They haven’t really given it much thought before.
Jacen can’t remember wondering about them properly once in the whole time he’s been alive, and that’s, like, a whole nine years, and nine years is a pretty long time. They – and he feels funny thinking about it as they, as though the patterns on Dad’s back are individual things or something, or Important – have just been part of the normality of life for as long as Jacen can remember.
Just like Uncle Luke’s cool hand-that-isn’t-really-a-hand, bionic and sometimes he’ll flip the panel open to tinker with it so it works right and Jacen can see all the wires. Or the three little dots at the base of Mom’s neck that aren’t freckles (‘cause Jaina and him have freckles and freckles don’t really look much like those dots) and the five black bars at the corner of her hip, standing out dark and different against her pale skin.
So it’s weird and he doesn’t really know what prompts him to ask but they’re laying there on the Big Bed, with the lights dimmed down low and warm and the pillows dragged in from their room to be piled up around them. Dad’s sitting in the middle with the sheet draped over his head, its edges dragged over so that they're hanging over the pillows; like a tent pole, cause he’s the tallest, so duh, he’s the tent pole. Nik is laying on his back with his feet sticking up in the air and actually getting away with not wearing any pants for once ‘cause Coruscant is really really hot this time of year, and Jaya’s trying to sneak tickle attacks at Dad’s ribs and failing miserably, her braided hair slowly falling apart and her bangs sticking to her forehead with sweat.
And Jacen asks his question.
The Big Bed in the middle of Mom and Dad’s bedroom is shaped like a circle, big enough that it can fit Jacen and Jaina together if they lie down lengthwise with their toes touching. The synthsilk sheets are always softer than soft and smelling like Mom’s hair. Sometimes, when the nights are cooler they throw their big quilt over it, the one Chewie and Malla gave them when the twins were two and Anakin was barely even born, and it’s squishy and soft and the most wizard place to have tickle fights ever. Mom always says that it’s the one thing they totally splurged on, and even though Jacen still isn’t one hundred percent sure what the word splurge means, he knows that the bed was certainly worth it.
Mom is away on Important New Republic Stuff again, attending a conference on the Naboo to discuss trade agreements between the Noobians and New Alderaan. Dad says that Mom really wanted to go, this time, so they shouldn’t feel put out about not having her for a whole weekend, and then crosses his arms over his chest and says that if they’re really good at dinner they can build a pillow fort on the Big Bed before bed.
Jaina woops and Anakin almost falls off the couch in his haste to screech, “Really?” and Jacen grins, proudly showing off his recently-lost tooth, and tells Dad that they’ll be extra extra good.
So when they’ve brushed their teeth and changed their clothes and done all those responsible extra good things, sitting in the middle of their makeshift-yet-totally-perfect pillow fort (because how many other pillow forts would have Dad as the tent pole, really), Jacen lets his arms fall back against the bed and sighs and grins at Dad and asks, in a completely normal voice, where the marks on his back came from.
“Cause I mean, there’s nothing like them on Mom’s back or Jaya, or me or Nik, and they look pretty cool. Are they scars?”
Dad goes very still.
Which is a little, tiny bit strange, and unanticipated, so Jacen sits up in bed and puts his hands on Dad’s knee.
Dad blinks and looks down at Jacen and inhales this little tiny bit of air, like he’s surprised, like his brain froze up for a tiny second and then his eyes go back to normal and he puts his big hand over Jacen’s.
“Yeah, buddy, they’re scars.”
Jaya’s made her way around the blanket to behind Dad, biting her lip and leaning over to inspect Dad’s back. She pokes at it a little bit and Jacen feels bad that he ever asked because Dad’s got this look on his face like he’s actually nervous, which is weird because Dad doesn’t usually look like that and for stars’ sake, Jacen thinks, they’re just scars, right? Like the little white one on his big toe where he accidentally stepped on a piece of broken transparisteel when he was a baby, or the one on Dad’s chin that Mom is always teasing Dad about even though half the time Jacen doesn’t know why she thinks it’s so great.
Jaya crosses her arms, once; makes a clicking noise with her tongue. And leans down and presses a kiss between Dad’s shoulder blades.
“There,” she says. “They were missing something.”
Dad breaks out into a smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling, his fingers squeezing Jacen’s hand over the knee.
“They’re from a long time ago, Jace. Some Bad Guys didn’t like me very much.”
From his position sitting upside down in his underwear, Nik makes an annoyed noise. “I hate Bad Guys. They’re always so mean.”
“That’s the point of Bad Guys, Nik,” says Jacen, rolling his eyes. Dad’s chuckling, though, and he reaches over and pokes Nik in the tummy, making him squirm.
“Nah, I think Nik’s right. These Bad Guys were pretty mean.”
“What’d you do to piss ‘em off, Dad?” asks Jaya, plopping herself onto the mattress. Jacen doesn’t miss how Dad’s shoulders tense up for a second again, and he frowns. Sometimes, Jacen knows, Bad Guys do Bad Guy things because their Moms and Dads didn’t teach them any better. And sometimes they do Bad Guy things because they’re funny in the head, and sometimes they do Bad Guy things because they want something they don’t have and they’re not very polite about trying to get it, which brings him back to point one.
But Bad Guys are always mean, and Jacen doesn’t know what these Bad Guys did to make Dad look so funny, because in the Story there’s loads of Bad Guys, and Dad’s never looked all funny telling them about them.
Finally, Dad says, “Nothin’. I didn’t do anything.”
Jaya’s eyes widen and Nik sits up and makes a face.
“So they were just the funny in the head kinda Bad Guys?”
Dad sighs, and rolls his lip between his teeth. He tugs the tent off from over his head and pulls Nik upright and into his lap, using his fingers to brush the hair away from his little brother’s forehead.
“Yeah.” He pauses. “You know why I always get so upset when you don’t finish your dinner, Nikki?”
“Like when you make your Serious Face and start counting to eleven?”
Dad grins and ruffles Nik’s hair. “Yeah, that one.”
“I dunno,” says Nik, shrugging a little bit. “Mom said it was because we were whisking food.”
“Wasting,” Jaina corrects in an undertone from behind Dad, and Jacen grins a little bit.
Dad pats the bed on either side of him and Jacen and Jaya flop down on their bellies in unison, almost like they’d planned it, which of course they didn’t but it feels cool all the same.
“There’s lots of kids out there,” says Dad, “that don’t got as much food as you three do. Sometimes, they don’t have any food at all.”
Jacen feels his eyes widen. “What? But that’s awful! What if they get hungry?”
He can’t imagine not having food when he’s hungry. What if his stomach started growling so much it ate itself? That would be awful. And scary. And decidedly lousy, and what dummy decided some kids wouldn’t get food, anyway?
Dad looks very serious, just like when he’s counting to eleven but maybe his face is a little bit gentler, and not like they’re gonna get sent to their room for breaking one of the few Rules. “They have to find food. And finding food isn’t always easy, ‘specially when you don’t have any credits. So sometimes, Bad Guys take advantage of kids who’re hungry.” He’s still running his fingers through the back of Nik’s hair. Jacen and Jaina are staring at him in horror (rightly so, thinks Jacen, because he’s not totally sure what “advantage” means but it sounds bad, and nothing about this so far has been good, anyway). “So the kids get stuck with the Bad Guys, and then the Bad Guys are mean to them.” Dad takes a deep breath, and his eye flick closed for just a second. “Really, really mean. And sometimes, they – they hurt them, too.”
Jacen is about to ask Dad just who decided all of this should even be allowed when Jaya makes a funny gasping noise, and suddenly Jacen feels tummy sink.
“Yeah, baby girl.”
“Is that what happened to you?”
Dad’s eyebrows are creased in that way that makes Jacen think he’s trying to think of what to say, because he makes that face a lot when he’s being all polite around stuffy senate people and Jaina’s green eyes are way too big, Jacen thinks, and Nik looks a little scared.
Suddenly, Jacen feels bad that he ever asked at all.
But then Dad sighs. “It’s okay, Jaini. It was a really, really long time ago. C’mere.”
“But they hurt you,” Jaina whispers against Dad’s side. Jacen watches as Dad gives her a one-armed squeeze. “You never said any of this in The Story.”
“That’s cause this is way, way before the story. Before I ever met Mom and Uncle Luke. C’mon, kiddo, it’s okay.”
Jaya looks at Jacen and Jacen shrugs miserably.
“I know. I’m sorry we didn’t eat our food that one time, Daddy.”
Dad laughs. Jacen thinks that life is a lot nicer when Dad’s laughing, the corners of his eyes all crinkled up, than when he’s making the eyebrow crease face.
“It’s okay, kiddo.” He looks up. “You too, Jasa. Stop lookin’ like a mewsk died, I’m not upset you asked the question.”
Jacen nods, because he knows Dad isn’t upset, but something’s still bothering him and he’s not sure if he wants to ask, ‘cause then, what if Dad knows the answer?
Nik sits up a little in Dad’s lap.
“Jasa’s got a thing to say,” he announces, looking up at Dad.
“Do not,” Jacen says, glaring at his little brother. “Nik’s just being weird again.”
“Your face is weird –”
“Hey,” says Dad, and Nik closes his mouth obediently. He still sticks his tongue out at Jacen, though, but Jacen rolls his eyes because he’s mature and doesn’t do silly little kid things like stick his tongue out. Usually. Mostly. Sometimes.
“Um,” he says instead. “It’s just. I was just –” He looks up at Dad, at where Jaina’s snuggled up to his side and not looking like she’s gonna let go anytime soon and Nik’s sitting in his lap with his hair sticking up a little funny and Jacen puffs out his cheeks. “It’s just. Dad. Are – are there still – kids like that? Out – wherever, I mean?” He pauses. “Like you were, I mean.”
Dad sighs, his shoulders drooping a little.
“Yeah,” says Dad quietly. “That’s why we never waste our food.” He pokes Nik in the side. “Got it?”
“Got it!” says Nik loudly, squirming a little.
“But,” says Jacen. “But what – why doesn’t someone do something?”
And it’s a completely fair question, Jacen thinks, because whoever made the rules was an awfully lousy sort, and someone who isn’t lousy oughta change ‘em, and maybe probably Dad could help him find someone ‘cause Dad usually knows most everything, except for Uncle Luke, who knows a little tiny bit more. (Mom is just Mom, and that makes her mostly perfect.)
Dad smiles at him in the way he does when Jacen’s done something that’s made him extra happy and he says,
“People are trying, Jace. It’s not the easiest thing in the galaxy. These Bad Guys are pretty tricky.”
“I bet I can beat up those Bad Guys,” Jaya mumbles into Dad’s ribs, and Jacen grins when Dad says,
“Maybe when you’re a little older.”
“But we can beat ‘em up?” asks Jacen, as Nik giggles, and Dad sighs and pokes Nik in the side again.
“Ask your Mom.”
Dad grins, soft and crooked, and Jacen squirms down next to Nik (and gets elbowed in the stomach) and hugs him for a really long time.
He never says no, you can’t, though.
And, when the next day Jaya marches into their room with Threepio’s oven mitts on and a scarf wrapped around her face (“I’m under cover,” she says imperiously, almost dropping her cargo), carrying a bag full of toys and declaring that she can’t carry food around with her but toys are probably the next best thing and she’s asked Threepio to give her a list of places people don’t have much credits to use, and maybe they can get Mom to take them in the speeder and does Jasa want to come along? Well, Jacen thinks that it’s a pretty good first step, because toys can make you pretty happy, and maybe if the kids without food are a little bit happier they’ll forget they’re so hungry and the bad guys can’t get them.
The scarf Jaya gives him is pretty wizard, too, all purple and patterned and probably one of Mom’s old ones, but they look like Super Good Guys anyway. And besides, Jacen thinks, this is one step in his Helping People Thing, and Jaya’s pretty great for having this idea, and – who knows? It's no fun waiting around for someone else to do something first; what if they were waiting for you, and then nothing'd get done.
Maybe the people who’ll finally change up the rules is them.