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Promises Like These

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If it's not the hum of the wind through the reeds, what is it?

Their home is built small, Silas smaller still, and this place is vast and simple. The long grasses of the prairie that goes out in all directions cups the entire world as he knows it in its breadth, flax-crested, bowed against the horizon. It’s both fascinating and terrifying in turns; the not-endingness of the grass, the sea, is a hard thing to make sense of.

He sat on Papa’s shoulders, once, knitting his tiny hands in strange-dark hair, dizzy with the power of gianthood, and still saw no edge. Rolling on and on, rippling red-golden like the back of some beast that he had no name for, sky broken open above the pelt so purple and so wide that Silas clung to his Papa for fear of being swallowed whole. He realized, then, their single shadow melded into something terrible and towering on the plain before them, that even Papa couldn't see the end; the grass was bigger than both of them. It felt strange, unordered.

Like Mama's sand, said his father, and Silas was wary. He’d never seen a desert, and Mama didn't talk about Jakku, much; he knew that hunger, but didn't understand, yet.

Like your hair, said his mother, hand resting at his downy nape as they looked upon their kingdom together, days without Papa long-stretched, never ending, and Silas was curious. The more he recognized the truth to this, the more right it felt. Made sense that they’d be built to match, the grass and him-- he could hide in its bedlam, carve out homes in its thickets. Feel all but invisible while running for bugs, charting courses through star systems he’d heard of but never seen. Vague names, strange sounds. Places he’ll fly one day, says Mama. He’s grounded for now: both feet in his grass and growing upwards, home found, parting easily to make place for his childhood and tickling his chin with a downy, awned softness.

There is the earth, then there is the house, then the moons and sun and Mama. Papa and his velvety, warm darkness; his is this world, and everything in it.
But the prairie-- Silas’s. All of it.

“Did I come from the grass?” Silas asks one night as Papa lays him down warm-safe in bed.
“Mmm,” Papa rumbles. He smooths a hand over Silas’s forehead, palm against temple, encompassing the span of it with his hold. Silas feels little again, but in a good way. “You did,” Papa says. “That’s where we found you, out behind Big-Hill. I was walking down one day and there you were.”
Silas wriggles; Big-Hill is one of his favorite play places. He can feel the thistles in his ears, see the way Papa looked, huge and dark and ringed in sky, hands reaching down as Silas reached up from his goldenwheat cocoon in turn. It’s the happiest thing he can possibly imagine.
Papa leans close, and his hair brushes at Silas’s cheek. “You said to me: Papa! It’s me, Silas. Your son. I picked you up and took you home to Mama, because you were.”
“I just was?”
“You just were. We had been waiting for you for a long time. Did you know that?”
Silas grabs gently at Papa’s ear and whispers into it that he’s sorry, because he didn't mean to make them wait.
Papa doesn't smile, quite, but his eyes are warm. They would've waited forever, he says; sometimes you must.

So Silas is of the grass, just as Mama is of the sand, and Papa is of the night sky. He knows this for certain, the same kind of familiarity as the funk of heady loam he smells when he crouches down on his heels, digging his fingers in deep to the thatch of dead stalks. The rustle of slender, fertile sheathes of wheat. How the prairie goes bright in the sunset, lit up as if the whole great mass of it were burning, scarlet and reckless.

But this-- this is entirely, overwhelmingly new.

He drops his toy, a little freighter, and the crunch of its weight is loud against the simmer of the balmy evening.
He’d been hauling Rathtars up the shallow draw before dinnertime as usual, cruising between flecks of winnow floating on the breeze like gauzy star systems, sketched in constellations. He doesn't know what Rathtars are, but Mama said she saw one, once, at a time when Silas was scant a glint in the thrush. They have lots of feathers, he’d decided, like the birds from his holo. They’re sleek and beautiful and he’s fascinated by the sheer idea of them; he wants to see one one day, though pretending them will have to do for now.
He was piloting with one hand, comming down to the port behind the cupped shell of the other, almost-static, when--
Silas it says again, and he squats down into the grass, curls himself small, because that’s how you hide. His breath is loud in his ears. He watches the slender silhouettes brush against each other above his head, ignorant of this strangeness, unmoved save for by the gentle breeze.

Not here to hurt, little one. 

The voice fills his head and bleeds outwards, whole of him humming with it. It isn’t painful, but doesn't feel good either, much too strange a sensation to be one or the other.
An older kid with more sense might stay quiet; Silas does not.

“Promise?” he commands. He tries to make his voice deep like Papa’s, timbred low, certain enough to drag stars into their correct alignment with gravitational solemness; he will assert himself on this thing-not-thing, even if he’s not yet sure quite how to do it.
The yes he gets in reply isn't so much a word as it is a feeling, an articulation of strong, warm arms, of harbor, Mama’s hands and Papa’s kisses.
There has never been such a certain yes in the history of the universe.

He peeks over the horizon.

Someone is standing on Big Hill, a person, right there, and this is a part of the grass he’s never encountered.
This thing has come from the prairie, appearing bluntly as anything. Silas is jealous on principle. He came from the grass, Papa said he did, and that's why he’s special. Things are, of course, special because there’s only one of them; this-- man-- is ruining everything.
Silas knows he’s a man because of the way he’s standing, like Papa does, robes sloughing long and heavy from his shoulders, but something’s canted wrong: the thing is blue and dim and has a scar on its face that runs striped from browbone to cheek.
Maybe he’s like Hux; almost a man, but not quite.
He wades closer. The man-thing smiles.
“What are you?” Asks Silas.
I'm Anakin. 
“What's an Anakin?”
It laughs. The sound is warped and warm, like some second-hand audio wave. Nothing important, it says, finally. Its face shines bucolic, golden palms turning welcomingly outward, while Silas plays his fingertips uncertainly against the wheatheads, no idea where to look. What to do. All at once, Big Hill doesn’t seem very big at all, and he wonders if it ever was. A bank of clouds starts to trawl a line through its translucent, towering chest, and the sight is unsettling to the point of fixation.
I have-- something to show you. It bends a little, trying to make itself smaller; clouds twist. The pause sounds a shiver-worthy sort of strange, too human, like Mama or Papa. Will you see it? The figure is stooping now, curving itself kind. Silas tips his chin up to meet it, defiant, maybe, or curious.
“See what?”
A story. 

All little boys, regardless of origin planet or home cluster, birth corner of the universe in any geographical sense, are adept in the language of stories. Silas recognizes what’s happening right away, even if he has no words to describe it; the Anakin is telling him, in all the fluency and strangeness of this dream: listen.

The boy, a dark-haired thing that Silas looks everything like and nothing like, is laughing.

Scrap-hold, junky and loose, strange organics on plasteel on arrays controlling some motherboard brain that Silas tries to guess the intricacies of, fails. Old girl. Good girl, the man says as the engine roars blisteringly awake.

The scuffed grips of the controls are yoked to the boy’s hands and the boy’s hands to the man’s, pale and small under star-tan and big. They draw back together, quick turn of wrists, and the boy bites his tongue in concentration.
Watch the kickback, see. Take her up easy. 
Yes, good; the man isn't smiling, and there's a chafe to the set of his shoulders, but that's what this gruff language means: Pride. The man is proud of the boy, and the boy is humming in return because that means that every part of the universe is right; Silas can feel the warmth of this rightness in him like a fever.

The boy laughs again, thrilled, and all at once they’re off, away in a streak of fuel and screaming afterburners. Silas goes with them. The story moves fast, now, more a dream than before, tiny microcosms leaving him dizzy and breathless at their quick-cut pace, buffeted by the gales of the cosmos.

The man and the boy (and the Anakin) take him everywhere. It's too much, too fast; Silas’s grass is endless, but this boy, at the helm of the only home he's ever known, has the up-down scopelessness of space. Silas clings to the back of the boy’s jacket as they hop-skip-jump through taffeta disc galaxies, parsecs piling on parsecs, anchoring themselves to the gravity well of stars only long enough to sip at the culture from their planetoids: whiplash. The spiced smell of a hundred different cooking oils, foreign and bitter in Silas’s palette. The glitz-glitter of cities, new, and the dull gleam of dead mech, wrought and worked in the dust of doubled suns until the end of time. Alien tongues, choked-off grunts, guttural dialects and chatter and the humming of a universe so very unchartably alive that, for a moment, Silas feels its livingness, too, abundant in him.

They're running, always.

Silas realizes, through this accumulated sense of running, an important plot point: the man and the boy are not quite good but not quite bad, either, hovering on the fingertip edges of the law. Silas is enthralled, infatuated. The boy-- how could he sleep with so much still to discover? How could he live for starving on the insatiable need for next? He’s wearied with his wonder; hundreds of little stories and asinine dramas flash by in the bounds of the dream, and he want to squirm, because the Anakin’s going too fast. Time is passing and not passing in indeterminable amounts, and there’s no way he can figure out all the important parts, know what he needs too-- how is he supposed understand if he can't tell one moment from the next?

A pause: For a second, as if in acquiescence, everything coalesces into sense, the way a ship drops like a stone from the blueblur slipstream of hyperspace.

The boy, star-kissed, now, but none the older, is peering between the slats of a ventilation grille, poised on his tiptoes. He’s breathing hard in the dark while trying not to breathe at all. He rattles. Silas is huddled together with him, inexplicably squeezed into space that isn't there, and is suddenly overwhelmed with the presaging knowledge that something is out there.
Stay hidden, stay hunkered. Wait for ever; sometimes you must. 
The light outside is yellow, too bright. He can hear the man yelling somewhere beyond the duct and feels the hiccuping of the boy’s heart as it jumps in response, beats like a tiny bird in his chest, twin to his own.
The boy sees something Silas doesn't, smart, brown eyes tracking back and forth in the slatted, lemony light, lashes trembling.
He gasps.
Shouting. Ping and scream and ricochet, a jarring sound that it takes Silas a second to recognize as the scream of blaster fire, and then everything slips sideways. Back into the churning pastiche they go, the boy’s cries aborted in his throat, face broken open, plunging into the crazy knitwork tapestry of narrative and away as if the moment is afraid to articulate itself by more substantial means.

Stumble, stop, continue on: the man is getting older now, aging more quickly than Silas is able to keep track of, silvering and folding with the years as they pass. Jumping easily from corner to corner of the universe, from adventure to adventure, together, but the boy-- the same, always, even as the man wears the time on the sleeve of his same, moon-dusted jacket: when he hands the blaster to the boy, heavy and well-worn, there's gray in his hair.
The gun’s a chromed thing, battered, but proud and huge to hold; the boy’s tiny fingers can barely wrap around the ridged grip and his shoulders dip a little once he’s got the full weight of it in his hands.
Silas wonders if it feels as cold as it looks, or if the metal burns.
The man says something soundless. His hand on the boy’s shoulder envelopes it. The boy nods his bangs into his eyes as he listens, solemn beyond his years, and Silas knows enough to be scared, confused. He’s stepping forwards because he doesn't know how to stop himself: he needs to tell the man to take it back. As much as Silas pretends, wishes, shoots invisible, shimmering bolts into the sunsets of his daydreams, he knows little boys aren't supposed to carry something so heavy all on their own. Papa or Mama must help.

The man holds out one huge arm and shows the boy how to sight down the scope.

Silas blinks and the boy is crying, the man gone somewhere else.

Silas blinks and they’re at a dingy cantina, the folds in the man’s face well on their way to deepening to canyons. The boy sits across from him, legs too short to touch the floor as he swings them beneath the tabletop, sipping on something Silas doesn't recognize and talking on a holopad to a woman he doesn't know. The boy smiles at something she says. The man looks away.

He blinks and they’re cruising.

He blinks and he’s on some backwater planet, a godless place at the very gully-bottom of the stars. A junk traders nest, the kind that has no name and deserves none, where the moors are stripped barren and every piece of space trash, bounty hunter and crook alike, is whipped lean by misfortune.
Accordingly: from over the dusty draw, scraped up against the edges a derelict township, comes bad luck. A job gone wrong, an exchange misplanned. Silas stands witness as the man clutches his belly, trying to hold in the purple slip-shine of his guts with nothing more than his hands and his grit, leaning heavily on the boy while the boy carries him. It’s horrific.
Dad, he weeps. Han. His little-boy body staggers under the hugeness of his wounded father, and Silas is quaking at how sick this seems as the pair drags on together, shuffling slow, like somthing ill-formed and twisted.
The man wheezes something, maybe words.
Keep your eyes open, the boy pleads. Almost there-- Silas doesn't see the ship anywhere, not for miles out on the craggy horizon of this junk heap, and knows. He's never seen a sky so big, even at home. The pair marches onwards, towards a hope that isn't there, and Silas curls down to the calico desert caked under his boots, crying at the cruelty of this story. Its unfairness. The gore of the man’s slit stomach and the grim persistence of his son beneath him, bent almost to breaking.

Why is the Anakin showing him this? Silas rubs his eyes, salt-slick, and the planet is gone in the static. The dream is winding down now, flickering out in huge gulps of timeline that leave him more confused than the too-fast crush of moments ever did.
Boy and man, separated. Boy and man, whittling themselves down like flint to different ends. There are other characters, now, threaded indistinguishably into the little slips of time. A teacher appears, some pupils scattered with him, though these others are not of consequence; it’s all blue-glow and rough textiles and a sense of raw, abiding loneliness so heavy that Silas bows smaller with the weight of his sympathy.
The boy shirks deeper into his jacket and boots. Silas wonders if this thing should be called a boy any more; he hasn’t changed, not once, in all this time.

He’s curled up on a cot at Silas’s feet, back shuddering and shivering, completely wretched. Unhearing, save for a hot whispering being poured straight-soft into him so quickly that Silas is unable to distinguish one word from the next. Chosen by the dark. Untouchable.

Poor boy, says Silas.
I know, says the Anakin.

This is a weapon he recognizes, maybe.
Bigger than the blaster and one hundred times more sinister: sizzle-crackle lick of kyber, long as the boy is tall, crossed with flame at the hilt and entirely terrible.
The man and the boy are standing on a long, silvery bridge. Above them towers the black-glistening machine of war and beneath them, oblivion.
Silas has come to hang at the precipice of this moment. Poised, somewhere between the constellations, kicking his feet out over the rim of their carbon-dust envelopes and the glow of the great engine bellowing beneath them.

Hum on hum, layered deep, harmonized to the point of perfection. The man moves forwards and the boy raises his awful, blazing sword, though his little boy hands can hardly lift it.

A lightsaber, Silas, you know this, says the Anakin, and Silas finds that he does.

Will you help me, asks the boy, so vulnerable.

Anything, breathes the man.

The boy stabs him.

And then something very odd happens. The man does not cry out, or collapse, or do anything that Silas knows, with a detached sort of horror, things should do when they die. Grass goes brittle. Bugs curl up on their backs. He just-- dissolves, and the dream with him. The silhouette of his body fades, vaporous, whisked away into a cosmic cloud of cold dust and shrunken nebulae. The saber is extinguished, too, not only in blade but in all that it is, gone straight from the boy’s hands as he looks on in wonder, seeming far more well acquainted than Silas with the deconstruction of the world.

It's the boy.

Just the boy, and him, alone at the end of this story because the man is gone and the machine is gone and they’re falling endlessly, endlessly, into the sodalite stars.

The boy turns to Silas, dark hair wreathed in the plasma of heaven, and he says--

 


Silas opens his eyes.

He’s laying on the ground. He feels, at once, as if gravity is affecting him profoundly, earth magnetically pulling his body to its breast so tightly that he can’t even raise his little head; he’s run circles around the circumference of the universe only for the jealous prairie to catch him close, to never let move from this spot again. He splutters. His limbs wriggle and flex like some bewildered starfish.

There, before him, he sees the blush of the sky, hears the chirp of the evening bugs. Feels the grit of the grass, and knows the verisimilitude of an endless summer. This world is the real one.

In one moment, he is at peace.

In the next: The boy! The man, the Anakin-- He doesn’t understand, or maybe he understands too much--

From somewhere beyond the tiny island of Silas comes his father’s voice.

His name, shouted.

With much effort he sits up, rising in a whuff of chaff and dust. He sees Papa coming up the hill, making a direct path from the house, so fast and so dark against the twilit grass. Suddenly, it occurs to him that this is just like another story he was told once, eons and eons ago: his birth. Silas knows how this’ll go. Papa is going to come and take him from the boundlessness of the prairie and bring him to the world, set him in his lap and listen close as his son locks his tiny legs around his waist, whispers into his neck the strangeness of this new narrative. He can’t wait, giddy for that harbor.

“I’m here!” Silas cries, as if Papa can’t already see him. “Right here!”

Papa is close, now, and Silas reaches out to him, until. The wet-eyed, lock-jaw urgency on his father’s face--that’s not love.

“Silas,” he says, aching, raw, and Silas cowers under his father’s shadow because he has no idea what’s going on but his belly is clenching with bad-child-guilt; he must’ve done something. He recognizes this, the worry; it’s how Papa gets when Mama finishes Silas’s meals for him if he doesn't. Gobbling breakfasts and dinners and everything all up like she won't see food again, licking bowls, Papa’s hand on her wrist, Rey, stop--

Papa’s hands on his shoulders. “Silas, who.”

His face, this map that Silas has known and kissed silly and slept cheek-to-cheek with for his entire life, is unnavigable. Twisted. Silas can't read it.

He shakes Silas, rasp of grass and clench of jaw, barking over his son’s yelp at the pain of his teeth snapping shut, head lolling back and forth.
“Who were you talking to.”

The Anakin. Papa knows, somehow. Silas stutters, dizzy, as he tries to duck away from the huge hand searching for his forehead, no longer so warm or kind. He’s so lost.

“Papa--”

Papa cleans him out the same way you'd gut a fish.

His father is quick, and efficient, and it is unlike anything Silas has felt because nothing has ever hurt so much. He has no means to articulate the feeling, save for that he’s being rooted through, every part of him, like a mechanic’s hand searching blindly inside the rotten guts of a maxed-out hyperdrive, and everything’s impossibly more wrong because the presence is so distinctly Papa. His head aches to splitting. He feels a wetness on his cleft, vaguely, somewhere far away; he’s too busy trying to hold onto himself as every part of his mind is peeled back to bare open-- what. Silas doesn’t know. Papa is desperately seeking that something, that bad thing that Silas must have done but can’t remember doing, digging clawed hands deep, deeper. Parsing through memories until, suddenly, there it is, blue translucency and all: the thorn. The Anakin.

Papa tears this from him with half-broken cry.

Silas might’ve cried out, too, but isn’t sure; all he knows is that Papa is wreckage.

“Fuck,” Papa breathes, staring down at his hands while Silas blinks up at him. This world isn’t real anymore, it can’t be; much too foggy-slow and warped for that. Silas doesn't feel excited by the bad word like he normally would, giggling, asking Papa to repeat it. He’s scared. He tries to tell Papa this, but the words come out slurred, and he’s not sure if Papa understands because all he’s saying is oh real soft and quiet, sinking down onto his knees.
“Anakin,” says Papa, to nobody. Silas scrunches up his face as his nose starts to bleed in earnest, feeling it mix thick and hot with tears in the back of his throat as he lays down on his grass again.

Mama comes in like the big lightning storms that sweep down from the east.

“Not Snoke,” his father says to her, in wonder. Mama throws him aside without touching him.

Silas feels her arms as he crawls back to unconsciousness, to dreams, as weary as a honeybee; this world is not one he understands and he’s glad to be rid of it.

--

Silas wakes in his bed.


He knows this because he knows the feeling of his covers and the very particular, day-in-day-out warmth of early morning sunshine that falls through the little window high up on the wall and heats his chest; he can tell he’s back home, even before he opens his eyes. Verisimilitude here, but of a different kind. He breathes in, and the air smells like breakfast.


He can also tell, before he’s fully arisen, that someone’s in there with him, a long, warm presence presses up against his shoulder and hip and calf.


He opens his eyes: Hux.


Hux, bent, bracketed up around Silas in this narrow bed, not quite touching but not quite not, curled up on his side looking tired and spacer-tanned and older than anything. Silas feels sleep-wondered. Curious. He cranes and can see the red of Hux hair, sticking up oddly against the headboard above them, the sloped folds of his face that belie the kind of burdens that never go away, even in sleep. The gold filaments of his fluttering eyelashes are unspeakably delicate; if his shoulder wasn't pressed against that broad chest, exposed to the slow, powerful cadence of an undeniable heartbeat, Silas might not believe he was real.


Thudthud, goes the heart. No droid-whirr. Maybe he’s a man, after all.
Silas twists his head away, too close; Hux is laced with the stale smell of sweat, exhaustion, and it's gross.
The man grumbles a little. Suddenly he’s letting his big hand drift down onto Silas’s hip, proprietary, echoing of something else: father.

Papa.

Silas goes stiff against Hux. The realization is sickly, like the drop-stomach feeling of stepping into marshy soil, or a step that isn't there; Papa is not in the house, is not anywhere, in the sense that he usually simply is. Papa’s gone away.
Memory comes, then, and Silas reels at the force of it: the Anakin, the dream-- the way that Papa reached around inside him and was so, so sad at what he found.
Oh, Silas thinks, pinned beneath Hux’s grip. This hurts.

And he runs.


He doesn't make it very far, on a account of being a little boy. He runs through the grass until his lungs burn and his legs burn and he is nothing but going, going, going, up to meet the edge of the horizon and then the nebulous territory beyond. Running to hook home in the back of the boy’s jacket again, boots hissing fast through the prairie in front of him; where the boy goes, he’ll follow, as long as it isn't to a backwards place with no Papa, Hux instead. His bare feet bite the thistles, the sharp, dessicated edge of the summer wheats, and his soles are bleeding, now, but he doesn't know this. He doesn't care.
The tears come in big, salty gulps from his nose and eyes as he makes to run, as they did, across the galaxy.

When mama catches his wrist, it's not gentle. It's fearful, a possessive-rough You stay written in the way she squeezes his bones together tight between her fingers. Stop, gather, hoist; Silas is too worn thin with crying and running to do much more than wheeze as she pulls him up into her arms, hooking his chin over her shoulder. He settles in, letting the horizon bob heavily with her huge stride, cheek jarring against her collarbone. His feet hurt, but this feels like comfort, almost.
Then he looks back, and cries out: he'd hardly moved at all. The house is right there, so big and close they his stomach sinks. And there’s Hux, too, closer still, standing there with his silly clothes and silly hair, lit like an ember in the dawn. Dark and tall as a stake, driven into the earth.

“Come on, Silas,” Mama murmurs. “Home now.”

Silas buries his face in her neck, though he has no breath left with which to cry.

 


Something does come home.

Days or months or a longer stretch than that-- The thing that rouses Silas one morning, loping through the front door, is wet-eyed and peaked, ill fitting in its own skin, sagging like it’s lost some piece of crucial infrastructure.

Something stumbles back to their little home on the prairie and it’s not Papa, can't be; it’ll take a few years before Silas stops looking for him.