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Spirit of the Desert

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The air shifts, just a little. It is a breeze that doesn’t move a thing, a silent sigh, an intangible change that makes the girl–woman, really, now–look up from where she’s scrubbing at the hilt of an elegant weapon, determined to keep it shiny and nearly new.

‘Have you come to tell me another story?’ Rey asks the air, and the air sighs back.

No, he says, and sits beside her. The sun has set, but she hadn’t bothered lighting a lantern. She was learning that her eyes were deceptive things, and that there were many other ways to see: with touch, with smell, with the Force, woven into everything. He lights the cavern enough for her to see, though, casting the rough-hewn rocks into sharp relief with his gentle blue glow, and she does not complain. Unless you would like one.

She says nothing to this ghost, this wisp of a soul who had been her only friend for as long as she can remember. They sit in companionable silence for a while, she scrubbing at the spotless hilt and he watching the movement of her hands, their reflection in the chrome.

‘You never told me,’ she finally says, half-accusing, half resigned. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ And then, ‘Why didn’t I know?’

Sand, he says, and they both shudder. No, I mean . . . when your greatest worry is whether or not the sandstorm will worm its way into your safe haven, why would I put any more on your shoulders? You weren’t ready.

She makes a derisive noise, but doesn’t wave him away, and he takes it as a victory. ‘But I had a right to know, didn’t I?’

I told you I was a monster, he says, and his mouth twists down at the mention.

‘I had a right to know,’ she presses persistently. ‘I had a right to know that you had come to me for a reason, out in the desert.’

He sighs. Yes, I should have told you. But I was scared, Rey. I know what I did. I know how the universe remembers me. I know how you know of me. She doesn’t bother with a response, and his shoulders slump. I’m sorry. It’s so lonely, here. I can’t stand the thought of you hating me. You’re the only one who listens.

Rey looks at him, really looks, and sees a lost child in coarse, worn clothing, his arms curled around his legs and his eyes big and self-deprecating. She looks away. There is nothing she can offer to change the dead; this she has learned from her teacher and his many conversations with his dead mentor, who remains trapped in cryptic words and a way of seeing the universe as warped in events that affected him over everyone else. Rey hates this ghost by her side, hates him immensely for all of the hurt he has caused the whole galaxy, but she could also weep for him, a man who was a slave by many names his entire life, and be grateful, because he started trying to make up for it by keeping her sane during those lonely years on Jakku with his stories and his skills and his laughter.

‘Yes,’ she answers, because she knows that he has tried to reach out to his children, to his grandchild, and only spoken silent words in their unhearing ears. ‘I know.’

She sets his lightsaber on the floor between them, finally giving up on scrubbing it any cleaner. He stares at it with an expression that she cannot understand before tearing his gaze away from it and glaring at the wall of the cave, instead.

Luke will be waiting for you, he says. It’s late. You should sleep. There aren’t any simooms here.

She’s thought about that, too, and thinks that the distance between Luke and herself is still too wide, her heart filled with too much fire to forgive him for the abandonment so easily. If it comes down to spending the night by herself, sitting in awkward silence around the fire with the man who abandoned her, or . . .

Anakin doesn’t deserve her forgiveness, because she wasn’t alive when he had done anything that would have required it. She does not give him her sympathy, because he most certainly doesn’t deserve that. However, he has her empathy, because she knows what it’s like to lose a childhood to the sand, and the spirit she knows has never tried to be anything but kind to her.

He slides his boots forward on the cave floor until he’s not so curled, and he sits tall, taller than her, and older, now, though she suspects this version of him is only a couple years her senior.

(I was 23, he said, when she came back from her duel with Kylo Ren with a thousand accusatory questions. He stopped. Then he started again. I was 23 when I took the name Darth Vader and destroyed the future.)

Well. There’s no choice, really.

‘Tell me a story,’ she demands in such a way that she knows he won’t refuse her.

There’s a tale on Naboo, he starts after a moment, exhaling softly with his relief, of a girl with fire in her soul and the gentle calm of the lakes in her words. She tried to save a desperate, drowning man, but instead sank down into the waves, trapped in his fear and his panic.

And Rey listens.

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