landlord’s personal involvement in skirmishes is also uncharacteristic of any aristocrat, particularly one who––despite his resolute departure from an order of peacekeepers––genuinely believes in violence as a last resort by the truest meaning of the term. For the landlord, the Separatist War isn’t a means for independence from the Republic, but a lesson. And, if the landlord is the final piece in a pincer attack, a…cleansing. Most non-human systems and organisations with a corrupt history are in the CIS; if the landlord is as calculating as in the worst-case scenario, countless non-human races will face near-extinction and life in prison by the Republic’s hand, be it judicial or military. All while the aristocrat walks free after a convincing change in allegiances. The side-effect of destroying non-human races will almost seem like the Republic’s doing.

But the landlord’s choice weapon betrays a cruel fate, in another future. The Emperor and Vader were the only christened Siths, and from Luke's personal experience, they never liked to share. The aristocrat will never see his plan come to fruition.

The hairs on Luke’s neck stand up not a bone-chilling second before his resultant alertness whips out a lit lightsaber with a fluid motion born from experience. Its activation just catches a hissing blade for his throat, and Luke snaps his hilt forward to block another decapitating move in the following seconds where one is usually catching up with the moment. Experience and force-sensitivity sing across the two blades, and Luke knows he is facing a very different breed from Vader. Luke doesn’t know who is stronger, but he is sure that this one is a more dedicated swordsman. A warrior aristocrat.

“Count Dooku.”

“I’m afraid,” the elderly Sith replies coolly, “I don’t have the pleasure of knowing your name.”

Chapter Text

“Next time, I will not be your conscience.” A ribbon of poly-cotton crosses her vision. “I will push Ruoldi to, and then he will be the one getting dressed like a prized racing eopie who’s expected to run planetary affairs after his crafty, sweet-smiling princess drops the prestigious responsibility on him and gallivants around the Core playing senator.”

“Ruoldi can’t be pushed to do anything unless he decides to stop lazing around.”

“Stupid geniuses. Even asleep he solves more problems than a hard-working civil servant.”

“Who has been promoted to Prime Minister of her planet.”

“Unwillingly!”

“You’re the people’s choice.” Leia fixes a flap of Yanish’s dress, and the cheap outfit transforms into a sleek, modern look of desert-inspired fashion. Yanish hates her princess. “Serve your people with pride,” Leia says softly, and now Yanish definitely can’t say no. She never planned to, of course, but Leia has seen through to her nervousness, and now the princess’s famous power is seeping into Yanish, making her feel as strong as she needs to be.

Yanish can only hope to honour her planet and her friend as Tatooine’s first Prime Minister. The election and results stormed in more furiously than podracers near the finish line after Leia’s announcement at the height of night in Mos Eisley. With Tatooine’s newfound democracy, the planet’s citizens divulge in political affairs almost doubly more in turn-up rates than long-time citizens of democratic systems; the unexpected blessing is half the reason why Tatooine’s young government can function, much less efficiently. The election’s swiftness can also be accredited––and herein lies the true beauty of a silver tongue––to Leia’s subtle approval of Yanish in her global holo announcement.

Said princess glances at the door for the fifth time that day. A seamstress scurries to Leia’s side with more material and a threaded needle between her teeth, but Leia waves the seamstress to Yanish instead, who was in the cloth business before bringing her gift of creativity and stubbornness into politics anyway.

“These two patterns over each other, then listen to whatever she says,” Leia instructs, and the seamstress dutifully sews a Prime Minister’s appearance together.

Yanish has to remain rooted in her spot, but she calls after Leia with a jerk of her head. “You’re not leaving me here!”

“You look nice,” Ruoldi announces his arrival with a half-playful, half-serious remark, and Leia taps him in.

“Make sure she doesn’t bite the seamstress’s head off,” Leia pauses at the doorway, “and you haven’t seen Luke, have you?” She doesn’t have to specify who she speaks of. A hum of excitement at the negotiator’s name descends upon the room, but Ruoldi obliviously shrugs like the vestiges of sleep still cling onto him; Yanish swears that every time she sees him, the greater his idiocy has grown. Leia’s lips thin distractedly before she disappears, and Yanish is left alone to cooperate with a fashionista and babysit Ruoldi.

Several minutes later and a few blocks down from the main government building, Tatooine’s princess ambushes the unrefined atmosphere of Chalmun’s Cantina with her majestic presence, and half the patrons choke on their drinks while the other half trip over themselves to tip sometimes-nonexistent hats to her like gentlefolk. She smiles at them, but loosely so they can return to their conversations, and approaches the owner and bartender of the establishment, Chalmun. “Have you seen Luke?” she asks. “I haven’t seen him all this morning. I’m not sure he was even aware of the election last night.”

Vasilek wants to slam his head into a wall. He should have known that a single rumour of activity in the peripherals of Tatoo space would attract Luke to the danger like bees to honey. Maybe Luke will play diplomat and calm down whoever’s there, but Vasilek still sends a prayer for whoever crosses Etra’s path should the kid turn serious. The Rodian’s thoughts are unnoticeable––the twitch of an eye behind a full pint––and even with many sentients facing Vasilek, only Chalmun sees it because bartenders are supposed to know when a patron is dissatisfied or will want a refill. Then Leia’s head turns to Vasilek with frightening accuracy, having caught the microexpression, and Chalmun moves for the glasses he needs to clean with an ear out for their conversation.

“Vasilek, correct?”

And the Rodian folds in five syllables.

“‘M sorry to claim some responsibility for this, princess, but the kid might’a left planetside last night to follow a rumour trail.” Leia’s eyes meet the Rodian’s, and Vasilek’s desire to speak proper and have a better excuse is as great as his respect for the little lady who built Tatooine’s government by almost sheer will alone. Leia leans against the bar, and even the cheap surface becomes a study desk or a war room table.

“Luke is off-planet,” she summarises flatly. Vasilek gulps in realisation. He inadvertently sent a dragon with the force and willpower of desert suns to outer space, where no one truly knows about Tatooine mythology, much less takes it seriously.

Which they should.

“Tell me about the rumours,” Leia says, and Vasilek obliges. Inwardly, he decides he has got to stop sharing rumours with the kid.

~

~

The shadows of hand rails, disabled light fixtures, and a navigation table stretch and dance like dark fire up the walls and ceiling as thin blades weave the air between Luke and Dooku together as deadly needles and almost-grazes. Minutes or hours have passed. It’s pointless data; right now, only the duel exists. Dooku is comfortable at swordplay even with unreliable lighting that plays tricks on the mind; he sees with the Force, shifts his weight, and slides through footwork so that his blade and body counterbalance each other as one entity, and the opponent’s sabre falls into his pace. The defensive sweeps of Luke’s blade make a sad parody of Djem So, the natural enemy of Dooku’s Makashi, and by the time the aristocrat grasps Luke’s flow, Dooku can count down to the moment of the boy’s counter-strike––! Dooku flies into the navigation table and rights himself just in time to lock his blade with Luke’s and pull their duel back into some open floor by the navigation room’s wide viewport. The boy had pushed him with the Force!

…Rude.

The dash of creativity forces Dooku to acknowledge Niman, Form VI, as his opponent’s go-to style, and he adjusts himself accordingly. Flexibility is a prized trait––

A backflip onto a low light fixture. Dooku’s opponent apparently grasps the advantages of Ataru.

Dooku guides his lightsaber with the Force in a spinning toss at Luke, but the daring move and warping shadows do not startle the boy, who passively dodges and allows the blade to bounce off the ceiling and back into Dooku’s dominant hand as Luke leaps down with the axe strike of Djem So. The return of the initial form in its fully-actualised state catches Dooku wrong-footed, and only experience redirects a terrifyingly powerful attack into a singe of Dooku’s cape and a hair-rising scent of ozone in the air. Dooku makes a cut at Luke’s back, but the boy sweeps his blade over his shoulder without looking in the Force-intuitive move of Soresu.

Luke pounces on Dooku, every stroke enough to make one’s wrists wobble and every other blurring blade a distraction or a counter-strike. If this is a lightsaber form, it is one that has been pushed through evolution and refinement until it became perfection so that the best of the other classical forms within it elevate the sabre style above existing practices. Dooku wonders if his opponent is aware of the classical forms. He wonders if his opponent even knows what a form is.

In a clever move to separate Luke’s head from his body, Dooku dips into Vaapad, a flashy but brutal style that visibly startles Luke, but in a blank-minded flash of intuition, Luke knocks Dooku’s swing off course and executes a front kick through the count’s chest. Luke’s already rolling his wrist in a disabling move meant to chop off the dominant hand as Dooku falls inelegantly onto his behind, but the green sabre peels Dooku’s hilt off instead with the same insane accuracy that blew up the Death Star. The two swordsmen’s positions imitate Luke’s and Vader’s from the second Death Star, but Luke’s level-headedness and Dooku’s shock replace any painful, addicting emotion. They both see in the assisted sight of the Force the ripe opportunity to burn Luke’s blade through Dooku’s heart mid-beat, but the image fades with the retraction of Luke’s sabre, and time moves on.

Dooku breathes.

“Your hesitation is your weakness.”

Luke clips his lightsaber to his belt. “I’m not here to kill you.”

“You want to convince me?” Dooku echoes words he has heard before. His irritation conquers his disbelief at a swordsman disabling his weapon. “I refuse to regress to the Light’s ignorance. The Dark Side is knowledge, and knowledge is power.”

“If the Dark Side is more powerful, then why are you the one on his knees?”

At this, Dooku picks himself off the floor without removing his eyes from Luke, and the latter gives him all the time the aging aristocrat needs. Luke fights a smile.

“The Dark Side is power,” Dooku reiterates.

“That’s nice,” Luke says. “Would you like a protein bar before we go?”

The now pitiful excuse for a navigation room creaks with the flunctuating pull of the ship’s artifical gravity, and the ship’s small aircraft ports sit at the end of a narrow hallway that stretches an entire kilometer through the ship. A light hanging by its last wire takes the moment to whine and snap off the ceiling with a following crash of transparisteel that would make an ewok jump but only encourages Dooku to grimace. He hates to admit it, but his private cruiser and its battle droids are part of the wreckage they’re breathing limited air in, and the only other sentient in the room bears no ill will, otherwise Dooku’s sensitivity to the Dark Side of the Force would have picked up on it as a brush of intuition. The…skilled duellist must have his own ship to have happened across the stranded Dooku, who is certainly not embarrassed. That would be un-aristocratic––

“Where are you going?”

“…To my ride?” Long bangs bounce with a backwards glance. “Aren’t you coming?”

This one can use some lessons in manners.

They talk about the Sith, the Jedi, and politics. With a kilometre of littered and poorly lit ship space to cover, little else breaks the distant creaks of metal one more groan away from unleashing silent death by vacuum. Dooku already knows he cannot ambush his company or win in a lightsaber-less fight against him because the air around the young man hums like a hyperdrive prepared for light speed. The Dark Side urges, Destroy, but Dooku’s instincts whisper,

Anyone but this one.

The young man, Luke, is well-centered and unafraid despite the threat that the Dark Side senses of him, and he provides an ear and counterargument to Dooku’s passionate opinions––a rarity, as all Jedi would sooner numb themselves with outdated rules or wack at Dooku with a lightsaber than listen to him. Which is Kenobi and Skywalker in a nutshell, and in that order. The Sith are far more flexible and thus can do what the Jedi cannot, as the Jedi are stuck in tradition and under the thumb of the Senate––a self-crafted noose that Sidious and Dooku have so easily tightened for their use.

To Dooku’s surprise, Luke genuinely agrees that the currently corrupted Senate cannot serve the galaxy well. The young duellist possesses a tolerance for aggressive tactics that better suits Separatists, but with an affection for equality usually found in small-time rebels in a planetary civil war. He talks about his home planet, Tatooine, and the changes the dust ball has experienced because of a restructuring in leadership, no sugarcoating the fall of Jabba. Mythology falls from his lips like facts told jokingly, and the independence and unity of his people warms his tone and his unnaturally piercing gaze. Dooku already knows about the Hutts’ failure to reclaim their only property outside Hutt Space and about Tatooine’s transformations if only to satisfy professional curiosity, but there is a difference in hearing the events from a living witness, regardless of possible bias. Dooku and Luke cannot see eye-to-eye, however, on what is best for the galaxy.

“Your answer,” Luke summarises, “is to kill all who are unworthy of democracy, including non-human sentients.” They have been arguing this particular topic for the better part of thirty minutes. At one point, Luke bumped his head on a low-hanging beam because of his passion, although Dooku blames poor lighting and scattered droid parts for the count’s almost tripping into a wall.

“Yet you believe in cutting off the head of the snake, and then burning out the corrupted,” Dooku dismisses. “An ideal solution.”

“One Tatooine has already experienced.” That nearly stops Dooku in his tracks. Luke’s Tatooine gives hope. Corrupted systems can change, and…without the Sith.

“The Jedi are weak.”

“The Order is almost strong,” Luke allows. “It only lacks the power behind selflessness, and that is love.”

“I can’t believe that.”

“Tell me you’ve never loved your mentors before, no matter how flawed they came.” Luke’s voice gains a challenging edge, encouraging Dooku to sink deep into the fire that rages between his lungs. “Or your students, or their students.” Leaping up, unbidden, comes the memory of Qui-Gon and young Kenobi’s name on his lips, and Dooku barely reigns in a startled gasp. He fiercely wrestles his sudden emotion back into shape, feeling his chest flopping as he does so, and, inexplicably, pride blooms in the middle of the chaos.

No!

But he isn’t denying the hidden question. The selflessness and delight that dance with his memories of teaching Qui-Gon and of witnessing young Kenobi’s growth have taken aflame in the heat of Dooku’s power and made Dooku so determined, unwavering, and unhesitant in everything; so…sure. It terrifies him.

“If this is how you are,” Dooku says breathlessly, “you will ace the Trials.”

Luke smiles. “I do believe I’m already a Jedi.”

The two stumble through debris for an aircraft port.

“I’m still irritated with you,” Dooku adds.

~

The Force melts into sudden brightness for a glorious breath, and even the oppressing darkness reaching farther than the rims of the galaxy cannot deny the silver echoes off its wavelengths. No trained Force-sensitive can make sense of their singing nerves––has an adversary died? a potential ally born?––or grasp enlightenment from their invisible aid. Light or Dark, they can only sense this:

Change.

The universe is a twisting latticework of trillions of dust and hearts connected only by the synaptic magnetism of alignment and decay; a sudden reconstruction of one nerve sends a different frequency and, like a line of dominoes, minutely reconfigures the entities that pass on and receive the signal, helpless to their own natures. The universe changes despite itself. The inescapable power that precedes inherent laws of reality finds evidence of its existence in the altered rhythm of life; none can claim such power in abundance, or grasp reigns for the nameless creature. As when a bell is rung and another hums to the tune, so this metamorphosis finds a dormant thread between two souls and strikes the dead connection into a glow as a mallet onto metal, wild and sparking for scattered moments. Sometimes, the embers find other particles.

Change is as excruciating as having one’s heart torn out, or a heart sown in.

The universe aches, but it will heal. Even the briefest ember burns change into a soul and sparks a new perspective, and most will confuse it with an epiphany or a slight reconfiguration of decision-making that is as possible as a coin falling face-up: impulsive, and with no one to blame. Most flickering lives in the universe do not even encounter such an experience. One life, however, is a satellite turned just the right degrees to absorb misdirected synapses of the latticework around it and to be hit full-force by the falling star of an ember. A soul that is one in a trillion––always the first to suffer, last to die. Oh-bi, wa-un.

~

~

Blasted Hutts can find a garbage dump or slither into a hole where they belong, or so Anakin’s body hums in vicious agreement with as he slowly backs up into a wall while nearly breaking his wrists trying to ward off the twenty or so blaster bolts stitching the air between him and death. His protection currently consists of his lightsaber and the dancing nerves crawling between his muscles and under his skin. He knows it must be the nervousness that dropped on his chest like a baby bantha when a hostile exchange between a freighter and a pirate ship turned out to be the flashy, destructive disagreement of territory between two Hutts with––thanks to Anakin’s impulsiveness––two Jedi stranded on a Hutt-owned freighter and their private ships in suspended pieces. He was just trying to help.

“Anakin, mind on the moment,” Obi-Wan urges from Anakin’s right when a blaster bolt singes Anakin’s glove and his attempt to deflect it results in his ‘saber brushing Obi-Wan’s ear. Distantly, Anakin wonders if Obi-Wan knows when his mind isn’t blank with a swordsman’s focus during a battle where his old master would really, really appreciate it. At the same time, Obi-Wan’s awareness might simply stem from such cases where he nearly loses a limb to the only Jedi partner capable of it and who regardless graduated into knighthood. Somehow.

Pushee chuba!” the Hutt-hired crew hollers above the scream of blasters. “Bolla neechu, poodoo!” Anakin shouts back and barely catches a bolt to his face. Obi-Wan would sigh if they weren’t the closest to dying since Geonosis, and the fact bubbles up and catches in Anakin’s throat as a hysterical laugh. The famous duo left the front lines for a secret recon mission just three days ago, and not one minute into neutral space do they trip over a Huttese clusterkriff that promises neither Republican back-up nor immunity from Separatist attacks. Anakin wants to be angry, but more than any primal force right now, he feels scared. This act of bravery in a corner against a small Huttese army is the manifestation of his desire to live that is so great that he would will reality into his favour if he could, but knowing he can’t.

So he snaps his blade every which way and drags air into his lungs faster while Obi-Wan is the steady presence by his shoulder with a reliable Soresu that will one day burn out. Not today––Force, not today. “Ana–––“ A scream tears through Anakin’s nerves. It’s the Force, or his thoughts, but the jagged cry piercing his head tries to catch Obi-Wan’s falling body and can do nothing but let Obi-Wan slip through its fingers and hit the ground bonelessly. Anakin’s saber miraculously deflects a blaster bolt onto a mounted control pad behind the firing crew, and a door drops between the two groups with a locking thud.

“Obi-Wan," Anakin says breathlessly––he doesn’t even know how they can still breath after that exchange––and gathers his partner into his arms. Obi-Wan is conscious and his eyes are open, but something is ravaging his body and overwhelming his mind, perhaps not in that order. The Soresu master taps Anakin’s arm with the back of his hand to berate him for his distraction or to crack a pitiful joke, but the unknown force––Force, a vision!––claws its way back into Obi-Wan’s focused centre and scatters any comprehensive thought left, rousing a fever in Obi-Wan’s body. Blue eyes shutter closed, breathing dropping into a slower rise of the chest, and the freighter jolts with a chilling conclusion to the deep-space battle; the other Huttese ship fired a finishing shot. Two of the Order’s best Jedi are now slumped on the floor of a storage closet awaiting death or, on the naturally slim chance it comes, a miracle.

Obi-Wan trembles with a distress the body can’t handle, and Anakin smooths Obi-Wan’s hair back, feels his hand come away slick, and wipes the sweat on his robes. A memory, one of countless identical experiences, arises unbidden: of classes in the salles; sparring on mats; catching a bite on the battlefield; and Obi-Wan berating him, unaware of the stain––blood, food––on the Coruscanti’s cheek. “Don’t wipe your hands on your robes!” Anakin bites his quivering lip. Suddenly, like a child. Kenobi and Skywalker only sweat away their troubles and victories like holovid heroes. On two hours of sleep and crashing from adrenaline, they never cry.

“Peace,” Anakin recites for Obi-Wan, feeling half-silly without a conscious listener, “not emotion. Serenity, not passion. Ignorance––” Wrong order. Wrong Order.

Obi-Wan’s pulse flutters, like Shmi’s, and Anakin swallows his heart back into place.

They never cry.

Anakin opens his mouth. “When Darkness stretches across the Sky and You are Lost in the Rocks or Dry Seas, follow the Brightest Star Home.” Anakin’s voice fails twice, but he dutifully continues on, quoting his mother and her mother before her. He smooths Obi-Wan’s hair back again, finding strength. “For the Brightest Star can Never be Lost so it may Guide the Lost. And should Home Join the Stars or Slip Away into the Dark, Justice and Vengeance will Rise from the Horizon and Scatter Darkness. In the Worst of Times, They will Hatch and Fulfill Their Namesake as Dragons upon the Vile and Hollow….”

~

Leia chooses a simple white dress for her attire to the Galactic Chamber. The reminder of politics’ true purpose––the pure goal to serve and protect––will be all that the Republicans ever see when she steps forward. If she dies by their hand on their doorstep, Tatooine will know, and her death will not be without effect. Luke may treasure justice as his guide, but he is also a Rebel at heart and a citizen of a different time; if their efforts dissolve into nothing, there is always the final option to commit what Luke’s father did. A last resort. Leia avoids acknowledging the possibility that the self-sacrificing, familial devotion she and her twin share may find origin in the birth father, and she slips into fair-coloured clothing every day as a reflection of her goal and her––fragile, something whispers––heart.

Luke’s clothing is dark on the outside which only enemies can see, but a loose flap near his neck betrays a white inner lining like the grounded purity of his spirit. The collar comes undone as he steps into a ship with Dooku trailing behind, and Luke’s heart peaks out. (Sometimes, however, his soul yearns for colour––the orange freedom of sailing across stars and skimming treelines of countless different planets. It yearns the same way Leia’s does for the pastel blues of her childhood on Alderaan, and aches. Like the universe after an irreversible change. Or the experience of being torn from the lives and friends they know to a strange reality.)

And the dominoes fall.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Leia, I have a new friend C––“

“Nope. Remember what I said? No Siths in my house.”

“But––“

“Not buts, Luke, you can leave him at the airport.”

He straightens up and adopts a wise man’s air. “I just want to allow him the opportunity to learn how Tatooine founded its government.”

Leia pauses. She knows where a stack of flimsies about Jabba’s fall lie, among other physical records of Tatooine’s recent history. The records room sits at the edge of the main government building where open desert and small evaporators have given that side of the building the label of “back,” and aside from the hum of machines at work, the area is quiet. Of course, the threat of womp rats remains the same. Sometimes Luke parks his skyhopper there to tinker with, but that’s in the rare occasion when he isn’t among Tatooine’s people or assembling his X-Wing.

“Back room, but that’s it,” she compromises. “While I have you, I want your advice; I travel to Coruscant within the hour and am allowed two bodyguards. And don’t even consider it, Mr. Jedi.”

Luke slumps where he stands. “I’m not wearing the traditional patterns,” he points out.

“You’re only dressed in Sith colours,” Leia agrees. Luke’s shoulders drop farther.

“I could––“

“No Jedi potato sack look!” Leia declares. “Or potato sack colours! No sacks, period!” Luke pouts until a light goes off and he straightens.

“If I wear a huge poncho over––“

~

Luke mutters to himself about fatigues, ponchos, and farming attire, to Dooku’s slight unease. A V-neck robe is not unusual on Tatooine; farmers responsible for collecting water and harvesting crops that grow by moisturisers sport the pattern the most due to its versatility between indoor and outdoor use. The potential change in wardrobe from custom Jedi threads to whatever nightmare Luke is concocting as they walk, however, picks at a corner of Dooku that values the elegance to be found in dressing fashionably. For what reason does young Luke need to part from his current clothing? Besides the obvious, Dooku acknowledges, and ponders on the possibility of his companion heading to the Core in the future.

As they weave their way through carelessly-parked ‘hoppers and a thinning presence of sentients for the back of a government building, Dooku catches several eyes alternating between his own tunic and cape and young Luke’s Jedi-like ensemble. Dooku doubts that the planet’s residents are aware that Luke’s cut is exclusively worn by Jedi, but he acknowledges the similar air with which he and Luke walk. They find spaces to slip through without watching the crowd’s flow, tilt their heads to avoid a careless droid zipping through their sight’s blind spot, and move with the effortless grace of people who know where their centre of balance is. If the two of them walk at the crowd’s pace, no one will blink twice at them, but Luke is taking his sweet time and Dooku has little choice but to follow. Their flawless path draws true until it takes a stumble with the unabashed interception of chubby limbs and too much drool.

“Luke!”

“Hello, little one,” Luke greets the small girl warmly, and he lifts her off her feet with strong hands. The youngling’s squeal catches Dooku’s ears with an unwelcome ring that, unfortunately, fails to disguise the following words.

“Is that your grandpa?” the brat asks without hesitation.

“No.”

“Father?” The girl wrinkles her nose. “Brother?”

A smile twitches across Luke’s lips. “If what you mean by brother––”

“Entertaining younglings is a pleasure I can live without,” Dooku intercedes, and brushes off the girl’s presence with a nod. The child has the gall to bow her head in a mock curtsey to dismiss the aristocrat. Unrefined desert folk. So this is where young Luke finds his cheek. Just as Dooku concludes on his unfavourable opinion of witty children, a gang of sentients half his height ambushes Luke with unapologetic decibels and wild energy that ineffectively jolts Dooku’s already wearied surprise. Ever since crossing blades with young Luke, surprise has woven itself into opportune gaps of thought within Dooku’s spare seconds that he barely regards the emotion as a novelty anymore. He steps to the soft edge of the younglings’ awareness with the same skill that allows an assassin the illusion of invisibility, and acknowledges the reality of an ex-Sith, a Jedi, and five oblivious younglings sharing the same space. Surprise cannot cut it.

Luke inspires the most consideration. Dooku observes the warrior pick up children with hands that know the weight and feel of taking a life, and Dooku predicts what the Jedi of the Temple would see –– attachment, a future shadowed in loss and evil –– and what Darth Sidious would see –– liabilities, weakness, leverage. It is little wonder Luke can believe in a spark, a near-nothing of goodness in a force of evil that is a Sith, and inspire strength in place of confusion and doubt. Perhaps “believe” uses as too strong a word –– “know of,” sounds appropriate, “detect.” Young Luke observes the world as it is and only acts with what is already there. Dooku cannot decide if it is naïvety or unusual wisdom that delineates the boy from the rest of the galaxy.

Luke gazes at Dooku past young, energetic demands of attention, and tilts his head with a quicksilver glint across his eyes like a drop of dew down a leaf above the small crescent of a wise yet free-spirited smile. Dooku revises his opinion. Darth Sidious would see a threat.

Just as the fool fears wisdom, and the liar fears the truth, Sidious and his Sith ways would not tolerate the transformative power of Luke’s hope for the magnification of a spark already present within even a Sith like Dooku. Luke is an independent, true Jedi and difficult to predict. Him and his Tatooine disprove the basis of Sidious’s appeal and power and offer hope for those who believe that a Jedi doesn’t stop where the Temple’s way ends. Just as Qui-Gon began to understand. Just as Dooku now begins to learn within orbit of Luke.

They part from the younglings with a few amused looks from the adults nearby, and fall into conversation with less tension as compared to their walk through the broken pirate ship from duelling against each other to flying together. Their tones still dance, neither fully light-hearted nor genuinely angry, and Dooku enjoys himself in too long. Their chat still treads solemn ground, but Luke appears open to conversation at any time with anyone, Sith or not. A flicker of curiosity after young Luke’s background flares in Dooku not for the first time, and just as with its predecessors, Dooku slides the hardly weak interest to a back burner. The forced apathy has steadily grown easier to summon with Dooku’s ducking out of Sidious’s schemes for an indefinite period of time. He's been ignoring the stubborn sliver of fear from gambling on when Sidious will notice Dooku’s inaction or absence, but Dooku needs this. He has devoted himself to insubstantial philosophies disguised as clarity for long enough.

Sidious surfaces not for the first time between them, and Luke reviews novel, first-hand character accounts of the Sith Lord that Dooku gradually shares with more leniency. Here, Luke’s tone unwittingly tosses liveliness for seriousness. “He turned your focus to a system you’re familiar with, and convinced you there to be irreparable flaws. An encouraged, consequential obsession thus persuaded you away from the system and to the side of the very people who worked the death of your former Padawan?” Luke winces and politely covers up his reaction with a rub of his temples and a sigh.

The Emperor is prone to recycling strategies that work well –– the Death Star II, for example. Dooku’s story might shed light on the mystery of Anakin Skywalker’s persuasion into the Dark Side, but Luke has yet to discover suggestions directly tied to the man in question. Luke also wishes to avoid pushing Dooku for information on Anakin; the aristocrat appears more curious about Obi-Wan’s talent and well-being than any fact about Anakin Skywalker. Simply, Dooku’s knowledge about the latter Jedi is a consequence of seeking information on the former. Dooku is also hesitant to admit that he worries about Obi-Wan without an objective –– like family. The last bit inspires a smile from Luke when Dooku isn’t looking.

“You know Sidious manipulates well,” Dooku comments.

“I know.”

Ah, too serious. Of course Luke understands the sway of one’s heart from light to dark and, for a time, what feels like never back to light again. Where they’ve established Dooku’s first-hand experience with Sidious, however, Luke’s automatic response hints to a similarly personal encounter with the Sith Lord. Dooku appropriately turns his head in subtle confusion to regard Luke, but says nothing. Luke should lighten his tone, but he cannot take back his words, so he wordlessly opens the back door of the main government building and offers no clarification unless Dooku asks for it. The sight that greets them beyond the doorway startles them both into awed silence.

“Tatooine’s records are,” Dooku tactfully pauses, “…disorganised and plenty.”

Despite himself, Luke laughs. “You wish to learn a planet’s governmental history,” he reminds, and steps in. He doesn’t know that Dooku believes that Sidious is ignorant of Luke’s very existence. Otherwise, regardless of young Luke’s unique naïvety-cum-wisdom, Sidious would have already hunted Luke down and destroyed him with the full difference in their experience. Luke fights to save. Sidious fights to kill.

~

~

“Are we ready?” Leia steps into the tramp freighter prepared for her journey.

Vasilek nods and punches the last button –– no, this is the last button. He turns to his co-pilot and then at the princess, waiting for someone to correct the situation and inform Vasilek that he is not responsible for flying a ship and can return to the simplicity of cantina bets and blaster rifles. Instead, the co-pilot –– who qualifies as the pilot, really –– obliviously closes the docking ramp and informs Ground of Advocate’s departure, and Leia makes herself comfortable in a passenger seat. As the freighter lifts and heads for the atmosphere, the co-pilot, a work of fading orange-grey, glances at Leia.

“Setting coordinates,” the co-pilot announces.

“Coruscant,” Leia provides.

“Most unpleasant.” The co-pilot, a bipedal droid, punches in numbers. “The planet boasts plenty politicians, master. Shooting two-hundred of them won’t make a dent. I’m not saying I will run in with blasters blazing –– of course I will be discrete. No one will know.”

Vasilek wipes his hand across his forehead. He wonders if it’s too late to abandon ship.

“I intend for a different impact, Hack,” Leia exercises the droid’s nickname. “My mission isn’t to kill.”

“Shame.”

HK-50 brings the freighter to warp speed while Vasilek eyes the Droid-Assassin rifle hanging on the panel by Hack’s side. The amnesiac assassination droid was infamous as Jabba’s entertainment besides the Rancor and the Sarlacc Pit, barely restrained by his protocol not to kill his owner or anyone else unless his owner commanded it. The ancient model looks ready to fall apart at the joints, but Hack is unusually stubborn. Vasilek has heard the rumours and suspects that after Tyun –– Leia –– garroted Jabba, Hack identified Leia as his master’s appropriate successor in terms of ownership. With Leia’s skills in…persuasion, Vasilek is almost unsurprised that Leia convinced the assassination droid so. One planet cannot withstand an HK-series droid let loose without a master, dragons or no dragons around.

“Milady,” Vasilek slowly pipes up, “pardon m’ asking, but is this droid also here to accompany you for your protection? …That you might need? The kid was very clear on my role as such.”

“Luke wants the very best for me,” Leia responds. “He recommended you both when I asked for his opinion.”

“Perhaps the meatbag expects excitement on Coruscant,” Hack comments.

“Hack.”

“Shall I use the term liquidious fleshbag? I don’t know how you sentients tolerate all that water sloshing around in you, it must be highly distracting.”

“Do you…” Vasilek hesitantly intrudes, “dislike the princess and the kid?”

To Vasilek’s discomfort, the droid turns his head to the Duros. “Negative: I just don’t like organic meatbags. Except for my master, of course. …Ha, ha.” Hack turns back to the control board on that ominous note. As one of the two organic meatbags present, Vasilek wishes he was in space than in the seat next to an arguably psychotic killing machine. Leia seems unusually adjusted to the situation.

~

~

Mon spots Bail down a joined corridor, and she rounds the corner into a few senators and their entourage. A gaggle of insensible clothing sees the two parties conduct difficult, almost inelegant maneuvers with curt apologies from both sides before Mon frees herself and nearly catches a Duros’s heel with her toes. In worn boots and a simple but pleasing cut that lends to the tough-skinned sentient’s roguish appeal, the Duros who resembles a pirate and most definitely resembles no member of the Chamber inspires a mindful apology from Mon faster than preoccupied senators can. Mon holds her own opinions of Duros outside the Chamber to herself, but the Duros politicians who set foot in meetings unfailingly create difficulty for the rest of their fellow politicians with the Duros’ crafty words that net others into promises or actions of the Duros’ benefit. Mon has deep-rooted beliefs and only so much patience.

In a more apathetic reflection of his kind, the Duros before Mon regards his disturbance with a flick of an intimidatingly unreadable gaze and a touch of irritation from the twitch of his upper lip before he carries on with a grunt and forgets Mon’s existence in the same breath. Somehow, even that feels rude.

Then a lithe woman strides into view with long hair billowing behind her, and the Duros with a blaster on his thigh and a height that towers two heads above most humans abandons his aloof composure in a blink. The teal-skinned sentient’s fingers twitch to a nonexistent hat while he simultaneously nods –– no, bows –– his head to the little lady and tacks on an expression that softens his face enough to imitate a smile even without curving his lips. He’s still intimidating, still rough, and no less the Duros he was two seconds ago, but added to his character is now…loyalty. The trait unmistakably announces itself in the attempt to shrink his height, though the Duros still stands a head taller than the inspiration of his utmost respect. Regardless, the woman’s presence fills the atmosphere by her arrival and the Duros’s instant reaction alone. Mon regards her, then the orange-grey droid behind her. Both remain unfamiliar.

“The Chamber starts in five,” Bail reminds from Mon’s left, startling her. He smiles with a knowing and a touch of amusement that inspires a chuckle from Mon despite herself. “She’s going to work wonders,” Bail follows Mon’s gaze to the simply-dressed but wordlessly inspiring woman, “that Senator Leia.”

“Give her a planet and she’ll build a government,” Mon comments. “Give her the Galactic Chamber….”

“We shall see.” Bail nudges Mon for them to head to their respective pods. It is a discomforting thought to consider the admittedly small possibility that the princess aspires to restructure the existing government, but either way, Bail cannot sense ill-will or carelessness from Leia. Changing the Republic would be ambitious, surely, but for anyone to be capable of it?

Then again, the Chancellor has progressed well so far into shaping the Republic to his mold.

Bail keeps his thoughts to himself as he enters his pod and the Galactic Chamber opens to Mas Amedda to define the session’s agenda. Most present senators murmur anxiously from their corners of the chamber despite Mas Amedda’s continued speech, and Bail unwittingly glances in the vague direction of Leia’s pod. The unprecedented pressure, including within Republican history, can intimidate even a seasoned politician. Almost no senator present wishes for a representative from the Outer Rim, or at least carries no opinion of the matter. Almost no one wants Leia to succeed.

“…It is to my understanding that a representative for the Tatoo system is present?” Mas Amedda drones, and a hush falls upon the chamber in stark contrast to the previously inattentive atmosphere. With a click that humbly echoes through the dead still air, a pod detaches itself from the curved walls and engages in a solitary flight towards the Chancellor’s podium where the key mic hovers. Bail can hear his own heartbeat. Then Leia’s round, young face fills every pod’s screen and, undoubtedly, every broadcast on the HoloNet, and if Leia wasn’t nervous before, then she is now.

Leia takes in a breath, then opens her mouth.

~

After the session, Palpatine summons Leia to his office. He, the Sith Lord and master of darkness, cannot afford the threat that this lady poses.

She is too inspiring.

~

“What did I say?” Bail prods, and Mon cannot fight the grin on her face despite herself. They can affect change. Their concerns might actually see effect. An overenthusiastic crowd fills the corridor with its noise before its presence, and anyone who has witnessed the senatorial session that day already knows the single possible explanation for the commotion, and she’s nearly hidden by the height and movement of her curious co-workers. Leia rose thought-provoking but controversial points in the session that have won her enough respect to be recognised as a senator, but a “discussion” in these grounds is in reality a democratic synonym for the proper term, “debate.” Senator Leia has her own share of admirers –– for now –– as she does vocal critics, and the cloud of sentients clinging to her carries pockets of unfriendliness. Leia’s bodyguards –– the tall Duros and the bipedal droid –– ensure that no one touches her, but passionate words and cramped movement force all in the hallway to either make room for the crowd or join it.

Bail catches a member of the Chancellor’s Office coming their way, and he and Mon share looks. At the sight of Mas Amedda, almost all of the crowd dissipates before the Chagrian can rebuke or occupy any of them, and Leia takes the chance to hastily reunite with Bail and greet Mon. Before they can exchange words, Mas Amedda zeroes in on Leia and halts before her as he clears his throat.

“Chancellor Palpatine is concerned with Tatooine’s seat in the Galactic Senate.”

“Of course he is,” Mon comments.

“As one who wishes the best for the people,” Mas Amedda continues, affronted. To imply prejudice in the Chancellor’s Office means to criticise Mas Amedda’s calling, yet his tone falls weak against the past hour of several hundred senators adopting similar inflections to disguise disdain as innocent concern regarding Tatooine and her representative.

Leia pretends ignorance of Mas Amedda’s obvious opinion. The lady accepts the invitation to Palpatine’s office and nearly leaves Mas Amedda behind with her two intimidating shadows trailing after her. She walks with as much character and determination as when she speaks. Whether or not she offends a critic apparently concerns her little against the truth she lives by and breathes and must share with the rest of the galaxy. Mon recalls how she first seriously considered the unpredictable, uncontrollable spirit: Bail had brought up Tatooine’s likely Senator with a thoughtful, innocent voice and a cup of Karlini tea, and Mon had nearly consumed both in calm bliss without grasping what she was taking in. Now, she is inclined to thank Bail for his stubbornness. While Leia isn’t a conventional politician, she might be what the galaxy needs.

Once Mas Amedda, Leia, and her guards disappear down the corridor, the remaining senators turn to each other in a discussion.

“Tatooine is under the protection of pirates!”

“Which ones? The Black Bha’lir –– the Hutts –– Epsis?”

“Just pirates. Anyone who goes to Tatooine. Anyone.

Bail steps in like a devil’s advocate. “Then I suppose that if Republican forces go to Tatooine, the planet would have Republican protection as well,” he says diplomatically.

“Yes, but not solely Republican protection,” another senator points out.

“Every system is allowed its own private form of defence,” Mon adds, pulled along. She blames Bail. “So long as Tatooine’s government holds accountable for its planetary forces, the Republic has no right to interfere. Not even the Chancellor. I’ve heard that those who protect Tatooine follow a code, so they may be more organised than we expect.” She glances at Bail, paraphrasing one of the arguments he has pitched to her before. The critics around her flail.

Pirates have a code.”

Bail smiles, his own unique charisma washing over the tensed atmosphere. “I do believe that detail has been made irrelevant here.”

~

Palpatine unsmilingly debates with Senator Leia over her decision to stay in his own concerned, thoughtful pace and mood matched by their fluffed chairs sitting next to each other. Like the cold grooves of aged wood under their feet, machinations thread together in Palpatine’s head unnoticed behind his grandfatherly countenance. Tatooine cannot have a senator. Dear Anakin has expressed upset in times past over the absence of political acknowledgement of his home planet, and the warrior’s complicated opinions of his origins both lend Palpatine power over Anakin and simultaneously threaten to pull the rug out from under him at any time if Palpatine treads uncarefully. If the reason-inspiring and heart-moving Senator Leia pushes for planetary aid in public broadcasts and Palpatine consistently responds with inaction, there will be repercussions from Anakin.

Naturally, Palpatine’s plans can recover from such consequences with a shift of blame to the self-seeking majority of the Senate when Tatooine is ignored even on the galactic stage, but without a firm grasp of her character, Senator Leia is a wild card. Palpatine prefers to rely on flawless plans than backup ones. Even now, his strategic brilliance makes use of the seemingly unrelated detail that his apprentice cannot tolerate pirates. Palpatine knows of the small mess Dooku has created off in the Outer Rim. He had drawn the conclusion like a spider with its strings after picking up nigh unnoticeable changes in movement patterns among pirates, and the brief moment Palpatine had noticed and then dismissed the impractical fact returns to him now by the power of his sharp memory.

“Count Dooku’s private ship has once been spotted just two systems away from Tatoo space,” he adds, concerned. “In this time of war, the complicated processes of the Senate may challenge a planet with such a problem at its doorstep and with many senators here having little time to spare for guiding a newcomer.”

“Tatooine has never concerned itself with Separatists,” Leia deflects, recognising an accusation. “They frankly have nothing to offer to us –– only a little less than the fortunes the Republic has given in Tatooine history.” Which has been none but perhaps neglect, and both parties present know this.

“Tatooine has listened to offers from the CIS?”

“We have had zero contact with the CIS,” Leia states flatly, and slowly breathes. “Chancellor, you seem to mistake Tatooine’s seat in the Senate for an application for citizenship.” Ah, bullseye. Leia’s mind clears with Palpatine’s first slip she has caught. “The Tatoo system is a member of the Outer Rim Territories. We were colonised by the Republic –– we are children of the Republic. Senator or no, Republican contact or no, Tatooine has been the Republic’s for millennium. With the acceptance of this seat and privilege, I am here to show that while the Republic has forgotten Tatooine, Tatooine has not forgotten the Republic and its proper ways. I am here to serve an Outer Rim Territory –– a child of democracy.”

Palpatine’s lip twitches, which recovers into the first syllable of his point, “Tatooine’s official currency is not Republican credits.”

“We have no official currency,” Leia briskly cuts off. “If you are so concerned about Tatooine’s economy, we would not be having this conversation, Chancellor. Tatooine needs a voice.”

“Do you deny that poverty can push a majority of planetary population towards the easiest solution against hardship? The CIS has preyed upon such circumstances before, and Count Dooku is reportedly a very charismatic man.”

That makes two of you, Leia wishes to say, but she holds her tongue. In her pause, Palpatine continues with a grandfatherly smile and crinkle in his eyes, “I cannot speak for the Senate, but I do not blame Tatooine for seeking help from bad places. Poverty can misguide anyone, and Tatooine, as you say, is a child.”

We are going nowhere, Leia inwardly seethes.

Senator Leia is a wonder to behold. As a representative of Tatooine, she is exotic in a sea of old names and faces, but her commanding voice –– not unusual for politicians –– fills the senate chamber in a manner unlike anyone else. Without voluminous and regal attire, accessories, or hair, she is a simply-dressed woman caught off the dunes of Tatooine. She is anyone. The tone, face, and words she offers are what everyone wishes they could share if only they knew how, because this woman expresses exactly what is hardest to convey, and language and culture barriers mean nothing before her. Senator Leia is what people want, and is therefore what politicians desire to be.

Outside the senate chamber, however, Senator Leia is brief and blunt as if the heat of desert suns is dogging her shoulders and the wisps of her hair. Palpatine struggles to find her pleasant company, and maintaining a civil conversation with her is like trying to dodge a blaster shot –– constantly. He has a feeling that she misses nothing –– if not from experience, then by pure instinct. Quite unlike Senator Amidala, whose empathy allows her to read and persuade others, if a little off-mark.

Palpatine has little patience for meaningless conversation and difficult company. He unthreateningly smiles and –– quickly –– raises his hand as if to pat the senator on her shoulder. Before the lady can react to the sudden movement and intrusion of space, Palpatine’s fingers are already a breath away from Leia’s temple.

He intends to see into the princess’s head.

He must know what –– and who –– Leia knows.

~

~

Grakkus surveys the remains of the crew who are boneless against a wall or a crate –– mainly thanks to bone-deep exhaustion or to stun rays –– and sporting not a few burnt grazes of blaster shots. The rest of the motionless crew members on the ground are dead.

“You invaded this far?” Grakkus observes. His rules are simple: disable ships and make them his own, not destroy whatever metal comes in sight all willy-nilly.

His captain clears his throat, aware of Grakkus’s strict enforcement of such rules and the number of offences the average sentient can survive under the Hutt. “Of course not, sir.” The Nikto pauses, realises his words might intimate a poorly performing crew, and professionally adds, “We know better. The damage and the disabled crew before you is the work of another party.”

“One you haven’t identified.”

“We haven't detected another presence on our scanners. The enemy ship’s logs state that starboard cannons discharged during the battle, so the third party must have docked in stealth mode on the other side of the enemy’s ship and been blown to oblivion before–––“

“Before the stealth ship’s pilots made a work of half a freighter’s full staff?” Grakkus finishes flatly.

A heavy-duty freighter’s full staff is easily ninety-count. That leaves about forty-five blasters trained on two pilots minimum if the stealth ship was a compact lightspeed, and five if the ship was a middle-grade freighter. The survival rate for the stealth crew still stands at ten percent, optimistically, but three percent is more realistic. Grakkus knows of looting expeditions that operated with ten members against a thirty-count freighter crew, and still concluded with a severe loss. No one loots a bigger crew.

“Open up that storage closet,” Grakkus commands, and the captain obliges with a nod to the technician, who hacks into the ship and unlocks the door. The slab of metal slowly slides up to reveal impenetrable darkness like the maw of a titanic beast, or the reopening of a stone tomb. Grakkus’s captain and crew stare into the distant nothingness until the door finally disappears.

Then a brilliant blue light ignites with the rush and power of lightning along a wire, and a snap-hiss hits the crew not a second later.

“Holy Shavit!” the captain drops in the silence like a proton bomb. He draws his blaster with shaky hands and nearly misses the trigger, and the delayed second is all it takes for the shot to easily be deflected to the ground and smoking between the captain’s feet. “Jedi!” the captain finishes his breath, but he’s already stating the obvious. Every crew member is afraid. Grakkus can practically taste high-strung agitation sitting thick in the air and a pocket of calmness where the Jedi is. Right now, his crew is no match for a Jedi.

“Stand down, captain.”

The Nikto glances at Grakkus, hyper-aware of the difference between a hologram and a vulnerable fleshling. “Sir–––“

The loss-to-gain ratio is too great for a hostile exchange. Grakkus urges his holoform forward but out of reach from the lightsaber. “This crew of mine is terribly talented,” Grakkus states, “but if you force me to self-detonate this ship you’re in and to cut my losses, I’ll be most displeased. I hate cutting losses.” Grakkus watches the low-angled lightsaber floating in the dark as his captain hurriedly translates Grakkus’s words into Basic –– reflected blue light softly implies a leather glove, a mid-waist belt, and wild, thick hair –– but the Jedi capable of taking on forty-five pirates casually speaks before Grakkus’s captain is finished.

“I don’t make deals with Hutts.”

The Jedi stands up, blade wavering as he does so, and steps to the edge of direct light where his full height –– rare –– and his piercing eyes take a hold of Grakkus’s crew like a bogeyman. His gloved hand clenches around his lightsaber with a low creak. There aren’t many Jedi with prosthetics found outside the Core.

“I’m sure,” Grakkus admits, “that you know that you have no option. If you take Kenobi and leave me and my crew to our business, I’ll forget that you nearly smoked my captain.”

Anakin Skywalker falters, doesn’t retract his lightsaber, and hauls Obi-Wan Kenobi over his shoulder with one arm, all while Grakkus’s captain translates and trails off when he realises that words aren’t needed. “Where is this ship’s tender?” Anakin questions the nearest crew member darkly, nearly towering over the Niktos, and intentional or not, the intimidation jerks a detailed response right off the Nikto’s tongue before Skywalker disappears down the corridor like a fading yet haunting work of adrenaline, imagination, and fear. Whether or not the crew will remember his features, they will not easily forget their close shave with death via a practically mythological being. Grakkus watches him, and the gangster’s captain comes to his side.

“We will not abduct the two?” the captain shakily asks, and Grakkus looks at him.

“Your ambition to rise ranks is noted,” the Hutt replies, amused.

Chapter Text

Dooku and Luke’s capes hang over the back of their chairs and the stacks of flimsies beyond them, while more stacks provide support for propped feet or elbows in front; either way, the two warriors are pictures of academic slobs. From a viewpoint level with the small table on which Dooku pours over materials organised according to his impressions, the two males even appear to lounge over and between towers of flimsies. Only Dooku manages —— or bothers —— to retain a stately air despite his obvious disregard for proper bookkeeping. Indeed, he would primarily blame the librarian of Tatooine’s historical records, if Tatooine had one to begin with. Luke fulfils that duty now in an unhurried pace as he acts as a soundboard to Dooku’s voiced thoughts.

“Etra and Tyun are covers.” Dooku suddenly punctuates a stylus into the air without tearing his eyes from the flimsies on his desk. “I care not for this system’s culture,” the count curtly responds to an unspoken thought from Luke, “but I acknowledge the existence of this dying myth simply for the rational usefulness of children’s tales with a planet-wide presence. I have clothed myself in the mask of an ancient darkness, after all, so easy to shed before the non-believing public when the time comes that I realise the true atrocities of the CIS and return to the Republic.”

Amused shock. “The Order will be offended.”

“I am not one of them. No Force-sensitive owns a seat in the Senate, and it hardly sees a difference between one Force-user and the next.” Dooku scrolls through an article as he speaks. “A Sith and a Jedi are a matter of technical definition to Republicans, and the laws from which such technicalities are drawn from depend on the Order’s records. As an honourable count rescued from the CIS, I will appear driven by justice and not ‘anger, fear, and aggression.’ The Order is under the jurisdiction of the Senate; when the latter decides to accept me, the former will have to back off. Otherwise, the Order will be guilty of harassing a Republican citizen.”

“The Senate will love you,” Luke remarks dryly.

“They are not Jedi,” Dooku responds. “No one is, present company excluded.”

Luke shrugs.

“I also believe one of the ‘dragons’ is Force-sensitive,” Dooku adds, pausing on an article. “I’m inclined towards Etra, as Tyun does not come across as a trained force-sensitive.”

Now this is interesting. Luke keeps his ear out for more of what his company may say. He refuses to reveal Leia’s identity as Tyun, but he has allowed Dooku to make the realisations that the count has. A trained Force-sensitive, Leia is not, but Dooku misses the possibility that she still possesses the same potential as Luke. The detail that the people behind Etra and Tyun are not Sith consumes most of Dooku’s attention, anyway, if only out of irritation. The fact that a hopeless planet like Tatooine now appreciates the gifts from completely changing for the better disputes the idea that only Sith or only Jedi can right a galaxy so off-kilter from its true values. Not that a true Jedi’s help won’t hurt––

Snap.

Caring not for the broken stylus, Dooku slowly looks at Luke.

“Etra….”

“Yes?”

“…Is the Chosen One.”

Luke wants to slam his head into a wall, but the capitals in Dooku’s speech snatch his curiosity faster. “The what?”

But Dooku is now mumbling to himself, tapping his broken stylus against any hard surface as he shuffles flimsies around for a margin of blank space. Ancient text rises from his legible murmurs, along with speculations, and Luke allows the count to return to reality when he can. Five minutes pass until Dooku realises Luke is still there.

“The Chosen One is what the Jedi should be.”

“That’s nice.” Luke sighs. “Now what is this about a Chosen One?”

“Has Anakin Skywalker been in Tatoo space recently?”

The question catches Luke off-guard. Dooku hums, having witnessed Luke’s reaction, and he shakes his head with the grace of an aristocrat. Even old, he is still suave. “Young Skywalker cannot bring balance to the Force until he realises the qualities of a true Jedi for himself. Light and Dark, love and the absence of love, that which he must understand to conquer himself and the Sith will force the Order to change and the galaxy to follow. The Sith advocate not only meaningless death and suffering, but also meaningless cheating of death and suffering; it is against nature, and thus causes chaos. Etra may not be Anakin Skywalker. That is fine. But the Order fails to see what young Skywalker must become, and even stunts his development into the very saviour they need.”

Luke gently places a hand on the broken stylus, ceasing Dooku’s tapping. “I know,” Luke says softly.

Dooku is frustrated. With the Order, with how ignorant the galaxy can be when the answer to peace is right under their noses, with himself. If he had realised his ignorance as a Sith –– no, even earlier, as a “Jedi,” he could have brought greater change to the galaxy by now. Peace would have been closer. And the only living soul in the entire universe who understands –– and shares his frustration –– is a boy with not even half of Dooku’s wealth, power, or connections. A boy with few blessings, but a great heart.

Who are you? Dooku wonders.

Such a name as “Luke” offers little cultural background to go on, given its roots in a near-universal ancient language that many names find inspiration from——

Luke. Meaning light.

Dooku's stylus ceases tapping again, but the boy does not look up from his flimsies, apparently now accustomed to filtering out Dooku’s type of white noise. This works in Dooku’s favour, for the moment of wild imagination, shock, and pinch of willingness to believe in the remarkable that he requires to spend with himself alone. Perhaps the parents knew ahead of time the sort of man whom Luke would become? Or is there a deeper insight at play, for a true servant of the Force to bear one of its names?

Light.

Dooku has a lot to think about. He knows that Luke is apparently familiar with every individual on this planet Tatooine, and, despite this, treasures them for who they are. He also knows that Luke is aware of the medical applications of the Force, but is not particularly skilled or trained in them, perhaps because accelerated healing —— the brother of hastened death —— defies nature. Luke seems to know a lot about nature. He can quantify the difference in speed between a tauntaun and an eopie despite the two having never shared a climate before, and he has identified the domestic advantages across sandy planets, icy planets, and swampy planets in one of their small, passing debates that Dooku almost forgets amidst the sea of meaningless conversations he and Luke have shared to this point. The boy is unnaturally easy to talk to without a compromise of beliefs from either side. He can also fly a ship like he is the space that the ship is in, itself.

Dooku picks up a scribe’s flimsy, downloads a required reading in the Temple for all initiates and Padawans, and swipes to a specific section. His educated and culturally exposed background considers the temptation to ask a different question.

What are you?

“Luke.”

“Yes?”

“Have you cast eyes on The Journey to Enlightenment in the Force before?” Dooku offers his flimsy to the young man, who receives the canon with absent-minded curiosity.

“My knowledge of the Force is from primarily feeling my way through,” Luke confesses as he begins to read. Dooku watches Luke settle into the work.

As the blonde progresses in the text, the traces of curiosity on his face fall into those of deep contemplation underlined by his solemn silence. Dooku absorbs the stark absence of boyishness in Luke with a chill down his spine and an uneasy sense of guilt even though he is not the canon’s author and no longer subscribes to the content. This Luke –– the warrior whose flow and ferocity had ambushed Dooku in a pirate ship, who now sits upright, caught in meditation as he works through three-hundred pages –– commands the respect of those in his presence not unlike a sleeping volcano or the stillness of air before the heavens open up. Dooku understands the sudden seriousness for an uncomfortable and enlightening truth.

The text is failing Luke.

And Luke is not happy.

Dooku picks up another flimsy and allows history written in the language of myths to wash over his stimulated mind. He can wait to witness Luke’s opinions of the Temple’s broken ways.

~

~

Palpatine shouldn't have rushed.

The dive into Senator Leia’s consciousness draws similarities with an uncontrolled drop into a planet’s atmosphere, complete with the rattling sensation of breaking through kilometres’-thick layers of thoughts and the stomach-flipping motion of free-fall as a solid surface races up to meet the body. Hardly a challenge for Palpatine, but finding purchase in Leia’s retreating thoughts proves as difficult as gathering wind in one’s hands. This brush with Leia’s mind lasts only a second. Through the event, Palpatine barely grasps colours bleeding away into taste, phantom sounds lurking beyond reach, and a curtain of long, softly-brushed hair spilling over Palpatine’s shoulder with the descent of a single voice above his ear as husky and sweet as that of the individual whose mind he attempts to unravel. The air stills with one commanding word.

Leave.

Palpatine returns to the physical world with a mental jolt not unlike the snapback of one’s body back into one’s seat at the end of an amusement ride. Rather than with having been intimidated, Palpatine’s fingers twitch with irritation, which he hastily pulls back from Leia’s temple in a Force-given urge just in time for the door to his office to slide open and reveal a seven-foot tall assassination droid.

“Master.” A vibroblade hums too comfortably in the droid’s fist. “Your heart rate elevated above your conditioned ceiling for one second. Shall I kill something for you?”

“Hack is responsible for my peace of mind,” Leia remarks from Palpatine’s side, snatching his focus back to her. The nicknamed “princess” stands up and tosses Palpatine her widest, fakest smile. “Please excuse him and tell your guards to stand down.” For their own safety, goes unsaid.

This girl, Palpatine decides, has more balls than the entirety of the Galactic Chamber.

“We're done here,” Palpatine agrees in an unassuming, grandfatherly tone, returning Leia’s smile and joining her on his feet. “May I advise that a reflection on Tatooine’s local circumstances will serve you well, Senator? My office can only follow through with an investigation on you and your system if the majority votes for it, and I, personally, wish to see Tatooine remain here.” He offers a handshake. “A good friend of mine hails from your planet, and I would appreciate hearing more of its customs from you.”

“I would much rather give a demonstration,” Leia returns, offhandedly threatening not unlike displeased royalty, and Palpatine can see where the nickname finds inspiration from. Her demure tone also possesses the dryness of a desert. If the woman is aware of her mental instinct to slip around Palpatine’s mental probe like water and oil, she displays none of the usual signs. Seasoned spies possess the same ability, as well as sentients actively resisting interrogation, but Palpatine has not witnessed such defences before from a product of an ignorant, rugged, and unrefined planet as Tatooine. One second is not long enough to rifle through an individual’s mind.

They shake hands, weakly on Palpatine’s part, and his play at frailty fools only his startled guards, who, though masked, step aside obviously affronted as Senator Leia, her assassination droid, and an apologetic Duros wholly out of place exit the Chancellor’s floor without so much as a slap on the wrist or a backwards glance from them to Palpatine, who watches them leave before dismissing his guards out of his office. Every Senator is allowed a pair of bodyguards into the Senate Building and the Republic Executive Building, but where most politicians invest in advisors or butlers by their sides, Senator Leia has taken the privilege to heart with not a little awareness of Tatooine’s position contrasted against millennium-old members of the Senate. The only other politician who shares her preference for bodyguards, Palpatine notes with irony, is himself. Whether or not Leia requires the protection, her possible like-mindedness with Palpatine interests him more.

Senator Leia may prove more formidable than a passing irritation as initially suspected. The average assassin like Palpatine’s failure back on Tatooine will not succeed, either —— that is, so long as either the princess is on Tatooine or that assassination droid of hers still functions. …Either can easily be remedied.

~

After three flights of stairs that finally start pumping Leia’s frustration out of her system, Vasilek’s uneasy panting directs her to an elevator in mercy. She and the Duros create plans during their ride to the ground floor to head straight to Advocate, leave for their hotel, and catch sleep after an exhausting flight from the Outer Rim to the Core underscored by hours in the Galactic Chamber, while Hack inserts security precautions they should heed and the usual disturbing comments. Their plans evaporate upon nearly mowing over a politician at the building’s main doors.

“Senator Amidala,” Leia apologises.

“Senator Leia,” the woman cordially reciprocates with a beautiful smile. “How fortunate to cross paths with you in these halls without the foot traffic of your many admirers,” she teases as her protocol droid’s criticism of Leia’s disrespect –– is that Threepio? –– stutters into silence. “I wish to share with you my hopes for the improvements of your planet’s state, and that these issues will not simply die out from the Chamber with time. I know someone whose heart will dare to lift upon hearing of your goals and hopefully their completion.”

“You have my gratitude and curiosity, Senator Amidala,” Leia returns, regarding the petite woman before her and racing to recall what she can from bedtime stories with Bail and from months of preparation for the Core and Mid-Rim’s politics so as not to walk blindly, especially now as a senator. Connecting with even strangers she meets is key both in social settings and in politics. “I have studied the modern planetary history of my coworkers in the Senate, and understand you have known the political landscape since you were ten and four years? With a war to break out not even months into leadership?” She waves at Vasilek and Hack to step back, and with a pointed look from the latter, they ease off their intimidating proximity.

“You are not alone in your curiosity in my early political days,” Padmé allows, used to the question. “Shall we walk and talk, my fellow lady?”

“We may sit and have tea,” Leia offers instead, pleasantly surprised.

“Tea time,” Padmé appreciates with the first brightening of her eyes and a more honest smile. “Most people forget the value in small talk.” Tea and biscuits are how relationships are made, allowing for inside jokes and several favours that shape the unofficial alliances among senators, not planetary systems, who place votes for each other with the future in mind and regardless of platform. These friendships are why the Republic can function, and why Padmé and her colleagues can see corruption connected to the highest level, the Chancellor’s Office, standing out starkly in the pattern of uncharacteristic votes that has arisen since the start of the war. The growing unreliability of friendships and their associated free speech in the Chamber not only threatens their democracy but also feeds power to a single office, and by extension a single chair: the Chancellor’s. Padmé has voiced her concerns before with her closest friendship circle –– few in number, admittedly, though priceless in quality like the insightful and sometimes frank Bail –– yet only inactionable words have met her. She contemplates the likely possibility of friendship circles intersecting her own, and their secret conversations. She ruminates if anything can be done.

Which is why she considers the new senator before her with hope and suspicion. Leia is a living possibility of a renewal in “wasted time” like having tea and attending charity balls without compromising integrity on the platform, and Padmé has to wonder if Leia’s dove-white shift dress is intentional, complete with a tie-front flair and conservative mid-length sleeves. The commonplace seam lines encourage a subconscious sense of familiarity with any who lay eyes on Leia, complemented by the dress’s short cut for movement to liken her both to the modern and the hard-working crowd.

The choice of fabric and dye colour emphasises this. In highly-developed desert cultures where most clothing is white or undyed, white reflects everyday life; for mountainous cultures, similarities with snow recall images of purity yet also the power of nature; and for many systems, white represents peace, clarity, and the divine. Tatoo is not a highly-developed system, which would usually encourage Padmé to throw the first symbolic interpretation out, yet she admittedly knows little of Tatooine culture, and Leia must know that most Republicans don't. Thus the interpretations to connect with Leia that the woman is wordlessly encouraging must be from all of the above; she is both a commoner and a divine force of nature —— level-headed, pure, and powerful. Consequently, she claims to have the galaxy’s best interests at heart, and the means to help it. If the dress, the simple hairstyle, and the natural makeup is deliberate, then Leia may prove exceptionally well-versed in galactic politics at its purest, most honest form –– and consequentially, not who she seems. After all, Tatooine has only enjoyed a seat in the Chamber since today.

The frightening likelihood is that only Padmé can see it.

The necessity of socialising between senators is unfortunately often forgotten the same way most people disregard even the relevance of fashion. One can convey unspeakable depths of determination, hope, sadness, and anger under the radar of those ignorant of symbolism without saying a word –– and while this favours the side of Padmé who has grown up in espionage for the better of eighteen years, picking outfits for “Queen Amidala” and then the handmaidens who surround her like a lake, reflective yet separate of the moon that is the queen –– the dominating ignorance of fashion in the political world saddens her. She knows best how seams can speak honestly where the girl in the dress cannot, or act as a misdirection over the woman’s true intentions. The question lies in whether Leia’s appearance serves the former purpose or the latter.

Suddenly, like any moment caught between pulling sheets over herself and rising from her pillow, she can imagine Anakin with her. This time he laughs at her ability to meditate for hours on dresses –– an area her husband admittedly knows and cares little about, and yet encourages her to deliberate with him on edge stitches and dyes because she cares about fashion, and that is enough for him. Anakin is one of the few people who accepts all aspects of her without having to understand them, including her quirks that frustrate her friends from their handmaiden years, and even her own family. When was the last time Padmé acted freely?

She misses him. If anything, she at least wishes that she wouldn’t hear Holo rumours of how her husband has died for sure this time, as opposed to the article last time, or the article before.

“Shall we?” Leia asks.

“Let us have tea,” Padmé decides with more genuine interest, and leads the way to her apartment in 500 Republica. She wishes to know if a threat walks beside her, or, in her lonely selfishness and her highest hopes…

A friend.

~

~

Obi-Wan remembers his first nebula.

Two galaxies of their own colours and raw power had collided and had unapologetically forced Obi-Wan to reconstruct his reality from the ground up. He had to reflect on ideologies he had first taken for granted as a child –– ones that, from the departure of his innocence in childhood, have went on to crack apart and meld together like shifting plates, never the exact same each time –– and open himself up to a foreign ideology with all the exposure of a coatless man against a blizzard. Or a sponge to an ocean. Obi-Wan didn’t crack, but he danced the edge of drowning and swimming just the same.

One galaxy was Obi-Wan’s grasp of allkind, of all sentients from man to Mon Calamari. It was a grasp born from growing up as one spiritually sensitive to nature yet confined to a metal, urban planet –– from knowing the busy-minded to the corrupt better than the Temple’s lone garden, because Coruscant is countless sentients and morals forced to share space with an atmosphere of pollution and recycled air suspended over, and the Jedi Temple smack dab in the off-centre because the Council dislikes scrutiny. There was a time Obi-Wan dreamt of steering feather-light controls of a ship through Coruscant’s excuse of an atmosphere just for the sake of knowing wind by becoming it. Then young Obi-Wan crossed paths with pirates, forced labour, civil war, and death, and that childhood dream slipped away as smoothly as a ship.

Obi-Wan today likes to believe that he knows the good in allkind. He already knows that no one goes through life unscathed –– that if they do not yet know pain or loss or death, they will –– so why would anyone want to make life harder for anyone else? If he can convey his thoughts, his cracked but not broken philosophy, then perhaps his belief will spread. But the first to suffer and the last to die is also he who is too late to acquire the necessary language for his thoughts. He has yet to grasp love. He is only on the precipice of it. In another universe, he had stood on the precipice until his brother had died and pulled him over it.

The other galaxy was Anakin’s grasp of allkind. His was born from growing up sensitive to nature in a planet of boundless sand, rock, and sky until the three seem to bleed together, so that young Anakin understood nature better than he could articulate, but found little value in it except for crashing any piece of metal that flies and earning him and his mother trouble. His galaxy was built on the idea that no sentient was equal in talent or connections, and the belief that if none could be equal, then they should at least be allowed the power to act and live as they choose. His galaxy was peripherally aware of death enough that the issues of life carried value to him. Yet as Shmi once said of her boy, “he knows nothing of greed.” Young Ani did not grasp selfishness until he left the planet where the Force filled sand and sky, to a planet abundant with more sentients than air. The beginning of his life as a Padawan was the collision of his and Obi-Wan’s galaxies.

Obi-Wan relives that nebula now while a devastating storm of colours and intentions batter and threaten to break his mind, which, instead of curling defensively, helplessly opens as a flower to the sun, because this nebula involves Anakin, one of the greatest loves and responsibilities of his life, and Obi-Wan is, despite his humble claims, a good person. He hurtles through a vast sea of consciousness as if diving into a mind older and wiser than that of any sentient Obi-Wan has known –– the overwhelming experience one that should have already departed his fragile mind into insanity –– but Anakin’s soft glow in the edge of Obi-Wan’s awareness anchors the Jedi Master and gives him an axis from which this storm unfolds around. The sea of incomprehensible breadth and depth in which he drifts, Obi-Wan will later contemplate, must be the Force. And, true to his instincts, he allows it to spill in.

“Ben,” Luke calls, eyes clear and unsuspecting.

Obi-Wan blinks, startled by the innocent sight. The hum and overwhelming energy of the storm has eerily vanished. Instead, crags rise around him while pure white desert stretches to the horizon, and in the middle of it all, a boy with a face as open as the raw nature they sit in gazes up at Obi-Wan from the ground. Bruises and a touch of blood peek out from under a white tunic.

“Ben Kenobi?” Luke asks.

The boy needs help, so Obi-Wan unhesitantly gives it, and pulls him upright. Like a duck taking to the water, Luke rises and, finding a stable boulder, sits, at ease in a world of all angles. Obi-Wan feels as if he should know this boy. A name escapes him just as readily as it comes to mind, but either way, the wilderness is no safe place for an unarmed man.

“What brings you out this far?” Obi-Wan asks, concerned.

Luke shakes his hair free of sand and then gestures, providing an answer without questioning Obi-Wan’s intent in a sign of pure, wholehearted trust. “This little droid.” Amusement catches the trails of Luke’s tone, and Obi-Wan follows the boy’s gaze to Artoo on Obi-Wan’s other side. Without prompting, Luke spills forth a story. “I think he’s looking for his former master, but I’ve never seen such devotion in a droid before. He claims to be the property of an Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

The following words from the boy hit Obi-Wan’s ears distantly, as if the Jedi Master has been submerged in water. Qui-Gon swims past. Obi-Wan turns his head and is nearly rewarded with the whip of a varactyl’s tail at his face as he readjusts to the density around him and navigates the cloth and leather of his robes for an aquata breather that Cody must have forgotten he had. Obi-Wan’s lightsaber bumps against his hand comfortingly, and ignites.

“I have been waiting for you, Obi-Wan.” A scarlet blade rises level with twin red lenses and the filter of a breathing apparatus. “We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete.”

A tall, broad-shouldered man with the chest panel and regulated breathing of a machine stands before Obi-Wan, expressionless and imposing, particularly with a mask and helm replacing his face. The halls are eerily empty and quiet, accentuating the manipulative power and foresight of the self-assured opponent before Obi-Wan, and the silent, perpetual rage too easy to dismiss beside the man’s slow, even breathing. A steady lightsaber grip and experienced dip of weight over a centre of gravity cuts Obi-Wan’s aggressor out as a warrior far more experienced than Obi-Wan can ever be, and far more invested in their duel. Obi-Wan has never seen this Sith before. He should not know this man, but he does.

Obi-Wan raises his blade.

A firelit figure replaces the sight of his saber, and Luke leans against a tree with a muted but pleased smile. Obi-Wan turns, and there, to his right, is, and always will be,

Anakin fills his hands with Obi-Wan’s own, and calls out softly to him.

“Obi-Wan?”

He is hovering again, scarred brow furrowing with its sweaty counterpart as Anakin’s gloved hand creaks with a tense grip that presses Obi-Wan’s palms together as if in a prayer. Obi-Wan struggles with the moment to decide if he still sees with his mind, or if he is truly lying in a clone medbay. If so, he must have become one with the Force, because it will be a cold day on Coruscant when Obi-Wan Kenobi enters and stays in a medbay.

“Anakin.”

“Yes, Obi-Wan?”

“Is it snowing on Coruscant?”

The wrinkle between Anakin’s brows smoothes out with the solemn drop of the knight’s face. “Even more impossible,” Anakin laments dryly, “you are in the medbay, for the second straight day.”

“Keep your laughs to yourself,” Obi-Wan warns as he slowly sits up and fights a grin. “Because if I hear right, that means you have also been in the medbay for two days straight.”

He isn't sure that he is still dreaming. A cloud of danger hovers around Anakin like a halo, and the last time such dark serenity had clung to Anakin was when Qui-Gon had stood before the Council and declared Anakin his next Padawan. Mace and other Masters still misinterpret that past sense of danger as one attributed to Anakin himself, but Obi-Wan and he suspects Yoda know better.

It is the darkness that precedes the death of someone connected to Anakin.

Obi-Wan wonders whose death he sees this time.

Chapter Text

Padmé sips her tea and resists the pleasant urge to visibly melt at the soothing warmth after a long session. Across from her in a similar plush sofa sits Leia bringing her own cup to her lips, and farther away stands the young woman’s two guards facing the landing platform of Padmé’s apartment with their backs turned against the two Senators in the court practice of giving privacy, just as Threepio awaits behind Padmé.

The Duros guard’s flustered declining of his own cuppa earlier had revealed a crude yet loyal character honestly desiring to serve Leia the best he can, and Padmé observes the line of the guard’s shoulders with his charge in an unscanned apartment behind him and the foreign territory of Coruscant before him, and sees a sniper. Yet, the Duros straps an empty blaster holster on his side instead of a sniper rifle rig on his back? Excitement stirs in Padmé in unnecessarily exercising the subtle skills of her handmaiden days, before she quickly sips her calming tea to retain the refinement of a former queen who most definitely had not leapt out of windows with royal curtains bundled between her hands in silent and swift escapes as a youth on a mission.

Ahem.

“I must ask,” Padmé daintily approaches, “why you offered to have tea time with me.”

Leia’s familiar brown eyes lift from her tea to Padmé. “As opposed to a brief stroll? Your feet are swollen from pregnancy.”

How…!

Forget her own experiences at subterfuge, Padmé has to straighten up before the present threat of Leia’s words. Will Tatooine’s senator tell? Padmé can imagine the questions the Holonet will ask and poorly answer, such as what it will mean for her people if she the former queen has a child without announcing a father. She also doesn't need strangers to wonder if she was raped or slept around.

“And I wanted you to rest,” Leia continues in the span of a heartbeat that Padmé’s mind races with tense thoughts, and the Nubian, before Leia’s clear gaze, suddenly relaxes back in her sofa with an exhale, dispensing court etiquette.

The mother gently touches her stomach. “Is it obvious?”

“You hide it well,” Leia admits. “The father must be proud to have someone like you love him.”

It's a prod into Padmé’s affairs with all the politeness of a royal court, because even without intending to leak information, Leia wants to determine Padmé’s character based on her attitude regarding one of the most important choices a woman can make. The action blooms a smile on Padmé's face.

“He does, despite my quirks,” Padmé replies, and eases less weight from her aching feet since Leia hasn't shown an insistence on etiquette yet. While the young woman is a stranger, Padmé allows herself to feel the most relaxed she can be around anyone outside of Threepio, Artoo, and Anakin, and the fact surprises her. Perhaps she has been carrying secrets alone for too long. “Even shortly after our marriage, I would leap to help the Clone War effort sometimes personally, and I only drove him crazy for a month. You should have seen my blood family,” she chuckles. “They're still waiting for me to engage in another active stunt even months after I promised to mellow out.”

From the softened corners of Leia’s mouth, Padmé's answer satisfies her. The Tatooine senator grasps at least a little of the implications of the stress attached to Padmé's words, even without knowing the fact that Anakin had rightly been concerned with Padmé's war involvement in that they couldn't even imagine the consequences of him as a Jedi and her as a politician having their marriage revealed even to their closest friends, nevermind the possibility of Padmé dying from battle or assassinations. Padmé also lightly worded her family’s upset with her seemingly illogical actions, as the memory carries slight pain and too much personal history to share with others. At the very least, Padmé's candour laid out to Leia a woman who isn't careless but still in possession of an adventurous spirit.

“I can relate,” Leia returns, surprising Padmé. The brunette's eyes glitter. “Sometimes my proactiveness reaches levels that threaten to deeply concern even those close to me, but I am fortunate to have the knowledge of having all of me accepted and loved by someone.”

Yes, exactly! The safety of complete acceptance is a gift more precious than gold!

“I…” Padmé cradles her cup, startled by her joy. “I haven't had tea time in a long time.”

“Neither have I,” Leia confesses.

They meet gazes.

“I'm not an easy person to like if I don't decide to like you first,” Leia admits a little lowly, but Padmé laughs.

“I might not have a problem with leaving favourable impressions on everyone I meet, but I didn't feel like anyone could like all of me until my husband.” Padmé sets her tea down to reach over despite her aching back and pat Leia’s knee with the gentleness that her mother does with her. “Dear Leia, my friend, you need not hold back around me. Half of your guards can snipe and I can cast illusions the way a seen yet unseen handmaiden can. We have both made observations of each other, yes? So relax.”

Leia does, to her pleasant surprise. She recalls tales that her father once shared with her about his good friend of Naboo —— painting vivid scenes of secret identities, thrilling spy missions, and colourful wardrobes in the adventures of Padmé the Queen, handmaiden, and heroine —— and Leia connects one of the fairytale figures of her youth with the older woman sitting across from her with swollen feet and a blinding smile. Leia can see almost see it, the way one can recognise traces of one’s past in small habits and fashion styles.

“I have heard stories of the excitements that Naboo’s queens often discover,” Leia shares, “and yet you play a level-headed senator well. How do you do it?”

Padmé waves off her useless advice with amusement at Leia’s genuine curiosity. “Simply becoming a mother has matured me. I can’t be fine with fighting wild Nexu in gladiator arenas anymore.”

Father.

That is not a spy mission.

“I…haven’t heard about that,” Leia deadpans.

Padmé impresses a dimple on her cheek with a knowing smile. “That’s because I didn’t do that as a handmaiden.”

The friends that father makes––!

“Princess,” Vasilek unexpectedly intrudes, hands twitching for weapons he left in their ship, “you’re needed.” Beyond the Duros hovers a messenger droid projecting a startling declaration.

~

~

Luke has confidence in his beliefs despite what his Yoda —— the one older than the trees of Dagobah, who steals his food and wacks Artoo, who lifts an X-Wing in a humbling display of the Force with the raise of a clawed hand —— has tried to tell him before with more reasons to believe in his own teachings. Anger, fear, and aggression easily flow in a fight, true, but they are not of the Dark Side. Rather, the Force is meant to absorb crippling fear or anger, so that a Jedi —— or at least Luke —— won't be mentally running circles, committing to actions without being prepared for their consequences, or tiring out in seconds from adrenaline. Luke knows what his Yoda believed was Light and Dark, and, having experienced for himself what they truly are, he can draw a clear line where Yoda’s teachings are incorrect or on point.

Which is why the text that Dooku hands over saddens him. Its philosophies resonate with what Yoda has said before, but the extensive layout of the author’s beliefs and the disciplines ostensibly of the Temple that the author supports imitate a gross approval of Yoda’s teachings to the point of eccentricity. Where Luke had crouched before Yoda at the prime age of twenty-two, the author’s idea of a safe age to begin learning of the Force stands at a far lower ceiling than even when children begin to seek approval from their parents through drawings in the sand or displays of simple math. Compared to a fully-grown man like Luke, the Temple’s new students look like toddlers. By the norm, most of them are. What's more, flowery words of non-interference and habits that lead to internalising issues instead of addressing them are poor advice for children, who are still finding their identities and learning to think for themselves unlike the more free-willed —— and admittedly stubborn —— Luke.

The heart of Luke’s discomfort with the text, however, lies not in the numbers, but in the philosophies that encourage Jedi to deny themselves and each other of the most basic of needs –– a power that had saved Luke’s father and bestowed Luke with the most fragile yet glowing smile he had ever seen before Anakin Skywalker found eternal peace. How can anyone, not only Jedi, believe in treasuring life without loving it? Can Luke accomplish his mission to help every living Jedi believe in what they have apparently been raised to deny? Yet Luke cannot deliberate on his distress or revelations right away as his heart begs to. He must hold on to his thoughts until Leia can return to Tatooine. He must…take a breath.

“Dooku?”

The aristocrat startles awake from his desk. Had Luke read through the night?

“You finished the section?” Dooku asks as he stands up to stretch, and catches teetering flimsy stacks without looking.

“I finished the entire canon,” Luke admits sheepishly. Upon Dooku’s reaction, Luke quickly pacifies with, “There is a place you need to be, when you can go. Shall we grab food on our way there?”

Dooku grumbles about not sitting down for their meals but follows Luke anyway, and they have two skewers each that vanish within minutes of leaving a food stand as the suns navigate upwards to late morning. For brunch, the firepit-cooked meat satisfies well enough, and Luke shares a waterskin between the two of them that chases the spices away and leaves a warm but pleasant aftertaste. Dooku appreciates a high-quality lifestyle, but this simplicity, he can tolerate. He ambles to a stop behind Luke when the boy approaches another small establishment with an awning and addresses the sole occupant.

“This is a fabric store, I understand?” Luke checks.

“Why yes, Mister Luke!” The shop owner steps forward to greet as if they are not meeting for the first time. Is young Luke so recognisable?

“Very good.” Luke smiles and turns to Dooku. “Wait here, if you can. I have a cantina to go to.”

Dooku hums thoughtfully. “What information have you in need of gathering?”

“Or I simply wish to hang out with normal people,” Luke teases.

“Criminals,” Dooku corrects.

“Crime is normal.” Luke steps out from under the awning. “You should know, Count.”

Cheeky boy. The seamstress watches Luke melt into the crowd for as long as her untrained eyes can follow before she addresses Dooku. “Are you a politician, sir?”

He regards her apathetically. “How did you know?”

“The last person whom Luke found a sobriquet for is now Tatooine’s senator,” the seamstress cluelessly drops in Dooku’s lap like a proton bomb. She goes on to obliviously compliment —— or insult —— Dooku with, “‘Count’ is a noble nickname.”

“It's a status,” he corrects.

“Yes it is,” she agrees cheerily, “hence your nickname’s noble tone.” Dooku feels the strong urge to correct her a second time, but the aging sentient distracts him with a merry gesture to her array of products lying out flat or hanging from a line. “Which fabric would you like?”

The first thread of Dooku’s patience starts to fray. “I have no need of one.”

“Oh?” Instead of disappointment, the seamstress’s eyes dart between Dooku’s eyes and his shoulder with confusion. “You have a stain,” she gestures, hesitates, and daringly catches Dooku’s cape, “right here. Smudged and black –– maybe more singed than dirtied.”

Dooku ignores the seamstress and nearly twirls his entire torso before he spots the aberration and hastily grabs the neckline of his cape from her hands in bewilderment. Count Dooku is meticulous and graceful, how could he ever––?

Luke.

Yes, Dooku decides, this is the singe that nearly halved his well-groomed head. Young Luke has barely concealed grins before when Dooku turns to face him, and –– and that child had not said a word! “Yes,” Dooku repeats, “thank you. Very good, madam.” He storms out of the establishment not without a trace of justified puerility. Fashion is always relevant!

He turns around after a block and grudgingly purchases a cape from the seamstress.

~

~

“His ailment was far from normal,” Anakin insists, frustration bubbling when the expert whom he speaks to looks ready to dismiss his concern.

“Had a vision, did you?” Yoda’s holo form directs to Obi-Wan.

“Obi-Wan was unconscious for more than forty-eight hours, master,” Anakin answers curtly.

“Actually,” Obi-Wan subtly mediates, quickly but evenly, “I was fully conscious for the entire time.” If there exists a true issue, it lies in his remarkable lack of sleep, but the master of austerity and decorum is not about to draw attention to that.

“In consciousness, every vision starts and ends,” Yoda wisely points out despite Obi-Wan’s admittance to bonelessness that lasted forty-eight plus hours, and Anakin might strangle someone. “Describe what you saw,” Yoda continues, and Anakin’s personal opinions evaporate at the meditation tactic from Padawan years. A glance at the slight crease between Obi-Wan’s brows reveals the reason why Yoda might carry more concern than Anakin or Obi-Wan usually can’t detect. Even Obi-Wan pauses at the proposal.

“I saw…” Obi-Wan smothers a tired laugh bordering on hysterical. He hadn’t seen a vision, he had experienced the Force in all its boundless, cleansing glory, so beautiful and powerful that he wanted to roll up into a fetal position and allow unconsciousness to swallow him. Obi-Wan had realised the true meaning of “overwhelmed” that fell just short of “undeserving.” Why him? Any farther into his vision, and Obi-Wan would have simultaneously lost himself and lost the right to fulfill the duty that the Force had invited him to participate in. Obi-Wan’s body feels like lead now that he has experienced his soul sharing a plane with the Force, and he doesn’t believe he will ever recover. He might as well share the complexities of a bird missing a wing, or a fish stuck in a pond too small.

“Obi-Wan?” Anakin checks, and like a cure, his voice reels Obi-Wan in from his internal digressions.

“Thank you.”

“M-Master?”

They’re both flustered.

“I haven’t told you properly,” Obi-Wan continues, and whether or not pieces of his recent vision colour his thoughts, Obi-Wan will only recall the warmth in his heart in that moment. “When I was under, in that vision, and guiding the clones’ retreat a suicidal mission back, and balancing my attention between blaster bolts and toxic fumes those other missions back, you’ve always been a source of assuring consistency.”

“With my elegant lightsaber skills or my nack for the verbal arts?” Anakin frets with a hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “Master, if you carry a burden, you know I’m here, right? Tell me what ails you.” No, too demanding. “Please tell me what ails you?” How hypocritical. “When you feel like it?”

“As much as I see Skywalker’s nack for the verbal arts,” Yoda’s gravelly voice startles Anakin and Obi-Wan out of their atmosphere, and the Grandmaster pretends not to see two of the Temple’s best Jedi jump, “Await us, I believe, do documentary responsibilities for the recon mission failure.”

“Master Yoda,” Obi-Wan ventures.

“Tell me another time,” Yoda dismisses, and Anakin blinks twice at the Grandmaster and at Obi-Wan’s responding expression, because no way is the green troll teasing the former master of Anakin. Yoda was the first to bring up a Padawan meditation exercise! “Or never tell me, all is the will of the Force. Farewell, Skywalker.”

“Uh…ah, yeah,” Anakin stumbles. “Bye? Thanks?” Yoda’s holo form already vanished from over Anakin’s comm. “You mean it?”

Obi-Wan sighs back into his cot, stress lines easing, before he realises whom Anakin speaks to. Blue-green eyes find Anakin’s face without condescendance or embarrassment. “Every word,” he replies honestly.

A proud star bursts in Anakin’s chest.

“That mission was suicidal.”

“Half of it was your idea!” Anakin immediately defends.

“The suicidal half was yours,” Obi-Warn returns smoothly, and the lines that form on both of their faces arise not from stress, for the first time in too long, but peace. They laugh their spirits high until they realise that they have to fill out paperwork.

~

~

“A Chamber session?” Mon bites out not for the first time from Bail’s personal comm, and he quickly lowers the volume before the others in the Chamber can pinpoint his pod. “Now?

A senator on close terms with Mas Amedda grills Leia from another angle at Tatooine’s possible contribution to a bill, and Bail inwardly cringes for his young friend.

“The Chancellor’s Office wants to reserve tomorrow for Tatooine’s senator to be able to willingly step down and leave Republican space with her guards and ship, completely.”

“The Chancellor’s Office,” Mon’s voice tenses, “is getting ahead of themselves.” Her leaking passion from her own pod is furiously whispered just as Leia raises her voice on, “…As a bill should, Senator.”

Leia’s placidness riles her frustrated interrogator into a slightly louder volume than necessary. “Words easily spoken by one whose system has not experienced the heat of this war,” he dismisses.

“I see responsibility is so easily passed off by one whose system has participated in the neglect of an entire galactic region,” Leia evenly returns, and almost mockingly, her last three words echo throughout the Chamber and in hundreds of tinny translations from individual podiums. Even the acoustics of the room work in the princess’s favour.

Bail can feel the murmurs from everyone in the room.

The interrogating senator’s lips twitch. “The Outer Rim Territories insist on their own management,” he quotes.

“Consistently?” Leia challenges. “When was the last time that the Republic has asked? A millennia ago, when the Hutts had to bother disguising their influence through corrupt spokesmen? Two millennia ago, when the Wild Space Quarter ceased bringing profits to Republican colonists?” Leia leans into her mic, and oh dear, even an infant can hear her righteous temper finally flaring. After three hours of one-sided questioning, Bail wonders where it has been. “Do not debate the neglect of the Outer Rim Territories with me, Senator. I suggest we move to wiser uses of our time and discuss solutions for the Republic’s current weaknesses. This will aid the Outer Rim Territories and cut down on political troubles that the Separatists use to persuade systems out of the Republic –– we would be killing two birds with one stone, essentially. May we agree on that?”

“How do we know this will work?”

Groans audibly answer the senator’s attempts to waste time, but Leia remains unruffled. “I can quote statistics back at you,” she offers dryly, “or we can actually start getting work done instead of wondering if we should.”

“I propose opening up a new bill!” Bail smoothly chimes in with wicked timing, and a cacophony of votes suddenly erupt from the walls of the Galactic Chamber. From Padmé’s pod as she voices her agreement, the former queen is astonished and not a little impressed. How many people exactly has Leia had tea time with? The brief thought inspires a laugh from her.

Vasilek is roaring the entire walk from Leia’s pod to the elevators.

“Your volume is now testing sixty-percent of my audio capacity, meatbag.”

“I can’t be scared of you right now, Hack,” Vasilek manages between laughs, Leia’s admirers long tangled with each other’s wardrobes a corner back. “The expression on that minister’s face! Princess, how exactly do ya gain the favour of strangers ya haven’t even met? The Chamber was crying with support!”

“The targets were testing ninety-percent of my audio capacity,” Hack agrees.

Rather than the usual admonishment of Hack’s assassination tendencies, Leia enters an elevator with a decision.

“We’re returning to Tatooine.”

“…What?” Vasilek follows. Why in the name of the suns are they going back? Isn’t the princess winning?

“I’m not leaving my position as Senator,” Leia continues, and waits until the elevator doors close between them and the incoming crowd of her admirers. “I’ve just received a message from Luke about a literary work he read. The way he talks about it…” She pauses. “He didn’t tell me about its contents, but I can sense they have disturbed him. I need to speak with him face-to-face without worrying about the Holonet hovering over my shoulder.”

“The kid needs help?” Vasilek clarifies, already willing to pilot Advocate by himself, if necessary.

The flash of a smile from Leia comforts him. “By the time Luke needs ‘help,’ he’s usually already deep in trouble,” she shares fondly. “No, I’m going to him because I want to, and we will rarely have this chance to fly to the Outer Rim. The Chancellor’s Office has held off on a session tomorrow –– a veritable holiday for politicians –– likely with the expectation that I would have resigned from my chair by the day’s end.”

“The Chancellor’s Office obviously wasn’t expecting your performance today,” Hack comments.

~

Vasilek’s amusement is not only his own. Across scattered systems, particularly in the Outer Rim, Leia’s participation in the impromptu senatorial session replays itself in personal recordings and Holonet news. Luke confronts a scene not unlike the gathering of avid eopie race fans in Chalmun’s cantina, except his sister’s countenance floats where eopies should be.

“So this is what passes as entertainment,” Luke comments, and the pirates and gangsters crowding a single holo turn to welcome Tatooine’s negotiator excitedly.

“Kid!” shout many patrons. “Have you seen the princess’s speech?”

“I unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to watch it,” Luke confesses, hearing the news for the first time.

“That's fine, we recorded it.”

“This must be the third time I've watched this,” someone pipes up in excitement.

“I see that,” Luke encourages fondly, and greets the bartender. “Hello, Chalmun, the usual please.”

Between the first and second sip of his drink, Luke catches Leia throwing shade on the Chancellor’s Office.

“…Or we can actually start getting work done.”

Luke chokes.

The patrons laugh. “Is what she said particularly daring? I haven't seen you choke on your own words, kid, much less a drink.”

“Leia never ceases to tempt me into heart attacks,” Luke diplomatically replies, and casts a startled but fondly resigned gaze on the holo. “What she said is quite bold, yes.” He mutters, “Much less on galaxy-wide news….”

The patrons bark with laughter, both at their princess’s spirit and at Luke’s expression. “What's the most shocking act of hers you have witnessed, kid?” They ask with eyes lit with curiosity.

He leans on the bar in amusement while the recording plays on. “I'm challenged to find only one. You know she once threw a wookie down a garbage chute —— although to be fair, we both needed it.”

Barking laughter balloons from around Luke while Chalmun pauses in mid-wipe of the counter. “Leia threw you down a garbage chute?” Chalmun amusedly picks up, and Luke’s lips twitch into a grin.

“Oh, no, I was smart enough to throw myself in.”

“Luke.”

“Count.” Luke smiles and stands up from against the bar counter to face Dooku’s approaching and severe figure. Before the former Sith can open his mouth, a patron unapologetically and unhesitatingly interrupts.

“Are you a politician?” someone asks.

Dooku’s brow twitches. He regards his unfairly large audience. “Must everyone ask me that? Luke, I have words for you.”

“Nice cape,” Luke teases first.

“Outside. Now.”

Luke leaves credits for his drink on the counter not without a grin on his face. “Keep the recording for me, Chalmun, I have an appointment with a count to honour.”

They’re barely out the door when Dooku passionately declares, “You are not going anywhere without me!”

Luke grins not so innocently. “You found out.”

“How rude can you be? You also wear a cloak!”

Luke pats Dooku’s shoulder, the same where a smudge once marred it. “One must be familiar with dirt here in Tatooine,” he justifies, before another idea hits him. His smile is less innocent than the last. “…How many Separatist leaders whom you’ve worked closely with would ever believe that Count Dooku walked around with a smudge on his cape?”

None,” Dooku answers unhesitatingly.

“There you go.” Luke smothers a laugh and returns his hand to his side. “Your meticulous nature does have its advantages, after all–– Hey! What are you hitting?”

The former Sith and the true Jedi exchange words along an unplanned stroll around Mos Eisley. For three hours. Dooku only truly begins calming down when dinnertime rolls around, and by the next morning, the former Sith trails after Luke towards the main government building upon news of Leia’s arrival on Tatooine.

~

Yanish barks at Ruoldi to pick up the pace and bulldozes distractions and petty requests over with the force of her raised brow alone, and while she’s no Princess Leia, she’s still able to make the planet spin. Well enough. The main government building is a sandstorm of people, flimsies, and rumours flying into every possible cranny and out just as fast, but––––

There is black in Yanish’s peripheral vision.

She turns and sees semi-sun-bleached hair stubbornly turning dark from the roots, a square jaw accented by a cute cleft chin, and the ultimate calm face of straight lips and neutral brows with a gaze that can cut into one’s soul if it wants to or smile without having to upturn the lips. Him. No one else bears the same dark clothing and thick haircut, possibly from the same respect and awe that tourists give sites of sacred rituals, important history, or other planetary wonders. Tatooine has only one, and he’s living. He’s also standing outside her office.

“P-Princess!” Yanish wants to slap herself.

“It’s alright.” The even voice makes her jump, and the rise in volume indicates that he stepped closer to her. “Leia already knows.”

Yanish makes the mistake of glancing back from where she shouted for Leia down the row of offices, and right in front of her face stands the elusive, dark-clothed ghost who seemingly only Leia knows how to directly contact without having to trace unreliable rumour trails. Luke’s eyes track the offices behind Yanish –– no doubt for a sign of the princess –– but the proximity of his rayon-cotton clothing and breathing body force Yanish to acknowledge that she is indeed close enough to touch Tatooine’s negotiator and that they are –– loosely –– on speaking terms. She might as well be in the inner circle. Maybe one day she’ll hunt down a scrap of information that she will hesitantly give Luke, and after two days of radio silence and rumours of a butt whooping, he’ll return straight to her office and thank her by name for priceless information on immoral pirates with a firm shake of her hand. Then people all over town will approach her asking what it is like knowing Leia and Luke personally, and she’ll be able to say that she even works with them personally, and they’ll ask about that, too, but Yanish can’t say anything because only members of the inner circle can know.

“…Sorry I didn’t see you sooner, Luke, I had to run some housekeeping.” Leia meets Luke outside Yanish’s office. “Vasilek and Hack are engaged in similar chores. Ah, have you met Yanish?”

The ultimate calm face dips down to focus on Yanish, and Luke’s lips curve into a shy but warm smile, suddenly blooming a fireflower in Yanish’s chest in the way only meeting a hero can. “I’ve heard the name, but now I can connect it with a face. I hope the Office has been treating you well?”

Luke is smiling at Yanish. Her! “Very.”

A chuckle. “Then you are a greater blessing to Tatooine than she knows. Excuse me, but Leia….”

“No! Don’t dawdle around me, and shoo!” Yanish forces Luke and Leia to leave her doorway for whatever private discussion they should have, and already she feels like a guardian of the inner circle. It may not exist, but Yanish is free to dream, alright!

~

“What is this?”

Luke elegantly gestures to the greying noble behind him from where the three of them idle at the back of the government building. “Count Yan Dooku is an aristocrat whose noble heart has been abused by the CIS into progressing their designs with devastating effects that have been withheld from him. At least, that’s what he’ll say on Holo. Since he chooses his words carefully.”

“I know who he is,” Leia pointedly ignores Luke’s last sentence. “I meant, what is he still doing here? This isn’t a vacation stop for self-acclaimed Siths.”

“She’s touchy about Siths,” Luke informs Dooku.

“I’m supposed to live without ever seeing his face!”

“Very touchy,” Luke wisely adds.

“This can’t fly in the Chamber,” Leia grabs Luke’s shoulders and firmly directs his focus on her. “If they ask me directly, I cannot lie. I have met a valuable member of the CIS.”

“Whose noble heart has been abused––”

“And will about to be bruised if you two keep talking.”

“I haven’t said a word!” Dooku defends, affronted.

“We have not formally met,” Leia turns on the aristocrat, and the receiving end of the righteous intensity in her eyes and tone startles Dooku now that Luke no longer occupies a single drop of her attention, at least for this moment. He wonders how the senator of a backwater planet has the gall to order an affluent and battle-hardened war leader, but before Senator Leia’s unshakeable decision, not desire, to wash her hands of Dooku in a political manner, who or what Dooku is stands as no consequence to her. “I have not properly introduced myself, nor have you,” the woman continues. “For you to imply differently in a public setting is to reinforce how dishonesty consistently runs among members and sympathisers of the CIS. If we have seen each other’s faces before, it has been from a monitor or Holo.”

Dooku nods, slipping into his business mode. “Fair enough. I also believe this is for our better interests.”

The quick transition of Leia’s focus from Dooku to Luke leaves the count with the sense that Leia would have dismissed him with or without his approval. What a strong-willed character. No wonder dislike quickly rose between them, almost as easily as that between Dooku and Anakin Skywalker.

“A word in the Cantina, Luke,” Leia turns herself and her blonde counterpart away, desiring a location she knows a nobleman will willingly avoid, and Luke hesitantly leaves with a glance beneath soft, bushy hair tossed Dooku’s way like a child. The look affects mischief, but it is a phantom exhale of cold against the back of Dooku’s neck that has the count uneasy, as startling and baseless as intuition. He finds his feet struggling to resist the direction of the Cantina.

Dooku has a bad feeling about this.

~

The crowd from Leia’s bold actions has died down by the time Leia arrives with the request of private space from Chalmun, and the bar’s patrons heap overlapping praises on her for a minute before they catch on to the business air following Leia’s words to the owner. Tatooine’s founders of defense and government want a private corner for themselves? The gangsters and pirates of Tatooine will shoot anyone who tries to interrupt. Suddenly, the cantina transforms into the most guarded location on the planet.

“It’s nothing serious,” Luke attempts to placate, but from Leia’s silent gaze on the back of the blonde’s head, no one’s hands leave their blaster holsters. The twins find an alcove with a curtain for the illusion of privacy before Luke settles with standing before the only window and Leia standing behind him, a tablet in hand.

“Just the section bookmarked?” Leia asks even as she starts to read, and Luke’s confirming hum melts away to the back of her mind with the text that receives her focus.

Shock slowly burns through her veins like acid the further she reads through the section, and the more she grows very aware of Luke standing some paces before her, unmoving and facing away. No wonder he left a message. No wonder he hesitated to even leave one, because how much time did her brother need before he could collect himself enough to record a holo of himself asking when Leia will return to Tatooine with a false placid smile on his face?

Leia recalls what she can of the General Kenobi whom her parents knew, and of the Jedi warrior on Dagobah whom Luke had sought what felt like a lifetime ago, and deliberates on exactly how much of Luke is either of the Jedi and how much of him left is sand flying after a skyhopper and a hairpin turn, a pair of photon torpedoes dropping into a magnetised descent, a gentle word at night and the shimmering blue gaze of “Because he's my father.” She sees her foster parents behind the dizzying lines of text and sees Luke’s faceless guardians holding hands with them, and ponders in the back of her head on the difference between calling these nurturing figures “mom and dad,” and anything short of it.

Luke has his reasons for how he thinks of his guardians as “aunt and uncle” even after years of fierce affection only the closest of family can give and not knowing how having a father and mother can feel different, and this delineation born from longing and the unconscious movings of a youth’s heart only emphasises the stark horror that Leia’s text offers to either of them. The repugnance she perceives from Luke feeds her own not unlike fire to a growing ember.

For the smoothest journey into understanding the Force, exposure to a controlled and passive environment from birth promises an ideally passive mind, allowing for the Temple’s teachings to flow in without the hindrances of preconstructed models of morality which, without knowledge of the Light Side and its primarily non-interfering nature, often subscribes to misguided concepts of taking action or extending a hand where one should forget grievances and find inner peace. Impressionable minds find obedience easier than rigid, rooted personalities, therefore by the balance of probability, no good and well-intentioned teacher considers a sentient older than three standard years for teaching of or training in the Force.

No sentient older than three.

The concept of parents would only confuse an individual with such an upbringing.

“How can your teachers do this?” Leia whispers.

Luke’s gaze remains fixed on a vanishing point of the horizon away from Leia. When he speaks, his voice rises too softly, and he gives up on finding words. Leia knows without seeing him that he is deep in thought.

“The Jedi of the Temple,” Leia continues, her control wavering, “must have targeted toddlers and infants for recruitment into their Order. There are——” she swipes back and forth through the section furiously, haphazardly, “There are guidelines in here on how to take a child without resistance from their parents, this is an honest-to-goodness manual. They dress up with pretty words how to separate families forever and ensure zero contact from either side. How can General Kenobi fight for the Republic and her people if he cannot connect on the most basic level? Who is your Master Yoda that he is the Grandmaster of this all?”

“When the times prove most difficult,” Luke whispers, “falling back on reliable methods is tactically correct.”

“A history-long downwards spiral cannot excuse the methods of the Jedi today!”

“No,” Luke agrees, turning a vivid blue gaze on Leia and joining their hands, “even without a respectable figure to make the Jedi question their methods, the Jedi on their own should have rethought the way they have been recruiting, teaching, and living their entire lives, yes?”

“Luke——”

“And yet,” he cuts in, mild yet not meek, “when the Jedi down to their youngest were cut down save for two, and the countless deaths and the spiritual taint of the Dark’s suddenly expansive reach sickened the Force, the two Jedi survivors were miraculously offered the fruit of one of their own, a pair of twins who would likely grow into great spiritual power and were at least already Force-sensitive. And what did the Jedi do, Leia? Before two Force-sensitive newborns and all the reasons to raise them into Jedi warriors?” Luke’s eyes fall to their hands, the tablet between them, his steady voice tilting with emotion. “Master Yoda gave us to families where we would be loved. They tried, Leia; on their own, they decided to defy what they had taught and had been taught when the times proved most difficult. They tried to learn from the power of a different unit, of a family, and stepped aside.”

“They encouraged attachment,” Leia murmurs, now understanding. She and Luke could have easily been so different from who they are now. Never before has she felt an absence of control as now under the humbling revelations of the circumstances of their birth.

“They didn't understand the unscratchable splinter in their soul, and yet they bet their all on it,” Luke says, “instead of falling back on the millennium-proven method of raising two clean slates into warriors of a misguided doctrine. If anything, to them, the handful who had left the Jedi Order were outliers compared to the thousands who had grown up, lived, and died as ‘Jedi.’”

Leia smiles. “How much more wondrous is the probability that one of the two twins would confront Vader and the Dark Side the way you did?”

“Eh,” Luke stutters.

“You are more than one in thousands, dear brother,” Leia teases. “The galaxy is fortunate to have an outlier, a true Jedi, like you.”

“Cheers to the odd ones out,” Luke pointedly plays along, and Leia laughs. They embrace, quietly in bliss around each other the way only being at home can.

And the world explodes.

Luke grasps for orientation, feels gravity melt and slip between his fingers as sand off the ground before he can realise he is face-up on it, and his toes and fingers creep into his awareness with a clumsy, numb transition that barely registers under the expanding, excruciating heat in Luke’s chest like he has been soaked in oil and set on fire. There is a vacuum where the Force should be because Luke’s instincts are scrambled and an unbearable, shrieking pain occupies his mind too much to allow a coherent thought, but through the arresting experience of shock, Luke recognises the sudden fractures in his ribs and trauma in his organs for a terribly vivid reflection of another’s pain through an invincible bond in the Force. He has felt a similarly spontaneous injury before once over Endor, when a blaster bolt had found his sister.

“Leia, you're hurt….” Luke determinedly searches for her through the dust and the pain, and coughs both out as he grabs a fair hand among the cantina's rubble and relaxes a fraction. His sister looks down at him worriedly with the blood drained from her face.

“No, Luke,” she chokes. “You are.”

And death creeps in.

Chapter Text

Vasilek likes Chalmun. Everyone has at least a mild grasp of Shyriiwook because of the bar owner, and “mild” since Chalmun’s notoriety follows his fists more than his otherwise pleasant demeanour, a token from his former swindling days. The Wookie wants a successor to his bar and has an eye on the self-studied biochemist Wuher shadowing Tatooine’s Minister of Science or somesuch field, and Vasilek’s waiting for the day that the towering bar owner storms the main government building and declares how he can’t take it anymore, he needs the Minister’s assistant because the teen can enhance drink flavours just as he can chemical properties of Tatooine’s flora, and when Chalmun dies, heaven will have Wuher’s drinks. Bar nerd. Vasilek has credits in that bet, too.

He bets that Chalmun’s summoning is the only reason no one has shot Vasilek yet.

The nervous Duros forces himself not to rush out of sight of the open streets when he finds a doorway curtained by a cloth cut down the middle, and he lifts a flap as he bows under the low archway and blinks twice to adjust to the shaded interior. A Wookie awaits at a table in a chair facing the door and windows, forcing Vasilek to calmly seat himself across his host with his back to the exit. Depending on Chalmun’s judgement, their conversation will end quickly or instantly.

“Vasilek.” Chalmun nods, both hands flat on the table and a laser crossbow under one of them. “I’m going to ask once, because you are a friend. Why is Leia out there alone?”

Vasilek solemnly meets Chalmun’s frankness as he leans back in his chair. “Hack insisted that the property destruction demanded for meatbags to be cleaned out – volunteered for the duty, of course – but the princess would have none of it by Hack’s twelfth repetition and actually lost her temper.”

Despite the tense air, Chalmun visibly winces at the idea.

Vasilek sympathises. “I never thought the loose bolt would be the one to push our lady over the edge, and I have to give it to her, she reigned herself in quick, but slap me and hand me to my momma if I wasn’t terrified. She raced to Advocate with the suns’ heat rivalling the tension in her gait, and Hack and I didn’t even think of stopping her.” Vasilek leans back in his chair passively. “You have your answer, Chalmun. What will you do with me?”

“Your poor judgement would earn you a broken femur.” Oh? How mild. “However, you swore to the Code to guard Leia’s physical safety in the Core, and by her actions, she denied further service from you. I can’t even fracture your wrist.”

The ice-cold terror lodged in Vasilek’s chest finally melts away while his brave front swiftly dissolves as if never having existed. Vasilek attempts a wipe of sweat from his neck, but his hand is trembling too much. “I thought I was going to die today,” he confesses shakily.

“I bet,” Chalmun brusquely agrees. “The destruction of my bar doesn’t fall under your contract, but the appearance of you abandoning the lady in violation of the Code is enough to turn some of everyone’s ire on you. Only Leia’s unharmed state at the Core protects you from a blaster shot to the head.”

“You have my gratefulness for first asking me,” Vasilek confesses, lips quirking, “but please spread the word on my unbroken relationship with the Code. I can’t trust everyone else to be as understanding as you and not follow through on that blaster shot.”

~

~

Ruoldi is livid.

He’s slouching with ankles crossed over another chair, which isn’t an unusual sight, except he now stares straight ahead very much awake and debatably alert of his surroundings, as unreadable and expressionless as a droid left in his place. Not a few sentients of the main government building he often lazes about in would find his posture attractive, having already several times before commented on how his large hands, heavy brows, and bronze skin emanate raw masculinity, which is why Ruoldi glues himself in his chairs and refuses to flick his gaze to anyone passing him by, because his face can soften others only so much until someone catches the cold fire hidden in him finally leaking out through his murderous gaze.

The explosion that caught Luke has upset everyone who knows him as the pirate-like negotiator tempered by justness and especially unique with his youth, who still possesses enough generosity to babysit younglings and care for the old without payment and who treats all equally. Ruoldi wants to investigate the perpetrator his way because everyone else is incompetent alone, is too slow to follow Ruoldi’s leaps in logic, or complains too much about Ruoldi’s attitude, but he trusts Yanish to cooperate with him. He already knows that an incendiary had been planted under a fixed table in the cantina with a proximity designed to cripple Tatooine’s social hub and thus political infrastructure, easily bypassing the complications of planting a bomb in the main government building, and the bomb’s probable countdown points to a buffer allowing the perp to leave the planet rather than to a direct targeting of Luke and Leia themselves. A third of Ruoldi’s discoveries and assumptions alone cover more than what anyone else has investigated, but he hesitates to share the revelations with them.

The issue lies in Ruoldi having a soundboard to hurry his investigation yet still normal enough to remind Ruoldi of where he is and how he got there, but he doesn't want to frighten Yanish. She possesses enough no-nonsense willfulness to charismatically lead the planet's government and not care that Ruoldi’s opal-yellow eyes are from a preference for drops of Rodrian blood in his alcoholic drinks — because of course Yanish’s concern about the local vampire is only how effective he is in the government and how he can equally be so with less lazing about — but Yanish also only knows Luke the way the common populace does. She can't understand how the sight of a limp, frail Luke incenses the normally passive Ruoldi when he looks up to the superhero who tosses boulders with a flick of a wrist, fights rancors bare-handed, and returns blaster bolts for his back without looking and laser sword in hand.

Luke saved Ruoldi back when the Arcona thought that mechanical, cold-blooded murder and assassination were his identity, and not a change of clothes he can shed. The ice-cold and hollow wraith who now peeks out of Ruoldi’s eyes used to be who Ruoldi was, always; the lazy genius whom Yanish and the others know is merely a fraction of his entire life, one that he hopes lengthens into a majority fraction until Ruoldi can say he knows flimsies better than poisons or fresh blood.

Ruoldi doesn't want to kill Luke’s attacker, but nothing short of a direct word from the dragons themselves will stop Ruoldi from exposing the sleemo.

“Meatbag,” a robotic voice addresses, and Ruoldi looks up by his shoulder.

“Eitch-Kay Fifty,” Ruoldi returns tonelessly.

If growing up under the same authority for a lengthy period of time loosely defines a family, then those who found themselves confined in Jabba’s Palace compose a…unique one, to their credit. If anything, Ruoldi knows the assassination droid very well, because if not for the droid’s near-scrap-metal condition, Jabba wouldn’t have kept Ruoldi around as his personal reaper. So far as Ruoldi’s aware, he and the tin bucket are the last of their “family” left. Ruoldi can’t comprehend harbouring hate for rusty bolts, but he knows that he definitely doesn’t feel warm at the sight of Hack.

“Why aren’t you with the Princess?” Ruoldi asks almost accusingly.

“Master rejected my company,” Hack intones with his unreadable metal plates. “Therefore, so long as I do not endanger Master’s work or lifestyle, I am within parameters to act as I wish.”

Ruoldi immediately glances around to ensure that none of the busybodies in the government halls and rooms around them can hear Hack, before the Arcona returns his gaze to the droid without attracting suspicion. “Lower your audio output, Eitch-Kay Fifty. Tatooine’s efficiency will drop if anyone thinks the planet has a hunter-killer droid set loose upon it.”

“I am not loose,” Hack corrects, “I am, according to parameters, allowed to interact with meatbags, carry and fire a blaster below my body weight, and–”

“And nothing, Eitch-Kay Fifty.”

“–And log analyses of note regarding my surroundings.”

Because Ruoldi is a genius and not a droid, he grasps Hack’s intention in one second instead of one-tenth a second.

An investigation.

“Tyun denied you eradication of the perpetrator?” Ruoldi confirms rather than asks. To shut Hack’s hopes down, if a droid is capable of it, Ruoldi quickly adds, “I’ve locked and buried my arsenal away.”

“Vibroblades? Poisons?”

“Everything, Eitch-Kay Fifty.”

“So the meatbag has gone vegan,” Hack laments. “However, according to my statistics, the presence of assassination droids in populated areas is less noted when accompanied by a sentient in its third maturity stage and above.”

“You think this investigation will bring you off-planet?”

“You do not?” Hack returns.

Ruoldi hates how the only intellectual competition he has is no longer among the living, but a droid. He rises from his chairs, golden eyes glinting.

“Who’s your main suspect?”

Hack walks with him side-by-side, paces perfectly matched. “The same as Master’s, meatbag. She possesses reason sharper than either of ours. Without the hindering issue of Master’s commands and of gathering evidence, I would have already acquired a ship for Coruscant and blown up the Chancellor’s Office myself.”

~

~

Dooku walks with unchained feet.

With the self-realisation in the dead pirates’ ship came an absolute surety in Dooku’s actions, neither a prompt towards impulsive commitment nor a promise of success in all that he applies himself to, but a confidence in that when Dooku takes action, it is the time to take action, or that when he pauses to reflect, the moment requires examination.

The certainty is a gift not found in practices of the Force but in the product of its work on Dooku himself, as if the life experiences he had or could have had all up to his encounter with Luke’s heart in a pirate’s spaceship have lead to the Dooku that he is now, standing at a fork regarding his relationship with the Force that poses a familiar question made different with Dooku’s newfound wisdom. He moves now with the same wisdom for a domed structure squatting at a normally quiet edge of Mos Eisley if not for the recently new ring of ruffians guarding the small hovel, in which Tatooine’s defence founder rests. Dooku passes through the ring as a forgotten thought, visible to the eye yet unseen by the mind, and stops himself at the door with his back to the ruffians and the desert.

For all his surety in action, Dooku still hesitates. The Force flows through him like water – refreshing and magnifying, harmonising with Dooku and similarly linking with the sentients near him in a private connection that the Count discreetly taps into for the mental comparison of his trespass to that of a fly’s – and Dooku’s awareness of his sensitivity for the Force is the reason why he alone on the planet bears the near-constant audience of death itself.

For Dooku shares no bond with Luke in the Force, yet even he can recognise the potent spiritual warping around Luke for an image of how the boy’s life hangs above the murkiness of death by a feeble, silky string. The inescapable disquiet – product of the Other Side’s awaiting presence – attacks solely Dooku while the non-Force-sensitives around him traverse their day attacked only by an incensed sense of honour to see their Code through. How blissfully doth anger stir. They cannot feel as Dooku does what it means to be in the trails of death’s whisper.

Dooku stalls before Luke’s door under the wisdom of acknowledging the still faultless option of turning back. He has no obligation to appease an idea born from late-night musings of a monochrome ceiling over hills of flimsies digging into his back, where Luke has yet to point Dooku to a hotel or even a cot that won’t draw the Princess’s ire. The most any trained Force-sensitive has to offer before Luke’s condition is an accurate diagnosis where technology might be too limited to provide, or a relieving of stress at pressure points, which accelerates mostly-slow feature functions of the body and has often been confused with genuine healing. Even a highly skilled Force-sensitive is at most a glorified pain killer or allergy suppressor, but at the end of the day, for a Force-sensitive to become one with another’s pain is to…care. Hence Dooku’s hesitation; he is seriously considering “healing” Luke with the Force. The idea only mildly terrifies him.

If he wants to help Luke, he has to commit to a level beyond concerning himself over one person, one race, or one star system. He has to care about the incarnation of that which has been labelled in the physical tongue as “Light.” In desert speak, the concept would likely translate to Freedom, Life, or All That Is Good.

Perhaps the desert has kept him for too long.

Perhaps he’s already on his way to caring.

Dooku steps in the hovel to the sight of a Duros as Luke’s only company, whose teal fingers neatly fold a towel to gently wipe the sweat from Luke before placing the rag aside with an attentiveness to symmetry that belongs to the anal or to the pious when before a shrine. When Dooku clears his throat, the Duros flinches with a hand flying for his side and wide eyes briefly betraying how no one should be able to sneak up on him, but Dooku isn't an assassin, he isn't even a bounty hunter — he’s a former Sith.

The Duros’s anxiety recedes from his expression, exposing a familiarity with Sabacc and rough business. “I’m gonna protect the Princess, even without a contract,” the sentient shares with a defensive note as he stands up. “You can ask Chalmun; I’m all clear. I just want to check on the kid before I return to Her Highness’s side.”

Dooku approaches Luke from the side, contrastingly calm to the Duros’s confused but protective survey of the aristocrat’s profile and proximity to Luke with the slow realisation that none of Tatooine’s usual visitors match Dooku’s grace or atmosphere. At the same time, the Count suspects that the Duros’s reverence for Luke’s unmoving form is born from knowledge of the boy’s identity beyond his surface appearance.

“We visit Luke in the same spirit, then.” Dooku stops by Luke’s feet but turns his gaze to his other company. “You may call me Count Dooku.”

“‘Count?’ You must know Luke.” The Duros suddenly smiles and saunters over without so much as a by your leave. “I don’t think you’re someone I’ve cheated or angered into trying to kill me before, so allow me to introduce myself as Vasilek. Are you a dragon, too?”

“…No. I'm human.” Dooku considers Vasilek, puzzled, but he has to ask. “You know that Luke is….”

Vasilek’s eyes lighten up in understanding, and he claps Dooku’s back, completely disregarding space and chatting as if they are bar buddies instead of total strangers. “Ah, you're like the rest of us! Or the few of us who’ve seen the dragons in action.” Vasilek nods to himself. “Etra is interesting, yunno? He can inspire both respect ‘n fear from you.” He's awfully wordy, possibly at the prospect of bonding from a rare, shared experience.

Dooku’s brow lifts. “Etra?”

Justice.

He is growing too old for this.

“Another name to ponder over,” Dooku mutters, and Vasilek excitedly shakes an explanation out of him.

“What do you call him?”

“Light,” Dooku states in his cultured accent, brushing Vasilek’s hand off his shoulder. “A name of the Force.”

“Oh, you're a Jedi!” Vasilek nods at his own wisdom.

“I am not.”

“You can be! You will be — if you hang around Luke long enough. He does that t’yah.” Vasilek pats his chest. “Look a’ m’here. Used to be a launderer for Jabba, and now my job will bring me almost daily tuh the Galactic Chamber! The universe is a strange place.”

Dooku grabs the opportunity to pick up information. “I must confess I haven't met Tyun, however.”

“Of course,” Vasilek understands. “She's in the Galactic Chamber nearly every day, now; I dunno when she’ll next have time to fly to the Outer Rim.”

There is another.

Someone like Luke, who possesses knowledge and a character that is difficult for the present galaxy to produce; indeed, only Dooku’s explanation seems to fit. Except…to carry the name of Tyun? For the Jedi, there is Luke, but for the Republic…. Vengeance is in the government.

Senator Leia.

Her head-to-heads with Palpatine now fall under a new light. Dooku is tempted to shiver or laugh. With Luke showing Dooku the ways of a true Jedi, intentionally or not, the two “dragons” have caught Lord Sidious in a pincer attack. A truly deadly duo.

The revelation alters Dooku’s opinion of salvation just a little; the galaxy can be changed by those without a trained connection with the Force, but the presence of a true Jedi like Luke can’t hurt. The addition of a politician still bemuses Dooku, although his exposure to strong-willed, no-nonsense characters apparently produced by time spent living on Tatooine allows him to maintain the idea that the common not-Force-sensitive sentient still has the capacity to affect and support long-lasting change.

Dooku considers his fine robes, his cheap cape, and the sand that stubbornly finds crevices no matter the efforts one might attempt for a spotless room, and he kneels by Luke’s side. The temptation to feel unease hangs over him as a cloud of uncertainty over Luke, but Dooku determinedly raises a hand and places a thumb and ring finger over Luke’s temples to first assess the boy’s condition, then ease the most crippling pain from there. It’s time for Dooku to act as a glorified pain killer, for once.

The Count studies Luke for outward, physical reactions to Dooku’s amateur uniting of their presence in the Force – or more a slippery grasping of what is most definitely not a part of Dooku, but one he hopes to help all the same if the child would stop instinctively resisting – and finally senses when the Force aligns with a function perhaps neither Dooku nor Luke intend, but is invaluable as hoped.

Dooku and Luke possess varying degrees of mixed and unique traits from quirky preferences to life philosophies that one can never confuse either man for the other after disregarding appearance, but the Force inexplicably acknowledges a connection between the two that finds Dooku increasingly pleased with his potential to help someone else without conditions. Dooku believes, and he can’t comprehend if the Force follows his will, or if the Force decides to act in its direction anyway and Dooku happens to share its desires, but a bright, uplifting presence flows down Luke’s body for where pain interrupts the natural flow of life. Dooku cares, and perhaps he might relieve Luke of the worst of his pain, perhaps––

The bright sensation suddenly dissipates from Dooku’s grasp, and Luke remains unconscious.

Dooku abruptly stands up, startling Vasilek who started leaning in with curiosity. Hope, confusion, and most of all frustration tangle within Dooku as he throws his shifting cape back over his shoulder and pivots to leave, unwilling to sort out the knot in his chest and yet consumed with the blank-mindedness of entertaining countless thoughts at once. He can’t even hear Vasilek’s enthusiastic questions and prods over his shoulder as the Duros follows Dooku out the hovel like his own shadow. Dooku might as well have never seen Luke. His attempt to help compares to pointlessly petting Luke’s head and wishing the kid good luck.

The metal sheet acting as a door slides up and then down behind Luke’s two visitors with their swift and noisy departure, and won’t open again until the next day. Even so, the number of visitors Luke receives rises by one just as the suns set, and Luke’s eyes flutter open.

~

“I see I remain unseen,” someone laments beyond the dark of unconsciousness, and Luke’s vision comes into focus as he dazedly turns his head, the sunken suns’ light casting Luke’s small house aglow in soft bronze.

A tall man in layered robes stands before Luke cordially, his combed head just a small hop from hitting the ceiling if he entertains the boyish mischief marking his laughing lines despite his stately posture and wise aura. His surroundings pass through faint, drifting layers of him as if gas and dust lend him his illusion of physicality and eventually forget that the man is custodian of a distinct personality rather than a spiritual drop of the singular cosmic sea, as the edges of his silhouette fade away into an unseen fabric of reality translucent even to the mind’s eye. Luke hums as he observes this, and shifts his fluffed pillow to slowly prop himself up with only a brief wince across his bright, young face, reflecting a strength not expected in a bedridden man without nearly enough physical years behind him to explain the wisdom in his eyes.

“I would stand,” Luke laments unconvincingly, “but since I’d still be peering up at you in the sky anyway, why don’t you look down at me in whatever position makes you comfortable? I believe troublesome heights have favoured us equally.”

Luke draws a surface excuse over the true extent of his crippling injuries and their effect on his focus, yet the fact Luke retains an inner peace enough to sense and welcome a deceased spirit impresses said spectre. He can appreciate Luke’s hospitality that speaks of unnatural strength in heart and mind. He also has to wonder how anyone can observe visits from the dead as a normality.

“What may I call you?” Luke asks, his serenity stark against the sweat beading his hairline.

His spectral guest lowers his head to fit in the alcove that acts as Luke’s bed, finding a seat at the edge near Luke’s feet. “Qui-Gon Jinn,” the man offers. Stars twinkle in his eyes like laughter or kindness.

“Jinn,” Luke repeats, briefly dipping back into unconsciousness before he wills himself awake. His injuries still fight for his stamina. “I have truly been visited by a spirit.”

“The desert interprets names as it wishes,” Qui-Gon allows. “May I have yours?”

“Luke.” A hum as eyes slide closed with weariness. “The desert…” he says as if the words are important, “The desert is not just sand or dirt. The desert is rocks and earth, heaven and sky, and sun and stars. The desert is everything.”

Qui-Gon quietly listens, aware Luke no longer speaks with the human tongue but with the Desert’s. The blonde recites a lullaby, perhaps, or a tale a parent shares while tucking a youngling to sleep.

“Luke is from the desert. Luke has a family name, and that name is one-third of everything.” Eyes slowly open, and Luke grins at Qui-Gon. “The spirit observes everything.”

Qui-Gon didn’t need a vision to know when he’d found the Chosen One. It was undoubtedly a leap to claim that a boy he had stumbled upon in the Outer Rim was the galaxy’s prophesied realisation of balance, but Qui-Gon hadn’t just relied on observable circumstances when he had brought the boy to the Council.

He had been, as he had told Yoda, certain.

As certain as a true Jedi. Unshakeable in his belief even in death.

Qui-Gon’s connection with the Force meant a pleasant but quirky personality – to Mace’s exasperation – and eye rolls from the Council with a slap on the wrist for an action which from anyone else would deserve more severe punishment. He had not subscribed to the model Temple Jedi behaviour. These traits of Qui-Gon persist now, as he gazes upon an unfamiliar servant of the Force and doesn’t just observe Luke’s outer appearance and expressions, but sees.

He doesn’t know everything about Luke, but that’s the same with everyone. Simply, with his intuition and wisdom, Qui-Gon knows enough.

“One such as myself rarely finds company.”

Luke chuckles weakly. “I imagine that more than this naïve boy possess open minds to affairs of the supernatural.”

Qui-Gon’s lips twitch at that, having experienced the eccentric or outraged side of cults before in past missions as a living Qui-Gon Jinn. Tales still alive in the Temple to this day. “A deep sensitivity to the Force slims the number down, sadly,” he informs. “Those willing to listen, even fewer.”

“You speak of my sister,” Luke cannot help a question mark at the end, but Qui-Gon rescues him from wild guesses without having to know of whom Luke refers to.

“My student,” Qui-Gon corrects with a sigh, “and his student.” Qui-Gon’s teacher as well, so far. “The former thinks his practical self unworthy of the experience, while the latter believes that his ignorant background has no place deciding the abilities of the ever-sensible Force.”

“You would slander the Force with insensibility in one breath, and praise its insensibility the next?” Luke remarks wryly.

Qui-Gon slides his hands into his sleeves in a classic Uh-Oh Master Jinn Is Thinking move, stimulated by Luke’s playful questions. “I merely acknowledge two viewpoints which lack each other’s positive traits before they may finally fully appreciate that which binds the galaxy together, physically and beyond.” He knows that Luke agrees with him, even if the young Jedi struggles to articulate what the two of them take for granted. “Who are we to the wisdom of the Force, which fills planets with oceans, which points at the ground and tells the waters, ‘you only go this far?’ What folly we claim when we decide whom the servants of Light may or may not speak to, when we originally possess none of the wisdom or gifts that define us. We are each of us miracles.”

“Luminous beings,” Luke agrees softly, “not simply this crude matter.”

Qui-Gon regards Luke oddly. “I used to know someone who would say that.”

“He is still as old as you had left him,” Luke chuckles.

“And more cynical, no doubt,” Qui-Gon huffs. “He was responsible for the spiritual direction of the Temple while another—” Mace, “—carried the burden of the logistical direction, but nowadays the Temple strains at the seams that, withering, are of no one’s fault except history’s.”

“If one knows of the Light but does not understand it, he would be challenged to find a direction in accordance to its spirit indeed,” Luke murmurs. His blue gaze on Qui-Gon wobbles with emotion. “I do not know how to convince Yoda of this.”

“What the Jedi of the Temple lack is love,” Qui-Gon encourages. “You need only speak knowing this.”

“I am not particularly educated,” Luke defends, “or well-spoken. When I approach the Temple Jedi, it will be as a foreigner.”

“Luke Skywalker,” Qui-Gon chides, “are you running away?

“I want to,” Luke replies honestly, but feels a spark catch in his heart. “Yet, who will I be if I do?” To encourage change in Yoda and by extension the rest of the Temple Jedi is to work a miracle without the urgency of the Empire and without a Yoda with his future self’s willingness to gamble on attachment. Yet, the fact that Luke’s Yoda had considered attachment at all provides hope for Luke and his mission. The hope is dishearteningly small.

But Luke thrives on hope. Even a little of it.

“I should…” sleep vies for Luke’s mind, “I should start writing down what I know…and pass on what I’ve learned.”

Qui-Gon watches Luke’s eyes slide closed for the last time that night. The apparition places a hand over Luke’s injuries whose spiritual knots Dooku tried to loosen, and a faint smile finds the spectre as Luke’s brows unconsciously unstitch with relief from the worst of his agony. As with Dooku, Qui-Gon’s desire to ease Luke of his pain can’t wholly take credit for the phenomenon, but the ghost’s small prayer to the Force can’t hurt.

On the face of a far different planet, the Force follows another with not healing but wisdom, and might over gracefulness. A hired hand had snuck a bomb into a cantina with the intention of crippling Tatooine’s social infrastructure a.k.a. Mos Eisley, the capital.

Leia wants to have words with Chancellor Palpatine.

Instead, she is going to attend every Chamber session and insert objections where the Republic needs it whether the Chamber likes it or not, because nothing short of waking up in a different timeline, again, can stop her from fixing the galaxy. She can’t claim Alderaan. She can’t protect Luke when they have their own missions. In her position, however, she sure as the twin suns can protect Tatooine.

Yet the sinister side of the Force swirls with equal effort against possible resistance and harvests long-planted seeds while sowing new ones. Palpatine welcomes the sight of Leia departing from her ship without her bodyguards, and – though Palpatine sits unaware of it – without Luke’s reliability on call. Compassion is so predictable.