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Looking for Love in Alderaan Places

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Dear Friends,

It has been a big year for the Organa family! We may have lost our civil liberties and our beloved Republic, but in exchange we have been blessed with a beautiful baby girl. Her name is Leia, and she is the light of our lives. We can almost forget the tragic demise of the Jedi Order and the rise of Palpatine and Vader when we see Leia spit up.

The Clone Wars, of course, took up most of our time and attention before Leia's arrival. Nothing gets our blood going like a good one-sided debate in the Senate, and we had those in spades! But now the war is over, and life can settle down - at least until the next Palpatine-initiated war!

Breha has been spending her time ruling our peaceful planet, and getting up in the middle of the night to feed our darling baby girl. Bail has been considering doing something new with his facial hair - suggestions are welcome!

Well, friends, the holidays always make us reflect on what is truly important in our lives. Friendship, honor, and not dying in the destruction of the Republic are what we count among our blessings this year.

We hope your year has been as rewarding and blessed as ours has been!

Happy Holidays,

The Organas

Bail, Breha, and Leia

*

Dear Bail,

Am pleased to have proof that Leia is safe and provided for. The family portrait was very distinguished, and Leia looks quite adorable in her little holiday frock.

Life on Tatooine is much less pleasant. (Thank you for asking, by the way.) While not under the immediate thumb of the Empire, it is a world filled mainly with criminals and hermits who want nothing to do with the rest of the galaxy, which I suppose is akin to what I've become in my days of exile. My days are spent doing back-breaking labor on my makeshift home, and my nights are spent keeping watch to make sure it does not get stolen by Jawas.

The Lars family is doing well. Luke has begun to crawl, and seems greatly to enjoy the toy ship I carved for him. Owen is ... wary of me, to say the least, so I had to leave it anonymously on their doorstep. I think if he'd seen it first, it would have gone right to the rubbish bin, but fortunately, Beru was tending the house that day.

Anyways, my eopie - I've named her Greta - is making like she wants to be fed. Take care,

O.

*

Sending this letter anonymously I am, so know it is me, the Empire will not.

My swamp I am enjoying. Cozy it is. A few homey touches I had to put up - a welcome mat and some nice curtains. For the holidays, a tree I tried to put up, but sank into the swamp it did. Then try to put up ornaments on a rock I did, but sank into the swamp the rock did as well.

Miss my friends I do, but work I have here. Much work! Preparations, yes. Stew I enjoy making, and throw pillows. Perhaps send you throw pillows I will.

Hope you are enjoying your holidays I do. My swamp and I, enjoying them we are.

*

Ferus put down the watering can and wiped his brow with the back of one gloved hand. The greenhouse was sweltering, especially this time of the year, but he knew that it could be a lot worse.

"Ferus, can I see you in the sitting room, please?" Well, it could be worse, hypothetically. He knew that part of pretending to be a gardener on the Organa estate required a certain amount of horticultural know-how. He'd never been well-in tuned with the Living Force, but what he lacked in instinct, he'd made up for with extensive studying. And it wasn't as if being a Jedi had been easy or anything; nonetheless, for all his trials - leaving the Order, losing Roan - Ferus had never felt as frustrated as when Bail called him into the house for one of his "performance reviews".

Ferus wiped his dirty hands on his equally-dirty work trousers and sighed before pushing open the door. Bail Organa sat in one of the large, plush armchairs, a datapad in his lap. He smiled smarmily. Ferus sighed again - he liked Organa well enough, but, well ... the guy was kind of a douche.

"Ferus, hello, sit down." Bail gestured and Ferus sighed once more before doing as he was told. He tried to remind himself that this was all for the greater good, that Obi-Wan would tell him to suffer these instances of frustration with the grace of a Jedi.

But Ferus wasn't really a Jedi anymore - he was a gardener, if kind of a shitty one.

"It's time for your quarterly performance review," Bail said, smiling slightly. "Now, as you know, I liked to use what is called a 'compliment sandwich'. I'll tell you something you're doing right, then something that needs improvement, then something good again." He spread his hands. "Shall we begin?"

Ferus sighed and nodded.

Bail cleared his throat. "Something good, let's see... ah. The crop this season is most excellent. I've gotten a lot of requests. Business seems to be word-of-mouth from satisfied customers, more than anything." Bail gave him a pointed look.

Ferus smirked inwardly. 'The Crop' was coded language for Alderaan grass, the likes of which Ferus tended to in a small greenhouse that had previously sat nominally untouched during the planet's lengthy growing season. Not only did Bail keep up a nice little untaxed delivery service, he was also one of its top clients. Still, coded speak had been adapted to keep the whole thing under wraps, except on a need-to-know basis. Bail's wife had never fully embraced the planet's association with mid-rim hippies the way he had, for example. Also, Ferus had been frequently instructed to keep a lock on the greenhouse door.

Organa's expression became pinched suddenly. "Now, something to be improved upon... you know I do not enjoy reprimands, Ferus," the older man began, and Ferus tried not to roll his eyes - it wasn't as if he hadn't been verbally bitch-slapped by the Jedi Council about a million times. He remained politely expressionless as Bail went through his "I'm your boss, but I'm also your friend" shtick, however.

"In any case," Bail said finally, "There are other aspects to your job here besides the crop."

Ferus couldn't help sighing once more. He knew his experience in botany was limited, and that it couldn't possibly go unnoticed forever. Still, he'd somewhat hoped everyone would be too polite to say anything.

"I thought the Jedi had training in horticulture and the like," Bail said, obviously trying to sound conversational.

It was true - most Jedi had at least a working knowledge of the raising of plants as an extension of the Living Force, but Ferus had struggled in that aspect of his training. It didn't help that his Master, Siri Tachi, had not been overly interested in having him learn such things.

"In fact," Bail continued, "I'm surprised the crop does so well, given your complete lack of skill in the rest of the garden."

"With all due respect," Ferus replied, "I have a little more practical experience in that area." Was it his fault his Master had taught him what went into the Alderaan grass cultivation process? Or that Siri and most of his age mates (including a certain current Dark Lord of the Sith) were something of experts in the ... consumption ... of said grass?

Bail leaned back in his chair. "Be that as it may, the other gardeners are beginning to complain." There was a long pause, and Bail raised a hand. "You can go," he said.

Ferus frowned. "Well, what about the other good thing?" he asked. He didn't want the meeting to end on such a sour note.

Bail looked surprised, then thoughtful. "Your beard reminds me of Obi-Wan's," he replied.

Ferus couldn't help rolling his eyes this time.

*

Obi-Wan yawned and blinked tiredly. He had spent the afternoon under Tatooine's grueling twin suns, adding reinforcements to his makeshift hovel, in hopes of keeping it away from sandstorms and the prying eyes of Jawas, who would likely make off with his few meager belongings.

His evening had been spent, as they nearly always were, these days, downtown at the local cantina. Polite conversation with the bartender had been the night's entertainment, though it ended, as usual, under the grim realization that he had to go home eventually. And so, blearily inebriated and heart-broken as always, Obi-Wan trekked across the desert, his eopie plodding the familiar route to his hideaway.

He knew something was wrong the moment he arrived. Foreign footprints, larger than his but quite possibly human, were embedded in the dirt, and his Jedi instincts, useless these days though they were, told him that he wasn't alone. Hand over the holster he still wore for his lightsaber and all senses at the ready, Obi-Wan approached his hovel cautiously. He took a deep breath, peeled back the large boulder serving as a doorway, and stared blankly at the scene before him.

"Garen?"

Garen Muln waved from his position on Obi-Wan's threadbare and uncomfortable futon. "Heya, Oafy," he said, as though there were still at the Temple. As though Anakin's fall (no, no, no, Anakin's death) and Order 66 hadn't happened. As though ...

"You're supposed to be dead," Obi-Wan said incredulously. It wasn't as though he wasn't glad his old friend was alive, he just ... well ... he'd gotten pretty used to the idea of solitary exile. Garen's presence was going to muck that all up.

Garen quirked an eyebrow. "Don't act so disappointed," he commented, raising a bottle of ale in Obi-Wan's direction.

Obi-Wan sighed. Garen was already stealing his liquor. Just like old times. The ones he was trying to forget all about. "I'm not acting."

Garen chuckled. "Yes you are," he replied. "You're glad to see me." He glanced around the hovel, then turned back to Obi-Wan. "What the kriff are you doing here anyway?" he asked. "I mean, Quin comes here for the whores, but what are you doing here?"

"Trying to avoid you?" Obi-Wan attempted half-heartedly. At any other time, in any other place, Garen's presence would have been welcome, but now - here - it just brought up far too many memories.

Garen snorted. "Olin said you'd changed," he said, and Obi-Wan cast his eyes to the floor. Had Ferus been the one to tell Garen of his whereabouts? He asked as much, and Garen shook his head. "Nope, figured it out all by my lonesome." He waved the bottle of alcohol around in appreciation. "Nice hovel," he commented with a snigger.

"I don't understand," Obi-Wan continued, still in disbelief. "You couldn't have just escaped. You - I mean - it's you," he said, flailing a little. "Ry-Gaul, by all means, could have done it, but ... you're not smart enough!" Obi-Wan finally spluttered.

Garen clutched his chest in mock offense. "Wounded, Oafy, really." He took a noisy swig from Obi-Wan's fast-depleting liquor supply and burped. "And you forget, what I lack in Jedi smarts, I make up for with my other innate charms."

"Showing up unannounced and generally being a complete nuisance?" Obi-Wan said with just a touch of bitterness.

Garen looked proud. "I know how to lay low," he explained. Obi-Wan looked ready to snark, but Garen held up his free hand. "Seriously, you think it's easy for me to spend all my time hanging out in bars and shirking any and all responsibility? It's a finely-honed art, Oafy."

Obi-Wan's eyebrow quirked. "I can only imagine how difficult it had to have been for you for all these years."

"So meanwhile, while everyone around me kept putting their necks on the line, I practiced becoming ... a non-entity, nobody-"

"A mooch?" Obi-Wan added helpfully.

"My strength lies in not being a threat to anyone," Garen said, waving his hand at the interruption. "I guarantee you, Oafy, if Darth Vader himself walked in here right now, he wouldn't even register me as worth killing. He'd probably torture you, though," Garen said thoughtfully. "Maybe make you smell his armpit. Hey, remember when Qui-Gon used to do that to you all the time?" he laughed.

"So essentially," Obi-Wan sighed, "you've made yourself out to be too pathetic to bother killing."

Garen polished off his drink and set the now-empty bottle on Obi-Wan's hand-forged wooden table with a dull thud. "That's the master plan," he agreed. He nudged the table. "Man, you always sucked at woodworking, Oafy. Shoulda had Anakin make you one."

Obi-Wan stiffened. "How silly of me," he said sourly.

In response, Garen propped his heavy boots on the piece of furniture in question, knocking the liquor bottle to the dusty ground.

Obi-Wan sighed. He'd been rather looking forward to drinking alone for the rest of the evening, but now Garen of all people ... And Anakin could have made a better table, but still. "Pick that up," he managed to choke out.

"So," Garen said, making no move to honor Obi-Wan's request, "where is our Chosen One anyway? I mean, if you made it through, he must have." Narrowing his eyes thoughtfully, Garen barked out a laugh. "Oh ... out whoring it up with Quin, I bet."

Obi-Wan clenched his fists, trying his very best to not punch his oldest friend right in his mooching face. "Anakin... isn't here," he ground out, mentally begging Garen not to ask any more questions.

"Can't blame him," Garen replied flippantly. "This place sucks some serious gundark dick."

"Then go away,' Obi-Wan suggested, helpfully, pleadingly. "Far away."

Garen shook his head. "No can do, Oafy," he said genially. "It's pretty obvious you need company."

Obi-Wan thought it was pretty obvious he needed company like he needed another hole in his head, but Garen had always been a little slow. Purposely, apparently.

"Too bad Anakin didn't stick around," Garen continued. "This place'd be much more fun."

Obi-Wan clenched his jaw. "I'm sure." Somehow he doubted the creature Anakin had become had much time in his jam-packed schedule of murder and oppression to have fun, however dubious Garen's definition of the word was.

"It'll be just like old times," Garen grinned. "And, well, we'll make do with just the two of us, Oafy."

"Oh, fantastic," was all Obi-Wan could think of to say.

*

Leia had a trio of fluff-pittins. This would not have been a problem, but for some reason, the mangiest, meanest one had decided it was Ferus' special friend. As such, Ferus found himself having to watch his step throughout the gardens, lest he run the risk of sharp claws and teeth becoming one with his ankle.

If he could at all help it, Ferus tried to spend his days on Alderaan away from other beings. His self-imposed exile did not require it, exactly, but ever since he'd struck out on his own, declaring himself a non-Jedi, he'd taken less and less of an interest in making small talk. As Master Ry-Gaul, one of the Order's most revered members once said - ironic, since he'd hardly spoken at all - "Words often get in the way of true understanding." Befriending Roan had loosened his tongue for a time, but - well, it was still painful to think about. Best not to.

It also helped that Ferus had pretty much nothing in common with anyone he might potentially converse with.

"Gardener, do you have a moment?" Speaking of which ...

Ferus sighed inwardly. It was Breha, Bail's wife, toting four-year-old Leia, who was looking around distastefully. "It smells funny in here," she complained, but Breha just waved her hand distractedly. Ferus forced himself to look polite.

"Gardener," Breha continued, and Ferus wondered how it was possible for her not to have learned his name in the time he'd been there. "I'm hosting a baby shower for a dear friend next week." Of course. Even after Leia's arrival, Breha remained unsettlingly obsessed with babies - something Bail frequently bemoaned. To him. Usually while high, under the pretense of "checking on the crop quality".

Ferus nodded, somewhat attentively, watching the fluff-pittin pad its way over to Leia. He wondered why Breha was telling him this. Quite frankly, he didn't much care at the moment. But Breha was technically his employer as well, so he had to at least pretend to care about some well-to-do's baby shower.

"And I'd like to walk them through the rose gardens," Breha informed him. "Which means I'd like them to be ... presentable." She gave him a pointed look, which was eventually interrupted by Leia's screeching.

"NO, AT-AT!" she exclaimed, batting the fluff-pittin away from her. The creature continued pawing at a fold in Leia's skirt until a small, wrapped sweet fell to the ground. "Bad pitty!" Leia cried as the animal gnawed at the candy voraciously. "That's MINE!"

It took everything in Ferus not to start laughing. Leia was definitely daddy's girl, he couldn't help thinking. Then again, nobody was supposed to know - or at least acknowledge - who Leia's father really was, so he kept his mouth shut tightly on that matter. Instead, he looked up at Breha, trying to muster up some sincerity. "I'll do my best," he assured her.

"You'd better, Gardener," Breha told him firmly. "I don't want anything to ruin my dear, close friend's special day." She looked down exasperatedly at Leia, who was still carrying on about her lost candy. "Leia, come with me."

"Mommy, make AT-AT spit it out," Leia said petulantly, frowning at the pittin, who was chewing loudly on its prize.

Breha grasped Leia's hand tightly, then grimaced at what Ferus assumed were sticky toddler fingers. "I don't want you eating anything after that fuzzbull has had it," she instructed. "And besides," Breha noted, wiping her palm on her long skirt, "you've had enough candies today." Leia put up a good fight; eventually, however, Breha managed to manhandle the little girl into her arms with surprising strength, leaving the greenhouse with a haughty turn of her heel.

Ferus sighed with relief. "No wonder Organa's out here so often," he muttered, running his hands through his recently self-shorn hair. "That woman would drive anyone to smoke."

"Rnnnnggghhh,' the fluff-pittin replied, and then rolled around on the half-eaten candy.

*

"Happy Life Day, Oafy!" Garen crowed, thrusting a garishly-wrapped lump in Obi-Wan's direction. Obi-Wan wasn't exactly sure why Garen was still around, but he supposed he could overlook the fact that his friend was continuing to be a burden, just this once. After all, Ferus had sent along a nice sampling of the latest crop, and it was entirely possible that Garen's own gift contained alcohol.

"What is it?" he asked hopefully, taking the package and shaking it next to his ear. No sloshing sounds, but maybe ... He tore off the wrapping and looked down. "This is a rock," he stated, in case Garen was unaware of this fact.

As it happened, Garen did seem to be perfectly aware - and even proud - of the contents of the gift. "Yup," he said, sounding sickeningly pleased with himself.

"Why?" Obi-Wan asked. He hadn't expected a gift at all. He wasn't even depressed about not having to feign delight at whatever horrible contraption Anakin put together for him. He wasn't.

Garen shrugged. "Thought you'd like it," he said by way of explanation. "I asked Qui-Gon what to get you, and that's what he suggested."

Obi-Wan, halfway to the cooling unit, turned and stared hard at his friend. "Garen," he enunciated slowly, as if speaking to a very small, very stupid youngling, "Qui-Gon has been dead for well over a decade, now."

Garen used a tendril of the Force to tug the bottle Obi-Wan had just picked up into his own hand. "In the words of your wayward Padawan, 'No kriffing duh,' Oafy."

"Well," Obi-Wan retorted, frustrated. "Either there's something that I don't know, or subsisting on nothing but booze has loosed the last bit of mind that you had."

Garen shrugged. "Qui-Gon visits. You know, from beyond the, er, beyond. Usually when you're not here. Oh, 'cept remember that time you thought I'd farted when we were watching Rogue Jedi? That was him."

Obi-Wan sighed. "This is just wonderful," he said, bitterly. "I'm completely out of alcohol, and my dead mentor prefers to spend time exchanging bodily functions with my freeloading roommate than he does with his own Padawan." He hefted the rock for a long moment, appearing to decide whether or not to throw it in the trash. Eventually, he tucked it into his pants pocket.

Garen grinned. "Qui-Gon says that that's from both of us, by the way."

*

The younglings were playing hide-and-seek. Despite not attending public school and generally being a brat, Leia's tenth birthday party was crawling with little kids. It was Ferus' sole responsibility to keep said little kids out of the greenhouse. Little kids and, of course, the Stormtroopers.

It was not only Leia's birthday, but also the tenth Empire Day. Empire Day on Alderaan always meant protests, demonstrations, and increased Imperial presence. Ferus hated Leia's birthday. So far, Vader hadn't shown up during the cake cutting in the past ten years, but Ferus -and the Organas - weren't about to take chances.

The crop had to be protected, and Ferus was the best man for the job.

"Let's go in the smelly place!" the princess giggled to her friend, a similarly mischievous little girl named Winter who came around a lot, as they ran past Ferus while the unpleasantly foot-shaped child who was "it" counted.

Ferus sighed and reached out, tiredly grasping each of the girls by one shoulder. "I don't think so," he said firmly.

Leia turned in his grasp and blinked plaintively at him. "Please, Gardener," she pleaded. "I don't wanna be It! And it's my birthday!" She stomped her foot.

Ferus shook his head. "Not a chance," he replied. Leia stuck out her lower lip in a pout that would immediately identify her as a Skywalker to anyone who knew well enough. He sighed. "Not in the greenhouse, but you can hide in the tool shed," he allowed after a moment.

Leia's expression brightened. "That works," she chirped, skipping off with Winter in tow. Ferus allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. He had never particularly liked children; even as a Padawan, he'd found many of his age mates tiring and immature. Leia wasn't really any worse than most ten-year-olds; and really, in dismal times like these, the sound of a child's laughter should be praised, not turned away.

A show of frantic shuffling by both Bail and Breha towards his general vicinity snapped Ferus out of his reverie. "He's here," Breha said in a loud whisper. Her eyes were wide and fearful. "He just showed up unannounced."

"Who?" Ferus asked, his heart sinking with dread, afraid he already knew the answer. Sure enough, a small crew of Imperial Stormtroopers trampled into sight suddenly, stomping over a vegetable patch with little regard for its contents. Out of the corner of his eye, Ferus saw Organa's jaw tighten.

"Lord Vader," Bail said eventually his voice bitter. "It's the tenth anniversary of the rise of the Empire, isn't it? He must be here to make sure everybody in the galaxy is as miserable as he is."

Ferus kept his calm. "I need to hide," he told Bail urgently. "An- Vader thinks he killed me. I'd like him to continue to believe that."

He had no doubt Bail's take on the situation was accurate. If Ferus was capable of feeling more than a couple seconds' worth of pity for Vader, he would have thought about how much Anakin would have hated being reminded of his failures year after year and how Vader couldn't possibly be different in that regard. But, really, he cared nothing of Vader's feelings - after all, Vader had murdered Roan. Had murdered Ferus, technically. Ferus decided that the bastard deserved to feel shitty. None of those thoughts, of course, changed the fact Vader was stomping towards them, and was probably not in a very good mood.

"Oh, right," Bail said, glancing at the rapidly approaching Dark Lord, back to Ferus, than to something over Ferus' shoulder. "Here."

Before Ferus could react, Bail shoved him and Ferus found himself deeply embedded in a compost heap. Through the potato peelings filling his ears, he could hear the mechanical hiss of Vader's breathing. He carefully closed off as much of his Force-presence as possible, trying not to breathe - for a variety of pungent reasons.

"Lord Vader," Bail said, dubiously, with the thinnest veil of pleasant-over-contempt. "To what do we owe this... pleasure?"

A twinge of irritation filtered through the Force, the signature relatively mangled but still recognizable to Ferus as Anakin's, now that he knew what to look for. "The Emperor has sent his regards," Vader breathed, his vocal expressions all robotic monotone. "It has been ten years since the formation of the Empire."

"Has it been so long already," Bail said flatly. From his hiding place, Ferus could hear Breha mutter an excuse to leave. Ferus only wished he could do that same.

"You seem to have found a reason to celebrate," Vader commented; Ferus imagined he was gesturing at the birthday decorations - pink, yellow, and white, because Breha had spoken to a Holonet psychic some weeks prior, who had suggested the color scheme for Leia's continued prosperity and goodness. Leia, for the most part, had been non-plussed at all the fuss, instead favoring a large permaboard box that some of the decorations had been stored in. Ferus had passed by the playroom once, even, to find Leia with Winter decorating the box with some of Bail's expensive ink pens to serve as a royal speeder.

The conversation between Vader and Organa dragged on. The tension could have been sensed even by a non-Force-sensitive being, though Ferus could also feel a sense of smug satisfaction emanating from the Sith Lord - there was obviously no love lost on either side. Ferus found himself wracking his brains, trying to recall Anakin ever commenting about Bail or Alderaan. He shifted a miniscule amount as his arm began to feel the strain of his current sitting position. He hoped Vader would hurry up and get whatever it was he'd come for soon - the damp odor of congealing potato skins and whatever else he was sitting in was making him a little ill.

After what seemed like hours of unpleasant small-talk, Vader finally said, "I'm sure you won't mind if I look around the gardens." Which Ferus took to mean trample every flower and vegetable he'd so lovingly, yet, alas, not very effectively, tried not to kill.

"Of course not," Bail replied stiffly, and Ferus couldn't help thinking that Leia's hide-and-seek game had been rather fortuitously timed.

Vader stomped off. Once Ferus was sure the Sith Lord was gone, he crawled out of the compost pile, ineffectively brushing off his clothes. "I'll take Leia inside," he offered, mostly wanting to be able to shower without fear of Vader suddenly appearing.

Anakin had always had a bad habit of doing that.

*

Obi-Wan sighed as he entered his makeshift home. If it were possible, the sandy hovel looked worse than when he'd first happened upon it. Empty bottles littered the few available surfaces, and the space smelled vaguely of overripe garbage - Garen ate pretty much anything cultivated out of Obi-Wan's tiny vegetable garden before it had a chance to expand, and left the excess to overflow the hovel's one waste basket. Also, Garen and the spirit of Qui-Gon often dabbled in contests involving the excretion of various bodily fluids; what had originally been a stuffy space with poor ventilation was now a toxic hole where scents lingered long after their terms had expired.

Ignoring that the remains of last night's supper (stew) was slopped on the floor in a way that made it look like something entirely different, Obi-Wan picked his way over to the cooling unit, where a small note fluttered.

"Dearest Oafy," he read, and Obi-Wan squinted to read the rest of Garen's messy scrawl. "Gone to Bea's. Found your sock with druggats (I was looking for more booze). BTW, we're out of beer.

"- Garen.

"P.S. I think your eopie is broken. I took it with me, but it keeps making a weird sputtering sound - I don't think it likes grain alcohol."

Obi-Wan groaned aloud. So now he had no liquor, no money, and a dehydrated eopie with alcohol poisoning. Not to mention the fact that Bea, the bartender at the cantina Obi-Wan frequented, now seemed to prefer Garen. To add insult to injury, too, she liked him because he was spending all of Obi-Wan's money there. It wasn't at all fair.

But at least it meant Garen wouldn't be around to eavesdrop on his scheduled conference comm with Yoda, Bail, and presumably Ferus. He still hadn't told Garen the truth, and he wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible.

He gave up trying to clean a portion of the sofa to sit on and instead brushed the food containers and liquor bottles to the floor. He sat, grimacing as he realized the ugly upholstery was rather damp, and powered up his comm system. It was old, and infrequently used. He couldn't afford to use anything that could be traced for very long, so the only times the comm was used was for these carefully shielded, pre-scheduled conversations.

At the appointed time, two small holograms blinked into existence. On the right was Yoda, a ceramic bantha perched in his lap, and on the left were Bail and Ferus. Ferus looked somewhat annoyed, but Obi-Wan couldn't blame him - he did have to spend every day with Bail Organa. Then again, Obi-Wan couldn't help thinking he'd much rather spend every day with Bail instead of Garen. At least Bail wouldn't relieve himself in the sink. At least Bail would have an actual sink.

"Master Kenobi," Bail greeted with a slight nod. "Master Yoda. I trust you both are well."

Obi-Wan wanted to point out he had a freeloading hovel-mate and sand in his underwear, but he somehow managed to restrain himself. "It's good to see you, Bail," he said, instead. "And you, Ferus." He turned his attention to the other image. "Master Yoda." Maybe he could send Garen to Yoda. That might work.

The withered green creature proffered a look approximating affection. "Well, I am. Make the most of circumstances that have befallen us, I do." His attention seemed to refocus on Obi-Wan. "Mmmm, sense a great deal of strife in you, I do, Obi-Wan."

The former general shifted on the worn sofa, fairly certain he was sitting in the remains of pasta he'd made nearly a month ago, and sighed. There was little point in trying to evade Master Yoda - he was fairly certain the little troll could read minds to a degree. "Things are passable here," he said, weariness creeping into his voice. "I feel as if they might go more smoothly if I were not also housing Garen."

Bail's eyebrows lifted almost comically. Yoda made a small moue of surprise. Ferus was the first to speak: "I ... thought Garen was dead," he finally settled on.

"Dead weight," Obi-Wan said, sighing heavily. He could feel the events of the past few months rising to the surface of his thoughts. "He spends all day freeloading off me, and all night at the cantina. I have to hide my meager means of supporting myself while he does absolutely nothing to contribute, beyond eating everything in the cooling unit. Nothing is ever clean anymore, and he's absolutely no help with the mission ..." He trailed off. All three of the floating holograms looked horrified; suspecting the worst, Obi-Wan craned his neck to find Garen standing behind him.

"Hey Oafy," he greeted. Recognition of the holographic visitors seemed to be all it took, intentionally or otherwise, to ignore whatever amount of Obi-Wan's rant he'd just heard. "Aw man, Master Yoda? You made it, that's so awesome. And ... you're that tight-ass Padawan of Siri's," he crowed, pointing at Ferus. "Oafy was saying you were alive."

"Hello," Ferus said, rather stiffly. For a moment, it was almost like old times, back before the Order had been destroyed, when he was still surrounded by life-long friends.

And then Garen farted, and Obi-Wan was reminded that they'd never been roommates as Jedi. The realization sobered him.

"So, since Garen's alive and well, I propose his being assigned to his own mission," Obi-Wan said aloud. The thought had just come to him, likely borne out of desperation to have Garen out of his sand hovel.

Garen grinned and pumped his fist enthusiastically. "Yes!" he exclaimed. "I can do that, I can have a mission. What'll it be, Master Yoda?" he asked, turning to the wizened Jedi Master. "Infiltrate the Empire? Bring it down from the inside? Protection duty?" He sounded so hopeful, so ... excited.

Yoda shook his head. "Out of the field too long you have been," he replied, and Obi-Wan felt his heart sink. His one hope for getting Garen out of his home... gone. He felt an irrational anger at his old mentor - Yoda wasn't the one who had to sit here and smell Garen's swamp ass. "Safer it is," Yoda continued, "if together you remain. Aide in your mission he can, Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan choked on his own disbelief. Was Yoda serious? Did the little gnome realize the torment he'd just sentenced Obi-Wan to? "With all due respect, Master ..."

Yoda held up a gnarled hand. "Argue you should not," he replied. "Safe the children are. The important thing, that is." He cocked his head to one side. "Ready my swamp-tarts are," he informed them, "so go I must. May the Force be with you." Yoda's hologram blinked out as Garen belched.

"I thought you said he died," Obi-Wan demanded of Ferus, no longer caring that Garen was around to hear.

"And you said Anakin was dead," Ferus countered, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'd say we're even."

"I thought he was on a long beer run," Garen mused, sitting beside Obi-Wan. "So he's dead?"

Obi-Wan ignored him. "Anakin is not currently camped out on my sofa drinking all my liquor." Though, a small voice pointed out, had circumstances been slightly different ...

Ferus was no longer visible as a hologram. Bail chatted for a few more minutes, extracting himself just before Obi-Wan was set to start begging to trade places with Ferus. Once Bail said his goodbyes, Obi-Wan powered down the comm system, then heaved a dejected sigh.

Garen, seemingly unmoved by Obi-Wan's growing despair as he was by his friend's trash-talking, sat down on the couch on top of a very old waffle. "So," he said conversationally, "what's this whole mission thing about?"

*

Leia had her lower lip stuck out and a hand on her hip, ready to fly into full-blown-tantrum-mode. She was twelve years old, and, she thought, plenty old enough to go anywhere on the palace grounds that she felt like. Besides, she was the princess. But her father seemed to think there were places she and Winter shouldn't go, so now she was getting a lecture.

"The greenhouse isn't for little princesses and their friends," Bail told her and Leia shifted her weight slightly, ready to unleash Project Temper Tantrum. "We've talked about this."

Leia took a deep breath, but instead of carrying on, she decided to do something she'd been practicing - she would exercise diplomacy. "But Daddy,' she said, removing her hand from her hip and using it to smooth her skirt. "It smells funny. Winter and I were just making sure everything was alright. I mean, the gardener who lives over there is so weird, we wanted to make sure he wasn't weirding out or anything."

Bail sighed. "Weird?" he repeated, and Leia hid a smile, pleased she'd been able to successfully deflect attention off of herself.

Nodding, she said, "He's always watching me. And the roses always look worse when he does anything with them. And the other gardeners don't like him either." Bail sighed; Olin was crap at horticulture. The fact that Leia had noticed only made it all the more pronounced. He was honestly surprised that the Empire hadn't picked up on the subterfuge at this point - whatever happened to the Jedi being masters of disguise?

Leia continued to frown. Bail had never known Anakin too well, but he well remembered Obi-Wan's vivid complaints about his behavior, how Anakin could waylay even Obi-Wan's sternest disposition with a well-placed pout. Raising Leia often quantified this for him. He figured this was generally what it felt like to be a parent, but often wondered how much of Leia's attitude was because she was a Skywalker, first and foremost.

He wondered if Obi-Wan was running into similar problems with the boy. Now, though, he had a pouting girl and a terrible gardener on his hands and couldn't much spare too much thought towards whatever troubles Obi-Wan was dealing with.

"Go inside and read the datapad I left out for you," Bail instructed sternly. He'd hoped by now Leia would be showing some interest in politics beyond using her natural argumentativeness against her keepers, but so far any similarity in disposition to Padme Amidala was dormant. "I expect us to be able to discuss it at dinner".

Leia's lower lip jutted out even further, and she clenched her fists. "Leia," he warned, pointing over her shoulder towards the palace. "Go."

With a stamp of her foot, Leia whirled away from him, stomping through the garden. Bail sighed - why hadn't he taken the boy? He watched Leia's tiny feet do nonetheless considerable damage to his vegetable patch. He had planted the entire thing painstakingly on his lonesome, and it seemed to take considerably more damage than any other plants on palace grounds, Ferus-initiated or otherwise. It was as if along with all the other civil liberties usurped from them, the Empire was punishing Alderaan for trying to grow carrots.

Unexpectedly, Breha breezed into Bail's office in a flurry of soft, pastel petticoats. If it were possible, the Emperor's reign and surrogate motherhood had made Breha even crazier. Often, Bail privately employed Leia's nannies to keep an eye on his wife, whose responsibilities as Queen were mostly in name only these days.

True to form, Breha's ensemble included an expensive porcelain doll dressed in a miniaturized version of her outfit. She cradled it tenderly, and Bail wondered if he'd get anything useful done today.

"Wherever did Leia go?" Breha asked breathily, stroking the doll's hair in a compulsive yet detached manner. "We were going to have a lovely tea party and she was to be invited."

Bail pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes for a moment. Leia had long outgrown tea parties, but Breha had not. This fact was often, and conveniently, forgotten by Breha, much to the child's chagrin. "She's gone to her room," he informed his wife blandly, hoping Breha would take the hint and leave him be.

Instead, Breha tilted her head to the side. "But there are tiny cakes," she told Bail. "Does she not want cakes?"

Bail blinked, struggling to keep his senatorial sabaac-playing face in check. "Perhaps she will enjoy some cakes," he offered finally, and then, unable to resist, "but not too many before dinner."

Breha giggled and stroked the doll's hair. "Silly Daddy." She beamed. "Not too many cakes," she repeated. "Cakes make bad supper." She tottered away eventually in a swish of skirts, still cooing to her doll, and narrowly missing Ferus, who had shown up promptly for his and Bail's weekly meeting. "No cakes for the gardener before supper, either," Bail heard Breha crow, and coughed to hide a guffaw at the expression of Ferus' face.

At last, Breha was gone, and Bail motioned for Ferus to sit, which the younger man did, a baffled expression still on his face. "I replaced the lock as you asked," he offered, and Bail nodded. Leia's attempts to get into the one place on the grounds forbidden to her had made him make Ferus more diligent, which included frequent lock changes. Unfortunately, these days, it wasn't just Leia whose presence in the greenhouse was unwanted.

"Thank you," he said, and leaned back in his chair. "But we do have another concern." He watched Ferus' expression change from mild confusion to abject despair. Obviously he thought Bail was going to chew him out about his abysmal gardening skills again. "The Empire has been cracking down on other planets," Bail informed Ferus instead. "Grass and spice production is becoming a taxable, regulated business, subject to direct oversight by the Empire."

Bail looked aggrieved, and Ferus well understood why; the Empire's interest in Alderaan's crop production was purely for its own benefit, and Palpatine didn't even have to pretend that it wasn't anymore. Also, having Vader stomping around where he didn't belong would make Ferus' shoddy undercover work even harder to undertake. Memories of the potato compost pile came to mind, and Ferus shuddered. Twelve years of safeguarding Anakin's kid, and all he had to show for it was a sizeable beard and less respect than he'd gotten from Anakin at the Temple.

"An... Vader always did stick his nose where it didn't belong," Ferus couldn't help commenting. Sometimes his shared past with Palpatine's enforcer saddened or angered him, but today he was just irritated.

He didn't want to have to be even more vigilant, didn't want to risk what an increased Imperial presence would mean. Anakin always seemed to manage to make his life difficult, try as Ferus did to prevent it. And the fact Vader seemed to take perverse pleasure in making Bail nervous told Ferus that there was still something of Anakin left in that suit. He wasn't sure how to feel about that, but a sudden, fleeting image of the Dark Lord huffing some of Alderaan's finest through the vents in his ghoulish face plate made Ferus grin unexpectedly.

"I fail to see what is amusing about this situation, Ferus," Bail said, frowning deeply; it was the face he made when trying to discipline Leia, which really only made everything funnier. Nonetheless, Ferus managed to regain his composure fairly quickly.

"I'm sorry," he offered sincerely. "It's just ... I was thinking of ..." He considered fibbing, and then decided that it hardly mattered whether Organa liked him or not. Ferus knew entirely too much. What was Bail going to do, have him fired?

"I ... I just don't see Lord Vader halting production on something he used to go out of his way to use when he was a Padawan," Ferus explained. To his surprise, Bail's expression was similarly amused.

"Obi-Wan used to tell me stories," the older man said, shaking his head as if remembering some particularly heinous tales from times past. He glanced at Ferus almost conversationally. "You and Anakin grew up at the Temple together, yes?"

Ferus nodded. "I didn't know him that well - we weren't friends," he shrugged. "But we had some missions together. He ... had a lot of natural talent."

Bail steepled his fingers. "Too bad he squandered it on death sticks and anonymous affairs in the Orange District," he murmured, and Ferus allowed himself to laugh.

Bail clapped the younger man on the shoulder. "You're all right, Olin," he offered, and Ferus smiled thinly. As a Padawan, he would have beamed at the praise, but as it was, he couldn't muster up more than vague acknowledgment that life could be worse.

He allowed himself to study Organa's face, creased with lines that age had little to do with. Ferus realized at that moment just how much Bail shouldered - keeping up appearances for the Empire and the people of Alderaan, alike; helping Ferus to keep a low profile; raising Leia; putting up with his increasingly crazy wife. Bail wore many hats, and he wore them with nominal dignity and grace. But underneath it all, Ferus suspected, was a man struggling under the weight of his responsibilities, who was afraid for his family, and ... lonely. He had to be lonely; Ferus knew all too well how that was. He didn't know where the thought came from, but he wondered if Bail realized how similar they were in that regard, kindred spirits, really. Maybe they could "help" each other out ... it wouldn't be so bad ...

"Ferus, no offense meant, but did you happen to eat some of the peppers from the vegetable patch near the North Wing?" Bail said suddenly, cutting into Ferus' daydreaming, of sorts.

Ferus' hand flew to his mouth. "I ... yes?" he admitted, wondering if he was going to be chastised for stealing food, now. He wasn't, however, Bail simply looking uncomfortable at their close proximity because of what Ferus assumed was his unruly breath. Organa was too diplomatic to come outright and say it, of course, but Ferus could take a hint. Also, despite his best efforts, the older man had turned somewhat green. Ferus excused himself hastily, vaguely annoyed.

Loneliness wasn't so bad.

*

Obi-Wan knew it was too good to be true when he awoke to find Garen missing from the hovel. A quick check around saw his macro binoculars missing, and he couldn't help but think Garen had sold them to Jawas in order to provide himself with more booze. He hated Garen sometimes. Okay, most times.

He left the smelly confines of the hovel and began his daily trek to the ridge overlooking the Lars homestead, irritated he'd have to squint in order to see Luke without the aide of his macro binoculars. Damn Garen. There was no point in even looking for anything that may have been lost in the piles of refuge currently serving as Obi-Wan's home, and the few things that were of any value were quickly looted by his freeloading friend. Still, Garen was not usually awake this early - either he'd fallen asleep elsewhere, or had spent the morning being picked apart by Jawas for scrap.

These days, Obi-Wan prayed for Jawas.

He was preoccupied enough with imagining the various ways that Garen might be dismembered that it seemed like Garen suddenly materialized before him. Rather, he appeared squatting in Obi-Wan's usual perch just off the Lars' property, ushering Obi-Wan over with excited arm-waving and stage whispers. "Oafy," he called, gesturing lunatically. "Hey, Oafy. OAFY!"

Wondering if sunstroke had killed his "friend's" last remnants of common sense, Obi-Wan trampled his way over the surprisingly hilly desert until he was kneeling somewhat covertly next to Garen. "You do realize that we are supposed to be undercover here, don't you?" he hissed.

Garen just 'tsk'd'. "Lookit what I found, Oafy," he said, motioning towards the expanse of sandy homestead that Luke and his adoptive parents called home. Garen didn't know this, of course, hence his arm-flailing, as if he'd just discovered that Obi-Wan's mangy eopie could excrete currency.

Obi-Wan decided to play dumb. "Whatever are you so excited about?" he said nonchalantly, figuring that the less unnecessary revealing he did, the better.

Garen's glee was not to be deterred. "Just wait for it, Oafy," he said happily. "It's this kid. He... man, Oafy, this kid is such an asshole."

"What kid?" Obi-Wan asked, though he already knew the answer. Sure enough, Luke made his way outside, squinting at nothing in particular. Twelve years old and towheaded, Luke had his father's looks, but with a softness that could only have come from Padme. Obi-Wan allowed himself to lapse into a silent comparison. The familiar ache in his chest returned, the one that encompassed Anakin's fall, his betrayal, and the deaths of so many Obi-Wan had come to love...

That was when Garen lobbed a small stone at Luke's head.

Obi-Wan did a double-take. "Garen," he yelled as loudly as he'd risk. "What in the blazes!"

Luke was rubbing his head and looking around in confusion, his gaze not settling anywhere near Obi-Wan and Garen's hiding place. "Look at him," Garen exclaimed, hefting another rock. "He's... oh man, Oafy, what a douche!" The next rock hurtled down and struck Luke on the shin.

Obi-Wan gave up trying to take calming breaths. "Garen, stop throwing things at him this instant," he said firmly, sternly. "That is the last hope for the galaxy. He does not need you giving him a concussion."

Garen raised an eyebrow, poised mid-throw with a third rock. "Last hope for the galaxy?" he asked incredulously. "You drunk again, Oafy?"

If only, Obi-Wan couldn't help thinking. "That boy..." he said, deciding that perhaps the only way of ensuring Garen didn't maim Luke was to tell him the truth. "That boy is Anakin's son."

Garen blinked at him, then looked down the embankment at Luke, who was very intently picking his nose, then back up at Obi-Wan. "Really?" he asked, lowering his arm.

Hoping he'd earned a victory at last, Obi-Wan nodded. "My mission has been to protect him," he said, sighing as Luke stuck the finger that has previously been in his nose into his mouth.

Garen was silent for a long moment, watching Luke. "Anakin's kid, huh?" he asked.

"Yes," Obi-Wan replied softly. "And now my duty."

THWAP! Luke landed flat on his ass as another rock smacked him in the forehead. "WHAT THE KRIFF, GAREN?!" Obi-Wan exclaimed, whirling around at his friend.

Garen shrugged. "Anakin was a douche too," he said by way of explanation.

Obi-Wan sighed. "I am not arguing that," he admitted. "But I would still appreciate your not giving the Chosen One brain damage."

Garen looked thoughtful. "Okay, Oafy," he said finally. "I will do this thing you ask."

"Thank you," Obi-Wan said, a little surprised at the quick turn-around. His attention flitted back to Luke, who was now staring at the remnants of something he'd just pulled from his nostril on his finger.

"Aunt Beru!" the boy shouted, waving his hand around excitedly. "Aunt Beru! It came back! I just farmed my face crops yesterday, and they already came back!"

Obi-Wan made a small noise of protest in the back of his throat. He didn't have to see Garen's smug expression to know that his friend was very, very pleased with himself. "Chosen One, huh?" he said eventually, grinning. "Did you know it was him because he could pick magical boogers?"

"Shut up, Garen," Obi-Wan said sourly.

*

Ferus heard the door to the greenhouse creak open and didn't even bother to look up from his position, slouched on the cool ground, his "lunch break", as it were. Unsurprisingly, he opened one eye to see Leia towering over him. At sixteen, she was starting to look the part of the Princess of Alderaan - although the part of her that was Anakin's daughter was also palpable. Leia seemed to always know where the best parties were, and how to endear herself to company that seemed intentionally designed to drive Bail Organa into an early grave. It must have been a Skywalker thing, Ferus decided ruefully. Naturally, he'd given up on truly trying to keep her out of the greenhouse years ago.

Leia's arms were crossed. She was still something of a brat, but years of learning to be diplomatic, and also of trailing after Bail on his underground excursions with what Ferus had heard termed the Rebel Alliance had softened the sense of entitlement. The weed also probably had something to do with it; Ferus was remiss to disobey Bail, who was technically his employer, but ... well, Leia had a lot of friends, all willing to spend their considerable pocket money on Alderaan grass. As a stuff-shirted Padawan, Ferus had always prided himself on his staunch morals. As Bail Organa's underappreciated, underpaid gardener, however, he settled for having beer money.

"Working hard, or hardly working?" Leia snarked at him, but there was a warmth to it. Perhaps it was desperation to talk to anybody with an IQ over toddler tea parties, but Leia was whip-smart and seemed to have inherited some of Anakin's innate charm. Ferus constantly alternated between being amused by her antics and wanting to cuff her side the head.

"Can I help you?" he asked blandly, quirking an eyebrow as he realized Leia was holding Breha's doll by one leg. He half-thought the girl had gone as insane as her adoptive mother (or, he thought ruefully, her biological father), until Leia flung the doll at him. It hit him squarely in the chest.

"Do something with this," Leia demanded, teenage petulance seeping into her voice. "Hide it, burn it, whatever. I'm not going to another kriffing tea party."

Ferus couldn't help smirking. Leia had stopped being even remotely interested in Breha's mad tea parties years ago. She had recently proclaimed them 'too lame to waste grass on' and begun a campaign to rid herself of the burden of going, something that apparently now included theft of Breha's usual guest of honor.

Ferus shrugged and sat the thing in a corner, out of sight, but not looking like he was trying very hard. "How did you even get this?" he couldn't keep himself from asking. "It's practically attached to your mother's hands."

"I know, she even has a place setting for it at dinner," Leia said, eyes sparkling mischievously. Ferus blanched, but did not say anything. "I waited until she took a bath. She usually brings the thing with her. She falls asleep in the tub, telling it about how they're going to shop for pretty dresses and play patty-cake." At this, Leia made some miniscule changes to her posture, affixing a dementedly dreamy expression on her face. "'Oh, Miss Prissypants, whatever shall we do today?'" she mocked, and Ferus found it very difficult not to laugh at Breha's expense.

"Anyway, I took it," Leia said casually. "It was pretty wizard."

Ferus made a rather Obi-Wan-esque "mmmph" sound. He wasn't sure how much Leia knew of his own involvement in the rebellion, and withheld the point of view that Breha was actually a wonderful placeholder for the planet, truly not knowing about anything going on behind the scenes. It was unfortunate that Leia hadn't had a strong maternal figure up to this point - Ferus hadn't known Padme Amidala all that well, but he knew of her reputation for liberal dissent in the Senate, and Obi-Wan had occasionally spoken fondly of her - but Breha's child-like cluelessness would help keep Alderaan off of the Emperor's radar, at least.

Leia looked somewhat antsy, her excuse for being here now used up. Unsurprisingly, she was not good at being patient. "Can I help you with anything else?" Ferus said, somewhat mockingly. He might give in to Leia's demands for party fuel, but he never made it easy for her.

Leia sighed. "Look, Gardener, I've got a ... 'royal engagement' later," she said, making air quotes with both hands. She reached into a concealed pocket in her robes - she'd taken to wearing more and more gender ambiguous clothing as of late, Ferus noticed - and pulled out a wad of paper currency. "Show me what this will buy. And don't cheat and spread it out like last time," she said petulantly. "That's like, the oldest trick in the book."

Ferus' mouth quirked. "Can't put anything past you," he said softly. He meted out a considerable amount of the substance in a clear bag, sealing it carefully. Leia handed him the money and took the small package, weighing it in her hand silently.

"I guess that works," she said sternly, but her expression was playful. She made to leave, her business with the gardener finished, and then turned back. "Well," she said, congenially yet hesitantly, as if there was something more to be discussed. "Well, bye," she shrugged after a moment, and then left.

Ferus stood looking at the spot she'd vacated for a long moment. Eventually, he hunched down next to the slouching doll, the tiny dress now dusty with greenhouse grime. Then he stood and kicked it, and went to dig up a disguise to wear to the local cantina.

*

"Bea's been asking about you," Garen informed him casually as he passed the macro binoculars back to Obi-Wan. It had taken some months, but Obi-Wan had finally broken him of the habit of throwing rocks at Luke and now Garen spent their reconnaissance time either drinking or making fun of their sixteen-year-old charge. Or both. Quite frankly, Obi-Wan had to admit that Luke was not growing up as he'd expected. Certainly he resembled Anakin physically, although he was a good deal shorter than Anakin had been at the same age. However, his temperament was far more pathetically whiney, rather than the sullen, defiant petulance of his father. Sometimes Obi-Wan was glad Garen was there to voice what Obi-Wan was thinking. Not often, though. And quite frankly, Obi-Wan was often glad Luke didn't take after Anakin in his choices of recreational activities. Maybe there was hope for the boy yet. He wasn't counting on it, but he had to have something to hope for.

Obi-Wan swiveled his head slightly. "Oh?" Given that Garen took all of his credits and none of the responsibilities of taking care - as it were - of the hovel or watching Luke, Obi-Wan had found himself cutting back on his own visits into Mos Eisley.

Garen nodded, seemingly proud of himself for remembering. "She said she missed you, but she's glad I'm there in your stead," he said with a mild smirk. "And I met the most interesting Toydarian last night."

Obi-Wan sighed, not particularly wanting Garen to recount the details of whatever asinine conversation he'd had with whatever other cantina denizens he encountered. He stood, brushing the sand from his robes, and turned back in the direction of the hovel. "So?"

Garen pressed a dirty palm to his chest. "Your apathy, it wounds me, Oafy." Obi-Wan rolled his eyes but said nothing. "Okay, so he was there with some girls," he recapped. "Mostly Twi'ileks, but a couple of Togruta and - ohhh, man, okay, you shoulda seen the cans on one of the-"

"Garen, I am not interested in anyone's ... 'cans'," Obi-Wan interrupted.

"Yeah, I'll bet," Garen smirked. "Anyway," he continued, "this guy sits next to me, and tells me that he likes my hat." Garen indicated the ratty bowler that Obi-Wan had fished out of a trash heap and Garen had subsequently plundered from him. "I tell him I like his tooth necklace, and he starts telling me about his girls."

"Is this at all important?" Obi-Wan said, aggravated.

"So then, there's this Holoreport on the 'tube in the bar, and it mentions the Empire catching some Jedi insurrectionists. Big news, you know, and everyone's talking. And this Toydarian starts bitching about some 'Jedi hippie' he met who scammed him out of a bunch of ship parts and a slave. Man, those guys know how to curse," Garen marveled appreciatively.

Obi-Wan polished the lens of the macro binoculars. "You don't say," he said flatly. From his vantage, Luke sat in the dirt, fiddling with a broken hydrospanner. Suddenly, the entire afternoon just pissed him off.
"I'm going back," he muttered, standing and brushing sand from his legs.
He'd lived on Tatooine now for longer than he'd lived with Anakin, but he still didn't consider it home, and refused to use any colloquialisms indicating otherwise.

Garen loped alongside him. "You ever thought of getting some girls?" he pressed. "It might help you to ... Relax." The insinuation was accompanied by Garen waggling his eyebrows.

"I don't need to relax," Obi-Wan snapped, growing more and more irritated as he plodded towards his hideout. "And I'll thank you to shut up about it."

Garen feigned shock. "Breaking my heart, Oafy."

"I'm sorry," Obi-Wan said immediately, absently. "I'm just ..."

"Relaxed?" Garen offered.

"You know, you could at least attempt to take things remotely seriously, Garen. Just once," Obi-Wan said spitefully.

"Yeah," Garen agreed, "But where's the fun in that?"

"I'm just saying, it's bad enough that you've mooched off of me for almost two decades now," Obi-Wan bit out. "It's bad enough that I couldn't pawn you off on Master Yoda. Even Ferus is having a better time of it than I am!" he ranted. "I mean, what the kriffing Hells is so difficult about gardening? At least Alderaan has things to actually garden! It doesn't take a stanging scientist-"

"Um, Oafy," Garen began.

"-I could have had Bail's company all this time, instead of living in a literal hole that smells like eopie urine and sweat for 20 years-"

"Hey, Oafy-"

"And what the kriff is he doing growing a beard, anyways-"

"OAFY!" Garen yelled. And suddenly, Obi-Wan knew that something was very, very wrong.

The feeling of not-rightness penetrated the Force, and Obi-Wan trailed off as he saw the door to his hovel standing wide open. His first thought - that the Empire had found them - called his lightsaber to his hand. Surely it wasn't the Empire. Surely Vader wouldn't bother coming to this dustball again; that had been the whole reasoning behind bringing Luke here in the first place. Besides, if it was Vader, he would have sensed Obi-Wan and made his presence known by now. He wouldn't be sitting in the hovel, lying in wait. It wasn't his style. So, Obi-Wan assured himself, it couldn't be Vader.

But that didn't mean he was going to put his lightsaber away just yet.

Gripping it tightly, though unsure he'd even remember what to do with it, Obi-Wan inched towards the open door, peering in carefully. What he found there nearly knocked him flat. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Everything that had once been his was gone, right down to the discarded beer bottles. Jawas, after all, would steal anything.

Rage began to bubble in his gut, and he was fairly certain he was going to turn to the dark side right then and there. "Garen," he growled, struggling not to ignite his 'saber, "did you leave the door open?"

For his part, Garen seemed to sense Obi-Wan's anger and was backing away. "I... No," he replied quickly. "Of course not. You must have."

Obi-Wan whirled around. "What the KRIFF is WRONG with you?" he shouted. "All of our things are gone, Garen! Everything!"

A sudden, sickening thought struck him, and he rushed into the hovel. If the Jawas had taken everything, absolutely everything ...

Obi-Wan hurried to a section adjacent to the makeshift kitchen, and shoved the boulder out of the way that hid a battered trunk that had served as an armrest, chair, footstool, and toilet for the past decade and a half. He let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Jawas were thieves, but they were lazy in their pillaging. He flung open the trunk and sifted through the generally dubious contents.

"What, Oafy?" Garen asked as Obi-Wan reached down and picked up the one thing he'd sworn he would never allow to be lost again. "WHAT, Oafy!" Garen repeated, and Obi-Wan closed his eyes as he felt the familiar weight of Anakin's lightsaber in his hand.

"Get out," he said softly, hardly recognizing the voice as his own.

He felt Garen come closer, and tensed his back and shoulders. "Huh?" Garen asked, as though Obi-Wan had asked him to do Neimodian Calculus.

"Get. Out," Obi-Wan repeated, a bit louder, his hands balling into fists almost of their own volition. His fingers curled around Anakin's lightsaber, and it 'sssshhhhiissshed' to life.

Garen took a step back. "Hey, c'mon. Oafy, it's me!" he said jovially. In response, Obi-Wan took out his own lightsaber, igniting its translucent blue blade in his other hand. "Okay, whoa," Garen started. He held up his hands in a peaceful gesture. "You know," he began again, a goofy grin creeping back onto his face, "That's dangerous. Didn't Anakin lose his arm that way?"

"I want you to leave, Garen," Obi-Wan said again, his voice low and gravelly, his eyes narrowed into icy slits. "I want you to leave now."

"I mean, it was the way he lost his arm the FIRST time ..."

"NOW."

"I mean-"

"Garen, leave this minute, or I am going to kriffing KILL you, Force help me!"

Garen gulped. "Okay, I'm going." He looked back and forth a couple of times nervously, trying to peer inside the hovel to see if anything else of value may have been left behind. "Aw, man, they even took the eopie," he whined. He met Obi-Wan's murderous gaze with what had to be either incredible gall or amazing stupidity. "Hey, Oafy, I don't suppose you could spot me a couple of druggats? Just enough so I can get into town, and maybe stop off at Bea's and-"

Obi-Wan just growled.

"Right," Garen said quickly. "Going." He walked away while Obi-Wan stood stockily, glaring at the back of his head as if he could will it to explode. Garen turned around. "You know, Oafy," he said, "You've changed."

Obi-Wan made an incredulous noise. "You think?" he finally managed, crossing his arms heatedly.

"I mean, I know it's been a while," Garen continued, feeling out his angle. "I know a lot's happened. But man, you're just no fun to be around anymore. It's like, you yell at me for trying to assimilate and get to know everyone you know, and then when I try to be helpful, you throw it back in my face."

"When were you ever helpful?" Obi-Wan balked.

"And it's like, okay, you miss Anakin. I kinda miss him, too. He was cool. But geez, Oafy, live a little, why don't you. The guy's dead, or at least spending his days emptying his pee bag on people. But you, you're here, and you're still ... I just ..." Garen paused.

"What?" Obi-Wan pressed. "What are you saying, Garen? You've obviously been holding onto this for quite some time, and I don't suspect I'll ever see you again, so what? Out with it," he demanded.

Garen shook his head. "It's just ... aw man, that must be awesome emptying your pee on people whenever you want." A grin spread across his face. "Qui-Gon's been in touch with Quin," he said casually. "We're gonna go hang there. Later, Oafy." He turned and kept walking, and then spun around one last time and saluted his friend playfully. "May the Force be with you!"

Obi-Wan stared at the retreating form of his roommate for the past two decades, then turned to look at the alarmingly bare hole that had been serving as his shelter, now devoid of even the disgusting trash heap of a couch. "Fuck me," Obi-Wan said aloud.

*

Ferus knew it was going to be a bad day when he woke up to see Breha standing over him. Wearing a frilly dress that would have better suited her daughter two decades ago, Breha had a distant, innocently demented expression on her face and an ugly fluff-pittin in her arms.

It had been four years since Ferus had allowed Leia to hide Breha's doll in the greenhouse, and Breha had yet to find it. Instead, she had taken to carrying around AT-AT, the mangy garden pittin who was now considerably advanced in years and simply getting more ornery with each passing day. Its fur was matted with dirt and things long-ago rolled in, and it had a particularly unendearing habit of spraying everything in its path. As a result, Breha had a constant aroma of ammonia and sour milk about her.

Ferus blinked, hoping this was just a part of the odd dream he'd been having. But then AT-AT pissed on his blanket, and he realized the odd dream he'd been having was actually his life. "Your Highness?" he asked, although Breha had long abdicated the throne in favor of long bubble baths and talking to inanimate objects.

"Miss Pitty and I would like to invite you to a tea party this half-noon," she replied in a dazed voice that made Ferus wonder if Bail had finally started slipping tranquilizers into her food.

Ferus swallowed. The last thing he wanted to do was sit and pretend to drink tea with the crazy lady and the horrible animal. He knew Breha was simply trying to fill a void - Leia had been gone for some time, alternating her duties as an Imperial senator and freedom-fighter of the Rebel Alliance. Not that she paid much attention to her batty mother figure when she was home, but Breha hardly noticed.

"That's very nice of you," he said, finally, wishing he wasn't one of the few in the household not involved in the top secret Rebel mission currently going on. He knew some of the details, but couldn't be directly involved, a fact that nagged at him. Obi-Wan might do well just lying in wait, but Ferus itched to get back in the midst of galactic space battles and dangerous undercover missions. It was a Jedi tenet that one did not seek out excitement for the sheer thrill, but ... well, fuck the Jedi, Ferus thought defiantly. All the training and sacrifices and the endless hours of meditation, and he'd spent the last twenty years as a gardener, trying to suppress as much of his essence in the Force as possible with nothing but mentally ill royalty and a disgusting cat for company.

"Fuck the Jedi," Ferus said aloud, letting himself enjoy the way it felt to say, and ignoring the sideways glance that Breha gave him. "Fuck the Jedi!" he shouted. "Fuck them all! Fuck them up their repressed, child-stealing asses! Fuck them and their Temple and their - oh. Oh, shi-"

The word died on his lips as Alderaan exploded into a million pieces.

*

Darth Vader was having a pretty good day, all things considered. He didn't really have good days the way regular people did anymore, but he figured any day he got to blow up an entire planet AND torture a traitor to the Empire was a pretty good day, even if he needed to empty his colostomy bag.

Organa was trying to be defiant in the face of Tarkin, though Vader couldn't help thinking it wasn't particularly hard to brush Tarkin off. Organa was being especially nasty about it, though. He doesn't hold my LEASH, Vader huffed to himself as the young woman (this young, brown-haired, petite senator...) snarked at the Grand Moff.

"Charming, to the last," Tarkin drawled, and Vader struggled not to shift his weight back and forth in his boredom. He just wanted to blow up the planet already! He let his mind wander, dwelling on the small stirring in the Force he'd been feeling for the past couple of days - something familiar, something that caused his heart to clench, though he couldn't quite put a name on it yet.

"No! Alderaan is peaceful! We have no weapons! You can't possibly -" the girl exclaimed, jarring Vader back to reality. At Tarkin's urging, Organa named the Rebel stronghold to be Dantooine, which Vader well knew was a patent lie. But she said it so convincingly, so firmly, that if he'd been anyone else, he might have believed her.

"You see, Lord Vader," Tarkin said mockingly, as though Vader had ever doubted Organa's compliance, "she can be reasonable." He turned to the gunners, and Vader suddenly sensed something else within the Force. Something that was less of a disturbance than the other sensation, something much more... interesting.

As the Death Star's main laser powered up, he gripped Organa's shoulder tightly with one durasteel hand and reached into one of the pockets in her dress with the other, pulling out a small baggie filled with something that made him suddenly remember his somewhat misspent youth. He gripped the Alderaan grass in his hand and realized, as he watched the planet explode, that he might have been a bit hasty in allowing Tarkin to choose their target.

Oh well. He would worry about it later. His lungs, after all, still worked enough to warrant him confiscating the princess' stash. "Do we have any chips?" he wondered aloud, over the sound of Leia's choked sobs.

It was a good day to be a Sith.

*

Alternate Ending the First:

Obi-Wan glanced at his surroundings and sighed blissfully.

He'd been desolate when he'd first come to Tatooine, cradling Anakin's infant son in his arms and bemoaning the loss of his Jedi family. He'd thought life could never possibly be favorable again. That was when Garen had shown up.

Having somehow survived an ordeal that had killed Ry-Gaul and two other Jedi alliances, Garen had made his way to Tatooine, plunking down on Obi-Wan's doorstep, as it were. Master Yoda had agreed that no one's skills should be put to waste, and had recruited Garen for a mission of his own.

They'd pulled it off a few times as Padawans. Garen's feet were still bigger, and he'd never quite mastered a Corellian accent, but he and Obi-Wan could otherwise pass as twins, or at the very least, brothers. And so, it was: Garen stuck around the Lars estate to watch over Luke, crafting the persona of a mysterious desert hermit, leaving Obi-Wan the freedom to assume his own identity. Occasionally, he met with Bail Organa in abandoned corners of the Outer Rim, carrying on an affair that had lasted off and on since his own boyhood.

More often than not, however, Obi-Wan spent his days as Tatooine's premiere OB-GYN. The location was prime, just up a ways from his favorite cantina. Long days of providing a service previously unheard of for many women in these parts of the galaxy were rewarded by nights spent conversing with his favorite bartender, heady from a seemingly endless glut of alcohol that helped him push aside the bad memories that occasionally crossed his mind.

"Another one, Ben?" Bea smiled, holding a fresh bowl of pre-shelled peanuts in one hand and a pitcher of what was on tap that night. Obi-Wan nodded, returning the smile as she re-filled his cup. He was enjoying the pleasant tingle in his spine when a sudden clamoring at the Holovision set caught his attention. A patron with four arms jacked up the volume, and Obi-Wan blearily caught snippets of a special news report.

"Destruction of Alderaan ... blink of an eye ... unknown origin of attack ... possibly the Hutts ..."

"My gracious," Bea commented, as a picture of the expanse of space where the planet had once hung flashed up on the screen. "It's just ... gone!"

Obi-Wan nuzzled his glass with his cheek. "How very strange," he yawned.

*

Alternate Ending, the Second:

Ferus knew his days were numbered on the tenth anniversary of the rise of the Empire. Something about the day had just seemed ominous from the start, and shooing a bunch of bratty children away from the greenhouse had done little to lessen the foreboding.

Of course, now, sitting in a confinement cell on Coruscant, waiting for sentencing, warding off Leia and her pals seemed like a blissful activity. A warning filtered through the Force suddenly; sure enough, Darth Vader strode up to his cell, striding inside with the grace of an executioner and none of the warmth.

"Hello, Olin," he said, and even though his vocal output was nothing more than monotone static these days, Ferus swore he could hear the sneer.

"Anakin," Ferus replied blandly, knowing how much it was going to piss Vader off. Sure enough, the Sith Lord's fists clenched, and Ferus suddenly wondered why he kept insisting on pushing his luck. It wasn't as though Vader hadn't tried to kill him once already - had very nearly succeeded.

Vader stalked purposefully back and forth in the small cell, the wake of his strides causing a breeze that stirred the stench of rotting potato peels and compost out of Ferus' clothing and into the air. Vader didn't seem to notice, but it was all Ferus could do to keep from gagging.

"I can give you power," Vader said, finally, after a long, very awkward silence. "Anything you want, I can give you."

Ferus raised an eyebrow. "And... why would you do that?" he asked. Darth Vader, after all, was not known for his altruism.

Vader turned to him, the death's-head mask lowering towards Ferus' face, and he tried to keep from wincing. "Together," Vader said, "you and I can strike down the Emperor, rule the galaxy together."

Ferus wondered if it was the same pitch Anakin had given his wife, or Obi-Wan. At the moment, it didn't really matter. He smelled like trash, and he was likely going to be tortured to death. "Oh," he said, trying to sound uninterested.

Because he wasn't interested. Not at all. Not even a tiny bit. "Become my apprentice," Vader urged. "Learn to use the dark side of the Force."

It should have been a harder decision. The thought of being Anakin's subordinate alone should have been enough to make him say no. But Ferus was tired of being the stick in the swamp, was tired of being the dependable one. Look where that had gotten him! No, he would create something new of himself, and he would use Vader to do so. And when the time was right, well, he'd be able to destroy Vader and Palpatine.

Ferus sank to one knee. "I will do whatever you ask," he said. "My Master." Though he nearly choked on the words, it still felt... right. At least more right than the potato scraping currently lodged against his eardrum.

He would make things right, but in the meantime, what was so wrong with being a little bad?

*

Alternate Ending, the Second-and-a-Half:

"Become my apprentice," Vader urged. "Learn to use the dark side of the Force."

Ferus stared at the helmet's eye sockets grimly. "No," he said simply. "I won't."

Vader hissed a breath. "Then you shall die," he said simply, and began removing his codpiece.

"Fucking Jedi," Ferus muttered to himself.

*

Alternate Ending, the Third:

"Ferus, I am your father."

"What?"

"What?"

"What-what did you just say?"

Ferus blinked as Vader tilted his head slightly. "Do...do you have any chips?" the Dark Lord asked.

*

Alternate Ending, the Last:

Carrie Fisher turned away from the computer monitor and glanced at her audience expectantly. "Well, Mark," she prompted, "What do you think?"

Mark Hamill sighed. "Are you ever going to give me that sandwich you promised?" he asked, licking his dry lips. "Or at least some Chapstick?"

"You don't need Chapstick, Mark," Carrie frowned. "Now, what do you think of 'Jude Watson's' latest book?"

"But my lips hurt," Mark cried. "They hurt really bad."

"Yeah, mine too," came a voice from the corner. Carrie grabbed a TV Guide endorsed with a glossy image of C3PO on the cover and chucked it in the general direction of the sound. "Ow, quit it," Hayden complained. "Can I stop dancing now?" he simpered.

"No," Carrie yawned.

"Well, can I at least take off the slave Leia outfit?" he sniffled, his voice muffled from underneath the head of the Wookiee suit he was wearing.

"I've already told you, Hayden, if you stop dancing, I make pork chops for dinner. You don't want me to force you to eat your pigs, do you?"

"You leave Petunia and Buddy alone!" Hayden cried, but continued to gyrate sullenly. Petunia and Buddy snorted forlornly from inside their ceiling-mounted go-go dancer cages.

"If you make pork chops, can I have some?" George asked as he pushed the door open, holding a tray full of glasses of lemonade - just enough for everyone but Mark to have one.

"No!" Hayden exclaimed, shimmying his hips slightly.

George set the tray down and crossed his flannel-clad arms over his chest. "I didn't say you could wear the costumes," he scolded. "That's coming out of your pay."

"But... but you don't pay me to mow your lawn," Hayden whimpered, fingering the spot where his nipple would have been had he not been wearing a slave Leia outfit on top of a Wookiee suit.

"I told him to, George," Carrie offered, taking a sip of her lemonade and making sure to hold the glass just out of Mark's reach.

"Oh," George said, settling himself on the sofa. "In that case, Hayden..." He smiled slightly. "Faster! More intense!"